Friday, March 13, 2015

Debunking Dispensationalism: The Two Principle Axioms

When Christians approach spiritual problems - when they see conflict or paradoxes between truth and facts - they have the following choices:
  • Find someone who functions in the spiritual realm in which they're having a problem and
    • learn from them
    • or, let them solve their problem
  • Go to their prayer closet and converse and learn from God
  • Create a doctrine to explain why something doesn't work
In modern Christianity, we've excelled at creating doctrine.

Dispensationalism is one of those doctrines.  It's used to create and explain the ages of Law and Grace (the Old Testament vs. the New Testament); the cessation of some of the spiritual gifts; to create a thing called the Apostolic age, and to generally confuse people by teaching them the traditions of men rather than the truth of God.

As with many things of God, the truth is so much simpler.  Before we learn something in the spirit, we must first understand its sibling in the natural.  At least that's the pattern God had used.

The law of the Sowing and Reaping

Consider the law of sowing and reaping.  In the natural we understand that if we sow corn, we will reap corn and we will reap more than we sowed - it's why we have farmers.  But also consider that God provided it as a fundamental spiritual axiom.  He explicitly stated state if you follow my law, good things will happen to you, but if you disobey my law, bad things will happen:
See, I am setting before you today a blessing and a curse: the blessing, if you listen to the commandments of the Lord your God, which I am commanding you today; and the curse, if you do not listen to the commandments of the Lord your God, but turn aside from the way which I am commanding you today, by following other gods which you have not known. (Deut. 11:26-28)
In other words, that which they sowed, the also reaped: obedience in the natural resulted in blessing in natural and vise-versa.

The law of Blessing

In the law of sowing and reaping, we receive based upon what we have done.  In the law of blessing, we receive based upon what God has done.

The law of sowing and reaping is the beginning, primary or natural law that points us to the better or higher law, the law of blessing.  In the Old Testament we experience the law of sowing and reaping, but in the New Testament, we experience the law of blessing.

In other words, in the O.T., it's about what we do.  In the N.T., it's about what God has done.

In the O.T., where the primary lesson is the power of sin, if you touch a leaper you become unclean.  But in the N.T., where the primary lesson is the power of God's love, if you touch a leaper, they become clean.

So then, we find that the economy of God dealing with Man has nothing to do with various dispensations, but with precept upon precept, line upon line (Isa. 28:10), teaching us in the natural the principles of the spiritual, as the author of Hebrews explained when suggesting that his audience leave the elementary doctrine of the Christ.

My suggestion is that we leave dispensationalism where it belongs: in the annals of the doctrines and traditions of men.  Where such things are created to explain away the truths of God that stand in conflict of the facts observed by those who placed their faith in reason rather than the Truth, the revealed Logos of God.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Worshiptainment and Cessation: Chasing the Wrong Fox

Mike Livingstone has an excellent blog on what he calls Worshiptainment.

What is interesting about his blog is that it confirms the problem without actually realizing it.  A. W. Tozer acknowledged the worshiptainment problem in his day, when worship music - by many definitions - was being done right. Which means even though Mr. Livingstone makes valid points regarding the entertainment factor present in some churches, we are still beating around the bush and haven't actually yet flushed out the fox.  In other words, if worship services were a problem in Tozer's day, then why do we draw the cross-hairs on worship services today?

It's a particularly telling sentinel that, when researching the problem further, we generally find the blame rests with the congregation: "they won't come unless { some reason }". Why? Because it mimics what the average Christian collectives already do.

 

Where the rubber meets the Road

 

Most Christians - throughout history - have read the Bible and compared it with the facts around them. Unfortunately, they're conflicted when truth doesn't match facts. In such a situation, they have several options:
  1. Create a doctrine that explains why their experience (facts) don't match the truth observed in Scripture. 
  2. Find someone that actually functions in the manner in which the Bible describes (e.g., they prayed for healing and it didn't work - find someone for which it does work)
  3. Go back to their prayer closet and talk to God about it - determine why they're not seeing His truth acted out in their experiences
What most Christians don't understand - because it's simply not taught in our churches - is that facts will stand in apparent contradiction with truth.  What God wants however, is someone who is willing to stand in truth until the facts properly align.  If you can't dismiss your questions regarding the facts you observe in the light of the truth you know, you'll never move into the truth.  You'll either live in conflict, or dismiss it entirely.

In example, consider the story of Jonathan slaying the Philistines (1 Samuel 14).  He believed the revelation of God, was inspired to act, and acted upon the revealed truth in spite of the apparent facts.

The facts of the situation were that Jonathan was tactically disadvantaged: there was only two of them, but unknown numbers of the enemy; the enemy was on top of a hill, they were in a valley; Jonathan had to crawl  on his hands and knees, in full sight of the enemy, just to enter the battle.  The truth of the situation was in stark contrast to the facts of the situation.

 

Creating New Doctrine to Match Facts instead of Truth

 

Scripture clearly teaches that God desires His will be performed on earth as it is in heaven (Matthew 6:9-13).  There are any number of conclusions and adjunct scriptural evidences that we could draw upon to examine various facts in conflict with this truth.  Consider sickness, for example.

Most Christians will tell you that it's God's will for you to be sick - it's simply factual that people are sick, and you gotta die somehow, and God will somehow use it as a blessing.  Nevertheless, truth says otherwise.  First, the model prayer stands in direct conflict with the facts.  Secondly, every time Jesus is recorded encountering sickness, He destroys it.  Thirdly, Jesus perfectly represented and performed the will of God (here), and finally, if God desires us to be sick now, then there must be sickness in heaven.

But seeing that we can't have it that way, we create a new doctrine.  We call the spiritual gifts 'Apostolic Gifts,' and then have them cease.  I'll leave the rest of the quandary for you to sort out.

 

The Better Way


What's lovely about the outcomes referenced in Mr. Livingstone's blog is that it is presumable that the church actually went back to their prayer closet - so to speak - and changed their attitudes and position relative to God.  In other words, they observed that the facts didn't match the truth and instead of casting blame or creating a doctrine, listened to Holy Spirit and understood that they themselves needed to make a change.

Their explanation of the success is that "people are hungry for the word of God."  If by that one means preaching and teaching, then I'll respectfully disagree.  But if by that one means they're hungry for a relationship with God, then we're on the same page.

God teaches us that a cognizant relationship with Him begins with a turning of the heart, not with the preaching of the word and understanding with the mind:
but whenever a person turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away (2 Cor. 3:16)
Which is completely opposite of what we hear today: preach the word so people can learn - move head knowledge into the heart.

When a person or congregation returns or is revived, it's not by a will of the mind - it's a surrendering of the heart, from which the mind follows after the veil is removed.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

The Greatest Travesty

What is the greatest travesty of the modern church era?

Bad music?  Bad preaching?  Hyper-grace?  Expecting to see signs, wonders and healing?  Speaking in tongues?

I submit to you, it's none of those things.  And while this next statement may seem out of context, it's not: I used to think that it was impossible to be too heavenly minded to be of any earthly good.  I honesty didn't understand the concept: how could the two be in conflict with one another?  But I've come to realize that being heavenly minded is the thing that our churches try to instill - literally.

We're told that heaven is better than this life.  We're told that misery, trials and tribulations are our lot while "in the flesh," but not to worry: heaven is better.  Just remember where you're headed; and while you're at it, try to convince some others to come along with you because God made a better place for us and He wants us to be with Him there - where there's no misery, no tears and no worries (a seemingly difficult truth in light of Revelation 21:1-4 and modern preaching, I might add).

In essence, heaven is the goal, the touchdown and even to some, the pay-back for all of those who didn't choose their righteous path towards heaven.

Therefore, I submit to you that the travesty that modern preaching has foisted upon humanity is that heaven is the thing to be sought and obtained.  In doing so, we have turned the pursuit of heaven into our religion, the gospel into it's foundational axiom, and Jesus into it's causality.

In setting heaven as the goalpost, we have made Jesus merely a bystander along the way in our religion of seeking something  better.

We are so consumed with exiting our current sufferings that we have rejected the truth that exists in Jesus
Now when John, while imprisoned, heard of the works of Christ, he sent word by his disciples and said to Him, “Are You the Expected One, or shall we look for someone else?” Jesus answered and said to them, “Go and report to John what you hear and see: the blind receive sight and the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, and the poor have the gospel preached to them.  And blessed is he who does not take offense at Me.”
When we practice the Religion of Heaven, Jesus becomes a tool and the Bible our faith object.  In doing so, we find ourselves searching the scriptures looking for the next nugget to propel us back to the plateau of happy thoughts and abject rejection of ourselves and our earthly habitation.  And in doing so, we take offense in Jesus by make Him a mere steppingstone in our religion of the Journey to Something Better, aka, Heaven.

The Enemy has so infiltrated the Christian culture that we have come to believe that Heaven is our inheritance, the Bible is our faith object and the pastor/teacher is our helper.  The truth is that Jesus is our inheritance, Holy Spirit is our Helper, and God is our Faith Object.

In the section of scripture often called the beatitudes, (be of this attitude), we find this tidbit of wisdom:
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God  (Matthew 5:8)
The average pastor teaches this section of scripture as something "we should be," or "attitudes we should have," but at the same time, re-qualifies this verse as justifying moral excellence.  In other words, they're teaching that if you're morally excellent, you'll see or find God.  The problem with this bit of tortured reasoning is that the natural man can't achieve moral excellence on his own - only Jesus can bring moral excellence to the human condition.

So then, what are we to make of this scripture?  What does it mean to be 'pure in heart'; if not morality, then what?

When we understand the definition of pure, the meaning begins to come into focus:
Not mixed or adulterated with other material
An impure heart is a unfocused heart, it is a heart with split allegiance or desires.

Matthew 5:8 comes into focus when we understand that it's not referring to moral purity (something unobtainable) but focus purity (something that is obtainable): a heart completely focused upon, and surrendered to, Jesus.

Over the years, the church has designed alternative worship objects: such as pastor worship, bible worship, experience worship, educational worship and heaven worship - just to name a few.  All of these elements are designed to create within us an impure heart - a heart not focused on a single element, that being Jesus Christ.  We cannot set our hearts on heaven and also on Jesus.  A pure heart is an undivided heart, just as pure gold and pure silver have no other defiling elements.

Therefore, the greatest travesty of the modern church era is that it creates impure hearts within people through the encouragement to desire things other than Jesus; to encourage faith in things other than Jesus; to teach that life with Jesus Christ in the here-and-now is not something to be desired more than arriving in heaven.
Yes, furthermore, I count everything as loss compared to the possession of the priceless privilege (the overwhelming preciousness, the surpassing worth, and supreme advantage) of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord and of progressively becoming more deeply and intimately acquainted with Him [of perceiving and recognizing and understanding Him more fully and clearly]. For His sake I have lost everything and consider it all to be mere rubbish (refuse, dregs), in order that I may win (gain) Christ (the Anointed One)  (Philippians 3:8

Sunday, January 18, 2015

What is Mockery?

Mockery is an attitude, belief or action born out of an accusation of deceit.

To live your life in such a way that you seek first the things of God, but then live in fear, worry or doubt that your needs will be met, is a mocking God.

Profound disapproval and disgust goes hand in hand with thinking that God will not provide.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Knowing Your Authority in Christ

"Peter, along with John, fixed his gaze on him and said, 'Look at us!' And he began to give them his attention, expecting to receive something from them. But Peter said, 'I do not possess silver and gold, but what I do have I give to you...'"

There are a couple of ways we can approach this scripture from Acts, 3.  We can do what the pastor of a First Baptist Church told his congregation one Sunday morning (paraphrased):
"Never take doctrine from Acts, or use Acts in support of doctrine: it is an historical account of the birth of early church, that's all."
And yet, he still preached from that book. I was a confused young man not to question that logic in the light of 2 Tim. 3:16.

Or you can apply it to your life, by asking the question, "what's going on in this passage that might be applicable to me?"

Peter didn't say, "Let me pray for you." Rather, "I'm going to give you something I have." In other words, he understood (knew) the tangible deposit which had been made within his life. No beseeching of the Father was necessary.

The doctrine of dispensationalism teaches that "God doesn't do that any more."  And by that, it teaches us to live in ignorance of the deposits and authority we have through Jesus Christ.  This type of deception isn't reserved only for one class of theologians, however.  Consider for a moment that an honest hyper-calvinist can't bear the suggestion that they're a steward of God's grace.  Such a thing would certainly mean to them that we have a leash on God's sovereignty.
As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God's varied grace: whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God (1 Peter 4:10 ...)
For this reason I, Paul, the prisoner of Christ Jesus for the sake of you Gentiles— if indeed you have heard of the stewardship of God’s grace which was given to me for you;  that by revelation there was made known to me the mystery, as I wrote before in brief. (Eph. 3:1-3)
The point is this:
when we live in ignorance of the deposits God had made in our lives, we fail to write the checks that are equal to that which God has given us.
So I would leave you with two thoughts: praying for someone is not wrong - rather it is encouraged. Neither is praying for healing wrong, it is encouraged. But know this: you do not have God on a leash - He has you on a leash. And that circumference is your realm of authority.  Ask God to show you what the realm involves, but also be open to the opportunities that present themselves.

And regarding that theory of dispensationalism:
And by this you invalidated the word of God for the sake of your tradition. You hypocrites, rightly did Isaiah prophesy of you: ‘This people honors Me with their lips, but their heart is far away from Me. ‘But in vain do they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the precepts of men.’” (Matt. 15:6-9)

Monday, July 7, 2014

Getting to the Sufficiency of the Cross

Sometimes, it doesn't make sense to stay engaged with people in your life that are entrenched in their attitudes and belief systems.  

Take for example a bunch of folks I used to know - fellow Sunday School members - that I thought were my friends.  One of them started a rumor, another one said something else. And the next thing I knew, I was sitting alone in surgery waiting room as my wife was under going cancer surgery for renal carcinoma.  
  • None of them came to sit with me.
  • None of them called.
  • None of them brought us food.
  • None of them sent a card.
  • None of them did so much as sending an email.
And these were people welcomed into my home - for years.  I fed them, I taught them, I laughed and cried with them and I helped them in any way that I could - both financially and in deeds.  But when it came down to brass tacks, they showed their true colors and stabbed me and my family in the back.

And then you run across the random atheist who levels expletives at you for being a skeptic regarding their global warming theories.  I haven't bought into the science of the global warming theories being passed around these days.  Oh, it exists, I'm sure of that.  I'm just not as convinced as to why as some other people are.  But that's what being a skeptic is all about: ignoring someone's reasoned opinion and looking elsewhere: it's called honest investigation.  The problem is that with some people, you're not allowed to be a skeptic in a manner that casts a shadow of doubt upon their position.

But there's something here that's my issue to solve, not theirs - even though if they seem to believe that harassment will affect change. In the end, it only serves to make them feel better about themselves.

Being the Overcomer

But have you ever seriously considered these words in Revelation?
and they overcame him because of the blood of the Lamb and because of the word of their testimony, and they did not love their life even when faced with death. (Rev. 12:11)
For some of my Baptist friends, that's not a great thing to have floating around in the Bible.  I value the Good Book as much (or more) than anyone else, but that verse just throws a wrench in their gears.  Why?  Because of how we overcome the evil one.  Any good Baptist will teach you that in order to be spiritual, you must thouroghly learn the Bible so that you can appropriately apply it when ever the circumstance presents itself.  In their world, spirituality is defined as Bible knowledge plus proper application.  And if you can appropriately apply the Bible to most life circumstances, then you must by definition be Spiritual and also be able to overcome the evil one.

But there's a problem - Abraham was a spiritual man just as King David was, and they didn't have our Bible to memorize and apply.  Furthermore, any Buddhist can do the same: memorize our Bible and appropriately apply it.  Does that mean they're Biblically spiritual too?

Therefore, consider this: Jesus didn't just throw scripture in the face of Satan during His temptation, rather He provided testimony as to who He was.

And there's a huge difference between the two.  One uses scripture as a tool, the other uses it as a reflection of who they are in God's eyes.  Maybe both implementations are correct, maybe they both feed off of each other, but there is a big difference using scripture as a tool and providing personal testimony of who you are in Christ.

Consider also that we know what's not in the Bible: the word of my testimony.  It doesn't have a place for all of the work that God has done in my life - and according to Revelation 12:11, the testimony of who I am in God, who I am in Jesus and what He has done in my life is absolutely key to overcoming Satan.  So then there is the question: why?

Lets go to Ephesians:
in addition to all, taking up the shield of faith with which you will be able to extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one (Eph. 6:16)
Well, that's interesting.  It does seem to coalesce perfectly with the Revelation passage because our faith rests upon what God has done - not what we conjure or muster up.  And by way of mention, consider that the sword of the Lord isn't used in the quenching of the fiery darts - that sounds almost heretical, doesn't it?  But keep reading, because the sword and the helmet do show up.

But do not forget the other half: "they overcame him because of the blood of the lamb."  Which means that the cross of Christ is sufficient for your needs - as this person seems to have figured out.

So lets boil this down.  The Bible tells us about God and His intentions and interactions with man.  God then proceeds to demonstrate Himself to us, thereby building our faith - He being the author and perfecter of our faith.  On the other hand, we have the finished work of Jesus Christ, by whom, God will supply all our "needs according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus."  (Phil. 4:19)  

Consider that for a moment: has it never occurred to you that 'in Christ Jesus' means all of Christ Jesus?  You can't separate and parse the life and purpose of Jesus, as many people like to do.  You can't say the cross covers this, the whipping post covers that, His life and miracles cover this other bit ... no ... it's all called "God's riches in glory in Christ Jesus."  Your emotional health, your physical health, your spiritual health: it's all provided for and by the work of Jesus Christ.

And as we receive His riches in glory, in Christ Jesus, we experience and interact with God.  Through those experiences our faith is strengthened and consequently, our testimony grows.  And thus we have the foundation of overcoming the evil leveled against us: because of the blood of the lamb, and word of our testimony which is based in His word to us and His on going work of salvation and sanctification in us.

So in the end, when we find ourselves offended by what someone does or says - as I most certainly was - we can always go back to scripture and be reminded that we have not yet been completely perfected in love and we have not yet completely learned the sufficiency of the cross.  But as scripture teaches us, we should
Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him. But he must ask in faith without any doubting, for the one who doubts is like the surf of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind.  For that man ought not to expect that he will receive anything from the Lord, being a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.  But the brother of humble circumstances is to glory in his high position; and the rich man is to glory in his humiliation, because like flowering grass he will pass away. For the sun rises with a scorching wind and withers the grass; and its flower falls off and the beauty of its appearance is destroyed; so too the rich man in the midst of his pursuits will fade away.  Blessed is a man who perseveres under trial; for once he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him. (James 1:2-12)


Sunday, May 4, 2014

Words of Life and Death

A brother offended is harder to be won than a strong city, 
and contentions are like the bars of a citadel. 

With the fruit of a man’s mouth his stomach will be satisfied; 
he will be satisfied with the product of his lips. 

Death and life are in the power of the tongue, 
and those who love it will eat its fruit.
Proverbs 18:19-21


Words of Death

  • Gossip
  • Criticism
  • Complaining

Anything you hear that is not encouragement, building you up and pushing you closer to God is not of Jesus, Holy Spirit nor of God.  Hate is the action that tears a person down.  It is the opposite of Love.

Words of Life

  • Edification
  • Exhortation
  • Consolation
Love is the action that builds someone up, it is the opposite of hate.  Any word that you receive that edifies you, exhorts you or consoles you, is of Jesus, Holy Spirit and God.

Finally, remember that Satan only comes to steal, kill (sacrifice is the actual word) and destroy.  And also remember that Jesus referred to him both as a thief and a liar (John 8:44, 10:10).

Finally, what does it mean in Proverbs 18:21, "and those who love it will eat its fruit?"  In my opinion, the author is referring to both death and life.  Which ever you choose to do: build up or tear down, you will eat the fruit of your labors:

Do not be deceived,  God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, this he will also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life.  (Galatians 6:7-8)

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Howdy: It's Been A While

It's been a long while since I've posted here.

Since starting this blog, there have been dramatic changes in my life, a loss of people who I thought were friends (and the gaining of new ones), changing churches several times, a battle with cancer (my wife), and in the midst of that I managed to complete my B.Sc in Information Technology and am well on my way to completing a M.Sc..

It has been an interesting number of years, to say the least.

But I wanted to share this with you, from Frank Viola:

Rule of thumb: If you read something negative about another person, especially a fellow Christian, take it with a grain of salt. Tilt toward not believing it. Just as you would want others to do if it were you being smeared (Matthew 7:12).

If you’re concerned, go to the person directly to hear their response. There are always two sides to any story (as least). And unfortunately, some people desire to defame others, usually out of jealousy, so dishonesty abounds. 
via, Don't Believe Everything You Read or Hear


Proverbs 18:13
“He who answers a matter before he hears it, it is folly and shame to him.”



Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Learning to Pray - In Secret, Ask, Seek and Knock

It happened that while Jesus was praying in a certain place, after He had finished, one of His disciples said to Him, “Lord, teach us to pray just as John also taught his disciples.” And He said to them, “When you pray, say:
‘Father, hallowed be Your name.
Your kingdom come.
‘Give us each day our daily bread.
‘And forgive us our sins,
For we ourselves also forgive everyone who is indebted to us.
And lead us not into temptation.’”
Then He said to them, “Suppose one of you has a friend, and goes to him at midnight and says to him, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves; for a friend of mine has come to me from a journey, and I have nothing to set before him’; and from inside he answers and says, ‘Do not bother me; the door has already been shut and my children and I are in bed; I cannot get up and give you anything.’ I tell you, even though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, yet because of his persistence he will get up and give him as much as he needs.

“So I say to you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives; and he who seeks, finds; and to him who knocks, it will be opened. Now suppose one of you fathers is asked by his son for a fish; he will not give him a snake instead of a fish, will he?  Or if he is asked for an egg, he will not give him a scorpion, will he? If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him?”
Since this blog series is about prayer, we'll just skip the fact that Jesus was praying and any implications that might be made around that fact.  But one of the things I do want you to see is something that most people consider anecdotal:  "It happened that while Jesus was praying in a certain place ..."

Why do we find a reference to "a certain place?"  If there was something special about a particular place, say the garden of Gethsemane, then why wouldn't we be told exactly the name of that place?  I think we would, but that's not the case.  Rather, the important thing we're left to understand is that there most definitely was a "certain place." 

So why is that important?  Because it's important that you designate a place for payer.  This isn't to say that you cannot pray in any place at any time, but you need a retreat, a secret place:
But you, when you pray, go into your inner room, close your door and pray to your Father who is in secret, and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you.  (Matthew 6:6)
The Model Prayer
It took me a long time to figure out that the Lord's prayer is a model, not something we're supposed to corporately repeat week after week, which is why I typically avoid repeating it at the pre-defined time.  There are a plethora of bible studies and sermons on this prayer, but suffice it to say we should remember to acknowledge who He is, and the necessity for us to be in harmony with His will and that as His will is in Heaven, so should it be here.  We ask for our needs to be met and then confess our sins, and acknowledge our responsibility to forgive those who sin against us.  And lastly, we ask for protection.  The model prayer is something in which we should pay special attention to the order of the given concepts.  We will express our priorities through prayer, and the model prayer helps us keep our priorities in line with His priorities.

Ask, Seek, Knock
This is where the meat of the lesson lives.  We find a man, who upon having a friend arrive from a long journey, realizes that he has nothing to set before him.  In other words, he can't meet his needs, which for any of us in a similar situation, would be embarrassing.

Asking is a necessary step.  So, lets assume, for argument's sake, that the man asked his wife, "where is the food?"  Upon learning there was none to be had, his next step was seeking.  So, out of his house he went, seeking food for the hungry traveler and seeking after the friend whom he knew could meet his needs.  Upon finding his friend's house, he then knocked on the door.   He could have just stood at the door, upon finding it closed.  But if he had done that, then the door would have never opened.  Many times, God provides provision, but we refuse to knock.

One of the things we must avoid when considering this example is that God is not annoyed with us, neither are we an inconvenience when encountered through prayer.  The point the Jesus is making regarding the two men is two fold: true friends meet each others needs, and secondly, you have to seek, ask and knock when opportunities are presented.
No longer do I call you slaves, for the slave does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all things that I have heard from My Father I have made known to you. (John 15:15)
Relationship and Persistence
So, why did the man go to his friends house?  I know, it's a rhetorical question, but it's worth considering.  He could have stopped at any other house along the way.  The answer is simple: when we ask favors of people whom we have not earned the right to impose upon, we are more often than not, rejected.  But our friends are different.  We've invested in them and we've earned the right to ask favors of them.  True friends help one another, and there is no more truer a friend than Jesus.  Again, we're getting back to knowing the nature of God, for we don't earn the right to ask, seek and knock at His door, rather we are imputed with that authority.

But why the persistence?  Because persistence represents conviction - the conviction that we know who we're dealing with, that we know the nature of God, and that we know His will.  The man continued to knock on the door because he knew that eventually, his friend would get up and meet his needs.   While persistence helped, it was the relationship that provided a basis for having his needs met.  And that's the position from which we must approach God.



Learning to Pray - Knowing Him

This is the confidence which we have before Him, that, if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us.  And if we know that He hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests which we have asked from Him. (1 John 5:14-15)
In a previous post, I suggested that there is a vast difference between doing for God and knowing God.  Interestingly enough, that concept segues into our greatest problem with prayer: understanding how to apply scripture like 1 John 5:14-15.  Which poses the question, how do you know His will?

Answer: just like any child knows the will of their parents.

Children can tell you what their parents would think of many different things.  They can tell you when they're likely to get into trouble through their actions, and when they're likely to receive praise.  Is this information impossible to come by?  Apparently not, for through a simple thing called relationship and "getting to know someone," children come to exercise these abilities naturally.

And therein lies the rub.  We're too busy learning pseudo-doctrine, denominational tradition and how to keep the Law, and in doing so, we substitute those things for getting to know Him.  The Scribes and Pharisees had the same problem:   they were well versed in the Law, but didn't have a clue when it came to knowing who God was and what he was all about.

In order to know Him, you generally have to give some things up, such as your view of church or your reliance upon the Law.  Church isn't about the worship service, it's not about the sermon, and it is most definitely not about the preacher, the projects or the ministries.  Church is about exercising the heart and nature of God.  With certainty, those things can be found in the aforementioned.  But it is woefully too easy to just do those things because it's the right thing to do, rather than because it is an overflow of His nature pouring out of you.  There is a vast difference between the two, as seen in Matthew 7:21-23:
“Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter.  Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’  And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness.’
So, boys and girls, our assignment today is to get to know something about His nature and His character.  And here's a suggestion on how to do that.  Read a Psalm, and when you finish a verse or a complete thought, ask this question: why?  Why did the Psalmist say that?  Why would God say that?

Here's something to get you started:
Many are the sorrows of the wicked, but he who trusts in the Lord, loving kindness shall surround him. (Ps. 32:10)
Why?  Why would God surround us with loving kindness simply because we trusted in Him?  What does that say about His nature?  Next, can you imagine an experience that must have been necessary in order for those words to flow from the authors heart?

Consider those questions, or others you may prefer, and consider the answers that would be consistent with other Bible passages that you're familiar with.  The purpose of the exercise is to learn something about the nature and character of God.  Doing so will enable us to understand His will, at least in some limited fashion.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Isaiah 41:10-12

Do not fear, for I am with you; do not anxiously look about you, for I am your God.  I will strengthen you, surely I will help you, surely I will uphold you with My righteous right hand.’
 
“Behold, all those who are angered at you will be shamed and dishonored ... You will seek those who quarrel with you, but will not find them ..."

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Serving vs. Knowing

Where or what, are your priorities in life as a Disciple of Christ?

But before getting too much into that, you need to determine for yourself one thing: are you a Christian or a disciple of Christ?  There's a difference.  According to the world today and the various diverse denominations, being a Christian is pretty much being anything you want to be: just ask the people as Westboro Baptist Church - they've garnered more press for Christendom than any one else in recent history.  If you attempt to define Christian through scripture, you'll find it to be a difficult thing to do, since it's only used three times:
Acts 11:26  and when he had found him, he brought him to Antioch. And for an entire year they met with the church and taught considerable numbers; and the disciples were first called Christians in Antioch. 
Acts 26:28  Agrippa replied to Paul, "In a short time you will persuade me to become a Christian." 
1 Peter 4:16  but if anyone suffers as a Christian, he is not to be ashamed, but is to glorify God in this name.
Based upon these verses, we might say that Christians are disciples, possibly persuasive and sometimes suffers.   It's also safe to assume that disciple, in the context of Acts 11, refers to a follower of Christ.  So if that's what you mean when you call yourself a Christian, you've made a step in the right direction.  But you're still not off the hook, you still must define what it means to be a disciple of Christ.  In the NASB, the word 'disciple' is found as follows:

255 verses found, 272 matches
Isaiah
2 verses found
3 matches
Matthew
73 verses found
76 matches
Mark
42 verses found
46 matches
Luke
36 verses found
38 matches
John
74 verses found
79 matches
Acts
28 verses found
30 matches

So hold onto that thought about being a disciple, because I'm going to get back to it.  But until then, I would suggest that ...

Your First Priority is to Know Him, Not to be Used by Him

You probably think I'm off my rocker, for any good Christian wants to be useful to God.  It's what we hear week after week from the pulpit: find a place to serve God in your church.  What they really mean is stop being lazy and help us do the job you've hired us to do because we can't do it all by ourselves.  But I digress...

Eventually, if you hang around long enough, you'll hear one of them say something about being "put on the shelf" or finding yourself "useless" for kingdom work.  They will claim that it usually happens because of some sin you've committed, or because you're just not interested in Godly things, or you're a back-slider or just simply in rebellion towards God.

But it turns out, more often than not, being found useless is our greatest fear, right?  Well then you might want to also remember this:  that which you fear loosing most is that wherein you've placed your security.  Which means, if you fear being useless to God, then your security in your relationship to God is found through your usefulness to Him, not in His nature, not in His character, nor in His loving kindness towards you.

Which means this: you have a performance based relationship with God: if you do good things, you're rewarded with cookies and candy.  But if you do bad things - or possibly no things at all - you're punished by being ignored and cast away like a worthless piece of trash.

If you still think I'm off my rocker, then answer this question: do you want to be used by your spouse?  Do you want to have a relationship wherein your spouse micro-manages your life, tells you what to do, when to do it, how to do it, and then judges you on the outcomes?  Or possibly you have an enlightened view of the marital relationship and you want to figure out what pleases your spouse the most and then be judged on your performance?  Sounds like a perfect relationship right?  No?

Actually, the truth about the marriage relationship is that you need to get to know your spouse.  Only after you have learned who your spouse is can you anticipate his or her needs.  When you know your spouse, you know what they are doing at any given time, what they will think regarding a given situation.  When you know your spouse, you can act with confidence in your relationship towards others on their behalf.  And when your relationship is built upon mutual trust, love, affection and respect, then you can live your life with them in safety and assurance.  That is how the marriage is supposed to work.

But we're quick to forget that our relationship to God is described as a husband and wife relationship.  Instead, we turn it into that which we have created in our churches: an employer relationship wherein we hire the employee and then let him run our spiritual lives.  Kinda like we treat God: we employ Him to save our souls and then expect Him to run (or ruin) our lives through micro-management and weekly, judgmental performance evaluations.  And in this dysfunctional, co-dependent relationship, we are taught to believe that only through service and wanting to be used by God can we find true happiness.

Serving God is fine.  Unless it's what you do instead of who you are.  Jesus never called us to "do witnessing."  Rather, He said we would "be witnesses."  There's a big difference.  Any one can purger themselves by doing witnessing in a court of law, but it is only the real witness that can enter and leave the courts of law with confidence and a clear conscience.  People who "do for God" may eventually burn out or retire from the ministry because what they were doing was a vocation, not a reflection of who they were in Christ.

Priorities

So, what has all this got to do with priorities?  If your priorities are to be used of God, then your priorities are wrong.  You're in a performance based relationship.  You're either trying to perform for God, or you're trying to perform for man, or possibly both.  In either case, it's your ego that you're feeding through adulation and approval.  While you can gain the approval of Man, there's not a blooming thing you can do to gain the approval of God, for Jesus has already earned and imputed that approval to you.  If you are not made righteous by God, then you're not righteous or worthy of any kind of approval by God, at all, period-the-end.

So then, what's the priority?  Get to know Him.
More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ, and may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith, that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death; in order that I may attain to the resurrection from the dead. Not that I have already obtained it or have already become perfect, but I press on so that I may lay hold of that for which also I was laid hold of by Christ Jesus.
(Php 3:8-12)

What did a Disciple Do?

When you consider the disciples of Christ, what was it that they did?  Well, basically, they just followed Jesus around every where He went.  Yes, that's a very small way of looking at it, I know.  But consider it for a moment and ask yourself, why did they do that?  What benefit was there?  Could they have not picked up a sermon on the mount here and there and figured out what Jesus was all about?  Everyone else seemed to, or at least we can assume that many people did.

The Disciples followed Jesus in order to get to know Him.  You don't really know someone until you've lived with them, walked in their paths, experienced them in those private times - it's only then will you learn if their talk matches their walk.  That's what a disciple does - He learns who his master really is, and what his master is really all about.

You can be a Christian and define yourself anyway you want to.  But in order to call your self a disciple of Christ, you must yield to a higher authority and a different standard.  And in doing so, you will learn the difference between knowing Jesus and serving Jesus.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Retired from the Ministry

I recently read something by a retired, Lutheran pastor.  It was a how-to regarding sharpening tools.  According to his comments,  he had been in the ministry for 40 years and apparently had determined that it was time to leave all of that behind and move on to something else.

And it got me thinking.

What exactly is retirement, and how does it fit - in its classical definition - to a member of the body of Christ?

In terms of occupation, there are a couple definitions that bring into focus exactly what we mean when speaking of retirement:

  • to remove from active service or the usual field of activity, as an army officer or business executive.
  • to withdraw (a machine, ship, etc.) permanently from its normal service, usually for scrapping; take out of use. (dictionary.reference.com)
Therefore, a pastor or teacher who has retired considers themselves to no longer be a pastor or teacher.  They would say, "I used to be a pastor, but I'm retired now."  Which begs the question: "what are you now?"  And the answer?  "Not a pastor or a teacher."  Out of work, out of service, and possibly, no longer useful.

The Holy Spirit teaches us a many things about being a member of the Body of Christ, and using the example set forth, He says that "He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers ... " (Ephesians 4:11).  I've talked a lot about the Body of Christ and it's responsibilities throughout this blog, so I won't go back through those issues again.  But lets add one thing to the thought of being a member of the Body of Christ: "the gifts and calling of God are irrevocable" (Romans 11:29).  And lest the connection between gifts and being a pastor/teacher is missed, I'll remind us that the Holy Spirit also says that  "there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit. And there are varieties of ministries, and the same Lord.  There are varieties of effects, but the same God who works all things in all persons.  But to each one is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good" (1 Corinthians 12:4-7).

The Holy Spirit draws many parallels between a living, breathing and functioning human body, and the Body of Christ, which God equips for ministry.  He even goes as far to suggest that one part of the body cannot say to itself or to another,  'you are of no use, I shall cut you off'  (1 Corinthians 12).

In other words, you're not allowed to suggest that you (or anyone else for that matter) are no longer useful.  This isn't to say, however, that there are not differing periods and shades of ministry throughout our lives.  But the fact of the matter is this: we is who we are, and we ain't gonna change that.   Just because one does not stand before multitudes does not make them any less of a preacher or a teacher than one who shares their story to a friend or acquaintance.

Which brings us back to retirement.  Is there really retirement for the pastor or teacher, for the evangelist or the healer?  Can one who spent his entire life guiding and shepherding or teaching actually say, "that's no longer who I am, I do not do that any more?"

I believe the answer is no.

How would you like it if your kidneys decided one day that they were just going to stop working?  That actually happens, you know.  People without medical treatment die pretty quickly, and even those who do get treatment sometimes do not survive.  Of course, God is bigger than all of that and His will shall be done.  So we don't have to worry that the Body of Christ is going to wither up and die, though it certainly does look quiet ill these days, at least in some parts of the world that I'm familiar with.

So where does the notion of retirement come from, as applied to a member of the Body of Christ?  No where else other than the world system of secular, God denying, thought.  Which Christians have embraced with gusto and applied liberally to their organizations, called churches.  We may even go as far call the Pastor the head, or Chief Executive Officer of the church.  In other words, chop off the head, and the church will crumble, or at least the members find another head to follow.

But the problem with that philosophy, and those who set themselves up as an authority to be obeyed in the local church (locally autonomous or not), is that such a system doesn't come from the Holy Spirit.  Rather, He says that Jesus is the head of the Church, not some guy in a robe with gold cords and a bad accent.  But be as that may, God is certainly aware that we're going to put these organizations together, for He also says, "submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether to a king as the one in authority,  or to governors as sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and the praise of those who do right" (James 2:13-14).  So being a member of the local Religious Institution on the corner isn't wrong, until we forget who is the real Head of the Church.

But I digress.

The point I'm trying to make is this:  when does a Christian get to retire?  Possibly when The Ministry is a vocation and not a calling?

Retirement from functioning in ones gifts isn't something that should naturally occur to a member of the Body of Christ.  While God does  provide periods of rest and seasons of change in ministry to His children, we will never cease to be who we are, as gifted by God, in Christ.  And it makes me wonder regarding those of use who would retire from ministry: were we ever one with Christ in the first place, or did we just have a vocation?






Thursday, July 19, 2012

Why should you believe?

On the next day, when they had left Bethany, {Jesus} became hungry.  Seeing at a distance a fig tree in leaf, He went to see if perhaps He would find anything on it; and when He came to it, He found nothing but leaves, for it was not the season for figs.  He said to it, “May no one ever eat fruit from you again!” And His disciples were listening. 
...
As they were passing by in the morning, they saw the fig tree withered from the roots up.  Being reminded, Peter *said to Him, “ Rabbi, look, the fig tree which You cursed has withered.”  And Jesus *answered saying to them, “ Have faith in God.   Truly I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and cast into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that what he says is going to happen, it will be granted him.  Therefore I say to you, all things for which you pray and ask, believe that you have received them, and they will be granted you.  Whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father who is in heaven will also forgive you your transgressions. (Mark 11:12-14, 20-25)
There is a vast dichotomy taught in our churches.  On the one hand, we're told to have "faith in God."  But on the other hand, when troubles come we're expected to just take our lumps because "God doesn't do that any more - we have Doctors now."

So, in all honesty, what does this passage of scripture mean for us today?  Here are my questions:
  1. Was this given to the just the disciples of Jesus of that day?
  2. Was it given just to the apostles?
  3. Or was it intended to be given to all, for all time (which infers that it's not just something for us to know about and believe that happened)
And lastly,what does "have faith in God" really mean, and specifically, what does it mean in this context?  I have an idea, or two about that.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Escaping the Thorns

The following scenario is from The Gospel for the Middle – A Synchroblog

Fielding Melish and his wife Felicia have two children, ages 10 and 6. They live in a very remote part of Maine, USA. They are surrounded by extended family, none of whom are Christians. The nearest churches are one hour away, and by all evangelical standards, none of them are good. These churches are either highly legalistic, highly libertine, or just flat-out flaky.

One of Fielding’s cousins is a practicing Christian. They see each other once a year. Fielding’s cousin has shared Christ with Fielding many times over the years. Whenever they’ve talked about spiritual things, Fielding shows interest.

Felicia grew up in a Christian home. She’s received Christ, but she isn’t evangelistic and is overwhelmed with working long hours and raising two small children. She would love to find a church nearby for the spiritual support and instruction, but none exist.

Fielding has no college education. While he is capable of reading, he is not a reader. He doesn’t use the Web either. He’s a man who works with his hands, both for his career and for recreation. He’s an “outdoorsman.” He hunts, he builds, he does manual labor, etc. In his spare time, he helps his elderly parents with various building projects.

Fielding is not an atheist. Neither is he an agnostic. He believes in God. He believes Jesus is the Savior of the world who died for our sins and rose again from the dead. He hasn’t fully surrendered his life to Christ, but he is not sure what that looks like exactly. His children know a little about the Lord, mostly because of what their mother has taught them.

Recently Fielding asked this question:
When I’m with my cousin once a year, I want to learn more about God. But when I come back home, and I’m around everyone else, my mind is off of God, and I am back to working, raising my kids, and helping my parents. Someone needs to come up with a solution for people like me . . . people who are in the middle. (By “in the middle,” Fielding means someone who believes in Jesus, but who isn’t fully absorbed in the faith yet either. They simply don’t know enough nor do they have any spiritual support system around them.)
Relocating is not an option for Fielding and his wife. Even if they wanted to relocate, they don’t see a way they could do it financially.

Remember: Fielding and his wife don’t personally know any Christians. None of their extended family or coworkers are believers either. And the nearest churches (which are an hour away) aren’t recommended.

Question

If you were Fielding’s cousin, how would you instruct him and his wife the next time you saw them?

Answer
Mark 4:3,7-9: The sower went out to sow; as he was sowing ...{some} seed fell among the thorns, and the thorns came up and choked it, and it yielded no crop. Other seeds fell into the good soil, and as they grew up and increased, they yielded a crop and produced thirty, sixty, and a hundredfold.” And He was saying, “ He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” 
It's all up to You
In all honesty, there is nothing that anyone can create to help people who are looking for things to do (other than changing their behaviors) to build and strengthen their relationship with God.  Relationship with and thirst for God is not found through traditions, programs, churches, pastors or teachers.  Those things may be helpful in supplementing our pre-existing relationship with God, but it is our desire, our seeking that fulfills the need.

It can be likened to a woman finding a man she loves and wants to marry, but then finding that she also adores his family.  So she ends up spending all of her time with his family, listening to his father and mother speaking wonderful things about her husband-to-be, all the while wondering, "why is my relationship with the man I love, suffering?  I'm learning about him, I'm understanding things about him, I love him, but his relationship to me and my relationship to him are practically non-existent."  What did she do wrong?  She applied an inappropriate focus.  There were many things his family could teach her about her husband-to-be, but it was the relationship that suffered because she refused to seek after him and, instead, sought after something related to him. 

Seeking follows Drawing
Jesus said, "and I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to Myself." (John 12:32)  Did Jesus mean that the crucifixion would draw men, or was He speaking of His intention to draw all men?  I believe He was speaking of His intention to draw all men:
So also it is written, 'The first man, Adam, became a living soul.' The last Adam became a life-giving spirit. However, the spiritual is not first, but the natural; then the spiritual." (1 Corinthians 15:45-46)
So, the drawing of the life-giving spirit happens in the natural first.  Once we are aware of a drawing, we then may seek after it - which means we "do something."  Conversely, when we do something without His drawing, then we are answering a calling from the flesh, or better, the spirit of man.

Doing vs. Seeking
We have been continually, repeatedly, ad-nauseum taught to "do" things for God.  Doing in and of itself is not wrong - it is how we teach children - but the Scriptures teach us to be seekers.  And I do not mean "Seeker" in the man-made traditional sense, but a Seeker in the Biblical sense.  Consider Psalm 1: 
How blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked, nor stand in the path of sinners, nor sit in the seat of scoffers!  But his delight is in the law of the Lord, and in His law he meditates day and night.  He will be like a tree firmly planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in its season and its leaf does not wither; and in whatever he does, he prospers.  The wicked are not so, but they are like chaff which the wind drives away.  Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the assembly of the righteous. For the Lord knows the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish.
Where does a person walk?  Towards that thing which they seek.  Why would a person obtain counsel?  Because they seek wisdom.  Why do we stand in or walk in a path?  Because we seek the destination to which it leads.  Seeking is our first step, which is followed by doing.  A person who is tired of doing has been doing for the sake of doing.  It is most likely they never attempted to seek first the Lord.  There is a difference in seeking the Lord for the sake of seeking the Lord - it being the end its self, and seeking God for the purpose of asking Him, "what do I do?" We do and do and do but with the wrong fuel to power the engine.  Seeking the Lord for the relationship with the Lord is the fuel, seeking Him moves us towards the Drawer of all men, Jesus Christ. 

Conclusion
In the end, you must determine for your self: do I know Him?  If the answer is yes, then you need to answer the next question: why do I let the cares of the world choke out His drawing of me towards Him?  Once you've either answered that question, or accepted that it is the truth of your existence, then you have a decision to make.  Are you going to continue life in the weeds, or are you going to make time to seek after God?  

There are a lot of ways to seek after God - the Bible is full of them, but the Psalms are a good place to start.  The Psalms reflect the hearts of those seeking after God through their fears, their hurts and their joys.  They also make for incredible discussion material with God.  For example,
I acknowledged my sin to You, and my iniquity I did not hide; I said, “ I will confess my transgressions to the Lord”; and You forgave the guilt of my sin. (Psalm 32)
In essence, the Lord has given us conversational material to use in building our relationship with Him.

If you don't like to read, then I would suggest that you listen instead.  One of the best auditory versions of the Bible is the KJV by Alexander Scourby.  The KJV may be difficult for some to read, but Alexander Scourby makes the KJV extremely accessible and easily understood.
Deuteronomy 4:5-6a, 9: See, I have taught you statutes and judgments just as the Lord my God commanded me, that you should do thus in the land where you are entering to possess it. So keep and do them, for that is your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the peoples who will hear all these statutes ... Only give heed to yourself and keep your soul diligently, so that you do not forget the things which your eyes have seen and they do not depart from your heart all the days of your life; but make them known to your sons and your grandsons
Psalm 119:2-3: How blessed are those who observe His testimonies, who seek Him with all their heart. They also do no unrighteousness; they walk in His ways.

Matthew 6:33: But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.

Hebrews 11:6: And without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him.