Tuesday, December 18, 2012

The Dis-organized Church

This is a day in which people are leaving what they mockingly describe as "organized religion" in favour of loosely organized gatherings of a spiritual nature. While I am not in favour of all that takes place under the banner of the established church today, this recent phenomenon is a step backward for the cause of Christ. There is much to be said, but let's briefly consider some thoughts about this topic.

In general, the dis-organized church is made up of groups of people meeting here and there with no real leadership, doctrine, or practice. They tend to talk a lot about Jesus, love, and social action, and they closely follow Christian pop-culture.

1. The dis-organized church tends to be made up of disgruntled people from a variety of local organized churches. Yes, unfortunately it is true. People that are happy in their home church don't leave in search of the dis-organized church. Instead of encouraging these wandering souls to go back to their church (assuming it was a Bible teaching church) and make things right, the dis-organized church unethically latches onto these lost sheep even while their shepherds (pastors) are seeking their restoration. As a result, the disorganized church has a higher incidence of negativity, bitterness, and unresolved issues.

2. The dis-organized church is dependent upon the organized church. Generally, the groups that make up the dis-organized church have no building for funerals, few (if any) Biblically competent leaders, and no resources of their own for such things as camp ministries, counselling, book publishing, schools and colleges. The unethical practice of taking resources from the organized church while walking away from and defaming it is an issue that the dis-organized church must face.

3. The dis-organized church tends to attract leaders that have had difficulties in the organized church. Sometimes they have been injured by the very people they cared for and are looking for a place to heal. For those in this situation I have great sympathy, but there is a better way. Others have themselves caused pain and injured former ministries within the organized church, and for this reason are not fit at this time to lead. Whatever the reason, the disorganized church tends to have little or no Biblically qualified, competent, and steady leadership.

4. The dis-organized church in general has little if any emphasis on the preaching of the Word of God. Usually one of two things happen. Either an emphasis placed on worship (read this "music") and dialogue about Jesus (not the totality of Scripture), or they find high profile preachers and teachers on the internet and follow them in a haphazard fashion.

5. The dis-organized church accomplishes little in the areas of ministry and evangelism. This is a function of their aversion to organization. If there is no sense of a larger mission for the group that everyone is expected to embrace and sacrifices to achieve, there will be much talk but little accomplished for the cause of Christ. Results come from organized effort.

6. The dis-organized church has trouble with balance. Because the dis-organized church has a hatred for leadership it gets blown around a lot. The group gets caught up in each new wave of spiritual fads that come from a cultural Christian commericalism. Each new book, blog, or teaching series affords a new tangent for the group to persue. Rather than being steadied by a broad doctrinal base, the group is found to be rushing about madly in all directions.

7. The dis-organized church is missing key aspects of what constitutes a New Testament church.

Authority - The New Testament model of church planting is that of established churches birthing new churches by means of men selected by the Holy Spirit, commissioned, and sent out under the authority of the already established "mother" church. Churches give birth to churches. Much hurt has come from church splits and rogue preachers trying to start their own church without the support, endorsement, and foundation of an established congregation.

Doctrinal Agreement - A church is more than a group of people assembled. Those people have to be agreed on some basics in doctrine, otherwise the gathering is no more than a spirit themed party. Doctrine is the backbone of the church. Love is the hands attached to that skeleton. To get those backward is to truly put the cart before the horse.

|Discipline - The New Testament shows us that part of the body life of a church is accountability and discipline. Scriptures lay out the ground rules for this aspect of the church. In general, however, the dis-organized church is full of people who are there because they would not make themselves accountable to spiritual leadership and discipline. The dis-organized church is not the maverick new movement it pretends to be, but rather it is a movement of passive, self-focused rebellion against spiritual authority, structure, expectations, accountability, and discipline.

8. The dis-organized church has a best-before date stamp on it. In most cases, if not all, the dis-organized church is demographic specific. Most times those who are taking part are in the twenty to forty age bracket. For many reasons (that we will address in another blog post) the demographic specific church does not have longevity.

My conclusion is simple. Although many (because of their complaints about the organized church) love the idea of striking out on their own and having a loose, non-committal, spiritual gathering each week. This does not constitute a Biblical church. It may be properly called a Bible Study, Prayer Meeting, or Spiritual Gathering, (All these terms are very generous labels given what generally takes place at these events.) but to call this kind of gathering a church is Biblically inaccurate. Simply put, the dis-organized church is not a church in the Biblical sense.

What is a Biblical definition of a church? A church is a group of born again, baptized believers who voluntarily associate and  assemble under Biblical authority, leadership, doctrine, and discipline for the purpose of building each other up in the faith, observing the ordinances of baptism and communion, and  proclaiming the Gospel worldwide.


(DISCLAIMER: I am not in this post referring to the house-church. There are house churches, that are engaging the whole of Scripture, meet the benchmark to be a Biblical church, and are actively trying to share the Gospel. I am thankful for those who are making these efforts. Many, if not most of our present, established churches began in this fashion.)

Thursday, December 13, 2012

What Do We Lose (Part 2) if Christianity Makes Room for Darwinism - Evolution

What do we lose if we make room for evolution? Let's continue...

If there was no creation, then there can be no redemption. Redemption is a precious doctrine. It says that God owned us by means of creating us. After the fall of man, He bought us back (redeemed) us from the grip and ownership of Satan, of our sin, and its penalty, Hell. Simply put, God can't buy back (redeem) that which He hadn't previously owned. If God didn't create it, He doesn't own it. The cost of our redemption was the blood of Jesus. Without creation and the ownership that God derived from it, redemption by definition would be impossible and the blood of Jesus, pointless.

If there was no creation, then the account of Adam and Eve falls into question. If part of the account is inaccurate or incomplete, none of it can be trusted. The problem is, there are doctrines buried in those few chapters that are foundational to the essence of Christianity, the Gospel, and our own personal salvation. Let's take them one at a time.

Origin of Sin -- The Bible tells us that sin originated with Adam and Eve in the garden. With the veracity of this account called into question, we ask ourselves, "Where did sin come from?"

Sin Nature -- Evolution would contend that man at his core is good and righteous and given the perfect environment he would never do wrong. (Though, as we have discussed, Darwinism obliterates the moral foundations of society. Without a creator to set rules for the created, who is to say what is right or wrong?) The Garden of Eden account tells us that man's goodness is directly related to his fellowship with the Creator, and when that relationship is broken (in the fall, Adam's sin) then man cannot stay good no matter the environment. Sin became part of man's nature, deeply embedded from the time of conception. This is the sin nature passed down from Adam through the generations. We are sinners by nature, it is who we are. Thus, we cannot properly understand mankind's basic nature if we through evolutionary theory hold the account of Adam and Eve in question. Moreover, if we evolved, then we do not have a sin nature and all of our "sins" (Again, who is to say what a sin is in the absence of a creator?) can be blamed on environment. If I am not a sinner by reason of having my environment to blame for my misdeeds, then I do not need a Saviour and Jesus' death was worse than a waste.

Marriage -- In this day of attempts to redefine marriage another assault is taking place upon the foundation of the marriage narrative. The early chapters of Genesis make clear that God sanctioned marriage as a relationship between one man and one woman for a lifetime. It also shows how God wanted each spouse to operate within that framework. However, if creation is a myth and the first part of Genesis may or may not be reliable, then the institution of marriage loses its very foundation and is open to societal reinterpretation.  And, by the way, Jesus would have been way off the mark in his comments on Moses' writing of divorcement.

Protevangelium -- The first reference to a future Messiah who comes from the seed of the woman (Eve and eventually Mary) and is victorious over the serpent (satan) is recorded in these chapters setting the stage for the next four thousand years of human history.

Substitutionary Atonement and the Impotence of Man's Efforts -- When Adam and Eve discovered that they were naked they made aprons of fig leaves. In the symbolism of the Bible this refers to man's good works to covert his sin and obtain God's favour. For God, this was not enough. The covering of sin would require a life to be sacrificed and its blood to be shed as a substitute. God beautifully demonstrated this in making Adam and Eve coats of animal skins for their covering. This perfect picture of Christ's substitutionary sacrifice is lost to the uncertainty of the accuracy of the text stemming from evolutionary thought.

Penalty of Sin -- Because Adam sinned, God had to kick him out of the garden, he had to work harder, and his body began the slow march toward death. Without this account we would not know that sin has consequences. Without consequences for sin, why do we need a Saviour? Without consequences, what use is Jesus' sacrifice? 

There is so much essential truth that we lose if we sell faith in an all powerful Creator for the mess of pottage that is evolutionary thought or even so called theistic evolution. Simply put, either an all powerful God created just as the Bible describes, or evolution took place at some time and in some form. If evolution occurred, Christianity is a good moral system at best and at worst, a sham with no logical foundation. Christianity as we know it ceases to be without a literal, six day, twenty-four hour day creation. Everything that Christianity claims to be hangs on the veracity of the first few chapters of Genesis

What Do We Lose (Part 1) if Christianity Makes Room for Darwinism - Evolution

Okay, here is the deal. There are those within broader Christian circles today who want to make allowances for modern scientific theory and choose to embrace evolutionary thought. There are educational institutions that heavily promote this theory (evolution) to the complete neglect of any other plausible explanation of the earth's origins; namely, creation. Because of this, there are thousands of people, even Christians, who have not taken the time to examine the equal and abundant evidence pointing toward creation.  To add more chaos to this mix, the theories abound that attempt to squeeze Darwinism into the Bible in order to satisfy those who are conflicted between their faith and the "facts" about the earth's origin which they have been taught. These include the Day Age Theory and the Gap Theory.

Here is my problem. If you start messing around with the first chapters of Genesis; if you read into Scriptures what you like in order to match current theories and thought, how can you then say with certainty what is true in those chapters and what is not? If some of Genesis cannot be taken as literal truth, then none of it can be credible. In short, we will explore the fact that you run the risk of losing core Christian doctrine if you are willing to put the first chapters of Genesis up for interpretation and negotiation. Let's examine a few.

If there was no creation, than there is no Creator. Sounds simple doesn't it? If God didn't create the world, than we have no need for Him. We need God. We need something bigger than us. But if God is incapable of creating the world around us, then He is no longer OMNIPOTENT. If God is not all powerful, then He is limited. If God has limits to His power, then can we really depend upon Him? Of course not. If God is not OMNIPOTENT, is He really God at all? Not the God that we know. Certainly, a God that has limited power is not the God of the Bible. And so we come to the sad realization that if God is not the Creator, than He is a different god than the One that we have come to know through the pages of the Bible. We have, in denying his OMNIPOTENCE by means of Darwinistic editing of the Genesis account, created a god of our own imagination ; a weak and incapable god; a god that does not deserve our admiration or praise; an idol designed to soothe our Christian sensibilities while evolutionary theory and modern science, not the Word of God, becomes our foremost authority.

If there was no creation and there is no Creator, then we are not responsible to anyone. The Bible's depiction of man's relationship with God is one of accountability as a result of ownership derived from the act of creation. If God made it, He owns it. If there was no creation, then man is not responsible to a creator (God). If we are not accountable to God, we can behave however we like and no one can say a word because there is no moral basis for law and conduct. Without a creator to give the rules, everyone's opinion is valid as truth, there is no right and wrong, and there is no moral foundation for society.

Friday, May 4, 2012

The Holiness that Matters

God said,"Sanctify yourselves therefore, and be ye holy: for I am the LORD your God." Leviticus 20:7


It is interesting to note that He did not say "do that which is holy". Holy is first, and foremost what we are to BE. Yes, this does play out in our actions, but if we are not first holy on the inside the outside is irrelevant. So often we evaluate our own Christianity, our own holiness, based on what we do, rather than who we are before God. We compare ourselves to others to judge them or to rank our own holiness based upon what we see them doing, or not doing. Often, within the church setting one's holiness becomes rated based solely on the observance of outward rules. That is a problem.

Now, every organization has to have rules. Leadership especially must be held to a standard of conduct or they cannot be leaders. The Bible has clear rules designating the kind of people who can, and cannot be pastors, deacons, teachers, and the like. However, the congregation must be careful not to systemize outward rules to the point that they become the measure of spirituality, holiness, and growth. Built into the DNA of some churches is almost an unwritten "holiness chart", that is used to grade and assess everyone. So, because everyone knows what the answers already are they pass the test (outside) without doing the work (inside). When a group systemizes holiness based in majority on the outward, they begin to birth and grow pharisees and hypocrites.

Pharisees and hypocrites are in every church. They know the right words to say, they do all the right things, attend all the right conferences, show up at all the special meetings, avoid those things that the group considers out-of-bounds for the Christian. Sometimes because of the outward show these individuals are promoted to high levels of responsibility within the church.

The warning is simple. The modern church runs the risk of creating modern pharisees and hypocrites. Look at what Jesus says in Matthew 23:24-28, "Ye blind guides, which strain at a gnat, and swallow a camel. Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye make clean the outside of the cup and of the platter, but within they are full of extortion and excess. Thou blind Pharisee, cleanse first that which is within the cup and platter, that the outside of them may be clean also. Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye are like unto whited sepulchres, which indeed appear beautiful outward, but are within full of dead men's bones, and of all uncleanness. Even so ye also outwardly appear righteous unto men, but within ye are full of hypocrisy and iniquity."

Much emphasis must be made of the heart's condition and position before God. If the heart is holy, the actions will follow. If the heart isn't holy, the facade will eventually crack, fade, and crumble. The unfortunate truth is, when the walls of the facade fall down, they fall on top of others and sometimes crush them.

It is true, however, that inner holiness should impact, and will always impact our lifestyle. Look at what the Apostle Peter told us.
1 Peter 1:13-19 Wherefore gird up the loins of your mind, be sober, and hope to the end for the grace that is to be brought unto you at the revelation of Jesus Christ; 

Peter first addresses the inside of us, the mind. From here he contrasts who we were with who we now are. A new person will have by nature, a new conduct.

As obedient children, not fashioning yourselves according to the former lusts in your ignorance: But as he which hath called you is holy, so be ye holy in all manner of conversation; 

Next comes the motivation. Holiness, for the sole purpose of being like God. Holiness is not something God gave us to evaluate ourselves against another Christian.

Because it is written, Be ye holy; for I am holy. 

And if ye call on the Father, who without respect of persons judgeth according to every man's work, pass the time of your sojourning here in fear: 

Our motivation for our outward walk is not to be how others perceive us, but rather the fact that we will give account one day of how we ran our race.

Forasmuch as ye know that ye were not redeemed with corruptible things, as silver and gold, from your vain conversation received by tradition from your fathers; But with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot: 

Finally, Peter takes us back to what really matters...the blood of Jesus. We were not redeemed or saved because of our works. Our outward holiness does not impress God or gain our acceptance with Him. The only thing that impresses the Father is the blood of Jesus, and it is our only means of acceptance with the Almighty

Look with me at, 2 Peter 3:11 Seeing then that all these things shall be dissolved, what manner of persons ought ye to be in all holy conversation and godliness, 


We see in this verse a progression. First, Peter talks about the motivating factor of the end of this world; the end of the external and the beginning of the eternal. Second, he talks about the manner or kind of people that we ought to be. This has to do with the heart, with character, with our spirit, and attitude. From this inward holiness then flows an outward holiness that permeates our way of life (our "conversation"), this then makes us look like Jesus (godliness).

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Making a Difference

What does it take to make a difference? I'm not talking about make someone smile today, although that is a worthy micro-goal. But to really impact lives requires something more. If we look at those who have had an impact, either large or small, some commonalities begin to emerge. These common links among people of influence throughout the centuries are our topic for the day.

1. A Cause - If you don't have something bigger than yourself to live for, than you will never reach higher than your own stature. There are many thousands of "famous" people in the world. Fame is a different animal than impact. Many famous people are just that...famous, but they havn't translated that fame into impact because they have not embraced a cause. Oh, everyone has their favourite charities. Most of the time it is because they want the tax break at the end of the year. Charities are different than causes. A charity is something to which you give money. A cause is something for which you give yourself.

2. Passion - You shouldn't choose a cause, a cause should choose you. What about this broken world breaks your heart? There are many good causes, but unless the cause has a grip on your heart you will not have the impact that you desire. The Bible says that our eyes affect our hearts, and that is the truth. That's why commercials of stray puppies or starving children work. You can't have passion for something unless you see the need. Now, you and I both know that the greatest need of humanity is a relationship with God through Jesus Christ. That is a cause for which all Christians should develop a passion. In addition to this, however, both New Testament and Old Testament Scriptures encourage us to engage in "good works" toward the "least of these." This too, requires passion.

3. Dissatisfaction - Impact requires a deep dissatisfaction with the way things are. This is where passion comes from. When we see that something is broken and decide that we just can't stand by and watch things continue to go wrong, that's the seed of passion sprouting up out of the ground. So what is it that you can't let go on any longer? What troubles you? What about the needs of others keeps you up at night?

4. Action - Passion and a cause accomplish nothing without action. There is so much talk today; and talk, and talk, and talk. The latest generation thinks that action is clicking a mouse and joining a group on social media. That may make someone feel good but is twenty miles away from real action that creates positive change.

5. Reason - Motivation is an important factor in this topic. If we are motivated by our pride the subliminal message we send to others is, "I'm going to fix you." That's not good. If our motivation is others, eventually our love for ourselves will win out when the going gets tough. The truth is, you like yourself a whole lot more than you care about anyone else's needs. When it comes down to where the rubber meets the road, the glory of God is the only motivation that lasts. Basically we want to say, "I care about others and want to make an impact because I want God to look good in their eyes. I want them to be drawn to the beauty and goodness of God."
Matthew 5:16 Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.

The Christian Army - Here to Occupy

Luke 19:10-13 For the Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost. And as they heard these things, he added and spake a parable, because he was nigh to Jerusalem, and because they thought that the kingdom of God should immediately appear. He said therefore, A certain nobleman went into a far country to receive for himself a kingdom, and to return. And he called his ten servants, and delivered them ten pounds, and said unto them, Occupy till I come. 


It is interesting to me that Jesus did not say "Battle till I come." That's what most of us think of when we think of the Christian life. We know that we are soldiers. 2 Timothy 2:3 Thou therefore endure hardness, as a good soldier of Jesus Christ. We know that we are in a war.  2 Corinthians 10:4 (For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strong holds;)  1 Timothy 1:18 This charge I commit unto thee, son Timothy, according to the prophecies which went before on thee, that thou by them mightest war a good warfare; We know that we have been given armour, a uniform to wear. Ephesians 6:13 Wherefore take unto you the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand. But even with all of this, we find that we are an occupying army.

We have seen this occupying concept in the history of our own country, from the occupation of parts of Europe after WWII to the most recent years of ongoing occupation and counter-insurgency efforts in Afghanistan and Iraq. What we really have to understand is that we are soldier/statesman (ambassadors) from another Kingdom. As such, we have the power to defend ourselves from the enemy (the world, the flesh, and the devil). But the real warfare is for the hearts, minds, and souls of those who inhabit the kingdom of this world.

We are not here to set up permanent bases. This world is not our home. We are not here get all of those who inhabit this kingdom to adopt the speech, attitudes, and actions of our Kingdom. We are the salt and light. We are the ones that are different and from a different place. We are here to preserve souls and enlighten hearts. The people of this kingdom need to know about our King and how they can become citizens of the Kingdom of Light. So many Christians want to fight each other and everyone else and forget that God has called them to be salt and light.

Doing good is part of this salt and light process. Our armies at this hour are not only fighting the bad guys, but also providing security and resources to rebuild hospitals, roads, and schools. Jesus said,  "Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven."  Matthew 5:16 Why is it that we in our rush to correct the evils of this world (and there are many) and to evangelize (and that's essential) do we forget that Jesus said that if we do good works the people of this kingdom will come to glorify our KING? That seems to me to be an important missing link.

Now I am not advocating what is known as the social gospel where needs are addressed to the exclusion of the message of the cross. What I am saying is that God has given us good works as a key to winning the hearts and minds so that we may preach the gospel to the souls.

Will all the people of this kingdom end up coming over into the Kingdom of Light? No, but if we do our job as soldier/statesman many will.

Now let's switch gears. The word that is translated "occupy" in this verse very literally means "to busy oneself with, i.e. to trade." In other words, God is telling us to do business here until Jesus, our King, comes back. God has not called us out of the world to some compound on a hill or even to a Christian sub-culture where we don't rub shoulders with those to whom God has sent us. Jesus said, "I pray not that thou shouldest take them out of the world, but that thou shouldest keep them from the evil."  John 17:15

We have a business. Like Jesus, it is our "Father's business." We must use our time, talents, and treasure to serve the interests of our King and His Kingdom until He comes back. Souls are our business. People matter to God let us make sure that they are a priority for us.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

The Speech of the Ambassador - Gracious

Colossians 4:6 Let your speech be alway with grace, seasoned with salt, that ye may know how ye ought to answer every man.

Ok, so this verse tests my limits. It is hard to be gracious in our speech. I can think of several instances:

It is hard to be gracious in the face of the vocal and opinionated. Especially if they are wrong. Often we feel that in order to be heard we have to either take the argument to a more personal and inflammatory level, or raise the volume of our voice. In the language of  social media we start using BOLD AND CAPTIALS to get our point across. At other times because our opponents speak in forceful certainties, we think that we have present our arguments in terms of cement rather than presenting a well thought out and nuanced argument. Nuance is the language of the diplomat, the ambassador, and that's what Jesus has called us to be. Oh, to be sure there are areas in which we cannot hedge, but there are plenty of times that a gracious word will do far more good than an intractable stand.

It is sometimes difficult to be graceful when confronted with our own mistakes, wrongdoing, or sin. The first instinct is to lash out at the individual bringing our problem to our attention. I suppose this has a lot to do with pride. We don't like to admit that we sometimes are just plain wrong, and we are never inclined to make apology and amends. It is, however, as or more important to be graceful when we are wrong as it is to be gracious when we are right.

It is a great challenge to be gracious when in the presence of the ill informed and ignorant. When people just don't have the facts or misuse what little information they possess as a premise for a greater misinformed argument, it takes all you have in you not to get up on a chair, point your finger and say "You're dead wrong!" But we, as the ambassadors for Christ have to pick our battles. My father used to say, "Choose the hill you want to die on." Does it really matter if their opinion of politics, music, your church, or the local restaurant is way off base? If we go into full 'correction' mode on these and other issues, it may lose us an opportunity to correct their view of Jesus at a later date. Their perspective of Jesus is the main issue. First things first, always...even if you have to let a few things slide by to be addressed at a later date.

Matthew 10:16 Behold, I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves: be ye therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Who is in Charge?

As we look at the world, many times it is easy for us to think that there is no rhyme or reason to what is happening. Images of wars, earthquakes, famines, dictators, and terrorists blanket the front pages of newspapers. Still closer to home, the loss of a job, a wayward teen, or the departure of a spouse leaves us reeling and the thought booms into our heads, "If God is in charge, why is all this happening?"

Ok, so this isn't an easy talk for a short blog but let's tackle a few simple thoughts.

1. If God micromanaged all human behaviour, then we would be robots instead of free moral agents. To say that God is to blame because a dictator oppresses his people, or a terrorist sets off a bomb is not logical. Either you want to be free to make your own decisions or you don't. If you want to be free to make your own mistakes, then you have to give the same liberty to the dictator and terrorist. I understand that the atrocities they commit are much worse, but they come from the same place...the human heart.

2. God did create a perfect world without evil. It is not His fault we are so messed up. The garden of Eden was perfect. It was Adam that sinned and ruined everything for everyone following him.

3. Trouble is a part of life. We would learn nothing about ourselves, each other, or our world if life was all gumdrops and rainbows. Scriptures tell us that the rain falls on the just and the unjust. In other words, everyone experiences pain and sorrow in some form or another. That's life; that's also how we grow. This is the category into which natural disasters fall. These disasters are a part of a planet that has been in decline since Adam sinned and the earth itself was cursed by God.

4. If we know nothing of disaster and evil, how can we appreciate the good and wonderful? How would we learn to be grateful, if all we know was beauty and love? How would we fulfill our role as light in the world if the whole world was light?

Now some misguided "super-spiritual' souls blame everything on God. If they fall off a ladder, they don't blame their own clumsiness, but rather attribute the fall to God's sovereignty. On the other end of the spectrum are those who do not see God's hand in anything at all. Both views are out of balance. God is sovereign, but some things are the result of our own sin or stupidity. God is in control of all, but He's generally not going to stop you from risky behaviour. You want to bungee jump and sky dive? Go for it! But don't blame God for results that good common sense could have avoided, ok?

So, God is in charge. However, the plan He has put in place necessitates the free will of man...and man has bungled things terribly. God gave us free will so that we would love and glorify Him out of a free and happy heart. Anything less than the total freedom of mankind is slavery and robotic subservience, and that was not what God wanted of His creation.

This is probably a topic we will take up again at another time. In summary, God knows all of the bad that I will face this week. Some of it will come as a result of my choices, some as a natural part of life. I don't understand all of the "why?" I just have to lean on the "Who" and trust that He loves me and is working in my life for my good and His glory.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Comparisons

It seems to me that comparison to others has become the new yardstick for "self worth". I put that in quotations because, I'm not convinced that our worth comes from within ourselves. But that is another talk for another day. Today we want to address the topic of comparing ourselves to others. Now there are two obvious problems with doing this.

1. You can always find someone better than you if you want to make yourself feel small. There are those who like to live in a continuous pity party, because of real or perceived inadequacies in their lives.
2. You can always find someone dumber, uglier, more out of shape, or less refined than you to make yourself feel big. Those who live in their own little ego trip find this mind game very useful to further their self delusions.

Whether you choose to compare yourself with someone 'bigger' or 'smaller' than you, who you choose to compare with tells you a lot about you.

We all have heard the term "compare apples with apples".  And that works pretty much only with objects. You can compare the price on two Ford F150 trucks on two different car dealer's lots. That's comparing apples to apples. People don't work like apples and automobiles. Every person is a unique blend of genetics, heritage, IQ, parenting, siblings, emotions, struggles, and victories. Even though someone is your age, in your social strata and has a lifestyle like yours does not make them your equivalent (your apple) for comparison. 

So, simply put, you can't compare yourself with another without revealing your motive in comparison. Who you choose to measure yourself against tells the story of why you are in the comparison game in the first place.

Well then; if it does me no good to compare myself to others, how then do I know if I have succeeded or failed? Let's think for a moment...
What is success? Again, another topic for another conversation. But simply put, success comes out of the intangibles of life like faithfulness, peace, contentment, and love. These things cannot be put upon the scale of comparison.

What do I measure myself against? Well, if I was going to measure a table, I would get a measuring tape. It has a standard of measurement that does not change. I can measure anything in the world with that tape and have a true picture of its dimensions. But if the standard of measurement is always changing (like other people) how do I know how I am truly doing? So, you realize now the need for a standard, a unit of measurement that does not change. 

May I submit to you that the only things that do not change in life are Jesus and the Bible? If Christ is our standard of measurement, we all fall short. But at least we know where we are. With Jesus as our measure we are no longer struggling with meeting the false expectations of a moving target. Also, by using Jesus as our measuring stick we avoid the inconsequentials of life like money, position, power, and prestiege. From Him we learn that those things do not make a success or a failure. From Jesus we learn to measure those things that last like love, kindness, obedience to our Heavenly Father, and charity toward others. If these are the things we measure and value, then comparison with others will become a childish game we once played in life's elementary school. 

Have a good day.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Spiritual Hypochondria

We all know people who have stunted their spiritual growth by putting too much stock in their own feelings. An inward look every now and then to check our motives is a good and profitable exercise. However, when feelings become our compass we find that we are blown about and drifting without an anchor. How we feel about things can be affected by our health, the weather, and others in our lives. Feelings are many times at odds with reality. Now we all need to feel, but feelings should have some basis in truth. For example, feeling married and being married are two different things. One is simply emotion, the other is fact.

When people get the cart before the horse (feeling before fact) they live their life on the roller coaster of emotion. Now, emotion is good. God made us emotional creatures. I'm actually a little worried about the mental health of those who never show any emotion. But God did ask us to trust in facts.

Feelings do not constitute Christianity. God gave us the higher, better and more intelligent concept of "knowing". Read the book of First John. Twenty-two times we find the word "know". First John was written to give us "know so" assurance of salvation. If you have the adoption papers you don't have to rely upon your feelings. We have been adopted by the Father. Now, it's always nice when you feel those emotions of relation, love, acceptance, and belonging. But whether or not the feelings are there, our reliance must be upon fact. Paul used the word 'reckon'. This is an accounting term that means to write it down in the ledger as a fact. Look at Romans 6:11 "Likewise reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord." Paul doesn't tell us to wrangle our emotions until we feel close to God. He tells us the facts. The old man is dead, we are alive as a new creature in Jesus. Now once we accept the facts, our feelings and ultimately actions follow suit.

Animals run on feelings and raw instinct, but human beings are supposed to act on faith, fact, intelligence, and principle. Look at Psalms 42:5 "Why art thou cast down, O my soul? and why art thou disquieted in me? hope thou in God: for I shall yet praise him for the help of his countenance." Simply put, we can either spend our time diagnosing our feelings, or we can cut through the stress of trying to "feel right" and trust in the facts as God has presented them. Isaiah said, Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on thee: because he trusteth in thee." Isaiah 26:3

Likely my favourite little poem says:

“Feelings come and feelings go, 
And feelings are deceiving; 
My warrant is the Word of God-- 
Naught else is worth believing. 

Though all my heart should feel condemned 
For want of some sweet token, 
There is One greater than my heart 
Whose Word cannot be broken. 

I'll trust in God's unchanging Word 
Till soul and body sever, 
For, though all things shall pass away, 
His Word shall stand forever.” 

― Martin Luther

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Look on the Bright Side

It seems to me that optimists are not quite real, and pessimists not quite human. Somewhere in the middle of the two extremes of the pendulum swing has to be an even tempered outlook. Optimism and pessimism seem to focus on who we are, our person and our personality. A bright outlook, however, touches upon how we choose to see life. It is the silver lining perspective. Not all of life is lollipops and rainbows, but even in the worst of times it is that person who shares a smile with you that you remember. The Apostle Paul talked about our outlook. He said, "Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things." Philippians 4:8

Make looking at the upside of life a habit. You will naturally gravitate to those who have your view of the world. If your's is negative, you will fall in with those who are negative. One once said, "Small minds...cannot see far, or things magnanimous, but behold things small and mean."

Now discouragement is a fact of life, and no one will blame you for having a bad day, or month for that matter. Getting down; that's life. Staying down; that's defeat. If you have a downtrodden view of the world because of discouragement or depression, get some help. See your doctor and get some counselling. To even pick up the phone sparks hope, and hope is the seed of a bright future.

Do you really think God is at this moment bemoaning the future of your life or of the planet for that matter? I think not. If things were really that impossible than we would be in a very desperate spot. 

The problem is that in our day, truth has become so repeated and routine that people pay no more attention to it than they do a saying from a fortune cookie. That being said, the abundance of truth cannot diminish the gravity of it. So, without breaking open the cookie let me say. Look for the good. Choose to see the best in people, the hope in each situation, and the working of God in you. Humanity and planet earth aren't perfect, but if you look close enough you can see the golden glimmer that we call "hope". 

"Think on these things..."

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Studying the Bible

Ok, you you haven't been a follower of Jesus for ten minutes before someone has told you to "read the Bible every day", right? They gave you a Daily Bread and sent you on your voyage of Biblical understanding. But we both know there is a little more to really getting to know (studying) the Bible than a few minutes spent on a verse and a story from a periodical. (Although tools like the Daily Bread can be helpful to some people.)

Acts 17:11 These were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so.

An old preacher named H.T. Crossley published this acrostic for stuying the Scriptures:

S - Systematically - Luke 24:27
C - Carefully - Psalm 1:2
R - Reverently - Psalm 19:7,11
I - Intently - 2 Peter 1:19-21
P - Prayerfully - Psalm 119:33-36
T - Trustingly - Acts 24:14
U - Understandingly - Hebrews 5:12
R - Retentively - Jeremiah 20:9
E - Every Day - Acts 17:11-12
S - Savingly - 2 Timothy 3:15-17

Here are some thoughts concerning studying the Bible.
  • Realize that the Bible is a library. It doesn't make sense to jump madly around in your reading. Doing so, causes confusion. A systematic approach of a book to two at a time works best. If you are just starting out, try John's gospel and Proverbs.
  • It is not so important how many verses you read, as it is how many verses (truths) you digest and understand.
  • Don't come to the Scriptures to prove your opinions. Instead come to the Scriptures for your opinions. 
  • Ask the Holy Spirit to teach you. That's what the Psalmist asks in Psalm 119.
  • Trust what you read. George Mueller, a great Brethren preacher and orphanage director, said, "I have read the Bible through more than a hundred times, and I find no stumbling-block at all. This is because I am satisfied with God."
  • It is helpful at times to read the Bible in conjunction with a commentary on that particular book. Be careful, however, not so think that a commentary is always right. The Bible is the final authority.
  • You will never understand all of the Bible. God is smarter than you, and He wrote a book that is smarter than you are.
  • Take time to memorize verses relating to: prayers, promises, principles, and praises. Having these in your mind will benefit you greatly.
  • The Scriptures talk about "milk" and "meat". If you are just getting started with Bible Study, start in the shallow end of the pool. (Study the life of Christ and Genesis to start) Too many make the mistake of jumping directly into books like Revelation and the prophets of the Old Testament without a foundation of the basics first. This causes confusion and stunts the young believer's growth.
  • All this being said. Read the Bible. Love the Bible. Fall in love with the God of the Bible.

Monday, February 20, 2012

What Life is Worth Living?

It seems the older I get the more I think about having a life of significance. But what does that look like? What is the life worth living?

I look at those in high positions living only for the honor and applause of society. And, no doubt, it is easy to envy them. However if fame and notoriety are the only benchmarks achieved, this is not the life worth living. Then come the monied people. Now, don't get me wrong, I like money. However, there are a thousand things that bless the soul that cannot be bought with money. So I conclude that a life lived only for money is not the life worth living. These I think are the two most common pursuits of those trying to make their mark upon the world.

What about the negative person, he who lives only to be the cynic? Skeptics of all types from the polite agnostic to the blatant infidel and atheist walk upon this earth. Is that any way to live? Recently I heard one of the leading skeptics of our time on the radio. I didn't listen so much to what he had to say as much as I listened to his words and tone. I came away thinking, that is a very angry and mean man. If he is not mean, he certainly has to work on his public relation skills... Anyway, the life of skepticism is not the life worth living.

I thought, "What if I just lived the life of the good man, the moral man?" After all, that's what everybody says at funerals. "He was a good man." (Whether he was or not!) Is it enough, however, just to be considered "good"? There are thousands of good, moral, honest, hardworking people. But if that is all there is to life, it is not the life worth living.

"Eat, drink, and be merry." Says one crowd. "Wine, women, and song." Says the other. If the search for pleasure and fun was the life worth living then why do so many thousands of party people shipwreck their own lives? King Solomon said, "Vanity of vanities, all is vanity." Empty...that about sums it up. No, the pursuit of pleasure is not the life worth living.

Despite these obvious dead ends, I still believe there is a life worth living. It may be on a road less travelled, and may have more potholes and speed bumps along the way, but it has to be the life which gives meaning and significance to our tiny existence in this moment of time. In the teachings of Jesus He says, "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.  This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself."  Matthew 22:37-39
So what do I know? I am certain that the life worth living is a life of active love. If we truly love God and love others we will actively seek the best for them. For God, that means obeying His commands and giving Him glory when things turn out well for us. In regard to man, that means that I actively seek the good of those in my sphere of influence. Today, why don't we determine together to be active in our love and live the life worth living!

Friday, February 17, 2012

Building an Inner Relationship With God - Part 2

Let's continue with exploring facets of our devotional life suggested by the Temple's construction and the activity surrounding it's operation.

  1. The Role of Sanctification - At its most basic, the word "sanctification" means to be set apart from all else and dedicated wholly to God. That level of dedication is missing in our Christianity today. We have many fickle Christians that bounce from church to church, book to book, and teacher to teacher with no real sense that they are supposed to be building line upon line and precept upon precept. Commitment is key. The Temple was set apart for God, the Levites were dedicated to the service of God. If you are going to be successful in your inner relationship with God, you are going to have to be committed to God.
  2. The Role of Centrality - The Tabernacle was set in the middle of the Jewish encampment. It was central to their lives. The question then is whether or not your relationship is central to your life or a convenient addition. Is your relationship only that fifteen minutes in the morning, or do you have an ongoing conversation with Him throughout the day? Is He central?
  3. The Role of the Supremacy of the Cross of Jesus - The tabernacle and the temple were completely soaked through with symbols Jesus and His work on the Cross. Be careful in your devotional life that you don't become the focus. With quiet time it is easy to become introspective instead of "looking unto Jesus" as the Scriptures command.
  4. The Role of Repetition - Now here is where we have to hit a balance. The activity of the Temple was very much an activity of repetition. We like repetition, especially as we get older. However, don't get so ingrained with your repetition that it becomes empty tradition. We must follow the Holy Spirit in our quiet time. Sometimes He will allow us to be comfortable in repetition, at other times His quiet voice urges us to change up our routine.
  5. The Role of Beauty - This is a lesser detail, but it's truth cannot be denied. The tabernacle and temple had aspects of great beauty. Let's make two applications. First, sometimes it is helpful and healthy to talk with God in places of beauty like a summer field or a park bench along the seashore. Second, we must view our relationship with God as a thing of beauty that both we and God are working on together.
  6. The Role of Death - When we view the Tabernacle, we cannot get away from the fact of death. Of course the death of bulls and goats pictured the coming death of Jesus, our final sacrifice. Let us not forget, however, that the Bible says that when Jesus died, we died with Him and rose as new creatures in Christ. If we accept as fact our death to sin, and our resurrection to love and serve God it will put us in the right frame of mind for our walk with God.
  7. The Role of Praise - David talked about entering "his courts with praise". Let's not be selfish worshippers, coming to God with our list like He is some kind of cosmic genie. We need to praise the King of the Universe, not because we get anything, but because He is, who He is.
I'm sure there are other parallels that we could draw to the Tabernacle and Temple, but that will suffice for now. Below are some random thoughts in regard to building our inner relationship.
  • Be faithful during the dry spells. The inner life is not always exhilarating. God does not allow us to stay permanently on the top of the mountain. Dry spells, teach us determination and surrender.
  • Guard your time with God.
  • Seek to understand the depth of God's love for you and rest in it.
  • Seek God...not the gifts that He gives.
  • Reject thoughts that distract or undermine your faith.
  • Paul said...'that I may know Him'
  • Renounce whatever does not lead you closer to God.
  • Understand that we come to God upon the basis of the merits of Christ. It has nothing to do with our own goodness or works. We can only do good because of Christ in us.
  • Prayer consists totally and simply of God's presence; of a soul resting in God.
  • Our motivation needs to come from the love of God for us and the will of God for us. We cannot be motivated by gaining comfort for our own problems from God.
  • God won't allow a searching soul to be comforted anywhere but with Him.
  • To be with Him we must cultivate the habit of thinking of Him often. - God is there. It is rude to leave a visiting friend alone.
  • Give God control of your 'stuff'. Scripture says, "where your treasure is, there will your heart be also."
  • Accept His forgiveness, cleansing, and unqualified love for you.
  • See yourself as God sees you...not as a criminal to be judged, but as a son to be loved, trained, and corrected.
  • God never leaves us, but sometimes He hides His face from us. It is at this time that He shows us our need of Him and tests our commitment to Him.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Building an Inner Relationship With God

I make the assumption that if you are reading my posts that you are already a follower of Jesus. That decision to be born again into God's family by faith is the obvious first step in this process. Having said this, we dive into our topic for today.

The Bible says that our body is the temple of the Holy Ghost. God no longer lives in the Tabernacle of Moses or the Temple of Solomon, but instead He chooses to reside in the hearts of believers themselves. Because of this, there are some parallels that we can draw from those old places of worship concerning our devotional life and extending to a lifestyle of worship.

Let's talk first about what we often call the believer's "devotions" or "quiet time". In short, there needs to be a time set aside each day for you to get alone with God and talk with Him just as Adam and Eve did in the Garden of Eden. How that all looks depends greatly upon your personality and emotional makeup. Some have been known to lock themselves in a room, others sit on a log in the woods reading the Scriptures, while others in our modern day shut out the world with their headphones, and read the words of God on their Ipad while sitting in Starbucks. There is no formula; no set way of doing things. God is the God of the individual, and because of this we each approach Him in our own individual way. Here are some thoughts, however concerning the Temple and our private time with God.

  1. The Role of Silence - There wasn't anything inside the Holy Place or Holy of Holies designed to make noise and distract. If we are going to spend quality time with God we have to make the decision that we are going to shut off electronic devices and shut out other distractions. For couples with children, that means some negotiation as to who is going to referee fights and repair skinned knees at what times, but make sure your spouse has quiet time alone with God.
  2. The Role of Solitude - Now, you can be alone in a crowded room, I'll give you that. But as for me a quiet corner of the house or sitting near a country stream is a whole lot better than trying to ignore everyone else. God is a jealous God. He wants time with just you, because He wants you to know Him on a deep level. We wouldn't treat our relationship with our spouse the way we treat God and our quiet time sometimes. Undivided attention...it's what He deserves.
  3. The Role of Music - Now I know that I have just broken my own rule about silence. But if we look at the temple, they had musicians. Whether you sing to God in praise or turn on worshipful music and meditate on the words sung by others, music has the ability to move our emotions in the direction of our Creator. Don't neglect music. It is a very useful tool.
  4. The Role of Food - Remember the table of Shewbread? Let's make two applications here: First, we know that the Bible refers to itself as the "milk" and the "meat". We cannot properly build that inner relationship without reading (or listening) to the scriptures as part of our devotions. To neglect the Bible is to have a one way conversation with God. Second, there is an application concerning our physical food. If our body is the temple of God, we should be more careful concerning our diet. Many times we do not have the energy to get up early or stay up later to talk to God because we have fed our bodies junk throughout the day.
  5. The Role of Light - It is interesting to note that the only light in the Holy Place came from the lampstand. Now, God could have lit up the whole place as bright as noon in the Sahara, but He didn't. I'm not much of a candle person myself, but I do know that there is a certain mood set with candles and quieter lighting features (reading lamp) that set a mood more conducive to reflection and contemplation.
  6. The Role of Sacrifice - Let's be real here. Building an inner relationship with God takes sacrifice. There are some things that you will have to give up to achieve what you want to in this area. Whether it is sin that has to be confessed and forsaken, or time that has to be reallocated, sacrifices must be made.
  7. The Role of Washing - The laver set outside the Tabernacle door. It was there the priests washed the daily grime off their hands and feet. As we walk through this world we have the dirt of our lives that has to be confessed and forsaken. Don't go through your time with God feeling dirty, get washed first. I John 1:9
  8. The Role of Prayer - I'm not going to try to replicate great writing that has already been done on this topic. Get a copy of any of E.M. Bounds books on prayer and a book called "The Intercessor." These are great resources in teaching and inspiring us to pray. As for me, to start with I generally work my way through the parts of the Lord's Prayer and make each statement my own. Then I try to ask the Holy Spirit what He wants me to pray for that day. I just figure that He will urge me to pray for those things that are on His heart.
  9. The Role of Fasting - The Jews had several national fasts in the year. I'll not take time to deal with fasting now, but we will in a future post. Just take note that showing God you are serious by giving up something that is important to you is no small thing in His eyes.
  10. The Role of Time - May I urge you to think about doing life slower? What are you trying to accomplish at breakneck speed anyway? Do you see Jesus acting like that? He was here to save the world, but never looked like he was in a rush. Oh, we have responsibilities and cannot spend the same quantity of time every day. But averaged out we ought to be able to say that we have spent significant time with God. Maybe we should set a goal of a tithe -- giving ten percent of our waking hours back to God in quiet worship and conversation.
Ok, so that's the first ten. We have at least that much more ground to cover. The reading is easy, the application will take a lifetime. Hope these few thoughts have been a help. 
To be continued...

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Agreement or Clarity?

One man said that clarifying one's opinion was of greater moral value than unanimous agreement. I think this is probably the case.

From a practical point of view, unanimity is impossible. Everyone has an opinion, and you aren't going to convince everyone else to  your way of thinking.

It is only when we are able to listen that we begin to understand from where the other is coming. The issues of life are not simple. The complex questions of life deserve a more reflective approach than is found in sound bytes, statistics, and quotations. Although many of these devices are useful to back up a point, they in an of themselves cannot be the point.

And so, as we move along together you will sometimes agree with me, and sometimes not. Agreement is not necessary, but it is vital that I clearly articulate my thoughts. We must take the quiet moments that are necessary to fully think through opinions and positions.

If clarity is our goal, then we will be less fixated upon being right. We can't all be right, but we can all be clear. And in striving for clarity, we raise the level of discourse while humbly admitting that maybe we don't have everything all figured out.

So if in the coming days you disagree, well that's ok. I'll let you be wrong.... (kidding)

And so we begin our walk together considering the big and little issues of life and God.