Archive for January, 2009

The Importance of Attitude

January 30, 2009

Rejoice in the Lord always.  I will say it again:  Rejoice!  Let your gentleness be evident to all.  

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable–if anything is excellent or praiseworthy–think about such things.  Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me–put into practice.  And the God of peace will be with you.  Philippians 4:4, 8, 9.

The more I study the Bible, human nature and the world around me, the more I believe attitude has a lot to do with how we deal with reality.  Duh, right?  Yet it isn’t always clearly seen how our approach to a subject colors it so effectively.

In my last discussion on giving, Jared corrected one of my inaccurate referrences to tithing.  One of the pastors I work under as a musician/worship leader responded that tithing was teaching us to give of our best off the top.  Jared pointed out that with animals this wasn’t so because every tenth animal that passed under the shepherd’s rod was considered God’s.  So that doesn’t necessarily equal giving our best rather it just means a package deal of ten percent.

Yet I still maintain that the OT education of giving in general whether it be tithe or offerings or sacrifices was intended for us to learn how to be generous.  God instructed the Hebrews to keep their fields open during the harvest (see Leviticus 19:9, 10) so that the poor, traveler and orphans could find food.  Of course, these people were only allowed to take away what they could carry in their hands, but still, it indicates God’s desire for the heart of His people.

I found another reference in Leviticus 19:33, 34 that spoke to how God wanted His people to treat foreigners and those different from us.  ” ‘When an alien lives with you in your land, do not mistreat him.  The alien living with you must be treated as one of your nativeborn.  Love him as yourself, for you were aliens in Egypt.  I am the LORD your God.’ “  It’s not that I’m surprised by this instruction because I’ve read it before, rather it supports what I’ve been trying to say all along:  our attitude colors our lifestyles.  God’s people who are given to racism and exclusion of unbelievers should read this, which shows that from the very beginning God desired us to live in peace with all men, though not to compromise with their lifestyles or mores if they differed from ours.

So to what purpose am I giving these examples?

In a nutshell, how we approach God and the Scriptures will affect our ability to understand the message.  If we approach God’s laws like the Jews did after their return from exile, we might be given over to fear of, instead of love for, God.  They misunderstood the exile to Babylon later and became tradition bound, exclusive and arrogant, forgetting that it was precisely these attitudes which got them in trouble in the first place.

I study the law by looking at it through the eyes of Jesus as best I can.  Am I still myopic and confused at times?  Sure.  Yet what I see in the Scriptures is not a God waiting to fry anyone but eagerly seeking to save everyone.  I also see a God who will not tolerate rebellion, evil or mistreatment others.  I know, I know, He doesn’t do anything about it now, but the Judgment Day will settle all disputes.

Still, I approach my study of the Word of God as a joy and a investigation into the mind of God.  Most of us, I think, make the mistake of looking at the law through the eyes of the Jews alone.  The law wasn’t given by the Jews, though it was given to them, but by God Himself.  This means whatever characteristics we see in Jesus Christ must be reflected in the law itself, for through Him all things were made and without Him nothing was made that has been made.  If Jesus dictated the law through angels to Moses, then the law is a reflection of God’s heart as much as anything else.

We might be under a new dispensation, but we can still learn from the history of our ethic about God’s mind.  I don’t see legalism in the law, though I know some of the boundaries are quite strict and hard.  What I see is a Father God looking out for His children who were coming out of slavery without much self-worth, identity as a nation and scared to be on their own.  They were susceptible to influences of all stripes and ignorant of the God they served.  His laws were there as guardians until He could grow them up.

Paul speaks to this quite eloquently in Galatians 4.  He also says elsewhere that the letter kills but the Spirit gives life.  We die to the law through the law and curse of Christ on the cross; yet through His resurrection, we are given new life and perspective, which means we are to look at the Scriptures as pointing to and speaking of Jesus.

Exegesis of these Scriptures is vital, for sure, but it will only give us half the story because human interpretation only goes so far.  For a complete understanding of the OT we have to learn how Jesus practiced the law, what His apostles instructed us to hold on to in the NT and give ourselves over to the working of the Spirit of life to keep us from being bound to the letter of the law and guided by the Spirit.

Maturity in Christ demands that we grow up and think things through instead of just relying on do’s and don’ts.    The latter become pretty mindless and many times don’t involve the heart; the former means that we go beyond the basic tenets of the law to godliness while using it set our feet on the pathway to the heart of God.

If all Scripture is God breathed, then we may learn from all of it something of the nature of our Savior and Lord as well as His will for our own lives.

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A Prayer Request

January 29, 2009

I read this blog from the automatically generated links on my Dashboard (which I often do) and this guy, Jeff Bush, sounded out his anguish on the page I read.  You see his wife almost died with their child, who did die.

Please pray for this man and hold him up with encouragement.  He is serving the Lord in Argentina and needs our prayers.

Generosity pt 2

January 28, 2009

“Bring the best of the firstfruits of your soil to the house of the LORD your God.  Exodus 23:19.

Tithing is about giving God the best of our labors right off the top.  We offer Him the firstfruits for the sake of remembering what He has given us–His best.  Now that the Christian has Jesus to look to as an offering from God, we can see what He meant by giving of our best.  For the believer, generosity is not about philanthropy, tithing was an effort by God to teach giving out of our best not our leftovers.

In Galatians 4 Paul claims the law was given as a supervisor or overseer of the infant follower of God.  Once Christ came, however, we grew out of the need for the supervision of the law to move onto maturity in Him.  Yet, I would still say that the law can teach us plenty about who we are and where we come from as body of believers.  If we forget that our origins are Jewish, our comprehension of the truth will be tainted.  If we begin to be arrogant about our standing in Christ to the point of rejecting the very nation God called His own (a mistake many have made in the past), we will be cut off just like some in Israel were for our prideful stance.

Again I ask:  Did they (the Jews) stumble so as to fall beyond recovery?  Not at all!  Rather, because of their transgression, salvation has come to the Gentiles to make Israel envious.

If some of the branches have been broken off, and you, though a wild olive shoot, have been grafted in among the others and now share in the nourishing sap from the olive root, do not boast over those branches.  If you do, consider this:  You do not support the root, but the root supports you.

For if God did not spare the natural branches, He will not spare you either.  Romans 11:11, 17, 18, 21.

Arrogance over our position in Christ has nothing to do with our being better than anyone–especially the Jews.  We are the wild engrafted branches Paul is speaking of, so we have no position that grace hasn’t offered already.  I don’t want to focus on this issue right now because it’s off the subject for the most part, rather we need to establish who supports who here.  Our gospel and salvation comes from the Jews, for Jesus was the Hebrew of Hebrews.

Any time we are tempted to give God our leftovers we err.  Why?  Because the purpose of the teaching is to give our best out of gratitude for God’s indescribable gift in Jesus.

Tithing was the minimum requirement asked of the Jews to teach them God’s character, for make no mistake, everything in Scripture points to the character of God in some way.  God is giving, generous and willing to continue caring even for those who despise Him.  Jesus said that God sends His rain on the earth for the just and the unjust alike–and equally.  If God wanted to withdraw from the world completely, it would cease to exist, for in Him we live and move and have our being.  All things are from Him, for Him and to Him.  It does us no good to object because all we are doing is denying the reality of universe.

Now some might look at the destruction of whole nations as a defining characteristic, and rightly so, but it doesn’t define the whole of the situation nor the character of the God we serve.  Look at how forbearing God was with Nineveh.  His purpose is never to destroy but to save.  Our problem is we get confused over the laws and stories, being distracted by the details then missing the point.  It’s like yelling at a cop who’s arresting someone you don’t know for something you didn’t see happen, yet you call the cop unfair, unjust and a pig for doing his job.  Since we didn’t see and probably don’t know the crimes they committed, we actually have nothing helpful to say about their arrest, no do we?

Tithing must have been instituted or at least some form of it understood long before Abraham, for the natural response for him after the defeat of his enemies was to give a tenth to the priest-king Melchizedek.  The other thing that impressed me about Abraham’s generosity is that he kept nothing of the booty he won through defeat of the enemy–to the victor go the spoils.  Instead, we see him giving it back to the kings of Sodom and Gomorrah 90% after his gift to the Lord to re-establish their lives.  So, basically, he gave back 100% of that which he had won–first to God, then to those who had lost it.  That is faith in action and Abraham was called a man of faith.

This is the nature of those who follow Jesus, for we know who is the source of our success.  It becomes second nature for us when we live in gratitude for all He has done and is.

The Argument

January 27, 2009

Flee the evil desires of youth, and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace, along with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart.  Don’t have anything to do with foolish or stupid arguments, because you know they produce quarrels.  And the Lord’s servant must not quarrel; instead, he must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful.  Those who oppose him he must gently instruct, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth, and that they will come to their senses and escape from the trap of the devil, who has taken them captive to do his will.  2 Timothy 2:22-26.

In exegesis (the study of context) word placement is just about everything.  For instance, one of the phrases (arrangement of words) that jumped out at me is “Flee the evil desires of youth…” as I’m sure it did you.  On the other hand, we don’t usually connect the dots with the rest of the paragraph where it speaks about foolish arguments leading to quarrels, choosing somehow to separate the two thoughts as continuum rather than expansion.  In other words, we think Paul was jut throwing thoughts out there as fast as he could dictate them and these two disparate ideas just happened to end up in the same paragraph.

Instead we should be connecting the dot of immaturity to the dot of quarrelsome foolish behavior.  I don’t mind a good debate over God’s Word and its interpretation, but the moment it ends with sneering, sarcastic or demeaning rhetoric, I’m done.

Paul is calling foolish arguments that lead to quarrels immature for the believer in Christ.  Those who practice argument as a profession, then, must watch themselves that they don’t become quarrelsome for the sake of argument.  In fact, part of the foolishness I think Paul is referring to here is arguing for the sake of being right as much as the previous reference to the resurrection.  He used it as an example of some of the arguable subjects that come up in a church and shake the faith of the followers not well grounded or deeply rooted in Christ.

Over the weekend, Jerome Wernow taught on Jesus refusing to wash His hands before taking bread.  In his teaching, Jerome pointed out that without the context of Jesus’ following rebuke, His actions would have been both an insult to the host and ungodly.  Since we know both were not His intent, we must look much deeper.

Jesus’ methods were used to wake up the Pharisees and teachers of the law to their spiritual condition.  They washed their bodies ceremonially (beyond what the law required from what I know of it) but never let it reach their hearts.  Jesus practiced the law perfectly because in one place He actually challenged the Jews to find some sin they could accuse Him of, thus silencing them.  So His refusal to wash wasn’t a rebuke of the custom or the law itself but the fact that this symbol of cleansing meant absolutely nothing to them other than a means to show themselves righteous before God and other men.

Performance of rituals without the heart grow void of meaning.  O, the symbolism is still there for anyone with a heart to know, but most likely it is layered with pomp and flash so much that the thought behind it is lost.  Jesus’ argument was for them to wash their hands and their hearts.  He wanted them to recognize that the hand washing represented the need for humans to clean their hearts before God.  Don’t we do the same sometime with our rituals?  We forget the bread is the body of Christ and what that means, then drink the cup without consciously acknowledging or seeing it as a symbol of the blood of Jesus shed for us.

In my last entry about the law of tithing, I pointed to it as a means to teach spiritual infants the meaning of giving, of learning generosity.  I presented some of the comments I received on that subject to my friend Jerome and he quickly pointed out that tithing wasn’t just about generosity but mainly for the sake of teaching us to give back to the Lord our best, since God Himself gave His best in Jesus Christ.  Jesus is the first fruits from the dead, right?  Wouldn’t you say He’s the best of the best?  We give in response to this, since all Scripture points to Him.  Our first fruits are to be our gift back to Him, our best efforts, our choicest prizes, our cream off the top of the milk.  Yet when I told him my argument about Paul speaking of the law as a means of teaching generosity to spiritual infants (see Galatians 4:1-7), he quickly agreed that this would also be part of the reason tithing was given.  I was armed and ready to come back and argue my case.  Then Paul’s instruction to Timothy occurred to me.

“You diligently study the scriptures because you think that by them you possess eternal life.  These are the Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life.  John 5:39.  

If we are so wrapped up in winning arguments rather than being godly, any victory gained will be empty of spiritual glory.  If our lives do not show a kindness, a gentleness and a love of others when we are confronted, we are devoid of the spirit of Christ.  The entire Bible is one long testimony about, for and to Jesus as the Savior, the lamb which is slain, and the glory of God’s salvation.  Anyone who claims differently is not one with Him.

As a point of reference, which Scriptures do we think Jesus spoke of in the passage above?  It couldn’t be what we Christians call the New Testament, since it hadn’t been written as yet and wouldn’t even begin to be recorded for years to come.  Therefore the only conclusion we may draw from the above reference to Scripture is the OT.  Jesus claimed the entire law and prophets testified about Him, which subtracts any argument which would use the OT as useless to the Christian believer (a not so subtle reply to one of the comments on that last entry).  If all Scripture is God breathed, then it is all to be used for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.  2 Timothy 3:17.  There’s no way around it.

Yet to enter into arguments about words or quarrels over disputable matters such as what to eat, when to take a sabbath rest, which day, and a host of other issues we deem important enough to split hairs over is completely on the wrong track.  To be like Christ our main mission is to save not be right.  In fact, Paul settles this issue by saying let every man be wrong and Jesus right.  Quite often of late I have felt a check in my spirit when certain men or women begin to speak.  Their authority sounds so forced to me that they begin to almost be screaming through their rhetoric that we accept them as the right divider of truth.  Proverbs troubleshoots this by saying,   The quiet words of the wise are much more to be heeded than the shouts of fools.  (Go search this one out, you’ll find a wealth of other references that go along with it.)

If we study the OT or NT without finding Jesus stamped on every page and in every message, we have missed the point.  Let me be frank (as opposed to jonny) here:  Any writer who points us to the law, prophecy or message as containing the secret to our salvation has already missed the message of Scripture because it points directly to the Lamb slain from the foundation  of the world, nothing else and no other.  Any one seeking to argue for a new “truth” without submitting to this truth as presented by our Master (through the writing of one of His closest disciples no less) is suspect and not to be trusted.

I am not telling you I am right.  I am telling you that Jesus can be trusted.  He and He alone points us in the right direction for our faith to be mature and our lives whole.

Always Generous

January 24, 2009

I was young and now I am old, yet I have never seen the righteous forsaken or their children begging bread.  They are always generous and lend freely; their children will be blessed.  Psalm 37:25, 26.

Generosity isn’t something Bible as a whole balks at speaking to bluntly.  God desires people who are open-handed with their means no matter what their circumstances.  Benevolence is a state of mind not based on a financial condition.  I think it’s one of the reasons why tithing was instated for believers early on (remember Abraham gave tithe to Melchizedek), to show us that giving should never be about surplus but a matter of the heart.

Susan (TLC for Women) noted in my last post that Christians tend not to be very good tippers.  That’s sad, for we of all people should realize what it’s like to serve people without gratitude.  Those who neglect to be generous speak their witness loud and clear in the hearing of the public without saying a word sometimes.  How we treat people in the public marketplace says more about what we believe than any tract, sermon or “witness” that includes cornering a person to share the gospel with them.

Here’s an example off the subject but which speaks volumes about one of the valid reasons why the world dislikes Christianity:  I read an article in CCM (Contemporary Christian Music magazine) once which stated the statistic that the access to rented porn videos was the highest during a Christian youth pastor’s convention.  This fact is pretty scary because hotel staff tally up the money at the end of the shift and nothing goes unnoticed.  What a chance to witness these young pastors missed, and this is not just one incident, but many across the country.

I guess my problem isn’t that guys who access porn are pastors, that should be dealt with on a personal level and another post, but that they were foolish enough to bring their own weaknesses under public scrutiny where it would do the most damage.  I’m not shocked that they have sin in their lives rather I’m sickened by the stain on Jesus’ name it brought with it, but all of us have done it in one form or another.  Either we’ve been pompous or sinful in the public arena and brought shame and disgrace to the message of Jesus.  Those who are mature in Christ, however, realize they do this and take steps to humble themselves with the people they have offended.  In other words, instead of denying or ignoring the problem, admit it freely by taking steps to confess and rectify it.

I wish Christians who fail their Lord would approach those they sinned in front of and say,  “I need to ask your forgiveness for something I did.  I misrepresented my Master here by doing _____ and I’m ashamed of that fact.  I don’t want you to think badly of Jesus, so I’m confessing this is my weakness and something He’s been working on with me to solve.  Please don’t think badly of Him because of me, that would break my heart.”

What if we did this?  What would the world see?  What kind of conversations would it open up if we continued with that discussion and went on to tell of God’s mercy, grace and patience with us as sinners?

Well, for one thing it would think of Christians as being better than anyone else, but growing better than themselves (the Christian individuals I mean).  It would also set the record straight about what it means to be a Christian and who God in Jesus is.

What if the world saw Christians at their highest possible state of financial stress giving and being generous?  What if we went into a restaurant and gave %20 instead of the usual %15?  What does it say to the people serving when we are kind to them, careful of their time and generous when it comes to paying for their work?  What does it say about our Lord?

As He looked up, Jesus saw the rich putting their gifts into the temple treasury.  He also saw a poor widow put in two very small copper coins.  “I tell you the truth,”  He said,  “this poor widow has put in more than all the others.  All these people gave their gifts out of their wealth; but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on.”  Luke 21:1-4.

Remember the story of this story?

I’ve heard sermon after sermon on this.  Some go one way while some go another.  Very few really speak to the simple principle here:  We don’t give out of our abundance but out of gratitude.  The amount of our gift is immaterial to Jesus, what matters is that we live a generous life no matter what our circumstances or financial condition.  It isn’t our poverty that gets God’s notice nor our wealth, but the attitude of our heart.  The woman gave to God out of love and gratitude, and unbeknownst to her but knownst to us, God was standing where He could see her and caught her in the act.  She gave it all, ever last penny she had to live on and He knew it.

Now this very same God is the one who made manna fall like frost on the ground.  Who took five loaves of barely and two small fish and fed over twenty thousand people (five thousand men, plus women and children) with twelve baskets left over.  This God is able to exceedingly more than we can think or imagine.  What happened to the widow?  I haven’t the foggiest idea, but Jesus blessed her in public, though I’m sure He avoided embarrassing her by drawing attention of the temple staff.  No, I think He just wanted to honor her to His disciples as well as teach them something in the process.

I bet that gift multiplied beyond her ability to imagine it.  Our God is just that kind of God.

So the next time we think to scrimp on our generosity, think of how God can multiply our benevolence far beyond just giving it back to us.

Remember this:  Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously.

You will be made rich in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God.  2 Corinthians 9:6, 11.

Our wealth isn’t about money or possessions but about the attitude of our hearts.

The Relevance of Culture

January 22, 2009

Though I am free and belong to no man, I make myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible.  To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews.  To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law.  To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law.  To the weak I became weak, to win the weak.  I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some.  1 Corinthians 9:19-22.

Once, I spoke in the Johannesburg SDA Central church as a guest preacher about how to beat sin through the Word.  As I spoke, I used confronting Satan as an example of how to deal with temptation.  I said something like this,  “Look, booger, back off!” and went on with the sermon not thinking twice about how anyone would take it because I was being humorous, I thought they would take it that way too.

They didn’t.

And, they didn’t invite me to preach for nearly six months until I approached the pastor and asked him why everyone else in our little band had been invited back but me.  He told me that the last time I preached I cussed in the pulpit and the elders decided they didn’t want me to come back.  Confused, I asked what I had said and he refused to use the word until I pressured him to say it.

Working in a foreign country means we have to be aware of their customs, perceptions and language use.  It can be quite tricky to navigate their idiosyncrasies in order to get the pure presentation of the gospel.  Yet it can be done.

O, and the word I said in the pulpit that they thought was a cuss word?  “Booger”!  The puzzlement on my face must have surprised him as well because he asked what it meant in America.  When I told him it meant “snot”, he nearly doubled over laughing, then told me that they thought I had used the swear word for anal sex–instead of two o’s it has a u and two g’s.  Now it was my turn to be completely nonplussed because, though I had heard British based humor use the term, I never connected to what it meant.

 In the course of twenty-plus years of ministry, I’ve heard other major mistakes missionaries have made in their zeal to convert the “heathen” of other countries.  Almost without fail these enthusiastic well meaning people made incredible blunders in understanding local customs and blending with their society.  Many came to sell their Western ideals as much as the gospel, which the locals resisted naturally.

In one instance I read about, the local African culture considered bare breasts a woman’s natural passage to adulthood or something of the sort, though they wore dresses around their waists, so that this was a part of their morality, so all married women went about naked to their wastes with no shame.  The European missionaries required converts to put on blouses and/or dresses to cover themselves, all the while believing the families and cultural reaction to be one of lowdown lustful opposition to the gospel.  It turns out that this particular culture understood covering the breasts as a Western idea because the only women who did so from their numbers were prostitutes who serviced the Western soldiers.  So the missionaries were making the female converts look like whores to the locals.  Isn’t that a great witness for Jesus?

Hudson Taylor, armed with many stories of misguided efforts in China, decided to take on local dress, grow his hair out into a pigtail and become as close to the culture as Christ’s teachings would allow.  He worked for nearly fifteen years to gain one convert who backslid the next year due to pressure from his family.  Yet because of Taylor’s efforts the China Inland Mission became one of the most successful in the history of missionaries.

I don’t object to teaching healthy messages and bringing the ignorant up to speed on more advanced knowledge, but first we must understand who we are speaking to about these things or we might make major blunders that could be avoided.

In South Africa, the witch doctors and tribal shamans told the men that AIDS was the white man’s war against them, and the only way to rid themselves of the disease was to rape a virgin.  I don’t know the current statistics today, but not long ago, nearly 3/5 women had been raped there and AIDS charts the highest in that country than almost any place in the world.  For us to reach out to these people, we must first understand who they are, what they went through and grasp some of their ideology.

Paul’s first trip to Athens shows the way he approached a city (see Acts 17:16-34).  First, he looked around and ascertained the customs, worship practices and mores of the general society, then he presented his case for Jesus in the marketplace.  It isn’t that Paul simply took on local customs of worship and their social practices, rather within the bounds of Christ’s teachings on decorum and lifestyle he presented himself with the local cultural attributes that didn’t directly go against his message.  He became relevant to the point of communication.  When the leading philosophers brought him to the Areopagus, he took one of their own works of art and worship to illustrate his point–an alter to the Unknown God.

Usually it takes time to get to know to whom we are speaking.  If I met one of you, it would be rude and completely idiotic of me to assume I knew your history, style and personality from one encounter.  Yet missionaries of every stripe have done just that to their prospective “converts” and driven many to reject the message long before it was even presented.

Here’s a truth we must accept:  the gospel is a community based religion (practice).  It is best communicated (notice the direct relationship of this word to “community”) through healthy relationships with others.  The constant contact those looking on have with the active players in Christ’s church should give them a better idea who Jesus is and what His kingdom is like.  Unfortunately, this is definitely not the case for the most part.

The loudest voices usually get heard first, yet the loudest witness for Jesus is found most often in the quietest places.  Paul’s instruction to the Thessalonians urged them,  Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life, to mind your own business and to work with your hands, just as we told you, so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on anybody.  1 Thessalonians 4;11, 12.  The loudest witness for Jesus is a life lived out loud.  If we work with someone who is humble, honest, forthright and good to the core, don’t we want to know more about them?  Of course!  We want to know what makes them tick, what motivates their life and, if the example of their peace is strong enough, what makes them so happy.

No one comes to Jesus without first being unhappy with what they know.  Some come out of boredom with their traditions, others out of a deep need to make sense of the universe, still others from a longing to know God.  Yet I would argue that very rarely will anyone come to this truth with pure unselfish motives.  We all come to meet some inner need or want in order to find happiness and fulfillment.  People who seek truth alone, will not be satisfied with Jesus, for His message is not centered around simply gaining knowledge but a life changing perspective that works in every area of our existence.  

It’s not enough for us to have truth if that truth doesn’t make us happy and all around better people.

Those who think they are not missionaries just because they run a business need to think again.  Honest businessmen and women have an effective witness that many a missionary can only dream of doing.  Why?  Because the gospel isn’t just about finding truth for itself rather it changes how we conduct ourselves in private and public.  A ditch digger, janitor or doctor who remembers why God called us, takes their job on as a mission to communicate the gospel of hope.  The greatest witness to the world is not to practice earning money the same way.  The greatest witness to the world is to be open-handed with our gifts.  The greatest witness to the world about who Jesus is, comes in the form of a man or woman transformed by the heart of Christ.

Do you want to be relevant to the world?  Be honest even if it costs you.  Do you want people to see Jesus?  Live His mores not only in public but the mundane habits of life.  When men talk to women, they need keep their eyes off their boobs and listen to their words, because a godly man knows who they are is far more important than their packaging.  When women talk to men, make sure they aren’t angling for security because they should have already found it in Christ.  When business people speak to prospective clients, help them find their answer even if it means losing the job.  Our honesty, fairness and generosity will speak loudly in a world where those things are advertising slogans to rip people off.  We can’t just be a big billboard for Christ without putting our money where our mouth is; everything about us must signal difference in the way we work and live with others.

That is the most effective witness on earth and what Christ called us to be.  Heaven begins here, among the followers of Jesus where the rubber meets the road and the contrast is greatest.

A Disputable Example

January 21, 2009

Now if there is no resurrection, what will those do who are baptized for the dead?  If the dead are not raised at all, why are people baptized for them?  1 Corinthians 15:29.

Just as man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgment, so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many people; and He will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for Him.  Hebrews 9:27, 28.

If you read the whole passage in 1 Corinthians 15, you’ll notice something is missing from Paul’s argument about the resurrection:  No discussion about why being baptized for the dead is wrong, unscriptural or bad doctrine.

None.

Nada.

Why?

I don’t know for sure but I can guess.

For one, I don’t think it made his point to argue against those who in good faith were attempting to save their loved ones from hell.  It would have been a side issue, a detour, a digression from the main point, which was:  Did the resurrection even happen?!

Our second text should answer the question about being baptized for the dead, right?  It states pretty plainly that the dead have one life before death then the judgment.  No more, no less.

So why didn’t Paul get into it?

What would it have accomplished?  Despair on the part of the believers who practiced it.  They believed staunchly in the resurrection and anything that discouraged them from that love would have been abhorrent to Paul–especially when it might not have been clear they were doing something futile.

In his instructions to Timothy Paul noted that we must not quarrel about disputable matters.  This means if it can’t be proved without a doubt in the Scriptures, it isn’t something to worry about.

Here’s my take on Paul’s mindset on the practice of being baptized for the dead.

It didn’t matter.  It couldn’t be proved that it did any good, but there was no proof that it didn’t either.  Since it was done out of good will and a longing to save those who were lost in ignorance, Paul left it alone in this and every other letter he wrote.  Nowhere else is this issue brought up or addressed, which says to me it wasn’t something to get our undies all twisted up in a bunch over.

I think we major in minors way too much.  We argue over things that are disputable matters to the point that we form new denominations over hairsplitting details of the gospel rather than being unified in our faith as our Master commanded.  Which, by the way, is also our greatest witness to the world about Who God is, according to Jesus.  “By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”  John 13:35.  It sounds like the best way to let the world know Jesus’ character isn’t our fantastic doctrines or miraculous healing, but our love for one another.

Again:  How will the world know we are His disciples?  By our doctrinal stance on the resurrection possibilities?  Our fabulous eschatological dissection of Revelation and end time prophecies?  Our fathomless mysticism or the hair-brained  radical diet plan we devised to make us look different?

No, it will be our love for one another.

Think about that fact for a minute.  Jesus’ identity as a lover of humanity is clear to the most jaded sinner out there.  What they know of His followers, however, is more about their politics, prohibitions and distain for the lost than anything else.  The preachers on TV and even the streets herald hell as the method of choice to convince the world of their impending doom.  What’s funny is that God didn’t call us to preach hell but the good news of salvation for all people.  I’m not saying that we should avoid the subject, rather that giving people good news is not about preaching bad as a general rule.  I don’t avoid the subject of judgment nor do I feel it safe to do so when Jesus clearly told us anyone who was ashamed of Him and His words would not be worthy of the kingdom.  So I will teach what I know of this truth, but I won’t call it the good news.

In the story of Naaman, the Aramean commander who sought help for his leprosy from Elisha, we see the subplot of Gehazi, Elisha’s servant.  Elisha refused Naaman’s offer of money, Gehazi decided to go lie to get some of the wealth.  When Elisha confronted him about it, Gehazi lied again and received Naaman’s leprosy for his troubles.  I wonder if Naaman didn’t begin to doubt, or at least ponder what this could mean, because he believed Elisha had asked for these things, not know he’d been deceived.  It doesn’t say in the record.  Yet I wouldn’t blame him if he did.  Greed always taints God’s gifts, and those who mask their greed with the gospel will be paid in full at the judgment.

My point is that when we misrepresent the gospel by all our wrangling and quarreling over disputable matters, we tell the world what?  Nothing they didn’t already know about themselves.

I grew up Seventh-day Adventist.  I learned to know Jesus in a personal way by listening to preachers such as H. M. S. Richards, Sr. and Morris Vendon.  These men were called to wake that church up to the grace of God and realign them with the gospel message.  But I also know the SDA church split hairs as every other denomination does ad nauseum.  Once it dawned on me that we were to be lovers of all believers and not break the unity of faith for the sake of food, sabbaths or other disputable matters, I became a member of the church of Jesus rather than worrying about my denomination affiliation.  I will not argue about what happens to the dead once they die because it really doesn’t matter, since it’s in God’s hands.  I would rather spend five minutes telling people about my wonderful Savior than a half an hour arguing about whether the dead go straight to heaven, purgatory or soul sleep.  On the other hand I will discuss everything and question everything in order to grow in my understanding of God and His Word.

The more I understand of the Word of God, the less I think He’s impressed by all our pompous, know-it-all, and wholly divisive attitudes.  I’m not all that bright nor am I beautiful in the world’s view of such things, but I know love deeper than any I’ve ever seen because of Jesus.  I want the world to know this peace and if I can’t give it to the whole world, I will make a difference where I can–those little worlds I meet every day.

That’s why I don’t think Paul cared about their practice of being baptized for the dead:  He knew their hearts and hope mattered far more than accuracy on a disputable point.  I’m learning to think this way as well.

Sanctity of Life

January 20, 2009

One of the pastors I work for, Jerome Wernow, taught on a subject Saturday night near and dear to his heart:  the sanctity of life.  He works as the head the Northwwest Center for Bioethics department out of Western Seminary here in Portland, OR.

Over the course of several years of serving in his church as a worship leader at Grace Point Fellowship (see the link to the sermon above), I have broadened my knowledge of Scripture as well as been impressed by his fairly balanced viewpoint.  His sermons are more teachings than they are actually preaching because, let’s face it, he’s basically a teacher at heart.  But the depth they go to and his fascination with all things Jesus brings about an expanding in his congregation that I admire.  He’s also an honest soul, one who when confronted with his own failures to live up to the light he teaches will humbly seek reconciliation.  This only adds to my respect for him because I know very few senior pastors with as many degrees (he calls them squiggly lines) after his name that have half the humanity that he has.

That said, he can sometimes be prickly at best when he sees problems.  I like the fact that he’s not perfect and admits it.  To watch the pastor of my church grow in the Lord gives me courage and hope for my own growth.

His subject surprised and enlightened me on the sanctity of life because I’m so used to anti-abortionists and the like being so closed to all things death.  His views simply made sense from a Biblical point of view.

Please take the time to check out his sermon, then explore the links to his articles and other resources for further study.

To Whom It May Concern:

January 19, 2009

For the women who read my blog, I just read another blog that impressed me so much I had to say something. This woman is an actress and Christian who needs our encouragement and I think has something to say for Christ.

Check her out: Bitsy Dungaree

Imagining God

January 19, 2009

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation.  Colossians 1:15.

And just as we have born the likeness of the earthly man, so shall we bear the likeness of the man from heaven.  1 Corinthians 15:49.

St. Francis of Assisi claimed we are His hands, His feet… all to tell those he taught something of the nature of God.  His point, of course, had nothing to do with what God looks like or how we should picture Him, rather he was making the argument for our works of service.

Yet the function of every part of us has some counterpart in the spiritual reality of God.

Just for fun, let’s picture what these different attributes say about God.

The head is obvious because it points to the sentient part of God, the thinking and command center of our bodies modeled after His spiritual consciousness.  This is where all personality, character, movement and opinion originates or is processed.  Since God is complete in Himself, there is nothing else for Him to learn because all knowledge comes from Him and all possibilities are made by Him.  So our physical brains work on a material plane to mirror what is happening in His spiritual.

I need to clarify something for a minute, however.  The spiritual plane has its physicality just as solidly as our reality.  Though to us it is insubstantial or mystically vaporous, it is not so for those who in habit it.  For instance, their “bodies” or spiritual forms are substantial to them, though this “form” relates to nothing we could ever grasp at this point.

So the feet must give us some example of God’s ability to travel distance and move from place to place.  Of course, if God is spirit, then most likely feet don’t actually represent a physical form but what God does.  What we get an idea for is that God can make “strides” toward one place or another.

The function we have that fascinates me is the hands.  The dexterity, finesse and sheer creative ability in these tools of nature blow my mind for they don’t have much of anything they can’t do.  Well, except fly, but that’s beside the point.  Okay, they can’t make something appear out of thin air…but that’s getting picky.  In construction I find my fingers work where tools won’t.  When I need to feel the height of two surfaces side by side, gloves won’t do, only the finer touch of the fingers.  It’s amazing how the skin actually feels even the slightest difference.

The eyes and ears of the body are receptors for information about what is around us.  Now God’s ability to “see” is not limited to our physicality, since He inhabits all dimensions at once.  He “hears” all levels and all dimensions at once, which makes it kind of confusing for us but somehow doesn’t bother Him in anyway.

I’ve often wondered if all our planets, stars and space matter aren’t simply the insides of another entity.  You know, like the solar systems are the atoms and galaxies, cells, etc.  It might be interesting to see what reality is when the change of our bodies happens.  At that day, we take on immortality in bodily form like Jesus’ resurrection body.  That means we will be able to eat, get hungry, be recognizable for the essence of who we are and be touched and handled.  Our preconceptions on this point are interesting but hardly conclusive, since the Bible calls it a mystery that will not reveal itself until we are glorified.  But thinking about it lifts our minds up to the supernatural realms and reinforces our knowledge that we are incredibly finite.

The way we touch one another represents something of the way God expresses Himself to the Godhead in general and His creation.  Intimacy, beneficial and giving, is the modus operandi of God’s nature and those who serve Him.  Yet unlike our limitations of physical touch communicating to the spirit through our sensory mechanisms God speaks directly to the spirit.  Two people have to speak to each other’s spirits through physical filters; God inhabits our spirits, which allows Him to bypass the distortions of the physical realm.  The corporeal wouldn’t have distorted God’s voice at all if not for sin.  We chose in Adam to listen to rebellion in concert to God’s voice, which perverts the message.  Now the touch of the human hand comes through filters of experience God never intended us to go through–such as abuse, violence and accidental catastrophes of both our natures and that of the world around us.

If we think that we are the only creation to have rebelled, our understanding of Scripture is stilted and distorted.  Satan, who was called Lucifer (Shining One) before his rebellion, rebelled eons before we came into existence as far as I understand the texts.  You can find references to him (we have no idea of gender here for the Semitic languages use the male pronoun to denote power of form and ability) in Isaiah 14, Job 1, 2, Revelation 12, 20, and Ezekiel 28:11-19.  For the most part we only have Biblical references to what Satan does.  Some theologians believe “Satan” is merely a metaphor pointing to man’s sin or evil in the world.  I happen to believe that Satan is a real creature of some sort, who is able to inhabit two or several dimensions.

My point is that we were not the first to sin against God, Satan and his angels were–at least they are the first recorded rebels.  This means that the freedom of choice is not merely a man ordained right but a law of creation which God made when the very first being came into existence.  It also tells us that God’s purpose for creation is universal not merely one dimensional.

Our hands, feet, organs, muscles, sinew and whatever else we are, were created to be in the image of God.  This means that everything about us is to His glory, which signifies His character expressed in action.  Our use of these “tools” must harmonize with His purpose or they will shrivel, malfunction and die.  Christ came to redeem our natures, which will result in the redemption of nature itself and our bodies.

“For in Him we live and move and have our being.”  Acts 17:28.