Friday, August 16, 2019

Letter for Leaders--Pergamum (Rev. 2)

We are moving forward through the letters to the churches in Revelation, looking at them as guidelines for any leader who wishes to lead his flock as a godly shepherd.  Leaders in the church are to model Jesus; He leads us to the Word and He is the Word.  So we have an excellent way to constantly check how we are leading. 

Let us check out the guidelines in Pergamum:

“To the angel of the church in Pergamum write:  These are the words of him who has the sharp, double-edged sword. I know where you live—where Satan has his throne. Yet you remain true to my name. You did not renounce your faith in me, not even in the days of Antipas, my faithful witness, who was put to death in your city—where Satan lives.  Nevertheless, I have a few things against you: There are some among you who hold to the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to entice the Israelites to sin so that they ate food sacrificed to idols and committed sexual immorality. Likewise, you also have those who hold to the teaching of the Nicolaitans. Repent therefore! Otherwise, I will soon come to you and will fight against them with the sword of my mouth. Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who is victorious, I will give some of the hidden manna. I will also give that person a white stone with a new name written on it, known only to the one who receives it."

The "sharp, double-edged sword" as you know, is the Word of God: "and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God" (Eph. 6:17).  The Word/Jesus oversees the church.  His Word and Him being the Word is the only arbiter of how a leader should lead and conduct the affairs of the church. 

This church is being commended for remaining "true to my name."  This is immensely critical given where the church is located:  in a spiritual stronghold where Satan holds sway. Death has already visited the church and the leadership has stood firm, not renouncing the faith. This church is staying true to its calling:  to preach the Word.  

The only basis for leadership direction is the Word.  This requires two things.  We must really know the Word--the Scriptures in their entirety as the whole counsel of God.  We must also really know the Word--Jesus Christ.  Both are critical to remaining true to His name, and not compromising the message.

Bill Johnson of Bethel Church once commented that he could not have a gospel that did not promote healing.  That sounds spiritual, compassionate and reasonable.  But it is not Biblical.  That is key here:  the Word is our only foundation, and even if it makes us uncomfortable or culturally out of sync, we are to remain firm.

Why?  Look what the angel says further on: Some members of the church (or perhaps some leaders) are holding to beliefs that are contrary to the Word.  Food sacrificed to idols and sexual immorality are what the Nicolaitans are promoting and this church does not seem to mind their presence and their teachings.  Their sister church in Ephesus is commended for repudiating these people. 

How do we, as leaders, face our "Nicolaitans"?

In Acts, chapter 15, the early church faces a controversy about circumcising Gentile believers.  What is evident here is how the apostles gather together and speak the Word in order to settle the dispute.  Peter does a Spirit-led job in summarizing how God worked among the Gentiles: 

"The apostles and the elders were gathered together to consider this matter.  And after there had been much debate, Peter stood up and said to them, “Brothers, you know that in the early days God made a choice among you, that by my mouth the Gentiles should hear the word of the gospel and believe. And God, who knows the heart, bore witness to them, by giving them the Holy Spirit just as he did to us, and he made no distinction between us and them, having cleansed their hearts by faith. Now, therefore, why are you putting God to the test by placing a yoke on the neck of the disciples that neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear?  But we believe that we will be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, just as they will.” (Acts 15:6-11)

That last verse is the essence of the Gospel and Peter is standing on that.  James then quotes the Word directly:  

“‘After this I will return,
and I will rebuild the tent of David that has fallen;
I will rebuild its ruins,
and I will restore it,
that the remnant of mankind may seek the Lord,
and all the Gentiles who are called by my name,
says the Lord, who makes these things known from of old.’" (Acts 15:16-17)

Peter acknowledges that the Gentiles at some point would enter in God's Kingdom.  His first sermon earlier in Acts demonstrated this; he repeatedly used the Word to underscore his points.  Here he gives a salient summary.  James then steps up and quotes a passage to give the leaders the answer:  The Gentiles received the same Spirit from God as had the Jews.  Thus, salvation comes only from "the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ." The Law cannot and will not save. 

The Word provided the answer.  

Therefore, in James' judgment, derived from God's Word, the Gentiles should avoid:  "Therefore my judgment is that we should not trouble those of the Gentiles who turn to God, but should write to them to abstain from the things polluted by idols, and from sexual immorality, and from what has been strangled, and from blood." (Acts 15:19-20)

Isn't that a contradiction?  Aren't these leaders putting some additional "law" on the Gentiles?  Deuteronomy says,

"They stirred him [God] to jealousy with strange gods;
with abominations they provoked him to anger.
They sacrificed to demons that were no gods,
to gods they had never known,
to new gods that had come recently,
whom your fathers had never dreaded.
You were unmindful of the Rock that bore you,
and you forgot the God who gave you birth." (32:16-18) 

Paul further notes: 

"Consider the people of Israel: are not those who eat the sacrifices participants in the altar? What do I imply then? That food offered to idols is anything, or that an idol is anything? No, I imply that what pagans sacrifice they offer to demons and not to God. I do not want you to be participants with demons. You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons. You cannot partake of the table of the Lord and the table of demons. Shall we provoke the Lord to jealousy? Are we stronger than he?" (1 Cor. 10:18-22)

Thus, the early church is opening its arms to the Gentiles based on the Word.  But they are also limiting the Gentiles because the idols and their altars are demonic.  Why would the leaders allow their new brothers and sisters in Christ to engage with demons?  Dark and light are not to cohabitate; allowing Gentiles to still interact with the meat, the altar and the idols would be contrary to God's Word about the true nature of idols.  

Was this inconvenient to the new Gentile believers, who saw nothing wrong with grabbing a hunk of meat after it had been sacrificed to some god?  Yes.

Was it judgmental to limit the sexual behavior of Gentiles in addition to all things idolatrous?  Yes.  

But the Word of God is uncompromising on such matters.  So should the leadership be, regardless of cultural norms.  

Interesting to note that the Spirit will fight the teachings of the Nicolaitans at Pergamum with the sword--the Word of God.  It is not a battle of opinions, majorities or cultural standards.  God's Word is the only foundation for starting, running and sustaining a church.  

The Spirit promises "hidden manna" to those who remain true.  

Jesus identified Himself with manna:

When they found him on the other side of the sea, they said to him, “Rabbi, when did you come here?” Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you are seeking me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you. For on him God the Father has set his seal.” Then they said to him, “What must we do, to be doing the works of God?” Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.” So they said to him, “Then what sign do you do, that we may see and believe you? What work do you perform? Our fathers ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’”  Jesus then said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but my Father gives you the true bread from heaven.  For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” They said to him, “Sir, give us this bread always.”

Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst. (John 6:25-35)

Boom.  Holding fast to the Word means holding fast to Jesus.  Victory means more Jesus--more Manna.  More life, more strength, more joy.

Talk about a church where the people are fed with Christ as the Word by being in the Word... Whoa! and Amen!

In so many churches today, with the focus on the Word being reduced to more of an opinion, or a quick encouragement, would anyone notice if the Spirit walked away? 


Saturday, August 3, 2019

Letter for Leaders: Smyrna (Rev. 2)

Welcome back! We are exploring how the letters to the seven churches in the Book of Revelation can be used to understand Jesus-centered leadership in the modern church. 

The guidance that Ephesus gives us is do not, in our effort to grow and then sustain a church, fall out of touch with Jesus--He is our first and only love.  Anything that threatens that love--too busy of a schedule, doing lots of church-centered activities, spending every moment trying to rescue the world, less time for devotions and Bible study--will bring God deep grief; so much so He calls such a church to repentance.  That's a strong word; God does not want His love nor relationship to us to be replaced by church.

One last comment here.  God commends the church for their hatred of the "practices of the Nicolaitans," which He equally hates.  Yup: That's the word used: hate.  Look at Vine's definition:

(b) of a right feeling of aversion from what is evil; said of wrongdoing, Rom 7:15; iniquity, Hbr 1:9; "the garment (figurative) spotted by the flesh," Jud 1:23; "the works of the Nicolaitans," Rev 2:6 (and ver. 15, in some mss.; see the AV); 

What these people were doing was detestable and evil; hence, due to the gravity of sin, God minces no words. But do you notice that it is the practices that rouse His ire, not the people themselves. God wants people who do evil to repent: "Have I any pleasure at all that the wicked should die? saith the Lord God: and not that he should return from his ways, and live?" (Ezekiel 18:23) 

Obviously, this church was well-grounded in the Word.  To see, understand and respond to the things that are detestable to God, we must know the Word--not our culture, not our traditions, and not our personal bias.  God's Word is the only standard.  Irrespective of what the world says, God does hate sin and wants those who practice it to turn away from it and turn to Him.  Church leaders that affirm that process are commended by God.

Let's go the next letter.

“To the angel of the church in Smyrna write:  These are the words of him who is the First and the Last, who died and came to life again. I know your afflictions and your poverty—yet you are rich! I know about the slander of those who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan. Do not be afraid of what you are about to suffer. I tell you, the devil will put some of you in prison to test you, and you will suffer persecution for ten days. Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you life as your victor’s crown.  Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches. The one who is victorious will not be hurt at all by the second death."  (Rev. 2:8-11) 

I go to a football game, but that does not mean I am a football player.

I go to university, but that does not make me a student.

I go to church, but that does not make me a Christian.  

Clearly, this church is under heavy fire by those claiming to be Jews but are emphatically not.  They slander this church and in doing so, are joining forces with Satan to demean its message about the saving grace of Jesus.  Satan always joins forces with those who denigrate the Gospel.  Are the afflictions a result of this slander?  Or is the pagan community already hostile and this slander just adds fuel to the fire?  

Persecution is coming and God is warning His leaders and people.  A "victor's crown" is promised; prison and torture will not diminish the power of God in His church in any way.  

Jesus had earlier promised:  “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it." (Matt. 16:17-18)   The "rock" was Peter's declaration of who Jesus is, and His Lordship cannot and will not be removed nor diminished, despite all that Hell may throw against it.  

The Smyrna church, and us as well, are included in that promise.

Now, as then, leaders should expect persecution, even from those who use the same theological terminology.  Calling a church "Christian" or people calling themselves that simply does not make it so.  

However:  If someone uses the Word is used to evaluate a church and it falls short, that is legitimate.  If the church is of Jesus, its leaders should be "teachable," one of the qualities Paul cites that characterizes a pastor/leader.  (1 Timothy 3:2) 

If the leader responds by slandering those who are evaluating him with the Word, this moves him precariously close to the "synagogue of Satan" mentioned in this letter.  Satan will do everything in his power to hamstring the leadership in a church.  Expect it.

Leaders should expect temptations that will lead to "prison" if the leader succumbs.  Paul says in 1 Timothy 3:1-7:

"Here is a trustworthy saying: Whoever aspires to be an overseer desires a noble task.  Now the overseer is to be above reproach, faithful to his wife,temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not given to drunkenness, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. He must manage his own family well and see that his children obey him, and he must do so in a manner worthy of full respect. (If anyone does not know how to manage his own family, how can he take care of God’s church?) He must not be a recent convert, or he may become conceited and fall under the same judgment as the devil. He must also have a good reputation with outsiders, so that he will not fall into disgrace and into the devil’s trap."

OK, leader/pastor:  Here we go: 

Satan will tempt you to compromise your walk any way he can, making your behavior questionable.

Satan will tempt you to commit adultery, whether with a person, in your head or on your computer.  The method matters not; imprisoning you in sin and regret is Satan's goal. 

Temperate?  No.  Be free in your use of alcohol.  You are not like other people; you have this under control.  But if you do behave badly, (whether in secret or not) you will reap the whirlwind.

Self-controlled?  Nah.  Tweet with a vengeance those who mock or call you out.  Being self-controlled is weakness; be assertive, aggressive and let people know you will not tolerate any accusations or trash-talk--even from your own people. 

Respectable?  Hey, don't worry if you are conforming to the culture.  The world will see you as hip, progressive, relatable.  In fact, at first glance, the world might not even know you are a pastor.  Good thing, huh? 

Hospitable?  Kinda hard to do that if you have thousands in your church.  Just delegate.  Besides, who has time to give water to the thirsty, food to the hungry, clothe the naked and visit the prisoners, if you have such a megachurch? Let others do that.  Your main concern is the church stage and how your music and message will fill your church.  

Teachable?  Gotta know the Word to do that.  Gotta teach the Word in its fullness to do that.  Gotta live the Word to model it to your sheep. But if you are limited in your knowledge or are trying so hard to be relevant, (is that another word for shallow?) then it is hard to see error in yourself or in your theology.  Satan loves shallow.

Drunkenness?  No, you don't get, well, drunk.  Whether your weaker sheep are stumbling over the leadership drinking, well, that's their problem.

Violent?  Not you!  Not at least in person.  But when you get on Twitter or Facebook, out.  Or, despite all of your sweetness and light in the pulpit, if anyone talks to your wife or children off the record, another portrait of you emerges entirely.

Quarrelsome?  Well, not if people stay off your bad side.  Everyone has a bad side--whether it is under the Lordship of Christ is another matter.  

Lover of money?  C'mon.  God wants to open the coffers of heaven and rain wealth down on you.  Cars, jets, houses, you name it!  If God is blessing you, who has the right to question that?  Jesus? Well, yeah,  He lived a simple and devoted life to serve us, but He wants you as a follower to look nothing like Him in lifestyle.  In fact, you look remarkably like the 1%.

Respectful kids, well-run home?  How can anyone do that in today's culture?  Satan has seen to that, for sure.

Celebrity pastors?  New-born renegades who get an immediate platform?  You can handle it, gentlemen!  You got God!  (His Word doesn't agree with you, but ya gotta know it to see that!)

So, we are called, just as the leaders in Smyrna were, to be faithful.  

To who?  Christ alone and His Word, even if it costs us everything. But no worries!  A victor's crown awaits us!  


Tuesday, July 23, 2019

Letter For Leaders: Ephesus

We are looking at the church in Ephesus, as it receives a letter from the Holy Spirit, commending it for certain things and warning it about other things.

Just what you'd expect the Spirit to do, right? This is the pattern of God's love language: Here are the ways you are offending Me, for it violates our covenant or a specific injunction I already made clear to you; you must do these certain behaviors, mainly repentance and its fruits, to show Me you are willing to turn away from the offense; if you choose to insist and persist in sin, these consequences will arrive at your door.  I exercise My love first, calling your heart to turn from what is a barrier between you and me. I then exercise My judgement if you fall on your knees to your idol, and not on your knees to Me.

So, as we saw earlier, the Spirit commends this church for:

"I know thy works, and thy labour, and thy patience, and how thou canst not bear them which are evil: and thou hast tried them which say they are apostles, and are not, and hast found them liars: And hast borne, and hast patience, and for my name's sake hast laboured, and hast not fainted."

I asked in an earlier blog what God considers "good works." If we follow Jesus, then let's follow Jesus! What does He say about His good works?

He heals the one man who had been an invalid for a long time--thirty-eight years.  He could not get down the Pool of Siloam in time to be healed; he was there along with many other people who were unable to move as well: "the blind, the lame, the paralyzed."  Wow.  What a cruel situation:  The very people who want to be healed had been left there by whoever brought them to the pool's edge.  But the blind couldn't see the water stirring; the lame couldn't move fast enough and the paralyzed couldn't move at all.  Where were the people that brought them?  Did they "park" them at the pool's edge, and hope that someone would show up in time?  Or would they run back to help?  At least, they had some hope that the person who brought them would help them.  

But this man had no one to help him; so, day after day, his hope was high in the morning: Maybe today is the day!  By the day's end, it set with the sun:  Another day.  Oh well.

But Jesus brought hope to this one man.  That is Jesus' way:  to zero in on those who are hopeless, friendless, fatherless.  Jesus helped him; He was there in time.  Not for the stirring of the water but for the moment when Heaven saw this man's loneliness and touched him with a power greater than all the pools of Siloam could muster. 

Of course, the authorities were furious, for their version of the Sabbath had been violated.  What did Jesus say?  "In his defense Jesus said to them, 'My Father is always at his work to this very day, and I too am working.'”  (John 5:17) 

He continues:  "Jesus gave them this answer: 'Very truly I tell you, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does.  For the Father loves the Son and shows him all he does. Yes, and he will show him even greater works than these, so that you will be amazed.'" (John 5:19-20)

Jesus says in John 6:38-40: "For I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me. And this is the will of him who sent me, that I shall lose none of all those he has given me, but raise them up at the last day. For my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day.”

Jesus says in John 12:49-50: "For I did not speak on my own, but the Father who sent me commanded me to say all that I have spoken. I know that his command leads to eternal life. So whatever I say is just what the Father has told me to say.”

Do you see the operating definition of "good works"? How do we, in a leadership role, persevere as we serve the Lord?  How do we discern false teaching and those who propagate such teachings?  How do we labor and not grow weary? 

Do only what the Holy Spirit directs you to do.  

Did Jesus run around and heal everyone at the Pool of Siloam?

Did Jesus work day in and day out, never resting?  Never leaving the crowds behind?  Never taking time with just the disciples to regroup and refresh?  Feeling guilty when the need was overwhelming but He took time away with His Father?

Why do we serve Him, but try to recast Christian service as going 24/7, not taking breaks and always pursuing the next act of service without rest or respite? 

Why do we burn out, and yet Jesus did not?

He only did what His Father directed Him to do.  

Why do we burn out, and yet Jesus' disciples and Paul did not?

They only did what the Holy Spirit directed them to do.  

In Ephesus, their sin was one of forgetting "their first love." 

Love that is tired, forgets.

Love that is burned out, forgets.

Love that is resentful, forgets.

Love that is always busy, forgets.

We can return to our Jesus, our hearts aglow with first love (even if it's been ages since we received Him) with a commitment to follow His direction and His alone.

Not man's traditions.

Not our own guilt.

Not our own definition of service.

As leaders and followers of Jesus, don't take your eyes (ever!) off the Master.

Sunday, July 14, 2019

The Seven Churches in Revelation: Guidance for Leaders

We usually look to the seven churches in Revelation as a way to evaluate our church.  Which one do we most resemble?  Or we see the churches as representing a period in church history, with Laodicea being equal to where the church is now.

I would like to apply the churches to our pastors, to our leaders in the church and to ourselves.  Why?  We are the church.  It is not a building, nor a program, nor a denomination.  We are the Body of Christ, and unless a body moves, grows and responds to its environment, it is dead.

In Revelation 1:1, we find the letter is written to "his servants"--us.  We are all servants of Christ to be sure, but if our calling is more specific and we serve those around us and people look to us for that help and guidance, then these letters can prove an antidote to false teaching and false belief. 

Jesus, in His majesty, instructs John to write a letter to these seven churches, specifically to the "angel" or messenger of that particular church.  A pastor is in effect, a messenger.  He brings the Word of God that he has received as he ponders what the Holy Spirit would have him bring. 

The strength of any church really emanates from its leadership--the people who lead by example the very Word of God.  We all are serving the Lord, but as James 3:1 says, "Not many [of you] should become teachers [serving in an official teaching capacity], my brothers and sisters, for you know that we [who are teachers] will be judged by a higher standard [because we have assumed greater accountability and more condemnation if we teach incorrectly]." (AMP Bible)

Exactly.  Churches are a top-down affair; Jesus as our Head, and those who are called serve to bring the Word forth, by preaching, teaching and living it. 

Yes, church leaders say that Jesus is the Good Shepherd, but then do they truly take from Him how to lead His sheep?  Or do they tailor the message to make the sheep happy?  The primary concern of godly leadership is not to ponder, "Are the sheep happy?"  It is, "Are the sheep growing in the knowledge of the Shepherd and will be well equipped to carry His message wherever they go?"

It must begin with the leaders of any church:  Are these leaders themselves growing in the knowledge of the Shepherd?  Are they equipped to carry His message wherever they go? 

So, let us begin this journey into being a messenger/leader/pastor of His truth, and how we can learn from these seven churches in Revelation on what godly leadership looks like.

Unto the angel of the church of Ephesus write; These things saith he that holdeth the seven stars in his right hand, who walketh in the midst of the seven golden candlesticks;
2 I know thy works, and thy labour, and thy patience, and how thou canst not bear them which are evil: and thou hast tried them which say they are apostles, and are not, and hast found them liars:
3 And hast borne, and hast patience, and for my name's sake hast laboured, and hast not fainted.
4 Nevertheless I have somewhat against thee, because thou hast left thy first love.
5 Remember therefore from whence thou art fallen, and repent, and do the first works; or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will remove thy candlestick out of his place, except thou repent.
6 But this thou hast, that thou hatest the deeds of the Nicolaitanes, which I also hate.
7 He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches; To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the tree of life, which is in the midst of the paradise of God. (Rev. 2:1-7 KJV)

God walks amongst His people, in His churches.  Each of these churches in Revelation have strengths and weaknesses, and God watches carefully what each church that honors Him is doing.  

Yet, Paul indicates that anyone who preaches "another gospel" is accursed, and says this twice. (Gal. 1:8-9)  This raises an interesting question:  Does God walk among those churches that have erred doctrinally, and who have prioritized human wisdom over the Holy Spirit's?  Are those churches who pursue an agenda that relies more on human effort than on guidance provided by the Holy Spirit still under His care?     

We have all walked into churches and sensed God's presence; we have all equally walked into churches and sense a kind of energy but not a divine one.  Everything looks like church, but the people lack something as they congregate.  

Has God removed His presence?  He sees the evil in us, in the world, and sent His Son to die for that very evil and to redeem us from the curse of sin.  Evil doesn't drive God away; otherwise He have nothing to do with this planet.  He is very well aware of what goes on in churches that claim His name, but does He give His approval?  That is another thing entirely.  

Does He leave once a particular church no longer honors His Word and His Son?  He certainly dwells in those individual sheep who cling to His truth in that church, and in those leaders who stand unflinchingly upon the Word.  But what if the overall leadership has moved away from His truth?  What if the church is increasingly sustained only by the energy of its leaders who "allow" the Holy Spirit's guidance as an add-on to what they have already planned?    

Perhaps the leaders think that every thought they have regarding their church is from God.  If the thought is not obviously antithetical to the Word, they jump right in.  But just because it's a good idea doesn't make it from God.  

Regardless of why, many churches today are lead by well-meaning leaders who are swayed by the world's values, and have been ignoring the Word when "inconvenient." 

God chastens those He loves and that leadership will feel the rod. (Heb. 12:6-11)  Why?  Who is the leadership really following?  It's an essential question, especially in today's church, where seminars touting business-like approaches to church growth, pastors claiming supposedly new revelations, and organizations providing pre-packaged food for the flock are tempting frustrated leaders to get off their knees and head to the Internet.    

Meanwhile, back in Ephesus, we hear how pleased the Father is, for the leaders have done good deeds, have been hard at work and have persevered. "Wicked people" are not tolerated, and those who bring false doctrine are evaluated and then are labelled as such.  Again, their perseverance in times of trouble, standing in the fire for His name and not allowing weariness to take over are commended by God.  

The sheep have consequently benefited from their leaders, and the church receives Heaven's praise.

So, looking a little deeper, let's ask a few questions: 
  • What deeds are considered good by God? 
  • What kind of "hard work" is honored by Him?
  • How does a leader persevere in trials and challenges?
  • How does a leader discern false teachers and their claims? 
  • How does a leader not become weary and keep pressing on when faced with hardships? 
Jesus taught an key concept here about good deeds: “Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven." (Matt. 6:1) [emphasis mine] 

Good deeds are not at issue here; it's the motivation behind the good deed. Otherwise, Jesus' words of "Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven." (Matt. 5:16) seem contradictory.  My emphasis in Matthew 6:1 is what matters the most to the Father:  Are you doing good deeds to glorify you or Him?  Good deeds are well, good:  you are not openly rebelling against the Word and doing something sinful.  But your heart is not aligned with the servant-heart of Christ.  

Is that why the Spirit in Ephesus is reminding them of their "first love" and "first works"?  (Rev. 2:4-5) The Spirit is calling this loss from the church's "first love" a fall that requires repentance, and a return to what the Spirit celebrated about this church in the first place.  The Spirit calls this church to repentance twice.  This is a serious error on the church's part, on the leaders' part, and will cause the church to be removed from its sphere of influence if the leaders and people do not repent.  

The Spirit is warning them that time is short; with all the events soon to unfold, the church leaders must realign with the Lord, giving Him the glory as they work in His name.  The times to come will not allow church leaders to serve God without a full commitment to Him and to Him alone. 

So, we have the answer to the first question:  Deeds considered good by God are done by those leaders who glorify Him and show by example this attitude to their congregation.  These leaders will repent quickly when they are shown that they have erred by stealing God's glory--any of it--for themselves.    

This is gonna be fun!  Stick with me and I will post more often on this subject.  I am not done with Ephesus yet, and we have six more churches/leadership qualities to go!  Boo-yah!


Friday, July 5, 2019

Yesterday: How I Spent My 4th

I will take a slight detour today from looking at the state of the church.  We just passed July 4th.  My husband was so impressed by President Trump's speech in front of the Lincoln Memorial, that I sat down and watched it this morning.  It was very good, and reminded us of how people make the difference in history.  No matter where we serve, if we serve God by serving one another, history marches to a better beat.

I spent my 4th with a dear friend over lunch, and then I went and saw the movie, Yesterday.  It was brilliant and reminded how much The Beatles are part of who I am.

I was a little kid when my older brother ran in a neighbor's house where I was playing and said, "You've got to hear this!" to the neighbor's son.  There were four guys on the album cover, and I could read the title: Meet the Beatles.  The year was 1964.  I was only four years old, but I remember my brother's exuberance.  He was in a state of excitement I remember to this day.  I didn't understand why, but over the course of ten years, I would hear every Beatles' album, playing on my brother's stereo. 

In 1967, another explosion of excitement:  Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band came out.  I was seven.  My mom read the lyrics on the back cover and was very impressed by them.  My brother played that album over and over.  I wondered who Mr. Kite was, what getting "high with a little help from my friends" meant but loved the music all the same.  The orchestra arrangements, the carnival sounds, and the eerie sound effects were compelling and fueled my imagination.

When Yesterday was released, I told my daughter I was going to see it.  She said, "Of course you will, Mom."

It is brilliant, as I said, and a lovely reminder of just how innovative The Beatles were.  In trying to explain to my daughter how they alter popular music forever, she listened patiently, but today's music echoes those innovations, and seems so normal that it is hard to imagine a time when music wasn't  like that.  It struck me as I talked to her: you'd had to be there.

The movie explores the idea that how would the world look now had the Beatles not been around.  This young man wakes up in a alternative universe where certain cultural icons we all know, are not part of Western culture--coke and the Beatles, to name a few.  He then tries to remember all their songs and takes credit initially for writing them.

I won't say anymore, but the defining moment for me was when he was sticking sticky notes to his wall of all their song titles.  The bounty of songs those boys managed to produce was breathtaking.

I have grown weary of my country over the last few years.  I have grown deeply disturbed over the state of the church in America.  But for a few hours yesterday, I could relive and relish a time when popular culture made me excited, and music was powerful, meaningful and impacted the culture for good.

Yes, I know:  the 60's were not perfect, not every song and not everything the Beatles was sublime.

But the exuberance of the music and the joy it brought millions--my brother and I included--was evident in Yesterday.  An odd way to celebrate the country's birthday, but it was a lovely walk down memory lane.  My brother died earlier this year, after a long battle with drugs, alcohol and mental illness.  I was saddened remembering his life, but I was grateful:  his love of the Beatles drove me to love music as well.  His legacy shone out of that movie.

Perhaps this is what growing old is:  remembering the beauty in the ashes, and celebrating those moments when the world was less wearisome.

Saturday, June 22, 2019

Hip Church or Deceived Church? Part II

I have been looking at false teachers in the Bible and how we are to avoid such teachers.  They are the wolves in sheep's clothing, and Jesus, along with the New Testament writers, have much to say on the subject.

But a false teacher does not always start out that way; many began a ministry with a genuine desire to do God's will.  But when the Tempter came along, and proposed alternatives to a ministry founded upon a pure heart, this person compromised, took the offer and over time, the ministry began to reflect the satanic toxin flowing through it.  It fell, taking the pastor, the church's trust and the name of Christianity with it. 

Too many pastors are falling these days.  Why?   

Jesus equally faced, at the start of His ministry, the Tempter and his offers that would compromise His ministry.  He showed us how to fight back, to save our calling. 

Sadly, the church today reflects much compromise, and the sad consequences that follow.   

Let's go back when Jesus began His public ministry. He came to John, who had been calling the people to repentance and baptizing them.  John's ministry was to prepare the way for the Messiah.  He had done so with zeal and people were flocking to him.  Then Jesus appeared on the shore of the Jordan.  John humbly tells Him that it is he who should be baptized; Jesus responds that all must be done according to the Scriptures.  Then comes the dove, and God's voice, confirming His calling.  God says that Jesus is His "dearly loved Son." 

Jesus did not go right to work right away. 

He was led by God's Spirit into the desert to be tempted. 

Jesus does not have us walk where He has not walked before:  He received His calling and then He was tempted.  He shows us how to proceed.  We are called to serve the Kingdom as God, and then here comes Satan.  Jesus shows us the way to deal with the offers that Satan makes.  His ministry was questioned, harassed and denigrated over the course of three years.  It was attacked at the very start.  Satan knew that the King of Glory had come to redeem mankind; Satan would not sit still for a moment.

We experience the same thing:  we will be questioned, harassed and denigrated over the course of our ministry.  We will be attacked from the very start.

Satan will not sit still for a moment. 

Satan has not changed his tactics; what he proposed to Jesus in that barren desert will be offered to us as well.  It doesn't matter whether we are called as pastors, teachers or any other kind of leader.  Our  ministry, whether it's focused on calling the lost and/or equipping the saints, will come under heavy fire. 

We will face the same satanic offers that Jesus was offered and that He rejected. The Word was His weapon.  Do we know ours well enough to do likewise? 

Let's set the stage: We see Jesus out in the desert, hungry, alone, focused on the Father.  Then comes the whisper.  It is the enemy.  He looks at Jesus.  He looks at us:

My Offer No. 1:  Publicly:  God's Time.  Privately:  Your Time. 

Yes, you ARE hungry, Son of God.  No one is around, Big Guy.  You have all this power--saving it up to save the world, huh?  Right.  But this is your time.  You'll do all the God stuff in the public eye:  blessing folks, healing, all that jazz.  You are indispensable to God's work.  I get that.  But when the lights are turned off, the door's locked and the crowds go home, it's just you.  Alone.  No eyes, no ears, no waggling fingers about how you should be.  You are now in your time.  So, now, what to do?  If you're hungry, zap up some bread.  If you thirsty, zap up a cup of cold water.  Hard ground? Zap up a soft bed.  No one will ever know.  Ignorance is bliss as you walk out in public--keep your followers stupid and happy.

Your future servants two millennia from now?  Yup: Same-o logic.  Lonely?  Click that mouse and wow, those images. Sure makes a man less lonely.  Hurting?  Checking-out is only a few sips away.  Angry?  Yes, those demands on you and your time are ridiculous.  Let those ugly thoughts swirl around your brain.  No one can see what you really think about those stupid sheep you minister to.  You are so indispensable to God's work.  Your time is your time, and there's always grace--God forgives over and over.  So, keep your sheep ignorantly blissful while you wow them with the God stuff, and all will be well. 

My Offer No. 2:  Use the Word To Glorify God and Yourself!

OK.  You put the Word into the mix with that "not live by bread alone" bit.  So, let's use the Word.  

You see, where I come from, we twist the Word to make folks believe and do all sorts of ugly things.  It's a bonus to add Scripture to a fleshly idea, thought or action.  It gives the flesh some street cred, as it were, to make people not question the garbage being taught.  I know Scripture so when I cherry-pick it, it has impact--oh, don't pardon the pun.  I want you to have impact:  jump off the Temple roof to an angelic landing, and wow those watching with a "God must really like this guy!" response.  

It's all good.  You won't be hurt (the Word promises that!) and you will walk away a megastar.  People will follow you all ga-ga, and everything you say, they will listen to.  They may wait impatiently for you to stop teaching and to get back up on the Temple roof--but hey!  At least you have their attention!  Right?

Your future servants?  Oh, this is rich.  Use the Word, for sure, and cherry-pickin' it is so 21st century.  Use it to entertain, psychoanalyze and life-coach the sheep who wander in Sunday after Sunday looking with a "What's in it for me?" attitude.  Then give them what they want:  rockin' worship shows, lights, cameras, action, fog machines and whatever else their flesh needs to keep focused.  

You will have impact.  People will think, "Wow!  God must really like this guy!  Look at his church!  Look at the worship band!  Programs!  Outreach!"  You will walk away the megachurch pastor, whose name is on every lip.  People will listen eagerly to what you say, kinda impatient though to hear the next story, joke or hip cultural reference.  You can lightly dust Scripture over your fleshy ideas and no one will be the wiser, 'cause the Word ain't center stage anymore.  You are.  

You won't get hurt 'cause it's all for His kingdom, right?  In the end, your flesh will revel in the shared glory with God.  If you're indulging in Offer No. 1 as well, you need not stress.  You got this.  Stand on the Word and jump!  He's got you!

Offer No. 3:  Health, Wealth, Prosperity:  It's All Mine...Want Some? 

I got the whole world in my hands!  Love that song.  Wrong "he" though.  Just sayin'. 

Look what I have to offer you:  all the kingdoms of the world, their glory, their money, their power, their influence to direct the course of events.  Whoa.  A lot to offer, but hey, it's me you are talking to.  I lost heaven, but I gained earth and all its goodies, and I want you to have them.  Why?  If you appeal to people's sin nature, that is a ministry on steroids.  Offer 'em what is so enticing about this planet:  lust of the eyes, lusts of the flesh and the pride of life.  Pride--love that word.  So what it got me kicked out of heaven?  

Anyway, build a ministry on the world's values and you won't fail.  Ever.  Make promises based on the assumption that God loves the values of the world too...He made this world, didn't He?  He made all these humans, didn't He?  He loves them JUST THE WAY THEY ARE? Right?

Use the world's values to build your church, Jesus.  Use the Word to serve up such promises as:  God always wants you well; prosperous; wealthy and happy.  Suffering?  Shhh.  Pain.  Double shhhh.  Don't even bring up Job.  Hate that guy.

Future servants?  The Bible is useful to build a church using the world's values, 'cause you cherry-pick and away you go.  If you using Offers 1 & 2, you are set to build a church that will cause others to admire and then want to emulate you.  No more measly little churches on the corner with loyal folks meeting to hear the Word.  No!  Use the world's methods: marketing surveys, demographic studies and asking people what they want in a church (I will be happy to whisper ideas into their little brains).  

Use the world's idea of entertainment: loud, proud, and overwhelming.  Redub that whole Sunday thing as a "Sunday experience"--"worship" implies people come to give.  Nah--"experience" says, "Hey!  You here to get and we are ready for you!"

Offers 1, 2 & 3 were rejected by you, Jesus, for reasons I don't get.  But I am happy to report a large number of your pastors today have taken me up on at least one offer; sometimes all three! 

Just because I failed with you, doesn't mean I will ever stop with those who call on your name.  

Excuse me.  I gotta go.  So much work to do. 

Friday, June 7, 2019

Hip Church or Deceived Church? Part I

In Jeremiah 6, the prophet is prophesying to God's beloved people. The fall of Jerusalem is imminent. The reasons for its fall are many, but at the center is the adultery of God's people.  Their disregard of His true prophets (who speak for God); their coldness of heart; their willingness to compromise all that God has revealed as to belief and behavior and their unwillingness to repent, will cause Jerusalem to burn and its people to cry.

I am sure, as they heard Jeremiah calling out in God's holy city, they reasoned among themselves: If we have done nothing wrong, why should we repent?  

These words of Jeremiah resonate today.  Why?  Because humans beings don't change.  Our sin nature, bequeathed to us by Adam and Eve, still seeks out the dark corners and turns away from God.  

We still say,  If we have done nothing wrong, why should we repent?  

Let's stroll through Jeremiah 6, and see how we, like the people then, have traded in God's truth and His holy Word for what makes us feel good and makes us blend in with the current culture, so as to not offend.  

We have, in America, gathered around us teachers who promise us untold wealth; a perfectly healed body every time illness darkens our door; miracles, signs and wonders every time we show up; worship services that provide a "Sunday experience"; and laughter and stories that dominate the preaching, with a touch of Scripture here and there.  Not enough Scripture to offend us, but just enough to make us feel like we "did church." 

In Idaho, I drive by a certain church quite often.  The latest series boasted by it on its marquee is, "Why Church Sucks."  I know, I know.  They are probably lamenting how church is inadequate in meeting people's needs, and of course, because they have figured it all out, their church doesn't suck. 

But we are the church.  So we suck.  We are Christ's Body and we are His visible representatives on earth.  But we don't measure up to this church's definition, because the word, "church" is used in the broadest possible way, at least on the marquee.

What if a YMCA marquee said, "Why Fat People Suck"?

What if a school marquee said, "Why School Sucks"? 

Fill in the blank and no matter how you see it, "sucks" is utterly pejorative and has no redeeming value.  Especially not on a church marquee.   

We don't fix church issues by using cultural references and hip phrasing.  We use the Word.

How about, "How Church Could Be Better"? (Nah--not edgy enough)

How about, "The Word Only Is A Sure Foundation" (Nah--too old school)

How about "Jesus is Our Head and We Are His Body!" (Whoa--too obscure for the modern church consumer!) 

Let the Word teach us.  Walk with me through some verses in Jeremiah 6.  

"This is what the Lord Almighty says:
'Let them glean the remnant of Israel
as thoroughly as a vine;
pass your hand over the branches again,
like one gathering grapes.'"

(God's faithful remnant is always present.  Not every preacher, church nor Christian is walking their own way.  They want to follow their Savior and Lord to the fullest.  They are quietly doing Kingdom work as good and faithful servants.)

"To whom can I speak and give warning?
Who will listen to me?
Their ears are closed
so they cannot hear.
The word of the Lord is offensive to them;
they find no pleasure in it.
But I am full of the wrath of the Lord,
and I cannot hold it in."

(When people refuse to listen, the question has to be asked, "Why?" The consequences of spiritual deafness will be catastrophic for the Jewish people in Jerusalem in Jeremiah's day.  Our spiritual deafness to God and our willingness to listen to the culture for how we conduct church will be catastrophic as well.)

“Pour it out on the children in the street
and on the young men gathered together;
both husband and wife will be caught in it,
and the old, those weighed down with years.
Their houses will be turned over to others,
together with their fields and their wives,
when I stretch out my hand
against those who live in the land,”
declares the Lord.

(When we do not listen to the whole counsel of God, and listen only to what tickles our ears, we do not hear the warnings of Scripture.  Cause and effect are very evident in the Word; it is to our peril that we eschew it.  Our arrogance leads to the stumbling of the innocent, the unsaved and those who struggle.)

“From the least to the greatest,
all are greedy for gain;
prophets and priests alike,
all practice deceit.
They dress the wound of my people
as though it were not serious.
‘Peace, peace,’ they say,
when there is no peace.
Are they ashamed of their detestable conduct?
No, they have no shame at all;
they do not even know how to blush.
So they will fall among the fallen;
they will be brought down when I punish them,”
says the Lord.

(Wow.  The blame of these dire words is aimed at the teachers and their motives as they lead God's people.  They speak falsely, lulling the people of Jerusalem to disregard the truth of God's impending judgment, as Jeremiah cries out.  Today, big churches have big budgets and big budgets needs lots of tithes and offerings.  Expensive sound equipment, big screens and lights--which today are seen as indispensable--require full coffers.  To keep people in and giving money, preachers need to satisfy church consumers and keep them coming back.  They preach light, happy sermons and make people feel good.  God was not pleased then and I deeply worry He is not pleased now.)

"This is what the Lord says:
'Stand at the crossroads and look;
ask for the ancient paths,
ask where the good way is, and walk in it,
and you will find rest for your souls.
But you said, ‘We will not walk in it.’
I appointed watchmen over you and said,
‘Listen to the sound of the trumpet!’
But you said, ‘We will not listen.’"

(Despite God's many efforts to cajole, warn and inform, the people ignore Him, satisfied with their false sense of security.  Move up in time and just look at the birth of the church in Acts.  No business plans.  No surveys. No demographic studies.  Just the Holy Spirit indwelling the hearts of  men and women who loved Jesus.  Wind preceded the Holy Spirit's coming:  a powerful, sweeping, new breath of new animation into old clay, to make a new Adam. Tongues of fire came and settled over their heads: passion, commitment and the power to burn away deception with the unifying language of love and truth had arrived.  The church was born.  Powerful day.  Powerful church.)  

"Therefore hear, you nations;
you who are witnesses,
observe what will happen to them.
Hear, you earth:
I am bringing disaster on this people,
the fruit of their schemes,
because they have not listened to my words
and have rejected my law.
What do I care about incense from Sheba
or sweet calamus from a distant land?
Your burnt offerings are not acceptable;
your sacrifices do not please me.”  
                                                  (Jeremiah 6: 9-20) 

(Sobering words.  God does not brook deception, adultery and spiritual deafness endlessly.  His people felt His judging hand when Jerusalem burned and its occupants cried and died.  Their worship was deemed unworthy because deception rather than truth animated their behavior.  They, in essence, worshiped themselves.  A man-centered faith with man-centered standards and beliefs characterized their relationship with God.  Are we any different today?  I think not.)

Are we truly listening to His Word?  Or are we listening to our deceived culture (the one we should be transforming) as to what church should be?  If that church's marquee is any indication, we are in peril.    

Sunday, May 26, 2019

The Canary in the Church Mine

We have heard the expression, "the canary in the mine."  Miners would carry these birds in cages down into the mines.  If an invisible gas in the shaft built up, such as carbon monoxide, and the birds clearly were suffering, the miners would leave the shafts quickly.

The canaries reacted to a force that the miners did not see.  The miners themselves had not yet reacted to the gas; but without the canaries' early warning, many men would have died, not even knowing how bad it was until it was too late.

The focus of many churches right now seems to be, how do we respond to the LGBTQ community?  Only a few years ago, churches had to navigate their position on gay marriage; now, it is how do the  churches respond to transgender people? 

In the early 70's, the Catholic church maintained its unwavering stand against abortion.  When Roe v. Wade hit the culture with the force of a tsunami, the Catholic church stood resolute.  The mainline Protestant churches were rather silent;  individuals has opinions, but Protestant protesters taking to the streets was not common as it would become later. In an interview with Andrew R. Lewis, whose book, Conservative Christian Politics: How Abortion Transformed the Culture Wars, (2018) says, 
It really was not until the end of the 1970s and early 1980s that conservative Christians moved decidedly in the pro-life direction. More popular groups like Baptists for Life and Christians for Life were created in the mid- to late-1970s, for example. I draw attention to Francis Schaeffer’s books and documentary films, which were popular among churches, pastors, and lay leaders. Schaeffer’s works also influenced Jerry Falwell, who helped elevate abortion activism on the national political stage. In 1980, the SBC passed an unequivocally pro-life resolution. 
He goes on to say,
So what has happened? Well over the past three decades the cultural influence of conservative Christianity has declined. In the process, conservative Christian politics has adapted its approach to public life. The Moral Majority is no longer. Instead, conservative Christians are a minority, and they often speak the language of pluralistic politics. This includes the language or rights and liberties with a heavy emphasis on the rights to free speech and the rights to religious freedom. In the process, the emphasis on biblical public reason has largely disappeared, replaced by a large measure of liberal, individual rights, pluralistic reasoning.  [emphasis mine] 
Well said. The bold type is exactly my thesis.  Somewhere along the way, the Bible lost the center stage as THE reason for our politics, our response to social issues and our worldview.  Somewhere along the way, the Bible was seen as what, outdated?  out of touch?  no longer a rock to build upon? 

When I was a young Christian in the 1970's, the Word was the only foundation we stood upon to face the world with and navigate the issues.  We were like the man who built his house upon the rock (Matt. 7:24-27) that Jesus indicated were Him and His very words.  The waters slammed into us, and we kept standing.  Issues such as gay rights, abortion, pre-marital sex, drug use and living together came roaring down the cultural wash and slammed into my church, and churches everywhere. The waters drove us deeper into the Word and made evangelism all the more important, because the Lord must change the heart before we can expect any changed behavior. 

I was concerned that our church wasn't handling the gay issue very well at that time, however.  Standing on the Word did not replace personally reaching out to gays who walked in the door of our church.  Perhaps the leadership didn't think there were any gay Christians.  Overall, I think the evangelical church was not really engaged in that issue in the 1970's. 

Sadly, this was an egregious error. 

What I now see, after many decades of seeker-friendly churches aimed at making people comfortable, and Jesus portrayed as a cosmic Life Coach, the Bible has been reduced to a few passages and must compete with videos, stories, skits, props, rockstar pastors and a rockin' worship team. 

Yup: the Bible isn't going to have much of an impact for changing lives, because it is not central to the preaching. 

The Word has not been central to preaching in a long time.  And it shows. How so?

Well, first off, let the Word of God define itself: "For the word of God is alive and powerful. It is sharper than the sharpest two-edged sword, cutting between soul and spirit, between joint and marrow. It exposes our innermost thoughts and desires." (Heb. 4:12)

The Word calls us out.  It shows God's standard and reveals His Son.  It shows where we are falling short; either out of ignorance, disobedience or both, it tells us the right path, promises the Holy Spirit to enable us to walk it and how to please the heart of God. 

Without the centrality of the Word, sola scriptura, then we can go down a path that seems right, but it leads to destruction.  (Prov. 14:12)

If the Bible is God's words to mankind, then it is enough to provide the only basis by which we navigate this world.

But in response to the abortion debate, the church in America became political, not more Biblically literate.  Christians took a political stance, and the Moral Majority, Ronald Reagan and to some extent, George Bush, became the answer.  The evangelical church was caught off guard, but seem to re-establish its footing. 

But did we?  Did this stance change hearts?  Save babies?  Show compassion to the women involved?  Political involvement is always subject to change, but Jesus brings eternal results: a changed heart. 

Over the decades, I have seen the number of abortions climb, the divorce rate skyrocketing and gays demanding equal rights. 

Did all that earlier political involvement make a more moral country? 

I do not see how it did. 

After decades of de-centralizing the Bible and chasing after fads, the church was hit with gay marriage.  That's when the canary keeled over and dropped dead in its cage.  This issue showed us how illiterate we were in Biblical teaching. 

We scrambled to come up with a position and trying to be tolerant and trying to maintain some kind of biblical position.  We came across as weak and ashamed of the Bible's unyielding stance. We    undermined the passages about how we are all born sinners and need a heart change; instead, we told people that they were "born that way" and need not change. 

Show me a scripture that supports that and I will withdraw my thesis.

Now, the churches are hit with the demands of the transgendered community.  Some pastors are standing tall; I am so glad that pastors like John MacArthur are not allowing the culture to decide identity, but standing on the Word's definition.

Abortion was not the problem.  Gay marriage was not the problem.  Transgendered people are not the problem.  The problem is the church's failure to deeply know the Word, deeply know the One who gave it, and to build the church upon that rock. 

The winds, rains and water have shown us how unwise and flimsy our stance is. 

The canary in the church mine is dead because we didn't uphold and stay well-grounded in His Word.  Peter puts it so well:
But even if you suffer for doing what is right, God will reward you for it. So don’t worry or be afraid of their threats. Instead, you must worship Christ as Lord of your life. And if someone asks about your hope as a believer, always be ready to explain it. But do this in a gentle and respectful way. Keep your conscience clear. Then if people speak against you, they will be ashamed when they see what a good life you live because you belong to Christ. Remember, it is better to suffer for doing good, if that is what God wants, than to suffer for doing wrong! (1 Peter 3:14-17) 
Being gay, having an abortion, or being confused over personal identity are not unforgivable sins and do not automatically send someone to hell. 

What does?  Not knowing Christ, accepting Him into your heart, and being cleansed of your sin, that is the path to hell. 

God sent His Son to save us:  from ourselves, from sin, from death and from deception.  Let me end with this:
For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago. (Eph. 2:10)

Wednesday, May 8, 2019

The 11th Commandment: Don't Get Caught

When Princess Diana went on television to discuss her marriage and Charles' infidelity, I remember a comment made by one of the royal experts:  "She violated the 11th Commandment.  She got caught."

The Royal Family has behaved less than sterling over the years; it isn't until years later that we find out about their infidelities and other sins.  Diana short-circuited that: she wanted the public to know how broken this family's behavior was, and some of them never forgave her for it.

But the Royal Family aren't the only folks that misbehave in the shadows and work hard not to be caught.  Our churches are filled with folks who live a double life.  Here are some grim statistics from Pure Desire's website:

"33% of all Americans seek out porn at least once a month"
"68% of Christian men struggle with unwanted sexual behavior"
"25% of Christian women struggle with sexual dependency issues"

How many of us come into church each week and sit next to someone who looks at porn?  Abuses their wife?  Has an alcohol problem?  Abuses children?  Uses an illegal substance?  Is angry, unforgiving and prideful?  Thinks the pastor is an idiot?  Condemns the worship team for being too loud and sends nasty text messages to the worship leader every Monday?  Gossips about the pastor?  Gossips about other people?  Is relentless in condemning the President?  Is having an adulterous affair?  

Whoa!  Hang on!  Abusing children is not the same as sending nasty texts or gossiping!  

If we are talking consequences, yes, you are right, but if we are talking about sin, then, sorry, sin is sin.

The above list has people doing their thing in the shadows.  They are hiding their sin at home, justifying it and then walking into church looking like everyone else--a God-fearing, Jesus-loving Christian.  They don't wear a scarlet letter on their shirt.  They smile, sing, shake hands, listen to the message and then go home, where the ruler of their heart takes precedence over God.

Maybe this describes us.  

But what about the gay person that walks into church?  The drug addict, whose appearance shouts aloud about their addiction?  The trans person who comes in and shakes your hand?

Their sin is obvious.  So we zero in on their sin because they can't or won't hide it.  We condemn such blatant sin and all the while, those who haven't broken the 11th Commandment--they haven't gotten caught--smile inside, knowing their blatant sin is hidden away.  

Paul has an interesting trajectory he plots in Romans 1-2.  In summary, despite the beautiful testimony of the creation about its glorious Creator, people were not grateful and glorified Him not; they grew foolish in their thinking and their darkened wisdom led them to create idols. Their truth was a lie and out of that, they engaged in shameful behavior, with sex being perverted way beyond God's holy design. 

Now, we, who attend church, upon seeing such egregious sin, would close the Word and say, "See!  Your orientation is not biblical!  Look at Romans 1!"  

OK.  But, open up that chapter once again, and keep reading:   

Furthermore, just as they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, so God gave them over to a depraved mind, so that they do what ought not to be done. They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; they have no understanding, no fidelity, no love, no mercy. Although they know God’s righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them. (verses 28-32) 

Now that hits closer to home.  Paul could have ended with the behavior section, but he kept going, showing how ideas beget behavior and behavior beget ideas.

Now, if you were a good person, you would read Romans 1, and say, Well, I may occasionally slip here and there, but I am not like that!

Keep reading.  Go to Romans 2.  Paul launches into the good people:  his Jewish readers.  They probably (like us good folk) read the first part of Romans and thought, Of course the Gentiles--those disgusting and godless people--act like this.  They are not, well, us!  

OK.  So Paul takes us on: 

You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge another, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things.  Now we know that God’s judgment against those who do such things is based on truth. So when you, a mere human being, pass judgment on them and yet do the same things, do you think you will escape God’s judgment? Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness,forbearance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness is intended to lead you to repentance? (Rom. 2:2-4)


Now you, if you call yourself a Jew; if you rely on the law and boast in God; if you know his will and approve of what is superior because you are instructed by the law; if you are convinced that you are a guide for the blind, a light for those who are in the dark, an instructor of the foolish, a teacher of little children, because you have in the law the embodiment of knowledge and truth— you, then, who teach others, do you not teach yourself? You who preach against stealing, do you steal? You who say that people should not commit adultery, do you commit adultery? You who abhor idols, do you rob temples? You who boast in the law, do you dishonor God by breaking the law? As it is written: 'God’s name is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you.' (verses 17-24) 


When Christians act as if they have it all, and then fall short and are caught in sin, why would the world take us seriously?  I believe there is a crisis in the church, and it's not gay people wanting or being granted full inclusion.  It is the failure of God's people to live lives that reflect Him.  Yes, we struggle.  Yes, we sin.  But we must view sin as something to move away from, and moving deeper towards God is our deepest desire.  We also must be willing to have full disclosure with the Lord and with each other:

For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved. He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. And this is the condemnation, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. For everyone practicing evil hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed. But he who does the truth comes to the light, that his deeds may be clearly seen, that they have been done in God. (John 3:17-21)

Why have Christians lost the battle, so to speak, with sin?  We condemn the big sins, but those change over time as cultural mores shift and more and more people no longer avoid the sin.

For example, back in the 1970's, when I was a new Christian, being divorced was the big sin.  Getting an abortion was the big sin.  Being a drug addict?  The church had compassion for those folks.  Alcoholics?  Well, they went to AA.  Gay folks?  Nope.  That big sin wasn't even on the radar.  

Today, divorce is not considered a sin; is it a moral failing?  Perhaps.  But with the huge numbers of pastors and Christians having experienced it, it no longer has any impact on how we see someone.  We now have programs to help people deal with it.  It is no longer an impediment to being in the pulpit.  

Abortion is still a big sin, but we are more compassionate towards those who have had one. 

Drug addicts and alcoholics have programs in the church to help them recover.

Gay people?  We are trying to sort this one out; is it a moral failing?  Born that way?  Recovery?  No judgement?  

Today, calling an attitude or behavior, "sin," just doesn't seem to have a moral impact on people.  Instead, they grow angry and storm off.  Others start the eye/plank/speck argument.  Repentance is a word that echoes at revivals and crusades; but in church, because we take a more therapeutic approach to a person's condition, that word is replaced with "recovery," "felt needs" or "support." 

Jesus becomes your Life Coach; Cosmic Buddy; Eternal Therapist who will help you live your best life; Your Wealth Manager, who blessings are waiting to drop all over you; Your Healer who will never let you suffer; the One who loves you as you are and doesn't judge you.  

I am on a journey here, trying to understand that as the church has redefined sin as a psychological missed opportunity that the church must remedy, we are no longer on our way to becoming holy people, set aside for God's use.  We are on our way of aligning with the world's values, and looking surprisingly like the world in how we conduct our lives and how we conduct church.  

More to follow.

Blessings, fellow travelers. 



Tuesday, April 30, 2019

We Are All Rescue Dogs

I had a sad day yesterday.  I had to return a rescue dog that I adopted a while back.  I cried throughout the day.  My last moment with her was her huddling in my car, eyes dilated with fear as the assistant reached in to take her out of my car.  Her fear was a stab to my heart, for I had lavished love, toys, snuggle time, play time, a safe yard (I had to put up a fence), a good buddy (my Springer spaniel), walks, runs, hikes and treats on her every day.  I sang her songs, played games with her and tried to make her a part of our family, with no holds barred.

But she wouldn't stop barking, growling and acting threatening (would she actually bite someone?  I don't think so...) towards people in my house.  A visit from my grandchildren set her off and they had to stay in the bedroom the whole visit. 

A visit from my husband's family resulted in chaos the whole week they were here.  Lots of treats, love and cajoling were the order of the day, yet she never could overcome to need to bark and growl at them.  His other sister visited and she did a bit better, but it was still hard to predict how she'd react with each encounter with our guests.

She even went into the guest room, for days after they left, growling and acting upset.

She grabbed treats from my Springer.  They played fairly well together, and had fun running around the yard.  She sometimes bullied my Springer, who is a mellow one year older dog, who seemed to take it all in stride.  But overtime, my Springer became rather mopey.  She seemed to sense the neediness of her new partner, and pulled away from me. 

Then came our Sunday walk.  We had a lovely time, for Idaho in the spring is worth the long wait of winter.  All was going well until she pulled out of her harness.  I managed to catch her and relocate the leash to her collar.  She pulled out of that, and thus began our two hour odyssey of trying to catch her.  People along the greenbelt tried to help, advise, criticize and remind me of the leash laws.  She chased people, barked, growled, and frankly frightened people.  I managed to lure her out of the traffic areas, and into a large meadow.  I prayed and prayed and prayed. 

Finally, I approached her as she was drinking from a stream, distracted her with a promise of tug-of-war, and grabbed her by her scruff.

I carried her to the car.  She weighs over thirty pounds, and I was exhausted.  The day was over and so was this relationship.

I am sure I could have done things differently. I acknowledge that.  But I did the best I could in a situation that was spiraling out of control for me, my family, and our other dog.  What rang in my ears in addition was that over this weekend, my daughter bought a pop-up trailer, and the first thing out of our grandchildren's mouth was, "Maybe Grandma and Grandpa could camp with us!"  Then I thought of this dog running off at a campsite, growling and barking at other campers, or worse, running off, never to be found and thus traumatizing me and our family.  Not to mention a terrible fate awaiting her out in the wilderness.

What made me cry when the young man at the shelter took her was the utter fear in her face.  It seemed as if all we had tried to do had never happened; and yet, with just me, she was a loving, happy, spunky dog.  If we could have lived on an isolated desert island, she and me would have been  BFF's.

With good times and bad, I try to look for the Holy Takeaways:  What do You want me to learn from this, precious Jesus?  It was a hard, hard decision.  I listened to my son, my daughter and son-in- law, and a dear friend's wisdom.  All of them said that she was not fitting into the rhythm of our lives.  She needed more than I could give.  So, after wise counsel and prayer, I gave her up yesterday.  The tears fill my eyes as I write this.

So, here is what I have processed so far:

We are all rescue dogs.  We all have a story, and not every part of that story gets told.  I didn't know her story; all I could see was her behavior.  Same with us.  I may not know why you do the things you do, and judging you is so easy.  Offering advice--"Hey!  Do this!  Do that!" seems so helpful.  But, do we really know each other's heart the way God does?   He gently works with us in a way that no one else can.  Yes, people can be agents of His, but the deep work in the heart has to be done by Him.  We have to be willing to offer our heart.  He is more than willing to take it and remake it.

We may be adopted and loved in God's family, but our brokenness still exists.  Do we run from others, growl and bark because our fear wells up in us and takes over?  Perhaps this is why one of the fruits of the Spirit is patience.  We meet others who love the Lord but draw back time and time again.  We offer love, friendship, prayer and conversation, and they respond.  Then they don't.  They act as if we are the enemy, not a fellow traveler in Christ.  Or we act that way, and see the hurt in others' eyes.  "Why can't you get it?  Why do you draw back in fear?"  We wonder that too...why don't I get it?  Why do I draw back in fear?  We may not have allowed God's touch in our lives in that area yet; we have yet to trust that He really does know us best. 

Sometimes, we have to let someone go.  We have done all we can for someone, but we have not seen any fruit.  Perhaps we need to relinquish them to God.  We may think, "Just one more thing would have made the difference!"  All the way home, I kept thinking about other strategies I could have employed.  Like a loving pastor who goes many, many extra miles to the detriment of his family and himself, or a sister who year after year, keeps investing into a person's life, we keep saying, "Oh...I will be the one to make the difference in this person's life!"  Pride in our ability is in operation here. It is not a vicious kind of pride, but it is getting in the way of  the One who alone can truly make someone whole.

My daughter commented that this dog needed more discipline than I could provide, because I identified too much with her to be effective.  True.  I hurt because of her past and I tried love alone when what she needed was both love and discipline.

God disciplines us in His love, for He knows our ways are not good.  Our ways come from our sin, our brokenness and our need to be self-sufficient.  But in a world where the wilderness is not safe, our running away, our sense of "freedom," is really a road to a lonely or brutal end. 

I prayed for this dog to get a family who can meet her needs and give her the loving boundaries she so needs to feel safe in this world.

I have that reality myself:  "For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God. The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, 'Abba, Father.' The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children." (Romans 8:15)

God hurts for those of us who run away, growl, bark and have fear in our eyes.  He tries to bring us back to His side, safe and secure.  But we have to be willing. 

He will relinquish us to our choice of not drawing near to Him.  But He waits.  And He hurts.

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Easter Message

We are approaching Good Friday. We will imagine--the best we can--Jesus carrying His cross, resolutely following His Father's will to undergo torture, pain and death to redeem us.  We have Easter before us. It's the day where we proclaim, "He is risen! He is risen indeed!"

What about Saturday?  We have no name for that. 

I do. I call it Silent Saturday. Death is quiet. The tomb is silent. 

But it was silent beyond the tomb. It was silent in the court of God the Father. 

Throughout eternity, God was in loving fellowship with His Son. They created the world together: "Let us make man in our own image..." They laughed at the antics of the animals swimming in the seas, and rejoiced in the song of birds. They loved to watch the horses run across the fields and smiled at the beautiful wings of a butterfly.  They smiled at the man created from the dust, and enjoyed the praises that fell from his lips.  

Never was there a time when the Son was apart from the Father. Except on Silent Saturday. The Son's laughter had stopped. He no longer smiled. No more words escaped His lips. The Father, for the first time ever, was alone. 

Earlier, the Son talked to His Father on the cross, anguished that He felt His Father had abandoned Him.  Matthew records His last words as being, "Father, into Your Hands, I commend my spirit." John records His last words as being, “It is finished.”  

Both were said. 

An obedient Son, an observant Jew, He commended His spirit to His Father, but only after having declared that redemption's work was finished. Jesus was following His Father until His last breath. Then the Son fell silent.

The Father was alone.  But the Father waited. Anguished, pierced to the heart, alone, but the Father waited. For the Son would not stay silent. The heavens would ring once more with the Son's laughter and His praise to His Father. 

Perhaps you are in Good Friday, with pain that pierces you to the heart with a sense of abandonment. Perhaps you are in Silent Saturday, alone and waiting. This is what He meant when He said, “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)

He told His disciples exactly what the week before His death would bring, with its final devastating conclusion. They would quickly forget, in the midst of their confusion, astonishment and fear that He also told them of His triumph.  Our overwhelmingly painful Fridays, our silent Saturdays, cause us to forget the triumphant Sundays promised to us by our Savior.  

The stone will be rolled away.  The sun will rise.  The Son of God rises in our heart and hope is once again the air we breathe. He overcame what the world threw at Him, to show His love has no limits, and His forgiveness is just one prayer away. 

May your Easter be rich and blessed.

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Bill Johnson's Compassionate Theology?

The quote about sickness and the gospel made by Bill Johnson of Bethel Church is everywhere on the Internet.  He has his detractors and his proponents.  I am not here to analyze Bill's theology, for others have done so.  But I have served under a pastor who listened to Kenneth Copeland, Benny Hinn and who definitely believed in a gospel where sickness is not allowed or even acknowledged. 

Bill Johnson is quoted as saying, "I refuse to create a theology allows for sickness."  Is this a quote out of context?  In a longer clip where he says that, he then goes on to say that this gospel is the real one.  He implies the ones that disagree with his premise fall into the category of a "false gospel" as Paul declares in Galatians 1:6-10: 

"I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you to live in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel—which is really no gospel at all. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let them be under God’s curse! As we have already said, so now I say again: If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let them be under God’s curse!

"Am I now trying to win the approval of human beings, or of God? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a servant of Christ."

The question here then is, what is the true gospel?  In other words, is the gospel we are preaching one that honors God or ourselves?  The one that honors God is what He has already revealed in His Son.  The one that honors ourselves makes us feel good and those who listen to us feel good.  We all bask in human approval. 

I believe Bill, like some false teachers, are not motivated by personal gain and deception.  He seems to want a more "compassionate" gospel, one that faces illness and says, "be gone."  He wants his listeners to feel good.  Sickness and death make us feel uncomfortable, and like Job's friends, we want to distant ourselves from that reality, lest it befall us. 

So, deeply hidden in this more "compassionate" gospel is fear.  Job's friends were trying to find out what Job did to avoid falling into his trap and ending up like him.  Their seemingly compassionate advice was predicated on a fear that said, "You must have done something Job.  'Fess up!"  Then once Job confessed his fault, his friends could say in their hearts, "Now that we know what he did, we won't fall into that same trap!"  Fear leads to pride. 

"Look at me!  I don't and I won't get sick!  I have figured out what causes believers to fall prey to illness, and I will avoid that (pardon the pun) like the plague!"  The focus is on me, my formula and my success.  I then enter a world filled with suffering and I go forth, banishing sickness by decreeing its removal.  All the while I am feeling good about myself and those who think as I do. 

This deep inner pride is pernicious.  This pastor I served under once said, "I never get sick," implying he was far more spiritual that anyone else.  He refused to comfort those in our church who became sick, and when one of our members died, he would not go and comfort the family. 

Why?  Those that are sick haven't found the kind of faith I have; I want to be compassionate, but my pride will take over when those I pray for do not become well.  I will begin to see them as spiritual losers.  I will shake the dust off my feet and move on, all the while my heart is hardening against those who don't fit my formula, and give me the approval I desire.  

Thus, a more "compassionate" gospel leads to disillusionment from the very ones we are called to serve.  Does service always mean healing?  Only if God says, "Heal them."  Our service can be meals, prayers, cards, and time spent crying with those who hurt.  But that's not very spiritually exciting.  Does God always say, Heal them!"  According to Bill and those who think like him, yes.  But is that the mandate from Jesus? 

Look at one of His parables about the sheep and the goats:

“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’" (Matt. 25:34-36) 

Look at what people call "The Great Commission":

"Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. Then Jesus came to them and said, 'All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.'” (Matt. 28:16-20)

I don't see healing as an essential part of serving Him.  Yes, it is part of our service to Him, but not each and every time. 

Bill leads off his teaching where the quote is, by saying that in Hebrews 1, the prophets were "for them" and the Son is for "now."  He suggests that yesterday's anointing is "not for today." 

That right off is problematic.  Jesus came to fulfill the Law and the prophets, not cast them out as an old anointing.  The only Bible Jesus had was the very Testament that Bill implies need not be heeded  today.  Today demands a new anointing appears to be Bill's message, which includes healing sickness.

Bill seems to want a gospel that is more humane, more compassionate.  Understandably--sickness and death are aberrations of God's original design.  Life in the Garden didn't have either of those horrors--Adam's sin brought them in and Jesus came to redeem us from the curse of sin and death. This more "compassionate" gospel and the gospel of Jesus seem to lose common ground when it comes to atonement.  Did Jesus' death on the cross redeem us from sin and death but also from illness? 

It sounds very spiritual to make that claim.  The key Scripture that my pastor and many others use is,  "By His stripes we are healed." (Isaiah 53:5) But, wait a minute... wasn't that yesterday's anointing?    According to Bill, we need new manna, new anointing.   Peter was inspired to use the old anointing for his argument about how to endure suffering: 

"To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps.

'He committed no sin,
and no deceit was found in his mouth.'

"When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly. 'He himself bore our sins' in his body on the cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; 'by his wounds you have been healed.' For 'you were like sheep going astray,' but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls." (1 Peter 2:21-25) 

The immediate context here is not suffering for doing wrong--that should happen--but suffering for doing good.  Jesus did good and He suffered.  So will our lives.  The even larger context Peter was writing in was to those scattered in the pagan world and who were suffering.  He says their suffering is as fire to their faith--refining it and showing the beauty of Christ in their lives. 

How would Bill's more "compassionate" gospel play out in the third world, with the voice of the martyrs crying out in prisons as they are beaten and tortured?  It's fine to preach a gospel where sickness is not allowed with hospitals, ambulances, antibiotics and medical procedures are available and become Plan B.  

In the third world, there is no Plan B.  There is only Jesus and His compassion.  

Bill starts his talk by citing Hebrews 1.  Let's go a bit further in that book and see what is says about a gospel that includes suffering:  

"Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven,Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need."  (Heb. 4:14-16) 

The King James Version translates the word for "weaknesses" as "infirmities."  Strong's Concordance gives this definition of the Greek: 

ἀσθένεια asthéneia, as-then'-i-ah; from G772; feebleness (of mind or body); by implication, malady; morally, frailty:—disease, infirmity, sickness, weakness.

Jesus suffered as we suffer, and that would imply all kinds of suffering.  

Our bodies were subject to the Fall and thus lost their pristine condition.  Our DNA miscodes, bacteria and viruses invade and we are subject to all kinds of maladies.

What was Jesus' response?  He was recapturing the creation from the Fall, one soul at a time.  Everything groans under the curse and He demonstrated that He was the D-Day invasion from heaven to this war-torn planet (thank you, C. S. Lewis for that analogy!).  

Wars and war zones are terrible.  We can stand in our safe streets and cry, "Peace Now!" and march against war's injustice.  Or we can acknowledge that this planet needs to be rescued from sin and death.  We can't do that.  Only Jesus can.  So, carrying Jesus into the streets and preaching the Good news of the Gospel won't make the war go away--but it will redeem those caught in its crossfire.  

We can bring Jesus.  The Kingdom will come only when the New Heavens and the New Earth are given by the Father's hand.  Until then, we pray and follow our Savior's example:  we will suffer but as we do, we proclaim the hope of Christ.  

Next time, let's discuss whether Jesus healed everyone in His ministry.  

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