Thursday, August 21, 2014

Are we Really This Foolish?

  The preceding photo was  brought to my attention amidst great praise for the  expressed  sentiment. Reportedly taken in a doctors office somewhere and posted to social media,  this photo was accompanied by comments of 'Amen ' and 'Great idea!'.   Other commentators, mostly young women, made statements to the effect that, if this  already wasn't the law, then it should be and expressed great admiration and approval for the  doctor's office and this policy.
  Let me  start out by saying that I understand the initial, visceral reaction to this.  Most people understand, even if they don't use these exact words, that the state steals from them every payday and gives that money, in the form of subsidies housing, food stamps et al, to people who  can work, but do not.  This moocher class has a reputation  for sitting around on the public dole and cranking out babies in order to increase their share of the dole.  Illicit drug use is  also rampant  among the moocher class, and so when  most people see this sign, they get the idea that it's intended target is the  drugged-up perpetually-pregnant welfare mooch. The thievery, the  financially-prompted pregnancies, and the  drug use  are all horrible  problems, but I submit to you that this is not the solution.
  Out of all the evils conceived in the warped bosom of the nanny state, the idea that it's the governments job to protect children from the misdeeds of the  parents is  probably one of the most diabolical. For starters, the definition of a misdeed is a floating standard, subject to  change with or without  notice.  I do my best to  provide not only the essentials  to my children, but some of the perks.  My children enjoy an appropriate amount of the benefits of growing up in 21st century America.  We have running water, and we have air-conditioning. My children go to the doctor, and my children go to the dentist.  Having said all that, if I  grew weary of paying my  light bill and decided we were going to  squat in the dark for a month or so, some well-meaning  busybody would declare that I was abusing my children or not providing for them.  Think about this for  a moment.  As I sit here and type this, literally  billions of people are without electricity, running water  or air conditioning, yet they survive.  If that is abuse, then we really should start  shipping them over here as fast as we can.  We as a society should organize some sort of epic move to  get central heat and air installed in every  hut in Kenya.  Of course we realize the silliness of that, even as we realize that not being  offered every technological convenience is hardly abuse.  We realize that, but at the same time, try raising  three or four kids in a house without electricity and see what sort of  government thug shows up at your door. The fact that billions of people already live that way will not sway the  governmental child-snatcher; you must comply to their definition of misdeeds or suffer the potential loss of your children.
  This puts me, as a parent, at the mercy of the subjective standards of some sort of bureaucratic representative. This also assumes that the  faceless government agency  somehow owns my children, and I that I am only raising them in a stewardship role. If I do a good job, I  get to keep  feeding and providing for them, but if I fail, the 'real parents' will show up and whisk them away.  At the very least, the state is assumed to  know the 'right way' to raise children, and  are somehow granted the authority to peer into my home at the slightest whiff of malfeasance with judgement in their wake, and the full backing of the court system at their fingertips.
  Even if the CPS folks had a good track record this would be a horrifically warped idea.  But they don't even have a good track record to  fall back on. Their track record is an  amazing  history of false confessions, drummed up charges,  and  mishandling so monstrous it certainly must be on purpose.  In my life, I have known people  in the midst of a bitter divorce who surprisingly, had CPS show up at their door from an 'anonymous tip'. It was obvious to anyone with half a brain that the departing spouse was using the  club of the state to  hit where it hurts, but regardless, in matters of child welfare you are  guilty until proven innocent.  We knew a family in California who lost their kids because due to the false charges brought upon them by an attendee of the day care they ran from their home. They were eventually vindicated, but their children spent 6 months in foster care and the parents  spent thousands of dollars all because a 4 year old didn't want to take a nap, and dropped a dime on them to the state.  The very existence of CPS allows people to use the power of the state to punish , harass, intimidate and bully, all while remaining anonymous.
   CPS regularly misplaces kids, and kids die in their care. They retaliate against parents who highlight their misdeeds. They are one more revenue generator for the state.  If you really love children, it would  be better to leave them with a  parent that may  not have it all figured out but is trying than to entrust them to a soulless bureaucracy that gets paid whether the child  sinks or swims.
  So back to our little sign at the doctors office. You may say "Yes, that's all well and true, Michael, but abuses do happen and if a woman is doing drugs while pregnant somebody ought to step in.  Her doctor could be the early warning detection system that saves that child's life!"   If that sort of vigilance is a good idea, why stop there?  What if the doctor doesn't think you're getting enough sleep or eating the right foods? What if you have expressed reservations about vaccines? What if the  doctor just thinks you're weird?  What if the nurse disagrees with your homeschooling?  what if the admin temp filing your medical record   sees something that she disagrees with?  Once you open the door for a  snitch to snitch, all they need is  a reason.  It doesn't  even have to be a good reason.  Signs and practices like the one above not only  destroy the doctor-patient relationship by turning  your health care provider into just another arm of the snitch apparatus, but it empowers busybodies to use the  strong arm of the  courts to wreak havoc in your life while remaining unscathed. It is a monstrous idea, and I for one would refuse to do business with someone who had such a policy.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Islam Isn't the Problem....

 Islam isn't the problem, dead churches are.

  In my circles, there has been a great amount of fervor  and hand-wringing about the coming Islamic threat in recent years.  We have watched the demographic  shift in Europe over the last couple of decades, and we have watched the increasing boldness of  radical Islam in those places as their  population has swelled with immigration and conversions.  We know by their own statements that the Islamic world is full of  ambitious men who see themselves as the chosen instruments by which the the re-institution of the caliphs and Islamic dictatorships of  centuries past will be accomplished.  These men see in these demographic shifts and political vacuums the means to  fulfill what they view as Islam's great mandate; the subjugation of all other faiths and peoples.  People  in my circles look around them and they see the same thing happening in America, and they are  probably right.  Through immigration and proselytization, the  Muslim population in America  is exploding.  People in my circles in hushed tones talk about potential solutions, including deportation and  anti-Muslim legislation, lest we  become like Europe.  Throw into the mix rabble-rousing politicians who refuse to let a good crisis go to waste, and who  promise to stand for 'American values' (whatever those are nowadays) .  These politicians  feed off an  'us vs them' mentality, and will gladly contribute to the xenophobia if it gives them a chance to wrap themselves in a flag and claim to be the good guys.
   There certainly seems to be cause for alarm. In Europe, the Muslim population increased from 30 million in 1990 to  44 million in  2010.  Some of this is from immigration, and higher birth rates, but not all. Over 100,000 of the Muslims in Britain are adult converts. France reportedly has an adult convert population of   almost 100,000 , most of them men under 40 in their prime child -rearing years.  The United Nation  claims that  Islam in Europe has grown 142% since 1989. This population of immigrants and converts are  reshaping whole neighborhoods as has been  called a 'demographic time bomb'
  Let's say it's all true.  Let's go ahead and indulge all of our  worst blue-eyed nightmares.  Let's say that there exists, at some level , a concerted, almost conspiratorial effort  to flood the western world with Muslims.  Let's say the caliph-wanna-bes see our civilization  as rife with moral decay, and  ripe for the picking.  Let's say that their  intent is to establish a significant enough presence in the West to eventually, either thorough vote or conquest, propel themselves into power and  subjugate everybody else.  Let's say they all sit around in their caves at night  and stroke their beards with glee at the prospect of a Muslim President in America, and the institution of Shirai law over the rest of us.
  Is the solution borders and walls and  barbed wire fences and lines drawn in the sand and anti-Muslim laws?  Is the solution  suspicion of everybody wearing a headdress and an stiffening of our natural  dislike of everybody different from us?  I submit to you that the solution is something much more intangible, yet incomparably more powerful; the solution is the gospel of Jesus Christ.
  You see, the  rise of  Islam in Europe has been attended by the decline of something else; real evangelical Biblical Christianity.  For centuries  Europe lead the way in having a vibrant, living church presence in which the gospel of Jesus Christ, and it's life-changing power was  tirelessly proclaimed  publicly. Though   huge swathes of Europe lived under the domination of  popish superstition, there was always  in existence an aggressive, confrontational Christianity, particularly in England which  gave us such spiritual giants as  Tyndale , John Wesley,  George Whitefield and C.H. Spurgeon. Islam existed side by side with these men, but could never get a foothold because the red-hot preaching and fervent spiritual lives of these men and those that followed them held it at bay.  Truth was so openly  and shamelessly  promoted that error could scarcely get a word in edgewise.
  As the centuries wore on though, for a whole host of reasons, the church in Europe lost its fire.    There are no lack of villains to blame. For whatever reason, there was a cultural shift in European Christianity. People were no longer Christians because they had put their faith in the  saving work of Jesus Christ. they were Christians because their parents or grandparents had been Christians.  But these are  just symptoms of a much larger cause.  The lifeblood of  Biblical Christianity has always been  evangelism, and once that ceased to  be the focus of the  churches in Europe, their numbers dwindled, and the great cathedrals built by fervent men of years gone by became places to hold weddings and funerals.  Nobody was taking the gospel  to the lost, and  as the population got older, and birth rates  plummeted, the numbers  began to decline. By the time  two World Wars rocked Europe to  its core, the  voices that  could provide hope in the face of unspeakable tragedy were fewer and fewer. Young Europeans grew up in a post-Bible society, and lived their whole lives in a dry liturgy that could no more impart life than a  wooden plank can  sprout leaves.  Their children rejected the liturgy and believed in rationalism, and their children's children rejected the emptiness of rationalism and believed in nothing.  Their great grandchildren, dissatisfied with the  vacuum,  are embracing Islam. In Britain, there are, according to the Pew foundation, 4 times as many Muslims attending  mosque on Friday than there are  Anglicans attending church on Sunday.  Though biblical,  living Christianity exists in Europe, it is literally  being shouted out and legislated into obscurity by opponents ranging from atheists to  Muslims.  There simply isn't the manpower to reach the lost, and Islam has the manpower.

  Here in America, the churches are dying, but our apostasy takes a different from; we are  obsessed with entertainment and pleasure.  In America, the mentality is  that for a church to be relevant and effective, church services should be some sort of amalgam between a  rock  concert and a love -fest.  The militant, purposeful Christianity of generations past  has been replaced by  beach balls and cream puffs. The church doesn't take the gospel out in public. The church doesn't go door to  door telling people about Jesus.  The church in America wants to be your friend and not offend. The church in America wants to show you how cool and hip they can be. The American church is trying to catch up with the world as fast as they can in  an attempt to win the world. That has never been the biblical model.  Those few churches that still hold to the truths of the word of God too often  get caught up in the idea that  simply inviting lost people to a church service is sufficient  evangelism. This watered-down, pleasure-obsessed, invitational-not-confrontational  Christianity will most likely be followed up by a generation of  belief in  nothing, a vacuum which Islam will gladly fill.  The idea that Islam  will punish people for standing up for Jesus is  a bit  disingenuous; by the time it gets that far, nobody is standing up for Jesus anyway. 
  The solution is for the churches of Jesus Christ to  become vibrant and relevant again.  This isn't accomplished by hayrides and coffee shops; this is accomplished by the bold proclamation of the gospel to every creature.  This work is under girded and empowered by fasting, prayer, and belief in the Bible.  If that happens, the Muslim world can have babies till they are blue in the face, and  jump the borders until their legs get tired. When they get here, we'll preach to them, and even if they reject the  gospel, our light will hold their darkness at bay. This  is more conducive to the mission given the church than the 'can't we all just get along' philosophy of the political left or the 'bomb the brown people' philosophy of the political right. These immigrants are not the enemy, they are souls, and the last time I checked souls were our business.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Ephesians 2 -The Essay

  (The following came out of a series of in-person and email discussions with a friend of mine. It is our habit to  discuss, probably to each other's mutual exasperation,  our understandings and misunderstandings of different sections of scripture.  This habit in itself has been  very helpful to me in a couple of areas. It has helped me to clarify what I believe, and why I believe it, also it has  made it even more clear to me that  some of our doctrines are fed and sustained by other doctrines.  What you believe on Issue A will influence and color what you  think about  Issues B, C and D.  Often an explanation of a belief will involve the discussion of a handful of other beliefs that are the underpinnings and foundations of the issue at hand.
  My friend takes the position (and I will proceed carefully lest I misrepresent his thoughts) that the physical  seed of Abraham , by rejecting their Messiah has a group, lost as a group all claims to the promises made to their ancestors. The y lost, among other things, the exclusive relationship they had enjoyed with God. Those promises, according to  his belief, were then re-assigned to all those who would put their faith in Christ regardless of their ethnic  background.   He asked me for my thoughts on a passage in Ephesians 2  that seemed to him to bolster his belief on this issue.  I asked him for some time to think it over in an attempt to not say something off the cuff and stupid.  Not long after that, I made available to him my thoughts, and now make an edited version of these thoughts available to you.)

  I’m certain that there are  scores of folks who could  give you  much better thoughts on this passage, and I am  sure I’ll miss a bunch of important stuff because it’s one of those parts of the Bible where every phrase is just jam-packed with far-reaching implications. The book of Ephesians, like the rest of the Bible is built brick by brick upon other passages and  clarity on other passages will give you clarity on the text in question. Having said all that  , I want to go  through verses 11-22 because they seem to be the crux of the matter. 

Wherefore remember , that ye being in time past Gentiles in the flesh, who are called Uncircumcision by that which is called the Circumcision in the flesh made by hands;  That at that time ye were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope, and without God in the world: “ (Vs 11-12)

  There appear to be three separate groups in scripture; the Jew, the church, and the Gentile (1 Cor 10:32).  The Jew would be the physical descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. The Gentiles are everybody else, and the church is this relatively new thing, which is why Jesus mentioned the building of his church in the future tense in Matt 16:18.    According to verse 11, the people being addressed were Gentiles in the past, but were not Gentiles any more.  They had become part of something else, something new.
  It really looks to me like here is the rough progression of God’s revelation to mankind.  In Genesis 3, God speaks to all of mankind (everybody who was there) and promises them that the seed of the woman is going to come and fix what went wrong in Genesis 3.  Later on, God speaks to mankind through the preaching of Noah that a flood is coming.  After the flood, God speaks to all of mankind (once again, everybody that was there) and promises that he will never flood the world again.  Then the next time God speaks, he speaks to one man, (Gen 12) and that man’s descendants and  lays out a series of promises that, for the most part,  have to do with the inheritance and habitation of a certain piece of land.  For the next several centuries, he only speaks to  that man’s descendants (I’m sure there’s an exception or two thrown in there like Job and Balaam, but  you could probably count them on one hand) and every promise he makes he makes to that man’s descendants until   roughly somewhere in the book of Acts.  The emperor of China ( if there was one) in Moses's day  did not get a copy of the Ten commandments, only Abraham descendants did.  There wasn't an ark and a temple set up among the Franks or the Gauls; those were always the exclusive revelations given to  Abraham descendants.
  If my understanding is correct, then if you’re a Mongolian or a Cherokee or a Saxon back in the day, this is all God has revealed to you; God created the place,  God flooded the place, God promised not to  flood the place again , and the seed of the woman is coming.  You had the law of God written on your heart ( Rom 1);you had the evidence of nature ( Rom 1)  and somewhere back in time your ancestors had been told that the seed of the woman was coming.
  In the absence of any further revelation from God, the Gentiles got busy making stuff up.  They made up gods, and legends, and what not, winding up with  twisted or occluded versions of the truths shown to their ancestors.
 According to verse 11 and 12, prior to their salvation, these Gentiles were excluded from all these promises God made to Abraham's seed.  Jesus Christ shows up, dies on a cross and  the disciples go out into the Gentile world (eventually) telling everybody that the seed of the woman has come, and that he died, was buried and rose again. They tell everybody that he will give eternal life and the forgiveness of sins to whoever will call upon his name. That is the first step in the promised  cure for what went wrong in Genesis 3. When these Gentiles do that, God takes them out of the family and nation they were born into and makes them part of his church; part of his body. 
  That happens to be the same offer he made to the Jews of the day.  A Jew that gets saved stops being a Jew and instead of the promises God made to the Jews (including the land grant), he gets the promises made to all who are ‘in Christ’.

But now in Christ Jesus ye who sometimes were far off are made nigh by the blood of Christ.  For he is our peace, who hath made both one, and hath broken down the middle wall of partition between us;  Having abolished in his flesh the enmity, even the law of commandments contained in ordinances; for to make in himself of twain one new man, so making peace;  (Vs 13-15)

  God takes two very separate groups of people who didn’t particularly get along, and makes them one.  He abolished not only the enmity God had towards man, but the enmity that a Jew would have towards a Samaritan. Or  a Yankee towards a Confederate.  In fact, even among  Jesus's  early disciples you see zealots and tax collectors, who should have hated each other.Remarkable stuff.  Outside of Christ they still fuss and fight (Tituts 3:3), but in Christ, they are one. 
  Having made this new thing, God spends a great deal of the New Testament laying out the promises that are made ‘in Christ’.  These include redemption (Rom 3:24), atonement and  joy (Rom 5:11), no condemnation ( Rom 8:1), the law of life (Rom 8:2), one body (Rom 12:5), approval (Rom 16:10), sanctification ( 1 Cor 1:2), wisdom and righteousness (1 Cor 1:30), wisdom (1 Cor 4:10), instructors and fathers ( 1 Cor 4:17), a bodily resurrection (1 Cor 15:18), hope (1 Cor 15:19), being made alive ( 1 Cor 15:22) , rejoicing (1 Cor 15:31), being stablished and annointed (2 Cor 1:21), triumph (2 Cor 2:14), and  being made a new creature (2 Cor 5:17).  The list goes on to encompass promises of an ability to understand the Bible (2 Cor 3:14), simplicity (2 Cor 11:3), being  made a child of God (Gal 3:26), being all one with other believers (Gal 3:28), a spiritual circumcison (Col 6:15, a  closeness oto God (Eph 2:13), the fullness of the mystery (Eph 3:19), a high calling (Phil 3:14), a purpose in grace (2 Tim 1:9), persecution (2 Tim 3:12) balanced by a promise of peace ( 1 Peter 5:14), all spiritual blessings (Eph 1:3), being wrought in Christ ( Eph 1:20) while being his workmanship ( Eph 2:10) and fellow heirs (Eph 3:6).  The believer is promised steadfastness (Col 2:5), faith and love (1 Tim 1:4), salvation (2 Tim 2:10)  and boldness   (Phi 1:8). It's quite the package.

  Each of these promises can be expounded upon at length, but that’s way off topic. Suffice to say that they are all  intangible, non-physical, and completely impossible outside of a relationship with Jesus Christ. God promises in Christ, things the Gentiles could never have had on their own.  The seed of the woman has come, and boy did he ever deliver!  A physical descendant of Abraham who receives Christ gets this same package deal, and can leave behind all the traditions of his ancestors and live a new life as a new creature and enjoy a one-ness with the God of his fathers. Or, to put it  much  much better :

And that he might reconcile both unto God in one body by the cross, having slain the enmity thereby :  And came and preached peace to you which were afar off, and to them that were nigh.  For through him we both have access by one Spirit unto the Father. (Vs 16-18)

  Once again, two separate groups that became a third group. Two separate groups of physical people from physical families that are become a spiritual people and a spiritual family.  The Jew did not become a Gentile and the Gentile did not become a Jew. We both became ‘in Christ’.  Moving on….

Now therefore ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellowcitizens with the saints, and of the household of God;  And are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone;  In whom all the building fitly framed together groweth unto an holy temple in the Lord:  In whom ye also are builded together for an habitation of God through the Spirit. (V19-22)

  If I understand you correctly, the question is, if we are fellow citizens with the saints (and by saints you mean the Old Testament crowd) then why wouldn’t we inherit all their promises?  The short answer is that we aren’t fellow citizens with the OT crowd, we are fellow citizens with other believers.  We were strangers and foreigners (including from each other), but now we’re not. We were children of wrath and disobedience, now we are children of God. When you build a building, you put the corner stone down first, and the ‘house’ wasn’t established until Jesus Christ himself was laid.  The Old Testament crowd were never referred to as God’s temple; we are.
  If the church is simply Judaism part 2 or some sort of extension or reworking of the Abrahamic covenant, or even a ‘spiritification’ ( I think I just made that word up) of the nation of Israel, then at some point you have to come up with a workable answer to this question; what happens to the land?  The promise of a  physical homeland where God would be their king and they would be safe from all their enemies is the key promise of the Old Testament.  The rest of the  Bible doesn't make a whole lot of sense without it.  They would be scattered, as God promised, but they would be regathered, and taken back to the land that God  gave to their fathers. That land would be doled out according to  tribe. Simply put, God never gave any land to my fathers; there is no single  place to regather  the church  back to.
   Furthermore if we inherited all of Israel’s promises PLUS the promises made ‘in Christ’ then what about the promises of material prosperity and physical healing (Is 42:6-7, Is 35:4-6) made to the  nation of Israel when they were obedient? What about the promise of protection from our enemies, (Zech 14:3, Ex 14:25, Neh 4:20, Josh 23:10, Deut 20:4, Ex 14:14) or the promised regathering unto the land? (Jer 31:10, Ezek 20:34-38, Isa 2:1-4, Jer 3:17-18, Isa 10:20-21, Is 11:11-12).  What about the promise that a fountain will be opened up for the cleansing of sin ( Zech 13) or one chapter earlier, the promise of future  mercies and supplication to be poured out on the house of David after they look upon him whom they have pierced? 
  It looks to me like it is nigh impossible to put those promises on the mutts that make up the church.  If we inherit all those then  good godly people among us ought never be sick or broke or blind. The church  would never have gone through the Inquisition because we  would have been promised protection from our enemies.  The fact is that the promises made to Israel were physical in nature, and the promises made  to the church are spiritual in nature.

  That leaves the modern Messiah-rejecting descendant of Abraham with a promise on the books that someday somehow somebody in their family tree will dwell in the land in peace.  I actually think the future fulfillment of this  promise, as outlined in scripture is a fascinating study in itself. This promise however does nothing to  abate their sin debt to God as an individual, and in the meantime if they die as individuals they drop off into hell.  The only way for them to  have a relationship with the God of their fathers is to accept his Son.  The Gentiles are in a similar predicament; they  have a promise that Christ will redeem them, but short of Christ’s redemption they remain  the same place they were in in Gen 11; without hope and without God.

  Hope this helps.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014


"A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another.  By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another" John 13:34-35
 According to these verses the primary definition and characteristic  of a disciple of Jesus Christ is not a  certain series of doctrines or standards; it is that they love other disciples.  Doctrines are important, and standards are great, but according to the Bible, long before  the lost world  knows what you believe and what  camp you are part of or what denominational creed you  ascribe to, they should be able to see that you love other people who follow Jesus Christ.  This is both good news and bad news. It's good news in that the   newest and most spiritually immature believer can  be counted as  a disciple if they love other believers.  This is also bad news because some  of us who like to  consider ourselves seasoned disciples do  such a pathetic job of fulfilling these verses.
In fact, the Bible  has a word or two to say about some of us. " And I, brethren, could not speak unto you as unto spiritual, but as unto carnal, even as unto babes in Christ.  I have fed you with milk, and not with meat: for hitherto ye were not able to bear it, neither yet now are ye able For ye are yet carnal: for whereas there is among you envying, and strife, and divisions, are ye not carnal, and walk as men?" 1 Cor 3:1-3 Once again, according to the Bible  the primary characteristic of a carnal Christian isn't what music they listen to or what worldly activities they do or do not engage in. The primary characteristic of a carnal Christian, regardless of how long they've been saved, is that they have a hard time getting along with other Christians. The life of a carnal Christian may not or may not be full of  wine-bibbing and head-banging, but by definition it is full of strife and division.
  The reason this simple commandment is so difficult for some of us who claim to love the truth is  found in Ephesians 4  "I therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you that ye walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are calledWith all lowliness and meekness, with longsuffering, forbearing one another in love;  Endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace." Forbearing one another takes work and effort. It takes  lowliness and meekness and longsuffering. Carnality requires none of these things and is perfectly in line with our Adamainc nature according to Titus 3:3.  It's natural to  divide ourselves up into camps and tribes and races and creeds and colors. Children in the playground  need no instruction on how to divide up into teams and castes and them wage war against each other. We are  born with an 'us versus them' inclination. It's also the defining mark of the life we were supposedly called out of.  The commandment of God is that, having called us out of a world where  people scheme and plan and  divide and jockey for position and clamor for pre-eminence, we show that we are no longer part of the world by getting along.
  Understanding this, it's no  marvel that the Bible  goes right to the heart of the matter in Proverbs 4, when it says "Keep thy heart with all diligence; for out of it are the issues of life". Our 'issues' aren't what we say they are.  Our life issues aren't really doctrinal or  personality clashes or standards; our 'issues' are heart issues.  We say we can't get along because of this or because of that, but the  plain truth is that we can't get along because of our horribly carnal hearts.
  If I may chase a rabbit for a second here, my crowd is probably the worst about this  among the entire body of Christ. We love the truth, and we love our doctrine, and we love our standards, but we don't particularly love each other.  We would be  quick to find fault with the liberal churches in their immodesty or wordly worship or failure to  stand on the word of God, but the truth is, in this area, they run circles around us.   They may not be able to  rightly divide the word like we claim we can, but they are light years ahead of taking the newest convert and making them feel like family.  I have wondered , if my crowd has so much truth on it's side and we are so 'right', how we blow this  one commandment so consistently?  We disobey the Bible while claiming to believe it more than everybody else.
  In the Bible , heart trouble manifests itself as mouth trouble. Whatever is in  your heart will eventually come out of your mouth, and God takes mouth trouble among his people very seriously.  In fact, he takes it much more seriously than we do.  In 1 Cor 5, the Bible says "It is reported commonly that there is fornication among you, and such fornication as is not so much as named among the Gentiles, that one should have his father's wife.  And ye are puffed up , and have not rather mourned , that he that hath done this deed might be taken away from among you.  For I verily, as absent in body, but present in spirit, have judged already, as though I were present , concerning him that hath so done this deed,  In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, when ye are gathered together , and my spirit, with the power of our Lord Jesus Christ,  To deliver such an one unto Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that the spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus." This is the proof text for  executing what is commonly called 'church discipline' in the American South. If  fornication is  being committed in a local assembly, and those involved do not repent, the church is instructed to break fellowship with them  until  that condition is fixed.  But the scripture doesn't stop there, because in verse 9, it says "I wrote unto you in an epistle not to company with fornicators:  Yet not altogether with the fornicators of this world, or with the covetous, or extortioners, or with idolaters; for then must ye needs go out of the world.  But now I have written unto you not to keep company , if any man that is called a brother be a fornicator, or covetous, or an idolater, or a railer, or a drunkard, or an extortioner; with such an one no not to eat ." Most of the church folk I know  would  agree that fornication is a serious issue and must be dealt with if a local assembly is to enjoy God's fellowship.  Most church folks would not tolerate an unrepentant drunkard in the assembly. But railers?   Most people would be very hesitant to  break ranks with the  railers  that they attend services with, especially if the transgressors are in a position of leadership.
  In case you were wondering about the definition of 'railing',  take a look at Luke 23:39. "And one of the malefactors which were hanged railed on him, saying , If thou be Christ, save thyself and us." In the passage , Jesus has claimed to be the Christ and his enemies  insist that he prove this by some  notion that they came up with, some independent standard.  If he fails to jump through this particular hoop they can then feel justified in saying to themselves and others that he cannot possible be what  and who he claims to be.  If I were to  claim that I am saved and that I love Jesus Christ, and you were to  say "If you really loved God you would do the following activity".  That activity could include  anything from  running to shouting to tithing to weeping to door knocking to street preaching; all that matters is that  it's your hoop and I must jump through it.  When I fail to do that activity to your satisfaction, you  can tell yourself and others that I'm probably not saved, and I definitely don't love Jesus.   You just  engaged in what Phil Schipper calls 'performance based Christianity'  and you just committed the  church-discipline-worthy offense of 'railing' on me.  Isn't the Bible  fun?
  Let me tell you something you probably already know; we are all a bunch of filthy gossips from time to time, and preachers are probably the worst. We talk about each other , about who  we like or don't like, who we agree with or don't agree with, and we do this because  our hearts are not right with God  to the degree that we want everyone to think they are. That unrighteous heart comes out of our mouths, and we can  always find a way to justify our wickedness. According to the scriptures, railing is as wicked an  activity as fornication, and is the grounds for  church discipline if not repented of.
   The scripture doesn't  stop there. In the very next chapter, a continuation of the same thought, the Bible says "Dare any of you, having a matter against another, go to law before the unjust, and not before the saints?  Do ye not know that the saints shall judge the world? and if the world shall be judged by you, are ye unworthy to judge the smallest matters?  Know ye not that we shall judge angels? how much more things that pertain to this life?  If then ye have judgments of things pertaining to this life, set them to judge who are least esteemed in the church.  I speak to your shame . Is it so, that there is not a wise man among you? no, not one that shall be able to judge between his brethren?  But brother goeth to law with brother, and that before the unbelievers.  Now therefore there is utterly a fault among you, because ye go to law one with another."  Scripture is clear; we are supposed to get along, and if we don't, these conflicts are to be resolved among the brethren. Taking  matters of disagreement before the lost world is both unwise and wicked, and should be repented of.
  As an example, let's say  that you have a disagreement with another church member.  The nature of the disagreement is  immaterial, but let's say that you had a doctrinal disagreement with them.   You are so 'burdened' to point out to everyone else how wrong they are (and by the way, how right you are) that you  go onto Facebook and  you blast them point by point. You have just railed on them, and made matters worse by doing it  before the  whole world of the Internet.  You have committed a church-discipline worthy offense, you have  harmed not only that person ("..a whisperer separateth chief friends..") but the entire  body of Christ, and you need to repent.
  It is interesting to me, and by 'interesting' I mean 'horribly disgusting', how difficult it is to leave a church without  your motives being questioned and your character assassinated.  It's horrible how  quick we are to blast everyone who doesn't agree with us. It's disgusting how quickly we can turn on people we have fellowshipped with for years and how gleefully eager we are to  believe the worst about people we claim to love! It's disgusting how  we delight in slander and gossip, taking  little thought for how our wicked unbridled  tongues are destroying reputations and ministries! I have seen situations where it was obvious that a sin problem had to be dealt with, and perhaps 1 Corinthians 5 invoked. I have seen  church members who claim to love truth and claim to love Jesus look forward with anticipation that 'so-and-so is gonna get churched'.  How wicked  that is!  It's as insane as a man looking forward to  having his own gangrenous hand   removed and  it is an attitude that is an affront to a holy God!
  In Romans 3 , a remarkable statement is made. "For if the truth of God hath more abounded through my lie unto his glory; why yet am I also judged as a sinner?  And not rather, (as we be slanderously reported , and as some affirm that we say ,) Let us do evil, that good may come ? whose damnation is just." Paul had been slandered, specifically in the area of his motives. He was trying to do right, and people just couldn't keep their railing mouths off of him, and his ministry. The verse says their "damnation is just". According to the Bible, if you  slander the reputation of somebody who is trying to do right ( and I believe the context includes people who are trying to do right despite  past mistakes) then you deserve the damnation of God.  Even though "the wages of sin is death", I find no other sin listed in the Bible where God specifically says that a specific sin in worthy of damnation. Neither drunkenness or fornication or covetousness or  even murder are given the singular spotlight of attention that you and I and our railing tongues  receive.  We should all pray for a season of repentance, and if we've slandered people, make it as right as we can.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

True Worship

  If there ever was a word that is misused in modern Christianity, it is the word 'worship'. There exists a spectrum of people who, while all well-intentioned, have formed and fashioned their mode of worship off of their intentions and their priorities, instead of the word of God.
On one end of the spectrum  are the contemporary churches who, in a sincere and laudable attempt to  reach the unchurched, will take the basic  setup of a nightclub, and stick Jesus's name on it. Every trick from blacklights and  rock music to  Zippos held aloft during  guitar solos  is deployed in an attempt to create an emotional response in the audience that can  then be called 'worship'.  Personal experience is the currency of the realm, and if you 'felt' something, the  assumption is that it must not only be true, but it must be God. That's one end of the  spectrum and,  however well-intentioned, is woefully short of the Biblical standard.
 Towards the middle of this spectrum are the Baptists (who are resembling the Pentecostals they used to make fun of more and more) who exhibit a mode of worship spoken of reverently as 'the old timey way'.  In my observation, the 'old timey way' is whatever  your father or grandfather did, regardless of whether is was right or wrong.  In the 'old-timey way', the high water mark of church life was somewhere between the 1920's and  the 1940's in the American South. Entire meetings are planned and based off of this emulation, complete with tents set up in fields and sawdust  poured on the ground in an attempt to set the stage for 'old-timey worship'.  Enthusiasm is the currency of the realm and  if people run and shout and carry on  then it is assumed that the Holy Spirit has fallen and that 'worship' has occurred.  These folks, including some of my dearest friends, want to capture the perceived spirituality of  the past, but in doing so, often  also fall woefully short of the Biblical standard
  The other end of the spectrum  are the solemn, liturgical  churches where worship consists of rote repetition of phrases penned during the Dark Ages and led by deacons/bishops/elders/presbyters who are possibly old enough to have been there when the liturgy was composed.  Such churches, in a well-intentioned respect for tradition, assume that not only does God prefer quiet, but he prefers to speak Latin.  I'm sure it's entirely coincidental that these churches are populated by an older crowd who, as luck would have it, prefer quiet.
  The solution to all this confusion is, as always, a return to Biblical definitions and standards. That  book  which contains "all things pertaining to life and godliness", also defines worship and sets the  conditions and parameters of it. It  sets this tone from the very beginning.
  In Genesis 22, we have one of the most heart-rending stories in the word of God, the account of Abram taking Isaac up the mountain to sacrifice him.  Right in the middle of the situation, the word 'worship' shows up for the first time. The Bible says, in verse 5  "And Abraham said unto his young men, Abide ye here with the ass; and I and the lad will go yonder and worship , and come again to you."  God has asked Abram to  do the unthinkable,  and it's insane to think that Abrams heart wasn't full of sadness and confusion and sorrow.  It's inconceivable that he didn't wonder if he had  understood God correctly as he prepared that trip up the mountain.  He ad no idea, and probably wouldn't have cared, that this great typology of the Lord Jesus Christ was being displayed in his life and recorded in scripture for the edification  of millions.  All he could see was that God wanted him to sacrifice the promised seed, and there is no way that it made any sense to him.  His response is that they would worship right smack in the middle of all that.
  That puts to bed the notion among the brethren that everything must be all right, for worship to occur. Not only does Abram  put a priority on worship  right  in the middle of  turmoil and  sorrow, he's not the only man in the Bible to do that.  In Matthew 9, the Bible says "While he spake these things unto them, behold , there came a certain ruler, and worshipped him, saying , My daughter is even now dead : but come and lay thy hand upon her, and she shall live ". With his daughters body  growing colder by the minute, this ruler  found both reason and ability to worship God. Job echoed this sentiment when, according to the Bible, "... Job arose , and rent his mantle, and shaved his head, and fell down upon the ground, and worshipped And said , Naked came I out of my mother's womb, and naked shall I return thither: the LORD gave , and the LORD hath taken away ; blessed be the name of the LORD".   King David, as he mourned the death of his son "...arose from the earth, and washed , and anointed himself, and changed his apparel, and came into the house of the LORD, and worshipped : then he came to his own house; and when he required , they set bread before him, and he did eat". I see nothing  in these examples to indicate that there was excitement or 'running the aisles'.  No one shouted, no one laid on the ground or flopped like  a mackerel. There is no sign of the  'whoop-whoop for Jesus' crowd in this  worship.  There is a solemnity to these scenes, and with broken hearts, these men worshipped God.  The preponderance of individual worship in the Bible appears to take place during times of  great confusion and sadness.
  In Matthew 15, a gentile woman comes to Jesus.  Everything wasn't right at her house. She wasn't even  under the covenant extended to Israel. But the Bible says "Then came she and worshipped him, saying , Lord, help me." Once again, we see that her worship involved not excitement, but brokenness bordering on despair. Her worship took the form of crying out to God for help. So often we  treat worship as a pep rally for God when that doesn't seem to be the case in scripture.
  How can a person do that? How can a person worship God  with a coffin in their view and no hope in sight? How can a person bowed down with  grief  raise their eyes to the third heaven?  The answer to that lies with  Abram.
  Abram says in Genesis 22 that both he and Isaac will worship. I have always wondered if he was planning on worshiping before or after the sacrifice. The Holy Spirit gives us a peek into Abrams heart in Hebrews 11:17-19, which reads "By faith Abraham, when he was tried , offered up Isaac: and he that had received the promises offered up his only begotten son,  Of whom it was said , That in Isaac shall thy seed be called Accounting that God was able to raise him up , even from the dead; from whence also he received him in a figure." Romans 4 explain it even further, telling us "Therefore it is of faith, that it might be by grace; to the end the promise might be sure to all the seed; not to that only which is of the law, but to that also which is of the faith of Abraham; who is the father of us all,  (As it is written , I have made thee a father of many nations,) before him whom he believed , even God, who quickeneth the dead, and calleth those things which be not as though they were Who against hope believed in hope, that he might become the father of many nations, according to that which was spoken , So shall thy seed be And being not weak in faith, he considered not his own body now dead , when he was about an hundred years old, neither yet the deadness of Sara's womb:  He staggered not at the promise of God through unbelief; but was strong in faith, giving glory to God;  And being fully persuaded that, what he had promised , he was able also to perform " God had made no promise to Abraham of a resurrection, but he had promised that  Isaac would  inherit the land.  The very foundation of Abraham's worship was that God  cannot lie, and that somehow, despite the circumstances, this all has to work out somehow.  He was so certain of God's  truthfulness that he had every intention of coming back down the mountain with his son at his side.  It seemed reasonable to Abraham that it was God's responsibility to keep the  covenant, and if  it was necessary , God could and would  raise his son from the dead.  Abraham's worship wasn't based on feelings, it was based on the word of God.  The Bible tells us in Psalm 29 "Give unto the LORD the glory due unto his name; worship the LORD in the beauty of holiness." The strength  of our worship isn't based on who we are or what  our situation is, but rather on God's word and God's character.Because of who God is, and how God is, and the promises made to us in the word of God, we can worship with full assurance that somehow, it will all work out. That isn't wishful thinking; that's worship.
  Taking it further, it's obvious that true worship cannot be done in your own strength or based off your own ideas. It has to be done in accordance with God's word. Jeremiah 26:2  says it plainly: "Thus saith the LORD; Stand in the court of the LORD'S house, and speak unto all the cities of Judah, which come to worship in the LORD'S house, all the words that I command thee to speak unto them; diminish not a word." Paul's confession in Acts 26 is "But this I confess unto thee, that after the way which they call heresy, so worship I the God of my fathers, believing all things which are written in the law and in the prophets:" You may like the  guitar solos and the Zippos, or your soft spot may be the running and shouting spells. Maybe you're the dry liturgical type but unless those things are found in the words of God, they are your idea, not his, and do not constitute true worship. After all, Isaiah 8:20 tells us "To the law and to the testimony: if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them"