Monday, July 28, 2014

Life's (not so) Little Lessons, #1: Church Myths

I was reminded this weekend, perhaps more personally and profoundly, that many people still equate man's religion with Christianity, and that's very sad. It means the devil is winning this spiritual battle on Earth by distorting and diluting God's truth found in scripture.

What is popular about Christianity as portrayed in media, Christian worldview, the 'Prosperity Gospel', and even church history, such as The Crusades, screams so loudly that it is assumed to be an accurate representation, at least to some degree, and is therefore held tightly by those who believe it, or a joke to those who question it.

Not only that, but whatever people have come to believe, through these channels plus whatever religion they grew up with or whatever inspired them (be it music, an emotional experience, a physical miracle, creation appreciation, academics, literature, etc.), is deeply ingrained in their hearts; they truly believe these things to be absolutely correct and provide ultimate meaning. Even if they admit to only having a partial picture, they will often either defend their personal beliefs fiercely (sometimes without realizing that's what they are doing), or they will refuse to discuss another opinion.

Once in a while, someone will be open to discussing scripture. When that happens, I love it. I love them! I'm motivated by love, and grateful for the opportunity, to share with all gentleness the reason for the hope that is in me. "And they will know the truth, and the truth will set them free."

Here are some common myths that need to be dispelled by scripture:

1. The Church is just an extension of Israel.
Actually, the Church, which is also called the body of Christ, is so different that the Ten Commandments given to Israel are considered "the ministry of death" compared to "the ministry of the Spirit".

Now if the ministry of death, carved in letters on stone, came with such glory that the Israelites could not gaze at Moses' face because of its glory, which was being brought to an end, will not the ministry of the Spirit have even more glory? For if there was glory in the ministry of condemnation, the ministry of righteousness must far exceed it in glory. Indeed, in this case, what once had glory has come to have no glory at all, because of the glory that surpasses it. For if what was being brought to an end came with glory, much more will what is permanent have glory. (2 Cor 3:7-11)

2. It's all about salvation and/or behavior modification.
Rather, salvation is the entry way to a higher calling, and behavior modification is the result, not the cause, of understanding spiritual truth. Interestingly, behavior modification is not required for salvation.

It is by grace people are saved, and that is a gift of God, not of any action on the person's part. Simply believe, yes, but make sure you know what you're believing in.

3. Do as you're told and don't ask questions.
This is bad, and can be an indication of a cult. When a human leader claims such authority as to be obeyed blindly, or such respect as to be unquestionable, there's a problem.

Scripture, on the other hand, is open to inspection and can gently answer your skeptical questions quite well. Bring them on! But also bring a teachable attitude, one of humility, not of arrogance. Even the best college professor can teach a student who is convinced they already know it all.

God rewards those who diligently seek Him when His Spirit testifies to our spirit that we are children of God. Diligently seeking Him inevitably means asking questions. The object is not just to 'do or die', but to increase the quality of the questions and to keep searching until you really understand the answers.

...they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so. (Act s17:11)

The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, (Romans 8:16)

Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation—if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good. (1 Peter 2:2-3)

4. Christianity is just another religious set of beliefs and rituals.
Fortunately, not at all. A person becomes a "new creation" in Christ when they are born again, born of the Spirit. It is at this point they can grow spiritually.

Beliefs without spiritual rebirth are simply guidelines and principles and, yes, they can look like other religions, or deemed shallow by atheists. Spiritual truths cannot be understood by someone who is not spiritual.

In our natural states, before being born again, we can only begin to see that there are spiritual truths to learn. That is why Jesus spoke in parables; He could speak to both natural man and spiritual man at the same time, yet each would hear what could benefit them, if they believed it.

From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard him thus no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. (2 Cor 5:16-17)

For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God's law; indeed, it cannot. (Romans 8:7)

The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. (1 Cor 2:14)

5. It's basically the same as all other religions, "Do unto others..." and other rules or principles of morality.
Not at all! A deeper study of scripture soon reveals that the Church is a very special and unique plan of the God the Father, made possible by the power of the Holy Spirit that indwells a Christian, and attainable through Jesus Christ. 

The Christian life is all about growing into Him who is the Head, that is Christ. These rules and principles will be useful to us as we fight this spiritual battle for truth. But, to understand the Father's plan is to understand the manifold wisdom of God, if we turn in faith toward Him. The Father's plan itself is so much more, exceedingly abundantly more, than just performing 'random acts of kindness'. 

Rather, let's seek to improve our relationship with God once we know what the Father's plan is. It's along that path we'll begin to discover immeasurable riches of His grace, unsearchable treasures hidden in Christ, etc.

Jesus said to him, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. (John 14:6)

Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love. (Ephesians 4:15-16)

To me, though I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, and to bring to light for everyone what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things, so that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places. (Ephesians 3:8-10)

6. Yeah, but the Pastor/Minister/Reverend/Priest/Leader said...
Ultimately, we are responsible for listening to God through His word (scripture). The leader may be trying his best to interpret and teach God's truth, but we cannot answer to God with, "But the guy/gal with the mic at the front of the church building said..." Instead, we should search the scriptures to see if what they are saying is true.

For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account. (Hebrews 4:12-13)

If you have any questions about the above, please contact me or leave a comment. 

Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light." (Matthew 11:28-30)

Thank you!

Friday, June 6, 2014

I Believe in God, But Does He Believe in Me?

I tried an experiment. How would scripture sound if I substituted my name in place of pronouns where Paul was addressing the church? Personally, I love it!  It let's me know with more certainty that where the church is referenced, God is also speaking to me.  Try it!  Does it fit?

Here's my personalized result (And capitalized pronouns that refer to God) from Ephesians 1:1-23 ESV...

Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, To Dwight who is in New Jersey, and is faithful in Christ Jesus: Grace to Dwight and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed Dwight in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as He chose Dwight in Him before the foundation of the world, that Dwight should be holy and blameless before Him.

In love He predestined Dwight for adoption as a son through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of His will, to the praise of His glorious grace, with which He has blessed Dwight in the Beloved.

In Him, Dwight has redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of his trespasses, according to the riches of His grace, which He lavished upon Dwight, in all wisdom and insight making known to Dwight the mystery of His will, according to His purpose, which He set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in Him, things in heaven and things on earth.

In Him, Dwight has obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of Him who works all things according to the counsel of His will, so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of His glory.

In Him, Dwight also, when he heard the word of truth, the gospel of his salvation, and believed in Him, was sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of Dwight's inheritance until he acquires possession of it, to the praise of His glory.

For this reason, because I have heard of Dwight's faith in the Lord Jesus and Dwight's love toward all the saints, I do not cease to give thanks for Dwight, remembering Dwight in my prayers, that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give Dwight the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of Him, having the eyes of his heart enlightened, that Dwight may know what is the hope to which He has called Dwight, what are the riches of Dwight's glorious inheritance in the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of His power toward Dwight who believes, according to the working of His great might that He worked in Christ when He raised him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. And He put all things under His feet and gave Him as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all.

(Eph 1:1-23, ESV, personalized)

Friday, May 23, 2014

Special Announcement! Are You Listening?

If Almighty God, Creator of the Universe, who precisely inserted time into eternity, gently and warmly approached a soothed you and calmly whispered, "My precious child, I have something uniquely special to tell you that will light up your heart and strengthen your soul. Actually, I formed this loving message in detail long before I even created the world, and planned this precise day that I would offer to begin my story, if you would have me."

Would you lean forward, captivated, and laser focus your attention on His every next breathed words? If so, sink into His bosom beyond the surface and soak in His deeply profound thoughts of exquisite expression -hidden from the wise of this world, yet revealed to babes- with such an excited response of expectation. For He rewards those who, by faith, would diligently seek Him, and He wants so much for you to come to the full knowledge of the truth; here, now. Read, for it is in His word that He reveals Himself and unfolds this message.

Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen. (Ephesians 3:20-21)

Friday, March 14, 2014

Embracing Change

Have you heard this story? A mother nudges her son, who is still in bed, curled on his side with his back to her, on a school day. The alarm was snoozed about 10 minutes ago, permanently, when the plug landed gently on the carpet just 14 inches below the socket from which it was yanked. 

"Come on! Get up! You'll be late for school," was the encouragement accompanying the nudge.

"I don't wanna go to school!" Muffled by blankets, his response didn't need to be clear to be heard. His mother sensed it was coming. 

Not enough time passed for impatience or anger to build yet. "What's the matter this time?" In a tone expectant of some phony excuse.

"I don't wanna go. Nobody likes me. I don't have any friends there. The teachers pick on me behind my back. And to top it off, the school lunch is cold and soggy."

His mother grinned silently at the latter comment, but came back with a retort nevertheless. "Okay, I'll pack you a nice lunch, but you're still going to school. I understand. It's a big school and not everyone is going to like everyone else. If you want a friend, be a friend. And don't worry about what the teachers say behind your back. Worry about your own integrity. Besides, they all need you. You're 38 years old and you're the principal! Now get up!"


Perspective. Funny how situations are defined by perspectives. If you haven't heard that story, no doubt you expected the son to be a young student. Although intended as a joke here, in real life it's a very sad thing when an adult acts like a child.

Growing. Getting older is inevitable, but maturing is not. Perhaps you know of someone like this. Aggravating, isn't it. But, just yelling a command at the person only frustrates you both. So don't concern yourself with changing others. Look to yourself. Are you growing up? Maturity is the result of a deliberate choice to extend effort and focus to become something you're not already.

Let's face it, change happens! It is said, "The only constant is change." You either purposely seek it, simply acknowledge it, or deny it. To simply acknowledge change is to be its beneficiary or victim. Your attitude pretty much decides which. Usually, it's a spontaneous attitude of the moment, and it is involuntarily given the power to determine your mood. But, either way it's not often expected. It just happens. We just recognize that it did. To deny change takes effort, but that effort is not at all focused on any good that come as a result of change. In fact, the effort is in pretending things are the same, or that things could go back to the way they were. You will always be the victim in either case.

Embrace change. Even seek it. Since change is inevitable, prepare for it. In fact, always be partially preparing, partially adjusting, looking for the good, and being wholly grateful. Embracing change is often a bittersweet journey; to welcome the new is to say goodbye to the old. Welcoming can be sweet, very sweet at times, even joyful, like the birth of a child. Saying goodbye can be bitter, very bitter at times, like grieving the loss of a loved one. But, to really get the sweet part, not just on the surface, you cannot deny the bitter part. Both are deep. Such is life. Do more than accept it. Embrace it.

So, wake up! Attend this school called life. Study hard. Learn inward as well as outward. Prepare for quizzes and tests. Participate in extracurricular activities. Take recess once in a while. Be a friend. The world needs you, all of you, whether you're 8, 38, or 98. Live your life like everything about it is a miracle, because it is. 

As a Christian, I even embrace the death of Christ as a miracle, because He is the propitiation for the sins of the whole world (1 John 2:2). Because of the work He did, and because God raised Him, I'm not only reconciled to God, but God has adopted me as His son (Romans 8:15). Because God loved me so much, and I was willing to turn to Him and see this love (John 3:16, 17:3). I didn't always believe in Him. I had slowly changed my mind about Him as I learned from Him directly from scripture. I had, and still have, an excellent pastor-teacher, but fear not that you won't. I believe when the student is ready, the teacher will come. He rewards those who diligently seek Him (Hebrews 11:6). I stopped looking to man's religion and that's when I started seeing His kingdom and His righteousness. It is a gift of God and all His doing (Ephesians 2:8-9) and wonderful beyond words (Ephesians 3:20-21). For to me, to live is Christ (Philippians 1:21a)! After all,"we know that all things work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to His purpose" (Romans 8:28).

Sunday, December 8, 2013

A Day Like No Other Day

Something amazing happened on the Day of Pentecost, yet its significance has been greatly diluted. Was it the ability to speak in tongues? No. Was it that Gentiles could now become Jews and obey the law? Not at all. Was it the beginning of the spread of the gospel? Hardly. Was it the transformation of fear of persecution into courage to become martyrs? Not quite. 

It's more than we could ask or imagine, so let's let God inform us.

Christians want so badly to call themselves "Christians" that they miss the depth of what God has done. Instead, they skip right over to trying to behave like "Christians." But, being a Christian means so many different things to different people. Many think being a Christian is to be a good person. Some think it's avoiding immoral behavior. Some want to give the world a group hug. Others have an attitude of owning exclusive insight into the interpretation of scripture through human authority. But what does being a Christian mean to God?

Whoever misses the real significance of Pentecost is truly missing God's greatest work. 

This is the day He started giving believers His Spirit to dwell within them, making new creations in Christ. It was His plan all along to bring many sons into glory. This was the beginning of the Church age, to start building of the body of Christ, and to start preparing His bride. This is the Day He began to give the right to become children of God. This is the day Christians were born.

And that's only half the plan. He also desires that we should grow up into Christ, His fullness, the knowledge of the truth, the unsearchable riches of His grace. Seek Him. Abide in Him and He will abide in you. Love Him and He and His Father will love you and come make their home with you. Most assuredly, He will bless you. The race has started, so run. Let us run together.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Random Thought - The Bittersweetness of Life

My Christian life is bittersweet. Bitter sometimes because seeking the deep things of God is lonely. Sweet mostly because God rewards those who diligently seek Him. Bitter and sweet at the same time because, according to scripture, neither of these should surprise me.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

To Whom It May Concern

Did you ever write a letter that started that way? Ever address a letter with this salutation, "To whom it may concern?" The funny thing is, any person reading it wouldn't know whether the contents concern them or not until after they've read it.

Wouldn't it be interesting if someone could tell the letter concerned them before they even started reading it? You might think, "Oh, that's easy. Just use their name?" But, if the letter comes from someone that never addressed them before, it could easily be tossed into the recycle bin with nary a glance beyond the envelope.

Perhaps a certain graphic or font would catch their attention, and then they'd have to read it, or they'd be motivated by curiosity. But, that still doesn't tell them whether the letter is of any significance before they read it. How then? How can the reader know?

It is not through the use of colorful graphics or special font. It is not dependent on whether you've ever addressed the reader before, or whether you call them by name, by respectful title, or simply "to whom it may concern." In fact, you do not even have to send the letter. What matters, the only thing that matters, is the intended reader. It is not just any reader, not even friends or family.

There is a certain Reader with whom you may wish to communicate, but perhaps you are unsure. Writing is safe; I often use myself. Speaking out loud can seem awkward, especially if you've never spoken before, or at least not anger or mockery. But, writing allows you the luxury of either organizing your thoughts or letting them race, taking time to judge your own honesty, or examining the deepest channels of your heart. Or, perhaps, you just have a simple question, and it's taking all the courage you can muster to ask it. Any one of those is fine. It's the Reader that matters.

Now imagine this: not only does the desired Reader know the letter concerns Him, He knew what you were thinking about writing before your ball point hit the paper, or your fingers hit the keys. He has been waiting in eager anticipation to hear from you, and from you personally. He has been waiting patiently, not getting the least bit angry with your delay. He has been there all along, yet He will not intrude on your space. You may be tempted, but don't bother inviting Him into your space. Your 'space' has nothing to offer which He would want. You can tell Him about it, but eventually He'll want to tell you about His space.

He will continue to wait as you come to Him more frequently, and more cheerfully each time. But, don't hold back if once again you are angry with the Reader, or even highly doubtful He exists. Over time, gently, as you grow in expectancy to hear from Him, He will answer you, mostly by touching your heart in ways unimaginable, so that you will know in your heart that your letter touched His heart deeply. And you will find rest for your soul.

When the time is right, He will step back from the door upon which you knocked to deliver your letter, and He will invite you into His abode. It is a home like no other; to enter the Doorway is to enter into Him. The Doorway is His Son. To be in His home is to be in His Spirit. There is nothing like it in all the world.

You cannot drag your baggage of traditions, morality, or humanity through this Doorway. He has no desire for anything you would offer. Instead, He offers you everything, with no frame of reference by which to prejudge it. He simply asks that you trust Him. Somehow, by this time, we know that we can trust Him, and our humility is rewarded.

Once in His home, which is His Spirit, through His Son, we can grow into Him and hear Him plainly state, "This is my son, in whom I am well pleased." From now on, our letters always contain the proper salutation: Father.