Monday, September 28, 2015

Why Does God Allow Evil?

2 Peter 3:4,9-10 (NIV)
[4] They will say, “Where is this ‘coming' he promised? Ever since our fathers died, everything goes on as it has since the beginning of creation.”…  [9] The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.  [10] But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything in it will be laid bare.

The other day while I was driving my car as an Uber driving, I picked up three people. They were familiar with Christianity but only in a superficial way. They were all related, two brothers and a sister. Maybe in their late 20s to early 30s. They noticed the crosses hanging from my rear view mirror. The sister asked me if I was a Christian. I response by saying I was a follower of Jesus Christ. The reason why is because in today's American culture the word Christian can have a wide meaning.

She asked if she could ask me another question. I said sure. (I never turn down an opportunity the share Jesus. Not the Jesus of the media or the Jesus of the institutionalized religion of the day. Or the Jesus that mainstream Christianity has created in the image of their patriotism.)

She ask me why does God permit all the evil we see in the world today? My first response to this kind of question is "That's a good question.” However, when I hear this question from everyday people it's usually not from an academic or philosophical perspective. It's more of an emotionally charged question in response to the world around them. Since mankind really can't do anything about it so why doesn't God? All the money, education, philosophies, psychologies or science hasn't solved the problem so why doesn't God just step in and end it?

From here I try and reframe the question for them to look at it from more of a personal perspective. I asked them if they have ever heard of the butterfly effect? Made popular by an Ashton Kutcher movie called The Butterfly Effect. It is something this age group is somewhat familiar with. It's an exercise in the law of cause and effect. Which states, for every effect there is an antecedent cause.

In theory if we had the resources and ability we could theoretically measure the causal effect of one flap of a butterfly's wing in California to a typhoon is Southeast Asia. With this illustration in mind I ask the question if God were the stop all evil in the world today can he start with you?

The great evils that humanity perpetrates on itself begin with some mundane, what we might consider innocuous wrong. Such as a little lie or a small theft or an unkind remark. Maybe a selfish act or mild exercise of pride. Most people are familiar with the expression, "stick and stone may break my bones but words can never hurt me." These are our flap of a butterflies wings. If God were to stop all of these he would have to do away with the entire human race. Because we are all guilty in some way or another of causing a butterfly effect for evil. God would has to destroy free will in all humans. However, since God is love and true love does not force another to follow or believe, he will not force people to make the right decisions.

The answer was, “No I don't want him to start with me.” Which is indirectly saying I want mercy not judgement right now. That is exactly what God has been extending to all humanity, mercy. As individuals we all want to see the other guy get their just dues. However, when it comes to us we typically have our personal excuses as to why we shouldn't be judged. Paul in Romans says it this way, “So when you, a mere man, 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, tolerance and patience, not realizing that God's kindness leads you toward repentance?
God will bring an end to all the evil in the world today. This means that his mercy has a limit. So we need to stop kicking against the goads with excuse questions like Why doesn’t…? And start asking that personal question, “Am I ready?”

Jesus answered a similar question when some people came to him and ask why did certain tragedies happen to these people? The people were of the mindset that they must have done something wrong for this bad thing to happen to them. In today’s culture we would call it karma. Jesus dispelled this idea of Karma or God’s judgement caught up to them. He told them that essentially that we live in a broken world and that evil comes at us through the hands of people or because of the circumstances of life and the world we live in is imperfect and we feel the effects of it all arounds us. Given these truths our concern should be “Am I ready?” Am I ready to suffer the ultimate tragedy of death and then stand before my Creator and be judged? Or Am I ready to receive mercy?

Luke 13:1-9 (NIV)
 [13:1] Now there were some present at that time who told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices. [2] Jesus answered, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way? [3] I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish. [4] Or those eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them—do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem? [5] I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish.”
[6] Then he told this parable: “A man had a fig tree, planted in his vineyard, and he went to look for fruit on it, but did not find any. [7] So he said to the man who took care of the vineyard, ‘For three years now I've been coming to look for fruit on this fig tree and haven't found any. Cut it down! Why should it use up the soil?'
[8] “‘Sir,' the man replied, ‘leave it alone for one more year, and I'll dig around it and fertilize it. [9] If it bears fruit next year, fine! If not, then cut it down.'”

We all are on spiritual death row. We don’t know when our time will be up. Have you accepted God’s pardon in the person of Jesus Christ?

 John 14:6, 11:25-26 (NIV)
Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?”

Jesus proved the truth of his claims by his resurrection. Because of this he still asks every person this same question, “Do you believe this?” 

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Are Christians to keep the Mosaic Law?

What did Jesus say? He said in Matthew 5:17-18 (NIV] “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. [18] I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished.

In other words, Jesus came to make clearer the initial intent of the Mosaic Law.  God’s meaning had been perverted by his own people.  The Law was intended to set the Israelite's apart from the other nations around them. Plus show people their need for atonement and His love for them. And ultimately point to Jesus. However, his love had been replaced with a religious system based on threats and oligarchy and what the law and the prophets were intended to do became clouded and obscured by institutionalized religion. 

Jesus was saying to them that the original intentions of the law that God gave Moses was still in effect. It was meant to point to him. He came to fulfill and make plain the true interpretation of God’s message versus the religious system that the leaders (e.g. Pharisee, Sadducees, Essenes…etc.) had created.

Israel was going through the motions of piety by following the Law.  However, Jesus challenged them because they were perverting the original intent of the Law.  The Law was not about checking off religious acts but rather to point people to the redemption story of humanity in the person and work of Jesus Christ. 

Paul in his writing also alluded to this fact.  Paul writes, “For all who rely on the works of the law are under a curse, as it is written: “Cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything written in the Book of the Law.”-Galatians 3:10. And then in Galatians 3:24-25 (NIV)  So the law was put in charge to lead us to Christ that we might be justified by faith. Now that faith has come, we are no longer under the supervision of the law.

Jesus fulfill all the requirements of the Law that we could not. Jesus was the fulfillment of all the promises and covenants God made in the Old Testament. The Mosiac Law was a covenant made with a specific people, the Israelites. 

For example:

Jesus did not come to abolish the Sabbath. He fulfilled it for the Jew therefore it is no longer binding. The Sabbath is now found in Jesus not on a particular day. A clearer view of the intent of the Sabbath for believers in Hebrews 4.

It is clear through Scripture, that Jesus did not come to do away with the spirit of the Law (Luke 22:44). Which was to show humanity their need for a Savior and that Savior is Jesus. He was against many of the mis-interpretations of the Law especially by the religious leaders (Matthew 6:1-4).

Matthew 23:1-4 (NIV) Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples: [2] “The teachers of the law and the Pharisees sit in Moses' seat. [3] So you must obey them and do everything they tell you. But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach. [4] They tie up heavy loads and put them on men's shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them. 

The law was intended to reveal our sin and our need for a Savior.  Which it still does today therefore it is not done away with.

Romans 3:20-21 (NIV) Therefore no one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of sin. But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify.

Romans 7:6 (NIV) But now, by dying to what (the Law) once bound us, we have been released from the law so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit, and not in the old way of the written code.

If you are in Christ the Law is not what we obey. Because we can't. When the Law comes to us our sinful human nature reacts to it. The reaction is to sin not obey. Paul states it like this in Romans 7 "For I would not have known what coveting really was if the law had not said, “Do not covet.”  [8] But sin, seizing the opportunity afforded by the commandment, produced in me every kind of covetous desire. For apart from law, sin is dead. [9] Once I was alive apart from law; but when the commandment came, sin sprang to life and I died. [10] I found that the very commandment that was intended to bring life actually brought death. [11] For sin, seizing the opportunity afforded by the commandment,  deceived me, and through the commandment put me to death. 

Now that Jesus has rescued us from this dilemma it is by the Spirit we now live. 

Galatians 5:22-25 (NIV)But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.….. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.

In short, we are to obey God’s Spirit not the Mosiac Law.  There is no law that can create this kind of obedience or stop this kind of obedience. 

Jesus told the woman at the well that God is looking for people that will worship Him in Spirit and in truth not the Law.

If I'm living by the Holy Spirit I will love God, the saints, my neighbor and my enemy.

Hebrews 8:13 (NIV) By calling this covenant “new,” he has made the first one obsolete; and what is obsolete and aging will soon disappear.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Criticizing Government Officials

1 Timothy 2:1-3 (NIV)
[2:1] I urge, then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone— [2] for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. [3] This is good, and pleases God our Savior,

In Christian circles today, in the USA, we have "so-called" christian leaders and popular christian authors constantly speaking out against the kingdoms of man's public officials. I don't see the apostles speaking out against those in secular authority, even if they didn't agree with their political decisions. Instead they tell us to pray for them. Why do you think this is? Because, since we are citizens of God's kingdom and declare that Jesus is our Lord our goal as believers is to represent and declare the message of the gospel of the kingdom of God with as few obstacles as possible and we are to be a people of peace. We are to invite people from the world into Jesus' kingdom, which is not of this world. The people of the world are concerned with power and image and if the body of Christ intentionally diminishes that image or threatens that power then don't be deceived those same people will do everything in their power to make the message of Jesus harder to get out. 

The body of Christ must exist within every man made political system. That is why, as citizen of Gods kingdom, it's not our concern to persuade secular government official to conform to Christian ideals. 2 Timothy 2:4 (NIV) No one serving as a soldier gets involved in civilian affairs—he wants to please his commanding officer.

As followers of Jesus our goal is to tell the world about another kingdom that brings reconciliation with God and a desire to live at peace and to love as Jesus showed us how to love. As people of the King our presence within any political system should be seen as a blessing and not a curse. The resources a nation uses to enforce the law would not be wasted on those that are followers of Jesus Christ. The body of Christ would be a people that worked and added to a societies well being. Romans 13:3 (NIV) For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and he will commend you.

When we are commended it's not for our own glorification but for the purposes of Jesus. That his gospel message of the Kingdom of God would not be diminished or hindered from being shared. That God would be glorified. Matthew 5:16 (NIV)In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven. 

We must remember it is Christ first before our political points of view. And we are told to pray not criticize.

Monday, September 14, 2015

True Identity?

Luke 10:42 (NIV)
 but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.

Jesus comes to the home of Martha. He’s not alone. He has his 12 disciple with him. Martha the home owner wants to be a good host. Jesus has some notoriety at this time. She wants to impress however, the house is full and there are no local catering services so she has to do everything herself.

Men and women through the ages identify themselves by the jobs they do. For women of the 1st century in Israel it was about being a homemaker and good hostess primarily. Martha didn’t want to fail at this job with Jesus in her home. Because if her hosting skills failed by extension she would fail therefore, her identity would take a hit.

That’s why she ask for help from Mary. She didn’t asked for her brother Lazarus to help. Since Lazarus was a man in the cultural that would be something that would not be asked of him. Mary however would be expected to help with hosting duties. However, Mary was not concerned about her identity as a good hostess.

We identify ourselves today in many different ways.

By religion.
By nationality.
By sexual orientation.
By political belief.
By marital/familial status.
By gender.
By profession.

Most of us today are an amalgamation of several identities, some of which are more prominent than others.

Our Identities are usually fluid. Sometimes it depends on the context, environment, and most importantly people. The surrounding give you one identity over the other. Our identity changes multiple times a day.

The most prominent one today comes from the question that we ask one another when we first meet, “What do you do?”

Here’s what great about this story in Luke. Jesus uses it as an opportunity to teach those there and us today what’s the most important identify we could take on.

People normally sat on chairs or, at banquets, reclined on couches; but disciples sat at the feet of their teachers. We see an expression of this in Acts 22:3 were Paul describes himself as under Gamaliel. The word “under” literally means “at his feet”. Women could listen to Torah teaching in synagogues and occasionally one might listen to a rabbi's lectures, but they were not disciples sitting in the dust at rabbis' feet. Mary's positioning of herself and eagerness to absorb Jesus' teaching at the expense of a more traditional womanly role would have shocked most Jewish men. The people reading this gospel account during the first century would have probably thought the same thing. The most advanced level of disciples included training to become rabbis; we know of no women who filled this role in antiquity. That’s why Martha was probably embolden to speak out against her sister. I could just see the disciples probably looking on in agreement with Martha.

Despite the cultural importance of Mary's identify, she broke from tradition and decided her identity as a disciple of Jesus is more important than anything else she could do.

I had a brother say the other day that he’s trying to figure out if he’s a carpenter that’s a disciple or a disciples that’s a carpenter.

From Jesus perspective I would say it’s a disciple that’s a carpenter. Jesus told Martha that Mary chose the better identify. Being identified as a disciple of Jesus Christ was better than being identified as a good hostess. Does that ring true for us today? Do the people in our sphere know we are followers of Jesus Christ? Or do they just know you as a teacher, contractor, business owner, mom, dad, husband, wife, etc.? Jesus told us what was better.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Why Spend Time with God?

In America we live in a high-pressure world. There are a thousand voices trying to get our attention. We must take time to be alone with God our Father to hear Him speak. He’s always speaking to us.

 It is imperative that we turn our attention to the truths delivered to us by Jesus. They come to us through His teaching and by His life. We must be still and sensitive in His presence in order to be lead and instructed by His Holy Spirit. If you’ve been a follower of Jesus for any length of time this is nothing new. We are reminded of this often. The question we must ask ourselves is whether or not we actually do it. No one can boast of a special inner piety. However if anyone who honestly hungers and thirsts to know Jesus firsthand, it is possible within the privacy of our own soul. There are critics who insist that this kind of awareness is some sort of mysticism or even fanaticism. But there is really the knowledge of Christ's presence in daily affairs of life.

Most of us know full well that if we are to excel in any given area of life we must devote time, thought, and effort to it. Repetition is at the heart of learning. Practice makes perfect. If we are going to succeed in any profession, or art form, or athletics we must set aside other competing interests and devote our undivided attention to the one of supreme importance. The principle is precisely the same in the realm of the soul and spirit. 1 Corinthians 9:25 (NIV) Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last forever.

Christ calls us to follow Him, to be willing to come under His daily discipline and direction, to become subject to His divine orders. Following Christ is to heed His precise instructions. It is to carry out His clear will. It is to obey His call and to do His will in all goodwill. Contemporary Christians are not at all eager about this sort of spiritual discipline. Rather they have more often been led to believe that loving God is like some sort of social activity in which they sing happy songs, clap their hands, sway to the rhythm, and shout for joy. It is little wonder that when things go wrong and their personal problems multiply, they are so easily discouraged. Instead of being a strong, steadfast people with unshakable confidence in Christ, they cry the blues and look for someone else to blame for their troubles.

Our Father calls us to be a distinct and very different class of citizens. We are not to live as citizens of this world but as citizens of His kingdom. He expects us to live with calm confidence in Him. He longs to see us living an abundant life in His care as we quietly trust Him. We can only do this in intimate communion with Him. It is essential for us to spend much time alone in studying His Word. Let His gracious Spirit become our teacher, our mentor, our private tutor. He will lead you step-by-step into enduring truth. He will guide you into eternal practical principles by which you can live in peace and power, amid a world of chaos.

It is the quiet hours in company with Christ that are valuable times. It is then as we meditate over His statements and reflect on His commitments to us as His beloved, that His life, His interests, His outlook gradually become ours. Spending time with Christ and meditating on His will is vital. There is no other way in which we can acquire the mind of Christ. There is no other way in which our emotions can come calmly under His control. There is no other way in which our wayward will can become submissive to His great, good will. This is the paramount to walking with Him in harmony, holiness, and health of spirit and soul. It is the key to knowing Christ, trusting God our Father, and being led in joy and quietness by His Spirit. It cannot be overstate this simple truth that a man or woman whose life truly counts for Christ is a person who spends time alone with the living God in quiet communion and profound prayer. Giving Christ time and prayer is to honor Him, to give Him opportunity to impress His life on them. We cannot give hours of each day to the TV screen, the computer screen, or smart phones, and then give God only ten minutes and expect to be His person who pleases Him. That is bizarre!

Our Father's wants to warn His people that unless we give Him first place in our lives, the world around us will take that first place position in our thinking. It used to be somewhat of a secret that the mass media of the secular world was making a concerted effort to impose its own set of values on our society.  Now it is common knowledge. It has largely succeeded in the last half of the 20th century to the present and can be seen in the chaos, confusion, and crime of our culture. In large measure the problems of the church today are the result of God's people having never been taught by their leaders to take His word seriously. That when we become citizens of God’s kingdom we are to leave the old ways behind. To be a different and distinct people, we must have His mind-set and His outlook look on life, to see life as Jesus sees worldly life with its transient values, wherein all that truly endures is of eternal worth.

What is tragic in today’s church is it’s over tolerant complacency. Too few of its prominent people have been deep thinkers with deep convictions. The fashionable, popular approach to most of the terrible problems of our decadent church culture is to go with the flow. Simply amuse the masses, entertain the crowds, be a producer of popular ideas, adopt sifting cultural values into the body of Christ and contemporary music that will pack the churches with worldly-wise worshipers. As long as the pulpit is popular and the crowds consider it to be "cool" to go to church, our leaders have assured themselves God is pleased. But Christ calls us to a distinct sort of life.

It is one of personal love and loyalty to Him. It calls for sacrifice and service to others. It demands integrity within which includes not compromising God’s revealed word. The only possible way in which Christ can ever truly command our attention is to have a living encounter with us from day to day in the temple of our souls. He has never changed over the thousands of years that He has communed with man. Here are just a handful of His statements to us.

Psalms 46:10 (NIV) “Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.”
Matthew 6:33 (NIV) But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.
John 14:23 (NIV) Jesus replied, “If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching. My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.
John 15:10 (NIV) If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father's commands and remain in his love.)
John 15:14 (NIV) You are my friends if you do what I command.

There is nothing vague or ambiguous about any of these plain, direct declarations from the living God. Our confusion comes from our own refusal to carry them out. We dredge up a dozen lame excuses for not complying with Christ's words. We say, “They are neither practical nor workable in our modern world” or “we do not have the time to really think them through.” or “the cost is too high; surely the God of all grace and goodness does not really call us to such severe and stern commitments.” The list goes on and on! Then we wonder why we are powerless people. We wonder why we do not impact our generation. We wonder why most of us are pagan people. We wonder why our church culture is all twisted.

Meanwhile Christ continues to call us apart, away from the chaos and clamor of our culture to spend time with Him in close communion. He asks us for our undivided attention. He invites us to be still, silent in calm solitude with Him so He can speak clearly to us. He expects us to respond to His requests in brave, bold, and forthright faith-not flinching or holding back. He bids us to count the high cost of being His friend. He tells us to think things through, to discover what endures and what is sheer vanity, human pride, and nonsense.

But most of us simply refuse. To be godly takes time alone with God. We are confident that casual church services are quite sufficient to be spiritual people. But no! It is not church attendance that Christ calls us to-He desires close communion with us in the secret place; He wants our love. We must get to know God firsthand, in person, privately! He is real. He is alive. He is active. He is at work in the world. He invites us to meet Him alone. He comes seeking our friendship, our love, our loyalty. Here are some questions.  Do you wish to meet Him? Have you seriously considered this matter? Did you ever truly think it through? Are you prepared to open your life to Him?

This is a serious, tough, life-changing act of your will. Intimacy with Christ is much more than a bright idea. It is much more than a sentimental, emotional decision made in a moving moment of soft music or impassioned preaching. It is a profound prayer of utter relinquishment to the Most High, in which you calmly, quietly, in genuine sincerity surrender yourself to Jesus, very God, who stands before you with open arms and a smile as your personal Savior, Deliverer, and Lord. He, and only He, God Himself, gives Himself to you as you in turn give yourself to Him. It is an exchange of life between Him and you. As you continuously partake of His life, you are in fact receiving the newness of His eternal life, which not only changes you, but also changes your entire personal relationship to Him. You discover God is your heavenly Father. You discover Christ is your dearest Friend. You discover His Holy Spirit is your constant Fellow Companion and Counsellor in a complicated world. You discover, at last, He is here.... All is well!

Does My Desire to Belong Outweigh Jesus' Call to Follow Him?

Luke 14:25-27 (NIV)
 [25] Large crowds were traveling with Jesus, and turning to them he said: [26] “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters—yes, even his own life—he cannot be my disciple. [27] And anyone who does not carry his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.
Matthew 10:37 (NIV)
[37] “Anyone who loves his father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves his son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me;
John 12:25 (NIV)
[25] Anyone who loves his father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves his son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me

There are times in people’s lives where they are confronted with a truth of who they are and this truth demands a change. The particular truth for me was the fact that, in general, people are social creatures. We desire to belong. We desire to be loved. We desire not to be alone. We desire the security that comes from numbers. Because of this desire to belong, we will seek out someone or a group of someone’s if we are not getting this desire met where we are at. This desire is so strong in us that once we see this desire being met with a person or group of people we will conform to the codes or values they have, even if it means going against our own personal convictions. Even if we are confronted with certain facts about that person or people, that by continuing with them or the individual we would bring unrest to our very soul or even bring a high probability of harm to yourself. So strong is this desire.

We see an example of this in the Gospel of John were Jesus heals a man that was blind from birth. The Jewish community was a religious community. Its codes, values and traditions were overseen by the religious leaders of the day. When these leaders declared they didn’t like someone, as members of that community, you were expected to adhere to their determinations or you would have to find another community. Now in regards to this story, in the gospel of John, the people involved had to make a decision that would require them to confront this strong desire to belong.

The religious leaders have already marked Jesus as a subversive. If anyone openly accepted him they too would be considered a subversive, therefore, they would no longer be allowed to be a part of the community and the entire community, whether friends, family or business associated were not to have anything to do with them. The decision that would be made would affect every aspect of their life physically, emotionally and psychologically. We read this in John 9:22 (NIV)[22] His parents said this because they were afraid of the Jews, for already the Jews had decided that anyone who acknowledged that Jesus was the Christ would be put out of the synagogue.

The parents of the man born blind sided with the religious leaders however, the son of the parents chose to go against this strong desire to belong and suffer the consequences. He was already marginalized, disenfranchised and overlooked. He didn’t know Jesus at the time. He only knew what happened to him. He didn’t know if he would ever meet this person that healed him. This could also be said of the parents. They knew their son was blind. They didn’t know Jesus. They only knew what Jesus did for their son and indirectly for them. But the desire to belong was more important to them then to acknowledge Jesus. So they chose this desire to belong over Jesus. Where this son chose the person that healed him over the desire to belong. Because of his condition his desire to belong to that particular community probably wasn’t that strong. Especially after the way the religious leaders just treated him.

This is what Jesus was speaking to when he made statements like: If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters—yes, even his own life… Anyone who loves his father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves his son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me…. Anyone who loves his father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves his son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.

To be a follower of Jesus Christ, Jesus must trump a person’s desire to belong. I was confronted with the power of this truth not too long ago in my life. The circumstances of life led me to separate from the community I belong too in order to fulfill a goal. This goal was to get a Master in Theological Studies. I had been actively involved in ministry for the past 15 years from laity to pastoral in nature.  I had one year left to finish so I went on sabbatical for that year in order to concentrate and finish well. I was an ordained minister within the Wesleyan denomination and an associate pastor at a local church. I was primarily involved with Men’s Ministry.  This was a 12 plus year process of getting ordained and completing my masters. It was during this year, as I was spending time in prayer and fasting, an assessing what was taking place in my inner most being. I believe it was the Holy Spirit taking my experiences over the years, the personal state of my soul and His word as revealed in the New Testament and challenging me to whether I was truly following Him. All this against the backdrop of this particular truth - my desire to belong. I came to find out that my desire to belong was trumping a life completely surrendered to following Jesus.

What was revealing in my life is that I was fulfilling my own personal agenda to belong in Jesus name. So outwardly I might have appeared to be a good tree that bore good fruit. But the reality I was an anemic tree bearing anemic fruit. I was like that tree in Psalm 1. I was planted by a stream of water but the water was polluted. I bore fruit but it was sporadic and lean. I had leaves but there was minimal shade. My prosperity was probably more wood, hay and stubble then precious gems.
I began to see that what was passing off as Christianity today in the USA was not what I was reading in the bible therefore not what was in my life. I was personally compromising the truths of scripture all for the sake of belonging to a community that advocating these compromises. Whether knowingly or unknowingly.

One of these areas was what the church calls giving. I was taught that as a Christian I must give a portion of my income to the local church because this was God’s will for the believer. This giving was described as tithe and offering. Scriptures like “Malachi 3:10 (NIV) Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this,” says the LORD Almighty, “and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that you will not have room enough for it.” were used to justify this demand. The tithe was the goal and responsibility of every believer and if you had more to give then that would be considered an offering. This was God’s will for those who claimed to be followers of Jesus Christ. This was the truth I was taught and I taught the same thing.

I remember early on as a believer as I read through the New Testament I saw people giving but no tithe was mentioned other than by Jesus in Matthew 23:23, Luke 11:42. None of the apostolic writing taught a tithe. There were two things I came to realize about giving when it came to the body of Christ. Giving was to meet the needs of the believers and tithing was not required of Christians because it was part of the Levitical Priesthood of Old Covenant.

When we survey the NT the needs that are spelled out in the bible are very clear. They are food, drink, clothing and shelter for those in need of these things. We see this being first mentions by Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount. He tells his disciple not to run after food, drink and clothing because God will meet these needs for you if you just believe. Paul echoes this when he writes to Timothy. In 1Timothy 6:8 Paul tells Timothy “If we have food and clothing, we will be content with that.” Paul includes himself in that declaration. This declaration was in the context of money. This declaration was for every member of the body of Christ. However, the giving we see today within the local “church” goes almost exclusively towards staff salaries, buildings and programs. On occasion a collection may be taken up to help a brother or sister in need. We have “pastors” making six figure incomes, telling people in the local church to tithe, whether they are rich or poor, because it’s God’s will.  And if you tithe God said in Malachi he’ll give you back more. We have people redefining a verse that was meant for a particular people at a particular time and then saying that God wants us to use this verse for our church today. This is bad hermeneutics. Here we have the desire for money redefining a verse.

Here’s another verse people love to quote to justify paying people outrages amounts of money. Matthew 10:10 (NIV)…; for the worker is worth his keep. However, they conveniently forget about the verse just before this phrase. Matthew 10:8 (NIV) Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons. Freely you have received, freely give. But someone might say what about what Paul says in 1 Corinthians 9:14 (NIV) In the same way, the Lord has commanded that those who preach the gospel should receive their living from the gospel. Paul uses the illustration of the Levites to make a point. This verse was in reference to the Levites in the OT were their “needs” were met from the meat that was brought to the altar for sacrifice. The operative word here is “needs” and nothing more. If they wanted more it didn’t come from the people but by their own hand.

Yet today we have sister Sally standing in line for food stamps while pastor Bob is standing in line for the next iPhone. Not because he made tents and sold them but from the money God’s people put in the offering plate. The people thinking it was going to further God’s kingdom not a person’s desire to possess the latest technology. All the money we see collected in the New Testament was to meet the needs of the believers. It was not used to build buildings or pay salaries or buy sound systems or Christmas decorations or outreach programs. It was people giving what they had to meet the needs of brothers and sisters in Christ who did not have. This was an avenue by which the world would look in and see the citizens of the kingdom of God loving on one another. Not creating empires of wealth by twisting the scriptures to justify this ungodly money grab.

It’s funny how the pulpit disregards the scripture that tells the body of Christ how to live in regards to giving. When Paul says, “Our desire is not that others might be relieved while you are hard pressed, but that there might be equality.  At the present time your plenty will supply what they need, so that in turn their plenty will supply what you need. Then there will be equality, as it is written: “He who gathered much did not have too much, and he who gathered little did not have too little.” (2 Corinthians 8:13-15 (NIV). We see leaders in the Christian community today live as if this passage didn’t apply to them. Somehow they have convinced themselves that Paul wouldn’t have lived like this and neither would have Jesus therefore why should they. Paul really meant something else then what it really says.

This money issue then leads to taxes. With my desire to belong I was complicit in being dishonest about taxes within the body of Christ thereby diminishing Jesus’ name all for the sake of money. While sitting of the local board of a church I was to vote on the annual budget which included the pastor’s salary. In the tax code a pastor was allowed to claim a housing allowance which was tax exempt. There was a limit to this housing allowance. At the time it was $4000 a month. If we wanted to pay the pastor a $65,000 a year salary but this amount put him into a higher tax bracket we would bring his salary down to $17,000 to lower the amount of taxes he would have to pay and then declare the maximum amount of housing allowance. However, the real amount of his monthly housing allowance expenses was about half that amount. And I would vote to approve this deception. And I would justify it, along with all the other board members, because it was technically legal and within the boundaries of the tax code. It was legal but it was dishonest and I knew it at the time but my desire to belong trumped my desire to follow Jesus. If I couldn’t be trusted with a little how could He trust me with much? This board was a requirement of the state, the kingdoms of man.

The denominations in America today and the local churches in America today cling to money. They serve money. They serve money so much that they are willing to yoke themselves to the state through 501C3. This is an agreement a local church body makes with the state to get out of paying taxes. Part of this agreement between the church and the state is that the state requires the church to produce a constitution and requires board members and the state dictates what those board members are. I don’t see the NT requiring this of a body of believers. Even if the construction of this board goes against what the New Testament says in regards to how the body of Christ is to function. The state tells the church who is supposed to be a voting members of the board even if it’s not what a local body wants. This is what the bible calls being unequally yoked. When we let the kingdoms of Man dictate how the citizens of the kingdom of God should govern themselves all for the sake of money. Who is the god of this age? Who is the god of this worlds nations?

1 John 5:19 (NIV) We know that we are children of God, and that the whole world is under the control of the evil one.
 Luke 4:6 (NIV) And he said to him, “I will give you all their authority and splendor, for it has been given to me, and I can give it to anyone I want to.

The churches in America have invite the enemy to have a foothold within the church and the church is blinded to this fact because of their love of money. Paul tells us by inspiration of the Holy Spirit if you owe taxes then pay them. The church should not value money as the world does. Luke 16:15 (NIV) He (Jesus) said to them, “You are the ones who justify yourselves in the eyes of men, but God knows your hearts. What is highly valued among men is detestable in God's sight.” Jesus tells us to give to God what is God’s and to Caesar what is Caesars. In other words just pay taxes. Don’t try to get out of paying taxes and compromise the gospel message of the kingdom of God by being yoked with the world and compromising the integrity of Christ.

Then there was when my desire to belong was so great that I create Jesus in the image of my patriotism. In churches all across America today we see the American flag on stage behind the pulpit. We have Christian radio stations whose motto's are God and country. In what might be called mainstream Christianity in the USA we hear people declaring that the USA is a Christian nation. I went along with this for years because I wanted to belong more then follow Christ. However, when I read the New Testament the only nation I see mentioned as Christian is the bride of Christ. 1 Peter 2:9 (NIV) But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. When Peter wrote this he was speaking to people from many nations. We read in Revelation John describing a seen before God’s throne of people from every language and nation from all over the planet. Revelation 5:9 (NIV) And they sang a new song: “You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased men for God from every tribe and language and people and nation. Jesus didn’t tell His disciples to go out and make the Roman Empire a Christian empire or even restore the nation of Israel. The mainstream American church has convince the people in the pews to take up the political causes of the nations of man so much so that we’ve become so politically party minded we’ve become no gospel good. If you’re a Christian you’re a conservative. If you’re a liberal you’re really not a true Christian. I don’t want to be liberal or conservative but in America today that’s what we’ve done with Jesus. We’ve created him in the image of our patriotism. Jesus is a conservative that wrapped in the red, white, and blue. 2 Timothy 2:4 (NIV) No one serving as a soldier gets involved in civilian affairs—he wants to please his commanding officer. The politics of the nations of man are civilian affairs that creates barriers to the gospel of the kingdom of God.

Jesus told his disciple and by extension us, to go and invite people from the nations of man into His kingdom. He told them to share the message of the gospel of the kingdom of God. He’s offering people a new citizenship into his kingdom which is not of this world. John 18:36 (NIV) Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jews. But now my kingdom is from another place.”

This means we are to live as followers of Jesus Christ and how he taught us how to live. However, today we are taught it’s acceptable to kill in Jesus name for the nation we live in. That Christians can take up arms and kill other Christians if the nation they are living in tells them too. What if the 12 disciples were living during the civil war? Six lived in the south and 6 lived in the north. Would they have taken up arms and killed each other for the kingdoms of man? Remember what the NT teaches us. Colossians 3:17 (NIV) And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. Can you imagine John raising a musket and aiming it at Peter and say I kill you in the name of Jesus as I thank the Father for the cause of the kingdom of man I’m living in? This is what Christians in America are expected to believe and live for. Instead of love your enemies, the church today says it’s okay to kill your enemy even if they are your brother or sister in Christ. No wonder the message of the gospel of the kingdom of God has diminished. We are no different than the nations of man around us. People on the outside of the church looking in and see no difference then the world they are living in. We are not really strangers or aliens. We are a people that live like the world does and Jesus is nothing more than an attachment to our lives instead of being our life. Our salt has lost its taste. And our light is under a bowl. All because our desire to belong is greater than our desire to follow Jesus no matter what the cost.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

What is the salt of a Christian?

Matthew 5:13 (NASB)
 [13] “You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt has become tasteless, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot by men.

This verse is not about using salt as a preservative. This world has nothing to preserve. Who preserves rotten meat? You don't. It's about citizens of Gods kingdom showing humanity there is a better way, a way that tastes better then what this world is feeding them. The world seasons life with impurities. God want's to season life with His Son through us. This verse is about those that claim to be followers of Jesus Christ, that their lives should taste good and different to those that truly want to know the Creator. Psalms 34:8 (NIV) Taste and see that the LORD is good

What kind of salt was Jesus referring too? 

Typically we might imagine the salt we have in our modern day salt shakers. The salt we see at home or in restaurants. This would be considered pure salt. 
Also salt in its pure form does not lose its taste. It considered a stable compound. 

However, when Jesus is speaking of salt here it's 1st century salt not 21st century salt. The 1st century salt of Jesus day would have come from salt slabs from the Dead Sea. They would scrap these slabs to get the salt they would use to flavor their food. But because they didn't have the refining processes that we have today this salt was full of impurities. 

Here's an illustration of what this may look like. I'm from the Midwest originally. The climate is humid. Because of this salt would tend to clump up in the shakers. To overcome this problem we would put rice in the shakers to help prevent this clumping. Now salt is soluble. If the salt where to dissolve in these shakers all that would be left is the rice. 

In the same way with 1st century salt, if the salt were to dissolve away only the impurities would be left behind. Like rice these impurities could not make food tasty anymore. Though you could use the rice for something else in your 21st century salt shakers, the impurities that were left behind in 1st century salt was good for nothing. Neither for the dirt that you might use to grow things with or even to help burn manure. Salt was used as a catalyst in that burning process of manure. 

Now what is this salt we are to have as Jesus' disciples? It's what he just got finished teaching them what a citizen of His kingdom would look like. The beatitudes. 

·         Someone who knows the true condition of their soul - helplessly broken
·         Someone who laments this condition and knows there inability to repair it
·         Someone who understands their condition and that this condition is in everyone, therefore, they exercise gentle patience with others. Instead of wanting to rule others they desire to humbly serve others.
·         Someone who understands their condition and knows that the only remedy is a righteousness that is outside themselves and that’s what they want above all else.
·         Someone that knows they need mercy because they understand their condition before God therefore they will show mercy because that's what they want. 
·         Someone who understands there is only one source for mercy, forgiveness and true righteousness, Jesus
·         Someone that has humbly accepted God’s peace offering through Jesus and extends that peace offering to others without passing judgement. 
·         Someone that shares this new life as citizens in Gods kingdom and invites others to be citizens even if they are rejected, insulted, falsely accused or even killed.

This is the salt of the citizen of Gods kingdom. It is this salt that lets people taste that the Lord is good. 

Psalms 34:8 (NIV)
[8] Taste and see that the LORD is good; 
blessed is the man who takes refuge in him.

1 Peter 2:3 (NIV)
[3] now that you have tasted that the Lord is good.

That’s what makes this comparison of salt to those who are citizens of God’s kingdom so amazing. Even though we are full of impurities by nature as human beings, God makes us new creations and adds His salt to our lives. So we are exactly like the 1st century salt Jesus was referring too. Despite the impurities, he knows we have, he still wants to use us so that we will be blessed, people will be saved and He will be gloried.

Now if these beatitudes dissolve from the life of the citizen of God's kingdom they become useless. Not only for God's kingdom but also for the kingdoms of man. 

They would be like Pliable from Pilgrims Progress. Pliable was a neighbor of Christian’s, the main character of Pilgrims Progress, who accompanies Christian for a while. After falling in the Slough of Despond, Pliable is discouraged and returns home, only to be mocked by the townsfolk.

The word for "tasteless" is the same Greek word we get for "moron" or fool. That is what we become in the eyes of the world, a fool. Fools are laughed at, mocked and never taken seriously. It's like the drunk in a bar telling people about the saving grace of the blood of Jesus. 

I'm an Uber driver and the other day, on a Saturday night, 4 customers got into my car. I just picked them up from a bar. They were definitely feeling happy, if you know way I mean. One of them had to sit in the front passenger seat. He noticed the cross I had hanging from the rear view mirror. He declared out load that he was Christian. Right away someone from the back seat challenged him. They asked him if he was going to church the next day. The question was asked in a mocking tone. He fell silent. The salt was either gone or he really never had any. 

Maybe that’s the reason why Christianity has been diminishing over the past few centuries. First in Europe. Now in the Americas. The salt of the church and the individuals in the church has been dissolving. We are becoming less flavorful. Instead of truly following Jesus according to the scripture, we’ve created a Jesus in the image of our patriotism and are following him. The world see’s this and does not see becoming a citizen of God’s kingdom as being any better than the kingdoms on man they live in.

Are the impurities of our lives now more prevalent then the salt? Are we asleep in the light?