Monday, June 29, 2015

Known for what I'm "For"

One of the most ludicrous things that come out of Christian's mouths is the statement, "I want people to know what I'm for, not what I'm against."

Really? What are you for?

Rarely, if ever, do such people say. Rather, they spout this nonsense in a spirit of "tolerance," to show everyone how non-judgmental they are (while, essentially judging anyone else who might have come out against whatever the Facebook war is about).

You know what? It's petty. It's juvenile. It's shameful.

The Bible certainly doesn't make that claim. Last I checked, the Ten Commandments have a lot of Thou Shalt Nots! Pretty much saying what God is against, right? Reading through Leviticus there are a lot of descriptions of what God is against, namely the culture, practice and religion of the people of the world. The Bible teaches that God's people have been called out of those ways of living to be set apart to God and that they should follow his ways.

In the whole SCOTUS ruling on same-sex unions, God clearly states He's against that. In fact, He calls it an abomination (Leviticus 18:22).

God also states clearly what He's for: That all should come to repentance because he loves the world!

Christians are called to be the light of the world. Light is gentle and pervading, pushing back darkness. It may be harsh to the person who has been living in night for a long time. But we're not to hide our light. It's our testimony. It's what we're for.

But that same light shows, inherently what we're against. Darkness. We oppose it by our new natures in Christ.

Light is good. Plants and life itself cannot thrive without it.

God wants us to carry His light, both what it's for and against, into the world He loves for the benefit of people, not their harm.

God's light should offer hope to those who repent.

But, it will also reveal judgment to those who don't.

That's just the way it is. In the issue of people's lives and the choices they make, Christians should stand firmly on what God is against, which reveals what He's for. And the issue of what "I" am for or against is really moot. 

Monday, June 15, 2015

Is Jurassic World's Chris Pratt a Christian?

Who didn't love Chris as Emmet in The Lego Commercial, I mean Movie. Or, how he made a movie about a talking tree and racoon accessible! Though I haven't watched the show, he probably demonstrated some considerable talent on Parks & Recreation!

Then, about a year ago I read how he was a Christian. His testimony is that when he and his wife were expecting their son, he was born 9 weeks premature and spent a month in an incubator. As a father, I know how helpless that probably made him feel. He and his wife turned to the Lord in prayer during that time and now celebrate a wonderful, healthy son who they enjoy raising.

Chris is impressive in his general, humble attitude and how he's been outspoken about the need for prayer for sick people and his willingness to go with friend Chris Evans to children's hospitals to provide needed cheer.

While I haven't spent time on his Facebook page, he apparently posts Bible verses there. That's awesome! My guess is he gets more response to that on his than I do on mine, but that's okay. I hope neither of us post things for personal recognition.

Here's the challenge, though. It's easy to talk about 'faith,' 'prayer,' and 'healing.' It's even rewarding to be 'positive' and 'encouraging.' Christians are supposed to be those things!

But, when we say we have our "eye on the prize" that shouldn't mean having beer on Saturday, going to church on Sunday and having fun. As great as all those might be.

The challenge to every one who has been bought with the expensive blood of Christ is to realize that we're in a battlefield that wants to make us neutral. We get all kinds of worldly goods, comfortable houses and efficient cars and we forget to rely on God.

Not saying this is happening with Chris, or anyone else. But it happens to all of us, moment by moment.

It's easy enough to love those who love us. Or our "neighbor." But, do we love our enemies? Do we love those who persecute us and do we do good to them? Do we turn the other cheek, or do we declare, "I'm not going to be a doormat!" Are we willing to stand for truth, though it will cost our lives, and pray lovingly for those who are executing us?

Truth is, none of us can do that. Not unless Jesus Christ is doing it through us.

Saturday, June 13, 2015

An Everlasting Love

Leviticus 6:13 (R. V.) Fire shall be kept burning upon the altar continually; it shall not go out.—Leviticus 6:13 (R. V.) 

THIS is an emblem of the perpetual work of God for man. 

The Love of God.—There never was a time when God did not love. The bush that Moses saw gave no fuel to maintain the holy flame that trembled around it, because the love of God to Israel and to the human race demands no sustenance. Through the ages it burns and will burn; however much indifference and neglect and rejection are heaped upon it, or poured over it, like barrels of water over Elijah’s sacrifice, it never goes out. It is as fresh and vigorous today as ever, and waits to consume your sin and mine; for God is a consuming fire. 

The Intercession of Christ.—As the ages pass, this sacrifice retains its merit. What He did as Priest on the cross, He does as Priest on the throne. It is always “this same Jesus.” What He was, He is, and will be; and as generations of saints bring their gifts to the altar, He takes them, and lifts them up to God, as the fire bears up the substances which are submitted to it. He ever liveth to make intercession; and the fire that burned through the long night in the Tabernacle bore witness to the undimming, unwaning virtue of our Saviour’s work. 

The Ministry of the Holy Ghost.—The fire that was lit on the Day of Pentecost burns still in the Church. There has been no intermission to its presence from the first day till now. Multitudes of unknown sects and persecuted saints have kept that fire burning in the world. On the perpetuity of its existence in our midst depends the constancy of our own love and purity and prayer. If the fire shall never go out in our hearts; if the life in our spirits is indeed ever-lasting—it is because He lives and loves always.

Meyer, F. B. (2011-07-17). Our Daily Homily  (Sermon) Volume 1 (Genesis-Ruth) (Kindle Locations 1314-1327). Heritage Bible Fellowship. Kindle Edition.

Sunday, June 7, 2015

The Revelation Letters

Why is it that whenever a pastor teaches from Revelation chapters 2 and 3, the long, bony finger gets pointed to the faithful in the pews (or theater seating, as the case may be)?

Frankly, it reminds me of the old joke about how a couple will fight over money. Whose money is whose? In the joke, the woman says, "My money is mine and your money is ours!"

I think a similar thing goes on when a pastors and theologians read Revelation 2 and 3, also known as the "letters to the churches." You'll find this caption in most Bibles, but that wasn't there in the original manuscript. That's added to help confuse you (in this case).

Basically, we have a good chunk of the New Testament devoted to letters to churches. Paul writes two letters to the Corinthian church, letters to the church in Rome, to the Ephesian church, the Galatian church, the .... you get the picture. The other epistles (that's letters for you younger folks) are written to Christians, such as the letter Peter writes to those "scattered about..." also translated "those of the dispersion."

Paul writes the to Galatian Christians, chiding them for their poor doctrine, among other things, trying to set them straight (and free) in Christ.

Long story short: there's no shortage of letters written to church members.

There are also "pastoral epistles." Timothy got two letters, Titus got one ... so, there's precedent to write things to pastors, too.

In Revelation John, who is pretty old. Maybe in his 80s, even, has been imprisoned on the island of Patmos to prevent him from spreading the Gospel. It had been maybe around 50 years since he'd seen Jesus ascend to heaven and had been witness to the miraculous events of Pentacost. It's possible, as it is with all of us, that he might have had doubts that threatened his faith, though never shook him. Yet, he probably wondered about what Jesus had said to Peter when Peter asked what would become of him. Jesus had said, "what is it to you if he should remain until I return?"

All these thoughts might have run through the old apostle's mind when suddenly, Jesus, in glory as bright as the sun appeared before him. He granted him visions that he instructed him to write down and send to the seven churches.

John sees Jesus walking among seven lampstands (or candlesticks, depending on translation) and holding seven stars in his right hand. Then, in Revelation 1:20, Jesus gives John the explanation for the symbolic visions:

The mystery of the seven stars which thou saw in my right hand, and the seven golden candlesticks. The seven stars are the angels of the seven churches: and the seven candlesticks which thou saw are the seven churches.
 This is the key to understand the letters which are contained in the next two chapters. Each letter is addressed to "The angel of the church at ..." And contain positives (in many cases) and negatives (in most cases) all addressing "you" in the singular form. The obvious reading is that these are letters to the "angel of the church" not the "candlestick."

Further proof of this obvious reading is found in Revelation 2:5, to the 'angel of the church of Ephesus":

Remember therefore from whence thou art fallen, and repent, and do the first works; or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will remove thy candlestick out of his place, except thou repent.
 If Jesus were dictating a letter to the 'candlestick,' or the church members, he wouldn't use the singular 'thy' or remove the candlestick, which is the church. Some believe it means the church will no longer exist in Ephesus. Which happened a few hundred years later (leading some commentators to suggest that "they" repented and then fell prey to sin later on).

But then, there's Revelation 3:1:

“And to the angel of the church in Sardis write: ‘The words of him who has the seven spirits of God and the seven stars. “‘I know your works. You have the reputation of being alive, but you are dead.
 And Revelation 3:3:
Remember, then, what you received and heard. Keep it, and repent. If you will not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what hour I will come against you.
 But then, in Revelation 3:4:
Yet you have still a few names in Sardis, people who have not soiled their garments, and they will walk with me in white, for they are worthy.
 Reading this with the understanding that the stars are the 'angels' or messengers to the churches, and the letter is to the 'angel,' Jesus is saying that the 'angel' has a reputation of being alive, but is dead.

**Just and aside, here, since I'm this deep in, 'angel' is considered an "interpretive challenge" because no where else in the Bible is the word used to mean anything other than celestial, angelic beings. Some have speculated that the angels here are like "guardian angels" of the churches. But that raises some crazy issues. These angels seem to be ministering to the churches (lampstands) and are held in Jesus' right hand. If we follow the meaning set out in chapter 1, the letters are clearly written to the angels, and Jesus is indicating they need to repent. Which would mean, if they are celestial beings, that we have fallen angels adopting and allowing false doctrine and sin in the churches they're ministering to. Having angels repent raises other theological issues that are better kept for late nights in college dorms at Christian colleges--if they still do that sort of thing. Simply put, the common interpretation is that the 'angels' are actually the pastors of those churches.**

Back to the story! So, this pastor at Sardis is known as being ALIVE! ALIVE! ALLLLLIVE! But, actually, he's dead, no lightning bringing him to semblance of life. Jesus can only be talking about his spiritual condition (unless we want to go off the rails here). And spiritual death is ... not good.

Look at verse 3! He tells the pastor to remember what he received (presumably the Gospel) and repent! The way this comes across to me is that he has a reputation of being a true Christian, but he's not!

Not convinced? Read verse 4. There are a few that have white garments and are 'worthy.'

We know that it is only the works that are done by the Holy Spirit that are worthy sacrifices, so these are true, spiritually alive members of the pastor's congregation.

So, is this all bad news for the pastors? No, not all.

See Revelation 3:11 to the pastor of the church at Philadelphia (not America, by the way):

I am coming soon. Hold fast what you have, so that no one may seize your crown.
 That 'your' in this verse is also singular. The pastor will receive a crown for his ministry at this church.

At the end of each letter, though, Jesus says encouraging things for everyone.

He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who conquers I will grant to eat of the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God.’ Revelation 2:7
He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who conquers I will give some of the hidden manna, and I will give him a white stone, with a new name written on the stone that no one knows except the one who receives it.’ Revelation 2:17
But to the rest of you in Thyatira, who do not hold this teaching, who have not learned what some call the deep things of Satan, to you I say, I do not lay on you any other burden. Only hold fast what you have until I come. The one who conquers and who keeps my works until the end, to him I will give authority over the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron, as when earthen pots are broken in pieces, even as I myself have received authority from my Father. And I will give him the morning star. Revelation 2:24-28
There's more, but you get the idea. The key thing that should NOT be missed is that these warnings, while written to pastors, apply to every believer (just like the pastoral epistles!). But they hold a special place for those who find themselves serving as ministers to a local body within the Church.

To whom more is given, more will be required. Take a moment and read through these chapters again. Note what is being said to the pastors, and what is offered to 'he who has an ear.' 

**Edit: I forgot to check the tense of the "you" and "thou" in the epistles, which are clearly marked, "to the church at..." or to "all the brethren ..." etc. Those are second person, singular, too. So, the obvious reading is to follow the context. In the Revelation letters, as in the epistles, they are addressed at the outset, "To the angel of the church at ..." Similarly, the pastoral epistles are addressed to the people to whom they are sent (i.e. Timothy, Titus, Philemon...).

Interestingly, in the Revelation letters, we have "To the angel of the church at..." then "he who has an ear let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches ..." and then a message follows that. 
*Blue Letter Bible I've added this link for added study for verb tense, etc.

Another resource for study is here and has charts showing interpretations for and against, etc. It also notes the verb tense, but mistakenly states that some of the sins could not be personal, but only reflect the wider church. I don't think the sins that are charged against the pastors have to be a wider sin, but most certainly are, based on context. The key thing to note, for pastors, is that they are being held responsible for their sins as they lead people in the church and end up allowing the errors that their own sinful permission has granted.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

The Image of God

With all the discussion about Bruce Jenner, the former Olympic athlete, I really found the whole debate odd. Is he a messed up guy? Yes. Evidently he was in Playgirl magazine way back when. He has been married a few times and, his Kardashian family is not known for chaste and holy living.

What shocks me is how the debate over his hormone and surgical alterations has centered on whether or not he looks good dressed up as a woman. Or, whether or not he's truly a supporter of the LGBT community!

None of that matters.

In fact, no one should be looking at Bruce Jenner and rendering judgment as if we, too, are not broken, fallen and in need of God's grace. In keeping with our nosy, gossip-driven culture, Bruce, the Kardashians, Paris Hilton, etc. are just popular examples of the fact that our world, our human race is corrupt! Their ludicrous behavior, the hurt they cause to one another, the ghastly tabloid coverage of what appears to be a virtual freak-show of humanity, and the lurid interest that society devotes to it, points to our need for new life and a renewal of our minds.

Genesis tells us that we were created in the image of God. But, after Adam chose to sin, choosing to eat the forbidden fruit with his wife rather than stand in obedience to God, that image was twisted. What was pure and good became broken, needing repair.

It is this brokenness that TMZ reports on for our culture's entertainment. It's our brokenness that finds pleasure in measuring how much worse everyone else is compared to us.

In all of this, there is only one question that needs to be answered: Does Bruce Jenner's life, his choices, actions and words, bring glory to God? Does he bring honor to the one in whose image he has been created?

This is the same question Vanity Fair editors need to answer. It's the same question you and I need to answer.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

God's Wealth

God wants us to have a successful, thriving life! The problem many have is that they hear that and think of the flesh of this boot-camp life. What our fallen nature considers "success" or "blessing" is always material things and physical comforts. So many "pastors" will say that God wants you to be "happy" or to live a "bountiful" life. And they get all sorts of support from people who like to hear that.

Who doesn't like to get a cool fortune cookie sermon that claims God is going to pamper us with wealth and health here and now. But, we know that AT NO TIME IN THE BIBLE did any of the true followers of Christ or the faithful prophets of the O.T. EVER enjoy health and wealth in their lifetime. Actually, quite the opposite.

Quick shout-out to Hebrews chapter 11 and the reference to those of whom the world is not worthy.

No, God isn't promising wealth, health, prosperity in the way the world expects. God isn't that cheap.
Satan, now he's the villain who points to the forbidden fruit of self-gratification and says, "God actually WANTS you to have this, but he's testing you to see if you'll reach out and take it." And once we've bought the lie that this life is about being "comfortable," we're pierced with so many sorrows and faith becomes a fairy tale that we use to shield ourselves from a harsh reality.

What God actually is giving us is far greater. God wants us to live for real.

What does that mean?

It means that we recognize how sinful we are, by our nature. It means we confess our pitiful state, which is actual death, an inability to raise a finger to please God (which is the purpose for which He created us).It means we let Jesus' perfect sacrifice pay for our debt of sin and rebellion against God, pinning our sinful self to the cross with Him. It means dying to those natural impulses of sinful behavior that used to rule us before we awoke to our deathly state.

It means rising again with Him in true life, pure, spiritual life that has new ambitions of glorifying God.

Finally, it means ascending with Him, being in the very presence of God by virtue of our representative, Jesus Christ.

When this is a reality, the things of this world (money, fame, worry, concerns of longevity or physical needs) fade away. We know who has bought us. We know the intense love of God that will provide for us, even during poverty, suffering, terminal sickness and persecution. We know that our future is secure.

No pithy fortune cookie faith can compare to such a powerful wealth that God has given me.

He's offering it to everyone.