More on Ezekiel’s temple

So another year goes by and here I am again pondering Ezekiel’s temple!

 

Here are links to some good articles explaining the diffiulties of Ezekiel’s temple being either the first (Solomon’s), the 2nd (Ezra’s), or Herod’s. And why it couldn’t be the temple in the eternal state. I am apparently not the only one who finds a symbolic interpretation a bit hard to swallow 🙂

 

This article explains that Ezekiel’s temple (which he calls the third temple) will require vast topographical changes and will be as big as the entire city of Jerusalem. Since such a state has not existed and we don’t see it now, we must assume it is for some future time and so will remain sealed until that time when “the earth shall be filled with the knowledge of G-d, as the waters that cover the sea” (Isaiah 11:9). https://www.templeinstitute.org/future_temple.htm

 

EZEKIEL’S TEMPLE — WHAT? WHEN? WHY? http://www.rj-anderson.com/docs/temple.html

 

Is Ezekiel 40-48 Prophecy Concerning Temple Literal, Figurative or both?   http://biblestudydata.com/moodle/mod/page/view.php?id=153

 

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Hope in death

Last year I lost a friend and a brother. When I saw him in early December 2012 he wanted his blood pressure checked and said he had been sick for 2 months and wasn’t getting better. He seemed mystified as to the cause and keep exclaiming about how fatigued he was. He’s lost a lot of weight and I was shocked at how small his voice was. Now mind you, it was still morning and he had just arrived from the mountains on the back of a motorbike so may have been a bit hoarse from that. I checked his BP which was high. He said he’d been to the village clinic up there and they had checked his blood for cholesterol, sugar, etc and put him on BP medicine/ He told me all his symptoms and I thought it sounded like hepatitis. Later that day I went to town and got some vitamins and some herbal liver thing and more BP medicine. A few days later he went to town to see a doctor and had an ultrasound and a chest x-ray. He had multiple abnormalities – enlarged liver, intestines, prostate and aorta – so I was a bit unsure as to what might be the underlying problem.

I left a week later and sometime after that he was hospitalized for a week. They gave him intravenous antibiotics but it didn’t seem to do anything so the doc sent him home and said he couldn’t do anything more  for him. He told the sister that the test results showed a “hole” in the liver and the upper intestine.

By January he’s not eating, but having pain attacks day and night. The No people don’t hold back when they are in pain. So it means everybody else in the tiny house is involved in the attacks. I suggested they ask the clinic for pain medicine but he said he’s tired of medicine made by man’s brain and will just trust God to do what He is going to do. Can’t argue with that I guess.

A month later….
empty_tomb1
He continued to decline. Various people had visited, some even strangers who came because of a mutual friend. Many brought some herbal or other “medicine”. He dutifully tried them all though none helped and some seemed to even make him worse. Near the end he was having more pain attacks and was unable to eat. He became very agitated and spoke of fear of dying because of his sins. I texted some verse references to his sister, verses speaking of God’s love, His provision of forgiveness for all who confess their sin and believe in Him. Jesus has promised that whoever believes in Him, though he die yet shall he live.  God doesn’t lie, His promises are true, if we confess our sins He is faithful and just and will forgive us. It’s a promise. His sister read those passages to him in their language. Somehow, they sunk deep in his heart and he changed. It was as if all he had heard in church over the years finally made sense, he finally understood. His family says the change was dramatic. He was calm and peaceful. And several times over the last few days of his life he marvelled that there is nothing more mportant in this life than trusting in God. It was a very difficult death for the family seeing a strong healthy man in the prime of life whittled down and emaciated in such a short time. But his testimony during his last days was a bright and shining hope in the midst of an otherwise unendurable situation.

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Who saw it coming?

I was just commenting a few weeks ago to a friend how that back when I was a kid we’d hear sermons at church about prophecies of the end times from the book of Revelation. We’d wonder what it would be like? Since then we’ve had books like the The Late Great Planet Earth  and later the Left Behind series. People put forth all sorts of ideas. We read about the beasts, the antichrist. Some older literature says that the beast will be the Popes or the Catholic religion. Some thought it would be communism or some future political power arising from a unified Europe. Others suggested a literal rebuilding of the old city of Babel in Iraq, others have suggested a revived Islamic empire. No one imagined that it might be America…

We read about a great apostasy. We imagined some external enemy – communists, maybe secular humanists, New Agers, or more recently, Muslims, coming after Christians, coercing people to join them. But we never imagined  what is happening now. We never imagined the destruction would come from within the church itself. We didn’t forsee the transformation into entertainment centers, run by secular business principles. Nor did we imagine the mysticism, occultism, and feel-good fairy tales that would replace sound Bible teaching. We didn’t imagine that worship would be replaced with sensual musical performances. Or that doing good deeds would replace the need for a Savior.

Who knew?

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The school above the wind

4/27/2013
It was Friday night, the night of power. The full moon was hidden behind thick clouds in the windless tropical night. The sky to the west was bright with the lights of the city far below.
It had been a busy week at the small school house on the top of the mountains east of the city. The students had finished the national exams on Monday and the teacher had been busy filling in for the other teachers who hadn’t made it up the grueling motopathq2rcycle road the rest of that week. She lived in a small wooden house on low stilts a 20 minute walk from the school. The kitchen hut was on the ground and a few chickens roosted in baskets tied under the edges of the thatched roof. She finished washing the dishes from her evening meal, blew out the small kerosene lamp in the kitchen and retired to the room up on stilts. There she had a solar charged car battery which could operate a couple of 10 watt fluorescent bulbs plus provide enough power to charge her cell phone or even a laptop. After putting the finishing touches on her lesson preparations, she settled down for the night. But that night she wasn’t sleepy so she switched on the radio to listen to a program in a local language that starts at 9pm.
She became aware of something big and heavy moving on the tin roof of her house, but at first didn’t pay much attention to it because she was busy answering a text. Then the sound came closer to where she was laying and it got louder, rattling the metal roofing. She jumped up and down on the bamboo floor to shake the house to try to scare whatever it was away. But it didn’t go away. She went outside to see what it was but couldn’t see anything even in the bright moonlight.
She went back inside and lay down again. But the sound occurred again. She opened the door and there was the wooden board for barring the door hanging there. The third time she didn’t go out. In fact she couldn’t move, it was as if she was paralyzed. Whatever was on the roof seemed to slither along the roof and sounded for all the world like a giant python snake. She began to pray. It occurred to her that it was something evil sent by someone “playing” with black magic, someone who had studied at the “school above the wind”. She told the thing that she has done nothing to the one who sent it and it should go back to the one who called it forth. And it vanished. [She texted me at midnight and asked me to pray]. It took her a long to get to sleep as she lay thinking about what had happened.
The next afternoon after school she hurriedly cooked, bathed, fed the chickens and ate her own dinner while there was still daylight. Her brother usually lives in a hut nearby but he is down in the lowlands at the moment so there are no nearby neighbors. She’s a bit nervous about being alone this night but says she remembers David’s plea for protection and vindication in Psalm 7. And she is remembering how her prayer for deliverance last night was instantaneously granted. I told her I would pray too that she would sleep like a log.

So Lord, please give her Your sweet peace and a refreshing night’s sleep.

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Ezekiel’s temple

Does anybody else ever wonder what Ezekiel’s vision of a temple is all about? Every year in my reading I come to the end of the book of Ezekiel and read the description of Ezekiel’s temple and wonder again what it’s all about. It’s difficult to wade through because my version uses cubits which requires mathematical calculation into something I can understand. In fact I’ve started jotting modern measurements in the margin to make the reading easier next time!

As far as I can tell no one credibly claims that such a temple has ever been built.  So why then are  9 chapters (Ez 40-48) devoted to it? Is it something that is supposed to be built some day? There are no commands to anyone to do so.

Last year I looked at a commentary that had a write up on it. That author acknowledged that no temple like it had ever been built. He noted that it focused mostly on horizontal layout and didn’t even give vertical dimensions for anything but the gates, nor did it mention much about furnishings, or useage. He held a symbolic view of the temple as opposed to a literal view. He opined that therefore the whole 9 chapters was speaking to us about sacred spaces and their importance. Er, maybe, but what exactly is it telling us about sacred spaces and their importance??? Unfortunately he didn’t elaborate.

This year I decided to do a lttle more research and did a web search, specifically on images. Right away some interesting sites popped up. Paul Jablonowski has an online book Sons to Glory . I don’t know what the rest of the book is about but there is one chapter with pictures of a scale model of Ezekiel’s temple that was built by the author after much study of the passage.

Another was a page entitled “Ezekiel’s temple” at Lambert Dolphin’s site (which seems to be off-line at the moment)  and a third was “Will Another Jewish Temple Be Built?”.  These sites offered a much more intriguing view of these chapters beyond merely a vague notion of sacred spaces.  They argue for a literal interpretation, that is, they see it as a plan for a temple that will be built some day, probably by the Messiah, probably during the Millenium.

This too brings up questions such as what is the purpose of all the meat hooks and tables and sacrifice equipment? Would there be sacrifices again? Why? This temple also has windows, unlike any previous temple.

Here’s a new site: Ezekiel’s Temple  which has a cool video tour too. They seem to think the outer court will be lined with restaurants! Hmmm….

 

The measurements given are good enough to construct models, even though it seems that there is not much agreement on exactly what this temple is or when or where it is to be built.

 

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People don’t know they are corrupt

News headlines these days are full of cries of graft and corruption. For weeks now we have been hearing about the impeachment trial of the Chief Justice. I didn’t keep tabs on all the details but noted plenty of indignant denunciations by local citizens.

News from the neighboring country is also usually full of this or that government or business person being accused of graft, corruption etc. The president recently  made the comment that perhaps many people do not know that they are corrupt. Although ridiculed by pundits, I actually think he is on to something.

You say, how can you possibly not know you are corrupt? Well, for one thing it seems that most people assume corruption and fraud can only involve enormous amounts of money.  We usually do not consider that things we ourselves do might also qualify.

For example, in  my former residence it is expected that you have to pay unlisted “expediting fees” for government services in addition to what is already posted. Only the crazy  foreigners think this is something aberrant. Teachers and other civil servants are often at the mercy of higher level government officials who can delay promotions, pocketing the extra salary for months or even years. They can decide that everyone’s salary will be docked to support a Quran-chanting contest, or, in the past, to support the official political party in power. The governor has an annual dinner for prominent businessmen in the city at which they are informed what their “contribution” will be for the next year. (Don’t pay it and just watch  how fast your permits won’t be processed!)  The central government can earmark money or a vehicle for a certain orphanage or school  but a local official may just “decide” that it should go to someone completely different. At the village level, livelihood projects such as donated tractors, rice mills, etc which are intended for a community, all too often become the property of the village head or his relatives.

For years a committee was collecting funds to build a mosque and they never seemed to be able to start building (because they kept “borrowing” the money.) After several years the governor got mad at them and asked if he needed to assign a Christian to be the treasurer. But Christians aren’t always exempt either. There are plenty of cases of people “borrowing” church funds or otherwise profiting. I personally know of a committee that went to town to buy plastic chairs for their church and came back with receipts that were inflated by 25%. Guess who pocketed the difference? Indeed this seems to be a common practice everywhere – when I ask for a receipt shopkeepers in turn often ask  how  much they should write down on it.

When natural disasters hit a few years ago, no one seemed to think anything of it when those collecting relief supplies helped themselves to some before sending them on to the ship. The drivers also took their share. So did the dock workers, the ship’s crew and those who unloaded at the other end. Everybody along the way took their share. You can’t help but wonder how much ever actually ended up being given to the victims. Even on site, victims complained that they were given one small box of food  per family while the military got one box per family member– and most of them didn’t even have their families with them. (What did they do with the extra? They sold it to to shop keepers for cash who then resold it to the people.)

And in my home country where people have long prided themselves on their clean system, people have been vilifying bankers and politicians for graft and corruption for the last three years. A few weeks ago I read very interesting article called “Psychology of Fraud: Why Good People Do Bad Things”  which presentes a case history of a “good” guy who ended up jailed for fraud

How many of us see that what we do is the exact same thing, even though on a much lower monetary scale? When people pilfer from their employer (even just pens, paper, TP, food, whatever) who thinks of themselves as being corrupt? No, no, that’s those other folk over there who have stashed millions or billions in banks somewhere.

What do all these people have in common? They are all experts in justification.

Jane Doe can rip TP off her employer – she rationalizes that they have lots and it’ll save her  a nickel. The military guy figures he’s on hardship duty, he can use the extra cash to send home to the wife and kids.   The truck drivers, dockworkers, ship’s crew after all don’t earn much and since they had to handle all this shouldn’t they be entitled to some too? The same for the mosque and church committes – don’t they deserve some perks for their hard work after all? And the village head feels he should be able to divert a tractor so his son will have a livelihood. And if I can sell slightly smaller “liters” of rice or kerosene or whatever, I can make extra profit. There is no end to mankind’s excuses and justification. We howl and complain when others get away with it, but when we do it we just don’t see it.

I really do think that president is on to something.

Every man’s way is right in his own eyes. (Proverbs 21:2a)

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Catching up

No blogging doesn’t mean nothing’s happening! It often means lots of travel and lots of work. It can also mean being sick or having no power or internet connection. Sometimes it’s just being in a funk or experiencing cognitive dissonance moving among  all my worlds. There’s a LOT happening, in every area, from all directions. Some is really, really inspiring – some is really, really disheartening.  Since I have a little time the next few weeks I’ll see what I can do to catch up a bit. Below are a couple of posts I found  on my hard drive to get started…

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Flash Mud Flood

On December 3, 2011 a strange flood swept through a mountain village, killing six people, destroying 36 houses, severely damaging another 150. The English news said it had been raining  a lot causing a a flash flood. But according to the locals, it wasn’t a normal flood, it was a cold mud “eruption” from under the ground. It just suddenly happened, shooting boulders and mud up in the air as high as a tree according to a witness resting in a hut on a nearby hillside. The eruption site was in a small valley upsteam not near any houses but the huge boulders and mud overflowed into a stream bed flooding a series of hamlets downstream.  They said something similar had happened about 100 years ago according to their ancestors. A geologist in the area advised them to move and not to rebuild the village as he said the same thing could happen within the next 20 years and so it would not be worth rebuilding on the same site. Of course, resettling hundreds of people is not such an easy thing to do! Meanwhile the government, the Salvation Army, and other relief groups have been bringing food, clothes, and other supplies such as shovels, buckets, and tools. The following is a video taken with a cell phone by a relief worker bringing in supplies. As of today (March 12) many are still living in tents or with relatives in other villages nearby.

 

See also http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v5MLnwqVqO0

 

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Salad Sermon

(6-13-11)

Today we had a salad sermon. Take some chopped up business principles. Add some pop psychology. Throw in a handful of Bible verses. Sprinkle liberally with pithy sayings. Voila! A salad sermon.

The title was Artificial vs Authentic Leadership and was supposed to be based on John 13:1-17 where Jesus washed the disciples’ feet. First he showed pictures of several famous or infamous people and asked what they had in common. He had to tell us the answer – influence. Then he had to define leadership as having influence on others. Rambled on a bit about many people don’t have position and title so they don’t develop their leadership skills. Then he defined artificial leadership as hiding behind fear, timidity, and wanting to be served. (Huh?) The artificial leader draws people’s attention to himself. But a Christian should draw people’s attention to Christ and should be a 1) mirror of leadership (mirroring Christ presumably?) and a 2) model of leadership. Then a longish discussion of models and some verses about not conforming to the world, being renewed in image of creator, being conformed to image of Christ. [I think cognitive dissonace hit me here and I started feeling like, what? what!!?] Then he started listing 7 principles. It was discombobulating as some of them seemed to be the same.

1.Submits to God’s timing.
2. demonstrates whole hearted love (followed by an almost incomprehensible discussion of partial love and that in verse 1 Jesus showed the full extent of His love as if somehow it really was connected.)
3. secure in God’s authority and not his own. (Huh?)
4. God centered and not man centered. Corollary – so we should value relationships above all else. (Say what??????!)
5. practices what he preaches
6. walks in holiness before God (and that doesn’t apply to ALL believers?)
7. models the Master

Interspersed were various pithy sayings such as “What we worship is what we are becoming” “Don’t give up, give in to God” “God’s not calling us to make butt prints, but foot prints” etc, etc. (He really liked that last one as he must have repeated it about 5 times.)
I quit taking notes at this point because I was ready to cry or scream or something. And he kept repeating the butt prints – and had to explain what it meant.

It use to be that people went to church to learn about the Bible and how God views things. Then we were supposed to go out and try to apply that to our lives in the world. But now it seems we bring the world’s view of things into the church and try to fit it into the Bible.
And I come out feeling confused and, well, cheated – cuz I wasn’t challenged to think of God or His glory, nor His amazing grace, love, or power. At all.

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Sobering

In few countries is the failure of Christian humanism more apparent than in Thailand. There, after 150 years of missionaries showing marvelous social compassion, Christians still make up only two percent of the entire population. Self-sacrificing missionaries probably have done more to modernize the country than any other single force. Thailand owes to missionaries its widespread literacy, first printing press, first university, first hospital, first doctor, and almost every other benefit of education and science. In every area, including trade and diplomacy, Christian missionaries put the needs of the host nation first and helped usher in the 20th century. Meanwhile, millions have slipped into eternity without the Lord. They died more educated, better governed, and healthier—but they died without Christ and are bound for Hell.
– K.P. Yohannan

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Experience Trumps Scripture

A recent case of a minister “acquitted” of violating church constitution for marrying his same sex partner.

His defense?

He suggested that Presbyterians not begin with the Bible when addressing the issue.

“In our debates in the Presbyterian Church over homosexuality, if we begin with the Bible, we will likely reach a polarized stalemate,” he wrote. “Bible discussions are too often divisive. When we begin with the Bible, we are not beginning with a natural place for all of us.”

Rather than the Bible, the beginning point for discussions on homosexuality, he maintained, should be “the personal experiences we all share.”

While Protestants always look to God’s word to guide them, Barron contended that Scripture is not the only source of moral authority.

“We also look to the continuing revelation of God in our experiences in history and tradition, in science, in reasoning, and in everyday events to guide us. Scripture and experience both must guide our moral decision-making. And reliance on one without the other can be dangerous and offensive,” he stated. (http://www.christianpost.com/news/presbyterian-panel-acquits-gay-minister-49235/)

He couldn’t have said it more clearly. When Scripture is not our moral authority, our experience and reasoning can justify anything.

 

 

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Porn

Porn is a growing world-wide problem – even at the ends of the earth. As more people have TVs and DVD players and especially as internet technology  spreads, so does pornography’s destructive reach. This poem by an anonymous lady describes one of the destructive side-effects of porn. It needs to be read far and wide. Found at http://www.challies.com/quotes/i-looked-for-love-in-your-eyes#comment-52195

“I Looked For Love in Your Eyes.”

I saved my best for you.
Other girls may have given themselves away,
But I believed in the dream.
A husband, a wife, united as one forever.

Nervous, first time, needing assurance of your love,
I looked for it in your eyes
Mere inches from mine.
But what I saw made my soul run and hide.

Gone was the tenderness I’d come to know
I saw a stranger, cold and hard
Distant, evil, revolting.
I looked for love in your eyes
And my soul wept.

Who am I that you cannot make love to me?
Why do I feel as if I’m not even here?
I don’t matter.
I’m a prop in a filthy play.
Not an object of tender devotion.

Where are you?

Years pass
But the hardness in your eyes does not.
You think I’m cold
But how can I warm to eyes that are making hate to someone else
Instead of making love to me?

I know where you are.
I’ve seen the pictures.
I know now what it takes to turn you on.
Women…people like me
Tortured, humiliated, hated, used
Discarded.
Images burned into your brain.
How could you think they would not show in your eyes?

Did you ever imagine,
The first time you picked up a dirty picture
That you were dooming all intimacy between us
Shipwrecking your marriage
Breaking the heart of a wife you wouldn’t meet for many years?

If it stopped here, I could bear it.
But you brought the evil into our home
And our little boys found it.
Six and eight years old.
I heard them laughing, I found them ogling.

Hands bound, mouth gagged.
Fisheye photo, contorting reality
Distorting the woman into exaggerated breasts.
The haunted eyes, windows of a tormented soul
Warped by the lens into the background,
Because souls don’t matter, only bodies do
To men who consume them.

Little boys
My little boys
Laughing and ogling the sexual torture
Of a woman, a woman like me.
Someone like me.

An image burned into their brains.

Will their wives’ souls have to run and hide like mine does?
When does it end?

I can tell you this. It has not ended in your soul.
It has eaten you up. It is cancer.
Do you think you can feed on a diet of hatred
And come out of your locked room to love?

You say the words, but love has no meaning in your mouth
When hatred rules in your heart.
Your cruelty has eaten up every vestige of the man
I thought I was marrying.
Did you ever dream it would so consume you
That your wife and children would live in fear of your rage?

That is what you have become
Feeding your soul on poison.

I’ve never used porn.
But it has devastated my marriage, my family, my world.

Was it worth it?

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Oblivious to God’s provision, love, and authority

A friend working in a formerly communist country in Europe, recently made this comment:

English camp this past week was a great treat for me – getting out in the woods, teaching, and spending time praying and sharing the gospel with young people who are oblivious to God’s provision, love, and authority.  It nearly bowls me over to realize how lost this country is.

I work at the opposite end of the earth and was just thinking a similar  thing, that so many people do live as though they were oblivious to God’s provision, love, and authority. Here the problem is not communism. In fact, everyone here has to have a religion by government mandate. Most consider themselves followers of a certain prophet though a significant minority claim to be followers of Jesus. Here they all believe in God but it often seems to be more of a preventive belief, ie do certain rituals just in case so that God won’t be angry and send disaster. It seems that in all religions there are a number of people who in essence rewrite their religions to suit themselves. One prophet follower said that she didn’t want to study her religion too much because the more you know the more you are responsible to do.  Another friend told me that recently some in her village church have been challenging those who oppose the use of black magic by saying things like “How do you know we should do such and so? How many times have you been to heaven and back?”

I was in my home country a few months ago and it was shocking to me how commonly accepted it is now to not only use profanity in the media but to openly mock people who believe in God and to mock even God Himself. Even some who claim to be Christians seem to have their own ideas of “God”, they in essence create a god according to their liking and not according to what He has revealed in Scripture.

The internet is full of websites, Youtube videos,  and commentary by people who don’t seem to have made much of an effort to study the Bible themselves but yet wax eloquent on how it is all fiction and how organized religion  is just a racket to control people. Instead they hold up other ideas that have far less concrete evidence for them and declare them as fact.

All of the above are oblivious to God’s provision, love, and authority. All of them show a profound ignorance of the Bible, from the formerly communist Europeans to the functionally illiterate Asian peasants to the highly literate but Biblically-ignorant internet bloggers and writers  of the English-speaking world.

Is the problem functional illiteracy? If everyone were literate and had the Bible in a language they could understand, would they all believe?  If people worked hard to broadcast radio programs and to bring Bibles into communist lands for people to read, would all believe? Never before have so many Bibles and helps in so many forms – written, audio, paper, digital – been available to the average person in the English-speaking world. Do all believe?  Many do believe and delight in being able to study God’s Word in such depth. But not all. Indeed, perhaps never before has there been such public scorn for God as there is now.

Jesus explained our condition to Nicodemus in John 3 like this:

19     “This is the judgment, that the Light has come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the Light, for their deeds were evil.      20     “For everyone who does evil hates the Light, and does not come to the Light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. ”

We all start out like that. For most of us the problem is not that we can’t read, not that we don’t have access to a Bible but that we simply don’t want to know. The problem is, we don’t want to acknowledge that our deeds are evil, we want to think we are good. We reject God’s authority – we want to write our own rules according to our own desires. We think we are the ones who order the world and provide by our own efforts. And we like to think that love, especially divine love, means uncritical acceptance of any and all behavior – even though we ourselves would never think of  “loving” our own children that way.

We are experts in coming up with all kinds of excuses and we especially like to blame other people – Christianity is the religion of the colonizer, the evil capitalists, and the evil West. The institutional Church is corrupt and has been used to control people. There are too many hypocrites in the church, too many abusive clergy.  All those accusations have some truth to them. But it was not God who commanded us to colonize, to be corrupt or to control other people, nor to be hypocrites, or to abuse others. He didn’t ask us to believe in an organization, or in people who say they are religious. Instead He has  commanded us each and individually to repent and believe the gospel. That is, to repent and to trust in what God has done for us, namely that Jesus Christ who was perfectly sinless died and has atoned for our sin, appeasing God’s wrath against our sin thus making it possible for us to have eternal life and fellowship with God Himself. Now THAT is a good deal!

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Empires come and go

Challenging words for American believers from Paul Proctor:

….As if our declining economy and currency weren’t enough to bear, we Americans are losing our country as well, along with all the rights, freedoms, privileges and responsibilities that came with being a citizen. In fact, it would appear the United States no longer belongs to its citizens. Even the word “citizen” has lost its meaning here. No, our country belongs to men of great wealth, power and privilege who rule from the shadows, recognize no borders and fear little in life but the light of truth.

From the pew to the pulpit – from Main Street to Wall Street and from the voting booth to Capitol Hill – it’s mostly a charade now – driven by “the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life.” (1st John 2:16)

Should we be surprised? After all, this isn’t the Garden of Eden – nor is it the Promised Land. That means we have no eternal guarantee from God that He’ll sustain us as a nation indefinitely though He did give warning long ago about the hell that awaits nations that forget Him. But, as great and powerful as America once was, I have yet to find any mention of it in scripture. That ought to be humbling and a little disquieting for professing Christians here.

You see, empires come and go. History has taught us that their “15 minutes of fame” is a little over two hundred years which means America has statistically run its course.

So, what do we do now?

Do we take up the sword and our own perceived morality to exact vengeance on those we believe are to blame for the fall of our kingdom or do we take up our cross and follow Jesus to His?

(http://www.newswithviews.com/PaulProctor/proctor189.htm)

The challenge, as I see it, is to face the brutality of reality with an unwavering faith in God and great expectations for eternity – to find joy and gratitude even in our sorrow and grief – not as orphans without a home, but as adopted children of the King, knowing our Father in Heaven still lives and reigns with or without the America we grew up in.

“To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven:” – Ecclesiastes 3:1

http://www.newswithviews.com/PaulProctor/proctor191.htm

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Name-calling, ostracizing, ridiculing

Interesting post at Herescope in light of  many people’s concern about an increasing intolerance of Biblical Christianity.  Exerpt:

Preparing for suffering is an anomaly in our modern era, particularly since we are so offended at suffering. If we can’t handle the minor stigmas, scorn, rejections, psycho-social and peer-driven mechanisms that cause others to reproach us for the cause of Christ, how can we possibly handle the rougher waters of outright persecution? If we are so readily charmed, schmoozed, persuaded and cajoled into compromises of our faith, how shall we endure? And if we fear and avoid the little darts of name-calling, ostracizing, ridiculing, and other socially punitive pressures, then how shall we stand when the real arrows start flying? Each must answer honestly: How am I seeking to avoid personal suffering? How am I offended by the Gospel? How am I seeking to distance myself from the stumbling block of the Cross?

In our era we also have to contend against systemic peer-driven, psycho-social and marketing methods, which often are quite sophisticated. Some tactics might even be considered brainwashing. See Berit Kjos’s key article “Mysticism & Global Mind Change” and follow the links, for example, or her series “Reinventing the World.” How can believers resist these intensive pressures, structural shifts, reinventions and mind-manipulations? Today’s results-driven (outcome-based, purpose-driven) world is intent on rewarding those who are compliant and penalizing those who aren’t. Again, answer honestly: How am I seeking to fit in with the group?

from http://herescope.blogspot.com/2010/01/people-lovers-or-god-pleasers.html  (See original site to access links)

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Idly spent and squandered away

Do we  think that when the day has been idly spent and squandered away by us, we shall be fit to work when the night and darkness come – when our understanding is weak and our memory frail, and by long custom of sinning obstinately bent the wrong way what can we then do in religion? What reasonable or acceptable service can we then perform to God? When our candle is just sinking into the socket how shall our light “so shine before men that they may see our good works”? …I will not pronounce anything concerning the impossibility of a death bed repentance, but I am sure that it is very difficult and, I believe, very rare.

John Tillotson (1630-1694), Sermons

Have times changed???

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Christians, buck up!

Bamboo- the more you cut it, the more it grows.

As I have traveled and talked with a lot of people in the first of my worlds during the last couple of months, many have expressed concern over the way things are going in this country, not just politically and economically but more specifically they find a growing intolerance of the Christian faith. Many feel fearful thinking about what may lie ahead. But today I was challenged that we need to buck up, because we serve a mighty God who is perfectly capable of providing for His own.

Today in Sunday school there was a guy from China speaking. He was apparently raised as an atheist as most Chinese are now days. He said he enjoyed reading western literature (for college?). He noticed there were a lot of quotes from the Bible and references to Jesus in the  literature he was reading. He became curious about the Bible and wanted to get a copy to read. But they had been destroyed during the cultural revolution of 1967-77 and he couldn’t even find a copy in the library. Eventually he did get ahold of an old beat up Bible from a friend, one which had survived the cultural revolution. He read it and began to wonder if maybe there really was a God. He then came in contact with some Christians in one of the Three-Selves church (the gov’t official church) and he became a Christian. A few years later he went to seminary, a Three Selves (3S) church seminary in Nanjing and also studied abroad. Later he became a professor at a seminary and taught for nearly a decade.

There are two kinds of churches in China, the official government sponsored 3S Church (about 15 million people) and the house churches (about 60-70 million). The 3S stands for Self-governing, Self-supporting, Self-propagating. It sounds good but the problem is that it is controlled by communism.

He said that on the surface the 3S church may look to Amerian tourists to be “free” and very similar to American churches with choirs, etc. But the difference is that the 3S churches are government controlled. The government decides who can attend seminary and who can be ordained and even who can be baptized. He said that in the 1990’s came what is called the “reconstruction of theology” movement in the 3S seminaries. It basically changed two things 1) justification by faith and 2) authority of Scripture.

According to this movement, all religions must be compatible with socialist society, and must not be exclusive. So instead of preaching that mankind is sinners and needs to be justified by faith they must preach that the important thing is to be nice to other people. In essence they created a new doctrine: man is justified by love.

The other thing is that they would teach that the Bible is just human words. They are not allowed to preach from Revelation or about the judgment, and not too much about sin.

Anything sounding familiar? It struck me as he talked that perhaps that is where this country is also going – to a centrally controlled or government controlled church, dictating what can and cannot be preached, moving towards a theology of justification by “love” with ridicule, harassment and possibly even persecution for those who do not conform or who believe the Bible is God’s authoratative Word.

He said that he realized that teaching went against the clear teaching of the Bible and eventually he decided that he had to stay true to Scripture and leave the 3S church, and his job. He began meeting in his house with 4 other believers. Eventually they were cramming 60-70 people into their small living room! They divided and became two and those two also eventually divided until now there are 13. He said they focus on Bible training, worship and prayer. They don’t have buildings and they don’t have complex structure.

He also told me later that because of his Hebrew and Greek background he is helping with the new Chinese Standard Bible translation that is being done in simplified Mandarin. The New Testament is now available and the Old Testament is in process.

He didn’t say much about persecution other than to say that it seems less now than it had been in the recent past. When questioned, he said that yes they are monitored, their phones and emails are monitored. He said small groups may stay under the wire as long as they stay small but once a group gets to 100 people or more it gets a lot of attention from the authorities.

One of his companions told me that he doesn’t like to speak about his own persecution, he doesn’t like to think of it as a big deal. But she said he had spent time in prison because he started writing articles against the reconstruction of theology movement. He was also a leader of a group of home churches. When he leaves home he has to always be prepared to possibly not be able to come back. She said he did not call his family on this trip because their phone will be monitored. (I think he will be speaking at a conference next week in Chicago). But his attitude is that he will not be fearful because the God of the universe takes care of him. He will not fear the authorities because he is on the right side and they are the ones in danger.

It is a real encouragement to me to hear Chinese believers like him telling of their ministry and their desire to continue to follow the Lord despite the harassment, and even threat of persecution and imprisonment. I find it humbling and at the same time immensely encouraging and challenging. They have survived communist persecution and thrived. So come on, folks, let’s buck up! Our brothers witness that God is taking care of His children in China. And that same God can certainly take care of His children in this country too, no matter what happens!

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Filed under Apologetics, Bible, Biblical truth, cross-cultural, discernment, God's sovereignty, scripture twisting, signs of the times, sola scritura, suffering

The Jesus of our imagination

I just watched a youtube video of a pastor of a megachurch scolding some members of his congregation for wanting more in-depth Bible teaching. He excoriated them for being “fat” with spiritual knowledge and seemed to assume that that knowledge wouldn’t be used. He said we just need to know “Jesus” and didn’t need to worry about stuff like propitiation or justification but instead we should invite people to  church [presumably his] so they can know “Jesus”. It made me wonder what “Jesus” they will know? Seems to me that justification, propitiation, sanctification, and all those other big words are vital parts of understanding who the Jesus of the Bible is.

A lot of people do seem to be following a Jesus of their imagination. I remember talking with a guy who was cutting my hair who said that as long as you loved everybody and believed in “Jesus” you were okay. He thought people should just live how they wanted to and not be accountable for anything as long as they “loved”. (Unfortunately I have observed that actions which one person thinks of as “love” are not always perceived as “love” by others – but that’s another topic!) A young woman recently justified shacking up with a boyfriend by saying that “Jesus” understands how much she “needs” a man and wouldn’t condemn her for doing that.

Seems to me though, that one of the problems with everybody just imagining a “Jesus” they like, sooner or later somebody’s “Jesus” will conflict with somebody else’s “Jesus”. One “Jesus” is okay with indiscriminately mowing down the enemy combatant and civilian alike saying that “Jesus” will sort them out. Another man’s “Jesus” is okay with aggressive fund raising for a non-existent orphanage. Another person’s “Jesus” becomes the rallying point for political documents, actions, and causes while still others have a “Jesus” who is the rallying point for political documents, actions, and causes which are the polar opposite.

Can the “Jesus” we imagine really save us from the wrath of God? Can a “Jesus” of our imagination transform us? Can we trust a “Jesus” of our imagination? When circumstances change or we become old or sick and our minds and imaginations are numbed with pain, fatigue, weakness, what will become of the “Jesus” of our imagination?

Let us not “imagine” Jesus, let us know Him!

Philippians 3:8-11  What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ  and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ–the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith. 10 I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11 and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead.

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Filed under Apologetics, apostasy, Biblical truth, signs of the times, sola scritura

Even more Bibles

Here are some more I saw at a Christian bookstore:

Grandmother’s Bible

True Identity Bible

The New Women of Color Study Bible

Adventure Bible

Real Life Bible

Young Women of Faith Bible

Super Heroes Bible

Veggie Tales Bible (!)

Kids’ Study Bible

Boys’ Bible

Marine’s Bible

Police Officers’ Bible

Firefighters’ Bible

Soldiers’ Bible

Airman’s Bible

Nurses’s Bible

Bride’s Bible

Groom’s Bible

Oswald Chambers Devotional Bible

Illustrated Family Bible

Explorer’s Study Bible

Family Life Marriage Bible

TD Jakes Holy Bible

Woman Thou art Loosed edition

Spirit-filled Life Bible

Life Principles Bible (Charles Stanley)

Sports Devotional Bible

Celebrate Recovery

Men’s Devotional Bible

Serendipity Bible

The Voice (a new rewrite of the New Testament)

Overwhelmed? Words fail me!

Except for The Voice,  most of the Bibles listed are  standard translations such as NIV, KJV, NKJV, NASB, NRSV, New Living and Holman. They have the Bible text and  primarily vary in covers, notes, highlighting, pictures, colors, reference material, and inserted commentary.

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Bibles, Bibles, and more Bibles

I am back in the US for a couple of months. Yesterday I was hanging around at a Barnes & Noble waiting for a friend. Although they are not a Christian bookstore they had an amazing number of Bibles. I didn’t have any paper with me so just jotted down what I could on the back of a receipt. I got the major ones  – but the list is not exhaustive. Here’s the list:

Transformation Study Bible

Apologetics Study Bible

Chronological Study Bible

KJV/ESV/NKJV/NIV/NLT Study Bibles

Archeological Study Bible

Inductive Study Bible

Application Study Bible

Scofield Study Bible

Ryrie Study Bible

MacArthur Study Bible

Quest Study Bible

Master Study Bible

Essential Study Bible

Teen Study Bible

Stewardship Study Bible

Woman’s Study Bible

Childrens’ Study Bible

American Patriot’s Study Bible

ESV Minister’s Bible

Green Bible

Life Application Bible

African Heritage Bible

Dead Sea Scrolls Bible

Catholic Bible

Catholic Teen Bible

Life Recovery Bible

Expanded Bible

Devotional Bible (Lucado)

Hope for Today Bible (Osteen)

Student Bible

Couples’ Bible

Moms’ Bible

Baby Keepsake Bible

Fire

Everyday Life Bible (Joyce Meyer)

Notetaker’s Bible

Sportsman’s Bible

Stockcar racing Bible

The Message

Life with God Bible (Foster, Willard et al)

Bloom Bible

In addition they had “plain” Bibles of at least the following versions:

KJV, NKJV, NIV, NAB, NLT, NRSV, CEV, ESV, Amplified, LB, Good News (TEV), Philipps, Berkley, TNIV, Jerusalem. Surprisingly, there were no plain NASB. And in the used book section I found a mint condition illustrated Reader’s Digest Condensed version!

I am overwhelmed.

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Troubled days

It seems that many believers in America are troubled these days, not only about the financial crises but also major changes happening in their country at a rate so fast that no one can keep up with it. Many are troubled about the future and what it might hold. Many wonder what they should do to prepare in light of what seems certain to be difficult days ahead.

CCorrie Ten Boomorrie Ten Boom survived some of the worst horrors of World War 2. She knew that those days would be coming again and shared her heart in a letter written in 1974 about the coming tribulation. May you be challenged and encouraged.

“The world is deathly ill.  It is dying.  The Great Physician has already signed the death certificate.  Yet there is still a great work for Christians to do.  They are to be streams of living water, channels of mercy to those who are still in the world.  It is possible for them to do this because they are overcomers.
Christians are ambassadors for Christ.  They are representatives from Heaven to this dying world.  And because of our presence here, things will change.

My sister, Betsy, and I were in the Nazi concentration camp at Ravensbruck because we committed the crime of loving Jews.  Seven hundred of us from Holland, France, Russia, Poland and Belgium were herded into a room built for two hundred.  As far as I knew, Betsy and I were the only two representatives of Heaven in that room.

We may have been the Lord’s only representatives in that place of hatred, yet because of our presence there, things changed.  Jesus said, “In the world you shall have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.”  We too, are to be overcomers – bringing the light of Jesus into a world filled with darkness and hate.

Sometimes I get frightened as I read the Bible, and as I look in this world and see all of the tribulation and persecution promised by the Bible coming true.  Now I can tell you, though, if you too are afraid, that I have just read the last pages.  I can now come to shouting “Hallelujah! Hallelujah!” for I have found where it is written that Jesus said,

“He that overcometh shall inherit all things:
and I will be His God, and he shall be My son.”

This is the future and hope of this world. Not that the world will survive – but that we shall be overcomers in the midst of a dying world. Betsy and I, in the concentration camp, prayed that God would heal Betsy who was so weak and sick.
“Yes, the Lord will heal me,”, Betsy said with confidence. She died the next day and I could not understand it. They laid her thin body on the concrete floor along with all the other corpses of the women who died that day.

It was hard for me to understand, to believe that God had a purpose for all that.  Yet because of Betsy’s death, today I am traveling all over the world telling people about Jesus.

There are some among us teaching there will be no tribulation, that the Christians will be able to escape all this. These are the false teachers that Jesus was warning us to expect in the latter days.  Most of them have little knowledge of what is already going on across the world. I have been in countries where the saints are already suffering terrible persecution.

In China, the Christians were told, “Don’t worry, before the tribulation comes you will be translated – raptured.” Then came a terrible persecution.  Millions of Christians were tortured to death. Later I heard a Bishop from China say, sadly,

“We have failed. We should have made the people strong for persecution, rather than telling them Jesus would come first. Tell the people how to be strong in times of persecution, how to stand when the tribulation comes, – to stand and not faint.”

I feel I have a divine mandate to go and tell the people of this world that it is possible to be strong in the Lord Jesus Christ. We are in training for the tribulation, but more than sixty percent of the Body of Christ across the world has already entered into the tribulation. There is no way to escape it.
We are next.

Since I have already gone through prison for Jesus’ sake, and since I met the Bishop in China, now every time I read a good Bible text I think, “Hey, I can use that in the time of tribulation.”  Then I write it down and learn it by heart.

When I was in the concentration camp, a camp where only twenty percent of the women came out alive, we tried to cheer each other up by saying, “Nothing could be any worse than today.” But we would find the next day was even worse.  During this time a Bible verse that I had committed to memory gave me great hope and joy.

“If ye be reproached for the name of Christ, happy are ye;
for the spirit of glory and of God resteth upon you;
on their part evil is spoken of,
but on your part He is glorified.”
(I Peter 3:14)

I found myself saying, “Hallelujah! Because I am suffering, Jesus is glorified!”

In America, the churches sing, “Let the congregation escape tribulation”, but in China and Africa the tribulation has already arrived. This last year alone more than two hundred thousand Christians were martyred in Africa. Now things like that never get into the newspapers because they cause bad political relations. But I know. I have been there. We need to think about that when we sit down in our nice houses with our nice clothes to eat our steak dinners. Many, many members of the Body of Christ are being tortured to death at this very moment, yet we continue right on as though we are all going to escape the tribulation.

Several years ago I was in Africa in a nation where a new government had come into power. The first night I was there some of the Christians were commanded to come to the police station to register. When they arrived they were arrested and that same night they were executed. The next day the same thing happened with other Christians. The third day it was the same. All the Christians in the district were being systematically murdered.

The fourth day  I was to speak in a little church. The people came, but they were filled with fear and tension. All during the service they were looking at each other, their eyes asking, “Will this one I am sitting beside be the next one killed? Will I be the next one?”

The room was hot and stuffy with insects that came through the screenless windows and swirled around the naked bulbs over the bare wooden benches. I told them a story out of my childhood.

“When I was a little girl, ” I said, “I went to my father and said,
“Daddy, I am afraid that I will never be strong enough to be a martyr for Jesus Christ.”
“Tell me,” said Father, “When you take a train trip to Amsterdam,
when do I give you the money for the ticket? Three weeks before?”

“No, Daddy, you give me the money for the ticket just before we get on the train.”

“That is right,” my father said, “and so it is with God’s strength. Our Father in Heaven knows when you will need the strength to be a martyr for Jesus Christ.
He will supply all you need – just in time…”

My African friends were nodding and smiling.
Suddenly a spirit of joy descended upon that church and the people began singing,

” In the sweet, by and by,
we shall meet on that beautiful shore.”

Later that week, half the congregation of that church was executed. I heard later that the other half was killed some months ago. But I must tell you something. I was so happy that the Lord used me to encourage these people, for unlike many of their leaders, I had the word of God. I had been to the Bible and discovered that Jesus said He had not only overcome the world, but to all those who remained faithful to the end, He would give a crown of life.

How can we get ready for the persecution?

First we need to feed on the Word of God, digest it, make it a part of our being. This will mean disciplined Bible study each day as we not only memorize long passages of scripture, but put the principles to work in our lives.

Next we need to develop a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. Not just the Jesus of yesterday, the Jesus of History, but the life-changing Jesus of today who is still alive and sitting at the right hand of God.

We must be filled with the Holy Spirit. This is no optional command of the Bible, it is absolutely necessary. Those earthly disciples could never have stood up under the persecution of the Jews and Romans had they not waited for Pentecost. Each of us needs our own personal Pentecost, the baptism of the Holy Spirit. We will never be able to stand in the tribulation without it.

In the coming persecution we must be ready to help each other and encourage each other. But we must not wait until the tribulation comes before starting.
The fruit of the Spirit should be the dominant force of every Christian’s life.

Many are fearful of the coming tribulation, they want to run. I, too, am a little bit afraid when I think that after all my eighty years, including the horrible Nazi concentration camp, that I might have to go through the tribulation also.
But then I read the Bible and I am glad.

When I am weak, then I shall be strong, the Bible says. Betsy and I were prisoners for the Lord, we were so weak, but we got power because the Holy Spirit was on us. That mighty inner strengthening of the Holy Spirit helped us through. No, you will not be strong in yourself when the tribulation comes. Rather, you will be strong in the power of Him who will not forsake you. For seventy-six years I have known the Lord Jesus and not once has He ever left me, or let me down.

“Though He slay me, yet will I trust Him”, (Job 13:15) for I know that to all who overcome, He shall give the crown of life. Hallelujah!”
– Corrie Ten Boom – 1974

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What is “Spiritual” Music?

music note

Music is ubiquitous nowdays. You can’t get away from it – it’s in the stores, on public transportation, in the workplace, and the neighborhood, not to mention bars, parties, raffles, malls, etc. Some local churches actually sound like  discos from the outside since you can’t hear words, only  the electronic part.

But music has very different functions and very different “feels” to it. What is it that makes some music spiritual, suitable for Christian worship, and other music not so suitable?

Pastor Larry DeBruyn posted an excellent article on the subject at: http://herescope.blogspot.com/2009/05/spiritual-songs.html

Some exerpts:

Admittedly, the issue to be addressed is as “touchy” as it is “feely.”

Music is “feely” because people “feel” it. In his book Music, The Brain, and Ecstasy, Robert Jourdain wrote of the ecstasy music generates. He states:

Ecstasy melts the boundaries of our being . . . engulfs us in feelings that are “oceanic.” A defining trait of ecstasy is its immediacy . . . Ecstasy happens to our selves. It is a momentary transformation of the knower . . . Music seems to be the most immediate of all the arts, and so the most ecstatic . . . Nonetheless, once we are engulfed in music, we must exert effort to resist its influence. It really is as if some “other” has entered not just our bodies, but our intentions, taking us over.[1]

… Music is “touchy” because all of us have preferences. Some styles of music we like. Others, we dislike. So we associate with people who possess similar tastes. Over the last decades “worship wars” have erupted in local churches over the “touchy” tastes of music, whether they are traditional or contemporary. Congregations divide, even split over tastes. Seemingly, some Christians would rather fight than switch. So to avoid the strife, it’s common for local churches to offer both a contemporary and traditional service, the difference being the style of music that is offered.As one artist states that, “This force . . . is powerful stuff.”[2]

… Music communicates, but its “language” is neither conceptual nor verbal, but experiential. As one bumper sticker put it, “When words fail, music speaks.” As a child, Johnson related, “Before I could articulate my thoughts through speech, I could express my heart through song.”[7] So he wisely concludes, “Music’s power comes from its inherently spiritual nature, and when you find a tool that powerful, you should be careful how you use it.”[8]

……. First, music is about “singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord” (Emphasis Mine, Ephesians 5:19b). Again, we are to sing “with thankfulness in [our] hearts to God” (Emphasis Mine, Colossians 3:16b). Music is not for our entertainment. …  . But worship music shouldn’t be for our pleasure, but for God’s glory, and for this purpose any ole music will not do, for as the prophet told Israel, “Take thou away from me the noise of thy songs; for I will not hear the melody of thy viols” (Amos 5:23). So what kind of music pleases Him?

This brings us to a second observation. Since God is a spirit, “spiritual songs” are those which please Him. Worship should be conducted using “psalms and hymns and spiritual songs” (Emphasis Mine, Ephesians 5:19; Colossians 3:16). We note Paul’s use of the adjective “spiritual.” That he uses the qualifier indicates that all songs are not spiritual. So what makes songs “spiritual”?

…as evident from Paul’s use of the qualifier “spiritual,” we are forced to conclude that not all songs are spiritual. They may be mysterious, magical, mythical, and even mystical, but that does not qualify them as spiritual. Spiritual songs are those which first glorify Christ and then promote unity in the local Body of Christ.

Third, “spiritual songs” are about Christ. Of the Spirit, Jesus said, “When the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, that is the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, He will bear witness of Me . . .” (John 15:26). Music that is truly of the Spirit will be Christocentric. If songs do not draw attention to the Lord Jesus Christ, but primarily to the sound or feel of them, or perhaps to the performing artist, then it must be questioned whether they are spiritual. Authentic spiritual songs are to be about Him, and not for us.

Fourth, spiritual songs are sourced in “the word of Christ” that abundantly indwells God’s children. Spiritual songs spring forth from the heart as they testify and extol the person and work of Jesus. He is to be the object of our praise.[13] Like the twenty-four elders, authentic worship extols in song the worth of the Lamb (Revelation 5:9). If worship music is not Christ centered, then however else one might classify it, the songs are not spiritual (i.e., of the Spirit), for the Spirit’s ministry is, like the Scriptures which He inspired, to bear witness to Christ (John 5:39; 2 Peter 1:21). Of the hymns quoted in the New Testament, one scholar noted that, “these hymns have a common pattern of thought . . . They are related to the person and mission of Christ Jesus.”[14]

Good worship music, lyrics, and singing proclaim truth about God and His Christ. Jesus’ Person and Work are to be both the subject and object of the church’s praise. In addition to the Old Testament Psalms, the New Testament contains, alludes to, and quotes from several apostolic era hymns.[15] …  Spiritual songs are “teaching” songs! (Colossians 3:16, Greek, didaskō)

…This brings us to a fifth test.

Unity of the Spirit

Corollary to the witness that church music ought to bear to Jesus Christ, “spiritual songs” should also, in concert with the Spirit’s work, facilitate the development of congregational unity. … Spiritual songs contribute to the unity of the local body as its members, employ them to teach and admonish one another in the faith.

… In the biblical understanding, regardless of whatever else can be said about them, songs that do not testify of Jesus Christ and promote unity amongst believers are not spiritual per se. As the Apostle Paul wrote, “I will pray with the spirit, and I will pray with the understanding also: I will sing with the spirit, and I will sing with the understanding (Greek, nous, or “mind”) also” (1 Corinthians 14:15). Godly singing is not to be something mysterious, magical, mythical, even mystical, but is mental. …. good worship music that contains lyrics that are thoroughly about the person and work of Christ, will provide an exhilarating corporate worship experience that is all about Him, and not about us.

Read the entire article at: http://herescope.blogspot.com/2009/05/spiritual-songs.html

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Music Crimes

I couldn’t help but smile reading a couple of pieces today. One here is entitled “On Musical Crimes in the Church”.

There are aural assaults going on regularly in churches today, as this piece from Christianity Today points out. Volume, many church bands believe, will make up for the fact that the “singers” are actually tone deaf. Churches are now reported to be full of “life” if the state-of-the-art sound systems can make attendees actually “feel” the music, like you would in a club. People totter out into the parking lot after the service, congratulating themselves on having found a church that isn’t “dead.” They won’t be able to say as much about their hearing after many Sundays in a place like that.

The other one is here and is entitled “Memo to Worship Bands”:

Can you hear me? You can? I’m sorry if I am shouting, but I have just spent half an hour in a church service with a typical worship band, and my ears are ringing. I’m sure to be fine in a minute. Or hour. Or day—I hope.
Why does everything every Christian musician performs nowadays seem to require high amplification?

Reminds me of an interesting situation here in the church I am attending.

The pastor is very fond of singing hymns, especially Chinese hymns, his native language. A few months ago he shared about how blessed he was when he started to spend part of his devotional time singing hymns out of his old Chinese hymnbook. The interesting thing is that though he loves to sing, he is tone deaf. During his private devotional time that is not a problem. But the problem comes when he is holding the mike during public worship. When he sings into the mike at preaching volume, it drowns out the entire congregation AND the piano and either drags others along or people stop singing in confusion.

In Chinese culture you cannot correct or advise one in authority such as a pastor. You never refer to him by name or even with the pronoun ‘him’. It is always Bok Su, pastor. So what to do? I have been amused at how this has been handled. Shortly after announcing his love of singing, he decided to join the Chinese choir. You can’t refuse Bok Su. So what they do is put him in the back row as far from the mike as possible. That way he can sing his heart out and yet not interfere with the song.

The other situation arises during communion when he is in front with the mike and gets to lead the singing during the passing of the elements. The PA system is controlled in a booth at the back of the room. So what they have started doing is parking a choir member in the front row with a mike. During the critical time of singing during the passing of the elements, the person in the back quickly switches the dominent mike to the one the choir member is holding and then back again to Bok Su when it is time for him to speak. Pretty clever, eh? This is a win-win situation for everyone – Bok Su can sing his heart out and so can the congregation!

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God’s immense and unfailing grace

Here is a wonderful story of God’s immense and unfailing grace as He takes one born cursed and makes them blessed.

Ruth the Moabitess

Anton Bosch

The history of the Moabites is filled with immorality, seduction, lust and incest.

The nation was born out of the incestuous relationship between Lot’s oldest daughter and himself after the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 19). Lot’s descendants would not be known by his name, but as the Moabites and the Ammonites. These two nations had a similar birth and history and are often mentioned together as the cause of Israel’s unfaithfulness to the Lord.

It was Balak, king of Moab, who hired Balaam to curse the people of God. And when that did not work, Balaam instructed the Moabite women to seduce the men of Israel, lead them to worship their idols and so bring God’s judgment on the people of Israel (Revelation 2:14). Because of this, twenty-four thousand Israelites were killed by the plague (Numbers 25:9) and the Moabites were forever banned from the assembly of the Lord’s people.

A few hundred years later Solomon would marry, amongst others, Moabite women (1Kings 11:2). Once again, these women would seduce Solomon to worship their false gods and to erect high places for them (1Kings 11:7). Solomon’s relationship with the descendants of Lot and his subsequent worship of their idols would lead directly to the division of the Kingdom into the northern (Israel) and the southern (Judah) tribes (1Kings 11.32-34).

Once again a liaison with the descendants of Lot would prove to be the downfall of Israel. And once again Moab would use the same seduction of Lot’s daughters and Balaam to lead Israel to worship idols and to incur the wrath of God. No wonder the Lord banned them from the congregation for ever.

In the book of Nehemiah we come across Sanballat the Horonite and Tobiah the Ammonite (Nehemiah 2:10). A Horonite is a native of Horoniam, a city of Moab (Jeremiah 48:3-4). Yet again, the Moabites and the Ammonites would seek the downfall of the people of Israel. Sanballat used every trick in the book to discourage Nehemiah in his work and when mocking, attacks and blackmail did not work they resorted to their old and proven trickery.

Sanballat tried to lure Nehemiah into an unholy alliance, just as Moab had done on previous occasions (Nehemiah 6:2). Fortunately, Nehemiah saw through his scheme and would not even meet with the enemy. When this did not work the Moabites tried to tempt Nehemiah to sin by entering the Temple (Nehemiah 6:13), in the hope that the Lord would judge Nehemiah, as he had the people of Israel. This too did not work.

But just when it appeared that Moab would fail in his seduction, we read that quite a few Israelites had married Moabites and Ammonites (Nehemiah 13:3, 23). Once again this mixed multitude would degrade the values of the Lord’s people so that many of their children could not speak the language of Judah but had adopted the language and customs of the infiltrators (Nehemiah 13:24).

Even worse, the High Priest’s son married Sanballat’s (the Moabite) daughter. Over and over, Moab would find every opportunity to infiltrate the people of God and to draw them away from serving Yahweh. Fortunately, Nehemiah was ever alert and dealt appropriately with each occurrence of the corruption: “So I contended with them and cursed them, struck some of them and pulled out their hair, and made them swear by God, saying, “You shall not give your daughters as wives to their sons, nor take their daughters for your sons or yourselves. “Did not Solomon king of Israel sin by these things? Yet among many nations there was no king like him, who was beloved of his God; and God made him king over all Israel. Nevertheless pagan women caused even him to sin. “Should we then hear of your doing all this great evil, transgressing against our God by marrying pagan women?” (Nehemiah 13:25-27).

However, when Nehemiah turned his back, the High Priest went as far as to vacate a room in the temple for Tobiah the Ammonite. The High Priest had brought one of the leaders of Ammon and an enemy of Israel right into the temple when they were not even allowed amongst the Lord’s people, let alone live in the Lord’s house! (Nehemiah 13:4-9).

Can you see how the flesh and the enemy will find every opportunity to infiltrate the church and the life of the believer? We cannot allow these things the least opportunity to get a foothold in our lives – they only have one agenda – the destruction of the people of God.

The history of Moab seeking the destruction of Israel and Judah spans the entire history of Israel in the Land, from the exodus, to Israel’s zenith, and finally to the return from captivity. The seduction, schemes and infiltration is unceasing.

But right in the middle of the story we find this woman “Ruth the Moabitess” (Ruth 2:2). Not only does she come to live in Israel, but she marries a prominent Hebrew. And as if that is not enough, she becomes the great-grandmother of David the King and an ancestor of Jesus (Matthew 1:5). Why did God allow this when He Himself banished all Moabites from the congregation? Surely Ruth posed the same danger to the welfare of the People as every other Moabite and surely she should have been condemned with the rest of them?ruth-glean

No. Once again we have an illustration of God’s immense and unfailing grace. Ruth had forsaken her people and her gods and had unconditionally clung to the Lord and His people (Ruth 2:16,17). Once Ruth turned to the Lord, He graciously received her, forgave her past and removed the curse that had hung over her. Not only did the Lord accept her, but He included her and used her as though she had always been an Israelite. It was as though her past and ancestry did not exist.

In the same way the Lord still receives each one who genuinely turns to him and who turns their backs on their idols and their past. He receives us unreservedly, wipes away our past and removes the curse that hung over us. Just like Ruth, He not only allows us to participate in the blessings of His people, but He even uses us and incorporates us fully in His work and His plan. He treats us as though we were always His children and as though there never was a time when we were His enemies and banished from His presence.

Oh what marvelous grace! Ruth is no longer the Moabitess, but she is the ancestor of the Lord Jesus! Likewise you need no longer be known as the sinner, addict, abuser, or whatever you were before, and you can bear His name – Christian.

From: http://www.antonbosch.com/Articles/English%202008Ruth%20the%20Moabitess.html

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God’s measuring stick is not positivity

positivethinkingThere are various meanings of “positivity” from electrical charges to efforts to be affirming and encouraging to others. But it can also describe a rather unhealthy hyper-positivity found among many Christians nowdays that denounces all things “negative” and praises all things “positive”. They seem to think that ignoring anything we don’t like and only allowing ourselves to think of pleasant things is somehow the key to godliness.

Sometimes it seems as though an 11th commandment has been added – or has even replaced the original 10 commandments: “Thou shalt be positive.” Positivity rejects all criticism with a vehemence that is sometimes, well, not very positive.

I have seen positivity folk in action. Someone brings up a concern, say about an ill-planned policy, and before long Mr or Ms Positivity will jump up in distress demanding that something positive must be said to offset the “negativeness”. What is especially dangerous is when false teachers or corrupt leaders are excused and protected by a squad of positivity police.

Some people quote Philippians 4:8 as a sort of “proof text” that you should refuse to think about anything that is negative:

“Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things.”

A quick check of a concordance shows that neither “positive” nor “negative” occurs in Scripture. But what Scripture does talk about repeatedly is TRUTH vs falsehood. Truth is the measuring stick. In fact, truth is the first thing on the list in the verse above, and yet it seems many positivity people’s eyes just skip that word.

Psalm 51:6 6     Behold, You desire truth in the innermost being,
And in the hidden part You will  make me know wisdom.

John 3:22 “But he who  practices the truth comes to the Light, so that his deeds may be manifested as having been wrought in God.”

Ephesians 6:14-15 Stand firm therefore,  having girded your loins with truth, and having  put on the breastplate of righteousness, and having  shod your feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace;

2 Tim 2:25-26 The Lord’s bond-servant must not be quarrelsome, but be kind to all,  able to teach, patient when wronged, 25  with gentleness correcting those who are in opposition,  if perhaps God may grant them repentance leading to  the knowledge of the truth 26  and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, having been  held captive by him to do his will.

And more ominously:

2 Thess 2:10-12 that is, the one whose coming is in accord with the activity of  Satan, with all power and signs and false wonders, and with all the deception of wickedness for those who perish, because they did not receive the love of  the truth so as to be saved. 11 For this reason  God will send upon them a deluding influence so that they will believe what is false, 12 in order that they all may be judged who  did not believe the truth, but took pleasure in wickedness.

It would seem that God’s measuring stick is TRUTH, not positivity. And be sure to note that several of the above verses and others call for truth WITH LOVE. Truth with kindness and gentleness.

Positivity appeals to the flesh, the desire for sweetness and light. We do not want to correct others because we ourselves do not want to be corrected. The desire of our corrupt sin nature is to hide from the light, to hide from truth. Positivity does not acknowledge sin, or hell, or a need for a Savior. Positivity is pride.

It is not always easy for us as fallen people to tell the difference between truth and falsehood. We need practice in discerning the difference because sometimes it can get pretty subtle. But God’s Word is the standard for discerning between truth amd falsehood, between spiritual light and spiritual darkness.

I am NOT saying thet we should delight in negativity and gloom and doom. Being positive is pleasant and can be helpful to us and to others – but not if it is at the expense of truth. We are better off pursuing truth with love. Pursuing positivity can lead us into deception.

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Lessons from Job

Recapping the story, Satan saw Job, the righteous man. In fact it was God who brought it up “Have you considered my servant Job? There’s nobody like him on earth. He’s blamess, upright, fears Me and turns away from evil.”

Satan said, “Of course he does, because You have blessed him and made him rich and prosperous. Try taking that away and see how faithful he is!”

God gives him permission to do so but with limitations, ie he can’t harm Job himself. So in the course of a day Job loses all his livestock (his wealth) and all his children. Of course he is in shock and sorrow but he still acknowledges God as sovereign and the source of all, and worships Him.

God again pointsjob-boils out to Satan that Job remains faithful and righteous despite undeserved misfortune. Satan asks to touch him physically, sure that he will curse God. God again grants permission, with limits – he cannot take Job’s life. So Job gets covered with boils.

Lesson 1: God puts limits on what Satan can do to us.

Lesson 2: Suffering is not just about us. There is a cosmic aspect to it.

I once had a large twin boil in a place where those who need to sit a lot can least afford it. I can testify to the exquisite pain. But to have them from the soles of your feet to the crown of your head????!!! Job is in such a state that his wife advises him to curse God and die. Yet Job says we should accept all that God gives us, not only blessing but also adversity.

Lesson 3: All that happens, good and bad, is allowed by God.

Job’s  three friends come to comfort him but they are so appalled at his condition that they weep and tear their robes and throw dust in the air. They sit there in silence for a week. Then in chapter 3 Job begins to speak. He is in despair, in pain, despairing of life itself. His friends begin to answer him one by one. At first they gently remind him of God’s justice and how He punished evil. Job answers that he is innocent.

They come back a bit stronger and say that God knows all and is just and He blesses the righteous and punishes the wicked. Job agrees that God is just but still declares his innocence and wants to defend his case before God.

The friends get more annoyed at his protestations of innocence and come back accusing him of wrong doing and saying he needs to repent. Job again protests that he is innocent and goes over how good his life was before and how he lived upright before God and men and how humiliating it is now. He again longs to be able to present his case before God.

So Job’s three friends were no help. Their answer was that God punishes evil. Therefore Job must have done evil and should repent of it.

Lesson 4: Man thinks suffering is punishment from God. (but that’s not the whole picture – see below.)

There was also a fourth guy present, Elihu, who seemed not so well known by Job and his friends. So he waits patiently until the others have had their say. Elihu gives a long rebuke to Job and his friends. He says that it is wrong to blame God for being unjust. God is compassionate. In fact He uses pain and suffering to warn men, to keep them back from the pit. He chastens men with pain, He reminds men what is right.

Lesson 5: God is just. He is also compassionate. He uses suffering  to warn us and to remind us of what is right so that we will not go to eternal destruction.

And the God speaks. “Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? … Are you able to command the lightening? … Are you able to lead the constellations in space?”

Who can answer back to God? Who can instruct Him? Can we tell HIm a better way to run things? His ways are unsearchable. His knowledge beyond our ability to grasp.

Lesson 6: God is totally and absolutely beyond what man can comprehend. “Sovereign” does not begin to cover it!

Lesson 7: We are to trust in WHO God is, and not trust in blessings or experiences – nor are we to trust in our own perspective of things.

Job repents.

Lesson 8: Even when you think you are innocent, you don’t have the whole picture. Remember that before accusing God of wrong-doing!

God restores Job’s fortunes – doubled them in fact.

Lesson 9: God is good. God is just.

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Scripture more important than prayer

2008-06-12-lake-w-rainbowA few months ago I was listening to a sermon where the pastor was saying that prayer was THE most important thing in the Christian life. I was in the pew thinking, that no, actually, Scripture is probably more important because without it we don’t even know how to pray, nor do we know to Whom we are praying. Ironically, the pastor backed up all his points with, you guessed it, SCRIPTURE!

Reading through Nehemiah the other day, I noticed that after the walls were rebuilt, they had a revival. And what led to this revival? In chapter 8 Ezra read the Scriptures. From early morning until midday he read. And the people listened attentively. They wept as the Scriptures were interpreted and explained. In chapter 9 all that reading of Scripture was followed by a long prayer of confession of sin and a recital of their history of rebellion and God’s greatness and His history of compassion and forgiveness. This time of prayer was then followed by chapter 10 were the people made commitments to change in areas they were sinning. They took action to reinstitute proper worship, observation of the sabbath, bringing in tithes, separating from foreign marriages, providing for the on going temple worship.

Anybody can pray without Scripture, the pagans, animists, and adherents of other religions do it all the time. But without Scripture our prayers are very me-centered. “God, give me and mine health, wealth, safety.” But from Scripture we learn all about WHO we are praying to. A God who is almighty and all-powerful. A God who is holy and doesn’t tolerate sin. Yet a God who is compassionate and loving and full of mercy to those who hope in Him. We learn of a sovereign God who works all things (ALL things, good and bad) for His purposes. We learn of HIs purposes, that we become a holy people, that His salvation be proclaimed to the ends of the earth, that people everywhere repent and believe the gospel. We learn that prayer offered in faith is very effective. We learn about perseverance in prayer. We learn that obedience is better than sacrifice,  we learn that our sins hide God’s face from us. We learn about how to pray, how to praise.

But stopping at Scripture and prayer is not enough. We also need to take action. In my case, it may be different from those in Nehemiah’s day, depending on what conviction of sin the Holy Spirit brought to my heart through the Scripture. Revival is not complete without action being taken to correct the wrong that I am doing. It doesn’t necessarily mean add new programs, new activities, but rather to STOP doing what is wrong and DO do what is right.

So let us dig out our Bibles and let revival begin!

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The most selfish prayer ever prayed

Despite the war going on north of here between government and rebels, yesterday was the annual “harvest festival” with its floral parade, traditional dances, and many other activities. Many of us stayed home partly due to the security situation but partly (actually MOSTLY) in order  to avoid the crowds. But one friend decided to go and watch the parade and try out her new camera. She was telling me later about the crowds. She said it was a sea of black heads everywhere they went. At one point she said it was so crowded that for 10 minutes they couldn’t move in any direction. She was starting to feel panicky and some people were holding small children up on their shoulders to protect them from the crush of people. She started praying, “O Lord, if there’s a bomb please hold it for for awhile until I can pass by.”  Later that evening while reading her Bible and thinking about the day she suddenly thought about the implications of what she had prayed – it was as if she had prayed, “Lord, don’t let any bomb blow up while I’m here, hold it off until I pass – and then it’s okay to blow up all those other people!” She said she was horrified and realized that that was the most selfish prayer she had ever prayed!

We laughed about it because who hasn’ t prayed without thinking in moments of distress?  I too have probably prayed similar prayers, never stopping to think how an answer to my prayer might affect others. I guess next time I’m in a questionable security situation the better thing to pray would be, “Oh Lord, if there’s a bomb, please make it be a dud!” 🙂

Update 28 August: It seems that an improvised explosive device was found near a school on the edge of town yesterday. The authorities thought it may have been abandoned there because security was so tight during the festival. My friend thinks God did indeed hear her selfish prayer – but answered in a much better way!

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Glossing over our debt

The Bible has a lot to say about forgiveness but sometimes it’s easy to just gloss over what it is saying without it really sinking into our hearts.

A good example is the story of the unforgiving servant in Matthew 18:23-35. To recap, a man who owed 10,000 talents was brought before the king. He was unable to pay it and begged for mercy. The king had mercy and forgave the debt, that is he cancelled it. Though the debt was forgiven, the man went out to collect from another man who owed him 100 silver coins. That man too begged for mercy but he did not have mercy, instead he had him thrown into prison. Though he had been forgiven much, he had no mercy on those who owed him.

What usually escapes us is the enormity of the first man’s debt.

How much is ten thousand talents? One silver talent is the amount needed to pay a day’s wage to 6,000 people. So for 10,000 talents you could hire 60 million people for a day. Or, you could hire more than 164,000 people for a whole year, or 656,000 people for 3 months. (Ands if these were gold talents, multiply all of the above by 30.)

How much is 100 silver coins? A day’s wage for 100 people.

That man’s ENORMOUS debt was forgiven, canceled. And he was worried about a measly 3 months wage for only one person????

That is a picture of us. God has forgiven us of a debt of offense we could never pay. So how then can we dare hold ANY grudge against ANYBODY?

Think about that the next time you start feeling offended!

Matthew 18:23-35 (NET-Rosa’s modified version)
23  “For this reason, the kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his slaves. 24  As he began settling his accounts, a man who owed [money equivalent to a day’s wage for 60 million people] was brought to him. 25  Because he was not able to repay it, the lord ordered him to be sold, along with his wife, children, and whatever he possessed, and repayment to be made. 26  Then the slave threw himself to the ground before him, saying, ‘Be patient with me, and I will repay you everything.’ 27  The lord had compassion on that slave and released him, and forgave him the debt. 28  After he went out, that same slave found one of his fellow slaves who owed him [money equivalent to a day’s wage for 100 people]. So he grabbed him by the throat and started to choke him, saying, ‘Pay back what you owe me!’ 29  Then his fellow slave threw himself down and begged him, ‘Be patient with me, and I will repay you.’ 30  But he refused. Instead, he went out and threw him in prison until he repaid the debt. 31  When his fellow slaves saw what had happened, they were very upset and went and told their lord everything that had taken place. 32  Then his lord called the first slave and said to him, ‘Evil slave! I forgave you all that debt because you begged me! 33  Should you not have shown mercy to your fellow slave, just as I showed it to you?’ 34  And in anger his lord turned him over to the prison guards to torture him until he repaid all he owed. 35  So also my heavenly Father will do to you, if each of you does not forgive your brother from your heart.”

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Contextualization

One hears a lot of discussion of the idea of contextualization of the gospel these days. But I am realizing that there is a HUGE range in what people mean by it. 

 Today I saw an article Contextualization Gone Wild by Walt Scalen. Exerpts:

 Contextualism in its most benign form is simply the attempt to communicate with people who are different. Some degree of cultural accommodation is inevitable; it is largely a matter of courtesy and common sense. Extreme forms of contextualism, however, result in wholesale imitation and ultimately diminish ones own identity. One of the little examined assumptions of the rabid contextualism that is driving many “progressive” evangelical Christians to adopt every conceivable cultural form as a means of evangelism is that cultural forms are considered to be largely neutral. For example, heavy metal music is associated with a relatively well defined youth sub culture. To reach this group, it is assumed that the Gospel message can be carried by such cultural forms as skulls and other death symbols and yet the message remains intact, unscathed and unchanged. Thus, the magic bullet of the New Christianity: the methods change, but the message doesn’t. This idea is wildly popular, repeated ad infinitum on a daily basis by the millions who consider it an unquestioned and absolute edict. From “Jesus Mosques” to reach Moslems to “Jesus Meditation” to reach mystics, there are no limits to which so-called “European Christianity” must be reshaped to fit every conceivable cultural form.

 There are several assumptions on which this line of thinking is based: multiculturalism, relativism, and a simplistic understanding of culture. First, multiculturalism is the position that all cultures are equal because there is no objective standard for evaluating them. This idea is based on philosophical relativism which in its crudest form results in the total absence of standards. Ultimately nothing can be determined to be good or evil because all things are just different. These ideas give rise to the notion of cultural neutrality. Since all cultures are equal, since nothing can be seen as superior or better, ergo, any cultural form can “carry” any cultural idea.

 …..Syncretism has always been the danger of excessive contextualism, but somehow the “we are changing the methods not the message” slogan has so resonated with many Christians anxious to see progress in evangelism and growth in numbers that caution has been thrown to the wind. Assuming that all cultural forms are neutral, almost anything is now “worship,” and virtually any outreach method is appropriate for “fishers of men.” This poignant phrase used by Jesus in Matthew 4:19 is widely taken to mean that people should be “lured” into the Kingdom by any means necessary, even deception, in the same fashion that fisherman in the modern era use “lures” to catch fish. The problem with this view is ironically one of context; the fisherman in Biblical times used nets. This approach had much more to do with location and timing than enticement.

 Theologically and Biblically, the key assumption driving many evangelistic techniques and church growth methods is that the work of the Spirit can be accomplished by the means of the flesh. This notion produces much “strange fire;” however, the proponents of this idea claim prodigious numbers. “It works,” they say, “look at the bottom line, many are converted!” But what are they converted to? Is it possible that the methods used are so overwhelmingly powerful and the message communicated is so distorted, that “converts” are responding to the familiar rather than being transformed by the unfamiliar?….

 Rest of article at http://www.sliceoflaodicea.com/?p=1399#more-1399

 Last week I was in a remote area and a pastor was preaching at a closing ceremony. He kind of rambled around on various topics, as is common in his denomination, but one topic was how different it was evangelizing among people of his own aggressive ethnic group as opposed to those of the area we were in. He said, “If I am witnesing to a B___ person I can say ‘Sir, you need to repent or you will go to hell. Look at you drinking and smoking! Don’t you realize that is sin? If you don’t repent you will go to hell!’ ” As he said this he was jabbing his finger, pointing at the imaginary person. He continued, “But if I said that to a D___ person here, I would likely get my throat slit! Here you need to have some sort of a relationship first before you can talk like that.” OK, maybe it’s not exactly my style of witnessing but I would say that is an okay type of contextualization. He most definitely was not changing the message!

 Another example I heard of was from a remote area in Papua New Guinea. Despite years of work by evangelists and pastors, and despite a Bible translation project, the people remained unconvinced and continued in their ways. But one day while translating the geneologies in Genesis, the language helper had an “Aha!” moment. He looked at the translator and said, “Do you mean that this book is TRUE?” It was the geneologies that convinced him. After that he cooked up a huge meal and invited the whole village to eat and then declared to them what he had discovered, namely that the Bible was true and they all needed to repent and follow God’s ways. From that point on the church grew. Again, the message was not changed but they now understood it as true and something they needed to act upon.

 So maybe it can be summarized like this:  Do what it takes for people to understand the whole message. But when you change the message, present only part of the message, or overemphasize part of the message, then you have crossed the line.

 Crossing the line may result in numerical “success” and may be immensely satisfying in this life, but being  “rice Christians”, “skin deep Christians”, “ID card Christians” will be of no value in the life to come.

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Noah’s window – or was it a roof?

Translation is not always easy. The story of Noah’s ark, for example. In Genesis chapter 6:16 there is a verse that says “Build a roof/window/skylight/opening for the ark. Finish it to a cubit (18 inches or about half a meter). OR Make it 18 inches high. Or leave 18 inches above it. OR…”. Well, you get the idea. The Hebrew word translated “window” or “roof” is only used once in the entire Bible so there’s no other context to compare it to. And it is different from either of the normal words used in the Hebrew for roof or window. Some scholars think maybe it meant some kind of window or skylight or opening around the top of the ark to let in light and air. Other scholars thought it meant a roof, specifically a sloped roof. Most older versions translated it as an 18 inch window. Many newer versions translate it as an 18 inch space between the roof and the sides of the ark – like a kind of ventilation. Others translate it as a roof that is 18 inches high at its peak – thus being very slightly sloped. One of the groups here translated it as a roof with the eaves extending 18 inches beyond the sides of the ark. To them that is what made sense because it would keep the rain out. Well, it turns out that according to some commentaries, that is also an option.

For an interesting discussion I found on the net see http://www.genesisfiles.com/NoahsArk.htm

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Cow songs

Somebody once told me a story about a farmer who went to the big city for a church conference. When he came back his wife asked him what he had learned.

 He said, “We learned  worship songs.”

 His wife said, “Oh. What’s a worship song?”

 The farmer answered, “Well, it’s kind of like a hymn. A hymn might say something like:

 There’s a brown cow and a black cow in the barn.

And they have eaten up all the hay.

 But these new fangled worship songs would be like this:

 There’s a cow, there’s a cow, there’s a cow, cow, cow.

There’s a cow. there’s a cow, there’s a cow, cow, cow.

In the barn, in the barn, in the barn, barn, barn.

Yes, it’s a cow (clap, clap),

It’s a cow (clap, clap)

It’s a cow (clap) in the barn (clap)

OOOOOOOO! It’s a cow!!!

 Well, it’s a funny story. But the other day I was reminded that it is also a painful reality. I am currently at one of the ends of the earth helping some folk get some stories from Genesis into their languages. They have a devotional before we get the day started.  And to my dismay, even here at the ends of the earth they were singing, well, cow songs. The words were vague, and of course repetitive. Not much content at all and what there was was of dubious theological value. (These were not songs they had written, they were songs in the national language.) Maybe the purpose was just to set a mood, you know, like calm people down before the Bible study or something. But if you think about it, what a waste of time. We really ought to be encouraging them to sing Scripture songs at least. They live and work in oral societies and don’t spend time reading. Plus they often do long monotonous tasks. Singing with their mind would be a great way to reflect on God and His goodness and His will for us.

 I also grew up singing what, in retrospect, were some pretty bizarre songs. For example in Sunday school we would often sing songs like “I’ll be a sunbeam for Jesus”, “Climb, climb up sunshine mountain”, “Deep and wide”, etc. But those songs have never been a comfort and have certainly never convicted me of anything!  Nor have they ever inspired me to trust and follow the Lord. When I am out in the middle of a forest, or stuck in traffic, or driving long distances, or sitting in a brownout, or crying out to God in any other situation, I have never, ever sung any of those songs. So perhaps we need to work harder with our music so that it’s not just a time filler, or stimulant or narcotic but rather a way to encourage people to reflect on God and His will for us.

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Ten Shekels and a Shirt

The other day I saw a link to an article called “Ten Shekels and a Shirt”. Since I had just read through Judges last week it caught my eye so I clicked on the link to check it out. Wow!

 The passage was Judges 17-18 about a Levite who went off to seek his fortune and ended up being invited by a guy to set up a shrine. The salary offered was room and board, ten shekels, and a suite of clothes. Some time later the Danites arrived and they made him an even better offer, one he couldn’t refuse.

 The rest of the sermon was basically contrasting two world views:

  … let me summarize. Christianity says,”The end of all being is the glory of God.” Humanism says, “The end of all being is the happiness of man.”

 And one was born in Hell, the deification of man. AND THE OTHER WAS BORN IN HEAVEN, THE GLORIFICATION OF GOD! And one is Levite serving Micah, and the other is a heart that’s unworthy serving the living God, because it’s the highest honor in the universe.

 Which world view do you have? You might be suprised, even shocked. He shows that it is not just society at large but churches, missions, and we as individual Christians have drunk very deep at the well of humanism and probably don’t even know it.

 This sermon was preached over 40 years ago but is far more relevant today than it even was then.

 Transcript: http://www.gospeljohn.com/pr_tenshekels.htm

Audio: http://www.gospeljohn.com/audio/tenshekelsandashirt.mp3

 

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We don’t deserve merit badges

Here’s a noteworthy quote from http://teampyro.blogspot.com/ (In Phil Johnson’s book review of The Last Men’s Book You’ll Ever Need by David Moore)

…. I would add that I appreciate Dave Moore’s resistance to the therapeutic approach to human relationships that dominates so much of evangelical discourse nowadays. Moore points out that everyone is “wounded” and we don’t really deserve merit badges or undue sympathy for our personal hurts when we ourselves are guilty of waging war against righteousness. Also, while we’re carefully nursing our personal wounds, “we need to remember that we inflict our fair share of them” (p. 118). That’s wise advice, especially in our culture where so many men (and women) “focus on the hurt they’ve received [and] tend to discount or diminish the hurt they inflict on others” (p. 114)-not to mention the sins against Almighty God we’re guilty of. Moore calls us back to a more biblical (and manly) view of our own sin.
Not sure who exactly who to credit it to, Phil or Dave but it was well said!

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Themes and Wordles

I’ve been doing some in depth study of the books of Esther and Daniel this past year in order to help translators. So imagine my delight when I learned about Wordle. It’s an online program which makes word clouds out of text. What a fun way to see some themes of a passage! Check out Wordle at http://wordle.net/ and make you own word clouds, or rather, Word clouds.

Here are two I did on Esther and Daniel:

 

 

Thanks to whover sent me to http://markedbyfaith.blogspot.com/ where yipeng has wordled each book of the New Testament.

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Entertainment, the great god

Here’s an article that certainly speaks to today – and what is amazing is that it was written over 50 years ago! I have often noted that the various languages I have learned do not have a real equivalent to the English word “fun”. But the idea of entertainment and “fun”, if not the words, is spreading everywhere. It is like a drug addiction.

Television is probably the number one purveyor of entertainment in the world. Local people have taken to television like a duck takes to water. Rare now is the house in an Asian city that doesn’t have a television. And even in remote areas it is not so uncommon to see a satellite dish propped up on the roof of a rickety house.

But entertainment is also coming into the churches here, faster in some churches than others. A friend goes to what she calls “the dancing church” because it is “fun”. More and more, earplugs are becoming standard equipment for attending church services. You can leave your Bible at home but don’t forget the ear plugs! I’m afraid it is far beyond what Tozer ever imagined…

The Great God Entertainment

by A. W. Tozer

A German philosopher many years ago said something to the effect that the more a man has in his own heart, the less he will require from the outside; excessive need for support from without is proof of the bankruptcy of the inner man.

If this is true (and I believe it is) then the present inordinate attachment to every form of entertainment is evidence that the inner life of modern man is in serious decline. The average man has no central core of moral assurance, no spring within his own breast, no inner strength to place him above the need for repeated psychological shots to give him the courage to go on living. He has become a parasite on the world, drawing his life from his environment, unable to live a day apart from the stimulation which society affords him.

Schleiermacher held that the feeling of dependence lies at the root of all religious worship, and that however high the spiritual life might rise, it must always begin with a deep sense of a great need which only God could satisfy.

If this sense of need and a feeling of dependence are at the root of natural religion, it is not hard to see why the great god Entertainment is so ardently worshiped by so many. For there are millions who cannot live without amusement; life without some form of entertainment for them is simply intolerable; they look forward to the blessed relief afforded by professional entertainers and other forms of psychological narcotics as a dope addict looks to his daily shot of heroin. Without them they could not summon courage to face existence.

No one with common human feeling will object to the simple pleasures of life, nor to such harmless forms of entertainment as may help to relax the nerves and refresh the mind exhausted by toil. Such things, if used with discretion, may be a blessing along the way. That is one thing, however, the all-out devotion to entertainment as a major activity for which and by which men live is definitely something else again.

The abuse of a harmless thing is the essence of sin. The growth of the amusement phase of human life to such fantastic proportions is a portent, a threat to the souls of modern men. It has been built into a multimillion dollar racket with greater power over human minds and human character than any other educational influence on earth.

And the ominous thing is that its power is almost exclusively evil, rotting the inner life, crowding out the long eternal thoughts which would fill the souls of men, if they were but worthy to entertain them. The whole thing has grown into a veritable religion which holds its devotees with a strange fascination; and a religion, incidentally, against which it is now dangerous to speak. For centuries the Church stood solidly against every form of worldly entertainment, recognizing it for what it was—a device for wasting time, a refuge from the disturbing voice of conscience, a scheme to divert attention from moral accountability.

For this she got herself abused roundly by the sons of this world. But of late she has become tired of the abuse and has given over the struggle. She appears to have decided that if she cannot conquer the great god Entertainment she may as well join forces with him and make what use she can of his powers.So, today we have the astonishing spectacle of millions of dollars being poured into the unholy job of providing earthly entertainment for the so-called sons of heaven. Religious entertainment is in many places rapidly crowding out the serious things of God.
Many churches these days have become little more than poor theaters where fifth-rate “producers” peddle their shoddy wares with the full approval of evangelical leaders who can even quote a holy text in defense of their delinquency. And hardly a man dares raise his voice against it.

The great god Entertainment amuses his devotees mainly by telling them stories. The love of stories, which is a characteristic of childhood, has taken fast hold of the minds of the retarded saints of our day, so much so that not a few persons manage to make a comfortable living by spinning yarns and serving them up in various disguises to church people.

What is natural and beautiful in a child may be shocking when it persists into adulthood, and more so when it appears in the sanctuary and seeks to pass for true religion. Is it not a strange thing and a wonder that, with the shadow of atomic destruction hanging over the world and with the coming of Christ drawing near, the professed followers of the Lord should be giving themselves up to religious amusements? That in an hour when mature saints are so desperately needed vast numbers of believers should revert to spiritual childhood and clamor for religious toys?

“Remember, 0 Lord, what is come upon us: consider, and behold our reproach. The crown is fallen from our head: woe unto us, that we have sinned ! For this our heart is faint; for these things our eyes are dim.” AMEN. AMEN.

Taken from Root of the Righteous, Harrisburg, PA: Christian Publications, 1955, p. 32-33.

 (seen on www.sliceoflaodicea.com)

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Why is it getting so hard to go to church?

Lately I have been finding it harder and harder to go to church.

When was a kid, we went to Sunday School and then church and went back again for the evening service. We went every Sunday rain or shine (or snow) and to midweek service too. I loved Sunday School and children’s church. In college I joined a collegiate ministry and was involved in Bible studies, prayer meetings, and went to every conference, retreat and training program they ever had. As a young adult I spent two years as a missionary nurse in South America, came back for more training and went to Asia to help with Bible translation. In my early years in Asia, though at first I struggled with language, church was an oasis in the midst of a predominantly non-Christian society. You’d think I would really like church.

But too often nowdays I come out of church feeling upset and wishing I hadn’t gone.

So what happpened?

I think the thing that is most disturbing is what I can only call Bible Abuse.

I am not a world class exegete but even I can see that far too many sermons are somebody’s ideas with some Scripture tacked on it with the whole lot passed off as God’s truth. Some sermons allude, allude, allude but never ever get around to plainly stating what Scripture says. Some take Scripture and come up with jaw-dropping “applications”. Some tell so many stories that any point is lost in the constant shift in story lines. Some preach psychology. Some preach self-esteem. Some preach prosperity. Some preach that we need to do more and work harder and by leaps and bounds give us lists of 6 steps to this, 3 steps to that, 7 principles of the other.

People nowdays seem to be forever imposing stuff on the Biblical characters too. I went to a workshop about how adults learn. I was astonished to be told that Jesus used these methods. Imagine that! Those very methods – that we didn’t rediscover until the 21st century! And they showed a film to prove it! And did you know Jesus was a CEO? Did you know that He was rich and wants you to be rich? And remember Jabez and his magic prayer? But somehow when you read the Bible yourself, it’s not like that at all.

So what is going on? The Bible is treated as if it were a some magic “dust” that you can sprinkle on your talk to give it authority. If you can associate your ideas with the Bible, and tell us that Paul used that method, or better yet that Jesus used that method, then that will make it binding on us. You can be very selective too. Look at all the verses on God’s love – and ignore the ones that talk about His hatred of sin and His justice and holiness. Not only that, you can twist a verse around and tie it in knots and make it say whatever you want it to. With a bit of practice you can even go from “Give thanks to the Lord for He is good” (Psalm 136:1a) to “We must praise God [preferably with modern worship bands] so that He will then be obligated to bless us and give us what we want.”

Is this not Bible Abuse?

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Another jaw-dropping sermon

Romans 8:5-8 5 Those who live according to the sinful nature have their minds set on what that nature desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires. 6 The mind of sinful man is death, but the mind controlled by the Spirit is life and peace; 7 the sinful mind is hostile to God. It does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so. 8 Those controlled by the sinful nature cannot please God.

Galatians 5:19-21 19 The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; 20 idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions 21 and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.

So we are to avoid the lust of the flesh, especially sexual temptation which is all around us nowdays.

Okay. Sounds good so far.

Application? We need spiritual partners.

Huh????

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Advocate

An advocate. Someone who comes along side and stands beside you to support you in a court of law.

My specially challenged brother has a lawyer, an advocate, who is going to court with workman’s comp over a work accident he had last year. That lawyer knows all about the law and its applications and implications. He knows the requirements and the obligations of workman’s comp. He also knows all about my brother’s situation, both the challenges he was born with and those added because of his injury. He knows that my brother definitely falls into the category of people covered by worksman’s comp insurance. If we the family had to plead on his behalf, we would not have much of an idea of what to ask for, other than to pay medical bills incurred. But the lawyer knows that future medical needs and rehabilitation needs will arise because he has a lot of experience in work accident issues. And if my brother had to plea for himself, well, he is totally clueless as to any of the matters above. Without an advocate, he would be totally unable to cope with the court situation.

How much more do we need an Advocate when we face the holy Almighty Judge of the universe!

1 John 2:1 My little children. I am writing these things to you that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.

Whenever we sin, and we will, it is inevitable, Jesus Christ stands beside us as our advocate before God the Judge . He Himself has paid the penalty of my sin and appeases the wrath of God towards me.

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Trials and suffering not about me

Another thing to ponder is that trials and suffering aren’t always just about me.

Many people think trials and suffering come as punishment for bad behavior. Our human response to our own hardships is often “why me?” And our response to others’ hardships, cravenly, is too often “He probably deserved it.”

But are trials and suffering and hardship really a punishment for bad behavior? Well, sometimes, yes. Scripture says that God does punish the wicked, and it also says that He disciplines His own that they may share in His holiness (Hebrews 12:7-10).

James said “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds.” Joy?? You must be joking! Why? “because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” (James 1:2-4) So trials also come for the purpose of testing and strengthening our faith.

But sometimes trials and problems are also for God’s glory. Jesus healed a man born blind (John 9). People asked Jesus whether it was the man or his parents who had sinned resulting in the man being born blind. Jesus answered neither, but that this had happened so that God’s work would be revealed in the man’s life. What was God’s work? That a man born blind was healed – people said that never had anyone heard of a man born blind being healed. A sign that Jesus was indeed sent from God.

And sometimes trials aren’t about us at all. Many times our trials and sufferings have profound effects on other people. As I interacted with other friends and acquaintances of my friend who just died, I could see that his life and death have also impacted them in various ways.

Look at Job. Satan came to God asking permission to test Job. He was sure that Job would curse God and die when all his blessings and protection was taken away. But God knew that wasn’t so. He gave permission for Satan to test and try Job.

Job’s “friends” assumed that Job must have done something wrong to deserve such a heap of troubles. Job himself asked why, he knew he hadn’t done anything wrong, and didn’t understand why he was so afflicted. He moaned and groaned and wished himself dead, yet he also declared that “Though he slay me, yet will I hope in him” (Job 13:15). He still trusted God even though he didn’t understand why he was undergoing such trials:

“But if I go to the east, he is not there;
if I go to the west, I do not find him.
9 When he is at work in the north, I do not see him;
when he turns to the south, I catch no glimpse of him.
10 But he knows the way that I take;
when he has tested me, I will come forth as gold.”
(Job 23:8-10)”.

Job’s trials weren’t really about him at all. They were primarily for our benefit. His trials and trust and God’s reply were recorded for all succeeding generations to see, that we too might understand that God is sovereign. He knows things we don’t know. Even when we don’t understand, even when we don’t see where He is at work, we can still trust Him to work all things for good and for His purposes.

So yes, knowing Who He is and that He is absolutely trustworthy and absolutely able to do whatever He purposes, we can indeed consider it pure joy when we encounter various trials, knowing that there is
purpose in them especially when we continue to trust in Him.

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When God says "no"

April 25

We had a devotional this morning about asking God for wisdom and believing, not being doubtful. Some of us were sitting around at coffee break talking about how God works. We were talking about how sometimes it seems God has said “no” to something we prayed for. And yet we find out later that He had a better plan. He knows more than we do and so sometimes though it seems to be “no”, it is really a big “yes” in a way we couldn’t have imagined.

For example, last month my househelper’s sister was involved in a motorcycle accident and had a bad bang to the head. She was knocked out momentarily and had a huge lump on her head. Two weeks later she had an excruciating headache, was fainting, dizzy, and vomiting. They were in a panic because of the recent head injury took her to a doctor in the nearby town and he told them she probably needed surgery. Her husband started running around trying to hock the family farm to get money for surgery. So they were asking people to pray that they would be able to find somebody willing to loan the money.

Then we had them bring her to the city to see a neurologist. He examined her and told them while he could be wrong, he didn’t think she was bleeding in her head (he didn’t do x-ray) but that her blood pressure was really high and he thought that was the cause of her symptoms. So he put her on blood pressure medicine.

The husband wasn’t able to find anybody to hock the farm – and it seems now, 3 weeks later, that the blood pressure was indeed the problem.

So here was a case where the prayer was to be able to find someone to rent the farm and the answer seemed to be “no”. Yet, after all, God knew there was no need to rent it out.

A colleague of mine has stomach cancer that had already spread to the liver and lymph nodes when diagnosed a year ago. He’s not doing too well right now and he had wanted a good friend of theirs from here (a pastor) to come and see him. So they were able to arrange an emergency interview at the US embassy in the capital city for him this morning to get a visa. But we just heard that the visa was denied. It is such a disappointment. Yet in the context of our devotional and discussion this morning, we have to believe that God has a better plan.

This later addition (4-28): my friend died Sunday night before the pastor had a chance to reapply at the embassy. So the unneeded trip was avoided.

Can we too trust Him even when the answer seems to be “no”?

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The Padded Cross

 You mind if I look over the crosses? I’d kind of like a new one. I’m not fussy, you understand, but a disciple has to be relevant these days. I was wondering, are there any that are vinyl padded? I’m thinking of attracting others, see, and if I could show them a comfortable cross I’m sure I could win a lot more. We have to keep up with the times. Right? And I need something durable so I can treasure it always. Oh, and do you have one that’s sort of flat so it will fit under my coat? We shouldn’t be too obvious.

Funny, there doesn’t seem to be much choice here. Just course, rough wood, that’s liable to hurt. Don’t you have something more distinctive, Lord? I can tell you right now, none of my friends are going to be impressed by this shoddy workmanship! They’ll think I’m a nut or something! And my family will just be mortified!

What’s that? It’s either one of these or forget the whole thing?

But Lord, I want to be your disciple! I mean, just being with you…that’s all that counts. Life has to have a balance too, but You don’t understand, nobody lives that way today. Who’s going to be attracted by this self-denial bit? I mean, I want to do what’s right but let’s not overdo it. If I appear too radical they’ll have me off to the funny farm or something.

I mean, being a disciple is challenging and exciting and I want to do it, but I do have some rights, don’t I? Now let’s see — no blood — O.K.? I just can’t stand the thought of that, Lord. Lord? LORD? Jesus?

Now, where do you suppose He went?

 

 

“Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross…” Hebrews 12:1-2

 

“Then Jesus said to His disciples, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me.” Matthew 16:24


Well, here I am, Lord. You said, “Take up your cross,” and I’m here to do it. It’s not easy, you know, this self-denial thing. I mean to go through with it though, yes sir. I’ll bet you wish more people were willing to be disciples like me. I’ve counted the cost and surrendered my life, and …well…

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On Christian Government

Some folk talk about “taking over” institutions for God – like education, economics, arts, government, etc. But this is not a new idea. Interesting what some who have gone before thought of the idea:

Voices from the past…
Joseph Augustus Seiss

“Not yet has the sovereignty of this world become the Lord’s (Ref. Revelation 11:15: ‘The kingdom of this world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ, and He shall reign forever and ever!’).

All earthly governments, principalities, and powers, from the beginning until now, are uniformly represented in the Scriptures as wild beasts, having no lawful owner, and full of destructive savageness and offensive uncleanness. A lion with eagle’s wings, a bear crunching bones and flesh, a four-winged and four-headed leopard, a nondescript with many horns, dreadful and terrible and strong exceedingly, having great iron teeth to devour and break in pieces; these are the prophetic symbols of the greatest and most lauded of them. (Cf. Rev. 13:1-2; Daniel 7:2, 7; Rev. 12:3, 9; Dan. 7:8; 11:36; Rev. 17:3; 13:4, 12)

“Even the premiership of Daniel himself in one of them does not alter its general character. It is but folly and fanaticism for men to talk of Christian states and governments in this world. Christian and good men may be concerned in their administration, and Christian ideas may sometimes temper their enactments, but earthly states and governments themselves are not Christian, and in the nature of things cannot be. They are all the products of devastated nature’s wilds, and full of savage nature’s passions and ungodliness. Fix it as we may, such is the result. The best-planned institutions and the wisest laws are ever disappointing their framers. The very law which God Himself promulged from Sinai’s thunder-shaken heights was ‘weak through the flesh,’ and did not serve to keep the Jewish commonwealth from like apostasy to that of other nationalities. To this hour there is nothing so great a desideratum among men as good and just government, nor another department in which the native evilness and God-antagonizing passions of men are so potent and defiant.

“True, the kingdom is by right the Lord’s. All authority and power originates with Him and belongs to Him. Government is His own ordinance. But since the apostasy of the race to Satan’s standard, usurpation, falsehood, and other powers than the rightful sovereign of men and nations, have held and directed the sway in this world. Many revolutions have been wrought, and men have labored, and sacrificed, and bled, and died to achieve them, believing that now they would secure the precious boon for which the race has signed and cried for ages; but it was only the turning of the sick man on his bed, who keeps his pain however he may change his place.

“In our day especially people are looking and laboring for a grand jubilee of nations, shaped to popular rule, and compacted by common laws, interests, and creed, in which enlightened ideas shall be the king, and all the world be one (Editor’s Note: Seiss published his commentary in 1869-1881 in three volumes, but several American libraries give the year of publication as 1865– all the more astounding since it is penned at the close of the American Civil War); but the result will be only a more horrible beast than any that preceded it, a leopard with bear’s feet and a lion’s mouth, full of heads and horns and names of blasphemy; the very embodiment of hell, whose infamies so outrage High Heaven as to bring the great day of God Almighty upon the world. No, no; your revolutions, and reforms, and progress of liberal ideas, and overturning of old creeds, and grand conventionalities in revision of the Decalogue, and internationalities for the redemption of the world without Christ, and glorious philosophies ruling out a personal God and exalting self and passion in His place, and all your glittering ideals to which to reconstruct society and relocate the highest interests of man, much as they may promise, and successfully as they may draw the heart and energy of the world after them, are but the nurslings of Satan’s bosom in which this world lies, and the inspirations of his foul breath.

“Dream, and prate, and preach, and glory as men may, the devil is de facto the god and king of this world. His mantle may be often changed, and every day may exhibit a new garb, but the presiding genius within is still and always the devil, with all his pride, and malice, and spoliating falsities. And so it will go on, ‘wicked men and seducers waxing worse and worse,’ till the last trumpet sounds.

“But then shall come another order; not developed from below, but enforced with sudden and resistless power from above. How, we will see when we come to consider the details of ensuing chapters. Meanwhile, however, the fact itself is sure to the exultant voices in heaven. God is king, and the sovereignty hath He given to His Son, Jesus Christ. And having given the world six thousand years in which to choose and settle upon its proper allegiance, and finding after all only an intenser and more malignant apostasy, He causes the final trump to sound, breaks in with His Almightiness, and enforces His rightful dominion. A kingdom comes which breaks in pieces, and consumes all other kingdoms, and stands forever. Laws are given to be changed no more. And the true Anointed reigns on earth in an empire of sinless, deathless life and peace, to the ages of the ages. The government is changed.” (Joseph Augustus Seiss, 1823-1904, The Apocalypse, An Exposition of the Book of Revelation, Kregel, Inc., Grand Rapids, MI, p. 274.)

from http://www.searchlight-missions.org/7thtrumpetcd15.asp

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Anxious thoughts

When my anxious thoughts multiply within me,
Your consolations delight my soul. Ps 94:19

I memorized that verse many years ago back when I was still in college. Over the years I have gained a much greater understanding of some of what those consolations are:

He hears us (1 Jn 5.14-15)

He knows our thoughts (Ps 139.2,4)

The Holy Spirit intercedes with groanings too deep for words (Rom 8.26)

He is able to save forever those who draw near to God (He 7.25)

All things work together for good to those who love Him and are called according to His purpose (Rom 8.28 )

Nothing can separate us from the love of God. (Rom 8.38-39)

He will supply all our needs (Ph 4.19)

He will complete the work that He has begun in us (Ph 1.6)

Disciplne…sorrowful…yet yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness (He 12.10-11)

Draw near to God and He will draw near to you (Jas 4.8 )

His Word will not return empty without accomplishing what He sent it out for (Is 55:11)

He will not allow temptation beyond what you are able (1 Cor 10.13

A couple of friends are going through some really hard things right now. I feel distress on their behalf. I want to comfort and encourage them. For the one it is a serious health issue. For the other it is an interpersonal conflict and I feel confused by the seeming lack of communication on both sides. I struggle with wondering why God allows these things to happen to them, yet I sense that He does have a purpose in it. How can I comfort and encourage them? Is there something I could do or say? Or is this the time to just sit back and continue to pray that they would come through as gold (Job 23:10)?

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Smarter than God Himself

Now here’s a good example of looking at things through the eyes of flesh

McLaren: This is, one of the huge problems is the traditional understanding of hell. Because if the cross is in line with Jesus’ teaching then—I won’t say, the only, and I certainly won’t say even the primary—but a primary meaning of the cross is that the kingdom of God doesn’t come like the kingdoms of the this world, by inflicting violence and coercing people. But that the kingdom of God comes through suffering and willing, voluntary sacrifice. But in an ironic way, the doctrine of hell basically says, no, that that’s not really true. That in the end, God gets His way through coercion and violence and intimidation and domination, just like every other kingdom does. The cross isn’t the center then. The cross is almost a distraction and false advertising for God.

Hansen: Oh, Brian, that was just so beautifully said. I was tempted to get on my soap box there and you know—Because as you and I know there are so many illustrations and examples that you could give that show why the tradition view of hell completely falls in the face of—It’s just antithetical to the cross. But the way you put it there, I love that. It’s false advertising. And here, Jesus is saying, turn the other cheek. Love your enemy. Forgive seven times seventy. Return violence with self-sacrificial love. But if we believe the traditional view of hell, it’s like, well, do that for a short amount of time. Because eventually, God’s going to get them.

McLaren: Yeah. And I heard one well-known Christian leader, who—I won’t mention his name, just to protect his reputation. Cause some people would use this against him. But I heard him say it like this: The traditional understanding says that God asks of us something that God is incapable of Himself. God asks us to forgive people. But God is incapable of forgiving. God can’t forgive unless He punishes somebody in place of the person He was going to forgive. God doesn’t say things to you—Forgive your wife, and then go kick the dog to vent your anger. God asks you to actually forgive

And there’s a certain sense that, a common understanding of the atonement presents a God who is incapable of forgiving. Unless He kicks somebody else.

(For the rest of the transcript of the original talk see http://www.understandthetimes.org/mclarentrans.shtml )

God: For My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways My ways,” declares the LORD. “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts.” (Isaiah 55:8-9)

Paul: For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not come to know God, God was well-pleased through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe. For indeed Jews ask for signs and Greeks search for wisdom; but we preach Christ crucified, to Jews a stumbling block and to Gentiles foolishness, but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men. (1Cor 1.21-25)

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One of those Sundays

Today was one of those Sundays where you arrive at church, look at the sermon title and wish you hadn’t come. It was “Couples’ Sunday” and the sermon was entitled “Spirit-Filled Couples”, just the sort of topic that singles love to hear – not! I mean, granted it’s probably a need for some people, but you kind of wish you had been warned. But, having already come in and sat down I was stuck, so I resolved to make the best of it. After all it wouldn’t be the first time a sermon was a washout. At least the songs looked good.

But was I pleasantly surprised! In fact, of all the sermons I have ever heard on this topic, this was probably the best.

Pastor Kenny Gan was the visiting speaker. He is Singaporean but lives in London. He looked about middle aged, had longish hair and glasses and works with OM. He started out explaining that he has a burden for broken families, both in the church and outside. He said most people try to have good families by the world’s standards. For the Chinese at least, the men work to succeed at their jobs to provide a house, good food, clothes, and things for their families. Women learn to cook, sew, and take care of the house and the kids. But there are many pressures in life and often couples end up splitting up.

The problem is that we focus on God’s secondary will – we try to be good in our career or good spouses and good parents. But actually God’s primary will is that we be conformed to the image of Jesus Christ. So I shouldn’t strive to be a Christ-like husband or doctor or whatever. We can be a positive influence where ever we are but Jesus needs to be first. Ephesians 5:1 says we are to be imitators of God. Our primary goal is to imitate God. Ephesians 4:17 says that we are to no longer walk as the Gentiles and Romans 12:2 says that we are not to be conformed to the world but to be transformed.

We should use our time wisely. People try to improve themselves in their careers and in their education. But we have lots of excuses for not improving our Christian life. We should not allow things to rob us of time spent with the Lord. In his travels around the world he says that less than 5% of the congregations, including pastors and seminary students spend ½ hour a day with the Lord.

It will be difficult to live a Christ-like life on our own. We get tired and disappointed. We try to be a good parent and spouse and we get exhausted. The flesh takes over. We get impatient, irritated, angry, and we fight. The easiest thing is to turn on the television. Drown it out. More and more kids are having fellowship with their computers.

We need to be filled with the Holy Spirit. There is no such thing as love at first sight. You learn to love after you are married. We all have weaknesses and struggles. You learn all about your spouse’s weaknesses after you are married, not before.

People often divorce because of “irreconcilable differences”. But love bears all things and is patient and kind. If we are Spirit-controlled we don’t have the need to insist on our own way. The Holy Spirit convicts us that impatience is not from the Lord.

Pastor Kenny has a principle: any time he blows his top, he recognizes that it is not from the Lord. And he must apologize to those who witness it. We must be subject to each other because the Holy Spirit is a Spirit of humility. The husband is the head of the house, but that does not mean authoritarianism. There is only one Master, the Lord. We are not really submitting ourselves to each other but to the Lord.

If your spouse has become your enemy, well, praise the Lord! Why? Because Jesus said to love your enemies! He didn’t say to kill them or divorce them. If they are hungry, feed them. If they are thirsty, give them to drink – and don’t put poison in it! In Proverbs 16:7 it says that when a man’s ways are pleasing to the Lord He makes even his enemies live in peace with him.

Maybe we spend too much time complaining of our wives’ weaknesses instead of encouraging them in their strengths. We need to learn to be thankful for the good things.

Today’s generation is perhaps more outspoken. He told of a friend who came to him one time. The man and his wife had been separated for three weeks and the man had a litany of complaints about his wife. After listening for awhile Pastor Kenny said to him, “What does the Bible say husbands are to do?” The man answered, “Uh, well, it says husbands love your wives as Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her. (Ephesians 5:25)” The pastor asked if he had done his part. The man was quiet. The pastor said, “If you haven’t done your part then I don’t want to hear about your wife until you have done your part.” That couple soon reconciled and for the last 10 years have been leading home Bible studies. God will enable you to do your part.

Husbands and wives are not just meant to be loving physically and to produce physical children but they are to produce spiritual children. Therefore we should not excuse ourselves if we have been walking in the flesh. He gave an example of a kid in a passing car squirting him in the face with a squirt gun. He blew his top and yelled at the kid. But then he realized that it was not the Holy Spirit that was blowing His top. He immediately apologized to his wife and daughter who were with him. We should not excuse ourselves. We need to learn to be humble before our kids, especially if we don’t want our kids to imitate our tantrums.

We want to be Spirit-filled couples because we want to be an inspiration for our kids. We should walk in the Spirit for the glory of God and for the blessing of the church.

Why was this the best? Because it focused on the real problem: walking in the flesh instead of walking in the Spirit. And in fact it wasn’t really about married couples – it was about all of us in all of our relationships.

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Walking and Quacking like Christians

If it walks like a Christian and quacks like a Christian, is it a Christian?

Can we define a set of actions that a disciple would do and then systematically train people to do those actions? Will they then be Christian disciples?

Does participating in activities produce disciples of Christ?

Gary Gilley recently wrote an article entitled “Willow Creek’s Big Adventure” at:
http://www.svchapel.org/Resources/articles/read_articles.asp?ID=142

In it he discusses Willow Creek’s recent admission that they had been wrong. One of the executive pastors of Willow Creek, Greg Hawkins had this to say:

Hawkins defines Willow’s ministerial goal as “trying to help people who are far from Christ become disciples of Christ characterized by their love for God and other people.” This is a most commendable goal, but how has Willow gone about trying to accomplish this goal? “We do that,” Hawkins states, “by creating a variety of programs and services for people to participate in. Our strategy is to try to get people, far from Christ, engaged in these activities. The more people are participating in these sets of activities with higher levels of frequency it will produce disciples of Christ.”

But they discovered that 1) “increasing levels of participation in these activities does not predict whether a person will become a disciple of Christ.” 2) in every church there is a spiritual continuum ranging from unbelievers to fully devoted followers of Christ. 3) All have different needs but churches most filled needs of unbelievers and new believers, leaving fully devoted believers dissatisfied with church (this survey was done only on seeker friendly churches following Willow’s model.)

The solution?

“…we should have started telling people and teaching people that they have to take responsibility to become self-feeders. We should have gotten people, taught them how to read their Bibles between services, do the spiritual practices much more aggressively on their own because what’s happening to these people, the older they get the more they are expecting the church to feed them, when in fact the more mature a Christian becomes the more he becomes a self-feeder.”

Certainly people should know how to feed themselves. But Jesus also told the disciples to feed the flock. Paul told the pastors and elders to shepherd the flock. Will doing “the spiritual practices” produce disciples of Christ??? Somehow I think they still don’t get it.

It’s like we have tried to break down Christian behavior into bytes and then made programs to train people to do those bytes. And we seem to be assuming that it’s the doing of them that makes us Christians, or at least somehow that by training ourselves to do, act, and think like a Christian that we will become one. So we “do” church in ways to engage interest and get people to come to activities and join in the “training” assuming it will produce Christians. But will it? Or are we risking damnably deceiving ourselves??

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Sermon on the Mount

While reading through the Sermon on the Mount today I jotted down some summary statements. The beatitudes of course listed praiseworthy attitudes: poor in spirit, mourning, gentle, hungry/thirsty for righteousness, merciful, pure in heart, peacemakers, and those who are persecuted for righteousness.

Then we are told to:

1) Let your light shine/ Be salt
2) As to the Law, be perfect. (Ie it is the following the intent of the Law that counts, not just the letter.
3) Practice your righteousness for God (not men)
4) Seek first His kingdom and His righteousness (ie do not store up earthly treasure, do not worry about your life)
5) Treat/judge others as you would like them to treat/judge you.
6) Beware of false prophets.

The interesting thing was the last one. It surprised me. It has always been there but somehow it seems to get ignored in sermons and it had escaped my attention that this too is part of the sermon on the mount, part of basic kingdom teaching. It must be important yet we hear so little of it today…..hmmmm, I wonder why????

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Praise: because He is worthy

Praise must never become a pragmatic device for getting blessing from God. Whenever you sincerely praise Him, the blessing will come. Praise changes things – and people.*

I wonder if there is a name for this kind of statement. This is the kind of statement that makes my mind woggle! I agree completely with the first sentence. But the effect of the next two sentences is to reverse what was said in the first! When reading the next 2 sentences the corrupt old man/ sarks/flesh/ sin nature immediately tries to sneak in there and get me to praise God all the while subtly hoping to gain blessing and get things or people changed by doing so, deceiving me by reassuring me that it isn’t a pragmatic device. The result then is that I end up praising God precisely as a pragmatic device for getting blessing! It’s back to me doing good works to gain favor and blessing.

The only reason we should praise God is BECAUSE HE IS WORTHY! It has nothing to do with blessings or changing things or people.

And I would submit that the praising does NOT change anything. HE is the source of all goodness. God is totally and utterly in control. Knowing Who He is, His sovereignty, His righteousness, justice, love, mercy, and grace that gives us comfort, hope, and joy. It is because of His grace that any of us can hope for change, it is because of His mercies that we are not consumed, we are blessed because of His goodness.

*Found in church bulletin – possibly a quote from Warren Wiersbe “With the Word”, Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1991)? – I don’t have access to the book and so can’t check it out.

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In the beginning

Sunday, while driving gingerly home in a wild and windy snowstorm, I was pondering the pastor’s Christmas sermon. Matthew showed Jesus’ geneology from Abraham, Luke took it back to Adam, but John took it back to the beginning:

1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was with God in the beginning.

Jesus was from the very beginning, He was face to face with God. He was God.

3 Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. 4 In him was life, and that life was the light of men. 5 The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood a it

He created all things and He is the source of life.

9 The true light that gives light to every man was coming into the world. 10 He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. 11 He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. 12 Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God– 13 children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.

Though not everyone recognizes Him or believes that He is who John says He is, yet whoever does is given the authority to become children of God.

14 The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.

THIS is what we celebrate: God incarnate come into the world to bring us salvation. Thanks be to God!

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