Saturday, 21 December 2013

What if we evaluated peoples Christianity differently?


I don’t know if it has something to do with growing up a Protestant, but I tend to categorize people by the beliefs that they hold to. For example, the first question I would normally think about someone is “Is this person a Christian?”, once that is confirmed I may ask something like “so where do you go to church?” This question is not so much about the location where one fellowships as it is about finding out what kind of a Christian someone is (Catholic, Baptist, the TBN type etc).

Apart from where dodgy things are being taught and practiced, I have grown to appreciate the variety within Christianity and actually seek out ways that we can learn from each other. But I have also started to realize that the beliefs we hold are not the way that scripture defines ones faithfulness and walk. It is true that our doctrines are important; I don’t think anyone would deny that. But maybe we have placed a little too much faith in our intellectual understanding of Christianity rather than in the fruits that reveal genuine signs of a living and growing faith within us.

Jesus never said that we will know who his followers were by their creeds, even if there is value in defining our beliefs. What he did say was that we would recognize his own by the fruits evident in their lives (Matt 7:20) and by the love they have one for another (John 13:35). Nowhere are the signs of this more clearly illustrated than in Acts chapter 2:44-46

Now all who believed were together and had all things in common and sold their possessions and goods, and divided them among all, as anyone had need. So continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they ate their food with gladness and simplicity of heart.

The longer I am a Christian, the more I realize that charity and love are the surest signs of a genuine relationship with God. Jesus spoke much where the religious were portrayed as outsiders while the meek and despised ones received his praise, think of the Good Samaritan or the poor widow who gave the last of what she had at the temple. Think of how it says in scripture that even the giving of a glass of water to someone does not go unnoticed. Think of Hosea 6:6 that says God desires mercy not sacrifice. Think of how James spoke rather tongue in cheek about religion and pointed out that pure and undefined religion is not about rules or regulations, but about visiting widows and orphans in their trouble and keeping oneself unspotted from the world.

Think of the final judgment where the sheep are separated from the goats (Matt 25:32-46). Once again we are not separated by denomination or creed, but by works that were the evidence of an authentic relationship with Jesus.

Inherit the kingdom that was prepared for you...for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you took me in, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you visited me... inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to Me.

When I evaluate my walk by intellectual standards, I hold my head high, sure there is a heck of a lot that I do not know and I am probably wrong in a few places where I think that I am right but I still think that  I am pretty well educated when I start comparing myself to others. But when I start evaluating my walk by Galatians 6:2 which says “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ”, then I start to get a little anxious and humbled. This may sound like a works oriented gospel to some; it’s not intended as one. God is slowly stripping me of my selfishness, self righteousness and self centeredness so that I can start to look more like the only person who ever lived that was truly “others centered”. Love for God and for others are not just commandments, they are the true marks of a believer.

Thursday, 19 December 2013

The Christian war on Christmas




Let’s face it. Christmas is a bizarre holiday with a weird history and is celebrated in some crazy ways around the world. If you don’t know what I am talking about you can read about some of the weirdness over here  to see just how strange things can get. But as foreign as some other peoples traditions may be, one could argue the point that eating KFC in Japan on Christmas Eve is pretty mild in comparison to us telling our kids that a fat bearded guy from the North Pole will break in on xmas night and leave some presents under the tree that we dragged inside and decorated, he will then fly away in a reindeer powered sleigh. If we are lucky, he may even leave some sweets for us in the sock hanging up (not in your sock drawer but in the living room) that must have previously belonged to a one footed man with a giant foot.

No matter how we rationalize it, Christmas is undoubtedly a worldwide and worldly holiday which has roots going back way before the birth of Christ. There are even those few verses in Jeremiah 10:2-4 that speak about not being like the pagan nations who “cut down a tree and decorate it with silver and gold”, something eerily close to our modern practice. So what should our response as Christians be to the Americanized version of Christmas that merges Christ and consumerism? Some seem to embrace it wholeheartedly while others are ready to smack you over the head with their metaphorical placard if they catch you humming along to a carol.

All I can do here is share my own opinion on this which I consider to be not necessarily a middle ground, but a third perspective. I don’t necessarily feel that we should celebrate Christmas, at least not every aspect of it. There are those few verses in Jeremiah I mentioned earlier, but I am not really sure if they are any different than the ones found throughout the Old Testament that say things like “don’t shave the corners of your beard”. The pagan aspects originally associated with Christmas have all disappeared just like the ones associated with the names of the days of the week have ( think SATURNday, SUNday, MOONday etc). As for my family, we have ditched the tree and accessories but not because I think we are under the old Hebrew law but more as an act of being sensitive toward the beliefs of some of our friends who are against it.

Although we still get together with family and exchange small gifts with each other, I would like to think that we avoid making the day about just getting stuff. One of the scariest things I read recently was that Americans alone spend $450 billion on Christmas annually; to put that in perspective, $20 billion would be enough to give water to the world for a year. That means if America alone spent 5% less on buying gifts and donated that money to the right people, the entire would have access to clean drinking water. So why not cut back a little on our spending and donate to a good cause? I personally like GFA  because 1) I know one of the leaders and can vouch for their ministry and 2) 100% of your donation goes to what you gave it for, plus you can even choose the gift. You can pick anything from a water purifier to a pair of chickens which means eggs and income to a poor family. These are life changing gifts that come with the message of God’s love.

While I am not super eager on celebrating most aspects of Christmas, I do feel that we should celebrate Christ always, and the 25th December does present some unique opportunities to do this. It certainly offers up opportunities to share the Gospel, it is also an annual reminder of the birth of Jesus and everything that that entails and I love reading the blogs and scriptures on the subject that pop up this time of year. It is also a chance to be charitable as opportunities for giving are everywhere we look.

So yeah, to those who love the holiday, great, but let’s keep perspective. Many of us scoff at the prosperity preachers, but in reality we still live very comfortable lives and when our bank account looks healthy, we normally spend the money on fancy holidays or small shiny things and call it God’s blessing without really  considering our needy brothers out there in the world. I’m not saying we can’t go on vacations or buy nice things, but rather that we should examine our hearts more carefully.

And to those who oppose Christmas, I am reminded of Paul’s words in Romans 14

One person esteems one day above another; another esteems every day alike. Let each be fully convinced in his own mind. He who observes the day, observes it to the Lord, and he who does not observe the day, to the Lord he does not observe it...but why do you judge your brother? Or why do you show contempt for your brother?...Therefore let us not judge one another anymore, but rather resolve this, not to put a stumbling block or a cause to fall in our brothers way.

Some would say that we are called to be holy and separate from the world, but when we judge others motives or lack grace then how separate are we from the ways of the world? It’s better to err on the side of caution with ourselves while extending grace to others.

Happy holidays all! May the life of Christ capture your hearts this Christmas. :)

Monday, 16 December 2013

Salvation from the perspective of a Kingdom centered Gospel


Poor doctrine tends to have a ripple effect on the rest of our theology. For example, Christianity started out as a group of Christ centered Kingdom people in which its followers were expected to turn the other cheek and bless those who cursed them, even to the point of laying down their lives for their enemies (just as their leader did). Yet when Augustine came along in the 4th and 5th century, he reasoned that if people (a different Christian sect known as the Donatists) were forced into embracing his brand of Christianity it would be for their own good in the larger scope of things. His views helped to justify the church’s right to use political power to assert spiritual control. This line of thinking would eventually lead to things like the Inquisition where the “church” killed countless numbers of people who refused to submit to Roman Catholicism and the Pope. Unfortunately, the early Protestant Church carried over this same kind of reasoning and had just as much blood on its hands. Many of the early reformers like Calvin, who is today considered by many as a hero of the faith, were guilty of having other Christians killed over doctrinal differences. The story between him and Servetus is horrific and if you have not heard about it before you can read about it here.

Sometimes our errors are less obvious and can be more subtle. For example, in a previous post I touched on the gospel which today is being taught as a salvation message. This is not so much wrong as it is a half truth, but half truths lead to half revelations, a wrong emphasis in evangelism and half hearted conversions. Let me explain, a Gospel that says accept Christ as your savior but neglects to tell you that Christ is Lord has lead to what some call “easy believism”. The Kingdom road has been replaced with a one minute prayer for salvation from hell. And the fruits of this are churches full of people who look more like the world than they do like Christ. But how can we expect anything more of them when statistics reveal that the people who are leading them (not all of them) have higher or equal divorce rates, addictions to alcohol and pornography and burnout than the people out in the world.

So what’s missing in the salvation message? Salvation as Greg Boyd puts it, is about manifesting God’s fullness of life by cultivating a counter-cultural lifestyle that revolts against every aspect of society that is inconsistent with the character of God and his will for the world. It’s about living and praying in a way that actualizes the fullness of the Lord’s prayer that the Father’s will would be done “on earth as it is in heaven”(Matthew 6:10). That is a radically different way of looking at it than the way most of us have understood it.

Additionally, the error of penal substitution theory which is embraced in most Western Churches has lead people to believe that this salvation message basically means that we are saved from Gods wrath and hell. What Penal substitution neglects to tell us is how we are saved from the evil one, from the Adamic nature which brings death rather than life and also that one day this broken creation will be restored as well. PS theory also fails to harvest any kind of trust in us that God is loving, merciful and just when you really start to think about it.

Some have said that salvation carries past, present and future aspects in that we have been saved from darkness into light and from death into life, we are being saved from the Adamic nature as we are slowly conformed into Christs image and that we will be saved on the day of judgment from destruction. This is maybe a nice way of thinking about it. Salvation is not something that we can simply put in the past but that is manifested in us daily.

Wednesday, 4 December 2013

Healed of stage 4 cancer



This post was meant to follow directly on from the 4 views on the work of the Spirit article but things just never worked out that way. Anyway, the lady pictured above is a work colleague of mine and her name is Magda. Two years ago, almost to the day, she fell down at work and had a seizure. It was only a month later that we realized the full extent of her situation. Below is the her story in her own words (but translated into English).

"On 14 January 2012 I was diagnosed with a 4.7 cm large glioblastoma - a tumor situated on the right side of my brain. A biopsy was done and the results showed that I had stage 4 brain cancer. On 24 January 2012 a neurologist performed a 6 hour long operation and most of the tumor was removed. Only three days later, on 27 January, I was released from the hospital. During the months of February, March and April I had to undergo numerous sessions of radiation as well as chemotherapy.

In April I ended up in ICU due to a faulty signal between my brain and lungs which caused me to stop breathing. The doctor refused to put me on life support and informed my husband that it was time for the family to come and say their goodbyes as there was nothing more they could do for me. My husband and sister-in-law however walked out of my hospital room to go and pray for me. They lay it all at the Lord's feet. A mere 10 minutes later I started breathing again and was released the very next day! The doctor estimated my last days on earth to be between three months to a year, but nobody is in control of my life except the Lord. I prayed each day and believed that God had already healed me. On 7 January 2013, a year later, I received confirmation that I had indeed been healed of the cancer and that the glioblastoma had shrunk to a mere 1 cm. The doctor, and everybody else, were dumbfounded because these tumors usually tend to double in size over a time span of two weeks, and very few people actually survive this type of cancer. But God is big and almighty, and if you ask and believe He will answer your prayers. It was a year in which my faith was tested and it was a year which brought me so much closer to God. We really do serve a great and living God! Two years have already passed and even the 1 cm sized tumor is gone! I don't have cancer anymore!"

Magda's husband explained to me in more detail just how rare her recovery was, people don't just come back from stage 4 brain cancer and the doctor himself described it as a miracle. The only realistic hope here for them was in God. May her story be an encouragement to others going through rough times! And may it be an encouragement to all that our God still operates in signs and wonders and is very much involved in the present. And may it serve as a testimony, not to the power of prayer, but to the one whom we are praying to!

PS - If anyone wants to watch a short video of her sharing this story with a few photos to show the extent of the journey she endured you can watch it here , it is in Afrikaans though.

PSS - Today is Magda's birthday, Happy birthday Magda! :)

Wednesday, 27 November 2013

The Gospel. It's bigger than we think!



What is the gospel? Ask the question and you will get a whole set of different answers. Normally people will quote something like John 3:16 or mention something about Jesus dying for your sins so that God could forgive you and let you into heaven one day. In other words, most people associate the gospel with a salvation message. But while the message of salvation is certainly a part of the gospel and is definately good news to you and me, it is not the gospel. We tend to make things about ourselves but in reality, the gospel is a message about a King and his kingdom. This is why the bible repeatedly refers to it as "the gospel of the Kingdom" and "the gospel of God".

 In order to properly understand what the bible is talking about regarding the good news, let's rewind 2000 years to a little empire called Rome.

Although we think of the word as a Christian term, it has not always been so. Back when the Roman Empire was yielding it's power over others and ruling the world. They were quite fond of the term euangelion which we translate as gospel in our bibles. The Romans used to proclaim euangelion to announce a new Caesar or the birth of a divine heir to the throne. For example, An inscription in the ruins of the Greek city Priene, which dates back to 9BC, declares that “When Caesar appeared he exceeded the hopes of all who received the gospel …" (see here). Like wise, "The birthday of the god Augustus was the beginning of the gospel regarding him for the world." It's also interesting to note that these Emperors also were known by titles such as "Savior" and "Pontifex Maximus" which means "Lord".  Nero even adopted the title "son of god" for himself.

With this in mind, when we see these words in the bible they start to take on a whole lot more meaning to us. Consider the angel in Luke 2:10 who proclaimed "the gospel" to the shepherds. Similarly, Mark 1:1 states, “The beginning of the "the gospel" of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” The word euangelion appears almost 80 times in the New Testament. Men like Paul would eventually die for the testimony of this "counter gospel" that they preached, consider the words recorded in Acts 17:7

"...and they were all acting contrary to the decrees of Caesar, saying there is another King, one Jesus."

Paul and the rest of the church were using the word gospel deliberately, as a proclamation of the one true King. The early church was not merely proclaiming a message of fire insurance that would simply take a minute to complete by repeating a prayer after someone else. They were proclaiming that the Christ (anointed one) had died, risen and conquered the principalities and powers of darkness. They invited people to bow the knee to King Jesus and live in a counter kingdom. One that taught us to love our enemies, to turn the other cheek, to seek the well being of others and to turn away from wickedness. This gospel extends beyond individuals to all of creation which will one day be restored. I always used to wonder about that verse that says preach the gospel to every living creature , it never made any sense if the gospel was simply a salvation message.

With a clearer understanding of the gospel, I believe we lay the foundations for a better understanding of the life of Jesus, the cross and the Kingdom of God. All topics for another day...










Saturday, 23 November 2013

The Genetic fallacy


So the last blog post really got a lot of attention. Which was surprising because I tried not to let people either pro or anti tattoos get off the hook too easily. In my nerdy ways, it's weird for me that more Christians would want to read about tattoos than they would about an article on something like atonement theology. Nevertheless, it was great to get feedback and support from so many people.

There was something that I realized a few days later however which I failed to address in the original post, and that was the argument that people make regarding the pagan origin of tattoos. Actually, this goes way beyond tattoos. Many of my friends do not celebrate Christmas or Easter because of their pagan origins. The Pastor of a church I used to attend condemned Christian rock (or maybe he was just against heavy rock music?) because of it's pagan origins (though you could argue that rock music has it's roots in African American Gospel music but I'm getting off topic). The point I am making though is that we condemn many things because of their origins, regardless of who or how they are currently used or understood.

There is actually a name for this kind of reasoning and it is called the genetic fallacy. The genetic fallacy seeks to build a conclusion based solely on somethings origin. The big problem with this though is that we tend to use it only when it is convenient for us, ignoring how factors outside of its origin come in to play.

For example, and I am borrowing a quote from Robin Schumacher here. No Christian would say that it's wrong for woman to wear pantyhose. However, the history of pantyhose can be traced back to prostitutes in Italy hundreds of years ago. They were an identifying mark meant to tell others who these woman were and what they practiced. So to wear pantyhose a few hundred years ago in Italy was probably not something Christians would want to do lest they be misidentified and associated with immoral behavior.

A closer look at the origins of our modern church practices reveals several pagan influences have infiltrated our meetings (read Pagan Christianity for further investigation). Everything from pulpits, to religious attire, to buildings and on and on has roots outside of the early church. Yet I think the majority of the church today would argue that some of this "borrowing" has benefited our meetings regardless of those origins.

Now don't get me wrong, origins are important and can be a deciding factor in whether we do or do not do something. For example, swastikas still carry the same message today that they did in the last century. No sensible Christian would wear something with the symbol on, yet you are probably safe driving a VW Beetle around town which also has a Nazi heritage. So the rule of thumb here would be to exercise cultural sensitivity and common sense rather than make a blanket rule for everything. Sometimes it's tricky, do we lock our doors and stay home on Christmas or do we use the opportunity to hand out some sandwiches to the homeless and share Jesus with them while maybe avoiding certain elements of the holiday? Do we allow for certain variances in church meetings or do we discard anything that can't be traced back to the NT?These are things we should all prayerfully consider item by item and tradition by tradition.

In all things, be loving, be truthful, be edifying.



Monday, 18 November 2013

Christians and tattoos





Tattoos have been quite popular within Christian circles for a while now. Yet for every person with a cross or bible verse on their body there is another person out there who is willing to declare them “not really saved” because "real Christians would not get tattooed". So who is right? Is it a grey area? Here are some things that I think people on both sides of the fence need to consider. Oh, and to keep it simple, I am referring here only to Christian tattoos, not tribal tattoos, piercings, body mutilation and so on.

A Brief History

We know from Roman historians like Virgil, Seneca, and Galenus, that many slaves were tattooed around the time Jesus walked the earth. Tattoos, along with pierced ears, were marks of slaves or of a persons devotion to their god. This was common back then and even Paul may have been drawing a parallel on this in Galatians 6:17 when he refers to bearing the marks of Jesus on his body. He was obviously referring to the scars and bruises that he carried as opposed to actual tattoos but the connection is still there. Regardless, it did not take long for Christians, particularly in Egypt and Ethiopia, to start showing their devotion to Jesus with tattoos.

In the fourth century A.D., the Montanists, a Christian sect relying heavily on the Book of Revelation, began tattooing themselves as "slaves of God" (Rev. 7:2-3). It is documented that a monk who lived in the late fifth century had a tattoo on his thigh that read: "Manim, the disciple of Jesus Christ." The historian Procopius of Caesarea, who lived during the first half of the sixth century, reported that many Christians were tattooed, on their arms, with a cross or the name of Christ. When Constantine was in power in the fourth century, he had a law passed that Christians should not tattoo their faces (other places on the body were okay) because he considered the face to be the image of God, so it was clearly something that was popular at that time. The council of Calcuth mentioned two types of tattooing: one of pagan superstition, which doesn't aid any Christian, and another for the sake of God.

Tattoos within early Christianity were not about fashion, the Ethiopians were known for tattooing a cross on their foreheads, temples and wrists. This was to give strength to the faithful and make it impossible under persecution to deny their faith. Some scholars believe the Coptic (Egyptian) Christians learned this practice from them and they have actually continued the tradition to this very day. For centuries now they have tattooed a little cross on their wrists. These tattoos are not about teenage rebellion or trendiness, but about showing ones dedication to their King. For the Copts’, it may bring about persecution, with Egypt being a Muslim land where they are in the minority, but it also serves to protect their children from extremists who sometimes kidnap their children and force them to convert to Islam, including forced marriages of young Christian girls to Muslim men. Read more about it here.




But what about…

Leviticus 19:28  “You shall not tattoo any marks on you…” 

I am sure you have heard this one; but an honest reading of the text should include the entire sentence.

You should not shave the sides of your head or the corners of your beard, don’t make cuttings in your flesh or tattoo any marks on yourself (paraphrased).

Even though I would not agree with someone who was opposed to tattoos based on this verse alone, I would totally respect anyone who prohibited tattoos but also spoke out against ear rings and beard trimming. At least that would be a consistent argument to make. But for now, let’s just say that this verse, even though it is the only direct reference to tattoos in the bible, is perhaps not the best one to bring up in an argument.

1 Corinthians 6:19 “…your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit…”

There are 2 considerations to make here, the first being the preceding verse, “every sin that a man does is outside the body, but he who commits sexual immorality sins against his own body.” The context here is regarding sexual immorality, the other thing to consider is that most institutionalized Christians still consider their buildings to be the “house of the Lord”, these temples are usually decorated with crosses and banners containing proclamations and scriptures, much like tattoos do. Is it possible to glorify God with your body (verse 20) like we do with our places of worship? And what about the use of make-up? It’s not permanent (at least not always) but it is permanently being applied anyway…I’m not convinced the temple argument is so clear cut either for those opposed to tattooing.

What did Jesus say?

Although silent regarding tattoos, Jesus does give us some insights in conversations with the Pharisees on what he may have thought. For the sake of space, I am not going to write them out here, but read Mathew 15:10-20 and Mathew 23:25-28. In South Africa, we have a saying, “Buitekant blink, binnekant stink”, which basically translates as “shiny on the outside and rotten on the inside”. This is pretty much what Jesus is saying in the scriptures referenced. He seemed far more concerned with the inner man than someone who had only an outward appearances of holiness.

A word of caution

Do I think it is a sin to get a tattoo? No, but there is a disclaimer that goes along with that. And if you are considering getting one (or more), please think, pray and check your motives first. If you want a tattoo because it’s cool and you are looking for more awesomeness points and attention, reconsider. Art is not sinful, but pride is.

Another thing is that tattoos are expensive, we are called to be faithful stewards of the things that God has loaned us and that includes our money. Do you need a sleeve more than your out of work neighbor needs some bread? Probably not. But if that verse or cross on your arm is going to help you witness or encourage you or others then I am all for it.

Conclusion

All things are lawful for us but not necessarily profitable for us. If you want to get inked, consider what has already been said above. To the other group who can look past shaving and ear rings but not the other part of Leviticus 19:28, please consider Paul’s words to the Galatians in chapter 6:13. I love the way Eugene Peterson says it in the Message,

“These people who are attempting to force the way of circumcision on you, they only have one motive. they want an easy way to look good before others, lacking the faith to live by a faith that shares Christ’s suffering and death. All their talk about the law is gas. They themselves don’t keep the law. And they are highly selective in the laws they do observe. They only want you to be circumcised so they can boast of their success in recruiting you to their side. That is contemptible.”

I recently befriended someone who has eye brow tattoos because his immune system attacks his hair which has left him totally bald. I am sure it has not always being easy for him living with his disease, what would the way of love be in responding to this? To condemn him for his eye brow tattoos? Of course not. Let's be careful about the broadness of the brush we use when we make declarations and judgments on others.

I don’t really care about tattoos personally; I think they look cool on other people and that’s enough. There is no doubt that people sometimes end up with stupid tattoos because they took the decision lightly. But it maddens me to see freedom in Christ preached only so that we can afterwards tie people up again in bondage through conformance to our own religious standards. Let's show more concern for the inner man than the outward appearance, starting with ourselves.

Sunday, 17 November 2013

4 views on the work of the Spirit

As regular readers already know, I was stuck with my head in the books preparing for some exams while some interesting things were going on in the rest of the world, topics where I would have loved to have thrown my 2 cents into the conversations going on as well. First it was John MacArthur, then Mark Driscoll and then the Pope. So yes, I know that most of you have moved on already, but bear with me as I play catch up.

This post sits a bit heavily on me as I am well aware that some will disagree strongly with it. I'm not one for talking up divisive issues or trying to sound like I know better than anyone else. So with that disclaimer out of the way let's continue. For those who have not yet heard about John MaCarthur's new(ish) book, or about the Strange Fire conference his church held. They basically came out and saying more or less what was previously said in his earlier book "Charismatic Chaos". Stating that the gifts of the Spirit ceased with the closing of the writing of the bible. He draws your attention to the extreme abuses and blatant forgeries happening on television and ultimately ends up throwing the baby out with the bath water. Now my intention here is not to give a theological rebuttal of his paper thin arguments as many have already done that. I recommend checking out some of them over at http://mennonerds.com/ . Rather, I want to share here the 4 places I see people coming from regarding the work of the Spirit in the 21st century. I will also be sharing a story in an upcoming blog of a miraculous healing that was close to home. The proof is in the pudding so they say. Anyway, let's look at those 4 observances I mentioned earlier...

1 - Those who have not experienced the gifts of the Spirit and operate under counterfeits.

This is pretty much the guys people like John MacArthur are highlighting in their books. Some of these people are just stirring people up into an emotional frenzy and by the time the smoke machines are switched off and everyone has gone home, nothing has changed except the church goers are left either disillusioned with God or they feel guilty about their "lack of faith". There are others out there who are doing genuine signs and wonders but they are not from God. There are some videos on TB Joshua which are genuinely scary. Pushing people over from 10 meters away who are not even facing him, people throwing up and urinating worms and all kinds of weird stuff... Then to a much lesser degree there are also those who have simply being taught to imitate the gifts and it's just normal for them. Meetings where you actually go and learn to speak in tongues or prophesy. I was in those sorts of circles as a new Christian and it hurts me to see the Emperor with no clothes type story going on in so many churches today.

2 - Those who have not experienced the gifts of the Spirit and have to adjust their theology accordingly.

Maybe it is a bit harsh of me to make such a generalization, but this is certainly where a lot of cessationists fit in. It's never wise to make a stand on something and then start building a doctrine around those ideas. Proof texting always follows...To see guys as smart as John MacArthur making the weakest of arguments is pitiful as well as harmful to the body as a whole. History is saturated with stories of Gods amazing power and to take the glory away from Him and attribute it to anyone else is to tread on very thin ice.

3 - Those who are filled with the Spirit and are living out the book of Acts today.

One book everyone should read is The Heavenly Man . There are many others as well but that one really spoke to me as it has to many others. What God has being doing in the Chinese church as a whole for the last sixty years is truly remarkable. Check out this 4 part documentary on Youtube , the bible is not just a history book made up of fanciful stories for a past generation, the similar stories (to the book of Acts) happening in the world today are among the greatest evidences that Jesus is alive, well and Lord in the present.

4 - Those who believe in the gifts but experience little "signs and wonders".

I especially created this group for myself, although I am sure that I am not alone in it. I have seeing many wonderful and legit healing's, have heard God speak distinctly and clearly and the fruits of following that voice. I have seeing Muslims baffled  at how a man could speak Arabic to them without learning it. Many things, but in truth, it's far from the norm and nothing like the constant testimonies I hear from friends in places like India. This concerns me sometimes, why is Gods power not manifest in the West like He is in Asia? I can only guess. Maybe, in our comfort we are not as reliant on Him for our needs to be met? Maybe, its because we are more private in the Western world and the gifts are corporate in nature and purpose aren't they? I think there is truth in both, especially in the latter. I would love to hear from others who have dwelt on this before for there insights as I work through it myself...

But for now, me and my house will continue to pray for the sick and to desire the gifts for the edification of the body. I will be cautious, but not cut off.

Monday, 11 November 2013

Open meetings



After 2 and a half years of studies I wrote my last exam today! In 2011 I started doing a correspondence course on Store Management which I originally planned to finish within 18 months, but it ended up taking a bit longer than expected because our daughter was born last year over the exam period and so I decided to postpone taking the tests for a while. But finally, I'm finished! I feel I did well and I can now start concentrating on other things again. Like this blog for instance :)

So there are a few blogs in the draft section coming soon but here is a quick update from me. In a previous post I mentioned that our local fellowship gathering was going through some changes. We seem to go through cycles with people coming and going. It's like we meet people, pour ourselves into one another and then they move on and God sends a new batch across our path. We are in one of those phases now where a month ago our meetings were down to 4 core people plus the kids and one or two occasional visitors. Numbers have never mattered to me, Christ said that he would be his church, so from our side, we simply leave the welcome mat out and try get on board with whatever we see him doing around us. Fast forward a few weeks and all of a sudden we have new people in our lives and meetings again and for me personally,  there are few things as exciting as linking up with new brothers. I always feel like we have something to give and to learn from any believer we come across. It doesn't always work out that way but, over the last few years of hosting open participatory meetings, the biblical principals of iron sharpening iron and encouraging one another daily has increased ten fold around us. I watched this happen yet again last night as one couple who came shared about their years spent as missionaries in South America, about what God had done, how he provided and how they have since discovered a "God beyond our models". Another guy visiting for the first time shared how he was discovering the relational/organic aspect of church that he longed for. Young and old(er) from different backgrounds all saying the same things that were in my own heart as well.

Another girl shared her testimony of God delivering her from drug addiction and other nasty things. Despite been delivered of the hardcore drugs she was still hooked on weed for the last 2 years. One night she fought with God saying, "You promised to set the captives free, don't lie to me!"  The very next day someone (through a tongue) told her she was delivered and she is now totally free of it's lure. This girl was the daughter of one of our "regulars", we had prayed for her and others over the years so what an awesome testimony to see God form something new and pure from a broken pot.

I don't know if any of these people will be joining us regularly. It does not matter so long as they are joined to the body somewhere, we will definitely see them outside of Sunday gatherings anyway.
Anyway, a simple suggestion here from me. No matter how you meet. Try make provision for  open meetings once in a while as well or somewhere during the meeting. Sometimes our programs are counteractive to the Spirits work. We need an environment where the "each one has a Psalm, teaching, tongue, revelation etc..." (1 Cor 14:26) can happen. It's also a great reflection on the state of us as  individuals when we come together and just see what happens. We could have come together, sung songs, heard a word and gone home again and missed all of this. How tragic when lives are not shared on a deeper level.

Saturday, 12 October 2013

In the likeness of...?

In the creation story we read that mankind was made in Gods image and after His likeness. No one disputes this as the text is pretty plain. And so today we still declare rather hastily that men are created in the image of God. We consider ourselves to be "like Him" yet at the same time we sing songs like “There is none like you”, something is amiss.

The problem I think we have here is that we have not taken the fall of Adam into account and the story thereafter. It’s easy to skip over the significance of Genesis 5:3 (genealogies are not the most interesting to read) but I think it provides a vital insight into just what mankind lost in Eden.

This is the written account of Adam’s family line.-

When God created mankind, he made them in the likeness of God.  He created them male and female and blessed them. And he named them “Mankind” when they were created.

When Adam had lived 130 years, he had a son in his own likeness, in his own image; and he named him Seth.

What if the likeness we shared with God before the fall related to us being partakers in the divine nature? What if God’s warning that disobedience in the garden would result in death meant that we would be separated from His life? What if sin was not the greatest issue in a fallen world, but merely the fruits of those who inherited the Adamic nature?

I could be wrong and Genesis 9:6 may imply that mankind post-Eden still bore the image of God. Or the verse could be referring to the original creation or it may even imply that the “image losing” was only temporal. But bear with me as I lay my thoughts out. There are things we can state with certainty which have led to these questions.

First, we do know that Jesus is the only human since Adam and Eve who truly bore Gods image.

The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven. - Hebrews 1:3

The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel that displays the glory of Christ, who is the image of God - 2 Corinthians 4:4

The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. - Colossians 1:15

We also know that through Jesus we have again become partakers of the divine nature.

Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature, having escaped the corruption in the world caused by evil desires. - 2 Peter 1:4

We also learn very quickly in the Christian walk that sanctification is a process. Upon rebirth we have new access to the vine that is Christ, but the flesh is very much still alive and opposed to the kingdom of God. Paul wrote comforting and encouraging words about this in Romans 8, culminating in one of my favorite scriptures in verse 29.

For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters.

This work will not be completed in us during this lifetime (see 1 Corinthians 15:35-58 and 1 John 1:8) but only at the resurrection of the dead.

So will it be with the resurrection of the dead... So it is written: “The first man Adam became a living being”; the last Adam, a life-giving spirit...As was the earthly man, so are those who are of the earth; and as is the heavenly man, so also are those who are of heaven.  And just as we have borne the image of the earthly man, so shall we bear the image of the heavenly man. - 1 Corinthians 15:42-49 

Some may find this to be irrelevant, I find it to be quite important though in relation to how we view people and how we view sin.  I don’t mean to take away from the value of lost men by saying that they bear Adams image rather than Gods. I simply see that the hope for mankind is not found in behavior modification but rather in Christ. For people to find life in the kingdom of God they need Christ and nothing more. And through that image conforming relationship those ugly branches will be pruned and the fruits of the spirit will become evident.We can outlaw and preach against many things and evil is undoubtedly restrained in doing so. But outward conformance should not be viewed as a victory. Setting ourselves up as the judges of good and evil is what got us into this mess in the first place. Only God can change the inner man.

Thursday, 3 October 2013

Reflections on house churches



Trying to describe what a house church looks like is about as futile as trying to describe the doctrinal beliefs of the Protestant church.
Everywhere you go it is going to be a little different. Some house churches are nothing more than micro versions of institutional churches. Run by one or two people while going through their program step by step. Other house churches are extremely loose and casual. While the ones you read about in China and India seem to be somewhere in between. So my aim here is not to paint a picture of what a house church looks like; but rather to identify what seem to be the strengths, weaknesses, advantages and dangers which I have experienced firsthand from home gatherings.

Strengths and advantages

There are many strengths and advantages within house churches over the institutional model or casual church (by casual I mean those who believe in no structure or planned meetings and that church just “happens” sporadically amongst believers). 

Fellowship is an obvious advantage, face to face time is priceless both in and outside of meetings. Paul, following Jesus’s example, spoke of going through great personal pain and suffering in order to build up the saints. It is a mindset that is almost totally lost within our congregations pews. You cannot know the fears, struggles and weaknesses of those who you do not know. You can preach a sermon to them, but you cannot really walk with them or bear their burdens until you know their needs.

A fully functioning body is another major plus, Christians need an environment where they can use their own spiritual gifts, where each person truly has value and imparts something more significant than just monetary donations and adding their voice to the corporate singing.

Diversity is also a great asset in a house church, at least in the West where the move has being gaining momentum and people from different denominational backgrounds have started coming together. Most (but not all) denominations were birthed out of a specific insight into a truth about God and our brothers can often see things that we have been blinded from. respectful conversations about our different views can be very beneficial. Truth has nothing to fear because it will hold firm under prayerful study. Sometimes we need to have the rug pulled out from under our feet, it is both humbling and exposes the dirt that we have swept underneath it.

Weaknesses and dangers

For the most part the weaknesses and dangers within house churches are similar to those of their more traditional cousin’s problems. Controlling personalities can dictate meetings; people may run after certain teachers rather than Christ and pride at their “more biblical” model of church can result in bad mouthing those" deceived fellows" back in the institutional church. A lack of structure can contribute to a lack of direction and focus in home meetings. Personally, we have had many days like that where time flies past and before you know it, you quickly round up everyone for prayer because people need to start leaving and the day is lost.

The most concerning flaw I find though is that many people join house churches for no other reason than they see it as the biblical model.  There is plenty in scripture to support meeting in house churches. And so the thinking is that if we can imitate the fruits that were being lived out and recorded in the book of Acts then we have made it. The problem is though, that so often it only seems to be a theological persuasion and people are not truly been knit together with other believers. In essence, it’s remains just a once a week deal where you still get to keep people at arms length and live comfortably as though you were your own. True churches do not just mimic what they see in the New Testament. They live and function corporately as a local body and if we can get that right, the results will ultimately bear resemblance to what we read about in Acts without our cheap imitations.

Some institutional churches live this out far better than some house churches do.

Tuesday, 1 October 2013

and to God what is God's


Hello!

It’s been about a month since you last heard from me, mostly because my computer was broken, although I cannot attribute all of the last 4 weeks to that. Things have been busy and there seems to be a new page being written in the little gathering where we fellowship as well. I’m hoping to touch on that topic soon with a post on house churches and some of the issues that arise therein. But for now, I just wanted to share a small thought below from a familiar passage.

Mathew 22:15-22
 … Teacher…what is your opinion? Is it right to pay the imperial tax to Caesar or not?”
But Jesus, knowing their evil intent, said, “You hypocrites, why are you trying to trap me?  Show me the coin used for paying the tax.” They brought him a denarius, and he asked them, “Whose image is this? And whose inscription?”
 “Caesar’s,” they replied.
Then he said to them, “So give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.”
 When they heard this, they were amazed. So they left him and went away.

Something struck me last night while reading this passage; I have only ever heard this scripture quoted in support of why Christians should pay taxes. Yet Jesus is saying something far greater here. The things that bear Gods image belong to Him. Those who are born again bear his likeness and image. Give back to God the things that belong to God… Also, why are we always trying to advance the Kingdom of Heaven through the things of Caesar?


Then Peter said, "Silver or gold I do not have, but what I do have I give you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk." – Acts 3:6

Tuesday, 27 August 2013

Further reflections on Christian anarchism

The Lord shall reign for ever and ever. Exodus 15:18

I always make an effort to keep these posts short and sweet simply because not everyone wants to or has the time to read something lengthy. The idea is to put a thought up which people can pursue on their own. Looking back on a previous post on Christian anarchism though I felt it was necessary to do a follow up. If you missed the first post please read that one before going through this one. 

Last time I mentioned that God never wanted a King to rule over His people but nonetheless conceded to Israels request. 1 Samuel 8:1-22 reveals that Gods people were actually rejecting Him when they requested an earthly king. Human government is therefore actually premised on a mistrust in God. And I am not speaking only of kings and presidents here, we see it in the Indian caste system and in the churches clergy/laity divide as well. We can see Gods thoughts on the "power over people" system that the world operates in throughout scripture.We see it in the rebuking of Diotrephes in 3 John 9 who loved having preeminence in church meetings and the Nicolaitians in Rev 2:15 who were "conquerors of the people". In Mark 12:38 Jesus speaks out against the scribes who loved being important in the eyes of men.

There is a remarkable story in Luke 4 when Jesus is tempted by Satan in the wilderness, two things can be discovered in verses 5-7. Number 1 is that the Kingdoms of this world are under Satan's influence (at least to some degree) and number 2 is that Jesus was not interested in ruling in this manner. Throughout his ministry people would try and draw Jesus in on the politics of his day, yet he never chose option 1 or 2 but always provided a 3rd way of looking at things. For he was neither left nor right but Kingdom driven.

We who are citizens of the Kingdom of God are “foreigners,” “exiles” and “strangers” in this world (Phil 1:27; 3:20; Heb 11:13; 1 Pet 1:17; 2:21). Yet here is where I want to put the breaks on a little bit. To simply say that all governments and nations are "less than nothing" in Gods eyes (as Isa 40:15-17 puts it) would not paint a complete picture of what the bible tells us regarding the authorities of our land. Romans 13 for instance reveals that Governments can be useful in restraining evil by the laws it creates and holds citizens accountable to. A law against rape may not be able to change a wicked mans heart but at least the fear of punishment may be enough to restrain him. A parallel can easily be drawn with the law that was given to Israel compared to the law that is written in the Christians heart (Ez 11:19). Apart from recognizing the good that governments can do in restraining evil, the bible also tells us to pray for our leaders, to pray for peace in the land and to pay our taxes. 

But let it me known that our only real hope lies in God who is above all other powers (Rom 13:2), while some leaders are better than others and some forms of government are better than others none can be considered Christian or even ideal because they operate contrary to the Kingdom of God. The world uses the sword, Gods kingdom picks up the cross, the world uses power and force, Gods kingdom seeks to serve and build others up. One wars against its enemies, the other blesses its enemies. One has borders drawn in the sand, the other is found wherever Gods will is carried out.

The Kingdom of God is far more important than the airtime that the church is giving it, the New Testament defines the very gospel as the gospel of the Kingdom. Can you imagine how different the church would look if it began to serve others rather than try present a religious version of the worlds kingdom to people.

I listened through a great series here addressing these very issues. I don't agree 100% with everything Greg Boyd teaches but I really like him, the heart of the series on the link was so spot on, it really is worth a listen.










Wednesday, 21 August 2013

Jesus in Exodus 12


I have been spending some time in the Old Testament of late and have just being reminded of how everything in scripture points to Jesus. Some of the types and shadows are incredibly detailed. Consider some of the passages in Exodus 12 regarding the Passover with some verses from the New Testament.

Ex 12: 3 Speak to all the congregation of Israel, saying: ‘On the tenth of this month every man shall take for himself a lamb, according to the house of his father, a lamb for a household. 

*John 1:29 The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, “Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!

Ex 12:5 Your lamb shall be without blemish, a male of the first year. You may take it from the sheep or from the goats. 

1 Peter 1:19 but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot.

Ex 12:8 Then they shall eat the flesh on that night; roasted in fire, with unleavened bread and with bitter herbs they shall eat it. 

*John 6:50 This is the bread which comes down from heaven, that one may eat of it and not die. 51 I am the living bread which came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever; and the bread that I shall give is My flesh, which I shall give for the life of the world.”

Ex 12:13 Now the blood shall be a sign for you on the houses where you are. And when I see the blood, I will pass over you; and the plague shall not be on you to destroy you when I strike the land of Egypt.

John 6:54 Whoever eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. 

Ex 12:27 that you shall say, ‘It is the Passover sacrifice of the Lord, who passed over the houses of the children of Israel in Egypt when He struck the Egyptians and delivered our households.’” So the people bowed their heads and worshiped. 

*1 Cor 5:7 Therefore purge out the old leaven, that you may be a new lump, since you truly are unleavened. For indeed Christ, our Passover, was sacrificed for us. 

Ex 12:43 And the Lord said to Moses and Aaron, “This is the ordinance of the Passover: No foreigner shall eat it. 

*1 Cor 10:16 The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ? 17 For we, though many, are one bread and one body; for we all partake of that one bread.

Ex 12:46 In one house it shall be eaten; you shall not carry any of the flesh outside the house, nor shall you break one of its bones. 

*John 19:32 Then the soldiers came and broke the legs of the first and of the other who was crucified with Him. 33 But when they came to Jesus and saw that He was already dead, they did not break His legs. 34 But one of the soldiers pierced His side with a spear, and immediately blood and water came out. 35 And he who has seen has testified, and his testimony is true; and he knows that he is telling the truth, so that you may believe. 36 For these things were done that the Scripture should be fulfilled, “Not one of His bones shall be broken.

Ex 12:48 And when a stranger dwells with you and wants to keep the Passover to the Lord, let all his males be circumcised, and then let him come near and keep it; and he shall be as a native of the land. For no uncircumcised person shall eat it. 

*Colossians 2:11 In Him you were also circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the sins of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ,

We see this kind of thing in all the feasts of Israel and in many others parts of the Old Testament as well. Let the awesomeness sink in as you discover more of Him in the lesser read places of your bible.

Thursday, 15 August 2013

Thoughts on Christian Anarchism


 

an·ar·chism
/ˈanərˌkizəm/
Noun

Belief in the abolition of all government and the organization of society on a voluntary, cooperative basis without recourse to force...

I first heard of the term "Christian anarchy" about three years back when reading up on a band I had being enjoying and I was taken aback by it, it seems like the ultimate oxymoron and to this day I do not like the term as I find it to be both confusing and unhelpful. Anarchism (at least to the general public) brings to mind pictures of chaos, rebellion and violence, while Christian anarchism emphasises subversiveness and non violence. One of the better known anarchist slogans is "No gods, no masters", while the bible says "you will have no other Gods before me" and "call no man your master for one is your master" (Ex 20:3 & Mat 23:8). So while traditional anarchism and Christianity are clearly at odds in some areas, there is actually a ton of common ground to be found as well.

Similarities

Both biblical Christianity and anarchism recognize how power corrupts those who exercise it and call for non hierarchical societies. God never wanted Israel to have a King  (1 Sam 8:7), but to be governed by Himself and guided by judges. This is similar to the function of elders in the church today. But this is not to be mistaken for hierarchy, scripture teaches that men are to submit one to each other (1 Pet 5:5), not to seek titles (Mat 23) and that anyone who wants to be great must become a servant to others (Luke 22:26). Moreover, we are specifically instructed not to exercise authority over one another (Mat 20:25). The heart of the church is realized in community, not just a weekly service run by a few and at the same time it is to be governed by consensus decision making (Acts 6:3).

Christian anarchist theology is largely based on the teachings found in the sermon on the mount with a strong emphasis on non violence and servant hood. 2 words that come up repeatedly in Christian anarchist literature are "kingdom" and "community" and they seem to be at the heart of the movement. Most Christian groups throughout history that have had an anarchist impulse in them have been community based, think of groups like the Anabaptist's, the Quakers, Misseo Dei or the Jesus Radicals. Adherents to this philosophy/theology have recognized that the bible speaks of the Kingdom of God and the Kingdoms of the earth. And the two will always be at odds with one another. Christian anarchists recognize that all authority in heaven and earth belongs to Jesus and that he alone is the true King (Mat 28:18, Isaiah 9:6-7). While we are to serve, obey and live at peace with the worlds leaders as much as possible, we answer to God and pledge allegiance to Him alone. (Acts 5:29).

It is very interesting  to see how Jesus never got sucked in to the politics of his day, people  were always asking him questions, trying to get him to weigh in on earthly matters which he would kind of side step or turn around on them. He said himself that his kingdom was not of this world so why would he really devote his energy to worldly ones? Certainly he saw the oppression around him and was moved by it, but he chose not to fight against it by becoming part of it (Matt 4:8-9). This is in stark contrast to what we see in the West today. Christians often appear to place more faith in political leaders and parties than they do in God. I am sure that I am not the only one who has struggled with the idea of having to vote for the lesser of two evils when elections come around.

We would do well to recognize that our neighbor is not necessarily the one on our side of the border line (Luke 10:36-37) and that we are all of one blood (Acts 17:26). For the most part I have found the writings on this topic very interesting and in harmony with the Gospel of the Kingdom that we read about throughout scripture. Certainly a few objections will be raised by many, Romans 13 comes to mind. Instead of trying to write a mini booklet I would rather point you toward what others from within have written. Here are some great starting places for further digging.

On defining Christian anarchy

http://revolucion94.tumblr.com/post/10332179799/christian-anarchy-what-we-are

On Romans 13

http://www.kingwatch.co.nz/Law_Government/romans_13.htm

In conclusion I think that we should live at harmony as much as possible with worldly authorities but not replace God with them. Jesus and many of his followers spent time in prisons and died at the hands of their political and religious leaders. Not because they were morally loose, but because they would not bow their knee to Ceaser. Faith and politics do not mix well, ever since the merging of Christianity and the Roman empire in the 4th century the history of the institutional church has been a bloody and sorrowful one. We would do well to hear the call of God in Revelations 18:4 and "come out of her". Let us take it upon ourselves to further Gods kingdom through His ekklesia rather than build up the kingdoms of men. The church looks like Christ when it carries the cross, not the sword.

Friday, 9 August 2013

For God so loved the world, except for Esau who he hated...


As it is written, Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated. (Romans 9:13)

There are some verses in scripture that, at a glance, can seem quite confusing and even contradictory to what we know to be true about God, Romans 9:13 being a perfect example. In fact, the whole of that chapter has being misused and abused for hundreds of years by some sects within Christianity. Something that gets missed often in the above mentioned verse is that the word hate which is translated as  “saw-nay” in Hebrew or “miseo” in Greek does not mean “hate” in the sense that we use it in English, if that is what the writer wanted to convey he would have used the words “bazah, ma’as or to’evah”, the word used in  Hebrews actually means to “love less” than “or “prefer over”. If I said to you that I loved chicken less than bacon and you concluded that I hated chicken you would be grossly mistaken. So it’s not that God hated Esau the individual and predestined him to go to hell and Esau was just living out those predetermined steps, but rather the text tells us that Jacob was preferred over Esau in relation to being chosen in the lineage for the nation of Israel. That is ultimately what the context of Romans 9 is about. 

Similarly, we see the same word (miseo) is translated as hate in Luke 14:26.

If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple.

Everyone knows that we are called to love our wives, children, even our enemies (Eph 5:25, Mat 5:44, Luke 6:27,35), the word hate then clearly cannot be taken to literally mean despise or loathe in these verses. It makes so much more sense if we understand it as “anyone who loves his family more than me cannot be my disciple” and similarly “Jacob have I loved, Esau have I overlooked (in favor of Jacob)”.  Scripture calls us to love our enemies, it would be fair to assume that God holds Himself to the same standards that he gives us. 

We need to be careful of steering the boat to far to the left as well though. Texts like 2 Pet 3:9 and Gen 6:6 reveal that God can love and judge simultaneously. It is not Gods love that saves us, it merely provided us with a way to be reconciled to Him (Jn 3:16). 

Thursday, 1 August 2013

Examine yourself and Correction in Love

Below is principle (or chapter) 28 in it’s entirety from the book “Principles for the gathering of Believers under the headship of Jesus Christ”. You can download the book freely from the link below and I recommend doing just that. There is some great wisdom in there from the churches in Iran, China and North Korea. Because of the amount of religious carelessness that we all get to see flying around on social media, I thought this would be great to share.



IN THIS age of technology when we get hurt it is easy to go to
Facebook, or other social media to voice our feelings. For many of us
having mercy or asking: Am I correct in feeling this way? can become
an afterthought. Scripture reminds us to examine ourselves first.
Judging, criticizing, maligning character, slandering and speaking to
tear down another is probably one of the easiest things to do. Sadly,
in the Christianity of our day such unedifying practices are applauded
as righteous and discerning. Tearing down has become a ministry
preoccupation with many in the blogosphere and Internet in general.
 It is so easy for one to just spend a few minutes typing at the
computer and the result can be devastating. The defiling of the
testimony of a brother who has loved the Lord for many years can
happen in minutes when the tongue is uncontrolled. Such
correction and criticism usually comes with little or no prayer, and
without speaking to the individual himself, while appearing to be
very holy on the outside. Yet the fruit produced from many of these
types of rebukes, is usually the increase of a critical spirit in others.
Of course, there are some brothers who have fasted and prayed,
sought the Lord and had a burden from His heart. There are those
who have pleaded with the individual involved and even worked
through other brothers and sisters in the local area where that person
is located. They have only, as a last resort and plea to this precious
brother or sister in the Lord, chosen to post a public warning. Such
warnings in love are needed for those who are continuing in sins. It
is also Biblical at times to warn the Church of God of others that are
clearly false teachers.

 No public warnings must be posted on the Internet or on other
social media until the intent and love of Scriptural correction is
fulfilled. Disputes in the body of Christ must be resolved first in the
household of God according to principles set out in the Bible.
According to Matthew 18:

 “If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just
between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them
over. But if they will not listen, take one or two others along, so that
‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three
witnesses.’ If they still refuse to listen, tell it to the Church; and if
they refuse to listen even to the Church, treat them as you would a
pagan or a tax collector.”

 Also in Luke 17 it says: “So watch yourselves. ‘If your brother or
sister sins against you, rebuke them; and if they repent, forgive
them.’”

 In Galatians 6 it says: “Brothers and sisters, if someone is caught
in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently.
But watch yourselves, or you also may be tempted.”

 Here is a simple outline on how to proceed:

 1.) Examine yourself. What evidence is there of this sin in my
own heart and life. Do I do the same things in my hidden life?
2.) If the person has propagated doctrines different from yours,
are you certain you are in the faith and correct? Have you sought
advice from a good spectrum of servant leaders? Is the beam in your
eyes greater than the little speck you are complaining about?
 3.) Have you attempted to solve the problem based on Biblical
principles?
 4.) Christ’s exhortation to watch over one another and to bear
one another’s burdens in the spirit of meekness and love should be
foremost in our mind.482
 5.) The primary aim must be the restoration of the offender and
not to destroy him or her.
 6.) Loving the sinner or enemy but not their sin, is the guiding
principle. We attempt to restore the person in gentleness and love.
This then gives a worthy witness of our faith during correction for a
testimony to the sinner, the Church and the world.
 7.) It is also true that we cannot overlook sin, as many do in
churches today. We do not want to create problems, nor dissension or
oense. We say, “We leave it to the Lord.” This is wrong. Scripture
tells us we have the duty to oppose sin against us in our Churches or
Assemblies. One rotten apple can destroy the whole barrel. Satan and
his demons are active in the Church to plant dissension, opposition,
division and anger. He seeks to sow evil so that we might devour each
other. Satan goes where he can find people of faith to destroy them.
 8.) We must forgive 70 times 7 but we should not have
fellowship with such a person unless he or she repents and turns
around. God tells us that if we forgive, He will forgive us. If we don’t
forgive, He will not forgive us.
 9.) the oender must be readmitted to fellowship when he or she
has repented, asked for forgiveness and made restitution where
possible. Warnings in love and correction in love, including expulsion
from fellowship for a time are necessary for those continuing in sin.
 In any correction in the body of Christ, may we follow the
example of Moses who flung himself in the dust before rebellious
Korah. this humble servant leadership that does not seek evil for
anyone but rather forgiveness and mercy that is approved by God.

God still judged Korah in the end for his disobedience but Moses
gave every opportunity for Korah to repent as he humbled himself in
a great way before him. Moses was not trying to build his reputation
but rather was simply following the Lord in humility. We must be
ready for such situations to occur in gatherings of believers who are
meeting under the Headship of Jesus Christ. Where the light is
shining greatly the enemy will be active to disrupt.
 May God grant us such great humility and Christ’s love in
correcting any brother or sister in the Lord.

Monday, 29 July 2013

Thoughts on Open Theism

Sitting down to write an article on Open Theism turned out to be a lot more difficult than I imagined it would be. This has been rewritten a few times already simply because it is such a difficult thing to try and define; it is a little like trying to define what colour the sea is. It may be clear in one area, blue in another and brown somewhere else.
So here is my best attempt at explaining what seems to be at the heart of open theology and how I feel about it.

Open theism is a response to the more traditional or classical view on the attributes of God. The classical view can be traced back to early Greek philosophy while the Open view, is a bit harder to determine, although similar thoughts can be seeing in the writings of Calcidius, a 4th century interpreter for Plato. Many traditionalists believe that God fully determines the future; He also exists outside of time and thus does not experience emotions in a literal sense. Open theists reject that the future, at least in the smaller things, is set in stone, some even contend that God does not operate outside of time at all and that the future is unknown even to Him. While Open Theists accept that God is both omnipotent and omniscient, they interpret them slightly differently to most evangelicals. The classical view says of Gods omnipotence that He has the power to do anything He wants to, while the open view states that we should not define omnipotence as the power to determine everything but rather, as the power that enables God to deal with any situation that arises. Likewise, omniscience is not seeing as God knowing everything that will take place, but rather as God knowing every possible (yet unwritten) scenario that could still unfold and how best to respond to that.

Rather than the three “O”’s which classical theism concentrates on, the Open crowd have chosen to focus on Gods attributes of love and the relational aspects associate to that, thus the heart of the message is that God is not behind the violence, evil, sickness or “acts of God” in the world today, neither was He an accomplice in the sense that He knew full well what men like Hitler and Nero would unleash on the world when He was forming them inside their mothers’ wombs. But rather, like the ultimate chess player ever, He is able to pre-empt any move that we can make and still with 100% certainty control the outcome for goods ultimate triumph over evil.

Regarding scripture, they will point to verses like Genesis 6:6-7 and 1 Samuel 15:11 where God regrets decisions He had made, or Exodus 13:17 and Ezekiel 12:3 where God considers different future possibilities. In Genesis 22:12 God tests Abraham so that He can “know” Abraham's heart. There are also 39 occasions in scripture where God changes His mind (like in Exodus 32:7-14 and Isaiah 38:1-5). God is also seeing to exhibit genuine emotions, like when Jesus weeps over the death of a friend before raising him back to life, similarly he also lamented over Jerusalem in Mathew 23. The father also anguishes over Israel’s disobedience throughout the Old Testament and in 2 Peter 3:9 we read that He desires that none will perish but that all would find life in His son.

You could start quoting verses in response to the above ones as well but I will leave that up to you to go and research, just Google “open theism” and plenty will pop up, trust me. I must say that for myself I am not fully satisfied that either camp is 100% right. I think both sides have some compelling arguments and holes in their theology. Because this article is about Open theism though, I will stick to that, I believe that Open Theists are spot on in that the future is not completely set in stone as some of the scriptures above reveal. 

Regarding tragedy, I do believe that God can cause a life threatening storm like we see with Jonah. He may make it rain fire like with Sodom and Gomorrah  Yet in Job we also see Satan use a "great wind" to kill Jobs children and we also see Jesus rebuke a wind that had his disciples freaking out, if Jesus rebuked it you would have to assume that it was not from God. Verses like 1 Peter 1:6-7, James 1:2-3 and the story of Job which speak of persecutions and trials reveal that, while God may not be the author of our suffering, He may allow it for our refining or for other purposes, for example, the spreading of the gospel as was the case with Paul being a prisoner in Rome. Yet I am also very uncomfortable with the classical view when we see a child die and the parents are led to believe that it happened because they made an idol of their family, or that God was pulling the strings for some other purpose. Surely God cared as much for the child's life as he does for the parents? Yes, He will use the situation for good but it does not necessarily mean He orchestrated it. Surely He weeps at the tragedies within a fallen world along with us.

Something the Open View highlights which I like is that bad things happen because people make stupid decisions and the Devil is real and active in the world. Our prayers DO have an impact in the world and we can’t take it for granted that things will just work out because God has preordained them already. Some of Greg Boyd’s thoughts on this are worth a read over at http://reknew.org/blog/. The one major thing however that I cannot reconcile with in the Open view is that God is restricted within time, there is just to much in scripture that reveals that God is beyond it, 2 Timothy 1:9 is the perfect example of Gods foreknowledge. Knowing something will happen does not equal being an accomplice to it, if anything, all it reveals is that God does not exercise his authority over others free will even when He is passionately opposed to those ideas. Obedience is always better when it comes from a changed heart rather than a fearful victim. There may be cases where He steps in to restrain evil but it would be impossible to philosophize about the when and why with full confidence. Open theists do attempt address the time issue in books like Greg Boyd's  God of the Possible, and William Lane Craig's Time and Eternity. I have not had the means to read them yet though.

Overall I think some good questions are being asked and some nice insights being shared, yet we need to be able to reconcile ALL the attributes of God without having to throw away the pieces that we may not like or understand. Some people are super aggressive in their response to Open Theism, yet I think it's at least closer to the truth than Calvinism is. I am far more concerned with the way God gets painted in doctrines like Penal Substitution or unconditional Predestination.  

Wednesday, 17 July 2013

The context of "Gods ways are not our ways".

“For My thoughts are not your thoughts,
Nor are your ways My ways,” says 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.

These are beautiful words which we often hear quoted, normally when someone has gone through some sort of tragedy and they are asking, "Why God?". I also hear it used a lot when people try and explain how a loving God could let people go to hell. While the words penned above could probably be quoted to someone struggling with tough questions like those mentioned and still ring true. These verses in the context of Isaiah chapter 55 are actually about Gods goodness and mercy to unrighteous and undeserving people which is kind of the opposite isn't it? They are about the prodigal son who returns home when he has wasted everything that he was given.  Men, much like the older brother in Luke 15, prefer to see retributive justice dished out (except on ourselves and those closest to us), but God prefers to see the broken restored. This is not what some would call "cheap grace". God paid the highest price for our restoration and at the highest personal cost. And we have to recognize that not all prodigals return home. Some don't run out of money, while some will remain with the pigs out of their stubbornness or others out of shame, in the end it makes no difference because they have chosen their lot. But the Father  still patiently watches and waits for them. 

Below is the proper context of "Gods ways are not our ways", note verse 7 directly before it.

Isaiah 55

“Ho! Everyone who thirsts,
Come to the waters;
And you who have no money,
Come, buy and eat.
Yes, come, buy wine and milk
Without money and without price.
2 Why do you spend money for what is not bread,
And your wages for what does not satisfy?
Listen carefully to Me, and eat what is good,
And let your soul delight itself in abundance.
3 Incline your ear, and come to Me.
Hear, and your soul shall live;
And I will make an everlasting covenant with you—
The sure mercies of David.
4 Indeed I have given him as a witness to the people,
A leader and commander for the people.
5 Surely you shall call a nation you do not know,
And nations who do not know you shall run to you,
Because of the Lord your God,
And the Holy One of Israel;
For He has glorified you.”
6 Seek the Lord while He may be found,
Call upon Him while He is near.
7 Let the wicked forsake his way,
And the unrighteous man his thoughts;
Let him return to the Lord,
And He will have mercy on him;
And to our God,
For He will abundantly pardon.
8 “For My thoughts are not your thoughts,
Nor are your ways My ways,” says the Lord.
9 “For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
So are My ways higher than your ways,
And My thoughts than your thoughts.
10 “For as the rain comes down, and the snow from heaven,
And do not return there,
But water the earth,
And make it bring forth and bud,
That it may give seed to the sower
And bread to the eater,
11 So shall My word be that goes forth from My mouth;
It shall not return to Me void,
But it shall accomplish what I please,
And it shall prosper in the thing for which I sent it.