Archive for March 2010

Tough Choice!

March 15, 2010

We hear the squeaky sounds of the tennis shoes and we watch carefully, hoping that our team will come up with the ball, then there is a short blast on the whistle and the ref declares that the person with the ball is out of bounds. This is a very familiar scene, especially at the basketball tournaments before and during March Madness.

I have a question for you. In your eyes is God a referee? Do you see Him enforcing a book of rules. Are you expecting that one day the whistles will blow and you will be thrown out of the game? Is life a game and you must follow the rules or suffer the consequences?

The institutional “churches” think so. They introduce you to their group by saying how they believe in the grace of God, but if you keep your eyes open and listen to what they are saying they will lay down the rules. If it is not the Ten Commandments it will be something else of their own making. Oh, and lately they have gotten cagey about it, saying that perhaps this rule isn’t really necessary for salvation, but they will imply heavily that you really ought to do it, and really to be thought normal and in communion with their group you must do it. They will lean on you to follow their rules. And some of them will send somebody to tell you that you are not up to snuff. When you hear your doorbell ring and brother so and so is at the door, you will know that the whistle has been blown, and you are about to hear the penalty.

Again, let me ask you, was Jesus like this? Did he kick disciples out for not tithing? Did he rail against the poor people who were following Him around for not doing something or for not acting in a certain manner? No, He didn’t, in all of the Gospels, Jesus was kind and gentle to people who came to Him seeking healing or seeking to learn from Him. He was however harsh with the religious leaders of His day. He was scathing and insulting to the ones who acted like referees, the ones who were trying to enforce laws and who were making up new ones all of the time. Why did Jesus act like that? Now days if He showed up and harshly criticized what we think “God’s work” is we would have Him arrested, especially if He, His disciples and the people crowding around Him were blocking traffic.
You know it’s true, just try protesting something that your local “church” is doing, block an exit and act petulant. The staff will have the cops there to deal with you so fast it will make your head swim.

Why would they do this? If you consider that a person who might do such a thing might be hurting inside and in need of help, it is even more bewildering. The reason they would do this is that to them it is a game, really more than that, a business, sort of like a floating craps game which has found a permanent base. If you interfere with the take you will feel the wrath of the leaders.

Now, if Jesus started all of this stuff, why is it that He didn’t act like that? The reason is simple. For Him this not a game, and it is not a business. Jesus came to bring us into relationship with Him and the Father. Yes, it is as simple as that. He came to restore us to the life Adam and Eve had in the garden of Eden. You remember in Genesis when God would come and walk and talk with them in the cool of the evening? Yeah, that’s the relationship, but when you go to the “churches” what do you get? Rules and whistle blowing, and in some cases a preacher with funny hair telling you how to live your life, maybe even how to vote. Wouldn’t you just rather just go to the Source?

If you want to know Him better, go to a quiet place sit down, get comfortable and pour out your heart to Him, then listen, just humbly listen to Him and you will hear Him, some people find it helpful to write out what they are saying and then listen and write His reply as they hear it (two way journaling). Do not worry about finding fellowship at first, have your fellowship with Him, and He will lead you to the folks He has for you to befriend. It is all a matter of trusting Him.

So as with many things in life, you have a choice, you can choose to go with the rules and the rigged games, or you can fellowship with the Lord Himself. Tough choice!

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Idolatry Today

March 12, 2010

It is time for us to open up with our big guns, about idolatry. Anytime a person seeks to reach God in the way that seems right to them, and they are not seeking God on His own terms, it is idolatry. God has shown a great deal of patience with us, because He loves us and He knows we are such wayward creatures, but when a person uses the Bible to set up their own false image of God, they can expect to have it brought down to the dust just like the Philistine idol, Dagon.

“2 Then the Philistines took the ark of God and brought it to the house of Dagon and set it by Dagon.

3 When the Ashdodites arose early the next morning, behold, Dagon had fallen on his face to the ground before the ark of the LORD So they took Dagon and set him in his place again.

4 But when they arose early the next morning, behold, Dagon had fallen on his face to the ground before the ark of the LORD. And the head of Dagon and both the palms of his hands were cut off on the threshold; only the trunk of Dagon was left to him.”
1 Samuel 5:2-4 (NASB).

Before that time He said,

2 I am the LORD thy God, which have brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.

3 Thou shalt have no other gods before me.

4 Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth.
Exodus 20:2-4 (King James Version)

4 “Listen, O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord alone. 5 And you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your strength.”
Deuteronomy 6:4-5 (New Living Translation)

God’s plan for us involves His Spirit in our lives.

“ 6 Then he said to me, “This is what the Lord says to Zerubbabel: It is not by force nor by strength, but by my Spirit, says the Lord of Heaven’s Armies.”
Zechariah 4:6 (New Living Translation)

Jesus said,
“But the time is coming—indeed it’s here now—when true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth. The Father is looking for those who will worship him that way.”
John 4:23 (New Living Translation)

The only way to achieve this is not through study, not through the intellect, but by seeking Him in the Spirit, to allow Him to teach you about who He is and what He is doing and what He wants you to do. This is why a life in Christ is a relationship we are daily seeking Him and being led by Him, we are sharing our concerns with Him, we are hearing Him (John 10).

God has used the frustration which many people feel with the big “churches” to draw them into this kind of relationship. But if we take that opportunity and simply construct another idol based on man’s intellect, we are no better than the religious hierarchy in Jerusalem in Jesus’ day. They sought to find, not the true God, but their god, the god they had constructed. They simply didn’t want to hear what God had to say, if He disagreed with them. This is the reason why they missed the point when Jesus came. There is a big difference between the the two statements, “this is what I think God is saying”, and “thus sayeth the Lord”. The difference is the Spirit. If you are seeking Him in the Spirit with your hearts open to whatever He is doing (see John 4:23 above) you will be guided by Him (again John 10). Because of this difference the religious hierarchy of Jesus’ day missed the Messiah. Because of this deadly idolatry they were following, they executed the Messiah.

“5 Trust in the Lord with all your heart;
do not depend on your own understanding.
6 Seek his will in all you do,
and he will show you which path to take.”
Proverbs 3:5-6 (New Living Translation)

8 The Lord says, “I will guide you along the best pathway for your life.
I will advise you and watch over you.
9 Do not be like a senseless horse or mule
that needs a bit and bridle to keep it under control.”
Psalm 32:8-9 (New Living Translation)

Does this sound like you have to have a preacher to interpret the Bible for you? Does it sound like you have to work out the meanings in Hebrew and Greek?
No, it doesn’t, it sounds like God is there for us when we seek Him and He will instruct us and speak to us and care for us. It’s just you and God. Being with God in your prayer times, is a long way from the mega church cum praise band with the heavy metal sound levels, or the long winded preacher who gauges the effectiveness of his sermon by the size of the offering. Jesus would just like to sit quietly with you and talk to you.
God has a lot to tell us, if we will put away our idols, if we will lay aside our preconceived notions, if we will listen.

The glory that was Egypt is now dust

March 8, 2010

Lord, I come to You with a heart full of thanksgiving, I have seen the swamps and mires men live in, they smooth out a place in the mud, shape it and pack it down to their liking, and they say that this is what You gave them, what You intended for them.
Now, I know that this is the exact opposite of what You intended for us. The swamp is the place we get to leave as we come to live in You. As You told us many times in the Old Testament. The glory of man fades quickly and is as dust under Your feet.
The recent digs in Egypt have underscored this. The recently discovered massive, impressive statue of Amenhotep III made of pink granite, a substance which is indestructible in our eyes, lies in fragments, the largest of which, the head, lies mute, and impotent on it’s side, the beard of the pharaohs ( a symbol of the god-king’s power) broken off.

http://www.france24.com/en/20100228-statue-head-king-tuts-grandfather-found-luxor
On the same site there are a couple of other massive statues which have been reconstructed, they are lumpy ghosts of what they once were. The massive pink granite statue lies in pieces, a puzzle for the conservators to solve, but it is a signpost for us, the Greatest King of Egypt in all of his glory could not build a permanent honor to himself. Instead it lies broken and no longer expresses the magnificence of his reign. How well Shelley put it nearly 200 years ago (Ozymandias, see below). Yet in all this time with the Old Testament, and Shelley for counsel we have not taken this lesson to heart. We constantly strive to build ourselves up, yet if we trust in our riches and in our strength, we will always gather dust as our reward.
Life lies in the riches of Your Spirit, a life lived in love, beloved by You and sharing whatever You bring us. A life illuminated by Your presence.

OZYMANDIAS.

I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert…Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed:
And on the pedestal these words appear:
‘My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!’
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.

Percy Bysshe Shelley

1792-1822

[Published by Hunt in “The Examiner”, January, 1818. Reprinted with
“Rosalind and Helen”, 1819. There is a copy amongst the Shelley
manuscripts at the Bodleian Library. See Mr. C.D. Locock’s
“Examination”, etc., 1903, page 46.]

My earnest thanks to Project Gutenberg for making this classic work available. Shelley’s works are in the Public Domain, they are listed here.
http://www.gutenberg.org/browse/authors/s
You have to hunt for them, His work is next to his wife’s writings (Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley).

About Authority

March 6, 2010

I have felt the need to respond to a lot of strange messages I have seen lately on Facebook and on various blogs, and I see a theme developing here. The subject is inevitably authority. We live in a society which claims all sorts of authority over our lives, Educational institutions claim to have all kinds of expertise, Science claims to be the source of truth, and of course the government claims authority over life, death, the legal forms of justice, and taxes. And over the last 1800 years we have been faced with another form of authority. A form of government which would have us believe that our very souls are at stake if we do not submit to it. I speak of the “church” in it’s many bewildering forms.

Now come back with me, if you will, 2000 years to the situations Paul faced, for it is Paul’s nomenclature which all “churches” mimic. Paul uses the word πρεσβύτερος (presbuteros) to indicate a sort of special level among the people who know Jesus. The word is usually translated as elder. Indeed in other places in the New Testament it is used to indicate some one who is actually older, i.e. the older brother of the prodigal son is identified in this way. But if we are to understand what Paul is saying we must think of what he was dealing with. Each assembly of believers was constantly welcoming newcomers, babies in the faith, so if Paul wanted to indicate those who had known the Lord longer and were more mature, he would have naturally chosen the word elder, as in older in Christ, or mature in the faith.

Elder in this sense does not always indicate advanced age, for Paul tells Timothy to not allow people to despise his youth, yet Timothy was an elder, of course it is because he had known Jesus all of his life. Therefore the term often seems to indicate Spiritual maturity rather than simply advanced age.
There is also a situation Paul experienced which very few of us see now days and that is that these assemblies which Paul addressed in his letters were comprised of many, perhaps a majority of believers who were mature and knew Jesus intimately. Paul does not divide the assembly into clergy and laity, to him they are all believers, all possessing gifts from the Holy Spirit and the mature, Spiritual ones in the group are the elders.
There is also today a great deal of confusion about the role of men who serve God. Much of what we see today is based on the Old Testament idea of “priesthood”.

In the Old Testament priests had various daily chores to do around the temple, but once a year on Yom Kippur the high priest would stand in God’s presence in the Holy of Holies to represent the people before God, he would sprinkle the blood of the sacrifice on the mercy seat, and then he would come out of the Holy of Holies, and stand before the people representing God to the people, to pronounce God’s forgiveness. This is the duty of the High Priest, it is all part and parcel of the sacrificial system which God put in place to assure Israel of His favor.

When the Messiah came He did away with the slaughter of lambs and goats, with His own sacrifice and guess what else? He did away with the need for a another person to stand before God in the place of the mature believer. He did away with this human role because He Himself is the fulfillment of that role. He is our Great High Priest. He stands before the Father interceding for us constantly. We are standing before the Father in this way also, for those of us who know Him are a part of Him, we are present in Christ. And what was that other function of the High Priest? To speak to the people for God. Do you remember “My sheep hear My voice?” It is to be expected in the life of the mature believer that they hear Jesus, that they know Him as their Shepherd, their guide, and their friend. Jesus told us that it would be a normal thing for us to hear Him (John 10), and it makes perfect sense when you understand that as our High Priest He will speak to us for God.
In the New Testament whenever the term priest is used it is in reference to the Old Testament style office of priest and the Greek word used to indicate this is ἱερεύς (hiereus) this term is used to refer to the priests in Jerusalem and the word ἀρχιερεύς (arch-iereus) is used to refer to the Judaic high priest or to Jesus as our high priest. The word ἱερεύς (hiereus) is also used to refer to our priesthood under Jesus in the book of Revelation.

Throughout church history there has been a struggle going on, it is the struggle between the flesh and the Spirit. So when you are involved in the fleshly tradition, instead of being encouraged to look to Jesus alone and live in His Spirit, you are told that living in the Spirit requires a human agency an “elder” and although it is more obvious in the Orthodox and Catholic traditions, this fleshly idea has gained traction among every branch of the Protestants. We are taught that we must be under the proper authority. That we are somehow second class citizens of the kingdom if we are not under some sort of “elder”. The modern interpretation of the “proper authority” usually involves a graduate degree from seminary. I might take this opportunity to point out that none of the apostles save for Paul had any extensive education, it cannot be stated with any certainty that very many of them could even read, but what they all most certainly did have was the Holy Spirit.

So who are these “elders”? Is it not as plain as the nose on your face that they are the people who knew Jesus the longest and the best. The elders are the people who were mature in the Spirit of God who lived day by day in His presence.
It has become quite clear to me and I hope to you as well that if we are to mature, we must come to understand that in Jesus’ economy we are all to become “elders” we are all to become kings and priests before Him (Rev 1:5-6).
So you say yes, what about that “kings and priests” thing. How are we to be like priests?

We are, each of us, priests in the Old Testament fashion when we share our relationship with God with other people, we are speaking to people for God, to people who do not know the Holy Spirit. Then in the peculiar symmetry of the Old Testament, we turn around and speak to God for them when we pray for them. We are therefore “priests” under our Great High Priest.

Whenever Paul refers to ministry in his letters it is πρεσβύτερος (presbuteros), διάκονος (diakonos), or ἐπισκοπος (episkopos) or elders, deacons, and overseers. We get the English word “priest” from prester the abbreviated form of presbyter, and “bishop” from the greek word “episcopos”. Even so, there is no indication apart from the general understanding of priestly functions for all of us, (Rev 1:5-6) that there are any hieratic (priestly) functions for specific individuals in the New Testament except for Jesus. In other words no one needs to speak for me to God because I am not able, and on the other hand no one needs to hear God for me because I am not able. Jesus has taken care of all of these things and communicates with those who are found in Him. He may choose to augment what He tells me through other members of His body, perhaps through a prophet, or like the situation where Paul corrected Peter, but the job of speaking to me for God does not belong to one particular individual all of the time. Through Jesus and the Holy Spirit, as a believer and a member of His body, I am to be in communication with God at all times.
Ah, you might remind me of the passage in John, which seems to refer to a priestly function.
23 “If you forgive anyone’s sins, they are forgiven. If you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”
John 20:23 (NLT)

Yes that is certainly a priestly function, but I would like to point out that this fits quite nicely into the idea that we all speak for God to those who may not know Him yet. I know that the Catholics in particular make a point of saying that Jesus was giving this ability to the disciples/apostles and therefore to the clergy, but I say since they also represented the nascent church that it would be impossible to say that they don’t represent all of us here.

So you see Paul faced a very different situation from that which we see in most “churches” today. It would appear that Paul saw the assemblies as groups of believers, each with a core of mature believers who were called elders. These “elders” were the core of the group and they taught and helped the newbies along into maturity, into becoming “elders” themselves. Today we have a professional priesthood, the “clergy” who over the centuries have wrangled their position from being humble brothers who helped the immature reach maturity in Christ, into rulers who have an unhealthy amount of control over the lives of the “laity” (from Greek, the “others”). They have also in many cases appropriated the idea that God speaks almost exclusively through them. They have stolen the central role in the “church” and the rest of us are only hangers on. In the “church” system of today we have forgotten that very basic lesson from Jesus.

1 “I tell you the truth, anyone who sneaks over the wall of a sheepfold, rather than going through the gate, must surely be a thief and a robber! 2 But the one who enters through the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. 3 The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep recognize his voice and come to him. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. 4 After he has gathered his own flock, he walks ahead of them, and they follow him because they know his voice. 5 They won’t follow a stranger; they will run from him because they don’t know his voice.”

6 Those who heard Jesus use this illustration didn’t understand what he meant, 7 so he explained it to them: “I tell you the truth, I am the gate for the sheep. 8 All who came before me were thieves and robbers. But the true sheep did not listen to them. 9 Yes, I am the gate. Those who come in through me will be saved. They will come and go freely and will find good pastures. 10 The thief’s purpose is to steal and kill and destroy. My purpose is to give them a rich and satisfying life.

11 “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd sacrifices his life for the sheep. 12 A hired hand will run when he sees a wolf coming. He will abandon the sheep because they don’t belong to him and he isn’t their shepherd. And so the wolf attacks them and scatters the flock. 13 The hired hand runs away because he’s working only for the money and doesn’t really care about the sheep.

14 “I am the good shepherd; I know my own sheep, and they know me, 15 just as my Father knows me and I know the Father. So I sacrifice my life for the sheep. 16 I have other sheep, too, that are not in this sheepfold. I must bring them also. They will listen to my voice, and there will be one flock with one shepherd.

17 “The Father loves me because I sacrifice my life so I may take it back again. 18 No one can take my life from me. I sacrifice it voluntarily. For I have the authority to lay it down when I want to and also to take it up again. For this is what my Father has commanded.”
John 10:1-18 NLT

So I would suggest to you that it is time to run away from the robbers, thieves and hired hands. It is time for all of us who wish to follow Jesus to follow Him alone. I would encourage all of you who might be reading this, to seek the Lord on your own, do not look to men to be priests for you, seek Him yourself, through His Spirit. I believe that you will find that this is what we have all been meant to do since the time of Pentecost, for each of us to mature in His Spirit and to be in intimate fellowship with our God.