Archive for November 2010

The Mountain and the Cross

November 19, 2010

In Deuteronomy 5 there is a wonderful illustration of the difference between living life at the foot of the mountain, where the law was given to Moses, and living the life of the cross of Jesus.

God has Moses call all of the people together at the foot of Mt. Horeb and He speaks to the assembled people out of the fire and smoke on the mountain, then afterwards they say to Moses,

24’…Behold, the LORD our God has shown us His glory and His greatness, and we have heard His voice from the midst of the fire; we have seen today that God speaks with man, yet he lives.

25’Now then why should we die? For this great fire will consume us; if we hear the voice of the LORD our God any longer, then we will die.

26’For who is there of all flesh who has heard the voice of the living God speaking from the midst of the fire, as we have, and lived?

27’Go near and hear all that the LORD our God says; then speak to us all that the LORD our God speaks to you, and we will hear and do it.’ Deut. 5:24-27 NASB

Now there is a subtle shift here and we would do well to notice it, the Lord called the people together for the express purpose of hearing His voice. Then the people turned around thanked Moses for the privilege and the lesson that God could speak to men and they could still live in spite of the danger, but then they suggested to Moses that since they did not want to die that Moses ought to be the one who took the risk and listened to the Lord. So then the Lord tells Moses;

28″The LORD heard the voice of your words when you spoke to me, and the LORD said to me, ‘I have heard the voice of the words of this people which they have spoken to you. They have done well in all that they have spoken.

29’Oh that they had such a heart in them, that they would fear Me and keep all My commandments always, that it may be well with them and with their sons forever!

30’Go, say to them, “Return to your tents.”

31’But as for you, stand here by Me, that I may speak to you all the commandments and the statutes and the judgments which you shall teach them, that they may observe them in the land which I give them to possess.’ Deut. 5:28-31 NASB

God wanted the people to obey the law because obedience to the Law was the beginning of the Old Testament relationship with God under the Mosaic covenant, so what they said was counted as good, but there is something more here. When the people stayed in their tents while Moses went to meet with the Lord, Moses got the relationship with God, and the people got the Law.

This story has another telling factor when the people said “why should we die?” and this is the point of divergence which divides the straight and narrow way from the wide path to destruction. If a person is not willing to give up this world, if that person is not willing to die for God, he gets the Law, and he sets up camp at the foot of the mountain.

Relationship with God is a transforming thing, it will transform the life you once knew right out of you, thus you will die to the world and be renewed in God. There is no substitute for this. You cannot cling to the life of this world and be found in the life of God. So those who are not willing to die, the ones who are clinging to this world, get the Law. We see this all around us, we see people who are reading the words of God’s grace and all they get out of it is law. There is no loving teaching of Jesus’ or Paul’s which they have not made into a series of rules.

You see, they are an example of

“Son of man, you live in the midst of the rebellious house, who have eyes to see but do not see, ears to hear but do not hear; for they are a rebellious house.” Ezekiel 12:2 NASB

for Jesus is right in front of them, in Scripture, walking on the water, feeding the five thousand, and rising from the tomb, He is ready and waiting for them to seek Him and know Him, and all they want to do is to go back to their tents and have Moses come tell them what is required of them. They say they want to fulfill the “requirements”, but they are not willing to die. They are still camped at the foot of Mt. Horeb bogged down in the minutae of that which is required. For them the cross is a gateway to make more laws. The Pharisees of Jesus’ time were there too, at the foot of Mt. Horeb, and even in the presence of Jesus, most of them were determined to stay there.

But for some, the few, the ones on the straight and narrow path, the cross is not only the cross of Christ it also represents their own cross, and the entrance to grace and life in His Spirit. So long as a person will not come to grips with something more than the mere “essentials” of the Christian life (the Sacraments or the Ordinances) he will live a life controlled by this world and it’s woes. He will stumble over every temptation and trial that comes his way for there is no remedy for the troubles of this life in the Law. There is only one way out of this trap and that is through dying to self and living in the Spirit of Jesus, the Spirit of Grace. Each of us must seek God in Spirit and Truth to know Him.

Moses was willing to do or to suffer anything God had for him, the same is true of all the Prophets, they each had a relationship with God because they were willing to seek Him no matter what the cost and it cost many of them their lives. And of course Jesus is the perfect example, His whole life was dedicated to the Father. And it could also be said that His whole life was leading up to the cross, for our sakes.

There is no salvation for you in the waters of baptism without the Spirit of Christ. There is no benefit for you to do good deeds or to have clean thoughts if God is not present in your life. To get that Presence you must leave your tent as Moses did nearly everyday and brave the fire, and smoke and sit in the Lord’s presence. God didn’t kill Moses and He won’t kill you. He will however begin to establish the relationship He always wanted to have with you, step by step, and day by day, and you will die to the old and come to life in the new. And each new day you will learn a new lesson, you will learn afresh how much He loves you.

You will also learn that there is so much more to life in Christ than the “requirements”.

So, by means of the cross, we can go through the fire and smoke and climb the mountain, and there with Moses, the Prophets, King David, and the Apostles we can sit in the Presence of God.

Who Is In Charge Here?

November 8, 2010



There comes a time in the life of a believer, at least in the life of an old cantankerous believer like me, when the program of the local church begins to ring hollow. You might find that moment on the day that the preacher has delivered a thunderous sermon condemning the political situation, or when he says something “to make you think” which strikes you as being unusually insensitive or uncharitable. You might tell yourself afterwards “but really if I am honest with myself I rather like my liberal neighbors, and I simply can’t picture them with devil’s horns”, or “my that was an unnecessarily nasty way to put it”. But if you are like most people who warm pews you will reason “well, after all we are all human and prone to make mistakes” and you will allow these warnings to go unchallenged.

I would like to ask you just what is it that makes your minister fit (or unfit) to sit under? We are legally allowed in this country, at least for the time being, to choose where and how we worship or even if we worship at all. Yet when you hear what is being taught at many churches Roman Catholic and Protestant alike you would wonder just who believes in free will, which of our current crop of religious leaders believes that we should have freedom of conscience? There is much talk of “authority” and “being under oversight” the idea, at least in the more Traditional communions, is that there is a line of authority which stretches all the way back to the Apostles and it is mandated and determined by God to keep us on the straight and narrow. The more hide bound and/or controlling groups insist on some measure of obedience to the clergy from the laity.

Other communions prefer to confer authority based on education, they are endeavoring to make authorities, in the scholarly sense, of their ministers, so you see that they have “professional” clergy, who are perhaps trained in counseling, how to give an effective sermon, and the business of “doing church”. Then the group will choose from among these professionals to find the leaders of their communion.

Now if you are like me you are thinking, wait a minute, what if, in our human frailty we appoint a bunch of rascals to the offices of leadership in a church?

Yes, when you know for sure that a rascal is in charge of your church or denomination it suddenly becomes a different matter. This is precisely what happened when Martin Luther broke with Pope Leo X and the Roman Catholic church. It is reported that Pope Leo X would visit around town (Rome) leading a procession, a parade really, of his pet white elephant, clowns and jesters, and other exotic creatures from his menagerie. He was widely regarded as a bon vivant and a spendthrift. It is also true that he left an unbelievable debt for his successor. The monies to support his extravagant lifestyle were raised by a variety of means, but in part by the selling of indulgences. When Luther objected to the selling of indulgences and nailed the 95 theses on the door of the Wittenburg church in 1517, Leo responded by imposing a command of silence on the Augustinian order (Martin Luther was an Augustinian monk) and he published a Papal Bull commanding that all Christians must believe in the right and ability of the Pope to sell indulgences.

Now, many of the habits of Pope Leo X are still being debated all these years later. And certainly his actions were not all bad, he gave freely to charities, he was kind to Jews, and he laid the foundations for the hitherto neglected study of the ancient Greek language in Rome. But one thing can be said of him, which I think few would disagree with, is that he was preoccupied with worldly and political situations and neglected the Spiritual needs of his flock.

We Protestants tend to applaud Luther’s actions in the face of these glaring examples of abuse. Yet can you not see that the things Leo did were not so very different from what many ministers and church leaders are doing today? Many of us have had to endure any number of sermons which are intended to dictate our political and Spiritual choices. Some groups actively excommunicate or “disfellowship” people whom they do not agree with, people whom they wish to silence. Most of us have seen ministers who live at a much higher economic standard from the rest of their flock. An example has just been brought to my attention, some friends of mine just pointed me to a vimeo video (http://vodpod.com/watch/4834215-god-wants-your-bank-account-number-and-10-of-your-gross) where a minister is demanding that his flock start up automatic withdrawals to his church from their bank accounts. This “pastor” is saying that they will gain a blessing if they comply and they will be cursed if they don’t. How is this kind of behavior different from the selling of indulgences?

Many people, and I have met many on the web, are scarred by careless or even hateful abuse from ministers, and of course there are many scandals of a more criminal nature perpetrated by ministers being revealed everyday, these harmful actions constitute a betrayal of the innocent, and trusting, and they leave a trail of victims in their wake. Are these abuses characteristic of the body of believers who were established by Jesus?

Of course not!

What we are seeing is an age old process, as soon as the Spirit led men of the early church died out the ones who lusted for power or riches, started to take over the hierarchy. Whenever a true follower, or a group of followers of Jesus has sprung up in this atmosphere the church structure has quickly moved to stamp them out, or neutralize them in some other way. The false church is all about power and greed. The true Church, the one which Jesus set up, is about getting to know Him in the Spirit, becoming one with Him, maturing in Him, and learning to love. It is about changed lives and hearts. You don’t need a multi-million dollar building or a million dollar budget to live the transforming life Jesus died to give us.

And authorities? What about them? Well if you read the New Testament carefully and with an open mind you might start to notice that Paul was not setting up a hierarchy like the hierarchy in Jerusalem, he was encouraging relationships. In his letters he tells his flock to respect those who are older in the Lord (more mature) and to give them honor. But ultimately when you start to think about it does Paul say that he had to check everything out with Peter? No he doesn’t, his Authority was Jesus, and his personal authority was from Jesus. I don’t think that this was something peculiar to Paul the Apostle, we should only have one Authority in our lives, and that is Jesus. Furthermore I do not see any particular division of the believers into clergy and laity in Paul’s letters. I do see that we are to honor and support the efforts of the elder members of the congregation (that would be those who are mature in Christ). I do see that in Paul’s epistles there are pastors and deacons who serve the needs of the flock. I am not sure that these offices were meant to be professions, although they would still fall under the heading of supporting the elders in their work. The word pastor means shepherd and deacon means servant. These words can still be seen as defining the relationship the person has with the group of believers. If God has equipped you to do these things, your local group may recognize that and ordain you, but even if they don’t, it doesn’t mean that you are not what God has chosen you and equipped you to be and to do.

Is it not obvious that any mature believer in Christ would be doing the Lord’s work as he or she understands it?

In the book of Acts it is clear that God is choosing His instruments. I mean, do you really think that Peter and John and James would have chosen Saul/Paul to be an Apostle? No, they were hiding out from Saul. It took a Sovereign act of God to bring Saul to his knees and it took the movement of the Holy Spirit in his life to shape him into the Apostle Paul. In Galatians 1:15-18 Paul describes how the Lord taught him, on Mt. Horeb, in Arabia. God clearly chose and shaped His instrument for the evangelization of Asia Minor, Greece, and eventually Rome. Saul/Paul was not voted in by the elders in Jerusalem, he was chosen by God.

Now days people go into the ministry for a variety of reasons, perhaps they crave the honor of being called Pastor or Father, perhaps they are just lazy and they think in that profession they won’t have to work hard, sometimes they just cannot think of anything else to do with themselves. Well none of the things I have mentioned constitute a clear call to the ministry, and I would like to extend my apologies to those who have had a clear and unmistakable call, but many, many men and women have not. You see the point is, God must choose, He does not equip people who are not His choice. There is a tremendous amount of Scriptural evidence for this, He chose Abram-Abraham, He chose Moses, He chose Gideon, He chose Samuel, He chose David, He chose each of the Prophets, in the person of Jesus, He chose the Apostles.

This is the way He goes about His business with us. He chooses us, and he equips us. There is only one instance in the New Testament of someone being chosen by committee, in Acts when the disciples chose someone to replace Judas, and Matthias was chosen by lot, (they drew straws) and after he was mentioned we never hear another thing about him in Scripture.

So we need to carefully weigh the traditions about authority which we have received and which we have seldom questioned. We need to resist the fleshly urge to canonize tradition with a capital “T”. Have we gotten good fruit from just following the traditional notion of hierarchy? Or is the history of the church organization one of greed, corruption, and perversion?

Institutional church history is full of situations where congregations only knew Jesus as someone the priest or minister talked about, and the real authority in their lives was the priest or minister. There have also been many, many gross abuses and they continue today. God is certainly gracious, but these kinds of “ministries” are not to be tolerated. We should not tolerate any situation where a man is usurping God’s place in our lives.

It is time that we all sought the Lord about this, humbly and sincerely. To seek Jesus as our Authority, to discover what impediments we have constructed for ourselves over time, so that we may shed them and regain the freedom to fully mature into the image of Christ. If our hearts are truly in this Spiritual endeavor then we are really not followers of Billy Graham, or Calvin or Luther. We are followers of Jesus the Messiah. We ought not to look to a human agency, Jesus is the one who has called us, He has chosen us, He is the one who will re-build His Church as it ought to be.

He Is Risen, He Is Alive

November 3, 2010

“Hey, get a load of this guy he hears God!” And the leering speaker twirls his finger around his ear indicating insanity.

Isn’t this the reaction that you would expect to get if you were to tell someone on the street that God told you something? Often, even church people react this way. The attitude that is illustrated here is the culmination of four centuries of propaganda, the reformation may have brought us freedom from the Roman Catholic church’s abuses, but it bore other offspring. For my RC friends, I am speaking of the things I definitely have problems with, the adoration of Mary, the authority of the Pope, the celibacy of the priesthood, priests defined as being spiritually superior to lay persons, and of course the former practice of the selling of indulgences.

When Luther and Calvin and Zwingli made their breaks with the Roman Catholic communion they made another decision which still affects us today. They decided that the abuses of the Roman Catholic church were uniformly bad and they lumped most of the practices of the Catholics together as suspect. The battle cry “Sola Scriptura” a reference to only scripture as the basis for our Spiritual lives had a bee in the midst of the rose. While breaking away from the Traditions (with a capital “T”) of the Roman church and translating the Scriptures into the common languages to make them accessible to anyone who could read were without doubt tremendous blessings, there are other fruits of the reformation which bear looking at.

The bee in the rose which has come back to sting us is the idea that we can know the whole truth of Scripture through scholarship, that we can intellectually comprehend God.
Now to be fair this was not the attitude of every reformer, but the die had been cast and the general attitude of Protestantism was that of an intellectually based scholasticism. This was not a new idea, there had been factions in the Roman Catholic church which advocated the intellectual approach, but dependence on the intellect became one of the defining marks of the Reformation. It spawned many seeming benefits in Europe and new universities began to spring up with this little bit of watering. To be sure the Roman Catholic church had helped the earlier universities get their start, often to train priests. During the Middle Ages and even well past the Renaissance all educated men learned Latin, it was the Lingua Franca of the educated classes, that is doctors, lawyers, and royal advisors (Kings in the Middle Ages did not always learn to read). Indeed the leaders of the reformation were all educated men who knew Latin and participated in the scholarly discourse of the day. Since the vast majority of Protestant leaders were scholars it was second nature for them to promote a scholarly regimen for all leaders in the new churches and to concentrate on the arguments which helped define their theology.

Yet over the centuries a few in both the Catholic and the Protestant communions sought for more. They sought Jesus on their knees and in their hearts. You see the problem with scholarly toil and achievement is that it tends to push away the Spiritual aspect of life in Christ. Under the scholastic culture just about all of the important matters in a Christian’s life were reduced to the “essentials” or to put it bluntly the rituals of christian culture, they were baptized, confirmed, and buried in the church, and that made everything alright in their view.

Many, many people over the centuries and in our own day have keenly felt the lack of Spiritual contact with God. When they question the status quo they are almost always treated as outsiders by the leaders of cultural christianity.
Nevertheless those who seek Him often find Him.
Despite excommunication, jail time, public humiliation, and yes, even execution, there have been many who have managed to find and walk with Jesus in spite of all the things which this world’s religious organizations can throw at them.

The reason that they are persecuted by christian institutions is quite simple, the religious leaders assume that if they can’t hear God, then no one else really can either (there is a whole, pride, misplaced spiritual authority thing here that I can not go into in this post, more to come). Therefore they think anyone who claims to hear God must be off his or her nut. Fortunately, God isn’t influenced by what the worldly leaders think.

So in modern times we have people in the church culture who are influenced by the attitude of the world around them. I remember when I was a tyke, a Sunday school teacher told us about Moses or Abraham and said something like “Now God doesn’t speak to us these days the way He did to Moses or Abraham.”
Now upon what authority is this taught? And no I don’t accept the “when that which is perfect is come” (1 Cor. 13:10) as an answer to this matter.
We see this taught in churches and then they turn around and say something like “that Pastor So-and-so, he really hears God”, after a moving sermon. What? Pastor Thinga-majig can hear Him, but you and I can’t?

I am sorry, but that just doesn’t wash.

There is another facet which the Protestant church shed on its way to prominence. The idea that a man or woman would benefit from withdrawing from the world and being alone with God was seriously down played by the reformation leaders since the monastic system in the Roman Catholic church had been the source of some of the more vivid abuses. Now days if you merely suggest to another christian that you might benefit from staying home on Sundays and spending time alone with the Lord, you will be hit with a lot of attitude and certainly you will hear the quote about not forsaking the “assembling together” Hebrews 10:15-25, some regard it as a command on par with “Love one another as I have loved you”.

Now if we assume that Paul wrote Hebrews, they are quoting a man who spent his first three years as a Christian in Arabia learning directly from the Lord (Galatians 1:15-18) he did not go directly to Jerusalem, the center of the church, he went apart to seek God and learn from Him. Paul of course was not the only one, Jesus spent forty days alone in the wilderness and He went away from the disciples regularly to pray and spend time with the Father. It was a common practice in the early church to go apart for a while to gain a deeper understanding of God to share with the “assembly”.

The Desert Fathers, at least the more sane ones, those not living in holes or on top of columns, believed in drawing apart from the world to be with Jesus, they then felt they had something worthwhile to share. I think that the life of a body of believers would be richer and more deeply Spiritual if it’s members took time and in some cases a considerable time apart to be with the Lord.

People refer to not forsaking the assembling, well what if your pastor is a dud? What if the whole congregation is a bunch of Spiritual dullards? By the way have you heard some of the tripe many ministers teach about the origin and meaning of the Scriptures. I would not trust them to lead anyone to Jesus, because it is obvious that they do not trust that God is Sovereign enough to write and speak to us through the Scriptures. We live in strange times.

So do yourself a favor, the next time you have some personal study time, read some Scripture and then lay it aside and just sit with the Lord. You can pray and ask Him about things, but be sure to take time to sit quietly and listen.
Some folks write out the things which have been bothering them and then ask “What would You like to say to me Lord?” and then write down whatever they hear Him saying to them. This is called two-way journaling, as opposed to one-way prayer.
You know, our God is not only awesome, He is alive and you can hear Him, if you listen. If we learn to seek Him and trust what He is doing with us we will live transforming lives and we will have something to share in the “assembly”.