Guest Blog by Tony Evans – “Can’t Buy Me Love”

Dr. Tony Evans is the pastor of Oak Cliff Bible Fellowship in Dallas, Texas.  He also is the founder of The Urban Alternative.  Dr. Evans holds the honor of writing and publishing the first full-Bible commentary and study Bible by an African American.  His radio broadcast, The Alternative, can be heard on over 1,400 radio outlets daily and in more than 130 countries.  His sermons are Biblically sound and he “walks the walk,” not just talks the talk.  Here is a man of God worth noting for how Father has used him to teach thousands of believers how to grow in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ.  This is a sharing of a recent email he sent to his contacts, which is adapted from one of his more than 100 books.

2021-06-19 Dr. Tony Evans

Dear Friends,

Most people think money is the secret to satisfaction.  They think that happiness equates to how much money you’ve got at your disposal.  But happiness has nothing to do with money.  Money isn’t about to solve your problems.  In fact, sometimes our problems escalate as our money increases — not the other way around.

That’s why Paul wrote, “For the love of money is a root of all sorts of evil, and some by longing for it have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs” (1 Timothy 6:10).

There are so many things money can’t buy.  Money can’t buy health.  It can’t buy relational harmony.  It can’t buy respect, honor, character or esteem.  When things go south in any of those areas, if money is all you’ve got working for you, you’ll discover the actual value of money.  You’ll learn that money isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.  There’s so much that matters more than how much money you have in your wallet or your bank account.  But it’s very easy to forget that.

As a result, people frequently spend their energy praying for stuff when God wants to give them more than stuff.  He wants to give significance, strength, stability and identity.  All the stuff in the world doesn’t amount to much if you are so broken, empty or alone that you cannot enjoy it, and you don’t have anyone with whom to share it.  Stuff never made anyone smile the way that satisfaction, purpose and even service can.  Our world focuses on stuff, while Jesus reminds us what matters most.

For His kingdom,
2021-06-19 Tony Evans Signature
This content has been adapted from Tony Evans, Kingdom Men Rising, Bethany House Publishers, 2021.
See also the DVD, Kingdom Men Rising.  Good stuff!
If you are visiting here before June 19 is over, check out the free No More Excuses teleconference at https://www.ocbfchurch.org/ministries/mens-fellowship/mens-conference/.

Guest Blog by Päivi Räsänen, Member of Finland’s Parliament

2021-05-01 Finland Parliament Building

The following is a news release by a Finnish Member of Parliament.  Whether you follow the Ramayana, the Bhagavad Gita, the Koran, the Book of Mormon, the Tipitaka, the Gathas, the Jain Agamas, the Dharma Wheel, the Bible or any other religious literature, this case before Finland’s Court can affect any religious practice by which people try to guide their lives.
Finland is a democratic republic along the lines of the US, but closer to Israel in number of parties and coalition type management of the government.  And since becoming part of the EU, it is anyone’s guess as to how EU diktats will affect their historically egalitarian governance.
Since Finland is part of the EU, the following bears watching as it may impact laws and policies continent-wide, and could spill over the Pond to challenge the US and Canada to follow suit.  “No man is an island.”
I encourage you to pray for Ms. Räsänen and the nation of Finland as they waddle into dangerous waters which may well be a watershed moment for religious freedom around the globe.  Ms. Räsänen has kindly put me on her email list and I am confident she would welcome any message of support from any place in the world (email below), and most of all, that we who follow Jesus are praying for Finland. 
Jesus is coming soon.  “Even so, Lord Jesus, come!”

Press Release April 30, 2021

Three charges filed against a Member of Parliament, Dr. Päivi Räsänen.
“I am ready to defend freedom of speech and religion as far as it needs.”

Yesterday morning, I received by phone the information that the Prosecutor General has decided to prosecute me in three cases. The application for summons has been delivered to the District Court of Helsinki. I am accused of criminal agitation against a minority group, which carries the sentence of a fine or imprisonment for a maximum of two years. The three charges filed against me are about the following cases. Firstly, a pamphlet I wrote in 2004 “Male and female He created them – Homosexual relationships challenge the Christian concept of humanity.” A charge has also been filed against Rev. Dr. Juhana Pohjola, the Dean of Evangelical Lutheran Mission Diocese of Finland. The Evangelical Lutheran Mission Diocese of Finland published the pamphlet.

The second charge is about a tweet I published 17 June 2019 in my social media accounts. In addition to Twitter, I published my tweet in Facebook and Instagram. In the tweet, I questioned the Evangelical Lutheran Church’s official affiliation with Helsinki LGBT Pride 2019 and accompanied my publication with a photo of Bible verses from Romans 1:24-27.

The third charge is about my views presented in one program of the Finnish Broadcasting Corporation, when I visited a talk show series hosted by Ruben Stiller and discussed the topic “What would Jesus think about homosexuals?”.

The decision of the Prosecutor General is surprising, even shocking. I do not think I have committed threatening, defaming or insulting actions against a minority group. In all these three cases, the question is about the Bible’s teaching about marriage and sexuality. Ultimately, the three charges brought against me have to do with whether it is allowed in Finland to express your conviction that is based on the traditional teaching of the Bible and Christian churches. I would not have in any way defamed homosexuals whose human dignity and human rights I have constantly said to respect and defend. The Bible’s teaching is, however, very clear in the teaching that marriage is a union between man and wife and that practicing homosexuality is against God’s will.

The Apostle Paul’s teaching is not only about defending marriage between man and woman, but about how a human being is saved into eternal life. If the teachings of God’s word about sin are rejected, the whole core of Christian faith is made empty: the precious sacrifice of Jesus on the cross for the sake of everyone’s sins and the way He opened into eternity.

There is a difficulty here far greater than a sentence of a fine or an imprisonment: a demand for censorship; an order to remove my social media postings or a ban on the publication of the pamphlet. If one defies the court’s verdict, it leads to demands of penalty payments. This sort of judgement would open up an avenue leading to further publication bans for similar texts and modern book burnings.

It is noteworthy that with regard to the pamphlet case and the tv episode with Stiller, the police stated that there was no reason to suspect a crime. The pre-trial investigation should not have even commenced according to their decision. The police stated in their decision: “if some of the views in the Bible were to be regarded as per se fulfilling the criteria of an agitation offense, the dissemination of or making the Bible available would in principle be punishable as an offense of agitation.” This has deeply to do with free speech and freedom of religion.

I will go to the court with a peaceful and brave mind, trusting that Finland is a constitutional state where the freedoms of speech and religion, which both are guaranteed in international agreements and in our constitution, are respected. A conviction based on the Christian faith would be more than a superficial opinion. The early Christians did not renounce their faith in lions’ caves, why should I then renounce my faith in a court room. I will not step back from my conviction nor from my writings. I do not apologize for the writings of the Apostle Paul either. I am ready to defend freedom speech and religion as far as is necessary.

The offense of agitation requires intentionality. In our Criminal Code the concept of intentionality is placed as criteria regarding the purpose of the author and the fact that the author perceives the nature of the act as a culpable legal infringement. In evaluating guilt, one must strive to genuinely understand the background and purpose of the author. As a Member of Parliament, I have been involved in the enactment of this precise amendment to our legislation.  It did not even come to mind that my tweet or my opinions based on Christianity could be defamatory or insulting in any aspect.

I want to encourage others to use their freedom of speech and religion. This indictment shows that right now is the time to defend these foundational freedoms and rights.

The Prosecutor General has previously publicly said that she has, because of my cases, received inappropriate messages. I hope that no insulting messages would be targeted against her.

Contact:
Ms. Päivi Räsänen
Member of Parliament, Finland
paivi.rasanen@eduskunta.fi

Evamaria Kyllästinen
evamaria.kyllastinen@eduskunta.fi
Assistant to MP

Finland Persecutes Christian Lawmaker

As recommended in The American Conservative blog, consider writing a polite but firm email to Ms. Raija Toiviainen, the Prosecutor General: valtakunnansyyttaja.syyttaja@oikeus.fi and to the Finnish Ambassador to the US, His Excellency Mikko Hautala, at sanomat.was@formin.fi.

Intermezzo Guest Blog: Will Vaccine Passports Control Your Daily Life?

Former Clinton Adviser: Mandatory Vaccine Passport Could Lead to ‘End of Human Liberty in the West’ – by Jack Phillips  March 29, 2021

Former Clinton adviser Naomi Wolf said that mandatory COVID-19 vaccine passports that have been proposed in recent days would be the “end of human liberty in the West if this plan unfolds as planned.”

“‘Vaccine passport’ sounds like a fine thing if you don’t understand what those platforms can do. I’m [the] CEO of a tech company, I understand what this platform does,” Wolf, who’s also an author, told Fox News on March 28. “It is not about the vaccine, it’s not about the virus, it’s about your data. Once this rolls out, you don’t have a choice about being part of the system. What people have to understand is that any other functionality can be loaded onto that platform with no problem at all.”

Wolf said such data can be “merged with your Paypal account, with your digital currency,” adding that “Microsoft is already talking about merging it with payment plans.”

Wolf noted that it happened in Israel, “and six months later, we’re hearing from activists that it’s a two-tiered society and that basically, activists are ostracized and surveilled continually. It is the end of civil society, and they are trying to roll it out around the world.”

“It is absolutely so much more than a vaccine pass, it is — I can not stress enough that it has the power to turn off your life, or to turn on your life, to let you engage in society or be marginalized.”

Going a step further, Wolf likened such plans to the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) surveillance of its population and promotion of a “social credit score.”

2021-04-02 Vaccine PassportsA handout image shows the Excelsior Pass, a platform that lets New Yorkers present proof of COVID-19 vaccination at events. (Office of Gov. Andrew Cuomo)

“How does [the CCP] keep a billion people under the thumb of a totalitarian regime?” she asked. “The CCP can find any dissident within five minutes, and that can happen here literally within months.”

Wolf referred to reports about Biden administration officials proposing the idea. The Washington Post and CNN — citing anonymous, unconfirmed sources — have suggested that the administration is working toward developing a national vaccine passport standard. New York state has proposed its own “Excelsior Pass” that would be used in large-scale venues such as Madison Square Garden. The plan has been lambasted by civil liberties groups and proponents.

On March 29, White House press secretary Jen Psaki addressed the claims, saying the administration doesn’t see a federal mandate for vaccine passports. “We believe it will be driven by the private sector,” she told reporters.

In other countries, such passports have already been created. Israel set one up in February to grant people access to gyms and hotels, Iceland now uses a passport to allow foreign travel, and Saudi Arabia has an app-based passport for people who are inoculated.

“The thing underpinning all of this is, what are you going to use it for?” said Melinda Mills, director of the Leverhulme Centre for Demographic Science at the University of Oxford, according to the Wall Street Journal. “Is it for international travel? Is it for getting a job? Is it for buying milk?”

Intermezzo Blog: Three Minutes and 33 Seconds That May Change Your Life

2021-02-16 Lent Fast from Social MediaRare indeed is more than one intermezzo blog between my usual Saturday’s.  But with the CCP virus still keeping us homebound and with beautiful snow again layering on the ice outside, and with a friend’s blog (Communion Table) hitting me in the head, I had to share this with all y’all.  (Just for the record, “y’all” in Kentuckian is singular; “all y’all” is the plural. 😉)  Whatever your liturgical history or viewpoint I had to share this today! 

Lent is not usually on evangelicals’ calendars.  It is the season before Easter starting with “Ash Wednesday” and commemorates Jesus’ 40 day fast in Matthew 1, Mark 1, and Luke 1, usually celebrated in “high church” traditions such as Roman Catholic, Anglican and Lutheran gatherings.  Details about Lent, e.g. the reason for the name, its relation to Resurrection Sunday, etc., can be found here at this link if you are interested.

 Social media is probably one of the most evil devices the devil has ever foisted on humanity (close second and third go to computers and automobiles, but those are for other blogs 😂).  So here is a suggestion, whether you practice Lent in a religious tradition or if you just want a break from the constancy of tweets, Likes and defrienders. 

Taking a 40 day break from social media could change your life!  Check it out, even if you don’t buy the Christian Audio, you can plug in for 3.33 minutes and get a sample that is enough to get you started.   Forget ice bucket-, exploding watermelon-, trust walk- or makeover-challenges.  Here is an “I dare you to try” that can change your life.

https://christianaudio.com/40-day-social-media-fast-wendy-speake-audiobook-download?

Intermezzo Guest Blog: The Legacy Coalition

Dear friends,
I have no affiliate engagements from which I receive remuneration and my guest blogs are just that: guests who have information which you may find valuable.  This is from a gentleman and personal friend who has been a pastor and servant of Jesus Christ for many years.  He recently changed venues for service to the Kingdom of God and is now with an organization called The Legacy Coalition.  Cool stuff!
Brent’s invitation to us is extended to any in the US and as online anywhere in the world.
(Sorry, but if you want him to travel to foreign countries in Australia, Africa, Europe, Asia or California
[😂], you’ll have to arrange for that! 😉

yours and His,
c.a.

2021-02-02 The Legacy Coalition

Dear C.A. and Anita,
It is likely that you have some grandparents among your blogging community.  So I want you to know more about “intentional Christian grandparenting,” which you may want to share in a blog.  Here is an ongoing, online resource each Monday night at 7 PM CST.  Each session is archived for one week, so it can be viewed throughout the week after.
There is no charge to register to watch and no financial info is requested.
Check out the February schedule and the topics below, beginning this coming Monday.

I would be glad to be a resource to your church to start a conversation about a grandparenting ministry!
Yours truly,
Brent Nelson
Legacy Coalition, Pastors Division, U.S.
615-415-1432 cell
brentn@legacycoalition.com

Image preview
To register: 
www.legacycoalition.com/events/

February 1: Understanding the H.E.A.R.T. of Grandparenting
Presenter: Ken Canfield, President of the National Association for Grandparenting
Here is a 4.26-minute video for Ken Canfield:
https://www.facebook.com/thelegacycoalition/videos/2614992578791820

Dr. Canfield has written, The HEART of Grandparenting as well as numerous other books.  His book synthesizes a theology of grandparenting, examining passages in the Old and New Testament like descendants, generations, your children’s children, grandchildren and many others.
His presentation will summarize those findings including current research and contemporary applications for grandparents to consider in strengthening their grandparenting and developing a grandparenting plan.

February 8: Faith in an Anxious World – What Grandparents Need to Know About the Mental Health of Young People
Presenter: Kara Powell

February 15: Four Essentials for Leaving a Spiritual Legacy
Presenter: Larry Fowler

February 22: Praying for Your Grandchildren: the Why’s and How’s
Presenters: Cavin Harper and Sherry Schumann

“Going ‘to’ Church” by Dana Vogel

Very well said, and lovingly presented, I happily relinquish this week’s blog to Dana Vogel to share what the Holy Spirit is teaching her about “Going ‘to’ Church.”
______________________________________________________________________________
2020-05-02 Going to Churchby Dana Vogel
We all know it’s important to meet together often as believers for our mutual encouragement. This is true and good. What’s not necessarily true and good, is that many of us equate this with a Sunday worship service. My submission to you is this: weekly service attendance is too much and not enough at the same time. What do I mean by that?

TOO MUCH:
It’s too much simply because there is no command in the Bible to “go to church.” Or to go once a week, or to attend any specific kind of service. In fact, at certain times a believer may not even have the privilege of any Christian fellowship whatsoever (think of Paul in prison, as an example). Dietrich Bonhoeffer talks about this a great deal in his book Life Together, where he stresses that fellowship is a GIFT, not a promise.

Now of course we are encouraged to meet together if we are able, as the author of Hebrews says in chapter 10:25, “and don’t stop meeting together with other believers, which some people have gotten in the habit of doing.” And Paul certainly talks a great deal about “when you come together,” assuming that the believers were gathering on some sort of frequent basis. But this does not mean our gathering has to be regularly scheduled or look anything like what we have grown accustomed to today. We have self-imposed these regulations, these restrictions. This is the “too much.” As it says in Deuteronomy 4:2, “You shall not add to the word which I am commanding you, nor take away from it, that you may keep the commandments of the LORD your God which I command you.”

What does it mean, then, for us to “come together”? While there is not much Biblical instruction regarding the format of our gatherings, the apostles certainly did not mean for us to simply “hang out” either. Paul continues in that same passage, “and when you come together, each of you has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation. Everything must be done so that the church may be built up.” It is clear that a large part of our gathering together should be to build each other up in a variety of ways. But this can be done in any context, not just a Sunday worship service. In fact, if you simply “attend” a Sunday worship service as your principal expression of church life, you may be severely lacking in being built up.

This is where the “not enough” comes in.

NOT ENOUGH:
Let’s brainstorm various elements of church expression we find in the New Testament: prayer, worship, instruction, encouragement, spiritual gifts (prophecy, tongues, healing, etc), fellowship, confession, breaking bread, communion, serving the poor, spreading the gospel, etc. etc. etc.!

Or consider the “one another” passages. Here is an incomplete list:
Build up one another (Romans 14:19; 1 Thessalonians 5:11);
Admonish one another (Romans 15:14; Colossians 3:16);
Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs (Ephesians 5:19);
Teach one another (Colossians 3:16);
Comfort one another (1 Thessalonians 4:18);
Encourage one another (1 Thessalonians 5:11);
Employ the gifts that God has given us for the benefit of one another (1 Peter 4:10);
Pray for one another (James 5:16);
Confess your faults to one another (James 5:16);
Exhort one another (Hebrews 3:13);
Stir up one another to love and good works (Hebrews 10:24);
Show hospitality to one another (1 Peter 4:9);
Greet one another (Romans 16:16);
Care for one another (1 Corinthians 12:25);
Serve one another (Galatians 5:13).

These are the things Paul is referring to when he says “Everything must be done so that the church may be built up.”  Wow. Consider that: everything must be done! Weekly services are not enough simply because most Sunday meetings can only facilitate two of these elements (worship + teaching, sometimes communion). Not only that, but Paul says that “each one” is to bring a hymn, teaching, revelation, etc. If you are always the recipient of teaching and encouragement, you are not truly being built up! For everyone must participate and everything must be done. Is that what your current church experience looks like?

If not, please quickly guard yourself against self-condemnation or accusation against your brothers and sisters. Instead, ask the LORD to give you insight into how you might engage with his body outside of or in addition to your “main gathering.” It may be as simple as making a phone call to a friend to encourage them or inviting people over for a spontaneous prayer gathering. Think of Acts 12, where believers were gathered at Mary’s house praying for Peter while he was in prison. That was a special gathering for a special purpose. Let us be attentive to those opportunities as well.

Is it wrong to attend a Sunday meeting? Of course not. Is it wrong to forego the service and meet with the body more spontaneously? Of course not. We should not judge each other for how or when we are meeting with other believers – such things are trivial. It’s OK to meet regularly, and it’s OK to meet spontaneously, as long as we are meeting together and doing the “one-anothers”!

So I invite you to consider this idea: perhaps the context/format/environment of our gatherings matters very little, and all that truly matters is that we are
1. gathering,
2. experiencing a rich variety of church expression, and
3. engaging in those expressions as both the giver and receiver.

Let us all be attentive to the leading of the Holy Spirit into the ‘further’ and the ‘deeper’ of all these things. Let us recognize that the level to which we experience church life is the level to which, whenever we meet another believer, we ask for prayer, offer encouragement, and glorify God; despite the time or place being priorly deemed as holy, important, or “appropriate” for that kind of activity or not.

When I meet up with my siblings who are believers, how often do we read a psalm, or offer encouragement in the faith? When I meet up with a friend to see a movie, do I also ask for prayer or share what the Lord has been speaking to me about that week? This level of devotion takes either an enormous amount of self-motivation and discipline, OR it takes an enormous amount of love for God and his body. The level to which we love him is the level to which we talk about him. And the level to which we love each other is the level to which we encourage each other. If this is difficult for us, perhaps our love for the Lord and our brothers and sisters needs more growth? And perhaps that can be the next prayer of our hearts?

In everything, let us not judge each other. Let us not be ruled by meetings. But let us not stop meeting with each other. Let us listen to the Holy Spirit for how he might want us to meet with his body. Let us be willing to be inconvenienced. Let us look for the ‘more’ of this great Family. Let us love each other deeply. Let us love the LORD most deeply.
______________________________________________________________________________
Dana is from Lexington, KY, where she is a part of a simple church community with her husband Diego and son Ari.  She also happens to be a wonderful singer and songwriter.  You can find her music online everywhere and follow her on Instagram @danavogelmusic.

Are You Going to Church During the Wuhan Virus Crisis?

Multiple guess: what is the church?

  1. a building (1 Corinthians 3:10)
  2. a meeting (Hebrews 10:25)
  3. a place to go to (Acts 28:15)
  4. a family (Acts 13:26)
  5. a body (Romans 12:5)
  6. a bride (Revelation 19:7)

If you answered Yes to all of the above, you are on the right track.  But we should really be careful in our hearts when we refer to the Church as the mortar, stones, and drywall where we meet.  Or even to refer to it as the meeting we attend.  The key is our understanding, truly understanding, that WE ARE the Church!

This concept is becoming more evident in The Age of the Wuhan Virus.  The current “crisis” has closed church buildings and is forcing people to consider what their relationships are.  The technology has been helpful to mitigate the feeling of isolation that has swept our nation, beyond the church, to affect schools, theaters, restaurants, conferences, symposiums, book-signings, and almost any other venue that involves more than 10 people meeting.

Walking in our neighborhood yesterday in spring’s warming temperatures, people tended to walk to the opposite side of the street when they would see us approaching.  One dear brave woman greeted us, only maintaining the six-foot recommendation, as we pretended to ‘fist-bump’ as we wished each other well.  Such is life in this Age of the Wuhan Virus.

But phone calls, texts, face-times, visits with dear friends are proving to be valuable to assessing about whom do we really care.  What/Who are we as the Church?

We are a people of faith with connections to one another, like stones in a building glued together with mortar that is strong enough to keep us connected even if we cannot meet at our legacy facility; like a family that are united by blood even if we do not always agree or get along; like a body that needs all its parts to function fully and correctly; like a Bride getting ready to be purified for our Bridegroom so that we can be presented to Him on that Day.

We used to call a “quiet time” or “devotions” a special time set aside to get closer to our God.  We may not have “quiet time” every day, especially if you have little ones quarantined in your home.  But we have “devotions” every day!  It just is a matter of understanding to what we are devoting our time, energy and spirit.

Gavin Duerson, leader of Simple Church Alliance gives some valuable insight into some practical steps for sharing a family “devotion” time: http://simplechurchalliance.faclex.com/blog/2020/03/20/3-ideas-for-having-church-in-your-home/

Along with this, First Alliance Church (https://faclex.com/dailyconnection/) is opening up an avenue of daily worship which can impress on us the idea that The God Who Is There really is always here.  I sincerely hope this continues long after the Wuhan Virus is under control.

So do not worry if you did not “go to church” since YOU ARE the Church!  Be the Church in all your goings and doings, during this Wuhan Virus ‘crisis’ and after.

Even so, Lord Jesus, come. (Revelation 22:17-20)

Be The Church

Why Go To Church Meetings?

Why should we go to church meetings?  Well, there is the obvious: the Bible commands it.  Hebrews 10:25 says we should not neglect meeting together, and that this becomes increasingly  important as we see The Day approaching.  But there are two major reasons for going to a meeting of the church and a bunch of other ones (that I will not dare to call “minor!”).

We used to sing a song, “I Don’t Know What You Came To Do” that attempted to answer this question back in the ancient times of the 70s.  The words of the original were very simple:
“I don’t know what you came to do,
I came to praise the Lord.”
Then there would be a bridge with “Allelu, allelu, allelu-u-ia.”
A creative alternative to verses in a church meeting I attended once had additional verses, but all centered on worship:
“Some people come just to show off their clothes,
But I came to see the Lord.”
This was followed by:
“Some people come just to talk to their friends,
But I came to hear from the Lord.”
And a couple other verses that followed this theme.

IMG_5417.JPGSo one of the beneficial reasons for gathering with other followers of Jesus Christ is to worship him in corporate fashion.  There is something tremendously uplifting to hear an anthem choir sing, whether it is patriotic songs, Broadway show tunes or love songs.  But when the object of that anthem singing is a friend and lover, a savior and healer, one who loves you more than His own life, prestige, privilege or comfort . . . and when the anthem in sung from the hearts of a large group of people, there is something overwhelming in it.  It lifts you into a preview of Revelation 5:9-14!  Beyond that are times of corporate prayer, either led by someone or simply everyone joining together to talk with the Lord.

There are two major reasons, though, for gathering with a meeting of the church.  The first is simply because sometimes I need the encouragement of others struggling with the same things with which I struggle.   They may at times be further along than me in following Jesus and can tell me how to listen more carefully to His voice, what He is teaching them in their conversations, and what “the Spirit is saying to the churches”  (Revelation 2:7, 11, 17, 29; 3:6, 12, 22).  Their “ears” are simply better attuned than mine.

Along with this is solid Bible teaching from scholars who study the history and cultural contexts of the Scripture’s human authors.  Their insights can often make a difference in how I understand certain passages of the Bible.

An example of this is what Ron Gifford once explained about loving our enemies.  Proverbs 25:21-22 instructs us:
“If your enemy is hungry, give him bread to eat,
and if he is thirsty, give him water to drink,
for you will heap burning coals on his head,
and the Lord will reward
you.”
Paul reiterates this instruction years later in his letter to the Romans in 12:19-21:
“Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.’ To the contrary, ‘if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.’ Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

Now when I was a kid, I heard this expressed as a wonderful way to make an enemy suffer!  Like the old adage, “Smile; it’ll make your enemies wonder what you are up to,”  my understanding of these verses was that by being kind, my enemy would wonder what I was scheming and would become suspicious, always looking over his shoulder for when I would get even with him; his life would become a constant misery because I had been nice!

However, when a historian explained this in its cultural context, I realized I had a lot of growing up in Christ to do!  You see in the times in which Solomon and Paul lived, they did not have matches or automatic lighters.  Fire was actually a precious commodity, especially for cooking or staying warm in cold months and for light at night.  When someone lacked a fire he could not cook his food, warm himself or light his path!

Coals of Fire on Their HeadsA common way of transferring fire was to put the hot embers in a large bowl and since heat rises, it was awkward to carry it in front of your body, so the bottom of the bowl would be wrapped and placed on ones’ head.  I learned from those wiser than me that my heart had some adjusting to do to come into line with what the Scripture actually taught about loving my enemies.

There is a second major reason for going to a meeting of the church.  Sometimes others need the encouragement I can offer because I have overcome some of the struggles with which they are struggling.  I may at times be further along in following Jesus than some others and can help them listen more carefully to His voice as He is teaching me stuff in our conversations.  My “ears” may be better attuned at times, and if I do not offer how God is guiding me, it reflects a selfishness that is less than Jesus wants from me.  This includes sometimes sharing insights that I have learned in Bible study . . . or from Ron 😉!

So among the many reasons for attending a meeting of the church: fellowship, Bible study, worship, friendship, mission sharing, etc,  there are two major reasons for going;
Sometimes I need it; Sometimes I am needed.

 

Get Out Of Jail Free Card!

Consider this:  A guy cheats on a couple of exams in school, flirts with a woman who is married, and lies on his taxes one year so he could have some extra cash for his wife and kids for Christmas.  Now, is it fair, is it just, to send this guy into an eternity of torment and misery . . . billions of years just for starters, for these little faus pas?

Universalism says that God will never send anyone to an eternity in hell.  Sounds like pretty good news, you say?  Puts a whole new spin on the good news of the Gospel.  Maybe a few years for either rehab or punishment, but eternity?  Naahhh.

Universalism thinks that after a while in a torture chamber, even the most hardened vicious criminal would look at Heaven and think, “Why am I suffering here if a loving God is willing to let me join Him and the redeemed over there in their free-wheeling banquets and parties?”  Pastors Philip Gulley and James Mulholland write that you can call over to this loving God and get His grace applied, even post-mortem, and that is Why God Will Save Every Person, the partial title of their book on this theme (not worth buying).  Given God’s limitless love and grace, you can pretty much do whatever you want in life, and at some point, He will figure you’ve paid your “debt to society” and give you a Get Out of Jail Free card.

The issue though is plainer than Gulley and Mulholland pretend it to be.  Theirs is an itemization of sins and their reasonable refusal to accept that a loving God would punish someone eternally for temporal malfeasance.  “Let the punishment fit the crime,” one might say.  Sounds fair to our western civilized minds, maybe even just, but we will not go into that detail of the differences between fairness and justice.

There are no errors in Gulley’s and Mulholland’s logic.  Begin with their premises and it is impossible to come rationally to a different conclusion than they have.  So let’s look at their premises, because if a logical progression is predicated on faulty assumptions, you will wind up at a wrong, however logical, conclusion.

The first premise is that the church, as a whole, has been judgmental and presented an angry God who will not tolerate sinful actions.  The second is that our experience with God will provide a clearer picture of what God is like than a dusty old book that is unreliable at best, and somewhat fantasy at worst.  The third is that if people see how wonderful Jesus is they will want Him and His grace.  The fourth is that anyone will choose what is best for themselves if someone shows them why it is best, and God is so persistent that He will never give up on you, ever.

The first premise actually holds water.  The church has been Angry Godjudgmental and made God look like an angry grandfather in the sky just looking for anyone having too much fun so He could zap them with lightning bolts and yell, “Stop that!”  Not just the “church,” that ethereal “they” on whom it is so easy to blame everything, but I have been judgmental and frightened people away from the grace that could save them.  The sin of the Pharisees was that they thought they could see clearly, and so their sin remained (John 9:41), even as they loaded people with burdens they would offer no help to bear (Luke 11:46).

This is not news. Jesus reserved His harshest comments, not for the woman caught in adultery (John 8:1-11) nor for the cripple from the Pool of Bethesda (John 5:1-14), but for religiously serious.  It seems our human nature culls us into a lethargy, that once we have figured something out, anyone who has not advanced to “our level” is either stupid or evil.  And we judge without reference to the unseen issues of the heart: where one has come from, what has happened that has shaped him/her, what the hidden motivations and desires are.  We evaluate based on outward appearances while the Lord looks at the heart (1 Samuel 16:7b).

The other premises, though, show major fault lines that easily crack if examined at all.  The Bible is an infallible rule of faith and practice, presenting The God Who Is There as the I AM, a perfect balance of grace and truth, mercy and justice.  One’s experiences with God must be evaluated on the basis of what the Bible says, not what I wish it said, not from my very limited and shortsighted view.  There are “spiritual experiences” that one can have that have nothing to do with God, but “feel” right.  “Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light. It is not surprising, then, if his servants also masquerade as servants of righteousness.” (2 Corinthians 11:14-15)  In our society, how we “feel” has taken preeminence over what the Bible teaches.

The third and fourth premises, that everyone will choose Jesus if they really see Him and that with God’s persistence, eventually everyone will see Him and how good He is.  I have addressed the heresy of the third premise before (July 19, 2015), so suffice it to say that the Pharisees and religiously serious got a front row seat to see and know Jesus . . . and they chose to crucify Him.  That choice was still forgivable while they were alive.  My sins were my choice to crucify Jesus; I put the nails in His hands just as forcibly as the Roman centurions on Golgotha, but I have been forgiven.

In The Great Divorce C.S.Lewis presents a more accurate description of why some people will wind up in a place that is separated from the life and joy and peace and everything good that God designed for all people.  I offer nor find any comfort in this warning, but the fact is that “Milton was right. The choice of every lost soul can be expressed in the words, ‘Better to reign in hell than to serve in Heaven.’  There is always something they insist on keeping even at the price of misery.  There is always something they prefer to joy – that is, to reality . . . There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, ‘Thy will be done,’ and those to whoGeorge MacDonald.jpgm God says in the end, ‘Thy will be done.’  All that are in hell choose it.  Without that self-choice there could be no hell.  No soul that seriously desires joy will ever miss it.  Those who seek find.  To those who knock it is opened.”

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=StW6ZKHRCFo

Now there’s a Get Out Of Jail Free card, but there are constraints on when and how to use it.  Next week, , I will examine some of those.

Carry Your Weight – 7. Disciplines of a Spirit-led Life: Community

At 14 years old, I was a scrawny kid.  All elbows, knees and skinny limbs.  I could not gain weight even if my life had depended on it.  One afternoon I was working in the hot sun with my dad and his tree-trimming partners, Bill and Marion.  Both men and my dad had muscles from many years of heavy work.  We had taken out a huge tree in this lady’s yard, and I had scrambled to keep their chain saws gassed and ropes untangled.

log-lifter
Log Lifter!

Now we were loading four foot (1.3M) logs that were about 36 inches (~1M) in diameter; BIG logs, about 1100 pounds (500Kg)!!  My dad, his two partners and I were pushing them up a ramp into his pickup truck, and as we heaved and sweated, the thought came into my empty head that my flimsy muscles were not doing anything, so I relaxed for a moment . . . and the log we were pushing almost rolled down on top of Bill!!

He glared at me and yelled, “Hey, push, you idiot!”  I immediately jumped back into position and with all my weight against the log, helped load it into the pickup.  Bill continued glaring at me after we had finished and asked, “What did you think you were doing, letting that log almost roll back!  Carry your weight, boy!”

Bill Kenny, one of God’s great men I have been privileged to know, had no idea how proud he made me feel that day!  Having had such a low opinion of my “weight” against that log, I really thought the men had been using me as “window-dressing;” not really needed, but like a little kid, being allowed to look like I was.  When he glared at me, it signaled to me that I did carry weight; that I was needed to load that truck!

Steve Elliott, referring to Acts 5:15, recently phrased it this way: “Not many of us will be chosen to be famous or great like Peter, but we each have a shadow.  On who does your shadow fall, and what is its effect?”  Being part of the Church of Jesus is not optional for the Christ-follower, but a vital part of our learning to walk in the Spirit.  “Let me stress this is not just a comfortable thought.  It is a vital factor in the life of God’s people . . . The Bible does not say that the Church is like a body, but it is the Body of Christ.”  Watchmen Nee, The Normal Christian Life

Being part of the Church of Jesus requires being part of a local group of believers.  Hebrews instructs us to “consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” (Hebrews 10:24-25)  In fact, most of the New Testament instructions have to do with getting along with others who are trying to live in God’s grace.  It involves being in the lives of others who are either there to help us, or being in the lives of others we are there to help.

I cannot emphasize enough that this participation in the Body of Christ is no more optional than your big toe’s participation in being part of your foot.  Granted, if you lost it to frost bite, your body could still survive, but it would be clear every time you went swimming that something was missing!  As the Elliott quote above points out, most of us are not important parts of the Body.  If an eye was destroyed, or if you lost a thumb, you would notice it much more, but the fact remains that every part of the Body is a part, and to be a healthy body, every part is needed.

1 Corinthians 12 gives an excellent and clearly written exposition of this concept, better than anything I could write, so I commend you to that chapter, and read it with chapter 13 to understand the “more excellent way” to participate in the Body of Christ.  Sandwiched between chapters 12 and 14, which give instructions on the use of spiritual gifts is this “love chapter” that emphasizes any and all gifts, abilities or authority exercised in the fellowship of the believers must be done from a motive of love.  If such a gift, ability or authority is exercised out of any other motive, even if it appears miraculous and auspicious, it is nothing more than a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.

There are then two reasons for joining a group of believers:
1)  There are times I need encouragement.  There are times I need prayer. There are times I need advice, or correction, or a friendly hand, or even times I need to be rebuked.  All times that I need something.  And it is in fellowship in a church, whether in someone’s home, a cathedral, or an evangelical meeting, that these things are provided for me.
2)  Then there are times I can give encouragement.  There are times I can pray for someone.  There are times I can give advice, or correction, or a friendly hand, or even times I may need to rebuke someone.  All times that I can give something.  And it is in fellowship, again, whether in someone’s home, a cathedral, or in an evangelical meeting that I can give.

So get behind that log, and carry your weight!  And challenge me to carry mine!

Next week, February 27, 2017, we will look at some basics about salvation, The Good News, Plain and Simple, to make sure no one makes a mistake of thinking that observing these spiritual disciplines earns Heaven.