The only thing that will never change is, “things change”… and so do people!
Don’t try to make God into some abstract, intangible, incomprehensible, spiritual power. I think that is a tactic that Satan uses to confuse people, to frustrate them, to keep them from sincerely seeking the Lord with all their hearts. He tries to paint God as some dark and mysterious force that can only be partially comprehended by the spiritually elite. But God has revealed to us, through His holy and inspired written word—the Bible—that He’s really not like that at all. How do we know? Because He gave us Jesus—the Word made flesh (John 1:14).
The Apostle John says, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being” (John 1:1-3, NASB). And then he goes on to say, “And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth” (verse 14).
I love the Apostle Paul’s statement concerning the identity of Jesus when he says, “Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men” (Philippians 2:5-7, NASB).
The writer of the book of Hebrews says that God, the Father, spoke these words to the Son:
But of the Son He says,
“Your throne, O God, is forever and ever,
And the righteous scepter is the scepter of His kingdom.
“You have loved righteousness and hated lawlessness;
Therefore God, Your God, has anointed You
With the oil of gladness above Your companions.”
“You, Lord, in the beginning laid the foundation of the earth,
And the heavens are the works of Your hands;
They will perish, but You remain;
And they all will become old like a garment,
And like a mantle You will roll them up;
Like a garment they will also be changed.
But You are the same,
And Your years will not come to an end.”
(Hebrews 1:8-12, NASB)
Note that, in this passage, we see God the Father calling Jesus the Son both “God” and “Lord.” The Father also asserts the eternal existence of the Son and says of Jesus, “The heavens are the works of Your hands.”
Unless you go so far as to attempt to rewrite the ancient Biblical texts, as the Jehovah’s Witness people have done with their “New World Translation,” it is impossible to escape the fact that the Bible portrays Jesus as God among men. According to the Bible, Jesus “emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant” and was “made in the likeness of men” (Philippians 2:7, NASB). What does this mean on a practical level? Well, it means that, though He was divine and possessed all the attributes that when along with being God, He set those attributes aside for a little while in order to come and live among us as a human being. It means that, though was omnipresent—in all, through all, before all—He reigned in the perimeters of His existence. Though He was omniscient—all knowing—He reigned in the extent of His knowledge. Though He was omnipotent—all powerful—He reigned in the glory of His power. But, though He “emptied Himself,” He did not stop being Who and What He was and is—God!
The Apostle John says, “No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son, who is himself God and is in closest relationship with the Father, has made Him known“ (John 1:18, NIV). The Hebrews writer says, “God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, in these last days has spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the world. And He is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature“ (Hebrews 1:1-3, NASB).
One important reason why Jesus came to earth and was “made in the likeness of men,” was so that we could get to know the God who created us; the only true and living God whom we love and serve. And not just know that He is, but know who He is—His nature, His character, His heart! This is the very essence of having a personal relationship with God; something that was impossible for any mortal until after the sin barrier was ripped apart when Jesus died on the cross! Now we each have available to us an incredible privilege—more amazing even than anything any Old Testament prophet, priest, or king ever experienced—the opportunity to enter into a intimate relationship with God; and to know Him personally and deeply. It is a relationship so intimate, in fact, that “your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God” (I Corinthians 6:19, NASB).
I encourage you to walk and talk with Jesus. Spend time with Him in study and meditation of the written Word of God. Walk with Him through Mathew, Mark, Luke, and John. Hear Him teach. Watch Him love and serve. See how He related to and with people. How He rebuked some, and encouraged others. Spend time with Him in prayer and learn to walk and talk with Him each day. Let Him reveal Himself to you through the glory of His creation, through the power of love shared by hearts devoted to Him, as well as through the prophetic utterances of the writers of the Book! God is no longer some deep, intangible mystery. God wants to be known by you. He wants you to know Him and to love Him for who He really is. As incredible as it may seem, Jesus has made that possible. Know Jesus, know God!
In His Eternal Love,
~ Salty ~
As a disciple of the Lord Jesus, I’m learning to open my heart to the seasons of life and to surrender to that which He desires to teach me with each new season. Having battled cancer over the past year and a half — a life-changer for sure — I feel Him calling me now to transition from a season of militancy, strife, and vying for mortal existence, to a season of calm renewal, of openness and vulnerability, and of contemplation of lessons learned.
Looking back over my life from the perspective of a cancer survivor, I see too much rage and ruin. I see too many broken hearts and shattered dreams — people who should have been loved by me, but who were hurt by me; people who should have been fueled with a greater spiritual fire through their acquaintance with me, but who were, instead, left sidetracked and discouraged.
One can, of course, in light of lessons learned and growth experienced, determine to do better in the future; to take greater responsibility for the emotional, spiritual, and even physical welfare of the precious hearts that God permits into our lives. But, I think, it would be cold and irresponsible to simply forget about those people who I’ve hurt along the way; and to just move on without any thought or concern for their continued well being. Genuine penitence requires more of me than that, I think. And, it’s not just their continued well being that this season of reflection brings under review, by my own as well. My heart, I feel, is that much more empty, and my soul is lacking, to the degree that I persist in refusing to take responsibility for, or do anything about, the people I love — and who once loved me — but who have been hurt by me somehow, somewhere, along the way.
I tell my students, when they sometimes come to me with hurting hearts because they feel as though they’ve let God down by sinning and falling short of His glory, that repentance is not just a one time thing, but a daily walk of life. I try to reassure them with Jesus’ words, when He said, “If your brother sins, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him. And if he sins against you seven times a day, and returns to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent,’ forgive him” (Luke 17:3-4, NASB). If Jesus would tell His disciples something like that, don’t you know that God is ready, willing, and capable of forgiving us over and over and over again as He watches us struggle with the sin in our lives. But, I am also quick to point out to them that a trite, haphazard “I repent,” with no real intention of surrendering to the will of God in the matter, is an abuse of God’s grace; and the Bible warns us against those who “turn the grace of God into licentiousness” (Jude 1:4, NASB).
I sometimes tremble at Jesus’ statement concerning those very “religious” people who will stand before Him on that great and glorious final day and say, “Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?” But He will declare to them, “I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness” (Matthew 7:22-23, NASB). Cloaking our selfishness and rebellion in the garbs of religious fervor and Christian service does not fool God. The Lord knows those who are His. On the other hand, it is not just sin, in and of itself, that condemns any person. The Apostle John reminds us that, “If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar and His word is not in us” (I John 1:8-10, NASB). There is never a moment when any one of us can claim to have no sin. The Bible teaches that “… all of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a filthy garment” (Isaiah 64:6, NASB).
And so, we need to live in a perpetual state of repentance and with the mindset of continual confession of our need for forgiveness, God’s grace — the blood of Christ to cleanse us, the righteousness of Christ to clothe us. And we are assured of that grace; for we are told that, “if we walk in the Light as He Himself is in the Light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin” (I John 1:7, NASB).
But it is not just God’s forgiveness that my heart craves — although I want and need that most of all — but also the forgiveness of others; those who I have hurt along the way. My heart often aches for the renewal of relationship, for the rekindling of love’s fire, with certain people who were once so much a part of my life, but who have been lost to me — yet remain precious to me. Even in our sophisticated, high-tech, globally connected world today, just finding someone who seems to have vanished from our radar sometimes seems an insurmountable task; let alone actually contacting them and begging their forgiveness. And, you know, I wouldn’t blame them or hold it against them if that “forgiveness” was long in coming. I know I don’t deserve it! And, I guess, I may have to be prepared to, somehow, move on without it — accepting that as the consequences of my own foolish behavior. But, I simply must attempt to seek it. My heart will allow for nothing less.
Of course, I must also keep in mind that, not only do I need forgiveness from others, I must also be ready to give it. I remember Jesus’ teaching concerning this matter when He taught us to pray, “… forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors” (Mathew 6:12, NASB). Furthermore, the Apostle Paul reminds me that love “does not take into account a wrong suffered” (I Corinthians 13:5, NASB). And the Bible warns, “So speak and so act as those who are to be judged by the law of liberty. For judgment will be merciless to one who has shown no mercy; mercy triumphs over judgment” (James 2:12-13, NASB).
Don’t you know that it pleases God and makes Him smile when His children are good to one another; when they take care of one another. In essence, this is what it means to, as Jesus said, “love one another, even as I have loved you” (John 13:34, NASB). Or, as the Apostle John says, “Little children, let us not love with word or with tongue, but in deed and truth. We will know by this that we are of the truth, and will assure our heart before Him” … “This is His commandment, that we believe in the name of His Son Jesus Christ, and love one another, just as He commanded us” (I John 3:18,23, NASB). I think of Jesus story of the prodigal son, and how his father so rejoiced at the homecoming of his long-lost boy. When two hearts that have been estranged, or even just separated by time and distance, find one another again, and “forgiveness” is truly sought and authentically given, love is rekindled in the beauty, power, and holiness of the Lord; what a time of rejoicing — and God smiles upon His children!
Forgive me for hurting you,
~ Salty ~
Coming to terms with the “theology of the cross,” and the fact that Jesus calls every disciple to “deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me” (Luke 9:23, NASB), means coming to terms with authentic Christian living in everyday life. Discipleship is not so much about studying the word as it is living the word as we learn it. Discipleship is not so much about spending time in daily prayer as it is making our lives a perpetual and continual prayer unto God. Discipleship has little to do with how many times we “gather with the saints at the river,” but with our willingness to love and serve a lost and dying world. In fact, it grieves me, sometimes, that “church” has so commandeered our time, energy, and allegiance that people are too busy doing “churchy” stuff to connect with the world around them in authentic and meaningful ways.
Have you heard that old, kinda “worn out” adage that says: “I’d rather see a sermon than hear one, any day!” Well, I guess, some old saying should be well remembered because Jesus says pretty much the same thing when He talks about our being “light” in this world of darkness. He said:
“Now no one after lighting a lamp covers it over with a container, or puts it under a bed; but he puts it on a lampstand, so that those who come in may see the light. For nothing is hidden that will not become evident, nor anything secret that will not be known and come to light. So take care how you listen; for whoever has, to him more shall be given; and whoever does not have, even what he thinks he has shall be taken away from him.” (Luke 8:16-18, NASB)
In this passage, Jesus is reminding us that authentic faith ultimately gets down to what people “see” in us. It’s all about “living” our faith in the eyes of the world; not just singing about it during the Sunday gathering. And, if you look closely at Jesus statement above, you’ll notice that people have an uncanny knack for seeing through the surface of things into who and what we really are. Yes, we all wear masks at times. We all try to create a façade and manipulate people’s thinking concerning who we are and what we’re all about. But that never really works, does it? I mean, we all know that, eventually, the masks fall away and the façades disseminate in the light of daily living, don’t they? We may fool a few people for a little while but, ultimately, the people who matter most in life, and the people who need us the most in life, are going to come to know us as we really are.
Jesus’ comments, above, remind me of the parable of the talents wherein we learn that those who hoard their gifts unto themselves, rather than investing them in life, love, relationships, and the mission our Lord has set before us, will ultimately loose them altogether. How are we “living” our faith?
In what we’ve come to call, “The Sermon on the Mount,” Jesus initiated His earthly ministry with this very same concept, saying:
You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt has become tasteless, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled under foot by men. You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden; nor does anyone light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven. (Matthew 5:13-16)
When we put a little salt on our taters, we expect it to make a difference. We would consider it “worthless” if it didn’t. What good is salt that doesn’t enhance the taste of our food, preserve our pork, or help freeze our homemade ice-cream? What good is a so-called “Christian” who hasn’t denied himself and taken up his cross; or who is not in hot pursuit of Jesus? When it comes down to daily living, authentic faith can’t help be become evident in our lives. People will see our faith, if what we have is a living faith, because it will be seen in our works — how we love, how we serve, how we seek to make a difference in this world and in the hearts and lives of others! As James said, “But someone may well say, ‘You have faith and I have works; show me your faith without the works, and I will show you my faith by my works'” (James 2:18, NASB).
I hasten to add that a living faith should never be equated with dogmatic self-righteousness. People who interprete faith as “holiness” in the eyes of men, or as achieving some high level of “perfection” in our performance, have allowed our old Adversary to sidetrack, if not completely derail, them. Faith is not acting like that self-righteous Pharisee who, when he came to pray, said, “God, I thank You that I am not like other people: swindlers, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I pay tithes of all that I get” (Luke 18:11-12, NASB). Rather, faith is becoming like that tax collector, standing some distance away, who was even unwilling to lift up his eyes to heaven, but was beating his breast, saying, “God, be merciful to me, the sinner!” (verse 13). Faith is acknowledging that we’re all in the same boat, that “there is none righteous, not even one” (Romans 3:10, NASB) because “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (verse 23). Authentic faith is agreeing with heaven’s judgment, that, “If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar and His word is not in us” (I John 1:8-10, NASB).
And, perhaps, this is the greatest testimony of the children of light; and the very thing that people need most to see in us. They don’t need to hear our doctrine, so much, as they need to see our humility. They don’t need us to slam dunk them with our righteousness — as though we were somehow better than them — so much as they need us to lay aside our masks, quit with our façades, and confess our weaknesses, our faults, our failures, and our need for Jesus. While we seek to love them, while we seek to serve them, while we seek to go out of our way to make this world a better place by leading people to faith in Christ, people need to see these actions coming from broken and contrite hearts painfully aware of our own shortcomings, but all the more in love with Jesus for His sacrifice of grace and mercy. This is the “theology of the cross.” This is authentic Christian living. This is real faith. This is being the “salt of the earth” and the “light of the world!” This is letting our light shine before men “in such a way” that they see our good works and give glory to our Father who is in heaven.
That they may see HIM in us,
~ Salty ~
Contrary to what many think, Jesus had very little to say about how to “do church!” In fact, Jesus idea of a church was, “… where two or three have gathered together in My name, I am there in their midst” (Matthew 18:20, NASB). But, as our previous posts have revealed, Jesus had plenty to say about the stewardship of our resources and about our relationships one with another. I think it’s sad how the evil one — our age-old Adversary — has kind of duped us into thinking that, as long as we show up down at the church house once or twice and week and do our “churchy” thing, then we’re fulfilling our expected religious obligations and we’re “okay Christians.” But oh how that kind of mentality strips authentic Christianity of its dynamic. It reminds me of the Apostle Paul’s warning to Timothy concerning those who are, “lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, holding to a form of godliness, although they have denied its power” (2 Timothy 3:4-5, NASB).
Jesus definitely had plenty to say about the essentiality of living our faith. Remember His analogy of the wise and foolish builders? Jesus says,
“Why do you call Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say? Everyone who comes to Me and hears My words and acts on them, I will show you whom he is like: he is like a man building a house, who dug deep and laid a foundation on the rock; and when a flood occurred, the torrent burst against that house and could not shake it, because it had been well built. But the one who has heard and has not acted accordingly, is like a man who built a house on the ground without any foundation; and the torrent burst against it and immediately it collapsed, and the ruin of that house was great.” (Luke 6:46-49, NASB)
This passage, and others like, reminds me of the fact that its not enough to hear Jesus’ teachings; it’s not even enough to simply believe Jesus’ teachings or to mentally acquiesce to His identity and authority. Remember, James says that even the demons do that, and they tremble (James 2:19). But an authentic, living faith is not about playing church; rather, it’s about living life. It’s about not only believing in Jesus, but surrendering our lives to His authority. It’s about giving Him jurisdiction over our hearts and living by His teaching. Too many hear, believe, and even cry out “Lord, Lord,” every Sunday in what they think of as “worship!” But too few actually buy in to the “theology of the cross” — by denying themselves, taking up their cross, and following Jesus — and then demonstrating that by the way they live their lives, steward their resources, and treat other people.
What is worship, anway? Is it crying out “Lord, Lord,” on Sunday morning; or is it presenting our “bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God” (Romans 12:1, NASB) every day that we live?
Building on the Rock,
~ Salty ~
While modern Christianity sometimes seems to only remotely resemble that which we read about in the scripture, we must remember that, when it comes to the area of human opinion and reasoning, “All things are lawful” (I Corinthians 6:12, 10:23, NASB). In other words, we need to keep in mind that, due to the “freedom of the new covenant,” the “ekklesia” is not prohibited from adapting to contemporary culture in order to remain relevant throughout the ages and to expedite the mission to which Christ has called us. We need to remember that any practice is permissible; so long as it does not invalidate the word of God or circumvent God’s expressed will for our lives. As long as a given practice or tradition does not endorse, permit, promote, or advocate that which God, through His divinely inspired written word—the Bible—says is sinful, the practice is permissible. Likewise, so long as the practice or tradition does not hinder, invalidate, repudiate, circumvent, or disavow a specific commandment of God—that which the written word of God has expressly enjoined upon us—the practice is permissible. And, so long as the practice or teaching is not inculcating the personal opinions, beliefs, traditions, interpretations, or doctrines of men as though they were the word of God, and then binding those practices or teachings upon others and holding them accountable, as though their personal relationship with God or fellowship with the body of Christ depended on it, the practice is permissible.
For example, if the “ekklesia” in a given location decides that it really is in their best interest that they organize, incorporate, open a bank account, purchase land, build a building, and engage in corporate programs, projects, ministries, worship activities, and all the other trappings that seem to define a modern “church” in today’s world, the terms of the new covenant do not condemn such activity because “all things are lawful”; even though God’s people in Bible days did not do these things and there is nothing in scripture that specifically “authorizes” any of these actions.
By the same token, if the “ekklesia” living in various locations determine that they want to cooperate with one another and work together to provide some structure beyond the local community level in order to accomplish foreign mission work, or to build hospitals and clinics, or to found schools and orphanages, or other goods works, the freedom of the new covenant allows for these activities because “all things are lawful”; even though we have no specific commands or examples in the Bible that would specifically “authorize” such cooperation.
If however, some men among the “ekklesia” began to assume ecclesiastical authority over others, resulting in a separate clergy or priesthood, as some “churches” have done—locally, regionally, globally—this would certainly amount to a violation of the expressed intent of the new covenant because it circumvents what the scriptures specifically teach in regard to the priesthood of all believers (See: I Peter 2:9, Revelation 1:6, 5:10).
When we look at the “ekklesia” back in the Bible days, we see a beautiful example of the simplicity and elegance of Christianity played out in the context of local, community fellowship—just people loving God, living for Him, meeting in their homes, sharing life and love, and trying to make some eternal difference in this world. Those of us who are, perhaps, a little more fundamental in our outlook may ask, “Why can’t we engage in that kind of local Christian community today; free from all the corporate structure and organization of the modern era? Why can’t we just get together with a few other Christians in our homes for study, prayer, and to celebrate the Lord’s Supper; and laugh, and sing, and enjoy one another’s fellowship, and just live life together to His glory?” And the fact is, there is no reason whatsoever why we cannot, or should not, do that. In fact, authentic Christianity begins right there—not with “joining a church,” or “attending church,” but with simply determining in our own hearts and minds that we will “be the church”; that is, that we ARE the “ekklesia”—the “called out” children of God—and that we are going to submit to Bible teaching and continually “walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called” (Ephesians 4:1, NBSB).
While I enjoy occasionally getting together with large groups of Christians for special events and activities, and usually find such experiences stimulating, I know that personal faith cannot be long sustained by those kinds of big events. We need the power of intimate fellowship on an ongoing basis if we are to experience “the priesthood of all believers” and truly minister to one another on a meaningful level. We need people in our lives who are more than “brothers” and “sisters” in an ecclesiastical sense. Rather, we need people who know us well and love us anyway; people who are really our “friends.”
I, for one, am a bit skeptical of the large, corporate structure. As a matter of personal preference, I would much rather see dozens of small community fellowships scattered all across town and meeting together in one another’s homes, perhaps under the shared stewardship of an area-wide eldership, than to have a single mega-church routinely meeting in some big fancy barn down at the corner of Broadway and Main. But that’s just me. However, if you, dear child of God, find yourself compelled to join rank and file with one of those big “mega-churches”—you know, one with, oh say, fifty or more members—please make sure that you go out of your way to find therein the intimate fellowship that you need, and to which God calls you. Remember, it’s not about simply “attending services” once or twice a week. Don’t wait for the professional church ministerial staff to facilitate some “program” and “assign” you to a small group. Rather, pray that God will lead you into meaningful relationships with people who need you in their lives; people with whom you can go places and do things and share life and love; people who will not only minister to you, but alongside you as, together, you seek to make a meaningful difference for the cause of Christ in this world—to God’s eternal glory.
In HIS love and by HIS grace,
~ Salty ~
In his letter to the Christians living in the city of Ephesus, Paul exhorts us to:
… walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing tolerance for one another in love, being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as also you were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all who is over all and through all and in all. (Ephesians 4:1-5, NASB)
If the kingdom of Christ, God’s eternal family, the “ekklesia,” has the faith, the love, and the humility to agree on these seven essentials of the Christian faith, we can have the unity that God’s people experienced back in Bible times; prior to the wholesale division [denominationalism] that plagues Christianity today. These seven essentials serve as a foundation for cultivating community within and among the “ekklesia” and for identifying the people with whom we are called to share our Christian walk:
• One body – the “ekklesia,” the saved body of Christ: Jesus said, “I have other sheep, which are not of this fold; I must bring them also, and they will hear My voice; and they will become one flock with one shepherd” (John 10:16, NASB). Later He prayed, “The glory which You have given Me I have given to them, that they may be one, just as We are one; I in them and You in Me, that they may be perfected in unity, so that the world may know that You sent Me, and loved them, even as You have loved Me” (John 17:22-23, NASB). Due to the influences of Western capitalism, we live in a world today that pulses to the beat of trademarks and branding of every kind. However, when it comes to authentic Christianity, these things ought not to exist. Those who practice and advocate for division [denominationalism]—separate and distinct religious organizations, each with their self-identifying labels and practices around which they rally—are not adhering to the concept of the “one body,” and are working against Jesus’ prayer for unity.
• One Spirit – the Holy Spirit of God: “that is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it does not see Him or know Him, but you know Him because He abides with you and will be in you” (John 14:17, NASB). The Holy Spirit is given as a gift when we are baptized (Acts 2:38). He dwells in us (I Corinthians 6:19, Romans 8:11) to help us “put to death the deeds of the flesh” (Romans 8:12-14, NASB), to “help our weakness” and “intercede for us” in prayer (Romans 8:26-27, NASB), and to help us grow in all the “fruit of the Spirit” (Galatians 5:22-23, NASB). He is the guiding source of inspiration behind all scripture: “for no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God” (I Peter 1:21, NASB).
• One hope of your calling – eternal, life-giving, personal relationship with God: that for which we live, and the means by which we are able to attain it, can be summed up in Jesus’ words: “Do not let your heart be troubled; believe in God, believe also in Me. In My Father’s house are many dwelling places; if it were not so, I would have told you; for I go to prepare a place for you. If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself, that where I am, there you may be also” (John 14:1-3, NASB). People may seek to put their eternal hope in the many and various belief systems and religious teachings of men. Some say, it doesn’t really matter what one chooses to believe, that “there are many avenues to God”; or that “regardless of the road we’re on, we’re all going to the same place anyway!” But Jesus said, “When he puts forth all his own, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice. A stranger they simply will not follow, but will flee from him, because they do not know the voice of strangers” (John 10:4-5, NASB). The “ekklesia,” the new covenant children of God, those who hear the voice of their Shepherd, know that there is only one hope for all humanity. For Jesus said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me” (John 14:6, NASB).
• One Lord – Jesus Christ, the only begotten Son of the only true and living God: The Apostle Peter stated it well when he said, in his first gospel sermon on the day of Pentecost, “Therefore let all the house of Israel know for certain that God has made Him both Lord and Christ – this Jesus whom you crucified” (Acts 2:36, NASB). Later, the Apostle Paul would say, “For this reason also, God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:9-11, NASB).
• One faith – as presented in the “good news” (gospel) message of Jesus Christ: The apostle Paul said, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, ‘But the righteous man shall live by faith’” (Romans 1:16-17, NASB). Writing to the people at Corinth, he said, “For I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified” (I Corinthians 2:2, NASB); and later, he wrote to them, saying, “Now I make known to you, brethren, the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received, in which also you stand, by which also you are saved, if you hold fast the word which I preached to you, unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures” (I Corinthians 15:1-4, NASB).
• One baptism – the baptism commanded by Jesus when He said: “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation. He who has believed and has been baptized shall be saved; but he who has disbelieved shall be condemned” (Mark 16:15-16, NASB). It is the baptism exemplified by the Ethiopian eunuch when, after hearing the Gospel, he cried out, “‘Look! Water! What prevents me from being baptized?’ … and they both went down into the water, Philip as well as the eunuch, and he baptized him” (Acts 8:36-38, NASB). It is baptism “for the forgiveness of your sins” (Acts 2:38, NASB) in that “all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death” (Romans 6:3, NASB). It is baptism of, by, and into the Holy Spirit, “For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free, and we were all made to drink of one Spirit” (I Corinthians 12:13, NASB). It the baptism that “now saves you—not the removal of dirt from the flesh, but an appeal to God for a good conscience—through the resurrection of Jesus Christ” (I Peter 3:21, NASB). It is not some outward, legalistic work of law or religious regulation; but rather an expression of our personal faith in that we were, “buried with Him in baptism, in which you were also raised up with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead” (Colossians 2:12, NASB). It is the outward manifestation of our new birth into the family of God; as Jesus said: “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit he cannot enter into the kingdom of God” (John 3:5, NASB).
• One God and Father – the only true and living God, creator of heaven and earth, giver and sustainer of life, Who: “… after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, in these last days has spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the world” (Hebrews 1:1-2, NASB); “and without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him” (Hebrews 11:6, NASB). The Apostle Paul said, “For even if there are so-called gods whether in heaven or on earth, as indeed there are many gods and many lords, yet for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom are all things and we exist for Him” (I Corinthians 8:5-6, NASB).
That we may all be united in Him,
~ Salty ~
How to deal with human traditions and matters of opinion, and keep them in proper perspective when it comes to matters of the Christian faith, has always been a challenge for the children of God. In writing to the “ekklesia” in Corinth, the Apostle Paul said, “All things are lawful for me, but not all things are profitable. All things are lawful for me, but I will not be mastered by anything” (I Corinthians 6:12, NASB). Again he told them, “All things are lawful, but not all things are profitable. All things are lawful, but not all things edify” (I Corinthians 10:23, NASB).
In stating that “all things are lawful,” Paul is not endorsing or permitting those things that are specifically and explicitly condemned in scripture – such as: “…immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, of which I forewarn you, just as I have forewarned you, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. (Ephesians 5:19-21, NASB)
Nor is the Apostle Paul giving people license to set aside and not practice those things specifically and explicitly taught in scripture – such as: “This is My commandment, that you love one another, just as I have loved you” (John 15:12, NASB), or “Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins” (Acts 2:38, NASB), or be “diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:3, NASB).
Far from permitting what is explicitly condemned, or setting aside what has been specifically commanded, when the Apostle Paul says, “All things are lawful,” he is referring to that vast area of human endeavor that falls within the scope of human judgment and opinion. He is speaking with regard to the “ekklesia” determining what is relevant and expedient as we seek to live our lives to God’s glory day-by-day and carry out the work, the mission, and the ministry to which Christ has called us.
Because we do not want to become a catalyst for further division [denominationalism] within the body of Christ, and because we do not want to “bind” where God has not “bound” by pushing our personal opinions on others and holding them accountable to our own expectations as though they were the will of God, we need to give serious consideration to some concepts presented in scripture concerning the area of human opinion, cultural relevancy, and our use of Christian liberty. The Apostle Paul said:
Now accept the one who is weak in faith, but not for the purpose of passing judgment on his opinions. One person has faith that he may eat all things, but he who is weak eats vegetables only. The one who eats is not to regard with contempt the one who does not eat, and the one who does not eat is not to judge the one who eats, for God has accepted him. Who are you to judge the servant of another? To his own master he stands or falls; and he will stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand. (Romans 14:1-4, NASB)
The Apostle Paul also shared this concept with the “ekklesia” living in Corinth as he described for them how he conducted his own daily life and ministry in various cultural settings, saying:
For though I am free from all men, I have made myself a slave to all, so that I may win more. To the Jews I became as a Jew, so that I might win Jews; to those who are under the Law, as under the Law though not being myself under the Law, so that I might win those who are under the Law; to those who are without law, as without law, though not being without the law of God but under the law of Christ, so that I might win those who are without law. To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak; I have become all things to all men, so that I may by all means save some. (I Corinthians 9:19-22, NASB)
Paul did not sit up on his “high horse” judging and condemning people because they did not look, act, or think like him. He did not insist that everybody come around to his personal way of thinking before he could have fellowship with them. Instead, because he knew that “all things are lawful,” Paul exercised his freedom in Christ to get out of himself and his own world and into the hearts and lives of others. To the greatest extent possible, without violating his allegiance to Christ, he became like those people he sought to reach and teach. He utilized “all means” available to him in his effort to “save some.”
These Biblical concepts encompass the very epitome of the freedom of the New Covenant. While some people take the position that “whatever is not specifically commanded in the New Testament is strictly forbidden”—often erring in the area of “binding” where God, through His inspired word, has not bound—others take the position that “whatever is not specifically forbidden in the New Testament is permitted”—often erring in the area of “loosing” where God, through His inspired word, has not loosed. Both of these positions originate in the mind of man, are fraught with inconsistency, and fall short of what the scriptures actually teach.
The main reason these types of philosophies fail us is because both positions are entirely legalistic—they move the discussion out of the realm of faith and into the arena of law. In other words, both positions stem from the mindset of looking at the New Testament as though it were a book of law—much the way the Old Testament children of Israel might look at the books of Leviticus and Deuteronomy. Many people don’t seem to comprehend the fact that, unlike the Ten Commandments—which were engraved on tablets of stone—and all the rest of the Law of Moses—contained in the written scrolls of antiquity—the terms of the New Covenant are written on our hearts and in our minds. Remember, God said, concerning the New Covenant in Christ, “I will put My laws upon their heart, and on their mind I will write them” (Hebrews 10:16, NASB).
God’s holy and inspired written word—the Bible and in particular, the New Testament—is certainly essential to that process. In fact, we are told, “like newborn babies, long for the pure milk of the word, so that by it you may grow in respect to salvation” (I Peter 2:2, NASB). However, the gospels, the histories, the letters, and the prophecies that comprise our New Testament in no way read like a book of law; and to treat them that way leads only to what Jesus warned His disciples about when He said, “Watch out and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees” (Matthew 16:6, NASB). Like the people of Jesus’ day who were spiritually enslaved to the Pharisees, treating the New Testament as though it were a book of law places us in the precarious position of being controlled by the would be “scholars” and alleged “theologians” of our day; many of whom far too gleefully and voraciously adhere to that role.
Taking a rather “legalistic” view of God’s written word and Christianity in general, the modern-day Pharisees—religious leaders—of our day love to argue and debate over what they believe is “authorized” in scripture. This kind of legalism reduces the teachings of the New Testament to “the letter of the law,” rather than elevating them to “matters of the heart.” It takes love for God and for others completely out of the picture when it comes to making decisions about how we will chose to live our lives.
Does the new covenant child of God really need a “thus sayeth the Lord”—with book, chapter, and verse—to “authorize” absolutely everything we say and do; and, if there is no specific command or example, are we, then, prohibited from doing it? If so, then a lot of “churches” are in trouble because they have incorporated themselves, established business accounts, purchased property, built buildings, incorporated mechanical instruments of music in worship, appointed worship directors, song leaders, church secretaries, and a host of other “ministerial staff,” and have established orphanages, hospitals, and schools, all while engaging in a plethora of “ministry” activities that were unheard of in Bible days.
By the same token, does the new covenant child of God really need a specific prohibition spelled out in the “letter of the law” to know that something is not pleasing to God and that they shouldn’t engage in some possibly destructive activity? Because there is no specific command prohibiting some activity, does that mean one should feel free to participate in it even if, by doing so, we take advantage of others or hurt them in some way? We can all probably think of many examples wherein these kinds of legalistic “rules” appear absurd.
Is not my heart, when surrendered to the will of God, sufficient to convict me with regard to these and all other spiritual matters? God thinks that it is, for the Bible says:
For when Gentiles who do not have the Law do instinctively the things of the Law, these, not having the Law, are a law to themselves, in that they show the work of the Law written in their hearts, their conscience bearing witness and their thoughts alternately accusing or else defending them, on the day when, according to my gospel, God will judge the secrets of men through Christ Jesus. (Romans 2:14-16, NASB)
We must be very careful with this concept, however, because it is, after all, our hearts that God is after. The scripture makes it clear that, even if something does, indeed, fall under the category of “all things are lawful”—belonging to the realm of human opinion—if I believe in my heart that it is sinful then, for me, it is sinful. The Apostle Paul says:
I know and am convinced in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself; but to him who thinks anything to be unclean, to him it is unclean … It is good not to eat meat or to drink wine, or to do anything by which your brother stumbles. The faith which you have, have as your own conviction before God. Happy is he who does not condemn himself in what he approves. But he who doubts is condemned if he eats, because his eating is not from faith; and whatever is not from faith is sin. (Romans 14:14 & 21-23, NASB)
The concept that “whatever is not from faith is sin” is an incredible truth. On the one hand, if I consider something to be a sin, or even if I simply “doubt” that it has God’s approval, and yet I choose to engage in the activity anyway, what does that say about the condition of my heart; am I not, internally if not outwardly, walking in rebellion against God? On the other hand, James says, “to one who knows the right thing to do and does not do it, to him it is sin” (James 4:17, NASB). So again, if I refuse to do what I believe the Lord wants me to do, am I not, internally, walking in rebellion? It matters not whether the issue is specifically addressed in the written word of God because it is my heart that convicts me; and it is my heart with which my Lord is most concerned.
From my heart to yours,
~ Salty ~
Building on concepts shared in previous posts, remember that Jesus told His apostles, “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; and whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven” (Matthew 16:19, NASB). As we have noted, there are always people who want to “bind” where God has not “bound” by inventing rules and regulations not explicitly set forth in God’s word and forbidding others to participate in activities that God has not specifically forbidden. Likewise, there are always people who want to “loose” where God has not “loosed” by negating the importance or relevance of those things that God has specifically commanded, or by permitting, encouraging, and even advocating for sinful things that are, indeed, explicitly forbidden in God’s word.
From the earliest days of what we have come to call the “Restoration Movement” in America, many modern churches of Christ have paid lip-service to the mantra said to have originated with Thomas Campbell (1763-1864) that states: “We speak where the Bible speaks, and we are silent where the Bible is silent” (Mitchell, 2013). While that is a perfectly good goal to pursue, and motto to live by, the problem has been that people tend not only to “speak where the Bible speaks” but, where the Bible is silent, they go ahead and “speak” anyway; and then bind their personal opinions and interpretations upon others as if it were the law of God. There seems to be no end to the human tendency to want to supplant Christ’s authority with one’s own by insisting that “my way is the only right way and is, therefore, God’s will for everybody.”
Instead of heeding the scripture that says, “not to exceed what is written, so that no one of you will become arrogant in behalf of one against the other” (I Corinthians 4:6, NASB), human beings are notoriously adept at continually exceeding “what is written” in their pursuit of “the appearance of wisdom in self-made religion” (Colossians 2:23, NASB). The result is division. Modern “Christianity” has been separated into many different divisions [denominations] based on particular doctrines and traditions of men around which they rally and by which they identify themselves. So persuasive and rampant is this human tendency to take matters into our own hands that even some of God’s new covenant children are tempted to denominationalize the “ekklesia” with particular names, doctrines, and traditions over which they draw lines of fellowship, but that have no direct bearing on one’s salvation or relationship with God.
We find an example of this very problem in the earliest days of Christianity when the Apostle Paul had to scold the family of God in Corinth, saying:
Now I exhort you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all agree and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be made complete in the same mind and in the same judgment. For I have been informed concerning you, my brethren, by Chloe’s people, that there are quarrels among you. Now I mean this, that each one of you is saying, “I am of Paul,” and “I of Apollos,” and “I of Cephas,” and “I of Christ.” Has Christ been divided? Paul was not crucified for you, was he? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul? I thank God that I baptized none of you except Crispus and Gaius, so that no one would say you were baptized in my name. (I Corinthians 1:10-15, NASB)
As the passage above reveals, human beings have always been prone to wanting to have things their own way, even if it is not necessarily God’s way. The Apostle Paul warned the young evangelist, Timothy, that he would encounter this human tendency, saying, “For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires, and will turn away their ears from the truth and will turn aside to myths” (2 Timothy 4:2-4, NASB). I have to admit that, in times past, whenever I encountered this passage, I always had in view those rank “liberals” among us who viewed God’s holy expectations as too restrictive and burdensome, wanting to revel in their freedom more than celebrating God’s love. I always compared it to the passage in the Psalms that says, “Why are the nations in an uproar and the peoples devising a vain thing? The kings of the earth take their stand and the rulers take counsel together against the Lord and against His Anointed, saying, ‘Let us tear their fetters apart and cast away their cords from us!’” (Psalm 2:1-3, NASB).
But over the years, I’ve come to realize that Paul’s warning to Timothy extends equally to those self-proclaimed “conservatives” among us who, like their “liberal” counterparts, have long since parted company with scriptural authority in favor of their beloved traditions. And if the definition of “liberal” means one who does not recognize or adhere to Bible authority but, rather, buys into some other religious authority, or seeks to establish his or her own authority for what they believe and practice, then, ironically, these so-called “conservatives” turn out to be really nothing more than rank liberals in disguise. Chew on that thought for a little bit!
These people, I think, even more than their alleged liberal opposites — and they’re really just two sides of the same legalistic coin — love to “accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires” (2 Timothy 2:3, NASB). While I am no fan of giving a platform to any false spirit, I marvel at how so many churches and parachurch organizations and activities — workshops, lectureships, encampments, etc. — seem to cringe in fear at the very prospect of inviting or listening to anyone who may, in any way, dare to challenge the status quo; even if what someone has to say is firmly rooted in Biblical teaching. And so, I’ve come to recognize that there are people of both the “liberal” and “conservative” persuasion — and, oh, how I hate having to use such “labels” — who simply don’t seem capable of recognizing, let alone appreciating, “truth” when they encounter it.
That being said, faithful children of covenant, it is with great joy that I “give thanks to God always for all of you, making mention of you in our prayers; constantly bearing in mind your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ in the presence of our God and Father, knowing, brethren beloved by God, His choice of you” (I Thessalonians 1:2-4, NASB). There are still many I love who have not thrown in the towel and climbed up on anybody’s bandwagon, except their Lord’s.
Be strong in the Lord,
~ Salty ~
Mitchell, C. (2013). Silence in the restoration movement. SearchforBiblicalTruth website. Retrieved from: http://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&frm=1&source=web&cd=10&cad=rja&ved=0CFkQFjAJ&url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.searchforbiblicaltruth.com%2Flibrary%2Ftext%2Fcarl%2FSilenceInTheRestorationMovement.pdf&ei=KUoyUuilA8S5iwLzjIHYDg&usg=AFQjCNHBCHJxG7dPP_oRbiuMdrXTtGU9Gw
Scripture taken from the NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE®, Copyright © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.
Why is this, seemingly, so hard to do? The Apostle Paul says, “but speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him, who is the head, even Christ” (Ephesians 4:15, NASB).
I was really disappointed when a video clip was posted recently on one of my social networking sites in which certain churches were likened unto Hitler and his evil den of miscreants. I guess it was supposed to be funny; you know, making fun of the ultra-conservatives, or those who some think of as the “legalists” among us. But I was more than a little taken back, in fact, I found myself rather aghast at the idea that ANYBODY calling themselves Christians would compare ANYONE calling themselves Christians to Hitler—of all people!
What scares me so much about it is simply that there must be a great deal of hurt, bitterness, and, dare I say, even a certain amount of hatred in people’s hearts in order for them to find pleasure in creating, sharing, or laughing at such a negative piece of work. I mean, yeah, the people at whom they are poking fun—those who seek to bind their legalistic tendencies on others—surely need to be challenged and rebuked, and in some cases, perhaps, we just need to keep our distance. The Bible does say, “Now I urge you, brethren, keep your eye on those who cause dissensions and hindrances contrary to the teaching which you learned, and turn away from them. For such men are slaves, not of our Lord Christ but of their own appetites; and by their smooth and flattering speech they deceive the hearts of the unsuspecting” (Romans 16:17-18, NASB). That’s a pretty stern warning and it uses some pretty tough language. But, I believe, there are ways we can do that, we must do that, that don’t play right into our enemies hands and make us, for all practical purposes, just like them. There must be ways we can do that and still, “be imitators of God, as beloved children; and walk in love, just as Christ also loved you” (Ephesians 5:1-2, NASB).
Legalism is no laughing matter because souls are at stake. The Apostle Paul warns us saying, “You have been severed from Christ, you who are seeking to be justified by law; you have fallen from grace” (Galatians 5:4, NASB). And when the ancient legalists—we sometimes refer to them as Judaizers because they compelled all first century Christians to live like Jews (See: Galatians 2:14)—came to up to Asia Minor, advocating for their brand of Christianity, Paul referred to them as “false brethren” and said, “we did not yield in subjection to them for even an hour” (Galatians 2:4-5, NASB). But, while Paul did not hesitate to reveal them for what they were, still, He did not mock them, make fun of them, or take any pleasure in denouncing their activities. I think of the passage in the little epistle of Jude wherein it says, “But Michael the archangel, when he disputed with the devil and argued about the body of Moses, did not dare pronounce against him a railing judgment, but said, ‘The Lord rebuke you” (Jude 1:9, NASB).
There is also a certain amount of danger inherent in stepping outside the boundaries of love and attacking people—regardless of their doctrinal positions or their other hang-ups—in a vehement manner; such as comparing them to Nazis. And that danger can be seen in the way that other people, innocent people, can be caught in the crossfire. Satan tempts us to call down fire upon those whom we perceive as the “guilty,” knowing all too well that the innocent standing not too far away are likely to be consumed in the conflagration as well. I wonder how many beautiful, vibrant, and Spirit filled churches of Christ are being harmed not so much by the legalists themselves, as by those self-proclaimed advocates of freedom who insist on taking matters into their own hands, rather than taking it to the Lord in prayer, and end up fueling Satan’s fire by taking the “fight” to perpetually higher levels. How many good and faithful people and churches will have their image tarnished and their testimony hindered, if not altogether negated, by these kinds of actions? Guilt by association!?! How many seekers of truth will be turned away from the Gospel of Jesus Christ because they happen to view the spew of somebody’s vehement heart online, or elsewhere? My prayer is “none.” My fear is “some,” or even just “one.”
There is something insidious about our global communications network and all the social media sites in the modern era; something that seems to draw out the worst in us from time-to-time. And, it’s not that there is anything inherently wrong with modern technology or the fact that we can instantly communicate with people all around the world. Twitter is not the problem! Facebook is not the problem! The problem is an ancient one. It’s a problem of the heart, not the internet. But the technology does offer an easy platform for that which the Bible describes, and condemns, as “the boastful pride of life” (I John 2:16, NASB). And I’m as guilty as anyone else! At times, when there is some political issue, or some social issue, or what I perceive to be a moral issue on the table, I get all “head up!” I jump up on my “high horse!” I tout my opinions, throw love out the window, and run ruff-shod over everyone with whom I disagree—even some of my “friends!”
You know what I need to remember? I need to remember that time in Jesus ministry when James and John—the sons of thunder—wanted to call down fire from heaven and consume the little inhospitable village of Samaria that refused to offer lodging to Jesus and His disciples simply because they were traveling toward Jerusalem? But, the Bible says, “He turned and rebuked them, and said, ‘You do not know what kind of spirit you are of'” (Luke 9:55, NASB). Oh my! I don’t want to be of that spirit, do you?
There are times when we must confront evil with truth. It does not please the Lord when we cower in fear or when we allow people to harm other people with their deceptions or their belligerent attitudes. God says, “But My righteous one shall live by faith; and if he shrinks back, My soul has no pleasure in him” (Hebrews 10:38, NASB). But, at the same time, we must “speak the truth in love” always seeking, to the greatest degree possible, the spiritual benefit and higher welfare of all parties involved. And, yes, that is sometimes hard to do! But “the fruit of the Spirit is love” (Galatians 5:22) and, if we will let Him, the Spirit will give us the power to “put to death the deeds of the flesh” (Romans 8:13) and “walk in love, just as Christ also loved you” (Ephesians 5:2, NASB).
May “the love of Christ control us” (2 Corinthians 5:14, NASB),
~ Salty ~
Sometimes I have to take a step back and ask, “Wow! Does the Adversary have us ‘on the run’ here, or what?” What I mean is, are we ducking and dodging, running and hiding, rather than “standing” for what God’s word teaches? Are we running away from “the good fight of faith” (I Timothy 6:12, NASB), rather than stepping up to “contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all handed down to the saints” (Jude 1:3, NASB)? Don’t get me wrong, I’m no warmonger — spiritually or physically. In fact, I sometimes think my testimony and my ministry sometime suffers due to my natural aversion to controversy. But there comes a time when even the most passive among us must find the resolve step forward with “the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God” (Ephesians 6:17, NASB) in hand, and squarely face the opposition.
I marvel, though, at the effectiveness of Satan’s devices. While the Apostle Paul reminds the children of God in Corinth that “we are not ignorant of his schemes” (2 Corinthians 2:11, NASB), it appears as if many of us today are, indeed, ignorant of his devices, or simply unable to contend with them. For example, our enemy knows just how overwhelming and pervasive culture and society can be; he has mastered the power of “group think” and is an expert “herdsman” — rounding up the sheep together with the goats and herding them all together toward the cliff of destruction. He aggressively goes after the strays who don’t want to run with the herd and reigns them back in again; chastising them for their disorderly conduct. He and his “spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12, NASB) seem to know just how to prompt, prod, and goad them into compliance.
I’m thinking, now, of comments made yesterday by Kaniela Ing, a member of the Hawai’i State House Finance Committee who voted in favor of SB 1 — the Hawai’i Marriage Equality Act of 2013 — when he said: “Marriage means help. Marriage holds families together and forms a loving environment for children to be raised, so why deny more loving couples from getting married? Isn’t allowing our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters that opportunity the conservative and Christian thing to do?” (Lincoln, 2013). Satan must be laughing up his sleeve at that one. Sadly, Ing, being quite deceived, knows not the spirit with which he speaks. God, through the prophet Isaiah, gravely warned against such folly, saying: “Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil; Who substitute darkness for light and light for darkness; Who substitute bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter!” (Isaiah, 5:20, NASB).
Christians, of course, want to do the “Christian thing,” don’t they? And that means loving and accepting virtually everyone’s notion of morality, regardless of how perverse it may actually be, right? We are a kind, gentle, and peace-loving — if not always peace-making — people, aren’t we? I mean, no one wants to be thought of as narrow minded, backward, intolerant, or old fashioned. And, certainly, no one wants to be called a “bigot,” or “prejudiced,” or a “hater,” or even, heaven forbid, “homophobic.” So when these kinds of accusations start flying, and the mind-control is turned on and brought to bear, what are the children of God supposed to do, simply crumple in the face of the onslaught, allow ourselves to be reigned back in, and rejoin the herd? I thought the church was supposed to be “the pillar and support of the truth” (I Timothy 3:15, NASB).
In my reading from the book of Ezekiel today, I came across a passage of scripture originally meant for ancient Israel, who had sold out their faith in order to become like the nations around them — they too wanted to fit in — but that, I think, also speaks powerfully to our society today. God, speaking through Ezekiel says to them: “But the house of Israel says, ‘The way of the Lord is not right.’ Are My ways not right, O house of Israel? Is it not your ways that are not right?” (Ezekiel 18:29, NASB). People today, even some who call themselves, “Christians,” violently react to certain passages of scripture such as: “Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, will inherit the kingdom of God” (I Corinthians 6:9-10, NASB) and they say, “The way of the Lord is not right!” The modern, en vogue, pseudo-scientific, politically correct, and socially acceptable mindset is to categorize homosexuals along with minorities, people with disabilities, and others who may be in need of special rights and protections by law. But the word of God does not make the matter a civil rights issue, but rather, a moral issue. It places them squarely in the category of those who have made a “choice” to pursue a life of unrighteousness. Again, I can hear the voice of rebellion crying out, “The way of the Lord is not right!” To which God answers, “Are My ways not right… Is it not your ways that are not right?”
The new covenant children of God need to be careful with this one. We are called to hate sin, not the sinner — “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23, NASB). We need to remember that the family of God is made up of people who were once fornicators, idolaters, adulterers effeminate, homosexuals, thieves, covetous, drunkards, revilers, swindlers; and “such were some of you; but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God” (I Corinthians 6:11, NASB). However, if our ultimate goal is truly to put the best interest of others ahead of ourselves, and help men and women, young and old, get ready to go home to be with God forever in that “new heavens and a new earth, in which righteousness dwells” (2 Peter 3:13, NASB), then we need to understand that we are doing them no favors by failing to stand up and declare the truth of God’s word and call them to repentance. To those who say, “The way of the Lord is not right!” Ezekiel closes his prophecy with this dire warning:
“Therefore I will judge you, O house of Israel, each according to his conduct,” declares the Lord God. “Repent and turn away from all your transgressions, so that iniquity may not become a stumbling block to you.Cast away from you all your transgressions which you have committed and make yourselves a new heart and a new spirit! For why will you die, O house of Israel?For I have no pleasure in the death of anyone who dies,” declares the Lord God. “Therefore, repent and live.” (Ezekiel 18:30-32, NASB)
Furthermore, insofar as our own personal relationship with God is concerned, we need to decide who’s love and acceptance we cherish most, and where our own loyalty and true commitments lie. Perhaps we need to also remember Jesus’ call to discipleship and His warning: “For what is a man profited if he gains the whole world, and loses or forfeits himself? For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when He comes in His glory, and the glory of the Father and of the holy angels” (Luke 9:25-26, NASB). Ashamed to Jesus? Ashamed of His words?
“… stand firm in the Lord, my beloved” (Philippians 4:1, NASB).
~ Salty ~
Lincoln, M. (2013). House committees pass same-sex marriage bill, advances to floor for vote. KHNL Hawaii News Now. Retrieved from http://www.hawaiinewsnow.com/story/23887893/watch-at-5-house-committees-pass-same-sex-marriage-bill-advances-to-floor-for-vote
With what shall I come to the Lord
And bow myself before the God on high?
Shall I come to Him with burnt offerings,
With yearling calves?
Does the Lord take delight in thousands of rams,
In ten thousand rivers of oil?
Shall I present my firstborn for my rebellious acts,
The fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?
He has told you, O man, what is good;
And what does the Lord require of you
But to do justice, to love kindness,
And to walk humbly with your God?
(Micah 6:6-8, NASB)
I sometimes get so frustrated with the worldly, fleshly thinking that so often pervades this secular humanists society in which we find ourselves. People who don’t want to acknowledge God, who think that this world and everything in it is just one cataclysmic accident, are always looking for reasons to justify their position; or to denigrate the beliefs of others. So bad things happen: a commercial airliner with hundreds on board disappears out over the southern Indian ocean — or wherever it ended up; a land slide in Washington wipes out an entire community, killing dozens; people we know and love, young and old alike, are taken from us by cancer, or by a terrible auto accident, or by who knows what — there are a thousand ways to die in any given day. Humanity lives with perpetual heartache and tragedy. Sometimes I think there are definitely more “broken hearts” out there than there are those that remain yet unscathed.
I’ve experienced the sensation of all the strength suddenly draining from my body upon hearing the news that someone I love has departed. I’ve spent sleepless nights sighing, crying, and wrestling with God — asking, “Why, oh Lord, why did You let this happen?” And it frustrates me to no end when I see the atheists, the agnostics, the anarchists, the “unbelievers” among us prey upon that. They try to lay all that tragedy and heartache at the feet of God, or those who believe in God, and say things like: “Why does your so-called God let this happen?” or “If there really is a God, and if God is really good, then He wouldn’t let these kinds of things happen.”
How bout that Bill Maher guy, you know the popular comedian and commentator who totally ripped into that “Noah” movie that was recently released. I’ve heard some comments he made being discussed on conservative airwaves, but according to a recent article in The Christian Post, some of what he actually said on television was:
“The thing that’s really disturbing about Noah isn’t the silly, it’s that it’s immoral. It’s about a psychotic mass murderer who gets away with it and his name is God. Genesis says God was so angry with Himself for screwing up when he made mankind so flawed that he sent the flood to kill everyone. Men, women, children, babies, what kind of tyrant punishes everyone just to get back at the few he’s mad at? I mean besides Chris Christie,” he said.
“Hey God, you know you’re kind of a d**k when you’re in a movie with Russell Crowe and you’re the one with anger issues,” he noted.
The comedian then tried making the case for why people should not get their moral direction from the Bible. “You know conservatives are always going on about how Americans are losing their values and their morality. Well maybe it’s because you worship a guy who drowns babies,” he said. (Blair, 2014)
But actually, I don’t know what’s really worse, the fact that this guy said a bunch of things like that on national television, or the fact that, as Blair (2014) noted in his article, “TV host Bill Maher left his target audience in riotous laughter…” I’m like, “Seriously? A whole studio full of people actually thought those comments were funny? What is happening in America, today? And who were all those people anyway? Do you have to pass some kind of liberal, agnostic, secular humanist litmus test before being admitted as a member of his audience?” I think I would have just quietly, or not so quietly, stood up and walked out… after having hauled off and thrown my right boot at the stage — forgive me Lord; I know, I know, “You do not know what kind of spirit you are of” (Luke 9:55, NASB).
I have to confess, I shouted out “booooooo” and threw some popcorn at the movie screen when I took my granddaughters to the cinema last week and, before the movie, they showed a totally raunchy, sexually suggestive, piece of garbage that was supposed to be some kind of “music video.” My teenage granddaughters, one on each side, just stared at me, somewhat disapprovingly, in stark amazement. “WHAT?” I exclaimed! And they totally broke out in laughter! Well, you know, you just kinda get tired of all the “nonsense” — a dozen other words come to mind > a hem < — being perpetually shoveled in your face by today’s liberal media! >>> so I threw some popcorn back at them; I know that must have seriously upset the whole Hollywood film industry <<<
Anyway, back to my point and, I think, I have one. The thing is, what the secular humanists are missing is the fact that IT’S NOT ALL ABOUT THIS WORLD! I mean, it “IS” for “THEM” because this world is “ALL THEY’VE GOT!” Or so they think. For them, it’s all about the comfort, the safety, the prosperity, the well-being, the happiness, and long life of humanity in this present realm. And being thus so fleshly minded, they cannot conceive of a God Who does not necessarily put humanity’s materialistic wants and desires, and physical, fleshly good first and foremost — at the very topmost rung of His eternal ladder of priority.
Have you ever read the book of Job? Talk about a mind-bender ~ sheeeeeesh! God broke the man’s heart in more ways than any of us can dare to imagine or would care to innumerate. And when Job cried out “why?” God’s response was: “Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?” (Job 38:4, NASB). Furthermore, even though Satan was the actual ravager who inflicted all the harm, God was willing to take responsibility for it because He allowed it to happen. Job didn’t know that he was a key player in a cosmic spiritual battle of epic proportions. And, that part was never even explained to him. All he knew was that, though he was suffering immeasurably, there was a God who cared for him. And so, he absolutely refused to do what Bill Maher did, “curse God and die!” (Job 2:9). Well, Maher hasn’t died, physically, yet, so maybe there is still some hope for him, too.
As Micah cried out, so I cry out, “Oh God, what can I bring to you, today, as a sacrifice of praise and worship that is in any way worthy of You?” All my commandment keeping falls short. All my service in Your kingdom pales in comparison with what Your Son has done for me? Do You want my sacrifices? If I could, somehow, manage to do what that rich young ruler who came to speak with Jesus couldn’t do — if I could sell my every possession and give the money to the poor — would that be enough? Is a sacrifice of praise from my lips, a song or prayer that exalts You — we call it “worship” — really what You want from me? Or, is it something else You’re ultimately looking for?
In an absolutely stunning passage of scripture, the Apostle Peter said
In this you greatly rejoice, even though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been distressed by various trials, so that the proof of your faith, being more precious than gold which is perishable, even though tested by fire, may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ; and though you have not seen Him, you love Him, and though you do not see Him now, but believe in Him, you greatly rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory, obtaining as the outcome of your faith the salvation of your souls. (I Peter 1:6-9, NASB)
In light of teaching like that, do you think we can, or even should, be exempt from the distress of various trials? How, then, would faith ever become real — something more than a mere abstract concept? How, without distress, can faith be “tested,” be “refined,” become “more precious than gold”? Remember, Jesus said, “in this world you will have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33, NASB). Can we, do we, believe that?
And so, what is the ultimate call? Is it all our religious stuff and ecclesiastical trappings — our so-called “worship”? Or, is it not, to find a way through all the tragedy to keep our faith intact and, as Micah prophesied so long ago, “to walk humbly with your God”? To, like Job, remain faithful to Him no matter how much it hurts; to refuse to curse God, to refuse to give up on Him, to refuse to play Satan’s game and blame God for all the heartache in this world and thereby justify unbelief. But rather, to allow the heartache, the pain, the suffering, the sorrow to purge the dross and perfect our faith!
Those of you — us — who are going through the fires, or who have been through the fires, or who will, beyond doubt, one day surely go through the fires, have something to offer God that is immeasurably valuable beyond anything in this mortal world: a broken, contrite, faith-filled heart!
The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit;
A broken and a contrite heart, O God, You will not despise.
(Psalm 51:17, NASB)
~ Salty ~
Blair, Leonardo. (2014). Bill Maher curses God, Bible, Noah story and ‘stupid’ Americans who believe; Calls God ‘psychotic mass murderer.’ The Christian Post U.S. Retrieved from http://www.christianpost.com/news/bill-maher-curses-god-bible-noah-story-and-stupid-americans-who-believe-calls-god-psychotic-mass-murderer-116276/
A Faith-Walk with Salty Through the Stormy Clouds of Cancer
Table of Contents
CHAPTER 1: STORM CLOUDS GATHER
CHAPTER 2: BRACING FOR THE STORM
CHAPTER 3: THE THROES OF THE STORM
CHAPTER 4: THE STORM INTENSIFIES
18. Hospital Antics
CHAPTER 5: IN THE EYE OF THE STORM
22. Going Froggy
25. Team HOPE
26. Sharing the Love
CHAPTER 6: CALMER WATERS
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