Saturday, April 28, 2012

The Politics of Religion?

Yesterday I watched a video (one of those viral ones that goes everywhere on the internet) that was an eye opener to extreme religious thinking on the current state of affairs. The Bible was quoted throughout the whole thing and there was a strong flavor of gloom and doom.  I know the world is not ideal and the Word of God says it will wax worse and worse, but God is still God. It was an interesting example of the politics of religion (a new science appearing in the latter half of the 20th century). The presenter was very bold, somewhat sordid and shocking and often backed up her claims with examples of actions of people who had been martyred maliciously throughout history for standing up for their beliefs. Men's actions, however noble, do not make the Word truer. God would never be happy with that kind of martyrdom. 

In Acts 1:6-8 Jesus Christ responded to his disciples posed a question about the politics of that day:
When they therefore were come together, they asked of him, saying, Lord, wilt thou at this time restore again the kingdom to Israel? And he said unto them, It is not for you to know the times or the seasons, which the Father hath put in his own power.  But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses (Link - martus) unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth. 
God had other plans in mind for man. God gave men power. It wasn't political power that they got. They became powerful witnesses for Jesus Christ. The word 'witness' in Greek is 'martus' from which we get the word 'martyr'.  

A Critical Lexicon and Concordance to the English and Greek New Testament

 By E. W. Bullinger
True martyrdom according to Acts 1:8 means to be a bearer of  God's authorized way, truth and life: Jesus Christ. It is not the gloom and doom of fear.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

'It's a Very Small Thing' To Be Judged' By You Or Even By Me

This morning, a great section in Genesis came to mind regarding Abraham and Abimelech.  Abraham and Sarah traveled to Gerar where Abimelech, who was a Philistine king, lived. Abraham fearing the Canaanites, let them think that Sarah was his sister and not his wife. Abimelech took Sarah with the idea of making her one of his wives. Then God talked to Abimelech about the consequences involved in doing so and Abimelech confronted Abraham about it. Some big things happened because he did. There was restoration and healing.

Hey, wait a minute, why did God talk to Abimelech? Who is supposed to be God's man here? It is very interesting to think about. Whose choice was it to talk to Abimelech?  It was God's choice for His own reasons. Abraham was a prophet. Are prophets always right? They are right only when speaking for God. What they do on their own time is not necessarily truth. We see that at other times in the Bible.

In the New Testament, with the appearance of Jesus Christ as God's only begotten son, a savior unequaled by anyone, we can gain true wholeness and soundness in life.  God provides us with those qualities by pure grace not by requiring perfection in return. He just wants love and our trust in what He provides.

There is a great section in I Corinthians 4:1-4:
Let a man so account of us, as of the ministers of Christ, and stewards of the mysteries of God. Moreover it is required in stewards, that a man be found faithful. But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged of you, or of man's judgment: yea, I judge not mine own self. For I know nothing by myself; yet am I not hereby justified: but he that judgeth me is the Lord.
Paul is referring to himself and what it means to be a steward of the mystery (should be singular) of God. A good steward of God's Word is faithful.  A steward is trusting and believing towards his master and carries out his master's transactions regardless of what others think.

There is a very good point to be made about the fact that it is God that is in charge. In Ephesians 4:2, 'lowliness' (the God's in charge mind-set link) is the first requirement for unity of the spirit. People don't make something true because they say or do something or even because of who they are. Abimelech, a Canaanite, spoke up to Abraham even though Abraham was the prophet. It was God that set it up. Why should anyone complain? When it comes to God and carrying out His instructions, 'it is a very small thing' to be judged by others or even in judging one's own self. Actually it's a very peaceful, sound and wholesome way to live!

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Imitators of Paul

 In Corinthians 4, Paul writes about his ministry and it is very telling of his attitude of humility to God.
1 Corinthians 4: Let a man so account of us, as of the ministers of Christ, and stewards of the mysteries of God. Moreover it is required in stewards, that a man be found faithful. But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged of you, or of man's judgment: yea, I judge not mine own self. For I know nothing by myself; yet am I not hereby justified: but he that judgeth me is the Lord. Therefore judge nothing before the time, until the Lord come, who both will bring to light the hidden things of darkness, and will make manifest the counsels of the hearts: and then shall every man have praise of God.  
And these things, brethren, I have in a figure transferred to myself and to Apollos for your sakes; that ye might learn in us not to think of men above that which is written, that no one of you be puffed up for one against another. For who maketh thee to differ from another? and what hast thou that thou didst not receive? now if thou didst receive it, why dost thou glory, as if thou hadst not received it? Now ye are full, now ye are rich, ye have reigned as kings without us: and I would to God ye did reign, that we also might reign with you.
Why would anyone be puffed up against another, with all that God has given us? Sadly modern Christianity has a ways to go on this. People can be very cruel in the name of religion. We all fall into that trap sometimes, by our thoughts and actions. I know it all too well.  

Later on in the same chapter, Paul tells the Corinthian church to be followers (mimetes, imitation) of him, specifically his manner of action that portrays the purpose of the risen Lord.
I Corinthians 4:16Wherefore I beseech you, be ye followers of me. For this cause have I sent unto you Timotheus, who is my beloved son, and faithful in the Lord, who shall bring you into remembrance of my ways which be in Christ, as I teach every where in every church.
Romans through Thessalonians is what Paul taught. Paul did not teach Paul. His humble message is about the  active impact of the resurrection on an individual life and subsequently a group of believers.  It is in 'passive' Christianity that people run into problems with themselves and each other.  Paul taught people about the power of God operable in their own lives. That's the business of reconciliation.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Who's in Charge?

 Recently Newsweek Magazine came out with an article: "Forget the Church - Follow Jesus" by Andrew Sullivan. One of the sub-titles in the article is 'Organized Church in Decline'. Depending on how one defines the church (Church -ekklesia) this article might get a number of different reactions.

What is the organized church? How did it come to exist? Who runs it? Organized religion abounds and has been around since the beginning of civilization. The leaders of Israel in the Old Testament like Joseph, Saul, David, Solomon, David, Hezekiah,  Jehoshaphat, just to name a few, were very human. The Bible includes details about their failures as well as their successes. In the New Testament we see the same thing in Peter, Paul and James.

Recently, I was reading in Acts about James, Jesus's brother, and his relationship to the first century church. Just like all the humans that the Bible talks about, he was not infallible and he was influenced by the culture, just as Paul in returning to Jerusalem was affected by culture and his humanity.  Paul understood this about himself and he encouraged people to trust God.
I Corinthians 2:3-5 And I was with you in weakness, and in fear, and in much trembling.And my speech and my preaching was not with enticing words of man's wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power: That your faith should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God.
Today we have heads of organizations, denominations, non-denominations, sects, families, groups who are human too.  The important thing to learn about the New Testament culture of grace is that these people are never to replace the lordship of Jesus Christ in an individual's life.  We can all glean good things from each of these entities and organizations, but our personal access to God through the sacrifice of His son should never be taken for granted. 

In the New Testament the true leader of God's people and His church (the ekklesia) is God's only-begotten son. The true 'ekklesia' (Greek link) today is the body of Christ and Jesus Christ is the head of that body. There is no doubt about it, that Jesus Christ is the most powerful figure in the universe, subject only to God. When the head directs the body, it gets things done!

The body of Christ is larger than any one group. Anyone who loves the Lord Jesus Christ has something in common with others that have that same love. All groups have their differences and it is the differences that divide us. I have seen groups divide which believe in exactly the same thing and it is human failure that gets in the way. It is sad and even sometimes gut-wrenching and hurtful; but at the same time it is a learning experience. Our time and energy is not lost when we keep in mind God's set up and keep growing in our understanding of His word. There will always be a lighted path when we do that.
Psalm 119:105 Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path.