Even If

Even if the fig tree does not bloom
and the vines have no grapes,
even if the olive tree fails to produce
and the fields yield no food,
even if the sheep pen is empty
and the stalls have no cattle—
even then,
I will be happy with the Lord.
I will truly find joy in God, who saves me.

(Habakkuk 3:17-18 God’s Word Translation©)

Temple Sacrifices

There is a practice among Christians that shows contempt for the teaching of God. It is widespread, insidious and undermines the most basic operation of the Realm of God on earth.

It is about holy space. Some denominations even have a ritual, using “holy elements” like water and oil, to sanctify land/soil before building an edifice to house a congregation of believers on it. When the building is completed it is referred to as “The House of God”.

This term comes from the Old Testament where King David gathers materials to construct, and King Solomon completes, The House of God in Jerusalem – The Temple. This was to become a permanent place to house the altar of sacrifices, replacing the Tent of Meeting which the Hebrews built in the wilderness during the Exodus.

Joshua 22 makes it abundantly clear how serious this was to be observed, namely having only one site for the offering of sacrifices – in Jerusalem. There would have been a civil war if the altar built on the east side of the Jordan River had, as was presumed wrongly by the Ten Tribes, been intended to compete with the one and only Holy Place where God dwells.

Jesus changed this, symbolized at the crucifixion, by the tearing of the curtain which separated the Holiest Place from the rest of the Temple.

Paul makes it abundantly clear that there is to be no holy place called “House of God” for the Church: “Don’t you know that your body is a temple that belongs to the Holy Spirit? The Holy Spirit, whom you received from God, lives in you. You don’t belong to yourselves. You were bought for a price. So bring glory to God in the way you use your body” (1 Corinthians 6:19-20 God’s Word Translation©).

And what happened in The Temple? Sacrifices! Our role as “temples” Paul makes abundantly clear in Romans 12:1, “Brothers and sisters, in view of all we have just shared about God’s compassion, I encourage you to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, dedicated to God and pleasing to him. This kind of worship is appropriate for you.” (God’s Word Translation©)

Who Do You Go to for Help?

When God’s people trade away faith in God for religious opinion, whether Israelites of old or self-declared heroes of today, God sends natural or political alarms to awaken them to their sin and bring them back to spiritual sanity.

Sometimes people respond humbly and repent, turning from the off-trail route to the highway to heaven. Other times they decide to find their own solution apart from trusting in Almighty God.

The Lord declares,
“How horrible it will be for those rebellious children.
They carry out plans, but not mine…
They pile sin on top of sin…
They look for shelter under Pharaoh’s protection
and look for refuge in Egypt’s shadow.
But Pharaoh’s protection will be their shame,
and the refuge in Egypt’s shadow will be their disgrace”
(Isaiah 30:1-3 God’s Word Translation©).

In today’s terminology it would read, “They look for shelter in the Charter of Human Rights and look for refuge in their lawyers’ shadow.”

All I know is a Follower of Jesus will never use a secular court case to win a spiritual battle.

God Did Not Forsake Jesus

When Jesus recites, “ ‘Eli, Eli, lama sabacthani?’ that is ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me’ ” (Matthew 27:46), Christ refers to the whole of Psalm 22, since in Hebrew tradition Psalms are titled by their first line. This is a cry of victory!

Consider these verses from Psalm 22:

4 Our ancestors trusted you. They trusted, and you rescued them.

5 They cried to you and were saved. They trusted you and were never disappointed.

24 The LORD has not despised or been disgusted with the plight of the oppressed one. He has not hidden his face from that person. The LORD heard when that oppressed person cried out to him for help.

Jesus was totally in the Father’s will! Jesus was an oppressed one, not a sinner. God could not banish a part of the divine self. God cannot be divided.

That sin drives God away is a theological construct, not a Biblical one. King David committed many sins, but repented and never rebelled against God, and he was “a man after God’s own heart” (Acts 13:22, quoting 1 Samuel 13:14). God abandons rebels, not sinners.

God abandons rebels (like King Saul), like the priests who were evil, like the people of Israel when they went after other gods, but God says to the faithful, “I will never leave you nor forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5b).

Vital Salvation

Salvation is foundational. Among Christians today there is a conflict about what that is, though! Some teach ‘universal salvation’, which states that, when Jesus died, everyone everywhere at all times was saved. This conflicts with those who hold that everyone must make a decision and accept Jesus as their personal Saviour to gain eternal life in heaven.

To start with what we know, God’s grace is bestowed on everyone in this life. (A)

So God acts like God, Who is love, because that is what God does. This is grace.

The Bible makes it clear, however, that not everyone is saved. (B) So how can both be true?

Grace is unconditional, being the activity of God alone.

Salvation, on the other hand, is a covenant between a person and God. If a person refuses to sign on to the covenant (like a contract), then salvation is on hold and the conditions are not in force.

While the blessing is readily available to anyone (C), not everyone will accept the conditions Almighty God sets forward. (D)

God calls everyone from the cross. Each person has the choice for life with the Saviour here and in the hereafter, or not.

Bible References
(A) “But I tell you this: Love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you. In this way you show that you are children of your Father in heaven. He makes his sun rise on people whether they are good or evil. He lets rain fall on them whether they are just or unjust” (Matthew 5:44-45 God’s Word Translation©).

(B) “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord!’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the person who does what my Father in heaven wants. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, didn’t we prophesy in your name? Didn’t we force out demons and do many miracles by the power and authority of your name?’ Then I will tell them publicly, ‘I’ve never known you. Get away from me, you evil people’ ” (Matthew 7:21-23 God’s Word Translation©).

(C) “The Lord isn’t slow to do what he promised, as some people think. Rather, he is patient for your sake. He doesn’t want to destroy anyone but wants all people to have an opportunity to turn to him and change the way they think and act” (2 Peter 3:9 God’s Word Translation©).

(D) Such as “all of you must serve each other with humility, because God opposes the arrogant but favors the humble. Be humbled by God’s power so that when the right time comes he will honor you” (1 Peter 5:5b-6 God’s Word Translation©), and “I’m giving you a new commandment: Love each other in the same way that I have loved you. Everyone will know that you are my disciples because of your love for each other” (John 13:34-35 God’s Word Translation©).

Vital Versus Vapid #4 – Ministry

Teachings that are about Church organization, human authority, religious rituals or cultural requirements cannot be used to shape righteousness (“doing the right thing for the right reason for the Right Person [God]”), even if they seem to be Biblical.

Another teaching that is not foundational is the so-called Five-fold Ministry. “And [His gifts to the church were varied and] He Himself appointed some as apostles [special messengers, representatives], some as prophets [who speak a new message from God to the people], some as evangelists [who spread the good news of salvation], and some as pastors and teachers [to shepherd and guide and instruct]” (Ephesians 4:11 Amplified Bible).

This verse describes various functions within The Church, not a teaching that is necessary for salvation. Therefore, this teaching must be used with caution, because:

  1. This teaching occurs only once in the Bible, and is therefore more likely an answer to a specific problem at Ephesus (while things like Christian love, humility, servanthood, and giving glory to God alone are taught repeatedly and have no expiry date);
  2. The Greek of this verse can also be translated, as some versions attempt, that the last role in the list would be written in modern English as “pastor/teacher”, one person whose function is explained by The Amplified Bible translation “to shepherd…and instruct” (so there might be only four ministries listed here);
  3. These functions will not continue into eternal heaven as we will have no need of such an organizing principle when we live with Jesus face-to-face (whereas God’s grace and love will continue on forever, foundational to salvation);
  4. Misused, these functions become titles which the spiritually weak use to “hold absolute power over” those who are even more spiritually weak and undiscerning (“Jesus called the apostles and said, “You know that the rulers of nations have absolute power over people and their officials have absolute authority over people. But that’s not the way it’s going to be among you. Whoever wants to become great among you will be your servant” (Matthew 20:25-26 God’s Word Translation©).

    Because this structure is conveniently helpful does not qualify it as foundational.

Vital Versus Vapid #3 – Humility

Jesus is The Model for our living. Sometimes we skip over some of the things that are in the Bible to hold us to true and faithful servanthood. Instead we hold to doctrines and teachings rooted in this life while ignoring the eternal lessons lived out by Jesus while here on earth.

Jesus lived holy humility. Jesus did not claim divine authority, or cosmic power, though both were a part of Christ’s persona. God Jesus submitted to God the Father in order to fulfill the divine mission of salvation, despite the trauma that lay ahead to fulfill that.

We humans complain about every inconvenience, ignoring what Jesus really did for us. Humility is a God-like attribute. It calls us to serve and sacrifice, as Jesus did.

Yet we humans, frail and mortal and truly finite, abuse messages like that “we can go confidently to the throne of God’s kindness” (Hebrews 4:16 God’s Word Translation©), using it as an invitation to confront God with authority and power in our arrogance instead of humble gratitude.

We claim what is due us, even when it is not due us!

We do not rejoice when God is glorified by our life, standing instead with satisfaction that we are gifted to do mighty things (so we think).

Humility is a forever attitude, which is too often replaced with power over, undeserved authority and claims for benefits here on earth.

Valid Versus Vapid #2 – Other Sheep

It is not difficult to differentiate between teachings vital to our faith and holiness, and those which are for specific occasions or times. Simply put, teachings that are about Church organization, human authority, religious rituals or cultural requirements cannot be used to shape righteousness (“doing the right thing for the right reason for the Right Person [God]”).

God saves people and that is all that it takes to enter into the fullness of a spiritual life. Yet institutional religion (eg denominations) demand a person holds formal membership, without which they are excluded from participating in the decision-making life of the Congregation, as though salvation was not enough.

Jesus reprimanded the disciples when they denounced some people doing ministry without belonging to “the group”. “John said to Jesus, ‘Teacher, we saw someone forcing demons out of a person by using the power and authority of your name. We tried to stop him because he was not one of us.’ Jesus said, ‘Don’t stop him! No one who works a miracle in my name can turn around and speak evil of me. Whoever isn’t against us is for us’ ” (Mark 9:38-40 God’s Word Translation©).

On another occasion Jesus said, “I also have other sheep that are not from this pen. I must lead them. They, too, will respond to my voice. So they will be one flock with one shepherd” (John 10:16 God’s Word Translation©).

Add-ons may be useful for a computer browser, but not “to walk in love” (Ephesians 5:2).

Vital Versus Vapid #1

There are foundational teachings which are vital to our eternal life. There are other teachings which are secondary or simply opinion, and must never be used as the grounds for eternal salvation or holiness. People too often confuse the two.

Please note here that I am not talking about heresies, which are teachings/beliefs which build walls against God. Here I am talking about teachings/beliefs which seem sound enough, but are interpretations and pet doctrine rather than Biblical.

It is not difficult to differentiate between teachings vital to our faith and holiness, and those which are for specific occasions or times, or merely cultural or personal opinion. Simply put, teachings that are about Church organization, human authority, religious rituals or cultural requirements cannot be used to shape righteousness (“doing the right thing for the right reason for the Right Person [God]”).

An obvious example is circumcision. Some early Christians felt that Christianity was a part of Judaism (correctly so) and then decided that all Jewish customs and norms had to be followed by all Christians (Galatians 5:2-6). We know that the Apostle Paul confronted this issue more than once, and was successfully able to have the Church declare this as unnecessary for salvation. This practice was not wrong; it just is not universally applicable.

On Your Knees

Again today I heard a preacher talk about how hard it is during this pandemic. With the Stay at Home Order, people are becoming impatient, staring at the four walls.

Then we listened to our own Pastor who asked when was the last time anyone was so awestruck by God that they fell on their face in humility and fear and adoration.

God wants to bring the Church to its knees in humble obedience, but instead Christians are standing tall and shaking their fists at government, police, bylaw officers, even bishops and other leaders who encourage we live out care for our community and help to stop the spread of the virus that is killing people. And, yes, at God for not magically taking all this away because we told the Almighty Creator to do so – pronto!

I cannot be the only one who sees God at work in mighty ways, and making it possible for believers to grow (and to name only a tiny few examples:

  1. I am making a worship video every week, and that was not even on my radar before all this happened;
  2. tiny congregations streaming onto the internet and people around the world being touched;
  3. in our own congregational online worship we had a couple from another city lead one of the songs, unheard of when things were “normal”.

I do not want a return to “normal”! I want us to have learned about getting out into the world, of sharing in ways that most Christians hadn’t even considered.

This pandemic didn’t happen “accidentally”. The western Church, especially, has become lukewarm, at best. Where is our obsession with Good News, servant heart, humble community and practice of the deep, God-like love shown by Jesus?

To those who are praying that the “suffering” stop now, learn from it, let The Spirit teach us wondrous things, let us once again become beacons of light in a world deep in the shadows of despair.

“We also brag when we are suffering. We know that suffering creates endurance, endurance creates character, and character creates confidence. We’re not ashamed to have this confidence, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us” (Romans 5:3-5 God’s Word Translation©).

Sure, there are things I would like to do, like visit with family, but why should my selfish desire be the focus of my waking hours. Enough self-centred self-pity, demand to be in control human thinking.

I choose to delight in knowing God is at work, that I can protect people around me by following public health orders, that I have more time to pray for others than ever before, that I can encourage others.

As a family we are in deep grief, and that is just the time to show my love for others. I will not act like a devil in brazen disregard for others and with a lust for personal satisfaction above all social responsibilities.

I will never bring glory to God, show the love of Jesus or live by the wise counsel of The Spirit if all I want is what I want.

God inspires faith. I will trust God.
God gives hope. I will live in hope.
God is love. I will love others more than myself.
“And the greatest of these is love” (1 Corinthians 13:13).