Posts from the ‘Short Thoughts’ Category

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©)

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 #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.

Four Ways to Read

There are four ways to read the Bible: contextual; devotional; proof texting; transformational.

Contextual
Here the reader studies history, language and culture to add depth to the Bible stories. For example, “heart” in Hebrew thinking was the seat of the intellect, not emotions as it is in Western culture. For example, in Psalm 119:11, “Your word I have hid in my heart” really means you memorize it. A “hard heart” is a closed mind, not emotional callousness.

Devotional
This is the exact opposite of contextual. Here the reader reacts to what is read as a personal inspiration, not a theological study. For example, the Bible says we are saved by grace, and the reader gets a warm comfort from this.

Proof Texting
Here the reader stops and notes verses that support their theological ideology without regard to any original meaning that may have been intended. For example, verses that can be made to read that women are under men will be lifted up, and the verses that say there is “neither male nor female” in God’s eyes are ignored.

Transformational
This is the exact opposite of proof texting. Here the reader has an open mind, prepared to change personal behaviour or ideas based on a mostly literal rendering of the text. For example, Jesus said, “If you hate your colleague in Christ you have committed murder”, so the reader actively seeks reconciliation with someone with whom they are in conflict.

Then They Will…

“Moses answered the people, ‘Don’t be afraid! Stand still, and see what the Lord will do to save you today. You will never see these Egyptians again. The Lord is fighting for you! So be still!’ ” (Exodus 14:13-14 God’s Word Translation©)

Today these words came to mind. These Christians who, because of the pandemic, are defying the law, accusing government of blasphemy and challenging the police, claiming to be fighting for all Christians in defending institutional religious customs, need to be reminded of these words from God through Moses as the Hebrews stood trapped between the Reed Sea and the Egyptian army. If we want to change the mind of government we need to fall upon our knees in utter humility and pray that God will work something out. Then God will get the glory. If these congregations win their court cases they will feel they have won. That feeds pride, not proclamation of Good News.

“You are light for the world… let your light shine in front of people. Then they will see the good that you do and praise your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5:14a, 16 God’s Word Translation©)

Repeat – “Then they will… praise your Father in heaven.”

Living for Jesus

Repeatedly I am confronted by people who claim to be disciples of Jesus, but all they want to talk about is their right to gather in a building and do their thing. Religion buildings do not come from God. The early Church did not build. The Roman Emperor Constantine (and his wife, and his Mother especially) started that in AD332. Buildings follow the pattern of his throne room, not heaven. The early Church believed what Jesus said, “Go and preach…teaching…” Paul made it clear that our bodies “are the temple of God”, not bricks and mortar. The cross, the centre of Christian living, has been displaced with religious rituals. Jesus died. Where is the life of sacrifice modelled by the Saviour? Jesus said, “Take up your cross every day…”, but in North America Christians take up their protest and placards and selfish interpretations of what is really important. When the early disciples said, “We must obey God rather than human regulations” it was because they were told to stop evangelizing, not gathering for religious worship! How does self-centred demands for personal traditions of worship teach God’s love or preach Good News that we can be forgiven and have eternal life?! Paul preached in the market place, beside the river (in Philippi), in prison (!!). Is it the poor and homeless and patients in ER with infections who are demanding their rights? No, it is those who live a life of privilege instead of the cross!! Do you want to be known as people who have been with Jesus (Acts 4:13), then start witnessing to the love and kindness of God, not whining about government rules that are designed to save lives. People of faith should not need a secular government to tell them to care more about others’ safety than personal dogma.