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).

This Week

It has been a week unlike any other.

Saturday my only brother died suddenly of a massive stroke.

On Monday into Tuesday morning we traveled the 10-hour round trip to the funeral home.

Only hours after we got home I was called to the hospital where our very good friend had spent hours very sick and they were sending her home. They were overwhelmed there in the Emergency Room with so many patients that she was not fully treated.

I stayed with her for 8 hours before having to call the ambulance again to return her to the hospital for overnight.

Wednesday I again drove her home, and even though it seemed they had treated her as needed this time I stayed for a few hours to be sure.

Thursday I made a list for 5 people and went shopping. (We do that, so that when we go to a store we can reduce the need for others to go to the same store, during these pandemic restrictions.) That meant delivering to 3 others right away both in town and out.

Friday, by the grace of God, I recorded a video of the chapel service which, since the pandemic, I have done weekly for the retirement residence where my Mother-in-law lives.

This is the stolen tree

Friday afternoon someone came up on the front porch and stole the light tree which my brother had given to my Mother this past Christmas. The police would not take a report because such minor incidents are to be reported using their online system. I did get it completed.

Then I posted the theft on social media hoping someone might know something. It was shared well over 150 times. Someone, a complete stranger, offered to replace it! (Alas, it cannot be replaced because it was a seasonal item and is no longer in stock.)

So here I sit at 11:30am on Saturday, exhausted, processing my grief, shocked by the emotional impact of the theft, drained from making the chapel video, drinking my third big mug of coffee.

In my spirit I am finding a peace that passes human understanding, but my body feels like it has been run over, stepped on and robbed blind.

I know we are not the only family stressed out like this. I am not asking for pity. I am saying if you can identify be assured we are praying for everyone who feels like they could be the one who wrote this.

But for you I repeat what I wrote to our dear friend in Africa, “God is our Rock and Salvation”.

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.”

Obvious?

If organized religion was faithful in serving Jesus they would not need public protest and media manipulation to replace their cultural irrelevance.

Note: [The evidence for faithfulness is love, and that is demonstrated by feeding the hungry, providing safe water for the thirsty, welcoming strangers, providing climate appropriate clothing to the naked, visiting those who are sick to provide for their needs and socializing with those in jail. (Matthew 25:35-36)]

Godly Protest

How do I know when to be a protester? I have protested against the government, very publicly, and this is the basis I follow for knowing when to protest and when to adapt. This is not theory, dogma or philosophical thinking. This is what I have lived, and God grant I will never lower this standard.

  1. If I gain any personal benefit from the successful outcome of the protest, it is wrong to proceed. If I gain then my actions may be (or become) selfish, and even if only the appearance is that I stand to gain, then my protest is not driven by God.
  2. If people affirm my object, and I am energized by that, I cannot proceed. Right is right, and if I need human compliments to be strong in the cause I have no cause that comes from God.
  3. If I gain fame or notoriety from my actions I must stop. The cause is not for me, and if I become the focal point of the protest I have lost the purpose. For example, during a protest I help organize the media wanted to interview me. I had to decline assertively as they did not want to take “No” as an answer. Another person, who had no role in the protest at all, came to the scene and basked in the media coverage, gaining brownie points for advancement. That was as it should be.
  4. If people oppose what I am doing this is to be expected. If I stand for a godly cause and purpose then evil people and religious zealots will become vocal and actual enemies. If religion supports my cause I stop. God does not work through religious institutions, who have power, but through The Spirit whose purpose is to bring glory to God alone, not through financial, political or cultural clout.
  5. If at any point I trade humility for pride in what I am doing, I am compelled to cease. Human pride, close-minded confidence and disregard for spiritual wisdom from Scripture mean I am off the rails.

I have never published this testimony before, but in the present age I felt led this afternoon to be vulnerable and make this known.

May God “receive glory and honour and power” (Revelation 4:11).