Wells or Cisterns?

I remember one of the greatest highlights each summer as a child on our West Texas farm was when my father would start hooking up the irrigation pipe to water the fields.  Water was a big deal out there. We had no lakes or ponds. There were no crashing sounds of waves from the ocean or consistent experience of rainfall. When the cold, fresh well water gushed out of the pipe, it was an exciting moment.  I would stand there and listen for the water coming through the pipe as Dad would turn on the pump at the well-house. You could hear the air popping and burping out of the line and as the water came closer to the outlet you could feel the cool wind surging out.  Then whoosh! Gushing out of the pipe would be wonderful wetness. The water was so cold you could barely stand to be in it, so I would run in and out, splashing around and enjoying the feeling of being refreshed.

Interconnected with this wonderful experience was yet another much anticipated event.  We had an old livestock watering tank in the center of one field. It was rectangular in shape and made out of concrete.  On the bottom corner was a drain spout which we plugged enabling us to fill it with water. The tank served as our summer swimming pool; however, before we could use it each year, our mother insisted on disinfecting it by scrubbing it down with bleach.  Even though there were no livestock in the area actually using the tank, Mom wanted it sanitized before we filled it with water and set so much as one toe inside. As a child, I never understood why no one stopped me from jumping straight into the water coming out of the pipe, yet I was not allowed to jump straight into some water in a concrete tank.  What I did not comprehend was the difference between fresh and stagnant water.

In the Bible, we read about holes dug down into rocks called cisterns.  Typically water would be drained (during the short rain season) or transported to the cistern to supplement the supply during the dry months.  Wells were also dug but different in the respect that they were extremely deep reservoirs. In the upper section of the well there were openings for natural springs to flow from, thus filling the lower reservoir.  Hence, cisterns had to be manually filled while wells were naturally fed by flowing water.  

It was not uncommon for cistern water to develop a thick layer of scum on the surface, which required the people to literally ‘drop’ their bucket to break through the sludge to get to the water beneath.  Eventually the water would become undrinkable if not replenished with a fresh supply. This is because water that is not flowing becomes stagnant. Moreover, cisterns would eventually run dry either from not being replenished or from cracks that would develop along the walls.  Wells were different. As long as water was continually being removed, the source would replenish the levels, thus refreshing the stock.  

Where do we get our water from – our spiritual water?  Do we dip into the stale pools of sectarian dogma or do we drink from the fresh, flowing, living water of Christ Jesus?  Do we cart our doctrines in and pour them into static, leaky holdings or do we allow the river of God to stream healthy teachings into our presence?  In Jeremiah 2:13, God states, “For My people have committed two evils: they have forsaken Me, the fountain of living waters, to hew for themselves cisterns, broken cisterns, that can hold no water. 

How do we know when we have traded the river for the dormant hole?  It is when people come to us who are suffering with the pain of a sin-filled world and we attempt to apply our beliefs and teachings.  The person who is being crushed under the weight of a divorce could care less whether of the methodology of worship. The person who is in the final stages of cancer ravaging their body finds no reassurance in whether someone uses systematic theology.  The person whose body is convulsing from the withdrawals of addiction sees no relief in ministerial boundaries. The person immersed in grief and loneliness to the point of suicide sees no relevance in dogma, tradition, or ritual.

Do all the things we concern ourselves with in our doctrines and issue oriented arguments hold a cup of fresh water for the person who is dying in their thirst for relief?  Do the net results of all our debates make any difference to the person who is in anguish? The question must be answered – does it matter?  

When Jesus met a woman who was drowning in her misery, He did not offer her a cup of rules and regulations.  He extended a drink of His “relief.” He said to her, “but whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall become in him a well of water springing up to eternal life.”  

Living water means growth.  Living water means healing. Living water means liberation.  It is constantly moving (a fountain) and being renewed.  One of the greatest features about this refreshment is we do not have to go somewhere and haul it in.  God personally brings it to us. “I bring near My righteousness, it is not far off; and My salvation will not delay.” (Isaiah 46:13a).

We thank You Lord for supplying what we really thirst for.  We ask for Your forgiveness for the cisterns we have carved and subsequent abandoning of Your will.  Please give us new life Lord. Flood us with precious streams. In Jesus’ name, amen.

Cheers.
-James Sterling

The `A Priori of Faith

The defining use of an `a priori is based upon the reasoning of self-evidence without needing any prior experience.  An `a posteriori is an assertion based on prior experience.  The application of Christian faith often vacillates between these two thought processes and thus, causing confusion in what or how one defines “faith.”  Therefore, an understanding of the two adjectives (adverbial usage also) is in order.

The simplest explanation for an `a priori is found in natural law that governs the universe.  Intrinsic to this is mathematics. In spite of contemporary attempts to redefine the terms, 1+1 will always equal 2, as 5+5 will equal 10 and 10+10 will equal 20.  This is determined before we deliberate the evidences. In fact, it will be true regardless of whether or not one is aware of its existence. However, an `a posteriori is rooted in mankind’s observations and experiences.  Therefore, while an `a priori may be affirmed by an `a posteriori, it does not require the `a posteriori to make it true.

Christian “faith” has largely been presented as something that requires a belief or believer(s) in order to exist.  Christian apologetics often die at its own sword by arrogantly presenting half-cocked arguments in the face of well thought out paradigms from millennia old religions and hammered-out philosophies.  Sufficient evidences for Christianity are often presented more on the inclination of opinion, rather than absolutes. Moreover, ethereal abstracts seem more attractive in an effort that appears to have a greater concern for winning the day through confounding, as opposed to convincing another of a universal truth.  

For example, the United States Declaration of Independence states that the “Laws of Nature” and “Nature’s God” are the basis for what entitled them to make a separation from the “political bands” to another.  Therefore, it is not merely a wish of a people. It is an absolute that is so essentially true, the next paragraph begins with, “We hold these truths to be self-evident.” One may argue that the statement still is a matter of a belief to one group of people, because another can be produced that disagrees with the premise and conclusion.  However, the evidence of any person’s demand for freedom remains a universal truth; this is how these rights can be declared as “unalienable,” meaning, they cannot be removed. This is a classic `a priori statement.

Presenting the gospel to an unbeliever on the foundation of what one “believes,” even when given in light of personal experiences (`a posteriori), leaves the subjective door wide open and has a tendency to disempower its truth.  While the `a posteriori can be an excellent form of testimony and witness to the `a priori, the universal truth must be presented and held as the absolute truth.  Christians have too easily yielded massive grounds concerning the Gospel in the name of philosophy, psychology, science, sociology, and tolerance thereof, all for the sake of acceptance and approval, in fear of unmerited labels.  

Additionally, Christians can be tempted to overextend themselves into a form of hyper-spiritualism when sharing the Gospel solely upon an `a posteriori basis.  In efforts to convince the unbeliever of the testimony, approaches to sensationalism are attempted which typically end up in alienation.  If this sounds far-fetched, consider how often the gospel is actually shared from the pattern of created order (`a priori) as opposed to a personal conversion experience (`a posteriori).  When the Apostle Paul engaged with educated unbelievers on Mars Hill in Acts 17, he began with the `a priori of creation and built his argument from there.  

However, a word of caution is advisable.  When presenting an `a priori, the truth of the statement must not be padded with preference or even experience.  It must be left to stand on its own with no fences, walls, or minefields. Any such doing reflects fear that it cannot withstand question or scrutiny.  Creation, order, the purpose of mankind’s existence and the need for salvation in a broken world are truths that are indeed, self-evident, as is the God who holds the answer to all of them.

jas

When Men Call Good, Evil

When Men Call Good, Evil

The Divine Command Theory questions whether something is good and holy because God commanded it or whether God commands something because it is good and holy. This is commonly referred to as the Euthyphro Dilemma found in Plato’s The Last Days of Socrates. The storyline is set when Socrates is traveling to the courthouse to deal with charges levied against him by Meletus. While waiting outside, Socrates meets a young man by the name of Euthyphro who is there on the unusual mission of prosecuting his own father for the death of another man. Euthyphro sees his actions as just and good (holy). Socrates asks him to define ‘holiness.’ Euthyphro answers that whatever is agreeable to the gods is holy and what is not agreeable is unholy. Socrates observes, however, that even the gods are prone to disagree on any number of things. Therefore, there can be no common meaning of holiness among them. Euthyphro notes many things may be disagreed upon, but the killing of a man should be agreeable to all as unholy. When Socrates demands evidence for this assertion, the dilemma of Euthyphro is declared:

EUTHYPHRO – ‘Well, I should certainly say that what’s holy is whatever all the gods approve of, and that its opposite, what all the gods disprove of, is unholy.’

SOCRATES – ‘We’ll soon be in better position to judge, my good chap. Consider the following point: is the holy approved by the gods because it’s holy, or is it holy because it’s approved?’

Applying this to our current treatment of biblical texts: Do we call something good because God commanded it or does God command it because it is good?  The line we take on this will largely determine the outcome of our doctrines. This is due to the fact that if something is good (holy) simply because God commands it, then at a later date if God removes the command it is then the opposite – evil (unholy).  However, if what God has commanded is because it is good (holy) to start with, then regardless of the presence or removal of the command, it remains good (holy).

Good is not so because God calls it good – even though God would never call anything good that is not. It is good because it finds its origin in Him (Genesis 1:1, 31).  Choice has been given to living creatures (such as men and angels) so they can choose to change from goodness to wickedness.  Such choice is obviously not a part of an inanimate object or substance.  How a ‘thing’ is used by something living with the consciousness of choice determines whether it is evil or good.  Take for example the common butcher knife: in the kitchen it is an invaluable tool for food preparation; however, in the hands of a murderer, it is a weapon of destruction.  The knife itself has no determination of holiness except that which it is used for.  Therefore, all inanimate objects are subject to what we choose to use them.

If things then are good because they find their origin in God and thus He commands them as holy, we cannot point to things set apart in the ancient Scriptures that bring Him glory as something which turns to bring Him shame in the New Covenant.  This would be philosophically contradictory.

The frightening aspect of this seemingly subtle shift is when men begin to call good, evil, they are in fact in the shadow of committing the unforgivable sin.  This is consistent with the teaching Jesus gives in Mark chapter 3.  As Jesus cast out demons, the scribes from Jerusalem accused Him of being possessed by Beelzebul and using powers of wickedness to exercise the spirits.  Jesus referred to this as the act of blaspheming the Holy Spirit.  They were accrediting the gracious act of deliverance to the evil power of Satan.  They were in effect calling good, evil.

In God’s eyes, there is only good or evil, right or wrong, holy or unholy, sacred or profane, righteousness or wickedness, truth or lies, etc.  Man cannot whitewash himself with vague and ambiguous language by saying, “I don’t agree with,” or “I don’t think that is right,” or “That is wrong.”  It is either of God or of the devil.  The looming danger is when we allow our own desires, prejudices, and even maliciousness to manipulate our discernment concerning what is of God and what is not.  This style of thinking has permeated our doctrines, to which we are now submitting ourselves to answering for, calling things wicked and evil, which God has expressly called good.  For this, we must repent and repent quickly.

Inspired by the Holy Spirit, the apostle Paul wrote to the church in Colossae, “And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father” (Col. 3:17).  This means that in whatever you do, if you cannot do it the name of the Lord God, it is evil.  This does away with the alleviation of our worldly lifestyles and heightens our accountability to everything in which we participate.  The compartmentalization of Christian living should not come as any surprise to us.  We have been laying the foundation for years by expressly changing the very commands of God to suit our desires.  The evidence that this has backfired is clearly seen in the psychological response of contemporary Christians.  While we may not articulate it, we have interpreted things changing from once called right (good) to now being inherently called wrong (evil).  Therefore, we think in the subconscious that something can be right (good) outside of our assemblies and wrong (evil) inside.  This is not only a gross philosophical inconsistency, it is giving the glory God deserves to the world and its ruler.  Moreover, if anyone possesses God given gifts we do not view as ‘good’ within our assemblies, we compel them to take their gift to the world and lay it at its feet.  This is a serious charge for which we will have to give an account.  In Isaiah 5:20, the Lord says through His prophet, “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!”

Perhaps we should listen to the call of Moses to the people of God before they entered the land of promise:

You shall not do at all what we are doing here today, every man doing whatever is right in his own eyes;  Deuteronomy 12:8

jas

Ethics

One of the immediate items revealed in a brief Old Testament review is that God instated a set of principles by which we as people are to live.

prin·ci·ple
Function: noun
Etymology: Middle English, modification of Middle French principe, from Latin principium beginning, from princip-, princeps initiator — more at PRINCE
1 a : a comprehensive and fundamental law, doctrine, or assumption b (1) : a rule or code of conduct (2) : habitual devotion to right principles <a man of principle> c : the laws or facts of nature underlying the working of an artificial device.

Some of the methodology has changed throughout our spiritual upbringing, but the principles have always remained the same.  This is why the psalmist would sing, “But You are the same, and Your years will not come to an end.” (Ps 102:27).

“But the values of men continually self-destruct by their own contradictions.”

Nevertheless, mankind has always had a tendency to follow his own will and desires.  Thus, man tries to develop his own sets of principles to live by. But the values of men continually self-destruct by their own contradictions.  For example, there is a cry in our land for an absolute freedom of speech.  That is why the incredibly violent and vulgar aspects of the Internet, rap and metal music, the movie industry, and art is not only allowed, but legally protected.  Yet, society often demands that one must control his or her speech in relation to “offending” someone.  Subsequently, there is an obvious discrepancy and contradiction between the standards.

I realize some may immediately react to this statement with arguments surrounding censorship, but that is not my purpose.  Therefore, I will not attempt to “cover all the bases” in this briefing.  What I do want you to see is that there is already of set of standards in place that God desires for us to live by.  With this in mind, consider how many decisions we face that are based upon what the general consensus concludes.  After all, does it not sound correct to go with the majority rule? Yet God has called us not to what the majority of mankind thinks. In fact, He has called us “out” of what the bulk of the world would determine as truth and justice. Is not Satan the ruler of this world (John 14:30; “Ruler” only in the sense of those who reject Christ)?  God has called us to His truth and to His justice in Jesus Christ.  So, remember in your day-to-day activities and decisions that God has set forth a pattern with principles to live by.  Sift everything through the screen of His word and view everything through the eyes of Jesus.  But be prepared – many times it will be against the so-called “majority” view.

Keep the Faith

jas

New Year 2018

When a new year comes to pass, it is always interesting to watch the year end reviews on evening news to reflect on the events that have taken place. 2017 is no exception. In fact, in this generation, it may be without exception. Aside from the shear number of natural disasters, celebrity deaths, and the raw shakedown of the popular and powerful sexual predators (that otherwise seemed untouchable themselves), the political arena left even the most stoic slack-jawed. The only thing that matched the constant exposure of lies and deceit were the accusations of others lying about the lies and deceit. One was left to question the questions, and even then, at the expense of the questioners.

Since the Civil War, we have probably never see the likes of such polarism in our society as we do today. If one reads books from the 80’s and 90’s concerning American culture, the authors would state that the country spends more time splitting into sides and shouting at one another than they do accomplishing any agendas. Today, people have graduated from bellowing and protesting, to bashing each other’s skulls in order to communicate their minds. Some of the nation’s most admired prognosticators consider the country to be on a knife’s edge, teetering towards where this paragraph began – civil war.

Observant Christians are often taught to look beyond the chaos of the world, and to seek where the hand of God is leading the church – and rightly so. However, the ideas of mankind in leadership positions have frequently been confused with the absolute direction of Christ. When people drift from points in which they should otherwise be anchored, popularity casts their course, and the winds of opinions send them tossing about.

The Roman Catholics of the feudal Europe had more than ample reason for many misunderstandings of Scripture in their day. This was due to the chasm of a language they did not speak and being subject to the worldly men who did. These leaders of the church held this power over the masses and wielded it as hammer force their agendas. Emerging from these dark times were those who risked all that they had to set the people free to follow God as their sovereign leader alone. The formula for such a spiritual revolution was not difficult. The consequences that would rain down from those losing their position of prestige and power would be harsh though. But how would the people be released to seek God according to His terms and no other? It would be done by giving them God’s word in the language they spoke and understood for themselves.

Today there are over one hundred mainstream English language biblical versions that can be had at the turn of a page or a stroke of a keyboard. Moreover, one can access Greek and Hebrew interlinear bibles to see how the original languages align and are translated to their own. Access to the Scriptures has never been greater and as simple as today. Even if one has no internet access, multiple organizations are willing to give away complete bibles, free of charge, whatsoever.

Yet with this ease of access, has come an attitude that exceeds taking something for granted; it is the assumption that what is present, has always been, and will always be there. Bibles are left unread both in the collective assembly and at home. With this mindset in place, church members have passively handed over their minds to some church leaders with no checks and balances for the doctrines (or lack thereof) being espoused. Thus, our culture has come somewhat full-circle to that of the dark ages, with men telling the people what they should or should not believe, neither equipping them to study or think for themselves. Granted, the barrier is not a language limited to a certain vein of clergy, but one of willful ignorance. Ironically, there was much bloodshed during the age of translating and publishing bibles in English. Today, there is no bloodletting – just mentally checking out.

More than ever, Christians need to clearly understand that which they profess to believe in. This apologetic must be ready to answer the difficult questions that stand in direct opposition to the faith, such as abortion, homosexuality, capitol punishment, gender definitives, designer genetics, and even the history of Israel and Palestine. Questions abound with so few in the church answering. Many leaders teach doctrines based solely on popularity and local economics.

This is not a time to engage in screaming arguments. It is not a time to answer questions that are nothing more than goose-chases down rabbit trails. In these tumultuous periods, it is a confident head and spirit that will prevail. And such a mind and spirit will only come from a willing, Spirit-led, diligent disciple of God and His word.

“Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth.”

2 Timothy 2:15 NAS

“Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.”

James 1:22 NIV

Keep the Faith,

jas

Chosen

You only have I chosen among all the families of the earthAmos 3:2a

A small, skinny boy stood out in the middle of a parched recreation field with the dry wind whistling through his hair.  He was desperately trying to look calm and unconcerned about the event unfolding before him.  It was nothing new really.  Every week the P.E. class would exit out the side doors and head over to the sports grounds adjacent to the school building.  Every week it would be announced what game would be played.  And every week his stomach would tie up in knots while the team captains would pick their teams from the group of boys.  It seemed like it was the same story being reread – the same song being played over again.  They would get down to the last couple of boys, and once again, he would be left out to stand on the side, while everyone else played.  As the teams would run off to play kickball, baseball and soccer, the field looked like it went on forever.  He was unable to even hear what they were saying to each other when they ran off.  His side of the playground always felt cold.

But something different happened today.  He thought he heard his name called by one of the captains, but knew that it just could not be.  He had terribly embarrassed himself twice before thinking he had been selected and ran over to the team, only to be laughed at and jeered all the way back to where he stood before.  So he held his place, looking down at his worn shoes.  His name was yelled this time.  “Are you deaf or what?” said the team captain.  In a sense of indescribable excitement, he felt the blood rush through him.  He kept telling himself to play it cool, but the silly ear-to-ear grin plastered across his face could not be hidden.  Today he had been picked.  Today he had been chosen.  And today he would do everything within his power to prove his gratitude to the other boy, who in his mercy, gave him a chance to be a part of the team.

In the sacred Scriptures, we read that God chose Israel out of the pack of humanity. He refers to them as the “entire family that He brought up from the land of Egypt;” and says, “You only have I chosen among all the families of the earth.” in Amos 3:1-2. Out of all the people in creation, God selected this puny little group of people who had been enslaved for some 400 years (“The LORD did not set His love on you nor choose you because you were more in number than any of the peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples” Deuteronomy 7:7).  Though they leaped for joy to be brought into the team of God, they soon forgot what it meant to be picked by God.  They began to presume on the fact that they had been chosen and were in a covenant relationship with the Lord.  They had long forgotten the days of feeling like they had been left out and left behind.  As their pride swelled at being the chosen ones, they felt as if they could sin with impunity.

To be chosen does not mean one is absolved from accountability or responsibility.  In fact, the elect of God are more liable for their actions than anyone else.  Just as we would expect an elected official to be accountable to the people for their actions, in a much greater sense, the elect of God are accountable for every single deed, from first to last (And I say to you, that every careless word that men shall speak, they shall render account for it in the day of judgment. Matthew 12:36).  It has always been the temptation of man to think once he is saved he can sail on the waves of lukewarmness.  At first, he is zealous for being selected and accepted; however, after a while his salvation is taken for granted.  Instead of being a servant to the King, he becomes a servant unto himself.

Let us never forget the thrill of when God pointed at us and said, “I choose you.”

Keep the Faith.

 

jas

A Response to Bethke’s “Why I Hate Religion But Love Jesus”

 

Jefferson Bethke of Mars Hill Church recently released a short video that has over 15 million hits on YouTube and has started a firestorm of interest.  While many have adamantly applauded his remarks which are given in a rhyming ‘rap’, filmed in a contemporary style with the camera darting in and out of the scene, an equal number of people are left standing unsure of ‘what exactly was just said’.

My purpose is to shed a very brief light on the words spoken by standing them against the Scriptures so that the audience can decide for themselves if the words carry any authority in regard to the church as a whole.

When one hears (emphasis on ‘hears’) something that invokes a desire to quickly respond with a stance of agreement or disagreement, it is advisable to get a transcript of what has been said to read and discern based on observation and educated response.  Apologist Ravi Zacharias uses the illustration that we should see ‘through’ the eye and ‘with’ the mind.  Likewise, I would say we should hear through the ear and with the mind.  The best way to pin the words down for understanding is to read them.  Then, all of the pageantry and otherwise distracting effects are removed while the words lie unprotected in their simplest forms.

One note of caution – it is equally as dangerous to operate with a hermeneutic of suspicion as it is to mindlessly dive into approval because it ‘feels good’ or ‘sounds right’.  When seeking truth in a matter, one must be ready to accept what ever it may be, even if it treads all about our presuppositions.

The lyrics will be stated in quotes with generalize statements following.  I will preface by saying I will only address statements that have issue with Scriptural authority or that merit clarification.

Paragraph 1

What if I told you Jesus came to abolish religion

What if I told you voting Republican really wasn’t His mission?

What if I told you republican doesn’t automatically mean Christian

And just because you call some people blind doesn’t automatically give you vision

When Mr. Bethke uses the word ‘religion’, because of a lack of defining otherwise, he leaves us with the definition in a biblical sense.  The Greek word transliterated is ‘thrayskeia’, which is translated as ‘religion’ and ‘worship’.  As you can see, this immediately causes some concern in the first line of his monologue, when he states, “What if I told you Jesus came to abolish religion?”.  If we were to exchange the word ‘religion’ with the word ‘worship’, we probably would have stopped listening right off the proverbial bat.  Admittedly, many, if not most words are translated accordingly to the context in which we find them.  However, in the Scriptures, ‘religion’ is not categorically a negative word.  In fact, only if it is a false ‘religion’ is it deemed bad.

Secondly, the introduction of a political observation concerning one party is unadvisable for effectiveness in a setting for his first line.  Regardless of where one stands, Jesus did not come to vote Democrat either.  While some would point to the ‘religious right wing’ thinking they have the corner market on God, is it not equally true that the ‘liberal left’ thinks it has the monopoly on caring for minorities and the under-privileged?  Though the political division clamors for the religious vote, it is a fact that the vast majority of conservative Christian circles have rejected the Democrat party based on the party’s promotion of homosexuality and abortion.  The grand exceptions usually are based on racial lines and liberal theology.  Nonetheless, some of the most devout agents of religious backing of political agendas are Democrats.  One should check the last time a Republican was tolerated to speak from a church pulpit concerning political issues without threats of the church losing their 501c3 (not for profit status).  On the other hand, Democrat politicians are openly allowed to speak during a Sunday morning assembly, even to openly call out Republicans by name, without a hint of risk from the IRS.  Therefore, it is interesting that Mr. Bethke only speaks of one side of the political equation.

What remains in the context of Mr. Bethke’s paragraph is blindness and vision.  This largely smacks of the ‘anti-judgment’ crowd sounds, where people state that it is wrong to ‘judge’ others.  Yet, we are clearly told it is our responsibility to judge each other (1 Corinthians 5:3, 6, 12; 6:2, 3;), even as Paul calls on men to judge what he has said for truthfulness (1 Corinthians 10:15).  Our confusion lies in the difference between judging and judgmentalism (see https://www.ccfwf.org/james__blog/view/1204/judging_judgmentalism for more details).  The point is, as Christians, when we do judge/discern, we are often criticized.  While it is agreed that self-righteousness has no place in the kingdom, the abolition of stating what is righteous has no claim to the home either.

Paragraph 2

I mean if religion is so great, why has it started so many wars

Why does it build huge churches, but fails to feed the poor

Tells single moms God doesn’t love them if they’ve ever had a divorce

But in the Old Testament, God actually calls religious people whores

The next paragraph states that religion has caused wars.  This is no more true than stating one can tax a business.  As only individuals can be taxed, wars can only be started by people.  Moreover , God never condemned the grand temple Solomon built, because its original intent was to glorify Him.  So we quickly see it is the motivation that determines whether a ‘huge church’ building is right or wrong.  It should be noted, that the statement concerning ‘building huge churches’ while neglecting the poor, in itself is judgmental.  Some of the larger congregations have generously funded programs for seeing to the poor within their communities, as well as overseas projects.  It is the ‘religious’ who sacrifice, and give of their money and volunteer time for these efforts.  Moreover, so often neglected is the theology regarding seeing to the poor.  Without going into details, consider how God used severe need to turn people’s faces back to Him.  After all, God used severe need to push Jacob and his clan towards Egypt as a crucial part of His plan to set the stage for the Exodus to come years later.

It is also unfairly categorical to say that religion per se has condemned ‘single moms’.  It is untrue to make this claim applicable to all places and could be resentful to those who have specific ministries regarding these particular issues.  Herein lies something much more problematic: 1) It was not exclusively ‘religious’ people God called ‘whores’; it was rebellious people.  2) and to parallel this with the ‘single moms’ line is to assert that ‘religion’ calls all single mothers ‘whores’.  This is dangerous and needlessly accusatory rhetoric that could potentially plant seeds of hurtfulness throughout the church.

Paragraph 3

Religion might preach grace, but another thing they practice

Tend to ridicule God’s people, they did it to John The Baptist

They can’t fix their problems, and so they just mask it

Not realizing religion’s like spraying perfume on a casket

See the problem with religion, is it never gets to the core

It’s just behavior modification, like a long list of chores

Like lets dress up the outside make it look nice and neat

But it’s funny that’s what they use to do to mummies while the corpse rots underneath

I will only take 2 words from this paragraph to encompass a meaning – “behavior modification.”  This is exactly what people need in conjunction with a heart renewed.  If the latter happens without the former, it would be like taking the new car that the person has completely neglected and trashed, and handing them another new one, with no direction for care and maintenance.  To deny this is to ignore Leviticus, where the first half of the scroll instructs how to get Israel holy and the second half is how to keep her holy.  It is the “put off” and the “put on” of Ephesians 4.  If we do not change our sinful behavior, that which has been made clean will subsequently be defiled once again.  I understand this may differ with some denominational doctrines.  However, most would reasonably agree that the renewed heart of a blood-bought Christian will behave differently than before.  ‘Behavior modification’ is the fruit of being connected to the True Vine.  And make no mistake – the word ‘discipline’ is used in Scripture because it must be a willful effort on behalf of the saved individual.  If it were different, we would have no need to train/discipline our walk in Christ.

Paragraph 4

Now I ain’t judging, I’m just saying quit putting on a fake look

Cause there’s a problem if people only know you’re a Christian by your Facebook

I mean in every other aspect of life, you know that logic’s unworthy

It’s like saying you play for the Lakers just because you bought a jersey

You see this was me too, but no one seemed to be on to me

Acting like a church kid, while addicted to pornography

See on Sunday I’d go to church, but Saturday getting faded

Acting if I was simply created just to have sex and get wasted

See I spent my whole life building this facade of neatness

But now that I know Jesus, I boast in my weakness

As much as one might agree with Mr. Bethke’s following statements in this paragraph – without mincing words – yes, he is judging; Acknowledging that while he is being judgmental in some respects (to religion), but in the correct sense to the subsequent matters stated.  So own it.

Boasting in one’s weakness is a tightrope.  Only in the shadow of Christ’s strength to overcome our frailties can be righteous be obtained.  When our weakness becomes our badge, even our identity – i.e. my infidelity, my addiction, my temptation, my, my, my; then Christ becomes our co-dependent enabler (in the distorted mind).  Most everyone has met or personally acted as one who has willfully sinned on the fire insurance concept that God will not hold them accountable.  This is a dramatic error.  Salvation was not purchased by the tortuous death of Jesus to leave the individual unchanged.

Paragraph 5

Because if grace is water, then the church should be an ocean

It’s not a museum for good people, it’s a hospital for the broken

Which means I don’t have to hide my failure, I don’t have to hide my sin

Because it doesn’t depend on me it depends on him

See because when I was God’s enemy and certainly not a fan

He looked down and said I want, that, man

Which is why Jesus hated religion, and for it he called them fools

Don’t you see so much better than just following some rules

Now let me clarify, I love the church, I love the bible, and yes I believe in sin

But if Jesus came to your church would they actually let him in

See remember he was called a glutton, and a drunkard by religious men

But the Son of God never supports self righteousness not now, not then

It is fruitless to attempt to hide one’s sin before God.  But most have also know those who, as in the prior remarks, have worn their sin as some sort of badge of honor; that somewhere along the way, their testimony of their past became more of their the dramatic part of their story, rather than the redemptive power of Christ’s blood.  Therefore, not having to hide it before God is not license to parade it as well.  After all, repentance is an about face in our conduct.

Now comes the apex of the argument.  When Mr. Bethke states that ‘Jesus hated religion’, he makes a monumental mistake.  In no place in Scripture will find such a statement.  Quite the reverse, one reads in James 1:26, 27; “If anyone thinks himself to be religious, and yet does not bridle his tongue but deceives his own heart, this man’s religion is worthless.  Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.”  Therefore, religion is presented here to be a good thing and endorsed by God in such a way that instruction is given how to have a proper religious attitude.  The term ‘organized religion’ even makes a delineation from ‘religion’ in its proper context.  To state that religion is something evil is living in the dangerous area of calling that which is good, evil.

Moreover, many sincere Christians would answer his question concerning Jesus’ admittance into the buildings where they meet with a resounding “Yes!”  In our congregation, we even purposefully named it in the possessive (“Christ’s”) to be a continual reminder whose it was and is.

As stated prior, Mr. Bethke to have confused ‘religious’ with ‘rebellious’.  Had the men he referred to been genuinely religious, they would not have called Jesus such false names.

Paragraph 6

“Now back to the point, one thing is vital to mention

How Jesus and religion are on opposite spectrum

See one’s the work of God, but one’s a man made invention

See one is the cure, but the other’s the infection

See because religion says do, Jesus says done

Religion says slave, Jesus says son

Religion puts you in bondage, while Jesus sets you free

Religion makes you blind, but Jesus makes you see

And that’s why religion and Jesus are two different clans

Once again, Mr. Bethke is incorrect that ‘Jesus and religion are on opposite spectrum(s)’ (see James 1:26, 27).  But perhaps now is the juncture at which the point should be made concerning the main issue at hand.  Mr. Bethke would have been correct throughout most of his assertion had he used the word ‘legalism’ instead of ‘religion’ (although it would have been difficult to match the rhyme with).  Legalism would adeptly represent his allegations in a proper representation of the ‘infection’ of the church.

Onto the statement “Religion says slave, Jesus says son;”  While both statements are relatively true, Mr. Bethke makes a gigantic theological mistake at pitting them against one another.  Romans 6:16-23 clearly states that Christians have been purchased at a great price out of one slavery, to be ‘set free’ into another slavery.  While this initially sounds contradictory, early Christians completely understood the difference between having freedom under a good master and being abused under an evil one.  Our idea of chattel slavery leaves us with incorrect notions about Paul’s illustration.  Indeed we are bound (bondage) to Christ when we accept Him as Savior.  We are making an open declaration that we are completely surrendering our will to His and committing ourselves to obeying His commands and not our own.  Ironically, it is telling in regard to the limited commitment we see in Christians in the contemporary church – but that is for another subject.

Paragraph 7

“Religion is man searching for God, Christianity is God searching for man

Which is why salvation is freely mine, and forgiveness is my own

Not based on my merits but Jesus’s obedience alone

Because he took the crown of thorns, and the blood dripped down his face

He took what we all deserved, I guess that’s why you call it grace

And while being murdered he yelled

“Father forgive them they know not what they do.”

Because when he was dangling on that cross, he was thinking of you

And he absorbed all of your sin, and buried it in the tomb

Which is why I’m kneeling at the cross, saying come on there’s room

So for religion, no I hate it, in fact I literally resent it

Because when Jesus said it is finished, I believe he meant it

The search has never been God for man.  He knows exactly ‘where’ we are.  This what makes the arrival of Jesus Christ so fantastic.  God has come to us.  Emmanuel.  It would be a correct statement to say God is ‘pursuing us’ instead.  While salvation is ‘free’ per se to us, it is important to remember that it is not free from cost.  See Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s teachings on ‘cheap grace’.  And while our salvation is not based on our merits, he who loves Christ will keep His commandments (John 14:21).  Just as James said, “Faith without works is dead” (James 2:26).

At the end of it, one would be left to think Mr. Bethke had a sincere thought that had more to do with legalism than with religion.  However, the danger is twofold: 1) Listeners may be easily mislead.  Just as Mr. Bethke has used ‘religion’ erroneously to make his point, others may just as easily trade ‘religion’ out for ‘the church.”  As I canvased a number of individuals as to what they thought he was talking about immediately after viewing the clip, I received a number of responses, many of which were skewed.  2) One who speaks in such a manner teaches others, and James warns us of a strong accountability in these matters (James 3:1).  Words matter and carry meaning.  We must be thoughtful and careful – especially in the mass communicative formats we share in today.  May all of our teachings be strictly and contextually biblically based.  Then the message will be pure.

Mr. Bethke has a great talent and ability for contemporary communication.  He also has a great opportunity to set anything straight that might have been off-target.  While this will take a tremendous measure of humility, it will be the test of his lifetime.  Our prayers are with him to be a strong instrument of Jesus’ righteousness.

jas

New Year 2012

 “that their hearts may be encouraged, having been knit together in love,”

Colossians 2:2

            We love a sense of belonging.  We yearn for relationship and yet live so fragmented.  I am convinced that this is one of our greatest challenges to overcome in the church.  We greet each other well enough and inquire about our health.  Yet we tend to walk separate ways and splash back into the rapid current in the rivers of our lives.  The overall effect leaves many feeling empty and disconnected, looking for something to fulfill that innate urge for community.

            The root of this great tree is deep.  Our society is not only laced with a subdivision of classes, but an ambition to scratch, claw, and pound its way up to the top of the ever-elusive heap.  There many areas that can be observed and critiqued in this regard; for expediency I will examine one.  The word career is a relatively new term that gained popularity in the middle and later nineteenth century.  It was predominantly used in the sense of a course of professional life or employment that offered advancement or honor.  A word used in similar circumstances is “profession” and though it is an older word, it began to take on new meanings when it was detached from the concept of a “calling.”   Once independent, the word was given to express the new idea of a career.

            A calling once meant the reason a person would enter a profession.  Within this reason would be the ultimate purpose of functioning within a community and strengthening its basis.  I can illustrate this simply by pointing to the one profession or career that is still referred to as being filled by a “calling;” This of course, is the position of what we commonly refer to as “minister” (acknowledging fully that technically we are all ministers).  If a person attempts to minister as a J-O-B as opposed to being called, he and his ministry is doomed from the start.

            Society has twisted the priority though.  Now, instead of a ‘calling’ being the motivating force of entering a profession, the profession becomes a career and is no longer obligated to the ultimate good of the community as a whole.  It seeks goals on an impersonal and selfish basis.  Rather than being a cohesive part of the community, following a profession now typically means quite literally “to move up and away.”  The modern professional has subsequently convinced themselves that they have been handed an invisible license to look down on those who aren’t in their rank.  The goal then is no longer strengthening the body of people, but to achieve “success.”  Presently, the definition of “success” is as volatile as sea-sand and its appetite is insatiable for more that no level achievement will satisfy.

The world will continue this pattern indefinitely.  However, in the church we find a sanctuary for all peoples, of all nationalities, male or female, slave or free, rich or poor, professional or layman, intellectual or otherwise (Galatians 3:28).  In the church we are of one body – the body of Christ Jesus.  The field is dramatically leveled and we stand eye to eye, toe to toe, equals in essence.  In other words, we have the format for the perfect community.  In this body, we are all called – called according to His purpose, which means that we are all doing what is in the best interest of the other person.  That in itself is the definition of agape – God’s love.  In this community we have been knit together in love.

In this New Year, I want to encourage you to strive for things that constitute the kingdom of heaven and realize that our efforts must be in chorus with the body of Christ that resides therein (Matt. 6:3; Phil. 2:3).  If you are waiting for your brother or sister to make the first move, perhaps they are waiting on you to do likewise – so be a leader – live the sacrifice (Romans 12:1).

Now go spread the word and keep the Faith.

jas

Disagreeing With Authority

Paul, looking intently at the Council, said, “Brethren, I have lived my life with a perfectly good conscience before God up to this day.” The high priest Ananias commanded those standing beside him to strike him on the mouth. Then Paul said to him, “God is going to strike you, you whitewashed wall! Do you sit to try me according to the Law, and in violation of the Law order me to be struck?” But the bystanders said, “Do you revile God’s high priest?” And Paul said, “I was not aware, brethren, that he was high priest; for it is written, ‘YOU SHALL NOT SPEAK EVIL OF A RULER OF YOUR PEOPLE.’”  Acts 23:1-5

After praying for wisdom, what are the first 3 rules for proper interpretation of a passage?  Context, Context, Context!

This is definitely one of those passages (such as Matthew 5:39; Luke 16:1-9) that if we are not careful, we find ourselves with not just a bad, but a fatal exegesis.  Not working properly with Luke 16 can easily leave a person with a justification for extortion, misappropriation, and ‘cooking the books’.  Enron could have skated on less.  The theology must be wrung out from it within its context, both culturally/historically as well as its immediate biblical situation.  Otherwise, we find ourselves attempting to shoehorn its meaning into our own immediate circumstances (i.e. politics!) as opposed to letting its timeless principle, found within the theology, shape us.

As a quick aside, many conservative scholars interpret Acts 23 as a sarcastic response from the apostle Paul to Ananias – why so?  Because any biblical historian knows that at that time Ananias was not the true high priest – he was a prop high priest, appointed by Herod, king of Chalcis.  This is in the same vein as when Jesus was led in front of Annas (similar name, a different man) in John 18 and was chastised and struck by one of the officers who said, “Is that the way You answer the high priest?”  What made this odd was that Caiaphas was the ‘official’ high priest (as revealed within the same context in verses 13 and 24).  However, the Jews were obviously doing their own authority thing behind the backs of the Romans with their mock trials.  Back to Paul’s address in Acts 23 – J. Munck, in ‘Acts AB’, (223), states, “Did he (Paul) not know who gave the command to strike him or was Paul being ironical: one would not expect a high priest to transgress the law?”  And what chances would it be that Paul, an expert in Judaism, would not know who the high priest was at the time – or even having not met him, could he not easily identify him by his mode of dress/adornment?  Even where the man would be seated in the council would direct one’s attention to understand his position.  Consider also that Paul calls him a ‘whitewashed wall’, which is also the very address used in Ezekiel 13:10ff concerning God’s wrath against His leaders and how He will ‘strike them down’ as well.  Therefore, it is plausible that Paul is not actually apologizing, but rather indirectly stating that a true high priest would not behave as he (Ananias) just did (vrs. 3).

Anytime a verse is quoted from what we refer to as the ‘Old Testament’, we must also bind ourselves to interpret the usage of the sentences based within their context.  Exodus 22 is clearly addressing the nation of Israel – which means that the rulers would be their judges, high priest, priests, prophets, and eventually, kings.  This is a far cry from what we may attempt to extrapolate and apply across the board today.  Consider that even United Nations authority has gained traction in the Unites States.  Now consider all of the rulers who hold authority at that particular table.  You should see my point.

While there is no excuse for a moment of ‘unkindness’, it would be important to require the definition (of unkindness), especially in our current hostile political climate.  A mere disagreement does not constitute unkindness, because unkindness is not necessarily defined by the feelings of personal infringement (offense because they are disagreed with) of one person or another.  Consider the scathing rebuke given by our Savior to the leaders/authority of His day in Matthew 23.  Words like ‘hypocrite, vipers, whitewashed tombs, unclean,’ and even reference to being murderers was shot their way.  Is this unkind?  Perhaps living in ‘the land of the offended’ has dulled our sense of truthfulness and letting it stand on its own – no matter how ‘unkind’ it may sound.  This is no license for unnecessary rudeness; nor is it a reason to allow a culture to squelch us from calling darkness out into the light.

Moreover, if any passage appears to conflict with another, the culprit lies in our misunderstanding – and in just one example, the people of Ezekiel that bothered to ‘object’ against their governing authorities (in the context of the authorities being ungodly), are the ones that God blessed and declared He would preserve.

Romans 13:1-4 then appears to be the kink.  But once again, context – even in the whole of the canon, must prevail.  Anytime a passage is interpreted, if it appears to conflict with another, it is our misunderstanding – and I contest that it is 90% contextual error on our behalf in Romans 13.  If we are to attempt to apply Romans 13 ‘across the board’ as given in the article, what shall we do with Revelation 13:16-18 (given that the governing authorities command alignment to justify commerce, etc – vrs. 17)?  What of the very readers immediately post Paul’s time when the Caesars decided they were deity (‘Augustus’) and commanded all people to worship them?  Of course, we then would state that the people should not do so.  But is not that ‘resisting authority’ as stated in Romans 13:2?  Did not Daniel resist the authority of Nebuchadnezzar when he refused to bow before the golden image in Daniel 3?  And I would call to your memory the example of Jesus’ address to the scribes and Pharisees in Matthew 23.  God would never command His people to break His very command against idol worship, and yet rulers continually command people to do so.  Therefore, total submission to a wicked ruler cannot stand the test of the law of non-contradiction here.  However, if we read Romans 13 within the grand context of Scripture as a whole, then we see very quickly that we are to never align ourselves with ungodly statutes from any authority.  Paul assumes that we would never consider such things (i.e. embracing and endorsing any leader who promote abominable things such as abortion and homosexuality).  Our challenge is to carefully separate that which we must resist from that which we would rather resist, but are given the imperative to submit to otherwise (taxation, extraneous laws, etc).

Unkindness cannot be equivalent to a complete lack of the ability to object – especially concerning wicked authority.  After all, Satan is even referred to as “the ruler of this world” (John 12:31; 14:30; 16:11).  Otherwise, we would simply roll along with any ‘wind of doctrine’ and set God aside while we obey earthly rulers.

Keep the Faith,

jas

Slow Changes

“I believe there are more instances of the abridgement of the freedom of the people by gradual and silent encroachments of those in power than by violent and sudden usurpation.”

                                                                                                         James Madison

 

And Jesus said to them, “Watch out and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees.”

                                                                                                         Matthew 16:6

Judas, Lot, Gideon.  What do they have in common?

Lot was chronologically first.  He was the nephew of Abraham and lived under the blessings and protection of being in the entourage of God’s chosen path of covenantal blessing.  Lot is most notably remembered more for his wife, who literally became salt of the earth, but in the negative sense.  Next is Gideon; temporary judge of Israel during the disobedient and chaotic years preceding the period of the kings.  The most common recognition Christians give him is to do with a ‘fleece’ and how he selected an army of warriors to lead in radical odds of victory.  Lastly, in this example, is Judas.  The only name Americans know that would compete with this man for the title of betrayal would be Benedict Arnold.

So what is the one underlying, yet fundamental ‘thing’ that these men share?  Deception.  And as tempting as it might be to accentuate on possible deceptions that they attempted with others, the actual issue lies more pointedly in how they were deceived.

Staying the preceding order, Lot started in his travel to wealth and prestige when he was packed up in the family of Abram (later to be named ‘Abraham’) while living in Ur.  As Abraham accumulated possessions and power, Lot became the beneficiary and likewise obtained property and position.  But as his portfolio increased, so did his pride, as exhibited in Genesis 13:7, when he argued with fellow herdsman about ‘who owned what’.  Lot was given the choice to move, and in his greed, took the choice land near the dangerous cities of Sodom and Gomorrah.  However, through a chain of unrecorded events, it appears that living in the fertile land nearby was not good enough for Lot and his family, as he ultimately ends up directly in the city of Sodom.  During a raid of local enemies, Lot and his family are taken captive.  When Abraham hears of the kidnapping, he takes his private army and delivers Lot (et al) and restores his safety.  However, as we see in the text, Lot takes his family right back into the pigpen of Sodom, and the city is no better for being saved by Abraham against the raiders.  Most readers know the rest of the history.  Abraham is visited by three heavenly figures who reveal their plans to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah.  Abraham advertently pleas for Lot and his family’s preservation (without mentioning names).  The heavenly beings appear to honor this by sending Lot and family on their way with the stipulation to not look back at the destruction when it beings.  Lot’s wife does not heed this command, and is subsequently turned into a ‘pillar of salt’.

Next is Gideon.  This warrior is called to serve the Lord in Judges 6.  Though initially unsure of his qualification to do so, he accepts the responsibility and begins to dismantle the altars of the foreign gods within the land.  Then, upon his request to deliver Israel, Gideon presents a series of tests for the Lord’s will.  The problem is, each time the Lord answers, Gideon wants another sign of approval.  After he finally accepts God’s affirmation, he is next directed to reduce the number of his army to a measly 300 men.  God was obviously not interested in men receiving glory for a victory, but for the people of Israel to see that it is Him who delivers.  And even though Gideon appears somewhat ‘shaky’ in the faith department, he seems to hold true to God, even to the point when Israel calls on him, his son, and his grandson to rule over the people, because he tells them, “the Lord shall rule over you.”  But shortly thereafter comes the fatal flaw.  Gideon requests the warriors to contribute one gold earring each from the spoils of their victory – to which the people oblige; and then some.  Then, as if standing in the shadow of the great sin at Mt. Sinai, Gideon had an ephod built out of the presented gold (which was highly unusual since they were commanded to weave it out of fabric in Exodus 28).  “And all Israel played the harlot with it there, so that it became a snare to Gideon and his household.”  This is the last information we are given concerning Gideon’s faith and leadership in God.

And of these 3 widely known individuals, perhaps the last is most renowned – Judas.  Few people remotely familiar with the Scriptures do not know who Judas was and what he did.  And though we are not given much detail on what constituted the man Judas prior to his calling, we are not led to believe him to be an evil man prior to his control of the ‘money box’.  It appears that along the way in his walk with Christ, he fell to the temptation of the control of money, which ultimately led to his betrayal of Jesus and subsequent suicide.

Returning to the original question – what did these three men have in common?  They were all slowly led down their paths to destruction.  Though some appear to have descended quicker than others, nevertheless, the result was the same.  And herein lies the salient point for our consideration: Satan and the realm of evil works as if they have all the time in the world.  Think about it – we seldom ever get flipped on our ear overnight in deception.  It’s usually a very gradual shift.  This is at least of the viable reasons that Jesus makes reference to the ‘leaven’ of the Pharisees.  Yeast is relatively slow to rise – even our modern ‘quick-rise’ version is not all that fast.  Yet if there is just a small amount in the dough, it will spread and continue to expand until arrested.  Likewise, evil acts as the deceptive yeast in our ‘spiritual dough’ (if you will).  Slowly it creeps through and swells without us realizing what has taken place.

Lot was deceived into thinking he could leave the security of God’s people and live with in the middle of evil without being affected.  Gideon was deceived into thinking he would never take the glory from God.  Judas was deceived into justifying his theft as ‘caring for the poor’.  All were slowly changed to destructive circumstances.

The only way to avoid this ‘leavening’ is to 1) place ourselves humbly in the light of spiritual accountability to others; and 2) honestly observe ourselves and ultimately ask, “Why am I doing what I am doing?”  In other words, “How will this bring glory to Jesus Christ?”

We might be tempted to look at these three men and shake our heads in tragic disappointment, thinking of the vast wasted potential.  Looking through the lens of Scripture and observing ourselves and one another is the call of the church – the body of Christ – to preserve each other in this walk of endurance.  Though the change away from God can be subtle, so as not to be noticed, repentance is just the opposite.  Quick.  Sure.  About – face.  Just like that.  No weaning and no excuses.  Now that’s reality gospel.

Keep the Faith  (Galatians 3:23),

jas