Bad juju…

When did the church go crazy? I mean, seriously: what happened to teaching from the Bible, and just using God’s word to guide us in our walk with Christ?

 

I have spoken to several people in the last week, who have absolutely no idea how convoluted their theology is. In more than one case, these people were actually claiming the authority to teach the Word. Here are a couple of examples of the kind of statements I heard from these “Christians”:

 

  • –       In a discussion about art and censorship—whether it is appropriate to hang “artwork” with nudity or sexual themes in public buildings (specifically, libraries and city hall)—one person claimed—on “biblical authority”—that Jesus would have condemned censorship, because the Bible doesn’t teach that nudity is sinful, or that sex is something that should be kept private… or, in fact, that sex should even be between a husband and wife exclusively
  • –       A woman who claimed that Jesus changed the Law, and as a result homosexuality is an acceptable lifestyle (I guess someone forgot to tell Paul and Peter)
  • –       A woman who claimed that everyone goes to heaven, regardless of their belief system, because the Bible says that God wants that “none shall perish, but that all shall be saved” (in which case, Jesus would have to feel pretty foolish about that whole “scourged and crucified” bit)
  • –       More than one person who claimed that the entire Christian religion is based on ancient pagan religions (based on the “factual” evidence provided by the History Channel)
  • –       A guy in a discussion forum who claimed that the traditional methods of reading the Bible are outdated and dangerous, because the Scripture doesn’t apply to modern issues; instead, we should take a “broader approach” in interpreting Scripture (or, in other words, we should read the entire Bible as a series of parables and morality plays, and if they don’t “fit” modern circumstances, God expects us to jettison them)

 

Disturbing. I have also—in my constant reading—come across denominations that condone—and in some cases, support—abortion, homosexuality (as opposed to homosexuals; these churches actually condone the lifestyle), sex outside the bonds of marriage, and other clearly non-Christian activities. All in the name of inclusiveness, it would seem.

 

Now, I get it, to a point, I really do. We want that everybody should be saved (the alternative is that we just want everybody to get through the doors of the church long enough to wag the offering plate under their noses, but I’m trying to think the best of people). But are we actually saving people, if we water down the Gospel of Christ and the commands of the Lord just to avoid offending someone’s sensibilities? I gotta say, “no.” Jesus wasn’t one to water down His message; I really don’t think we should be doing Him the disservice of watering it down for Him!

 

No, hard as it can be (and I know that it can be very difficult), the Good News is sometimes—usually—Bad News for people that want to embrace Christ in one arm, and the world in the other. Sometimes, we just want to avoid the “sticky bits;” we can’t do that! Now, when we’re evangelizing, the most important thing is that we present the Gospel: Jesus Christ was born; He lived a perfect and sinless life; He taught that the Kingdom of God could be reached only through faith in the Son; He was tortured, crucified, and died on the cross as propitiation for the sins of all people; and that He rose from the grave on the third day. That is the central message: Jesus died for us, you can have faith in Him, and here’s why.

 

Sometimes questions come up, though. And when those questions do arise, we need to be prepared to answer them with love and compassion, but we need also to answer them honestly and directly. Or, if you’re a complete coward, you can just tell people to read the Gospel of John, and then read 1 Corinthians. 1 Corinthians is a painful wake-up—I know from experience!

 

But to get back to my point: the people I mentioned above actually, wholeheartedly believed what they were saying. I have no doubt that a considerable part of that belief comes from the fact that there are elements of their old, “fleshly” life that are just really, really hard to give up. But somewhere along the line, these folks were just given bad instruction in the faith.

 

This raises a question that has bothered me for a long time, though; instead of trying so hard to get people into church once we have witnessed to them, would it be a better idea to give them some instruction on how to discover more on their own? I was half-joking about John and 1 Corinthians, but the truth is that those two books are probably clearer on the subject of salvation and right living than any other—at least from the point-of-view of a new believer. True, Corinthians might scare off a seeker; there are some pretty tough guidelines in there, and Paul is sometimes not the easiest guy to follow—but is it better for us to have faith in the Spirit to guide that person’s understanding, or to try to get that person into a church right away? Certainly, the ideal would be to do both, but how many times have you invited someone to church, only to have them say, “Um, I’m gonna think about it. No, really, I will! I just need time to figure out if that’s really my thing…”

 

I don’t know; it’s an open question, and I’d love to hear your thoughts on the matter. In the meantime, have a blessed (and safe!) weekend, and a very happy New Year. God bless all the brothers and sisters, and to Him be the Glory!

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Bad Dreams and King David

Sunday night, I had a bad dream.

This wasn’t a nightmare, just a very unpleasant dream. It was also a dream that contained a lot of symbolism. For me, a dream that has a great many recognizable symbols usually catches my attention. It’s usually important.

I say that it’s usually important, because in my experience over the last eighteen months it usually turns out to be God, trying to tell me something. In this case, it was telling me that my life was getting to be a mess again.

Well, I kinda already knew that it was headed in that direction, but I was having trouble figuring out why, exactly. I had been praying about it for a couple of days, but to be honest, I was starting to wonder if I was going to get an answer, or if the answer I got would be obvious enough for me to take notice of it.

Yes, I know, I shoulda known better. The dream was a wake-up call (figuratively and literally). Troubled by the fact that it was my own voice that had awakened me from an otherwise sound sleep, I got up to an almost oppressive impulse to get into God’s Word, and try to find some meaning beyond what I had just seen in bed.

As is my habit when I’m looking for something specific in Scripture, but I have no idea where to begin looking, I just flipped the Bible open to a random page. It came up on the story in 2 Samuel 2, about the battle at the Pool of Gibeon. This sort of got my attention because I had just written a blog about the Pool of Gibeon and had actually just been speaking to my Dad about it, last night. So I started to read, but I didn’t feel like I was getting anywhere; it was all, “David was victorious. The LORD gave David’s enemies into his hand. David kicks major tail all over the land of Israel,” et cetera, et cetera… how does this apply to my situation? David isn’t having any trouble! In fact, in all of this, the only really negative thing that happened was Uzzah getting smoked by the Lord for grabbing the Ark, when it nearly fell off the wagon!

(It was only while writing that last line that I remembered God’s sense of humor leaning toward the ironic. Hopefully you’ll get it, in a minute or two.)

Frustrated, and more than a little impatient, I read this line in 2 Samuel 8:4:

And David captured from him [Hadadezer] 1,700 horsemen and 20,000 foot soldiers; and David hamstrung the chariot horses, but reserved enough of them for 100 chariots.

Okay, really? I’m getting nothin’ here! So, I figure, “One more chance,” and just flip the back pages of the Bible with my thumb, figuring maybe something will pop this time. A chunk of pages rolls over, and the first thing my eyes fall upon is this line:

And David took from him 1,000 chariots and 7,000 horsemen and 20,000 foot soldiers, and David hamstrung all of the chariot horses but reserved enough of them for 100 chariots.

~ 1 Chronicles 18:4

Um, ahem, okay, sorry, Lord. There’s obviously a reason that I’m supposed to be reading this. I get it.

I read on. Still, all I’m seeing is “David rocks, David kicks butt, David is da man,” but now, at least, I know that this is leading somewhere. And then:

Then Satan stood up against Israel and moved David to number Israel. (1 Chronicles 21:1)

I still didn’t quite get it. Sometimes I’m a little thick. And then, I got to this line:

And David said to God, “I have sinned greatly, in that I have done this thing. But now, please take away the iniquity of Thy servant, for I have done very foolishly.” (1 Chronicles 21:8)

and,

And David said to Gad, “I am in great distress; please let me fall into the hand of the Lord, for His mercies are very great.” (1 Chronicles 21:13)

I still didn’t get it. But as I read that last line, I had a feeling that I had gone as far as I was supposed to. I needed to discern what the Lord meant, though, so I prayed that the scales be removed from eyes so that I could understand the message He meant for me to receive. The answer came to me almost before I finished asking for it.

Satan made David forget—for a moment—that God was the strength behind all of his victories. David took a census of his fighting men in order to ascertain his “strength.” David, in a moment of pride (I assume it was pride behind the error), put his own abilities and resources above the blessings of the Lord. When David realized his error, he begged forgiveness from the Lord; God gave him three choices to pick from by way of punishment for his transgressions.

Two of the punishments took place at the hands of men; the last would be a punishment from the hand of God. David, recognizing the Lord’s merciful nature, asked to be delivered into the hand of God.

The parallel to my own situation became very clear. Recently, I have been falling deeper and deeper into a sense of false security, thinking that God would be with me almost no matter what I chose to do. I was relying on my own judgment, on my own wisdom, to make decisions and do things “my way.” (Note on irony: David was transporting the Ark improperly when Uzzah got smited; rather than do what God wanted, I was doing what I wanted. There was also the obvious “fell off the wagon” reference, floating around in there somewhere.) A lot of this, I think, came from the notion that things weren’t going for me as I had hoped; money is still tight, the things I wanted to accomplish have been held up by circumstances, people that I have wanted to help out have been struggling and I have been unable to help because my own situation has left me unable to.

So I had taken to trying to make it happen on my own, getting impatient, and trying to talk God into hurrying up, already, I just needed a little break and I could take care of this stuff.

I could take care of this stuff.

Lack of faith. Pride. Those are my sins.

Everything happens according to God’s plan for us, and in His good time. I forgot. I ask that He forgive me for my sins. I know that He will. And from now on, I’m going to try to just relax and let Him handle it.

But I also gotta ask that he doesn’t smite 70,000 people because I screwed up. It’s hard enough, getting readers for this blog.

The Gospel and Harold Speed

”… New facts are but the addition of new instruments to the orchestra with which the artist creates his symphonies. They increase the range of possibilities open to him and enlarge the scope of his work. But they immensely increase the difficulties of composition, and… become so intricate and engrossing that they are apt to occupy the whole of his attention… The orchestration becomes the subject of the symphony, instead of its means of expression. The point is reached when the instruments of expression are too difficult to be controlled… and themselves begin to control the work.”

 

~Harold Speed, Oil Painting Techniques and Materials

So today’s article will be mostly targeted at folks that are fairly new to their faith. You should know that what I’m writing about, I write from intimate personal experience; struggling with finding a balance between what God expects me to do, and what I want to do for God, has been a serious and very real challenge for me since I came to Christ.

On the one hand, I want to do everything I can for the Lord. I went through a period in which I tried to do everything that I thought would please Him, with the result that I wasn’t getting anything done. It took me a little bit of time to realize that the Holy Spirit had endowed me with certain spiritual gifts for a reason; that reason was to focus on the specific tasks that God knows I am best suited for. For instance, public speaking is probably not my forte’.

On the other hand, I have these spiritual gifts, and I want to use them constantly. The trick is to find that balance. Jesus, in the parable of the soils, talks about believers who fall into this category. He tells of those who “fell upon the rocky places, where they did not have much soil,” and as a result they immediately sprang up, because they had no “depth of soil.” But when the sun rose, they were scorched, and having “no root, they withered away.” (Matt. 13:5, 6)

My son calls people like this, “try-hards.” What it amounts to is that we get so wrapped up in the ecstasy of the moment that we forget to root ourselves before we start trying to branch out. Getting back to the art metaphors, “Do far less with your brush, and much more with your head at first.”

When I first got saved, I remember becoming fascinated with apologetics (I still am). I thought, “Oh, awesome! I can argue and be a good Christian? This is wicked cool!” The only problem with this was that I was learning the arguments before I learned the reason for the arguments. As a result, there were a couple of occasions where I fear that my arguments did more harm, than good; not having a firm foundation in the spirit of the argument, I let the argument itself become the point of the discussion. I regret to say that the two people that I am thinking of in this example have probably become even more entrenched in their resistance to Christ, as a result.

God, in His perfect wisdom, used this as a lesson to me. He has also put people in my life who have an almost eerie tendency to say exactly the right thing at the exact moment that I need to hear it; in this case, the lesson was reinforced when one of these people suggested that sometimes we get so busy doing for God that we forget about God. Yikes.

So, I backed up, and started reading more Scripture. I got into the Word about spiritual gifts, and at just about exactly the moment that I start wondering, “Well, what the heck is my gift? And how do I find out?” Pastor Reggie gave a sermon on—yup—spiritual gifts. Double yikes. Twice in ten days. Like I said—eerie.

Here was the information that I needed! After a couple of false starts—the direction in general was the right one, but it was the wrong path, both times—I finally found a couple of things that I could do for the Lord without having to compromise the quality of my work for Him. One of them, obviously, is this blog; the best part of this for me, in a spiritual sense, is that where I might get lazy about reading Scripture the way I should, writing this forces me to stick my nose in the Word pretty much daily so that I can be sure that what I’m writing is true to Scripture. It works great—I get to work for the Lord, I get to do that work by doing something I enjoy, and it actually forces me to grow spiritually! Awesome!

Of course, I try to do everything with God foremost in my mind. It wouldn’t do if this blog were the only thing that I dedicated to Him, so no matter what I do now I try to do it in a way that I know would be pleasing to Him, and with the knowledge that if it weren’t for His blessing I wouldn’t be able to do anything at all. But by just listening to the Spirit, I was led to the right outlet for my gifts—and my weaknesses.

“Everyone stumbles upon some methods that suit his particular temperament.” Experienced painters say that it is more important to focus on the foundational basics of the craft, than to focus on style. The problem is that most beginning painters get wrapped around the axle trying to be unique in their own way, rather than learning how to paint and letting style come about as a natural extension of their growth as artists. As Christians, I think we can be guilty of the same mistake. We get a taste of how great it is to be saved, and we want to just run out and start “being saved,” rather than building on that first stone and letting the building take shape as God intended. The result is that we get tired, frustrated and lost—which is what the Devil would love for us to do. “It’s better to burn out, than fade away,” as the song goes (yes, I’m dating myself, hush, you) but as Christians, this isn’t what we want to do. We want to finish the race, and finish strong. Just listen for God’s instruction, and take your time. He knows how best to use us, so stay out of His way, let yourself be attentive to His voice, and realize that what He wants us to do will be to His glory, and to our benefit.

God bless us all, and I’ll talk to you again on Tuesday!