2011-06-28_0439-48_ZetaCam

Oh, the crazy things Christians (like me) think. I confess. I am guilty of Lazy ChristianThink. I have no one to blame but myself.

However, I am trying to get better.

No, I don’t attend CTCTA (Crazy Things Christians Think Anonymous), but I would like to offer some insight, hopefully, into a misunderstood verse that has been passed down to us and we have lazily accepted.

The crazy-thinking verse is from Matthew: “Do not give dogs what is holy, and do not throw your pearls before pigs, lest they trample them underfoot and turn to attack you” (Matthew 7:6).1

This verse is very well known. In fact, it is part of the Western culture. I remember listening to an album, many years ago, entitled Balaclava, by the group Pearls Before Swine. (I think it was the first time I heard Leonard Cohen sing.) The traditional understanding of this verse is pretty simple: Don’t tell people things you know they will reject or trample them underfoot. They’re either too dumb to understand what you’re saying, too stubborn, or just unprepared to hear. Don’t waste your time. Tagging along with that understanding is often the implied superiority of the speaker over the hearer. After all, they are pigs, right? And you have pearls.

However, this belief is the complete opposite of what Jesus meant.

Please allow me to explain. As usual, the context in which this verse is found will help us.

“Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye. Do not give dogs what is holy, and do not throw your pearls before pigs, lest they trample them underfoot and turn to attack you” (Matthew 7:1–6).

Jesus taught that we should not judge people. He did not say we should cease making determinations about right and wrong, or toss away discernment about sinful behavior. He was addressing arrogant judgmentalism—judging people because, quite obviously, they’re nasty, disobedient sinners and we’re not. Jesus said this judgmental behavior is like having a log in our eyes. However, if we stop destructive judgmentalism—taking the log out of our eyes—we will be able to see clearly and help take the speck out of our brother’s eye. Please note that this brother does indeed have a sinful problem—he has a speck in his eye. However, treating such a person like dirt offers no help whatsoever. We are functionally blind if we do so. Thus, we are to drop the self-righteous judmentalism and help the sinful person. Christians, who are also sinners, should exercise compassion, grace, mercy, and forgiveness—all actions that are reinforced elsewhere both in the Gospels and the rest of the New Testament. Peter wrote that Christians are to respond kindly and respect those who oppose them (1 Peter 3:14-16).

This teaching is then followed by the verse about casting our pearls before pigs. It makes no sense whatsoever that Jesus would follow His teaching about loving compassion toward sinners and then tell people to treat them like dogs and pigs. However, this is precisely what many Christians believe He did.

Instead, Jesus taught that we shouldn’t take God’s precious, loving truths and then attempt to teach them to people we treat like dirty dogs and pigs. The result, He said, would be that these needed, life-giving truths—pearls—would be trampled under the feet of those you disdain. They would reject them. Not only would they reject them, they would actually turn and attack you. This makes perfect sense. If you treat other people like they’re unworthy animals, they won’t take kindly to your attitude, reject the precious pearls of truth you share, and then attack you for your self-righteous, condemning attitude.

That’s called human nature.

Jesus never treated people like they were dogs or pigs. He forgave a woman who had been caught in adultery. He had a private conversation at a well with a woman who was a notorious ne’er-do-well. He allowed a prostitute to wash His feet with her tears. He touched lepers so they could be healed. He called a hated, Israel-betraying tax collector to be one of His disciples.

We’ve had the understanding of Jesus’ pearls-before-swine teaching backwards. Our understanding made us feel comfortable with our feelings of superiority and self-righteousness.

It is crazy Christian thinking.

1All Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2001). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

 

 

 

Eric and Sarah

 

Eric Karua, an associate pastor and musician from Papua New Guinea, is a friend of mine. Before Eric became a Christian, he was a very angry, hard-hearted, and violent man. When the Solomon Islands fought for independence from Papua New Guinea, he enlisted as a soldier with the Bougainville Resistance Army. But at some point, the Resistance Army divided, and the two factions began to fight each other. The war for independence had become a civil war. Eric joined the newly formed Bougainville Resistance Force. Sadly, that civil war, as do many such conflicts, pitted village against village, family against family and brother against brother. In fact, Eric told me he once put a gun to his wife’s head when he thought she was betraying him to her family. As I said, he was an angry man.

One night he decided that he would go to his wife’s village to visit her. He asked a couple of his friends to go with him, but they were too afraid; so he went alone. Eric was on a dark, jungle road, carrying an M-16, three extra clips in his cargo pockets. Two grenades hung from his belt.

Suddenly a man grabbed him from behind, wrapping his arms around him.

“I’ve got him!” he shouted.

Eric quickly brought up his M-16 and began spraying the areas in front of and beside him. When he exhausted the clip, he tried to reach into his pocket to retrieve a full one. By this time, however, another man had begun to stab him repeatedly, in his chest, neck, and head. Finally, Eric was stabbed in the back, near his kidneys, and he fell unconscious. When he came to, he heard the commander of the group say, “Finish him off.”

The attacker aimed his weapon at Eric, who was certain his death was just moments away. For the first time in his life, he prayed, “God, save me. Don’t let me die.” The assailant fired, but the round misfired. He ejected it and tried another. It was a dud, too, as was the third one.

Finally, the commander said, “Leave him to die.”

Eric regained and lost consciousness three times. Each time, he felt himself falling into a dark and bottomless pit.

Eventually, he gathered his strength and crawled to the house of friend. When he arrived at the front door, he called out twice, “Steven.” The third time, when he opened his mouth, nothing came out. He dragged himself to another house. On the way, however, he saw a Coleman lantern hanging inside a church. As he drew nearer, the light became smaller and smaller, until it was the size of a firefly.

Eric was dying.

The people in the church were praying and had their eyes closed. Eric crawled to the pulpit and grabbed it. When the pastor felt the pulpit move, he looked down, but Eric was so bloody he didn’t recognize him. The pastor took off his own shirt and wiped the blood from Eric’s face. The people quickly realized the extent of Eric’s wounds, and it wasn’t long before he was on his way to a hospital. He had almost bled to death. He had to undergo surgery to stop the internal bleeding and spent a month in bed, but he eventually recovered.

It was during this time and afterward that Eric fully gave his heart to Jesus Christ. Eventually, he recovered enough to preach the Gospel. Everyone, including his wife, Sarah, was amazed at how this hardened man had changed. However, although Eric was doing a lot of ministering, his heart was still full of bitterness and hatred toward the man who had attacked him so brutally. When he decided to go to this man and tell him that he had forgiven him, none of his village friends or family would go with him. They gave him a new M-16 and urged him to take it with him, but he refused.

By the time Eric arrived, word had spread that he was coming. He went into the man’s house, which by then was surrounded by soldiers who were ready to kill him at the first misstep. Eric found his enemy sleeping. When he nudged him awake, the man went for his weapon, the M-16 he had taken from Eric the night of the attack.

Eric put his hand out and said, “No, I haven’t come to fight. Enough people have died. I have come to forgive you for what you’ve done.”

Eric immediately felt released from his bitterness. Then his enemy broke down and cried. This man told Eric that he had free access to come and preach to the people in his village and that he wouldn’t be harmed.

However, this isn’t the end of the story. Eric’s family had sent his fourteen-year-old brother to school in an area in the north where it was safe. Eric had made so many enemies that they, in retribution, sought out his younger brother and murdered him. Eric found himself at another crossroad. His friends and family wanted revenge. However, even though he was tempted, Eric wouldn’t do it. By God’s grace, he was able to forgive, again, in the realization that bloodshed and payback hadn’t brought anything but more pain and death. When the time came for the first steps toward peace, the laying down of arms, Eric’s village was the first to do so.1

 

1Thomson, Deeper: A Call to Discipleship, 85–88.

2009-02-25_1126_3_NextToDelhiOrphanSchool

 

Is poverty good or evil? Why would anyone say, as I did in India, that it is God’s will for people—pastors, in this case—to be poor?

The New Testament has much to say about poverty and wealth. Privation is never regarded as an evil, as it is currently in many cultures. A lack of the necessities for living is simply addressed as an understood state in the New Testament, and that Christians, in response to that state, should care for those in need (Matthew 19:21, 26:11; Romans 15:26; Galatians 2:10; James 1:27; 1 Timothy 5:3).

But poverty’s opposite, wealth, is addressed at length—and it’s not good news.

Jesus made it clear that an affluent person is in danger.

First of all, He said that wealth makes it difficult for people to enter the kingdom of God:

“It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God” (Mark 10:25).

This should be important to Christians. I’m not convinced that it is.

Jesus reinforced this truth when He told us that riches are deceitful: “As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and it proves unfruitful” (Matthew 13:22).

He also indicated that being rich in this world would mean that since we have already received our consolation or comfort, we might not receive such comfort or consolation at some future time: “But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation” (Luke 6:24).

Jesus told the Christians at Laodicea that their prosperity had caused them to think they needed nothing, when, instead, they were in reality “wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked” (Revelation 3:15–18). He rebuked them for their prideful ignorance. In fact, the Laodicean Christians had been so blinded by their riches that Jesus was not even in their church—He was knocking at their door, trying to gain entrance (Revelation 3:20).

In the parable of Lazarus and the rich man, we find that after the wealthy man died, he found himself in a terrible condition—Hades, in fact—while the beggar Lazarus, formerly covered with sores, was abiding in a very good place, at Abraham’s side (Luke 16:19-30). Prosperity and health does not necessarily mean one is blessed, from an eternal perspective.

Jesus also warned about the hazards of wealth in the parable of the rich and covetous man who, having prospered said, “I will do this: I will tear down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, ‘Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry’” (Luke 12:18–19). To finish His parable Jesus said, “But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God” (Luke 12:20–21). In this teaching, Jesus addressed our attitude about earthly possessions, not the possessions themselves.

Jesus reinforced this mindset about affluence when He said, “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money” (Matthew 6:24). Again, this statement has to do with one’s heart toward wealth—being mastered by money, not the possession of it. A person could be relatively poor and yet devoted to and the slave of money.

In this well-known verse, Paul warned that the love of money imperils Christians: “For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs” (1 Timothy 6:10). Again, one’s heart in regard to money is emphasized, not the possession of it.

Finally, James taught that it is beneficial to be poor:  “Listen, my beloved brothers, has not God chosen those who are poor in the world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom, which he has promised to those who love him?” (James 2:5).

So, is poverty evil? No, it can actually be a good thing and God’s will. However, nowhere in Scripture are we encouraged to live in abject poverty. Money in and of itself is not evil. It is one’s attitude toward it that is problematic; however, undoubtedly prosperity causes one to sail into treacherous waters. I must confess that I take great comfort from Proverbs 30:8–9: “Remove far from me falsehood and lying; give me neither poverty nor riches; feed me with the food that is needful for me, lest I be full and deny you and say, ‘Who is the LORD?’ or lest I be poor and steal and profane the name of my God.” This is my prayer also. It has been an interesting and challenging journey to endeavor to follow Jesus while living in the relatively wealthy culture of the Western world.

The New Testament makes it clear that riches have the potential to bring us to a very bad state spiritually, so when we are prosperous, we should be wary. One of the evil characteristics of people in the Last Days is that they will be lovers of money (2 Timothy 3:2) Christians should consider these truths and warnings with a healthy sense of fear. We should realize that neither poverty nor wealth is evil in and of themselves—but affluence is the condition that puts one at spiritual risk, not poverty.

.

 

 

2009-02-25_1126_3_NextToDelhiOrphanSchool

Is poverty good or evil?

Is being poor ever something God would require?

When we lived in India, we faced this issue one day with a group of pastors who were struggling with a desperate lack of funds. These men wondered if God wanted them to be poor. In fact, they asked me this very question: “Does God want us to be poor?”

Now I know that those in the prosperity gospel camp, in their horrible ignorance, would have said, “Of course not! God wants you to be wealthy!” And perhaps many of our Western Christian friends may have held a similar opinion. “Poverty can never be good. Of course, God wants to lift you out of it.”

However, I did not respond in this way. I said, “You have prayed about this.”

Yes, they answered, they had.

I said, “And God has heard you. God hears our prayers.”

“Yes.”

I then stated, “Either God is sovereign or He’s not. Since He is sovereign, therefore, I know of no other answer than that, for now, yes—God wants you to be poor.”

That was difficult for a relatively wealthy man—by their standards—to say.

However, it must be true. They had prayed about their condition. God had heard their supplications. Yet, their poverty remained.

This truth is so difficult for us to apprehend because we Christians tend to have a skewed understanding of poverty and wealth, and that understanding is often not based upon Scripture. In the West, it is a very strong cultural truth that being poor is one of the worst things a person can endure. We have created vast government plans to deal with issues of poverty in our cultures. However, poverty is not one of the worst scourges of mankind.

Not knowing God and His ways is.

But back to our story.

Suddenly, right out in the open, in front of all the pastors, one man said, “I know what I should preach, but if I do that, no one will come.”

He candidly admitted that he compromised the teaching of Scripture in order to get more people in his church and therefore obtain more money.

The reader may decide for him/herself if such a thing could ever happen in churches in the West or anywhere else.

However, while there, we learned another distressing truth about the condition of pastors in India. For them to work at a secular job is a humiliation. The reason they feel this way is because a powerful reality has existed in the long history of the caste system there—which is illegal but still burbles strongly through the culture: The Hindu Brahmin priests were (and still are) at the top of the ladder, and all other castes below support them. They do not labor. They are too important to labor. Christian pastors enter the ministry expecting this to be the case for themselves, as well. They feel they are entitled to be supported. However, obviously, this condition does not hold for very many pastors in India.

One day, when my wife and I were walking home on the dusty, cow-dung spotted road to our house, a man rolled up next to us on his bike. He asked if we were missionaries and then told us the following things about himself:

He had seventy people in his church.

He was a full-time pastor.

We learned this man’s status before we knew his name.

He had arrived and wanted us to know it.

Because so many Indian pastors are poor, ministries in that nation reach out to people, churches, and organizations in order to support and help them. Some Indian nationals travel all over the world, spending tens of thousands of dollars on airfare, to raise funds. However, shouldn’t such leaders address with the truth of Scripture the pernicious burden under which these pastors live? These shepherds are not entitled to an income from their churches. Yes, the Bible teaches that churches should support their elders. The laborer deserves his wages (1 Timothy 5:17-18). However, if a church is unable to do so, only one scriptural solution remains: Pastors must be bi-vocational. They must go to work. Although it may be humiliating in the Indian culture, it is not humiliating according to Scripture—and this is the truth the Indian pastors and churches, as well as ours, need to live by. Indian pastors must consider this truth before God. After all, the apostle Paul, chosen by God Himself, one of the greatest intellectuals in the history of the Church, worked with his hands and was not ashamed to do so. In fact, he desired it.

In addition, being humiliated is not something we should shun.

Throughout Scripture, the prophets were scorned and ignored by the religious leaders of their time.

Most importantly, the secular and religious authorities attempted to humiliate Jesus, God Himself in the flesh. However, we are taught to look beyond this, as He did.

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:1–2).1

To state the obvious, God does not think the way we do.

More next time on the scriptural truths concerning wealth and poverty.

 

1All Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2001). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

Thanks to Ben Williams for the photo.

IMG_3487

 

We had a great Bible study at our little Christian gathering last Sunday. We were looking at the interesting way the apostle Paul talked to the unbelieving Gentile governor, Felix. Paul had been arrested and brought before this man, who had a “rather accurate knowledge of the Way” (Acts 24:22). Paul had given the defense of his innocence a few days earlier and summed it up, saying, “‘It is with respect to the resurrection of the dead that I am on trial before you this day’” (Acts 24:21b). 1

Paul was brought before Felix again a few days later. The text we discussed was Acts 24:24–25:

“After some days Felix came with his wife Drusilla, who was Jewish, and he sent for Paul and heard him speak about faith in Christ Jesus. And as he reasoned about righteousness and self-control and the coming judgment, Felix was alarmed and said, “Go away for the present. When I get an opportunity I will summon you.”

Here are the three things Paul talked about that day:

Righteousness

Self-control

Coming judgment

Before I continue, the reason such exchanges in Scripture should be interesting to us is because we may find insight into how to talk to unbelievers about Jesus. More times than I’d like to admit, I am flummoxed about how to do this effectively. We found it interesting that Paul brought up self-control when he talked to Felix. We asked why he did that.

Here is the way we thought this rolled. See if it makes sense to you.

First of all, Christians understand that they have zero righteousness of their own. The righteousness they possess is given to them by God. Christians have actually been given the righteousness of God Himself, the holy One, who was and is spotless, without sin. “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21).

Those who believe in Jesus have been forgiven. Sins are gone and forgotten. The shame of wicked acts has been purged. They will receive no punishment from God. They stand pure and holy before Him.

However, Paul then brought up self-control. Why self-control?

The New Testament contains seventeen admonishments to exercise self-control. Once it is listed as a fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:23).

Like a fruit, our ability to control ourselves grows as we grow in Jesus.

However, regardless of that growth, we are told to exercise self-control. We fail, but we try. When we fail, we repent and ask the Lord to forgive.

This is the Christian life, a life lived before God to glorify and please Him.

But back to Paul before Felix.

Again, we don’t know what Paul said then, but I wonder if he reasoned something like this:

We all require righteousness to stand before a holy, pure God. All religions, except Christianity, teach that one must do good in order to stand before such a holy deity. The problem is that we are unable to control ourselves. We can’t control our tongues. We can’t control our anger. We use our words to rip people apart. We can’t control our sex drives. We hurt people with our actions.

And because we can’t control ourselves, unbelievers come under the judgment of a holy God, and that judgment is coming. It is coming for everyone who do not know Jesus. No exceptions. Death, as the song says, has a warrant for you, and you can’t hide to avoid being served that warrant.

Everybody dies. Everybody will face judgment. Christians face a judgment for their works done in Jesus. All others will face judgment for their sins. If you are in this latter category, you will give an account for your lack of self-control. How you gossiped. How you hurt people who upset you. How you took advantage of people to satisfy your selfish needs.

How will you answer God when He asks the questions that only you, Him, and a very few others know? Every secret will be revealed.

You can’t hide. God knows what you’ve done, and in that day, everyone will know.

And you will be punished for what you’ve done.

 

1All Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2001). (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

 

flower on thistle

Who wants to be judged? Very few people desire to be told, “You’re wrong. What you’ve been doing is dreadfully wrong, even though you think it’s right.”

These days, someone saying that might just provoke a string of profanities aimed in his or her direction. At the very least, one might hear, “I don’t care what you think.”

However, there is one who will judge you—will judge all of us—and you will undeniably care what He thinks. You will be speechless, with nowhere to run, nowhere to hide. All your arguments will die in your mouth.

That judgment is coming, and nothing you can do will stop it.

Jesus promised He would return, and that judgment will follow His returning.

He promised He would.

And God always keeps His promises.

The Bible is chock full of declarations about a judgment to come—too numerous to list here. This is just one:

“And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Then another book was opened, which is the book of life. And the dead were judged by what was written in the books, according to what they had done” (Revelation 20:12). 1

Scripture also makes clear in Scripture that Jesus will return some day:

“For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first” (1 Thessalonians 4:16).

These truths are clearly revealed in Scripture, but I’d also like to write about three extra-biblical experiences that my wife and I had in our many years as Christians. Of course, you are free to reject them, call us mentally deficient, on drugs, or crazy.

But they happened.

Thirty years ago or so, my wife, Laurie, had a dream in which she was standing at the kitchen window of our home, washing dishes in the sink. Suddenly, the mountains in the distance split apart, and Jesus appeared between them. The dominant message of this short dream was that when Jesus returns, it’s over. There will be no time to do anything, anything at all. It all ends without warning.

He’s back. Boom. Done.

Laurie had another dream when we lived in Israel. We would often go out to the town square of our city on late afternoons and try to talk to the Filipinos who would wheel out the old people they cared for, so they could enjoy the open air. Some of those old people had tattoos on their arms—numbers. They were Holocaust survivors. In her dream, Laurie was talking to one of these old women, who appeared to be barely functional. Somehow, in the conversation—details are fuzzy—Laurie said that Jesus was going to return some day. The old woman said, “He’s on the way.” The message delivered was, “No, it’s not just that He’s coming. He’s actually on the way.”

The last example is from my life, very early in my Christian walk, when I knew very little about the Lord. This was not a dream but an experience while I was awake. I was sitting in the shotgun side of my friend’s pickup truck, in a driveway, waiting for him to return so we could get back on the road. Suddenly, a wind stirred up in a dried up old bush next to the house, a few feet away from me. The Lord spoke to me in that experience, only one word: trouble. However, accompanying that word was a very real sense of judgment-to-come. Ever since then, when the wind blows—not every time—I have a renewed sense—a spiritual sense—of that soon-coming judgment.

It is sobering. Real.

God’s judgment on you—on everyone—is coming. As the above scripture above from Revelation 20 indicates, books will be opened. One of them is the book of life. In this book, the acts and words of Christians have been written, those accomplishments and words that glorified God and those that did not. From what is written there, Christians will be judged. However, no sinful acts appear in this book. It’s a book of life. That condemning sin and shame were absorbed by Jesus on the cross. For those who do not believe in Jesus, however, every sin they have ever committed will be read out for all to hear, in God’s glorious presence. You will know you are guilty. You can do nothing about it. You cannot demand that God stop reading. You cannot go back and make amends for your actions. That time has passed. Your doom is certain.

Don’t like to be judged? Yeah. I get that. You won’t like it then, either.

 

1All Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2001). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

 

pesos

 

Would a Christian pastor or leader ever deceive people in order to accumulate wealth for his church?

For many of those reading this, that has probably already happened.

But what did Jesus and the New Testament authors teach about riches?

What is written below is true, but you should look it up.

Wealth is dangerous. Warnings against it are numerous throughout Scripture—too numerous to list here. Worldly prosperity is rarely written about in a positive way.

Since it’s dangerous for people, it’s not a stretch to say that financial abundance is even more dangerous for the church. The combination of power and money throughout human history has rarely provided a good outcome. Is it impossible for wealth to be used for good? Of course not. Examples are abundant. Nevertheless, wealthy individuals and churches/religious organizations should be very careful about their accumulated riches and what they do to get it.

A year ago or so, a friend pointed out that Jesus’ account of the widow’s mite was more than just His commendation of a poor woman who had given “all she had to live on” into the temple coffers. It was a warning about the abusive use of law.

I pushed back against that interpretation, but after reading the story in context, I had to agree. This doesn’t mean the impoverished lady shouldn’t have been commended, but the main point of this account is that Jesus was going after the religious leaders and their need for wealth and significance, using Scripture and oral and written traditions to gain it and thus take advantage of people.

Before we look at the account of the widow, let’s read the passage that immediately precedes it:

“And in the hearing of all the people he said to his disciples, ‘Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes, and love greetings in the marketplaces and the best seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at feasts, who devour widows’ houses and for a pretense make long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation’” (Luke 20:45–47).1

Then, the story of the widow follows:

“Jesus looked up and saw the rich putting their gifts into the offering box, and he saw a poor widow put in two small copper coins. And he said, ‘Truly, I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all of them. For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on’” (Luke 21:1–4).

Do you see the word “widow” in both of those passages? Jesus is still on topic.

Let’s pause for a moment. Jesus warned about five things concerning the religious leaders:

They like to walk around in long robes.

They love greetings in the marketplaces.

They love the best seats in the synagogues and places of honor at feasts.

They devour widows’ houses.

They make long prayers for a pretense.

In other words, these scribes desired to look important and powerful. However, they cared nothing at all about the poor, even penniless widows who should, instead, be supported and cared for. These leaders took financial advantage of such destitute people using religious admonitions in order to ensure their continuing status and well-being.

The need for importance, status, and wealth is intoxicating; yes, even for leaders in the Church.

Now look at the next verses:

“And while some were speaking of the temple, how it was adorned with noble stones and offerings, he said, ‘As for these things that you see, the days will come when there will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down’” (Luke 21:5–6).

The temple with its noble stones and offerings was beautiful, noble. Important people had given money to fund it. However, in spite of this, it would all be thrown down. All of its beauty, nobility, and importance would come to mean nothing at all.

The lesson for Christians?

Many Christian leaders and pastors admonish people to give. Tithe. Give of your first fruits. Sow a seed into a ministry.

The New Testament contains no admonitions whatsoever to give to a church. In addition, the tithe is Old Testament law. The only offering taken in the New Testament was for the poor in Jerusalem. Yes, pastors are to be cared for, but contributions to the pastor were voluntary. In fact, in the New Testament, all giving is voluntary. Christians are free from this law.

How dangerous is money in the Church? It causes Christian leaders and teachers to deceive people in order to get it.

However, someday, things that are built this way, although they may be beautiful and noble, will be all thrown down.

Judgment begins in the household of God.

 

1All Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2001). (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

 

 

P1030932

 

In last week’s blog entry, we looked at how Jesus addressed His understanding of the power of God. Let’s review.

Jesus gave His disciples power over diseases and demons and sent them out. They experienced successful ministry and returned. It wasn’t long after that, that a large crowd gathered to Jesus, and they needed food. They were too far away to go buy some. With what I consider a thoughtful challenge to any misguided notion of spiritual power His disciples may have thought they possessed, Jesus said, “You feed them.” (Luke 9:10-17).1

Go ahead, you successful, powerful ministers. Let’s see what you can do.

They could do nothing, of course. All they had were five loaves of bread and two fish.

They had limited resources—limited physical resources as well as limited spiritual resources. They had no power to feed 5,000 people. The solution to the hunger problem they faced didn’t even occur to them.

The Lord calls people to do certain acts through which He will be glorified.

For example, Moses held up his staff, and God parted the sea. It wasn’t Moses that made the water stand up in heaps. It wasn’t a piece of wood, either.

Israel marched around Jericho, blew trumpets, and shouted, as God instructed them to do. The walls of the city fall down. It wasn’t the blowing of the trumpets, nor the shouting that demolished Jericho. God alone did that work.

Jesus’s disciples had five loaves of bread and two fish.

God, not men, fed 5,000 people.

After the masses were fed, Peter confessed that Jesus was “The Christ of God.” Jesus promptly told the disciples to keep that revelation a secret. He then notified them that He would be killed and raised from the dead (Luke 9:18-22). Here we see a continuation of Jesus’ life and example of remaining a nobody, a sacrificial servant, while He walked the earth—and that He expected His disciples to do the same.

Jesus did not need an earthbound promotional campaign in order to fulfill His successful ministry. He just needed…Him. Therefore, in contrast to the way we think, He suppressed the promotion of His ministry.

However, there was more to Jesus’ command that His disciples keep His identity a secret. He then notified them that He was going to be rejected by religious leaders, killed, and raised from the dead.

This is successful, powerful ministry?

Then, He said this:

“And he said to all, ‘If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself? For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words, of him will the Son of Man be ashamed when he comes in his glory and the glory of the Father and of the holy angels’” (Luke 9:23–26).

Jesus—the one with the powerful ministry—said that if anyone wants to follow Him, they must give up their very lives.

Is it important that we use the spiritual power He bestows? Yes, of course. The Lord gives believers a measure of it when He wills. However, Jesus told His disciples—and us—that life with Him is not defined by that power—at all.

It is defined by a life of sacrifice.

That is the most powerful life of all—not a life defined by the ministries of healing, deliverance, or prophecy—a life defined by sacrifice for Him.

 

1All Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2001). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

 

P1030932

Do Christians possess spiritual power?

The answer is yes.

And no.

When the answer is “yes,” we should be very, very careful about what we mean.

I would like to do a quick overview of Luke 9 to explain.

In verses 1-9 of this chapter, Jesus “…called the twelve together and gave them power and authority over all demons and to cure diseases, and he sent them out to proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal. And he said to them, ‘Take nothing for your journey, no staff, nor bag, nor bread, nor money; and do not have two tunics. And whatever house you enter, stay there, and from there depart. And wherever they do not receive you, when you leave that town shake off the dust from your feet as a testimony against them. And they departed and went through the villages, preaching the gospel and healing everywhere (Luke 9:1–6). 1

The next three verses have to do with Herod’s confusion about Jesus, so we’re going to skip them, not because you shouldn’t read them but because they don’t pertain to the point at hand.

So, in verses 10-12, the disciples return from their successful ministry, and Jesus “withdrew privately” with them to Bethsaida; but the crowds found out and followed Him. The twelve told Jesus to send the crowd away so they could find lodging and food.

Here’s what Jesus said in response: “You give them something to eat” (Luke 9:13).

I find this interesting. The disciples had had great success in their ministries. They proclaimed the gospel. People were healed everywhere.

Now, they are faced with a large number of hungry people, and Jesus told them to feed them.

Well, they had power, right?

Here’s what I wonder. I wonder if Jesus was trying to bring His disciples back to earth, to show them that He alone was Lord; that He alone possessed spiritual power, in spite of the recent success in their ministry.

The disciples responded by saying that, um, they had limited resources—only five loaves and two fish—so they really couldn’t do what Jesus told them to do.

Yes. Limited resources.

Jesus, the Creator of all things, fed 5,000 men, with those five loaves and two fish (verses 13-14). He had—and has—that kind of creative power.

Men with paltry supplies that were used by the God who can do anything.

Men who went out on a ministry campaign with paltry created-from-dust bodies empowered by a God for whom nothing is impossible.

Do Christians possess spiritual power?

Yes.

And no.

We’ll look further at Luke 9 next week.

 

 

1All Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

 

 

P1030892

I Skyped this morning with a Chinese believer whom we helped disciple when we lived in China. She was a dear sister to us. She translated for us. She was much loved, much trusted. Then, unexpectedly, because of a man from the United States, she left our little group and became an adherent of a legalistic offshoot of Christianity. The legalism to which she now attached herself broke apart the small group of believers there.

She told me this morning that, a few years ago, she left this erroneous offshoot.

Brought to tears, I asked her why.

Her answer: “When they make those laws their most important issue, loves fades.”

My response: “Yes. Legalism kills love.”

I have endeavored, for much of my Christian life, to avoid legalism—the teaching of certain laws, principles, or rules that a Christian must follow in order to be, well, a Christian; to avoid “Jesus plus.” What does “Jesus plus” mean? It means we say that we believe Jesus’ sacrifice is sufficient for one’s salvation, but…you also must add this or that or the other thing.

Jesus plus. Jesus’ sacrifice, then, is no longer sufficient. This is, to use a harsh word, heresy.

I haven’t always succeeded in this anti-legalistic endeavor. I do believe that many truths should be adhered to in order to be a whole-hearted believer in Jesus Christ. However, do I believe that one’s salvation depends on them?

No.

So, please hear my heart in this article.

Please hear the heart of a man who has fallen more and more deeply in love with his Lord and God, by His grace, in the over forty years he has walked with Him. I make no claim to achievement. I have missed the mark many, many times.

Please hear the heart of a man who does not want to displease God—not because I fear He will inflict His wrath on me, but because I love Him.

Perhaps it is more accurate to say that I want to love Him as I should, and I ask for His help to do so.

Please hear the heart of a man who has, by His grace, come to know his Creator more deeply. His King. The God who, in His overwhelming power, deigns to love him; deigns to love everyone.

So, to the issue at hand.

It pains me when Christians say, “OMG.”

It pains me because those who claim to be followers of, lovers of, the Father, of Jesus Christ, throw His name around as if it were nothing, as if it were something akin to “Wowsie.”

God’s name is holy. However, I know that even as I write that, the word “holy” has very little impact because the word has been compromised to the point of meaninglessness. We attach the word “holy” to every word imaginable. I’m sure you need no examples. However, Jesus told us to pray in the knowledge that the Father’s name is holy. The Lord God is perfectly pure, with no spot of evil, darkness, or sin whatsoever. He is pure beyond our comprehension. He has never been, nor ever will be, compromised by sin.

We cannot say this about ourselves.

The perfectly pure, perfectly powerful, perfectly loving God should be honored. Revered. Yes, feared. His name should not be tossed around like a rag, like a dog’s toy.

Please, if you are a follower of Jesus Christ, make this an issue of prayer. Ask the Lord to help you honor Him, not disrespect Him.

He loves you.

He died for you. He absorbed the life-destroying sin that you deserved and then conquered it, giving you life with Him, adoption by Him, eternal life with Him.

Please.

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