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I heard a couple of sermons on Sunday, one of which spoke of “The King”, and the other that addressed holiness. They put me in mind of something I wrote many years ago.  I guess I never published it, because I had to dig it out of an old notebook.

 

Church Government

 

I saw a picture in my mind of the British Parliament, and I sensed the question, “Is England a Monarchy or a Democracy?”  Now this seemed to be a fairly unspiritual question, but I began to ponder my answer.  My immediate impulse was to say it was a monarchy, but the picture of the parliament reminded me that it was in fact a democracy.   While England does have a “Royal Family”, they actually have no real function within the day-to-day running of the country.  While some might claim that they still have a “monarchy”, it is not their way of government.

 

As I continued to meditate in this vein another question came; “Why are the people of England willing to pay the expense of this royal family, when they serve no real purpose in the governing of their country?”  I sensed that the answer lies in the people’s desire to be associated with the monarchy. That all of the pomp and trappings of royalty make the people feel royal about themselves, as though this distinguishes them from other countries.  It occurred to me that if the people of England really believed in the concept of a monarchy (i.e. that the royal family was God ordained and bred for leadership) that there wouldn’t be anyone else they would want to run their country; but instead they have chosen democracy as their form of government.

 

Certainly as an American I can appreciate democracy, because as a citizen I want my beliefs and desires to be reflected in the leadership of my community, my state and this nation.  There is nothing wrong with the British choosing democracy over a monarchy, but their desire to maintain the trappings of royalty creates an interesting illusion; it helps them to view themselves as one thing when they’re really something else.

 

As I continued to pray, I sensed the Lord say that this is a picture of His church.  He said that though we claim Him as “King”, He is rarely allowed to be involved in the decision making process, or the day to day affairs of the church; that decisions are primarily made by the people and for the people; that though we desire to be associated with His majesty, we do not necessarily desire to submit to His authority, and that though His name appears on the letterhead, the words of the message do not necessarily come from Him.

 

In his letter to the Colossians, Paul warned of the body becoming disconnected from the Head; he said, “see to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ”.  It seems that much of popular Christian culture has based itself on “the basic principles of this world”, and that in attempt to become relevant to the world, we’ve conformed ourselves to what we think will be found appealing in the marketplace.  Much of the “Christian” guidance (i.e. books, tapes, seminars…) on subjects like marriage, child rearing, inner healing… are more rooted in psychology than in God’s word, and we’ve even begun to study the corporate world for marketing strategies to be deployed within the church.  Based on these strategies, which put “what the people want” at the forefront, we are now seeing new interpretations (read; not necessarily translations) of scripture, which subtly distort anything which might offend someone who has adapted to the current cultural view.

 

In the book of Revelation there are messages to seven churches, which seem to be representative of the end time churches.  Within those the Lord points out some positive things, but He also gives stern warnings about the things He has against them.  He warns about forsaking our first love (i.e. allowing something other than Christ to be at the forefront of the church); that we must being willing to endure hardship and suffering (i.e. be willing to forsake our comfort); against adhering to false doctrines, which allow us to indulge our flesh and still believe that we are righteous before a Holy God; against tolerating sexual immorality within the church; against falling asleep, and not fulfilling His role for the church and against being lukewarm in our relationship with Him.  It is hard to deny that all of these things are prominently featured within modern Christianity.

 

At the end of each message there is a promise, but those promises are reserved for those who overcome these things.  Despite warnings throughout the New Testament, the Western church seems to be falling into many of these deadly patterns.  Our only hope is to re-connect to the Head, to tune our ears to His Holy Spirit; to renew our relationship with our “First Love”, to seek the Lord while He may be found, and to be like Jesus (e.g. to only do what we see the Father doing first).

 

Within this portion of Revelation, the one group the Lord doesn’t seem to have an issue with is the church of Philadelphia, which He says kept His word and did not deny His name.  This seems to be such a basic principle and yet this is the only church of which He could say this.  If we would choose to be that church, the promises of God are waiting for us there.  “To him who overcomes, I will give the right to sit with Me on My throne, just as I overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne.  He, who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.”

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Back in the early 1970s, Motown artists, “The Undisputed Truth” had a big hit with their song, “Smiling Faces Sometimes”. I appreciated the “Sometimes” in the title, because more often than not I believe there is something genuine behind a smile, but not always.  Aside from being a great record to listen to, the song’s lyrics contained a warning that is still worth remembering today. They said:

 

Smiling faces sometimes pretend to be your friend

Smiling faces show no traces of the evil that lurks within

Smiling faces, smiling faces sometimes they don’t tell the truth

Smiling faces, smiling faces tell lies and I got proof

 

later it adds

 

Beware of the handshake

that hides the snake

I’m telling you beware of the pat on the back,

it just might hold you back

 

The fact that people can be deceptive isn’t exactly breaking news, but within our current cultural climate I’m sensing a growing level of susceptibility toward soothing and sympathetic voices. Given the terse rhetoric that dominates our societal landscape, it’s not hard to understand the desire for a friendlier, more welcoming tone, but like the song says, appearances can be deceiving.

 

Beware of the sympathetic voice that encourages you to see yourself as a victim, it may be the thing that keeps you from overcoming the past

Beware of the compassionate voice that tells you that you can’t help being addicted, it may just want to be your new drug (e.g. Suboxone, Methadone…) supplier

Beware of the benevolent politician who offers to take care of you, they may well be working on their own private pension plan

Beware of the zealot who offers you a scapegoat for all your troubles, they may be distracting you from the real enemy

 

Remember that not everyone who agrees with you is for you, and not everyone who disagrees with you is against you.

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Growing up in mainstream Christianity, the story of Adam and Eve seemed pretty basic. God created a paradise, gave mankind one simple rule (i.e. don’t eat of the forbidden tree), and then we didn’t follow it.  Boom!  Sin enters the picture, and we’re thrown out of the garden.  Of course, there was the snake and the fig leaves, but it’s not rocket science.  Eat the good fruit, not the bad fruit; don’t listen to the guy telling you otherwise; do what God tells you, or lose paradise.

 

It’s not exhaustive, but you get the idea. It all comes down to this battle between good and evil, and you’d better end up on the good side if you hope to get to heaven.  Sure, later on you’ll hear that we’re all saved by grace, but from the beginning it’s pretty clear that what God is really after is obedience.

 

Years later, when I finally revisited this story on my own, I was surprised at how different it seemed. Most important, was the realization that the choice Adam and Eve faced in the garden wasn’t between the fruit of what is good, and of what is evil, it was fruit from the Tree of Life, or fruit from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.

 

Don’t get me wrong, I remembered what the trees were called, I just never attached any importance to it. Clearly the Tree of Life was the “good” fruit and the other was the “evil” fruit.  What else do you really need to know?  But upon further review, I realized God was saying something more here.

 

The tree of life is pretty easy, it’s really just a picture of Jesus. It offers us provision from the Giver of life, and like any fruit tree, we’ll need to come back daily to sustain ourselves.  He became our daily bread.  He is the vine and we are the branches.  The fruit is good because He is good.

 

Less obvious is the “Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil”. I mean, doesn’t God want us to know the difference between good and evil.  After all, if it’s really about a battle between the light and darkness, isn’t this essential information?  Why should God forbid that we eat of this tree?

 

It’s the snake that answers this question. He tells Eve that if they eat of the fruit, they’ll become like God.  In other words, they won’t have to rely on Him for this knowledge, they’ll be able to decide for themselves what is good and what is evil.  It was the choice between being completely dependent upon God or living life on their own terms.  Sin entered in when mankind chose the latter.  The punishment wasn’t because God was mad at them, He was actually giving them the life they chose; a life lived by their own wits, and sweat, and sense of what was right.

 

Repeatedly in scripture, God sets before us life and death, and encourages us to choose life. That’s what He was doing in the garden as well.  Jesus is “the way, the truth and the life”, and the Tree of Life is the way to life.  Conversely, the scriptures tell us that there is a way that seems right to a man, and that it ultimately leads to death.  That’s where the fruit of the forbidden tree takes us.

 

This whole discussion is important because, whether we recognize it or not, He sets this same choice before us every day. If it was really just a question of good versus evil, and of being obedient to the commandments, then the Rich Young Ruler shouldn’t have gone away disappointed. Jesus didn’t dispute this man’s claim of obedience, He simply required something more of him.

 

He said that people would know us by our fruit, and that the only way to produce that fruit was to abide in the vine. He warned us that simply calling Him Lord, and doing good things in His name wasn’t what He was after.  He told us that we should live by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.  Today, just as He did in the garden, He sets before us life and death.  Let us choose life.

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One of the more positive effects of the technology revolution has been the flexibility it affords us in handling information; but this free flow of data hasn’t been without it’s perils. Accessible from so many different sources, stored in countless locations, and available in such diverse formats, we’re seeing that information is highly susceptible to corruption and manipulation.  Indeed, the emerging generation has grown up in an era where those who don’t like the history of something, can easily edit it, or simply delete the file altogether.  You see this tendency in personal interactions, where “Friends” are unfriended, conversation chains are deleted, and any photographic evidence is scrubbed from the memory card.  On a larger scale, there is a growing trend toward expunging the names and memories of those historical figures that don’t measure up to current sensibilities in regard to what is acceptable.

 

To be sure, I can understand the desire to avoid the uglier aspects of our history, both personally, and as a culture. Yet, I’m concerned that the unwitting consequence of so effectively erasing these unpleasant chapters is the likelihood that we will fail to learn the lessons taught by them, thus dooming us to repeat them some time in the future.

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The Apostle Paul said, “When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child; but when I became a man, I put away childish things.”  Throughout the epistles he exhorts us to do the same.  Recently, I’ve sensed the Lord highlighting some of the childish things that need to be put away.

 

First and foremost, a child is self-centered.  A baby has no capacity to concern itself with whether its parents are tired or busy or sick, it just knows that it’s not comfortable (e.g. hungry, wet, gassy, tired) and it demands immediate attention.  Presumably, as we get older, our awareness of other people and their struggles grows, but in times of trouble we can easily return to our infancy, becoming blind and numb to anything other than our own wants, needs, or pain.

 

As a baby grows into a child it becomes increasingly responsive to external stimuli, like light, color, noise, music, touch… and through this it learns to interact with the world around it.  Eventually, these external forces begin to shape the child’s concept of life and identity.  But as we grow in spiritual maturity, we’re called to become less responsive to what is seen (which is perishing), and more sensitive to what is unseen (which is eternal).

 

Young children tend to easily fall into covetousness when they see something they want, jealousy when someone else has what they want, and to have tantrums, when they don’t get what they want.  It is not a given that age and experience will cause us to grow past these things.  Often, we simply become more subtle in the ways we express them.

 

Children are also famous for their impatience and fertile imaginations, both of which can become powerful tools in the hands of the adversary.

 

Indeed, the scripture admonishes us to humbly esteem others above ourselves, to bless and serve those around us, and to be “quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry”.   It commands us not to covet, warns us against the “acts of the flesh” (including jealousy, selfish ambition, fits of rage) and reminds us that “self-control” is a fruit of the Holy Spirit. It tells us that we must cast down our imaginations, to learn to “wait on the Lord”, and to embrace patience as a reflection of Christ’s character.  Throughout the New Testament it speaks of the transformation that God desires to work in each of us, and He assures us that He is faithful to complete this good work that He’s begun in us.

 

It’s likely that none of us want to think of ourselves as being childish, but I sense the Lord challenging us to allow Him to reveal the “childish things” that we still need to put away.  To uncover those instances where we’ve become callous and numb to other people’s pain, or those circumstances that we’ve unwittingly become slaves to, or those things that we’re coveting and maybe even making into idols.  To show us those places within our heart where self-pity, jealousy, and bitterness dwell; and to expose the imaginings that have replaced the genuine prophetic vision He means to give us.

 

Like David did in the Psalms, we need to invite Him to examine our hearts.  “Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts.  See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting”.  Amen.

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The proverbial “We” or “Us” (i.e. people who share our values/worldview) have a tendency to put our hate in a different category than the hate spread by the proverbial “Them” (i.e. people who don’t share our values/worldview). We see “Them” as haters, and view their hate as toxic. While we consider our brand of hate as being justified, and maybe even virtuous. Whether it is a hatred of Donald Trump, or Nancy Pelosi, of religion, or godlessness, of Socialism, or Capitalism, of Conservatives or Liberals or any one of the million other things we choose to hate, it all mixes together to create the same poisonous atmosphere. Martin Luther King Jr. observed that, “Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that”. We won’t get better as a society by continuing to berate, mock, taunt, protest, boycott, slander, threaten and attack each other. As Dr. King rightly concluded, “We must learn to live together as brothers or perish together as fools.”   

 

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More sickening than the Pornographers and the Sex Traffickers are those who create the incredible demand for what they do.

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