Beautiful, but Deadly.

Courtesy to Mathiole (DevientArt)

So many things in this world are aesthetically pleasing but potentially deadly. Brightly coloured plants, flowers and animals scatter the earth that could end our lives if we made direct contact. Often I marvel at these things in creation, beautifully and wonderfully made by my opinion.

They also come to mind when I consider the spread of the gospel. Throughout Paul’s letters in the New Testament he often warns new churches against sugar-coated messages. The genius that allows these messages to survive is that they contain just enough of the truth within them that they could be seen as plausible despite being spiritually deadly. We live in a time where “people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suite their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.” (2 Timothy 4:3-4)

I see these churches that include false messages and promises growing rapidly. People are drawn to them because they appeal to their passions. Often these churches grow faster and larger than those that preach the straight truth.

Why is that? Wouldn’t people want to hear the truth? The gospel is essentially offensive. Since “the god of this world has blinded the minds of unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel”(2 Cor 4:4) we can often be discouraged by our efforts to spread the word in light of the growth in these other churches. But Paul urges that since “this ministry is by the mercy of God, we of not lose heart. But we have renounced disgraceful, underhanded ways. We refuse to practice cunning or to tamper with God’s word, but by the open statement of truth we would commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God.” (2 Corinthians 4:1-3).

In sadness I have seen friends committing their lives to Christ in these churches that have promised things such as healing, earthly comfort and wealth and on seeing none of these fulfilled have been disoriented, discouraged and essentially lost all confidence in our Lord. So I urge you, as Paul does in his letters to “always be sober-minded, endure suffering, so the work of an evangelist, fulfil your ministry.” (2 Tim 4:5). Be aware of the teachings in your church and test them against the word of God.

As an interesting aside, if this interests you, Cole Brown has written a short and relevant account of his challenge to his church. It’s called Lies My Pastor Told Me, Cole pulls apart these lies, often common amongst these churches, using  gospel evidence. Check it out, the e-book is free to download here.

He gives and He takes away.

Something that has really struck me over the past week or so is the combination of God’s sovereignty and human suffering. As I’ve started reading through Job, looking into common lies taught in churches and heard some bad news I’ve come to face the reality that God controls all.

Good news, or bad news first? Let’s start with the bad. Just a few days ago I heard news that a young girl, the sister of one of my old friends, suicided. I can’t say I’ve faced this before. I thought about writing a post about suicide, but what can you say? Not much in the way of practical methods or understanding in order to deal with it.

Here’s the good news: That’s when I realised what God had been showing me and teaching me in the lead up. I’ve been reading up on awful misinterpretations of the Bible and how these are used (very often in fact) in churches. I was planning a few blog posts on these. One of them, just to spoil the surprise, is the idea that “God heals those who have faith”. Without going into too much detail, this claim essentially renders sick people as without faith and without the Holy Spirit. Which is evidently wrong. It claims that the more faith you have, the more healthy you will be. But God doesn’t promise us any of this, in fact, many of the apostles (Paul and Timothy) were sick and were not healed despite their prayers. Instead of health on earth, God promises us spiritual health and that he will get rid of physical sickness and death when he returns.

“So it will be with the resurrection ofthe dead. The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable,; it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body.” 1 Corinthians 15:42-44a.

Secondly, I’ve been reading through Job. Job was this guy that feared and respected God, and was blessed with material wealth – he had lots of stuff, heaps of kids and was known for it. But get this, God says to Satan:

“Have you considered my servant Job, that there is none like him on earth, a blameless and upright man, who fears God and turns away from evil?”

Job 1:8

God suggests Job to Satan. And Satan’s response is he’s great and all ” But stretch out your hand and touch all that he has, and he will curse you to your face.” (v10). So God takes him on his claim and gives Job over to Satan: “all that he has in in your hand. Only against him do not stretch out your hand.” (v12) So off goes Satan and he takes everything that Job has, his stuff burns down, all his kids are killed, his family is destroyed. He has nothing left but himself. And what does he say? Surely, he would prove Satan right.

“Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I shall return. The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.”

Job 1:21

Strange, right? But it makes sense. All those things were given to him as gifts, he existed before them. They were given by God and thus, God has the ability to take them away. Not only this, but he praises God.

Job’s hardship continues as Satan plagues him with illness. Jobs friends come to comfort him but all they can do is sit “with him on the ground seven days and seven nights, for they saw that his suffering was very great.” (2:13).

That’s as far as I’ve read in Job, but I am just so grateful that God is working even in suffering. That even before it happened he directed my attention to these things. He has challenged me to praise him as Job does, because everything on this earth is an undeserved gift, that he can easily and rightfully take away.

Doubts, Questions, Queries, Thoughts…

Just because I know you’re out there, I thought I’d just remind you that the ‘Itching Questions’ tab still exists.

I absolutely love questions. Even when I can’t answer them, they open an opportunity for thought.

Don’t be intimidated because I don’t know anywhere near everything and I never will.

Don’t be afraid because my aim isn’t to cut you down but to draw light on your questions/thoughts from the Bible.

Don’t hesitate because you might learn something you didn’t know before.

Don’t hold back because getting into the depths of the Bible is something I find fascinating and I can guarantee it’s worthwhile.

So there, hopefully that’s reason enough to just ask away.

Everyone’s Religious: whether you like it or not.

 

To some this may come as a shock, maybe not to others, but it’s true: everyone is religious.  People often think of religion as a set of defining rules that guide life based on some supernatural power they call their God(s).

Check out the Oxford dictionary definition of Religion: “a pursuit or interest followed with great devotion.”

I don’t think one can go through life without having an interest that they devote themselves to. Even the atheist, they have devoted themselves to denying the existence of God, a sportsman has a religious attitude towards their sport, or a businessman has devoted themselves to growth and profit, etc etc.

Think about some of the things you devote yourself to, are they worth the effort? Or are they essentially futile and keep you busy while you live on this earth?

I was reading Acts 17 this morning and I was struck by how little humanity has changed, if at all. After Jesus ascended into heaven, his disciples took the truth to the nations. Paul, who was once called Saul, and he was “ravaging the church, and entering house after house, he dragged off men and women and committed them to prison.” (Acts 8:3). He was heading off to Damascus to find “any belonging to the Way, men or women” to “bring them bound back to Jerusalem”(Acts 9:2) when he had a revelation, and became one of the most influential people in the Bible.

So Paul travels around, going into churches, starting churches and just telling anyone and everyone the truth offered through and in Jesus. Acts Chapter 17 records Paul’s work in Athens. So he’s arrived at Athens and walked into the Areopagus to address them. The Areopagus is the judicial body of aristocratic origin that subsequently formed the higher court of modern Greece.

“So Paul, standing in the midst of the Areopagus, said: “Men of Athens, I perceive that in every way you are very religious. For as I passed along and observed objects of your worship, I found also an altar with this inscription, ‘To the unknown god’. What therefore you worship is unknown, this I proclaim to you.”

Acts 17:22-23

Paul’s picked up on all the things these people dedicate themselves to, many of which are man-made and some they can’t even name or know. He addresses Athens because “he saw that the city was full of idols” (Acts 17:16).

“The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives all mankind life and breath and everything.”

Acts 17:25

Paul reveals the real God, who doesn’t need us to help him out, who isn’t restricted to temples. A God who is the creator and the provider and the sustainer providing mankind even with breath. Is that not more worthwhile of devotion than an ‘unknown god’ or a material god? But why devote yourself to a God that has no need of us? Paul continues:

“And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, that they should seek God, in the hope that they might feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us, for

‘In him we live and move and have our being’;

as even some of your own poets have said,

‘we are indeed his offspring.'”

Acts 17:26-28

Why should we bother following God? Because God created us with a purpose, he gave us life so that we should ‘seek God’. But God isn’t this abstract force, we are made in his image, ‘his offspring’. We exist because of him, so isn’t that reason enough to exist for him?

“Being then God’s offspring, we ought not to think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone, an image formed by the art and imagination of man. The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.”

Acts 17:29-31

Not only should we seek God, but there are consequences for your decisions. Because we are in his image, his ‘offspring’, we shouldn’t replace him with things he’s made. How ridiculous to think that a material object that God has created is more worthy of devotion or pursuit than the being that created it!

God has not just left us with no direction as to how to come to him, he sent us his son Jesus Christ (who is the man appointed to judge). He’s given us the opportunity to repent and have assurance, even through judgement, despite the fact we’ve offended him by replacing him with these inanimate objects. This judgement is guaranteed by Jesus resurrection. He is often referred to as the ‘firstborn among the dead’ (Col 1:18). Everyone will be judged based upon this decision. So what are our options then?

“Now when they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some mocked. But others said, “We will hear you again about this”. So Paul went out of their midst. But some men joined him and believed.”

Acts 17:32-34

A claim like this demands a response. Either you can see a vivid reality of judgement and a conviction of your offense toward the Creator and repent, or you can see this as the folly of ignorant and mislead people. Think about it. This decision has real consequence, eternal consequence.

So what have you placed where the living God of the universe should be? Or do you think He is unworthy of that position and you would prefer to devote yourself to the created, the mortal and fleeting? It’s up to you, but it’s not a decision you should treat lightly.

Remembrance

Spurgeon: the Remembrance of Christ.

Forgetting Christ: a fault in us all – we forget him because we are still sinful and because the things of the world are so near and heaven is so far.

Remember his person: we may not have had the experience of knowing Christ in person but we know him in spirit. Just as the apostles did, we should remember the life he suffered for us.

Benefits of remembering: Remembering Christ gives you hope in struggles with sin or when being persecuted for Him. In the face of death and judgement remembering Christ turns despair into joy – you are going to meet your God.

Aids to memory: The Lords supper should be a time of remembering what Christ has done for you. The Holy Spirit and God’s word, the Bible, are also aids for remembering Christ.

 

 

The Heart of the Problem

So I’ve started the 60in60 challenge, yeah it’s late I know, but I thought I’d just do a quick post every now and then on what I get out of the sermons. All sermons, for each day are available for download here.

Day 1 – The Heart: Mark Driscoll

Why do we sin?

  • Because our heart is riddled with sin. Religious people tend to think that they are pure and the world is evil. But Christians think differently, are hearts are evil and so too, then, is the world.

What can we do about it?

  • Behaviour Modification: you can change how you act but it doesn’t really fix the root of the problem.
  • Regeneration: Other religions are all about behaviour modification, but Christians are all on about getting a new heart.
“I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees.” Ezekial 36:26-27
Christianity isn’t about dealing with issues by changing how you behave and fulfilling certain laws. It’s about getting a replacement heart, so you can start afresh and find joy and desire in living life the way it’s meant to be lived.