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Flee Idolatry to True Freedom   Leave a comment

Either consciously or subconsciously, many of us prefer to take the easy way out. Instead of working to bless God and others, we choose a selfish prison of our own making. Instead of giving God the worship that He alone deserves, we worship ourselves. Instead of serving others, we seek our own good. When this takes place there is community jeopardy.

Live to Glorify God

Image result for image of idolatryIn the section we’re studying today, 1 Corinthians 10:14-11:1, Paul concluded a three-chapter discussion on the freedom that God has given Christians. The passage falls into two major sections. In 1 Corinthians 10:14-22 there is a stern warning and in 1 Corinthians 10:23-11:1 there is emphathic counsel on how to use our freedom to God’s glory, for the good of other people. Paul understood that true freedom is putting God and others first.

FLEE IDOLATRY

So thenmy dear friendsflee from idolatry. 1 Corinthians 10:14

Remember that this section follows after a discussion of temptation. We should be careful to remember that the Bible was not written as a series of chapters and verses, but, in the case of 1 Corinthians, a letter from a man who knew his audience well. When Paul followed up his discussion of temptation with the command to “Free Idolatry” it’s not a suggestion. Idolatry is sin because God is the only true God, and He is a jealous lover Who will not share our affections with anyone or anything else. God is still the God Who told the Israelites to have no other gods before Him. Thus, Paul began with a straightforward command: “Therefore, my beloved, flee from idolatry.” The word “therefore” concludes the previous discussion in 1 Corinthians 8:1-10:13 and moves toward a conclusion. Notice Paul called his readers “my beloved,” even though they are practicing idolatry? We don’t usually feel loving toward students who vex us, but Paul loved the saints of Corinth (see 1 Corinthians 1:2). Thus, he wanted to remind his readers how precious they were to him even when he spoke harshly to them.

Image result for image of idolatryOur pastor recently said he feels a shred of guilt whenever he preaches on particularly challenging portions of God’s word. His flesh is weak and sinful just like ours, so he wants to cut people slack and be gracious. Even pastors want to be liked and to make people feel good about themselves. Whatever we might prefer, the Bible doesn’t spin things like we do.

Soft preaching produces hard people and hard preaching produces soft people.” I like this! Therefore, the most loving thing that I can do is to affirm you in Christ, yet, drill us all between the eyes when necessary. (Pastor Mark Driscoll of Mars Hll Church, Ballard, WA)

The command in 1 Corinthians 10:14 is to “flee” idolatry (see also 1 Corinthians 10:7). “Idolatry” in the Old Testament was the image and worship of pagan gods. We’re still idolaters in the 21st century,  but we’re just more sophisticated idolaters. Our idols appear more innocent since they are people, possessions, work, and leisure. If anyone or anything besides God gets our best thoughts, feelings, and energy we’re idolaters.

Identifying Idolatry:

  • Do you know sports or the entertainment industry better than your Bible? That information will mean nothing in eternity.
  • Do you spend more time at your hobbies than you do serving Christ? You will have to answer for why Christ and His church meant so little to you during your brief sojourn on earth.
  • Do you spend more time surfing the web than you do with people? (Whoa, I am personally guilty here!). You will have neglected eternal souls that you could have impacted.
  • Are you so driven to succeed in your job that you don’t have time to stop and pray? You will never be satisfied.
  • Are you bent on making just a little more money for yourself and your family? We all need money to live, but if you make money your god, it will plague you like the devil.

 

I am speaking to thoughtful peopleConsider what I say.  1 Corinthians 10:15

Image result for image of idolatryPaul was an apostle of Christ, yet he admonished these sinning saints to judge his words for themselves (see also 1 Corinthians 14:39-40). If this was true 2,000 years ago in Corinth, this is certainly true for us today. God has called you and me to study the Scriptures for ourselves. He expects that we will be wise and discerning because the Holy Spirit lives inside of those who have trusted in Christ.

Paul asked seven rhetorical questions, inviting the Corinthians to carefully consider his words.

Is not the cup of blessing that we bless a sharing in the blood of Christ? Is not the bread that we break a sharing in the body of Christ? Because there is one bread, we who are many are one bodyfor we all share the one bread. Look at the people of Israel. Are not those who eat the sacrifices partners in the altar? 1 Corinthians 10:16-18

First, Paul used the Lord’s Supper and Israel’s sacrificial meals as an analogy to demonstrate that God’s people have always had one God. He used this to warn the Israelites against idolatry, informing them and us that any kind of idolatrous involvement contradicts our identity in Jesus Christ. The communion table is a symbol of our relationship with Jesus Christ, Who is the very source of our spiritual life and our unity as brothers and sisters in His body. When we partake together of the elements at the communion table, it involves a sharing (koinonia) with the Lord Jesus and also with our brothers and sisters in the body of Christ. Similarly, as ancient Israel worshipped with sacrificial meals in the temple in Jerusalem (Deuteronomy 14:22-27), they communed with the Lord through the forgiveness associated with those animal sacrifices. Both believing Jews under the old covenant and followers of Jesus Christ under the new covenant are defined in terms of spiritual identity by what they eat together. Those meals aren’t just religious rituals…they are a picture of their relationship with the Lord of the universe. Symbolically, when we come to the Lord’s table, we are saying Jesus is our source of life and strength. This sacred meal defines who we are in Jesus Christ – dead to sin by the power of His resurrection.

Am I saying that idols or food sacrificed to them amount to anything? NoI mean that what the pagans sacrifice is to demons and not to GodI do not want you to be partners with demons. You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demonsYou cannot take part in the table of the Lord and the table of demons. 1 Corinthians 19-21

Idolatry conflicts with our identity in Christ and so incurs the wrath of God. No Christian can participate in demon activity with impunity. Christianity cannot be a mere religious hobby to us. No Christian can dip his flag or lower his colors by accommodating what he believes to another religion. We cannot inject other religious beliefs into that relationship. Compromise of truth and credence to other religions always weakens our faith. If we compromise truth to “get along with the world”, we might want to ask ourselves if we’re even saved. I’m not saying you’re not saved. I’m saying you should examine your cozy relationship with the world and ask yourself “Does this actually align with what God has required?” and if it doesn’t, to get right with God even if that makes you out of kilter with the world. Remember that we follow a Savior that the world crucified. Being out of kilter with it doesn’t look so bad when you view it from that perspective.

Or are we trying to provoke the Lord to jealousy? Are we really stronger than he is? 1 Corinthians 10:22

Image result for image of an american flag and soldierIn the Old Testament, marriage was often used as a metaphor to describe the Israelites’ relationship with the Lord in the context of their flirting with idols. Idolatry was equivalent to the Israelites’ prostituting themselves to another, foreign lover, and as a result the Lord became jealous. This is to be expected. If your spouse said he or she had another love interest, you would see red and pour out your wrath. Similarly, any form of idolatrous involvement provokes the jealousy of God. All through the Old Testament, God identifies Himself as a “jealous God.” His jealousy is not like ours. It’s totally consistent with His character. It’s also completely committed to what’s best for us. God’s jealousy comes from His loving ownership of us. He loves us too much for us to get away with whatever rebellion or idolatry we’re pursuing. He will intervene; He will crash into our life and it will be painful. He will do whatever it takes to get our attention, because the answer to the question is, we are not stronger than He is. No matter what the rebellion is or how entrenched it is, He is more powerful!

Do you think this lesson was intolerant? You’re right and I will not apologize for that. God requires us to be zealous for Him. You and I should be righteously zealous for God’s name and reputation. We should be zealous for God’s people—both those who are already His and those who are not yet in the family. When Paul was preparing to establish the church at Corinth, God gave him a very encouraging word: “I have many people in this city” (Acts 18:10). Well, there weren’t any Christians there yet. What God meant is that there were many who were destined to become Christians, but they needed to be evangelized. Do we have a passion for souls? Do we have a passion for making disciples? Do we have a zeal for serving God’s people? True freedom is putting God and others first.

Then, too, you and I should be zealous for God’s house, which in the New Testament is His church … not the building, but the congregation. Do you remember what Jesus said, “Zeal for Your house will consume me?” (John 2:17; Psalms 69:9) How do you rate in this area? In every church there are those whose zeal has waned and even evaporated. For many American Christians it might well be said, “Zeal for my job has consumed me,” or “Zeal for sports has consumed me,” or “Zeal for my family has consumed me,” rather than zeal for God’s house. May we focus our zeal on that which will last for eternity, when the rest of these things are burnt up on Judgment Day. True freedom is putting God and others first.

Sent   1 comment

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My look at politics in the run-up to the March primaries does not mean I’ve lost sight of my main topic. I’m still looking at how Christianity ought to interact with the world.

On the eve of his crucifixion, Jesus prays to his Father in John 17:14-19:

I have given them your word (or message), and the world has hated them, because they do not belong to the world (or “because they are not of the world”),  just as I do not belong to the world. I am not asking you to take them out of the world, but that you keep them safe (protect them)  from the evil oneThey do not belong to the world just as I do not belong to the world. Set them apart (consecrate or sanctify)  in the truth; your word is truth. (Jesus had already introduced the idea of practicing the truth in John 8:32)  Just as you sent me into the world, so I sent them into the world. And I set myself apart on their behalf, so that they too may be truly set apart. (see John 10:36, Exodus 40-13, Leviticus 8:30 and 2 Chronicles 5:11 for more discussion).

In a real sense Christians are aliens in this world. Accepting Christ’s salvation sets us apart from the rest of humanity. We are no longer dead in sin, but made alive through Christ. That changes how we see the world and it should very much change how we interact with the world. If it doesn’t, we may need to go back and look at that time when we “accepted” Christ’s salvation. Did we … really?

Jesus was pretty clear here that He doesn’t not want His followers to be “of the world”. He wasn’t and we should follow His example.

But Jesus was equally clear that He wasn’t asking God to take His disciples out of the world. He prayed for them to be “sent” into the world.

In a very real sense, we are not of this world, but we have been sent into this world with a mission to the world. In other words, we can’t disassociate from this world. While it is not our job to save the world (that is far too God-like for our puny humanity), we are ordered by the Great Commission to do certain things in God’s name. We are sent into the world on mission to advance the advance the gospel through disciplemaking.

Jesus’s true followers have not only been crucified to the world, but also raised to new life and sent back in to point the way to freedom for others. We’ve been rescued from the darkness and given the Light not merely to flee the darkness, but to guide our steps as we go back into the world to rescue others.

Paradox   2 comments

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A paradox is a true statement that is either contrary to conventional wisdom or is seemingly absurd. They can be a useful tool in teaching because they require careful thought to understand, but most people initially reject a paradox as untrue because it offends their presuppositions. That shows a lack of thinking and I’m all about examining my presuppositions.

Chew on a paradox for a bit and you begin to realize your assumptions are not necessarily correct.

An example of a paradox is that something must die before life can emerge. Well, that sounds absurd. Death is the end of life, so that statement can’t be true.

1 Corinthians 15:36-38 reminds us that a seed must be buried (die) before it can germinate into a plant. Paul uses this paradoxical concept of death preceding life so that Christians might understand that in order to gain eternal life, our mortal bodies must die. Paul reused the concept to describe Christian conversion in Romans 6:3-7 and in Romans 5:18 to explain why God chose to die as Jesus.

The Bible contains many paradoxes and some people find that confusing, but they exist to make us think and learn.

Which brings us to my subject – in the world, but not of it. I ran across an statement on the Internet where someone said “Jesus never said that.” Well, actually, He did. His prayer for his followers in John 17:14-16 was that His followers would not be part of the world. Later, His apostles reiterated this concept (see 1 John 2:15-17, James 4:4, Romans 12:2). We are not to love the world or the things of it. Friendship with the world separates us from God. Christians do not conform our lives to the ways of the world.

But we live in the world and we’re here for a reason. Our exemplar Jesus came into the world of humankind (John 1:10), but He did not become of the world (John 17:14). Rejecting the sinful lifestyle of the world does not mean we reject the sinners trapped in those lifestyle (1 Corinthians 5:9-13).

We live in this world, but Christians cannot let the world influence us.

But so many of us do.

There is a strong trend in churches today to exist in the world and be accepted by the world by adopting the world’s attitudes. Denominations change their doctrines to be more acceptable to the world. Tolerance of sin is now advanced as a virtue. Apologists for this new paradigm twist the Bible and ignore whole passages in order to cozy up to the world.

The Bible foretold this would happen. Stay tuned for the discussion.

 

 

Illustrated Man   1 comment

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So lest we think that I’m perfect, I’m going to tell a tale on myself and I hope I’ll make you laugh while I’m proving a point about obscuritism in the Christian faith.

 

Brad and I love to go to Chena Hot Springs, a natural hot springs near Fairbanks that has been developed into a resort. The last time we were there, I had the opportunity to obscure the Christian faith with some cultural baggage of my own … but I didn’t … accidentally.

 

I was sitting in the hot tub when a man came out of the dressing room who deserved the title of Illustrated Man. You know the type. He was covered in tattoos. I consider tattooing to be a form of self-mutilation. I don’t have any and I don’t get why anyone would want to have one. If there’s an image you especially love, put it on a t-shirt and wear it. If you love it a lot, have multiple t-shirts made. Tattoos are painful and while they’re no longer exactly permanent, they aren’t easily removed. They also are implicated in some auto-immune disorders and, since my dad had psoriasis, tattoos are a dumb idea for me. I just don’t get the entire fad.

This guy’s tattoos were artistically lovely, by the way. Really nice colors and well-drawn images. But my brain was silently judging him as he sat down on the edge of the hot tub. The water was particularly hot that night as CHS is a variable spring and it took him several minutes to acclimate to slide into the water. This gave me an opportunity to actually look at his tattoos and be corrected by God just a little bit.

Every image — and he had many — was Biblically-based. He had Daniel in the lions’ den, the three amigos in the fiery furnace with the angel, Paul the apostle holding the cloaks at Stephen’s murder, then blinded on the road to Damacus, being stoned outside of Lystra, preaching on Mars Hill …. I didn’t mean to stare, but I couldn’t help myself.

So, just as I was working up the courage to ask him about his ink, a college student came over to do just that. This kid had tattoos too, but they weren’t nearly so uplifting. The Illustrated Man then shared the gospel with this kid using his ink. I sat in awe, judging myself, as I listened to him. According to Brad, the two exchanged phone numbers in the locker room and the Illustrated Man was going to take the kid to church on Sunday.

So, I’m still not going to run out to get a tattoo or three and I still hope my family members don’t either, but it was a lesson in obscuritism for me.

My cultural bias is against tattoos, but God apparently doesn’t care and this guy is using his ink as a means for evangelism. Sometimes we need to re-evaluate our positions based on what God is trying to teach … which does not mean we should go so far to the other direction that we enter into syncretism.

All That Is In This World   2 comments

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1 John 2:12-19

Although all Scripture is from God, some writers emphasized different aspects of faith than did other writers. John emphasized God’s love and how that should motivate Christians as the interacted with God and the world.

I’m not surprised by that. Peter concentrated on action because Peter was clearly a man of action. John was Jesus’ best friend, so of course, he knew something about the love of Jesus and therefore, the love of God.

There is a huge difference between love and lust. I know that gets short shrift in our world today, but God and His scribes were careful to mark the distinction for our benefit.

YIELDING TO THE LUST OF THE FLESH IS LOVE OF THE WORLD AND NOT LOVE THE FATHER.

Remember in my last post, I showed how John taught that you cannot love the Father and the world at the same time.

“Lust” refers to a strong desire or impulse and the New Testament almost always casts it in a negative connotation. “Flesh” refers to our fallen nature, which is not eradicated at salvation (see Romans 7). “The lust of the flesh” includes any strong desire or inclination of our fallen nature, including sexual sins, but also all activities that stem from the self-seeking, Godless nature we are born with.

Many natural desires are legitimate if they are kept under control and used in the sphere for which God designed them. The desires for food, companionship, sex, and security are all legitimate when we keep them within God’s limits and when we do not allow them to usurp His rightful place in our hearts. They become sinful when we seek to fulfill them in selfish, unGodly ways.

YIELDING TO THE LUST OF THE EYES IS LOVE OF THE WORLD AND NOT LOVE OF THE FATHER.

This term points to the sinful desires of greed and covetousness, which is when you want what you do not have which others possess. It also refers to the desires that stem from false, superficial values. The world appeals to us to find satisfaction in superficial “stuff” which never can satisfy:

  • Buy this bigger, newer home and you will be happy!
  • Find a beautiful woman or a handsome man and you will be satisfied.
  • Get the perfect job and have plenty of money and your inner longings will be quenched.

The rich and famous provide plenty of evidence through their lives that none of these things deliver what they promise.

YIELDING TO THE BOASTFUL PRIDE OF LIFE IS LOVE OF THE WORLD AND NOT LOVE THE FATHER.

While the lust of the flesh and lust of the eyes refer to the desire to have what you do not have, the boastful pride of life is all about the sinful pride you feel over what you do have. It is the desire to be better than others so that you can glory in yourself and your accomplishments.

Yeah, doing your best in school, athletics, or at work in order to be a good steward of God’s gifts and to bring glory to Him is a good thing, but it’s easy to forget that He gave you everything that you have (1 Corinthians 4:7) and to start boasting in your achievements and possessions as if you attained these things by your own intelligence or hard work. Nebuchadnezzar did that when he said (Daniel 4:30), “Is this not Babylon the great, which I myself have built as a royal residence by the might of my power and for the glory of my majesty?” God immediately drove him out into the fields to live as a wild beast until his heart was humbled!

We all battle these temptations daily, and many of us fail regularly. John’s point is that if you go on yielding to the lust of the flesh and eyes, and the boastful pride of life as your way of life, you are not maintaining love for the Father. That is a clear example that you are maintaining love for the world. Worldly people wallow in these things while God’s children fight them continually. How do we maintain our love for the Father?

1 John 2:17

To obey the Father is to maintain your love for Him. The opposite of loving the world is not only loving the Father, but also obeying Him—“doing the will of God.” “The will of God” here does not refer to following His direction in your life. That’s actually pretty easily faked by both Satan and your own ego. Instead, verse 17 refers to obeying God’s commandments as revealed in His Word. As Jesus said, “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments” (John 14:15). “If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love; just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love” (John 15:10).

A key reason to obey God’s commandments is the transitory nature of this world and its lusts in contrast to the eternal promise of heaven.

And the world is passing away with all its desires, but the person who does the will of God remains forever. 1 John 2:17

The world is perishing, dying from its own corruption. If you love the world or the things in the world, you will lose them all at death. All that the worldly person lives for is gone in an instant and means nothing in light of eternity. Even if you have attained your worldly desires, what good are they at death? If you do God’s will, you will abide with Him in heaven throughout all eternity!

Think about This!

In 1989, Tom Sine wrote some insightful words that apply just as much now, as then (Christianity Today [3/17/89], p. 52):

Whatever commands our time, energy, and resources commands us. And if we are honest, we will admit that our lives really aren’t that different from those of our secular counterparts. I suspect that one of the reasons we are so ineffective in evangelism is that we are so much like the people around us that we have very little to which we can call them. We hang around church buildings a little more. We abstain from a few things. But we simply aren’t that different. We don’t even do hedonism as well as the folks around us … but we keep on trying.

As a result of this unfortunate accommodation, Christianity is reduced to little more than a spiritual crutch to help us through the minefields of the upwardly mobile life. God is there to help us get our promotions, our house in the suburbs, and our bills paid. Somehow God has become a co-conspirator in our agendas instead of our becoming a co-conspirator in His. Something is seriously amiss. Tom Sine, Christianity Today, March 17, 1989, page 52

Recognizing the World   2 comments

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Any discussion of worldliness and its affect on the Christian life has got to define some terms and that requires a look at Scripture. I can’t think of a better Biblical writer to turn to than Jesus’ best friend, John, to answer the question of what is “the world”, in the Biblical sense.

I am writing to you, little children, that your sins have been forgiven because of his name. I am writing to you, fathers, that you have known him who has been from the beginning. I am writing to you, young people, that you have conquered the evil oneI have written to you, children, that you have known the Father. I have written to you, fathers, that you have known him who has been from the beginning. I have written to you, young people, that you are strong, and the word of God resides in you, and you have conquered the evil one.

Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him, because all that is in the world (the desire of the flesh and the desire of the eyes and the arrogance produced by material possessions) is not from the Father, but is from the world. And the world is passing away with all its desires, but the person who does the will of God remains forever

Children, it is the last hour, and just as you heard that the antichrist is coming, so now many antichrists have appeared. We know from this that it is the last hour. They went out from us, but they did not really belong to us, because if they had belonged to us,they would have remained with us. But they went out from us to demonstrate that all of them do not belong to us. 1 John 2:12:19

The Greek word for “world,” cosmos, occurs 185 times in the New Testament. John used it 105 of those times (78 in his Gospel, 24 in his epistles, and 3 in Revelation). It originally meant “order,” and it came to refer to the universe as the well-ordered creation of God. It may refer to the physical world (John 1:10) or to the people of the world collectively (John 3:16; 1 John 2:2). In those senses, there is nothing wrong with loving the world. God created the earth for us and we should enjoy God’s creation. We should also love sinful people who need to know the Savior.

John also used the exact same word to refer to the evil, organized system under Satan, which operates through unbelieving people who are God’s enemies. He wrote (1 John 5:19):

“We know that we are of God, and that the whole world lies in the power of the evil one.” Jesus spoke of the world hating both Him and those who follow Him (John 15:18-19).

This world (or we might say “society”) operates on the basis of ungodly thoughts, attitudes, motives, values, and goals (Isaiah 55:8-9). It does not seek to promote God’s glory or to submit to His sovereign authority. It is in this sense that we must not love the world.

When John added that we are not to love “the things of the world,” he did not mean that you must hate your house and your car, although I am personally not speaking to my washing machine at the moment. This is why I advocate reading passages of the Bible instead of verses. John elaborated on those “things” in 2:16 as, “the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life.” In other words, worldliness is primarily an attitude that is motivated by wrong desires and the wrongful promotion of self. A poor man who does not have many possessions may be very worldly because he desires those things as the key to happiness. A wealthy man may not be worldly, using his possessions as a steward of God and as a means of promoting God’s purpose and glory. I offer RG LaTourneau as an example.

Worldly Christians operate on the same principles as unregenerate people — non-Christians. A worldly Christian thinks and acts out of selfishness, greed, pride, and personal ambition, motivated by a selfish desire for the things that you do not have and a sinful pride in the things that you possess. Rather than living to please God, Who examines the heart, the worldly person tries to impress people, who look on things outwardly.

An example? Drinking alcohol can have far ranging negative impacts on people, so many Christians choose not to drink. Many of us do it because we recognize that we cannot fully represent God in a positive light if we’re drinking. However, if you refrain from drinking alcoholic beverages because you want to impress others with how spiritual you are or you take pride in not drinking and look with contempt on those who do, you are actually being worldly by not drinking.

I’m not trying to encourage Christians to drink alcohol. I’m pointing out that worldliness is not a matter of keeping some list of dos and don’ts. It is a matter of your heart’s motives before God.

John made two main points:

You have to choose your love. Either the world or the Father. You have to pick on. You can’t choose both (1 John 2:15).

John stated the main command: “Do not love the world nor the things in the world.” Then, he gave the implication: “If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.” This is an either/or proposition. The person who loves the world does not love God. Of course, every sane human being loves something that is not God. I love my family, I love Alaska, and to a great extent, I love my home, but what John wrote calls me as a Christian to task if I put those people and things ahead of God. Our love for God should be the ruling principle of our lives. It should be the ruling guidance for everything we do in our lives. John understood, because he was human, that the only way that we can overcome the strong desires of the flesh and the world is to be consumed with loving God.

John used “Father” to describe God in 2:15 & 16, as he did in 2:13, where he said that the children had come to know the Father. It focuses us on God’s tender love for us as His children (3:1). It is the Father’s first love for us that motivates us to love Him in response (1 John 4:19). Let’s not get that mixed up. God loved us first and choose to come down into our existence to die on our behalf. We then respond by loving Him in return. In light of the Father’s great love in stepping down from heaven as the propitiation for our sins and adopting us as His children, loving Him should be our great delight.

The Bible directs its commandments to our hearts or affections. The greatest commandment is, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind” (Matthew 22:37). Solomon wrote (Proverbs 4:23), “Watch over your heart with all diligence, for from it flow the springs of life.” As Jonathan Edwards argued in his Treatise on Religious Affections: “True religion, in great part, consists in holy affections.” If your heart is cold toward the Father and captivated by the glitz of the world, you need to ask yourself:

“Do I belong to the Father or to the world?”

So John’s commandment (2:15) challenges us to choose our love. Either we love the world or we love the Father. We cannot straddle the line. Like a jealous lover, the Father demands total allegiance. He’s earned it. Loving the Father begins at the cross when you receive His supreme gift of love, Lord Jesus Christ, as the substitute for your sins.

You must maintain your love. Either the world or the Father, but not both (1 John 2:16-17).

Any love relationship must be maintained, including your relationship with God. The enemy is trying to lure you from God’s love with all of the temptations of the world, as John showed in 2:16. If you yield to them, you will maintain love for the world.

1 John 2:16-17

Verse 16 is explanatory of verse 15 (“For”), showing how love for the things in the world does not come from the Father. The three aspects of temptation listed here parallel the way that Satan tempted Eve. Recognizing that the forbidden fruit was good for food, she desired it (Genesis 3:6), which was an appeal to the lust of the flesh. She saw “that it was a delight to the eyes.” This appealed to the lust of the eyes. She also came to understand “that the tree was desirable to make one wise.” This appealed to the boastful pride of life.

The same pattern occurred in Satan’s temptation of Jesus (Luke 4:1-12). Satan urged Jesus to turn the stones into bread (the lust of the flesh). He showed Him all the kingdoms of the earth, offering to give them to Him (the lust of the eyes). He encouraged Him to jump off the pinnacle of the temple, which could have been a source of pride in this miraculous accomplishment.

Next we will examine John’s three aspects of “all that is in the world”.

Posted January 14, 2016 by aurorawatcherak in Christianity

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Make A Choice   2 comments

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Few problems have troubled the Christian churches more through the centuries than worldliness. In fact, I would go so far as to say that worldliness has been our number one problem for about 2000 years. In an effort to be “relevant” and reach our culture, there is the very real danger that we will become just like the culture and lose our distinctiveness. We’ve done it many times, in fact.

No, worldliness is not a new problem. The apostle Paul warned of the danger in Romans 12:2:

“And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind….”

A quick translation of that is – don’t let the world mold you to its image, but allow the Holy Spirit to transform you into the image of God.

Toward the end of his life, Paul sadly wrote to Timothy:

“For Demas, having loved this present world, has deserted me and gone to Thessalonica.” 2 Timothy 4:10

Even though he had once been a fellow-worker with the great apostle Paul (Philemon 24), Demas succumbed to the lure of the world.

The pervasive influence of modern media assures the tug of the world is greater now than it ever has been. We are bombarded with attractive people telling us that we can’t be happy unless we own the product that they are selling or adopt the lifestyle that they are pursuing. We thumb through magazines that lure us with beautiful homes, new cars, luxury items, or expensive vacations, promising that all can be ours if we just get enough money or go into enough debt. It is lust for the things of the world that prompts Americans to spend billions on casino gambling and lottery tickets. Just one lucky hit and you will have it all!

Christians have often swung hard in the opposite direction in attempts to counter worldliness. Sects have withdrawn from the world and/or imposed extra rules to rein in the flesh. The monastic movement and isolationist groups like the Amish as examples of this. In the 4th-5th centuries Simon the Stylite (c. 390-459) lived in extreme austerity for 36 years on top of a platform on a 60-foot pillar. Thousands of people flocked to see this “unworldly” man and listen to his preaching. I doubt that Simon is a model of what John had in mind when he warned us not to love the world!

My father grew up in a Wesleyan Methodist home where you weren’t supposed to smoke, drink, attend movies, play cards, or dance. Some older friends of mine attended a Bible institute where he couldn’t hold hands with his wife on campus. Yes, they were married at the time. While they were on campus, a fellow student was expelled for hugging his wife in public. The expulsion charge was “worldly behavior”.

Concerning such man-made rules, Paul wrote:

“These are matters which have, to be sure, the appearance of wisdom in self-made religion and self-abasement and severe treatment of the body, but are of no value against fleshly indulgence.” (Colossians 2:23)

The rules approach to the problem of worldliness doesn’t work because worldliness is, at base, a matter of the heart. If the world has captured your heart, you will love the things of the world. If the love of God has captured your heart, you will be drawn to Jesus and to the things of God. The only way that our hearts can be transformed so that we love God is by the supernatural new birth.

The early churches were being infected and confused by certain heretics who claimed to have enlightenment, but John the apostle wrote that they were still in darkness. They tried to draw people into their inner circle of knowledge, but their doctrine and their practice revealed that they did not truly know God. John gave three tests by which his readers could evaluate these teachers and by which they could tell whether their own faith was sound. These three tests are:

  • moral (or obedience to God)
  • relational (love for others)
  • doctrinal (believing the truth about Jesus Christ).

In 1 John 2:3-6, John applied the first test: authentic faith obeys God’s commandments. In 2:7-11, he applied the second test: authentic faith loves God’s people. He paused (2:12-14) to give an assuring clarification –he was confident that his readers had authentic faith. He then resumed his application of the tests by showing that authentic faith is not of the world (2:15-17), but rather it knows and believes the truth about Jesus Christ (2:18-27). John characteristically drew a sharp line, with no middle ground:

You either love the world and do not love the Father or you love the Father and hate the world. You cannot do both.

John echoed Jesus’ own words:

“You cannot serve God and Mammon.” Luke 16:13

Jesus did not say, “You should not serve God and Mammon,” but, “you cannot” serve them both. Jesus did not teach a cafeteria faith.

Once you’ve made the basic decision to love the Father, you must fight to maintain your choice against the strong current of the world. “Do not love” is a present imperative, indicating that it is an ongoing battle. “Love” is the Greek agape, indicating that it is a commitment, not a feeling, that John is commanding. The only way that you can fight the love of the world is to maintain and grow in your love for the Father.

But what is the world?

Posted January 12, 2016 by aurorawatcherak in Christianity

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Look Out for Black Ice   1 comment

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I once taught at a Christian school that had deep fundamentalist roots. The administration was convinced that women should wear dresses and that Christian music did not have instrument combos — guitar, keyboard and drums together was edging toward rebellious and the base guitar was evidence of Satan’s work within the soul of modern man.

Those folks were utterly lacking in contextualization of the gospel. They had obscured the gospel with ideas and expressions external to the gospel. They honestly believed that musical genres were an essential feature of the Christian faith.

 

Syncretism is the opposite error. It is the mixing of Christianity with something else. In an attempt to contextualize the Gospel, some Christians might uncritically accept the religious convictions of a particular culture. Should they believe and present these religious convictions in a manner that distorts or denies the Gospel, they are guilty of syncretism.

So, how do we avoid those two extremes — the black ice of contextualization?

First, conduct an honest self-evaluation that includes an understanding of the history of the Christian church and a focus on the gospel. Be honest in what you find. Then hit pause and ask yourself — what would Jesus do? Not what does your church say Jesus would do, but what would the Jesus of the Bible actually do? Sometimes, you will find the answer in Scripture.

What would Jesus do about sexual immorality?

There is no evidence that He was having sex with anyone, male or female. He also touched on sexual immorality in some of His topics. You might need to know something about the Old Testament verses He used in order to come to that conclusion, but that’s not hard today. Cross-references are the beauty of the computer age.

What would Jesus do about alcohol?

He turned water into wine and it was REALLY GOOD wine. But there are no Biblical examples of him getting drunk, which ought to tell us something. Through His followers, He taught that our bodies are His temple and demanded that we keep His temple clean for Him. That speaks to drugs, over-eating and a whole host of other activities as well.

What would Jesus do about the poor?

You can find that out.

Did Jesus honestly believe that faith was more important than charity to the poor, the lame, the infirm, the widow, etc.?

That is also discoverable, though you might have to find out what He meant in the parables when He compared the Kingdom of God to some human event.

Contextualization is an important component of effective gospel ministry. The gospel is an eternal, trans-cultural reality, but it comes to us within the context of individual human cultures. Contemporary Christians should carefully seek to discern the difference between gospel truth and cultural tradition. They should thus present the gospel in a manner that is culturally relevant, taking care to practice caution to avoid adopting cultural practices that have irredeemably pagan underpinnings.

Syncretism   Leave a comment

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A quick search for the word “contextualization” on Google brought up the word “syncretism”. I believe it is really important for Christians to be in the world, but not of the world, which means that we recognize our culture and are comfortable with the redeemable aspects of it, but we don’t accept culture’s corrosive influence as inevitable.

When it comes to issues of Christianity in a cultural context, Christians and churches we form must be careful to not fall off the fine line we walk. I’ve previously described what I believe to be perhaps the major issue plaguing American Christianity: obscurantism. Simply defined, that would be obscuring the gospel by emphasizing things that are actually external to the gospel as being central to it. The clothes we wear, the way we cut our hair, the food we drink and our political party are examples where we sometimes confuse culture and Christianity. While it is fine for the Amish to choose to live in insular communities that they feel protect their faith, it would be unBiblical for them to insist that all Christians do so, because what they are really protecting is their culture, of which faith is an integral part. The Amish actually do a very good job of setting rules for their own groups that they don’t expect the world to follow. Read Amish Grace if you want a further discussion of this.

However, some American “Christian” groups believe that they speak for God and that God has placed them into the world to force all Americans to look and act like their group. The end result is a false gospel that becomes a stumbling block to those Christians and our churches are trying to reach the world around us.

When we’re obeying the Great Commission, we want to make sure that we’re preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ and not the concepts of Western culture. Missionaries certainly got that confused in the past and even today on the foreign fields, but we also get it confused in working with our neighbors. Although I personally consider tattooing to be a form of self-mutilation, I don’t think God cares and I need to separate my personal dislike from the gospel message. I have to be clear about my evangelism … for the gospel’s sake.

I’ve spent some time discussing this with regards to the early church — that Peter and Paul both set aside Judaic forms of worship in order to reach a Gentile world for Christ and Paul spent considerable effort in explaining to his disciples the difference between the gospel and the law of Moses.

If delivering the gospel in a cultural context is somewhat of a tight rope act, obscurantism might represent falling to the right side of the rope, but syncretism is an equal danger waiting on the left side.

Syncretism is the mixing of Christianity with something else such that they become a different gospel. We see this in cults around the world, most notably in Islam, but positive-thinking gospel, a nationalist emphasis, or emerging churches (mostly) are also examples. Syncretism happens more than we might know.

When anything is added to the message of the gospel, the uniqueness and sufficiency of Christ is compromised and another gospel can be created that is actually not the gospel. Yes, syncretism and obscurantism end up in the same place.

Syncretism can be most easily seen when two or more starkly contrasting religions are mixed. Around the world, examples are readily available where Christ has been preached in places with long and various religious traditions. In many cases, pieces and parts of the traditional religion will remain while Christ is added to the mix.

We recently had some South African Baptists at our church. Both grew up out in the townships. They explained that traditional religion among the indigenous people often included visiting witch doctors and other types of healers for physical healing and spiritual direction. New Christian believers often want to continue visiting the spiritual healers around them. Sonny and Patience recognize that visiting those who actively practice witchcraft for healing or spiritual direction dilutes dependency on Christ, changes the gospel, creates a mix of multiple gods, and thereby denies Christ His rightful place as the one and only Lord in the life of the believer. Those who would mix these practices, if not moving away from them, end up with a false, syncretistic gospel, not the gospel of Jesus.

Santeria is an example of syncretism that mixes African animistic religious practice with Christianity. The Bahai and various neopagan religions also draw from Judeo-Christian belief and mix it into various belief systems and theological structures to create something that is obviously not Biblical Christianity.

But why stop at obvious examples of cults when there are other syncretistic belief systems that hit far closer to home? Many seeker-sensitive churches, in an effort to reach the pragmatic Boomers, have become largely devoid of the gospel, exchanging it for practical positive thinking without gospel transformation. That’s synscretism.

I am NOT saying all Boomer or seeker churches are this way. I left the broad brush in the bucket, but there are churches that emphasize trying harder and being a better person over the gospel of grace. “Living a good life as a good person,” particularly under your own power, is not the gospel Jesus announced.

It is actually quite the opposite, and it has created a gospel that dilutes dependency on Christ and denies His lordship. That is syncretistic.

Likewise, some emerging churches have contextualized the gospel by softening difficult theological truths, which also changes the gospel, leading to syncretism.

Error awaits on either side. If you don’t care about contextualization, you end up obscuring the gospel and confusing it with culture. If you engage in contextualization too much, you end up losing the gospel by adopting pagan practices and even theologies. Both errors are dangerous as each leads to a false gospel. The difficulty is that when you are more afraid of one, which most churches are, you almost always fall into the other.

Each error is dangerous and fearing one more than the other often leads a church directly into the one that is less feared.

Some churches are so afraid of syncretism (they use the word “compromise” rather than the technical term) that they push back against any change from the tradition they’ve known. They define syncretism as changing musical styles, getting a tattoo or body piercing, or having different hair length.

Alternatively, there are those who are so upset with the established church that they run away from it and everything connected to it, including some parts of the gospel. They fear irrelevance to the point they bend and shape the gospel to fit nicely within the culture. In the process, the true gospel is lost and a syncretic version of it emerges.

The truly Christian challenge is charting the course down the middle. Context matters. A lot. So much so that we must work to avoid the pitfalls.

Gospel in Obscurity   3 comments

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“I can’t go to your church, I’m not a Republican.”

Someone said that to Brad recently. For the record, we are not Republicans. We’re registered non-partisans with conservative-libertarian views who edge toward voluntaryism and anarchy.

But, the person who said this to Brad is probably correct that many of the people in our church are probably Republicans. Since Alaska’s voters are 58% registered undeclared/non-partisan, I won’t say that the majority of our church members are Republicans, but most probably agree with the Republican Party more than they do the Democratic Party.

Statistically, the more you go to church, the more likely you are to be a Republican and the less you go to church, the more likely you are to be a Democrat. There are exceptions, of course, but this is what the media refer to as “The God Gap.” It’s the math of the situation. There is a strong correlation between church attendance and political party.

There are Christian observers who believe it is best to just shut up on political social issues rather than risk alienating potential converts to Christ … and to a certain extent, I agree with them.  I think we need to be more careful in how we address people of differing opinions. They are not our enemies. The false premises on which their opinions are based are the enemy. I try to concentrate on that rather than on the fact that some politicians who espouse those opinions and advance those false premises are simply odious.

I have a busy mind that can’t just concentrate on one subject, so it’s likely I won’t just turn to posting about salvation and not speak political, social or economic truth when I think it needs to be spoken.
But, hey, from the very beginning my blog has been about principles and not politics. I am not nor have I ever been a member of a political party. If the Democratic Party begins to espouse a platform I can agree with, I’ll vote for Democratic candidates again. In the meantime, I’m wading mostly in the teaparty, libertarian end of “conservativism”. The Republican mainstreamers are not, by and large, in agreement with me. They call me the radical fringe. I call them progressive moderates who really can’t see how far the country as drifted to the leftist socialist tyrannical side of the spectrum.
So my Christmas posts probably made it pretty clear that I believe Christianity exists in the context of the culture in which it resides. I hope in this series to touch on some of the examples and issues arising from that.
My mother was a great admirer of James Michener’s writing. Michener was a Pulitzer prize-winning American author known for writing books based on deep and intensive research into historical and cultural information. His book Hawaii recounted the history of the islands in vivid detail. Included in Michener’s retelling of the islands’ history is the evangelization of the native people by missionaries.

We could debate Michener’s historical accuracy, but the book illustrates a problem Christians have had for a long time. Missionaries and lay-people have wandered around the idea of contextualization, which is translating the never-changing gospel into an ever-changing, dynamic culture. Michener rightfully points out that missionaries of that era were not terribly savvy about the myriad issues of cultural context. The movie made from a portion of the book plays up that reality to the point of stereotype.

Male missionaries preached the gospel from their big black Bibles in their black suits under the shade of their wide-brimmed black hats. The women with them walked the shores of Hawaii spreading the good news in hoop skirts and bonnets while the native women listened intently in their grass skirts and other traditional attire. Converts were made, but a scene later in the movie shows the new Hawaiian believers gathering for worship wearing hoop skirts and bonnets and black suits and black hats while carrying big black Bibles. The book makes it clearer that the church had not penetrated very deeply into the island.

When we share the gospel, we must be careful not to obscure the critical points for the sake of an idea or truth that is less important.

 According to the movie, people incorrectly understood what it meant to become a Christian. To become a Christian was to literally change their clothes. Other Hawaiians were less open to the gospel, because they didn’t understand it as an internal work of grace that affected people on a spiritual level. They saw it simply as an outward physical change that was more American culture than it was Christian.
Cultural expressions that accompany the gospel, for good or bad, can actually obscure the gospel.

Obscurantism is when someone confuses the gospel with some idea or expression external to the gospel.

Just as the people in the movie confused dressing a certain way with following Jesus, many modern Americans equate Christianity with the Religious Right. We  need to be aware that there are many opportunities for unbelievers to misunderstand the gospel because of our words or actions.

In an obscured version of Christianity, it appears as though you have to do particular things that are not actually the gospel in order to follow Christ, because all the Christians you know do them.

Clothing, hairstyle, musical tastes, and politics all can be associated with Christianity, but seeing these things as the gospel actually creates a false gospel.

Our society is asking huge questions about our faith and how it fits into our culture. We need to take those seriously and consider whether what we are presenting is really the gospel or the culture that has become associated with the gospel. Are we obscuring the gospel by allowing some cultural aspects into our churches that hinder the gospel.

And, if we find that to be the case, what do we do about it? What might it cost us to let go of the cultural things that obscure the gospel in order to reach the unbelievers around us?

Posted December 29, 2015 by aurorawatcherak in Christianity

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