Agree to Disagree

2nd Timothy 4:2

“Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage – with great patience and careful instruction.”

Titus 3:9-10

“But avoid foolish controversies and geneologies and arguments and quarrels about the law, because these are unprofitable and useless. Warn a divisive person once, and then warn him a second time. After that, have nothing to do with him.”

I am fairly active online and a member of several Christian groups here on Facebook, and I see a deep rooted problem that has plagued the Christian faith practially since the age of the apostles: the tendency for people to lose their heads when debating Scripture and allow themselves to get drawn into angry, even hateful arguments over often small points of doctrine. Discussing the Word of God in an intelligent and even spirited manner is a very positive thing; through meaningful debate we are exposed to other viewpoints, other interpretations, and through that exposure we can come to a deeper understanding of the Scriptures and what the Christian life should look like. But being flawed, mortal, sinful humans it can be so easy to lose sight of Paul’s exhortations to rebuke gently, even Jesus’ instructions to love each other. It’s easy for us to read accounts of the hateful rhetoric and anathemas and excommunications of the early church during it’s struggles with various heretical groups and say, “Boy, I’m glad I don’t act harshly like that!”, but then turn around and get drawn into an argument with someone and start hurling vile invective and condemnation at each other. I have seen arguments online that were every bit as hateful as the Thirty Year War between Catholic and Protestant that devastated central Europe. It’s not supposed to be this way! Where is the patience and love? Where in Paul’s letter to Titus are we told to scream at each other, let alone burn each other at the stake? Every time that professing Christians argue and berate and insult each other over points of doctrine, over “quarrels about the law”, over what a particular word means or when to calculate a date, there is a dying world filled with people in desperate need of Jesus Christ who watch the semantic bloodletting and think to themselves, “Yeah, they really live the love Jesus preached” and walk away determined to want no part of the Christian faith. Only God knows how many people die every day to face judgement without the Savior because we have not followed Paul’s example. My old mentor, the late Walter Martin, had a saying that he used daily on the radio: “We should agree to disagree.” He never advocated settling for weak doctrine, quite the opposite, but he always exhorted people to disagree without hate or attitudes of smug superiority. We won’t all agree on everything, and I would never say we should welcome the yeast of blatant heresy into the Body of Christ. But I will say that when we find someone we don’t agree with or who uses a different ritual at church we should not sling virtual anathemas and hateful rhetoric around, for when we do Satan laughs at us and knows that he has gained the upper hand over us by damaging our testimony to the love of our Lord Jesus Christ. Be gentle, patient and loving, my friends, even when you don’t want to.

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ.

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Reason or Revelation?

Job 11:7-9

“Can you fathom the mysteries of God?
Can you probe the limits of the Almighty?
They are higher than the heavens – what can you do?
They are deeper than the depths of the grave – what can you know?
Their measure is longer than the earth
and wider than the sea.”

Such wise words from Zophar the Naamathite – if only later generations had lived by them! For thousands of years humanity has tried to understand the nature of the universe and – sometimes – the nature of God. Have we succeeded? No, I don’t believe so. Just limiting the scope of this discussion to the 2,000 years of the Christian faith, many have tried to understand the truth of God using human reason; many have tried to reconcile revelation with reason. As the church grew older and further away from the age of the apostles, many have tried to explain revelation in the light of the philosophical musings of the Greek philosophers, but have they succeeded? No, for the more they have tried to fit divine revelation into the bounds of human reason the further away from the truth they have strayed. How can the finite mind of a created being possibly understand the nature of the infinite being that created it? How can the clay ever comprehend the mind of the potter? It’s impossible! It’s been argued that God created us with reason so we can use it, but should we really try to elevate our reason to the same level of God, or worse, elevate it higher? No. We can and should use the mental gifts God has given us to understand the Creation around us as much as we can, but to try and comprehend the nature of God by human reason is an exercise in futility. If we could ever figure it out for ourselves there would have been no real reason for the revelation of God in the Scriptures. The divine revelation of Scripture should be our guide as it was intended to be. As Jesus said, “Blessed are they who believe and have not seen.” Let the revelation be our standard to live by, not our reason and philosophy.

Peace and grace to you from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ.

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Restoring the Temple

2nd Kings 12:4-16, 22:3,7 & 23:4-14
2nd Chronicles 24:4-14 & 34:8-13

In these passages we find two godly kings of Judah, Joash, son of Ahaziah, and Josiah, the great-grandson of King Hezekiah, commanding the priests to stop making their own repairs to the temple and start using temple funds to hire professional workmen to make the much needed repairs. These were the only renovations of Solomon’s Temple recorded in Scripture, and they seemed to be badly needed. Over the centuries since Solomon’s reign the temple had deteriorated and gone through periods of neglect, and worse, misuse, and the temple priests had been trying to make repairs themselves to save money; they were like the homeowner who was untrained in carpentry or masonry trying to make repairs to his home rather than call in a professional contractor.

I’ve been shown by the Spirit three lessons to learn from these essential repairs ordered by two great reformer kings of Judah:

The first lesson is that all the works of mortal man are doomed to decay and ultimately failure. All of our magnificent structures, from the massive pyramids of Egypt and Central America to the most modern of skyscrapers will someday be reduced to rubble. In the case of the pyramids of Giza it may take millenia (they are already roughly 5,000 years old), while in the case of skyscrapers it may only take a century or two. This natural decay of what we build can be delayed by diligent maintenance and repair programs, as in the case of the Great Wall of China or Western cathedrals, but ultimately the structure will fail. Nothing that is built “to last forever” actually will.

Second is the fact that the church often needs its own repair and restoration, and I’m not referring to church buildings. The Christian church as a whole, or the Body of Christ, has been described by the apostle Paul as “the temple of the living God” (2nd Corinthians 6:16), and therein lies the correlation. In 2,000 years of Christian history there have been many periods of decay in the form of straying from the truth, followed by periods of spiritual restoration. The Reformation in the 1500s is the best known restoration of the church to Gospel truth but not the only one. Many reformers came to prominence, from the time of the Arian controversy in the 4th Century through Wycliffe, Hus and Tyndale to the Great Awakening of the early 1800s and the revivalist movements of the 20th Century; all were repairs and renovations to the living temple of Jesus Christ.

And third, as individual believers we find ourselves in need of repair and renovation in the form of repentance and refreshment. Every believer occasionally hits dry spells when we need our Lord deeply, and sometimes we make mistakes and we sin in one way or another. That is when we need His renovation of our hearts and minds through repentance, prayer and the Scriptures. If we try to avoid His renovation we stay in a state of disrepair and decay, and while we might still seem impressive to others, upon closer inspection we see the scars and marks left by a harsh world. And only by humbling ourselves before God can we be restored like the temple of old. That’s when we once again become what He has called us to be so we can serve His purpose in a dying, desperate world.

Pray for each other always, my friends. Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ.

 

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Adoption by God Comes Before Rules

Exodus 20:2
“I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.”

John 1:12
“Yet to all who received Him, to those who believed in His name, He gave the right to become children of God”

“We all have a love/hate relationship with rules. On one hand, rules provide structure and predictability. On the other, they restrict our freedom to do what we want, when we want. The problem with religious rules is that they usually run contrary to human nature. That makes them really hard to follow. And we assume that when we don’t follow the rules, God rejects us. But is that really true?

To answer that, let’s look at two different scenarios where you’re expected to follow the rules. Growing up, your parents probably had rules for you. Yet on the day you were born, your mom didn’t recite those rules to you before hugging you close. In a ‘family model’, the relationship comes before the rules.

Now think about joining a health club, country club, or even accepting a new job. Step one is signing a contract agreeing to abide by the group’s rules. In a ‘club model’, the rules precede the relationship – agreeing to them comes first and breaking them usually gets you kicked out.

So which of these models reflects the way God operates? The answer is in the most famous rules in history, the Ten Commandments.

First, some context: the descendants of Adraham (God’s chosen man) became the nation of Israel (God’s chosen people). To escape famine, they migrated to Egypt, where they worked as slaves for four hundred years. Moses eventually led them out of slavery and it was during their long journey back home that they set up camp at the foot of Mount Sinai, where Moses received God’s rules.

The sequence of those events is important. It answers the question of whether God operates on the ‘family model’ or the ‘club model’. God rescued His people from slavery. Then He gave them His rules.

Just to be sure we don’t miss it, here’s the opening line of the Ten Commandments, before any talk of rules: ‘I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.’ From the very beginning, God adopted the ‘family model’. Relationship first, rules second.

It was true for the nation of Israel and it’s true for you. It’s what we read today in John 1:12: ‘to those who believed in His name, He gave the right to become children of God.’ Did you catch those words? ‘Children of God.’ Not ‘members of the club.’ Children.”

Reproduced from the YouVersion Bible app plan “Unconvinced: Exploring Faith as a Sceptic”, day 4.

It’s a fine point to make but a valuable one. For the vast majority of Christians around the world, we come to faith and acceptance of Jesus as Lord and Savior, then we learn the rules of behavior after, as we go along. Like our natural children, we are born into God’s family through the Spirit, and then learn the ropes as we grow in the faith.

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ.

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The Resurrection of Jesus Christ

Mark 16:1-7

“When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices so that they might go to anoint Jesus’ body. Very early on the first day of the week, just after sunrise, they were on their way to the tomb and they asked each other, ‘Who will roll the stone away from the entrance of the tomb?’ But when they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had been rolled away. As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man dressed in a white robe sitting on the right side, and they were alarmed. ‘Don’t be alarmed,’ he said. ‘You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid Him. But go, tell His disciples and Peter, “He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see Him, just as He told you.”‘”

With the words “He is risen” the whole world changed, the entire universe changed. Jesus won the victory over sin and death when He died on the cross for every sin ever committed, past, present and future, and when He rose from the dead on the third day He proved that our victory was secure. This is the central event in all of history, and the Resurrection changed everything. Through faith in Him our hope and future are secure. Who else can make such a claim? No one. Every other religion, every other philosophy, every other belief system, was founded by someone who lived and died and is still in their grave. Muhammad is still in his tomb; you can see relics taken from the body of Buddha. Confucius is still dead, Ghandi is still dead, Aristotle and Socrates are still dead. Only Jesus stepped out of the grave, alive, vibrant, our reigning King forever. This is why the Gospel changed the world forever. The power displayed in the Resurrection is the same power that changes lives and redeems people today. If you trust in Him you are trusting in our Creator, our Savior, but if you trust in false religions, humanism or the philosophies of mortal humans, you are following someone who still lies in their burial place. If you follow the dead, you will remain dead in your sins, but if you follow the living Christ, you will live forever. Please choose wisely…

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ.

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Under the Law? Let’s see…

Acts 15:23-29

“With them they sent the following letter:

The apostles and elders, your brothers,

To the Gentile believers in Antioch, Syria and Cilicia:

Greetings.

We have heard that some went out from us without our authorization and disturbed you, troubling your minds by what they said. So we all agreed to choose some men and send them to you with our dear friends, Barnabas and Paul – men who have risked their lives for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore we are sending Judas and Silas to confirm by word of mouth what we are writing. It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us not to burden you with anything beyond the following requirements: You are to abstain from food sacrificed to idols, from blood, from the meat of strangled animals and from sexual immorality. You will do well to avoid these things.

Farewell.”

This letter was written by the church council in Jerusalem, the mother church of early Christendom, in response to a push by some elements to bring the early Christians into obedience to the Law of Moses. The above letter is the response of the council, headed by the apostles Peter and James the Just and guided by the Holy Spirit. Much heat has been generated for centuries regarding obedience to the Law. If the Holy Spirit led the apostles who had spent three years with our Lord to make this pronouncement concerning the Law, how can I counter them? Let their words stand with the authority they were given by Christ.

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ.

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The Gospel, or Politics?

Matthew 28:18-20

“Then Jesus came to them and said, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.'”

Last night on the television I watched a conversation between a conservative Christian and the minister of a very liberal congregation from the same denomination, which I choose not to name but will say that it is an older, mainstream denomination. The heart of the debate was the fact that the liberal minister and his church were openly pursuing a very liberal social and political agenda to the point of posting harsh political signs in front of the church, while at the same time the congregation was in decline. I won’t burden you with all the back and forth, but I did see a very important comparison in the story, relative to my own personal experience. The minister’s church, like so many in our time, had wandered from a Biblical presentation of Jesus and into a pursuit of social and political change, while the number of people attending was dropping significantly. Meanwhile, I know a church that had been crawling along seven years ago with only twenty members, but when they got a new pastor who preached Jesus Christ, crucified and resurrected, the Lord grew that church and today they have an average attendance of over 1,000 people spread out among three services. What is the difference? One church preaches politics, the other preaches the gospel. One follows a humanistic philosophy loosely based on the teachings of Jesus, the other teaches the great love of Jesus expressed in His setting aside the glory of heaven to come among us and die a horrible death to pay the price of our sins. Now the shifting of focus within churches from the eternal to the temporal is not limited to the liberal, theologically muddy branches of Christianity although it is most apparent there. There are many reasonably conservative Christian churches that have also strayed into the elevation of politics and social change. When I first became a Christian in the mid-80s one of the big subjects of debate within the church was what to do with the new-found political power that evangelical Christianity had discovered. For the majority the answer was clear: politics must always take second place to the work of carrying the gospel of salvation to a lost world. Yet, decades later, many in the church seem to get that order of importance backwards. Being politically aware and active is important, but it has not been lost on me that nowhere in Scripture does it exhort us to put politics first, to make social change the whole point. We are encouraged to obey the authorities so long as they are not trying to force us to disobey God, and we are told to pray for our leaders that we may have peace. But the notion that the church must use politics to bring about the Kingdom is heretical and became popular during the 19th Century. Jesus didn’t come among us to start a program of social justice, although if we follow Christ and preach His Word society can improve; compare the “anything goes” madness of today with the relative social stability of earlier ages when the faith was more important to the majority of people. But the whole purpose of His coming was to atone for our sins and turn our hearts back to God in repentance. Jesus changes lives, you bet, He changed mine in some very dramatic and fundamental ways; politics mostly just changes who governs us and how. Jesus saves our souls, politics does not. So always put sharing the Biblical truth of Jesus Christ before trying to change the world through human effort. Keep politics where it belongs, and promote the gospel of our loving Savior, Jesus Christ. For only Jesus can changes the world in the ways that matter.

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ.

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