Sunday, January 25, 2015

The Resurrection of the Faith

THE RESURRECTION OF THE FAITH 

Jn.8: 58 Jesus said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Before Abraham was, I am.

Contained in this statement from our Lord is the very basis for our faith. Yes, it proves the deity of Christ and His eternal existence, but it goes further than that. You see Jesus wasn’t just interested in some study of Christology. And Jesus was not just a representative of God the Father. Jesus came to die and in that death would be two interconnected and eternal truths. And both these truths are foundational and in a mystery they are actually one and the same. Jesus is the Lamb of God which takes away the sins of the world, and Jesus is the Chief Cornerstone of the church.
Listen carefully to what I am going to say. It is not enough to believe in the substitutionary death of Jesus on the cross and that only through faith in Him can eternal life become possible. That, of course, is foundational and nonnegotiable. But it must also be foundational that Jesus is the Head of the church and what he taught are commands to His church. In many ways the evangelical church has embraced the former and compromised the latter. But Jesus is not only Lord of our salvation, but He must be Lord of our new lives.
And given the current state of the church we are in desperate need of a spiritual resurrection of the faith which believes in and also follows Jesus. If you believe we can tweak the current church system and please God you are greatly mistaken. The situation is so dire and has taken a self serving journey which is so far from Jesus that to return to a Christ centered experience and practice is a monumental task. In fact it requires a level of repentance most of us have never known. We have experienced a repentance which is aimed at unkind words or some sinful habit or other personal attitudes.
But this repentance is the portal through which we return to the true faith which follows Jesus and His teachings. And to follow Jesus without following His teachings is to not follow Him at all. That sounds so simple and it sounds like something you might hear in a sermon, and in reality it is. It is something we have heard. But through the years the essence of that truth has been lost within a maze of religious rhetoric, ecclesiastical organization, and the power of a fallen culture. And the repentance necessary to begin a return must begin with a profound seeking of the Spirit which begs Him to open your eyes. And as you beseech Him for such an awakening you must first place everything on the table. Nothing can be stored or defended or protected from His searching power.

And that is just the beginning of a painful yet marvelous journey. Ok, you ask, just what are you saying here? I am saying the western church for the most part believes in Jesus the Savior of our souls, but it no longer follows Him.

In magic, especially cards tricks and the like, the move known as the “sleight of hand” is employed. It uses misdirection and an amazing dexterity to imprison the eyes and build upon what the mind understands as normal and real and then reveals the unexpected and the unexplained through confounds normal logic. And false teachings use the sleight of truth by misdirection and reason. I have heard preachers quote some portion of Scripture and then lead his audience to a well known reality in their lives, and from there he takes some spiritual and eternal truth and cleverly hides it within an earthly truth. And then he teaches an earthly truth as if it were an eternal truth. The switch had been made, and because the hearers can identify with that earthly truth and because the speaker has used his personality and persuasiveness to elicit affection and trust, the hearers understand the connection he is making and they embrace it as God’s truth.
And there is a tangible psychological phenomenon evident here as well. An audience desires to be approved of by a speaker who they recognize as wise and a profound spiritual conduit. They naturally listen eager to understand and enter into agreement which subtly allows them to feel they understand on the speaker’s level. So when the speaker says something and then looks at the people expectantly they respond regardless if they fully grasp what he is saying. In fact you will hear some speakers say, “I wish I could get a witness in here tonight!” or “You’re not hearing what I am saying!” which is also a psychological tool meant to nudge the audience forward into full and even effervescent agreement with the speaker. I mean who wants to be left behind and seem ignorant?
In the end that speaker can almost preach Popeye and the crowd will clap for joy and more importantly empty their wallets. The speaker has used all kinds of different truths and made unholy alliances with earthly logic and Scriptural truth and he now leverages them to control the listeners. The speaker has used a sleight of truth and by the power of his personality and performance he has cleverly and pleasantly deceived the people.
And this is what has happened in the western church regardless of how orthodox they are in theology. The church is Christocentric in is soteriology (doctrine of salvation) but Christ and His teachings are no longer embraced in understanding and practice. The switch has been made by cleverly directing our eyes to orthodox doctrines about Jesus and about salvation while deftly discarding the full weight and implications of His teachings as they apply to the lives of believers. This is a deep and serious issue if we are to take the faith seriously. Can we embrace Jesus as the I AM for salvation and then walk in WE ARE after salvation?
The western church for the most part believes in Jesus the Savior of our souls, but it no longer follows Him. But do not assume that once you reach that conclusion that you immediately are following Jesus. Oh no, my friend, your journey has just begun. And this journey back to Jesus will be filled with many levels of repentance, many levels of humility, many levels of sorrow, many levels of joy, many levels of understanding, many levels of confusion, many levels of correction, many levels of glory, and in the end you will recognize that this journey will only end when you leave this life and enter the life to come. And then I believe we will enter a completely different journey filled with many levels of worship for all eternity. Oh my...dear Jesus.
If we are honest and do a complete and thorough examination of everything the church practices and how the professing believer lives against the foundation of the literal teachings of Jesus what will we find? Of course I do not expect the church at large to even entertain the question, much less embark on such a quest. But there remains this issue in this modern church era. The industrial revolution gave birth to a materialistic culture and the average man was no longer a lowly farmer. Now people could make enough money to buy many things and enjoy the comforts of home, and the list of those comforts continues to grow every day.
And so under the weight of the culture the church began an inconspicuous shift in its belief system and practice. Many churches deemphasized doctrine while many others made doctrine their one legged foundation. And the casualties were the teachings of Jesus. One church reconfigured Jesus into a servant and entertainer of man while the other church admired Him in a gilded doctrinal cage. And the teachings of Jesus fell through the cracks and were absorbed by the religious culture. So the church was considered orthodox if their theology was Christocentric even if their practice was not. And that created a brand new view of orthodoxy.
I have posted nine chapters of a series I called “The Teachings of Jesus”. The first step is to recognize how earthly and self centered the church has become. The second step is a journey of many steps to read and absorb and understand and submit and obey the teachings of Jesus. Until we do that we are adherents of another faith and a partial Jesus. Let us all resurrect a vibrant and passionate and inconvenient search for Jesus in all His glory and through the prism of His eternal teachings.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Teachings of Jesus - Part IX

THE TEACHINGS OF JESUS - PART IX
 
Jn.6: 50 This is the bread which cometh down from heaven, that a man may eat thereof, and not die.
51 I am the living bread which came down from heaven: if any man eat of this bread, he shall live for ever: and the bread that I will give is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.
52 The Jews therefore strove among themselves, saying, How can this man give us his flesh to eat?
53 Then Jesus said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, ye have no life in you.
54 Whoso eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, hath eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day.
55 For my flesh is meat indeed, and my blood is drink indeed.
56 He that eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, dwelleth in me, and I in him.
57 As the living Father hath sent me, and I live by the Father: so he that eateth me, even he shall live by me.
58 This is that bread which came down from heaven: not as your fathers did eat manna, and are dead: he that eateth of this bread shall live for ever.

This is a hard saying and full of spiritual depth and intrigue, and yet how easily do we allow our eyes to read them and move on. The unbeliever suggests some form of cannibalism while some denominations make it fit into their ceremony as literal flesh and blood. Jesus spoke in parables and metaphors and yet the truth behind them all is literal. Jesus says He is the door but are there hinges and a doorknob on His body? Dig deeper and you will find truth and you will find Him.
There comes a time in every true believer’s life when he learns the glory of meditating and going deeper in God’s Word…or there doesn’t. That is such a sad situation. Millions of Bibles are carried or owned by millions of church members who never read them, or millions who read them sparingly and with an earthly understanding. It is tragic. Like a man who discovers a treasure chest filled to the brim with pure gold coins and he takes one or two coins from the top and parades them around to prove he believes in that chest. But just next door there is another man who finds the exact same type of chest filled with gold coins. That man, for years, takes one or two coins from the top and marches in the same parade as his neighbor.
But one day this other man sits next to the chest and reaches his hand into the mountain of coins and pulls a few out from just under the top layer. These coins seem to be shinier and they feel warm in his hand. They seem to make his heart feel warm. His curiosity is now peaked and he thrusts his hand deeper and deeper and pulls out all kinds of coins which get more and more brilliant and although they are coming out from the same chest and are made with the same pure gold they seem to be more brilliant and give off incredible heat and even affect his entire being. He feels a sense of joy and peace and humility and an overwhelming sense of gratefulness as well as an irresistible desire to dig deeper still.
That is a poor illustration but I believe it proves a point. Most evangelical church members, and dare I say pastors, are busy with the top layers of God’s Word and so they do not dig deeper. And after a while they lose any desire to go any deeper because the top layer will suffice. Oh but my dear friends the absolute treasure that exists under the surface is amazing! But the deeper you dig in God’s Word the more brilliant the truth and the more that truth challenges you and the more that deeper truth, like clay in the Sun, will either melt your heart or harden it. These deeper truths must affect you. They refuse to be our doctrinal toys.
So when Jesus speaks of drinking His blood and eating His flesh they are metaphors indeed but contained in those metaphors are glorious truths which will not and cannot float on the surface. It is more than just a representation of believing and more than just a passing reference to the Lord’s Supper. If you are impatient and must honk your horn as you wait in the doctrinal drive-thru line then you will miss it. But if you sincerely and passionately ask the Spirit to open the eyes of your understanding and if you are willing to wait upon the Lord the reward will be life changing. Why do you think most church members cannot identify with things like that? Why do you seem like the oddball? When you cry or feel a sense of deep conviction why are there so few who can fellowship with you because they too have been to that place?
Jesus uses what some call a “Hebrewism” which means a way of using shocking language in order to bring home a truth that needs more than a shallow explanation. Jesus says if your eye offends you pluck it out or if it your arm cut it off. Shocking? Yes, but it is meant to grab your attention so you will seek its true spiritual meaning. The same is true when Jesus insist we must eat His flesh and drink His blood. This is more than just the ceremony we call communion. This is the communion in the Spirit. This not only breaks the bread and the wine of His eternal Person, but this communion breaks our own hearts. This eating and drinking does not require our mouths to eat and to drink. This is a sacred communion that requires our hearts to eat and drink.
What, say most of the church world? But I can tell you from experience that place of spiritual communion feeds and nourishes and convicts the soul. You cannot eat from that table without desiring more, and you cannot drink from that table without it changing you and directing you to change more. It delights! It amazes! It astounds! It challenges! It impacts! It humbles! It enlightens! It strengthens! It brings revelation! It brings repentance! It brings holiness! It brings awe! It enlarges your heart and your understanding! It brings Jesus to you upon the wings of the Spirit in ways you could never experience any other way! And it invades your being with many thoughts and emotions and in ways really without words to convey. Again, it brings Jesus to you.
When you are young in Christ the Spirit will spoon feed you on some level. But there comes a time when you are responsible for your own spiritual journey. You can receive from preachers or teachers or devotional books or other people, but unless you are willing to do serious business in the Spirit you are at a standstill. You may know doctrine or some statement of faith and you may know all about Jesus and the doctrine we call Christology. But if you don’t eat His flesh and drink His blood all you have is head knowledge without spiritual power.
Do these words confuse you? Are you a little baffled? Then I suggest you begin by reading a portion of Scripture which was spoken by Jesus and pray and read and pray and read the same portion until the Spirit brings them to life in your heart and you are impacted by them far beyond their meaning in the English language. In fact in may take days or even weeks. But wait and read and pray and wait and read and pray. “How long shall I do this, Brother Rick?
Until you see Jesus and begin to understand you are eating His flesh and drinking His blood. And if when you get up from that table because you have godly responsibilities, and if as you walk through the day doing other things your heart is begging you to return to that table, then you will know that you really have been with Jesus. And as the Spirit digests Him within your soul you cannot wait to eat more. That, my friends, is the true abundant life.
*****
 
Matt.24: 11 And many false prophets shall rise, and shall deceive many.

There have always been false prophets throughout the ages. But never before have there been so many that deceive so many through trickery, witchcraft, lying spirits, and with the help of all kinds of media avenues. One absolute kook can reach millions through television or radio and regardless of how absurd and bizarre there will be people who believe his words and respond to his schemes. A normal person could watch some of these men and women and see immediately just how preposterous and insane they and their messages are and yet thousands of people will send them money in hopes of getting something. It is an horrific spectacle which mocks and blasphemes God’s name while simultaneously claiming to speak for Him.
These sorcerers offer red oil, prosperity billfolds, miracle water, magic coins, anointed soap, healing cloths, and all kinds of other trinkets. They promise all kinds of things and tell lie after lie after lie. Most of us would reject them immediately and they mostly appeal to the poor and unlearned. But there are other deceivers who are much more sophisticated than these other men and women. Their deception lies in their appearance, their oratory, and the heresies they teach. They appeal to a wider audience and leverage the lusts of the human heart and the fallen human mind.
Well groomed men and women like Kenneth Copeland and Joel Osteen and T.D. Jakes and Joyce Meyer and many others present programs which are as professional as most secular shows. They offer books and CDs and pamphlets which they claim can bring you into a greater dimension of faith and spiritual knowledge. And the golden goose is when they get your mailing address. This has nothing at all to do with the faith which follows Jesus. It is not enough to say they are compromisers or they dilute the truth or even that they teach false doctrine. No, it has gotten to the point when we must understand that these men and women do not teach Christianity at all.
They teach another Jesus and another faith even though they may use some of the same terminology. Let us not step lightly here. They are the worst deceivers on earth and should be seen in the same way we see the Mormon Church or the Jehovah’s Witness Church. They are as much a cult as any other aberration. In some ways they are even worst since they claim to be mainstream evangelical and orthodox. And millions of evangelical church members watch them and support their ministries. I would recommend not supporting any ministry that is seen on Christian television. It is a literal cesspool of error and those preachers who are somewhat orthodox have no business paying for air time and thereby supporting these avenues of spiritual filth.
But there is a more subtle deception that has gripped the evangelical community. These are churches which would not support Osteen or Copeland or Jakes or others false teachers. These would be considered mainstream and orthodox within the evangelical community. Some of these churches may even teach against these deceivers and have discernment in that area. But many churches and many pastors who would not fall under the category of false teachers are still under the spell of this fallen culture. They do not offer trinkets nor promise instant healing or even prosperity on the scale as the other liars, but they still lead their flocks through paths which reflect the culture and the nation rather than Jesus.
In fact the majority of so called “orthodox” churches walk in deception in practice and in belief. And in reality when you practice and believe things that are not of Jesus that is called unbelief. I hope this series on the teachings of Jesus has at least opened our eyes and reinforced the reality that so many are blind to the spiritual state of the church which professes His name but will not obey His teachings. And when a preacher or a church refuses the teachings of Jesus either by ignorance or exegetical dilution or by life practices which defy His teachings then that can also be called false teaching.
Let us all strive to understand, embrace, and obey His teachings apart from the winnowing effect of the fallen secular culture as well as the fallen religious culture.
*****
 Jn.2: 13 And the Jews' passover was at hand, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem.
14 And found in the temple those that sold oxen and sheep and doves, and the changers of money sitting:
15 And when he had made a scourge of small cords, he drove them all out of the temple, and the sheep, and the oxen; and poured out the changers' money, and overthrew the tables;
16 And said unto them that sold doves, Take these things hence; make not my Father's house an house of merchandise.

In England each party is allowed to spend 250 thousand dollars in the election of a Prime Minister. In America 1 billion dollars will spent in the presidential election of 2016. What part does money play in politics? Now if this cesspool called politics derives it very life through money, and if the Scriptures warn us again and again about the love of money, then how can anyone who claims to follow Jesus be involved in that which Jesus hates? Of course I did not mention the infestation of lies, personal boasting, name calling, moral self righteousness, and even the using of one’s supposed Christian faith as a marketing tool. So once again I ask you, how can anyone who claims to follow Jesus be involved in that which Jesus hates.
The answer is they cannot so you draw the inference from that statement. Every you vote you are exercising your constitutional right as well as besmirching the holy name of Christ. The political process is saturated with the love of money. Not only does money run the entire spectacle, but most people vote for the person they believe will help their own pocketbooks. And that is an overt display of the love of money. The American culture runs on the love of money.
But much more serious is the love of money exhibited and even taught within the church. We should expect a fallen culture to love money but not those who claim to follow Jesus. And this dramatically reveals the immense challenge of living within a fallen culture and yet desiring to follow Jesus and His teachings. If we are not vigilant and even militant about remaining separate from the power, both subtle and overt, of the fallen culture it will slowly but surely find its way into the practices of the church, and it will eventually become part of our theology. I believe we have seen this come to pass.
How much of our thought life has to do with money and material things? The average evangelical church meets once a month or once a quarter in a business meeting which may last the better part of an hour and deals primarily with financial issues. How many hour long prayer meetings are held every month? And what are we to glean from that? I think it is obvious. The church in America has succumbed to the fallen culture and has incorporated its practices, its design, and its belief system.
The behavior of Jesus against the money changers seemed way of out character. But that only illustrates His deep hatred for the love of money, and even deeper for embracing the love of money inside His people and inside the places of worship.

“The love of money is the root of all kinds of evil.” (I Tim.6:10)

So if the church is infected with the love of money then all kinds of evils will grow and flourish because of it. And it’s not just lust and greed and avarice. It breeds covetousness, self righteousness, condemnation, evil surmising, hoarding, and a complete devaluing of all that is truly sacred and holy. So a church which has succumbed to a money loving culture either subtly or openly is serving itself and stands in open defiance of Christ and His Word. Read that sentence again and allow it to pierce your understanding.
The issue of being culturally compromised is no small issue and especially when give the large scale in which it has infected the church. And front and center is the way the church understands money. The western church has long since defined God’s blessing in terms of money and material gifts. It has gotten so bad and so sordid that people will praise God because they were approved of a loan for a new car which will stretch the limits of their finances. It is insane. But such is the state of things within the visible church. The admonition to be content with food and clothing seems like a joke and an outdated suggestion rather than a door to devotion to spiritual things. Money drives our thoughts. Money is at the root of many commercials. Money tempts. Money lures us into bad decisions. Money makes us feel either secure or vulnerable. Money is at the root of most wars including the war that birthed America. Money drives Wall Street. Money is what drives prostitution and drug dealers.
And, sadly, money has become intertwined in the practices and mindset and even the theology of the western church.
*****
 
Matt.7: 24 Therefore whosoever heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them, I will liken him unto a wise man, which built his house upon a rock:
25 And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell not: for it was founded upon a rock.
26 And every one that heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them not, shall be likened unto a foolish man, which built his house upon the sand:
27 And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell: and great was the fall of it.
28 And it came to pass, when Jesus had ended these sayings, the people were astonished at his doctrine:
29 For he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes.

They who heard Him recognized the authority with which He spoke. That is an understatement. He who spoke those words IS those words. Jesus is the Word made flesh and His teachings are a revelation of Himself. This is a great mystery but glorious in its truth. Jesus’ Words are truth and Jesus is Truth and therefore Jesus is the incarnate revelation of the Eternal Word of God. Jesus had no beginning and likewise God’s Word is eternal from everlasting to everlasting. It is a sacred mystery into which the Spirit bids us come and dine.
But this parable reveals a bedrock truth upon which the true church and every individual believer must understand and build. This is not just some Hallmark card poetry. This is an eternal truth which teaches the primacy of Christ’s Words and the nonnegotiable command for obedience. So often this parable is reduced to believing that Jesus is the one and only Savior and that is of course true. But there is much more here than just some statement of faith doctrine. Notice the phrase “these sayings of Mine”. That is very telling and must not be glossed over.
Jesus is the Rock upon which we build our faith, but it goes deeper than just a study of who Jesus was and if you profess His divinity you can rest on your doctrinal laurels. No, Jesus Himself teaches otherwise. So there is a great disconnect and paradox evident within the evangelical community. On one hand orthodox believers strongly believe Jesus was God in the flesh and paid for our sins on the cross and was raised from the dead. Many can recite some generally accepted version of the gospel. But again, Jesus delivers words that point to a larger revelation of what He commands. And it is at this intersect where the visible church departs from the words of Jesus while having an orthodox dossier tucked neatly under its doctrinal arms.
I hope you can understand what I am saying here. There is a great chasm between embracing truth about Jesus and embracing the truth He teaches. And when we have been raised in a church which touts who Jesus is without deeply investigating what He teaches we end up being spiritually compromised. But since our compromise mirrors what we learned in church not only are we hesitant to question what we believe, but we are blind to our state and therefore have no idea that there should be any question. But if and when that door cracks open even slightly then all of a sudden we are faced with some confusion and discomfort which hopefully and prayerfully turns into a desire to seek more through the power and enlightenment of the Spirit.
And there comes a point in that kind of journey when the teachings of Jesus become literal commands to us as individual believers. And that is where spiritual labor actually begins. The parable I posted above is often reduced to Jesus being the Rock of our salvation. And what that means is that every baptized church member can say “Amen” to that truth, but they remain clueless to the depth of what that parable is actually teaching. Again, the church has condensed the teachings of Jesus into an orthodox doctrinal position concerning who Jesus is and the doctrine of justification by faith. But please understand that is so self serving and myopic in its depth and its scope.
I have found it very easy to be a Christian. I have found it very difficult to follow Jesus. Do you understand that statement? How convenient it is to study Jesus and yet walk in open defiance of what He lived and taught. You see, many of the teachings of Jesus are thought provoking and somewhat interesting. But until they become literal and visceral elements of our lives they will remain historical remnants of a thirty three year period which has long since outlived its relevance.
In this parable to wind and rain destroyed the house that was not built upon the teachings of Jesus. Does it not seem like believing in Jesus is inseparable from obeying His teachings? Do you see the current disconnect that exists within the ecclesiastical community? There is a great emphasis upon Jesus as Savior but little emphasis upon Jesus as Lord Teacher. And given the current state of affairs within the church I doubt we can overstate the need to return to the teachings of Jesus as the natural result of embracing Him as Savior and Lord.
So hear again the words direct from His divine mouth. “Therefore whosoever heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them, I will liken him unto a wise man, which built his house upon a rock:”
Are we clear? There will be a test.
*****
 
Jn.12: 20 And there were certain Greeks among them that came up to worship at the feast:
21 The same came therefore to Philip, which was of Bethsaida of Galilee, and desired him, saying, Sir, we would see Jesus.
22 Philip cometh and telleth Andrew: and again Andrew and Philip tell Jesus.
23 And Jesus answered them, saying, The hour is come, that the Son of man should be glorified.
24 Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone: but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit.
25 He that loveth his life shall lose it; and he that hateth his life in this world shall keep it unto life eternal.
26 If any man serve me, let him follow me; and where I am, there shall also my servant be: if any man serve me, him will my Father honour.

The Word of God is literally filled with metaphors and symbols and gleanings into truths that in the particular passage does not immediately jump out at you. You must seek and dig and pray. I love the narrative which says that Greek Jews came to worship and said to Philip, “We would see Jesus”. Oh how wonderful it would be if professing believers came to the gathering and desired to see Jesus. We need not see the singers or the speaker or even other friends, but our desire, our passion, our unquenchable thirst is to see Jesus.
And look at what happens. Philip tells Andrew and they both tell Jesus what these Greeks had said. And then Jesus does something amazing. Instead of setting up a book signing or standing in front of a long line and shaking people’s hands as they file by, Jesus immediately goes into the gospel. Someone desires to see Him? Well he shares the glory of the cross. In fact He says the hour of His death will be the hour of His suffering.
He speaks of dying. He speaks of being in the ground. He speaks of death fruit. He speaks of death and life. He speaks about His servants being where He is. Try and assimilate all that. It is a collection of sacred truths which find their source and destination in Christ and His passion. If we really step deeply into what Jesus is saying we immediately realize these are eternal truths which carry an eternal weight of glory!
Jesus speaks about hating your life while men profit from Your Best Life Now. So either Jesus is truth or men are truth. You cannot believe both. The cross is a path of both death and life. It is a paradox along with the first shall be last, and he who loses his life shall find it, and when I am weak then am I strong. The words that Jesus says in response to the Greeks desiring to see Him are telling. He is teaching the cross and the gospel and by that He suggests that this is the way to see Him.
Throughout the ages men have painted portraits of Jesus and no one has seen Him. But through the eyes of the Spirit every believer can see Him. He is truth and within that truth He lives. So the Greeks were right in desiring to see Jesus, but they had no idea concerning the gospel. The Scriptures tell us that the Greeks seek after knowledge and the Jews want a sign. But the sign is the gospel and the knowledge is the cross. It all goes against the spirit of this world and to the natural man it is so much foolishness.
So what shall we make of the words, “If any man serve me, let him follow me; and where I am, there shall also my servant be.”? So many of the teachings of Jesus require prayer and meditation to uncover the gem stones contained in them. This sentence has some mystery within it. How can we be where Jesus is today? Over the years I come to detest easy and quick answers when deep meditation is warranted. The current church climate quickly sees the utilitarian aspects of Scripture that can benefit us and it leaves the deeply spiritual aspects which require prayer and meditation and which may require sacrificial service to the Christ.
But the obvious truth is that the visible church does not desire to be where Jesus is, and it no longer serves Him. It would take layers of repentance before the American evangelical church could return to the pure faith which believes in and obeys the teachings of Jesus. Where is Jesus? He is in the prisons. He is in the nursing homes. He is in the streets. He is in the gay community. He is outside the abortion clinics. He is in the African jungle. He is in Muslim countries. He is in small house gatherings. He is in very small local churches. He is in many homes. He is in food pantries. He is in ministries to the poor.
And by His grace He is in things about which He does not approve. He is in some soldiers. He is in some liberals. He is in some conservatives. He is in some who have same sex attractions. He is in some women who have had abortions. He is in some rich people. He is in some patriots. He is in some Baptists and some Methodists and some Episcopalians and some Catholics and even some oddball denominations. Jesus finds His way into places and people which are deceived and embrace things that displease Him.
But make no mistake. Jesus is not in some Baptists and some Methodists and some Episcopalians and some Catholics. In fact Jesus is not in most of those. Jesus is not in some pastors. He is not in some elders. He is not in some evangelists. He is not in most television preachers. He is not in prosperity teachings. He is not in politics. He is not in patriotism. He is not in violence and war. He is not in gay behavior nor is He in heterosexual promiscuity and infidelity. He is not in most western church services. He is not in capitalism. Jesus is not in this fallen culture.
So where do we go to be where Jesus is? In general we go to the least of these. We go to the prisoners. We go to the homeless. We go to the poor. We go to the gay community. We go to the rejected. We go to the depressed. We go to those who mourn. We go to the downtrodden. We go to the needy. And as we go Jesus goes with us with compassion and love and the everlasting gospel. And how do we know we are where Jesus is?
If you’ve done it to the least of these you have done it unto me. In reality, Jesus is already there and waiting for us to arrive.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Teachings of Jesus - Part VIII

THE TEACHINGS OF JESUS - PART VIII
 
Matt.10: 34 Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword.
35 For I am come to set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her mother, and the daughter in law against her mother in law.
36 And a man's foes shall be they of his own household.

Eph.5: But fornication, and all uncleanness, or covetousness, let it not be once named among you, as becometh saints;
Neither filthiness, nor foolish talking, nor jesting, which are not convenient: but rather giving of thanks.
For this ye know, that no whoremonger, nor unclean person, nor covetous man, who is an idolater, hath any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God.
Let no man deceive you with vain words: for because of these things cometh the wrath of God upon the children of disobedience.
Be not ye therefore partakers with them.

Rev.18: And I heard another voice from heaven, saying, Come out of her, my people, that ye be not partakers of her sins, and that ye receive not of her plagues.
For her sins have reached unto heaven, and God hath remembered her iniquities.

There are a growing number of believers who do not belong to nor attend and organized, local church. It started out as a curiosity, then it became a small phenomenon, but now it is turning into somewhat of a movement. Let me say that I thank God for some local churches that have not bowed the knee to Baal and are ministered to by a sincere man of God. But they have become few and far between and there are many believers who have not found such a gathering place.
And the situation being as it is more and more believers have separated themselves from a local organized church and now find fellowship with other believers within other types of media or in homes. But let me also say that just withdrawing from a local gathering does not mean you are spiritual or that you are seeking God. The two things are not completely bound together. We still must seek Christ even more so and to tell you the truth in many ways we have become free in the Spirit and led to places we could not find within a compromised church. And let me also admit that I was a part of that church at one time.
I am convinced that most of the organized church has become part of the Babylonian system that exists all around us. And in so doing that organized 501c business does not represent Christ nor His body. The organized church has moved so far away from Jesus that we cannot fully understand the gravity of the situation. In so many ways that which we call the “church” is not even Christian anymore. It has morphed into a religious club full of fellowship and music and activities and organization and it operates far more in that construct than it does in the Spirit. And those of you who still attend a local church must prayerfully ask yourselves some questions. Would I attend if I did not have friends. Does the pastor deeply challenge me spiritually? What place does prayer have in the gatherings?

I Tim.6: If any man teach otherwise, and consent not to wholesome words, even the words of our Lord Jesus Christ, and to the doctrine which is according to godliness;
He is proud, knowing nothing, but doting about questions and strifes of words, whereof cometh envy, strife, railings, evil surmisings,
Perverse disputings of men of corrupt minds, and destitute of the truth, supposing that gain is godliness: from such withdraw thyself.

So what are we to do? The Scriptures tell us to come out and to withdraw from those who do not teach nor hold to the words of Jesus. That covers much ground in today’s culturally imprisoned church organizations. Many of us have been at our wit’s end and have searched the mind of the Spirit and have felt a call to withdraw. It is painful and lonely and there is a battle against bitterness and self righteousness as well as spiritual lethargy. But again, what can we do? Many of us have found miraculous fellowship via Facebook, blogs, and other avenues. Believe me when I tell you I would never have believed it. I never desired to go on Facebook and it was only because my youngest son signed me up. I had found likeminded brethren on my blog and on other blogs, but again I was surprised at the number of brothers and sisters with whom I found spiritual fellowship and spiritual nourishment.
I sincerely believe the western church is part of Babylon, and if that is so than we have no other option than to come out from her lest we be a partaker of her sins. Sadly, very sadly, it has come down to this.
*****
Jn.6: 33 For the bread of God is he which cometh down from heaven, and giveth life unto the world.
34 Then said they unto him, Lord, evermore give us this bread.
35 And Jesus said unto them, I am the bread of life: he that cometh to me shall never hunger; and he that believeth on me shall never thirst.
36 But I said unto you, That ye also have seen me, and believe not.

Think on this statement: “That you also have seen me and believe not.” What an incredibly indictment. These people had seen and heard Jesus and yet they would not open their hearts to Him. They attended His teachings and the saw and heard of His miracles and yet they remained in unbelief. That scenario exists today as well.
Millions go back and forth to church and are baptized church members and yet are in a state of unbelief. You see unbelief is not just confined to atheists or pagans. It runs rampant throughout the American church community. In fact the more I see and understand the teachings of Jesus and the New Testament as a whole the more I am convinced that more church members live in belief that we might even think. It is pandemic.
And one of the most deceptive features of unbelief is that many people think they believe when in fact they are lost and in a spiritual state of unbelief. Think about that. I was raised in church and we went almost every Sunday morning. We participated in church activities and I was a member of the youth group. My mother was the choir director, I completed three years of catechism and was confirmed as a member, and I was an acolyte. And yet I was living in a state of unbelief. I was not saved.
And when the Spirit finally reached my heart and I believed on Christ and I was born again I realized almost immediately that I had been a part of a religious system which soothes the consciences of the lost and deceives people into thinking they believe. That is a monstrous deception indeed. And that is where tens of millions of people are today. They live in unbelief and yet think they are Christians just because they go to a Christian church and denomination. But there are many like me who were raised in all kinds of different churches. They come from Baptist, Lutheran, Catholic, Methodist, and almost every other denomination and church and after being born again testify of their walk in darkness even while attending a church.
But these people had been with Jesus and heard His name and heard His teachings and yet were still in unbelief. You see the spiritual battleground is in the heart. So often men have made church membership, or baptism, or communion, or good works, or systematic theology the battleground for salvation when all the time it is within the heart. The Spirit draws men to Christ but men must allow the Spirit access into their hearts before they can truly believe. The Scriptures admonish us not to harden our hearts. Regardless of any theological teaching to the contararyevery man has a God given free will. This is not just some divine marionette show where God manipulates the string to amuse Himself. This is serious spiritual business.
After I was born again people thought I had become unhinged, and because I had led such a wicked life they assumed I had found a crutch that would help me mend my ways. They just could not understand. I was naive back then and I literally assumed that when I shared Jesus with my friends they would quickly believe like me. I was wrong. After my final court date I went to a friend’s apartment where a handful of my former friends gathered to see me. I told them that if I had offered them some pills they would take them simply on the basis of my word, and yet I share Jesus and they resist. Back then I thought the change in my life and the passion of my witness would be irresistible. I now know only the Spirit can open a heart to Christ and that only when a sinner truly seeks will that heart open.
Look across America. Churches by the hundreds of thousands stand in every city and town, and yet how many are born again? I have pastored Baptist churches and I would wonder how many were truly born again. Oh they said they believed the Bible and they were against tobacco and alcohol and they waived the flag and they voted in business meetings, but how many were born again? Were they consumed with Christ personally? I am not suggesting that every born again believer is always on the mountain top and seeking Christ’s face with passion every moment, but there is a vast sea of church members in which that never happens at all. And what are we to make of that?
I would say to people after I was saved, “Do you believe in Jesus?” and many would reply yes, they do. And I would say, “I don’t mean just believe, have you born again?” And they would look at me very strange. Even in church when a person consistently speaks about Jesus he is an oddball. Listen to the Sunday morning banter and see if you hear conversation about Jesus. You might hear a “God is so good” phrase tossed out once in a while, but to have a deeply spiritual sharing about Jesus is a rarity. In fact, and sadly so, those kinds of conversations rarely take place in the pulpit. When was the last time you witnessed a preacher break down emotionally as he shared Jesus from the pulpit? So how is it we can weep over the death of our precious dog and yet we can be in control as we speak about our precious Savior?
I would suggest there are two reasons for that astounding phenomenon. One is that so many believers are not seeking Christ with all their hearts and their hearts have become spiritually cold. The other reason is that many church members have not met the Living Christ and they are in a state of unbelief. And there are many, many believers today who can testify that they themselves were once a part of that group and yet now are alive in Jesus Christ! Thank God for His grace!
You can eat the church and eat the fellowship and eat the pastor and eat the doctrine and eat the country, but if you do not eat the Bread from Heaven you will not die because you are already dead.
*****
Lk.14: 25 And there went great multitudes with him: and he turned, and said unto them,
26 If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple.
27 And whosoever doth not bear his cross, and come after me, cannot be my disciple.
28 For which of you, intending to build a tower, sitteth not down first, and counteth the cost, whether he have sufficient to finish it?
29 Lest haply, after he hath laid the foundation, and is not able to finish it, all that behold it begin to mock him,
30 Saying, This man began to build, and was not able to finish.

The end of the sermon nears. The preacher gives the gospel and prays for the Spirit to convict hearts. He invites people to come down to the altar to speak with a worker. A young man walks down to the front and shakes the outstretched hand of an altar worker. The man asks him his name and why he has come. The young man tells him that he wants to be saved. The altar worker looks him straight in the eye and says, “Have you counted the cost, son?”
Can you even conceive of such a thing? I have been in altar training sessions and they are designed to help altar workers quickly lead people in a sinner’s prayer after quoting a few verses to which they nod. The key is to always close the deal. No talk of sacrifice of counting the cost. That may turn away folks and we certainly don’t want that. And many times, after the altar worker showers this stranger with all kinds of assurances that he is now saved, the pastor may read a decision card to which the crowd says amen or applauds.
But that is not the way of Jesus nor is it the path to true discipleship. Can a person become saved without becoming a disciple? I guess that depends on how you define disciple. If you suggest that a person can get his ticket to heaven punched and then show little or no interest in following Jesus then I would say that is unbiblical at best. While it is true that some people get born again and it takes them some time for fruit to become visible, but eventually it does. That is sometimes true. But if we contend that a saved person can show no fruit then that is a very dangerous doctrine to promote since it might give false assurance to unsaved sinners.
The carnal and religious mind thinks that you will judged fit for heaven if your good works outweigh your bad, but nothing could be further from the truth. The Scriptures teach that all our so called “good works” are filthy rags in the sight of a Holy God. To attach merit to our works is to diminish the complete and finished work of Jesus at Calvary. Let us not even entertain such a monstrous falsehood! The shed blood and death of Jesus paid for the sins of the world in full. Can you even comprehend such a thing? It seems like a phrase used in Sunday School but it is in fact the greatest mystery of all eternity. What a child can understand is unfathomable in depth and immeasurable in scope and infinitely profound in its spiritual essence.
And here we enter into a paradox. This salvation purchased by Christ is offered free by faith alone. But this kind of faith can only come if we truly understand what we are believing. The gospel has been so watered down that even unbelievers can embrace it without being born again which is just a religious exercise with no eternal power. And then there are those who attach some religious ceremony or human works which again render that gospel powerless. But there is a sacred ground which stands upon grace alone but which counts the cost. It seems like an incongruent paradox but it is the everlasting gospel which only the Spirit can reveal to a human heart. Those of us who have been born again, even those without any theological training, know exactly what Jesus is saying.
Many of us were redeemed in the midst of a compromised church community, but by God’s grace we have come to realize we were being called to deeper waters. And to our shame we discovered we had been living mostly for ourselves and in many ways in defiance of the teachings of Jesus. I can speak for myself I was horrified! And the more I sought the Scriptures and the revelation of the Spirit the more I saw my utter need of repentance. In fact, I am still deeply in the midst of that journey.
And now we come to the word “cost”. Liars who call themselves preachers dress in fine linen and dine in the finest restaurants and fly in private jets and store up large sums of money for themselves. And what cost is there in that? But leaving that absurdity with which we should not compare ourselves, let us bring that word to our own spiritual neighborhood. Jesus said to count the cost. What cost is that about which He speaks? You would think that in a culture consumed with money and pleasure a true disciple would be remarkably different in almost every way than the fallen kingdom around us. And you would be right.
But look around and do you see professing believers eschewing the love of money? Do they buy the same cars as the unbelievers? Do they move into the same houses? Do they seek the same entertainment? Do they spend unreasonable time in prayer? Do they seek the Lord’s presence with passion outside the church? So just what does it “cost” to follow Jesus in America? Well, in the current acceptable form of discipleship it costs nothing at all. In fact the slightest attack on our western lifestyle will be met with outrage, voting registrations, and if need be war. My heart grieves at such a thing.
But as the Lord so accurately points out the church deserves to be mocked because we have rejected the foundation and built our own unfinished spiritual building. People refer to the church as “You know the one on Main Street” or “The one with such a pretty building” or “First such and such church”. Now stop for a minute and think about how people would describe a church that met in homes all across a town. How could they describe it to others? They might have to describe certain people and the way they speak and act. “You know, those people who feed the homeless and visit prisoners and love those gay people and who are always speaking about Jesus.” Do you see the utter disconnect with what we have today?
That is because we have made a treaty with the world and by such a treaty we thrive in a costless construct which in many ways behaves like the Elks club. Organization, buildings, meetings, patriotism, and an overt embracing of capitalism in all its glory. And now when we say cost we mean the 10 dollars to get into a “Christian” concert. Oh my…

But in full disclosure I am still on a journey to fully discover that cost.
*****

Jn.6: 26 Jesus answered them and said, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Ye seek me, not because ye saw the miracles, but because ye did eat of the loaves, and were filled.
27 Labour not for the meat which perisheth, but for that meat which endureth unto everlasting life, which the Son of man shall give unto you: for him hath God the Father sealed.
28 Then said they unto him, What shall we do, that we might work the works of God?
29 Jesus answered and said unto them, This is the work of God, that ye believe on him whom he hath sent.

This teaching captures the western evangelical mindset in a nutshell. The church seeks their own best interests which they conveniently define as “God’s will”. It grows increasingly difficult for individuals to step back and peer through the Spirit and see the reality of what now passes for the faith. And as difficult as that is for the individual it is next to impossible for the church collectively. We have become a “people of the loaves”. It is our bellies which guide us and not the Spirit. Does that way too harsh and judgmental? Well that would only be accurate if indeed it were not true.
But notice the word “labor”. This western version of Christianity requires no labor at all. The closest thing to labor is the inconvenience of getting up early and getting dressed and travelling to church. From there it’s all gravy.
I have reached a point in this study of the teachings of Jesus where I am compelled to speak about the state of the western church which calls itself Christian. I realize it can get somewhat redundant, but considering the seriousness of the issue I suggest the Spirit wishes to address it often. There are those of us who have seen some of what the Spirit is revealing. And being imperfect and not wishing to present ourselves as the measuring stick, we have left the organized church. It’s like going to a restaurant smorgasbord and getting plate after place but finding nothing appealing at all until you have tasted everything. Would you go back anymore?
That is what has happened. I don’t mean the present ecclesiastical construct is a little unbalanced or needs some fine tuning. I am openly and Scripturally contending that the entire structure from the pastor to the membership to the buildings to the 501c to the staff to the salary packages to the voting and what happens during the gatherings is all wrong. Miracle Max said the prince was “almost dead” but in this case the church is completely dead. It has been completely swallowed up by the culture and the ideas of men.
The sentence in verse 29 sums up the will of God. “This is the work of God, that ye believe on him whom he hath sent.” Such a concise summation and yet filled with eternal truth. If we are unwilling to unpack these kinds of truths then we will remain without any hunger for the meat that does not perish while we eat a steady diet of temporal meat that strengthens the flesh. These kinds of metaphors are astounding! Later in this chapter Jesus speaks of drinking His blood and eating His flesh which caused most to walk away from Him. At least these people were honest. Today we have an entire ecclesiastical crowd who have left Jesus yet still claim to believe in Him.
We want God to make loaves appear for us. We look for Him to wait on us. If we have to labor to make our own loaves we would much rather eat the loaves of the world. We want loaves, wherever they come from, to be delivered to us already to eat. Spiritual work is foreign to us. Our time is consumed with us and with others who mean something to us but Jesus can have an hour or two in a corporate setting where we can sit and enjoy the sensory laden pageant. But if you ask people what spiritual labor is you will probably receive an answer that has some human activity like building or working in a polling place or sending clothes to Good Will. But who could understand laboring in the prayer closet? Or laboring in the Word? Or laboring in seeking to know Jesus?
To believe on Jesus is much deeper than just acknowledging Him in a doctrinal sense. It is a simple equation in a sense, but it is unfathomably deep as well. You must find out who Jesus was and is by studying His Words and then you must obey Him. Seems pretty simple, right? But unbeknownst to the masses there is a literal ocean of eternal truth in Jesus which cannot be tapped without spiritual labor. Sometimes that labor comes freely and the Spirit guides you into fresh life giving revelation, and other times that labor is intense and frustrating and requires a relentless spirit. And after you receive a revelation of what seems to be a simple truth you then are challenged to die to yourself and live that truth.
There is such a thing as spiritual inertia. To start an authentic, self denying journey is very difficult. It’s not a downhill slide. But once you are engaged in that journey the meat you ingest strengthens and sustains you and beckons you to go further. I do not suggest that every day will be filled with wonder. No, there will be days when your labor does not seem to be producing much. But those are the days when we must persevere. Picture a man waiting at a train station. He waits and waits and becomes agitated. He was sure the train would have come by now. And then he cannot wait any longer so he leaves. No sooner does he leave than the trains comes from around the bend and picks up passengers at that station. The man missed the train.
Jesus is coming. Maybe soon and maybe a thousand years from now. But He is coming. Let us not grow weary in well doing and continue to labor to lay hold of Him. We now deal in Scriptural revelation through the power of the Spirit. We see through a glass darkly. We feast upon scraps but oh how glorious are these scraps! But there is coming a day when revelation meets complete reality and we will stand before Him and gaze upon Him. Oh my dear friends, if we only believed that with all our hearts and minds it would change our lives. Let us continue to labor for the Master. Let us not just eat the meat that He gives, but let us consume it carefully, relentlessly, and with passion.
***** 

Jn.5: 41 I receive not honour from men.

Mk.7: He answered and said unto them, Well hath Esaias prophesied of you hypocrites, as it is written, This people honoureth me with their lips, but their heart is far from me.

The western culture has robbed the church of what it means to exalt and honor the Lord Jesus. This individualist culture that is permeated with gimmicks, advertisements, and trinkets has seeped into the church. Like a sports team churches, preachers, and ministries, have their logos and T-shirts and jewelry and stickers and an array of other novelties. In fact the name and caricature of Jesus is imprinted on such things including tattoos. But because we live in a culture of gaud we cannot see it for what it is.
If you attend a “Christian” concert you will see the trinket tables selling all kinds of things. And the performers are well remunerated for their talents. Can we not see that the entire construct is fleshly and against the teachings of Jesus? I believe it would fill us with horror if we really understood how God felt about the side show carnival much of the church has become. The money changers of old had nothing on the western evangelical church.
Gone is the sense of sacred and hallowed. Gone is an atmosphere of holiness and awe. The Scripture tell us that Esau sought repentance diligently and with many tears and yet he could not recover the birthright he had sold. How many professing believers today seek repentance? How many seek it diligently with tears? The Word of God has become a good advice book and a road map for earthly prosperity.
And Jesus rides in the passenger seat of your life and watches you drive. For the most part there is little authentic conversation. The Word tells us that God desires obedience rather than sacrifice and yet the church is filled on Sunday mornings with excitement and the sacrifice of praise after a week filled with spiritual lethargy and disobedience. There are many lips waiting in line to honor Christ, but few lives that diligently seek to honor Him. We have settled into a cultural faith which costs nothing, says nothing, follows nothing, hears nothing, and uses almost all of its passion on family, occupation, recreation, education, competition, and country. If there is anything left over it goes to Jesus, or at least to the church.
And even in the pulpit men receive honor from men. Parading secular titles like “Dr” men love the best seats at banquets and conferences. To hear a preacher introduced is like hearing the accolades of the angel Gabriel. Read his bio and you will want to bow in his presence. The larger the church, the more glorious the spectacle. The more books he has written elicit the greater homage. Good lighting and good makeup and a good sound system help create the desired aura. The Man of God steps behind the sacred desk and prepares to deliver a divine message to the eager masses. And afterward his majesty makes himself available to sign books and Bibles. It is so cultural, so capitalist, so rock concert, so celebrity, and provides an event complete with the obligatory feasting afterward on the way home. Meaningless…no wait…fleshly…no wait…entertaining…no wait…insulting to a holy God. Yes, that’s it.
So what does a life and a heart look like when it honors Christ? You might get a hundred different answers from evangelicals and that should tell you something. But the majority of pew dwellers are really not interested in that question at all and especially if you are going to use terms like “sacrifice” and self denial” and “surrender” and “forsake all”. Those kinds of expressions run counter to the culture inside and outside of the evangelical community. The concept now revolves around how God can honor us and not how we can honor Him. In fact even when the pulpit discusses honoring God it always carries with it a reciprocal promise that will benefit you because you honored Christ. I guess the martyrs were not paying attention that day.
But as it pertains to honoring Christ our lips are last in line. Man looks upon the outward appearance but God sees the heart. It is our hearts that honor Christ and our lips and lives will follow suit. There is so much emphasis upon the outer man and little upon the inner man. You see you can get up and get dressed and “go to church” and look just everyone else without addressing anything in your heart. That is completely between you and God. But to honor Christ we must come with a broken and contrite heart. And that, my friends, is a labor of love which only the Spirit can accomplish. All we can do is open or close the door.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Ashamed

This made me cry and this made me ashamed.