Monday, December 12, 2016

My Little Black Bag: Forgetting The Unforgettable

"Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus. Let us therefore, as many as be perfect, be thus minded: and if in any thing ye be otherwise minded, God shall reveal even this unto you." - Philippians 3:13-15 (KJV)

While serving as a Missionary in Belize I made trips frequently to the southern Toledo District.  Up to that point I had always kept my pockets full of random stuff along with leaving several things I wish I could have had with me in my suitcase or in the car when I traveled.  Finally, at a small "this-and-that" store in Punta Gorda Town, I purchased a small, black canvas shoulder bag that was perfect for my need.  Today you will find that I am seldom very far away from that bag.

When I'm at home, the bag sits by the bed in a convenient place to be grabbed up at a moments notice.  When I travel, the bag travels with me.  Regardless of where I am, I'm always aware of the location of my little black bag and for good reason.  What started as a travel bag evolved into portable storage for important documents.  Inside are various forms of identification, certificates, diplomas and credentials along with a variety of legal documents pertaining to my family and me.

Unfortunately, the sight of my little black bag is also painful at times because of some of its contents.

There, along with the marriage license, passport and birth certificate are yet other papers.  Court orders.  Affidavits.  Notarized witness statements.  Certified letters.  All of them concerning the most horrible event that ever transpired in my life.  I still remember the sting of walking out of a courtroom and being handed a stack of papers by my attorney as he said, "It's all done.  Just make sure you keep these handy for the rest of your life."   With that and a handshake, I was left alone in the foyer outside the Court Clerk's office.  "Keep these...for the rest of your life."

And so I have done thus far.  There, in my little black bag, are the remnants of the most painful chapter in my life thus far.  Not always, but from time to time, the bag seems to mock me repeating the words, "for the rest of your life."

But my little black bag is not alone in accomplishing this task of "cutting me down to size," so to speak.  There are always other reminders of "those things which are behind."  At times it is people who don't know who ask questions.  At other times, those who do know who don't know when to drop it.  Yet another group: those who know, don't intend to drop it and revel in the pain it brings to keep it alive.  Then again, it's random thoughts.  Memories that haven't faded.  Small reminders.  Wounds that, frankly, will never heal.  My little black bag joins a chorus of reminders, both human and ethereal, which would wreak havoc with my heart, my mind and my sanity.

The Apostle Paul had his own little black bag, metaphorically speaking.  Imagine the difficulty the great Apostle must have faced during his lifetime.  For him "those things which are behind" included the crying of widows who lost their husbands at the hands of the brutal religious fanatic named Saul.  The memory of washing his hands and watching the blood stained water run down his arms.  And, if his vivid recollection of the victims of his radicalism wasn't enough, now, as a Christian Minister, he had to go back and preach to the friends and family of those whom he had persecuted.  Could you imagine looking into the eyes of the children of men you had killed in God's name while now preaching to them that Christ had come?

"That's Saul," some would whisper as he passed by.  "No, I'm not," he might have said to himself.  "I'm Paul now."  But "those things which were behind" followed him.  Many were afraid of him because of his previous reputation.  Some chose not to believe he had changed.  And, even if he had changed, that did nothing to erase the memory of what had transpired in his life before his radical encounter with Christ and his subsequent conversion.  Paul knew that and, from his writings, we see that it was at least an issue from time to time.  Some have even speculated that his "thorn in the flesh" mentioned in 2 Corinthians 12:7 was nothing more or less than memory.  No matter the profundity of revelation given to him, Paul could still remember.

Who can say whether or not Paul woke up in the middle of the night in a cold sweat as he was thrown back into his former life in his dreams?  Hasn't such been the case with many who have endured such trauma?  And, although Paul had been born again and was indwelt by the Spirit of God, it did not change the fact that he was still human, in possession of all his faculties and subject to retrospection.

This is exactly why Paul's statement to the Philippian Christians is about forgetting.  Notice he did not say, "I have forgotten those things which are behind."  Rather, the Apostle said, "This is what I do; I'm forgetting those things..."  It is an active, purposeful work on the part of the one forgetting to perpetuate the act of forgetting.  In other words, Paul is not saying that it is possible to kill the memories.  He is encouraging us to take those things and, when they reappear, actively forget them again.

If you're like me and the Apostle Paul, you have things that have happened that sit in your little black bag to haunt you from time to time.  You're not a substandard Christian because you have baggage.  You're normal.  You're human.  And you can still accomplish great things for God and live a victorious life.  There are things you will never get over.  You will "keep these...for the rest of your life."  Yet, like the Apostle Paul and me, you can find that the grace of Christ is sufficient - not because it erases the memory of the past, but it redefines you life as something more than the result of past mistakes or injuries.

I'll never forget, no matter how hard I try, the unforgettable events that have transpired in my life.  But I am forgetting them and every time my little black bag mocks me, I choose to forget again.  Every time someone says something that reopens a wound, I choose to forget again.  When the painful memories return, I choose to forget again.  I refocus.  I look forward.  I press on.  I keep moving.  I refuse to live in the past because, if I do, I'll die there every day.  I haven't forgotten but I am forgetting, and you can too.

Look ahead to Christ and start the journey of forgetting today.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Your Prayer Shawl Scares Me

"So don’t let anyone condemn you for what you eat or drink, or for not celebrating certain holy days or new moon ceremonies or Sabbaths. For these rules are only shadows of the reality yet to come. And Christ himself is that reality." - Colossians 2:16-17 (NLT)

The efficacy of Judaism, as a theological system, is dead.  This was the message of Jesus of Nazareth and, for that message, the Jewish leaders sought to kill Him.  The Law of Moses, having served its purpose, was to be nailed to the cross along with the Lamb of God who was taking away the sins of the world (Colossians 2:14).  The Law's ultimate purpose was as a teacher to bring men to Christ and, once an individual is in Christ, the authority of the Law ceases to exist (Galatians 3:19-25).  It is by true faith leading to the New Birth that one is "circumcised" in the means that God now recognizes (Romans 2:25-29; Colossians 2:8-13).  Thus, the one who would cling to any of the traditions of the Law does so in great peril making Christ of absolutely no value (Galatians 5:1-6).

This very bold introduction is because of the gravity of the proposition.  A Christian attempting to keep the traditions of the Law is described in the New Testament as "entangled," under a "yoke of bondage" who is "obligated to keep the entire Law" and "fallen from grace" and "under a curse."  Given that fact, it is not a subject which should be dealt with softly nor can there be sufficient emphasis on the Biblical mandate to follow the Perfect Law of Liberty instead of the Law of Sin and Death.  The Apostle Paul warned the Galatians, "Christ is become of no effect unto you, whosoever of you are justified by the law; ye are fallen from grace" (Galatians 5:4).  But what about those who keep portions of the Law but do not do so as a matter of justification?

At this point, the matter gets a little blurry.

For Christians there is something fascinating about Judaism.  This is not altogether unmerited.  After all, Christianity is, by nature, the wild olive branch grafted onto the natural (Romans 11:11-31).  The Jewish root of the Church is undeniable.  We are, by faith, children of Abraham (Galatians 3:7, 29).  We are those "Jews" which are ones inwardly through the circumcision of the heart (Romans 2:28-29).  The Church is that entity which, in Christ, fulfills the Law (Romans 3:29-31).  Christ has torn down the middle wall which divides Jew and Gentile making them one new man in Him (Ephesians 2:14-16).  The Christian is a resident of God's Jerusalem (Galatians 4:26), has come to Mount Zion (Hebrews 12:22), a citizen of the commonwealth of Israel (Ephesians 2:11-13) and part of the Body which has now become the people of God (1 Peter 2:9-10).

Again, the Jewish root of the Church is undeniable.  But the Law and the Prophets, the ordinances of the Law, the Sabbaths, feasts, festivals, sacrifices and the like, are only shadows.  They are Christ's shadow (Colossians 2:16-17), shadowy examples of Divine things in Christ (Hebrews 8:5-6), figures of the future sacrifice of Christ (Hebrews 9:1-10, 10:1-18) with the overarching message that the actual substance, the thing to attain and cling to, is Christ; not the shadow.

It is not altogether unusual to see Christians keeping traditions of the Law.  The Apostle Paul dealt with this issue quite thoroughly in Romans 14.  In that passage, which should serve as a model for Christian liberty and conviction, Paul confronts the issue of Christians clinging to certain dietary aspects of the Law.  His conclusion was simple:  if you wish to carry a dietary restriction because of your conscience, do so understanding that it doesn't make you a better person, closer to God, more spiritual, a stronger Christian or more justified in the eyes of God.  Don't command others to do it.  Don't look down on others who don't do what you do.  Keep it to yourself and be happy about it (Romans 14:22-23).  But if you're doing it because you are keeping some trapping of the Law (dietary restrictions, prayer shawls, Sabbaths, feasts, etc.) because you think it pleases God for you to do so, you're wrong.  It might satisfy your conscience in some way, but, in doing so, you prove yourself to be weak (1 Corinthians 8:11-13).

This is one of the reasons there is the potential to completely fall from grace in keeping the traditions of the Law  (Galatians 5:4).  The Christian who does so is revealing a personal spiritual weakness.  Trying to hold to a shadow when the substance stands before you can be a great sign of distance from God.  The light shines from Christ (2 Corinthians 4:6).  The shadow is cast before Him.  You cannot embrace the shadow without, to some degree, turning your back on Christ.  This is what is so frightening about seeing Christians keeping these aspects of the Law.

Furthermore, it is one thing to have an appreciation and curiosity in regard to Biblical Judaism.  But the facets of Judaism most often embraced by Christians are not necessarily Biblical.  It must be remembered that Judaism, as it appears today, has not been Judaism according to the Biblical form in many centuries.  When a Christian wears a "Jewish" prayer shawl (tallit) or the skullcap (kippah), they are not fulfilling Numbers 15:38-40 or any other point of the Law.  They are dressing in garments which developed much later than the Old Testament period and perpetuating extra-Biblical Talmudic Judaism.  Be mindful that this is the same form of Judaism which claims Jesus of Nazareth was the illegitimate son of an adulteress who was, Himself, an attempted adulterer, sorcerer and idolater.  These are they which call Him "son of Pantera" to emphasize a supposed relationship between Mary and a Roman soldier or political official who was the real father of Jesus.  It is the same Talmudic Judaism which insists that Jesus of Nazareth is held in eternal punishment writhing in "boiling excrement" and who, hopefully, will have His name and memory completely blotted out.

How can a Christian hold hands in any form of identification with this?

Returning to Romans 14, we must agree with the Holy Spirit as He spoke through the Apostle Paul.  If a Christian holds a personal conviction in regard to anything, inasmuch as it doesn't violate the Word of God, let it be so and let that individual hold that conviction to himself before God without mandating such upon any other Believer.  This applies to both Saint and Minister.  The Pastor, Evangelist, Teacher or Minister who teaches others they must do these things is violating the Word of God in doing so.  If you have a conviction, keep it to yourself before God.  Those who lead their congregations into Sabbath worship, keeping of feasts and other matters does so in contradiction to and rebellion against the Word of God.  Holding to it yourself is fine; insisting others must do so is not.

That an individual Christian returns to embrace portions of the traditions of the Law is a frightening thing.  It would appear that it begins with a small point and, most often, evolves into feelings of superiority or, akin to it, feelings that other Christians who do not observe such things are inferior, rebellious, in fellowship with the "harlot church" or, in some way, shape or form, displeasing to God.  It is frightening because it is, most often, a slippery slope.  The Law is a dangerous thing to play with once an individual experiences grace.  It will bring you into bondage and rob you of the gift of grace.  Sadly, those who walk this road most often do so in the name of drawing nearer to and pleasing God.

But let it be understood now just as it was in the days of the Apostles and as it has been stated before, "Christ is become of no effect unto you, whosoever of you are justified by the law; ye are fallen from grace" (Galatians 5:4).  Let us strive not to be, as the Holy Spirit addressed our Brethren of old, "foolish Galatians."

GALATIANS 3 (ESV)

1 O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? It was before your eyes that Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified. 2 Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith? 3 Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh? 4 Did you suffer so many things in vain—if indeed it was in vain? 5 Does he who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you do so by works of the law, or by hearing with faith— 6 just as Abraham “believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness”?

7 Know then that it is those of faith who are the sons of Abraham. 8 And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, “In you shall all the nations be blessed.” 9 So then, those who are of faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith.

10 For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, “Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them.” 11 Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law, for “The righteous shall live by faith.” 12 But the law is not of faith, rather “The one who does them shall live by them.” 13 Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree”— 14 so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith.

15 To give a human example, brothers: even with a man-made covenant, no one annuls it or adds to it once it has been ratified. 16 Now the promises were made to Abraham and to his offspring. It does not say, “And to offsprings,” referring to many, but referring to one, “And to your offspring,” who is Christ. 17 This is what I mean: the law, which came 430 years afterward, does not annul a covenant previously ratified by God, so as to make the promise void. 18 For if the inheritance comes by the law, it no longer comes by promise; but God gave it to Abraham by a promise.

19 Why then the law? It was added because of transgressions, until the offspring should come to whom the promise had been made, and it was put in place through angels by an intermediary. 20 Now an intermediary implies more than one, but God is one.

21 Is the law then contrary to the promises of God? Certainly not! For if a law had been given that could give life, then righteousness would indeed be by the law. 22 But the Scripture imprisoned everything under sin, so that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe.

23 Now before faith came, we were held captive under the law, imprisoned until the coming faith would be revealed. 24 So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith. 25 But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian, 26 for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. 27 For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 And if you are Christ's, then you are Abraham's offspring, heirs according to promise.

And to these things we can only say, "Amen and Amen."

Hymspirational Moment #10

"He'll Understand And Say 'Well Done'"

Verse 1
If when you give the best of your service,
Telling the world that the Savior is come;
Be not dismayed when men don't believe you;
He understands; and say, "Well done."

Chorus
Oh when I come to the end of my journey,
Weary of life and the battle is won;
Carrying the staff and the cross of redemption,
He'll understand and say, "Well done."

Verse 2
Misunderstood, the Savior of sinners,
Hung on the cross; He was God's only Son;
Oh! hear Him call His Father in Heav'n,
"Not my will, but Thine be done." 

Verse 3
If when this life of labor is ended,
And the reward of the race you have run;
Oh! the sweet rest prepared for faithful
Will be His blest and final, "Well done." 

Verse 4
But if you try and fail in your trying,
Hands sore and scarred from the work you've begun;
Take up your cross, run quickly to meet Him;
He'll understand; and say, "Well done."


Do you ever fall on your knees in prayer, close your eyes and say, "Lord, you know I've done my best?"  And when you can say it justifiably and not in self-deception, it is a most emotional expression.  It is a statement uttered often in a time of great despair; when everything has been done to the best of our ability in obedience to the Lord and, yet, appear to end in failure.  This is very true in regard to trying to convince our fellow man of the Lordship of Christ and the lessons of the Gospel.

It is no wonder that we reach to the lost and often find ourselves and our message rejected.  The Lord Jesus, while walking the plains and hillsides of Judea, did all in His ability to minister to and reach for anyone and everyone.  Nevertheless, there was no shortage of voices crying out, "Crucify him" when the end came.  He suffered, hung on a cross and died all at the hands of those He had done His best to help.

And while we do our best in this life, both in reaching the lost and trying to work faithfully for our Savior, we will find ourselves weary and sore from the labor.  There is a promise of rest for the Christian at the end of the journey.  Yet, in the meantime, the promise of heaven seems very far away and too distant to give us comfort.  The beauties of heaven and eternity remain ever sure and give hope to the weary worker.  But there is even more in that place of celestial beauty and peace to give us cause to rejoice.

There in eternity we will find Jesus Christ.  We will have the opportunity to stand before Him and receive what we probably never will receive in this life from anyone: a just judgment.  The books will be opened and the Lamb's Book of Life besides and, if our name is found therein, we will hear Him say, "Well done."  He who suffered violent oppression and died a shameful death overcame it all, rising from the dead the third day and ascending into heaven to rule and reign forever.  No matter the pain of failure and defeat we might feel during our earthly journey, we have a Blessed Kinsman who felt our pain all along, understands all the unknown "whys" and invites us to join Him in His Kingdom of eternal life.

All around us might criticize, critique and judge harshly our accomplishments or lack thereof.  Yet the person of Jesus Christ stands with arms open welcoming us to come unto Him.  He'll understand when no one else does.  He'll understand and say, "Well done."



Sunday, November 13, 2016

The Pagan Origins of Spring Cleaning (2016 Edition)

Februss - The Roman Deity
Honored By Spring Cleaning
"Unto the pure all things are pure: but unto them that are defiled and unbelieving is nothing pure; but even their mind and conscience is defiled." - Titus 1:15 (KJV)

The season is coming upon us again.  That means it's time to revisit this subject once more.  "The Pagan Origins of Spring Cleaning" was one of the most read and shared articles from The Bruised Reed Blog in 2015 and we are sharing it once again by popular demand.    

Speaking of the December season and related celebrations both religious and secular, Edward Pola and George Wyle wrote a song in 1963 titled, "It's The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year."  In it they lauded the roasting of marshmallows, the joy of children playing and, yes, even the dreaded pagan term "Christmas."  Lately this song has been playing on the radio and in retailers across America. And so, once again, we are made aware that the world is turning its calendars nearer to the 25th of December and we are left to debate whether or not this time of the year is wonderful at all.

To some it is shunned as Saturnalia (even though that event was actually commemorated on the 17th of December, not the 25th).  To others it is shunned as the birthday of the deity Mithras (even though Mithraic mysticism did not commemorate a birth of its deity).  To others it is shunned as a day dedicated to the worship of a late Roman deity called the Unconquerable Sun (even though Sunday is also a day specifically dedicated to the same deity which few seem to object to).  To some it is accepted as the birthday of Jesus Christ (even though there is absolutely no evidence of this).  To others it is celebrated as a day of religious remembrance of the birth of the Savior (even though no such celebration is mandated or mentioned in Scripture).  To others it is a holiday, either secular, familiar or religious, used as a time for family to gather much like Thanksgiving Day.  

Regardless, somewhere around Black Friday in the United States religious zealots on two fronts begin sharpening their swords in eager anticipation of December 1st when, after a year of the subject sleeping soundly, the war once again begins to rage.  On one side we have the Pro-Christmas Zealots who, with Bible in one hand and candy canes in the other, begin to hurl tinsel covered evergreens across the battlefield at their opponents while tugging on their ugly Christmas sweaters and adjusting their goofy reindeer horn headbands.  To the other side are the Anti-Christmas Zealots who, with Bible in one hand and Alexander Hislop's "The Two Babylons" in the other, fire furious salvos of pagan artwork depicting December deities in full celebratory regalia while proudly sporting "Bah Humbug" and "Vote For Grinch" t-shirts.  


Between the two sides is a battlefield littered with the broken bodies of gingerbread men, Santa's burning in effigy, smoldering mistletoe, chestnuts burning over open fires and scattered pieces of Jeremiah 10 (King James Version only please) along with a multitude of confused people who simply stand looking at each other with perplexed faces wondering what just happened.  You see, they are the residents of the middle ground and, for them, both sides seem a little odd.  After all, for 11 months of the year both sides are fighting for the same cause.  But with the turn of a page on the calendar everything changed.  Why?  The Pro-Christmas Zealots might say they are defending against puritanical Pharisaical Christianity while the Anti-Christmas Zealots might say they are defending against libertine neo-Pagan Christianity.  

By all means, let us all agree that paganism is pagan and, therefore, not Christian.  But let us go further into the business of paganism and, specifically, that of pagan origins.  Let us consider a grossly pagan practice steeped in idolatry and, yet, practiced by many Christians today:  SPRING CLEANING.  

Yes, Christian housewife, you are potentially leading your children into the very clutches of Satan's claws by insisting that they assist you in the ritual purification ceremony called SPRING CLEANING.  What you are probably not aware of, but thankfully have an authority such as myself to instruct you concerning, is the horribly pagan origin of this seemingly innocent practice in which a housewife systematically demolishes an entire household so that it may be set in order once again.  Lifting your broom against the evil dust bunnies which lurk under the couch may seem like a good practice to you, but are you aware that you are performing a ritual in honor of the Roman deity Februss?  That's right!  The god for whom our month February is named to honor was the god of ritual purification and, when springtime rolls around, was honored by a month-long period of washing, cleaning and purification of persons, homes and lands.  

Februalia, as it was called, is very easily identifiable with our modern practice of SPRING CLEANING!  Notice the similarities:  Februalia began in February.  In warmer climates, it is not unusual for individuals to begin their SPRING CLEANING in February as the coldest parts of winter begin to pass.  Regardless, as with the correlation between Saturnalia and Christmas, Februalia and SPRING CLEANING may not necessarily occur on the same day but their ceremonies are linked because of similarity.  With Februalia houses and persons would be purified by washing and cleaning.  All this time you thought washing those windows, scrubbing those floors and airing the house out was just in order to expel the must of winter.  Such ignorance!  You've been celebrating Februalia and are participating in a pagan celebration!  

SPRING CLEANING is an accepted Christian practice with roots deeply tied to paganism and is directly correlated to the keeping of Februalia in honor of the god Februss.  Now that you know the pagan origins of SPRING CLEANING can you continue to practice it with a clear conscience?  Do you believe God is pleased with your keeping of Februalia?  Is it not idolatry to perform an act in honor of the god Februss?

Are you still reading this without laughing at my premise?

But here is the part that is not laughable.  Are you aware that, according to Scripture, if you really believe SPRING CLEANING is a ceremony in honor of a pagan deity and your conscience condemns you for doing it, you are wrong to do so?  Yes, dear Christian reader, the Holy Spirit through the Apostle Paul gave clear directive in regards to such matters in Romans 14.  If you have a personal conviction regarding SPRING CLEANING then you are bound by your conviction and your refusal to participate therein should be done to the honoring of God and not the shaming or shunning of your Brother.  On the other hand, if you do not believe SPRING CLEANING is a ceremony in honor of a pagan deity and your conscience does not condemn you for doing it, you are not wrong in doing so and should keep the practice of spring cleaning in honor of the Lord God and not for the shaming or shunning of your Brother.  

Romans 14 is an easily forgotten passage of Scripture because it removes from every Christian the right to judge another Christian on issues which are not addressed with specificity in the Scriptures.  For the Apostle Paul the issue was the keeping of Jewish religious holidays and dietary laws.  Nowhere in the New Covenant was the keeping of these portions of the Law of Moses mandated neither was it condemned.  They fell into a category we could call "personal."  Romans 14:1 called them "doubtful disputations" in the KJV or, perhaps more clearly understood, "opinions" in the ESV.  If an individual wanted to abstain from eating meat as a personal conviction, they could.  However, they were forbidden by God from condemning their Brother who ate meat.  If an individual wanted to have their Assembly on Friday or Tuesday instead of Sunday then it was a matter of personal preference.  They were not to be condemned for doing so neither were they to condemn others for not doing so.  

The entire issue of Romans 14 comes back to motive.  Why is the Brother observing a day?  Why is a Brother not observing a day?  Why is a Brother eating meat?  Why isn't a Brother eating meat?  Why can this Brother do something for which I feel convicted?  Why doesn't this Brother do something which I feel no conviction over?  Motive.  Motive.  Motive.  He that does it does it so that he may honor the Lord and he that doesn't do abstains so that he may honor the Lord (see Romans 14:5-6).  If the Word of God condemns something explicitly we must lift our voice as the Church universal and condemn it as well.  However, those things which are not so addressed must be allowed to fall into the category of "personal" and left to the conscience of the individual Believer.

What are we commanded then to do?

Romans 14:1, 10-17 (HCSB)
"Accept anyone who is weak in faith, but don’t argue about doubtful issues...But you, why do you criticize your brother? Or you, why do you look down on your brother? For we will all stand before the tribunal of God...Therefore, let us no longer criticize one another. Instead decide never to put a stumbling block or pitfall in your brother’s way. (I know and am persuaded by the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself. Still, to someone who considers a thing to be unclean, to that one it is unclean.) For if your brother is hurt by what you eat, you are no longer walking according to love.  Do not destroy that one Christ died for by what you eat.  Therefore, do not let your good be slandered, for the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit." 

We are told clearly to ACCEPT the one who holds a different opinion on doubtful issues.  We are forbidden to shun them, separate from them or otherwise judge them so as to isolate ourselves from them and cause them to stumble.  We are to give them liberty and walk before God in our integrity in obedience to the Spirit as it directs our conscience while leaving the Spirit to work in the conscience of another Believer for that which is necessary in his own life.  The written Word of God lays down the absolute "bottom line" standard of the Church.  The Spirit of God indwelling the Believer may well give him convictions which go beyond that "bottom line" but that does not give that Believer the right to mandate those personal convictions, or doubtful issues, on the remainder of the Body of Christ.  Instead, he is commanded to keep his conviction to himself (see Romans 14:22) while embracing other Believers who maintain the "bottom line" while possibly holding to different opinions on doubtful issues.

The Scripture says, "
Whoever serves Christ in this way is acceptable to God and approved by men" (Romans 14:18).  What does that say of the one who does not serve Christ in that way but, rather, judges against his Brother in personal matters and doubtful issues?

So what is the conclusion of the matter?  If you are convinced Februalia and SPRING CLEANING are the same and it is a pagan custom that your conscience cannot allow you to keep as a Christian, then do not keep it.  You would be wrong to.  But, do not dare to condemn your Brother or think yourself morally superior to fellow Believers who do not share your conviction because the Word of God stands against you doing so.  On the other hand, if you chose to participate in SPRING CLEANING leaving aside the pagan origins with realization that your motive for doing so has nothing to do with pleasing the god Februss and everything to do with cleaning your house even though the actions associated therewith may look extremely similar...you're free to do so according to the Scriptures.  But, do not dare to condemn your Brother or think yourself morally superior to fellow Believers who do not share your liberty because the Word of God stands against you doing so.

In short, read Romans 14.  Obey Romans 14.  Live Romans 14.  Do that and God will be pleased with you as a Christian.  Furthermore, you might be surprised how much more easily the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace is maintained (see Ephesians 4:3).  Funny how easy it is to be a Christian when we follow the instructions.  


Merry Februalia, everybody!  Let the Church roll on!  

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

10 Commandments for the American Voter

Several weeks ago I published an article entitled "Pentecostals and Secular Politics."  If you have not read that article as yet, I would encourage you to do so by clicking HERE.

To my international readers, there's no doubt that you have at least heard of the commotion in the United States in regard to the upcoming General Election.  Most of this uproar hinges on the Presidential race between Donald Trump (Republican), Hillary Clinton (Democrat) and various other third party candidates (Johnson - Libertarian, Setin - Green, etc.)  While this brief article is geared more specifically to the United States General Election on Tuesday, November 8, 2016, many of the principles contained herein are applicable anywhere a system exists whereby a free people may chose their leaders by election.

To my readers in the United States especially, I hope you will take time to examine these 10 Commandments for the American Voter.

1. Obtain a sample ballot from your County Clerk, Board of Elections or other providing agency. This will provide you with the most basic tool necessary to research the candidates and the issues.

2) Research all races; not just the ones you are interested in.

3) But if, like far too many voters, you're only interested in voting for one particular race (President, Senator, etc.), DON'T VOTE AT RANDOM DOWN BALLOT. Leave the other sections BLANK rather than voting randomly. Your vote for other candidates and issues will still be counted.

4) Remember ballot initiatives, constitutional amendments and propositions. Your ballot is often far more than just a list of names. Research these measures and vote accordingly. DON'T VOTE AT RANDOM ON THESE ISSUES. Leave any section BLANK rather than voting randomly.

5) Take your sample ballot with you on Election Day as a reminder of exactly how you have decided to vote. Be sure and inform the Election Judge that you are doing so.

6) When at all possible, choose a paper ballot rather than using an electronic voting machine. If a paper ballot is not readily available, ask for one. If one is not immediately provided, wait. If one is not provided in a timely manner, contact the County Clerk or Board of Elections BEFORE leaving your polling place.

7) If you spoil your ballot (mark a candidate or proposition option you didn't intend to) DO NOT submit it. Immediately take your ballot to the Election Judge and request a new ballot.

8) Find your polling place before election day. Your precinct should be listed on your Voter's Registration Card. If you have any doubt in regard to where you should cast your ballot, contact your County Clerk or Board of Elections.

9) In some States you are given the option of voting "straight party" meaning one "check" at the top of the ballot automatically assumes your intent to vote for all candidates of a single party. Do not take this option. Take the time to vote for each candidate individually. Sometimes the more qualified individual for a particular office might not be one from your particular political party of choice.

10) SHOW UP ON ELECTION DAY (TUESDAY, NOVEMBER 8TH). Remember, it is your RIGHT to vote. Furthermore, as an American, it is your duty. You have no right to complain about the political process if you're never involved in it. Much blood has been shed and many lives lost in order to preserve, protect and defend your Constitutional right to vote. As an American Citizen, you owe it to yourself, your family, your community, your State and your Nation to turn out on Election Day. Don't buy the lie that says it doesn't really matter. It does matter. A RIGHT NOT EXERCISED IS A RIGHT THAT WILL BE LOST!


ONLINE RESOURCES
www.ontheissues.org - A database of State and National candidates and their positions (when available).

www.ballotpedia.org/Sample_Ballot_Lookup - A database of sample ballots.  (Please note that your ballot might not be available here.  You should still contact your County Clerk or Board of Elections to obtain a sample ballot.)

www.2016election.procon.org/view.source-summary-chart.php - A side-by-side summary chart of the 4 main Presidential Candidates and their positions on 75 issues.

https://g.co/kgs/vKF8PR - Find your polling place using Google by entering your address.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Two Years of The Bruised Reed Blog

In October 2014 I began a small writing project called "The Bruised Reed Blog" with hopes that it would be both a blessing to a small group of friends and acquaintances as well as a form of catharsis for me.  I never dreamed that it would turn into a collection of over four dozen articles (and growing) and last for two years.  Nor could I have foreseen this endeavor reaching and audience spanning every inhabited continent on earth.  But that's exactly what has happened.

At the end of our first year at The Bruised Reed Blog in October 2015 I reported the following statistics reflecting the progress of the website in its first year online:  

5,491 users
951 cities
10 languages 
90 countries 

Today, at the end of two years online, I am happy to report the following statistics reflecting the year over year progress of the site:  

17,728 users  (+69%)
1,866 cities  (+49%)
41 languages
114 counties

Along with these statistics, we are very thankful that 454 have participated in our online salvation Bible study with at least 25 having been baptized in the name of Jesus Christ as a direct result.

I am thankful that The Bruised Reed Blog has developed into an extension of the missionary and evangelistic endeavors the Lord has allowed me to take part in over the years.  Certainly it is nothing short of a miracle that, with $0 spent on promotion, the site has managed to reach a broad spectrum of individuals from the nations, kindreds, tribes and tongues of the world.  And at a cost of less than $15 a year to keep online, it has been an investment with undeniably exponential dividends.  

In the coming year we are planning an expansion of The Bruised Reed Blog to include more guest columnists and a downloadable MP3 audio webcast.  Be watching for these developments and more in the months to come.

Thank you to everyone who has shared the news about The Bruised Reed Blog.  The work of this website continues through your shares and likes on social media and email as well as your subscriptions and feedback.  Together, let us rejoice in what the Lord has done and look ahead with hope and expectation of what awaits in the third year of The Bruised Reed Blog.  








Jason M. Hood
The Bruised Reed

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

The Faith Illusion

"Oh that I might have my request; and that God would grant me the thing that I long for!" - Job 6:8 (KJV)

Quite frequently I come in contact with individuals possessing that which most kindly could be called a "lowness of spirit."  They are most often individuals who either presently or recently experienced disappointment or, at some point in the past, were let down in an extremely distinct and definitive way without finding recovery.  They are, in short, defeated and, in many cases, have given up on victory entirely choosing to accept simple existence over abundant living.

All too often, the process by which a Christian finds themselves slumping into this particular condition is the result of receiving, accepting and embracing incorrect teaching on the subject of faith.  The fault lies at the feet of those who perpetuate these bizarre ideas in regard to faith and, finally, with those who believe it.  At this stage, some are already ready to shoot the messenger because, quite frankly, this is not the paradigm we enjoy seeing when we look in the mirror.  We'd much rather lay blame elsewhere and, upon occasion, it is proper.  But one of the true tests of Christian maturity is the depth of honesty one is willing to have with oneself.  In issues of discouragement and eventual defeat, we must be willing to accept the fact that often we set ourselves up for these episodes due to our own tendency toward putting an inordinate amount of faith in what is nothing more than an illusion.

Christian are, by necessity, people of faith.  No one can come to God or please Him except they first believe that He is God and that He rewards the seeker (see Hebrews 11:6).  Furthermore, the faith of a Christian is one which finds the ability to believe what is otherwise unbelievable.  Christians accept by faith things like the miraculous creation of the material universe by the creative Word of God and the supernatural sustenance of a massive multitude of individuals over a span of four decades by a bread-like substance falling almost daily from the sky.  Most of all, they accept by faith the virgin birth of the Messiah, His life, suffering, death, burial, resurrection, ascension and eventual physical return.

On a personal level, a Christian accepts by faith that if the Gospel is believed and obeyed the righteousness of Christ will be imputed and salvation will be obtained.  Furthermore, it is believed that the same God who gives salvation will also give physical healing, provision and deliverance.  In this, a Christian's life is sustained by the institution of faith.  Faith is believing God for what is impossible but it is not insisting that the impossible is inevitable.  In this we see the fatal mistake that too many Christians make.

There has been far too much incorrect teaching on the subject of faith.  All too often we are taught that praying for God's will is, in some way, a lack of genuine faith.  This is peculiar considering 1 John 5:14 instructs us that God will only hear our prayers if we come to Him asking "according to His will."  Statements like, "it's always God's will to heal," create a caustic and unbiblical environment of pseudo-faith which, in reality, is no faith at all.  In a supercharged atmosphere of emotional appeal, we are led to believe that God has given us faith so that, in essence, we would use it in order to dictate the Divine response.  But this is not faith in God.  The Scriptures define faith as trusting God; not insisting upon a particular outcome from Him. "Name it and claim it" has never been a biblical model for faith.

In John 11 we find the account of the death of Lazarus, the brother of Mary and Martha.  Word comes to Jesus of his ailment but Christ delays His coming.  Later, when Jesus is aware that Lazarus has died, the Lord springs to action, goes to the grave site and Lazarus is raised from the dead.  But within the story are various characters and their responses which give us great insight into human nature.  First there were the disciples who believed Jesus would prevent the death of Lazarus.  Then we encounter Mary and Martha both of whom believed that Jesus could have healed their brother had He arrived on time.  Then there was the crowd which, watching the scene, concurred with Lazarus' sisters and their analysis.

Now, it is incumbent upon us to remember that the narrative begins with the news of Lazarus' ailment and the answer of Christ that his sickness would not end in death but, rather, for the glory of the Son of God (John 11:4).  Nevertheless Lazarus died.  This development immediately negated the words of Christ in the minds of His hearers.  After all, how could the promise still be true if Lazarus was dead?  Neither the disciples nor the dead man's sisters could reconcile the death of Lazarus with Jesus' words concerning resurrection and life.  They had predetermined the limit of Jesus' ability and had settled in their hearts that, if He didn't answer a certain way, there was no answer at all.

Are we not often guilty of the same thing?  And do we not do so in the name of faith?

Consider this: A woman's son falls sick of an ailment. The woman believes God for his complete healing.  She decided that her son will make a full recovery and declares such very vocally to everyone she knows.  The child's condition grows worse and, eventually, he dies.  The woman is devastated not only at the loss of her son but at what she perceives as God's failure to respond.  She grows increasingly discouraged and is unable to reconcile that what she asked God for didn't come to pass.  There is a strong chance that the woman's faith was misguided.

When the Lord Jesus prayed in Mark 14 He reached a place of special agony where, in a reflection of His humanity, He says, "Father, I know you can do anything: take this cup from me, but, not my will but yours be done."  In this we see the model prayer for the Christian in times of suffering or distress.  The theme of paramount importance is that of God's role as Father.  As a Father, God knows how to give the best of all things to His children (Matthew 7:11).  There is nothing beyond His power to do (Mark 10:27).  As human beings, we have a will and a desire that must be submitted to the sovereign will of an all-knowing God.  This is faith in its purest form.

There should be no limit to what we would ask of God in prayer.  The flesh of the Son of God crying out to the indwelling eternal and Holy Spirit asked that the imminent suffering and death be dismissed.  Nevertheless, the faith of the Son of God reached beyond human will, suspending all selfish desire and yielding to the will of the Almighty.  This is faith: when we come to God with petitions expecting the impossible but parsing our prayers parenthetically to the will of God.  In other words, true faith is when we trust the answer of God regardless of whether or not that answer fits our desire.

In fact, we are sometimes guilty of masking intentional or unintentional selfishness and faithlessness behind the word "faith."  We come to God insisting that a certain end result is what God will or must do.  Then, when our request does not come to pass, we blame God or a lack of faith.  The reality is that the fault lies, not in God, but in our lack of properly constructed faith - faith which is willing to trust God to work what is ultimately best for us rather than what we think He ought to do.  We must not deceive ourselves into thinking that God is beholden to us in any way, shape or form.  Regardless of how many "positive confessions" we make or how boldly we declare what we want God to do, His will is for us to learn to trust Him even when the result looks vastly different from what we envisioned.

The Scriptures note that the love for Lazarus and his family that Jesus had was very great and that the delay of two days was intertwined with that love.  Yet we would not consider a delay in action by someone capable of helping to be a demonstration of love.  Nor would we look at the words of Christ in John 11:15 where He said, "Lazarus is dead and I am glad," and consider them the words of a loving figure.  Yet God is not only the all-knowing, He is the best-knowing and the best-loving.  Faith is trusting God to author the ending according to what He knows is best even when that is beyond our comprehension and outside of the boundaries of our own will.  It is accepting that His love for us might produce actions which seem contrary to our concept of love but that are, in all actuality, entirely perfect.

The desired result was that Lazarus would not die.  Since God did not prevent his death, the assumption was that God had allowed the event to pass without Divine intervention.  Yet, all the while, God had prepared an ending that was outside of the desired result of all parties concerned.  Yes, Lazarus was risen from the dead, but not before Mary and Martha had to suffer days of distress as their brother lay dying nor before experiencing the profound grief at the time of his death.  They had constructed an illusion in their minds that Jesus could only answer their need in one particular way.  When Lazarus died, they were disillusioned.  Their disillusionment lead to great discouragement which, in their hearts, had resulted in defeat.  This is reflected in the sad statements by Mary and Martha, "Lord, if you had been here, he wouldn't have died" as if to imply, "I'm sorry that you came so late and chose to do nothing because, now, there's nothing you can do."

Their disillusionment was very healthy for them.  An illusion is that which is not, in fact, reality.  God would have us rid ourselves of illusions while not limiting our ability to ask for the impossible.  This is only accomplished by framing our prayers with, "nevertheless, not my will but Your will be done in every situation of my life."  Discouragement often comes when we have put all our faith in a desired result which never comes rather than in the Lord God Himself to whom we have entrusted our life and eternity.  A faith based solely in what God does will receive a fatal injury the first time He fails to act in accordance with the dictum of human desire.  But a faith based entirely on who God is is unshakable even as He is unshakable.

In the case of the Disciples, Mary, Martha and the crowd of bystanders at Lazarus' graveside, a very important point had been lost: God had options they neither had nor were aware of.  In their minds, Christ was held to a limitation and their hearts were broken when this boundary was reached and surpassed.  Yet God, in teaching a beautiful lesson of genuine faith, showed not only His limitless power but His superior knowledge.  Faith in a desired outcome will never accomplish that which absolute trust in God will.

A prayer of true faith in God sounds very much like this:

Almighty God, your Word has said that you know my need even before I ask.  And yet you desire to hear my voice lifted up to You in prayer.  I believe that You are my only help and I lay my life completely in Your hands.  Father, here is my need and I ask You for this result.  Nevertheless, my utmost desire is that You have Your way in my life.  I ask You to give me grace to accept the answer, especially if it is one which I won't understand.  Ultimately, I trust You and am confident that You know what is best for me.  In the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.

May God give us all grace to trust Him entirely - not only for our desired results but for His perfect will which shall always provide the best outcome for our lives.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Disconnected

By Pastor Douglas Raynor, II

"And not holding the Head, from which all the body by joints and bands having nourishment ministered, and knit together, increaseth with the increase of God." - Colossians 2:19 (KJV)

"They have lost connection with the head, from whom the whole body, supported and held together by its ligaments and sinews, grows as God causes it to grow." - Colossians 2:19 (NIV)

When I started my journey living for God, I made mistakes, lots of mistakes.  I would mess up at the drop of a hat, horribly.  I will spare you the details of the struggles, but they were real, nonetheless.

As I search the farthest memories of my early days living for God, without over sensationalizing it, I recall that when I fell, I always fell TOWARDS the House of God.  What I mean by that is, I would mess up but I wasn’t looking for an excuse to leave the church, I fell knowing that I had issues and I wanted to get them right.  Something in my spirit caused me to run TO the place I knew I could find help.

I remember having to do an assignment for a college course that required me to go an observe a playground full of children.  Since that assignment, I enjoy watching people in their environments and watching patterns (Humans are funny).  It transposes into the church as well.

Living in the Bible belt and having lived in Texas for almost 9 years, I’ve been able to visit a lot of churches.  I’m not sure how many church services I’ve been able to attend (I once drove over 2 hours one way to hear the owner of this blog preach), but I know it’s been several.

The pattern I’ve noticed is, there seems to be those in every church that are “disconnected.”

Hear me out before this is labeled “doom and gloom.”

I have been in services where the power of God was so strong and there were those that sat in their seats seemingly never touched by the presence of God. I’ve also witnessed those that would dance, shout, run the aisles and never darken the church door again because they fell and instead of falling towards the church, they fell in the opposite direction, away from church. What is it that causes both?

I’ve sensed a lack of passion in our church world today.  The attitude of some is, “Be glad I’m here at church.”   Or, “I’m here but I could easily be somewhere else.”  There are those that are definitely disconnected.

Merriam-Webster says the definition of disconnected is “not connected to something (such as a power source).”

If a stove is not connected to a power source, it’s of no use. It still looks like a stove, but it will not boil water. If my computer isn’t plugged into an outlet, I wouldn’t be writing this article.  It still looks like a computer, but it’s only an expensive paper weight without being connected to the power source.

 In 2 Timothy 3:5, Paul looked ahead and anticipated the things we are experiencing today. He said there would be those that “will act religious, but they will reject the power that could make them godly. Stay away from people like that!” (NLT)

Do you notice this in yourself or those around you?

My job as a minister is to help people get connected to the power source.  It’s my desire to see the Body operating to its full ability.

Is it that we are too burdened down with the cares of this life?  Do we come to church with what happened yesterday on our mind, thinking about problems on the job, worried about having too much month at the end of the money?  Yes, we are human.

We are worried about the election. We are worried about relationship problems.  We are worried about things that we have no control over.

However, in the midst of all of those things we have to reconnect to the power source.

“…they have lost connection with the head…”

I recently observed a snake being decapitated.  While the snake was headless, it could still move.  Not only was it still able to move, it would maneuver its body to strike…even without a head.  Be that as it may, the snake was powerless.  It had no direction.

As the head of my home I am responsible for its wellbeing and direction.

Somewhere there has to be a return of passion.

I learned that during a child’s Faith Formation, they view their parents as God because it’s all they know.  As they grow from early childhood into an early adolescent, their view of God constantly changes.  They become spiritually sensitive, then onto an awareness that their parent/guardian is not God and the world is much bigger.  Most would refer to this process as a child coming to the “age of accountability.”

If somewhere in God’s grand design, I wonder if there is a parallel in the spiritual realm.  Just as a child grows and their view of God and the world changes, could it be possible that the new convert goes through the same changes?  As our faith grows, does our view of God change?  Can it be somewhat oxymoronic that as we grow in our faith, our faith in God actually shrinks? Has it become that the more we understand God the less we have the ability to trust Him and what He’s able to do?  Do we outgrow God?

Why?

I constantly ask myself the question, “Is it me that is disconnected? Am I the only one that feels this way?”  The question is asked because of the desire to be right with God. If something isn’t right in my spirit, I want to correct it and draw close to God.

HOW DO WE CONNECT?

Don’t try to live for God if you’re disconnected, you’ll only be miserable.  Find a way to reconnect. Find a way to plug into the Power Source.  Find a way to spend more time in devotion, prayer and meditation.  Purpose in your mind to seek God with all your heart. Jeremiah 29:13 says, “You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart.” (ESV)

Tune out all the distractions.  Turn off the T.V.  Log out of Facebook.  Turn off the radio.  Pick up the Word of God.  Develop a personal prayer life.  Fall in love with the House of God.  Push your plate back.

When we get connected the passion will return.  When we push aside everything that brings us down, then we will find direction.

I’ve heard it said that anything with TWO heads is beast.  On the other hand, anything without a head, or disconnected, is lifeless.

My purpose in this article is to draw concern to being disconnected.  Once we get connected to the Head, we will grow as God causes us to grow.

____________________________________________________________
Douglas Raynor II serves as Pastor of Soul's Harbor Apostolic Church in Scott's Hill, Tennessee.  He is also the current District Elder of the Tennessee District Apostolic Church of Jesus Christ Incorporated.



Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Pentecostals & Secular Politics

"Daniel answered and said: 'Blessed be the name of God forever and ever, to whom belong wisdom and might. He changes times and seasons; he removes kings and sets up kings.'" - Daniel 2:20-21a (ESV)

2016: THE YEAR OF ANGRY POLITICS 
The depth of anger which has been manifested openly and without restraint during the 2016 United States Presidential election cycle perhaps has been greater than at any time in a generation or more.  At the center of the debate for many people has been the religious beliefs of the candidates or, perhaps more accurately, what people believe the candidates believe.  On the Democratic side there was an ethnic Jew named Sanders who teeters between agnostic and atheist.  And, though he did much better than many expected, the Vermont Senator fell short of gaining the Democratic nomination for President.  Instead the laurels fell upon Hillary Rodham Clinton, a self-described follower of the "Methodist Tradition," who laid the blame for the repression of women's rights at the feet of people of faith in an April 2015 address at the Women of the World Summit saying, "...deep-seated cultural codes, religious beliefs and structural biases have to be changed."

This says nothing of the Democratic Party platform which stands in stark contrast to the fundamental doctrines of the three global Abrahamic Faiths.

Meanwhile, on the Republican side, a fierce battle raged among over a dozen candidates each hoping to convince the American Right that they were the most qualified to defeat a Democratic challenger in November.  Among these were individuals such as Ted Cruz, a Senator from Texas.  Cruz stormed onto the campaign trail with all the vigor and pulpiteering of the itinerant clergymen of the Great Awakening with a host of "Holy Warriors" riding metaphorical, philosophical white horses following closely behind.  In contrast to this was a businessman named Trump who, when interviewed in August 2015, said the Bible was his favorite book but couldn't name a favorite verse.  This was followed up by an address at Liberty University where 2nd Corinthians was cited by Candidate Trump as "Two Corinthians."

In the end, Cruz - the superhero of the Evangelicals - fell to King Donald of Combovershire.

Meanwhile, rioters and protesters have taken to the streets of America many of which have been spurred on by the sense of anger engendered by the current campaign season.  News media has been riddled with headlines from "Trump Supporter Assaulted With Crowbar" to...well, okay, there hasn't been a lot of reporting about Clinton supporters having their bodily features rearranged by crazed, right-wing, tool wielding assailants (not to say it hasn't happened, just that I haven't seen it).  But that's all outside the realm of the Church, right?

Wrong.

THE PENTECOSTALS OF ENTANGLEMENT
In some incidents, Pentecostal Ministers stood and declared that, "God has sent us a man," while pointing at Ted Cruz.  Others looked to Dr. Ben Carson as the most moral of the candidates while others still heralded perennial candidate Mike Huckabee as the bastion of the Religious Right.  Others, poor unfortunate souls, saw which way the wind was blowing early on and cast their lot with Donald Trump.  (I call them "poor unfortunate souls" because they were being pelted with stones much longer and by a larger group than anyone else.)  Regardless of who the candidate of choice was, lines were drawn.  Now, this is not normally a problem because, in the end, there is usually a consensus and a return to normalcy once the primary season has ended.  But what transpired during the 2016 Primary in regard to the reaction from within Pentecostalism was unprecedented.

In my opinion, the great divide started in earnest back in August 2015 with the County Clerk of Rowan County, Kentucky, one Kim Davis, who refused to allow her name to appear on documents sanctioning the union of same-sex couples.  It was that event more than any that brought a sudden "cause" for Pentecostals because, as the news media soon made everyone aware, Mrs. Davis was a member of an Apostolic Pentecostal Church.  To suggest that Mrs. Davis decision might have been unwise or her methodology misguided suddenly was treason against the very cross of Christ.

When she was jailed for her decision, some Pentecostals, including ministers, actually quit their secular employment to protest in front of the jail.  One individual posted on Facebook, "Following the voice of God - headed for Kentucky."  They had to quit their job to go.  Later that same day, while the individual was en route to Kentucky, it was announced that Davis had been released.  The next Facebook post was one of confusion over why "God would tell me to go."  The answer to that scenario is quite obvious, but we needn't digress down that trail at the moment.  Suffice it to say that the Pentecostals who, normally, had been fairly quiet in political hostilities, were now very quick to look at their own Brethren and chastise them for what was, by their definition, inactivity.

This event was not yet cold when Republican Presidential candidates began pouring out of the woodwork.  Pentecostals, fresh on the heels of the Davis matter, felt compelled to choose sides again.  On social media, the "block," "unfriend" and "unfollow" buttons began to be engaged with ferocity.  Forums and discussion groups saw a dramatic increase in arguments due to whom individuals had chosen as "their candidate" in 2016.  Pentecostal Cruz supporters began "cyber disfellowshipping" Pentecostal Trump supporters.  "The unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace" began to give way to, "get on my bandwagon or you're a reprobate."  In some instances, people were chided as "unholy" and "backslidden" for supporting certain candidates.  Some individuals even issued "prophecies" against such individuals for their support of "unrighteous" candidates.

Why did this happen?  The Word of God gives us the answer:

"No soldier gets entangled in civilian pursuits, since his aim is to please the one who enlisted him." - 2 Timothy 2:4 (ESV)

The Greek word translated "entangled" gives the sense of being "entwined" in something.  It is used only one other time in the New Testament, in 2 Peter 2:20, where it speaks of the effect of returning to sin after an individual has been delivered.  The problem that has arisen in this election cycle is that many of us have turned into the Pentecostals of Entanglement becoming so entwined in secular politics that we would lash out at our Brethren in the most cruel and improper of ways.  Sadly, many acted in this manner claiming to be "aiming to please" the Lord.  How distracted, if not deceived, must one become to really believe the Lord Jesus Christ is a supporter of ignoring the unity of the Spirit, the bond of peace and the unity of the Faith in the name of a political candidate or party platform?

The very moment we become so entwined, entangled and completely enveloped in secular politics that we can no longer treat our Brethren with civility, honor and respect while following peace with all men, we need to disconnect from politics until we can get our spirit under control.  At that point, we have bypassed godliness and holiness and, forgetting our calling, entangled ourselves in the wrong pursuits.  In the end, we fail to please the One who enlisted us in the great Army of the Living God.

SHOULDN'T PENTECOSTALS HAVE A SEAT AT THE TABLE?
No one is suggesting that there is not a way to be involved without being entangled.  Even soldiers have opinions and vote.  In fact, soldiers tend to be a fairly consistent voting bloc.  There is no reason a Pentecostal could not run for elected office nor serve his/her country in a political position.  But the primary purpose of a Christian must be to seek first the Kingdom of God.  The pursuits of any Christian, whether in regard to their education, career or any other facet of life, must be centered around the Kingdom of God and His righteousness.  Any other hub will result in the wheel falling apart.  If one can maintain that focus, why couldn't they hold elected office?

But when anything of the outside world brings a child of God into its mastery, disaster awaits.  This is the premise behind the teaching of the Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 6:12: "'All things are lawful for me,' but not all things are helpful. 'All things are lawful for me,' but I will not be dominated by anything."  When politics causes you to compromise your integrity, you've been dominated.  When it robs you of your ability to faithfully and dutifully serve God wholeheartedly, you've been dominated.  When political talk and opinion leads you to drive a wedge between yourself and your Brother or Sister, you've been dominated.  When you can't control your anger in a political discussion, you've been dominated.

Ultimately, we must come to the realization that God turns the hearts of kings (Proverbs 21:1), removes them and sets them up (Daniel 2:21) and that He ordains authorities and expects us to be obedient to them (Romans 13:1-7).  In short, even in politics God has it all in control.  Why, then, should we violate the commandment of God by being anxious over it?  Or why should we allow wedges to be driven between us as Brethren?  Or why should we be the ones used as tools of Satan to bring about division within the Body of Christ because of the affairs of this present life?  No, there is no reason Pentecostals should not have a seat at the table.  But they should realize that it's not their seat nor their table and, ultimately, serving God in unity is paramount.

CONCLUSION 
In the not too distant past I was involved in a conversation on Facebook with a Minister concerning a certain politician.  The conversation went from an exchange of opinions to a question of callings.  It was the first time in my life an individual had called into question my calling as a Minister because of a secular political opinion.  At first, I thought it was a joke.  When I tried to contact the individual privately I was met with a radical rebuff.  I was shocked to the point of tears.  No, I'm not one of these "crybaby" individuals who turns the waterworks on every time someone raises their voice in my general direction.  But, on this occasion, I was flooded with emotion.

The reason was that I couldn't understand how a Man of God could be so twisted by politics.  I felt nothing but absolute sympathy for the individual.  In fact, I felt absolutely sorry for them.  If secular politics has become our measuring stick by which we gauge the validity of another Christian's calling in the Kingdom, we have missed the mark and become altogether too entangled in the affairs of this present world.  The source of such anger is not holy no matter how much "righteousness" is claimed in the indignation.  It is a spiritual shortcoming and an altogether unrighteous attitude.  Repentance must follow lest destruction overtake.

But it is not only one man who has fallen prey to the desire to act in such a manner.  Social media has allowed insignificant individuals to have broad platforms from which to spew whatever venom pleases them.  Furthermore, it has removed the barrier of personal contact thus making a person feel comfortable saying that which they never would have said to another individual face to face.  In the avenue of doctrine, every false prophet has been made into an international evangelist thanks to the internet.  In sports, the armchair quarterback now rules and reigns from behind a laptop.  For the philosophically minded, their pedantic ramblings may be pounded out until the letters rub from their keyboard to be disseminated to a multinational audience.

Meanwhile, on the political front, Christians beat other Christians over the issue of Cruz v. Trump, Sanders v. Clinton, Trump v. Clinton and forget that the real issue is Salvation v. Damnation in the arena of eternity.  Focus, Christian!  Stop getting so distracted!  God is in control.  Let us all endeavor to at least act like we still believe that.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Pentecostals & Gay Bashing

A member of the infamous Westboro
Baptist Church holding signs during
one of their many protest events.
"Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God." - 1 Corinthians 6:9-11 (ESV)

"You really feel like it's your right to look down your nose at me, don't you?"  That was the statement made to me by a very angry homosexual male.  It was my first time to meet him and the discussion up to that point had been completely neutral and far from any conversation about sexuality.  It was not until the subject of marriage came up that he informed me he was a homosexual.  As more time passed in our conversation, I asked what he did for a living.  He told me and asked what I did.  I told him.  Upon hearing that I was a Pentecostal minister, the opening question of this paragraph came into play.  His eyes narrowed, his brow furrowed and his entire demeanor changed.

I was being stereotyped and, unfortunately, I could understand why.

Groups such as the Westboro Baptist Church, an absolute plague to Christendom, proudly stand in protest at the funerals of slain servicemen and women, political rallies and various other events holding large signs and screaming various anti-American, anti-military, anti-LGBT and anti-everything-else-under-the-sun sentiments.  They have done a horrifically wonderful job of creating the "go to" image of the Fundamentalist Christian attitude toward the homosexual community.  Sadly, they are not the only ones who have contributed to this image.  Certain groups from within most every denomination or system of faith and doctrine have come forward voicing similar statements of hate and, sometimes, aggression.

The Pentecostal Church, sadly, has not been exempt.  Over the same pulpits where the Truth of the Gospel and the Mysteries of God have been declared, some of the most hateful language in regard to homosexuals has also been proclaimed.  From echoing the Westboro mantra, "God hates fags," to children singing gleefully of the eternal damnation of "queers," the Pentecostal Church has not always done the best job of putting forward a proper Biblical attitude toward homosexuals.  In the strictest sense of the term, yes, some Pentecostals have been guilty of "gay bashing" as have some Baptists, some Nazarenes, some Church of Christ, etc.

THE OPPOSITE OF "BASH" IS NOT "CONDONE"
Within some ranks of Pentecostalism is the philosophy that there are two options in regard to the treatment of homosexuals: bash or condone.  In other words, it is assumed by some that to say anything less than the most hurtful and derogatory of things to or about homosexuals is condoning, accepting or sympathizing with homosexual behavior.  That is not at all the case.

The Holy Spirit spoke through the writing of the Apostle Paul in regard to who would not inherit the Kingdom of God.  The list found in 1 Corinthians 6, though not extensive, is impressive in its own right and gives us nine categories to consider:

  • the sexually immoral
  • idolaters 
  • adulterers 
  • those who practice homosexuality
  • thieves 
  • the greedy 
  • drunkards 
  • revilers
  • swindlers

Three of the nine deal with sexual behavior and none of the nine are intended to be categorized by degree of sinfulness.  In other words, there is nothing to indicate that the Holy Spirit intends for the Christian to view one of the nine as any better or worse than the rest.  God expects this out of Believers because it is the same consistency of judgement that He practices Himself.  Because one does not "bash" a drunkard does not mean such a one is promoting drunkenness.  Neither was this list given so that nine particular categories of individuals could be shunned by the Church.  Rather, the list was given as a reminder:

 "And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God."  - 1 Corinthians 6:11 (ESV)

The early Church was made up of the sexually immoral, idolaters, adulterers, homosexuals, thieves, greedy, drunkards, revilers and swindlers who had come to Christ, been washed in the name of Jesus Christ, received the gift of the Holy Spirit and been given a new life.  For that motley crew of Believers to suddenly engage in "bashing" those who are engaged in that which they formerly partook of would be foolishness.  Instead, the attitude of the Christian was intended to be the same as that of God:

"He does not want anyone to be destroyed, but wants everyone to repent." - 2 Peter 3:9b (NLT)

Early Christians were forbidden from assuming the right to look down their nose at anyone who was engaged in any lifestyle choice which was contradictory to the Word of God.  They were told to consider themselves in matters of spiritual restoration (see Galatians 6:1).  Certainly the same rule should apply in matters of extending the hope of salvation to all mankind.  The opposite of "bashing" must be "holding out hope to" the homosexual just as we must hold out hope to anyone else who has not yet come to Christ for salvation.

WHAT WE ARE AND AREN'T SAYING TO HOMOSEXUALS
We are not saying that we agree with your lifestyle choice.  No matter the inclinations of our own opinion, we defer to the Word of God to define what is and is not acceptable in the eyes of God.  Why do we do this?  Because, as the Creator of all things, God has reserved for Himself the positions of Lawmaker and Judge.  We are not saying that you have a disease or mental disorder.  We acknowledge that you have made a choice and that it is your choice to make.  However, we wholehearted believe that it is the wrong choice even though you might act out your choice in your understanding of love and mutual consent.  Any sin, be it sexual or otherwise, might feel very natural to the one committing it.  We are not denying that, for you, your choice feels natural.  We are saying that the one who Created all mankind has a plan for your life that excludes homosexual behavior while offering a life of love, joy and peace you've never even imagined.

We are not saying that we want you to die physically or spiritually nor do we want you to be beaten, discriminated against or otherwise mistreated.  You're a human being and, as such, possess marks of Divinity as being created in God's image.  We would be foolish to encourage any violence or mistreatment in your regard.  Yes, the Law of Moses issued the death penalty for homosexual behavior.  It was among 23 capital offenses under the Law.  Understanding those Laws within their context in history is extremely important.  Understanding how the Law is to be understood through Christ is of equal importance.  Suffice it to say, we do not want to kill homosexuals nor do we want homosexuals to die.  Yes, the Apostle Paul told the Church at Rome that those guilty of sexual sins are "worthy of death."  As Christians, we accept the fact that, in reality, we are all worthy of death.  That's the message of the Cross - man is worthy of death, but God has provided a means of eternal life.

We are not saying that we hate you.  Furthermore, we are not saying that God hates you.  When the Lord Jesus uttered the words, "For God so loved the world," you are included.  It is not our desire nor God's desire to exclude you from access to salvation.  In fact, the Scriptures make it clear that the call to salvation is not based upon gender, ethnicity or any other qualifier.  All of humanity is called to the foot of the cross of Christ and all of humanity is given access to God by the blood of the Lamb.  But to enter into the Kingdom of God, the benefit of that sacrificial act of grace, you must come through Christ who is the Door.  That involves repentance and a part of repentance is submitting your entire life, including your sexuality, to the will of God as outlined in His Word.  We aren't standing here cheering for you to go to hell.  We don't want anyone to go to hell.  We stand with open arms desiring salvation for you and ready to help you any way we can in making that decision to follow Christ entirely.

DON'T STEREOTYPE US AND WE WON'T STEREOTYPE YOU
The gentleman in my opening statement was guilty of stereotyping me.  And, as I said previously, I somewhat understand why.  There is little doubt that, as a homosexual, he had encountered those professing themselves to be Christians who felt their spirituality justified looking down their nose at him and others like him.  What the Church must understand is that making fun of sinners, and I use that term realizing it might be repulsive to some, is neither acceptable nor righteous - but feeling compassion is.  The Pentecostal Church cannot allow herself to be guilty of taking so much pride in the whiteness of our robes that we forget the darkness of our past as individuals and allow ourselves to fall into the trap of turning people away from Christ because of our abrasiveness, mercilessness or lack of compassion.  If we are too clean to touch the lives of those unlike us, we are not, in reality, as clean as we might want to think.

To the homosexual community, the Pentecostal Church must say, "Please, come!"  We must, with great love and mercy, find ways to communicate that our desire is to see all humanity come to the Lord Jesus Christ and, in Him, find the Way, the Truth and the Life.  We cannot close the door of the place of Assembly in the face of anyone nor make it so narrow that only those already healthy and in no need of the Great Physician can enter in.  The real and powerful presence of the Almighty God is a tremendous catalyst for conviction leading to godly sorrow working repentance toward salvation.  Why would we want to exclude anyone from that possibility?  And so, to the homosexual, we ask that you not assume how the Pentecostal Church will receive you, treat you or act toward you.  If you have a bad experience, we ask your forgiveness and hope you'll understand that we're not all a bunch of Westboro Baptist types.

Pentecostal people, who can be among the most merciless if you fall among the wrong group of them, can also be the most merciful if you find the right circle of Believers.  You'll find them willing and wanting to help you in your pursuit of Christ and the salvation, eternal life and abundant life that only He can offer.  You'll find now, just as in the First Century Christian Church, flawed individuals with very diverse and interesting backgrounds who once walked according to their own will but have now submitted their lives entirely to the will of God and found therein the most wonderful life imaginable.  No, you should not expect them to embrace, condone or excuse your choice of homosexuality but you should expect them to love you and to patiently explain why they believe God has a plan for your life that is more fulfilling than any sexual relationship or gender identity.

IN CONCLUSION
In writing this article I have gone to great lengths to phrase things very precisely and with the utmost caution and sensitivity fearing, as I really shouldn't but must, that I would be misunderstood in my intention.  To the Pentecostal reading this article, please allow me to be very clear in my final remarks:  I do not believe homosexuality is correct, ordained of God, righteous or acceptable.  Furthermore, I do not believe that closing the door of the Church and the possibility of salvation in the face of a homosexual is correct, ordained of God, righteous or acceptable.  This article is not intended to be an advocacy for the inclusion of unrepentant homosexuals into the Body of Christ.  God has already, through His Word, excluded those who engage in homosexual behavior from His Kingdom.  Rather, my purpose is to demonstrate that there is a right and wrong attitude toward and manner concerning homosexuals on the part of the Church.

To the homosexual who might be reading this article, please allow me to be very clear in my final remarks to you as well.  Yes, the Word of God condemns your lifestyle choice.  That's the bad news.  The good news is that the same Word of God offers you a lifestyle choice that is unimaginably fulfilling.  God offers you the gift of the Holy Ghost - His very real presence living inside of you; Christ with you now and always.  If you would like more information on how to receive this gift that God wants to give you, please click HERE to be taken to a very brief introduction to the topic.  There you will also find a link where you can submit questions and a request for a more in-depth conversation on the subject of who God is and what He wants.