Saturday, October 28, 2017

Shuffling and the 53rd Card

"Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear him. And the Pharisees and the scribes grumbled, saying, 'This man receives sinners and eats with them.' So he told them this parable: 'What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open country, and go after the one that is lost, until he finds it? And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’ Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.'" - Luke 15:1-6 (ESV)

A standard deck of American playing cards consists of 52 cards divided into 4 suits.  The suits contain cards numbered 2 through 10 as well as 3 face cards (Jack, Queen, King) and the Ace for a total of 13 cards in each suit.  The suits are indicated by symbols called pips.  These pips are clubs ♣, diamonds , spades ♠, and hearts .  When a deck of playing cards is opened the cards will be in what is commonly called "new deck order" meaning that all of the cards will be organized by their suits and will be placed in order of value.  Because of this, a new deck must be thoroughly shuffled in order to be used in a game of cards.  

Accomplishing this is a surprisingly controversial task.  For example, Persi Diaconis, Professor of Statistics and Mathematics at Stanford University and a former professional magician, has said that one need only shuffle a standard deck of cards in new deck order 7 times in order to accomplish an adequate and complete mixing.  In contrast to this opinion, we find the words of Harvard University Mathematician Brad Mann in an article for Dartmouth College's Chance Project insists that the perfect shuffle looks like this:


What this means in terms of manual dexterity and manipulation of the cards is beyond my ability to understand.  Suffice it to say that Mann and Diaconis are not in agreement.  But the area of their disagreement is of no consequence in light of their areas of agreement:  

1. We must begin with a deck of 52 standard playing cards in new deck order. 
2. The deck must be shuffled in order to be used in a game.  

Now, should we want to give both Mann and Diaconis a variable which would completely upend their hypothesis and set to one side as worthless all of their time and energy each devoted to their research on the topic, all we would have to do is change one small detail: let us introduce a 53rd card.  Suddenly these two brilliant men's thought processes freeze in place as their individual trains of thought grind to a screeching halt.  The presence of the 53rd card creates a problem that can be most uncomfortable.  

Whether we are talking about mathematicians, philosophers, physicians or just "everyday people," variables arise that are often quite difficult to handle.  This might be because they are beyond what we presently understand, violate some preconceived idea and ideal or are just inconvenient to us at the time.  Regardless, they are problematic and, in many cases, are set to the side and ignored.  

Consider the work of the modern Christian Church and our fascination with shuffling cards in the deck.  A lot of attention is focused, money spent and time invested in evangelizing within the deck.  That is to say, diamonds attempt to convert spades into diamonds while clubs spend time convincing hearts to change suits.  Now, is that to say that there is anything wrong with shuffling the deck?  No.  The fact of the matter is, not everyone who claims to be a Christian is one.  Not everyone who attends a Church is saved.  Not every denomination, with their multitude of conflicting doctrines and ideologies, is correct in their application of Scripture.  Many are the preachers who hold a Bible in one hand, a microphone in the other and present the Word of God with flawless delivery and total fallacy both at the same time.  

But what happens when we present a 53rd card into the deck of "Churchianity?"  

Once upon a time, most Americans attended religious services with some degree of regularity, had a functional knowledge of the Bible or Biblical morality and held to the practice of prayer with some frequency.  That is no longer the case today.  In present-day America, the fastest growing religious group is "NONE."  They are the burgeoning demographic and, if the present pace continues, will be an overwhelming majority.  And do not think that this is simply an "American condition."  No!  All around the world "NONE" is beginning to lead the spiritual charge.  

A problem is that Christians look at these individuals, the "NONE" category, as the 53rd card.  It is far more comfortable to sit down and talk with someone who has some degree of Biblical knowledge and who, in some way, desires to have a relationship with their Creator.  But what do you do with the individual who is moral yet sees no need for Christ?  How do you approach the person who appreciates the art and beauty of religious things but sees them as archaic symbols inapplicable to the needs of the present age?  Quite frankly, it begins to blow fuses in our brains.  We cannot identify with the 53rd card, it creates a problem in our present system, upends the way we've always done things and causes internal conflicts that are far easier to simply ignore.  It short circuits our collective Christian computer and part of the reason why is because of how we have programed ourselves.  

Consider this: as a Christian, are you uncomfortable around the same types of people Jesus Christ spent His time around and into which He invested His ministry?  Do the poor, hurting, addicted, troubled and downtrodden present a problem to you that you are far more comfortable ignoring than embracing?  Are the "NONE" people beyond your scope of evangelism?  And could it be that this is all because we, as Christians, have isolated ourselves from the world rather than insolating ourselves against the influence of it?  I say that is a distinct possibility.  

There is nothing wrong with shuffling the deck but do not be forgetful of the overwhelming crisis facing the Church in this hour.  "NONE" is winning the battle for men's souls while we sit by and watch.  And if we do not reform our endeavors in sharing the Gospel in a practical, applicable and tangible form, we might find ourselves being shuffled out of the deck completely.  

Christianity is shrinking in America.  Meanwhile, the greatest opportunity for real spiritual revival in this country exists and it is presented here as the 53rd card.  But reaching this group is not for the faint of heart.  It will require Christians who are not only earnestly committed to their faith but entirely dedicated to the ministry of reconciliation, motivated exclusively by the love of Christ and determined to intercede and supplicate before God day and night until the blindness that has fallen upon this generation is lifted one pair of eyes at a time.  It will require someone who is willing to become comfortable with walking in uncomfortable places, familiar with the manners and ways of people unlike themselves and embracing of those who are otherwise not embraceable.  

Jesus loved the righteous but he fellowshipped the lost.  So, go ahead.  It's your turn to deal the cards. 




Thursday, March 30, 2017

The Old Covenant:Powerless and Bankrupt

"However, in the past, when you did not know God, you were slaves to things that are not really gods at all. But now that you know God, or rather have been known by God, how can you turn back again to those powerless and bankrupt basic principles? Why do you want to become their slaves all over again? You are observing days, months, seasons, and years. I am afraid for you! I don’t want my work for you to have been wasted!"  - Galatians 4:8-11 (ISV)

To begin with, it is recommended that you read an article entitled, "Your Prayer Shawl Scares Me" before continuing.  

The book of Galatians presents major obstacles to several erroneous, and sometimes generally accepted, doctrines of modern Christianity.  Not the least of these is the Apostle Paul's thorough and absolute purging of the trappings of the Mosaic Law from the New Covenant.  In the early Church there existed, as it does today, a faction which desired to hold onto Moses with one hand and Christ with the other.  The impossibility of this is made clear when we consider how diametrically opposed God's methodologies are in each system.

The Old Covenant was a series of 613 laws given by God to Moses for those who were bound by the token of the Old Covenant (circumcision) and their families.  The dietary restrictions of the Old Covenant cannot be lifted out and away from the sacrificial system anymore than the demands for keeping feast days and Sabbaths can be separated from the law of segregation of women during their time of monthly impurity.  Endeavoring to keep even part of the Law is to bind yourself to the Law in entirety (Galatians 3:10).  It simply is not possible, according to Scripture, to keep a single part of the Law. Though many continue to attempt to pick and choose those parts of the Old Covenant they desire to keep along with an attempted devotion to Christ, the Old Covenant presents a rigidity and powerlessness that is completely incomparable to and incompatible with the New Covenant in Jesus Christ. 

The New Covenant takes the Law of Moses with its 613 very specific commandments which must be kept in entirety and with great attention to detail and, reaching back to the underlying principle from which the Law was given, puts forward one extremely simple two-fold command for those bound to the New Covenant by the New Birth: Love God with all and love your neighbor as yourself (Matthew 22:37-40).  Christ makes it clear that the entire Old Covenant is dependent upon this two-fold principle.  Abrogating the 613, Christ brings the "letter of the law" of the New Covenant down to a simple two-fold commandment.  Notice that Christ did not carry forward from the Old Covenant any feasts, festivals, Sabbaths, dietary restrictions or the like.  He presented the New Covenant as exactly what it is: a NEW Covenant.  

What is presented in Galatians 4:8-11 is a rebuke to the Galatians for their desire to return to the "powerless and bankrupt" system of ignorance they were delivered from when they came to Christ.  Truly, none can look at those who continue in attempting to keep the Law in the system known today as Judaism and say that they know God.  The Apostle John made this abundantly clear, "No one who denies the Son has the Father. Whoever confesses the Son has the Father also" (1 John 2:23).  In denying the Son, the practitioners of Judaism, both past and present, do not know the Father.  Their system then falls into the same "powerless and bankrupt" category as that of the Galatians' former idolatry.  This is why the Apostle Paul said, "if there had been a law given which could have given life, verily righteousness should have been by the law" (Galatians 3:21).  Any system other than the New Covenant and the New Covenant alone is "powerless and bankrupt."

The Old Covenant, it's laws, ceremonies, festivals, feasts, Sabbaths and restrictions are powerless and bankrupt.  Why then would a Christian attempt to hold on to them?  The Covenant of Promise predates the Law being given to Abraham (Galatians 3:18).  The Law was added because of the wickedness of men and was to be in effect until the Mediator came (Galatians 3:19).  But a Mediator has come (Galatians 3:20) and we are no longer in any way, shape or form bound to the observances of the law (Galatians 3:24-25) but heirs of the Covenant of Promise by faith in Jesus Christ (Galatians 3:26-29).  It is in this context that the Apostle Paul begins to build an argument against returning to the "powerless and bankrupt" elements from which the Christian has been redeemed in Galatians 4.  Against such a backdrop, how can we question the Spirit's intent in these passages?
The Old Covenant is powerless.  Trying to keep it accomplishes absolutely nothing in the present day of salvation by faith in Christ.  The Old Covenant is bankrupt.  Trying to keep it adds absolutely nothing of value to the Christian life.  It is powerless and bankrupt; nothing more or less.  Festivals are powerless and bankrupt.  Keeping the Sabbath is powerless and bankrupt.  Maintaining dietary restrictions is powerless and bankrupt.  That which is given in the New Covenant is sufficient.  I do not need to point back at the 10 Commandments in order to teach a Christian not to steal, covet, commit adultery, dishonor their parents or worship a strange God; it can be done with the New Covenant perfectly.  The Old Covenant serves to teach us how the eternal principle was applied by God in that situation, in that particular Covenant.  The New Covenant serves to give us what the Law couldn't: life and righteousness by Jesus Christ (Galatians 3:21-22).
The Old Covenant serves one purpose and one purpose only: "For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope" (Romans 15:4).  This, speaking specifically of the Old Covenant, the Law, is even more clearly expounded in Colossians 2:17: "Therefore let no one judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a festival, a New Moon, or a Sabbath. These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance is Christ."  Don't try to hold onto the riches in Christ with one hand and the powerless bankruptcy of the Law with the other.  The conflict is too great for any human being to survive.  

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Dear Muslim Friend, How Can I Trust You?

My subject is not an easy one for many reasons and, frankly, might come as a surprise to some of my readers, especially those who know me on a more personal level.  Furthermore, I realize that I have a lot of readers in predominantly Muslim countries and some of the things I will be addressing might be a bit hard to hear.  So let me say to any Muslims who might read this - this is the display of an honest question, not an attempt to defame you.

To begin with, I have taken a lot of flack over the years for not going along with the philosophy of some political Conservatives and religious Fundamentalists in calling for a ban on the practice of Islam in the United States.  In fact I have received quite a few hateful responses from some of your more loving Christians because I have wholeheartedly and publicly condemned the defacing of Mosques, public burning of the Quran and the call by some on the fringe radical right for the mass deportation of Muslims based strictly on their religious beliefs.

I have studied Islam perhaps as much as any non-Muslim with a healthy interest in the subject.  My study of Islam has involved my own personal reading of the Quran, researching early Islamic scholars on particular subjects and one-on-one conversations with Muslim clerics and followers.  In doing so I have gone above and beyond in an attempt to discover what Islam really is as both a religious and philosophical system.  And, while this might come across as bragging, let it be known that I most likely have a better practical knowledge of the subject than the vast majority of the Social Media Warriors fighting a holy war against that which they know nothing about beyond a few blurbs and soundbites from fake news websites.

One of the subjects that is brought up frequently is a principle of Sharia Law called Taqiya.  The definition of Taqiya that is most often given by "Islamic detractors" is that a Muslim is permitted to lie as long as the lie furthered the cause of Islam.  That is a definition that just seemed dramatically oversimplified and unreasonable.  After all, on multiple occasions the Quran condemns lying and liars as enemies of Allah and worthy of eternal damnation.  This same tone is carried over into the writings of early Islamic scholars and Tafsir (authorized Quranic commentary).  So how can the assertion be made that Taqiya grants immunity to a Muslim who lies to further the cause of Islam when the Quran and Tafsir agree together that lying is a sinful and damnable act?

If the Quran is taken alone, it is very difficult to make an argument to validate the belief that Muslims are allowed to lie.  Furthermore, the Quranic commentaries would agree with the Quran on that point.  But the problem arises when we try to define what lying is and isn't in the Islamic moral system.  In conversations with Muslims I have been reassured over and over again that lying is not permissible.  Then I found myself in online Muslim chat forums immersed in an atmosphere of predominantly devout followers of Islam and discovered that deception and lying are not considered to be synonymous terms.  For example, a Muslim who wants to go to the Mosque to pray but is forbidden to do so by a non-Muslim may take a piece of paper upon which is written, "the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit," give it to the non-Muslim and claim an apparent allegiance to Christianity if it will cause the non-Muslim to relent in allowing attendance to prayer.

But the Sharia Law of Taqiya runs deeper than merely providing an excuse to go to prayer meeting.  To begin to understand Islamic jurisprudence, one has to remember that the Quran is not the "be-all-and-end-all" text.  The Quran is, according to Islam, the Word of God.  To understand the Quran more thoroughly one also must consider the Tafsir (Quranic commentaries).  But to really put the Quran and the Tafsir into perspective, one must go further and study the Hadith.  Hadith is an accepted contemporary report of the life, habits, words and actions of the Prophet Mohammad.  What is more, it should be remembered that the vast majority of Muslims accept Hadith as legitimate and necessary for understanding the intent of the Quran and the Tafsir.  

Ibn Shihaab, one of the narrators of Hadith, said that the Prophet Mohammad had taught that lying was not lying as long it was done in a time of war, in order to bring reconciliation or between a husband and wife.  This is also confirmed by Imam Ahmad who quoted Umm Kalthoom bint ‘Uqbah as saying, "I never heard the Messenger of Allah grant a concession allowing any kind of lying except in three cases: a man who says something intending thereby to bring about reconciliation; a man who says something at the time of war; and a man talking to his wife or a woman talking to her husband."  This is accepted by the system of Sharia Law and classified as Taqiya.  In other words, it is perfectly legal to lie in Islam under certain circumstances because, in those circumstances, it is not considered lying.

And so I have to come back to my Muslim friends and ask a very serious question, "How can I trust you?"  You say you are a religion of peace and have no desire to harm me, my family or my country.  But how can I believe that?  What if you are committed to Jihad (holy war) against me already?  If I ask you, you will deny it, but your religious and moral code says it's okay for you to lie to me in a time of war.  How can I trust you?  I have absolutely no desire to see American Muslims stripped of their 1st Amendment rights.  At the same time, how can I believe any statement from any Muslim in any regard when, in at least three cases, lying just isn't considered lying?

Please hear me very clearly - this is not Islamophobia.  I am not afraid of Muslims or Islam.  As a Christian I know that I have nothing to fear in this life.  I am not afraid of ISIS or any other Jihadist group nor is it my intention in this article to belittle, bash, condemn, marginalize, castigate or otherwise discriminate against Muslims.  Instead, I would like to submit the question here as I have to various Muslims in the past:  If it's okay to lie, how do I know you're not lying to me now?  And even when a Muslim has given me a very good, clear, thorough, logical, sensible explanation of why I should believe them, how can I know that the answer isn't just another justifiable lie?

There is no hate in my heart toward any Muslim anywhere.  None whatsoever.  What a miserable Christian I would be if I hated any of my fellow man.  There is no hate or fear, but there is very real concern.  Because, if it is true that a philosophy of "the end justifies the means" is woven tightly into the fabric of Islam, how can I trust a Muslim?  And if it is so, as the Quran says in Surah 39:3, that Allah does not guide him aright who is a liar and, as in Surah 3:61 and 24:8, that the curse of Allah is upon the liar, how can a Muslim escape the horrible damnation of contradiction?

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Good Try, But Not Good Enough

By: Sis. Elaine Hood

The man and his wife came in and sat down.  As the first songs were played a sweet move of the Spirit of God began to sweep through the congregation.  Saints raised their hands in worship, some clapped, and still others rejoiced in dancing.  The man and his wife sat perfectly still, but they were not unaffected.  Slowly a tear trickled down the man’s face.  His wife sniffed.  Another tear followed the first one.  She reached for a tissue.  Soon both were crying in earnest as the Presence of God tugged at their hearts, drawing them toward Him.  The worship service came to an end, the Pastor read his text and began to preach.  He preached the Word of God in love and sincerity, desperately trying to reach the man and his wife.  The couple’s tears had not abated, rather they cried through the entire sermon.

When the Pastor had preached everything he felt like God had asked him to say, he invited everyone that would to come to the front and pray.  The man sat rigidly, hands gripping the pew in front of him so hard his knuckles were white as he fought the urge to go forward and give his heart to God.  For the next half an hour as others around them prayed and responded to the Word of God, the man and his wife sat stubbornly refusing to move.  Finally, the service was over, the conviction lifted, the tears all dried.  The man approached the Pastor, his brother, and said, "Good try, Robby.  Real good try…but not quite good enough.”

When I heard the Pastor relay this story several years after it took place, you could still see the heartache in his eyes, still read the “Did I do enough?” questions in his facial expression, and still see the frustration at seeing his brother come so close to turning his life over to God…and yet it wasn’t quite good enough.  As I pondered his words I realized that while it hurt horribly for the Pastor personally, the reality was that his brother really hadn't been addressing him that day.  Sure, he thought he was, but for all practical purposes his statement had been, “Good try, God.  Real good try…but not quite good enough.”  Because while it was the Pastor whose mouth did the preaching, it was the almighty God who was gently reaching, wooing, and calling this man and his wife.  He was doing His very best to draw them to Himself so He could give them a wonderful life that was sweeter than any they had ever known.  But alas!  The man decided that God’s best wasn’t quite good enough for him.

Sadly, this man is not alone.  For some it seems that Calvary was a good try, but the sacrifice He made isn’t good enough for them, and certainly not sufficient to merit a change in lifestyle.  He reaches for them, but the gentle drawing of His Presence just isn’t sweet enough to pull them to an altar.  He offers them a good marriage and a strong family serving Him together, but that doesn’t compare to a life in the world with its many lovers and great entertainment.  God presents a clean life free of addiction, promiscuity, and emptiness, but somehow that seems lackluster when compared to the thrills of sin.  He promises them Heaven, but Heaven dulls in comparison to the appeal of living according to one’s own desires.  Yes, God offers us His very best, and for some it’s a good try…but not quite good enough.

For some who choose to spurn God’s best the consequences will only be seen in eternity, when they are done living life the way they want to live it and death claims them unprepared.  For others their lives will meet shipwreck, leaving them empty and hurting and wondering where they went wrong.  For this man his decision would cost him his children – one would die of a drug overdose and the other would face intense struggles with addiction among other things.  I have often wondered if he stood at the grave of his child and wished he had allowed God’s offer to be good enough when his children were young enough to be shown a better path.

The great God of Heaven loves us enough to offer each of us salvation that He paid for with His own blood.  It’s up to us to choose to accept that offer…or callously say, “Good try, God, but not quite good enough.”

Note:  The story above is true.  I changed the names to avoid ready identification of the people involved.

___________________________________

Sis. Hood is author and editor at The Lighthouse Blog.  An accomplished Christian teacher and communicator, she travels with her husband as they serve as Evangelists.  

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Dinner With A Hypocrite

"But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. For before certain men came from James, he was eating with the Gentiles; but when they came he drew back and separated himself, fearing the circumcision party." - Galatians 2:11-12 (ESV)

In the Apostle Paul's letter to the churches of the region of Galatia we find a few very interesting historical details in regard to the author's experiences in his introduction to the early Christians and Christian leaders.  We are told of his difficulties, his status as being relatively unknown by sight and, finally, his acceptance by the leaders at Jerusalem.  From that point, we are lead to the city of Antioch and the scene of what would be a most eventful and educational dinner.

There in Antioch, where the Disciples were first called Christians, the Apostle Peter, called Cephas, was eating with the Gentiles.  It is reasonable to assume that these Gentiles were Gentile Christians but whether they were or not is immaterial.  The point is that the Apostle Peter was seated at dinner with ethnic Gentiles though he was an ethnic Jew.  This is not unreasonable.  After all, it should be remembered that this was the same Peter who had the marvelous vision on the rooftop in Joppa in which God demonstrated the cleansing of flesh for meat as well as the cleansing which was coming upon the Gentiles through the preaching of the Gospel.

When the Apostle Peter, after this vision, went to the household of Cornelius and preached the Gospel, their receptivity to and obedience of the Gospel evidenced through the baptism of the Holy Spirit and their submission to water baptism in the name of Jesus Christ was manifestation of their cleansing as an ethnic group before God.  In other words, as the Apostle Peter reasoned with those Jewish Christians who were with him and thereafter, if God has received the Gentiles, how can they be forbidden?  They most obviously are our Brethren and must be received as such.  They were no longer, as the Jews had been taught, an unclean people to be avoided and shunned.

How peculiar it is then to see the same Apostle Peter turn into a hypocrite at the dinner table in Antioch.  For, according to the Scriptures, we are told that when the ethnic Jewish Christians came from James in Jerusalem to where Peter was at Antioch dining with the Gentiles that Peter removed himself from the Gentiles because of his fear of the Jewish Christians.  The issue was circumcision coupled with deep seated bigotry.  Among the Jewish Christians was a popular belief that Christian converts should be circumcised and that there was a difference between Jewish Christians and Gentile Christians.

Here is the summary of Peter's hypocrisy:  1) He believed, because of direct Divine revelation based upon the Word of God that the Gentiles were clean.  2)  He dined with the Gentile Christians when the Jewish Christians from Jerusalem weren't around.  3) When the Jewish Christians from Jerusalem came around, his conviction in regard to the Gentiles and his integrity in regard to his handling of Truth was compromised because of his fear of the Jewish Christians who came from James in Jerusalem.

It so happened that the Apostle Paul was also in attendance at this occasion and his response to Peter's conduct was quick and decisive.  Paul was enraged at the actions of Peter especially when it manifested its influence in Paul's own close companion in ministry Barnabas.  When Paul saw the actions of Peter, the Jews and Barnabas, he confronted Peter to his face before everyone and said, "If you, though a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you force the Gentiles to live like Jews?" (Galatians 2:14)  He pointed out and condemned Peter's hypocrisy in the clearest possible terms.  Peter was wrong for holding the Gentile Christians as private equals while treating them as public inferiors.

When Paul described Peter's conduct, he said that Peter "stood condemned" (Galatians 2:11).  Weymouth translated the phrase as, "his conduct condemned him."  It is this notion that led the translators of the Twentieth Century New Testament to render the passage, "he stood self-condemned."  In short, Paul rebuked Peter to his face before the Jewish Christians and Gentile Christians because Peter's actions were worthy of condemnation and were self-condemnatory: worthy of condemnation because they represented gross hypocrisy and self-condemnatory because Peter knew in his heart that there was nothing wrong with eating with the Gentile Christians or any other Gentile no matter what the Jewish Christians from Jerusalem thought about it.  Had Peter been a leader of Christian integrity, he would have stood with the Gentile Christians regardless of what it might have cost him in reputation with the Church at Jerusalem.

Peter was wrong.  He was wrong for putting reputation before Truth and, in privately supporting those he would not publicly endorse, his conduct was "not in step with the truth of the gospel" (Galatians 2:14).  Peter's conduct was not just self-serving; it was the antithesis of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  We see this clearly when we consult various translations in their rendering of the thought conveyed here.  The KJV says Peter and the Jewish Christians had not "walked uprightly according to the truth of the Gospel."  The NASB says they "were not straightforward about the truth."   The HCSB says they were "deviating from the truth of the gospel" while the ISV says they were "not acting consistently."  There is no way to look at what the Apostle Peter and the Jewish Christians were doing and justify it.  It was conduct unbecoming a Christian and a violation of the Gospel of Truth.

Now, what does this have to do with us today?  The hypocrisy of Christians in this regard in the modern Church is as present, shocking and worthy of condemnation as it was in the early Church.  It is not enough to be a private supporter of anyone who is in the right while, in the name of protecting your own interests or reputation, distancing yourself from them in the sight of those who are wrong in their thinking.  We can lament the fact that things are the way they are, but what do we gain for the name of Christ or the cause of Truth when we go along with the crowd and wrap ourselves in the robe of men-pleasing?  The Apostle Paul stood against the "system" because the "system" was acting in disobedience to the Gospel of Jesus Christ and, when all was said and done, came out all the greater in reputation, integrity and spiritual stature with those who held to the Truth.

What does it say to Christ and the Gospel when we embrace in private those we denounce in public?  Or what does it say of our integrity when we accept certain Truths behind closed doors while refusing to acknowledge them openly for fear of what the "Jews from Jerusalem" might say?  The Apostle Peter had a lot to lose in the eyes of James and the Saints at Jerusalem for dining with the Gentiles and, in the eyes of God, he would have been better off had he lost it.  Instead, Peter lost his integrity; sold for the price of the approval of those who, ultimately, were in the wrong.  When Peter sided with the Jewish Christians over the Gentiles, he turned away from the Truth of the Gospel.  Paul's rebuke was sharp and appropriate.  After all, he had been having dinner with a hypocrite and never knew it.

I challenge you, in the name of Christ, to stand with what is right even in the face of great personal loss.  How many individuals of pure heart and strong character who have struggled and overcome adversity stand with a mark against them in the eyes of some but with approval in the eyes of God?  Do you stand with them when the "Jews from Jerusalem" are around?  Or are you ashamed?  Or self-absorbed?  Or unwilling to truly follow the Gospel in the pure Spirit of Christ?  How many causes must remain points of public division when, privately, neither you nor the Scriptures find fault with them?  Will you build your house on sand for the sake of "fellowship" or will you plant your feet firmly on the Rock of Truth?

How many will have the spirit of Paul?  More importantly, how many will have the Spirit of God?  How many more will be the hypocrite at the dinner table?

God help us.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

When Soap Gets In Your Eyes

"Jesus said to his disciples: 'Things that cause people to stumble are bound to come, but woe to anyone through whom they come.'" - Luke 17:1 (NIV)

Inspiration comes to me in some strange places frequently.  For example, I remember reading the label on a shampoo bottle and noticing a couple of things.  First of all, I was surprised that there was a need for actual instructions on something as self explanatory as shampoo.  Secondly, I noticed a warning printed in bold letters.  Since that time I have tried to find that warning on other shampoo bottles and haven't had a lot of success in my search.  Occasionally I've found a brand of shampoo that includes these words:  "WARNING: Eye irritant.  If product comes in contact with eyes wash thoroughly with water immediately."  Again, this seems like common sense and not really necessary on the label of a shampoo bottle.  Then again, we do live in the age where a can of very clearly labeled honey roasted peanuts also has to include a phrase such as "Warning: Contains Peanuts" on the can.

Either we've really turned into a society where we are no longer capable of taking care of the most basic and common facets of our lives or some bloated, bureaucratic, government regulatory commission somewhere thinks so.  Whatever the case, these warnings appear quite often and have given me a chuckle more than once.  But if we examine the nature of these warnings, we will usually see that there is some veracity in what is being said.  For example, it is true that a can of room deodorizer shouldn't be placed in a fire or near a high heat source because it will explode.  It is also true that, if you inhale spray paint, brain damage or death can occur.  So while the warnings are overkill perhaps, it doesn't necessarily negate them.

Certainly I'm not the only one who has felt the intense burn of soap in the eyes.  There have been occasions when the burning was so severe that I started thinking up a name for the seeing-eye dog I would need after I lost my sight.  But the last thing anyone would do to try and relieve the burning is to pour more shampoo into the eye.  Common sense says the best way to remove the irritant is by flushing the area with clean, pure water.  No logical person uses soap to get soap out of their eyes.

I am convinced that there are some people who wake up every day looking to see how many other people they can irritate.  What is worse, I'm convinced that many of these individuals profess to be Christians.  They are individuals who are full of venom, acidic personalities, who feel it is a righteous act to spray their irritant into the eyes of all those around them.  These are they who refuse to peacefully coexist with those who don't quite hold the same personal convictions as they do.  Or they are those who cannot help but criticize and critique everyone and everything.  They are the nitpickers, back-bitters and gossipers.  They are ones who sow discord and stir up strife.  They're like a healthy dose of shampoo right in the eyes.

So what is the solution to dealing with these individuals?  Well, we have to stop and think it through because it's not quite as simple as it might seem.

You can't avoid washing your hair.  That is to say, you shouldn't.  There's no logical reason not to wash your hair but there must be cautions put in place to guard against the irritants.  You can't always get away from acidic people.  In fact, it's not even God's will to escape from them all the time.  There are certain people who are placed in our lives as occasional irritants which help us grow as Christians.  Nothing helps a person grow in grace more than a thorn in the flesh or, in this case, a pain in the eye.  This is not to say that there is never a point where separation from a particular individual is merited.  There does come a point where you simply cannot try to get a long with some people and the best thing you can do is to stop trying.  Love them, pray for them, but let them go their way.

But it takes a lot to reach the place where we need to disconnect from a person entirely.  Most of the time, we are either unable or not given liberty to completely avoid someone.  What we must do in those occasions is to wash the burning from our eyes and move on with life.  The temporary sting of acidic personalities becomes a permanent blindness only if we allow the irritant to continue in an area it doesn't belong.  Again, some of these irritating individuals are in our lives because they help us grow.  The serve a purpose.  They teach us lessons we couldn't learn without them.  At the same time, we do not have to live with their effects.  Wash the burning away with the Spirit and the Word.

In dealing with these personalities, we are wise to remember a few things.  First of all, as with shampoo, do everything possible to keep the irritants from getting inside.  The problem with the soap begins when it gets in the eye.  On the outside there is no pain.  On the inside there is a definite sting.  Don't allow the attitudes of acidic people to get inside.  Don't hold their opinions in your spirit.  Let your heart be purged of their ranker as best as you can.  Furthermore, don't keep squeezing the bottle.  Don't antagonize, argue or push.  When an individual is acidic they produce acid because it is the abundance of their heart.  Squeezing them will only produce more of the same thing.  Let them spew but don't be the one to squeeze the bottle intentionally.

When soap gets in your eyes, wash it out.  Don't keep rubbing it with a dry hand.  Don't pour in more soap.  Don't ignore it.  Wash it out.  And when it happens metaphorically, turn to prayer.  Turn to the Word of God.  Allow the Spirit of God to wash over your heart and soul.  If you don't wash it out, you'll find yourself becoming more and more irritated until you become the very thing that hurt you in the first place.  Wouldn't that be the greatest tragedy of all?

Monday, January 9, 2017

It's Just Prayer Meeting

"The believers continued to devote themselves to what the apostles were teaching, to fellowship, to the breaking of bread, and to times of prayer." - Acts 2:42 (ISV)

We're going to begin this article with a hard statement of fact: many churches do NOT have prayer meetings anymore.  And when we say "prayer meeting" we're not just talking about a regular service dedicated to nothing but the practice of prayer.  We are also referencing the lack of prayer meetings before worship services.  Pre-service prayer, it is often called.  The lack of prayer in the house of prayer is alarming.  Even in those churches where prayer meetings are still on the schedule, it is going to be the one service every week when people will find a reason not to attend.

Pre-service prayer is optional, after all, because "having church" really doesn't start until the worship team steps to the stage to perform.  Being there for "having church" is the most important thing.  "It's just prayer meeting," some will say.  "It's not all that important.  It's not like it's REAL church or anything."  We adopt these attitudes along with the complaint that "the power of God isn't in our church like it used to be."  One individual (who, incidentally, never attended prayer meetings at his church) was known to say, "it sure ain't happenin' like it used to in the Book of Acts!"  This was his chief complaint about the church he attended.  Things aren't happening like they did in the Book of Acts.

If our complaint is that things aren't happening in our churches today as they did in the Book of Acts, perhaps an examination of the Book of Acts would give us a possible clue as to why.

Acts 1:12-14 tells us that the preface to the Day of Pentecost was a prayer meeting.  Verse 14 says, "These all continued with one accord in prayer and supplication."  If we expect a Pentecostal outpouring of the Spirit, perhaps we need to start with a prayer meeting.

Acts 1:23-26 tells us that, before a new Apostle was chosen to replace Judas and fulfill prophecy, there was a prayer meeting.  Verse 24 says, "And they prayed..."  If we expect God-ordained leadership to rise among us, perhaps we need to start with a prayer meeting.

Acts 2:42-47 tells us that signs, wonders and conversions occurred because of a perpetuation of prayer meetings.  Verse 42 says, "And they continued steadfastly...in prayers."  If we expect the manifestation of the presence of God in miraculous ways, perhaps we need to start with prayer meetings.

Acts 3:1-8 tells us that a lame man walked again by the power of God after a prayer made by Peter and John on the way to a prayer meeting.  Verse 3 says, "Peter and John went up together into the temple at the hour of prayer."  If we expect to see the sick healed, perhaps we need to start with prayer meetings.

Acts 4:23-31 tells us that, when arrested for preaching in the name of Jesus Christ, the disciples received an anointing powerful enough to shake the house where they were sitting after they were released and joined together in a prayer meeting.  Verse 31 says, "And when they had prayed..."  If we expect to receive a supernatural endowment of the Holy Spirit for the preaching of the Gospel, perhaps we need to start with prayer meetings.

Acts 6:1-7 tells us that anointed, faithful laborers were needed to tend to the business affairs of the Church and, when chosen, were set apart to their work in a prayer meeting.  Verse 6 says, "and when they had prayed."  If we expect the business affairs of the Church to be conducted by faithful stewards with God's blessings, perhaps we need to start with prayer meetings.

Acts 8:14-17 tell us that the Samaritans had received the Gospel and been baptized in the name of Jesus Christ but did not receive the Holy Spirit until they were in a prayer meeting.  Verse 15 says, "when they were come down, (they) prayed for them..."  If we want to see individuals receive the baptism of the Spirit, perhaps we need to start with prayer meetings.

Acts 12:5-17 tells us that, when Peter was in prison and almost certainly facing execution, the Church pleaded his cause before God in a prayer meeting.  Verse 5 says, "prayer was made without ceasing..."  If we want to see the delivering hand of God move on our behalf, perhaps we need to start with prayer meetings.  This event would repeat itself in Acts 16:25-26 when Paul and Silas, in the depths of the prison, had their own prayer meeting.

Acts 13:1-3 tells us that the Lord desired to appoint Missionaries and called Barnabas and Saul to the work.  They were anointed in a prayer meeting.  Verse 3 says, "when they had fasted and prayed...they sent them."  If we want to see anointed Missionaries sent out into the darkness of the present age, perhaps we need to start with prayer meetings.

Acts 14:19-23 tells us that Elders were ordained in every church in the atmosphere of a prayer meeting.  Verse 23 says, "and had prayed with fasting..."  If we want the blessing of God-ordained and anointed Pastors, Bishops and Elders, perhaps we need to start with prayer meetings.

Acts 16:16-18 tells us that a demon possessed woman was delivered from her affliction when prayer was made by Paul on his way to a prayer meeting.  Verse 16 says, "as we went to prayer..."  If we want to see demon possessed people delivered, perhaps we need to start with prayer meetings.

Acts 20:36-38 tells us that Paul was embarking on a journey and was in need of the guidance of the Spirit, he was strengthened by a prayer meeting.  Verse 36 says, "he kneeled down and prayed with them all."  If we desire the direction of the Lord in our lives and ministries, perhaps we need to start with prayer meetings.  This event would repeat itself in Acts 21:5.

Perhaps, if these manifestation are missing from our lives, the restoration can be found in a sincere return to that which preceded, followed and entirely encapsulated the move of the Spirit in the Book of Acts: A DEVOTION TO CORPORATE PRAYER.  Certainly we are encouraged to pray individually.  Corporate prayer - prayer meetings - will never take the place of a personal, private prayer life.  One does not supplant the other.  Both must be present in the life of a Christian and in a healthy Church environment.

So, why don't we commit completely to prayer meeting?  D.A. Carson in his "A Call To Spiritual Reformation" gave six obstacles to corporate prayer:

1. I am too busy to pray.
2. I feel too spiritually dry to pray.
3. I feel no need to pray.
4. I am too bitter to pray.
5. I am too ashamed to pray.
6. I am content with mediocrity.

The cure for all six is, clearly, prayer.  It's a matter of the heart.  Why doesn't a Church join together in prayer meetings?  They don't want to.  Plain and simple.  It is a manifestation of a "heart condition" in the Body.  The heart of the Church has turned away from the fundamental principle of Divine fellowship - communication with their Lord, Saviour and Creator in prayer.  People will never spontaneously become faithful to prayer meetings.  It takes both corporate and individual commitment and desire.  Let us return to  and recapture the power of prayer meetings.  They're not "just" anything; they're just everything.