Friday, October 22, 2010

BOOK REVIEW: YOUR CHURCH IS TOO SMALL

It is our view of 'The Church' that is too small.

We have focused on the correctness of our own theological camp to such an extent that other followers of Jesus are explained away as having doctrinal error and possibly not being true disciples.

The Christian Church globally throughout history divides into 3 main arteries-- Roman Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant.  All originated from the Early Church described in Acts and the early church Fathers.

John H. Armstrong presents a refreshing look at Jesus' prayer for unity found in John Chapter 17.  What is this unity and how is it to exist in the world today?

Much of the rhetoric and propaganda that has separated Christians is explored in light of the clear teachings of the New Testament.

This book is a voice of clarity in discerning the ancient-future connectedness of Christ's followers through time and creed.  You cannot read this book without having your own separatist ideas brought into question.

On a personal level I am prayerfully thinking about how to lead others in efforts that fulfill Jesus' prayer for unity.

John H. Armstrong is president of Act 3 in Carol Stream, Illinois, and served as a pastor for more than twenty years.  He is an adjunct professor of evangelism at Wheaton College Graduate School.

Check him online at www.Act3online.com .


________________________________

Book has been provided courtesy of Graf-Martin Communications, Inc.  Available now at your favourite bookseller.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

TENDER HEALER


Matthew 12:
20A bruised reed he will not break,
      and a smouldering wick he will not snuff out,
   till he leads justice to victory.
    21In his name the nations will put their hope."

He won’t break a bruised reed or snuff out a smouldering wick.  Jesus is aware of the fragility of life and the ease with which it is ended.  The One who created life has a mission of restoration.  It is in this heart that the Messiah approaches broken, damaged people.

In English, the term bruise usually refers to a contusion with no break in the skin surface, identifiable by discoloration.  Sometimes the term is used metaphorically to speak of hurt feelings or spirit.  Whereas in modern parlance a bruise is viewed as a minor injury and is almost a positive image (e.g., ‘he escaped with only a few bruises’), in the Bible the image is stark and powerful, with connotations of serious and repeated injury that is virtually a death blow.  No single biblical term names the image; instead a number of words encompass the semantic idea of bruise, all of them denoting injury, pain and wound.[i]

How have you been bruised?  In what ways have you been dealt death blows and experienced repeated injury?  Jesus has great empathy for you.  He was wounded and bruised in greater measure in order to bring healing to us.  The presence of Jesus affects that part of you which has been victimized.  He is the healer of the broken-hearted and bandager of wounds.

Can we who follow Jesus not follow His lead?  In this way of tender mercy we go into the world proclaiming justice. 



[i] Dictionary of Biblical Imagery (Inter-Varsity Press), pp.127,128

Monday, October 18, 2010

PRIVATE CONVERSATIONS


Matthew 12:
 19He will not quarrel or cry out;
      no one will hear his voice in the streets. 

The Messiah’s message would not be based on public displays of outrage.  To not be heard in the streets implies that He is in the house talking in normal voice.  We see the context of the gospel message here.  It is personal and most often spoken in private settings.

Jesus would not qualify to be a shock jock Christian radio host.  In all the gospels, there is no hint of defying Rome or tearing down the surrounding nationalities.  He did not speak out against taxes, militarism, immigration policies or the proliferation of false religions and cults.

There is however a consistent record of His defiance and proclamation against the religious leaders in the house of Israel.  But his voice of justice was proclaimed in the house.  He did not attract attention outside the house on the streets of Roman rule.  It was the religious leaders who brought his message from their house to the Roman government.

As his followers, we should proclaim in similar fashion.  The message inside the church is one of intervention, loving correction and righteousness. 

1 Peter 4:17
For it is time for judgment to begin with the family of God; and if it begins with us, what will the outcome be for those who do not obey the gospel of God?

The heavy conversations are held in the house.  So what about the neighbours?  Jesus described Himself as standing at everyone’s house door knocking.  If anyone lets Him in, he will come to their table and relate to them.  This message to the world is based on a mission of reconciliation.  Jesus does not arrive at the world’s door with a SWAT team.  The nations of the world will revere Jesus for the way he comes privately to broken and oppressed people. 

Many of the gifts of healing, deliverance and miracles happened in the context of a few people present; perhaps in someone’s house, synagogue or intimate setting.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

JESUS ANONYMOUS


Matthew 12:
15Aware of this, Jesus withdrew from that place. Many followed him, and he healed all their sick, 16warning them not to tell who he was.


Jesus did not stay where His life was at stake.  With the Pharisees plotting to kill Him, he moved on to another place.  There would be only one hill to die on, and that would be Calvary.  Until the right time came, he preserved His life.  No-one would take his life prematurely.  He would wait for the right time to give it up. 

He came for the lost and they found Him.  He was not looking for a political kingdom based on force and fear.  His mission was a healing journey.  This was an important reason to conceal His identity as the Son of God.    People would be all too eager to embrace Him as a rebel king to overthrow Rome.  That was the popular idea of what the Messiah would be.

Matthew saw Jesus anonymous approach as a fulfillment of prophecy[i]. 

Matthew 12:
17This was to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet Isaiah:
 18"Here is my servant whom I have chosen,
      the one I love, in whom I delight;
   I will put my Spirit on him,
      and he will proclaim justice to the nations. 

Ancient kings had a custom of leaning on the arm of their favourite and most trusted servant.  If we say that someone is our ‘right hand man’ it has a similar connotation.  Several scriptures talk about Jesus being seated at the right hand of the Father. 

Isaiah’s prophesied that the Messiah would be God’s right hand man; chosen, loved and trusted by the Father.  Holy Spirit would be with the Son and there would be a worldwide message of justice proclaimed. 

When I think of proclaiming justice, my mind imagines the media coverage and publicity of a press release.  We would want the message to challenge oppressors and give hope to the oppressed.  We would want people to know how they can get involved in the cause and where to send support dollars.  But this Messiah had another communication strategy.


[i] Isaiah 42:1-4

Thursday, October 14, 2010

NOT JUSTIN TIMBERLAKE

We should not be shocked when we hear of ordinary people who do not know the first thing about Jesus Christ.  Many have heard his name, but that is where their knowledge ends.  As followers, we have a job to go to people who have not heard and tell them about Him.  

Let us present an accurate story though; and not a pop star version of whom we think people will be interested in.  Jesus is not Justin Timberlake, nor is he Time Magazine’s man of the year.  He is the Suffering Servant who gave His life as a ransom for many.  He did not use His power to draw attention to Himself.  All glory was intended to go to His Father.

Jesus did not fall in love with his own image.  There were many times when he insisted on keeping a low profile.  He did not want people to openly promote the idea that he was the Messiah.  When we think about the great sayings of Jesus, it is easy to overlook his repeated verbal request to keep his gift-giving of healing, deliverance and miracles hidden.  He often told people and demons to be quiet and not announce His true identity. 

Perhaps he did not want to mistaken for the heroic, state-saving Messiah that most Jews were wishing for.  The Messiah of the Prophets was increasingly replaced by a propped-up false image of what people wanted.  Jesus would not be identified with a mythological figure; nor would he disclose what only God’s Spirit could reveal.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

IMPORTANT PEOPLE























What significance do the following names have?  How many do you recognize and what do you know about their lives?

·         Harlow H. Curtice[i]
·         John Foster Dulles[ii]
·         Konrad Adenauer[iii]
·         Mohammed Mossadegh[iv]
·         Jeff Bezos[v]
·         Andy Grove[vi]
·         David Ho[vii]
·         Deng Xiaoping[viii]
·         Peter Ueberroth[ix]
·         Willy Brandt[x]

Since 1927, TIME Magazine has chosen a man, woman, or idea that "for better or worse, has most influenced events in the preceding year." Though TIME's list is not an academic or objective study of the past, the list gives a contemporary viewpoint of what was important during each year.[xi] 

Though considered to be ‘Person of the Year’ (and the most significant world-shapers of their day) their names have now been mostly forgotten.  Somewhere in their study or in their archives, a faded Time Magazine has their picture on the cover.  Maybe they bring it out at parties to remind guests of how important they once were.  But mostly, no-one remembers.  There may be a statue, street name or building erected in their name; but they have blurred into history for the most part without you having a clue about them.

Another important man of the past Dag Hammarskjold[xii] made the following comment about being publicly known:

Around a man who has been pushed into the limelight a legend begins to grow as it does around a dead man. But a dead man is in no danger of yielding to the temptation to nourish his legend, or accept its picture as reality. I pity the man who falls in love with his image as it is drawn by public opinion during the honeymoon of publicity.[xiii]


[i] 1955 helped steer U.S. into new age of wide-open affluence
[ii] 1954 Secretary of State brought ‘brinksmanship’ to cold war lexicon
[iii] 1953 forced war-shattered West Germany to face the future
[iv] 1951 rallied short-lived anti-Western government in Iran
[v] 1999 Amazon.com founder
[vi] 1997 Intel CEO
[vii] 1996 AIDS researcher pioneered treatment
[viii] 1985 Reshaped China by embracing free-market reforms
[ix] 1984 Married big business to the Olympics with profitable L.A. Games
[x] 1970 West German tried to bring about enlarged, united Western Europe
[xii] Secretary-General of United Nations 1953-61
[xiii] Dag Hammarskjold, quoted in C. Swindoll, The Grace Awakening, Word, 1990, p. 238-9.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

IF DONALD TRUMP COMES TO YOUR CHURCH

For most people, it started honestly when we were tiny human beings.  Parents, relatives and baby-sitters spoke to us in high voices with a ridiculous smile on their face. They affirmed us, held us and gave affection.  



We developed attachments to these caregivers and still bond to people who express admiration toward us. Approval is a potent drug.  Its effect is stimulating and in small doses lead to good health.  But an over-dependence on the approval of others can lead to horrible side effects.

We all have people that we admire.  Someone has a social strength, exceptional skill or high standing and we are impressed by them.  It’s fair to say that most of us want others to notice us, too.  But can a healthy need for approval turn into something demoralizing?

In his book ‘Sports Law’, Simon Gardiner wrote this:

The desire to win is so great that people sometimes lose the concept of right and wrong due to being single-minded driven individuals.  Sometimes it is very difficult to view life as a whole, as sports goals for the obsessed individual are the only true tangible goal.  It can totally dominate your life and effectively shut out any vision of the world beyond. 
An example of this mindset was the results of a poll performed by Gabe Mirkin M.D., author of The Sports Medicine Book.  He is a devoted runner and in the early 1980s polled more than a hundred top runners and asked them this question, “If I could give you a pill that would make you an Olympic champion and also kill you in a year, would you take it?”  Mirkin reported that more than half the athletes he asked responded that yes, they would take the pill.[i]

When it comes to right and wrong, how can the desire for approval and accomplishment skew our lives in the church?  In the first century Jerusalem congregation, James wrote about a derriere-smooching attitude that still prevails in churches everywhere.

James 2:  (NIV)
 1My brothers, as believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ, don't show favoritism. 2Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in shabby clothes also comes in. 3If you show special attention to the man wearing fine clothes and say, "Here's a good seat for you," but say to the poor man, "You stand there" or "Sit on the floor by my feet," 4have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?

James is the leader of the church and speaks to his friends as ‘believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ’. Jesus is described as glorious.  He alone is stunning, powerful and worth admiring.  If we value Jesus Christ above all others, we will recognize him mystically present in the people assembled to worship Him.  Jesus saves us from the world of false values.

Apparently, the church gathering was open to rich and poor alike.  And favoritism was a problem worth mentioning. 

William Barclay wrote:

The more ostentatious of the ancients wore rings on every finger except the middle one, and wore far more than one on each finger. They even hired rings to wear when they wished to give an impression of special wealth [ii]

The unjust pretense here is considering fine clothing and wealth to be marks of good character, while those who lack be thought of as having poor character.  Financial ability gets you a better seat and socio-economic caste systems give you a guide to the worth of people. 

James 2:  (NIV)
 5Listen, my dear brothers: Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom he promised those who love him? 6But you have insulted the poor. Is it not the rich who are exploiting you? Are they not the ones who are dragging you into court? 7Are they not the ones who are slandering the noble name of him to whom you belong?

When people are preferential toward the rich, they become oppressive toward the poor.  We applaud Jesus’ warnings to the rich until we have a chance to get in good with them.  What are we hoping to gain from the rich?  Are they generous and going to improve our social standing?  Are they going to help us become like them?

A lasting reality through time is the deceitfulness of riches.  James referred to exploitation and profiteering off the poor.  All such behavior slanders Jesus whom we claim to follow and humbly serve.

As John Calvin put it, "Why should a man honour his executioners and at the same time injure his friends?"[iii]




[i] Simon Gardiner, Sports Law (Cavendish Publishing), p.288
[ii] William Barclay, The Letters of James and Peter (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1976), p. 64.
[iii] Quoted by A. F. Harper, Beacon Bible Commentary, Vol. X (Kansas City: Beacon Hill Press, 1967), p. 211.

Friday, October 8, 2010

FAITH IS A STRETCH

Matthew 12:
9Going on from that place, he went into their synagogue, 10and a man with a shriveled hand was there. Looking for a reason to accuse Jesus, they asked him, "Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?"
 11He said to them, "If any of you has a sheep and it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will you not take hold of it and lift it out? 12How much more valuable is a man than a sheep! Therefore it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath."
 13Then he said to the man, "Stretch out your hand." So he stretched it out and it was completely restored, just as sound as the other.14But the Pharisees went out and plotted how they might kill Jesus.


There was a man with a withered hand in the Synagogue.  Some viewed disability and deformity as signs of God’s judgment.  Either this person or perhaps their parents had sinned and God responded by causing disability. 

The synagogue allowed this man to be part of the group, though they had no answer for him.  Maybe they taught him to accept God’s judgment and do his best to meet their standards.  But they had no healing to restore his lost potential.

Later in redemptive history, the followers of Jesus would become ecclesia, the called-out ones.  The church would have as one of its titles ‘The Body of Christ’.  Paul would develop a teaching on the parts of the Body working harmoniously with appreciation for the uniqueness of each part.

In the body of Christ, do we have a withered hand?  Are there parts of God’s Church that need healing?  If we are honest, we will acknowledge our dysfunctions.  Broken hearts and blind eyes sit next to deaf ears and muted tongues.  Sadly, we have nothing to offer unless Jesus intervenes.  Without Jesus, we are simply Pharisees in the Synagogue protecting our interests.

Jesus only asked the man to stretch out his hand.  In the simple act of faith and obedience, God responded with healing.  The man who had accepted his disfigurement as a limitation was suddenly starting a new chapter in life.  He now had an extra hand that was useful and cooperative with the rest of his body.

When we see human brokenness and failure in the Church, let’s also see Jesus here.  Face to face with our problem He asks us to stretch forth withered hands.  There is healing for all the diseases in the Church.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

FORENSICS OF A HATE CRIME

Are we much different from the Pharisees who looked for a reason to accuse Jesus of being an impostor?

Matthew 12:
9Going on from that place, he went into their synagogue, 10and a man with a shriveled hand was there. Looking for a reason to accuse Jesus, they asked him, "Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?"
 11He said to them, "If any of you has a sheep and it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will you not take hold of it and lift it out? 12How much more valuable is a man than a sheep! Therefore it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath."
 13Then he said to the man, "Stretch out your hand." So he stretched it out and it was completely restored, just as sound as the other.14But the Pharisees went out and plotted how they might kill Jesus.


The obvious happy ending of this story was the healing of a man’s hand.  The power of God is demonstrated and a new chapter begins for the healed man.  But, the tragic tension lies in the story of the Pharisees.  This is a story of a religious conspiracy of the darkest variety.

Let’s investigate the forensics of bigotry that would ultimately lead to a hate crime of the highest order.  As we look at the Pharisees, the Scriptures are a mirror to show us our own potential for being conspiratorial.

1.      Fault-finding


Jesus is a guest rabbi in their synagogue and they immediately are at work to find a reason to reject him.  Conspiracies start with a mindset that is ready to reject and accuse.

2.      Entrapment


If you want to prove that someone is wrong, you will ask leading questions to get them to reveal who they really are and how different they are from the accepted position.  Conspiracies are built on the threat that the enemy is hiding the truth from you.  In fact, the enemy is so devious they appear to be your friend.  We will provoke them to unmask their secret agenda.

3.      The Log and the Speck


Elsewhere Jesus spoke about our need to remove the log from our own eye, before trying to remove the speck from our brother’s eye.  The log in the Pharisees’ collective eye is astounding.  The issue about working on the Sabbath varied in definition depending on which group you belonged to.

The Essenes were the strictest sect of Judaism and included John the Baptist as one of their members.  They would not even rescue an animal on the Sabbath day.  Most Pharisees and Jewish people did not see rescuing the sheep in a pit as a Sabbath violation.  Jesus makes the point that people of are greater worth than animals and healing the man would not be wrong in this context.

In the worst cases of breaking the Sabbath, the Law prescribed public execution[i] as the punishment.  Roman law would not allow the Jews to practice capital punishment since their authority presided over Israel. Even the strictest group of Essenes would not execute Sabbath breakers, but instead hold them in detention.

In the Pharisees, we see a self-righteous attitude that goes beyond civility.  They look for ways to kill Jesus.  They are prepared to commit murder in the name of protecting their interests.  In protecting the Law, they will become Law-breakers.  They cannot see the log in their own eye and neither can people who zealously embrace conspiracy.

4.      Opinion Trumps Truth


Unable to outwit Jesus and validate their case against him, they went away and began to plot his death.  The truth of the debate was settled when God healed the man’s hand.  But conspiracy lovers will go to any length to be validated.  Their own ‘truth’ was more powerful than the Truth. 

5.      Unstopped Conspiracies End Badly


This story was not the end of the story.  The Pharisees eventually had their day in court leading to Jesus being crucified as an innocent man. 



[i] Ex 31:14; 35:2; Num 15:35

Monday, October 4, 2010

ELVIS PRESLEY, THE ANTICHRIST AND TWIN TOWER CONSPIRACY

In spite of what the liars have been saying for the past 33 years, Elvis Presley is definitely still alive.  Saturday night at New Song Church he gave a fund-raising concert.  Strangely, this seventy-three year old looked thirty years younger.  I was not there, but I know people that were.  They told me he put on a good show and raised a few hundred dollars.  I’m glad that Elvis still has a generous heart and thinks about us little people.  Still… it makes me wonder.




·         How has he maintained his youthfulness while his peers have passed away or aged beyond recognition? 

·         Why won’t the mainstream media interview him and put to rest the nasty rumors that he died in 1977? 

·         Why has such a brilliant talent not recorded anything new? 

These and other questions plague my mind.  Is it possible that we gave been hoaxed?  Could it be that the man who performed Saturday night is an impostor?  You cannot believe everything that people at your church tell you.  I was told that he was here, but now I’m wondering if it is a conspiracy.  Could his faked death and funeral in 1977 possibly be the real truth?  Why have the CIA and the IRS collaborated with The Illuminati and the Liberal media to tell us Elvis is alive, when in fact there is secret evidence to suggest he may actually be dead?

Conspiring minds want to know…

Conspiracy theorists have been at work from the beginning of time.  Every historical account of most anything is subject to people who question and deny the stated truth.  There is something intoxicating about the idea that popular figures are not really who they say they are.  As if life is not wonderful and tragic enough, people want to prove that the truth is actually a lie.

You may have heard that President Obama is a Muslim.  You may have heard that the Pope is the anti-Christ.  You may have heard that I’m a crack dealer. 

If any or all of these things are true, what does it mean?  It is in our nature to find fault with authority and persuade others to join us in our distrust and fear. 

Beyond our negative opinions and beliefs pertaining to authority is a question of our own character.  To what extent will we assume moral superiority and twist the truth to serve our purposes?  What is our purpose when we suggest that the moon landing was a hoax?  What is the outcome of saying that George Bush and Dick Cheney masterminded the September 11th tragedy?  Although it is well documented that Barrack Obama is a Christian, what are the underlying assumptions of saying that he is Muslim?     What if your inflated theories are false?  Do you bear any responsibility for perpetuating lies?

Saturday, October 2, 2010

LOVES ME... LOVES ME NOT...

The girl holds a daisy in her hand and plucks the petals off one-by-one and recites, “He loves me; he loves me not.  He loves me; he loves me not”

She is not sure if his love exists and so she turns to the daisy hoping that it will mystically tell her, “Yes, he loves you.  The last remaining petal proves this.  You can settle it in your mind now.”

When it comes to certainty and doubt in relationships, many people are plucking petals, pulling out their hair or having backroom conversations with trusted friends or family members.  Or, they have no-one to share their innermost questions with and worry alone.

So much of love’s anxiety is centered in our hope that love will be permanently fixed in place.  I want to know that I can count on the other’s love being constant and weatherproof.  I want to capture love and freeze it in time.

In reality, love is more like the tides that go in and out.  When it comes in, we are filled and when it goes out we feel abandoned.  A mature view of love recognizes that love is constant in its cycles and seasons.  Its strength and certainty is measured over time and not in the midst of an empty moment.

We cannot demand love or manipulate to get it from another.  All we can do is choose love for ourselves.  We choose to grow in our capacity to love by recognizing how demanding it is.  

We make vows at the wedding altar; not because we are super-human, but because we are human.  In our capacity to fail, break promises and be selfish we decide that love is worth fighting for.  Love is worth fighting about.  Love is better than we are and we want to be filled by it.

The Scriptures teach that God is love.  To look at a daisy and pluck all its petals, we find a message on each one that says, “God loves me.  God loves me.”  We discover the truth of love by looking into the face of God.  

1 Corinthians 13:
 4Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
12Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.
 13And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.

Love is the essence of who God is.  

A dirty mirror in a dimly-lit room does not give you the complete picture.  Loving someone is like looking into that mirror.  As love wipes the image clean and brings light to the room, we are able to see ourselves more honestly; and we see the one at our side more clearly.

Love takes us into clarity and truthfulness.  We grow to see the one we love face-to-face.


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