30 November 2010

In an Upside-Down Economy...The More Things Stay the Same

Galatians 3:3

Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?

I find it hard sometimes to explain how God is working in my life. At many points I have to share that I'm afraid to share. I think there is a stigma, or some basic understanding that comes with the phrase, "God is really working in my life" that leads most people to believe, especially new believers, that GOOD things are happening! That spiritually, exciting growth is occurring in your life, or that some sort of wonderful, powerful revelation has been provided to you that perhaps many others are long to have. Sadly, that is most often not the case. Suffice it to say, and many of you seasoned believers will support me in this axiom, that when one says, "God working in your life", it does not always mean that wonderful, powerful things are going on. They are all good. But it might take a while for that good to make it's way through your thick skull before the 'Ah-hah!' moment reveals itself.

I have been trying to re-train myself to spend more time in reading. Not just in the Word, but theological works, church history, commentaries etc. I just know I have not been spending enough time with the Lord in these endeavors as of late, and I need to make that change. In this process, I have been reading a great many works or excerpts from classic Christian writers. While not looking for a particular book or theme, it is always amazing to see how God orchestrates the materials that I sift through randomly (from my point of view) in providing supporting or encouraging documents that really do follow a theme.

Andrew Murray (1828-1917) was an amazingly prolific Christian author. He lived and ministered as both a pastor and a writer from the towns and villages of South Africa. All of his publications were originally written in Dutch and then translated into English. As his popularity grew, Murray's books found their way into more than twelve foreign languages during his lifetime alone.

Andrew Murray's early writings were primarily written for the edification of the believer-building them up in faith, love, and prayer. Later writings leaned more heavily upon the sanctification and responsibilities of the believer. In his latter days Murray emphasized the need for a constant and vital relationship with Jesus Christ and for consistent, fervent prayer - leading backwards to his addressing the responsibilities of the believer. He also addressed the issue of the Church (corporate) and its lack of power on the earth.

In his book Absolute Surrender, Brother Murray offered this bit of encouragement:
  • As we look around at the Church, we see so many indications of feebleness, failure, sin, and shortcoming. They compel us to ask: Why is it? Is there any necessity for the Church of Christ to be living in such a low state? Or is it actually possible that God's people should be living always in the joy and strength of their God? Every believing heart must answer: It is possible. Then comes the great question: Why is it, how is it to be accounted for, that God's Church as a whole is so feeble, and that the great majority of Christians are not living up to their privileges? There must be a reason for it. Has God not given Christ His Almighty Son to be the Keeper of every believer, to make Christ an ever-present reality, and to impart and communicate to us all that we have in Christ? God has given His Son, and God has given His Spirit. How is it that believers do not live up to their privileges?
In the context of Brother Andrew's paragraph above, the word privilege means, a special right, immunity, or exemption granted to persons in authority or office to free them from certain obligations or liabilities. In his mind all Christians have a responsibility to live in the Spirit as a result of their 'privledge' of salvation. This is not to understand privilege as we do in today's modern vernacular, but a privilege in that we need to be honoring the one who privileged us be removing the liability of the penalty of our sin! A death sentence! We need to be honoring God, the one who so privileged us (and made the same offer for privilege to all mankind we might add) by providing for us the Holy Spirit, and a means to walk in the Spirit rather than the world.

Brother Andrew and I see this similarly. The apparent lack of power of the Church to affect the world for Christ is a lethargy or apathy of the individual first, and the Church second. Using privilege as you and I understand it, it IS a privilege to be saved, but all too quickly, and all too often we forget the responsibilities that come with the privilege.

In a secular world the famous quote, "with great privilege comes great responsibility" seems to be familiar to most people. While it is most often misattributed to William Falkner is based on the old French proverb of, "Noblesse Oblique" which translates literally 'Nobility Obliqates/Obliges' - certainly applies in this instance. By the act of salvation granted upon us, we are made prices! Heirs to the Kingdom of God, equal inheritors with Christ Jesus our God and Savior as well as brother. With that price being paid, and with these privileges granted, we must live a life that expresses our nobility by mimicking the nobility we serve: A life as a servant. Living for the benefit of others, putting self last and others first in all instances. Walking two miles in the shoes of a brother, not just one, and giving our shirts as well when asked for our coat.

The privileges of nobility, as you can see, are upside down in God's economy. Christ being the King that we serve, proved His nobility by willingly giving His life for us. Yes, we are princes and will bear crowns. But the King we have subjected ourselves to is a King of servitude who washes feet, touches leapers, councils prostitutes, and the jewels of His crown were thorns not diamonds.

We need to be living a life in the Spirit, lead by the Spirit, RULED by the Spirit. The responsibility of the privilege granted is to do just that. Yes, it is difficult to 'kill the old man'. Yes it is difficult to die to self and live to serve others in an 'others-centered' life. But it is not only possible, it is our duty. If we lived like this, as we are supposed to, the church would look different, because we would BE different! The church would not be confused on issues like abortion and gay marriage, it would be united in a biblical standard of righteousness and truth that is indisputable. The church is feeble, because we are feeble.

Help us god, through the privilege of the Holy Spirit that we take our lives and walks seriously. Strengthen us Father that we may represent You and Your Light as we walk from place to place in our lives. Give us Peace oh, God that when we face trials that we might exude confidence that You are in charge, and that my sufferings are but dust in the wind for this short time.

29 November 2010

Reformed Thinking - Avoid Apathy

Philippians 4:12-16

Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose. Do everything without grumbling or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, “children of God without fault in a warped and crooked generation.” Then you will shine among them like stars in the sky as you hold firmly to the word of life.

I recently began reading a book about the Protestant Reformation period. The reading of this book caused me to consider what I thought was a more serious question. It made me look past the understanding of the ‘hows’ or ‘whys’ of the Reformation of the early 1500’s most identified with Martin Luther. While this is certainly interesting ground to cover that we would all do well to know, I instead began to ponder an even bigger and definitely more important question. How was it that Christianity got to the point where it needed a Reformation at all!

In the late 1400’s and early 1500’s there was a great deal of spiritual unrest. The Dark Ages earned that name for a reason. While religion was alive and well, most visibly in the Catholic Church, the laity was languishing at heart much like the enslaved Jews under Pharaoh. By this time the Catholic Church proper (Roman Catholic Denomination), had long since fallen prey to world. No longer headed by men of true spiritual greatness (if ever questionably), leadership in the RCC was now up for grabs to the highest bidder or most powerful ‘Lord’ or landowner. The feudal system caused well, lots of feuds, and out these feuds the winners often became church leaders as this was where the real power was. Not in government, but in the church.

So while religion was alive and well, relationship had long since died. The people, again comparing them to the enslaved Hebrews, were looking for a deliverer. Religion was just not cutting it for them, and personal faith, due mainly to illiteracy and the lack of bibles or biblical texts in the common language was essentially dead. Since no deliverer was apparent, or even very likely to come in such a divided world where the only centralized power was the church, the people began to get weary, and unruly. As this feeling spread it’s was from the laity in the church to some of the more obscure church leaders in smaller towns or areas far from the immediate reach of Rome, change was coming.

Martin Luther arose from this fray as a focal point of the need to bring faith back into the church. Fitting the description mentioned above to the “T”, Martin Luther was in fact a disgruntled priest himself. Handed a professorship in an unknown and new University in a comparatively small and unknown town of Wittenberg Germany, Luther put his thoughts to pen (or quill as the case may be), and nailed them to them to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, on October 31, 1517. Thus, with his 95 Theses nailed to that door, in the mind of most of the Christian faith began what is commonly referred to as the Protestant Reformation.

Last year about this time, God had really placed on my heart the history of Martin Luther, and the strength it required, spiritually and physically to stand firm in his defense of God’s word. He did so, virtually alone (at least in the public eye), and stood on the principals of sound biblical doctrine, placing the supremacy of scripture above all else. Sola Scriptura (in the Latin meaning “By Scripture Alone”) became the calling card of the Reformation.

All of this is good. Reformation was badly needed in the church at large. Luther and those supporting him, the feudal Lords, Princes, Regents and others in Theological Academia should be praised and remembered for what they have done. But back to my original question. How in the world do we as Christians, followers of Christ, allow ourselves and/or our churches to get to the point where scripture, God’s Holy Word is not the ultimate and only source of truth and doctrine? The answer is simple: Apathy.

Many would disagree with my assessment, placing large blame on the lack of common language bibles during the period prior to the Reformation. True enough. But scripture has been printed in the common language of the people for thousands of years! The Jews had the Pentateuch and more written in their language of Hebrew. New Testament scriptures had previously been made available in Hebrew, Greek, and Aramaic. Take your pick. Later as the aristocrats and self proclaimed Theologians began debating scripture in Latin, the language of the educated elite, that the joy of reading God’s word and allowing Him to speak to you through it began to be taken away from the laity, and placed in the hands of the elite. Why did this happen? Apathy. The church leadership began to care more about the position, and entitlement, than they did about making sure the laity had access to God’s word. What’s worse yet, because of this apathy, the people could not have cared less.

In the process apathy working its slow strangulation on the laity of the church, the peace, joy, grace and love received from God’s word directly into the spirit of the reader. Clarity was gone. The ability to stand firm on truth was gone. Closeness faded and comfort was nowhere to be found. It is at this point, struggling to make sense of their lives, and languishing in pain and suffering, that the people begin to ask the question, “Why has God abandoned me?”, when just the opposite is true.

The Reformation did not happen because God had abandoned His people, and it did not occur because God had abandoned the Church. It occurred because the people had abandoned God and His word, and the daily need to seek Him first in all things. The Church became corrupt not overnight, but over a matter of decades and centuries of apathy. The church became corrupt, not because God had abandoned it, but because the Church had abandoned God.

I think of it this way. How bad does our apathy towards God have to be that we could not care less if we did not have had bibles to read? How apathetic are we as Christians if we got so used to day to day life, even going to church without our bibles? Sounds ludicrous doesn’t it? Well, that’s how it happened then, and for many of us, that’s where we are headed today.

How many people do you know that call themselves Christians, and yet do not take a bible to church, let alone read it during the week? Worse yet, how many churches or denominations do you know whose attendees do not take nor ever need a bible at church? For that matter, we actually have churches that discourage the bringing of bibles to church because it is only the ‘church’ and its priesthood that can ‘truly interpret’ scripture anyway?

Asking the question of how the church got to the point where a reformation was needed, the logical progression of this train of thought does not allow us to stop there. Because this happened before, we must therefore also ask the question: Do we need a reformation today? Are we so apathetic as Christians that we are allowing the ‘church’ to be sole in interpreter of scripture and not being like the Bereans and checking all things against scripture ourselves? Have we lost our desire to be in the Word that knowing God, knowing truth no longer matters?

We must examine ourselves, and we must examine our churches. Do not become apathetic ourselves, and do not allow your churches to become that way either. If you are not in a bible teaching church – get in one. If you go to church and do not need a bible, ask yourself, ‘why is that’, and ‘what am I learning/being taught here?’

Apathy is defined as absence or suppression of passion, emotion, or excitement. Also it can be described as a lack of interest in or concern for things that others find moving or exciting. As you can see it is not enough as a Christian just to be excited about Jesus. We have to be so excited about Jesus that we want to get others excited too! I find Jesus, my salvation, and my relationship to God exciting! If you are not so excited about Jesus and your relationship with God, and reading His Word daily, being in devotionals and prayer and desiring to know God more and more all the time, that YOU are apathetic as well.

Don’t allow yourself to get that way. Apathy creeps in slowly so that your prayer life suffers just a little, or that your devotional time becomes a little less and less each month. But in the end, apathy unchecked becomes an individual Christian, and eventually a church that could not care less that they no longer even need a bible.

Do we need a reformation today? Not just yes, but double yes.

We need a reformation of heart and commitment to God, so that God’s Holy Word and our relationship with Him become first and foremost in our lives. Secondly, we need a reformation of the Church corporate so that the Bible, the inerrant Word of God, becomes the one and only standard on which we all stand united. Unfortunately, and sadly, both seem to be true to Christians and the Christian church today. Without change, we are headed towards another ‘Dark Age’.

Reformation starts within.