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Change Or Start Again?

One of the books I’m reading at the moment, (Who Stole My Church, MacDonald), made an interesting statement. “I’m beginning understand why the younger guys prefer to start churches. I sometimes think that changing one is impossible.”
 
I’ve been trying to change the church for 25 years. I don’t think it’s impossible but it sure seems to be a slow process. So I’m doing it one person at a time and assuming that the change will come in the next generation. Starting a new church is tough work. But sometimes I also think it would be way easier to just start again.
 
The (Western) church just seems so stuck in it’s ways.

If we were sending missionaries to another culture we would certainly expect them to “do church” in culturally relevant ways. And if someone sent new missionaries to the West, then I would be very surprised if their solution ended up looking much like how we “do church” here now.

The fundamentals of the church being a body, and working together as each part does it’s role would be the same. I would expect a strong sense of community. I would definitely expect them to be devoted to teaching/learning/discipleship, and to prayer. And to be showing everyone around them that they love one another.
But how that works out would almost certainly be different. And I think most other Christians would agree.

But the reality is that the 21st century church is trying to reach out to a totally different culture from the one that was surrounding the Western church even 40 or 50 years ago. But it hasn’t changed. So many churches are still trying to do things like they did 40 years ago. We are missionaries to a different culture but we are still trying to do things like we did back in the culture we came from.
That won’t work.

One of the cultural changes has come through music and technology. Young people love their music. And their movies and TV. In fact, they often give the impression that they live to be entertained. The technical quality of music and video available to even the poorest people in the West is way beyond what most churches can produce. But still many churches have tried to take this head on by trying to entertain people with professional presentations that feel, (to me), like you’re at a concert.

Let me say this bluntly. Entertainment might well be what they want. But it is not what they need.

What they need, is to hear from God. To receive his spirit and to build a strong relationship with him as his born again children. Then, whether they are entertained or not, their eternal future will be secure. And I suspect that they will also be much more content with the here and now, entertained or not.
By all means our music should be in a style relevant to our audience. But that is a very different focus to “entertaining”.

But changing a church which doesn’t think like this is not easy.
I’ve tried, but they don’t want to listen. Instead I’ve been discipling people, usually one or two at a time, and helping them see what God says about how church should be.
Now they’re doing the same. Some of them are even leading churches.

How are you going to do it?
Are you just going to start again?
However you do it… do something.
It’s too important to just give up.

Broken Vows

Making a vow to God seems to be a very much Old Testament thing to do.

And in the Old Testament breaking a vow which had been made to God, (or an oath which had been sworn), had incredibly serious consequences.

In 2 Samuel 21 we read of a famine in Israel during the reign of David. The famine had gone on for three years, so David asked God why. The answer... Saul broke an oath.

Wow, Saul was already dead. He was the previous king.

The oath was sworn many years before Saul even started to be king. In fact, it was possibly sworn before Saul was even born.

You can read about the oath in Joshua 9. But basically when the Israelites were invading and conquering Canaan, some of the inhabitants, the Gibeonites, tricked them into making a peace treaty with them. The Israelites swore an oath not to kill the Gibeonites.

Decades later, Saul killed them. Well, many of them.

The consequence was that God punished the nation of Israel for their sins. The way out was to ask the Gibeonites what compensation they would accept. And when that compensation was paid, Israel was released.
The compensation they demanded was the life of seven of Saul’s descendants.

It’s interesting that the famine didn’t occur during Saul’s reign, but not until David’s. And it was not Saul who was punished for breaking the oath, but it was his descendants who gave their lives. But that’s another story.

They key thing for now is that the breaking of the oath had consequences.

Ecclesiastes 5 says, “It is better not to make a vow, than to make a vow and not fulfil it”.

Samson also made a vow. Well, actually his parents made it for him. He was a Nazirite - set apart to God, not to drink wine or to eat anything to do with grapes. Not to cut his hair or shave his head. And not to go near a dead body.
This is why Samson lost his strength. Because he broke his vow by cutting his hair.
Breaking that vow cost him his eyesight, and his freedom.

So... we see in the Old Testament that if anyone broke a vow they had made to God then there were massive consequences, sometimes including death for thousands of people, sometimes affecting their descendants.

But that was thousands of years ago... before the cross... these days...
nothing has changed.
 
There are still major consequences for breaking a vow made to God.

There is nothing about being a Christian that means you can get away with breaking a vow to God.

You are still better to not make one, than to make one and break it.
 
Of course, these days we rarely make vows to God. Except when we get married.

In Matthew 5, Jesus said “don’t even swear an oath”…
But we promise to be faithful until one of us dies. I’m sure at the time most of us have that as our intention. But can we be sure we will be? Do we understand what the consequence is if we break it?

Where did this kind of wedding vow come from? It’s certainly not in the Bible. In the Bible getting married was just a matter of declaring that you were getting married and usually having some kind of celebration.

Perhaps we shouldn’t even have wedding vows?
There is a consequence if we break them. For us individually and possibly for us as a nation.

The other place we make vows these days is when our church asks us to pledge in advance what our giving will be for the year. We make a vow so they can make a budget. I think both sides of that equation are wrong, but that’s another article all together.

So. Let’s not make vows to God that we might break. Let’s remember that if we do there could be very serious consequences for us and for others.
 
And finally, if you have broken a vow to God then you need to talk with him about it. If it involved another person then you need to ask them what compensation they will accept to release you. Otherwise, there will continue to be consequences - if not for you, then for your children.

Culture

The TV comedy “3rd Rock from the Sun” tells the story of a group of aliens who come from some far off planet to visit Earth. Each episode is about funny situations they get themselves into because of their misunderstanding of our Western culture.

Until you see an alternative to your culture you rarely question it. You usually just go along with “that’s how we do it”. Watching 3rd Rock gives you an opportunity to think, “Do we really do that?”. And if you’re willing… “Why?” And if you’re really serious about your life… “Should I do that?”

I lived in the USA for a few years. The culture was different there, but it was still very similar to where I grew up. I didn’t have to change much to fit in. I lived in Japan for a few years too. Culture there is totally different. I had to change a lot to fit in. And some of that I kept when I returned to my own country. Their way was better.
Like when they see that you look a bit lost. Instead of ignoring you like most Westerners would, and instead of pointing and telling you how to find it like nice Westerners would, they take you there. Even if it’s a few blocks back the way they came. I like that.

So, let’s look at some of our cultural “issues”.

In the West, (and increasingly in Asia), we celebrate Jesus’ birthday.
Why?
Why do we have a tree? Why do we give gifts? Why is it in December?
Why do we do it at all?
When it comes to culture, we have to question everything. If we end up deciding it’s a good thing, then OK, but let’s be real about our Christianity and ask the questions.
It certainly wasn’t in December. There definitely was no pine tree there, with or without decorations and candles. If the gifts are based on the gifts the magicians gave Jesus, then why do we give them to each other and not give gifts to Jesus every year, especially if it’s his birthday? Would you come to my birthday party and bring a gift for yourself and not one for me?
The Bible certainly doesn’t tell us to celebrate it. In fact, if anything in Romans 14 Paul is saying we shouldn’t have any special days.
There is more information in this article Traditions about where Christmas came from and why it was a week before the end of the year. But in reality it is a man made tradition which reinforces the stereotype of Jesus as a baby and fuels consumerism.
If there was not Christmas already, would you be pushing to start it as a tradition? Why?

And once we question celebrating Jesus’ birthday, let’s keep asking questions of our culture and ask, “Why do we celebrate your birthday?”
I can completely understand parents celebrating the birth of their child. Once, when they’re born. But why do we keep doing that every year? Where did this come from? Have people always done this?
Turns out they haven’t. Turns out it was mostly something kings and rich people did. Basically to say, “I’m special.”
So once a year we tell our children that it’s OK to be self centred and to be more special than everyone else. Once a year we spend more and more as consumers, reinforcing our materialistic culture and propping up our retail businesses buying more stuff we don’t need.
There is a whole other side to this argument about how birthdays are used in astrology and the occult. But let’s leave that for another time. Just from a cultural point of view. Why do we want to celebrate our birthday? What are we saying when we do?
And if our culture didn’t have birthday parties, would we be pushing to get everyone doing it as a tradition? Why?

We need to be ruthless with this. We need to question everything.
Why do we do church the way we do? Why do we sing? Why do we have sermons? Why do we pray the way we do? Why do we arrange the seats the way we do? Why do we eat the food we eat at church? Why do we build churches the way we do?
Not all the answers will be bad. Not everything has to change. But like King Josiah in 2 Kings 22 did when they found the book of the Law in the temple which had become filled with things which shouldn’t have been there - we have to go back to the book and ask the questions. And we have to make the changes so we align once again with the book, with the way God said it should be, and ruthlessly throw out our traditions if they are wrong.

Examine everything. Be willing to let go of anything.
God, not culture.

Traditions

I have to be up front and say right from the beginning, that when it comes to the church, tradition for the sake of tradition annoys me like nothing else. I like some traditions. I really like Thanksgiving for example. And when my kids were growing up I really liked the annual “Baba’s Challenge” where I would set my kids 10 tasks to achieve within the year. Tasks which would stretch them a bit and develop their character. But in church we need to make sure that any tradition that we adopt is still consistent with the truth.
Take the whole Christmas/nativity thing for example.
The tradition is that three wise men (aka kings) came to visit baby Jesus and his parents in a manger. Sadly that’s not what the Bible says.
Nowhere does it mention three of them. But it is plural, so at least two. The word it uses to describe them magos is usually used to refer to priests of Zoroaster, and elsewhere in the New Testament it is translated as sorcerer. (Elymas and Simon were both sorcerers in the book of Acts). But we want to make it nicer, so we call them “wise men”.
When they saw Jesus they bowed down to him. The Greek word used to describe him was paidion which means a little child. It was not theladzo (meaning newborn baby) or nepios (infant). Jesus was no longer a baby.
After their visit Herod killed all the children 2 years and under (based on when they told him they had first seen the star). It seems pretty likely that by the time they visited Jesus was about 2 years old. And if that is correct it also seems pretty unlikely that they were still living in the manger. (But they could have been).
So two or more magicians from the east came to visit Jesus when he was about two years old.
And the whole Christmas thing anyway. It’s incredibly unlikely that Jesus was born in December. There is no instruction to celebrate Christmas in the Bible. In fact, as far as we can tell it was started hundreds of years later by the catholics because everyone was running off to have fun at Saturnalia (the end of year celebration to the god Saturn), and the church adopted Christmas as a way of bringing them back.
Why, for example do we give gifts to each other?
In the Bible story the gifts were all given to Jesus. Why don’t we all give a gift to Jesus every Christmas?
Would it surprise you to hear that part of Saturnalia was giving gifts to each other?
Quite often I hear the argument that if we didn’t have Christmas and Easter then non-Christians would never come to church. So what? Are they supposed to? I thought the church was supposed to be going to them?
You might think that this is all no big deal. But I think it is. From what I see, we have accepted the tradition instead of the truth and it damages our perceptions. And it damages the world’s perceptions about Jesus.

In fact there never was anyone called Jesus in the Bible! Seriously. Jesus is a made up Latin name, created by the catholic church to differentiate him from Joshua.
The person we call Jesus was really called Joshua. Yeshua if you want to really transliterate it from Hebrew. Yeshua means “God saves”. In Greek they transliterated that name as Iesous. And in Acts 7 and Hebrews 4 you can find this name, but it is talking about the Old Testament Yeshua who led the Israelites into the promised land. (Which interestingly is kind of what the New Testament Yeshua did for us! hmmm.)
So, to avoid confusion the catholics renamed Yeshua (the one who saved us) to Jesus.
Again, it’s now a tradition and again you might think it’s no big deal. But I still think it is. God didn’t call him Jesus. God called him Yeshua. Why? Was he trying to tell us something?
And again we have accepted the tradition instead of the truth.

Now in the Bible there were some people who really valued tradition. The Pharisees.
In Matthew 15 you can read how Yeshua told them off because they broke the commands of God for the sake of their traditions! God had commanded them to honour their parents. But their tradition said that if you have given money to the temple then you don’t need to give any to your parents.
They were also obsessed with washing their hands, and their bowls in a special ceremony before they eat. But these were just empty ceremonies and they weren’t really washing anything at all. Yeshua said it straight... how come you wash the outside of the bowl and not the inside? Seriously, when you think about it that is completely the wrong way around. If the inside of the bowl is clean you don’t even really need to wash the outside. In Mark’s account of this story we hear that they had many things like this.
Paul says that these traditions which are handed down take you captive through hollow and deceptive philosopy. And that most of them actually come from the world.
The Pharisees held the traditions of men above the commands of God. They were slaves to their traditions. And in many ways this is what blocked them from recognising Yeshua as the true son of God.
Do we put tradition above God? Are we slaves to tradition? What truth is it blocking us from seeing?
(Actually if you want to find out if you’re a slave to a tradition, try not doing it and see how you go.
I find that most Christians can’t eat a meal without praying first. Try it. See if you’re a slave.
And if you’re really worried, then give thanks afterwards. Even in the tradition there is no reason it has to be first.)

In Galatians Paul is lamenting that people are observing special days, and months, and years. He worries that he has wasted his time on them, and that they will be enslaved again to those things. Now he is mostly concerned there about Jewish festivals, but the same arguments apply.
At best traditions are just shadows of the truth, but in most cases they are not even that.
Christianity should go beyond traditions. We have the truth. We have the spirit of God.
We really don’t need to be continuing any traditions which are working against that.

Why do we need to celebrate Christmas? or Easter? Why do we need to have some little token of prayer before we eat?
What other traditions do we have? What are they blocking?
What about you, and your church? What traditions are you following?
Please, at least examine your traditions and see if they are based on truth.

Take Me To Your Leader

When you think of leaders in the Bible who do you think of?
What was it about them that made them leaders?
How did they get to be leaders? Did someone appointed them?
What are the qualifications for leaders? Says who?
How about you… can you be a leader?
Can I?

When I think of Biblical leaders I usually think of people like Moses, David, Peter, Paul… But they are more the super-leaders of the Bible. A bit out of my league. Maybe even out of yours. There’s not much point for most of us asking how we can become a Moses, or a Paul.
But there might be some useful principles there for us to learn from, and to be guided by.

Pretty much every leader in the Bible was chosen by God.
Not elected by the people. (Even in the cases where they were the popular choice).
Almost always they didn’t fit what the people being led thought it took to be a leader. Moses was a stuttering loser who used to be someone, but who was a nobody shepherd. David was a small teenage boy. Peter was just a simple fisherman. Paul was a murderous persecutor of Christians, one of the church’s greatest enemies.

So basically if everyone votes on who the perfect leader is… it’s probably not them.
Weird huh.

So what does God look for in a leader?

There are some obvious and fairly well known passages.
1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1 for example give us a checklist of qualifications.
Above reproach
The husband of one woman
With faithful submissive children (grown children)
Not accused of being wasteful or subordinate
Not easily angered, or contentious, or a brawler
Not drinking too much
Not greedy
Hospitable
Sensible, righteous, self controlled
A good teacher who is able to expose false teachers

So how did you score?

The problem with this kind of list is the same as the problem with “The Law”, or the Ten Commandments.
We tend to interpret them in a way that makes us “in” and people we don’t like “out”.
The purpose of the Law was to show that everyone was out. That God’s standards are so high they are unattainable for all of us. To show that we need a saviour.
The purpose of these lists is to show that God’s standards for leaders is very high. These kind of restrictions aren’t put on “ordinary” Christians. Just on leaders.

But we need to be careful not to use them to judge others.
“Husband of one woman” doesn’t mean they never divorced, or their first wife never passed away. It means what it says. They do not have two wives. I guess it also means they are not single.
Having obedient, submissive children. Means their children need to be grown up. Otherwise they haven’t had the opportunity to be tested yet. (Although for some people it becomes obvious that they fail this test very early on).
Not drinking too much does not mean they don’t drink at all. It means they don’t get drunk.
A good teacher must know what they’re talking about, (by definition), and must be able to argue against people who don’t.

Here’s something to consider… Jesus wouldn’t qualify. He had no children. He isn’t married, (although he is engaged). Neither would Paul. He was also not married, and also childless.
But he wrote the lists, and it was him who sent Timothy and Titus to appoint leaders. So clearly he never intended this list to be a literal list of qualifications which disqualified him. They’re like the pirate’s code. They’re more like guidelines really.

These lists are saying that teachers need to have excellent character, to have a demonstrated history of leading their own families well, to have good reputations in the community, and to be outstanding and confident teachers.

There are a few less obvious passages about leadership, which kind of say the same things. Remember the parable of the talents? At the end Jesus said, “Well done good and faithful servant. You were faithful with a few things. I will install you over many things.”
They had shown that they could be trusted with material things. God entrusted them with people.
So if someone wants to lead a church… what evidence is there that they have already been a good leader in smaller things? Like their family, or with a small group?

David was a shepherd. A good one. God entrusted him with his people.
Moses was the perfect leader. A prince of Egypt. Very educated. But useless to God. Until he went off into the wilderness to be a shepherd for 40 years. Then he was ready to be a leader for God.

The good leaders of the Bible were also humble, servant hearted people who had huge trust in God. They knew that God was the real leader and that they were just servants of the people. Not achieving greatness but merely doing their duty.
Jesus said this too when James and John wanted to be elevated to sit next to him in his kingdom. “Whoever wants to be the leader among you will become servant of all.”

Leadership is also part of God’s plan for mankind. We need leaders. It’s part of how we’re designed.
Early on the global church had apostles, and local churches had elders.
Ephesians 5 says that the father is the head of the family, in the same way as Jesus is the head of the church. It’s a sacrificial position of responsibility.
If you want to be a leader make sure your motivation is right. For some people, wanting to be leaders is based on the false teaching that leaders are more important. They’re not. They are the servants. They are at the bottom of the pile, not the top. Any leader who thinks they are more important than the people they lead is worldly and of no value in the kingdom of God.

God described Eve as Adam’s Helper. But the common idea that “being the helper means you’re less important” fits how the world views things. But it doesn’t fit God’s view. John 14 describes the Holy Spirit is our helper. Does that make us more important than him? Hardly.

So then.
Leaders need to have the right character. They need to have the right attitude. And they need to be willing to sacrifice themselves for God’s people.

But perhaps the most important aspect of leadership is that we don’t choose them, God does.
Romans 13 tells us that even our worldly leaders are all appointed by God. We think we vote for them. The Chinese think their leaders choose themselves. But Romans teaches us differently. God chooses leaders. Always.
Our role is to recognise those leaders when God chooses them. The Israelites recognised that God had chosen David over Saul. The early church recognised that God had chosen Paul, even though he had been their enemy. The Jews recognised that God had sent Moses to deliver them. Paul recognised the potential in Timothy and Titus, and in turn they were sent by Paul to recognise who God was appointing to be elders in the new churches of Asia Minor.


So.

Who is leading you? Have you recognised who they are?
Are you aware who appointed them? And who you are criticising when you criticise them?

Do you think you should be a leader?
Do you meet the guidelines?
Have you proven your ability?
Can you teach?
Are you willing to sacrifice yourself?

Yahweh, Yeshua

Interestingly, these are the name of God, and the name of his son, yet neither of these words appears in most modern English Bibles.
Why not?

Let’s look at them one at a time. But before we do, let’s look at the letter “J”.
J came into English around a thousand years ago, and it replaced the letter I at the beginning of some words. But unlike the way we say it today, at that time it had a Y sound. So Joshua was pronounced more like Yoshua. Keep that in mind. It might help later.

Now, in the Old Testament God has a name. His name is יהוה‎ which we usually write in English as Yahweh.
Written Hebrew doesn’t have vowels. The reader is supposed to work them out as they read. Which if you practise is not usually difficult. Wht ds ths sy? (What does this say?).
So more literally, the Hebrew name for God in English is YHWH. But we don’t usually interpret vowels as we read in English, so it is easier to communicate if we put them in. So we write Yahweh.

In some older English Bibles they wrote this as Jehovah. Remember the J thing? So that would have read more like Yehovah. Now I’m sure you can see where that came from. And now you know why it has a J.
So, God’s name is Yahweh. But you don’t see that in many translations.

We’re not sure exactly when, or who did it, but we think that a bit before 100BC a group of seventy scholars translated the Jewish scriptures, (pretty much what we have as our Old Testament), into Greek. This translation is called the Septuagint, and its abbreviated name is LXX, which is 70 in Roman numerals.
Wherever the name Yahweh appeared in the Hebrew scriptures, the LXX translators used the Greek word κυριος (kurios), which means lord or master.
So, when the translators wrote the King James Version in the 1600’s they continued this practice, and wherever the Old Testament used the name Yahweh, they translated is as Lord. Then, to distinguish it from places where the Hebrew actually did say Lord, they capitalised it. And most modern English translations copied that and they usually write it like this - LORD.

God has a name. In English his name is Yahweh. But in most English Bibles it has been replaced with LORD.
So whenever you read LORD in your Bible, think Yahweh.

Why? Well... I have a theory.

I presume you know the 10 commandments right? (BTW: I presume you also know that they are for Jews, not for Christians right? If not, you had better read these articles sometime Rules For Christians and New Covenant Replaces The Old One).
The third commandment says, “You will not misuse the name of Yahweh your god.”
Now, as time went on from there, the Jews became more and more legalistic about all their rules. To the point that they even concluded that Jesus was not God’s son because he healed someone on a Sabbath. And they had decided that nobody was allowed to do anything on a Sabbath. And they had made up more rules about having to wash bowls in certain ways before you could eat from them.
So I believe that in their legalism they were so afraid of misusing the name of God that they stopped using it altogether. So they never say God’s name. And if they have to write it they would write Lord instead. Many modern Jews will write G*d to avoid using his name.
Yahweh didn’t say not to use his name. He said not to misuse his name. This is clearly a legalistic overreaction.
Now, we’re Christians, so the ten commandments doesn’t even apply to us. And even though we can still use them as guidelines to understand what right behaviour is, we don’t have to be so legalistic. (In my view it almost verges on superstition). So let’s go back to using God’s name. Let’s be proud to be known as Yahweh’s people.

Jesus has a name too. And it’s not Jesus!

The New Testament documents are pretty much all written in Greek. In those documents Jesus is called Ιησους (Iesous). Later on the church decided to do everything in Latin. So it became IESUS in Latin. And then later, it became Iesus in English.
Remember the J thing? So about a thousand years ago the I was replaced with a J and it became Jesus, (but it was still pronounced Yesus). And now in modern English we usually call him Jesus. Even though that is a long way from his real name. (But you can see how we got there).

So what was his name?
Ιησους was the Greek way of writing the Hebrew name יְהוֹשֻׁעַ (Yeshua), which we usually write as Joshua in modern English. (Remember the J thing?). Jesus’ name was Yeshua. It still is.
Now, if you read Acts 7:45 and Hebrews 4:8 in an English Bible you will almost certainly see the name Joshua. These are all referring to the Old Testament Joshua, who was Moses’ assistant until Moses died, and who led the Israelites into the promised land.
But his Greek name is the same, Ιησους (Iesous). So to differentiate him from the son of God the translators chose to translate his name as Joshua and the son of God’s name as the Latin derived name Jesus.
Personally I don’t think that is helpful. I can see how it came about, but it is an inconsistent translation, and it hides something wonderful.
Both their names were Yeshua. God chose that name. And he had a reason for doing that.

Yeshua means “Yahweh Saves”. That’s a pretty powerful name. And there are a lot of parallels between the Old Testament Yeshua leading his people into the promised land, and the New Testament Yeshua leading his people into eternal life.
Perhaps God did that deliberately?

I don’t think this is just an intellectual exercise. It is interesting to know how these things came about, but what does that mean for us on a practical level?
I think it’s time to repair the damage. It’s going to be a hard habit to break, but I think we should stop using the name Jesus and call him Yeshua. And we should start calling God by his name, Yahweh.

When Hilkiah the priest found the Book of the Law in the temple, (2 Kings 22), king Josiah realised that they had not been living according to the words in the book. So they changed their ways. These would have been dramatic, major, lifestyle changes, but they made them anyway - simply because they realised they were not doing things the way Yahweh had commanded.
Changing our habits to use the names Yahweh and Yeshua might not be easy, or convenient, or comfortable. But if it is the right thing to do then it is the right thing to do.

Accountability, And Why It Doesn’t Work

Muslims are accountable to pray in public five times a day. If they don’t people will notice and questions will be asked.
This kind of public peer pressure is the same thing that drove the Pharisees to be who they were. Being seen to be righteous was way more important to them than actually being righteous.
It’s a form of legalism. It leads to judgement and pride. It is grounded in the Old Covenant way of Law. It has no value in the New Covenant way of Grace.
Read Galatians 3 and see if you can summarise it in a sentence or two.
I’m pretty sure that if you’re honest you would have to end up with something like “We are not under Law but under Grace”.
Galatians 3 makes it very clear that the Law was for Jews. And even more, that it is not for Christians.
“Oh foolish Galatians. Who has bewitched you to have no confidence in the truth?”
“Are you so foolish? Having begun by the spirit you’re now being completed by the flesh?”

The spirit is power for Christians. The flesh is death.
Accountability derives its power from the flesh.

So. How can you live a more righteous life?
You can’t. You don’t have the power to do that. (Kind of the point of the gospel isn’t it really).
But Jesus can. He did it once. He wants to do it again in you.
You need to give him authority to do that. You need to get out of his way so he can do that.
And you need to let him choose the timetable and the game plan.

We always seem to want to set the agenda for how Yahweh should be cleaning our life up.
He knows our sins. He knows us. He knows our strengths and weaknesses. He knows our circumstances.
Seriously. Can you think of anyone who is better placed to decide the best way for doing this?
Yahweh wants to conform your character into that of his son. But you have to let him choose how to do that.

I read an amazing prayer from John Wesley recently.

I put myself wholly into your hands: put me to what you will, rank me with whom you will; put me to doing, put me to suffering, let me be employed for you, or laid aside for you, exalted for you, or trodden under foot for you; let me be full, let me be empty, let me have all things, let me have nothing, I freely and heartily resign all to your pleasure and disposal.

Are you willing to just hand over control of your life to Jesus and trust him to deal with the manifestation of your sins in his time?
Then do that.

Don’t try to manipulate it. Don’t start making laws and rules for yourself. Just relax and hand yourself over.

Husbands - Are You Sacrificing Yourself?

Ephesians 5 and 1 Peter 3 spell out the roles of husband and wife pretty clearly for us.
The man is the head and the woman is the body. Just like Jesus and the church. The two become one, each fulfilling different roles but working together as a unit.

Now, over the years I’ve heard quite a bit of teaching about how wives should submit to their husbands. And I think that’s correct, they should submit. The husband has the responsibility to make the final decision, after considering his wife’s needs and desires. And the wife should make sure she has communicated those clearly to him. But in the end, the husband has the responsibility to make the decision, and the wife has the responsibility to submit whether she likes it or not. (it’s not really submitting if you only submit when he’s “right”).

But...

Ephesians 5 also makes it very clear that the husband should be sacrificing himself for his wife in the same way that Jesus sacrificed himself for the church. Not necessarily by dying on a cross, but in essence, dying to his own desires for the benefit of his wife.
Husbands should be putting their wives first. Always. In everything.

Everything.

There is no point at which Jesus would put himself before the church. There is no point at which a husband should put himself before his wife.

Every decision has to be for her benefit.

Even the little ones. In fact, especially the little ones. What movie to watch? The romantic comedy or the war movie? It depends on the wife of course, and if she would prefer the war movie then that’s fine. But most women I know would prefer the romantic comedy. It’s a no brainer. There is no decision to make. She must come first.

There is no compromise, “this time we’ll watch the girlie movie, but next time we’ll watch the war movie”... There should be sacrifice, not compromise. “this time we’ll watch the girlie movie, but next time we’ll watch two of them!”

Always.

If there are two sweets to choose from what do you do? Let her choose first? You know she likes strawberry right... but she knows you do too, so she chooses the caramel... Such a lovely wife. You’re a lucky man. But give her the strawberry.

It’s actually a trick question. What do you do? You tell her she can have them both.

This is not rocket science.

Sacrifice is painful. You know when you’re sacrificing. And you know when you’re not.

If you are a husband you need to be sacrificing all the time.

Always making decisions which are the best for her, which put her needs and desires first. And doing it quietly, whether she is aware of it or not.

This is a huge challenge for any husband. It’s not easy. But it is God’s way for husbands.

Do you want to be the best husband you can possibly be?
Sacrifice yourself for her.
Always.

Unity or Uniformity

Before you read any further, stop and look at these two images. And tell me what you see.



I’m guessing that you said something like, “The boy’s hat is gone. The girl is looking the other way. The bucket and spade are the other way around.”
Oh, that’s right... and the umbrella has rotated around too.

Let me tell you what I see.
It’s two pictures of the same boy and the same girl building the same sandcastle on the same beach near the same umbrella.

Do you get my point?

It is very easy to see differences. It comes naturally to us.
It’s not so easy to see similarities, to see the things which unify us. It’s not easy to see the 99 e have in common with each other, but it’s incredibly easy to see the 1 e have that’s different. And when it comes to church... we not only see the 1 0ifference, we divide ourselves because of it.

Sadly this is nothing new. It has always been a problem.
Paul said in 1 Corinthians:
“Brothers, I could not address you as spiritual but as worldly - mere infants in the Christ. I gave you milk, not solid food, for you were not yet ready for it. Indeed, you are still not ready. You are still worldly. For since there is jealousy and quarreling among you, are you not worldly? Are you not acting like mere men? For when one says, “I follow Paul,” and another, “I follow Apollos,” are you not mere men?
What, after all, is Apollos? And what is Paul? Only servants, through whom you came to believe - as the Lord has assigned to each his task. I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God made it grow. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow. The man who plants and the man who waters have one purpose, and each will be rewarded according to his own labor. For we are God’s fellow workers; you are God’s field, God’s building.”

We are so quick to divide.

I think it’s because we’re obsessed with being right. With being right and being seen to be right.
But who cares who’s right! I seriously challenge you to find a Bible passage where God teaches that we must be right.

But I can find some where he says, regardless of who is right and wrong... love one another.
for example... “The very fact that you have lawsuits among you means you have been completely defeated already. Why not rather be wronged? Why not rather be cheated?”

The question God would ask, is not “Who is right?” He would ask, “Who is loving?”

1 Corinthians 12 is all about how we are different but part of one body. In fact, we are designed to all be slightly different. You are a hand, I’m a foot, someone else is an eye. But we are all needed. We are all part of the same body. We are not a cloud, and a hammer, and a tree, things with nothing in common. We are all parts of a body.
And how ridiculous it would be if the eyes said that the other parts were no longer parts of the body because they were not eyes! We are all the same, with little differences to make us more useful.

1 Peter 2 tells us that we are a building of living stones. Stones. Not bricks. We are not all identical. But we are all the same. Get it?
Rocks are all rocks. Each one looks a little different, but they are still all rocks. They are all part of the same building. Bricks are all exactly the same. If we were a building of bricks, that would be uniformity. But we’re meant to be different, (and yet the same), a building of stones is unity, not uniformity.

We need to focus on the bits that are the same, not on the bits that are different. We are all living stones.
That’s incredible! Have you ever seen a living stone before?
And yet, instead of greeting other Christians with, “Wow. Another living stone. How awesome to meet you.” We greet them with, ... “You’re different. You’re not welcome.”

So, how about you?
Are you focused on similarities or differences?
Are you looking for unity? or uniformity?
Are you loving? Or are you just “right”?

Begging for God

It disturbs me that when churches need money they so quickly turn to non-Christians to get it.

Stereotypically, the roof needs fixing, so we have a church fair, or something like that where we flog off all our unwanted second hand goods, and bake cakes, and sell sausages, or whatever our particular ethnic equivalent is.
And we ask everyone who passes by to give us a few dollars so we can fix our roof.

Of course sometimes the cause is more noble than fixing a roof. But the principle is the same.
We say that we worship the one and only God. Creator of the universe. Saviour of people’s souls. The God of all power.
But our actions show that we do not believe that this all powerful God is able to get us the money to fix our roof, so we are coming to you non-Christians to try to get it.

Can you imagine Jesus doing that?

Or the apostle Paul? Peter? Anyone from the Bible?

In Acts we read that there was a famine in Jerusalem. And the Corinthians collected money to send to the Christians there who were suffering.
Do you think they had a church fair? Do you think they sold souvlaki or second hand urns?
Do you think they asked the non-Christians in Corinth for donations?

That’s not how it reads in the Bible is it. They had a collection. In the church. From Christians.
If you wanted to give, you put money in the box. Then they collected the money and delivered it to the Christians in Jerusalem.

And on a practical level these kind of church fairs don’t usually raise much money anyway. They take a LOT of work. Usually for a few hundred dollars. For sure some of the wealthier Christians in the church could donate that much with no problem.

Of course it’s good that everyone wants to pitch in and help and do their bit. But if you really want to do something like that, then do it in the church. Don’t go begging from non-Christians. We represent God. Are we saying that God is a bit short this week, so could you give us a few bucks?

You should read the biographies of people like George Mueller, Hudson Taylor, Francis Schaeffer... These guys lived their lives with the principle that if God wants something done, HE will fund it. If he doesn’t fund it, he doesn’t want it done.
These three in particular never asked non-Christians for money, and I even seem to remember one case where they specifically refused money from a non-Christian. In fact, these three guys in particular never even asked Christians for money. If they believed that they needed money they prayed for it.

And it always came.

$3 Worth of God Please

I would like to buy $3 worth of God, please.
Not enough to explode my soul or disturb my sleep,
But just enough to equal a cup of warm milk or a snooze in the sunshine.
I don’t want enough of him to make me love a black man or pick beets with a migrant.
I want ecstasy, not transformation.
I want the warmth of the womb not a new birth.
I want about a pound of the eternal in a paper sack.
I’d like to buy $3 worth of God, please.

Wilbur Reese

In Revelation 3 we read Jesus’ letter to the church in Laodicea:
These are the words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the ruler of God’s creation.
I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other!
So, because you are lukewarm – neither hot nor cold – I am about to spit you out of my mouth.
You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’
But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked.

This is pretty intense. Jesus would rather we were cold than lukewarm!

That’s really in your face. How committed to Jesus are you? How committed am I?

Where would we be if Jesus was only as committed to us as we are to him. Where would we be if only 250f our sin was paid for? Or even 90 0.000000or that matter.
(Although that’s kind of the point of the gospel isn’t it.)

But for sure, Jesus wants us to be at the hot end of the scale, not lukewarm.

In 1 Corinthians 3 we read how at the judgement our work will be tested by fire.
If it is just wood, hay, stubble it will be burned.
If it is gold, silver, precious stones, it will survive and we will receive our reward.

Btw: this is not about salvation, your salvation is secure. It’s about your reward based on your actions.

I remember reading a book once about a man who had a dream after reading this passage.
He stood as his life works were carried out and piled up in front of him. Then, after the fire he looked at the pile to see what was remaining, but there was nothing there but ash.

Close your eyes and imagine your pile of works, and the fire...
Imagine looking down and seeing nothing but ash.

DL Moody is famous for saying “The world is yet to see what God can do through one man fully committed to him”.
Of course he wasn’t including Jesus. He was challenging us, and himself.
You know whether you could be more devoted to God. You know if you’re only lukewarm.

Some years ago Watchman Nee wrote a whole book about this called “The Normal Christian Life”.
It’s about a life lived 100 0.000000or Jesus. A life filled with joy and power. A life like that of the apostle Paul, or Peter.
Yet he concluded that this is “normal”.
This is the kind of life that every Christian is supposed to lead.
It’s not for the elite few. It’s God’s plan for all of us. If we would only commit ourselves to him 100.br>
Of course that’s not going to be the easy life.

Jesus said that before you start building a tower you should count the cost.
Before you go to war you should check out your enemy.
There will be a cost.

But there is also a massive cost to NOT being committed to Jesus.
Nobody wants to end up with just a pile of ash.

We can so easily get caught up striving for money, for food, for houses, worried about “stuff” and how we will provide for our families.
And we do need some of these things. But even so, Jesus told us to seek first the kingdom of God, and then all these things will be added to you.

$3 worth of God is not enough.
Spend all you have.

However hot you are for Jesus, crank it up a notch.
Don’t settle for lukewarm.
Don’t settle for mediocrity.
Live a full-on Christian life,
100 0evoted to Jesus.

Live a normal Christian life.

...

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