In Common

A new command I give you: love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. John 13:34 NIV

 

And all who believed were together and had all things in common. Acts 2:44 ESV

 

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. 2 Corinthians 1:3,4

 

Jesus gave the commandment to His disciples, and yes it is a command, but how did the early church do this? How did they put Jesus’ words into practice? Come to think of it, the commandment applies to us too, so how do we manage to cope?
I am familiar with the sharing of food, goods, money, trades, and all the practical things which make life easier as you become an integral part of a shared community, but is that as far as it goes? I don’t think so. People have other needs which are not as easily seen, like feelings, emotions, and anxieties, so I would suggest that Jesus meant us to ‘be there’ for our friends in Christian love. If that means sharing food and work, that is good, but we miss something when we don’t recognise that we also share in each other’s lives in full. If one of our group is absent for a week or two, do we notice? Perhaps we conveniently assume they are on holiday, or away for the weekend. I would suggest that we should care enough to check if they are ill, or going through a tough time before we make any other assumptions. Why should we do this? Because the Word of God says: so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. 2 Corinthians 1:3,4. I suggest that is reason enough.

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Take a Knee

If you haven’t heard the phrase ‘Take a Knee’ then you have been asleep, or in a TV News-free Zone. It’s everywhere. The protest is against alleged unfair USA police brutality aimed at the black community. These allegations have been around for a long time, and it’s not for me to pass any opinion on whether there is any truth in them or not.

 

For now, all I see are black millionaire NFL sportsmen protesting with their brothers in solidarity. But they are a million miles from the poverty which is claimed to be at the root of the problem. It’s like poking the bear, because President Trump then weighs in and takes centre stage (where he likes to be), calls the protesters an unholy name, and shouts that they should be fired. I get the impression he thinks he is still on the set of the Apprentice, passing his own style of TV justice on the unsuspecting victim of his wrath. As another rich but white millionaire, he is also far away from the reality of the poverty experienced by the youth of his country, both black and white.

 

So, the protesters ‘take a knee’ instead of standing during their country’s national anthem. Let me get this right. You make that protest against the nation that you are so unhappy with. The nation that has made you millionaires. The nation that has given you celebrity status, wouldn’t it be best to show that you mean what you say by finding another place to live? Another country where there is no  segregation, or discrimination, or apparent, alleged unfair police treatment against your brothers? Ah, but there’s the rub. That would mean turning your back on the source of your wealth and  status. My guess is that the NFL players would not want to go that far. They know which side their bread is buttered, and anyway such a nation does not exist.

 

I hate to be so obvious and transparent, but there is only one person who is fair in all deliberations, and He is the only one that is worthy to take a knee for. Take that in two ways. We can use one or both knees in prayer because God is a sound judge, and you can also ‘take a knee’ when the final curtain of life is drawn, either of our life here, or the end of the world as we know it. The wisdom of the old prophet said it long before it was obvious to anyone else. His peers probably thought he was crazy, but the prophecy in the Old Testament is clear:

 

By myself I have sworn; from my mouth has gone out in righteousness a word that shall not return: ‘To me every knee shall bow, every tongue shall swear allegiance.’

Isaiah 45:23 ESV

 

By the way, the knees that will bow will include those millionaire NFL Sportsmen, both black and white, plus Kings and Presidents across the globe. Humbling isn’t it?

Berean?

As soon as it was night, the believers sent Paul and Silas away to Berea. On arriving there, they went to the Jewish synagogue. Now the Berean Jews were of more noble character than those in Thessalonica, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true.

Acts 17:10,11 NIV

 

I’m one of those annoying people who treats their faith as important. It is important on a surface level as I sit in a pew, sing the songs, pray, and soak in the sermon which has been prepared by a Godly pastor. But it’s more than that. If I am going to believe in the Gospel that my church teaches, and that it is truth, then for me it is important enough to know why I believe it. So, the theology behind the doctrine is important too because it must be in harmony with the Bible.

 

The result in my case is that I will look into the beliefs closely, and check them against Scripture and only then what other commentators say. The reason is simple. When we do anything else in this life, or buy into any secular scheme, we do it with much care. This is more important than choosing my next car, so it must be even more important that I get my theology right.

 

So far, so good, but there can be a problem that comes with the quest. While chasing up, and checking out the truth of doctrine, I find myself asking other pastors and leaders whom I respect, what they think, and more importantly, believe. This can come across as questioning their own faith, and that is far from the truth. I am not in college or university, so I don’t sit at the seat of learning to sharpen my faith. I have to do that part by bouncing my thoughts off other human beings, and I try to choose carefully. Unfortunately, I have found to my horror that I have unwittingly offended as I chase the importance of my church’s theology.

 

After all, each church has its own take on interpretation, so do I just stick a pin in a sheet of names and go there? Do I blindly accept the doctrine of the church I attend, or do I find out why? Eternity is real, so my thinking is that the articles of faith I accept are important. I trust I will be like the Bereans and examine the Scriptures first and foremost.

 

Question: How do you and I confirm the beliefs that are important to us and our church?

Time Slots

I have found myself asking this question recently: Is a series of 20 minute get togethers enough to be able to know someone? It may even be the same 20 minute setting every week, but if it’s online, and because of the way we ‘feel’ about the video or podcast, are we really that much closer to what that person is like during the other 23+ hours of the day?

 

When you were young, and maybe you still are, you deliberately took as much time as possible, over a long period, to get to know the love of your life. If you relied on the same 20 minutes, once a week, at the same time, do you think that would give you enough information to decide if you wanted to marry, and spend the rest of your life together? Not to mention commit yourself to all the financial and emotional needs?

 

The internet is a minefield, and I’m sure you already know that. But how seriously do we take some things that are said there, especially when they are said with some authority and conviction? I have learned recently, that a short 20 minute sermon is not enough to form a correct and accurate opinion of someone, and even more so if that time is pulled down from an untrusted website.

 

Like it or not, we can all crave a Godly figurehead that we can respect and look up to. We want to believe them when they preach, but does that short window give us enough time to throw our lot in with them, perhaps calling them our ‘example’, ‘mentor’, ‘teacher’, or even ‘Pastor’? There are many self proclaimed Bible preachers on TV and the internet who command a large following, and for many it’s all down to the 20 minute sermons they preach.

 

Some followers don’t even live in the same country as their leaders. So, when your life is falling apart and you need a counsellor, can you ask them to drop in and pray? If a loved one is at death’s door, who will be there with you to comfort? If you want your baby to be dedicated, will your distant ‘Pastor’ perform that sacrament for you? Marry you? Bury you? Who do you fellowship with, and who do you give your tithe and offering to? And the list goes on.  

 

It concerns me greatly that some very well educated, clever Christians are sucked into the ‘online church’ because it tickles their ears with what they want to hear, at least for 20 minutes a time. Is that really what is intended in Hebrews 10:24-25 by “ And let us consider how we may spur one another on towards love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another – and all the more as you see the Day approaching.”?

Legalism?

I didn’t realise it at the time, but apparently I am branded as a legalist (usually spoken with a hiss!) because I grew up in an apparently legalistic church. It was my church. The place where I found my faith and I saw obedience to the law of Scripture as a benefit to my Spiritual welfare, and a good thing for growth. I learned the importance of salvation, the reality of hell, and the assurance of heaven. I also learned the difference between good and evil, right and wrong. If it was seen by some as being legalistic, I didn’t, and was ok with it, and even appreciated and embraced it for what it was.

 

The Ten Commandments are a legalistic list and we are ok with that. The New Testament also has its share of things taught by Jesus and the apostles which are clearly right and wrong, good and evil. These can all be viewed as faith’s requirements, after all when we come to Jesus just as we are, our Saviour in His wisdom does not leave us in that same sinful condition. We are changed from the inside, and that affects our whole life. Some of those changes could be considered by some as legalistic, but I see them as good, to be desired, and perhaps even natural.

 

Nowadays, any form of legalism in church is frowned upon, and actively discouraged as being old fashioned and plain wrong. As a result, there is a generation of church folks, who rest on grace to the extent that it can give a green light to a behaviour which is less than Godly, and verging on immoral. We don’t like anyone telling us what to do I suppose. After all, we are not under law (the rules) but under grace (above the law) we argue. Perhaps we need to take a closer look at the verses which could be used to soften our attitude to sin or immorality even at some small level. To put it another way, if our nation didn’t have laws and rules, we would have anarchy and be out of control. We need rules, laws, and yes some legalism in our churches too, or we get out of control. Can I suggest one of the reasons the Church is in decline today is that we want to decide for ourselves the laws of God we want to actively obey? Then the laws of Scripture take a poor second place.

 

I suggest there are two camps in the legalism debate. Either you believe that in order to be saved you must FIRST obey the rules. Or in response to God’s saving grace you THEN become happy to obey and fall into step with God’s will, rules and laws. The answer to that question says a lot about the kind of Christian you are, and the opinions you form of others. Which camp do you fall into? Or to ask it another way, which camp do others think YOU fall into?? Paul saw this problem in the early church, and addressed it head on:
Sin will not be your master, because you are not under law. You now live under God’s grace. So what should we do? Should we sin because we are under grace and not under law? Certainly not! Romans 6:14,15

Peace

It has been more than 100 years since the outbreak of WW1 which was touted as “The war to end all wars”. The commemorations are sobering and a reminder of the futility of war. The first day of the war saw a death rate of 450,000 in slimy mud which bogged down the living and engulfed the dead. Here we are 100 years later and North Korea is launching long range Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles with the capability of reaching the whole USA. Their next step is the addition of a nuclear warhead. All this time has passed, and we have not progressed. A wise man once said, “The one thing we learn from history, is that we don’t learn from history”. How true.

 

Our little planet earth has never been free of fighting and war since Cain and Abel fought out their differences in Genesis, and it has been going on ever since. The Bible is right up to date on this, and many other subjects, when it records these words in Jeremiah 6:14:

They dress the wound of my people as though it were not serious. ‘Peace, peace,’ they say, when there is no peace. Has anything changed?

 

Our peace is founded on the person of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, Messiah who assures us in John 14:27 “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” As the nations of the world goad each other for supremacy, we have the assurance of that peace which can only come from God. Jesus also said in John 16:33 “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” I don’t know about you, but that gives me real peace and great comfort.

‘D’ for Different

The trouble began with an unhappy church attender. Let’s face it, which of us has always been happy with our church? It can be the pastor, the singing, the choice of songs, the things seen as important, or even as simple as the people who share that same space once a week. We are a motley crew, and hard to please at times.

 

This particular church member wasn’t just unhappy with the peripherals in his place of worship. He really loved his church, but didn’t like everything that went on in it, from the leader up. But what to do? Being a good and righteous man, he researched and studied, watched, listened and learned from others around him, both the good and the bad. But on top of everything, he read his Bible from cover to cover because he believed it to be the ’Word of God’ and if truth was anywhere, it would be there. He showed some wisdom because it was a good place to start, but not everyone thought the same. It got him into trouble with the church leaders.

 

It came down to two things, Bible interpretation, and church practice. You know how that goes. We’ve always done it this way, so why change now? It has served us well until now. We know it’s ok to complain between friends who may agree, but when you take your worries to the top of the church organisation, that’s when it can get difficult, and it did. They were not prepared to listen and instead dug their heels in and remain unchanged to this day.

 

This man was certainly ‘D’ for Different but the letter ‘D’ is also the Roman numeral for 500, and it has been 500 years since this not so young church leader literally nailed his colours to the mast by fixing his 95 differences he saw with the corruption of indulgences within the church he loved. The result was that his actions echoed around Europe and the World, slowly but surely forming an unstoppable movement which protested against the wrongs of the the church of his day. It had moved so far from the original teachings of Christ, it could no longer could be called ‘Christian’. To this day, adherents will refer to themselves as ‘Catholic’ and not as ‘Christian’.

 

My hope and prayer is that the reformed church of today never strays so far from the teachings of Scripture that it takes another Martin Luther to help us change course again. As a renowned theologian, he paid the price of excommunication from the church he wanted to help. We need never be complacent in our core belief that The Bible is the very Word of God, and we must to read it constantly, and live by its teachings. History is clear, and should not be repeated.