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.”?

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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

The Coin

Every coin has two sides, and Jesus recognised this when he taught his disciples the full message of His Father’s love and judgement. Each is a side of the same coin, and just as no coin has only one side, love and judgement go together and are needed to complete the whole truth.

 

In the past, some evangelical preachers were seen solely as ‘hell fire’ messengers as if that was the only message of the gospel. I think we have moved on from that, but perhaps we have replaced it with something just as incomplete. The message that Jesus loves everyone, irrespective of their actions, and if we just love the sinner fully and completely, that will be enough to see them enter the gates of heaven. I think we need to be careful that we don’t preach or teach a ‘one sided’ Gospel.

 

Scripture is full of warnings to sinners of remaining in their sins, and not turning from their sinful ways. The words are old fashioned, but they remain necessary. Words and phrases like, ‘confession of sin’, ‘repentance’, ‘born again’, and ‘saved’. Again, we need to be careful to preach and speak the whole counsel of God.

 

Teaching the message of love, without pointing out the consequences and dangers of remaining in sin, is incomplete, and only part of the full Gospel of Jesus Christ. God accepts us in His love just as we are, warts and all, but that same love doesn’t allow Him to leave us the way he found us! Now that is amazing grace. Paul puts it this way:

 

Sin is no longer your master, for you no longer live under the requirements of the law. Instead, you live under the freedom of God’s grace. Well then, since God’s grace has set us free from the law, does that mean we can go on sinning? Of course not! Don’t you realize that you become the slave of whatever you choose to obey? You can be a slave to sin, which leads to death, or you can choose to obey God, which leads to righteous living.

Romans 6:14-16 NLT

The Untarnished Gospel

For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile. Romans 1:16

 

And you also were included in Christ when you heard the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation. When you believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit. Ephesians 1:13

 

Possibly like you, I have sat under many sermons and from many differing churches and pastors. Sometimes I did not recognise the gospel that brought me to Christ. I believe we can be guilty of making the gospel something it is not. At the risk of offending or saying something out of turn, let me share with you some of the things that the gospel is NOT.

 

The gospel is NOT:

A talk on history. Not even middle east history.

A lecture on Sociology.

A discourse on Psychology

A comparison of religion to science

… If I needed any of these improvements to my education, I would go back to University or Night Classes. My own thought is that these things can be used to show how clever or knowledgeable the preacher is. They do not have anything to do with the gospel, the grace of God or our salvation.

 

When will we get back to basics and preach the whole gospel in our various churches? Our wise God gave us all that we need to know, through His Word, and the advice to young pastor Timothy when he encouraged him, and us, to:

 

Preach the Word of God. Be prepared, whether the time is favourable or not. Patiently correct, rebuke, and encourage your people with good teaching. 2 Timothy 4:2

What If…?

Have you suffered from ‘what if’ syndrome? I have, and it can get you down when you second guess each decision you made down through the years. The big things like, what if I….did better at school?…..learned that musical instrument?….picked different friends?….listened to my parents more?….married a different person?…. took that better paid job?….saved more instead of spending so much?… The list is endless, and will get us down because all these things are in the past and we can do nothing about them now.

 

Now, take a step back, and look at life from where you are. Life really isn’t so bad is it? Yes, there have been bad times, but these are far outnumbered by the good times. How did I get such a loving spouse, who put up with all my issues down the years? How did it work out that I have lovely children, and terrific grandchildren? The job I had paid well enough to allow us to go away on a family holiday most years. I have friends that I wouldn’t trade for anything. I found my Saviour, or to be more accurate, He found me! Things are really pretty good.
So, instead of mulling over all those ‘what ifs’ down the years, count all those blessings that came your way in spite of the apparently wrong decisions. When you have finished counting them, count again and and give thanks. Every time we made a decision in the past (and those still to come) God was right there beside us, and He knew where it would lead. I don’t want it to come across irreverently, but I can imagine Jesus looking on and smiling at our feeble attempts at life and decision making, and saying “don’t worry, I’ve got this”. The Word of God reminds us in Romans 8:28 “And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them.” NLT. Next time you are tempted to go down the old ‘what if’ road, hold that verse close. When we are in God’s family, we are blessed beyond measure, and in spite of our own failings as we may see them at the time. After all, He was at least one step ahead of us every time, and still is!

Normalised!

I am noticing more and more that things once held as ‘wrong’ are seen as ‘right’ and the other way around. I also frequently hear the words “who has the right to tell me what is good and bad anyway”? It’s a fact that if you keep on doing (wrong) things for long enough, you get used to it. In fact it becomes normal and accepted not only by individuals, but also by the community and eventually society.

 

The liberal thinkers will call it progress, but cast your mind back some 20-30 years and ask yourself, have all these liberal changes been good for our youth or have we passed them a poisoned chalice? Whether from local or national government, we have relaxed our views on many things we once felt ‘wrong’ and immoral. It’s not difficult to list some and you could add more:

 

>Ease of gender abortion.

>Making a district a ‘safe place’ for prostitution.

>Providing clean drug rooms where addicts can inject and ‘stay safe from infection’.

>Movie and TV censorship is now almost non existent, and sex and violence is rampant.

>Unrestricted access to pornography on the unregulated internet.

>Promotion of ‘alternative gender lifestyles’ to appear inclusive, and not cause offence.

>Calls for the decriminalisation of drugs.

>There is no absolute truth. Everything is relative. What is right for you, is not right for me.

 

I think there is a direct link between the fact that the gospel is no longer preached in many of our churches, and has now been replaced by a feelgood, social psychology message without the need for repentance. Small wonder church attendance is falling. The primary  reason for the church’s existence is no longer known, taught or preached, so why attend? If ever a Holy Ghost revival is needed, it is now!   

 

Woe, judgement is coming to those who call evil good, and good evil; Who substitute darkness for light and light for darkness; Who substitute bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter! Isaiah 5:20 AMP

Hacked and Scammed?

Be careful—watch out for attacks from Satan, your great enemy. He prowls around like a hungry, roaring lion, looking for some victim to tear apart. 1 Peter 5:8 TLB

 

We take great care that no one hacks into our computers, intending to scam us into doing something that usually costs us money, we don’t really want to do. But sometimes we fall for it, and the least savvy are always the target of these immoral people who have no scruples. We have all seen the reports of those who have been ‘reeled in’ and played like a big trout until money changes hands, and sometimes that’s a LOT of money! Perhaps we know someone who has fallen prey. We feel sorry for the ones who have been hacked and scammed, and have nothing but contempt for those who perpetrate these hateful deeds. Will they ever be caught? Probably not in this life.

 

That brings me onto my real point. When it comes to the faith filled life of Christianity, there are folks looking on who see our actions, and they don’t want to be hacked and scammed into a ‘religion’ that bears little resemblance to the Jesus in the Bible. They don’t want to fall for the trick of a shallow or false faith when there are bells ringing and lights flashing in their brains. Is the message true? More to the point is the question, is the messenger true? The devil’s scheme works well and the average person does nothing. They stay where they are because they don’t trust the messenger to provide the true message, and they don’t want to be hacked and scammed into a false gospel. Result? The devil wins because he is the one who sows those seeds of doubt and disbelief, and we fall for it!

 

When we fall for a scam in this life, the most we lose is some money and our reputation. This will pass, and we will be wiser for next time. However, when we fall for the devil’s scam, we lose eternal life in heaven, and get to spend that eternity with the devil and all his scheming demons in hell. What a waste! The moral of this little story? Live a life given over to the Jesus of the Bible, and live your faith so that others looking on will not be hacked and scammed by the father of lies, the devil. There is literally everything to lose!