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Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Charlatans in glory-land . . .

Image result for big smile
Called To Be Faithful Not Famous

If history—particularly Church history, has taught us anything it is that Kingdom success is measured in the terms of faithfulness. One with personal charisma may burst on the scene with the brilliance of lightning across the midnight sky, but in reality in the long run may be just another flash in the pan. Better to be a flickering candle, I say, that burns through the night than the shock and awe of a lightening flash.

Assertive, self-willed impostors through the sheer strength of their charismatic personality can develop a pack of gullible dupes that sprint along the sidelines desperately grasping at each nugget of the most trivial Christianized foolishness imaginable—that’s for sure. All Mr. or Ms. Charisma need do is flash a smile and regurgitate any old worn out cliché and the charm offensive is on. It works, too.

I say, it works, but then it all depends on what we mean by works. If we are talking about fame or fortune, it really does work. These fools’ barns are stocked to the roof with symbols of success—Rolls Royces, Bentleys, suits from Lloyds of London, Rolex watches, private Learjets, you name it, they’ve got it, and all in the name of Jesus, too. Nor, dare we ask ‘Where is that spirit of Jesus, riding on a donkey, and without even a roof to cover his head at night?’—unless, of course, someone was kind enough to provide one. No, we mustn’t question ‘God’s anointed’ and do these false prophets any harm.

I suppose the attitude is that if we just ignore them they will go away. Well, to do that in my opinion is just like trying to ignore bedbugs in hopes that they will not come out during the night and bite the fire out of you. I refer to them as bedbugs because that is about the size they really are, and in reality they will suck the blood out of you. Other than that the analogy falls apart—but it gets the point across, none-the-less.

Harsh word? Well, if the truth is harsh, then these are harsh words. 

‘Well,’ I’ve heard the argument, ‘these men and women may indulge themselves, but really that’s just a sign of human frailty, otherwise, they are soundly Evangelical.”

Really? If you mean by Evangelicals that they mouth the five solas—sola fidei, gratia and so-forth, then may I present another suitable candidate for the Evangelical ministry—that being, of course, the African grey parrot. I have been told that their capacity to articulate the most complex of sentences is utterly amazing. However, I am also told that they can be mean little rascals, and are as devious as they come. Furthermore, they also have an astounding capacity to attract a following. Yes, they do if Facebook is any indication. Take for instance Einstein the Talking Texan Parrot has over 7,259 likes on Facebook, and this is in spite of the fact that poor old Einstein the Talking Texan Parrot is as dead as a doornail. Yes, old Einstein had such charm that even posthumously he has been able to garner up an enviable following. Topping old Einstein is another fellow by the name of Talking Pierre the Parrot a fictional character with 737,777 likes. 
Oh, well, enough of this foolishness. And, I might add, enough also of the charming charlatans masquerading under the guise of Evangelicalism, mystifying their star struck following.

Saying that, however, is not saying enough, though. There must be something to fill the void; after all, most of these poor victims are sincerely searching for God. The tragedy is, however, that they have been given a mixed bag of worldly goodies attractively sacked in bag with a hole in the bottom. Patching up the holes is not the answer either. We must repackage the whole message.

Sola fidei when left to stand alone is heresy. Nowhere in Scripture are we told that we are saved by faith only. No, not one place. We are, however, told that we are not saved by faith alone, for you see, the Scripture says in plain English that “faith by itself isn't enough. Unless it produces good deeds, it is dead and useless. (James 2:17).” 

So, we mustn’t “just listen to God’s word. We must do what it says. Otherwise, we are only fooling yourselves (James 1:22).” “For merely listening to the law doesn’t make us right with God. It is obeying the law that makes us right in his sight (Romans 2:13).”

Now, if this is too hard for the average Evangelical Christian to grasp, it is understandable since we have been fed the lie for so long. Now, before you throw up your hands and hit that unsubscribe link, consider this.

I am not saying that you can save yourself. You can’t. Only Jesus can and has done that; however, the only proof you have that that has taken place in not in that warm fuzzy feeling you may have about your salvation experience. Feeling are fine, and necessary. But feeling alone will not cut the mustard where your ultimate salvation is concerned—for that you need proof, not for salvation but as a tangible sign that you are indeed saved. In essence—to cut to the chase, to claim the benefits of salvation there must be some evidence. Faith has substance. What is that substance? Faith has evidence. Where is that evidence? James tells us—if you are will to hear it—is works! Good works.

A long time ago, we used to call that holiness, and we knew that without holiness none of us would see God. Hum. That’s Scripture too, isn’t it? Well, just in case, some of us have forgotten Hebrews 12:14 says precisely this. Look it up, it’s there.

Feed your soul with all of the trash on television, or to get all tied up in fraternizing with an ungodly bunch at work or elsewhere may provide a carnal diversion but it will hardly lead you any closer to God. As a matter of fact, according to the Bible it will do just the opposite. Here’s what Scripture says,

“Do not love this world nor the things it offers you, for when you love the world, you do not have the love of the Father in you. For the world offers only a craving for physical pleasure, a craving for everything we see, and pride in our achievements and possessions. These are not from the Father, but are from this world. And this world is fading away, along with everything that people crave. But anyone who does what pleases God will live forever (1 John 2: 15-17).”

Now, it’s for sure that we have outgrown the sterile Pentecostal demeanor of yesteryear, but let us not throw the baby out with the proverbial bathwater.  Nor do I advocate that we cultivate the attitude of the old Quaker who, in a moment of deep reflection, said to his wife, “Me thinks the whole world is crazy except me and thee; and sometimes I wonder about thee."

Better to err on the side of caution, however, I fell, than to discard all outward signs of holiness, or to neglect to nurture the fruit of the Spirit within us.

With that said, please keep in mind that we are not in this journey alone. He walks beside us each step of the way.


Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Faith by any other is still faith . . . or is it?

How do we reconcile sola fidei—by faith alone, with James 2: 4, which reads:
You see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only.”?
Well, in a word, you don’t. It is just as simple as that!

One is Scripture, which we know is God’s word; whereas the other is the word of man—primarily a catch phrase developed during the Protestant Reformation, a kind of shibboleth used to check and see if  all we Protestants were on the same page.

However, in counter distinction to that, I will be so bold as to say that pure faith does not stand  alone; and as a matter of fact faith as a simple thought process cannot save a fly from being zapped! So, let us now backup and take a closer look at the whole counsel of God (Acts 20:27).

Now it is true that “the just shall live by faith (Hebrews 10:38); that we cannot deny. However, that is just the point! Sola fidei denies the very definition of what faith is. Faith is not just wishful thinking. Faith is not just a mental assent to the facts of theology, or one’s sectarian agenda, religious or otherwise.

Faith has substance that is sufficient enough to standup in court as evidence. “Now, faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” (Hebrews 11:1)

Faith may include “assurance,” it may include “confidence” or “being sure of something”; but none of these alone is really faith. Faith is a substance; something you can see, feel, sense, and touch—it is real. There’s evidence in faith. It does not stand alone as some kind of mental exercise.
Now, I know that some will get all bent out of shape when they read what I have just said, but hang in here, there’s more to come.

For faith to have any meaning at all, two things are necessary—they are, someone to exercise that faith, and the substance of that faith to be evident. The devils believed and trembled, the Scripture says; however, they were faithless—in other words, their behavior belied them.

So, do we admit that one’s behavior is the evidence of one’s faith? Faith, as I have said, does not stand alone. Works follows as proof of that substance. It’s kind of like love and marriage, you can’t have one without the other. Well, not really, because I know many married folks that aren’t really all that much in love. But, that’s just the point. The only proof that you have that they are a happily married couple is that they show it. The word “love” is just a lot of hot air, otherwise.

The same with faith. The word faith can be, and often is just a lot of hot air. Real faith has legs. You can see it in action. Yes, you can see, feel, sense and touch it—it’s real.

Faith can never stand alone, no not ever, and since God in His wisdom knew that, He sent His Son, in the flesh so that He could be seen, felt, sensed, and touched! Yes, He is the substance, and evidence all wrapped up in one.

What a marvelous gift faith is!

I am sure you have heard the old saying that “the proof of the pudding is in the eating thereof.” Well, so is faith. So, along with the psalmist, may I invite all those that will to come—
“Taste and see that the LORD is good; and blessed are those who takes refuge in him (Psalm 34:8)”?
Just remember, we are not on this journey alone. He walks beside us.



Tuesday, November 18, 2014

A psalm that is more than just another song . . .

The psalmist begins where all of us should begin and close each day—that is, meditating on the Word of God. This is a foundational principle for sound spirituality.  It is not, however, a task that should stand over us like a heavy taskmaster.  Absolutely not! We, like the psalmist should delight in His Law—His word to us, which He intends as with Jeremiah: 
‘He has plans for us, plans to prosper us and not to harm us, and plans to give us a hope and a future.’ (Jeremiah 29:11)
These principles become very clear as we walk through this first psalm, which says: 
1 Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor standeth in the way of sinners, nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful.
2 But his delight is in the law of the Lord; and in his law doth he meditate day and night. 
3 And he shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that bringeth forth his fruit in his season; his leaf also shall not wither; and whatsoever he doeth shall prosper. 
4 The ungodly are not so: but are like the chaff which the wind driveth away. 
5 Therefore the ungodly shall not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous. 
6 For the Lord knoweth the way of the righteous: but the way of the ungodly shall perish. (King James Version (KJV) by Public Domain) 
Right away we are made aware of the fact that it really does matter what kind of company we keep, and whose advice we take. You run with a pack of thieves, or fraternize with a bunch of boozers, eventually you will become one yourself. This goes for the company you keep on television, too. Watch enough filth, and you will become dirty, too. It is just as simple as that. 
My wife and I are no prudes, but we learned a long time ago to pick and choose our company. That doesn’t mean that we avoid ‘sinners’ as it were—we’re all sinners we know that; but we don’t revel with the rowdies. Don’t expect me to laugh at a nasty joke. I won’t, so I wouldn’t encourage anyone to tell me one, or for a filthy mouth comedian to keep me from turning the knob on the television when he comes on. 
Have I done or said things that I am ashamed of now? Certainly, but that doesn’t mean that I haven’t learned my lesson. And, what is that lesson? It is simply this: If I want to be blessed by God, then I must avoid these things. For I know that in the long run the ungodly will perish (v.6); and that I have a prosperous future ahead of me (v. 3.). 
In a word, I want to be a winner, and I can’t if I am not obedient to His Word. 
I remain yours for the journey,

Thursday, November 13, 2014

50 million Frenchmen can't be wrong ... or can they?

Personally, I find it entertainingly interesting that every Tom, Dick and Harry, along with all the Janes and Susie Quies get to vote on matters of faith and practice. The idea being, of course, that somehow a consensus brings about truth. In that regards, I am reminded of the old song “Fifty Million Frenchmen Can't Be Wrong” popularized by Sophie Tucker. Of course, we all know that is not true. Yes, it is possible that not only can the French be wrong, but so can we Americans as a whole.

What I have in mind is some of the more recent decision made by our Supreme Court on issues such as gay marriage and abortion. Now, this is not to say that the Court did not make the correct legal decision, but legality, whether by a Constitution or Federal or State law, does not necessarily mean that the decision or law is morally right.

So, it is easy to see that a country can be dead-right and yet dead-wrong at the same time. Law, as such, you see, is amoral. It has no morals. Law is either arbitrary or egalitarian by nature—sometimes a combination of both. Hitler had law on his side, as well as the vote of the people. Hitler, including the majority of Germans at that time were, however, dead wrong.

This, of course, presents an ever occurring dilemma for us as Christians who wish to remain loyal citizens.

In other words, just how pushy should we get? That decision, I must leave with you; however, whatever, we, too, must make sure that our zeal for Divine justice does not make us a victim of our own code of justice. Along with Paul we must ask ourselves,
“Shall we do evil that good may result?” (Romans 3:8)
Of course, the answer is absolutely ‘No!’ We must continue paying out taxes to a corrupt and in many ways an unjust government, and unfortunately watch them squander our money on useless and often time inhumane projects. Render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s is a principle, not a choice, however. Furthermore, two wrongs, as is often said, do not make one right.

Thank God, however, we do have a voice. Although I must admit that I find that some of my most vociferous friends are the least likely to vote. ‘Why bother?’ seems to be their motto. Now, I must admit, I have a hard time listening to folks like that. Those that are not willing to put their money where their mouth is or their vote where their mouth is really don’t deserve the courtesy of taking them serious.

2016 is going to be a watershed year. But, if recent history has taught us anything, it will be the voice of the minority that is heard rather than that of the so-called moral majority. Come what may, however, we must not weary in well doing, for in due season we shall reap if we faint not. (Galatians 6:9) That’s God’s promise, not just one that I came up with; and it is a principle that we must live by.
That goes for all of us. Often it is so easy to just sit back (as we grow older) and say, “I’ve done my part. It’s now time for a new generation to take over.” That, however, is a false security. We can never depend on the next generation to straighten out what our generation has made crooked. That’s our primary responsibility.

Prepare the next generation? Sure. But, as long as we live, it is our responsibility to not just do what is morally right, but to make the crooked path straight for the next generation; or at the very least, show them how.
This is precisely why I take on new responsibilities almost daily. Only yesterday, I accepted a new invitation to help train a new generation of pastors in the Caribbean, which in addition to my commitments to Southern Asia and elsewhere is always a leap of faith.

Why do I say this? Well, for one thing, I am not getting any younger, and furthermore it is next to impossible to even consider financially living on Social Security and what little we have tucked away for taxes and maintaining a home to live in. This never hit me any heavier that this morning when the alarm went off and up jumped my wife to put on her scrubs and race over to one of the local schools to substitute as a nurse for the day. This, I must hasten to added, so that you won’t see me as some kind of old ogre, is her way of saying, “I’m with you in this crusade. Together we’ll fight the battle. We will do our best to get the message out and, yes, train that new generation to take up the banner after us.”

This brings me to my final point—that is, if you are still reading this—we need your help. Financially, right now, our account desperately needs at least $2,500 dollars to meet our current obligations. Now, I know that is sometimes easier to pray than to give, so I ask that each of us soberly ask ourselves if we are just coping-out when we choose to sympathize rather than empathize by making a financial commitment.

(Now, believe me, I don’t feel bad about putting it this way, because we’re talking about a God given responsibility here, not just that of a fellow who doesn't know when to stop.)

In any and every event, however, we are not on this journey alone; and as always, I, too, am most appreciative of all that you do, including your prayers, as well.

I remain yours for the journey,


Monday, November 10, 2014

Eating your own words Churchillian style . . .

Winston Churchill once remarked that eating his own words never gave him indigestion. Smart fellow, I must say. Some things are best left unsaid. Truth is, however, that far too often things left unsaid should have been said. As the Prophet Ezekiel reminds us.

"When I [God] say to the wicked, 'You will surely die,' and you do not warn him or speak out to warn the wicked from his wicked way that he may live, that wicked man shall die in his iniquity, but his blood I will require at your hand. "Yet if you have warned the wicked and he does not turn from his wickedness or from his wicked way, he shall die in his iniquity; but you have delivered yourself. "Again, when a righteous man turns away from his righteousness and commits iniquity, and I place an obstacle before him, he will die; since you have not warned him, he shall die in his sin, and his righteous deeds which he has done shall not be remembered; but his blood I will require at your hand." (Ezekiel 3:18-20 NIV)

So, saying the right thing at the right time is pretty important as far as God is concerned.

There is, however, a world of difference between forcing the issue, and a warning. Let me explain. E.S. Williams, one of longest serving General Superintendents of the Assemblies of God denomination once wrote—or words to this effect, that God has not called us to go out at night and take down the license plate number of every one attending an illegal cock fight. That," he said, "is a policemen's job, not yours as a pastor." Kind of an archaic way of putting it, but you must remember that I grew up in pretty archaic times when dog fights and cock fights were pretty exciting events for the manly sorts. (No, I've never been to a dog fight, although as a farm boy I've certainly seen my share of dog and cat fights! (Incidentally, the cat usually wins.)

In any event, I am sure you get the point—that is, God has not called us to be policemen, but rather like a town crier. We warn the public hazards that are out there, put up signs that indicate the danger that lurks in the dark, remind them of the laws and the penalty for breaking them—something like, the old town crier or bellmen of Medieval Europe. Of course this is only one of many analogies that can be used. We can be watchmen, or witnesses. But, nowhere do I find that God has called any of us to be policemen.

Now, I know that that attitude does not set well with the self-righteous, or religious bigot, but unless we are living in a covenanted and mutual relationship with God and one another, then the best we can do is warn, or witness, or rescue.

Now, lest there be any misunderstanding, I do feel that we have a covenanted relationship that must be kept to protect the innocent and helpless. God certainly makes that clear. Pure religion is in part to do just that—that is to defend, and protect the helpless. Other than that, however, I find no room for the religious zealot in the Kingdom of God.

So, the next time you, me or anyone else feels like cramming Jesus down anyone's throat we must keep in mind that we are doing that on our own, God is not with us in that. Unfortunately, however, jihadism (or at least the nature thereof) is prevalent in every religion, and takes many forms. Sometimes it is through coercion, other times through the ballot box or an executive decision by the President; in each and every case, however, it is wrong. Thus, I find it extremely disturbing that some feel they have a God given right to force their political and moral agenda on me or anyone else. Nor do I feel that I should subsidize such immoral foolishness, either, with my hard earned tax dollars. More specifically, if someone wants to indiscriminately get an abortion which I feel is murder in the first place, I may not be able to stop that, but let them do it on their dime, not mine.

In a word, someday there will be Hell to pay for their actions, but I simply do not feel that any individual, public or private — corporation should be forced to be made a party to their crimes.

I am yours for the journey,