An Exhortation for All Followers of Jesus in Troubled Times

The following is from an Asia Harvest newsletter. A link for the full article is included at the end of the excerpt.

World events are only going to get progressively worse as the world spirals toward anarchy, before the great and glorious return of Jesus. He will come to bring judgment and to clean up the mess we have made: “Woe to the earth and the sea, because the devil has gone down to you! He is filled with fury, because he knows that his time is short” (Revelation 12:12).

How can a Christian strengthen their heart and mind to survive the dark times ahead? Our answer is one that you have probably never heard from a Christian organization before: do NOT ‘read’ God’s Word! People read newspapers, novels and webpages, but the Bible instructs us not to merely “read” the Word but to “Study to show yourself approved by God, a workman who needs not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15).

It’s not enough just to have a few favorite Bible verses, or to pick and choose bits of Scripture that make us feel good. To be healthy, a person needs to enjoy the full banquet of God’s Word, and not just grab a few snacks here and there. Throughout the Scriptures, we find the people God used greatly were those who diligently studied His Word, for example: “Ezra had devoted himself to the study and observance of the Law of the Lord, and to teaching its decrees and laws in Israel” (Ezra 7:10).

To survive the end times, we must study whole books of the Bible, and invest time each day in getting to know the Lord through His Word and in prayer. It’s time to get serious, or our faith will not survive the storms ahead. God’s Word will give us discernment and wisdom, enabling us to navigate through this life

We not only need wisdom as we live in this world, but we also must discern truth from error in today’s Church. Each day, thousands of pulpits and the airwaves are spewing out a false gospel that has stripped the Christian message of key words like repentance and holiness, and crucial teachings of the Lord Jesus, such as: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me” (Luke 9:23)..

https://asiaharvest.org/an-exhortation-for-all-followers-of-jesus-in-troubled-times/

I’d also refer you to my article here: https://onesimusfiles.wordpress.com/2014/06/17/dont-study-the-bible/ which according the title may seem like a contradiction of the above, but just as context is vital in our understanding of scripture, context should be taken into account with this article. Read the whole article and not just the title.

Beware of the “Ministry” of Division (2)

(Continued from previous post)

To replace the current “ministry of division” there is an urgent need for the “ministry of reconciliation” between believers, that can only come by putting off prejudices and favoured theologies and putting on love – for each other and for the Word of God.

Among the commands given to His disciples towards the end of His ministry, Jesus gave a “new commandment”.

John 13

A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another

This was something important enough for Jesus to say it would be the distinguishing feature revealing to EVERYONE that we are His disciples. Surely a vital ingredient when taking the gospel to an unbelieving world.

It was also important enough for Jesus to repeat in John 16:

My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command

Not only does this statement repeat His command to love each other, the latter part clearly infers that failing to do so disqualifies someone from being Jesus’ friend.

The command for believers to love one another is also repeated several times in 1 John and Peter adds another voice saying in 1 Peter 1: 22

Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth so that you have sincere love for each other, love one another deeply, from the heart.

1 Peter 3: 8-9

love one another, be compassionate and humble. Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult.

1 Peter 4: 8

Above all, love each other deeply

I now suspect that some might try to find a bit of wiggle room by insisting that those they are labelling as false teachers/prophets/etc aren’t really fellow believers so the obligation to love them as Jesus loved His disciples doesn’t apply.
But even if we allow that presumptuous conclusion, Jesus also said we should love our enemies, so there’s no avoiding the commandment to love. And who are we to judge who belongs to Him, and who doesn’t – thereby excusing ourselves from loving them as fellow disciples?

It seems that so many features of the gospel preached and commanded by Jesus – some of the very important aspects of it, by which unbelievers will see its validity – are being far too casually denied by professing believers. That denial includes the rejection of present day confirming signs following the preaching of the gospel (something affirmed most times that preaching of the gospel is mentioned in scripture) as well as a distinct lack of love being shown between those claiming to follow Jesus.

Through that ongoing denial, the church is allowing Satan to do a very effective job of disempowering what little gospel message remains within the church, by convincing professing believers to avoid and dismiss instructions Jesus gave in the latter days of His time on earth. Instructions regarding a gospel confirmed by signs, and instructions regarding the love of believers for each other.

There is an urgent need for us all to make sure that ALL of our beliefs and practices are consistent with God’s word, without closing our eyes to inconvenient passages, and without resorting to childish clichés to excuse ungodly excesses.

That means NOT trying to explain away Spiritual gifts and/or miracles. It also means abandoning inane claims like ‘you can’t put God in a box’ to justify some of the more dubious things that some charismatics have promoted for too long as being genuine works of the Holy Spirit.

I recently read an astute statement, saying something like the following: “we might not be able to put God in a box, but He did put Himself in a book” – meaning He has revealed Himself, His character and His purposes in scripture; written through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit Himself and won’t act in anyway contrary to that revelation.

And it is the revelation given by God through scripture that is the key to resolve the problems on both sides of the divide being addressed. Both sides need to give scripture its rightful place as the foundational revelation of truth, against which any belief and practice can be measured. That does NOT mean that all truth is contained within the pages of scripture, but it does mean that anything inconsistent with scripture is NOT truth.

There is a need for honesty – to be honest to ourselves – and truly examine our lives and beliefs alongside scripture. To put aside assumptions and take the time to search the scriptures; not through the lens of someone else’s teaching, not through a theological system, but going to scripture itself, scripture alone with the aid of the Holy Spirit. But we do it with the intention and desire to find Jesus and what HE wants of us. Both the scriptures and the Holy Spirit testify of Him.

Unfortunately the division I’ve been addressing is being fuelled by erroneous beliefs, practices and attitudes FROM BOTH SIDES, things that compromise Christian gospel witness.

That has to change – and maybe THAT is what God intends to address through the current world situation.

But will we take the opportunity to use this time of isolation and disruption wisely?

Beware of the “Ministry” of Division (part 1)

 

… if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (2 Cor 5)NIV

What does the ministry of reconciliation involve?

Firstly, God reconciling the world to Himself in Christ, which starts with Jesus’ ministry, sacrifice, and resurrection.

Secondly it continues in the ministry that Jesus commissioned His followers to carry on after His return to the Father: the commission revealed through the instructions He gave prior to that return.

Each gospel gives a variation of those instructions with different levels of detail. Sadly they are instructions that seem to have mostly been ignored, dismissed, reduced, denied or otherwise avoided by most who profess to be followers of Jesus.

Matthew 28:

Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.

Mark 16:

He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned. And these signs will accompany those who believe: In my name they will drive out demons; they will speak in new tongues; they will pick up snakes with their hands; and when they drink deadly poison, it will not hurt them at all; they will place their hands on sick people, and they will get well.”

John 14:

Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it

John 20:

Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive anyone’s sins, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”

From Luke in Acts 1:

But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.

Then we should see the example of the early church throughout the book of Acts, and how Paul often linked preaching the gospel with power, and confirming signs.

Do ANY of those describe anything resembling the ministry and experience of the majority of churches and those within the church today?

Sadly, I’d have to say no.
And even more sadly, most professing believers seem to be okay with that and find it acceptable.

Recently I’ve had my attention brought to some ministries who are doing what they can to go into the their communities, sharing the gospel with those outside of church walls, and are taking the other parts of Jesus’ commission regarding healing and deliverance seriously. And they are reportedly seeing people healed and delivered, and as a result turning to Jesus, whose reality has been confirmed to them through the signs they’ve observed or experienced.

Not long ago I posted videos related to two of those people. One of the videos showed a practical example, praying for the sick and seeing them healed. The other was more teaching related, with a very sound scriptural foundation, given through countless bible references for viewers to search the scriptures for themselves. That teaching was followed by a practical application of what was learned, with people testifying to being healed after the teaching was put into practice.

Those two videos caused a great deal of controversy, because of the alleged “associations” the men featured had with others – in other words, they were covered with a broad-brush application of guilt because of friendships, acquaintances, or links to people with whom they’d shared a preaching engagement.

For  more than a decade and a half I took that broad-brush approach myself; dismissing anyone who had a hint of being linked to any kind of group or individual with questionable practices and theology.
My recent situation has made me seriously reconsider that attitude, an attitude I’m now seeing as being a “ministry” of division.

In trying to convince me that the men in those videos should be avoided, I was sent links to articles “proving” they were involved in very dubious things – except, for the most part the articles offered no evidence, just unsubstantiated claims and rumours. Even worse, there were also misrepresentations and outright lies. Again the strongest reason for “condemnation” came down to some people they were linked to rather than what they themselves were saying and doing in the posted videos.

As a result I had to reconsider any trust I may have had in many of those people and groups who would call themselves “discernment ministries”, finding there was little if any discernment involved in anything they were doing or the conclusions they were drawing.

Discernment is something believers need, probably more than ever.
But, discernment is NOT gained through trawling web-pages for information allegedly exposing the wrong doings and wrong teachings of others. It’s not gained through spending hours of dissecting every word or phrase uttered by someone targeted for exposure to find a problem statement or claim. And its not a demonstration of discernment when someone is dismissed because of who they may know or have met with.

Discernment comes through searching the scriptures for ourselves, with the help of the Holy Spirit who inspired the writers of scripture. Discernment comes through believing scripture and DOING what scripture directs us to do instead of turning to theological opinions and teachings that try to explain why scripture doesn’t really mean what it actually says according to its context.

Genuine discernment is needed so we can assess ALL teachings and practices no matter what or who the source may be – whether it comes from a favoured teacher or from someone we’ve been advised to avoid. Ultimately WE are responsible for what WE accept or reject, so it would be wise to make informed judgements that align with scripture and not rely on potentially biased opinion from others.

Genuine discernment also allows us to respond with a lot more grace and wisdom towards others than outright broad-brush judgements allow. Genuine discernment can make room for us to learn from others and recognise the value of what they are doing when and if they are conforming to scripture, and it allows us to recognise and reject anything that IS genuinely erroneous, without seeing the need to reject everything they say and do.

This goes both ways – we should all make room in our lives to learn from others and to shape our own Christian lives to conform more and more with God’s requirements of us. But while it goes both ways, to date I’ve seen the aggression and condemnation has mostly been going in one direction, often from groups and people who dismiss the ongoing validity of Spiritual gifts and miraculous signs to accompany the gospel.

While charismatic groups have often ventured into questionable, extra-biblical territory, it is no less the case that those opposing them have virtually erased large sections of scripture from their bibles by seeing them as being no longer valid, as if the canonical compilation of the very scriptures that record them have nullified the gifts and miracles that the Bible itself teaches ARE and will continue to be valid.
Which of those groups present the greater problem? Those who add to scripture or those who subtract from it by disempowering the gospel?

I’d suggest that BOTH are equally a danger to themselves and to anyone who makes undiscerning judgements about their teachings. Both sides need to find reconciliation with God and each other through respect for, and obedience to, His word.

Have I wandered off track with the latter part of this article?

NO!

To replace the current “ministry of division” there is an urgent need for the “ministry of reconciliation”. There is a need for reconciliation between believers, that can only come with the putting off of prejudices and favoured theologies and putting on love – for each other and for the Word of God.

(To be continued)

Righteousness and Divine Nature

At the beginning of the week I woke with the following statement in my mind:

For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him. (2 Cor 5)NKJV

I couldn’t think why that particular phrase of scripture was fixed in my thoughts.
Later in the day, I decided to look it up and see if its context helped me to understand why.

I highlight the parts that seemed to standout as I read it with that phrase in mind.

For the love of Christ compels us, because we judge thus: that if One died for all, then all died; and He died for all, that those who live should live no longer for themselves, but for Him who died for them and rose again. Therefore, from now on, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we have known Christ according to the flesh, yet now we know Him thus no longer.

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new. Now all things are of God, who has reconciled us to Himself through Jesus Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation, that is, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not imputing their trespasses to them, and has committed to us the word of reconciliation.

Now then, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were pleading through us: we implore you on Christ’s behalf, be reconciled to God. For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.

I’ll look at the highlighted parts in reverse order, mainly because my initial search centred on the last sentence. “For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him”.

I’m sure that we struggle to grasp the implication of that statement about the exchange that took place. Jesus became sin – OUR sin – so that we could become the righteousness of God. The proviso being that we access that exchange through being IN HIM.

When we are IN HIM we are beneficiaries of the righteousness of God instead of continuing to be subject to the destructive power and penalty of the sin that was ours. This is MUCH more than merely being forgiven, and having sin covered over. Our sinful nature is exchanged for God’s own righteousness. I have to wonder – what should that mean, what should occur in our lives as the outcome?

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.

I’m sure we are familiar with that quote, but do we actually believe it? Or has familiarity stopped us thinking about what it actually says and means?

If we are IN CHRIST (that phrase again) we are totally different in every way to what we were before we came to Christ. “ALL things have become new”. And yet we carry on as if nothing has happened apart from having our name written in the book of life ensuring a place in heaven after death.

However, like any other benefit, that exchange is not automatic, but is obtained through faith: that is believing God’s word and acting on it. We need to put off the old and put on the new.

put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness. (Eph 4) NIV

To be like God – some might balk at that suggestion because wasn’t that the claim of Satan in the garden? That eating of the forbidden fruit would make Adam and Eve “like God”?
Ironically, they were already like God, created in His image, and their sin actually made them less like God. So being “created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness” as per that verse, would be a restoration to God’s original intention for mankind, something to be received and embraced, not a satanic perversion to resist.

But how can we consider ourselves to have any chance of being like God? Aren’t we just poor sinners saved by grace – far from godliness?

That’s what Satan would like us to continue thinking. Such thoughts paralyse us and keep us locked into our past instead of being motivated by the changes God has made in our lives.

We have to stop seeing our old selves as our continuing reality and start seeing ourselves as God has made us, and by faith start to live as if we believe God and His word.

The third of the statements I’ve highlighted states WHY we’ve been made new, and why we need to live as if we really believed we have been made the righteousness of God in Him.

…those who live should live no longer for themselves, but for Him who died for them and rose again.

What does that mean?
How should that impact the lives we live?
Does it mean we can merely go on living as we always lived – but with the “assurance” of heaven after death?

Or SHOULD it mean that our lives will be significantly changed? That our priorities will be totally different? That we make sure we know HIS will for our lives and start DOING it, genuinely living our lives for Him according to the changes the new creation brings about within us?

His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature, having escaped the corruption in the world caused by evil desires.

For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. But whoever does not have them is nearsighted and blind, forgetting that they have been cleansed from their past sins. (2 Peter 1) NIV

Maybe the strongest sense I’ve developed so far is a realisation of how little the church seems to understand about God’s righteousness, His provision of it, and what it means when scripture makes it clear that it is now OURS.

One thing that is becoming more and more clear in my mind is how insipid our experience – and maybe our expectations – of the Christian life actually are.
I remember how, decades ago, I was frustrated by the vast gulf between what I read of the early church in scripture, and what I saw in the church then. While the churches I attended all professed belief in miracles, healing, and other Spiritual gifts, they were notably absent in practice. And despite the professed belief, that absence didn’t seem to worry the majority.

Today I not only see that absence continues, but I’ve seen how expectation, and faith for change are barely existent. I have seen how the very basic, foundational aspects of Jesus’ commission to the church to preach the gospel, with supporting signs, are being dismissed. In some cases, the extent of explaining and excusing their absence, come perilously close to calling Jesus a liar. I suspect that in some cases, that line has actually been crossed.

Maybe the starting point for change – for those who actually desire it – is to start believing and living according to God’s word – giving it more than vain lip-service.

Giving Careful Thought to the Paths…Update

It’s now three months since I started this journey.

Along the way I’ve taken a number of steps to build my faith to ensure the medical profession’s prognosis is proven wrong. Doctors don’t have answers. They can offer no hope, but as I’ve discovered, and tried to share, God desires a different outcome to the one they have predicted and I’m looking forward to a complete healing and a powerful testimony of what God has done.

I will not die
But live
And I will proclaim what the Lord has done (Ps 118)

The basic steps taken have been an increased engagement with scripture, a more consistent prayer life, and return to Christian fellowship. Every step has been productive.

Scripture: In three months I’ve read through the New Testament twice and have started a third time. I have also read most of the Old Testament, with half of Psalms left, as well as all of Numbers and Proverbs. I skipped the difficult Leviticus and Numbers earlier on to make sure my reading momentum was maintained when I needed it most, but have just completed Leviticus, a book I found surprisingly rewarding, in particular chapter 26.

Along the way I have taken a lot of notes in my Bible. For that I had bought a wide margined edition of the NIV that I’d seen reviewed in a Christian publication as well as a favoured reading bible (see here for details). I’ve loved the process of note taking, finding and recording connections between different books to build up a more complete understanding of what I’m reading.

While my first readings used the NIV and TNIV, for my third reading I’ve been using a New King James Version to see if it gives me a different perspective. I was able to find a single column “reader’s” edition that places chapter and verse numbers in the margins instead of within the text itself, where they can often disrupt reading by creating unnatural and unnecessary interruptions to the flow of scripture. With that feature it is similar to the TNIV that I’ve used as my reading bible to date. I also have other translations as references if I feel that something I’ve read needs a bit more clarity. I continue to transfer notes into the wide margin NIV as I read the NKJV.

Prayer: This perhaps had a slower start than bible reading. The initial breakthrough came after seeing a few YouTube videos about prayer binders – a kind of prayer journal created and used to give some kind of order and discipline to prayer time.

Gloria has really taken off with her prayer journal, initially enjoying the craft aspect of creating pages for various categories of prayer, she now has a daily prayer time in our “prayer closet” (craft room/ office) and often adds a second or third session during the day when she is led to pray more.

My own journal is divided into sections for Praise (where I have a few relevant Psalms), Repentance, Personal needs, Prayer for Gloria, Family Members, Friends (and enemies), MIssions and Ministries, Local Community… The different categories and the notes within help to keep prayer focused and make sure I don’t forget to pray for those who have asked for prayer – or I have promised to pray for.

At first I relied heavily on the journal, but recently, while it is still used, I’ve been praying more without it (adding to the use of the journal, not doing away with it). Like Gloria, I also find myself being led to go back to the “prayer closet” again later in the day.

Fellowship:  This has perhaps been the most difficult step. We’d had problems with churches we’d previously attended, experiencing the opposite extremes of traditions. I didn’t know where we could go with few other options in our town.

But I found a small congregation meeting on Sunday afternoons. They are far from perfect, and in the past I wouldn’t have lasted more than a week or two before giving up on them, but it seemed clear that the Lord wants us there despite disagreeing with some of what they believe, and despite their clear devotion to some questionable “ministries”.

One thing the Lord drew to my attention was:

A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.

This was not a suggestion or a request. Jesus makes it clear it is a command. I was also made aware of what “as I have loved you” meant – when I considered what Jesus tolerated from His disciples, from lack of faith, to some very wrong attitudes and thinking. If we are to love other believers in the same way as He loved His disciples, we’ll find ourselves having to overlook their shortcomings, and also have the hope they’ll overlook ours.

“Effortless Healing”

I suspect that some people will reject the teaching within this video, backed by many bible references, because of one reference to Bill Johnson near the beginning.

I wonder, how much bible does it take to cancel out one mention of a word definition given in a Bill Johnson book.