Discipleship, works of the flesh and confusion about kingdoms

My friend Steve visits this blog and occasionally shares a comment or two regarding topics being addressed.
We share a concern about the increasing politicisation of “evangelicals” and how it compromises Christian witness.

Recently he has written about his experience of seeing someone, whose views he had respected, take  a detour down an increasingly extreme political path.

See Steve’s blog post here:

https://cross-purposes.blogspot.com/2018/06/why-delete-link.html

What Steve describes matches my own experience of seeing professing believers stray into partisan-political territory and before long into beliefs that have little relationship to reality and NOTHING in common with the truth of Jesus Christ.

 

Steve writes:

It’s a breaking-point, for me, when people choose to assert a “reality” contrary to the one God created and sustains, in which rational people believe and live.

I’ve lost count of how many friendships I’ve lost through those friends becoming increasingly politicised, and justifying that increasingly political partisanship with questionable use of biblical references. While they may have thought their interpretation of scripture supported the direction political ideology was taking them, they paid no attention to the very ungodly attitudes and behaviour they adopted as a result.

It became increasingly noticeable to me around the time of the election of Obama as president, and the blatant Obama-hatred that dates back to that time continues today. (Steve’s blog post gives an example that he has seen from one “evangelical”).

[His]claim that violent pro-Obama riots are rampant, and created to bring about a “leftist” dictatorship, doesn’t seem to match up with any reality this side of Breitbart or World Net Daily’s headlines.

I think there’s no coincidence in the fact that Obama was the first non-white president; that his name was unusual, even to the extent of having the middle name Hussein (Saddam references anyone?). I recall one of those lost friends insisted on highlighting the HUSSEIN every time he referred to Obama. And of course Obama’s dad was a foreigner, a black man, a one time Muslim. All guaranteed to add fuel to the fire.

I don’t recall any other president being subjected to so much abuse and hatred, especially from those claiming to be followers of Christ. All along I’ve suggested that with Donald Trump, God gave the American evangelical community the president who most closely reflects the attitudes* they’ve displayed in their antagonism to Obama. Effectively the Trump adoration prominent among “evangelicals” is just a natural progression of the problem that began with the hostility towards the previous president, a hostility some still retain (confirmed by the example given in Steve’s article). It’s a problem originating from confusion and ignorance leading to misguided priorities and allegiances; creating a hybrid of patriotism and religion that is mistaken for Christian commitment and a distorted understanding of the Kingdom of God.

 

* Now the works of the flesh are evident, which are: adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lewdness, idolatry, sorcery, hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, heresies, envy, murders, drunkenness, revelries, and the like; of which I tell you beforehand, just as I also told you in time past, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God

Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, My servants would fight, so that I should not be delivered to the Jews; but now My kingdom is not from here.”

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Most Dangerous Place to Follow Jesus

North Korea: The Hardest Place To Follow Jesus.
This has been the most dangerous country to be a Christian for 17 years. North Koreans are forced to worship the Kim dynasty, and nothing else. Anyone with links to Christianity is arrested, tortured and even killed. Despite this, the underground church is growing, with an estimated 300,000 Christians in North Korea.

 

https://www.opendoors.org.au/persecuted-christians/world-watch-list/north-korea

Thorny Thoughts Related to Grace

Yesterday I re-blogged a post from the Anti-Itch Meditation blog that expressed some of Jeff Weddle’s concerns about the way grace has been misrepresented in commonly held doctrines. I also have a few things I want to say about that topic.

 

For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.  For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.

People love to quote the PARTS of scripture that seem to support the doctrinal stance they prefer – often ignoring the very next sentences. Therefore, it is common to view the above quote from Ephesians 2 with an emphasis on “not of ourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast”. As a result, a passive understanding of “grace” and salvation is developed, promoting the view that grace not only makes works unnecessary, but they are made to seem counterproductive, even harmful, leading to boasting and claiming credit that isn’t ours, and robbing God of His glory.

However continuing on, the next sentence of that quote doesn’t fit with that passive definition of grace. Salvation doesn’t divorce us from works, or make works redundant, unnecessary or even detrimental to our Christian lives. The second sentence of the quote states clearly that our purpose as followers of Jesus is to do the good works that God has prepared for us, not only to do them, but to WALK IN them.

Grace is not intended to lead to passivity, but grace is intended to prepare and equip us to live effective Christian lives. As an example of that equipping, I want to repost the following. It’s something I posted in a slightly different form on this blog in November 2013. .

_____

A few thoughts about Paul’s “thorn in the flesh”…

Despite common assumptions, there is no indication that Paul’s thorn in the flesh was a health issue – the scriptures describe it as a messenger from Satan sent to buffet Paul.

Paul had the understanding that God COULD remove it and would possibly be willing to remove it and therefore was able to ask for it to be removed.

After seemingly having his request rejected, Paul was open enough to God’s Spirit to seek and hear God’s reason for the non-removal. He didn’t merely assume God wasn’t in the thorn-removal business.

2 Cor 12 spells out the nature of this “thorn in the flesh” and God’s revealed reason for not personally removing it:

“…because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations [given to Paul], a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”

The reason for the non-removal of Paul’s thorn was because its presence prevented him from becoming conceited (proud) due to the revelation he’d been given.

God told Paul that His grace was sufficient, but sufficient for what? Sufficient for Paul to endure, or sufficient to equip Paul to personally deal with that messenger from Satan?

An interesting parallel dealing with similar issues of pride, humility and Satanic harassment can be found in James 4:6-7. I find a comparison between the two scripture passages suggests a viable answer to my question above about sufficiency.

“God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble. Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.”

Receiving grace from God does not lead to passive submission to the world around us or to circumstances, or to the devil or his messengers.

Our starting point is submission – submission to GOD – then God gives His grace. The grace that is sufficient, grace that equips with the power of Christ, enabling us to live the life and do the works HE has prepared for us, freeing us from anything that would hinder us.

We are not saved by grace in order to remain weak, ineffective sinners crippled by  “total depravity”. Salvation by grace brings about change – we are created in Christ Jesus, “a new creation, old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.” Created in Christ Jesus for good works.

 

 

 

Grace and Purifying Yourself (Recommended article from Jeff Weddle)

Please follow the link to the full article at the end of this excerpt.

It is just one of many posts from Jeff that I could have re-blogged recently.

Note that after I re-blogged this, Jeff has made a small amendment to the beginning of his second paragraph. It now starts:

“The Bible never says sin is OK to do.  ‘Should we sin that grace may abound? In no way.’”

anti-itch meditation

People who emphasize grace do so while de-emphasizing human responsibility. For some reason, because of grace, people assume everything is OK to do.

The Bible does not say this. “Should we sin that grace may abound? In no way.” Grace teaches us to deny ungodliness and worldly lusts so we would live soberly, righteously, and godly in this present world.

Grace changes you. But grace’s change is not automatic. We are told not to take the grace of God in vain–to take grace to no profit, to have it do you no positive good.

That would be dumb.

If grace is as great as everyone keeps saying it is, why is our obedience to God so pathetic?

Because we’re not learning grace the way the Bible teaches it. We think grace means my sin is OK, change isn’t necessary, good works might even be opposed to grace! “If it’s grace…

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Practicality vs Airy Fairy

So much Christian discourse I come across seems to be airy-fairy head-in-the-clouds stuff.
The faith is so often “over-spiritualised” in a way that has nothing to do with everyday living or the here and now. Too often present day realities are trivialised and covered over with a religious veneer that has little if anything in common with liveable experience.

Some of it may sound spiritual, dressed up in biblicalesque language, expressions that seem like they ought to be meaningful, coming from respected people with a reputation for being Godly.

We can feel a little intimidated at times. In awe of them. If only we could attain a fraction of their understanding, their experience, their faith…

But how often do we step back and REALLY consider what we are hearing and/or reading?

The old story about the Emperor’s new clothes comes to mind. Is there really any substance to a lot of what gets passed off as Christian thought and teaching?

Should words actually have meaning that we can grasp? Or should we expect “spiritual” meaning to always be a little beyond our reach?

Why not test what we hear, what we are taught, by its ability to be understood and put into practice?

James gave the instruction to “be doers of the word, and not hearers only.”

How can we expected to be a doer if understanding is beyond our reach, or if understanding doesn’t lead to practical possibilities?

In The Beginning God Created…

Five words to end all arguments about what can be considered right or wrong.

“In the beginning God created”.

What follows those words in the first chapters of Genesis tells us what He created, and thereby stamps His seal of ownership and authority over everything that He created.

Those words give the overall context to the whole of human history (past, present and future).

…by Him all things were created that are in heaven and that are on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers. All things were created through Him and for Him.

Like it or not, we are ultimately HIS.

Like it or not He created mankind for a purpose of HIS choosing.

Like or not He has the right to deal with any part of HIS creation that fails to fulfil the purpose for which HE made it, in any way HE chooses.

Right and wrong are not determined by society, by culture, or by popular opinion.

The Creator alone determines what is acceptable or not within His creation.

Stranger No More by Annahita Parsan

It wasn’t what I expected.
The flood of Moslem refugees across Europe was constantly in the news two or three years ago, and most books I’ve recently seen about refugees have been about those escaping from Syria.

I thought this would be the same, but instead the story dates back to the late 1970s, early 80s and the Iranian Revolution.

Annahita Parsan’s abusive husband Asghar found himself on the wrong side of the new Islamic government in Iran after the Ayatollah Khomeini deposed the Shah of Iran. Together they escaped Iran via Turkey, where they were imprisoned and brutally treated. Eventually they were freed and allowed to move on to Denmark as refugees.

Despite the potential for a new life, Asghar’s violence against his wife increased in frequency and intensity and there seemed to be no escape for her.

But a seed was sown when visitors to her door gave Annahita a bible in Farsi.

Ever since I had been given the Farsi Bible, I had picked it up and prayed from time to time. The worse Asghar’s attacks had gotten, the more I had prayed. I found that it helped, much like drinking a glass of cool water took away the dryness in my mouth on a hot night.

She started to become aware of ideas about God that were different to what she had “learned in a mosque”.

There it was all about fear and rules and the difficulty of earning a route to paradise. I had never thought of God being interested in helping me, let alone being with me all the time. I liked the idea. It gave me courage.

In time that courage helped her to take steps towards freedom for herself and her children. Freedom from the violence of her husband and towards the freedom of a new life of faith.

Annahita Parsan now works within churches in Sweden, ministering to former Muslim refugees.