Category Archives: Faith

Wasted Palm Branches

palmsIn many traditional Christian churches, Palm Sunday is celebrated with the waving of palm leaves and some even re-enact the laying of palms on the ground.  It reminds people of the day Jesus rode in on a donkey (fulfilling a prophecy, of course) and the masses waved palm branches and placed them, along with their coats (ever wonder why they don’t call it “Coat Sunday”?  I guess it just doesn’t have a good ring to it.), on the ground before Jesus, as the shouted, “Hosanna!”  Well, perhaps that scene was not what we have made it out to be.

Let’s see if you see what I see.  Your input is welcome.

Many teach that these people were worshiping Jesus, even though they were the same ones that wanted Barrabas when given the choice.  I even once heard that they “forgot” Who it was they worshiped with the laying of palms and decided they wanted the political prisoner released.

I don’t believe they were worshiping the Messiah, though.

Well, at least not the Messiah they thought they were worshiping.

There was a preconceived idea about the Messiah.  The Pharisees had their version. Many of the people had theirs, much of which was taught by the leadership.  Honestly, it was more of a political version than the one Jesus said He is.  The general idea was that the Messiah would come as a leader or a ruler and use His power to dispel the unwanted government(s).

The Pharisees were seemingly disappointed when they got to see Jesus and hear His words.  They had no problem with the miracles, really.  Even His popularity was not a problem at first, had He fit their ideal Messiah.  As time went on, His popularity did become an issue, as people were more drawn to Jesus and His teachings than what the Pharisees were doling out.

The people thought they had that Messiah that would put the Roman government out. They probably even wanted the oppressive Pharisees out, too.  They were ready for someone to rescue them from the system.  For that, they could shout, “Hosanna!”  The all powerful Jesus was their man.

Then, they changed their minds.  Jesus was captured and arrested.  Now, the Jewish leaders could swoop in and start manipulating the crowd.

It was the chief priests and elders who got the crowd riled up against Jesus.  Rather than reasoning or thinking for themselves, they allowed the false rationale and spread it around.  They started to believe Barabbas would save them from the Roman Empire.

Interesting thing about Barabbas…bar means, son of and abba means father.  Son of the father.  His name was fully, Jesus Barabbas.  Or, Jesus, son of the Father.  He had an identification that bore a resemblance of a savior.

In Matthew 27, verse 17, we see a distinction when Pilate asked the people who they wanted…“Whom do you want me to release for you: Barabbas, or Jesus who is called Christ?”  Basically, do you want this Jesus, or Jesus you have been calling Christ/Messiah/Savior?  This same crowd was just yelling “Hosanna!” about Christ, now suddenly wanted the one they thought would save them from what they thought they needed saving from.

Shall I get current eventful here, for a moment?  I hope you don’t mind.

This past election revealed much about a good portion of the Church.  Whether these people would admit it or not, Jesus is not enough for them.  Not only do they have Pharisee-esque rules, but want to impose them on others   They want legislation to force others to conform to rules they think should be adhered to.  Then, they voted for  – and told others to vote for – someone they thought would bring that legislation they so desire.

However, Jesus changes people from the inside, out.  He gives grace.  He shows love.  He is love.  When He came here, He came to serve.  He did not come to kick out Rome and establish a Theocracy.  This is what the Jewish leaders and many of the people wanted. Soon, they realized that Jesus was not about to be what they wanted.

They wanted Barabbas.

Barabbas was an insurrectionist who wound up in prison for murder during an uprising. He wanted Rome out.  The Pharisees wanted Rome out, because they wanted to rule with a self-righteous iron fist.  They did not like Jesus teaching and acting in a manner unlike the Messiah they had decided should be.

It seems that Barabbas was one who wanted to “make Israel great, again”.

In reality, Barabbas was not able to give them what they wanted, anyway. Rome continued to rule for years, afterward.

To me, the whole palm waving celebration is useless.  It was not intended to praise the real Jesus, but to praise their idea of Jesus.  His “triumphal entry” was not all that it has been cooked up to be.  While the King really was riding in right in front of them, they did not really see Him as the Messiah or the King of kings.  In Matthew 21, we see that they thought of Jesus as just a prophet from a nearby town…

10 When Jesus came to Jerusalem, everyone in the city was excited and asked, “Who can this be?”
11 The crowd answered, “This is Jesus, the prophet from Nazareth in Galilee.”

They respected Him as a great prophet.  It seems they did not recognize Him as the promised Messiah.  They were laying down palm leaves and their coats for a revered prophet.  Yes, they did acknowledge Him as the Son of David.  But, did they see Who it really was, riding right there in front of them?

Peter knew Who He was.

The Samaritan woman knew Who He was.

Zaccheus knew Who He was.

Mary Magdalene knew Who He was.

The crowd, however, saw a great prophet.  They thought this prophet might be the guy to deliver them from Rome.  They wanted the Messiah that would heal and do miracles. They also wanted the Messiah that would rule and reign and they thought that would or, at least, should happen on Earth in that present time.

Nowadays, people still have a limited view of the Savior.  Not just personally, as what Jesus does for us as individuals.  But, also our perception of His dealings with the rest of the planet.  We want Him to lay down the law and remove the lawbreakers.  We expect Him to establish a Christian Theocracy, here on Earth.

Especially in the United States…the so-called, “Christian Nation”.

Well, no.  I already have an article with my thoughts on that.

Jesus did not come to alter the system or take it over with the Ten Commandments as the standard.  “For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost” (Luke 19:10), is one main reason He came.

Yet, here, many among our ranks want to establish a Christian Nation, filled with Mosaic level rules and law.  Is the Jesus we read about enough?  Is the Jesus we claim to know enough?

Or, do we want or own version of Barabbas?  Do we have our own idea of Who the Messiah is?  Maybe we have some inflated idea of who we are in Him and still want to plaster His name on what we do in order to justify our plans and ideas.

It is time to get back with the Savior Jesus.

We don’t need another great prophet.  We need “Jesus, called the Christ”.

We don’t need another Barabbas.  We need the one and only Savior.

 

 

 

 

 

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The Profession Obsession or the Confession Direction

I have a long time friend, Mike, I have known since we served together in the Navy back in the early eighties.  He and I have managed to keep in touch and we talk together frequently, mostly by text messaging.  Besides pre-pubescent level insanity befitting two guys in their mid fifties, we share epiphanies and inspirations and often learn from one another.  Here is the sum of what Mike opened with recently:

What direction is love in your life?  If your theology hinges on your love for God, then the blood and the cross eventually take second place.  This can produce a compulsion to work and brag about your love for God and thinking you have “levels of faith”.

Interesting.  Wouldn’t you say?

loudmouthSo much of the Church has gone the way of professing their love for God and the result is a misinterpretation of what it means to love God.  If it becomes strictly a matter of us loving Him, then the Cross means nothing.

It starts with the Cross…His love for us.

We read, “Love the Lord with all you heart, all your soul and all your mind.”  However, this has become something of a doctrine of our effort toward salvation and approval by God.  It is as if they promote a gauge of how much a person loves God, which is measured in words and deeds.  In other words, the more work you do and the louder you can shout and profess your love for God, the more approved you are and the greater the proof of your salvation.

If you ask me, this sounds tiresome.  How do these “professors” and their faithful followers keep up with this?  Well, it’s like that commercial for a brand of anti-depression medication, where the people carry a paper smiley-face mask with them.  They put on a facade.

Fake it?  Yes.  Put on a happy face.  Therefore, all this profession is a facade in front of others along with an attempt to impress God.

Impress God?  As if.

How can anyone impress the Creator of the Universe?  Peasants.

His love for us, however, outshines anything we can even attempt to do to impress Him. He isn’t impressed with us or anything we do.  He loves us.

Law is profession.handup

It takes no faith to profess something.  You can shout anything you want from whatever vast knowledge or belief you may or may not have.  Profession takes no faith.  There are plenty of pulpit-pounding purveyors of various doctrines out there who profess stuff they don’t understand or necessarily believe. Confession, however, does.

Love is confession

We confess that He loves us.  Since we know He loves us, we love Him in return.

Parents, your children’s love for you is out of response to your love for them.  You don’t demand or command that they love you.  They love you because they know you love them.

How much more does the Father love us?

The danger of enforcing profession.

When leaders profess love for God and enforce (encourage?) the profession of love for God by others, what happens is individual efforts to impress God with our love for Him.  What we may see is people straining to reach God, singing and shouting loudly during “worship service”, as if the louder and more exuberant they become, the more obvious it will be to God how much they love Him.  Many of these people are insecure in the idea of God’s love for them.

Another, probably bigger danger is the judgmental statements that start with, “If you truly love the Lord…”.  This forces people to profess and/or prove their love for the Lord.  It results in the facade of behavioral modification.

God.  Loves.  You.

Learn that.  Agree with it.  Believe it.  Know it.  Take refuge in that.  Just sit back and know that He loves you.  Know that His work on the Cross is sufficient.  Did He not say, “It is finished.”?  We don’t need to stress and strain or prove our love for Him…He loves us, no matter what.

When we embrace the fact that He loves us, our love for Him follows.  Then, we begin to act on that love, when He calls, commands or speaks to us…and we obey because we love Him. We do for Him out of our love for Him and our love for Him is in response to His love for us.

Knowing how loved we are prompts, propels and compels us to love and serve Him.

A very busy man in ministry was once asked how he did all that he did, with the travel and ridiculous schedule.  His reply, “I know that I know that God loves me.”

Let’s not gauge our spirituality or our standing by how much (we think) we love God.  Let’s not measure how much we love God by what we do, how we do it or how we behave.  This is backward.  Our love is incomplete, impure and has its share of conditions and reservations.

We need to go back to the Cross.

We need to remember how completely and unconditionally He loves us.

1 John 4:10 (NIV), This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.

This gives us a good starting point toward loving Him.  First – and always – His love, proven at the Cross. Then, our love for Him follows.  It is more organic than demanded.

 

 

 

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The Worldly Church

“There’s a stylized, bastardized Christianity that many politicians and celebrity pastors have peddled for years; one that has slowly but surely become our American template. It’s a bloated, opulent, consumerist, aggressive, nationalistic, might is right amalgam that really doesn’t resemble Jesus much at all.” – John Pavlovitz (johnpavlovitz.com)

In the quest to be what actually results in the above description, church leadership has stooped to tactics which include lying, manipulating and over-sensationalizing.  They have misinterpreted scripture and misrepresented the Gospel. They either don’t see it, or don’t care, since they often get what they want.

If you have to lie, manipulate or over-sensationalize in order to prove what you say is right or true, then you have nothing to stand on.  Besides, this is how the world works, not how things get done in God’s Kingdom.

But, there is an audience.  A flock.  A band of followers.moneypreacher

They listen.  They cheer.  They give money.

Nickles and noses.  A faithful audience that hands over money.

They make it all sound so good and specific scriptures (often out of context or ‘clobber’ verses) are used and then, they place Jesus’ Name on it and it is all accepted as right and true.

Not all churches or ministries are like this.  But, way too many in the US are. They could be a small congregation of 30 or a massive mega-church. Tactics are used to hold those people there, control/manipulate them and make sure they give money.

Rather than being “transformed by the renewing of the mind”, it is a system which would act in a manner reflecting the world system of kings and superstars…that is, being “conformed to this world”. To use manipulating tactics to attract and keep people is the world system way.  To do all of this for big money is greedy and selfish.  To aspire for worldly treasures…massive salaries, huge and opulent buildings, power, notoriety and huge followings are all earthly treasures, even if they are dressed up as “Kingdom building”.

2 Timothy 3 New International Version (NIV) 

3 But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive,disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God— having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with such people.

They are the kind who worm their way into homes and gain control over gullible women, who are loaded down with sins and are swayed by all kinds of evil desires, always learning but never able to come to a knowledge of the truth. Just as Jannes and Jambres opposed Moses, so also these teachers oppose the truth. They are men of depraved minds,who, as far as the faith is concerned, are rejected. But they will not get very far because, as in the case of those men, their folly will be clear to everyone.~

This has been taught as being about general sin and the “unsaved”.  But, if we take a closer look, it is about the Church.  Key..verse 5, “…having a form of godliness…”  Another key, verse 7, “…always learning but never able to come to a knowledge of the truth”, and “…these teachers oppose the truth”.  That last one has my attention.

I am amazed how anyone who calls themselves a teacher or a preacher would dare oppose the truth.  They appear to speak the truth, but much of what they spread has little to no truth.  Then, if confronted with what is correct and true in scripture, they deny it.  They are convinced they have all the “proof” they need for what they believe and teach.  This is what makes them, basically, dangerous.  This is why we read in verse 5, “Have nothing to do with these people”.  They draw people in, drag them down and take their money.  They do this, all the while believing they are serving the Lord.

Matthew 7:21-23 (NIV)

21 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22 Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ 23 Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!~

This is not just about the people who are “traditional Christians” or pastors by career only, nor is it about the ritualistic religious. An example of the subject of this verse in plain view, right on the television. Yes, the beloved “televangelist”.  Not all people of this ilk are on TV, but these guys are the epitome of what we see in this verse.  They often use false prophecies, sensational End-Time Eschatology topics, as well as, rhetoric and “clobber scriptures” to take their stands against abortion and homosexuality.  They use fear tactics to sway people to the altar and shaming tactics to convince people toward certain behaviors.

controlcartoonThe result is followers, which brings power and, often, massive amounts of money, which further feeds the power.  Meanwhile, they are convinced they are doing the will of God, pointing out that they are doing His will.  Often, however, their speech and actions show some things that are not Christ-like, at all.

They use Jesus’ name as a rubber stamp that they have permission to use on whatever they feel should be God’s will.  They stamp it on the opulent buildings, the huge salaries, the judgmental statements and messages and even the false prophecies.  If they want a specific candidate for office, they put Jesus’ name on that, too.  If they want people to behave a certain way, His name (and a good deal of shaming) is spoken.

By the way…using Jesus’ name to garner favor or to persuade God or people is using His name in vain.  I believe the Commandments these guys blast at people has something in there about that.

There is a faction of the Church, I believe, which will rise up.  They will not rise up in power or come with convincing words.  They will not seek to build huge ministries or massive buildings.  Their goal will not include having a title, a following, a huge salary or a lavish lifestyle.  They will bring one thing.

The Gospel.  The Good News.

Their lives will reflect what we read about Jesus in His Earthly ministry.

Love will be the nucleus of what they say and do.

They will seek to be the Jesus people need.

They will expose truth to and about these modern day Pharisees.

They should be all of us.

We need to be Jesus to a lost and hurting world.

Love should be our nucleus.

As it should be.

As we walk together.

 

 

 

 

 

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Trust and Let Go

If you don’t mind, I am going to be a little honest, here.

I don’t trust, easily.  I have lost some trust in certain people – sales people, doctors, politicians.  Okay…those are kinda standard.  Some people have basically lost their trust – former employers and employees, former pastors and a few family members.  My parents even lost a little trust.  I also admit, I have a tough time trusting the Lord.

Of anyone to trust, I should certainly trust the Lord…right?  But, probably because of things that went on in my life over the years, I gained a sense of wanting to control things. When we are in control, we are not trusting someone else.

But, certainly, the Lord is completely trustworthy.  He loves us unconditionally and He “works all things for good…”.  Trusting Him should be easy.  Well, when one is used to taking control of certain areas of their life, trust does not come easy.

To trust is to let go and let someone else take care of things.monkeytrap

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart…”, we read in Proverbs.  Our heart is our will.  We need to decide whether we are going to trust Him, or not.  We can examine His track record and see that He does work things for good.  Granted, it does not feel like it when things are just perpetually awful, though.

We read in Psalm 23, “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.”

This is metaphoric of a dark place.  A place where there is no sunlight.  Kinda scary.  Can’t see everything, if anything at all.  Every sound makes you jump a little, because you can’t see what it was or where it came from.

But, David takes comfort…

  • The Lord is with him
  • The Lord has a rod of protection
  • The Lord has a staff of guidance.

There are those who say that the rod is for our correction.  This makes God out to be some sort of taskmaster, stick in hand, ready to whack us once we step out of line.  Really, the rod is for protection from predators.  One fox gets too close to a sheep and…SMACK!  One snake gets caught slithering around…THUD!  It was not – no matter how convincing a teaching may sound – it was not used to break a leg of a wandering sheep (this doctrine is used by leaders who exercise control over people).

The staff is used to guide.  As the sheep herd move along, the shepherd would use the staff to tap and guide sheep back into the herd so they would stay together, as he led them to other pastures.

Back in Proverbs 3, the other part of the aforementioned verse is, “…and lean not on your own understanding.”  To lean is to find support, preferably solid, reliable support.  Our own understanding is what we see, perceive, or know (or think we know).  This really shows what trust in someone else is not.

God sees the whole picture.  He sees all the circumstances and people involved.  He knows the wisest course of action.  He knows when inaction is the better course.  When we are stuck between a rock and a hard place, we need to seek and wait on Him.

Isaiah 40:31 starts with, “They that wait upon the Lord…”  That word, wait, is the same word in Hebrew as trust.  Personally, I find that interesting.  So, if we are to wait upon the Lord, we do need to trust Him…is this right?  It seems so.

Life is full of struggles and stresses for me and my family, as with many people. But they have appeared to “blossom” in the last few years.  Just when we think we were on a good path, something comes along and seems to knock us off.  Then, what I do, is look for a way to fix it (especially when I feel guilty over being a cause for much of the circumstances), when most of it is not in my control.

Don’t get me wrong.  I believe we need to be wise and diligent about things.  But, life does give us more than we can handle.  Yes, the Lord allows more than we can handle.

We are broken people living in a broken world full of broken people.  Crap happens.  We might do it to ourselves or someone else may cause it, but consequences follow.  We are not necessarily “under attack from the enemy”, nor are we (ever) “being punished” by the Lord for something.  Whether we did something out of unwise impulsiveness, outright stupidity, selfish intentions or if someone else caused our circumstances, the Lord is fully aware and has an answer.

He sees the big picture.  Abraham knew this.  Gideon learned it.  Moses caught on.

handholdCan I just rest in Him?  Can I let go and allow Him to take care of these things that are too big for me to handle?  Am I able to allow His wisdom to speak, rather than “leaning on my own understanding”?

Maybe you struggle with trust, too.  I don’t think I am the only one out there.  But, I think, perhaps, if we keep seeking Him and not hold onto that which we think we should control, that maybe…just maybe…we might see just how He will handle things, as we walk together.

 

 

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Did You Hear That?

“Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of God.”

There are those who will hold up there Bibles and claim that we need to “spread the word” so that others might believe.

In other words, shove scripture in their faces.

If we are “lacking faith”, we must paste our faces in our Bibles, thus “hearing”, until our faith returns.  It is as if “hearing” scripture increases our faith.

Sorry, but I have a hard time with these ideas.

oldmanear.jpgThe Bible is not the “word of God”.  The Bible does not give us faith. Jesus is the living Word of God (John 1).  Even though scripture is “God-breathed”, it is not the word of God.  One good explanation – one better than I can articulate – can be found here… http://www.patheos.com/blogs/emergentvillage/2013/04/the-bible-is-not-the-word-of-god-a-polemic-against-christendom/

Let’s see if we can simply define the main points of this passage.

Faith.  Faith is believing but, as I see it, with follow-through.  When we do what God says, we are acting in faith.  It is based on what God says, first.  Faith is not proven by our works but, basically comes to life in and with our works.

Hearing.  Listening, heeding, giving consideration.  It goes into the idea of obeying, which is action.  So, where are we going with this?

The word of God.  That which God speaks to us.  His commands.  Again…the Bible is not the word of God.

God speaks.  We heed/obey.  Faith is active.ear

Believing in something means nothing, by itself.  That’s just mental assent.  Doing something based on what God tells us is faith.

(Note:  Doing what we think should be done, assuming it is His will and adding His Name to it is not faith.  It is presumptive and can be arrogant. Interestingly, Romans 14 shows us that stuff that does not come from faith…is sin.  Another topic to be tackled at another time.)

Without works (the effort, motion, obedience), faith (belief) is dead. (James 2)

Dead.headstone

It was never given life.  Like, useless.

You can’t kill faith, per se, but it has no life – no substance – if we don’t act upon what we are commanded to do or walk in what the Lord is speaking to us.

It is sort of like, believing your car runs and can get you places.  But, that belief is useless if you don’t turn the key, put the car in gear and drive.

This does not mean that we become useless in the Kingdom because we missed or refused a command by the Lord.  God will not become disappointed in us, become angry with us or disown us.  Grace doesn’t work that way.

Faith is not something we muster up.  It is not something we can measure.  It is not something someone has more of than another.  Faith comes from the Lord.  He reveals Himself and His love to us.  He proves Himself to us and we choose to trust and believe. With that, we have incentive to do and go as He says.  When we do what He tells us, we are acting in faith.

Did Abraham do what he felt he should do and ask God to bless it?  No…he did what God was speaking to him.  But, God spent years encouraging Abraham and proving Himself. Abraham did not move in blind faith, either.  He did what he did based on what he knew about God.  Then, when God spoke, Abraham “believed God”…or, he agreed with God.

Faith = belief = agreement.  From what we see about Abraham, belief = agreement.  He could agree (believe) because he had enough evidence in order to trust God.  Therefore, God’s word was heard and faith came to Abraham.  Abraham could then obey out of that faith.

Quotes about faith, from my old pal Mike…

“Obedience is born from faith, not to get to it.”

“Obedience has to have faith and hope, or it is just religious peity.”

“We don’t work toward faith, but work from it.”

(from a conversation with Michael Willingham, author of Charlie’s Spacesuit and long time friend)

Forget about faith seminars, how to grow or increase our faith, mustering up our faith or considering who has more or less faith. From what we read, faith comes from the Lord.  He speaks, we hear, then we go from there.

As for obedience, it is not like a dog obeying its master.  While there may be consequences, we will not be punished or outcast because we missed or disobeyed a directive from the Lord.  From what I see,  we do that more to one another than the Lord does to us.  Adam and Eve were not cursed for their actions, but their actions did have consequences.  Consequences are not punishment, even though they can serve as a good lesson.

Our ears toward the voice of the Lord.  He will speak, in His time.  We will know when He speaks.  He has spoken through scripture.  But, His word comes from Him, not just from some pages.  He can speak to us directly, too.  Maybe even through another person.  No matter how He speaks to us, we will know it is Him.  From that point, we have the opportunity to walk in what He says.

So, we believe in Him, He speaks and we heed and do as He says.  Seems simple enough. Now, you may read this and see where I am amiss, or maybe you have a better way of describing something I have attempted to describe, here.  I would be only too glad to see and learn from whatever anyone has to say…as we walk together.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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