Christmas Day 2020

A short prayer …

“After the season is over, the Christmas lights come down, the fragrance of pine dissipates into the air, and the Christmas music no longer plays on the radio, we may ask, ‘What happens next?’ The wonder and awe of Christmas is just a beginning. Christmas reminds us that the babe born in Bethlehem has given us purpose for living, and what happens next to us largely depends on how we embrace our Saviour, Jesus Christ, and follow Him.”

An ancient prayer…

“The feast day of your birth resembles you, Lord

Because it brings joy to all humanity.

Old people and infants alike enjoy your day.

Your day is celebrated

from generation to generation.

Kings and emperors may pass away,

And the festivals to commemorate them soon lapse.

But your festival

will be remembered until the end of time.

Your day is a means and a pledge of peace.

At your birth heaven and earth were reconciled,

Since you came from heaven to earth on that day

You forgave our sins and wiped away our guilt.

You gave us so many gifts on the day of your birth:

A treasure chest of spiritual medicines for the sick;

Spiritual light for the blind;

The cup of salvation for the thirsty;

The bread of life for the hungry.

In the winter when trees are bare,

You give us the most succulent spiritual fruit.

In the frost when the earth is barren,

You bring new hope to our souls.

In December when seeds are hidden in the soil,

The staff of life springs forth from the virgin womb.”

— St. Ephraim the Syrian

A comment …

We remember the birth of the Son Of God, Jesus, in the crib in the manger in Bethlehem

However, we need to remind ourselves that His birth is directly connected to His death on the cross.

Jesus was born to die – to die for our sins. So, without the cross, the crib really has little meaning.

And, as we look forward to His second coming we remember that He is King and so He wears a crown. 

He was born King … and He died King. He will return as King to rule forever. 

Crib — Cross — Crown – the full meaning of the birth of the Saviour that we remember this Christmas Day 2020

Christmas Eve 2020

My favourite Bible passage for Christmas Eve … often used at Christmas Eve celebrations around the world regardless of the tradition or denomination a local church belongs to. 

The Scripture: 

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness, to bear witness about the light, that all might believe through him. He was not the light, but came to bear witness about the light.

The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.

This is from the Gospel according to John, Chapter 1, verses 1-14

This is what Christmas is all about. It is more than a baby in a manger. It is God taking on human form and dwelling among us. He experienced life as a real human being and so, as God, can relate to what we face in daily life. And, He revealed to us the heart and nature of God, His Father. He knows and understands what it means to be human and to live life from our perspective. And we come to know God by knowing Jesus who is God in human flesh.

For those who believe they become the children of God. They are born again. And, God gives them a gift of eternal life

Romans 6:23b  “…the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

This gift of ‘eternal life’ is not to live forever because every person ever conceived lives forever. So He would not give us a gift of something we already have. The definition for the gift called ‘eternal life’ is found in John 17:3

“And this is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.”

This is truly what Christmas is all about … God becoming one of us so He could experience the life we live. And, God becoming one of us to revel to us who He really is – His heart for us, His nature, His character, and His plan for each one of us as His children. 

Christmas is about “knowing” God … having a personal, intimate, love relationship with the God of the universe. Nothing more and certainly nothing less.

It Is No Secret!

It seems that believers have forgotten that preaching and sharing the Gospel is the call upon the life of every believer. As Christians we may fool ourselves into believing that making money or being liked is more important than the preaching of the Gospel. Success, notoriety, and influence can call to us like sirens, pulling up into their unfulfilling whirlpools. Clever deception masquerades as authenticity, and temptations abound.

We live in a day and age when sound doctrine is being replaced with self-serving ideas devoid of spiritual truth. Churches across the world are dying because they no longer accurately preach and teach God’s Word. It is quite possible that we have arrived at the dreadful hour Paul warned his disciple Timothy about. A time “when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear” (2 Timothy 4:3)

Paul also predicted that there would be terrible times in the last days. In 2 Timothy 3:2-5, he writes, 

“For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power…”

Does any of this sound familiar to you? To love oneself is humanism. To love money is materialism. To love pleasure is hedonism. All three are major motivations in the world today. Even among believers.

Since its release in 2006, a self-help book titled The Secret has sold more than nineteen million copies worldwide and has been translated into over forty-six languages. The premise of the book is that you can create whatever you want by using the power of your mind. It is a self-centered philosophy that is actually nothing more than recycled Hinduism and New Age folly. Many people think if Oprah endorses something, that makes it okay and truth.

According to the book, to attract your perfect weight you just think it in your mind and then you become it! (Oh, if that only were true — I would have six-pack abs and a full head of hair!) The book also suggests that everyone has his or her own personal genie standing with a “your wish is my command” policy. I want to share with you what one fan of The Secret wrote — not to poke fun, but to demonstrate how far the world has come in creating substitutions for a relationship with Christ:

“The one thing that stuck with me was the Genie. I immediately felt a connection to this concept. I drew a Genie with a handsome face, a look of satisfaction and a perfect body to compliment it. He is there in my room on the wall and he is like the most perfect thing that ever happened to me! Be it exams, practicals, relationship problems, health problems, or just something I am scared of, I just tell it to Genie and believe that he will manage it somehow. After telling my problems to Genie and asking him to take care [of] it, I just stop thinking about it. Somewhere in my heart I feel that he’ll take care of it, and trust me, he has never failed me once! He is my universe, my personal Genie and he fulfills all my wishes, no limitations.”

When I read that testimonial, I can’t help but feel both sadness and frustration that such a simple book could lead so many people astray. Jesus Christ — not some imaginary genie — is real and alive (Ephesians 1:19-20). He is the One who truly cares and asks us to cast all our burdens upon Him (1 Peter 5:7). Hebrews 1:3 puts it this way:

“The Son is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high.”

In its futile attempt to be the answer for all of mankind’s needs, The Secret fails to address the most basic reality of life: death! If the Law of Attraction really worked, then no one would ever die, because most people would like to live forever. This fact becomes painfully clear when a viewer of the Oprah show, after seeing episodes dedicated to The Secret wrote to Oprah to “announce that she had decided to halt her breast-cancer treatments and heal herself with her mind.”

It is time to return to the Word of God, the Bible. It is time to discover the truth, God’s eternal truth. It is time to believe and apply the truth to our lives in practical ways. It is time to stand up and declare that Jesus is the Truth. He is also the Way and the source of all Life. It is time to declare the truth for all the world to hear. But first, believers need to move away from teachers who tickle their ears and seek those who speak the truth. Not entertainers who are charismatic and can spin a tale but men and women of God who speak the truth in a way that speaks to today’s world and the problems people in the world face today. 

Cleaning Out the Clutter

We are called, as disciples, to “go into al the world and make disciples” (Matthew 28:19). This includes going and staying. “Staying” in that “all the world” includes family, friends, and neighbours. “Going” in that there are over 6,000 people groups that have not heard the name of Jesus and are not aware of the gospel of the Kingdom.

To think about “going” and “staying” in terms of winning the lost and discipleship we need to grapple with decisions about our priorities and our focus in life in general. Even with a sincere desire to be radically obedient, it is not always easy to make decisions about what matters most. 

The Great Commission is a clear word of instruction. 

Matthew 28:18-20  “And Jesus came and said to them, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.’”

Jesus has told us frankly that obedience – and thus sharing the Gospel and fulfilling the Great Commission – is the result of our love for Him.

“If you love Me, you will obey Me” (John 14:15)

That God has a special concern for the lost is beyond debate. Even so, His special concern is not always our special concern, even as we are striving, in love, to be obedient!

Consider the priorities that inform our living and the decisions we make in daily life. Typically, those priorities are clearly reflected in our conversations and gatherings; our priorities are reflected by the way we use our time and money. To illustrate the struggle of determining priorities, imagine a group of believers in a regular, traditional church or even a house church. 

What occupies our attention? What are we most concerned about? What are the most frequent topics for discussion when we gather? What do churches care most about? What matters most to individual believers? What is the mission agenda of the church? Of the individuals believer? In other words, where do we place our focus?

Generally the conversation centers in and around the needs and the lives of the believers. Their current medical struggle. Their job. Their family members. Their current pressures and concerns. Their finances. Their upcoming vacations or business trips. At times, they might be concerned about issues the local church is facing. But those times are few unless you are in leadership and thus the issues are of “personal” importance to you.

Seldom will you hear believers talking about the non-believers they are building relationships with in the hope of, one day, sharing the gospel of the kingdom. Oh, they may mention the name of a person to pray for who is not saved but that is not the same as seeking prayer for your witness to that person and the relationship you are attempting to build with them. Unless led by a mission-minded leader you will seldom hear the conversation turn to those “people groups” who have yet to hear the gospel and won’t hear it unless someone is send – which means someone must go. 

So, our concerns are often not in line with the concerns of the Father nor the concerns of the Head of the Church, Jesus. 

Here is my point: We need to clear out the clutter of our own lives until the needs of the lost become and remain our primary focus. The lost need to hear, to understand, to believe the gospel, to be baptized, and then be gathered into house churches and discipled. Responding to the needs of the lost is our God-given task. As we obediently answer God’s command, nothing can be more important than the needs of the lost. So, we need to remove the “self” clutter and focus on the needs of the lost – especially the need to be born again.

The kingdom truth: The need for the lost to hear the good news always exceeds the needs of the believer and the local church. 

Words That Have Lost Their Meaning – Part Two

Another word that has lost its meaning is the word “missionary.” Missionary is not a Bible word, but it is a word that has come to define the response to Jesus’ command to go out with His message. A missionary or a missionary group is an individual, a family, or a team committed to proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom. It is often a word used to describe a person who proclaims the gospel to people who have never heard and people who have little chance of hearing. Often workers who share their faith are required to learn other languages and cross cultures; often, that is required even in our home countries due to the diversity of nationalities and languages now present in almost every nation.

In reality, the word should not be used. However, often it is used in reference to a leader in the Bible who is actually in the role and calling of an apostle. Paul and Barnabas being two examples. Words that could be used in place of the word ‘missionary’ could include “worker,” “sent out ones,” or “overseas workers.”

However, truth be known the real word to be used should be “disciple” or “follower” because all true believers are called to “go into all the world and make disciples” (Matthew 28:19). Going  out to proclaim the gospel does not make you a missionary. Nor does it make you a “worker.” It simply means you are being an obedient follower or disciple of Jesus. Could we call them “sent out ones?” Yes! Because the church was always meant to be apostolic. The word apostle means “the sent one.” So, when apostles are part of the ministry team and the foundation of the local church, then the church, under the leadership of an apostle, becomes apostolic. The people come to understand the need to “go into all the world” and so become apostolic (sent out ones) in their nature, in their thinking, and in their actions.

The root idea of “mission” is the sending activity of God. In one sense, certainly, Jesus sends His followers to their families and friends and neighbours. In a deeper and true biblical sense, Jesus ultimately sends His followers to proclaim His grace throughout the entire world.. starting in Jerusalem, through Judea, on to Samaria, and then to all the people groups, especially in places where His grace has not yet been proclaimed. Scripture is clear in helping us to understand that, in this sense, every believer is a sent out one. The command to be on mission is a command common to every follower of Jesus. It is a command to be both local and global. 

The word “pastor” is another word that has lost its original meaning and almost any meaning in today’s world. The word ‘pastor’ appears once in the New Testament and it is in regard to the fivefold, trans-local ministry of Ephesians 4:11-12.

“And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ…”

This ‘pastor’ travelled as did the other four of the fivefold ministry team. However, as soon as we hear that word today we do not think “trans-local” but local … the leader of a local church. This was never the plan in the early church as seen in the New Testament. It was also not the plan the Lord had when He stated He would build His Church. The local churches in the New Testament were all led by apostles … James as leader of Jerusalem is an example. The spiritual oversight of the local assembly was in the hands of a group of elders, not a solo pastor. The work was done by the saints as they were equipped by the fivefold ministers. So, there was no need for a local full-time, paid pastor nor a part-time bi-vocational pastor.

Let’s admit it… there are 59 “one another” versers in the New Testament and no one man or woman – no pastor – can fulfil all 59 of these commands for every person who is a member of the local assembly no matter how big or small the assembly is. So the five-fold pastor comes in to a local assembly and teaches the people how to care for “one another” and thus fulfill the 59 ‘one another’ commands. 

There are many other words that we use as believers that have lost their original meaning or all meaning … but these are the ones that really bother me personally and that, I believe, are preventing the Church from the needed changes that will take it in to an effective, fruitful, and productive future. 

Words That Have Lost Their Meaning – Part One

I recently spoke on a Saturday morning to a group of believers in Eastern Canada. Near the end of the morning of teaching I asked them if they were glad that they had come to church. Everyone said that they were glad to have invested the time. Of course, they did not come to Church; they are the church. They came to an assembly of believers in a building set aside for assemblies. We are the Church. God’s people are the Church.

It got me to thinking about how we use words that have really totally lost their original meaning and now refer to something other than what the word first referred to. And, that maybe it is time to, once again, redefine the words we frequently use as believers.

The Church is the called-out, baptized, gathered-together people of God. Church is defined by community-belonging, it acts on Jesus’ call to be people on mission, it will reproduce itself (which will result in both new believers and new communities of faith), it will finance itself, it will provide care and support for those who make up the church, and it will choose its own leaders and polity. The categories and activities highlighted in Acts 2 are a helpful guide: a church will be committed to worship (usually inside of homes), and missions which lead to a fulfilling of the Great Commission from across the street to the ends of the earth. The Church includes fellowship, education, equipping and strengthening the believers for ministry, and a lifestyle of discipleship which is an interchangeable term with evangelism. When did Jesus disciple His disciples and when did He evangelize them?

Because I work with house churches in a number of nations …A house church is typically a small body of ten to thirty believers who meet together in homes. Organization of house churches can vary significantly, but leadership is normally fluid and adaptable. When a house church grows to a certain size, it will typically divide into smaller groups (thus multiplying and planting another house church). House churches were the norm in New Testament times, and they are the norm in many settings today. 

The issue I see with house churches is that when a house church is birthed or joined by  a number of traditional Christians from mainline denominations they really expect the house church to simply being a smaller version of the traditional congregation that they recently left. Thus they expect all of the elements of the traditional church service including having a “pastor / teacher” who shares a teaching / sermon each time they meet. This is not a true biblical house church. 

With churches in general – both those that meet in larger buildings and those that meet in homes – I think we have a major problem. We seldom see the Church functioning as it should be. Most churches are not “equipping the saints for the work of the ministry” (Ephesians 4:12). They are teaching believers but it is simply more information to be remembered in the head and does not touch the heart. Thus there is just information and not life-transformation. Believer’s lives are not being changed. People are not being equipped for ministry – enabling them to better touch the hearts and lives of others who do not know the Lord. The ministry is not shared equally among the many but is the work of just a few – who are often seminary trained. And, in leadership, there is simply the ministry of the “pastor” and not the fivefold ministry – thus not the full ministry of the Lord who was an apostle, a prophet, an evangelist, a paster (Great Shepherd) and teacher. 

So, words like “Church” and “House Church” can mean so many different things depending on who is speaking and who is listening. I believe it is time to define the words that we are using. And, to define them biblically. Then to make the changes necessary to come into line with the true meaning of the word “Church” and other words that we use regularly. 

That would be a first good step to actually becoming all that the Lord wants us to be. 

More next time…

Sometimes I Can Get Angry

When I am wanting to unwind I will spend a few minutes watching the highlights of America’s Got Talent or one of the other “Got Talent” shows from numerous countries. Occasionally as I scroll through the feed looking for one I have not see I run across someone commenting on a Christian leader, a specific Christian teaching (I use the word ‘Christian’ loosely there). And, most times the reviews and comments are negative. I understand that people want to vent. And, we are free to do so publicly.

The other night I was watching a post from someone I had not seen before … He was commenting on a specific movement within the Christian Church that I am familiar with and that I usually don’t completely agree with. So, I watched a few minutes of the You Tube posting. So, please note, I am watching someone I don’t know talking about men and a movement that I do know and mentioning things they teach that the reviewer believes are not biblical.

He entered into my territory … commenting on the original twelve apostles and how, after Judas was replaced by Matthias (see Acts, Chapter 1) and the early Church was established (see Acts, Chapter 2) that the ministry of the “apostle” was done away with. He simply states this as a fact. Which, by the way, it is not. He does not back it up with any credible biblical research. He just states it like it is absolute truth. Which it is not. In fact, there are 15 others in the New Testament who are referred to as apostles. In fact, the ministry of the apostolic that Jesus initiated continues today (Ephesians 4:11-12) and is foundational to all church planting and movements (Ephesians 2:20 and 1 Corinthians 12:28).

Of course, he was probably simply repeating what he was taught by others (see the blog on “monkeys” posted on November 27th). It seemed to me that he was repeating what he was taught – repeating it as a truth without ever examining the “truth” to see if it really was true. He obviously did not read the book of Acts nor Paul’s epistles as they mention many others who occupied the role and function of apostle in the early Church. He simply repeated something he was taught. Something that is biblically wrong. 

This type of ignorance and arrogance makes me mad. A totally dishonest presentation of his own beliefs passed off as absolute truth when really it is just his opinion not based in biblical fact at all. But, others will believe him. After all, he has a You Tube channel and a large number of followers. Not to mention that in the process of teaching heresy he runs down and speaks again the ministry of a number of true men of God. Again, I don’t agree with everything these men of God teach but my disagreements are in matters of interpretation and the way their ministries are operated. I do not disagree on the basics – and apostles and the other fivefold ministries are basic to the Church that Jesus is building. This man on You Tube was running down and speaking against their character, motives, and honesty. And doing so “publicly”.

Folks, we can disagree on interpretation of biblical verses and even on how we understand some basic theological truths … but these disagreements must be based on sound biblical research and a true understanding of both church history and church tradition. We have to be careful with teachings we receive and don’t examine to see if they truly contain biblical truths. We must discern what is man’s opinion and what is truly God’s Word and thus eternal truth. We must be careful with what others are saying – and posting – when often they are representing their opinion of their own church tradition as absolute truth. 

The Bible tells us that “even the very elect of God will be deceived in these latter days” (Matthew 24:24). Let’s be wise in what we do with what we hear, read, and see. Not everything is truth and even the Devil (and his ministers) can twist the truth today as he did when quoting Scripture during the tempting of Jesus (Matthew 4). 

Sometimes I get angry when I hear opinion passed off as truth. And, when I hear a so-called believer use their You Tube channel to destroy the reputation of good men of God who are out there on the front lines seeking and saving the lost … not sitting in front of a camera sprouting off about things and ministers of the Gospel they don’t even know. The man whose You Tube video on the false teachers and false movement of the Spirit I was watching is the true “False Teacher.” 

Unwrinkling The Soul – Part Two

When you begin to take the time to unwrinkle your soul you find yourself in a war. As your spirit begins to settle and the Holy Spirit begins to bring supernatural peace to your soul, your flesh will rise up and fight everything that you are experiencing with the goal of shutting you down. If your flesh succeeds then your soul remains wrinkled and you continue in that deep hole feeling frustrated, disappointed, cynical, annoyed, and tired. (see yesterday’s blog – Part One)

Your flesh will begin to speak loudly … time to watch the news and catch up on what is happening in your world. You ought to go and find some cookies to munch on. You know you are missing the next instalment of your favourite sitcom. Some agitated place in me starts clamouring for relief. Even as you are seeing and feeling your soul unwrinkle and you are allowing your thoughts and feelings to untangle as you begin to experience peace and even God’s presence … desire starts jockeying for attention. I think there is some ice cream in the freezer. 

It feels like two kingdoms are vying for your soul at this point. The flesh is offering instant relief. Nature is offering long-term restoration. And the two are seriously leagues apart. 

Relief is momentary; Ir’s checking out, numbing, sedating yourself. Television is relief. Eating a bag of cookies (I’m guilty) is relief. Alcohol is relief. Coffee can also be a relief. And let’s be honest here — relief is what we reach for because it’s immediate and usually within our grasp. Most of us turn there, when what we really need is restoration.  Nature heals; nature restores. 

Think of sitting on the beach watching the waves roll in at sunset and compare it to turning on the tube and vegging (bing watching) the reruns of Star Trek, The Next Generation. The experiences could not be further apart. Remember how you feel sitting by a small brook, listening to its little musical songs, and contrast that to an hour on your favourite video game. Video games offer relief; nature offers restoration. 

This is what David was trying to put words to when he reported finding God in green meadows and beside quiet waters, emerging with a refreshed soul. Or as another translation has it, “He renews my strength” (Psalm 23:3 NLT). The world we live in fries the soul on a daily basis, fries it with a vengeance (it feels vengeful). We need the immersion David speaks of.

I was recently sitting out back in front of a roaring fire in my new fire pit (a summer project). I was unwrinkling my soul after an especially hectic and cluttered day. I was choosing to ignore the chorus of vendors trying to get me to leave in search of some relief (Your favourite show is on; maybe a strong Starbucks coffee would go good right now… ) I knew that if I left all I would find was relief and some sugar and caffeine. My soul would be no better off because of it. So I chose to let the evening and the fire in the fire pit continue to have its healing ministry. Remember, God doesn’t like to shout. His invitations are much more gentle.

Sunset was over; night had come suddenly into focus. Still I sat there. The night chill could be felt. It felt good. Over in the distance I could hear the birds settling in for the night in my neighbours tree. And, I could feel my soul settling down even more; the feeling was like unwrinkling or disentangling on a soul level, as your body does in a hot tub. Thanks for the gift of nature and this fall evening in front of the fire, I said, I receive it into my soul. 

Darkness, crickets, coolness, quiet, and the crackle of the fire as it was dying down for the night. I felt like I had been through detox. When I fell into bed that night, it was as if the hellish day had never even happened. Restoration. So much better than mere relief. 

Unwrinkling The Soul – Part One

Rarely are my days calm and restful. I would describe the vast majority of my days as hectic, demanding, with serious involvement in people’s life issues. Not just locally but around my nation and in other nations. The internet allows me to touch lives in many places without leaving home. Don’t get me wrong – I love every bit of what I do for the Lord, His people, and the lost who have yet to experience the love of God found only in Jesus. But it, at times, leaves me feeling exhausted. A favourite author of mine would describe it as a “fried-soul kind of day.” I am sure you can relate. It happens when you have a day where everything seems to go sideways from the moment you get out of bed.

Let me describe such a day…

There’s no milk, so there’s no cereal;, and you’re late anyways, so there’s no breakfast. You’re halfway to work when you realize you forgot your phone — and who can live without their phone these days — so you’re late to work because you went back and got your phone and now you’re behind on everything. People are tweaked at you. You can’t answer that urgent email someone keeps asking about, because you’re waiting for an answer yourself, but the person who has the answer took the morning off for a “doctor’s appointment” (Sure you did, you think, you’re out for a ride, you slouch). On it goes.

You look forward to lunch as your first chance to come up for air; but the line at your favourite taco joint is out the door, and though you should have stayed, you’re already well on your way to totally fried, so you leave in frustration, which only makes you skip lunch, which justifies your use of chocolate and caffeine to see you through the afternoon. But that completely takes your legs out from under you, and all you end up accomplishing is making a list of the things that you need to do, which overwhelms you. By the time you get home, you are serious fried. 

Of course, I work from my home office and study (two separate rooms) but my days can be just as hectic and frustrating even if I don’t commute. I can end the day – and there are a few each week like this – strung out. I feel like I am sitting in a vat of frustration, cynicism, fatigue, and exhaustion. It is a dangerous place to be. Staying there will ruin the evening and impact how the next day goes as well. So, I go for a walk in the park around the corner from the house.

There is something about nature that allows me to unwind, refresh, reboot. But first I need to allow mother nature to touch me physically and emotionally. I listen to the crickets. The sunset is amazing as it lights the shy up with pastel reds, oranges, and yellows mixed into the background of gentle blues and white. I can feel my body and my soul beginning to relax. It’s like they are taking a deep breath and letting it out slowly. I call these “Spirit sighs.” And I can feel my soul beginning to unwrinkled. 

What is a “Spirit sigh?” It means your spirit is breathing in and recognizing the Spirit of God and you find yourself letting go of all the mess, letting go of everything. They are not cynical or defeated sighs; they are “letting it all go” sighs. My body relaxes, which makes me realize how tense I had been all day. My heart (spirit) starts to come to the surface, as it often does when I can get away into nature and let beauty and the subtle “stillness” touch my soul. 

This happens best during my annual three week camping and kayaking trip where I get alone with God and nature (away from people) and simply let my heart and soul breath. An annual and lengthy ‘deep breathe.’ But it can be just as powerful at the end of ‘one of those days.’ It can happen sitting in my back yard watching a fire burn in the fire pit. It can happen on a slow and gentle walk on a warm summer evening or a brisk fall morning (like this morning when I am writing this). It is simply a time to reconnect to the eternal and letting go of the temporal – the every day rush of demands and details. 

It is life changing and life giving.

But — and it is a big but – we need to learn how to overcome the desires of the flesh that will rise up large and powerful as your soul begins to unwrinkled. 

More on that in Part Two tomorrow.  

 

Pick a Verse, Any Verse!

I have recently run into several situations where solid, mature believers and disciples of Jesus have suggested I claim a verse. 

In one situation it was for the deliverance and salvation of a young man I relate to in another city and whom I have connected to an apostle there that I know. He is receiving personal, loving care from someone who knows who he is and what he is doing. And, the local church I belong to is simply called to pray. However, someone believed that we needed to pray over a clothe and mail it to him so he would be free. You know, like Paul did once in the book of Acts.

The second situation was for a personal healing I was seeking. They “commanded” that I simply claim the verse in Peter’s writings where he declared that by His stripes we were healed (quoting from Isaiah the prophet where it states that by His stripes we will be healed.) As if I am not walking in faith and don’t believe God’s Word and what Jesus accomplished on the Cross for each of us who believe.

I appreciated the heart and the motive and intent of both of these people. They were suggesting what they believed would help because they care deeply and love to see Jesus touch people physically, emotionally, and spiritually. But there is one simple flaw in their suggestions.

You cannot randomly select a verse out of context and claim it for yourself or for someone else. Pick a verse, any verse” simply is not biblical.And life and faith simply just don’t work that way. This is part of the heresy called The Prosperity Gospel fondly known as “Name it and claim it” or “Blab it and grab it.” As if you get to choose what you are claiming and by speaking it bring it to pass in your life. Does not work. Is not biblical. And, this teaching destroys people and churches worldwide. Not to mention making born again believers look like they are out of their minds and thus not a good witness to others who don’t know Jesus. 

So, just because Joshua marched around the city of Jericho for seven days and seven times the last day does not mean we should be marching around our city. God told Joshua to do that. A specific series of actions in a particular place and time. And in obedience it worked. God did not tell anyone else to do this. Jesus never did this. And, we can’t just pick it up out of context and apply our faith towards it. Doesn’t work that way.

Paul was directed to pray over some handkerchiefs and sent them to people who were sick and unable to be with him in his teaching times. Peter never did this. Timothy, a disciple of Paul and a spiritual son, did not try this. Jesus was never involved in this “mail order” healing ministry. We cannot simply pull it out of context and  think it is going to work. He didn’t tell us to do it. And, in the case I mentioned above – much better to have someone in person pray for them, care for them, and love them. 

Listen to offerings being taken and they tell you that if you give it will be returned to you 30 – 60 – 100 fold. And, your cup will run over. You will prosper and have more than enough. The verses they use for this false teaching are about “love.” Not money, not your tithe, not an offering… You can’t lift the verses out of context (the surrounding verses, the chapter, the book, the Bible) and simply apply it wherever you wish. Well, actually you can do that but it would be outside of the Gospel of the Kingdom and cause you to fall into heresy. 

In the midst of the global pandemic we have believers not taking precautions like wearing a mask, washing hands, and maintaining social distancing. They often quote “no weapon formed against them (deadly thing) shall harm them.” Again, a verse out of context. A total misuse of the verse.

There are many other examples I could share of “Pick a Verse, Any Verse” but you get the point. And, not to insult anyone, but really God would like us to use our common sense when it comes to living life in our fallen world. Common sense that He gave to us. Common sense which, when applied, would prevent this misuse of Scripture and help us to be better examples of what it means to be a disciple and true born again believer.