Unless Your Righteousness Surpasses That of the Evangelicals…

The spirit of the Pharisees animates Evangelicalism today.  I say that in a positive and negative sense.

What could be the positive sense?  The Pharisees were those Israelites in the time of Jesus most zealous for the Law of Moses.  While they certainly misapplied their knowledge of Moses, they had more knowledge of his law than anyone else.  Once one of them saw the light – surely the apostle Paul comes to your mind – they could be as ferocious for the truth in the spirit of love as they had been ferocious for misunderstanding in the spirit of hypocrisy.  Grant this to the Pharisees as well:  they had far more hope in God than their rival faction the Sadducees.  The Sadducees swore allegiance to the Scriptures but could not accept the idea of people being resurrected.  The Pharisees made it an essential element of their doctrine.  As Jesus told the Samaritan woman, “Salvation is of the Jews” and the Pharisees had the zeal to be the Jews of all Jews.

Similarly, Evangelicals in our time swear allegiance to the Bible and to the Lord like no other.  And I should be clear that I am defining Evangelicalism in its broadest sense, so I include Charismatics and Pentecostals when I speak of them.  These are all people who will tell the world unashamedly that the Bible is the word of God and has not an error in it.  They are absolutely right about this.  Where they err is in their obedience to the Bible.  Like the Pharisees, their obedience is focused on petty things – like not cussing or saying a blessing before eating a meal.  Jesus prefaced His teaching on the Lord’s prayer by saying prayer should not be vain repetition, and yet that’s just how many Evangelicals pray that prayer – by rote group repetition.  Also like the Pharisees, they neglect the commandments of God for their own man-made commandments.  This includes insistence on church affiliation, participation, and financial support – none of which Jesus ever commanded.

If the Evangelicals ever recover the spirit that provoked them to come to Jesus in the first place, they will find the kingdom of God and then will be like the head of a household who brings out of his treasure things new and old.  May the spirit of that great recovered Pharisee Paul himself animate them.  If that happens, our world will be rocked like nothing we have ever seen.

In the meantime, know that unless your righteousness exceeds that of the Evangelicals, you will not enjoy the rule of God.

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The Spirit of the Judaizers

The spirit of the Judaizers animates the church today. 

In New Testament times, the Judaizers objected to the gospel of grace that Paul and the others apostles preached on the grounds that faith alone was not enough.  Judaizers believed that converts should also practice circumcision according to the Law of Moses.  Their argument was that circumcision had been established by God and could not be abandoned.  The book of Galatians provides a clear, complete, and compelling view of the apostolic argument against the Judaizers.  In summary it was: the grace of God is sufficient.

Today, the spirit of the Judaizers is still alive in those who practice and preach church attendance.  They say that trusting God is not enough, believers need to be in subjection to other believers.  They also say that church was established by God and cannot be abandoned.  In spirit, the book of Galatians provides a clear, complete, and compelling view of what the apostolic argument against this sort of thinking would be.  The apostles are not here to speak for themselves so we must read their words and catch their spirit.  Their message was of liberty (2 Corinthians 3:17). 

Today’s church leaders claim the Bible as their authority for mandating  church.  But they overlook the fact that in New Testament times the Old Testament was all the Bible that people had – and the Judaizers claimed its authority for mandating circumcision.  I urge you to re-read the book of Galatians and see that the spirit that animated the Judaizers then is the same spirit that animates church leaders today.

Be like the men of Issachar who understood the times, with knowledge of what Israel should do.

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Yes, I Am a Recovering Christian Leader

Yes, I am a recovering Christian leader (to borrow from the 12-step lexicon).  I was a pastor.  I sought to get people to come to my church.  I thought I was doing it for God, but I should have known better.

I told people that they needed God.  That was true, and I believed it.  What I wasn’t admitting to them, however, was that I needed them.  I needed them in the church when I preached because I would be embarrassed if my church was empty or only had a few coming.  I needed their tithes because without them I couldn’t pay the bills.  I needed them to volunteer because without their time commitments we couldn’t have enough programs to attract more people.

I liked to think that I had surrendered my life to a calling to preach the good news of Jesus Christ, but there was so much I that I had to do to sustain the church that only a fraction of my time went to the original purpose.  There was new member visitation, worship team practice, board meetings, and programs of every description: for youth, for women, for men, for couples, for singles, and on and on it went.

There are successful churches and there are struggling churches.  I’ve been part of both.  Those that do well operate on sound business principles, those that struggle don’t.  In other words, church success has nothing to do with Divine presence and church failure has nothing to do with Divine absence.  Church was an instrument of God in the New Testament, but it’s been a strictly human arrangement ever since – as evidenced by its divided nature (“A kingdom divided against itself cannot stand”).  Any church’s success or failure today can be explained by sociological, not theological, principles.

The point is that church is a structure God has not used since New Testament times.  He blesses faith wherever and whenever He finds it in a human heart.  If that person happens to be in church, fine.  If that person is somewhere else, fine.   People pay attention to church structure, but God doesn’t care.  He’s looking for faith in individual human hearts.

Once I realized that God had abandoned the structure of the church, I did, too.  I have never regretted it.  It is a beast that consumes the resources of people who want to serve God.  I know this not just from the Scriptures and the Holy Spirit, but from my own personal experience.

Having repented of my pastoring, I am now free to praise His holy name – which is precisely what I was wanting to do all along.  Only now, I don’t need people to give me anything or do anything for me in order to accomplish that.

I explain more about how I walked away from being  a pastor in I Left My Church by Letting It Leave Me.

“Great Is Artemis of the Ephesians!”

Artemis was a great Greek goddess of antiquity.  Some Bibles render the name as Diana, which was the similar Roman deity.  During New Testament times, there was a great temple to her honor in the city of Ephesus.  As the apostle Paul won converts among the Ephesians, artisans in the city became alarmed.  Silversmiths made lots of money producing idols for a consuming pagan public.  Worship of a God who disdained objects of worship was a frightful prospect to these entrepreneurs.  At one point, a great commotion arose as the tradesmen, quite fearful of losing business as more of the public abandoned such idol worship, stirred up the citizens by appealing to their civic pride.  “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!” they would shout.  Certainly the reputation of the city of Ephesus was elevated by hosting a temple whose glory was known far and wide in the ancient world.  The crowd was worked into a frenzy at the time, but was eventually calmed.

The same spirits at work in those days are at work today.  That is, there are those whose livelihood or sense of well-being depends on the trade associated with the church.  Just as people were provoked to shout, “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!” some today are provoked to claim, “Great is the church of Jesus Christ!”  At the root of it all, however, is still the love of money.  Church is a business and many people make a living from it.  Thus church is today’s version of idol worship.  It substitutes objectification of God for loyalty to God.  It substitutes worship of structures, organizations, and relationships for worship of God.  It substitutes practice of religious rituals and participation in meetings and programs for the practice of the commandments of God.

When you hear people shout, “Great are the works of our hands!” (regardless of what those works are) know that it is God they are rejecting for the sake of their works.  Don’t join them, and don’t be dismayed by them.  They are fighting against the truth, and that is always a losing battle.

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Noah’s Ark in the New Testament Flood of Judgments

The church of the New Testament was God’s chosen vessel for delivering those who were willing to be delivered from the flood of great judgments upon Israel and the world of that time.  So great was the judgment against the nation of Israel that its third great temple was destroyed in 70 A.D.  Not one stone was left upon another.  The judgments upon the rest of the world were also severe: wars, famines, earthquakes.

As Noah built his ark, Christ built His church.  As Noah led in those to be saved, so Christ led in those He was saving.  As Noah led everyone off the ark to live in a new world after the flood, so Jesus led everyone out of the church to live in the kingdom of God on earth.  Noah’s ark was not built for reuse.  Neither was the church designed for multi-generation use.  It was designed for apostolic times only.  Jesus had promised that some who had seen Him in His earthly life would see Him coming in His kingdom.  We can be confident that it happened just as He said it would (2 Corinthians 5:16).

We who live after Noah have no more need of an ark.  We who live after Christ and His apostles have no more need of a church.  We have the kingdom of God which endures forever.  Let us seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and anything else we need will be provided to us.

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Paul’s Ship

In the closing chapters of the Acts of the Apostles, Luke describes how Paul was transported by ship as a prisoner under guard from Caesarea across the Mediterranean Sea to Rome.  The trip included shipwreck and was almost fatal, yet every person on board – all 276 of them – came safely through.  Although Paul had sensed in advance that their sailing would meet with great difficulty and peril, he was unable to convince the authorities to scuttle the trip.  Nonetheless, when the difficulties came, Paul prayed for everyone aboard the ship.  God assured Paul that his request had been granted, and Paul reported such to his shipmates.  Subsequently, during one of the darkest nights, several of the sailors attempted to use the ship’s small boat to abandon the ship and save themselves.  Paul told the centurion and soldiers guarding him, “Unless these stay in the ship, you cannot be saved.”  This time they trusted Paul’s guidance.  They cut away the small boat, removing that temptation for the sailors.  Ultimately, the ship ran aground on the island of Malta, but all 276 made it safely to shore…just as God had promised Paul.

The salvation that God brings to the passengers of the good ship Earth is similarly comprehensive.  He ultimately brings them all safely to heaven.  If God had wanted to grant entrance into heaven selectively, He had many opportunities to do so.  Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Deborah, David, Esther, and many others in Old Testament times acquitted themselves admirably.  God could have chosen only people of that caliber and the rest of us would have had no basis for complaint at being left out.  Instead, He planned that all should be redeemed.  As for those who seek a salvation for themselves alone, their selfishness is apparent.  Fortunately, Jesus has kept everyone in the ship and thus everyone will be saved – yet through much difficulty, especially if we do not heed His advance warnings of trouble.

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The Yoke of Grace Versus the Yoke of Law

The Scriptures speak of the yoke which Jesus gives: the yoke of grace.  His yoke is easy and His load is light.  The Scriptures also speak of the yoke of the law of Moses – a yoke which according to the apostle Peter, “Neither we nor our fathers have been able to bear.”  The Jews of Jesus’ day had good reason to speak this way about the yoke of the law for they had attempted with great effort to keep it.  Do not think that they brushed it off.  They embraced it and gave themselves to it as completely as they knew how.  Yet this still was not enough.  It was an onerous burden.  The process turned many of them into Pharisees, including the apostle Paul.  Thus when Jesus came offering the yoke of the kingdom of heaven they grasp it with all their heart – none more famously than Peter. 

Believers did not grasp the yoke of grace simply because it was easier.  They embraced it was better and because it was God’s plan.  The yoke of the law had prepared them for it.  Therefore, when God said the time for the kingdom had come, they were ready.  Yes, some, like Paul, were slower to accept.  But once they understood that the lighter yoke actually resulted in greater service and glory to God, there was no reason not to accept it with all one’s heart!

Today people are pursuing God as if under a yoke of law.  They go to church regularly, they endure religious rituals, they put their faith in their piety.  As a result, they are burdened and joyless.  Would that they threw off the yoke of law and embraced the yoke of grace.  This yoke of grace is still easy and the load is still light.  It consists of the simplicity and purity of devotion to Christ.  

Live in the light of Jesus.  Acknowledge His presence wherever you go.  Do not bow down to religious institutions or authorities of any kind.  Be done with lesser things and serve the King of Kings.

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Another Pharoah Who Knew Not Joseph

During Joseph’s time in Egypt, his wisdom came to be appreciated by the country’s leader.  Joseph was elevated to Pharoah’s right hand, ruling over the entire Egyptian realm.  In a subsequent generation, however, another king arose to rule Egypt who did not remember or appreciate the benefits Joseph had brought to that land.  Thus this pharaoh enslaved the descendants of Joseph and his family – that is, the Hebrews.

Similarly, in our generation we see spiritual leaders who do not exalt Jesus.  They subjugate people in the name of God.  Those strong in faith do not subject themselves to such human rule for the resurrected Lord is able to rule through His kingdom all those who trust Him in this generation.  However, the weak in faith yield to these pharaohs, giving them prominence which distracts from the glory of the Lord.  By doing so, the weak in faith enslave themselves and do not enjoy the ever-increasing glory of  God.

Let us not live in the bondage of an Egypt which has believers ruling over other believers.  Instead, let us live in the promised land of the liberty of the Lord where each believer answers only to God Himself.

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When the Egyptians Attempted It, They Were Drowned

In the book of Hebrews when great feats of Old Testament faith were recalled, the writer spoke of the great miracle at the Red Sea.  The Israelites had fled their slavery in Egypt, but Pharoah’s army was in hot pursuit.  It appeared that the Israelites were cornered at the Read Sea, but God split the sea such that the Israelites were able to cross as though they were passing through dry land.  Subsequently, the Egyptians attempted to chase them through the path God had made.  However, the Egyptians were drowned in the process as God allowed the waters to return to normal.  The lesson was obvious: faith makes a way that unbelief cannot follow.

We see this pattern reenacted before us in the experience of the church since the days of the apostles.  Church in New Testament days was an instrument of God.  It resulted from the preaching of the apostles who bore witness to what they eyes had seen, their ears had heard, and their hands had handled of Jesus of Nazareth, the resurrected Son of God and Messiah of Israel.  The apostles bore witness to Jesus and this church bore witness to the apostles, leaving as inheritance to every generation since, the documents we call the New Testament.  These documents not only are the written testimony regarding the Lord, sworn in blood, they are the key to understanding the Old Testament.  Praise be to God for this church, for they escaped the slavery of sin and of the law and glorified the God of Israel, Creator of heaven and earth, and Redeemer of all humanity.

Churches in every generation since have attempted to follow that same path, but without the same spiritual success.  That is because churches in generations since the apostles have made their attempts in the flesh and not in the spirit.  That is, they have not acted in faith, but rather in unbelief.  They have not believed the Lord’s promise that He would return before the generation of Jesus and His apostles had passed away.  Thus they continue to look for a Jesus according to the flesh.  Though humanity has known Jesus in the flesh, we know Him thus no longer.  He is God Almighty…and He is here in our midst, reigning in His kingdom!

Church is useless in this age.  Let every believer in Jesus Christ believe.  He is the invisible God and we should walk before Him in humility all the days and hours of our lives wherever we are and wherever we happen to go.  The glory of His kingdom cannot be contained by a church.

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Factions Are a Deed of the Flesh

According to Galatians 5, factions are a deed of the flesh.  They are not, therefore, a fruit of the spirit.  Thus you can know that churches today are not of the spirit but rather of the flesh.

The flesh has to do with the world that can be seen, of course, while the spirit embraces the heavenly dimension that we cannot see.

It is clear that today’s church, having factions, is “of the flesh.”  There are thousands upon thousands of denominations of Christianity.  The number of these factions is almost uncountable.  More fundamentally, however, today’s church in total is itself a faction because it separates itself from society at large.  To make matters worse, today’s church considers itself holy while it considers society at large unholy.

Some will argue that the church of the New Testament separated itself from society at large and it was called holy.  This is true, but that was before the kingdom of God came which removed all distinctions between Jew and Gentile in its complete renewal of creation.  The New Testament church longed for and looked for the kingdom which is now ours to enter.  God’s kingdom came at the end of the apostolic age and has been available to all humanity every since.  The church of the New Testament was privileged just as ancient Israel was privileged, but in the better covenant of the kingdom of God, all nations receive the privileges.  As evidence of the difference, remember that the apostles would not allow the church to be divided under their watch; once they were gone and the kingdom had come, the church has never stopped dividing.  The New Testament church – which can also be called the apostolic church – was truly an organism created and sustained by God.  The church (or churches) since are, by contrast, institutions of man.

Consider the united church during New Testament days and the divided church ever since.  Doesn’t that indicate to you that a profound change took place between those two time periods?  What else could account for it save the coming of the Lord in His kingdom which the New Testament had prophesied.  It even prophesied the falling away of the church in the last days of the apostles that would birth the divisions.  That “falling away from the Lord” still animates the church today.

When the perfect came, the partial was to be done away – the partial would simply become a faction.  Indeed, that’s what the church after the apostles became and thus it has remained down to our day.  Let us abandon all factions for they are a deed of the flesh.  Walk in the spirit and be one with your brother and sister human beings.  There is but one family of God.

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Do You Know Who Is Obeying God?

Christian leader, do you know who in your congregation is obeying God and who is not?  If you do not know, how can you be their spiritual leader?

You not only don’t know who in your flock is being obedient and who is being disobedient, you don’t know it about the people you are seeking to visit and join your church either.  For all you know, they could be living relatively righteous lives without going to church and then fall into sin with a member of your church.  It’s happened.

You cannot see the secrets of human hearts, and therefore you are in no position to know whether a congregant needs a rebuke or a pat on the back.  A person’s thought life alone is completely out of your purview.  And then there’s the fact that they are only in your church for a portion of the 168 hours in a week.  You don’t know what they are doing the rest of the time.  Are you beginning to recognize that you are completely inadequate to be a spiritual shepherd to these people.

I will tell you who is not inadequate:  Jesus our Lord.  Let Him shepherd the sheep.  And while your at it, join the flock.  You need shepherding, too.

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Do You Teach Holiness?

Christian leaders, do you teach holiness?  You know from the book of Hebrews that holiness, or sanctification,  is required for anyone to see the Lord.

As important as holiness is, none of us is qualified to teach it. We can tell people about the one who is holy, but only He can teach it, and only He can impart it to them.

“You shall be holy for I am holy.”  You know these words of the Lord.  Yes, they are sobering.

Because we know that holiness is essential for God’s people and because we know that we ourselves are not capable of teaching it, we should recognize that the Lord must teach His people.  Therefore, we should stand aside and let Him.  Equally important, we need to sit for this teaching ourselves because we need His holiness as much as anyone.

How strange that some people should call men of the cloth holy – as if our institutions could impart holiness by designating someone for ministry.  It is not those who are affiliated with human institutions who are holy but rather those who are affiliated with the Lord.

Let us abandon these God-forsaken institutions and walk in His cleansing light.

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Why Do You Lord It Over God’s Flock?

Why do you accept a role overseeing a portion of God’s flock when He said that whoever would be great in His kingdom should be as a servant and a child?

You have not usurped His role as shepherd maliciously or even consciously.  It was just tradition.  It’s the way things have been handed down to you. But the Scriptures tell us differently, and it is the Scriptures to which we must be true.

Deep down you know that you should not be lording it over God’s people.  You are one of God’s children, but He has not put you in charge of others for He is fully capable of being Father to them all.  Besides that, you have spiritual struggles of your own – which makes you the blind leading the blind.  Tradition has misled you, but God’s word will guide you rightly.

Tradition told you that this role of leadership was appropriate, but God’s word tells you not to be called rabbi, teacher, father, or leader.  Do you think that because your title is a synonym and not literally one of these four words that you will be excused?

Peter said that when the Chief Shepherd appeared, He would award the faithful shepherds.  He did appear, just when He said He would, and all who were sanctified saw Him as He was: God Almighty.

Seek God to learn how He would have you to serve people without having spiritual authority over them.

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Where Does Repentance Fit Into Your Ministry?

Do you tell people they should repent?  Do you emphasize the point, or gloss over it?  Are you afraid people won’t follow you if you talk too much about repentance?

As a Christian leader, you know that repentance was an essential element of the good news message.  From John the Baptist, through Jesus, and all the apostles, the gospel was consistently preached:  Repent and believe!  This came from a rich tradition, for the Old Testament prophets were noted for their consistent call for wayward Israel to return to the Lord.  Of course, their work was built on the foundation of Moses who could be quite strong in his denunciations of the Israelites.  In fact, his frustration with them on one occasion caused him to be deprived of personally entering the promised land.  Even Moses, however, wasn’t the beginning, for Noah, and Enoch before him, had also called for repentance.

Thus the Bible reveals the centrality of repentance to the message of God.  How could anyone speak in God’s name and ignore it?

Let me ask also about repentance in your own life.  How important is it to you in your walk with God?  How can you walk with God without it?

If repentance is not relevant in your personal life, it would not likely be relevant in your ministry.

If We Are Faithless, He Remains Faithful

Christian leader, you remember these words written from Paul to Timothy.  Given the context, it sounds rather like he was quoting them in the same way we might quote a poem or hymn.  Do you trust these words?  They are powerful!

These words confirm what we know deep in our hearts:  that God’s faithfulness to us does not depend on our faithfulness to Him.  If it did, what straits we would be in!  On the contrary, our faithfulness to Him depends on His faithfulness to us.

Let’s assume you’ve bought a present for one of your children.  Would you tell them that if they will believe that you bought it for them, then you will give it to them, but if they don’t believe then you will throw it away?  Of course not.  You tell them that you have bought it for them.  If they believe you, they can be excited and happy immediately and look forward to receiving, opening, and using it.  If they don’t believe you, then they have no immediate joy and hope.  They’ll still eventually receive the present from you and enjoy it, but they will have missed out on some of the hope and joy they could have had.

Even so, the atheist will receive life in heaven just as we will.  The difference is that we who believe have been given the privilege of knowing and looking forward to it.  The atheist deprives himself of joy and blessing in this life.

Jesus Christ is faithful, even when we are faithless. 

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There Are No Factions in the Kingdom of God

In the last days, the church was a Jewish sect.  Even before that, there was a division between the descendants of Abraham and all the rest of humanity.  With the coming of the kingdom of God, however, all factions, parties, and divisions were done away.  The kingdom came at the close of the apostolic age in spiritual glory and wonder, away from the fleshly eyes of worldly viewing.  No more would God be dealing with the one race, the descendants of one man.  The kingdom of God brought a renewal in which there was no such thing as Jew or Gentile, slave or free, Greek or barbarian.  We are all one in Christ and hence all divisions have been washed away.
 
Therefore, when you separate yourself from your fellow-man claiming that you have the God that they are without, you become a faction, a party, a division.  You thus separate yourself from the grace of God – doing yourself and your neighbor a wrong.  Instead, you should see Christ in your neighbor.  If he does not see Christ in himself, then be patient with him until He does.  Remain one with him in spirit and in heart.  Do not lord your awareness over him.
 
When you present yourself to the world as the church or as a Christian, you present Christ as a faction in the world.  He is not a faction.  He is the God who fills the heavens and the earth.  He gives us each breath we take.  In Him we all live and move and have our being.  Therefore, speak of Christ as a shared inheritance of humanity – not as the province of any subset of humans.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      
As the New Testament saints looked to the Old Testament for types, so we in the kingdom must look to the New Testament for types.  The church in the New Testament is a type of the kingdom of God.  That is, as the apostles urged the New Testament church to live in peace without divisions, so should we as a human race seek to live in peace without divisions.  As God perfected the church, so we should let Him perfect the human race.  As Paul told the church in Corinth, they should not divide – not even in the name of Christ (1 Cor 1:12).
 
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The “Instead of Going to Church, Pray” 30-Day Challenge

Christian leaders, here’s a challenge for you to issue to your flocks:  Ask your people to spend the next 30 days giving all their church time directly to God.  That is, if they would spend two hours total on Sunday morning at church (service time, commute time, and prep time), then have them spend that time alone with the Lord.  Have them do the same for every church program and activity over the next month.  In other words, you won’t see them for thirty days, but God will be seeing them instead.  If you have a media or traveling ministry, ask your followers to give the time directly to God that they would spend reading, watching, or listening to your materials.  In both cases, have them give all the money that they would be giving you directly to the poor.  When the thirty days are up, ask them what they learned from the experience.
 
Do you think it would be acceptable to God for you to conduct such an experiment?  Would He mind having the people come directly to Him?  Would He protest if the money would be going to the poor?
 
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Why Do You Distract Believers?

Christian leaders, why do you distract those who believe in the Lord?  You seek them for your congregations.  You lay the burdens of volunteer work and financial responsibility for your ministry on them.  You thus rob them of two precious resources: time and money.  The Lord wants to be able to direct the deployment of their treasure Himself.  
 
And why do you tell the people they must relate to you as their pastor and to fellow believers as their brothers – as if you were all part of some elite subset of humanity?  Do these people who are interested in Christ not have enough human relationships already?  
 
Recognize that you have not just distracted these followers of Christ – you have distracted yourself as well.  Your ministry is a beast that requires your constant feeding lest it consume you.  Return yourself to the simplicity and purity of devotion to Christ.  He will bless you beyond measure if you do.
 
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In Christ

Many of you are familiar with the “in Christ” scriptures.  This refers to passages where this brief phrase (and similar ones such as “in Him”) occur.  Paul used them extensively to make known the great things God has done for those in Christ.  You’ll recall that “if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature; old things have passed away and new things have come.”  And this is but one example.

In New Testament days it was believers who were in Christ, who thus were the first fruits of God’s harvest, the earnest on His inheritance, and were consequently allowed to taste the powers of the age to come.  When that new age came, with the coming of the promised kingdom, the whole world came under the authority of Christ.  Therefore, it was no longer just the church who received these benefits, but the whole of humanity.  All things became new.  Jesus wasn’t just at the right hand of God anymore; He was sitting on the throne.  Yes, there was a place of refuge in the midst of the judgments of the earth for those faithful and obedient to the Lord.  But even those who were disobedient were only a process of repentance away from entrance into the temple of the Lord’s peace. 

Thus today, every person is in Christ and every person is new inside.  No, they are not all showing it – but then for years you’ve seen professed believers in your ministry that didn’t always show it.  For years, we have told believers who they were in Christ so that they might be encouraged.  Knowing of the kingdom’s reach, you should now tell every person who they are in Christ that they might become believers.  Believing won’t make it so; rather, they can believe it because it is so.

The whole world is in Christ.  If this is not so, then Jesus did not come when He promised and we are all still in our sins.  Yet He did come when He promised, so I say again: every human being is in Christ.

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Are You Great or Least in the Kingdom of God?

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus laid out for us the qualifications for greatness in the kingdom of God.  They are to keep and teach all the commandments of the Law.  How are you doing with that?  Of course, Jesus meant to keep and teach them in the grace and truth He brought through them, not the fleshly way they were originally laid down by Moses (i.e. circumcision of the heart not the flesh, unleavened bread of sincerity and truth and not literal crackers, Jesus as our lamb and not a woolly mammal, and so on).  Even so, how are you doing with that?

That, by the way, is only a rhetorical question from me because it’s none of my business where you stand.  I ask because I see hardly any Christian leaders today who seem to measure themselves in these terms.  It is an awesome standard Jesus has laid upon us.  We should at least acknowledge that this is the measuring stick.

Instead of pursuing Jesus’ standard, it appears many Christian leaders have simply constructed alternative forms of Christianity.  Some focus on building the biggest, most successful church.  Others focus on having the purest doctrine.  Others focus on having the warmest fellowship of believers.  It’s amazing how many alternatives exist, and how zealously they are pursued.

If you are one of those Christian leaders, I hope you will reconsider Jesus’s words and your own direction in life.  There may be time to make things right before you see Him in heaven.

I Want to See Christian Leaders Become Christlike Servants

Who am I to hope that Christian leaders will be transformed into Christlike servants?  I am a nobody.  Just a person, an ordinary human being.  In spirituality, I’m a little child, hardly knowing how to come in or go out – at best, one of the least of His kingdom.  This modesty is in no way false.

Yet I do long to see this transformation.  Christian leaders are over believers; Christlike servants are under them.  Christian leaders seek to draw the Lord’s believers to their respective causes; Christlike servants send believers to their Lord.  Christian leaders trust in their Christian identities; Christlike servants trust the Lord.

The transformation I hope for is possible, for the Lord wants us all to be Christlike servants.  And, of course, nothing is impossible with God.

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Lone Ranger Christian

The epithet “Lone Ranger Christian” is often tossed from the pulpit in an attempt to stigmatize any believer in Jesus who does not honor church.  Church is a social phenomenon so it’s natural for such a point to be well received by this audience.  They’re there – they want others there with them.  Rare is the church that doesn’t want to grow.  The more the merrier, and all that.

Consequently, the pastor’s argument against “Lone Ranger Christianity” is relatively weak and doesn’t consist of much more than the epithet.  Oh, he’ll throw in some lines about how we all need each other, but neglect the fact that most people who don’t come to church have plenty of relationships and aren’t recluses.  He’ll also throw in some Scripture, but not too much since the New Testament lacks any commandment regarding church attendance.  The closest it comes is Hebrews 10:25 which no church today practices because they all assemble separately when the verse calls for assembling together.  (For more, see my post on Hebrews 10:25.)

Aside from the weakness of the argument against “Lone Ranger Christianity” is the fact that this is exactly the kind of Christianity that was practiced by its Namesake and Founder.  That is, you do not see Jesus submitting Himself and His plans to others.  You do not see Him with a “home church” as base.  He does not have a pastor or elders to whom He submits.  (Well, He did eventually submit to elders but they had Him crucified – in part precisely because He had been a Lone Ranger and had not submitted His teaching to their authority.)  Jesus’ ministry was primarily conducted from town to town and on the roads in between.  Yes, He would go to a synagogue to teach and, yes, He would go to the temple and celebrate Israel’s feasts, but as for what we call church life today – He practiced none of it, taught none of it, and commanded none of it.  Therefore, the Hero of our faith was…the original Lone Ranger Christian.  How then do we follow in His steps without taking on His attitude?

Church is no longer of the Lord, and hasn’t been for a long time.  Seek His kingdom and His righteousness instead.  It is better to be alone and serving the Lord than together with others serving someone else.

See also:  How to Be in the One True Church

The Sin of Diotrephes

John’s third letter tells among its few lines the even shorter story of Diotrephes.  And a disturbing story it was.

It seems the apostle John couldn’t even get a hearing in Diotrephes’ church.  And indeed it was on the verge of becoming the church of Diotrephes instead of the church of the Lord.  Paul had warned the elders of Ephesus that some from among them would draw away the disciples after themselves.  John, in another letter, had warned that antichrists would arise in the last hour.  Diotrephes is a specific example of that which the apostles – and the Lord Himself – had warned: the falling away of church leaders just before the Lord’s return. 

If you seek followers for your church or ministry, you have inherited the sin of Diotrephes.  You probably are not drawing disciples of the Lord to yourself knowingly.  You think you are doing it for Him.  But recognize now that the Lord has chosen His people for Himself, not for us. 

Let us be done with the sin of Diotrephes.  That is, let us be done with the sin of wanting to be “first among them.”  Jesus Himself had warned us not to be called “Rabbi, Teacher, Leader, or Father” – all titles He reserved for Himself.  Again, let us flee from being over any disciple of the Lord.  They are His.

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The Church Is in Rebellion Against Jesus

The church proclaims that Jesus is Lord, but it does not practice this truth.  In fact, it rebels against Him.

Jesus says “Come unto Me,” while the church says, “Come unto us.”

Jesus says, “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness,” while the church says, “Seek first church.”

Jesus says, “If you abide in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine,” while the church says, “If you abide in church, then you are Jesus’ disciples.”

It is the saddest and strangest irony that the church works at cross purposes with the very Lord it professes to serve.

It was not always this way.  The church of the New Testament – that is, the apostolic church – was faithful to Him.  Since the end of that age, however, the church fell away and God’s kingdom came to replace it.  Wherever an individual walks yoked with Jesus – there is the kingdom of God.

We Who Had Sweet Fellowship Together

Such sad words that David writes here.  He describes a very painful moment. 

This is not the distance that separates two who do not know each other.  Rather, it is the estrangement of two who were once very close.

Imagine how Jesus felt, having been with the apostolic church every step of their persecuted and glorious journey.  So intimate was He with His church, and so closely did He identify with it, that in His challenging rebuke to Saul of Taurus He had cried out, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute Me?”  The church was His bride.  He loved her as He loved His own flesh.

Imagine then how He felt as the apostles dwindled in number due to their faithful witness in the face of the ultimate persecution.  The love of many of the remaining grew cold and church leaders, loving to be first, began to draw the disciples to themselves.  He was not surprised for He had foreseen the apostasy, and He had warned through His apostles that it would happen.  Yet as with Judas, knowing ahead of time did not lessen the severity of His wound.  This rejection did not come from those who never knew Him.  Rather, it came from His companions and familiar friends, those who had walked with Him in the house of God in the throng.

Then there came the moment when there was a great separation of sheep and goats, invisible to earth but fully visible to heaven. The Lord chose His glorious church which was without spot or wrinkle, gladly giving them the kingdom; He simulataneously cast aside those who had chosen earthly structure and worldly power, and left them outside His kingdom. 

Decide today whose spiritual descendants you will be: whether those who set their minds on a heavenly Shepherd or those who set their minds on earthly shepherds.  Least of all, should you be like those earthly shepherds who sought the sheep for themselves.  Peter denied the Lord, but he did not betray Him and he did not take money for his betrayal as Judas had.  May God have mercy on us all.

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Reform the Clergy or Eliminate It?

You may wonder if I address Christian leaders in hope of reforming the clergy or eliminating it.  My hope is that it will be eliminated in the flesh and reformed in the spirit.

By eliminated in the flesh, I mean that I hope the church and all its clergy go away.  The church robs believers of their God-given liberty and enslaves them to the needs and purposes of the church.  This is true whether the church is worldwide in scope, is a local nondenominational church, or even a house church of a few people.  Church was only ordained by God for New Testament times.  Since then His kingdom has prevailed.  And since then, the church has fought the kingdom for the hearts of believers, telling all who would listen, “Those of you who would serve God must serve me.”   

By reformed in the spirit, I mean that every person in the clergy who knows Jesus Christ will praise Him daily and tell others of His goodness.  This does not require a paid position in a church or ministry.  In fact, spreading the gospel should not be a way of making money.  Otherwise, those of us who speak of Him are simply peddlers of God’s word.  We who know something of the Scriptures can freely share what we know as we have occasion.  But we must always respect every other person’s relationship with the Lord and never insert ourselves between Him and the person (which is what church does).

Therefore, I urge all of you who are considered Christian clergy: cast aside your ministerial title and status.  Live for the Lord, and sing His praise.  And if that means that you will sell hot dogs instead of passing the offering plate for your income, then know that you will have exchanged shame for glory.

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The Perfect Has Come

The great love chapter of the Bible (1 Corinthians 13) tells us that “when the perfect comes, the partial will be done away.”  Of course, Paul was speaking of the discarding of church structure (including all the communication protocols he was in the midst of describing when he digressed on the subject of love) that would occur when the eternal kingdom of God arrived.

This doing away with something of lesser value when something of greater value comes on the scene was very much in keeping with biblical standards.  Moses’ tabernacle replaced the occasional altar of sacrifice offered by the patriarchs.  Then the temple replaced Moses’ tabernacle.  Then the church of the New Testament replaced the temple.  Lastly, the kingdom of God replaced the church.

The reason that church life has been such a frustration to people who love the Lord ever since New Testament times, is that God did away with it when He brought in His kingdom shortly after the last of the New Testament documents was written – just as He promised.  The church was a partial structure, intended only for apostolic times.  For this reason, the apostles never gave instructions for its perpetuation beyond their generation.  And for this reason, the structure of church has bedeviled believers for generations.  Jesus has offered Himself – and been found – through every generation since the apostles, but as soon as believers shift their focus from Jesus to church, the mischief begins.  Instead, believers should be seeking Jesus in His kingdom.  He is its king!  (As for the church, they allow Him to be king in name only.)

The kingdom of God is perfect.  It cannot be shaken.  The reason is cannot be shaken is that it is not administered by human hands.  Because it cannot be shaken, the kingdom has endured through every generation, even when the church has been violently shaken.  Church needs to go the way of the patriarchs’ altars and Moses’ tabernacle.  That is, it needs to be lost to history.  Unfortunately, it continues with us to this day like the ruins of the temple called the Wailing Wall with the hopeful chanting of prayers for the coming of a Messiah who has already come, and for the restoration of a Jerusalem that already sits secure from any human encroachment or corruption – fortified and glorified in the heavenly dimension.

Be done with the partial.  It consumes attention belonging to the perfect.  Let the partial burn on the ash heap outside the gates of our glorious Jerusalem.

Among you stands One whom you do not know!  He is the Perfect One.  Bow down to Him.  And to Him only.

The purpose of this blog is to proclaim Jesus Christ in terms familiar to those who read the Bible, and to help others become more familiar with the Bible. For those unfamiliar with the Bible, see the blog A Nonchurchgoer’s Guide to Jesus and His Kingdom.

Scripture quotations taken from the NASB, unless otherwise noted. 

Do Not Bring People into Bondage

You know how the Judaizers were following Paul and seeking to bring his converts into bondage.  I can’t imagine that they were doing this with consciously malicious motives.  Rather, they were doing what they thought was right before God – just as Paul himself had been persecuting Christians before his conversion, thinking he was doing God a service.

It’s common for people to think they are serving God when they are actually doing the opposite.  Consider the most dramatic example of all: the Jewish leaders who turned Jesus over to the Romans for crucifixion “for the good of the nation.” 

Similarly, you think you are helping God by seeking to attract people to your church.  It doesn’t seem like bondage to you.  In fact, it seems like the opposite.  You think you are setting them free. Instead, you are just helping them exchange their irreligious bondage for a religious bondage.  They are still bound to sin.  Only an awareness of Jesus can free them from sin.  You can tell them about Jesus, but you can’t give them the freedom.  Moreover, if they think joining you is what gives them the freedom, they will miss Jesus and remain bound.

Set them free.  Tell them to stop serving you and your church so that they can go back to the world from which they came and serve Him there.

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He Sets Aside the First Covenant to Establish the Second

Jesus set aside the original covenant which included animal sacrifice and temple worship.  He replaced it with a new and better covenant wherein worship consists of doing the will of God in our daily lives (Romans 12:1-2). 

It was inevitable in that in the generation that followed the apostles, leaders arose who did not know Jesus.  Like the pharaoh who arose not knowing Joseph (Acts 7:18), these leaders subjugated the disciples (Acts 20:30) to themselves.  By doing so, these leaders shut off the kingdom of God from the disciples and did not enter themselves (Matthew 23:13).

God had intended all along to replace the first covenant with the second because it was impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sin (Hebrews 10:4).  It merely a system instituted for a time until the more permanent administration of the eternal covenant could be established  (Hebrews 9:9-10; 13:20-21).

Apostolic Covering

Have you ever been asked if you have an apostolic covering?  Not all segments of the church have had to deal with the issue of “covering” so you may not be aware of this.  Yet the argument takes other forms in other segments of the church so that it is found in some form everywhere. 

Here’s a universal way of stating the issue: “To whom will you, as a Christian, be submitted so that you are protected from entering into spiritual error?”  The premise is that an individual cannot live his life exclusively with the Lord.  He must be in fellowship with other believers lest he go astray. 

Of course, all this is pure folly.  If fellowship or covering was sufficient to protect against error we wouldn’t have all the sin we have in the churches today: child molestation, adultery, divorce, greed, and on and on the list goes, including every sin known to mankind.  Sometimes the churches with the most covering have the most sins.

People who press you about covering are after something.  They either want your money, your allegiance, or your praise – and maybe they want all of these things. 

The next time someone asks you about your apostolic covering or fellowship, tell them that the apostle and high priest of your confession is the Lord Jesus Christ and you enjoy the fellowship of the Holy Spirit.

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