A Faith To Live And Die For

Stoning of Steven – Rembrandt Harmensz. van Rijn

A few weeks ago I spoke on the topic of faith.  In that message I noted the centrality of faith in the Christian life.  The Apostle Paule wrote,

“And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love (I Corinthians 13:13).”  Faith can be defined as a belief in which one has total confidence.  But scripture calls us to an even higher level of expectation.  “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen (Hebrews 11:1).”

I have on several occasions had students who remarked that the Hebrews passage is “stupid.”  I usually respond with asking why they see it that way.  I usually receive a reply along the lines that, “if you haven’t seen it yourself, how do you know that it wasn’t just made up?”

To this I reply, “No one knowingly dies for a lie.”

Jesus said,  “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me (John 14:6).”   He stated that He was the path to salvation.  He also knew that that path would require Him to die as a sacrifice.

If we look at Jesus’ temptations in the desert, we see in the third test, that Satan gave Him “an out.”  He said if Jesus would worship him, he would give the peoples of the world to Jesus.  Jesus’ death wouldn’t be necessary.  Jesus however refuses the temptation, He was prepared to die to fulfill His mission (something that if He had made it up He would not have done), and He also refused to buy into a huge lie that Satan was worthy of worship.

Remember, you don’t die for a lie!

Peter in Acts 2:22 and following capsulises the Gospel by saying that Jesus was crucified, died and was buried.  But then he adds that Jesus is risen, and that he (Peter) is a witness.  His testimony is firm.  But “what if he made it up?”

In Acts 4 Peter is arrested, and ordered by the authorities (the same that had killed Jesus) to not speak the Gospel again.  His response is to question,  “Who should we obey?”  Should he obey God, and tell the truth, or cave in to the treat of those in power?  His action is one of confident faith.  Something many would not do, especially for a lie.

In Chapter 5, Peter is arrested again and beaten for the message.   Would you be beaten for a lie?  Maybe/maybe not, but Peter holds firm.

In Acts 7 Stephen filled with the Holy Spirit speaks of the same Gospel.  He then to express its fulfillment when he said he could see Jesus at the Father’s side welcoming him, even as he is being stoned to death.  He died, and for the truth.  He not once hesitated in his testimony, even in the faith of death.  You don’t die for a lie!

Chapter 9 shows us Saul, an enemy of the Gospel converted by an encounter with the resurrected Lord.  He surrendered a promising position in the Jewish hierarchy, to speak boldly the experience of his encounter.  Would he give up reputation, and position for a lie?  But that is not all.

2 Corinthians 11: 16f summarises Saul, now known as Paul’s payment for teaching the Gospel:

“Let no one take me for a fool. But if you do, then tolerate me just as you would a fool, so that I may do a little boasting. 17 In this self-confident boasting I am not talking as the Lord would, but as a fool. 18 Since many are boasting in the way the world does, I too will boast. 19 You gladly put up with fools since you are so wise! 20 In fact, you even put up with anyone who enslaves you or exploits you or takes advantage of you or puts on airs or slaps you in the face. 21 To my shame I admit that we were too weak for that!Whatever anyone else dares to boast about—I am speaking as a fool—I also dare to boast about. 22 Are they Hebrews? So am I. Are they Israelites? So am I. Are they Abraham’s descendants? So am I. 23 Are they servants of Christ? (I am out of my mind to talk like this.) I am more. I have worked much harder, been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again. 24 Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. 25 Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was pelted with stones, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, 26 I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my fellow Jews, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false believers. 27 I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked. 28 Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches.”

To top it all off tradition tells us Paul was beheaded in Rome. Just as James had been beheaded by Herod for the Gospel.  Tradition says Peter crucified upside down, and his brother Andrew sideways, while Bartholomew was skinned alive and Thomas impaled.  The other Apostle James was stoned John boiled in oil but survived.  Each died, or was prepared to die for the “substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.”  Not one recanted. 

Decide for yourself, does the gospel sound like something Steven, Paul, and the Twelve “made up?”

With that knowledge before you.  In what do you put your faith today?  Is it something worthy to live and die for?

 

Padre

 

Decisions

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image: freepik

Each day we have choices to face –

Yet, oft we just do what we haft –

But we need to remember

That decisions are more than math

Zero gain balances may sound good

But that ignores what’s wrong or right

It’s not a utilitarian game

Where individuals can be given a slight

What is good or bad is not opinion

What is truth is always true

Ponder this next choice you make

Giving integrity its due

 

Padre

 

 

Set Free by Truth

Pastor Vince brought a powerful message on Sunday drawn from John 8.  He focused on the liberating power of truth, and how we might achieve freedom through it.

He began with verse 12,  in which Jesus proclaims Himself to be light.  Light reveals, and darkness obscures, but more importantly light brings life.  Coupled we can clearly see that light and truth (the only thing remaining when light reveals falsehood) gives us freedom from the darkness and its accompanying sin.

“When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life (v 12).”

Jesus’ words receive an immediate response,

“The Pharisees challenged him, “Here you are, appearing as your own witness; your testimony is not valid (v 13).”

When confronted with truth, they strike out with their own legalism.  Are we not like that?  If we don’t like what we hear, we either ignore it or we attack it.  They did the same.

Jesus responds by noting that they are limited by their own tunnel vision, and that since they are in the darkness they fail to see what should be manifestly obvious,

“14 Jesus answered, “Even if I testify on my own behalf, my testimony is valid, for I know where I came from and where I am going. But you have no idea where I come from or where I am going. 15 You judge by human standards; I pass judgment on no one. 16 But if I do judge, my decisions are true, because I am not alone. I stand with the Father, who sent me. 17 In your own Law it is written that the testimony of two witnesses is true. 18 I am one who testifies for myself; my other witness is the Father, who sent me.”

Their lack of understanding then again manifested by their response,

19 Then they asked him, “Where is your father?”

Jesus made this claim of divine Son-ship publicly.  Yet He was not accosted.

“You do not know me or my Father,” Jesus replied. “If you knew me, you would know my Father also.” 20 He spoke these words while teaching in the temple courts near the place where the offerings were put. Yet no one seized him, because his hour had not yet come.”

Pastor Vince made a terrific point that while we may fear or worry about the onslaughts of the world, that the world has no power over those called to God’s purpose.  Our “hour” only comes in keeping with God’s greater plan, just as it was in His Son’s case.  Timidity is not necessary.  That is one of the Truths that can free us!

23 But he continued, “You are from below; I am from above. You are of this world; I am not of this world.24 I told you that you would die in your sins; if you do not believe that I am he, you will indeed die in your sins.”  25 “Who are you?” they asked. “Just what I have been telling you from the beginning,” Jesus replied. 26 “I have much to say in judgment of you. But he who sent me is trustworthy, and what I have heard from him I tell the world.” 27 They did not understand that he was telling them about his Father. . . . “ 

Some begin to see,

“31 To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples.”

To them this was the first indications of freedom,

“32 Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

But others remained in darkness!

What does transpire in the scripture is telling.  When their lack of understanding, and metaphorical “darkness” is shown, they deflect the conversation from its course.  They focus on their own assumptions, and on their own “special place.”

33 They answered him, “We are Abraham’s descendants and have never been slaves of anyone. How can you say that we shall be set free?” 34 Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, everyone who sins is a slave to sin. 35 Now a slave has no permanent place in the family, but a son belongs to it forever. 36 So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed. 37 I know that you are Abraham’s descendants. Yet you are looking for a way to kill me, because you have no room for my word. 38 I am telling you what I have seen in the Father’s presence, and you are doing what you have heard from your father.” 39 “Abraham is our father,” they answered. “If you were Abraham’s children,” said Jesus, “then you would do what Abraham did. 40 As it is, you are looking for a way to kill me, a man who has told you the truth that I heard from God. Abraham did not do such things. 41 You are doing the works of your own father.”

Their assertion of “son-ship” was in the flesh.  And their attitude was a form of slavery, a slavery they were denying!  Jesus also notes, that their actions not only show they are not children of God, but they are not even good children of Abraham!

42 Jesus said to them, “If God were your Father, you would love me, for I have come here from God. I have not come on my own; God sent me. 43 Why is my language not clear to you? Because you are unable to hear what I say. 44 You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies.45 Yet because I tell the truth, you do not believe me! 46 Can any of you prove me guilty of sin? If I am telling the truth, why don’t you believe me? 47 Whoever belongs to God hears what God says. The reason you do not hear is that you do not belong to God.”

We need to seek the light.  We need to dwell in truth.  We need to step away from the fleshly views shared by the people Jesus was teaching.

Pastor Vince made another key point in regards to growing beyond the views of the flesh.  The forcefully asserted link to Abraham used by the Jewish leaders offers us an opportunity to learn to open up to the bigger picture.  Abram and Sarai were the original names of the Abraham and Sarah.  Abram means “Exalted Father” and  Sarai “My Princess.”  What potentially self obsessive names!  Abraham and Sarah needed a change in their world views.  God therefore signaled this when her renamed them.  Abraham means “Father of Many,”   They needed to see beyond themselves, and look to the multitudes.  Service rather than exaltation.

What greater truth about relationship, to God or man, is there.  Serving self is a darkness.  And Jesus the Light of the World, was the epitome of service and sacrifice.  Truths such as these will set us free.  And we will be free in deed.

Set free not just physically, but spiritually, mentally, and in all our being.  Come into the light of truth today!

Padre

 

Pastor Vince’s message was accompanied by a great demonstration of moving from binding to freedom.  There is so much more content shared in a single lesson, but I have tried to give at least some of this great messages key points some comment.

 

 

 

A Theory on Theories

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image: The Times

A Theory on Theories

 

I have a theory

It’s all my own

Built in a day

Unlike Rome

 

I have a theory

It’s so clear to me

Why you don’t get it

Is a mystery

 

I have a theory

It goes like this

“What’s true to me

You can’t dismiss”

 

I have a theory

In its reverse

I have to accept

That yours is no worse

 

We both have theories

That’s plain to see

But with a little respect

We need not agree

 

A theory’s a theory

It still lacks proof

To claim otherwise

Is a classic goof

 

Padre

 

Fandango’s Word Prompt  Theory

 

 

A Meme on Meaning

leap

“New and improved,” seems to be a perpetual advertising phrase.  While this may well have some importance when it comes to your soap powder or deodorant, it carries very little weight in morals, ethics, or spirituality.

F. F. Bruce worded it well when he penned,  “The question to be asked of all teaching is not, ‘Is it new?’ but ‘Is it true?'” Truth is the ultimate goal in education, philosophy, and for eternal life.

Let’s seek it and live for it.

*Image from the Steve Martin film, Leap of Faith

Padre

Lies and Revelation

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Robert Daly / Caiaimage/Getty

In First Kings 21, we find that king Ahab had surrounded himself with prophets of his own choosing. Whether true prophets, or false, these four hundred individuals were charged by Ahab to predict the outcome of an attack on Ramoth Gilead.

It was Ahab’s intent to invade, yet he sought the alliance of Jehoshaphat king of Judah.  It was only because of Jehoshaphat’s insistence that such an endevour be with God’s blessing that the prophets were summoned. Their response was unanimous – “Israel will win!”

It is telling in verse 7 that ” . . . Jehoshaphat asked, “Is there no longer a prophet of the Lord here whom we can inquire of?” He seems discontent with the verdict of the 400.  Look carefully at the wording on verses 6 and 7.

“So the king of Israel brought together the prophets—about four hundred men—and asked them, “Shall I go to war against Ramoth Gilead, or shall I refrain (verse 6)?”

“Is there no longer a prophet of the Lord here whom we can inquire of (verse 7)?”

Jehoshaphat differentiated the status of the four hundred from one “of the Lord.” When the man of God, Micaiah is called, he is warned to stick to the party line.

“All the other prophets were prophesying the same thing. “Attack Ramoth Gilead and be victorious,” they said, “for the Lord will give it into the king’s hand.”The messenger who had gone to summon Micaiah said to him, “Look, the other prophets without exception are predicting success for the king. Let your word agree with theirs, and speak favorably (vs 12 -13).”

Micaiah’s response is telling,

“As surely as the Lord lives, I can tell him only what the Lord tells me.”

He is then pressed by the king for his verdict.  He answers as did the 400.  This, allowing for his previous record of pronouncing against Ahab, seems to trouble the king. He presses harder in verse 16,

“The king said to him, “How many times must I make you swear to tell me nothing but the truth in the name of the Lord?”

Now comes the full disclosure the king didn’t want to hear. And there is an indication of the difference between the prophecy of the four hundred, and that of the “prophet of the Lord.” He begins by noting a defeat, not victory for Ahab, then

“Micaiah continued, “Therefore hear the word of the Lord: I saw the Lord sitting on his throne with all the multitudes of heaven standing around him on his right and on his left. And the Lord said, ‘Who will entice Ahab into attacking Ramoth Gilead and going to his death there?’ “One suggested this, and another that. Finally, a spirit came forward, stood before the Lord and said, ‘I will entice him. “‘By what means?’ the Lord asked. “‘I will go out and be a deceiving spirit in the mouths of all his prophets,’ he said “‘You will succeed in enticing him,’ said the Lord. ‘Go and do it. “So now the Lord has put a deceiving spirit in the mouths of all these prophets of yours. The Lord has decreed disaster for you (vs 19-23).”

God had already cut Ahab and his line off. His own lust for power was still evident in his desire to annex Ramoth Gilead. It is his own folly (as it was in the previous chapter) that was the cause of his own downfall. Here is a man not fit to lead God’s people. Micaiah sees this, and God allows him a greater revelation than the four hundred.

The prophets of Ahab were given their message by a deceiving spirit. They were led astray, by their own man pleasing, and the spirit of falsehood. Micaiah is shown the bigger picture.  He sees why the message is given. And he reveals this to the king. Rather than trusting his word, Ahab imprisoned him.  For what? For telling the truth.

There has been much comment of the exchange in heaven, recorded above. Let’s look at it briefly. God cannot and does not lie (Numbers 23:19). So we must conclude the “plotting” in heaven is not God’s falsehood.

  • God cannot lie.
  • God knows all things.
  • God allows free will.
  • God allows, but does not dictate sin (see Job 1)

Since God doesn’t lie,  He is not the author of the lie in chapter 22. Since He knows all things, He did not ask the questions in 22 in order to be informed. There had to be a different purpose for His inquiry. God allows free will so allowed the 400 to follow their own conceits, and Ahab in turn to follow his own destiny brought about by his corruption. God allows the one (a spirit of falsehood) to spread his lies.

Let’s return to the purpose of the questions. Who was privy to the conversation? The multitudes of heaven, God, and Micaiah! The entire exchange informed the “prophet of the Lord” of the deceit of the false spirit, and how it would become manifested. This gave him revelation of truth in the face of falsehood.

God had, as already noted, cut off Ahab (as He had Saul and others).  He also had in chapter 21 given Ahab a brief reprieve from destruction, because he had humbled himself, before God.  But now he was back to his old ways.  His destruction was foreknown of God, as the wages of his sin. Satan, the deceiver, is true to his nature.  He is the father of lies, and as such easily manipulates the false four hundred into allowing Ahab to destroy himself. God allows it, He does not cause it.

If Ahab (and his wife) didn’t have greedy spirits, they would not have fallen foul of God. If Ahab had not surrounded himself with “prophets” that tickled his ears, he would not have been led astray. It the four hundred had sought the words of God in a spirit of truth, they would have not been flatterers. If Satan were not a liar, he would not have the desire to cause evil. If Ahab when he heard the actual words of truth from Micaiah had repented of his lust for power, he wouldn’t have entered into a losing battle.

Look at the power of a lie. Yet, revelation, the revealing of truth by God is empowering. Empowering if it is listened too. Jehoshaphat valued words of truth.  He wanted to know the will and mind of God.

Are we Ahabs or Jehoshaphats? Do we listen to and readily spread lies like the four hundred? Or do we seek clarity in the truth like Micaiah? Do we seek lies or revelation?

 

Padre

 

 

 

Publish and Perish

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Pastor Matthew Winters recently asked Why Do People Dismiss the Parables of Jesus? He challenged theologians to discuss why ” people cut and paste the parables of Jesus in order to teach their theological system such as dismiss the thought of a literal hell or relating the conditional love of God the Father to the father of the prodigal son because it is a parable.”

I have had many Biblical Studies and Theology professors in my day.  Some were traditional, evangelical, and on fire for God.  Others were Philosophers in “sheep’s clothing.” I had one Rabbi professor who took an entirely literary approach to scripture. Others have had the “publish or perish” maxim so ingrained in them that they were quick in the name of theology, and to “make their unique contribution to the field of study” that they forgot that those who profess the Gospel are accountable for those teachings – “Not many of you should become teachers, my fellow believers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly (James 3:1).”

As a theologian, I take the approach that the parables are divinely given.  They should be first and foremost read in context of Jesus’ following explanations, or by the questions of others which prompted them [“who is my neighbour,” etc.].  These are not mere fictions (many hold them to be fabrications of Jesus as a rabbi), but as accounts given not only as familiar life events of His hearers, but as actual “true life” accounts.  While the “Rich man and Lazarus” is a great teaching tool for a call to social justice, concern for the welfare of others, and of the folly of greed – it also is a “true” account of the gulf between heaven and hell – of the “Bosom of Abraham,” and the place of torment.

Those who presume to alter the teachings of Jesus for their own doctrinal advantage, or intellectual and academic advancement may well “publish and perish.”

It is worth thinking about.

Padre

Truth: Beyond the Masks

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Mask

Pilate asked the question, “What is truth?”.

We all like to be liked.  To achieve this many people create a narrative and external image that is appealing to their target audience. This in time becomes their own “reality” no matter how much falsehood, or masquerading  is involved. Some people are so caught up in the the fabrications of their own story, that they cannot recognise the truth in others. This is sad, as even those who realise that their own facade is phony, come to believe everyone else equally duplicitous.  There becomes a lack of belief in integrity.

The Christian witness counters this.  Everyone is flawed (you, me, everyone).  Honest Christian witness is not that we are perfect, but that we are forgiven for our shortcomings.  How much more powerful is that to tell the world – “I am flawed, just like you, and it doesn’t matter in eternity, because there is One who will accept us regardless.”   We don’t need to put on masks, as the One who sees through all masks, still is willing to accept us as we are.  What is better than liking being liked? Loving being loved!

This mask wearing does however have a pervasive power in today’s world.  In a world of “self” the image of that self becomes more important than truth itself. Some mask-wearers even take pride in their ability to see beyond the masks of others. But, they themselves, play their self appointed roles, in order to sell their lies to the widest possible audience.

And why do people do this? Jesus notes in John 8: 44, the origin:

“You are of your father the devil, and you want to do the desires of your father, he was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth because there is no truth in him Whenever he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own nature, for he is a liar and the father of lies.”

Such sons of the devil (or sons of this world) thrive on deceit.  Luke records Jesus’ parable of the corrupt steward in 16: 1-8,

 “There was a certain rich man who had a steward, and an accusation was brought to him that this man was wasting his goods. So he called him and said to him, ‘What is this I hear about you? Give an account of your stewardship, for you can no longer be steward.’ “Then the steward said within himself, ‘What shall I do? For my master is taking the stewardship away from me. I cannot dig; I am ashamed to beg.  I have resolved what to do, that when I am put out of the stewardship, they may receive me into their houses.’ “So he called every one of his master’s debtors to him, and said to the first, ‘How much do you owe my master?’ And he said, ‘A hundred measures of oil.’ So he said to him, ‘Take your bill, and sit down quickly and write fifty.’ Then he said to another, ‘And how much do you owe?’ So he said, ‘A hundred measure of wheat.’ And he said to him, ‘Take your bill, and write eighty.’  So the master commended the unjust steward because he had dealt shrewdly. For the sons of this world are more shrewd in their generation than the sons of light.”  

While Jesus’ story was illustrative of a different point, it nonetheless shows the attitude difference of “the sons of this world” and “the sons of light.” Truth, and integrity are outpourings of light. Jesus said in John 14: 6, “I am the way and the truth and the life.” God with us, the Emmanuel was the embodiment of truth.  And if we are in Him, we should be manifesting Truth.

In fact Jesus promised that better than image, we can have freedom in the truth. “Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free (John 8:32).”

Why live in a world of masks, when real freedom, and real acceptance is found in the truth?

Padre

Addendum: My wife and I have been assailed of late by lies.  Some have been perpetrated by those who cannot see beyond their own masks. Others have been deliberate attempts to deceive and to benefit financially at our expense. Very few have been direct lies about us, as they have mostly been lies to us.  Some hurt has additionally been heaped on by belittling our own honesty.  No, not assertions we are dishonest, but attacks on our faith for being “Too Honest” and our “stupidity” for not “seeking advantage” by lying. Whatever the motivations of those who have assailed us however, devastation and pain are still the consequence.  I pray that I can be a walker in the truth, and that I do not cause the same distress in others.