Tag Archives: theology

Simplicity: Hold fast what you received

How simple it all is!

But so much has been added to the simplicity of Christ and as a result, that simplicity has disappeared.

In robbing us of that simplicity and embracing instead the religious ideas of human thinking, what has not been given to us, we have lost just about all.

I invite you to consider with me the utter simplicity of what was revealed to the first communities of Jesus.

For starters, consider these words from the mouth of Jesus to believers recorded for us in the book, Revelation.

 “To the angel of the church in Ephesus . . . . . ‘You have forsaken the love you had at first. Consider how far you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first.’” Rev 2:4-5.

“I say to the rest of you in Thyatira ‘I will not impose any other burden on you, except to hold on to what you have until I come.’”  Rev 2:24-25

 “To the angel of the church in Sardis write  . . . . . . ‘I know your deeds; you have a reputation of being alive, but you are dead.  Wake up! Strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have found your deeds unfinished in the sight of my God.  Remember, therefore, what you have received and heard; hold it fast, and repent. But if you do not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what time I will come to you.’”  Rev 3:1-3.

And “To the angel of the church in Philadelphia . . . .  ‘I am coming soon. Hold on to what you have, so that no one will take your crown.’” Rev 3:1, 11

Consider also these words from the pen of apostle John . . .

Let what you have heard from the beginning abide in you. If what you have heard from the beginning abides in you, you will abide in the Son and the Father. 1 John 2:24

Need I comment?

Dare I comment?

If you have ears to hear, then please join me in hearing, that is, obeying.

One Together in God and His Christ

Having prayed to the Father first for his disciples that they may be one “as We are”, Jesus then prayed for those who will believe in Me through their word; that they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me (John 17:20-23). He therefore prays for you and me —we believers are included in His prayer and ongoing intercessions!

So what is He praying for us, we who have believed in Him through their word? The answer follows with some staggering ‘purpose clauses’. In this post, we look at the first of these.

That they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You;

This is the same request he made for the original disciples: that they may be one “as we are”, the Father in Jesus and Jesus in the Father. This is undoubtedly the will of God for you and me, for all followers. Nothing has changed, though we have changed and not for the better.

We are thus connected to the original disciples in the Spirit by the same will of God in Christ! We are meant to be together with them, immersed in the Father, Son and the Holy Spirit. No change!  There is no change in covenantal privileges and responsibilities from them to us despite the passage of 2000 years. We live in the fellowship of the saints!

This awesome connection, oneness, S. Paul calls the Body of Christ. Jesus calls it My ekklesia.

This is of critical importance in how we understand our relationship with other believers, and how we look at ekklesia. That’s the original word used and badly translated into English as church, where it comes across as a religious concept. The word ekklesia in the original simply meant a gathering of people for a purpose. It had no religious connotation whatsoever. None.

The only ekklesia that is actually of God is the one Jesus is constructing—Matthew 16:18. Humans cannot build this. And we must not try. We are not commanded to do so.  And yet we fail to do what we are instructed—to bring in the harvest, to teach others to be disciples, to love one another and to be ONE together as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You.

But we can be so busy trying to help Him build churches, we fail to experience the glory He wants to display in us. He, not us, is the Architect and the Builder of His ekklesia. We are together members of His glorious Body, the living stones in this spiritual building. Together in Him.  ONE.

And in this glorious fellowship, this temple of God, we are to be one together. One not many.

Jesus’ prayer for you and me, all believers, constantly before the Father, is for our oneness. Do you see that excludes so much activity taken for granted in today’s religious organisations? Thus denominational exclusiveness is a grave error. Control of others is anathema. Selfishness, vainglory, hatred, self-righteousness, arguments, self-justifications, dogmatism causing splits, must all be thrown out.

When we are united together in actually doing what he has commanded—rather than what our precious theology or doctrines or opinions or religious organisations want—when we are abounding in the actual work of the Lord, filled with the Holy Spirit, bearing witness to Him, participating in the making of disciples, reminding, teaching, urging, persuading, encouraging others—in our joy and gladness in serving Him and one another, we leave behind those obstacles to oneness.  We forget our own agendas in favour of His agenda—our ONENESS.

 

It’s not about you. It’s not about us. It’s all about the Father and His Christ. Right?

BLIND GUIDES

Jesus’ disciples usually had to hold their breath as their master kept pulling down the teachings of the religious leaders, as we read in the gospel narratives.

“Here he goes again … what will he say this time?” they might have been thinking, as they braced themselves to his scathing denunciations.

Matthew 15 records Jesus’ devastating criticism of the leaders and teachers of the Jewish Law in one of these confrontations. These men were the backbone of First Century Judaism and were the ones to whom the ordinary people in the villages of Israel looked for guidance. Jesus had torn strips off them for their adherence to human traditions which obscured or even nullified the true meaning of the word of God. The disciples, anxious to maintain religious diplomacy and not rock the boat, came to him and anxiously asked,

“Do you know that the Pharisees were offended when they heard this?”

Then there is this truly unexpected reply from Jesus, ignoring their concerns (as he does so often) . . . .

“Every plant that my heavenly Father has not planted will be pulled up by the roots. Leave them; they are blind guides. If the blind lead the blind, both will fall into a pit.”   Mat 15:12-14 (NIV)

Just imagine the ramifications of that!

These men taught and practised many things which were like “plants that my heavenly Father has not planted”.  Remember, these were the teachers whose teachings and practices most closely resembled those who would follow Jesus. But the bottom line in the Kingdom of God, Jesus was bringing in is :

Only what the Father has planted will survive

If the Pharisees were blind guides, who was there left to guide the people? And who is there today to show us what the Father has planted?

And who in our current world of 2016 then is not blind? We have countless teachers who will lead untold thousands to fall into a pit of destruction and lostness. Are you following a blind guide?

Our guide must be Jesus. Jesus alone, and his Holy Spirit who speaks to us the things of Christ.

Is your guide your favourite preacher or writer? Or the dogmas of your precious religious party? Or your accumulated assumptions about what God wants from you but which God has never planted?

Many have decided themselves what to plant, what courses of action they will take, but have not heard from the Holy Spirit, from the Lord Jesus, who alone will show what the Father desires.

If the King, is not your guide won’t you “fall into a pit”? If you are not hearing and obeying Him, then are you not obeying a different “father”, like the Pharisees were?

What will be left of all our efforts and strivings if with all our good intentions, our futile plantings will be ripped out by the Father? Take care lest you assume what you are doing is from God.

“We must examine ourselves to see whether we still are in the faith” warns the apostle Paul. What faith? He is referring to the deposit of truth and practice left to us by Jesus and his apostles. Nothing more, nothing less.

We listen to what Jesus teaches, the living word of God, the voice of the Holy Spirit, and obey that, and not the vain traditions of men or what “life teaches us”. If your theology is not Jesus’ theology, cut it off. We must lead people into Jesus not into religious ghettos. Knowing Jesus. Loving him. Right?

A SOUND AND FULL GOSPEL

Sound doctrine must be encouraged right from the start for the newly baptised. That means the teaching of Jesus and the apostles recorded for us in the New Testament documents. An intensive approach is necessary until a foundation and unity in Christ is experienced to bring maturity and stops the person being tossed around by every wind of doctrine. Ephesians 4:1-16 says it all.

The Gospel is enough if it is the full message and based on sound apostolic teaching.

Paul’s letters are packed with warnings to people about losing what has been given at the start. It’s a constant theme. also Peter’s and James and John. The lot.

Sound doctrine in Jesus must replace everything else. Must replace all the additions and sacred cows that have gathered momentum and weight and accumulation by teachers in Christendom and away from the simplicity of Jesus and life, oneness and love centred only in him.

But what tends to happen amounts to adding to what people have already learned.

No. We must start from scratch—from Jesus only. That’s what the first disciples had to do. That’s what we must teach— the New Covenant and what that means, and stress its importance—the simple teaching of who we are in Christ—new men and women—who walk not after the flesh but after the Spirit. Cant serve two masters.

You cannot live the New Covenant life in Jesus’ blood while remaining in some other covenant, like a covenant of Churchianity or of a man-made organisation, or of a denomination—or one of your own choice.

The whole understanding of doctrine in current historic Churchianity is sick, stuck in a kind of poor renovation of Old Covenant shadows, yet fraught with splits, competitiveness, unbelief, envy, lust for power, desire to make a name for ourselves  . . . . . .

For example, what did Jesus teach about “the church”? Nothing. Just 2 passages in Mathew alone which today do not have the meaning anywhere near what he meant.

Instead Christendom is all about this imported c….. word.

Most people have no idea what the original Greek word (ekklesia) means because its translation to c….. in all English bibles is religious, Romish, worldly, even pagan.  Jesus gave NO command about forming churches. Instead he told us to love one another and sure, that means togetherness, yes. It means caring, service, sacrifice for others, being servants and above all, loving one another. Gathering like they did originally.

He told us to make disciples, heal the sick, set the oppressed free, love one another, lead a holy life, receive the Holy Spirit, walk in the Spirit . . . . . . . . . .

Christendom and its micro offshoots continue to do what he did not command and ignore what He DID command.

Christendom is in most places, a mere shadow of the Old Covenant—and without even the wonderful glory of the Old Covenant. The Old Covenant is a shadow of the New Covenant. But we have made the Old Covenant look by comparison far more glorious than what we see today—at least it had a supernatural glory.

The apostles declared that the glory of the New Covenant makes the old look a mere shadow. New Covenant life makes the old seem to have no glory at all says Paul (see 2 Corinthians 3).

You and I must start obeying the sound doctrine of the new covenant! Today.

No time to lose.

THE SERVANT WILL BE REJECTED

Last time we looked at the first of five stanzas we find in this most significant prophetic passage. Let’s now look at Isa 53:1-3 which forms the second stanza, beginning at Isaiah 53.

·         53:1  Who has believed our message and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?

Our history as human beings is a litany of unbelief in the One who is there. More. Unbelief that he has spoken. Unbelief in His wondrous creation and unending provision. Unbelief in His intent to bless us and give freely to us of His abundance.

This unbelief began in the Garden even as the gracious arm of the Lord was revealed to them–us. Though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize Him. The Lord spoke and everything we see, hear, taste, smell, feel and touch sprang into existence. And remains, despite our exploiting and wasteful ways! Still intact, day after day. Yet we took no notice of His voice and turned away from Love and Value and Truth and listened to the speech of the liar and believed, yes believed, a lie! We trusted, not in Him, who loved His creation, who fathered us after His own character, who spoke lifegiving  words to us, but we trusted in the words of the liar, the deceiver, the accuser, the spoiler, the harbinger of death.

How could we have been so stupid? How can we go on believing the Liar instead of the Lover?

He did not give up on us. He pursued us, revealing His mighty arm again and again. But how few of us believed His words! At last, He sent His Son in person, out of Himself, but in human form, in perfect man-ness to His own ancient people. Again the arm of the Lord was revealed in word, in deed, in love. Clearly, demonstrably. 

·         53:2a   He grew up before him like a tender shoot, and like a root out of dry ground.

He arrived, the best kept secret. Experienced refugee status in Egypt. Then grew up in Nazareth his home –what a surprise. Can anything good come out of Nazareth, we asked. He did not grow up before the world, before the media, before the crowds. He grew up before Him, his Father. A tender shoot. Vulnerable, like us. Needed Mum. Needed protection. Needed an education. No flamboyance. No displays of power. No regal ideas, no pomp and circumstance, no triumphalism. Utter humility. A mere root out of dry ground—a desert, in a famine of the word of the Lord, Israel’s lowest ebb.

Could this really be the root, the stump of Jesse? The Messiah? we all asked.

Just couldn’t be. His own did not even receive Him! He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him!  Impossible.

Even after Jesus had performed so many signs in their presence, they still would not believe in him. This was to fulfil the word of Isaiah the prophet:“Lord, who has believed our message and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed.”  (John 12:37-38)

Signs aplenty. Unbelief. Evidence. Unbelief.

·         Isa 53:2b   He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.

He came, not like David, as we expected! Not aggressive, not king-like, not conquering. Not like a loud politician or slick televangelist. So convincingly a human like all of us. And we were blind to his glory and perfectness. Because of our assumptions. We looked for a white swan but Yahweh sent a black one. Nothing in our experience prepared us for this one. Nothing, not even the earlier Hebrew prophecies, foreshadowed for us this surprising appearance on to the world’s stage. Nothing like this was expected as a possibility. His impact was epoch-making but visible only to those with eyes to see, with ears to hear, prepared to abandon assumptions.

·           Isa 53:3   He was despised and rejected by mankind, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain. Like one from whom people hide their faces he was despised, and we held him in low esteem.

The creativity, the genius of Yahweh was so great, so unexpected, so different from our unholy assumptions, that we despised him. We did not want a man of suffering and familiar with pain. We did not want or think that God would make him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that only in him we might become the righteousness of God.

No ,we wanted our own righteousness. We would do it my way, our way. We saw no need that someone should suffer to be the Messiah.

Jesus took the Twelve aside and told them, “We are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written by the prophets about the Son of Man will be fulfilledHe will be delivered over to the Gentiles. They will mock him, insult him and spit on him;they will flog him and kill him. On the third day he will rise again.” Luke 18:31-33

Yes ,we listened to madness, to hell. We wanted anything but this man. Even Caesar! Even Barabbas! Three cheers for Judas. We all fled, hopes dashed, visions shattered. Alone he faced his despisers, his judges, his deriders, his torturers. We hid our faces. We closed our eyes.

We still do, maybe. Hide our faces, think about other, nice, things. What?

You doing God’s stuff?

As we read in Hebrews 8:1-2, we do have a high priest, who sits in the place of absolute majesty in the Universe, and who serves in the real sanctuary, the most holy place, the true tent set up by the Lord, not by a mere human being. Under the Covenant with Israel long ago, God commanded an earthly, temporary, mobile sanctuary, a tent! a copy of the real sanctuary to be established by Moses with priests appointed under the law of Moses to offer up gifts and sacrifices.

But when Jesus came, he could not even approach the Tent of meeting—he was a layman! He was not even an acclaimed rabbi, let alone a priest (8:4).

Did you get that? He was a layman, not a priest! Yet in that humble form, with no religious or institutional status, he showed perfectly the character, the face, the loving-kindness and compassion of God! And by his life and death in that lowly status, he entered the TRUE sanctuary and forever abolished the whole system of exclusive priestcraft. He smashed for all time the clergy–laity hierarchy divide. So why does it still persist even in evangelical Protestant churches?

Look at Hebrews 8:5: that earthly tent made by Moses was just a copy, a shadow of the real, of what is actually in Heaven. Yet it had to be done kosher, right? So Moses was strictly warned by God:

 ‘See to it that you make everything according to the pattern shown you on the mountain.’(Exodus 25:40

God gave Moses the pattern, the design plans, for the tent of meeting and the worship to be made by Israel, which was to be visible, not just virtual. These plans could not be compromised in any detail. Understand the seriousness of following the exact plans given by the Lord Architect, even under a temporary covenant. Moses was allowed to see the transcendent, glorious form and then was instructed to materialise what he saw. No additions. No subtractions.

Following God’s instructions, Moses fabricated, erected and furnished the Tent, not a permanent structure like the worldly religions everywhere else. God was on the move with his people! The living God cannot be compromised, cannot be reduced to images or reproduced in buildings.

Now, if it was so important for Moses and Israel, under an inferior and temporary covenant arrangement, to implement exactly the Lord’s design, how much more critical it was that the apostles correctly implement the Lord’s plans for the Body of Christ to be visible on the Earth and be on the move!

And the followers of Jesus, without any Jewish authority, did so, as our letter under review and the rest of the New Testament shows. They obeyed Jesus’ words and in the power of the Holy Spirit their obedience turned the world upside down. The evidence is there in all the New Testament scriptures. We have the Lord of glory on the move in his gathered people. We see Almighty God reproduced in the face of Jesus and visibly in his gathered people: God’s pattern!

Many Christian leaders tell us they cannot see the Lord’s design for gathering of God’s people which he handed down to the apostles, and which was then implemented under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. What! The pattern’s on every page of the New Testament. But we are so used to having a D.I.Y. religion based on human thinking, founded on worldly ideas, we just assume that what we have always done is right.

If the Lord is to be honoured and given the ‘worth-ship’ He deserves, a serious, radical and unbiased approach to the New Testament is needed to see  God’s pattern for his Body. But we must remove our churchy, religious glasses to see it, and to throw out both the baby and the bathwater.

Even more so, since Jesus’ own ministry is carried out, not in a mere replica of the heavenly, but in the dwelling place of God. His work is astronomically superior to the old Mosaic order. The new arrangement Jesus has made with his people is much superior to the old one as it is established on better promises. And itcalls for even closer attention from you and me, to what God wants and the careful putting into visible form, God’s perfect design for his people.

Notice Jesus’ terrifying answer  to the troubled question his politically correct and concerned disciples put to him after he had rebuked the Pharisees over what defiles a person (Mt 15:12-14): Every plant that my heavenly Father has not planted will be rooted up!

God is jealous for his plans and designs for his work to be followed by his servants, including us. Look carefully and thoughtfully at what Jude wrote (Jude 3):

Beloved, while I was very diligent to write to you concerning our common salvation, I found it necessary to write to you exhorting you to contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints.

Are you prepared to see how proud arrogance, abysmal ignorance, sheer blindness, rank disobedience and shoulder-shrugging complacency has subjugated God’s perfect design in the totally controlled, commercialised, industrialised, entertainment-based, consumer oriented  Churchianity of today?  Stay tuned.

Let’s all have a rest : Hebrews 3-4

In Hebrews 3 and 4,  our author has another warning to give us!

DO NOT FAIL TO ENTER GOD’S REST THROUGH UNBELIEF! (it happens)

Here is another Hebrew-Jewish concept—the ‘rest’. It’s a motif from the great story of God’s mighty rescue in the Exodus event. In that story, there is an ever repeated promise to the Israelites, of a safe, secure, and fertile land they could call home instead of being eternal wanderers.

Yet surprisingly (or perhaps, not so surprisingly) though they had witnessed God’s wonderful rescue from Egypt and enslavement, they failed to trust God and were not permitted to enter the promised land (the ‘rest’). They wandered and perished in their wanderings.

Our author sees this rest as a ‘type’ for Jesus’ followers to be at rest in Him and with Him and to have ended all our religious labours and strivings to be okay with our Lord God. It’s another way of explaining the glorious New Covenant of Jesus

He warns :

See to it, brothers and sisters, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God. But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called “Today,” so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness (Heb 3:12-13).

Turning away from the living God—it can happen to any of us. So the Lord in His ever-wondrous design provision, has planned for us to be a member of his body, that is, we must be joined to a living body.

Did you know that the word member in times past always meant just that—part of a  living human body? In fact this old meaning still survives in the word dismembered when we refer to someone having lost a limb.

Nowadays, the word member has changed so much that its use in biblical texts has become totally misunderstood and interpreted as having a name on a data base. That’s a deplorable loss. Membership in Christ’s Body is so much more than that.

For starters, it is the essential anti-fall-away remedy! Why it’s so important to be often in the company of cheerful brothers and sisters who look after one another—that’s true worship!  It’s God’s design to grow us. Encouragement!

This community, like all the apostolic groups we find in the NT scriptures, did not have a pastor or priest, no professional Christians over them, a practice out of whack with Jesus’ new wine, the New Covenant. No, they were ALL responsible for the watching-over, for encouraging one another and the growth of one another.

They were reminded by the writer, as brothers and sisters—this is a family, like a household—to have continual and consistent contact with one another.

This had to be done in such a way that each could be encouraged daily not to fall away, that they would not fail to enter God’s rest, that freedom of the Spirit, that transforming grace that ends all futile attempts to be holy and instead brings God’s ways supernaturally rolling into their/our hearts and minds.

In so many ways, the wondrous work of the Holy Spirit in Jesus’ people can be blocked by clergy presence. The clergy/laity divide is an utterly foreign idea to these people of the apostolic period. It was a later addition and as a consequence, a subtraction, a declension, from God’s great design for our edification and growth into maturity.

We either continue in ignorance with traditions ignoring the word of God, or else we think we know better than God, we think our ways are more practical and efficient.

Shame!

When I was a practising architect, to arrive at a building site and discover that the builder had “improved” on my design to change room sizes or window positions, was insulting and discouraging. How much more insulting and contemptible it is to God to ignore His great design for our growth into maturity.

And we must stick with His design plan while there is still a time that can be called “today.” If we don’t, sin may fool us. When we first became his people, we were sure about Christ, so let’s hold tightly to our faith and God’s plans until the end and encourage one another (13-14).

Our author reminds his readers that it is by faith that God’s people enter this wonderful rest—a state of assurance and joy with total cessation of striving to please God by what we do.  Ceasing concern over whether we are good enough or that bad stuff, whatever that is, can keep us from the break.

Time to truly love God as he surely loves us. Here is another warning for them and for us too: Let us therefore strive to enter that rest, so that no one may fall by the same sort of disobedience.

This ‘striving’ is a striving of faith, not of our efforts or our good works. To fail to believe, to trust him, is to disobey. It is to hold his wonderful design, grace and love in contempt. We will not able to enter His rest because of unbelief.

The promise to enter the place of rest is still good (chapter 4:1-11), and we must constantly take care of one another that none miss out.  We have heard the message, just as those early Israeli pioneers under Moses in the desert did. But the many failed to believe what they heard, and the message did not do them any good.  Only people who have faith will enter the place of rest.

We should do our best to enter that place of rest, so that none of us will disobey and miss going there, as they did (11).

What God says is certainly alive and active! His word is actually sharper than any kind of top quality sword. In fact, it can cut separately through our spirits and our souls and separate our joints and marrow, until it exposes the desires and thoughts of our hearts, to use the author’s surgical metaphor (12-13).

So you see, we can’t hide anything from God! He sees through everything, and we will have to tell him the truth, own up completely, one day.

So, it’s today, not tomorrow, dear friends, ‘cos tomorrow will never come, eh?