Archive for September, 2008

A prisoner of flesh and bone?

The purpose of this post is to get some feedback. I have several conundrums that I am wrangling with and I’d appreciate other insights a lot.

WARNING: I make reference to things that are fleshly here, because that is the subject of this post. I am not intentionally being crude, but simply striving to be honest about this perplexing issue.

In Romans 8 Paul says “For the mind set on the flesh is death, but the mind set on the Spirit is life and peace.” In Galatians 5:24 he says “Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.” Yet he also says “but one who is married is concerned about the things of the world, how he may please his wife, and his interests are divided. ” (1 Corinthians 7:33) Yet he never condemns marriage but rather blesses it as an institution of God.

 My problem is: Where is the line between being fleshly minded and spiritually minded? None of us, while in the “body of this death”, can be completely spirit minded. When our stomachs grumble, we think about food. When our libidos kick in we think about sex. So, when we give in to our fleshly needs and desires, how can that be anything but being fleshly minded? If my bladder is full, it will be very hard for me to concentrate on my Bible study until I take care of that physical need.

Where do we draw the line?

I confess, when I am interested in sex with my wife, all I can concentrate on is pleasing her and myself. This is not a selfless act, regardless of how much I want to please my wife! Now I know that Paul declares “the marriage bed is undefiled” but, I find it nearly impossible to think spiritually when my desires are purely physical! There is much discussion on the web and elsewhere about “Christian sex” (as if there really is such a thing!). Marcion, an early church heretic, approached this problem by requiring all who fellowshipped with him to abstain completely from sex. His movement died out, in part, because his followers didn’t create offspring!

In essence, what has prompted this post are my own attempts to reconcile the physical with the spiritual. Often, I think it would be great to no longer have a sex drive (that would be selfish since I’m married) or to no longer have to immerse myself in the everyday toil of work, house maintenance, grocery shopping, etc. But all these things cannot be ignored. They are everyday things that we have to address or end up falling into other temptations as the result of ignored needs.

Another part of the conundrum concerns the affairs of this world. We have been blessed with a newer house and have been fortunate to not have had to do much maintenance to it so far. Unfortunately, it is evident that we need to address some things very soon that will cost us much more money down the road if we don’t spend money on them now. At the same time, both my wife and I hate to spend money on frivolous things, trying to give our excess to God’s purposes. Yet, we can’t ignore certain things. Even a hermit needs shelter and while we have much more shelter and comfort than we need, should we lose it all, we know that our hope and life do not consist of the house or the things in it. But, I still hate to spend money on the house. What are my choices though? I can rent and not worry about maintenance, but any return on my money would be completely “for the moment”. I could live in a tent (for a while), but unless we have to, I don’t think my family would be very enthused about it. I’ve even considered that maybe Christians aren’t supposed to own anything we call “mine”  but, obviously the first believers in  Acts 2:44-46 did not sell their homes! In fact, most of the early churches would assemble in the homes of the well off!

So, really…who among us is completely spiritually minded all the time? And when we are physically minded, distracted from spiritual things by our physical needs and wants, are we dying spiritually? Is it all a kind of see-saw thing?  We have to be spiritually minded as often or more than we are fleshly minded in order to balance things towards God and life? I mean, we cannot be 100% spiritually minded. Can we?

Paul even says, conditionally, that we are to be concerned for the interests of others as well as for our own interests: “Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.” (Philippians 2:4 ESV). He also seems to contradict himself in this: “For the one who sows to his own flesh will, from the flesh, reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will, from the Spirit, reap eternal life.” (Galatians 6:8 ESV) vs. “For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church” (Ephesians 5:29 ESV). So there is a tension here. The problem seems to be in knowing where the line is. But, if I understand the will of God correctly, it seems that if we always look out for the interests of the gospel, and others, instead of always our own comfort and selfish desires, we will do well.

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Plan “A”

While walking through a grocery store the other day, and noticing all the people walking around, literally, in their own little worlds, I pondered how I could ever get them to pay attention to the gospel.

I could stop in  my tracks and start hollering “The end is near! Repent!” or go into a diatribe about how they were going to go to hell. But, I know that doesn’t work in this day and age, and I hate formulas. But, what I wanted to come up with was something that would make people stop and think. And yet, like Paul, I don’t want to rely on being witty, or using powerful logical arguments. Most people KNOW there is a God. They would very much rather just pretend He doesn’t exist or that if He does, He’s a nice old guy who really isn’t upset with them.

In a way, they would be right; God isn’t upset, He’s angry!

“Now, why is that?” someone might ask. “None of us asked to be born or wanted to have to make choices. Why does God want to make us do anything? Can’t He just let us live our lives the way we want to?” I’ve asked these same questions, along with “Why does it have to be so complicated? Why are there so many different churches?”

Here’s the conclusion of the whole matter. God is angry because He sent His ONLY SON to earth, on a mission to become like us so that:

– 1. He could understand our weaknesses and

– 2. help us to understand the predicament we are in because of somebody’s mistake (Adam blew it for all of us) and

– 3. in order to give us an escape from our fate and this present world.

But, most people thumb their noses at God, Who gave up His Son in order that we might live. Jesus Christ, God’s Son, the Creator of all things seen and unseen, gave up His position and power to save a bunch of ungrateful, arrogant and stupid people.

For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly.” (Romans 5:6 ESV)

God says He is “not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.” (1 Peter 3:9). God has made His sacrifice, went out of His way, sending His most precious person, truly a part of Himself, to our world, in order to save us from sin and death. Jesus made it possible and yet….. most of us use His name to curse others and things with, rather than show Him our gratefulness and admiration for doing His part to save us from the second death (Revelation 21:8). Our part is rather simple, yet fraught with peril:

We must believe that Christ is the Son of God, that He is the ONLY WAY back to God (John 14:6).

We must believe that He died for all of us, to pay the debt that we all owe, because of Adam and our own broken tendency to love ourselves above all others (Philippians 2:6-11, Colossians 2:13-14).

We must believe that He, Christ Jesus, really did rise from the dead, of His own accord and power and will never die again (Acts 3:15, 4:10).

We must repent ( be sorry for and abandon our way of doing things) and desire to do things God’s way (Matthew 4:17, Luke 13:3).

We must be baptised (Greek for “immersed, or dipped”) for the forgiveness, washing away, remission of our sins in order to be united with Christ and to “put Him on” (Matthew 28:19, Mark 16:16, Acts 2:38, Acts 22:16, Romans 6:3-5 and 13:14, Galatians 3:27, Colossians 2:11-12)

We must live a life that shows we love God first and foremost and our neighbor as much as we love ourselves (Matthew 22:38-39, Galatians 5;14).

That’s the plan and it is not a hard one to follow, because God asks only that you believe that He exists and keep believing what He asks us to believe (what I’ve listed above).

Here’s the peril:

And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.” (Hebrews 11:6 ESV)

Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. For we have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end.” (Hebrews 3:12-14 ESV)

Current events reveal the apostasy of the church in America and the world.

When people like Ray Boltz, a famous “Christian” singer come out after all these years and says “I’ve known I was gay all along” and admit they have hidden this sin from believers for decades, then we have an example of the forgoing doom. Some, even within the church, will say “But, we must accept him as a brother since we all sin.”  True, we are none of us perfect, but I counter that the churches are always right when they remove a pastor, minister or elder from their position because of revealed sin in their lives.  (1 Corintians 5:13) We are to be exhorting each other to live holy lives, not excusing sin or pretending that one sin in particuilar is worse than any other.

Obviously Mr. Boltz “came out” because he has tested the waters of the “church” and decided that the church is lukewarm enough to accept him “just the way he is”. Well, if that is the case, then the church must apologize and ask the forgiveness of Jim Bakker, Jimmy Swaggart, and any number of other disgraced preachers or religious men. No, emphatically NO! The problem is that much of today’s church is not Christian!

We are to approach every sinner outside of Christ as someone God loves and wants to rescue from death. But, once a person takes on the name “Christian” they are subject to the rule of scripture and be judged and admonished by the church. I have a real problem with religious people who want to battle with gays toe-to-toe, boycotting the manufacturers who advertise to them or ask for their business by supporting gay friendly causes. HELLO!!!! Paul says we are not fighting against flesh and blood (Ephesians 6:12) and we are not the appointed judges of the world (1 Corinthians 5:12) YET (1 Corinthians 6:12). On this same basis, Christians should also not buy anything from known adulterers, liars, cheats, drunkards, porn addicts, selfish people, troublemakers of any kind and so on.

The curse of growing up in America is that many believe the lie that this country was founded by God and that we enjoy God’s favor just as did Israel of old (when she behaved!). This in turn leads many people to think “I’m a Christian because I believe in God and I love my country. God bless America!”. I’ve met quite a few people who have actually said “I’ve been a Christian all my life; for as long as I can remember.” They have no recollection of when this conversion occured! This is precisley where the Roman church and, to a large extent, the Reformed churches get their memberships: from people registered with the church on account of a “no account” baptism. Of no account because baptism alone saves no one. It is the ordinance practised by repentant believers who know the difference between right and wrong.

Why does the church today have no real impact? Because it is made up of hypocrites. Instead of loving those who are without the knowledge of God and working to bring them to God, the “church” works overtime to war with anyone they feel are outside of the “all American” moral values they claim to possess. In reality many are just assuaging their own sin and guilt by finding more of it in someone else. The old negro spiritual song that says “Everybody talkin’ ’bout heaven ain’t going there” could not be more true than it is today.

People become dismayed that someone like Charles Barkley would lump conservatives, Republicans and “fake Christians” together, but isn’t that precisely what American “Christians” have done? It’s the Crusaders against the “enemies of God” all over again and it besmirches the name of our God and Savior, Jesus Christ.

Who’s Right???

I am repelled by “perfectionists” Christians (?) primarily because the way they approach salvation: it’s all about them. Are they sinless enough? Are they SURE? They are so busy worrying about their own salvation, obtained by their own meritorious righteousness (though they would deny that), that they haven’t the ability to seek the salvation of anyone else. Oh, they’ll pray for you, but they will avoid having too much contact with anyone not in the faith, lest they be stained and potentially damned through association.
 
Think I’m kidding? I’m not. This is the mindset of a person who believes they have to take care of  Number One’s salvation first and anyone else will have to wait for them to get “saved enough” to be confident in their righteousness.
 
Secondly, I am drawn to the Reformed crowd, though I detest the whole Calvin theology. I admire how they hold the Scriptures in very high esteem. They preach constantly against sin and depravity in our society, but teach a limited atonement and that God does everything for our salvation, so a lot of the motivation to clean up one’s life is somewhat quenched. Teaching Eternal Security lends to help them not worry so much if they are saved. But, they don’t seem to have the self-sacrificing love for others that I think true Christians should have.
 
They really bring to mind the words of Christ “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me,” (John 5:39). In other words, I think they tend toward the letter more than the Spirit of the law of liberty. They are inclined toward paedo-baptism, yet are adamantly opposed to full immersion baptism being in any way part of obeying the gospel, saying it is salvation by works. As much as I respect their high moral outlook, I fear many of them miss the point of “mercy instead of sacrifice” Jesus spoke of in Matt 9:13.
 
Many Reformed people are liberal in their views about alcohol and I agree to some extent. When Jesus said “Neither is new wine put into old wine skins. If it is, the skins burst and the wine is spilled and the skins are destroyed. But new wine is put into fresh wine skins, and so both are preserved.” (Matthew 9:17) He was not talking about grape juice! Reformed folk are also a lot more lenient about smoking (cigars especially). I used to love cigars, but I know they are bad for me so I cannot justify them as a Christian.
 
Thirdly, I can only shake my head at the charismatics, who completely ignore these verses: 
 

A wicked and adulterous generation seeketh after a sign; and there shall no sign be given unto it, but the sign of the prophet Jonah. And he left them, and departed. (Matthew 16:4)
 

And a great multitude followed him, because they beheld the signs which he did on them that were sick. (John 6:2)

Jesus answered them and said, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Ye seek me, not because ye saw signs, but because ye ate of the loaves, and were filled. (John 6:26)
 
Truly the signs of an apostle were wrought among you in all patience, by signs and wonders and mighty works. (2 Corinthians 12:12)

Wherefore tongues are for a sign, not to them that believe, but to them that believe not: but prophesying (preaching) serveth not for them that believe not, but for them which believe. (1 Corinthians 14:22)
 
The crazy stuff I see the charismatics doing (laughing, “drunk” in the spirit, “toking”  the spirit, and being “whacked out” on the spirit) is not edifying, but mesmerizingly strange. Hence Paul says: If therefore the whole church be come together into one place, and all speak with tongues, and there come in those that are unlearned, or unbelievers, will they not say that ye are mad? (1 Corinthians 14:23)

Indeed!!
 

Jesus therefore said unto him, Except ye see signs and wonders, ye will in no wise believe. (John 4:48) 

Every man’s work?

In 1 Corintians 3, Paul speaks about his efforts, and that of other apostles and ministers, to build upon the foundation of the gospel. He remarks that Christ is the foundation of the church and that he and Apollos shared in the building up of the body of Christ (converts to the faith). He goes on to say, in v12-15, that if any man builds on top of this foundation (which is Christ) anything that doesn’t last  he will still be saved in spite of that. I believe that Paul is inferring that the hay and stubble are people who never truly come to real faith. Hence they are called something much less than “gold, silver, or precious stones”. Christ used the metaphors of chaff and tares, or weeds, to make the same point.

I have heard this scripture used many times as an example of the typical Christian’s fate. I disagree that Paul means that at all. It is very obvious that Paul is referring to his work and the work of true ministers of God. He is not referring to the average layperson, but rather to preachers and evangelists. I found that I am not alone in this interpretation, as Matthew Henry seems to agree.

Basically, I believe Paul is assuming, first, that these men of whom he speaks are true men of God and second, that they have preached the whole gospel (the true foundation). Since Peter explains how believers are “living stones” in a “spiritual house” (1 Peter 2:5), he is in agreement with Paul’s metaphors here. Paul goes on to tell the Corinthians they are a temple (not individually, but as a whole) being built by these ministers. In v17 he says “if any man destroys the temple”, he is referring, I believe, to false teachers who destroy faith in the principle doctrines and cause these “stones” to fall down.

Later, in 1 Corinthians 6, Paul does go so far as to tell the believers that their own physical bodies are the temples of God, but I believe that is somewhat removed from this idea of building on Christ, since , in this portion of the letter, he is emphasizing abstinence and holiness in how they keep their own bodies sanctified.

I believe that people are very prone to twist scripture to suit themselves rather than accept the context of the scripture and not try to make it apply where the author’s original intent doesn’t venture. This is just another example.