Friday, 30 October 2020

FINDING THE RIGHT DOOR

 FINDING THE RIGHT DOOR


Everyone’s looking for a door. While it appears that there are many doors that beckon people to open and enter through, there is, according to Jesus of Nazareth, really only one door that leads to what every person wants and where every person seeks to go. That door is Jesus Himself. The disciple who was closest to Him (who also happened to be the youngest of the 12) reveals what none of the other three Gospel writers ever did when He describes some of the heated conflicts that the Christ had with the religious leaders who opposed Him. While these self-pious religious leaders cared nothing about the people they were supposed to care for, nurture and protect, Jesus boldly declares to the crowds that He was the only One who could offer and provide them with the peace, fulfilment and meaning, that they were striving for. And this remarkable offer still stands today!

“Truly, truly, I say to you, he who does not enter the sheepfold by the door but climbs in by another way, that man is a thief and a robber.”
John 10:1

JESUS REVEALS HIS HEART FOR PEOPLE

The Gospel of John reveals over and over again the heart of Jesus for all people –

  • He gathered a bunch of uneducated Galileans (Jn. 1);
  • He redeemed a despised Samaritan woman (Jn. 4);
  • He healed a an elderly lame man (Jn. 5);
  • He ministered God’s Word to illiterate peasants (Jn 6);
  • He rescued a condemned adulteress (Jn. 8);
  • He gave sight to a man born blind (Jn. 9).

The Gospel of John also draws attention to Christ’s objection to the arrogance of Israel’s then religious leaders who were not feeding God’s sheep. Perhaps this is why John recounts the story of Jesus making a whip and driving the money-changers out of the temple (which He called “My Father’s House”) at the start of his Gospel (John 2:13-17) – even though the other Gospel writers tell us that this happened near the end of Christ’s ministry (Matt. 21:12Mk. 11:15-17Luke 19:45-46). This reveals Christ’s deep care for the oppressed and abused. And this care and love is powerfully heard in what Jesus declared in John 10.

 

PEOPLE ARE SHEEP WHO NEED A SHEPHERD

The prophets of old derided those leaders whom God had called to shepherd (feed, lead, protect) God’s people (Jer. 10:21Zech. 10:311:17).

The dogs have a mighty appetite;
they never have enough.
But they are shepherds who have no understanding;
they have all turned to their own way,
each to his own gain, one and all.
Isaiah 56:11

The priests did not say, ‘Where is the LORD?’
Those who handle the law did not know me;
the shepherds transgressed against me;
the prophets prophesied by Baal
and went after things that do not profit.
Jeremiah 2:8

But the prophets also gave the hope that one day Yahweh would send the Messiah who would be the True Shepherd of Israel – and to many others as well.

He will tend His flock like a shepherd;
He will gather the lambs in His arms;
He will carry them in his bosom, and gently lead those that are with young.
Isaiah 40:11

And then that day came. Jesus stood before the crowds of Jerusalem and declared-

I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down His life for the sheep.
John 10:11

Jesus described people as being like sheep. Sheep are easily led. Sheep tend to flock together. But sheep are very vulnerable. They need protection. For this reason a shepherd would lead them out to find pasture and then pen them into a sheep-fold made from rocks and bramble to protect his sheep at night. The shepherd would stand in the doorway of this sheepfold and call his sheep into the fold and they would enter between his outstretched legs which formed the doorway. As they passed through, he would run his hands through their wool to remove burrs and the like. 

¶ So Jesus again said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep. All who came before Me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them. I am the door. If anyone enters by Me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture.
John 10:7-9

 

JESUS IS THE DOOR NOT MERELY A DOOR

There are many unwitting and cunning wolves in this world who use every sneaky lie and sugar-coated deception to entice sheep to come out from behind the protective door of Christ and away from the safety and provision of His sheep-fold so that they can be lured into their traps. Sometimes these sheep are young and don’t know any better and are simply na├»ve. The Good Shepherd, the Door of the Sheep, is then prepared to lay down His life and embark on a daring rescue mission to find and restore these little lambs from the impending jaws of their kidnappers. 

“What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open country, and go after the one that is lost, until he finds it? … Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.
Luke 15:47

And that is exactly what the Good Shepherd, the True Door, has done for you. He has literally laid down His life to rescue you from the eternal jaws of death—separation from God the Father, the Gate-Keeper (Jn. 10:3). Your life’s quest is to find the right door—not the ‘right door for you’—but the one and only right door – the only door that leads to abundant life now (where Christ is your Shepherd) and eternal life beyond the grave. By entering through this door you are responding the recognisable voice of The Shepherd who created you, knows you, loves you unconditionally, and wants guard you against the one who wants to steal/kill/destroy you (in this life and the next!).

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly. I am the Good Shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. He who is a hired hand and not a shepherd, who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them.
John 10:10-12

Christ is The Door. We must enter His sheep-fold (the Church) through Him to the Gate-keeper (God the Father). It is then that we are protected, nourished, and fruitful. This is why so many people find life so incredibly difficult because they living without experiencing the love of the True and Good Shepherd and they are lost in the deceptive wilderness where wolves roam wild. The ministry of Jesus Christ the Shepherd now continues through His shepherded and shepherding people as we too seek the one who has been lured into the barren wilderness of wolves. And like our Shepherd, we are prepared to forego our comfort and lay down our lives to rescue those who are His. 

 

Your pastor,

Andrew

Saturday, 24 October 2020

CHRISTIANITY HAS NO ADJECTIVES

 CHRISTIANITY HAS NO ADJECTIVES

Followers of Christ were first called ‘Christians’ in Antioch – “and when he had found him, he brought him to Antioch. For a whole year they met with the church and taught a great many people. And in Antioch the disciples were first called Christians” (Acts 11:26). Antioch was a major city in northern Syria which was largely populated by slaves. (In fact, in the first century, the Roman Empire was comprised of 40% slaves!) Some time after the first-century, the famous preacher, John Chrysostom (known as “Golden Mouth”) described the rich people living in Antioch as owning between 1,000 to 2,000 slaves each! In a city of around 250,000 people (and some estimates claim that it had a population of 500,000), that meant that there were possibly as many as 200,000 slaves living in Antioch. These slaves became identified with the name of their owner and the suffix “ian”. (If I had owned a slave during this time by the name of Pericles, he might have been known as Pericles Corbettian.) Thus, the burgeoning Christian community in Antioch soon became identified as slaves of the Christ, which is why they were referred to as Christians. The Apostle Peter would also choose this word to describe why followers of Christ who suffer for the sake of Christ should also regard them as slaves of Christ when he wrote – 

Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in that name.
First Peter 4:16

 

THE EARLIEST DEFINITION OF A ‘CHRISTIAN’

The early Christians needed no adjectives (describing words) in addition to their description as – Christian (‘a slave of Christ’). But over time, as the spread of Christianity grew around the known world, Christians began to designate themselves by their different perspectives. The first of these was the schism between east and west (AD 1054). Christians to the east (based in Constantinople) adopted the designation, Orthodox, and the Christians to the west (based in Rome) adopted the designation Catholic. Both classifications of Christians continued to subscribe to the Apostles’ and Nicene Creeds which affirmed the Triune God, the incarnation and virgin-birth of Christ, the atoning death/resurrection/ascension of Christ, and His role as the judge of mankind at the end of time. They both affirmed the divine inspiration of the Scriptures resulting in the formation of the ‘Canon’ (the Bible’s 66 books which is the uniquely authoritative written Word of God revealing God’s plan of redemption culminating Christ’s substitutionary death for all those who put their faith and trust in Jesus as their Saviour). About 500 years after this schism, another designation of Christians arose when Martin Luther raised 95 ‘theses’ (protests) to what had become Roman Catholic teaching which he considered to be either directly or indirectly condemned by the Scriptures. This led to another designation – Protestant. But, again these Protestants also affirmed the Apostles’ and Nicene Creeds which affirm most of the core beliefs of a Christian. Therefore, while these designations arose, there was still general agreement that a Christian was a devoted follower of Christ (a ‘slave’ or ‘servant’ of Christ) who believed in God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit.

THE NICENE CREED

WE BELIEVE in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible;
And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before
all worlds, God of God, Light of Light, Very God of Very God, begotten, not made, being of one
substance with the Father, by whom all things were made; who for us men, and for our salvation,
came down from heaven, and, was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the Virgin Mary, and was made
man, and was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate. He suffered and was buried, and the third
day he rose again according to the Scriptures, and ascended into heaven, and sitteth on the right
hand of the Father. And he shall come again with glory to judge both the quick and the dead, whose
kingdom shall have no end.

And we believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord and Giver of Life, who proceedeth from the
Father and the Son, who with the Father and the Son together is worshipped and glorified, who
spoke by the prophets. And we believe one holy catholic and apostolic Church. We acknowledge
one baptism for the remission of sins. And we look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of
the world to come. Amen.

This surrender to Christ’s Lordship was publicly demonstrated by being water baptised as one of the first steps of obedience to Christ who commanded that His followers be baptised (Matt. 28:19-20Rom. 6:1-4). Tom Holland, in his book, Dominion – The Making of the Western World, points out that as Christianity grew it became a cultural-political identity rather than a personal commitment to Christ and His community of the faithful. This gave rise to term Christendom. Thus, if one lived in Christendom he or she would consider themselves “a Christian” even though their allegiance was not primarily to Christ, but to a church official. This distortion of Christianity largely succeeded because 95% of the general population was illiterate (Hedlun 2017, 46). This meant that they were unable to verify or confirm what their church leaders were telling them about what it meant to be a genuine Christian. But from the 15th century this began to dramatically change when the moveable type printing press was developed and the Bible became available in the language of the common people who were increasing able to be taught how to read. However, not everyone accepted what the Bible taught about how to become a Christian. And as the rise of printing increasingly led to the spread of critical ideas about what the Church had claimed the Bible taught (such as Galileo and Copernicus challenging the Church’s claim that the earth was the centre of the universe) criticism was focused on the Bible’s supernatural claims and therefore the claim that the Bible was the divinely inspired word of God.

 

THE INVENTION OF ADJECTIVISED CHRISTIANITY

In the Enlightenment period of the 1800s, theologians (especially German theologians such as Rudolf Bultmann) taught that the Bible was not divinely inspired and that the miracles of Christ were actually ‘myths’ later added to the text of the New Testament. These theologians wanted ‘liberate’ (free up) the bible from its ‘myths’ which is why they became known as ‘liberals’. They denied Christ’s virgin birth, His sinless life, His miracles, and His resurrection. They also denied that there was an actual Adam and Eve and therefore any such thing as the ‘fall of man’ into sin. While not denying the existence of God, these liberals viewed Christ as merely an example of a good man whose mission was to care for the poor and marginalised. They therefore regarded Christianity as continuing that tradition rather than being about evangelism (calling sinners to repentance and acceptance of Christ as their Saviour from sin) and discipleship (guiding these followers of Christ into Spirit led and enabled obedience to God’s Word). They even distinguished themselves from Christians by adding the adjective ‘liberal’ to the term ‘Christian’ and thus manufactured the term- ‘liberal Christians’.

Eventually, liberal-Christians infiltrated many once great Christian denominations and rose to senior leadership roles (such as bishops, moderators, presidents) within them and then hijacked their classical Christian view of the Bible, God, Jesus, salvation, sex, life and death. These various denominations have been in a steady decline since this began. The pastor of New Life (the largest Uniting Church in Australia) Pastor Stuart Cameron (a Uniting Church minister, pictured left) publicly lamented about the now largely liberal Uniting Church that there were now “more staff working for the Uniting Church than there are congregants attending Sunday services!”

Because the term Christian had become adjectivised with the adjective liberal many classical Christians have felt the need to respond with counter adjectivised term evangelical Christian (one who believes in the Bible, the Nicene Creed, the fallenness of mankind, the need for a Saviour, and that Jesus of Nazareth is that one and only Saviour to whom all people must surrender in faith in order to be saved). But I suggest that we should resist adjectivised Christian labels and continue to uphold the true definition of the precious word, Christian.

 

BE CAREFUL ABOUT THOSE WHO CLAIM TO BE CHRISTIAN BUT USE AN ADJECTIVE WHICH SHOWS THEY ARE NOT

Jesus actually gave a warning to His followers about those who claimed to be His followers, but didn’t obey Him –

And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you workers of lawlessness.’
Matthew 7:23

And – 

¶ He put another parable before them, saying, “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a man who sowed good seed in his field, but while his men were sleeping, his enemy came and sowed tares among the wheat and went away. So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the tares (weeds) appeared also. And the servants of the master of the house came and said to him, ‘Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? How then does it have weeds?’ He said to them, ‘An enemy has done this.’ So the servants said to him, ‘Then do you want us to go and gather them?’ But he said, ‘No, lest in gathering the weeds you root up the wheat along with them. Let both grow together until the harvest, and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, “Gather the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.”’”
Matthew 13:24-31

Wheat and tares available from https://www.freebibleimages.org/illustrations/nv-wheat-tares/

A picture of wheat and tares courtesy of Nazareth Village – www.nazarethvillage.com The wheat head is on the left.

The parable of the wheat and tares is clever. To the untrained eye, wheat and tares look remarkably similar. One of the differences, I’m told, is that when they reach maturity the head of wheat ‘bows’ while the head of the tare remains upright. But the biggest difference between them is that only one of them can be milled into flour and thereby provide sustenance. “Tares look like wheat as they are growing but it is a poisonous weed not fit for eating. Tares are also known as Lolium temulentum or bearded darnel, a species of rye-grass. To eat tares would make you feel intoxicated, giddy and sick. You would have vomiting, stomach ache and diarrhoea. It is not until the seeds appear near harvest time you can clearly see the difference between wheat and tares. The seeds of wheat turn golden brown while the seeds of the tares turn black” (from www.Nazarethvillage.com).

A true Christian is one who has the implanted seed of the word of God in their soul which produces faith in Christ to turn away from a lifestyle of idolatry (worship of self or anything other than God). This moment of conversion is a deeply spiritual transformation that reshapes a person’s heart, mind, and inclinations. It is celebrated in their act of obedience to be publicly baptised in water as a visible declaration of their invisible transformation. Their new commitment to Christ is like one of a servant to a master and brings them into a community of fellow believers as “fictive kin” — or, family whereby they now relate to their fellow Christians as brothers and sisters (Hedlun 2017, 49). 

 

HOW A FORMER ZOEGIRL GOT LURED INTO ‘PROGRESSIVE’ CHRISTIANITY

Another Gospel by Alisa ChildersAlisa Childers was recently interviewed by the Colson Center. They write, “As a young woman, Alisa Childers was an award-winning Christian recording artist, a faithful churchgoer, a student of the Bible, and someone who practiced her faith daily. After a pastor began teaching progressivism, she found herself navigating new doubts and confusions, eventually undergoing a major re-evaluation of her worldview. According to Childers, this became a “journey from unreasoned doubt into a vibrant, rational, and informed faith.” In Another Gospel, Childers tells her story with wit, insight, and solid theological teaching…While Alisa uses her own story as a framework, Another Gospel is more than just a personal story of her doubts and return to orthodoxy. This book offers a thorough expose and dismantling of progressive Christianity, with a sound and orthodox defense of essential Christian doctrines. Like others before her, Childers argues that Christianity without orthodoxy ceases to be Christianity. What progressive Christianity preaches is, in fact, another gospel, one that is culturally palatable but ultimately without substance and without hope. I think you’ll enjoy and benefit from Childers’ insights.” You can watch a bit of her story below –

Progressive Christians reject most of what classic Christianity has always been. They regard the God of the Bible as harsh and judgmental. They claim that Jesus revealed God to be a God of love who wants all people to make love their highest goal. But their definition of love is starkly different to what Jesus or the apostles described. Their concept of love is whatever makes a person happy. In essence, rather than making God of love their God, they have made their love their God (even if it means disobeying what Christ taught). In considering this adjectivised attempt to redefine Christianity, I have penned this pithy memes. Enjoy:

Progressive Christians are deeply concerned with pleasing people and making them happy. Christians on the other hand are deeply concerned with honouring Christ and bringing Him joy. This should be a sombre reminder to any Christian who rises to a position where popularity is important (such as political leadership). Christians have an audience of One. It was Christ Himself who demonstrated the greatest example of this kind of leadership which sharply contrasted with the people-pleasing leadership of Pilate who condemned Him and gave the people what they wanted. When you’re a Christian politician, your allegiance to Christ will always result in the best welfare of all people and promote what Christ promotes.

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.
John 10:10 

Christianity that is supernaturally generated in the heart of a sinner that causes them to be born-again, Spirit-filled, Word-informed, and Christ-transformed, needs no adjective and no larger audience than an Audience of One. 

 

Your pastor,

Andrew

Friday, 9 October 2020

COUNTERING THE GOD OF CONVENIENCE

 THE GOD OF CONVENIENCE

I have a suggestion for the Australian Bureau of Statistics. On the census form that we all have to complete every few years, under the Religious Adherence section, they should add a checkbox for those with an allegiance to a new religious deity – the god of convenience. You’ve probably already met people who adhere to and worship the god convenience. One of the apparent advantages of this new religion is that it conveniently blends with any other religion and readily adopts its methods of worship (when convenient to do so). It even allows its adherents to adopt the name of their previous religion and blend it with its own. In the case of those tired with the rigours of following all of Christ’s demands, it encourages the newer and more convenient identity of- Convenient Christianity. The biggest difference between it and ‘pure’ Christianity is that it lessens the demands of religious devotion on its adherents and helps to guide them in their daily moral choices. But as usual, the Holy Spirit — whom Christ sent from the Father — is launching a counter-move that may once again see a generation of Spirit-filled, on-fire, Word-equipped, church-connected-and-committed, warrior-praying, and neighbour-loving, servants of Christ rise up and expose the ideology behind the false god of convenience.  

¶ I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by His appearing and His kingdom:  preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching.
Second Timothy 4:1-2

 

FOLLOWING CHRIST IS NOT CONVENIENT

As I write this, it occurs to me that I am wrong to describe this as a new religion. I recall that Jesus often had people approach Him who were convinced that Christ wouldn’t mind if they continued to worship the god of convenience and Him.

To another He said, “Follow Me.” But he said, “Lord, let me first go and bury my father.” Yet another said, “I will follow You, Lord, but let me first say farewell to those at my home.”
Luke 9:5961

To their great surprise though, Jesus wasn’t interested in sharing worship with the god of convenience. And He still isn’t. When Paul’s life was inconveniently interrupted by Christ on the road to Damascus, he no longer worshiped at the altar of convenience. His life became devoted to Christ despite the numerous times it was inconvenient to do so. This is why, in his final epistle, he wrote to Timothy and told him to preach the Word “in season and out of season”, which means — ‘preach the Word, when its convenient to do so, and when its not convenient to do so!‘ Paul was highly qualified to tell Timothy to do this because he had spent his entire Christian life ‘walking the talk’.

Are they servants of Christ? I am a better one—I am talking like a madman—with far greater labors, far more imprisonments, with countless beatings, and often near death. Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches.
Second Corinthians 11:23-28

 

WHAT THE GOD OF CONVENIENCE EXPECTS

Worshiping the god of convenience is really easy. If some religious duty is not convenient, don’t do it — especially if its Christian. The god of convenience dismisses the inconvenient demands that following Christ entails such as -daily bible reading, participating in a weekly/fortnightly discipleship small group for bible study and prayer, attending church each Sunday to worship and be shaped by the preaching of the Word, and the regular sacrificial giving of finances. But its not just what happens in the name of a religion that the god of convenience is concerned with. This demonic spirit masquerading as the god of convenience also encroaches into the moral decision making of its adherents by offering convenience as the main filter for moral decision making. Thus, when Grandma’s nursing home fees are whittling away your assumed inheritance, the god of convenience offers a convenient solution. (On an unrelated matter, the Upper House of the Tasmanian Parliament is debating the Voluntary Assisted Dying Bill this Tuesday.) When the unwanted news of a pregnancy is received, the god of convenience immediately steps up with all the reasons why this will be financially damaging, career inhibiting, educationally impairing, and socially detracting — and then a simple, quick, and convenient solution to this problem. (On an unrelated matter, continue to pray for the ministry of Emily’s Voice.

 

COMBATTING THE GOD OF CONVENIENCE

Combatting the god of convenience requires the posture of a (spiritual) war-footing. Paul describes what this looks like Ephesians 6. While some people regard spiritual warfare as only involving prayer and declaration, Paul’s description of spiritual warfare actually involves action and attitude (note 2Cor. 10:4-5). Therefore, I expect that very very soon the Holy Spirit will raise up a generation of Spirit-filled, on-fire, Word-equipped, church-connected-and-committed, warrior-praying, and neighbour-loving, servants of Christ who will expose the ideology behind the false god of convenience. They will do this by their actions and attitudes. This will be a generation that is servant-hearted; passionately-daily Word reading and studying; committed to their local church — especially on Sunday; courageously evangelistic and soul winning; and lavishly generous with their time/talent/treasure in promoting the Kingdom of God. They will be the next generation of pastors, elders, worship leaders, business leaders, academics, artists, and politicians. This generation of fearless Christ-followers who will combat the spiritual powers behind the false god of convenience will “shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father” and will be prepared to make the kingdom of God the first and highest priority:

Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. He who has ears, let him hear. ¶ “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.
Matthew 13:44

And while it may not be very convenient or popular to combat ‘the god of this world’ (which is another name for the god of convenience [see 2Cor. 4:4]) it is what the Holy Spirit has done in response to his assaults on the Church down through the ages, which is why I expect Him to do it again. So, when it’s inconvenient, join in me in prayer for its hastening.

 

Your pastor,

Andrew