Christianity 201

October 20, 2017

The Troubler of Israel

NIV 1 Kings 18.21 Elijah went before the people and said, “How long will you waver between two opinions? If the Lord is God, follow him; but if Baal is God, follow him.”

Today we are back paying a return visit to Neal Pollard who is in pastoral ministry in Colorado. Click the title below to read at Preacher Pollard’s Blog.  The passage under consideration immediately precedes one of my favorite Bible narratives, Elijah’s showdown with the prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel.

Who Is The “Troubler Of Israel”?

Ahab was the most wicked king in Israel’s history (1 Kings 16:30). To top it off, he was married to perhaps the most immoral woman revealed to us during the time of the divided kingdom in the Old Testament. Her name, Jezebel, is still somewhat infamous today. She destroyed the prophets of the Lord (1 Kings 18:4). The prophets who survived feared for their lives because of Ahab (18:9). Instead, Jezebel kept a stable of false prophets, 450 prophets of Baal and 400 prophets of Asherah (18:19). Read this section of 1 Kings and the first nine chapters of 2 Kings to get the full flavor of who this notorious couple was.

How ironic that when Elijah appears to Ahab before the prophet’s infamous confrontation with the false prophets on Mount Carmel, Ahab’s first words to him were, “Is this you, you troubler of Israel?” (18:17). There was controversy, division, problems, and trouble in the land, but Ahab’s narrative was distorted. Ahab was like a reckless drunk driver weaving in and out of traffic and blaming a law-abiding pedestrian for being in his way on the sidewalk. Elijah was not the troubler of Israel for daring to oppose the false ways of Ahab and Jezebel. He was doing exactly what God wanted him to do!

In our present, lawless age, there are so many “prophets” who come along with a message appealing to right ideas like peace, grace, unity, and love. Many of them package themselves in the garments of relevance, using our culture as their props and stage. The causes célèbre which our age reveres, some of which are diametrically opposed to the doctrine, ethics, and morality outlined in Scripture, are pushed at God’s people—who are shamed and made to feel unrighteous if they dare protest what is said. In some circles, it is asserted that anyone teaching that the Bible is authoritative, contains a pattern, and is God’s objective truth for all times, is Pharisaical, consumed with self-righteousness, hateful, mean-spirited, and divisive. In short, that they are “troublers of Israel.”

As a quick side-note, there are some who do press their personal proclivities, traditions, and convictions as divine truth. This is as accursed a thing as seeking to nullify what God has bound in heaven (cf. Mat. 16:19; Rev. 22:18-19). Such folks manufacture trouble rather than trouble people by faithfully sharing God’s Word. These occupy unenviable ground, in view of the end of all things.

Yet, anyone who conscientiously tries to follow God’s blueprint for how to share His truth (Eph. 4:15; 2 Tim. 2:24-26; Col. 4:6), who takes care to handle Scripture accurately (2 Tim. 2:15), is going to invariably encounter the Ahabs, Jezebels, Baalites, and Asherahists. Teach the singular, undenominational nature of the church (Eph. 4:4), the role of women in the church (1 Tim. 2:9-12), the essentiality of baptism in God’s saving plan (Acts 2:38), God’s plan for marriage and sexuality (Mat. 19:1-9; Heb. 13:4; Rom. 1:26-27), and the like, and it will come. The Ahabs will label you the troublemaker and the source of the problem.

In what may sound dark and grim, Paul warns Timothy that difficult times will come (2 Tim. 3:1). He speaks of men immoral in nature and inaccurate in message who succeed with the weak and impulsive (3:6), who themselves are “always learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth” (3:7), who in fact “oppose the truth, men of depraved mind, rejected in regard to the faith” (3:8). Ultimately, they will not carry the day (3:9). But they will always have their eager followers who “accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires, and will turn away their ears from the truth and will turn aside to myths” (4:3-4).

Suppress the victim mentality if you are trying to be an Elijah in this Ahab society. On the job, at home, in the community, within the religious community at large, and even at times within the church, “preach the word” (2 Tim. 4:2). Do it with great patience and instruction, as Paul counsels. Don’t be a troubler in God’s eyes, but know that you will be seen as one in the eyes of some in this world. Keeping company with Elijah is not a bad thing.

August 2, 2015

A Post-Resurrection Teaching

great-commission-revisted

We often generalize that the days following the resurrection and before the ascension consisted of Jesus seeing people and being seen. But there are some great teaching moments that take place in that time period.

This devotional is by Ashley Bonnell at The Gideons Canada blog Send Me. Click the link in the title below to read it at source. Also, if you or someone you know speaks French, recently there was another shorter devotional by her that was translated en Francais. (If you want to know what you’re sending this is the English version.)

Me? Mission?

Did you know that after Jesus rose from the dead—before going back to glorious Heaven—He stuck around earth a little while longer to relay one important message to His disciples? One main message.  Of everything he could say in His last moment on earth, Jesus chooses one message in particular.

When we think about it like this, we realize that whatever His message, it had to be pretty important for Jesus to stick around to deliver it.

So what was it?

It was the Great Commission. Let’s look to Matthew 28…

Jesus came and told his disciples, “I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth. Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”

It’s interesting the context in which Jesus says this. It’s from a position of “It is finished”—meaning, Jesus already defeated death. Jesus already paid for your sins; He has already made you righteous through His sacrifice. And in light of this, Jesus invites us on this mission that we get to be a part of.

Maybe you feel like this is an enormous message and task, and you as the messenger, aren’t quite sure if you have what it takes to do this… But I assure you, Christ in you—you have all you need.

Take Moses for example,

God told Moses he was going to lead the Israelites out of Egypt, out of years of slavery. That was quite an impossible task. And Moses, like us, felt inadequate. Moses responds to God saying,

Who am I, that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?
(Exodus 3:11)

And God says:

I will surely be with you; (Exodus 3:12)

God’s presence with us is all we need. It is God who does the transformative, freeing work—not us. God promises us, just as he promised Moses, that He will be with us; He will not leave us, or forsake us.

Despite God’s promise, we still sometimes feel incapable. Moses too doubted God’s presence to be enough because of his own inadequacy. But you see, God can use anything and anyone He wishes to reveal Himself. Look what he says to Moses’ doubt:

The Lord said to him, What is that in your hand? And he said, A rod. (Exodus 4:2)

And then God instructs Moses to throw it on the ground, and it turns into a slivering snake.

“This,” said the Lord, “is so that they may believe that the Lord, the God of their fathers—the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob—has appeared to you. (Ex 4:5)

God uses Moses and his rod—both useless in and of themselves. A stick cannot free slaves, and Moses alone couldn’t either… Just as our talent, gifting, and interests and human strength can’t save people…

Jesus demonstrates, through Moses who feels inadequate, and the useless rod—His life-giving, transformative power. God demonstrates that He can bring a dead thing to life; a dead piece of wood into a live snake.

God does the same with believers like you and I—He takes us as we are, in our inadequacies and weaknesses, and He takes the things in hands that are in and of themselves useless, and demonstrates His life-giving power.

God is with you, and He will work through you … not because of anything you do, but because of who He is. God working through us, will set people free, set nations free, and bring people to faith in Christ.

Don’t hesitate, don’t doubt. Look to Jesus, and GO and Tell!

November 8, 2013

You Will Receive Power; You Will Be My Witnesses

Acts 1:8 But the Holy Spirit will come upon you and give you power. Then you will tell everyone about me in Jerusalem, in all Judea, in Samaria, and everywhere in the world.” (CEV)

Acts 1:8 But when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, you will receive power to testify about me with great effect, to the people in Jerusalem, throughout Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth, about my death and resurrection.” (The Living Bible)

Other than the two translations quoted above, most other Bibles retain the word “witness” or “witnesses.” The word is fully entrenched in Christian thought and teaching. Here are some other thoughts on this; I’ll explain the source of this at the end.

– o – o – o –

You Will Be My Witnesses

If you’re wondering how to fulfill your role as a witness for Christ, look at his example. He is always witnessing: by the well of Samaria, or in the Temple of Jerusalem: by the lake of Gennesaret, or on the mountain.

He witnesses night and day; his words testify to God every bit as much as his actions. He witnesses under all types of circumstance; Scribes and Pharisees can’t stop him; even in what we might call his worst moment — standing before Pilate — he does not back down. He witnesses so clearly, and distinctly that there is no mistaking him.

As believers, we need to make a clear testimony. We need to be like a brook where you see every stone at the bottom — not like a muddy creek, of which you only see the surface — but clear and transparent, so that our heart’s love to God and man is visible to all.

You don’t just say, “I am true:” but be true. Don’t brag about your integrity, but be upright. In that way your testimony will be the kind that people cannot help seeing. Never, for fear of other people, restrain your verbal witness. Your lips have been warmed with a coal from off the altar*; let them speak as like heaven-touched lips should do.

Eccl. 11:6 Sow your seed in the morning,
    and at evening let your hands not be idle,
for you do not know which will succeed,
    whether this or that,
    or whether both will do equally well.

Don’t look for signs or check the weather — be a witness for your Lord and Savior in season and out of season — and if it should happen that for Christ’s sake and the gospel’s sake you have to endure suffering in any shape, don’t back down, but rejoice in the honor placed on you, that you are counted worthy to suffer with your Lord; and rejoice also in this: That your sufferings, your losses, and persecutions will give you a platform, from which more energetically and with even greater power you will witness for Christ Jesus.

Study your great Example, and be filled with his Spirit. Remember that you need much teaching, much support, much grace, and much humility, if your witnessing is to be to your Master’s glory.

[Paraphrased from Morning and Evening by Spurgeon as accessed at BibleHub.com]

– o – o – o –

*Reference to Isaiah 6:

Then one of the seraphim flew to me with a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with tongs from the altar. With it he touched my mouth and said, “See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for.”

– o – o – o –

I want to encourage you to consider taking a short excerpt from a classic writer and doing what I did here. The communication style is quite different and you need to slow down in your reading in order to transcribe it faithfully. I’d like to think that in our context, Charles Spurgeon would see this as a consistent rendering of his original writing.

September 26, 2011

The Meaning of “Spreading the Gospel”

An interesting examination into a phrase that was quoted like scripture in the church where I grew up: “Why should anyone hear the gospel twice before everyone has heard it once?”  Eddie Arthur looks at this more  closely:

No one has the right to hear the Gospel twice while there remains someone who has not heard it once. (Oswald J. Smith)

This is the second post in what may become a series on famous sayings about Christian mission (the first one is here). This quote by Smith is one that turns up in lots of missionary writing and at first glance it seems to make sense, but like many things that make sense at first glance, it is actually rather problematic.

On the positive side, this quote encourages us to reflect on the importance of taking the Gospel to places where there are, as yet, no Christians. This is something which is absolutely key to the work of Wycliffe Bible Translators and something which motivated St. Paul, too.

My ambition has always been to preach the Good News where the name of Christ has never been heard, rather than where a church has already been started by someone else. (Romans 15:20)

That being said, this quote raises an awful lot of questions.

“No one has a right to hear the Gospel twice”; I’m not sure where the language of rights comes from – it certainly isn’t in the Bible. Scripture talks about the responsibility of Christians to bear witness to Christ all around the world, but it is silent on the rights of people to hear the message. Surely, hearing the Gospel, once, twice or a hundred times is all about God’s grace in reaching out to His creation, not about our rights to hear.

So, what about this notion that people should only hear the Gospel once while others have not heard?

The first thing to say is that this is not how Paul operated. Despite his desire to preach in new situations, he spent serious amounts of time in some cities, building up and encouraging the Church and on more than one occasion he went back to visit a city where he had previously planted a Church.

This phrase comes from the sort of thinking which I addressed at a number of points in my series on the Great Commission. It stems from the idea that mission is nothing more than announcing the Good News of Jesus and moving on, it ignores the Biblical injunction to make disciples (Matthew 28:19,20) and fails to take Jesus commands to love and care for people seriously. Are we only supposed to give thirsty people one drink? Or should we visit prisoners once and then move on? (Matthew 25:38-40) Of course we wouldn’t limit these commands in this way; but there is nothing about the command to teach the Gospel that would allow us to limit that either.

Christian mission is about long-term engagement with people. It involves building relationships, serving people and telling them the Good News about Jesus. It takes time, often lots of time, for people to move from not knowing Christ to becoming his disciples. They may need to hear the Gospel many times.

However, the main problem with this phrase, and the sort of missiology that it represents, is that it places us and our strategy in the lead position in mission, rather than having us follow the Spirit and joining in where he is at work.

Phrases like this one are powerful, all the more so because they contain a grain of truth, but they can shape our thinking in ways that are not helpful. Sadly, it can be a lot easier to use sayings like this to shape our mission strategy rather than being guided by the complex and sometimes confusing narrative of Scripture.

If you want to look at this quote in more detail, take a look at what Ernest Goodman has to say (and follow the comments), here is a taste of his thoughts:

I cannot accept a missiology that essentially puts us on “auto-pilot” in terms of to whom we should go. The second we assume where and in whom God is going to work, we get ahead of Him and disqualify ourselves from full participation in what He’s doing. This missiology is essentially either/or; missions is either relating to those people that God leads us to, or it is targeting the next “lostest” people group according to our statistics and research. It cannot be both, because the second assumes a monopoly on the first. How else can we explain so many of our workers feeling called to work among “reached” peoples?

God is at work redeeming humankind to Himself. I believe that missions is crossing cultural barriers to be part of that. Until we seriously rethink our missiology, we will continue to build our strategies on a broken foundation.