Not by might or power

For even if there are so-called gods, whether in heaven or on earth (as there are many gods and many lords), yet for us there is one God, the Father, of whom are all things, and we for Him; and one Lord Jesus Christ, through whom are all things, and through whom we live.

1 Corinthians 8:5,6

“Let not the wise boast of their wisdom
    or the strong boast of their strength
    or the rich boast of their riches,
24 but let the one who boasts boast about this:
    that they have the understanding to know me,
that I am the Lord, who exercises kindness,
    justice and righteousness on earth,
    for in these I delight,”
declares the Lord. 

Jeremiah 9:23,24

‘Not by might nor by power, but by My Spirit,’
Says the Lord of hosts.

Zechariah 4:6

One of the reasons God emphasizes knowledge of Him over power so much throughout Scripture is because we can so easily be deceived and because there are an array of powers out there that are ready to take advantage of that. It was deception that led to the first sin after all.

There is an unfathomable, incomprehensible gap between any creature and its creator. However, God is not insecure in any way and so He has made creatures (angels, “sons of God”) with astonishing power and the power of choice also. These creatures have fallen and interfered with mankind in the past both before the flood (see Gen. 6) and after it (e.g. the giants of David’s day) and can do so again. Satan can appear as an angel of light and his followers as false prophets (2 Cor. 11:14) even today.

So, how do we avoid being deceived? Well firstly, you must be filled with the Holy Spirit. The only way of knowing whether the light that is in you is not darkness (Matthew 6:23) is by knowing what God is really like. No amount of power can assure you of this as Jesus pointed out when He spoke about the many who would come to Him boasting of miracles and yet who practiced evil (Matthew 7:22). Christ in you is your hope and when He is formed in you (Gal. 4:19) and you are relating to Him easily and continually there is nothing that cannot happen.

But how do you know that it is Christ that is in you and guiding you?

How do you know that it is not some other god/ devil or even yourself and an overactive imagination?

The Holy Spirit in you is quite a subjective experience, the outward signs that someone is carrying around this treasure are often not that obvious in the earthen clay of our physical bodies (2 Cor. 4:7).

The second check is the Scriptures. No matter how amazing your experiences or power, if you are doing evil then you could be deceived. The Scriptures stand apart from your experience and can act as an objective mirror to your internal realities if you let them.

Thirdly, the church, let godly people see you for who you really are and give them the freedom to speak into your life and correct you if necessary.

See also “Three Pillars“.

Seeing the Bigger Picture

God moves at levels we have very little understanding of.  We have two lovely and intelligent dogs but they have no idea what I do when I go to work.  In fact they have no concept of what my work is nor even that there is such a thing as work.  All they are aware of is that I’m around sometimes and sometimes I am not.

God likens us to sheep and Him as a Shepherd.  We really have no concept of His work.

It is good to keep this in mind when we pray about or consider the Church.  Sometimes the local church we are part of can loom too large in our minds as if it was all that God is doing in our area or land.  Thank God for faithful men and women who follow God and are led to work with Him to build His Church.  And thank God if you are benefitting from the service of such men and women.

But God is doing something bigger.  Don’t become tribal or sectarian or worried if people don’t stay.  Often they are God’s servants doing what God wants them to do.  And if not, God is still building His Church and nothing the devil or men do will stop that.

Just make sure you are where God wants you to be, doing what He wants you to do.

A Problem with the Roman Catholic Church

If, as I do, you call yourself a Christian, it can be very hard to see the leaders of another institution that calls itself Christian behave in very unchristian ways.  That is the dilemma faced by anyone who has watched the self-serving and defensive approach of the Roman Catholic church world wide over the last couple of decades.  It is bad enough that a small number of priests – supposedly spiritual leaders for their flocks – have committed unmentionable atrocities against young children.  It is a sad fact of the fall that such behaviour is inevitable.  However what should never have been inevitable is that the leaders of an institution that calls itself a Christian church should ever have gone out of its way to cover up the abuse just to protect its own reputation at the cost of the innocent members of its flock.

To many in Ireland and around the world such a cover up is the real reason that they cannot be identified with that institution.

There is, of course, nothing new about this.  Back in the 16th century as the reformation began to take root, its leaders and followers too saw even more blatant abuses of position by those in leadership in the Roman Catholic church.  Even a cursory reading of the history of those times can convince you that in many ways nothing much has changed.

Personally, I was brought up a Roman Catholic.  I attended mass religiously for many years.  During all that time I never remember hearing that I could have a personal relationship with God my Father through Jesus Christ.  It took another student my own age, himself a former Roman Catholic, working outside that institution and with no support – indeed outright opposition – from it, to be the instrument used to reveal that astonishing and life-changing truth to me.  About 11 months after being born again I left the Roman Catholic church myself and never went back.  That was in 1981 when it wasn’t so fashionable to leave as it is now.

Whether they want to admit it or not we are all here in the West hugely influenced by the teachings of Jesus Christ.  We all, without any controversy, know right from wrong when it comes to the abuse of children.  There used to be a similar unanimity about other matters as well but that is reducing.  Divorce, abortion, gay marriage, LGBT rights are all no longer as clear as they used to be.  Adultery, murder, lying, cheating generally have withstood the tide of post-Christian amoral thinking though there is a strong Atheist movement now that would, if it could, remove meaning from every moral stance of any sort.

Personally and reasonably there is a Truth who has spoken in the consciences of all men where the Christian gospel has spread whether they acknowledge it or not.  This same Truth says, un-controversially that abusing children is wrong.  He also says, controversially, that abortion on demand and LGBT “rights” are wrong but not everyone believes that anymore.  In some countries in Europe the age of consent has been reduced to the age of young children.  At the other end the call for assisted suicide and euthanasia is increasingly becoming louder.

However at the moment, children, in Ireland anyway, are sacrosanct.  They are the line drawn in the sand by many people.  So when a so-called Christian institution supports the abuse of children from the highest level down it is no wonder that the name of Jesus Himself is thrown out with the bathwater.

So there is now a body of people in this land that have become very angry at the attitude, behaviour and stance of the Roman Catholic hierarchy world wide to anything.  So if the RC church is pro-life, anti-abortion these people take the opposite stance.  This doesn’t help the objective truth of the matter nor those who are truly Christian who happen to believe that abortion on demand is wrong.

 

Freedom

The passage below is taken from Eugene Peterson’s introduction to Paul’s letter to the Galatians:

When men and women get their hands on religion, one of the first things they often do is turn it into an instrument for controlling others, either putting or keeping them “in their place.” The history of such religious manipulation and coercion is long and tedious. It is little wonder that people who have only known religion on such terms experience release or escape from it as freedom. The problem is that the freedom turns out to be short-lived.

Paul of Tarsus was doing his diligent best to add yet another chapter to this dreary history when he was converted by Jesus to something radically and entirely different—a free life in God. Through Jesus, Paul learned that God was not an impersonal force to be used to make people behave in certain prescribed ways, but a personal Savior who set us free to live a free life. God did not coerce us from without, but set us free from within.

It was a glorious experience, and Paul set off telling others, introducing and inviting everyone he met into this free life. In his early travels he founded a series of churches in the Roman province of Galatia. A few years later Paul learned that religious leaders of the old school had come into those churches, called his views and authority into question, and were reintroducing the old ways, herding all these freedom-loving Christians back into the corral of religious rules and regulations.

Paul was, of course, furious. He was furious with the old guard for coming in with their strong-arm religious tactics and intimidating the Christians into giving up their free life in Jesus. But he was also furious with the Christians for caving in to the intimidation.

His letter to the Galatian churches helps them, and us, recover the original freedom. It also gives direction in the nature of God’s gift of freedom—most necessary guidance, for freedom is a delicate and subtle gift, easily perverted and often squandered.

Peterson, Eugene H.. The Message: The Bible in Contemporary Language . The Navigators. Kindle Edition.

Dissenting

I am a bible believing Christian. As a result of reading the bible many people like us over many centuries and in many cultures have concluded that aspects of the Sacrifice of the Mass are in flat contradiction to what the bible says.

For instance, the writer to the Hebrews says that there was one sacrifice for sins for all time, that is, Christ’s death on the cross back in about 33 AD on a hill in present day Israel (see Hebrews 10:1-18). He goes on to say that there is therefore no more need for other sacrifices. Yet the Roman Catholic doctrine clearly teaches that the priests participating in the Sacrifice of the Mass are sacrificing Christ afresh every time it is carried out.

Again, the Roman Catholic mass includes transubstantiation during which only a Roman Catholic priest has the power to change a piece of bread and a cup of wine into the actual flesh and blood of Jesus.

Many who call themselves Christians and who read the Bible have concluded that this is nonsense at best and priest craft and blasphemy at worst.

I am of those who believe that this doctrine is a hindrance to people encountering the living Christ through the Holy Spirit in true spiritual communion. We believe that Jesus clearly intended what He said in John 6 that His words about eating His flesh and drinking His blood are spirit and life (v. 66) and not to be taken literally. Cannibalism in any culture is rightly regarded as abhorrent but yet this is what Roman Catholics are taught to do with God’s Son!

There is a long tradition of dissenters that can be read in such books as E.H. Broadbent’s “The Pilgrim Church” or of Protestants which can be read about in the various volumes of D’Aubigne’s “History of the Reformation” and other textbooks.

I would advise everyone that you read some of these books rather than being led by the nose by a clergy that has been revealed in recent times to be as corrupt as it ever was in the days of the Borgias.

That is not to say that individual priests are all tarred with the same brush. Many of them, including no doubt the ones local to you are well meaning people with good intentions. However we all know what the road to hell is paved with.

My parent’s families on both sides going back many generations are Roman Catholic and if we didn’t go to Mass sometimes we would have to avoid funerals, marriages and christenings. However we remain sitting when others kneel during the transubstantiation part of the mass and we avoid taking the bread and wine. Not that it is anything but bread and wine but we don’t want to show approval of something which we disagree with so fundamentally.

Promises, beloved!

]Simon Peter, a bond-servant and apostle of Jesus Christ,

To those who have received a faith of the same kind as ours, by the righteousness of our God and Savior, Jesus Christ: Grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord; seeing that His divine power has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness, through the true knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence. For by these He has granted to us His precious and magnificent promises, so that by them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world by lust.

2 Peter 1:1-4 (NAS)

Peter is telling us that God’s divine power – which gives us everything we need to live a godly life- is mediated to us through the promises scattered throughout Scripture.

For we are the temple of the living God; just as God said,

“I will dwell in them and walk among them;
And I will be their God, and they shall be My people.
17 “Therefore, come out from their midst and be separate,” says the Lord.
“And do not touch what is unclean;
And I will welcome you.
18 “And I will be a father to you,
And you shall be sons and daughters to Me,”
Says the Lord Almighty.

Therefore, having these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all defilement of flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God.

2 Corinthians 6:16-18, 7:1 (NAS)

Paul tells us of the greatest promises in Scripture: God Himself will be a Father to us. He also emphasizes that holiness is required to experience this.

Here are a couple of promises from Proverbs that have helped me this morning:

The fear of the Lord leads to life,
And he who has it will abide in satisfaction;
He will not be visited with evil.

Proverbs 19:23

The righteous man walks in his integrity;
His children are blessed after him.

Proverbs 20:7

Cleansing the Temple

13 The Passover of the Jews was near, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. 14 And He found in the temple those who were selling oxen and sheep and doves, and the money changers seated at their tables. 15 And He made a scourge of cords, and drove them all out of the temple, with the sheep and the oxen; and He poured out the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables; 16 and to those who were selling the doves He said, “Take these things away; stop making My Father’s house a place of business.” 17 His disciples remembered that it was written, “Zeal for Your house will consume me.” 18 The Jews then said to Him, “What sign do You show us as your authority for doing these things?” 19 Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” 20 The Jews then said, “It took forty-six years to build this temple, and will You raise it up in three days?” 21 But He was speaking of the temple of His body. 22 So when He was raised from the dead, His disciples remembered that He said this; and they believed the Scripture and the word which Jesus had spoken.

John 2:13-22

The Scripture is clear that, in the New Testament, the temple of God is no longer in Jerusalem but it is in the bodies of believers both individually and corporately:

19 Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own?

1 Cor. 6:19

19 So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints, and are of God’s household, 20 having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the corner stone, 21 in whom the whole building, being fitted together, is growing into a holy temple in the Lord, 22 in whom you also are being built together into a dwelling of God in the Spirit.

Ephesians 2:19-22

Jesus came out from the temple and was going away when His disciples came up to point out the temple buildings to Him. And He said to them, “Do you not see all these things? Truly I say to you, not one stone here will be left upon another, which will not be torn down.”

Matthew 24:1-2

Therefore it is also clear that Jesus intends the same purity for His spiritual temple, both corporately and individually, that He expressed for the earthly temple in the passage from John 2 quoted above (c.f. Mal. 3:1, Psalm 69:9). We should therefore not be surprised when we encounter various trials (James 1:2, 1 Peter 4:12) – God is cleansing His temple.

Don’t be surprised if everything is upset and in turmoil internally at times. There is a season for everything and this just might be that season for you. God might touch your hard secular work (represented by oxen), your Christian works (represented by sheep), your financial affairs (the money changers) and any other spirits that might be operating on you internally (represented by the doves).

It might have taken 46 years (more or less) to have got your internal state to the place it currently is. When Jesus comes in He could overturn it all in less than an hour and raise it up to something new in 3 days.

Enjoy!

Dream – Lessons in Creativity from the Creator

God is very creative. When He puts together a group of people in a church and does things through them, the result can look very different from the constituent parts.

faithfulwon

Knock, knock, knock!  I had heard that sharp sound before in middle of the night, and it had woken me up before, on at least two occasions.  The last two times I initially thought it was someone knocking on the door downstairs but then realised it had just been a dream, turned over and went back to sleep.  But a bit like the young Samuel in the bible, this third time I realised that this was actually God trying to get my attention.

“Here I am!  I stand at the door and knock.  If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him and he with me.” (Rev. 3:20).

So I went to open the door and there Jesus was, all white and shining and making the inside of my head house look positively disgraceful.  I stood awkwardly at the door, saying that…

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Communion

Few Christian doctrines have caused as much trouble and confusion down the centuries as has the doctrine of communion. On the one side you have those who take a very literal interpretation of the words of Jesus when He said: “This is My body” and on the other you have those that take an allegorical sense of those same words.

As is always the case with any Christian controversy, a true understanding can only come about by combining an understanding given by the Holy Spirit to the words of the inspired Bible. It is that combination of the Spirit and the written word that leads us to the Word of God or Christ Himself in whom dwells all the riches of knowledge and understanding (see Colossians).

If we are ignorant of either one of these – either the Holy Spirit or the Bible – things can get quite confusing. Take as an example Proverbs 9: 1-6 and compare it with the same chapter verses 13-18. In the first section Wisdom calls out to the “Simple” and those “without understanding” and in the second section a foolish woman (Folly) does the same. Both have houses and both offer food and drink. Wisdom offers bread and wine and Folly offers bread and water. Wisdoms food and drink is her own. Folly’s is stolen from somewhere else.

We know from Proverbs 8 that Wisdom is personified by Jesus. It is His own body and blood He offers us – not something stolen from someone else. He paid a high price to give us the spiritual food we so badly desire.

However Folly gives us far more insipid fare. Proverbs 20:17 tells us that her food will turn to gravel in our mouths. Those who try to be satisfied with anything other than the body and blood of Jesus will be disappointed.

But have you seen what I did there? Here is a spiritual truth revealed through physical simple elements. The reality is not in the bread and wine or the water for that matter. The reality is in what they represent.

The Doctrine of the Crucified

18 For the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 19 For it is written,

“I will destroy the wisdom of the wise,
And the cleverness of the clever I will set aside
.”

2Where is the wise man? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? 21 For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not come to know God, God was well-pleased through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe. 22 For indeed Jews ask for signs and Greeks search for wisdom; 23 but we preach Christ crucified, to Jews a stumbling block and to Gentiles foolishness, 24 but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25 Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.

26 For consider your calling, brethren, that there were not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble; 27 but God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong, 28 and the base things of the world and the despised God has chosen, the things that are not, so that He may nullify the things that are, 29 so that no man may boast before God. 30 But by His doing you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification, and redemption, 31 so that, just as it is written, “Let him who boasts, boast in the Lord.”

(1 Corinthians 1:18-31)

Watch out if you are not foolish, base or despised! God is not likely to use you much or for long.

The following is not a statement from some obscure man from long ago. It is a command from God that we would do well to heed:

“I must decrease, He must increase.” (John 3:30)

When Paul was following Christ around Asia and being used by the Holy Spirit to plant churches he was particularly foolish. If you want to build anything in this world apart from Christ you don’t just go along to a place for a few weeks, appoint some obscure people as elders and then go off and abandon them. But Paul didn’t see things that way. He was just doing what the Spirit of Jesus was telling him to do and leaving the rest of it to Him. Sure, he prayed and wrote letters, all significant. But we don’t know who the elders are that he appointed in most of the churches. The emphasis wasn’t on the pastors or any individuals. The Holy Spirit was in control.