what carries us away?

Do not be carried away by all kinds of strange teachings.

Hebrews 13:9a

“What are we carried away by?” is a good question. I don’t like to take a passage out of context (click link to see full context). What is referred to here is a fascination it seems over teachings from their old religion, which seemed to have a power in themselves. It’s important for us to consider how that thought might apply and have a hold on us today.

But what I’m thinking of here is whatever we might get taken in by, whatever might get a hold on us and essentially choke out the seed of God’s word in our lives. It can be a fascination over all kinds of things, be it sports, politics, gaming, whatever. It’s not like these things can’t have their place in terms of importance and pleasure, although some to be sure would obviously be wrong. It’s just that we have to always seek to have hearts in tune with God’s will, minds set on submitting to that will, and feet (lives) that follow.

It isn’t easy to avoid being swept off our feet by this or that, especially when we’ve more or less lived there for years. But whatever engagement we have with such needs to be tempered by God’s word in our lives, so that we remain grounded in what really matters: God’s good will for us. In and through Jesus.

the danger of extra-biblical teaching

Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth. Avoid godless chatter, because those who indulge in it will become more and more ungodly. Their teaching will spread like gangrene. Among them are Hymenaeus and Philetus, who have departed from the truth. They say that the resurrection has already taken place, and they destroy the faith of some.

2 Timothy 2:15-18

The Spirit guides the church through Scripture. There is always danger from those who claim to have something the church doesn’t have, something more. What that actually amounts to is something more than Scripture, or even a better take on what Scripture actually says, maybe they would call it more spiritual, deeper, closer to the heart of God.

Where churches might actually disagree on interpretation of Scripture is secondary, and not at all what is meant here. Such discussions must be grounded in Scripture itself, and over time be accepted as a viable possibility by the church at large. What is mentioned here goes beyond that, beyond what Scripture actually says. It might seem harmless at first, and even good, but when it becomes divisive and actually cuts other churches and believers off, then we have more than yellow flags up, but we see red.

Beware of all such. And keep a discerning eye open, because they pop up here and there, and will continue to do so throughout this time before our Lord returns. We have to warn them, and warn others who may be influenced by them, which means everyone, and especially those who may be under their influence. The Passion Translation is sadly an example of this. You certainly find it in other places, as well.

What we need to come back to and remain in is the teaching of the word, and yes, what the Spirit has taught the churches even over the centuries as to the meaning and truth of that. If we paid attention to what Scripture actually says, yes, some things indeed hard to understand, but others pretty straightforward, we would be at that all of our lives, growing in the truth that is found in Scripture and fulfilled in Jesus. Part of that, and what the church is called to, especially church leadership is discernment between truth and error. Stay away from people who claim to have something more. What they say should be exposed and summarily rejected.

Not pleasant, but essential, and part of the church’s calling. In and through Jesus.

incentive to grow in God’s grace

Therefore, dear friends, since you have been forewarned, be on your guard so that you may not be carried away by the error of the lawless and fall from your secure position. But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and forever! Amen.

2 Peter 3:17-18

2 Peter 1 is one of my many favorite sections of Scripture. The rest of the book (it’s a short one; click the above link to get it all) is a bit challenging for me, not sections of Scripture I go to much on my own, except to read through with the rest. But probably because of that, parts I need to heed all the more.

The ending quoted above gives away the plot of the book, which you might not at all guess by the first chapter alone. Again, that first chapter is beautiful on its own, and stands well alone. But it is not appreciated well for what it was meant to be and do when separated from the rest. It’s like listening to just parts or highlights of a symphony or other musical piece. Without listening to the whole, you won’t as well appreciate the parts.

The sad fact of the matter is that there are charlatans out there ripping people off. That’s the obvious stuff, though not so to those who are not well versed and desperate. And then there’s the much more subtle, whose own faith is ship wrecked (to borrow from Paul), who are naturally corrupt, and corrupt others, even in the name of religion, yes, sadly, in the name of Christ. They are out there. I wish I could avoid all of this. But I live in the real world. And to think that I’m not above being influenced by such, even if it’s subtlety, is to deny the plain words of Scripture here.

Regardless of what else, we must press on, seeking to grow in grace and in the knowledge of Christ just as the first chapter tells us. (I know, the chapter and verse divisions are something we’ve added, a part of our tradition, but while having their drawbacks, do help us know what part of the Scripture we’re referring to.) We’re to be aware of the danger unsound teaching and teachers bring. First of all, of course, to be able to sort out the true from the false, the good from the bad. And the better and best from those who maybe have been influenced by what’s not good. A big task, and we need the church at its truest to help us in this.

Instead of succumbing and ultimately falling, we’re to keep growing. There’s no middle ground. We either are growing, or drifting as in falling back. Our needed ongoing growth in and through our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

preach the word

In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I give you this charge: Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction. For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths. But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry.

2 Timothy 4:1-5

We in Jesus as Christians and churches are called to preach the word. And to do so with an orthodox understanding of what it means. Creeds have their place in reminding us what is central to the Christian faith, and the point of it all: the gospel. And the Spirit has spoken to the church as to what its meaning is. The Trinity: God is Triune, one God in three Persons; Jesus is fully God and fully human in one person through the Incarnation, God saves and will judge through Christ. Basic essential teaching.

Faithful teaching is required in churches, and should include matters that are often taken for granted with many of us, like the truth cited above. There was a time when the majority of churches did not hold to the Trinity, or Christ’s two natures in one person.

In my life I’ve seen the word preached and taught faithfully, but I’ve also witnessed what I might call preaching the word lite. The passage of scripture is almost treated like an aside, the stress being on what the speaker is making pertaining to one’s life, or felt needs. It is hard to describe, and I’m reticent to make such an observation since I really haven’t been a part of a church which didn’t preach the word. There’s no way I could have remained or participated in such. It’s almost by degree or grade when one can sense a tendency in that direction. But some churches are obviously there. In which scripture and Christian teaching is indeed secondary to what their message or way of approaching people is, week in and week out.

We shouldn’t take any of this for granted. If the Apostle Paul gave the charge to Timothy, and warned him that there would be a time when this wouldn’t be easy, then we need to make sure we shore up, and fulfill the trust we’ve been given. Christian leaders must be held accountable by churches, and Christian leaders must hold churches accountable to this. Until Christ returns. In and through him.

the deeper life mystique and mistake

There is something plaguing Christianity and actually causing the shipwreck of the faith for many.* But before I get there, I want to acknowledge the importance of growing deeper in our faith, and the need for a deeper life in God. That possibility is right in scripture (Ephesians 3:14-21, one example). I have frankly thought, reflecting on myself, and what I’ve seen, that our faith can be 20 miles wide, and an inch deep. By faith we need to grow outward, inward, and through and through. And be taken into places that require God’s work of excavating what is in the way, and will only hinder what God wants to do, as well as to grow in our own walk and experience in the faith. Yes, there is indeed a depth into which God wants us to step into by faith, and begin to sink into. This kind of life has been pursued in Christianity for centuries without leaving the gospel behind, or altering it in the process, actually a maturing in the faith.

But there is either a perversion, or something that is off track and at least unhelpful that is all too common in too many Christian circles. And before you begin to think I’m referring to some specific group or movement, one must remember that there are differences and that not all teaching that might be put in this category is without some balance from scripture, so that there may be nothing at all essentially wrong with it.

But to the problem, I am referring to teaching which falls into the category of what in theological circles is called overrealized eschatology. That is a big term which means what God has promised to be fulfilled in the life to come is more or less expected now. There have been some grave errors which can be seen in the New Testament, one example: when Paul refers to those who said that the resurrection had already passed, possibly meaning that these Christians had thought they had arrived, overcoming death already.

Some examples today are those who insist on a second or third work of grace which distinguishes them from other Christians. For example those who refer to themselves as “Spirit-filled” or “Spirit-filled” churches. While an emphasis on the Spirit and the Spirit’s working might help Christians to be more open to God’s work in that way, all too often the result is anything but helpful, and far from scriptural.

A telling indication that something is wrong is when one sees their faith as better than others, or their church as better than other churches. Where the Spirit of the Lord is present there is not only freedom, but humility. Humility to understand our own ongoing need, with the realization that none of us are any better than the other.

Beware of a Christianity that emphasizes experience, oftentimes unusual experiences, and sees itself as a cut above the rest. “By their fruit you will know them.” If there’s not the humility of Christ to understand that we are in process, and always in great need individually and together, then we need to reconsider the teaching we’re receiving. And the Spirit binds us together in Christ and promotes our unity in Christ. We need to beware like the plague any teaching or church not in line with that.

At the same time, by grace we can begin to experience and grow into the fullness of God in Christ together by the Spirit in the word and the church. That is the real thing. The other is more or less phony, and needs to be rejected. But God’s grace in Jesus is present to whatever extent possible in any group. We simply have to be aware, and wary of what takes us beyond the clear teaching in scripture and the gospel. Be forewarned and avoid and help others avoid this plague. That instead we might grow up together into the fullness of Christ (Ephesians 4:13).

*From what I’ve seen, which admittedly is limited, but I am convinced myself is a pattern which at least infects our faith with something foreign to Christ and the gospel, and even results in people becoming disillusioned, and leaving the faith.

 

faith and money

Looking at life and the Bible might make one wrinkle up their nose and shake their head. It seems like some things are irreconcilable, or don’t make sense. But then one needs to step back and look at the whole, and try to process it all as much as possible. And then simply trust God. I am thinking right now about faith and money.

Jesus’s words in the Sermon on the Mount about treasures in heaven and not worrying about one’s life (Matthew 6:19-34) are classic in trying to understand and sort through this. And then we have passages that encourage us to not get into debt and save, although in the Biblical world, when one could save, that is taken for granted that they should. But that they shouldn’t hoard, meaning store more than they needed, and that they should be generous to the poor and needy.

Jesus in the passage referred to above suggests that we can end up serving God or money, but not both. The idea is that money can become an idol, money itself not being an evil, but the love of money a root of all kinds of evil, as we read in 1 Timothy (6:10).

I have to wonder at the Christian leaders who actually are worth millions and millions of dollars. I don’t try to judge them for a second and I’m not critical, except when their life styles are exorbitant. Or when their teaching ties one’s material wealth to one’s spirituality. This has been a problem with the health and wealth preachers who seem to suggest that material wealth is indicative of the faith one has. They have great faith, therefore they have the material wealth. And people are to follow their example, especially, too often, by giving to their ministry. I take it for granted that we should give regularly to our church both for the continuation of the ministry in the gospel and in teaching, and in outreach for those who are in need.

Jesus himself said that he had no place to lay his head. And he taught us to pray that the Father would give us our daily bread. Translated for us today in America, that doesn’t mean we have to live from paycheck to paycheck. But that we should be devoted to God in how we handle money, and be generous in giving, and not trust in our material wealth. And a big trap for us here in the United States is debt, whether through student loans, or even through credit cards which we mean to pay off right away, but all too easily accumulate with interests which even if on the lower end then make them hard to pay off.

Faith looks to and depends on God, and what God gives us we are stewards of, in other words we’re responsible to handle that money in a way that honors God. Helping the poor and needy is central to honoring God (Proverbs 14:31). We want to do well with the money we have, but we don’t want to be devoted to money and making more of it, but only to God. All of this requires faith and wisdom, prayer and dependence on God.

Our Father is the one we count on to meet our needs, and that together, as we continue to grow and mature in and through Jesus.

“Who is the greatest?” and the problem of comparison

They left that place and passed through Galilee. Jesus did not want anyone to know where they were, because he was teaching his disciples. He said to them, “The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men. They will kill him, and after three days he will rise.” But they did not understand what he meant and were afraid to ask him about it.

They came to Capernaum. When he was in the house, he asked them, “What were you arguing about on the road?” But they kept quiet because on the way they had argued about who was the greatest.

Sitting down, Jesus called the Twelve and said, “Anyone who wants to be first must be the very last, and the servant of all.”

He took a little child whom he placed among them. Taking the child in his arms, he said to them, “Whoever welcomes one of these little children in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me does not welcome me but the one who sent me.”

Mark 9

We inevitably draw up comparisons in our minds as to which of us is better in this or that. We all tend to like to think that we might be better than someone else at such and such, and many of us are competitive by nature. But when we do so, we play into the hand of the world, the flesh and the devil. And we’re not like Jesus.

In the first place I might say, leaving the above text for the moment, to compare ourselves with each other is simply unwise, as we read elsewhere from Paul, who I would imagine, considering all that is said about and by him in scripture, was quite competitive himself.

We do not dare to classify or compare ourselves with some who commend themselves. When they measure themselves by themselves and compare themselves with themselves, they are not wise. We, however, will not boast beyond proper limits, but will confine our boasting to the sphere of service God himself has assigned to us, a sphere that also includes you.

2 Corinthians 10

Paul was fighting the false apostles for the sake of the gospel, who were calling into question his ministry based on their false view of what spirituality was. And one sure key to see through them was how they compared themselves to others, and specifically in this case to Paul and surely all those with Paul. They were superior; they were the spiritual elite. They could speak better, and surely their content was better too, in their minds. And no doubt they did dazzle, since Paul had to devote an entire section of 2 Corinthians (chapters 10-13) to both refute and expose them, as well as indicate what makes one who is truly a messenger of the gospel. By their actions and comparing themselves as superior, they were preaching a different Christ, and acting by a different spirit other than the Holy Spirit. Paul’s example was one of humility and weakness, and the gospel as well as the Lord, who essentially is that gospel, and specifically him crucified, was the one people would come to see in Paul’s ministry, not Paul himself.

But back to our Lord’s words to his disciples. He took a little child, embraced her or him, and made it plain that this child was an indication of what true greatness is. That they were to become like this little child, last of all, and the servant of all, even like he was already, to be completed through the cross. Elsewhere on the subject of who is the greatest, Jesus told them that nothing less than a conversion, a change of heart is needed (Matthew 18).

I am so easily given to comparison, particularly in matters in which I’m competitive. Probably in most, I don’t think I am, including how I write, teach and preach. I know better, having learned over the years. In these areas, I have come to see clearly how we’re all in this together, and how much we need each other. And how it’s like snowflakes, or so many other illustrations from creation, how there’s no end to God’s creativity, and how therefore we miss out completely when we compare ourselves or someone else as better than others. Paul ended up being better than the false apostles he had to oppose, because for him it was about Jesus, not about demonstrating how great he was. In fact in his brokenness as a jar of clay (read the rest of that great letter, 2 Corinthians), Jesus was more clearly seen.

And so let’s appreciate the good gifts in others, and be glad about areas they may excel in and do better than us. Remembering that we’re all special in God’s eyes, and by his design. Both in creation and in new creation in and through Jesus, the one who is the measure of true greatness.