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.

the need for strict, ongoing self-discipline

Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. Therefore I do not run like someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air. No, I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.

1 Corinthians 9

They say we often eat to feed not really our bodies, but our minds or hearts. That we do so from being troubled. The Christian life contra some of the early church fathers is not meant to be one of harshly treating the body. Not at all! Read Paul’s words in Colossians:

Since you died with Christ to the elemental spiritual forces of this world, why, as though you still belonged to the world, do you submit to its rules: “Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch!”? These rules, which have to do with things that are all destined to perish with use, are based on merely human commands and teachings. Such regulations indeed have an appearance of wisdom, with their self-imposed worship, their false humility and their harsh treatment of the body, but they lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence.

Of course the Christian ascetics did not have such a worldly system in mind in their fasting for the sake of Christ, and for their own spiritual good, so it is different. Yet the sameness might exist in thinking that harsh treatment of the body in itself can do good, as if the body is the enemy of the soul, a neo-Platonic way of thinking which surely infiltrated the church, even probably noticeable in perhaps the greatest of the church fathers, Augustine.

And yet Paul minced no words in the Corinthians passage quoted above. We by grace either discipline ourselves, and specifically our body, or we place ourselves in danger of losing out with reference to all that is ours in Christ. How God rewards in the end, I don’t think we can be sure, though we may have some inklings. But there are certainly some lines we’re not to cross in this life. We must pull out all stops to stop dead in our tracks, and not go past certain lines we might even be rushing headlong to. And we need to work on an agenda in which we are following a different path altogether.

And even if we have failed, that gives us no excuse to excuse ourselves from Paul’s example here. We need to do so all the more. We are weak in ourselves for sure. We need God’s grace to help us through. And we need sheer determination to persevere in that grace and not let up.

They say our brains are one of our most important physical organs. The brain does better with the extra flow of oxygen which comes from good physical exercise. And the mind certainly can affect the body. We surely need to have our hearts and minds set on Christ, and on the things of heaven where Christ is, someday destined to come to earth, and already present now by the Spirit. But we need to take heed of our focus, in order to have the kind of discipline Paul refers to in 1 Corinthians. Paul’s words there should be considered in their context. And interestingly enough, Paul’s warning in Colossians is followed up with the counsel to focus on Christ and might even seem austere by today’s standards. It is referring to a spiritual discipline, but there is no such discipline in which our bodies are not involved. Our bodies are part of our real selves.

And so what we do and don’t do does matter. God has indeed richly given us all things for our enjoyment, so that we’re not to deny ourselves of the good of creation (1 Timothy). But we must avoid counterfeit gods, which can include even our own stomachs (Philippians 3), and sometimes might involve making some major changes. Our goal is to pursue Christ and likeness to him until the very end. May God grant us the grace to do so together in and through him.

 

dialing down expectations

One of the greatest problems of society, and of us in our lives is the problem of unrealized expectations, or probably more accurately and helpfully put, unrealistic expectations. One of the most in your face and crudest kind out there is that of the health and wealth, prosperity gospel preachers. They are a dime a dozen, and not worth any of it. I would not mince my words to one, whose letters and whatever it was he sent back, was aimed at a poor man who was grasping on to whatever hope he had to recover from the dementia which was setting in, sending in x number of dollars to get this or that blessing from someone who is (or was) exceedingly wealthy himself.

I am not referring here, I hope, to lack of faith, so that we don’t expect God to fulfill his promises, and rather than shoots six or seven or more arrows out there, we only shoot three like that faithless king of Israel of old. Not at all. We ought to trust in God and in God’s promises to us in Jesus, even literally. So that we do expect nothing less than the righteousness, joy and peace in the Holy Spirit promised to us in the kingdom now present in Jesus (Romans 14). Yes, we do ourselves and no one else any favor, when we don’t believe God’s promises to us.

But we need to read the entire Bible, not just the precious promise part. There’s plenty in there which you’re either not likely to find, or never would see in a precious promise book, whatever good such books might actually do. Yes, we need the “very great and precious promises” of God (2 Peter 1) for sure, and we need to hold on to them for dear life. But we need to see them in the context of taking up our cross and following, and being ready for “the dark night of the soul,” as well as arming ourselves for the spiritual warfare by being willing to suffer as Christ did (1 Peter 4).

I don’t care for that kind of message, myself, or at least there’s a large part of me which doesn’t. On the other hand, there’s another part of me which does, I suppose the inherent skeptical part, and for the good of me and others, it is best that I swallow the entire revelation of God given to us in the word, and through Christ, not just the parts that I like. The parts which may not taste as well at first, anyhow, may be the most nourishing and good for the soul, but we need it all. We need to really take in, and perhaps dwell at length on sections we might, left to ourselves, ignore, like the book of Lamentations, to name just one book among many other such parts of scripture.

Dialing down expectations might help us sift the wheat from the chaff, as we learn the way and freedom of self-restriction in place of the lie of unlimited freedom (Alexander Solzhenitsyn), the way of Jesus, and as we embrace that way both outwardly and inwardly, the way of the cross. And then find the true love of God and abundant eternal life as we look forward to the fulfillment of all of God’s promises, in and through Jesus.

signs and wonders (and even prophesying) not enough

Concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered to him, we ask you, brothers and sisters, not to become easily unsettled or alarmed by the teaching allegedly from us—whether by a prophecy or by word of mouth or by letter—asserting that the day of the Lord has already come. Don’t let anyone deceive you in any way, for that day will not come until the rebellion occurs and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the man doomed to destruction. He will oppose and will exalt himself over everything that is called God or is worshiped, so that he sets himself up in God’s temple, proclaiming himself to be God.

Don’t you remember that when I was with you I used to tell you these things? And now you know what is holding him back, so that he may be revealed at the proper time. For the secret power of lawlessness is already at work; but the one who now holds it back will continue to do so till he is taken out of the way. And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord Jesus will overthrow with the breath of his mouth and destroy by the splendor of his coming. The coming of the lawless one will be in accordance with how Satan works. He will use all sorts of displays of power through signs and wonders that serve the lie, and all the ways that wickedness deceives those who are perishing. They perish because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. For this reason God sends them a powerful delusion so that they will believe the lie and so that all will be condemned who have not believed the truth but have delighted in wickedness.

2 Thessalonians 2

Paranormal activity is well documented, and the biblical narrative certainly takes it seriously. Of course there are God’s miracles, literally signs and wonders, which point to God himself, and God’s word, to the gospel. They are unusual in scripture, but found in pockets, it seems. And the church according to 1 Corinthians 12 can have that element within the body in the form of giftings from God on some of God’s people (perhaps individuals here and there) through which extraordinary things happen. Certainly miracles accompanied Jesus in his ministry, especially in the healings, and exorcism of demons.

The point of this post is simply to say that miracles in themselves prove nothing as to their source. We can define miracle, by the way, as that which is out of the ordinary, perhaps seemingly breaking the laws of nature, therefore called supernatural. According to scripture, God holds everything together, so that God can do what he pleases at any time with what exists. But there’s also an usurper, a pretender, who does have a measure of power, the angelic kind, though in this sense perverted, which can bring about miracles, as in the scripture above, “signs and wonders that serve the lie.”

And in Deuteronomy 13, there’s a warning not to be taken in by prophesyings and miracles which on the surface seem to be authentic, and perhaps in some ways are, but actually pull people away from God and the truth, and essentially substantiate and support what they want to hear.

There is the danger of attributing to Satan what is actually the work of the Holy Spirit. But we are told to test all things, including prophesyings, with the benchmark that we’re to hold on to what is good, but reject whatever is not (1 Thessalonians 5). We need a discernment coming from both the Spirit and the word. Deception can occur not only in the world, but in the church. The safety we have from that is found in the gospel: the power of God through the weakness of the cross, the wisdom of God through the foolishness of the message of a crucified Lord (1 Corinthians 1).

We need discernment, and all the more when people are vulnerable for understandable reasons to deception. We all need the bread of God’s word, and the living Bread who came down out of heaven, and now gives life to the world. Jesus is the one we turn to in the midst of our confusion and darkness. Even while along with the church we continue to turn the pages of scripture, and ask God for the discernment we need, in and through Jesus.