Tuesday, September 10, 2013

THE GOSPEL THAT IS NO GOSPEL. THE PARABLE OF THE PARADE.

THE PARADE
A. Brother

            Many of us have been taught a gospel that is no gospel at all.  Those of us who sit in the pews of our comfortable churches and live a life full of the fruits of self-indulgence and selfish goals and dreams.  Those of us who name the Name of Christ as if we are His people, yet who bear none of the fruit of His Spirit, show none of His power, exhibit little of His love and holiness.  We proclaim Christ and yet don’t live Christ.  We seek for Him and yet don’t find Him.  He is a foreigner to us, and a great mystery that we worship from afar, because we have been taught and followed no gospel at all.

            This gospel that is no gospel requires nothing.  It is an easy gospel, full of the desire for a good life, full of desire for happiness and security, and prosperity.  It is a gospel that says we are fine.  That gives us license to enjoy our affluence, and says that when we prosper it shows we are in favor with God and man. 

            This gospel that is no gospel is a gospel that answers every question with a positive affirmation.  It is a gospel that seeks its own good, and its own power, and its own glory.  It is a ‘feel good’ gospel, full of all the right verses, and with a constant need to confirm in its followers that they should feel good about themselves, about the world around them, about their circumstances, about their church, about their leaders, about their families, about their country, about their lives, and about their souls.  It is a smooth, palatable gospel that makes promises of peace and hope and your best life now.

            This gospel that is no gospel has led us down the wide way that leads to destruction.  The vast crowd moves smoothly down the easy, wide boulevard, lined with trees, bright with sun, bands playing, kids holding balloons, clowns cavorting, drummers drumming and baton twirlers performing.  This giant parade is self-propelled, well-orchestrated, and led by a charming group of men and women decked out in the finest uniforms. 

            Behind the scenes there are skilled technicians, making sure every good view reaches the cameras, and every performer in this spectacular event is doing his job, so that the onlookers at home and in person can be entertained.  There are security forces in plain-clothes, ready to quietly deal with any strange behavior or disruption, for the parade must go on, and uninterrupted by anything out of place or unseemly. 

            After all, God is watching, and we are those who must please Him by our faultless parade skills, showing Him how much we care about Him by worshiping in style and with the finest of showmanship.

            This gospel that is no gospel is a spectator sport.  It is a parade that is carefully prepared each week, by the best paid minds in the churches.  Those with the talent to put it all together, and create the best show possible.  They were hired by the attendees, the crowds, to please them and to earn their salaries by making sure that nothing goes wrong or is out of place.  To create flow, and crowd dynamics, and to build everything around a theme that makes a great point.  To achieve a synergy with music and word that works up to a climax that will bring the audience to its feet with new vitality and encouragement for the week ahead, so they can hold onto their gospel until the next parade.

            There are smaller parades on television so that the faithful can get their needed vitality and strength to go on even during the week.  These shows are designed to fill in the gaps between the parade dates in their own hometowns.  They are brightly lit sets with smiling people, and scripts that are full of this gospel that is no gospel.  The viewers can watch people worshiping, and hear the parade music, performed by some of the very people who sing and dance in the real parades.  Once in a while somebody tries to air a show that has another gospel, with some ugly and distasteful things in it, and preaches a lesser faith without as much positive in it, but these shows are quickly extinguished because they don’t attract the viewers like the others.  The ratings take care of that problem for the producers.

            Unfortunately, to their great future embarrassment, Jesus Christ, Lord of His Church, doesn’t have time for parades.  He also doesn’t watch television.  He’s too busy for that.

            For Jesus is on Narrow Road, not Broadway.  He is out along the minor highways and small streets, busy healing the brokenhearted, the sick, the blind and the lame.  He is busy taking care of the lonely and the afflicted.  He is busy spending time with His small groups of disciples, who are in genuine need of Him.  He is with those who suffer, and are in prison, and are in pain, and on their knees in their anguish and need for Him.  He is with those who follow Him every moment, and rely on His love and strength and the power of His Spirit to get them through the day.  He is close to those crushed in spirit, and who have no showmanship or loveliness of their own to parade around. 

            Christ is with those who need Him, not those who don’t. 

            For the faithful are mostly poor, and insignificant in the eyes of the world.  The parade goes by many blocks away in their cities.  They can hear the distant drums, and once in a while one of them ventures toward the parade, but security blocks them before they can ever get a glimpse, because they are not dressed right, and are obviously not part of the target market.  They might turn on the television, and see one of the smaller parade shows, but it only makes them feel worse, as they aren’t participating in that wonderful life, so they turn it off. 

            The poor in spirit have only Jesus to be with them in this age of the parade.  They hunger and thirst after righteousness, not after entertainment.  They long for Christ, and to know the fellowship of His suffering, so they can know the joy and power of His resurrection in their lives.  They carry a cross daily, which is the sign of Jesus’ life in them, but which makes them quite unacceptable and unattractive to the parade participants and crowds watching.  That’s why crosses were banned long ago from parades, though they are allowed as discreet display on buildings along the way. 

            Jesus especially values those who obey Him.  The True Gospel is the Way of Love, and those who love God love their brothers, as He taught.  They share and are generous with one another.  They don’t judge each other by their wealth, or status.  They include one another in their lives, and are together as often as possible.  The obedient know that love is the first and most reliable mark of the Christ-follower.  And they seek to live that love every day toward others, even their enemies.

            Jesus is too busy to go to parades.  He is busy with those who are suffering for His sake all over the world.  The thousands in prison for claiming His Name as their own.  The millions in poverty who worship together without any parade trappings, and who would rather sing themselves, loudly and out of tune, than with the big crowds, bands, and be in disobedience.  He likes to be with those would rather lead than be led.  Those who would rather be the hands and feet of Jesus to those around them than leave their work to hired parade staff.  Jesus likes these little ones, and prays for them, and helps them, walking beside them, living inside them, and He and the Father make their homes with them.  Jesus is near to these strugglers, who can’t seem to get with the parade.

            Of course, Jesus sends Word to the parade leaders often.  Few of them listen, because listening to His Word, and seeing it without parade blinders on, would mean changing everything that they are doing, and admitting they were wrong to join the parade in the first place.  Besides, how would they earn their living?  After all, it’s their livelihood and income He’s talking about. 

            And Jesus talks to many who are in the crowd, and some of the performers in the parade, but it is so hard for them to hear above the din of the bands and the constant entertainment.  Distractions keep them occupied, and they go back to their easy, comforting verses and their easy, comfortable gospel that is no gospel.  Jesus gives up and goes back to His lowly people on Narrow Road.

            The parade continues.  Perhaps only when poverty, or sickness, or the terrors of war, or the tragedies of life strike, will the parade pause; and perhaps, if enough of these things occupy the crowds and the performers and the leaders of this parade, they will be spending too much time on their knees and crying out to God to have the parade one week.  And then, perhaps they will not have it the next week.  And then, Jesus may come by again, and draw near to them in their affliction and loneliness, and they will listen, and hear His voice of love and mercy and He will take them out to Narrow Road to join with others who are on the Way of Love.  And they will be joyful in tribulation, and find power to live through suffering.  And they will experience the Resurrection Power in their own lives, together with the faithful, and give up their parade life.

            Perhaps it is a choice to leave the parade, and to go it with Jesus.  Few will find it, He said.  Will you?  

Friday, September 6, 2013

SATAN'S SERVANTS MASQUERADE AS SERVANTS OF RIGHTEOUSNESS.

MASQUERADE
A. Brother

“But I am afraid that just as Eve was deceived
by the serpent’s cunning, your minds
may somehow be led astray
from your sincere and pure devotion to Christ. 
Or if someone comes to you
and preaches a Jesus other than the Jesus we preached…
you put up with it easily enough.” 
2 Cor. 11:3,4

“…Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light. 
It is not surprising, then, if his servants
masquerade as servants of righteousness.” 
2 Cor. 11:14,15

            Since Christ came, there have been those who knew Him, and preached Him truly and faithfully.  These men, like Paul, suffered much to follow Christ, and were examples of his love and sacrifice.  They lived the “sincere and pure devotion” which Paul talks about here to the people they brought into the Kingdom of God. 
          They were examples to the flock of Christ’s compassion, humility, and generosity, giving of themselves without thought of being paid back, and desiring only that men and women find Christ for themselves, and that they be taught the truth consistent with Scripture and the life of Jesus.  From the apostles on down, these men and women are our examples for life and service in Christ.

          But today, as always, we have many who do not preach and teach the Jesus of the Bible.  They are fakers and deceivers, deceiving and being deceived, and take many with them down the path of disobedience and confusion.  Our churches in affluent America have gone down this path with alarming speed over the past decades, growing fat and complacent, leaving the elementary truths of God’s Word behind in their love affair with the world and its ways.
          Our leaders, the so-called shepherds of the flock, have led the way in being deceived, and in accepting the wages of the world.
          The vast majority of our church traditions, practiced daily, weekly and monthly among the churches calling themselves by Christ’s Name, are weak and faulted, based upon the traditions of men rather than on the revealed will of God in His Word.
          The traditional church service.  The Sunday School.  The tithe.  The sacred days, like the Sabbath, Christmas, Easter.   The role of pastors.  The clergy/laity division.  All are dangerously removed from Biblical teaching, and must be examined as man-made traditions, much like those gradually adopted by the Jews over the centuries, which Jesus our Lord spoke against, and still speaks against in His Word.  Our desire to have religion and its trappings has resulted in a maze of religious tradition that entraps people who would know Christ from finding the way to Him.
          God abhors religion.  He hates man-created religious tradition, pomp and ceremony.  He despises our attempts to rein in the Holy Spirit and put Him in the confines of liturgy and rigid conformity to comfortable schedules and staid religious structures.
          Who are we to stand against the Word of God?  To ignore His clear Ways?  To replace His power with our placid, powerless religion?  To preach a gospel other than that which Paul and the other apostles preached?  Who are we to disobey the God of Heaven, who reached down in Christ to pluck us out of dead religion, and grabbed us away from the world and its basic principles?  Who are we to mold ourselves after the weak and miserable traditions of men, instead of holding fast to the Truth that is the power of God in us?

          As Paul told the Corinthian ekklesia of God in the passage quoted above, they were already being led astray by smooth-talking professional preachers and teachers who were more interested in securing lucrative and steady employment than in serving Christ by taking up their cross of pain and suffering.  So today, we have a professional clergy that is dedicated to continuing the puny traditions of men, so that they can thrive in steady, salaried, comfortable positions of prominence.
          If Paul were preaching today, he’d be standing against this unholy system of paid prophets and secure shepherds, because he stood against it in his day.
          The tithe we preach and teach today has absolutely no place in the teaching of the New Covenant.  The teaching of the New Covenant in Christ is giving, without reference or basis in tithing.  Generosity, love, sharing, and giving up all one has is the new standard.  Love for the brethren is the key concept in giving, and support for those who preach and teach God’s Word among us is expected, not in worldly business paradigms, but in spontaneous, abundant, loving provision out of hearts full of gratitude to Christ.  Our giving to Christ is not counted in percentages, but in possibilities.
          The church services we hold have no resemblance to those held among the scattered ekklesia of God in New Testament days.  Their coming together was marked by the leading of the Holy Spirit, and though done in orderly fashion, was marked by the enthusiastic input of all in the Body that were present, with songs and teachings being brought by many, and confession of sin and prayer for healing of those sins being a regular part of their gatherings.  The music was spontaneous and came from the heart.  The gifts of the Holy Spirit were allowed to be manifest among the brethren as He led, and the unfettered growth of the Body in love and strength and encouragement was the result.  There was mourning and grieving, repentance and confession as well as joy and praise.  There was no “professional” staff hired to plan and develop sophisticated service traditions, and to do all the leading and teaching and preaching and music themselves.
          Leaders were expected to shepherd the flock, down in the trenches, loving and working individually with their sheep.  They knew their sheep as Jesus knows them, doing the difficult work of feeding and caring for them, as Jesus did.  Every sheep was expected to grow and contribute, and the leaders were charged with teaching and preaching, making sure the flock learned how to follow Jesus, and going after the strays personally, as Jesus would.  The leaders were charged also with training others to lead, and growing up others into the maturity in Christ that would allow them to teach others how to follow Christ.
          There were no special days, because the birth of Christ, His death, and His resurrection were celebrated in the daily life of the Body.  They were in the process of dying to self, and being resurrected to new life, and it wasn’t a once a year thing.  It was daily.  That’s why they met together often, as often as they could, because they loved to be together, and didn’t need special days and special events to make it worthwhile. 
          There were no staid traditions.  It was each day with Christ, each day by faith and not by sight, each day in danger and difficulty on the Narrow Road with their Savior.  They, like many Christians in the non-affluent countries today, knew that following Christ meant exposure to mistreatment, and hardship.  As it would for us in America if we truly followed Christ, instead of playing dead religious games.

          We must fall on our knees and repent, asking the Lord God for forgiveness, and for His will in His Word to be revealed to us in freshness by His Spirit.  We must weep and mourn and wail as James says, seeking God’s forgiveness for our apostasy and comfortable disobedience.  We ask God for the wrong things, and we ask Him with wrong motives, to spend them on our own spiritual comforts and pleasures.

          Woe to those who lead the flock of God into the wrong pastures!  You who eat of the best, and sit at the seats of honor at the banqueting tables, and hold the pulpits away from the Lord’s people so that you can have the preeminence.
          Woe to you who treat the Lord’s holy offices of leadership as a career, and your positions as secure ways of income!
          Woe to you leaders who lead with unexamined and untested lives, emulating not Paul and the other apostles, not the Lord Jesus Himself, but the worldly leaders around you.  Woe to you who rely on worldy management principles to govern the One Holy Nation of God!

“Woe to you who are complacent in Zion,
and to you who feel secure on Mount Samaria,
you notable men of the foremost nation,
to whom the people of Israel come…
You lie on beds inlaid with ivory and lounge on your couches.
You dine on choice lambs and fattened calves.
You strum away on your harps like David
and improvise on musical instruments.
You drink wine by the bowlful and use the finest lotions,
but you do not grieve over the ruin of Joseph.
Therefore you will be the first to go into exile;
your feasting and lounging will end.” 
Amos 6:1-7

            Listen to the Word of God, kneel and repent of your wickedness, before He comes and removes you from your exalted and comfortable position.  Grieve over the ruin of the churches, put aside your self-absorption and insistence upon your security, and become like the Lord Jesus, the Servant, and like the apostles and prophets who are given us as examples in Scripture. 
          Abandon Broadway, and take the Narrow Roads with Christ, and find true fulfillment in your calling, or suffer the loss of all you have worked for!
          Sheep of the One Flock, heed your One Shepherd’s voice, and leave the dead religious traditions of men.  Follow Christ, your Lord and find His joy, His peace, His love, His Way.  Leave the men and women who “masquerade as servants of righteousness” but preach a Jesus other than the Jesus preached by the Word of God.  Leave them and follow Christ, for in the final Day, you will have no excuse!

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

WOE TO YOU SONS OF HELL.

SONS OF HELL
A. Brother

          “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites!  You shut the kingdom of heaven in men’s faces.  You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to.
          Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites!  You travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and when he becomes one, you make him twice as much a son of hell as you are.”  --Matt. 23:13-15

          Sons of hell, this is for you.
            I rebuke you for your hypocrisy with these words of Jesus.
            There is a special place reserved in hell for those who make others stumble, and keep others out of the Kingdom of God, through their haughty and prideful religion.  Those who claim to be Christians, and to know the way, and to be a guide to the blind, but instead, are more lost than the ones they claim to guide.
            Better for you to choose a millstone now, or a rope to hang yourself, than to lead another poor soul into hell with you!
            Do you understand the gravity of your situation?  Do you not know that the worst punishment is reserved for those who lead others astray?  That God so cares about even the smallest, the least, of people, that He will judge with special severity those who make them stumble? 
            These teachers of the law and Pharisees were the most highly regarded religious people in their day in Israel.  When Jesus taught, these men would come around and judge what He said.  These were the leaders, the so-called proclaimers of truth to the common people.  They had the Scripture, and stood up and read it every Sabbath in the synagogues.  They were the ones who prayed very fervently on street corners, and led the processions to the house of God.  They were the ones who taught the young, and claimed to be holders of the keys to getting into heaven.  They were the ones who presided over marriages and funerals, and every major occasion of life among God’s people.
            Yet Jesus here rebukes them and tells them they’re not only going to end up in hell, but are taking others with them.  They are keeping men and women and children out of the Kingdom of God, not bringing them into it!
            Does this shake you, brother?  It should. 
            For many in the churches today are as much sons of hell as the teachers of the law and the Pharisees were in Jesus’ day.

            I rebuke in the Name of Jesus those of you who claim to be the keepers of the keys to the Kingdom, yet who yourselves are blind, impotent, sinful, disobedient, and full of deceit.
            I rebuke in the powerful Name of the One who came as Light in the darkness, this spiritual darkness you perpetuate by enslaving men and women to your self-declared leadership. 
            You who seek prominence, and position.  You who seek to stand in front so your egos and your self-worth are fed by the respect of your congregations.  You who speak words pleasing to the ears of your hearers, while letting them be taken to hell with the rest of the world.  You who treat the Word of God as if it is your private reserve of wine, to be doled out in small glasses as you wish to favor those who come to hear you.  You who care more about your programs and your church growth than you do about any individual man, woman or child around you.  You who have found a secure niche in the hierarchy, who favor us with your pronouncements, and your profound opinions, and your carefully-worded press releases.  You who speak from the seats of scholarship, safely dispensing your wisdom while the world dies for lack of knowledge.  You who wear the suits, and make the gestures, and intone the correct phrases, and pray the right prayers.  You who create whole industries around yourselves, and your ministries, and yet who do not speak the plain, simple, hard truths of God’s Word.  You who claim to be leaders, but are followers only—followers of your spreadsheets, and your financial advisors, or your denominational pronouncements, or your boards of directors.  You who claim to be free and claim to lead others to freedom, but who instead are the worst kind of slaves--slaves to pride and rebelliousness, slaves to self, slaves to religious convention and man-made tradition—who lead others into the same enslaving bonds, and sit on your couches in your comfortable homes and offices content and secure while your readers or listeners go to hell with you.
            Jesus would have a Word with you.
            He would like you to stop what you’re doing, and find Him.  To become true disciples before you speak another word in His Name. 
            His greatest condemnation is reserved for those who claim to be what they are not.  His fearsome condemnation sits heavy upon the hypocrites of our day, just as surely as it did when He spoke these Words to the religious leaders of His day.
           
            “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites!  You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside you are full of greed and self-indulgence.  Blind Pharisee, first clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside will be clean.”  --Matt. 23:25,26

          You must first learn to listen to the Word of God, and to obey it.  You must  bear the fruit of the Spirit in your own life, learning the difficult and costly lessons of the narrow road with Jesus, before others can drink from your cup.  Clean your cup and dish, take the plank out of your own eye, sit in humility and be nobody before the world, and then, perhaps you will be worthy to share this Good News with others.  Then perhaps God will honor you with the great responsibility of speaking His Word to His people.
            Jesus tells us we are not to be called “Rabbi” or “Father” or “Teacher”, and I would extend that in our day to “Pastor” and “Reverend” and “Doctor” and “President”.  Within the Body of Christ, we are all brothers.

            “For you have one Teacher, the Christ.  The greatest among you will be your servant.  For whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.”  --Matt. 23:8-12

          Repent today of your hypocrisy, sons of hell, before the humbling comes!

           

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