Real Christianity

I feel compelled to write this because there is so much misunderstanding and confusion today about Christians and Christianity. There are those who think Christianity was an invention of White people as a means to use religion to control Black people! There are those who think Christianity is the religious or moral authority of the Republican Party or the conservative right.  

In thinking about that, I am reminded of something Jesus said in response to his disciples’ inquiry about the end of the age. We read in Matthew 24:3-8: “And as he sat upon the mount of Olives, the disciples came unto him privately, saying, ‘Tell us, when shall these things be? and what shall be the sign of thy coming, and of the end of the world?’ And Jesus answered and said unto them, ‘Take heed that no man deceive you. For many shall come in my name, saying, I am Christ; and shall deceive many. And ye shall hear of wars and rumors of wars: see that ye be not troubled: for all these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet. For nation shall rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom: and there shall be famines, and pestilences, and earthquakes, in divers (various) places. All these are the beginning of sorrows.” When Jesus said that many would come in his name, saying “I am Christ” he wasn’t necessarily saying that people would come saying that they were literally him, returning in the flesh (although he does not eliminate that possibility and some have even done it), rather many would come in his name, supposedly representing him, saying that they are anointed; they are his, they are Christian! Jesus said that they would deceive many.

Is that not what is happening today? People are deceived and confused so much that many don’t know what ‘real Christianity’ is! Well, let me try to add my two cents to the discussion. First of all, in response to the Black nationalists and other Afro-centric groups who are flooding Facebook with propaganda that Christianity is the tool of White people to control Black people. Such thinking is absurd because it belies historical facts. Even before Christianity, Africa was well familiar with the worship of Yahweh from the days of King Solomon. And according to the Book of Acts, Christianity was introduced to the African continent in Chapter 8, years before it was introduced to the European continent in Chapter 16! So, what probably happenrd was that when the White missionaries went to Africa, they didn’t really introduce Christianity to the Africans, but actually reminded them of the faith they once had and had lost! In addition to that, the same religion that some claim was invented by the White man to control Black people was used by Black people to inspire and empower them to fight for freedom and liberation! And, even further, their point would have some semblance of validity were it not for the fact that there are White people who are Christians and there are Christians all over the world! Christianity was not ‘made in America!’

In response to those who think Christianity is mainly the moral authority of the Republican Party or political conservatism; God is NOT a Republican, neither is God a Democrat! In thinking about that, I am reminded of an incident I read about in the biblical book of Joshua. In Joshua 5:13-15, we read: “And it came to pass, when Joshua was by Jericho, that he lifted up his eyes and looked, and, behold, there stood a man over against him with his sword drawn in his hand: and Joshua went unto him, and said unto him, ‘Art thou for us, or for our adversaries?’ And he said, ‘Nay; but as captain of the host of the LORD am I now come.’ And Joshua fell on his face to the earth, and did worship, and said unto him, ‘What saith my lord unto his servant?’ And the captain of the LORD’S host said unto Joshua, ‘Loose thy shoe from off thy foot; for the place whereon thou standest is holy.’ And Joshua did so.” (KJV) Here’s the setting: Joshua was about to fight the battle of Jericho and as he is contemplating about the battle the night before, this mysterious stranger appears. The stranger has such an awesome appearance that Joshua reasoned that whoever’s side this guy is on, they are bound to win! So Joshua asked him: “Whose side are you on; which side are you going to fight for; us or our enemies?” The stranger said, in essence: “I didn’t come to take sides, I came to take over!”  And that’s what God is all about! God is not for the Republicans as opposed to the Democrats! God does not stoop so low as to get involved with petty political in-fighting! The only government God promotes is the Kingdom of God! No! God is NOT endorsing the Republican agenda or the Democratic agenda! God doesn’t want to take sides; God wants to take over!

In that same vein of thinking, God is not even an American! There are many American Christians who like to think God is pro-America as opposed to all other nations. But the Bible says: “Blessed is the nation whose God is the LORD. . .” It doesn’t matter how much we sing: “God bless America,” America will only be blessed as she adheres to the principles and teachings of God’s word. America will only be blessed as she promotes justice and equality for all of her citizens. America will only be blessed as she seeks to live out the true meaning of her creed.

So, in essence, real Christianity is NOT tied to nationalistic devotion, nor is it wedded to the American flag or national anthem. Real Christianity supersedes race, ethnicity, or political affiliation. Real Christianity dictates behavior and allegiance instead of being dictated by behavior and allegiance. Real Christianity is more about respecting people, justice, and equality than about respecting a flag or an anthem!

I mentioned that last statement because I recently viewed a video clip of a supposedly Christian preacher who was berating athletes for kneeling during the national anthem. I found it sad that he refused to acknowledge the truth that the athletes are not protesting the flag or the anthem, but rather are using the flag and anthem to call attention to the systemic racism that pervades the justice system in this nation! He spent his whole preaching moment condemning the protest without even acknowledging the real reasons for the protest! But real Christianity is more concerned about people than flags and anthems! Sadly, in the name of Christianity, many have hi-jacked the conversation about racial equality and justice and turned it into a trivial debate about a flag and a song! That is NOT real Christianity!

Advertisements

Do You Love Me More Than These?

This was now the third time that Jesus was revealed to the disciples after he was raised from the dead. When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Feed my lambs.” He said to him a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Tend my sheep.” He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Peter was grieved because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” and he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep.”

(John 21:14-17 ESV)

If most (not necessarily all) Americans who claim to be Christian, were more devoted to actually practicing Christian principles than defending and practicing their cultural heritage, political ideology, or personal interests, most of the current issues plaguing American society such as racial divisions, politics, police brutality, and even gun violence would not exist.

So, the question for every American, who claims to follow Christ, is the same question Jesus posed to Peter: “Do you love me more than these?” (John 21:15) Do you love God more than your guns? Do you love the Lord more than your cultural heritage or racial identity? Do you love God more than your political party affiliations or platforms?

If the so-called Christians, really loved God the way they say they do, then that love would supersede racial and ethnic differences and Black and White Christians would stand together to protest and eliminate the systemic police brutality and racial injustice that is so prevalent in America today!

The bottom line is this: Unless the confessing Christian’s faith controls his or her politics instead of that Christian allowing politics to taint and distort their faith; any claim to Christian authenticity is suspect at best, if not just simply a farce in reality! Until practice is consistent with statements of faith, those who don’t believe have no credible tangible evidence that the Christian’s faith is actually real!

Our nation is severely divided along racial lines today because many people have confused real Christianity with politics! A real Christian is not the one who is on the political or social Left or Right! The identity of the real Christian is not determined by political affiliations. The real Christian is the one who follows Christ!

My prayer is that all who claim to love the Lord would actually love Him more than their own personal agendas! Then, and only then, will there be healing in the land!

The Free Will Fallacy

A few days ago, one of the parishioners of the church I serve, called me with an interesting question. At the time he called, I was unable to answer my phone, so he left a message on my voice mail. He said: “Hey Pastor! I was just calling you with a question: Where is it in the Bible where it talks about man having free will?” Well, as I listened to his message, I asked myself: Is there any scripture in the Bible that speaks to the issue of man having free will?

The Bible indicates that there once was a time in the beginning, when man ‘had’ limited free will! Before Adam and Eve sinned in the Garden, they had the ability to freely choose to obey or disobey God. However, Adam and Eve were the only humans created with that limited free will! When Adam and Eve made the choice to disobey God, sin entered into the world and consequently, the limited free will that Adam and Eve had was lost! The Bible teaches that all who were born after sin entered into the world, were and are, born with a sinful nature and a natural propensity to sin.

Now, I don’t know where it came from, but I grew up believing we had the absolute freedom to choose good or evil. I onced believed we came into this world innocent and neutral and the ultimate decision was to choose righteousness and goodness or sin and evil before we died! But, that is not the case at all! According to the Bible, we were all; born with a sinful disposition! We were not born neutral; we were born sinners! Apparently, the ancient King David recognized this fact because he wrote in Psalm 51:5: “Behold, I was shapen in iniquity; and in sin did my mother conceive me.” There are some who are suggesting today, that their sinful disposition should be excused and affirmed because they were “born that way!” But, is the fact that all of us were born in sin a legitimate excuse to remain in sin? None of us had a choice in the matter, we were all born sinners, with a natural propensity or tendency to sin! Have you ever noticed the fact that you really don’t have to teach a child to do wrong? They are born with a natural tendency to try to lie, steal, and cheat!

And are we to blame God and say it’s all right for them to lie, steal and cheat, simply because they didn’t have a choice in the matter because they were born that way? Of course not! Our original parents were not forced to disobey God, they made a choice to disobey God and as a consequence, all of their offspring are born with a sinful disposition. Therefore, we teach, encourage, and train our children not to lie, steal, and cheat, although doing so, is in a sense, unnatural to their natural disposition! We do this because of the existence of a moral code, the ignoring or violation of which, causes society to sink into moral degradation and chaos! We teach them to do right, although it is against their nature to do right!

Now, the inability to exercise free will presents a moral dilemma! How can man be expected to do the right thing when he does not have the freedom to choose right? The Apostle Paul gives voice to this dilemma in Romans 7:15-25, he writes: “For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good. So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God, bin my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (ESV) The Good News of the Gospel is that through acceptance of and faith in the sacrificial, atoning work of Jesus on Calvary’s cross and God subsequently raising him from the dead, we can be set free from the power of sin! Paul Achtemeier writes of those who are believers: “Because of Christ, we have, for the first time, a real choice: For the first time, we can choose not to sin! For the first time, it is possible that exhortations to good can be followed. . . The enslaving power of sin no longer rules us.”[1]

Achtemeier further asserts:

“The power of sin has been broken. The Christian is no longer enslaved to it. After dying with Christ in baptism, the Christians are free from the lordship of sin. For the first time, they can do something other than sin. . .Free to do what is good, not what sin forces them to do. They are now free to do what God wants them to do. And right there is the problem. As human creatures, Christians are free only within the framework of some lordship, either of God or of sin. There is for human being whether baptized into Christ or not, no neutral ground. Human beings are creatures, not gods. It is precisely the search for that ‘neutral ground’ that search to be gods for themselves, that got human beings into enslavement to sin in the first place. So the choice is not slavery or freedom in some absolute sense. The choice is, rather, slavery to which lord, to which ruling power?”[2]

Achtemeier’s last point brings us full circle back to our original premise; the question of free will. Absolute free will is a fallacy because we are human beings and not gods. Free will within the constraints of humanity outside of a relationship with God through Christ is a fallacy because the person who has no relationship with God through Christ is under the bondage of sin. Sinners sin because they can’t help themselves! It’s their nature! Sin is their master and they have no choice! The Christian has, to some extent, free will, because the Christian can choose not to sin and to obey God. However, even the Christian does not have absolute free will because, he is human and not a god. It is because Christian is redeemed that the Christian has the freedom to choose which master he will serve!

[1] Paul J. Achtemeier, Romans (Interpretation, a Bible commentary for teaching and preaching), Atlanta, GA: John Knox Press, 1985, 105.

[2] Achtemeier, 109.

But My God Shall Suppy All Your Need?

Most Bible readers would readily recognize the subject of this post as being the beginning of Philippians 4:19. The Apostle Paul wrote the church at Philippi a ‘thank-you’ letter in which he told them: “But my God shall supply all of your need according to his riches in glory by Christ Jesus.” (KJV) Often in our day and time, this verse is incorrectly used as a ‘blanket guarantee’ that God will supply all of our needs! But, was that really Paul’s intended meaning when he made the statement?

There are three rules we should carefully follow when we read the Bible. The first rule is context! The second rule is context! And, the third rule is context! So, let’s look at the context of this familiar passage. The first thing we should notice is that the verse begins with a conjunction! From the Greek text, this conjunction can be translated as “but” or “and.” The KJV says “but,” however, many of the modern translations render the conjunction as “and.” But either one is acceptable because one makes no difference in the intended meaning as opposed to the other. But, I wanted to call attention to the conjunction, not so much to highlight the different translations, but rather to remind us of the purpose and function of a conjunction. A conjunction, by definition, is a word that joins together sentences, clauses, phrases, or words. Since the conjunction is at the beginning of verse 19, in order to correctly interpret the verse, we must look at what proceeds it. In order to ascertain Paul’s complete meaning, we need to go back to at least verse 15.

The gist of the conversation is that Paul is commending them for being the only church to supply him with financial assistance since the beginning of the gospel when he left Macedonia. Even when he was in Thessalonica, they rendered assistance to him more than once! Paul told them that, although their giving was much appreciated, he had learned to get along with whatever he had! That was the rationale behind the other statement we often misapply from this chapter, where Paul said in verse 13, “I can do all things through Christ which strengthens me!” The ‘all things’ Paul was referring to was; living with little and living with plenty! He could do all things because he had learned the secret of being content in whatever state he was in! He was telling them: “I’ve learned how to live in poverty and I’ve learned how to live in abundance! So, even if I had received nothing from you, I would have been alright, but nevertheless, I appreciate your gifts!” And because they gave to him, Paul told them; “But (and) my God shall supply all your need according to his riches in glory by (in) Christ Jesus!” Paul was telling them; “Because you took care of my needs, my God will take care of your needs!” In its original context, this wasn’t a unilateral promise; it was a statement of reciprocal blessing! “God will do for you, because you did for me! 

There is a similar principle stated in Matthew 6:33, where Jesus says: “But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” (ESV) Jesus didn’t say that all these things (food, drink, clothing, things needful for life) would be added automatically! No! He said all these things would come as a matter of course as one seeks first to find and submit to the authority of God in their lives!

In both cases, the blessings were and are conditional! The principle is this: God will take care of us and our business when and as we first take care of His business and meet His requirements!  Context is everything! But, when we take scripture out of context, we erroneously make God responsible for commitments God never actually made! And when God doesn’t come through on the promises we misappropriate because we took scripture out of context, it damages our faith and/or the faith of others! So, before we apply and rely on anything anybody said in the Bible, we should make sure of the context! We should make sure the promise is applicable to us and that we met the conditions of the promise!

Have We (the Church) Truly Repented?

Some years ago, I did a word-study of the Greek word that is translated as “repent” in our English Bibles. As I result of this study, I came to a shocking conclusion: Most of us who call ourselves Christians, have NOT truly repented at all! This is mostly in part because of a mis-interpretation which has led to a misunderstanding, and therefore a misapplication the biblical concept of repentance.

Let me show you what I am talking about. When I was first introduced to the concept of repentance as a young Christian, I was taught that to repent means to be ‘godly sorrow for your sins.’ However, I would discover later on, that this definition is based on a faulty interpretation and misunderstanding of what the Apostle Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 7:9-10. The apostle wrote: “Now I rejoice, not that ye were made sorry, but that ye sorrowed to repentance: for ye were made sorry after a godly manner, that ye might receive damage by us in nothing. For godly sorrow worketh repentance to salvation not to be repented of: but the sorrow of the world worketh death.” (KJV) Here are the same verses in one of the more recent versions; the ESV: “As it is, I rejoice, not because you were grieved, but because you were grieved into repenting. For you felt a godly grief, so that you suffered no loss through us. For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death.” Now, here’s the thing that most people have missed about what Paul said. Paul DID NOT SAY godly sorrow or godly grief ‘was’ repentance. He said godly sorrow or godly grief ‘works’ or ‘produces’ repentance! Godly sorrow/grief and repentance are two different concepts; they are not synonymous! They are not the same!

So, to feel sorry for your sins is not the same as repenting, it’s just feeling sorry for your sins! But, feeling sorry for your sins ought to produce repentance! Feeling sorry for your sins ought to lead you to the act of repenting. So, that brings us to the question: If being godly sorrow for your sins is not the same as repentance, then, what does it actually mean to repent? Well, the Greek word that is translated as ‘repent’ has as its primary meaning; to change one’s mind or the way one thinks. Therefore, to repent is to change your mind or to change your thought process; repentance is a change of mind! True repentance is a change in ‘what’ and ‘how’ one thinks! This change of mind will invariably lead to a change in action, behavior and life.

Jesus’ first recorded public declaration is found in Matthew 4:17: “From that time Jesus began to preach, saying, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” (ESV) The Jewish people at that time were anxiously waiting for and anticipating the coming of the Kingdom of God (the rule, reign, and authority of God among his people on earth). What Jesus was essentially saying was this: “Quit thinking about the Kingdom of God in the future-tense and understand and live in view of the fact that the Kingdom of God has now arrived!” The message of Jesus for us today is for us to quit thinking of the Kingdom of God only as a place called Heaven in the future and start thinking of the Kingdom of God as a present reality!

Therefore, in view of what Jesus said, even most people who call themselves Christians still need to repent! Why? Because most Christians think of the Kingdom of God only as a place called Heaven, in the sweet by and by! But the message of Jesus is that the Kingdom of God is also a present reality on earth in the sour here and now! The message is: Repent! Quit thinking religion and start thinking Kingdom! We’ve got our hearts set on ‘going to Heaven,’ but Jesus told us to pray: “Thy Kingdom come!” We’re want to leave here and go there, but Jesus wants us to stay here, working and praying that the ‘there’ will come here! He prayed to his Father in the garden on the eve of his passion, concerning his disciples and us: “My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one.” (Jn. 17:15 NIV) We need to repent, because we’ve been praying to the Father to get us out, while Jesus prayed to the Father to keep us in! We need to repent! We need to change our minds; we need to change our thought process! We’ve been thinking religion; but Jesus wasn’t about religion, Jesus was about the Kingdom! Jesus never told us to seek first religion; he told us to seek first the Kingdom! Religion is always about the past and the future ‘over there,’ but the Kingdom is primarily about in the present here! Religion allows evil to win in the present because of a faith in a future victory, but the Kingdom defeats the power of the enemy in the present and will ultimately destroy the enemy in the future! That’s why the enemy doesn’t mind us ‘having religion,’ because religion blinds us to the present reality of the Kingdom! The message to the church today is the same as the message Jesus proclaimed centuries ago: “Repent! For the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand!” The Kingdom of God is not just pie-in-the-shy-when-you-die-by-and-by; the Kingdom is the present power and reality of God in the world right now! The Kingdom of God is not just later; the Kingdom of God is NOW AND LATER!

Another Love TKO

Having a spirit of unforgiveness is detrimental to our spiritual, mental, and physical health. When we don’t forgive and insist on holding grudges, we don’t hurt the person we don’t forgive or the one we’re holding a grudge against; we’re hurting our own selves.

Unforgiveness is detrimental to us spiritually because Jesus said, if we don’t forgive others; the Father will not forgive us! Think about it! There is no wrong anyone can do to us that is greater than the wrong we have already done to God! But those who are in right relationship with God have been forgiven of their sins and are forgiven by God on a daily basis! Therefore, when we refuse to forgive others, we are, in a sense, making ourselves to be greater than God!

Being unforgiving hinders our faith and prevents God from hearing our prayers! In Mark 11:22-26, Jesus makes the connection between moving mountains, receiving the things we desire when we pray and forgiveness.

Being unforgiving is detrimental to us mentally because strife, resentment, and other negative emotions that come with being unforgiving actually weaken and disempower us! They make us restless and angry, thereby inhibiting our ability to think positively and productively. When we refuse to forgive, we re-live the hurt over and over again in our minds; not allowing ourselves to emotionally heal.

Being unforgiving is detrimental to us physically because the doctors have discovered that our physical well-being is directly connected to our spiritual and mental health! When we are unforgiving for long periods of time, the resentment can manifest physically in the form of chronic high blood pressure, heart problems, cancers, and other health issues.

The bottom line is this; refusing to forgive is spiritual, emotional, and physical suicide! We don’t hurt the person we don’t forgive; but we are killing ourselves.

When someone has done us wrong, we’ve got to learn to forgive easily and quickly. Doing so doesn’t mean the person has taken advantage of us or walked over us; it means we are spiritually and emotionally mature and not spiritually and emotionally stupid! We would do well with a slight adaptation of the words of the late “Rev” Teddy Pendergrass: “We just need to let it go; it’s just another love T. K. O!”

 

 

 

Ministry Is No Substitute

Doing great works in ministry is no substitute for a personal relationship with the Lord. In Matthew 7:22-23, we read: “On judgment day, many will say to me, ‘Lord! Lord! We prophesied in your name and cast out demons in your name and performed many miracles in your name.’  But I will reply, ‘I never knew you. Get away from me, you who break God’s laws.” (NLT)

When we look at this text in the Greek, it appears that these ‘many’ will come before the Lord fully expecting their great works of ministry to garner the Lord’s approval. But much to their surprise, the Lord will reject them! The interesting thing is that the Lord will not dispute their claims to have done many might works in his name! Now this raises an interesting possibility: Could it be that it is possible to be successful in ministry and yet be ultimately rejected by the Lord? Many people today take ministerial success as a sign of God’s approval, ‘anointing’ and blessing, but according to this text, these people will have had all of that! They will do great things and actually perform many miracles in ministry, but in the end, they will still be rejected! The Lord will not deny the fact that they actually did mighty works; but he will deny them! Why?

The answer is found in the Lord’s reply. He will say: “I never knew you!” In the Bible, the Hebrew and Greek words that are translated as “know” and “knew” are often used as euphemisms to denote close, intimate, and sometimes sexual relationships. It first shows up in Genesis 4:1, where it says: “Now Adam knew Eve his wife, and she conceived and bore Cain, saying, ‘I have gotten a man with the help of the LORD.” (ESV) In that verse, the term “knew” is used to indicate the fact that Adam had sexual intercourse with Eve. So, in Matthew 7:23, the term “knew” does not just indicate intellectual or cognitive knowledge, but also suggests intimate and personal relationship. The Lord will say to the many; “Yes! It’s true, you did all of those things, but you did not have a personal relationship with me! And because you did all of those things without a personal relationship with me; all of those things you did were illegitimate or illegal works! You didn’t do them according to my law! My law is this: The ministry is no substitute for a relationship with me, but rather the ministry evolves, develops and is done as a result of the relationship with me! You substituted the ministry for the relationship, but the relationship is the basis of the ministry! It is the relationship that makes the ministry valid and legitimate!

All too often today, we get so busy with ‘doing’ that we forget to be! We were not created as “human doings,” we were created as human beings! Doing is no substitute for being! We don’t “do” to be; whatever we do is ultimately because of who we are.

Now, here’s another scary thought about this text! All these ‘many’ will die believing they were saved, to discover only after death; they weren’t! That is a terrifying thought! There are some who teach that you should never doubt your salvation. That’s good teaching if you are really saved in the first place! But I’m afraid there are many people in church today, who are saved; only in their own minds! Their salvation is based on their feelings or the word of some preacher who told them they were saved just because they walked down the aisle and repeated a simple prayer! But real salvation is based on the word of God as it is revealed in the Scriptures and the Apostle Peter advised his readers to be diligent to make their calling and election sure! (2 Peter 1:10) Your salvation is too important! Your eternal destiny is too critical to leave in the hands of some preacher or pastor! You’d better make sure of it yourself! It would be such a tragedy to die, convinced of your salvation, only to hear the Lord say in the end: “’I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoer!