Disclaimer: About This Blog

THIS BLOG IS: my personal journey of how I am rethinking some of my spiritual beliefs.
THIS BLOG IS NOT: intended to point fingers at people who I think are wrong.
I do not believe the final judgement will be based on how many correct answers we get on a theology exam. I believe many people throughout history have had genuine relationships with our Lord and Saviour Jesus, despite holding questionable beliefs and practices. I make no claim to having it all figured out or being your judge. If we end up disagreeing over these topics I pray we can find a way to demonstrate grace.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Entering the Kingdom of God

Continuing my series on the secrets of the kingdom. I used to think the kingdom of God or the kingdom of Heaven was a reference to Heaven, some place we could go to in the future after we die. This is one passage that changed my way of thinking about the kingdom Jesus kept talking about.

The Parable of the Two Sons (Matt 21:28 - 32 HCSB)

“But what do you think? A man had two sons. He went to the first and said, ‘My son, go, work in the vineyard today.’
“He answered, ‘I don’t want to!’ Yet later he changed his mind and went. Then the man went to the other and said the same thing.

“‘I will, sir,’ he answered. But he didn’t go.

“Which of the two did his father’s will?”

“The first,” they said.

Jesus said to them, “I assure you: Tax collectors and prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God before you! For John came to you in the way of righteousness, and you didn’t believe him. Tax collectors and prostitutes did believe him, but you, when you saw it, didn’t even change your minds then and believe him.

I'll make three observations from this passage:

1) I find the present tense of this passage interesting. Similar to Luke 16:16 it seems people were already entering this kingdom starting in those days. Living under the reign and rule of God is something that can take place in the present as well.

2) What does this passage say on the Faith vs Works issue? This passage does not lend a lot of support to the salvation by faith alone camp. It seems sometimes actions speak louder than words.

3) This is also another example of the upside-down nature of this kingdom. In this passage Jesus was talking to the religious leaders and elders of the community. People would have assumed these people were closer to God's will than prostitutes and tax collectors. The types of people that Jesus says are entering are not the ones we would expect. You would think Jesus could have found some people who were more respectable, educated, honorable, and put together to be part of His kingdom.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Fighting Fundamentalist

Is there a link between fundamentalism and fighting? Is it true that the more fundamental someone is in their belief system the more aggressive they are in defending their position, and attacking others.

The term fundamentalism was coined by Baptist editor Curtis Lee Laws in 1920 to designate Christians who were ready "to do battle royal for the Fundamentals".

I confess I may have some of this fundamentalist blood flowing in my veins. Fighting about doctrines, proving I'm right and the other guys are wrong used to come naturally to me. I pray I am changing.

Within Christianity it seems the ones who are more liberal or moderate in their faith and practices are more accepting of others. From the fundamentalist point of view, being liberal or moderate is often viewed as though there is less passion for truth, and as an acceptance of a diluted luke-warm faith.

Consider how we view Muslims extremists. There are many moderate or liberal Muslims who don't see God calling them to do suicide terrorist attacks. Are the ones that generate violent news headlines the ones that have the strongest fundamental beliefs?

So what if I don't want to be a fighting fundamentalist? Do I need to just chill, tell everyone they are right, and have a diluted luke-warm faith?

Is there a 3rd option?

What if we were fundamental about Jesus, and took his teachings seriously?

  • turn the other cheek
  • Love your enemies
  • do good to those who hate you
  • bless those who curse you
  • pray for those who mistreat you
  • value others higher than you value yourself

What if being fundamental about following Jesus produced people who were known for their love for others. What if it meant we had good dialog on interesting topics like doctrines but refused to cross the line where a dialog turns into an argument. That line is crossed when we forget to show love and respect, and care more about winning the argument.

Jesus said, "My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jews. But now my kingdom is from another place." John 18:36

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Playdough Scripture Matt 5:42

I like today's Scripture… As We Live It by Alan Knox. But I think we can twist that verse a bit more to fit how Christians often do things today.

"Give to the one who asks you, and don’t turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you. your church and some registered charities and they will try to be good stewards with your money."
Matt 5:42 (Playdough Version)

Alan's version was good too:
Give to the one who begs from you as long as you know he’s not going to misuse your gift, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you as long as you know that she can repay you. (Matthew 5:42 re-mix)

What do you think? How cautious should we be in giving to others? Is it best to leave it to the larger organizations to care for those in need?

Saturday, March 24, 2012

My Two Top Posts

When I look at my blogger stats, there are two pages that consistently get the most page views. Both posts were written in 2009, but they still get more views each month than most of my current posts.

My top post of all time is really not my work at all. How's that to keep me humble. :) I simply shared a video by Graham Cooke - Inheritance and typed up the words to read along with the video. I found what Graham Cooke says in this video refreshing and encouraging, and I'm thankful I've been able to share this message with others. God really does love you.

The other top post is a hot topic. I put a fair bit of work into it, and it is by far my longest post ever. In hindsight I should have broken it into a series of posts. Does Scripture say Hell is Eternal Punishment? Yes there are some verses that are used to support this position. But there are also many more verses that say the wages of sin is death, perishing, being destroyed, a second death, or not getting to live for eternity. There are many verses that don't sound like everyone receives eternal life - that not everyone will live forever. I tried to look at most of the related passages on this topic. I'd encourage you to study this topic for yourself.

So those are my two most visited blog posts. However, if someone wanted to know what my blog is about I'd direct them first to posts like My 95 Thesis or my Secrets of the Kingdom Summary. But it seems these visitors are not asking. :)

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Kingdom Without Hierarchy

Continuing my series on the secrets of the kingdom. Hierarchy is common in earthly kingdoms or realms of influence. Most governments, workplaces, sports teams, and even families operate with different people holding different levels of authority. It seems to be a natural way to organize ourselves.

But when Jesus talks about His kingdom, somehow he expects things to be different.

Matthew 20:20 - 28 (HCSB)

Then the mother of Zebedee’s sons approached Him with her sons. She knelt down to ask Him for something. “What do you want?” He asked her.
“Promise,” she said to Him, “that these two sons of mine may sit, one on Your right and the other on Your left, in Your kingdom.”
But Jesus answered, “You don’t know what you’re asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I am about to drink?”
“We are able,” they said to Him.
He told them, “You will indeed drink My cup. But to sit at My right and left is not Mine to give; instead, it belongs to those for whom it has been prepared by My Father.” When the 10 disciples heard this, they became indignant with the two brothers. But Jesus called them over and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles dominate them, and the men of high position exercise power over them. It must not be like that among you. On the contrary, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first among you must be your slave; just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life—a ransom for many.”

So we have the mother of James and John making a pretty big request. She wants her two sons to be second in command in this new kingdom Jesus keeps talking about.

She doesn't realize this kingdom doesn't work that way. It is not about climbing the ladder to gain positions of authority over others. In fact in this upside-down kingdom it is the opposite.

Jesus rules by serving, and by giving His life to free us from sin.

If you want to be great in this kingdom, you must simply start serving and caring for others.

What about the 10 disciples that got indignant when they heard others were trying to climb the ladder of hierarchy to gain authority over the rest? Yes, we too can get indignant when we see our brothers and sisters claim to be higher up the ladder than we are. But I'm trying to understand Jesus' advice here to me. I need not worry - that's really not how the kingdom works. Let others do their thing, but my task is to serve others.

Related Posts:

Monday, March 12, 2012

Disciple Making 101

Should every Christian be engaged in the task of disciple making? Throughout my life there have been times when I've been active in the disciple making process. But unfortunately I think I've often left this task for people more qualified, or who were freed up to dedicate their lives to this task.

After all, if disciple making means writing books, teaching theology, preparing sermons, lectures or DVD's... disciple making can't be for all of us. Maybe I'm capable of working though some pre-made Bible study material... but really?

I'm wondering if the task of making disciples isn't supposed to be so complex. Maybe it is something all Christ followers should be actively pursuing.

So here is a silly question I have to ask:

How did Jesus make disciples?

He could have held weekly meetings and worked through a series of sermons covering all the essential doctrines.

He could have take some of the future leaders deeper by opening the first Bible College or Seminary. He could have written textbooks, and had these men write term papers as they progressed through the disciple making process.

But He chose to simply ask these men to follow Him. He invited them to live life with Him. He taught stuff along the way, in many different natural ways. The teaching that Jesus did was connected to the life they were living together.

Jesus that was way too simplistic!

I can't see that working today.

Related Posts:

Sunday, March 11, 2012

That Is Not Fair!

Continuing my series on the secrets of the kingdom. Jesus says some strange things that don't make sense about the kingdom. Matt 19 ends with Jesus saying that many who are first will be last, and the last first. He was talking about possessions being a liability and not an asset in His kingdom. Matt 20 continues with another example of how the first can be last and the last can be first.

Matthew 20:1 - 16 (HCSB) The Parable of the Vineyard Workers

“For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire workers for his vineyard. After agreeing with the workers on one denarius for the day, he sent them into his vineyard. When he went out about nine in the morning, he saw others standing in the marketplace doing nothing. To those men he said, ‘You also go to my vineyard, and I’ll give you whatever is right.’ So off they went. About noon and at three, he went out again and did the same thing. Then about five he went and found others standing around, and said to them, ‘Why have you been standing here all day doing nothing?’
“‘Because no one hired us,’ they said to him.

“‘You also go to my vineyard,’ he told them. When evening came, the owner of the vineyard told his foreman, ‘Call the workers and give them their pay, starting with the last and ending with the first.’

“When those who were hired about five came, they each received one denarius. So when the first ones came, they assumed they would get more, but they also received a denarius each. When they received it, they began to complain to the landowner: ‘These last men put in one hour, and you made them equal to us who bore the burden of the day and the burning heat!’

“He replied to one of them, ‘Friend, I’m doing you no wrong. Didn’t you agree with me on a denarius? Take what’s yours and go. I want to give this last man the same as I gave you. Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my business? Are you jealous because I’m generous?’

“So the last will be first, and the first last.”
So what secrets of the kingdom can we learn from this parable? I'd love to hear your thoughts.

This reminds me a bit of the lesson every child needs to learn in life. Children will often say "That's not fair!". And often the only response is "Life is not always fair." As adults we often need reminders of this as well. I don't know why life isn't always fair, but it seems to be a universal truth.

My other thought with this passage is it is not up to us to figure out who is first in the kingdom, whatever that means. We may have some ideas about who God is most pleased with, who His special people are... but don't get upset if it turns out opposite of what makes sense to us.

Related Posts:

Thursday, March 8, 2012

I am Free

How am I doing you ask? Thanks for asking! :)

If someone was to ask me this regarding my faith journey my answer lately would be "free".

I am having difficulty putting to words what I feel free from.

I'm not saying I was in some religious cult before, but lately these word of Jesus have spoken to me.

Matthew 11:28-30 (The Message)
"Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you'll recover your life. I'll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won't lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you'll learn to live freely and lightly."

There was a time when I wanted to fit in to a system. I thought that system was where God wanted me to plug in. I placed a lot of trust and faith in that system. The system had a set of beliefs that I believed and trusted to be true. The system had a set of does and don't that I tried to live by. I knew these actions did not 'save' me, but there were certain things that everyone else in the system did, and other things we didn't.

For many years I think I did a decent job following the crowd as I tried to fit in.

I also bought into the idea that God wanted me to serve the system so God could impact the world through the system. There was some truth to this. I assumed the best people in the system were the ones who gave the most time and money to the system. But now I realize God also does His work outside the system. I am OK if others want to serve the system, but I now feel free to focus on serving and caring for people.

And there was also the guilt of not living up to all the expectations of the system.

So how have I been learning to be free? Well a hint from the above passage is to learn from Jesus. Walking with Jesus and watching how He lived. It has been a journey.

God wanted to teach me some stuff. He got me started with the topic of unity. I realized my system of beliefs had a few wobbly legs supporting it. That started the slippery slope. I admit it was a scary ride. Not only did I discover my system wasn't the clear winner, I discovered most systems were not really endorsed by Jesus or the Bible.

Years ago an old friend told me you could be spiritual without being religious. I had no idea what he was talking about. The conversation went no further. I couldn't imagine someone taking spiritual issues seriously without being part of some religious system. Well, I have changed. I would love to go back in time and have that conversation again.

OK, sorry, I'm rambling now. What am I free from? I hesitate to say I'm free from religion, because that term means different things to different people. I still have a strong belief in God, and feel my relationship with Him is growing.

The aspect of religion I feel free from is being bound to a system of beliefs set up by others. I also feel free from a system or organization that needs my support and devoted service to carry out it's mission.

I've got a long way to go in learning to live in the unforced rhythms of grace Jesus describes. But somehow through this journey I've discovered a freedom and my personal commitment to Christ seems stronger.

Related Posts:

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Favorite Topic

If you spend enough time with anyone you should eventually clue into what their favorite topics are. Christians are no different, we all have are favorite topic we like to emphasize. I know different Christians who are known to focus on different things.

For example I know many who focus a lot on the cross and Penal Substitutionary Atonement.

I know others who focus a lot on church.

I know others who really want to focus on God's holiness, and others focus on our need to live holy lives.

I know others who focus on creation, spiritual gifts, prosperity, end times, love, justice, grace, specific mission organisations, charity project, politics, or evangelism.

I really think it is good and great that we are all wired differently. And I acknowledge these topics can overlap and support each other.

However... how can I say this without sounding proud....

I am thankful Jesus has placed His favorite topic on my heart.

What was the favorite topic of Jesus?

When we read the stories of Jesus in the gospels, I think it is safe to say His favourite topic was that of the kingdom of God.

This blog started off focusing a lot on Church unity. And I still think that is a great topic worth looking at.

Right now I notice I have now written more blog posts about the Reign of God (kingdom of God) and kingdom secrets than any other topic. Those two labels are really the same topic. I just want to go verse by verse through all kingdom related passages, so I've separated these posts into a kingdom secrets series.

I will still blog about many other topics.

And I'm OK with people focusing on other topics. But I think I've found the best topic to focus on, and I'm glad to share what I'm learning here.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Asset or Liability in the Kingdom

Continuing my series on the secrets of the kingdom. Earthly kingdoms are interested in wealth. The more money you have the more power and influence you have in this world. Money and possessions are real assets in our society. In many ways money rules. Those with money are king.

But when Jesus talks about money and His kingdom in Matthew 19 we see the opposite.

The stage is set in Matt 19:16-22 (HCSB)
"Just then someone came up and asked Him, “Teacher, what good must I do to have eternal life?”
“Why do you ask Me about what is good?” He said to him. “There is only One who is good. If you want to enter into life, keep the commandments.”
“Which ones?” he asked Him. Jesus answered:
Do not murder; do not commit adultery; do not steal; do not bear false witness; honor your father and your mother; and love your neighbor as yourself.
“I have kept all these,” the young man told Him. “What do I still lack?”
“If you want to be perfect,” Jesus said to him, “go, sell your belongings and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow Me.”
When the young man heard that command, he went away grieving, because he had many possessions.

Was Jesus pushing this rich young ruler on the issue of "loving your neighbor as yourself"? The young ruler claims to be following these commandments, but to what degree? Selling his possessions and giving them to the poor could be evidence of loving his neighbor as himself... but this was too much to ask of this rich young ruler.

Jesus goes on in Matt 19:23-30 (HCSB)
Then Jesus said to His disciples, “I assure you: It will be hard for a rich person to enter the kingdom of heaven! Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.
When the disciples heard this, they were utterly astonished and asked, “Then who can be saved?”
But Jesus looked at them and said, “With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”
Then Peter responded to Him, “Look, we have left everything and followed You. So what will there be for us?”
Jesus said to them, “I assure you: In the Messianic Age, when the Son of Man sits on His glorious throne, you who have followed Me will also sit on 12 thrones, judging the 12 tribes of Israel. And everyone who has left houses, brothers or sisters, father or mother, children, or fields because of My name will receive 100 times more and will inherit eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and the last first.
I'm with the disciples, I don't fully understand what Jesus is saying here.

But it seems Jesus is saying that money and possessions are not assets in His kingdom.

It seems that money and possessions are more like liabilities in the kingdom of God.

Those with the most are in a way those with the least.

Here are a few other related verses:

Matthew 5:3 (NIV)
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Luke 6:20 (NIV)
"Looking at his disciples, he said: “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God."
Matthew 11:5 (NIV)
"The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor."
Luke 4:18 (NIV)
The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free,
Luke 7:22 (NIV)
So he replied to the messengers, “Go back and report to John what you have seen and heard: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor.
James 2:5 (NIV)
"Listen, my dear brothers and sisters: Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom he promised those who love him?"
This logic seems upside-down to what we are used to. It doesn't make complete sense to me. I'd love you hear your thoughts.