Sunday, 27 September 2009

The Richmond Briefing

A Weekly Bible Reading for Bridge Builders

The Richmond Briefing has been a weekly feature of the Reachout web site for five years and is now available on the blog. To find out more and read earlier briefings go here

Reading – This Table is for Sinners (1 Co.1)

Following a remarkable morning in church, fellowshipping around the Lord’s Table, I find myself coming back time and again today to the simple but shocking words of the man who officiated there: “This table is for sinners!”

These words are simple enough but at the same time incomprehensible to many who find themselves shocked at the suggestion that “sinners are welcome here.”

In today’s verses we first learn two things:

1. There is power in the Cross (1 Co.1:17) and the power of the Cross can be lost if the gospel is reduced to man’s wisdom. When men and women try to pin down the gospel and conform it to their humanly devised systems and cleverly constructed arguments they are frustrated as the power of the Cross eludes them.

2. While there is power in the Cross nevertheless, to those who are dying, those who are impressed by human wisdom and sophistication, the Cross seems foolish (1 Co.1:18) because it comes with power and not nice arguments.

Nowhere has this been better demonstrated for me than in the unhappy verdict of one man who declared that he didn’t go to church because he is “not worthy” right now. As we read on in Paul’s letter to Corinth we find a disparity between the way man sees things and the way God sees things. Man, we are told demands evidences piled up one on another and wisdom told in familiar human terms. Such men would indeed concur with my friend that he is not worthy and needs to straighten himself out. God, on the other hand, offers his own power and wisdom through the Cross which, “to those who are being saved is the power of God and the wisdom of God”

Paul’s following illustration is surely unsettling to those who insist on applying the world’s standards to kingdom life. These are standards that demand the top table belongs to the wise, the noble and the powerful.

“But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in God’s presence.”

We sing in the hymn, “To God be the glory, great things he has done”. Here we see that the glory is due his name because of the Cross.

“And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, as it is written,

‘Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord’”

At the Lord’s Table the only way to “qualify” is to approach weak, low, despised and empty handed. “This table is for sinners!”

It is for sinners because only sinners who confess their sin and surrender to Jesus, seeking to add nothing to his finished work and looking to him alone for wisdom, righteousness, sanctification and redemption are acceptable to God. Anyone who seeks to add to this will subtract from it.

If this seems madness, foolishness, unreasonable and wrong then you should stop looking at it through the world’s eyes. To the world it will always seem naive, simplistic and incredible. If your worldview right now does not allow for it you need to trade it in for God’s view. Isaac Watts sums up well the way the Christian approaches the High Table of Communion with Christ through the wisdom of God in the Cross:

When I survey the wondrous cross,
On which the Prince of glory died,
My richest gain I count but loss,
And pour contempt on all my pride.

Forbid it, Lord, that I should boast
Save in the death of Christ my God:
All the vain things that charm me most,
I sacrifice them to his blood.

See, from His head, His hands, His feet,
Sorrow and love flow mingled down;
Did e’er such love and sorrow meet,
Or thorns compose so rich a crown?

Were the whole realm of nature mine,
That were an offering far too small;
Love so amazing, so divine,
Demands my soul, my life, my all.

“This table is for sinners!”

Are you a sinner? Then come!

Friday, 25 September 2009

The Mormon God’s Dysfunctional Family

You know those moments when you look at something you’ve looked at a thousand times before and suddenly see something new?

I was looking at a blog I found via the Google Blog Alerts service and it told the familiar story of the Mormon “Plan of Salvation”; you can read it here. There really was nothing surprising until I started thinking about what people might think if a family they knew conducted themselves the way the Mormon “family of God” do in this story.

People from abusive backgrounds have problems enough with the idea of God as a Father but this story would put anyone off the idea forever! As I recount this story think about what the typical dad would do as his kids are growing up and compare it with this “exalted man.”

According to Mormonism “God created our spirits” and we lived with him in a pre-mortal existence (Mormons say “pre-existence” but it is not possible to pre-exist, i.e. to exist before you exist. The noun “existence” has to be have the prefix “pre” otherwise the word makes no sense whatsoever).

Mormons traditionally have believed that more than “creation” went on back in the pre-mortal existence and have a hymn that celebrates the existence of a heavenly mother. The picture of the nuclear family unit, then, is complete. There he is, with his wife and children, “literally our loving Father in heaven”. Well, let’s see if that is true.

In heaven we were taught the “gospel” and decided whether we were going to be obedient or rebellious – Now I am a dad and I can tell you that whether my children were going to be obedient or rebellious was never a great priority with me. It seemed to be more important to know whether they learned to love, cared about others and felt secure and appreciated in the family. I didn’t give them a “gospel” to test them but told them the gospel to bless them. After all, they are my children and not my cattle.

In order to progress and grow further it was necessary that we left our heavenly home and came into the great wide world. That sounds familiar enough. All my children have left home to make their way in the world. But what would you think of me if I hid from them and only communicated with them through third parties and ancient texts, or agents I sent out to tell them “your dad told me to tell you…”

But that is what the Mormon God does. He tells his family his plan and when some of them don’t like it he just throws them out and makes them pariah’s! The rest are sent out into the world and, here’s the weird part, he makes them forget him and then sends messengers to teach them all over again who he is even though they knew in the first place!

He has them pass on a formula for finding out who their dad is and what he wants (Js.1:5) and gives them a list of commandments to follow so they can go back to him. That’s like your son or daughter arriving at university and looking blank when someone asks, “So what does your dad do?” Would you want to go back after being treated like that?

Actually, the university analogy is popular with Mormons, this life being a learning experience, the Mormon Church being a sort of tertiary college and the temple being a university. First student asks, “So what are you studying at university?” Mormon replies, “I came to find out who my dad is.”

Finally, this dad stands at his front door with a clipboard, tick box and pen, checking to see, on their return from university, if they come up to his exacting standards, have straight A’s etc. before he allows them back into the house where they were “born”. Can you imagine an earthly dad standing at the door and asking his children, “Can I see your temple recommend?”

Now compare this with the Christian gospel.

In the beginning God created everything, including man (Gen.1&2) We are not “the literal offspring of God” but creatures of God’s making, created in His image and to be stewards of His creation, but created nevertheless. There is no pre-mortal existence, only mortality, where we live, and eternity, where God dwells.

Mankind rebelled against God by simply but tragically choosing to put man’s will above God’s, thus losing the role of steward over creation and bringing creation crashing down in ignominy with him. From the beginning God has promised and worked for the redemption of man and creation and every act of God is bent to this purpose so that God may have his will and receive the glory due his name. The condition we now find ourselves in and the work of God to effect our rescue are described in Paul’s letter to the Romans:

Ro.3:10 - There is no-one righteous, no matter how good we are or how hard we try.

Ro3:23 - All have sinned and fallen short. It is impossible for us to measure up to God's standard.

Ro.5:12 - Death came to all men, because all sinned. It is our nature to sin.

Ro.5:8 - Because of God's love for us, he sent Christ to die for us - while we were still sinners, not because we had done anything to earn it.

Ro.6:23 - The wages of sin is death - wages are what you earn as a result of what you do. The gift of God is eternal life - you do not earn a gift, or deserve it. God gives the gift because He loves us. We do not need to work for it, only accept it.

Ro.10:13 - Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved, regardless of who they are or what they have done. You only have to call.

Ro.10:9,10 - True, heart-felt confession of faith in Jesus is what it takes to be saved, not works.

There is no exam to find your grades, no test to see if you will be obedient or rebellious, only the simple yet profound question of whether we have trusted in Jesus and the finished work of the Cross.

Sunday, 20 September 2009

The Richmond Briefing

A Weekly Bible Reading for Bridge Builders

The Richmond Briefing has been a weekly feature of the Reachout web site for five years and is now available on the blog. To find out more and read earlier briefings go here

Reading – Obey God Rather than Men (John 10-12)

The proverb declares that “The fear of God is the beginning of wisdom” (Pr.1:7). Another declares “Fear of man will prove to be a snare” (Pr.29:25). In chapters 10 to 12 of John’s gospel we see people who are well instructed in the former nevertheless falling into the snare warned of in the latter.

In chapter ten “The Jews” (John’s term for the religious authorities) challenged Jesus to put his cards on the table saying, “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Christ, tell us plainly.” (24) Jesus, in his answer, declares that his position could not be clearer, his miracles spoke for him. Why did they not see it?

“I did tell you, but you do not believe. The miracles I do in my Father’s name speak for me, but you do not believe because you are not my sheep. My sheep hear my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them from my Father’s hand. I and the Father are one.” (25-29)

There is no doubt that they understood what he was saying when he declared that he gave eternal life, that his sheep were secure in him, that he and the Father are one. They picked up stones to stone him declaring that it was for blasphemy, “because you, a mere man, claim to be God.” (33)

In chapter 11 we read of the raising of Lazarus, the result of which was that, “many of the Jews who had come to visit Mary, and had seen what Jesus did, put their faith in him.” (45) Again we find the Jewish leaders plotting to kill Jesus.

“Then the chief priests and the Pharisees called together a meeting of the Sanhedrin...from that day on they plotted to take his life.” (47-53)

In chapter 12 we read of Jesus’ “triumphal entry” into Jerusalem. “[A] great crowd that had come for the Feast heard that Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem. They took palm branches and went out to meet him shouting, ‘Hosanna!’” We read that the word of Jesus’ mighty works spread and that, “Many people, because they had heard that he had given his miraculous signs, went out to meet him” (12-18)

Yet we read, “Even after Jesus had done all these miraculous signs in their presence, they [the religious leaders] still would not believe in him” (37)

When they asked him for a definitive answer he pointed to his miracles. He did not come with fine words claiming to be the Messiah (plenty came with fine words and outrageous claims) but with a demonstration of God’s power showing who he was (1 Cor.2:4). The people who put their faith in him did so because of what he did and how he lived, and in Jerusalem “Many people, because they had heard that he had given his miraculous signs, went out to meet him.” The common people knew and understood something of the significance of these signs but the leaders, who saw what they saw and heard what they heard “still would not believe him.”

Why?

Their motives are revealed in two clear statements of concern made by these leaders. After the triumphal entry “the Pharisees said to one another, ‘See, this is getting us nowhere. Look now, the whole world has gone after him!” They plotted to kill him just as had been predicted in Jesus’ parable of the Tenants (Lk.20:14) and for the same reasons.

“Here is this man performing miraculous sings. If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation” (Jn.11:47-48)

They served themselves by serving Rome and feared to lose what they had. They feared men more than they feared God and events proved the proverb true because within a few decades they lost their place and their nation.

There are those today who reject Jesus for similar reasons. They fear losing the approbation of their friends, the reputation they think they have and the consequences of admitting that they had been wrong all along. From people with a well developed sense of the religious to those who simply follow after the crowds too many fear to lose their place, begrudge giving up their status as leaders to become followers.

As Christians we need to demonstrate that it is liberating to consider as junk all that we lose in order to gain Christ (Philip.3:7) and to examine our own walk to see if there is something we are holding onto and denying Christ for fear of men. Just as the evidence of Christ’s identity was in the works he did and the life he lived, so today the evidence for the gospel is in the lives we live before a watching world.

Sunday, 13 September 2009

The Richmond Briefing

A Weekly Bible Reading for Bridge Builders

The Richmond Briefing has been a weekly feature of the Reachout web site for five years and is now available on the blog. To find out more and read earlier briefings go here

Reading – Don’t you Question my Authority! (Mark 10:35-45)

The self-possessed young Mormon missionary had engaged me in friendly conversation with the breezy impertinence typical of so many young American Mormons. He wanted to be my chum and tell me all about Joseph Smith. However, when I revealed that I had been a Mormon but now was a Christian and explained that the difference was grace he became positively aggressive. When I gently challenged his claims and the tone in which they were delivered he almost bellowed, “Don’t you question my authority!”

I was taken aback by his impudence but had to smile because I have memories of the “authority” he insisted was his. I remember as a young man of just nineteen receiving the “authority” he claimed now to have. I recall being told that I now had more “authority” than all the spiritual leaders in the world outside the Mormon Church. Think of that! I have seldom felt so much confidence in something I didn’t even begin to understand and that was no better understood by those people who conferred this dubious honour on me. I have often wondered since why people who lay such great store by “authority” should have such a tenuous grasp on what it is in biblical terms.

It was this kind of authority that the disciples James and John now sought from Jesus; authority conferred, a right to bestow or withhold blessing, to judge and dispatch, to proclaim orthodoxy or declare heresy. They sought to sit at the right and left hands of Jesus in glory as though it was in Jesus’ gift to simply give it. In a gospel where the message is of God’s grace, of salvation that costs us nothing and Jesus everything it is surprising to discover that in God’s kingdom authority is demonstrated by self-sacrifice and service.

“You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first, must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

Putting your name on an office door doesn’t mean you fill the office because authority is not a right to power but a characteristic of maturity. Authority is not gained like a promotion but developed like a character trait. Maybe that’s why community leaders have always been called “elders”?

Thursday, 10 September 2009

The real reason for the Mormons being expelled : Kaieteur News

Here is an interesting insight into the (unwitting?) role of the Mormon Church in the “colourful” politics of Guyana. A letter to a Guyana newspaper explains that support for the governing People’s Progressive Party (PPP) has been falling in recent years especially among Amerindians who have, the writer claims, complained that the government has not been investing in Amerindian interests as much as they used.

The opposition People’s National Congress (PNC) hasn’t the funds to fill the gap and so, he alleges, has shrewdly “encouraged” the Mormon Church to charitable work among the Amerindians in “Partnership” with the PNC. The governing PPP has apparently seen this as interference in their political territory and has sought to end the partnership in a rather dramatic fashion by attempting to expel the Mormons as previously reported.

Are the Mormons so innocent as they would have us think? It is the case that in Ghana they paid bribes to get their temple built in Accra and were pretty pragmatic about it, saying that it was the way the system worked. In my part of the world I have been impressed at their foresight in building a local chapel ostensibly at the back of beyond but eventually at the edge a prestigious new housing development and golf course complex.

My money is on these people knowing very well what they are doing and, while the folks on the ground who were detained by the CID and face expulsion may be unwitting pawns in this game of catch-as-catch-can, the men sitting in downtown Salt Lake City have a firm grasp on the big picture. After all, business is business.

The real reason for the Mormons being expelled : Kaieteur News

Monday, 7 September 2009

Guyana makes Mormon missionaries leave - World Faith- msnbc.com

Half the Mormon missionary force in Guyana is facing deportation, ostensibly over document irregularities, but it is thought that the church has been perceived as uncomfortably close to opposition leaders.

GEORGETOWN, Guyana - Authorities in Guyana grew "uncomfortable" with the presence of Mormon missionaries who have been ordered to leave the South American country, a governing party leader said Thursday.

About 40 missionaries were briefly detained Wednesday and told to leave within a month as authorities said their travel documents were out of date…

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has been sending missionaries to this former British colony for more than 20 years. About 100 of them are now in Guyana, many of them deep in the country's interior where the government has little presence.

Guyana makes Mormon missionaries leave - World Faith- msnbc.com

Sunday, 6 September 2009

The Richmond Briefing

A Weekly Bible Reading for Bridge Builders

The Richmond Briefing has been a weekly feature of the Reachout web site for five years and is now available on the blog. To find out more and read earlier briefings go here

Reading – Are You as Good as the Next Man? (Mark 10:17-34)

Last time we looked at legalism. This week we consider the folly of humanism, that idea that, as pre-Socratic philosopher Protagorus said, “Man is the measure of all things”. In this text we find a young man presenting himself earnestly to Jesus and thinking himself a faithful Jew while all along adhering to a classic humanist philosophy.

“’Good teacher’, he asked, ‘what must I do to inherit eternal life?’

‘Why do you call me good?’ Jesus answered. ‘No one is good except God alone. You know the commandments: Do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not give false testimony, do not defraud, honour your father and mother’

‘Teacher,’ he declared, ‘all these I have kept since I was a boy.’

By a clever device Jesus exposed and challenged the young man’s assumptions. By what standard was he measuring goodness? “No one is good – except God alone”; and by what standard was he measuring himself?

When Moses received the Ten Commandments they were written on two tablets. The first related to our obligations to God and the second to our obligations to others. Jesus quoted from the second tablet and you can almost see the exclamation mark at the end of the young man’s response, ‘Teacher all these I have kept since I was a boy!’ Again, just as he measured goodness by man’s standard so he judged himself in the same way: “I am as good as the next man!” How many even religious people think this way, measuring goodness by man’s standard, judging themselves by comparison with the next man? As Jesus said to the young man, “One thing you lack.”

The first tablet of law began, “You shall have no other gods before me” (Ex.20:3) Jesus challenged him in the thing that he had put before God – money; money and respectability, standing in the community because of his wealth, generosity and scrupulous and careful adherence to his duty towards others. It is no great sacrifice out of your plenty to be a humanitarian and gain the acclaim of man but putting God first may demand that we sacrifice those things we hold most precious and so easily put before him. Our comfort and security, reputation and our image of ourselves and the all-too-humanistic way we measure all things by ourselves.

When we feel tempted to declare ourselves “as good as the next man” perhaps we need to take a closer look at the next man and remember that God alone is the measure of goodness and determine to put him first.

Friday, 4 September 2009

Mormons, Evangelicals And Affinity Fraud

The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission’s Web site defines an “affinity fraud”:

“Affinity fraud refers to investment scams that prey upon members of identifiable groups, such as religious or ethnic communities, the elderly, or professional groups. The fraudsters who promote affinity scams frequently are — or pretend to be — members of the group. They often enlist respected community or religious leaders from within the group to spread the word about the scheme, by convincing those people that a fraudulent investment is legitimate and worthwhile. Many times, those leaders become unwitting victims of the fraudster’s ruse.”

You don’t have to be a believer of any kind to fall prey to affinity fraud but if you are a person who is daily looking for the “leading of God”,  who believes that God is bound to have a hand in the minutiae of your every day life, that there is no such thing as a coincidence and that God is “wanting to bless you” as part of his great plan then you  are a prime target for fraudsters.

You will have heard of Bernard Madoff who targeted those who shared his Jewish heritage, rubbing shoulders with significant and trusted members of the Jewish community, to create the biggest fraud of its kind in history. Now a $50 million affinity fraud that took in Mormons and Evangelical Christians has come to light.

Nightly conference calls included prayer and fellowship. This wasn’t just a business but a spiritual mission.

“It was almost like a cult,” one Mormon victim said. “There were prayers at the end of most of the calls. That element was key. There was a real sense of camaraderie, a sense of community, and everything we were going to do involved humanitarian efforts to change the world. That’s why you felt like you didn’t dare disrupt it. God’s behind us, and you shouldn’t betray him.”

Retirement accounts were raided to “invest” and friends and relatives were recruited. It was a classic example of the triumph of faith over reason. A cautionary tale for our time.

How do believers guard themselves from these fraudsters?

Firstly, Remember Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world” (Jn.18:36) and come the day of judgement whatever we build on a foundation of gold, sliver etc. will be burned up and some will be saved “only as through fire” (1 Co.3:11-15)

Secondly, Because we are believers doesn’t mean the usual rules of life don’t apply. It is easy to delude ourselves into thinking that a Christian’s life is somehow meant to be charmed. We see it on bumper stickers that declare “Angels jump off at 70mph” and in the popularity of testimonies telling of miraculous provision. Believers can spend an inordinate amount of time worrying why God is not blessing them in a particular way as though the faith is one great get rich, stay slim, and prosper scheme. The ensuing guilt and worry does Satan’s work for him as we become ineffectual  in our preoccupation with ourselves when we should be concerned for others. Of course God blesses us and in so many ways but Christians are subject to the same ills and fortunes as everyone else so remember:

  • If it looks too good to be true then it almost certainly is.
  • A business deal is always a business deal and should be approached as such. Believers shouldn’t approach it as a heaven-sent provision anymore than unbelievers should approach it as simply a bit of good luck.
  • There are no friends in business and Christians should heed the same advice as everyone else, caveat emptor, buyer beware.
  • “Prayer covering” is not an insurance against fraud, being alert, well well advised and cautious is. The people in this story simply trusted that this was genuine even though the amount of Gold that was supposed to be being traded amounted to twice the quantity in the US Federal Reserve!
  • If a decision just has to be made today then the best decision is usually “no”. I never made a decision that couldn’t wait 24 hours.

Thursday, 3 September 2009

National Empowerment Summit

"I belong to the top" (Matt. 5:14).

This is the Bible quotation that greets you under the section 'Prophetic Focus for September 2009' on Bishop David Oyedepo's website.

You may be thinking - I don't remember that part of the Sermon on the Mount?
You may be thinking - I do remember the bit where Jesus in fact says, "Blessed are the meek."

The reason why you don't remember that quotation is because it isn't there. Matthew 5:14 actually reads: "You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden."

So Bishop David and his Winners' Fellowship may want to gloss the Lord's words as "I belong to the top", but is it really fair to post it as a direct quotation? In fact, is it in any way a fair interpretation of the text? What is the Lord Jesus actually saying here?

Jesus says, "You," but Bishop David says, "I." The Lord is giving a statement to a collective 'you' which will soon be followed by a command ("let your light shine before men..."). Bishop David turns this into a individualistic, egocentric, positive-confession mantra - "I belong to the top... I belong to the top... I belong to the top."

Secondly, Jesus says, "You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden." The image before this is 'the salt of the earth'. So - salt, light, city. These are all centrifugal, outward-looking metaphors. God incarnate is calling His followers to season this rotten world with His saltiness; to illuminate this dark world with His light; to be a distinct and visible gathering of people who represent Him, like a city on a hill. But Bishop David has turned this 'go and be a distinctive blessing to this world' injunction into a 'get yourself to the top because that's your destiny' ear-tickler.

But then we knew that would happen, didn't we?

"For the time will come when men 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" (2 Timothy 4:3).

I checked out the website because I was given a flyer for the 'National Empowerment Summit' (no weasel words here) in July this year at London's Excel centre, with a lovely picture of Bishop David looking sleek and successful on the front.

What did I notice about this invite?

No Jesus.

Absolutely Christless. Of the c.200 words on the back, none of the make the slightest reference to the centre of all our faith and hope. So what are the words about?

Bishop David and his power to heal people:

"I started to pray," reads Danjuma N.'s testimony, "and the Spirit told me this is not a matter for discussion, the only person you can discuss this with is the Bishop, because cancer is afraid of him. He prayed and rebuked Satan, and spoke life into me. He gave me a mantle and said, "take it and go"... I was given a clean bill of health" (my bold, all other punctuation as in original).

It is clear that Bishop David is a trinitarian of sorts - The Father, the Spirit and Bishop David. Together, they rebuke Satan and cancer, which is especially afraid of Bishop David. This, of course, leaves no room for the Lord Jesus Christ.

Plead, beg, exhort, challenge, encourage, warn, rebuke, study with any friends of yours who are bound up with this man-glorifying poison. Bring them back to the simplicity and beauty of Christ and Him crucified. He is all the living water we'll ever need.