Thursday, June 25, 2009

“Cleanliness is next to Godliness.”

Martha of Bethany probably thought that cleanliness was next to Godliness when she insisted that housework was more important than listening to Jesus teach. But Jesus corrected that idea saying that her sister Mary had chosen what was better. (Luke 10:39)

However, this saying is not in the Bible but was coined in a sermon by John Wesley in 1778. "Let it be observed that slovenliness is no part of religion; that neither this nor any text of Scripture condemns neatness of apparel. Certainly, this is a duty, not a sin. 'Cleanliness is, indeed, next to godliness.' "

It found new vigor in 1895 when New York City formed a Department of Sanitation to clean up the deplorable filth of the city (no exaggeration!), with “Cleanliness is next to Godliness” as its slogan. “It recruited an army of street cleaners, the White Wings.” “There were parades of these guys. These guys would march down Fifth Avenue. It's almost like a military exercise.”

However, the principle seems to stem from the Law of Moses (Old Testament), which required priests to wash their hands and feet before going into the Temple, and after. (Exodus 30:19-21) Much of life was governed by what was pronounced “clean” or “unclean”, having more to do with holiness than dirt. However, this was more of a ceremonial washing than any deep cleansing (though it helped protect them from the Plague in Medieval times).

Yet Jesus’ disciples didn’t even wash their hands before they ate (a ceremonial tradition of the elders). When the Pharisees complained, Jesus rebuked them saying that which is on the inside of a person is what makes him clean or unclean—not the outside. (Matthew 15:1-11; Matthew 23:23)

Outer cleanliness can be a good thing, if not carried too far (it’s a subjective notion anyway!) but it will never make you holy. Why not focus on Godliness instead of “the next thing to it” and sit at Jesus’ feet like Mary and learn from him?

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

“God helps those who help themselves.”

I begin with this famous adage because it is the most infamous and perhaps the most widely believed “Bible urban legend” here in America. I’m continually amazed at the people (even seminary graduates!) who insist that these words come straight from the Bible! The truth is Benjamin Franklin penned them for his 1736 edition of “Poor Richard’s Almanack”. Ben Franklin, for all his innovative brilliance and folksy wisdom (a mixed bag in his almanacs!) wasn’t even a Christian, but a deist. He, however, was reportedly fond of George Whitefield’s preaching though toward the end of his life, when asked if he believed that Jesus Christ was the Son of God, he replied, “No.” When asked why, he responded that he had never looked into it.

Not only is this line not a quote from the Bible, but the concept is in large part, opposite what the New Testament teaches.
“While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8)

“ For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith--and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God-- not by works, so that no one can boast.” (Ephesians 2:8,9)

If our salvation were based on our own ability to help ourselves, we’d be in serious trouble!
“ for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,” Romans 3:23

And our reliance on God’s help doesn’t stop at salvation but includes every breath we take and our daily provision. (Matthew 6:32-34) Besides, God is far more interested in our helping others than in our helping ourselves. (Matthew 25:31-46)

Paul’s Thorn in the Flesh

“Paul’s thorn in the flesh was a sickness so that means God sends us sickness to keep us humble (and you're not supposed to pray to be healed).”

The Bible never says Paul’s thorn in the flesh was a sickness. What is does say is that it was a messenger of Satan.

To keep me from becoming conceited because of these surpassingly great revelations, there was given me a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ's sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong. 2 Corinthians 12:7-10

The Bible interprets itself. The “thorn in the flesh” was a term related to one used in the Old Testament to describe the harassment the Israelites could expect from the peoples still left in the Promised Land if they didn’t drive them out.

"`But if you do not drive out the inhabitants of the land, those you allow to remain will become barbs in your eyes and thorns in your sides. They will give you trouble in the land where you will live. Numbers 33:55

For Paul, these harassments came in the form of persecutions and other difficulties he encountered in preaching the Good News.

I have worked much harder, been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again. Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my own countrymen, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false brothers. I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked. Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches. Who is weak, and I do not feel weak? Who is led into sin, and I do not inwardly burn? 2 Cor 11:23-29

“God Must be Mad at You.”

“God must be mad at you since you had a stroke, cancer, etc.” or “What did you do to make God mad?”If you had truly done something so bad that God would “strike” you, you are not likely to be a follower of Jesus, and more like King Herod (Acts 12:23), Saul (Acts 9:3) or Elymas (Acts 13:8-11) or as Ananias and Saphira who had done something directly against the Holy Spirit. (Acts 5:1) In any case, you would know if he had and you would know what you had done.

God simply doesn’t go around beating up his children. In addition, he has given us his word, our consciences and the Holy Spirit to let us know when we’ve done wrong—better yet, to avoid doing wrong in the first place.

The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil's work.1 John 3:8

"Which of you, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!
Matthew 7:9-11

You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. John 15:3

His disciples asked him, "Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?"
"Neither this man nor his parents sinned," said Jesus, "but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life.” John 9:2,3 (The man’s healing.)

“God Makes Christians Sick” part 1

“God makes Christians sick in order to teach them something.”
No good father, human or heavenly would knowingly make his child sick. Those human fathers who do make their children sick are strongly punished by the judicial system (I only know about America)—even hardened criminals are horrified at such behavior! Jesus, who knows our heavenly Father better than anyone said, "Which of you, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!” Matthew 7:9-11

Jesus acknowledged that even “evil” fathers give good gifts and our heavenly Father, who is so much greater, will give us a great deal more—not less!

“God Makes Christians Sick” part 2

“God makes Christians sick in order to teach them something.”Those who insist upon this never seem to know just what the “something” is. So how can they learn if they don’t know what they’re being taught? They often add, “I’m so dumb, stupid, that God has to hit me up-side-the-head in order for me to get it.” Why? We are to be taught by God’s word (2 Timothy 3:16), his anointing (1 John 2:27b) and the Holy Spirit (John 14:26).

If a person continues in Jesus’ teachings (John 8:31,32), is obedient to everything he commanded (Matthew 28:20) and Jesus’ word remains in him or her (John 15:7), he or she will have all the teaching they need (though certainly God uses those he has called to teach as well as situations that come our way), especially if they follow James’ advice to ask for wisdom and believe they have received it. (James 1:5-8)

“God Makes Christians Sick” part 3

“God makes Christians sick in order to teach them something.”
This teaching/belief is often paired with one that says that God wants Christians to suffer. The confusion comes in when people so often read in the New Testament of the testing, character building and correction God brings about through our suffering. However, to equate this with sickness or everyday difficulties of life is to remove it from its context. The context of every New Testament reference to needed or “beneficial” suffering is that of suffering for Jesus’ name’s sake.

Remember those earlier days after you had received the light, when you stood your ground in a great contest in the face of suffering. Sometimes you were publicly exposed to insult and persecution; at other times you stood side by side with those who were so treated. You sympathized with those in prison and joyfully accepted the confiscation of your property, because you knew that you yourselves had better and lasting possessions. Hebrews 10:32-34

Read some accounts of Christian martyrs through the ages, of Christians imprisoned in the former Soviet Union and even today in China, to see the difference. (You can contact me for places to read these stories.)

“Wives Must Obey Their Husbands”

Nowhere does the Bible, Old Testament or New, command wives to obey their husbands.

Sarah was commended for obeying Abraham but never commanded; it was her choice. (1 Peter 3:6) However God commanded Abraham to “listen to whatever Sarah tells you” i.e., do what she says, in regard to Hagar. (Genesis 21:12)

Instead, wives are told to submit to their husbands, which means to “voluntarily come under” with the idea of working together for a common cause. (Ephesians 5:22) Interestingly, all Christians are to “submit to one another”—that includes husbands submitting to wives. (Ephesians 5:21)

“Do All You Can, First”

“Do all you can do and when you’ve done all you can do, God will take over.”

`For in him we live and move and have our being.' Acts 17:28

Jesus did nothing, said nothing on his own; everything came from his Father. (John 12:49) It’s not a question of our trying with all our might—us, then God, but God working in us, through us and around us from the start. Why waste time and effort since time is so short? That is not at all to say that we are to sit around and do nothing, but we are to be obedient and bear fruit (deeds)!

“Too Heavenly Minded”

“He’s too heavenly minded to be any earthly good.” This one is based on the false premise that to be spiritual is to be aloof, distracted and isolated. Jesus was none of those and you’ll never find anyone more heavenly minded or spiritual. He was always fully present and full of action, “making a difference” in the lives of people around him. Those who are “heavenly minded” do the most good on earth. The key is obedience to Jesus’ commands, not being less heavenly minded.

“Spirituality + Common Sense”

“You have to add common sense to your spirituality—you’ve got to be practical.”
If common sense is common why is it so uncommon? The slightest observation shows that (good) sense is often lacking in the general population, though the definition varies by the observer. That which is often assumed to be inborn, instead has to be taught. Think of it, we have to be taught such basic things as walking and talking, so how are we supposed to automatically know how to fix things or make good decisions (for example)?

Suppose that we substitute the word “pragmatism”, meaning “practical, testing the results of all concepts by their practical results” (Webster’s New World Dictionary), which seems to be the purpose of this saying. To insist that spirituality isn’t enough alone and must have pragmatism added to it is to compartmentalize God and his life and power; it’s to say, “God can handle only certain parts of my life but I have to appeal to human nature for the rest”.

As followers of Jesus, we are to obey everything that he commanded (Matthew 28:20) and walk in his steps (1 Peter 2:21) whether it is convenient or seems practical—or not. We’re not given any other choice.

“Never Pray for Patience!”

“Never pray for patience or bad things will happen in order to build your patience.”God definitely expects us to be patient, so much so that patience is part of the fruit of the Spirit.

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. Galatians 5:22

Life is full of patience-trying situations and people already! There are plenty of opportunities to exercise that which is supposed to be active in our lives including self-control and the leaving behind of our sinful nature. (Fruit in the Bible represents deeds.) We do absolutely need his strength and power to behave as he has commanded us. So pray but rather than praying for patience we would do better to pray for strength and focus to do what we already know to do--that is, be obedient. And no, I don’t think bad things will happen as a result of prayer—just a testing and a greater awareness of the need.

"Which of you, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!” Matthew 7:9,10