Monday, August 25, 2014

Where Cults Come From

Yesterday I was standing on the steps of the church greeting people as they arrived at church. A white van pulled into the parking lot and eventually stopped in the driving lane - positioned for a quick getaway, I think. A middle aged man got out of the driver's door and walked toward me.

"He's going to ask for money," I thought. Then I noticed the single page of paper in his hand. Maybe it is an invitation to an event. Maybe it is a documentation of his need for help. What could it be? He thrust it at me and growled, "Read this! You'll find it interesting!" Then he stalked back to his van and left.

I found it interesting, but not like he was suggesting. His paper is two full sides, single spaced with 64 points about the requirements of a church that is incorporated as a 501(c)3 tax exempt organization. The gist of the introductory paragraph is that an incorporated church is not a real "NEW TESTAMENT Church." (His capitalization.) He states that "they have joined into a covenant with the federal and state governments that supersedes the NEW COVENANT with Jesus Christ." (His capitalization.)

So, this is how cults get started.

This guy has a chip on his shoulder. I gather that he sees himself as one of the last true followers of God and his message is a prophetic condemnation of the vast majority of churches because they are incorporated as 501(c)3 tax exempt organizations.

Some of his points are true - churches are obligated to file tax info on their employees. But since Jesus himself paid taxes (Matt. 17:24-27), and since Romans 13 says believers are obeying God when they obey the government and pay taxes, I'd say his point has no point.

Some of his points are built on false assumptions such as being "nontaxable" (sic) is "a God given right basis (sic) on the Bible and the First Amendment of the US Constitution." Actually, Jesus said, "render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's and to God the things that are God's." (Matt. 22:21) There is no suggestion in the Bible that churches should be tax free.

Many of his points are alarmist warnings that tax exempt status opens the door to government control that will lead to the ordination of women, same sex marriage, and building safety regulations. (Actually, it is our insurance company that wants us to take care of building safety.) I cannot say that there is no potential for government attempts to interfere with church practices in the future - but that is certainly not the case now.

But this is how cults get started. One guy with a grudge who is sure the existing churches are in league with the Devil. They are all false, but he is true and passionate (if maybe not all that accurate). He will work to distribute his prophetic message and will gather followers. They will huddle together as the last true church - the restored church - the remnant. They will preach mostly about their pet doctrines - and in this case will not pay taxes until they find themselves being "persecuted" by the IRS.

2Tim. 2:22-26 ¶ So flee youthful passions and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart. Have nothing to do with foolish, ignorant controversies; you know that they breed quarrels. And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Wonderful Hope

It is true that I have a fatal disease (myelofibrosis) and I've just used up the first year of my seven year "mean life expectancy" since diagnosis.  It is also true that my dear wife is about to begin difficult days of chemo and radiation treatments in an attempt to beat the odds on her endometrial carcinoma.

These unexpected and unpleasant developments are, in many ways, overwhelming.  We are being carried away by a tsunami of trouble in a sea of uncertainties.

Doubts and fears assail.  We don't know how these things will be resolved. We don't know how we will endure.  We don't know what it will cost us on so many levels... We don't even know what all the dangers are, much less how they will be met.

But if you were to ask how we are, the answer is, "Wonderful!" And we are... not that there are no fears or doubts or even tears. We are wonderful in that we have a confidence - a hope - that reaches beyond our problems.
"Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the LORD our God." (Psalms 20:7)
Certainly we hope our doctors are competent and we hope Lola's treatments have their desired effect and we hope they will soon come up with some safe treatment for myelofibrosis... but these are not the sources of the hope that gives us peace.

The mortality rate for humans is 100%.  Everybody dies.  It is impossible to know if we will die from our disease or from the attempts to save us from our disease. 

But Lola and I have a hope that is sufficient even for facing certain death.  Our hope is in the one true and living God of the Bible.  We trust in him.  We trust that his provision in Christ is sufficient for our forgiveness and reconciliation to God. We trust that in Christ we will have everlasting life in heaven after we pass from this world. We trust that the struggles we are now facing will serve a good purpose in God's overall plan and will bring him glory.

God has not promised that this sin soaked world would be heaven on earth for those who follow him.  In fact, he said that if you follow him you will be a stranger here - often an outcast.  We don't follow Christ for a trouble-free life. We follow Christ because he is worthy of our devotion and worship - even in the midst of troubles.

We are not sufficient for these things, but God is sufficient. We hope in him.
“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.  (2 Corinthians 12:9–10) 

Friday, August 8, 2014

Amnesty

E.C. Haskell sent out this "thought for today:"

Grace:
Many pray for forgiveness while in reality claim amnesty. Consequently our worship is cold [why thank God for a grace we don't need?] and our faith is weak.

It is an interesting idea that amnesty is an "intentional overlooking" - usually by a government regarding some sort of widespread crime. For example, there is sometimes "tax amnesty" for cheaters if they make some minimum payment. After the Vietnam War there was a general amnesty for those who dodged the draft. Some conservatives are adamant against giving amnesty to illegal aliens living in the United States.

The suggestion in the E.C.'s "thought" is that forgiveness is more than amnesty. I'm not sure that distinction holds up in general English usage. Amnesty and forgiveness are listed as synonyms. Of the two, forgiveness seems to be the more general term.

But the underlying point is valid - sometimes take God's grace for granted.

Maybe it is that amnesty is general and forgiveness is personal. People have largely forgotten about the holiness and judgment of God. They have become functional universalists who believe God has given a general amnesty to everyone for all sin. But the forgiveness of God is personal - offered to individuals who come to him in faith and repentance. Perhaps if we reflected on the personal aspect of forgiveness we would be more sensitive about our sins.

Maybe our carelessness is because amnesty usually means there is no penalty. God's forgiveness, however, is based on God's atonement through Jesus Christ. We are forgiven our sins, but Jesus took our punishment on himself. Perhaps if we reflected on the tremendous cost for our forgiveness we would be more grateful for our salvation.

Maybe it is just our sense of entitlement. We don't think our sins are all that bad. We think we have done God a favor by choosing to be on his side. In our minds we think, "Of course God saved me - what's not to love about me?" Perhaps if we thought about the infinite crimes we have committed in our rebellion against our infinitely good Creator we would be more grateful for his gracious salvation.

Our sins are serious. We deserve nothing but hell. God, the righteous judge, did not just throw out our case and acquit us of our crimes against him. He provided a substitute who took our punishment, paid our penalty, so that we could be forgiven.

Grace doesn't mean there was no cost - it only means that the cost was borne by another. Thank God for his indescribable gift. Don't take God's grace for granted.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Live Like You Were Dying

Tim McGraw had a county song, "Live Like You Were Dying." Generally speaking, I'd say he makes some good points.

When we assume that we have unlimited time, we are not careful enough about using our time well. We think, "there is always tomorrow or next week or next year." The "nice thing" about having a life threatening disease is that we have to be more disciplined - to take care of the most important things in life while we still can.

I would not suggest that you should put your life at risk by sky diving or bull riding. (One life threatening thing at a time is plenty.) But I think McGraw is suggesting that if you are already dying, why not try something dangerous? I would say, "If you are already dying, why not show the courage to face important but difficult things?" Stand up for what is right. Be courageous for the truth. What can they do to you?

To me, "live like you were dying" means not taking life for granted and doing the things in life that are most important. Like the song says, we need to concentrate on our relationships with God and men. We need to think of others and express our love while we have the chance. We need to use our days well - all the days we get. We need to appreciate life and not just rush through it.

We are all dying whether we have a diagnosis of a deadly disease or not. If you live like you are dying then a fatal diagnosis will not change your life so much after all.


LIVE LIKE YOU WERE DYING - TIM MCGRAW

He said: "I was in my early forties,
"With a lot of life before me,
"An' a moment came that stopped me on a dime.
"I spent most of the next days,
"Looking at the x-rays,
"An' talking 'bout the options an' talkin’ ‘bout sweet time."
I asked him when it sank in,
That this might really be the real end?
How’s it hit you when you get that kind of news?
Man whatcha do? 

An' he said: "I went sky diving, I went rocky mountain climbing,
"I went two point seven seconds on a bull named Fu Man Chu.
"And I loved deeper and I spoke sweeter,
"And I gave forgiveness I'd been denying."
An' he said: "Some day, I hope you get the chance,
"To live like you were dyin'." 

He said "I was finally the husband,
"That most the time I wasn’t.
"An' I became a friend a friend would like to have.
"And all of a sudden goin' fishin’,
"Wasn’t such an imposition,
"And I went three times that year I lost my Dad.
"Well, I finally read the Good Book,
"And I took a good long hard look,
"At what I'd do if I could do it all again,
"And then: 

"I went sky diving, I went rocky mountain climbing,
"I went two point seven seconds on a bull named Fu Man Chu.
"And I loved deeper and I spoke sweeter,
"And I gave forgiveness I'd been denying."
An' he said: "Some day, I hope you get the chance,
"To live like you were dyin'." 

Like tomorrow was a gift,
And you got eternity,
To think about what you’d do with it.
An' what did you do with it?
An' what can I do with it?
An' what would I do with it?