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Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Whom Do You Serve?

There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves torment. 
But he who fears has not been made perfect in love.
I John 4:18 

Aside from the latent contextual issues behind this statement, like audience relevance, etc., these words should give us pause, if not stir us to even greater action. The apostle Paul wrote this to the Christians in Rome, 'I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord' ( Romans 8: 38 & 39 ). With this kind of Love, Love personified, we should be without fear, yet fear seems to lurk around every corner, even sometimes, for the most seasoned believer!

G. K. Chesterton wrote, 'Jesus promised his disciples three things—that they would be completely fearless, absurdly happy, and in constant trouble', and while this may seem a quite absurd statement, it is quite true. Jesus did tell them, as we read above, from John's 1st letter that we should be fearless; He promised, in Matthew 6:33 that if we seek first His Kingdom, and His Righteousness, that 'all these things shall be added to you'. Reading the context of 'all', we can see that this 'all' includes 'all' things necessary for life, breath, and happiness. In John 16:33, we read where He said to them, 'In the world you will[d] have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.' With the historical context, especially in mind, the apostle Peter confirmed His words, saying, 'We must through many tribulations enter the kingdom of God'. These words are true and faithful! We urge you to be good Bereans and search out these matters for yourself, and when you find them to be true, implement them in your own lives, if they do not already rule your conversation.

When we're not completely fearless, absurdly happy, and in constant trouble, 
then we're serving the wrong master!

Fear seems to lurk around every corner, there is much that happens in our everyday lives that we find it very difficult to be happy about, and damn it all, can't we have just ONE day go by without stirring up some kind of trouble?!

If you don't see a problem with this statement, then you're part of the problem! First of all, it only seems that fear lurks around every corner. A wise man once said, rightly, that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself'. Fear, spine-tingling, numbing fear is all in our heads; we have no real cause for it, especially for the believer. If we fear, which we all do, we should wonder who we are serving. Please don't get me wrong; I am not saying that if one is ever afraid that one has not reached perfection in love!  Just to clarify; even the strongest, most mature of Christians has moments of fear, but the point is, that  fear should not rule his/her life!
Happy, happy, joy joy! It's all good, especially for the believer, but whether we want to admit it or not, it just doesn't feel like 'happy, happy, joy joy' all the time! Should we be happy all the time? You bet we should; living in God's Kingdom where everything happens for our good and His glory, where we are living in communion with our Creator, our Father, 24/7! What a blessed Life we have! Yet there are still things that happen in our blessed life that leave us feeling unhappy, even unfulfilled, empty, almost! And trouble; don't even get me started on trouble! Do you realize the kind of trouble one can get in just for thinking outside the box? Sometimes I feel like Jeremiah or one of the prophets must have felt! The Christian, though, is not being true to his faith if he, or she, is not stirring the pot. Many of those to whom we preach the Gospel ( using words if necessary ) are not going to appreciate our witness, and depending on their reaction; we may often be made to feel fear, we might be unhappy, or we may just give up in hopes of establishing peaceful relations.

Much, if not all of our problem lies in our self. We feel a certain emotion, and depending on how we react (or not ) to that emotion determines whether we live as we should! Not to say that emotions are necessarily a bad thing, but too often we allow our emotions ( fear, unhappiness, unrest ) to rule our lives. Even Christians have their moments when emotions seem to take over! Many others, though, those who do not have the peace of Christ have let emotions overrun their lives; they live by how they feel at any given moment. These serve their own wants and lusts, and this is why fear, unhappiness and unrest have taken over their lives.

The Christian, however, if he is truly following Christ's example, will exhibit fearlessness, true happiness, and will always be at peace, though he always seems to be in hot water with somebody. The true Christian will not be overruled by his affections, or emotions, because he does not serve himself. Rather, he serves his Lord, Christ, and His Body, which is the Church, not any institutionalized organism, but those who belong to Christ.

It all comes down, then, to the question, 'whom do you serve?'

Will you serve our God and Father, and be fearless and happy, even in the midst of tribulation; or will you serve yourself, and remain subject to the emotions of fear, unhappiness, and unrest?!

The choice is yours; choose wisely!

Charles Haddon Shank

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

The Validity of Religion - Rightly Practiced

If anyone among you thinks he is religious, and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his own heart, this one’s religion is useless. Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their trouble, [ and ] to keep oneself unspotted from the world.

There are some today who claim to spurn 'religion', and indeed there are some of these who have failed to practice true and right religion, but I believe that most of those who treat the term spuriously have forgotten the true meaning of the term, and/or have swallowed 'hook, line, and sinker' the teaching of certain men who claim that 'religion' is a man-made thing, or even put it on the same level as a cult!

Merriam-Webster's Online Dictionary, in its secondary definition very simply defines religion as 'a personal set or institutionalized system of religious attitudes, beliefs, and practices'. This definition, while very simple, will not satisfy most people, especially those who in some form or another, and for whatever reason, have distanced themselves, if not from the practice of the true religion, at least from use of the term itself. Also online, dictionary.com defines the term primarily as 'a set of beliefs concerning the cause, nature, and purpose of the universe, especially when considered as the creation of a superhuman agency or agencies, usually involving devotional and ritual observances, and often containing a moral code governing the conduct of human affairs.' Though varying somewhat ( and these are only two of those available ), there is a basic and fundamental agreement in these two, if not elsewhere, that one's religion is his (or her ) core set of beliefs, those they live by. Everybody believes something, and if they truly live as they believe ( 'practice what you preach' ), then they can be truly called 'religious'!

Now, don't get me wrong, there are bad religions as well as good religions, wrong beliefs as well as right beliefs. There are people who do right and people who do wrong, and those who do wrong have given 'religion' a bad name, especially for those who practice the true religion. There are those too, that may claim to believe certain things, whether right or wrong, but do not live the way they claim to believe. These people only deceive themselves! Either their actions are right and good, while what they claim to believe is wrong, or their religion is false and useless; while claiming to believe what is right and good, they end up acting wrongly!

Again; looking at Merriam-Webster's secondary definition of what constitutes a cult ( 'a system of religious beliefs and ritual; also : its body of adherents' ), we see that it can resemble a religion. Indeed, a cult IS a religion, but a false, or wrong one. On the contrary though, a religion is NOT ( necessarily ) a cult. Wrongly applied, even a right set of beliefs can actually become cultish, in fact that is very likely why many have abandoned the notion altogether. A cult is never a good thing thing, but a religion is not always a good thing either! Cultish beliefs though, when not applied, can end in right actions, just as right beliefs, when not applied, can end in wrong actions.

Religion, true religion, the religion described by James above, unlike a cult, is NOT a man-made idea!

According to the dictionary definitions above, that I have provided, religion is simply what a man believes, but is this biblically or scripturally sound? James, the brother of our Lord, seems to tell us that rather than being a set of beliefs, true religion is a 'set' of actions. We must, however grudgingly, admit that according to our modern dictionary definitions, religion is man-made. If what one man ( or woman ) or a group of people ( body politic ) believes is what constitutes a religion, then religion is, by definition, in the mind of man!

As Scripture defines religion, then, it is 'to visit orphans and widows in their trouble', in essence to love them, to share the love of God with them. Now, to be honest, many Christians out there, for whatever reason, do not seem to be doing this. We must understand, first of all, the original intent that James had for those words when he wrote them to their original audience. The political situation that the Church was facing was somewhat different than ours today, though ours has some strikingly familiar aromas about it! Secondly, one need not take James' words literally, just as one must not take Jesus' command to wash each others feet literally in order to be a servant. To 'visit orphans and widows in their trouble' could just as easily entail helping a little old lady across the street, lifting a homeless person to their feet, or conducting a nursing home ministry ( as my father does ).

Religion is not a bad thing in and of itself; as we have seen with many other 'things', it can be rightly or wrongly applied. Wrongly applied, it can be a very wrong and harmful notion, but rightly applied, as our Lord's brother speaks of, religion can be a very good thing! Though one will not always do the right thing just because he believes rightly, and one will not always do wrongly because he believes wrongly; true, or 'pure and undefiled religion' is to love as He loved. Right beliefs lead, at some point, to right actions!

The sad thing is, many Christians seem to have forgotten how to love, how to practice their true, pure and undefiled religion, and many, who do not claim the name of Christ, and whose motives may not be pure and undefiled, have been practicing the true religion, sharing the love of God, though they do not admit to His love themselves. May we, as the Body of Christ, right this wrong and begin once more to live in the Love of God, and practice His true religion!

Religiously prayerful.
Charles Haddon Shank

Saturday, February 23, 2013

The Scattering of Israel, the Son of God

When Israel [ was ] a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called My son.
Hosea 11:1

When Israel was banished from the land during the Babylonian Exile ( or destroyed if they refused ), this was viewed, no doubt, as an adverse judgement. Most Christians today, in fact see this period of Exile as the punishment of disobedient and rebellious old covenant Israel, and indeed it was a disciplinary action on the part of Yahweh. However, I believe that the primary purpose of Yahweh in the scattering of His people which is often missed or glossed over was the spread of the good news of His Covenant of peace!

Israel had been established as a nation of priests, a special people of God, by the receiving of the Law at Sinai, and by the sign of baptism as they entered the Wilderness ( the Red Sea, or Sea of Reeds ), then the Promised Land ( the Jordan River ). They were to serve as God's priests within the Land, to establish His religion, and then to spread that religion throughout the boundaries of the known world, to the four corners of the earth. Although they did, to some degree, practice this true religion in the Land; when they began to observe the pagan ( heathen ) nations around them, rather then affecting these other cultures with this true religion, or at least some semblance of it, they found themselves conforming to these foreign practices, and lost almost all semblance to the true religion which Yahweh had established!

There are several shining examples in the Scripture that we may note where men or women of God become glorious examples of the fulfillment of God's purpose in establishing Israel as His priest to the nations! Joseph ( Genesis 30-50 ), long before the Exodus, was a good example of how God spread His true religion to other nations and used these nations to protect and nurture His special people, Israel. Fast-forward many centuries, and during the the most notable Exile of the people of God, the Babylonian Captivity, to Daniel, who faithfully fulfilled his duty, along with three friends, in moving the king of Babylon towards an acknowledgement of the true religion and true God. 

Through these men, and others like them, Yahweh's true religion began to gain a foothold throughout the entire world, and it continues even today, as Daniel prophesied ( Daniel 2:44b ), 'the God of heaven will set up a kingdom which shall never be destroyed'. This passage, though in context it refers to the establishment of this Kingdom by the first century A.D., it also prophesies a 'rolling stone' which brings into submission and under its dominion every 'kingdom' of man. 

Even for those that did not shine as brightly in the 'heavens', though it was to many of them a dreary and dark time, this Exile served God's purpose in exposing these nations to His One true religion. Because of the shining example, to whatever extent, of His people in Exile, foreign kings were brought to their knees, whether figuratively or actually, whether willingly or not, in acknowledgment of the One true God!

In conclusion, then, we may note that this same principle holds true today, in our own lives. My dad, for example, has ministered to those who are in prison, to whatever extent, and in whatever form, for many years. I remember hearing him remark to someone ( in other words ) who had recently been incarcerated ( neverminding what had placed him there ) that God had placed a glorious opportunity before him. He was now able to witness to a whole new crowd of people that he likely never would have, had he not been imprisoned; a 'captive audience', so to speak!

As we go through struggles like these every day, and some more than others, we should look at 'scatterings' like this as opportunities to further the Gospel of Peace which our loving God and Father has entrusted to us and take them as just the next step in the Journey as we fulfill God's anointing!

Joyfully yet sadly,
Charles Haddon Shank

Monday, February 18, 2013

Kingdom Life in a Dark and Dreary World

You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden.
Matthew 5:14

Please do not take these words out of the context in which they were written, to whom or when they were spoken! 

When Jesus spoke these words, according to Matthew's Gospel, or his relation of the Good News of Jesus the Christ, He was near the beginning of what is called 'The Sermon on the Mount'. In this sermon, Jesus told those gathered basically what His followers would look like and what they would do. Because of the Light that would burn within them, they would be lights themselves, to brighten every dark place, and to bring to light the hidden things of darkness.

To begin with; we should examine the historical and grammatical context of the phrase in question.


Then Jesus spoke to them again, saying,  
I am the light of the world. He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life.
John 8:12 

Although doubtless, Jesus ( God ) is the Light, not just of the World, but of the Universe; the historical and grammatical context of Jesus' words above demand that 'the world' of which He spoke was 'the world' which He specifically came to save, the covenant world of His people Israel. He even said in another place, 'I was not sent except to the lost sheep of the house of Israel'. Now, don't get me wrong; this is referring, in the covenantal context, to the 'Israel of God' that the apostle Paul mentions in Galatians 6:16, but when read according to 'audience relevance', or in historical context, you may see that this 'world' was the same 'world' that God so loved, in the oft-quoted John 3:16, and the subsequent 'world' that He came to save, and not to condemn!

This point, that Jesus came to save His covenant people, is often missed by some who claim that Jesus was  the Messiah, or Savior, only of the physical seed of Abraham, or Israel ( Jacob ). At another point of the spectrum are those who claim that all mankind comprises the 'world' which Jesus came to save. Several obvious problems arise here, though, in a 'universalistic view such as this; it makes God ( Jesus ) a failure, for there have obviously been some who have died in their sins ( Hitler, for example ). Either that, or we have utter chaos, every man doing what is right in his own eyes, because they are all 'saved' and 'on their way to heaven'! Well, enough of that, 'we've been there, done that' ( in previous articles )!

Shining the Light

The full ramifications of Christ in us are often missed by modern Christianity, indeed Christianity in general throughout the ages, though the lack of understanding has been heightened somewhat in modern times. We should understand that, since the Godhead has taken up residence within us ( John 14:23 ), although we do not become God, we are the Temple of God, and with His Power within us, are able to shine His Light into the darkest corners, and bring the Love of Jesus ( God ) into the dingiest areas of this world, which is His.

Jesus came to 'save His people from their sins' ( Matthew 1:21 ), and as we saw above; He later on said 'I was not sent except to the lost sheep of the house of Israel'. How do we reconcile these statements with passages like John 3:16; are we not part of 'the world' that He came to save?

A covenantal understanding of this, and other like passages should reveal to us that we who partake of the Faith of Christ, those who have received the Baptism of the Holy Spirit ( God ) ARE the 'Israel of God'! The apostle Paul wrote, in his letter to the Church ( Body of Christ ) in Rome ( Romans 9:6-9 ), 'But it is not that the word of God has taken no effect. For they [ are ] not all Israel who [ are ] of Israel, nor [ are they ] all children because they are the seed of Abraham; but, In Isaac your seed shall be called. That is, those who are the children of the flesh, these are not the children of God; but the children of the promise are counted as the seed. For this [ is ] the word of promise: At this time I will come and Sarah shall have a son.' We should understand that, as Paul also wrote, 'those who are of faith are sons of Abraham' ( Galatians 3:7 ); so we, as part of the Body of Christ, and of His Faith, are possessors of the blessings of the Covenant!

As we saw above, and can plainly see all around us every day, we ( individually ) are NOT perfect; the light that we shine pales in comparison to the Light that Jesus shone in His 'world'! As the corporate and covenant Body of Christ, however, we can shine the full strength of that Light into a dark and dreary world! Jesus said, in the Gospel according to John ( 14:12 ), 'Most assuredly, I say to you, he who believes in Me, the works that I do he will do also; and greater [ works ] than these he will do, because I go to My Father'. This seems impossible, and almost laughable, and as individuals, it IS impossible, but as the corporate, covenanted Body of Christ, with the Power of God in His New Temple, it is more than possible, it is REALITY! Every day, in some small and seemingly insignificant way, small miracles take place all over this world of His! Many or most of these miracles escape the notice of the mainstream media, and thus are relegated to their own 'world', but whether we notice them or not, believe it or not, they do happen, for this IS our Father's world; 'resistance is futile, you will be assimilated'!

In conclusion then, though we may not see the effect that we have, though it seems that the Light we are shining is not doing much to lighten even our own sometimes dark and dreary path; let us always remember that we ARE the light of the world, and we DO have the Power of the True Light ( and Creator ) of the World within us!

As we go forth into our 'world' then, whether it be in the workplace or wherever the Spirit leads us, we can have the utmost confidence that the 'seeds' we plant WILL have their effect, and the Light we shine WILL lighten the darkest pathway; We have His word on it!

Hallelujah!
Charles Haddon Shank

Wednesday, February 06, 2013

'To Be or Not To Be, That is the Question'!

Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you more than to God, you judge. For we cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard.
Acts 4:19 

America, like it or not, has a history of rebellion! 

A little over 150 years from the colonization of what is now now known as 'these United States', the 13 original colonies were full of seditious up-starts! Because Great Britain, and in particular, it's king, had begun to take on a god-like stance, our forefathers decided to take a stand, much like the apostles, and remind the king of England that it WAS better to obey the One true God, the King of the Universe, rather than to bow to his petty dictatorship!

As Christians in America today, we must deal with such a government, in some ways, that is even more insidiously god-like then the one our forefathers had to deal with! As Christians, then, we must choose for ourselves whom we will serve; 'who WILL be our 'God', will it be the one true God, or will it be the 'Messianic State', who has usurped, with the willing help of the majority of Christianity, the authority and power that belongs to our Creator, God and Father Alone?!

'You 'Gotta Serve Somebody'!'

Whether or not you agree with Bob Dylan's theology ( everybody has a theology ); he had this right; you WILL serve someone, whether it be your own selfish lusts, the 'Messianic State' or the One true and living God, through serving His people! We have to choose, as Christians especially, whom we will serve. As followers of Jesus, we have necessarily made that choice, and to be true to that choice, we must rebel against any form of government that endeavors to take the place of God, or His Church! If we do not do this at every opportunity, can we call ourselves true followers of Jesus?!


choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve
.........................
as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord
Joshua 24:15 b & d

There is a choice before all men, as we've seen, but, as we've also seen, to the true follower of Jesus, there is but one option. Jesus told His followers ( audience ), 'No servant can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon' ( Luke 16:13 ) It goes without saying that to serve yourself or the 'Messianic State ( government ) would be antithetical to serving God and others, yet we see 'Christians' doing this right alongside those who do not claim this relationship with their Creator. We see many 'Christians' looking to the federal or even state government for their salvation; we see many Christians looking to the political machine as means of getting out of the mess we've created! 

To paraphrase Albert Einstein, though, 'you can't solve your problems using the same system that caused them'! Too many Christians, whether because of bad eschatology or just bad theology, seem to believe that they can serve their own interests through the political machine, or even that they should serve the 'Messianic State', all the while serving Jesus and His Kingdom as well, but as is becoming more and more apparent; we cannot do both. It's one or the other; we either serve God and His Kingdom, or we serve our own interests, and look to ( serve ) the 'Messianic State'! There is no other choice, especially for the Christian!

Charles Haddon Shank

Tuesday, February 05, 2013

The Enemy at the Gates?

And I will put enmity
Between you and the woman,
And between your seed and her Seed;
He shall bruise your head,
 
And you shall bruise His heel.
 Genesis 3:15 

'But, didn't Jesus destroy the enmity?'

Yes, indeed He did; He came to destroy 'him who had the power of death', and 'having abolished in His flesh the enmity', 'so as to create in Himself one new man [ from ] the two', He 'came and preached peace to you who were afar off and to those who were near'. ( I should just quote the whole passage here! ) For those who are aware of the important and covenantal context of these words from the apostle Paul, these words, though comforting still, report that the purpose for which God sent His Son was fulfilled in the first century. He has made us 'a new creation', making One from the two, having 'broken down the middle wall of separation'!

'So why', one might ask, 'are there still wars; why are there still evils like abortion, murder, rape, etc., in the world?' These are a very present evil; no argument, but there is a very simple answer for us in James 4. 

'Where do wars and fights [ come ] from among you? 'Do [ they ] not [ come ] from your [ desires for ] pleasure that war in your members?'

Quoting this verse as I do, you may note that the words in brackets are not in the original Greek, and that the general context of this rhetorical question demands that they held a slightly different meaning for their original audience. With that said, I believe that they apply as well today as they did yesterday! From even a very superficial study of human nature, we may ascertain the eternal truth of these words of warning! Even in followers of Jesus Christ, this nature presents itself, whether we want to admit it or not, whether we reveal it or not, every day!

With good self-government, the Christian, and even some who would not be called Christian by most, manage to squelch their selfish desire and, for the sake of others with a greater and more pressing need, act in a Christ-like and self-sacrificing  way. ( Now, don't get me wrong, I believe that self-sacrifice can only go so far: one must take care of oneself, sometimes, in order to take care of others! ) Although many manage to do this, there is abundant evidence that there are those that do not! Men and women still kill and abuse each other, and there are plenty of 'evil' enterprises out there that could be named; where should we start?!

There is no question; though God defeated ( destroyed ) the 'enemy' He came to annihilate, there are still enemies of Jesus Christ, and of His Gospel out there! One doesn't usually have to look very far to find evidences of this 'evil'. Where men and women live in rebellion, whether active ( militant ) or not, against the Laws of their Creator, you will find this 'evil' present and very active!

 But outside [ are ] dogs and sorcerers and sexually immoral and murderers and idolaters, and whoever loves and practices a lie.
Revelation 22:15

It has been questioned, I believe, since 'the end of all things' came and went in the first century AD, whether this statement still holds true today. I believe it does, though again, maybe, not to the extent, or with the same intent with which John wrote those words. There are those who have not yet received, or will not accept, for whatever reason, the love that the Father extends through His people, and though much if not all of the respons'a'bility lies with them, this responsibility can be spread evenly throughout His Church as well! Again, don't get me wrong; I am NOT slandering the Bride ( Wife ) of Christ, as some would accuse me of! I am simply saying that, whether based on a wrong eschatology or just bad theology, the Church has made some bad and hurtful decisions throughout her long and storied marriage!

So, doubtless the statement that there are still enemies at the gate is a true one, but as John 'saw' in The Revelation of Jesus the Christ, concerning the New Jerusalem, which IS the Church; 'Its gates shall not be shut at all by day'! Although they may be outside the 'gates'; all are welcomed, and indeed, all are invited!'

And the Spirit and the bride say, “Come!” And let him who hears say, “Come!” And let him who thirsts come. Whoever desires, let him take the water of life freely.
Revelation 22:17

You may read Scriptures like Matthew 22:1-14, about the wedding supper, and the man who was cast out because he was not wearing a fit garment, and the woman caught in adultery, whom Jesus refused to condemn, though He did tell her, 'go and[k] sin no more' ( note- this story is not related in the most ancient manuscripts ). Both of these stories, or parables, should be understood in the historical and covenantal context in which they were given, but we can also understand, from these and other stories, that it is sin, or the lack of the righteousness which only the Spirit of God can apply, which keeps these people ( who are 'outside' ) from entering the City, and enjoying the blessings of the Presence of God!

May we, as inhabitants of the City, not refuse entrance to any who would enter, but sharing the love of God with ALL, let us continually voice the cry of the Spirit and the Bride, and just say, 'COME'!

In His love,
Charles Haddon Shank
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