Thursday, July 29, 2010

The Deep Depths of Relevancy

I thought I had reached the point where there wasn’t much done in the name of Christianity that would shock me. America has taken just about every worldly device imaginable and tried to Christianize it. Yet there seem to be some last holdouts that are really just too bad to try to pass off as Christian. Or so I thought. It may sound very crude, and I don’t say this for the shock factor, but could you imagine someone trying to pass off pornography as Christian? After what we discovered this week, it doesn’t seem so far off.

The Cornerstone Music & Arts festival is an annual, four-day event held on a 500-acre plot in central Illinois. The main attraction is the music. Multiple stages showcase many different artists and bands who are supposedly Christian. You will probably recognize some of the bigger names: Toby Mac, Skillet, The David Crowder Band, Switchfoot, and the like. While these in and of themselves may present their own problems that would require another blog entry, the Cornerstone Festival has shown itself to have an evil underbelly that is not just a masked attack upon Truth but is bold and blatantly demonic.

The Apprising Ministries blog recently posted an article written by an attendee of the festival who experienced and saw things that are not only shocking but being passed off as Christian. Typifying the worst of the musical acts was a band called Grave Robber whose influences include bands and singers such as Alice Cooper, Type O Negative, GWAR, and Black Sabbath, just to name a few. If you aren’t familiar with these ‘artists’, consider yourself blessed. They are among some of the most evil and, yes, even bloody and gory acts that have been popular in the past 30 years. Grave Robber, decked out in masks and costumes that make them appear like, well, they were just dug up yesterday, even sometimes share the stage with members of the aforementioned bands. They refer to Jesus as the re-animator, and themselves as zombie slaves.

The audience really gets into their performances, too. Comprised of mostly teen-agers and young adults, they are often painted like zombies with make-up blood splatters on their clothes and dripping down their faces. And speaking of zombies, the increasingly popular zombie culture has now been adopted by “christians.” Cornerstone offered a zombie walk that was attended by more than 300 participants who dressed like the living dead. The march ended in a dance that would be considered in the secular world a rave.

Cornerstone also held a movie night that was billed as “not kid friendly,” even though people were encouraged to attend the festival with their entire families. The movies included The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and The House of the Devil. First of all, if it is not good for the kids, then why is it good for the adults? Secondly, these movies are a celebration of some of the sickest and most reviled acts of sin imaginable. How is it even remotely possible that these things are edifying to a Christian?

So, you may say, why even point these things out? They are obviously a very extreme segment of a false Christian culture. Yet this is not the case. This is a major event attended by thousands of people that has been held for the past 27 years. There are many who are drawn by mainstream bands such as David Crowder, who, if they are not regenerated, will see their favorite Christian ‘stars’ associated with some of the most degrading and vilest forms of entertainment and fully accept them because that is what their flesh desires. And here, the organizers of Cornerstone, have given thousands of people a blank check for their consciences to pursue the lusts of the flesh because they label these things as Christian.

The organizers of the Cornerstone Festival are wrong with a capital W. They are purveyors of filth. If one cannot see this is wrong and know that the light of Christianity cannot mix with the darkness of Satan, they are in spiritual bondage beyond anything that we have ever seen before. This is the ultimate end of relevance. The overarching thought that one has to be like the culture and in the culture and part of the culture in order to reach the world is the root of this problem. And here we see it reach its logical conclusion. All this does is allow filthy, stinking, sinful people to follow the lust of the flesh and soothe their God-given consciences because they smack the label of Christian on it.

What this has done for us is give us a renewed soberness in the fight to which we are called. It also allows us to praise our Father for the fact that He has rescued us from these things. We are no better than the people who put on this festival. But God has dealt graciously with us to show us light that they have yet to see. If it were not for the grace of God, we would be doing such things, perhaps even worse things.

Continue to remain vigilant with us. Put on the full armor of God, girding your waist with truth, having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and having shod your feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace; above all, taking the shield of faith with which you will be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked one. And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God; praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, being watchful to this end with all perseverance . . .

Stand with us and fight the good fight!

Ephesians 5:8-14 For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light (for the fruit of the Spirit is in all goodness, righteousness, and truth), finding out what is acceptable to the Lord. And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather expose them. But all things that are exposed are made manifest by the light, for whatever makes manifest is light. Therefore He says:

“ Awake, you who sleep,
Arise from the dead,
And Christ will give you light.”

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

The Truth About New Covenant Giving Part 2

By S. Michael Durham

New Covenant giving is based upon God’s grace given to the believer. In this article, let’s look at how this grace of giving works.

First, it works irrespective of economic class. It works in the poor as well as the rich. Paul tells the Corinthians that although the Macedonians were “in a great trial of affliction the abundance of their joy and their deep poverty abounded in the riches of their liberality” (2 Corinthians 8:2). The word deep means “down to the bottom.” It’s to be as low as you can go. The Greek word Paul uses translated poverty is a word to describe a beggar. So, to be financially challenged is no excuse for not giving. The Macedonians were so impoverished that Paul at first refused their giving. Yet, in this extremely poor group of believers the grace of giving worked amazingly.

Second, the grace of giving works beyond human ability. Again the Apostle writes concerning the Macedonians, “For I bear witness that according to their ability, yes, and beyond their ability, they were freely willing” (2 Corinthians 8:3). God’s power grants the believer to do things that are not either natural or based upon circumstances. Grace can empower us to give beyond what seems to be our ability to give.

I know many people today are concerned about the economy. I was talking with a deacon from another church and he mentioned to me how their giving had decreased because of the recession. But in light of this text, if Christians are giving by grace should recessions always decrease giving? It seems to me giving that is based upon the economy is not based upon grace.

Grace may work beyond a person’s ability but never beyond his will. God’s grace does not force us to give, but asks us to give willingly. Paul says, “they were freely willing.” Grace works in and through the will. We desire to give and even enjoy our giving. This too is amazing grace.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

The Truth About New Covenant Giving Part 1

By S. Michael Durham

If tithing is not God’s method for our giving today, what is? Last week we saw different tithes proscribed in the Law of Moses for Israel only. Practically, all giving in the Old Covenant was directed by laws regulating what and how much was to be given. But the law of tithe met its end in the cross of Jesus. In the New Covenant our Lord’s grace directs all giving and is regulated by the precious Holy Spirit. What then does our heavenly Father expect from us, His children?

To answer that question, let’s see how grace works to enable you to give as you ought. This will eliminate legal giving (giving only because it is required and only as much as required), guilt giving (giving because you feel guilty for not doing so), fear giving (giving because you fear God’s reprisals), or selfish giving (giving for gain or recognition or self-satisfaction).

The way the Apostle Paul teaches giving in 2 Corinthians 8 and 9 is by pointing the Corinthians away from themselves and to the grace of God. He then gives them two illustrations of grace-giving and then, finally, gives some commandments about it. I want to follow his outline.

Paul begins by showing us that giving is a gift to us. He says, “Moreover, brethren, we make known to you the grace of God bestowed on the churches of Macedonia” (2 Corinthians 8:1). God had given the Christians at Macedonia a grace that enabled them to give in an awesome way. This should not surprise us. Any ministry we perform, God has gone before us and graced us to do so.

But the Corinthians could have said, “Well, that is how the Lord led the Macedonians to give. That is how the grace of God moved them. But He has not so moved us.” Perhaps Paul expected this, and so in verses 6-7, the Corinthians were commanded to seek this grace as well. “So we urged Titus, that as he had begun, so he would also complete this grace in you as well. But as you abound in everything—in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in all diligence, and in your love for us—see that you abound in this grace also.”

According to the apostle, we are all responsible to seek God for grace in order to obey. Grace does not remove effort, and every Christian is to give by grace. Not only are we to have this grace working in us, but Paul says we are to abound in this grace: “see that you abound in this grace also.”

Evidently, the Corinthians did not excel in this grace. Therefore Paul directs them not to themselves to try harder, but to the grace of God so that when they do give they will do so in the strength of God.

Why? Because as anything else in the Christian life, the child of God is to live out the life of Christ. Perhaps a better way to say it is this: Jesus is to live out His life through us. If it is merely the fulfilling of our “Christian duty,” then who should gain glory and praise? We should, since we fulfilled our obligation. However, God designed the Christian life to go beyond law and duty, which no fallen man could keep. He implemented the New Covenant, with the life of His dear Son, to operate on the basis of spirit and love. The only person who can live up to a standard higher than law and duty is one who is being influenced by the Spirit and motivated by love. In this way God is the one glorified and praised.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

I'm Ready for My Close Up, Mr. Me

So is this what we've come to? For sale: a specialized piece of equipment that allows you to photograph your favorite subject - yourself! Well, maybe that is not the only application for the handheld monopod, but it does highlight a universal, human problem: the love of self.

With social media dominating the internet landscape, the love of self is more visible than ever. Facebook takes it to new heights. Where else can you see a series of 20 photos, all taken one right after another of one person? They are friends, family, neighbors, co-workers, acquaintances, and the daughter of your sister's boss's secretary. The poses are pretty standard. Camera held aloft, keep your chin down, and point your eyes up to the camera. Or, for those going steady, it is a photo of one kissing his/her sweetie. It's known as the "I've gotta boyfriend/girlfriend photo." Or, maybe its the group photo with friends, otherwise known as the I'm-not-a-social-reject photo. Or it's the funny photo, showing your sense of humor or creative ability. Or, perhaps it's just a photo of your closest friend - your Chihuahua. How sad.

No matter what photo you go with, Facebook exemplifies for our generation the love of self and the need to spread that love to others. While it may be used to stay in contact with others and keep up with friends and family, when it comes to what you put out to your public, it is often calculated, whether consciously or not, with the question of how will this promote self. Think about it. Why would a person sit in front of their computer either alone or with a friend, take a series of photos of themselves making various facial poses and post it for all their friends to see? The only reason is so show everyone themselves.

Why does anyone want to publicize the fact that they are Disneyworld right now, or they just sat down to eat at Olive Garden, or they just taught their dog to roll over? Or how about the friend who just changed her relationship status to happily-married-to-the-most-wonderful-guy-ever and posts that she just ran a marathon, baked her grandma chocolate chip cookies, rescued a cat from a tree, and spent time with her perfect children.

When people share information, they have a motive. They want to communicate something and elicit some sort of response from those with whom they communicate. When you look at the vast number of posts, status updates, and photos, you ask, "What is this person trying to communicate to me?" If we look at posts and honestly ask ourselves that question, you can more often than not come to one answer -"I want you to know that I am important, that I am doing something interesting, and I matter!" The collective masses are jumping up and down yelling "look at me, look at me!"

A recent study on Facebook use identified two major reasons why humans find it to be so amazing. First, they are entertained. This is not surprising. We are an entertain-me society and have been for a while. But the second reason why Facebook is so alluring delves into realms that movies and television can not reach. Users are socially compensated. They gain recognition and are allowed to build and maintain a social status. This is major draw, especially for such a narcissistic, self-love oriented society.

The study says, "individuals gain gratification when they are recognized; supported, or their
relationships with others are being admitted and maintained." They go on to state that is part of a person's "mood maintenance." It's a form of online group-therapy where we go around the room (or screen in this case), stand and say, "Hi, my name is . . . and here is what I did today and what I plan to do tomorrow and what I think about this and that." The user feels satisfied, recognized, and more important than before.

The new status symbols are a great number of comments and likes, and a friend who doesn't like your latest quip or photo must be shunning you. That's life in Facebook. It allows us to promote self and soothe the ego.

The problem? You are not the center of the universe. You are not part of the center of the universe. You are nowhere near the center of the universe. What we are doing is continuning to sheild ourselves from reality. We are the masters of our domain, our image, and our worlds. Yet it is all grasping at the wind. If there is a definitive point to this blog entry, I suppose it is this: don't waste your life on yourself! God created you to glorify Him! And you know what the amazing thing is? He is most glorified when you get your greatest satisfaction in Him; and more specificially in Him through Jesus Christ. God made the two to go hand in hand. His glory and your satisfaction.

Does that mean you need to get off Facebook? Maybe for some. But maybe how you use Facebook would change if your greatest satisfaction came from Him and not from the acceptance you get through self promotion.

This is really only the tip of the iceburg for this subject, but my 21st Century attention span has passed. I must now wrap this up and post it on Facebook~!

Thursday, July 15, 2010

The Truth About Tithing

By S. Michael Durham

The word tithe means nothing more than ten. A tithe is ten percent of something. To tithe one’s income is to give ten percent of his or her income to the local church. I would say most of us have been taught that tithing is God’s commandment for us today and His method of supporting the work of His kingdom. But that is not true. Tithing is not a part of the New Covenant. It was a part of the Old Covenant, which was for Israel prior to Jesus’ death.

Before I give you God’s method and command for New Covenant giving, I must debunk the lie about tithing. The truth is that tithing was not an offering but a tax, and the tax was not one but several. The Law of Moses required three different tithes for the Jewish farmer and one for the Levite. The average Jewish family did not pay ten percent of their yearly agricultural increase; they paid twenty-three and a third percent in tithes. If you added the other taxes that were imposed they paid around twenty-five percent. You can read about these three tithes in Numbers 18:21, Deuteronomy 14:22-26, 28-29, and Leviticus 27:30. Therefore, if you believe tithing is binding upon the New Testament Christian, then you are in serious trouble if you have only given ten percent. You’ve violated the very law you’re wishing to uphold.

Interestingly, the tithes were only binding upon the farmer. Anyone who did not grow a garden, tend a farm or raise livestock was not required to pay tithes. The reason is tithes were produce grown from the land. The tithes were to be paid in food. Also, the poor were exempt from paying the imposed food tax.

Often, those who defend the tithe do so by arguing that the tithe predated the Law of Moses. But that’s not true. Abraham did pay tithes to Melchizedek, but the tithes were not from his own possessions but the returned booty of Sodom and Gomorrah. Jacob’s promise to tithe was nothing more than legalistic bargaining with God. God has already promised to bless Jacob and return him to his homeland. But Jacob would not have grace and vowed in unbelief trying to earn the blessing that God freely promised.

Another argument for tithing is that Jesus commanded it. But here again, that is not exactly the truth. The only two times Jesus mentioned the tithe was to rebuke the sinful pride of the Pharisees who in their minute law-keeping violated the spirit of the law.

If tithing is obligatory under the New Covenant, it is incredible the Apostles never addressed it one time. If tithing was commanded of the Christian believer, why didn’t the Apostles mention it when they were discussing what laws of Moses the Gentiles were expected to observe? In Acts 15:28-29 the only laws the Gentiles were ordered to keep was to abstain from meat offered to idols, eating blood or anything strangled, and sexual immorality. Tithing was not required and that is why there is no mention of it.

If tithing is not obligatory of today’s Christian, how then is God’s redemptive enterprise financed? In another blog, next week, we will share God’s system for giving in the New Covenant.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Jesus, RTM and Logos

By S. Michael Durham

We are greatly excited about our new logo for RTM. After weeks of our patient graphic designer, Jesse Grisham, submitting one idea after another only to have us say no, he finally created the look we were after. First, we wanted a look that was not dated. A very modern design is appropriate for RTM since it is to the present generation we are called. We do not want to try to revive a Puritan or Victorian age and appeal to a culture that has long ceased to exist.

Second, we wanted a logo that would be very simple. A complex logo may be clever, but often derails the objective of the ministry or company it represents. We desired a clean and simple look that can be easily recognized and reproduced in different venues. Also, while the cross is the most recognizable symbol of Christianity, almost every ministry uses it as their symbol. RTM wanted something different that would cause us to stand out in the maze of Christian logos.

The truth of the matter is that logos do not determine the value or worth of the ministry it represents. It is the ministry that will define the logo. Logos do not give meaning to ministries, but hopefully in time, the ministry of RTM will give meaning to our logo.

Lastly, and most importantly, our logo does say something about who we are. The RTM logo resides in what first looks like a hexagon. But if you look a little deeper, it has a 3-D effect and you can see a cube. It is subtle, but real. What a perfect way to convey our message. The Bible says that Jesus Christ is our cornerstone upon which all believers are built. He is the real truth that our lives are to rest upon.

In the days of Christ and past, the cornerstone was the most important stone in the construction process. It was a perfectly hewn square that would determine a right angle for the walls. All other stones would be set in reference to the cornerstone. It determined the position for the entire building.

The apostles were very aware of the symbolism of the cornerstone in relationship to Jesus. Paul writes, “having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone” (Ephesians 2:20). Peter reminds us that it was Isaiah who first called the Messiah the cornerstone, “Therefore it is also contained in the Scripture, ‘Behold, I lay in Zion A chief cornerstone, elect, precious, And he who believes on Him will by no means be put to shame’” (1 Peter 2:6).

The ministry of Real Truth Matters is, we pray, built upon the Lord Jesus Christ. He is our gospel and the foundation upon Whom we stand.

My hope is built on nothing less
Than Jesus’ blood and righteousness;
I dare not trust the sweetest frame,
But wholly lean on Jesus’ name.

On Christ, the solid Rock, I stand;
All other ground is sinking sand,
All other ground is sinking sand.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Can Rewards Be A Proper Motivation?

By S. Michael Durham

The question is a good question to ask in light of the Bible’s insistent and oft repeated command that we are to be motivated by a love for God. The answer is found in the pages of the Bible.

Jesus Used Rewards as a Motivation

Matthew 5:11-12 Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake. 12 Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you

The Apostles Used Rewards as a Motivation

2 John 1:8 Look to yourselves, that we do not lose those things we worked for, but that we may receive a full reward.

Not only are rewards the design of God, but rewards are divine in nature. It is in God’s nature to reward. God loves to reward His servants. The rewards are an evidence of His giving and gracious nature.

It is also man’s nature to be rewarded. It is in our nature to be motivated by rewards. The Lord made us to need incentives in order to perform well. He created us to desire pleasure. This is quite obvious in that He made man and put him in a paradise of pleasure. Heaven is a place of pleasure. The ultimate pleasure is God Himself, “. . . In Your presence [is] fullness of joy; At Your right hand [are] pleasures forevermore” (Psalms 16:11).

Another intrinsic incentive is the desire for gain. We are made to want. The desire to gain is not evil. The problem is what we desire and to what intensity we desire. God is to be desired so that we can say as the Apostle Paul said, “that I may gain Christ.”

The fear of loss is also a strong motivation. Psychologists believe that the fear of loss is a stronger motivation than the desire for gain. Finally, the desire for power is innate in God’s creation of humanity. We have this built-in desire for power, otherwise the desire to rule with Christ would be meaningless.

All of these internal motives found in the heart of men were created by God. Temptation is aimed at using these motives of human nature in a perverted way. The sin is not having the motives, but how we use them. Jesus did not have a sin nature and yet Satan appealed to these motives in temptation. Why did Satan use these desires if they did not exist in our Lord? If these are evil motives and Christ did not have them, then the temptation of Christ was useless? These motivations were present in Christ because they are natural to our humanity given to us by the Lord.

So, the motivation for rewards is a proper motivation—it is in fact a godly motivation. The Bible does not say that one motive, the love of God, is the only motive, but is the highest motive. If you should refuse to serve the Lord unless He rewarded you, then sin would be involved. Love is not out of the equation, nor does love remove other proper motivations.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

A Suffering God

By S. Michael Durham

“In all their affliction He was afflicted” (Isaiah 63:9).

What great comfort to be had from this brief word! It is incredible, to say the least, that the Lord God should be so in tune with me that every moment of pain, every instance of suffering, and every case of anguish I endure, He endures. We have more than a sympathetic deity; we have an empathetic God who truly feels our pain.

In the case of this brief text from Isaiah, the affliction of Israel was God-induced. It was the Lord’s just response to the nation’s rebellion. Yet, the affliction He inflicted upon them was also the affliction He suffered. Jeremiah said as much when he wrote, “For He does not afflict willingly, Nor grieve the children of men” (Lamentations 3:33). In other words, He takes no pleasure in bringing suffering into our lives. Although it is necessary God must do so, He takes no joy in it. His own soul is afflicted and grieved.

Remember what the Lord Jesus said to Saul of Tarsus on the Damascus Road? “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?” (Acts 9:4). Every lash of Saul’s whip, each shackle placed upon a Christian’s wrists and ankles, and each stone crushing Stephen’s body was a lash, shackle and stone upon the heart of Christ. He felt it all; He experienced it. And, my friend, He experiences your every disappointment and heartache brought upon you by both external and internal forces. Not one pain you endure He escapes. Unbelievable as it may sound, every affliction including sin’s consequences finds way to the heart of God.

Can you hurt and God not suffer? Not at all. Can you be in a rainstorm and not feel wet? Only if you are dead. The Lord is neither dead nor separated from you that He cannot go through your affliction. You never need to ask Him if He realizes what you have to endure. You should hold your tongue when tempted to rail upon Him as if He is unfeeling. In all of your affliction He is afflicted.