Monday, 23 March 2020

System Failure? Covid 19

Anyone who lives in the Western context lives in a system. This is the way governments work to have a nation be safe, productive and healthy.  Government parties wrestle over these very issues.  If there is a glitch in any one of these there is a general unease / unrest.  The Covid 19 Pandemic has the potential to hit all three of these in combination and as a 'pandemic' underlines, it's global.  To be more peaceful and calm need to ask ourselves, 'is the system failing?' 

Firstly, systems have rules.  Those who keep the system going can break the rules.  For example, in some cases, mortgage payments have been frozen.  That is an enormous rule change that means money may be lost by financial institutions.  Other rules have also been broken.  People are being locked down in their homes, social distancing making people safe from one another.  We are controlling the system!  Maybe the President / King / Prime minister is making the decisions, but you and I can control the system by bringing it to a halt.  The UK came to a halt last night, lockdown! Australia has not done this yet.  But as the system grinds to a halt it is people IN CONTROL of the system.

Much fear and anxiety is because many feel everything is out of control.  It isn't. 

But isn't Corona Virus out of control?  In some places who didn't control their system, yes.  But the vast majority are now grinding the system to a halt, something  Covid 19 cannot work with.  A system shutdown will have an effect on the economy, jobs, incomes etc but when the system starts up again, we are still in control.  I have things to lose in all this but money can't get sick!  Every time we practice social distancing, lockdown, basically doing as told at this time, we control the system and therefore halt Covid 19 in its tracks. 

The unemployed will get work.  The sick can recover.  Finance doesn't have mysterious forces controlling it.  Exhale, take some deep breaths (a distance from anyone else) and begin to envisage a world in recovery and the part you are playing by simply doing what's right.  You are IN CONTROL! 

Gary Ward

Monday, 26 November 2018

'Wood for the trees' 1 'Your heart is wrong?'

John 8:43  Why is my language not clear to you? Because you are unable to hear what I say.

If your calling is to speak out about certain things in the Church it is good to clarify some points.  Sometimes people can't see the wood for the trees.  When this happens people label and compartmentalise based on a broad assumption.  It happened to Jesus.  I've been on John 8 for a while now because it is remarkable how the Lord dealt with his detractors.  The Pharisees could only hear 'this man is insulting us' when actually He was telling them they are not actually saved and need to change their parenthood.  They missed what was being said because it was a higher priority to be seen to be a rock star for God than actually hearing truth.  Anything that came to challenge their rock star status among the people is therefore obviously error.

In my own calling and sending I have to challenge the church system.  There is a version of this going around that is against the system but cannot articulate why except for a few stories where the leaders did this or that.  They don't like the system because they have a few scars.  All that issues forth from this is 'anti' this or that.   I get lumped into this crowd by people who have not heard the biblical position that I come from.  It is the same one Jesus came from when confronting the man made version of God's truth... this I call 'the system.'

In every single case it is the church system I am stating is wrong, not the hearts of the people in it.  I am in no position to judge a persons motives.  If, however, they do things that show their hearts are focused on other things like 'rock star' status, money, church growth etc, then I am instructed to call this out to those whom the Lord has entrusted me.  So to be clear:  If you are in a man made church whose practices are born of history rather than the scriptures, you are simply going to the wrong church.  No matter how blessed you feel or how good the preaching / attendance / fiscal / worship is, if it's not the practice that Jesus instructed the Apostles to do, it is simply un-biblical.  Basically, good people are going to un-biblical churches.  And that's it! God does things in these churches because a Father has to apply more care to babies.  There's the first ouch!

If, however, you understand and see that your church practice is un-biblical then you want to stay in knowing it is un-biblical, you are wilfully ignoring God's will and purpose.  You don't need me or anyone to show that this is a heart problem.  The Pharisees' problem was that they assumed they were squarely in God's will and purpose and now some bearded miracle worker is tipping up the apple cart!  Jesus had reason to be like the other anti-system people who had a tough journey with leaders.  They tried to throw him off a cliff.  I've experienced social martyrdom and excommunication from a denomination but never been dragged to a cliff yet!  My experiences are a spring board for God setting me apart to articulate the problem.

Most cannot see the wood for the trees and label me in the angry / hurt / resentful / bitter / rebellious / box, completely missing the plea to be biblical.  It's not my problem.  Myself and others like me have a task:  pour the salt into the unproductive waters (2 Kings 2).  Those hearing can be healed and become biblically productive.  But many are opting for the easy road.  Many want to be part of the shiny church that offers much in width but not much depth. 

In short, my point is not that your heart is wrong, but your church probably is, biblically. 

Lets talk.

Gary Ward

Wednesday, 21 November 2018

Was Jesus always 'nice?'

When we think of the ways of our Lord Jesus we see outrageous love, mercy and grace.  These poured out from Jesus as he healed, forgave and demonstrated who he was before Israel.  Believers should be aspiring to these qualities, not by an act of theatre, but by the transformation of the core self as we submit, yield and abandon to Jesus, risen and glorified.   We are given an overview of our fruitfulness and hopefully we desire to have love, joy, peace, goodness, kindness, gentleness, patience, self control and faithfulness in wonderful abundance.  I'm sure we all admit we are a work in progress.

The gospels record Jesus as the perfect model of divine attributes but then he confronts a particular bunch of people.  These were the religious establishment of the time.  Jesus' tact changed and we see love mercy and grace expressed in an entirely different way.  The best example is John 8 when he is taken on by the Pharisees.  Jesus wipes the floor with them, delivering truth straight from the hip.  The motive behind this was love, grace and mercy but we should not miss the fact that he did not shy away from the hostility of the Pharisees. 

Today it is frowned upon to stand up for truth or even engage anyone in what appears to be an argument.  The overarching idea about Jesus is that He is a wet blanket, just being nice all the time.  He called them liars! To tell someone their father is the devil and they wanted to carry out their fathers desires is not nice!  But it is truth!  To engage anyone in the way Jesus confronted the Pharisees is considered lacking in grace or missing the 'Jesus mark' somehow. 

We must be careful that we are not in fear of being perceived lacking in grace or missing the mark just because we confront issues.  BUT we must also make sure our motive for confrontation is love, mercy and grace.  Often we confront out of poor motives and that is not good.  But to slam confrontation itself as un-christian or graceless is error.  Being like Jesus involves standing up for truth even when the society, culture or Pharisaical ministry fraternity don't like it.

The Pharisees were part of the corruption that misrepresented Gods word and therefore God.  When we come across this today we may be expected to flag things up.  This is being like Jesus.  The Pharisees didn't take too kindly to Jesus because he scrambled their own self importance, status and rank.  They valued their own profile as supposed 'men of God' in their community. Jesus' message did not prop up these self appointed popes and they plotted his murder because of it.

We don't see crucifixion in our societies but we do see social martyrdom where leaders with something to protect hate truth being issued forth.  They shut out and exclude those who want to walk in all of Jesus' ways.  They hate their words and actions and try to call them out on them like they did Jesus.  Any attempt to address these Pharisaical claims is branded 'graceless' or failing to be 'nice.'  We all want to be like Jesus unless it threatens our status among our peers.  'Truth' and 'nice' never really get on well in the arena of walking out God's truth.

Gary Ward

Saturday, 27 October 2018

The problem with The Message 'Bible'

The first thing that everyone must consider when approaching the Word of God is 'for what purpose am I using this translation?'  If the use is clearly to see what one individual thinks the Word of God says then you are OK with The Message and other terrible translations like it.  But anything else ranging from devotional readings or serious Bible study we need to use something that at least tries to have some dynamic equivalence.  When someone takes a scripture and says it in a nice, different or poetic way, we must make sure it is not losing what the passage was supposed to mean.  Worse case scenario is that believers take on board The Message and develop doctrine around this.  This is happening now.  Has this ever happened before?

Jesus slammed the Teachers of the Law because they had created the Traditions of the Elders. These were fence laws or oral law that had nothing to do with what God has said. The Scribes first did this.  They produced sub laws to make sure people didn't break the 613 actual Laws from God.  Then the Teachers of the Law came, around the time of Jesus, they made the scribes fence laws equivalent to God's Law.  So they taught that the laws made up by men were as authoritative as Gods 613.  Jesus was in all out war against this massacre of God's Word.  Who do we think we are to take the Holy Scripture of the New Testament and declare it valid and authoritative when it has been reworded?  Yet many church leaders are desensitised to this issue because church growth, public profile and personal status have become the goals and aims of 'church.'

Amos 8 speaks of our times. 

11 11 “The days are coming,” declares the Sovereign Lord,
    “when I will send a famine through the land—
not a famine of food or a thirst for water,
    but a famine of hearing the words of the Lord.
12 People will stagger from sea to sea
    and wander from north to east,
searching for the word of the Lord,
    but they will not find it.
In the same passage it speaks of the 'grain becoming less but the shekel high.'  Today less leaders care about the quality of the grain (word of God) and care about the money.  When the first coming of Jesus occurred, John the Baptist preached from the desert.  Now, as we anticipate the second coming of Jesus the true Word of God will also be preached from the desert.   You don't have to live in a literal desert to qualify, you just have to be preaching and teaching truth in the place what Amos describes, a place where the true Word of God is scarce. 

I know the author of the Message will receive a glorious reward for the things Jesus was able to issue forth through him.  I don't think Peterson was responsible for the way lazy church leaders allowed The Message to become a valid source of God's word.  But what has come from the misuse of this commentary, wrong doctrine and practices, is a mess. 

Gary Ward

Tuesday, 2 October 2018

The blind spot of every church leader

It was about 20 years ago the Lord started to stir me up about 'the church.'  At the time I was in an aspiring mega-church with possibly the poorest examples of leadership I've encountered.  Watching the egotistical pushing and shoving, and feeling drawn into it all,  led me to ask the Lord what is the actual purpose of this 'church' thing.  It seemed that only the favoured few were happy and not-so-coincidentally, they were the best tithers.  What is it that keeps people with seemingly good intent blind to what the scriptures teach, and unwilling to hear beyond everything that suits their purposes?

Once I had settled in my own heart that I wanted no part of the trappings associated with being a church leader, the Lord began showing me the truth about 'church' and 'Biblical leadership.'  Standing back from the church system gave me a chance to observe what was going on without being implicated by it.  It was also a chance to put space between myself and the things I had held valuable like status, profile and position among my fellow community of believers.  I can honestly say I didn't go looking for these things consciously. But when I became a person of regard among other believers and beyond our own church, it sure felt good!  It also felt wrong, and I saw that being significant and recognised in the church circles was addictive.  Some even think it is their calling from God to be a christian celebrity!  I thought this whole thing was about lifting Jesus up as we follow the Baptiser in radical humility before the Lord?  Don't I become less, lowly and intentionally bowed of heart before Jesus? 

Those around me still appear utterly blinded to any of this and have gone on to set themselves up as central figures in what they do.  The adoration, applause and attention of their sycophants just feathers the bed for this 'drug'.  It would be all well and good if the Bible underlines this as marks of successful Godly pursuit.  But it doesn't, it says quite the opposite about anyone God is issuing forth through.  Paul tells the Corinthians that his life is routinely battered and bruised for the sake of his sending.  I'm sure we are all united in placing Paul in the 'successful Godly pursuit' bracket.  Of course, not everyone has the addiction.  Many struggle with the inevitability of being raised up by others yet do not activate the solution to the problem.  The vast majority just accept their fame among others as 'going with the territory.'  I call this the 'King Thing,' the problem Paul slammed in the Corinthian church (4:8f).  God predicted this of Israel in Deut 17 and calls it idolatry in 1 Sam 8. 

We live in the Western culture where hierarchy is the way to lead.  But we must remember that the instructions given in the New Testament have little to do with western culture.   Our culture derived from Rome and this constitutes the blind spot of every church leader.  It doesn't seem to matter that we aspire to the 'winds of heaven' while employing the 'stuff of earth' to outwork its aims and objectives.  Whether we are basking in the regalia of the 'King Thing' or struggling with it, everyone has to disengage it.  The answer is to drag our hearts before the Lord and submit our crowns to Him, the only one who is worthy to wear a crown.  We also have to do what Jesus told the Apostles to do:  have a meal in a home.  This is a covenant sign, a rehearsal for the wedding feast of the Lamb.  It re-calibrates the assembled body as 'family,' brothers and sisters under one Father.  In this environment, no one can become the big cheese.  There's no CEO in a family.  There's no rank among children. 

Some have said to me over the years that I'm simply doing 'house church.'  It's as if we all have options and I opted for this.  I champion the case for Biblical church because it is ... Biblical!  But it would be just like the genius of the Lord to have us meet a certain way so that our wayward hearts would not be corrupted.  Attention, adoration and applause are sucker punches for church leaders.  Satan can't stop a believer who wants to lead but the evil one can fill your life with the idea that you are significant, important and 'God's secret weapon in our times.' Gullible and suggestible people will dive right into that nonsense, thus bolstering the myth that we 'should' be receiving the accolades.  People have made doctrines to support this abhorrent perversion of all that is right and true. 

The blind spot of every leader is tackling this problem.  Jars of Clay said it well in 'Unforgetful You:'

You never minded giving us the stars 
Then showing us how blind and unaware of You we are 
You painted me a picture and showed me how to see 
Though I just won't behold it 
Unless it pertains to me

Gary Ward

Friday, 28 September 2018

Voices in the wilderness...

You don't have to live in a desert to be a voice in the wilderness.  Today many believers are experiencing isolation, abandonment and social martyrdom in their towns and cities.  Their way of seeing Biblical truth seems to be less merged with fads, trends and the traditions passed on through history.  When they speak it is standing for biblical truth, walking it out faithfully and calibrating their church practice to the teachings of Christ and the pattern passed on by the Apostles.  When you determine to walk this way it can get very lonely, discouraging and often we eventually stop speaking out the truth.  After all, whose listening?  Many return to church projects they know are somehow amiss just to make sense of their faith.  I want to try to encourage you to continue to be a voice in the 'wilderness,' to walk and talk this faith filled life in the name of Jesus.

The Apostles applied Jesus teachings to their whole life and practices.  The lived in faith and repentance and also met with other believers according to the  'paradosis,' passed on patterns and traditions.  'Church,' for them, was meeting in homes around food and drink as a covenant sign.  They shared the scriptures and the Lord issued forth through graces that we call 'gifts' to build up and encourage one another.  When the Apostles died, the way believers met began to be more like any-old meeting where a spokesman stands up and everyone listens.  In the 4th century Emperor Constantine started a process of merging the meeting of believers with the state.  'Church' began to look like the Roman Empire with central meeting halls, professional clergy and compulsory attendance.  The church was squarely placed into the hands of Man.  That which facilitated the moving of the Spirit was now Man's enterprise.  But this is not the whole story. 

Ever since the meeting of believers was made into a systemic institution there were always those who sat outside of it, walking and talking as led by the Spirit and not by the state.  God always had his remnant who refused to recognise Rome. In Europe many groups were standing firm for Biblical truth and as Rome sent the Inquisitors, many were killed for standing outside the system and refusing to align with the Pope.  Hermits and monks, although problematic in their own practices, came up from non alignment with the system.  But any divergence from the Apostolic pattern for biblical ekklesia always found itself in a cul-de-sac where the enemy would manipulate and pervert. 

As history continued The Roman Catholic church became the major force on earth.  It was a political giant and entire countries were assimilated to its agenda.  It continued to send unholy auditors to infiltrate who they saw as heretics and burn them, sometimes in the homes they were hiding in.  Some willingly clamoured into burning bonfires rather than turn to the Pope.  So many groups existed to live led by the Spirit of God outside the system and Rome was infuriated.   Of course, we then had the Reformation and a clear distinction was made between Rome and the 'Protest-ants.'  With it came the idea that we have only two camps... Rome and Protestants.  But this is flawed thinking. 

If we discard labels and categories for a minute, we can explore what it actually is what made Rome into a systematised institution and eventually a killing machine.  The problem is when Man discards the biblical direction and tries to do it without the Lord.  So when Roman Catholics throw away the scriptures it is easy to see.   They will affirm that the Pope is Jesus' representative and he has final authority.  No need to scratch your head there, right!  What is new to our thinking perhaps is that many Protestants, when they discard biblical direction, they are also not to be aligned with.  How do Protestants violate the direction of God?  Surely to be separate from Rome is enough? 

When the Pope sits on the Throne in the Vatican he has substantial power.  This is the blatant refusal to bow his heart to the King of Kings, Jesus our Lord.  When we truly submit, yield and abandon to the Lord Jesus, He can rule and reign, His will and His purposes issuing forth in the earth.  Protestants may be vehemently against the Pope, Rome and the idolatry but many are still happy to create their own rule and reign on earth.  Even though this may be with only a few people, the desire to be over other believers is still there.  The whole point of Jesus risen and glorified is to be our sole King.  Believers are supposed to be His hands and feet, not another enterprise of man. 

Rome has one Pope, and as I've said before, Protestantism has millions of Popes!  When we consider the simple, home based ekklesia, meeting around food and drink as brothers and sisters, we can see how it would be more difficult to become 'Father!'  I can't see and assess a man's heart so I'm not sure anyone sets out to be over other believers in Protestantism, but as long as the structure of meeting together is 'special people doing special things in special places,' it will always lead to systematised institution.  While it may not be subduing governments and killing its opponents today, there is denominational-ism and social martyrdom for anyone refusing to take part in man made systems. 

So if you find yourself a voice in the wilderness, unable to associate with 'whats out there,' you are not alone.  You stand with the many who, by the grace of the Lord, stand outside of the systems and structures made by men.  Before we even get out of bed in the morning we are already standing against the world system that pressures us to assimilate, whether by sword or by the pain of loneliness, abandonment and accusations.  Like those who ran towards the flames of the inquisitors, embrace the life, or death, that you find yourself in.  It is much more significant, important and productive that you could ever imagine!

Gary Ward

Thursday, 26 July 2018

Jesus the Mercy Seat

When we explore Romans we will come across God presenting Jesus as the Hilasterion (3:25).  This word has been translated 'propitiation' or 'sacrifice of atonement.'  While these translations speak of the result of God presenting Jesus, it doesn't say what the word means.  Hilasterion means 'Mercy Seat.  The Mercy seat is what covered the Ark of the Covenant.  What can we observe about Jesus being presented as he Mercy Seat covering of the Ark of the Covenant?

The Ark of the Covenant was in the Holy of Holies in the Temple. Only the High Priest could go in with some very specific instructions from God.  Leviticus Ch 16 speaks of the procedure.  In short the High Priest transfers the sin of the nation (there are a few sin categories) into the animal and the animal is killed.  The blood from the resultant wound is thrown onto the Mercy Seat on the Ark of the Covenant.   This act brings about God's approval to forgive the sins.  Iv'e simplified this ritual because at every turn it is rich and loaded with meaning.  What is of my interest is to think INSIDE the box.

Inside the Ark of the covenant were three things.  One was the tablets with the ten commandments on it.  This is a story of lawbreaking by the nation (Exo 32).  Another artefact was Aarons rod that budded.  This was a story of rebellion by some who rose up against Moses leadership, in effect, against God's express will (Num Ch 16and 17).  The other item was Manna.  Manna fell when the Israelites had no food.  At one point the people complained and roused God's anger.  They wanted meat so God showered the camp with quail, so much that they had trouble collecting it all.  It was a picture of ungratefulness (Numbers 11).  So in the Ark was Lawbreaking, Rebellion and Ungratefulness.   All of these things were covered by the Mercy Seat of the Ark of the Covenant.

God presented Jesus as the Mercy Seat and as we will know from the Cross, Jesus had the sins of the world transferred to Him, just like the animals.  Then his wounds bled all over him as thorns tore his scalp, his scourged back bled down his legs and crucifixion wounds turned him into a dripping bloodbath.  So we have the sin transfer, the blood  and the covering all in Jesus on the cross.

This sacrifice covers our lawbreaking but also our ungratefulness and rebellion.  God presents Jesus as the Mercy Seat and in doing do not only covers the fact that we sin but also the wretchedness of our ungrateful rebellion.  All of this is known to God yet he took the initiative to fix the whole thing for us at infinite cost.  Simply:

God's got you covered!  Shalom!

Gary Ward