Welcome to Holy Week, American style. Just as millions of Christians are preparing to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus, the media is once again out to debunk historical Christianity.
Just last weekend I was in an airport bookstore and saw the new book counter filled with numerous editions of The Da Vinci Code. Then I picked up the New York Times, and there I was greeted with the headline on the front page that read, "In Ancient Document, Judas, Minus the Betrayal."
Whenever I see one of those ads where you get eight CDs for a penny, and then you have to pay another panny for the next CD, I immediately call up and demand to know why the last one is so expensive. Why does it cost eight times as much as the others?
"Pushing the Goal, Missing the Process" 2 Samuel 22:31
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Chimney Mountain! I had to get to the top of it. Why? Because it was there! Of course, I had to drag my young family into this obsession with me. One vacation day, I made that "Daddy's Great Adventure for the Day." Now it wasn't a steep hike; a trail through the woods that gradually took you to the top of the mountain. As we walked along, my wife and the kids kept noticing little things - like chipmunks and squirrels and flowers and interesting rocks. Of course, whenever we noticed one of those little things, we had to stop; which was not my favorite thing to do. I had a goal, folks, and chipmunks and interesting rocks didn't help me get to it. At one point, they stopped us just to listen to the wind blowing through the tall pine trees. That's nice, you know, but not if you wanted to see the top of Chimney Mountain before sunset. Finally, my frustration made it to my mouth, "Honey, the reason for this hike is to get to the top. Don't you understand?" To which she said so! mething like this: "Oh, I thought we came to enjoy the hike." Great! I was interested in the result; she was interested in the process!
I'm Ron Hutchcraft and I want to have A Word With You today about "Pushing the Goal, Missing the Process."
Later, my wife and I were reflecting on our different perspectives about our Chimney Mountain expedition (and we did finally get to the top, by the way). My wife said, "I wonder if this was a little like God and us. We are more interested in getting the result we want, and He's more interested in the process."
Our word for today from the Word of God comes from 2 Samuel 22:31, "As for God, His way is perfect." I think when the Bible talks about God's way, it isn't just talking about where we end up. It's talking about the road He takes us on; the methods He uses. OK, I'll have to agree with my wife - the process. And His process is always perfect, but certainly not predictable.
In Isaiah 55:8-9 it says, and God is speaking here, "'For My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways My ways,' declares the Lord. 'As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts higher than your thoughts.'" God's ways, God's means of getting us to the answer are unpredictable: "beyond finding out" in the words of Romans 11.
Which brings us to whatever mountain you're working on right now. If you're like me, you're focused on the result you need: the money, the life partner, the healing, the place to live, the job, the change, the answer! You're in a hurry to get to the top of the mountain. But God, the God whose ways are perfect, is asking you to slow down and enjoy the hike, let the process be beautiful, not just the destination.
The easy part for God is giving you your answer; showing you the top of the mountain. The hard part for God is you - getting you to be the man or woman He redeemed you to be. And He's using this climb to develop faith in you, or deeper personal holiness, or humility, or to move you from trusting in yourself to totally trusting in Him. He wants you to become a better you on the way to the answer that you want so much.
I'm by nature a goal-oriented person. Just ask my fellow hikers. But in recent years, God's teaching me an exciting new way to pray: "Lord, I ask You for this answer we need, but please do it in Your time and in the way that will bring You the most glory and us the most growth." Surrender to your Lord is more than just, "God, give us what You think is best." It's a total surrender to whatever timetable He wants, whatever process He wants to use, and whatever He wants to make you go through on your climb up the mountain.
We want to scale the mountain. God wants to change the mountain climber, and He's using the trail to show you what you need to be. You are His goal. So, enjoy the process.
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"For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; And they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables (2 Timothy 4:3)."
The May issue of National Geographic magazine hasn’t even hit the news stands, but it has already triggered widespread debate. The feature article in next month's issue describes a 1,700 year old manuscript that claims to tell the story of Christ's last days from the point-of-view of history's most notorious traitor. This so-called "Gospel of Judas" conflicts greatly with the Biblical account and is only one of several noncanonical gospels, often called the "Gnostic Gospels". Scholars widely agree that none of these texts contain historically reliable information about the life of Jesus and that all were likely written in the second century or later. However they do help us learn more about false teachings that early church leaders like the Apostle Paul preached against in book of Colossians and elsewhere.
Gnosticism is a system of false teachings that existed during the early centuries of Christianity. Its name came from the Greek word for knowledge, gnosis. The Gnostics believed that knowledge was the way to salvation. For this reason, Gnosticism was condemned as false and heretical by several writers of the New Testament. The Gnostics consisted of diverse groups, from high-minded ascetics to licentious charlatans.
Our knowledge of Gnosticism comes from several sources. First, there are the Gnostic texts, which are known as the New Testament Apocrypha. These texts are not recognized as Scripture because they contain teachings which differ from those in the Bible. Then, there are the refutations of the Gnostics by the early church fathers. Some of the more important ones are Irenaeus, Against Heresies; Hippolytus, Refutations of All Heresies; Epiphanius, Panarion; and Tertullian, Against Marcion.
A third source on Gnosticism is the New Testament itself. Many Gnostic teachings were condemned by the writers of the New Testament. Paul emphasized a wisdom and knowledge that comes from God and does not concern itself with idle speculations, fables, and moral laxity (Colossians 2:8-23; 1 Timothy 1:4; 2 Timothy 2:16-19; Titus 1:10-16). John, both in his gospel and in the epistles, countered heretical teaching which, in a broad sense, can be considered Gnostic.
A large number of spurious documents emerged during the centuries following the ministries of the Apostles and were universally rejected by the early church. Copies of a group of these were found at Nag Hammadi in Egypt dating from the 3rd and 4th centuries. These include The Gospel of Thomas, The Gospel of Philip, The Gospel of Mary, The Gospel of Truth, and about four dozen others.
They are not "gospels" at all, but rather speculative opinions, totally devoid of any verifiable facts. Furthermore, they were written under false pseudonyms in an attempt to gain legitimacy. The early church rejected any documents under pseudonyms as being inconsistent with the concept of God-breathed inspiration. Lastly, they were all written centuries after the Gospel period - in contrast to the contemporaneous eyewitness accounts in the New Testament.
Ethical behavior among the Gnostics varied considerably. Some sought to separate themselves from all evil matter in order to avoid contamination. Paul may be opposing such a view in 1 Timothy 4:1-5. For other Gnostics, ethical life took the form of libertinism. For them, knowledge meant freedom to participate in all sorts of indulgences. Many reasoned that since they had received divine knowledge and were truly informed as to their divine nature, it didn’t matter how they lived. Such an attitude is a misunderstanding of the Gospel. Paul, on a number of occasions, reminded his readers that they were saved from sin to holiness. They were not to have an attitude of indifference toward the law. They had died to sin in their baptism into Christ (Romans 6:1-11) and so were to walk “in newness of life.” John reminded the Christians that once they had been saved they were not to continue living in sin (1 John 3:4-10).
These Gnostic teachings also had a disruptive effect on fellowship in the church. Those who were "enlightened" thought of themselves as being superior to those who did not have such knowledge. Divisions arose between the spiritual and the fleshly. This attitude of superiority is severely condemned in the New Testament. Christians are “one body” (1 Corinthians 12) who should love one another (1 Corinthians 13; 1 John). Spiritual gifts are for the Christian community rather than individual use; they should promote humility rather than pride (1 Corinthians 12-14; Ephesians 4:11-16).
"Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ (Colossians 2:8)."
CHINA (Compass Direct) A major Chinese house-church leader was scheduled for a potentially decisive court hearing April 6th, after more than 16 months in police custody. Zhang Rongliang was arrested by Henan police without charges on December 1, 2004. Only months later was he charged with "attaining a passport through cheating" and with "illegal border crossing." Chinese authorities often deny passports to well-known house-church leaders. Health problems such as diabetes and high blood pressure have grown worse while he has been in custody. Previously, Zhang had been detained five times and spent a total of 12 years in prison for his religious activities. "This will be his third hearing," said a co-worker who asked to remain anonymous. "This time I hope the court can make an independent decision based on truth and justice." Although VOM has no further news of the outcome of this trial, we are concerned for Zhang's welfare.
Pray God will soften the hearts of the authorities to release this innocent man with serious health problems. Pray Zhang's faith will continue to inspire the millions of members of the house churches he led. Pray those who attend the trial will seek the One who has given Zhang so much peace in the midst of suffering.
EGYPT (Compass Direct) Following a three-month search, an Egyptian Christian has discovered his missing sister living with a Muslim family near her home town and now professing faith in Islam. Spurred by a brief telephone message from Theresa Ghattass Kamal saying she was being held against her will and forced to convert to Islam, Sa'eed Ghattass Kamal recently tracked his sister. He found her in the Bedouin desert area of El-Ga'ar, near his home in Wadi El-Natroun, 50 miles northwest of Cairo. Flanked by her suspected captors and with only her eyes showing through her veil, Theresa Kamal sat with her brother for 90 minutes but only spoke once. "I have converted to Islam. I have found the right path," she reportedly said in a trembling voice.
Pray Jesus will draw near to Theresa Kamal, giving her His comfort and the strength to endure. Pray God will show Himself powerful on her behalf, allowing her to get away. Pray Jesus will appear to her captors through powerful dreams and visions.
NEPAL (ASSIST News Service) Nepali evangelist Kumar was making plans to travel from his village to the capital city of Katmandu for a worship conference in early March, when three Mao insurgents paid him a visit. They approached Kumar, and demanded a 5,000 rupee "donation," (about $70 U.S.) to support their cause. When Kumar couldn't pay, they kidnapped him. They told Kumar he should stop following the foreign religion of Christianity and join them. They also said whatever money he was getting to do gospel work, he must give to them instead. Although he was afraid, Kumar insisted he must continue doing the work of the gospel. Hearing this, the rebels took Kumar and forced him to work as their porter, carrying weapons. Kumar followed the Maoists for 15 days against his will, on their military missions, carrying rifles and pressure-cooker bombs. He had little to eat and had to watch helplessly while the Maoists threatened other villagers like himself to get food and money to support their army. Eventually, Kumar was able to borrow money to give to the Maoists so they would let him go. He was released on March 15th. Kumar returned to his wife and five young children. Kumar's experience is not an unusual one. In the past 10 years of the ongoing Nepalese civil war, the Maoist guerrilla-based insurgency, who claims to be fighting for a democratic new Nepal, has often used force and scare tactics to elicit support. For gospel workers like Kumar, pressure comes from both the Mao rebels and the Royal Nepal Army police who are loyal to the king. Any kind of gathering is looked upon with suspicion by the police, ever on the look-out for guerrillas. Mao rebels see every able-bodied man as a potential recruit or supporter of their cause. Christians are often caught in the middle.
Pray God will give Nepali Christians His peace that comes from forgiving their enemies. Pray Jesus will grow His Body of believers in spite of opposition and danger. Pray the true Lord of Nepal will bring peace to this troubled land.
NIGERIA (Compass Direct) "If you are forcing me to marry a man who is a Muslim simply because of my decision to become a Christian, then I will rather have you kill me than accept to marry this man." These were the bitter words of Jamila Noma, now 16, to her father, Malam Noma, in an Islamic court two years ago in Jimeri village, Bauchi state of Northern Nigeria. The girl had been arrested by police and brought before an Islamic court on the orders of her father when she became a Christian and rejected his decision to marry her off to a Muslim man. These two years have left her in an uncertain situation. The court has not decided the case; she has been disowned by her father and has been forced out of the family home. Jamila is staying with her lawyer, Suleiman Wurno, who is trying legal means to stop her from being prosecuted. He also has enrolled her in vocational training to become a tailor.
Pray God will protect Jamila from harm and cause her case to be dismissed. Pray she will find employment as a tailor and the Lord will provide a Christian husband for her. Pray God will soften the heart of Jamila's father to accept his daughter and allow her to visit her family safely.
VIETNAM (Compass Direct) Less than a year after believers in Vietnam's central Quang Ngai province saw some of their dwellings destroyed, a mob burned down five homes of other Hre minority Christians in the legally recognized Evangelical Church of Vietnam (South). Church leaders believe local authorities either allowed or instigated the burning of the five homes owned by Hre Christians in Son Tinh Commune, Son Tay district of Quang Ngai province, on the morning of March 7th. In addition, two believers who had rebuilt area homes destroyed in July 2005 had their outbuildings for storing paddy rice burned on March 4th. One of the Christians, Dinh Van Heo, lost 55 sacks of rice and recently faced severe pressure to recant his faith.
Pray God will move in the hearts of the Quang Ngai authorities to enforce justice in this province. Pray the Christians' witness of love and forgiveness will lead many to Christ. Pray these acts of violence against the property of Christians will cause people to seek the Prince of Peace.