Monday, April 20, 2015

 

Paul’s Catalyst For Pastoral Consistency



And when they had come to him, he said to them, ‘You yourselves know, from the first day that I set foot in Asia, how I was with you the whole time, serving the Lord with all humility and with tears and with trials which came upon me through the plots of the Jews;’” (Acts 20:18–19)

One of the many facets of Paul’s ministry which has often challenged me in my own ministry is that of his ministerial consistency. He didn’t blow hot and cold, neither was he erratically up and down, nor off and then on again. Instead, Paul was the model of consistency regardless of where he was or who he was with at the time. His message always remained the same. In one of my favorite pastoral passages in the New Testament, Acts 20:17-38, we get a glimpse of Paul’s pastoral consistency. 

There are many reasons for Paul’s even-keel approach to ministry, but in verse 19, in the first clause, we learn one of the primary reasons Paul was the model of such consistency. For Paul reminds the Ephesian elders that while he was with them for those 3 years of ministry, he was actively and consistently “serving the Lord”. There is much to chew on in just that one sententious statement.

The motivation for Paul’s consistent ministry, in large measure, stems from the fact that he was consigned to serve. Paul wasn’t just a servant, but rather he was a servant of God! His consistency is a direct result of the object of his service — in this case, notably God. It highlights a very important, but not often thought about truth: True service for God is first vertical before it is ever horizontal. It follows the same pattern and sequence that we find in the two greatest commandments as articulated by the Lord Himself (Matthew 22: 36-40): Firstly, we are to demonstrate a comprehensive love for the Lord, which is most certainly of a vertical nature; and then, secondly, we are to love our neighbor as ourselves. Even in this, the horizontal aspect of loving our neighbor as ourselves, takes its direct cue and direction from the vertical aspects of having a circumscribing love for God. Remove the vertical prerequisite here and the horizontal is secularized, leading to a love that it is at best elliptical, serving as a very poor facsimile of the love intended in the verse. 

Where Christian service is concerned, the same basic thought applies — our horizontal service for the Lord is in direct proportion to our vertical mandate of “serving the Lord in all humility”. If the shepherd’s motivation to serve is mired in horizontal concerns, then his ministerial consistency will take a knock, because the object of such service is mere humanity, which is capricious. 

So what is the big deal anyway? Why make so much of the issue here? What does it matter in the long run? The answer is given most pointedly by Paul to the Galatians, when he exhorted them in Galatians 1: 10: For am I now seeking the favor of men, or of God? Or am I striving to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a bond-servant of Christ.” The issue is all important for it determines whether or not I am going to please God, or man. If the priority of one’s service is reduced to the human realm, then they should know that fallen humanity is fickle and feckless, and, that out of necessity, one’s man-centered service will at best reflect the human object served. The servant will have to constantly change gears, shift focus, adopt new perspectives, and trim the message in order to satisfy the ever-changing cravings of human whimsy. After all, the customer is always right — right? It results in looking more like a politician trying to please his constituency than a minister serving the Most High God. 

On the other hand, if God is the object of my service, I know that He is ever faithful, perfectly and absolutely reliable within Himself. A God-centered, God-pleasing ministry will of divine necessity reflect the nature of the High and Holy One being served. A God-centered service is non-negotiable and an indispensable precursor to a biblically consistent ministry, like that of the Apostle Paul’s. 

Does this then mean I don’t serve man? On the contrary, the point here is one of priority, motivation and sequence. It boils down to the catalyst for serving those in the flock God gives. So I have to ask the question “Is my service to the flock motivated by God, or man?” “Is it a service that flows from heaven, or is it one driven solely by earthly concerns?” All this is the difference between serving those whom I shepherd with delight, or drudgery. Motivation is everything where my ministerial service concerned. 

A few years ago a young man excitedly told me he wished to pursue the ministry. I asked him why he wanted to pursue vocational ministry. To this, he enthusiastically replied, “Because I want help people.” I kindly looked at him and suggested, “If you want to help people then join an aid agency, or become social worker. But, if you want to serve God, and can do no other, then pursue the ministry.” While my reply surprised him, it was not meant to discourage him so much as to make him think about the real motivation for shepherding the flock of God. While a love for humanity is commendable, a love for God is essential, and will necessarily lead to the former. 

In the end, every Christian needs to ask the penetrating question “Is my service for God heaven driven, or earth bound?” The answer to this will directly determine whether, like Paul, we are consistent or not.

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Wednesday, June 18, 2014

 

Up In Smoke: Exposing the Smog of Pro-Pot Logic Part 2




By Pastor Mark Christopher

It should come as no surprise that there are those who claim that Jesus healed with marijuana. Those who assert this, maintain Jesus healed with oil made from cannabis extract. They further contend Jesus burned incense made from a similar extract. 

So what verifiable proof do proponents of pot-theology have for making such outlandish claims? None. It is pure, unbridled speculation blended with a copious measure of wishful thinking that drives this dagga dogma. Even if there was some validity to the claim, it is still an astonishingly long leap from anointing someone with oil to promoting smoking a joint. 

One can laugh, but given the mass appeal of all things hemp, Christians need to be able to biblically answer whether or not Scripture endorses the recreational uses of dagga. After all, there are professing believers who think that Genesis 1:29’s appeal for humanity to eat all seed-bearing plants is somehow tantamount to a green light for lighting up a joint — Never mind that this context is pre-fall and pre-curse (Rom. 8:18-23), and that eating, not smoking, is in view.

Regardless of whether or not the state sanctions the recreational use of marijuana, the Christian needs to consult the Bible first and foremost to honestly answer the questions related to dagga as a liberty issue. If the SA government should ever legalize the drug, does that mean it is permissible, under the guise of a liberty issue, to imbibe in moderation? 

In order to answer this, there are host of questions that must be asked and transparently answered before a categorical answer can be given: 

1. What is the motivation for smoking dagga? Scripture is quite clear on what the ultimate goal of life is about — to glorify God (1 Cor. 10:31). So can one light up a joint for the glory of God? Well, unlike the person who has the occasional drink, the motivation for smoking dagga is to get wasted. Even those who smoke occasionally do so to get stoned and feel the buzz. The motivation is to escape reality through momentary psychological and physical euphoria. This hardly agrees with the biblical mandate to find one’s joy, peace, and love by walking in the Spirit of God (Gal. 5:16, 22-23).

Given that today’s THC in a joint is at much higher concentrations than a few years ago, it only takes about four puffs of a joint (7mg. of THC) to reach research-tested levels of intoxication. So the notion that one can exercise their liberty and enjoy a joint in moderation is quite frankly a pipe dream.

2. Will smoking marijuana promote the Ephesians 5:18 command to avoid being controlled by any external influence beyond the Spirit of God? When one is in Christ, their life is to be one of being Spirit controlled, Spirit driven, and Spirit submitted. Since the Spirit of God inspired the Word of God, whatever else a Spirit-filled life is, it will be in keeping with the very word the Spirit inspired. All throughout the Bible drunkenness and intoxication is divinely condemned.  In final analysis, to be Spirit filled means one walks in the Spirit displaying some measure of fruit with its whole basket of ripened virtues. On this basis, Paul declared (1 Cor. 6:12c), "... I will not be mastered by anything."

3.  Are mind-altering drugs associated with godliness or ungodliness? In Galatians 5:20 one of the deeds of the flesh mentioned is “sorcery”, which according the Greek text speaks of witchcraft that is coupled with mind-altering substances of whatever kind. The Greek word for “sorcery” is pharmakia which addresses pagan religious magic practices that were aided by intoxicants in various magical potions or mutis. These concoctions were thought to put one into contact with the spirit realm. Interestingly, the book of Revelation uses the related terms several times (Rev. 9:21; 18:23; 21:8; 22:15), indicating the twin evils of the occult and getting loaded will increase prior to the return of Christ.

In the Talmud, the Jewish commentary on the Old Testament, the commentary on Numbers 22-25 on the story of Balaam and Balak explains that the Moabites used marijuana-laced pastries to seduce Jewish men into cubicles with young Moabite maidens. While the story is probably apocryphal, it nevertheless illustrates the point. 

So rather than tending toward godliness, intoxicating substances, like dagga, lead one to the threshold of the occult, even if that is not the intended goal. 

4. Will smoking dagga encourage the disciplined mind required for living out one’s faith? We have already established that the pot of today is much stronger than in previous generations. Yet, the New Testament promotes a sober mind. The exhortation in the epistles is to be “sober minded”: 
  
  In relation to one’s sin and conduct (1 Cor. 15:34).

·        In relation to end times and return of Christ ( 1Thess. 5:6, 8).

·        In relation to all things (2 Tim. 4:5).

·        In persecution and trials (1 Pet. 1:13; 4:7; 5:8).

The term itself, “be sober”, references a self-controlled thinking that approaches reality reasonably and biblically, rather than responding irrationally and erratically. 

Therefore, straight thinking and unclouded judgment are requirements for the Christian. If one is honest, the use of dagga is antithetical to the sobriety being a Christian demands.

5. Will it harm my body? Paul reminds the Corinthians that as blood-bought believers, the body is a temple (1 Cor. 6:19-20) housing the indwelling Holy Spirit. As such, the body is reserved for glorifying God, not for doing as one pleases. Temple maintenance is, therefore, necessary. Given both the negative short term and long term effects of marijuana, use of the drug violates the temple principle and destroys that which is meant to be a vessel for God’s glory. 

6. Is using dagga for medicinal purposes okay? The Bible does record instances where the use of drugs for medicinal purposes is condoned (Ezekiel 47:12; Rev. 22:2). The balm in Gilead (Jerm. 8:22; cf. 46:16; 51:8) was a drug used because of its healing properties. In 1 Timothy 5:23 Paul tells Timothy to take some wine for his stomach’s sake. Thus, when the motivation for using a drug is palliative (alleviating the ill effects) or curative, it does not pose the same ethical dilemma as recreational drug usage does. This does not imply care should not be exercised when legitimately using prescription drugs.

Finally, the Christian must ask himself/herself what the goal of the Christian life is. As stated in the previous article, we are called to be holy, not high. The child of God should strive by grace to imitate Christ, not conform to the drug-laden culture. The believer is to be characterized by the transforming grace of God rather than conforming to the spirit of the age. For in this is found the sum of being in the world, but not being of it!  


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Thursday, May 08, 2014

 

Up In Smoke: Exposing The Smog of Pro-Pot Logic

 By Pastor Mark Christopher

It has been said that the first casualty of war is the truth. I was reminded of this recently when I turned on the TV late one night, and caught a recent  episode of Special Assignment singing the laurels of legalizing that whacky weed, known in SA as “dagga”. True to form, the Special Assignment   report was anything but unbiased and objective as they confused the issue by co-mingling two different aspects of the debate — homogenizing medical marijuana with its recreational uses. In truth, while related, these are 2 separate ethical issues that Christians need to approach differently.

Ever since the US states of Colorado and Washington legalized the recreational use of dagga, there has been a full-court press by the world’s media and pro-pot advocates to push for legalization of the wizard weed for more than medicinal purposes. In part, the issue came to the fore here in SA when IFP MP Mario Oriano-Ambrosini, who has stage four lung cancer, told parliament he uses dagga oil for its palliative properties to help manage the ill-effects of his treatments. 

As the issue of legalizing dagga ramps up, one can already anticipate the truncated logic and blatant propaganda that will be trotted out in hubbly — bubbly fashion to portray legalization of dagga as a Peter-Pan panacea. We can expect the same old worn out arguments that have been in vogue since the 1960s, when the counter-culture took Timothy Leary’s advice to “turn on, tune in, and drop out.” Sadly, many who took Leary’s advice failed to ever surface back to reality.  

So what kind of smoke-screen logic will be presented endlessly as the pro-pot lobby marshals its forces, in effort to convince the public of the benefits of recreational dagga? What follows is just a sample of what is in store:

1. “Public opinion has shifted dramatically in favour of legalizing dagga”: But is this really a compelling reason to swing the gates wide open and legalize dagga? If public opinion overwhelmingly decides that laws related to reckless driving and speeding are “archaic” and “ineffective”, should lawmakers throw up their hands in defeat and concede to public sentiment?  

2. “The war on drugs has failed”: This famous dictum is normally the first salvo fired in the debate. But the premise is flawed because it assumes, without any empirical data, that legalization will not be attended with any negative consequences. By the same line of reasoning one could just as easily conclude, based on current crime stats in SA, that the war on car-jackings, rape, violent crime, and murder have all catastrophically failed. So why not channel money used to fight crime into more positive pursuits like social up-liftment? Since poverty supposedly causes crime, this would reduce criminal activity. Right? 

In the US, the pro-pot forces have been using this rationale to great effect. Yet, when one looks at the war on poverty that began with President Johnson’s “Great Society” 50 years ago, it has epically failed. After 50 years, 20 trillion dollars in welfare distributed, the poverty stats today are comparable to those at the beginning of poverty alleviation. It has amounted to a zero-sum game — if 20 trillion dollars spent is a zero-sum game. But I don’t hear any liberal-like voices declaring, “The war on poverty has failed.” Why not?

3. “Smoking dagga is no worse than smoking cigarettes or drinking coffee”: Such logic is stratospherically stupefying. Cannabis is well documented to promote numerous negative side effects — some short term, some lasting: memory impairment and cognitive function for starters as it induces speech impediments, dulls thinking, limits knowledge retention, affects problem-solving, and hampers complex motor skills — all of which is hardly the recipe to promote safe, responsible drivers, innovative thinking, or productive workers. In a small percentage of cases dagga produces psychotic responses like when 19 year old Levy Thamba, who was visiting friends in Colorado, ate a cookie laced with dagga. He went berserk and leapt off a balcony to his death. 

Dagga smoke has more cancer-causing toxins than cigarette smoke, damaging both brain and lung cells. Where is the anti-smoking lobby now? 

In short, let me ask you, would you rather board an airplane knowing that the pilot just smoked a cigarette and drank two cups of coffee, or that he just toked two refers? Which scenario would make you feel more comfortable as that plane barrels down the runway for take-off?

4. “People are going to smoke anyway”: In a fallen, sin-cursed world, people are going to do many things that are harmful to both themselves and those around them. This is precisely why we need government and law enforcement.  So do we really want to make this rationale the cornerstone for practical ethics and morality? 

5. “Prohibition on alcohol didn’t work, so we should legalize dagga for recreational purposes”: This argument fails to acknowledge the staggering effects fuelled by alcohol abuse, alcohol related crime, domestic violence, and deaths on the streets and highways. In effect, pro-pot logic tacitly endorses, even if unintentionally so, more destruction of lives, the further demise of the family, the negative fallout on children, and the economic impacts of all this. In pro-pot logic, two wrongs make it a right.

6. “Legalizing dagga will reduce social costs”: No doubt some crime-fighting related costs could be reduced. But this will be offset by expenses related to enforcing government regulations legalization will require. Then, when one calculates the price-tag placed on the social consequences of legal dagga — dagga related crime, drugged driving, welfare costs associated with familial breakdown, and the costs on state-sponsored rehab for the legion of new addicts — the tax revenues harvested from this new cash crop will hardly cover society’s THC induced coma. Can we really afford the unstated, unintended fallout from the recreational uses of this drug? 

While a case can be made for the therapeutic and industrial benefits of dagga, it must be acknowledged that the pro-pot forces use medicinal marijuana as a backdoor entrance to recreational legalization. It has become a THC Trojan horse for dishonest proponents of the weed. My home state of California legalized medicinal dagga in 1996. According to my many law-enforcement friends in that state, the laws surrounding the implementation of medical marijuana are so porous and poorly enforced that California has no need to legalize pot for recreational purposes. Californians already enjoy recreational use of dagga by default of medicinal marijuana.

When you add it all up, what pro-pot lobbyists advocate will only serve to extend use of the drug. But if one dares to confuse them with the facts, they will use the media to take pot-shots, ridiculing their opponents in a haze of disinformation. 

The sum of pro-pot logic amounts to placing a large, red juicy Washington State apple in a barrel of rotten apples hoping for the rottenness to be reversed. The sum of this equation is really quite predictable.

 As Christians, we must remember we are called to be holy not high! 

(Note: In my next submission I will specifically address the biblical response to pro-pot thinking.)

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Friday, December 06, 2013

 

Biblical Reflections On The Life and Death of Nelson Mandela



Pastor Mark Christopher

Like so many others in South Africa I awoke to the news of Nelson Mandela’s death. Understandably this is foremost on the hearts and minds of untold numbers around the world today, especially here in South Africa. Mr. Mandela’s death was not wholly unexpected. The 95 year old’s health had been declining over the last couple of years. Most recently he spent a number of months in the hospital in ICU under the watchful eyes of his medical caregivers, as he battled a severe case of pneumonia. 

Predictably, when I turned on my computer this-morning, I already had a couple of requests to respond to this world-grabbing headline. As a Christian I seek to try and make sense of Mr. Mandela’s death through the prism of God’s word. As a believer, while I sorrow with those who sorrow, I do not do so as one who has no hope. To this end, Mr. Mandela’s death provides the Christian with a number of opportunities: 

1. There is an opportunity to weep with those who weep and sorrow with those who sorrow. My heart and prayers do go out to Mr. Mandela’s family and to the nation of South Africa at large. May you sense the comfort and grace that only the God-of-all-comfort Himself can provide (2 Corinthians 1:4-11). 

2. As one reflects on the recent history of South Africa and the momentous transition that took place only 19 years ago, there is a wonderful opportunity to thank the Lord for using Mr. Mandela in the way in which He  did. When South Africa was on the threshold of a veritable blood bath and the precipice of civil war, Mr. Mandela served as an earthly peacemaker to bring needed calm and stability to what was a very tense situation. Instead of seeking revenge and vengefully ruling, he sought to build a bridge rather than erecting a barrier. Such a praiseworthy response is certainly worthy of our reflection, thanks, and gratitude! 

3. Much will be said in the next few days and weeks by the media and others regarding the life and death of Mr. Mandela. In this we should guard against the two primary extremes that will prevail: On the one hand there will be those who will lionize the man to the exclusion of God. In so doing they will venerate a life well lived beyond what is proper as they veer into what only can be described as idolatry and hero worship. The other extreme will be seen by those few who will use Mr. Mandela’s death to promote their brand of politics and ideology in contrast with Mr. Mandela’s Marxist-based views. One does not have to agree with another’s politics and worldview to mourn the loss of a life and extend comfort and compassion to those who feel that loss the most. Nor does one need to be a charter member of the Nelson Mandela Fan Club. In fact, the true test of one’s faith is evidenced when one can reach out in compassion in spite of any deep-seated ideological differences that may exist. It is the mind of Christ that should dominate our thinking as we weigh up the implications of an incarnational life (Philippines 2:3-11) as it applies to this situation.

4. When a dignitary of Mr. Mandela’s stature dies, it provides us with an opportunity as well as a reminder that ultimately God is sovereign in the affairs of this life. In Isaiah 6:1-9 when King Uzziah died after a 52 year reign, Isaiah was reminded of the glory, majesty, and holiness of the Lord he loved. Though Isaiah mourned the death of Uzziah, his focus was on the Living God of all grace and glory. As Isaiah would later record, “It is He who sits above the circle of the earth, and its inhabitants are like grasshoppers, Who stretches out the heavens like a curtain and spreads them out like a tent to dwell in. He it is that reduces rulers to nothing, who makes the judges of the earth meaningless. Scarcely have they planted, scarcely have they been sown, scarcely has their stock taken root in the earth, but He merely blows on them and they wither …” (Isaiah 40:22-24; cf. Daniel 4:34-35; 1 Timothy 6:15-16). In the end, regardless of the good any earthly leader may do, it is the Lord who turns the King’s heart like channels of water (Proverbs 21:1).  May we not lose sight of this exalted perspective. 

5. As with everything else in life, the death of Mr. Mandela should be viewed from a cross-centered understanding. In relation to this, there is a tremendous opportunity for Christians to share the hope of the ages, Jesus Christ and Him crucified and risen as He said. As the world is confronted once again with the fragility and brevity of earthly life an occasion is presented to share the life-giving message of the cross in the backdrop of an empty tomb! This is a time to point the hopeless and inconsolable toward heaven above and to remind them of what C.S. Lewis so well said, “Aim at heaven and you will get earth thrown in[Matthew 6:33]. Aim at earth and you will get neither.” 

6. Finally, the death of Mr. Mandela is another opportunity to remind ourselves as Christians of the vapour of this earthly life (James 4:14). This life will soon be past, even if we, like Mr. Mandela, should live to the ripe old age of 95. In light of eternity what is that? This life is meant to be a dress rehearsal for the life to come. Beyond this life there are no second chances, as the Rich man of Luke 16 testifies. Only what we do for Christ will last and reflect eternal worth and value. As such, there is another providential chance ceded to us to make the changes necessary and realign our priorities with those of a Christ-centered life, so that we can someday we can hear those eternally gratifying words, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant!” 

As we reflect upon the life and death of Mr. Mandela from the Christian horizon, the words of John Donne come to mind:

“No man is an island, entire of itself. Every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main. If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friends or of thine own were. Any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind. And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls. It tolls for thee.”

  

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