God Is Always Doing a “New Thing”

We need to be open to hear God’s voice and the direction He wants us to go in these present times


I think many Christians, most of them, look a bit skeptically at the charismatic element of the Church universal. We conjure up images of the prosperity Gospel and “holy rollers”. The New Testament, though, reads like a charismatic diary.

 The dispensationalists will say that God worked like that only for a time, only until the New Testament was “codified” into a cannon. Now we don’t need God to speak to people directly through prophetic words and such. We don’t need signs and wonders because we have the Bible now.

They might be right, but maybe not. God doesn’t fit into the boxes we prepare for Him.

I have come to view all the movements in the history of the Church as various times in which God emphasized specific things to His people for specific purposes. The move to get the Bible in print in plain language for the masses enabled worldwide, grassroots growth of the Gospel. The move to emphasize that salvation is by God’s grace that we receive through faith was necessary to counter error in the notion of how salvation works.

In my view, denominations formed around these movements as people put down tent stakes and tried to camp on those things God was emphasizing at particular times, but God is always doing a new thing.

Not that God changes, or that the truth changes. We change, and the flow of history changes. God is always working through it all to accomplish the ends that He has planned from the beginning.

I think we can never go wrong asking the question: What is God doing now? What does God intend for a time such as this? What is God saying in these times?

So, I am open to the possibility, which I think is a probability, that God is still “speaking” in these times through people to whom God is willing to entrust His voice. There are disparate voices, of course, even in the Church, but it’s always been like that.

I don’t believe God will say anything that contradicts what He has said in the past, but He might be saying things that contradict what we believed in the past. God might be calling us to new ways of doing things.

When God became flesh and lived among the people to whom He had intimately and directly revealed Himself, they didn’t recognize Him. The disciples on the road to Emmaus were amazed as Jesus opened the Scripture to them to reveal all the ways it spoke of Him. They didn’t see it until He opened it up to them.

In the same way, we need to have the humility to recognize that we might have wrong ideas about things. Maybe they aren’t “wrong”, but they just aren’t effective any longer in this time. The last thing that I want is to remain standing still when God is moving.

We need to be open to God showing us “new things” that we didn’t previously understand or appreciate. We have to consider the possibility that we might not recognize God when He is speaking today in the same way that God became flesh, came to His own people, and His own people didn’t recognize Him.

I say these things only as a preface to talk about an article, Continue reading “God Is Always Doing a “New Thing””

Inner Realities and Outer Reflections

Sun Thru the Leaves (2)Jesus looked past appearances everywhere he went. He ate with “tax collectors and sinners”; he rescued the prostitute being stoned; he answered people according to their thoughts, and not the questions that came from their lips. That inner focus was a common theme for his interactions with the Pharisees.

The Pharisees were religious leaders of the day. Though Rome governed the region, the Pharisees governed the everyday culture of the Jewish people. They were showy in their religious practice. It was a different culture than the culture we experience in the United States. Although the state was ruled by secular Rome, local cultural life was dominated by religious leaders, much like a modern day Syria or Egypt (until recently).

It was “fashionable” to be religious then, unlike modern life in the United States or most of Europe. People who were not sufficiently “religious” were ostracized and marginalized. Over many years, the Law passed down from Moses had been embellished with myriad intricate practices that people were expected to follow to show their adherence to the Jewish faith. Penalties for failing to follow the required religious practices were stiff. We would call it a very legalistic society today.

That was the context in which Jesus walked the earth, and He stood in sharp contrast to it. Jesus was most critical of the Jewish leaders. We do not see him criticizing the Roman leaders. In fact, he had little interaction with them. Jesus did not completely ignore the secular culture, as we see him interacting with the Roman centurion, and even praising him for his faith. Jesus did not focus on the outward reality; He was looked through the appearances at the inward reality.

The Old Testament is nothing, if it is not the story of God’s revelation of Himself to a particular people, the descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the descendants of David, the Jewish people of the day. It is no mistake that Jesus was born of the line of Abraham, and God became flesh and appeared to the people of Israel in keeping with the ancient promises to his Abraham and his lineage. That the Jewish nation was God’s “chosen” people, however, belied a larger plan for revealing Himself to the world through hHis interactions with that people group.

In Luke 11, a Pharisee invited Jesus to have lunch with him. Being a Pharisee observant in the ways of the law, it was not long before his attention was drawn to Jesus’ lack of deference to the religious legalities of the time. Jesus did not perform the expected ceremonial washing before reclining at the table. The Pharisee was quick to notice the deviation from the religious norms that all devout Jews were expected to follow and called it to Jesus’ attention. Jesus responded (Luke 11:37-44)

“[Y]ou Pharisees clean the outside of the cup and of the platter; but inside of you, you are full of robbery and wickedness.”

This reaction seems a bit harsh toward the Pharisees. It was visceral and seemingly extreme. He called the Pharisees foolish (Luke 11:40) followed by three statements that begin with the words “Woe to you Pharisees”! He criticized them for tithing while disregarding “justice and the love of God”; He criticized them for loving the front seats in the synagogues and “respectful greetings in the market places”. (Luke 11:42-43) He called the Pharisees “concealed tombs” that people walk over unaware of the lack of life in their religious show. (Luke 11:44)

The extreme response signals the gravity of the situation. Thinking themselves models of godliness, the Pharisees were in reality far from God.

We see Jesus’ interaction with the Pharisees today with the benefit of hindsight vision. His reaction seems obvious as we read the text. We are tempted to cheer him on, but that might be a dangerous reaction. Jesus has a way of taking us where we least expect and to turn the tables on our way of thinking.

Today, we live in a different world. Legalistic practices are viewed by many as Neanderthal, superstitious and ignorant. People who espouse a belief in the literal meaning of scripture are marginalized as religious fanatics. We live in a very different culture, and that difference may cloud the significance of Jesus’ encounters with the Pharisees 2000 years ago.

We live in a largely secular world with secular leadership that marginalizes and minimizes the significance of religious practice in our modern lives. Our cultural leadership is irreligious. Outward signs of religious practice today are met with indifference or smirks or angry intolerance.

To be sure, the error of the Pharisees still exists. Self-righteous showy Christians may be as empty in their practices today as the Pharisees’ in Jesus day and as judgmental in their views of others. Some people live in a cloistered church environment, but most of us do not live such an insulated life.

The broader cultural norm displays a different kind of self-righteousness. The arrogance of intellect rules the discourse of the cultural leaders today. The hidden tombs are found on college campuses preaching a different kind of “faith”. They preach devotion to each their own, and anything goes and morality is relative. Political correctness and “tolerance” are practiced today with same zeal of the Pharisees’ rituals. They practice a kind of “tolerance” that makes no room for adherence to the Bible and biblical values. Against that back drop, hiding our religious convictions may invoke the charge that we are embarassed to be associated with Jesus.

Regardless of whether you live in a cloistered religious segment of society or the broader culture of secular society, or a combination of both (which is most likely the case for most people), there is no life in anything other than God. There is no life in religion or irreligion. Jesus instructed the Pharisee in Luke 11:41 to “give that which is within as charity” and to observe “justice and the love of God” without neglecting the outward things. Jesus wants you! He wants the sacrifice of your self, your heart, your values, your love. He wants the inner reality to be reflected in the outward actions of your life.

Jesus does not want us to be conformed to this world or to be conformed to any cultural norm. His message was to make sure the inner man is aligned with the outer man in devotion to God the Father. A person’s actions are not profitable toward God unless they flow from an inner reality of love for God. Embarassment to be associated with Christian believers may just be the other side of the Pharisaical coin.

Today we may be more inclined to err in our lack of outward acts of devotion due to the culture in which we live that tends to marginalize showy religious behavior. Consider the cultural fate of Tim Tebow. We should be careful not to become comfortable with our ability to line up with cultural norms, whatever they are, and neglect our inner orientation toward God.

I do not exclude myself from this reality. Pray that our inner reality reflects a love of God and that our actions are a reflection of that love. May we be real as Jesus was real. May we be conformed in our thoughts and desires by God to His reality, and not the emptiness of modern cultural observances in whatever form they take. May our outward actions flow from the inner reality of God’s love. Lights are not meant to be hidden; they are meant to reflect the Giver of Light; and actions do not reflect a life devoted to the love of God unless those acts are motivated by the Lover of all mankind.