Posted by: Harry Sasnowitz | December 14, 2016

The Church In Hiding

“Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hid. Neither do men light a candle and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick, and it giveth light unto all that are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in Heaven. (Matthew 5:14-16)

Sadly, Christians can be some of the most insular people on planet earth.

During most of my 25 years as a believer, I was one of them. I attended a worship service on Sunday morning, another on Sunday night and another on Wednesday night. I attended a Bible Study on another night. And I participated in game nights and other social get-togethers… in the fellowship hall, of course. Most all of life revolved inside the four walls of that building which I called “church.”

I don’t think Christ ever intended for our gathering places to be our bushels. Yet whether we’re talking about the institutional church or house church or any other building where believers routinely gather, this turns out being the case more often than we may be willing to admit.

How will the world ever see our light shining before them to the glory of God if we’re always cooped up in our churches, fellowship halls or homes? How will they ever taste and see that the Lord is good? How will they ever see our love for one another, thereby knowing that we are His disciples?

Although some may say that we need to do a better job inviting people to “church,” I couldn’t disagree more strongly. Jesus did not say, “Invite your friends to come to your worship service,” but rather to go to all the world and make disciples. This involves relational engagement, actively getting to know someone, and being invested in their life, on their turf.

Now is the time to let our light shine before men…. to take it out from under our bushels and be relationally engaged with one another and our world within the arena of real life. Gathering together as a Body of believers in various places for our edification is invaluable, but if it doesn’t result in us demonstrating the love of God to humanity during our normal, routine everyday lives, then we’re missing the whole purpose for which Christ has deposited His very life in us.

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Posted by: Harry Sasnowitz | October 16, 2016

Forgiveness Is A Two-Way Street

It’s easy to find believers that are enthusiastic about grace. Many speak very excitedly about having received forgiveness of sins through God’s grace extended to them in Christ, yet some of these same people have tremendous difficulty extending this same grace to those who have sinned against them.

Forgiveness goes much deeper than merely receiving it for ourselves and going on our merry way. What we have freely received, we must freely give. We’re called to forgive others as Christ has forgiven us. And how has Christ forgiven us?

Unconditionally.

Understand I am not talking about the issue of trust here. Trust must be earned, but forgiveness must be extended freely.

The power of harboring a judgment against another is an incredibly destructive force. Have you ever been around someone who can’t let go of what “so and so” did to them? Have you stuck around long enough to see the resulting fruit of that person’s life? I have, and it ain’t pretty. The unwillingness to forgive someone for an offense is an open door for the root of bitterness to take hold of a person’s heart which will not only defile the heart of the person harboring the judgment, but will even negatively impact the hearts of those in that person’s relational sphere (Hebrews 12:15).

Now consider a person on the receiving end of someone’s judgment. They may have experienced sorrow for what they did, even approaching the offended person with a genuine apology. But without hearing a genuine “I forgive you” from the offended, they can easily become a prime target for the accusations of the devil and suffer unnecessarily by carrying the weight of guilt and condemnation for their action, even though they’ve been completely forgiven by God.

For some Christians, it more or less seems like this is exactly what they would want. “He made me suffer, so now let him suffer some…” This is so sad, and in no way reflective of the Spirit of Christ.

Friends, we are called to be judgment breakers, not judgment makers; judgment lifters, not judgment inflictors. May God help us to not merely talk grace, but walk grace.

 

 

Posted by: Harry Sasnowitz | September 24, 2016

Re-Aligning Our Faith-Focus

I believe “Bible-Centered Christianity” is an appropriate phrase to describe what much of modern-day institutional Christianity has become. Read the Bible, do the Bible, live by the Bible. This is not a compliment, because the faith of the early Church (I’m referring to the Ekklesia… the Body of Christ) did not center on the Bible like we see today. Although scripture did play a role in their lives, their faith and practice clearly centered around a Person (Jesus) and the love & life of God which was shed abroad in their hearts through the Holy Spirit. Any honest exegesis of the New Testament scriptures after the resurrection of Christ will reveal this.

If all Bibles were confiscated in the USA, I have a gut-feeling that many Christians would no longer be able to carry on in their relationship with God… having been led to know “the Book” rather than to personally know its Author.

I recently came across a John Hagee broadcast on TV. Hagee, in front of thousands of people, lifted up the Bible and loudly proclaimed over and over as only John Hagee can, “The Bible Is The Owners Manual To Life!!” If Jesus were in attendance and approached Hagee after the service, Hagee would be surprised when Jesus disagreed. Jesus IS the life, and He is not an owner’s manual.

If one cannot function spiritually apart from a Bible-in-hand, then the Bible is their idol; they don’t yet know what “living in Christ” actually is in reality… having yet to experience the all-sufficiency of the Person of Jesus Christ and the indwelling of His Spirit within. They may know their Bibles, but they’re relationally alienated from its Author.

There is precedent for what I’m sharing here. The Pharisees were the most scripturally literate people of Jesus’ day. Perhaps they could best be compared to some from the “religious right” of our day. Yet Jesus sees right through their dead, lifeless religion by proclaiming the following…. and what He says has implications for today:

“I have testimony weightier than that of John. For the works that the Father has given me to finish—the very works that I am doing—testify that the Father has sent me. And the Father who sent me has himself testified concerning me. You have never heard his voice nor seen his form, nor does his word dwell in you, for you do not believe the one he sent. You study the Scriptures diligently because you think that in them you have eternal life. These are the very Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life. I do not accept glory from human beings, but I know you. I know that you do not have the love of God in your hearts.” (John 5:36-42, emphasis mine)

Wow. To those who treated the scriptures as the “owner’s manual to life”, Jesus declared that they were 1) spiritually deaf to God’s voice, 2) void of God’s love in their hearts, and 3) destitute of the “true life” they claimed they had.

Not advocating “anti-Bible” here; it’s great to have the privilege of reading, studying and learning through the Bible, and putting the insight we receive into practice. But we are not called to worship scripture; we are called to worship the Person of Jesus. There’s a huge difference between the two.

Being a walking, talking Bible Encyclopedia and having a Masters in Theology does not necessarily equate to knowing God Himself and possessing/expressing LIFE.

Perhaps A.W. Tozer brings everything “full circle” with this eloquent quote on the subject matter:

“The error of textualism is not doctrinal. It is far more subtle than that and much more difficult to discover, but its effects are just as deadly. Not its theological beliefs are at fault, but its assumptions. It assumes, for instance, that if we have the word for a thing we have the thing itself. If it is in the Bible, it is in us. If we have the doctrine, we have the experience. If something was true of Paul it is of necessity true of us because we accept Paul’s epistles as divinely inspired.”

What this world needs is not more of our Bible knowledge…. My goodness, don’t we have enough of that already? What this world needs is more of Christ’s very life being expressed through our mortal bodies, which will manifest itself in love, sacrifice and service to our fellow man, to the glory of God. Demonstrating the power of the gospel in our daily lives is the need of the hour.

 

Posted by: Harry Sasnowitz | June 27, 2016

Church By The Dumpster, by guest blogger Tasha Lynn

On a recent Sunday morning, a soft rain had just started to fall. I was running late…again. My boyfriend and I were meeting another couple to watch The Jesus Lens, an enriching DVD series about seeing Jesus throughout the Scriptures. With a 90 minute drive ahead of me, I needed to quickly drop off the clothing donation in my backseat and get going.

I am often late. It is one of my downfalls. But according to God’s agenda, this time I was right on time! If I had left the house any earlier or later, I would have missed the meeting of the church beside the dumpster.

As I entered the thrift shop parking lot, I noticed her… a middle-aged Hispanic woman with a shopping cart, rummaging around the dumpster. This was not a particularly uncommon sight in this area. Any other day, I might have driven on by. But I was drawn by that invitation of the Spirit, unmistakably tugging at my heart.

I’ll call her Marta. In broken English, she kindly responded to my questions with answers I would not have guessed. No, she was not in need of food or clothing for herself. Rather, she was searching for magazines that might contain coupons. Marta helps those in need by blessing them with practical items. She is leaving for Central America next month to distribute supplies to those in need. She welcomed the bag of clothing I offered her for the trip. She explained how God has so blessed her, and now she passes that blessing on to others.

Our language barriers were not so much of a hindrance that Sunday morning. My newfound sister’s radiant smile and grateful heart spoke measures as we each prayed to our Father while we stood in the rain beside the dumpster.

I asked if she had an umbrella. She did not, so I began looking for my small black one. Not finding it, I was prompted to give her the enormous, more expensive golf umbrella in my back seat, because “she shelters many people.” I think that word of encouragement was more of a blessing to her than the umbrella itself. I heard the Spirit say how happy God is with what she is doing, and when I told her this, she was deeply touched.

Marta asked for a ride home, and I dropped her off at a modest little house, where she pointed out to me her garden and the beautiful plants native to her home country of El Salvador. Our visit that morning must’ve lasted maybe 15 minutes, much shorter than most “Sunday sermons”. But how rich, spontaneous, and beautiful it was to me.

Friends, can we take a moment to consider our own definitions of church? Church is not a building, or a program, or a man-made agenda. It is God’s children being together, wherever we are. May we all be open to that next encounter. Led by Him, it’s a joy to experience church wherever we go.

Posted by: Harry Sasnowitz | June 9, 2016

Tithing: What Your Pastor Doesn’t Want You To Hear

Long ago, I remember the periodic Sunday night “testimony time” at the local church I attended. Perhaps once a quarter, the congregation of about five-hundred would gather, and after the singing of a few songs together, the pastor would hand the microphone to various people who had their hand raised… who wanted to share their testimony.

Invariably, “testimony time” seemed to always include someone who wanted to share a financial blessing. It usually went something like this:

“Hi, my name is Bob, and I’ve been attending this church for 10 years. I recently heard pastor Joe’s sermon on how tithing to the local church in obedience to Malachi 3 is vital if we expect God to bless our finances and keep the enemy from devouring our money. Well, six months ago I started tithing, and out of nowhere I just received a promotion at work with a 5% pay raise! I praise God that I listened to pastor Joe and started tithing in obedience to God’s Word (as he proudly pouts his chest for being such a faithful tither, unlike the non-tithing slackards in the congregation).”

May we all sing the praises of Bob for doing such a wonderful job of apparently earning God’s blessing which can never be earned (financial or otherwise), and for validating Pastor Joe’s Old Covenant, performance-based theology which has no legitimate place among a New Covenant people!

Of course, never mind the slew of “faithful tithers” who have been tithing for years yet are grossly in debt, many behind on their house or car payments, and who have credit card balances up the wazoo. No, these people aren’t raising their hands during testimony time; neither does the leadership want to hear from them. They just want to prop up guys like Bob, whose testimony validates them and their obligatory tithe doctrine.

“Tithing as a mandate” permeates modern-day Christianity. The levitical law of tithing which was nailed to the cross (Colossians 2:14) is continually resurrected by the professional clergy; some do it because of a lack of understanding of the implications of the New Covenant upon the life of the believer, and others do it primarily because it is the means by which to have their salaries paid, the staff salaries paid, the building costs and operating expenses paid, and to support the at-large institution they serve. To show them that their tithe doctrine can in no way be supported through a New Covenant interpretive perspective will, with rare exception, be met with the strongest of resistance. It was Upton Sinclair who rightfully said, “It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends upon his not understanding it.”

But there’s another testimony I want to share that you’ll never hear in church… a testimony that is much more representative of New Covenant reality, revealing the preeminence of Jesus and His grace in a believer’s life. For the sake of privacy, I will call her “Wendy.” The details I’m about to share as to what has been transpiring in her life are 100% accurate and true. In fact, if you live in Raleigh, I’ll gladly introduce you to her! If Wendy was given the microphone during “testimony night” at a local church, you would hear something like this:

“Hi, I’m Wendy! I used to attend church, but I don’t go anymore. And I used to be a meticulous tither, but I ditched that many moons ago. Back in February, my car engine went bad. I was about to take out a loan to purchase another, when out of the blue, someone close to me said that God laid it on his heart to buy me a brand new 2016 car…. no strings attached! I love my new car! Two months ago, I was looking for a job in Raleigh, the town I’ll be moving to. I went to my first job fair with over a thousand other “job hunters” and landed a wonderful position in my chosen field, with a 10% pay raise to boot! Over the last few weeks, I’ve been looking for a new place to live and have been astonished at how high rent prices are. Then, out of nowhere, through no effort or influence of my own, a married couple informed me that they would allow me to live in their beautiful 3000 square foot second home in Raleigh, RENT FREE!! All I have to pay is the utilities, and it’s 10 minutes from my new place of employment! I’m so grateful to God and His grace extended to me in Christ!”

Oh, by the way…. Wendy is 100% debt free.

Someone may say, “But she doesn’t even attend church, so she’s probably one of those independent lone ranger types! And since she doesn’t tithe, she must not be very generous. Perhaps she’s not even a Christian!”

Nothing could be further from the truth. No, she doesn’t attend “church,” but she is experiencing authentic community with other believers to a greater degree than most who do attend church. It’s just not within the institutional church structure. She doesn’t embrace “tithing” as the way to order her giving; rather, she’s sensitive to her surroundings and the needs of those within her relational and social spheres, being generous with both her money and time as the Spirit leads. Best of all, Wendy knows who she is in Christ.  You’ll never hear her say, “Because I gave some money to my needy co-worker, God did this or that for me…” No no… she understands New Covenant grace; that she is the object of her heavenly Father’s love, and that even in the midst of her fears, flaws, failures and life’s difficulties, His grace is extended to her in countless ways as a free gift, aside from any contributing factor on her part. Her obedience is simply the fruit of her relationship with God and the by-product of living loved. And His blessing on her life is the result of her spiritual union with Christ; nothing more, nothing less.

Bob and Pastor Joe can learn a lot from Wendy. So can all of us.

It’s beyond the scope of this post to get into a comprehensive discourse on tithing. For those who want to go deeper on this issue, refer to my four part series on this blog, entitled “Tithe Doctrine: Challenging What’s Preached From The Pulpit”

 

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