Will We Act Boldly For God in the Face of Fear?

Ananias obeys God to heal Saul who wants to arrest him

I like the story of Saul’s conversion in the book of Acts, turning him from a murderous bigot into a passionate follower of Jesus. A flash of light, a voice from heaven. It has all the makings of a great story. In this account, God is the hero, and Saul is the focus, but an essential, though minor, character is Ananias. Without Ananias, Paul’s transformation would have been incomplete. Without Ananias, Saul would have floundered.

You see, after the flash of light and the booming voice of God, Saul is left sightless and befuddled. God then appears to Ananias in a dream. He says, “Go find Saul—the man who is here to arrest you and your friends for your faith—and heal him.”

It sounds like a trap to me, a ruse of Saul’s making. Though Ananias does object, God shows him the big picture, and then he obeys. From a human standpoint, Ananias takes a huge personal risk. All evidence suggests he will be the next follower of Jesus thrown into the pokey. From a human perspective the safe thing, the wise course of action, would be to ignore God, forget about Saul, and leave town.

To be completely honest, I fear I would have done just that. But Ananias doesn’t. He boldly does what God tells him to do and heals Saul. As a result of Ananias’s obedience, Saul, later known as Paul, becomes the most traveled missionary in the early church and its most prolific writer.

Thank you Jesus, thank you Paul, and thank you Ananias.

[Read through the New Testament of the Bible with us this year. Today’s reading is Acts 9, and today’s post is on Acts 9:10-17.]

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Is Spiritual Truth More Important Than Christian Unity?

Arguing over what is true has divided Jesus’s church for centuries

Is Spiritual Truth More Important Than Christian Unity?I’m a huge advocate of Christian unity, that as Jesus’s followers we should all get along and live in harmony. Denominations and theological perspectives don’t matter; Jesus does. In the book of John Jesus prays that his future followers will play nice with each other, that we will be as one. This is so others will get to know him. In praying this Jesus realizes that discord among his people will serve as the biggest deterrent to growing his church (John 17:20-26).

Paul likewise writes that we need to strive to live in unity. He commands it (Ephesians 4:3-6). He says there is only one body; there is only one church, not 43,000 variations that we call denominations. This disunity is the downside of the Protestant Reformation.

When I tweeted about the importance of unity, one person messaged me with the stipulation that the basis for unity must be truth. The problem with using truth as a litmus test is agreeing on what is true. In effect this person was justifying disunity. Specifying a requirement of truth provides an excuse to avoid being one church. Christians have used this pretext for five centuries and divided the church of Jesus into religious factions as they argued about what is true.

The Age of Enlightenment, part of the modern era, brought with it the assumption that over time, through ongoing iterations, human thought would eventually converge on a singular comprehension of truth. This didn’t happen. The opposite occurred. Truth became multifaceted, the product of each person’s individual logic and bias.

Christians have fallen victim to this thinking over the past few centuries, with otherwise well-meaning people assuming their comprehension of spiritual truth was correct. Ergo everyone else was wrong. As a result we have separated ourselves into denominational schisms, subverting the intended unity of God’s church in the process. How this must grieve him. It certainly grieves me.

Spiritual truth is important, but we must hold it loosely. After all, our comprehension of what is true just might be wrong, mine included.

[This is from the November issue of Peter DeHaan‘s newsletter, “Spiritually Speaking.”  Receive the complete newsletter each month.]

Why Do We Do What We Do in Our Faith Practices?

I have a compulsion that irritates people, especially in religious circles. I ask, “Why?” I need to know why we do the things we do. What reason is behind them? Is there a biblical justification? Or is it a manmade tradition that has become meaningless ritual?

For example, in 52 Churches, I witnessed many services that began by lighting two candles. I’m still trying to figure this one out. Why do they light candles in the first place? Is there biblical support for it? And why two? Three would represent the Trinity, but two? If there’s a symbolic reason for two – or even lighting candles for that matter – then we need to know what it is so we can celebrate it. Else we should eliminate it as a practice without purpose.

Candles and the number two, however, are minor considerations. Whether or not we light two candles is of little consequence – as long as we don’t attach spiritual significance to it. However, there are bigger issues, much bigger issues, that have permeated our faith practices. Let me be bold and assert we’ve messed up most of what we do, elevating tradition over biblical command.

Consider the process of becoming a Christian. This is rife with manmade ideas that aren’t in the Bible. Yet many have elevated these processes as nonnegotiable faith requirements, superseding what Jesus taught. I think that makes them heresy. Yes, I said many churches practice heresy. I talk about this in A Faith Manifesto.

(So you know I’m not making this up, the origins of our religious ways are researched in the mind-blowing book, Pagan Christianity? by Frank Viola and George Barna. So many of our practices are not rooted in scripture and several emanate from secular culture; that is, their origin is pagan.)

I encourage you to boldly examine your faith practices. Eliminate all that lack biblical support. What remains will be a purer, more God-honoring spirituality.

Join me in asking, “Why?”

Three Goals for All Christians and Two Outcomes

Paul tells the church in Thessalonica to do three things. I think we should all follow his instructions. Paul teaches them, and us, that:

  1. We should strive to lead a quiet life.
  2. We should mind our own business.
  3. We should work to meet our own needs.

Then Paul shares two reasons for doing these things, the two expected results. When we do as he instructed:

  1. We earn the respect of others.
  2. We won’t need to depend on other people for our needs.

This seems so straightforward, elegant in its simplicity. Yet, this is sometimes difficult to remember and hard to do. But through God, we can accomplish exactly what Paul said. And when we do, our actions may become our strongest witness.

[1 Thessalonians 4:11-12]