Friday, April 10, 2015

Nothing Outside A Person Can Defile Him" - says Jesus

False teachers prohibit foods - wolf sheep clothing
"Beware of false prophets ..." -- Jesus
The words of Jesus are unmistakable and striking. The audacity of false teachers is stunning. How do they get away with it for decades, even centuries?

·      How is it that Mormon leaders prohibit coffee and tea?
·      On what basis to Seventh-day Adventists prohibit the eating of pork and other foods?
·      By what authority do Jehovah's Witnesses prohibit blood transfusions?

Jesus' words in Mark 7 could not be more clear: “Hear me, all of you, and understand: There is nothing outside a person that by going into him can defile him, but the things that come out of a person are what defile him"

Jesus elaborates on this further to his disciples in private who were likely shocked by this sweeping statement. "Do you not see that whatever goes into a person from outside cannot defile him, since it enters not his heart but his stomach, and is expelled?”

And, as if this were not enough, we have the Gospel writer Mark's inspired commentary (which Mark likely got from Peter) that immediately follows it -- "Thus he declared all foods clean" (Mark 7:19).

Trumping Jesus?
Is there any person who has the authority to trump the clear teaching of Jesus?  Prohibitions on externals that are tied to what makes us acceptable to God should be recognized as man-made additions that arrogantly set aside the ultimate authority of Jesus. They are best rejected, as should be the person who teaches them. This is further reinforced by other New Testament teaching like Peter's vision of the sheet with "unclean" animals in it (Acts 10:15), and Paul's teaching that 'food will not commend us to God. We are no worse off if we do not eat, and no better off if we do" (1 Cor. 8:8).
In addition, Paul's teaching in Colossians 2:16-18, 23, is especially applicable to the movements founded by Joseph Smith and Ellen White which claim a visionary basis for the external restrictions and commandments they impose on their followers:

Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath. These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ. Let no one disqualify you, insisting on asceticism and worship of angels, going on in detail about visions, puffed up without reason by his sensuous mind „, these indeed have an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism

Pride if you succeed -- false guilt if you fail
The saddest part is perhaps the damage done to those who attempt to follow such false teachers. If they succeed to some degree in holding to these externals, they are proud of their accomplishments and often look in disdain or contempt on those who cannot or will not comply. If they fail to completely adhere, or simply give up after trying for so long, they then are made to feel guilty, defiled and unworthy of God's love and acceptance.

Meanwhile, Jesus stands with arms open wide saying "I've already earned perfection for you, come take it from me. Trade your true moral guilt, the stuff that comes out of you - your pride, envy, hate, coveting, lying, murder and adultery - trade your sin for my righteousness, for only my perfection taken as a gift in faith, will make you acceptable before God the Father." (See Romans 6:23; 2 Corinthians 5:21; Colossians 2:13-14; Titus 13-7; I Peter 2:24).

Any movement, religion, teacher, or self-claimed apostle or prophet that ties our acceptance before God to external prohibitions related to food, drink, religious observance or medical practices has, either in ignorance or intentionally, set aside the clear teaching of Jesus and his apostles. In doing so, they show themselves to be a spiritual charlatan that will cheat us out of authentic, intimate relationship with the God who created us to enjoy Him both now and forever.

Thursday, April 09, 2015

Three Reasons Why I Love Cuba

4 More Reasons I Love and Miss Cuba
It's been over a year now since I was in Cuba - my longest span since I started making 1-2 trips per year to this island nation about six years ago - and I miss her.  Or better said, I miss her people.  The good news is things are opening up.  More and more of my students and friends are showing up on Facebook, in my newsfeed or with a private message to ask how things are doing and when am I coming back.  All this has helped me understand some of the reasons why I love Cuba and her people.

1) Relational ties are valued - highly.  When you don't have a lot of "stuff" you tend to value relationships and the time spent together more. So the time spent over a couple of cafe helados from Cafe Escorial' at the Plaza Vieja is a treasure, a mutual investment of talking honestly about life and family and ministry. My Cuban friends remember details about me and my life, and ask me about them frequently, and because I've shared in the brokenness and struggles of their lives those relational ties only get stronger as time goes on. And let's face it, of all the stuff we invest in here, the only thing we take with us into eternity are people.

2) Their joy is contagious.  A friend recently messaged me about a Christian concert he attended on the island. Hundreds of people gathered to rejoice, worship and celebrate the resurrection of Jesus in the open air.  He was thrilled at just having been there, and as we wrote back and forth, I found myself rejoicing with him and being grateful that he, and so many of my cubano brothers and sisters, had this opportunity.  For many of us a Christian concert by a virtually unknown local band is hardly something to rave about on FB, but for him it was a joyous highlight of his week and that joy rubbed off on me.

3) Their worship is authentic.  Over and over my Cuban hermanos have shown me their faith in God is strong in the midst of and to a large degree because of adverse circumstances. For them God is always God and always worthy of worship - regardless of what we may not have or what we may be going through. Several years ago I was talking to a pastor friend about the then potential opening up of Cuban-US relationships. At that point there were only small hints of what now is quickly becoming reality.  His primary concern was that greater openness would lead to greater affluence and ease of life and that believers would be sucked into the vortex of materialism and creature comforts and lose their passion for God. That's a legitimate concern and it would be heartbreaking for me should the bride of Christ in Cuba begin to lose the authentic, heart-felt, committed worship that she now has for her coming King and Bridegroom.

It's inspired me to pray for the people and the nation as a whole, and hopefully their worship, joy and value of relationships that has so filled my life will spill over from me into the lives of others.