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Micah 6:8

He has shown you what is good

and what the LORD requires of you but

to do justly,

to love mercy,

and to walk humbly with your God



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Does What You Believe Really Matter?

by on Dec.02, 2011, under Rebecca Stewart

Does what you believe Really matter?

Two streams of my life converged this week in an interesting way to challenge me on the question of, whether what I believe is important. It’s easy to take an academic philosophical point of view on such things, but this week it has become more of a pragmatic challenge. In my role of teacher I am being challenged to find ways to help students learn, who would really rather not…at least not in class, or not on topics that the adults in their lives think are valuable for them to know now. It would probably be easiest for me to fall back into a regimented worksheet oriented program with lots of reading of the text and answering comprehension questions, but my belief, based on some success in other venues, is that ultimately more learning goes on in a project–based approach where students must search out knowledge and create something new with that knowledge.
So my belief is important in two ways. First, it informs what I will do and guides my actions. This is true in teaching but it is also true in every other aspect of living. My choices and actions are dependent on my belief, and when I am challenged regarding my beliefs or when I act contrary to those beliefs it creates a great tension or feeling of unease in my life, that needs to be resolved. Second, my beliefs inform my goals and expectations. I expect that given the tools and the time, children can learn and grow to be more than they can presently imagine. There is some need as a result to challenge what they think the future holds and help them see the reality and the possibilities that they had not considered for lack of knowledge of their world, and their own strengths and weaknesses.
Teaching is a challenging profession, and there are days when the quiet, solitary life of a mountain dwelling hermit has a lot of appeal. But that too would lead to dissatisfaction pretty quickly as it flies in the face of my belief that people are happiest when they are helping others. Of course, this brings up another consideration in regards to our belief — that our belief must be grounded in reality. Believing in the palpably untrue also has its heartaches. As for “happiness” I have the scientific evidence of “double blind” studies that confirm this sociological phenomenon; happiness is tied to the feelings of worth we experience when we help others. I also have anecdotal evidence, the wisdom of common sense, centuries of experience and stories, and scriptural teaching that tend to validate this belief. Generally, I put my trust in the latter rather than the former.

Now what about my beliefs as a Christian? Does it matter what I believe? Yes, of course, and for all the same reasons that my “teaching beliefs” matter to me as a teacher. My belief guides my motivation (why I do what I do), my thought and understanding of how to relate to God and other people, my actions, and my expectations. This week some of my beliefs have been challenged as I have had the opportunity to discuss with others my understanding of scripture. As a result I have had occasion to rethink my understanding on the Nature of God, the Nature of my covenant with God, and the importance of biblical instructions. Now I have not altogether thrown out what I have become convicted of over the past 40 years, but I have had a chance to refine and see how my belief is fundamental to who I am.

My belief is not a shirt I wear but more the skin I live in, that holds my being together in an integrated whole. This week has made me see more clearly that my beliefs are not a question of picking and choosing those things that appeal to me, making for an eclectic wardrobe that I wear in haphazard fashion as whim suits me. Rather my beliefs are integrated into a seamless whole, one belief being consistent with and supporting all my other beliefs – a spiritual “skin” that expresses my understanding of reality and represents who I am to the world. It could not be altered or shed without a lot of pain.
This brings to mind another consideration when it comes to beliefs. Some people would have me believe that I should set aside my “beliefs” for the sake of peace or unity within the Body of Christ. I on the other hand believe I can have love for those who believe differently – even though I may believe they are in error, interpreting the scriptures through a lens that differs from my own. This love, concern for the welfare of those who have differing beliefs, means I will uphold what I believe to be truth because to do otherwise would be to refuse to take up the challenge of providing them an answer of the hope that I have in Christ. Do I presume to have all the answers? Not at all. I hope those whose beliefs differ will also continue with me in reading the scripture and seeking God’s will so we can all grow in grace and knowledge, so that in time we can come into a unity of belief. This hope of future unity is my belief in the face of the present reality of disunity.

So you can understand that my life is my belief and I can refine my belief, grow in understanding, cast off misunderstanding, but I cannot cast aside my belief. The Father who we live in covenant with is guided by His belief and he never acts contrary to His belief and that is why the scripture tells us, that He is light and there is no shadow of doubt or disbelief. He is true to His nature, His belief. Likewise, His Son, our Lord and Saviour, the one who spoke the Word and earth existed, and the one who spoke the Words from Mt. Sinai, is the same, yesterday, today, and forever. Why? Because His nature, His belief is steadfast and faithful. Our goal is to come to believe as Christ and the Father, so we can be as unshakeable as they are in wisdom and faith – belief.

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Clean and Unclean

by on Sep.12, 2011, under Jean Jantzen

By Jean Jantzen
“For we are the temple of the living God. As God has said: “I will live with them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they will be my people. Therefore come out from them and be separate, says the Lord. Touch no unclean thing, and I will receive you. I will be a Father to you, and you will be my sons and daughters, says the Lord Almighty.” 2 Corinthians 6:16

Would we feed our family food we know is contaminated or unclean? Most people would not eat unclean meat knowingly, but some believe that eating unclean animals is not a sin, but only breaking health laws—no big deal! That view seems too simplistic! The words ‘clean’ and unclean’ occur 382 times in scripture, so it is noteworthy and should get our attention. Many people in the world eat unclean foods and live to be in their nineties. So a long life was not fully what God had in mind when giving His instructions about what meat we should eat. We know that what we put into our body (this temple) is important to God. Eating what was forbidden landed Adam and Eve outside the garden and led to their death. God’s instructions about food (Leviticus 11 and Deuteronomy 14) are more about our attitude and approach to God.
We are what we eat; what we put into our bodies becomes part of our flesh. And we know our body does not belong to us, rather it belongs to God. (1 Corinthians 3:17)
From God’s vantage point our earthly ‘temples’ are vital tools—they are sacred—they make up the chaste, pure bride of Christ. He tells us to be holy as God is holy. How we approach God is of great consequence. He is particular about who (and in what frame of mind) comes near to Him. When Moses came near the burning bush he was told to remove his shoes as he was on holy ground. God is also particular about what sacrifices are acceptable to Him….they are to be without spot or blemish—anything less would be an abomination. We are to be a living sacrifice…that fact behooves us to be holy and clean and blameless before God. (Romans 12:1-3)
It is of weighty significance how we approach God because it shows our attitude. It must not be a casual, careless, half-hearted approach—like attending Church in torn greasy jeans, an old dirty sweatshirt, and filthy hair. That would show God that we do not love Him with all our heart, soul, and might, nor do we respect his holiness. It would show God that we do not acknowledge who He is; His majesty, His righteousness, His holiness. We should fear Almighty God always! Read what happened to Moses who forgot his fear of God on one occasion. (Numbers 20:1-14)
God expected the priests to be sanctified and clothed in a particular way before they could approach Him or sacrifice to Him. It was so important that Nadab and Abihu, who offered profane fire before the Lord, were found so offensive that they were killed instantly. Yes, God gave precise and meticulous instructions regarding service in His tabernacle. God determines the terms on which sinners may approach Him. Worship cannot be haphazard. We don’t want to worship in vain. We must approach Him in carefulness, thoughtfulness, holiness, so that one day we will be transformed into the bride of Christ, and a royal priesthood. (1Peter2:9)
We can then understand that the specific purpose God gave for avoiding unclean meats is all about holiness, obedience, and the right attitude. God wants us to be holy. Since we belong to Him and He purchased us with Christ’s blood, He does not want us to contaminate ourselves through any kind of physical or spiritual defilement (1 Corinthians 6:15-20). In God’s sight refraining from eating unclean animals is an identifying sign of the holiness of those God has set apart through a relationship with Him. It separated his called-out-ones from the unclean nations around them…it showed them they were different. They learned to distinguish between clean and unclean, holy and unholy.
Notice Paul’s summing up of this principle: “But now having been set free from sin, and having become slaves of God, you have your fruit to holiness, and the end, everlasting life. For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:22-23). So it is important to remember that God alone by His Word determines the terms on which sinners may approach Him in worship and be holy.
After we are told not to eat anything unclean, God says bluntly in Leviticus 11:43, 44, “You shall not make yourselves abominable with any creeping thing…neither shall you make yourselves unclean with them, that you should be defiled….sanctify yourselves, you shall be holy….” We become “abominable”, unclean and defiled, before God if we eat anything unclean. The word defiled means to make unfit for ceremonial use.
God tells us plainly what He thinks about eating unclean meats in Isaiah 65: 2-5(Living):
“All day long I opened my arms to a rebellious people. But they follow their own evil paths and their own crooked schemes. All day long they insult me to my face by worshiping idols in their sacred gardens. They burn incense on pagan altars. At night they go out among the graves, worshiping the dead. They eat the flesh of pigs and make stews with other forbidden foods. (see article about pork) Yet they say to each other, ‘Don’t come too close or you will defile me! I am holier than you!’ These people are a stench in my nostrils, an acrid smell that never goes away.”
So God had a great purpose for teaching us about clean and unclean. Firstly, it separates us out and sanctifies us. Secondly, it’s a test and identifies us by our obedience to this instruction, revealing our true attitude toward God. And thirdly, it does promote better health. So approach our heavenly Father with a humble mind, with fear and trembling, and an untainted body.

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A Time to Fast

by on Aug.08, 2011, under Announcements, Prayer Requests

A day for prayer and fasting. Isaiah 58

In consideration of the current state of our world, the injustice and oppression of every sort that keeps people chained in darkness and unable to come to the light of God’s truth, we are going to be fasting together on August 9, 2011 to ask for God’s help. We will pray that God will shed his light on those who are stumbling, doubting, or fearful that they may gain discernment, courage, and wisdom to walk that narrow path leading to  eternal life. We will ask that God will remove any willful blindness and to enable us to walk a straight path in an increasingly corrupt society.

National leaders worldwide are facing monumental challenges and are having to make decisions now that will impact our lives for decades to come. We will pray for God’s mercy on us all so that we may continue to have the freedoms we now enjoy: freedom to preach the truth without reservation, to travel, to associate with other believers, to worship God as we are commanded in scripture, and freedom of conscience.

We would welcome anyone who would like to set aside this day to pray and fast with us. We know of many brethren facing personal trials. These may be tests of character, financial troubles, ill health, discouragement, or loneliness. Accordingly, this will be a special time for us to pray for each other asking God to meet our every need and to comfort the faint of heart. We know that God hears our prayers for others and that the fervent, effectual prayers of a righteous people are precious in God’s eyes.

Jesus Christ is building His spiritual temple, His Church! And we, brethren, are called to be co-workers with Him, labouring as it were to spiritually “build up the walls of Jerusalem,” which is the city of the King of kings and Lord of lords. Like Nehemiah and Ezra we recognize that we absolutely need God’s sustenance and encouragement to make any progress in the face of opposition and setbacks. If we are to continue to be “the restorers of paths to dwell in,” faithful teachers of the truth of scripture, and doers of the word of God and not just forgetful hearers, then we need the continued presence of His Helper to work peacefully and productively with others of a like mind who are similarly engaged in building up Jerusalem’s walls.  This is a time of uncertainty. It is also a time when evil men are waxing worse. So to meet these challenges we need our faith to wax stronger in order that we may be alert and ready to come to each other’s aid as the need arises, just as in the times of Nehemiah.  We need God’s protection against the adversary who is attacking us, who is seeking to overwhelm us and dismantle what has already been built.

The work that God sets before us, to teach all nations and be a light of his Way, is our mission in life. It is an awesome calling, a profession that fully engages our heart and mind. Yet we see how great the task is and how insufficient we are of ourselves. We will pray together for God’s merciful hand in guiding us to serve Him in teaching our generation His instructions for living and preaching God’s good news, in the most effective manner with the talents and resources he has given us.
With love,
Your family in the faith at Cogwebcast

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In the Steps of Barnabas and Paul 2

by on Jul.27, 2011, under Jeff Patton

Cyprus Journal-Part 2

Monday—January 17, 2005
What a great day we had today. Last night we had a reasonable sleep, but there was a continuous “white noise” in the background that we couldn’t avoid in our room. The pool’s pump room next door made it seem as if we were berthed beside a ship’s engine. The woman at the reception desk graciously allowed us to change to a different room: one that had a great ocean view. Ask, and ye shall receive! Why is man-made noise generally so annoying and disagreeable while the sound of the Creator’s ocean waves crashing on the beach is relaxing melody to the soul? Here it was the month of January and I had the window open to listen to the ocean and the wind. It was a bit brisk, but not too cold.

Breakfast at the resort was a real bonus. They allowed us to upgrade to having the resort’s buffet breakfast for only a few Cypriot pounds each. Today, I enjoyed olives, tomatoes, creamy plain yogurt, grapefruit and pineapple slices, wholemeal bread, fried eggs, and white coffee. Of course, we simply avoid the offerings of bacon and sausage without comment. I complimented the maitre d’ about the quality of the food and he mentioned that for 30 years he has tried to constantly improve the meals his restaurant serves. But he said that there were always about one or two percent of the clientele whom he could never please.

I suppose there is a spiritual lesson here. After a bit more than 30 years in the Church am I pleased and wholly satisfied with the continually improving spiritual nourishment that God spreads out for me in his daily spiritual buffet from the scriptures? Or do I whine, complain, and find fault with this minor thing or that unsatisfied fancy?

At our first Greek Cypriot breakfast we ate like pigs but not on the pork or seafood offerings because we followed this admonition from the apostle Paul: “For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected, provided it is received with thanksgiving; for it is sanctified by God’s word and by prayer (1 Tim. 4:4-5). And we who live by every word of God know that those foods sanctified in God’s word (Leviticus 11 and Deuterononmy 14) do not include pork, prawns, or other meats God calls unclean. However, one of the innovations that Paul brought to the preaching of the Gospel to the Greco-Roman world was his understanding that strict observance of the Pharisaical regulations, in which he had been reared for most of his life, regarding strictly kosher food preparation, serving, and sourcing need not be rigorously observed. For the Christian, food considered fit for consumption only had to be sanctified by God’s literal written word and prayer. As an example, beef or lamb purchased from a Greek butcher and prepared in a Greek’s kitchen was good to eat—maybe even if it had been slaughtered in front of an idol or was served in dishes that had previous contained some milk product like yogurt or cheese—because it qualified as being edible (“clean”) under a literal reading of God’s word in Leviticus 11.

On the other hand, a good Orthodox Jew would have followed the added regulations eventually codified by the descendants of those Pharisees in what is now called the oral law. These practices were labeled in the Gospels of the New Covenant as the “traditions of the elders” (Mark 7:1-13). An Orthodox Jew during the first century A.D. would not have eaten such meat or for that matter any food whatsoever prepared in a regular Greek Cypriot’s kitchen.

Consequently, it is hardly surprising that we read in the epistles of Paul that there was considerable tension in the early Church over these issues. Some Jewish believers thought the Greek gentile converts should, before becoming bona fide Church members, completely adopt the entire Orthodox Jewish halachah (way of life) with its requirement for physical circumcision of adults and adherence of the oral law in addition to the written Torah (law or teaching) that God had given directly to Moses (Galatians 2:12-14).

The apostles Paul and Barnabas, however, argued that the Greek converts could retain their Greek cultural identity and that they only had to modify certain culinary and moral practices in order to conform to the explicit requirements spelled out by the spiritual teaching given in the first five books of the Hebrew Scriptures.

So to summarize, according to Paul and Barnabas, the Greek Christian converts did not have to first adopt the full Jewish way of life or halachah and so become full converts or proselytes to Judaism (become full Jews culturally and religiously) —as defined in the “traditions of the elders”—before they could really become Christian converts. They only had to follow the explicit Torah requirements required of strangers who lived with the Children of Israel (for example, Leviticus 17:8-18:30 and Leviticus 3:17). Now, this is a far cry from the “no law” position that some commentators try to put into the mouth of Paul. Paul did not abrogate the teachings of the Hebrew Scriptures. Rather he specifically cited and innovatively applied the Torah to a new situation. The Apostle James and the Jerusalem conference as a whole, as recorded in Acts 15 endorsed Paul and Barnabas’ argument. So that is the reason we as lineal spiritual descendants of Paul, Barnabas, and James were able to eat our Greek Cypriot “breaky” (sans bacon) with relish this morning!

After picking up our hired car, we went shopping at our first Greek Cypriot supermarket, Papantoniou’s. It was a fascinating experience in how a different culture can take a routine shopping experience and transform it into the whimsical. One thing I loved about this store was their bilingual Greek/English signage. For instance the sign for the supermarket aisle selling sheets and linens was rendered in English as “White gods” [sic]. We later came across a store selling local handicrafts that proudly announced its trade in “Arts and Grafts.” Ah, perhaps that shopkeeper was just being honest!

The common English spelling for some words seems to escape the Greeks. We explored the so-called birthplace of Aphrodite on the Akama peninsula this afternoon. After parking the car we walked down the wooded path to see this spot advertised as a must see for tourists and were rewarded by fantastic views of the ocean and an official sign from the Cypriot Department of Forests that seriously proclaimed the location as “the birthplace of Aphrodite, the coddess of love who used to bath in this crotto” [sic].

Now coming from Canada I thought we knew all there was to know about cod, but I guess not. Maybe our cod stocks in the Grand Banks have collapsed because something has happened to the coddess of love. Sounds fishy, eh? But perhaps this should all give us pause when we do our word studies in foreign languages written thousands of years ago. We would do well to heed the advice of Paul when he wrote to Timothy admonishing him to not get involved in conflicts that hinge on semantics, “striving over words (1Timothy 6:4; 2 Timothy 2:14).”

But now, we are looking forward to our evening meal. Scripture tells us what is good food – cod for example is a clean sea creature – so as Christians living in a gentile world we are able to enjoy the delights of Cypriot cuisine and the hospitality of our Cypriot host, if in a limited way…. We can say graciously.“Yes, thank-you, the sheep’s liver  and lamb kebab will be just a fine substitute for the calamari, prawns, and pork chop on tonight’s mezze menu.” Mmmm…it was a memorable meal, the stuffed grape leaves, olives, kebab, pita, hummous, yes and even the sheep’s liver!

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