Yahweh or the Highway?

According to an email I got today, unless we use the name “Yahweh” to worship God we are worshipping an idol.A word never once used by Jesus, Paul, Peter, that never appears in any of the New Testament – even when quoting the Old Testament.Paul happily called Yeshua Iesous because that was His name in Greek. So I am not unhappy or ashamed to call Him Jesus, His name in my native tongue, English.A lot of this sacred name teaching is based in three things:1. A desire to make God unknowable. Jesus came to make God known. To be God in the flesh, to be the fullness of God in a form we can see, and examine, and know – face to face. To remove that name, to insist we spell it in a different way, that it only works in a certain language is to suddenly restrict Jesus to one culture, to being unknowable without special secret knowledge. It undoes the revelation of the Incarnation, and posts Jesus back up to heaven leaving us without the full revelation of God, which is always found in Jesus Christ.2. It brings us back to legalistic Hebrew culture and practise, just by using the language. I am all for learning about the Jews, learning about the original audience of the Old Testament – and most of the New. The more you know about them the more you can understand Scripture. But don’t idolise Judaism, it’s the religion that produced the Pharisees. It’s the framework that Paul dedicated his life to dismantle. We are not trying to get back to the ceremony of the Passover, when the Passover lamb Jesus Christ is right here, right now, alive forever more. Jesus rebuked Jewish experts for loving the Word but not using it to draw near to Him. You don’t find people insisting on Jewish names for God who are free from the law and living under the joy of grace.3. It reduces faith to witchcraft. Faith is expressed in words, I have said that and taught that strongly for years. I have lived it. I have put declarations at the heart of our church services. But you don’t need the special, magic words, you just need some positive heart felt worlds It’s the heart of faith that moves mountains not finding out the magic Hebrew word for mountain. It’s believing God is good and loves you, and standing on that which brings a flow of God’s power not getting His name right in a language you don’t even know.The simple fact of the matter is this. Jehovah, Yawheh, or however you spell it or pronounce it, is not once in the New Testament. I believe that was to allow us to focus on an even greater name that the New Covenant opened up and revealed: Father.In the Old Testament, God is revealed as Yahweh, the great I am because in the Old Testament God is the one and only. But Jesus then came and brought many sons to glory. And God’s highest revelation is as one of is love, and relates to those He loves as a Father. He provides as Father. Loves as Father. Gives good gifts as Father.Jesus told us to pray, not to Yahweh, but to our Father. Jesus told us the most exciting thing about heaven is that it is His Father’s place. He cleaned the temple because it was His Father’s house. He told us that if we have seen Jesus we have seen the Father. Why go back to the name of the invisible God who has no sons apart from Jesus?Why crawl back under the system of religion that fights over pronouncing His name correctly and yield to your reborn spirit which is right now crying ABBA, Father.

Apostasy – but why?

Image result for people worshipping

I don’t normally comment on stories like this, I don’t think they are edifying, and they can easily degenerate into gossip, judging, and getting in the way of someone trying to walk through things, but because of the sheer amount of this person’s songs that have been sung at Tree of Life, and because so many of you know this ministry, I am going to say a few things about Marty Sampson’s renouncing Christianity.

Let’s look at his own words first of all:

When I read this, I don’t understand what kind of circles this man is walking in.  I don’t identify with what he is saying at all.  There is a huge disconnect with me, and my experience of Christianity.

how many preachers fall? Many. No one talks about it.

Preachers do fall, I agree.  Since I have been a Christian I have seen Christian leaders fall into sexual sin, financial impropriety, into treating people less than human because they believe their own press releases.  That is true.  No one has ever claimed that Christianity makes people perfect, or even wise – living out our faith has to be something we are continually working on this side of heaven.

But to say no one talks about it?  Where are you living?  When I go to pastor’s conferences, and I go to two or three a year just to sit and listen – people are always talking about the need for pastors to have character, to work on their character, to be careful about how easily we can fall into sexual sin, or financial sin, or the sins of the platform and power that being a successful pastor can bring.  Everyone is talking about it.  I record weekly videos for my pastors and before I talk about capabilities and compatibility, I always talk about character.  Our elders are working through a book by Tony Cooke on character, my young preachers class are working through a different book by the same author on character.

Everyone is talking about the need for preachers and leaders to have character.  How could you possibly say no one is?  And then when preachers, pastors, leaders fall – how do we best restore them, how do we help people walk forward?  These are important conversations that are happening.  I have just been at a church planters conference this year, and last year I was teaching final year Bible College students, and these questions were being asked, and we were having a dialogue about these very issues.  You cannot say they are being swept under the carpet, they are not.

How many miracles happen. Not many. No one talks about it.

Firstly, how many miracles do you need to believe in the God of miracles?  After I was healed over twenty years ago now, I believed that God was a God of miracles and that was one miracle I had ever seen.  Sometimes someone will text me in the middle of church on a Sunday morning “the life-streaming isn’t working” – so I look and I see people are listening on the app and commenting, so I know it is working, they are just not receiving.  The problem is on the receiving end, because we are transmitting.  If only one person is receiving the signal, I know we are transmitting.  One miracle is enough to believe in a God of miracles.

But I don’t just see one miracle, I see plenty.  But that’s not the point.  Loads of people are talking about miracles.  I could introduce Marty to twenty people who are living miracles right now.  They would tell him their story and talk about it.  And, yes, we do know people who have not yet received their miracle.  We know people who died in their sickness, who died in their sins, who died without their breakthrough.   But we are talking about it.  People are asking questions and we are answering them.  Preachers preach whole sermons on what to do if you do not receive your miracle.  That topic of conversation is also happening around me.

Why is the Bible full of contradictions? No one talks about it.

Again, there is so much material written on the (supposed) contradictions in the Bible. There are books and books that deal with these things.  I have read most of them because I wanted that settled when I was a young teen interested in the claims of Christ.  People are absolutely talking about these things.  I do an eight week course on how to read the Bible and I talk about these things.  People are definitely talking about these things.  There are Facebook groups, courses at Bible schools, all sorts of things where there are people talking about these things.

How can God be love yet send 4 billion people to a place, all coz they don’t believe? No one talks about it.

Again, people are talking about hell.  The stream of Christianity I am most at home in is also home to a host of people who are denying hell, and guess what?  There are people getting up, and talking about hell.  They are explaining how a God of love and hell can exist at the same time.  They are explaining these things.  People are talking about it.  I was reading books on hell by evangelical authors twenty years ago.   There are still people talking about it.

Christians can be the most judgemental people on the planet – they can also be some of the most beautiful and loving people… but it’s not for me. I am not in any more. I want genuine truth.

Hey, if I only believed in God because Christians were nice, I would be the biggest atheist on the planet.  Surely at this stage of ministry and life, someone should be mature enough to know a Christian who doesn’t reflect Christ doesn’t mean that Christ is not real any more than a barber with bad hair proves there is no such thing as hairdressing.  Part of Christianity (and definitely part of Christian leadership) is loving the unlovely, and that includes unlovely Christians.  I have offered my back to those who would beat it again and again, and that is part of pastoring.  Clearly some people have judged this man, his church, the ministry he is part of, there are a lot more critical articles on Hillsong than on Tree of Life, but you are not dancing for the crowd.  You are serving Jesus.  You have to learn to live above criticism of your faith.

Science keeps piercing the truth of every religion.

Again, this is something people are talking about.  A Christian worldview is not unscientific.  You want unscientific, the idea that everything came from nothing can never be scientifically proven or shown.  You want unscientific, look at how people are trying to go against science and make there be more than two genders!  Christianity and science are completely compatible, and again – there are many, many people talking about this.

Unfollow if you want, I’ve never been about living my life for others.

You should definitely try living your life for others. I am not talking about living for their praise, but there are so many young people who love this man and his music and ministry, he should have taken the time to get good counsel, to find the people who are talking about the issues in the areas he has ignorance, doubt and poor information and had these conversations before going public with these kind of ideas.

Christianity just seems to me like another religion at this point…

This to me is the most remarkable – and unbelievable – comment in this entire post.  How on earth could anyone think Christianity is just like another religion.  It has a Saviour, who died, who resurrected, who opened the path for us.  It is nothing like any other religion on the planet.  It provides unconditional forgiveness just for receiving the Lord and His work for us.  It is utterly and totally unique.  The cross is bringing life and hope to Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists and atheists around the globe because it is and will always be utterly unique.

Now, what can we learn from this as leaders and Christians going on?

  1. Let’s make sure all our leaders, and our musicians, are part of the dialogues that we have.  That they can hear our discussions about fallen pastors, about science and the Bible, about alleged contradictions in the Bible.  Let them know.  Make sure they are in the services listening to the Word being taught.

    Don’t platform musicians who only want to come in, play and then soar out the room.  I don’t know if this man was doing this, but he seems to have missed a lot of conversations I know are definitely happening.  He needed to be in the Word, in the meeting, listening to the preaching.

  2. Make sure our preaching deals with the issues that are invading people’s consciousness.  Make sure we address the alleged contradictions in the Bible, teach people how to read the Bible, teach people about hell and why there is a hell, refute false and meaningless ideas, get Creation ministries to come in and deal with evolution and creation.  Preach the Word, in and out of season.
  3. Provide a safe place for people to express genuine questions that will not impact other people.  I feel for this man, I really do. (I wanted to say young man, but I am only three years older than him, but his writing feels young, it feels like he just hasn’t thought things through, it’s the kind of text I expect from a 16 year old who is leaving church).  But I feel more for the genuinely young people who love his music, who have been inspired and challenged by God listening to Oceans, have encountered God’s sweet presence singing What A Beautiful Name, who have been at his concerts and re-committed to Jesus.  These people are now going to be confused, to be full of shock, doubt, fear.  Sadly, we do platform people so high that if they fall, they hit other people coming down.  That’s just human nature.  But why couldn’t this singer be in a room with a pastor or two, with some ministries that are talking about these issues, have lunch with some people who have thought these things through, who deal with alleged Bible contradictions… why is this discussion, which is still obviously raw and not thought through totally suddenly in the public eye.  Where is the shepherd helping this man find green pastures and still water?  Why is he so hungry?  Who is feeding him?

    Now, the best pastor in the world cannot make someone eat and drink the Word, and cannot fix the doubts of someone who is not open to listening, so I am not blaming anyone.  But on the other hand, someone who is going through this much should not be platformed either.  Not in a church.

  4. We must pray for all our leaders, and that includes worship leaders.  It’s not easy doing what they do.  You hold a conference and you have 4 speakers doing 2 sessions each and the worship leaders do a set every single session.  They are amazing people and we put a lot on them.  Pray for them!  I walk in on Sundays and preach.  They choose songs, make sure that the band know the songs, make sure the sound system is working, make sure the band is in sync with each other, make sure the band is sweet with each other (worship pastors pastor musicians!) and then make sure I sound great on top of that.  I get to preach to people hungry for the Word, ready for the preaching because they have taken people who have just ran into the building with 400 things on their mind, and led them to focus on Jesus.  Remarkable!

I for one will be praying that Marty Sampson finds the dialogues that he clearly has missed out on, and will be led to encounter books and individuals who can help him find the answers he wants.  He is not the only person who wants genuine truth, all Christians want a genuine faith that challenges their mind as well as their heart.  But let’s not seek for truth so wildly we end up trying to find it outside of Christ!  You can have your questions answered and intellectual integrity without throwing the Bible out and without throwing Jesus out!  Smarter and more godly men than me will no doubt reach out to him, and I will pray for a restoration.  But I will also re-double my efforts to make sure those conversations are happening around me, and that those who need to hear them are hearing them.

Our wonderful worship pastors in the Tree of Life Church, who are always in the service when I am preaching – sometimes 3 times a weekend, and always at our conferences, and who I know I have discussions about all these topics with – open hearted, pure hearted, disciples of Jesus.   They posted this to my wife about this situation:

We must make sure we stick to the simplicity of the Gospel and relationship with Jesus.  The enemy is picking weak people off who are playing the “Christian” game.  It has to be reality of relationship with Jesus not religion!

Not one person’s “take” on this word or that thought or that denomination… or that stream… following this person or that person.  Just being hidden with Christ in God.

We worship only God, not man or organization.  He is the Creator, not us.

They then said they were sure we would understand.  We do!  We understand it so well.  The question of handling success is far more important than how we handle failure.  John Wesley said any Christian can handle failure easily, but very few can handle success.  We have to keep our eyes on Jesus.  We have to not get carried away with issues that are unhelpful.  I encourage everyone reading this to spend some time today worshipping Jesus and reading the Word.  And if you have questions, go and get somewhere where you can have that dialogue.

Speaking to those affected by this: if one worship leader’s doubts can infect your heart, you need to turn and look to Jesus.  He is the head of the church, He is the Lord of all.  Let’s not get carried away by things that do not matter.  How can someone coast along for so long – and let’s admit it – these doubts do not happen overnight – because a system has been set up to allow it.  Again, these are all thoughts that all of us need to have, to examine ourselves to ensure we are still standing.

To quote Marty Sampson himself:

Have you heard of the One called Saviour?
Have you heard of His perfect love?
Have you heard of the One in Heaven?
Have you heard how He gave His Son?
Well, I have found this love and I believe in the Son
Show me Your way

Jesus you are my best friend and you will always be
Nothing will ever change that
Jesus you are my best friend and you will always be
Nothing will ever change that

Let’s make sure these are more than words, but these are an expression of our heart to Jesus Christ.  Let’s not just start our race well, let’s finish well.


Church Life 02: The Primacy of Church

Two or three times this week, I was discussing the idea of planting a church in a certain place and someone else suggested rather than start a church, start a Bible College or a meeting or ministry.

Now, leaving the fact that Biblically the only way Christians ever advanced the kingdom of God was through local churches a loond opening new local churches, there are real issues that go wrong when people don’t put the church first before any para-church ministries.

Firstly, most para-church organisations fish in local churches. Take your average Bible school – it isn’t looking to seek and save the lost, and nor should it. It isn’t looking for dysfunctional Christians who need counsel, assurance of salvation. It’s looking for on fire Christians who can work for or believe for fees and who can give up a year or three to prepare for life and ministry. You find those Christians in local church. If you are pioneering to a new nation, with very little Gospel coverage, and you start with a Bible school and do not start with a church, then you might be fishing in a very small pond, leading to very little growth. A good church training and raising disciples would create people who would be willing to go to Bible school, or help with a specialised para-church ministry, or volunteer and give to other ministries.

By trying to start a para-church ministry without there being strong local churches, you have no churches to support and no Christians to support you. That’s a big mistake and it won’t go well.

Secondly, you need to see the church as the first port of call. I often liken it to a GP. If someone is unwell, they go to a GP. A general practitioner. Someone who is good at everything. If they think you need specialist help, they send you to a specialist, who knows a lot about one thing. But the generalist is who you see first because he can get the big picture and help you there.

I am not the best preacher on certain subjects, for pretty much everything I preach on I could name a travelling speaker who could outpreach me in that topic, but I know very few preachers who could preach a good message on as many subjects as me. I am the generalist. So is every good pastor.

And if you let us call in the guest speakers, put you in touch with specialist ministries – whether to help you or for you to serve, and go to Bible College while you are rooted in a local church, not only will you be far healthier you will get the most out of para-church organisations.

If you have a spiritual issue, first call should be local church.

Third, you do not get a better chance to grow than in local churches. Growth isn’t sitting in a room for hours listening to videos. That can often be part of preparing for growth, but Christian growth is service. No one is bigger than the last person they served! Your Bible College doesn’t have a children’s church, your para-church ladies worship meeting or business men meeting doesn’t have street outreach. There is nowhere with as many opportunities to grow as local church, because there are so many places to serve. That’s how you grow!

Finally, you don’t get anywhere more diverse than local church. There are people in Tree of Life Church this weekend who would never and will never (and don’t need to) go to Bible College. There are people who should go but never will too. There are people not called to the men’s weekend, the ladies glowing meeting, the other meetings. There are the nod to God people too, who only go Sundays. We have new born babies and octogenarians. We have over thirty nationalities.

We have people who are in all sorts of stages of life, some would be thrown out of some para-church ministries (some have been) , but as church we cannot afford that luxury. We are the pillar of grace on the planet.

You need to spend your time with as wide a range of people as possible to grow and learn.

During my last year of Bible College I found out not only were all my friends now Christians, they were all the same style and brand and type of Christian. That’s not healthy for anyone let alone a trainee pastor. I quit a weekly prayer meeting and headed to my local to find some friends. Thankfully I was plugged into local church and volunteered to do some home visits to people that, quite frankly, wouldn’t be invited or welcome at most para-church events

You need to keep it real. Church does that by introducing you to real people with real problems every day you want to meet them. You will grow like never before if you invest and sow in them

Jesus’ body is the church. If you want to be more fruitful than ever before, plug into the body – the church. Go to church, get on a rota, start serving… And watch life surround you.