Archive for May, 2009

Creative Amnesia

May 31, 2009

He was in the world, and though the world was made through Him, the world did not recognize Him.  He came to that which was His own, but His own did not receive Him.  John 1:10, 11.

The very people who were created by God forgot who He was.  Of course the world at large did not have a source manual dictated by angels, which seems more understandable that they might not be able to recognize their Creator.  But those who had the prophetic writings and stories referring to the long looked for Messiah not  recognizing Him sucks big time.

Here is the lesson I gleaned from this passage, which goes outside of the obvious statements John made:  the reason they didn’t recognize Jesus when He appeared to them was because they were preoccupied with their own vision of who He should be.  In other words, they were so set on their preconceptions, personal grasp of God and human ambitions imposed on God’s design that they missed the reality when it came along.  They set their minds on earthly goals and missed the heavenly gift when He arrived on the scene.  They designed a religion, God and Messiah interwoven with their own specs, then rejected God’s design completely as inadequate and irrelevant He showed up.

Jesus arrived in a form and style they never expected.  He didn’t seem all that god-like to their minds because they had long held theories made sacrosanct by the educated and demanded God conform to them.  In their zeal to know God they forgot to let God interpret Himself, which meant they were open for all kinds of misguided theories and interpretations which would have nothing at all to do with the real thing.

It’s something to be wary of, this tendency of ours to put God in a box based on our own damaged view points.  We create a god to our own liking, then demand the real One to fit into our design specs.

What if we conformed to Him instead of demanding He conform to us?

What if we gave ourselves over to knowing exactly what He desires instead of mixing that with our own whimsical and erratic lusts?

What if God is bigger, better, more complete and cool than we can imagine and we have missed the reality for the sake of our fragmented fantasy?

Jesus set our expectations on their collective ears, suggesting that it isn’t the earthly strength that won over sin.  It isn’t the earthly powerful who gained authority in the kingdom nor the rich who swayed policy or dictated to the masses, but the humble servant of all who lived an example of steadfast love and surrender to his or her Master.  Steadfast means to me a foundation securely constructed and poured.  If you want a foundation to be secure, the topsoil has to go, all that soft loam shifts and migrates so much that a sure footing would crack under the strain of trying to keep up.  So God digs down into the roots of our beings to set the rock hard surface of His kingdom where they won’t be able to shift or waver.

It is the weak by the world’s standards holding on tight to Jesus who are the strongest in God’s eyes.  It is the lowly, unremarkable and wholly ignored person giving themselves over to the Spirit of God who grows significant for the kingdom of God.  It is the one who conforms to the nature of the Son of Man, who had no where to lay His head, no artist to draw His portrait or form a bust for posterity—who by prophetic declaration would never have been someone all that noticeable by human standards, these are people most successful in the eyes of the Eternal Father.

Do we recognize our Creator when He comes to us in the quietness of our soul?  Do we hear His voice over the jangle and jostling of earthly voices crying for our attention?  Would we know our own Savior if He appeared to us right now?

Yet to all who received Him, to those who believed in His name, He gave the right to become children of God–children not born of natural descent or of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.  John 1:12, 13.

Again, this is an awesome promise and one we should pay close attention to in order to know our God.  The Jews are the physical descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, which means they are called the “Children of God” by dent of heritage.  Those converted to the Hebrew religion are those who are accepted as children of God by human assent; those born of Jewish parents come from the husband’s sex drive (“a husband’s will”).  Yet those who receive Christ become born of God and His children because of their faith in Him.  It sets all other religions on their proverbial backside and a new precedent for both knowing and obeying God.

The world at large didn’t recognize Jesus when He came because they were so twisted by the enemy into believing in fractured gods barely displaying any traits of the original.  His own people didn’t recognize Him because they had earthbound goals so set in the stone of their hearts nothing could break through and they rejected the real for the make believe.

This passage is a subtle warning we need to take to heart in order to miss the pitfalls setting up the temporary in place of the eternal.

Presenting: God in the Flesh

May 29, 2009

The Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us.  We have seen His glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father full of grace and truth.  John 1:14.

This may not seem humorous to you who read this blog but I find it funny anyone reads this passage without grasping who John thinks Jesus is.  It also amazes me we have an argument about the God/man thing still.  I know, I know, people consider the deity of Christ a later addition, yet if they simply read the discoveries of the last ten years or so, they would realize this is our tenet of belief set down by the apostles and a not a later insert.

The first 13 verses establish Jesus as Creator, God, eternal and Savior; verse 14 establishes the incarnation.

John dealt constantly with Greek philosophies worming their way into the church of his day too.  There were those who believed Jesus came merely as man infused with God’s power and designated by Him to be the sacrifice; others who taught that God could never inhabit human flesh so Jesus was but a phantom that looked and felt like a real person.  Since God cannot die, Jesus’ didn’t really die either because that would make Him less God and more man in their eyes.

It hasn’t changed much has it.

While I can’t presume to answer every Tom, Dick and Harry on these subjects nor their assertions to the supposed facts  they present, I can state pretty emphatically what the Bible says:  Jesus, Creator, God, One with the Father, Son, Eternal, the Lamb of God, also became human flesh and lived among us for a time.  The book of John continues this them throughout its storyline, refusing to sidestep the issue anywhere.  When John wrote this gospel, he was probably towards the end of his life, for my NIV study Bible puts the dating of it at around A.D. 85 or so, which would make him close to that age himself.  Remember, he followed Jesus, who was around 30 years old (see Luke 3:23), when He began His ministry, so John would have been either in his late teens or early twenties when he decided to follow Him.

What’s the significance of this?

Let’s just say that a disciple who walked, talked, ate and handled the Messiah (see 1John 1:1)  wrote this gospel 50 years after the facts and still maintained they were true.  This fact doesn’t make the book true, but it does establish the author’s work as authentic and true to his mission, belief and stance.  Since we also know a first century copy of this book was discovered recently, we can conclude John probably knew about it and approved.  This sucks the life out of any argument which supposes the disciples didn’t teach Jesus as not only the sacrifice for sins (Savior) but also God incarnate.

This is the fact of our belief, folks, for the source manuals we have available to us make it clear.  Detractors preach, teach and scorn this gospel as foolish, inaccurate and deceptive, and it may well be, but the facts remain clear:  John declares Jesus to not only be the long looked for Jewish Messiah, but Savior, Lord of all Creation and equal with God the Father as God the Son.

In the other gospels this fact is never quite as emphasized as it is in John, and for good reason:  John was facing the teachings we discussed earlier.  It’s one of the reasons he wrote this gospel, the three letters to the churches and Revelation to be quite frank.  He had to establish Jesus as God incarnate and an apostolic teaching. 

It’s fascinating that of all the disciples John was the only one to live to a ripe old age—no martyrdom.  It’s rumored (through one of the church fathers’ essays) that Caesar tried to kill him by throwing him into a vat of boiling oil, but to no avail.  John went under, came up and swam to the side of the pool.  At this the emperor exiled him to Patmos where he wrote Revelation.  This disciple survived to tell the tale and troubleshoot heresy in the latter part of the first century.  If I know God, this is one of the main reasons John survived.  No one who knows Scripture or the history of archeology can deny the doctrines of the Christian teaching surrounding Jesus now.  They can call them loony, unfounded, inaccurate, foolish, fairy tales and a bunch of other things, but they can’t deny the first century authorities on the subject taught Jesus as Lord, Savior and God.

In one fell swoop (the first chapter and twice more in other chapters) John takes on all the contrary teachings and knocks them down.  And who else would know better than a disciple what the tenets of belief for the new religion called “Christianity” would be?

The Gospel of John

May 27, 2009

In the Begining was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  He was with God in the beginning.  John 1:1, 2.

(I intend to follow the NIV headings in my Bible so that I can just do a block at a time.)

 Chapter 1:1-18  Settles some pretty glaring issues within the Christian church and answers a dozen or more questions from those outside it.

 1) John establishes Jesus was in the beginning of all things with God and is God, which makes Him eternal.

2) Verse 3 establishes Jesus created all things going so far as to say,  without Him nothing was made that has been made.

3) John uses “Word” to refer to Jesus, the Greek word “logos” is also given a gender in the next sentence. A pronoun “He” makes it clear the “Word” is a being and a man.

4) Verse 4  John tells us that Jesus held life within Himself. This life is the light of men, which simply points to His blood as the way to salvation. In Genesis 9:4, 5 when God gave Noah the animals to eat He prohibited the blood because it carried the life of the animal in it. We now know that it carries all the diseases and hormones too. This prohibition was intended to keep men healthier, I believe. But the point John is trying to make is that Jesus held the very essence of life for every creature in the universe within His own blood or being.

5) Verse 5  The life of Jesus became a light to men but they didn’t understand it.  At the bottom of my page there’s another translation for the phrase which means the darkness has not overcome it.  This is significant I think in that it points at understanding as a way to attain something or break through a wall of ignorance.  To conquer something we usually have to understand how it works.

6) Verse 6-9 John, the writer, wanted to establish that John the Baptist came not to be the light of the world but to point the way to it. One thing we will look at later in more detail is John the Baptist’s relationship to Jesus–they were cousins. Some have used this to discredit Jesus as Messiah, but if we remember that John the Baptist died for His convictions, it stands to reason either he was delusional, sincerely wrong or right!

7) Verse 10 points out something significant again: The world didn’t recognize Jesus as anything special when He came the first time.  He came to be born amongst His people, the Jews, but they didn’t recognize Him and went so far as to kill Him to shut Him up.  Jesus’ message could not be ignored it had to be eradicated in their view. The only way to do this was to kill Him. This will be the trait for all false practices of Christianity or religious people who don’t have the heart of Christ. They will hurt and destroy others in the name of God but will never lift a finger for the truth of love.

John, the writer, explains through the testimony of John the Baptist and his own witness that Jesus became flesh (a point 1st century Christians needed because there were those who claimed Jesus, being spirit, couldn’t have come down in actual flesh like us but only appeared to). Then he gives a testimony of having seen Jesus in His glory–the attributes of universal nature and acclaim as God.

John the Baptist claims, “This was He of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me has surpassed me because He was before me.’ “ John, however, was born before Jesus so we must take this as John claiming Jesus came from God–which is exactly what he says next.

Notice also the law was given through Moses, but grace and truth were given by Jesus. The contrast is significant because John is trying to make a point here: The law saved no one, it was heartless in many ways and mere rules and regulations.  Jesus came to breathe life into those who followed Him.  By saying grace and truth came through Jesus Christ John contrasts the lifelessness of the law and those who practice it with the message and mission of Jesus.

Verse 18 settles a long standing argument:  No one has ever seen God, but God the One and Only, who is at the Father’s side, has made Him known.  Jesus sits that right hand of the Father now, at the Father’s side.  That second phrase points out Jesus as the One and Only making it indisputable what John thought of Him—Jesus is God.

Jesus makes us understand the Father God, through Moses we learn basic right from wrong; through Jesus we learn the heart of God the Father.  Both testaments were given by the same God but one had to rule under harsher circumstances and a more hopeless paradigm.  Once Christ came to free us from the bondage to sin, we didn’t need the more stringent practices of the law because the Spirit changed us from the inside out and the outward form became obsolete.

There is no doubt in John’s mind, the writer of this gospel, that Jesus was God, the Messiah and his friend.  What we have here is a testimony by one who grew closest to Jesus and spoke the Master’s mind.

 By the way, the gospel of John is now established pretty clearly because of a recent (in the last ten years or so) discovery of a complete set of the NT books.  The dating of the books found is definitely first century.  What is significant about it, though, is that the entire first chapter of John remains intact and mirrors nearly word for word our current manuscripts, thus putting to rest later arguments about Jesus’ claims to be God as well as Savior as a Catholic addition instead of orignial belief.

Pretty cool, huh.

A New Direction

May 26, 2009

A few years back I studied the book of John as a part of a devotional I wrote for a forum.  I’ve decided to revisit the book through the journal I wrote then refreshing the subject through a little clearer vision (I hope) obtained since.  I’ve kind of been bouncing around subjects for a while and thought it would be nice to hit a book again to stay focused.

It’s gonna’ take me awhile so stick around.

A Sound Investment Strategy

May 24, 2009

“The master commended the dishonest manger because he had acted shrewdly.  For the people of the world are more shrewd in dealing with there own kind than are the people of the light.  I tell you, use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings.  Luke 16:8, 9.

Last night Jerome taught on this text (you can hear his teaching on it here) and it struck me just how clever our Master Jesus really was and is.  Sometimes we forget to connect the dots with Christ’s teachings, thinking His subjects jump around a bunch of times in random sequence without really being intertwined.  Jerome reminded us last night that Jesus demonstrated the vital connection between the Prodigal son’s tale and this subject of the shrewd manager.

For one thing (and I’m ripping you off a little here, Jerome), Jesus shows how much the Father’s heart longs for His children to come home and become part of the family again through the tale of prodigal son.  But what He also goes on to say in the Luke 16:1-15 is quite different than it seems He said in the wayward son’s story.  What He says here speaks to how we deal with the gifts given us here on earth.  The younger son wasted his inheritance then returned to be welcomed home sure, but hard on the heals of this story Jesus warns His disciples about squandering their gifts.  The rewards will be lacking in the kingdom to come because the gifts were not invested in eternal goods. 

What are these eternal goods?  Jerome pointed out it was the friends we used our worldly wealth to bring to the light.  At that great party where the bride (the church)  meets the Groom (Jesus) will we have used our worldly wealth to His purpose of saving those we come in contact with or squandered it on temporary pleasures in the here and now?  The younger son represents those who have squandered their gifts on making a name for themselves or gaining security only for this life.  When the son was welcomed back, he had no friends except the father to be glad of his return.  Sure the servants celebrated but not from a personal connection to the son, rather they were just glad for the Father. 

One other thing that struck me, though Jerome didn’t emphasize it as much:  The jewels in our crowns are not a physical thing in the sense of actual rocks, for what man values, God despises as worthless.  No, the jewels are the people we have invested in for eternal returns.  Paul speaks to this by saying,  For what is our hope, our joy, or the crown in which we will glory in the presence of our Lord Jesus when He comes?  Is it not you?  Indeed you are our glory and joy.  1 Thessalonians 2:19, 20.  The crown we work for as believers is not a hat with jewels in it but people in whom we have invested our time, energy and money.  Let’s exhaust all our means for the sake of showing the attitude of Jesus who invested everything He had to save a world that doesn’t really seem to want Him.

If we invest in earthly security more than eternal, our rewards will be small, for earthly security is fleeting and temporary at best.  Our reward in heaven is the friends we make for the kingdom here and now.  So let’s exhaust our means and energy on the family of God—and by that I mean increase the numbers of disciples.  I believe Jesus tells us we need to be as shrewd about eternal investments as the world is about earthly.

The Mission

May 23, 2009

“For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world.  John 3:17.

For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died.  And He died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for Him who died for them and was raised again.

So from now one we regard no one from a worldly point of view.  2 Corinthians 5:14-16.

It’s imperitive that we latch onto these truths and keep them foremost in our minds when dealing with the world.

Look at what Jesus told Nicodemus.  If this is God’s heart for the world, who, I might add, didn’t even acknowledge or know Him, then what should our outlook be?  Paul said in just a few verses before the one quoted above,  Since, then, we know what it is to fear the Lord, we try to persuade men (verse 11).  He says in Romans 5:8, But God demonstrates His own love for us in this:  While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.  Both these statements should cause us to re-evaluate our attitude toward the world and God’s intentions for it.

Christ taught and His disciples demonstrated a balanced connection with the secular world.  Strange as it might seem to many in our current mindset Jesus never instructed us to conquer the world for Him or go about ruling it.  Instead He told us to go make disciples, a far more personal and involved task.  The method of teaching someone else means I have to learn the truth I’m recommending well-enough to instruct them.  The root word of discipline is disciple, which points to one who follows a specific teaching.  Knowing this should set us on the path to a better grasp of our relationship to people without Jesus around us and the church.

The confusion always comes in the form of extra-biblical teachings and practices.  The one I’m thinking about this minute is indulgences, a Catholic teaching found no where in the Scriptures.  (Of course, there are many more that derive from Protestants as well, this one just happened to pop into my head.)  Understanding the blood of Jesus subtracts any notion that we can buy our way into sin allowances.  There’s no reason to practice such a tenet because Scripture makes it clear God wants us to become pure, and for those who fall there’s forgiveness and restoration.

The purpose of Jesus’ death is simply to reconcile man to God and man to man.  Anything else is the work of the devil to confuse the issue.  This simplistic truth, however, isn’t opposed to deeper truth in Christ or the mysteries of God.  But my point is what Allister Begg keeps reiterating constantly,  “The plain things are the main things, and the main things are the plain things.”  (I may have gotten that backwards, but you get the idea.)  Revelation aside, most of the Scripture is pretty blunt and startlingly plain.  I believe it’s one of the reasons why those who like to live outside its instructions resent it so much—no where to hide from its truth.

We don’t need more rules, regulations or methodolgies to be effective in Christ.  The Bible is quite sufficient for such a task.  What we do need are teachers who correctly handle the word of truth (2 Timothy 2:15b) and are not given to odd revelations, adding or subtracting from it.  There are plenty of these latter types who forbid people marry and order them abstain from certain foods, which God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and who know the truth.  1 Timothy 4:3.

Reaching out to the world with any other than the pure Word of truth means we failure to reach them for God at all.  Our task is simple:  instruct those who belong to Christ in life and godliness according His teachings.  We don’t need to complicate or add to it.  There’s plenty of work to be done with just His Word alone that we really don’t need to create more. 

If Jesus didn’t come into the world to condemn, what do His followers think they are doing when they practice condemnation?  So our understanding of the world at large should reflect Christ’s mission statement, which was?  To save the world.

Outside Fellowship

May 22, 2009

A man has his father’s wife.  And you are proud!  Shouldn’t you rather have been filled with grief and have put out of your fellowship the man who did this?  1 Corinthians 5:1b, 2.

I never liked this passage much because it sounded so harsh and hard-hearted toward the man under church discipline.  (And, by the way, I’m not using the word “church” as a metaphor, symbol of an organization or a building, it’s the people who follow Jesus as the Christ.)  Anyway, my problem with this passage is that I thought the man would feel ostracized, left out and alienated by the punishment.  I’ve heard some in the body of Christ call this type of thing antithetical to the salvation message, which means they either ignored the Scriptures like this discussing it as additions of a later time or they called it an outright fabrication.

I don’t enjoy making others feel like outcasts or aliens, so my trouble with this subject stems from my desire not to hurt anyone.  Yet I can’t escape the clear presentation of Paul’s argument here.  Considering what the man did I understand his concern, but as far as I grasp the subject, he only took his father’s concubine because Paul didn’t say he took his mother, which in their day meant someone who was a lesser wife.  Since his dad must have had two or more wives, taking one wouldn’t seem all the problematic until one takes into account covetousness and theft of a love and loyalty belonging to someone else.

The punishment goes against everything I’ve been programmed by the sixties leaders of acceptance to believe—i.e. “I’m ok, you’re ok” or it’s all good.  What we call “dis-fellowship” is really making whoever we are pushing out of community feel bad, hurting their self-worth and ostracizing them for their natural tendancies.  The reasoning might sound like this,  “These two people fell in love.  They couldn’t help nature’s demand on them; they had to go with what was good for them…”  You know the rhetoric.  From the text it sounds like this guy was flaunting his choice by bringing her to the dinners and worship times with the other followers of Jesus, yet no one appears to have rebuked him or took him aside to confront his sin.

The believers at Corinth were sincere about their commitment to Jesus.  How I know this is in the the second letter to them Paul commends them for their obedience then recommends they restore the fallen brother to fellowship.  Look at the wording here:  If anyone has caused grief, he has not so much grieved me as he has grieved all of you, to some extent—not to put it too severely.  The punishment inflicted on him by the majority is sufficient for him.  Now instead, you ought to forgive and comfort him, so that he will not be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow.  I urge you, therefore, to reaffirm your love for him.  2 Corinthians 2:5-8.

What was his punishment?  Dis-fellowship.  He was not allowed to continue the sin and remain in the community of believers at the same time.  As long as he justified the sin of adultery with his father’s wife, he could not join in the fellowship time.  This pretty much sums up their punishment.  Now that may not seem so harsh to some and way too harsh to others, but in my view I don’t think we get it as well as we should.

For someone to be dis-fellowshipped they must have fellowship.  To make the point more pointed, for someone to feel the sting the discipline of being outside the community of believers brings, they must have experienced and valued the richness inside it.  If the lesson of being outside the community is going to be effective, first we must make sure that it matters to the person being asked to leave.  This man broke faith with the covenant of those who follow Jesus by doing something outside the nature of his Lord and Savior, therefore he had to be rebuked.  The context of the passage suggests that for a time he stubbornly held onto his stolen wife for obvious reasons, but the determination of the body of Christ isolated his sin like a diseased limb and shut him out from infecting the rest of the them.

I think this is what Jesus meant by “if an eye offends you, pluck it out; and if a hand causes you to sin, cut it off” for neither body part causes sin on a physical scale, rather it is in the context of the fellowship of Christ we see people as spiritual parts of whole body.  It is better to enter the fellowship of the kingdom without a limb or an eye than to let a diseased and infected person who refuses to reform to continue to spread their sickness.  Sin is a disease and Jesus’ presence through the Holy Spirit is the only cure.

For the punishment to do its work, this man had to have experienced solid, rich, loving and deep friendship with his brothers and sisters in the faith, otherwise he would have simply resented and hated them then gone on his way. Now there are many in the world and currently in the church who claim this method is antithetical to the principle of love.  The body of Christ is a hospital for sinners not a haven for saints, right?  Yeah, for sure, but the language we have misappropriated somewhere along the line of history is the separation of the words “sinners” and “saints” as mutually exclusive.  Saints in the Scriptural context are sinners washed in the blood.  The reason they are washed in the blood is because they have sinned, confessed and repented.  Let’s put that last sentence in modern vernacular:  They did wrong, recognized it, admitted it and switched directions with their  behavior through the power of the presence of Jesus.

The man must have returned his father’s wife for it sounds like from the text he repented and now desired fellowship again.  Wow!  That in itself is a testimony to how close these people must have been, how incredibly important their connection became to be to them and what a deep seated love they grew because of their shared relationship with Jesus.  Paul’s firm “expel the immoral brother” turned to “forgive and comfort him” once the dude turned away from his sin.

Here’s another lesson we need to glean from this situation:  They did all this punishment with horror and sorrow!

There wasn’t this severe, condescending or austere “we’re-perfectly-sinless” mentality going on but a real knuckle biting hard decision to deal with someone they all loved deeply who wouldn’t repent.  Stoning someone we don’t care about is easy, but dealing punishment to those we love is distressing to the nth degree.  It should hurt us, it should stress us out and we should never do it unless love is the motivation.

A child who disobeys and runs into the road receives punishment, not out of careless indifference or judgmental harshness but out of a desire to teach them to be more cautious in the future and to preserve their lives in health.  The same can be said of this method of dealing with sin.  Unrecognized sin infects the rest of the church; and by “unrecognized” I don’t mean people don’t know about it, rather they refuse to either bring it out into the open or admit it as sin.  We get so scared to confront those who do wrong we end up over-compensating and running the other way. We do this for various reasons, like we hate confrontations, fear of offending others, fear of hurting someone’s feelings, or fear of being found out ourselves, so we avoid dealing with the problems around us.

I am not sinless and neither are you.  This doesn’t mean we can’t deal with blatant unrepentent sin in our midst.  Look at what I just said, then take it apart:  we deal with sin that is not recognized as such or is being held on to without turning from it.  In other words, the person who sins needs to not only recognize his or her sin but stop it when confronted.  If someone is given to rage, they need to begin the process of learning self-control.  This doesn’t mean they won’t fail and fall back into their old habit, rather every time they fail they admit their failure and release their anger.  After a while of turning toward godly responses of gentleness and self-control, the hold rage has on them will begin to wan.

This is what the body of Christ is for:  heal sinners and make them saints.  But what’s odd about this is that the moment we accept Jesus we are saints.  Our sainthood is based not on our sinless condition but our connection to Christ.

Manhood

May 20, 2009

For if, by the trespass of the one man, death reigned through that one man, how much more will those who receive God’s abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ.  Romans 5:17.

Jesus not only represents but models the perfect man. 

Sometimes it’s hard to remember our first mentor is supposed to be Jesus.  I guess because we so need visual examples we fail to remember the principle.  I don’t think this is a bad thing for the NT continuously speaks to the issue of being examples of godliness, excelling at kindness and grace toward one another.  What a parent lives out in front of his or her children will be what they imitate.  God created the learning process this way, so once sin entered the picture, the examples went off the mark.

I’ve rarely met a man who served Jesus with his whole heart who wasn’t changed drastically by the contact.  Yet I’ve also rarely met anyone who understood the balance of grace and judgment completely.  This is not to say I get it totally either, but to point out that we struggle with this concept constantly for the mere reason we come from fallen stock and our perceptions are skewed—not only from the ideal but from each other.  I’ve noticed “self-made” men usually have a bit of an attitude about everyone else who hasn’t been as successful.  Their children grow up to think and act out the same attitude of arrogance their father displayed.

For example:  When you or I meet a street person who is obviously stoned, what’s our first reaction?  Well, most of us tend to think “get a job” or some such condescending thought like that, because a lot of the characters we meet on the street are professional panhandlers.  That said, we have no idea what put them there (on the street) so judging their situation or condition is premature to the say the least.

The self-made men would not think twice about calling such a person lazy or some other comment in that vein because they believe failures do it to themselves.  In a world of dog eat dog failures are thrown to the dogs then disparaged for their loser status.  It’s callous, cruel and wholly unnecessary.

We men have been called to change that in Jesus.  We are taught by Him and His disciples to be upfront and honest with all people, calling sin “sin” and not being afraid of what other people might do to us for it.  At the same time we are told to be loving, careful and gentle with our brothers who fall into sin—or jump into it, as the case may be.  Why?  Because stoning the sinner never prevented sin nor did it cure the disease.

It takes incredible courage to be loving with those who are unlovable.  In my estimation our biggest mistake in Christianity is our belief that preaching is the end of our duty to others.  Instead of coming along side the weak or fallen to lift them up and support them until they can walk in Jesus relatively independently, we condemn them from a distance for being stuck in the mud and sewage.  Those washed in the blood wrinkle their noses at the smell of the fallen as if they never experienced the same thing.

I will say it again another way:  It takes far more guts to encourage a fallen person to be like Jesus then live it in front of them than it does to preach a sermon or call them out for it.  The former takes courage because it becomes involved with the person or people; the latter takes hardly any effort at all and requires only disdain for those who are not like us.

Now while there is a place for church discipline in the form of artificial consequences for known sin (we’ll discuss this at a later date in detail), there is never a reason to condemn anyone.  In 1 Corinthians 6 & 7  we see a man who steals his father’s concubine/wife and is called to repent, for sure, but we also hear Paul rebuke the church for tolerating it as well.  The consequence the church was to meet out?  The man was to be excluded from fellowship until he repented.  Why?  If the church stands for loyalty to Christ, worshiping demons would be antithetical to that loyalty wouldn’ you say?  So here in this case, a man took his father’s wife, which by dent of Scripture is adultery, covetousness and theft, then the church patted him on the back for it.  Even in the pagan world this was frowned upon and condemned, which means the gospel of Jesus would be held in contempt for excusing such behavior.  The church had to respond a certain way or face the just accusation of hypocrisy.

You see in the second letter to Corinth Paul commending them for their obedience and telling them to restore this dude to fellowship again because he repented or he might be overcome with sorrow and decend into bitterness.  This isn’t a harsh sentence as harshness goes, rather it is a strong stance on who we are in Christ and what we represent.  It took courage and love for these people to stand up for righteousness—love for God as foremost in their consideration.  Yet they weren’t to be harsh with this guy at all, instead they were instructed not to socialize with him or let him be part of the fellowship until he corrected his behavior.  Once he turned away from his sin, however, they were to restore full fellowship without condemnation.

That to me sounds like a pretty solid method of dealing with evil.

A real man does what is necessary no matter what the naysayers do or say.  What it means Scripturally to “man-up” is to become like our Master.  What did Jesus do for sinners?  He died for them.  What did Jesus do for sick, demon possessed, hungry, lost, broken and trapped people?  He healed, delivered, fed, found, put them back together, and broke their cages.  What did He do for the very people who put Him on the cross?  He prayed God would forgive their ignorance.

Here is the example men must conform to the most. 

I have no problem calling domineering, controlling and abusive men out on the carpet to their faces, if need be, but I will do so first in private, then with a brother in the faith, then with the elders and lastly before the church.  In other words, the Scripture gives solid guidelines for confronting sin, giving the offending brother or sister plenty of opportunities to repent.  Now this confrontation doesn’t mean we condemn them for falling back into old habits.  This course of action is only for those who refuse to admit sin or refuse to turn from it.  Since sanctification is the work of a lifetime, it will take some of us many years to conquer some of our more tenacious bad habits of the heart.  The role of the spiritual brother or sister in Christ, however, is to continue to encourage godliness in others, confront sin as needed and strengthen them by being a living example of what it means to be a sinner saved by grace.

I believe the best examples I’ve ever witnessed is when good men showed me what it meant to be honest with their sin and continued to demonstrate growth.  I watched them as they fell into bad habits again and again but refused to let those habits rule or dominate them.  They turned back to the Savior and grew stronger with each return.  We are not sinless so pretending to be is foolish.  Our examples to the younger believers is to be one of showing the way out of sin, not magical accomplishment.  No one is perfect, not even one, so pretending to be is godless and hypocritical.

It serves the church far more effectively if the mature believers demonstrate confession, repentence and change in front of the babes in Christ, than it does for them to put on a front of sinlessness.  The body of Christ is a hospital for sinners not a haven for saints.

A Call to Man-up

May 18, 2009

Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked or stand in the way of sinners or sit in the seat of mockers.  But his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on His law he meditates day and night.  He is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither.  Whatever he does prospers.  Psalm 1:1-3.

Today on Family Life Today I heard a preacher calling men to “man-up” and take responsibility for both their actions and their lives.  He called them idiots if they were abusive, neglectful, overly ambitious, arrogant and lustful.  He used words like “fool” and “idiot” quite often, then told those listening that if they were offended by his words, it was probably because they identified with the men of whom he was speaking.

While I wasn’t offended by his message and agreed whole-heartedly with his assessment, I still refuse to believe his method was godly.  For one thing, Galatians 6:1 instructs those who are spiritual to restore those who get caught in sin gently.  There was absolutely nothing gentle about this man’s confrontation, and, in fact, his arrogance showed through his every word.

How can I say this confidently?

First of all, I was involved in ministry when one of the first big worldwide preachers got caught with his hand in the cookie jar.  Jimmy Swaggart was just like our preacher above using language more tempered to traditional Christian wording, but with the same force and confrontation.  His fall caused many people’s faith to be shaken, partly because they were looking at the wrong man for starters, and partly because his constant diatribe against porn and illicit sex were legendary.

In other words, I rarely see people who have hard words or harsh methods confronting sin who haven’t got skeletons in their own closet.  This preacher above condemned men for being harsh toward their women, which is right, but his condemnation was without mercy or grace and not tempered by love for the guys struggling with their own indoctrination and heritage.  Telling someone that abuse of women is sin is one thing, being hard on them for it is another.  We don’t know what brought this guy to his current mindset exactly, though we do know sin secured a foothold sometime in his past.  If he is unable to look this stuff square in the face, he’s less of a man, I get that and agree, yet if he is less of a man, it is not just because of him but because he was educated to think a certain way.  How we think colors how we understand truth.  A man reads the passage about his being the head of the household and takes it to mean certain things because of what he knows of authority in his own life.  In other words he interprets God’s Word according to his own experience and education.

But my next question is:  Who the hell isn’t less of a man than Jesus?

Go ahead call sin by its right name, but remember the methods of our Master who when confronted with sin never sidestepped the issue or excused it, instead He healed it.  This guy’s judgment forgets the fact that our culture even within the church excuses children’s bad behavior to the point that when they grow to adults physically, they have no idea how to be adults mentally.  A man who is still a boy emotionally or mentally has been mentored by whom?  Well, considering that more than half the men in the world today have been in single parent homes, I would say women have educated their sons quite a bit.  The other portions would be fathers who are one or a combination of the following:  absent, emotionally or physically distant, abusive, bad boys who play all the time and probably some examples I’m leaving out.  The other educator is the media.  We sell the fact that real men are either soft or hard but rarely do we show them as a combination of emotional accessability and tough only when and where it counts.  In other words, there’s no balanced view of a real man for these guys to follow, which means no mentors, of course.

If a man-boy is such a loser, it isn’t just his choices that have gone into making him what he has become, rather it is a host of lifetime habits developed in a space where discipline and responsibility have been evidently lacking.  If we educate our children that men are too hard and then tell them that their very strength of body and mind is wrong, what do we expect them to grow up into?  Women have beaten men into pansies to some extent in the last sixty odd years, then complained there are no real men around for them to hook up with once their work is done.  It’s like we create the problem in one breath, then condemn the problem in the next.  That’s both inconsistent and confusing.  They interpret what a real man is then watch with horror as their own sons grow up to be less than they envisioned them.

The world is in its current state, and by that I mean the last several thousand years, because of sin.  Great.  Now what do we do with that issue?  We recognize the only real man to ever walk around on this sinful planet was Jesus Himself and if we want to know what a man is or how to act like one in specific situations, we need to either read about circumstances in which He acted out manliness or study His teachings.  Jesus never called sinners “idiots” but lost in need of finding.

I liked the preacher’s direct way of speaking for it resonates with me.  What I don’t like is his lack of concern with those in his audience who are second or third generation men from similar families.  A man who isn’t conformed to Christ will not hear what He has to say; those who are being saved will and there is never any reason to call them idiots or fools for they have given themselves over to be recreated, which means they are on the path to wisdom.

Yet here is a caveat I should mention:  If a man claims the name of Jesus as his surname (i.e. calls himself “Christ’s man”), then abusive behavior must be confronted and abandoned, neglectful attitudes must be stopped, self-ambition eradicated and self-control a growing principle within his life.  For anyone who is in the Spirit of Christ will have these mores in ever increasing measure (see 2 Peter 1:3-11).  In contrast those who are not in the Spirit will use their spiritual authority to gain power over others and will grow either abusive (if they aren’t already) or disguise their selfish ambition with spiritually worded goals.

Saying this doesn’t ever mean any of these principles just magically appear out of thin because we spoke the right Christian incantation.  No, sanctification is the work of a lifetime and very few who grow up with abusive parents will be able to conquer their own tendancies in a short period of time, be they abusive themselves or living in reaction to it.  However, we should see progress by the process of submission to the body and accountability.  The honesty of the confession, though, depends on the safety of the environment.  If a man or woman doesn’t feel safe within the context of the body of Christ, sin will never be confronted in a healthy way, which means it will continue to be a cancer in a person’s life.

If, however, we create an environment where sinners can find healing and change, the results will be exponential growth.  Why?  Because of our confrontational methods?  No, but our ever increasing ability to open up to the Spirit’s work through an environment of healing, grace, mercy and righteousness.

There’s much to say on this subject but I need to think about it some more.

Two Dimensional Thinking

May 17, 2009

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,”  declares the LORD.  “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts higher than your thoughts”  Isaiah 55:8, 9.

You’d think science and religions would be fascinated enough by creation to seek truth not preference.  You’d think they would be far more interested in discovering what is rather than ranting about what isn’t…and  what isn’t provable.  You’d think after all the advances in science and the discoveries which led to also discovering just how much we don’t know, would lead people to wonder at the awe-inspiring nature of all that is.

Oddly, enough, it doesn’t make men ponder or wonder all that much.  Most people I know who reject God take scientists statements about the origins of life at face value.  O, they can throw a few pretty convincing arguments out there and prove a point or two, but the reality facing science today is left out.  Most people sold on a religious POV of view do the same thing but for different reasons, yet they still reject God’s reality.

What is that reality?

Well, it’s the pure truth of nature.  The intricate design of the ecosystem and delicate balance of our world in general lends itself to questioning our assumptions about its origins.  Now I understand why rejecting the God presented by Western Christianity would be popular.  The truth be known, I don’t like their presentation much either.  It seems to me we Christians get a preconception based on a misconception then run with it even in the face of direct evidence to the contrary.  This isn’t spiritual wisdom it’s foolishness.  I say “we” because I’ve caught myself doing too and I’m sure it happens now, even though I’m discussing it and identifying the problem.

Being able to identify our issues doesn’t guarantee we’ll be able to solve them right away, or at all, for that matter.  What it does signify is our willingness to do something about us.

Our God claims to be more than us; in other words multilayered, multi-dimensional and beyond our abilities to fathom as a whole.  Saying this doesn’t mean, now, that we can’t grasp certain aspects of Him, for then what would the purpose of the Bible be?  No, rather we cannot grasp the whole of Him for He lives outside our two dimensional thinking.

In three dimensions we see the world in its height, width and depth.  The spiritual dimension has depth we haven’t even tapped yet and still we as a whole describe the truths we are ignorant of by what we know or think we know.  For instance, how many times have you heard someone say,  “If God is a god of love, He…” then finish positive or negative?  To even say this sentence assumes we are authorities on what love is and are using our own limited criterion to be the judge and jury of the infinite.  If God is the author of all things—even love, then He sets the boundaries of what all these things are not us.  The designer makes the rules of the creation, whatever it might be.

The guy who designed microwave ovens set out to heat food quicker than had been possible before his time.  Obviously the discovery of microwaves wasn’t based on this assumption or even remotely interested in applying the technology this way at the time.  But once the discovery of microwaves was made, people began to experiment to see how many different ways it could be used.  We now use microwaves in all sorts of appliances and service oriented products.

God designed the microwave oven before there was even a thought one was possible.  The possibility of these products originated in God’s creative thinking not with us.  All possibilities came from Him, therefore anything we discover He hid for us to seek out.  It’s like creation is one giant treasure hunt for mankind and God’s the one hiding them.

Yet once we discovered microwaves we began to realize how little we understood about the universe in general.  This fact should have humbled humanity.  It didn’t though.  Instead we grew more arrogant because of the knowledge we gained and our self-importance grew disproportionate to the discovery.

Dimensions speak of the width, height and depth, right?  But now enter time into the equation and we get a whole new sum.  Then add any one of the other 13 dimensions physisists insist exist and the calculations become complex.

A God able to design all these dimensions would probably have more than 13, wouldn’t you say?  Therefore, our grasp of creation is quite limited, in my opinion, which means we can look at beings such as angels or Satan and think outside our normal spiritual box by adding in the above reasoning on dimensions and get a startling sum for spiritual reality.  Angels seem to be able to enter God’s dimension and ours.  Or, may be they can exist in both places at once, I don’t know.  The possibility of such beings, however, follows known physics wouldn’t you say?  The spiritual reality in the Bible is not just mysticism but an actual scientific place which can be calculated if we only knew the math to do it.

This suggests to me we limit God based on our own limitations.  The two dimensions we set up for Him is creation and salvation…and may be supplying our wants and wishes as addendums for one of those.  For us to even scratch the surface of the Eternal we have to step outside our presumptions and move on to the reality of what is beyond us.  How can anyone look at the stars, read about the planets or our own earth’s ecosystem or nature and not be moved with awe?  How can we limit the God we serve to our own narrow and restrictive POV?

For us to grow beyond our current human grasp of reality, we need to open our hearts to recognize the vastness of creation, then let that expand our understanding of God.  We must allow Him to be bigger than us.

Otherwise, what’s the point in serving a being no different than we are?  Doesn’t that end up being self-worship?