Archive for April, 2010

No Hold On Me

April 29, 2010

“I will not speak with you much longer, for the prince of this world is coming.  He has no hold on me, but the world must learn that I love the Father and that I do exactly what my Father has commanded.  John 14:30, 31.

Jesus’ business on earth was about to see its fulfillment.  The prince of this world is coming pointed to His arrest, trial and subsequent death, and since we know He was speaking of Satan, it stands to reason He is submitting Himself to this willingly.

But I like the fact that Satan has no hold on our Master; the reason for His death had nothing to do with Satan’s power over Him—either to arrest or kill Him.  Do you see this?  There’s a proverb which goes  There is no wisdom, no insight, no plan that can succeed against the LORD.  Though the enemy sought to eliminate Jesus from the heavenly equation by killing Him, there was no way to hold Him in the grave or even kill Him, for that matter.  Jesus is God’s Son, our elder brother, therefore He is God.

The sentence structure in Jesus’ statement interprets itself.  Satan’s lack of power over Jesus wasn’t accidental or a matter of defiance, rather it was a declaration of obedience and love.  The Lord wanted His disciples to know that He was safe, as always, and what came next would be His means of demonstrating to the world how much He loved His Father.  Unfortunately, though the world might “get” it they don’t like what His obedience reveals.

It’s quite hard to endure the company of someone who lives exactly like we know we should but either refuse to do so or feel frustrated in our attempts to get there.  You know the type of people I’m talking about:  they show disciplined, purposeful lives and are quite successful at their endeavors.  Those who resent them will either attack them publicly in an effort humiliate and silence them or stop shun them all together.

The world treats Jesus this way, and, in turn, us when we begin to look like Him in character and practice.  If the prince of this world had no hold on our Master, he can gain no hold over us.  Oh, He might trip us up and cause us to fall on our faces once in a while or even daily for a time, but his hold is slipping because our Boss is able to hold us better.  We are loved enough for the God of heaven to send His own to show us how much.  This should immediately increase our value even in our own eyes.

The message for today, then, is:  Don’t be discourage when we feel we don’t live up to the image of Jesus.  The prince of this world had no hold on Him and therefore has no hold on us.  Our sins are forgiven, our lives are being renewed every day, though we fall into sin and fail Him, He will not fail us.  The prince of this world was beaten even before the cross, and so he remains.  We all have failed the Master and probably will again, but the master of this world has no hold on us if we continue to return to the Savior.


Jesus Gives Us the Inside Scoop

April 28, 2010

“I have told you now before it happens, so that when it does happen you will believe.”  John 14:29.

The reason is simple:  so you might believe.

It’s almost comical how little we trust the Word of God.  Claiming to believe in God is different, I guess, than believing Him.  I hear too many people make great claims to faith in Jesus but deny His teachings on a regular basis.

Now don’t get me wrong, having a difference of opinion on interpretation is different than disbelief, definitely.  But denying the authority of the gospels just so we can avoid certain painful teachings is foolishness and robs them of any ability to apply at all.  If we can pick and choose what is true in the gospels, then we become gods with the authority over them not the other way around.

People will continue their quest for being able to have their cake and eat it too, I suppose, yet it is such a self-defeating way of thinking.  Why not just declare all religions true, in that case, and be as ecumenical as possible?  It makes far more sense to see all gods as characteristics of the real one than to take one we like and infuse what isn’t there.

Jesus doesn’t allow for this kind of sidestepping at all—at least, according to this gospel He doesn’t.  John ratchets it up a notch later in one of his letters,  If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.  If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.  If claim we have not sinned, we make Him out to be a liar and His word has no place in our lives. John doesn’t let anyone off the hook, either, because a few sentences later he goes on to say,  The man who says,   “I know Him,” but does not do what He commands is a liar, and the truth is not in him. And, This is how we know we are in Him:  whoever claims to live in Him must walk as Jesus did. (John 1:8-10; 2:4, 6)  There’s not much wiggle room in those declarations.

Why is the accuracy of the Bible put down and dismissed so vehemently?

Lots of reasons.

I would say the definitive nature of the Scriptures to lay out sin and righteousness is the main reason many look for a way to discredit them.  I don’t blame them exactly, because I’d like to be able to do some things the Bible says are wrong.  The problem is believing in Jesus is different than believing about Him.  The historical fact of Him is pretty undeniable, so what other defense do we humans have than knocking the validity of the Bible’s authority?  At the same time, Christians who deny the murky history of some books need to recognize the possibility of those writings being true, or at least as accurate in truth as our accepted gospels.

I guess what I’m trying to point out here is there are plenty of reasons not to believe.  If we choose believe and submit to the Scriptures as an authority in our lives, Jesus gives us a valid reason to do so.  His purpose for predicting the coming of the Holy Spirit is so the disciples will have solid evidence for belief.  He also tells them of His immanent death and resurrection for the same reason.  We have the testimony of John again to encourage our faith:  That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched—this we proclaim concerning the Word of life.  The life appeared, we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us.  We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us.  And our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son, Jesus Christ.  1 John 1:1-4.

Belief isn’t easy, and neither is faith, but there are rewards for those who confess Jesus as Lord.

Don’t Be Troubled

April 27, 2010

“Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.”  John 14:27b.

One sentence which should cause us to pause and take stock of our Jesus.  One sentence that should make every believer stop stressing themselves out over the political shifts and changes within the world’s dynamic.  One sentence which should create in us a sense of peace like no other, hope for the future and that we matter immensely to God.

The Way of Peace

April 26, 2010

“All this I have spoken while still with you.  But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.  Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you.  I do not give to you as the world gives.  Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.  John 14:25-27.

Our Master shows us joy on the very night He was betrayed—and to top it all off, He knew it was coming.  I don’t think I could be that calm at this point in my spiritual journey.

This chapter comforts me like almost no other.  Jesus keeps reminding His disciples (and us) to hold on in faith and not to get discouraged when the world seems to be winning—or at least when we feel we aren’t.  His purpose for delaying His return leaves many discouraged and afraid they have believed in vain, which, while I understand their frustration, I believe it has some outcome we can’t fathom at this point.

No one finds truth without the Holy Spirit’s guidance.

I don’t know what His role was before Christ’s death and it doesn’t really matter since God is One.  The work of redemption was a concerted effort on the part of God—meaning they all took a part in it.   I mention this because arguments abound about whether the Spirit worked in the hearts of humans before Christ’s resurrection.  Of course, time is not an  issue to an eternal God so whether the Spirit took an active role in human affairs before the New Covenant or not is immaterial.  He is now and that’s all we need to worry about.

No one finds peace without the Holy Spirit.

I firmly believe whatever peace or truth is offered in the world, and works when practiced, is a direct result of the Holy Spirit.  John doesn’t just suggest this but bluntly declares the Spirit’s job is to convict the world of sin, righteousness and judgment, which means no one can find truth without Him.  It also refutes Christians who try to be exclusive with truth by stating the Spirit is at work in the world even where the message of the gospel has not been heard.  The passage in John 16:8-10 declares He will do this in the world not just the church, and there’s no hint that it’s directly or indirectly related to the work of spreading the gospel by the church.

Why am I harping on this point?  Because I believe the world has truth to be found in it where peace can be had as well, through the practice of it’s tenets.  I know this makes some fundamentalists tear their hair out in outrage but I don’t care.  Truth is truth and it doesn’t matter where we find it because it’s still true.  The problem with the truth we find, though, many times isn’t the truth itself but that we trust a faulty source, since they opened our eyes to it.  In other words we tend to trust those who reveal truth to us far too much and give them authority they don’t deserve just due to their revelation.  This kind of thinking is dangerous and adhered to ardently throughout the world and the Christian faith.

Yet there is a danger too on the other side which fundamentalists have warned about ad nauseum.  The human spirit finds it hard to balance its POV; it’s either wholesale against or for or indifferent.  I believe Jesus uses His instruction to warn against any form of extreme reaction.  Though there is truth found in the world as well as peace, we must recognize the weight of evidence is against it as a whole.  The world is not at peace and any argument to the contrary ignores the constant stream of lawsuits, arguments with academia, politics, business and families; not to mention how many wars are started over land ownership, water rights and tribal/racial supremacy.  The world is not at peace.  Individuals might find a bubble of peace for themselves but that doesn’t subtract the truth for the masses.  Poverty still reigns and injustice runs rampant.

As to the way of peace, there are those who preach peace almost as if it were a god of some kind.  Pacifists abound from ethics as disparate as Atheism to Christianity who oppose war at any cost, go far in their support of anti-violence campaigns and generally weep publicly whenever the mention of defending the helpless through arms comes up as a subject.

The way of peace isn’t for the faint of heart, though.  It takes guts and real stamina to stand for peace.  Yet Jesus’ promise of peace goes against the grain of the world’s methods and view of what it means to find it.  Look at almost any example of peace through political or social pressure and you’ll find oppression of some kind.  I’m not leaving out religious influences in this at all, since one of the greatest mistakes of the Christian faith has been when they choose to enter politics with the name of Jesus as their weapon of persuasion.  It scares the living hell out of me when I see self-proclaimed followers of Jesus involve Him in political maneuvers or law making.  This is not what the Master meant by the way of peace!

There will be no peace between human beings until those beings are at peace within themselves.  To believe otherwise is to ignore history, psychology, anthropology, philosophy and our own source manual, the Bible.

A follower of Christ will find everything blockading their way in their quest for peace—especially if they have an external view of it.  A person who recognizes where peace begins its life understands the difference between external and internal peace, for they see what is in their control.  All things outside of my internal reckoning are beyond my control, since these depend on other people, geological stability, weather and natural forces.  I can’t control anything or anyone except myself and believing differently just shows how deluded we can be with an ideal.

Jesus, however, didn’t promise world peace for the believer or the world.  In fact, too many statements declare the impossibility of such a thing ever happening within the current framework of humanity.  Matthew 24, Luke 21 and several other places have our Master declaring there will be no peace until He renews all things.

What He did promise though, is to give us His peace.  The phrasing is important and even more poignant when we remember how much opposition faced Him during His ministry and how it ended.  “My peace I give to you.  I do not give to as the world gives.” His promise of peace had nothing to do with ending wars or making treaties of any kind with the world, but with an inner quiet that transcended human efforts to grasp.  According to our world’s common practice there should be no peace of mind where the world is in upheaval or disaster.  Jesus’ peace quiets the heart, mind and spirit—which make up the soul—by entering into our world with hope for a new world without sin.  He gives us heart change and commands us to make disciples not overthrow governments.  If we change the heart of person, their politics change by default.  If we help facilitate a change in a person’s attitude about themselves and others, we improve their lives by default.

We cannot escape His emphasis for our peace depends on our understanding.  As Proverbs says, understanding changes our outlook and the way others see us, for it works from the inside out to recreate our expressions to those around us.  It affects our influence with those who look to us for truth and how to live.  His peace turns our world on its proverbial ear and declares the truth about what we believe to the rest of those we affect through casual or intimate contact .

Why in the World?

April 21, 2010

Then Judas (not Judas Iscariot) said,  “But, Lord, why do you intend to show yourself to us and not to the world?”

Jesus replied,  “If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching.  My father will love him, and we will come and make our home with him.  He who does not love me will not obey my teaching.  These words you hear are not my own; they belong to the Father who sent me.”  John 14:22-24.

Sometimes it seems to me that Jesus ignores the question and hurries on with whatever point He was trying to make.  Slowly over the years I’ve learned to connect the dots.

Jesus replied implies, however, He was answering Judas’ question, which means now we have to study the both the question and the answer to get the connection.  The answer, though seemingly obscure, is simple:  The world does not love Jesus or His message so they won’t see Him.  The sight He’s talking about, of course, is spiritual not merely physical.  Faith is a journey to physical presence but the latter cannot be had without the former being a constant in our lives.

So, the reason those who obey see Jesus is because they are open to Him through the Spirit not only due to belief but their faith in the Holy Spirit’s promised work.  The reason the world cannot see Him or understand His teachings is because they refuse His authority over them and deny the truth or, at least, validity of His teaching.

That’s the lesson for today, if you’re wondering why your friends outside the faith don’t get you or Jesus clearly, this is the simple reason.  A man must be born again of water and the Spirit or he cannot enter into life through the Son.

We’re Not Orphans!

April 20, 2010

“I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you.  Before long, the world will not see me anymore, but you will see me.  Because I live, you also will live.  On that day you will realize I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in You.  Whoever has my commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves me.  He who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love him and show myself to him.”  John 18-21.

Okay, this is one packed statement!

I own a hard disk recorder which is system exclusive.  I don’t know what to tell you about it except that it’s a pain in the neck, since it doesn’t communicate with any other computer based recording systems.  The recordings are really cool, but not being able to transfer the wave files  so I can tweak or add parts in one venue with another system just limits where and what I can do.

If you’ve read this blog much at all, you’ll realize pretty quickly I don’t like being exclusive with people either, which makes Jesus’ statements above a bit uncomfortable for me.  “Before long, the world will not see me anymore, but you will see me.”  “He who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love him and show myself to him.” The mentality here goes against everything I learned from my culture during the 60s and 70s about acceptance.  So Judas’ question,  “But, Lord, why do you intend to show yourself to us and not to the world?” echoes my own concern with closing out possible friends.

Yet this isn’t what our Master is doing at all, nor is He attempting to be exclusive or even unconsciously being so.  What He’s telling us is something completely different than our modern minds will grasp, for we automatically infer something in His statements that aren’t there.  The fact that the world cannot see Him anymore has nothing to do with His efforts to reveal Himself to them, rather it indicates their refusal to see, believe, or acknowledge Him for who He is.  Therefore they see just a man where an incarnate God and Savior actually stands, whereas those who love Him see Him as He is.

It has to do with openness.  If our eyes are open to Christ, who is our light, then we will see clearly.  If we shut them and put our hands over our ears, He’s dead to us.  Of course this means God isn’t excluding anybody, if they feel outside the camp of Christ, it’s because they have refused Him.  A person must have Jesus’ commands in his or her possession and obey them before they can truly be said to be His disciple or see Him.

Someone once said,  “The door to hell is locked from the inside.”

Once we accept Jesus as He is without adding to or subtracting from Him, we will see Him and He will live in us.  Our acceptance that He is right and whatever opposes Him is wrong opens us up to not only His truth but the blessings and knowledge of His presence as well.

But about God loving only those who love His son, what does John say earlier in this book?

“For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.  For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through Him.  John 3:16, 17.

So, then, what is Jesus saying to the disciples about God only loving those who show their love through obedience?

Well, to my grasp of the Greek here, it is an active love demonstrated and known by the person not a love held in just in the heart.  In other words, God loves the world but they won’t accept Him, which means by shutting Him out they shut out His overt expressions of love as well.  And, as we’ve mentioned before, His presence being felt in our lives is contingent on us accepting Him as He is, otherwise we won’t recognize it being there at all.

Have you ever worked with mentally challenged people?  I have and one of the defining characteristics of their condition is usually how they interpret the world around them.  Things we take for granted they see as something to fear or don’t even recognize as potentially dangerous to their lives or limbs.  At the same time, there’s this trust/mistrust issue that crops up constantly which is constantly disproportionate to their reality.  They trust quite often those who would harm them and push away those who mean them well.

I see us in this light spiritually because we tend toward the same behavior with God.

Jesus sets the foundation for belief in Him first by promising the Spirit of truth, then making sure the disciples (and us through their message) know how to see Him once He’s gone from the earth.  He clears up any fears about the future by saying He will live, which promises a resurrection and make certain that His death was enough for humanity’s sin.  At this point He draws a line around the word “love” in order to define it for those who follow.  The actions of love for God are pretty well set out here, so as to avoid misunderstanding it.

Does this definition of love make our faith a works-based service to God?

Not at all.  I say this with confidence only because I see the works we do as a result of belief and faith not the other way around.  Anyone who loves flying kites learns the rules for keeping one in the air so they can continue to practice their love.  Following Jesus is no different.  If we claim to love Him yet ignore what He says, it shows the same disregard for Him that a husband or wife give to their spouse in a relationship.  If a husband ignored his wife, people would know his love was completely conditional and therefore not pure.  Jesus commands us to love Him in Spirit and truth, which is only commonsense.

For the life of me I can’t fathom why someone would call themselves a “Christian” then ignore or simply disregard the teachings of Jesus.  It makes about as much sense as calling yourself African while being of Indian decent. It’s getting the cart before the horse—for those not up on farm references it means a cart must be pulled by the horse not pushed.  We get things backwards then wonder why they don’t work.  Works before faith is so out of sync that it almost boarders on mentally challenged.  Works has to be a result of love—not a consequence because that is something that happens to us instead of coming from us as a response.  Consequences are natural or artificial results outside our control as a result of being in a place, time, or for something someone else or we’ve said or done to outside influences.  A result is a combination of factors that can be dictated by us.  Obedience to Jesus’ commands from trust in His teachings and person result in a consciousness of His presence which then brings a peace beyond comprehension since it doesn’t come as a natural consequence of the world around us.

To “see” a husband or wife doesn’t end with visual contact because a person is so much more than their physical presence. Again, my son is always with me even when I don’t see him because I know him by heart.  I know his quirky behaviors, idiosyncratic patterns and that red hair which makes nearly every woman within sight want to snuggle with him.  When he’s with his mom, I know his presence in the world because he’s in my blood.

Obeying our Master is not about earning anything, rather it’s a call and response.  If we say we love Him, it means we love what He says, does and considers good.  I want to be like Jesus in character and actions because I believe He’s right, good and full of love.

If You Love Me

April 16, 2010

“If you love me, you will obey what I command.  And I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Counselor to be with you forever—the Spirit of Truth.  The world cannot accept Him, because it neither sees Him or knows Him.  But you know Him, for He lives with you and will be in you.”  John 14:15-17.

Jesus doesn’t leave much room here for negotiation does He?  He makes a pretty blanket statement about what love is in His interpretation and, by default, what it isn’t.

Scripture makes a few definitive statements which leave little doubt about what the subjects are or how to interpret them.  Moral right and wrong, love for one’s neighbor, salvation through Christ alone, living in peace with the family of God and few other such principles head the list of prioritized instructions.  Okay, what I call “instructions” Jesus calls “commands” but the words amount to the same thing in my mind because instructions tell us what is required to get life running smoothly inside.

With Jesus, however, the interior life naturally surfaced on the exterior.  There is never any doubt about a believer’s allegiance since the evidence is always lived out loud.  So first He tells them the world will know they are His disciples if they love one another and then He makes it impossible for them not to know what love for God is out in the light:  obedience to His commands.

Now certain denominations have taken this statement to mean the Ten Commandments, but I don’t think this is the direction Jesus was heading at this moment.  Obeying Scripture was a given in their culture so addressing such an obvious point of truth would be redundant, though may be used as a reminder.  No, Jesus might be including the past commands in His conditions of love, but His main purpose is telling them to follow those within the context of the moment and whatever He taught up to that time.

The rest of the chapter Jesus devotes to this subject of obedience being the evidence of love for Him.

I know some find this to be inconsistent with unconditional love, for their concept of unconditional love also includes companionship and wholesale acceptance.  Jesus refutes this by making it clear His presence with us is conditional because He cannot hang with rejection and sin, but His love for mankind is unconditional.  This is a different interpretation of love than most would use in the world today.  The general consensus on unconditional love is that it accepts the person and their behavior no matter what the character or practices.  A violent person might end up in jail, but those who conform to the world’s idea of unconditional love won’t execute that person because that would be out of line with their view of it.  But they will isolate him or her for the rest of their life in a lonely cell and make everyone else pay for their upkeep until they die of natural causes.

The truth is though, unconditional acceptance is impossible where evil is present.

Shifting gears now, look at the title Jesus gives the Holy Spirit:  the Spirit of truth.

Nothing in Jesus’ dialogue is out of place or random, but important pieces to the picture He’s painting for us.  Jesus asked the Father to give us another Counselor (one besides Jesus) whom He calls the Spirit of truth and sets us up for a relationship with God through truth.  The Spirit comes to show us how to love God by revealing truth to our hearts so we can obey Him.  Love spoken but never demonstrated holds no value for the object of one’s affection since it’s dormant.

Truth is an incredibly explosive concept.  There’s so much written about it, what it means, what it is, who has it, what’s relevant and what’s not that it almost sends me into a tailspin of confusion.  Yet Jesus explains why by saying,  “The world cannot accept Him, because it neither sees Him nor  knows Him.” If the world cannot know Him, describing His work, position in the trinity and shape to anyone outside of Christ is completely useless and an exercise in futility.

How did Jesus describe the Holy Spirit?  As the Spirit of truth, pointing us in the direction of what His primary job would be for those who follow Christ.  He will guide us into all truth, right.  The greatest evidence of a life in line with the Holy Spirit is not tongues, prophetic manifestations or miraculous abilities but the clear unadulterated truth being demonstrated in the life of the believer.  When the truth is made clear, what we do next shows the reality of our devotion to Christ.

So, in our Teacher’s perspective, true love for Him is accepted first on a heart/mind level through the Holy Spirit who guides us to all truth, which is then lived out loud for all to see as evidence of our love.

Everything Not From Faith

April 14, 2010

…And everything that does not come from faith is sin.  Romans 14:23b.

The NIV titles Romans 14 The Weak and the Strong, the contrast pointing out, of course, how little difference there is many times in attitude between the two.  One man’s faith is strong enough to eat anything sold in the market because he knows beyond a shadow of a doubt that idols are nothing but objects and the only power they have over us is what we give them—meaning the demonic spirits who inspire them, of course.  Whereas the weak man of faith won’t go near an idol because of the power it held over him in his past.

The point of Paul’s rhetoric isn’t so much to point out the strong and the weak as it is to show that both are accepted by God, but so often grow arrogant and critical of one another.  Paul shows which camp he’s in by one statement in 1 Corinthians 8:4 So then, about eating food sacrificed to idols:  We know that an idol is nothing at all in the world and that there is no God but one. He didn’t consider the food sold in the market place (offered to the local deities before being put on display) as tainted, though some Gentiles and Jews did.  The latter he categorized as having weak faith.

Yet he wasn’t disparaging about those who saw it differently from him.  This chapter gets confusing for some because there are several definitive statements that seem at odds with one another.  Look at the key instructions:

Accept him whose faith is weak, without passing judgment on disputable matters.

The man who eats everything must not look down on him who does not, and the man who does not eat everything must not condemn the man who does, for God has accepted him.

One man considers one day more sacred than another; another man considers every day alike.  Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind.

Let us stop passing judgment on one another.  Instead make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in your brother’s way.

It is better not to eat meat or drink wine or to do anything else that will cause your brother to fall.

So whatever you believe about these things keep between yourself and God.

But the man who doubts is condemned if he eats, because his eating is not from faith; and everything that does not come from faith is sin.

There’s more, of course, but the gist of the instruction is that we are to abstain from condemning one another for our position on disputable matters.  Yet it is important to note the stronger person’s faith here is the one who eats anything and looks at all days alike.  It might sound strange to some of us, conditioned as we are to legalistic thinking, but those who live in the freedom of Christ are considered by Paul to be of the stronger faith; whereas those who fear things such as foods or feel required to keep holy days do so out of weak faith.

There’s one more important declaration that balances all of this out:  Do not allow what you consider to be good to be spoken of as evil.

I know that many would hear this instruction and immediately think it was a declaration of war in a debating sense, but it really isn’t anything but a means of warning us to defend our stance gently.  In Galatians 6 Paul encourages the mature believers to gently instruct the less mature.  Can we take it to mean anything else but that we are to help them understand what mature thinking in Christ means without brow beating them with their immaturity?  I’d say most Christian denominations were started because the body of Christ cannot conform to this ideal.  We don’t seem to be able to live together in harmony with one another while holding different opinions, practices or peacefully debating the disputable matters which arise from Scripture.

Paul acknowledges there are disputable matters, right?  Two of those he mentions are which foods are unclean and holy days.

To whom was he writing?

Gentile and Jewish converts.  What can we conclude about how much ground his argument covered?  Both camps.  It seems to me obvious that no matter who came to Jesus they would bring their past to the table and want to include certain rites and ceremonies not covered by Christian doctrine into the mix as a means of honoring God.  According to Paul, God is honored by these though no one is required to practice them.

The problem both Romans 14 and 1 Corinthians 8 address is more about how we approach our differences than about the viewpoints specifically.  He’s more interested in peace within the body than correcting all the idiosyncratic practices which crop up due to strong personalities.  This doesn’t mean he ignores blatant legalism or pagan practices within the church—far from it—but the issues he addresses as sin and anti-Christ are pretty clearly earmarked by every apostle, so as to be impossible to misunderstand.

So how does this grasp of truth affect faith?

Whatever we practice within the bounds of moral and spiritual truth, it must be done in faith.  A moral departure in say sexual purity is not an act of faith but disobedience, therefore sin.  But to eat only vegetables as a means of honoring God so as to avoid anything offered to idols is received by Him as an offering of faith—though it is unnecessary and weak in faith.  The fact that it is accepted by our Master shows clearly how easy it is to belong to Him.  On the other hand, a person who eats anything in faith that God will bless it is presenting a strong offering of faith and demonstrating the power of God through fearlessly tramping on what humans consider traps set by the devil.

The Character of A Strong Christ-follower

In other words, idols are nothing to a person of strong faith, therefore anything offered to them is simply food, with one caveat, however:  Paul warns us that eating food specifically designated by our host as honoring a foreign god is prohibited for the sake of the other man’s conscience.  Listen to his logic,  If some unbeliever invites you to a meal and you want to go, eat whatever is put before you without raising questions of conscience.  But if anyone says to you,  “This has been offered in sacrifice,” then do not eat it, both for the sake of the man who told you and for conscience sake—the other man’s conscience, I mean, not yours.   For why should my freedom be judged by another’s conscience?  If I take part in the meal with thankfulness, why am I denounced because of something I am thankful for?  1 Corinthians 10:27-30.

So what’s he saying here?

The fact the meat was sacrificed to an idol doesn’t make it tainted for me to eat.  Why?  Because there’s no value in the sacrifice for followers of Jesus.  The only reason we don’t eat the meat is in order to prevent the other person from thinking us hypocritical or double-minded, since the food in his or her mind honors their god and we don’t.  In other words, if they make eating the food a point of honoring their god, we refuse to eat it to spare them a misunderstanding of our motives; but for no other reason.  There is nt power in the food or the sacrifice according to Paul, which robs the devil of his claim of power over objects.  I take this to mean carvings, works of art and a host of other things that are pretty innocent in shape but not in cultural perception.  Therefore I don’t own busts made by witch doctors because a brother who comes from that culture will think I’m honoring the old gods—though what I’m really doing is declaring this a work of art.

Do you see what those strong in faith become?  They take care of the weak and educate them away from such superstitious behavior.  At the same time they aren’t impressed or made afraid by what Scripture calls spiritual nonsense.  Paul says somewhere else,  If you condemn idolatry, do you rob temples? from which I gather that believers don’t go out of their way to condemn, mess with in any form or give credence to idols.  An idol is an object with no power for it is a representative of demonic powers not our God, who is spirit.  If someone hexes us through witchcraft or voodoo, we aren’t affected because we took on the name of the Lord Jesus, who is a strong tower, a sanctuary from all the world can throw at us.

Mature believers educate, guide and live out the example of what it means to follow Jesus.  At the same time, we realize many will not be able to reach this level of maturity due to the past clinging to the souls of new converts for a long time.  When we see this type of condition, we don’t condemn them but nurture them in such a way as to strengthen their faith.  If a person cannot follow us into maturity, however, for whatever reason, we leave them alone and teach them to accept both themselves and others without passing judgment.

Once we see the power of God at work, the devil’s power becomes trifling, though not insignificant.  As sinners we are still susceptible to temptation and sin, however, we know our salvation is sure.

In My Name

April 9, 2010

“And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Son may bring glory to the Father.  You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.”  John 14:13, 14.

This is probably the most misquoted promise in Scripture, taken out of context and used to mean a variety of things outside the will of God.  I’m not saying a Mercedes SL500 isn’t God’s will for my life (I’m still crossing my fingers) rather our constant quest to get comfortable on earth misses the mark by a wide margin.

We’ve had this discussion before so it should come as no surprise to those who read this blog on a regular basis.  What does it mean to take on the Name of Jesus?  When we call ourselves “Christians” what do we mean by it versus what should it mean—or is there a difference?

“And I will do whatever you ask in my name…” is followed immediately by  “…so the Son may bring glory to the Father”.  When I ask for something in Jesus’ name, what is my motivation?  Am I all about the glory of the Father like the Son is or am I disguising my greed, love of money and position in pious rhetoric?

Look, I’m not trying to harp on this too much it just seems to me that we want God to do everything without much of an adjustment on our side.  I hear people always claiming God is about to do a new thing, yet they’re asking for the same old same old.  Keith Green had a song with a lyric that went,  Bless me, Lord! Bless me, Lord!  You know it’s all I ever hear.  No one aches, no one cries, no one even sheds one tear.  But He cries, He weeps, He bleeds, and He cares for their needs.  But you just lay back and keep soakin’ it in!” Our goals and God’s conflict so many times it’s no wonder we don’t see more answers to prayer.

To find these answers, to see God work the miracles, to know He is listening, we must place ourselves in the center of His presence and will.  If I am outside the will of God, how can I demand anything of someone I despise?

O, wait, we say, I don’t despise Him!?!

If we don’t obey Him but require something of Him, we show our disdain for His way, truth and life.  A person who wants to find love, for example, can’t hang out with hateful people.  If we desire peace, we can’t hang out with or place ourselves in the company of those who are disgruntled, angry, bitter or given to despair—not at all meaning we never meet them or touch their lives.  What does the Word say?  By beholding we become changed…

God will do whatever we ask as long as it conforms to the character, heart, method and purpose of Christ.  Then we will do even greater things than these and be amazed at God’s work in our lives and those around us.

I believe God desires our happiness, not just joy; He desires us to be content and well fed, though may be without the surplus; He longs for us to find peace with no trouble in it.  I don’t think God minds wealthy people because He sure blessed a lot of people in the Bible with prosperity beyond their expectations.  The heart’s desire here is the key.  I am not a class warrior, which means I don’t hate the rich for the sake of the poor.

Once I heard someone say America’s children were spoiled.  It made me stop and think.  What do we mean by that type of statement?  Do we resent those who have for the sake of those who don’t?  Do we think every child in the world should go as hungry as those in the streets Haiti or Calcutta?   Or should ever child have the possibility of a Wii, three square meals a day and loving parents or family that value them above anything else?

I say the latter.  I believe it’s God’s will the everyone be prosperous and do well.  Why it doesn’t happen more often here gets complicated from my experience.  Ecclesiastes 9:11, 12 has Solomon addressing it this way:  I have seen something else under the sun:  The race is not to the swift or the battle to the strong, nor does food come to the wise or wealth to the brilliant or favor to the learned; but time and chance happen to them all.

Moreover, no man knows when his hour will come:  As fish are caught in a cruel net, or birds are taken in a snare, so men are trapped by evil times that fall unexpectedly upon them.

Some will object to this quote by saying “it’s OT and we’re delivered from this curse!”  Nope.  Romans 8:22 We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time.  Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.

We get it, at least in words, but what about in deeds?  If life is unpredictable on earth for now, we should be asking “why?” and “what does it look like?” not denying our reality.  The truth is that God intervenes in our lives to save us from many things, answers prayers, fulfills desires and gives us good things, but in the process He doesn’t interrupt the flow of sin’s consequences.  Which sends most of us into a tailspin because we see it as inconsistent with His promises.

Which disciple became rich, well-fed, comfortable and trouble free because of the gospel?  Not one.  Yet they received and believed this promise, John going so far as to record it after years of service and persecution.  Read the story in Acts 4 where he and Peter were arrested.  Sure they were delivered, but first they had to be taken into custody.  Years later, Peter died on a cross for his Master.  These men believed the promise yet suffered great loss, persecution and hardship.  Does this negate the promises of God?

For in this hope we were saved.  But hope that is seen is no hope at all.  Who hopes for what he already has?  But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.  Romans 8:25.

I could go on but I’ll end it with this:  We see the fulfillment of the promises of God daily in our hearts becoming content despite our circumstances, a peace that passes understanding filling our hearts and minds, and a sense of happiness overflowing to the world around us that doesn’t stem from external sources.  Our greatest witness to God’s provision are these.

If we are follow Jesus, we follow Him by taking up our own cross (our death remember) and resurrecting to a new life.  The promises of God lead us down a path first to a death then to a life of riches beyond the expectations of monetary wealth or possessions.

Even Greater Things

April 8, 2010

“I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing.  He will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father.  And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Son may bring glory to the Father.  You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.”  John 14:12, 13.

Notice right after this last sentence, Jesus goes on to discuss something (seemingly) completely different—obedience.  It’s pretty important to note that God’s will comes above our wants, because our wants many times have to do with getting our own way rather than God’s glory.  O, we might smother it in rhetoric which sounds like it’s good for the kingdom of God, but in the end it’s only our desire for our own way speaking.  This is why it is so dangerous to take a promise like “You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it” out of context because we construe this to mean anything we want it to—even if our own way means something outside the spelled out will of God.

But Jesus doesn’t leave us blind to His meaning at all, just look at the first sentence in our text:  “…anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing.” His very wording doesn’t leave room for any shenanigans on our part but focuses our attention what He has done as a prototype of what we should be aiming for as a target.  So does this mean we could raise the dead?  Yes.  Does this mean we could walk on water?  Yes.  Does this mean we could be outcasts from society, fought against constantly and held up for public ridicule?  No doubt about it!

No one should ever claim they have a comprehensive grasp of the Scriptures, but I don’t think it’s all that hard to grasp the significance of Jesus’ promise above:  We are being encouraged to be like Him to the glory of God the Father.

Yet there is a caveat/addendum/exception that we can’t ignore.

First our lives must jive with that of the Master; meaning, we must be seeking God day and night, spending hours in hearing God’s voice, adjusting our thinking to that of His Word and completely dispelling the motives we were born with to be replaced by His purpose.

Understanding the truth of this last statement doesn’t mean we can actually practice it right away.  In fact, I’d be willing to bet most truths we discover are impossible for us without disciplined effort and concentration.  Seeking God’s will for our lives may seem like  a given once we accept Christ, however, the reality is much different than the fantasy we’ve built up around it.  The fantasy preaches a victorious life but refuses to acknowledge the failures or blind alleys our choices will confront along the way.  It’s sad that so many people grow discouraged with following Jesus, since the change of our natures has nothing whatsoever to do with us anyway.  Our submission to God allows for His Holy Spirit to inhabit our being, which then brings about the change promised.

Submission to God’s will is the key and this submission equals obedience.

Many Christians act like people who know they need to exercise but just can’t find the time, energy or motivation to get into the habit.  Or, on the other side, they focus so much on the exercise they forget to have a life.  Balance is always the key here.  Either we tend toward works or welfare driven faith and neither equals a victorious life in Christ.

Jesus promises His disciples a miraculous life if they have faith in Him.  This means, of course, that our faith must be actively following the Master lifestyle, habits and outreach.  The only way we will do greater things than Jesus demonstrated is if we do the works of Jesus…this doesn’t mean just the miracles but follow His pursuits.  Jesus’ understanding of the Father’s will was absolutely in harmony with Scripture.  I dare say many of us find ourselves with relativism as a guide to our grasp of spiritual truth instead of a clear understanding of it from the context.  We bring to it our current state of mind then superimpose that state of mind onto the text.

It should work the other way around.  No matter what our spiritual context or mental state, Scripture must dictate our understanding.  It is the filter by which we see truth and the world around us.  We will never do the work of God as promised above until we master the perspective of Christ.

I don’t know that perspective fully and I doubt anyone else does either.  The body of Christ as a whole might have a pretty good grasp of it, but I’d bet it has holes in the explanation.

I’m not saying this to discourage anyone, rather I want to encourage us to earnestly seek to understand godliness from Christ’s POV.  Our lack is wrapped up in grace and our efforts used to the glory of God despite our inability to see clearly.

Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight.  Proverbs 3:5, 6.