Archive for June, 2010

Plain Speak

June 30, 2010

“Though I have been speaking figuratively, a time is coming when I will no longer use this kind of language but will tell you plainly about my Father.  In that day you will ask in my name.  I am not saying that you I will ask the Father on your behalf.  No, the Father Himself loves you because you have loved me and have believed that I came from God.  I came from the Father and entered the world; now I am leaving the world and going back to the Father.”  John 16:25-28.

There’s a problem with figurative language that continues to be troublesome long after it is used within the context of the culture in which it relates.  A problem we struggle with even today for it can be twisted to mean many things when in all probability the discussion focused on just a few subjects rather than the variety we think of now.

Some wise people use metaphor and other methods to communicate truth.  Others use it just to sound impressive.

Jesus’ words about the Holy Spirit have inspired reams of books of theology, devotionals and a host of other writers for and against His position in history.  The conclusions range from the fantastic to the sneering dismissive and everything in between.  In one simple paragraph He goes from “figurative” language, He says, to plain speaking and the reaction from the disciples is fascinating.  Read…

The Jesus disciples said,  “Now you are speaking clearly and without figures of speech.  Now we can see that you know all things and  that you do not need anyone to ask you any questions.  This makes us believe that you came from God.”

Excuse me?!?  They somehow concluded from this last paragraph that He came from God?

If we are fair, we must recognize our own lack of understanding of the text without the explanation that comes from the author.  I know I wouldn’t grasp most of what was said unless John expanded on it and made it clear.  Also, I think sometimes we make the text out to be so mysterious or philosophical in nature that we decide it’s too hard to understand and become confused where there is pretty plain language used.  I am not arrogant enough to believe that if I were in the disciples’ shoes I would have had any inkling as to what Jesus wanted me to understand either.  The paradigm from which these men grew didn’t lend itself to a Holy Spirit or anything else Jesus wanted them to get.

We serve a complex God, One who’s very nature speaks of nuance and subtlety, yet at the same time there are plenty of examples where He works simply and without fanfare or a hidden purpose.  What I get out of Jesus’ words here is that the figurative language delayed their understanding of the subject until after His resurrection.  He didn’t want them to get everything too quickly for the purpose of allowing time to interpret the meaning.

When the Holy Spirit descended like flaming tongues, they understood a part of what His discussion on this night meant.  But that incident wasn’t the whole truth about the Holy Spirit.  The miraculous manifestation at Pentecost wasn’t significant by itself or about itself, rather the Holy Spirit kicked off the game with a party and a really big bang to get the team moving in the right direction.  Today we have whole denominations just dedicated to this one day and hoping for a repeat—or at least some kind of party to get us started.

The truth is, as far as I can glean, the Holy Spirit’s job wasn’t about bells and whistles on the bicycle but getting us up on it so we would ride it.  Our main objective is to become the people Jesus wants us to be, loving, kind, gentle, not vengeful or rebellious but serving others from a pure heart.  Those who focus on the manifestations over a changed life miss the point of John 15 & 16 and lose out on the point of Jesus’ death and resurrection.  We think speaking in tongues or healing is proof to the world that our God is better than theirs when in reality it is the changed attitude and life that God wants us to give to the world as a testimony.

I’m not against miracles, for I think they have their place in our methodology, but I have come to the conclusion from experience and Scripture we get distracted too easily from the main point of the gospel.  The angels sang of it at Christ’s birth and Jesus spoke of it in our text above:  God is with men again.  He loves us and wants a solid relationship with us again.  Through Jesus’ death and resurrection we now have access to the Father.  Without Jesus we cannot see the Father nor find what He wants for us.  Everything about this speaks to a new life because of Christ.  If we are in Him, we will find love and communion with the Father directly not going through a priest, academic or guru.

Truth?  The disciples didn’t get the meaning even when Jesus spoke plainly.  What they did get, however, was that He had it all in hand and planned to take care of them.  His plan?  To connect them with God again.  I can hear in His words almost an exhale or sigh of relief.

“You believe at a last!”  Jesus answered.  “But a time is coming, and has come, when you will be scattered, each to his own home.  You will leave me all alone.  Yet I am not alone, for my Father is with me.

“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace.  In this world you will have trouble.  But take heart!  I have overcome the world.”

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No One Will Take It Away

June 28, 2010

“So with you:  Now is your time of grief, but I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy.  In that day you will no longer ask me anything.  I tell you the truth, my Father will give you whatever you ask in my name.  Until now you have not asked for anything in my name.  Ask and you will receive, and your joy will be complete.  John 16:22-24.

This passage reminds much of Psalm 37:4 which says Delight yourself in the LORD and He will give you the desires of your heart. I know it’s hard to trust this because we have so many times found disappointment at the end of wishing on a star.  However, this promise is different from the wish upon a star variety in that it first demands a conformity of mind and heart to that of God.

The same case can be made for Jesus’ words above.  What we ask for is not so much the issue as who we are when we ask.  Being one with Christ demands we take on His mind so our thoughts and desires are in alignment with who He is and what He does.

There are so many misunderstandings on the issue of what God wants for us that I would be hard pressed to know all the answers, let alone the remember the questions.  One thing I do know is we should know God by what He has made as much as what is written in His Word.  For instance, could a God who made tastebuds be all bad?  How about the fact that He designed us with sexual pleasure as part of the package—a woman has +/- 14 days a month where sex is possible without getting pregnant, which means He intended us to find pleasure in the act not just produce children.  So, God isn’t just utilitarian but a being who loves joy, fun and pleasure.

At the same time there are things which drag us to a hell of our own making or a corporate vision of rebellion against God.  Whenever I hear someone grading sin (and I do believe there are grades of evil), I remind myself and sometimes them that all it took to lose Eden was a piece of fruit.  Adam and Eve didn’t commit a heinous crime or some all out insurrection but simply showed their distrust of God through eating fruit He told them to avoid.  The woman who’s security is found mostly in her husband’s paycheck will know hell once that well of “security” dries up through some disaster, loss or divorce.  Unless her security is found in Christ alone she will go through hell’s misery on earth out of lack of faith in His ability to provide.  A man who doesn’t control his thoughts about sex or greed will find hell on earth every time he fails to trust God with the supply of either.  We cannot depend on anything or anyone other than the Master of our souls.

The disciples’ (and thus our) grief cannot turn to joy unless belief carries on to faith.  We must trust the mission of Christ, His very word about it, and grab onto the resurrection with both hands—like the grip of Jacob who wrestled God for a blessing.  No casual belief or “faith” works here, for God works through those who are open to Him—in whatever measure.  From what Jesus reveals in His statement “Ask and you will receive” God wants to work through us and in us.  In fact, I believe He’s eager and waiting for us to ask.

The problem is what we ask for most of the time has nothing to do with His will on earth but almost always our own temporary gain.  Remember Jesus’ words to the woman at the well?  “A time is coming when the people of God will worship…in Spirit and in truth…for these are the kind of worshipers the Father desires.” The reality of our Christan walk, however, speaks more to a desire for earthly comfort and pleasure than it does any longing for God’s will.  The true follower asks in Christ’s name not because it magically opens up the blessing but because we have taken it for our own.  Our surname is now “Christian,” or the name of Jesus, for we take on His name when we accept Him as our Savior and Lord.  This very fact opens us up to His will and once we know this we ask according to that will.

We are new creatures in Christ, if He rules in our hearts, which means our desires have changed to reflect His nature.  As a consequence of this change, the old person has died and we are raised to a new life in Christ, subtracting forever the old desires and cravings of the sinful being we once were.  What we ask in this state is diametrically opposed to old nature for these two natures are in contention with each other—a war to the death in which only one can stand.

We ask God in the name of Jesus for those things He desires in and for us.  By claiming the name of Jesus and taking it on as our family identity we no longer crave anything that goes against His nature.  No one can take away the joy He gives us when He holds us in His hands.

I Tell You the Truth

June 24, 2010

“I tell you the truth, you will weep and mourn while the world rejoices.  You will grieve, but your grief will turn to joy.”  John 16:20.

Jesus didn’t fault them for not understanding what He meant because He spoke in a figurative language—coded for them to understand later.  Yet He did explain how what was about to happen would impact them and gave them a promise.

The follower of Jesus will be out of step with the rest of the world in general because the world either wants God dead or worships a different god.  How can we be in step when they want something that goes against the very essence of our belief?  But that is only the first step out of sync with the rest of the world for we move onto want purity in our dealings with other humans, to conforming to the mind of Christ and becoming set apart for God.  It isn’t just a belief system we’ve worked out but a complete mindset along with a lifestyle change.

This is something I’ve been chewing on for a long time now.  The sense that we are not allowed as believers to feel the pain, that somehow we’re supposed to be stoic and laconic about trials seems completely ludicrous, though the church has taught such nonsense for a long time.  Pain hurts.  I know that’s not a revelation but I’ve noticed we feel guilty about hurting or feeling anything when the negative crops up in our lives.  Read the Psalms and we see that godly, stalwart men ached for their nation, struggled with discouragement, anger, bitterness and depression which led them to cling to God in hope through faith.

While Jesus is away, we will experience doubt, frustration, rejection, loss, suffering and death.  He promises such a life for those who follow His example.  Anyone who doesn’t experience this can count themselves fortunate to have dodged the bullet.  However, throughout history, those who followed Jesus were not the secure rich as a general rule but usually the poor who had no hope except God.  If any one of us has roof over our heads at all, we can count ourselves blessed beyond measure because the Son of man had nowhere to lay His head and promised those who followed Him the same (see Matthew 8:19-22).

The world wants Jesus either in the grave or robbed of His power to judge, command or affect their lives in any significant way—except may be winning the lottery.  Everyone wants God to bless them with good, but few want to obey Him though the storm rages around them and the waves crash into them..

The world will rejoice and celebrate the cross while we mourn its meaning and rejoice because of His resurrection.  Yes, we find our glory in the cross but not as a piece of jewelry, rather it speaks to us of love so great humiliation and death could not silence it.  The cross is our glory only because it stands for righteousness untainted, unwilling to give into evil and conquered by the resurrection and the Life.

Why won’t we remember the former things nor will they come to mind?

Like woman who holds her child in her arms for the first time after hours of hard labor, the pain of the past is forgotten in the joy of the babe in her arms.  May be “forgotten” is the wrong word, though Jesus used it; probably ignored is a better term for what she feels.  The pain becomes insignificant and wholly irrelevant by comparison.  The hope promised, once realized in fact not just in faith, will erase the past by sheer weight of joy, glory and brilliance.

Consider Him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.  Hebrews 12:3.

What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things.  I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith.  Philippians 3:8, 9.

Huh?

June 18, 2010

Some of His disciples said to one another,  “What does He mean by saying,  ‘In a little while you will see me no more, and then after a little while you will see me,’  and   ‘Because I am going to the Father’?”  They kept asking,  “What does He mean by ‘a little while’?  We don’t understand what He is saying.”  John 16:17, 18.

I’m going to say this again:  We only understand what Jesus said because the disciples asked the questions and wrote down the answers, otherwise we’d be just as lost as they were.  Everything was new for them, their conditioned thinking held no room for life after death in the way Jesus spoke of it, though the Pharisees believed in an eternity with God by being taken to Abraham’s bosom.  Still, no one understood because they were pretty earthbound for the most part never considering a life outside their own box—or even being aware they had one.

So I suppose the obvious question for us is:  What views are we now holding which put us in the same boxed thinking as they were?

Oh, don’t believe anyone who says they live outside the box of human limitations, for it’s quite impossible not to be subject to them in one way or another.  Even our concept of heaven is affected by what we believe about a perfect world—which is to say, we don’t really have a clear picture at all.  Our conclusions are like those Scifi programs like Star Trek and Star Wars, etc., all the aliens resemble something human or animal.  How can they not?  It’s all we know or can know since we closed ourselves off to the Creator’s possibilities.

Our common view of eternity is riddled with guilt over our current problems with sin, which means we subtract certain elements we struggle with here just because we can’t control our own natures.  The common perception of the glorified body is sexless for most modern believers simply because sex is such a fail point in our culture.  So we take what has perverted and condemn it to hell because we can’t see how it can be purified or glorified.

I was just thinking this morning about our science advances since Newton and marveling at how much has changed but at the same time how much has stayed the same.  The same arrogance which caused Galileo to be burnt at the stake for heresy is the same attitude which pervades much of academia today.  We aren’t as ignorant, may be, of the universe as we were 500 years ago, but we haven’t changed our natures much and that’s more dangerous than being ignorant!  So when we read about how the disciples were confused and uncomprehending of Jesus’ message we need to include ourselves in with them, since we are just as dense.

How much we understand of a subject will show in our natural reactions to it.  If we panic or show some other inappropriately extreme emotional response, it shows we probably haven’t understood what’s needed and the situation took us by surprise.  The disciples were hesitant to ask Jesus about the meaning of His words, though when He explained them, they understood just a little bit of them anyway.  All we have to do is move a couple chapters forward to see how their understanding affected their reactions, which to say, they were willing to believe but slow to do so.

I can’t fault them for their fear or reaction in one way, because I know I get in situations that raise my blood pressure and scare me half to death.  Placing ourselves in their mindset as best we can, if we are honest with ourselves, we would probably have reacted with the same incredulous and confused emotions as they did.  The litmus test for me is always how I handle bad things in my life—be they circumstances that won’t go away or temporary occurrences.  What happens to us when an emergency comes along for which we’re not prepared and we don’t have the means available (nor could we have supplied the means) to deal with it efficiently?

Jesus goes on to explain, though not directly answering their questions necessarily.  I think of a proverb which goes,  It to the glory of God to hide a thing; it is to the glory of kings to discover it. Jesus told us in several parables the truth of the gospel is like a hidden thing, whether it be the priceless pearl, coin lost or lamb gone astray, which is to say we must search out the truths.  It’s how we’re designed, I believe, so being spoon fed is not an option unless our spiritual arms have been damaged or amputated.  Our Master sets the disciples up with clues to the kingdom of God, piquing their curiosity and putting them into a position where, hopefully, their hunger to understand ripens them to the Holy Spirit’s guidance into all truth.

What I get out of this, then, is God works the same with us.  Our lives naturally confront situations where we need to search the Word in order to understand what God would have us do or know.  Jesus refuses to simply hand us the keys and be done with it, instead He leads us by little steps in the form of puzzles which pique our curiosity and hunger to comprehend the mysteries of His kingdom.  Even the answers lead us to more questions so that we are continually being guided to a deeper grasp of God and a closer connection to Him.

In a Little While

June 16, 2010

“In a little while you will see me no more, and then after a little while you will see me.”  John 16:16.

There’s So Much More

June 15, 2010

“I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear.  But when He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all truth.  He will not speak on His own; He will speak what He hears, and He will tell you what is yet to come.  He will bring glory to me by taking from what is mine and making it known to you.  All that belongs to the Father is mine.  That is why I said the Spirit will take from what is mine and make it known to you.”  John 16:12-15.

Jesus knew His disciples wouldn’t absorb everything He had to tell them.  They were confused enough as it was with the information He’d given them that evening without adding more incomprehensible rhetoric to the deal.   Understanding when to speak is a gift of discernment.  Knowing how much another can grasp of what is said or what they can absorb due to their circumstances or state of mind is a priceless tool in reaching them.  As it was, they couldn’t handle more than “milk” truth, even though they’d traveled with Him for three solid years.  The conditioning of their culture, teachings of the spiritual leaders of the day and assumptions brought on by traditions or ignorance left them incapable of understanding at this point.  We “get it” for the most part because we had them to teach us; they got after a great deal of time spent in God’s word and with the Word of truth in the flesh, the Spirit guiding them the whole way.

Only the greatest pain strips away our self-imposed or culturally induced hardness to the truth.  The heart scaly and dry after so long without spiritual water to soften it up takes careful attention.  Throw too much water on dry ground and it will cause problems like flooding.  Let a truth sit for a time on the heart and it will act as a puddle on hard dirt.  Continuous rain on dry ground will cause disaster; rain at regular intervals will keep it soft so things can grow.

Sometimes less is more, as the saying goes.  My tendency has always been to inundate people with lots of information not realizing the impact lessens the more I cram in.  A word or two of truth on a constant basis is more effective than a deluge, for a storm of information just overwhelms us.  It does me, so I’m not sure why I do it to others except that I worry my time might be limited so I cram as much into one conversation as possible.

The Holy Spirit works in subtle, almost undetectable ways.  It’s one of the reasons He’s so hard to accept or see because constant gentle nudges in the right direction affect us stronger than a hard push.  The effect, of course, is that we eventually shut down or open up to Him.

His job is to guide us into all truth, right?

The Godhead is not divided, unlike much of the gods touted by other religions, who fight and seek to gain leverage over one another.  When the Spirit takes from what belongs to Jesus, He’s actually using what belongs to them all in concert.  The point being, of course, that they are agreed for they are ever united in purpose and will.  The Holy Spirit would continue the work Jesus began on earth by expounding and expanding the truth.  So it’s completely communal truth in the Godhead, which means they all own it in every sense of the word “own”.  While their roles might be different (though we can’t really define them with our limited grasp of who they are), they each perform a function to accomplish God’s will.

What Jesus said would have been extremely profound and revolutionary to the Gentile believers.  The gods they believed in before they accepted Christ were so divided their worshipers went to war over the argument.  Most likely because of our “godless” mindset in these contemporary times we don’t grasp the significance of Christ declaring the united purpose of the Godhead of which He was part, but it’s vital we understand what it means.  God the Father is united in purpose and will with God the Son and God the Holy Spirit.  Knowing this changes our perspective of Scripture, and thus our understanding of what we read overall.

By expanding on the teachings of Jesus, the Holy Spirit took the disciples to deeper places than they could handle when Jesus walked with them.  They were given answers to mysteries that even with all our information today we miss out on due to the hardening of time and perversions of the text—or at least the meaning of it.  The Holy Spirit speaks to the heart using the Scripture as a foundation for our understanding of what is to come.  Taking from the teachings of Jesus to give us a reference point He begins building our spiritual house using solid blocks of truth.  If we are first submitted to God through Jesus Christ, we will submit to the word He spoke through prophets and His Son.

Perhaps this sounds like circular logic to some, and may be it is for I’m no intellectual or philosophical genius, but I don’t see it as a mindless whirling of ideology without purpose.  Rather, what is happening here is a a circle which is much like four people grasping hands to connect to each other through contact.  The truth flows through each and continues to strengthen and establish the unity of family of Jesus with God.  All of which grows the truth and expands its space within each heart to retain more of it.

The Spirit is here to guide us into all truth.

The first step, however, is to establish a foundation from the word of God, His Scripture, so that our foundation rests on a firm grasp of  His work throughout history and in His Son, Jesus Christ.  Without this foundation of the Word (both in the flesh and written) we won’t be able to get an accurate comprehension of what the Holy Spirit is saying.  First our perspective and basic understanding of God has to conform to the mind of Christ through the Word, then we can move to revelations and what some call “higher” truths.  Greater understanding, however, cannot be gained from just being “submitted” to the Holy Spirit without the Scriptures as our guiding light.  Any proclaimed “revelation” which doesn’t conform to the already established word of truth is at best questionable and at worst dangerously misguided.  Any truth that combines human truth where sin gets a free ride or denied contends with the Word of God and is therefore to be rejected.

My rule for discerning truth in Christ is whoever claims to be submitted to Him through the Holy Spirit must first be guided by the Scriptures which testify about Him.  If they aren’t willing to submit to the Scriptures, their claim to belonging to Christ and living in submission to the Spirit is bogus.

We, however, have the mind of Christ if we do what He says and study to show ourselves approved by God.

In Regards

June 11, 2010

“…and in regard to judgment because the prince this world now stands condemned.”  John 16:11.

Satan stands condemned for his rebellion in heaven.  There’s no sidestepping, no accusing God of being unfair, no soapbox grandstanding or yelling at the top of his lungs “I had a right!” because he crucified the Son of God without cause. The prince of this world has been Satan throughout the history of man post-Eden.  He has no more excuses nor any  good reason for his rhetoric or argument anymore—except may be to drag as many with him into the nullvoid as possible.

The disciples (and we as well) didn’t get the fact that Jesus was making a victory speech before the last battle on the cross was fought.  This means His confidence in God overrode the lack of foresight His humanity thrust on Him.  The Trinity’s plan for Jesus’ time on earth allowed Him no powers outside of those He gained from a connection to God the Father.  This should be encouraging to us but it usually doesn’t because we don’t grasp the full significance of it.  He had no insight into the outcome except through the Spirit, even though He did have the power to lay His life down and take it up again as a sacrifice, it didn’t mean He was given anything outside of the normal human ability.

The only thing Jesus didn’t have in common with us was a mind given over to sin, although His physical DNA would be riddled with it through inheritance.  Still, we must recognize His declaration of victory in the passage above is a statement of faith not knowledge.

The world stands convicted of righteousness precisely because Jesus is going to His Father.  I know the wording sounds confusing to our modern phraseology but it’s important that He said it this way because it means He was confident of the outcome at that moment–not due to His own strength but on the promises of Scripture.  A conviction is the truth driven home.  His triumph (i.e. going to the Father) displays the rightness of His cause to all creation.

Jesus’ example wasn’t just the “Way” but He Himself.  We follow His example because He is the Way, the Truth and the Life.  The Way of righteousness is revealed in a person not a law written on stone tablets.  The Life in us is displayed in a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief not some fantastic story outside of the human experience.  The Truth is a man who is both Teacher and Savior not a guru who separates himself from common human experience.  Wisdom is justified by her children in the act of living among the cares of the world not divorced from its realities.  I believe there are times it’s good to go meditate and pray for understanding of what we know to be reality, but only in communion with God and man do we find true wisdom.

And Whoever claims to live in Him must walk as Jesus did.  1 John 2:6.  Which points to us imitating Him in all things, even though we cannot be the sacrifice for sin, we can lay our lives on the alter of His cause.  He laid down His life for His friends (those who believed and obeyed Him) and instructed us to do the same for each other.  I believe this means we are to lay down our own agenda when the need is there.  Our Master created us to accomplish, build, be and enjoy so I don’t think He’s out to destroy our goals or desires.  Yet this also means that when we see a brother or sister in need we sacrifice our own agenda for a time to assist them, for this is what He did.

Righteousness is the state of being right.  The only way to know this state of being is to know who is right or choose that direction from the evidence at hand.  I’ve chosen Jesus to be my Lord.  Since He is my Lord, He dictates what is right, which is the way of righteousness.  Satan’s argument has been proven false.  It was so the moment he murdered an innocent man for power through his servants at the time.

The Way of righteousness trumps death for it conquers it and subjects its power to the resurrection.  Not only this but it also refuses to fear death for we know the Way of Christ passed through death to life and therefore cannot be ruled by it any longer.  We have died to ourselves already so death holds no sting or terror for us anymore.  In fact, it is now a testimony to the righteousness of Christ when we die in His name.  When we live in a fearless state surrounded by a world afraid of death, we demonstrate the power of Jesus over death and the grave, which in turn, declares the way of righteousness.

A Job Description

June 7, 2010

“When He comes, He will convict the world of guilt in regard to sin and righteousness and judgment:  in regard to sin, because men do not believe in me; in regard to righteousness, because I am going to the Father, where you can see me no longer; in regard to judgment, because the prince of this world now stands condemned.”  John 16:8-11.

Jesus commits the unpardonable sin for our modern sensibilities for He defines the edges of right and wrong, truth and lies, not letting anyone off the hook.  I’m a staunch believer in the saying,  “The plain things are the main things and main things are the plain things.”  Where we have problems or differences we have to have some sense of perspective and leniency or the church will fragment….

Oh, wait, too late, it already has.  Shoot!

The Spirit’s job is to convict the world of guilt by defining sin, exhorting righteousness and warning of judgment, each of which the whole world will held responsible to God.  Those who disseminate or try to sidestep any one of these items are guilty of them.

Sin isn’t defined here but given as a heading.  The definition of sin for most people is transgression of the Law, but sin at its core, its essence, is rejection of God as Sovereign and Lord.  This might sound like I’m beating a drum or standing on a soapbox but really I just want to boil things down to their single cell origins so we get what follows.  Whatever is outside the design of our Creator is sin; because what He designed is what should be for us, therefore if we choose to do something which is not within His design specs, we have rebelled.  (For a list of sins that stand against God’s design refer to Galatians 5:16-21.)

“Because men do not believe in me…” Almost says it all, don’t you think?  If we say we believe in Jesus but refuse to do what He says, we lie and the truth He spoke isn’t in our hearts.  Anyone who discredits the gospels because they dislike the message disbelieves in Jesus as the Messiah, Son of God and Lord of all creation.  He gives us no way around this truth.  The Spirit’s job is to convict the world of this very sin of disbelief, a fact they fight tooth and nail to deny and destroy.  Scripture ups the ante by declaring everything that does not come from faith is sin (Romans 14:23) and without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to Him must believe that He exists and that He rewards those who earnestly seek Him. (Hebrews 11:6)  These statements boil it down to faith not just obedience.  Think about it like this:  If we have faith in God, we will have faith in what He says, which will then lead to obedience.  Without faith in God there can be no obedience because we must believe and trust in His Word to guide, direct and rule over our lives.

What is righteousness?

A dictionary definition might suffice for some of us, but I prefer looking at the context of the word in the Greek so we get a handle on what John meant by it.  The Greek word used is Dikaiosune and is used to point to “whatever is right or just in itself, whatever conforms to the revealed will of God” (Vine’s…Dictionary).  Even the “Christian” world is growing confused on this point.  What is required and what is not is a subject for debate.  I’m not going to get into that now because it would take too long to order and write it down, suffice it to say we need to study the Word in order to understand what Jesus is talking about.  (A short list of righteousness, or what is called the fruit of the Spirit, can be found in Galatians 5:22-26.)

So we are going to be convicted of what sin and righteousness are, but what about judgment?

The world is whirling away from judgment of any kind.  It treats discernment between light and dark, right and wrong, good and evil as somehow evil in itself.  Those who stand convicted by the Word because of their sin fight the hardest to have it taken out of the way.  They do this by either disregarding it altogether or disarming the text with incredibly wordy and convoluted explanations.  It’s understandable in a way since much of what has passed for judgment in the church and its relationship with the world has been judgmental not discerning.  The hierarchy of the church of Jesus have made major mistakes in judgment that cost us ground and gave the enemy a weapon to use against us.  The reason I believe we face such opposition from the world is two fold.  The first and foremost is the Holy Spirit’s work in the world convicting them of their own lost condition—and thus their rejection of it.  The second is a complication due to our misrepresentation of good judgment.

I guess I understand the fear of judgment because it has to do with punishment not love—the fear that is.  Fear of punishment has nothing to do with forgiveness or grace or mercy but only guilt.  Those who don’t know forgiveness cannot experience grace or appreciate mercy.  If they reject the need for forgiveness, they see no need for grace and mercy either.  So those lost to grace have chosen their own hell complete with a hate for God and most of what He stands for—especially judgment.  No one likes to be judged falsely, even accurate judgment many times hurts if it points out our faults and failings.  But when judgment reveals our innermost secret sins and puts them on display for all to see, the resentment cannot be mitigated without an understanding of what Jesus did on the cross.  Without the miracle/mystery/practical nature of the cross we cannot grasp the significance of our sin.  Judgment, even in its best dictionary meaning, takes on a sinister edge and becomes something to be avoided at all costs.

Yet there can never be justice without judgment; there is no grace needed where there is no sin nor mercy unless there’s a lack to be made up by it.  We cannot recognize improvement without commonsense growing out of and directly rooted in good judgment—or put another way, being able to judge between good and evil.  The Spirit’s job is to convict the world of guilt in regard to these three things, but that’s not all.  To those who submit to His guidance and nudges He will guide them into all truth.

Judgment without mercy, grace or forgiveness being offered in conjunction becomes simply judgmental.  At this point we must refer to Jesus’ warning about such an attitude.  “Do no t judge, and you will not be judged.  Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned.  Forgive, and you will be forgiven.  Give, and it will be given to you.  A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over will be poured into your lap.   For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.”  Luke 6:37, 38.

Paul also makes it outside of our job description as a church to condemn the world at large (see 1 Corinthians 5:12).  Our witness is not to fight for civil laws that reflect our godly sensibilities because we cannot force our Savior and Lord onto the world.  Rather, we are to lead quiet public lives while displaying through our example the mores of our Christ.  No where in the NT is said that we are to foist our ethic on the world.  The world stands condemned already, we don’t need to drive it home—unless God tells a person directly to speak, we should remain silent and stand firm within the body of Christ.

As it is, we have opened ourselves up for judgment by being judgmental.  The harsher we judge the world, the more stark the light will shine back on us.  We can’t escape this reality for Jesus’ words warn us of the consequences.  It is the Spirit’s job to convict the world of sin, righteousness and judgment.  Our job is to declare the good news of salvation to those who are being saved.  We don’t rebuke or hand out judgment until it affects the internal workings of the body of Christ.  At the same time, we refuse to be secretive in anyway, while not throwing our pearls before those who would trample them.

The Spirit will guide us into all truth as we submit to His presence in our lives.  This means to the Christian as well that we will experience conviction where sin, righteousness and judgment are concerned.  The heavier our condemnation of another, the heavier our burden of Christ-likeness must be.  In other words, those who correct others must either do so in humility and full disclosure about their own failings or face the consequence of the condemnation coming back to them pressed down, shaken together and poured into their lap.  Hot coals of judgment will burn those who play with it.

On the other hand, those who approach the fallen with mercy, grace, forgiveness and compassion will receive as much again, pressed down, shaken together and pouring out in blessing and encouragement.  Our job as servants might lead us to reveal another’s sin, but our primary objective is not condemnation but restoration and healing.  Why would Paul warn the believers about falling into the same sin (see Galatians 6:1) if it were not a credible possibility?  Therefore, beware of harsh judgment and eagerness to expose sin, for it will come back four fold (if not more) to reveal our own sin hidden from public view.

The Spirit’s job description goes beyond what we’ve described, and I’m sure I don’t know all His duties.  One thing I know, the anger we see in the world has nothing to do with us but is a reaction to His constant nudging of the public conscience.  The backlash is predicted and the outcome a foregone conclusion, which is why we hope.

Encouragement

June 2, 2010

“Now I am going to Him who sent me, yet none of you asks me,  ‘Where are you going?’  Because I have said these things, you are filled with grief.  But I tell you the truth:  It is for your good that I am going away.  Unless I go away, the Counselor will not come to you; but if I go, I will send Him to you.”  John 16:5-7.

Now just a doggone minute!  How’s it for our good that Jesus goes away and sends the Holy Spirit?  Doesn’t that seem kind of like telling a kid who is being left in daycare that it’s for his or her own good that they get to hang with people being paid to babysit them?

Well, let’s ask ourselves:  what is good for us?  I don’t know how to answer that question except by Scripture (okay, I could answer it outside of the Bible, but I don’t think the answers we find there would do us any good since they are tumultuous and confusing) but even then the answers we find might not make sense to us.

Here’s what I know:  Jesus going away allows the Holy Spirit to do His work; without Jesus leaving, the Spirit wouldn’t have been able to come work in the world.  Somehow, the Spirit’s work is tied to Jesus leaving, but more than that, I believe, because Jesus’ departure signified He’d accomplished the goal.

Another thought:  If Jesus had to leave for the Holy Spirit to be in the world, couldn’t that mean that only part of God’s presence can be in the world at a time?  If while Jesus remained on earth, the Holy Spirit had to stand back from taking an active role in human life, then we must conclude the Godhead might have had rules for operating in the world once sin entered.

How did Jesus word it?  “It is for your good that I am going away.  Unless I go away, the Counselor will not come to you; but if I go, I will send Him to you.” In other words, though the Spirit was in the world, His work wasn’t needed while Jesus was in the world because the Master is the personification of the message He taught.  It’s also hard to deny the power, character and work of Jesus while He’s standing in front of us.  What I mean is, if following Him is by faith, then having Him here to answer every question trumps what it takes to follow Him.  Though we know for a certainty it was the Spirit who guided Him into the desert when He was tempted and fasted for 40 days.  So the Spirit did have a role to play in human history, just a more limited one.  Does that make sense?

It is for our good because it takes faith for us to follow without being able to see.  It takes a certain decisive clarity to jump on His magic bus without knowing the ending for sure.  We can’t guarantee, in human terms, what will happen at the end of the ride, so it makes no sense by earthly reasoning.  In fact, Paul bluntly says it looks like foolishness to those who seek wisdom in the world.

Ignorance is not bliss, folks.  It might seem that way but children are ignorant of the dark yet they are scared of it.  They only remain unafraid while their minds remain unaware of things to fear; once they know fear of the known or unknown they will begin to fear the dark.  So it is with us.

Jesus’ intended for the disciples to be encouraged by His words, instead they were filled with grief and heartbroken because He said He was going away.  Their perspective was so limited by bias they couldn’t see any light in His words.  Their ignorance and blindness due to their bias just left them confused and sad.  Yet if they had understood at the time, we wouldn’t have this discussion written down nor would we get to receive the encouragement from their experience.  Knowing they failed to understand should encourage us with our inability to get it.

We grasp very little of the eternal perspective.  But then, we are not required to comprehend the whole of it for it would blow our minds.  What we need to grasp, though, is that God’s work in us is about changing the heart from darkness to light, despair to hope, and a sense of joy from the most tragic circumstances imaginable.  The Spirit’s work in us is to produce fruit supernaturally so no man or woman can boast.  It isn’t our study that changes us nor our devotion to God, those are just the methods of opening us up.  The real source of change is the presence of God through the Holy Spirit filling our being with light and cleansing us from all unrighteousness through the blood of the Son.

Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.  Hebrews 11:1