Archive for May, 2011

The Sign of Maturity

May 26, 2011

All of us who are mature should take such a view of things.  And if on some point you think differently, that too God will make clear to you.  Only let us live up to what we have already attained.  Philippians 3:15, 16NIV

All of us who are mature should think this same way.  And if any of you think differently, God will make it clear to you.  But we must keep going in the direction that we are now headed.  Philippians 3:15, 16. CEV

The more I know about Christ, the more I am aware of the lack in most Christian circles of true maturity.  In my experience we think uniformity is the best sign of our growth in Christ, when, according to this Scripture, it seems to point more to unity in Christ despite our differences.

I have an astigmatism which doesn’t allow me to see very clearly on my left side.  This means I struggle to focus on sheet music or lists quickly during live performances and have missed key program stuff because of it (besides my natural absent mindedness).  My POV is skewed on the left side slightly, though I still have pretty good peripheral vision.  It doesn’t keep me from seeing or knowing what I’m seeing, it just means I have to turn my head to focus instead of using just my eyes. Another worship leader I know prefers their music stand on the left.  Who’s right?

In the church we have much the same problem.  There are weaker areas where we struggle to focus on what’s important.  Finding the priority is a tough call for most of us and those who become mature in Christ sweat out this issue more than just about any other.  Why?  For the simple reason as we grow in Christ reality sets in and we begin to realize just how vulnerable we are to our blind spots.  That old saying works here:  “The more you know, the more you realize what you don’t know!”

God is a stranger to us.  Anyone coming to Jesus for the first time (or last time for that matter) does so with a certain amount of hero worship in their spiritual eyes.  We can’t help it, really, for to be told we are worth something to the Creator of the universe, which is so vast and seemingly impersonal, blows our minds and causes gushing gratitude.  The problem of this POV is many of us believe we must remain in that euphoric state, the Christian “high” or we feel a loss.  Eventually every fire mellows and we begin the daily relationship stuff which is never all that exciting, though it yields the greatest results in the long run.

A toddler’s view of Mommy or Daddy is quite different than an adolescent’s.  Why?  The toddler doesn’t have enough perspective to understand who their parents are let alone divide fact from fiction.  Another example, the more I know about the science of creation, the more I am reminded I don’t understand what happened in Genesis 1 very well.  In many respects I know I am no better than the men who burned Galileo at the stake for proposing the earth rotated around the sun, for the science many times threatens my preconceived notions of what Genesis means.  But the facts of science don’t eliminate the probability of Genesis 1:1.  To be blunt, the account basically just tells us God created things in a certain order—or if you understand the Rabbinical style of non-linear thinking, it doesn’t tell us order as much as it does state the fact of His direct creative involvement.  Our preconceptions of reality get in the way of accepting truth many times.

I’m reminded of a Jethro Tull album called “Aqualung” where they amusingly wrote on the back a sarcastic rendering of Genesis 1:

1. In the beginning Man created god:
and in the image of Man created he him.

2. And Man gave unto god a multitude of names.
That he might be lord over all the earth when it was suited to Man.

3. And on the seventh millionth day Man rested and did
lean heavily on his god and saw that it was good.

4. And Man formed Aqualung of the dust of the ground.
And a host of others likened unto his kind.

5. And these lesser men Man did cast into the void.
And some were burned,
And some were put apart from their kind.

6. And Man became the god that he had created
and with his miracles did rule over all the earth.

7. But as all these things did come to pass,
the spirit that did cause man to create his god,
lived on within all men,
even within Aqualung.

8. And man saw it not.

9. But for Christ’s sake he’d better start looking.

I know, I know, many Christians might object to my quoting such “heresy” but I believe Ian Anderson hit upon an important truth.  Did you see it in the first few “verses” of his rendition of Genesis?  Man created god after his own image and gave god a multitude of names as well as authority to rule over the all things whenever it suited man.  This ability to create a god makes man the god.  Do you catch that?

Whenever we decide upon the characteristics or attributes of God from fragments of Scripture or misunderstandings of the text we create an image of Him rather than seeing the reality.  Proverbs 3:5, 6:  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.  What I understand about Scripture now is not what I thought I knew twenty years ago.  That’s not to say my understanding was completely wrong at the time but rather to confess my lack of depth in my spiritual infancy.  I am not ashamed of my “lack” then because our relationship with God is a matter of eternal growth.

The maturing process isn’t like instant oatmeal, which is not instant really anyway since someone had to harvest the oats, thresh the grain from the chaff, cook them to a specific temp and package the result for those who would prepare them later to eat.  No matter what we think about instant oats, they are anything but “instant”.  Still, most of us forget the process by which the finished product arrived at our table.

Our family has a story about my older brother, Dan, when he was about 6 or 7 riding next to Dad while going past a corn field.  He asked,  “Dad, what is that out there?”  Dad replied,  “That’s corn, son.”  Puzzled, Dan shot back,  “No, it’s not!”  Of course Dad argued with him about it for a while until finally he asked,  “Ok, if it’s not corn what is it?”  “I don’t know,”  Danny replied,  “but it isn’t corn!”  “So where do you think corn comes from then?”  Dad asked, pretty irritated by this time.  Dan looked at him like he was nuts (my dad’s description here) and replied with a certainty only a kid that age can have,  “Why the store of course!” like it was obvious.  The rest of the conversation involved my dad attempting to correct this uneducated POV.  Unsuccessfully, I might add.

Danny obviously no longer thinks corn just magically comes to the store and hasn’t for more than 60 years.  Why?  He grew in his understanding by learning new information which affected his perspective of the world around him.

Our perspective of God cannot remain static; it must grow with our grasp of reality or it will stagnate, or worse, petrify.  I’ve met many petrified Christians in my journey with Christ.  They believe they’ve learned all there is to know about God and no one can make Him any clearer.  This POV would be like my brother, now nearly 70, still believing corn magically just appears in the store.

We laugh at kids who say these kinds of things but don’t apply the lesson of their uninformed reasoning to our own growth in Christ.  Creation’s a complex place to live in, and assuming we have it figured out is just plain foolish.  I mean, I can explain the soul to some degree from a Christian perspective but what it is, how it works with or without the body and which dimension it inhabits is not explained to any great detail in Scripture.  I think I know why we are not given certain details in Scripture though (and this is just my theory, ok):  we would focus on them to the exclusion of the really vital issues facing us.

I’m giving lots of examples here of areas where we need to grow so that we get a handle on our spiritual pride.  Maturity in Christ not only makes us confident in what we know but also what we can’t know.  A truly mature believer will keep critical thinking at the forefront of his or her mind when considering the Scriptures.  However, when it comes to others, criticism is out of place for we are to educate and restore people to Jesus in all gentleness and grace, while critical thinking is not.  The difference between the two uses of the same word is that critical thinking means we weigh the facts we know to come a conclusion; criticism means we denounce others for not submitting to our ideology or perspective.

Last point:  If you put 7 theologians with PhDs from 7 different denominations and a thorough education in Scripture in a room, then instruct them to come to a consensus on their differences they won’t be able to without godly wisdom.  Cold, hard knowledge leads to the pride of comparison rather than edification.  Paul exclaimed, Knowledge puffs up, love builds up.  Those who reach maturity in Christ will recognize their differences as a part of the His body and act in concert though they disagree on some point.  The Day of the Lord’s return will clear up many of our misconceptions and theological differences anyway.  So let us live up to what we know and stop beating each other up over what is disputable or arguable.  The love of Christ must rule in our hearts before any of the other stuff matters anyway.

Advertisements

Straining Forward

May 23, 2011

Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.  Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it.  But one thing I do:  Forgetting what is behind and straining toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.  Philippians 3:12-14.

Now we come to a passage which has become a theme for me—mantra was the first word I thought of but it seemed out of place in this context.  As usual, I need to take this point by point to mine the rich truth embedded in it.

Paul does one of those Jewish rabbi expansion things where they say something in a sparse almost terse way, move another point then return to the original by way of saying it either slightly or completely differently with the same emphasis.

First he makes it clear he hasn’t been made perfect as yet; though he pushes on to grow towards this in Christ.  Using the phrase to take hold of he gives us a metaphor which points to his journey to become godly in Christ.  The next sentence denies actually being whole (perfect) so all this nonsense about Paul or any other apostle attaining sinless-ness except in the context of the blood is a complete waste of vocal cords.  The apostle proclaims succinctly he isn’t sinless, which should be a comfort to others who read his letters and feel like they don’t make the grade.

Yet once he makes it clear perfection is still a goal, he expands his original point by stating his determination to accomplish this through Jesus’ power.  It might be semantics for some but the fact that Paul makes a point of Christ taking hold of him for the purpose of perfection should wake us up to who really does the work.  We might hold on to Him for dear life but our efforts are not what change us, though by them we give God the “permission” to work in our lives.  Our submission is the means by which the Holy Spirit comes into our lives with His changing presence, and our work, as I’ve said before, is based more on keeping our submission current rather than a self-help list of pep-talks and attitude adjustments.

The next question we have to ask is why did Jesus take hold of us?

Jesus came to reconcile man to God and once that was accomplished mankind would become reconciled to themselves.  God didn’t need to be reconciled to man because, though we sinned, which means we betrayed and rejected Him, He worked out a way to save us, since He still loves us and wants a relationship with us.  That doesn’t describe someone who needs to be reconciled to me.  He doesn’t hold our sins against us and only for this reason would we need to mollify Him.  No, it’s man who holds the grudge not God, and is the main reason Jesus came to earth.  If this was Christ’s purpose in taking hold of us, then we press in to take hold of Christ, which means we have to be reconciled to Him to first.  Paul’s push to take hold of Jesus’ mission and claim not to have taken hold of it signifies that our entire lives are spent in the reconciliation process.  Don’t believe me?  Then why do we still wrestle with sin?

Anyone who is fully reconciled to another has no further work to do towards the process and operates in perfect harmony.  Paul’s declaration that he hadn’t accomplished all this or been made perfect says to me his life was in process of reconciling every part of himself.  None of us reach this point of full unity with God this side of glorification, since our bodies remain bound to death despite what our eternal spirits.  This is an important distinction because I know people right now who preach that a sinless state is possible for us.

I grew up with the understanding those who were alive when Jesus returned would be sinless.  Though I know the passages my church used to support their claim for this “doctrine,” I don’t know how they came to this conclusion with all the other references in Scripture disagreeing.  I’ve hear recently another church that preaches this kind of “perfection” to which one of my friends adheres most ardently.

Yet our “sinless” state on the Day has nothing to do with our performance or state of being without sin, rather it has to do with our connection to Jesus.  The robe of Christ’s righteousness covers our sin like the blood on the day of Atonement.  When we see Jesus face to face, we will not feel worthy to be with Him in and of ourselves, which means our salvation rest wholly on God’s mercy and grace.  Like one pastor had a habit of saying,  “When they ask me what I’m doing in heaven, I’m gonna’ say,  ‘I don’t know!  I’m with Him!’ “

Right there is where the difference comes for all of us.  The word “perfect” takes its primary meaning from a word in Greek which points to wholeness.  None of us will be completely whole this side of our bodies being glorified so any claims to contrary are a waste of time.

Why would Paul say, But one thing I do:  Forgetting what is behind and straining toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus, if he’d already arrived at wholeness?  The need to forget what is behind and strain towards something else points to a lack in the past, for no one needs unless they lack.  The prize for most Christians is eternal life, but I believe restored unity with God is what Paul is thinking of here.  Eternal life is a reward, to be sure, yet living forever without being reconciled to God would be hell.  What reason would Paul need to forget what was behind if he had already attained wholeness and reconciliation?

The short answer is:  None.

This passage only becomes encouraging to us when we realize Paul had to let go of his past mistakes and failures to be like Jesus the same way we do.  That knowledge gives us the greatest weapon against condemnation we could ever receive.  We step into a state of grace where mercy is the standard of operations.  Grace doesn’t ignore or deny sin; instead it solves it by being an agent of transformation, and any gratitude or loyalty to God on our part grows from this place.

Value Judgment

May 18, 2011

But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ.  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 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 3:7.

It’s really telling whenever anyone improves their perspective by education or a shift in social status that they begin to almost scorn what they thought was valued before.  A person who becomes wealthy may have thought a Toyota was the car to buy, but once the money to enter a different market for better products arrives to stay, we watch them become enamored with all the new possibilities.  Issues that would have nearly paralyzed their lives no longer come into play or matter.

Those who discover the fullness of Christ gain a completely new perspective on what is valuable.  In fact, they lose a lot of their need to prove anything to anyone—even themselves—precisely because Jesus changes what they understand as important.  Paul uses the word translated “rubbish” in the NIV as a way of illustrating how the world’s idea of wealth compares to the true wealth in Christ.  Remember this guy got a convincing vision of the Risen One that forever altered his view of reality.  The word translated as “rubbish” in the NIV is actually the same word used elsewhere for dung, refuse, excrement or “the leavings of a feast” (see Vine’s p. 187).

Fascinating idea when one thinks about it.  Paul used the worst possible thing on earth to clue us in on what earthly acclaim and wealth really mean in when we gain these things without God at the center.  The word “rubbish” in Britain might be harsher than it is considered in America but dung is universally understood.  No one walks by a pile of fertilizer without their eyes watering and the gagging futile attempts to not breathe.  Paul calls every goal outside of Christ poop, folks, and proved it with how he lived his life.  (For a list of Paul’s experiences read 2 Corinthians 10.)

If one of us knew that when we became 21 we would inherit 20 billion dollars, what would our attitude about being impoverished in the meantime be?  Some of us would, of course, resent the delay; others would put a hold on living until the day arrived.  Yet anyone with half a brain and a little wisdom would know that such a large fortune needs management as well as protection so the wise prepare to handle such a big responsibility.  I doubt, though, very many people would be able to handle the freedom such a lot of money implies.  The wise among us, however, would definitely not live hopeless, directionless and wholly foolish lives devoid of education or risks.

Paul knew a kind of human social wealth before he accepted Jesus which set him on the fast track to success by human standards.  The list includes being a member of the Pharisees, circumcision, an Israelite of the tribe of Benjamin, a zealot for his faith in that he persecuted the new Jewish sect called “The Way,” later dubbed “Christians” by those in Antioch.  Once he discovered the final outcome of such a life without Christ, however, his ideology shifted.  He realized that what profited him on earth sans Jesus gave him no profit with God and he forsook the values he held so tightly and latched onto something he considered better.  Granted it took a bright light and Jesus’ voice rebuking him to get him to see his error, but once he saw it, everything else paled by comparison.

Here is where the wisdom of heaven comes into play for anyone who follows Jesus with a whole heart.  We don’t live hopeless lives on earth waiting for His return when we can really start to be “alive;” for we know heaven on earth now because of the presence of the Holy Spirit in our hearts.  The kingdom of God isn’t a physical reality as some understand it but an inner life measured by our connection to Him.  That spiritual dimension throws us off so much we have a hard time grasping its reality.  At least, I know I do.

What did we believe (or still believe) made us valuable before we met Jesus?  Can we say with Paul, But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ and mean it?  I hear plenty of Christians talk a good game but when the rubber meets the road, they lose heart because their valuables are really stacked on their back porch or in their living room in a nice Ikea stand with shelves.  I don’t know how else to phrase this but if our lives are based on what we have or believe about ourselves outside of Christ, we live in a fantasy of our own making.

James puts it pretty bluntly:  What is your life?  You are just a vapor that appears in the morning and then vanishes with the heat of the sun!  For lasting value we need to be tapped into the eternal, and the only way to do that according to Paul is to 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.  Anything outside of Christ being at the center is rubbish by comparison.  Everything viewed and experienced through this filter takes on lasting meaning.

Watch Out for Dogs!

May 16, 2011

Finally, my brothers, rejoice in the Lord!  It is no trouble for me to write the same things to you again, and it is a safeguard for you.

Watch out for those dogs, those men who do evil, those mutilators of the flesh.  For it is we who are the circumcision, we who worship by the Spirit of God, who glory in Christ Jesus, and who put no confidence in the flesh—though I myself have reasons for such confidence.  Philippians 3:1-4.

I like how Paul approaches the warning by first commanding those reading his letter to rejoice in the Lord!  It sounds like he’s setting out to impress them of their first duty, which is to rejoice in Christ Jesus for not only all He did on the cross but the renewed life they experience daily.  Then once he gets them focused on Christ he sounds a warning bell to be on the look out for those dogs, those men who do evil, those mutilators of the flesh.

Who are these men who do evil and mutilate the flesh?

Well, anytime in Scripture we see a contrasting or reactive phrase like For it is we who are the circumcision… we can conclude it is a comparative statement.  Paul is drawing a distinction between the church of Christ and somebody else; the fact that he mentions circumcision gives us the first clue to who he’s referring:  The Jewish converts who preached circumcision and the Mosaic Law as still binding on even the gentiles.  In fact, it’s the very people who believed themselves to be of God and everyone else outside of His will who caused the most trouble.  You know anybody like this?

In the first chapter he refers to people who preach Christ out of envy and rivalry, but others out of good will.  I believe he’s continuing this theme and expanding it to include the Jews who were not only unwilling to give up their ceremonial rites, but tried to enforce their hybrid Pharisee/Christian practices on the other converts to Christ.  These people were those who believed in the continuation of physical circumcision as a sign of belonging to God.  Now for Abraham circumcision was a means of identification not of righteousness, though obeying God by performing the rite was an act of righteousness by faith.  It set him apart as belonging to the One God who is spirit.  That state of being set apart is what we call “holiness” or being dedicated for God’s use alone.  Once Christ rose from the dead, the old system of rites and ceremonies became obsolete, though not meaningless.  Jesus fulfilled the law and prophets so that they were no longer needed, since they pointed forward to Him.

It’s sort of like saving for a car.  We scrimp and save and sacrifice till we get enough to buy one, then once we do, our former lifestyle of frugality is no longer needed to get the car.  Frugal living might be a necessity for maintaining the car later, but that’s a decision we make when we assess how much travel we’re going to be doing.

There will always be those who cannot handle the freedom of gospel’s message.  They struggle with self-control, therefore hark back to stricter guidelines for behavior modification.  One sector of humanity who’s especially given to this mentality is former addicts or anyone who had an extremely wild lifestyle.  The pendulum usually swings from one extreme to another, which means they can’t handle anything but a “gung ho” approach to life.  The freedom of Christ’s teaching scares most of us anyway, for it’s kinda’ hard to believe anyone would hand us the keys to the kingdom of God, since we know we are not given to godly thinking or behavior.

A life dedicated to God without God’s Spirit in full control ends up in a push-me-pull-you relationship between Him and the person attempting to live for Him.  Adam’s sin wasn’t heinous as we might measure such things since it was just rejecting God as Master of His own creation.  Yet Adam’s rebellion basically told God He didn’t know how to manage His own creation and all His rules were senselessly arbitrary for them.  I don’t think Adam thought it through to this point of the argument but we have to take into account what was the end result of eating the forbidden fruit.

Too often we get the idea that a heinous crime against God is one of the “greater” sins like murder, extortion (odd one can spend more time in jail for this than just about any other crime), rape, etc., when in actuality the real sin problem began with rejecting God’s place in creation—that of Creator, CEO, Commander and Chief, Owner, Director and the Essence of Life Itself.  Humanity has lied to itself about God’s nature fore so long we are either convinced or extremely confused about who He is.

Deists reject a personal God because they see no contemporary evidence of God’s interest in personal contact.  Of course their view reflects itself in the way they approach their own relationships much of the time.

Atheists deny God exists because they don’t see God or even a god anywhere in their physical reality.  This is kinda’ silly since we didn’t grasp the reality of germs before someone actually discovered them nor did we know about the sub-atomic particles we now measure with pretty sure accuracy.

My point being denying anything outside of our experience is not wise.  I’ve never been raped, so if I deny it happens to others just because I’ve never seen it happen nor experienced myself, I’m being ludicrously obtuse.  I just might doubt the statistics (many times grossly exaggerated for effect on public opinion) but denial of its gruesome reality would be to stick my head in the sand.  This is what atheism is to me.  Richard Dawkins can accept alien life forms seeding our planet with human life without irrefutable evidence of alien life but vehemently deny there is a God based on what?  Preference alone.

Agnostics are the most honest people I know in this argument, although some just say “I don’t know God exists” to escape what accepting Him would mean.  Those who honestly see no where to place the weight of evidence for God earn my respect by not choosing a side at all.  However, there are those who do believe in God but decide it’s morally convenient to remain in limbo.  I find these latter people to be dishonest in quite a few areas of their lives as well.  A practical lifestyle of truth is honored by all.

It’s by no means an accident that self-control is part of the fruit of the Spirit.  God continues to build in us a place for His presence, then sets us free to live out of the well-spring of life bubbling up from the depths of His provision.  Self-control grows naturally out of being with Christ.  It is the goal of God to make us masters of our lives within the boundaries of His will.

And this is the very fact of Christ’s mission legalists misunderstand or ignore.  What everyone wants is to matter, be valued, respected and heard, because these attributes are instilled by God to be fulfilled by Him and those who follow Him.  But Law-bound people go beyond this to requiring everybody to be like them.  In other words, they make God in their own image (philosophically) then set about bending the world by either guilt, force of argument or force of arms to accept their perspective of God.  Self-control is based on being able to control ones self in the open spaces of freedom of choice.  To place rigid strictures on others would be outside the realm of willful obedience to God.

Say someone lives in a walled city with no gate in or out.  They cannot be touched by the world outside, though they might see it, nor can they touch it.  A person who lives in such a place and only feels safe there we all agree is paranoid—irrationally afraid of open places.  Christ came to give us a full life (see John 10:10) anything outside of willful loving obedience to Christ is legalism.

Paul fought this mentality to the day he died.  It is also the reason his opponents wanted him dead.  So let’s take his warning to heart and beware of those dogs who go about mutilating the body of Christ for the sake of their own paranoid vision of reality.  True love throws out all fear.  Fear has to do with punishment and the person made whole in love will not be afraid.  The dogs of Christianity set out to fill their disciples with fear alone.  Their fear of God goes beyond the required fear of the All-powerful One into the dark recesses of paranoid religious schizophrenia.

Let me quote Paul again from another of his letters:  You see just at the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly…But God demonstrates His own love for us in this:  While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.  Romans 5:6, 8.

If this is how much God wants us reconciled to Him, why do we need to be afraid of Him?  Need I say more?

Brothers in Arms

May 9, 2011

I hope in the Lord to send Timothy to you soon, that I also may be cheered when I receive news about you.  I have no one else like him, who takes a genuine interest in your welfare.

…But I think it is necessary to send back to you Epaphroditus, my brother, fellow worker and fellow soldier, who is also your messenger, whom you sent o take care of my needs.

…Welcome him in the Lord with great joy, and honor men like him, because he almost died for the work of Christ, risking his life to make up for the help you could not give me.  Philippians 2:19, 20, 25, 29, 30.

Everything for Paul worked around to relationships and how they either worked or didn’t work.  The gospel doctrines weren’t an excuse to be holy for the fun of it but set the church on a course of healing the broken connection between God and man, which results in broken human relationships.  Even the law dealt more with correcting people’s thinking about relationships than it ever did on mere performance.  How can anyone read Deuteronomy 15 and get something other than the message that God values not only our relationship with Him as a species but those between our neighbors as well.

I must admit I fall down on this goal quite a bit; a problem I am currently doing my best to correct.  The toughest part of the Christian walk for me is maintaining and establishing deep connections with people.  Don’t get me wrong, I want to, but relationships on such a grand scale as the church requires energy I sometimes have already spent on other stuff I value.  The problem would be ever so much worse without a knowledge of what God expects out of us as family.

For instance, I love my son and I’m pretty certain I would even without the Word to instruct me to do so.  Yet I’m also sure that without the Word of truth to guide how I love him Jesse would get neglected for the sake of my own wants, perceived needs and desire for success as a musician.  The same could be said of relationships with my immediate and extended family.

Paul’s concern for the Philippians was palpable and real.  He was involved himself in their lives, nearly died for the sake the gospel and was in chains because of churches he poured his life and heart into.  He worked hard for the gospel’s sake not a position in the new church or the respect of his fellow apostles.  Other workers in the field did so in order to gain some sort of status now, while Paul pointedly ignored such goals, instead choosing to focus on spreading the news of Jesus’ mission to heal humanity.

Timothy and Epaphroditus served the mission right alongside Paul with a dedication and a will rarely seen in other such servants of the gospel.  Epaphroditus became ill to the point of nearly dying in order to meet his mentor’s needs.  Paul not only gives him friendship credit for this but missionary credit as well.  Look how he phrased it:  Welcome him in the Lord with great joy, and honor men like him, because he almost died for the work of Christ, risking his life to make up for the help you could not give me.  To Paul, the fact that this man came to minister to him while he languished in chains served the gospel mission and fulfilled the mandate of the great commission.  Epaphroditus might not have been preaching with the wisdom, knowledge or insight of his mentor, but he served the needs of the man who could do all these things and Paul recognized it as gospel work.

Timothy worked as Paul’s administrator and assistant in the actual preaching and teaching.  Both men served their supervisor with a will, ignoring their own goals for the sake of meeting their Master’s.  Each did what they were best suited for in order to make the work of Christ move forward.  To God those who grease the wheels of the gospel cart and those who use it to travel get equal credit.  The mechanics, service technicians and office workers who serve their Lord with their whole heart share in the reward of the apostles because they enabled them by setting them free from the detail work.

Timothy never wrote a book in his own name; for that matter neither did any of Paul’s other close associates besides Luke that we know about.  But these men received honor from God for their dedicated service alongside Paul.  I don’t know how God calculates who gets which rewards for service, and frankly, I don’t care because whatever He has in mind exceeds any expectations we could have for them.

The beauty of such men as Timothy and Epaphroditus (boy spelling that guy’s name gives my fingers a workout) is that, while they know to expect a reward, their performance is out of love rather than payment.  Paul commends both as truly caring for the people they serve in the church.  We may not be able to avoid the people who have selfish motives in their service of the church, but we also don’t have to despair because of them, since there are definitely people serving the church and taking the gospel to the world out of a fervent love for Christ.

In my humble opinion the church needs to honor those people in the background jobs and honor them when they serve from a heart full of love for God.  They are fellow soldiers, in the trenches or mess hall it doesn’t matter, they serve the gospel efforts.

By Contrast

May 8, 2011

Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ…

What does Paul say about Jesus’ attitude towards His creation?  For that matter, what does he say about Jesus’ attitude to sinners?

But God demonstrates His love for us in this:  While we were still sinners Christ died for us.  Romans 5:8.

So our attitude should be?

You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly.  Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die.  Romans 5:6, 7.

A follower of the Creator respects His creation.  This means we don’t attempt to value or devalue what He has made until we know what His values are.  This is important for too often we think we know what is and isn’t valuable to the point we build a whole life philosophy around what our conclusions are.

By contrast, God through Jesus demonstrated love that rescues, heals, gave to all without discrimination and opened the way for anyone who wished to follow Him.  The difference between His methods and ours is that we tend to get overwhelmed or let ourselves become doormats for the world to wipe their feet on.  Jesus wouldn’t let anyone control His actions or choices, instead He willingly gave without co-dependency problems or a need to be praised.  John 2:24:  But Jesus would not entrust Himself to them, for He knew all men.  He did not need man’s testimony about man, for He knew what was in man.  In other words, the fact that people were excited about His teaching, miracles and presentation meant little in respect to how He chose to operate.  He kept His own counsel and decided to stay in sync with His Father’s will rather than be wowed by His own press.  The only way a person can find this kind of attitude and security is by knowing both God and themselves.

I know very few people are so self-possessed they aren’t swayed by praise or criticism.  Jesus occupied this place of tranquility, choosing rather to be about the purpose of God over being popular or accepted.

I gotta’ admit I have barely a hint about how to accomplish this mentality.  I can see it in Jesus’ life and message but I don’t see it in very many people around me—if any.  Let me point out I’m not criticizing my family in Christ just being realistic about the reality of the state of our being.  It’s very rare to find someone who is self-possessed and in tune with God’s Spirit to the point where others see them as undeniably solid.  Without fail, 99.99% of the people we know are struggling towards or with something.  Everyone’s straining to arrive at some state of peace built by whatever substance or philosophy they’ve bought into as the means to this end.

What is the absolute best argument anyone can give?

Irrefutable evidence.

No one can argue against our peace if we’re not swayed away from it by their unrest or dissent.  No one can defeat an argument based on something real and immovably secure in its truth.

The problem many of us find in witnessing to others is we begin to mirror the restlessness they display in an effort communicate we understand them.  The difference between what Christ did and what we tend to do is that He didn’t need to demonstrate dissatisfaction to show He experienced lack or failure.  I’ve noticed, however, those in a state of flux or who are unstable have a habit of accusing those who have found peace of never experiencing their particular brand of stress.

And here is the main reason why being an open book about our failings and growth in righteousness is so important.  Jesus was perfectly sinless; none of us are.  God used Him as an example to show humanity what they can become depending on Him.  By contrast, God uses our fallen sinful state to demonstrate His power to change even the most intractable and stubborn of human natures.  Through our example of an ever growing heart, the world around us sees a ray of light, a glimpse of hope for themselves daily lived out as we grow more like our Master.

The conclusion I draw from this is simple:  Being like the Master in His humility, open discretion, love, acceptance, eagerness to heal, forgive, change and restore, makes us stronger while leaving us exposed at the same time.  Our strength comes from being in the Strong Tower of the Lord (Proverbs 18:10), an impregnable castle of crystal, full of light and beauty.  Our vulnerability in Christ protects us from permanent damage while not keeping all suffering at bay.  If they rejected Him, they will reject us; it’s a given.  We must expect our hearts to be wounded by those we love who reject Christ—and many times by those who have accepted Him.

Through the renewed mind the Spirit grows in us we learn to love the world as Jesus did.  He didn’t let the world’s priorities or “needs” control Him, instead He let His life demonstrate how important they were.  He got involved in their lives to the point He could by placing Himself in their company; all the while not taking part in their fallen natures.

We are to be in stark contrast to the world’s general attitude of complaining and arguing.  The world fights for either dominance or indiscriminate freedom.  We however stand for the attitude of Jesus.

A Good Run

…In order that I may boast on the day of Christ that I did not run or labor for nothing.  But even if I am being poured out like a drink offering on the sacrifice and service coming from your faith, I am glad and rejoice with all of you.  So you too should be glad and rejoice with me.  Philippians 2:16b-18.

Paul wants them to remain solidly for the faith he taught them to pursue, for them to be worthy of his efforts.  I know there are lots of times I’ve wondered if my investment in a life or lives of people hasn’t been in vain (or in vein because it bleeds me dry) because the response isn’t what is optimal according to the teaching.

He compares the journey of the Christian to a race fairly often because it’s the best way to communicate the reward for hard work and determination.  I don’t for a minute think he’s suggesting we are working our way to God; rather our efforts to follow Jesus take us down a certain path and require discipline and determination to continue in it.  So for a minister or evangelist to pour themselves out then see no results but apostasy, squabbling and division would be like losing a race they trained hard for but lost anyway.  No laurel, no satisfaction of a job well done and a lost person or group to the gospel.

In his reference to being poured out like a drink offering on the sacrifice is a direct allusion to the law.  (Find the reference in the law)  Their sacrifice for his wellbeing served to not only meet his need but encourage him as well.  His life hung in the balance at this time.  In a way, he was like a sacrifice for Christ waiting to be taken into the temple as a thank-offering for the Philippians.  He considered a thing to celebrate instead of bemoan.

For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain…

We have to understand Paul’s mindset here.  He wasn’t eager to die necessarily; rather he sees his current circumstances as evidence of service in the kingdom of heaven.

Anyone wanting to follow Jesus must walk as He did.  By definition walking implies a certain amount of work, imitation takes discipline, therefore action.  Our efforts to walk in the way of the Master don’t grow from a desire to earn His favor.  Instead all our efforts grow out of the clear evidence of His love for us.

Without Complaining or Arguing

May 2, 2011

Do everything without complaining or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation, in which you shine like stars in the universe as you hold out the word of life—in order that I may boast on the day of Christ that I did not run or labor for nothing.  Philippians 2:14-16.

Now that is one heavy instruction and darn near impossible to accomplish.  Imagine the church doing everything without complaining or arguing, where is Paul from Pluto?

I’ve said it before and it bears repeating, put ten theologians in a room discussing a subject and you’ll get an argument from nearly all ten points of view.  When a person is working with information in the dark, it’s pretty obvious some of the details will get misrepresented.

There’s an ancient story from the Orient about seven blindfolded monks being asked to describe an elephant from one touch from as single given position around the animal.  The conclusion of the story should be pretty clear:  7 different descriptions about what the object or animal might be from their various perspectives.

What I get out of this story, of course, is that it takes all of our perspectives to arrive at even a partially clear picture of God.  Sure, there will be those who give such a forceful one-sided view of Him that we’re tempted to reject their conclusion outright, but without careful consideration our reaction would be foolish.  For one thing, these single-minded types might have a valid point along with the ax they grind, so rejecting their truth based on their attitude is just as wrong as the superior approach they practice.  It sucks that we have to accept them as possibly valid but that’s the way it is.  Just because the feet and armpits stink and certain parts of the body emit methane doesn’t mean they aren’t a part of the body.  Those areas speak to the rest of the body loud and clear of the need to bathe or what’s happening in our digestive track, right?  Ignoring the smell just makes the problem worse and eventually causes everyone around to be standoffish.

The best way to conquer an enemy is to divide them.  Get all the factions fighting over either the minutiae of the gospel message or rules of conduct and you have an entity which becomes ineffective and basically preoccupied with itself.  I’m thinking about the over two-thousand denominations which exist today despite Jesus’ explicit command to love each and be one.  While I don’t object to the diverse viewpoints represented by these various factions within the Christian ethic, I do find it sad that our message is one of preference over substance.

There’s an old saying I believe is attributed to Martin Luther which goes,  “On essentials, unity; on non-essentials, liberality; in all things, charity.”  The reality, however, is one of infighting and quarrels so sharp or vehement denominations form and wars break out.  What this type of behavior says to the world around us is that our message of love and unity is bogus.

Paul gives one reason (among many) for this unity and love, though, by including what such an attitude produces:  light.  Those who imitate the Master without complaining or arguing shine like stars in the darkness of night.  We may not be as bright as the sun/Son, but we do reflect His light and that’s enough.  How can these people help but shine?  They contrast the rest of Christendom so drastically they stand out.  The only sad truth about their light is that like stars they are small lights relative to the darkness in which they stand out so brightly.  Yet all is not hopeless for a good navigator will be able to find the way by using such lights, as any good sailor will tell you.

The wording of the first sentence strikes me as especially significant.  The way to becoming blameless and pure is to avoid complaining or arguing…or, at least, this is the first step to such a state of mind.

Why would complaining or arguing cause our light to dim or be tainted?

Despite all the miracles God performed on their behalf, the Children of Israel continued in their faithlessness and complaining to the point that a whole generation of them died before they could enter the Promised Land.  All the way through the history of Israel the majority continued with a “what-have-you-done-for-me-lately” attitude.  The human species without God in charge find themselves always at an impasse when they reach the crossroads of trust or apostasy.

Later in history the Jews held the repository of God’s message in their Torah yet either missed or rejected the Messiah when He arrived.  Does this reveal something about human nature to you?  We are so contrary in our pursuit of being little gods we cut our noses off to spite our faces.  What is it that drives us to be obnoxious about our beliefs?  I hear so many Christians criticize or outright condemn the Muslim faith yet many of them ignore the wars the so called “Christians” in our past started in the name of spreading the gospel.  If I remember my history right, however, most of this crusader spirit usually devolved into a grab of wealth in the form of land or gold.  Even in recent history we can read examples of people supposedly going by the name of Jesus declaring violent war on those who held a different POV.

To be innocent of evil and shine like stars in the universe we have to live in contrast to everything the world represents.  In all our dealings with the body of Christ, first, then the world at large we have to be different in every aspect which Jesus instructed us.

Paul called the age in which he lived wicked and depraved not as a derogatory comment because his goal had nothing to do with superiority or setting himself above anyone.  No, his comment referred to the nature of Christ as it stood out in contrast to the world.  Another passage we just studied referred to Jesus as not seeking God-status or to advance Himself in the eyes of anyone preferring instead to be thought of as nothing over acclaim, beauty or any kind of advantage over others.  Who He was stood out so brightly His own people tried to put out His light because it hurt their eyes.  We cannot hope to shine like Him without His presence permeating every part of our being, but if we do in just a minute way, we will experience the same reactions.

Complaining and arguing is about either getting what we think we deserve by griping or fighting for it with words—or at worse weapons of death.  In other words, we fight for what we think our rights are or what we think we deserve rather than being like Jesus.  Instead of becoming like the heart of God we seek to change our circumstances or environment.  Those who follow Jesus change both by default as they choose to be like the Master.  If Jesus refused to let anyone have power over Him because He knew human nature (John 2:23-25), what should our choice be?

Normal
0

false
false
false

MicrosoftInternetExplorer4

st1\:*{behavior:url(#ieooui) }

/* Style Definitions */
table.MsoNormalTable
{mso-style-name:”Table Normal”;
mso-tstyle-rowband-size:0;
mso-tstyle-colband-size:0;
mso-style-noshow:yes;
mso-style-parent:””;
mso-padding-alt:0in 5.4pt 0in 5.4pt;
mso-para-margin:0in;
mso-para-margin-bottom:.0001pt;
mso-pagination:widow-orphan;
font-size:10.0pt;
font-family:”Times New Roman”;
mso-ansi-language:#0400;
mso-fareast-language:#0400;
mso-bidi-language:#0400;}

Now that is one heavy instruction and darn near impossible to accomplish.  Imagine the church doing everything without complaining or arguing, where is Paul from Pluto?

I’ve said it before and it bears repeating, put ten theologians in a room discussing a subject and you’ll get an argument from nearly all ten points of view.  When a person is working with information in the dark, it’s pretty obvious some of the details will get misrepresented.

There’s an ancient story from the Orient about seven blindfolded monks being asked to describe an elephant from one touch from as single given position around the animal.  The conclusion of the story should be pretty clear:  7 different descriptions about what the object or animal might be from their various perspectives.

What I get out of this story, of course, is that it takes all of our perspectives to arrive at even a partially clear picture of God.  Sure, there will be those who give such a forceful one-sided view of Him that we’re tempted to reject their conclusion outright, but without careful consideration our reaction would be foolish.  For one thing, these single-minded types might have a valid point along with the ax they grind, so rejecting their truth based on their attitude is just as wrong as the superior approach they practice.  It sucks that we have to accept them as possibly valid but that’s the way it is.  Just because the feet and armpits stink and certain parts of the body emit methane doesn’t mean they aren’t a part of the body.  Those areas speak to the rest of the body loud and clear of the need to bathe or what’s happening in our digestive track, right?  Ignoring the smell just makes the problem worse and eventually causes everyone around to be standoffish.

The best way to conquer an enemy is to divide them.  Get all the factions fighting over either the minutiae of the gospel message or rules of conduct and you have an entity which becomes ineffective and basically preoccupied with itself.  I’m thinking about the over two-thousand denominations which exist today despite Jesus’ explicit command to love each and be one.  While I don’t object to the diverse viewpoints represented by these various factions within the Christian ethic, I do find it sad that our message is one of preference over substance.

There’s an old saying I believe is attributed to Martin Luther which goes,  “On essentials, unity; on non-essentials, liberality; in all things, charity.”  The reality, however, is one of infighting and quarrels so sharp or vehement denominations form and wars break out.  What this type of behavior says to the world around us is that our message of love and unity is bogus.

Paul gives one reason (among many) for this unity and love, though, by including what such an attitude produces:  light.  Those who imitate the Master without complaining or arguing shine like stars in the darkness of night.  We may not be as bright as the sun/Son, but we do reflect His light and that’s enough.  How can these people help but shine?  They contrast the rest of Christendom so drastically they stand out.  The only sad truth about their light is that like stars they are small lights relative to the darkness in which they stand out so brightly.  Yet all is not hopeless for a good navigator will be able to find the way by using such lights, as any good sailor will tell you.

The wording of the first sentence strikes me as especially significant.  The way to becoming blameless and pure is to avoid complaining or arguing…or, at least, this is the first step to such a state of mind.

Why would complaining or arguing cause our light to dim or be tainted?

Despite all the miracles God performed on their behalf, the Children of Israel continued in their faithlessness and complaining to the point that a whole generation of them died before they could enter the Promised Land.  All the way through the history of Israel the majority continued with a “what-have-you-done-for-me-lately” attitude.  The human species without God in charge find themselves always at an impasse when they reach the crossroads of trust or apostasy.

Later in history the Jews held the repository of God’s message in their Torah yet either missed or rejected the Messiah when He arrived.  Does this reveal something about human nature to you?  We are so contrary in our pursuit of being little gods we cut our noses off to spite our faces.  What is it that drives us to be obnoxious about our beliefs?  I hear so many Christians criticize or outright condemn the Muslim faith yet many of them ignore the wars the so called “Christians” in our past started in the name of spreading the gospel.  If I remember my history right, however, most of this crusader spirit usually devolved into a grab of wealth in the form of land or gold.  Even in recent history we can read examples of people supposedly going by the name of Jesus declaring violent war on those who held a different POV.

To be innocent of evil and shine like stars in the universe we have to live in contrast to everything the world represents.  In all our dealings with the body of Christ, first, then the world at large we have to be different in every aspect which Jesus instructed us.

Paul called the age in which he lived wicked and depraved not as a derogatory comment because his goal had nothing to do with superiority or setting himself above anyone.  No, his comment referred to the nature of Christ as it stood out in contrast to the world.  Another passage we just studied referred to Jesus as not seeking God-status or to advance Himself in the eyes of anyone preferring instead to be thought of as nothing over acclaim, beauty or any kind of advantage over others.  Who He was stood out so brightly His own people tried to put out His light because it hurt their eyes.  We cannot hope to shine like Him without His presence permeating every part of our being, but if we do in just a minute way, we will experience the same reactions.

Complaining and arguing is about either getting what we think we deserve by griping or fighting for it with words—or at worse weapons of death.  In other words, we fight for what we think our rights are or what we think we deserve rather than being like Jesus.  Instead of becoming like the heart of God we seek to change our circumstances or environment.  Those who follow Jesus change both by default as they choose to be like the Master.  If Jesus refused to let anyone have power over Him because He knew human nature (John 2:23-25), what should our choice be?