Archive for June, 2011

Nobly Serious

June 27, 2011

…Whatever is noble… Within the will of God I find a strange dichotomy which plagues the way we think about Him. Here is a Being who accepts the sinner but not the sin; who condemns evil but works in ever increasingly bizarre ways to save those who rebelled and who basically crave just to live forever doing whatever they want when they want. He loves every person who has ever lived with a passion we can’t even fathom. Yet He will destroy those who remain harmful to creation when the time for this age is over. For a long time, I struggled to grasp why a loving God would destroy anything. It seemed out of character until I realized that love desires safety, happiness, wholeness…the list of good things goes on and on. Good is the antithesis to evil. This truth plays out in all our myths, legends and modern stories as well as life itself. God desires the good and hates the evil, therefore if someone continues to practice evil even after He offers them good, what choice does a love have but to eliminate the threat to good? Look at sin as a disease which destroys its host then destroys itself. When an outbreak of some disease strikes a nation or community, those in charge of the cure will give a medicine designed to destroy the disease itself without killing the person or host. The problem is some people are so consumed by the disease that they can’t be cured and die as a result. In the case of small pox or the plague, once these people died, everything that touched them during their illness had to be burned so the disease wouldn’t spread. God knows sin as a disease. We don’t see it that way because to us it just seems normal. Unfortunately, most of us have identified with the disease for so long we don’t see the discoloration of our spirits as abnormal anymore. The only way to recognize the contrast is to be able to see Jesus. Once we look into His perfect light, our dark and smelly reality becomes all too apparent and is abhorrent to us. Unless, of course, we reject what the light reveals. However, the whole of our condition is not revealed in just one look, for if we saw the whole problem sin causes within us all at once, we would be overwhelmed by despair. So Christ gives us a glimpse of the reality first in order to set us on the road to treatment and recovery. A person who refuses to acknowledge the disease and thereby rejects the treatment eventually becomes the disease itself—or a proponent of it at least. Once this stage is reached all hope for redemption or cure is gone and God is left with no other choice but eliminate the threat. In other words, in order to destroy the disease, the host who refuses to relinquish it is destroyed with it. Sin brings with it harsh realities. First, it separates us from the Life (Jesus); next it deceives those fooled by its tantalizing glitter into believing they are the masters of their own fate. Lastly it brings death in numerous ways and death produces futility. Humans have fought this pointlessness by having their name carried on from generation to generation in order not to be forgotten in death. The problem is the reality of their identity is forgotten until all that’s left is myth and legend. God offers eternal life where the legend is the person rather than myths that raise up around their exploits and character. A living legend is better than a myth about the dead. So God has no choice but to eliminate sin if He desires a clean universe without death as an option again. Those who refuse the Way, Truth and Life find by default they have refused to live—probably not by desire but by rejection of the Son who gives life freely to all who ask. And, of course, they hate this truth and resent God for “forcing” such a choice on them as if it’s His fault…which it is. He designed the game and its rules, meaning the outcome also comes from this design as well. So what does this have to do with being noble? I looked up the word translated “noble” in the NIV and “honest” in the KJV. Vine’s p. 309 says the best translation of the word would probably be nobly serious. To call someone “noble” is more often than not a term for character. Of course the word is also used for those born to the ruling class where monarchies still exist, but usually we mean someone who possesses outstanding qualities in character and what they do. Basically the word noble covers all of the traits Paul speaks of in Philippians 4:8. The rest of the list merely expands and explains his first point. Yet, the KJV’s interpretation does place a twist on our understanding when it uses the word honest. In our modern world, honest means something different than noble. The original word came from the Middle English in a mixture of Anglo-French, which in the original Latin form was honestus and first used in the 14th century, meant honor or honorable. Paul is using a Greek word seminos to encourage us to be nobly serious or honorable in our pursuits. The contrast couldn’t be more clear: Those who follow Christ develop a taste for noble pursuits. In other words, they seek things which are honestly honorable. We who follow after Jesus pursue those things which not only honor Him, but reflect His character and by default infect us with His light. We grow to enjoy His company, which infuses us with Himself. If rejection of God is a disease we must choose, then the cure is His presence. No more noble pursuit could be sought after than Jesus in us. We develop a serious desire for all things noble, honest, honorable because of His presence in our hearts.

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How We Think Matters

June 24, 2011

How We Think Matters

 

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.  Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put into practice.  And the God of peace will be with you.  Philippians 4:8, 9.

 

How we think matters.  What we think about matters.  What we focus on and dwell on matters to who we will be and the atmosphere we bring to the table.

Think about it; if we focused on what is true instead of lying to ourselves or avoiding the truth, how would our lives be different?  Okay, if we stop at truth, we’ll have a problem though , because much of the truth we know in this world anyway is pretty ugly.  That’s why Paul doesn’t leave it there but heads onto the word “noble,” “right,” “pure,” “lovely,” and “admirable.”

Some of us stop looking once we find “truth” in whatever form of it we like to see it, then use it as a bludgeon to force others into submission to it.  Sometimes we become so myopic as humans that we see only a single truth without recognizing any other.  It’s almost like no other truth exists outside of this one that we feel the need to champion.  But that’s just the problem, those who see pollution as a truth they must shout out at the top of their lungs many times ignore much of the truth surrounding it.  They fail to recognize what brought us here, opting for a simplistic negative approach to the problem.

The other day I listened to a man who was championing the dangers of cell phones.  When asked, he claimed he wouldn’t put one within 10” of his body and didn’t own a computer or printer or anything with a radio (all wireless devices are radio based).  I thought,  “Geez, dude, you’re so worried about the problem you fail to see your issues of paranoia are gonna’ kill you before the others do.”  It’s a pretty established fact that anxiety and worry produce more cancers and other diseases than almost anything else.  Those into healthy living usually focus on the diet aspect of the equation when in reality it’s attitude as much as anything else.

Let’s lay the cards out on the table:  Sin is a deadly disease which is killing us.

But you know what?  We’re living longer than less than 200 years ago when the average age was 45, give or take.  So this paranoia about dying is ludicrous and pretty pointless.  Let the record show that the statistics prove for every birth there is a death waiting in the future so attempting to avoid it or railing against our fate is pretty silly.

Yet those who do grasp the reality of positive thinking through Christ find something no one else does:  Peace which passes all understanding.

You got it.  The reward, the pearl of great price, the single most comforting thing in the world is finding peace that is not dependant on what is going on around us but what we know to be true inside.  It’s pretty easy to say that whatever a person focuses on to the exclusion of everything else will dominate their mind.  It’s also a forgone conclusion what we think comes out in our behavior one way or another—no matter how adept we are at hiding it.

Most of us have heard someone tell us that the way to know a counterfeit dollar bill is study every detail of a real one and know it by heart.  When the counterfeit shows itself it’s not hard to spot because there’s some detail messed up or missing.

Whatever is true…

The Christian apologetics gets it backwards too often because we spend so much time worrying about the ugly sordid details of the counterfeits we forget to preach the truth about the genuine article.  Paul encourages us to concentrate on the true not just so that we won’t be deceived by the façade of the fake but so that we’ll know peace.  Jesus said,  ”If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples.  Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”  John 8:31, 32.  It’s almost comical how often this simple sentence gets misquoted.  Instead of including the first sentence most people only quote the last phrase …the truth will set you free, ignoring the rest.  But truth doesn’t always bring peace or a sense of fulfillment for unless it is combined with the knowledge of the Truth (“I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life), knowledge of the truth gives nothing but information.  Truth without wisdom to guide it is dead.

The peace which grows from knowing the truth only comes through a knowledge of Jesus.  Truth is not simply knowing, rather I consider it the essence of what is.  We sometimes feel truth is fluid when actually it’s quite stable.  Where we make our mistake is when we ignore the theorems of truth.  For instance, in Geometry we play math games about equivalents like:  If A = B and C = B, then A = C.  It might sound like semantics but this kind of reasoning has to flow into our living space where we operate most frequently.  Physicists know that everything in the known universe (and the unknown) has an equation.  They might not know what that equation is but they know by experience there is one.  The equation for basic truth in Jesus is as follows:

 

Jesus’ teaching = truth; knowing His teachings = discipleship; knowing His truth = freedom.  So Jesus’ teachings = freedom.

 

Do you see where the peace comes from when we know His truth?

The Context of Peace

June 23, 2011

Don’t be anxious…And the peace of God will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.

Finally, brothers, whatever is true…And the God of peace will be with you.  Philippians 4:1-9.

Something about the context of this passage keeps tickling the back of my mind.  Every night before I go to sleep I’ve been reading these words over and over trying to figure out what’s catching my attention and wondering what bothered me about my observation skills.  So I read verse 1, then all the first sentences to the paragraphs following.  Though Paul speaks to the whole church at Philippi, he’s really addressing the issue between Euodia and Syntyche.  In fact, I think he’s using these two ladies’ quarrel to bring up the characteristics of God’s peace and what it offers.

If the God of peace rules in our hearts, then we don’t have to be anxious about anything since we know we can present our requests to Him through prayer and petition.  Our sense of gratitude grows out of our experience of His peace.  In other words the reason why anxiety isn’t part of our emotional diet after a while comes directly from His history of provision and the peace that transcends all understanding.

The two women were letting a disagreement break the harmony of the church and their own relationship.  If the peace of God truly rules the heart, a person won’t be able to be divisive, unruly, resentful or disagreeable, for the glue of Christ’s love binds us all together.  Remaining outside of the virtue of Jesus while claiming to live for Him, creates an oxymoronic state in our souls—a conflicted nature divided and at war with itself.  Conflicts within the church can’t always be resolved by one person being convinced of another person’s conclusion; sometimes we have to agree to differ.  Perspective being what it is more often than not leaves us at odds with each other if we aren’t bathed in the peace which transcends understanding.

The only reason for a person to be put out of fellowship is admitted, unrepentant sin or outright heresy.  This person must know what they are doing is wrong and not care nor want to conform their opinion to the teachings of Christ for them to be outside fellowship.  Otherwise, everyone is to remain a part of the body.  But before such drastic measures happen, several steps must be taken to ensure the person in question refuses to conform to the mind of Christ.

Sometimes what instigates a new denomination is the old guard refusing to allow the new to have a differing or even adjusted opinion or interpretation on disputable matters.  Just as often it happens in reverse.  Paul listed several in Romans 14 and subsequent letters expanded on these issues.  The practices of the early church from what I know of its history and the letters of Paul suggest to me there was quite a lot of leeway for doctrinal differences as long as these differences didn’t go against the basic gospel teachings the apostles taught or what was known of Jesus’ instructions.

If God’s peace cannot bring reconciliation between believers, something’s wrong with it.  Let me say it again, if we can’t find His peace in the midst of our disagreements, it doesn’t work.

Or…something’s radically wrong with us.

I’m biased towards the latter since I have many, many faults.  Agreeing in the Lord isn’t about coming to the same opinion or even copping to the same view, but realizing our differences are what give us the complete picture of God.  What sin has done to us is make us myopic to the point of obsession.  My POV usually struggles to take in more than one or two points at any one time.  I can multitask when I know my job well, but most of the time I’m overwhelmed concentrating on more than one thing.

With a complex God in our sites it’s quite easy to forget mercy while thinking about His judgment; to forget grace when thinking about His righteousness; to forget forgiveness while thinking about the price He paid.  He is all of these things at the same time and doesn’t need to switch hats in order to apply one or the other.

C. S. Lewis in his book “The Great Divorce” claimed all of hell could fit on the head of a pin because it depended on small thinking.  I say that almost all divisions in the church are caused by small minded people trying to cope with big ideas about God and failing miserably.

Yet even in our inability to get along there’s abundant grace.  I might call denominational bias on the carpet for its exclusive nature and antagonism to the call of Christ to be one, but I recognize it won’t do any good.  We’re just too fallen; our bodies and minds too beaten down with the weight of sin and its destructive nature to be anything but broken.  This very reality is why the gospel is so wonderful and beautiful.  Where the brokenness exists, His grace covers all.

Euodia and Syntyche probably reconciled on behalf of their beloved Paul, but the church since has shown less inclination to be so willing to put aside their differences and demonstrate the peace God offers in our ignorance and lack of perspective.  Those of us who grasp this concept, however, have an obligation to its message to demonstrate it at every opportunity.  Which means, God is gonna’ probably throw us in the deep end where the disagreements are the most painful so He can show through us what He desires of the church.

Finally

June 17, 2011

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.  Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me— put it into practice.  And the God of peace will be with you.  Philippians 4:8, 9.

 

Last night (this is Thursday when I started typing) at my cell group (a new name for a Bible study/spiritual meeting thingy) we discussed grief.  The pastor of Bridge City has been speaking on validating our emotional life by discussing such topics and anger, fear and now grief in order to help people deal with their whole lives rather than stuffing their emotions away where they tend to get out of hand in the subconscious.  Whew!  That was a long sentence, sorry.

My point is that as I read the text above last night and then again this morning, I wondered how we should deal with our grief in light of its positive spin.  For most of us emotions lead the way whether we admit it or not.  Oh, we might not “allow” ourselves to feel sadness or grief, because that would be weak and faithless, but we sure can display anger, resentment, frustration, happiness, etc, when we think such emotions are appropriate.  Today I am going to discuss the text in this context to understand how to navigate our emotional life in a healthy way without invalidating ones like grief.

In the eastern cultures grief is given a time to express itself.  In fact, I believe most third world countries deal with grief in a more wholesome way than Americans do.  We tend to be given to the “stiff upper lip” mentality as if this will actually work.  Unrealized grief only shapes the pain in the background and evidences itself in the subconscious where it proceeds to affect all sorts of things in our conscious world without us recognizing it.

The Sunday after my wife left me for the last time, a pastor friend warned me to allow myself time to grieve.  He didn’t necessarily recommend a specific limit but just warned me to be aware that my body and mind needed the space.  I decided on 2 years, since I tend to process things slowly over lots of chewing on the data.  It takes a while for me to come to closure on some things when I haven’t dealt with them before.  Two years to the day when she moved out (November 29 to be exact) I woke up breathing again and aware of light in the room.  I can’t describe what it was like exactly but the closest I can say is that I felt I had been in a twilight zone and the edges of my vision was dark.

So how does this impact the message Paul wants to convey?

Simply this:  we cannot escape grief or sadness for they are the natural outcomes of a world with sin.  We should never deny ourselves the space to grieve, be angry or whatever emotion we know is an honest response to the situation.  Though self-control dictates that these not rule how we respond, we still go through the emotions anyway.  In our awareness of grief we turn our minds to the light of hope when it seems overwhelming, without it, grief would be unbearable and suffocating.  Yet to deny grief its expression sets us up for dishonesty and hypocrisy.

Our only recourse, then, is to choose a mindset that doesn’t deny our need to actually experience the emotions or own them while at the same time turning our thoughts to those things which produce hope in seemingly hopeless situations.  Paul went on to encourage the church in Thessalonica:  Brothers, we do not want you to be ignorant about those who fall asleep, or to grieve like the rest of men, who have no hope.  We believe that Jesus died and rose again and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in Him.  1 Thessalonians 4:13, 14.  He says more on the subject, which you can read at your leisure, but the important part is that we don’t have to grieve like the rest of the world.  Our hope of restoration in Christ saves us from the despair death and loss bring.  And herein lies the secret to the Christian’s ability to deal with grief.  We don’t have to grieve in hopeless loss because we have Someone who knows our sorrows, has experienced our pain and come through alive.

Still, knowing eternity awaits doesn’t mean we don’t grieve at all.

Heart Guard

June 15, 2011

And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.  Philippians 4:7.

Too often we are told we must protect ourselves by being tougher than the other guy or girl.  The world does not admire weakness nor excuse anyone who fails to pass the test—unless you’re a person who thinks equality is about inherent privilege rather than hard work and accomplishment.  The whole idea of being at peace from the general vantage point of pretty much everyone around us is that accomplishment grows naturally out of gaining the advantages of the rich.  So, instead of making sure everyone develops good character we try to make sure everyone has the same education options, financial freedom, etc., or we tell them to climb the ladder of success.  To some it’s merely a game of chess where the best player wins.

The problem with every solution we come up with to deal with the issue of inequality is that no where do we mandate a character change in those who are in control of the means to making things equal or the ones receiving the benefits of the program.  Reading certain authors like Victor Hugo, etc, you’d think the only reason there’s crime in the world was because of the class system.  Yet if people look at it without the rose colored glasses of humanistic bias, they recognize some of the biggest crooks in the world’s history were people who were highly educated, wealthy and powerful.  If equality is based on someone’s financial advantages, then something went wrong with Hitler, Stalin, King George and host of other tyrants.

Money might be a bulwark against poverty and starvation in bad economic times, but it holds no sway over natural disasters such as earthquakes, tsunamis and hurricanes.  As far as I can tell, money doesn’t bring anyone peace of mind either.  Those who have it are always shoring up their store of it in order to not have to worry about it.  These people also worry about losing it so much they make laws about everything they can think of that might take it away from them.  I think it is odd (and I’ve said this before) a person spends more time in prison for embezzlement and fraud than they do for a sexual crime.

Paul gives no wiggle room here.  The peace of God goes outside the human understanding or capacity to create it.  It’s so far beyond our comprehension that to the casual observer it makes no sense and thus is open to suspicion.  The apostle troubleshoots this in 1 Corinthians 1 & 2 where he tells us the message of the gospel is a stumbling block to the Jews and foolishness to the Gentiles.  If we want a truth that cuts through objections based on its human logic alone, we will be sadly disappointed, for the very premise of our salvation comes from the most illogical solution imaginable.  A dead god.  Whoever heard of such a thing saving anyone?

Jesus told the disciples, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you.  I do not give to you as the world gives.  Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.”  John 14:27.

How much we trust Jesus’ word on the matter will be how much His peace reigns in our hearts.  Notice His peace is not like the type the world gives; it comes from another source entirely.  In my last blog entry I tried to talk about how we get this peace in detail.  Of course, the real means to peace can be boiled down to a simple heading:  Have the mind of Christ.  But thinking like Jesus is more complex a task for us than many of us will admit.  It takes small, incremental steps of submission and obedience to reach such a goal.  Yet when we do the rewards are infinite.

All this aside, the peace of God is the guardian of our hearts.  He gives us peace beyond which we can think or imagine; meaning it has to be outside our natural human experience.  If we know a peace in spite all the reasoning known to mankind, something supernatural is occurring.  This type of peace keeps our hearts from wandering into internal dark territory by the sheer power of its presence.  What better guardian of our faith then a peace which cannot be explained as coming from any known form of human origin.

Our doctrine will not keep us safe.  The body of Christ will never keep us secure, though they will be a means of encouragement and correction.  The thing that keeps us protected from doubt, secure in loss and unmoved by trouble is the peace of God which transcends all human understanding.

Dealing with Anxiety

June 13, 2011

The Lord is near.  Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.  And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.  Philippians 4:5b-7.

Verse 6 has probably been one of the most influential verses in my life in addition to Matthew 6:25-34 and Luke 12:22-34.  I’m a worrywart, of sorts, in that I get stressed out by other people’s opinions, not meeting expectations and concern I might end up a failure.  Most people worry about something, and while our issues may not orbit the exact same object, the emotional energy and sense of stress ends up being pretty much the same.

I need this passage more than I can say.  When I feel like I’m gonna’ fall on my face in some way or another, Paul’s words float across the screen of my consciousness to remind me to let it go.

But letting it go is easier said than done.

When the outcome is vital to my peace of mind or the well-being of those around me (and thus their opinion of me hangs in the balance), I am so anxious for the expected result that it’s hard to release it to God.  I realize I can’t control anyone else (and sometimes not even myself), yet I grind my teeth in frustration when things go completely south of a northern goal.

The Lord is Near

Standing or traveling alone gets tiresome.  Being at the mercy of the strongest force gnaws at anyone’s self-esteem or sense of purpose.  Reading that The Lord is near might get a nod of acknowledgment from most believers, yet it rarely actually translates to any form of real serenity.  If the Lord is near, how should I think about myself, others or the current state of the immediate world around me?

Most diseases find a backdoor to our bodies through anxiety.  Most distress is caused by thwarted expectations.  Most depression is caused by continually playing the tapes of the voices of despair in our heads and a series of often self-inflicted failures brought on by self-fulfilling prophecies.  It’s when we give into despair that spiritual, mental and emotional entropy takes over.

But if the Lord is near, of what do we need to be afraid?  Where is the outcome that is so dire He cannot rescue or solve it?  If even death holds no power over us, then how can anything else be thought of as worth the energy it takes to be discouraged or depressed by our own seeming failures?  The only reason for us to be discouraged or depressed (besides chemical imbalances) is when we take our concentration off the Master.  Peter only sank when he gave way to his fear of the natural forces surrounding him and took his eyes off Jesus.  Once he accepted the Master’s hand, however, he walked without fear or trouble.

Yet Paul isn’t suggesting we aren’t going to experience anxiety; because if he was, then why give us the encouragement to present our requests to God through prayer and petition?  It wouldn’t make sense to pray about something we aren’t worried about at all.  No, the truth is the need for requesting anything from God reveals a need for comfort and reassurance.

What he is pounding home is the need for vigilance in the face of stressful situations.  Notice the way we defeat anxiety comes in three forms:  prayer, petition, then thanksgiving.  The last one is vital to our mental health, if nothing else, for it produces gratitude, which in turn brings about joy—or rejoicing.  Being thankful for God’s presence and provision takes the edge off our troubles and brings equilibrium to our good times.

In recent years I’ve read more and more articles dealing with the healing benefits of gratitude.  The correlation studies seem to strongly point to an attitude of gratitude being one of the key ingredients in fighting disease or depression.  Most of us want some kind of peace, depending on our definition.  The only way to peace for the follower of Jesus, however, is to bet all our money on Him.  Prayer is a devotional communication where the person seeking God opens their hearts to Him in various ways.  Petition indicates a heart of trust.  Thanksgiving simply demonstrates faith in the outcome and the One who provides it.  It is an act of faith to pray to a god; to petition a deity demands we recognize their divinity.  To be thankful means we have either already received what we asked for or our confidence in the deity is solid.

So as we call upon and appeal to God for our needs Paul instructs us to do so with thanksgiving, and this leads to something quite profitable for us.  Trust breeds dependence—it’s a natural outcome of trust by the way—which is an integral part of any relationship.  The profit for us is peace beyond what we can think or imagine.  This peace grows out of security in Christ, as it should, but that’s not necessarily the reason it transcends understanding.  A person who remains secure through everything life can throw at them, does so precisely because what they have supersedes what they experience.

I’ll say it again another way:  The mere fact we remain calm through trouble stems from the confidence in something greater than our circumstances.

No one retains any sense of peace when they see the problem as bigger than their solution.  If we trust the problems we face to be greater than God’s ability to solve them or keep us secure, then we give in to the stress produced by our lack of confidence.  The rubber meets the road in faith only when the potholes and weather go against us.  In peaceful times who needs help or faith?  Faith really becomes necessary when everything seems to be going against all the evidence we know for it.

I think of this passage as a pattern in a tapestry of promises in Scripture.  We need to connect the dots to get the big picture painted for our comfort and instruction in faith.  When Jesus tells not to worry about our life, what we wear, eat or drink, then we must take Him at His word.  When David speaks about a man stumbling but not falling because God hold him up with the right hand of favor (Psalms 37:24), we need to pay attention and get the picture of grace He’s woven throughout the fabric.

The message is clear:  God will take care of us—even in death, persecution, loss and pain, our future is secure in Christ.  The only time anxiety rears its ugly head is when we take our eyes off the Master.  Yet if we keep our eyes fixed on Him, we will walk unharmed through whatever comes in our path.  It doesn’t mean we won’t be touched by the pain or suffering, but our equanimity remains through it all.  Nothing shakes our confidence in our God when we know His promises and trust His word.

Rejoice!

June 10, 2011

Rejoice in the Lord!  I will say it again, Rejoice!  Let your gentleness be evident to all.  The Lord is near.  Philippians 4:4, 5.

What would a synonym be of the word “rejoice”?  Well my thesaurus gives several:  celebrate, be glad, delight, exult, cheer, be pleased about.  The word “always” is not in the Greek text exactly, though the tense of the word itself means to continuously be glad so they add the word “always” to communicate the ongoing attitude of joy in the Lord.

Another text says,  And we rejoice in our suffering because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance produces character,  and character hope; and hope does not disappoint us… Romans 5:3-5a.

How does one be glad in their suffering?  I mean, nothing unpleasant is easy to “be glad” in, so what is Paul trying to convey?

Just a reminder:  At the time of the letter to the Philippians Paul awaited trial for crimes against the Jews.  His exact crime, of course, was vague at best and horse pucky at worst, but the Jews didn’t care, they just wanted to be rid of his voice.  It’s amazing to me people in charge don’t get the simple truth of “the more you squeeze water of humanity, the more it leaks out from between your fingers”.  You’d think they would just let it lie or die out as a fad; but, no, they had to stamp out this heresy themselves.  I don’t know why seemingly intelligent people always fall for this foolish control-freaky method, because it never works.

It’s a lesson (and I know I’m rabbit trailing here) we could all use.  Instead of forcing those who oppose us, we need to continue in the direction God has us going calmly.  Our sense of complete assurance will do more to convince others than a yelling contest the loudest voice wins.  From the example of history, it doesn’t take great moral intelligence to win a battle just a bigger army and a loud mouthed buffoon with a chip on his shoulder or, worse, greed and covetousness in his heart.

The best way to demonstrate the truth of the gospel is to remain happy, content and hopeful no matter the circumstances.  This doesn’t mean we don’t get sad, discouraged or depressed ever, that’s stoicism and unreal; rather we come to a sense of well-being in spite of what’s going on around us.  The circumstances don’t dictate our attitude God does.

And this brings us back to our main text.  Paul tells his readers to rejoice in the Lord, which is different than merely being joyful in general.  When Christ is in us and we are in Him, the natural thing is to rejoice since our mental state is at peace.  Finding a centered place where we know we matter (as opposed to hoping) brings peace and contentment no one can shake.  When we know we matter to God and His people, we live and think differently.

Circumstances fluctuate haphazardly so if our emotional well-being is based on whether our finances are in order or the world likes us, we will be in for a roller coaster ride.  When our sense of worth comes from an impeccable source, however, the roller coaster becomes rather fun because through it all we know we’re safe.  Nobody likes being in danger.  Being attached to Jesus, however, takes the finality out of any danger we face; nothing that happens to us can permanently harm us or subtract our influence.  Even in death we continue to be effective against those who oppose us because of His eternal presence.

A person who knows the peace of God feels no need to react or respond to the events or people around them in the same way.  I mean, just because the world in general is pushy, violent, scrabbling for recognition or stuff doesn’t mean we have to do the same thing.  I will say it again:

When our value is established beyond a shadow of a doubt and we trust the source as valid, nothing can shake our serenity.

Gentleness is the evidence of a specific state of being.

Why are people violent in the first place?

Well, why do we worry, scramble, get anxious and grumpy?

It all comes down to our sense of safety and well-being.  This may have nothing to do with basic survival, instead our desires might be thwarted or something like that.  Nothing makes us more hot under the collar than when we want something really bad and it either goes to someone else who doesn’t “deserve” it or our efforts end up stymied by outside influences we have no control over.

Paul is telling us to rejoice in the Lord all the time, knowing He has our best interest at heart no matter what seems to be coming round the bend.  Why?  Simply because He’s near us at all times.  In a sinful world we have to expect the doo doo to hit the fan—if not often, at least once in a while.  To live on this planet unaware of all its erratically unfair rewards and punishments is by definition schizoid (out of touch with reality).  Paul just instructs us to rejoice in spite of the world; not to ignore it or deny its existence.

This is one of the main reasons I’m a follower of Jesus.  As believers we are not told to put our heads in the sand, fight the evil one in hand to hand combat or eradicate all the unrepentant.  Our witness is not one of constant badgering the sinners to repent but of an example of Christ’s miraculous power changing us from glory to glory.  When those who know us best see such a supernatural change, they will acknowledge that we have been with Jesus.

Agree in the Lord

June 7, 2011

I plead with Euodia and I plead with Syntyche to agree with each other in the Lord.  Yes, and I ask you, loyal yokefellow, help these women who have contended at my side in the cause of the gospel, along with Clement and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the book of life.  Philippians 4:1-3.

We’re not given the reason these women were having a problem, all we know is there was a disagreement of some sort, and it was enough of one to cause a rift.  It’s interesting that Paul never swerves from naming names or publicizing problems.  Unlike many today he’s not afraid of sin being known nor opposed to exposing it for what it is.  In this instance, however, there doesn’t seem to be any sin involved directly, rather it sounds more like a difference of opinions or methodology.

And who is this loyal yokefellow Paul addresses without giving any indication of a name?  I like this reference because it shows these letters were personal communications rather than theological dissertations.  Instead of Paul attempting to be the sole interpreter of this new religion he’s personally instructing those with whom he shared his life and God.  The gospel is one of restoring the family of God to its natural state; for make no mistake we are in an unnatural limbo since the fall and experiencing entropy on a more and more evident scale.  The work of God is personal.  It is the heart of God worked into and throughout His people to reconcile man to Himself and human to human.

Those who create any other kind of gospel ignore the obvious truth found in Paul’s plea with two women he knew as coworkers in the gospel; signifying to me they were quite close in pure platonic love.  And what I mean by “create” another kind of gospel is that Paul taught the churches to accept one another in love, of which any deviation from that would be a creative exercise outside it.

It’s now strange to me that uniformity rules the church rather than unity in our diversity.  I don’t believe we need to excuse sin, but we certainly don’t need to be beating the sinners up or ostracizing them for being such.  If Christ died for the ungodly and we are saved because of it, it means that once (and most likely still, in places) we were ungodly and lost as well.  Arrogance or any form of exclusive attitude applied to the work or life of God is completely out of place.  A person who confesses their sin will be forgiven—even if it is a recurring problem.  We can preach salvation and love all we want but without practicing grace we will condemn to darkness those Jesus came to save.   Anyone who approaches the work of the gospel in this way will find themselves in a cold, dark place where fear reigns supreme or spiritual apathy rules the twilight.

Again, notice there is no mention of what divided these two women, we don’t know how heavy the issue was, for Paul shows discretion in not revealing it in his letter; aware, no doubt, it would be read to other churches at one time or another.  What he does do with their issue is beg them to agree in the Lord, which is poles apart from coming to an agreement.  To agree with one another in the Lord takes on a whole different meaning when we look at how Paul and the other apostles approached differences in the church.  In Romans he brings up the issues of eating or abstaining from certain foods, special celebration days or Sabbaths (usually a specific Jewish favorite).  In other letters he broaches these subjects by intensely begging the church to accept one another in love and leave the differences to ones conscience rather than a setting a bunch of hard fast rules for everybody.  This says to me his primary concern wasn’t doctrinal unification but heart.

At the same time this doesn’t do away with the need for sound doctrine.  Anyone who teaches freedom from the law in any form other than the higher calling of love, which goes beyond the law to complete heart change, is slapping God in the face.  They might not know they are doing so, but they are.  Grace without the law is dead.  Without the law to condemn us we have no need of grace or mercy.  Yet to teach that morals are not necessary is ludicrous.  No one in their right mind thinks that theft or rape is ok, therefore teaching freedom from any standard of conduct by using a rather fluid “love” for mankind destroys both the character of God and stunts the believer into a infantile minded follower.

People who understand the road to truth get the contrast better if they study both sides of the issue.  I don’t have to agree with your conclusions nor should you mine to grasp the truths of either argument.  Yet I know I appreciate those who oppose my viewpoint because they challenge me to think outside my own box of crayons, almost forcing me to accept the fact one can come down on different sides of almost any issue.  Deciding what is or isn’t necessary to practice never becomes completely objective since we rationalize what is truth from our own take on what is rational.  There is no escape from our myopic take on gospel truth unless we truly give ourselves over to being the body of Christ by allowing others to challenge our conclusions.

The problem with most of us is we feel put down the moment someone challenges our POV.  In most cases it probably is since humans love being superior as well as condescending to one another.  I suspect Euodia and Syntyche experienced something along this line.  The human condition hasn’t changed all the much over the eons, though the traditions and cultures might vary a bit.  Our heart follows the logic of our grasp of truth and what is important, which means we feel the same emotions though the exact issues making us feel these might be different.  The women experienced a strong enough division Paul felt inspired to beg them to reconcile.  Whatever the issue was between them, it was enough to keep them at odds for several months because Rome was quite journey from Philippi and news didn’t travel that fast.

Paul, however, unlike many of us, didn’t ask them to come to a mutually acceptable conclusion but to agree with each in the Lord.  That’s quite a different thing by comparison.  To agree in the Lord means to me we let the disputable matters go unresolved and must leave them up to the conscience rather than beating each other up over personal convictions.  This means, of course, we must develop discernment on what the disputable matters actually are.  Unfortunately human beings like to play God without having the universal wisdom, compassion, knowledge and a host of other truths and attitudes necessary to judge the rightness or wrongness of whatever is being discussed.

Yet his loyal yokefellow was his ace in the hole.  Paul’s appeal to this man meant the dude had been educated and immersed in the proper approach to godly wisdom and decorum.  We’re not told if the problem was ever resolved or peace between the women restored, but we do have the words of Paul pleading with them to come to wholeness in Christ.

In our relationships with others unity in Christ is of utmost importance as a witness for Him.  Being right is secondary.  Our common ground is always Jesus; our glue is always the love of Christ which constrains us to good works.  If we accepted one another as Christ does us, what would the church look like?

The Pattern

June 2, 2011

Join with others in following my example, brothers, and take note of those who live according to the patter we gave you.  For, as I have often told you before and now say again even with tears, many live as enemies of the cross of Christ.  Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame.  Their mind is on earthly things.  But our citizenship is in heaven.  And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables Him to bring everything under His control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like His glorious body.

Therefore, my brothers, you whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, that is how you should stand firm in the Lord, dear friends!  Philippians 3:17-4:1.

Two phrases stand out as fulcrum points here.  First, we have Paul encouraging his readers to follow his example and the believers who adhere to the pattern he and his partners gave them.  Second, he makes it clear the pattern is the method by which they should stand firm in the Lord.

I would love to know exactly what that pattern looked like lived out according to Paul and Associates.  Words are not meaningless but they don’t convey many of the nuances which would clear up some of the debate 2000 spiritual rabbit trails bring up.  Actually, I think Paul does a good job describing the pattern to the Philippians, but I’m curious to know how it applies in specific situations he doesn’t address.

Sometimes it’s hard to reconcile the principle of remembering our citizenship is in heaven while making a living and coping with the earthly realities.  Since I’ve read many of his other letters with similar instructions but more practical guidelines, I don’t believe he is telling us stop living in the world or making a place here.  I do think he’s warning us not to get too attached to our “stuff” here because it’s a temporary situation.

It’s not hard to picture the type of people who live as enemies of the cross, although I’d still not like to be the one to name them very often.  Making a judgment call about anyone’s spiritual status is dangerous at best and down right detrimental at worst.  Still, we must understand this truth in Christ so that we are not the ones living as His enemies; for as Paul says elsewhere:  all things are permissible, but not all things are beneficial; all things are permissible, but I will not be ruled by anything.  If we call Jesus our “Master,” then our lives must demonstrate the truth of this.

Paul called himself a slave of Christ; and it’s only within this context that we can read any statement in which he calls Jesus “Lord” or “Master”.  Unless we get this concept, we will misunderstand where we stand in the general mix.  If we get off on one little point, it can mean being off in a big way later on.  Anyone who knows basic Algebra or Geometry understands that even a small degree of deviation from the line means separation from it pretty quickly.  The smallest deviations are hardest to detect, however, since they move seemingly parallel for such a long time.  Give this deviation a few years to travel and we end up with a pretty big space between the original line and where we end up.

It’s one of the reasons I believe in humility where the Bible is concerned.  Everybody struggles so much to grasp even the simplest concepts Scripture poses for our instruction that I believe we need to stop worrying about how far we or anyone else might be from the truth.  It’s safe to just assume we are off in several ways and the different perspectives within the body of Christ forces us out of a complacent acceptance of our own spiritual superiority.

Again, in another place, Paul claims we live as aliens in this world.  In his POV “alien” would mean someone from another country not probing egg-headed beings from space; to the Philippians he makes the argument for their citizenship in heaven.  Anyone whose god is their stomach would find this truth a little disturbing, since a person would be known by their tribal or national affiliation.  So much of a person’s identity in Paul’s era wrapped itself up in national or tribal associations that someone without a country, tribe or family was either looked down upon or ostracized all together.  Anyone who claimed no loyalty to a group would be seen with more suspicion than someone from an enemy nation because mainly outcasts or criminals claimed such status.

Where we get our identity from tells those around us who we are.  No matter what anyone wants to believe about our job title, marriage status or whatever else people ask about at parties, our identity derives directly from our affiliations.  Who we are connected to sometimes matters more than what we do.  For instance, say a man is related to the president of the United States as a nephew or cousin but works as a janitor, he will get respect from not only his peers but anyone who finds out about it just because of this connection.  It doesn’t matter that he’s probably not well off or traveling in powerful circles; just the fact he’s related to someone that powerful gives him a certain amount of notoriety.

Our citizenship is in heaven, so our identity comes from there.  If we are preoccupied with “earthly” things, we misrepresent our country of origin.  When I go visit another country, I am an American still.  My accent, relationships and a host of other verbal and non-verbal cues tell everyone where I come from and to whom I belong.  But when I begin to blend into the population, take on their mannerisms, speak their language, support their economy and generally become nationalized, I am no longer strictly an American but something of an expatriate.  I can still do all this without betraying my country; however, the moment I do anything that goes against my country of origin’s interests, I become a traitor.  Even if I don’t renounce my American citizenship formally, going against its policies, traditions, or interests in that place betrays my claims to belong.

Now there are many who set up a host of rules and regulations for belonging to the Christian faith, and I’m not sure I want to argue for or against all these.  Let’s just suffice it to say, the Bible makes it really simple to be a member.  1 John 2:3-6 makes it abundantly clear what it means to belong to Christ:  We know that we have come to know Him if we obey His commands.  The man who says,  “I know Him,”  but does not do what He commands is a liar, and the truth is not in him.  But if anyone obeys His word, God’s love is truly made complete in him.  This is how we know we are in Him:  Whoever claims to live in Him must walk as Jesus did.  Simple, eh?

No, I guess it’s not, because we have 2500+ denominations out there to prove how many ways we can interpret what it means to “obey His commands” as well as a host of arguments and discussions over which commands we must obey.

Yet I do believe there is a simple rule for us to follow:  Imitate Jesus.  That might sound confusing, but really it takes away a lot of backwash from the water of life.  When Jesus says (as Matthew 18:15-20 records it) to confront sin a certain way, then we do it that way.  If in the same context He tells us to treat a brother or sister who will not be reconciled like a pagan or tax collector, then we must look first at how He treated these people instead of imitating the world around us—even the religious world to which we belong gets this wrong.  If Jesus associated with tax collectors and sinners by going to their houses and eating their food, then I doubt He means for us to cut them off completely from our lives.

Do you see the difference?  The world accepts others based on sameness, agreement or capitulation; the Body of Christ accepts others based on the cross.  To live as an enemy of the cross is not only to be a glutton or sinner, but to continue in the world’s values.  If while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us, then how should we demonstrate our citizenship to the young believers and those outside the body of Christ?  If Jesus demonstrated His love for us by dying for us before we even belonged to Him, then how should we treat those around us?

There are limits to this, of course, like I won’t attend an orgy of gluttony and/or sex just to show an unbeliever I care about him/her.  But I will come to his/her house at a time which is mutually benign because we are friends.  At the same time, those who betray the faith by continuing in unrepentant sin (and this knowingly), I am to have nothing to do with till they repent.  I know that sounds harsh, yet I can’t help but believe this was Jesus’ way of supporting the idea of refusing to enable someone’s destructive habits rather than punishing them.  In psychology denying someone support for their destructive lifestyle is considered wise.  Cutting them off completely is not good, though refusing to bring them into the inner circle where they might infect others with their bad habits is considered wisdom.

This is, of course, just a few examples of where the pattern comes into play.  As our understanding of the pattern grows, so does our practice of it.  God doesn’t hold against us when we can’t grow all at once.  If He did, none of us would be make the grade, quite frankly.  So if He doesn’t expect such an instantaneous change, neither should we.

The pattern Paul gave to the churches he established in Jesus’ name follows firm moral boundaries which include mercy, grace, rebuke, gentleness and a host of other positive traits.  We stick to morals not just because they are right (which they are) but because they are the essential ingredients to love.  We marry one person not because the Bible forbids multiple sexual partners but because this is the essence of love—it’s how we’re designed.  Understanding the reason for something strengthens the resolve of those who follow a teaching.  When we do so out of legalism, our moral stance becomes cold, calculated and harsh; when we do so out of love, our morals uplift, glorify and minister healing (minister here meaning “serve”).

Paul makes it abundantly clear only those who follow this pattern will stand in the end.