Archive for July, 2011

Everything Through Christ

July 27, 2011

I can do everything through Him who gives me strength.  Philippians 4:13.

 

So, let me ask the obvious question here:  does this really mean what it says?

You know my answer is going to be yes, with a few caveats for good measure.  Most of us will apply this to in and every situation even if the probability factor is zero.  The world at large will take that word everything as proof of their argument against God’s power in His followers’ lives.  You’ve certainly heard the challenging question,  “If God is all powerful, can He make a rock He can’t pick up?”  It’s supposed to be an unanswerable conundrum which proves the fallibility of God’s nature and the limits of omnipotence (or His nonexistence).  My answer is somewhat pedantic,  “God’s not that stupid.”  Yet the question is appropriate and relevant here.

The word everything usually means within the bounds of decency and God’s character or within the context of whatever the author has been speaking to in the rest of the book.  But there’s more to this concept than what our limited scope of  everything can mean.  We almost always have a list when we think of what God can supply; mostly it’s stuff not internal cum spiritual.  The slippery nature of spiritual realities for those of us who follow Jesus leave many of us looking for more “substantial” proof over the changes in our nature.

God’s goals for us focus on the transcendent peace and a renewed mind, which only comes through the transformation His presence brings about in us.  This is not a work we can accomplish on our own.  The very fact that Paul points out our part in working out our salvation with fear and trembling shows we have something to do, for the very next sentence emphasizes God’s work in us to give us the will and way to do His good pleasure.  I have no doubt whatsoever we are biased towards measurable results.  Science, mathematics, the art of songwriting or story telling all have outcomes we can measured.  Though I don’t believe true success can be measured by sales, nor can ever use something’s popularity as a meter by which to tell us whether it is art or not.

For instance, nearly half of the famous artists and composers of the past 200 years were unknowns and died either poverty stricken or near to it.  It wasn’t until someone of influence and wealth “discovered” them that they became a sensation in the world.  This should be a warning to us about what success means in anything for it shows both the fickle nature of mankind and the way we value people while they’re alive.  In most cases we show more respect for the dead than for the living.

Therefore I don’t believe in sales or popularity as healthy measurement for my life.  That said I also know my heart wants to be liked by people—and the more the better.

The phrase that contains everything doesn’t give a qualifier at all.  This means to me we can endure anything and everything which comes our way with confidence in Christ these things will not conquer our faith.  Yet this doesn’t mean we won’t suffer persecution, trouble, sickness, loss or death, for Jesus as well as the apostles all promise we will.  Our suffering isn’t the end of the matter, however, since we know a wonderful God, who rescues us from every trial either through miracles here or in the resurrection.  Our hope moves us beyond the immediate to the eternal.

Some consider this not good enough.  For they call themselves followers of Christ while they ignore or explain away His promise that we would suffer for His name.  Most of us miss the point for suffering is supposed to produce hope through perseverance.  Without suffering we won’t develop the muscle of faith…

The context of Paul’s declaration points to what he had experienced with the Philippians.  What had he just told them about contentment?

I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.  He gave them a list of what the word everything meant to him then took it a step further.  He could have said all these things to indicate just the stuff he listed, instead he used the word everything to point to more things than those he mentioned—which were pretty comprehensive already.

If we ignore the trouble we go through and the obvious flaws in our characters they bring out, then we are missing key signposts which will direct our growth.  Stress and trouble show the character for what it is; reveal the foundations on which we build our sense of security and hope.  The only way we will be able to say with Paul, I can do everything through Him who gives me strength, is when we come to the understanding that everything we go through is taken care of in His promise of redemption.  He will redeem my life, my circumstances, my needs, my losses, my futile efforts, my failures, the things I’ve destroyed, the things others have destroyed for or in me—His promise means everthing.  I am not my own, I am bought with a price…I am owned…I am His.

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Constant Contentment

July 22, 2011

I have learned [been initiated into the mysteries] the secret of being content…

 

We can be wealthy with simple provision.  In fact, the state of mind a wealthy person on earth maintains because of their cushion of money, goods or property is because they know they have a place to go when their pocket money runs out.  If God owns it all and He is our Father, then we claim the same right as any heir to an earthly fortune would.  Our supplier however owns even what that earthbound heir considers his or hers by right of birth, therefore we have no need to worry or be anxious about what happens to our lives.

And we don’t have to compare ourselves to them.  Comparisons are dangerous in the best of situations, they are downright suicidal when used to contrast spiritual matters with earthly standards of measurement.  We all know the truth “success in the eyes of the world is defeat in the eyes of God” because it’s taught throughout the whole of Scripture.  This isn’t to say earthly wealth is sinful, rather the value we place on it determines its righteousness.

Our perspective derives its contentment from an eternal hope.  To be blunt, anyone who hopes in Christ but continues to worry about their life has missed the point of the hope that comes through faith in Him.  His peace runs up its colors in the face of impossible odds and continues in spite of the turmoil surrounding us.  Our sense of serenity comes not from what is going on around us but from His presence in our hearts.  The renewed mind Paul speaks of to the Roman church changes our perspective to one of constant contentment—and one not dependent on health, wealth or family connections.

Think about it like this:  If one of us had a bank account filled to overflowing we could tap anytime we needed something, we would never worry, right?  God is this account spiritually and physically; faith is the ATM card.

Now before someone comes away thinking we can just make a deal with God like using a welfare card, realize these examples are poor metaphors for the relationship we develop with Him.  It’s not ever about our lack or abundance in His eyes, because eventually those who grow to maturity in Christ will take on His mindset.  The reason we don’t need to worry or be anxious is because His heart for us is constant, His desire for our good never wavers.  In other words, the bank account is never closed to those who keep an open line of communication and building on the relationship.

What does close it to us is our unbelief.  Those who don’t believe won’t trust; those who don’t trust, won’t access or open up.  Those who close off, even a part of themselves, limit the amount of God’s blessing they can receive.  It rains on all of us but only those open to the sky will be watered properly and thoroughly.

I am not as open as I should be nor as open as I want to be.  This said, I forget my failures of the past and press on to take hold of that for which Christ took hold of me.  In this way only will we find peace that exceeds our ability to understand it.  How do we grow so contented?  By acknowledging He is our supplier, provider, sustainer and master.

We say these words in our worship sessions but many times they become simply quotations from Scripture or habitual “praise” which drops off our tongue and makes no impact on our souls.  I want to take on this truth and let it drill a well of supply deep in the heart of me where the ground water can well up to refresh my spirit whatever the circumstances.

Whatever the Circumstances

July 20, 2011

I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances.  I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty.  I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.  I can do everything through Him who gives me strength.  Philippians 4:11-13.

 

I have to say this passage is one of my favorites since I quote it to myself almost on a daily basis.  For those of you who don’t know me, I am self-employed as a musician (which doesn’t pay much, if at all) and construction four days a week to supplement my income (see previous parenthesis) to pay the bills.  I’m gonna’ do something rather scary and expose my heart here for the world to critique—which means the few readers and visitors I have.

Twelve years ago I was in the process of recording an album with my brother.  He got discouraged and halted his part of the progress in spite of the fact we were half way through it.  In the meantime he started a construction business and asked me to join him as partner (I was reluctant at best, I might add).  A long story short, we lost the business three years later in a dispute with a client who refused to pay us what she owed.

Now I wasn’t all that thrilled to work in construction (I’m a guitarist and missing fingers hinder such pursuits), but it seemed a good way to remain free to continue working as a musician while still paying the bills.  At the time I had several churches and a couple of bands going—some of which paid me to play bass, guitar or vocals.  So I asked the Lord to guide my decision as far as how to earn money to keep afloat.  The prayer went, “Lord, if you want me to continue in construction, then You bring the business.”  I’ve been pretty busy ever since.

That said, I’m definitely not rich or even solvent, though I meet my obligations for the most part relatively on time.  Still, two years ago, when I’d gone three weeks without earning enough to meet the needs, I asked the Lord for another yay or nay.  The situation came to a head when the week ended having been filled with warranty work and earning a total of about $150.00 for the whole of it.  I felt desperate, frustrated and discouraged.  By that next Monday I decided to ask God for clarification on the direction He wanted me to go.

Every life has seasons where God works a certain way then desires us to move on to a new place or situation.  At this point, I wondered if that wasn’t true for me, so I asked for a sign of His providence that went something like this:

“Lord, I know every person goes through seasons in ministry and life.  May be this season of my life is done and You want me to make a change to a regular job, close up shop and stop pursuing ministry in the same way I have done for the past ten years.  Just let me know, cuz I’m a little lost and confused by what’s happening.  So if I don’t get work by next Monday night (seven days), I’ll take that as a sign I need to apply for a job in some other field and play weekends at the churches.  I’ll go put applications everywhere—even McDonald’s.”

Thursday came around and nothing came through to indicate God wanted me to remain in construction.  By this time I felt a little sad, and at the same time relieved since living from job to job stretched my faith to the breaking point sometimes.  Yet I believe in Proactive Faith, which means we must knock on every door, rattle every window and do everything within our scope to discover His will.  I called everyone who had hired me in the past multiple times and checked out jobs that were pending to see if they were ready.  Nothing.

My last call of the day went out to a good buddy of mine named Bob (his real name is Rodney…it’s a long story and pretty funny) who several properties and hired me from time to time for stuff that went beyond his skills of general maintenance.  The conversation went as follows:

 

“Hey, Bob, this is Jonathan.”

“Dude, I was just going to call you!”

My heart jumped.

“Really?  What about?”

“You know 35th?  I’m adding a new bathroom and need to pour a foundation.  I need your help cuz I don’t know what’s required.  So can you start tomorrow?”

My heart’s in my throat now.

“Sure thing.”

“Ok, see ya’ in the morning then.”

 

There was a little more to the conversation so this is just a condensed rough outline of it, but the result was still the same.  I had my answer!  God wanted me to continue being self-employed.

I felt elated and scared all at the same time.

Unfortunately, that’s not the end of the story.  Sometime later that evening I got a call from the other guy working with Bob who told me Bob ended up with tachycardia (which is a precursor to a heart attack) and was in the hospital medicated at the moment.  He ended this disastrous news with,  “I don’t think we’re working tomorrow.”

I was dumbfounded, scared for my friend and confused about the “answer” to prayer I thought I’d gotten earlier.  As I prayed about it though, it came quite clear to my conscience that when I called Bob to see how he was doing I was not to mention the job at all.  I admit this spiritual order came at a price for me because I’m someone who speaks whatever is on his mind with barely any filter—or that’s what I used to be now that I’ve been learning to hold back.  Still, I believed God was insisting that I not inquire about the job but focus all my concern for my friend.

I called Bob and did as I believed the Spirit ordered me to, then ended the conversation by encouraging him to take it easy, while I fought despair.  Though the worry kept coming back to my mind every minute or so, I gave the result to God.  All the while wondering what I would be doing the next Tuesday.

Fast forward again to Friday morning, who should call but Bob.

 

“Hey, Bob, how ya feeling?”

“Tired.  So are you coming to work?”

My heart jumped but I squashed any hope.

“Sure, but you shouldn’t cuz you need to rest, buddy.  Remember I went through this with my dad and I don’t want you to ever go through it.  It’s awful!”

“Oh, I’m not gonna work just supervise.  You’re gonna do all the work!”

Then he chuckled.

 

I had work for the next 3+ weeks and more following.

I can’t tell you how much this has encouraged me over the years.  I tell the story every chance I get so people will know not to get bummed out when things don’t go like they hoped or planned.  Since that time, I’ve gone through several more scary financial times when the work either went against my bid (a ceiling I put on the job when I estimate how much it will cost) or when there was barely any at all.

I asked in prayer years ago to walk on water spiritually, not knowing what it would be like.  Now I know.  The landscape keeps changing when the “sea” is rough and the footing is slippery at best, but if I keep my mind focused on Jesus, it seems the road smoothes out as I get to it.  Even the rough patches work out to be navigable once I reach them.

I still haven’t arrived at the point Paul claimed to be, but I’m beginning to get it.  To be able to grasp his state of contentment is still beyond my ability yet I think I’m getting handle on it.  From the wording I get the feeling Paul spoke of his needs as more of a passing concern rather than a crisis.  Yet one of us observing from the outside would probably yell at him,  “You don’t have any money, no food and you’re in chains!  Doesn’t this compute?!”  His reply would be,  “I know that in all things I can do everything through Him who gives me strength.”

If God is our provider, sustainer and the source of all peace, then we have no need because our Father knows them and will meet them one way or another.    We constantly confuse earthly values with heavenly awareness—at least I do.  When Jesus commanded us not to worry about any of our basic needs (food, water, shelter/clothes), I think He meant what He said.  Worry and anxiety subtract God from the equation; these put human effort as the sum total of the source for our daily needs.  The Creator made all that exists, right?  The fruit trees, plants and animals all came from His hand.  The day He placed man in the Garden everything else already existed in full bloom with nothing lacking.  Sin (rejection of God) put us in the position of being gods ourselves, where we had to take what had been created and exact whatever yield was possible.  The cross bought back for us our original place in His creation.

As it stands, we no longer have to wonder what He desires for us when we are in Christ precisely because the cross revealed His heart towards us.  That said, the original command to be “fruitful and multiply and replenish” takes on renewed meaning for those who follow the Master.  Our mandate now is to live in total lack of fear concerning the tide of human ups and downs.  God wants us to find contentment whether we are in plenty or want, rich or poor, well fed or hungry not because we have a warehouse filled with foodstuffs but because our Supplier is real, interested in us and eager to give us what we need—and many times, want.

I’m reaching for a hook (a songwriting phrase or melody that grabs one’s attention rhythmically and harmonically) for this ethic of living.  In whatever state we are in, we lack nothing.  Only those who experience God constantly supplying their needs grasp what it means to “lack nothing” within the context of Christ.  All things are Christ’s, and if we belong to Him, all things are ours as well.  We don’t experience lack as the world interprets it because they see temporary poverty as something of a permanent condition.  Or, they look on it as evidence God is not meeting our needs.  Their perspective is fleeting and bound to time, ours is eternal.  They focus on the now, we, on the eternal.

My conclusion is sustenance is enough.  There’s a reason why Jesus only specified “food, water and clothes” since these things are basic essentials.  In Eden even clothes were unnecessary because while we were self-aware no one was self-conscious living in harmony provided by the Spirit’s constant presence.  Everyday I have to give my work, my instruments, truck, tools and provision to God.  Your job might be more secure in that you don’t have to generate business or depend on God directly to bring it in but the provision came directly from His creation; all the goods and services available tumbled from His fingers in raw form in the beginning.  Every ability we develop found its source in His design; each accomplishment we celebrate is only possible because He is the Way, the Truth and the Life.

I leave you to ponder the words of Jesus,  “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.”  John 10: 10b.

The Active Faith

July 15, 2011

I greatly rejoice in the Lord that at last you have renewed your concern for me.  In deed, you have been concerned, but you had no opportunity to show it.  I am not saying this because I am in need for I have leaned to be content whatever the circumstances.  Philippians 4:10, 11.

 

Between the first two sentences it seemed to me at first that Paul corrected both his thinking and wording about their concern for his situation.  At first glance, it might appear that he’s almost guilt tripping or remonstrating them for not expressing it sooner, but now that I’ve taken my own presupposition and emotional reading out of the way a bit, I get a different read.

True concern for someone else expresses itself in action not just words or emotions.  In other words, if I’m genuinely worried about you as a person going without food, I will work some way out to provide you with it.

Paul isn’t chastising the Philippians for not sending him supplies and money for he even declares they had no opportunity to show it.  In this portion of his message he’s revealing that concern (or any other emotion, etc) doesn’t make any difference to the person or situation unless it’s followed by action.  The flip side of that coin, however, is the opportunity to deliver must also be present.  Having the means but no way to get it to the beneficiary is just as good as not having anything to give them.

The main point Paul focuses on once he makes this acknowledgment of their concern and expression is his unshakeable contentment in Christ.  In spite of the fact these people supplied his needs of the moment he wanted to help them understand his internal recognition of God’s grace and supply.  His contentment grew from a spiritual security in Christ not what he held in his hands or stored in warehouse.  They were part of God’s work to meet his needs.  The very fact that these people acted generously displayed God’s work in their lives too.  Their concern for Paul’s wellbeing grew out their relationship with Jesus and him so that when they expressed it their gift became more than mere words.

Great faith is followed by action.  Great love is followed by action.  Great joy is demonstrated in action.  Getting the theme of what it means to live out the Christian life?  Action is the fruit of the Spirit; I say anyone who claims to know Jesus intimately must demonstrate the fact of it in their actions toward His creation.  Dormant goodness is of no benefit to anyone at all—even its host.  Dormant faith atrophies without exercise; dormant love eventually dies or morphs into something else.  What we are now, and hopefully becoming daily, expresses itself either by bleeding out of us or glowing for all to see.  Jesus warned us through the apostles, “Whatever I have told you in secret, proclaim from the rooftops.”  And in another place, “Anyone who is ashamed of me on earth I will be ashamed of on the Day of my return.”

Are you catching the theme here?  What we believe about Jesus must be lived out loud for all to see or it’s worth nothing.  Any of the above ideals without action becomes mental masturbation—pleasuring oneself through good thoughts.  Without expression these good things dam up in the heart to set it on a course of spiritual hedonism and self-gratification.  Everywhere in Philippians the ideal is always followed by action.  Jesus’ attitude went from ideal to the cross.  The work of God in our lives becomes a work for us as well.  We work out our salvation—actively pursue it, live and share it—through letting be seen.

The Gift of Example

July 14, 2011

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 4:9.

 

We don’t usually see statements from a teacher in today’s atmosphere which points us to follow his example.  I know from my own experience it’s usually “do as I say not as I do” more often than not since most people don’t (not because they can’t) follow their own advice.  Yet Paul encourages them to learn from his example, even though he’s under house arrest and awaiting trial for treason.

Notice, however, that the promise of God’s peace rests on those who imitate their mentor.  As far as I’m concerned, it’s revealing that the assurance of God’s presence is promised to those who imitate their teacher as he imitates their common Master.  Paul isn’t telling them to do something he’s not willing to live out in front of them.

Right there the gauntlet is thrown down for every teacher, preacher or mature believer in Christ.  Most of us agree our lives become examples of how to live this walk, but what most of us practice is one thing in public and another in private.  Although there should be private conversations and activities, I don’t believe we ever should change how our character expresses itself.  If we tend to be kind in public, this should be the same personae we practice in private.  If we are moral champions in public, our private practice should reflect it.

Everyone agrees this should be the norm, in theory, but I don’t know very many people who actually live this way.  I’m constantly disappointed by those in authority showing in private something entirely different than what they teach.  I think it’s one of the reasons why I tend towards blending my public/private practices.  If I joke about something in private to just friends, I do my best not to pretend I don’t find it funny around other people who might be more conservative or liberal than I am.  To live what I don’t believe is acting for the approval of others and fake, which in the end a deliberate lie.  On the other hand, I might abstain from certain subjects or practices which offend or hurt someone else.  This is out of consideration for them not hiding my general lifestyle from them.  For example, I have a friend who is a recovering alcoholic and when she is invited to a party, I don’t drink around her so that she doesn’t feel alone.  This isn’t to say she believes I don’t drink generally, she knows I do, but out of consideration for her well being I abstain.

The Greek meaning for hypocrite is “actor,” a person who performs a written part in order to entertain, inform or impress the audience.  We have made the word mean “fake” whereas Jesus and the apostles meant it to mean someone who performs for the applause of men.  In other words, if hypocrite prays in public, he/she prays not to communicate with God but to impress those listening with their spirituality and depth.  If one such person does accepted spiritual practices, mores and outreach, they do so for the approval of their subculture in the specific body of Christ they attend.  This practice, Jesus condemned.  Every time He rebuked the Pharisees, Sadducees and teachers of the law He called them down for their dual personalities.

I’m not condemning being culturally astute or appropriate with the age group we’re with or the community in which we find ourselves.  That’s wisdom, but to pretend to be some ideal that traditional Christianity manufactured out of the cultural bias is foolish.

We are to celebrate everything God created as holy.  The perversions and twists of sin might taint His creation, but that doesn’t mean it is unholy or to be frowned upon.  Just because people are greedy, selfish, lustful and a host of other things doesn’t make money, sex, bathing or whatever else comes as natural products of our efforts to live, unholy.  Everything done within the context of the God’s parameters is holy.  Nothing He created is to be treated as sinful unless we step outside His design or boundaries for it.

Here is the prime reason why we need teachers, preachers, and mentors who live the ethic they espouse out in the open.  Are you a married leader in the church?  Celebrate your marriage, love, sexuality and relationship triumphs and struggles in full view of the body so that those who are new at this may have an example to follow for themselves.  If we act like we don’t struggle in our lives, how will those who face these struggles like we do ever find a clear path through them?  Again, if we don’t demonstrate by our practices what it means to live out the grace, mercy, transformation and light of God, then those who look up to us won’t know how to do so either.  If we practice hypocrisy (acting for the applause of the church traditions), then those who follow will believe this to be the norm for believers and either become adept at it or discouraged with it because their lives are in disarray.

Paul languished under house arrest, yet his example showed his walk with God thrived.  He grew tired of imprisonment, discouraged, frustrated and joyful all in the same letter.  He showed that he struggled at times and had to remind himself of God’s continued presence.  Everything he instructed the Philippians to do he had to learn by trial and error himself through the Spirit of God.  He lived out loud.

If we want to be effective for the kingdom of God, we must, must, must live out loud so that those who watch may understand His mercy, grace and the miraculous transformation which only comes when we practice humble submission to His will and presence.

Focused Redirection

July 11, 2011

Whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy…

 

Break the word for “lovely” down in the Greek and it means “towards love” or the first syllable means “towards” and the second is “to love”.  For “admirable” Strong’s Concordance interprets the word in two ways “well reported” and “sounding well”.  Both words seem to focus on beauty and positively beneficial stories within the human experience.  Or, it also could point to the need to look for what is admirable and lovely in spite of the dark underbelly of sin.

In other words God would have us concentrate on the lovely instead of the ugly; the stuff we can admire rather than that which shames us or makes us gag—or Him.  I don’t need to tell anyone how hard this is to do when the world is so full of negative stuff, but it’s not a request or suggestion but a command—or may be a demand of righteous living.  Whatever the case, we are to focus on those things which build up not puff up our hearts.  In other words making the heart stronger versus inflating it to look bigger is better by far.

The only real way to do this would be to keep our eyes fixed on the source of all that is lovely and admirable, Jesus.  It seems like a “no duh” thing to say but I gotta admit it’s pretty tough to fix my eyes on anything when the rent’s due and the money’s not available.  And, crazy as it may sound, more effort on our part to focus on Jesus won’t help us—by which I mean we take ourselves in hand to be faithful.  The only effort on our part which works is submission to His presence.

I know that sounds like semantics but it isn’t.  Our efforts will only make us feel like worse failures than we already feel.  Submitting to Jesus by giving up on our efforts and letting Him in through the Word of Truth and the communication of prayer and supplication is the only way for our hearts to refocus.  The harder I try to resist the devil the more I focus my attention on him; the more my attention and focus is on him the less it is on Jesus.  Our job, as I’ve said before isn’t to resist the devil but draw near to God then by default we do the other.  Resistance takes on a different slant when thought of in the positive action of submission.

Looking at the beautiful, the lovely, the praiseworthy, the admirable or whatever is excellent takes submission not determination.  Or, to put it another way for those of us who like control, we must be determined to be submissive so that God can change our minds.  It’s not for nothing Paul words it,  Let this mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus…, for the method isn’t about my willpower or determination but His ability through the Spirit.  Every success in Christ is filtered through Him first.  It might sound like a “duh” moment but self-help Christianity is on the rise and taking control of our lives has become a teaching in the church everywhere.

Jesus told His disciples (and therefore us through them),  “Of yourselves you can do nothing.”  To hear some preachers and teachers speak about the spiritual walk it comes down to our determination to follow Him rather than His presence creating a new heart and mind in us.  He is altogether lovely, beautiful and worthy of my admiration and praise.  Again Paul tells us elsewhere fix our eyes on Jesus and Hebrews includes the author and completer of our faith.  I can do all things through Christ but I can do nothing without Him front and center.  I can’t put Him front and center unless He is in charge.

If our eyes are focused on Jesus, we have the most beautiful, admirable, lovely, and praiseworthy we could find.

The Right Kind of Justice

July 8, 2011

Whatever is right, whatever is pure…

 

Now once we mention truth you’d think the spectrum of stuff covered would be met, but Paul goes on to expand that thought to things that are right and pure.  Doesn’t pointing to truth cover everything pure and right?

Yes.  Yet at the same time truth includes things that are evil as well, for there are impure truths we face daily.  Truth points to whatever is rather than the myth or story we build up around it.  For example we might not want to admit we feel covetous of  someone’s property so we decide to build up a justification for our greed and explain away our desire to make ourselves believe the lie (if that’s possible) and fool others into buying our story.  Our rationalization doesn’t make our motives pure nor does it make them right, but they are still true.

The word used for right in the NIV is translated just in the KJV.  I don’t believe it’s any accident these words are related to each other, for whatever is just is also what is considered right as well.  The confusion with these ideals grows out of the fact that we compartmentalize our lives so much we forget the relationship between them, forgetting they are intertwined.  The Greek word denotes the state of being right or right conduct as interpreted by Vine’s.  Yet it isn’t about self-righteousness, a world-based comparison or confidence; rather our state of being right is judged by the standard created by God.

This state of rightness goes hand in hand with that of purity, which by any definition usually means uncontaminated by another element.  For instance, the purity of gold is measured by itself; for gold to be pure all other matter must be removed.  In order for our Christian walk to be pure all other rational ideals must be purged from our operating manual.  Not that we aren’t supposed to be aware or educated in the other ethics, far from it, but our modus operandi must not be based on them.  The measure we use as believers comes from Christ alone, and through His lens we interpret what we know as true.  In other words, what we call “evil” gets its designation from what Jesus calls evil.  Any deviation from His Word is evil by this standard of measurement.

Grace becomes incredibly necessary here because none of us are untainted by the world and therefore our interpretation of truth will be skewed by our sin.  I’ve watched the church flounder with how to live a right-eous life untainted by the world.  The church I grew up in believed and taught that we were to have very little association with the world around us to the point that even childhood friendships were restricted to other kids within the body.  My folks weren’t this strict and seemed to see no sense in that attitude, but no matter, the prevailing practice still influenced the way I thought and acted.

The first inkling I had that something was amiss was when I read 1 John 1:8 If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.  My take on this text is no matter what we strive for in Christ, our understanding of right will be somewhat skewed by our sinful nature.  I’m not saying we can’t find truth or grasp the fact/reality of righteousness, but we must practice what we discover with a humble realization we may not have a clear picture of the truth.  Over the years I’ve relearned many truths taught in the Bible over and over again.  Just when I think a truth is clear and no more can be learned from it I’ll read another text that sheds a greater light on it.  If Paul proclaimed without shame that he hadn’t arrived just yet (and this declaration was made towards the end of his life), then I see no reason for any shame on my part for lacking a full understanding either.

 

Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.  And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into His likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.  2 Corinthians 3:18.

 

It’s interesting Paul words it this way for it fits right in with the point I’m trying to make here.  Our ability to see through the eyes of the Spirit comes from taking off the veil of the old covenant’s glory.  The Jews of Moses’ day wanted to block the sight of God from their vision because it not only hurt their eyes and stunned their minds but it convicted them of their sinful/separated condition.  I’ve heard quite a few sermons using this passage in Corinthians to lambaste the reaction of Israel at Mt. Sinai for their fear and revulsion (?) of God’s displayed power.  And maybe the preachers who call them down for it should.  At the same time, I just see us holding onto and teaching the basic elements of grace without any desire to go to a deeper understanding of what it means to experience such a wonder.  Dietrich Bonhoffer declared such a grasp of grace as “cheap” because it never led to greater obedience or sacrifice on our part.

My point is human nature hasn’t changed all that much since those freed slaves turned away from the glory reflected on Moses’ face.  Think about it a minute:  they couldn’t take the glory of God reflected on a human face—a fallen, recovering sinner like Moses—which was barely a minute fraction of the full force of it.  Whenever I begin talking about the things of God as I’m learning them, I’m amazed and disappointed by the lack of enthusiasm or interest within the church at large.  It seems the general populace of the body of Christ wants only so much truth and then feels content to hang out there.

That attitude doesn’t fly with God.  Though many of these juvenile believers will be saved on the Day, they won’t be commended for their disinterest in spiritual depth or growth.  I’ve received plenty of rebukes from even pastors who think I’m too heavy with what I tell people…and granted some of what these people say is true…But I know that anyone who hungers for the presence of the Holy Spirit and the Word of Truth will get weird looks and/or shunned for their enthusiasm.  I had a couple of pastors I’ve served under tell me pointblank, “You’re no preacher, Jon,” in an effort to humble me, I guess.  I don’t know why they felt the need to make this point since I’ve never pursued being in that profession for Christ nor do I attempt to preach at all.  Instead I testify to what I’ve seen and heard; if anything, I consider myself merely a witness to for Jesus.

In my somewhat myopic opinion of these preachers’ expressed views, they said this to me because of some threat they felt with my status as a musician in their church.  Each time I agreed with them, then told them what I’ve written here—in different words, of course, but the message was the same.  I’m not writing this to express my frustration with these men, instead I’m pointing out their need to put me in my place is a sign of competition and immature spirituality.  Those who strive to know God, understand the need to testify about Him.  I’m no preacher, and probably not even a teacher for that matter, I am, however, a seeker of truth and believe that Jesus is the Way to that end.  As a part time worship leader, I stand on a platform where I can say anything I want pretty much.  That gives me power for the few minutes I’m on stage directing musical traffic.  An immature Christian takes this kind of opportunity and uses it to address their pet subjects or peeves, while those growing from glory to glory learn the platform is a place to declare the reputation of God—or, put another way, His work in their lives.

Every place Jesus healed someone just about, they were told to testify to what God had done for them.  A preacher needs to be careful not to squelch this—while at the same time reigning in those like me who might be longwinded.  It’s a delicate balancing act, I know, for I needed rebuke for my unconscious (and thereby inconsiderate) use of time in the worship.  What should have been encouraged was the technique of speaking up for God.  Instead they sought to squelch any expression other than worship through song.  But praise and worship is not just about singing, it also includes declarations of God’s work in our lives and during this time we should  be calling on the body of Christ to speak out what God has done for them.  As a leader in worship, it’s my job to give them permission through my example.  Otherwise it becomes a preacher/worship leader dictatorship and one sided praise from the pulpit where the congregation just becomes a bucket we pour into.  They might join in through singing, but generally it boils down to spiritual entertainment rather than a corporate worship.

Purity is the state of being untainted by selfish ambition, pride of place or need for being center stage.  A person truly seeking God will shun the spotlight of human glory for that of God’s.  In other words, they will use the platform they’re given to reflect His glory and not their own.

I confess I am not pure.  I’m not even sure I’m right.  Where I can say with confidence that I’m on the right path to these truths in Christ is when I rightly divide the Word of Truth.  I desire that ever increasing glory which inspires a hunger for more.  That is growing pure and right.  The just shall live by faith; those who desire purity seek justice; being right means being pure; being pure means being just.

How about you?