Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Why This Word; Why This Way?

            A series of health problems, some computer glitches, and some mentally stimulating theological discussions have been troubling my spirit. For over a week now I have been struggling with how I can effectively respond to what I see as a growing insidious cancer within the community of faith. There is a movement within the church toward tolerance and inclusion. The attitude that our theology must change to reflect society is directly in opposition to the call of God for His people to “come out from among them and be separate”. Compromise is a deadly business especially in matters of faith. In January of 2007 I was involved in a car accident and as a result of that collision found myself in the unfamiliar arena of legal arbitration to reach a settlement. During that encounter my lawyer asked, “Do you understand what a compromise is?” My response to his question, while it has no particular relationship to faith, may help to explain why compromise is so devastating. I gave him the most concise answer I could think of, “Compromise is an agreement between two parties through which both lose something of value, but the one leaving the meeting the least unhappy is declared the winner.” Compromise weakens both parties.

            I do not consider myself a great apologist, and am not even approaching the parking lot of the stadium filled with linguistic experts and translators who have given us the English versions of the Holy Bible, so I am not attempting to play ball on that field. I am giving voice to my personal expression of faith in God and my relationship with Him through Christ. The sum total of the biblical message as I see it is this: God in His love created a universe and within that universe He created beings in His own image (mankind), with whom, He is seeking relationship. The shape and scope of that relationship is defined in the person and work of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. We enter that relationship through Jesus Christ.

Hebrews 1:1-3 “God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets, Hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son, whom he hath appointed heir of all things, by whom also he made the worlds; Who being the brightness of his glory, and the express image of his person, and upholding all things by the word of his power, when he had by himself purged our sins, sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high:” (KJV)

            Theology, man’s study of God, is only made possible as we explore God’s revelation of Himself to His creation. We do not define God. We do not explain God, and we cannot empirically prove God through inquiry. We can only accept or reject what God has spoken. Recently my prayer partner expressed his understanding and exploration of the Bible with these words, “God spoke through the prophets in the Old Testament and the message was obey or be punished.  In the New Testament God spoke through Christ and the message is obey because you love Me. They are two sides of the same coin. God is seeking a relationship with us and the relationship is our obedience.”

Romans 1:19-21 “Because that which may be known of God is manifest in them; for God hath shewed it unto them. For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse: Because that, when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened.” (KJV)

            Ultimately we will each face God and answer two questions: 1. Do you know My Son, Jesus Christ? 2. Because you know Him, what did you do? Both the Old and New Testaments agree. The message is consistent throughout time and eternity.

Micah 6:8 “He hath shewed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the LORD require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?” (KJV)

Matthew 22:36-40 “Master, which is the great commandment in the law? Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” (KJV)

            Every house is built upon a foundation. If the foundation crumbles the house cannot stand. The Bible as we have it is our foundation. The introduction of sin into the world came in the form of a simple question: “Did God really say…?” Are we now facing the same question modified through the course of years, “Did God really mean…?”

Monday, August 15, 2011

Are you a “Push-Me-Pull-You”?

            Occasionally thoughts go through my head and I have no idea where they came from or for that matter where they are going. Just as a matter of warning, this may prove to be one of those thoughts, but please keep reading. So, before we get too far into this quagmire perhaps I should ask, “Do you know what a ‘Push-Me-Pull-You’ is?” Well if you don’t or more than likely cannot remember, a “Push-Me-Pull-You” is a confused creature that looks like an alpaca with a head at both ends. It appeared in the original movie version of Dr. Dolittle. This creature could never decide which way to go so it never got anywhere.

            Now that you know what a “Push-Me-Pull-You” is, do you ever feel confused, disoriented, or unsure about the course of action you should take? There is a reason I’m asking. The world we live in is full of critical needs. There is no shortage of lives in crisis and as the children of God we have a responsibility to love God and reach out to meet the needs in our community. How many times have we heard or read the parable of the Good Samaritan?

Luke 10:25-37 “And, behold, a certain lawyer stood up, and tempted him, saying, Master, what shall I do to inherit eternal life? He said unto him, What is written in the law? how readest thou? And he answering said, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind; and thy neighbour as thyself. And he said unto him, Thou hast answered right: this do, and thou shalt live. But he, willing to justify himself, said unto Jesus, And who is my neighbour? And Jesus answering said, A certain man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among thieves, which stripped him of his raiment, and wounded him, and departed, leaving him half dead. And by chance there came down a certain priest that way: and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. And likewise a Levite, when he was at the place, came and looked on him, and passed by on the other side. But a certain Samaritan, as he journeyed, came where he was: and when he saw him, he had compassion on him, And went to him, and bound up his wounds, pouring in oil and wine, and set him on his own beast, and brought him to an inn, and took care of him. And on the morrow when he departed, he took out two pence, and gave them to the host, and said unto him, Take care of him; and whatsoever thou spendest more, when I come again, I will repay thee. Which now of these three, thinkest thou, was neighbour unto him that fell among the thieves? And he said, He that shewed mercy on him. Then said Jesus unto him, Go, and do thou likewise.” (KJV)

            This story teaches us a clear Christian responsibility to address needs when they arise within the community. However, it does not discuss the process of discernment necessary to manage the resources available within our families or our churches. If we do not evaluate and prioritize the issues we face we cannot effectively serve God or adequately love the people He brings into our sphere of influence. We must be able to step back from the situation and think before we act. If we get swept away with the emotion of the moment we simply become part of the drama instead of being Christ’s hand extended in reconciliation.

            The clear and present leading of the Holy Spirit will guide us as we serve God, but our actions cannot be selfishly motivated and “Spirit Led” at the same time. Those two approaches are mutually exclusive. Sometimes, people are in need through no fault of their own. Unforeseen circumstances arise and the need is critical. At other times, proper planning and varied applications of wise counsel can prevent issues from building to the point of devastation.

Deuteronomy 15:7 “But if there are any poor Israelites in your towns when you arrive in the land the Lord your God is giving you, do not be hard-hearted or tightfisted toward them.” (NLT)

            The church as God has instituted it is constantly moving forward in the direction He has chosen. We cannot afford the “Push-Me-Pull-You” dance in place approach to ministry.

Luke 14:27-29 “And whosoever doth not bear his cross, and come after me, cannot be my disciple. For which of you, intending to build a tower, sitteth not down first, and counteth the cost, whether he have sufficient to finish it? Lest haply, after he hath laid the foundation, and is not able to finish it, all that behold it begin to mock him,” (KJV)

            We are called, by God, as master builders to pour into the lives of people in need. We must use the resources at our disposal with discernment. Teach, train, equip, help and heal: these are the mandates we have as the priesthood of believers. They cannot be accomplished in the absence of wise counsel.

Proverbs 11:14 “Where no counsel is, the people fall: but in the multitude of counselors there is safety.” (KJV)

Friday, August 12, 2011

Am I reflecting Christ Today?

            I often wonder who people see when they look at me. Do they see a middle-aged, over-weight, opinionated pain in the neck? Or, do they see a clear reflection of the living Son of God? I don’t know how many other people struggle with the frustration imposed by always feeling somehow less than… (Whatever, you fill in the blank). It seems that even the Apostle Paul felt this way. So, I suppose I’m in good company.

Romans 7:14-15 “So the trouble is not with the law, for it is spiritual and good. The trouble is with me, for I am all too human, a slave to sin. I don’t really understand myself, for I want to do what is right, but I don’t do it. Instead, I do what I hate.” (NLT)

            This is not one of those problems with an easy fix. (I don’t really seem to have those types of problems. Do you?) I cannot simply open the medicine cabinet of scripture, pop a few readily accessible Bible verses and immediately see the new-man in the mirror. Who I was keeps getting in the way of who I am in Christ.

2 Corinthians 5:16-18 “So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation:” (NIV)

            I’m not sure this is going to strike a harmonious chord with anyone except me, but the way I read scripture, Christ came to turn our understanding upside-down: the last became first, the leader is the servant of all, do good to those who hate you. Following that train of thought, the question changes from how do people see me into how do I see other people.

            God has given us the responsibility of ministering reconciliation, healing and wholeness into those around us. As we have been forgiven, we now forgive. As He has shown us mercy, we now offer mercy to others. We walk in the grace of God. We share His grace with everyone…NOT ONLY the deserving.

Romans 5:7-9 “For scarcely for a righteous man will one die: yet peradventure for a good man some would even dare to die. But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, being now justified by his blood, we shall be saved from wrath through him.” (KJV)

            Are we reflecting Christ today?

Monday, August 8, 2011

When Did Rules Become Optional?

            Wow! No matter where I happen to be lately, everyone is doing whatever benefits their own personal interest and no one approaches life as if the rules apply to them. Whether I am driving across the country, shopping in the supermarket, interacting with teachers, students, or family members, everyone does as they please. Has this attitude infiltrated even our churches?

Isaiah 53:6 “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the LORD hath laid on him the iniquity of us all.” (KJV)

             It is not uncommon in contemporary society to confront the “It’s all about me” attitude. Just take a minute and think about some of the stuff you’ve seen posted on any of the social networks, or the reality T.V. shows that have become so popular. In fact, just yesterday Michele and I were driving home and I heard the unmistakable sound of an approaching ambulance. Quickly looking around to determine its direction and proximity I pulled my car to the side of the road. Imagine my surprise as I saw a pick-up truck just driving along in front of the ambulance. The driver of the truck was simply oblivious to the emergency vehicle RIGHT ON HIS TAIL with lights flashing and sirens screaming.

Romans 12:2-6 “And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God. For I say, through the grace given unto me, to every man that is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think; but to think soberly, according as God hath dealt to every man the measure of faith. For as we have many members in one body, and all members have not the same office: So we, being many, are one body in Christ, and every one members one of another. Having then gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us, whether prophecy, let us prophesy according to the proportion of faith;” (KJV)

            The plan God has for each one of us is becoming a productive member of His family. Seeing ourselves not as individuals but as a necessary part of the whole family allows us to use our gifts and benefit every member.  Unfortunately, knowledge of the Bible has been steadily declining over the past few decades. People have little appreciation for God word and even less knowledge regarding how to apply that word to everyday situations.

Luke 6:31 “And as ye would that men should do to you, do ye also to them likewise.” (KJV)

            If we want to see this world transformed we cannot afford to treat the rules as optional. Let’s start with the “Golden Rule” and see how much more effective our witness becomes. It will only work if we all do it.

1 John 4:7-8 “Beloved, let us love one another: for love is of God; and every one that loveth is born of God, and knoweth God. He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love.” (KJV)