Give Up The Guilt! 

Romans 8:1-4 (NLT)

1 So now there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus. And because you belong to him, the power of the life-giving Spirit has freed you from the power of sin that leads to death. The law of Moses was unable to save us because of the weakness of our sinful nature.  So God did what the law could not do.  He sent his own Son in a body like the bodies we sinners have.  And in that body God declared an end to sin’s control over us by giving his Son as a sacrifice for our sins. He did this so that the just requirement of the law would be fully satisfied for us, who no longer follow our sinful nature but instead follow the Spirit.

There’s nothing worse than a guilty feeling, is there?  Maybe you can go back to a time when you were younger, and you were just waiting for Mom or Dad to find out what you had done.  You wanted to avoid that conversation more than anything else in the world, but you knew it was coming.  Perhaps recently or in the past you made a mistake at work that was just inevitable someone was going to notice, and you’d have to answer for it. And then, once someone uncovers your mistake then you have to live with the fact that whatever discipline comes down on you because of that, it is your fault and if you had just not done that one thing, you could have avoided all of the bad from that situation that is now in your life.

By nature we live under a cloud of guilt because we’re born knowing that there is a God, a God that demands a perfect life from us.  We also know that in so many situations we have failed to live up to his perfect ways.  So there we sit, like a child waiting for Mom and Dad to see the destruction that one marker can make on freshly painted walls, hoping the day of punishment never comes.

But in this situation, it is so much worse because we’re not talking about being grounded from TV for a few nights; we’re talking about our soul’s eternal welfare.  And if you can remember only 1 thing tonight, this is it:  Jesus Paid It All For Our Deliverance From Sin!

These words in chapter 8 are a continuation of that thought in chapter 7.  Paul has just wrestled with his own inclination to sin in the famous words of Romans 7:15-19 “15 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. 16 But if I know that what I am doing is wrong, this shows that I agree that the law is good. 17 So I am not the one doing wrong; it is sin living in me that does it.  18 And I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature.  I want to do what is right, but I can’t. 19 I want to do what is good, but I don’t. I don’t want to do what is wrong, but I do it anyway.

Paul finds himself continually facing sin because of the sinful nature that dwells in him.  He can’t get rid of it, despite feeling like an alien part of himself.  He wants to be freed from it, but can’t be.  And guilt keeps hanging over him.  And it hangs over us.

Despite all of that, though, Paul says clearly and confidently, “So now there is no condemnation.”  So what happened?  The law didn’t lose its bite; God didn’t stop caring about sin. The difference is that So there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.

How does Jesus do that?  What is so remarkable about what He did on the Cross that it causes God to remove the Guilt and then the power of sin over us?  We still can’t overpower sin.  God still demands holiness.  How does the guilt go away?

Allow me to share with you 4 insights into why we can give up guilt.

  1. He Suffered In Our Place

For God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin so that we could be made right with God through Christ. 2 Corinthians 5:21 (NLT)

Jesus became our substitute.  Anyone here ever watch Major League Baseball?  In the American League there’s this person called the Designated Hitter.  He doesn’t play any position in the field, just bats.  Why?  Because pitchers are not known for being good hitters.  They are paid to throw strikes, not hit home runs.  So the Designated Hitter takes the place of the pitcher in the batting order.  I know this is not a good analogy—but it is an image of what happened on the Cross.

We need to be punished, every one of us, for our sins.  Punishment isn’t being put on probation or writing 500 sentences that says, “I will not do that again.”  It’s receiving the wrath of the Holy God and then separation from Him.  This is exactly what Jesus did for us.  And the thing is, Jesus had the choice—to accept this or walk away.  And as mind-blowing as this is—The Father had a choice.  He could have stopped this whole thing—and been well within His authority.  Guilt is taken away because Jesus carried it for us while on that Cross.

  1. He Breaks The Curse Sin Has Over Us

21 I have discovered this principle of life—that when I want to do what is right, I inevitably do what is wrong. 22 I love God’s law with all my heart. 23 But there is another power within me that is at war with my mind.  This power makes me a slave to the sin that is still within me. 24 Oh, what a miserable person I am!  Who will free me from this life that is dominated by sin and death? 25 Thank God!  The answer is in Jesus Christ our Lord.  (Romans 7:21-25 NLT)

The Curse is that knowing that no matter how hard we try, we keep messing up.  It’s a constant battle where we lose again and again and again.  None of us are good enough, strong enough to resist the power of sin in us.  The curse of sin is that it reminds us of our failures.  It points out again and again where we mess it up.

Oh, we may win a skirmish or 2 along the way.  Who knows, you may win enough skirmishes with sin to make you say, “Hey!  Know what?  After looking at how other people are living, I’m not so bad.”  Sure, everyone here looks better than Charles Manson.  And if being better than Charles Manson was the standard?  Hey, we got this.  But it’s not about comparing our lives with someone else’s life.

You will always find someone who appears worse than you, and you will always find someone who is better than you.  The measuring standard for us is to be just like our Creator.  Sin shows how much we miss that mark, because sin’s curse prevents us from being Holy.  By dying on the Cross, Jesus delivers us from the curse that we can never be good enough.  Jesus is good enough—for God and for us!

  1. He Reconciles Us To God

19 For God in all his fullness was pleased to live in Christ, 20 and through him God reconciled everything to himself.  He made peace with everything in heaven and on earth by means of Christ’s blood on the cross. (Colossians 1:19-20 NLT)

In the Greek, there are 2 different words that are translated RECONCILE.  One word is “katallassō” and it describes an exchange, such as currency.  It describes a transaction that produces the same results on both sides of it.  But the word here in Colossians is “apokatallassō” and it means to restore completely.

In this “transaction” it is God who is providing the means and the process.  There isn’t some kind of ladder of things to do that you climb up to get to God. There is only one way—that’s Jesus and He is able to fully reconcile a man to God.

All we bring into this act of restoration is to accept God’s offer.  Since God has taken away the barrier to peace with Him through Jesus dying on the Cross.  Where’s the guilt?  It’s Gone!  Gone with the Blood of Jesus!  One more thing:

  1. He Breaks The Power Of Sin In Us

14 He canceled the record of the charges against us and took it away by nailing it to the cross. 15 In this way, He disarmed the spiritual rulers and authorities.  He shamed them publicly by His victory over them on the cross. (Colossians 2:14-15 NLT)

Every person born after The Fall of Adam and Eve was dominated and controlled by sin.  Adam and Eve did not foresee that consequence, but Satan did.  And until the end of everything we now know, it will remain this way.  But Jesus broke sin’s power by nailing my sins and your sins to the Cross.

Jesus and only Jesus breaks the chains that sin puts on all of us.  We remain the prisoners of sin until we allow Jesus to set us free.  We are now free to live righteously.  We are free now to pursue the life of Holiness—where we honor and glorify God through Holiness of Purpose, Holiness of Heart, Holiness of Spirit, And Holiness IN Community.  It’s both personal holiness AND social holiness.  Redeeming our hearts and redeeming society by pursuing love, hope and justice.

In the end the Roman authorities and the Jewish council wanted Jesus dead.  He was a political, social and religious trouble-maker.  But what made the death of Jesus more significant than the countless other crucifixions carried out by the Romans and witnessed outside the city walls by the people of Jerusalem?

Jesus was far more than a political, social and religious radical. The death of Jesus was part of a divine plan to save humanity.  The death and resurrection of this one man is at the very heart of the Gospel of The Kingdom.  For followers of Jesus, it is through His death that their broken relationship with God is restored.

(For a bit of context, worshipers at the Good Friday Service were given a nail to take home with them.  For my readers, I want you to find a nail, any size will do.  Remember that nail represents what really held Jesus on that Cross.  It was our sins that held Him there.  Think about that kind of love as you look at that nail.  Friday is dark.  But God has an answer to that Friday!)

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Give Up Going Through The Motions!

  1 Corinthians 11:23-26 (The Message)

23-26 Let me go over with you again exactly what goes on in the Lord’s Supper and why it is so centrally important.  I received my instructions from the Master Himself and passed them on to you.

The Master, Jesus, on the night of his betrayal, took bread. Having given thanks, He broke it and said, “This is my body, broken for you.  Do this to remember Me.”  After supper, he did the same thing with the cup:  “This cup is my blood, my new covenant with you.  Each time you drink this cup, remember me.”

What you must solemnly realize is that every time you eat this bread and every time you drink this cup, you reenact in your words and actions the death of the Master.  You will be drawn back to this meal again and again until the Master returns. You must never let familiarity breed contempt.

The definition of familiarity is: “close acquaintance with or knowledge of something or someone; or to a feeling of comfort and closeness with someone or something.”  Familiarity can lead to know someone or something so well and in such a way as to cause you to lose your admiration, respect and sense of awe.  That is unhealthy familiarity.  One of the synonyms of unhealthy familiarity is presumption.

And we end up simply Going Through The Motions.  And this is something we need to give up for good.  And if you can remember only 1 thing from tonight’s message, this is it:

We Need Healing From The Spirit Of Familiarity With God If We Are To See The Power Of God In Our Lives.

This was what was happening in Corinth.  And it can just as easily happen to us as it did the Corinthians.  We cannot treat God as nothing and at the same time expect Him to do something for us.

But when we honor His name, honor Him for who He is and reverence His name, He will do greater and mightier things in our lives than ever before.  When we honor His name He honor’s us with His presence and power.  Honoring God’s name also means to honor the Body of Christ—the Church.

The problem is that we have turned the church into our dwelling place instead of His dwelling place.  Our voice, opinion, will and desires are bigger than God’s.  We worship self more than we worship Him and yet we desire Him to do something big in our lives.

Tonight we remember the Sacrifice Jesus made for each of us and everyone else.  And it’s time to ask ourselves some hard questions:

  • Do you want to get God’s attention and to have Him look deeply into our lives?
  • Do you want to walk in the power of The Holy Spirit?
  • Do you want God to come through in our lives, and nation?
  • And do you want to see the Real Fire of Revival burning in your life, in your communities and nation?

If your answer is yes, then you must avoid growing too familiar with who God is in our lives.  This means we change our attitude towards God and honor His name above everything else.  The Church today is not experiencing a tangible presence and power of God simply because of  the “spirit of familiarity” that is sweeping through the hearts of men and women in Churches around this nation and especially in our own Tribe.

There are some obvious dangers of going through the motions—of allowing that vile spirit of familiarity control our minds and hearts.  There are 5 dangers when we simply go through the motions:

  1. Familiarity Causes Us To Look At What Worked In The Past To Copy And Then Recreate It. This is a deadly way in regard to the Kingdom of God because the Kingdom of God is always advancing into the new thing. {Isaiah 43:18-19} “Forget about what’s happened; don’t keep going over old history.  Be alert, be present. I’m about to do something brand-new.  It’s bursting out! Don’t you see it?  There it is!  I’m making a road through the desert, rivers in the badlands.  Holy Communion is not just about looking backwards—it’s all about looking forward to the future!
  2. Familiarity with God causes us to lose the respect and fear for the Lord. Fear of the Lord isn’t terror—it is living in awe of Him—His Glory, Power and Wisdom.  Awe and Reverence is what creates our hunger for God’s Wisdom {Proverbs 1:7} “Start with God—the first step in learning is bowing down to God; only fools thumb their noses at such wisdom and learning.   When we lose that respect and fear, we close the door to learning from God.  Like concrete, we get set in our way.  When we get set in our ways, then we do not respect His ways.
  3. Familiarity with God, causes us to lose respect and honor for the Body of Christ. We disrespect and dishonor the Body of Christ when we make it more about us and less about Him. {Mark 11:17}.  “And then he taught them, quoting this text:  My house was designated a house of prayer for the nations; You’ve turned it into a hangout for thieves.”   Jesus rebuked the people who had turned the house of God into a market place because of their familiarity with God.  Familiarity reduces the church to an institution and museum rather than a living movement of God’s power.
  4. Familiarity with God prevents the Holy Spirit from working effectively in us and in the church. Inevitably familiarity creates presumption, and presumption leads to assumptions, which is a slippery slope when it comes to the ways of God.  It will lead to the most terrible place for anyone who considers themselves a Christian—The Place of Taking For Granted.  {2 Timothy 3:5 NLT} “They will act religious, but they will reject the power that could make them godly.”  This was what was happening at Corinth.  They were using this Sacred Meal as a party for just themselves.  And God was left out.

 How we can stop going through the motions?

  • Live each day by the word of God. {Psalm 119:105 NLT} “Your word is a lamp to guide my feet and a light for my path.” Life gets complicated. The world offers the wrong advice.  Even our own minds trick us.  But God’s Word is dependable.  Whatever we face—His Word will guide us.
  • Spend time with God in prayer. {Psalm 42:1-2 NLT} “As the deer longs for streams of water, so I long for you, O God. I thirst for God, the living God.  When can I go and stand before him?”  Prayer is that glass of cool water for our thirsty heart.  Prayer is all about taking in the Holy Presence of God.  Too many treat prayer like it’s the Divine Vending Machine—insert money, make your selection of what you want.  Receive item.  Prayer is intentionally focusing your attention first and foremost on God Himself, not what we want or need.  And God will always amaze us with His presence because He is always showing Himself in fresh, new ways.
  • Come to Church with an expectant heart. {Numbers 14:9} “Just don’t rebel against God! And don’t be afraid of those people. Why, we’ll have them for lunch! They have no protection and God is on our side. Don’t be afraid of them!” This is from that moment after God promised them the Land in front of them.  But they wanted to go back to slavery.  They didn’t expect God to move.  Every Sunday people walk into churches expecting nothing powerful to happen—and it usually doesn’t.  When we walk into this place expecting God to show up, He does.  And now we can walk out there expecting God to show up and He will.
  • Give Yourself to the Mission of God. {Matthew 28:19 NLT} “Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.” Our identity and purpose is found only in the Mission of God.  God gave Adam and Eve a Mission in the beginning.  He gave Noah a Mission.  He gave Abraham a Mission.  He gave Samuel a Mission.  He gave Elijah a Mission.  He gave The Prophets a Mission.  He gives us the most important mission of all—helping people see Jesus.
  • Desire God above everything else. {Matthew 6:33 NLT} “Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need.” There is nothing physical in this building that you must have for life. There is absolutely nothing physical out there that you must have to experience real life.    What we need cannot be seen with the natural eye.  It is only found through the heart.

These symbols of bread and wine, are nothing—mean nothing—until we stop going through the motions of doing.  This is our moment to proclaim the greatest event in all of human history—God becoming human—dying for us—so that we can be made right with Him!

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Which Is A More Accurate Term:  Christian Or Disciple?

We all have some way of self-identifying:  “I am a husband.  I am a wife.  I am so-and-so’s daughter/son.  I am a parent, grandparent.  I am                  (fill in the blank).”  Self-identifications such as this is a good way to identify our roles–at home, work, community, family, church, etc.

If you consider Jesus to be your Savior, then how do you usually identify yourself:  a Christian or a Disciple?  I know, I know, it sounds like I am about to strain at a gnat just to swallow a camel.  You may be thinking, “What difference does that make?  There’s more important issues going on in the world, in our nation that needs to be address.  Christian or Disciple, really?”  Yes, really!

We find the first use of this word “christian” in Acts 11:26–The disciples were called Christians first at Antioch.  Well, well, well, it seems that Jesus did not use that word “christian”.  The Greek word is “christianos and it means “follower of Christ”.  And it seems that this word “christianos” is used only 2 other times in the New Testament.  Could it be, mind you I’m only asking a question, could it be that the word “christian” should not be our first choice of words when self-identifying with Jesus?

Well, what about the word disciple?  It is the Greek word mathētēs” that means “a learner”.  Furthermore it seems that word mathētēs” is used an additional 267 times for a total of 268 times.  This means that for every time the word christian is used, the word Disciple is used 89 times.  I’m not against the use of the word “christian”, but…

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When we self-identify by the use of a word, it usually means we are describing a role and a purpose for our life.  Strictly speaking out of my culture and experiences, many use the word “christian” as a title, not a role or purpose in life.  Contrary to what is often heard, the Great Commission is not about creating christians but making DISCIPLES!  The cultural bias that often drives a congregation is twisted up in the word christian, that does not mean now what it did those 3 times the New Testament writers chose that word.  The cultural bias I see is that the word “christian” is a title, not a role.  Before Antioch they were called “people of The Way”.  “The Way”, by the way, came from a phrase used by Jesus that described His Role and Purpose.  (John 14:6–“I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me.”)

There are 3 Key Qualities of a Disciple:

Disciples Listen

Do you remember when you were in school and the teacher said those 7 most feared words?  “Take out a clean sheet of paper.”  It mean it was time for a test, pop quiz or announced.  When listening to Jesus, we need a clean sheet of paper.  Not for the test, that comes later.  But we need to listen with an open heart and open mind.  We need to listen to Him directly; not what someone else said about what He said.  We need to approach each passage as if it were the first time we read it.  Listen to God’s mind and heart.  There are some “deep” passages, but what we need for life–for our role and purpose isn’t rocket surgery or brain science.  You just need to listen.

Disciples Learn

Don’t be like you were when you were a kid and your parent was talking to you.  You know, letting it go in one ear and out the other.  Begin to uncover and discover how the Good News is designed to work in our life.  Memorization is a tool, a very good tool, but go deeper.  There is a wisdom in God’s Truth that we need to accept and embrace in our journey through this life.  Explore how this Good News can make a difference in your life.  I once heard this illustration.  When a duck dives into the water for food, it comes back up at a different place.  Internal transformation is the beginning point and the source of the Power that comes only from the Holy Spirit.

Disciples Apply

Information and knowledge are not enough.  The key is application.  It has been said, and very well I might add, that Wisdom is the APPLICATION of knowledge.  Unfortunately, the cultural church has been inundated with the Intelligentsia.  The Intelligentsia is a status class of educated people engaged in the complex mental labors that critique, guide, and lead in shaping the culture and politics of their society.  In others words, lots of thinking and talking but not a whole lot of doing.  Someone once told me that C. S. Lewis defined The Intelligentsia as people who are educated beyond their intelligence.  I cannot verify C. S. said it, but I know more than a few that meets that definition of The Intelligentsia.

The goal of Jesus’ teachings was APPLICATION.  Once a student listens, then learns, they are now ready to apply that knowledge.  Knowledge with application is like a coke (I’m from the south, so the word ‘coke’ refers to a variety of different brands) without the  carbonated water–it’s flat and loses its true taste.

Jesus wants Disciples, after all that was His invitation.  People who will listen, learn and apply The Good News of The Kingdom of God.  Being a Disciple isn’t a title–It is our role and purpose.  This is just me, OK?  If I believe the writers of the New Testament chose their words carefully (and I do believe that), if Jesus never asked for people to become christians (and He didn’t), then maybe I need to self-identify as DISCIPLE.  Yep, I think I will do just that!

Love God with all your heart.  Love others the way Jesus loves you.  And make sure all the glory goes to HIM!

In The World Church Versus Of The World Church

world in the church

Can you see the difference between “the church in the world” and “the world in the church”?  Of course you can, unless you’ve been blinded by the Wicked One.  When you try to operate your local church by the values and principles of this world, you will only be a petty and pathetic private club.  Not the vibrant Body Of Christ!

Cultural Bias And Holy Communion-Part 2

Well, this is the sixth in my series about how cultural biases may have, probably have influenced our understanding of the Bible, especially in the U.S. churches.  I had intended to do only one blog per issue, but the Spirit has prompted, well actually SHOVED me, dragged me screaming, into going deeper because there exists a deep misunderstanding about Holy Communion by some who occupy the pews.  The issue is about “who”–WHO can receive these sacred symbols?

Let’s begin with the 2 camps known as The Closed Camp and The Open Camp.  The Close Camp Rule state that only members of their Tribe are allowed to receive the sacred symbols.  No ifs, ands, buts or maybes–you have to be a full member of Their Tribe.  The Open Camp Rule state that church membership is not a requirement.  And now things become a little more complicated.  Have you ever noticed how humanity tends to make the grace of God more complicated?  Or is that just me?

Within The Open Camp there are 2 Sub-Camps.  Both agree that church membership is not a requirement, both Camps agree that this is that powerful reminder of God’s Grace.  There are some other points they agree on, but here is where it becomes a bit more complicated.  First there is The Open Camp But You Have To Be Worthy.  This Camp says, “Stay away from this Table until you are worthy of it.”  Those who hold this view have hitched their wagon to 1 Corinthians 11:26-27 (NLT)

26 For every time you eat this bread and drink this cup, you are announcing the Lord’s death until he comes again.  27 So anyone who eats this bread or drinks this cup of the Lord unworthily is guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord.

At the ripe old age of 21, I had an older member who refused to celebrate Holy Communion all because her father had drilled it into her head, “Don’t receive it until you feel you are worthy.”  The position of This Camp is that this Table, HIS Table, is a Reserved Table.  Your reservations for His Table are made through your performance.  They may not agree with my conclusion, but as I often say, “The truth will stand when the world’s on fire.”  Though the Table is not a “Members Only Club”, it is demeaned and devalued into “The Table For Only Those Who Perform Very Well.”

The other is The Open Camp For Those Who Need Grace.  This Camp says, “If you are hungry for God’s grace, then there’s a chair for you at this Table.”  The Communion Table becomes more of a doctor’s office for the sick, than a “Heisman Award” for the really good folks.  This Camp sees Holy Communion as a Means of Grace, a way to connect with God’s Grace.  And I am proud to say that I have a lifetime membership in this Camp.

I understand that some will say, “Look, the issue is much more in-depth (which is just another way of saying ‘complicated’) than you have presented it.”  But when I take my cultural eyeglasses off and simply read the Bible, here is what I see and understand; and it’s not all that complicated.

For those who must insist that we become worthy BEFORE we receive the Sacred Signs, and base it on 1 Corinthians 11:26-27, you’re not applying this verse in its context.  See what some of the Corinthians were doing.  They were having a private party for their own kind.  Kinda like those who say Holy Communion is only for ‘their’ kind of folks.  So you think you’re “worthy”?  You better check out verses 28. 39 and 30.

It is called The Lord’s Table for a reason, and a purpose.  The Reason it is The Lord’s Table is because He alone has set the table and provided the meal, so HE  gets to decide who receives the invitation.  Luke 14 describes the invitation sent to those on the little dusty trails, in other words, those on the fringes.  Mark 2 describes that He is looking and calling for the sick, not the allegedly healthy.  And who can forget John 3:16 and THAT powerful word WHOSOEVER.  Everyone is a WHOSOEVER.

I don’t think anyone should come to The Lord’s Table casually or out of habit.  It is a sacred moment where we can both SEE and TASTE that The Lord, He is Good!  And I certainly do not believe that it’s a performance based reward.  This, The Lord’s Tableis for anyone who needs to be reminded of these 2 eternal truths:

  1. We need God’s grace every moment of every day
  2. God freely gives us the grace we admit to needing because of the death of Jesus.

Holy Communion has this Message:  “For anyone who needs and wants My Grace, pull up a chair at My Table, and have a Feast!  Don’t worry about the cost.  I’ve taken care of that, too!”  And that, my friends, is something to celebrate!

Love God with all your heart.  Love others the way Jesus loves you.  And make sure all the glory goes to HIM!!!!

Give Up Negativity

(This is the sixth of my current message series GIVE IT UP! (for Lent and Beyond)

Here lately I’ve been accused of stepping on some toes.  Well, have I got some good news for you!  This message will not apply to you.  It’s for those other folks—the person sitting next to you—on the other side—your neighbors—your in-laws—your coworkers—your boss!  We’re going to look at Giving Up Negativity!  Only 1 verse for today.  Proverbs 10:11 (NLT):

The words of the godly are a life-giving fountain; the words of the wicked conceal violent intentions.

You know I was being facetious about this message not being for you but all those other folks.  The truth is, at any time all of us become guilty of being negative.  Look at these words again, this time from The Message—“the mouth of the wicked is a dark cave of abuse.”  Don’t shut off your hearing—just hear me out.

It’s not so much that WE are wicked—it’s that if we are not careful AND intentional, we allow our mouths to become an instrument of THE Wicked One!  And we become another wicked mouth—another instrument for the Wicked One—when our words stink with negativity!  It’s what Brian Houston of Hillsong Church in Australia calls “Verbal Terrorism”.  Most of those who have the wicked mouth are appalled at and are against any form of abuse.  Yet those who speak negative words from their negative hearts and minds are the most abusive of all.

If you can remember only one thing, this is it:  

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Negative energy can squash positive energy.  A negative thought, comment or action is very good at destroying good things and making someone or something fail.

A negative remark becomes a rumor that becomes a false witness, which becomes an ugly situation. Negativity works by being passed from one person to another.  We all know negative people. We know them at school, at work, in our neighborhoods, our in-laws and yes, even in our church.  Some of them whine; they are almost always critical and never satisfied.  Others are harsh, nasty and angry.  And still others are cynical, malicious, sarcastic, narcissistic and unfriendly.  We know to stay out of their way.

And there are those who follow only their egos and desires, doing whatever it takes to attain their goals, leaving behind a long trail of negativity, pain and destruction.  Some of us are constantly fending off the negativity that pushes against us.  The bad experiences of life take a heavy toll on our spirit.  If gone unchecked, we can become the same grumpy and sad people we criticize and try to AVOID.

People do not become negative overnight.  There are more than a few happy-go-lucky kids who grew up to become nasty or depressed old people because of the negativity accumulated over the years.  Many people spend their adult lives trying to prove themselves to the world because of a few bad kids who taunted them in childhood.

Negativity is a killer. Negativity will Kill your present life and any chance of a future fulfilling life. Negativity creates more negativity.  Negativity sticks around and leaves deep wounds that do not heal easily.  The wicked mouth is used by the Wicked One to kill the Vision and Mission of a church.

No one likes negativity, yet everyone participates in it and at a moment’s notice—joins right in.  How many of you jump into a gossip session or throw in a snide remark if a person’s name is mentioned?   Point the finger of blame at someone else?

The fruit of negativity is too large to list: pain, division, anger, fear, sadness, paranoia, isolation, bitterness, are just a few.  A negative church raises negative Christians.  You can tell them by their fruit.  Their focus is NOT on ‘forgiveness’, ‘grace’, ‘hope’ or ‘love’.  Some focus on ‘sinners’ and ‘hellfire’.  They love to SCARE their members to God.  They succeed not only in making their members afraid of God, but they are nervous and afraid that the devil will get them.  They reluctantly serve God just to save themselves from hell.  No love for others, but care only for their self-preservation.

A negative church also creates coarse, self-righteous, divisive members who isolate themselves and demonize those who disagree with them.  It takes as few as one negative person whose angry nit-picking, to catch fire with other members and eventually bring down the whole church.  Negativity is a great tool of the devil.

No church is ever 100% negativity free.  Many can have great music, worship, sermons and teachings, yet still have hidden prejudices, in-fighting, gossiping and self-righteousness among themselves.  In a church setting, many people who visit a church can SENSE that something doesn’t seem right, and they don’t come back.  Those that do come back and stay think that is the way the church operates because the people in the congregation don’t say anything against it, then it must be OK. Right? WRONG!

How many good intentioned churches have all the makings of a wonderful place of worship, but quietly keep out ‘undesirables’ or teach their congregations, that certain people are not loved or forgiven by God.  Or teach that God only cares about following the rules exactly. Somehow, forgiveness, love and grace are secondary.  There are certain ‘diagnostic’ Here Are The Signs Of The Spirit Of Negativity In A Person And In Church:

1] They Ignore The Good.

Instead of the “whatsoever things are good”, it’s a witch hunt for ‘whatsoever things are not good’.  “Not good” is defined by their definitions, not God’s definition.  Attention, energy and resources are directed toward fixing things—be it programs or staff or pastor.  Just One ‘not good’ thing becomes the driving force for them—whether it is a person, a program, style of worship or an issue.

2] They Focus On Mistakes.

For them it doesn’t matter what else is happening—it’s all about the mistakes.  Because mistakes are their focus, they are looking for them.  Their eye is trained to look for someone to make a mistake.  And even if the mistake is an honest and unintentional one, the benefit of the doubt is absent.  They look at others so critically that they believe someone is going to make that mistake.  So they watch and watch, and if anything gets close to what they consider a mistake, they pounce on it like a big cat pounces on its prey and unload both barrels.

3] They Sacrifice Their Gifts And Passion.

When I say sacrifice, I do not mean it in the sense that they give it up for Jesus.  They set their gifts and passion aside—put it in a box and in a closet.  They are not interested in the Mission of God  Because They Lose Sight Of The Big Picture.  All that they could become and do for Jesus is locked away; and it’s all because of their wicked mouth.  The result of this sacrificing of their gifts and passion is that they become more in love with their past than they are in God’s future!  They moan that things are not like they used to be.  That negative spirit, those negative words, causes them to look backwards to how it was back then and miss how it can be right now.

Negativity is among the most dangerous diseases UNKNOWN to people.  I am willing to give the benefit of the doubt.  Over my years, I’ve only known a handful of people who intentionally chose to have that wicked mouth and live in the spirit of negativity.  Most I’ve seen just eased into it.  One thing goes wrong; something changes—and before they even realize—negative words form.

Those negative words ooze into their thinking just once.  Then another thing happens, and their mouth becomes wicked.  Then it’s another and then another.  Soon, even unaware, they are possessed with those wicked lips become another instrument of the Wicked One.  But There Is A Way Of Overcoming the Spirit of Negativity.

1] Transform Your Minds (Romans 12:2).

And so, dear brothers and sisters, I plead with you to give your bodies to God because of all he has done for you. Let them be a living and holy sacrifice—the kind he will find acceptable. This is truly the way to worship him. Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.

Notice that this word is TRANSFORM, not REFORM.  It’s not about doing a little tweaking here and there.  Think about an automobile engine:  It’s the difference between changing spark plugs and complete overhauling the motor.  It’s look at every part and replacing everything that’s not up to the original specifications.  The original specifications of your mind is to think the way God thinks.

But the wicked mouth reveals that it ain’t so because we are tainted by the Wicked One.  And Paul tells us how to transform the mind:

  • Begin each day by giving your day to God
  • Remember what God has done and is doing for your life (picture of Him on the Cross)
  • Reject what your environment and culture say is right
  • Listen to what God wants from you; it’s found in the Bible
  • Then respond immediately to what God wants

And God will begin changing you from the inside first.  Then He lifts you up on the outside by giving back to you what the Wicked One took away from you because of your sin.

2] Change Your Thinking (Philippians 4:8).

And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing.  Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable.  Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise.

Once God has transformed your mind—He expects you to use it in ways that are consistent with His ways.  There is a key word Paul uses:  Fix or as the KJV puts it Think.  In the Greek it means “to consider, take account, weigh, meditate”.  The Wicked Mouth doesn’t say things that are true, noble, reputable, authentic, compelling, gracious the best, the beautiful, things to praise.

Wicked lips speak things from the Wicked Mind—malicious words, degrading words, dishonorable words, despicable words.  God sees things, situations and people in a different way.  Consider the ways and heart of God.  Give God’s thoughts more weight than your thoughts.  Words that tear down, words that discourage others, come from the Wicked Lips.

3] Control Your Mouths. (James 3:6)

And among all the parts of the body, the tongue is a flame of fire.  It is a whole world of wickedness, corrupting your entire body.  It can set your whole life on fire, for it is set on fire by hell itself.

Rather than me explaining this, let’s just see what the Bible says about controlling your mouth:

  • Psalm 141:3—“Take control of what I say, O Lord, and guard my lips.”
  • Proverbs 12:13—“The wicked are trapped by their own words,     but the godly escape such trouble.
  • Proverbs 13:3—“Those who control their tongue will have a long life; opening your mouth can ruin everything.”
  • Proverbs 11:11—“Upright citizens are good for a city and make it prosper, but the talk of the wicked tears it apart.
  • Proverbs 21:23—“Watch your tongue and keep your mouth shut, and you will stay out of trouble.” Or from The Message—“Watch your words and hold your tongue; you’ll save yourself a lot of grief.
  • Ephesians 4:29—“Let everything you say be good and helpful, so that your words will be an encouragement to those who hear them.”
  • Proverbs 10:19—“Too much talk leads to sin.  Be sensible and keep your mouth shut.
  • Proverbs 10:11—“The words of the godly are a life-giving fountain; the words of the wicked conceal violent intentions.”

Lips express the words that are formed in our mind produced by our thoughts.  The wicked mouth expresses the wicked mind, that reveals the Spirit of Negativity.  The Negative Thoughts We Have About Others And The World Are Often Rooted In The Negative Thoughts We Have About Ourselves.  Have you ever consider this to be true in life, in others, even in yourself?

Your next step is to make this declaration about your own mind and attitude.

Therefore, I hereby declare this to be true about me:

  1. I repent of my past negative attitude and words.
  2. I am a child of God.
  3. I am who He says I am.
  4. I am special to God and His Kingdom.
  5. I am forgiven.
  6. I am a product of God’s grace.
  7. I am a Christ-follower.
  8. I am a champion for Christ.
  9. I am more than a conqueror.
  10. I am filled with His Spirit, and will walk in the Spirit throughout this day.
  11. When I return home, I will praise Him for His protection, I will bless Him for His mercy, and I will sing His praises in the night!
  12. I will live life to the fullest today.
  13. I will bless someone today with my words.
  14. I will speak words of life, of comfort, of healing and power.
  15. I will walk in victory.
  16. I can do what He says I can do, and today I will live life in abundance!
  17. There is no turning back.

Now, go do the next right thing!

Cultural Bias And Holy Communion

 

Who is ‘authorized’ to administer (or serve) Holy Communion/The Lord’s Supper/The Eucharist/The Mass?  This was the question I asked in the beginning of this series of blogs.  As I prayed and reflected on this topic, as with the other topics I’ve already addressed, I am finding it taking me deeper than my original intent and adding additional, call them questions or angles, that may be getting in the way of understanding this powerful moment of Holy Communion.  Before I get to the others questions the Spirit has confronted me with, allow me to address this original question.

In every Tribe and Tradition of which I am familiar, in order to serve or administer or oversee (ecclesiastical requirements) this “Sacrament”, one must be a licensed, commissioned or ordained pastor.  In my Tribe, to be “qualified” you must be either “ordained” or a “licensed” local pastor.  In the case of a local pastor, you can only serve Communion in the congregation to which you are appointed.  Truthfully, from the time of my entrance into this calling, I have always had an issue with my Tribe’s rule.  But in order to be licensed and then ordained, I kept the party line in tact with my papers and what I said in my interviews.  (In one paper I had to do, I ripped apart the commentator…turned out he was the one who “graded” my paper, so I had to redo it….edited of course to fall in line with the author of the commentary I ripped apart….lesson learned!)

The rationale behind such views is that a properly credentialed person is necessary in order to protect the sacredness of this powerful moment.  It is as if Holy Communion (notice the use of caps) loses both the “Holy” and the “caps” if someone administers or oversees it who is not “properly credentialed”, thus becoming only “communion” (lower case ‘c’) which in turn, the powers that be, believe diminishes its effect.  Really?  It loses its purpose and power when someone administers it who isn’t ecclesiastically qualified?  That the sacredness of God’s grace is not present?  Wow!  I never realized that God could not move in a moment UNLESS He has someone ecclesiastically qualified like me!

My long-standing “disagreement” on this issue is based on this passage from 1 Peter 2:5-9

And you are living stones that God is building into his spiritual temple.  What’s more, you are his holy priests.  Through the mediation of Jesus Christ, you offer spiritual sacrifices that please God. As the Scriptures say,  “I am placing a cornerstone in Jerusalem, chosen for great honor, and anyone who trusts in him will never be disgraced.”  Yes, you who trust him recognize the honor God has given him.  But for those who reject him, “The stone that the builders rejected has now become the cornerstone.”  And, “He is the stone that makes people stumble, the rock that makes them fall.”   They stumble because they do not obey God’s word, and so they meet the fate that was planned for them.  But you are not like that, for you are a chosen people.  You are royal priests, a holy nation, God’s very own possession.  As a result, you can show others the goodness of God, for he called you out of the darkness into his wonderful light.

We call this The Priesthood Of All Believers.  Unless Pete’s first letter was limited to only ecclesiastically qualified people, then I believe that “proper” Holy Communion (again, notice the caps) can be administered by anyone who has turned away from sin, accepted the Gift of God expressed on The Cross, and is growing in that Grace.  Either we who seriously follow Jesus (meaning being a Christian is more than a name, but a life-long commitment of heart, mind and will) are ALL Priests or NONE of us are to be considered Priests.  Ecclesiastical Authority does NOT make one a priest.  Only the authority of the One who Created us, Redeemed us, and Transforms us has such authority!!!! (Notice the use of multiple “exclamation marks”; that means I’m passionately serious about this!!!!)

Jesus revealed and modeled the new work of Priests, this Priesthood of All Believers. (See Hebrews 9:11-12 and Hebrews 4:14-16).  The mission of Priests in the Old Testament were to presents the needs of the people to God and to reveal God’s mind and heart to the people.  Jesus did this perfectly by becoming both the Priest who stands before God to represent the needs of the people, and the perfect sacrifice that meets all the needs of all people.  Picture this:  Jesus REPRESENTING us BEFORE God, and then PRESENTING the heart and mind God TO us.

And there is no clearer picture of the Heart and Mind of God than in the Holy Moment of Holy Communion.  We present and re-present to each other the perfect Sacrifice through Holy Communion.  And who better to “preside” over that moment than anyone who has been touched, redeemed and now being transformed by this marvelous Grace?  Certainly it doesn’t take ecclesiastical credentials to “preside” over this Sacred Meal.  Maybe I’m missing something, but I do not see ecclesiastical credentials as a requirement in the first century Body of Christ.  So why now is it necessary?

Enough for now…there are some more cultural biases I see around the Sacred Meal…and as hard as it may be to believe….I have something to say about them, too….later!

Love God with all your heart.  Love others the way Jesus loves you.  And make sure ALL the glory goes to HIM!!!!

Transforming Grace

taking the world out of us

The work of God’s Grace is always about transforming us into the instruments He wants in order to reclaim His Creation’s Image Bearers.  Being “in the world but not of the world” is not only possible through His Grace, it is ESSENTIAL to be a real follower of Jesus!

What’s A Martyr?

Martyr

We urgently need more martyrs today!  Can you imagine the revival that would happen in the U.S. if “Comfortable Christians”, Tenured Pew Sitters, Churchians and others who are more focused on their little piece of the church than the Kingdom of God would embrace J.D.’s challenge?

Before You Die

Well worth the time. I also recommend you watching this TED Talk https://www.ted.com/talks/candy_chang_before_i_die_i_want_to and if it’s been a while since you’ve watched it, maybe it’s time to watch it again!

Matthew Winters (Honest Thoughts from a Pastor)

About 3 weeks into my first full-time ministry, the pastor came to me and asked if I would teach his Sunday School class while he was out of the country. I gladly took the opportunity. He was teaching Ecclesiastes and told me to pick up at chapter nine. I began preparing and decided to share this outline with you.

We all are going to die. With that in mind, Ecclesiastes 9 gives us some practical advice about what to do while we are still living.

  1. Remember that God is in control of everything (v. 1).
  2. Realize that none of us is exempt from death (vv. 2, 3).
  3. Take hold of the hope of living before there is no more opportunity (vv. 4-6). Ephesians 5:16 also reminds us to make the most of every opportunity (redeeming the time) because the days are evil.
  4. Enjoy life (vv. 7, 8), specifically your possessions…

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Sam Storms: Why wouldn’t you want to raise your hands to worship God?

A fellow pastor and brother in Christ, Matthew Winters (https://mdw4christ.wordpress.com) shared this and I thought it needed to be shared even more… By the way if you are not following Matthew, you might consider it…worthwhile reading!

Knowing God through His Word ... Day by Day

Sam Storms, of Enjoying God Ministries, comments in an article, I Will Lift Up My Hands! (Psalm 63:4)

So I will bless you as long as I live;
in your name I will lift up my hands.

On more than one occasion I’ve been asked: “Sam, why do you lift your hands when you worship?” My answer is two-fold.

First, I raise my hands when I pray and praise because I have explicit biblical precedent for doing so. I don’t know if I’ve found all biblical instances of it, but consider this smattering of texts.

  • “So I will bless you as long as I live; in your name I will lift up my hands” (Psalm 63:4).
  • “To you, O LORD, I call; my rock, be not deaf to me, lest, if you be silent to me, I become like those who go down to the pit. Hear the voice of…

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GIVE UP THE QUICK FIX!

Romans 5:1-5 (NLT)

Therefore, since we have been made right in God’s sight by faith, we have peace with God because of what Jesus Christ our Lord has done for us. Because of our faith, Christ has brought us into this place of undeserved privilege where we now stand, and we confidently and joyfully look forward to sharing God’s glory.  We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance. And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation. And this hope will not lead to disappointment. For we know how dearly God loves us, because he has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with his love.

When life does not go as planned—forget that, let’s call it like it is—when life derails us with stresses and pressures, as humans we tend to want the Quick Fix.  We want it over as quickly as possible and to get back to some form of “normal”.

I have before you THE QUICK FIX BOX!  What’s in this box will fix anything and everything.  If the problem you have cannot be fixed with what’s in here, then it simply cannot be fixed.  And what’s in THE QUICK FIX BOX?  For only 3 easy payments of $29.95 you can find out.  But there’s more.  I’ll reduce it to 2, that’s right 2 easy payments of $44.92.  But wait, there’s more.  For the first 100, because you know we can’t do this forever, I’ll double the offer—that’s 2 QUICK FIX BOXES for the price of one.  Just pay a separate process and handling fee of $29.95.  Here is what’s inside The Quick Fix Box—1 roll of duct tape, 1 pack of zip ties, and an assortment of bungee cords.  Order yours today & mention the word QUICK and I’ll throw in free delivery to your doorstep!

Sometimes quick fixes work.  It was 1986, I was serving near Haleyville.  A friend in Cullman County asked me to come over and preach for a revival.  It was Friday, the last day.  I was going down Highway. 278 near the Cullman County Line.  I was behind a slow driver and when I finally came to a straightaway, I pushed the accelerator to the floor to pass them.  Suddenly it started misfiring and sputtering.  The temperature gauge was moving the wrong direction and steam was starting to come out.  I pulled over at an old country store, hoping they might have one of those flexible hoses I could buy that would fit.  They didn’t.  But in my toolbox, there was a roll of duct tape.

I taped the leak, added water, and did lot of praying.  Stopped in Cullman at a parts place, purchased the correct hose and a gallon of coolant in case that night I didn’t make it home before my quick fix wouldn’t work in longer.  Well, to make a long story short, I drove my truck for 3 more weeks before I decided to do the repair, and it still wasn’t leaking.

I tell this story because that while duct tape, zip ties and bungee cords may work as temporary, even long-term quick fixes—they do not work in the Spiritual Journey we take as followers of Jesus.  And if you can remember only 1 things from today’s message, this is it:  Life Is Not Easy, But It Is Good.

The temptation to follow the path of The Quick Fix always seems desirable.  Isn’t the quick fix backed up by one of the most basic rules of geometry?  The shortest distance between 2 points is a straight line.  The quicker the fix, the better we think we will be—but we’re not.  While we want the quick, God’s best teachings are rarely, if ever, found there.

In that Wilderness Time, Jesus understood that The Quick Fix is a temptation.  The 3 Quick Fixes that Jesus faced were Physical: to satisfy His personal need of hunger rather than God’s mission for him—turning stones into bread; Emotional:  use Sensationalism to win over the people’s hearts rather than challenging them; and Spiritual:  Compromise the Truth to make it easier rather than calling people to the Life of Holiness.  Jesus rejected all 3 Quick Fixes because He knew that none of them would really solve our most serious problems and our deepest needs.

Our most serious problem is sin—broken inside and alienated from God.  Our deepest need is forgiveness and redemption.  The problem and the need are met in one place—at the Cross of Jesus where His life was offered in our place.  Our part is to have faith—to trust in the work of Grace on the Cross to make us right with God.

And as Paul says, this is great joy for us!  I cannot understand people who say they have given their heart to Jesus, but their face and their voice looks and sounds like they have given their hearts to Satan.  I’m not judging, I’m just looking at the fruit, OK?  But I think most of us can agree it’s a moment of astonishing joy to invite Jesus into your heart.  But…but what about all those moments afterwards?

What Debbie and I are facing doesn’t lend itself to much joy.  Add to that what our family is dealing with concerning my Mother, there’s not much joy in it either.  Truth is, there’s a lot of hurt and frustration that comes from being hurt and helpless.  Yet there is this truth from Jesus, Himself in John 16:33—“Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows.”  “You will have” is in the indicative mood—the indicative mood means that it’s a matter of fact.  Not maybe, not possibly, not even probably—trials and sorrows, the pressures of life—they are going to happen.

When they come—and they will come—your natural tendency is to look for the Quick Fix.  The desire of the mind and heart is to get out of it as quickly as possible.  But this desire to give into the temptation of The Quick Fix does not solve the problem—it postpones the inevitable—and the inevitable always comes back with a vengeance and the real problem becomes much bigger.

So how should we handle the pressures, the trials, the sorrows that happen to all of us?  Well, long before Nick Saban developed and polished “his process”, God already had His Process in place.  Give up The Quick Fix for something far better—the process of The Holy Spirit living in you.  Here’s step 1:

Endurance Development

Vs. 3—We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance.

Sept. 4, 1987 is a splendid example of endurance.  Henry Dempsey and his co-pilot Paul Boucher for Eastern Express were flying a small commuter plane from Lewiston, Maine to Boston, Mass.  Not long after takeoff they heard a rattling sound from the back of the 15-passenger plane.  Henry handed off the controls to his co-pilot when he investigated the noise.  As Henry reached the rear of the plane they encountered turbulence and Henry fell against the rear door, which wasn’t closed properly.  Immediately it opened, and Henry was sucked out of that door but managed to hold on to the stairs.  Co-pilot Paul saw the indicator warning of an open door and immediately declared an emergency and landed at Portland, Maine.  He also notified the coast guard that the pilot had fallen from the plane and they started a search and rescue.  10 minutes later to everyone’s amazement, Henry was still holding on, half inside the plane and half outside, upside down.  His head was only 12 inches from the runway.  Henry managed to hold on in spite of 190 mph speed with only minor injuries.  Rumor has it that it took ground crew about 10 minutes to pry Henry’s hands off that ladder.  That’s endurance—the ability to hang-on when it would have been easier to give up.  Here are some guides to help develop endurance.

  • Accept The Unchangeable. In real life, sometimes airplane doors aren’t closed good; unfair things happen; problems arise.  Think about a pearl.  Pearls happen as the result of the irritation from a grain of sand.  The oyster begins the process to produce that pearl, all from an irritation.
  • Adjust To Obstacles. Plans inevitably will change.  Think of it like this story.  A young naval officer took his first command, it was a destroyer.  One night he saw a light and sent out a radio command, “Alter your course 10 degrees.”  He heard the reply, “You alter your course 10 degrees.” The young commander was irate and said, “This is a destroyer and I am a Navy Commander.”  He heard the reply, “This is a lighthouse and I’m the lighthouse keeper.”  Don’t let the changes in your plans blind you to lessons you need to learn.  Detours are full of surprises of God’s grace.
  • Abide With Patience. The late Margaret Thatcher, former British Prime Minister, once said, “I am extraordinarily patient provided I get my own way in the end.”  Abiding is living in your connection to God.  You’re not alone in those difficult moments.  Learn to lean and rest on The Father.  He will sustain you through anything you are facing.
  • Affirm The Presence. God is always with you. He is guiding you, sometimes teaching you, sometimes empowering you, always encouraging you. It’s the world that tells you to give up—never God!  No matter how much pressure is on you.  The Grace that puts us right with God, is still present in the pressures, problems and trials we face.

Step 2:

Character Development

Vs. 4a—And endurance develops strength of character

God is more concerned with your character than He is with your comfort.  He is more concerned with your holiness than He is with your happiness.  He is more concerned with you as a person than He is with your possessions.  God is getting you ready for your inheritance.  Your possessions will not go with you–but your character—and your holiness—who you are as a person will go on.  And if you are a Christian—you will live in God’s Kingdom–forever and ever amen!  There are 5 key qualities that God looks for in your Character:

  • Compassion. Compassion is more than an emotion; it’s love in action.  1 John 3:18—“Dear children, let’s not merely say that we love each other; let us show the truth by our actions.”  You can have success everywhere else in your life, but when you fail to show compassion you’re a failure in God’s eyes.
  • Consistency. God is looking for consistency over conformity.  Proverbs 10:9—“People with integrity walk safely, but those who follow crooked paths will slip and fall.”   Character is built over the long haul—consistently reflecting the life of Jesus.
  • Cooperation. It’s all about recognizing your place in the bigger picture of The Kingdom.  Philippians 2:3—“Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves.”  God is more concerned about how well you work with others than what you do on your own.
  • Commitment. Jesus doesn’t care for a Sunday afternoon stroll in the garden. Luke 9:23—“If any of you wants to be my follower, you must give up your own way, take up your cross daily, and follow me.”  Jesus didn’t like fans when He walked creation in human form and He hasn’t changed His mind.  You must commit whatever circumstances or situations you face.
  • Courage. Courage is fear under control. 1 Corinthians 15:58—“So, my dear brothers and sisters, be strong and immovable. Always work enthusiastically for the Lord, for you know that nothing you do for the Lord is ever useless.”  God is looking for people who are willing to stand up for the Kingdom of God over everything else.

Character is developed and revealed in all 5 traits.  Not 3 out of 5, or 4 out of 5.  This is the Character God wants from His people.  Step 3:

Expectation Development

Vs. 4b—character strengthens our confident hope of salvation.

Henry Ford once said, “Whether you think you can or think you can’t, you’re right.”  Ephesians 3:20—“Now all glory to God, who is able, through his mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think.”  Expand Your Expectations!  The word expand means to enlarge or spread out.  The word expectation means eager anticipation.  When you expand your expectations, you are enlarging your anticipation.

The more you anticipate the movement of God and His Holy Spirit, the more you will do, even in the face of demanding times and disappointments.  Expand your expectations of yourself.  Expand your expectations of this church.  Expand your expectations of who God can use.  Expand your expectations of the ways God will move.  Then and only then will you see God move in ways well beyond what you think.  Step 4.

Love Development

Vs. 5—And this hope will not lead to disappointment.  For we know how dearly God loves us, because he has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with his love.

If you desire your love for God to grow, then spend time—a lot of time focusing on how much God loves you.  1 John 4:10—“This is real love—not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as a sacrifice to take away our sins.”  It’s not God loving the good and lovable people.  It’s about God loving the bad and unlovable—and that’s you and me!  The Quick Fix circumvents opportunities to experience how much God loves us.  You can trust that God’s love is good because HE is good.  Whatever pressures life brings your way, know that God’s love will bring you through it.

The Gospel is not about us having enough or doing enough to appease God. The gospel is about what we have received from God in Christ to live in a way that pleases him.

Quick fixes lead to counterfeit Christianity–where “formalities” replace the integrity of faithful living.  Faith does not count what it will cost or the rewards they might receive, but serves God willingly and joyfully, then trusts God with the outcomes.

The gospel is about what we have received from God in Christ, and it’s then about the sometimes slow, but sure ways that God teaches us to live in a way that pleases him.  And this is the only way to find peace in the middle of pressures and problems.

Memories

Photo from SBS News
Photo from SBS News http://www.sbs.com.au

My normal (which is abnormal for many) posts are about issues that surround the western church and its successes and more often, its failures when it comes to being a part of the Kingdom of God.  In fact, my “default” category for every post includes “Kingdom of God”.  But this morning I unchecked that category and selected only one category:  “Personal”.  Like music, writing helps me create “white space” where I can listen more clearly to God and regain the focus that is essential for life in God’s Kingdom.  But today is personal.

This week has been a “different” week, sorta like the past few weeks.  Normally Monday is the day I really focus on further developing and tweaking my “next Sunday’s” sermon.  Wednesday is the day I need to finish information for the bulletin notes and the ProPresenter slides for that message.  But Monday was spent at the hospital because my wife Debbie was having another arteriogram due to recurring chest pains.  She has 8 stents and one heart attack under her belt.  So no office time for me Monday.  Oh, by the way, no additional blockages!  Thank and Praise the Lord!  So it wasn’t until Thursday that I was able to finish the tasks related to The Proclamation of God’s Word on Sunday.  (Great staff and volunteers who show me so much grace).

Needless to say Thursday was “crunch time” with many tasks to complete.  After I finished my tasks, I left the office for another journey to Mitchell-Hollingsworth Rehab Center where my Mother is currently residing.  After a brief stay at the hospital we received the “official” diagnosis.  We knew she was experiencing severe dementia and her needs were far more that Dad and us could provide at home.  The official diagnosis is Subcortical Vascular Cognitive Impairment.  A big scary name for something scarier–mini strokes.  Probably hundreds over the past few years, according to the doctor.  Every time one of them occurs, a bit of her brain dies.  And it seems their frequency is more often.

This has been one of, if not my most difficult journey.  Excuse me, back to yesterday.  As I went to see her because I love her, and to give Dad the opportunity to slip out without her noticing so she doesn’t start crying (they’ve been married almost 73 years), she was eating.  I took over helping her so Dad could slip out.  She was telling me her Mother and Daddy had been to visit today and hoped they got home OK.  He died in the last 60’s and she died in the early 90’s.  As I continued to assist her eating, she looked up in a rare lucid moment and said, “Daddy’s dead, isn’t he.”  And when she asked about her Mother, I said, “She’s home.”  And she is at home, in heaven; a place I hope my Mother will soon be (as cruel as that may sound).

Well, here I go rambling again.  I’m doing that a lot here lately.  This week one of those I serve, well actually Barbara serves me maybe more than I do her (well maybe we serve each other, that sounds like something Jesus really approves of) left me her latest edition of Guideposts and an article marked for me.  It was titled Grace, Gratitude & Faith by Jeff Bjorck.  Click here to read the article.  It is the story of his journey with his Mother into the dark realm of dementia.

It is a timely gift to me.  One of his lessons was to Make A Lot Out Of A Little.  And as I was feeding her I had a memory of something I don’t remember.  That makes a lot of sense!  The memory of what I don’t remember was all about her taking the time to feed me when I was an infant and then as a toddler, teaching me how to feed myself.  And now, less than a month from being 62 years OLD here I am feeding her and helping teach her how to feed herself.

And as sad as that feeling was to me, I remembered another point Jeff made:  Grow Gratitude.  I then tried to imagine what she must have felt as I was unable to feed myself.  The incredible love.  And then trying to teach me to feed myself.  My, what messes I must have made.  But out of love she was in the process of helping me to grow and become a responsible adult.

Now the roles are reversed, except that part of teaching her to become a responsible adult.  I find myself living in and living out those lessons she taught me without me being aware of them or even remembering them.  I am getting to pay her back for all she has done for me–and for this I am truly grateful.

Oh, I’m still angry that Abba hasn’t called her home, and still angry that I am grieving the loss of Mother before she even dies; and that will be another grief for me to face.  But I cannot imagine the grief that Dad feels right now.  So I also focus the love toward him as we walk this dark valley together.  But for now, I cherish the memories I have, even those I can’t remember…

 

Cultural Bias-The Bible And The Role Of Elders And Deacons

(This is the third post in a series around this question:  Are we reading our own Cultural Biases into the Bible?)

In examining the issue of cultural bias influencing one’s understanding of the Bible, nothing is protected from examination–even the practices of my own Tribe, the United Methodist Church.  Here is today’s question:  Are ‘deacons’ and ‘elders’ to be considered clergy (pastors/preachers) or laity (the person in the pew)?  Who’s right?

In case you may be unaware of this, but in my Tribe the offices of Elder and Deacon have traditionally been restricted to clergy or those engaging in specialized ministries–us folks who go through extensive education and even more extensive inquisitions from what we call the Board of Ordained Ministry (the Board of Ordained Ministry prefers the term “interview”, though it often looks more like an inquisition).

In other Tribes, the offices of elder and deacon are given to the laity; from among the rank and file membership.  Though my knowledge of these Tribes is limited, my experiences with members and pastors is that the deacons and especially the elders, carry great authority, even to having pastors and other staff fired, and of course, choosing who will be “hired”.

The first mention of Elders in a church is found in Acts 11:30 when Paul and Barnabas delivered a love offering from the churches in Antioch to the church in Jerusalem.  The word that has been translated as “elder” is the Greek word presbýteros, (pronounced pres-boo’-ter-os) and is comparative to the Greek word présbys ( which means elderly).  It refers to someone who is older;, a senior.  It is the same word used to describe key leaders in the Sanhedrin as well as local community leaders.  In other words, the church “borrowed” this word from the Jewish tradition.

First mention of “deacon” is in Romans 16:1, a letter Paul wrote around 57 A.D.  The Greek word used is diákonos, (pronounced dee-ak’-on-os) probably came from an obsolete word diákō (pronounced dee-ak’-o), which means to run on errands, an attendant, a waiter at table or in other menial duties, and one who executes the commands of another such as a master; one who is a servant, or attendant.  Now this doesn’t sound like someone with great authority or who carries around a big stick.

As I did my due diligence in this research there’s another word or “office” described by Paul–bishop!  It’s mentioned only twice in reference to people:  1 Timothy 3:1-2 and Titus 1:7.  It’s the Greek word episkopḗ, (pronounced ep-is-kop-ay’) and means  inspection, examine, and to visit.  It comes from the word episképtomai (pronounced ep-ee-skep’-tom-ahee) and means to go to see, relieve:—look out, visit.  By the way, it’s the same word found in Matthew 25:36 when Jesus said, “I was sick and you visited me.”  This “office of bishop” is seen only in a limited number of Tribes, mine included.

From these passages I see nothing about these offices (deacon, elder, bishop) being limited to clergy/preachers.  Furthermore, I do not see nor hear that idea of wielding great power or authority, especially the offices of deacon and bishop.  So how did these offices of the early church become what they are today?  In other words, “Where does this show signs of cultural bias?”

What I see is the influence of the Roman Catholic Tribe.  Now to my Roman Catholic friends, please understand I am NOT picking on you or putting your Tribe and Traditions down.  I’m simply stating a historical fact.  The first major organizing of the church resulted in the formation of what we know as the Roman Catholic Church/Tribe.

The first significant reorganization of the church happened in 1517 when Martin Luther posted his “95 Theses” (FYI, use of drums and guitars in a sanctuary were not listed in this document).  This led to what we now call the Protestant Reformation.  As bodies of believers, churches reorganized and new Tribes formed.  Over the decades and centuries these newly formed Tribes either copied the formal clerical structure of the Roman Catholic Tribe, or in an effort to distance themselves, went in the opposite direction of putting major leadership among laypersons rather than preachers.

This was influenced by Western Civilization of creating a hierarchy of authority and power.  Tribes such as mine, used the term “elder” and “bishop” to create that sense of authority and power.  These offices and roles were a far cry from the very first churches.  The influence of Western Europe and England are seen in how the Greek words are translated, in particular, the office of Bishop.  The word most commonly used in the English language is OVERSEER.  That sounds like an office filled with great authority, when in reality it is a word about visiting the sick, examining and looking at what happens.  OVERSEER also was used to describe an office in the ancient Feudal System.

At least to me it seems we have brought cultural biases when it comes to the offices of deacon, elder, and bishop/overseer.  And I find myself at odds with my own Tribe in the use of these offices.  I am also at odds with other Tribes that use these offices as forms of power and authority rather than offices of serving, caring for and caring about people.

Again, I am not asking or expecting anyone or everyone to agree with my thesis that these offices are another way that we have added cultural bias to our understanding of the Holy Writ.  But if we have added our cultural bias to even one part of the Holy Writ, then there is a high probability that we are adding our cultural biases into other parts.  What if, mind you, I’m only asking What If, What If we spend our time in the Holy Writ without the teachings and commentaries of our Tribes and listened to what was written?  What If we sought the Giver of all Wisdom to guide us in the struggle of understanding it for ourselves?  What If we looked back to the original languages as to the meaning of those words without adding cultural influences on those words?  What If we sought the Holy Spirit to be our Guide, instead of primarily resting upon our cultural biases?

A very good friend, mentor and spiritual guide in my life came out of a Tribe with a very strict legalistic background.  But now Tim embraces Grace and the understanding that the body of Christ is more than one Tribe, than God longs for Relationship over Rules.  I asked him once what led to his personal transformation.  He told me it happened as he was reading the Bible and the Holy Spirit began to challenge his personal cultural biases.  Maybe this is what we all need.

 

Mental Health Probation — reblogged AND QUOTES FROM HERETICS BY G. K. CHESTERTON — PART 3

Why do we embrace, even weep with those who have diseases such as cancer, but shun those who have a physical disease labeled “Mental Illness”? It is time to advocate for these who are often unable to advocate for themselves. If you call yourself a “Christian” but look the other way at those with mental illness (BTW, that’s known as “shunning”) maybe it’s time you rethink who you think you are…let’s advocate more for those who have this disease, and it is a disease!

Citizen Tom

Bethlem Royal Hospital, also known as St Mary Bethlehem, Bethlehem Hospital and Bedlam, is a psychiatric hospital in London. Its famous history has inspired several horror books, films and TV series, most notably Bedlam, a 1946 film with Boris Karloff. It has moved three times from its original location, and is Europe’s first and oldest institution to specialise in mental illnesses. (from here)

thewayonlineis dealing with a severe family crisis. So she is doing what good people do when they have an awful problem. They try to squeeze a bit of lemonade out of their awful problem.

What is ‘s awful problem? Her son is sick with a mental disorder we call Schizophrenia. How is trying to make lemonade? She is sharing what she is learning from the experience. Here is her latest post: Mental Health Probation : A Positive Solution To Decriminalize The Mentally Ill &…

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Give Up That Too Small God!

(Note:  This is the third in my Lent Series “Give It Up!”  It is about the things we need to give up and not take back up at Easter)

 

 

 

2 Kings 6:8-17 The Message

One time when the king of Aram was at war with Israel, after consulting with his officers, he said, “At such and such a place I want an ambush set.” 9 The Holy Man sent a message to the king of Israel:  “Watch out when you’re passing this place, because Aram has set an ambush there.”  10 So the king of Israel sent word concerning the place of which the Holy Man had warned him.  This kind of thing happened all the time.

 11 The king of Aram was furious over all this. He called his officers together and said, “Tell me, who is leaking information to the king of Israel?  Who is the spy in our ranks?”  12 But one of his men said, “No, my master, dear king.  It’s not any of us.  It’s Elisha the prophet in Israel.  He tells the king of Israel everything you say, even what you whisper in your bedroom.” 13 The king said, “Go and find out where he is. I’ll send someone and capture him.”  The report came back, “He’s in Dothan.”  14 Then he dispatched horses and chariots, an impressive fighting force.  They came by night and surrounded the city.

15 Early in the morning a servant of the Holy Man got up and went out.  Surprise!  Horses and chariots surrounding the city!  The young man exclaimed, “Oh, master! What shall we do?”

16 He said, “Don’t worry about it—there are more on our side than on their side.” 17 Then Elisha prayed, “O God, open his eyes and let him see.”  The eyes of the young man were opened and he saw.  A wonder!  The whole mountainside full of horses and chariots of fire surrounding Elisha!

How Big Is Your God?  This question is the one I wanted to open this message with today.  I allowed it to float around and started developing more thoughts around it—until—until the Holy Spirit screamed at me:  “Have you lost your ever-loving mind?  That’s the wrong question to ask!”  Then He gave me the right question:

Is Your God Too Small?  What fueled this question for me is from a book written by J.B. Phillips called Your God Is Too Small.  It’s interesting that God brought me back to this book.  J.B. talks a lot about the “modern church”.  By the way, J.B. is not one of those young skinny-jeans-wearing preachers who doesn’t understand preachers do better wearing a suit, or even better wearing a robe.  What makes this unique is that J.B. wrote this book in 1953—modern church of 1953.  And now, I see this book as prophetic, for many of the issues he raised in 1953 that were tumors in the church are 65 years later, full-blown malignancies in the church of 2018.

Slide15And if you can remember only 1 thing from today’s message, this is it:  One Of The Problems Of Church Today Is That Many Have A god That Is Too Small.  God cannot be reduced to what we want him to be.  The God we envision, in some ways, will always be too small.  And when your god is too small on any level, that god in whom you believe is not the true God.

Putting it this way:

  • If your god’s job description reads “Make my life more comfortable and easy.”—Then your god is too small.
  • If your god says things to you like, “Don’t take a risk, just play it safe.”—Then your god is too small.
  • If your god operates on your time-table, if you are in control of his calendar—Then your god is too small.
  • If your god’s job is to obey you, by doing what you want when you want him to do it…if your god is a genie that exists to grant your wishes—Then your god is too small.
  • If your god is a white guy that has a closet full of suits and ties… if your god always wears a white robe, looks old and has a long white beard—Then your god is too small.
  • If your god loves Americans more than Muslims—Then your god is too small.
  • If your god is always saying “Come” but never says “Go”…if he always says “Learn” but never says “Do”—Then your god is too small.
  • If your god never wrecks your schedule, or messes up your plans, or never asks you to do something that’s not in the budget—Then your god is too small.
  • If your god needs a certain president in office to achieve his plans and purposes for this nation—Then your god is too small.
  • If your god has never filled your eyes with tears because of his grace and left you breathless because of his power—Then your god is too small.
  • If your god always agrees with you…if your god likes only the things that you like….and dislikes everything that you dislike—Then your god is too small.
  • If your god always thinks that your opinion is the most important one… that the decisions of the church should fall in line with your opinions—Then your god is too small.
  • If your god is OK with you spending just an hour or so a week with him on Sunday in church—Then your god is too small.
  • If your god doesn’t convict you to speak up when you know something is wrong, or he says, “Oh, it’s OK to remain silent. They won’t listen to you and it will make it hard on you, so I’ll just have to work around them.”—Then your god is too small.
  • If your god is OK with you withholding his tithes and your offerings because you don’t like the preacher or like a decision the church made…if he is OK with you giving to a designated fund rather than the operating fund—Then your god is too small.
  • If your god looks at your sin of lust or greed or gossip or whining and says, “Oh, that’s no big deal. You’re better than most.”—Then your god is too small.
  • If your god says you’re too messed up, too broken, too guilty, too poor, too ignorant, too young, too old to make a difference—Then your god is too small.
  • If your god fits nicely into a box—then that’s not God. And if you would take the time to look inside that box, you will find that God is not there because God Doesn’t Do Boxes.

Today’s scripture is about a man whose God wasn’t too small.  Elisha knew that God would never fit into any of our human boxes.  Here’s the story.  The King of Aram had been trying to ambush the army of Israel, but every time, Elisha would warn the King of Israel.

If you were commander-in-chief of an army, and your enemy knew everything you were doing, what would you think?  “There’s a spy among us!”  Logical, right?  And you know what happens to spies.  But his military leaders quickly reveal the real problem—it’s Elisha.  When the King of Aram finds out its Elisha making the problems, he sets out to find him and capture him.  He finds Elisha in Dothan and surrounds the city one night.

That next morning, Elisha’s servant goes out and sees the city surrounded.  He did not know what to do.  In his mind, the situation was hopeless.  But God has something else in mind.  When you think there’s nothing that can be done about a situation, God has something else in mind.  But to see God’s “something else”, you must choose what kind of god you are going to give your heart to—the god created by your minds or the God who created you.  In today’s story, there are 3 things you need to learn from Elisha to help you give up your god that is too small:

1]  Elisha Remembered The Mantle.

What’s the Mantle?  Glad you asked.  The Mantle was the Mantle of Elijah.  It was like a cloak and it represented 2 eternal truths:  Authority and Power.  Elijah had the Authority and Power to speak on God’s behalf and to do what God wanted done.

Before God took Elijah into heaven, Elisha made a request:  to have a double portion of the Spirit that lived in Elijah.  Elijah said he could have it, only if he was with him when God came for him.  And Elisha was there.  As Elijah was carried into heaven by the Chariot of Fire, his mantle fell to the ground and Elisha had a choice:  give his heart to a god that was too small or pick up the Mantle. He chose the mantle of Elijah. When he looked at the mantle, he remembered that the Authority And The Power was still there.

Our mantle is the promise of the authority and power of the Holy Spirit!

We carry into our daily lives the Mantle of The Holy Spirit—that God promised would bring power and authority, dreams and visions—to everyone.  Young and old, men and women.

Gods that are too small have no such mantle of power and authority for anyone.  Only the Holy Spirit brings that, and only to those who have that desire to be filled with the Double Portion.  You then live in and live out what the Holy Spirit wants—not the things you want.

2]  Elisha Kept The Vision

He saw the Chariot Of Fire take Elijah into heaven.  He knew the plans and purposes of God.  He knew what the King of Aram was doing.  He could not go to the kitchen without Elisha knowing what kind of sandwich he ate, whether it had mustard or mayonnaise, lettuce and tomato.  Elisha even knew what kind of bread was used.

Elisha wasn’t worried when the news came, “We’re surrounded”.  He saw the Chariot of Fire take Elijah into heaven, and he never lost sight of that Chariot of Fire.  It was a Chariot of Fire, not a Prius.  He wasn’t worried about the enemy’s army, he knew that the was surrounded by the Hosts of Heaven’s Armies.  The sight of Elijah being carried away stayed with him, even in the tough times.

God’s Vision Is Always Something You Cannot Do Without Him.

When you follow gods that are too small, they give visions that are too small.   Gods that are too small give visions of things that you can accomplish with your intellect, your abilities and your strength.  In other words, small gods give you projects to complete.  It takes Fire, Authority and Power to live in and through His Vision.

3]  Elisha Lived In Confidence

Elisha saw the army of Aram around the city—but Elisha saw more.  He saw the Hosts of Heaven’s Armies!  He knew the battle did not belong to the one who had a powerful army.  He knew the battle belongs to the Lord of Hosts who has ALL power at his side!

Elisha Wasn’t Concerned About His Physical Circumstances Because He Had Confidence In His Spiritual Circumstances.

He knew those hills around him were alive with the presence of God.   This is the kind of faith that sustained Elisha and so many others.  And it’s the faith that will sustain you in times like these.  The challenge of faith is to see that the hills around your life are alive with the Living Presence of God!

Gods that are too small will never give you confidence about your future when the enemy surrounds you.  Your focus will be on what’s wrong or what’s missing, rather than seeing your situations through faith.  Hebrews 11 says that faith is trusting and having confidence in what isn’t seen with the eyes or understood by the mind.

There’s a simple rule of human behavior that states: What You Take Seriously, You Treat Seriously.

Today I have my conception of God.  That conception is different from when I was a kid, different than when I was saved, different than when I started to preach, even different from 5 years ago.  And hopefully, will be different in another 5 years.  My understanding of God must change as I discover more and more about Him.  When my concept of God becomes static, that there is nothing more I need to know about Him, then my god is too small.  So, I keep growing…

And now you must choose:  Have you given your heart to a god that is too small?  Or have you given your heart to the True God who is more than all other gods combined.  Life is not always simple, but this issue is simple.  For Lent, give up your small god.

The hope for your communities does not lie in who occupies the pulpits nor who sits in these pews, but in Who occupies your hearts and minds with the double portion.  And that is a choice that only you can make.

Cultural Bias–The Bible And Divorced Pastors

 

This is the second in this series around the thoughts of how cultural bias influences the truth of The Bible.  Remember that we all tend to read our personal cultural bias into the understanding and application of The Truth of The Bible.  It is a struggle to set aside personal and cultural biases for the sake of The Holy Writ.  Let me share with you again where I come from.  I am:

  1. A disciple of Jesus
  2. A pastor
  3. I am divorced
  4. I have remarried

I am, with the help of the Holy Spirit, setting aside my personal and cultural biases for the sake of first, understanding The Truth of The Bible and second, a true application of that Truth from The Bible.

And as promised from the first post, I am addressing the issue and question of divorced pastors.  More specifically is this question:  “Is a pastor disqualified  from future service if he or she is divorced?”  Well, let’s just see what we find in The Bible.  Today I am breaking away from my own cultural bias by not using the New Living Translation© nor The Message©, which are my personal favorites.  Instead, I will use the King James Version© because this is the translation that many use to justify their church cultural bias.

1 Timothy 3:1-7

1 This is a true saying, if a man desire the office of a bishop, he desireth a good work.  2 A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife, vigilant, sober, of good behaviour, given to hospitality, apt to teach; 3 Not given to wine, no striker, not greedy of filthy lucre; but patient, not a brawler, not covetous; 4 One that ruleth well his own house, having his children in subjection with all gravity; 5 (For if a man know not how to rule his own house, how shall he take care of the church of God?) 6 Not a novice, lest being lifted up with pride he fall into the condemnation of the devil. 7 Moreover he must have a good report of them which are without; lest he fall into reproach and the snare of the devil.  (emphasis mine)

Titus 1:5-9

5 For this cause left I thee in Crete, that thou shouldest set in order the things that are wanting, and ordain elders in every city, as I had appointed thee:  6 If any be blameless, the husband of one wife, having faithful children not accused of riot or unruly.  7 For a bishop must be blameless, as the steward of God; not self willed, not soon angry, not given to wine, no striker, not given to filthy lucre; 8 But a lover of hospitality, a lover of good men, sober, just, holy, temperate; 9 Holding fast the faithful word as he hath been taught, that he may be able by sound doctrine both to exhort and to convince the gainsayers.  (emphasis mine)

OK, no beating around the bush.  Let’s cut to the chase.  The church cultural bias of many is that if a person has been divorced or remarried after they divorce (some Tribes allow it so long as they don’t remarry) they cannot become a pastor/ preacher/ elder/ deacon.  And if they become divorced while serving in these offices then they are disqualified from any future service.  This cultural bias comes from that one phrase in the King James Version© the husband of one wife.

The application of this phrase is that they cannot, must not ever be divorced.  However, this application is not consistent with the interpretation of this passage.  When Jesus used the word “divorce”, the Greek phrase was apolyō autos gynē.  It means “put away his wife” or in legal terms–divorce.  This is NOT the same wording in either 1 Timothy nor Titus.  The Greek phrase from 1 Timothy 3:2 AND Titus 1:6  is anēr mia gynē, which means guess what?  “The husband of one wife”!  Instead of meaning “They cannot have been divorced, why can’t it mean “They cannot be a polygamist?”  Why can’t it mean, “They cannot have a spouse and someone on the side”?  The phrase anēr mia gynē literally means “one-woman man“.  Furthermore it is written in the PRESENT TENSE, not the PAST TENSE.  The application is for the current condition of the person in question, not their past.

Now, someone reading this may be thinking, “Well, what does the Greek language have to do with all this?”  Many years ago I offended an older “saint” when he challenged my use of modern translations.  He told me, “Look preacher, I only read the original Bible and I think you should, too!”  I replied, “Well, I am impressed with you, truly impressed.”  A bit disarmed, thinking I was paying him a high honor, asked, “What do you mean?”  And I replied, “I had no idea you could read and understand Hebrew and Greek.  This is most impressive.”  His reply was, “I’m not talking about Hebrew and Greek, I’m talking about the King James Version.”  His was offended when I said, “The original Bible was written in Hebrew and Greek.”  To his dying day, I do not think he believed me.

Those who insist that divorce disqualifies anyone from church leadership has applied an application that is inconsistent with the original Truth.  I have noticed that some do give allowances, in fact, the only allowances they claim that The Bible approves of:  adultery or abandonment by the other spouse.  Even this is a misapplication of The Truth of  The Bible.  If someone has been divorced, it is a sin, for any reasons according to God’s Intended Design.  Those 2 exception clauses were added by men, Moses and Paul.  But when we confess our sins, any sin, God forgives us and we are no longer called that by God.  (You can see the previous post here.)

Church Cultural Bias often excludes those who, like myself, have been divorced and remarried because of the wrong application of The Truth of The Bible.  If someone currently possesses those qualifications of leadership share with Timothy and Titus by Paul, then they are qualified to hold those positions and offices regardless of  the fact they may have been through divorce.  If God wipes the slate clean, then why can’t people?

Post Script:  I am not asking, nor expecting, anyone to agree with my applications of The Truths found in The Bible.  I only ask you to consider the possibility, even remote possibility, that you are making a misapplication of Spiritual Truths by bringing into your applications your own biases.  I know sometimes I am guilty of this…

Cultural Bias-The Bible And Divorce

 

This is the first in a series of posts about how cultural biases influence the truth of The Bible.  As I accepted this challenge from the Holy Spirit, I realize, especially on today’s topic, that I am influenced by certain biases based on who I am.  Today’s subject is DIVORCE (and try to imagine Tammy Wynette singing “D-I-V-O-R-C-E“).  My personal culture is challenging me and I confess it is a struggle.  For I am:

  1. A disciple of Jesus
  2. A pastor
  3. I am divorced
  4. I have remarried

On those last 2 bullet points, I will address in the next post.  But for now, let’s just focus on the single issue of divorce and The Bible.  Let’s look at the oldest known manuscript from the New Testament which is Mark 10:2-12

Some Pharisees came and tried to trap him with this question: “Should a man be allowed to divorce his wife?”  Jesus answered them with a question: “What did Moses say in the law about divorce?”  “Well, he permitted it,” they replied. “He said a man can give his wife a written notice of divorce and send her away.”

But Jesus responded, “He wrote this commandment only as a concession to your hard hearts. But ‘God made them male and female’from the beginning of creation. ‘This explains why a man leaves his father and mother and is joined to his wife, and the two are united into one.’ Since they are no longer two but one, let no one split apart what God has joined together.”

10 Later, when he was alone with his disciples in the house, they brought up the subject again. 11 He told them, “Whoever divorces his wife and marries someone else commits adultery against her. 12 And if a woman divorces her husband and marries someone else, she commits adultery.”

To understand what The Bible says about divorce, you need to understand what God says about marriage.  We see this in Genesis 2:24–“This explains why a man leaves his father and mother and is joined to his wife, and the two are united into one.”  Even Jesus quotes this in Mark 10:6-9.  Marriage is a life long commitment of a man and a woman.

So, what about divorce?  There are 2 camps on this issue.  One camp says that since the death of Jesus, this “law” has been abolished.  God is all about the love now and the “law” doesn’t apply.  Sound familiar?  Isn’t it easy to justify our views!  Yet Jesus said in Matthew 5:17-19–17 “Don’t misunderstand why I have come. I did not come to abolish the law of Moses or the writings of the prophets. No, I came to accomplish their purpose. 18 I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not even the smallest detail of God’s law will disappear until its purpose is achieved.”  So much for this cultural bias.

The other camp says that if divorce happens, neither should remarry, otherwise they are guilty of adultery.  Adultery is a violation of the boundaries God provided for His gift of sexual intimacy.  I will address the issue of sexuality later, but for now, let’s understand that the only expression of sexual intimacy that God approves of and blesses is that between husband (man) and wife (woman).

I admit that at times I am not the brightest light bulb in the box, but it is very clear that God, and thus The Bible, does not approve of divorce.  Now remember my own cultural bias–I am divorced and have remarried.

So let’s set the facts:

  1. Divorce is a sin
  2. Remarrying results in adultery, which is also a sin

I believe that the biases around divorce are not about the Principle, rather it is in the Application of this Truth.  I think most of us would agree the divorce violates God’s Intended Design.  So how do we apply this, I’ll call it “Truth Principle”, to the lives, like myself, who are found in the muck and mire of divorce?  I might as well use myself as our case study.

First, I violated God’s Intended Design, thus I had sinned.  How do I apply this Truth Principle to my life?  Well, what should any of us do when we have sinned?  I brought this sin of divorce to the place I had always brought my sin:  to the foot of The Cross.  It wasn’t easy.  The part that wasn’t easy at first was believing He would actually forgive me and give me a fresh start.  After all, I was a “pastor” and would He even want me any longer because of my sin?  I was broken and a mess.

I was ready to pull a “Jonah” and walk away from His calling.  With a handful of people, God used them to let me know that I was forgiven.  But now there were 2 deeper issues for me:  “Could I forgiving myself?  And what does God do with me now?”  There were those who were beating me up over the divorce and I don’t know why.  I was doing a real good job of beating myself up.  Right after the divorce my best friend at night was Jack, Jack Daniels that is.  But God stayed faithful to me and in this process He taught me this:  “Look bonehead, if I can forgive you, and I have, then it’s OK to forgive yourself.  Jesus already took your guilt and condemnation.  You’re carrying around false guilt and false condemnation.  STOP IT, ALREADY!  I’ve got work for you to do!”

The Spirit then reminded me of these passages:

Psalm 103:12 (NLT)

He has removed our sins as far from us as the east is from the west.

Isaiah 43:25 (NLT)

“I—yes, I alone—will blot out your sins for my own sake and will never think of them again.”

2 Corinthians 5:17 (NLT)

This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun!

1 John 1:9  (NLT)

But if we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness.

The Principle Truth of the Bible says that I am forgiven, my sins are forgotten by God, I have a brand new life and that He has cleansed my sin from me.  But the cultural bias says that because I have remarried, I am now guilty of adultery BECAUSE I am divorced.  But am I now guilty of adultery?  Cultural Bias says “YES” But the Principle Truth of The Bible says “NOT AT ALL” because God has forgiven and forgotten my sin.  Had I not brought my sin to The Cross, then most definitely I would be guilty of adultery.

Here’s the application of this Principle Truth of The Bible.  God no longer sees me with the label of “divorced” even though the Cultural Bias calls me more than divorced, it calls me a “Divorced Pastor”.  Tell me this:  if someone was guilty of stealing but repented and confessed to God and trusted by faith in the redeeming work of Jesus on The Cross, do you still call that person “Thief”?  If their sin was gossiping and they turned away and were forgiven by God, do you still call them “Gossiper”?  If she was a prostitute and she came to Jesus and turned away from her old life would you still call her “Whore”?  (I suspect someone reading this is more upset by the word “whore” than the fact they put labels on people that God refuses to put on them.)

Cultural Bias treats divorce different from every other sin because it puts the moniker over the person for the rest of their lives, even though God doesn’t.  I know that to some this may sound like self-justification for my own sin.  But here’s the truth:  I have walked through this dark night of the soul.  I was allowing cultural bias define me rather that the Principle Truths of God’s Word.  And I have approached this subject with great struggle and with even greater humility.  I am NOT one of those who loves to show off my scars.  I would rather keep them hidden.  But if my scars helps one person to be set free from this cultural bias and rip off that horrible name put on them by cultural bias, then God has used my scars for His Glory, and I’m OK with that.

If you are divorced, first and foremost GO TO THE CROSS!  Allow that most precious blood pour over you and hear The Father say, “It’s gone and forgotten!  You are a brand new person!”  Now you are free to live your life by God’s Design.  I have learned much from my sin and apply those lessons every day.  God brought a wonderful gift into my life when I was in the dark night of my soul.  Her name is Debbie.  Debbie lavished God’s Grace on me and though I was reluctant (I mean VERY reluctant) to fall in love with her, I did.  I see her as one of God’s wonderful gifts and try (not always successfully) to treat her the way any of God’s gifts need to be treated.  With respect, honor, gratitude and joy.

wedding reception

Are We Reading Cultural Biases Into The Bible?

 

Lately I have been troubled, more so than usual, about an issue that surrounds the Bible.  And my troubled spirit revolves about this question:  “What does The Bible say about                                 ?  Simply fill in the blank with any topic or issue.  My issue is not about what The Bible speaks into our hearts, but what WE speak into The Bible as we read it.

I am seeing and hearing a lot of what I call “cultural bias” into what The Bible says.  For the sake of thought, allow me to define what I mean by “cultural bias”  Cultural bias is “the tendency for people to judge concepts and interpret ideas and truths through a narrow view based on their own culture.”  In other words, we read into The Bible the influences of our culture.  One of those influences, especially for the Western Church (by this I mean mainline U.S. churches), is what we have been told it means.  Sometimes this meaning is an age-old meaning.  It is what we believe, what our parents believed, what our grandparents believed, ad infinitum.  At other times, it’s the modern, more “enlightened” view.

Randolph Richards and Brandon O’Brien wrote a book, Misreading Scripture with Western Eyes.  In this book they point out 2 immediate dangers by reading the Bible with these “western eyes”.  First is making yourself the center of this search for the meaning of the Bible.  We tend to search for things we think are relevant us to and ignore the rest.  The other immediate danger they describe is, well I’ll just quote them:  “Second, and perhaps more seriously, a me-centered approach to the Bible confuses application with meaning. Simply put, I am not the focus of the Bible’s meaning; Christ is.”

While this may explain some of the issues, it does not address all of them.  Over the next few posts, I am going to look and speak into some of our “church cultural biases” into some issues.  And it may be that when we see how we have made “our” culture central in what The Bible says on these issues, there may be other, call them truths or principles of The Bible that we have read “our” interpretation into those passages to the exclusion of any other possible meanings.

I guess what I am attempting to do is to ask, “Where are we wrong when it comes to the truth of The Bible?”  And here is where you, the readers, can participate in this journey.  I am going to list some of what I see as “church culture biases” as it pertains to understanding what The Bible says.  I would like to invite you to post in the comments section other things that have been either long-hold or modern interpretations of what The Bible says about “life issues”.  So far here is my list in no particular order of importance, and please feel free to add to the list or share your insights.

  • What does the Bible really say about divorce?
  • Are those who have been divorced really excluded from church leadership?
  • Are ‘deacons’ and ‘elders’ to be considered clergy (pastors/preachers) or laity (the person in the pew)?  Who’s right?
  • Who is ‘authorized’ to administer (or serve) Holy Communion/The Lord’s Supper/The Eucharist/The Mass?
  • What does The Bible really say about women as teachers, pastors, or preachers?
  • What does The Bible really say about human sexuality?
  • Does The Bible approve of slavery?  What does it really say about it?
  • Which is a more accurate term:  Christian or Disciple?
  • What does The Bible say about “the church”?
  • Does God insist on us being a “Christian” nation, and does this fulfill our mission?
  • What is the “proper” way to worship?

Well, for right now, this is all I can think of; so if you have more ideas or questions, or arguments, share below in “Comments”.  Right now I am like the cat who ate some cheese and then went to wait beside the mouse hole.  “I am waiting with baited breath!”

Give Up Mediocrity!

(Note:  This is the third in my Lent Series “Give It Up!”  It is about the things we need to give up and not take back up at Easter)

 

Revelation 3:14-22 

14 Write to Laodicea, to the Angel of the church.  God’s Yes, the Faithful and Accurate Witness, the First of God’s creation, says:

15-17 “I know you inside and out, and find little to my liking.  You’re not cold, you’re not hot—far better to be either cold or hot!  You’re stale.  You’re stagnant.  You make me want to vomit.  You brag, ‘I’m rich, I’ve got it made, I need nothing from anyone,’ oblivious that in fact you’re a pitiful, blind beggar, threadbare and homeless.

18 Here’s what I want you to do:  Buy your gold from me, gold that’s been through the refiner’s fire.  Then you’ll be rich.  Buy your clothes from me, clothes designed in Heaven.  You’ve gone around half-naked long enough.  And buy medicine for your eyes from me so you can see, really see.

19 “The people I love, I call to account—prod and correct and guide so that they’ll live at their best.  Up on your feet, then! About face!  Run after God!

20-21 Look at me.  I stand at the door. I knock. If you hear me call and open the door, I’ll come right in and sit down to supper with you. Conquerors will sit alongside me at the head table, just as I, having conquered, took the place of honor at the side of my Father. That’s my gift to the conquerors!

22 Are your ears awake?  Listen.  Listen to the Wind Words, the Spirit blowing through the churches.”

As we continue looking at what we need to give up for Lent and beyond, today’s challenge is Give Up Mediocrity!  Do you feel stuck in space and time?  Then the culprit is more than likely mediocrity.  And if you are comfortable or enjoying being stuck in space and time, then there is no doubt about it, you are living in amplified and magnified mediocrity.

What’s the definition of mediocrity?  I’m so glad you asked.  It’s The Quality Or State Of Being Only Ordinary Or Moderate Quality; Neither Good Nor Bad; Barely Adequate; The Consequence Of Being Average And Not Outstanding.

Maybe the synonyms for this word will bring the meaning into focus:  undistinguished, commonplace, everyday; run-of-the-mill.  It comes from the Latin that means “half-way up the mountain”.  It was used to describe a mountain climber who made it half way up a mountain, but then came back down.  Mediocrity Is Just Being Average, Or As Jesus Put It In His Message To Laodicea, “Lukewarm”.

We can decide that we are going to move beyond mediocrity and do something new.  But pastor and writer Carey Nieuwhof said this in his series “Doing Time”:  “The reality is this:  That you still bring ‘you’ into anything new that you do.”

Several years ago, the Gallop poll asked this question:  How Engaged Are You At Work?  Engaged means they feel a sense of connection with their work and they are committed to doing the best they can.  71% responded they were Disengaged.  Of the other 21%, 12% were on Facebook and 17% were playing Candy Crush.   No, I made that part up.  The truth is only 21% were engaged in their work; meaning they are connected to their work and have the desire to do the best job possible.   Answer this question:  How Engaged Are You?  At work?  With Community?  With Family?  In God’s Kingdom?

I wonder if we have theologized our way into mediocrity.  I agree that the Spirit does the work and often works in spite of ourselves.  But, have we relied so much on that theology that we don’t even try to do our own work and mission with a sense of being engaged because we have a theology that says, “Hey, God works even if we suck”?

Isaac Newton’s first law of motion is an object will remain motionless or uniform in motion unless acted upon by an external force.  People are a lot like that—motionless or going through the motions until acted upon by some external force.  So, if you can remember only 1 thing from today’s message, this is it:  Mediocrity Is Destroyed When Your Heart Is Fully Engaged With Life.  There are not enough cosmetics to cover over this curse of mediocrity.  No plastic surgeon is skillful enough to remove the scars created by the life of mediocrity.

Mediocrity is what provides the fuel for selfishness and that selfishness promotes that vile and wicked spirit of consumerism!  Consumerism is a leach.  Leeches attach themselves to other lives and sucks the life right out of them.  There are 3 key symptoms of Mediocrity:

One Symptom Of Mediocrity Is Procrastination

Life can lose its sense of urgency.  When you do, your priorities change from putting first things first, to putting yourself first.  It becomes easier and easier to push God’s agenda aside.  Procrastination is the failure to remain attentive to what God is doing and what God is wanting to be done.   It is setting aside God’s desire for glory for our personal convenience. This is one reason why Mediocrity is a curse and fails to glorify God.

Another Symptom Of Mediocrity Is Lethargy

When I talk of lethargy, I mean a serious condition in which you literally don’t get anywhere in life.  The lethargic person is that person who Greg Groeschel calls a “Christian atheist”—claiming to be Christian but living as if God doesn’t exist.  I found this interesting about that word lethargy.  It comes from the Greek word meaning “forgetfulness”.  It’s forgetting what is most important in life.  Lethargy is the failure to take it upon yourself to take action in your life and make the best of it.  So you become just average.  Mediocrity is a curse because it doesn’t change what’s wrong in your heart, and you fail to glorify God.

The Third Symptom Of Mediocrity Is Timidity

Timidity is the failure to trust God with all aspects of your life.  Timidity finds all kinds of excuses, great sounding excuses why you cannot excel in life.  Timidity promotes that false humility which excludes you from what God wants to do with your life for your community.  Accepting average for and from yourself closes the door to the renewing work of the Holy Spirit.  Because Mediocrity promotes that false humility, it fails to glorify God.

Think of being mediocre and being lukewarm as one in the same—because they are.  This was the problem at Laodicea.  Doing just enough to feel good about themselves while sinking down like they were in quicksand; and that will literally crush our lives.  An ordinary life never experiences the extraordinary Grace of God.  So how can we break free of being just average?  Well, may I suggest you begin doing what Jesus told the church at Laodicea to do?  3 critical decisions you need to make for God to break you free from Mediocrity:

Step 1:  Commit Your Life To Holiness

Vs. 18a—Buy your gold from me, gold that’s been through the refiner’s fire.  Holiness is found by living each day within The Virtues Of God.  And Paul gives us a practical but challenging way to live in these Virtues in Philippians 4:8—Summing it all up, friends, I’d say you’ll do best by filling your minds and meditating on things true, noble, reputable, authentic, compelling, gracious—the best, not the worst; the beautiful, not the ugly; things to praise, not things to curse.  When you fill your mind with these things, your words and actions become Holy and YOU become Holy.  We live by the things we think about. Step 2:

Step 2:  Decide To Live Righteously

Vs. 18b—Buy your clothes from me, clothes designed in Heaven.  God wants to make us righteous and He does by giving us the righteousness of Christ.  Then God wants us to live righteously—to live in the right way.  Paul describes this in Colossians 3:12-13—So, chosen by God for this new life of love, dress in the wardrobe God picked out for you: compassion, kindness, humility, quiet strength, discipline. Be even-tempered, content with second place, quick to forgive an offense. Forgive as quickly and completely as the Master forgave you.  Treat people the way Jesus treats them.  Help people the way Jesus helps them.  Let every decision be what is right—not what is easy or convenient. Step 3:

Step 3:  Become Engaged With God’s Mission

Vs. 18c—And buy medicine for your eyes from me so you can see, really see.   God’s Mission is clear in 2 Corinthians 5:19-20—God put the world square with himself through the Messiah, giving the world a fresh start by offering forgiveness of sins.  God has given us the task of telling everyone what He is doing.  We’re Christ’s representatives.  God uses us to persuade men and women to drop their differences and enter into God’s work of making things right between them.  We’re speaking for Christ himself now: Become friends with God; he’s already a friend with you.  Average and ordinary simply does not cut the mustard when it comes to the Mission of God.  If you are not bringing people to Jesus, you’re failing in the Mission.  It takes extraordinary people—and you will become extraordinary when you are filled with the Holy Spirit and allow The Spirit to equip and empower you for God’s Mission.

Do you feel stuck in space and time?  Then the culprit is more than likely mediocrity.  And if you are comfortable or enjoying being stuck in space and time, then there is no doubt about it, you are living in amplified and magnified mediocrity.  And you make God nauseated.  Don’t be lukewarm!  Be cold or hot, but don’t make God nauseated.