Monday, December 5, 2011

I am not a Butterfly

Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come.

When trying to find an analogy for 2 Corinthians 5:17, preachers seem to always pick the caterpillar-to-butterfly metamorphosis as their prime example and best proof-text of how to explain what it means to be a "new creature."   They apparently think it's a good analogy because it demonstrates a creature of one type becoming a creature of another type, which does seem to fit the pattern being described by Paul in this instance.

The problem, as I see it, is that I'm not a butterfly.  I don't understand what it means to be a caterpillar, to gorge myself on leaves, spin a cocoon and hope for the best, that I might later emerge as a butterfly and flutter about a flowery field.  I don't know about you, but that's just not in my realm of possibilities, let alone personal experience.

I suppose the main problem I have with this analogy is that it requires too much of the imaginative.  While we can clearly observe the changes that have taken place in the metamorphic process, I really have no I idea what it's like from the perspective of the caterpillar nor from the reborn butterfly.  I can assume that the caterpillar likes to crawl around on trees eat leaves, for that's what I know of it's existence.  I can further assume that the butterfly likes to flutter about in the wind and light upon various types flowers for lunch and dinner.  But that's about it really.

But I can't really apply any of those things to my life as a Child of God, unless I delve into legalism.

The butterfly and the caterpillar do different things by mode of their basic natures.  We could say that the spirit of both creatures is entirely different.  But for the struggling Child of God, the one who doesn't understand the nature of their battles, they will take this metamorphic example and force themselves into different behaviors.  They clothe themselves with Man's righteousness and Man's laws: don't taste, don't touch, don't handle (Colosians 2:20) or my favorite Baptist mantra: "don't drink or smoke or chew, or go with those that do."  And so they will begin the journey of self righteousness and self flagellation, from which springs the ever so prevalent attitudes that we associate with the sanctimonious.

Is there a better analogy? I think there is, and I believe scripture provides the appropriate picture.
For the married woman is bound by law to her husband while he is living; but if her husband dies, she is released from the law concerning the husband. (Romans 7:2)

Let us rejoice and be glad and give the glory to Him, for the marriage of the Lamb has come and His bride has made herself ready.”  It was given to her to clothe herself in fine linen, bright and clean; for the fine linen is the righteous acts of the saints.  Then he said to me, “Write, ‘Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.’” And he said to me, “These are true words of God.” (Revelation 19:7-9)
 When two people are joined in marriage, a new covenant is born within each of them.  They have together a new relationship, a new life.  Their motives change from serving self interests, to serving one another.  The old ways of sharing their heart with different people has been discarded: they now share intimacy with only one person - their spouse.  Before marriage, they lived alone, now they live together.  Before marriage, they sojourned alone, now they sojourn together.  Before marriage, they longed for someone to share their life, now they no longer search for that special someone. You see, the marriage covenant transforms us into new creatures: the old things have passed away, and the new has come.

But it also does something else: it shows us that there are things which we carry with us into this new life: attitudes and beliefs that must be discarded.  While the metamorphic example of the caterpillar is very good at demonstrating the complete and radical change which does take place at the new birth, it lacks that which the picture of marriage provides by helping us understand that core of our existence, our new life, is now a relationship with Jesus Christ.

Without a doubt, there are sometimes things that Jesus will completely and radically deliver us from, while there are other things that He leads us through a process of dying to self.  One of my former pastors was an alcoholic before he was born again.  Immediately after being saved, he was freed from that addiction.  But there are other people for which such radical and immediate deliverance does not occur.  Rather, through the process of learning who God is and who they are in Christ, God delivers them from their bondage.

And the same is true in marriage.  There are those of us who just have not integrated some the parameters of the new relationship, but we have a mate who is more than willing to help us see our errors and failures in our understanding of the relationship.  And through grace - that being their willingness to show us our errors and our response of changing our behaviors - we're able to grow in our relationship with our spouse.

So the next time your considering what it means to be a new creature, consider the marriage relationship and what exactly it means. Scripture encourages us to "not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that {we} may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect."  The renewing of the mind is a process, it is a journey of relationship with God that we must choose to participate in.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

He is the Potter, you are the clay?

Are you the clay, completely passive, turned which ever way - whether you choose that path or not?  That is generally how this passage is taught: we're the clay, He is the potter, what we think or want doesn't matter.

And then we wonder why our lives are such a mess, why we're in debt up to our necks, why our marriages are failing, and why we never have money to pay our bills.  Typically we just blame our problems on someone else rather than formulating a budget, or seeking after Jesus.  In the pulpits and seminaries we create doctrines based from reaction rather than the word of God.

So lets take another look at God's perspective of your relationship to Him, where you're the clay and He's the potter.
The word which came to Jeremiah from the LORD saying,  "Arise and go down to the potter’s house, and there I will announce My words to you."  Then I went down to the potter’s house, and there he was, making something on the wheel. But the vessel that he was making of clay was spoiled in the hand of the potter; so he remade it into another vessel, as it pleased the potter to make.
Then the word of the LORD came to me saying, "Can I not, O house of Israel, deal with you as this potter does?" declares the LORD. "Behold, like the clay in the potter’s hand, so are you in My hand, O house of Israel.  At one moment I might speak concerning a nation or concerning a kingdom to uproot, to pull down, or to destroy it;  {but} if that nation against which I have spoken turns from its evil, I will relent concerning the calamity I planned to bring on it. Or at another moment I might speak concerning a nation or concerning a kingdom to build up or to plant it;  {but} if it does evil in My sight by not obeying My voice, then I will think better of the good with which I had promised to bless it. 
So now then, speak to the men of Judah and against the inhabitants of Jerusalem saying, ‘Thus says the LORD, "Behold, I am fashioning calamity against you and devising a plan against you. Oh turn back, each of you from his evil way, and reform your ways and your deeds."’
But they will say, ‘It’s hopeless! For we are going to follow our own plans, and each of us will act according to the stubbornness of his evil heart.’ (Jeremiah   18:1-13)
Clay Always Yields Correctly
Jeremiah observed that the clay never opposed the potter, rather that in the hands of a master potter, the clay will always be made into that thing which is envisioned, even if the first go-around he spoils it.  But at no time will the clay refuse to cooperate: the potter can always add more water or pressure.

In response to this observation, God stated "Can I not, O house of Israel, deal with you as the potter does?"  Although the rhetorical answer is yes, this is where most people leave the rails and get confused about the prescribed analogy.  God could mold us into anything He desired - "behold, like the clay in the potter’s hand, so are you in My hand, O house of Israel," but the truth of the matter is that He's not going too.  In most cases, we don't see the implied "but" in the analogy between clay and Man.

You Have a Choice
There is a vast difference between non-resistant, always yielding clay and you.  God revealed this truth when He said "Oh turn back, each of you from his evil way, and reform your ways and your deeds."  And Israel echoed the same truth when they said, in their refusal, "it is hopeless!  For we are going to follow our own plans..."  At that exact point Israel agreed with God that they were not perfect analogs of the clay in the potters hand.  In essence God said that He has the power to fashion them into what ever He wished, but instead He would fashion them in response to their actions in His hand.  In effect, the clay has a mind of it's own, a free will and God responds to our choices.  If that makes you bristle, then read the following again:
if that nation against which I have spoken turns from its evil, I will relent concerning the calamity I planned to bring on it. Or at another moment I might speak concerning a nation or concerning a kingdom to build up or to plant it; if it does evil in My sight by not obeying My voice, then I will think better of the good with which I had promised to bless it. 
Those are clear and indisputable truths regarding how God responds to man's actions.

When does the clay say "you're making me into a cup when I wanted to be a pitcher?"  It doesn't, it simply accepts the fashion provided by the maker.  Man, on the other hand, having a free will may say 'I don't want to be a cup - I will not follow your fashion, but instead I will make myself a different vessel, according to my own will and desire.'

Consider again, "if that nation against which I have spoken turns from its evil, I will relent concerning the calamity I planned to bring on it," and " if it does evil in My sight by not obeying My voice, then I will think better of the good with which I had promised to bless it."  In both cases, the object of God's work (man) chooses a path they will take, which is most unlike the clay that has no say in the matter.  And based upon the path chosen, God provides a fashion divergent from His original plans when he changes His mind regarding the good or the calamity He initially chose - based upon the response man provides.

Useful vs. Non-useful
The point of the story is two fold.  First, the only time one is molded into a useful shape by God is when one behaves like clay and choose to yield to His desires.  In the process of God making us into the image of Christ, there is a two way communication.  God leads in one direction and we yield and follow.
I will instruct you and teach you in the way which you should go;  I will counsel you with My eye upon you.  (Psalm 32:8)
Then Jesus said to His disciples, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me. (Matthew 16:24)
Secondly, one is not molded into a useful shape by God when one refuses to yield to His leadership.  When we refuse to yield and follow our desires instead of His, then we reap the evils of that which we have sown.
A man who hardens his neck after much reproof will suddenly be broken beyond remedy. (Proverbs 29:1)
So, the only time you're an actual representation of the clay being made into something useful is when you yield to His will, by taking up your cross and following Him.
So Jesus was saying to those Jews who had believed Him, “If you continue in My word,then you are truly disciples of Mine; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free. (John 8:31-32)
Let me ask this question: if you continue in His word, will you be a disciple of Him, will you know the truth and will that truth make you free?  Assuming the answer is yes, then what made you free?  Grace made you free, God made you free.  On the other hand, if you do not continue in His word, are then His disciple?  Will  you know the truth and will it make you free?  The answer is no: you are not His disciple, you will believe a lie and the lie will put you into bondage.

It's about how you choose to respond
Therefore, the question you must answer is this: do you really have no will in your relationship with God?  Apparently you do, otherwise God would not have said, "Oh turn back, each of you from his evil way, and reform your ways and your deeds."  Look at your life, and your circumstances and your relationship with God.  What do these things reflect?  Are they testimony of a refusal to participate with God, or a testimony of your cooperation with God?  Please understand that I'm not advocating the health and wealth doctrine, for we are to "consider it all joy, my brethren, when {we} encounter various trials,  knowing that the testing of {our} faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing."  But there are indicators of our choices all around us.  Do you see the fruit of the Spirit or the corruption of the flesh?

Take some time and determine if you're following Jesus and refusing to be "conformed to this world"  Determine this: are you are instead being "transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect?"

Allow God to make you into a useful vessel by cooperating with Him.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Grace, Faith and Yielding

I've said before that grace is that thing which makes us into something we cannot become on our own.  But I think people just don't get it.  There's more to it than just sitting back on our laurels and soaking it up, and that's where I believe people generally error.

I have been misunderstood to be making grace into something it's not.  And I can't say that I blame them, since I seemingly suggest that we think about it in non-traditional ways.  But a traditionalist I am not, so if you're looking for run of the mill traditional thought on this subject, then you might as well move along now, because you're not getting it from me.


So, lets start with sovereignty.  What is it and what is the opposite of sovereignty?  Lets start with the converse, the opposite of sovereignty: what is that?  If you're thinking "man's free will" is the opposite of sovereignty, then you get the Gong (remember the Gong Show?) - in other words, "no: man's free will is not the opposite of sovereignty."  Not convinced?  Well, then lets take a look at Meriam-Webster:
  1. Obsolete : supreme excellence or an example of it
  2. Supreme power especially over a body politic
    • freedom from external control : autonomy
    • controlling influence
  3. One that is sovereign; especially : an autonomous state 
The take-away from this definition is two fold: the first thing we notice is the concept of autonomy and freedom from external control.  The second thing is it's controlling influence.  In other words, you being sovereign, get to make your own autonomous, controlling and influential decisions free from external control and external considerations (that's free will, by the way).  See?  Man's free will is not the opposite of sovereignty, free will is sovereignty defined.  So, what is the opposite of sovereignty?


I submit to you, that grace is the opposite of sovereignty.  Whoa, hold on a minute: didn't God in His sovereignty fore ordain that we should be saved by grace?  How then is grace not sovereign?  Well, for starters, you're confusing God's autonomy in choosing the mechanism through which salvation is effected with the mechanism itself.  Did God choose to use grace?  Yes. Was that decision sovereign?  Yes, of course it was.  But is grace sovereignty defined?  No, it's not.  Consider the scripture  
 ... {while} in our transgressions, {He} made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that {salvation} not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.. (Ephesians 2:5-10)
Wow, that sounds like a lot of sovereignty to me, doesn't it to you?  And you'd be right - there is a lot of that  being expressed there.   But lets take take a look at something else:
He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. This is the judgment, that the Light has come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the Light, for their deeds were evil. For everyone who does evil hates the Light, and does not come to the Light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. But he who practices the truth comes to the Light, so that his deeds may be manifested as having been wrought in God. (John 3:18-21)
Now the parable is this: the seed is the word of God. Those beside the road are those who have heard; then the devil comes and takes away the word from their heart, so that they will not believe and be saved. ... But the seed in the good soil, these are the ones who have heard the word in an honest and good heart, and hold it fast, and bear fruit with perseverance. (Luke 8:11-15)
So, what's the point?  The point is faith: belief and trust is faith: "for by grace you have been saved through faith" and "He who believes in Him is not judged."

Thus, the necessary rhetorical question is: can a person be saved who lacks faith?  Obviously, the answer is no.  Thus, salvation (which comes by grace) only happens in the presence of, or as scripture puts it "through faith."  Therefore, salvation is not an act of sovereignty on Gods part, but an act of God in conjunction with the faith of the sinner.  Thus, sovereignty says "I will do this thing outside of any consideration of you", whereas grace says "I will do this thing only in conjunction with you."  Which is why repentance and reconciliation are required for salvation: repentance (my turning towards God) is the turning away from that which causes offence and reconciliation means to change mutually.  Both only occur through trust and belief (faith).
Now all these things are from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation, namely, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and He has committed to us the word of reconciliation.  (2 Corinthians 5:18)
.. solemnly testifying to both Jews and Greeks of repentance toward God and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. (Acts 20:21)
In the two verses above, we see our requirements of entering into that ministry of reconciliation through faith.

I understand that for some, this is a hard thing to grasp.  But we must separate what God does from how He chooses to do it:
So then, does He who provides you with the Spirit and works miracles among you, do it by the works of the Law, or by hearing with faith?  (Galatians 3:5)
And the rhetorical answer is "by hearing with faith."  And so it is with spiritual gifts: while they are freely given (charisma - grace gift), they are not exercised without our cooperation.  Which means we are not puppets of God.  We can choose to exercise our gifts and follow God, or we can choose to run away like Jonah.


In one sense, the only valid work we can do with God is cooperation.  In many cases our cooperation is just as simple as faith.  In other cases, it's yielding ourselves to Him.  In other instances, it's resisting the devil and drawing near to God.  All of these actions are examples of our cooperating with God.  Finding someone willing to cooperate with God is of paramount importance to Him:
I searched for a man among them who would build up the wall and stand in the gap before Me for the land, so that I would not destroy it; but I found no one.  (Ezekiel 22:30)
The passage above is a clear example of the results of sovereignty and grace.  One one hand, God was ready to destroy the land  (sovereignty), but on the other hand, He wanted to show mercy and save the land.  But what was lacking: "a man among them who would ... stand in the gap."  What was He looking for?   Fortitude, intercession, faith and cooperation: a space to express grace.

Consider also the seven years of plenty followed by the seven years of famine:
It is as I have spoken to Pharaoh: God has shown to Pharaoh what He is about to do.  Behold, seven years of great abundance are coming in all the land of Egypt; and after them seven years of famine will come, and all the abundance will be forgotten in the land of Egypt, and the famine will ravage the land. So the abundance will be unknown in the land because of that subsequent famine; for it will be very severe. Now as for the repeating of the dream to Pharaoh twice, it means that the matter is determined by God, and God will quickly bring it about.  Now let Pharaoh look for a man discerning and wise, and set him over the land of Egypt. Let Pharaoh take action to appoint overseers in charge of the land, and let him exact a fifth of the produce of the land of Egypt in the seven years of abundance.  (Genesis 41:28-34)
God was acting in sovereignty, with providence and in grace in this example.  Through sovereignty and providence He provided the dream, the plenty and the famine.  Through grace he provided the interpretation, the produce and the ability to harvest the land.

Living by the Spirit

Which brings me to yielding.  I've often wondered how to reconcile being filled with the spirit (Ephesians 5:18), and walking in the spirit (Galatians 5:16) and dying to self (Matthew 16:24), and last but not least, being transformed by God (Philippians 1:6).  At times, they seem incompatible, and most certainly if you spend any time in the average church, you will get seemingly conflicting and incompatible ideas regarding all of them.  So I spent a lot of time considering spirit - what is it?  Well, God is spirit.  Jesus has given us the comforter, His Holy Spirit.  Jesus described spirit as wind.  I even determined that the effects of His Holy Spirit demonstrate the affections of God (that's a play on words, but it works out correctly).  I've understood that the spirit behind the 10 Commandments is one of protection, concern and love - not of "I'm a Holy God and I get to make the rules, so do or die."

Unfortunately, I've not come to any grand conclusions.  I've had to be taken back a step, back to yielding.  It turns out that in the moment by moment decisions that we are presented with, yielding to one thing or the other is what it all boils down to: do I perform this thing, or that thing?  Do this or that?

In the end, we've got to make a choice.  We will yield to the flesh, or we will yield to His Holy Spirit.  Is it that simple?  Apparently so, for God did say, "Submit therefore to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. Draw near to God and He will draw near to you." (James 4:7-8)  In order to submit, resist and draw, you must yield to His Holy Spirit and die to self: you must cooperate with God and in doing so, you receive grace to overcome.

Sometimes, yielding is not an easy choice.  But it is fundamental to living in the Spirit, dying to self, being filled with the Spirit and being transformed by God.  And it puts us in a position of living in Grace, as opposed to being fallen from grace.  For when we are fallen from grace, we are living in our own strength, making our own way and working to build ourselves up with our own hands.

Yielding to His Holy Spirit and living in grace is a much better option, don't you think?

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Being The Intercessor

I'm on a different leg of the journey now, which isn't surprising.  It seems that I'm always discovering or learning something knew - I think it has something to do with Philippians 1:6.  Actually, a couple of things have captured my attention recently, but intercession has really been at the forefront my thoughts.

I've always understood (at least intellectually) the concept of standing in the gap.  As a matter of fact, I've been called to do that on several occasions, unbeknownst to those who were blessed in the end.  But it was the process of standing in that gap on at least one occasion that the gravity of the situation was made clear to me.  From that point on, being the intercessor or the one who stands in the gap had new meaning, a deeper and urgent unction that made the process, at least to me, a reverent burden with catastrophic consequences should one be flippant, ignore or fail in their responsibilities.

You would think that in and of itself would be enough for one person, that the lesson had been learned.  But I'm afraid that for me, it hasn't been.  For on that one occasion (that is most memorable to me), I understood the problem at hand.  I had lived it, I had made the same mistakes, said the same things, exercised the same misjudgements.  But somewhere along the way, God revealed to me the sinfulness of my attitudes and that it had to go, that I must to die to self in that regard.  So when I saw it in someone else, I understood it for I had lived it, and I was grieved because I knew it was something that the Lord despised.

I wrestled with it for about a day, and just at the point when I had determined that there was nothing I could do to change the situation (and there truly was not), and nothing I could do to change the person (and truly, there was not), I was ready to leave the whole mess alone and let God deal with it.  And it was then that I remembered Moses (Exodus 32):
The LORD said to Moses, “I have seen this people, and behold, they are an obstinate people. Now then let Me alone, that My anger may burn against them and that I may destroy them; and I will make of you a great nation.” 
Then Moses entreated the LORD his God, and said, “O LORD, why does Your anger burn against Your people whom You have brought out from the land of Egypt with great power and with a mighty hand? Why should the Egyptians speak, saying, ‘With evil intent He brought them out to kill them in the mountains and to destroy them from the face of the earth’? Turn from Your burning anger and change Your mind about doing harm to Your people. Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, Your servants to whom You swore by Yourself, and said to them, ‘I will multiply your descendants as the stars of the heavens, and all this land of which I have spoken I will give to your descendants, and they shall inherit it forever.’” So the LORD changed His mind about the harm which He said He would do to His people.
 And I remembered Ezekiel 22:30:
I searched for a man among them who would build up the wall and stand in the gap before Me for the land, so that I would not destroy it; but I found no one.
And it was then that the Lord said, "so, you're just going to leave him be and not stand in the gap?"

I have no idea what the Lord had in mind for him should I refuse - and it doesn't matter.  I just know that I spent two or three days in constant communion and prayer until the burden was gone and I was released from my responsibilities as a gap stander.

But as I have circled back to this gap standing doctrine, I have learned that there is something else that I was unaware of before:

The Identification of the Intercessor

I really didn't get this the first times through, but it's becoming clearer to me now.  There are examples of this identification of the intercessor all through out scripture.  I alluded to it above, in the quote from Exodus 32.  But there's more to the story.  A little later on, we find that
On the next day Moses said to the people, “You yourselves have committed a great sin; and now I am going up to the LORD, perhaps I can make atonement for your sin.” Then Moses returned to the LORD, and said, “Alas, this people has committed a great sin, and they have made a god of gold for themselves. But now, if You will, forgive their sin—and if not, please blot me out from Your book which You have written!
This is one example of standing in the gap, of being the intercessor:  it is a "take me instead of them" attitude, a "count me just as guilty as they are" and "account their guilt to me" position.  When you stand in the gap, or protect someone else, you identify your whole self with them.  It is this identification that is integral to the act of interceding on the behalf of another.

The apostle Paul said that
I have made myself a slave to all, so that I may win more. To the Jews I became as a Jew, so that I might win Jews; to those who are under the Law, as under the Law though not being myself under the Law, so that I might win those who are under the Law; to those who are without law, as without law, though not being without the law of God but under the law of Christ, so that I might win those who are without law. To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak; I have become all things to all men, so that I may by all means save some. I do all things for the sake of the gospel, so that I may become a fellow partaker of it. (1 Cor 9:19-32)
Paul is speaking to the point of identifying himself with those to whom he was a witness and on whose behalf he interceded.  In his case, he was identifying with or becoming one of the people to whom he spoke and to whom he lived out his life.  In other words, he knew that from the perspective the Jew, the Gentile and the weak, an acceptable sacrifice was to become one of them, to understand their life, their hurts, and their perceptions of reality from their point of view.  This identification gave Paul an authority in their lives, not because he was an apostle, but because from their point of view, he was one of them.

Jesus also identified Himself with us:
Therefore, He had to be made like His brethren in all things, so that He might become a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. For since He Himself was tempted in that which He has suffered, He is able to come to the aid of those who are tempted.
These actions of Jesus resulted in Him sitting down at the right hand of God and living to make intercession for us. (Mark 16:19, Hebrews 12: 2).  But don't miss the other points of these truths: it was for the "joy set before Him" that he endured the cross, which in the end enabled Him to take His place of intercession.

And in seeing the joy set before Him, how does one thereby endure the cross?  By dying to self.  For we all are to take up our cross daily, resulting in the same thing: dying to self.  Intercession is not just about praying: it's just as much about dying to self as it is about living your life in such a way that another is edified, which is love, for "love edifies" (1 Cor 1:8), and we all know that God so loved the world that He gave His only Son.

I knew someone once, I'll call him Crosby, who took on the task of mentoring a young man, which we'll call Nash.  Nash was your typical young college student who had definitive ideas about life and how the world should work.  Crosby on the other hand, had been there and done all of that and had thus far, lived a long, full life in the Lord.  He had been to seminary and earned several degrees.  Furthermore, as being in his early 60's, he viewed himself as an Elder in the church, and as one who had earned some respect.  He clearly believed he had a lot to offer in a mentoring relationship, or any relationship for that matter.  Nevertheless, the mentoring relationship eventually broke down and the meetings ceased.  It was explained to Nash's parents that the young man simply didn't provide Crosby the proper respect and that as such, the relationship couldn't move forward.

As a mentor or accountability partner (as we like to call it these days), it is not our place to choose the death, or the dying to self of the other person.  How God chooses to work in some ones life is His business, not ours.  Our job is to facilitate the process (Eph 4:15-16).  If we enter into an accountability or mentoring relationship and start nit-picking this thing or that thing, then what we're actually doing is judging the other person.  And any one who judges another person usurps God's authority makes himself a judge of the Law (James 4:11).

What Crosby did was fail to identify himself with his younger protege.  He found a particular spec in his brothers' eye and neglected to see the log in his own eye.  And having not removed his log so that he could better identify with his younger brother and help Nash remove his spec, his completely missed the opportunity to be an intercessor for his brother. (Matt 7:1-5)

You see folks, if you want to stand in the gap, if you want to be an intercessor for this or that, then you must get serious with God.  You really don't have a right to tell someone to not steal or cheat or refrain from drunkenness when you yourself are a cheat and a thief and drink too much.  If you really want to be the George Mueller of your generation, then pick up your cross and get busy with God and die to your selfish desires.  Revival comes through and after repentance.  If you truly want revival, then first find out what God wants removed from your life, those hidden, unyielding areas; give them up and remove them.  And once God has brought revival into your life, intercede on the behalf of another, then another, and so-on until God gives you (and/or others) the authority to intercede for your entire church or community.  That's what Moses did.  He started with a burden for his people as son of Pharaoh's daughter, then spent a number of years in isolation from his people in Egypt where his vision for their freedom died and God made him in to a different man (Acts 7, Exodus 3).

So don't assume that this is an easy, overnight process.  Bible scholars tell us that Jesus lived on this earth 33 years and we know that He spent at least three years of concentrated devotion for one purpose: to identify with His people so that He could go to the cross, die to self, fix His eyes on the joy set before Him, and live to make intercession for us all.
I searched for a man among them who would build up the wall and stand in the gap before Me for the land, so that I would not destroy it; but I found no one. (Ezekiel 22:30)
Then I heard the voice of the Lord, saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for Us?” Then I said, “Here am I. Send me!” (Isaiah 6:8)

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Moving Towards Maturity

Love never fails; but if there are gifts of prophecy, they will be done away; if there are tongues, they will cease; if there is knowledge, it will be done away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part; but when the perfect comes, the partial will be done away. (1 Corinthians 13:8-10)

There has been no end of debate regarding what is exactly being referred to by "when the perfect comes." Some have asserted that the perfect is Jesus Christ. This argument is used support the necessity of spiritual gifts to this day that others maintain have vanished. The reasoning is that Jesus has not returned and set every thing aright, therefore the gifts are still required. 

But, as others maintain, there may be reasons to believe that the scripture is not referring to the Messiah. Textually, the argument is made that in all other cases, Christ is referred to in the masculine whereas perfect in this instance is in the neuter.

These other people believe that perfect refers to the Bible. This argument is used to support the notion that many of the spiritual gifts have vanished. The crux of the argument is that we have the Bible and that's all we need. But since the first century Christians didn't have the entire canon of scripture (which could be reasonable debated, given Paul's view), they needed miracles, visions, tongues and healings in order to authenticate what the apostles were teaching was the truth. Apparently these people would have us believe, according to their reasoning and logic, that the spoken word is not as effective as the written word.  And even in a culture rich with the tradition of passing down stories from generation to generation with with nary a deviation, the spoken word needed additional proofs. Maybe that's why the Prophets of old were not effective in their preaching and Israel refused to repent?

But is there a third option? Of course there is. Someone once told me that scripture without context is pretext. I have to agree, and I call both parties on the carpet for committing a pretext, an eisegesis of scripture.

Let us therefore add some context.

Just prior to the dissertation on love, Paul said, "But earnestly desire the greater gifts. And I show you a still more excellent way." And that greater, more excellent way is love. Which makes sense, given the context and content of the previous chapters wherein Paul rebukes the Corinthians self centered attitudes regarding their teachers (Paul and Apollos), idolatry, immorality, lawsuits, food and communion. In all of these things, Paul had something to say which generally revolved around selfishness - attending to their own desires rather than attending to the needs of others. What Paul encouraged them to do in all cases was move away from their sinful attitudes and actions and move into position where they could act in accordance with the grace of God. All of this instruction comes to a head in chapters 12, 13 and 14. These chapters contain the culmination of what it looks like to move away from the selfishness of man and into the expression and edification of love focused on others. And indeed, "love edifies." (1 Corinthians 8:1).

What is Perfect?

So, what is this perfect we see in chapter 13? In the Greek, it is 'teleion'. In it's most basic form, it means maturity. It comes from a word which means "the point aimed at as a limit" or by implication, "the conclusion of an act or state." If you're one who thinks this mature thing is the Bible, then you're probably thinking I just confirmed your argument. Not so fast, because there is more. 

What is Subjunctive?

In English, the definition of subjunctive is "relating to or denoting a mood of verbs expressing what is imagined or wished or possible", and "the mood of the verb that indicates possibility, conditionality or probability." According to New Testament Greek, the subjunctive is the same in Greek ans it is in English: it indicates probability or objective possibility. The indication of the verb is an action that will "possibly happen, depending on certain objective factors or circumstances." What we find then in this scripture ("when the perfect comes"), is that the word "comes" is in the aorist subjunctive mood. Which means the perfect is seen as a possibility that has not started or is a continual process, as opposed to something being set in stone and finished.

So, what does this mean? More than some people are willing to consider or admit.

For if you maintain that "when the the perfect comes" refers the return of Christ, then you must also adhere to the possibility that He might not come back at all, rather it's just a possibility.

But on the other hand, if you maintain that "the perfect" refers to the Bible, then you must also admit that what you hold in your hands may not be the entirety of God's word, that it could in fact, be very incomplete. 

In either case, that of the return of Christ or that of the Bible, you just don't know with any certainty that either is factually valid because of the "certain objective factors or circumstances" which are merely "possible" may not have occurred, seeing that they (the return of Christ, the authenticity of the Scripture) are out of your view and out of your control.

You may be thinking, "well, they're not out of God's view, nor out of His control." And you would be correct. But you still must deal with the uncertainty factor - they may or may not be truths nor started, nor will come to pass - that's the mood of the text and there's just no getting around it.

Face Value
But what happens when we take scripture at face value, and let "the perfect" be "the maturity?" Then things begin to make a lot more sense, both in local context and with scripture as a whole.

Just prior to these words Paul says:
 "but if there are gifts of prophecy, they will be done away; if there are tongues, they will cease; if there is knowledge, it will be done away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part; but when the perfect comes, the partial will be done away." One of the keys to understanding this scripture is properly applying the phrases "in part" and "partial." Notice that the "in part" and "partial" refers back to knowledge, tongues and prophecy. And don't fail to keep these concepts in context with the prior discussions of Paul, regarding the selfishness of the Corinthians.
Consider how the Corinthians were living out their faith. In some aspects, they were doing it quite poorly - like adults who were acting as children. But in other aspects, they were doing it quite well. You could say that they were living out their faith "in part" or "partially." But isn't that true of everyone? Don't we all grow and mature throughout life? Could it not be said of us all that "when I was a child, I used to speak like a child, think like a child, reason like a child; when I became a man, I did away with childish things. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I will know fully just as I also have been fully known."

When one considers that Paul generally views the Corinthians as children, then the phrase "knowledge and prophecy in part", and the possibility of maturity coming, begins to make more sense. Previously, Paul told them they were immature:
brethren, could not speak to you as to spiritual men, but as to men of flesh, as to infants in Christ. I gave you milk to drink, not solid food; for you were not yet able to receive it. Indeed, even now you are not yet able, for you are still fleshly. For since there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not fleshly, and are you not walking like mere men? For when one says, “I am of Paul,” and another, “I am of Apollos,” are you not mere men?" 
But faith hope and love are the abiding actuaries, the abiding truths from which must flow all of our actions towards one another. They are the foundations of the fruit of the Spirit. Anything less is only occurring in part, or part-time, because of immaturity. In Ephesians (which just happens to also be in a context of spiritual gifts) we see Paul's similar encouragement:
And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints {unto} the work of service, {unto} the building up of the body of Christ; until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ. As a result, we are no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming; but speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him who is the head, even Christ, from whom the whole body, being fitted and held together by what every joint supplies, according to the proper working of each individual part, causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love.
Would you be surprised to know that mature (above in bold) is the same word use for perfect (teleion) in Corinthians? This specific tense of the word is used 17 other times in scripture, such as follows:
Yet we do speak wisdom among those who are mature; a wisdom, however, not of this age nor of the rulers of this age, who are passing away; but we speak God’s wisdom in a mystery, the hidden wisdom which God predestined before the ages to our glory; the wisdom which none of the rulers of this age has understood; for if they had understood it they would not have crucified the Lord of glory... 
Jesus said to him, “If you wish to be complete {mature}, go and sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.”

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Being the Brick Builder

Most of my family and my close friends are aware that I'm not a big fan of church. More to the point, I'm not a big fan of what we, as humans, have made church.

We have turned it into three songs and a sermon and have manufactured both venues and services that are designed solely around one person and two ministries: the music and the Preacher. We have so loved, honored and desired our earthly pastoral kings that we have even changed the scripture to suit our preferences. Case in point, Ephesians 4:12, regarding the purpose of the pastor/teacher:
... for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ: 
What's wrong with this translation, you ask? Plenty.

One quick look at a Greek interlinear (

will show the corruption. There are two different Greek words used to translate into the prepositions 'for' and 'unto': 'for' comes from the Greek word 'pros', and 'unto' from the Greek 'eis'. Based upon this information you would assume that the Greek structure of the Ephesians 4:12 is "pros ... pros ... pros", but you would be wrong, the prepositional structure is actually "pros ... eis ... eis". How much of a difference does that make? It makes a huge difference.

Lets review the scripture again with some additional context, and with the prepositions properly applied:
And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; for the perfecting of the saints, unto the work of the ministry, unto the edifying of the body of Christ: Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ: That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive; But speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ: From whom the whole body fitly joined together and compacted by that which every joint supplieth, according to the effectual working in the measure of every part, maketh increase of the body unto the edifying of itself in love.
Most pastors will tell you, based upon this scripture, that the pastor/teacher is the hub of all ministry in the church, the CEO of the local representation of the body of Christ, which helps explain how our churches are designed, both physically and organizationally. They get there through their traditions, as follows:
  • There are no more gifts of apostles (they're all dead), hence, apostles are no longer needed for the Church / Body of Christ.
  • Prophecy has ended (we have the Bible and that's all we need), hence prophecy is no longer needed for the Church.
  • Evangelists are not necessary for the Church since the Church/body of Christ is comprised of believers only, hence, the Church does not need Evangelists. 
  • And lastly, since there's only one thing left, and due to the proximity of "pastor and teacher" to that which comes after, the pastor/teacher is the supreme fitter, joiner and effectual minster to the Church on earth.
It's disturbing to see how some change the Word of God to suit their needs, isn't it?

So, ignoring the fallacies of their arguments in their self-constructed doctrine lets simply observe how applying the proper translation of "eis" (twice) in the given scripture changes the meaning:
And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; for the perfecting of the saints, unto the work of the ministry, unto the edifying of the body of Christ: Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ:
Who's doing the majority of the work now? The "we" are, all of the saints are. Now consider again the rest of the thought and argument that Paul makes, based upon the entire body of Christ doing the majority of the work:
That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine ... but speaking the truth in love, {we} may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ: from whom the whole body fitly joined together and compacted by that which every joint supplies, according to the effectual working in the measure of every part, makes increase of the body unto the edifying of itself in love. (Ephesians 4:14-16)
But you, beloved, ought to remember the words that were spoken beforehand by the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ, that they were saying to you, 'In the last time there will be mockers, following after their own ungodly lusts.' These are the ones who cause divisions, worldly-minded, devoid of the Spirit. But you, beloved, building yourselves up on your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting anxiously for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to eternal life. And have mercy on some, who are doubting; save others, snatching them out of the fire; and on some have mercy with fear, hating even the garment polluted by the flesh.  Now to Him who is able to keep you from stumbling, and to make you stand in the presence of His glory blameless with great joy, to the only God our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen.  (Jude 1:15-25)
So then, based upon these scriptures (and others, such as 1 Corinthians 2-3, and 12-14), where is the emphasis on a single ministry, or as Paul would put it, a single "body part?" It is not there, it does not exist in a single person. Why then do we suppose that the edification of the entire body of Christ happens through the single ministry of one man and his deacons, the pastor and his professional staff?

There is simply no scriptural support for our traditional, organizational structure of the local church with one minister, and his band of deacons, supplying and fitting the needs of the many. The only reason there appears to be such support is because of two things: careful manipulation and obfuscation of truth by the teaching of such pastor/teachers, and secondly, the eisegesis of the translators, whereby they imputed their world view of the church into their translation of the KJV.

Building the Temple

So, what does all of this have to do with being a brick maker? Well, consider 1 Corinthians 3:
According to the grace of God which was given to me, like a wise master builder I laid a foundation, and another is building on it. But each man must be careful how he builds on it. For no man can lay a foundation other than the one which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if any man builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, each man’s work will become evident; for the day will show it because it is to be revealed with fire, and the fire itself will test the quality of each man’s work. If any man’s work which he has built on it remains, he will receive a reward. If any man’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire.
While Paul is referring here to the work of him and Apollos, he is in the bigger picture, referring to work of the Corinthians - "you are still fleshly. For since there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not fleshly, and are you not walking like mere men? For when one says, “I am of Paul,” and another, “I am of Apollos,” are you not mere men?" What he is telling them is this: that as they walk through life - just as Paul and Apollos walked through their own lives, building into the Corinthians - they too (the Corinthians) are building to each other: "if any man builds on the foundation ... " In other words Paul hasn’t discarded the previous thoughts: jealousy and strife are wood, hay and straw in this context. And as building materials into another persons’ life, they’re worthless – that is the point Paul is making. He further brings home the point of them thinking themselves something they aren’t when they say “I’m of Apollos” or “I’m of Paul”, when he says:
Let no man deceive himself. If any man among you thinks that he is wise in this age, he must become foolish, so that he may become wise … So then let no one boast in men. For all things belong to you, whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or things present or things to come; all things belong to you, and you belong to Christ; and Christ belongs to God.
And what makes this a tad bit scary is the relevance of “all things belong to you”, in the context of one of those things being us, a temple of God:
Do you not know that you are a temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you? If any man destroys the temple of God, God will destroy him, for the temple of God is holy, and that is what you are.
Which is precisely what happened to Ananias and Sapphria. (Acts 4-5)

So, are jealousy and strife, lying and stealing holy? Then why do we build them into our lives by not dying to self and discarding them? Why do we build them into others by repeatedly exposing and encouraging such things? There is a warning for these things: they are called wood, hay, straw and such things will be destroyed by God, just as will a person who tries to destroy a temple of God with such things.

Making Bricks

A lot of times, we simply do not see the results of our work, but that does not mean our work has no value. Consider the brick maker. Day in and day out he makes bricks and trusts that they will be used to create wonderful and elegant buildings. Yet, he never constructs the buildings, nor does he see them. And yet again, what he does has value.

Just because you’re a brick maker doesn’t mean what you do does not have value. Just because you can’t see the results of your efforts and your work into the Kingdom of God, does not mean what you do doesn’t have value. Your only encouragement is to not build with wood, hay and straw. Die to self, trust God and build with gold, silver and precious stones. You are a member of the Body of Christ, of whom God has gifted. Find your purpose, exercise your gifts and love (build up) one another.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

The Paradox in the Sin of Expediency

Have you ever noticed the paradox in the sin of expediency, which was turned into a blessing for all who would hear, see and believe?  The sin of expediency is one of function, it serves the purpose of Man. So, not only will we throw ourselves under the bus for the church, but there are those in the church who expect such behavior of it's members.
"God's sense of order is always earthed in relationships; therefore, it constantly adjusts to people as they grow, change and become more of who they are in Christ. Whereas, order in a functional paradigm never adjusts to people. It remains static and expects people to adapt to it. When the system is more important than the individual, then we become a Pharisee and are guilty of the sin of expedience; the individual should suffer for the whole ... {In the church} a box has been created that captures people instead of captivating them. We create rules of behavior to keep people in the confines of what we determine is decent and in order. The problem is that our sense of order comes out of a functional paradigm that is cemented in the need for leaders to possess, acquire, and control. This is eros love - love with a hook, love that uses people but does not fulfill them. The box becomes the coffin of their dreams and aspirations." (Graham Cooke)

While I'm aware that scripture never states that it was expedient for the Christ to die for the sins of the world, especially as taken within the context of some definitions of expedient, to suggest that the death of the Messiah was without merit and purpose is blasphemous. Thus to me, the sliver of the paradox in the crucifixion is that while on one hand it was the sin of expediency to the ruling class of the Jews, it was a necessary step towards the salvation of Man; the curse of Man turned into the blessing of God:
Now He said to them, "These are My words which I spoke to you while I was still with you, that all things which are written about Me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled." Then He opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and He said to them, "Thus it is written, that the Christ would suffer and rise again from the dead the third day, and that repentance for forgiveness of sins would be proclaimed in His name to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. And behold, I am sending forth the promise of My Father upon you; but you are to stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high." (Luke 24:44-49)
Jesus answered and said to him, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God." (John 3:3)
For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them. (Ephesians 2:8-10)

John 11:47-53
Therefore the chief priests and the Pharisees convened a council, and were saying, “What are we doing? For this man {Jesus} is performing many signs. If we let Him go on like this, all men will believe in Him, and the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation.” But one of them, Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, said to them,
“You know nothing at all, nor do you take into account that it is expedient for you that one man die for the people, and that the whole nation not perish."
Now he did not say this on his own initiative, but being high priest that year, he prophesied that Jesus was going to die for the nation, and not for the nation only, but in order that He might also gather together into one the children of God who are scattered abroad. So from that day on they planned together to kill Him.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Isaiah 61:1-4 - Freedom in Christ

The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me, because the LORD has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the LORD’s favor and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve in Zion— to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair.

They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the LORD for the display of his splendor. They will rebuild the ancient ruins and restore the places long devastated; they will renew the ruined cities that have been devastated for generations.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

On Changing Paths

I've recently changed paths. Some of my friends are aware of this, others not so much. It's not really something you'd be able to see from a distance or ascertain from observation. I've had my ups and downs in the process, of which it's only been about a week now. And today, being Easter Sunday has been particularly difficult for some reason.
Perhaps it's because I don't like Easter any more than I like Christmas? Christmas is to me, quite bogus in a lot of ways. Jesus was no more born on December 25th than there is a man in the moon. Reasonable consideration bears this out. Yes, I know – the day of His birth is a day worth celebrating, but why the 25th of December? There are a lot of reasons, but lets' just boil it down to tradition, shall we, and with that be satisfied? And besides, the whole commercialization of the Reason for the Season just turns me off.
So, how does this loathing of Christmas relate to Easter? It is, after all, a much better season and is more accurately based in truth. Well, reason #1: the Bunny Hoppers. And I'm not just talking about the Cadbury Bunny, either. I'm also referring to all of the people who make Easter the second (or only) day they show up at church. Yeah, that's right: I don't like hypocrites any more than the lost man who stays away from church because of the hypocrites that show up every Sunday. Reason #2: the commercialization of the season, which gets back to the same thread I have regarding Christmas. Reason #3, the sermons. I must confess, they're usually well chosen and well presented for the Bunny Hoppers, but I also happen to dislike pageants in church too. Those things have their place, but I'm pretty much over them. And besides, the Easter Sunday sermons are extremely important – for the Bunny Hoppers. But I've heard them before, and since I believe the salvation work of God cannot be undone, I'm a once saved, always saved kind of guy, ergo, salvation sermons don't provide much edification to me.

The Ministry

But I don't think Easter is my problem. It has to do with this whole changing path thing. It has a lot to do with leaving behind those things which keep us in bondage, those things which we so dearly love to treasure and pet. The hurtful process is learning that you've got something in your life that you actually love more than God. And when that thing turns out to be The Ministry, well that when it all really starts to suck rotten eggs. You see, I like a good debate. I like being right, though contrary to the popular belief of some, I am right a lot of the time. It's a pity though, that some only saw an attack where I was only trying to present my side of the argument. But looking back, that pulling away appears to have been what I needed.

Hearing from God

Do you have an iPod? I do. I really like the thing too. It's an older model with only 32GB of space, that's enough to hold a huge amount of songs, the entire spoken KJV and more sermons than you can shake a stick at. I even have an adapter for the car, so I just keep the thing plugged in, unless I'm syncing new music or sermons. The adapter for the iPod plugs into a special purpose auxiliary port on the stereo, and the adapter understands specially named play lists, which the stereo interprets as CD discs. As you might imagine, I have play lists for the Bible, Sermons and various types of music. Although the car stereo recognizes six discs, the interface module to the car only recognizes 5 play lists. That leaves one disc unassigned, or so we thought.

The God Track

My wife and I talk about God and scripture a lot. We talk a lot when driving too, when going here or there on various errands, travels and dates. Surprisingly, those errands and dinner dates are among the sweetest times we have in the Lord. But there is one interesting thing we have discovered about how God chooses to work in our lives, or should I say better, reinforce those things He is teaching us through His word.
We'll be driving along, discussing this or that thing about God or the Bible with the stereo and the iPod both turned off. And then with no inference from us, the car or the road (the roads are pretty good where we live) the stereo and the iPod will turn on, as if an Angel pushed the 'on' button and reset the iPod track. Every single time this has happened it has always started playing some seemingly random Christian worship song or a sermon or a section of Scripture. And without fail, the thing it started playing has always spoken directly to a need we were discussing. We've seen it do this when we were dealing with betrayal, when we were battling cancer and when we felt lost in our walk. Never has it turned on (by itself) when what played next did not meet or reinforce some critical need in our lives. It's done it while we're together and while we're apart. Hopefully, you can understand why we have learned to refer to this happening as the God Track.

Getting to Know Him

So, we went to lunch on this particular Easter Sunday and headed off to the store to buy groceries. The day before we had been listening to Kari Jobes' "Revelation Song," over and over again – we had it on repeat, as a matter of fact. I think we listened to it probably a dozen times that day. We got into the car and went to lunch and the stereo was off. It's a 5 minute trip to the diner, and it was another 15-20 minute trip to the store. On our way back home my wife was especially tuned into my in-the-dumps spirit, and she was trying to encourage me. She was re-enforcing our need to not focus on externals, such as The Ministry, or whatever else it is we like to put before God. She was speaking directly to my new path, I knew this, but I was still feeling somewhat depressed. It's a normal part of the process, I've learned. There are some hurtful things that God will simply take away from you, but there are other things that He allows you the space to work through, a process to learn so that we can comfort others.
As we were pulling into the driveway, we had both reached the conclusion that seeking Him first is the only solution, the only viable lifestyle, the only way to be of any use to Him. And then God track started playing. And we listened to hear what it was. The first verse seemed innocuous, but then came the chorus:
The reason we're here and the reason we sing,
Is to thank you O God and give Praise to the King.
And then my wife reached up and turned off the 'repeat' button, as it had been set from the previous day.
And that's it. That's the path. The rest is just gravy, but don't seek the gravy. We would do good to remember and live His words:
But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. (Matthew 6:33)
Trust in the LORD with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight. Do not be wise in your own eyes; fear the LORD and turn away from evil. It will be healing to your body and refreshment to your bones. (Proverbs 3:5-8)

Saturday, April 23, 2011

The Armor of God

There seems to be no end of devotions, Bibles studies and sermons whose sole purpose is to teach or encourage you to pray on the armor of God. But why? When, exactly, does the Bible exhort us to pray through or pray on the armor of God?

Before we tackle that question, lets take a quick review of the book of Ephesians.

Ephesians begins with a background of who we were and now are in Christ:

In verses 1:1-14, we see the creation of the Body of Christ, how it was planned (1-6), purchased by the Son (7-12) and preserved in the Spirit (13-14). Paul then prays for the Church, that we might grow in His knowledge, understand our wonderful future in Him and the greatness of His power, and the position of Christ in relation to God the Father.

In verses 2:1-3, and 11-12, we are reminded of who we were before salvation (dead, under wrath, without God, etc) and reminded of what God did by saving us (4-6). Paul discusses how God performed salvation through grace and that we have been created in Christ to do good works. 

Paul then goes on to explain the mystery of God (which we know to be Christ in us, 3:1-13). Paul then again prays that we will be strengthened in our inner being by the Spirit of God, that Christ will be at home in our hearts, and that we might be able to grasp the full dimensions of God's love. 

Once we get into chapter 4, Paul begins to explain the Church (the body of Christ) is to be unified. Apparently they had the same problems of religiosity and bigotry that we have today through our walls of denominational boundaries. He says that there is one body, one Spirit, one hope, one Lord, one Faith, one baptism of the Holy Spirit and one God and Father. We are then encouraged to avoid an immoral life style and adopt a spiritual lifestyle instead (4:17-32). He continues by outlining how people should treat one another, as directed to children, husbands and wives (5:1-6:9) 

In summary, the entirety of the book of Ephesians (up to this point) explains how one should live, how one should believe about who they are in Christ, and how one should relate one to another. It's about living out our life in Christ, as fully functioning members of the Church (the Body of Christ, not the local club on the corner - you know what I'm talking about, the one with the pulpit, the cross and the steeple on top).

The question I have then, is why do we assume that the armor of God is something we should "pray on" rather than "live out" through our lifestyles and relationships with God and others?

So let's walk through the armor of God:
Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of His might. 
This isn't about praying, this is about being: just as Jesus said, we "shall be" His witnesses (Acts 1:8), not "you shall do witnessing." The former describes the state of being, whereas the later portrays how scripture is typically and incorrectly taught. The encouragement here is to "be something" not to "do something." However, we cannot ignore what comes next, which is an act of doing. But, the attitude of being comes before the action of doing. In example, consider David fighting Goliath: He was not strong in the Lord because he was victorious, rather he was victorious because he was first strong in the Lord. The state of being comes before the action.  And the action comes next:
Put on the full armor of God, so that you will be able to stand firm against the schemes of the devil.
This is one of the places where we incorrectly trade "putting on" for "praying on" the armor of God. This is correctly seen as something we do: we are not to "be the armor" but to "put on the armor." The act of doing, at this juncture does not mention the word "pray" or the phrase "pray on the the armor of God," rather it mentions our struggle, that which we fight against:
For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places.
Paul now explains the reason for the first 6 ½ chapters of his letter to the Ephesians – we have a struggle, and it's not against each other, rather it's against Satan and his minions. So, while Paul was encouraging us what to believe about our position in Christ and how to treat others, he was really telling us how to defeat Satan's schemes. When we fully understand who we are in Christ, then life really comes about being, rather than doing. Anyone can "do" religion, but only a Christian can bear the fruit of the Spirit, not because of what they do, but because of who they are.  This is the core difference of Christianity and any other religion: Christ changes us from the inside out, while man (religion) attempts to change us from the outside in.
Therefore, take up the full armor of God, so that you will be able to resist in the evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm.
How do you take up something through prayer? You don't. In example, if one is to "take up" salvation, they must act in faith towards God with repentance of their sin. Contrary wise, the person who confesses all of their sin but one, is in rebellion due to that which they refuse to relinquish. Therefore, to "take up" the armor of God means that we choose to discard the negative things Paul has previously talked about and then put on all of the positive things. And how do we put on? By first being strong in the Lord. Admittedly, being strong in the Lord only comes through our seeking Him in a personal relationship - which of course involves prayer - but not the kind that says "I'm praying on the shield of faith ... etc, etc." Rather the shield of faith is born out of our trust, belief and knowledge of God (of who He is) and our knowledge of who we are in Christ.
Stand firm therefore, having girded your loins with truth,
This statement reflects a result of the previous actions.  Since we have done all that comes before, we can therefore stand firm.   Next consider the phrase "having girded your loins with truth."  What is truth? Jesus said that the He is truth, the Logos of God, the Word of God (John 14:6): Jesus said, "sanctify them in the truth; Your word is truth." (John 17:17) We don't gird our loins, or gird our strength through God's truth  or God's word by prayer, rather we gird and strengthen ourselves in truth by reading, memorizing and absorbing God's word. We receive the "word implanted" (James 1:21):
Your word I have treasured in my heart, that I may not sin against You. Blessed are You, O LORD; teach me Your statutes. With my lips I have told of all the ordinances of Your mouth. I have rejoiced in the way of Your testimonies, as much as in all riches. I will meditate on Your precepts And regard Your ways. I shall delight in Your statutes; I shall not forget Your word. (Psalms 119:11-16)
Therefore, putting aside all filthiness and all that remains of wickedness, in humility receive the word implanted, which is able to save your souls. (James 1:21)
Do you notice how the passage in James fits so nicely with the previous themes of Ephesians?  That's not just a happenstance.
and having put on the breastplate of righteousness
Having put on is past tense, it is a thing we have already done.  Although we are imputed righteousness by God,  there is the commandment that  we are to be Holy, because He is Holy. When we are saved, we have the breastplate of righteousness – it is imputed to us. However, when we live by the Spirit, we put on His righteousness – this breastplate of righteousness - for He says, "walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh." (Galatians 5:16) Living by the spirit is not something you pray into your life, it is something you must choose to do. And in so doing, we put on the the breastplate of righteousness.
How blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered! How blessed is the man to whom the LORD does not impute iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no deceit! (Psalms 32:1-2)
But now apart from the Law the righteousness of God has been manifested, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe; for there is no distinction; for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus; whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith. This was to demonstrate His righteousness, because in the forbearance of God He passed over the sins previously committed; for the demonstration, I say, of His righteousness at the present time, so that He would be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. (Romans 3:21-26)
and having shod your feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace;
What is the preparation of the Gospel of Peace? It is an understanding what the Gospel is and what it is for. Again, this is not something you receive through prayer. You don't ask God to fill your head with verses, the 10 Commandments, a 5 point sermon and the Romans Road. Rather, you study the Bible, you learn how to make friends and lovingly help them understand their guilt in lieu of the law and how the Good News helps them.
in addition to all, taking up the shield of faith with which you will be able to extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one.
Faith is your choice to believe and trust: "and without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him." (Hebrews 11:6) While it is certainly permissible to ask God to help your unbelief, faith is still something you must chose to exercise.
And take the helmet of salvation,
Salvation is something you already have, and here it is referred to as a helmet. This means that we must understand that salvation spoken of in the earlier chapters of Ephesians is something that has the power to protect our minds, but only if you're willing to believe the Word of God, and believe that God is God. A lot of times this involves us discarding the "God Box" we have created in which we make God exist for ourselves.
and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.
We can't pray the Word of God into our lives. We learn the word of God by reading it, studying it and meditating upon it.
With all prayer and petition pray at all times in the Spirit, and with this in view, be on the alert with all perseverance and petition for all the saints … (Eph 6:10-18)
Finally, we're encouraged to "pray at all times in the Spirit", as a normal course of our life in Christ.

When we view the armor of God in the context of the rest of Ephesians, we see that it is concise restatement of those things which we have been exhorted to believe and act upon.

So, don't pray the armor of God onto yourself, live the armor of God.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Keeping Oneself Unstained by the World

According to the Clark County Democrat (and others), a bar owner sued a Baptist church who petitioned and prayed against the opening of his newly remodeled bar. Apparently, a thunderstorm dropped a lightning bolt on the establishment about a week before it was to open, and it burned to the ground. Based upon the actions of the church, the bar owner held the congregation responsible, either "directly or indirectly" and sued. The church responded by denying any and all culpability in the matter. The judge in the case noticed – quite correctly, I might add – that the bar owner apparently believed in the power of prayer, whereas the church congregation obviously didn't.
Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world. (James 1:27)
What is a stain?
What does it mean to keep oneself unstained (unspotted, unblemished) by the world? To answer that question, we first need to review the nature of a stain.

Some of the synonyms for stain are as follows:
discoloration, dirt, filth, grime, soil, grease, grunge, mark, stigma, brand, blot, smear, smirch, spot, appearance, color, coloring material, dirtiness, error, fault, mistake, symbol, uncleanness, visual aspect
While we could go on about how stains are difficult to remove, the real lesson here is that they affect the thing on which they are found. A stain on your shirt affects how the shirt looks and is used. A black and white checkered pattern (or stain) on a flag affects how that flag is used: it is a signal to indicate that a race has finished, whereas a solid black flag indicates punishment or hazard, and the driver must return to the pits. In both of these cases, the stain on the flags defines their purpose.

What is being stained by the World?
As a Christian, stains function similarly, but not identically to the examples, I've provided. Simply put, a stain is anything that affects or directs you towards one or more ungodly behaviors.

A Christian, who is stained by the world, carries something of the world - something of the fleshly nature - that affects how the Christian behaves. For example, if such a person does not believe that all of their needs are met in the person of Jesus Christ, then they carry a fleshly behavior pattern, a stain. That stain affects their behavior – they may become co-dependent, or become involved in ungodly pursuits such as lasciviousness. They may become hoarders of things or of money.

The Stains of the World
There are plenty of things that can stain the Christian.  Just a quick look a the internet will uncover all sorts of things that we can use to make ourselves dirty.  But be careful with that concept: it's not just about living among the sin or being exposed to the sin that's the problem (otherwise, Jesus would have been stained, correct?).

For example, an average Christian can visit a restaurant or bar and not leave drunk.  It's a simple choice.  But don't miss this: the stains I'm talking about exist in our motives that drive our decisions.  If your motivation is to feel better, and you believe that getting drunk or smoking will make you feel better, then you'll get drunk or smoke just to feel better.  And therein lies the stain.

The truth is that only God can supply all our needs. And feeling better is a need no matter how you dissect it.  So when we go to things other than God to meet our needs, then we are acting on our stains.

Keeping ourselves unstained by the world will not be achieved through works or by observing how other people live.  Jesus said of the Pharisees,
Then Jesus spoke to the crowds and to His disciples, saying: “The scribes and the Pharisees have seated themselves in the chair of Moses; therefore all that they tell you, do and observe, but do not do according to their deeds; for they say things and do not do them. They tie up heavy burdens and lay them on men’s shoulders, but they themselves are unwilling to move them with so much as a finger.  (Matthew 23:1-4)
What was He saying?  Follow the Law of God, not the law of man, as observed through their actions and belief systems.  In other words, the Pharisees were stained.  And if you followed after their deeds, you would be stained of the world, just like they were.

The Stains of Tradition
There are other stains which we're not so keen to see, those being the stains of traditions. These stains are found within the confines of the church. Tradition, particularly in the Baptist church (of which I'm most familiar), states that we should not "drink, dance, smoke or chew, or go with those that do." What's the point of this mantra? To keep the impressionable away from danger, to keep the young ones unstained from the world. It's not a bad tradition, it has valid outcome desires. It's a "follow the rules, and you'll be a good person" type of tradition.

The problem is that instead of making disciples of the young people, we instead give them rules to follow – as if forcing them to obey rules makes them righteous or turns them into good people. What about their innermost desires? Have those desires changed by virtue of them keeping these rules? If you listen to the doctrine of some people - read the right thing, believe the right thing, do the right thing, be acceptable to God - then in their world, the answer is yes. But as a student of four years at a fundamental Baptist University, I can, with assurance, tell you that those students who lived under and by the letter of the law (tradition) were the first ones to get into trouble. They were the first to break free from the bondage of hypocrisy in which they had been forced to live and instead pursued that which was in their heart. In these people, the letter of the law and the traditions of the church made no difference to their innermost man.

God desires truth in the inward parts, not sacrifice or legalistic obedience to His law:
Behold, You desire truth in the innermost being, and in the hidden part You will make me know wisdom. (Psalm 51:6
"For I did not speak to your fathers, or command them in the day that I brought them out of the land of Egypt, concerning burnt offerings and sacrifices. But this is what I commanded them, saying, 'Obey My voice, and I will be your God, and you will be My people; and you will walk in all the way which I command you, that it may be well with you.'" (Jeremiah 7:22-23
But the LORD said unto Samuel, "Look not on his countenance, or on the height of his stature; because I have refused him: for the LORD see not as man see; for man looks on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart." (1 Samuel 16:7)
When God says He desires truth in our inward parts, what He is really saying is that He wants His nature inside of us, as opposed to some other nature, that being the stain of the world.  This other nature is what He was talking about in regards to Saul.

So, what's the point?  The point is that just because we keep the rules doesn't mean we're not stained by the world.  Had those college students not carried the desires of the world, then they would have behaved correctly, as ones who carried God's truth in their inward parts.  But instead, they rebelled against the norms they were coerced into following.  While at home, they were the perfect little Christians who obeyed the rules and precepts laid before them.  But when on their own, those precepts meant nothing and their true colors, their real stains were apparent.

Back to the Bar
So what happened between the church and bar? I don't know the final outcome, but I can positively comment on what the church did. The followed the letter of the law – they tried to tear down the idols in their land. The prayed about it (good), and they petitioned against this man and his venture (not so good). And when confronted by their enemy on the veracity of their religion and their actions, they denied culpability (wrong).

This whole thing reminds me of the Old Testament: how many times did one King or another tear down the idols in Israel? And it didn't work, did it? Why not? Because the heart of the people was not changed. You can take away a man's idol, but you can't take the idol out of the man's heart.

A very good friend of mine responded to this particular Bar vs. Baptist Church happenstance in this manner:
"If Satan can't get you to do a wrong thing, then he'll get you to do the right thing in the wrong way."
Which is simply another way of saying:
"If God can't get you to do the right thing in the right way, Satan will get you to do the right thing in the wrong way."
Seeing that we all know (according to those who have the corner on proper scriptural interpretation
) that alcohol is of the devil and drinking is a sin, then I'll bite on this bait. I'm going to assume that the "right thing" is that the congregation would have instead confessed their sins and the sins of their community; then prayed for their community so that everyone would have come to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ and the need for this bar would have therefore been obviated.

But I don't think that's what he meant at all.  What he meant was that yes, they did the right thing in trying to dispose of the bar, but they tried to get rid of it in the wrong manner and didn't follow through on their not-so-convicting-convictions when they had the chance.  What the average Christian believes, which was born out in this confrontation, is that bars turn people into things that God hates, so bars are bad and should be disposed of.  Hence, the trick is to dispose of bad things properly.  But what about the people?  And God now hates them when He didn't before?  That's Westboro Baptist Church theology, folks, and it's not of God.

Seriously, I don't know what to think. So, the right thing is that this guy shouldn't have a bar? Really? And how does that help the man? How does that help the community, other than cleaning up a few drunks that would otherwise offend the piety of a few sanctimonious tithers people?  The truth of the matter is you can take the bar and the prostitutes away from the community, but you can't take those things out of the heart of people.  Which gets us right back to the Kings of Israel who tore down the idols and groves of the land only to find that some other King had to do the same thing.

Instead of looking at the symptoms of spiritual death in our society (stains) as an ill to be healed by Jesus, we look at them as oozing cancers, which must be eradicated because they're unpleasant to our moral standards. But what does the Bible say our response should be to the ills of society?
But actually, I wrote to you not to associate with any so-called brother if he is an immoral person, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or a swindler--not even to eat with such a one. For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Do you not judge those who are within {the church}? But those who are outside, God judges. Remove the wicked man from among yourselves. (1 Corinthians 5:11-13)
And Jesus came and spake unto them, saying, All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth. Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen. (Mat 28:18-20)
He that believes and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believes not shall be damned. And these signs shall follow them that believe; In my name shall they cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues; they shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them; they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover. (Mar 16:16-18)
He that is unjust, let him be unjust still: and he which is filthy, let him be filthy still: and he that is righteous, let him be righteous still: and he that is holy, let him be holy still. (Rev 22:11)
What people don't get about the church is that it's not about evangelism or cleaning up your neighborhood – it's about discipleship - and that, mostly outside the walls of the church. And what church members don't get about society is that there are those who, when presented with the Gospel, will turn away and say "no thank you." So instead of leaving those people alone, letting them "be filthy still," we try to clean them up. But there's a problem with that. It provides a false sense of security to the filthy or unjust man and a false sense of purity to the self-righteous man.  In other words, it provides a false stain of righteousness.

But why do we do this?  Because we're stained by the traditions of our church history.  It's the Crusades all over again, without the murderous bits.  Does God want righteousness throughout all of our society?  Of course, He does.  But we do not make society righteous by forcing obedience to the law. Instead, it is done one person at a time through a change of heart.

It's not enough to clean someone up: you can bathe a pig, but that doesn't make the pig into a horse. And it doesn't turn the pigsty into a palace. It just makes the pig think he's special when the truth is that the pig will be slaughtered like the rest of them.