Archive | August, 2012

Staying on the Ladder!

31 Aug

Staying on the Ladder

Philippians 4:1, “Therefore, my brethren dearly beloved and longed for, my joy and crown, so stand fast in the Lord, my dearly beloved.”

James 1:8, “A doubleminded man is unstable in all his ways.”

Last weekend some friends and I decorated our church sanctuary for Christmas.  Three of us did the decorations on our twelve-foot Christmas tree, so we borrowed a ladder for our work.  We took turns up on the ladder because all three of us had issues with it.  I won’t tell on the others, but my issue is that I keep trying to spring up ladders like I did before I had chemotherapy and . . . well, my feet are still steady but I have some issues feeling where my feet are in space now.  So, although I don’t fall, I sometimes freeze with that feeling that I am about to fall.  Further, our ladder had lost a pad so it lurched a bit crazily from side to side, not in any dangerous way, but in what we called our own private earthquake!

Now it is obvious what a grace-based relationship does under those circumstances, isn’t it?  We held the ladder for each other whenever anyone had to go up higher than normal or reach farther than normal.  No one in a grace-based relationship would ever consider standing at the bottom and wildly shaking the ladder while someone is up on top of it.

The application I want to make to our life in the Body may have to come out in both a negative and a positive way here.  I want to just state it in a positive way, because I am pretty sure we all know what the negative way looks like already, but I think I will have to show both ways to contrast them.

There is a behavior that happens all of the time out in the world and too much in the Body of Christ.  It is what I call pouncing.

It involves a person being sized up by another person or persons, perhaps over a long period of time, but never with his knowledge.  There then comes a moment when the person or persons who have been watching this person suddenly pounce on him out of the blue.  The element of surprise seems to be key here.

There is almost a pride in catching the person off-guard, in shaking him off of that ladder.  Because of the suddenness of this pouncing move, the person now needs to deal not only with the accusations that are launched at him (because pouncing never, ever involves commending a person for work well done, but rather an attempt to do the opposite), but also with the shock of realizing that a person or people he regarded as friends are maybe not exactly what he thought.

I am not going to analyze what motivates the pouncing.  Probably different things at different times, but the motivation really doesn’t matter.  It is sin and needs to be put off.

Grace-filled relationships are different.  First of all, they would follow God’s pattern presented step-by-step in Matthew 18 to deal with a perceived sin by a brother.  But secondly, they would probably not elevate most of the things that are pounced on into a conversation in the first place.  I Peter 4:8 tells us, “And above all things have fervent charity among yourselves:  for charity shall cover the multitude of sins.”  Love covers an offense, in the majority of cases.  A very good reason for that is because most of what we, in our feeble flesh, regard as sins and personal affronts turn out to be personality differences and personal preferences, not sins at all.

When we consciously cover the things that we dislike about our brother or sister in Christ, we extend that person the grace to let him or her grow under the tutelage of the Holy Spirit instead of under the constraints of our own fallen hearts.  And they do the same for us.  Then a whole lot of growth can take place without any ladders being shaken at all!

Best of all, non-believers see our grace-based relationships and realize only God can build them.  John 17:21 says, “That they all may be one, as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us:  that the world may believe that thou hast sent me.”  That is key.  Non-believers will believe that God sent Jesus to be the Savior when they see love and grace in our relationships as a unified Body of believers.

What Is A Heretic?

30 Aug

A new friend wrote this. In depth study of the word “heretic” in Scripture.

You Can’t Jam God’s Word!

30 Aug

Hebrews 4:12:  “For the word of God [is] quick, and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and [is] a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.”

Scripture teaches in many places that there is a power to God’s Word above the mere power of the words it contains, though they are the most powerful words ever written.  The Holy Spirit, by superintending the writing of Scripture, infused each word and each verse with a power emanating from the throne room on high.  Scripture will not and does not return to God void, but accomplishes His purposes in this world.  And His primary purpose is to save sinners.

This week, the military base on which I work ran a massive security drill.  In doing so, the authorities that be ended up jamming the wifi on all of the local bases (perhaps on every Navy base in the U.S., as the exercise was that extensive).  The Navy-Marine Corps Internet (the P.C.’s on our desks) continued to work, although slowly, as that is the primary communications method on Navy and USMC bases.  Our cellphones continued to work, as they are supported by the various data plans we have purchased.  But anything not run through a data plan was toast.  Laptops, iPads, etc. were no good on base for the duration . . . The bandwidth was needed for the exercise.

That got me thinking, “What if God’s Word could be jammed?”  Thankfully, the above verse shows us it cannot be.  Even when many other powerful things on earth are falling by the wayside, God’s Word never will.  It flows out from His loving heart to the places and people where He wants it to minister.  Since He is all powerful, the flow of His Word is never slowed down in any way.

My Sunday school ladies and I were talking about a funeral this week in a church not of our denomination.  I asked them whether someone could be saved in a _____ church.  Although we disagree with many doctrines of that denomination, we had to conclude that someone could be saved there, because God’s Word is read there, and it possesses the power to save.  A person could be saved in an Islamic mosque if someone read God’s Word there.  A person could be saved in a Hindu temple if someone opened the Bible there and read from it.  God’s Word possesses the power to save sinful souls, wherever it might be opened.

Praise God for the powerful punch packed by His Word.  It cannot be jammed.  It flows forth to show sinners His love, and after more than 6000 years, it still possesses the power to save every person who comes to Him.  Praise God!

Be Gentle!

29 Aug

Philippians 2:3:  “Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves.”

At the beginning of the great passage in Philippians 2 in which Jesus, in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God, but took upon Himself the form of a servant anyway, we see this verse exhorting us to practice servanthood with each other.

What does servanthood via lowliness of mind look like?  When we introduce a young child to a baby, we often tell the little one “Be gentle” and perhaps guide her little hand to stroke the baby gently several times.  I think the admonition to “be gentle” works pretty well with adults, too.

One example of an area in the Body of Christ where this might be practiced is in the area of our differences.  God spent quite a few chapters of the Scriptures telling us that He purposely built diversity into His Body.  He told us that we all work together as one body, with no one given permission to define their place or their function in the Body as superior to anyone else’s.  When one grieves, we all grieve.  When one celebrates, we all celebrate!  This is even so when the one celebrating got a promotion or an inheritance or something else that we think we need and didn’t get.

There is no more diverse area than that of our giftings.    In this, I don’t just mean the Biblical terms for how we are gifted (the Bible provides at least three lists of different ways God gifts each New Testament believer to serve within the local church).   Every person wants to know, “What is my gifting?”

In conjunction with the question of giftings, there is another question that every human being confronts at some point, “Why was I born?”  Those people who are saved add another question to that one, “What does God mean to uniquely accomplish through me?”

If my informal observations are anywhere near correct, less than half of the adults in any local body of believers know what their gifting is.  That situation can remain for decades or even throughout one’s life and can be for a number of reasons.

We don’t all have the same temperament.  Some people are more indecisive by nature and may take a long time trying all the possible giftings on for size.

Some may have a more timid nature and not dare try giftings on for size at all.

Sometimes people can spin on childhood issues for decades.  Sometimes these are never even resolved until heaven.  While I believe God offers us all complete freedom from such issues, even in this lifetime, we know, being practical, that not all childhood issues are resolved for every Christian while here on this earth.  And such issues can be a tremendous barrier to the freedom required to finding our gifting in Christ.

For Christians who know from a fairly young age what their gifting is, and what God has called them to uniquely accomplish in this life, it is good to understand that others struggle mightily with those same questions.  And since the issues are so basic to the core of who someone is and to the way that person thinks about herself, a cycle of depression can result from such a struggle.  We might find that a precious, blood-bought sister takes literally half a lifetime to find the thing that makes her say “Now I know why God created me.”

It can work the same way with a man, but I don’t want to keep switching genders back and forth, so please just understand that part, as I work through this.

Compassion is one of God’s loveliest gifts—understanding when someone is trying hard but is struggling nonetheless.

And, frankly, I can’t think of a much lovelier picture than that of a struggling believer who doesn’t know what her gifting is but who helps clean when people are cleaning, helps take care of children when children need care, helps cook when meals are needed, and just serves in every possible capacity she can while pursuing the question of where her gifting lies (truthfully, this person might find the gift of “helps” that Paul described is the one that applies to her in the end!).

After all, we all need to provide practical assistance to others as part of the Body of Christ!

In my case, I know that my gifting is in writing.  I have known that since I was in fourth grade and my teacher, a Christian woman in a public school, asked me where I had gotten a fictional story I turned in.  I told her I wrote it and was told that I really needed to tell her the truth about where I had gotten the story.  When I finally convinced her that it really was my work, she became my greatest fan as a writer.  She told me that she knew she would see my name on a book someday!  She has repeated that statement across the years.  Any guesses where my first copy of that book is going to go when it is finally published?

Dovetailing with my writing, I have the Biblical gift of teaching.  I have been aware of that for about the last twenty years.  I love to study God’s Word, write about God’s Word, and teach it in person.

So, that is how it has worked out for me.  I knew at a very young age what I was born to do and haven’t changed my mind since then.  But I don’t get a free pass either.  I don’t get to write, teach, and go home, leaving everyone else to clean up after baby showers and bring meals to new mothers.

Now how should all believers, regardless of gifting (or not knowing one’s gifting) treat each other?  If lowliness of mind is present, then a grace-filled relationship between a person who knows her gifting and one who does not should be filled with a holy awe of what the Lord is doing in the other person’s life.

If one person struggles with not knowing her gifting, and thereby not feeling she has a place and worth in the Body of Christ, we reassure her.  We can even, in a non-pushy way, encourage her in her search to find out where she fits in and what God created her to do.  Remember, though, even if she spends an entire lifetime and doesn’t discover her gifting while on this planet, she is still to be esteemed as a blood-bought sister in Christ.

And on the other hand, the person who knows his gifting within the Body and works faithfully within it is never to be treated by others as though he were cocky or prideful.  His joy in having discovered the purpose for which God created him might occasionally spill over so enthusiastically that people are tempted to roll their eyes or call him conceited but, especially if he is young, he is still growing too, and will make mistakes learning to walk faithfully on the path to which God has called him.

I imagine if I had said to people in my church when I was back in the fourth grade, “God created me to write,” there might have been more than a few mixed reactions!  But there really shouldn’t be.  Just as I was chronologically young when I realized God created me to write, so some of our precious blood-bought brothers and sisters are young, or young in the faith, when they discover their giftings.  They may not know how to talk about them with all the correct terminology at the outset.  But we can model grace-filled living for them by encouraging them in their journey, too.

We can do this without being judgmental of the enthusiasm with which they approach their area of giftedness.  We can do this without constantly calling their mistakes to their attention as they learn.  We can do this without thinking that that person has to be more like us or our circle of friends.

There is room for diversity in the Body of Christ, particularly in the area of our giftings.

Let us be gentle with each other, brothers and sisters.

The Irony of Performancism

28 Aug

 

We are commanded in Scripture to “be separate.” We are admonished to live holy lives. We are called out of darkness to walk in light and in love. These are all found in the Bible and should not be ignored. When God gives a command, He expects complete obedience. If we are not careful, though, we can begin to worship the life-style more than the Life-Giver. It is when our pursuit of personal holy living becomes the center of our spiritual lives, that we fall into the idolatry of performancism and self-worship.

“Pride is at the root of performance Christianity. Pride drives performancism. It puts me at the center of my life and my identity gets wrapped up in my performance. My sanctification takes center stage in performancism and I start to think that my sanctification is the focus of the Christian life. In performancism, I find my identity and worth in myself and how I’m doing at any given moment, instead of in God. In performance Christianity, my sanctification is at the center of my Christian experience.Building my identity and sense of worth on my performance and sanctification instead of on Jesus and his grace, is idolatry. It’s putting something other than Jesus at the center of my life and finding my identity there. It’s allowing my performance to measure me instead of resting in the finished work of Jesus in my place. It’s turning John the Baptist’s words on their head and insisting instead that “I must increase” (John 3:30). Performancism is prideful self-idolatry.”

When our eyes get focused on us instead of on Christ, we begin to “turn in upon ourselves” as Luther described. This is often an attractive idol to us because it looks like consecration. We can find our glory in how close to Jesus we can walk. What this invariably leads to is pride when we succeed or despair when we fail. But the ramifications of building idols in our own image don’t stop there. In fact, our stunted sanctification may be the least of the tragedies.

Every false religion of the world is centered on self. Whether it is a Buddhist depriving himself to find enlightenment or a Mormon living more and more like God so that they can one day be a god, religion always centers on what I must do or not do. This was true in Jesus’ day. The Pharisees and Sadducees were the religious leaders, and they taught strict adherence to the Law as the way to God. Of all the encounters with Jesus in the Bible, no one is treated as harshly as theses religious men. Jesus message was different. It was not “do” but “done!” Christianity is the opposite of self-reliance or self-worship; it is all about Christ-Dependence. Jesus said, “I am THE way” (emphasis mine). In the Gospels, we see Jesus fellowship and eat with Harlots, Thieves, and the lowest of men. He treated them with love and grace. It was only the self-reliant for whom He showed little patience.

The truth is, when we turn Christianity into the idolatry of self, we liken it to every other religion and crush Gospel advancement.  This is the true irony of Performancism; In trying to be separate from the world and its false religions, we have become identical, and have removed the appeal of true Christianity – Christ.

Remember, When presented with the fruit, Eve initially had no interest. But, when Satan said that she could be “like God”, she partook. There are many do’s and don’ts in the Bible, but all of them boil down to a choice; self, or Christ? Choose Christ!

The Days of Snail Mail

28 Aug

“But that ye also may know my affairs, and how I do, Tychicus, a beloved brother and faithful minister in the Lord, shall make known to you all things:  Whom I have sent unto you for the same purpose, that ye might know our affairs, and that he might comfort your hearts.” (Ephesians 6:21, 22).

When Paul wrote the above words, mail was definitely defined by the snail, as Tychicus not only reported on Paul’s doings to the Ephesian church, but he carried the book of Ephesians on its initial rounds around the congregations who awaited it.

What is amazing to me about the slowness of the mail in those days is its absolute reliability . . . eventually.  I mean, God is sovereign and His Word eventually got to the ends of the earth, even in that day, but it seems as though the young church kept pretty well-informed overall, despite the slowness of the mail.  Those Roman roads were pretty helpful in their day!

What about us today?  Are we lots better informed and less confused due to our multiple means of communication?  I would say “no.”  That is where another lesson in grace-filled living comes in.

I have two work e-mails, two personal e-mails, sometimes used for work, and a Facebook page.  I have a home phone, an office phone, and a cell phone.  You can just tell that I am set up for multiple points of failure, right?

Having lived in the low tech days and now in these new ones, I sometimes still have “transitional fears.”  I once dreamed that one of my parents died and I didn’t hear about it till after the funeral!  That dream showed how much I sometimes really do fear “not getting the word.”

On the other hand, that really, truly almost happened to someone this week.  Let me change the names to protect the players in this situation, but just say that a family member died.  Another family member e-mailed someone out of state, who happened to be the deceased’s sister.  That person also left a message on what was believed to be the sister’s cell phone.

I am also out of state, so when I asked whether this particular sister was coming to the funeral, 48 hours after the death, I was told, “She hasn’t responded, so we guess not.”

Something didn’t feel right about that, especially due to the fact that I myself have the aforesaid bunch of e-mail accounts and phone numbers, so I got online and found a home phone number for the deceased’s sister.  You guessed it!  She hadn’t yet heard about the death.

All that to say, we practice grace-filled living with each other because every single one of us has times we don’t keep up with our e-mail, or keep the same cell phone number forever, or notice the message light on the phone.  If we assume, when someone doesn’t respond, that there is a perfectly logical reason they haven’t responded, we extend to that person the same grace we would hope to receive in a similar situation.

This doesn’t just apply to extreme situations like funerals.  I can’t count the times that I have been aware of Christian brothers and sisters upset with each other because someone supposedly didn’t respond in a timely way or with expected actions.  At such times, we extend grace to each other because Christ has extended so much grace to us, and because we will be the person in need of grace the next time!

The Ephesians patiently awaited Tychicus in their day.  Let’s patiently stand shoulder-to-shoulder in mutual support as we all grow in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ (II Peter 3:18).

It Takes Time (Why the Process of Training our Children Matters)

27 Aug

It Takes Time

Psalm 12:6:  “The wordsof the LORD are pure words: as silver tried in a furnace of earth, purified seven times.”

This verse has often been used to explain how ancient silversmiths refined their silver, heating it at least seven times till no more impurities could be found in it.  The criteria for knowing when the silver was fully refined was when the silversmith could see his face reflecting in the surface of the liquid silver.  The example also lends itself to the process God uses with refining our lives, as living souls who are more precious to Him than silver.   He keeps patiently working with us, seven times or more per each lesson He wants to teach us, until we finally get it, until He finally begins to see the face of Jesus Christ reflecting back from the surface of our lives.

A modern way to explain the process of slowly training another person is called “hand over hand.”  As the mother of a special needs child, I am very familiar with this process, although it is not unique to training special needs children.  It consists in showing a child how to write, use scissors, color, do a zipper, etc. by putting your own adult hand over his or her little hand and completing the action with the child.  The act may need to be repeated again and again until the child learns.  Probably more than seven times!

One problem with people in our time-starved society today is that we have begun to believe that shortcuts are preferable to processes that require many steps and much repetition.  God seems to have set repetition up as a principle for learning, not for the sake of repetition itself, but for the sake of the interaction it takes to train children (and other people) that way.  And we want none of it.  We don’t regard such repetition as efficient.  And, truth be known, at heart we don’t regard it as worth our time to repeat the same instruction over and over as someone slowly learns.

Isn’t that funny?  God will go over and over the same material with us, for a lifetime if necessary, to help us get it, while we consider ourselves above doing all that in the life of someone else, even in the life of our own child.

My husband isn’t unique in this, so this is not singling him out in any negative way, but he recently saw an infomercial about a learning method that supposedly patterns the brain efficiently within several weeks.  It was only $100 and he sincerely wanted to try it, to increase our son’s chances of retaining material more quickly.  What he had forgotten about was how many such methods I had seized upon in my early years of homeschooling a child with autism.  If there had been a “miracle” learning method for autism, I would have found it back then.  And, truly, there are thousands of methods that claim to be that miracle, but I have long ago given up on spending $100 for each of them (and the time invested in learning that it is just another learning method, with some good and some bad aspects, like everything else in education).

No, I have not given up on educating our son, but have just realized that it is a long learning curve.  It is a long learning curve for children without autism, too.  Why would I have it any easier?

And why would God make it any easier, so we could teach our children something once, then go on autopilot and leave them alone in that area?  Isn’t it good to spend teaching and learning time together?  I think it is.

Look at the three years Jesus spent with His disciples.  Even when He sent them out by themselves in pairs, they came back rejoicing that demons were subject to them.  Was that what He sent them out to learn?  Or did He mean for them to learn that He was all in all?

In His very last week, the disciples rejoiced to see Him welcomed as a conquering king to Jerusalem.  In the very last week He had with them before He went to the cross!  He was teaching living through dying and they were understanding the lesson to be about conquering the Romans.  Yet, He never gave up on them.  He gently loved them into the men He knew they could become, by way of the Holy Spirit.

As teachers, we are to be like Him.  Never giving up, never thinking of our role as thankless, never flailing about for a shortcut to get those students out of our hair!!!  It is worth it to God to persevere with us; it is well worthwhile for us to persevere with our students, too.

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