Thursday, December 31, 2009

What is “The Widow’s Might?”

Don't you love spellcheck? Sometimes it can be so prophetic!

Ann’s mom and dad were married for over 55 years. Loving the Lord, they’ve been active in missions: teaching, hospitality, and in church administration. At dad’s memorial, someone wondered, “What does it mean, now that she’s a widow?” in reference to Ann’s mom. I'm not sure what they meant, but it got me thinking.

In America, we tend to institutionalize births and deaths. I grew up seeing neither. But when I went to Haiti, I found myself witnessing both, almost daily. Amidst several fishing and farm villages in the rural south, the mission built a school, church, and the only medical clinic nearby. This allowed me to occasionally assist midwives and doctors. Births and deaths happened in people's homes.

Homes being huts, much of village life took place outside in common areas. Getting to know many widows and widowers, I was able to experience the great blessing they are to families. Newborns and the elderly each remind us how precious and frail life is. I remember writing my widowed grandmother, that I was coming home in a year, and that she’d better get used to having me around. Sure, I knew my grandmother. But by Haitian standards, I was one neglectful grandson.

Reading about God’s concern for widows will cause those with a healthy reverence for Him, to make some adjustments. God has much to say concerning widows. Nations, families and peoples are blessed or cursed, depending upon how their widows fare. From Moses to Timothy, God never wavers in His concern for them.

“In you (a city) they have treated father and mother with contempt; in you they have oppressed the alien and mistreated the fatherless and the widow.”
Ezekiel 22:7

“Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.”
James 1:27

Vulnerable widows are quick to be overlooked. But God warns us not to let this happen. He spoke through His prophets, offering blessing upon those who mindfully cared for them:

“If you really change your ways and your actions and deal with each other justly, if you do not oppress the alien, the fatherless or the widow and do not shed innocent blood in this place, and if you do not follow other gods to your own harm, then I will let you live in this place, in the land I gave your forefathers for ever and ever.”
Jeremiah 7:5-7

Moses insisted that widows and other potentially oppressed people, be cared for:

“When you are harvesting in your field and you overlook a sheaf, do not go back to get it. Leave it for the alien, the fatherless and the widow, so that the LORD your God may bless you in all the work of your hands. When you beat the olives from your trees, do not go over the branches a second time. Leave what remains for the alien, the fatherless and the widow. When you harvest the grapes in your vineyard, do not go over the vines again. Leave what remains for the alien, the fatherless and the widow. Remember that you were slaves in Egypt. That is why I command you to do this.”
Deuteronomy 24:19-22

“. . . so that the LORD your God may bless you in all the work of your hands.”
Deuteronomy 14:29

Moses likewise instructs towns to provide, so that widows “living among you,” can participate in the Feast of Tabernacles. Widows are to be included in community life, sharing in God’s celebrations. (Chapter 16) God warns that neglecting the widow, was oppression to her. Israel was to remember the slavery that He had brought them out of:

"Do not deprive the alien or the fatherless of justice, or take the cloak of the widow as a pledge. Remember that you were slaves in Egypt and the LORD your God redeemed you from there. That is why I command you to do this."
Deuteronomy 24:17-18

When infant Jesus was dedicated at the Temple, Anna announced him; “a widow until she was eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped night and day, fasting and praying.” (Luke 2:37). God chose Anna, both widow and prophetess, to proclaim the coming of Israel’s redeemer. What an honor God bestowed upon her!

In a parable, Jesus says, “listen to the words of the “unjust judge.” Admitting he doesn’t fear God, this “judge” helps one particular widow because her persistence exhausts him. (Luke 18:3-6) Though the judge helps, Jesus calls him “unjust.” Heartless social solutions are not God’s. Had this woman not vigorously and repeatedly petitioned, she’d have gotten no help from the system. This is not the support God intends.

One day Jesus passes a grief stricken widow. She’s following in her son’s funeral procession. This son was her only support. Jesus raises him from the dead. (Luke 7:12-15). It is interesting that the boy was dead, but that “Jesus’ heart went out to her.” He raised the boy up, to care for his widowed mother.

Whenever people bring up “the widow’s mite,” I want to pull out my little bottle of white out. The conversation, both in scripture, and the room, turns to money. Right after Jesus mentions how the widow’s giving of two copper coins, was in fact more valuable to God than the riches of the wealthy donors, His disciples begin praising the expensively ornate Temple.

Today this story is read, and people say things like, “Yeah, God knows I can only give a little. But He will make it stretch.” Or “God sees the heart of the giver, and so knows who is and isn't giving till it hurts.” Jesus is talking about widows! Not you!

Then thanks to man-inserted chapter headings and numbers, whether reading Luke or Mark, (in most translations), our eyes are bold-print-diverted away from widows. If you white out that man-made chapter heading, starting a few verses up, you’ll read:

"Beware of the teachers of the law. . . They devour widows' houses and for a show make lengthy prayers. Such men will be punished most severely."

Luke 20:46, 47

Jesus then points to the widow with her two mites. He’s explaining her devotion’s worth to God. Yet no sooner does He mention how she, “put in all that she had,” there appears yet another man-added heading. Mine reads, “Signs of the End of the Age.” Pause next time, and consider what Jesus is saying to those who oppress widows, and of the widow before Him. He’s not after our money!

Jesus’ warnings to care for widows, is not a new teaching. God had His prophet Zechariah proclaim:

"Do not oppress the widow or the fatherless, the alien or the poor. In your hearts do not think evil of each other."
Zechariah 7:10

In Acts 6:1-5; the earliest church history, the apostles hear complaints that certain widows were being “overlooked.” They propose that the church “choose seven men, full of wisdom and the Spirit of God” (not just anyone willing), to oversee the caring of these widows:

“They chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit; also Philip, Procorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolas from Antioch, a convert to Judaism.”
Acts 6:1-5

All seven names here are Greek. Imagine the complaints such a program would get today? "Where's the diversity? Why are they all Greek, Jewish, and men?" But "this proposal pleased the whole group.” These women were most secure apparently, when these seven Spirit filled men, took charge of their situation. The church didn’t consider Rome's opinion before acting.

Ann and I had an abandoned infant twice snatched from our care. We were foreigners, and “needed more paperwork.” We pleaded with the authorities to let us continue caring for the baby, who’d thrived with us for weeks. They instead put our baby in an orphanage with 114 other infants. The five harried orphanage staff workers would strap the babies in at 5:00pm and, shift over, return to their homes till morning. The next day they’d return to their “jobs.” And knowing this, these “officials” would look us straight in the eye, and tell us they were taking the baby, “for its own good.”

I remember thinking, ‘Are they serious? What utter morons! How blind and how foolish!’ And in my ignorance, I said to Ann, “This would never happen in America.” But coming back, we see this kind of absurdity all the time. People get used to the insanity. But God will never get used to our putting political correctness above the needs of the oppressed. The help these widows wanted, were seven godly men, full of the Holy Spirit. They were Grecian Jews; the ones who cared the most. Get over it!

Sometimes a just cause seen, comes out as a complaint because those who are feeling the burden, aren’t seemingly in position to meet that need. But here, the apostles listened, and wisely gave authority over to those who saw the need. Take note complainers in church. God may be calling you to do something.

A newly widowed woman’s support system has shaken. On top of her grief, the widow may wonder, “what now?” God answers this question for us.

For a fuller look, go to 1 Timothy 5:4-16. Basically, children or grandchildren should be looking after their widowed mothers and grandmothers. Women with widows in their families should see that they are cared for. Widows without such help are exhorted to pray day and night. The church is to help those widows who meet the requirements. (See 1 Timothy 5).

Here is an interesting verse one usually hears, concerning deadbeats. I've yet to hear it given proper context. The "relatives," Paul is talking about, in context, are widows:

“If anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for his immediate family, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.”
1 Timothy 5:8

In verse 16, when the apostle says to the women that they need to make sure that widows in their families are being cared for, it doesn’t mean that the men aren’t to help out. It just probably means that believing women are going to be more naturally mindful of such things. I know! Right? “Tom, what a sexist thing to say!”

Stop changing the subject! God has oodles of time to work on me. Your widows need honoring today!

Sunday, November 29, 2009

"What Do I Have To Be Thankful For?" or "How Can I Get Rid of Canker Sores?"

Twenty years ago life seemed to be moving us around fast. Within the last 4 years, I’d had a heart attack, lost my mom, got called to Central Asia, Ann and I were engaged, then separated for language school, then we married, more language studies, Islamic studies, had our first baby, training in Scotland and Turkey for the summer, and then we were off to Urumchi city, in Northwest China with 4 month old Joseph. Within six months I’d lost 50 pounds, mostly due to stress and illness. And there were these painful canker sores that were constantly and persistently breaking out inside my mouth!

Note: For my British friends, I mean "mouth ulcers." As I understand it, only your dogs get "cankers."

They were so painful, that whatever remedy anyone suggested, I tried. I had no rest from them. Between language learning and my job teaching English, I had to talk all day and evening. And talking hurt! Eating hurt! Each sore lasted 5 days, painfully peaking around day three. I usually had three or four at a time. Just as one would ebb, another would emerge elsewhere inside my cheek or on my tongue. I was discouraged!

Then we were expecting our second child. In China we were told that if the first child was a c-section then we’d not be allowed to even try natural childbirth for the second. We were advised to have our baby in America.

Home meant living among friends in Pennsylvania. The hospital in town would deliver our baby without insurance. So with Ann almost seven months pregnant we went to Pennsylvania, via Hong Kong. Without a car, we didn’t plan on traveling at all while in the States. We’d have just enough time to have our baby, and head on back for school.

These years, I had become a complainer. I complained a lot! I complained about life in China: about co-workers, about local people, about my lack of progress with the local language. Holidays were the worst! They were to me a huge distraction from work. Between Socialist holidays, Muslim holidays and pressure to keep our own, life seemed one big long stress filled holiday. Carving out time was hard enough, then add those cankers and talking anytime became a painful chore. Not a happy time for this evangelist! I was tired, frustrated, and now we were returning to America to have our baby.

I actually thought that my complaining would stop when we came back to America. Old friends, family, familiar foods and customs, would mean no stress. But we got home, and I was still complaining. ‘Maybe this is a nervous breakdown,’ I feared. We lived in a community that prayed daily, had Bible studies daily, ate together daily (and the food was good). Ann's doctor said that she and the baby were healthy. Joseph was going on two and healthy. But still I complained.

Then someone gave me a set of car keys. It was a donation, and would we like to have it while we were in the States? This was not expected! Suddenly, the clouds lifted. Life was good again! I was happy! We could now visit our family and friends. I told Ann the good news, and we decided to celebrate, taking the car for a spin. Joseph, now two years old, was excited too.

We drove down the long driveway and out to the main road. As we drove along it began to rain. I put on the wipers. And after 4 or 5 wipes, the driver’s side wiper blade popped off. I had to pull over. And boy was I mad! I pounded my fist on the steering wheel and spewed negativity. All my so-called “joy” was gone, replaced by upset anger. As I sat there, Ann remained silent, and Joseph said, “Oooh, I like the car!”

What was wrong with me? I'm given a three thousand dollar car and am elated. Within 20 minutes I’m having a fit of rage over a missing wiper blade? If this was not insanity, I didn’t know what was.

My excuse overseas, to be annoyed with life, was off. I was home now and still grumbling. If anything, being home again only highlighted the fact that the problem was not in others, but in me. And so I sought counseling from Dr. Marks, a man whom Ann and I both knew to have wisdom and in whom we trusted.

After hearing me out, Brother Marks said: "Well, you know, Tom. You've never been a very thankful person." That rather took me off guard. I didn't realize that psychologists started their therapy with insults. But I was desperate for help. Seeing how he was implying that I should be thankful, I came very close to asking, "What do I have to be thankful for?"

But I knew this was wrong. I’ve been given so much! I knew that. I just didn’t feel thankful. “Isn’t it hypocritical to smile and say, 'Thank you!'” when in fact I don’t feel thankful?” I asked. And he replied, "We don't thank God because we feel thankful. We thank Him because He is worthy of thanks."

Silence followed as this truth regained its footing in my soul. He was right of course! I knew that. I needed to be thanking Him; because it is right to do so.

"For great is the Lord and most worthy of praise:"
1 Chronicles 16:25

Brother Marks was letting this sink in. 'How many thanks had I withheld from God these past months?' I wondered. I was out of God’s will, living this way.

“Be joyful always, pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”
1 Thessalonians 5:18

For homework, I was to daily make a list. Numbering 1 to 100 I was to write a sentence per line, each beginning with, "Thank you God, ..." Brother Marks seemed quite confident that this activity would break this misbelief in me, that God was due thanks only when I was satisfied with Him. Honestly!

In, “The Four Spiritual Laws,” on page 12, there’s a diagram of a three-car train. On the engine is written “Fact.” The middle car is called, “Faith,” and on the caboose is labeled, “Feeling.” The point of the diagram is that the blessed joy of one’s salvation may not be felt right away upon conversion. We come to faith believing certain “facts;” that God is holy, and we sin filled, and that Christ came to Himself pay the penalty for our sin. Then “faith” has us living accordingly, praying, getting to know God, obeying what He says to us, etc. Then, with our “facts” and “faith” in place the blessed “feeling” will follow. I’ve learned that this same principle applies with thankfulness.

As I looked to write the first of my 100 “Thank you God for….” sentences, I actually drew a blank. That is how far gone I was! I couldn't even think of one thing! But here I was, going by my feelings again. I needed to start with the facts.

Seeing my dilemma, Dr. Marks suggested, “How about starting with the air you are breathing?” I had to smile. As simplistic as it seems, I wrote, "Thank you God for oxygen." I then thanked God for other “facts:” I thanked Him for Ann, then for Joseph, for each meal that day, for the car. "And the wipers," I felt the Holy Spirit say. 'The wipers?' Oh! Yes, I thanked Him for the wiper which God used to show me how far I’d slipped. Filling 100 lines was done rather quickly.

Each day, by “faith,” I wrote out my list. Soon whenever I'd start crabbing, God woke me to it, and I’d repent. He knew I wanted healing from my ingratitude. As habits go, my thoughts still suggested I complain when things didn’t go my way. Praising Him at these moments was crucial to ultimate victory. Sometimes the Spirit would bring to mind a song our church used to sing, based upon Jeremiah 33:11:

"We bring a sacrifice of praise, into the house of the Lord.
We bring a sacrifice of praise, into the house of the Lord.
And we offer up to You; the sacrifices of thanksgiving.
And we offer up to You: the sacrifices of praise."

Since God is always good, we can always thank Him. However my day is going, and regardless of situation, His love and mercies endure forever. Believers have every reason to thank Him, no matter what is going on around us.

Hey! Within 2 weeks of making these lists, all of my canker sores were gone! Today, almost 20 years later, they are gone. Even if one hints at starting, I simply begin thanking Him. And that canker wannabe soon disappears!

I thank God for those cankers! Indicating my inner storms, they worked better than bunions. If my thinking went off, cankers would help keep me sane. And as I praise Him, God would bring to mind, what negative thing I was thinking.

Then too, during the third week of list making, the joy of the Lord and the joy of my salvation came bursting through me. Though I’d been a disciple of Christ for ten years then, that “feeling” of love for God again was so strong! I could not praise Him enough.

Not that everyone's ailments are due to ingratitude; but my cankers certainly were. It makes sense. We were created to glorify God. He would give us joy. Fact is that He is wonderful. Faith has us responding accordingly. And Joy the feeling, comes along in its order. Whatever is going on outside, we in Christ have everything to be thankful for.

"Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God."
Philippians 4:6

Note: I'm not sure if British people have bunions. They may still use barometers there.

Friday, October 30, 2009

How Should I Plan My Career?

Students are aware that so much lays before them. Unfortunately, many feel the pressure to make "just the right” decisions about their “careers.” From choosing a major to landing that first job, what a set up for frustration! Thankfully for believers, we don’t find out about our careers till later! We follow God's vocation.

While many worry and plan, weighing the pros against the cons of every decision, you who believe can rest confident. Consistently following Christ, you will one day look back on your career and marvel at God. God lives in you! He loves you more than you love yourself. He alone sees the end from the beginning. He is:

“. . . able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, . . .”
Ephesians 3:20

Christian, don’t tell me you don’t hear God’s voice! You may not express what you are hearing the same way I do, but you hear His voice. Jesus said:

“My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me.”
John 10:27

He says that if you are His, that you do hear His voice. And His voice in your life is way better than any “career plan." Instead of having your “career plan,” ask God about your present “vocation.” The words “career” and “vocation” both come from the Latin. “Vocation” has the same root as “voice” or “vocal.” It is your “calling,” from God. It used to be, that if a child didn’t grow up working the farm, but felt called of God to serve mankind in some other way, they had a vocation; or “calling.” Nowadays the word has been reduced to “job.” I’m choosing to use the older meaning of the word. Saul of Tarsus may have made tents for a living, but his vocation was to be an apostle. We, like Paul, are expected to be listening to God’s call in our lives. Jesus said:

“Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.”

Matthew 4:4

Jesus is talking here about the Spirit breathed word of God. If you are born again, you are able to hear God’s words. If you eat three square meals a day, you might try listening to what the Spirit is saying to you at least as much.

“Career” comes from the Latin for “road.” Those who don’t have God, labor to make their own road. Fearing insignificance, people plan, worry, and strive to make an impressive career. But, for all anyone’s efforts, students rarely end up doing what they and their guidance counselors came up with, years ago. Life has twists and turns. Times change and opportunities arise. It’s good to be flexible. But so much energy is spent, designing a tomorrow that rarely unfolds as such.

God doesn’t need goals. He has His will. We often pray that His will “be done, on earth as it is in Heaven.” In finding out His will, and by increasing our consistency in heeding when He reveals it to us, we find ourselves agreeing with the Psalmist, who says of us:

“They go from strength to strength, till each appears before God in Zion.”
Psalm 84:7

We don’t even need to ask, “What would Jesus do?” Jesus said, “Never will I leave you.” He said, “Lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” He said, “Whenever two or more of you are together, there am I in the midst of you.” I imagine sitting at a table with my family and friends, and hearing, “I wonder what Tom would want for supper?” “Do you think Tom wants to play checkers? What would Tom do?” Tom would probably slap someone.

Believers don't have to ask, “What would Jesus do?” He is right here!

“Be still and know that I am God.”

Psalm 46:10

We are called to be a people of revelation, not a group of masterminds. There’s probably a time to plan. But too often, people want all their questions answered before they’ll budge, when God has already spoken. Sometimes even in ministry, there’s way too much grown up talk; and way too little revelation! You’ve heard the old quip, “When all is said and done, a lot more is said than done.”

I’ve been a heart patient for 25 years. I have "numbered my days" often. Frankly, I’d rather clutch my chest where God has sent me, than in some meeting room, still planning how best to go about it.

“Trust in the Lord with all of your heart,
and lean not on your own understanding.
In all of your ways acknowledge Him,
And He will keep your paths straight.”

Proverbs 3:5

This verse isn’t just a beautiful verse. It's a command! If we are not to lean on our own understanding, we don’t need answers before we act! If He can “do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine,” then we can’t really strategize. By faith we should just move, saying “yes Lord” to whatever He says. We’ll find all we need to know, along Obedience Way. Hasn’t God always worked with us this way? He said to “the father of faith,” Abraham:

“Leave your country, your people and your father’s household and go to the land I will show you.”
Genesis 12:1

Abraham had to leave first; and then he'd see what God had for Him. Look, I don’t mean to annoy planners. I’ve often been told, “If you aim at nothing Tom, nothing is what you’ll hit.” But honestly, if the need is as great as it seems, just aim into the crowd. You’ll hit something! If God tells us to do something; we’d best be about doing it.

Maybe we plan because it's scary when God tells His people “how” to do what He's calling them to do. God can seem wild! He told Gideon to fight a war with only 300 men. He had Israel circle Jericho city seven times and shout, to get the walls down. He chose a virgin to give birth, and He had the disciples get thousands of people to sit down and then offers them 5 loaves and two fish. Following God requires utter faith in Him. But if I first come up with a doable plan that I can achieve, then all I’ll see is what I can do. If you want to see God work, then let Him lead. You’ll be amazed. And if you do it consistently, your life will be amazing!

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord. “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”
Isaiah 55:8,9

Even when Jesus says that we should “count the cost,” (See: Luke 16:28-33), He’s not advocating us planning. In context, He’s talking about the cost of becoming His disciple. And as with Abraham, following God costs all we know. The verses prior, explain how one must abandon all to follow Him. Then right after, He teaches the parables of the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the prodigal son. We are to abandon our own life to become His disciple. Then God will do whatever it takes to keep us His; (even if our journey gets a rather messy; like the prodigal son’s.) The life of a Christian is not, “better safe than sorry.” We aren’t polished professionals here. Christ, having given all to save us, expects us to give up all to follow Him. Discipleship looks less like careful planning and more like reckless abandon. Though with God, we can rest assured.

After Jesus said. . .

“The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.”
Matthew 9:38

. . . He then immediately chose the twelve, and sent them out. They went. Instructions simple, he exhorted them with warnings and blessings. No time for a conference. Harvest time was now!

When you do hear God’s vocation for you today,(And be ready for anything), determine in your heart, to say “yes.” And expect opposition. God once had me leave my work to go to Haiti. The more I prayed, the more I heard “Haiti.” So I resolved to go. God worked out all the details. Before leaving I had something like an anxiety attack. As if my voice kept telling me what a huge mistake I was making. It said:

“You idiot! You flunked French and Spanish in school! Nobody speaks English there! Are you crazy? You have left your dream job for this? You’ll probably get AIDS! Nobody will hire you when you return! Your career is over! You’ll never be a doctor now!…”

Then there was this awkward moment of silence, and then. . .

“Hey!” I about shouted. “Wait a minute!” I said, “I never wanted to be a doctor!?!”

It was just Satan. He really had me going for a minute there! But with that last line, the demon exposed his hand. Ha! I said, “In Jesus name, I am going to Haiti! And if I die walking in God’s will, it is better than living out of it.”

Satan’s opposition really just served to firm up my resolve to obey God. I actually agreed that this, “career-wise,” seemed unwise. But God was leading.

Four days into my Haiti journal, I never wanted to leave. I never would have chosen Haiti for myself. But the God who knows me better than I know myself; and who loves me, knew. There have been many vocations for me since. My career and yours is going to unfold. Don’t stress coming up with the perfect career plan. Instead practice listening to God’s vocation: to His voice. You'll be amazed!

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Do I Prevent People From Believing?

Reggie got cornered after Bible Study. As in Jesus’ day Pharisees show up to mess with your freedom. Reggie confessed a sin and felt safe enough to confess. Most of the guys in his group nodded, and bowed to pray. Some offered advice, even accountability. Reggie prayed with hope in his heart, sensing God’s love and release.

But afterward, as folk started leaving, up comes Rabbi Dumpburdens, trying to re-shackle brother Reggie. He advised Reggie not to tell others about Jesus until he gets his “struggle” under control. God’s reputation apparently at stake, Reggie’s failings could keep others from believing. Seems only those with “blameless walks," should be testifying. After all, “You are the only Bible that some may ever see.”

Again downcast, Reggie wonders, “Am I keeping people from believing in God?” No Reggie, you cannot keep people from believing. Jesus opened that door for “whosoever will.” Cry out to Him whenever, and testify to others about what Jesus does for you.

Born with sin nature; Christians needn’t be surprised when humans fail. The early church lived in communities, dealing with sin, helping to set people free. Working with humans seeking holiness can look messy. Get over it!

Paul and Peter wrote to folk who met daily in homes, to hear their teaching, and to share spiritual life. Believers didn’t meet once a week in large auditoriums, and file out the door wearing, “I’m just fine,” smiles. Works in progress, they shared the adventure and dealt with sin:

“Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently.”
Galatians 6:1

Appalled Christians have forgotten! What’s the surprise? People aren’t sinners because they sin. They sin because they are sinners! Even to re-born saints, still living in earthly bodies, sin comes all too naturally. If people were born holy and chose to do wrong, that would indeed be surprising. But that is not the present human condition. When our spirits are reborn through Christ, we receive imputed holiness, while temporarily left in these sin-trained bodies.

Of course it matters how Christians behave! The Bible is clear on that. But our track record doesn’t determine whether or not others will find faith. People will either glorify God or curse Him. Our actions may only help elicit the response already being stored inside others.

“Let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.”
Matthew 5:16

Through our expressing God’s goodness to us, by kind actions, the Father receives praise. It isn’t about us being good. It is about Him being more greatly praised, and our obedience being instrumental. On the downside:

“Many will follow their shameful ways and will bring the way of truth into disrepute.”
2 Peter 2:2


“As it is written: “God’s name is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you.”
Romans 2:24

Quoting such scriptures to repentant people is just spiritual abuse. These verses aren’t talking about would-be believers. Paul wrote concerning religious folk, who strive for righteousness legalistically, while committing the same sins they judged others for. Pharisees are like everyone else, so their pretense of being holier helps on-looking unbelievers to say incorrect things about God. And Peter is writing about the altogether unrepentant. Christian in name, they indulge their flesh without following The Spirit at all. Reggie however, is broken and contrite, wanting God’s help!

When receiving faith, how much is God’s doing, and what’s our role? This question really concerns God’s sovereignty. In evangelism, how much should we pray vs. how much should we plan? We’ll never all agree on this, because it is not an either-or thing. We each fall somewhere along this spectrum. The Bible describes prayer gatherings, but it also describes outreach strategy sessions. Believers act, but the power to provide faith, is God’s alone.

People don’t come to faith by our expert marketing of God. While “actions” may often “speak louder than words,” ”faith comes through hearing” and hearing comes through the “spoken words of Christ.” Jesus speaks today, through His Holy Spirit. Paul asks, “How can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard?” and “How can they hear without someone preaching to them?” We need to be speaking up. The gospel of Jesus Christ is not, “Look how good I’ve become!” It is, “Jesus died for the ungodly! He had mercy on me! He will for you too, if you cry out to Him!” (See Romans Chapter 10). Don’t just stand there shining! Spit it out!

Reggie knows what to do with sin. Repent, confess it, experience God’s mercy, and then profess Jesus, and how God comforts us with His presence. Pharisees would have us keep silent, when testifying is needed. Jesus says:

“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the kingdom of heaven in men's faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to.”
Matthew 23:13,14

As believers, God’s standards become our standards. Struggling, we fall short of these standards. That’s not hypocritical! That is just having higher standards to aim for. “Hypocrites” are pretenders. Not doing what they are pretending to be doing, these Pharisees would turn people away from the very Door they are wearing “Greeter” tags at.

For God’s part, Jesus said:

“No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him, and I will raise him up at the last day.”
John 6:44

The word “draws” here is translated from the Greek word, “helkyo." “Helkyo” appears 8 times in the New Testament. For me, the word “Draws" here always seemed a kind of holy inviting or enticing. But that isn’t “helkyo.” Look how “helkyo” is translated elsewhere. I’ll highlight the words “helkyo” was translated into:

In John 18:10, Peter drew the sword from its sheath. That sword wasn’t enticed. It had to be pulled. In John 21:11, Simon Peter boards his boat in order to drag the net full of fish ashore. In Acts 16:19, Paul and Silas are dragged into the marketplace to face the authorities. This is no invitation! Paul gets helkyo-ed again in Acts 21:30, when a furious mob drags him from the Temple. They didn’t invite or entice him. They dragged him! James talks about how rich people were dragging believers into court. (James 2:6). Finally, “helkyo” is translated as “to haul in.”

“He said, “Throw your net on the right side of the boat and you will find some.” When they did, they were unable to haul the net in because of the large number of fish.”
John 21:6

Jesus twice mentions God's drawing of people. Besides as noted in John 6:44, Jesus says when speaking of his upcoming crucifixion:

“But I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself.”
John 12:32

I’m guessing that when translators put “helkyo” into English, it would’ve sounded odd to have Jesus saying,

“No man may come to me, unless the Father drags them.”


“No man may come to me, unless the Father hauls them in.”

Really, one can only “lure” or “entice” that which can physically come on its own, if it so desires. “Helkyo” seems to pull, draw, drag or haul, that which cannot come on its own. Coming to Christ requires God's helkyo-ing. And who is stronger than God? I am happy to say, that Reggie cannot hinder God’s hauling power. Reggie’s glad too!

Christians, be humble! We didn’t come to God out of our personal goodness or strength.

“…at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly.”
Romans 5:6

Let people testify! In fact, it is the blood of the Lamb, and personal testimony, by which people overcome the evil one. (Rev. 12:11). Sharing our faith builds us up. And it may light the way for others.

Reggie is not called to be the only Bible anyone ever sees. This is America! There are over 50 readable translations available in English today. You can get them freely if you just ask, or for a quarter at library sales, garage sales, etc. Ask most of my family members who all got Bibles for their birthdays, Christmases, Fourth of July, Groundhog Day, etc. the first few years I had been a believer. (Back then I thought the hauling and dragging was up to me, you see.) In America if people don't have a Bible, it is either because “some people” don't want one, or they do, but we'll have to trust God's mercy in the end, towards actual morons. Relax Reggie. I've seen the Bible. And it ain't you!

God’s creation reveals His being.

“For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities – His eternal power and divine nature – have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.”
Romans 1:19,20

Rather than being shining examples to the lost, we are told to actually go into “all the world,” testifying and teaching. Speak! While doing so we work this salvation out in our lives. (Philippians 2:12) Christians repent if we sin. God responds. Don’t let Pharisees keep you from testifying. If Christ has forgiven you, say so! People without hope themselves need to know why you have it! And you’ll be stronger for it.

“I pray that you may be active in sharing your faith, so that you will have a full understanding of every good thing we have in Christ.”
Philemon 6

If someone really wants to be “the only Bible that some will ever see,” how about going to the Yaru Islands. Wycliffe Bible Translators are looking for people to translate God’s Word into the 5 languages spoken there, along with 2,000 plus other languages in the world, yet without a single Bible. You can be it till they get there. Go help out them! Please! And leave Reggie alone!

Monday, August 31, 2009

"How Come I Lose My Temper?"

“I blew it again!” Doug writes. His daughter was visiting him in prison, and he lost his temper, so she left. “She makes me so mad! I said some really terrible things! Totally lost control! Can I even call myself a Christian?”

Wow, three questions in one! Why the temper? How do people make people angry? And does losing one’s temper mean someone is not a Christian?

Proverbs says:

“Better a patient man than a warrior, a man who controls his temper than one who takes a city.”


Other than King Saul “losing his temper” at his son Jonathan, Paul’s letter to Galatians calls such outbursts “fits of rage.” Fits of rage are acts of the sinful nature, and must be repented of, because it says, including other actions of the sinful nature:

“. . . that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.”
Galatians 5:21

Doug apologized and does not intend to “live like this.” That’s the good news. He’s agreeing with God. But, why these outbursts?

Doug wants to display the “fruit of the Spirit:” which contains “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self control.” (Galatians 5:22,23) “Fruit” of the Spirit here is singular and not plural. It is one fruit with many characteristics; all of which God intends to work into the lives of His children. Impossible for humans to produce this fruit, the Holy Spirit can work these into our lives.

“Losing one’s temper,” sounds nicer than “fits or rage.” Doug’s daughter is fourteen, using drugs, and making his mistakes. Despite his love for her, he cannot protect her physically, while in prison. With a father’s love, he’s forfeited any visible means to protect his child. Frustration is understandable. But blowing up sure doesn’t help! Tempers are lost, when we feel cornered. Doug feels parental responsibilities, with no means to accomplish them. Kaboom!

Still, Doug had a choice. His daughter is not “making” him angry. Sure she is risking her life! But Doug’s aiming his anger at her instead of its proper target. When sin is expressed in “fits of rage,” misbeliefs are exposed. Doug has misbeliefs that need clearing up. Junk feelings of guilt, helplessness, powerlessness, pride, etc. were exposed by his tantrum. When we blow, it’s time to realign our thinking: discover what is wrong and get rid of it. In his book, “Learning To Tell Myself the Truth,” William Backus calls such dross, “misbeliefs.” God both shows us our misbeliefs, and eliminates them by speaking the truth in their stead! Our part is to continue speaking these truths.

“She makes me so mad!” is fine English, but bad anthropology. It is a “misbelief.” In fact people don’t make people angry. Anger is a choice. Instead for example, by simply saying the truth, “I’m angry,” we can then isolate the feeling, and ask God, "why?" Then our anger can become productive. God can direct anger energy into prayer. And sometimes, once spent in prayer, He may direct us to spend what energy remains, solving the problem, or perhaps to speak the truth in love. Sometimes!

Eliminating “fits of rage,” God calls us to self-control: which is possible with His help. Sometimes our own English language weakens us, if we constantly tell ourselves lies like, “Peggy-Sue makes me so angry!” or “This crummy weather gets me down.” Not so! We have a choice! We can blame others or situations, but scripture teaches us that we can “be angry and sin not.” We can receive self-control. God gets angry, and He never sins. He expects us to not sin when angered. (Ephesians 4:26)

Had Doug not gone to prison, he’d be there for his daughter. Down on himself, he blew up at her. But her actions don’t make him guilty. Her bad choices don’t sully him. It isn’t prison making him unfit. It was the unmentionable things that he said to his daughter that made him unclean and feel so distant from God. Jesus tells us:

“Nothing outside a man can make him ‘unclean’ by going into him. Rather, it is what comes out of a man that makes him unclean.”
Mark 7: 15

Doug’s horrible words fit right into that list that Jesus then gives, of things that make people unclean. But Doug got right back on track. He apologized to his daughter and to God. That is taking responsibility for his actions. Then repenting, He’s asking God, ‘how can I stop this sin?’ God promises to help, but He doesn’t clean us instantly, using some magic wand. He purifies progressively with fire:

“These I will bring into the fire;
I will refine them like silver
And test them like gold.
They will call on my name
And I will answer them;
I will say, “They are my people,’
And they will say, “The Lord is our

Zechariah 13:9

Here, God is talking about people who He’s transforming. We in Christ are His “royal priesthood.” (1 Peter 2:9) When Doug was born again into God’s family, he became a royal priest. The Holy Spirit in Doug won’t leave him full of misbeliefs that lead to frustration. God works with us diligently to become people of peace.

Anthropology 101: If we consider the trichotomous view of man: that is, that we are three parts: body, soul, and spirit, salvation can be seen working itself out in all three parts. Once born again in Christ, our spirits are immediately regenerated from the dead state that sin had left us in, since Adam. Now spirit alive “in Christ,” we’re forever reconnected with God’s Spirit. The spirit is “saved.” Our bodies however continue the dying process. (2 Corinthians 5:1-5) We are not gradually gaining our glorified bodies. (Believe me, I just looked in the mirror!) When in death, our spirit and soul is released from our crumpled carcass, we will be given new and eternal bodies, which will never decay.

Our souls however, are being changed from corrupt to Christlike. What Christianese dubs “spiritual growth” is actually soul growth. We are being transformed by the renewing of our minds, as Christ is formed within us. Our “Make me like Jesus” prayers are being answered, but it’s in process. That’s where all this, “If I’m a Christian, how can I still be doing this?” lamenting comes from. You can be doing this, but in Christ, you won’t be doing it for long. You and God agree it’s wrong; and the Spirit of God will free you of it:

“- continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose.”

Philippians 2:12,13

So Believer: Your spirit is saved, your body situation will be saved after you die, and your soul is being saved. God is, “The Refiner’s Fire.” You are like silver or gold. But you being still in your carcass here on planet earth, your soul contains lots of dross. Dross makes unrefined metals impure. When believers mess up, we prove Jesus true; that it isn't what goes into a man, but what comes out of a man that makes him unclean. Sin expressed is like dross that surfaces, when fire is put under us. A sinful response to life’s trials is like dross surfacing on top of molten gold or silver. Our saved spirit agrees with God’s Spirit, hating the sin! We then cry out to God! Soon thanking Jesus, as God Himself skims off more dross.

Refining gold and silver takes many such skims. But God promises to bring us through this. You have probably prayed for Christ-likeness. You just didn’t think it would hurt so much. "Surprise!" Prepare to be refined again and again, being thankful in the process:

“Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”
James 1:2-4

When misbeliefs about our selves or about God get skimmed, what remains is a clearer reflection of who Christ is in us. Sin again and we’ll ache again, look to God again, and again see Jesus skimming more of our junk off. With each skimming, more of His reflection in us will be seen. I'm not saying go ahead and freak out on people. Bit if you do, go right to the Lord, so you can get yourself smelted proper.

I’ve been getting skimmed for nearly 28 years now. God has never left me. He hears my prayer to become like Jesus. He hears yours too:

“…being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.”
Philippians 1:6


“He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver; he will purify the Levites (priests) and refine them like gold and silver.”
Malachi 3:3

Whenever trials come our way, may the Spirit of God remind us that:

“These have come so that your faith – of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire – may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.”
1 Peter 1:7

Friday, July 31, 2009

“Isn’t it enough that I’m sorry?”

Dan’s friend said, “If you just tell God you are sorry, He will forgive you.” So Dan asks, “Is sorry enough? Isn’t there more to it?” Dan of course is right. “Sorry” doesn’t do it.

When I was a kid, if two children fought, they had to “make up.” Supervising adults would have them shake hands and say to each other, “I’m sorry.” This surface remedy at least demonstrated to us the mechanics of how to confess our wrongs, ask for forgiveness, and how to express forgiveness. But times have changed. Our culture has changed. We’re far less knowledgeable of Jesus’ command to forgive one another. And with that perhaps, we have forgotten upon what basis forgiveness is found.

Forgiveness is not a feeling. It is not even a change of heart. “Forgiven” is a legal term, letting a transgressor or debtor off the hook. And when it comes to breaking God’s laws, “I’m sorry,” just doesn’t cut it.

There is a verse stating the value of “godly sorrow.” But that verse reads:

“Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death.”

2 Corinthians 7:10

God’s forgiveness depends on where we bring our sorry state. That is, do we go to God with it, or to people? Does this sorrow lead to repentance towards God? Repentance is more than a turning from sin. Healing repentance doesn’t just turn from sin. It then turns towards God.

“….testifying to Jews, and also to Greeks, repentance toward God and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Acts 20:21

Some are sorry that they were caught sinning? Some are sorry because they now suffer from public shame, a disease, or broken relationships due to their transgression. Sorrow is a start, but where we take sorrow makes all the difference. Thinking God will forgive simply cause we are sorry, misunderstands the human relationship to holy God.

Peter and Judas Iscariot both failed Christ. Peter was sorry when he denied Jesus three times. Judas regretted he had betrayed Him. Peter took his bitter sorrow to God in prayer. Judas however, took his regret to his co-conspirators. Although sorry, he didn’t turn to God. “What is that to us?” they told Judas. They didn’t care. God cares.

Folk who grew up in the faith may take this for granted, but believers who came to faith as adults; those who can recall sinning outside of Christ, know certainly that the difference between sinning without Christ and sinning as a born again person, is huge! The unregenerate heart agrees with its flesh and is eager to sin if it can get away with it. But when the born again child of God sins, it is not a pleasure. They immediately feel duped and are cut to the heart. The Holy Spirit then prompts them to take their sorrow to God:

“…but each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed.”
James 1:24

James explains further that God is not the source of our temptation. Sinning for saints is indeed a drag! Finding no real relief in sinning, once convicted, we know immediately that we have grieved our Lord, and godly sorrow may result. The unregenerate feels he’s gotten one over on his enemy. The born again child of God feels he has betrayed his loving Father! Ultimately both are mistaken. Sorrowful perhaps (or not even yet), we in Christ turn our eyes again to God, having turned away from our wrong. Though some actions of sinners and saints can appear alike on the surface, God sees the heart. When you sin, where do you take your sorrow?

M.Craig Barnes notes, that while Peter calls Jesus “Lord,” Judas only calls Jesus “Rabbi” or “Teacher.” Many consider Jesus a great teacher, who won’t have Him as Lord. God knows His own.

Not every sorry person is free to repent. Esau was sorry, but he found no repentance. He wept bitterly when he’d forfeited the blessing. Though sorry, he didn’t turn to God. He lamented only to Isaac. (Genesis 27:38). Then he nursed a grudge. Hebrews describes Esau as “godless,” explaining:

“Afterward, as you know, when he wanted to inherit this blessing, he was rejected. He could bring about no change of mind, though he sought the blessing with tears.”

Hebrews 12:17

God’s pardoning of our crimes is not based on “sorry.” Sin's penalty requires a payment of blood. It always has. Abel’s blood sacrifice was accepted while Cain’s bloodless one wasn’t. The Jewish laws required blood from specific and unblemished animals to atone for their sin. These blood sacrifices were a foreshadow until the Messiah would come. Because:

“… it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.”

Hebrews 10:4

When Jesus came, John the Baptist pointed to Him saying,

“Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!”

John 1:29

Jesus let His unblemished blood be shed on that cross, to cover the debt of all our sin. God may see our sorrow, but where’s the blood? Blood was always the price God demanded for sin.

“For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
Romans 6:23

My blood is tainted by sin, and so is yours. Only Jesus’ blood would do. Jesus was not only a man who never sinned; but also unlike us, he inherited no sin from Adam. He was conceived by the Spirit of God; not by fallen flesh. His blood alone cleanses. That is why the old hymn proclaims:

“What can wash away my sin?
Nothing but the blood of Jesus!
What can make me whole again?
Nothing but the blood of Jesus!”

God’s not looking for sorry. He’s looking out for His children's good. I remember once sitting with brother Mehmet, who though growing up Muslim, was now a follower of Christ. He asked me if there were a list of specific sins, found in the Bible. So we went to Romans chapter 1, starting with verse 18. When we got to both “slander” and “gossip,” he really wasn’t clear on the difference. When I described gossip to him, he understood, but he was surprised “gossip” was listed as sin. In his culture, slander was bad, but gossip was just part of conversation. We read on and two or three “sins” later, I was in the same boat as Mehmet. In verse 30 it reads,

“…slanderers, God haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful, they invent ways of doing evil, they disobey their parents.”

At, “they disobey their parents” my friend Mehmet, groaned. He groaned as if he wholeheartedly agreed! In his culture, disobeying parents is truly horrible. To be honest, I felt nothing. My generation in the US, grew up trained to question authority. When I was young, friends jeered at those who honored their parents’ wishes over their friends.’ To me, “they disobey their parents” now looked odd, placed in the same category as “God-haters.” But to this Turkic man, and apparently to God too, these two sins belong right together.

The point is that Mehmet and I could both agree that all of the sins listed (and there are many more) in Romans 1, are things God wants out of our lives. While some of these we may feel, others we’ll just have to trust that God knows best. I could start better honoring my parents. And Mehmet could catch himself whenever he finds himself talking about those not present. Regardless of our different upbringings, we could agree with God’s assessment of things over our own. What a fun discussion we had pouring over this list of sins, after we understood this! We asked God what else we might be letting slide in our lives.

“Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.”
Psalm 139:23

Hey, whether you're feeling sorry or not, the next time you are convinced of sin, just bring your "sorry" to God. You’ll find yourself worshiping! Since sorry isn’t the remedy for your sin, move on from the “I’m sorry” part, to the: “Thank you Lord, for your Son Jesus Christ, who shed His blood and was crucified so that I could be forgiven! Thank you, thank you Lord!”

Born again children of God, don’t let your prayers for forgiveness start and end with, “I’m sorry Lord!” That is one way to start. That isn't why He's forgiven you! For those not feeling particularly sorry but yet who are convinced of some sin, “Lord, I know I have sinned,” is as good a start. Feelings aren’t the point. To enter worship, the prayer needs to get past your self to, “So thank you Lord, for the blood of Christ, that has covered the debt of my sin, and which cleanses me from all unrighteousness!” It will flow from there. And you will find yourself in the presence of the Lord.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

"What’s Your Beef With Celebrating Diversity?"

I guess in making a comment about Christians “Celebrating Diversity,” I stepped on some toes. Wow, I sure wasn’t looking to do that! Especially not funnier looking toes than mine! My beef isn’t with diversity. But when Christians are together, we are to focus on our unity.

My comment was not against diversity. Geezer missionaries’ favorite stories about living cross culturally require our enjoying diversity. From the day I learned to eat sugar cane in Haiti (don’t try and swallow it!), to just the other week in a Guatemalan hospital, when I called the nurse three times by mistake (I was just trying to find the overhead light!) and later urgently explaining to her in Spanish (which I don’t speak) that teammate Jana’s I.V. drip was “Es la finito!” (Causing peels of laughter), I’ve always enjoyed cultural diversity. But when it comes to Christian fellowship, it isn’t diversity, but our unity that we celebrate. We are one in Him, and are becoming one in faith.

“You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”
Galatians 3:26-28

His reason for gifting each of us spiritually, was:

“…that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.”
Ephesians 4:11-13

The Apostle Paul sometimes sounded like he was celebrating diversity. But in fact, changing his lifestyle was not for fellow believers. He did this for unbelievers, that they might find faith. His desire was helping those who’d not yet heard the good news about Jesus, to understand.

“I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some.”
1 Corinthians 9:22

Scripture refers to all those who are not following Christ as “the world.” One is either “of the world,” or they are “in Christ.” For those of us in Christ, the bar is set high. We are to be always loving, not only our brothers and sisters in Christ, but also our neighbors regardless of faith, and even our enemies. The world, without the rebirth that comes only through the blood of Jesus applied to them, cannot become vessels of God’s Agape love. His Agape cannot flow through them, as it must flow through those of us who are regenerate (or as Jesus says, “born again.”)

“The world,” in order to survive, needs a plan. They’ve recently chosen the path of “tolerance.” For the Christian, tolerating others is dropping the bar right on the floor! Who are we to merely tolerate those God commands us to love? For the world, celebrating diversity may combat that intolerance which leads many unbelievers to mistreat people who are unlike themselves. But mistreating others is so unchristian that the concern is moot. If a Christian actually mistreats others, the Holy Spirit living right inside them, will be grieved. When the Holy Spirit grieves due to our evil actions or thoughts, we'll suffer. When we suffer, the entire “body of Christ” (all believers) suffers. I’m grateful to have brothers and sisters “in Christ,” who help me with this too. Since our unified goal is to become like Christ, we ignore diversity, and transform “until we all reach unity in the faith.”

Where are your eyes fixed? If fixed on the differences between people, then they aren’t fixed upon the Lord. God has given the regenerated person, “eyes to see” and “ears to hear,” what the Spirit says. So instead of looking around at people’s differences:

“Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”
Hebrews 12:2

“Therefore, holy brothers, who share in the heavenly calling, fix your thoughts on Jesus, the apostle and high priest whom we confess.”
Hebrews 3:1

The Apostle Paul only observed diversity, in order that the gospel’s meaning would not be hidden from those God sent him to. Most missionaries experiencing God’s love for those they are sent to, will gladly adjust their lives in order that the gospel message can be more clearly understood. God so loved “the world!” Who has crossed cultures more than Jesus? He left His throne in glory, to take on human living. As ambassadors for Christ, all believers surely can learn to eat tofu, put on a pakol, or usul at a new friend’s wedding. How much more so if it will help steer the conversation away from cultural diversity, to presenting Jesus.

Urumchi winters are extremely cold! With Siberian winds sweeping winter down into the region, below zero temperatures can last 7 months. Without hot running water in our apartment, I quickly chose to grow a heavy winter beard over shaving. But before our second winter there I shaved it off for the sake of the gospel. Here’s why:

Our first winter there, my language ability was so low my beard wasn’t an issue. When summer came around I shaved off my beard. Then come October next, I grew my beard again as temperatures dipped below zero. I was also by then conversing much more freely. Re-growing my beard however, became the topic.

My higher hope there was to tell my Muslim neighbors about my Jesus. This was easy to do because there, daily, people would ask me what I believed about God. Muslim folk there believe Jesus to be only a prophet. He is so much more!

Now seeing my beard re-grown however, men began asking me instead how old I was. When I’d say 30, they would ask why I have a beard. Conversations once spiritual now would revolve around my beard. Local custom there dictated that only men who had gone to Mecca for their Haaj sported beards. I was told now daily that only men who are older go on Haaj, because once they have returned, they weren’t allowed to sin any more. The Haaj, I was told, made them holy, and so after going they could no longer drink or smoke, etc.

I tried steering the conversation back to Jesus, but it was difficult. It was simply “bolmaydu” (not done) that a young man who’d not gone to Mecca would have a beard. People seemed to need to talk about it. Nobody seemed offended. They knew I was a foreigner, and it was even interesting to some, that my home culture didn’t include this beard related custom. They weren’t angry. They were just eager to clarify in order to help me live in Xinjiang. But talking about Jesus basically came to a halt. The beard was in the way.

The choice was rather easy. I could either keep talking about facial hair and cultural differences; or I could shave the beard, wrap on a scarf, and go back to talking up my wonderful Lord Jesus. This choice was easy. There were to be many other such choices and changes to come.

The world preaches tolerance and diversity. Jesus’ disciples however, are called to love. So focusing on Christ when talking with non-believers, we notice the diversity just enough to get adjusted. We don’t insist that unbelievers conform to our ways. We conform to theirs (so long as it is kosher) in order to clear the path for those who’ll listen to our message. And when it comes to believers relating to each other, we likewise focus on Jesus and ignore diversity, while urging one another on towards Christ-likeness. For this we have the Holy Spirit and the scriptures, as our guide.

With “diversity appreciation” and “tolerance,” now the rallying-cry of this world, non-believers don’t understand why we aren’t excited about it. We seem non-supportive. That is because the world can’t aim any higher, and we in Christ are commanded to.

To imitate the world is to greatly lower the bar that God has set for us. Called to do unto others as we would have done unto ourselves, we frankly would rather be loved than tolerated. The world’s insistence on tolerance, and their demand that we celebrate diversity, is loud however. Christians should be prepared to explain why we don’t participate. Expect to be misunderstood here! Jesus was misunderstood. Something He said, I think applies here too:

“To what can I compare this generation? They are like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling out to others:
“We played the flute for you,
and you did not dance;
we sang a dirge,
and you did not mourn.”

Matthew 11:19

Though the world around us has its own agenda and ways of survival, it is important that we be about our Father’s business. We who are in Christ, are called to much more than survival.

I’m really sorry about stepping on toes concerning this. But maybe if your toes were more like mine, that wouldn’t have happened. Hmmm?

Friday, May 29, 2009

How Can I Get Better Fellowship Going In My Church?

Biblical fellowship is a matter of fact, rather than feeling. Folk often measure fellowship's 'goodness,' by how satisfying it feels. But Christian fellowship is not feeling, but fact. Cart before the horse, some Christians mistakenly approach fellowship as if it is something we achieve. We cannot! Jesus has already obtained it for us. Still, many, hungry for chums, put feelings before fact and faith, when it comes to 'fellowship.' We crave friendships, when God has provided for much more.

Imagine you are on a plane with 500 strangers: Suddenly you hear a boom, and the plane is going down! People are screaming as the plane careens downward for what seems like several minutes! You prepare for a messy death! Expecting impact, suddenly, the plane pulls up, and miraculously levels! The pilot lands roughly in an overgrown field! People scramble and are guided to a grassy hill! Then turning everyone sees the plane, engulfed in flames. As folk watch in silence, you look around, marveling that you all survived!

Finally breathing more evenly, you turn and see that others on the hill are starting to relax a bit too. Mothers are finding children and crying for joy. Airline workers are checking for injuries. Now imagine a fellow passenger about your age approaching you, obviously wanting to say something. You guess what they are going to say. But instead they say:

“Some of us are going to play Pictionary. We were wondering if you’d like to join us.”

“Huh?” you ask.

“Pictionary. It might be a while till help arrives and we thought playing a game of Pictionary might help break the ice.”

What ice? You’ve both just been rescued from certain death! Who needs icebreakers? Talk about what you have just experienced together! This is life altering and something you share with all 500 others. You want to find out what is going on with them!

Well fellow Christians? We've literally been snatched from the Kingdom of Darkness and thrust into the Kingdom of Light! What else should we start a conversation with? We don’t need to 'warm up,' 'get comfortable with' each other, or 'find common interests.'

“For He has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son He loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.”
Colossians 1:13

If this is true of you and of me, and we just meet; what are we talking about baseball for? Jesus rescued us from being dominated by darkness! Through His violent crucifixion, followed by His stupendous resurrection, we profess; He has set us free! Jesus broke all possible ice, when He included us! Chums are nice. . .

“Yet to all who received Him, to those who believed in His name, He gave the right to become children of God.”
John 1:12

No outings, projects, potlucks, or icebreakers will enhance what Jesus has done. If anything, these distract from real fellowship. Biblical fellowship is not something that we achieve. It is something we already share. That it would be foremost in our conversation with one another is presumed and exhorted. Fellowship happens through regeneration; we become members of the body of Christ.

"Speak to one another with psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs. Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ."

Ephesians 5:19

"If anyone speaks, he should do it as one speaking the very words of God."
1 Peter 4:11

And also with those not yet in the Kingdom:

"Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone."

Colossians 4:6

“Fellowship” is mentioned 9 times in the New Testament. It is fact, and not feelings. Of course feelings of love will often follow, for those participating in this fellowship. But there’s no easing into it. We are already in! Actually, we are commanded to get on with it. From these nine verses, “fellowship” is:

… the sharing of our Christian experience: regarding adherence to the apostle’s teaching, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. (Acts 2:42). For the born again child of God, fellowship is something we have with Jesus (1 Corinthians 1:9), with the Holy Spirit (2 Corinthians 6:14), something we have with the Father (1 John 1:3), and something we have with one another. (1 John 1:7).

Our Father calls us into fellowship with Himself, with Christ and with the Holy Spirit. We share fellowship with one another, when we share in Christ’s sufferings, or in His glory. Fellowship is something we are to protect. We extend it only to those who have likewise received from God, the grace of God. We extend fellowship, recognizing we are family. (Galatians 2:9) We don’t call family, those who do not walk in God’s truth. (1 Corinthians 5:2). In fact, it is impossible for unbelievers to have biblical fellowship with believers. (2 Corinthians 6:14). One cannot have fellowship with God, while walking in darkness, and we can only have fellowship with believers who walk in God’s truth. (1 John 1:6,7).

Of course fond feelings follow! We aren’t robots. We are a family with strong parentage. When kind parents insist on how their kids treat one another, and relate to one another, those children usually grow up enjoying one another too. In my family growing up, we kids couldn’t hit one another, steal, lie to, or be mean to one another. The family rules were clear. Even among cousins, we had to “get along,” or there would be no swimming, sleepovers, or camping trips. And we kids knew it! As a result, I believe, we enjoy each other to this day.

God has instruction for His children. The New Testament is very clear on how we are to relate to one another. But instead we go after friendships among ourselves as the world does. We either exclude through special interest groups: “Entomologists for Jesus,” etc., or we promote our earthly differences with “diversity appreciation” events, in effort to promote "understanding," when we have God’s higher call to Agape love one another; feel it or not! In Christ, there is no division and there is no diversity! Pop culture sets the bar extremely low. God’s bar has never lowered.

“You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.”
Galatians 3:28

Compared to what we have in Christ, cultural differences or likenesses mean nothing. Christ means everything to His family! The proper response when getting safely off that exploding plane was, “Wow! Did you see that?” And then, “What was racing through your mind as we were heading down?” or, “Do you think an angel helped or what?”

With shared Christian experience (fellowship), our proper introductions should be, “You know Jesus too? Awesome! How did you meet?” “Isn’t God great?” This is the sure way to enliven any Christian gathering. Anything else may be either divisive or distracting, postponing rather than quickening "fellowship." I once lived in a small fishing village in Haiti. One of the greetings that total strangers might ask on the road was, “Eske ou konveti?” (Are you changed?) And the believer’s response to this stranger-now family was, “Oui, gras a Dieu!” (Yes, by the grace of God!).

Throwing into the mix special interests like sports, hobbies, age groups, etc. only confuses things. What we have most in common, is Jesus.

Brother Charles Colson was once famous for being president “Nixon’s Hatchet Man.” A very aggressive political advisor; he threw some mean punches in Washington before being changed by Christ. Many who had heard of Mr. Colson’s conversion, were skeptical. Senator Harold Hughes was one. For ten years, Colson and Hughes were political enemies, and just now meeting as brothers.

In his book, “Born Again,” Brother Colson beautifully records this encounter. Colson and Hughes had no camaraderie, and certainly no friendship! But Senator Hughes, more mature in the faith, created an atmosphere of fellowship, by asking:

“Chuck, they tell me you have had an encounter with Jesus Christ. Would you tell us about it?”

It is that simple! That is how to ensure “good fellowship.” Have Jesus in common first and foremost. Anything else you have in common may only detract. Society puts up rules as obstacles to fellowship. Do not be shy. Don’t be polite. Be real!

After Senator Hughes put Chuck Colson on the spot, with a gulp Chuck began to explain how he had come to faith in Christ. He ended his testimony of meeting Christ with, “As a new Christian I have everything to learn, I know that. I’m grateful for any help you can give me.” Then he writes:

“For a moment there was silence. Harold, whose face had been enigmatic while I talked, suddenly lifted both hands in the air and brought them down hard on his knees. ‘That’s all I need to know. Chuck, you have accepted Jesus and He has forgiven you. I do the same. I love you now as my brother in Christ. I will stand with you, defend you anywhere, and trust you with anything I have.’ ”

All the running around and trying to make it all comfortable before we dip our toes into fellowship, is robbing us of the experience itself. I love what C.S. Lewis said about fellowship:

“The rule for all of us is perfectly simple. Do not waste time bothering whether you “love” your neighbor; act as if you did.”

Thursday, April 30, 2009

“How Can I Consider Other’s Better Than Myself, When I Work With Such Weasels?”

This is Ben's dilemma. Certain co-workers lie, cheat, and steal from the company. When confronted, they just joke about it. He wants to do God’s will, and he just read:

“Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves.”
Philippians 2:3

Considering what he’s seeing, this seems like an unreasonable request. “These guys are shiftless and lazy, always on the take.” Does God expect him to feel respect for people who don’t even try to be upright? “Or am I supposed to just especially loath myself?” he wonders. “Is that the point of this verse?”

First of all, this letter is written to “the saints in Philippi,” and the verse is addressing believers in fellowship. I’m assuming that people who are lying, cheating and stealing are not regenerate. Not that we should think of ourselves as better than unbelievers; just that we are looking to different sources altogether. But suppose you have trouble with even a fellow believer, and you come to this verse.

It’s probably the word “better” here, that’s throwing Ben off. So let’s start with that word. What does the word “better” here, go with? I mean, is it an adjective or an adverb? It is important to know. The Greek word here is “hupercho” and according to the scholars at, it means “important.” But unlike English’s “important,” here it is a “verb:”

1. “to have or hold over one
2. to stand out, rise above, overtop
a. to be above, be superior in rank, authority, power
1. the prominent men, rulers
b. to excel, to be superior, better than, to surpass

Only down by definition 2-b is “better” mentioned as a possible definition. Usually in English, “considering better” indicates one's personal opinion. That’s what is upsetting Ben. Is God requiring him to change his opinion? That’s an oppressive thought!

Some translations, instead of using “better,” in the English, use “more important.” The word "more" shows the whole phrase to be adverbial. Phew! If it were an adjective, then the word “better” in Ben’s Bible, would be linked with “others.” That would mean that we must consider that even the weasels in our lives are better people than we, however ignoble their intent, or noble our aspirations.

But if the word “better” here is indeed used as an adverb, then “better” attaches with the verb “to consider.” This "considering" is definitely doable! It doesn’t require our personal opinions or estimation of “others.” Consider kings for instance. Whether noble or ignoble, protocol requires kings be treated as kings. We can treat weasel kings like kings, without changing our opinion of their behavior.

Note: Practice, Perseverance, and then Producing.

We “better consider” others, by treating them as if they are more important to us, than we are even, to ourselves. To non-believers this seems absurd, but for disciples it is doable, even in considering the weasel-like. And as with other faith-requiring practices, we need perseverance and practice, in order to produce spiritually.

Just as Jesus tells us to “love” our enemies, with His divine “Agape” love, Paul is exhorting us to be humble ourselves, and to esteem God’s opinion of "others," whom He no doubt sees more value in, than we may be seeing in them at the moment. To Jesus they are worth dying for. He’s not saying we are not important. But we appreciate His estimation of these “others.” Then as we practice showing this preferential “Agape” love to others, we will find we can do so even to those we find difficult to love. If we’ll practice better considering them, more than we focus consideration on our selves, blessings will follow.

If we persevere in this, we’ll also wind up liking a lot more people than we expect. Are you annoyed? Start with prayer. Is there someone in your life who steams your toast? Pray for that person consistently. Pray for God's grace and mercy and blessings, specifically for them. Then do so for any "others" who tend to upset your mug. (Okay, okay, I'll stop!)

The Spirit will point out ways you need to change too. Repent. Enjoy being changed! Praying for them will change you! And your love for them will grow.

If who you are praying for is in Christ, be watchful, and you’ll even start seeing God-imparted qualities in them. They can't be total weasels! God works Christ-likeness into all His children! Ask Him to point out things He’s doing in them. Soon you’ll be rooting for them, as He is.

I’ve not only experienced this attitude change towards "others" through prayer myself, I have heard many Christians testify to this. This sometimes even leads to friendships. It isn’t necessary of course. But it happens. I remember once someone pulling me aside to “testify” to me, how their opinion of me changed after they'd spent much time in prayer for me. They "felt led" to tell me that I no longer annoyed them nearly so much. What a relief! To this day, I can’t begin to thank them!

One translation of Philippians 3:2 reads, “consider others as more important than yourself.” God is not asking us to do anything that He doesn’t do for us all the time. But will we practice it? According to Jesus, practicing is so important!
(Luke 8:21)

Along with practice, it’s important to listen to the Lord well. We must esteem His words! Recently some of us were reading in Luke 8, where Jesus explains “the parable of the sower.” I’ve read or heard this parable hundreds of times over the past 28 years. But this reading, words were jumping out at me! Don't you love when God does that for you?!

The seed being sown is God’s word. The soils represent the hearts of those who hear. But here God started getting my attention! After the first three types of soil produced no crop, Jesus says,

“But the seed on good soil stands for those with a noble and good heart, who hear the word, receive it,
(vs. 15).

And then in vs. 18:

“. . .therefore consider carefully how you listen.”

How we listen to God is vital! I may turn off a sales pitch, empty schpiel, someone’s ranting, or a speech with obvious agenda. We can’t just indiscriminately take in everything we hear with undivided attention. But despite the world's chatter, absolutely anything that God says, we can esteem as the most important words we are hearing today. Others may not esteem His words, but we must. Whenever biblical teaching goes against our cultural grain, like this whole “better considering” exhortation, be prepared to gulp, repent, and be changed.

That day as we read Luke 8, I knew I wasn’t esteeming God's word. Not consistently anyway. Not enough apparently. So I repent.

And then picking back up at Luke 8:15, God comforted me almost immediately! Thank you Lord! I had my answer when we read these words:

“. . . those with a noble and good heart, who hear the word, retain it, and by persevering produce a crop…”
vs. 15

We mistakenly measure “producing” as getting things perfect. Some of us lose heart, thinking we'll never produce until we "get it together." But the soil that produces, does so because it perseveres.

Producing is about practicing what God says; not losing trust in Him. There’s no mention of any success rate while doing the persevering. While I have proven that I can fail, God sees me still hanging on. How about you? Will you “carefully consider how you listen” to God? Will you continue to practice what you hear and persevere? Doing so, will make you good soil. You’ll produce.

I was glad for this correction from my Lord. I do need to listen better, and to obey with a will to persevere in it. God can tell me that I lack character; while simultaneously boosting my hope.

“Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest, and repent. Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me.”
Revelation 3:19-20

I don’t warmly welcome folk in for tea, who are critical of me. But God’s voice is so full of love, that a rebuke from Him is better than the praise of "others." He rebukes without shaming His children. Let Him speak! And "carefully consider how you listen."

Back in Luke 8, Jesus’ mother and brothers came to get Him. Not understanding Him yet, they thought He’d gone “out of his mind.” So when Jesus was told, “Your mother and brothers are standing outside wanting to see you,” He looked around at those who were listening and said, “My mother and brothers are those who hear God’s words and put them into practice.”

So let's consider carefully how we listen. Listening carefully, let's consider God’s words to be of utmost importance, and practice doing what He says. And in light of Ben's situation, if you practice treating others as “overtop important” to Him, you’ll be blessed. That is, if you persevere.