Thursday, March 05, 2015

A SNAPSHOT OF HUMAN NATURE AND THE NEED OF THE GOSPEL

I've noticed something. People are just people. Our biggest problem may be that we are human beings. I have a friend who said one time that he could get along with people, it was just human beings he couldn't stand. [Funny I thought.] It generally doesn't matter if folks call themselves Christians or atheists or Democrats or Republicans or ministers or Americans, they still act like people and they are still human beings.

Case in point. [Actually a kind of "snapshot."]

I've seen people angrily react to what they perceive as failure in someone and then go to the opposite end of the spectrum in order to correct that perceived failure. For an example of this I'll use my experience in church life.

A congregation perceives their pastor as not being a good people person, [though he is a great bible teacher] and, upon his leaving for another congregation, the people decide they want a people guy with a winsome personality and they find one. Now his preaching is geared toward feeding milk [spiritual pablum] to the people, who are children biologically and spiritually. No ability in the pulpit really but all the kids of both kind [biological and spiritual] love him. It's wonderful.

For a while.

Then he's in trouble because he can't preach a lick. [The attention span of children being what it is.] Yet he is the same as he was at the beginning of his pastoral ministry. He's just himself. But now he's not enough for them and they are angry about it all. [People being just people.]

On the other hand, to prove my point, a pastor can be a great people person but is as weak as motel coffee in those two cup packets in the pulpit. [That's weak, trust me.] But when he leaves for a new congregation the left behind people are glad he's gone because they wanted some real preaching anyway and were angry he couldn't. So, they go after a thunder and lightning orator who curls their hair with fire and brimstone.

He's a REAL preacher you see. They are now hearing real preaching for the first time in a long time. [Since a sane conversational style by any man in the pulpit doesn't qualify as real preaching, I guess.] It's wonderful because The thunder and lightning guy has arrived. It's great.

For a while anyway.

But they then begin to notice he winds up disappearing from the flock from Monday to Saturday except for those chosen few [usually wealthy] who are admitted into his presence on occasion. So he's soon in trouble too because he just doesn't like being with people. Although he hasn't changed an iota since his loud arrival the people are still mad about it. It's human nature you see. [People being just people.]

But it's not just church people. One need only to observe the current political landscape as evidence. When Bush was President the people got to where they didn't like his shredding the Constitution [their words] with his blustering swagger. If Bush said it, did it, thought it, it was wrong. After two terms the people wanted it different. Those running for the office of President even ran on not being Bush-like in anything. Trust them, they said. They will be different, they assured us.

Enter Obama!
 People were confident that in Barack Obama things would be different with a quiet, gentle, bringing people together sort of President tenure. But division is greater than ever and you don't have to be a rocket scientist to know that. The problem is it [bringing people together] can't be done with human nature being what it is, I promise. People will be angry and want it different next time too. There is something in human nature that never is satisfied, at rest, at peace, in touch with reality and it's been this way since the fall. [People being just people.]


A snapshot of fallen nature.

I could show other snapshots like people accepting what costs them nothing and under-appreciating it ultimately because it was free. [Have you noticed how people do that?]

Or people who are sure they know why someone holds a different view about something, take women in ministry for example, so they trumpet the perceived motive of the one who holds that view which they are sure they know as fact, "They are just afraid of going against culture," people say.

But they don't know really know of course since they are not God and can't see another person's heart, yet they then ask you to trust their opinion over the other person on the issue. I could go on and on. [People just being people.]

I can let it go in politics. I really expect little else. But I'm thinking that judgment may need to really begin in the House of God. [Kingdom kids are by nature different remember.]

I realize I'm drawing attention to the problem of human nature.

The need of a pastor who is good with people AND can and does preach the word is legitimate. A political administration that DOES know how to deal with the need for housing and feeding the poor AND creating a good business working environment is needed as well. All these issues do need thoughtful and deliberate actions and people who do them.

But human nature [being what it is] needs the gospel. As believers my hope is that we'll leave all other things as important, but secondary, and stay primary on presenting the gospel because that's the only thing that can change human nature.

Paul B.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

THE MAKING OF LISTS


Lists!!  I've never been a fan, but at my age and with my failing memory they are almost indispensable. EXCEPT when that list is used as a measuring stick of my commitment to God or things that are suppose to evidence my being spiritual or my being pleasing to God. That kind of list winds up robbing me of my memory of grace and what a grace relationship with God is all about. 

You've heard them. Those people who list the way your attention, time and money are to be prioritized. God first, then wife, [or husband] family, church work, job, recreation, etc. This is premised on the idea that God has to be first and you have an ever declining list of what is important for you to do each day. That list winds up being a measurement and revelation of your commitment and spiritual growth for the day.

The only problem is that list fails in it's idea of Christian living entirely. This is not because it's wrong to make a list of what you wish to do on any given day. That's quite often helpful. It's wrong because God isn't FIRST in your life as if He's something you've added and now make Him priority in all things you do. God isn't something you DO period. He IS your life. Not a THING in your life, not even the FIRST thing. 

Rather then thinking of God as the first on a list of things to do or even to hold as the important things to remember, think of God as the hub. Remember that old bicycle you use to ride? The wheels had a hub. From it went the various spokes that enabled those wheels to create what was necessary for that bike to function according to it's purpose or intention. That is an inadequate yet much better way of thinking about our relationship to God than is the list. It moves us from what we DO in life to who He IS as our LIFE. No illustration is adequate. But moving from "doing" to "being" when talking about the Christian life IS fundamental to the scriptures.

He is the hub [source] from which every other thing in my life finds the ability to function__ in tandem__ with NOTHING failing to have it's good and proper place when time, emphasis, money, needs, are all evaluated and done. Every spoke [remember the wheel] of my life is important and held together because of my resting in the Hub [God] who is my source of ALL of life.

It's interesting that that the word, source, [Gk Kephale] is what is used in Eph. 5, 1 Corinth. 11, Col. 3, when Paul talked about our relationship to God, Christ, husband, wife, and even to the Church. God is the source [Beginnings] of it all and the man is source [beginnings] of the woman. So to think of the hub as the source or beginnings of what is needed for the bike wheel to fulfill it's purpose is how I'm to view God. He is the source for ALL I need for life to be life eternal, even abundant! 

My suggestion is to see all things__including this world__ as Paul saw them and stated to the Corinthians. He told them in 1 Corinthians 3:21-23 that they were to see all things, including this world, as gifts from God. He had just been saying that the Corinthians were to see all their former Pastors as God's gift to them, whether it was Paul, [himself] or Apollos, or Peter, but he doesn't stop there.

He goes on to say the world [of all things to say] or life, or death, or the things present, [whatever those things or moments are in life] or things to come, [whatever those things or moments might be]  ALL ARE YOURS.  Church attendance, giving, are some of those things that are your opportunities and gifts from God for sure. But don't rule out the NBA finals, or a national championship run by your University of choice [just different spokes in your life] as things that are your opportunities and gifts from a God that are just as real as well.

So, all things were theirs to embrace and enjoy because they are given to them by God. That's because life ISN'T divided into the SACRED and the SECULAR as if what you do is EITHER a sacred thing OR a secular thing, and if you really love God you will not spend a great deal of time or money on the secular at all.

Simply put, the things that have some connection to a church institution ARE NOT to be seen as sacred and things that have to do with baseball or a school concert or some other activity in which you participate, ARE NOT to be seen as secular. ALL ARE YOURS AS A CHRISTIAN. Enjoy!

Remember, when viewed in this fashion, church attendance, offerings, things of that nature [spokes in your life] will NEVER suffer but will never CONTROL either. They will have a place in life that is good and reasonable, but they don't measure your commitment or spirituality as a believer. That measurement is based on who God is to you and who you are to Him because of the grace relationship you have based on the merit, work, sacrifice, and presence of Christ in your life.

I'm going to mix metaphors here but bear with me. [From bicycle wheels to water jars.]

Think of a one gallon jar. Think of a number of stones laying beside it. Each stone is named. Wife, [or husband] kids, job, church attendance, financial giving, recreation, physical exercise, school, paying debts, social activities, favorite sports teams, you name it, it's there. Now place all the stones in the jar. [Our assumption is it will hold ALL of them although the stones may be of differing sizes.] 

Now, [in your mind] slowly pour water in the jar until it is full to the brim. What you have is a jar, stones, water. Now the interpretation.

The jar is God. He IS your life source. He's all and in all. The stones are things you do and relationships you have with people and possessions like money, time and so forth. The water is the Holy Spirit who permeates every thing and relationship that is part of your life. He touches everything. There is no separation from anything that is you. ALL OF YOUR LIFE IS SACRED.

Everything in your life is related to God and is a gift from Him to experience. No one thing is ever MORE important than it should be, thus, no one thing is to ever control you. You are living out of the abundance of your life and the source of your life is God Himself.

 Always remember, if ANYTHING, even attending church or reading your bible regularly, [a quiet time] becomes a substitute for God being real in your life, the thing you're doing can be an idol as surely as the idols the Romans bowed before in Paul's day.


Paul B.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

THE REAL MEANING OF 1 JOHN 1:9

OK!  I'm going to take a chance here and post my new way of thinking about the meaning of 1 John 1:9. I think my friends will, while maybe not agreeing with me, cut me some slack on trying to at least stay true to what I see in the text.

I know I’m neither a theologian nor a scholar, so what I’m about to write will leave anyone in either of those categories quite unhappy with my conclusions and writing. But since I’m a communicator I will present what I’m understanding about 1 John 1:9 in what I hope will be a sensible and understandable, not to mention true to the text, rendition of the verse.

Generally speaking, I have always read this verse in the context of keeping up to date with confessing personal sins in order to stay in fellowship with God. So I would summarize it this way:

“When we confess our sins and ask God to forgive us we are keeping short sin accounts with God. This is so we can enjoy fellowship. As God convicts us of our sin it is our duty to confess them knowing that when we do He will forgive and cleanse us so we don't grieve the Holy Spirit and fellowship will result.”

But was I, in fact, correct in what I thought the verse to be saying? I'm wondering!

Commentators generally agree that John is writing this epistle to oppose false teachers and teachings. That's certainly ONE of his purposes I think. For example, John says in 1:8,  "If we say [as some teachers were doing] that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us." However, John’s purpose seems to me to be slightly more complex than JUST correcting erroneous theology or teachers.

I'm thinking that 1 John 5:13 exposes the main purpose of his writing with 1:4, 2:1, 2:12 showing several other purposes as well. But all other purposes seem to be actually wrapped up in his number one purpose as revealed in 5:13, So, I think we can safely say that John’s goal in writing this epistle seems to be primarily that “they might know that they genuinely possess eternal life."

[Chapter 5 verse 13 is, after all, a summary statement near the end of the book.]

Apparently, those false teachers had created a lot of doubt and uncertainty about personal salvation in the minds and hearts of the people resulting in their question becoming, "How do I REALLY know I'm saved?" So, John, using his personal relationship with Jesus as his authority attempts to convince his hearers about what a real believer actually looks like.

Simply stated, throughout his letter John is not only correcting a lot of false teaching about Jesus’ deity, His humanity, the necessity of love, and what it means to have “fellowship with God,” but he is doing so in an attempt to bring  them CERTAINTY about the genuineness of their own conversion.

His method of doing this was, as I read one theologian say,  "One of offering different “tests" as evidence of true faith." Those tests showed that true believers will (1) believe that Jesus truly is the Christ come in the flesh, and because of this belief they will  (2) walk in Light and not darkness, and(3) walk in Love instead of hatred, and (4) confess sin when convicted and convinced of it, and (5) walk in obedience. I'm thinking that the paragraph that contains 1 John 1:9 is smack dab in the middle of these tests has to be viewed as a test as well.

Now, while it is certainly possible for John to have had secondary purposes in mind as he writes a verse like 1:9, it's wise to keep his overall goal in mind as we read it along with all the other verses.

With this as our background notice that John's greeting and introduction of this letter shows him jumping immediately into his main purpose of giving those “tests” of genuine Christianity. Chapter 1 verse 6 declares that if “we walk in darkness instead of the light, we are lying and are not practicing the truth,” which is the first “test.” One way to look and see whether you have genuine Christianity or not, is to see if you’re walking in the light. Chapter 1 verse 8 continues by telling us that claims to sinless perfection are grounds for failing the “test.” Finally, chapter 1 verse 10 repeats it again by linking a claim to sinless perfection with not having “His Word” in us.

So I'm simply contending that verse nine is a test as well and that's why it's found in this paragraph. Trying to interpret chapter 1 verse 9 as a command to confess IN ORDER TO GET forgiveness denies the surrounding context completely and just doesn't make good sense with this in mind.

Now for some EXEGESIS...

1 John 1:9 is a conditional sentence. In biblical Greek there are technically five classes of conditions with three of those five classes being the ones most commonly used in the New Testament.

A first class condition are statements in the indicative mood that are assumed true for the sake of an argument. Since "confess" in verse 9 is in the subjunctive mood, we can rule out the first class.

Second class conditions are statements that are assumed false for the sake of an argument. They are in the indicative as well. Again, verse 9 is not in the indicative so it can't be a second class condition.

A third class condition is presented as an uncertain you may or you may not kind of emphasis. Many Greek grammarians and scholars place 1 John 1:9 into this category,

But I'm thinking it is more likely that 1 John 1:9 should be categorized as a FIFTH class condition statement which is structurally very similar to a third class condition but isn't tied to a future time [sequence] element as the third class is. Fifth class conditions are a “present general condition,” [remember the context] where the author’s presentation is neutral. [Not a command] Greek scholars also point out that, “a Greek verb can have time significance [sequence] only in the indicative. The only significance that a verb in the subjunctive has, which 1:9 is, is one of aspect.”

This means the argument I once made that this sentence was describing a future [or sequential] event, [forgiveness and cleansing being conditioned upon confession and coming after] was a misunderstanding of the subjunctive mood and the fifth class of conditions completely.

This verse does not comment upon sequence of events at all. Instead, it simply shows a general, logical connection between two ideas. Those two ideas are our confession of sin and something else, namely, an evidence of God’s forgiveness and cleansing already being present when confession happens.

In simple language, a willingness to "confess" sins for a Christian is to EVIDENCE God's already present forgiveness and cleansing in them. In other words, their salvation is genuine. The focus is on a contrast between someone who denies the existence of their sin and someone who willing to admit their sins.

So my contention is that the meaning of the verse is that our confession neither CAUSES forgiveness to be received, nor RESULTS in forgiveness in any way. It simply identifies a person who confesses sin as already having become a recipient of God’s faithful justice and forgiveness.

One final exegetical argument to examine. The parallel nature of verses seven and nine are evident. Technically, verse seven, verse eight, and verse nine are all parallel in structure. In fact, verse seven, is almost identical to verse nine, structurally, since it includes the present tense. In verse eight John specifically shows the intention behind the conditional statement of verse 7: namely, giving evidences or tests of genuine Christianity.

So, our only option in verse seven is to interpret it like this: “If we walk in the light as he is in the light, then we have true fellowship with each other and evidence is in, namely, that Jesus’ blood HAS INDEED already cleansed us from all our sin.”

The same is true for verse 9.  “If we continually confess our sins, then the evidence is in that we HAVE INDEED already experienced God’s faithful justice in the forgiveness and cleansing of all our injustices.”

This reading not only allows for the structure of the paragraph and the meaning of the included words, but it also aligns with John’s purpose of writing, as seen in the two adjacent verses, the surrounding paragraph, and the entire letter.

At the risk of saying it over and over again, one more time I say, our confession of sin needs to be seen as a sign of our identity as a believer, not a necessary event in order to acquire forgiveness. When one sees confession AS THIS, when they are broken over personal sins and name them as such, they can have confidence that they are already a forgiven and cleansed child of God.

So how are we to correctly understand chapter 1 verse 9 when properly translated?

The verse DOES NOT TEACH the need for forgiveness or cleansing from God throughout a believers life, nor does it connect future events, confession causing forgiveness and cleansing. 1 John 1:9 is simply another test of genuine Christianity.

One last time! When a person is willing to confess to being a sinner and actions of sin, they can have confidence that they have ALREADY EXPERIENCED the justice of God through His forgiveness and cleansing.


[Dealing with sins is of course necessary for fellowship as shown in the foot washing incident of John 13 and this will be looked at a later time in a later post. But it's not the purpose of 1 John 1:9.]

Paul B.


Saturday, January 31, 2015

IN CHRIST BARRIERS ARE TRULY GONE

Galatians 3:28 says..."There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus." [NIV]

I sure like the following paragraph from a much longer editorial by Columnist Walter Williams who is himself an African-American journalist. It seems to me he nailed it. I thank him for doing so.

"Race is no longer the problem that it once was. That doesn't mean there are not white and black bigots or that every vestige of racial discrimination has been eliminated. But what racial discrimination remains is nowhere near the insurmountable barrier it once was. For the most part, white bigots are no longer respected among whites and I look forward to the day when black bigots are no longer respected among blacks......"

Columnist Walter Williams.

What Williams said reminds me of how our message of the gospel sets us straight as Christians on THAT topic whether society ever sees it or not.

Our text at the top says it all.

It goes without saying that for Christians the race issue is settled. We are a new Kingdom people and neither race nor gender is permitted to add or detract from our value or our relationship with each other. Anyone who names Jesus as Lord is equally my brother or sister in the Kingdom of God or the Body of Christ and anyone who denies that is being unbiblical in thought. There is an equality in Kingdom living that society may or may not understand depending on the culture in which, or of which, one is speaking, but it is to be EVER PRESENT in the present Kingdom of God.

Paul's culture of the NT time did not understand this equality and consequently did not permit slaves or women that free status. But the gospel did. And while Paul did not fight the societal distinctions that existed per se, he laid down the Kingdom principles of grace and life that did eventually fight against slavery in any form in the mind and lifestyle of believers. One would hope that our culture would follow suit, but whether it does or not, the Kingdom remains our hope in this matter.

Women and slaves were chattel property basically in the NT times but that did not keep Paul from declaring a different thing for the Kingdom while not taking on gender or slavery per se.  [As you are aware "per se" means "in and of itself."]  Paul had only one focus and that was the doing and dying of Jesus and the resulting grace embodied in any human who is found to be in Christ. It's called "The Gospel."

Eventually, Christians, as people "in Christ," had to learn to live totally different than their society as they made full application of that gospel and that difference was to be seen in slaves, females, husbands and wives, and every relationship one might can have with another person. Christians WERE different that's for sure. But they were ONE with each other in value AND relationships when the gospel did it's work. "You shall know the Truth [Jesus] and the Truth shall set you free,"

As said already, all this does NOT dispute the fact that people ARE DIFFERENT whether it be race, gender, age, abilities, strengths, giftedness, and a host of things left unmentioned. But the Body of Christ is not to be structured or viewed on the basis of any of those differences. We are to use our differences, under His anointing and authority, for the good of all and I believe, when properly understood, the scriptures will not allow for value OR relationships to be based on anything in our differences, but the grace of God alone.

This is not to say that the color of skin does not remain white or black or red or yellow and people don't remain male or female or deny that one does not remain young or old, obviously. But that is only a biological reality that does NOT alter the biblical reality.

Using Walter Williams words in this context I would say that I look forward to the day when racial bigots or gender bigots are no longer respected among anyone in Kingdom living. Then we ALL could serve our Lord by loving and serving each other as the highest privilege we have as we live out the gospel while sharing it with our world. This is the example that act as light and salt yo our culture and what a difference that can make. I think it all needs to begin in me. How about you?

You can tell I believe there is only ONE head of the Body, the Church, or the Kingdom and only ONE Lord and issues such as race, marriage, or church relationships in Kingdom living are not to be one of "authority over" [men rule and women submitting for example] but one of serving "one another" out of our giftedness and uniqueness under His authorityHe rules and we all submit and serve Him and one another.

Paul B.