Friday, April 29, 2016

DISSENSION____[REVISITED]

This post appeared on this blog a few years back but is in need of being revisited as things are far worse today than even back when it first appeared.

It seems to me there is a present day proliferation of people who are creating dissension in the Body of Christ in the name of doctrinal purity and creating what they call an "identity." I believe that may be causing something more akin to the sin of gendering strife [dissension] than anything else. I also think it may eventually need to be addressed and confronted in a clear, loving, and biblical fashion. 

However, I do want to make two clarifying points before I continue to say what I believe needs to be said about it all.

The first thing is...the scriptures do make it clear that the difference between truth and error does matter. John MacArthur says, and I agree with him, that real DISCERNMENT is "The ability a Christian has to tell the difference between truth and error and right and wrong." He goes on to say that discernment as he's using it is synonymous with the simple ability to think correctly biblically. I agree again. That's a good ability to have. 

So to be discerning about what is true and what is false according to one's belief system is very important in the Christian life and I would not desire to take away from that fact at all. I think it is safe to say that the effort to maintain a spirit of unity in the Body should never be at the expense of truth OR purity in the Church. [A Corinthian problem in the NT if you remember.]

That said, it is also true that discernment in our lives is a grace and is the work of the Holy Spirit Who has been sent to "Teach us all things concerning Christ" and He will always demonstrate His character of Grace through our lives no matter the confrontation necessary about things right or wrong theologically. [Or any other issue.] Much of what passes for guarding the truth, as defined by a strife-genderer, which they always say they're doing by the way, is nothing more, in my estimation, than bad character dressed in a second rate personality trying to get their own way and is a biblical no-no. 

The second thing is...REAL unity in the Body is not something we are to try and create by using a system of doctrines [Theology] that people agree to accept as a group anyway. Getting our identity or unity from a system of theology, whether Calvinism or Baptist beliefs or any other theological system, is not a concept that can be found in the bible. In fact, the creation of unity among Christians is NOT our responsibility AT ALL

We are to endeavor to KEEP the bond of unity that ALREADY exists among believers because of the Holy Spirit's work in us as Kingdom people according to the Apostle Paul as he wrote in Ephesians. That unity is not around certain doctrines but the Person of Christ and the work of His cross as explained in that same epistle. The people who create dissension wind up making it impossible to KEEP unity and it is the actions and attitudes of those people I wish to speak about in this post.

Kenneth Haugk has written a book entitled "Antagonists in the Church" and it is well worth the read. He is a Pastor, counselor and author who has been through the fire and has come out with the savor of the Spirit about him. In that book he describes the person who causes dissension or is divisive. His thought is there are some people who, he says, are "genuinely bent on a kind of behavior that is destructive to the Body" And.. he has given them a name. They are "Antagonists." He believes there is a need for them to be identified and confronted in love for the purpose of maintaining the "Unity of the Spirit." In his book you will find a wealth of information as well as a personality profile and manuel for dealing with such people.

I'm going to use major portions of his book to complete this post because what he says in that book is just too good to miss. He vividly describes the people he has researched and personally experienced in ministry who were bent on gendering strife and causing dissension, called Antagonists, and uses four descriptive terms with an explanation of each. Those terms are...[All emphasis mine.] 

A... Narcissism: “Narcissism is a personality pattern in which a person displays an excessive sense of self-importance and a preoccupation with eliciting the admiration and attention of others ... a narcissistic individual greedily fishes for and hungrily devours the praise and attention of others ... Narcissistic individuals who are antagonists are extremely reluctant to admit wrongdoings. They cannot conceive of being in error, because ‘right’ is what meets their needs, and ‘wrong’ is what obstructs the meeting of those needs." 

B... Aggression: “Antagonists also display patterns of aggressive behavior that permeate their entire personalities. Angry at the world, and any convenient situation or person, antagonists seem to wander through life seeking, inviting, and collecting injustices against themselves. Every perceived or actual wrong they experience is stored in their memories and periodically replayed to supply fuel for their anger. Antagonists initiate trouble; they do not wait for trouble to come to them. This often goes hand-in-hand with hypersensitivity on their part. They often take every word and action as a personal attack and respond aggressively. Something as seemingly minor as failing to say good morning to them can cause their antagonism to flare up. Their response to such an omission would most likely be to wonder what you had against them."

"Antagonists try to build themselves up by tearing others down. They express their inner struggles with a negative self-concept by attacking people, enjoying the failures and misfortunes of others while they project their own sense of worthlessness onto them." 

"The attacks of antagonists are self-serving. Often they will seize on a slogan or pick some side of a valid issue and pretend that is what they are fighting for. It rarely is. An antagonist will quickly drop a particular slogan or issue once it no longer serves his or her ambitions."

C... Rigidity: “Rigidity is characterized by inflexibility of thought, usually coupled with excessive concern for precise and accurate procedure (as defined by the rigid individual). Someone with a rigid personality sees the world as totally static; his or her explanation of events is, by definition, the unquestionably correct interpretation. Rigid individuals ridicule or ignore differing opinions and skillfully overlook contrary evidence ... Antagonists with rigid personality structures are especially jealous of leaders, because people in authority have the power to inject disturbing input. Therefore, rigid antagonists frequently employ their simplistic rules and regulations as weapons against leaders.”

D... Paranoid personality syndrome:“Marks of a paranoid personality include persistent, unwarranted guardedness and mistrust of others; delusions of grandeur; lack of genuine emotions, and hypersensitivity. Because they distrust others, paranoid persons try to find hidden meanings in words and actions, continually looking for ulterior motives behind what others say ... they commonly experience difficulty in relating to others; disagreements and arguments are commonplace. Paranoid individuals find coworkers and authority figures most difficult to get along with.

“A paranoid person often projects his or her own feelings onto others. If in a social gathering a leader accidentally forgets to shake a paranoid antagonist’s hand, the paranoid might blow the incident all out of proportion in his or her own mind. The wrath carried inside the antagonist will be attributed by mental sleight of hand to the leader, as if the leader were angry with the antagonist."

My assessment of all this? 

I would say he has nailed the actions and attitudes of people who gender strife and cause dissension as clearly as it can be done. It would also be wise for us all to evaluate our own actions and attitudes in light of this blistering description. To be part of the problem instead of the solution is not what I desire for my own life and I'm sure you would agree.

That said, I have to admit that it would take a measure of the work of the Spirit for us to be willing to address the kind of problem people he's describing in ANY fellowship. I'm going to have to reflect on what measures I would even suggest to do so at the present time. My measures in the past did not demonstrate genuine love I'm afraid. I spoke the truth as I saw it to such people but it was often driven by much more than Kingdom concern on my part I'm convinced. [Like self-protection perhaps!!]

I would finally say...I HAVE pastored these people and have even met some on the Internet. I think that families may also suffer this kind of Uncle or Aunt around sometimes and it doesn't make for good family reunions generally speaking. But the family of God CAN be a unit that graciously celebrates the differences [Even theologically] that are present because we are at different places personally in our individual Kingdom journey. With respect, patience, and a measure of love that is spread abroad by the Spirit we can maintain a unity of the spirit while working through our beliefs to truth as much as is possible this side of glory. No one of us will have it all and no one of us needs to be rejected just because we don't have it all. Kingdom living can be different. May God make it so by His Grace.


Paul B.

Saturday, April 23, 2016

CHANGE THAT ISN'T FOR THE SAKE OF CHANGE

What I'm about to say is ONLY my view. But it comes mixed with forty years of pastoring and attempting to lead people into the New Wine of the Spirit which calls for New Wine-skins of methods and watching as others have done the same. 

I'm convinced for change to NOT BE for the sake of change that what I'm writing here has validity. The suggested strategy I'm offering has been shared with pastors for years in seminars that I've taught. 

Let me begin with this statement. Most [not all] of the people I've been associated with through the years are NOT AFRAID of change WHEN it is seen by them as being of the Spirit and is seen as an evolution into something new that He [The Spirit] is bringing about for the edification of the whole of the fellowship. Without this confidence, change can be seen by them as merely a substitution of one old wine-skin for another old wine-skin instead of an evolution into what is needed for the new wine of the Spirit.

What I'm about to share is a strategy for moving into change whether we're talking about a local fellowship or a family. It involves change that confidently come from the Spirit's control rather than from manipulation or someone's personal agenda. I've seen it and watched it and I applaud it.

A strategy for implementing change in the life of a local fellowship [or family] would involve seeing what is needed and asking/answering the following questions...

Seeing a need for having a way of testing to see if the Spirit's truly giving new wine or not.
[How is the new direction of GOING_ different AT THE CORE_ from the old?]

Seeing a need for having a way of evaluating new methods as new wine-skins.
[How is the new direction of GOING_ helped by this new method of DOING?]

Seeing a need for having a way of asking the FELLOWSHIP about how they see the change.
[How do we ask for and receive the thinking of the congregation about it all!]

Seeing a need for having a way of keeping the FELLOWSHIP informed on the changes coming.
[How do we design critical path chart to inform the people along the journey.]


This is quite simple as you can see. But I've lived long enough to know that it would be wise to never mistake simple for easy.

Paul B.

Monday, April 11, 2016

THE AWFULNESS OF ANGER

At the outset let me say that I don't believe anger IS a sin at all. I believe it is generally better
understood as simply a negative human emotion. What you DO with your anger can become a sinful thing certainly. But when the bible says "do not let the sun go down on your anger" it is not saying anything about the nature of anger. It is advising us to deal quickly with something that can create real problems if left unattended. I also believe there is such an animal as "righteous anger." But that is the subject of another post at another time and ISN'T indicative of MOST of the anger we experience anyway.

Anger is a lot like fear in the scriptures. It is usually addressed in a negative context but, if correctly understood, the problem biblically is with the ACTION that results from the emotion, not the emotion itself. When speaking about fear, Jesus said on one occasion, "Oh ye of little faith, why are you so fearful." The storm they were in would make ANYONE who is a thinking person a bit fearful I would think. But they awakened Him and questioned His caring for them...out of fear. Which indicates, by the way, that He must have gone to sleep AFTER the storm arose or the question is rather ridiculous. So their action of waking Him up was done based on assuming He didn't care about them ['Look..He just went to sleep while we were in trouble.'] and was the indicator of their lack of faith or trust in Him.

I would think it wise to ALWAYS have a bit of fearful adrenalin flowing in the middle of storms, wouldn't you? Just don't do anything stupid motivated by that fear. The results can be awful. Anger is much that way. It is a powerful, albeit negative emotion, that can bring about terrible results when not properly restrained or handled responsibly.

Someone could be thinking..."Oh no, Paul Burleson is always talking about angry people and trying to get people to be nice to one another. Doesn't he know some things are worth getting angry about?" I admit to writing a good bit about the need to watch anger in life. But it isn't so much the anger I see in others that causes me to speak of it. It is that I see anger in others quickly BECAUSE I have experienced it in my own life for so long and I have seen the hurt I've caused in relationships because of it.

In fact, I've found that what most of us spot quickly and wish to correct personally in others is what is really present in us. But we so often DON'T see it there at all. I finally saw it in me. It was not pretty. I've already stated that I believe our anger is seldom the righteous kind. [Except in one's own eyes.]

That said, I must confess that anger seems more prevalent in all venues of society today more than any time I can remember. Whether politics, television, radio, entertainment or even religion, people appear to be taking license with expressing anger and there seems to be little or no regret about it or taking responsibility for it.

So let's talk about anger.

Well, let me begin by saying that I don't think other people CAN make you or me angry. Anger in a person is not caused by the actions of other people. It is really the result of two things as I understand it.

One___is our thinking about what someone does. If I'm thinking.."They don't have a right to do that." Or, if I'm thinking..."They shouldn't treat me that way." Then I act a certain way...ie...withdraw into isolation, throw something, cry, angrily retort, get loud, or any number of things I can act out. You can see, I'm sure, that it was my THINKING about what they were doing that caused my reaction to their behavior.

But for me to say "I did it BECAUSE they made me angry," is to state an UNTRUTH. To say I chose to do what I did BECAUSE of my anger IS a truthful statement, but you are never a victim of someone else's behavior. There is, of course, the exception where you are robbed of choices were you to be, in fact, a captive to someone, which is illegal or immoral at worst and certainly an unhealthy situation at best, even if it's a marriage holding you captive.

But to believe you are a victim to what people do or say in normal circumstances of life and are made angry by their actions or words is to reject the responsibility of choices we have as human beings. To believe otherwise fails to own our own behavior and we become a blamer.

The fact is we have a will and are responsible to use it as we choose, REGARDLESS of the actions of others, to be different in our own actions. But it is learning to "faith" [believe] who we are in Christ, [Forgiven/Free/New Creation] and then thinking correctly, responsibly, even biblically so that ultimately, in the power of the Spirit, we can choose, as Christians, to BE different in actions, regardless of other peoples behavior, that makes for good choices as Christians.

The other thing is___my anger is not only caused by my own thinking, but it is also often present in me because of blocked goals. If I have a goal such as.."They are going to treat me right or else"...and "if they DON'T, then watch out," my anger tends to be felt and expressed. But neither the feeling nor the expression of it are the result of someone else's action. It is because I had a goal [To be treated right.] and no one had better keep that from happening.

Driving a car can illustrate the same thing. Four way stop. My turn. Someone jumps ahead of me. WATCH OUT. But they didn't cause my anger. I had a goal of fairness in taking turns at the stop signs and they blocked it and I had angry emotions because of my thinking that they had no right to do so. To illustrate this Larry Crabb once showed it this way....

"A is the event. C is the emotion. Most people think A__causes__C. But A___doesn't cause ___C. The third ingredient everyone seems to bypass is B which is our thinking about the event. It is B___that causes C".

"As a man thinketh in his heart [mind] so is he." [In his actions.]

One of the best ways to grow is to accept as valid that you're not a victim to anyone or anything. As a follower of Christ we are empowered by a true knowledge of His word and the life of His Spirit within us enlightening that truth to our minds to live life in victory, not as a victim. So we CAN think clearly. Such clear thinking can produce different actions in us than are found in those who act like angry jerks. It can cause a taking of responsibility and choosing to NOT act that same way. Like an angry jerk.

It WOULD be wise to not let the sun go down on your anger by allowing it's presence in you to challenge you to responsible self examination about your incorrect thinking instead of playing the blame game.

Choosing to act Christian. What a novel idea.


Paul B.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

GUEST WRITER WADE BURLESON

The post that follows is one by our son, Wade Burleson. It is in my opinion one of the finest statements on what it really is to honor Christ and America as an American citizen as I ever read. If you've sought the balance of being a citizen in two countries a Christians are, this will help. If you wish to go to Wade's blog click on the title below.
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As a follower of Jesus Christ with a belief that the Bible is inspired by God and infallible in its character, I have many friends who tell me the solution to our politics in America is to "reclaim America for Christ." Though understanding their rationale, I fully disagree with their resolution. Politics is defined as "the art or science of governing," but if governments were to control the affairs of state in the manner Christ interacted with the world, then all prisoners would be released (Luke 4:18), foreign nations who attacked would receive no retaliation (Matthew 5:39), and the state would hand out everything requested and demand nothing in return (Luke 6:30). Jesus didn't come to govern states, He came to save sinners. Without question, were everyone to accept Jesus as Savior and Lord, there would be no need for human government, for all nations would love Him freely and other people fully (John 13:34-35). That's called heaven, or the eternal state.

Until then, human governments are necessary because nations, unlike heaven (Rev. 21:8), are full of evildoers. Governing authorities are "God's agents of wrath to bring punishment on the evildoer" (Romans 13:4). The difficulty in desiring to "reclaim America for Christ" is that God sent Christ to pardon and release the evildoer before God by paying for the sinner's crimes, whereas God establishes human governments to punish and retain the evildoerbefore man until the sinner redeems himself through payment for his crimes. See the difference? I too wish to "reclaim America for Christ," but this is done through proclamation of the Good News, not participation in the voting booth.

"A good government is an empire of laws" wrote John Adams, one of America's leading Founding Fathers. Early in Adam's political life, he wrote to his wife Abigail and explained why he must spend great time and energy in unfolding the "divine science of politics" for the American people. His letter contains one of my all-time favorite quotes as to why every American citizen should be involved in politics:
"The science of government is my duty to study, more than all other sciences... I must study politics and war, that my sons may have liberty to study mathematics and philosophy. My sons ought to study mathematics and philosophy, geography, natural history and naval architecture, navigation, commerce, and agriculture, in order to give their children a right to study painting, poetry, music, architecture, statuary, tapestry, and porcelain." (Source: Adrienne Koch's, ed., The American Enlightenment, George Braziller, New York, 1965, p. 188).

The Founding Fathers, including Adams, were all experts in the writings of the ancient Greeks and Romans. When it came time for them to establish government in America, they chose a Republic built on Natural Law. Most Americans today are completely oblivious to Natural Law, and as a result are confused by the Founding Fathers frequent use of the terms Natural Law and Nature's God in America's founding documents. The primary person to whom the Founders turned for their understanding of Natural Law was an ancient Roman politician and political writer named Cicero.

Cicero (106-43 B.C.) held the highest political office of the state of Rome when he served as Roman Consul. In his two famous writings, The Republic and the The Laws, Cicero made an impassioned case for a state built on Natural Law which protects its citizens from the oppressive power of tyranny as well as the mass chaos of anarchy. Cicero's arguments for sound governance by Law were so persuasive to the Roman people and so threatening to the Roman military generals with tyrannical aspirations, that Romans soldiers executed Cicero as an "enemy of the state" and brought his severed head and hands to the Roman Forum. America's Founding Fathers revered Cicero because they understood by signing the Declaration of Independenceit was their heads the King of England would seek to sever. What's fascinating about Cicero's writings in the first century before Christ is that he predicted there wouldone day be a grand and promising nation which would arise with a government based on Natural Law. America's Founding Father's believed that America could become that grand and promising nation, so they pursued building their new government on Natural Law.

Cicero defined Natural Law as: 
"...right reason in agreement with nature; it is of universal application, unchanging and everlasting, it summons to duty by its commands, and averts from wrongdoing by its prohibitions...It is a sin to try to alter this law, nor is it allowable to repeal any part of it, and it is impossible to abolish it entirely. We cannot be freed from its obligations by senate or people, and we need not look outside ourselves for an expounder or interpreter of it. And there will not be different laws at Rome and Athens, or different laws now and in the future, but one eternal and unchangeable law will be valid for all nations and all times, and there will be one master and ruler, that is God, over us all, for he is the author of this law, its promulgator, and its enforcing judge. Whoever is disobedient is fleeing from himself and denying his human nature, and by reason of this very fact will suffer the worst punishment." (Source: William Ebenstein, Great Political Thinkers, Hold, Rinehart and Winston, New York, 1963, Great Political Thinkers, p. 133). 
Remember, Cicero lived before Christ. He was a worshiper of "the gods," with his Supreme God being Jupiter, the Roman equivalent to the Greek Zeus. So when Cicero speaks of Natural Law or Divine Law, it meant to him a Law that is observable in Nature and felt by all mankind. It is common to all rational beings (Natural Law is sometimes called Common Law) created in the image of the gods.  To Cicero, building a society on Natural Law meant that citizens come to the conclusion that there exists a Supreme Creator God and this God has established Law by which mankind should live.

The Founding Fathers looked to Cicero and other ancient Greek and Roman political theorists to posit five tenets of Natural Law. These tenets were used in writing America's Founding Documents, and they became the basis upon which all other American laws would be written. These five tenets are summarized by American author and political theorist W. Cleon Skousen in his 1981 classic book The Five Thousand Year Leap: 
  1. There exists a Creator who made all things, and mankind should recognize and worship Him.
  2. The Creator has revealed a moral code of behavior for happy living which distinguishes right from wrong. 
  3. The Creator holds mankind responsible for the way they treat each other. 
  4. All mankind live beyond this life.
  5. In the next life mankind are judged for their conduct in this one.
Now the question is what "moral code" is held in common (e.g. Natural Law) with all rational people, regardless of their religion? Benjamin Franklin, consistent with his personal belief in Natural Law, wrote to Ezra Stiles, President of Yale University, and articulated the moral code of Natural Law (emphasis mine):
"Here is my creed: I believe in one God, the Creator of the universe. That he governs it by his providence. That he ought to be worshipped. That the most acceptable service we render to him is in doing good to his other children. That the soul of man is immortal, and will be treated with justice in another life respecting its conduct in this. These I take to be the fundamental points in all sound religion." (Source: Albert Henry Smyth, ed., The Writings of Benjamin Franklin, 10 vols., The Macmillan Company, New York, 1905-1907, 10:84)

Franklin's creed is a summary of how a person behaves under Natural Law. It is a lifestyle held in common with all true Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, Taoists, Christians, and everyone else involved in "sound religion." I will sometime hear Christians say, "America is a Christian nation, because the 10 Commandments are written in stone above the heads of the Supreme Court Justices?" What many Christians don't understand is that the same Supreme Court Building has stone friezes of many religious lawgivers, including the Hebrew lawgiver Moses, the Babylonian lawgiver Hammurabi, the Muslim lawgiver Muhammad, as well as others. Wait, did I just say Muhammad? Indeed, the builders of the Supreme Court building understood that the Founding Fathers believed America had room for any virtuous person of any religion as long as they treated their fellow man well. The people the Founding Fathers feared were those with no moral compass or understanding of Natural Law. They considered them foolish and a danger to good government. Many Americans today are convinced Muhammad didn't adhere to Natural Law himself, but that's not my point. The Founding Fathers personally knew many practicing, virtuous Muslims who were coming to America and they were telling them (and others of various religions) that as long as they held to Nature's God and Natural Law, they were welcome.

Of course there were patriotic Founding Fathers who loved Jesus Christ deeply and were zealous that all Americans be Christian. Men like John Jay and Patrick Henry and others were vocal in their desires to convert all men (I am too!).  However, the Founding Documents of America do not one time contain the name of Jesus Christ. They speak of the Supreme Being, God, Nature, Nature's God, and the Laws of Nature (read them for yourself) - but never once Jesus Christ. It's not that our Founding Fathers were ashamed of Jesus. On the contrary, many of our Founding Fathers were professing believers and devout followers of Christ. They understood, however, as did Cicero, that a good government must be built on Natural Law to avoid religious and political tyranny or widespread and dangerous anarchy. Overtime, Americans stopped reading the Founding Documents, not to mention theClassics, and came to the false conclusion that to be "a good American, you must be a good Christian." Our Founding Fathers believed to be a good American citizen you must adhere to Natural Law and live a life of doing good to your fellow citizens by protecting their lives, guarding their liberties and respecting their pursuit of happiness. The Founding Fathers considered "the pursuit of happiness" as the unalienable right to privateownership of land and assets.

That's why radical, fundamental Muslims who kill in the name of Allah, or radical, fundamental Christians who kill in the name of Christ are not welcome as American citizens. That's why persons or groups of persons who desire to 
forcibly take away another person's wealth are not welcome as American citizens. That's why anyone who wishes  to take away the unalienable rights of all Americans, rights granted by Nature's God, are not welcome as American citizens. These actions violate Natural Law. Americans have historically been the most charitable people in the world, because charity is always voluntary and arises from hearts of virtue. However, tyranny involves the forcible redistribution of wealth, the taking of life for the advancement of personal power or pleasure, and the enslavement of others on the basis of race, religion or reward. Adherence to Natural Law is America's safeguard against evil tyranny.

So as a conservative Christian who believes that the only way to be liberated from sin before God and to be brought into full peace with Him is through the atonement of Jesus Christ, I say to those who disagree with my Christianity that there is room for you in America. Our Founding Fathers established our government on Natural Law, and if you will simply acknowledge you are bound by Divine Law to do good to your fellow man, then I welcome you as a fellow citizen of our great country. Furthermore, I challenge you to participate in the process of American politics to elect virtuous men and women who will adhere to Natural Law and vow to severely punish those evil doers among us who harm or injure others by stealing or destroying property, abusing or wrongly taking life, or seeking to establish either tyranny or anarchy within our great land. America is a Republic built on Natural Law, guaranteeing the unalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness for all her citizens.

I am a preacher of the gospel. I want the world to know Christ. But on the other hand, I think it's time we Christians who enjoy American citizenship stop obsessing over whether or not our government reflects Christian laws and realize that Natural Law is the foundation of good government. America is great because throughout America's history, our government has promoted liberty and resisted tyranny and anarchy. I've just returned from the continent of Africa where there are examples of state anarchy (Libya and Somalia) and state tyranny (Zimbabwe and Nigeria). Additional examples could be given from Africa and other continents. America has been great because America's government has been the model of Cicero's vision where a virtuous people respect the rights of others in obedience to Nature's God and Natural Law.