Tuesday, June 07, 2016

CHRISTIAN LIVING__IS IT CHRIST IN ME OR ME?

[YOU'LL NEED YOUR SPIRIT OPEN AND YOUR MIND ON STEROIDS FOR THIS ONE.]

There is a paradox seen in the Colossians 1: 26-29 passage of scripture that a lot of Christians just don't get. That paradox is simply that on the one hand, Paul says that he [personally] CONTENDS strenuously, to present the Colossians mature in Christ. [That's a lot of work.] By using these words he is saying that he is exerting all his energy to do this. The word that he uses for CONTENDS is “agonizomai” in the Greek. We get the word AGONY or AGONIZE from it. It denotes an intense exertion of emotional and/or physical energy; an agonizing if you will. He's laboring. He's working at it. He's putting forth all this energy on behalf of the Colossians and to do the work God has for him to do. 

But on the other hand, while he is putting forth this energy to further the Kingdom and the spiritual growth of those Colossians, he says he's able to do it ONLY BECAUSE Christ is in him exerting a supernatural energy and power that is almost like the force of dynamite. [We get the word dynamite from the Greek word dunamis used here!]  Paul IS doing it and yet Paul IS NOT doing it. How paradoxical is that! 

Paul was acutely aware of this paradox as he talks of exerting all his energy knowing the ONLY reason he could do it was because Christ was dynamically working in him. Paul is sharing here the revelation of what he calls a mystery that has been kept hidden for ages and generations, but has now been revealed to God's people. It's the mystery of Christ in you, the HOPE OF GLORY. For Paul this wasn't just a nice new revelation, it wasn't just some great new information, it wasn't a theoretical, theological thing at all. It was an EXPERIENCED REALITY. 

Someone will legitimately ask,"But I thought He finished the work of Christ and we are to rest in that!" Truer words were never spoken. We DO rest in His finished work! But rest is NOT inactivity in scripture. God is ALWAYS active on our behalf [think present intercession of Christ] and we have a rest of faith that produces our activity of obedience as well. [Though His yoke is easy and His burden is light!] This is the Christ in you in reality.

"Christ in you, the hope of glory" was something that Paul just didn't think or converse about, though I'm guessing he might have done that, but it was more fundamentally a REALITY he lived in. Christ was in him, and Christ was exerting this dynamic dynamite force that was EMPOWERING him to exert effort to accomplish God's will on earth as it is in heaven. He was aware that Christ in him was moving him towards what he called under inspiration, GLORY. 

The HOPE OF GLORY was a driving force that moved him towards experiencing GLORY. What is GLORY? I read someone who said it this way, "GLORY is the MANIFESTATION of God’s kind of beautiful, other‐oriented, self-sacrificial love being put on display."  [This is sure foreign to our self-effort, is it not!] This is NOT to be experienced just when you GO TO CHURCH, but it is to be the every day living experience of every believer. So Paul was aware that Christ was IN HIM moving him in a direction where he was increasingly putting Christ on display, where he was being transformed into the likeness of Christ, where he was being used by God to help others be transformed into the likeness of Christ. Christ in him was moving him to LOVE more like Christ, SERVE more like Christ, SHARE more like Christ, to THINK more like Christ and to FEEL more like Christ. Christ was in him to put His character and HIS KINGDOM on display. 

Paul is ALSO making it clear in this passage that God is not a coercive God. God will never coerce us. God never MAKES us do anything. God wants a really personal relationship with us, which means He doesn't want a relationship with a marionette. We're NOT puppets! He wants a genuine love relationship with personal beings that CHOOSE that relationship, not one that LOOKS loving but is, in fact, only God controlling EVERYTHING with NO responsibility on the part of His followers. God isn't that way. God doesn't pull strings on puppets. 

Paul is showing that while a paradox, the Christian has to take into account the exercising of his will, effort, and choices on the part of the believer, but it is WHEN those choices are made and that effort is given that the dynamic powerful force of the Holy Spirit will be, in fact, released by faith. Paul realizes that there is his part in it; he has to trust and obey. But God's part is to both to will and to do in him, AND HE WILL. 

IT'S A PARADOX! [a statement or proposition that, sounds quite unreasonable and leads to a conclusion that seems senseless, logically unacceptable, or self-contradictory:] So Paul puts forth the energy and yet, the only reason he can do that is because Christ is empowering him to do it. The world doesn't get it but WE DO! 

So as Paul it and is saying it, his role was to trust/believe/faith that Christ IS his LIFE and STRENGTH. His role was to submit to Christ in him and to trust Christ in him. He wasn't just cranking this out on his own. He wasn’t just a Christian who needed to go to church every Sunday or he wouldn’t be able to function in life properly. There is NO inherent power in attending church. If you doubt that statement just talk to people who lose ALL their spirituality when something happens to them, a tragedy or where they really are wronged or hurt, and they revert to a mean-spirited reaction because of that circumstance. It may be that they SELDOM miss attending church, but it takes more than ATTENDING church for life to be GLORY as defined above. 

For Paul it was that Christ NOW lives in him. It was this experiential dimension of the mystery that had been kept hidden for ages and generations, but is NOW revealed to God's people so the WHOLE of their life would be different REGARDLESS of the circumstances. 

THAT'S the mystery of Christ in you and THAT'S the paradox of CHRISTIAN LIVING. Forget EITHER to our own regret. BELIEVE and BEHAVE with both in mind and the HOPE OF GLORY will be realized in our EVERY DAY LIVING!


The answer to the question found in the title of this post is__ YES!

Paul B.

Wednesday, June 01, 2016

HERE COME DE' JUDGE

How we view God is terribly significant. That we view God a certain way is the result of many things is a factual statement but, basically, all of our experiences of life, good and bad, lead us AWAY from a biblical view of God which I believe is the correct one.

But, unfortunately, we can even come away from scriptures with a twisted view of God if we allow human philosophies and human reason to give impetus as to how we interpret the meaning of the scriptures rather than just what the scriptures themselves say.

Take the idea of God being "Judge." [Hence, the post title made famous by comedian Flip Wilson.] God is the judge you know. The bible says so. In Psalm 9:8 the Psalmist says this.. "He will judge the world in righteousness; he will govern the peoples with justice." In Acts 17:31 it says He has appointed a day in which Jesus will judge the world in righteousness. Notice both verses speak of God being judge and connects it to His Righteousness and His desire for justice.

But when we say the word "judge" what do we usually mean? We generally mean someone who impartially views all evidence and pronounces us guilty so we can be punished or innocent so we can be set free. The key word here in our thinking is "impartially."

The reason we think this is because our Western Civilization is built on a view of law and order that is based on a legal standard that measures us and clinically [think scales] assesses our guilt or innocence to be adjudicated by that Judge who had better remain detached if he is to be fair. Our entire system of justice depends on that viewpoint of an impartial and objective judge with no stake in our case.

But the God of the bible, who is our Judge, is far from "detached" or "impartial." He doesn't think objectively with no stake in the case before Him. He's on our side and love is His character even His very nature and mercy is in His heart toward us.

It is true that you may not be fully cognizant of this as you read the Old Testament. But you will when you see the Old Testament as preparing for the New Testament and see Jesus as the full picture of who our God__ who judges__ really is. In scripture God as Judge brings justice and don't forget that biblical justice is not basically "punishment" but "SETTING THINGS RIGHT."

This is clearly seen in Isaiah 1:17 where it says... "Learn to do right! SEEK JUSTICE, encourage the oppressed. Defend the cause of the fatherless, plead the case of the widow". Notice the context of setting things as they OUGHT to be rather than the idea of punishment.

I'm not saying that punishment isn't part of the process, just that it isn't the MAJOR part as most modern Christians seem to think. Which, by the way, leads invariably to a concept that God the Father is cold, calculating, angry and, while detached from us, gleefully punishes us for our sin because He's our JUDGE. But that's our western mind at work, as I've said earlier, and NOT the declaration of the bible.

In scripture the justice that God desires is one that brings healing and restoration to broken relationships. It is His__ The God of the Old and New Testament__ seeking to relieve the pain and suffering our sin has created that is what the Cross is all about. So biblical justice is to be seen in the work of the Cross as much as biblical Love is. GOD is at work in Christ bringing justice and love together in a fashion that denies Him EVER being impartial or detached from those who have to suffer the consequences of our choices that started with Adam in the garden and continues to our own day and our own choices.

So we see that love and justice are not mutually exclusive. You don't find the God of the Old Testament as a Judge angry and wanting nothing to do with mankind and the God of the New Testament appeased. Justice and love are both the very nature of God demonstrated on the Cross. Jesus died BECAUSE He loves and desires justice. The Father planned BECAUSE He loves and desires justice. The Spirit gives life BECAUSE He loves and desire justice.

What this means is the Cross is the expression of the very heart of GOD in both justice AND love. So the Cross deals with our sin [Our missing the mark] and it's consequences which are death. [Separation in more ways than one.] Now in justice AND mercy the God who loves can lavish that love on us because the wrong has been righted to all who turn to that Cross. It is truly a work of GRACE from the heart of a GRACIOUS and LOVING God who is our judge AND Redeemer.

The Cross is to be seen as a RELATIONAL move on God's part as much as it is a judicial move. His heart for us is never removed from us even because of sin. He loves. He made a way for us to be back in a personal relationship with Him. He is just. [Makes things right.] He is God. We can trust Him and learn to love Him back all because of that Cross.

 "Yet the LORD longs to be gracious to you; he rises to show you compassion. For the LORD is a God of justice".( Isaiah 30:18)

"For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whosoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting Life."

WOW. When I read back what has just been written I recognize the implications to me personally. Not just in a personal redemptive way but as way of life. In other words, if I truly reflect and reveal the God of the bible I will do so in love AND justice. Racial, gender, class, social, along with every other kind of injustice, will have my full attention.

I will NOT be overcome with a desire to punish people for wrongs done, though wrongs do have consequences even legally, but I WILL be overcome with a driving desire to make right those wrongs.

On top of that, I will be more concerned with my relationship with people and loving them than I will be their correctness in understanding any system of belief. To those people I will present the One who even used the Cross personally to gain a relationship with them and I won't forget that. Ever.


Paul B.

Monday, May 16, 2016

CHURCH STAFF RELATIONAL QUALITIES

THREE QUALITIES REQUIRED OF STAFF AND DESIRED OF THE PEOPLE
For years I've taught these three attitudes as the relational qualities needed by staff members in churches from the pastor throughout the entire staff. That's because as Pastor of a fellowship I desired these qualities to be in church members lives, but it's untenable to desire for others what we don't demand of ourselves as staff members.
See what you think.
1. A POSITIVE ATTITUDE__ the ability in the worst of situations to step back and see what God is doing. As staff we must be able to see God in every situation. He really is the "Blessed Controller of all events."
Jeremiah 29:11, For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. (NIV)
Romans 8:28-30, And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified. (NIV)
2. A LOYAL ATTITUDE__ a commitment that I will neither say or receive a negative word about you as a staff member until I know that it has been said to them. This means when you come to me, or I come to you, we can know it's not been shared with others at this point.
Proverbs 6:16-19, There are six things the Lord hates, seven that are detestable to him: haughty eyes, a lying tongue, hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked schemes, feet that are quick to rush into evil, a false witness who pours out lies and a man who stirs up dissension among brothers. (NIV)
Proverbs 16:28, “”A perverse man stirs up dissension, and a gossip separates close friends.” (NIV)
3. A SERVANT’S ATTITUDE__ an excitement about making the staff members around me successful in the opinion of the people.
Romans 12:10-11, Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honor one another above yourselves. Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. (NIV)
Galatians 5:13, You, my brothers, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another in love. (NIV)
Ephesians 5:21, Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. (NIV)
REMEMBER__This does NOT negate having to face problems, but it will mean those problems will be faced honestly between the ones involved with integrity. Matthew 18 will always be the format that guides Kingdom people, especially staff, in relational breakdowns.
Paul B.

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.