Tuesday, June 25, 2013

LEAVING A LOCAL CHURCH

A few years back Mary and I were feeling a need to make a change in our local church affiliation in the town where we live. There was no particular reason other than we believed we needed a different direction for us personally, and a dear friend had joined the staff of another fellowship in a town not too far from us and we believed we might be of some assistance to him. The group we were considering leaving was a wonderful and gracious group of people with whom we still share worship experiences and meals together once in a while.

We talked, thought, prayed, and grew in our appreciation for the fellowship that had called our friend, as they were also facing a theological issue that was close to our heart. We wanted to join in the search for an answer for which they were looking in a theological area that many local churches avoid examining. We liked their courage and heart for scripture.

We went to a Sunday service and left knowing we wanted to join them, and did the next week. That was six years ago. We may have that sense again sometime in the future and would do it again if it were to be needed. Who knows! By the way, the issue they faced? The resolution to it was not according to our personal viewpoint, but we didn't go for a particular resolution, just an appreciation for  their willingness to look at it.  [We were of some assistance to our friend too, by the way.]

Not long after that, I received an e-mail from someone asking my counsel on leaving the local church where they were presently affiliated and going to another. They were facing somewhat of a difficult problem however, and needed advice on how to do it in the very best way possible. I wrote to them and shared basically what I'm about to say on this post. I believe this is a good way, whatever the motivation for the doing of it. So, I thought I'd share it with a much wider audience. [All two or three of you who read my blog. ;) ] 

I'll start by admitting that I have a real belief that the body of Christ is larger than any one denomination or even a local congregation and I probably think of moving to a new fellowship as nothing really THAT significant. I guess that's because I see building relationships is what Kingdom stuff is all about anyway. So, if anyone, as an individual or as a family, sees a need for a change and it can be done without creating problems where they're leaving or where they're going__go for it__if you would like to__is my personal view.

I would hasten to suggest that you NOT be looking for or expect to find any fellowship or anyone in any fellowship, that is perfect and without problems, They don't exist. We all need to realize when we move, we're just really moving into an experience of new friendships with members of the body of Christ who have their own unique set of problems and struggles.

 It is ALSO important to remember that we're always to be a specific help wherever we go, along the lines of our giftedness and, while sometimes it may be more for us than them that we move, we are to enjoy the new fellowship and be a benefit along the way. No affiliation with a local fellowship is ever to be for the purpose of hiding. [Though sometimes healing is needed.] And any healthy relationship is to have a measure of reciprocity about it, I believe. It is never healthy when it is ONLY one way. Even local Church relationships.

[You can have a relationship with a surgeon where he/she is the only one giving, but that isn't what I call a healthy relationship in the sense of the word as I'm using it here. Thank goodness they know how to give what's needed... relationship or not...right?  Come to think about it, you reciprocate financially even then, don't you!] 

So my simple three suggestions would be...

1___Leave still in love with the people left behind, so you can return and enjoy fellowship once in a while, if at all possible.

2___Go in gracious acceptance of any new people and love them where they are, warts and all.

3__Always see the church as an ORGANISM instead of an organization, so that you never cut off or isolate yourself from ANY group, past or present, so you are able to maintain relationships with God's people wherever you find them.

If this rings your bell, great. If not, maybe the next subject will.

[You'll notice I hope, that my picture of a "local church" at the top is NOT  a building, but people.[

Paul B.



Wednesday, June 19, 2013

GETTING/DOING/BEING___WHAT SPIRITUAL MATURITY LOOKS LIKE

Spiritual maturity as a Christian is a difficult and often dark journey. In 1 John 2:12-13 three groups are mentioned that might shed a little light on that journey I think. The reason John wrote his three general  epistles is because false teachers were distorting the meaning of the knowledge of God and he wanted to correct that. But in this particular passage why he used these three groups is not completely clear.

John is certainly reflecting on people he's known and ministered to over the years with a fondness that approached a familial sort of relationship, but the reason for doing so isn't crystal clear in the text itself. It is obvious that he is referring to their differing stages of spiritual growth as the references makes no sense if intended to be understood with a biological meaning to his words. 

This is not to say he was making a hard and fast judgment as to their present spiritual condition either. He was probably reflecting on where they were spiritually when he was with them personally years before. You'll notice, he calls no one by name, which is typical of this book since it is neither addressed to anyone specifically nor is the author himself named in it. This is the reason it is listed among what's called the General Epistles by the way. Scholars have concurred that John the Apostle is indeed the author however, and the readers probably knew that for sure. as they would have been well acquainted with this old man of the faith, now in his nineties, and his much earlier writings of the Gospel of John and the Revelation.

It is, however, the three interesting categories of children, young men and fathers that captures my attention at the moment. While what I'm about to say was perhaps not in the mind of the author as I will say it, I DO THINK the gist of what I'll say had a place in his thinking generally speaking. He was categorizing spiritual growth in a manner that says a great deal to us it seems to me. Let me explain.

If you think about it, children, especially infants, could be characterized as having a basic interest and focus in "getting" things. Whether it's a toy, food, attention or even a dry diaper, children are rather self-centered when it comes to living and are really interested in what they "get" at the moment. John hints at this with his reminder to them that they have "received" the forgiveness of their sins.

There's nothing wrong with children being excited about getting things and it is, in fact, rather cute most of the time. The same is true of all spiritual children. The forgiveness of sins and other things received, like the Holy Spirit, a new birth, and even heaven when we die, and who isn't excited about all the good stuff God gives us as His children! So all of us do like "getting" when we are spiritual children, and that's natural. But if it remains our primary concern and interest, something may be amiss. 

There was another group mentioned here that is important and that was a group called "young men." My point has no gender significance, and I doubt John had that emphasis in mind anyway. The thing that he IS interested in and can be seen as characterizing with this a group is "doing." Young people can "do" more than perhaps any other group. John even mentions this fact when he points out that they have "overcome the wicked one." That's quite a spiritual "doing" for sure.

In the Christian life there is a time and place where "doing" is properly emphasized. It often takes the form of quiet times. scripture memory, local church attendance, and a host of other spiritual activities that are accomplished, and that's wonderful and even necessary. But, as with children, to stick there and never going beyond that would be as damaging as remaining children.

So there is a final group seen called "fathers."

Staying in context, John was perhaps thinking of mature or spiritual grown-ups who have gone on from being children or even young people, to being adults. What characterizes a spiritual adult or father as John calls them? It is "being." John may be subtly pointing this out when he says, as John Gill interprets and amplifies the verse,  "You have known the One who HAS BEEN AND IS BEING from the beginning, who existed from all eternity, as a divine person, namely Jesus Christ.  Who is Himself, the Son of God, co-eternal with the Father and is the same yesterday, today, and for ever." He was always "being" the one needed.

There it is! A true father is one who is always "being." Being what? Being whatever is needed at the moment. That's just what a father is and it is what spiritual maturity or growth looks like. Spiritual maturity is not so much "getting" or "doing." Those are good and proper and part of spiritual growth, to be sure. But growing up spiritually or coming to spiritual maturity is far different. It will reveal itself in something you are "being" and not what you "do" at all.

My final thought on this is very important I believe. It is that your own spiritual maturity will likely not be observable to yourself at all. In fact, a spiritually maturing Christian will more likely disagree with that kind of assessment of themselves entirely. But those relating to that person will tell the story. And the story is not one of accumulating, achieving or accomplishing, but one of "becoming a person who is being_____."   The blank will/can be filled in with things like love, acceptance, patience, forgiveness, gentleness, goodness, faith,  meekness, strength, wisdom, transparency and such. [The Fruit of the Spirit.]

Those are the things that people draw out of a spiritually mature person without that person being aware of what's happening often times. The spiritually mature person has eyes only for the source of all that is needed in their own life, which is their Lord who is Himself "being" all that to them. Then they become a resource of "being" the same to others. But they are even surprised when told that's what they are by others. It takes a spiritually mature person to "be" what is needed and yet to be UNAWARE of just how they are really being that to other people. It's just "being who they've become" as far as they're concerned.  Doing what comes supernaturally natural.

"Getting/doing/being." All significant in their own time and way. But the journey is leading to "BEING." Moving from being children to young people to fathers. May God grant to His Church a baptism of maturity___ in the Kingdom sense of that word.


Paul B.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

FALSE MEASUREMENTS OF SPIRITUAL GROWTH

In the last post I attempted to prepare us eventually for what spiritual growth might look like scripturally by looking at the 1 John 2:12-13 passage in which three groups are identified by the Apostle John.  Those groups are children, young men, and fathers. I suggested that these perhaps present a picture of what spiritual maturity might look like.

But to make sense of it all, it might be helpful and maybe even necessary to dispel some wrong assumptions about what spiritual grow is first.

A description of certain assumptions on the part of some people actually tells us what spiritual growth IS NOT. I'm going to mention four out of many posibilities. By doing this, I will lay the foundation for eventually showing, at least in my opinion, what real spiritual growth is in Kingdom living. For now, however, it is important to see what these false definitions of spiritual growth are because they are so widespread and you'll eventually see why they can be so dangerous as well.

The first I'll mention is "bible knowledge." When I say this, I always want to add the little Latin phrase "per se" which means "in and of itself, or by itself." Bible knowledge, by itself, is not spiritual growth at all. The Pharisees in the day of Jesus would be case in point.

I've personally known people who could explain everything there was to know, from their perspective at least, about every horn, every crown and every toe of the dreams and visions in Daniel's book or  Calvin's T_U_L_I_P  system or every single Escatological viewpoint known to man. Yet those same people exhibited very little of what the scriptures actually identify as true spiritual growth.

Then I've known some young believers who thought the Epistles were the wives of the Apostles, but, boy did they remind you of Jesus. [That's a bit of an overstatement but you know what I mean.]

In 1 Corinthians 8:2 Paul gives a very wise assessment of knowledge being alone. he say, "We know that we all have knowledge. yet knowledge puffs up, but love edifies. And if anyone thinks that he knows anything, he knows nothing as he ought to know.1 Corinthians 8:2 NKJV.

Knowledge is valuable only as it is applied to a conforming of our lives to Christ in a fashion that we will later show as spiritual maturity. If bible knowledge does NOT find fulfillment in that fashion, it winds up being ONLY biblical or doctrinal facts that will tragically deceive some people as to their true state of immaturity spiritually. We all know people who argue, fight, separate, condemn and generally despise other people because of differing on certain biblical doctrines and show nothing of the grace, love and acceptance of Christ. Is that spiritual maturity? I don't think so!

Another mistaken notion about what spiritual maturity is would be "religious activity." This is probably the major mistake of the Southern Baptist churches with which I've been associated all my spiritual life. I've often been amused when someone would tell me about someone and describe them as being a "godly person." It could be a pastor, deacon, or regular old stick-in-the-mud kind of church member, but when giving the reason for saying that, it is usually a litany of the activities they've been faithfully involved in across the years. "They never miss church, [church is the place down on the corner which is foreign to scripture of course.] they teach a Sunday school class, they tithe, they serve on several committees, they even go to visitation." [Notice, they mention nothing about character.]

All of this activity was proof [in their mind] of the statement that the person they were describing was a truly godly person. You can that see godliness to them was something you do. Only it isn't of course, as we shall see.

Then there is the mistaken thought that "time" is synonymous with spiritual growth. In other words, the longer you've been a christian the more spiritually mature you MUST be. Being older and having spent time in experiencing life as well as having a knowledge of scripture is important as the word "Elder" being used along with "bishop" and "pastor" for church ministry indicates.

But time doesn't any more guarantee spiritual maturity than time guarantees a godly marriage. Some of the worst marriages for which I've had to offer counsel have been those where the couple have stayed together for years all for the sake of the kids, or for the sake of reputation, or out of fear of facing the struggles that are needed to built a healthy marriage.

Spiritual maturity has little to do with a calendar at all. Paul the Apostle was amazed that after many years the Corinthians were still on milk and he had to say, "neither yet now are you able to eat meat." Meat is for the mature and milk is for the immature and time had not brought about a change in their spiritual diet at all. Time has to be redeemed according to scripture because it is incapable of achieving anything on it's own except a loss of strength, stamina, health or anything else youth has automatically.

Knowledge, activity, and time. All important, but none of the three are the equivalent or even the evidence of spiritual maturity. But there is one other thing to mention about spiritual maturity that is often mistakenly thought about it.

When spiritual maturity IS EXPERIENCED it does nothing to improve your standing with God. We are" accepted in the beloved" and we are "complete in Him."  The most spiritually immature believers, as well as the most mature believers, whomever that might be, have no different standing with the Father because of their spiritual condition at all. God doesn't love us more when we grow spiritually and He doesn't love us less when we wallow in infancy spiritually. He doesn't accept the one who succeeds spiritually one whit more than He does the abject failure spiritually.

There are benefits to growing spiritually and even costs when we don't, but those are not on the part of our Father. He loves and accepts us on the basis of His Son whom we call Lord and that standing is settled for all of time and eternity.

So why grow spiritually? And if we do, what will it look like? I'll address this next time.

Meanwhile, think about the distinctiveness of "getting," "doing" and "being." They're pertinent.

Paul B.



 



Wednesday, June 12, 2013

IT'S FUN TO WATCH THINGS GROW

John was into his nineties when writing his three epistles that we now call first, second and third John. He's so well known and loved, he neither gives his name nor sends it to a specific person or group, and yet all who received it and heard it read, knew from whom it came. John was more than likely the sole survivor of the original Apostles and revered by all the believers in the Asia Minor area. He was more than likely now living in the city of Ephesus in Asia Minor.  

John's love was evident as he writes to those to whom he's ministered and watched grow up spiritually for many, many years. He was well known for already having written the gospel called by his name as well as the book of Revelation while banished to the Island of Patmos a few years earlier. 

As he's writing the first of eventually three letters, in 1 John 2:12-13, three groups seem to come to his mind, though his first mention of children in v12 was probably a reference to all of the people intended to read the epistle. But he winds up, nonetheless, with three groups mentioned as he's writing, declaring to each group something that is true of them that makes them dear to him and that makes for a special group of people he's known and loved.

One group is identified as children, who he reminds of the fact that they have received the wonderful gift of the forgiveness of sins. A second group he mentions is young men, though a sequence is probably not of any concern or intent in John's mind, mentioning the group called fathers as people who have known from the beginning that God has always been there, before he mentions young men as a group. 

When he does finally mention young people, he reminds them they have done a good job of overcoming the evil one. But it's clear to us that three groups are addressed, while not in sequence, and it is their spiritual growth that is being referred to and nothing biological is intended.

Bur for me, those three groups have some tremendous significance when thought of in a particular sequence. While maybe not John's intent at all, I believe the Holy Spirit has nonetheless revealed in his writing a very interesting thing. The nature of spiritual growth.

Any student of human nature would testify to the fact that children, young people and fathers picture three stags of physical growth. But the amazing thing is they may give us a great picture of spiritual growth as well. But to make sense of this, it would be helpful and maybe even necessary to dispel some wrong assumptions about what spiritual grow is.

Those wrong assumptions actually tell us what spiritual growth IS NOT. So, next time I'm going to mention four of them, out of many, that are often mistakenly thought of as evidence of spiritual growth. By doing this, I will lay the foundation for eventually showing what, at least in my opinion, real spiritual growth is in Kingdom living. We'll pick up here next time.

Paul B.

Saturday, June 08, 2013

HOW THE LOCAL CHURCH IS TO FUNCTION

I came from the tradition of one Pastor and several Deacons, with the deacons overseeing the church and the pastor serving the practical needs of the fellowship which included the teaching. Of course, there were other staff members as needs grew and they functioned as leaders of volunteers in whatever their area of responsibility.

That was the traditional structure of local churches for the first half century or so of my life in the Southern Baptist Convention.  [SBC] And, of course, no divorce permitted for either office. This was just thought to be the system and structure of church-life as it functioned in a local setting. That was a typical Southern Baptist Church as I knew it.

My journey has brought me to a different conviction. I now see in scripture and hold to multiple elders ministering/serving,  multiple deacons ministering/serving the congregation with all being servants and the elders being the greatest servants of all. The motive for the ministry of elders/deacons was to equip the congregation [members[ so they can do the work of ministry that is assumed needed in the body through their giftedness and the sharing of the gospel as they went about life.

My reasoning behind this shift of thinking began with an understanding the local "Church." A local church is only a part of the whole Body of Christ with Christ as the Head of the Body. [Head meaning both source and authority.] The whole Church  [Body]  is to be viewed, as is each local fellowship, as an Organism  [living thing] rather than an organization. [structure] And with a study of the words used for pastor, elder, and bishop, as used in scripture, which had not really held much meaning for me personally, up until now, things changed drastically in my understanding. And, boy, was it an eye-opener. Let me show you...

Presbuteros--Elder--was used multiple times in the NT. [Some 40 times]

Episcopos--Bishop--was used multiple times also. [Some 20-30]

Poimea--Pastor--was used ONCE as a noun in the Eph. 4 passage only.

The thing is, it would seem that in scripture all of these words are referring to the same person but from a different functional perspective. Elder refers to people who were older in not just age, but in wisdom and experience as well. Bishop refers to overseeing or having the whole overall picture in mind. And Pastor refers to shepherding or tending to the needs of the sheep.

The kicker was that, in scripture, they are referring to the same person and was always used in the PLURAL with reference to a congregation. When in the context of a congregation, they also, [ except in the KJV where for some reason it ADDS the word "office which is not in the Greek."]  were never seen as an office, but had the connotation of ministry or service and THAT without INHERENT authority.

No one is saying that to have one pastor in a congregation is WRONG. I'm just saying it might not be the best. And it may not even be closest to what the scriptures themselves indicate the Holy Spirit gifts the people for as a congregation. But all of this is by implication and understanding of words in their original meaning. No absolute command is given for how the structure is to look.

But whatever structure chosen, Jesus Christ is the Authority, the scriptures are our guide, the Holy Spirit is the One who gifts, and ALL MEMBERS are gifted to serve one another in the body in some fashion and to discern the anointing on those who have different gifts and follow them in their giftedness. We are to be an Organism [One living cell (group) of the Whole Body] when gathered and not just an organization.

That's how the local church is to function whatever the structure.

Paul B.

Tuesday, June 04, 2013

LOVE CAN BE A SCARY THING

We often operate in life, unfortunately, from the basis of our unexamined assumptions of what it means "to love" and" be loved."

Someone has said, "For the popular culture, love is something we feel, but for the church love is something we do." That sounds good, maybe even correct. But it leaves a lot un-said. Like what Love is. Examining what some people call love can even be a scary thing. [I admit that the picture is a bit of an over-statement.]

We ARE commanded to love each other: to love our neighbor as ourselves. [That's doing something.] But what does that look like? Does it mean to "never say no?" Is it always "being available?" Do we sacrifice ourselves and those in our family in order to completely love someone else? To me, that's a scary thing. 

To help us fulfill the commandment to love, we have produced many, many books on “how-tos.” While those books can be helpful, they may actually be a problem if they keep us from looking at the deeper reality of God’s real presence and work in our relationships. We end up being tempted to trust in the “how-tos”  [The practical steps to fulfilling that commandment]  as the reality of love itself.

There are three scary problems that follow in the wake of that kind of temptation......

First__they [those practical steps to loving] can lead us to believe that God’s goal for us is primarily external to ourselves. We end up equating maturity, or the successful Christian life, with happy or smooth relationships as a result of our being successful in our steps of performance. Of course, if someone tells us we don't love them AFTER we've done the right things to prove we do, there is an emotional war [anger/argument] carried on between us as we try to convince them otherwise.

Second__ they [those practical steps to loving] can lead is to believe that relationships are fairly simple to figure out and that we can solve almost any problem with the right technique. Good luck with that idea! 

Third__because we think that relationships are simple, we can be na├»ve about or even deny all the ways that we can sin, or be sinned against, in our relationships with such things as manipulation of another or control of another. How scary is that!

So what is real love?

I'm not sure love has a definition to it as much as it has a description that defies explanation. You recall the scripture says, "This is how all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another" (John 13:35). Then, Chuck Swindol said this, "One of the most profound comments made regarding the early church came from the lips of a man named Aristides, sent by the Emperor Hadrian to spy out those strange creatures known as "Christians." Having seen them in action, Aristides returned with a mixed report. But his immortal words to the emperor have echoed down through history: 'Behold! How they love one another.'"

But notice that a definition of love doesn't seem forth coming from anyone, even Chuck Swindol. So maybe love is more of a discernable thing than it is a definable thing.

I heard a story told as true by a popular preacher that pretty much says it all for me. Don't make anything gender specific or cultural in this story. Let it be what it is. A tale of two people who find love. 

A woman was married at a very young age to a man who said he was a believer, but was a domineering, controlling, kind of person and one who never seemed pleased with anything she did. She spent her waking moments trying to please a man who could not be pleased. He would leave her lists of things to do during the day while he was at work and upon his return home, she would find what she did examined and denounced as unfit or incorrect. She tried cooking tasty and attractive meals, to no avail. She tried keeping the house clean, but he was never satisfied. She tried to do everything right, but usually found nothing done to his satisfaction. She was doing everything she knew to do. 

The marriage ended. She was alone again. 

A man came into her life who was also a professing believer, but he was a different kind of person than she'd ever known. He was a gentle and kind person. He was thoughtful and appreciative. He was a gracious and giving husband. He said he loved her. which her former husband had declared on occasion as well, but there was something different with her new husband. Somehow his love seemed about her instead of about him and had a ring of reality about it.

One day, several years into her marriage with this man, she became aware of something. She was cooking meals, keeping a clean house, doing things that were for her husband and now her children, to be sure, but, she was unaware of them being done for any reason except she loved them.

They were things done with joy and delight with no agenda except to express her love to a family that was the object of her love. They certainly were NOT a list she'd drawn up to perform to prove she loved them. Somehow love was just real to her and the things done were not lists to be accomplished, but an expression of her real love.

Maybe in human relationships that's the definition, or better yet, the description of real love.

I'm persuaded that we come to that kind of love not so much by experiencing it from a partner as we do learning the biblical description of God's love for us in Christ. When we really do understand the depths of that act of love, we are more likely to be able, in the power of the Spirit, to love others as we're loved.

I know that is the best description, if not definition, of love you'll ever find, IMHO. It's called the gospel. That love does a number on "things that are scary." 


Paul B.