I will display God’s goodness

http://www.patheos.com/blogs/friendlyatheist/2013/11/15/another-gay-waitress-gets-stiffed-for-jesus/

On Facebook, a friend of mine commented on the above blog post.  Instances like these make me shake my head.  What these types of actions demonstrate and reveal is that what is in this person’s heart, and those like him/her, is judgment, wrath and the like.  Somehow, they are of the view that heaping judgment upon a person in this manner will draw this person to Christ.  Actually, this is the opposite of New Testament teaching and more in line with those who taught a “gospel” which was just the old ways, following rules and judging anyone who didn’t follow them properly, repackaged.  Paul declares that this “gospel” isn’t really a “gospel” because where is the good news?  Yet, how many in the western church, primarily America, focus on judgment and condemnation as their mode of attempting to draw people to Christ? 

Lately, in my own learning, it has been reinforced to me that it is God’s kindness and goodness that draws people to Him.  Paul says in Romans 2:4 that “God’s kindness is leading people to repentance.”  In addition, since the fruits mentioned by Paul in Galatians 5:22 are characteristics of the Spirit, these are characteristics also of God.  One of them is long-suffering.  2 Peter 3:9 speaks of God’s patience toward people because He doesn’t want anyone to perish but all to come to repentance.  God continues to demonstrate His kindness and goodness to people, patiently and with long-suffering, because He knows that it could be a long time, maybe even never, before they come to repentance and into a relationship with Him.  But, I believe, even if He knows that a person to whom He demonstrates His kindness and goodness will never come to repentance, He will still demonstrate both because His character and actions are not dependent upon the outcome or the person’s response.  If they were, that would make His love conditional; and it just isn’t.

Peter even says in his first epistle that we “are a chosen race, a holy priesthood, a holy nation, a people acquired for a possession so that we may declare the virtues of the One who has called us out of darkness into His marvelous light.”  I wonder, is judgment and condemnation a virtue?  What is being declared about the One who has called us if what those of this race/priesthood/nation/people use judgment and condemnation as the operative force in our interactions with those outside the kingdom?

God has a history of telling His people to work for the good of a community and the people therein.  Through the prophet Jeremiah, He instructs those in captivity in Babylon to work for the good of their community and I’m thinking that Babylon had a suspect culture regarding the things of God.  Even in the Roman empire, which was hostile toward Christians, Christ-followers were exhorted to live peaceful lives, working for the good of their communities.  In other words, God has a history of wanting His kindness and goodness demonstrated in this world.  It is what Jesus did when physically on this earth.  Why should it be any different for us?

Over the last 3+ years, through the teaching of Graham Cooke, I have been learning much and have gone deeper with and in God and an understanding of Scripture than I ever have before.  Just recently I heard him tell of an encounter he had with the leaders of a large group of believers.  This group was planning to descend upon San Francisco basically to tell the citizens of that city to repent or else.  Basically it was the Jonah and Nineveh thing all over again, and they wanted Graham to join them.  He absolutely refused.  And not only did he refuse, he informed these leaders that he would make it a point to be in San Francisco on that very same day, calling down and sharing God’s goodness with the people of the city.

It is a human, religious spirit that focuses on judgment and condemnation.  And, just because you say that you are doing it to convince someone to repent, doesn’t make it any better or different; it’s still a human and religious spirit.  

This focus flies in the face of who God is and what He did.  Paul says in Romans 5:8 that “God commends His own love to us that, while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”  That means that while we were deserving of judgment and condemnation because we were rebelling against God and we should have experienced anything but the goodness, kindness and love of God, God demonstrated the ultimate act of unconditional love by sending His own Son to earth to die.  Why then do those who claim to know God, who say the nature and Spirit of Christ resides in their hearts, act in a such a way that is in direct opposition to what God did?

I want no part of that group.  My focus is on God’s goodness, kindness, long-suffering and patience.  I want Him to demonstrate these traits of His nature and character to the people around me through me.  And if, because of this, people are drawn to repentance and into a son/daughter relationship with Him, I will rejoice, but even if they are not, that will not change my focus because that focus is not dependent upon the response of those around me.

May God’s goodness, kindness, long-suffering and patience shine through me and you for His glory.

Would you prescribe treatment for a dead person?

“I think too much pastoral ministry is based around what God has already killed off.  It is so important that we are not “pastored” in our old nature, but “pastored” in our new nature so that we are helped to become more significant in who Jesus is for us and that we stop being obsessed with our old self and instead become preoccupied with our new nature in Jesus.”Graham Cooke from the conference session titled, “Spiritual Appraisal”

What would go through your mind if you witnessed a doctor treating a person’s cancer after the person’s funeral?  What would you think if s/he prescribed radiation or chemotherapy treatments two days after that person’s funeral?  We’d think that that doctor was crazy, wouldn’t we?

Yet, how often in pastoral ministry is the focus on giving “prescriptions” or “remedies” for something that God has already killed off? For as the Apostle Paul said in Galatians 2:19-20, “I have been crucified with Christ, and no longer do I live, but Christ lives in me and now that which I live in flesh, I live by faith, that of the Son of God who loved me and gave Himself up for me.”  I wonder what must run through God’s mind when the focus of so many leaders in the church today is dealing with things and “conditions” which God has already killed off.  “3 steps to dealing with impatience;” “4 steps to holding your temper;” etc.

Helping Christians deal with the old nature is a multi-billion dollar industry in this world.  And that is crazy, because it is just like that cancer doctor prescribing treatment for a person’s cancer after that cancer has resulted in his or her death.  

The focus has to be on helping followers of Christ, those within whose hearts the Spirit of Christ has come to reside because of belief in the message of Christ, understand and go deeper into what that nature is and means for them and who God wants to be for them in that time, place and situation which He couldn’t be at any other time.  

When the main focus and a very high amount of time is dedicated to dealing with that which God has already killed off, pastoral ministry and the church becomes all about sin management which is a default into the type of gospel that Paul railed against in his letter to the Galatian believers, a gospel which he said really isn’t any real gospel at all, because it isn’t good news because it’s just a repackaging of the old and, therefore, worthless.

The focus of pastoral ministry must be “present future,” not “present past.”  That means that pastors, through the direction of the Spirit, intersect a person’s faith journey, interacting with him/her so that s/he realizes who God is for them right now, what gift of His He’s trying to help them further unwrap right now, and who God might want to be for him/her moving forward.  If all with which pastors are dealing is present-past, how can a follower move beyond the present into the future?

From this, when encountering something that God is doing, there are two proper questions to be asked in order to move into that future of who God wants to be for a person at that particular time and moving forward: “What does this mean?” and “What must I do about it?”  These two questions are “present-future” and how I believe God would have someone pastor.

Paralysis by Analysis

The alarm clock on our headboard, during the week, is always set to go off at 6 AM.  It is not uncommon for me to be awake well before this.  This morning was no different.  As I watched the clock turn 5:30 AM, my thoughts were drawn to the passage of Scripture from which I will be preaching this coming Sunday.  It is Galatians 4:21-31.  I have been contemplating this passage since Monday morning, and this passage is just a piece of the overall conversations I have been having with the Spirit over the last several months.

Tuesday night, Mary Jo and I went to Des Moines to hear Christian fiction author, Ted Dekker speak.  To say his words were powerful would be inadequate, but what I really found interesting is that virtually everything he said he had been and is discovering is in line with the teaching and realizations of Graham Cooke, a prophetic teacher of Scripture and man of God, whose teaching has greatly opened my eyes to the deeper truths of the gospel and the pure good news.  Both speak of the true identity of one who is in Christ as sons and daughters of God and everything that accompanies that standing and position.  

As I have been preaching through Paul’s letter to the Galatian believers, I have been hit, multiple times, with the realization that what often is taught as the gospel today is really an inferior counterfeit because it has a measure of religious code, requirements, dictates and regulations in it.  It often is combined in some way with the bondage of a system, rather than the relationship we have with God through believing the message of Christ, which is that He is the Faith and Faithful One, and if we participate in His death, we also participate in His resurrection.  The kicker is this: it is not me who is resurrected.  That old nature stays dead.  What is resurrected, this new life, is the life of Christ inside this body.  This is the Spirit of Christ who God sent forth into the hearts of all those who believe and have received the adoption as God’s sons and daughters.

So, what does this have to do with paralysis by analysis?  In a gospel that is, to some degree, dependent upon a system, the common question that must be asked by the adherent, at virtually every turn, is “Can I or can’t I?”  Can I do this?  Am i not supposed to do this?  As I was considering Paul’s words from 4:21, “Tell me, those desiring to be under law, do you not hear the law?” this is what came to my mind.  

Due to the restrictive nature of the law, the question, “Can I or can’t I,” must be asked at every turn.  “Can I” if certain conditions exist or don’t exist?  “Can I” if it is a certain time of day or year?  “Can I” if someone does something first?  “Can I” if no one is watching?  “Can I” if…  You get the picture.  What kind of life is that?  We become robots, automatons, unable to think and react to different situations from the nature of Christ’s Spirit because we believe it necessary to ask, “Can I or can’t I?”

That is paralysis by analysis and that is not truly living.  Did not Christ say that He came to bring life and that abundant?

Look, it is often said by many in the church that truly living can only be found in Christ.  I agree with the statement, yet the way that those who, to some measure, live by a gospel that is tainted with religious rules and systems and codes and requirements and dictates, demonstrate that they do not truly comprehend the depth and truth of this statement for they live in bondage.  True living means being truly free to enjoy an intimate relationship with our Father and everything He has given to us, His sons and daughters, in this world to enjoy in life.

I refuse to live a life characterized by “paralysis by analysis,” because then my life is based upon some religious code, not the leading of Christ’s Spirit which resides in my heart, and from which I have my new identity.  I will live by that Spirit which resides in my heart and makes me a new creation and I will allow the Spirit to naturally (this is the Law of Christ) direct me as His fruit/characteristics come out in me and how I live.

Religion, with everything you are, take a hike.  You have no place in my relationship with my true Father.

James bar Yahweh

This Reality Saddens Me

As part of what I do as a pastor, I read, study, and meditate a lot.  I do so in order to be able to lead the believing community which God, through His Spirit, has called me to lead.  In all of that, one reality which I constantly encounter is that Christianity is called a religion; and that saddens me for it is so inaccurate.

Unfortunately, it has been often the case that it is the church which gives rise to this description.  It has been often the case where leaders and others of the church throughout the history of the church and even today have transformed Christianity and the pure message of Christ’s gospel from one truly based in Christ’s gospel as He taught it to Paul into a system of regulations, codes and requirements, much like that of Paul’s opponents, against whom he spoke in his letter to the believers in the region of Galatia.

It has been and is far too common (I would describe once as being far too common) that a person’s adherence to the gospel and measurement of spiritual maturity is based upon what a person does relative to a religious system with its requirements and dictates.

For example, one who doesn’t do any work or shop or some other activity on Sunday, the “Christian Sabbath” as some erroneously call it, is seen as more spiritual than one who does.  One who chooses to not drink alcohol nor support an establishment which serves alcohol is seen as more spiritual than one who chooses to drink alcohol in moderation.  One who reads 5 chapters of the Bible daily is seen as more spiritual than the one who only reads a few verses daily or weekly.

All of these rules and codes, whether explicit or implicit, have been made a part of what it means to be a follower of Christ by leaders and others within the church. 

The problem is this: that is religion, and not the gospel as Christ taught it to Paul and Paul proclaim it to others.  Because of the gospel Christ revealed and then taught to Paul, Paul threw off the yoke of religious rules and regulations which the Jews had been living under since the giving of the Mosaic Law.  Because of Christ, the focus was back to where God truly wanted it to be – whose nature resided in a person’s heart.

When a person believes in the message of Christ and becomes a child of God through the adoption available to anyone who believes in Christ, the Spirit of Christ enters into his/her heart along with the Spirit’s nature.  That nature now becomes the operative nature because the old me with my old nature has been crucified with Christ.

So, my nature becomes one in which I am loving, patient, kind, joyful, peaceful, gentle, good to others, faithful, long-suffering and in control.  No code of conduct or religious system of regulation can bring about this nature, and, if this nature is now the nature from which I live, no code of conduct or religious system with its regulations, requirements and obligatory practices is even necessary in the first place.

So, when Christianity is termed “a religion” because it is transformed into one due to the teachings of leaders and others in the church, I am saddened because it now transforms Christianity into something which is inferior, pointless, and useless when compared to the true and pure good news of Christ.

In the latter part of the 4th chapter (verses 21-31) of his letter to the Galatian believers, Paul speaks to how the true gospel from which true Christianity comes is superior to that of the religious version.   

Religious Christianity                                                    True Christianity

symbolized by Hagar, the slave woman                    symbolized by Sarah, the free woman

from the son of the bondwoman, Ishmael                from the son of the freewoman, Isaac

emanates from natural birth                                     emanates from supernatural birth by promise

symbolized by Mount Sinai, the Law                         symbolized by Mount Zion, the Law of Christ

The earthly Jerusalem                                                The heavenly Jerusalem

Enslaved                                                                      Free

Fruitful                                                                         Barren (at first)

Small offspring                                                            Large offspring

Persecuting                                                                  Persecuted

Expulsion                                                                     Inheritance

Judaism a bondage                                                     Christians free

In every way, true Christianity is much superior to the religious version, so it truly saddens me when the reality is that Christianity is seen as a religion because of being transformed into one through the teaching of leaders and others in the church.