It’s all about a level of confidence

I have been in vocational ministry for over 20 years.  Throughout those years which have spanned 4 churches in 4 cities and 3 states, there have been questions and situations that have been common no matter the locale.  One of those concerns the will of God.  Honestly, I cannot recall one person who didn’t follow God’s will when she or he was confident that it was God’s will.  It has not been my experience that following His will is where the difficulty enters.  The difficulty enters in being confident that something IS God’s will and desire.  It has been my experience that a person’s level of confidence directly impacts a person’s ability to walk in His will.

This whole thing came back to my mind yesterday due to a short conversation I had with someone.  This person is faced with the prospect of making a decision which is difficult and life-altering.  This person told me that s/he was afraid of running ahead of God and s/he didn’t want to do that.  I appreciated his/her heart and desire in this, but it did bring something to my mind something with which I believe a great many of Christ-followers struggle – namely, how God’s will works as it interacts and intersects with our humanity and God-given free will.

And honestly, I believe how this relationship is viewed directly impacts our confidence level.

I believe that God’s will (by which I mean the end result) cannot be thwarted, but I also believe that God allows His adopted sons and daughters to have an impact on the course taken to reach that end sometimes even giving us options, allowing us to choose the direction of the path.  I say this because of occurrences like Moses and God interacting on Mt. Sinai about the episode with the golden calf and the interaction between King Hezekiah and the prophet Isaiah about what God had decreed (“Thus says the Lord”).  From these, I believe that God allows for the use our own desires in shaping the direction of the path.  

Therefore, it is so important that we examine the reason for our desires and see how they line up with His.  What I believe is crucial to remember in this is that, as adopted sons and daughters, we have been given the nature of THE Son as our own.  It is THE Son’s Spirit that resides in our hearts and because of this reality, we are new creations and have an intimate connection to the Father through the Son.  That means we have access to realize and know the heart and desires of the perfect Father, the heavenly one.

So, what is the heart and what are the desires of the perfect Father?  I believe it boils down to two things, both having to do with His kingdom and His glory.  First, He desires to have His kingdom built in quantity.  This means us going in directions that would see people truly encounter Jesus in and through us so that they are drawn to the kingdom through the love and grace of the Father.  Second, He desires to have His kingdom be built in quality for His glory.  This means our identity by which the Father knows us already becoming more our daily reality.

When our desires match up with His, I believe God allows us to have an impact on the choice of path that ends at His desired ending, even if at times we don’t understand how it all works together.  And when these are our desires, there is a peace for we don’t need to fret or worry about the direction chosen.  

Back in December of 1999, I was faced with a decision.  At that time, I was a part-time youth pastor as well as a part-time supervisor at UPS.  UPS approached me about becoming a full-time supervisor which would necessitate my leaving my youth pastor position.  As we prayed about this, we felt a peace about choosing this path.  This was a curve ball to me for I had long held that it was for vocational ministry that God intended me to devote my life.  But, since we experienced a peace that we could only explain as being from God, we chose this path.  I started this new adventure in January 2000, but my resignation from the church wasn’t effective until the end of July.  

As I said, I viewed this as a curve ball, that is, until a period from beginning August 2002 and ending in April 2003.  Through a series of life-events, which I will not go into, I came to realize that I had made money my god.  The reason God gave the peace He did back in January 2000 was that He had to make this intimately real to me, which He did, culminating with my leaving UPS.  My whole desire was to serve Him and have His desires be mine and God allowed me to choose the path to get to that end, which happened.  And now I have been in full-time vocational ministry since November 2003.

I have met way too many Christians who suffer from “paralysis by analysis” in moving with confidence in a direction believed to match with God’s desire and will.  They have been paralyzed by the enemy’s original question to Eve: “Did God really say…?”  

So don’t fret and don’t be anxious because there is no need.  Do your desires match up with the Father’s?  If so, make the decision with confidence for the Father will direct the path to the ending found in His will.  And when this is the case, there is no need to question the decision because of the level of confidence.  And take my word for it, when you do it this way, eventually God will bring confirming and affirming things to you.  That has been my experience many times over.

So, move with confidence and do not fear.  

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Not Sure What a Good Title Would Be for This

Within the last few days, quite a furor has erupted over World Vision’s original decision to change their hiring practices to allow for the hiring of “gay Christians” who are in same-sex marriages.  That furor erupted from evangelical Christians who disagreed with this decision, people like Franklin Graham, son of Billy Graham, and Russell Moore, president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention.  From this furor was the encouragement for people to withdraw their support from World Vision and, thereby, the children whom World Vision serves through the sponsorship by individuals.

In light of that, World Vision has reversed its decision.  So, my take on that, is that those who created the furor accomplished the desired effect.

This blog post isn’t specifically about this situation, but, rather, about some of the comments made in articles and comments posted to different articles and blogs that I have read.  In many of those comments, what I have read and gleaned is that it isn’t possible to be a Christian and a homosexual or lesbian individual as well.  The argument is that this type of behavior is sinful and since a person is engaging in it, he or she cannot be a Christian, for a true Christian would not participate in such behavior.

What came to my mind as I read these comments was this: what exactly is the basis of the gospel?  What makes a person a Christian in the first place?

What I gleaned from these comments is a perception that Paul’s words in Romans 10:9-10 are incomplete.  Paul says, “If you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you shall be saved, for with the heart is believing unto righteousness, and with the mouth is confessing unto salvation.”  From these comments I gleaned that one only truly believes and has confessed Jesus as Lord if s/he agrees with certain theological stances.  If you don’t believe close to what others have stated to be correct and proper, then you obviously aren’t a “real” or “true” Christian, because if you were, you would believe as they have stated you should believe.  Interesting though that Paul didn’t include any additional “requirements” to what makes a person truly “saved.”

The other thing that comes to my mind is this: why is it only the issue of homosexuality that causes this type of furor or position of what a “true” Christian would or would not do?  Why are other actions or lifestyles which are decried in Scripture as not godly not treated the same why by those behind this furor?

For example, there are many Christians, both leaders and lay-people, who struggle with and actually live a lifestyle that is very materialistic, and because of that, in reality characterized by greed.  How many Christian/church leaders or “laypeople” live in homes which are worth hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars?  How many of them struggle with materialism and greed?  By the way, the same passage that states the “homosexual offender” will not inherit the kingdom of God also includes the “greedy” in that very same list who will not inherit the kingdom of God.  But how many of those who created this furor over World Vision’s original decision create a furor over those Christian leaders or laypeople who live a lifestyle that can only be characterized by materialism which has greed as a necessary component?  

Why no furor over that?  Why are the leaders of those in that camp silent on this issue?  Is it because it has been decided that this isn’t something that is really that important, maybe because it lines up with their current lifestyle?  It makes one wonder.

I probably could go on and talk about liars and gossipers and idolaters (money is an idol, by the way) which are commonly present among both leaders and laypeople of the church, but I won’t.

The danger present in all of this is a group or individual making its/his/her belief system synonymous with what a Christian truly is.  What this says is that unity in the church is truly only possible if everyone ascribes to its/his/her belief system.  

Growing up in an independent, fundamental Baptist church, I was taught that no other church held the truth because if they did, they would be with us since we definitely did hold the truth.  But since they weren’t with us, it was obvious they were heretics and going to hell.  Our church, except through church rec league, did not and would not associate with any other church because it did not want to be guilty of associating with heretics.  As I look back on that, I shake my head with sadness over this for, in reality, I now view that situation as actually sinful in and of itself.

This is definitely not an easy issue, but I guess the thrust of this blog post is that, first, there are other lifestyles which run contrary to biblical teaching which are acceptable to these groups and second, the vitriol and hate spewed by Christians toward others is saddening, but I guess when it comes to the issue of homosexuality, spewing vitriol and hate are not sinful, but rather acceptable and appropriate, actions.

And as a parting question, what does the inconsistency in what causes a furor say to the world about the character, heart, and nature of the church and the character, heart, and nature of our God?  Not sure I’d like the truthful answer.

 

Host, Hosted, or Something Entirely New?

This morning, as I normally do as part of my routine, I go to this website: http://www.ethicsdaily.com.  It typically has 3 new articles each morning, 6 days a week.  This morning, one of the articles broached the subject of how, even though racial discrimination is illegal, racial reconciliation is still needed.  And that reconciliation needs to start in the church for its ministry is to be one of ultimate reconciliation, at least according to the Apostle Paul.

One part of this article really resonated with me – “The church has not, in my opinion, done enough to address racism. During the civil rights movement, many Christians marched and advocated for racial reconciliation.  Once laws were on the books, it seems that the church backed off, but the work isn’t over. A recent conversation with a bi-vocational pastor friend suggested that some of the efforts we made were misguided. He told me that he often urged his African-American colleagues to become a part of what the churches were doing in their community. A well-respected African-American pastor challenged him one day with this question: ‘You are always inviting us to join you. When are you going to join in what we’re doing?'”

That reminded me of a conversation I had some years ago with a friend and former colleague.  He had concurrently served two small churches which were located close to each other in Maine for a period of years.  Neither could support a pastor full-time, but together they could do so.  If memory serves me, one church was located across a river and was founded because, “back in the day,” traversing the river was not easy.  Now, there is a bridge spanning the river, allowing easy access across the river into town.  One member of the “in-town” church commented that he thought it would be a good idea to merge the two churches.  The way that this would work would be that the church on the other side of the river would sell their building, come into town, and join with that church.  When my friend suggested that this merger be done in the reverse, this man was taken back and adamant that this wasn’t the way to do it.  He and his church would never give up their building and “identity,” but he had difficulty understanding why the other church wouldn’t be willing do exactly that.  His only thought was for the other to come and join, not the other way around.

For many individuals, and churches for that matter, it is much easier to host than be hosted.  I believe this is the case because when one is hosting, while more work, there is a sense of control and there is a level of comfort.  When one is being hosted, especially in a “church” setting, there is level of not knowing “how things are done” within that church.  Not being sure has the ability to make people uncomfortable.  But if no one is willing to be hosted, how can anyone host? 

(As a side note, the same can also true in the area of connecting with those who are not believers.  There is an underlying expectation that these people come to us in order for the connection to be made.  In Jesus’ ministry, I see some of that, but I also see Jesus being hosted by people.  In Luke 10, sent out the 70 in pairs and they would be hosted, not host, where they stayed.  Christ-followers must be willing to go and be hosted.)

So, as churches and followers of Christ, we must be both willing to invite others to join in what we are doing and to accept invitations to join what others are doing.

But there is also a third thing that I believe is good to happen and this mirrors what God did in the joining of Jews and Gentiles together in something totally new.  In the last section of Ephesians 2, Paul talks about a new thing that God created through Jesus which we know as the church, the body of Christ.  In this new creation, there wasn’t Jew or Gentile, us or them, male or female, slave or free.

So what is this third option that mirrors what God did?  Two churches coming together to create something new.  In this way, it isn’t your’s or mine, but our’s.  

Personally, over the last 6 months, I have accepted invitations to join in some activities of a local African-American church.  I have enjoyed being with and accepted by this church.  The pastor of that church and I have become friends and together, we are seeking God’s direction in how He would see us work together to reach our community.  This could, very likely, see something new created: not his, not mine, but our’s.

Most people and churches are willing to host, but not as many to be hosted.  I pray that all all will be more willing to be hosted and maybe be involved in seeing something brand new begun through which people would encounter and experience the reality of our God as they witness true reconciliation as they observe us.

 

Does this verse truly say this?

Recently, a man, Graham Cooke, whose teaching has greatly influenced me, posted this quote from his The Art of Thinking Brilliantly on Facebook:

“Speaking the truth in love is not telling someone’s shortcomings as nicely as possible because that is not the truth. That is only true. The truth is they are dead in Christ and all that stuff is done away. The truth is who you are in Jesus, so when we are speaking the truth in love we are not putting someone down nicely, we are elevating someone brilliantly.” 

At first glance, the normal reaction is in opposition to this, but as I considered it at a deeper level, I changed my view.  Here’s why.

As I normally do, I first went to the Bible to dive deeper into the verse that is commonly translated to say, “…but speaking the truth in love…,” which is Ephesians 4:15, and dove into the Greek of the text  (In my preaching through Ephesians, I’m actually almost to the passage in which this verse is found.), and second, I examined how the common application of the text fits with what Paul is saying in this section of his letter.

So, let’s take a look at the Greek used.  The word that is translated “speaking the truth,” is literally translated “truthing.”  In classical Greek, this word means “speaking the truth or more definitively, confessing the truth” (Expositor’s Greek New Testament as found at http://www.studylight.org/com/egt/view.cgi?bk=eph&ch=4#1-16).  So, verse 15 should literally start, “…but confessing the truth…”  Because of the specific conjunction used (a conjuction which makes a connection with the preceding, but does so in an opposing or contrasting way), Paul is making this statement in connection with and contrast to the other teachings that are present around these believers, some of which are being promulgated within the body.  So, when one “confesses the truth,” Paul is talking about the Gospel.  Additionally, Jesus said in John 14:6, “I (emphasized in the Greek by the inclusion of the pronoun) am the way and the truth and the life; no one comes to the Father except through me.”  So, the truth that is confessed is Jesus Himself, not propositional truth.  Jesus doesn’t embody truth; He is THE Truth, or the true reality.

Concerning the prepositional phrase that follows “…but confessing the truth…,” there is disagreement as to what it is connected.  The one thing to remember in Koine’ Greek is that there is no punctuation present.  Any punctuation found in the text has been added by the compilers of the text.  So, with what does “in love” go?  There are those who connect it to how the truth is to be confessed stating that it is the element through which the truth is to be confessed.  The argument for this position is that “confessing the truth” would be bald by itself and that it is natural to associate truth and love and that it is a parallel contrast to verse 14.

The second position connects “in love” with “may grow up.”  As the Expositor’s Greek Testament states, “The main argument for connecting the clause rather with the following “may grow up” (= “but speaking truth (or rather, confessing the truth) may in love grow up”) is the fact that in verse 16, where the climax is reached, “in love” qualifies the main thought—that of the growth or the edification of Christ’s body. This is a consideration of such weight as to throw the probability on the whole on the side of the second connection.”  So, I translate this verse as “…but confessing the truth, we may in love grow up unto Him in all things, who is the Head, Christ.”

So, in conclusion of the examination of the text, what Paul is saying here is this: by confessing, and thereby focusing, on the truth (the gospel, Jesus) in contrast solely with these other teachings, the body is able to, in love, grow up into our true identity we have been given from Christ, the head of the body.  The focus is on the truth (Christ) and our identity.  He is not saying that if I see someone sinning in some manner, I am to “speak the truth in love” to that person.

Now, let’s take a look at the common application of this phrase and see how it fits with what Paul is trying to say here.  The common application is that Paul is saying that when one sees a person sinning that it is the responsibility of the one witnessing it to reproach and rebuke the one sinning (defined as speaking the truth), but must do so in and with an attitude of love.  I’m sorry, based on my examination of the text, I just don’t see that as an acceptable application of the phrase because it is not in line with what Paul is saying.  Paul is not advocating here that a person is to rebuke one who is seen sinning.  He is talking about confessing the truth, which is Jesus and the gospel, in contrast to these other teachings.  It is through confessing the truth which is rooted and established in love (for God, and therefore Jesus, is love) that the truth is seen in contrast to these other teachings.  It is when THE truth is confessed that love abounds so that we can grow up into the reality of who we truly are in Christ.  

And, when applying a text, it is wholly improper to apply it in such a way that it changes what the text is actually saying.  Through application, a text cannot be made to say something it is not saying.  And proper application must always maintain the integrity of what is actually being said.

What has been the common result of this common application is that many people relish the opportunity to expose and/or denounce, even in private, someone’s sin.  From doing this, a sense of pride which says, “I’d never do that,” is common.  What is, in my experience, not relished and practiced is “love covering a multitude of sins.”  The reason I say all of this is to echo what Graham said above.  When people practice “speaking the truth in love,” the main focus is on the person’s sin rather than the person’s true identity and reality (another acceptable translation of the Greek word translated as “truth”) of who s/he is in Christ, which should be the main focus, and allows him/her to feel superior to the person being rebuked.

When I consider how much people “relish” “speaking the truth in love,” I have to wonder just why they do so.  Why do they emphasize doing that but not the other?  Could it be that there is some sense of pride or superiority that they get to be the one rebuking? 

Now, there are other passages which address how to respond to a fellow believer who is not living out his/her true identity as it is in Christ, but the main focus is always on the person’s true and real identity and restoration, not on the action.  The focus is to be on demonstrating the proper way.  This means that the starting point is the true identity.  This means starting with a different thought and way of thinking.   Unfortunately, whether admitted or not, it is more common to desire to rush in and address a person’s sin or failings because, by doing so, it makes us feel better about our own selves.

So, my goal is to be reluctant to rush head-long into this type of situation.  I want to first consider how I can exemplify and share steps with that person that focus solely on his/her’s true identity as an adopted child of God, and not on the action.  So, instead of talking about what the person actually did, maybe say something like, “Have you ever consider what it would mean, in a practical way, to act as Christ in this situation?”  That type of question puts the focus squarely on Christ and the person’s true identity in Christ, by which God already knows us.

 

 

God is generous; shouldn’t His children be also?

http://www.nydailynews.com/news/national/tennessee-church-christians-horrible-tippers-article-1.1715155#commentpostform

(As a disclaimer about something in the linked article, there is a link under the picture of Pastor Chad Roberts titled, “Related: Gay Ex-Marine Stiffed by Family Offended by ‘Lifestyle.'”  I have no idea why they linked that story because it has been found out to be false.  This family has the credit card statement to prove it.  They gave around a 20% tip to the server.  But, with that disclaimer stated, that doesn’t change the unfortunate reality this article and the website, http://www.sundaysaretheworst.com, discusses.)

One of God’s characteristics is generosity.  Think about it; He gave His only Son for us.  Jesus, while on earth, said that the widow who cast in a very small amount into the temple treasury gave more than those who gave more because she gave out of her need and they gave out of their surplus.  

As an adopted child of God who has been given the nature of Christ, generosity should be a natural characteristic for the follower of Christ.  It should not be the exception.  Unfortunately, as some of the personal experiences related on the “stories” section of sundaysaretheworst.com, there are those whose experiences cause them to think that Christ-followers are just the opposite.  

So, God is generous and that should also be His children’s nature.  When I go to a restaurant, the minimum tip I give is 15% and that is for the worst service.  If the service is average, I give 17-18%.  If the service is very good, I give at least 20% and sometimes even higher.  God has been generous with me; I will then be generous to those around me when I have opportunity to be generous.

God is also patient.  So, when I’m in a check-out line or at a restaurant, I have worked diligently on increasing my level of patience for God already knows me as perfectly patient.  And God is now giving me opportunities to take this characteristic He has given me out for a walk, to exercise it and enjoy it as well.  So what if it takes 3 minutes longer in the check-out line because of something that has happened.  And it is often the case that when that server or cashier is afraid I have been made to wait too long, s/he is apologetic.  And my common response to that is that it was no problem.

The thing that every adopted son or daughter of God’s must remember is that, just like the name of the family into which we were born or adopted, we bear and represent the name of God, meaning Him and His character, to the world around us.  So, if we are not generous or get mad because we have had to wait 3-5 additional minutes to get checked out at the store, what does that say about our God?  What does it say about His nature which, through Christ dwelling and resting in our hearts, is our new nature?  What does it say about the proclamation that God is purportedly able to change a person?  What does it say about our God when we demand that to which we believe are entitled and get very upset when we don’t receive it within the time frame we choose?  What does it say about our God when we get mad at a person, but don’t care about that person’s circumstance(s) at that time?  What does it say when we’d much rather follow the path of getting justice than the path of demonstrating love?  I think you get my point.

Just as many of the personal experiences on that website stated, the actions of these Christians which do not mirror the nature and character of God has put off him/her, causing him/her to not wanting to even give God a chance.

Let us remember whose name, characteristics, and nature we bear and represent to the world.  And may, as we do this, people be drawn to Him and His Son, just like the people who were drawn to Jesus when He was physically here on earth.

Stinkin’ Thinkin’

In a scene from the movie, My Cousin Vinny,”  Joe Pesci’s character is cross-examining a eye-witness who happens to be an elderly woman with very thick glasses.  She claims she can see quite well with her “Coke-bottle” thick glasses and gives testimony that she identified the two defendants exit the store where the crime took place.  To demonstrate that she wasn’t seeing clearly, Pesci walked to a distance from her equal to half the distance she said she was from the defendants, and then asked her to tell him how many fingers he was holding up.  From this, she realized that what she was seeing through her glasses was not correct and she needed thicker glasses.

The reason I bring that up is that I have come to the conclusion that many individuals who have grown up in the church have been convinced of a view of themselves that is different than how God views them.  This has given these individuals a mindset, a way of thinking, a way of seeing the world that just doesn’t line up with God’s and they have arrived at a place in life where much is really screwed up and a mess.  Now I admit I’m not a trained and licensed counselor, but when I have people come to me for spiritual counseling, I’m realizing that much of what they are encountering in their life are really just symptoms of a bigger, underlying, core issue, namely, how they think and view themselves.

Proverbs 23:7 says, “For as he thinks in himself, so is he.”  How a person thinks shapes who s/he is and eventually becomes.  A person’s actions are shaped from how s/he thinks.  I find it interesting that the Greek word translated in English as “repentance,” “metanoia,” literally means a “change of mind or heart.”  It means changing how one thinks or views something.  So, transformation begins with, just as the Apostle Paul says in Romans 12:2, “Be transformed by the renewing of your mind.”  Transformation of one’s life begins with the mind, changing how you think and view yourself and the world around you.  This renewing of the mind is tied directly to having one’s mind brought into line with God’s way of thinking and perspective.

Now, there may be those who find this radical, but how often throughout the years have people who are followers of Christ been told constantly and persistently that their continued appropriate label is “sinner saved by grace?”  Here’s my issue with that: it’s at worst inaccurate and at best inadequate, for it speaks to a past identity.  As I read Scripture, namely how I believe Paul views this (notice how often he says “What you once were”), this is where I land.  I was once a sinner; that was my identity and everything about me, my thought life and perspective on reality arose directly from that.  I became a sinner who was saved by grace when I believed the message about Jesus, became an adopted son of God, and received the Spirit of Jesus which became my new nature because God had killed off the old one having crucified me with Christ.  At that moment, though, I became a saint, literally a “holy one,” of God.  I don’t find anywhere in the New Testament where a writer starts a letter with “To the sinners saved by grace at…”  Nope, they start “To the saints at…”  “Sinner”, even “sinner saved by grace,” is no longer their identity;  Their new and true identity is “saint.”

With that identity must come a renewed and different way of thinking, viewing one’s identity and reality, and perspective on the world around him/her.  I’m not saying that a saint never sins again, but that doesn’t mean s/he is known by God as a sinner, no more than a child who chooses to lie from time to time is a liar by identification.  It means for that one choice and moment, the saint has chosen to not live from his/her true identity.  

So, what I have found is that dealing with the core issue first, helping the person to change how s/he views him/herself to come into line with how God views him/her, is of crucial and primary importance.  Once that happens, a whole new realm now begins to open up because the person starts to see things differently, and from that different perspective, walks a different path that leads to a different result and destination.  Then, and only then, can the symptoms be addressed in a more permanent way as s/he walks forward on the path as God lays it out.  

The church must stop reinforcing an inaccurate view (in Alcoholics Anonymous they call it stinkin’ thinkin’) of a Christ-follower’s identity and begin to teach and reinforce the follower’s true identity which is how God sees him/her: saint.  When that happens, I have found it amazing how people move forward into different aspects of that identity, and many times at accelerated speed, but it all starts with that thought process and view of one’s self.

If you are a follower of Christ, an adopted son or daughter of God, how do you view yourself?  Do you see yourself as still a sinner, even a “sinner saved by grace?”  Is that the way you think?  If so, don’t be surprised that what you commonly do is sinful.  That would be the expected result, not the exception.  But if you view yourself and think of yourself as a saint (which is how God knows you), you shouldn’t be surprised that your natural action and reaction are godly, because you are just operating from your new and true nature as a natural result of who you are.  The action, reaction, or decision which is sinful is now the exception, not the norm.

And it all starts with the mind being renewed.