Friday, August 24, 2012

Our conduct as servants of God

The Lord’s bond-servant must not be quarrelsome, but be kind to all, able to teach, patient when wronged, with gentleness correcting those who are in opposition, if perhaps God may grant them repentance leading to the knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, having been held captive by him to do his will. (2 Timothy 2:24-26 NASB)
This strikes a real nerve with me, because it is against the natural way that I am.  I don’t think I’m so different than a lot of other people here, either, though what I have found is that everyone has their reasons for being this way.  I could tell you how intelligent I am, listing my genius-level IQ, citing my degrees or equivalents, tell you my work history and all the various responsible positions I have held (Hey, even Paul did that, to show a point to the contrary!), but all it would really be is noise and self-justification for remaining the way that I am.
How is that you say?  Well, the opposite of what Paul is describing here.  When he says that the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome, I sink a little in my chair.  I must admit to you all that I love a good debate, and I often win them because I know my material.  What I lose is the person I am debating, and if our object is to win souls to Christ, that cannot happen - ever.  So what should I be instead of argumentative?
Well, Paul makes the opposite here one who is “kind to all.”  The Greek word is epios, meaning affable, mild-mannered, or kind - that is, gentle.  Okay, that isn’t me, I get downright confrontational - but the Lord would have me learn a new way.  The Lord Jesus said in His sermon on the mount of olives, “Blessed are the gentle, for they shall inherit the earth.” (Matt. 5:5)  The Greek word for gentle here is praos, the same word translated as humble or meek.  The work meek today has come to mean compliant or cowardly submission, but the way Jesus used it is quite different.  He embodied the very character of meekness.  He was God become a lowly man, having all the power he needed at the ready.  All he had to do was ask God the Father for it.  So when his enemies came to get him in the Garden of Gethsemane, he remarked to one of His disciples that if He asked, God would give Him 12 legions of angels to rescue Him.  (In the Old Testament, 2 Kings 19:35, one angel struck down 185,000 enemy soldiers by himself.)  He chose not to call those angels, and modified His response to a humble and gentle (I might add merciful) one.
That’s a tall enough order by itself, but then Paul adds to it!  He tells us that the servant of the Lord must also be able to teach!  Okay, I can do that, you may think.  Think again, and think very hard and very carefully.  The subject matter we are to teach is nothing less than the Word of God!  And that, my friends, is a very serious responsibility!  I won’t get into it in detail here, but the book of Revelation (22:18-19) gives some very serious warnings about doing that in a lacadaisical manner!  The responsibility that goes with this is one we simply cannot shoulder without God’s help - thank God that He wants to help us to do it!
Then Paul says that the Lord’s servant must be patient when wronged!  The Greek wordanexikakos literally means “enduring under ill treatment.”  Okay, I’m an old warrior and martial artist.  When someone hurts me, I have a sincere and understandable desire to hurt back.  Wait a minute, see “meek.”  The ability to choose to modify your response to be one of peace is an integral part of patience.  No, it is not easy.  However, it is necessary.  Why?  Well, Paull tells us we are to gently correct those who are in opposition.  Oh brother, is that a can of worms.
Have you ever heard a hellfire and brimstone preacher really laying into his congregation about some obscure facet of orthodoxy as if it meant the end of the world if one did not obey that very instant?  I have, and it isn’t pleasant.  The assumption of the preacher in that case is that you are all in opposition to the will of God, and therefore he must bring a very strong message to instigate compliance.  The probelm is that it is not gentle and that it does very little if anything to correct.  I’ve heard thundering pronouncements by men who wanted to “put the fear of God” into me.  It did very little more than inspire a supreme distaste for such overt idiocy, and I told more than one of them so, quoting this very verse.  As servants of the Most High God, we not only need to have a care what we say, but how we say it.  Why?  Paul tells us - because there is a possibility that God may grant them repentance - that is, a change of mind so that they may see the truth of God and come to their senses and be delivered from the lies of the enemy of their souls.  One of my uncles used to put it this way - you can get a lot more flies with honey than you ever could with vinegar.  As quaint as that is, there’s real insight in that statement.
What we have to understand is that we WILL face opposition.  We can go over the top about the latest political announcement or the left-or-right-wing agenda of fill-in-the-blank group and make thundering condemnations about their points of view, or we can take a position of peace.  ”I understand that you hold this view or that opinion.  I don’t mean to offend, but that isn’t what I’m convicted of.  God says that [insert scriptural truth here], and He really loves you, no matter what you think or say.  Have you considered this?”  You will get varied responses - most will not listen - but some will, and those will come to their senses when God reveals the truth to them, and they will escape the traps the devil has set for them.  Please don’t make it easy to condemn God’s point of view by issuing idiocy and calling it the truth, like “God hates pinko commies!”  God loves every single one of us.  If we focused on that message instead of reacting in the press the way I’ve seen some of these so-called pastors and teachers, things might be a LOT different.
As the Apostle Paul said to the Colossians, “Let your speech always be with grace, as though seasoned with salt, so that you will know how you should respond to each person.” (Colossians 4:6 NASB)
(All verses quoted from the New American Standard, 1995 unless otherwise stated.)

"You will know the truth, and the truth will make you free."
-John 8:32 (NASB)

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Let us be content with what we have...

1 Timothy 6:3-5 NASB  If anyone advocates a different doctrine and does not agree with sound words, those of our Lord Jesus Christ, and with the doctrine conforming to godliness,  (4)  he is conceited and understands nothing; but he has a morbid interest in controversial questions and disputes about words, out of which arise envy, strife, abusive language, evil suspicions,  (5)  and constant friction between men of depraved mind and deprived of the truth, who suppose that godliness is a means of gain.

Sadly, I can think of people that fit into this description.  The Christian recording artist Steve Camp wrote a song, "The Agony of Deceit" from his album "Consider the Cost" that reflects this whole type of servant.

They are Wolves in sheep's clothing, they are trying to seduce your souls.Teaching doctrines of demons, lies are all they know. They are prophets of destruction, these are New Age Heretics Say they'll show the way to salvation but their cross is a bloodless stick 
This is the Agony of Deceit, missing truth from the lies they teach. Oh, They come in Jesus name, but they're sons of Hades, this is the agony of deceit.  
They are clouds without water, they have hearts trained in greed.They are like wild animals and you are the food they eat. Depraved in their minds, Deprived of the truth, they promise prosperity. But the cash they steal from you, though the coffin they still have defeat.  
This is the Agony of Deceit, missing truth from the lies they teach. Oh, They come in Jesus name, but they're sons of Hades, this is the agony of deceit. 
Beloved rest in the truth of the Lord, hold fast to the faith Word Guard the treasure by the Spirit of God, a foundation which stands sure. 
They have eyes full of adultery, they never cease from sin, They're exalted in heresy deception is their friend, Speaking out prideful words of vanity, they enticed by fleshly desire, Like a dog returns to its vomit you see, like a sow wallows in the mire. 
This is the Agony of Deceit, A missing truth from the lies they teach. Oh, They come in Jesus name, but they're sons of Hades, this is the agony, oh yeah, the agony of deceit. For all the missing truths for the lies they teach, oh they come in Jesus name, but their sons of Hades, this is the agony of deceit... oh the agony... 
trying to seduce you, lies are all they know, wolves up in sheeps clothing, the agony... trying to seduce you, lies are all they know, wolves up in sheeps clothing, the agony... the agony....

What is very disturbing to me is that these men are usually teachers with a following.  Paul had warned Timothy a couple of chapters earlier about them - "holding to a form of godliness, although they have denied its power; Avoid such men as these."  I have had the unfortunate experience of being involved with more than one ministry like this as a much younger Christian.  I was in one for nearly 20 years before God showed me the truth about the man in leadership and the immorality he had given himself to for the previous several years.  Many left disillusioned when the truth came to light.

I thought before I read this today that this experience had perhaps made me hypersensitive to these kinds of groups, so I did something I should not have - I ignored my better impulses in a more recent situation.  However, God is faithful to teach us when our hearts are following him, and I was shown the truth.  I chose to exit that ministry gracefully at the very beginning of trouble.  In the following few days, many of the friends I had made there made similar decisions.  It is difficult to sit here now and read this passage and read it in context of a brother I hold dear, but I pray for him that God would also teach him in His mercy that true Godliness IS a means of great gain.

1 Timothy 6:6-10 NASB  But godliness actually is a means of great gain when accompanied by contentment.  (7)  For we have brought nothing into the world, so we cannot take anything out of it either.  (8)  If we have food and covering, with these we shall be content.  (9)  But those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a snare and many foolish and harmful desires which plunge men into ruin and destruction.  (10)  For the love of money is a root of all sorts of evil, and some by longing for it have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.

God is saying to me here to be content with what I have.  I have to be honest with you and with myself here - I am an aspiring financial planner, with some skill at helping people make money.  I know by first name some very rich men in my industry.  However, at the beginning of my career in the now, I have nothing.  I have a house, and I have food for my family most of the time.  I have to put in 14-20 hour days to do that sometimes.  God is telling me personally that my answers are to be found in Him, not in money, not in financial services, not in the riches of this world.  Many of you who know me have seen parts of my struggle, and know that it has been a hard thing just to keep my head above water - but I can tell you now that it is WORTH ALL OF IT!!!  God shows us what we need when we are ready to see it, thank you Lord!  More, He gives those who would follow him direction:

1 Timothy 6:11-12 NASB  But flee from these things, you man of God, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, perseverance and gentleness.  (12)  Fight the good fight of faith; take hold of the eternal life to which you were called, and you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses.

The love of money and dollars gained is not the answer.  Instead, God Himself tells us what to pursue - Righteousness, that conduct which is right and good; Godliness, that character which is like God Himself, filled with mercy and grace; Faith, the conviction of things not seen; Love, as Christ loved, self-sacrificially; Perseverance, the quality of sticking with a situation no matter what with the knowledge that God is GOOD, and that He will provide; and lastly, Gentleness, or Meekness, the quality of knowing you HAVE the power, but choosing to govern your response to be peaceful and kind.  This is how we must fight the good fight of faith and take hold of that age-to-age life that Paul speaks of.  In doing so, we become a powerful testimony to the living God!

Friends, let us be those that seek to be content with what we have.  Let us flee the so-called riches of this world and instead pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace, with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart (1 Tim 2:22).  Let us be that powerful testimony with our lives lived in sacrifice of what we want in exchange for what He wants for us, knowing that He only gives the best to those who love Him this way - and the best is His Son Jesus, and being transformed into His glorious image!  May the Lord of all richly bless you!

"You will know the truth, and the truth will make you free."
-John 8:32 (NASB)

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Discipline Yourself for Godliness...

As a preamble to today's meditation, let me say that we call ourselves "Disciples," or followers of Christ.  I choose the word Disciple, because we in some sense get our word for discipline from it.  We are to be disciplining ourselves in spiritual activity, much as a bodybuilder does in physical activity.  There are some reasons why we need to be self-disciplined in the four core Christian activities, and they are discussed briefly and generally below.

1Timothy 4:1  But the Spirit explicitly says that in later times some will fall away from the faith, paying attention to deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons,

This is one of the most troubling verses of the New Testament to me.  The word in Greek for "fall away" is aphistemi, that is to desert, desist, depart, revolt.  These are all acts of the will, though it may be because of deliberate deception.

1Timothy 4:2  by means of the hypocrisy of liars seared in their own conscience as with a branding iron, 

The word for "hypocrisy" in Greek is hupokrisis, meaning "acting under a feigned part."  This speaks of deliberate deceit on the part of these false teachers.  These people have their conscience seared (to create a state of tissue death that deadens feeling or nerve input).

1Timothy 4:3  men who forbid marriage and advocate abstaining from foods which God has created to be gratefully shared in by those who believe and know the truth. 

Their doctrines are very specific, too.  In the forbidding of marriage, either as an institution in general, or to forbid specific people to marry (sometimes imposing permission of the teacher or other more draconian conditions), and the teaching of a diet by forbidding specific foods or classes of foods, we see their great error.  Verse 1 names these two specific kinds of teachings as the "doctrines of demons."

In later verses, the Word clearly says that everything created by God is GOOD, and if received with gratitude, thankfulness - then nothing is off limits.

So how does one tell the difference?  Verse 7b says "Discipline yourself for the purpose of Godliness."  By exercising ourselves in the four core values of Christian practice found in Acts 2:42 (reading the Word, fellowshipping with God and with other believers, in breaking bread - a specific ordinance of worship, and in prayers) we condition ourselves for the spiritual journey we are on.

Let us be those, who as Paul says in Phillipians 3:14, that press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus!

(All verses are quoted from the New American Standard Bible, 1995)

"You will know the truth, and the truth will make you free."
-John 8:32 (NASB)

Monday, August 20, 2012

Oversight in the House of God

1 Timothy 3:1-7 NASB It is a trustworthy statement: if any man aspires to the office of overseer, it is a fine work he desires to do. (2) An overseer, then, must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, temperate, prudent, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, (3) not addicted to wine or pugnacious, but gentle, peaceable, free from the love of money. (4) He must be one who manages his own household well, keeping his children under control with all dignity (5) (but if a man does not know how to manage his own household, how will he take care of the church of God?), (6) and not a new convert, so that he will not become conceited and fall into the condemnation incurred by the devil. (7) And he must have a good reputation with those outside the church, so that he will not fall into reproach and the snare of the devil.

This passage (1 Tim. 3) talks about two distinct and related positions in the church, that of Overseer, and that of Deacon. The words are not titles, as some have come to use in the realm of Christendom, but are in actuality job descriptions.

Overseer (NASB - KJV, "Bishop") comes from the Greek word "episkope," or litterally to superintend, or oversee in terms of caring for something. Perhaps you have lived in a place that had a superintendant in the building or for the property. I was actually employed as one where I live now several years ago, and it was my job to care for the property, make sure that repairs were made, that dirt was cleaned up, yards were kept, parking was valid, and the like. So how does that relate to oversight or superintendence in God's house?

Well, I expect that the job is much the same, without the religious trappings and connotations it has inherited over the last 2000 years or so. Remember, we are speaking here of God's house today - this is not a building made with hands, but instead is the souls God has gathered to serve Him, and by extension the world at large. We call this gathering the church, from the Greek word "ekklesia," meaning a calling out - out of the world, out of our situations, out of our own thing, our own selves, our own ways - to serve Him by serving others around us. So how does one oversee or superintend that?

I expect it is in much the same way as when I was employed as a superintendant. The overseer must care for the people that make the church! Dirt needs to be cleaned up (sin must be dealt with). Repairs must be made (healing of body, soul, and spirit must take place). Yards (individual households) must be kept, with the help of a caring superintendant, by any means at his or her disposal. The overseer must teach the Word and LIVE the Word as an example to those around him. Verses 2-7 list off the characteristics he or she must reflect. These are NOT the job description, these are the qualifications for the job! You can't be one without these things!

Moreover, Paul tells Timothy here that to desire this superintendency for the church, the people of God, is a good thing! It is something that we all need to aspire to, and something every true overseer MUST be. Let us aspire to be those who are becoming more like a true overseer of God's people.

 "You will know the truth, and the truth will make you free."
-John 8:32 (NASB)

Monday, August 06, 2012

God Loves You!

"You will know the truth, and the truth will make you free."
-John 8:32 (NASB)

Saturday, August 04, 2012

The beginnings of a Video Ministry?

"You will know the truth, and the truth will make you free."
-John 8:32 (NASB)

Resignation from GSM - Choices we make in life...

This is a re-post of my resignation from Global Scope Ministries when several of the pages that I serve on were sold to, a multi-faith site.  I have nothing against people sharing their opinions, and in fact I encourage it, but to serve with an organization that espouses goals that are very different from my own is not really possible for me.  I had a choice to make.  I agonized over it for about a day, and then I sat down for over two and a half hours to write out the resignation below.  I have agreed to remain as the page leader of Men of Faith for the transition over to BeliefNet (about a month), and after that, I will step down.  As such, the link at the top of the page will disappear today.  So here is how and why I resigned from a ministry I really thought was going places...

I have done a lot of thinking about this over the last day or so, and I will share my conclusions and reasoning with you in the hopes that you will understand that I am a Christian, and that nothing I do because of my faith in Jesus Christ is random or by accident.  I may have a more “Global Scope” view of what BeliefNet is about than some, not that it is necessary, because I have actually researched many or most of the belief systems that are listed on their page.  I’ll start by looking at the mission statement found on their website.

Our mission is to help people like you find, and walk, a spiritual path that will bring comfort, hope, clarity, strength, and happiness.  
Whether you're exploring your own faith or other spiritual traditions, we provide you inspiring devotional tools, access to the best spiritual teachers and clergy in the world, thought-provoking commentary, and a supportive community.  
Beliefnet is the largest spiritual web site. We are not affiliated with any spiritual organization or movement. Our only agenda is to help you meet your spiritual needs.
--BeliefNet Mission Statement

These words have a noble ring to them.  It is a selfless goal to want to help others feel good about themselves.  It is NOT how most people operate, and it is to be respected as a goal.  But is that goal really in line with the teachings of Jesus?  Maybe, maybe not.  Consider what it means to be a follower of Jesus:

Luke 9:20-27 “And He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” And Peter answered and said, “ The Christ of God.”  But He warned them and instructed them not to tell this to anyone, saying, “ The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed and be raised up on the third day.  And He [Jesus] was saying to them all, “ If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me.  For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake, he is the one who will save it.  For what is a man profited if he gains the whole world, and loses or forfeits himself?  For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when He comes in His glory, and the glory of the Father and of the holy angels.  But I say to you truthfully, there are some of those standing here who will not taste death until they see the kingdom of God.” (NASB)
--Jesus Christ

There seems to me to be a contradiction between these two statements.  Our mission is not merely “to meet your spiritual needs” with whatever it is you choose to believe.  Interestingly, I tried out their “Belief-O-Matic” survey just to see what it was about.  Of course it told me I was a 100% match with what it called “traditional conservative protestant Christian.”  (Yay!  I knew the right answers!)  I didn’t need to be told that, by the way, and I thought it was amusing.  I actually know world religions well enough that I could make the thing say I was a Muslim or a Buddhist or whatever.  I have read the Bible, the Apocrypha, the wisdom of Buddha, the sayings of Confucius, parts of the Koran, parts of the Barvhad Gita, the I-Ching, the Kaballah, and researched at least a dozen other religions just to see what they believed. 

While I can say I found some wisdom in most, I only ever found truth in the Bible, the Word of God.  All the religions of the world contain shards of the truth, but only Jesus embodies that truth.  And if you really desire it and seek it, He says that “You will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.”  (John 8:32)

So what is that truth as it is in Jesus?  It comes from understanding our own primary mission goal, given by God.  The people asked Jesus, “Therefore they said to Him, “What shall we do, so that we may work the works of God?” Jesus answered and said to them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He has sent.” (John 6:28-29).  Interesting, isn’t it?  To do the work of God, we must believe in Jesus, the savior of the world.  We cannot rely on the wisdom of Buddha or the sayings of Confucius or mere human words and works, or simply shards of the truth.  Couple this with Jesus’s great commission to the church:  “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”  (Matthew 28:19-20)  So we are to believe in Jesus, and them make disciples of the nations in His name, and not give into fear or compromise because Jesus Himself will be with us.

What that means is that we need to evangelize and disciple people, not “expose them to Christianity” as a mere option among options.  This is not a goal or agenda.  This is nothing other than our main reason for being.  Reading through the life of Jesus Christ, I do not get the impression that he came to give simply comfort, hope, clarity, strength, and happiness.  He came to give Himself, the embodiment of God and all that is holy as a sacrifice for everyone that has ever and will ever live.  Does that give comfort?  Yes.  Hope?  Yes.  Clarity?  Yes.  Strength?  Absolutely.  Happiness?  You bet it does.  But that is the ONLY thing that does.  It isn’t a mere option, it is THE way, THE truth, and THE life.  When Jesus said those words in John 14:6a, he followed it up with “no one comes to the Father but by me.” (John 14:6b).  That contradicts the “many ways to God” philosophy of the age and of BeliefNet.

In partnering with a site that does not share the vision of evangelization and discipleship of the Lord and His bride, the “ecclesia,” a situation is created that is described in 2 Corinthians 6:14-18:  “Do not be bound together with unbelievers; for what partnership have righteousness and lawlessness, or what fellowship has light with darkness? Or what harmony has Christ with Belial, or what has a believer in common with an unbeliever?  Or what agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; just as God said, “I will dwell in them and walk among them; And I will be their God, and they shall be MY people.  “Therefore, come out from their midst and be separate,” says the Lord. “And do not touch what is unclean; And I will welcome you.  “And I will be a father to you, And you shall be sons and daughters to Me,” Says the Lord Almighty.”  The context that Paul gives is any type of partnership with unbelievers.  That same concept is shared in Revelation 18:4-5 – “Come out of her, my people, so that you will not participate in her sins and receive of her plagues; for her sins have piled up as high as heaven, and God has remembered her iniquities.”  The context here is the harlot of Babylon, seen by many commentators and by myself as the great world religion that is even now forming in the world, getting ready to step in when called for by her master.  She will be repaid in full for her deeds, and God calls us out of that so we will not participate in her punishments.

I’ve gone on at length here, but it’s important you know how I arrived at my conclusions.  I cannot “stay the course” with the pages at this point.  To do so would be to participate in something that is diametrically opposed to the goals of Jesus Christ as I understand them.  I have a real gift for finding middle ground, but there is none here to find.  I cannot “expose the people on BeliefNet to Christianity” in the hopes of “ministering” to their needs.  That word “minister” originates from the Latin word “ministrare” and means “to serve, attend, wait upon.”  A Christian should always seek to meet the needs of whoever they meet, whether they be physical, mental, or spiritual in nature.  The most often need I seem to encounter on the pages now always has spiritual roots.  How can I offer spiritual truth and healing in a place that has as its primary goal making people feel better?  Sometimes as we grow as people, we suffer.  That suffering is key in teaching us how to be better people (1 Peter).  As I looked through the pages at BeliefNet, I very much got the sense that they were about numbing pain, not using it for growth.  If find that an unfortunate contradiction and cart-before-horse thinking.  (Pain should cause growth, and THAT should make us feel better, not simple homilies meant to numb pain – this hinders growth and does not heal the problem.)

I feel I have no choice now but to resign from all my Global Scope Ministries positions and disassociate The Christian Disciple from the organization.  That will be effective immediately.  As you can see, I have not come to this decision lightly or without prayer and meditation on the subject.

I have made some very good friends here, and I want you all to know that I love you all, regardless of where you come down on this issue.  I have met a few of you in person, and I value that and your fellowship above all.  Mark and Christi Brown, I really do love you both.  Greg Hemsley, stay in touch please!  Karen, I hope to see you the next time I visit home!  Shawn Boreta and Donna Wright, you are both in my prayers, and please stay in touch.  Kimmie, Brad, Lawrence, Sue, and everyone else I have admined with, please stay in touch.  You still are on facebook, after all. J   God bless you all.
"You will know the truth, and the truth will make you free."
-John 8:32 (NASB)