Unity Part 2

It’s hilarious and tragic at the same time (How’s that for duality?) that we can profess and purport the tenets and teachings of Jesus yet be so alienating with our attitudes.

We see at the inception of Christianity, the first instance of denominational barriers and distinctions. In the Gospel of Mark (9:38), John tells Jesus that he and the other disciples had criticized an individual for not following them. Yet this man was plainly following Jesus himself because God was casting out devils through him (9:39).

Paul had to deal with this in his ministry as well. In his first letter to the Corinthians (chapter 1), he criticized several people for mislabeling their faith by saying they followed other people instead of simply following Jesus. He asks this incisive question: “Is Christ divided?” (vs. 13). Later on in chapter three he speaks of it again, calling this divisiveness “carnal”—pertaining to our old nature. That’s how we lived before we met Jesus. In his letter to the church in Rome (Romans 8:7), Paul says that the “carnal mind” is unable to think along God’s lines (loose translation). He literally says that it (the carnal mind) is “enmity”, or enemies, with God! How many of us might be born again but have not taken the steps necessary to renew our minds to God’s truth? The end result is disunity and division. “These things ought not so to be.” (James 3:10) Could it be that the “carnality” and “double-mindedness” spoken of in the New Testament are the reason that there have been so many rifts and splits in our churches?

I understand that many Christians view their brothers and sisters from different denominations with love and tenderness but the world doesn’t realize this. They see the labels of “Baptist” and “Lutheran” and “Presbyterian”, and because they don’t believe in God in the first place, they think that we’re just playing church and throwing words and concepts around for the fun of it. “Why can’t Christians agree on anything?” This perception on behalf of the world will only change when we as Christians make the effort to show the kind of love to our brothers and sisters that Jesus exhibited. Jesus says that everyone will know that we’re His disciples if we have love for one another (see John 13:35). And this “judgment” of love and mercy and forgiveness must begin in the church if we are ever going to win the world for Jesus.

“For the time is come that judgment must begin at the house of God…” (1 Peter 4:17a)

Unity part 1

It starts in the mind. Not the brain. Our two hemispheres are separate and except for the corpus callosum they’re gonna stay that way. I’m talking about the separation in our thinking regarding our “on times” and our “off times”. You know, those times throughout our day and our life where we’re reminded (presumably by the Holy Spirit) of God’s presence and existence and realize that, “Dear Lord!—I’ve gone *checks watch* an hour without thinking of or talking to God!”. As James says “these things ought not so to be” (James 3:10). Paul tells us that we should be “instant in season and out of season” (2 Timothy 4:2). The Holy Spirit is here to help us with this. David pleaded to God in Psalm 86 (vs.11): “Unite my heart to fear Thy name”. No more of this “Double-mindedness” as James puts it (1:8).

Imagine you had a flower—a daisy. And each petal you plucked meant God loved you—or not. Now, take that imagination and cast it down (see 2 Corinthians 10:5) because that’s exactly what we do when we “turn off” and forget that God loves us. This vacillation should have no place in us. I’m guilty of this.

God loves me. Period. This is the “anchor of our soul” (see Hebrews 6:19). The sun is always shining whether it’s cloudy or whether it’s midnight. This is absolute truth ladies and gentlemen. And I’m not going to know this and appropriate this unless I actively think of, thank for and dwell on the fact that God loves me.

Kierkegaard said that “purity of heart is to will one thing.” I would add to that by saying (if I may) that “unity of mind is to realize, all the time, that God loves us.” This, too is perpetual motion.

An Immovable Feast

“All the days of the afflicted are evil: but he that is of a merry heart hath a continual feast.” (Proverbs 15:15)

Third Thursday in November

What does it mean for us as Christians to really give God the thanks He’s due for all He’s done?

“In everything give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.” (1 Thessalonians 5:17)

It says to give thanks in all things. Not for all things, but IN all things. This means trials and temptations. This means that I should be thanking Him when I don’t feel anything. This means that when the hardships come, I thank Him, not for the difficulties, but for the solutions that are already in place (see Isaiah 65:24 and Jeremiah 29:11). When I choose to express gratitude in whatever situation I’m in–positive/negative–then I am responding correctly to God and what He’s done for me. God has everything I need to live the life He’s called me to. I am alive right now because of the food I ate yesterday, last week. Did I thank Him for that meal? (I think so. Thank-You Lord!)

The expression of gratitude automatically humbles me. It shows my need and my powerlessness (in and of myself) to meet that need. Sure, I went to work last week, earned a paycheck and bought the food that wound up on my table. And God was in and behind all of it. I’m grateful. God met my need. Thank-You. It’s the same way with trials and temptations. Gratitude is the bridge that brings us across the perceived separation that says that we must meet our own need during temptation and forego God’s ample provision. Any temptation to sin is just meeting a valid need other than how God would provide. If I thank God as I’m experiencing temptation, then He’ll blunt the immediacy to sin and show me a better way.

Really, there’s nothing we can do for ourselves that God has not paved the way for us with solutions, subsistence and sustenance. We need to thank Him constantly for what He’s done and in gratitude wait on Him for what He says He’ll provide as we do our part.

“Blessed be the Lord God, the God of Israel, who only doeth wondrous things.” (Psalm 72:18)

Plumb the depths of your past and present to seek out the beautiful ways that God has revealed Himself and provided for you. These wondrous things will keep you focused on Him and you’ll sail through your hardships with a grateful heart.

“And blessed be His glorious name for ever: and let the whole earth be filled with His glory; Amen, and Amen.” (Psalm 72:19)

Everyday Thanksgiving

Time, Truth and Hearts

Those words are part of the chorus to a song called “All These Things That I’ve Done” by a band called (oddly enough) The Killers. These three broad-stroke keywords encapsulate the mission statement of Jesus. (Most of) the entire song too, could be sung by Him as a means of expressing His concern and desire for everyone to see “all these things that I’ve done”. This doesn’t mean that they wrote it with Him in mind. Nor does it mean they’d be receptive if you tried to tell them. To each their own.

Back in 2003 the rock band Evanescence released a song called “Bring Me To Life”. This song was certainly about crying out to God for His resuscitation and resurrection, right? Many fans bombarded them with this revisionist definition till finally one of the band members spoke out in anger and censure at the fans’ wrong opinion. Again, Neil Peart, drummer and lyricist of Rush (my favorite band) responded to a fan with “Yeah, right” when they tried to tell him that one of his songs was about his meeting God… “Yeah right.” Ed Roland, lead singer of Collective Soul (another favorite), the son of a minister no less, even shies away from the incessant pigeon-holing leveled at he and his bandmates for their “thinly-veiled Christianity”. I respect him though, for wanting his message to reach the broadest possible audience.

I was eleven or twelve when my dad turned me on to the concept of taking the lyrics to a song and refocusing their direction to God. At the time, we were packing up to move while listening to The Eagles and Wings. It was my first introduction to popular music. Up till then I had only listened to early nineties country (still my favorite era for that genre). Pretty tame and easily digestible stuff. Since then my musical tastes have run the gamut from sixties early rock and roll (CCR, Simon & Garfunkel), seventies classic rock (Eagles, Wings, Doobies) to eighties (Don Henley, Fleetwood Mac and U2), getting fewer-and-farther between up to the present. These past few years, I’ve sampled whatever sounds good and like most people I talk to, I like “most all types of music”. Across the board however, my rubric stays the same: “How can I take this song and sing it to God?” Love songs are easy. But when you get into some more obscure grey-area lyrics that certainly could be given a spiritual meaning, (but were almost certainly never intended as such) you gotta use some imagination.

The Bible says “to the pure, all things are pure” (Titus 1:15) and elsewhere also says that he was “convinced there is nothing unclean of itself” (Romans 5:15). The meaning is what it means between you and God. If you find a song that isn’t explicitly Christian but you can twist it around in a good way, go for it. “Whatsoever things are pure…” (Philippians 4:8) sing ’em to God (Psalm 68:4,32). Don’t worry about the “author’s original intent”.

In closing, I would like to say that I feel that the contemporary Christian genre has let me down. I’m all for singing worship songs to the Lord but when all of the songs (at least the ones I’ve heard) barely scratch the surface regarding the Christian walk, I’m non-plussed to continue listening. A strange, lack of conviction and genuineness seems to pervade the entire canon. This being said, I will listen to Andrae Crouch. He communicates the love and character of Jesus better than any other artist, regardless of genre.

Ceiling Limited

“He that dwelleth in the secret place of the most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty.” (Psalm 91:1)

God has really good ears. If you come out with a string of profanity, you gotta know that He wrote down every single “idle word” (Matthew 12:36) and is patiently waiting for an explanation. This is true when you bless as well. In the book of Chronicles it says that “for the eyes of the Lord go to and fro throughout the whole earth…” (2 Chronicles 16:9) And where his eyes go, so do His ears. Phe point is, God hears everything we say.

But then I read in Psalms (66:18) where it says that “if I regard iniquity in my heart, then God will not hear me” and God has my full attention. Of course He hears me. He hears everything I say–inside and out. But until my heart condition is humble and is resonant with His, nothing I pray will get through to Him. There’s a difference between “hearing” and “actively listening”. That’s the implication of the Hebrew word translated “hear” in the King James. And this is what it means when it says God won’t hear me. My ceiling is limited by my pride and lack of humility. Think about Paul. God took Him up to the “Third Heaven” and he was so humble he couldn’t even refer to himself in the first person when he related the story (see 2 Corinthians 12:2). Interesting.

An “unlimited” or “absolute ceiling” is an aeronautical term meaning you can see forever. Into the blue. If you find your faith is weak or your imagination is suffering from lack of vision, don’t despair. A clouded field of vision means you need to humble yourself. Start excavating the sources of God’s light in your life. Write them down and dwell on them. And as it says in Psalm 36 (vs. 9) “in Thy light shall we see light”. God wants to show us the “wondrous” (Psalm 72:18) vistas that are all around us but He cannot if we choose to cross our arms and pout in self-pity, ignoring the things He’s already done.

“And thy heaven that is over thy head shall be brass, and the earth that is under thee shall be iron.” (Deuteronomy 28:23) This, because way back in the fifteenth verse of that chapter, we didn’t “hearken unto the voice of the Lord thy God, to observe to do all His commandments and His statutes…”

Don’t stop praying if you don’t feel anything: If you feel your prayers are hitting the ceiling and you find your faith hampered and weak, ask the Holy Spirit for a heart check-up and He’ll be sure to let you know if some humility is needed to clear things up. And until you get an answer, keep your face pressed up against the ceiling. God will be sure to remove it.

“But verily God hath heard me; He hath attended to the voice of my prayer. Blessed be God, which hath not turned away my prayer, nor His mercy from me.” (Psalm 66:19-20)

My Gospel

“In the day when God shall judge the secrets of men by Jesus Christ according to my gospel.” (Romans 2:16, emphasis mine)

It’s not “the Gospel according to me”. That would be ridiculous. I’m referring to the ownership that Paul had taken over the story of Jesus. Paul made the Gospel his own and it lived through him. He submitted to the same sufferings of Jesus in order to establish in Asia Minor the churches that God wanted and that Jesus died to found. We also got half our New Testament from him. These things flowed out of what God had done in and for him. It’s God’s story, told through Paul.

The story of God predates humanity and we are part of it. So what’s your story? How have you taken on the words of Jesus and applied them to the life in which you find yourself? This is of utmost importance as this is one of the ways that believers are able to overcome the devil. It says in Revelation that “they overcame him (satan) by the blood of the Lamb and the word of their testimony” (Revelation 12:11). Your testimony, the story of how you and God met, holds all the clues to your life in Him. Rehearse it. Tell it back to God before bed (God doesn’t sleep, He watches over us as we do, though. See Psalm 4:8). I guarantee you it’s impossible to overstate. Everything in your life was in order and…! You met your Creator. And nothing was the same, right?

I hope this is so in your life. My life changed when I met God—really met Him—by looking at the ways that He had already revealed Himself to me. Just because I accepted the Lord at four years old (a decision that He honored, even at that age) doesn’t mean I immediately began seeing Him as I do now. God revealed Himself to me—effectively removing certain scales from my eyes—when I began to study His word first and then began to piece together a series of intimations He had given me over the years. Then, as odd as this sounds, when I was about eighteen, I began to feel, to know that I was born again. In spite of possessing that status for fourteen years or so. And with what I see now, I am able to see His hand in my life more fully. It’s funny how that works.

And now the fun starts. Paul saw Jesus on the road to Damascus (Acts chapter 9) and then He and Jesus (see Matthew 11:28-30) carried the vision through the slog of trials, suffering and hardship, eventually leading to his martyrdom in Rome. After I began to see and know God, I had an anchor that held me fast while my suffering began and continued through my early twenties.

“And I said, This is my infirmity: but I will remember the works of the Lord: surely I will remember Thy wonders of old.” (Psalm 77:10)

The moral of the story is “God requires that which is past” (Ecclesiastes 3:15). If you’re having some issues in receiving and/or hearing from God then take a look back to your past to how God has already revealed Himself to you. Because He most certainly has. Revel with Him in that revelation for a while. Worship Him too. God will take any worship you feel like giving Him (see Psalm 50:23) even if you don’t feel it (“…the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness” Isaiah 61:3)

Tomorrow we’ll cover another topic that might (will) keep us from hearing and receiving from God. To be continued…

The parents, can’t we please think about the parents? (Ten Commandments Redux part 5)

#5 (Exodus 20:12) “Honour thy father and thy mother: that thy days may be long upon the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee.”

I hope filial piety in our society is not completely outmoded. Filial piety simply refers to the reverence that children have for their parents.

Believe it or not, when I was a kid, I remember thinking, wondering if my dad was Jesus. And believe it or not, this is not far from how things are really supposed to be in our life (see Ephesians 5:1). Our parents, up to a certain point in our childhood are to represent God for us. A loving authority figure who is at once our provider and protector. Sounds a lot like God, doesn’t it? One of the ways that God will draw us to Him prior to salvation is by laying the groundwork through a parent/child relationship. I am so grateful to Him for the earthly father that He gave me. It’s really not that big of a deal to show honor to my dad because of the love and respect that he gave to me.

But what if our parent(s) have in some way let us down? My mom, on the other hand, wasn’t so stellar an example of motherhood. The commandment says to honor your parents, though. Paul takes it one step further in Ephesians (6:1) where he says to obey your parents. He qualifies it by saying “in the Lord”. If a parent is telling you to do something you know would conflict with God’s guidance then you’re off the hook, so to speak. Here you see the distinction between obedience and honor. There are many ways that my Mother subtly neglected me and my emotional and spiritual development. Here’s the rub: She was the woman who God ordained to bring me into this world. This fact is unassailable and irreproachable. And if I’m not willing to forgive her for the mistakes that she carried with her into marriage and motherhood then I will make my own version of the same. The Strong’s definition for “honor” implies that we carry the burden of their legacy. This is a loose translation but if you try it on, it fits. We’re either elevated by their selflessness—as evinced by my dad’s influence—or held back and kept down. The good news is that wherever one or both of your parents let you down, God will be that parent in your life to fulfill whatever the maternal- or paternal-specific qualities that are integral and essential to your life as a man or woman of God.

“When my father and my mother forsake me, then the Lord will take me up.” Psalm 27:10

In closing, the parent/child dynamic is so complex as to warrant an exclusive library. Suffice it to say that I am grateful for whatever gifts I inherited from both parents and I do honor to them as I use those gifts to please God and bless humanity.

And I have forgiven my mother.

For You, An Abundant Harvest (Fruits of the Spirit Epilogue)

Summing up the fruits of the Spirit

I must say, I don’t consciously walk around wondering which fruit (love, peace, patience, etc.) I am, or should be operating in. The Holy Spirit causes these nine things to flow automatically when I maintain my focus, inwardly, upon God (Proverbs 3:5-6 shows us how to do that). The fact that these qualities are so markedly different from the unreasonable facsimiles that the world offers is proof that we are connected to a higher source. Namely, God. And as these are all aspect of God’s nature, and “God is love” (1 John 4:8), then we must know that each fruit is an aspect of His great love for us.

“For the hope which is laid up for you in Heaven, whereof ye heard before in the word of the truth in the gospel; Which is come unto you, as it is in all the world; and bringeth forth fruit, as it doth also in you, since the day ye heard of it, and knew the grace of God in truth:” (Colossians 1:5-6)

In the Bible, the word fruit is used to signify results. The secret to lasting and enduring change-for-the-better (i.e. results) is that whatever is done, however small, is done in love. A blueberry is just as much a piece fruit as an apple or a watermelon. What I mean is, the slightest, most insignificant act done “in love and the spirit of meekness” (1 Corinthians 4:21) is enough to get God’s presence to show up and change circumstances and situations. A flurry of activity happens all the time and all around us and if we don’t appeal to God for His presence in our activities, then the work of our hands will all be for naught. Only God can make a desert bear fruit. And the selfless love that Jesus exhibited (and still does) is the key to seeing God effloresce and blossom in our lives, in our communities, our society and our world. “The harvest truly is plenteous…” (Matthew 9:37).

“Fear not, O land; be glad and rejoice: for the Lord will do great things. Be not afraid, ye beasts of the field: for the pastures of the wilderness do spring, for the tree beareth her fruit, the fig tree and the vine do yield their strength.” (Joel 2:21-22)

Jesus says in John 15 (vs .8) that His Father is glorified as we bear “much fruit” and as such, we are Jesus’ disciples. In closing, may God richly bless your life with an abundant harvest of the fruits of His Spirit!

Fructify!

Selfless Self-Control (Fruits of the Spirit part 9)

“The fruit of the Spirit is…temperance”

The last fruit of the Spirit listed is temperance. It basically means self-control. The generally accepted idea is that we experience the temptation to sin but self-control enables us to resist and overcome. And this is true but there’s more to it. We’re not meant to be focused solely on our own holiness (i.e. sinlessness) for its own sake. Jesus forgave and effectively took care of every sin that humanity has committed and ever will commit, when He died and resurrected. Yes, there will come a time, if necessary, that you will experience “manifold temptations” as Peter says (see 1 Peter 1:6), but self-control really comes into focus when, after that period of trial and suffering, when you reach the edge of the desert and the outskirts of civilization, that God gives you your Promised Land (whatever personal blessing that may be). It’s now your job to defend and maintain the gift from enemies foreign (the devil, etc.) and domestic (complacency, ingratitude). This is the hard but worthwhile work of self-control, and is one of the main reasons that we go through trials in the first place. God gives us the privilege of seeing and tasting what Jesus went through but also to learn (meekness/teachability!) how to develop and cultivate a quiet heart and mind that is sensitive to the slightest whisper of direction from the Holy Spirit. And when someone’s mind is too loud, for lack of temperance, we might miss the path down which God wants us to go. David learned how. He says in Psalm 131 (vs. 2) that his soul is “behaved and quieted…even as a weaned child”.

Pride-based apathy has to be the most out-of-control attitude in our church and world. The discipline needed to maintain God’s Kingdom and program through worship and praise requires far more self-control than the resistance of simple outward mistakes and sins. As we remain meek and humble, we are enabled by God through the Holy Spirit to take responsibility for the part of God’s Kingdom that He has entrusted to us. Something that’s far more important and exciting than simply being concerned about not making mistakes for your own sake.

“For if ye live after the flesh, ye shall die: but if ye through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live.” (Romans 8:13)

Meekness, or teachability, as we saw earlier, is the inroad to learning how to control yourself as pleasing to God and to remain in the flow of all of the fruits of God’s Holy Spirit so He can get done on this earth what He wants.

Meekness: Reviled with a Smile (Fruits of the Spirit part 8)

“The fruit of the Spirit is…meekness”

Toward the end of our list, we have the fruit of meekness (often retranslated as gentleness, but there’s a difference). This is an interesting one. Not to be confused for weakness either, this fruit as manifest in the believer is the reason why you can be spit upon (literally or figuratively), reviled, hated and even killed (martyred). Nietzsche certainly misunderstood it. He called Jesus an example of “supine weakness”. And if Jesus didn’t rise from the dead, then not only is our faith in Him a waste of time (see 1 Corinthians 15:13-14), He must have been a fool to give His life as the ultimate example of meekness. Rather than fight back, Jesus showed meekness by allowing Himself to be martyred (and murdered).

This is serious as religious persecution still happens in the world today. Meekness, though, makes it bearable. When Jesus says to “turn to him the other cheek also” (Matthew 5:39), it’s understood that that you are “bearing His reproach” (see Hebrews 13:13). When our natural inclination is to retaliate, only the meekness of the Holy Spirit could enable someone to overcome the revenge instinct and not take it personally. What takes greater strength? To exact vengeance upon those who’ve wronged you? Or in love and in spite of the wrong, forgive and pray for them? It’s not weakness, it’s meekness. Don’t confuse the two.

Peter wrote of it: “For what glory is it, if, when ye be buffeted for your faults, ye shall take it patiently? But if, when ye do well, and suffer for it, ye take it patiently, this is acceptable with God.” (1 Peter 2:20)

This, coming from the man who cut off someone’s ear after they came to arrest Jesus. (see Matthew 26:51-52)

Here’s another thought: I’ve heard it said that meekness also means teachability. I’ve wrestled with this definition as it is not immediately evident. Consider this though, in the mind, where all our outward actions are conceived, the fruit of meekness will manifest itself there first by enabling us to be taught by the Holy Spirit how to implement this attitude into our actions. See John 14:26-27. The reward from God is great.