Following Function and Form

“For the Lord, the God of Israel, saith that He hateth putting away:” (Malachi 2:16a)

In other words, don’t get divorced. And don’t get married until you’re more than sure. But I believe it applies in a broader sense, too. If God sent Jesus to reunite us to Him, it should follow that the closer we got to God, like not-quite-parallel lines, we also would get closer together–to one another. The twelfth chapter of Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians is a wide-scale plea for balance within the body. Verse twelve says “For as the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body: so also is Christ.” He says in the next that each on of us has “been all made to drink into one Spirit.” The following passage is a metaphorical griping amongst “ears” and “hands” and “eyes” as to who has the more important role. He then says plainly that God has “given more abundant honor to that part which lacked:” (verse 24) So next time you see someone alone and lonely, know that that person very well may be the one for whom God has reserved a special call that would in turn lead into a very prestigious award in the hereafter. But this isn’t our concern. It’s hard enough to stay together–whether we attend the same church, or even stay for that matter–as a body.

In part

God tells Ezekiel (22:30) that He “sought for a man among them, that should make up the hedge, and stand in the gap before me for the land.” God wants to bless but He can’t if there’s no one there to receive it. Paul says “That there be no schism in the body” (12:25). The idea behind that word (schisma) is the same as “gap”. There’s a breach in the body. There must be healing and wholeness for it to function as it was intended. A more-than-rhetorical question: have we in the West not seen what God wants to do through us because we are not “likeminded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind.” (Philippians 2:2)? Food for thought. There is such a blessing on those who walk in the Spirit with one another. It’s otherworldly.

The Hebrew word for “gap” is perets. It’s the same as Pharez, who was one of Judah’s twins and in the genealogy of Christ. The funny thing is, a descendant of Pharez is called a “Partsite” which is etymologically the same as Pharisee. The connotation in Hebrew is “separate”. It’s a double-edged sword in that while one could “separate” the wheat from the chaff (see Psalm 1:4, 35:5), or the sheep from the goats (see Matthew 25:33), it also could be turned on those who God wants kept in. Only Jesus has the authority to separate on this level. We are called to maintain the sanctity of the Body as unto the Lord.

Parting gifts

It’s a wide spectrum to be sure. If we’re all following God to the best of our ability and God speaks to the heart of one or another as to the heart condition of a certain person in the church, Paul outlines codes of conduct for either seeing them healed or ousted. Just know that each and every instance should be bathed in prayer because we don’t see hearts in and of ourselves. We very well may see malnourished “eyes” (no vision, blindness) or “ears” (dullness/deafness) but the “heart-realm” is exclusively God’s domain. And if it’s straying into hurting the other members, God will show you or another what to do.

“What then? Israel hath not obtained that which he seeketh for; but the election hath obtained it, and the rest were blinded (According as it is written, God hath given them the spirit of slumber, eyes that they should not see, and ears that they should not hear;) unto this day. And David saith, Let their table be made a snare, and a trap, and a stumblingblock, and a recompence unto them: Let their eyes be darkened, that they may not see, and bow down their back alway.” (Romans 11:7-10)

It is a wonderful privilege and gift to be a member of Christ’s body. We share in a relationship and fellowship that thousands, if not millions, of people prior to Christ yearned for. While all may be well and good for them now, life did not have the grace and ease and beauty that (I would say) we take for granted on a daily basis. Guilty. Paul continues in Romans to explain the gravity of our situation and station. He says “because of unbelief they were broken off, and thou standest by faith” (11:20). There is absolutely nothing but the “kindness and love of God our Savior toward man” (Titus 3:4) keeping us in the family of God. I would say that any petty quibbling regarding our position in church should take a major backseat to the fact that we have been invited to the table in the first place.

Just make sure you’re wearing a “wedding garment” (Matthew 22:11-12)

“For the Lord, the God of Israel, saith that He hateth putting away:”

Unity part 3 The Case For Conversation

“But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts: and be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you in meekness and fear:” (1 Peter 3:15)

Dialogue is vital. No Christian need ever think that a non-believer would not want to hear about our faith, our Savior, our God. A common misconception. This is why we need to be ready to answer everyone—including our brother and sister in Jesus—about “the hope that is you”.

A perfect example: a past issue of Esquire magazine profiles a man who saved the lives of everyone in a Joplin, Missouri gas station as the tornado touched down a stone’s-throw away. The article also interviews a Pentecostal woman (though it doesn’t label her as such, should I?) who cried out “Jesus!” as loud as she could over and over and over as the tornado ravaged everything around her. The writer of the article reports the facts and leaves the reader to decide. Or not. What drew me to the issue wasn’t anything on the cover but the cascading sequence of “Jesus” in ever increasing font-size, complete with exclamation points.

Another interesting thing about this article is how it delineates the doctrines of Pentecostalism from an observer’s objective viewpoint. It speaks of this woman’s beliefs as simply that: what she believes. And it’s accepted and respected. Ironically, these very things (the distinct indwelling of the Holy Spirit as something separate from salvation, speaking in tongues, etc.) are viewed with skepticism at best and shunned and silenced at worst in other, more conservative denominations within Christianity.

If the world can talk about it, why can’t we? And not just denominational distinctions. Listen as our brother and sister share what God has done in their life, and be “slow to speak” (James 1:19). God is doing something in all of our lives. I believe that all things (including conversation) should be done “decently and in order” (1 Corinthians 14:40), i.e. appropriately.

What God is presently doing in our church (and churches) is going to spill out into the world as it did in Joplin. I have a sneaking suspicion that the author of the article knows a miracle happened that day. And thank God that this woman was willing to share her faith and beliefs without shame. How will we know to answer questions about other denominations, about our faith in general, unless we’re willing to share what we believe? And how. And why.

“Let your speech be alway with grace, seasoned with salt, that ye may know how ye ought to answer every man.” (Colossians 4:6)

Unity 2.1

How interesting that other religions purport a brand of unity that either dilutes the Gospel into ineffectiveness or ignores it completely. Whereas you have every other religion (or lack thereof) under the sun advertised as a different yet equally valid path to God, Christianity is so splintered as to be hardly recognizable as the true way (back) to Him. When Jesus says “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life, no one comes to the Father but by me” (John 14:6), how can this be misconstrued and misinterpreted?

But this isn’t necessarily my problem. At least not until these other things get dealt with.

Within our church there seem to be different languages spoken. I’m not talking about cross-cultural, linguistic barriers, I’m referring to the phenomenon where someone can use the words love and mercy and forgiveness and mean something completely different than how the Bible defines and describes them.

“That I may know Him, and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being made conformable unto His death.” (Philippians 3:10)

Are we spiritually astute enough to hear those in our churches who are hurting? Those who have a need for love that’s not being met? These people are speaking, crying out in a language that, unless we are in tune with Jesus and His sufferings, we are going to misunderstand or just miss altogether. Jesus hears them and He knows what they’re going through. He understands their pain. The suffering of Jesus is the great equalizer. When you are willing to “condescend to men (and women) of low estate” (Romans 12:16) and see that God loves these people through you, (and heals them if need be) this is acceptable to God. This will do more to heal the fractures and splinters in our church than any program or fund or mission trip. Mother Teresa was a master at seeing Jesus in everyone. And God blessed and rewarded the work of her hands.

I’ve wondered about this for a long time: maybe this is why “not a bone of Him was broken” (John 19:35) when Jesus was crucified. Because Jesus is not divided. Not splintered and not fractured. And we are “complete in Him” (Colossians 2:10). Let us dwell on this truth, this reality and let it heal us. Our minds, our hearts, (our bodies if need be) and our churches.

“For we are members of His body, of His flesh, and of His bones.” (Ephesians 5:30)

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.