Sunday, December 30, 2007

Paul's Doctrine (Part 4)

Imagine that a letter arrives. It claims to be an official letter from a legal representative of the court. It says…

“I would prefer to tell you this personally, but have not been able to do so. Acting in my role as a legal representative of the court, I have very good news for you. You will not be required to serve any prison time, or pay any penalty. In addition, you will be given everything you need to live comfortably and confidently. The only requirement is that you maintain a residence within the jurisdiction of this court.

How would you respond?

  • Would you compose a reply that challenges the court decision by asking “What do you mean I don’t have to serve prison time? What have I done to deserve any prison time? Why am I being given the award? Why do I have to keep a residence in this jurisdiction?
  • Would you start packing to move to another jurisdiction?
  • Would you jump for joy, and begin celebrating?

Most of us think we would do the third, but in reality, we do the first AND the second.

Paul wrote, in so many words… “I am speaking as an official representative of the all powerful deity. I have good news for you. God will use His power to rescue you from penalty and give you the ability to live in comfort and confidence. The only thing you need to do is have faith in Him.” (Romans 1:16, 17)

Rather than rejoice, people in Paul’s time and ours start asking questions and challenging the offer.

  • Why do I deserve a penalty?
  • Why should I get a penalty, when others are worse than me?
  • What other options do I have to get out of this penalty I may deserve?

Does asking those questions sound like having faith in Him? Of course not! That’s how we are really taking the second option (moving to another jurisdiction and invalidating the gift), when we begin on the first option (challenging and questioning the offer). The questioning and challenging IS moving away from a position that acknowledges the jurisdiction and authority of God.

Why do we choose such a bizarre, self-destructive, course of action? The same reason we deserve the penalty to begin with. Questioning and challenging the good news confirms and further entrenches the guilt. We refuse to recognize that God has jurisdiction, and that He desires our best interest. (Romans 1:20)

Monday, December 17, 2007

Paul's Doctrine (Part 3)

Some positions require a nuanced explanation. In a recent Presidential debate, the moderator asked the candidates to raise their hands if they believed that “global climate change is a serious threat and caused by human activity.”

One of the candidates refused. “I’m not doing hand shows today, no hand shows.” The moderator tried to force a yes or no answer to the question but the candidate refused. He made it clear that he would be happy to answer the question if he could take a minute to give a full explanation.

Sometimes a topic is important enough, that a simple answer isn’t accurate enough to be helpful. That’s the kind of topic Paul has tackled here. In that vein, and like the politician, Paul must embark on several clarifying arguments as he explains the gospel.

If we summarize his teaching so far, we could do so as…

1) Being rescued depends on God’s power and generous mercy.

2) No-one deserves His generous mercy because everyone has sinned, and sin is rooted in denying His power and generous mercy.

Paul has taught this gospel before. I think he knows the misunderstandings and accusations people commonly make about it. As the text will later show, one misunderstanding of the gospel Paul taught is a wrong conclusion drawn from the last two points.

“If everyone has rejected God and turned to sin, and no-one deserves to be saved, but God saves people anyway, then it doesn’t really matter how I act, or whether I sin or not. I might as well ‘sin big’ and show God’s grace even more.”

Chapter 2:1-16 is Paul’s answer to this common misunderstanding. He explains that God will judge every person, every action, and every intent.

But because of your stubbornness and your unrepentant heart, you are storing up wrath for yourselves in the day of wrath, when God's righteous judgment is revealed! He will reward each one according to his works (Romans 2:5-6)

It’s worth noting that the mind bent away from God, can take the greatest “good news” imaginable and turn it into license to sin. Paul notes this in verse 4.

You surely don't think much of God's wonderful goodness or of his patience and willingness to put up with you. Don't you know that the reason God is good to you is because he wants you to turn to him? (Contemporary English Version)

But the main point is that Gods generous mercy should not make us forget that sin and righteousness still matter.

Romans 2:1-16 If you judge anyone, you basically condemn yourself by agreeing that judgment should be given and should be based on works. (Which I just pointed out condemns everyone.) In contrast, God’s judgment is based on the attitude and faith of the person, not just the deeds. Don’t think that pointing at others that have done worse things, will get you off. Don’t imagine that God is too merciful to punish anyone, so you can go ahead and sin. Doing that, will just making your judgment worse because He will surely judge. He will judge on the bases of faith, and deeds, not on some arbitrary or inequitable scale. He will punish those whose deeds are selfish and disobedient. He will reward those whose faith and deeds are right. Knowing what’s right or coming from the right background is not important; having the right faith and the right deeds matters. In fact, there are people who have never heard all of God’s truth, but they still have the right attitude and many of the right deeds, they prove that the essential truths are evident in creation. They prove that His truth is evident unless it is deliberately suppressed. They will be judged by the standards of the gospel I am preaching. (God will apply His power and mercy to anyone that has the faith He is looking for.)

Anybody Need a Star?

Have you ever envied the “three wise men” of Christmas tradition? I don’t envy them a long Camel ride, or even having enough gold to spare giving some away. What I really envy is their star. They started on a trip with a clear objective… follow the star.

I wish I had a star to follow. I spend far too much time trying to decide which goal I should be pursuing right now. Nothing wrong with writing, but maybe my time spent writing this would be better spent writing a note to my mother. If I just had a shining miraculous star to show me the path, I could feel confident that I was always doing the right thing, pursuing the right course of action.

But if you read the story carefully, at some point, the star disappeared. What did the wise men do then? If they were like me, they wandered about confused and uncertain. But like I said, they were wise men so, we could be pretty sure they did something different. They thought. They reasonably decided that the most likely place for a king to be born was in the closest palace, so they headed to the palace of King Herod. Sure enough, they got enough information to be back on the right track, and the star re-appeared.

The truth is, that most of the time, I actually do have a Star…not a visual light in the sky, but a written light in the darkness. It says “Love your enemies,” “Give a cup of cold water in my name,” “visit the widows and the orphans,” “Love your neighbor as yourself” and plenty other things, but that’s enough to focus on most of the time.

But what happens when I’m in a place and can’t see the path? Should I be writing this, or should I be writing a note to my mother? The star is a bit too unclear for me. Well, that’s when a wise man would stop, think, make a reasonable decision, and proceed.

That’s all for now, I’m going to write a short note to my mother.

POSTSCRIPT: I sent an e-mail note to my mother a few minutes after this was posted. My brother read it to her that night. She died about 28 hours later. I feel grateful that The Bright and Morning Star led me.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

The bad news that makes the good news so good

The “good news” of God’s salvation is really only appreciated when we realize how hopeless we are without it. The good news of the gospel is truly good because it is our only hope. Without the power and merciful justice of God we are all hopelessly doomed. The next section in Romans (1:18 – 32) is important because the bad news is the context that makes the gospel such spectacularly good news.

Ignorance of God’s law, Paul tells us, is not a valid excuse. It is a chosen blindness to some truths evident in what can be seen, namely God’s power and divinity. (It’s arguable that the essence of divinity here is righteousness, in which case there is a wonderful parallel here that God’s power and righteousness form the truths that are evident in creation and essence of the gospel [verse 16,17].)

This chosen ignorance has consequences in our behaviors.
It would be a mistake to read these verses as a simple list of sins.

It is unfortunate that this passage is sometimes used to present homosexuality as chief among sins. So, why did Paul seem to put such emphasis on homosexuality? Paul wrote this epistle to Rome sometime between 2 and 8 years after Nero became Caesar. Nero was by no means the first Caesar to engage in homosexual behavior, but he was the first Caesar to marry a gay lover. In fact, it’s possible to read this passage and find virtually every evil used to describe Nero by his contemporaries. He came to power by deceit and murder of his step-father. He kept power by the same means. His political rivals, including his mother, were murdered by his order. He was the first Caesar to aggressively persecute the Christians and yet he was “Divine” in the state religion. Verse 32 concludes the list with the observation that the ungodly not only do these awful things “but also approve of those who practice them.” Paul could hardly have said more plainly that the approval Rome gave to Nero was proof of a depraved state.

While I suspect that Paul was thinking of Nero, I believe that the Holy Spirit was moving to accomplish a deeper and more lasting objective. The passage lists the results of willful ignorance when God “gives them up.”

The Holy Spirit knowingly makes it impossible for anyone to read this passage and indulge in a self-righteous judgment against others whose sins are more “grievous” than our own. Like everyone I am tempted by certain sins, but not by others. Homosexual activity is extremely tempting to some, but not most. That reality makes it easy for the self-righteous to take prideful comfort in the condemnation of others.

Homosexual sin is one that far too many view with self-righteous contempt. It is wrong, but it’s no worse than gluttony. It’s no worse than telling a “little white lie.” It’s no worse than disobeying a parent. Those who struggle with homosexual urges should not be placed in a category different from any other sinner. To tell them they must stop their sexual behaviors and cease their desires in order to be in good standing is consistent only if you require the glutton to become thin and cease craving sweets to be in good standing. God’s love and His salvation are not based on the actions of the sinner, that’s the Gospel! God’s love and His salvation are based on God’s power and generous justice to treat faith as faith regardless of who has it, and regardless of what sin that person finds tempting.

Lest any of us feel any superiority to those of “greater sins,” the inspired apostle moves the target smoothly between wickedness, murder, deceit, arrogant God haters (all of which are easy for the self-righteous to deny) and the “lesser sins” of envy, gossip, and disobedience to parents.

The clear conclusion of any open-minded reading of the passage is that “I am no better than those I willingly condemn.” This intent of the Holy Spirit is confirmed in the first phrase of the next paragraph.

Therefore you are without excuse, whoever you are, when you judge someone else. (Romans 2:1)

The good news that God’s salvation is applied on the basis of faith alone is good news indeed.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Paul’s Theology 101, part 2

The entire good news from God is encapsulated in the short phrases of Romans 1:16 & 17. This is the thesis statement for the doctrinal treatise that follows. It is a premise well memorized.

For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek. For therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith as it is written, “The just shall live by faith.” (KJV)

I memorized these verses as a child, but I don’t think I really understood them until I started trying to paraphrase them, keeping in mind that many have called them the thesis statement for the book.

Here’s my current paraphrase.

I have complete confidence to preach and live in the good news of Christ because it’s anchored in the unchanging attributes of God. First, God has the power to rescue everyone. Second, God does rescue anyone who puts faith in Him regardless of their background. The faith of a Jew, the faith of a gentile, either way, it’s faith that God honors. As it says in Habakkuk 3:4, “the ones that live rightly with God have been rescued because of their faith."

The King James phrase “to the Jew first, and also to the Greek” does not imply a primacy of the Jews, it simply means “The Jews learned it first, but it’s now available to everyone.” The phrase “revealed from faith to faith” is reinforcing the thought that God is generous and equitable in His offer to rescue everyone. Faith is treated like faith no matter who has it. God not only has the power to rescue all, but also the fairness to rescue all based on faith, rather than heritage.

God has the power to save. (God is great.)

God will save all those who believe, regardless of their history. (God is good.)

Blessed be the name of the Lord!

Monday, November 26, 2007

Paul's Theology 101

All of Paul’s epistles (with one exception) were written in response to reports he received from a church with which he was intimately familiar. These epistles are written to address the specific challenge each particular church was facing.

Romans on the other hand, is different. Paul was not very familiar with the church in Rome (1:10). He wanted to go there and make sure that they were rooted in the true teaching of the gospel (1:15). Since he could not get there to teach them the good news (1:13), the best he could do was to write a letter.

In Romans, it can be easily argued, we find the clearest and purest statement of the “good news” as Paul taught it when he was making converts and establishing churches throughout Macedonia and Greece. His other epistles are the practical applications of his basic doctrine to particular situations, but in the epistle we find the basics of the “good news” of Christ.

For this reason, many have described Romans as a theological treatise hidden in the middle of a personal letter. Also for this same reason, it is doctrinally one of the most important books in the Bible.

This letter is truly the most important piece in the New Testament. It is purest Gospel. It is well worth a Christian's while not only to memorize it word for word but also to occupy himself with it daily, as though it were the daily bread of the soul. It is impossible to read or to meditate on this letter too much or too well. The more one deals with it, the more precious it becomes and the better it tastes. – Martin Luther

Saturday, November 03, 2007

"We interrupt this prayer"

I intended to write another short thought about prayer but that will have to go on hold. My wife and I toured the National Holocaust Museum in Washington, DC. I was devastated to learn how the United States did so little to help Jewish refugees from Germany. I had never heard of a boat called the "St. Louis." It left Germany full of Jews that were fleeing to Cuba. Cuba changed its mind and wouldn't let them enter. The ship came and sat off the coast of Miami. The trapped passengers could see the lights of Miami, but the Coast Guard was patrolling to prevent any attempt to swim to freedom. Eventually the ship sailed back to Europe. Several European countries finally agreed to take some of the refugees. Almost all of them were eventually murdered in concentration camps.
The U.S. talked a good game about the Jews being annihilated, but did very little. We were instrumental in starting an international summit about accepting more Jewish refugees, but we did not increase our limits on immigration. I don't normally feel a lot of shame over the United States, but I did in that museum.
It reminded me of how slow we have been to react to Pol-Pot, to Serbia, even to segregation, more recently to the Sudan, and to the Congo. If our Government can be silent while people are systematically murdered, how can we consider ourselves a Christian Nation? If our churches stay silent as well, how can we call ourselves His people?
I will return to this topic, and soon.

Monday, October 29, 2007

What are the right things to pray for?

I don’t believe God is ever annoyed that we pray for the “wrong things.” I think He is so delighted that we have decided to show up for a conversation, that what we ask for is of relatively minor importance.

The fact that we show up at all reveals at least a modicum of…
Recognition that He exists
Recognition that He is powerful enough to answer
Recognition that He is kind enough to respond
Recognition that we are dependent on Him

I think He is so delighted that we show up in prayer, that the content of what we pray for is less critical. I’m not certain there are “right things and a wrong things” in what we pray for. (I don’t think my view contradicts I John 5:16.)

Saturday, October 20, 2007

The Faith of "Dogs"

A Canaanite woman cried out “Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David! My daughter is demon possessed!” Jesus did not respond to her at all. His disciples finally begged him to get the woman to shut up, because she kept on yelling after them. So, Jesus rebuked the woman by saying “I have been sent to feed the children of God.” She interrupted by repeating her plea “Lord, Help me!” But Jesus replied, “It’s not right for me to take the food meant for the children and give it to the dogs.” She answered “Even the dogs get to eat the crumbs that fall from the table.” Jesus responded to her faith, “Woman, your faith is great! You have what you request.” Her daughter was healed from that time. Matthew 15:22 -28

Why was Jesus rude to this woman?

She called Him the right thing. He is “Lord, Son of David.” She recognized Him as King of the Jews, the Messiah. When Peter said it, Jesus blessed him. When a blind, beggar yelled it, Jesus marveled at his faith. She called Him the right thing but he “did not answer a word.” He ignored her.

She also had the right attitude. Her prayer was “Have mercy on me.” When Jesus taught about the attitude of prayer he contrasted a proud Pharisee who publicly boasted in his prayer with a humble tax-collector who said “have mercy on me.” This woman’s prayer came from the right attitude of humility. But he ignored her.

She also had the right persistence. Jesus taught that “even an un-just person will answer your request if you pester him long enough, how much more so will God give good things to those that ask Him?” She was persistent to the point that she was annoying the disciples because she “keeps crying out after us.”

If praying well is a formula, she seems to nail it. She rightly knows who she’s praying to (check that box). She has the right attitude of humility and dependence (check that box). She has the right method of being persistent (check that box).

So why in heaven’s name did He react rudely by completely ignoring her? And then, when He did speak, He said probably the most demeaning thing He ever said to anyone. “Why should I take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs.” He called her a dog! He was saying, “there are other people here who are so much more important than you, that it would be wrong to spend any time on you. The “children” deserve and warrant my time and attention, not a “dog.”

If God said that to you or me, while we were praying to Him about something desperately important, how would we respond? I would be hurt and angry. I could easily see myself accusing God of hypocrisy. “Excuse me? Exactly how do you call yourself the ‘God of Love,’ and then go around calling those that pray to you, dogs?”

But, I stand in humble amazement at the woman’s answer. “Even the dogs can get the crumbs that fall from the table.” Ponder the humility of that response. She did not argue the validity of her comparison between her and the dogs. She did not argue the rudeness of His response. She remained humble. She remained humble. She remained humble. Her steadfastness in humility, submission, and persistence frankly puts me to shame.

Clearly she was so convinced of her own dependency and His power that she would not let anything, including His behavior change her mind. Her faith was not dependent on anything, including His words and actions.

I don’t know why God would choose to model rudeness in this story. (He compared Himself to an unjust judge to teach about persistence.) But maybe He chose His response so that we could see the humble persistence that would be amazing even to Him. Woman, your faith is great! You have what you request.”

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Personal Bible Study 1

The first step in personal Bible study is done before you pick up the Bible.

Pray! Pray that God would open your eyes, your ears, and your heart to see, hear, and learn what He would wish for you. It’s not a bad idea to confirm with him that the purpose of personal Bible study is not checking a box on a spiritual to do list, or learning factoids so that you can win Bible Trivial Pursuit. The primary goal is to please Him. Personal Bible Study involves learning truth, but not for the sake of knowledge, for the sake of knowing THE Truth (the way and the life). Our desire should be to Learn truth about, and from, our Lord so that we might know Him better. It is an amazing truth that perhaps the best way you can please Him is to know Him. It reveals something of His desperate desire and passion for you. However, there is more we can do to please Him. We can obey Him, and show His love to others, on His behalf.

Learn truth….. SO THAT we can please Him
--by seeking to know Him
--by knowing Him
--by obeying Him
--by showing His love to others

Pray that your purposes and goals would be aligned with the ultimate goal of pleasing Him. Pray that His Spirit will guide your mind and emotions as you study. Believe that He will be faithful. (He said “So will My word be which goes forth from My mouth; It will not return to Me empty, Without accomplishing what I desire, And without succeeding {in the matter} for which I sent it." Isaiah 55:11)

The second step still does not require you to pick up the Bible. Prayerfully determine what kind of study you want to do. There are at least 5 main approaches:

1. “Chapter” summary (or book, or paragraph, or section) – looking for the “big” meaning in the larger context
2. Topical study – studying everything the Bible has to say on a particular subject (as deep as the “End Times” or as practical as “parenting”)
3. Character or Biographical study – a careful look at one particular Bible Character
4. Devotional or Contemplative – slow meditative reading asking probing questions of yourself and the text
5. Word study – studying how one word is used in a text and in other texts to shed light on the specific meaning

I list them in the order I suggest they should be undertaken based on the spiritual maturity level of the student. (A new believer would be much better studying by “chapter” summary, than doing a word study.)

If you will start with a “chapter” study, you need to select a “chapter.” If you are new to personal Bible study, a New Testament Book (not The Book of the Revelation) is probably best. The Gospel of John is a very good place to begin.

A “chapter” (or section) summary can be done on a chapter or a whole book or a paragraph. Paragraphs may actually be best, since chapter (and verse) divisions are not “inspired” and are usually better used for convenience of reference instead of for an accurate division between topics. Determining where paragraphs could best be placed can be difficult depending on the translation you use. (Paragraph divisions are not inspired either, and can vary from translation to translation, but they are deliberately placed to keep sections of meaning together.)

A section summary is best begun with a little bit of background work. The understanding of a section is sometimes affected by the setting, the author, the historical context, and the geographical and social context. (On Sunday, I’ll show you how this works in I Corinthians 11:2-16…)

After all that, read the section you have prayerfully decided to digest. Remember, God went to the effort to inspire this and preserve this… He believes it is important. Read the section repeatedly, in as many different translations and paraphrases as you can find. Reading it 10 times from at least 5 different versions is not uncommon or excessive. (On Sunday, we’ll talk a bit about various translations and their strengths and weaknesses.)
Then, write a caption or title for the section. Answer the question, “What’s the “Big Idea?” Outline the section. Re-write the section in your own words. List the key words and concepts. Write out what is confusing in the section. What questions does it raise but not clearly answer? (We’ll talk about answering those questions when we look at topical studies). Write a summary of what this section reveals about God, any member of the Godhead, and about you. (I’ll show you a simple form that is useful.) Develop an application that is:

· Personal – It should be central to my daily life
· Practical – It should contain elements that are practicable on a regular basis and are measurable
· Possible - Each application should be realistically doable and realistic (not necessarily easy)
· Provable – You should keep a record of the measurable element to each application

Friday, August 17, 2007

Faith - 1

Some have claimed that Romans is the most important book in the New Testament, for doctrine. The word “Faith” is used 5 times (and “believes” is used one time) in the first 17 verses.

- Paul says that his role was to call people to the obedience that comes from faith.
- Paul was thankful because the faith of the Roman Christians was reported all over the world.
- He longed to see them and be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith.
- The gospel reveals a righteousness that is by faith.
- “The righteous will live by faith.”
- The gospel is the power of God for salvation of everyone who believes.

All of that is the background for a contrast that starts is verse 18. “The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them.”

Following this is a detailed list of what the depraved mind of man has done. One of the descriptions of these people is “faithless.” (vs.31)

What does this introduction to doctrine tell us about faith?

Based on this introduction to doctrine, what is faith?

Based on this introduction to doctrine, what is it we should have faith in?

Based on this introduction to doctrine, what does faith produce?

Friday, August 10, 2007

I John Overview

I decided that I was getting too bogged down in the specifics of the text in I John.

So I thought it would help me to step back and look at the bigger picture in I John.

I was struck at how many stark contrasts John points out (this is not all, but a quick list of some major contrasts).

1:5 - Light - Darkness
2:3,4 - Obey - Disobey
2:9-11 - Loves believers - Hates believers
2:15,16 - Does not love the world - Loves the world
2:21,22 - Truth-filled - Liar
2:23 - Confesses the Son - Denies the Son
2:24-26 - Remain in the truth - Deceive
3:6 - Does not practice sin - Practices sin
3:7,8 - Practices Righteousness - Practices sin
3:7,8 - Like Jesus - Like the Devil
3:9,10 - Fathered by God - Fathered by the Devil
4:2,3 - Confesses that Jesus came in the flesh - Does not confess that Jesus came in the flesh.
4:6 - Listens to “us” - Does not listen to “us”
4:7 - Loves - Does not love
4:7 - Knows God - Does not know God
4:17,18 - Does not fear - Lives in fear

Finally, so many of the passages in this book closely link one or more of the things in the left hand side of those contrasts. The obvious conclusion is that they all go together to describe one thing….A believer walking in the light.

To paraphrase 4:20 – 5:4 "If you love God, you love your fellow Christians, which is obedient to His command, which means you believe that Jesus is the Christ, which means that you are fathered by God, which means you love God, which means you love others fathered by Him, which is proved by loving God and obeying His commandments. And you don’t find His commandments hard because you have been fathered by Him, and you conquer the world."

At least 10 times in this Epistle, John writes (in so many words) “I write these things for this reason” The last time is in chapter 5 verse 13, where he says

“I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life."

I think the overview really emphasizes that. There are many ways to test the relationship you (and others) have with God. I John makes it pretty clear that this is something we need to be able to do. We should be able to look at our lives (and the lives of others) and “know” that we have eternal life.

Friday, August 03, 2007

God is Light

1 John 1: 5 Now this is the message we have heard from Him and declare to you: God is light, and there is absolutely no darkness in Him. 6 If we say, "We have fellowship with Him," and walk in darkness, we are lying and are not practicing the truth. 7 But if we walk in the light as He Himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin.

8 If we say, "We have no sin," we are deceiving ourselves, and the truth is not in us. 9 If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 10 If we say, "We have not sinned," we make Him a liar, and His word is not in us. – hcsb

I memorized this passage when I was a kid. It didn’t make sense to me then, either. Here’s my question. What does it mean when it says “God is light?”

Does light represent life? (It does in Psalm 13:3)
Does light represent the ability to clearly see the next step? (It does in Psalm 43:3, Psalm 119:105)
Does light illustrate moral purity? (this is the most common view in commentaries, It does in II Corinthians 6:14 and John 3:19-21, but I have real problems with this view)
Does light represent revealed truth about who God is? (It does in Luke 2:32)

If light is an illustration of life, then verse 6 doesn’t make sense. It would basically say “If we say we are in fellowship with Him when we are dead, we are lying.” Dead people (with very few exceptions) say very little.

If light is an illustration of clarity and certainty then verse 7 doesn’t make much sense. It would basically say “if we walk in complete certainty we have fellowship with one another.” My experience however, is that people that walk in complete certainty are arrogant and annoying.

The most often suggested understanding is that light illustrates moral purity. But if that is the case, then vs. 7 doesn’t make sense. It says that if we walk in moral perfection the blood of Christ cleanses us from all sin. The problem is that if we walked in moral perfection we wouldn’t need to be cleansed from sin. And vss 8 and 10 make it clear we can’t possibly walk in moral perfection, so why even mention it in verse 7, much less connect it with forgiveness?

So, I think there are two ways to make sense of this passage.

1. “God is light” means Christ’s teaching is true. Then the suggestion is that John addresses three “if we say” statements based on false teaching at the time.
§ “If we say we have fellowship with Him while we are walking in darkness.”
§ “If we say we have no sin.”
§ “If we say we are not sinning.”
This is possible, but hypothetical and makes John’s message pretty disjointed.

2. “God is light” means that God reveals himself to others in relationship, most obviously in Christ, especially in the context. In this view, the passage could be understood as follows.
I John 1: 5 Now this is the message we have heard from Him and declare to you: God reveals himself to people, and He does not hide, or make himself unknowable, to anybody. 6 If we say, "We have fellowship with Him," while at the same time, we hide ourselves, and deny the truth about our condition, we are lying. 7 But if we will honestly reveal the truth about ourselves as He has revealed the truth about Himself, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin.

8 If we say, "We have no sin," we are being deceitful about what we are really like, and the truth is not in us. 9 If instead we are honest about our many sins and shortcomings, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 10 If we say, "We have not sinned," we are not only failing to be honest, but we are essentially calling Him a liar, and ignoring the fact that Christ’s revelation about God included the fact that we are hopeless without His sacrifice.

The problem with this explanation is that while it fits the previous context perfectly, it doesn’t fit as well with the context that follows, which focuses on keeping His commands (which would suggest the common view that light here is moral purity).

So, several questions I would like to discuss…
· Does the fact that God reveals Himself, give us a model that we should reveal ourselves, too?
· Why would God give us His authoritative Word as a guide for life, and make it so difficult to understand exactly what it means?
· How should we then live?

Friday, July 27, 2007

First John

I have always found it interesting that the Apostle John never used his own name when he wrote his account of the life of Jesus. He never used his own name when he wrote three short letters much later. (First, Second, and Third John.)

(He did use his own name in the Book of The Revelation - three times in the first chapter, and once in the last. It’s a pretty long story, but when John put his name own name in The Book of the Revelation, it actually caused some to argue that John didn’t write it. The canonization of The Book of the Revelation is a pretty interesting story. We may talk about it some.)

Of more importance to today, however, is that while John didn’t use his own name, several times he calls himself “the one that Jesus loved” (John 13:3 for example). It’s an amazing thought that John was so impacted by Jesus that he, in some sense, lost his identity as “John, brother of James, son of Zebedee” and thought of himself as “beloved of Jesus.” John was consumed by the love Jesus had for him. It became his identity, his passion, his emphasis, his joy, his strength…. his concept of himself was rooted in his relationship to Jesus. I wonder how I would approach my day differently if I thought of myself less as “Steve” and more as “one loved by Jesus.”

With that background, let’s start looking at the book of First John. It starts with a very long, very complex sentence. The sentence starts with a series of dependent clauses. “That which we have seen” etc. The verb in the sentence does not show up until verse 3. In the NKJV the verb is in the phrase “we declare.” John’s big starting point is as follows. (The text is in bold italics, my comments are in plain text.)

That which was from the beginning, - A first description of something not yet named
which we have heard, - A second description of something not yet named
which we have seen with our eyes, - A third description of something not yet named
which we have looked upon, - A fourth description of something not yet named
and our hands have handled, - A fifth description of something not yet named
concerning the Word of life – The "something" is named, but not very clearly
(the life was manifested, and we have seen, and bear witness, and declare to you that eternal life which was with the Father and was manifested to us) - A parenthetical clause that finally defines the “something” to which all those clauses referred. This parenthetical clause also explains a presumed objections… how is it possible that “they” could have seen, heard, looked upon, and handled that which was “from the beginning.” i.e. eternal. The answer is that the Word was eternal with the Father, but it was also manifested to us.
that which we have seen and heard we declare to you, - There is the subject verb and object of the sentence.
that you also may have fellowship with us; John actually gives several reasons for writing this book, this is the first of those.
and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ. John reinforces the fact that his identity is completely wrapped up in his fellowship with Jesus Christ, and that this fellowship is available to us.

John’s opening sentence is “declaring” or “proclaiming” the facts that the same Jesus that was seen, heard, and touched by so many is eternal God. His reason for that focus is so that his readers can join in fellowship with those eye-witnesses and in fact with God Himself.

As I was studying this, the thought that struck me was about John. He did not see himself most accurately, fully, and completely, as “a son of thunder,” or as “one of the inner three,” or as “the brother of James,” not even as “John.” His must complete understanding of himself was “the one loved by Jesus.” That one, the one loved by Jesus, had one singular passion, revealed in these opening verses…. To declare to others that Jesus is the eternal Word of the Father. Because he was “loved by Jesus,” he was passionate about declaring the truth of Jesus to others, so that they too could know His love.

I wonder why so many modern Christians are so passive about declaring truth to others. I wonder how our evangelism would change if we saw ourselves not as “Americans,” or “Alabamians,” or “conservative protestants,” or even as “Christians,” but rather, we saw ourselves most clearly, and most fundamentally as “I am the one that Jesus loves.”

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Holy Spirit - Wine

Now that’s a topic that’s likely to spark a debate. A few things to be clear:

- Drunkenness is never appropriate for a believer.
- But total abstinence is not Biblically required of a believer except in three instances.

o If you take the priesthood of believers to a literal extreme that OT priests were not allowed to drink. (Leviticus 10:9) See the last bullet, however.
o You have taken a special vow (such as Nazarite) not to drink.
o Your drinking would cause other believers to stumble. (Romans 14:21)

- The disciples drank wine (At Cana, and in Luke 5:29-33)
- Jesus drank (Luke 7:31-34). Jesus basically said “John the Baptist didn’t drink and you didn’t believe him because you said that was too weird, I do drink and you don’t believe me because of it, you’ll find some reason to turn down God’s message no matter how it comes.”
- Early church elders could drink in moderation (I Timothy 3:8, and I Timothy 5:23 where Paul instructed Timothy to mix a bit of wine in his water because Timothy was prone to illness, and Ephesian water was prone to parasites.)

Throughout Scripture, wine symbolizes a strong, emotional experience of joy. (There are 4 passages that talk about the deceitful “joy” that comes in the course of sinful passions “Their wine is the venom of serpents.” Even in those passages, wine still symbolizes passionate enjoyment. With those exceptions, wine symbolizes not only joy, but joy that comes from God’s blessing.)

The Psalmist says that Joy coming from God is better than joy coming from wine (Ps. 4:7)

Overall, wine is symbolic of God’s blessings and the Joy that comes from being in right relationship with Him. Unless wine is consumed in excess, then it symbolizes foolishness, and indulgence.

Wine was used as a drink offering. The drink offering, the daily burnt offering, and the meal offering, all speak of the Joy of being daily in right relationship with the God. A drink offering was NEVER to be given with a sin offering. The joy that comes in sin offerings is too muted by the price that was paid.

The Holy Spirit is linked with wine in three primary ways.
1. The Holy Spirit is the source of Joy.(Galatians 5:22)
2. When the Apostles were filled and overcome with the Spirit at Pentecost, they were at first accused of being drunk.
3. Ephesians 5:18 says “Do not be drunk with wine, wherein is excess, but be filled by the Holy Spirit.” That command doesn’t even make sense, unless there are some strong similarities between the two.

The Message version puts it this way Ephesians 5:11-20 “It's a scandal when people waste their lives on things they must do in the darkness where no one will see. Rip the cover off those frauds and see how attractive they look in the light of Christ. Wake up from your sleep, Climb out of your coffins; Christ will show you the light! So watch your step. Use your head. Make the most of every chance you get. These are desperate times! Don't live carelessly, unthinkingly. Make sure you understand what the Master wants. Don't drink too much wine. That cheapens your life. Drink the Spirit of God, huge draughts of him. Sing hymns instead of drinking songs! Sing songs from your heart to Christ. Sing praises over everything, any excuse for a song to God the Father in the name of our Master, Jesus Christ.”

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Holy Spirit - Water

We noted that the Hebrew and Greek words for Spirit literally mean "wind." I enjoyed our time, and felt like we learned a lot about the Spirit through the
illustration of the wind.

The scripture often associates and or contrasts the Holy Spirit and water.

The first appearance of the Holy Spirit (Genesis 1) says that He "moved (or hovered) upon the face of the waters."

John the Baptist taught "I baptize you with water, but when the Promised One comes, He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit, and with fire."

As Jesus was coming up out of the water the Holy Spirit appeared to John (in the likeness of a dove).

Jesus told Nicodemus "Verily, verily, I say unto thee, except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God."

Perhaps the most clear connection between the Holy Spirit and water is in John 7, Jesus yelled loudly in the crowded temple "If anyone is thirsty, he should come to Me and drink! The one who believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, will have streams of living water flow from deep within him." John then adds this explanation "He said this about the Spirit, whom those who believed in Him were going to receive, for the Spirit had not yet been received, because Jesus had not yet been glorified."

This same disciple, many years later wrote (I John 5) "Jesus Christ--He is the One who came by water and blood; not by water only, but by water and by blood. And the Spirit is the One who testifies, because the Spirit is the truth. For there are three that testify: the Spirit, the water, and the blood--and these three are in agreement.”

In Hebrew culture, water was often associated with ritual cleanings. The tabernacle had a copper "laver" at which the priests were required to wash their hands and feet before sacrificing anything on the altar. Ritual baths for purification in "Miqvah" were very common before the time of Christ. Water symbolized the washing away of filth and uncleanness. With that background, Titus 3:5 says "He saved us-- not by works of righteousness that we had done, but according to His mercy, through the washing of regeneration and renewal by the Holy Spirit."

The Holy Spirit has some clear associations and contrasts with water. A few things seem clear.
* The Spirit is involved in cleansing us from sin.
* The Spirit is involved in some activities that come after cleansing.

John 16 "Nevertheless, I am telling you the truth. It is for your benefit that I go away, because if I don't go away the Counselor will not come to you.
If I go, I will send Him to you. When He comes, He will convict the world about sin, righteousness, and judgment: about sin, because they do not believe in Me; about righteousness, because I am going to the Father and you will no longer see Me; and about judgment, because the ruler of this world has been judged."

Our discussion Sunday will start with a question...
"What can we learn about the Holy Spirit from the comparison and contrast between His work and water?"

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Holy Spirit - Wind

Holy Spirit – WindI would like for us to spend four weeks thinking, praying, and learning about the Holy Spirit. There are three main illustrations of the Holy Spirit that are used in the scripture:

Holy Spirit – Wind
Holy Spirit – Water
Holy Spirit – Fire
Holy Spirit - Wine

The Greek word for Spirit (pneuma) comes from a root word that means “wind,” or “to breath, or blow.” The Hebrew word for Spirit (ruach) is translated spirit or wind depending on the context. For example, God parted the Red Sea for Moses and the Israelites by causing an east “wind” (ruach) to blow. One scholar counted that nearly 40% of the time, “ruach” means “moving air” (as in wind, or breathing).

Genesis 6:17: “And, behold, I, even I, do bring a flood of waters upon the earth, to destroy all flesh, wherein is the breath (ruach) of life, from under heaven; and every thing that is in the earth shall die.”

Exodus 15:8: “And with the blast (ruach) of thy nostrils the waters were gathered together, the floods stood upright as an heap, and the depths were congealed in the heart of the sea.”

Jesus links the Holy Spirit with wind while speaking to a Pharisee name Nicodemus, in the middle of the night:

“Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. 7 You should not be surprised at my saying, 'You must be born again.' 8 The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit." (John 3)

In Acts 2, the arrival of the Holy Spirit is accompanied by the sound of a “rushing, mighty wind.”

On the cross, Jesus quoted a psalm that said, “into your hands I commit my “Spirit” (Pneuma). The gospel of Mark doesn’t include that quote, but says that he “breathed (pneuma) His last. " Some have suggested that when Jesus said “I commit my “pneuma,” He really meant “my every breath” not “spirit.”

Clearly, the connections, or similarities between the Holy Spirit and wind or air that is being moved / blown are VERY strong in the Scripture. I am of the opinion that this is not mere coincidence. This close association is intended to reveal critical truth about the Holy Spirit. What can we learn based on this close association between moving air (wind, or breath) and the Holy Spirit?

Genesis 1:2: “...and the Spirit (ruach) of God moved upon the waters.”

Genesis 3:8: “Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the Lord God moving about in the orchard at the breezy (ruach) time of the day, and they hid from the Lord God among the trees of the orchard.” (This is from the NET Bible… I like it because I think “breezy” or “wind” is more closely related to “ruach,” than is the traditional “cool of the day.” Some scholars have suggested that God arrived in the midst of a might wind storm. That might be part of the reason why Adam and Eve hid.)

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Healthcare Needed

I saw the pictures this morning of Paris Hilton walking out of the LA county jail. I must say that I was appalled at the behavior of the press. I’m not talking about them crowding around like a bunch of ants over a scrap of dried meat on the sidewalk. I’m not talking about the flashbulbs and shouting. I’m talking about their stunning disregard for her physical health.

The poor girl is sick!! Doesn’t anyone remember that? Just a few weeks ago she needed more medical care than the LA county jail could provide. There should have been an ambulance waiting for her! She should have been whisked away to a private emergency room facility where she could get the medical care that she needed but could not receive in the slammer!

There was no ambulance. There was no emergency team prepared for triage. The heartless beasts at the hoosegow actually refused to provide a wheelchair, forcing the poor, sick emaciated child to walk through the gauntlet of press vultures. Were they taking pictures hoping catch one of her falling from the wasting effects of her unchecked illness. Heartless paparazzi ! Heartless jailers ! Heartless family !

The poor sick child’s own mother waited inside an SUV on the other end of the gauntlet. One can only hope that the cruel police were forcing the family to stay that distance away as one last blow of vicious hatred from the establishment against one very, very sick, young lady.

America, where is our sense of outrage. We rightly get upset when police manhandle and abuse suspects. Does this poor girls neglect and abuse go un-noticed, un-mentioned? Please, please, I implore you, get this poor girl to a doctor. Even the sheriff agreed that she needed more medical care than could be provided in the slammer! Why can’t she have that desperately needed care, now? Immediately! Somebody start an I.V. !

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Is this wrong?

So, we’ve been talking about conflict for several weeks. And based on those lessons I can, with some confidence, answer the question “What do we do when there is a conflict?” The answer is, “not what I have done the past two weeks.”

Before I clarify what I mean, I need to explain that some people that aren’t in our church see this. So, I’m a little cryptic with no names or specifics.

Week before last, I was uncomfortable with a disagreement that came up between two of our people (I’m related to both of them). It’s a situation that, in my opinion has just dragged on far too long. At this juncture, years later, the victim and villain roles are deeply entrenched from all sides. When the conflict has been going for so long, no-one can possibly be blameless, so it’s easy for everyone else to justify the view that the others are villains. I was uncomfortable with the discussion so I clammed up.

I was uncomfortable last week for a different reason. I felt like our consensus (“bless his heart, the poor thing doesn’t know any better”) missed two big points.

1) A member of our body has been devalued, maligned, and mistreated. She should be supported, encouraged and praised by us. The person avoiding her is costing himself tremendous blessing for his grace-less approach. She is being wounded because he is behaving badly. (Please note that I harbor no resentment or ill will towards him in that. I join his family in praying only for God to bless him bounteously. But my prayers add that a tremendous blessing would be his if he would restore the relationship with her. She is wise and delightful, I’m praying that God would bless him with a restored relationship.)

2) 2Th 3:14, 15 “If anyone does not obey what we say in this letter, take note of him. Have nothing to do with him so that he will feel ashamed. Yet, don't treat him like an enemy, but warn him like a brother.” There are many other passages, including Matthew 18 that can be summarized “if the sinning brother refuses to repent, shun him.”

Our discussion Sunday yielded a pretty clear conclusion that sometimes you just “put up” with people as an act of grace, turning the other cheek, and repaying evil with kindness. But, it’s also clear that sometimes we need to do like Jesus and rebuke Pharisees, and throw out money changers. Sometimes we need to do like Paul teaches and refuse to associate with someone.

Even in Matthew 7 we are to “not judge” and to remove the beam from our own eye. But Jesus gives a reason for this “self-surgery.” The reason is not to just “overlook” real failures in the lives of other believers. He says to do the “self-surgery” to remove the beam “Then you will see clearly enough to remove the speck from your brother's eye." (vs. 5) Sometimes, it’s wrong to leave the speck unaddressed.

The body reflects Christ best when it is unified. Conflicts occur. When conflicts occur, they must be urgently addressed. It is important to address conflicts with the perspective that

· “I have contributed to the conflict and I must confess and repent of my contributions.” (I am not entitled to the victim chair.)

· “I will assume that the other party is attempting to act in a reasonable and decent manner and desires to follow the Holy Spirit” (They are not likely a villain.)

· “God has empowered His people to be unified.” (We have an advocate and a defender who empowers us to be in unity. “For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body.”)

The conclusion to be long-suffering with mistreatment is absolutely right in some instances. But it seems to me that we sometimes settle for that as a solution when we don’t have a firm enough grip on the third perspective. God Himself, in the person of Holy Spirit, is battling for unity. Sometimes that battle must go through a stage of separation, for unity to be real.

If it’s sometimes right to overlook an offense, and sometimes right to gently rebuke an offense, and sometimes right to refuse to tolerate an offense, how can we tell which is right when?

I Corinthians 5: 9-13 “I wrote you in my earlier letter that you shouldn't make yourselves at home among the sexually promiscuous. I didn't mean that you should have nothing at all to do with outsiders of that sort. Or with crooks, whether blue- or white-collar. Or with spiritual phonies, for that matter. You'd have to leave the world entirely to do that! But I am saying that you shouldn't act as if everything is just fine when one of your Christian companions is promiscuous or crooked, is flip with God or rude to friends, gets drunk or becomes greedy and predatory. You can't just go along with this, treating it as acceptable behavior. I'm not responsible for what the outsiders do, but don't we have some responsibility for those within our community of believers? God decides on the outsiders, but we need to decide when our brothers and sisters are out of line and, if necessary, clean house.” (The Message)

Does the scripture give us any direction to determine when is the time to “repay evil with kindness,” when is the time to “rebuke in gentleness,” and when is the time to “shun the evildoer?” Was it right for me to be silent when I was uncomfortable? Is it wrong for me to argue another perspective now? (although it’s clearly foolish to put it in writing… OOPS) Should you all shun me if I insist on posting this?

Thursday, June 14, 2007

When to delay the immediate

Do your best to maintain the unity of the Spirit by means of the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit. In the same way, you were called to the one hope of your calling. There is one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all, through all, and in all.” (Ephesians 4:3-6)

All you need to be convinced that maintaining unity is difficult is a re- read of the first three words in this text. I did a pretty extensive search and didn’t find a single verse that said that this unity happens easily.

We had some lively discussion last week because the command to deal with brewing conflict immediately seems completely unworkable and has been disastrous in some particular examples. Before discussing these situations I think it is imperative to emphasize two reasons addressing brewing conflict without delay is important.

Jesus commands it (Matthew 5:23-26). That should be all the reason we need. But it’s also true that when we are in conflict we generate victim-villain-rescuer versions of the situation. Delay gives time for this version of the facts to become entrenched. Delay makes it more difficult to discern our contribution to the conflict. Delay makes it more difficult to discern any explanation for the position of the other person that does not include the words “stupid, or mean.” Paul wrote (Galatians 6:1 & 2 Timothy 2:25 & Romans 12:18-20) that we must approach the other person in gentleness and kindness.

A key idea is that Matthew 7 says there are times when we need to do something else before we talk with the other person. Specifically, we need to take the log out of our own eye BEFORE we go talk to them.

“Or how can you say to your brother, 'Let me take the speck out of your eye,' when the beam is in your own eye? You hypocrite! First remove the beam from your own eye, and then you will see clearly enough to remove the speck from your brother's eye." (Matthew 7:4, 5)

I think the main “log” being mentioned here is probably the inability to talk with them in gentleness and kindness.

There may be 3 or 4 times when a delay might be appropriate. But I can’t wait to hear what y’all think about it.

To get you thinking, I remind you of a Sunday conversation we had way back in August or September. We were talking about this same pattern we all have or interpreting conflicts in light of the victim, villain, and rescuer scenario. I mentioned that God reveals a different scenario in the Trinity. The three persons do not function as victim, villain, and rescuer. They function as giver, recipient, and the agent through whom the gift is given. I think that might give us some insight as to how we can break out of the version of reality we trap ourselves in and some good ideas about when delay may be appropriate.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Resolving Conflict

I Corinthians 1:10 gives a wonderful "big G" goal for any group of believers. "Brothers, I urge all of you in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to be in agreement and not to have divisions among you, so that you may be perfectly united in your understanding and opinions."

Unfortunately, real world experiences in the body of Christ indicate that conflict is inevitable.

The trouble is that when any of us get into conflict situation (or a potential one), we create a version of the situation that…

A. Makes me a "victim"
1. not to blame
2. justifies all sorts of evil because “I was mistreated”

B. Makes someone else the "villain"
1. they are to blame, reinforcing my blamelessness
2. justifies even greater acts of evil (I can kill Abel)

C. Seeks a "rescuer"
1. an advocate that will right the wrong on my behalf
2. or at least confirm the victim and villain roles I have created
3. justifies gossip as a coalition building strategy

That's humanity's plan A for dealing with a conflict. If you carefully consider human conflicts from minor disagreements to marital spats to world wars, you see that we use this approach all the time. It is not God's plan at all.

Matthew 5:23, Matthew 18:12-17, and Galatians 6:1, detail three times when you absolutely must drop everything and go talk to a member of the body one-on-one to get things straightened out; (1) when you have offended the other (Matt. 5), (2) when the other has offended you (Matt. 18), and (3) when anyone has been doing anything wrong (Gal. 6). It reminds me of something my grandfather used to say. "I'm only afraid of 3 kinds of snakes; live ones, dead ones, and any other kind."

Anytime there is any conflict, potential conflict, or brewing conflict it is a Biblical command that the people involved must talk about it immediately, and face-to-face.

It does not say "wait until the worst of the storm blows over." The reason delay never works is that "giving it time" accomplishes little more than letting the "victim-villain-rescuer" version of the situation, that both sides are creating, have time to become entrenched. Don’t delay. Drop everything. Address it at once. That's not my comfort level. That's the Bible.

It does not say "talk to 4 or 5 other people and ask them to pray about it." Or "double check that you're not just making something little into something big." As we have said, talking to anybody other than the person involved is continuing in the "victim-villain-rescuer" version you are creating. You are most likely looking for people to be rescuers or at least supporters that will reinforce your version of the situation.

It does not say "send an e-mail" or "send a letter." It says, seek them, find them, and talk to them. (I prefer the more distant and detached e-mail... But I am wrong.)

The Bible also makes it clear as to the attitude we need to have. Matthew 7:3-5 says to "look at the log in your own eye first, then you can see clearly to deal with the speck in your brother's (or sister's) eye." Notice it does not say, look at the log in your own eye and then don’t worry about whatever problem the brother may have.

We have talked about the "victim-villain-rescuer" version of the situation that we all create and have said that we need to challenge the "victim" portion of the tale we construct by asking the question "what is my role and my contribution to this conflict?" That's because while we must talk face-to-face and immediately, we must also do it humbly, with our own faults in clear perspective.

We must approach the other person recognizing our own faults which refutes the “victim” role we prefer. We must also approach the other person in kindness, gentleness, and respect, assuming the best in them. Which refutes the “villain” role we like to assign. We suggested asking yourself the question. "Why would a decent and reasonable person act this way?" It may help you see the other person's perspective more readily.

An example is the potential conflict between Paul and Philemon. Paul was in prison and could not go to Philemon face-to-face. A letter was the best he could do. Philemon would be well within his rights to severely punish Onesimus, his runaway slave. Paul did not say to Philemon. "I know you can be harsh and demanding, and you're within your rights to be very harsh here." Paul said "So, although I have quite a lot of confidence in Christ and could command you to do what is proper, I would rather appeal to you on the basis of love…. Since I was confident that you would obey, I wrote to you, because I knew that you would do even more than what I am asking you to do." Paul assumed that Philemon was well-intentioned and wanted to follow Christ.

This is another reason to address conflict and potential conflict immediately. The longer you allow you version of the situation to remind you what an unreasonable jerk the other person is being, the harder it is to approach that person assuming them to be well-intentioned and genuinely seeking to follow the Spirit.

Because we all fear that these things won't go well. The next question is always, "what do I do when they won't listen and things just escalate and get worse? Matthew 18 answers the question. You call a halt to the meeting and then meet again with one or two other people. These people do NOT need to be witnesses to the entire potential conflict. They need to be witnesses to the discussion between the people directly involved. They need to listen to both sides with both sides present. They need to help each side see how they are contributing to the conflict. They need to help each side see how the other is well-intentioned and trying to follow the Spirit. They may need to mediate a resolution. Or simply help lead to amicability and restored trust in the disagreement. Sometimes complete harmony is not possible and the disagreement accomplishes the purpose of God (Like Paul and Barnabas who separated over Mark) as long as it is done with loving and prayerful support for the heart and intent of the other.

But sometimes, none of that works. What do you do then? Again, the Bible gives us clear instruction, but that's for next time.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Turning Conflict into Dialogue

Moving from Conflict to Dialogue

In our study of conflicts in the Body of Christ, we have looked at several topics

How is the Body supposed to work? (I Corinthians 12:20-26)
The “principle of the little toe” – every member is valuable and key to the function of the entire body. It weakens the body when one member is fighting, but the body is just as weakened when one member is silent and doesn’t give input.

What causes conflicts in the body? (James 4:1,2)
One or more people set a personal agenda. These goals (with a little “g”) by definition always compete with the Goal (with a big G) of furthering the Kingdom of God. When people pursue little “g” goals, it inevitably starts fights and quarrels. Some want square wooden tables and some want round steel tables, so the fight begins.

How should we deal with conflict? (Ephesians 4:25-32)
Two keys are to get input from everyone (the principle of “little toe”) and to make sure that everyone stays focused on promoting the kingdom above all else (the principle of “the big ‘G’”).

Our next question is….
How do we move from conflict to dialogue? (Acts 15)

There are some practical things to do that can be shown by illustration in the Scripture, but aren’t really taught (that I can see). The first is that we need to challenge our own version of the events. When we are in conflict, we tend to select a version of the facts that does 4 things.

1) Makes me the victim – “That serpent gave it to me.” “That woman gave it to me.” There are many examples. In the book of Malachi at least 6 times, God says, “You have done XYZ” (it’s a different charge every time) and the people respond “How have we done XYZ?” We create a version of the facts that portray us as completely innocent victims. (This completely prevents any needed repentance.)

2) Makes someone else the villain – “That serpent gave it to me.” “That woman that you made, she gave it to me.” The children of Israel told Moses “You brought us out here to die of thirst. You should have just left us in Egypt where at least we had food and water.” (This completely prevents an open mind, an attitude of acceptance and a willingness to forgive.)

3) Makes me helpless – The children of Israel never said “Moses, we’re sorry for following you out here because now you’re going to feel responsible for our thirst. But we don’t want you to feel bad, it’s our own choice to follow you or not that put us here.” David actually blamed Uriah for his own murder. In so many words, David concluded, “I had to have him killed because he wouldn’t go sleep with his wife but insisted on sleeping on my doorstep. He gave me no other option.” (This rationalizes sin – “It wouldn’t do any good to tell her what I think, she wouldn’t listen anyway, I’ll just be quiet.” Which we noted a few weeks ago is theft.)

4) Need for a rescuer – This springs out of the other three. Since I am the victim, and you are the villain, and I am completely helpless, then clearly I need someone else to make this right. The northern kingdom of Israel and the southern kingdom of Judah both repeatedly turned to treaties with Assyria, Egypt, each other, and whatever other power they could identify. God saw every one of those treaties as worshipping other gods. (Jeremiah 2) (This creates a wrongful dependence on something or someone that is not God. This also motivates a lot of gossip.)

On Sunday we’ll look at Acts 6 (and the conflict over the food distribution) and Acts 15 (and the conflict over the Jewish law) specifically asking how people did or did not create a version of the facts that accomplished those 4 keys and how we can challenge ourselves and each other when we begin selecting a version of the facts that fits this description.

Friday, May 04, 2007

How different perspectives become different goals.

“All the believers were one in heart and mind. No-one claimed any stake to personal property but they shared freely with anyone in need. The apostles testified to Jesus with great power and they all enjoyed abundant grace. No believers were needy because periodically somebody would sell a house or land and give the apostles the money from the sale. That money was distributed to anyone in need. One man named Joseph sold a field and gave the money to the Apostles (they called him Barnabas which means: son of encouragement).” Acts 4:32 and following (paraphrased)

In our national capitalistic ideal the communalism of this and similar passages often takes our attention. But please notice that communalism is not the key. The key is (in The Message Bible):

“The whole congregation of believers was united as one - one heart, one mind!”

It’s easy to have generosity at that point. It’s also the Biblical foundation to avoid conflict. Conflict is never avoided by one person running his own agenda regardless of what anyone else thinks. Conflict is never avoided by just being quiet and not speaking up. God is honored when we are truly one heart, one mind. He is not interested in peace obtained through dominance or deceit.

As we discussed last week, we lose the unity of one heart and one mind when we fail to stay focused on the one Goal (what we called the “Big G” goal)

“There is one body and one Spirit--just as you were called to one hope when you were called-- one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.” (Ephesians 4:4-6)

So, the questions are, how and why do we shift from being united in one Goal (big G, furthering the kingdom of Christ) and allow differing perspectives to become different goals (little g’s).

On Sunday we’ll discuss together:

Ananias and Saphira in Acts chapter 5
The widow’s distribution in Acts chapter 6
The persecution in Acts chapter 8
The sorcerer named Simon in Acts chapter 8

In each of these we’ll ask “How and why, did people make the downward shift to pursuing lesser goals?”One hint to understanding how we make the (little g) goals into matters of inappropriate importance is found in the verses that precede Ephesians 4:4.

"Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace." (Ephesians 4:2,3)

Friday, April 27, 2007


“There are many parts, but one body. Every individual part is valuable and necessary.” (Very brief summary of I Corinthians 12:20 and following).

The perspectives of each one are important to understand the entire picture on any issue we address. If the little toe were cut off, it would die, but the entire body would suffer loss of blood, pain, imbalance, and difficulty walking. If you think the little toe on the body isn’t very important you would not mind cutting yours off to make your point.

“What causes conflict, quarreling and arguing in the body of Christ? It happens when people in the church have the wrong goals. When they are chasing all the wrong things, for all the wrong reasons, they end up fighting over meaningless stuff and it escalates to violence.” (James 4:1 and following, paraphrased)

When we have different perspectives…For example, if I think we need more room to grow numerically while you think we need to grow numerically before we worry about needing more room… that does not inevitably lead to any conflict. Different perspectives are a normal treasure-filled resource for the body. Different goals on the other hand, will inevitably lead to conflict. James, the brother of Jesus, says that we get angry when we can’t obtain the things we want… our goals (James 4). When our goals are blocked we react with anger. In our anger, we act aggressive, hostile, pushy and caustic or we become silent, withdrawn, passive, and helpless. Please note that both patterns of behavior are rooted in anger.

It’s easy to see the aggressive, hostile and pushy acts as hostile. But we tend not to think of silent withdrawal as anger. But, silence and passive withdrawal can be just as much an act of anger as screaming and yelling. What makes silence a hostile, angry act is the principle of “the little toe.”

“I am angry with you, so I will punish you and get even with you by denying you any real access to my heart and soul. That will show you. That will leave you just as lonely and isolated as you deserve to be.”

I remember once on a grade school playground, one little girl had her feelings hurt. She yelled at her friends that had hurt her. “You just wait till I’m dead, then you’ll be sorry!” She then stomped off. Sometimes the angry edge to silent withdrawal is easily evident. Most of the time we are more sophisticated than the grade school level.

Silence is a refusal to share the deep value of the “little toe” perspective. It is theft.

Eph. 4:25-29 begins talking about speaking truth to one another. It specifically says that we need to speak the truth to each other because we are one body. Then it either changes the subject abruptly to discuss anger or the topic shifts to anger because refusing to speak truthfully to one another is rooted in anger. Then it either changes the subject abruptly to discuss theft or the topic shifts to theft because refusing to speak truthfully (rooted in anger) is essentially denying the other person what they really have a right to… i.e. theft. Finally the topic abruptly jumps to speaking to one another in encouraging ways, or it is contrasting the same theme all along. “You owe it to the members of the body to bring your perspective in honesty and humility, rather than lashing out or withdrawing in anger and thereby stealing from them your input, to which they have a right.” I would argue that the Holy Spirit did not jump from one disjointed topic to another (starting and ending with how we speak to one another) but that He skillfully and wonderfully made the connections that refusing to speak truth to others in the body is rooted in anger and is theft.

Once we move past the point of speaking truthfully and lovingly from different perspectives, we set different goals. Once we set different goals, we begin the conflicts and quarrels.