General Interest

“Crude and Adolescent” – Addressing Donald Trump’s comments

Originally I was just gonna Facebook this, but it felt like something bigger than that. So it seemed only fitting to dust off the ol’ WordPress (my apologies for being away for so long, by the way), write this up, and have at it. Sorry in advance to those I’ll undoubtedly offend; I still love you and you’re still welcome to visit and have some cheesecake with us anytime.

That said, here we go.

Having worked in the industry I’ve worked in for the last 15 years, I’ve been able to work with people from all walks of life, if every religious and racial background. Most that I’ve worked with were unbelievers, and as nice and hard-working as many of them have been, I wonder if a lot of people who are “now” condemning Trump have any idea the conversations their husbands (or wives), kids, parents, or friends have amongst friends at work?

First and foremost, was it a crude and adolescent thing to say? ABSOLUTELY, and there’s no defending that. But to all of a sudden have an unbelieving world stand up and say “We can’t support this man” while they do the SAME EXACT THINGS day in and day out — just not recorded on tape — is the height of hypocrisy.

You, American citizen, while you sit and watch (and tweet about and “Facebook-fawn” over) your TV shows and movies that glorify such “conquest” themes, the affairs, the “innocent eye candy”;

You, American man, while you banter with your buddies about every woman you see throughout each day, objectifying them and joking about all manner of things you’d kill another guy for saying about your wife or daughter;

You, American woman, while you giggle with your girlfriends about that guy at your spin class or that guy in your office, making comments just as offensive as Trump’s (just from the opposite direction);

You, American “progressive”, while you’ve sat for decades now dismissing everything that Hillary (and Bill) have ever said and done in their personal lives and “behind closed doors” as “having nothing to do with the job” of running a country….

YOU have no ground to stand on in condemning his words, because to do so, you’d have to equally condemn YOURSELVES for having said or done the same things!

You think we don’t notice when you sit at the park in your book groups going on and on about the last chapter of “50 Shades” you read? You think we don’t notice when you turn up the volume for the commercials for the newest “who’s sleeping with whom” pseudodrama? You think we don’t notice when in daily life we see these women ogling and giggling over these guys and those guys catcalling and fist-bumping over those girls?

I mean, are you serious right now?

Listen, the unbelieving world is a self-gratifying one, and “the Donald” is not exempt from that. Living as a rich and powerful guy is going to attract all sorts of very “basic” attention, and I dare say that the vast majority of us, given those resources and attention, would destroy ourselves and those we love chasing all manner of frivolity. However, do Hillary supporters (who still love Bill to death, btw) really want to stand on the trap door of “a crude guy who has lusted over women” and pull this particular lever? What does that say about how desperate they’ve become over “not being ahead by 50 points”?

Is this the election where — finally — the hypocrisy and irony culminates in one gargantuan self-destruction that effectively eliminates both candidates? The “hold your nose” factor has been there for months on both sides, but seriously, if we’re gonna make a decision about who best to lead this nation at this time, we have to cut through the crap, assess the actual policy stances (since policy stances are pretty much all a chief executive contributes to government), compare them with our own values, and MAKE YOUR VOTE.

As people, they both suck; as leaders, they’re both quite different. Who will lead in the direction you want the country to go? An “apologetic tour 2.0” where everything is acceptable and there is no defined enemy? A return to American strength where we still do good in the world but finally look after Americans first?

We’ll find out soon enough. If you’re weak-kneed, you might wanna get your passports ready.

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Keeping People “Off The Island”

There have been a number of people I’ve talked to lately that have opened up about the presence of “loneliness” in their lives, even though they are (by all outward appearances) typically happy people, with plenty of friends and lots of social activity. In our culture, such an admission seems almost counterintuitive, yet as many are discovering, it’s a growing trend.

Why?

Despite appearances, people are largely finding that our busy, stress-laden lives are becoming more and more compartmentalized. It’s almost a necessity for it to be so, just to keep your head straight with all the things vying for our attention. We’ve got the work compartment, the home compartment (with sub-compartments for various family members), the neighborhood compartment, the friends compartment (with its various sub-compartments), hobbies, kids’ activities, social obligations….

It stands to reason with having all these different compartments, being able to “close the file” on one to effectively move our focus onto another is a smart use of our energies. However, there’s a social component to this that we’re starting to see the downside of.

When people have their lives compartmentalized – the way you have files on your computer compartmentalized – that separation between each compartment trains them to not think about things from one compartment while thinking about another. While it might be smart thinking regarding “things” (i.e. work, household chores, vehicle maintenance, etc.), unfortunately people are not exempted from being compartmentalized as well.

What does this end up breeding in our lives? Well, first and foremost it breeds the habit of not thinking about people unless we’re thinking about the compartment that they’ve been assigned to. For example, my wife and I coach our daughters’ soccer teams. Since I don’t spend my entire week thinking about the soccer teams, I naturally don’t think about the team members and their families unless I’m focusing on something that has to do with that “compartment”.

“What’s the harm in that?”, you might be thinking.

Superficially, there might not be much harm in it, because they are very likely not expecting me to be spending my entire week thinking about them. Digging a little deeper though, there might be one kid on one team who doesn’t really have a lot of positive going on at home, and that kid just might be viewing “team time” completely differently – enjoying the ability to have clear-cut goals and things to work on and excel in, and being able to receive positive encouragement from coaches looking for opportunities to encourage them.

“Wait a minute, weren’t we talking about loneliness?” This is precisely where loneliness comes in.

As adults, we’re no strangers to the concept of having responsibilities. There are many places to be and things to do each day, each of which likely having its own “compartment”, which causes us to isolate ourselves from the things within each compartment when we’re not actively engaging them. Again, it might seem counterintuitive to think this would breed loneliness, but look a little deeper.

When do we feel lonely? Don’t get suckered into thinking that it’s something that only happens when no one else is around, though it can happen then. It often can happen when there are people all around us.

I would suggest that loneliness happens more from being (or feeling) disconnected from those around you than from being physically absent from others.

* * * * * * *

When we lead ever-increasingly compartmentalized lives, it becomes easier and easier to be disconnected from people:

“I’d love to spend more time with you honey, but I’ve gotta get to work.”
“I’d love to hang out with you after work, but I’ve got stuff I’ve gotta get done at home.”
“We don’t have time for that right now, we’ve gotta get to soccer practice.”
“Sorry I don’t have time to sit and talk with you after practice, we have to hurry and get some dinner so the kids can get their homework done and get to bed on time.”
“We don’t have time to try to find your doll’s missing shoe, get dressed, we have to get to church.”
“I’d love to sit and chat with you about some things that moved us from the sermon today, but I’ve gotta get to room ____ to serve.”
“Yeah bro, I’d love to sit and catch up with you but we’ve got ____ to do at home.”

* * * * * * *

You might be thinking “That sounds more like disconnection due to an overly busy schedule”, but that would be superficial and short-sighted. No, I’m not trying to be insulting, I’m trying to be real with you.

When things are important to us, we make time for them; when we view things as no more pressing or important than average, we have no problem allowing them to sink back into “the routine” and not put the extra effort into them they might be asking for. It’s just another thing looking to take energy from us, and it’s not worth it enough to us to give that.

This is where this problem is rooted.

Because we’ve allowed ourselves to become so compartmentalized, we don’t have nearly so many relationships that “transcend the compartments”. If my wife needs something right now, I’m going to drop what I’m doing and do what I can to meet that need; likewise with my kids, if they truly need something right now (not, “Daddy, I neeeeeeeeeeeeeed to find my dolly’s shoe or I’ll just die!”), I’m going to stop what I’m doing and meet the need. But those are relationships that are expected to “transcend the compartments”, and indeed we know in some unspoken place that we’ll even be looked down upon socially if we fail to do so. But what about the relationships that are not so expected to “transcend the compartments”?

*What about that neighbor down the street you don’t really know very well, but you see they might be needing a little bit of help – do you break routine and offer?
*What about the guy at work you notice is “going along with the crowd” in some crude way but you can tell he’s uncomfortable with it – do you seek him out one on one at some point to ask him about it?
*What about that friend at church that you haven’t seen in a while or that you can tell is really going through something – do you say to yourself “I’ll pray for them” but never step forward to be there for them?
*What about those people who you get along with when you’re “in their compartment” (leisure activities, sports contests, kids’ activities, etc.) – do you reach out to possibly bring them into another compartment (telling them about a job opportunity in their field where you work, inviting them to church with you, invite them and their kids over to enjoy an afternoon, etc.)?

Going back to “loneliness = disconnection” for a second, we have to recognize that we’re not always going to recognize loneliness in other people. Some people are really good at hiding it and “putting on the smile”, some people are good at using defensive reflexes (like humor or deflections), and sometimes we’re just flat-out not paying attention. We have to be somewhat vigilant – IF indeed we care about the people whom God has put us in contact with – to invest ourselves in people, and part of that is being on the lookout for any that are “on the island”. (I don’t mean militantly investigating people’s lives either, but rather just paying attention and being able to read between the lines of what might be going on in their hearts and letting them know we’re available to talk.)

I can tell you from personal experience, people “on the island” will certainly send up “smoke signals” hoping that someone will break through the compartments and take the time to engage them, seeing what’s going on and in some small way, help them re-connect and break through. They also will not continue sending up smoke signals forever, because of our culture’s recent emphasis towards people reaching out for help as being “needy” or “whiny”, and nothing adds insult to injury more than, well, adding literal insult to emotional injury.

It’s easy to say “Hey bud, if you’re feeling lonely, why don’t you just get re-connected to people?” Usually though, it’s not just a case of a natural introvert just slinking back from people and disappearing – there’s typically something external that happens to push someone away, with the person hoping that someone from the “compartment” will reach out saying “I’m not giving up on you.”

This isn’t intended as an indictment but as an exhortation – we all can do better with this, on both sides of the spectrum. I would encourage you today to get engaged with those around you, to remind people you’re there for them. If you name the name of Jesus, be reminded that He said “Love one another, even as I have loved you” (John 15:12 & 13:34).

We’re responsible for each other as Family. Do we forget that we have a common enemy, one who seeks to separate us from each other, to isolate us so he can “steal, kill and destroy”? Therefore, as much as the hustle and bustle would try to force us into compartmentalizing people just as much as things and events, we must – MUST – simply refuse to let people evaporate from our lives. It makes a world of difference.

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Study of James – Intro

This is intended as the introduction portion of our study in James. In it, I will cover (a) information about the author, (b) touch briefly on significant points and characteristics of the letter, and (c) establish a basic outline of the subsequent parts of the study.

So Who’s James?

As you read through the New Testament, you’ll notice that there are several men named “James” along the way. So how can we know which one wrote this epistle? Well, the apostle James (the brother of the apostle John, son of Zebedee) is thought to have been martyred a bit too early (Acts 12:2, early/mid 40’s AD) for it to have been from him, as this epistle is thought to have been written between ~50-66 AD. In Acts 15, we read about the council in Jerusalem — apparently the “leadership group” of the church at that time — and James, the half-brother of Jesus (i.e. one of the several sons that Joseph and Mary had “the normal way” after Jesus’ immaculate conception and birth), is seen there as a prominent leader at that time. It is generally recognized that the half-brother of Jesus is the James who wrote “The Epistle of James”.

Some mentions of this James that speak of his prominence in the early church:

  • Peter told his friends to tell James that he’d been rescued from prison (Acts 12:17)
  • James was mentioned as a leader in the Jerusalem council (Acts 15:13)
  • Paul met with James on his first visit to Jerusalem after his conversion (as mentioned in Galatians 1:19), as well as on his last visit to Jerusalem (Acts 21:18)
  • He was one of the select people Jesus appeared to after His resurrection (as mentioned in 1st Corinthians 15:7)
  • Paul called him a “pillar” of the church (Galatians 2:9)
  • Jude, in his epistle, identifies himself as a “bond-servant of the Lord Jesus Christ and brother of James” — in a time when people typically introduced themselves by parental lineage, introducing one’s self as a “brother of” someone indicates that someone must have great enough significance to warrant it (Jude 1)

Significant Points and Characteristics

There are some points of significance that are useful to talk about, and others that generally only will appeal to a more “scholarly” type of study (such as taking note of the exceptional use of the Greek language). Since our purpose is a practical one, I’ll stick to the useful points and leave the more “scholarly” ones for you to seek out, should you so desire to jump into that pool later.

The epistle of James is sometimes referred to as “the New Testament ‘Proverbs'”, as it is rich with practical wisdom regarding righteous living, morality, dealing with temptation, prayer, “walking the talk”, and keeping one’s tongue on a tight leash. It is probably best known for its call for believers to match their talk about their faith with genuine action. The early parts of chapter 2 also suggest a great familiarity with Jesus’ “Sermon on the Mount”, as it directly talks about points made there before “fleshing out” what exactly the heart the Lord was speaking about looks like in everyday life.

Basic Outline

If you are using a study Bible, it will likely have some sort of outline preceding each book. Looking through several study Bibles and commentaries of my own in preparation for this study has given me no less than five general outlines — none of which are “right” or “wrong”, they simply group things together in different ways, depending on (a) the simplicity or thoroughness with which they are attempting to outline (the simplest used in the materials I possess had only five outline points, while the most thoroughly broken down one had ten outline points + 11 sub-points) as well as (b) what particular focus or topical emphasis each material delved into the most.

Look at it like the gospels: different perspectives on the same events give us harmonized, yet differentiated accounts of what happened that paint a “higher resolution” picture for us than if they’d been exact photocopies of each other. Likewise, don’t be discouraged or confused if your study Bible has a different outline than what we’ll follow here. The purpose of the simple outline I’m drawing up matches our immediate purposes, which is a plain “first run through” study of the book of James with sections that are large enough to focus on and learn from without being so big that we get lost in too much information. It will often follow the natural divisions within the fairly short chapters, and more or less breaks into about half a chapter for each part of our study (similar to what you’d find in the “Half-Chapter a Day” sections of Scripture I try to post daily).

I.     Instruction Regarding Trials and Tribulations (1:2-1:18)
II.    The Difference Between a Hearer and a Doer (1:19-1:27)
III.   The Folly and Consequence of Favoritism (2:1-2:13)
IV.   The Intersection of Faith and Works (2:14-2:26)
V.    Taming the Tongue (3:1-12)
VI.   Two Kinds of Wisdom (3:13-18)
VII.  The Dangers of Pride (4:1-10)
VIII. The Dangers of Pride, Undercover (4:11-17)
IX.   “To Whom Much Is Given…” (5:1-12)
X.    The Prayer of Faith and Chasing Down the One (5:13-20)

This should be a real fun study, breaking down sections of this very practical book into daily, “bite sized” portions that we can then more easily incorporate into practical living. With ten sections, assuming that you read through one a day, even if you took the weekends off you could still complete a “first run through” study of the epistle of James in two short weeks. I pray that it would be as helpful and practical for you as getting ready for it has been for me.

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Jesus “Un-converting” New Followers? (John 8:31-59)

31 Then Jesus said to those Jews who believed Him, “If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed. 32 And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free.”
      33 They answered Him, “We are Abraham’s descendants, and have never been in bondage to anyone. How can You say, ‘You will be made free’?” 34 Jesus answered them, “Most assuredly, I say to you, whoever commits sin is a slave of sin. 35 And the slave does not abide in the house forever, but a son abides forever. 36 Therefore if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed.

†  *  *  *  †  *  *  *  †

So I was clearing off my desk, removing the debris accumulated from being used as a teaching prep area, reading center, and “general Daddy-item collection center”. Behold! A keyboard! A push of the magic “sleepy moon” button and the big black box on my desk starts up with a hum and a whoosh.

I log in here to see what’s been going on since my last visit, and on the side of my dashboard I see a draft of a “Half-Chapter A Day” post I’d started forever ago and not finished. The post was John 8:31-59. As I re-read the section of Scripture as a preface to typing it out (as is my custom with HCAD posts), some things struck me as powerfully as they always have, while others stood out to me in ways I’m not sure if I ever picked up on before.

Let’s proceed, shall we?

Believing Yet Still Confused (vss. 31-33)

The preface to Jesus’ words in verse 31 is one of the things I’m not sure if I’ve ever zeroed in on before. “Jesus said to those Jews who believed Him” is a very important piece of information regarding those He’s about to converse with. What exactly did they believe?

Going back to the previous section (chapter 8 in general, vss. 21-30 in specific), we read of Jesus at the temple coming to the defense of the woman caught in the midst of adultery, His judgement of “he who is without sin among you, let him throw a stone at her first”, His defense against the Pharisees’ accusation of self-witness, and His prediction of His departure and their needing to believe in Him to avoid dying in their sins. Without going into a whole sidebar on it, Scripture says that many began believing in Him after He told them, “When you lift up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am [He], and I do nothing of Myself; but as My Father taught Me, I speak these things. And He who sent Me is with Me. The Father has not left Me alone, for I always do those things that please Him.” (vss. 28-29)

I find it compelling, and worthy of further Biblical and commentary study, that it is specifically pointed out as a matter of fact that they did, in fact, believe what He was telling them. I think that’s of key importance, and in a way a picture of either “seed by the wayside” or “seed on stony ground” the Lord spoke of in the parable of the sower. Either way, they believed, even if only for a moment, yet something rose up (either within themselves or from without, i.e. the crowd or “the birds of the air”) and provoked them to get into a bit of verbal jiu-jitsu with the Lord and fight against what the Lord had revealed to them.

Teetering At The Cliff (vss. 34-36)

The Lord goes on to provide a distinction that I think a lot of people gloss right over, contrasting a slave and a son and their permanency within a house. A slave, being a “hired hand”, has roots and place elsewhere, yet his occupational requirement compels him to dwell in the house of the master for the length of his term of service, at which point he is free to go if he so chooses. A son, on the other hand, has no requirement to always dwell in the house of his father, and is free to leave whenever he chooses (such as was the case in the parable of the prodigal son), yet he will always be identified as a member of the family, and thus will always have access to the house of his father.

You can almost feel the encouraging compassion of the Lord, trying to get the Pharisees to see that their place in the house of their enemy was temporary, that there was still hope for change. Or to say it another way, their time of being slaves of “the master of the sin-house” was nearing completion, and they would soon have the option to either walk out of the house as free men or choose to remain in the house forever as a bondslave. I wonder how many of the people we talk to about the Lord are in a similar place of approaching the “point of no return” at which they can no longer say “I did it ignorantly, as a slave” and must choose whether they want to “put their ear to the doorpost” to accept the earring of a bondslave or to simply walk out of the house free.

They have the opportunity to either receive with gladness the great news that their time of being a slave to the things they don’t want to do is almost over OR once-and-for-all choose to be counted like a son in the house that desires only their destruction. As we continue reading, we see that they make the wrong choice; take note of how Jesus here says “if you commit sin, you’re (merely) a slave”, yet after something (we’re not told what) within them changes, Jesus starts to say “now that you’re actively choosing sin, you’ve become a son.”

“Who’s Kid Are You, Anyways?” (vss. 37-40)

So rather than looking forward to their time as a slave coming to an end, something — at this point I’m leaning towards pride as the culprit, but we’re not told — something within them seems to be offended at Jesus’ words. Maybe it’s because the Pharisees were so proud of their external efforts to maintain the appearance of sinLESSness that Jesus calling them “slaves of sin” caused them to rebel against the possibility of such a notion. But whatever the case, they begin down the all-too-familiar road of “if I cannot find a hole in your argument, I’m going to try to put a hole in you instead”.

Jesus uses their desire to kill Him as a bridge of sorts, a way of linking past and future, what they’ve already been known to want and what they can choose whether or not to do. In what strikes me as a word of warning, He follows up “your relationship with sin can be forever changed” with “you may be Abraham’s descendants, but you surely ain’t his kids”. He keeps bringing to the forefront the simplicity of what they’re doing — “you seek to kill me because I tell you the truth” — yet they keep ignoring it and pressing farther and farther into their hatred. In this instance (vs. 40), He comes right out and tells them, “you’re seeking to do this, but Abraham did not do this”, perhaps with the desire that returning the focus to Abraham’s works would snap them out of their own.

It didn’t. Rather, it caused them to go into full-blown personal slander.

“Who’s Your Daddy, Jesus?” (vss. 41-47)

On the heels of “Abraham did not do this; you do the works of your father”, they go right for the sucker punch — “We were not born of fornication; we have one father — God.” Perhaps it’s because they saw they had no more ground to stand on in the ‘Abraham is our father’ discussion, but they go more directly to Abraham’s position as being called by the one true God and try to take this opportunity to discredit Jesus amongst those listening by mentioning His conception outside of wedlock. Old habits die hard, especially when it comes to taking shots at familiar “enemies”.

Jesus ignores the claim of illegitimacy and focuses on their claim — “If God were your Father, you would love Me.” He goes on for 6 verses questioning their ability to comprehend, schooling them on who their father actually is (with a side-lesson regarding his modus operandi), and culminating in the heart of the matter:

“But because I tell you the truth, you do not believe Me. 46 Which of you convicts Me of sin? Yet if I tell the truth, why do You not believe Me?
47 He who is of God hears God’s words; therefore, you do not hear because you are not of God.” 

Jesus always makes it very simple for us. In any intro Logic classroom, “Premise, Premise, Conclusion” is pretty much as simple as an argument gets. In this case:

  1. You say you believe the truth.
  2. I speak the truth.
    C. You should believe me.

Yet:

  1. When asked, you offer no contrary evidence of me speaking the truth.
  2. I continue telling you the truth.
  3. You continue seeking to kill Me.
    C. Thus, you have no intention to believe the truth.

Doesn’t get much clearer than calling a spade a spade, does it?

When All Else Fails, Call Him Crazy (vss. 48-55)

You can likely conjure up several images of people in movies or TV shows going “Pshh, you’re crazy!”, and that’s probably pretty close to how they looked at this point. Though their version was worded a bit more culture-specific (“Do we not rightly say that You are a Samaritan and have a demon?”), it was probably just as empty of a statement.

Jews hated Samaritans, called them “half-breeds” (as they were basically people born from one Jewish parent and one Gentile parent), constantly accused them of heresy, and had palpable disdain for everything that had anything to do with them — which, ironically enough, was probably why He chose to cast a Samaritan in the role of “good guy” in the parable of someone with reason not to help who chooses to help anyway, while the “cultural elites” (the Levite and the priest) avoided the hurting man altogether simply because they had other things to do.

Thus their calling Him a Samaritan was on the same plane as their insinuation that he was born of fornication, and as such He ignores it, except to point out “I do not have a demon; I honor My Father, but you dishonor Me”. Their brains must have hurt trying to comprehend how the “illegitimate (i.e. fatherless) man” was doing a better job of honoring His Father than they were.

True to form, they still didn’t get it — “Now we know you have a demon!”, they proclaim. Then Jesus leads them to the question that will divide all humanity throughout the course of history: “Are You greater than our father Abraham, who is dead?…Who do You make Yourself out to be?”

Abraham’s Joy & Jesus’ Declaration (vss. 56-59)

After once again going through and showing that their claim of God as their Father was empty, Jesus redirects them back to whom their “father” looks to:

“Your Father Abraham rejoiced to see My day, and he saw it and was glad.”

They were incredulous. Here’s this guy in His early thirties talking about how Abraham saw “His day” (whatever that is), even though Abraham had been dead for more than a millenia. In the “Liar, Lunatic or Lord” discussion, this is where they’d change their vote from liar to lunatic.

And they walk right into what He hits them with next — He drops the bomb on them (again) regarding His identity:

“Most assuredly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I AM.”

And there it is, plain as day. (Even though the most head-in-the-sand agnostics will insist that Jesus never said He was God.)

They of course recognized the gravity of His declaration, as evidenced by their picking up of stones to kill Him. I wonder if they had any thought at all as to how they were just minutes earlier holding those very same stones, waiting on the word from Jesus affirming Mosaic law so they could unleash on the adulteress they had brought before Him.

Was it like “Jesus astounds them with His answer, they drop the stones and let the woman go, then Jesus makes them mad again, so they pick the stones right back up”? I picture that in my mind’s eye, and it’s momentarily comical, until of course it sinks back in that such is the power of sin, veiling the eyes to see the patently obvious.

Of course, Jesus’ “time had not yet come”, so He was able to go unharmed from the rock-chucking would-be executioners. But the last verse only serves to remind me of the first one: “Jesus said to those Jews who believed in Him…”.

How quickly they appear to have been “un-converted” from their belief in Him, foreshadowing the crowd that went from joyously singing “Hosanna!” one Sunday afternoon to shouting “Crucify Him!” just four short days later.

It is not enough to merely “believe” Jesus; one has to put their faith in Him, in His redemptive work, otherwise just as quickly as they were “talked into it”, they’ll be later talked out of it as well.

 

[In the interest of full disclosure, I feel I should note that there are many great Bible teachers and commentators who’ve taught that this section of Scripture does NOT start with ‘those who believed in Him’ being the ones who then go into arguing with Jesus, but rather others who didn’t believe that were amongst the same group of Pharisees. Included in this group is no less than Warren Wiersbe, a man whom I greatly admire in the faith and have counted myself more than blessed to have been able to “study” under via his many books and commentaries. I certainly do not consider myself in the same Bible-teaching realm as him, and as such I recognize and freely admit that he (and those who agree with him) could be completely right in their assessment. I’m merely offering my impressions as they have come out of my own studying of the passage.
Perhaps it’s because of my own personal experiences with extremely proud “pre-Christ” people, but I think that, when viewed in light of both ‘external’ (i.e. other sections of Scripture) and ‘internal’ (i.e. within the passage itself) proofs, the case can be made that the people arguing were, in fact, the same ones who — at least briefly — believed in Him at the end of verse 30. While I wouldn’t be dogmatically resolute about it, after the last several hours of studying it, cross-referencing it, reading trusted commentators’ thoughts about it, and writing about it, I feel “confidently shocked” that those who “answered” the Lord in verse 33 were the very ones whom Jesus was addressing in verses 31 and 32.
That is what pressed me forward to write about it. May this example of pride and rebellion never be the case with us. ~JA]
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Quote of the Day: Monday, April 8th

“This, we say, is man, the fallen principality. In these tragic desolations of intelligence and genius, of passion, pride, and sorrow, behold the import of his eternity. Be no mere spectator, turn the glass we give you round upon yourself, look into the ruin of your own conscious spirit, and see how much it signifies, both that you are a sinner and a man.

Here, within the soul’s gloomy chamber, the loosened passions rage and chafe, impatient of their law; here huddle on the wild and desultory thoughts; here the imagination crowds in shapes of glory and disgust, tokens both and mockeries of its own creative power, no longer in the keeping of reason; here sits remorse scowling and biting her chain; here creep out the fears, a meager and pale multitude; here drives on the will in his chariot of war; here lie trampled the great aspirations, groaning in immortal thirst; here the blasted affections weeping out their life in silent injury; all that you see without, in the wars, revenges, and the crazed religions of the world, is faithfully represented in the appalling disorders of your own spirit.”

~ Horace Bushnell, “The New Life”

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Quote of the Day — Sunday, April 7th

“Christ has come, the Light of the world. Long ages may yet elapse before His beams have reduced the world to order and beauty, and clothed a purified humanity with light as with a garment.

But He has come : the Revealer of the snares and chasms that lurk in darkness, the Rebuker of every evil thing that prowls by night, the Stiller of the storm-winds of passion, the Quickener of all that is wholesome, the Adorner of all that is beautiful, the Reconciler of contradictions, the Harmonizer of discords, the Healer of diseases, the Saviour from sin.

He has come : the Torch of Truth, the Anchor of hope, the Pillar of faith, the Rock for strength, the Refuge for security, the Fountain for refreshment, the Vine for gladness, the Rose for beauty, the Lamb for tenderness, the Friend for counsel, the Brother for love.

Jesus Christ has trod the world. The trace of the Divine footsteps will never be obliterated. And the Divine footsteps were the footsteps of a Man. The example of Christ is such as men can follow. On! until mankind wears His image. On! towards yon summit on which stands not an angel, not a disembodied spirit, not an abstract of ideal and unattainable virtue, but THE MAN JESUS CHRIST.”

~ Peter Bayne, A.M.
“The Testimony of Christ to Christianity”

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Staying In “The Place”…

There’s been a bit of change in the air recently here in “the Compound”. My wife’s been contemplating a transfer at work in order to get closer to home (and farther from her long commute), we’ve been looking for a home to purchase for some time now, and from time to time it seems as though one particular area of service plucks at a heart string and the tune it plays is “More should be done here.”

My wife has sort of set aside the transfer thought for now — not changing course, but just letting it sit on the back burner, the ball in someone else’s court — and we just got home a few hours ago from looking at a few more potential homes. I admit, these current options have me a bit antsy inside…one particular home fits just about everything on our list except for the area it’s in. We prayed about it at lunch this afternoon, and I’ve been mulling it over ever since. For some reason, I picked up a book that’s always on my desk and opened it, and this kind of jumped out a bit at me:

“Make every occasion a great occasion, for you can never tell when someone may be taking your measure for a larger place.”

What on earth (if anything) does that have with what’s going on? I continue reading:

“Marsden’s quotation would make a good text for a sermon. If I used it that way, I’d probably say that it contains at least four implications: (1) our work is supposed to make us grow; (2) we’re always being measured; (3) each job prepares us for the next one; and (4) the Lord may move us when He sees we’re ready. If I wanted a Biblical text to back it up, I’d quote our Lord’s statement in Matthew 25:21…

“If our service for the Lord doesn’t make us grow, two things may be true: either we’re in the wrong place, or we have the wrong attitude towards the right place. Both are tragic. But being miserable in your place of Christian service doesn’t necessarily indicate that you’re in the wrong place, so don’t be too quick to back out.”

Sounds like something I’ve been sharing with a few others lately. Reading on:

“God may have put you there for your good as well as for the good of the work. Maybe He has some unfinished business to accomplish in your life.

“I’m a person who likes to be comfortable in what I’m doing. I don’t like too many changes or surprises. My comfort zone isn’t big, but it’s well-protected. However, the Lord sees to it that my defenses are regularly knocked down. He doesn’t want me to get too accustomed to the challenge or too comfortable with the work. If that happens, He knows I’ll stop growing; and then my work will start to have the quality of a flea market leftover…”

Ouch, flea market leftover. That sounds positive. He continues:

“The difficulty of the task God gives us is one of His loving gifts for our maturity. American industrialist Henry Kaiser, whose factories turned out a ship every six days during World War II, used to say that “problems are only opportunities in work clothes.” When the Lord sees me mentally wearing pajamas and a bathrobe, He starts shaking things so I’ll change clothes and get to work. [How faithful He is to do that!] I need the work more than the work needs me. Christian service is supposed to make us grow, and it will if we’re in the right place with the right attitude.

“We’re always being measured: God is measuring us, and people are measuring us. When it comes to Christian service and servants, other people can make mistakes, and we can make mistakes. Most Christian workers are prone to think either more highly of themselves than they should (Romans 12:3) or less highly. If we think too highly of ourselves, we’ll get proud and start pushing our way into what we think is a more important place. If we think less highly, we’ll get discourages and want to quit. Both attitudes are wrong.”

God, where is this going?

“The Lord is the only One who can accurately measure both us and our work, but He doesn’t always tell us what He thinks… When God wants to encourage you and let you know you’re measuring up, He sometimes prompts people just to say thanks. They might phone you, write you a letter, or perhaps thank you personally…. Another evidence that you’ve been measured and approved by the Lord is the opening of new doors of opportunity. If you’ve been faithful with a few things, God will give you more things. Of course, that means more work; but God has measured you and is sure you can do it. Over the years, it’s been exciting to watch faithful servants grow and expand in their ministry to the glory of God. It’s one of the few rewards of old age.

“The important thing is that we do our work and not waste too much time measuring ourselves. ‘[People] who do their best always do more, though they be haunted by the sense of failure,’ said Scottish minister George Morrison. ‘Be good and true; be patient; be undaunted. Leave your usefulness to God to estimate. He will see to it that you do not live in vain.’…

‘Haunted by a sense of failure’…that sounds about right. Oye…

“However, I must issue a warning at this point: God’s servants must never use their assignment as temporary stepping-stones for something greater. There’s no place in the Lord’s work for ‘pyramid climbers’ who are so anxious to get to the top that they forget that ‘exaltation comes neither from the east nor from the west nor from the south, but God is the Judge: He puts down one and exalts another’ (Psalm 75:6-7). If you ever find yourself promoting yourself for a promotion, read the book of Esther and get acquainted with Haman. God wants us to be ambitious, but be sure it’s godly ambition.

When it comes to moving His servants, God’s plan is never wrong, and His timing is never off. Sometimes He moves us to a bigger place, but He may move us to a smaller place that we’re supposed to make bigger. He may put us in a situation for which we feel totally unprepared and in which we aren’t at all comfortable. So much the better; He’s giving us room to grow.”

Wow. What chatterbox said all that crazy talk? None other than Warren Wiersbe in his book “On Being A Servant Of God”. (If you’ve never read it, buy it, get it from the library, borrow it from a friend, whatever it takes…it’s life-changing.)

So what am I to take from all that?

As I sit here at my desk and ponder what the Lord would have me to do regarding our house hunt, not thinking even one bit about “being estimated or measured” at church, reading the chapter that came from was, at first, a bit confusing. “Great, thanks God, now I’ve got one more thing to be confused about.” But I think in a way, it was a reminder — there’s important stuff to be done that my wife and I are here to do, stuff of eternal importance. Which neighborhood I live in, whether our house has “proper office space” or not, whether there’s enough square footage of grass space for the dog, and what the last digit of our zip code might be probably don’t fit into the category of eternal importance, yet they’ve (lately) been consuming a disproportionate amount of time.

As a husband of one fantastic wife and a father to three beautiful daughters, I want to give them the best that can possibly be given. The problem with that is, of course, that I’m assuming I can best discern what “the best” exactly entails.

Since God is the only One who knows the end from the beginning, the only One who could possibly calculate every conceivable variable to determine what exactly “the best” is, I have to come to the place of recognizing that I’ve been trying to approach this home search “by sight” rather than “by faith”. What’s worse, I’ve been talking about how it’s “all in His timing” and “wherever He wants us to be”, yet I’ve been the one who (with my wife) has been determining all the parameters for our future home.

Shame on me.

It would be easy to determine that the service I give at church would be what Wiersbe’s words were speaking towards, and on one level they certainly might be; the Lord certainly knows that I’d love to serve there in an occupational capacity. But on a much more basic level, my “everyday ministry” is the one here at home, to my wife, to my kids, being the kind of husband and father they need for them to walk wisely and be supported in all they do. And though I might want them to have “the best house” in “the best neighborhood” with “the best schools” and “the best neighbors”, all those “bests” might be quite a bit different in reality than what they might look like at face value.

So as of now, it’s not in my hands. Actually, it never was anyways, we just like to think that it is. So I will continue to pray and ask for His leading, and proceed as He directs.

But by faith this time, and not by sight.

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You’re Ripping Us Off!

God has timing that is unmatched in the universe, let me tell you.

I’ve now “replaced the calendar” almost 13 times now since I’ve come to faith in Jesus Christ as my Redeemer, my Savior, my Lord and King. And in that time, I can remember only once before having an explosion of emotion towards Him like I did Sunday night.

The reasons for it and the commentary regarding it are best saved for another time, but suffice it to say that God took everything I had to unleash on Him, held me close to His heart, and let me “get back to work”.

Many flashes of words spoken and written by influential people in my life chimed in at various moments in my tirade, including my pastor and several other pastors and teachers I’ve been privileged enough to study under.

Scripture washed over me in such a way that it was indistinguishable from my tears.

My pastor told us one Sunday morning about a time he went through where, for about two years, his walk with God seemed — in his words — “like licking a rock”. Dry, dusty, lonely. Pretty much the opposite of what you would ever actually want your relationship with the Lord to be like.

He said that as he prayed — even though he felt no answer would be forthcoming, for whatever reason — at some point during that two-year period he said to God “I know You’ve promised never to leave me or forsake me, but for some reason that’s how I feel…so I’m going to submit my feelings to Your promise and continue in the work you’ve put me in, and when this dry time is over, I’ll hopefully be face to face with You once again.”

It ministered to me at the time he said it, but didn’t have much personal application with me until relatively recently. And as the emotion flowed freely just a few short days ago, it’s one of the things that kept coming back to mind.

Continue being faithful.

Your work is valuable.

I love you!

You’re going to make it.

I am always with you.

Fast forward about 33 hours here, and as I open up the Word and a devotional that I read, I’m struck with two reminders — Jeremiah, the prophet who put everything he had into faithfully delivering the Word of the Lord to his people even though they wouldn’t listen, and Paul exhorting a very carnal church regarding their duty in service to the Lord and to one another.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

“Build houses and dwell in them; plant gardens and eat their fruit. 6 Take wives and beget sons and daughters; and take wives for your sons and give your daughters to husbands, so that they may bear sons and daughters — that you may be increased there, and not diminished…
10 For thus says the Lord: After seventy years are completed in Babylon, I will visit you and perform My good word toward you, and cause you to return to this place. 11 For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, says the lord, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope.
12 Then you will call upon Me and go and pray to Me, and I will listen to you. 13 And you will seek Me and find Me, when you search for Me with all your heart. 14 I will be found by you, says the Lord, and I will bring you back from your captivity…”
(Jeremiah 29:5-6, 10-14a)

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

“But now God has set the members, each one of them, in the body just as He pleased. 19 And if they were all one member, where would the body be? 20 But now indeed there are many members, yet one body…
25b …but that the members should have the same care for one another. 26 And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; or if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it.”
(1st Corinthians 12:18-20, 25b-26)

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Here are the words of the devotion for February 19th:

Let us review something here that we probably know: the doctrine of the life and operation of Christian believers on earth — starting with the fact that the Christian church is the body of Christ, Jesus Himself being the Headship of that body. Every true Christian, no matter where he or she lives, is a part of that body, and the Holy Spirit is to the church what our own souls are to our physical bodies.

Through the operation of the Holy Spirit, Christ becomes the life, the unity and the consciousness of the body, which is the church. Let the soul leave the physical body and all the parts of the body cease to function. Let the Spirit be denied His place in the spiritual body, and the church ceases to function as God intended…

According to the Bible, the whole body exists for its members and the members exist for the whole body. And that, of course, is the reason God gives gifts, so that the body may profit spiritually and maintain spiritual health and prosperity in its service for Jesus Christ in an unfriendly world.

[His prayer at the end of the devotion]
“Lord, I pray that today we in our church might be aware of Your presence, that we might be faithfully exercising the gifts You have given and that we might be a healthy Body that pleases You. Amen.”

Both of these passages ministered to me because they meet both sides of where I feel I’m at lately. Just as Jesus gave His disciples the encouragement “I am with you always, even to the end of the age” with the command “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations“, here this morning God saw fit to give me the reassurance “yeah, you’re gonna be ‘in the desert’ for a little while, but I’ve got a purpose for the time and when the time’s up I’ll be there waiting for you” along with the reminder “you are an important part of My Body, and I need you to be there showing that same care for one another to those who need to see it“.

I know I’m no Jeremiah, nor am I a Paul. My words are not Scripture, and I have no authority in and of myself. I’m just a regular guy, no different from you, who has a burning in my bones to share with people the goodness of God and the lengths He has gone to to rescue people from the disease they didn’t even know they had.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

“O LORD, You induced me, and I was persuaded; You are stronger than I, and have prevailed. I am in derision daily; Everyone mocks me. 8 For when I spoke, I cried out; I shouted, “Violence and plunder!” Because the word of the LORD was made to me A reproach and a derision daily.
9 Then I said, “I will not make mention of Him, Nor speak anymore in His name.” But His word was in my heart like a burning fire shut up in my bones; I was weary of holding it back, And I could not…11a But the Lord is with me…”
(Jeremiah 20:7-9, 11a)

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

But YOU, brothers and sisters — YOU are just as much a part of that body as I am. You each have people who you interact with daily, circles in which you travel, fellowships full of other believers who have their own struggles, trials and tribulations going on in their lives. Are you suffering with those who suffer? Rejoicing with those who rejoice? It’s certainly much easier to rejoice with people (at least outwardly) than it is to suffer with those who suffer, but BOTH are the natural “work” of the Body in proper relation with the Holy Spirit.

I’ve come to realize the practical, real-world application of 1st Corinthians 13 in my own life: no matter how many people I evangelize on the street, no matter how many disciples I train up, no matter how many classes I teach or studies I lead, no matter how many blogs I write or how many countries those words make their way into, it’s all worthless if I’m not actively willing to be “in sackcloth and ashes” with those being ground into the dust and “in party hats and hula skirts” with those who are rejoicing. Worthless because people don’t care what you know (or think you know) unless they know that you genuinely care.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

“By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:35)

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Our society has become so “appearance-driven” that we often put on our “happy Christian” façade when we go to church, shake hands, give hugs, smile and wave, then drive home just as hurting and wounded as we were when we arrived. In the first century church, everyone lived in the same town as the people they fellowshipped with, and they likely saw each other more frequently on a day-to-day basis than we do today — we, the masters of the commute. Yet if it was so important for the “constantly fellowshipping” folks in that day to still gather together for fellowship on the first day of the week, wouldn’t it be even more important for us, as typically disconnected from our neighbors and Family as we are, to get in that good fellowship time with our brothers and sisters?

Sure, it’s easier to hide. If you are a part of a larger fellowship, it’s easier still. But if you do so, you’re ripping the rest of us off, because you are a valuable and important member of His Body, and you were given gifts specifically for the purpose of edifying and growing the rest of us!

“Many hands make light work”, as the saying goes. Yet so many have removed their hand from the plow entirely that the few who remain at the work are nearly crushed by it. Ever since I first started teaching “Children’s Church” roughly ten years ago, I typically can’t sleep the night before. It’s not something that is all holy or dramatic; I just have always had a sense in my spirit of the immense responsibility it is to deliver the Word of God into the life of another person. Anyone who reads Matthew 18:6 and yet somehow thinks that teaching kids is a casual and carefree thing needs to find a different area to serve in.

A.W. Tozer said it this way: “The rewards of godly leadership are so great and the responsibilities of the leader so heavy that no one can afford to take the matter lightly.”

I have a few faithful brothers that I know I can call anytime if something’s up, but honestly, I find myself asking myself (when someone calls me at one of those times) “why should it even get that far?” I mean, if we’re being real with each other, shouldn’t we be open with each other on Sunday mornings? Wednesday nights? Bible studies? Discipleship classes? In the off times at the coffee shop? How on earth do we let each other fall through the cracks? How do we let each other come to fellowship, recognize the façades on each other’s faces, then just let each other go without peeling back the bandages and asking for some healing oil?

These questions are what compel me to love you. Christ died for me so that I could be a part of His Family, and He did the same for you — but now that we’re part of His royal Family, are we supposed to be a gaggle of Jerry Springer dysfunctionals? God forbid! We’ve been ripping each other off, holding back love, depriving each other of the outworking of the Holy Spirit through the use of His gifts, and as a result we are causing the Body to atrophy. I pray this would compel you to become fully engaged in the lives of those you’ve been called to “have the same care for” — your brothers and sisters in Christ’s Body.

“Brethren, if a man is overtaken in any trespass, you who are spiritual restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness, considering yourself lest you also be tempted. 2 Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.” (Galatians 6:1-2)

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[NOTE: the devotion referenced here was written by A.W. Tozer and compiled by Ronald Eggert in devotional form in the book “Tozer on Christian Leadership”, copyright 2001 by Wing Spread Publications. All rights to the work reserved by the publisher.]

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For The Audience of One

[NOTE: the devotion referenced here was written by A.W. Tozer and compiled by Ronald Eggert in devotional form in the book “Tozer on Christian Leadership”, copyright 2001 by Wing Spread Publications. All rights to the work reserved by the publisher.]

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Yesterday’s “Tozer on Christian Leadership” devotion really struck a chord with me, predominantly because having visited all sorts of different churches of varying denominations, sizes and congregational cultures, I can see two different sides to what he’s trying to express. The truth of his words is the same in all instances, yet the application of it — at least in today’s “church” landscape — might be a little trickier and requiring of more determination than it would seem at first glance.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

“Them that sin, rebuke before all, that others also may fear.”     (1st Timothy 5:20)

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Here are the words of the devotion for January 29:

I cannot believe in the spirituality of any Christian man who keeps an eye open for the approval of others, whoever they may be. The man after God’s own heart must be dead to the opinion of his friends as well as his enemies. He must be as willing to cross important persons as obscure ones. He must be ready to rebuke his superior as quickly as those who may be beneath him on the ecclesiastical ladder. To reprove one man in order to gain the favor of another is no evidence of moral courage. It is done in the world all the time.

We’ll never be where we should be in our spiritual lives until we are so devoted to Christ that we ask no other approbation than His smile. When we are wholly lost in Him the frantic effort to please men will come to an end. The circle of persons we struggle to please will be narrowed to One. Then we will know true freedom, but not a moment before.

[His prayer at the end of the devotion]
“Lord, does anyone really get over the desire to seek the approval of others? That is a battle for which we are totally dependent on You for victory. Help me today to be content with only the smile of Your approval. Amen.”

What he’s saying is absolutely, unequivocally correct. Both Scripturally and practically (sad we even have to mark the difference, but such it is in these wicked days), the only One we should be seeking the approval of is God Himself. He brings nations onto the scene and brings them down to nothing, and He is able to exalt or humble a man or woman just as easily. The desire of each of our hearts as Christians — as Disciples of the living Messiah — should be to live our lives in such a way that regardless of how we’re viewed by others, be they church folk or unbelievers, we can read through the examining lens of Scripture and know that our vertical relationship with Him is true and plumb.

[I’d like to add here that this is proving to be an extremely difficult and time-consuming thing to write about, mostly because I want to make sure I’m not simply spouting off my personal opinions. I want this to be edifying and helpful, not opinionated and destructive. “He must increase, I must decrease”, in other words.]

There is also an unfortunate reality within the structure of church government when the fellowship being governed starts gaining size and, by consequence, more layers of governors. Every one of us as believers has our own experiences, our own backgrounds, our own victories and struggles, our own doctrinal strengths and weaknesses. And as such, our approaches to different situations might vary from person to person, yet as we yield our own personalities and characteristics to the leading of the Holy Spirit, our responses and how we handle the situations should prove Biblically sound.

However, there are inevitably times when the one in authority and the one under authority in a situation of church governance are going to come to loggerheads regarding approach, with one having handled something in a certain way and the other thinking or communicating “I would never have done it that way…”. This brings a difficult fork in the road: is the leader mature enough to handle the difference with openness (i.e. “I would never have done it that way, but I see your Scriptural basis and will support you in it”), or does the leader revert to “I would never have done it that way, and if you continue to handle it that way, you will no longer be able to serve here”? Might make you feel a bit like Job:

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

“Is there not a time of hard service for man on earth?
Are not his days also like the days of a hired man?
2 Like a servant who earnestly desires the shade,
And like a hired man who eagerly looks for his wages,
3 So I have been allotted months of futility,
And wearisome nights have been appointed to me.”
(Job 7:1-3)

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Providing that no one was put in danger by the difference in style, and that the approach of the one under authority was not malicious or destructive, the obvious preference any person in a position of authority should desire is the first response. God has brought all manner of people together in this crazy stew of humanity He calls His Bride, and as such we need to be sensitive to the fact that in church leadership, those differences in approach — even seemingly dramatic ones — do not necessarily mean that the servants are incompatible or cannot serve together, or do not share the same vision for souls.

Why do I bring this all up?

Simply put, as congregation sizes increase, the challenges they face also increase, as will the interpersonal “conflicts” that will arise any time you add more personalities to an organization. And as size increases, the need for more layers of church government increase with it so that the groups of those under authority remain manageable by those in authority.

[Side note: I know the term “authority” usually hits people with a bit of a negative connotation because of people’s tendency to abuse it, but in the context of a congregation, authority really means responsibility and accountability for, rather than power over. Yes, there is a certain measure of executive power that comes with authority — there would have to be, otherwise the authority will be viewed as “having no teeth” and, sadly, will consequently be ignored — but when that executive authority changes into lordship over, that is where the problem arises. As Scripture reminds us, we should pray for those in authority over us in the Church, as they’re responsible (i.e. “accountable”) for their influence in our service, for the better or the worse.]

That’s not a Bible-only concept; it is a practical reality in every group of any size, be it a business, corporation, government, military, or any of a dozen other common types of organizations. One person might be able to oversee three others with relative ease; increase that number to fifty, and the ease evaporates. Increase it to a few hundred and it can easily become depressingly challenging. Into the thousands? Forget about it, it’ll drive you nuts (unless you disengage, which would in all practical sense neuter your direct influence of those you’re supposedly accountable for).

As the layers increase, you as a Christian leader will have more and more people who are “over” you in authority, which can sometimes cause you to feel like “there are just that many more people to try and keep happy with me” since that’s the way our culture typically operates. You will likely have times when you have those in authority over you who share many similarities with you in terms of personality, leadership style, giftings, even secular interests such as taste in fashion or shared favorite sports teams. You will also likely have times when you have those in authority over you who are polar opposites in terms of personality, leadership style, giftings, and secular interests. And that’s where the rub comes.

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“For he who sows to his flesh will of the flesh reap corruption, but he who sows to the Spirit will of the Spirit reap everlasting life. 9 And let us not grow weary while doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart.” (Galatians 6:8-9)

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I wish it wasn’t so — though perhaps it’s God’s application of “sandpaper” to our spiritual lives — but in the occasion where you’re polar opposites with one (or several) in authority over you in the fellowship in which you serve, it can become a tremendous temptation to do things to garner the approval of those people. Not saying whether that is right or wrong in all cases, just stating it as an interpersonal reality.

And it is precisely those situations where following the Biblical advice Tozer is offering here can be so tough. Almost impossible.

If you’re a person who’s spent a significant period of time serving in your fellowship, it becomes all the more difficult (as that voice inside you creeps up saying “You don’t want to have wasted all that time here just to get “fired” because of personal differences”). And let’s face it, not everyone in leadership is there because of God directly putting them there; there are bad choices and favoritism alike that take place from time to time, though if God has allowed you into such a situation, work with it in that same “He must increase, I must decrease” attitude of service, which He will honor.

But here’s the tough part: we have to make sure we distinguish style from substance. Getting into fights over style are petty for all involved, and as such only break down rather than build up.

Here’s the tougher part: if I really trust God, I need to do everything within my power to ensure I’m being faithful with that which He has called me to be and do in His service. As a Christian leader — whether it’s changing diapers in a nursery, supervising a group of elders, or pastoring a church of thousands or of twenty — you and I are called to serve Him first, and if we find ourselves in a situation where we feel we’re forced to choose between being true to our calling of  serving Him through service to His people and bending ourselves to satisfy something superficial in someone else, we need to “carefully, prayerfully” keep a clear conscience and seek His approval alone.

That does NOT mean be divisive, because God hates those who sow division, even those in His own Body. (I tend to think He feels even more strongly in that case). It doesn’t mean to talk bad about the person you disagree with, justify yourself in your own mind that you’re right and they’re wrong, or any other flesh-driven activity. If you have people you’re accountable with (which you absolutely should if you’re in leadership; if not, get some), by all means privately discuss with them your feelings and viewpoint, and ask for their godly counsel as to how they think you should proceed. After all, the first layer built upon the foundation of servant leadership is the recognition that you’re not always going to be right, so seeking Biblical counsel from believers you trust is wise.

It means to be humble, but firm. “Meek”, to use a Biblical word for it; “power under control”. Let your stance be known in humility, keeping style separate from substance, and making sure that first and foremost you’re seeking God’s approval upon your service.

“I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service.” (Romans 12:1)

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“You’re Telling On Yourself, You Know.”

I was just typing up today’s DTFD post when I decided to read today’s entry from “Tozer on Christian Leadership”. Here’s what it says:

“The important thing about a man is not where he goes when he is compelled to go, but where he goes when he is free to go where he will…

A man is absent from church Sunday morning. Where is he? If he is in a hospital having his appendix removed his absence tells us nothing about him except that he is ill; but if he is out on the golf course, that tells us a lot. To go to the hospital is compulsory; to go to the golf course, voluntary. The man is free to choose and he chooses to play instead of to pray. His choice reveals what kind of man he is. Choices always do…

I think it might be well for us to check our spiritual condition occasionally by the simple test of compatibility. When we are free to go, where do we go? In what company do we feel most at home? Where do our thoughts turn when they are free to turn where they will? When the pressure of work or business or school has temporarily lifted and we are able to think of what we will instead of what we must, what do we think of then?

The answers to these questions may tell us more about ourselves than we can comfortably accept. But we had better face up to things. We haven’t too much time at the most.  (“Tozer on Christian Leadership”, January 28th entry “Choices”)

I love A.W. Tozer. His stuff always cuts through all the hogwash and self-justifying excuses we come up with and shoots straight into the 10-ring. A pastor friend of mine used to say it this way: “The one thing you can always count on people to do is exactly what they really want to do.”

Yeah, I live in 21st century America too. In southern California, in fact, where the “rush rush rush” seldom stops. Our modern culture of “hey, we’ve got a couple hours free on Thursdays, how ’bout we sign up for something to fill the time?” has not served us at all, but rather has enslaved us in such a way that we no longer have very much time to just sit and meditate on the Lord.

As my brothers and sisters in arms gather together to pray before and after the Sunday morning services we serve in together, one of the most common prayer requests is that we each would be able to further carve out precious time to read more, study more, pray more, meditate more. We all feel the pinch of days filled with things that ultimately won’t matter, and it kills us a little on the inside to consider that. So, with true American gusto, when we get a little “free time”, when we cash in some of those vacation days, one thing rushes to the forefront of our minds: “This time is precious, make the most of it.”

Why don’t we ever plan week-long vacations to our prayer closet? Why don’t we look to invest the $500 it would cost us to take the family to Disneyland in some good study tools, like commentaries or Bible software? Why don’t we use that vacation time to attend Bible conferences, men’s/women’s retreats, or prayer meetings?

There’s a huge variety of reasons why, but they’re all summed up in one simple one: there’s other things we’d rather be doing.

This word from Tozer today is like a shot across the bow for us, a warning to let us know we might be drifting into dangerous waters. If our heart is on the golf course, even if our glutes are in the pews at church, our worship is tainted. Remember, God is not looking for our impeccable attendance record and our memorization of whatever liturgies are on the schedule for today; He’s looking for hearts that have come to worship Him, to sit at His feet and learn from Him, and to serve others just as we would serve Him.

People can tell who we are by the choices we make. We’re not as safe in our justifications as we assume we are.

 

Choose wisely.

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“I have chosen the way of truth;
thy judgements have I laid before me.
I have stuck unto thy testimonies:
O Lord, put me not to shame.”
~ Psalm 119:30-31

Categories: General Interest, Quote Of The Day, Thoughts and Daily Insights | Tags: , , , , | 2 Comments

Finding The Balance — Joy and Fear

Anyone who has been serving in the ministry of the Gospel and Discipleship for any length of time can attest to the fact that you will find people typically break down into opposing groups when discussing subjects that usually don’t get a lot of “out in the open” time. Theological discussions can get huffy in a hurry, and there’s a certain level of “theological hypotheticals” I try not to wander beyond — simply because it’s fruitless.

But there are other subjects which people also filter into opposing groups about, but not for the same reasons. These are more “still working my brain through the idea” kind of subjects. The one I’ve been thinking about a lot this week is a classic: joy and fear.

This tends to be one of those subjects that actually shows itself in people’s lives, often without them even knowing it. Ask a person where they fall on the topic of living their life in Christ with joy or with fear, and nine times out of ten you’ll get a quick, “first instinct” reply, followed by some “deer in the headlights” looks if you press further, along with palpable discomfort and any of a dozen common “excuse me, I have to go” reasons to exit stage right.

If you try to approach it Scripturally, a casual Bible student will often fall into a hard place. They’ll have in their mind things they’ve heard over time about the supremacy of one over the other, and when they read they’ll have a tendency to pick up on those verses which speak to that supremacy and find reasons to excuse those that say otherwise. This is not a good practice, and God will certainly make sure you encounter enough “sandpaper people” to grind that edge right off of you.

In the meantime, we should seek to not head into the discussion with our own pre-set ideas of “which holds supremacy over the other”, but rather should seek to learn whatever it is that the Lord would have to teach us about the subject. Consider this thought:

“The joy of the Lord grows primarily out of our relationship with Him, while the fear of the Lord grows out of our responsibility to Him. Joy and fear are neither enemies nor competitors; they’re friends and allies. ‘In heaven, love will absorb fear,’ said John Henry Newman, ‘but in this world, fear and love must go together.” Later in that same sermon, he added, ‘Fear is allayed by the love of Him, and our love sobered by our fear of Him.’

All responsibility without joy will crush a person and turn Christian service into slavery. But all joy without godly fear will make that servant shallow and immature. Jesus calls us both friends and servants (John 15:14-15). We enjoy intimacy and carry responsibility, and we must keep them in balance.”
~Warren Wiersbe, “On Being A Servant of God”

There’s something I frequently refer to (certainly not the only one to ever use the wording) called the pendulum syndrome: basically, people swinging back and forth (like the pendulum on an old grandfather clock) on issues because they feel like this verse or that verse declares that this side or that side of an issue is the right side. But as is often the case, we need to stop the pendulum from swinging all over the place and let it rest — that’s finding the balance.

In regards to this topic, you’ve seen people just as I have: on one hand, the “bouncing off the walls” newborn Christian who’s got the joy-joy-joy-joy down in their heart who spill it all over you as they walk by; on the other hand, the “robeless monks” who give you the idea that it’d be a sin for them to express any happiness, and that God would surely smite them to salt if they laughed. Neither is healthy.

Just as Wiersbe pointed out, responsibility without joy makes a slave, while all joy without godly fear makes a servant shallow and immature. We certainly don’t want to be slaves under a taskmaster, but I don’t think we should desire to be shallow and immature either.

“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of Wisdom” — do you and I want to be wise? “Do not sorrow, for the joy of the Lord is your strength” — do you and I want to be strong? Let’s see…all the Christ-followers who do NOT want to be wise and strong, stand up and walk out of the room — how many do we have left? Hopefully all. Why did I choose those two verses? Simply because they show that joy and godly fear do not have to compete with each other, do not have to “all or nothing” out-do one another. They’re merely different “exercises” for different spiritual muscles — work all of ’em, the better spiritual shape you’ll be in.

To say it another way: if you want to be strong and stupid, go for the “joy without fear” package; if you want to be wise and weak, go for the “fear without joy” package. I don’t know about you, but “strong and stupid” and “wise and weak” don’t sound like very appealing options to me. Wouldn’t it be better to have those supposed “opposites” work together in your life and mine, so that we could be both strong with His strength and wise with His wisdom?

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“Heartbreak, Anger, and Perfect Justice…” ((DTFD, December 18))

(from “Daily Thoughts for Disciples” by Oswald Chambers, December 18th entry)

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“What will a man give in exchange for his soul?” — Mark 8:37

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The modern Christian laughs at the idea of a final judgement. That shows how far we can stray away if we imbibe the idea that the modern mind is infallible and not our Lord.

To His mind at least the finality of moral decision is reached in this life. There is no aspect of our Lord’s mind that the modern mind detests so fundamentally as this one…

The parables in the twenty-fifth chapter of Matthew are three aspects of the divine estimate of life. The parable of the ten virgins reveals that it is fatal from our Lord’s standpoint to live this life without preparation for the life to come. That is not the exegesis, it is the obvious underlying principle.

The parable of the talents is our Lord’s statement with regard to the danger of leaving undone the work of a lifetime.

And the description of the last judgement is the picture of genuine astonishment on the part of both the losers and the gainers of what they had never thought about.

To be accustomed to our Lord’s teaching is not to ask, “What must I do to be good?”, but “What must I do to be saved?” How long does it take us to know what the true meaning of our lives are?

One half second.

.

Taken from Daily Thoughts for Disciples, © 1976, 1994 by Oswald Chambers Publications Association, Ltd., and used by permission of Discovery House Publishers, Grand Rapids MI 49501. All rights reserved.

[[Some words Chambers uses are not used often today — click [here] to look up difficult words.]]

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Brief commentary:
Here it is, four days since the horrendous attack on Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, and my heart grows heavier each day that passes. Here I sit, some 2,900 miles from the events, not having any personal connection (that I am aware of, at least) to anyone involved there, yet I’m heartbroken.

A part of me is crushed. I have three beautiful daughters, ages 8, 7 and 4, and the thought of something like that happening at their elementary school is chilling. Into my mind come thoughts of being a parent so geographically close to your children, yet being so helpless, so unable to do anything of substance to help…such a circumstance would cripple me, in my honest opinion, especially if something tragic befell one of my kids.

And then a part of me gets angry. And I know I’m not the only one.

Why is that?

Simply put, it’s because within each one of us, God has placed what most people refer to as a conscience, that thing inside that upsets our whole disposition when something just isn’t right. And central to that conscience is a sense of justice, that wrongs will be made right and evil doers will shoulder the weight of their offenses.

But how can something like that ever be made right?

It can’t. And that’s what stokes that anger, the idea that justice somehow cannot be served, simply because that which was “taken” is more precious and valuable than anything the offender could recompense. And to it that he chose to take his own life rather than face his consequences, and many people will find themselves in the coming months feeling cheated out of the process of justice because of it.

That’s exactly why I think this particular discussion is so fitting for these current events: it’s not all about the here and now, even though that’s how so many of us honestly view our day-to-day lives when it comes to the concept of justice. Person A does such and such to Person B, Person B presses charges, Person A receives his discipline, and the case is closed. Justice is served, and the world can once again resume it’s regularly scheduled activities.

That’s not how it is in God’s judicial system, however. There is no statute of limitations to worry about, no legal song and dance maneuvering to get a defendant off on a technicality, and certainly no way to escape one’s punishment by taking the “easy way out” and ending one’s life.

Everyone walks through His courtroom one day. Everyone, without a single exception.

In the few days since the event unfolded, I have heard “a lot of precious nothing” regarding the young man whose hands brought about all the bloodshed, lots of detail about a lot of stuff that doesn’t sound like it will explain anything about why he did what he did. As such, it would be not only unfair but willfully ignorant of me to sit here and pass judgement on him one way or another. Obviously, his deeds were evil, that is without question; however, the “mental illness” banter is in full swing, though I’ve yet to hear definitively about exactly what “mental illness” caused him to do what he did. Hopefully time will bring us more answers, though the underlying root will undoubtedly be the same.

I’m sure there are parents there who are going to long for the young man to stand trial, to be judged by a jury of his peers, be found guilty on all counts and be sentenced in like manner to those he himself sentenced. Their consciences cry out for justice, and rightfully so.

But God’s courthouse is inescapable, and it is certain that the young man who cut short the lives of those 20 children and 6 adults is no exception to that rule. But we also must remember that none of us are privy to what went on within his mind during that last split second of life — was his heart hardened like Pharaoh’s, or did he, at that last second, cry out to God? We will never know, and as such we should refrain from trying to offer our own ideas regarding his eternal fate. God’s justice is perfect, and no one escapes it.

I know the anger I would feel if it were one of my kids I got that phone call about. But I also know I have faithful men around me who would remind me of God’s perfect justice, as well as His mercy and grace to all those — my own sinful self included — who cry out to Him with a repentant heart.

And while it is certainly easier for us to look out through the peepholes of our own eyes and see those who have sinned against us — and indeed, people have in fact done so — I should never forget that God forgave me, stinking rotten sinner me, even though I am just as guilty as those who physically drove the nails into Jesus’ hands and feet.

My heart is heavy, having had the “big girl conversation” with my two older daughters last night. They heard things from other kids at school that we needed to correct, and despite our most careful handling of the subject, it’s still scary, for adults as well as for kids. They were hesitant to release from their bedtime hugs and go to sleep. As I write this, they’ve both been up and out of their room at least once for “potty breaks”, accompanied once again by long, never-want-to-let-go hugs.

As we look to the future, desiring a tomorrow in which these types of things no longer happen, and our hearts long for justice for the tragedies that have already occurred, let us also find rest in the knowledge that no one escapes God’s justice. Then, when our hearts have healed enough to handle it, let us also consider ourselves, whether we will walk into His courtroom pleading our own cases or have Jesus standing beside us as our Advocate before the Father.

Categories: "Daily Thoughts For Disciples", General Interest, Thoughts and Daily Insights | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

The Proof of Your Love

It may come to this sooner than expected. May we stay ever devoted to speak His truth and be the proof of His love to all we encounter.

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Dr. A.E. Wilder-Smith on Sea Turtles

Check out this (admittedly a “few” years old) video clip by Dr. A.E. Wilder-Smith regarding the keen navigational systems embedded in sea turtles — don’t let the description bore you, it’s really more interesting than you think!

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An Argument from Malachi — Doubting God’s Love (Part 1 of 7)

[[I know, “disputation” isn’t a word commonly used much anymore. But as this is the first of a series, it just felt as though a “series-worthy word” was necessary. Plus, it’s my blog, so I can use funky old words whenever I choose. Neener, neener.]]

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This first “disputation” from Malachi comes from the very first verse after the “title verse”:

“I have loved you,” says the Lord.
“Yet you say, ‘In what way have You loved us?'”

In our culture, the word “love” is thrown around so often and for so many different things that we hardly bat an eye anymore when we hear it. I don’t know if it was this way when I was a kid (I’m sure it was), but it kind of freaks me out when I hear my daughters throw the word around at school or at church with their friends. And not in the “don’t be comin’ ’round here with no babies” kind of dad-way (well maybe just a little…lol); more like the “that word actually does mean something, you know” kind of way.

But when someone we’re familiar with says to us “I love you” (assuming they’re not someone we’re romantically interested in), we usually don’t have a dramatic reaction, we usually just respond with a quick “Aw, I love you, too!” and move on. But here when God says to the people “I have loved you”, they don’t respond in that way, which would display common fellowship. They respond with disbelief, saying “In what way have you loved us?”

The word translated “love” is one that conveys a sense of intimacy; as I read other verses where the same root word is used, a feeling of intense, purposeful love such as the love that Abraham had for Isaac. It’s not some passing feeling of interest or casual congeniality, but an intentional and passionate devotion.

It’s interesting that of all issues the Lord would have started with, He started with love. Isn’t that just like God though, to place love in the place of preeminence? In Jesus’ words:

34 But when the Pharisees heard that He had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together. 35 Then one of them, a lawyer, asked Him a question, testing Him, and saying,
36 “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law?”
37 Jesus said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’
38 “This is the first and great commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.”
~ Matthew 22:34-40

Loving God first was so important, it was the first commandment given on Sinai. It was the first commandment every child would learn at home and at Temple. And it was the “first and great” commandment in Jesus’ view, as He stated above. Conveying love to one’s neighbor as you already convey it to yourself is the “other side of the same coin”.

Matthew Henry had the following to say about this verse in Malachi:

“God asserts the great kindness he had, and had often expressed, for them (v. 2): ‘I have loved you, saith the Lord.’ Thus abruptly does the sermon begin, as if God intended, whatever reproofs should be given them, to reconcile them to his love, and to take care that they should still have good thoughts of him. ‘As many as I love I rebuke and chasten.’

Thus kindly does the sermon begin. God will have his people satisfied that he loves them and is ever mindful of his love…

They question his love, and diminish the instances of it, and seem to quarrel with him for telling them of it: ‘Yet you say, Wherein hast thou loved us?’ As God traces up all his favours to them to the fountain, which was his love, so he traces up all their sins against him to the fountain, which was their contempt of his love. Instead of acknowledging his kindness, and studying what they shall render, they scorn to own that they have been beholden to him, challenge him to produce proofs of his love that are material, and think and speak very slightly of the instances they have had of his kindness, as if they were so few, so small, as not to be worth taking notice of , and no more than what they had sufficiently made returns for, or at least than he had sufficiently balanced with instances of his wrath…

God justly takes it very ill to have his favours slighted, as not worth speaking of; and it is very absurd for us to ask wherein he has loved us, when, which way soever we look, we meet with the proofs and instances of his love to us.”

Suffice it to say that the Lord has loved since before He had created the objects (i.e. us) to be loved. Love came first, then the Creation of the object of His love. One might even conclude that Creation was a direct result of the love that God desired to express. So think about it from God’s viewpoint for a second:

“I have loved you with an everlasting love, a love that has its origin before you were created, and I have loved you enough to show you the way you should walk so as to avoid the same self-imposed destruction that the nations around you experience. I have called you out of the world as a special people, the apple of My eye, not because you were in any way better, but simply because I love you and want you to know My love so you can be a good witness of that Love to the entire world.”

I’m intentionally trying to let it sink in for me personally that of all the “business” the Lord has in mind to do with us — salvation, sanctification, instruction and direction — settling in our minds the issue of God’s love is first and foremost at the top of the prioritized list. And that fact should permeate every aspect of our outreach with the world. God loves the world no less than He loves you. Why deprive them of that relationship one minute longer than absolutely necessary?

Categories: Bible Blogs, General Interest, Old Testament | Tags: , , , , , | 1 Comment

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