Tag Archive for church

Overcoming the World: Part 2–Calling for Backup

 

I pray that God, the source of hope, will fill you completely with joy and peace because you trust in him.  Then you will overflow with confident hope through the power of the Holy Spirit.  (Romans 15:13 NLT)

Everyone has up days and down days.  Christians are no exception.  When we are in a desert faith-wise, as I have been for a while, it is so important to have people around us that can build us back up.  Also, we should remember the example that these people set for us, so that when we’re back on the mountaintop, we can lift somebody else up who needs it.

 

Unfortunately, the tendency in these dry seasons of the soul (especially for a cave-dwelling introvert like me) is to pull away from people.  We get used to our misery, and it seems that we would rather prolong it than to have someone tell us what we need to hear.

 

The problem with that is that when we pull away from people, we pull even further away from God than we were already feeling.  That’s when the old bad habits start rearing their ugly heads again.  One of my biggest fears since accepting Christ is that someone is going to encounter me during one of these bad times and associate what they see in me with Christianity in general.  What if I’m standing at the throne at the End of Days giving an account of my life, and I find out that someone missed out on the Kingdom because of something I said or did that turned him or her away?

 

But fears like this can actually accelerate the downward spiral.  We might figure, “If I avoid people entirely, then I won’t run the risk of blowing my witness and staining the name of Jesus.”  So we pull even further away, not just from society, but even from the hand that feeds us.

 

 

Another manifestation of getting into a spiritual funk like this is that we stop reading the Bible.  Everything we need to adjust our attitudes is right there, and the Holy Spirit is only too willing to illuminate the verses that we need to hear, but again, we are too comfortable in our misery to put forth the effort of opening a book.  I am so grateful to have a wife that will put scriptures in front of me when I am not going to them myself.

 

Do you have someone in your life that cares enough about you to give you a lift like this whether you want it or not?  If you don’t, then find one.  The best place that I have found for this type of community is in a small group (sometimes called “life groups” or “cell groups”) in a church.  If you are not familiar with this concept, it’s a group usually of 8-15 people that meet regularly to go deeper together in their faith than they would get by only going to church on Sunday morning.

 

What we need to remember is that we were set apart from the world to be WITH God and His people, not to be hermits in a cabin in the mountains (not that there’s anything wrong with mountains!).

 

As I mentioned in Part 1, a normal life involves difficulties.  For a Christian, those difficulties include enduring people who mock the Name of Jesus and those who adhere to it.  Sometimes it seems that life would be easier if we didn’t have to endure that, but we have to remember that this life is not all there is.  The next one is a lot longer.

 

God’s joy and peace are there for the having.  You just have to want it.  But sometimes, you need somebody to remind you that you want it.  So don’t ever be afraid to call for backup.

 

DN=: Part 5–Discrimination

 

 

Discernment is the divine enablement to distinguish between truth and error, good and evil, right and wrong.  A person with this gift can differentiate pure from impure motives, identify deception in others, determine authenticity of messages from God, recognize false teaching and sense the presence of evil.  (Paraphrased from “Network” by Bruce Bugbee and Don Cousins.)

 

In other words, discernment is God’s B.S. detector.

 

Have you ever known someone who saw something fake or sinister in a person’s character before anyone else did, and was later proven right?  Have you ever had a friend who told you what you were thinking when you couldn’t even explain it yourself?  This is discernment at work.

(Remember back at the beginning of this series when I talked about people talking in code?  I didn’t forget about that.  From here on out, we’re going to defuse political correctness one code-bomb at a time.)

 

Another word with a meaning similar to discernment, in the literal sense of having the ability to distinguish differences, is discrimination.

 

While discernment is a spiritual gift, given by God to whomever He chooses, discrimination is a natural skill that can be learned and developed by anybody through careful observation and judicious contemplation.

 

It would seem, then, that discrimination should actually be a positive thing, since being UN-able to recognize differences would be a sign of a lack of intelligence or observance.

 

Nevertheless, this word has gradually become associated with “bigotry,” even though those two words really aren’t connected.

 

 DISCRIMINATION DN= BIGOTRY

 

There’s a big difference between distinguishing the differences in people and treating people differently.  Paul wrote:

 

In Christ’s family there can be no division into Jew and non-Jew, slave and free, male and female. Among us you are all equal. That is, we are all in a common relationship with Jesus Christ. (Galatians 3:28 The Message)

 

And also:


[In this new creation all distinctions vanish.] There is no room for and there can be neither Greek nor Jew, circumcised nor uncircumcised, [nor difference between nations whether alien] barbarians or Scythians [who are the most savage of all], nor slave or free man; but Christ is all and in all, everything and everywhere, to all men, without distinction of person]. (Colossians 3:11 Amplified)

 

In making these statements, Paul is instructing these early churches that although the Church is made up of all kinds of different people from different backgrounds, it is much more significant that Christ is our common ground.  Being the original Truthseeker, Paul discriminates by noting the differences, but does not show favoritism, because Christ does not show favoritism.

 

Looking at it this way, we can clearly see that bigotry is defined by emphasizing differences with the motive of boosting one’s own status over that of another based solely upon those differences.  Bigotry may START with discrimination, but it ends somewhere else entirely.

 

So how do you know when you’ve crossed the line?  In a word—labels.

 

Whenever you refer to another person with a label instead of their name, that’s a pretty clear sign that you are crossing over to the dark side of discrimination, because you are now seeing that person not as an individual, but as part of a subset of humanity, most likely one to which you do not belong yourself.

 

Once you have identified the difference and affixed a label to it, the emphasis of that difference comes naturally.  From there, it’s a very short walk to bigotry, simply because our human nature is to justify ourselves, and the easiest way to do that is to lower our view of others.  Labels just streamline that process.

 

So how does discernment fit into this?

 

From the definitions we have already discussed, discernment is essentially God-level discrimination.  But since we have already seen that God sees all of His followers as equal in Christ, then it should be obvious that the purpose of discernment is not to enable bigotry by labeling humans and dividing them into groups.

 

Discernment is not about judging character or outward appearances, but rather motives and the behavior that arises from them.  Which leads me to my next DN=.

 

(After vacation, I will return with Part 6–Judgment)

 

Breaking Catholic: Part 8–Good Works

So, how good IS “good enough?”

 

Well, the answer is “never,” since. . .

All have sinned and are not good enough to share God’s divine greatness.  They are made right with God by his grace. This is a free gift. They are made right with God by being made free from sin through Jesus Christ. (Romans 3:23-24 ERV)

 

NONE of us can earn sainthood.  The only way we could achieve righteousness, or having a good standing before God, would be by obeying every letter of the law.

 

Here’s the problem with that concept:

 

 Suppose you keep the whole law but trip over just one part of it. Then you are guilty of breaking all of it. (James 2:10 NiRV)

 

Think about it.  Would you drink out of a glass that was chipped on the edge?  No, you’d cut your lip.  It’s just a tiny little chip, but it renders the glass unworthy to be used, so you throw it away.

 

So it is with your soul.  One tiny little chip in your lawkeeping, and all of your good works are like filthy rags.  Break the law one time, and you are officially “not good enough.”

 

For this reason, the Catholic church invented the sacrament (another word for gift or sign) of penance.  When I was growing up, we called it “confession.”  Today, it is known by the more accurate and helpful term of “reconciliation.”

 

The way it works is that you confess your sins to a priest, who then grants you absolution, a breaking down of the barriers of sin, which is supposed to make it possible for you to receive Christ’s forgiveness.

 

As with everything else, the Catholic Church has rules about this sacrament.  Here are a few from the Code of Canon Law, Book IV, Part I, Title IV, Chapter III:

 

Can. 987 In order that the faithful may receive the saving remedy of the sacrament of penance, they must be so disposed that, repudiating the sins they have committed and having the purpose of amending their lives, they turn back to God.

Can. 988 §1 The faithful are bound to confess, in kind and in number, all grave sins committed after baptism, of which after careful examination of conscience they are aware, which have not yet been directly pardoned by the keys of the Church, and which have not been confessed in an individual confession.

 

“Directly pardoned by the keys of the Church” signifies the Catholic church’s official stance that forgiveness can only be achieved if they say so.  They base this authority on Matthew 16:19, where Jesus tells Peter that he is the rock upon which He will build His church (i.e. the first Pope) and says to him:

 

I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. (NRSV)

Only here’s the problem.  Jesus repeats those words just two chapters later, addressing them to ALL his disciples:

 

Yes! I tell you people that whatever you prohibit on earth will be prohibited in heaven, and whatever you permit on earth will be permitted in heaven. To repeat, I tell you that if two of you here on earth agree about anything people ask, it will be for them from my Father in heaven.  For wherever two or three are assembled in my name, I am there with them.” (Matthew 18:18-20 CJB)

In other words, the authority of “binding and loosing” is from Jesus for all believers, not from the Magisterium and for the Magisterium.

 

So if the Catholic leadership has assumed God’s role of deciding who is forgiven and when, then what part is left for God to play?  Here is St. Augustine’s take on the situation:

 

A man who confesses his sins acts already with God.  God accuses you of your sins; if you accuse yourself, then you join yourself with God. . .When you begin to detest that which you have done, it is then that your good works commence, because you accuse these bad deeds. . . You do the truth and you come to the light.  (Commentary on the Gospel of John, 12.13)

 

Back up the truck, Augie.  God ACCUSES?  Isn’t that somebody else’s job?

 

The huge dragon was thrown out—that ancient serpent, named the Devil, or Satan, that deceived the whole world. He was thrown down to earth, and all his angels with him.  Then I heard a loud voice in heaven saying, “Now God’s salvation has come! Now God has shown his power as King! Now his Messiah has shown his authority! For the one who stood before our God and accused believers day and night has been thrown out of heaven.  They won the victory over him by the blood of the Lamb and by the truth which they proclaimed; and they were willing to give up their lives and die. (Revelation 12:9-11 GNT)

Indeed, the name “Satan” literally means “accuser” in Hebrew.  On the other hand:

 

 If, however, any believer does sin, we have a high-powered defense lawyer—Jesus the Anointed, the righteous—arguing on our behalf before the Father. (1 John 2:1b VOICE)

So if we’re going to use courtroom analogies, then God the Father is the Judge, God the Son is our lawyer, and God the Holy Spirit is the witness for the defense.  BY NO MEANS is God the prosecutor.

 

Confession is where we enter a plea of guilty, but remember what Father Carlos said, “God has already forgiven you.”  In other words, the Judge had already found you Not Guilty before you ever entered the courtroom.

 

There is only one reason that you would receive mercy instead of justice for your sin.

 

It is because Jesus had already adopted the guilty plea on your behalf, and along with it, the death sentence.

 

And because you made the conscious decision to hire Him as your defense attorney.  After all:

 

Those who belong to Christ Jesus are no longer under God’s sentence.  I am now controlled by the law of the Holy Spirit. That law gives me life because of what Christ Jesus has done. It has set me free from the law of sin that brings death. (Romans 8: 1-2 NiRV)

You don’t come to the light by “doing” the truth.  You don’t reach the Father by your good works.  You can’t earn a spot on the team.  The work has already been done— by Jesus on the cross.

 

If you don’t believe that, then you’re basically saying that Jesus and all that He has done isn’t good enough.

 

So why does the Catholic church not teach this?

 

Because if Catholics knew that they didn’t actually have to be “good enough” to make the cut, that their guilt over their sins is unwarranted because Christ has already paid the penalty for their sinful nature, and that their citizenship in the Kingdom of Heaven begins RIGHT NOW if they believe that Jesus is who He said He was and did what the Bible says He did. . .

 

Well,  then the Church would lose control over their lives.

 

After all, if a person is bowing down directly to the King of Kings, then he or she has no use for an earthly kingdom.

 

And that is exactly what the Catholic Church is.  The Pope is the King, the Vatican is his court, and the archbishops, bishops and priests are the royalty.

 

(To find out what I mean by “royalty,” come back for the conclusion: Part 9–Spirit and Truth)

 

Doubt: Part 11–The Death of Doubt

 

Finally, THIS is the happy ending.

 

God called my bluff, and decided it was time for me to make the move to close the gap between us.  I announced my impending divorce to the church choir and tendered my resignation from the music ministry.

 

That night, as the church emptied, I hit my knees in the back of the church and finally acknowledged my need, my complete and utter dependence on the Daddy who was always there, even when I tried to run away to hide from Him.  He was with me even through the years when I publicly called his children weak-minded fools, when I lashed back at Him in anger for everything I assumed was His fault.

 

He waited, and watched.  When I finally turned around to face Him, he was right there where he had been all along.

 

Doubt died that day, once and for all.

 

There are still days when I doubt myself, but I never doubt my Abba, my Lord and my God.  What I have found is that every time I acknowledge my weakness and my dependence, God asserts His might and power by reminding me what He told Paul, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9a NIV).

 

I have still never seen God, just as I have never seen the wind.  However, just as I have seen the effects of the wind, I have seen the effects of God.  I don’t have to try to wrap my brain around the intricacies of DNA or photosynthesis or the size of the universe to try to logically point to an Intelligent Designer.  I just have to look in the mirror and around at my home and my family.

 

I am married again, and the two of us really are of one mind and spirit.  All of my children respond to God, because they have a spiritual leader in their house that is just as much, if not more, concerned with their spiritual growth as their physical and intellectual growth.  The peace and love of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit reign in our house.  Now to be sure, there are times that are not peaceful, challenging, and even infuriating.  All families have these.

 

However, as a family, we are now in a place where the solid rock and firm foundation we come back to is our personal relationship with the God of the Universe, the salvation made possible by the sacrifice of His Son, and the guidance and comfort of the Holy Spirit.  I see the evidence of this every day.

 

And that is all I need to send doubt packing.

 

Division: Part 2–Denominations

I appeal to you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another so that there may be no divisions among you and that you may be perfectly united in mind and thought.  What I mean is this: One of you says, “I follow Paul”; another, “I follow Apollos”; another, “I follow Cephas”; still another, “I follow Christ.”  Is Christ divided?  Was Paul crucified for you?  Were you baptized in the name of Paul?  (1 Corinthians 1: 10, 12-13  NIV)

 

            When Paul wrote this letter from Ephesus in about 54AD, he could already see in the church at Corinth the beginnings of what is possibly the most damaging division in the universal Church today: denominations.

 

            You see, the problem with churches is that they’re made up of people.  The problem with people is that, unlike Jesus, we are ruled by pride, which is the mother of all sin.  We want to be right more than we want to be righteous, that is, having a right standing from God’s perspective rather than our own. 

 

               In the church at Corinth, the biggest sources of division were the high-status Gentile converts.  They wanted the benefits of following Jesus Christ without having to give up the benefits of their status in society, and the social lives that went along with that.

 

            Another problem the Corinthians were having is a problem many churches today still deal with—growth.             

 

            Now generally speaking, growth is a good problem for a church to have.  It sure beats a declining membership!

 

            However, the problem is that sometimes when churches grow, they eventually split.  Frequently this is due to space constraints; however, it can also be intentional.  A larger church may plant some members and leaders in another location to grow another branch of that church.  (Obviously this is not a contentious type of division, but it is a division nonetheless.)

 

            Where this can become a problem is that each individual church has its own leadership, which comes along with its own leadership style.  This can raise the twin specters of comparison and preference.

 

            This is what Paul is addressing in the passage above.  Some of the Corinthians preferred Paul for his straightforward doctrinal approach, others preferred the flashiness of Apollos’ preaching style, and others preferred Cephas (that is, Peter), just by reputation.  Then there were those who distanced themselves from the other groups by simply calling themselves “Christian,” but out of a spirit of exclusivity, not of inclusivity. 

 

            The point is that it is very difficult to maintain unity in mind and thought when people are not in close proximity.  How much harder then must it be to attempt to “follow the teachings of Jesus” while not connected to a home church at all, as many are attempting to do these days. 

 

(To be continued in Part 3–Seeing is Believing)

Division: Part 1–The Great Commission

 

 

“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” (Matthew 28:18-20a NIV)

 

 

This is the last thing that Jesus said before leaving earth.  This commandment is known as the Great Commission.

This commandment gives Christians a simple blueprint of what the universal Church is supposed to be doing until Jesus returns.

I don’t see anything in those instructions about division, do you?

I see “go and make disciples,” that is “followers.”

 

I see “all nations,” which means that following Christ is a greater priority than differences in cultural background.

 

I see “baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” Jesus is reminding us that it is the Holy Trinity that we are following, not a captivating church leader.

 

I also see “teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” “Everything” means EVERYTHING, not just the parts that make you comfortable, fit your political agenda or don’t require you to give something up. This commandment leaves no room for doctrinal division, as the Church has clearly been commanded to simply teach obedience to that which Jesus has already taught.

 

With this commandment, Jesus did away with all of the legalistic rules that the Pharisees had appended to God’s law to maintain power and control over the Jews.

Furthermore, with the divine authority that only He could have as the risen Son of God, he brought the world the only teachings that we would ever need to effectively follow Him back to God the Father, by the power and leading of the promised Holy Spirit.

 

In other words, the Great Commission formally put an end to religion.

 

Except that religion didn’t go away like it was supposed to.

 

(What happened?  Come back for Part 2–Denominations)

 

 

Christianity’s PR Problem–Part 6: PRove It!

 

PROVE IT!

 

If Christianity really does have a PR problem, the greatest single source of it may be the perception of hypocrisy.

It is not only possible but common for someone to have a set of ideals that they occasionally do not live up to.

On the other hand, an actual hypocrite is someone who deceptively and intentionally elevates their own outward image while inwardly or privately behaving in a completely different manner.

Unfortunately, throughout the centuries, many people within the church have done just that.  Even more unfortunately, we live in a culture that is equally self-seeking rather than Truth-seeking.

As a result, people who do not want to believe in God, instead of trying to learn more about Him and His followers, will instead seek out examples of why NOT to be a follower.  The most common excuse seems to be, “Christians are hypocrites, so why would I want to be one?”

Even so, our primary concern should not be to defend ourselves against the charges of hypocrisy by merely saying that we are not hypocrites.  Our job is to PRove it.

If anyone is to believe that Jesus Christ is the savior of the world and that we, the Church, are His ambassadors, then it is imperative that our walk matches our talk.

Jesus summed up our mission in this excerpt from the Sermon on the Mount:

You are the salt of the earth.  But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again?  It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled by men. 

You are the light of the world.  A city on a hill can not be hidden.  Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl.  Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house.  In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven. (Matthew 5: 13-16  NIV)

Notice that the motivation for a Christian’s good deeds is so that people will praise God, not the doer of the deeds.  Another person could do the very same deeds, praising Jesus with his mouth the entire way, but with self-serving motivation.  The world will notice this, and affix the label of “hypocrite” appropriately.

So here are a few PRactical ways to PRove to a skeptical world that your faith is genuine:

  1. Know your Bible.  If someone twists a Bible quote, you need to be able to call them on it in such a way as to correct the misinformation without condemning.
  2. Show an attitude of gratitude, rather than one of entitlement.  People perceive what you value most by how bent you get if you lose it.
  3. Persevere through trials; don’t be a whiner.  Anyone can complain, but complainers never see the view from the top of the mountain.
  4. Speak only what is beneficial for building people up and meeting the needs of all who listen (see Ephesians 4:29). Hint: the best way to find out what their needs are is to LISTEN before you speak.
  5. Invest time and energy into relationships and consider other people’s needs more important than your own.  People tend not to care what you know until they know that you care.
  6. NEVER COMPROMISE THE TRUTH!!!  Just as we do not serve the world by preaching at them from a judgmental stance, neither do we serve them by blending in.

The only difference between Christians and non-Christians is Christ, but that difference makes ALL the difference.

(Next, Part 7—The PRize)