Tag Archive for Holy Spirit

Overcoming the World: Part 10–Be Still and Know

God is our protection and our strength.  He always helps in times of trouble.  So we will not be afraid even if the earth shakes, or the mountains fall into the sea.  God says, “Be still and know that I am God.  I will be praised in all the nations;
I will be praised throughout the earth.
  The Lord All-Powerful is with us; the God of Jacob is our defender.  (Psalm 46: 1-2, 10-11 NCV)

 

Been an interesting few months, hasn’t it?  Our nation is as divided as it has been in a century and a half, and this is taking a toll on our families too.  Truth is nowhere to be found in our government, our media or our culture.  This has created an atmosphere of distrust so thick and noxious that even if this country were to somehow raise up a Truthseeker as a leader, who would even believe him or her?

 

Good news—God is still God.  It’s hard to find evidence in these troubled times that He is still on His throne, but where else would He be?  He does not change, no matter what happens down here.  When we say that the world is “out of control,” we mean that it’s out of our control.  It is never out of His.

 

However difficult this truth can be to hold onto when our lives are in turmoil, we must persevere in doing so.  Whenever our way of life is threatened because of what’s going on in the world around us, we have to remember that this way of life was never meant to last anyway.  We are looking forward to life eternal that will not pass away.  For this reason, we fix our eyes and our faith on the things that don’t move.

 

Bad days are going to happen.  Sometimes we will have seasons of life that could last months or years when we don’t feel God’s presence.  We may doubt His goodness, or even His existence.  However, whenever I find myself in such a spiritual funk, I always come back to what Peter said to Jesus in John 6:68, after Jesus asked the Twelve if they were going to desert Him, as many other disciples were doing:

 

“Lord, to whom shall we go?  You have the words of eternal life.”

 

I couldn’t go back to my old life if I wanted to, and there have been days where I wanted to.  There are days when it just doesn’t seem worth the effort or the sacrifice that it takes to live the Christian life, because I can’t see the reward from here.  When my fear outweighs my faith, I forget what God has already done, throughout history, and in my life personally.  Some days I just want to chuck it all, but then I always find myself face to face with the question, “OK, then what?”

 

One thing that I have done for myself, and that I highly recommend for others, is to keep a journal of some sort listing every answer to prayer, every unexpected blessing, any time you have seen scripture fulfilled, any change in your life that can only be attributed to the power of the Holy Spirit.  Keep this in an easily accessible place.  I have mine as a document on the desktop of my computer.

 

When times get difficult, or if you’re just in a dry season of doubt, open that up and read it.  Satan can’t get a foothold in your mind if you keep your memories fresh of what God has done for you.  Staying in scripture every day is a good weapon, but it can be even more effective to regularly make the personal connection of where you’ve seen God at work in your life and the lives of those close to you.

 

If you do this, expect there to be some gaps in this journal.  It is not likely that you are going to experience a bona fide miracle every day of your life.  This doesn’t mean that God’s ignoring you.  Learning to trust His timing.  A day always comes when things fall neatly into place, and you can look back and see the progress that led to that point.  You very rarely notice that progress while it’s happening, though.  So when it does, put that in your journal with a note of thanksgiving and praise that God was in control of the situation from the very beginning.  Remember, He can see the end of things long before you get there.

 

It is also critical to remember that God doesn’t always ride in and “save us” whenever we think we need saving.  Sometimes, He lets us go through things for reasons that we aren’t aware of yet.  Sometimes we never learn why in this life.  If we have faith that all of our questions will be answered in heaven, that can help our outlook somewhat.  Remember, God doesn’t come around to our way of thinking; therefore, we must do our best to learn His.

 

The only way to conquer fear is to practice faith.  It has to be exercised just like our bodies.  If you are one of the many who has bought a health club membership, but not lost any weight or inches off your midsection, then you already know that your situation might improve if you actually went to the health club.  Owning the membership doesn’t create actual change.  Owning a Bible without reading it has the same effect.  Knowing about the power of prayer without actually praying—ditto.

 

In the same way, we must keep renewing our minds by reminding ourselves constantly that God does not change.  He does not move.  He is with us and He is for us.  And He always will be.

 

Be still, and know that.

 

Overcoming the World: Part 6–Internal to Eternal

 

 

But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us…  Therefore we do not lose heart.  Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day.  For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.  So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.  (2 Corinthians 4:7, 16-18 NIV)

 

Life can really wear you out sometimes, can’t it?  We work so hard to try to better ourselves and to make the world a better place for our families, but some days, it just looks like we aren’t making a difference at all.  It’s enough to make you wonder if it’s really worth the effort.

 

What is it that wears us out when the problems of the world overwhelm us?  Everyone’s situation is different, of course.  It seems to me, though, that the things that often trouble us the most usually aren’t even happening to us directly.  The problems that are too much for us to bear weren’t even supposed to be our own personal burdens.  We barely have enough strength to get through the trials that life hands us, but we can’t seem to keep from taking on extra baggage as well.  Why do we do this?

 

Can we just call this what it is?  It’s fear.

 

It’s fear that gives birth to worry.  You worry when you seeing angry mobs rioting on the news, but is there an angry mob outside your house right now?  (Of course, if there actually IS one outside your house, you have an actual problem, and should stop reading this blog and go take care of yourself.)

 

My point is that we worry ourselves into exhaustion and despondency about things that aren’t even happening where we are.  Yes, they are happening in the world, and they are real, but if we’re not in a position to directly solve the problem, it’s not our problem.

 

Now please don’t misunderstand what I mean by “not our problem.”  I am not saying that we shouldn’t be concerned about things in the world that are wrong and need fixing.  What I am saying is that 99.99% of the time, it’s not up to us to fix it, either because we lack the resources, the ability, or we are simply too far away to have a direct and immediate impact on the situation.

 

So what can we do?  We can give the situation over to the One who can do something about it.  And while we’re at it, we can give Him our anxieties as well.

 

Yes, the world is a mess.  It’s a mess because it has people in it, and people are a mess.  And yes, you and I are people, so guess what?  We’re a mess too!  But we can be less messy.

 

A good way to start that process is to examine what you expose your mind to.  How do you start your day?  If you’re turning on the TV or rushing to social media, that’s what’s going to set your tone for the rest of the day.  Is that the tone you want?  In the same amount of time, you could meditate on a Bible verse or an inspirational quote of some sort.  You can’t control what happens out in the world, but you can control what goes into your head, which is what feeds your attitude.

 

Once you have developed the habit of being intentional about this, it will become easier for you to shift your perspective from the now to the not yet.  When things are going badly, it is easy for fear to rob us of hope, but remember this.  EVERYTHING we fear, or could possibly fear, has an ending.  We may not be able to see it from where we’re sitting, but all the troublesome things of this world will pass.

 

Instead, what we can learn to do in ALL situations is to focus on the things that won’t pass away.  Truth.  Love.  The Word of God.  Best of all, the eternal life that is given as a free gift to all those who put aside their fears, worries and the troubles of this world and trust in Jesus, who by His death and resurrection, has overcome all of them.

 

Now of course, we can’t see any of this.  We can’t see our fear, the Lord’s Spirit, the actual physical Kingdom of Heaven.  We only see this world, its problems, and our own aging faces in the mirror.

 

But as the risen Christ told Thomas, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

 

 

 

 

Overcoming the World: Part 4–Keeping in Step

Since this is the kind of life we have chosen, the life of the Spirit, let us make sure that we do not just hold it as an idea in our heads or a sentiment in our hearts, but work out its implications in every detail of our lives.  That means we will not compare ourselves with each other as if one of us were better and another worse.  We have far more interesting things to do with our lives.  Each of us is an original.  Galatians 5:25-26 (MSG)

 

The Christian walk is not concerned with how good we feel about ourselves for being Christians.  While we don’t need to do things for God to get His attention, we do still have a part to play.  Even a simple game of follow the leader requires effort.

 

Grace is the free gift of God, but it did not come cheaply.  If we had no role to play in working out our own salvation, then what would be the point of getting saved in the first place?

 

The work that God does within us by the power of the Holy Spirit ought to be evident externally.  We have been changed from within so that we may bring change to the world without.  So what does that look like?

 

In Part 3, we began by listing the nine “fruits” of the Holy Spirit, that is to say, the characteristics that are produced by Him in us, which are the evidence of His existence in our lives.

 

  1. Love. As we have discussed previously, love is an action word, not an emotion.  Love involves sacrifice, or always putting the needs of others before your own.
  2. Joy. Like love, joy is more substantial than just a feeling of superficial happinessIt is a powerful force that is God’s response to our praise and thanksgiving. This strength renews and refuels us, giving us the proper attitude to carry on with whatever comes our way next.
  3. Peace. More than just an absence of discord, a spirit of peace involves trusting that God is strong enough to bring us through whatever trials await us, no matter how dire they may seem at first.
  4. Patience. I KNOW this one’s coming from the Lord, because it sure didn’t originate with me!  This is the supernatural ability to stay chilled and let things roll off your back.  In many people, this is the first fruit of the Spirit that others notice when they detect a change in a new believer.  Short fuses get a lot longer.
  5. Kindness. Kindness is love in motion.  This is the act of lifting up another who needs it.  Before the Spirit’s work in your life, there were people you might not have even noticed.  Afterward, though, you might find yourself helping these folks out without giving it a second thought.
  6. Goodness. I’ve always wondered why this one was listed after “kindness,” because goodness is the attitude from which kindness flows.  For us to be able to do good for others, we have to first have the general mindset of doing good for good’s sake.
  7. Faithfulness. A person under the influence of the Spirit will live a life of integrity.  He will say what he means, mean what he says, finish what he starts, and always, ALWAYS keep his word.  Lack of faithfulness is one of the quickest ways to spot a fake Christian.  Someone who is timid, wishy-washy, unreliable or just plain dishonest is not living by the Spirit, regardless of how long he or she has been going to church.
  8. Gentleness. Along with patience, this is another very obvious sign that God is working in someone’s life.  If a person has a history of anger issues (as I have), and you see that person holding his tongue, not raising his voice, being less competitive, etc., it’s a good bet that person didn’t learn those techniques from a self-help book.
  9. Self-Control. Along with gentleness, people under the control of the Spirit are able to keep themselves together, hold themselves back, and keep themselves from going to pieces in stressful situations.  Again, when you see someone with a reactive nature not taking the bait and going for the throat anymore when someone tries to start an argument, you know that something’s up that didn’t start with that person.

 

I can not stress enough that this list is not intended to be a to-do list for you to check off.

 

The goal here is not to get these things done.  It’s to keep in step with the Holy Spirit by letting His influence in our lives rule our conduct.  If our goal is to live lives of strong moral character and integrity, then the characteristics in the list above will shine through naturally, sometimes without our even being aware of them.

 

Other people will notice, however, just as they notice when we claim to be filled with the Spirit, but fail to display these characteristics.

 

Again, the characteristics are not the goal.  The character is.

 

(For more on living this out, come back for Part 5—As Far as it Depends on You)

 

 

 

Your Will Be Done

Then they arrived at a place called Gethsemane, and Jesus said to the disciples, “Sit down here while I pray.”
He took with him Peter, James and John, and began to be horror-stricken and desperately depressed.
 “My heart is nearly breaking,” he told them.  “Stay here and keep watch for me.”  (Mark 14:32-34 PHILLIPS)

It’s hard to imagine Jesus, the Son of God and Savior of the world, being “horror-stricken and desperately depressed.”  And yet, it happened.  Jesus was facing the greatest test of His time on earth, and He was facing it as a human being.

 

It’s difficult to wrap your brain around the concept of Jesus being both fully divine and fully human, rather than being some sort of a spiritual half-breed.

 

But if there are any doubts about Jesus being fully human, his anguish in the Garden of Gethsemane should put those to rest.  He knew what He was about to face, and He needed strength to get through it.  Matthew’s account of this episode words it this way:

 

He took Peter with him and Zebedee’s two sons James and John, and began to be filled with anguish and despair.

 Then he told them, “My soul is crushed with horror and sadness to the point of death. . . stay here. . . stay awake with me.”  (Matthew 26:37-38 TLB)

 

Despair.

 

The One who was the Light of the World, who came to bring hope to everyone in it, was filled with . . . despair.

 

So considering this, is it any great wonder that we can feel despair when we face our moments of greatest testing?

 

And to take that one step further, usually when we are having our moments of fear and torment, the worst thing that we are facing is the unknown.  We are scared, because we wonder what is going to happen.  Will I have the strength to endure this trial?  What will people think of me if I fail?  What am I about to lose?  Do I really want to know the answers to these questions?

 

Jesus didn’t have the luxury of fearing the unknown.  He knew EXACTLY what was about to happen.  And it scared Him.  A lot.

 

Let’s be clear about this.  Jesus, the Son of God, knew why He had come to earth.  He knew He had work to do, and He knew He had to finish that work.

 

But Jesus the son of Mary and Joseph said this:

 

“Father, if it is your will, take this cup of suffering away from me.  However, your will must be done, not mine.”  (Luke 22:42 GW)

 

 

Jesus knew going into this time of prayer what God’s answer was going to be.  He knew what He had to do, but He was NOT excited about it.

 

Nevertheless, He submitted to His Father’s will.  He did not want to go through with His arrest, torture and execution, but more than that, He did not want to go against His Father’s will.

 

The Greek word regarding God’s will in this sentence is ginomai.  This signifies that Jesus is not only saying that God’s will must be done, but that it must be.  In other words, God’s will is eternal, just as God is eternal.

 

In light of His knowledge of this, Jesus really didn’t have any illusion that His prayer was going to be answered with a “yes.”  And yet, He prayed for God to let Him off the hook anyway.

 

Perhaps this knowing was the greatest reason for His despair?  He knew He wasn’t getting out of this.  I can’t even imagine what He must have felt like in the garden.

 

And yet, He remained submissive, because He never lost focus on what His greatest mission was.  And that was simply for God’s will to be done.  Jesus was sincere about completing His work.  He isn’t just saying “Your will be done,” to sound pious, like it’s the right thing to say while praying.

 

It is, of course, the right thing to say, but it is also the right thing, period.

 

Because God’s will wasn’t about Jesus the man doing something He didn’t want to do.  It was about Jesus the Savior bring God’s plan of salvation to fulfillment:

 

Jesus Christ did the things God wanted him to do.  And because of that, we are made holy through the sacrifice of Christ’s body.  Christ made that sacrifice one time—enough for all time.  (Hebrews 10:10 ERV)

 

This sacrifice began not on the cross, but in the garden, when Jesus made up His mind to be in agreement with God’s will.  Because of this resolution, and the confirmation of His purpose that it signified, we are able to approach God today as His adopted children.

 

But this is about more than our salvation.  Heaven will be awesome, of course, but what about the here and now?

 

Do you ever have situations that you know you won’t be strong enough to face  by yourself?  Isn’t it helpful to know, then, that even Jesus needed to be strengthened not only by angels and the Holy Spirit, but also His three best buds?  It is much less difficult to say to God, “Your will be done” when you have your closest friends surrounding and supporting you.

 

It is not likely that any of us will ever have to face a crucifixion, and we DEFINITELY won’t ever have the weight of the sins of the world upon our own shoulders.

 

Nevertheless, when I am faced with something I really don’t want to do, and fear is holding me back, it helps at least to know that the God to whom I pray knows a thing or two about fear and apprehension.

 

But it helps me even more to know that He still got the job done.

DN=: Part 8–Hate Speech

 

 

Be clearheaded. Keep alert. Your accuser, the devil, is on the prowl like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.  (1 Peter 5:8 CEB)

 

All of humanity has a common enemy—Satan, the accuser.  The enemy’s primary goal has always been our destruction, but he has been busy developing some new tactics.

 

First to review, you’ll remember that in Part 3, we identified “righteousness” as being a right standing with God the Father, which is made possible only through a trusting relationship with His Son, Jesus.  Those with whom the enemy succeeds in denying this opportunity for righteousness will nevertheless still crave it.

 

However, since they have allowed themselves to be cut off from God’s saving grace, they are only able to manufacture a false perception of righteousness.  In their desperate attempt to elevate themselves in their own minds, they find themselves compelled to disparage others in order to make that possible.

 

The enemy facilitates this process by helping those under his influence categorize people into groups and label them.  Then he directs his unwitting followers to abuse the people in those groups by treating them unequally and criticizing them based on their differences.

 

Over time, these blanket condemnations become a habit, and hatred develops.  If left unchecked by correction, it is possible for this hatred to swell into an epidemic of ignorant bigotry.  This bigotry will then be projected toward the groups of people to whom they are trying to maintain their sense of superiority.

 

Combating this is a struggle we all share.  And it is indeed a daily struggle.  Seeing other people as individual human beings, instead of part of a labeled subset of humanity, requires a generous helping of both humility and critical thinking.

 

Knowing this, our enemy imparts his unwary abettors with a liberal dose of arrogance, which suppresses all traces of humility and artificially inflates their perception of their own intellect, eliminating the prospect of any critical thought taking place.

 

This is where the enemy plays to his greatest strength.  He advises his impressionable followers, “If you can’t convince ‘em, accuse ‘em!”

 

And this is how it plays out.

 

When one of these people attempts to engage a Truthseeker in debate, he quickly discovers the futility of this venture, since the primary objective for Truthseekers is to end arguments, not win them.  Since the arguer finds that he cannot claim the logical high ground, he will then attempt to lower the ground beneath his opponent by attacking his character.

 

But here is the twist!  Since unwarranted character assassination would make him guilty of judgmentalism, he must first deflect his own guilt by accusing the Truthseeker of being judgmental himself, thereby forcing him into a defensive position.  With any luck, the Truthseeker will take the bait, lower himself into the argument, and thus become that which he has already been accused of being.

 

On the other hand, a mature Truthseeker will not take the bait, but will simply hold fast to the Truth, and not change course.

 

When the arguer sees that his attempts at both logic and character assassination have failed, he plays the only card left in his deck by attacking Truth itself.

 

He does this by labeling the Truth “hate speech.”

 

DEFENSE OF TRUTH DN= HATE SPEECH

 

 

The irony of this concept of “hate speech” is that the people most commonly accused of hate speech are in actuality the ones most commonly on the receiving end of it.

 

For centuries upon centuries, Christians have put their trust in the eternal God, in his indisputable and unchanging Word in which He is revealed, and in His universal promises and plan for all of mankind.  In a world where people follow after every wind of change, no matter how ludicrous, we build our lives on the solid rock of eternal unchanging Truth, passing it down from generation to generation.

 

But instead of a fixed and eternal rock, our faith is now portrayed by our degenerate culture as an ignorant and hateful tradition.  We are even demonized for faithfully carrying out our most important responsibility as parents, the passing on of our faith to future generations, with the charge of “indoctrinating” our own children!

 

If parents should not be the ones most responsible for helping to frame the basic worldview and shaping the character of their own children, then who should?  The enemy has some ideas about that.

 

(And you’ll hear all about them if you come back for Part 9—Brainwashing.)

 

DN=: Part 6–Judgment

 

Those people are on a dark spiral downward. But if you think that leaves you on the high ground where you can point your finger at others, think again. Every time you criticize someone, you condemn yourself. It takes one to know one. Judgmental criticism of others is a well-known way of escaping detection in your own crimes and misdemeanors. But God isn’t so easily diverted. He sees right through all such smoke screens and holds you to what you’ve done.

 You didn’t think, did you, that just by pointing your finger at others you would distract God from seeing all your misdoings and from coming down on you hard? Or did you think that because he’s such a nice God, he’d let you off the hook? Better think this one through from the beginning. God is kind, but he’s not soft. In kindness he takes us firmly by the hand and leads us into a radical life-change.

 You’re not getting by with anything. Every refusal and avoidance of God adds fuel to the fire. The day is coming when it’s going to blaze hot and high, God’s fiery and righteous judgment. Make no mistake: In the end you get what’s coming to you—Real Life for those who work on God’s side, but to those who insist on getting their own way and take the path of least resistance, Fire!

 If you go against the grain, you get splinters, regardless of which neighborhood you’re from, what your parents taught you, what schools you attended. But if you embrace the way God does things, there are wonderful payoffs, again without regard to where you are from or how you were brought up. Being a Jew won’t give you an automatic stamp of approval. God pays no attention to what others say (or what you think) about you. He makes up his own mind.

 If you sin without knowing what you’re doing, God takes that into account. But if you sin knowing full well what you’re doing, that’s a different story entirely. Merely hearing God’s law is a waste of your time if you don’t do what he commands. Doing, not hearing, is what makes the difference with God.

Romans 2: 1-13 The Message

Sorry for the long quote there, but I wanted to point out two phrases in the very same passage: “Judgmental criticism” and “righteous judgment.”  Both phrases have forms of the word “judge” in them, but they are very different.

 

It should be clear from the context that righteous judgment belongs to God alone, for God alone is righteous by nature.  Because of His unattainable righteousness and holiness, He alone has the authority to judge in the sense of meting out justice for our sin.

 

As we have talked about in Part 3, righteous DN= self-righteous.  The only way that a person could attempt to judge another’s destiny would be from a position of self-righteousness.

 

But as we have also discussed, self-righteousness is unrighteousness.  How then can the unrighteous judge anyone?  Indeed, they have already been judged themselves, not only for the sins they themselves have committed, but by the greater sin of attempting to push God out of the Judgment Seat which is rightfully His.

 

This is the difference between judgment and being judgmental—it’s all about who is passing the judgment.  God is qualified and has the authority to judge sin.  We aren’t, and we don’t.

 

EXERCISING JUDGMENT DN= BEING JUDGMENTAL

 

Although self-righteous, judgmental criticism is a problem for all people, the distinction between God’s judgment and man’s judgmentalism is relatively clear.

 

What is not as clear as it needs to be, however, is the difference between judgmentalism and exercising sound judgment.

 

My son, do not let wisdom and understanding out of your sight, preserve sound judgment and discretion. Proverbs 3:21 NIV

 

One of the complications of the English language is words with multiple meanings.  “Judgment” is one of those.

 

God will sit in judgment of us all; therefore, we should not stand in judgment of one another.  Yet we are to preserve sound judgment?  How does that work?

 

It’s really not that difficult when you stop to think about it.  If your judgment is toward a person and stems from motives of criticism and self-righteousness, then you are being judgmental.  This is the bad one.

 

However, if your judgment is focused toward an action or situation, and is based upon wisdom, common sense or sound reasoning, then this is the good kind.

 

Where the problems arise, is when a spirit of offense prevents the person being judged from distinguishing between the two.

 

If someone attempts to shame you for your sin, make you feel like a bad person, tells you you’re going to Hell, calls you a name, places a group label on you, or blames you for something for which you are not directly responsible because of your association with that group, then that person is being judgmental, and your offense is justified.

 

If, however, the other person is attempting to help you correct your behavior respectfully, sharing from his or her own experience a bad result from their having done something similar, calling you by your own name, looking you in the eye, emphasizing the solution instead of the problem, but most importantly, is focusing on the behavior without attempting to analyze your motives or your character. . .then you need to work past the emotional reaction of offense and listen to what you are being told.

 

Chances are this person knows something you don’t.  And they are exercising sound judgment, without being judgmental, by telling you that.

 

(Coming up next, STORYTIME! Going to do something a little different for Part 7–Hatred.)

 

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)

 

DN=: Part 4–Holy

Another troublesome churchy word is “holy.”  Like “righteous,” the word “holy” also has some unnecessary baggage attached to it.  What I mean is that just as some people see the word “righteous” and think “self-righteous,” some people see the word “holy” and think “holier-than-thou.”

 

If you’re not familiar with the term, “holier-than-thou” is used to describe the attitude of a Christian condescending to non-Christians based solely on church affiliation or some other man-made construct (such as denominations) apart from the grace of God.

 

Naturally, this attitude is very off-putting.

 

HOLY DN= HOLIER-THAN-THOU

 

The word “holy” simply means “set apart for God’s purpose.”  It can refer to a day, a place, a nation or an individual.  Mostly, however, it refers to God Himself.  As Isaiah wrote:

 

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
    neither are your ways my ways,”
declares the Lord.
“As the heavens are higher than the earth,
    so are my ways higher than your ways
    and my thoughts than your thoughts.”

(Isaiah 55: 8-9 NIV)

God is holy, or set apart, simply because He’s God, and we’re not.  When people put their faith in Jesus Christ, trust in His saving work on the cross to make them righteous, and make Him the Lord of their lives, then they also become holy.  They are still human beings, but now they have been set apart from the rest of the world to do God’s work.

 

It is critical to understand the progression here.  God makes us righteous through JESUS’ work, not ours.  In the same way, God makes us holy only when we realize that we AREN’T made righteous by the good that we do.

 

If a person claims to have faith in Jesus, but still lives as he did before being saved, then how has that person been set apart?

 

He hasn’t.

 

Christians are SUPPOSED to stand out.  We are SUPPOSED to be different from everybody else.  Otherwise, what would be the point of being one?

 

The irony of holiness is that just as we were set free in order to become servants, we were also set apart to become unified—not to the world, but to each other.  As Paul wrote to the church at Ephesus about Jesus:

The gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers,to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ. We must no longer be children, tossed to and fro and blown about by every wind of doctrine, by people’s trickery, by their craftiness in deceitful scheming.  But speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by every ligament with which it is equipped, as each part is working properly, promotes the body’s growth in building itself up in love.  (Ephesians 4: 11-16 NRSV)

 

When Paul refers to “saints” in this context, he is referring to all believers, not people (such as himself) who are referred to with a St. in front of their name.  The “work of ministry” for which said saints are being equipped is the service to which we are called upon having been made free.  Still with me so far?

 

In addition to the teaching, preaching and shepherding gifts Paul mentions above, there are many other spiritual gifts that believers receive when they are made holy.  I’m not going to go into all of them here, but in light of the sudden aggressive turn our culture is taking lately, I feel it necessary to expound upon one of them—discernment.

 

(And I will do that in Part 5–Discrimination)

 

DN=: Part 3–Righteousness

One of the pitfalls of using churchy jargon is the proclivity for misunderstanding of these terms by those outside the church.  (For more on this topic, check out the Saved series.)  One of those commonly misunderstood words is “righteousness.”

 

To be “righteous” is to have “right standing” with God.  This is not a status that can be achieved through human effort.  As Solomon pointed out, “Surely there is not a righteous man on earth who does good and never sins. (Ecclesiastes 7:20 ESV).”

 

This concept is explained further in Romans 3:

 

What shall we conclude then? Do we have any advantage? Not at all! For we have already made the charge that Jews and Gentiles alike are all under the power of sin.  As it is written:

“There is no one righteous, not even one;
there is no one who understands;
    there is no one who seeks God.
 All have turned away,
    they have together become worthless;
there is no one who does good,
    not even one.”

 Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be silenced and the whole world held accountable to God.  Therefore no one will be declared righteous in God’s sight by the works of the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of our sin.

But now apart from the law the righteousness of God has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe.There is no difference between Jew and Gentile,  for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.  God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood—to be received by faith. He did this to demonstrate his righteousness, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished— he did it to demonstrate his righteousness at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus.  (Romans 3:9-12, 19-26 NIV)

The passage above contains the word “justify” a couple of times.  Justificiation is the act of being made righteous by one who has the authority to do so.

 

In other words, since we can do nothing to make ourselves righteous, God makes us righteous through faith in Jesus.

 

 

When we were slaves to sin, we were lawbreakers and were therefore under the penalty of the law.  That penalty is death.  Jesus paid that penalty for us in order to pay our debt to God.  This is the “redemption” spoken of in the passage above.

 

The danger for Christians, having been made righteous by faith, is to forget that we had nothing to do with being forgiven.  Sure, we made the choice to follow Christ, but we are forgiven because HE says so, not because WE say so.

 

If we become too accustomed to our view from the mountaintop, and forget how we got there (by God throwing us down a rope, not by our climbing), it is all too tempting for us to look down on the people still “down in the valley.”

 

Basically, if you ever find yourself looking down on someone else from a position that you have not earned, you have crossed the line to self-righteousness.

 

RIGHTEOUSNESS DN= SELF-RIGHTEOUSNESS

 

For Christians, self-righteousness comes from the mistaken idea that we are somehow better than other human beings are because of our relationship with Jesus.  For a non-Christian, self-righteousness occurs when one must put another down in order to elevate oneself.

 

Since true righteousness comes from faith in Jesus alone, a person without that faith would have no means of being made righteous.  Since no one can earn the favor of God by good deeds, anyone who boasts in those deeds would be self-righteous as well.

 

Simply put, self-righteousness is unrighteousness.

 

(For more clarification of church jargon, come back for Part 4–Holy)

 

DN=: Part 2–Freedom

“All things are allowed,” you say. But not all things are good. “All things are allowed.” But some things don’t help anyone. (1 Cor 10:23 ERV)

 

We are big on freedom in this country, aren’t we?  We have a Bill of Rights in our constitution guaranteeing us freedom of speech, the press, assembly, religion and petition.  When our soldiers go off to war, we are told that they are “fighting for our freedom.”

 

It’s in all the songs we learn as kids.  America is the land of the FREE and the home of the brave.  We are proud to be Americans where at least we know we’re FREE.  From every mountainside, let FREEDOM ring.

 

Christians are also fond of the words “free” and “freedom.”  We also have phrases that we repeat or sing in songs, such as:

  • Where the spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.
  • If the Son has set you free, you are free indeed.
  • My chains are gone; I’ve been set free.

Nevertheless, Christians can easily fall into the same trap as the rest of the world in the sense of abusing personal freedom at the expense of the freedom of another.

FREEDOM DN= LICENSE TO DO WHATEVER WE WANT

 

 

 

Within a generation of Jesus’ death, both Paul and Peter were dealing with this problem in the early Church:

 

It is absolutely clear that God has called you to a free life. Just make sure that you don’t use this freedom as an excuse to do whatever you want to do and destroy your freedom. Rather, use your freedom to serve one another in love; that’s how freedom grows. For everything we know about God’s Word is summed up in a single sentence: Love others as you love yourself. That’s an act of true freedom. If you bite and ravage each other, watch out—in no time at all you will be annihilating each other, and where will your precious freedom be then? (Galatians 5:13-15 (MSG)

 

Make the Master proud of you by being good citizens. Respect the authorities, whatever their level; they are God’s emissaries for keeping order. It is God’s will that by doing good, you might cure the ignorance of the fools who think you’re a danger to society. Exercise your freedom by serving God, not by breaking the rules. Treat everyone you meet with dignity. Love your spiritual family. Revere God. Respect the government. (1 Peter 2: 13-17 MSG)

 

Do you see the tie there?  Freedom = service.  Some translations actually use the word “slave.”

 

Now for Americans, that notion can be jarring.  For Americans of African descent in particular, it can feel like a harsh slap in the face.  After all that this country and its people have gone through to win freedom, God wants us to be slaves again?

??????

 

The original Greek word in Peter’s letter is doulos, which does mean slave, but not in the way we Americans think of it.  When we hear the word “slave,” we think of forced labor.  In other words, a slave’s status is determined by the work the slave does and the conditions under which he is compelled to do it.

 

A doulos, on the other hand, is also a bondservant, or one permanently bound and subservient to a master; however, their slave status is determined not by their work, but by their relationship to their master.

 

The implication then, made by both Peter and Paul, is that to be a bondservant of Christ, one must no longer be a slave to sin.  After all, as Jesus Himself said, “No one can serve two masters (Matthew 6:24a NIV).”

 

Furthermore, in this context a doulos is a VOLUNTARY bondservant.  We are born slaves to sin, but we CHOOSE to be “slaves” for Christ.  The only way to be in a position to make that choice is to have first been freed from the grip of sin in our lives.  A slave cannot free himself; he can only be freed by the master.  And the Master said this:

A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.  (John 13:34  NIV)

 

And also this:

Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me. (Matthew 25:40b NIV)

 

Therefore, serving God and serving other people are actually one and the same.  So being a doulos to Christ means being a doulos to the world as well, but to its people, not its philosophies.

 

As no one can serve two masters, and as it is impossible to serve both Christ and our own sinful desires, so it is also impossible to simultaneously serve the world while doing whatever we want.

 

This is the reason that no one is justified by their works alone apart from having been freed by the Master, with whom they have a relationship.

 

Which brings up another DN=.

 

(Which will be covered in Part 3–Righteousness)