Monday, February 27, 2017

Pick and Choose Theology

"Therefore, since through God’s mercy we have this ministry, we do not lose heart. Rather, we have renounced secret and shameful ways; we do not use the deception, nor do we distort the word of God. On the contrary, by setting forth the truth plainly we commend ourselves to every man’s conscience in the sight of God.” 2 Co 4:1-2.

Paul was writing to the Corinthians at a time when false teachers were infiltrating the new church. They were doing great harm to the church by twisting the truth of God’s message in the Gospel. Their interpretation was one that distorted God’s true intent of how mankind was to behave when walking out the gospel of Christ. They were twisting the words of God to approve any behavior that was more closely approved by their society. ‘In Paul’s day, the false teachers were twisting the sacred Scriptures to condone whatever greed, immorality, and power struggles they wanted to engage in. The very same thing is happening today and we desperately need discernment from the Holy Spirit and knowledge from the Word to have eyes to see this deception. There are two ways our culture is guilty of this today: through bending the Word to either condemn a behavior it doesn’t or condoning a behavior it doesn’t.’ All Things New, Kelly Minter, p. 56.

Formerly, I was the Development Director of an organization that fought to free children from human trafficking. Part of my job was to approach the faith community in hopes of a partnership with their organization. One particular meeting was with the leader of a large and flourishing United Methodist Church in the center of Charlotte. In the end, they chose to decline a partnership because our mission statement included our belief that the Bible is the inerrant word of God. When the leader gave me their objection she explained that they do not believe the Bible is without error. She went on to say that their church was certainly more ‘progressive’ than to believe that statement. It is no wonder that they have accepted any and all beliefs when dealing with man. If we believe that the Bible contains mistakes, then who of us determines those errors? How is the measuring stick applied? On any given whim, we can discredit others with God’s word or validate our own behavior through the Word.

The Word of God can only be effective and true when we allow the Holy Spirit to impress the mind of God into our hearts and minds. The Bible was never meant to be this mysterious and difficult to understand book. What God says about every topic in the Bible is what He requires. God’s mind and heart is clearly communicated through His commands. If the interpretation is left to man we fall vulnerable to good intentions…not good theology. When our spiritual life has a ‘pick and choose theology’ we will run aground at some point, allowing our lives to disrupt into chaos just like the Corinthians. Every decision in life should be measured against the Word of God, and opened to the interpretation of the Holy Spirit, not man.

Along with prayer and meditation in the Word, we can confidently move forward in every decision. This is the only way we can experience true peace, apart from this world of chaos and confusion. Then we can be blessings as we ‘set forth the truth plainly’ for ourselves and those who need guidance.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Fake News!

“…this Good News...the word of God cannot be chained” 2 Timothy 2:9.

It doesn’t matter on what side of the political spectrum you lean, everyone has been duped by the news at some point or another. The term ‘fake news…very fake news’ has been coined over the past year and a half, some baseless but some certainly founded. It has been reported that 17 fake news websites have been shut down, but how can we know if that is even true? I’m high jacking this phrase today to apply it to God’s word…the Good News…the very Good News

When we allow the boundary lines to be blurred in the Bible, truth becomes diluted and compromises emerge creating fake news in our lives. The Bible clearly states that we love God when we obey His commands and live by His decrees. When we begin manipulating His words to suit our agendas we have just opened up a fake news site of our own. The creator of fake news is Satan and he never rests when filling our minds and hearts with lies, fear and conflict. It is imperative to protect and guard our thinking and attitudes of the heart so we will not be duped by his message. To the woman who thinks she can never get pregnant…fake news because God determines life, and until His ‘yes or no’ is heard there is hope. To the couple whose marriage feels dead…fake news because God can bring dead to life! To the unemployed worker who is repeatedly rejected…fake news that God has forgotten you. To the despaired parents whose child has wandered away from truth…fake news that they will never be redeemed. To the one with the terminal medical prognosis…fake news that God can’t heal. To the scared and discouraged because of your current set of circumstances…it’s all fake news that God is not still on the throne and in control.

We cannot be dopes in a duped world but must be confident and sure in the One who created the world. His commands are for our protection and we must be chained to the Good News of the Gospel. It is the only chain that sets us free!

For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.” Hebrews 4:12.

Conflicts and Fears

For when we came into Macedonia, this body of ours had no rest, but we were harassed at every turn – conflicts on the outside, fears within.” 2 Co 7:5.

Have you ever had to communicate a message of correction with someone you love? In today’s times, it can be through phone, email or text (according to which generation is on the receiving end). Until we hear back from them our minds can gnaw on our words like a bone. Did we come across judgmental?  Did we wound them with our words? We reread our email or text a million times, conjuring up scenarios as a result of our message. Usually, within a day or two we get their response back and we finally have our answer. Most of the time, the things we create in our mind are much worse than what actually plays out. So, you can only imagine the weariness Paul felt having to wait a long time to understand the feelings of the Corinthians after his letter of correction. He had to wait until he met up with Titus who knew how they felt. Were they mad? Did they hate him? Did he lose their approval and compassion? He had no rest in his spirit over this and feared he had lost many people whom he loved by his gentle honesty. Thankfully the next 5 words happened, ‘But God, who comforts the downcast…comforted us’ 2 Co 7:6. Finally, his rest and peace came and he knew who was responsible… God.

No matter how long we must wait in whatever situation we face, we can be confident that God is working miraculously and faithfully in our wait. He is churning hearts and revealing attitudes that are required in our relational experiences. The people in our lives were placed there by God to both bless and teach us, all the while transforming our hearts and our character. 

How many of us are awaiting a response from someone in our lives, creating such fear and conflict in our hearts? How many times a day are we checking our phones and computers just waiting for resolution in any given situation? We toss and turn at night…we lack concentration during the day… we believe in the worst instead of hoping for the best. We must retrain our brain to live Colossian 3 lives. We will experience the peace of God when we focus on the spiritual things instead of the earthly things. These spiritual things tell us that God’s timing is perfect…His plan is better than any other…His motivation will always be grounded in love. This focus on the spiritual things will bring about the confidence that God is in control when everything is chaotic. If we are going to allow our hearts and minds to churn…let us churn over the things that God offers.

“…set your heart on the things above, where Christ is...Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.” Colossians 3:1-2.

Monday, February 20, 2017

The Extinction of Compassion

“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God.” 2 Co 1:3-4.
The Greek translation for compassion in this verse is powerful in its purest form, and is only used 5 times in New Testament.  The word embodies the deepest seat of our emotions, and is characterizing the deep feelings of God.  This level of compassion is our response to others as if what they are experiencing is actually happening to us.  Showing compassion to others is easy when we have experienced the same difficulty such as grief, divorce or other life experiences.  But the depth in compassion in which this verse describes is compassion for someone else’s pain even when we cannot relate.  This compassion can only come from God since He is the source of all compassion.  If we do not feel compassion for the heart of others we are disconnected from God’s view of them.  We are seeing them through our own opinions and condemnation.  Our lack of compassion can break the very spirit of another person’s heart.
We only have to look on social media to see the lack of compassion and encouragement that God intends us to share with all people.  We have an amazing tool of comfort at our fingertips but so many times we misuse those keystrokes.  So many times, we share something that is distasteful…hurtful… misunderstood.  I have certainly been guilty of withholding compassion for someone with whom I disagreed.  I have been guilty of selfishly hoarding encouragement towards someone who has hurt me.  But God calls us to something higher.  He calls us to love when we don’t feel it…show mercy when we are hurt…have a compassionate heart for others when we don’t understand their struggle.  We have neither the capacity nor the ability to accomplishment this on our own.  But when we rise above our own judgment we can see others more clearly through God’s eyes and meet them at their point of need.
I love what Kelly Minter shared in her Bible Study this morning in All Things New.  She stated that while the suffering of Christ flows over into our lives it is the comfort of God that flows through Jesus Christ into our hearts.  I'm so grateful that Christ didn't block the flow by condemning me for my sins.  It was because He lived with an open and compassionate heart for all that I am able to receive the same from God.  Now that is some good news this morning and exemplifies the manner in which we should walk out our lives. 
For just as the sufferings of Christ flow over into our lives, so also through Christ our comfort overflows.” 2 Co 1:5.

Friday, February 17, 2017

Our Applecart

“For I wrote you out of great distress and anguish of heart and with many tears, not to grieve you but to let you know the depth of my love for you.” 2 Co 2:4.

One of the toughest things parents must do is to discipline our children when they do something wrong. When they are toddlers their offenses are black and white…cut and dry…right and wrong. But as they grow into their own independent lives choices are based on the unfolding of society’s feast. The culture offers a table of tempting dishes which are beautiful to the eyes and appetizing to the taste. Our jobs do not end when our children mature. There have been times when I had to have some very heart wrenching talks with my adult children. Those times were riddled with fear…fear that my attempt to continue to stand for right or wrong would be met with rejection. Those times were met with silent groans and private tears, as my heart anguished for them to walk in the freedom of Christ. I can remember as an adult child being on the other end of my parents’ disagreement of decisions I had made. They had it right. Although they cared immensely for my feelings, their love for me to walk in truth was greater. I am so grateful for those tough talks between my parents and myself. But as Paul wrote, his words spoken to them were difficult and gut wrenching motivated by his love for them. Sometimes loving someone looks much more like hurting someone. We cannot depend on the approval of others in dealing with those delicate matters of the heart. 

Paul followed up with the instruction for them to forgive and comfort those who had hurt them. ‘Whatever the offense was as he addressed the Corinthians he wasn’t confronting them to hurt them, but rather to let them know how deeply he cared! Perhaps one of the most tragic ways we fail to love someone is when we say or do nothing while they run off the rails, all because we don’t want to upset the applecart – usually our applecart.’ All Things New, Kelly Minter, p 34. Once the delicate discussions have been had we must not judge but forgive any offenses which came through that experience. We are all called to forgive, comfort and encourage in the same way we have received from God. ‘When we harbor unforgiveness toward someone, we’ve started to lose touch with our own need for forgiveness and to lose sight of the forgiveness Jesus has freely given us.’ All Things New, Kelly Minter, p. 34.

“Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.” Col 3:13-14.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Yes, Yes, No, No

“Or do I make my plans in a worldly manner so that in the same breath I say, ‘Yes, yes’ and ‘No, no’?  But as surely as God is faithful…no matter how many promises God has made, they are ‘Yes’ in Christ.  And so through him the ‘Amen’ is spoken to us to the glory of God.  Now it is God who makes both us and you stand firm in Christ” 2 Co 1:17b-21.

Before my deepened relationship with Jesus occurred (Feb, 2006) I lived my life in a ‘Yes, yes…No, no’ manner.  I would make decisions based upon pleasing people and pursuing their approval.  I would say yes to things but in my heart I was overcome with not wanting to fulfill the promise.  I said yes to Bruce when he asked was I keeping within our budget, but my secret spending displayed a huge ‘No.’  There have past times when my words said yes, I had forgiven, but my distance and hidden resentment permeated a hidden no within the relationship.  We are only as good as our word and our integrity is what is at stake. 

Thankfully God is perfect at living up to His promises to us.  He says ‘Yes’ to never leave or forsake us.  He says ‘Yes’ to providing everything we need to walk our circumstances.  He says ‘Yes’ to giving us the desires of our heart if we will say ‘No’ to those unhealthy attitudes and behaviors.  His most precious ‘Yes’ to all of us as believers is the promise of eternal life.  His most precious ‘No’ is that through Christ’s sacrifice we will not ever be separated from His love…No, never!

I began to consider times in my life when my mouth said yes but my actions said no.  These times of being double-minded, double-hearted and double-crossing were times when I was not setting my mind and heart on the spiritual things.  It was a time before the cross was in the backdrop of everything I did.  I am imperfect in the pursuit of making my yes, yes and my no, no but with God’s promise of helping me stand firm in Christ, I can say Amen to the process.  I cannot wait until I live out the ‘Yes, yes’ of God.  Yes, I will one day embrace my loved ones who have transitioned into His arms.  Yes, I will one day walk those beautiful streets of gold.  Yes, I will receive certain promises in this life tucked tenderly in my heart regarding people in my life.  You can be certain that in Christ and by aligning your heart with God’s you will receive your ‘Yes, yes’ from God. 

God’s yes WAS yes in delivering my daughter from drugs!  God’s yes WAS yes in providing me with the sustaining and healing grace through the terminal illnesses of my dad and sister! God’s yes WAS yes in getting me through the tough time of caring for my father-in-law with Alzheimer’s.  God’s yes WAS yes in producing work for Bruce after a period of leanness.  And, God’s yes WILL BE yes in those secret things I treasure in my heart. 

Be encouraged that God has a storehouse of yeses for you today in your current situation and also in your future.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Reconciling Difficult Relationships

“…Our conscience testifies that we have conducted ourselves in the world, and especially in our relations with you, in the holiness and sincerity that are from God…according to God’s grace…And I hope that, as you have understood us in part, you will come to understand fully that you can boast of us…” 2 Co 1:12-14a.

Poor Paul…he so loves the Corinthians who were baby believers in the faith. He had previously spent 18 months with them ...testifying to the gospel of Christ and encouraging them in the love, grace and knowledge from God. They had eaten together, studied together, cried together and no doubt loved each other. During this time, he watched them grow in their faith and built fellowship through their shared love of Christ. But once he left, he received word of problems in Christian conduct within the walls of the church. He writes 1 Co dealing with the importance of developing holy character, which wasn’t received very warmly from the Corinthians. He went back to them as a result of these problems to deal with them in person. Paul referred to this visit as a ‘sorrowful visit.’

Who in this world has escaped a ‘sorrowful visit’ with those we love leaving pain and hurt in the aftermath? I would say that if we are in relationships all of us have been hurt by those we love or have been the guilty party in the hurt. In reading this I am touched that he shows us a better way to reconcile challenging relationships. We have all had things happen between us and those we love. Sometimes we were at fault and other times the other party was in the wrong. Reconciliation is at its best when the talks begin by remembering and honoring the past relationship when things were good. By focusing on the good in others we pave the way for laying aside the bad. Any relationship from God is worth taking a second look at when things are broken. Like Paul, we must approach those who are in our lives with love, respect and remembrance of the joyful fellowship shared in the past. We must rely on God’s healing and love to mend these hearts. We cannot allow ‘sorrowful visits’ from the past to define our future relationships. When there is disharmony with those we love, there is a small rip in the fabric of our hearts. We are called to be ministers of reconciliation with those whom God has placed in our lives. God reconciled us to Him through Christ Jesus and it is our call to do likewise with others. God will give us everything we need to accomplish these reconnections in Him.

All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ…And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation.’ 2 Co 5:18-19.