Are You In The Club? Please leave your application and references…

DON’T CRITICIZE! That’s the encouragement–and criticism–against those who have discernment (you might call it a gift). I read a comment recently that those who criticize evangelical “leaders” produce rotten fruit. Well, if that’s true, the fruit I’m about to drop off is long overdue.

God’s Call

Let’s ease into this like an old person wading into a cold pool, shall we? Growing up as a missionary kid I heard this phrase OFTEN: “I heard the call to go minister to ….” fill in the blank. Of course, we have the bitingly funny John Crist lampooning this on YouTube with his Millennial Missionaries:

It’s only funny because it’s true. Granted, no one in their right mind would be so brazen as this … yet.

It points out the quirk, if you will, of evangelical-speak where we ask, “What is God calling you to do?” “Where has God called you to go?” It supposes that God is actively appearing to, or speaking with Christians in some mystical way outside of Scripture (I’ve yet to find ‘Bryn, here’s where I want you to go’ in the Bible).

However, I clearly remember being challenged in youth group to ask God where He wanted me to go. Maybe he’s calling me to the jungles of Africa, or some impoverished area behind the iron curtain in China. Maybe I hoped it would be as a windsurfing instructor in Aruba! This “call” would be some internal prompting, some “still, small voice” to rob a phrase out of context from scripture. The idea is that you will just know. Or you won’t be able to relax until you go there.

Unfortunately, these tests for hearing God’s voice are not tests used in Scripture–not at all! In fact, we’re not supposed to rely on the desires of our heart–EVER! Jeremiah 17:9, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick, who can understand it?”

That verse is taken from a chapter regarding the sin of Judah. It describes how the people of Israel have put their trust in man, forsaking their trust in the Lord. While verse nine is a nugget of truth that we can use to describe the human heart, it is followed by this answer: “I the Lord search the heart and test the mind, to give every man according to his ways, according to the fruit of his deeds.”

The way we know where God is sending us is to see what opportunities are open while living morally before Him. For me, I wanted to be a screenwriter in Hollywood. I wrote ten screenplays. I had some agents interested. I got to the quarter finals of a screenplay competition. But, the doors were closed at that time. And, frankly, my stories were …. well, they were on par with what Hollywood produces every day, but that’s not a recommendation.

Doors opened for me to work as a claims adjuster. I enjoyed special investigations, which involve fraud. I wanted to move in that direction. Using evangelical language, I might have said, God is calling me to that. Unfortunately, no one would hire me, despite the great success I had in such investigations and the connections I had in that industry. Instead, I ended up getting selected to start a legal bill auditing group. That sounds like the exact opposite of what I would ever want to do. It is so far from artistic writing and windsurfing, that maybe only accounting would be its rival.

And yet, that’s where God has led me. I didn’t feel the strong compulsion to go there. God led me out to this job that He would show me.

Francis Chan

Moving deeper in the pool … A few years ago I read how Francis Chan walked away from his Mega Church, Cornerstone, because God had told him to leave and to go to a city … information pending. I admired this as it seemed completely against what the world wants to do. Mr. Chan sold his big house, gives all the proceeds of his books to other causes … calls Christians to follow Christ. He talks about how he had been sucked in by pride, loving to see his face on the cover of magazines, or appreciating the applause too much.

His message at the time, and most recently to a group of Facebook employees is great. He properly notes that traditional church fails to create the sense of family … and embarrassingly inner city gangs do a better job.

But, back to this “God told me” thing. Is Mr. Chan is right up there with Abraham? If so, evidently, the church he was pastoring was a pagan cesspool like Ur (for no fault of the pastor, I’m guessing). Cornerstone had begun as a group meeting in Chan’s living room. But, at the time he left, he felt he was a single voice that was ineffective to lead the people gathered in the movement he started.

Still, he walked away. He gave up the lifestyle of the high-rolling mega church pastor. He seemed to put in action the things he said. But, he also broadcasted it to the media. He let everyone know what he was doing in selling his possessions.

I don’t recall reading that Abram held any press conferences or posted his intention to leave Ur, or later Haran, on Twitter and Facebook. He certainly didn’t get booked for inspirational seminars. Instead, Abram left everything he’d known when God’s call came. He was told to leave Ur and leave his whole family. Yet, he took his father, brother, nephew … and they settled in Haran. Abram didn’t hear from God again until Terah, his father, passed away. And the message was repeated: Leave your family and go to a land I will show you (Genesis 12:1–for the astute reader, we learn that Abram was called from Ur in Acts 7, which matches the account of Terah taking the whole family out of Ur and settling in Haran).

I like nearly everything I hear from Francis Chan. I’m unaware of any theological pit-falls. He doesn’t seem to teach the health and wealth prosperity heresy. He appears to have a heart for calling others to follow Jesus as Lord, and that’s awesome.

Sadly, there seem to be contradictions in what he says and what he’s doing. And maybe it’s a compromise he has to make for the sake of his goal.

We Are Church

Francis’ heart is to provide an alternative to the way we do church. In 2013 he started a new model, which follows a home church method, and it’s gaining steam. It’s called We Are Church (or is that Church ‘R Us?) and it is made up of home gatherings across the country. In his talk to Facebook he repeated that “It’s free of charge,” several times. Last I checked, churches weren’t charging admission, but  what do I know?

While this is touted as new, it really isn’t. Mainstream churches have been promoting this for some time. Church leaders like the big and multi-campus (income base) model, but they’ve recognized that people don’t connect well. The mini-seminar/concerts they throw each Sunday are well-attended, but lose the demographic of those who want something intimate, something real.

They see this desire as a felt need. They attempt to fill the need with the Small Group model where people meet based on age, interest or geography. It allows people from a mega-church to connect on a personal level. Unfortunately, you can’t force a connection anymore than you can force true repentance and faith.

Mr. Chan, following his Abram-like call has been hard at work, gathering anonymous We Are Church pastors and developing a slick marketing campaign for this grass-roots church. The skeptic in me wonders if he had this all lined up when he left Cornerstone. After all, marketing copy, web sites and a network for gathering applications, approvals, etc. doesn’t just spring up out of nowhere. It’s also clear that he’s still connected with the larger evangelical movement based on his publishing contract and frequent speaking engagements.

I wonder if Francis simply saw that the mega-church model was beginning to be something of a joke. We’ve seen the parody of the “relevant churches”:

 

Where could we go from here? The ripped jeans, the trendy pastor with tattoos … it’s lame. Francis knew it. Everybody knows it.

What’s a pastor to do then? Well, spark something totally new. Something that will be a little more like the early church, at least until the parodies catch up with how plastic it is.

It reminds me of the popularity of Martha Stewart. Bear with me. Martha presents the homemaker ideal, which sells an experience to countless women who are too busy to acually make all those things. They buy the products in hopes of achieving the level of perfection portrayed in the magazines. And since no one ever will match the ideal portrayed in advertisements, there will be a constant demand for more product.

That’s what mainstream evangelical promotions look like. They set expectations, followed by vague promises.

Take a look at the key words that are used in the promotion of the We Are Church copy. Here’s the web site: http://wearechurch.com. It  begins with inciting the need, planting the idea that, lately, you’ve been “confused about church.” It moves on to describe what we’re all missing: ‘Unstoppable power,’ ‘miraculous love,’ ‘outrageous sacrifice!’ Then, the invitation to “dream with us,” and take a “fresh look at the Scriptures.” The ad promises that “we are beginning to experience some of the blessings promised in Scripture!”

How awesome is that? They’re actually experiencing unstoppable power, miracles and … we’ll leave off the sacrifice part for now. Okay, so they actually said “blessings promised in Scripture.” Let’s be honest, Scripture doesn’t promise us unstoppable power. And, really, what is miraculous love? I think if we talked to believers who have had their heads cut off in Egypt, their tongues sliced out in Saudi Arabia, or the believers who huddle over a page of the Bible in the underground church in China, we’d hear about sacrifice.

What Is the Church?

That first question is key: Are we confused about the church? I think the answer is a resounding YES! Most people believe church is a place you go to each week (or on Catholic holidays). Most people believe there are “professional Christians” who run these organizations and balance the budget and reach into new markets.

Evidently, so does Francis Chan. In that way he shows that he’s still confused about church. On the web site, he invites those who are “currently serving as a pastor or elder” in a church to come and “dream” with the We Are Church pastors. They can bring a “key church member” with them, but they each will have to fill out an application and send references, hoping to be accepted by these faceless pastors who have unlocked “unstoppable power.”

Sorry, but that’s not a fresh look. It’s as old as the Roman Catholic Church. There’s the priests and they condescend to the masses. We should hope to catch their notice. That model is well-ingrained because from Constantine to the Reformation we have over 1,000 years of such pagan rite-centric ceremony. It’s hard to shake that type of cultural indoctrination. That’s why we meet in buildings with a priest up front and do so on Sunday (in honor of the sun god).

Paul taught that when the church gathered, one would have a song, another a lesson, someone else a revelation or an interpretation (1 Corinthians 14:26). It was to be done in order, for sure. But, it wasn’t done in a manner like we see in today’s churches. If you attend a Catholic mass, a Lutheran service, or a Baptist church, the order of worship looks largely the same.

Home churches are springing up around the world because Christians long for true fellowship and community without the politics and posturing of the traditional “way we do church.” In other countries–where it is illegal to be openly Christian–a home church is the only way to do church.

Frankly, the very idea of “doing” church is offensive to me. Church, or the proper word–Congregation–is what Christians are not what we do. Francis Chan announced back in 2013 that he wanted to “change the way we do church.”

The funny thing is, his We Are Church branding is nothing new. A Catholic group in Europe began a movement called We Are Church in 1995. It embraced all forms of sexuality, rejected the deity of God and the virgin birth of Christ … why they bother with any religious affiliation is a mystery to me. They were excommunicated by the Catholic church in 2008. What’s funny about that is the Church penalized them for not having an Ecclesiastical order (priests) over the people. (ref. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/We_Are_Church#Organization). They have a group in Ireland, as well.

It makes me wonder if Francis Chan knows about this other international group, or if he failed to Google the name of his operation?

The bottom line is that the congregation of Christ is not a building, or a meeting, or a human organization. The church building on the corner is not the New Testament equivalent of the Temple in Jerusalem, and the pastor and elders are not NT versions of the priests of old.

Those who have repented of their wretched sinfulness and turned to Jesus as Lord make up the body of Christ, the spiritual kingdom, the congregation or church, the bride of Christ! We don’t need human recognition or validation through membership roles. We need no letters of recommendation because the fruit of our lives by the power of Christ in us is our recommendation (2 Cornithians 3:1-2).

What’s happening with the “small group experience” and these other permutations of faux home church is a desperate attempt by the false church institution to co-opt a real movement.

Jesus taught His disciples that they were not to call each other Rabbi or Teacher. They had one Rabbi and one Teacher: Jesus Christ.

It’s true that Paul said there are those given to Christ’s congregation as Apostles, as teachers as evangelists, etc. (1 Corinthians 12:28). But, that was not to denote some form of hierarchy that would conflict with the words of our Lord.

Paul and the other Apostles call for humility, over and over. They warn of the false apostles who sneak in, with eyes for their own glory, for money and for lording it over the people. Those are the wolves!

Quite the opposite, actually. Paul and the other Apostles call for humility, over and over. They warn of the false apostles who sneak in, with eyes for their own glory, for money and for lording it over the people. Those are the wolves! The true elders and leaders in the congregation of the body of Christ are humble, unassuming, meek and gentle.

Meek men do not build mega churches. Humble men do not drive major marketing campaigns. Gentle guides do not achieve celebrity status.

The empire-building leaders of the so-called church see people leaving their buildings at a steady pace. They’ve tried to become more “relevant” with music, clothing style and downplaying the Bible. Christians are seeing that they’ve turned what should be a gathering place for God’s people into multi-level marketing schemes with the “give” button right on their web pages. Mainstream evangelical churches promote a varying degree of mysticism with “prayer soaked rooms,” clouds forming signs from God, images from God directing them to visit a bus stop with money, mysterious cash that will supposedly show up in your bank account, and on, and on.

In an attempt to increase their money base, churches have developed programs that will appeal to folks who would never want to fellowship with Christians. With the increasing number of unbelievers who have learned key phrases to sound Christian, the true followers of Christ are often saddened and feel out-of-place in the traditional church.

The Church, Inc. has realized they’re losing this market demographic and have responded with the only thing they know: an experience. They promise to have a “small group experience” that will allow people to “do church” the way that meets their needs.

Can anyone honestly picture the Apostle Paul, Peter, James, John, or Jude writing something so crass and commercialised?

No. The answer is no. They wouldn’t do so in a million years.

Are You In The Club?

There’s a club. It’s made up of professional Christians. And if you don’t have a degree, if you aren’t relevant in their crowd, if you don’t have a mystical call from God, sending you to some place He will show you … then you’re nothing but a layperson.

Interestingly, in Revelation 2 Christ speaks to the pastor of the congregation at Ephesus. This was the same congregation to whom Paul wrote the epistle Ephesians. It was a congregation to whom the Apostle John also ministered. While the pastor there (the angel or messenger of the church) was chastised for “leaving his first love,” he is commended for one thing: Hating the works of the Nicolaitans, which Christ also hates.

This is interesting because there isn’t much said about these people. It’s clear they are false teachers and wicked. It isn’t clear what they taught or believed.

The word, Nico-laitan may refer to people who followed Nicolas, an early, popular leader/deacon in the early church. Nikos means “conqueror” while laos means “people.” I’ve read that we get the word laity from laos. Some believe that Nicholas can be traced back to Nimrod, who was a great hunter before the Lord. He set up a temple and ruled over people.

The Nicolaitans were likely followers of Nicholas, an early deacon in the church who later espoused Gnosticism. Gnosticism holds that there are secrets uncovered by a select group who will dispense them to the masses. Does this sound familiar? All cults operate on this basis. A charismatic leader who has some special annointing … they claim to multiply KFC for the masses (that would be Jim Jones, in case you’re interested).

When we set ourselves up as someone’s spiritual authority, we are usurping the position of Christ, and that’s very bad.

Basically, the works of the Nicolatians may have been to set up a system like we see in the Roman Catholic church, and to a lesser degree, traditional churches in general. Why would Jesus hate this? Because He specifically told the disciples not to do that! When we set ourselves up as someone’s spiritual authority, we are usurping the position of Christ, and that’s very bad.

With Francis Chan’s group, it appears he’s setting up a network of small groups, but he’s vetting pastors through the established church leadership of today (for a cost of $500, should they pass their application and references test. A fact that contradicts his statement that it’s “free of charge.”).

Paul gave Timothy clear requirements for those who should be selected as elders in a congregation. It was a long list that includes humility, which I’m getting from the ‘not quarrelsome’ qualification. See 1 Timothy 3:1-7 for the full list, there are 14 of them and Paul doesn’t say they should have them, but they must have them.

Notably absent is the requirement that they have a seminary degree from an accredited college. Or, that they must know someone and have a letter of recommendation from an established elder.

No, the requirements are all tied to character qualities that spring from walking with the Lord and allowing Him to mold them. These are not something they can pick up from a – degree. They are not gained from a five-year apprenticeship wrangling a youth group.

Lastly, it’s important to note that Paul warns Timothy of something in 1 Timothy 4:16: “Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by doing so you will save both yourself and your hearers.”

It doesn’t mean salvation from sin, but rather from falling into error. By Francis Chan’s own words, Cornerstone Church fell into error. It was so bad he had to leave. Since he was the pastor of that church, one might rightly wonder what went wrong? It’s fair to ask, will this new home church he’s started end any better than Cornerstone?

I think it’s the club mentality that’s the issue. It’s the “professional Christian” idea that is wrong. Some churches will allow so-called lay persons to become the ministers. But, they will often be referred to as lay ministers. And thus, we reinforce The Club vs. the membership, the Leaders vs. the people.

I am not in the club. I hope I never will be. And I don’t do church. I am a grateful member of the true congregation of Christ, with Him as my Leader.

This One Thing Will Kill A Relationship

On the heels of part 3 about envy, the next thing that unravels love is boasting. In fact, these two work hand in hand, but not in a loving way. While one person starts boasting, the other starts envying. Then the envying one will come up with some boast to boost their self-image, inciting envy from others.

It’s a vicious cycle.

It derives its power from the “grass is always greener” principle. Your neighbor has the perfect house, perfect yard, perfect kids, perfect job … And your neighbor projects that image, too. Before we get too far down that path, we project images, as well. We’re just not as conscious of it.

lawnmower-384589_1920

Someone says, “How are you doing?” or “How was your weekend?” and we’re most likely to say, “Great! I took in a movie, we went out to eat, we hit the arcades …”

If you want to see some funny, awkward reactions, tell people, “Not too good, actually.”

Some will be concerned, but then get away from you as quickly as they can.

My wife and I joke about what the real vacation photos would look like if people posted them on social media. You know, the pictures capturing all the fights, the snippy words when you turn down the wrong road, or one of the kids spills something in the back of the van. Instead, we see the smiling faces next to Mickey Mouse, the happy family on the beach, and so on. There’s nothing wrong with commemorating a trip with nice photos.

selfie-900001_1920

The problem is when we want people to think we didn’t have all the crazy times when the cameras weren’t rolling. The fact is, everyone has those crazy times. We’re all human. We all get selfish and fight. We suffer from envy, unkindness and self-centeredness.

In other words, we don’t glow with love 100% of the time. And we make it worse by boasting as if we live the charmed life.

Boasting also shows up in our thanksgiving. “I’m thankful I’m not like that publican over there! I’m not like those sinners in that part of town!”

The Spirit might be prompting us at those times, “About that….”

For the wicked boasts of the desires of his soul, and the one greedy for gain curses and renounces the LORD. Ps.10:3

The cold, hard truth is that none of us are righteous. None of us obey with a pure heart. And we can’t love with pure motives and show the unselfish kindness and humility until we come to terms (on a daily, even hourly basis) with our own sinfulness and shame.

I know, that’s a bad word: Shame. But, properly placed, it’s wonderful. We should recognize that we don’t deserve any good thing we have. We’re open rebels against God.

What do we all think should happen to ISIS terrorists? Should we give them nice homes in the suburbs and cozy jobs? Actually, there are people who think that’s the solution, but I digress.

No, we’d want those terrorists to pay dearly for their crimes. Justice demands that they pay!

How much worse with us who were born into open rebellion against God. Then, we made–and continue to make–choices to follow that rebellion.

We do this by focusing on ourselves and our appetites. We do this by ignoring God’s laws for proper living. We indulge in the pleasures the world says are okay, then get upset when we get penalized for our lying, lust and gluttony. We make deals with the prince of this world, then run to God when we’re bound in chains and miserable. Only we run to got with an accusatory finger pointed up. That’s right, we blame God for the horrors in this world, even though the horrors are a natural result of our sinfulness.

The fact is, we deserve every mistreatment, every sad outcome, every ‘unlucky’ turn of events that comes our way. We don’t deserve all the good things that happen.

In this world, the wicked appear to prosper. This is due to the common grace of God. They have great gain. They trample the poor and build empires for themselves. They scoff at God in the way they live, as if to tell everyone that there is no God and they are living proof. (see Psalm 10 and 37).

Apart from Christ, we can be included in the descriptions of the evil people. If you believe that God had given you a raw deal, you’re believing the words of Satan over the words of God.

A proper view of our own actual shame is the best and only antidote to boasting. And once we no longer operate on the assumption that “we’re basically good” we begin to be useful for God to love others through us.

In fact, I believe that God’s love is shown through His servants without them even being aware of it. ”Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink?when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? (Matt. 25:37,38).

When God’s love pours through us, we’re not even aware of it, so we aren’t going to be boasting about it.

We certainly won’t be going about with a spirit of contention and vainglory (as Matthew Henry points out in his commentary). Rather, we’ll be of a lowly mind, esteeming others as better than ourselves (Php 2:3).

The opposite attitude of being a “know it all” or questioning everyone on any point, always having to be the most interesting person in the room …

2804546757_5d034c1d29

Well, that will actually kill your relationships. And worse, it continues your rebellion against God, which keeps you under His (Just) wrath.

Instead, we need to be honest with ourselves first. We need to hold every thought captive to ensure we’re not acting for our own glory, but for God’s. We need to remain humble, not bringing attention to how humble we are (that’s only funny because it’s too often true).

Then we’ll be useful for God’s loving purpose in this world.

Real Love & Envy Part 3

I remember a time when a friend of mine was visiting and a carnival set up near our house. This friend had a few brothers and we were all pretty close in age. For some reason, he was the only one who came to visit. We wanted to go to the carnival, but thought that perhaps it would cause his brothers to feel left-out. My friend’s comment was, “I think they’ll be happy for me.”

I won’t leave you in suspense, we didn’t end up going. But for some reason, that event has stuck in my mind. I’ve thought about it many times over the years. It happens to line up with the third earmark of love: It does not envy!

If there’s a human out there who got past the patient/long-suffering and kind benchmarks with flying colors, this one might sting.

KevinMazur-Lyrics

Okay, it’ll smart.

Smart

Seriously, it’s something that is worse than a plague. I’ll illustrate with another pop culture reference: I Am Legend. Before it was a Will Smith action/horror movie, it was a 70s apocalyptic movie called The Omega Man, starring none other than Charlton Heston.

Omega-Man-02

Before that … okay, it was a book by Richard Mattheson in which a plague swept the world, turning everyone into zombie/vampires … except THE LAST MAN ON EARTH (the title of the first movie with Vincent Price). The end of the movie

*Spoilers ahead!!**

finds that the healthy protagonist is the problem, killing off the “normal” vampires during the day, unseen by them. The twist is that the vampires have learned to live with their illness, and the one man who doesn’t have their sickness is actually the scourge of humanity.

Envy is just like the plague and we’re all like the vampires. We all have envy. It’s a sign of the flesh. Unless you’re born without a sin nature, you envy. That’s the default.

Politics operates on this principle. One group pits everyone against the 1%, another group entices people with promises of a booming economy that will give them easy pay.

Advertisers use envy ALL THE TIME. This product will make you more attractive than your friends. This drink will give you the good time that everyone else is having. This phone will give you the family life everyone else has already discovered!

Envy. It drives politics and the economy.

But it doesn’t fuel love. In fact, it’s the opposite of love. Here’s what Matthew Henry says:

Charity suppresses envy: It envieth not; it is not grieved at the good of others; neither at their gifts nor at their good qualities, their honours not their estates. If we love our neighbour we shall be so far from envying his welfare, or being displeased with it, that we shall share in it and rejoice at it. His bliss and sanctification will be an addition to ours, instead of impairing or lessening it. This is the proper effect of kindness and benevolence: envy is the effect of ill-will. The prosperity of those to whom we wish well can never grieve us; and the mind which is bent on doing good to all can never will ill to any.

Unfortunately, we’re pulled into envy so fast. If a friend gets a promotion at work, we’re happy for them … but we might start to wonder why we haven’t had that success. We might compare ourselves to that friend and start thinking they didn’t really deserve that promotion, that wife, that life.

In other words, we start to put ourselves in the place of God, deciding what should or shouldn’t be.

The world is full of this sort of thing. We make our own destiny! We alter the course of history! And, to the extent that our personal responsibility to do our work affects the lives of those around us, that’s true.

The Christian view, however, is that God is in supreme control. He ordains all things, including the promotions, firings, economy booms and great depressions. He rains down on the righteous and the unrighteous. He has in mind the discipline for all whom He calls to Himself. Christians trust that His will is perfect and all things will work for good to those who love God and are called according to His purpose.

In light of such a belief, we have no reason to envy. We should rejoice at everyone’s good fortune, even if they don’t appear to deserve it. Because, guess what? none of us deserve what we’re getting. We’re all equally deserving of God’s wrath. Yet, He’s patient, kind and merciful to us. Gracious, even, giving us what we don’t deserve.

Perfect love doesn’t envy. All of us need to pray for God to put that love in us, then test ourselves to see if we have accepted that gift from Him. Have we stood up on those lame legs, believing that He has healed them?

He’s commanded us to love one another. With pure love. To quote a Peter Furler song, get up, get off your seat, move your feet, just do what He said!

What is ‘Real Love?” Part 2

The Apostle Paul gives us benchmarks for what define true love in 1 Corinthians 13. As I noted in part 1, none of us can claim to show perfect love all the time. A big reason for this is that in our fallen natures we are rebels against God, who is love. The more we resemble the Lord, the more we will show true love (which is what Paul is getting at with the Corinthians).

The first characteristic was patience, or long-suffering. The next is kindness. We have to be careful with these because the Bible isn’t written so we can tell when everyone else is failing. It’s written to reveal our own hearts to ourselves so that we can repent and follow the Lord, reflecting His glory more perfectly.

Here’s what Matthew Henry says about this trait:

It is kindchrēsteuetai. It is benign, bountiful; it is courteous and obliging. The law of kindness is in her lips; her heart is large, and her hand open. She is ready to show favours and to do good. She seeks to be useful; and not only seizes on opportunities of doing good, but searches for them. This is her general character. She is patient under injuries, and apt and inclined to do all the good offices in her power. And under these two generals all the particulars of the character may be reduced.

Benign, bountiful, courteous and obliging. That paints a picture, but I like the part about seizing on opportunities to do good, searching for them, in fact.

Do we look for ways we can help those around us? Do we anticipate someone’s feelings or needs and then try to meet them to the best of our ability?

Or, are we mostly focused on what interests us and everyone else needs to get with that program?

Think of the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10). Jesus tells of a man who was overcome by thieves and ravaged, left for dead. That’s you and me at various points in our lives. We are ravaged by the temptations of this world, we’re beaten by the desires of our flesh, we’re left alone to die. The Pharisees and the people who have human religion and are full of pride will walk by, pretending not to see us. We, will walk by, pretending not to see our neighbor, friend or spouse. That’s their issue, and they need to work it out!

But, the heart of love looks with compassion on the person who–some might say–got themselves into that mess. Love is kind and will look to do good for people.

This shows up in little things. We teach our kids that if they see a mess in the kitchen, don’t just walk by–help clean it up. Take out the trash, keep the bathrooms looking nice. But this is easier taught than put in practice. It’s not in the human nature (mostly) to look for something good to do that doesn’t impact our own immediate needs. After all, someone else made the mess, and why should it be me to clean it up?

Love is kind. It thinks of the good it can do, then does it at great cost. God could have scrapped the whole creation, sending us all to Hell. And it would have been just to do so. But since God is love, He made a way that we can be given freedom from the sentence of death that is justly ours. He did the most good, the most benign thing, the most compassionate thing, and actually took the penalty for our sin.

Shouldn’t we be able to show such kindness to those around us who may be equally as wicked as we were toward God? Perhaps we should imitate God more in our daily life and let the kindness of His love work through us.

Real Love – How To Know It When You See It

What Is Love?

In 1 Corinthians 13 the Apostle Paul gives a description of love. This is often a go-to verse for a wedding ceremony. But, with divorce topping between 40-50%, and subsequent marriages for divorcees being higher, it’s safe to say that ‘love’ is something we really need to understand.

Hint: Paul doesn’t say that it’s an emotion that’s here to-day and gone tomorrow. That was Tony Asher and Brian Wilson on Pet Sounds, for those trivia buffs out there.

So, what is love? I thought I’d do a series on this, taking each of the 11 signposts noted by Paul. The purpose is for anyone who reads this to say, “does that describe me?” and then, “how can this be more true of me?”

The first marker for Love is this: Love is patient!

Another translation has ‘love’ as ‘charity,’ and ‘patient’ as ‘long-suffering.’ Here’s what Matthew Henry notes in his commentary:

It is long sufferingmakrothumei. It can endure evil, injury, and provocation, without being filled with resentment, indignation, or revenge. It makes the mind firm, gives it power over the angry passions, and furnishes it with a persevering patience, that shall rather wait and wish for the reformation of a brother than fly out in resentment of his conduct. It will put up with many slights and neglects from the person it loves, and wait long to see the kindly effects of such patience on him.

All I can say is that I’m guilty of the opposite. I have patience … to a point! I endure evil … but have my limit! If provoked, I feel resentment, indignation and start cherishing thoughts of revenge. You know, to help God think of ways to repay those dastardly people who treated me unfairly.

Guess what? That’s not love! Ouch!

I dare say, nobody does this. In fact, even our non-Christian culture admits that society today is one of hyper-sensitive offence. From public bathroom selection to wedding cakes and someone’s personal faith in Jesus, our culture seems to be a bright, bulging wound. Use the wrong word on Social Media and you’ll be “flamed.”

We’ve got a problem in our world with bullying, both cyber and the garden-variety. That activity shows the depths of the lack of love in our world. On the other side, we’ve got people who are not long-suffering of the pain inflicted by the bullies.

My mom used to always say to me and my siblings, “It takes two to fight!” And that’s true. Maybe one person instigates the conflict, but the victim keeps it going.

In the ’60s there was an anti-war slogan, “What if they had a war but nobody came?” Being analytical, I’d say who’s the “they?” But the point is that someone may do something hurtful and the victim can decide to … pay that price for the bully.

There’s Always A Cost

Love costs us. If there is no cost, it’s worthless. Those roses a husband buys his wife cost money. If he opts to collect wild flowers, it’s a nice gesture, but won’t be as amazing as when he parts with his money for something more special.

That’s the easy part, though. Buying flowers or taking your spouse out for dinner is something that is fun for you, too!

How about returning goodness for meanness? That’s not as fun. No fist-bumps for being kind to a bully. That type of behavior costs us more than overpriced roses.

A bully owes the victim an apology. He needs to acknowledge the wrong he’s done and admit it was wrong. He needs to make amends with good behavior, showing that he’s repented from his bullying ways.

But that’s not likely to happen. It certainly won’t happen when we return the favor, an eye for an eye.

Love is patient. It endures the mistreatment of people and returns good for evil. It is patient when that good return is never admitted or acknowledged.

We Don’t Have To Look For Mean People

While patience is the hallmark of love, it doesn’t mean we go looking for bullies to hurt us. There will be enough of them finding us in life. Jesus taught us to turn the other cheek when someone strikes us, not to go find them again so they could hit us over and over. He taught us to go the extra mile when compelled by someone (referring to a law that required Israelites to carry baggage for a Roman official if told to do so. Under the law they had to go one mile. Jesus taught that they should go two. So, more than the law required). But Jesus didn’t teach that we should go finding people to have them compel us in such a way.

These circumstances will happen naturally. We’ll have people at work that say unkind things, or stab us in the back. We’ll have church leaders abuse their position and inflict pain. We’ll have family members treat us with contempt and envy. The commuter on the freeway will cut us off, honking and using the “swear finger.”

We don’t have to go looking for it. But true love is found in the patience that we have for all of those situations.

We Don’t Have It In Us

Here’s the kicker: We don’t have real love in us. God is love. Many will try to indict God by saying, “If God exists, why does He let all the horrors go on in the world?” Well, God is patient. God rains good things on the righteous and the unrighteous. God’s goodness is meant to bring people to repentance.

Even though it doesn’t seem to bring people to repentance (rather, it seems to make them think they can get away with whatever they do) it will stand as a statement against them. When the Judgment comes, what will people say when God points out all their wickedness and their disregard for His mercy?

I believe we cannot show this patient love until we have accepted God’s love and Lordship. I believe it is an outpouring of the Holy Spirit.

This isn’t to say that every Christian will demonstrate this patience perfectly. But, increasingly as they allow the Holy Spirit to fill them.

Do you want to know if you have the Holy Spirit? Paul was telling the Corinthians that it isn’t in the amazing signs and wonders like prophecy, speaking in tongues, etc. It’s in how we love.

Does your love show an increasing amount of patience and long-suffering?

Do You Play Bible Roulette?

The Bible is full of contradictions!

That probably ranks up there with one of the most common charges against the Christian faith. Those who follow Christianity are deemed to be soft in the head because they follow an “ancient book” that is filled with “errors.”

These errors will often be of the “Judas hanged himself in Matthew, but threw himself over a cliff and was smashed on the rocks in Acts.” Or there are discrepancies of when Jesus cleared the Temple. There appear to be two accounts of a woman anointing Jesus with perfume and wiping his feet with her hair (an account in Luke 7 and then another in John 12).

All such errors, however, have plausible explanations based on perspective, or added information. For instance, one suggestion is that Judas went to hang himself, but then threw himself over the cliff so that his death would not be a mockery of Jesus hanging between heaven and earth. Another perspective says he did hang himself, but the branch broke, thus he fell.

It really doesn’t matter.

But there are other passages that create more division, and are far less easy to pin down. These are the passages that amount to Biblical Roulette in which a passage is taken out of context to prove a point. In fact, there are a lot of places that create paradoxes for us.

Consider an age-old argument of Free Will vs. Election. Or, as is commonly referred to as Arminianism vs. Calvinism. There are passages that clearly state that each must repent, turn and follow Jesus as Lord. This is absolutely their decision that must be made.

Then there are passages that talk of those whom the Lord foreknew and whom he predestined for salvation. These are referred to as the elect chosen before the foundation of the world (Rom. 8:29, Eph. 1:5, Eph. 1:11, Matt. 13:20, Eph. 1:4).

These concepts seem to be at odds with one another. How can there be a chosen elect, and then have the invitation be to whosesoever will? How is it mankind’s choice, but not mankind’s choice, but God’s?

It gets worse. There are passages that suggest we can lose our salvation. Then there are others that affirm that those who belong to the Lord will never be lost! Coincidentally, the divide on this issue is very much the same as the free will/election issue.

The solution isn’t simple, unfortunately. Some might throw up their hands and say that this proves the Bible is just a potpourri of ideas that are inconsistent, proving it is full of errors. Pass the strong drink, please.

Turns out, the answer is in understanding the context of the Bible. And this is a task that many, many people take very seriously. They discuss, read, discuss, research and work through these issues.

I believe that true Christians are not alone in this effort. I believe the Holy Spirit teaches us as we study God’s word with the tools available to us (1John 2:20-21).

I also believe that our hearts are deceitful above all things (Jer. 17:9). This will allow Christians to get drawn away in pride and start cherry-picking verses that support one idea or the other, leading to division, hurt feelings and more. It’s easy to castigate someone’s choices with a quick quote. It’s equally easy to justify one’s choices with a verse.

For instance, on one hand we are to “love our enemies” and “do good to those that hurt us.” Yet, Jesus told the disciples to “shake off the dust from their feet” as a testimony against anyone who would not receive them.

We know that a “friend loves at all times,” but then sometimes it’s the very definition of love that is lacking. Remember, our hearts are deceitful. And our idea of love is largely a product of our culture. That’s why so many do not see God as loving. They don’t really understand the meaning of the word.

We tend to see love in the warm, accepting aspects, but reject it when it makes a decision that is hurtful, but for the long-term good.

Taking a look at Paul’s Love Chapter in 1 Corinthians, let’s note what love is:

Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentfulit does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all thingsLove never ends. 1 Cor. 13:4-8.

I think most people pick up on patient, kind, bearing all things, believing all things and enduring all things. But we forget that when we’re envious of someone else, we’re not showing love. If we boast about something, that’s not coming from a place of love. Arrogance and rudeness are not hallmarks of love. Insisting on one’s own way violates the love principle.

How about rejoicing in wrongdoing? Of course, no one would be out there like a soccer fan when someone is robbing a bank! But, how do we apply that to our entertainment? Do we give sorcery or meditation or other worldly issues a pass for the sake of watching a movie? Do we have a level of smut that we are ‘okay with’ when deciding to watch a show? Wouldn’t giving money to a product that advocates wrongdoing be at least close to rejoicing in it? Or, when we advocate for a liberal position that ignores personal holiness in our lives? That’s essentially rejoicing in wrongdoing.

The fact is, no one meets these requirements for love. We all demand our own way, or pout when we don’t get it. We are all rude to someone we should care about. We are all envious at various times.

Paul is pointing out what love is, so we can measure ourselves and realize when we should repent of something.

Bottom line is, we can’t–and shouldn’t–cherry-pick Bible verses for other people, or ourselves. It is the whole word of God that requires careful study for our personal walk with the Lord. Personally, I believe that if we’re doing that, we’ll be very conscious of our own sin and unworthiness (in the midst of the flame, as it were) while those around us will be seeing us walk with one that shines like the son of  man.

What Is Idolatry, and Do I Practice it?

When we think of the Ten Commandments, probably the “law” that seems the most out-dated is “Thou Shalt Not Commit Idolatry,” or put another way, “Thou Shalt Not Make Unto Thyself Any Graven Images!”

Whew! Well, thank goodness we no longer carve images out of wood and bow down to them. But, look at those wacky Catholics! Boy, they sure didn’t get the memo! As for most civilized people, we’re waaaaay beyond that primitive stuff.

So, did God write a law akin to the law that if your car spooks a horse you need to hide it until the animal settles down? (that’s actually a law in Pennsylvania). Or, maybe it’s like the law in Missouri against driving down the highway with an uncaged bear. Or, laws that require a woman to get her husband’s permission before going to the stylist in Michigan!

Something tells me that God wasn’t short-sighted. He is the first and the last. Nothing is outside of His awareness and we don’t “out-grow” God’s laws. When He tells us that idolatry makes the top ten, we better understand that it’s a problem.

But, you might say, I don’t have any carved idols. In fact, I haven’t bowed down to anything since the time Justin Beeber was in town! And, his acting is wooden, so touche!

No, really, who worships carved idols? Nobody except some Aborigine somewhere, right?

WRONG!

We know the answer that people will worship their cars (what a sweet ride!) or sports (gotta have my ESPN!). The Sunday School answer is that anything that takes our attention away from God is idolatry.

That’s true, I might add. But it’s not the whole story.

How about our desire to know the future? Sure, we don’t put much stock in it, right? I mean, those fortune cookies are just lame. But, how about horoscopes? How about visiting mediums? Or rares? *rimshot*

Seriously, how many times have we seen some supposed Christian “declaring” what is going to happen? Something super-specific like “There will be an amazing event this year that will shake you to the core!!” Or maybe, “An old world leader who’s riddled with cancer will die this decade!” Or, “I’m seeing thousands of mis-matched socks that will be found right after you spend money on new pairs!”

Do you ever get sucked into believing the “predictions” of some “prophet” or sooth-sayer? Do you think that they are tapping into some force that allows them to predict the future?

If the answer was a “nooooo, not really,” then it’s probably really a “yes, I do!” And it shows the idolatry of our hearts more clearly than someone who waxes their car every day or follows all the sports stats religiously.

Idolatry, after all, is trying to tap into God’s power apart from God. This definition is synonymous with paganism. It’s believing that there’s power out there that does what only God can do, but God is trying to chase us away from it. Sound familiar?

It should. It’s what Satan told Eve in the garden. If she’d eat the forbidden fruit, she’d become like God, her eyes would be opened, etc. The same is true with idolatry. We start to believe that there’s this power we can tap into. We can speak things into existence. We can declare the future, and it will happen. We can invoke God’s power by our own will.

That’s straight up idolatry. It’s blasphemy. Our words cannot create anything. Only The Word of God creates. It is through Christ that all things were made and in Him sustained. (Col. 1:16-17). And yet, there are so-called Christian preachers who tell people this stuff. They tell them that they can declare money into their accounts (and then pay the pastor, I suppose). They tell them they can declare health to themselves (though the Apostle Paul couldn’t heal himself of the thorn in his flesh and couldn’t heal Timothy of his stomach issues).

These false teachers are wolves. They prey upon our natural desire to have money and health. They’re snake-oil salesmen who claim to offer a power that only God work. Anyone who believes them commits idolatry.

So, do you think there actually is this power? Do you think God has warned us away from witches because they can tell the future and affect things magically? If so, consider this passage:

Set forth your case, says the LORD; bring your proofs, says the King of Jacob.

Let them bring them, and tell us what is to happen. Tell us the former things, what they are, that we may consider them, that we may know their outcome; or declare to us the things to come.

Tell us what is to come hereafter, that we may know that you are gods; do good, or do harm, that we may be dismayed and terrified.

Behold, you are nothing, and your work is less than nothing; an abomination is he who chooses you. Is. 41:21-24

The idols and the false prophets cannot tell the future. They cannot explain the past. They cannot do harm or terrify anyone. Their works are ‘less than nothing,’ and those who believe in them are an abomination.

Short version: God has all power and he doesn’t share it with idols and false prophets. Idolatry is ascribing the power or attributes of God to anything else.