the deeper life mystique and mistake

There is something plaguing Christianity and actually causing the shipwreck of the faith for many.* But before I get there, I want to acknowledge the importance of growing deeper in our faith, and the need for a deeper life in God. That possibility is right in scripture (Ephesians 3:14-21, one example). I have frankly thought, reflecting on myself, and what I’ve seen, that our faith can be 20 miles wide, and an inch deep. By faith we need to grow outward, inward, and through and through. And be taken into places that require God’s work of excavating what is in the way, and will only hinder what God wants to do, as well as to grow in our own walk and experience in the faith. Yes, there is indeed a depth into which God wants us to step into by faith, and begin to sink into. This kind of life has been pursued in Christianity for centuries without leaving the gospel behind, or altering it in the process, actually a maturing in the faith.

But there is either a perversion, or something that is off track and at least unhelpful that is all too common in too many Christian circles. And before you begin to think I’m referring to some specific group or movement, one must remember that there are differences and that not all teaching that might be put in this category is without some balance from scripture, so that there may be nothing at all essentially wrong with it.

But to the problem, I am referring to teaching which falls into the category of what in theological circles is called overrealized eschatology. That is a big term which means what God has promised to be fulfilled in the life to come is more or less expected now. There have been some grave errors which can be seen in the New Testament, one example: when Paul refers to those who said that the resurrection had already passed, possibly meaning that these Christians had thought they had arrived, overcoming death already.

Some examples today are those who insist on a second or third work of grace which distinguishes them from other Christians. For example those who refer to themselves as “Spirit-filled” or “Spirit-filled” churches. While an emphasis on the Spirit and the Spirit’s working might help Christians to be more open to God’s work in that way, all too often the result is anything but helpful, and far from scriptural.

A telling indication that something is wrong is when one sees their faith as better than others, or their church as better than other churches. Where the Spirit of the Lord is present there is not only freedom, but humility. Humility to understand our own ongoing need, with the realization that none of us are any better than the other.

Beware of a Christianity that emphasizes experience, oftentimes unusual experiences, and sees itself as a cut above the rest. “By their fruit you will know them.” If there’s not the humility of Christ to understand that we are in process, and always in great need individually and together, then we need to reconsider the teaching we’re receiving. And the Spirit binds us together in Christ and promotes our unity in Christ. We need to beware like the plague any teaching or church not in line with that.

At the same time, by grace we can begin to experience and grow into the fullness of God in Christ together by the Spirit in the word and the church. That is the real thing. The other is more or less phony, and needs to be rejected. But God’s grace in Jesus is present to whatever extent possible in any group. We simply have to be aware, and wary of what takes us beyond the clear teaching in scripture and the gospel. Be forewarned and avoid and help others avoid this plague. That instead we might grow up together into the fullness of Christ (Ephesians 4:13).

*From what I’ve seen, which admittedly is limited, but I am convinced myself is a pattern which at least infects our faith with something foreign to Christ and the gospel, and even results in people becoming disillusioned, and leaving the faith.

 

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the brokenness of our culture and the church

There isn’t a one of us who doesn’t need the Lord. “People need the Lord.” And we need each other in the Lord. The church is nothing less than the body of Christ. It is supposed to lovingly take care of itself, of its members, through mutual care from the head, Christ. And it’s supposed to, in love, reach out to the world. Christ’s saving and healing presence is primarily through the church, at least in getting through to people, of course through the gospel. But it’s also directly mediated to us by the Spirit.

On Scot McKnight’s blog, Jesus Creed, these two posts profoundly address this in much more detail: The Spirit And Discernment (Today) and The Death Of The Church: 1. If you don’t read another line of this post, and read those two, you’ll do well.

I am broken, too, of course. Just as in much need of God’s grace in Jesus from the Spirit, and through others, as anyone else. We can become more and more grounded in our faith and walk. But that doesn’t make us any less dependent on the Lord, and interdependent on each other, for sure.

May God give us the wisdom needed, and discernment to both be receiving the answer for ourselves, and helping others find the same help. In and through Jesus.

ignoring the sirens

I remember years ago at the Bible college I was at for a year, that a friend used to always pray whenever he heard a siren, probably for the people involved, particularly those in need, a good practice. My point is metaphorical, yet just as good, in fact quite important at least for me, in the walk of faith. I believe that there’s a sense in which we need to ignore the sirens that hit us off and on, sometimes repeatedly, over and over again for different reasons. The call is urgent and compelling; after all, I’m likening it to a siren.

Concern, even alarm, and urgent attention mark this call. Or maybe just plain dread. In biblical, and I would add, real life terms, we’re talking about what ultimately becomes a crippling fear, or an angst as in anxiousness, just plain, pure anxiety, which we cannot shake. These are all tell tale signs that something is wrong. And that these sirens in our head are getting us nowhere. If we respond to them, putting us on a never ending cycle of more and more of the same.

We simply need to ignore such siren calls, developing the discernment needed from God to tell the difference between the gentle, yet persistent promptings of the Spirit from the loud, edgy, restless, and ultimately accusatory, even condemning tones of what comes from the enemy. It might come from ourselves, and the way we have responded to life over the years, sometimes certain key factors or moments from childhood playing a part. Even so, in biblical terms the flesh and the devil, along with the world are all intertwined. I think of the world here as a system which does not acknowledge God, or God’s good rule. The flesh as our broken humanity which is set against God, even if religious, and trying to do what is well, right and good on our own. And the devil as the demonic element which while not at all equal to God, has full sway in both the world and the flesh, as depicted here.

There is no way we can simply get rid of fear and troubling thoughts from what we’ve taken in of the sirens that surround us, or come our way.  We simply have to turn our ears in a new direction, and get them in tune for a different sound all together, as well as learning to hear the other for what it really is, so that eventually we don’t hear it much at all, if at all, since we understand it’s actually a false alarm, not from God.

But in the meantime, we simply have to take the stand of faith, not letting such sirens move us. Instead, when we hear them, waiting for God’s direction, the still small voice, or gentle whispering of the Spirit (1 Kings 19:12). And accepting nothing less than God’s peace. And in that, finding God’s help to navigate all the questions, and difficult paths of life we encounter. In and through Jesus.

the wheels turning slow, more often than not, a good thing, but must be turning

The Council at Jerusalem in Acts 15 is a momentous occasion in the history of the faith, when what is required of God’s people with reference to the coming of Christ and what we now call the old covenant, was nailed down. But it wasn’t something that was just slapped together in a trial and error kind of way in reaction to a problem. And when you think about it, it required some significant time to have the substantial basis for the answer the apostles and elders agreed to.

It was at least eight years after Peter had first proclaimed the message of the gospel to the Roman centurion, Cornelius, and that the Holy Spirit was poured out on the believing Gentiles through hearing the message. During that time Paul’s testimony of how many Gentiles came to faith during his missionary journeys agreed with that. Surely I would think that it didn’t take long for a group of believers, or some leader to insist that circumcision and old covenant requirements remained intact. As a matter of fact, I’m thinking that such was probably taken for granted by much of the early church, comprised entirely of Jewish believers, along with those Gentiles who had converted to Judaism as God-fearers.

On the other hand, as one can see from the text, it was in response to a problem which had arisen, that the council was called in the first place. So that we can surmise that it’s not good to put every problem on the back burner. Or maybe better put, we keep the wheels of deliberation turning, without some hasty reaction, which might have to be taken back, even repented of, later.

The council was called in response to a problem, like councils in the early church that followed and hammered out the teaching of scripture for the church such as Christ’s two natures: fully God, and fully human, along with the Trinity. All in response to teachings in their day which were off the mark.

I think it’s wise to move slow, and with consensus, especially among those who are leaders in the church, in harmony with the Spirit and the entire church. And yet there’s a time to make the critical move and perhaps the pronouncement which comes with it.

This doesn’t mean we should be afraid to act, or speak something into a situation. Maybe God is leading us to, maybe not, but when we have an inkling of that, we would do well to gently, but firmly do so. Yet at the same time, we live with the realization that change takes time, and actually that we’re a part of that. We need the time ourselves, to reflect on our own journey. In the case in Acts, it took Peter some time to come around and then be fully convinced and confirmed in the change. And not without a struggle, even backsliding (see Galatians 2).

God will keep us faithful to the gospel, even when we inevitably misstep along the way in details of how we’re to live it out, and be a witness to it. And it’s a process of growth into that, not something which happens overnight. With the new life in place, we might think we have all we need to do everything. But it’s much wiser to stay the course over time, looking to others, and to the church at large, as we continue in scripture ourselves.

May God give the church wisdom in all of this in whatever days and years remain before Christ’s return.

following God’s peace

There are times when we would like to work at resolving issues in a way which seems strongly reasoned and fair. And we are full of words. And actually there might be plenty of truth in what we’re saying.

But if we can look beneath the surface and have some discernment beyond what is obvious, we might find out that there’s more to be thought and said. We need to look for other possibilities as to what is happening and why. At the same time being careful not to put the worst case scenario with reference to ourselves in that case, although being open to any sin of ours which either might be clouding our thoughts (such as pride), or factors into what we’re concerned about.

And above all, we need to seek God’s peace. What might God have us do, as well as not do in the given situation is a good question. Where God’s peace lies, is another important consideration here.

This is all together, since deliberation in search for discernment is ordinarily part of the process that God wants of us as his children, and as such, as those who are responsible and in a certain sense, adults. There are exceptions to the rule when we might not be able to put our finger on why, but we just have the strong sense that God’s peace lies in a certain direction, but not in another.

By God’s peace here, I mean an inner feeling and sense that would be considered mystical. But through Christ by the Spirit, through faith, we can indeed experience this, at times quite strong, at other times, simply present. Ideally it is experienced with others in Jesus. But often enough, it will be experienced only by ourselves. If it’s of God, it should be persistent and prevailing.

This can be especially important at certain junctures of life, when change is in the air, and decisions are being made. We should expect a kind of general peace along the way from God, but I refer here to something stronger to help us either avoid what is wrong, or go in a better direction. In and through Jesus.

 

the need for civil discourse

Does not wisdom call out?
    Does not understanding raise her voice?

….Listen, for I have trustworthy things to say;
    I open my lips to speak what is right.

Proverbs 8:1,6

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of a special kind of wisdom that God wants to give. I take that in the sense of reverence and awe, and because of Jesus, not cowering fear. But there is also a general wisdom given to all humankind from God. So that when wisdom speaks, it can speak from just about any source. Maybe even from the devil, if you would backmask that.

And the funny thing is that all of that wisdom is a gift from God. So that we need to have ears to discern, but in the first place listen.

But a big part of wisdom is to see through the deceptive, foolish allure of sin, and to ferret out both deception and foolishness, that which isn’t wise. And let’s all face it, we all carry a mix of wisdom and foolishness. I’m not saying we’re out and out fools, although scripture says there are such people. Let God be the judge of who. But we can be downright foolish and obtuse. Just the realization of that can help us to be quiet and listen, and only offer humbly any thoughts which might be helpful, but otherwise to be still.

In this day and age, and surely not unlike any other, but maybe given all the media outlets and ability to publish one’s thoughts anonymously, we need like no other time to measure words, first our own words, and then the words of others. We need civil discourse, which means a commitment to listen well, ask questions, listen some more, and offer carefully, with openness to correction and refinement, whatever we might have to say.

This doesn’t mean that we don’t stand by some principles or truths, such as the need for justice for all, the end never justifies the means, etc., etc. And as Christians, we do so with an eye and heart ever ready to be a witness in life and in word to the good news in Jesus.

Love is to mark us in all we do. And what we’re to model in all of this. Love listens, makes its appeal, and accepts the outcome, including inevitable differences all of us will have.

Something needed today in our society which should always be what we in Jesus strive for in all of our interactions. In and through him.

mind games

But I am afraid that just as Eve was deceived by the serpent’s cunning, your minds may somehow be led astray from your sincere and pure devotion to Christ.

2 Corinthians 11:3

Certainly a gnawing, paralyzing fear is a tip of the hand, dead give away that God is not behind it, but an enemy bent on destruction, or at least on making us lose our footing or even resolve.  Another sure sign is when we are troubled over something which is within our sight, but not troubled when it’s out of sight. Two signs there: Simply being troubled at all, when rather we can pray with thanksgiving, and act on it in an appropriate way at a good time. And the fact that when we’re occupied with other things, the fear is gone. If something is of God, we won’t be able to escape it. It will gently and lovingly persist, and move us in a helpful direction, not in the direction of paralyzing fear or even torment.

The bottom line for us everyday should be a desire to live in a sincere and pure devotion to Christ. Whatever else we have to do and be occupied in, that should be where we live.

It is vitally important that we learn to recognize these things. Whether we like it or not, we are in a spiritual battle. We have to persist in the way of God whatever thoughts and fears might be bombarding us. Holding to faith, standing our ground (Ephesians 6:10-20) and not giving into the crafty deceptions of the enemy. In and through Christ we can do that, and we must.