stay in the lines

When I do a post, sometimes I want to make a particular point on an opinion, maybe even close to a conviction of mine. But then I remember what this blog and what Christian ministry is all about. It’s not about what we think, but about God’s word. Yes, God’s word interpreted, and in consideration of how the Spirit has guided the church in that interpretation, maybe we can say, loosely speaking. And then I draw back, going to what the word, Scripture specifically says.

Opinions are fine for talking, conversational points, but not good for Christian teaching.

There are issues of interpretation, called biblical hermeneutics. And that can open up controversy, no doubt. Maybe there’s a place for that in considering different ways a text might be understood, with perhaps more than one point being made in a text. That’s part of the genius and depth of Scripture. At the same time, we do well to seek to stay in the lines of what Scripture is saying, noting possible differences in understanding that, but nevertheless seeking to stay true to what Scripture calls itself: God’s (written) word.

I think sometimes Scripture is a bit fuzzy on purpose, and that we’re not meant to unravel it all. At the same time we ought to pay attention to both sound interpretation along with how the church has generally interpreted a passage, trusting that the Spirit keeps the church true to the main intent of Scripture, the gospel, and in doing so, helps the church on the details. There is a need for reformation in understanding at times, because humans and institutions within the church can get off track.

The main point here is to seek to adhere to what Scripture says, what God might be saying through it, along with what God indeed is saying. And remain in dialog with that, with the goal of remaining true in both faith and practice. In and through Jesus.

think, think some more, and don’t quit thinking

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.

Philippians 4:8

The Apostle Paul uses terminology and actually says something here which makes it clear that we draw truth and what is good from various sources, from anywhere they might come from. Of course he would say that we have to test everything in terms of what God has revealed in Scripture, but so much is not contradictory to that. For example today we take much of medical science for granted, at least on some scale. And I completely accept the idea of mental illness and psychology along with medications which can help alleviate or at least deal with that. And then I’ll go to the arts: painting, music, etc. Much of beauty and what is good found there, and much of it from non-Christians.

When it comes to the faith itself, there is a rich tradition of deep theological thought and reflection on Scripture and life. I lament because it seems like much of that is set aside as less than lame, more like dead. But if one seriously reads through all of Scripture themselves, they’ll come to realize that such is not the case. The depth found in Scripture is something to remain in and explore the rest of our lives, in prayer and in life.

Of course we need discernment. Not everything out there is good. There is the cunning deceptive work of the enemy, the devil. We have to have discernment from God to see through anything that is contradictory to the main point of Scripture: the gospel. And we weigh what is good and not so good, along with rejecting what is false. If we don’t learn to think, pray and live deeply, we will fail to discern what is good, and might fall for what is not.

There at least needs to be a broad agreement on what Paul says here. Certainly Christians won’t see eye to eye on everything; we all bring a different perspective. But we should at least have the bigger picture in view, fulfilled in Jesus, so that we question many things, and remain true to the big picture found in Scripture along with the details, that of God’s grace and kingdom come and being fulfilled in and through Jesus.

the danger of extra-biblical teaching

Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth. Avoid godless chatter, because those who indulge in it will become more and more ungodly. Their teaching will spread like gangrene. Among them are Hymenaeus and Philetus, who have departed from the truth. They say that the resurrection has already taken place, and they destroy the faith of some.

2 Timothy 2:15-18

The Spirit guides the church through Scripture. There is always danger from those who claim to have something the church doesn’t have, something more. What that actually amounts to is something more than Scripture, or even a better take on what Scripture actually says, maybe they would call it more spiritual, deeper, closer to the heart of God.

Where churches might actually disagree on interpretation of Scripture is secondary, and not at all what is meant here. Such discussions must be grounded in Scripture itself, and over time be accepted as a viable possibility by the church at large. What is mentioned here goes beyond that, beyond what Scripture actually says. It might seem harmless at first, and even good, but when it becomes divisive and actually cuts other churches and believers off, then we have more than yellow flags up, but we see red.

Beware of all such. And keep a discerning eye open, because they pop up here and there, and will continue to do so throughout this time before our Lord returns. We have to warn them, and warn others who may be influenced by them, which means everyone, and especially those who may be under their influence. The Passion Translation is sadly an example of this. You certainly find it in other places, as well.

What we need to come back to and remain in is the teaching of the word, and yes, what the Spirit has taught the churches even over the centuries as to the meaning and truth of that. If we paid attention to what Scripture actually says, yes, some things indeed hard to understand, but others pretty straightforward, we would be at that all of our lives, growing in the truth that is found in Scripture and fulfilled in Jesus. Part of that, and what the church is called to, especially church leadership is discernment between truth and error. Stay away from people who claim to have something more. What they say should be exposed and summarily rejected.

Not pleasant, but essential, and part of the church’s calling. In and through Jesus.

when Christians disagree

I plead with Euodia and I plead with Syntyche to be of the same mind in the Lord. Yes, and I ask you, my true companion, help these women since they have contended at my side in the cause of the gospel, along with Clement and the rest of my co-workers, whose names are in the book of life.

Philippians 4:2-3

It’s inevitable that no two people who think very long at all are going to think exactly alike. We all bring a different intellectual and moral calculus to our deliberations in making judgments on life. Certainly our experiences factor in as well, as does a whole host of other matters, so that it may seem at least on the surface that we disagree with each other. It can be a case of talking past each other in misunderstanding, but there are times when we do disagree. Or for whatever reason we might even be disagreeable simply because we don’t easily get along with someone else.

Whatever the case may have been, Euodia and Syntyche, two ladies who contended at Paul’s side for the gospel were at odds with each other. For one reason or another, they weren’t getting along. On some level, evidently they weren’t seeing eye to eye. And there was division between them. This was not something tolerable to Paul, certainly understandable when you consider this entire letter.

Paul counsels them to be of the same mind “in the Lord.” I consider “in the Lord” key, because that can make all the difference in the world when there is honest disagreement. We might be helped to see that the other person might have a point, that we might possibly be missing something. Or at least that our disagreement is not to be compared with our agreement in the power and truth of the gospel. So that even if we’re not in agreement on something lesser, we can at least recognize that it is indeed not as important as what we agree on. The problem sometimes is when one or the other, or both simply won’t let go of the disagreement instead of agreeing to major on what they do agree on, perhaps finding ways their agreement in the gospel, in Christ addresses their problem.

Oftentimes we develop an attitude, at least of weariness or of thinking that we can’t escape the issue being front and center. This is a problem in this day and age when we find a polarization in society, which is seen within the church, as well. How can we live together well with such differences? The answer is surely in our commitment to, not to mention our dependence on the gospel.

Paul counsels the church to help these women. It had become such an issue, that the church needed to step in, not to judge them, but to help them find their way to peace so that they could live well together in the reconciliation that is in Christ. And in so doing, they could become a model for others in how to live in the unity of the Spirit in their oneness in Christ through the gospel, in spite of what differences they had, or may have still had. Something we need to aspire to today, in a day when lesser things can impede and imperil what is first and foremost: our commitment to Christ and the gospel, and our unity in that. All of this possible in and through Jesus.

living in a different world

Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called when you made your good confession in the presence of many witnesses.

1 Timothy 6:12b

It is one thing to believe with the promise of eternal life. It’s another thing to take hold of the eternal life, as Paul is saying here to Timothy. What this amounts to is living in a different world with feet solidly on the ground in the real world. And what’s involved in that is the presence of Christ in the world found in the church, the body of Christ. The groundbreaking for that was in Christ’s resurrection from the dead bringing the new life into the world destined to transform everything: the new creation in Christ.

Thankfully for us in Christ the real world is rooted in Christ. What is passing away seems front and center now, but not to us. What is front and center for us is nothing more and nothing less than the new creation in Christ. We live in a different world entirely. But to do so we too need to take hold of that world by faith. To live in that so that it permeates our lives through and through. But meant for this world, invading and somehow impacting the world through the presence and life of Christ in us. That others might see and believe. With impact on culture and judgment and final salvation to come. In and through Jesus.

 

against the heresy of prosperity gospel teaching

Looking at his disciples, he said:

“Blessed are you who are poor,
for yours is the kingdom of God.
Blessed are you who hunger now,
for you will be satisfied.
Blessed are you who weep now,
for you will laugh.
Blessed are you when people hate you,
when they exclude you and insult you
and reject your name as evil,
because of the Son of Man.

“Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, because great is your reward in heaven. For that is how their ancestors treated the prophets.

“But woe to you who are rich,
for you have already received your comfort.
Woe to you who are well fed now,
for you will go hungry.
Woe to you who laugh now,
for you will mourn and weep.
Woe to you when everyone speaks well of you,
for that is how their ancestors treated the false prophets.

Luke 6:20-26

I hardly know where to turn first for a Scripture refuting the popular heretical teaching that Jesus wants you to be healthy and wealthy. I certainly believe that those who follow Jesus tend to do better in life in the United States. They won’t blow what they make on addictions, and will try to do what they can to take care of their families. But if you live in many places in the world, this becomes difficult, because Christians are marginalized at best, and persecuted at worst.

The idea that all is to be happy and great now is not rooted in the Bible, in the gospel accounts, or what follows. I challenge anyone who thinks otherwise to simply start reading Scripture, beginning with the gospel of Matthew, and put aside everything else. Just read what Scripture says, not what some popular preacher or one purporting to be a Christian teacher says. Read Scripture and ask questions, the hard questions included.

Prosperity gospel teaching is heretical. Heresy is what is opposed to the plain teaching of Scripture, recognized by the church through the Spirit. The way of Jesus is not living it up in this world, but the way of the cross. Or did my Bible change? I think not.

Either we can be like Jesus, or the world. Following Jesus like Paul and the apostles did. There’s nothing in between, although I think that’s where many of us drift. Instead of double mindedness, we need to find our way in Jesus. Read the New Testament, then read the Old Testament, and the New Testament again. And see just how true this is. In and through Jesus.

the call to prayer

Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful.

Colossians 4:2

In Scripture we’re told repeatedly about the necessity, yes necessity of ongoing persistent prayer. Yet it’s so easy for us to lapse into relative prayerlessness. At least I can speak for myself. If there’s one activity I want the rest of my life to be characterized by, it would be ongoing prayer. Of course it ought not to end there. Acts of love will accompany that, if real prayer is offered.

This is addressed to individuals, but in a community context. As the church we’re to pray together. I think there’s plenty of value in what I would suppose is the time honored tradition of churches saying liturgical prayers together at gatherings. As we sing together, we should also pray together, lifting up our voices to God.

I see the community aspect just mentioned as underrated and underplayed, and yet present in our circles. But I also think we need to persist as individuals in prayers day after day, and through everything, large and small concerns, for ourselves, our growth in grace and witness, and for others, their good and salvation.

This is something we’re called to do. It won’t be done for us, in other words there’s no substitute for us doing it ourselves. Others praying for us or for situations certainly brings life and help. But we’re responsible to be praying ourselves. And to stay at it, yes devoted to prayer, just as the Apostle Paul wrote in the quotation above. To grow in that and stay at it, in and through Jesus.

 

my own take on whether a fallen pastor/Christian leader can be reinstated

Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. Therefore I do not run like someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air. No, I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.

1 Corinthians 9:24-27

…God’s gifts and his call are irrevocable.

Romans 11:29

Lately we’ve had a spate of Christian leaders actually leaving the faith, and right along there are examples of Christian leaders failing morally or in some other way. There’s no question that the qualifications for Christian leaders is high (1 Timothy 3:1-13; Titus 1:5-9). Their lives are to be an example to the church they serve.

But what if ordained leaders such as pastors fail? I’ve gone back and forth on this one myself. I mostly have believed, given the right discipline by the church which would include a significant time out of the ministry that yes, they can be restored and reinstated. It is one thing to repent; another to actually change (Psalm 51).

Of course such need to repent, and reform their lives, and use the gift God has given them for the good of the church and for others. I think when people do that, provided they remain on the straight and narrow, they’re still open to receiving the prize the Apostle Paul mentions in the 1 Corinthians passage above.

I personally would include ordained ministry in that as well. What God gifts to be a blessing should be recognized by the church as such. Yes, the failure is always a mark left which cannot be blotted out. But by God’s grace there can always be full reinstatement as long as there’s repentance and change over time. The church, and especially the leadership of the church needs to be in charge of that.

I believe it is nothing less than a ploy of the devil for a leader to think that their ministry is ruined after they fall. At the same time, anyone who is tempted needs to grab themselves and take every measure possible to counter that temptation. Anyone who sins causes a world of hurt to their family and to the church, as well as to themselves. And you don’t just step out of the nightmare overnight. Though to think one can’t repent and be restored and reinstated over time is I think again a deception of the devil.

In the end, we need to all watch ourselves, as well as our faith in both belief and conduct. So that as we learn to follow our Lord more closely, others can follow our example. And for those who have fallen, that there may be hope for others who fail as people see that the repentance and change of life is genuine. In and through Jesus.

the opinion/knowing that matters

This, then, is how you ought to regard us: as servants of Christ and as those entrusted with the mysteries God has revealed. Now it is required that those who have been given a trust must prove faithful. I care very little if I am judged by you or by any human court; indeed, I do not even judge myself. My conscience is clear, but that does not make me innocent. It is the Lord who judges me. Therefore judge nothing before the appointed time; wait until the Lord comes. He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of the heart. At that time each will receive their praise from God.

1 Corinthians 4:1-5

I think it’s wise when a church does not rush into judgments “where angels fear to tread.” At the same time the church does have responsibility to make judgments on cases involving sin which violate covenant faithfulness. We see that in this same letter, soon following this passage (5:1-13). So this passage has nothing at all to do with that.

What Paul was getting at here is judgment of the heart: the motives, why people, specifically in this case Christian leaders do what they do. Whether it’s for the glory of God, out of love for God and for others. And that standard was not just for leaders, though they were to exemplify it.

The older I get, the less trusting I am of either my own motives, or my ability to judge them. It has been well said, people have mixed motives for what they do. Some may be good, some not as good, and some even bad. It it’s to call any attention to ourselves, or somehow to make us think we’re better than others, than of course it’s no good. I am skeptical of the idea that whenever we do something, it is bound to have mixed motives. I’m not sure that’s sound Biblically and theologically. By grace it seems to me that we can do something out of sheer love. But in the end I would go where Paul goes in this passage. I can’t judge the heart on any particular instance. Only God can do that.

Sometimes I do need some straightening out along the way. That can come indirectly through others, and always directly from the Lord through the convicting, convincing work of the Holy Spirit. Often though for me, I’m muddling along in the messiness of life, aware of perceived deficiencies, sometimes seeming to crush me in a kind of condemning way, a sure sign that God is nowhere near such a judgment.

Anything like that we need to let go of. Realizing that in the end it’s God who will make the final judgment, and in the meantime will help us along the way. The bottom line is that we need to trust in God. Sometimes in this life someone like a needed surgeon, can help us discern issues underneath the surface which are harmful to us, and likely to others (Proverbs 20:5).

In the end, it’s God who makes all the final judgments. And note that then, each person will receive praise from God. Not condemnation at all, nor even censure. The text says, praise from God. We can’t make an argument from silence, but this is encouraging. I take it that the Father will want to sound that note for each of his children, when it’s all said and done.

Does this thought lend itself to carelessness? I surely hope not. God’s grace is at work in our lives to give us a heart to follow him in love and service for others. In and through Jesus.

I’m okay; I’m not okay

I was asked recently by a friend how I was doing, maybe even if I was okay. I replied that I’m okay, and I’m not okay. And that’s the way I think and feel about life in this present world.

I’m okay in that my identity is “in Christ.” And I’m part of Christ and his body in the world. “In Christ” I have God’s promises that begin now, and assure a good outcome.

I’m not okay, because of all the suffering in a broken world. Christians are persecuted today, arguably worse than ever, worldwide. And many other peoples suffer as well at the hands of injustice and pure evil.

I am a citizen of a nation (the US) where I don’t believe either major political party is pro-life, if one considers all that’s involved in helping people from the womb to the tomb. And where there’s a growing, deeper divide, the two sides further and further apart. And Christians taking up sides, but where I live, mostly one side, which I think is mistaken. The issues are more complex than that, I think. And neither major party is worthy of endorsement by Christians, but rather, rebuke. But we should praise whatever good we can find.

I am uncomfortable with a Christianity which doesn’t openly grieve over injustice. I don’t believe that is consonant with the Bible I read. How can we be okay when so many Christians are suffering? There’s no doubt that any real suffering in the US, minimal at this point is often self-inflicted through caricatures, and not trying to understand, as well as not accepting what has always been true in the United States: people don’t agree, and often vehemently disagree. Look into the early history of the US, and you’ll find plenty of that, and it never ends.

I think Christians can ultimately be okay, because they know in the end that Christ prevails, that the gospel, the good news in Jesus wins. And that God is working in his grace in spite of so much, often the church in the most persecuted places, growing exponentially and thriving.

Yet at the same time, with Jesus and the prophets we weep. Longing for something better in this life since we’ve been given a taste of that “in Christ.” As we look forward to the end of all the brokenness and evil, in God’s kingdom to come. In and through Jesus.