Be quick to hear, slow to speak

I summed up the previous post with this:

“Trust is earned and develops over time. But sometimes we forget that something must precede even the possibility for this trust to ever develop. Do you have any idea what that might be?”

Over the fifteen and some years I’ve been away from religious institutions I’ve learned a few things and met a variety of new friendships. The majority of the newer friendships have been fairly recent, most within the last two years. Due to a major failure of mine in continuing to cultivate what has become difficult at times with others over previous years, this time my focus is altogether different than it once was.

For years of religious routine, the focus despite including Jesus was really more about me, though rarely did I see this. It was about what I thought was right (my understanding of the truth), my rights (exercising my gifts, being respected etc) what I enjoyed  (as in music preference) and being around others who believed mostly in the manner I did. Their were these unspoken and subtle parameters that I had erected and God forbid you cross one. I wasn’t mean spirited at all, I just had my own preconceived notions about certain things, certain words and certain actions of others that to me were taboo. In reality though, I was erecting a standard that was inconsistent with the only standard- God’s alone. This is similar to those who refuse to celebrate certain holidays attempting to mandate that other Christians share their convictions or they separate from them. Is that an acceptable practice before God? Are we not called to accept those who God accepts and on His basis of acceptance alone?

For an example, when we were still in church, how many people did we judge who claimed to be Christians but didn’t go to church? I’ll answer that one: all of them. I couldn’t even conceive of a Christian being faithful who didn’t attend church. For how long did I believe that one must be trained professionally to become a religious leader? For a long, long time. It took years to reverse these ingrained lies, lies I chose to believe and even led many others to believe as well.

Sadly, all of us practice an even greater evil than this, an evil we justify time and time again. That evil is rejecting in words or practice someone that God has accepted and shaming them by our use of words or actions toward them. If someone comes to their aid this is what God promises will occur to the offender:

“Do not go out hastily to argue your case; (what we think is true about a given situation or individual) otherwise, what will you do in the end, when your neighbor humiliates you? (by proving us wrong or mistaken) Argue your case with your neighbor, and do not reveal the secret of another, or he who hears it will reproach you, and the evil report about you will not pass away”

In other words, when individuals are hurt or slandered (either purposefully or accidentally), their will be consequences that result for the offender- even if they are simply mistaken about their judgments. Compare this with the very next verse that contrasts a hastily spoken word with a rightly spoken and timely word:

“Like apples of gold in settings of silver is a word spoken in right circumstances”  One word is a dagger that gets brothers and sisters running from each other while the other is a balm of edification that draws others nearer one to another. Even in reproof the verse here applies beautifully:

“Like an earring of gold and an ornament of gold, is a wise reprover to a listening ear.”[Proverbs 25:8-12]

In our interactions with each other it is vital that we “hear” one another properly. Many people simply react to the things others say and do without even considering all the varying nuances that affect our communication one to another that I mentioned earlier. When this occurs then the proverb rings true:

“He who gives an answer before he hears, it is folly and shame to him.”[Proverbs 18:13] Can I offer an example of how this happened to me?

A year or so I met another brother who had a site and wrote about many of the things we all see rightly these days about what real biblical Christianity entails. At first our sharing was blessed and I thought we were very much likeminded. After a while he started writing my words in my emails back to me (in a different color) and commenting upon them. In many instances what he thought I wrote was not what I meant nor did it describe my positions. He was reading into what I wrote and not taking what I wrote at face value. This happened so many times he eventually accused me of being dishonest, even questioning whether I was even a believer at all! After attempting to reconcile the situation, I finally decided it wasn’t possible and politely stopped writing him. Granted, this was an extreme case, but most of our disagreements are nowhere near this, nor would they justify separation in any manner.

The fact is that many people get hurt and ostracized often for unjustifiable reasons all the time. This predominately occurs because “our agenda” isn’t being either protected or in some cases we believe it is being threatened. For example, my agenda could include “not being hurt by others” which is not only impossible to avoid but is selfish in nature. None of us can avoid being hurt, though we can decide the manner in which our hurt is addressed and what we will do about it. My agenda can also include defending my doctrinal distinctives (as in a system of theology) or participating in a fellowship so I can be encouraged which is also selfish in nature. In fact, in whatever manner I am attempting to secure something for myself from you or anyone else as a Christian, I have in some measure stopped “listening or hearing properly.” It is no different from marrying someone because they have something I want for myself. Does that exemplify our Lord Jesus or Paul the apostle who claimed it is more blessed to give than receive? Do we even believe this anymore?

There are many things in life we need to be quick to hear. First, we need to be quick to “hear” what Jesus is saying as we learn to follow Him. We need to quick to “hear” what the Spirit is saying to the ekklesias (or in our case our local ekklesia) and be sure our lives are properly aligned with His guidance and direction. Lastly, and equally important is this: We need to “hear” the hurts and pains of our brothers and sisters and attempt to relieve them- at our expense, especially if we caused them.

Without the cross of Christ working upon us, we will either attack others, defend our “rights” or separate from others when the pain becomes too much for us. None of the above is an acceptable substitute for dying to ourselves. My agenda, my rights, my anything must die in the interests of others. That is an acceptable sacrifice in our spiritual service of worship before God.

Where I truly have the interests of Jesus Christ my Lord as the focal point of my life, what others do or say will have little bearing upon how I act in return. When I embrace the fact that I no longer live, I have nothing left to justify nor defend. All that remains is Him, and a vessel for honor, sanctified, useful to the Master, prepared for every good work.

-the end

Be slow to speak/Part 1

“But everyone must be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger; for the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God” [James 1:19]

Recently a few newer friends made a decision to tryout some online fellowship through a medium known as Google + (plus). For those who may not know, this medium is a manner in which friends and family can chat and video conference one with another. Most days there is about 5-7 people who gather on Sunday nights as we learn what it means to love and serve one another. Although I cannot speak for the others, I personally believe this is a testing ground for me prior to an actual local ekklesia being established where I reside.

As is common among the majority of newer relationships, eventually our human limitations, oddities and even our failures come to be seen by others. This began among us the very minute some of us “appeared” to be discounting the value of our online fellowship as compared to the “real thing” in an actual localized ekklesia. Although the two are obviously different, neither is without value in their respective places. To some degree, the value therein is truly in the eye of the beholder, or might we say, participant.

Before long, our next challenge came about when one of us suggested we consider having a topic to discuss on occasion as we were led by the Spirit. The individual who suggested this through email wasn’t present the following week so I personally passed along his message to the other participants in his stead. Need I say this seemed to cause a little difficulty, some because of their views about being “led of the spirit” and others due to not fully understanding the implications of the suggestion itself and their subsequent attempt to discover that through questions. The suggestion and responses seemed to bring about a disconnect of sorts and seemed to disrupt what in previous gatherings was a more consistent flow of sharing and edification. It was awkward, though I personally wasn’t threatened by any of this and expected it to some degree. I would think that our adversary the devil would quickly desire to disrupt any form of an attempt at being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. Wasn’t this the exact warning given to us by a young child just a couple of weeks in?

“Therefore I, the prisoner of the Lord, implore you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing tolerance for one another in love…….” [Ephesians 4:1, 2]

Needless to say, each of us as Christians has our own perspective about the truth as well as the manner we believe we are to interact with one another. That said, these are all clouded by past or present religious tradition, our present practice of the truth, our cultural upbringing, race and a host of other natural and religious experiences and let’s not forget- personal sin. Each one of these affects the manner we choose to obey God and what we believe constitutes proper godly interaction with other believers.  That doesn’t however always mean that those we interact with will see or find our choices acceptable to what they deem to be proper and obedient. What results is a failure of living in a manner worthy of the calling of Christ one to another as we “run for the hills” away from anyone and everyone who causes us the slightest pain or offends our cherished religious preferences and various feelings we have toward them.

“My brethren, do not hold your faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ with an attitude of personal favoritism.”

Just because the text above in James 2:1 specifically addresses a distinction some make between the poor and wealthy saints, is it no less true in regard to every one of the potential things that have divided the saints for centuries and kept them divided? Am I not just as indicted as those herein if I surround myself with those who act and believe like I do and pretend I can disregard those who speak or act in a manner I’m uncomfortable with? How is that any different than the oppression levied by an unjust taxman?  Away with such hypocrisy!

Not long ago I made a comment to my friend Mark about not setting my expectations too high in relation to our fellowship one with another online. It became real apparent real quick that he disliked the statement and didn’t agree. I appreciated him telling me so and why. You see, like most of you, I’ve been hurt by a whole bunch of people over the years, including professing Christians. I’ve allowed myself to become pessimistic about these professors, rarely if ever giving another “the benefit of the doubt.” Instead I’m very quick to speak in relation to what I believe is acceptable for a Christian and what does not- before I’ve even earned the right to speak with them! Does anybody else see a problem with this?

Trust is earned and develops over time. But sometimes we forget that something must precede even the possibility for this trust to ever develop. Do you have any idea what that might be?

Continued next in: Be quick to hear, slow to speak

To die is gain

Every once in a while, I’ll share my true feelings with someone about what I think of this world and life in general. I’ll occasionally make statements like “I want outta here” or “It’s just another day” when asked how my day is going. I don’t generally have a pessimistic attitude toward life, though I do realize just how short most of the professing Christian world actually is from what God actually intended for His children and how He commands them to live. That truth isn’t actually encouraging now is it?

The truth is, for those who are even willing to see things as they actually are, this world and those in it are in a real mess and it’s going to take more than a superficial religious commitment to turn things around. The apostle Paul knew this well when he said the following words:

“But I am hard pressed from both directions, having the desire to depart and be with Christ, for that is very much better; yet to remain on in the flesh (body) is more necessary for your sake.”

It would appear that unlike us, Paul had an opportunity to physically depart and be with Christ at this point in his life. How he had this opportunity or how it might come about isn’t stated; nonetheless Paul was given the choice to depart this world and be with Christ. It was his choice whether to do so or not. We know what he decided from the next verse in Philippians 1:25;

“Convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with you all for your progress and joy in the faith…..

What Paul plainly says is gain here is the opportunity to depart this physical world and be with Christ. His hope for the future wasn’t tied up in what he could gain here in this world for himself but rather in the investment he had in Jesus Himself and to those he personally helped establish in the faith. Even when he could have chosen a better lot for himself by departing this world, he once again chose death to himself and his own desires for the sake of his brethren. To die physically was gain, but also was their gain in dying to himself. Paul also knew what his choice to remain on with the brethren would mean:

“But if I am to live on in the flesh, (body) this will mean fruitful labor for me; and I do not know which to choose”  Note that he doesn’t just say “more labor” but specifically fruitful labor. He is confident that His Father will continue to use him in establishing others and that the brethren will have “proud confidence in him” (verse 26). He obviously wasn’t seeking this from others, nonetheless it was the testimony of his practically crucified life before them. His own words in relation to what appeared to be “bad” God would turn to good:

“Now I want you to know, brethren, that my circumstances have turned out for (his good, not necessarily, but more importantly) for the greater progress of the gospel, so that my imprisonment in the cause of Christ has become well known throughout  the whole governors palace and to everyone else, and that most of the brethren, trusting in the Lord because of my imprisonment, have far more courage to speak the word of God without fear” [Philippians 1:12-14] Here we see WHY the brethren had proud confidence in him.

The answer to our frustrations, difficulties and discouragements with people isn’t abandoning them or wanting to escape this world with its sufferings. That might be best for us, but who are we without them and they without us?

To physically die to the pain of this world would be a great relief. To be with Christ would be far better yet. That said, another death calls which affords our brothers and sisters a great benefit here on earth and relays proud confidence and courage in the midst of all this world’s problems and life’s adversity. The only question that remains is whether I believe that the life that stems from death is for me, and whether I will be courageous as Paul in facing it.

To die is gain, but is to die for me. “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain”

-the end