The practice of trust/Part 2

Looking over the Corinthian ekklesia as we find it in scripture, or the average church for that matter, “Would we say that there were at least a few problems that existed among those called saints therein?” Would it seem readily apparent that a deep unity exists or rather chaos?” I trust that we all know the appropriate answer.

Looking over these various groups of people, those appointed as the elders regularly decide the most appropriate manner in which to deal with the continual onslaught of selfishness and every other sin so readily apparent among the younger set. Most have all but given up dealing with those hidden sins and focus primarily upon what is so evident among the assemblies. Is there a specific manner in which people’s sins are to be addressed or is this solely up to those given the charge among the saints?

Knowing the content of the state of these Corinthians beforehand, I marvel at the fact that Paul addresses these carnal believers as those who have been sanctified in Christ Jesus, saints by calling, with all whom in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, their Lord and ours: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. [1 Corinthians 1:2, 3]  Have you ever thought about why he addressed them so? I think I know why.

Reading on in 1 Corinthians we find these statements:

  • (1:4) the grace of God given you in Christ Jesus
  • (1:5) the testimony concerning Christ was confirmed in you
  • (1:6) that you are not lacking any (spiritual) gift
  • (1:9) God is faithful, through whom you were called into fellowship

It is quite plain that he knew these “facts” based upon personal interaction with these believers despite their current problems. Paul goes on in 1 Corinthians 4:15;

 “For if you were to have countless tutors in Christ, yet you would not have many fathers, for in Christ Jesus I became your father through the gospel”  

Immediately after these truthful declarations above (which didn’t exactly seem to be readily apparent) he launches out into the issues at hand making one in particular the priority in 1 Corinthians 1:10;

“Now I exhort you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all agree and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be made complete in the same mind and same judgment”

Considering the circumstances that prevailed at that time among them, that seems like the most ridiculous statement Paul could have possibly made at the time. Seriously Paul, “Do you really think they are capable of that with all the prevailing chaos?”

There is a very valuable lesson to be learned here. Regardless of who we are, what we have done or our present circumstances, the commands of God are just as vital and necessary to be obeyed regardless. I find value in his initial indictment of them being segregated with him saying “each one of you”- equally distributing the blame for their sectarian attitudes. He calls them out for what he sees as sin in them, all the while reminding them of what has united them (unity and fellowship in the name of Jesus alone). Of all the criticism and correction Paul brings before these Corinthians, his primary answer is stated outright- their unity in Jesus as the basis of moving forward.

One doesn’t have to look far to find evidence of disunity among various groups of believers. Those who support or cling to any name other than Jesus as a means of a bond can never be united to other believers practically. That stems from the wisdom of this world to which every true Christian has been positionally crucified in Christ. Paul is only asking them to die to the sectarian allegiances to men from which they had previously been released from through their union with Christ. He was calling them out on their divided allegiance between the men that had influence upon them and Christ Himself. He goes on to minimize the contributions of men, including himself (And what is Paul?) and magnifies God who causes our spiritual growth to occur.

THE DETRIMENT OF MEN

It is a fairly common occurrence for those who have initially influenced us spiritually to hold some sway over us in subsequent years. We have been taught by our own “fathers in the faith” what to believe and how to live those beliefs out. It is not a surprise that we become reliant upon these people for our spiritual direction and even sustenance if we neglect our own devotion to Christ as a person. We’ve often been taught that to reject or stand opposed to our spiritual fathers is tantamount to standing against God Himself.

There is a very real fear that accompanies the thought of being disconnected from a particular religious persuasion or a group of people. We have been taught to trust these people and to believe that they are genuinely looking out for us. To be stripped of these religious moorings can have quite the adverse and traumatic affect upon some people. They need to find a safe place where they are welcome among other believers.

FREE TO BE ME

“It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery” [Galatians 5:1]  

Although the verse above is primarily a warning about returning to the yoke of attempting to be justified through the law and how this amounts to being enslaved, it also speaks to other aspects of the law which also bind people to religious traditions that no longer apply in the New Covenant of His blood.

Under the Old Covenant God called specific priests to be the mediators between God and other men. These men would receive a word or message from God and then address the congregation with what God had spoken to them. This sounds fairly benign, except under the New Covenant God no longer operates with men as mediators- for today there is only one mediator between men and God, the Lord Jesus Christ. To reject this or to remain under the Old Covenant practice is to be enslaved all over again. This is what Paul warns us not to do.

Many other examples could be given, the entire book of Hebrews delineates the differences between the old way and the new and better way of the Spirit. Part of this better way is the manner believers are called to fellowship together- what constitutes a proper expression of the local assembly of saints.

It would do the average professing Christian to consider their present weekly practice or service and then compare that to this:

“What is the outcome then, brethren? When you assemble, each one has a psalm, has a teaching, has a revelation, has a tongue, has an interpretation. let all things be done for edification. ” [1 Corinthians 14:26]

Earlier in chapter 12 Paul talks about the resources we use in edifying one another as coming from the Spirit of God:

“Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit. And there are varieties of ministries (services), and the same Lord. There are varieties of effects, but the same God who works all these things in all persons. But to each one is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. But one and the same Spirit works all these things, distributing to each one individually  just as He wills” [1 Corinthians 12:4-7, 11]

When assembling with other Christians, each individual has a responsibility to learn to share their particular gift(s) with the other saints who are present. The only restriction is that what we share is edifying to the other believers who are present.

Considering the chaos that was present with these Corinthians, that doesn’t stop Paul from encouraging them to follow these guidelines, even after he called them men of flesh, as to infants in Christ. Why did he call them such? “For since there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not fleshly, and are you not walking like mere men?” [1 Corinthians 3;3, 4]  Once again, the command to share their spiritual gifts is not negated nor retracted due to their infancy in Christ. They are not told to grow up first then share their gift, but to simply act as the Holy Spirit leads them.

Now for the more mature among us, this is a real test before us is it not? Is it a coincidence that immediately preceding the chapter upon prophesy and assembly instruction that a whole chapter upon love is stated to be a priority. That despite what gifts we might possess, that if we fail to love our brothers and sisters that our gifts amount to exactly nothing? Consider this list prior to one’s next assembly gathering:

  • Love is patient
  • Love is kind
  • Love is not jealous
  • Love does not brag
  • Love is not arrogant
  • Love does not act unbecomingly
  • Love does not seek its own
  • Love is not provoked
  • Love does not take into account a wrong suffered
  • Love does not rejoice in unrighteousness
  • Love rejoices with the truth
  • Bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
  • Love never fails

The truth be told, we trust each other so little that even a small misspoken word is often corrected in an instant. We’re so selfish we can’t even let a brother finish a few sentences without interrupting. That’s the proof of how important we think we are among the saints.

Love is: Love is a state of being from which one is commanded to perpetually operate. One cannot try to be patient, try to be kind or try not to be jealous. One either is or isn’t depending upon the degree of Jesus present in their lives at any moment.

Love does not: Love does not is indicative of the choices we make regularly in our lives. We either choose to not be provoked or we do not. We choose to take into account a wrong suffered or we do not. We choose to not seek our own or we do not. This is not a present state of being, though that present state does affect our willingness to obey these very specific commands.

Love never fails: You cannot go wrong loving others or do what is wrong loving others. Love never fails and triumphs where all else cannot succeed.

FEAR OR LOVE?

Since our inception as a “hangout ekklesia” (obviously not the best terms) the present participants have both considered and invited other likeminded believers among us. Some check the group out, a few have visited and on rare occasion somebody sticks around. Like any group of believers, as they get to know one another various conflicts or differences in discernment and judgment are likely to arise among the saints and that’s exactly what has happened with us. This is fairly common with any group of believers, which is why three very important things should be considered from the onset of new groups (ekklesias) and the mutual interaction of the participants with one another:

  • For what purpose am I here?
  • What constitutes participation? (For each person and new people)
  • How are decisions made among the group?

Rest assured, if these are not discussed beforehand and decided upon by the initial participants there is bound to be trouble ahead. It’s vital that a basis for trust is established and that is what the answers to the above questions will accomplish among any group. They are not meant to be rules that govern the group, but these questions will arise sooner or later so it may be best to address them before any group becomes to big.

I left my participation in a Sunday hangout because although I thought that most of us were agreed in Spirit upon how to answer the questions above, the actions of some proved that in reality we were not. Although no participants bothered to give their reasons to me when asked, here are my answers which you can compare with your own in private.

Question #1   I originally participated in Sunday hangout because I was invited by an individual who I believed was building spiritually in the same manner that I was. Through this individual, I was introduced to several others who also were very likeminded in the things we were being shown by God and the nature in which we lived those things out. Over the first few gatherings I was convinced we were all going in the same direction and had the same intentions. I am no longer convinced of that. I believe God desires me to participate with Jesus in building a local ekklesia where I live and to help others in their locales do the same. Obviously there were other benefits, like developing lasting friendships with whom I could remain accountable; nonetheless, I would consider the former to be the primary reasons why I participated in hangouts.

Question #2   What I believed constituted participation in the hangouts were two things. First, that a participant is genuinely born again and not living in active and perpetual sin. Second, they have the above interest (question 1) at heart and have written or speak along these lines regularly and who refuse to act in any manner that willfully contradicts scripture. This practice often echoes New Testament Christianity and includes a rejection of “church” and all that includes for the better way in the Spirit found in the book of Hebrews.

As to invites, we politely asked the other participants and occasionally recommended other people. For the most part those recommendations were trusted by one another.

Question #3   Decisions were made among the group by a consensus of all the participants together regarding every issue. Unless we were entirely in agreement about a matter, we waited until that agreement could be brought about by God. In recent weeks one of the participants beliefs became a concern and some restrictions were enacted (with the participants participation) so as to not cause dissention or confusion among the ekklesia as a whole. Despite this, a growing concern about this person and their beliefs ensued- to the extent that one of the participants labeled this person either an “apostate” or an “unbeliever,” both descriptions in which I entirely rejected and disapproved of. The truth is, unless one knows this to be factual and that fact is corroborated by witnesses, it holds no merit, nor should any of the other participants treat that individual as if the criticism was factual. The result of this difference in discernment ultimately led to the “restricted member” being blamed for dividing us up, (a situation God used yes) although I do not agree with the aforementioned conclusion.

I left said hangout because despite our obvious practical and spiritual commonalities, we are not all going in the same direction, nor do we have the same long term intentions. Here are the exact reasons why I believe that to be true:

  • Not everyone among us wants to believe another’s profession of faith in Christ despite overwhelming evidence at present. Personally I want to accept others’ professions of faith until their actions prove otherwise. I want to give others the benefit of the doubt.
  • Not everyone wants to trust others to speak as from God. Just because we sense a problem doesn’t give the others the right to cut someone off because they don’t like what they are hearing. Unless a doctrinal error becomes present, isn’t it better to address these other concerns after the gathering?
  • Not everyone present has the same intentions or long term goals for our fellowship. Whereas I believe all fellowship should ultimately be directed toward cooperating with what Jesus is building locally and representative of one spiritual body, some of you likely disagree.
  • Not everyone believes we are led by the Spirit in the same manner. This stifles the participation of the gathered saints because they fear to offend some of the participants (by the way, that’s the same type of spiritual oppression that exists in modern day churches)
  • Not everyone is listening to the specific concerns of the other saints because they are not being adequately addressed in prayer. For the most part they are being ignored or neglected.

The only valid reason we would not extend trust to one another is if our words or actions as individuals amounted to sin. We are not talking about an occasional fleshly contribution, getting off subject or interrupting others too often. We’re all going to fail each other on occasion, though none of these things amount to a crises, they are only as big of an issue as any individual chooses to make them or not make them an issue. Just because someone speaks out of order, doesn’t entirely conform to my or your doctrinal standard or has lots of baggage does not make them a heretic or an apostate- especially someone who has shown an entire willingness to be subject to the assembly and a willingness to be corrected. In my opinion, that’s just plain poor judgment on behalf of some of us.

This is the last post I will write that concerns my participation in the Sunday hangout. I do not want to stir up any more controversy, nor am I looking to blame anyone in particular. I write these concerns publicly for I have nothing to hide, and want anyone who is considering meeting others online to consider these thoughts before they do.

I want to express my concern for all of the hangout participants- to each of you who contributed to the unique experience we often shared over the past few months. I remain a supporter of these type of online fellowships provided their aim is to support what Jesus is doing locally. I’m sorry if I failed to express to some of you my exact calling or intentions during the time we shared together and how my drive toward those ends among you was occasionally seen as controlling or intimidating. That is not and has never been my intention.

As you all know, I have not and will not reject any of you as my friends or as co-laborers in Christ. I desire more than anything for that to be a defining attribute of my life for the few years that remain. From the beginning of our fellowship one to another, I have made known how this was the greatest regret of my entire life- my failure to stay in touch with the few wonderful saints I’ve met upon my heavenward journey in Christ. I regret none of those despite what the future holds or how the Spirit of God may lead each of us in the future.

Let’s be true to what God calls each of us to be and do in Jesus. No friendship or relationship can take preference over that if we are to remain truly faithful in Him.

Please pray for me and for the representative “thousand” I believe my Father has called me to find. It is for these I sacrifice my time, my life, my everything. I’m grateful that despite our differences, that you all are among them.

I trust you believe my words to be true, or in the least my intent to be genuine.

-the end

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The practice of trust/Part 1

A popular Bible verse often spoken in relation to our subject matter is this:

“Trust the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight” [Proverbs 3:5, 6]

Sounds like very good advice to me. We certainly need to trust our God, “How could we possibly claim any of His many promises if we’re not actively trusting Him for their fulfillment?” Exactly, we couldn’t.

As we’ve mentioned before, we trust others or God to the degree that we know them or Him. Hundreds of practical examples could be given. Where do you take your car when it breaks down and needs to be fixed? Where do you go when you have a serious health problem that needs to be addressed? Where do you buy your groceries that you intend to share with your family? Does it matter? Will just any person or place do the job and in the manner that you request?

The answer to the above questions is obviously NO. As much as we might temporarily extend some trust to a new contact or friendship, in reality we watch closely to determine whether a particular individual or business is trustworthy. Might it surprise you to discover that God does the very same thing? Paul in 1 Timothy 1:12 states;

“I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has strengthened me, because He considered me faithful, putting me into service, even though……..I was formerly a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent aggressor. Yet I was shown mercy because I acted ignorantly in unbelief; and the grace of our Lord was more than abundant, with the faith and love which are found in Christ Jesus” [1 Timothy 1:12-14] 

IT IS A TRUSTWORTHY STATEMENT

I just recently discovered that the statement above or one’s very similar to it are shared on five different occasions by the apostle Paul. Below are what Paul says are trustworthy statements worthy of full acceptance by us. (I’ll abbreviate them for clarity)

  • (1 Timothy 1:15) Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners. The reminder that we should retain a view that we are (present tense) the worst of those sinners, if we live out of our old selves.
  • (1 Timothy 3:1) If any man desires to oversee the younger saints, this is an admirable work.
  • (1 Timothy 4:8-10) Regardless of whether one attaches verse 8 or 10 to the statement, it still appears to be relating to godliness being profitable for all things – for it is for this that we labor and strive.
  • (2 Timothy 2:11) The trustworthy statement seems to include verses 11-13 due to verse 14 which starts out, “Remind them of these things.” The verses speak for themselves and I believe are written to be accepted as a unit. In other words, either all are true for me or none of them are.
  • (Titus 3:8) This appears to relate to verse 7 above: being made heirs according to the hope of eternal life. That seems an adequate summation to the other four above and our obvious destination at the end of the age.

The themes of the verses above could be summarized as: salvation from sin, overseeing the saints, living godly, God’s faithful promises, the hope of eternal life- ALL very important truths to regularly and consistently be reminding the saints of. As stewards of these truths and others;

“Let a man regard us in this manner, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God. In this case, moreover, it is required of stewards that one be found trustworthy” [1 Corinthians 4:1, 2]

God desires to trust His children with His riches above, to grant them the opportunity to proclaim them and live them out practically in Him. There are varying degrees of this trust, for not every Christian is gifted nor called to the same type of service. Obviously a newer son or daughter would not have the same degree of responsibility of a spiritual parent, nor would those called to serve locally have the same responsibilities as those with extra local service. As one grows spiritually and proves themselves among the saints then they can eventually take upon more and more responsibility within the vary places and people to whom they have been sent.

WHERE TRUST BEGINS

Although we do find in scripture the occasional John the Baptist who was established alone out in the wilderness for service, for most of us our growth in Christ is established in two specific ways:

1. An ongoing abiding relationship with Christ

The scriptures are clear that we can do nothing of ourselves- stemming from or originating from our old nature in Adam. Only as we abide in Christ does He manifest Himself in character and in power through us. As we behold as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, we are supernaturally changed into His image. As we continue to abide, combined with a daily embracing of a personal cross the verse will ring true practically through us;

“I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live (the old me in Adam), but Christ lives in me (through the Holy Spirit); and the life which I now live in the flesh (via dependence upon Him) I live by faith in the Son of God (in His abilities through me), who loved me and gave Himself up for me” [Galatians 2:20]

2. Proper participation among a local group of Christians

I use the word “proper” above on purpose as not just any group or gathering of believers will suffice. Most individual professing believers seem to know they are called to be part of a fellowship of believers- though very few seem to understand exactly what Jesus had in mind as to how these people and their gifts were to be brought together, function and why.

Without going into detail about “church” and why I believe they were never Jesus’ desire, nor is that what He is building (something I’ve shared elsewhere) I’d like to offer a simple example of how individuals are brought to maturity among God’s people.

CHURCH PROCEDURE OR INTIMATE INTERACTION?

In a typical church, how are those considered leaders or elders groomed? Where do they come from? What qualifies them? Is a degree from some educational institute adequate or even proper? Is the tendency to import a religious professional (based upon their education) adequate or even proper?

Be honest now, “Just how well do you know those who claim to be your pastor or priest?” Have you ever really talked with them, alone? Have you been to their home for dinner and seen them interact with their families? Have you witnessed their spending habits, what they do in their spare time and who they interact with outside of church? Do you know them as well as those within your own family?

Sure, you may be able to say “yes” to a few of the above. But among the whole lot, only one of the questions above really matters. Do you know which one?

Christians are family friends, and you don’t import family from some college, a religious institution, another church or fresh out of seminary. Do you actually believe when the “applicants” are done selling themselves to your congregation (by touting their wares and self made abilities) that you will know them better than before? Well you might, at least in regard to what they plan to do, but what about in relation to who they are?

TO DO, OR TO BE?

The oft neglected New Testament makes clear how responsibilities were delegated among God’s people and that those who led or became the overseers among the saints were established from within. They were known intimately by the others among them and that is why the younger saints both trusted them and recognized them as elders. God used the “corporate witness” and they “chose from among themselves” those they knew could be trusted. Once chosen (recognized through them by the Holy Spirit) then the Spirit said to them who chose;

“But we request you, brethren, that you appreciate those who diligently labor among you, and have charge over you in the Lord and give you instruction, and that you esteem them very highly in love because of their work. Live in peace with one another.” [1 Thessalonians 5:12, 13]   Note the result of peace when they esteemed the older among them.

“Therefore, I exhort the elders among you, as your fellow elder and witness of the sufferings of Christ, and a partaker also of the glory that is to be revealed, shepherd the flock of God among you, exercising oversight  not under compulsion, but voluntarily, according to the will of God; and not for sordid gain, but with eagerness; not yet as lording it over those allotted to your charge, but proving to be examples to the flock.” [1 Peter 5:1-3]

It should be readily obvious that the words “among,” “live,” “shepherd,” oversight,” and “examples” are terms that denote both intimacy and consistency. The work that these elders did in the lives of these fellow believers was ongoing and for the purpose of establishing the saints for service. It was not to make the younger perpetually dependent upon themselves but to raise them up so they also could be examples to others themselves.

“The things which you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, entrust these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also” [2 Timothy 2:2]  

There is that word trust again. Who was to be trusted? FAITHFUL MEN WHO WILL BE ABLE TO TEACH OTHERS. Teach them what? What was HEARD IN THE PRESENCE OF MANY WITNESSES AS THE TRUTH (AMONG THE SAINTS)  We have discussed before exactly what this truth entails, the “my ways” of Paul’s gospel found in the New Testament and given him via revelation. (Galatians 1:11, 12)

As important as “doing the will of God” is, until the saints have learned to trust each other through regular and hopefully daily interaction, little hope remains for any real mutual service to develop. God Himself will allow various failures in the saints to show just how shallow the initial superficial trust really is (that which is based upon the fact that the saints have many things in common, whether doctrinally or practically).

2 or 3’s or 2 or 3 hundred?

Just as it is impossible to forge any real trust and intimacy with hundreds or thousands of people in one place alone, so it is also unlikely to forge any sustainable trust among a group of believers that does not function within a specific locale. In the first scenario, it will be necessary to divide the multitudes into smaller units where growth and intimacy can be developed and elders be chosen from among. In the latter, their rarely is any desire for elders as the majority of participants are gathered around some specific truths that they believe or some other practical considerations. In many of these scenarios those involved are relatively mature and so everybody tends to have a voice and to simply speak or write from moment to moment was they believe the Spirit is speaking to them. (These groups are often found online as chat groups or forums or places such as Skype or Google hangouts. These are not altogether unprofitable, until the “mature” start to judge the words and the intents of their comrades often misunderstanding them. Although having “elders” would seem to be beneficial in these scenarios, recognized elders are meant to function solely among the saints in a localized ekklesia and not in some other manner such as the venues above.

INTERNET ASSEMBLIES CANNOT BE LOCAL FELLOWSHIPS

Internet assemblies, no matter how beneficial are not local geographical assemblies. When any individual attempts to use any medium of fellowship as a replacement for what Jesus is building through localized fellowships, that person is promoting error. There is certainly nothing wrong with fellowshipping online, or in any manner or place as the Spirit is not restricted to certain areas or venues. That said, Jesus has one pillar and support of the truth, His ekklesia which is comprised of living stones which He is bringing together locally. Therefore, all service should ultimately be directed toward this end regardless of how or where these stones decide to fellowship. In other words, all fellowship, regardless of where it is found should be utilized for the purpose of working to build what Jesus is building through local ekklesias.

THE RESULT OF NOT WORKING WITH JESUS

The result of not working with Jesus is to be competing with Jesus. In the New Testament we never find individual saints going out on their own and doing their own thing. Regardless of the various needs of both the sinners and the saints, individuals gathered together in local geographical assemblies from which ALL SERVICE originated. There was no such thing as an individual starting “their own ministry” let alone “their own Christian organization.” These days, anything somebody is calling Christian other people think they have the right to copy and or follow. All of these pursuits, regardless of the sincerity of their originators are not sanctioned of heaven. Their are many reasons why not, the most obvious being the fact that they aid in dividing the one body into various factions and named sects heaven doesn’t sanction.

Think this through for a moment. Take 5 different Christians who all say they want to serve God. Over time, one starts a Bible study and names it, another a evangelical organization, another a band, another a hospital and the last a business- each in the name of God. They all claim to be Christians and yet each one is doing what they say God wants them to do. The only way this can be proven true is if the totality of the so-called Christian service is overseen entirely by the local ekklesia from where the various member remains subject to all and the manner of operation is directed and controlled by those whom the assembly deems fit to provide such service. Why?

Individuals start “ministries” for one of two primary reasons:

  • They want to
  • They sense being called to do so

Regardless of which of the two reasons one uses to justify doing their own thing, the following always results when any individual attempts to “start their own ministry.”

  • Their service idea becomes an “it” more than a service. It becomes an entity itself that has certain needs that must be met.
  • These needs necessitate human resources and capital to function- to sustain the entity itself.
  • Because it was their idea and they started it, they have ownership over it.
  • They appoint themselves the leader over it. They assume they are qualified to do so.
  • They lose sight of what Jesus is building- their focus becomes what they think is theirs and their responsibilities in and through it.
  • These individuals skirt the command to be mutually submissive to elders and the local saints at large.
  • They fail to recognize the command to live as “one man” and “one body” because their own self-interests have bound them and become their priority.

Many more reasons could be given. Is Jesus building “its” or is He building something spiritually in which every Christian is called to take part in their own locale?

Note: In all of the man centered pursuits above, man derives a benefit as he and his name is at the center of his own desires.

A SAD REALITY

I haven’t hid the fact that I am no longer participating in the original online fellowship that I had for some previous months. All of us agreed that we were an actual ekklesia (a gathering of living stones) and of course this was true. But despite this, that does not allow any of us to forge an identity of our own as a group of believers. Although we did wisely choose to forego a name and allow any individual(s) to become prominent, I was personally accused by some in the group of always being right and the group being directed by my desires and conscience. I’ll own that to a degree, but only to the degree that the scriptures allow.

MY DESIRE FOR LOCAL EKKLESIAS AND BODY LIFE

Twice in the recent past I suggested each person participating in the Google hangout ask themselves the reasons why they participated and to see whether their reasons were consistent with the reasons of the others. I’m still waiting as no one bothered to answer.

I contended among us all that the primary issue affecting us all was trust although not everyone agreed. Furthermore, I added that the manner we each individually were led of the Spirit compounded that issue. Can I offer a very specific illustration?

A couple of months back I made an outline for our prayer time most of us desired to have on Thursdays. Although I certainly had no right to mandate anyone use it and didn’t, I suggested we do so in the hope that we would consistently pray in line with the specific issues and people that affected each of us in our local areas. That way we would not being praying amiss but in a manner consistent with area need and scriptural precedent. Such praying would also hold each of us individually accountable for what we say are our own desires and leading of the Spirit. I reiterated and wrote posts on how this would aid us from beating the air and failing to utilize our gifts and talents in a manner that was highly productive. My suggestion went nowhere and if anything was rejected for a highly subjective approach of being led by the Spirit moment by moment. I am not opposed to this as it is scripturally supported, but I believe this approach can and does limit our opportunities in Christ for service.

Can I ask a really simple question? How am I supposed to pray for any other person in a locale about what God is doing in their life if they refuse to regularly update me in regard to how God is leading them? Unless you give me some specific details I cannot pray for you aright. I’ll be throwing my prayers to the wind and hope I hit the target. Do you see the futility of this?

God is not opposed to planning or planning ahead. It’s our self made plans He’s opposed to, like those I shared above that are scripturally inconsistent. Here’s what God says in Proverbs alone:

“The plans of the heart belong to man, but the answer of the tongue is from the Lord. All the ways of a man are clean in his own sight, but the Lord weighs the motives. Commit your works to the Lord and your plans will be established.” 

The only thing preventing the fulfillment of our plans (what He places on our hearts) is a selfish motive or gain for our own benefit, a failure to ask for wise counsel and making haste.  First in verse 9;

“The mind of man plans his way, but the Lord directs his steps”  and in Proverbs 15:22 we read;

“Without consultation, plans are frustrated, but with many counselors they succeed”  and then in Proverbs 21:5;

“The plans of the diligent lead surely to advantage, but everyone who is hasty comes surely to poverty”

What about the apostle Paul- surely his motives were right:

“I do not want you to be unaware, brethren, that often I have planned to come to you (and have been prevented so far) so that I may obtain some fruit among you also, even as among the rest of the Gentiles” [Romans 1:13] 

I have lived and witnessed first hand what the specific plans of the diligent does accomplish. The only agenda I have ever had with hangouts is in being diligent to pursue the very thing Jesus is after and to encourage other saints to do likewise. I don’t need to wait for some theme to arise out of our broken lives, I already know exactly what Jesus is building and what my responsibilities are in building with Him.

If Google hangouts are contributing to His ends great, if not, our participation in them should be abandoned like every other endeavor that seeks to shroud the heart of what Jesus is building locally.

-to be continued

A matter of trust

“This is the third time I am coming to you. EVERY FACT IS TO BE CONFIRMED BY THE TESTIMONY OF TWO OR THREE WITNESSES” [2 Corinthians 13:1]

The above verse is found within a section of scripture where Paul appears to be defending himself from the accusations of people he had invested his own life into. He uses various forms of language to express the foolishness of the false accusations that were leveled against him by these believers he had fathered in the faith. Paul says;

“I have become foolish; you yourselves compelled me. Actually I should have been commended by you, for in no respect  was I inferior to the most eminent apostles, even though I am a nobody”

Now for the sake of our discussion and to avoid being sidetracked, we can remove the apostolic inferences and merely focus upon the relationship Paul had with these other believers. We’ll merely place ourselves either in the place of Paul (the teacher) or the place of the (student) whichever we each deem appropriate.

Going back to 2 Corinthians 10:1 I find an appropriate verse that seems to aptly fit my own life and service in Christ:

“Now I, Paul, myself urge you by the meekness and gentleness of Christ- I who am meek when face to face with you, but bold toward you when absent! I ask that when I am present  I need not be bold with the confidence with which I propose to be courageous against some, who regard us as if we walked according to the flesh.”

I think most of you who know me would agree with this assessment of my life. I’m relatively tame in person, but I can write things that result in strong responses from the recipients. None of us as believers want to confront others face to face, their is no joy or comfort in doing so, nonetheless it does become necessary at times. Most of us would just assume write or mail others in relation to the grievances we have against one another. This isn’t altogether unprofitable, unless of course our words are misunderstood which can lead to mischaracterizations of our brothers and sisters in Christ. This is exactly where several of us find ourselves at present.

Paul continues in the same vein:

“For even if I boast somewhat further about our authority, which the Lord gave for building you up and not for destroying you, I will not be put to shame, for I do not wish to seem as if I would terrify you by my letters.”

Obviously Paul recognized that certain things needed to be said among the brethren and he took the responsibility to say them. Sadly, and despite his past dealings with these saints, he was accused of somehow being a different person in person than he was in his writings toward them to which he responded:

“Let such a person (one bringing the accusation above) consider this, that what we are in word by letters when absent, such persons we are also in deed when present. For we are not bold to class ourselves with some of those who commend themselves; but when they measure themselves by themselves and compare themselves with themselves, they are without understanding.”

“But we will not boast beyond our measure, but within the measure of the sphere which God apportioned to us a measure, to reach even as far as you.”  A corresponding verse in Romans 12:3 states;

“For through the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think more highly of himself than he ought to think; but to think so as to have sound judgment, as God has given each a measure of faith”

Needless to say, some very serious accusations have been directed at me as of late. One of those accusations is that I am not the same person I was just a few months back, that somehow or for some reason I have changed towards you all. This accusation has not been confirmed through either 2 or 3 witnesses nor was the proper scriptural precedent used when confronting another individual supposedly in sin. I say sin because what replaced the proper use of scriptural admonition was an article that contained 24 specific condemnations of an individual who professed to be a Christian. Those condemnations were purposefully directed at me and shared publicly with others without the slightest concern for the potential consequences. That was not only unwise, unscriptural and slanderous, it proved something I’ve been talking about ever since I returned from my trip up north: some of us don’t really trust one another.

Within the few chapters we are discussing, Paul lays out the proof of his faithfulness to the gospel and his love for these people who are accusing him. He responds to them in a similar way that they responded to him- in foolishness. He shows them just how ridiculous their arguments are, arguments that cannot be proven by facts or witnesses because they simply are not true!

In actuality, the conflict that now surrounds me started the minute I started to disagree with two of the brothers among us and how they judged and discerned a particular situation. That happened just after I returned from my trip. In response to my apparent defiant refusal to accept their “leading of the spirit” verses my own, both of them sent me accusatory emails calling me everything from self righteous to egotistical. If you have read the article one of them sent to you all, you’ve read first hand the depth of the “silly” though serious accusations against me. These accusations became more intense when I compared the manner in which each of us is led of and hears from the Holy Spirit in a recent email. That led to more accusatory rhetoric that was shared in another un-appropriate and unscriptural manner and which usurped a husbands authority before God. That is another issue altogether which will with certainty be dealt with as several of the other brothers also recognized this.

On more than one occasion I mentioned to some of the brothers the concern I have with the use of the words “another spirit” among us. One of us rightly discerned than another spirit accompanies another gospel and yet these terms are regularly used among the hangout participants who are all Christians. That seems more than a little in-appropriate and I believe in excess of what is really taking place among us. Once again, I’ve taken the lead in confronting some of these things and have suffered the brunt of criticism as a result.

All of you know the manner in which I live which I have made readily evident. Although I certainly do not and have not suffered to the extent of Paul and others, I have foregone many things in my life so I could concentrate on the proclamation and practice of the gospel. I live my life basically homeless, ridiculed by many and have had my share of cold and difficult days and nights. I’ve traveled to and fro to come and visit, hug your children and share in your personal joys and sorrows. I spend hours praying specifically for you all. For all this, I am trampled under foot by some, considered a fraud by others and lied about before other believers.

“Who is weak without my being weak? Who is led into sin without my intense concern?”

“If I have to boast, I will boast in what pertains to my weakness. The God and Father of the Lord Jesus, He who is blessed forever, knows that I am not lying” [2 Corinthians 11:29-31]

Each of us trusts each other to the extent that we know them, nothing less. In the beginning, just like any new found love, that new found love can do no wrong. We are so overwhelmed and concerned for the other that we hardly notice the faults that are evident. This will change however for most people, as they slowly but surely return to their most prominent concern in the world- themselves and their own needs.

When an individual is self focused, even for a season, anything that detracts or opposes that persons position appears to them to be self justification or a defense of one’s position in a matter. That’s why its so easy for others to label faithful Christians self-righteous or “better than others.” It makes them more comfortable in their own compromising positions. They simply can’t see that explanations are the manner one proves their love for those in their care or sights. Despite all Paul had done for these Corinthian believers he said of them:

“All this time you have been thinking that we are defending ourselves to you. Actually, it is in the sight of God that we have been speaking in Christ; and all for your upbuilding, beloved.” [2 Corinthians 12:19]

Why did Paul speak thus? So when they came together face to face this would not happen:

“For I am afraid that perhaps when I come I may find you to be not what I wish and may be found by you to be not what you wish; that perhaps their will be strife, jealousy, angry tempers, disputes, slanders, gossip, arrogance, disturbances….”  Is this not exactly what we all fear when we know things are not in one accord among us? Is this not exactly what is presently manifesting among us before, during and after the hangouts? Yes it is.

Paul makes plain what options these Corinthians have.

  •  They can repent of their sinful actions and attitudes (confess their wrongs and in doing take a step in restoring a mutual trust)
  • They can do nothing (which will amount to him exercising his own judgment in the matter);

“I have previously said when present a second time, and though now absent I say in advance to those who have sinned in the past and to all the rest as well, that if I come again I will not spare anyone, since you are seeking for proof of the Christ who speaks in me, and who is not weak toward you, but mighty in you.” [2 Corinthians 13:2, 3]  and

“For this reason I am writing these things while absent, so that when present I need not use severity, in accordance with the authority which the Lord gave me for building up and not for tearing down”                     [2 Corinthians 13:10]

On two separate occasions since the hangouts began, a few of you discerned that I had considered walking away from you all. Two of you even noticed this and called me out about it. That primarily stemmed from my own weakness in not wanting to have to share some hard truths with you, some of which I recently made known. I knew full well that the “honeymoon” was well over and now we would be tested by God in relation to our love towards one another. As has now become evident, not everyone’s love has remained despite what they may say.

I can’t honestly say what the severity of Paul’s judgment in this passage would mean for these Corinthians. I can only say that my judgment, even though seemingly premature, has been to leave the Sunday fellowship with those who are willing to trust one another again. There are very specific ways in which this is done and they include giving assembly participants absolute freedom to be themselves and to exercise their spiritual gifts for the well being of all. This isn’t free reign to say and practice whatever one desires, but freedom to exalt Christ without fear of being reprimanded by those who would hinder the freedom of the saints. As the Bible speaks;

“What is the outcome then, brethren? When you assemble, each one has a psalm, has a teaching, has a revelation, has a tongue, has an interpretation. Let all things be done for edification” [1 Corinthians 14:26]

Outside of contributions being edifying, no other requirements about what to share are found. But keep in mind what may likely result when each one shares:

“Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others pass judgment” [1 Corinthians 14:29]

The greatest evidence of one’s spiritual state is found in one’s willingness to be poured out for others as a sacrifice. Paul puts it like this:

“I will most gladly spend and be expended for your souls.” One can only wonder, how after living as such before the brethren he would also add,  “If I love you more, am I to be loved less?”

-the end

Next: The practice of trust