Lessons from the future

 Lessons from the future: The way it can be

Just having talked to a faithful brother in the Lord today, a rather common refrain was once again brought up which revolved around some of the regrets we have as believers. Even though I did encourage him despite his concern, I couldn’t help acknowledging that’s exactly how I felt myself.

All of us as Christians have regrets. But like many other things that can affect us adversely, let’s leave our past regrets in the past and dwell upon the goodness of God that we might learn to walk therein- today. Every day is new in Jesus and it can be with us as well provided we choose to make it so. That change of heart starts with a proper belief about what is really true.

Recently I’ve been thinking about and writing about the perfection of God. Even when friends ask me how I’ve been doing lately I’ve been foregoing the typical answer of “ok” or “fine” and jumping right into “perfect.” That usually garners a laugh or two- that is until the person on the other end of the phone realizes I’m not joking. Seeing that people already think I’m a little out there, I thought I might as well add this response to my repertoire.

As funny as this seems, and considering God’s own rather radical declarations, most Christians might as well be laughing just as hard about these things God Himself promises to His children:

“But seek first His kingdom and all these things will be added to you. So do not worry about tomorrow; for tomorrow will care for itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own. [Matthew 6:33, 34]

“Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened” [Matthew 7:7, 8]

“Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” [Matthew 11:28-30]

“I also say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My ekklesia; and the gates of hell will not overpower it” [Matthew 16:18]

“Because of the littleness of your faith; for truly I say to you, if you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move; and nothing will be impossible to you. But this kind does not go out except by prayer and fasting.” [Matthew 17:20, 21]

“Truly I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or farms, for My sake and for the gospel’s sake, but that he will receive a hundred times as much now in the present age, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and farms, along with persecutions; and in the age to come, eternal life” [Mark 10:29, 30]

And why would they be quietly and secretly laughing? Ask yourself, “How much of the above have you lived or are living presently living at this very moment in your life?” If your not living all of the above, “Don’t you think that warrants an investigation of why not? For either God Himself is a liar (which means He isn’t trustworthy) or the problem resides with you and I? Hopefully we’re no so foolish to think outside the latter.

Promises in the Bible are not always easy to understand. Some are for some people and not others. Some are conditional, some are not. Others relate to very specific things, times, nations or are fulfilled under very specific circumstances. Many if not most of the promises are misunderstood or ripped from their proper context. Take for example the promise above in the book of Mark. What is this promise stating exactly? What does “will receive a hundred times as much in this age” actually mean. Does God want each of us to be rich? Does God really want us to store up earthly treasures upon this earth? Despite what this verse seems to say, wouldn’t both of the previous statements be contrary to other Bible passages?

The whole He hath made

“For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse” [Romans 1:20]

 The verse above is a divine indictment toward all of mankind. It might as well say “THEY KNOW I EXIST” by the evidence I have left for them through creation. God has not merely created the marvel of this world, He has done that in such a way that its existence could not be explained in any other rational way outside of the existence of Himself. Have you ever thought deeply about the marvel of creation? The manner the sun and the moon and the earth all work together? How storms create rain, ice and snow and the other way around? How all of the earths ecosystems are all intricately connected? Although we cannot possibly grasp the entire magnitude of what God has done, we do know this about what we’ve discovered so far- it’s perfect. The fool says in his heart their is no God.

Why is this important to you and I? How does this relate to the perfection of God?

God has reasons for our existence and He put His plan for us together before the beginning of time. God is in the business of redemption, redeeming a fallen world- not through partial or imperfect means, but with a perfect solution, through a perfect Savior.

Most of us realize that it was necessary for Jesus to perfectly fulfill His father’s law as a human being in order for Him to be able to condemn sin and free us from its grasp. He was the perfect lamb of God- an absolute necessity if we were to find forgiveness and ultimately share in His glory. This of course has been accomplished and becomes a reality for those who trust in His finished work on their behalf.  “The hour has come (and gone now) for the Son of Man to be glorified” [John 12:23]

Sadly, many people, even Christians are convinced that this is where the story ends. Huh what? This is the beginning folks, the SEED OF PERFECTION which has fallen into the ground and died:

“Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit” [John 12:24]

Oh Christian, do you not want to share His glory? Do you not want to follow in His footsteps of suffering that you might share in that glory?

“For it was fitting for Him, for whom are all things, and through whom are all things, in bringing many sons to glory, to perfect the author of their salvation through sufferings” [Hebrews 2:10]

Beautiful in its time

“But when the fullness of the time came, God sent His Son…” [Galatians 4:4]

There is a time for everything…..and God is not in a hurry like we are. He knows the tasks that He has prepared for each of us, He knows how to prepare us for those tasks and knows what resources will be needed for their accomplishment. Sadly, two things happen when we don’t wait upon God’s timing:

1. We do things “for God” that He does not sanction

2. We use our own resources/methods to bring our plans to fulfillment

Looking over the thousands of years since Jesus’ death, resurrection and ascension, would you say God’s people are nearer the perfection that God desires for us? Or would we have to conclude that we are as far away from that as we have ever been? Such questions cannot be slighted anymore than those concerning His promises. They too warrant an explanation for what surely amounts to a failure on someone’s part. Someone is to blame for stopping this train on the tracks or replacing it with another that is heading somewhere else.

Get on the right train

If your not on the right train, your bound to end up somewhere other than your destination. Jesus is the engine that is pulling His people exactly where He wants them to go. If you haven’t figured it out yet, as a Christian you have absolutely zero say in the matter. If you are His than you have absolutely no right to yourself.

He hath put eternity in their hearts

In an earlier post we discussed how despite God placing this desire to understand “the ends of the earth” (eternity) or “their beginning and end” that this is beyond the reach of mortal man. This was specifically done that men my grope for God in their quest for that answer. We also discussed how Christians have some insight into this manner because those who have been born again can see the kingdom of God and how Jesus is both the Creator and their guarantor of life after death. As such, these Christians must become the ones who not only preach the message of truth and reconciliation but live in a manner that is consistent with those truths. Jesus says;

“Sanctify them in the truth, Your word is truth. As You sent Me into the world, I also have sent them into the world. For their sakes I sanctify Myself, that they themselves also may be sanctified in truth.

I do not ask on behalf of these alone, but for those also who believe in Me through their word;

that they may all be one; even as You, Father, are in Me and I in You, that they also may be in Us, so that the world may believe that You sent Me.

The glory which You have given Me I have given to them, that they may be one, just as we are one; I in them and You in Me, that they may be perfected in unity, so that the world may know that You sent Me, and loved them, even as You have loved Me.” [John 17:17-23]

Uh oh, there’s that word perfection again! Except this time its not just talking about God and Jesus, it’s not just talking about His children also, it’s not just talking about people who will become believers through His children, it’s talking about perfection in this world, in this life among all of these people! This is easily proven by the part of verse 23 which says, “that the world may know that You sent Me.” Where this statement is found is crucial. It shows us that a perfect practical unity is indeed possible in this life amongst believers.

If indeed a perfect practical unity is possible among those of faith, then only one question remains to be asked:

How might perfect practical unity be accomplished among us? I am so glad you asked. If you don’t mind, I’d like to answer that by answering why it’s not happening, why Christians are not united and as a result convincing the world than God the Father sent Jesus to them.

“Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.

But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him.

But he must ask in faith without any doubting, for the one who doubts is like the surf of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind. For that man ought not to expect that he will receive anything from the Lord, being a double-minded , unstable in all his ways” [James 1:2-8]

We fail to live in the manner God desires for two primary reasons. First, we flat out don’t believe this is possible. This of course is based predominately upon what we see as continual disunity amongst those who claim to be Christians. This is exactly the opposite of how Christians are called to live by faith, a faith that does not take into consideration things like, whether it seems possible or what we happen to think or presently see about us.

Secondly, and tied to faith is the manner in which we are to share the glory that Jesus promises us in John 17. On one hand we already share His glory due to the deposit of the Holy Spirit in us which is given as a pledge of our inheritance. You can find this truth here (Romans 8:30) But practically living in God’s glory is an entirely different thing. How and when was Jesus glorified? Was it not after His death and resurrection. Was that not when the real fruit from His labors was born? When the Holy Spirit was sent forth in power? Was not that when we witnessed the true unity of the Spirit amongst those believers present in the upper room and afterwards?

Read again John 17:22;

“The glory which you have given Me I have given to them, that they may be one, just as We are one;  I in them and You in Me, and the result of that glory is that they may be perfected in unity, so that the world may know……”

A Simple Equation

+ Belief in what God’s Word says and not our preconceived notions about the truth or what we see with our eyes

+ Belief that our sufferings are the means to fruitful living and individual effectiveness & power

+ Belief that our collective sufferings lead to fruitful living, power and influence in society

= A willingness to embrace one’s sufferings leading to the death of their old self, a death which in turn leads to glory and in glory God’s power is made manifest. The problem we face today among God’s people is UNBELIEF and UNWILLINGNESS which are both equated by God to be DISOBEDIENCE.

“For the eyes of the Lord move to and fro throughout the earth that He may strongly support those whose heart is completely His” [2 Chronicles 16:9]

Do you dare be one of them…..?

 

-the end

 

 

 

 

 

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Lessons from the present

Lessons from the present: The way it is

Looking at the above title from the outside as a non Christian, I would probably say, “Great, another one of those self absorbed Christians who think they know something.” Frankly, most Christians arn’t really offering much substance these days, and believe it or not your average unbeliever knows the difference.

Most unbelievers could care less about “getting saved” or discovering and living an obedient life unto a God they quickly reject. They have no desire nor inclination to stop living selfishly and relinquish control of their lives. They are perfectly content living in their sins with this one interesting exception: almost all men ponder and consider their original origin and their final destiny. This is more than just a basic curiosity about life, it is the result of God “placing eternity in men hearts.”

As Christians, we rarely give those who don’t share our faith nearly enough credit. These are not ignorant people, but those like ourselves who also have questions and who are looking for answers. They live in the same world we do, they see and experience the same problems that affect us as individuals and as a united humanity. On some fronts, they do more for the needy than many who claim to have “faith.”

Torn between two worlds

It’s understandable when any person seeks out answers to the difficulties each face in life, and those without Christ have lots of answers that they claim to have found and which they promote. Of course these answers are not a testimony to God nor what He has done but rather, to the ingenuity of men and what they themselves have supposedly discovered. Despite these answers which often include a particular view of the origin of humanity such as evolution, their remains a fascination concerning death and what comes after. It is here many unbelievers have an interest, not just because of the troubled times and the obvious ongoing conflicts between men and nations, but because of something deeper……that uneasiness, that uncertainty, that fear of the unknown that God placed within their hearts. It is the one thing God prevents them from discovering outside of Him.

There is no reason why a unbeliever would invest in eternity for they know not about such things. The work of eternity is in the hands of God’s people, and despite what we may think, the unbelievers are well aware of this. Many of them, although still in their sins, are fairly familiar with what the Bible says and even the manner God requires His people to live in this world. Granted, they don’t understand grace, though they are aware of the attitudes and actions which God requires. The claim by those without faith that professing “Christians are hypocrites” is absolutely true about many people and is often based upon what these people know about the Bible. If that surprises you it shouldn’t. There looking and watching much more than we might think they are.

In a very real sense the unbeliever has a legitimate reason for living it up in this world- they’re simply enjoying the only option they know- they are propelled by a nature that cannot do otherwise. Unlike them, the Christian who is called to invest in eternity has no excuse. If he or she does otherwise that is hypocritical, that is the opposite of what God commands and the antithesis of all that the Bible reveals as having true faith. This is even more puzzling in light of another significant truth: a real Christian has the Holy Spirit living in them Who grants them revelation to “see the kingdom of God” and how that operates among the family of God. Furthermore, He also grants a glimpse of eternity from both perspectives as they come to realize God as the author of life in creation as well as the author of resurrection after physical death. Thus the uneasiness, uncertainty and fear that was once present is now removed for the future is sure for those trusting in Him.

All of the above is some background information for what I want to share now.

God’s ultimate aim for us is perfection: the absence of sin

I’ve always been a rather passionate chap, I was the guy who never wanted the Bible study nor the prayer meeting to ever end. I could never understand the people that wanted to get right through this stuff so they could go the movies or pursue something else. For most of the people I knew, something or someone else always seemed to take precedence over what I thought God had showed me mattered most. Anytime I tried to speak my mind or challenge what I thought was wrong I kept hearing people says things like, “We’re all sinners,” “Everybody does it,” and “Nobody’s Perfect.” I would think to myself, “But aren’t we supposed to be perfect.”

Throughout the Bible we find verse after verse that denotes this process of growth from beginning to end. Every time I read these verses they never seem to fall short of God’s intent- perfection for individual believers. In every instance the culmination is always this, nothing short of perfection.

“May it never be! How shall we who died to sin still live in it?” [Romans 6:2]

“…knowing this, that our old self was crucified with Him, in order that our body of sin might be done away with, so we would no longer be slaves to sin…[Romans 6:6]

“And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good, acceptable and perfect” [Romans 12:2]

“…who will also confirm you to the end, blameless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.” [1 Corinthians 1:8]

‘Therefore, having these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all defilement of flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God” [2 Corinthians 7:1]

“…just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we would be holy and blameless before Him” [Ephesians 1:4]

“…until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ” [Ephesians 4:13]

“…that He might present to Himself the ekklesia in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she would be holy and blameless” [Ephesians 5:27]

“For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus” [Philippians 1:6]

“…who will transform the body of our humble state into conformity with the body of His glory, by the exertion of the power that He has even to subject all things to Himself” [Philippians 3:21]

“…yet He has now reconciled you in His fleshly body through death, in order to present you before Him holy and blameless and beyond reproach…[Colossians 1:22]

“We proclaim Him, admonishing every man and teaching every man with all wisdom, so that we may present every man complete in Christ” [Colossians 1:28]

“…so that He may establish your hearts without blame in holiness before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all His saints” [1 Thessalonians 3:13]

…and many, many more.

God is perfect, and so are His ways

Throughout God’s dealings with man we can easily see that God’s standard is perfection. That perfection began with God’s own character (Deuteronomy 32:3, 4), extended through His law (Psalm 19:7)(Romans 7:12),  and was fulfilled by Jesus so He could become the author of our salvation. (Hebrews 5:9, 10) God has a perfect plan and a perfect will (Romans 12:2)- the consummation of which will be perfect children in a perfect paradise.

Eternity in their hearts

Try as we might, all men long to understand the “beginnings and ends” of their existence and yet that eludes them all. For the sinner, he places his hope in this world and what he can make of it and in it. He foregoes what his heart really longs for, hindered by an ongoing unbelief in the only one capable of giving Him sight. Even when he might look to those supposedly representing God for answers, he or she finds they are just as inept of living free from the very same things that bind them, whether they be natural or spiritual.

The poor professing Christian might be worse off. Supposedly endowed with the very Spirit they claim enables them to triumph over all, they claim God’s knowledge and power to triumph over sin only to be caught in the same quagmire as the world around them. Despite their spouting the triumphs of Jesus, their lives rarely if ever reflect His life on earth or the tremendous promises that He says can raise His own above both death and destruction. They too have relinquished God’s best, preferring to spout out their weak faith using the same excuses the world does like, “Nobody’s perfect.” That pretty much sums up where most of these folks focus is doesn’t it?

The Holy Spirit- the seed of perfection

Believe it. Both the Christian and the unbeliever are desirous of the very same thing whether they realize this or not- and so are you. Think about it. When you go shopping, when you eat, when you buy a car, a computer or a hundred other things. When you long for a mate, when you have children and when you participate in any function that demands your attention. What is it you are looking for, that’s right- perfection!

You can call this selfish, it most certainly is, but that’s only because Adam’s nature has corrupted what God gave as a perfect longing to all of mankind- a longing that can only lead to a perfect place, to the perfect God, to Him. You see, our longings aren’t really for things, rather it’s for answers to questions like, “Why was I born,” “Why am I here” and yes, even, “What is my purpose?” Things are merely the substitutes that attempt to temper the void that the unbeliever pretends doesn’t exist and the average professing Christian neglects and hides from. Even when men attempt to answer these questions for us or them, it’s never sufficient, for only the revelation of Christ will bring assurance of the truth. All must seek God for themselves.

As an unbeliever no one has hope. But those who possess the Holy Spirit have in their possession perfection  itself, literally living within them. What is it that God desires most from us as a result? Our time, our money, even our best?

“He jealously desires the spirit which He has made to dwell in us” [James 4:5]

Noting the varying translations of this verse, God has placed initially a human spirit (at birth) and the Holy spirit (when we were spiritually regenerated) within the bodies of Christians. We are called to live our lives by the Spirit of God in many passages, the Spirit that testifies with our human spirit that we are the children of God. It is only as a result of living such that our lives will be fruitful and lived within the perfection of God. That doesn’t mean we are perfect now or free of sin (conditionally that is) but having the Holy Spirit living in us guarantees God’s aim in redemption- the blameless, holy, perfect instruments He’s after.

What we’ve forgotten

God set in motion the guarantee of our perfection the very day He called us unto Himself. Although that perfection is guaranteed by God, there is a practical working out of that “perfect will” that we are responsible for and it does not include making excuses and settling for far less than God’s best in and through us. Every single thing that was necessary for our redemption as well as a lifetime of fruitful service was provided in the past. It is merely our failure to recognize this and live in it, combined with our own ingenuity and human resources that hinder the perfection of God from becoming reality- now.

STOP MAKING EXCUSES.

If Jesus says in Matthew 5:48;

“Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect”

He is more than adequate, more than capable, more than willing.

 

-continued in: Lessons from the future: The way it can be

 

 

Lessons from the past

Lessons from the past (The way it used to be)

In all honesty, I don’t really remember what prompted this study, only that I kept thinking about how often we as human beings reminisce about our past and the reasons associated with why we do that. Obviously this study is not about living in the past (at least not literally) or dwelling in the past (whether that had been for better or worse). What’s done is done, but as we all know, the past is tied to our future in more ways than we might realize.

Think for a minute about the last time you thought about your past. In all likelihood it was within the last five minutes. That’s how often we think about what used to be or what was or what could have been. Our lives are “filled to overflowing” with past thoughts and events and I propose that although not always a positive thing, there is a reason why we keep looking back.

What has been lost

Each of us as human beings have been shaped by God Himself through a series of people and events. We all look back upon fond memories and some people upon tragic events too. As much as we might be attempting to learn from our past (a good thing of course) I suggest that another primary reason for this is a longing for something we now believe to be lost, despite our inability to pinpoint what that loss actually is.

Regardless of who you meet from day to day, stick around them long enough and you are bound to hear them say something along these lines; “Nothings the way it used to be.” There sure is truth to that- but what are they actually trying to say? Isn’t it more than just 50 cent fuel, 400hp v-8 engines and the integrity and strength of most products previously made? Isn’t it more than just desiring to be young again, living in the innocence of not knowing what we cannot now escape due to the media or some item that brings us back to our glory days? Why do people collect all manner of items unto themselves with a particular bent upon what is or seems to be rare? Isn’t it because of the perceived value of those things? Is that all?

“The whole He hath made beautiful in its season; also, that knowledge He hath put in the heart without which man findeth not out the work that God hath done from the beginning even unto the end” [Ecclesiasties 3:11] YLT

“He has made everything appropriate (Lit: beautiful) in its time. He has also set eternity in their heart, yet so that (in such a way that) man will not find out the work which God has done from beginning to the end”  NASB

Without pretending to perfectly understand the above text to which scholars have some disagreement, I suggest it includes these pertinent things:

  • “The whole He hath made” refers to the whole of creation and all of the various forms of life He has made and the manner in which they intersect and interact.
  • “Beautiful in its season” looks back to verse 10 and coincides with the specific tasks God has given us during our lives.
  • “Knowledge (world, eternity) He hath put in their heart” speaks of that which is hidden (either past or present)- an innate knowledge of eternity itself to which mankind is ever attempting to comprehend and answer without resolution.

When I speak of “what has been lost” above, I am speaking to the Christian and the practice of what they call “the faith.” We know that those without Christ will be continually looking to solve the dilemma of eternity, for they too have this awareness within them. Unlike those with faith, man and his ingenuity would take credit for both “what exists now” and “what has been done.” They will no doubt continue to revolt against the God they know exists and purpose to unite mankind in such a rebellion that “nothing will be impossible for them.” (or so will they think) Genesis 11:6.

Little might you know, the supporters of this rebellion against God do follow in the footsteps of the past. Once again they will unite humanity against the Lord and His Christ;

“THE KINGS OF THE EARTH TOOK THEIR STAND, AND THE RULERS WERE GATHERED TOGETHER AGAINST THE LORD AND HIS CHRIST” [Acts 4:26]  Also note that this rebellion will once again accomplish God purposes exactly:

…..to do whatever Your hand and Your purpose predestined to occur. [verse 28]

Imagine being an unbeliever with this concept of eternity inside with no answer to it. On one hand, we each age and know we will some day face that uncertain and fearful eternity. On the other, we attempt to grasp onto anything and everything that might prolong our present reality like attempting to relive the past or hoping for some solution that might ease the pain of our dilemma. Eternity is fast approaching and we’re all going there whether we are prepared or not. That’s a real trauma for an unbeliever who is not ready now.

Sadly, the average professing Christian isn’t much better off. They too have lost their way, the evidence of which stands upon thousands upon thousands of hills within the cities where we each live and call home. These are the testaments to the work of men’s hands, and if the sheer number of them isn’t proof positive upon the value they place upon such, the vast investments in those structures most certainly do. Similar to their unregenerate neighbors who also go back to the beginning for the source of their rebellion, most of the professing “Christian” world has done the same- practicing either Old Covenant law or tradition with an unbridled passion reminiscent of “the kings and rulers of the earth” above. Add to this the ever increasing departure or neglect of the facts of scripture and we see the apostacy our God warns us of in full swing.

In the beginning…..God

From the beginning it was God who placed the seed of eternity within our hearts. Though we try, we cannot possibly comprehend the depth and width of such and despite this we keep pretending like we do. There is an uncertainty, an uneasiness about the future that God has intentionally placed within us. The answer to that uneasiness and uncertainty is not found in a better life here on earth, not found in numbing its reality through the vanity of temporal pleasures whether they be sports teams or otherwise. They just shroud reality. Neither is it found in the next religious machinism, movement or in all the new fangled “revolutions” and “revelations” that drive man made solutions. God hates them all. After all this, one would think men would desire to see clearly- nope.

A God inspired and God designed problem can only be resolved by the designer Himself. Not by what He can do and even through what He might desire us to do- but by Himself, with His very Person. Oh how tragic indeed….we have left our God and His perfect designs…..a long, long time ago.

What has been forgotten

“The God who made the world and all things in it, since He is Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made with hands; nor is He served with human hands, as though He needed anything, since He Himself gives to all people life and breath and all things;

…and He made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined their appointed times and the boundaries of their habitations…

…that they would seek God, if perhaps they might grope for Him and find Him…[Acts 17:24-27]

The verses above are speaking far more than the obvious and most people’s rejection of these truths. They speak of a timeline through which God has chosen to act- a “beginning to end” scenario or Alpha & Omega if you will. Note that God is altogether separate from man, in need of nothing (we could do for Him). He is the One Who:

  • Gives to all men life and breath
  • He made the nations
  • Determines the length of men’s lives
  • Determines where men will live

…..and why? That they would (might) seek God.

What is important here is this: It is the things God does that opens the door for men to seek Him. (Not the things we do or attempt to do for Him, but what He has chosen to do) in very specific ways and within very specific time frames. How do I know this?

Our God has an end in sight that we cannot possibly accomplish, an end that began with a seed of eternity that was planted in our hearts from the very beginning (not to be confused with a divine spark which is not true)…..the very seed that brings forth discontent, uneasiness and uncertainty apart from its solution. There is only one thing which could ever resolve such a dilemma within us, and its the same solution God the Father required of His Son to purchase our redemption- perfection itself.

 

-to be continued as: Lessons from the present: The way it is)

 

The communion of suffering

“But resist him, (our adversary who inflicts suffering) in your faith, knowing that the same experiences of suffering are being accomplished by your brethren who are in the world” [1 Peter 5:9]

The verse above in Peter has a message when read alone, though the fullness of it can be readily understood only in the passage from which it is taken. Just some of what can be gleaned from the previous eight verses of which 5:9 is a summation:

As to suffering:

  • One elder (Peter), a literal witness to Christ’s sufferings exhorting other elders who are among one another (their is a basis here of unity and equality despite him not literally being among them) It is this basis from which he exhorts those scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia. [1 Peter 1:1, 5:1]
  • In these verses he talks specifically to the elders who are called to shepherd others in these areas as those who are among them and how to be examples for these saints. (This is so no undue suffering will occur outside of what God has decreed for each person) We all know how much suffering ensues when a shepherd or “leader” serves for sordid gain or because they want to lord it over other saints. [1 Peter 5:2, 3]
  • Peter then speaks of the need for the younger men to be subject to the local elders but quickly adds, ALL OF YOU clothe yourselves with humility. Young men can be self-confident in difficult situations and they must learn to follow the example of those more experienced in battle with the adversaries. Ever wonder why so many young people are busy starting their own self-made “ministries.” They mean well, but think they can do it better or more efficiently than those who have gone before them. [1 Peter 5:5]
  • Then Peter offers a warning: BE SOBER IN SPIRIT, BE ON THE ALERT! Why? Because their adversary, the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Have you ever really taken the time to think deeply about these words? Satan is out to kill people, not just to tempt them to do evil. [1 Peter 5:8]
  • Then…..RESIST HIM, firm in your faith, knowing the same experiences of suffering are being accomplished by your brethren who are in the world.

The picture in this chapter above is of a universal ekklesia, headed up by a Chief Shepherd who has flocks of younger and older members in various locales, the older being tasked with looking after the younger in these places. The picture is one of family, where despite all being equal in Christ, members have differing responsibilities (such as each casting their personal anxieties upon God, verse 7) and yet each is subject one to another. The picture is one of continual warfare in this life- warfare against their adversary the devil, not against one another regardless of where their brothers and sisters reside.

The picture in this chapter shows the working relationship and attitude of the saints one to another in the midst of God’s call for them to suffer in this book of 1 Peter. The word suffering is referred to often and speaks to among other things:

  • [1 Peter 1:6] Distressed by various trials…..as a means to test their faith
  • [1:14] Do not be conformed to the former lusts…..suffering in ignorance
  • [1:18] But with precious blood…..solemn reminder of the cost of suffering to redeem them
  • [2:4] And coming to Him…..sharing His suffering by being rejected of men
  • [2:18] Be submissive to masters…..even willing to suffer unjustly and unreasonably

= “For you have been called for this purpose, since Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example to follow in his steps……” How? By taking matters into His own hands? No, but kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously…..[1 Peter 2:21-23] What will result from following His example in practice?…..so that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. For by His stripes we were healed? Healed from what?

As God has promised, all Christians suffer, though few suffer as God intends them to. Their are a variety of reasons for this, some of which I will explain below.

1. Many people today equate the healing spoken of in the verse above to physical healing. Although their is nothing wrong with finding physical healing in the atonement, the time for this particular healing has not yet occurred. We may have immediately received spiritual healing and restoration upon immediately being born again, but we have yet to receive the new bodies that are promised us at the day of Christ’s return, the day of redemption. The very fact that we will still die physically is proof that physical healing is not guaranteed this side of heaven. The only way that could ring true was if we could avoid death itself, something we have not been promised in Christ. The good news is better yet, as we won’t be replacing these sin tainted shells with new ones but with entirely heavenly ones. Awesome.

Our suffering along these lines occurs when some other professing Christian promises us something God hasn’t promised and doesn’t seem to deliver. When we question others why this is, often we are blamed for not having enough faith or failing to prove our faith through some specific action. WE HAVE SUFFERED NEEDLESSLY BECAUSE WE HAVE BELIEVED A LIE.

2. Christians are supposed to suffer in the context of their family relationships- not merely marriage relationships but among their brothers and sisters in Christ. We are individually and corporately called to share one another’s joys and sufferings, not just the pain therein, but the remedy of those pains to the degree that we are able. Due to what can only be noted as neglect of daily fellowship among the saints we rarely know the specifics of a family members suffering and as a result we don’t aid others as we are commanded by God. WE SUFFER BECAUSE WE FAIL TO FELLOWSHIP FROM DAY TO DAY AS GOD COMMANDS WHEREIN WE ARE TRANSPARENT AND ACCOUNTABLE.

3. Furthermore, many of us are hesitant to open up and burden others with our sufferings or struggles with sin. WE SUFFER BECAUSE WE FAIL TO OPEN UP ABOUT OUR SUFFERINGS TO THOSE WHO ARE COMMANDED TO CARE AND HELP REMEDY OUR SUFFERINGS.

4. Many of the people that attempt to help us offer remedies outside of what God allows such as worldly solutions which complicate and even multiply the problems. WE SUFFER BECAUSE WE DON’T STAY WITHIN THE BOUNDS GOD HAS PROVIDED FOR US AND WHICH STEM FROM HIM.

5. First and foremost, we suffer from a failure to regularly seek God for revelation ourselves by abiding in and with Him, therefore having an undue reliance upon other men and even other Christians for what we are supposed to believe and live out. WE SUFFER DUE TO A FAILURE TO SEEK GOD FOR OURSELVES.

Remember where we started in this study? …..knowing that the same experiences of suffering are being accomplished by your brethren who are in the world….

The point Paul makes goes much deeper than just a recognition that others suffer too. If that’s all you have gleaned herein than you have missed the main point. Paul is saying that their are others who share the same faith that you do, who serve the same Lord the way you do and care about you the same way Jesus Himself does. These people are family and want you to know that they too understand your plight and they too are perservering through it as you are.

Have you ever noticed how many times Paul the apostle shares his longing to come fellowship with various saints, and how he’s constantly telling of his responsibilities, burdens and even those who he regularly associates with during his service to the body? Even the sickness of a saint is not overlooked as if the whole body needed to know. It’s like he’s a glue that’s constantly speaking of the needs of those he meets, the opportunities and responsibilities this presents to others as if they are one big family? That’s because they are!

Paul understood something very few of us ever grasp very deeply. It’s not the songs we sing, it’s not the meals we share or the excitement of meeting a new brother or sister for the first time that really molds the body of Christ. Rather, it is our identification through suffering, the very path Jesus traversed for us that we might reciprocate it that bonds and unites the body as one. That is what Jesus wants us to see and the reason Paul was willing to exemplify this by “dying daily.” When you recognize this, you will be able to see and understand why the apostle Peter was confident in saying:

…..he who has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, so as to live the rest of the time in the flesh no longer for the lusts of men, but for the will of God.

“Therefore, those also who suffer according to the will of God shall entrust their souls to a faithful Creator in doing what is right” [1 Peter 4:1,19]

 

-the end

 

The communication of suffering

“For all who are being led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God. For you have not received a spirit of slavery leading to fear again, but you have received a spirit of adoption as sons by which we cry out, “Abba Father!”

“The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, heirs also, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him so that we may be glorified with Him.” [Romans 8:14-17]

I divided the two sections of verses on purpose. For there is a key in the first that opens and makes possible the second.

The key of course that opens all possibilities as Christians is our intimacy with God through Jesus Christ. To a great extent,  the degree that we cultivate our relationship with other people is the degree that we are able and willing to trust them. It is the very same with Him whom we call Our Father. Therefore, the manner we perceive suffering in this life and our willingness to accept and embrace it lies primarily with the degree that “we know Him.”

WHY WE SUFFER

With little exception, most every human being alive has asked themselves this question. For to be human is to know pain and to be inflicted with the pangs of death itself. For the seeds of death are the pains we all share, the pains most attempt to escape in one manner or another.

The question above can have many obvious answers. We can suffer in a variety of ways: physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually- all for a variety of different reasons. Without delving into those answers here, I simply want to differentiate here between the sufferings we bring upon ourselves and those God allows in our lives.

THE BLAME GAME

It’s easy to blame God when we suffer, we’ve all done this, and must stop doing it. Many of the sufferings we share are our own doing, such as when we suffer consequences from things we choose to do in excess. At other times we might associate with people we know aren’t good for us or disobey God by spending time dating someone who doesn’t love God the way we do. In a hundred different ways and more do we bring pain and heartache into our own lives. This may be due to ignorance or simply being naïve or immature, though often our suffering is directly tied to disobedience- knowing the right thing to do and not doing it. (James 4:17)

This study is primarily directed toward suffering that seems “unexplainable” in human terms- suffering that is not purposefully caused by our own doing. I want to suggest that despite how tempting it is to ask the question above about why we suffer, wisdom suggests we replace it with another one.

WHAT CAN I LEARN FROM MY SUFFERING?

When our focus is upon why we suffer, we no doubt will look to blame God, others or some situation for why our circumstances are what they are. Sometimes we do this in anger, sometimes peacefully, though both are attempts to silence the pain, to find some reason for why we suffer. At heart, such a question is selfish in nature as if this shouldn’t be happening to us, isn’t fair or is out of order in God’s economy for a Christian. Are any of these even true?

OF FIRST IMPORTANCE

“For to you it has been granted for Christ’s sake, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake, experiencing the same conflict which you saw in me, and now hear to be in me” [Philippians 1:29, 30]

Like it or not, God calls Christians to suffer, suffering is part of the Christian life, and an important one at that. Granted, the sufferings above primarily refer to the conflicts with having been associated with Christ in a society and world where He wasn’t welcome. Paul was persecuted specifically due to his stand for Christ and the gospel itself which contradicted the religions of that day. Despite this, God also allows other forms of suffering as well, such as physical suffering for reasons He knows are necessary and that cater to individual Christians specific needs or God’s purposes through them. Don’t be fooled or deceived by those that would teach you otherwise.

“Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you, which comes upon you for your testing, as though some strange thing were happening to you; but to the degree that you share the sufferings of Christ, keep of rejoicing, so that also at the revelation of His glory you may rejoice with exaltation.”

 If you are reviled for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you” [1 Peter 4:12-14]

I divided the two sections of verses on purpose. For their is a key in the first that opens and makes possible the second. That key of course in acceptance, combined with a willingness to share in suffering with Christ.

A THREE FOLD DOOR OF OPPORTUNITY (What God desires to communicate to us through our suffering)

1. Identify with Christ

Most Christians claim they want to know God more, but rarely think about the primary means He uses in bringing this to fruition. We all want to identify and associate with a miracle working Jesus, that’s just plain exciting and at times we see His hand in such. For the most part though, we have little considered how we can identify with Jesus in His trials, in His sufferings, contempt and even death despite His command that we partake of these very things. For when we contemplate what the cross of Christ really entails in our personal lives we must admit we have things backwards. Our shiny gold and silver crosses only shroud reality. The cross is and has always been the place of shame, contempt and death. Knowing Him is found in traversing the very same road He did…to the degree that we share the sufferings of Christ, not hesitantly, but purposefully.

2. Identify with others who suffer

Part of the manner we embrace the sufferings of Christ is to identify with others who share in the very same cross carrying life we do. Sadly, despite many of the things we do one with another as Christians, we fail miserably along these lines. The only way we can truly share our hurts and pains is to walk in a deliberate intimacy from day to day with other believers. This is so rare we might as well think it unusual when we see such in action. There is a reason God commands us to be encouraging one another day by day- lest we be hardened by deceit. We can’t hide who we really are and what we’re going through if we’re sharing life on a daily basis. The question for us is this: Am I willing to count the cost of being obedient to such a command and the benefits therein?

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of all mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all of our affliction so that we will be able to comfort those who are in affliction with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. But if we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation……” [2 Corinthians 1:3-8]

3. Testify before others

As an individual, we have the responsibility to walk faithfully before God and to live righteously and holy before this world’s people. People are watching, and we cannot possibly impart to others what we ourselves do not possess. We have a testimony and if that has any lasting effect upon others will be decided by the manner in which we deal with the tough times we face in life. Any one can claim Christ and walk around with a smile on their face. People in churches do this every week. What we really need is authenticity, real people with real problems and the confidence and trust in God to set things aright. This will impact people and get them thinking along spiritual lines.

Maybe more than ever, the young in the faith need older brothers and sisters they can look up to in these times. More than this, they need these to be willing to walk hand in hand with them, to renounce their own selfish worldly aims and plans and live like Jesus who’s heart settled for nothing less than His Father’s heart. Have you ever considered your brother’s and sister’s needs even as much as your own? How about more than your own?

IN addition to our individual witness before this world is our corporate testimony before this world and other Christians. I want to divide this up and share some thought on each below.

Our witness before other Christians

Until we get this witness correct, our witness to this world really won’t matter much. That’s because every Christian has a place in God’s ekklesia and if we exclude these in an attempt to be our own witness than we will both be the cause of division among the saints and a hindrance to fulfilling God’s will through His Ekklesia.

For example, every time a believer restricts the truth of God or expands the truth of God they hinder God’s will in the earth. When a man or men attempt to start their “own named ministry” they restrict God’s work in several ways. Not only do they purposefully divide the body into a segment of believers, they attempt to name what even Jesus doesn’t name. That’s an expansion of truth of the highest order! Christians need to witness and experience the power and provision of what Jesus Himself builds in local communities. We can partake in this, provided we follow His lead and don’t detract or add to what He desires to build. The next time you meet a professing believer consider anything, in fact everything outside of the box mentality to share with them. Where you fellowship, with whom, and with what matters little. What matters is whether Jesus is center stage and remains Himself, preeminent.

Step out and be counted as an individual. Then seek out the body for His fullest expression in Christ.

Our witness before this world

Success in our witness to the unbelieving world depends upon an entire reliance upon God for everything. Someone recently said that God’s provision always follows God’s will and I believe this. When we beg for money (from God’s people and the unbelieving world) we prove how little we really trust God and assume when the money comes in it must be God’s blessing our plans. How easily and quickly we are deceived.

In order to have a proper witness to this world, we must have a very clear view of what Jesus is building and seek to have our own house in order before reaching out to others. This begins with seeking God for truth ourselves and then aiding others in seeing as well. As the one’s, two’s and three’s congregate in time, we learn to allow God to work through others and into our own lives. Ultimately we shall lead others to the very places we ourselves have gone. Is your aim to pass along your responsibilities to serve to the religious professional in church? I certainly hope not. God’s calling you to lay down your life, your plans, your independence if you really want to know the Jesus who changes the heart as well as the hurting.

GOD SPEAKS THROUGH SUFFERING

In every pain, trial or difficulty, Jesus has provided specifically for that need. The problem isn’t that we suffer, its that we often suffer needlessly because we have failed to act upon what God has commanded- and this results in a lack of His promises being fulfilled in our individual and corporate lives. The very things in which we suffer are meant to be a road map which leads us into brighter paths for His people and for His name’s sake.

We only need to look upon or visit the remote places in this world to witness how these suffering saints have a zeal for truth and a passion for the lost that is unparalleled. We say we want to be like them, but our daily actions betray these thoughts and aspirations. If we really did, we would either move to those locations or at least attempt to identify with them by sharing their sufferings right where we find ourselves.

It isn’t hard to suffer, it’s God intent that we do. What’s hard is learning the reasons why and taking advantage of the opportunities He presents us with. Is this your heart, or are you still avoiding those things that make you most like Him?

 

-the end

 

 

 

 

This far, and no farther

Forgive me for not remembering where I first heard the title to this post, all I know is that there is a similar reference in Job 38 that I will refer to within these thoughts I’m about to share. The main thrust of this study will be our tendency as human beings and even Christians to speak about things we think we know despite our occasional ignorance of the very things we claim to profess. In addition to this is our tendency to speak things out of place or in a manner that fails to encourage and edify the brethren. Both are much more common than we realize and I am certainly not without these tendencies myself at times. I intend to divide this subject matter into three sections as follows:

1. Our interaction with our Father

2. Our interaction with other people

3. Our interaction with professing Christians

The primary passage of reference will be Colossians 4:1-6 which speaks;

Masters, grant to your slaves justice and fairness, knowing that you too have a Master in heaven. Devote yourselves to prayer, keeping alert in it with an attitude of thanksgiving; praying at the same time for us as well, that God will open up to us a door for the word, so that we may speak forth the mystery of Christ, for which I have also been imprisoned; that I may make it clear in the way I ought to speak. Conduct yourselves with wisdom toward outsiders, making the most of the opportunity. Let your speech always be with grace, as though seasoned with salt, so that you will know how you should respond to each person”

Section 1: Our interaction with our Father

As we see clearly in the verse above, the manner we speak to other human beings is important. It’s just not the message we share but the manner in which that message comes across that matters to God. Not one alone, but both impact our effectiveness with other people.

Before we speak to other men about God, it is vital that our fellowship with Him is active and intimate. Any hope of aiding others into the truth must originate in our care for them in private and through our prayers to God for them on their behalf. Absent of this, we only become clanging symbols that do more damage than good for the cause of Christ. We must remember often as it is said above…..we too have a Master in heaven. Humility is the foundational key that affords us the opportunity and might I even say the privilege to speak for Almighty God.

One’s concept of God directs their speech

Like it or not, our concepts and beliefs about God will affect the manner that we speak to others. For example, if we believe:

  • God is a harsh taskmaster (then we will likely be speaking out of our own fears about judgment and therefore present God to others as cruel and vindictive verses loving and merciful)
  • God mandates various religious observances (then I will promote those alongside or in addition to His grace for salvation whether that be baptism, the Lord’s Supper or church related activities or meetings) or as evidence of faithful Christian service.
  • God returns evil upon His sons and daughters based upon their sins and disobedience (then I will warn people that God can and will send evil spirits upon and even into them and even damn them if they persist in sin) Please note: Unlike others who may disagree, I do not view what God calls His children as the same under the Old and New Covenants. For example, most if not all of the promises God gives to born again believers were never given to those among Israel. One only had to be among this nation and people group to be considered one of God’s people. It had nothing to do with an internal change or calling from God Himself which all Christians have experienced today.

If we believe in any false concepts about God such as those promoted by Purpose Driven Theology, Word Faith Doctrines and those of the New Apostolic Reformation, how will those not be promoted by us in our efforts to reach out to others. And how will those not be readily received by the deceived masses knowing that they cater to our selfish sinful nature which opposes God’s command to put that nature to death?

Regardless of how our concept of the nature of God Himself or what He has revealed as the truth is skewed, in that very area and to the degree that we believe these falsehoods will we affect others adversely. It’s easy to say or claim the passage in 1 John 2:27 which is true but was never meant as justification for making confident judgments about others outside of the counsel of the righteous or the assembly as a whole. For example, I might think a believer I’ve been spending time with on the outside is a threat to the assembly. I can therefore “cut off” this contact if I believe that to be appropriate. On the other hand, once that person “belongs” to the assembly, I can no longer arbitrarily oust that person from the assembly as I have other people to consider who also have a say in this matter. It is no longer to be my decision alone. The fact is, my individual judgment is not to be trusted in such matters, it is the combined counsel of the saints that must decide before all what actions if any should be taken. I should always speak my concerns, yes, but the decision about what to do is not mine. This far, but no farther.

“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 allotted to each a measure of faith. Do not be wise in your own estimation.” [Romans 12:3, 16]

Section 2: Our interaction with other people

Every person we meet affords an opportunity of some sort. At times a simple friendly gesture, at other times a full scale gospel presentation if afforded the time. It’s really up to us within the framework of these opportunities to be used as the Holy Spirit might desire to lead us. But again, these opportunities will only be productive based upon what has happened prior…in those secret places of devotion to God and prayer on behalf of others.

“Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you unless you abide in Me” [John 15:4]

Sadly and far too often, our present circumstances and difficulties affect these opportunities and even the manner in which we speak to others. Whether we are allowing the stress in our day to become paramount, letting others grind upon our nerves or rehashing some past pain we believe someone has caused us, these situations unchecked will hinder our potential outreach and effectiveness. Who hasn’t experienced the ill-timed judgments that proceed from our foul mouths toward others all due to neglecting a special time with our Lord that morning? We must put those things to death (as to their power) by embracing them (that is, these difficulties) as a  means to an end (a closer unity with Christ as we die to ourselves again and again).

“But now you also, put them all aside: anger, wrath, malice, slander and abusive speech from your mouth” [Colossians 3:8]

A hundred other things could be added to the list above. The point is this: Whatever I’m refusing to relinquish, that is what is killing me and crushing my effectiveness in Christ with others.

Just today a man at the restaurant called my first and last name and I looked over to see who it was. I was so embarrassed, I didn’t even recognize the guy or know who he was. I had to ask him how he knew me. As it was, he remembered me from AA, a program I haven’t attended in some 15 years! Upon his way out of the restaurant he gave me one of the nicest compliments I’ve ever received to my surprise. It seemed that my preaching in AA actually did impact him- so much that he remembered my full name despite the short time we knew one another.

Friends, that’s what I’m after, a testimony from God that lasts among others, and I know you are too! That starts with a devotion to Christ, is empowered by prayer, stimulated by love and brought to fruition by the Holy Spirit along God’s timelines. Nothing needs to be forced…..where death is sown, life will result as naturally as any tree planted in the ground. Now if only my memory would improve…..

In the passage above we find the apostle Paul  with this request to his fellow brethren:

…praying at the same time for us as well, that God will open up to us a door for the word, so that we may speak forth…..

It almost seems kind of odd doesn’t it, the most preeminent apostle asking the average Joe’s and Jane’s of the local assembly to pray for him…..so that he may speak…..that I might make it clear in the way I ought to speak. Obviously these texts prove that their is a right way and a wrong way to speak and a right and a wrong time to speak. Then Paul’s admonition to them:

“Conduct yourselves with wisdom toward outsiders (unbelievers), making the most of the opportunity” What opportunity? “The opportunity” we are supposed to be praying for and prepared in advance for.

Far too often we just throw out the gospel or gospel tracts in the hope that someone will respond favorably. Is this what Paul would call “conducting oneself with wisdom toward outsiders?” I’m not so sure myself. What we do know is this:

“Let your speech always be with grace (be gracious), as though seasoned with salt, so that you will know how you should respond to each person”

Did you get that? The emphasis upon each individual is paramount. Without a gracious approach and testimony, hardly will anyone give us a hearing and are more likely to assume we’re just the next religious nut on the scene. We may be still called that, but there is no reason now to make that true now is there? This far, and no farther.

Section 3: Our interaction with professing Christians

More than ever before, we know we must be ever diligent to test and discern the various spirits that are opposing the true gospel message and avoid those people who attempt to use them in influencing the saints adversely. At the same time we must be careful not to reject a genuine brother or sister who may simply be mistaken about the truth or been influenced themselves due to their own ignorance of the truth. At other times the flesh might be the real culprit and the answer to their problem is nothing more or less than this individual learning to deny themselves and carry a daily cross. I can’t help someone if I prematurely judge them without discerning the real issue at hand. This takes time and once again necessitates the corporate witness of the saints.

For many a believer, they are quick to judge what they deem to be a serious issue with a brother or sister and label  that a particular or even specific problem. This includes but is not limited to:

  • The type of church they attend (or simply attending a church at all)
  • The denomination they claim (or the fact that they claim one period)
  • Allegiance to men (through a system of theology or a religious leader, guru)
  • Failure to overcome one’s sins (labeled demonic oppression/possession)
  • Using worldly resources to solve personal problems
  • Any apparent opposition in an assembly (as another spirit’s influence)
  • Deviation from what we presently believe the Bible says or what we believe to be true

The fact is, none of us like problems with people and it is much easier to label the supposed offender and then oust them due to their opposing views or their perceived “opposition.” It’s much more difficult, takes much more patience and is much more scripturally proper to longsuffer with people as the true source of their opposition is discovered. And yes, contrary to the beliefs of some, no Christian is called to ever believe the observations or counsel of others in such a situation if that counsel is contrary to their own beliefs and present understanding. They very well may need to heed the counsel of elders within an assembly in order to press forward together, yet they are never told to blindly accept the words and judgments of anyone else in the assembly or some so-called religious leader. The Holy Spirit Himself must be the one who confirms the truth for each of us. This is the manner a proper and lasting consensus is reached.

Can I ask you all two questions? Look at the list above and ask yourself these questions? Would you fellowship with someone who desired to meet with you if they had one, more than one or all of the above different than you? What would be the basis for your judgment in this matter?

I can’t speak for any of you, but I have no fear whatsoever of being deceived by some “spirit” that may be trying to deceive me through someone else. I have learned to love first, serve others as I’m led, all the while watching and listening to what others have to say. Christian or otherwise, people eventually speak and many write out what they believe for all to hear and see. Only after I have adequately ascertained what I believe are the facts  can a proper judgment be made about someone else or their behaviors. Even then, wise counsel should be sought among the other saints. In most cases I believe what some deem to be serious inroads by Satan are actually just the fleshly foibles of others or their ignorance in scriptural matters. That doesn’t mean we should let our guard down, deceivers are about, but the amount of light among the saints eventually reveals the true from the false. Light always exposes darkness. Just because someone is mistaken about a truth or doctrine does not make them a heretic or on their way to hell- neither does an unwillingness of someone to own what we believe are their sins make them a liar. In both cases, much of our judgments are selfish in nature, we either don’t want to deal with another’s headaches or we expedite the problems through our labels and premature judgments. Both are just as sinful as the person above who may have committed the crimes. If we’re trusting our Father, in time a consensus of the saints will occur and at that point proper decisions can be corporately made and implemented.

For the record, witnesses to sinful behavior according to scripture are exclusively people who agree with an initial brothers and/or sisters conclusion about another saints sinful behavior AND who come forward to confront the offender openly. It is not adequate to simply discuss another’s so-called wrongs or even agree with a particular assessment about someone. In addition, a husband and wife are not to be considered two witnesses but simply one by the fact of their having been joined together in marriage. The two have been made one, no? These are simple observations that must be observed if one is to scripturally confront another who is believed to be in sin.

When we make our own judgments against others prematurely without proper counsel and scriptural support, we will either incite the wrath of others, fail to be the bridge and beacon of truth we claim to be and likely destroy any hope for a continued influence or friendship. I can’t speak for any of you, but I want none of all that. This far, and no farther.

“For just as we have many members in one body and all the members do not have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually members of one another. Since we have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, each of us IS TO exercise them accordingly…..according to the proportion of his faith” [Romans 12:4-6]

We are commanded to exercise our individual spiritual gifts- and according to who’s faith? That’s right, our own faith. Are we to do this in some selfish way because that is our right? Of course not, but rather;

“Be of the same mind toward one another; do not be haughty in mind, but associate with the lowly. Do not be wise in your own estimation” [Romans 12:16]

This far, and no farther [Job Chapters 38-41]

God in His sovereignty has placed tasks and restraints upon all of His creation, from the sun and the moon to every living thing under the sun including each of us. It may be easy to discover one’s identity in Christ scripturally speaking, though it is no easy task to live in that identity worthy of Him who we profess, all the while recognizing how unworthy we are to even partake of it. It is my observation that one manner in which we fail to do both is when we confidently use the words “God told me” in reference to another believer. Why does this concern me? I don’t know who started this, but it reeks of pride, not to mention favoritism with the Almighty. We have people all over the globe who think God is telling them things and in many cases HE is telling THEM something. But seriously folks, is God incapable of telling us as individuals what He wants us to hear without the help of others? And just how are we to know that God’s message to us is coming from another person? In what manner can we test the spirit of what others speak to us as God has commanded us to do? Are we to believe others simply because they say so or speak with confidence?

Our individual responsibility is to speak truth one to another and allow the Holy Spirit time to work amongst our brethren. Our so-called prophetical insights about others just aren’t necessary and in most cases have no scriptural validity and in some cases amount to slanderous judgments that are outright lies about others.

Little brings more shame upon God’s people than those who profess to be better than others, those who think that due to their profession of faith have now found some kind of unique favor with God that the world’s people and lesser Christians lack. This is manifested in all sorts of bizzare ways from predictions about revival, special outpourings, supposed prophesies, seven mountains mandates and predictions about America. God makes plain that these “confident assertions” (aggressively confident statements) are the result of those who have abandoned the original call of our mutual instruction one to another:

“As I urged you upon my departure for Macedonia, remain on at Ephesus so that you may instruct certain men not to teach strange doctrines, nor to pay attention to myths and endless genealogies, which give rise to mere SPECULATION rather than furthering the administration of God which is by faith.

But the goal of our instruction is love from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith. For some men, straying from these things, have turned aside to fruitless discussion, wanting to be teachers of the Law, even though they do not understand either what they are saying or the matters about which they make confident assertions” [1 Timothy 1:3-7]

In short, speculation is the opposite of fact. We are forever like Job’s friends trying to solve others problems and a perverse societies, all the while failing to recognize how pathetic we really are and how incapable to even alter our own dispositions and selfish appetites. It is not that we don’t have a responsibility like Job’s friends one to another, we do, we simply do not see as clearly as we think and therefore bring our own judgments of others upon ourselves.

Job was righteous by God’s own decree, but that wasn’t enough. He failed to see himself as he really was without the influence of God upon his life. Once he owned this, God’s favor was restored to be enjoyed more than ever before.

In this very book God allows Satan himself to come among the sons of God who were presenting themselves among the Lord in heaven. [Job 1:6, 7; 2:1, 2] Not only does God allow this, He uses Satan to accomplish several things he has in mind- for Job, his friends and even those today who would learn from the story about this godly man. It was God’s intent that for a short season Satan be allowed among God’s people- even directly attacking Job and testing his faith. The only restraint placed upon Satan by God was the prohibition of taking Job’s very life. [Job 2:4-6] As it turns out in the providence of God, all of God’s intentions and lessons are learned by all- specifically as a result of the issues that prevailed among Job and his friends. They all needed to repent, and after they did their unique fellowship and intimacy was restored.

I don’t write this with any specific intent of my own in mind, but as a reminder to each of us to be careful with our notions and even thoughts about our brothers and sisters in Christ. There are indeed times where out of necessity we must speak, we must rebuke and even correct others in error. We do well to remember the manner in which this is to be done and check our own motives before we make these advances. If in any way our comfort level or expectations are part of the picture, our hearts are not right and at best we ought to reserve our judgments for a later season.

This far and no farther. It is a blessed thing to discover our place among the body and to boldly and faithfully carry out those responsibilities. It is not wise to exceed those boundaries despite how tempting that might become. Day by day we rest in Christ and only those who do so can be adequately prepared for God’s instructions and leading for any particular day or specific endeavor. God uses us as He will, there is no fixed religious position or even everlasting spiritual gifts which cannot be altered or removed by Him one season to another, just as no guarantee exists that our new found friendships will last for a lifetime.

The title herein has one last application. To whatever extent any individual has contributed to conflict among the unbelieving or saved peoples of the world, it remains our ongoing responsibility to retain peace among all men as far as this is possible. If this means a confession so be it, if it merely means a willingness to forego wrongs may that also be so. More damage can occur “after the fact” where others remain unaware of those who may retain things against them for no apparent reason. Let’s not give our adversary such a position amongst us. I for one harbor no wrongs against anyone, despite the pains of the recent past.

Let’s value what we have this day in Him, whether alone or in fellowship, rejoicing and being content with His particular calling at present regardless of the cost.

 

-the end

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Throw not away your confidence

In the Biblical book of Hebrews we find a most unsettling passage of Scripture that has been a thorn in the side of many people who have often misunderstood it. It comes complete with statements such as “there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins,” “a terrifying expectation of judgment,” “trampling under foot the Son of God,” “vengeance is mine” and this apparent summation: “It is a terrifying this to fall into the hands of the living God.” [Hebrews 10:26-31]

The argument among Christians is not generally whether these things are true or can become true, but to whom do they apply. For example, for someone who struggles in their faith regularly, lets say a babe in Christ, they might wonder if these verses might possibly apply to them, especially if they were struggling with sin. For others who may be more mature as well as secure in their faith, these verses pose them no threat whatsoever and they don’t view them specifically applicable to themselves. In most cases and with most people, IT IS HOW THEY CHOOSE TO VIEW THEMSELVES IN RELATION TO CHRIST that makes the difference.

SEEING OTHERS AS WE SEE OURSELVES

By the statement above I do not mean that we shall see everyone as being necessary likeminded as Christians, we know better than that at least practically, but that we each have a tendency to judge others based upon our own perceptions of truth and reality. For example, I know people who immediately react adversely every time they hear someone reference or quote the statement, “once saved, always saved.” Even if you are one to quote scriptural verses that appear to speak to an opposing position, let’s say like those above in Hebrews, you would also have to be honest in admitting that there are verse after verse that speak to a Christians security in Christ found in the same Bible. Instead of admitting this, most people outright reject that fact because their own experiences seem contrary to that fact, ie; the many people they know who have and who do claim Christ and yet continue on in their sinful ways. Because living in sin and being saved are polar opposites, they use that argument to renounce what the Scriptures plainly teach as “the security of the believer.” (which is not the same as making a decision for Christ years back and claiming that as proof of one’s salvation despite how they live). This mistake is made because one’s focus is upon WHAT SOMEONE ELSE IS DOING at the expense of what the scriptures actually say.

LOVING OTHERS LIKE OURSELVES

If we’re truly honest as Christians, we will quickly admit that we prefer to be around other believers who both believe and act the way we do. Sure their are exceptions, but not many. It’s simply easier to fellowship with people we know we will agree with and as a result will cause us little trouble if any. How prone we are to settle for this superficial “peace” verses the peace that results from all eyes remaining upon our Lord Jesus Christ despite disagreements and various stages of growth among us.

When we meet other professing Christians that are different than us several things happen almost instantaneously:

  • We quickly discern in what ways their beliefs and practices differ from ours.
  • We view the above differences as either a threat to us or something that needs to be changed in them.
  • We’ll either attempt to silence what we believe threatens us, mandate what we deem are appropriate changes, a combination of both or outright reject these people.

ALL OF THESE ACTIONS ABOVE ARE INTENSIFIED IF THE INDIVIDUAL IN QUESTION ACTIVELY PROMOTES WHAT THEY BELIEVE.

Obviously, not everything one believes or practices as a Christian is acceptable before God. There are both beliefs and practices which are contrary to true Biblical Christianity, just as there are some practices that we are called not to judge such as what people eat or upon what days of the week them deem to be special as in Romans chapter 14.

JUDGING FROM OUR OWN VANTAGE POINT

For those of us having had our share of internet interaction through email, we’re well aware of how easily our words can be misunderstood and as a result our beliefs and actions called into question. This happens all the time. These “judgments” are compounded all the more based upon the manner we each discern, the manner we believe we are led by the Spirit, the manner we choose to exercise our spiritual gifts and the degree of previously established trust that exists among those with whom we fellowship. And that’s just a few of the potential conflicts!

On one hand we can understand just why people judge others in the manner that they do. They are in one sense, “a product of their religious environments” over the years, combined with what they believe God has taught them. And sad but true, most people claiming Christ have only thought that most of what they claim is actually from God. Many of these people use terms like “God told me” or “The Spirit led me” and woe to anyone who might question their judgments in these things. It almost seems as if when people claim such leadings that others are just supposed to believe them and throw out all the verses that talk about judging these very things. Judgment itself isn’t the issue, Christians are called to judge one another on some points, and certainly in relation to the truth. The problem isn’t the fact that we judge, it’s that we don’t judge rightly or along the lines that are prescribed in the Scriptures. We ought to be confident in our defense of the Scriptures and holding others to the highest of Scriptural standards, but we must follow the appropriate path in doing so, lest we cause more harm than good. We do well to remember what Jesus said in regard to judging others in Matthew 7:1, 2:

“Do not judge so that you will not be judged. For in the way you judge, you will be judged; and by your standard of measure, it will be measured to you”

Obviously this is not a prohibition to judge, but a prohibition to unjust judgments in relation to others. The context makes this obvious. There is a passage as well in 1 Corinthians 6 where Paul asks these believers, “Is it so, that there is not among you one wise man who will be able to decide between his brethren?” Even in the previous passage it states, “Do you not judge those who are within the ekklesia?” [1 Corinthians 5:12] Obviously there is a time that judgments must be made among brethren and even against brethren.

The key to any proper judgment can be found in Jesus’ words in John 5:30.

“I can do nothing on My own initiative. As I hear, I judge; and My judgment is just, because I do not seek My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me.” Before anything else, I must be sure I have no vested interest in any judgment I make against anyone else. How can anyone make a proper and just judgment about anything if they desire or intend to benefit from their judgment? Secondly, I must be willing to allow “what I hear” (or think or say I’m hearing from the Spirit) to be judged by others. There is simply no such thing as exercising a judgment without this system of checks and balances in existence. This isn’t altogether different from any words we speak (as if from God) here:

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

If there was, anyone could pronounce a judgment and then expect others to simply acknowledge what they supposedly hear from God. That would be naïve as well as potentially dangerous. The truth is, we have plenty of people speaking (all kinds of things about other people) and few if any want to involve themselves due to the conflict they know will result. But that doesn’t help, it only makes matters worse! C’mon people, weigh in, takes sides, that’s how the truth is ultimately discovered, certainly not by going to worldly courts or hiding in the wilderness.

Is giving others “the benefit of the doubt” Scriptural?

Whether we agree or not, we all see what we choose to see. We can paint any picture we choose to paint, of a situation, or of an individual- and we can use the words of others, what they write publicly and even the Bible to do this. Once we start down that road, no amount of information nor explanation will alter what we’ve decided to believe. It won’t matter how many Scriptures others quote or how many times people plead their particular case. Some of us will choose to believe the best in people while others will do just the opposite.

One definition of the above phrase goes as such: “To believe something good about someone, rather than something bad, when you have the opportunity of doing either” Then the example given, “Hearing his explanation, I was prepared to give him the benefit of the doubt”

The fact is, some people just won’t do this. And that leads to premature judgments, faulty discernment and judgments where those judging do have selfish interests at heart. It pins some saints against the others, and ultimately leads to those in judgment labeling others so as to justify their positions. Do they have a right to do this? Yes they do, and they also have the right to reap the consequences thereof.

When someone speaks or writes in the public realm, those words are open to critique and many of us have learned this first hand. In the midst of wanting to share the truth, we open ourselves up to what others think about what we say- or even what they think we said! It’s just part of the risk we all take in making our thoughts, words and even our lives public before others.

To one degree or another we kind of expect the above. But seriously, you would think that in the midst of one’s own assembly, if anywhere, “the benefit of the doubt” would be evident. You would think that these brothers and sisters would take you at your word and have your best interest at heart- that they would believe you instead of continually questioning your words and writings and using them against you. When this happens, there’s going to be a conflict and eventually a separation. Again, it’s not wrong that a judgment was spoken against one or more persons, it’s the vague and unsubstantiated judgments that cause these problems. At times, and even after a conflict is resolved, some still want to revisit it- proof positive of a selfish motive where somebody wants somebody else to “own” their mistakes. That goes for attempting to use the scriptural process of discipline for one who is no longer part of an assembly as well. There is no reason nor warrant for such an action whatsoever, seeing that the supposed “offender(s)” are no longer within the fellowship. Why continue to debate or discuss problems that no longer exist, that is, unless one has some selfish motive in mind?

When a believer truly trusts God in the midst, there is simply no reason to question every little disagreement or difference in discernment people have. There is no reason to fret or make a small problem into a crisis, nor is there a reason to point fingers at brothers and sisters because of what we don’t like about how they participated in the process. We ought to overlook and forgive every single grievance where possible, holding NO RECORD OF WRONGS (or perceived wrongs which most usually are anyway), and only deal with serious issues that HAVE BEEN MADE KNOWN FACTUALLY (on the basis of a corporate testimony- not on what some think they are hearing from God).

THROW NOT AWAY YOUR CONFIDENCE

All of us as Christians are confident about a whole list of various things. Some are confident they hear rightly from God, others confident they know the Bible well, others confident in the ability to discern various situations and people. I wonder, “How confident are you in the people that are walking next to you, do you really believe they have been sent to you by God Himself and for the reasons you think?”

The verses above in the book of Hebrews deal with those who were confident in God in the midst of severe difficulty such as a “great conflict of sufferings,” being made a public spectacle through reproaches and tribulations” and “seizure of your property.” Do any of us really believe that all of the above are within the realm of our own futures? I do, but I’m not at all convinced that those who can’t or won’t even believe their brethren’s words as trustworthy will ever make this stand together. To believe that is plain fantasyland. No one can work with people they don’t trust, either in business or their service in Christ.

Regardless of the manner and level of confidence each of us have as believers, that manner of confidence can and should occasionally be called into question by others if that appears to be a need. This is a difficult and sometimes heartbreaking process as sometimes lifelong convictions are called into question by others. The only way this can be successful is after a deep trust has been established between brethren, not before. This process cannot be dictated but discussed, it is not one party ruling and the other submitting. All parties must remain open to being mistaken, or even wrong about their judgments.

By all means brothers and sisters, retain your confidence in God and what you believe to be your convictions from Him. But remember this, no conviction is without consequence of some sort, so prepare yourselves for what will result in and through them. If your confidence is in men you will likely be disappointed, but if in God, the result can only be good for those found in Him.

“Such confidence we have through Christ toward God. Not that we are adequate in ourselves to consider anything as coming from ourselves, but our adequacy is from God”

-the end