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Wednesday
Aug242016

The Christian and Social Problems 

(This is the final segment of the chapter on Your Social Relationship: Jesus as Prime Minister).

Christianity was born during an era in history in which believers had little or no political power—certainly not enough to make a difference.  Thus, the Bible does not advocate governmental strategies to address social problems.  The Scriptures admonish each of us to be kind and compassionate on a personal level, but government action was not relevant for them at that time.  The maturing church, however, did begin to service the needs of widows, orphans, the sick and other victims of tragic events.  Most of these gestures were for the benefit of church members.  Today’s problems, such as war, poverty, hunger and disease, exist on a global scale that the historical church did not address.  

Christians are realists.  We freely acknowledge that social problems exist.  We have no immunity to the suffering nor are we exempt from the solutions. The danger, however, is that we would allow secularists to define the problems and dictate the solutions.  As believers in Christ, if we reduce everything we face to the lowest common denominator, the problem is sin and the solution is salvation.  And we know that we are of God, and the whole world lieth in wickedness. 1 John 5:19 (KJV).  Paul writes to the Romans, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Romans 3:23. The solution to sin is the Savior, Jesus Christ.  The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, “Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” John 1:29. The primary mission of the church is to spread the gospel.  Then He said to them, “Thus it is written, and thus it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead the third day, and that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.” Luke 24:46-47. 

That conclusion does not sit well with the world.  Secularists deride the spiritual message of the church because they say it ignores the real pain and suffering in the real world.  Their criticisms should not be dismissed out of hand.  To the extent that we can address these problems, we should make an honest effort to do so.  Christians are at the forefront of many humanitarian causes.  Some support organizations that fight world hunger, some contribute to outreaches in developing countries that drill wells for clean water, some engage in agencies that care for orphans, and some provide medical services for refugees or war victims.  Parachurch organizations also sponsor orphanages, homes for troubled teens, adoption agencies, charitable ministries that help the homeless and victims of poverty and disaster relief efforts. 

All of these philanthropic causes are extremely important, but to make our primary mission alleviating the social ills of the world subverts our calling.  We are in the business of saving souls.  Then Jesus said to His disciples, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it. For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?” Matthew 16:24-26.  

The gospel message is not for time only, but also for eternity.  If we stop all wars, eliminate all poverty, feed all the hungry and cure all diseases, and yet do not lead people to Christ, then we will have failed in our true mission.  If, however, we succeed in turning people to Christ, their lives will be infinitely better.  Jesus stated this principle in forceful terms.  If your hand or foot causes you to sin, cut it off and cast it from you. It is better for you to enter into life lame or maimed, rather than having two hands or two feet, to be cast into the everlasting fire. And if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and cast it from you. It is better for you to enter into life with one eye, rather than having two eyes, to be cast into hell fire.” Matthew 18:8-9.  

Opportunities and Dangers of Social Media 

Social networking has ballooned to such a huge phenomenon that it cannot be ignored.  Irresponsible conversation, damaging comments, unfair characterizations, breaches of confidentiality, racy pictures, vicious gossip, wild rumors and every sordid type of communication gets pumped into cyberspace hour by hour through this medium.  The fact that it can also be used for positive purposes compounds the problem.  The evil side of man seems to always find ways to deface the good. 

Chances are great that your name has been mentioned on someone’s page.  Your picture may even be orbiting in cyberspace.  The significance of this fact is that users form opinions about pictures they see, or about people, events and things they read of on social networking sites.  You have little or no control over this information, regardless of how personal you consider it to be.  It is a wild, wooly, barely regulated and volatile realm where almost anything goes.  Employees have lost jobs, students have been kicked out of school, friendships have been ruined, marriages have ended in divorce, leaders have lost credibility and homes have been burglarized because of information on social media.  Numbers of people have been stabbed, shot or murdered over postings.  Relentless harassment, name-calling, stalking, intimidation, and threatened physical abuse, all on one outlet over multiple months, reportedly caused one teen girl to commit suicide and the same is suspected in other cases as well.  In a worst case scenario, a seventeen-year-old girl was raped and murdered by a thirty-three-year-old man she met on Facebook who was posing as a teenager.  Law enforcement agencies have stepped up warnings about social media, and many colleges and high schools caution students about its use.  Employers now routinely ask for a prospective worker’s social media accounts as part of the hiring process. 

In church circles, I am increasingly hearing stories about questionable entries on pages of church members and ministers alike.  Most use it for good, or at least for harmless banter and discussion.  A minority, however, post statements rooted in sarcasm, disrespect, a desire to foment division or to broadcast personal opinions that contradict the position of a church, a pastor or an organization.  Some comments may simply be unwise or thoughtless mental musings.  Others may not be so innocent.  

Whatever the motive, it is time for the church to address the problem.  While we have no illusions about ending or even curbing the use of social networking, we can make sure that people understand its potential for disaster.  Most users know about common caveats: “Once you post, it’s permanent,” “unknown posters may be imposters,” “all pictures are public property in cyberspace,” and, “there are no secrets on Facebook.”  But, for those in the church, more subtle guidelines come into play.  Here are a few:

  • Gossip and innuendo is always bad, but on Facebook, it multiplies by the power of ten.  
  • Questioning or criticizing spiritual authority in social media equals rebellion.
  • Faith-undermining and conviction-bashing are transparently wrong.
  • Soliciting membership to another congregation via social media is still sheep-stealing.
  • Don’t play with people by mocking or provoking them into dangerous discussions.
  • Playing the devil’s advocate through “what if” scenarios nearly always backfires.
  • Pastoring is largely private.  Ministers should not pastor over social media.
  • Barbed statements and/or sharing embarrassing stories can crush people.
  • It is always wrong to malign someone’s character, spread rumors or tell lies.
  • Confessions on Facebook lead to derision, not forgiveness.
  • Murphy’s Law applies:  Anything that can be taken wrong will be taken wrong. 
  • When in doubt, leave it out. 

Many other examples exist of abusive and dangerous ways that social media can be used.  The point is that social media is a stage, not a closet.  The intimate interaction between a person and his or her computer has global publication potential.  Some organizations, the Washington Post for example, simply say: “If you don’t want it online, don’t put it there.”  

For believers, social networking does not exist outside the parameters of scripture, as though social media justifies acts that would be anathema in any other venue.  Evil communication still corrupts good manners.  Proverbs 18:8 says “The words of a talebearer are like tasty trifles, and they go down into the inmost body.”  Social media is never the proper place to rant, vent or share sensitive information.  If you want to use it, weigh your words carefully, post wholesome and helpful thoughts, exemplify Christ in everything you say, and use it to promote unity and strength.  It is your solemn obligation to the body of Christ, and it is your right response to your relationship with Jesus Christ. 

Beware of Toxic Relationships 

All relationships are important. Accept as a given that each relationship into which you enter will change you in some way. Your close association with an individual may intensify your passions, inflame your anger or inspire you to nobility. If the relationship becomes especially meaningful, you may engage in radical kinds of behavior that you would never have contemplated otherwise. People have been known to kill over relationships. You may give away everything you have, you may move to some distant point on the planet, you may turn your back on your achievements, you may sacrifice cherished possessions, you may become an essentially different person, all because of the profound impact that one person makes on your life. 

Not all relationships are good.  If someone is bad for you, if that person brings out the worst in you, if he or she makes you feel unsafe, then you cannot afford to stay in close association with him or her. Women who suffer physical and mental abuse over a lengthy period of time, usually by a husband or other dominant male figure, are called “Battered Women.” Helplessness, constant fear, and a perceived inability to escape are listed as typical of this syndrome. (American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, 3rd ed.). While it may be too late for some, if you have an opportunity to leave an unhealthy relationship, you will either leave in a body bag or walk out on your own. Even the proscriptions of the scripture against divorce do not warrant a spouse to offer himself or herself up for murder. Obviously, marriage vows are important and married partners should seek out counseling to reconcile their differences before something tragic happens. A relationship that corrupts or abuses, however, needs to change or come to an end. 

Enter into all new relationships carefully. Love-struck romantics often cast all care to the wind when they profess their love and commitment to each other. Unfortunately, their naiveté tanks all too quickly when they really learn what each other is made of. In pre-marital counseling, I take the lead in asking probing questions, like:

  • “Are you in debt?”
  • “Are you in trouble with the law?”
  • “Are you on parole?”
  • “Have you been convicted of a felony or misdemeanor?”
  • “Have you ever been committed to a psychiatric facility?”
  • “Do you have serious health issues?”
  • “Have you shown your prospective husband or wife your health records?”
  • “Have you been honest in talking about previous relationships?”
  • “Have you been a user of illegal drugs?”
  • “Do you have any dependents that you have not mentioned?”
  • “How secure is your job?”

Questions like these—and many more—are difficult to ask.  Desperate people who want the relationship badly enough will consciously avoid asking them for fear that they will get the wrong answer. If this happens, they may forever rue the day that they put their heads in the proverbial sand and chose to be willfully ignorant. Pay now or pay later…that’s my advice. 

Edify those with whom you are in a relationship. If you don’t want others to drag you down, do your best to lift other people up. This is a fabulous secret that too many people do not understand: When you add value to people around you, you will never be lonely. Lifters attract. People will feel stronger, more secure and more inspired when they associate with you. You are not only influenced; you have the opportunity to be an influencer. Accept this role heartily and with great passion. You may very well be the person who is responsible for powerful and positive changes in the world. 

Tuesday
Aug232016

Your Social Relationship: Jesus as Prime Minister

(This is the next chapter in the book Hand in Hand: Deepening Your Relationship with Jesus Christ.)

In the book of beginnings, we read, “And the LORD God said, ‘It is not good that man should be alone; I will make him a helper comparable to him.’” Genesis 2:18. Adam and Eve were fruitful, bearing sons and daughters (Genesis 5:4).  They filled the earth with families who eventually spread out over the land—extended, clannish and enculturated.  When Aristotle said, “Man is, by nature, a social animal,” he confirmed what God had put in motion: society.  Notwithstanding a few hermits, humankind works best in pairs, families, tribes, communities and nations.  At the same time, these social groupings also bring out the worst in humanity.  Violence, murder, rape, theft and the whole litany of social crimes result from people living in proximity to each other.  Society had to develop structure if it was to work.  Thus, out of necessity, civilization based on law and order, appeared. 

Kindness to all people is a hallmark of Christianity.  Much of the teaching expounded by Jesus concerned treatment of fellow human beings—love, forgiveness, peacemaking, mutual support, helping others—all of the social obligations empowered by the influence of the Spirit of God.  Our relationship with Jesus informs our relationship with others.  We need to understand these principles as they relate to our attitude and behavior towards other people. 

Respect for Others 

God instructed Israel to be kind to strangers.  You shall neither mistreat a stranger nor oppress him, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt. Exodus 22:21. This statute represents a basic attitude of respect that believers were to have to other people, regardless of their background, ethnicity or religion.  Toleration of strangers prohibited racial prejudice, discrimination or abuse of any kind.  The New Testament continued with the same sensitivity.  Paul commended widows who were “Well reported for good works: if she has brought up children, if she has lodged strangers, if she has washed the saints’ feet, if she has relieved the afflicted, if she has diligently followed every good work.” 1 Timothy 5:10.  The Scriptures reserved a special blessing for those who were kind to strangers.  Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some have unwittingly entertained angels.  Hebrews 13:2. 

Followers of Christ must treat others with concern, dignity, and respect. The radical extremism, genocide, ethnic cleansing and other atrocities that we have witnessed in recent decades speaks of total barbarism.  Other crimes against humanity, such as abortion, euthanasia, slavery, human trafficking, kidnapping or human experimentation contradict fundamental Christianity.  Christians should reject and openly protest this kind of savagery.  All people need to feel safe around Christians.  Anyone who falls into the hands of believers should have no fear for their health or well-being.   

Love Your Neighbor 

Respect may guarantee that we will not harm others, but the practice of Christian values goes further.  We must proactively and intentionally help, support and love others as we have opportunity.  Jesus affirmed this practice when He said, “You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.  On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.” Matthew 22:37-40.  When a lawyer asked Jesus to define neighbor, He told the parable of the Good Samaritan.  It would seem, then, that to love your neighbor involves more than refraining from harm, but to do deeds of kindness and care for his or her welfare.  

To love God is to love others.  In terms of Christian practice, the essence of it all is love.  It could not be clearer than John’s epistle.  Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. He who does not love does not know God, for God is love. In this the love of God was manifested toward us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him.  In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. 1 John 4:7-11.
Love is the primary proof of a right relationship with God. 

Responsibility for Others 

Jesus mandated His disciples to help less fortunate people with works of benevolence.  Then the King will say to those on His right hand, “Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: for I was hungry and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in; I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to Me.” Matthew 25:34-36. And the King will answer and say to them, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.” Matthew 25:40.

Most wealthy, populous nations today service the humanitarian needs of their citizenry, but, because of ignorance or logistics, not everyone can take advantage of the government’s largess.  The church needs to respond to the Master’s call and make sure that these people don’t fall through the cracks.  Moreover, believers must not assume that the government or the church are meeting the needs.  Each person, when faced with a situation in which he or she can help, should provide as much help as possible.  Individuals can’t do everything alone, but all of us can do something.  The cumulative result makes a difference in the lives of needy people. 

Social Responsibility 

A large part of social consciousness includes environmental and ecological concerns.  These issues define much of mainline Christianity’s reason-for-being in this modern era.  Over seventy-five international environmental protection organizations like Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth have been founded, and over twice that many groups exist in individual nations or regions.  Many denominations have partnered with these agencies, citing the responsibility we have to save the planet.  This movement is not without controversy.  Many questions have come up.  Should we not fully embrace measure to protect the earth? Is it not the Christian thing to do? Should we allow industrial concerns, corporate giants and rank-and-file consumerism to rape, pillage and plunder our natural resources? One would think it is a no-brainer. A few strategic questions, however, seem to me to be in order before jumping on the bandwagon. 

  • Who are the major players guiding the movement?
  • Are there any ulterior motives that we should know about?
  • Is the major impetus behind environmental causes a simple conservationist conscience, or do aberrant religious beliefs fuel the activities and philosophies of the adherents?
  • What are the ultimate goals of the green movement?
  • What will be the consequences on the economy, the freedom of the people and the standing of this nation in the world?
  • Will the goals of green make us vulnerable to our enemies?
  • Are the objectives of the green agenda to be followed and enforced internationally across the board, or is this nation expected to comply unilaterally? 

The political, military and economic aspects of the dangerous green movement do not threaten us nearly as much as its religious overtones. A religion drives the green agenda that rivals all other religions of the world. It is pagan, idolatrous and heretical. It stands for ideals diametrically opposed to Christianity. A Christian watchdog organization, “The Watchman’s Post,” says, “Anyone who has studied the global green movement has no doubt heard of “Gaia”. Believers in Gaia, or ‘Gaians’ as they often refer to themselves, claim that the earth is a sentient super-being, an ancient goddess spirit, deserving of worship and reverence. Sir James Lovelock, in his book Gaia: ‘A new look at Life’, states that “all of the lifeforms on this planet are a part of Gaia—part of one spirit goddess that sustains life on earth. Since this transformation into a living system the interventions of Gaia have brought about the evolving diversity of living creatures on planet Earth.” Gaians teach that the “Earth Goddess”, or Mother Earth, must be protected from destructive human activity. It is this belief that fuels the environmental movement, sustainable development, and a global push for the return of industrialized nations to a more primitive way of life.” www.green-agenda.com.  

The Bible teaches us to be good stewards, especially of perishable resources.  Then the LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to tend and keep it. Genesis 2:15.   Tending and keeping refer to cultivation and preservation of the land. Our responsibility toward the care of the earth means that we must not pollute, litter, plunder or otherwise abuse the magnificent planet that we have.  Yet, neither should we engage in idolatrous worship of the earth.  We can be good stewards without the misguided motivations or the hostility to humankind typical of the green movement.  

Socialism 

On the economic front of social consciousness, socialism continues to recycle its seductive message over and over.  The pleasant-sounding overtones voiced by socialism’s proponents, like fairness, equality, even distribution of wealth and erasure of social classes must not fool us.  The platform of the Socialist Party USA says, “Socialism is a new social and economic order in which workers and consumers control production and community residents control their neighborhoods, homes, and schools.  The production of society is used for the benefit of all humanity, not for the private profit of a few. Socialism produces a constantly renewed future by not plundering the resources of the earth.” The theory is utopian; the practice is disastrous.  Socialism, along with its twin sister, communism, has failed every time it has been tried.  Wherever it seems to be succeeding, you will find an oppressive, totalitarian government is necessary to keep it going.

The early church participated in a voluntary system of socialism (Acts 4:32) until it was able to establish itself as a stable, economic entity.  Eventually, it faded from use and people enjoyed economic freedom.  The system was never mandatory as evidenced by ownership of houses and private property (Colossians 4:15; Philemon 1:2), business owners, and an appeal for disciples to give in tithes and offerings according to their ability.   Income equality did not exist.  On the first day of the week let each one of you lay something aside, storing up as he may prosper, that there be no collections when I come. 1 Corinthians 16:2. 

The arguments against socialism would take us beyond the scope of this book, but those who have an interest in researching this economic system need to proceed with caution.  Socialist will use specious reasoning to advance their cause.  Equivocation, stacking-the-deck, appeal to authority, ad hominem attacks, straw men, side-stepping and red herring tactics, taken together, make their case sound impressive.  Under scrutiny, however, it all falls apart.  The Scriptural position is individual responsibility, voluntary compassion, private ownership, rewarded effort and economic freedom.  That is the position we see practiced in the New Testament church and the one that affords each person the dignity and liberty to fulfill his or her own dream.

Ironically, the socialists and communists who denigrate capitalism become de facto capitalists when they ascend to power.  They may not personally own the assets, but they exercise total control over how those assets are used.  Christians who sympathize with socialist causes have no scriptural foundation for their views.  True respect for humanity is not expressed in a forced, contrived sameness, but in freedom to develop one’s own God-given talents and abilities.  Our relationship to Christ encourages each person to soar as high as possible, and to reap the benefits of one’s own efforts. 

Tuesday
Aug232016

The Good Samaritan: A Liberal’s View

A certain selfish and elitist man in business traveled from Jerusalem to Jericho to see if he could exploit some more victims of the capitalist’s economic system.  He was forced to go through a neighborhood in decline where his company had thrown men out of work by outsourcing their jobs to China.  Desperate to survive, these oppressed and disenfranchised citizens saw this fat cat in his expensive clothes and diamond studded jewelry.  They had no choice but to get back what he had, for all practical purposes, stolen from them.  Unfortunately, the encounter turned somewhat ugly because the rich guy kept lying about his role in the loss of jobs.  He wouldn’t cooperate and return the goods that rightfully belonged to the residents of that area.  He should have just done the right thing and admitted his wrongdoing.  Sometimes, bystanders said, violence is justified if people get pushed to the point where they have to react. 

During a lull in the action, an opportunist came by and poured his misplaced compassion out on the real culprit.  Beneath the exterior of his good deed, however, he saw how he could make a profit.  Acting like he was a long, tall taxpayer on a big white horse, he life-flighted him to an elite hospital and paid for his care with a donation to the clinic and the company of the business person.  His purpose was, of course, to curry favor and get a big return on his investment. 

Meanwhile, the real victims were trashed by the right-wing press as thieves and thugs.  They were able to pawn off their reclaimed merchandise to buy bread and milk for their starving families.  Of course, it was a bad situation, but everyone knew that nothing would change until the big corporations were made to pay for their crimes against humanity. 

Saturday
Aug202016

Your Physical Relationship: Jesus as Your Trainer

(This is the next chapter in the book, Hand in Hand: Deepening Your Relationship with Jesus Christ).

God created us tripartite:  body, soul and spirit.  The body is the physical part; the spirit is the life activity; and the soul is the part that makes each of us unique.  Think of it as an iPod:  it consists of the device itself, the electrical current, and the media recorded on it.  These three aspects of each person are inseparable until our final day on earth.  You are a creation of God and all things related to your physical being have a huge impact on your spiritual being.  Therefore, the care of the body bears a vital relationship to spirituality. Or do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own? For you were bought at a price; therefore, glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God’s. 1 Corinthians 6:19-20.

On the other hand, we must be careful not to glorify, exalt or worship the body.  Humans have a history of turning spiritual concepts into carnal icons.  Because, although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Professing to be wise, they became fools, and changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like corruptible man—and birds and four-footed animals and creeping things. Romans 1:21-23. Today, this tendency has mushroomed into a universal cult sporting many different sects.  Cosmetics, the movie industry, beauty contests, supermodel idolatry, muscleman mania, tattoo and body piercing fads, plastic surgery trends and pornography thrive in this environment of carnal pleasure and obsession with looks.  The more outrageous, garish or shocking the effect, it seems as though the more desirable it is.  The visible, tangible and sensate features of the body pose a constant temptation to focus on the outward appearance to the neglect of the inner person.  The believer needs to avoid this excess while maintaining a proper attitude toward the body.

The Bible makes it clear that the soul and the spirit have an eternal essence, whereas the body is only for this life.  This does not diminish the importance of the body; if anything, it emphasizes our obligation to maintain it as the repository of the soul and spirit.   As Paul, the Apostle wrote to the Corinthians, “If you only look at us, you might well miss the brightness. We carry this precious Message around in the unadorned clay pots of our ordinary lives. That’s to prevent anyone from confusing God’s incomparable power with us.”  2 Corinthians 4:7 (MSG).  So, even though our bodies are perishable, they are still God’s chosen method to house His Spirit and to interact with other human beings on earth. 

Treat Your Physical Body with Respect 

We have a duty to maintain the body that God gave us.  If you have failed to do this, you need to return to an alignment with the purpose of your Creator.  It is God’s will for you treat your body with the highest level of respect.  The Old Testament proclaimed the health and well-being of each person as a fundamental part of the Jewish religion.  Personal hygiene guidelines, dietary laws, disease prevention laws and dozens of related customs were imposed upon the people in an effort to keep them healthy.  The New Testament views many of these laws as spiritual applications, but the principle of maintaining a healthy body stays the same.  

A Healthy Diet Is Your Responsibility  

Not everyone has the knowledge of nutrition and dietary health, nor do we all have the finances to support the best possible eating regimen, but we should be reasonable about our intake.  There is little excuse for us to overdo it with salt, sugar, carbohydrates or other foods or food additives that we know are bad for us. Information on good nutrition may be found in many places.  Just understand that if you begin to gain excess weight or start to suffer physical symptoms of bad health, it is time to make a change.  The problem most likely stems from poor discipline rather than a lack of knowledge or money.  When you sit down to eat with a ruler, consider carefully what is before you; And put a knife to your throat If you are a man given to appetite. Do not desire his delicacies, for they are deceptive food.   Proverbs 23:1-3.  

Your Body Needs Exercise 

Moderate exercise does benefit the body.  If you lead a sedentary life, with little or no cardiovascular or muscle activity, you risk damage to your heart and your entire physical wellbeing.  The Apostle Paul did say For bodily exercise profits a little, but godliness is profitable for all things, having promise of the life that now is and of that which is to come,” (1 Timothy 4:8), but his reference was probably that of the Greek Olympic traditions.  His other allusions to athletics such as running or boxing indicate that he was familiar with physical exercise in a positive sense.  Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may obtain it. And everyone who competes for the prize is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a perishable crown, but we for an imperishable crown.  Therefore, I run thus: not with uncertainty. Thus I fight: not as one who beats the air.  But I discipline my body and bring it into subjection, lest, when I have preached to others, I myself should become disqualified. 1 Corinthians 9:24-27.

Do Not Defile Your Body 

Neglecting your physical body is bad enough, but many people deliberately abuse their bodies.  The kinds of abuse to which humankind has subjected the body boggles the mind.  God never intended for us to become morbidly obese, addicted to drugs alcoholics, smokers, consumers of poisonous junk food or mutilators of our physical beings.  One of the many curses of modern society concerns the overuse of prescription drugs.  The insidious factor is that since these substances are legally obtained, they seem harmless.  The Scriptures do not forbid the use of medicines, but the narcotic content of today’s pharmaceuticals constitute a much greater hazard than any concoctions used two thousand years ago.  Addiction to a drug can overtake a person quickly and unexpectedly.  This danger warrants extreme caution when taking certain drugs, even though they are helpful in suppressing excruciating pain.  All things are lawful for me, but all things are not helpful. All things are lawful for me, but I will not be brought under the power of any. 1 Corinthians 6:12. 

Our world swims in an epidemic of sexual sin, but this phenomenon existed in Paul’s times as well.  He warns the Romans about these excesses.  For this reason, God gave them up to vile passions. For even their women exchanged the natural use for what is against nature. Likewise, also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust for one another, men with men committing what is shameful, and receiving in themselves the penalty of their error which was due. And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a debased mind, to do those things which are not fitting; being filled with all unrighteousness, sexual immorality, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, evil-mindedness; they are whisperers, backbiters, haters of God, violent, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents, undiscerning, untrustworthy, unloving, unforgiving, unmerciful; who, knowing the righteous judgment of God, that those who practice such things are deserving of death, not only do the same but also approve of those who practice them. Romans 1:26-32.  This passage needs no additional commentary.  Anyone who aspires to a close relationship with God willingly submits to these commands.  

Conventional wisdom justifies sexual activity that the Bible deems illicit by calling it private, harmless and an expression personal preference.  Those who believe this, however, miss the point that sex is a relationship issue.  The Bible teaches us unequivocally that sexual sins defile the body.   Now the body is not for sexual immorality but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body. And God both raised up the Lord and will also raise us up by His power.  Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Shall I then take the members of Christ and make them members of a harlot? Certainly not!  Or do you not know that he who is joined to a harlot is one body with her? For “the two,” He says, “shall become one flesh.” But he who is joined to the Lord is one spirit with Him. Flee sexual immorality. Every sin that a man does is outside the body, but he who commits sexual immorality sins against his own body. 1 Corinthians 6:13-18. 

True Spirituality Involves Your Body 

A professed commitment to Jesus Christ that ignores the impact on the physical body reflects an insincere heart.  John said, “My little children, let us not love in word or in tongue, but in deed and in truth.”  1 John 3:18. If we say we love Jesus, yet show no signs nor bear any fruit of the relationship, the world has reason to doubt us.  It is clear from the Scriptures that faith must be more than mental assent.  The Apostle Paul said, From now on let no one trouble me, for I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus.”  Galatians 6:17.  

If your physical body is not relevant to the display of your faith, then we have little more than a mind cult. The world should be able to observe you, to monitor your behavior and watch how you live to discern that you love Jesus.  I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. Romans 12:1.  While the spoken word remains a central aspect of the power of God, we must also recognize that he communicated many things without words. In Genesis, God made coats of skins for Adam and Eve to cover their nakedness. This is a profound statement of divine intention. Even if there were no subsequent words to explain God’s act, the imagery of slaying and bloodshed itself would suffice to depict God’s assessment of sin. The rite of circumcision, Jacob’s wrestling match, the burning bush, pillars of cloud and fire, Aaron’s rod that budded, the Urim and Thummim, the tabernacle plan, the sacerdotal rituals and other actions that God did or commanded to be done show the importance of meanings in absence of words. 

Going further, Samson’s uncut locks of hair, judges giving a white or black stone, saluting and bowing to officials, ceremonial gift-giving, kisses, foods, preparation of meals, style and material for clothing, observation of days and time-periods, kinds of sacrifices and a host of other symbols were all used for various reasons in the Old Testament. In the New Testament, we see baptism in water by immersion, washing of feet, the communion supper, breaking of bread, anointing the sick with oil, fasting, giving of alms, and other sacraments or forms of service that had great meaning attached to them. The Bible overflows with non-verbal images. 

Without question then, non-verbal expressions in Bible practice were an important way to communicate thoughts, feelings and information to others. It is very instructive, then, to place this concept into the context of a Christian lifestyle as taught in the scriptures. For example, when someone declares that the wearing of long hair for women has no significance, he or she denies the reality of non-verbal communication. A woman’s long hair symbolizes a number of important concepts: submission to authority, distinction from the male gender, acceptance of a God-given role and a display of feminine glory. Likewise, when a woman’s hair was shorn, it was considered a mark of shame before the community. (1 Corinthians 11:1-15)

It is very difficult to say one thing and do another. For example, try shaking your head and saying “yes”, or nodding your head and saying “no”. If you concentrate, you might do it, otherwise, it’s hard to do. In the church, when a man says, “I am living a holy life,” and then gets drunk, philanders, and steals from his employer, his body language clearly contradicts his verbal messages. If a woman avows that she is pure and chaste, and then dresses like a prostitute and is frequently seen with different men at all hours of the night, what are we to conclude but that her claims are bogus? Actions verify words, not vice versa. Incidentally, the term to use for people who use words to cover up their actions is lying. No one needs resort to torrents of verbiage to convey a sense of godliness. If they would only act the part, many words would be unnecessary.

The Values of Christ Should Govern Your Physical Being 

The purpose in getting you on track with your body goes beyond health, feeling better, looking good or living longer.  Those may be worthwhile objectives, but the real purpose is that this is what God wants!  Keep God’s will as the driving force behind your behavior, dress, conversation, exercises.  It is your spiritual response to the divine purpose. 

Proper understanding of the scriptures will turn this around and create new, healthier habits.  If these demands seem extreme, they only show how far you may have drifted off of God’s chosen course.  But always keep in mind that the healthier your relationship to Jesus Christ, the more aware you will be of your responsibility to your physical body.

Friday
Aug192016

Behind Your Back: The Things People Say about You 

Admit it.  You think certain thoughts about the people you see around you.  You may not say them out loud, but you know what you think.  And, sometimes, you do whisper things about others to your spouse or to a close friend.  If you do this, don’t you think others do the same thing?  Don’t you know that people talk about you when you leave the room?  If you don’t, get your head out of the sand.

So, what exactly do they say when you can’t hear them?  It probably covers the whole gamut; from what you look like to how you behave.  Their negative comments might sound something like this:

  • You’re fat.
  • You don’t take care of yourself.
  • You smell bad.
  • Your nose is too big.
  • Your ears look like Dumbo.
  • Your clothes don’t match.
  • You have bad breath.
  • You speak with a lisp.
  • Your wardrobe has a malfunction.
  • You talk too much.
  • You’re a braggart.
  • You think you’re so funny.
  • You’re stupid.
  • You’re a gossip.
  • All you do is complain.
  • Did you hear what they did last week?
  • If I hear one more word about that surgery, I’ll go crazy.
  • You brighten up a room by leaving. 

Okay.  This is getting depressing.  People do say some positive things about you in your absence.   

  • I really like him/her.
  • You are so attractive/handsome.
  • You look nice.
  • You dress so sharp.
  • You are hilarious.
  • You make people work better.
  • You’re so smart.
  • You never have a bad word to say about anybody. 

Actually, that’s all the positive things I can think of right now.  That’s kind of depressing too!  At any rate, the whole point of this exercise is that you are not the invisible person that you might think you are.  People notice you and they have opinions about you.  But, why don’t they say things to your face?  Why is our culture so structured that people feel inhibited in expressing their opinions to you in a way that you could benefit from them?  

Of course, we don’t want people to feel bad or get angry with us, but if we talk about them behind their backs, how is that any better?  The Bible teaches us to speak the truth in love.  If there is something you could genuinely change in a person just by taking them aside and talking sincerely with them, shouldn’t you try?  Put the shoe on the other foot.  Do you want people to talk about you behind your back?  Wouldn’t you rather have them say what they have to say to your face?  At least you could have an honest conversation. 

Anyway, that’s my thought for today.  And if you have a comment, don’t say it behind my back. Tell me.  I’m a big boy. I can take it. If you don’t want me to know what you’re thinking, keep it to yourself!  

Friday
Aug192016

The Word of God Requires Obedience

(This is the final segment of the chapter on Your Word Relationship: Jesus as the Light).

The Word of God Requires Obedience 

While the Bible evokes admiration by its wise advice, rhythmic verse, fascinating stories and profound concepts—traits which it shares with many other works of literature—none of them alone compel us to change our lives.  Its greatest feature is the expectation of obedience.  This constitutes the major difference between the Word of God and all other writings.  We cannot just read it for our enjoyment; it must alter the course of our lives.  Unless it is obeyed, we read it in vain.  This is the critical juncture that every person must negotiate.  Obedience is a relationship concept, thus, we need to understand it to a greater degree. 

Obedience is required.  The Old Testament often mentions the need for obedience.  Behold, I set before you today a blessing and a curse: the blessing, if you obey the commandments of the LORD your God which I command you today. Deuteronomy 11:26-27. If you fear the LORD and serve Him and obey His voice, and do not rebel against the commandment of the LORD, then both you and the king who reigns over you will continue following the LORD your God. 1 Samuel 12:14. These commandments were under the law, and so obedience was expected. 

But some argue that New Testament believers are free from the mandate of the law and, therefore, are not compelled to obey.  The opposite view, in fact, may be seen throughout the New Testament.  Do you not know that to whom you present yourselves slaves to obey, you are that one’s slaves whom you obey, whether of sin leading to death, or of obedience leading to righteousness? Romans 6:16. And if anyone does not obey our word in this epistle, note that person and do not keep company with him, that he may be ashamed. 2 Thessalonians 3:14. Even further, Paul tells the Romans that obedience leads to salvation.  This does not contradict Ephesians 2:8-9 which says “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast,” rather, it qualifies faith by imposing upon it the standard of obedience.  Now to Him who is able to establish you according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery kept secret since the world began, but now has been made manifest, and by the prophetic Scriptures has been made known to all nations, according to the commandment of the everlasting God, for obedience to the faith. Romans 16:25-26.  In other words, it is clear that the faith that saves is the faith that obeys! 

As a way to illustrate saving faith, an old evangelist used to tell the story of an aerial artist who had a wire strung over a canyon and ran a wheelbarrow on the line from one side to the other.  He then asked his audience, “How many of you believe I can do this again?”  They all raised their hands.  “Well,” he challenged them, “who is willing to get in the wheelbarrow and let me take you across?”  Not surprisingly, no one raised a hand!  They had faith in the artist, but were not willing to qualify it.  In salvation, if God’s Word instructs us to get into the wheelbarrow, only the faith that obeys will get across.  As the Apostle James puts it, “But someone will say, “You have faith, and I have works.” Show me your faith without your works, and I will show you my faith by my works.” James 2:18. 

Obedience validates submission.  The true test of submission is not when you are asked to do something that you were inclined to do already; rather, you show your submissive spirit when you obey a command with which you disagree.  For example, Naaman, the famous leper in the Old Testament, felt insulted by Elisha’s instruction to dip seven times in the muddy Jordan River.  After a vigorous protest, he finally submitted to the command and was healed of his leprosy. 

The Apostle James appeals to the church to submit to God.  But He gives more grace. Therefore, He says: “God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” Therefore, submit to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you.” James 4:6. If obedience is a relationship concept, submission is the basis for obedience to happen.  

In your walk with God, you will encounter opposition from your flesh on a daily, if not hourly, basis.  You will come face to face with commands from God that rub you the wrong way.  A seasoned saint of God used to tell me, “If your cat gets rubbed the wrong way, turn the cat around!”  Many of God’s orders are distasteful to the human will.  Adjust your thinking to the fact that both God and His written Word are right, and neither are going to change.  Only one option remains: your submission!  The good news, however, is this.  Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded.  James 4:7-8.

Obedience activates God’s promises.  Obedience does not mean that God is an egotistical tyrant who forces people to submit to him to prove His superiority.  It does mean that God, in His holiness, understands what is best for us and He rewards obedience by fulfilling His promises to those who perform His will.  He also opens their ear to instruction, and commands that they turn from iniquity. If they obey and serve Him, they shall spend their days in prosperity, and their years in pleasures. Job 36:10-11. 

We often think of the patriarch Abraham as the poster child of faith.  We call him the “father of the faithful.”  We could just as easily say, however, that he exemplified obedience as well as faith.  By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to the place which he would receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going. Hebrews 11:8. The result of Abraham’s faith, proven genuine by his obedience, was spelled out by the Apostle Paul.  That the blessing of Abraham might come upon the Gentiles in Christ Jesus, that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith. Galatians 3:14. Obedience to the commands of God enjoys confirmation by the promises of God.  The gift of the Holy Spirit is one of these promises that come as a result of obedience.  Him God has exalted to His right hand to be Prince and Savior, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins. And we are His witnesses to these things, and so also is the Holy Spirit Whom God has given to those who obey Him. Acts 5:31-32. 

Disobedience is unacceptable.  If obedience is required by God, it would seem logical that He will not tolerate disobedience.  Yet, some insist that God treats those who disobey Him as unruly children.  Disobedience, in their view, does not represent a serious infraction of His law.  He forgives them and loves them anyway.  The Bible, however, includes disobedience in with egregious and condemned behavior.  To the pure all things are pure, but to those who are defiled and unbelieving nothing is pure; but even their mind and conscience are defiled.  They profess to know God, but in works they deny Him, being abominable, disobedient, and disqualified for every good work. Titus 1:15-16. 

The Apostle Peter calls the salvation of disobedient people into question.  For the time has come for judgment to begin at the house of God; and if it begins with us first, what will be the end of those who do not obey the gospel of God? Now “If the righteous one is scarcely saved, where will the ungodly and the sinner appear?” 1 Peter 4:17-18. Paul issues a similar warning to the Thessalonians.  And to give you who are troubled rest with us when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with His mighty angels, in flaming fire taking vengeance on those who do not know God, and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. 2 Thessalonians 1:7-8. 

The Word of God Is Our Blueprint for Life 

In an earlier essay on relationships that I posted on my blog, I wrote:

“How much do your relationships affect you? All of us understand the reality and need for relationships in our lives, but few of us understand the impact they make on us. Maybe an illustration from the world of physics will help us grasp this idea. We know that the gravitational force on Earth pulls everything toward the ground. This concept was formulated by Sir Isaac Newton, the renowned scientist of the 1600’s, who observed an apple falling from a tree and began to wonder why. He determined that a universal attraction affects all masses of matter through the force of gravity. This is called the Theory of Universal Gravitation. He posited that not only does the Earth propel the apple toward it by the force of gravity, but the apple also pulls the Earth toward it by that same force. In the same way, every person in one’s circle of family, friends and acquaintances affects that person. Conversely, that same person also has an effect on every other person in his or her universe. This creates an enormous and complex network of interdependent people, all of them connected to each other in some way, whether directly or indirectly. The things we hear, see and feel in other people in our network exerts either a positive or negative force on us. 

“There are many ways you can test this concept. You can start with the impact your parents had on you. Your physical appearance, behavior and personality were directly produced by your mother and father through your DNA. The primary way that babies and toddlers learn is by imitating others. Your accent is the product of the speech brogue in the locale in which you were raised. Your loyalties and preferences are most likely shaped by the people, groups and institutions in your same city or state. Social scientists have coined terms like acculturation and socialization to describe how people come to hold views espoused within the norms of their particular culture. Famed criminologist Edwin H. Sutherland formulated the theory of differential association based on his findings that people develop criminal minds through associating with other people of similar backgrounds and experiences. Groupthink, gangs, peer groups, classes, schools, cadres, political parties, clubs, factions, denominations and wings all testify strongly to the behavior of people in groups.

The old saying, “birds of a feather flock together,” refers to the fact that people tend to stick with those who most likely resemble themselves. The Bible says, “Evil communications corrupt good manners.” (1 Corinthians 15:33). Based on the realities of social development outlined above, we can readily see the powerful truth contained in this scripture. A person who does not think in evil ways can grow to be evil through the company he or she keeps. A pure mind and heart can be corrupted by associating with people who have evil hearts. This means that a person’s life is not merely a function of his or her own internal thought processes. We often make huge decisions, not by intellectual musing, education or thoughtful analysis, but by the innate desire that we possess to conform to our group. Moreover, this pressure can be exerted upon us by even one significant person in our lives.” (jonathanjordan.squarespace.com/the net.) 

For believers, our relationship with the Word of God means that the Bible exerts enormous influence on the way we live our lives. It shapes our belief system, our doctrinal positions, the historical record of the Bible, and much, much more.  Personally, we will also reflect the values of the Word of God in our habits, our attire, our language, our human relationships, our behaviors—in short, everything about our lives will be a function of Bible teachings.  

We Will Be Judged by the Word of God 

A solemn verse appears in Revelation. Then I saw a great white throne and Him who sat on it, from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away. And there was found no place for them. And I saw the dead, small and great, standing before God, and books were opened. And another book was opened, which is the Book of Life. And the dead were judged according to their works, by the things which were written in the books. Revelation 20:11-12.  This verse constitutes fair warning to all.  If we are to be judged by the things written in the books, then we are apprised of this criteria beforehand so that God is justified when He judges.  Against You, You only, have I sinned, and done this evil in Your sight—that You may be found just when You speak, and blameless when You judge. Psalm 51:4. 

Actually, the Word of God judges us today, long before there will ever be a Great White Throne judgment.  For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart. And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are naked and open to the eyes of Him to whom we must give account. Hebrews 4:12-13.  If you allow yourself to come under the scrutiny of the Word of God today, you will never have to worry about a future judgment.

Eat This Book 

The Prophet Ezekiel writes some shocking words.  Moreover, He said to me, “Son of man, eat what you find; eat this scroll, and go, speak to the house of Israel.” So I opened my mouth, and He caused me to eat that scroll. And He said to me, “Son of man, feed your belly, and fill your stomach with this scroll that I give you.” So I ate, and it was in my mouth like honey in sweetness. Ezekiel 3:1-3.  The scroll referred to the Old Testaments parchments, or the Word of God written to the Hebrew nation.  The Bible Exposition Commentary explains the meaning of this unusual metaphor: 

“A hand stretched out and handed Ezekiel a scroll that didn’t have any good news written on it, because it was filled on both sides with “words of lament and mourning and woe” (Ezekiel 2:10 NIV). Perhaps it contained the messages that are recorded in chapters four through thirty-two, God’s judgments on Jerusalem and the Gentile nations. God commanded him to eat the scroll and it tasted sweet like honey (Psalms. 19:10; 119:103), although later he tasted bitterness (Ezekiel 3:14), not unlike the Apostle John (Revelation 10:8-11). It’s a great honor to be a spokesperson for the Lord, but we must be able to handle both the bitter and the sweet.”  Bible Exposition Commentary (BE Series). 

The picture created here tells us that the Word of God is food for the soul.  It must be consumed, ingested, digested and used for nourishment and strength for the people.  It represents a powerful illustration for the relationship we must forge with God’s Word.  We cannot master its precepts unless we internalize its message.  The permeation of the Word of God into our minds must replace our thoughts with God’s thoughts.  The Bible has to become “second nature” to us so that it represents our default position in the way we live our lives. 

The life of God’s Word brings a singular dynamic to the world unmatched by any other literature. No Plato classic, no Clancy or Grisham thriller, no Catton history or even any Shakespearean drama, despite their considerable wit and brilliance, dispenses life to its readers. The Word does exactly that. It breathes, moves and inspires. It interacts with our thinking, both consciously and sub-consciously, and essentially creates a new person within us. Its energy puts it on par with the very presence of Jesus, as we see in 1 John 1:1. “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, of the Word of life.” (NIV).  The Psalmist David explains the value of the engrafted Word of God.  “How can a young man cleanse his way? By taking heed according to Your word. With my whole heart I have sought You; Oh, let me not wander from Your commandments! Your word I have hidden in my heart, That I might not sin against You!” Psalm 119:9-11. 

Love the Word.  Cherish it.  Respect it.  Let it wash through you.  Memorize it.  Meditate on it.  Study it.  Search out its hidden meanings.  Sprinkle your conversation with its verses.  Emulate its characters of faith.  Trust it.  Act on it.  Pray the Word.  Sing the Word.  Make it your standard of belief. Let it shape your opinions.  Make it the filter through which you strain all your decisions.  Qualify the issues of life through its pronouncements.  You must understand that your relationship with Jesus Christ will be a function of His Word in your life.  You, alone, will be the arbiter of that involvement. 

Thursday
Aug182016

Your Word Relationship: Jesus as the Light

(This is the first segment of the chapter on “Your Word Relationship: Jesus as the Light,” in the book Hand in Hand: Deepening Your Relationship with Jesus Christ.  The publication date will be later this year.) 

If writers recorded all the acts of Jesus, no library could hold the volumes.  And there are also many other things that Jesus did, which if they were written one by one, I suppose that even the world itself could not contain the books that would be written. Amen. John 21:25. Moreover, what if God would have revealed not just His acts, but His thoughts as well?  The universe isn’t big enough to have covered it all.  The significance of this speculation is this: God condensed all that He wanted us to know into a relatively miniscule sixty-six books of the Bible.  Thus, the value of the Word of God cannot be estimated.  Each chapter, each verse, each word possesses an eternal message for us, a message that must not be ignored, glossed over or diminished in importance. 

Our relationship with God dictates to us the priority of the Word of God in our lives.  The more intimate our relationship, the more important His Word is to us.  We find the keystone of this priority arch in Psalm 119, the longest chapter in the Bible.  Almost every verse in the chapter contains a synonym for the Word of God: statute, law, way, commandment, judgments, testimony, etc.  It was written as an abecedarian piece, in which each stanza follows the order of the Hebrew alphabet.   The theme of the chapter starts out in the first four verses:  Blessed are the undefiled in the way, who walk in the law of the LORD!  Blessed are those who keep His testimonies, who seek Him with the whole heart! They also do no iniquity; They walk in His ways. You have commanded us to keep Your precepts diligently. Psalm 119:1-4. Not only does our relationship to God make His Word valuable to us, it also informs us how we must relate to the Word of God.  Reverence for God translates into reverence for His Word. Let us explore these implications for this relationship. 

The Word of God Is Intrinsic to God Himself 

The Apostle John is the first one to identify the Word of God with God Himself.  In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. John 1:1. Later, in the same chapter, he equates the Word with Christ.  And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth. John 1:14. “[John] means to jar you, touch your heart, leave you in awe of a God who would reach down from heaven and embrace his children at their level. It is all accomplished by God’s Word in living, breathing flesh—the bringer of eternal light and life for all who receive it: Jesus Christ.”  (christiannelson.thoughts.com) 

No great emphasis can be placed on the Word of God than the “logos Christology” of John.  This truth receives a final affirmation in the book of Revelation.  Now I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse. And He who sat on him was called Faithful and True, and in righteousness He judges and makes war. His eyes were like a flame of fire, and on His head were many crowns. He had a name written that no one knew except Himself. He was clothed with a robe dipped in blood, and His name is called The Word of God. Revelation 19:11-13. 

So interwoven is the Word of God with the very Spirit of God, that to hear the Word represents the voice of God speaking to you.  When you read the Bible, you interact with the mind of God.  God cannot vary from, violate nor contradict His Word without undermining His own nature. Jesus, in His flesh, offered this prayer to the Spirit of God, Sanctify them by Your truth. Your word is truth. John 17:17. From a relationship standpoint, this fact is paramount because it speaks to integrity.  Trust is predicated on integrity, and trust is the cement that holds relationships together. 

The Word of God Is Forever Settled 

The writers of the Bible were specially called men who were anointed to give us the Word of God.  For prophecy never came by the will of man, but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit. 2 Peter 1:21. When the original authors of the Bible died, no more additions or changes to the Word of God occurred. Forever, O LORD, Your word is settled in heaven. Your faithfulness endures to all generations; You established the earth, and it abides. They continue this day according to Your ordinances, for all are Your servants. Psalm 119:89-91. We can have confidence that the autographs (original writings) remain static to this day. 

The imperatives of this truth establish the solemn attitude necessary when reading the Word of God.  This is what we call a “hard truth,” as opposed to “soft truths.”  Soft truths are seen as fluid, and flexible, indexed to times and cultures.  The hard truth of the Word of God means that it transcends time and culture, impervious to trends, history and the fickle nature of humankind.  First, if the Word of God is malleable with culture, then God would have to follow man instead of man following God.  Second, the question is begged concerning which culture out of many on planet earth would or should God follow? North American?  Asian?  African?  Middle Eastern?  It would force God into a state of confusion. Such views are heretical on their face.  For I am the LORD, I do not change. Malachi 3:6. 

The Word of God Is Not for Private Interpretation 

Many systems of false doctrine base their success upon redefining scriptural terms. Their entire theologies frequently turn on highly specialized and often twisted definitions of key words. Once prospective converts accept the tortured definitions, they can be led into a radically different theological paradigm with relative ease. Either peddlers of false doctrine have limited training in principles of Biblical interpretation, or they disingenuously prey upon the untrained minds of others. 

Apostolics must carefully examine all new ideas blown in on the winds of doctrine, especially those that deal with the person of Jesus Christ or with the doctrine of salvation. Current trends in “pop” religion, far-out strains from the religious fringe, old heresies in hip clothing or someone’s private interpretation may look good at first blush, but all of them are constructed upon faulty hermeneutics. And so we have the prophetic word confirmed, which you do well to heed as a light that shines in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts knowing this first, that no prophecy of Scripture is of any private interpretation. 2 Peter 1:19-20.  Moreover, we must remember that every change in scriptural definitions ripples into profound implications for the entire body of scripture and doctrine. It is imperative to accurately define terms before embracing any doctrinal position. Without getting into deep theology, there are a few principles in good textual interpretation that all students of the Bible ought to know. 

Canon. The canon, or the accepted text of Genesis through Revelation (excluding the apocryphal books) form the basis of all true theology. A doctrinal idea must never force itself upon the text, but must be born out of the text itself. 

Convention. Conventional definitions of terms always provide the best place to start. In most cases, words mean what they are normally taken to mean, unless overwhelming evidence exists to the contrary. This is also called the “common sense” method. When someone subjects a simple, ordinary word to a freakish or hybrid meaning, it should arouse suspicion. 

Context. The same word can mean different things, but it depends upon the context. For example, when one reads the word wings in a verse concerning a bird, we have a reasonably good idea of its definition. When wings appear in a verse about God, however, the context suggests a very different meaning. 

Consistency. Other things being equal, words should be defined the same way each time they appear in scripture. In most cases, only the context may permit a variant rendering. A capricious changing of a word in a key verse signals defective interpretation. 

Original language. Those who appeal to the Greek and Hebrew to challenge Apostolic doctrine ought to cause red flags to go up everywhere. Many times pseudo-scholars look through the list of definitions of certain words found in a lexicon, and simply choose the one that best fits their views. Thus, a little knowledge truly is dangerous.

Highly specialized definitions of scriptural terms generally indicate a weak doctrinal position. Proponents may even claim that believing this hybrid interpretation is necessary for salvation. They know that without a narrowly defined set of terms, their doctrine falls apart.

Erroneous definitions are extremely dangerous. They force error upon every verse in which the terms appear. As a result, all contradictory passages get dismissed as uninspired or mythical. They dramatically realign the Bible into a very different book. 

When faced with an unusual definition, ask these questions: Is it based upon Bible truth? Does it make common sense? Does it fit the surrounding scriptures? Is it based on consistent usage? Does the author have the academic credentials to appeal to the Greek or Hebrew? Proper definitions are critical to sound doctrine.

Tuesday
Aug162016

Prayer is a Possibility  

(This is the last segment of “Your Prayer Relationship: Jesus as Your Confidante.”)

Through prayer, we possess a limitless power to put thoughts into words.  We can literally pray about anything.  Of course, many things we pray about may not be the will of God, but the possibility remains for us to talk to God without restraint.  The limits on our prayers are self-imposed.  God puts no such limitations on us; indeed, He encourages us to engage in seemingly impossible ventures through faith and prayerBut Jesus looked at them and said to them, “With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” Matthew 19:26. The Apostle Paul blew the top off of possibility praying.  Now to Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us. Ephesians 3:20. Here are some endless possibilities in prayer:

A mystical experience.  Despite the common connotation of mystical, the word actually refers to “religious awe,” not the black arts or magic.  There is a realm of prayer into which believers can enter that puts them in touch with forces and beings not of this world.  The Apostle Paul spoke of this kind of experience when he said, “I will come to visions and revelations of the Lord: I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago—whether in the body I do not know, or whether out of the body I do not know, God knows—such a one was caught up to the third heaven. And I know such a man—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows—how he was caught up into Paradise and heard inexpressible words, which it is not lawful for a man to utter.” 2 Corinthians 12:1-4.  Most scholars agree that the “man” he referred to was himself.  The purpose of this experience was probably to inform him of the reality of the spirit world.  He wrote of this reality in other passages of the New Testament.  Whatever it was, he considered it a high privilege of which he could have boasted had he chosen to do so. 

The ability to see prayer as a mystical experience empowers us to pray with understanding.  Likewise the Spirit also helps in our weaknesses. For we do not know what we should pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered. Romans 8:26. Carnal prayers are predicated upon natural senses and natural understanding.  Praying in the Spirit requires us to see vast, spiritual powers at work. 

A release of the Spirit’s activity. Some have wondered why we cannot think our prayers instead of pray or prayers.  The answer is not clear in the Bible, but there seems to be at least three reasons why we need to pray aloud.  First, we need to hear our own words as we speak them.  Something happens to us when we vocalize our thoughts. It makes them real and viable, and it aids our understanding.  For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays, but my understanding is unfruitful. What is the conclusion then? I will pray with the spirit, and I will also pray with the understanding. I will sing with the spirit, and I will also sing with the understanding.  1 Corinthians 14:14-15. 

Second, speaking out loud activates or releases the ministering spirits. Jesus, as God manifest in the flesh, could have internalized all His prayers, but He spoke them out loud, as we read in multiple verses, most significantly in John seventeen. 

Last, we pray out loud as an attack against Satan.  There is no indication in the Scriptures that the devil invades our thoughts.  Therefore, we must verbally address evil spirits.  But Paul, greatly annoyed, turned and said to the spirit, “I command you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her.” And he came out that very hour. Acts 16:18. Spiritual victories do not just happen by themselves.  Only prayer makes them happen.  

The key to damaged relationships.  God puts his infinite wisdom on display when we are told to pray for our enemies.  The significance of this prayer may not be the affect it has on our enemies, but the attitudinal adjustment that happens in our own heartsBut I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you.  Matthew 5:44. 

Damaged relationships often result from misunderstandings, petty grievances and differences of opinions.  Sometimes, however, deeper dysfunctions, like bruised egos and wounded pride lie at the heart of conflicts in relationships.  It is dangerous to dismiss these problems as “normal,” and “that’s life,” or to insist that “they will get over it,” as though there is nothing you can do about it.  Pride often blocks sins of commission or omission from our view.  Prayer probes around the edges of conflicts, and, if done honestly, it will uncover secret faults in your own heart.  

What if you find that the fault for a problem stems from something within you?  What if you realize that you are the one who needs to initiate the steps to make things right?  Too many people loathe to admit mistakes.  If you know what you need to do, and yet you are reluctant to follow through, you must go to prayer.  Prayer makes difficult assignments easier.  It “greases the skids” for reconciliation, forgiveness, acts of kindness and forbearance.  Prayer holds the possibility for peace, and peace opens the door for love, cooperation and the joy of unity.  Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity! Psalm 133:1.

A channel for physical and emotional therapy.  As we discovered in the earlier chapter on your emotional relationship with God, He desires us to live above the turmoil and anxiety of life.  Yet, all of us battle these feelings to some degree.  A rich practice of prayer activates the emotional, as well as physical healing that brings tranquility to our lives.  Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing psalms. Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. James 5:13-15. 

The source of many problems in our bodies and minds are organic.  Even the Scriptures show that medicinal remedies may be used as treatment for these problems.  But there are other afflictions that are spiritual in cause and nature.  These must be addressed through prevailing prayer.  And behold, there was a woman who had a spirit of infirmity eighteen years, and was bent over and could in no way raise herself up. But when Jesus saw her, He called her to Him and said to her, “Woman, you are loosed from your infirmity.” And He laid His hands on her, and immediately she was made straight, and glorified God. Luke 13:11-13.  Evidently, this woman was bound by a foul spirit, not an organic condition.  

Prayer is a place, a practice and a possibility.  Archimedes said in the Doric speech of Syracuse: “Give me a place to stand and with a lever I will move the whole world.”  Prayer is the place to stand.  It is also the lever by which we can move the world.  Never minimize the humble act of prayer.  So Jesus answered and said to them, “Assuredly, I say to you, if you have faith and do not doubt, you will not only do what was done to the fig tree, but also if you say to this mountain, ‘Be removed and be cast into the sea,’ it will be done.  And whatever things you ask in prayer, believing, you will receive.” Matthew 21:21-22.