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Failing Through the Cracks

May 27, 2010 14 comments

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Last week I wrote a post about the Cracks in the Church based on some initial study of the book of Jude.  The group of men that I meet with on Wednesday nights has just completed our second week of studying that book.  Our first week was spent just reading the book every day for a week and this week’s assignment was to research the background on this epistle from Jude.

Based on this part of the study I wanted to add to my thoughts on how false teachers can sneak into a church unnoticed.  I want you to think on these things:

  • The letter was written around 68-70 AD.
  • It was most likely written to a predominantly Jewish audience.

That may not seem like much in the way of earth-shattering news but consider that 68-70 AD was a time of great strife in the lives of the Jews and especially Jewish Christians.  For hundreds of years, the children of Israel had been waiting on a Messiah that they believed would build a physical kingdom.  God’s chosen people were tiring of the Roman rule that placed restrictions on their faith, taxed them beyond their means, and, in some cases, exiled portions of their population.  The years of 68-70 AD were years that there was a conflict, a war, being waged between the Jewish people and Rome.  Stack on top of that a famine and starvation and we have a political tender box.

Put yourself into the shoes of those Jews who had given their lives to the cause of Christ – who were looking for this new kingdom that all the apostles were preaching about.  They had linked themselves to a group of fanatics that had been persecuted by the Jewish leaders for decades and who were garnering suspicions from the Roman rulers.  What would it have been like to be starving, poor and doubly rejected by society from both your own race and the Gentile government?

I wonder if they felt some despair.  I wonder if they started having second thoughts about this path that they had chosen that at one point they were so sure about.  Maybe they started doubting like John the Baptist had when he found himself sitting in a prison.  The dream of the physical kingdom was lost.  The hope of a spiritual kingdom promised by the apostles was starting to look more like a mirage than an actuality.  Desperation is a dangerous crack that can cause huge failings within the church body.  When the focus shifts from the Author of faith and instead fixes on circumstances that appear to be too daunting to overcome, it isn’t hard to imagine people panicking and reaching for anything that will buoy them up in the raging storm waters that they find themselves in.

Even a false doctrine that offers an immediate promise of unsubstantiated hope can look like the real thing.  Don’t think that is the case?  Look around the faith community and consider how many people follow a health-and-wealth prosperity message that offers hope in this life to those who will take a step in faith and send in their ‘seed’ money.  It is a message that looks like a gospel lottery – a buck here and a buck there will give you a chance at greater material rewards, better relationships, the removal of sickness, in short, the perfect life.  Who follows this type of message?  The desperate – those whose eyes have focused on the circumstances of life instead of the Author.

This is not a crack that we need to be concerned about falling through.  No.  It is a crack by which we need to be on guard not to fail through.

We should all consider those things that could tempt us to desperation.

Is it failing health? Or the loss of a job? Maybe it is relationships gone sour.  Or a broken marriage.  Maybe it’s a rebellious child.

How about you? How do you guard against the desperation that could steal your eyes from source of truth and instead fix them on a shallow replacement?

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Passion Smashin’

May 26, 2010 13 comments

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I had a great time meeting with a young man for breakfast and talking about life, faith, and relationships.  He has a blog that you can check out if you are interested in knowing more about him and what he stands for: The Change Theory.

My first encounter with Jordan was several years back in a student discipleship class that I was teaching.  After the first night of class, I had an email from him that was waiting in my queue before I ever got home.  This had me thinking, “Wow, I have really connected with one of the kids!”  When I had read the email, I discovered that he wanted me to help him with his skit for the upcoming student talent show.  He was going to impersonate Elton John and he needed someone to help him with this skit.  How was I to help him with his impersonation of Elton John, you ask?  Funny you should ask because I asked the same question.

Jordan was going to perform the song, Tiny Dancer, and he wanted me to be the tiny dancer while he was singing.  Imagine the images that were floating across my inner screen… me in a tutu dancing in front of people.  I have to admit that I wasn’t too thrilled with the idea. I called a couple of other adults hoping to get an excuse that it wouldn’t be appropriate for a grown man to dance in a tutu.  Uh.. didn’t happen.  They all thought it was a great idea and their laughter was all the proof that I needed that they believed it and that I wasn’t going to have a good excuse to decline the invitation to make a fool of myself.

There were several moments over the weeks that followed that proved that dancing in a tutu was not my passion – from the many rehearsals that were ‘mandatory’ ( I think Kenny called them mandatory so that he could laugh some more as I pranced around the stage) to the time I stopped in at the local store that sold princess apparel for little girls.  The cashier was all sweet and gushing over my purchases of fairy wings, wand, tiara, and glitter until she asked me if the purchases were for my little princess and I chose to respond truthfully that, “No, they are for me.”

The big night came and went and at the end of it all Jordan and I earned 2nd place.  Maybe if my passion had been dancing we could have danced sneaked  into first.

I share that story to add some depth to the conversation that Jordan and I had this morning.  We got onto the subject of passion as it relates to faith.  During the discussion, I shared the following thoughts with him.

There are a lot of contemporary books that instruct us that God calls us according to our passions.  While that may be true in some cases, it is not the case across the board and we only have to look to the bible to see evidence of this.

  • Moses didn’t seem too passionate about going back to Egypt
  • Jonah was so passionate about going to Nineveh that he got on a boat going in the opposite direction

I think there is a verse in Psalms that is better geared to how we should align our passions for God’s calling:

Delight yourself in the LORD; And He will give you the desires of your heart.  ~ Psalms 37:4

So what happens when God becomes our passion?  According to the scripture above, we receive the desires of our hearts.  Maybe God uses our pre-existing passions maybe He doesn’t but it won’t matter because no matter the circumstance we find ourselves in, we still have God.  I think Paul would agree with this type of thinking.  Actually, if you read Philippians you can find that all of his previous passions became as dung to him when it came to his new passion – to know Christ.

That new passion lead him to some bad situations like prison.  That new passion earned him stonings and beatings.  Yet.. he didn’t look at those things as negatives but as positives because they gave him the opportunity to advance the gospel.

Maybe you are one of the lucky ones where you have been called to your passion.  Or maybe you are struggling with where God is calling you because you don’t have that overwhelming passion like missionary work or church planting or name any number of contemporary high-profile gigs that we all think we are supposed to be called to if we are following Christ.

What if you changed your focus instead and made God your passion?  And were passionate right where you are until God moves you?  Is it possible that you will get the desires of your heart even if it means your calling is to clean the church when nobody is looking?  Or to be a friend to someone in need that other people have rejected or minimized?  Or maybe you are to share your passion through a community or workplace bible study.

Maybe in your passion for God, you will find that what once would have been an unbearable situation can actually bring you joy.

So, let me ask this question, how would you apply Jack Nicklaus’s statement to delighting in the Lord?

The God we want?

May 22, 2010 9 comments

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A. W. Tozer is one of my favorite authors on matters of faith.  I was given the book, The Pursuit of God, by a friend several years ago and my first read through it took me several attempts.  Since then, I have read it multiple times.

There have been several blogs in the past few days that reminded me that as humans we struggle with our perception of the Creator.  Actually, we struggle with a correct perception.  Tozer dedicated a chapter in his book to the Creator-Creature relationship.  What are your thoughts on the following excerpt from that chapter?

Much of our difficulty as seeking Christians stems from our unwillingness to take God as He is and adjust our lives accordingly. We insist upon trying to modify Him and to bring Him nearer to our own image. The flesh whimpers against the rigor of God’s inexorable sentence and begs like Agag for a little mercy, a little indulgence of its carnal ways. It is no use. We can get a right start only by accepting God as He is and learning to love Him for what He is. As we go on to know Him better we shall find it a source of unspeakable joy that God is just what He is. Some of the most rapturous moments we know will be those we spend in reverent admiration of the Godhead. In those holy moments the very thought of change in Him will be too painful to endure.

When we try to ‘humanize’ God so that He is more approachable, understandable, or acceptable to our sensibilities, is He still God?  Or have we created a false god to comfort ourselves?

Maybe the root of this issue is captured in this excerpt from the same chapter:

Another saying of Jesus, and a most disturbing one, was put in the form of a question, “How can ye believe, which receive honour one of another, and seek not the honour that cometh from God alone?” If I understand this correctly Christ taught here the alarming doctrine that the desire for honor among men made belief impossible. Is this sin at the root of religious unbelief? Could it be that those “intellectual difficulties” which men blame for their inability to believe are but smoke screens to conceal the real cause that lies behind them? Was it this greedy desire for honor from man that made men into Pharisees and Pharisees into Deicides? Is this the secret back of religious self-righteousness and empty worship? I believe it may be. The whole course of the life is upset by failure to put God where He belongs. We exalt ourselves instead of God and the curse follows.

When we speak concerning God, do we wish to present an image that is agreeable to scripture or one that will garner favor among men because in the end what we really wish is to exalt ourselves through popularity or human platitudes that are more tolerant than scripture is?

Filling Up With Empty

May 21, 2010 9 comments

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I want to tell a story.  And I need you to be the main character if you will allow me the benefit of your imagination and a little of your time.

Let us begin with a little character development.  You are wealthy and can afford the best things in life for yourself and your family.  Your young children think you are the greatest singer who ever took the stage and there are many fans who believe the same.  Your voice has made you famous and is the means by which you have been able to become famous and wealthy.  Life is good, no, life is great.  It couldn’t be more perfect.  You lack for nothing and you are surrounded in love and your greatest desire is met in your ability to spend time with your loving spouse and beautiful children.

Now for the tale.

Your father calls one day out of the blue and invites you to meet him at a small, squat, block building in the ugliest part of town.  It is not an inviting place and you wonder why it is that he wants you to meet him there but you agree to go because you trust your father.  When you arrive, you notice that his car is empty and rightly assume that he has already entered the desolate warehouse that stands before you.  It takes a few minutes to build up the nerve to step out of the car and trek across the littered and weed-strewn lot that stretches between the car and an open door.

After entering the building you find your father standing in the middle of an undecorated room bereft of any furniture.  Before you have a chance to question him about this odd meeting location, he addresses you:

“My child, there is a choice that you must make today.  It is a costly choice and it is not with an easy spirit that I present it to you. To my left stands a door to another room very similar to this one.  Inside that room are 10 people well-known to you.  These people despise you and count you as an enemy even though you have done nothing to warrant their hatred.”

Child, listen well.  They are dieing because they have a terrible disease which has only one known cure.  It is within your power to provide them a cure, in fact, only you can provide the cure. But it will come at a great cost…maybe too great.”

The start of the conversation was nothing you had expected.  You can’t even imagine how it is you could help dieing people regardless of whether they are your enemies or not.  And why did it have to be enemies that needed your help and what form could this help take?  You are wealthy, very wealthy in fact, so maybe there is an expensive cure that you could purchase for them.  You decide this has to be the case and even if it is your enemies that you would be helping, money would allow you to stay distant from them.   You are still curious and a bit nervous as you address your father, “I don’t understand how I can help, dad, but tell me what it is that I can do.”

His shoulders droop and his head bows as he starts his next sentence.  “You don’t know how my heart hurts over this matter because of what I must ask of you.  In your flesh you carry a very special genetic combination that can only be extracted following its death.  The quantity of flesh needed is very large.  You would have to be willing to give up both of your arms and both of your legs in order to save the lives of all ten of the people in the other room.  My child, I must ask more of you than this.  The cure also requires that you sacrifice your eyes and tongue because without them we cannot fully extract the cure from the flesh of your arms and legs.”

Shock invades your thoughts as you try to understand what is being asked of you. In a whisper, you ask, “How long can I think about this?”

“Child, there is little time and I have not completed detailing the cost.  I am the only one who is able to complete the task following the extraction and there is a time element that must be considered.  My love, this cure requires that I take you into the room next door in the next ten minutes and perform all of the steps needed to make the cure available.  Do you hear me?  Do you understand what I am saying?  I will have to take your legs so that you can never walk again.  I will take your arms and you will never again hug your children.  You will lose your sight and the last thing you will see will be your enemies standing around you.  I will take your tongue and while that means you will never sing again, it will also mean that you cannot respond to the people in the other room who will continue to taunt you following your sacrifice to save their lives.”

You are stunned, “You want me to give up everything, to become nothing of who I am now, for people who will not appreciate what I have done?  How, dad, can you ask that of me? How can you expect me to do that?”

“My child, I must give you the choice because only you can provide the cure for the one or two in the other room who will accept it.  You have to decide if you are willing to empty yourself of all you have in order to make the chance of life available for someone else even while you silently absorb the taunting of those who will reject it.”

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I don’t know if I have accomplished what it is that I set out to do with this post.  In Philippians, chapter 2, Paul writes about Christ in this manner:

although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.

Over the last few days I have struggled with understanding what it meant for Christ to empty Himself.  And, so, I have tried to create a picture here, however imperfect it may be, of what it would be like to lose all that I had in order to save my enemies.

How about you?  You were the star of this tale were you not?  What would it be like to choose to lose all that was good and wonderful in your life and replace it with pain, suffering, and sorrow?

Maybe as you ponder these thoughts, you will learn what it means to be filled up as you consider the love that Christ displayed in the act of emptying Himself.

Crack Patchin’

May 20, 2010 1 comment

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I raised a couple of questions in my previous post, Cracks in the Church, concerning Jude’s observation that false teachers had entered the church unnoticed by the body of believers to which he was writing.  Those questions were:

  • How could these people get into a position to teach a false doctrine while surrounded by believers?
  • How can we prevent these cracks in our churches today?

I really enjoyed reading the responses submitted by those who read that post.  There were some who pointed out that this crack has always existed in the church.  And others offered their views on who is responsible for preventing these type of cracks in our current church.  This responsibility was placed on everybody from the preacher to the body of believers.  I suggest you take some time to read through those responses when you have a chance.

When I proposed that there was a crack in the church, I wasn’t referring to the false teachers.  Instead, I was pointing out the path by which these false teachers get into a position to have followers within the church body.  The sneak in through cracks.   I want to use scripture to support my opinions on this matter so bear with me for a few moments as I step through this quickly.

First, we have evidence from Christ in His letter to the church at Ephesus as recorded in Revelations, that the crack need not exist:

I know your deeds and your toil and perseverance, and that you cannot tolerate evil men, and you put to the test those who call themselves apostles, and they are not, and you found them to be false;

And then we can look to Jude as he encourages the members of the church he is writing to close the crack:

Beloved, while I was making every effort to write you about our common salvation, I felt the necessity to write to you appealing that you contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all handed down to the saints.

He tells them to contend for the faith.  One of the uses for contend that I found in the dictionary is this – to assert or maintain earnestly.  So Jude is calling them to assert the faith.  Now we need to look at the Greek word that is behind the word faith so that we understand what it is that he is asking them to assert.  The word is pistis and the following is a lexicon entry for this word:

I like how that first definition starts, conviction of truth.  He is telling them to assert their convictions of the truth.  He alludes to this truth in the beginning of the letter when he refers to the readers as those kept for Jesus Christ and he juxtaposes the false teachings with this same truth in verse 4 of the book when he points out that these false teachers “deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ.”   Based on this quick review and read through the first 4 verses of Jude, we can make the following statements:

  • The letter was written to all believers located within the church that Jude wrote
  • This church failed to maintain a strong sense of basic theology AND/OR did not test the beliefs of those who sought to teach within their body against this basic theology
  • Their failure resulted in blind acceptance of heresy

The crack in that particular church occurred when the people (both leadership and laity) failed to care about what it was that they believed.  Maybe they never had a firm grasp of the doctrine or maybe they had become lazy.  In either case, they were the crack and this is why they were unaware of heresies coming into their midst.

This crack can only be prevented when the membership of a church has earnestly contended for their faith.

Do you know what you believe and why you believe it?  If not, you are in danger of being a crack.

If you are in church leadership, are you equipping your saints through steadfast teaching of the full gospel – both grace and truth?

If you are in the church body, how are you holding your teachers and preachers accountable?

I fear that there is much that is going unnoticed in the contemporary church.

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Cracks in the Church

May 19, 2010 27 comments

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I mentioned earlier this week that I am part of a group of guys that gets together every week to talk about things of faith.  Recently we have been studying on how to study the bible and decided to apply our learning to the book of Jude.  Our first assignment was just to read that short letter in the New Testament every day for a week.

That is it.  Just read it. Nothing more.  No studies.  No commentaries.  Just.Read.It.

As I have been reading the book each day, there has been something new that pops out at me.  This morning I was reminded that there are cracks in the church in verse 4 of Jude.

For certain persons have crept in unnoticed

These people that Jude raises the alarm over are not nice people and they are doing things to undermine the Gospel of Christ.  Yet, they have ‘sneaked’ into the church.  While their actions are somehow slipping the notice of the body of Christ that Jude is writing to, they must be evident to those outside of the church because Jude is aware and is feeling compelled to point it out to them.

That one piece of one verse in that little book makes me want to ask a very big question:

How does a church get to a point where those who teach a false doctrine can slip in unawares?

I have some personal opinions on the matter but I would like to hear from you.  How does this happen and how can it be prevented?

Categories: Commentary Tags: , , ,

Links in this Chain

May 18, 2010 8 comments

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I have heard it said that a chain is only as strong as its weakest link.  We understand this adage to mean that a chain put under stress can only hold up to that stress until one of the links gives out.  Whichever link it is that gives out first is the weakest link.

The other day I looked down to the ring finger on my left hand and thought about how the wedding band there represented a link in the chain of my marriage.  My wife wears a ring on her hand that represents another link in that chain that ties her to me.  Some of you are aware that I am in a study at the moment of the book of Philippians (and Jude) and there is something that the writers of both books use to open their respective letters.

..a bond-servant of Jesus Christ..

Some translations may use the word ‘slave’ instead of bond-servant.  I have wondered about that.  Is it that slavery brings too much negativity to a description of a relationship that we steer clear of using such language to describe it?  When I looked down to my ring, this thought came to me: there are chains that represent a sense of belonging to – a sense of loving ownership.  My wife’s ring and the ring on my finger represent a mutual belonging and ownership – I belong to her and she belongs to me.  We are in chains to each other but here is the thing – that chain is only as strong as its weakest link.

The chain that exists between my wife and I must be forged in trust, respect, honor, care, and sacrifice all of which must be tempered in love.  If either of us gives up on that understanding, our relationship will suffer.  Hopefully our chains are strong enough to withstand the stresses that are put upon them.  After twenty years, it may be tempting to believe that those links have been thoroughly tested and no longer need to be properly maintained.  Taking things for granted has a way of exposing serious issues at the most difficult times.

I am reminded that it is important to celebrate cherish the bonds that bind me to my wife by the following video:

After watching it, I wondered how hard would it have been to make the decisions that the husband had to make.  I wondered what went through each of their minds when they started putting together the picture of what the rest of their lives would look like.

But I was so encouraged by the demonstration of love that each held for the other.  For better or worse became embodied by their relationship but more than that, it was transcended because they looked past the worst and instead chose to see the better.

As a man I have a question for other men out there, how do you celebrate the chains in your relationships?