Category Archives: Pastoral

On the Focus of Weekly Gatherings

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about church ontology or how we ‘do church’.  Most in our Western tradition have a mentality of church being the geographical presence of God on earth. This has always struck me as interestingly temple-oriented and not found anywhere in the New Testament record of early church life.  They gathered weekly to break bread, learn, pray and encourage one another and were constantly devoting themselves to the apostles’ teachings (Acts 2:42); however, the notion of a formalized ‘service’ as we know it today is not to found in Scripture as the mandated means of corporate gatherings.  We have submitted to a mode of corporate church gathering that has more to do with never getting out of an impersonal, passive audience, we’re-still-thinking-in-terms-of-the-temple type of worship and togetherness.  At least that’s how it seems to me.

I’m not trying to be a renegade nor do I think I can advocate for the dismal of other traditions that I deem as dregs of the not-yet-fully-reformed movement of early centuries.  What I’m after is a form and practice of weekly gathering that actually models what we see in the New Testament descriptions and prescriptions of New Covenant church life.  And I am convinced that we rarely see it.

Enter this article I recently found that actually puts into words where my head has been on this topic. It’s by Rick Owen and I don’t really know him, but I believe what he’s written expresses my current convictions.  Read it and let me know what you think.


The Regulative Principle of Ekklesia

By Rick Owen

Many who love Reformed theology have pointed out that the Protestant Reformation did not go far enough in its reformation of church practices. Its ecclesiology (doctrine of the church) perpetuated the distinction between the clergy and the laity of Roman Catholicism. The clergy were the ordained religious specialists (priests, clerics, preachers, ministers) who dispensed spiritual things to a largely passive laity (average church members). This was and continues to be unbiblical. The New Testament represents the church as one unified body under the headship of Christ — not two groups consisting of clergy and laity. (See “Building Up the Body — One Man or One Another?”) [1]

The word “clergy” comes from the Greek word kleros. The fundamental meaning of this word is “portion, lot, inheritance.” [2] In reference to God’s people, it may allude to the inheritance God has given to His people; or it may refer to God’s people as His own portion or inheritance who belong to Him and have been entrusted to the spiritual care of church leaders (Acts 26:18; Col. 1:12; 1 Pet. 5:3). This word never refers to ordained religious professionals who lead a church or its services, baptize people, dispense the Lord’s supper, or conduct weddings and funerals. This word applies to all God’s people.

The word “laity” comes from the Greek word laos. The basic meaning of this word is “people.” [3] In reference to the church, this includes all God’s people — those who lead as well as those who are led. Every believer is part of God’s people (Matt. 1:21; Luke 1:17, 68, 77; Rom. 9:25-26; 2 Cor. 6:16; Titus 2:14; Heb. 8:10; 1 Pet. 2:9-10).

The Reformed “Regulative Principle of Worship” speaks of approaching God in the only way He has approved and appointed: through Christ alone, in spirit and truth. This part of the definition is important and essential. Unfortunately, there is more embedded historically in this concept than this. The underlying assumption is that a worship service consists of people in the pew (the laity) sitting in front of specialists in the pulpit (clergy) who preach to them, pray for them, pronounce certain blessings upon them, and then part from them, as each one considers his or her religious duty completed for the week. The specialist’s role is similar to that of an Old Testament priest standing before a congregation of Israelites. In addition to these underlying assumptions, it is considered a ‘given’ that the reason a church meets is to have such a worship service. These ideas are apparent in this fairly typical article on this topic: “The Regulative Principle of the Church.” [4]

Worship in the New Testament

The New Testament never states that the reason a church meets is to have a traditional worship service as we usually conceive of this and practice it in the modern church. This is not to deny that Christians should worship God in various ways when they come together. How can Jesus’ disciples help but honor and glorify God as they consider the amazing truths of Scripture together, sing His praises, fellowship in His Spirit, share the Lord’s table, encourage and exhort one another, and pray? Such collective activities clearly constitute meaningful spiritual sacrifices or expressions of worship (literally, “service,” Greek: latreuó) to God. God-centered devotion should be the overarching purpose and outcome of all we do in the Christian life (Rom. 12:1), including when we assemble as Christ’s church. But this is like saying a husband should love his wife all the time. Loving his wife is not (or should not be) limited to special occasions.

My point here is that the New Testament never states that a worship service (whether we conceive of this as an orthodox, traditional or contemporary service) is the reason for Christ’s brethren gathering as His church. As Daniel Thompson has written,

“There are few doctrines in the New Testament that give us as much surprise as the doctrine of worship. One might even say we are stunned. Although there are references to worship in the Gospels, the book of Acts and Revelation, the New Testament Epistles — the doctrinal/explanatory part of the New Testament — is completely silent as to worship. This is all the more incredible when we consider: First, 1 Corinthians chapters 12-14 is an extensive treatment of church life and interaction with no mention of worship. Second, 1 Timothy was an epistle written to make known ‘how thou [Timothy] might behave thyself in the house of God.’ Surely one would expect a reference to worship here, yet there is none. Third, our Lord tells the Samaritan woman that ‘the hour is coming … and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in Spirit and in truth: for the Father seeks such to worship Him’ (Jn 4:21-23). With such a definitive statement of future devotion, it is inconceivable that worship would be passed over completely in the instructional part of the New Covenant, the Epistles, yet this is exactly what we find.” [5]

Old Covenant Model versus New Covenant Model

Advocates of the regulative principle often say we should not offer “strange fire” (or do unapproved things) in approaching God. (This is an illustration from the Old Testament cited in “The Regulative Principle of the Church” referenced above.) This imagery, however, applies primarily to the removal of sin in salvation. It is true that we cannot approach God any other way than He has appointed through Christ. But this paradigm was fulfilled by Christ through the offering of Himself once for all time (Heb. 10:10-14). We gather as Christ’s people on the other side of the Cross. The veil of the holy of holies in the earthly temple was split in two when Christ offered himself to God in the holy place of heaven (Heb. 9:11-12). The days of sacrifices are over. Christ is seated now at the right hand of God, ruling with all authority until His enemies are made His footstool (Heb. 10:12-13).

The Roman Catholic church re-sacrifices Christ in the mass as if an Old Testament priest were presenting an offering to God on behalf of a gathered assembly for the forgiveness of sins. This is an idolatrous misuse of an Old Covenant paradigm which became obsolete when Christ fulfilled it (Heb. 8:13). New Covenant believers gather together to remember, proclaim, celebrate and share in the New Covenant realities they now possess together in Christ (1 Cor. 3:21-23; Rom. 8:32), as God’s inheritance and chosen people, through the perfect and complete work of Jesus Christ (Eph. 1:15-23). The church is not reenacting the Day of Atonement when it gathers as God’s people. It celebrates the blessings of Pentecost poured out by a risen Savior (Gal. 3:14). God’s people live now in light of the good news of an empty tomb and a reigning Lord (Heb. 12:22-24).

The Regulative Principle of Ekklesia

The first disciples were told to wait in Jerusalem for the Holy Spirit to be sent to them in a powerful way after Jesus’ ascension and session at the right hand of God. The outpouring of His Spirit resulted in specific Christ-magnifying practices which remain with us today as the core essentials for New Testament churches. We might call this the regulative principle of Christ’s ekklesia (the New Testament Greek word for God’s “called-out assembly”). This is the New Covenant model which the church should practice when it gathers as God’s people.

“And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers” (Acts 2:42 ESV). This is how Jesus began building His church (Matt. 16:18). And He continues the same work in the same powerful way today as His followers obey His command to “make disciples of all the nations” (Matt. 28:18-20).

1. “the apostles’ teaching” = revealing Christ from Scripture

2. “the fellowship” = relinquishing our spiritual and material gifts to God and one another

3. “the breaking of bread” = remembering the Lord in His covenant meal

4. “the prayers” = relishing God (adoration, confession, petition, thanksgiving, intercession)

These elements represent an interactive matrix which connects us to God and one another. They form a cohesive process which nurtures us as the body of Christ toward spiritual maturity. These four areas are not strictly divided. Various activities mentioned in the New Testament easily intermingle and overlap.

For example, Ephesians 5:18-20 connects singing with being filled with the Spirit and fellowship. Colossians 3:16 connects it with the word of Christ dwelling in us richly as we teach and admonish one another. Romans 15:8-12 connects singing with praising and worshiping God in prayer (cf. Heb. 13:15; Rev. 5:9). Likewise, the Lord’s supper is connected to both symbolic and verbal proclamation of Christ (1 Cor. 11:26). Such proclamation could include Christ-centered teaching, singing, praying and conversation (1 Cor. 10:16-17; 5:8).

Jesus died to save people who would praise God (Rom. 15:8-12). Each activity of Jesus’ called-out assembly is meant to magnify the Lord and build up His body to God’s glory.

1. The apostles’ teaching

Teaching is obviously very important in the church. But this involves much more than preaching traditional sermons to a passive audience. The word of God is God’s gift to Christ’s entire body. The whole church is the pillar and ground of the truth (1 Tim. 3:15). Every believer is to earnestly contend for the faith once for all delivered to the saints (Jude 1:3). Therefore, not only should pastors and teachers encourage and instruct God’s people, as the apostles originally did. Each member of Christ’s body should encourage, instruct and admonish his or her brethren at some level according to sound doctrine — not necessarily as an appointed teacher, but — as a fully-functioning member of God’s royal priesthood who has been set apart by God to proclaim His excellencies (Acts 20:32; Rom. 15:14; 1 Cor. 14:1, 31; Col. 3:16; 1 Thess. 5:19-21; Titus 2:3-4; Heb. 5:12; 10:23-25; James 3:1; 1 Pet. 2:9).

Hermeneutically sound, Spirit-enlightened, Christ-revealing teaching is not limited to expository sermons. It can employ several kinds of speech and engage other believers in the body of Christ. We find the apostle Paul using three types of communication on the same occasion when addressing the church in Acts 20: lecture (Greek, logos) and dialogue (Greek, dialegomai) in verse 7, and personal conversation (Greek, homileo) in verse 11. The last two obviously include other people. All speaking and teaching, of course, should be done in a way which edifies the church (Rom. 14:19; 15:2; 1 Cor. 14:12, 26; Eph. 4:15-16, 29; 1 Thess. 5:11). Wise and effective church leaders use a variety of methods in teaching; and they train others to do the same so that God is magnified through His word (2 Tim. 2:2; Titus 2:14; 1 Pet. 4:10). Jesus gave us an example in making disciples as He walked, talked and served alongside His brethren.

2. The fellowship

Our fellowship connects with all we share together in Christ through His word, breaking bread and prayer. It includes loving and caring for one another by meeting both spiritual and physical needs (Acts 2:44-45; 4:32-35). We see the early church doing this enthusiastically. Through a process of generous, loving hospitality and joyous fellowship, God added more people to the church (Acts 2:46-47). Jesus was building His church and expanding His kingdom as He said He would, and He was doing so in very personal and practical ways. Christian love proves that we are children of God as we care for even the least among Christ’s brethren according to His new commandment (Matt. 25:40; John 13:34-35; 1 Cor. 11:22; 1 Jn 3:11-24).

3. The breaking of bread

The Lord ’s Supper is called “breaking bread” and “the Lord’s table” in the Bible. To break bread meant and still means to share a real meal. The Greek word deipnon is used to describe the Lord’s supper. [6] This word consistently refers to the evening meal (dinner or supper), or a banquet or feast. Breaking bread (or the Lord’s supper) was a primary reason — in fact, the only reason stated as a purpose clause in the Greek — for meeting on the first day of the week (Acts 20:7; 1 Cor. 11:20, 33). Most churches need to learn how to make a church meal of the Lord’s supper — as a Christ-centered covenant feast — and make the Lord’s supper of their church meals. (See “The Table of the Lord” for more on this.) [7]

We see from Scripture that the meal begins by breaking and distributing one loaf representing the sacrificed body of Christ which brings us eternal life. This is followed by eating the bread and meal together. Then “after eating supper” (from the Greek deipneo), the meal is completed and concluded by dividing and distributing the cup which represents the New Covenant which was signed, sealed and delivered in Jesus’ blood (Matt. 26:28; Mark 14:24; Luke 22:20; 1 Cor. 11:25). So the biblical pattern is bread > meal > cup. On whose authority or by what better tradition than that of Jesus and Paul should the church vary from this?

4. The prayers

Christians are to pray not only in their daily walk with God (1 Thess. 5:17), but especially when gathered as His people (1 Thess. 5:25). This is because believers in Christ — all believers — are fellow priests who should praise and petition God and intercede for one another (2 Thess. 3:1; 1 Tim. 2:8; Heb. 13:18; James 5;16). God delights to answer prayer (Luke 11:9-13). He brings glory to Himself as we rely upon Him to do what we are unable to do (2 Cor. 1:11; cf. John 17; Heb. 5:7).

Prayer should never make a spectacle of us (Matt. 6:5). It should focus on God’s greatness and goodness (Luke 11:2). God opposes the proud, but He gives grace to the humble (1 Pet. 5:5). Therefore, we should humble ourselves under the mighty hand of God when we pray (1 Pet. 5:6-7). We gather to call attention to God through Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit (Rom. 8:26-27; 15:6; Eph. 1:18-19; 3:14-19; 6:18; Jude 20).

Putting This Into Practice

The New Testament does not give us a specific meeting agenda to follow — only the various elements of what happens when the church gathers. Here are a few suggestions for encouraging the church to function as a body instead of an audience in front of a platform with a keynote speaker.

An average-size congregation (anywhere from 50-150 people) can implement these core church practices very simply, but it will take commitment from the whole body to follow through with this and learn how to do it well over it time. The biblical role of elders is to encourage and cultivate these practices as mentors and co-participants in (not substitutes or proxies for) the New Covenant priesthood. [8] They are to be examples to the flock, showing God’s people how to do these things (1 Pet. 5:2-3).

Instead of setting up the church meeting with conventional auditorium seating, try using an arrangement similar to a prayer breakfast, business luncheon, or wedding banquet. This creates a clear visual for what the New Testaments states is our purpose in gathering as Christ’s people. We “come together to eat” (1 Cor. 11:33, ESV) or “break bread” (Acts 20:7) in Jesus’ name — to remember, celebrate and proclaim Him, as we feed by faith upon Him as the true Bread from heaven. A room full of tables highlights Christ’s gathering as a time of mutual participation in Him (1 Cor. 10:16-17).

The entire group can be addressed by elders, teachers, and any others who might speak, while everyone is seated comfortably at each table. Singing, prayer and the Lord ’s Supper can flow in any order which works best. Instruction, discussion, fellowship, prayer and praise can easily precede the Lord’s supper or follow it to the conclusion of the meeting. Children can be included and the whole process can flow as naturally and simply as a family gathering.

May the Lord give us wisdom, discernment and grace as we seek to understand and follow His will.

—————————-

FOOTNOTES:

[1] http://www.searchingtogether.org/articles/zens/bodybldg.htm

[2] http://www.studylight.org/lex/grk/view.cgi?number=2819

[3] http://www.searchgodsword.org/lex/grk/view.cgi?number=2992

[4] http://www.apuritansmind.com/puritanworship/mcmahonregulativeprinciple.htm

[5] http://www.solidrock.net/library/thompson/worship.php

[6] http://www.studylight.org/lex/grk/view.cgi?number=1173

[7] http://comingintheclouds.org/church/basics/table_of_lord.pdf

[8] http://www.bible-researcher.com/knaub.html

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A Prayer for Pulpits

I’d like to call all believers to pray for a simple request – that the Word of God be preached clearly and precisely in our churches.

Pray that those men whom the Lord has entrusted with the privilege, duty and honor of preaching the Word of God on a weekly basis, will actually do just that.

Pray that the lure of personal story and staged humor will be replaced with a desire for pure milk and solid meat.

Pray that proof texting to prove a predetermined point will be substituted with carefully derived truth.

Pray that sermons will come from dedicated effort in exegetical study done to the glory of God and not from psycho-pop drivel and mystic self-help manuals.

Pray that pulpit words will be fueled by the Holy Spirit and derived from what God has said and not from what they wish God would say.

Pray for the dismantling of tradition-blinders when it becomes an affront to hard and simple biblical truths.

Pray for the heralding of Christ as a real savior who really does rescue sinners from hell without fail.

Pray that pastors are not afraid to say the H-word.  Pray for their courage. Pray for their humility. Pray for wisdom. Pray for your hearing.

May your weekly church gathering be filled with the power of the Trinity through the purposed preaching of the Scriptures.  Amen.

The Anatomy of the Imaginary Other PERSON

imaginary other personEveryone is into comparisons.  We constantly compare ourselves to this person or that person. We evaluate our progress and see who is further along than we are presently in this virtue or that situation. However, we are never called to compare ourselves to each other. Our comparison as believers is vertical.

Horizontal comparisons are easy and mostly useless for we are not in a spiritual race with each other; we run our race alone.  At the throne of the consummated end, we are not going to bring our pastors with us before the LORD, nor will we have our mothers, fathers, bankers, brothers, sisters, gurus or any one else for that matter with us.  That final evaluation will happen alone. Utterly alone.

This sermon discusses part of this phenomena whereby we look towards other people as example or duty-fillers or excuses only to find out that they don’t really exist.

I pray you find encouragement as you listen.

Deconstructing Christian Cliche – Part III

carrying a heavy load

Last time  we saw that God’s love of mankind found in the provision of the gospel of Christ stands in contrast to His hatred of sinners and sin alike. (Psalms 5, 11; Proverbs 6) The Lord rescues sinners from eternal condemnation, not miscellaneous sins.  God, as the righteous judge of all things, sentences the workers of iniquity to the fiery pit as their just reward. (Romans 2:1-6)  Over time, most evangelicals have lost any real understanding of exactly what they are supposed to be saved from. With the advent of self-help psychology and rampant feel-good theology finding its way into once biblically-based teaching, there has been an overemphasis of good news. The problem, however, is that without the wrath of God as the backdrop of Calvary, Christ becomes merely a murdered man instead of the Savior having suffered for all the sins of His people.  This truth relates to our final cliché in this series – “The Lord will not give you more than you can handle.”

There is no doubt that from a purely experiential vantage point this is a false claim. How many times have you been completely overwhelmed by life? How often have you had to seek counsel and aid and advice and resources from others just to get by?  Is it not true that while we may experience a certain degree of independence, we are still hopelessly interdependent; relying upon others in times of great need? Surely, Katrina taught us that.

So where did this saying come from? I’m fairly confident that its origin is another Scriptural misquote. This time, it is a butchering of 1 Corinthians 10:13-14 –“No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it. Therefore, my beloved, flee from idolatry.”

The apostle Paul’s admonishment to flee idolatry is predicated on the promise that God will not allow us to be tempted beyond what we can handle; instead, He will always provide us with a way of escape so as not to fall into sin. This passage says nothing about God not allowing us to endure a trial or suffering beyond what we can endure for if this were the case who would ever have suffered martyrdom? Also, we are well-covered in one-another verses in the New Testament as God has prepared that our new family in Christ would comfort us and help provide for our needs.(Romans 12:10-16)  If we were supposed to be somehow protected from being overburdened then why would we need each other at all?

On the contrary, the power of Christ is seen clearly in our weakness.  Paul instructs us that it is good to be content with insults, distresses, persecutions and difficulties for the sake of Christ, for in our frailty God is mighty. (2 Corinthians 12:5:10)

May we all learn to live lowly and rejoice in our infirmities for it is in our darkest hour that God’s grace in Christ is the most lovely jewel in our lives.

Deconstructing Christian Cliche – Part II

saints sinners

In the previous post, we looked at the oft-used phrase “Judge not lest you be judged.” Most people utilize this verse as an escape from being judged themselves, without ever understanding its true biblical context and application. All throughout Scripture, we see both the need to discern correctly (judge) and the need to avoid hypocrisy when examining and criticizing others.  What God forbids is not judging itself, but, rather, doing so superficially, arrogantly and with a double-standard.

The next frequently used cliché involves God’s attitude towards sin and sinners – “God loves the sinner but hates the sin.”  This statement is used without reservation in most Christian circles as if it was a biblical truth, but is it?  The testimony of Scripture will show us differently.

A common error is to over-emphasize a particular attribute of God and in our current culture no one attribute is more talked about than God’s love. Love, however, is spoken of in variant degrees and types in Scripture and in the English language the word ‘love’ is extremely weak and multi-definitional.  We say that we love our car, we love ice cream, love the Saints, love God and love our children all with the same word; however, the meaning in each case is radically different. Surely no one wants to argue that they love God in the same manner, meaning and measure that they love their automobile. Hence, ‘love’ is too broad and too blanketed to be used precisely in describing God’s relationship to sinners for most certainly the love of God extended to the man who is condemned to eternal punishment in hell is most certainly not the recipient of unending grace and mercy.

The book of Psalms declares that, “The LORD tests the righteous, but the wicked and the one who loves violence His soul hates. Upon the wicked He will rain coals; Fire and brimstone and a burning wind shall be the portion of their cup.” (Psalm 11:5-6)  God’s wrath and hatred towards those who practice evil is often underemphasized making passages such as these seem quite foreign and harsh; yet without the bad news of impending judgment and condemnation the good news of the Gospel is made unnecessary.  Proverbs says that the LORD hates those who are arrogant and spread discord among the brethren (Proverbs 6:16-19) and Psalm 5 clearly states that God takes no pleasure in wickedness, therefore the boastful shall not stand in His sight for He hates all workers of iniquity abhorring the bloodthirsty and deceitful.

So if we are to stay consistent in our understanding and true to the text of Scripture we must maintain that God is angry at sin and sinner alike.  Hell will not be full of miscellaneous sins it will be the eternal dwelling place of sinners who refuse to turn from sin and put their trust in the complete forgiveness of God found in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

God loved humanity by offering up His only begotten Son at Calvary so that convicted sinners may escape their just reward but the degree of that affection is tempered by the free will of Him who alone extends mercy.

Deconstructing Christian Cliche – Part I

judge not 1

Along our walk of faith we find and learn Christian clichés – those pesky little phrases that emerge from the colloquial pond as tried and true nuggets of wisdom supposedly drawn from timeless biblical truth, but in the end, turn out to be more rooted in human imagination than in divine understanding.

Three such impostors making the top of the chart are these – “We should not judge others”, “God loves the sinner but hates the sin”, and “the Lord will not give you more than you can handle.”  These sayings are repeated often in an attempt to spread wisdom and comfort in life through advice and conservation; however, are they really accurate? Do these comments have their root in God or man?

We will take a look at each statement over the next few weeks and examine it biblically to see if it stands or falls. First, let’s look at: We should not judge others.

“Judge not lest you be judged” is probably the most abused statement by both believers and unbelievers alike being thrown around in debates and arguments more frequently than a well-worked pizza crust. It is found in the gospel of Matthew – “Do not judge so that you will not be judged.” Matthew 7:1 Certainly, on the surface this looks rather compelling.  However, context is the text in which God breathed out His Word and so we must capture the essence of the passage by expanding our view to the next verses. Here’s what happens when we do:

“Do not judge so that you will not be judged. For in the way you judge, you will be judged; and by your standard of measure, it will be measured to you. Why do you look at the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ and behold, the log is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.” Matthew 7:1-5

When the entire context is considered, the actual thrust of this warning passage turns out to be speaking directly to those who are hypocritical in their judgments.  Take the log out of your own eyes first and then you will be able to see clearly. The command here is a call to self-examination of sin, not a call to cease judging others.  Keep in mind also that judging here is about discernment not condemnation. God alone condemns.

Other passages help us to see our rightful role in judging, such as John 7:24, where Christ, in dealing with supposed Sabbath law violations said, “Do not judge according to appearance, but judge with righteous judgment.” Paul spoke about our need to judge small legal matters and disputes in 1 Corinthians 6:3 ” Do you not know that we will judge angels? How much more matters of this life?”

All throughout Scripture we see both the need to discern correctly and to the need to avoid hypocrisy.  Learn to judge through having the same mind of Christ and exercise humility through patience and peace.

Clarity of the Heart in Relationship – Part II

talking handWhen in relational communication with others, we should seek to cultivate humility by understanding our inherent bias. (Jeremiah 17:9) None of us has perfect recall, especially when involved in conflict. (Proverbs 18:17) God requires that all facts be established by two and three witnesses; not a single account. (Deut. 19:5) And lastly, we should massage humility by being suspicious of ourselves, knowing that there are always three conversations – the one you heard, the one they heard and the one that actually took place. Rarely do they match.

To these I’d like to add another communicative caution. When seeking to understand we must avoid what I call the erroneous presumption of fruit inspection.  Jesus said, “…every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot produce bad fruit, nor can a bad tree produce good fruit.” (Matthew 7:17-18) Many believers take this passage and combine it with this Scripture, For the mouth speaks out of that which fills the heart.” (Matthew 12:34) The notion then is that when someone speaks we can somehow inspect the fruit and determine their heart motive.  While in general this might be true; it is only true non-specifically.  For example if someone is yelling and screaming at you, the mere loudness and intensity doesn’t say anything more than that they are, at that moment, not calm and gentle.  However, you have no idea exactly where their heart is without first asking them what is wrong.  They could be angry, fearful, annoyed, frustrated or excitedly announcing a problem; one would have to first ask questions to find out the true heart of the matter.  Yet, routinely and habitually, we make instant assessments as to someone’s real motives and routinely and consistently we are wrong.

There can be many and complicated reasons for why someone is saying or doing what they are during an encounter, but we tend to pick the motive and presumption that fits our preconceived notions, bias and past experience.  This is why it is so hard for people to converse cleanly.  No one wants to take each event individually and of its own merit; we are baggage carriers by nature. To be sure, there is wisdom in recognizing past patterns and consistent failings; yet, there is also tremendous danger in judging the heart on the past or unconfirmed present.

It is not difficult to see then, that when you add bitterness and gossip to this corrupted conversational mix; things get ugly fast.  Not only have you believed and processed something based on hearsay, but you are also spreading that to others and the infection spreads. This is a major challenge since true humility sees itself of no consequence and is not easily offended. Love is the coating by which all else flows and without which, we are mere hyper-jackals seeking only self-interests.

There’s an old saying out there – “No one cares what you know, till they know how much you care.” Through God-given humility we can take a real interest in one another, lay low in our hearts and seek to aid someone else’s spiritual well-being by applying these ideas and principles in our relationships.  May God grant us these things in grand abundance.

Clarity of the Heart in Relationship – Part I

Relationships are the hardest thing we ever do in this life, that’s why we do our best to both relationship heart achecontrol and avoid them. If we could live alone, for the most part, we would have an easy go of it, but instead we have others to deal with for they surround us constantly. As the great Dr. Seuss may have put it in his famous lyrical rhythm – People here, people there, people with me every where. People high, people low, people every where I go.

And so we find that mastering good communication skills as community and family members is as essential as a carpenter learning to master his hammer and saw. Not being able to utilize right and effective relationship tools invariably leads to much trouble. This week I’d like to bring a few of these tools to you that are tremendously helpful.  They are based upon a few biblical principles and involve the way in which we handle conflict.

Many of us pride ourselves on what we think is an almost perfect recall.  When it comes to what someone has said to us and what we believe they have said, we find that most of us have no problem relying upon our own internal witness.  However, this is quite dangerous for we are never neutral and unbiased; there is always the stain of past history on our hearts distorting even if only so slightly our perception of what we hear. The Old Testament recognizes this truth when it says, “The first to plead his case seems right, until another comes and examines him.” (Proverbs 18:17)  And to make matters worse the prophet Jeremiah has this insight –“The heart is more deceitful than all else and is desperately sick; who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9) We should always be suspicious of ourselves particularly when we are in conflict.

So the first principle for us to learn and cultivate is an active humility.  We must learn to accept that we are fallible listeners and consequently must be slow to judge and learn to discern rightly before we jump into accusation and assertions.  As Christ Himself said, “Do not judge according to appearance, but judge with righteous judgment.” (John 7:24)

We should first seek clarification and understanding through probing questions and multiple witnesses before setting out stakes firmly in unmovable ground. Back again to antiquity the Lord spoke through Moses saying, “A single witness shall not rise up against a man on account of any iniquity or any sin which he has committed; on the evidence of two or three witnesses a matter shall be confirmed.” (Deut. 19:15)

If we combine these truths regarding humility along with other admonitions of thinking of others more highly than ourselves (Phil. 2:4) and not assuming that we know someone else’s motives; we have started well.  Hearing correctly is the first step and seeking to understand rather than merely reacting to what we think we heard is a godly tool.

Next post we’ll go further into probing good and right communication during conflicts.

God’s Word is True

manuscript-textFrom Eden, the strategy of the Enemy has been to discredit what God has said.  At our current point in history we see no relenting of that course as skeptics and textual critics dissect and mutilate what is simple.  The declaration that the Bible is not knowable and irreversibly altered screams through best-seller books and talk shows; even sadly, from within some church bodies.  Hyper-critics juxtapose and conflate biblical text against biblical text in an attempt to play ‘battle Bible’ but their arguments expose a gaping fallacy.  For example, what was written as narrative was written as a continuum; a story to be heard in its context just like any other historical work.  Yet, the skeptics pick apart the Scriptures breaking them into ‘sound bytes’ as if a retelling can be chopped into mixed-up pieces and still maintain its coherency.  It is not as if God hasn’t spoken clearly, man just, at times does not want to listen.

Piecemeal critics hide their agendas under academic blankets and calls for open-mindedness. The perspicuity of Scripture maddens the unregenerate knights who gallop through agnostic pastures for they hand out opaque windows to the gullible and uninformed and ask them to see clearly. Apostates line the streets cheering them on while multi-million dollar book tables feed willing crowds. But for those who by the grace of God through faith can now see; Scripture is simply beautiful.

Written to us through His prophets and apostles over centuries, God has breathed out His eternal decrees, commands, guidance, and wisdom to mankind by the ministry of the Holy Spirit.  His Word remains pure and uncomplicated despite there being some difficult-to-understand pieces of the whole.  These difficulties and variances do not render us without understanding anymore than any other discipline that requires patience and study.

Divine truth cannot be silenced. When God speaks; we should listen. Do we really think that the Almighty is at a loss to effectively communicate with His creation in both clarity and purpose? Faith comes by hearing the Word of God and it is not mumbled through broken glass. It is spoken plainly and precisely and it is able to cut right down to the joints and marrow of our hearts. Scripture is the encapsulation of what God has said to mankind and part of its beauty is its unending depth.

Scripture is like an endless mine shaft that extends deeper than deep itself. Each time we take our mining cart down the tracks we find new gems and more rails to explore. It is as if God has rewritten certain passages for us as, over time, we reread portions of the text and see new illuminated insight and intention. God’s Word is alive in our newborn hearts as the continuing work of the Spirit matures and fine tunes our understandings in parallel to our learning, wisdom and application. Consequently, studying Scripture is not an option for if we are to grow in our walk with Christ we must rightly divide the Word.

Stand fast and hold firm saints for not only can nothing separate us from the love of Christ; nothing can gag God when He speaks.

Hope Has Risen

easter-lilly-stripNormally when a family member discovers an empty tomb there is distress, sadness and a mad dash to call the authorities. But when we, the members of God’s redeemed family, see our Savior’s empty grave, we rejoice, for why would we seek the living among the dead?

Apart from the attraction of chocolate bunnies and egg hunts and other cultural festivities surrounding Easter weekend lays the heart of our hope – the resurrected Shepherd. If Christ did not rise from the dead, then all that we do in our church life is mere vanity and our faith is worthless. And if all we have ever done is to hope in Christ in this life only, we are pitiful, pitiful men indeed. (1Cor.15:12-19) But our hope is not in this life.

The supernatural validation that authenticates our faith is the resurrection of Christ. It is God’s signature on the redemptive canvas of Calvary’s suffering sacrifice where the King of Glory died in our place so that we, along with Him, might live in eternal perfection. The angel told us to not be afraid for Jesus rose from the dead just as He said he would –“He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay” (Matt.28:6) Therefore, we are not to be pitied, but rather we can and must rejoice! (Phil.4:4)

Christ’s resurrection represents the Godhead’s conquering victory over sin and death through the foreordination and decree of the Father, the obedience and work of the Son, and the will and power of the Holy Spirit. In this Triune work of great salvation we find renewal and comfort and a new life that purposes to please God. We now have the privilege to walk rightly and obey Him as our Lord and Savior when previously we were dead in our sins and trespasses incapable of satisfying God. Through the triumph of Lamb, death has lost its sting and life eternal belongs to us. Mercy has been shown to the undeserved! Grace beyond description has been given to the rebellion. Love is our new signature.

On his missionary journey to Greece the Epicureans and Stoic philosophers met up with the apostle Paul in Athens and heard him preach about the wonder of the resurrection.  They thought he was a strange babbler coming to proclaim peculiar gods in their city.   But as Paul spoke to them in the Areopagus, he instructed them about the God who is there. “He”, Paul declared, “has overlooked the times of past ignorance but is now declaring to everyone everywhere that they must repent, because God has chosen a future day in which He will judge the world in righteousness through Christ’s return having furnished proof to all men by raising Jesus from the dead.” (my paraphrase -Acts 17:16 ff)

As you look up to the skies today remember the One who is risen.  As you contemplate the newness of spring forget not the victorious King.  As you pray to God in His will remember His glory. See heaven. Worship the Lamb!