So…..What's the Point?

Musings from a Fellow Struggler

Archive for the month “June, 2012”

Sticks and Stones- Part 2

 

So, what are we supposed to say and how are we to say it?

Answering the second part first, consider what Jesus and James said: “But let your statement be, ‘Yes, yes’ or “No, no; anything beyond this is evil.” (Matt. 5:33-37) and “But above all, my brethren, do not swear, either by heaven or by earth or with any other oath; but your yes is to be yes, and your no, no so that you may not fall under judgment.” (James 5:12)

You might think these passages are just about oath taking before God in some religious ceremony, not normal conversation but it is precisely in regular dialogue that oath taking is prohibited. Saying anything like “I swear on a stack of Bibles that I’m telling the truth” or “As God is my witness what I say is true” or “I swear on my mother’s grave I’m telling the truth” or any other creative appeals have no place in Christian conversation. Why? Because whatever we say, whenever we say it, and to whomever we say it about anything at all is to be trustworthy. This eliminates the need for any invocation of God, graves or Bibles as guarantors of our veracity.

Living in our culture makes this a tall order indeed. Expediency and pragmatism rule conversations so people are inclined to say whatever serves their purpose and advances their cause, from sales to politics. We must admit that none of us is exempt from facing circumstances where speaking the truth might mean losing livelihoods, alienating friends, being rejection by fellow-workers, or even being placed in harm’s way and, consequently, tempted to lie. There are even philosophies suggesting that lying can serve a higher good than truth-telling and in certain circumstances should be preferred. I can only say that loving, serving and obeying Jesus is the highest good and that we are exhorted not to lie (Col. 3:9); this seems to be the sum and substance of the issue.  I don’t have the wisdom to decide if there are exceptions. So it seems that the best answer to the second question is this: we are to always speak the truth and do so with love thereby forgoing all types of false and deceptive speech. (Eph. 4:14-16)

Now, regarding the first question posed “what are we supposed to say?” the Bible has many examples, far too many to discuss here so just one will have to do. Particularly apropos to our societies drug and alcohol induced euphoria and escapism, even amongst Christians who struggle with such things, is Ephesians 5:18-21. We are instructed to “not be drunk with wine, which is dissipation (read reckless living and/or debauchery), but be filled with the Spirit speaking to one another in psalms, hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord, giving thanks always for all things…”. This is, indeed, elevated conversation that not even the most educated and sophisticated in the politest of conversations can hope to match.

I think it significant that being filled with the Spirit and speaking are closely associated here. Recall from the previous post that speech is self-revelation and self-definition; it is who I am and what I mean. When we speak we create an environment, a kind of world in fact, in which all who hear our words are affected, for good or for ill. The environment we create when filled with the Spirit is filled with joy, praise, laughter, encouragement, and thanksgiving for all things which sets Christian conversation apart from all others. When filled with the Spirit, we can be thankful, always thankful (not just when the mood strikes us) for all things (not just those that suit us. This is especially important because an attitude of thanklessness describes an entire world rejecting any knowledge of God and in unparalleled hubris falling into idolatry. (Romans 1:21-23)  Unlike the world, Christians acknowledge God as creator and sustainer of all things and thank Him for His gifts including existence itself. Speaking thankfulness (it is important to say it, not just think it for it is a witness to those still in darkness) for all things in our conversations reveals the stunning reversal of humanities hubris through God’s redemptive work.

The question for all of us, then, is what kind of ‘world’ do we create when we talk to others? Is it a world filled with condemnation, vulgarity, and darkness or one filled with grace, love, compassion, wisdom and truth? Is it a world people are drawn towards or repelled by? Is it a world Jesus would feel comfortable in or be embarrassed? I’ve asked myself these questions and consequently I’m much more attentive to my wagging tongue and what it’s saying.

 

 

 

 

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Sticks and Stones

I’m sure all of you have suffered the taunts, ridicule, excessive criticism and sarcasm of your school mates and siblings at one time or another. Unfortunately, this kind of speaking, and even worse kinds, occur among Christians. The old saying that ‘sticks and stones can break my bones but words can never hurt me’ is patently false. While it’s true that words can’t physically do damage, like sticks and stones, certain kinds of words and the way they are spoken can inflict far worse injury on their victim.

The power of words and their delivery is why James spoke of the tongue in largely unflattering terms because, when uncontrolled, it wreaks havoc upon the speaker and those within earshot. Giving someone a ‘tongue-lashing’ is a good example. But how is it words and speech are so powerful that they can change the course of history, change the lives or millions, bring kings to their knees, or cause someone to feel pain?  They are, after all, only words, ephemeral things having no physical dimensions at all.

The short answer is because the universe itself was created by words and the breath that gives them utterance; speech and speaking, therefore, are part of the very structure of existence itself. (Heb. 11:3; Gen. 1:26, 2:7). In like manner, when we speak there are effects, consequences, so much so, in fact, that “life and death are in the power of the tongue” (Prov. 18:21). This power resides in the meaning of words according to the definitions they possess. Definitions in turn are made up of concepts, or ideas, that give content to the words being spoken. When a word enters the mind of a listener emotions are stirred, the intellect is quickened and the will moved to respond to what is being said.

But there’s more to this. Behind the words is the act of speaking itself which always intends to accomplish something, whether to clarify, explain, reveal, upbraid, comfort, guide, extol, criticize, harm, deceive, persuade and so on. Furthermore, and most important to understand, words expose the person speaking, their motivations, desires, attitudes, personality, agendas, motives; in short, who and what they are behind the veil of flesh, self-deception and their own assumptions. All of this is why Jesus said with absolute surety that “…out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks…”  Speech is self-revelation and self-definition; it is who I am and what I mean. So, when I speak I am engaging in the very activity that brought about the creation of the worlds, I am creating an environment, a kind of world in fact, in which I and others who hear my words are affected, for good or for ill, whether by clean air or pollution.

By my reckoning, the ‘right to free speech’ in our Constitution doesn’t go near far enough since even the foul-mouthed, unintelligent, uncivilized, profane and unjust among us (see Psa. 5:9 and Psa. 10-3-11) are protected and can say what they want. Christians are governed by a far higher and noble standard whereby speaking is elevated to righteous, holy and truthful utterances that imitate the speech of He Who spoke the worlds into being.

That’s Just the Way It Is: A Sunday Meditation

 

“That’s just the way it is…” This is a useful phrase to dodge difficult questions or bring an argument to a close especially when dealing with precocious (or rebellious) children or a persistent spouse: “That’s just they way it is kids, so get over it.” Or “Yes, honey, that’s a real bargain but we can’t afford it right now and that’s just the way it is.”

I find a great deal of comfort in God’s “that’s just the way it is…” because whatever “it” happens to be I’m assured is already settled in the counsels of God; I can “rest” knowing all is well no matter the circumstances I’m facing. It is because of Jesus we have this rest “for all things (including time, space and history) have been delivered…” to Him by the Father so He bids us to come to Him for his yoke is easy and burden is light. (Matthew 11:28–30)

But, it isn’t always so easy is it? In fact, sometimes we might have to try real hard to rest. So, in one of many Biblical paradoxes, we are told to labor to enter into God’s rest (Heb. 4:9-11). The ‘labor” I think refers, among other things, submitting to the will of God and the Gospel and doing it is real work sometimes requiring diligence, watchfulness and effort because we really don’t take to submitting naturally. Rebellion, stubbornness, being stiff-necked, independent and prideful is more to our liking and resists our efforts to submit. But, the sum and substance of the Sabbath rest is yielding our will to His will, our purpose to His purpose, our way to His way; in other words, the true Sabbath rest is ceasing to struggle against the inevitability of His Lordship because He is King of Kings and Lord of Lords and ‘that’s just the way it is’, period.

Another aspect of ‘rest’ has to do with the big picture, the eschatological one where promises enduring over centuries (i.e. beginning in the Old Testament) reach their fulfillment in a final and eternal rest with Jesus in heaven along with all the saints who believe in Him. (Heb. 4:8-22; 12:22-24). This is a profound insight into the nature of creation knowing that the present and the future are unfolding just as they should. It affirms that everything existing in heaven and on earth is being guided towards an appointed consummation and “that’s just the way it is”; no alternative possibility, no second guessing, no getting around it, no change at all in the plan.

This Sabbath day of rest and the eternal rest that awaits us is for body, soul and spirit. So, what’s the point? Hey, it’s Sunday…rest in God and get some rest!

 

 

 

Are Your Church Leaders Doing the Right thing…Really? (Part 5)

I’ll begin by stating what is obvious to many cultural observers: our society suffers from information overload, internet addiction, anonymous media manipulation and distorted on-line relationships where a person creates what they would like to be instead of being who they are. Misinformation, falsehoods, bizarre ideas seeking fertile ground in undiscerning minds is promulgated as ‘truth’ just because someone says it is. Adding to all this is a cacophony of voices desiring to be heard, affirmed or at the very least, noticed.

There is one voice that cuts through this clamor like a two-edged sword, the Voice of the Good Shepherd, the God who speaks and upon whose words the very existence of creation rests. And if we are His sheep, then we know this Voice and hear it no matter the noise surrounding us; that is, of course, if we are listening. To those who hear and know his voice, Jesus the Good shepherd will “lead” them, He goes before them and speaks to them; He even knows their names (John 10:3). He marks out paths that will benefit the flock the most, guiding them away from danger, and bringing them to appropriate destinations (Psalm 23). If the flock of the Good shepherd is listening, it hears His voice and knows His voice so well that it will not follow (and even run from) a stranger’s voice (John 10:4-5).

But, we know that sheep do follow other voices, usually off into some la la land where everything is fake, attractive maybe and looking very much like the real deal, but fake nevertheless. It is hirelings (hired hands, not true under shepherds) they listen to, ones that “drive” the sheep from behind forcing them to face dangerous conditions while they hide behind the flock. It is by the voices of such hirelings many sheep will be deceived these days and “…will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers; and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned to fables.” (2 Tim. 4:3-4)  To not endure sound doctrine literally means “not putting up with it” and suggests it was too restricting, too familiar and lacking the ‘newness’ of other doctrines (read proto-gnosticism), or boring, staid, and predictable. But far worse is the implication of actual rebellion against sound doctrine, actively resisting it, rejecting it outright and encouraging others to do the same.

So, what’s the point of all this and what has it to do with church leaders? Of particular concern, to me anyway, is the dearth of coordinated, systematic preaching of Biblically ‘sound’ doctrine which, you’ll notice, is first on the above mentioned list about the use and value of inspired scripture. The early church made doctrine a priority; it had to because so many aberrant teachings were gaining footholds here and there amongst the churches. The ante-Nicene church fathers and their prolific doctrinal treatises are an example. These days in many non-denominational (so-called) churches where being ‘seeker friendly’ and avoiding any controversy that might offend someone is paramount, doctrine is rarely mentioned. I know there are exceptions but I don’t think making doctrinal preaching a priority should be exceptional; it should be the norm. Simply put, the flock needs to know what it should believe and why; it is the under shepherd’s responsibility to meet this need (Titus 1:9).

The fact is, no matter how formal and uninteresting it sounds, doctrine is critical because it marks off the pasture that is safe for the sheep to graze; it is the fence and Jesus, the Good Shepherd is its Door. Under shepherds that make doctrine a priority in their preaching provide guidance and guidelines, markers, so to speak, to help the flock recognize more readily the Good Shepherds leading. This at least lessens the chance they run off after strange voices (read ‘doctrines’) looking to get their itching ears scratched only to end up thoroughly confused, disoriented and, in the worst scenario, lost altogether.

Well, if this is anywhere near true, then what doctrines should we be most concerned about? Given the days we’re living in, I would address four major issues consistently and regularly: Christology (primarily Jesus’ deity because it is under attack, even in so-called ‘Christian’ churches,  followed by soteriology (the doctrine of salvation with emphasis on the necessity of Christ’s sacrifice), and next the inerrancy, authority and dependability of Scripture, and finally theology proper, namely the doctrine of God with emphasis on Trinitarianism.  For some of you reading this, these topics will seem obvious. But it is not enough to just say “Jesus saves…” when so many other avenues of ‘salvation’ are being sold to people. We must show how and why He is the “way, the truth, and the life” and that no one comes to the Father except through Him; He is the Door, there is no other, period, end of argument. Convincing others of this finality and making sense of it ourselves requires a working knowledge of Christology, the authority of the Bible, what salvation is and why we all need it (soteriology), and how Jesus is related to the Father (Trinitariansim). This doctrine all by itself is so critical that if any sheep stray from it or reject any portion of it, then all is lost. I hope you, the reader, are securely ‘fenced in’ because your church leadership, your under shepherd is teaching you what ‘sound doctrine’ is, why your faith depends on it and to reject all voices except the Good Shepherd’s.

(For those reading this blog and not the previous ones, this series is in response to Ezekiel 34-part 1 explains why)

Push Back

The harder Christians push back against issues like abortion and homosexuality (along with worldliness in general) the more intense the hatred and loathing of Christianity will become. That the Christian faith is the only true faith is proven by the increasing intolerance towards it while other almost barbarian religions are tolerated more and more. This will make it increasingly difficult to be a ‘closet’ Christian. We will either have to openly confess our faith in Christ or live a lie, both alternatives having eternal consequences.

I take some comfort from all this knowing that it’s always been this way for the Church of Christ somewhere in the world. We in America are fortunate to have enjoyed a long period of relative quiet with regard to persecution but I think those days are ending, and soon. I must emphasize strongly that the persecution of which I speak is for the sake of Jesus and because of our loyalty to Him, not some bizarre, out in left field (like snake handling) activity or off the wall prediction of the world’s end that heaps ridicule on, but not hatred of, Christians. In other words, sometimes what we think is persecution is merely people reacting to our stupidity and unpreparedness to deal with their questions or hypocritical living by talking about Jesus but not living for Him.

I’m not being a calamity howler; quite the contrary since I believe persecution brings about a strengthening and expansion of the Church by empowering its people through the Holy Spirit to stand strong in the face of adversity, exhibit God’s power to undo the works of the Enemy, and live holy lives in the presence of an increasingly dark world. Persecution galvanizes Christians and unifies us against a common foe and reduces our unnecessarily complicated lives to the simplicity of “…for me to live is Christ and to die is gain” (Phil. 1:21).

Well, this sort of talk is nothing new. There are many voices these days warning us to be prepared, to stand fast and give an account of our faith to all who will listen. As I’ve said before in another blog, the Church of Jesus is at war and has been since Pentecost. It is a war of words, of ideas, of truth over lies, of light overcoming darkness. In other parts of the world it is all that along with guns, torture and martyrdom thrown in. The question is whether we will push back when the time comes in our little part of the world or just keep silent and get pushed around. Anesthetized is the word, a numbness, a dullness, like being filled with novocain, this is what a Christian becomes if they allow an anti-Christ culture to bully them into submission. Not much chance of push back from these people.

If you don’t feel strong enough to endure this kind of battle you are in a great place because by ourselves none of us is up to the task. Push back anyway and know that “… in Me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)  All you need to do is push and the strength of the Lord does the rest.

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