April 29, 2011

Too Good to be True

Here they are-- the same disciples who have given their lives to follow Jesus and learn from Him. Just days before, Jesus had  found them ‘sleeping for sorrow’ in the garden--exhausted with grief that He was to be taken from them (Lk.22:45). And now they are disbelieving for joy! He has indeed risen from the dead. The women have already seen him but their testimony was thought to be an ‘idle tale’ Lk.24:11 So now Jesus has appeared to the eleven—inviting them to see his hands and feet and know that He is no ghost! Having seen, they ‘disbelieved for joy’. It seemed just too good to be true. He has to ask for something to eat to bring them to their senses.

And yet, these are His chosen witnesses, chosen to proclaim repentance and forgiveness of sins to all the nations, beginning here in Jerusalem where they are presently huddling.

This phrase: “they disbelieved for joy” jumped off the page at me this week as I finished up the Gospel of Luke trying to imagine what that first “Easter” week was like. How many things do I likewise disbelieve because they are just too good to be true? Not that I would say I don’t believe them but... perhaps actions speak louder than words?

I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me… when I am weak, then I am strong…the joy of the Lord is my strength…Be strong in the Lord—the power that raised Christ from the dead is at work in me… all authority has been given to my commander who authorizes me therefore to go in His name and make disciples…

Furthermore, I have been given everything that pertains to life and to godliness through the knowledge of the One who calls me to share His own glory and excellence. (II Pet.1:3) And here we come full circle. It is through His promises that I partake of His nature. Through His promises I escape my own sinful bents.

What has He promised? What did He promise those first disciples? Jesus knew it was going to take more than seeing to propel them to go and tell the news. And the world would need more than their eyewitness account to believe and repent. So Jesus promised them His presence in the form of His Holy indwelling Spirit. “I am sending the promise of my Father upon you.”(Lk.24:49)

Do I have any less than that? This same Spirit is the seal of my salvation, the guarantee of my inheritance to come, the One who lives in me to strengthen, teach, empower, and remind me whose I am! I’m His--accepted in the beloved, created in Christ Jesus for good works that He’s already got planned, chosen to bear fruit, given all the resources of Heaven to accomplish this end. What more is there?

There’s a learning to walk by this Spirit, and live by faith in His leading—to keep step with Him.  It occurs to me that this same message we are called to preach, we are first called to live.  That is, repentance for the forgiveness of sins.  Do we ever outgrow it? This is good news that keeps on being good—not too good to be true, but sometimes we act like it is.  How often have I wallowed along through an hour or an afternoon or a whole day or week in some frame of mind not characterized by ‘righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit’, missing out because I fail to confess where I’m at and agree with God about it!  “Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven!” (Ps.32:1)  I get what David’s saying when he finally got sick and tired of groaning about in coddled sin and determined, “I will confess my transgressions to the LORD” and lo and behold—“You forgave the iniquity of my sin”  SELAH!  If there was ever a TOO GOOD TO BE TRUE—that would be one.  It’s a promise we can live on:  If  we confess our sins, He’s faithful and just to forgive and cleanse…(I Jn 1:9)

Funny thing is, when I try to enumerate these ‘precious and very great promises’ that Peter refers to as being so effectual in a believer’s life, I tend to come up with a lot of ‘me’ oriented blessings.  And my list tends to be things I want now

What I see instead in Peter’s words is that  the promises aren’t primarily for my comfort and blessing, but to re-orient me from sinful desires to God’s desires, in fact His nature.  For it is in His promises that I see His eternal purpose—His Kingdom agenda…"so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire."
The other thing you can’t miss in reading II Peter, is the promise that’s on Peter’s mind as he is writing.  It’s one we hardly think about in modern times, certainly not a promise we hear preached.  It has gotten to seem rather ho-hum, rather too incredible to be true in my generation.  It is the promise of Jesus' coming. 

"Where is the promise of his coming?” scoffers will say.(3:4)
“The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness”(3:9)
“But according to his promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells.”(3:13)

This isn’t the first promise that comes to mind for me.  It seems so far off, so disconnected to my present needs.  And yet it is this very promise that Peter says will have a purifying effect on the way we live.(3:14)   Could it be that our generation has collected promises selectively, choosing the ones that cater to our earth-bound comforts and overlooking the others?  Or maybe it’s just that our whole orientation to the ‘why’ of the promises is warped.  They’re not about us, but about Kingdom living, about God’s character, about where He wants our focus.

But I am wandering far abroad from the disciples ‘disbelieving for joy’ [I have in mind a Part II: “What God hath not promised!” But that’s for another time.]   Let me get back to the  joy and the wonder of Jesus being alive in us through His Spirit.  Jesus declares us blessed for believing even though we haven’t seen Him.(Jn.20:29)  And judging from His patience with Thomas, He will walk us through our areas of unbelief too: "Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe" (Jn. 20:27) till we are chock-full and overflowing with the joy.  

“…whom having not seen you love. Though now you do not see Him, yet believing, you rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory, receiving the end of your faith—the salvation of your souls.” (I Pet.1:8,9)

And isn’t that what the promises are for?  to give us hope to hang onto so faith can grow strong until our salvation is complete!  Incredible.  Let’s believe with joy!


“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.” (Rom.15:13)

April 22, 2011

What can I do for you?

This was my Grandma’s cheery greeting at the farmhouse door when people stopped by for eggs. “What can I do for you?”  It was the question her very life exuded.  She was a servant, a reflection of Jesus’ own attitude...

It was His last week before the cross and Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem,  forewarning his disciples of the shameful treatment and death that were just around the corner for Him, when he came within earshot of an outspoken beggar on the roadside.  I’d have been pre-occupied with my own upcoming trauma.  Not so Jesus. He was forever the servant.  This blind beggar was crying out for mercy, so Jesus called him near and asked: “What do you want me to do for you?” (Lk.19:41)

That question first jumped off the page for me years ago when I heard it echoed, in an irritated tone, by a rheumatologist I’d been referred to for answers about an extremely painful and inflamed finger joint that defied explanation.  Exasperated by my naïve expectation of help he blurted out: What do you want me to do for you?!  He had no answers, no real help to offer.

By contrast, I thought of Jesus.  When we’ve exhausted other sources of help that seemed so surefire, he waits to hear our cry for mercy.  And He calls us to draw near and tell Him just what we perceive we need from Him.

What do I want Him to do for me anyway?

God welcomes his children to ask, to seek, to knock, and promises to supply all that’s needed. But there’s more to it than just asking for stuff.  John says. “…ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.” (15:7) Sounds like a rendering of service, a doing something I cannot do for myself.  And what’s the objective? It’s all about me bearing fruit--the evidence that I’m in fact sticking close to Jesus and hanging on His every word.  My fruitfulness makes the Father look good.

And the connectedness to Jesus does something else--it lets me share His JOY so that my own joy quotient is full.  “These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.”  This joy is my strength.  This is the joy that carried Jesus through “Passion Week”—as He looked ahead to the people He was purchasing for God’s own precious possession.  That would be me, and you. 

This asking and receiving is nothing like an absent-minded grandpa doting over his cute grandkids to their own eventual spoiling.  It’s not about my wishlists or my agenda at all, unless my heart is captured with what delights my Father.  Yes,  He promises to grant the desires of my heart but only when my heart is full of Him. “Delight yourself in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart” (Ps.37:4) That’s the only way such a promise is safe from doing me harm.  So what do I want Jesus to do for me?  What is it that I most need in order to carry out the business of the Kingdom that’s been entrusted to me?

The blind beggar had clearly in mind what he needed.  He was ready with the response: “Lord, let me recover my sight.” (Lk.18:41) And Jesus did for him precisely what he asked, and then some, for he said: “your faith has saved you”, this same ‘saved’ (sozo) is used of Jesus coming ‘to seek and to save the lost’.  Was it more than mere physical sight this blind beggar received?  Likely.  For he immediately set off trotting after Jesus and glorifying God.

That’s what I want to be the product of my prayer life.  I want to ask for that which I most need in order to glorify God.  Will it be a nicer house, a more beautiful  garden, a wiser parenting style? Could be. Or maybe, just maybe, a clearer vision—one that sees exactly as Jesus sees and then extends the offer: “What can I do for you?”


“Truly, truly, I say to you, whatever you ask of the Father in my name, he will give it to you. Until now you have asked nothing in my name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full.” (Jn.16:23,24)

"But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” (Matt.6:33 NASB)

P.S. Just wanting to commend to you Larry Crabb's book: The PAPA Prayer (Integrity,2006), a book I read  a few years back that has resurfaced this week in light of these Scriptures.  It encouraged me to alter my view of prayer as a sort of wishlist session with God and to begin to think more relationally about my prayer life.  This is a reminder I need often.  --LS

April 15, 2011


My thoughts have been all over the place this week but this image of begging for alms has captured my imagination.  Beth Moore did a Bible Study on a woman’s prayer life which included this image of a cup held out to God to fill… and I got to thinking about the poor of Jesus’ day.  What did the Good News mean to them? Is there any application to my own life? 

Jesus said He came to “proclaim good news to the poor”(Lk.4:18). What good news?  And why did He call the poor blessed? What did He offer them?  We know He healed the sick, fed the hungry crowds, and even raised the dead.  What did He offer the poor?  On the one hand He assumed there would always be poor people and He did not hand out money, or create jobs for them.  But He clearly saw them as potentially blessed, fortunate, in a good position for all he had to offer…"Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.”(Lk.6:20)

Now, I know we can sanitize this and customize it to ourselves with the sense that it is the ‘poor in spirit’ that He meant and this is partially true, but I wonder if there’s more to it.  I investigated the implications of “poor” [Thanks to  BLUELETTERBIBLE ] and found that this use does not refer to merely a pauper or day laborer who scrapes by due to his hard work.  It means a beggar, destitute in every way—lacking not only money but significance, powerless to improve his lot, absolutely dependent on the alms of others. It is related to the concept of roving about in cowering wretchedness out of fear.

I have difficulty relating to this physically given my standard of living.  Who of us in this culture is so bereft?  And why does Jesus single out the poor as His favorites?  I’ve been mulling this over, even looking to identify any beggarly elements in my life that have not responded to the Good News of the Kingdom!  What is that news?  Do we miss the fullness of it because we are not in actual fact destitute physically?  What does the beggar have that Jesus commends?

He has an empty cup that he’s desperate to have filled.

He is not self-satisfied or distracted with comforts or oblivious to his state.  His outstretched hand demonstrates his need.

He’s not rushing about spending money for ‘what is not bread’ and working his life away for ‘what does not satisfy’. He’s all ears, and all eyes for some passerby that will plink in a coin.  In short, he’s dependent on mercy.

God’s economy is so full of paradoxes. The beggar is rewarded with a Kingdom while the rich have no inheritance -- He fills the hungry with good things and sends the rich away empty (Lk 1:53) -- He gives strength to the weak and humbles the mighty…

He’s always on the look-out for a hungry heart, an alms-cup if you will, to fill and empower. "For the eyes of the LORD move to and fro throughout the earth that He may strongly support those whose heart is completely His.” (II Chron 16:9)  And He’s not impressed by our assessment of our condition when our hearts deceive us into thinking we are adequately filled:

“For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked.” (Rev.3:17)

A poor beggar doesn’t have these delusions. He’s bankrupt and knows it.

It’s possible to be so deluded that I worship what is mere ashes and cannot see the lie in my hand (Is.44:20).  Scary.  This is the pull of idolatry.  No wonder God constantly called his people to remember where their possessions came from. To remember that all they were blessed with was a love gift from the One who was their very source of life.  I love that passage in Deuteronomy where Moses goes over these things with the Israelites and reminds them God has set His love upon them and they are His chosen and treasured possession (7:6,7)

This is in fact the good news to the poor and powerless.  God invites such to know Him, to share His inheritance, to be filled with His Spirit, to live in His power… The Bible is replete with invitations to come to Him, be filled with Him, delight in Him*…He wants to fill my cup to overflowing—to be as living water to me, eternally springing up.  If that is not my experience hadn’t I better have a look in my cup and see what’s in there?

Is it possible that ‘the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches and the desires for other things’ (Mk.4:19) have entered in to choke out this life He offers?  No wonder Jesus gives so many warnings about riches.

The potential hazard with hanging onto a half-empty cup (which is all you get when you count on the world for alms) is that it invites filling by all the wrong things. Or as Beth Moore puts it: “An unsatisfied soul is a stronghold waiting to happen.” God’s word pictures it this way: "My people have committed two sins: They have forsaken me, the spring of living water, and have dug their own cisterns, broken cisterns that cannot hold water. Jer.2:13

Still God invites our response to His unwavering love, invites us to fill our hearts only with Him and accept no substitutes.

“Listen diligently to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food. Incline your ear, and come to me; hear, that your soul may live; and I will make with you an everlasting covenant, my steadfast, sure love for David.” Is.55:2,3

“Those who pay regard to vain idols forsake their hope of steadfast love.” Jonah 2:8

He urges us to hold loosely to all other possessions and persons (Lk.14:33) and seek first His Kingdom and His righteousness.  All the rest will be added on, and our cup filled in the process.

Maybe we can begin where David recommends: “Pour out your heart before him…” (Ps.62), emptying the cup so He can fill it with the Real Thing—Himself. "If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him." Jn.7:37,38 

God is the ultimate alms giver.  These reflections have spurred me on to be sure to get my cup filled in secret with Him so I can leave my post as beggar and follow Him.  Not sure what all that will entail practically but I’m pretty sure it has to start with the exchange of my poverty of heart for His love, “…And to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge, that ye might be filled with all the fulness of God.” (Eph.3:19)

I want this to be my prayer:
Satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love, that we may rejoice and be glad all our days. Ps.90:14



The more I see in the Word the more I see how rich I am in Him.  I can’t quit without enumerating some of the ALMS freely given us as converted beggars and now sons and daughters of the King!

As sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and [yet] possessing all things .II Cor6:10

And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ's sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong. II Cor12:9,10

I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me….Phil.4:13

Listen, my beloved brethren: Has God not chosen the poor of this world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom which He promised to those who love Him? James 2:5

I counsel you to buy from me gold refined by fire, so that you may be rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself and the shame of your nakedness may not be seen, and salve to anoint your eyes, so that you may see. Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent.  Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me. Rev.3:18-19

Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions, and give to the needy. Provide yourselves with moneybags that do not grow old, with a treasure in the heavens that does not fail, where no thief approaches and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.Lk.12:32-34

He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things? Rom.8:32

Listen carefully to Me, and eat what is good, And let your soul delight itself in abundance. Is.55:2

"Fear not, O Zion; let not your hands grow weak. The LORD your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; he will rejoice over you with gladness; he will quiet you by his love; he will exult over you with loud singing.” Zeph.3:16,17

April 8, 2011

Of Sadness and Gladness

 Let the hearts of those who seek the Lord rejoice! 
Seek the LORD and his strength; seek his presence continually! (I Chr.16:10,11)

It is easy to be sad, counter-intuitive to be glad, at least for me.  I’ve been thinking lately about reasons for good cheer.  There are plenty of evident indicators for sadness, and even if they weren’t so obvious I have this uncanny bent toward brewing them up.  If you’ve ever read Owl at Home (by Arnold Lobel) to your kids, you’ll remember the story of ‘Tear-Water Tea’.  (At least that’s the one I found most memorable. Hmm, wonder why?).  In this story, Owl concocts a salty tea by thinking of all the sad things he can remember…both silly and poignant—pencils too short to use, a book that can’t be finished because a page is missing, mornings nobody saw because everybody was sleeping, songs that won't be sung because no one remembers the words.. sad things, broken things, lost thing, wasted things.  It’s a melancholy little tale but the tears are put to good use with the resultant salty tea. I have this propensity myself even when ‘all is well’.

But then there are the seasons when so many things really seem so very sad.  Whether in the world at large—earthquakes, violence, persecution, Hell looming for so many-- or the Body nearer home-- a baby born sightless, a young father losing a leg, a teenager killed in a car crash, a husband dead from cancer (these things are happening in our Body here).  Or even closer to home, family things—a favorite uncle dies suddenly (this week), having just visited his brother (my dad) who is lost in the lonely anguish of Alzheimer’s, a mother tries to hang on to hope…And the details could go on ad infinitum. A mother’s heart is always under some tension or another and can easily be swamped by sadness.  And yet…

Speaking of swamped, I had my first sailing outing of the season this week. It was sunny but a bit surly wind-wise.  I no longer fear being capsized but being sea-sick is very real on such days!  So I headed down below to curl up eyes-closed and meditate on other things.  These words came to mind from a passage I’ve tried to memorize—“Let the hearts of those who seek the Lord rejoice!”.  I am authorized, even commanded to rejoice in the process of problems so long as I am seeking the Lord.  It is not only in the resolution of conflict, pain, and loss that there is cause for celebration, but in the middle of it.  This is so because my Saviour is unchanging, faithful, good, just, all-knowing, all-seeing, and all I need!  And if I’m seeking Him, I’m right on course for good cheer.

In fact, if I could see every sad thing from eternity’s side there would be a luster of gold from the strands being woven for God’s glory.  If He is over all and through all and in all (Eph.4:6) how could this not be so?  On the back-side of each bleak reality in this world shines hope and grounds for joy.  And this joy is not just in the here-after!  It’s my rightful heritage now.

I’ve been gleaning thoughts on the why’s and wherefore’s of joy this week.  Another passage that came to mind on the boat had this to say when I got home to see the whole context:

Many are the sorrows of the wicked,
but steadfast love surrounds the one who trusts in the LORD.
Be glad in the LORD, and rejoice, O righteous,
and shout for joy, all you upright in heart!
and further along: Shout for joy in the LORD, O you righteous! Praise befits the upright.
(Ps.32:10,11; Ps.33:1)

Of course believers too experience sorrow, but we don’t sorrow as those without hope, without understanding, without God in the world!  I’ve been reading Ephesians and the contrast there is so clear.  We have hope, an inheritance, immeasurable power at our disposal!  We are not stuck in futility, pursuing our passions mindlessly, alienated from God and the meaning of life.  We are saints—chosen, loved, destined for glory, children of light!  In view of this calling we hang on to hope, we are shielded by faith in an evil world and we can go on our way with a melody in our hearts, thankful and celebrating God’s goodness in our conversations.  This is pretty radical.  No place for tear-soup here.  But when there are tears, we can rest assured God sees.  David said: “You keep track of all my sorrows. You have collected all my tears in your bottle. You have recorded each one in your book.” (Ps.56:8)  And we know that seeds sown with weeping will yield sheaves with shouts of joy! (Ps.126:6)

I was looking in the Gospels at reasons for joy… 
  • There’s the call to rejoice when persecuted for sharing the Gospel, because a great reward is coming (Mt.5:12)
  • There’s Jesus’ admonition to the disciples to rejoice that that their names are written in heaven, not merely that demons submit to them! (Lk.10:20)
  • But the passage that particularly caught my eye was in Luke 15: “…there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance…”  This is the sort of thing that makes God rejoice!

And of course, the story that illustrates this is the Prodigal Son and his elder brother.  We know all about the prodigal and the father’s warm welcome and the big celebration of the prodigal’s homecoming.  But it was the other son that caught my eye.  The joyless one.  Why was he joyless?  Why did he fail to share the Father’s joy?  He boasted of his own goodness and faulted the Father for not ever having given him a goat for a party with his friends.  Had he ever asked?

The Father’s gentle response reminds me of someone I know well who is prone to take so much for granted and forget the awesome truth she lives in: “Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours.”  What more is there?  Had the older son realized he was living in his inheritance—it was not all a future thing!? Have I?   When Peter says God has given us ‘all things that pertain to life and godliness’ what does that mean?  Is that not everything?  Of course it’s important to notice that these things are granted “through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence”. (II Pet.1:3-4)  The elder son apparently did not know His Father’s heart, did not live in close proximity to Him, had not become ‘partaker of the divine nature’.  He had followed the letter of the law, but not understood his father’s heart for him.  I’m reminded here of Jesus’ promise to his disciples: “Until now you have asked nothing in my name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full.” (Jn.16:24) God does not begrudge us joy.  He invites us to share His joy, not just in the hereafter, but now, offering all we need for life and godliness. 

Remembering what this parable is illustrating takes me back to the condition for joy—‘one sinner who repents’.   This brings God more joy than 99 elder sons who try to work their way into His good graces and never ‘cash in’ on all He means to be to them.  Wow.  Repentance-- coming back to the Father, agreeing with Him about everything, refusing to take life in my own hands and ‘do it my way’… herein is JOY! For Him, and for me.

Daughter, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours… Now that’s an inheritance! Sounds like I’m richer than I realize.

So who needs tear tea?  And why not call for a party?  Can I not live in perpetual repentance and rejoicing, thankful to the One who is always with me providing all I need for life and godliness?  It’s a high calling. Is this the kind of living Paul was picturing when he prayed for the Ephesians that God would give them ‘a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him’ so that they would really KNOW ‘what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe!' (Eph. 1:17-19).  I’ve been praying this a lot lately.  It’s the stuff of heady joy.

Maybe good cheer, joy and gladness are not so counter-intuitive.  Depends on what factors I’m ruminating on… I love this passage in I Peter 1 that concludes: “Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.”

And the first part just exudes enthusiasm about the living hope we’ve been born again into—‘to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you…in this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials…’ and even these, Peter makes clear, are part of a  priceless refining process that will yield a faith more precious than gold…
So I’m switching teas.  Not settling for the salty homebrew.  God grant us all eyes to see through the sadness to His reasons for gladness and so to hang on in the hope of our glorious inheritance!

'He will swallow up death in victory; and the Lord GOD will wipe away tears from off all faces; and the rebuke of his people shall he take away from off all the earth: for the LORD hath spoken it. And it shall be said in that day, Lo, this is our God; we have waited for him, and he will save us: this is the LORD; we have waited for him, we will be glad and rejoice in his salvation.' (Is.25:8,9)

“In this world you will have tribulation but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.” –Jesus Jn.16:33

“And this is the victory that has overcome the world—even our faith.” I Jn.5:4


P.S. Feel like singing?  May I suggest Kim Walker’s upbeat “I Have Found”
I have found a peace that ploughs on through the storm.
I have found a joy that jumps over sadness.
I have found a love that lights up every room.
I have found, I've found You!

You are all I want, You are all I need,
Everything my heart could hope for.
We are longing for, the Glory of the Lord,
Cause we know there's so much more!

April 1, 2011

When there really is a bear!

I was out in the back yard just days after my last post and realized I’d been mistaken to think there were no bears out yet.  The tell-tale droppings confirmed it.  This also confirmed in my mind the need to clarify and expand on responses to ‘bears’ and when it really is OK to bark, even if it disturbs someone’s sweet repose.

For though I still maintain that the motive must be love and a genuine desire to build up and/or restore a brother, there are times when a friendly tail wag and an eager grin are not a sufficient response.  Erroneous doctrine can cause untold harm both inside and outside the church. Paul foresaw this happening when he warned the Ephesian elders: “I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you…and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them. Therefore be alert, remembering (the three years of Paul’s ministry among them).” Eph.20:29-31

I’ve had to consider this issue this week because my online forum friends have dredged up the latest hot topic in Christendom—a book receiving lots of negative press by solid evangelicals—and they’re feeling pretty good about the author; he cuts them a break as far as hell is concerned and in their words: “We can attack the crazy or hateful ideas of fundamentalists all we want, but it doesn't do any good. The evangelical set likes it and only grows stronger from it. That's why pastor _________ should be praised for speaking out to his own peers about the toxic doctrine of damnation of unbelievers.” The world is looking on at our arguments among ourselves, but does this mean we should tone them down?  My response on this forum was something to the effect that: Pastor X is not doing any of us a favor with his watering down of Hell.  If you were dying of cancer would a doctor be doing you a favor to deny that it existed and would kill you left untreated?

So what is our response supposed to be to doctrinal error that rears its ‘bear-ish’ head in the church? Or to a brother that has wandered from the truth and embraced a false gospel?

I’ve been looking at the various passages in which Paul refers to false teachers and how to deal with them. Sometimes, avoidance is enough, as in his final instructions to the church in Rome: “I appeal to you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine that you have been taught. Avoid them. For such persons do not serve our Lord Christ, but their own appetites, and by smooth talk and flattery they deceive the hearts of the naïve...I want you to be wise as to what is good and innocent as to what is evil.” (Rom.16:17-19)

I hear this smooth talk in the writings of some currently popular ‘emergent’ leaders.  I feel the appeal of it—this softening of some of the ‘harsh’ doctrines about hell and judgment.  Surely a loving God wouldn’t do this or that.  This casting off, and even mocking, of key doctrines embraced by orthodox Christianity for thousands of years—it’s bold and brave and enticing in its way, and flattering, ear-tickling and clearly steeped in human reasoning at the expense of God’s definitive Word.

Is it enough to merely avoid interacting?  How do we speak out without being labeled ‘judgmental’?
Kevin DeYoung, a pastor who has written some excellent blogs evaluating current books has this to say in defense of speaking out in light of false doctrine:
It is possible that I (like other critics) am mean-spirited, nasty, and cruel. But voicing
strong disagreement does not automatically make me any of these. Judgmentalism is not the same as making judgments. The same Jesus who said “do not judge” in Matthew 7:1 calls his opponents dogs and pigs in Matthew 7:6. Paul pronounces an anathema on those who preach a false gospel (Gal. 1:8). Disagreement among professing Christians is not a plague on the church. In fact, it is sometimes necessary. The whole Bible is full of evaluation and encourages the faithful to be discerning and make their own evaluations. What’s tricky is that some fights are stupid, and some judgments are unfair and judgmental. But this must be proven, not assumed.
Incidentally, I most appreciated this pastor’s critical reviews because they were not personal attacks, not mean-spirited, nasty, or cruel, but objective and thorough critiques based on actual content compared to Scripture.  And this is where I think we have to focus when new ideas come circling looking for a place to land.  We have to be students of the Word, and guard against letting controversy ‘boil everything down to a conflict of personalities. This is the way the world understands disagreement. This is how the world sells controversy. It’s always politician versus politician or pastor versus pastor. But sometimes the disagreement is less about the men (or women) involved and more about the truth.’ (DeYoung) These are the cases where we are warranted in speaking up with the truth.

In fact, one of the qualifications for being an elder in the church is that he ‘hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it.’ (Titus 1:9) Paul instructs Titus to rebuke sharply certain ‘insubordinate, empty talkers and deceivers’ that were said to be ‘upsetting whole families by teaching for shameful gain what they ought not to teach.’  The purpose of the rebuke? --‘that they may be sound in faith…’(Titus 1:9-13)

Rebuke clearly has its place but it is not the whole solution.  Repeatedly in Paul’s writings I see him urging believers to hang on to what they’d been taught and to be diligent students of the Word.  Better than a quarrel is a right handling of the Word—a patient teacher who “corrects his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will” Irreverent babble on the other hand is said to be like gangrene—spreading to lead people into even more ungodliness. (II Tim.2)  I like that positive focus of knowing, hanging onto and teaching the true Word of God.  It keeps the focus where we are less apt to fall into sin ourselves!

Paul was quite adamant about it in his instruction to pastor Timothy.  You can almost feel the fire in his voice! “I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom:  preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching.  For the time is coming when people will not endure sound  teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions,  and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.  As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.” (II Tim.4:1-5)  I like that.  Be about your business, your calling before God.  Know His Word and the counterfeit will be as obvious as a black eye.

There is one other aspect of confronting error and even evil that is not the first that comes to mind.  Not mine anyway.  I had a skirmish with someone’s over zealous watchdog recently and was just fuming at the irresponsibility of the particular homeowner.  I marched on my way following the incident with legs still trembling formulating a merciless response plan in my mind.  Someone was going to hear my complaint! Oh boy, oh boy!  This was just not right!  And about a half mile down the road there was a still small voice asking if I was sure this was what I wanted—to treat a neighbor as an enemy and perhaps jeopardize a potential relationship.  But more than that, was this a way of letting my light shine?  This intolerance of a freak incident.  Is this how I would like to be treated… What of overcoming evil with good?  Ugghh.  I was jumping at the opportunity for a little vengeance as though I had never received grace when my dog was loose and not appreciated…

Overcome evil with good.  This too is our calling in the face of times where truth is increasingly hard to find lived out.  We are the salt of the world.  We are lights set on our little hills.   If  ‘by their fruits ye shall know them’ were spoken of me, what knowledge would people gain of Christ by what my life reflects?  George MacDonald went so far as to say: “To love righteousness is to make it grow, not avenge it.”  What are we pre-occupied with?

These sad lines were directed my way this week:
“I find it interesting that most Christians appear to want all nonbelievers to go to hell… they are so caught up in being right that even the thought of the rest of us being admitted to their special club without paying admission is offensive…” Is this really Fred’s experience of Christ-followers?!  I am praying this week for Fred*, that genuine believers who know how to overcome evil with good will be planted in his path to reflect Jesus’ heart to him.

God grant us discernment as we keep an eye out for black droppings that ought not to be in our yards, and the wisdom to deal with them effectively.

One closing remark I must make is with regards to the wide-sweeping ‘emergent’ movement.  This is a term which has as many meanings as adherents I suppose.  And it is a label too that has been misapplied in some cases by over zealous watchdogs.  I know about these in real life, i.e. the literal kind.  In the span of a week Louie and I have had a run-in with not only the one mentioned above but with a grand St. Bernard who felt his area needed defending, even though we were well on our way up the street. He came barreling out to overtake us, sure there was a threat to his household I suppose. Talk about trembling legs!!  My point being that yes, we do need to guard the deposit of truth we’ve been given in the Gospel, to protect the family of God from heresy.  But let us be thorough students, careful not to black-list solid Bible teachers without clear evidence of error, solely based on random associations or quotes removed from their contexts.  I have seen this lately and it dismays me.