Wednesday, July 31, 2013

"Who Am I To Judge?"

On July 29, 2013, the new Pope, Francis, made a surprising declaration. When asked by reporters about his position on gay priests, he candidly responded, “Who am I to judge?” If I had the opportunity to answer his question with equal candor, I think my response would go something like this: “Who are you to judge? You are the Pope, the leader of the global Catholic Church! That is who you are. Yours is the Church infamously and near constantly rocked by scandals involving priests engaged in homosexual acts with male children. Do you really need to check in with God on this one? If you are not prepared to ‘judge,’ then I think your insurance company is prepared to do it for you.” Well, he did invite candor.

Too many people, including those in the Church, often confuse discernment (or exercising judgment) with condemning judgment. Discernment is not condemnation. Discernment in this case is applying wisdom to appointment. For another example, would you put a recently convicted thief in charge of the church treasury? If not, are you judging? Of course not. You are just exercising sound wisdom. Judging is when you condemn someone as a thief. And, judging a homosexual is when you condemn them as a homosexual.

Jesus Himself displays the difference between these two definitions of “judgment.” Yes, Jesus did say in Matthew 7:1, “Do not judge, or you too will be judged.” But, in John 7:24 Jesus also said, “Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment.” One time He says don’t judge and then He invites us to judge. Which is it? The truth is it is both. You see, in the first passage Jesus is speaking of the condemning type of judgment. And, in the second passage He is speaking of the discerning type of judgment. Christians should never condemn other human beings. But, Christians must use discernment in applying wisdom to appointments. In fact, that is what practically every other person in the world does with or without religion. And, surely the leader of the Catholic Church should not only also be prepared to do so, but he should be forced to do so, and for good reason. How do you think the parents of all of the child victims of homosexual molestation by priests feel about the Pope’s quote?

After all, if discernment about homosexual priests is “judging” then so is discernment about adulterous priests or adulterous pastors. What about polygamous priests or pastors? What about priests who clearly defy God Himself? I could go on and on but Paul addressed this most clearly in I Corinthians 5. The Church is no place to practice political correctness. In fact, I would argue political correctness doesn’t belong anywhere. The Church is God’s Church not man’s church, and not even the Pope’s church. God sets the rules about the governance of His church. And, He expects us to read His word, and exercise sound judgment. Our sound judgment should include a proper respect of His word as final. And, at very least, sound judgment requires that we employ discernment. In fact, discernment is what I am attempting to apply in this post. And, if for some reason you find me guilty of something less than proper discernment, remember, “Who are you to judge?”

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

"I'm Not Being Fed"

The Great Depression crippled America in the late 1920s and early 1930s. What is ironic about this is around that time, America did not lack business, farmlands, skilled workers, or hard-working families. America also did not lack railroads, road networks, ocean waterways or modern transit systems. Even the communications infrastructure at the time was the best in the world, using telephone, teletype and radio. There was no war that had ravaged the cities or the countryside. There were no great diseases or famines that weakened the population. Goods were available to be purchased and jobs waiting to be worked. But, America lacked one important thing: an adequate supply of money. During this time, bankers, the only source of new money and credit, generally refused to loan money to businesses. But, they continued to require timely payments on existing loans. Money rapidly disappeared from circulation. And, the lack of money brought the nation to a grinding halt.

The banks were taking in money but they were not lending it out. And, this is quite similar to a significant problem in many American churches today. The Church is comprised of people with so many spiritual gifts. And yet, like the banks during the Great Depression, the vast majority of Church members are taking away from the Church while giving little to nothing back. This pattern is backwards and grossly self-centered. We should all be trying to give as much if not more to the Church than we take. Far too many Christians approach the Church with primarily a consumer mentality. This is best evidenced by "consumer feedback" by way of critical comments like, “I am bored,” or “I’m not being fed.” These types of comments scream from the wrong perspective. No wonder so many churches in America are spiritually depressed.

Most things in life, especially Church, are what you make them. If you don’t find Church interesting or don’t enjoy it, that can mean many things, most of which are not good. But, if your primary approach is to take from Church more than you give, of course it is going to be found lacking because you have reduced Church to entertainment, which it was never designed to be. Instead, every part of the “Body” must do its part. Ephesians 4:16 says,from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.” Can you imagine what the church would be like if we all did that? It would be a lot more like the dynamic Church we read about in Acts 2. How sad that people complain about Church but rarely do anything personally to remedy their complaints? Isn’t that a classic case of being part of the problem and not part of the solution? Does this describe you?

But, you might be saying, “Okay, what if I do serve and give? What will I get out of it?” You may not be asking those questions. But your actions (or inactions) may be. But, these are the wrong questions to ask for several reasons. First of all, if you believe Jesus is your King, you should feel a unique spiritual inspiration to give, even if you never get anything out of it? You should always unconditionally follow the one you call King! Secondly, the posture behind such questions is entirely selfish. Philippians 2:3 says, “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.” And, that would include how you "do" church. But, let’s assume for a moment that the question is worth answering. There happens to be a wonderful answer. But, it does not lie here on this Earth as much as it does in eternity in Heaven. Yes, there are benefits here on Earth. But those benefits pale in comparison to the glorious benefits in our Kingdom eternity.

I boldly submit to you that if your attitude towards Church is anything like any of the following, it is probably you who needs reevaluation:
  • I often call God’s Bride boring
  • I often ignore God’s Bride and don’t recognize her beauty
  • I don’t like being around God’s Bride
  • I could make her more beautiful, but I don’t care
Instead, our attitude should be captivated by how beautiful God’s Bride truly is. We should love being around God’s Bride as often as we practically can. We should want to serve His Bride and strive to magnify her beauty. We should even go as far as being proud to boldly declare that we are the Bride of our King, Jesus Christ. After all, wouldn't you want your spouse to display that kind of attitude towards you?

In John 21:15-17, the resurrected Jesus asked three times of Peter (who previously denied him three times) “Do you love me?” Peter answered all three times with varying forms of “Yes.” And, each time Jesus followed Peter’s “Yes” by asking him to demonstrate this love by feeding or taking care of His lambs and sheep. Jesus was linking love for Him with the follow through of taking care of what is dearest to Him, His Bride, the Church. Do you love Jesus? Are you feeding or taking care of his sheep? If you are not feeding others, how can you ever be truly fed?

With that God-given inspiration, to those who say, “I’m just not being fed,” I have this immediate response, “Who are you feeding?!” If you are so critical about others not feeding you, then we must assume that you are a shining example of feeding others? If you value being fed so highly, we can only assume that your value system is being displayed by your own actions of feeding others? Or, are you being hypocritical in your criticism? Is it possible that the best way to feed one’s self is to actually feed others? The answer to that question is obviously, yes. I have lost count of how many Bible teachers and preachers who have confessed that their greatest spiritual growth and attainment of spiritual insight came from teaching and serving others, not from being taught or served. After all, Acts 20:35 quotes Jesus as saying, “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” And, nobody modeled that better than Jesus Himself. 

In paraphrasing the John 21 episode between Jesus and Peter, Jesus said that if you really love Him, you will feed and care for His lambs and sheep. I could stop there, but I won’t. Further, notice that Jesus did not say that if you really love Him you will make sure you are constantly fed and cared for by churches. Even further, notice that Jesus did not say that if you really love Him, you will criticize His bride for not feeding you. I think it is high time that complaining Christians repent and grow up. Stop groping around churches looking for something you can receive. Rather, invest yourself in a church body by giving of yourself to the care and feeding of others. And, for Christ’s sake, stop criticizing His Bride! If you really love Him, such criticism would never enter your mind nor exit your lips!

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

"Seeking First" for Dummies

Iran is a country that gets plenty of attention these days. Up until 1979, Iran’s form of government was a monarchy or a kingdom. And, the word for “king” in Iran is “Shah.” The last king or Shah of Iran was Mohammad Reza Pahlavi. And, on February 11, 1979, he lost the throne as a result of the Iranian Revolution. In fear of losing his life, he left Iran to go into exile. While in exile, he lived in different countries, never to return to the kingdom that once crowned him king. He was a king without citizens. And, on July 27, 1980, he died without a kingdom. If you are a Christian, do you fully realize that you have a King? Or, is the concept of a kingdom somewhat foreign to you? Do you know what it means to have a King daily command you? Does the concept of a Kingdom truly have an impact on your daily life? Can you describe God’s Kingdom to someone else? Can you differentiate God's Kingdom from religion? Since God is a literal King and takes His Kingdom pretty seriously, we can’t afford to not understand what it means to operate in a Kingdom today and every day. After all, ignoring the one we call King is not an option.

The topic of "God's Kingdom" is discussed by Jesus and others over 75 times in the New Testament alone. Clearly, this is the most important topic to Jesus. Because He is God and King over His Kingdom, what could be more important to Him? So, it is just as important that we today understand what His Kingdom is and how both the Church and we individually must operate in it. The problem in the Western hemisphere is that we don’t have prominent kingdoms nearby to observe in order to better understand what “Kingdom” means or how to behave in one on a daily basis.

Jesus did not come to Earth to establish a religion. He came to establish a Kingdom. In America, our form of government is a Democracy. And, a Kingdom operates extremely different from a Democracy. Despite all the claims made between American political parties, Jesus does not favor Republicans or Democrats. Jesus is a monarch, a King that stands above all of that. In fact, John 18:37 records an interesting exchange between Pilate and Jesus, "Then Pilate said to him, ‘So you are a king?’ Jesus answered, ‘You say that I am a king. For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world—to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice.’" Jesus was born for this reason and we were born to serve Him. But, I think far too many "christians" prefer religion over submission.

According to the dictionary, a Kingdom is “the governing influence of a king over his territory, impacting it with his personal will, purpose, and intent, producing a culture, values, morals, and lifestyle that reflect the king’s desires and nature for his citizens.” Is that our mindset towards our King? If the King owneverything, how does that change the way you look at material needs and wants? Since the King commanded that we expand His Kingdom on Earth, how are we doing following the King’s command? Maybe we need to get back to Kingdom basics. 

Kingdoms have a King. But, they also have Lords, Governors, citizens, heirs, military, domain, Constitutions, and property, just to name a few of its components. Instead of reading these italicized words like we do in our democratic cultural mindset, evaluate them in the mindset of a Kingdom and our thinking radically changes. Below, we will take each of these Kingdom concepts and reveal from the Bible how they are defined in God’s Kingdom:

·        The King? Jesus Christ (John 18:37, etc.)
·        The Kingdom’s Lord? Jesus Christ (Philippians 2:11, etc.)
·        The Kingdom’s Governor? The Holy Spirit (Romans 8:14, etc.)
·        The Kingdom’s Citizens? His Church (Ephesians 2:19, etc.)
·        The Kingdom’s Heirs? His Children (Galatians 4:7, etc.)
·        The Kingdom’s Military? Angels (2 Kings 6:15-17, etc.)
·        The King’s Domain? Everyone and everything (Philippians 2:10, etc.)
·        The Kingdom’s Constitution? The Bible (Psalms 119, etc.)
·        The King’s Property? Everything (Psalms 24:1-2, etc.)

On that last item concerning property, I was personally born into an Earthly Kingdom, in the Bahamas. Before its independence, Bahamas was a British Commonwealth nation. I have memories as a child of visits by Queen Elizabeth. Our family understood that she owned everything. She had every right to come up to our house and declare it to be her personal residence, thereby kicking us out. That is what it means for the King and Queen to own everything. And, that should change the way we think about King Jesus.

Not only should these concepts radically transform our thinking, but also our behaviors towards others and Church. Through these concepts, we quickly realize that God’s Kingdom and the Church are not equal. The Church is a central part of God’s Kingdom. And, the Church’s mission is to bear witness to God’s Kingdom. The Church is God’s tool through which His Kingdom acts. For example, what would God’s Kingdom be like without the Church? Since the Church are the Kingdom’s citizens, without it God would preside over a Kingdom without citizens, similar to the late Shah of Iran. This is yet another reason why God’s Church is so dearly loved by its King. While God does not need us, He has chosen to make us His citizens and His children, ultimately heirs to His Kingdom.

So how is the Church to operate within the Kingdom of God? Are we individually operating as we should? In Matthew 6:33, King Jesus gave us this command and promise, “But seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. Have you ever read that verse and pondered how abstract it seems to “seek” God’s Kingdom? How do you seek a Kingdom? Is there a spiritual GPS or map that helps us find it? If the Kingdom is “in the midst” of us (Luke 17:20-21), then why must it be sought? If this is not totally clear, then how can we even begin to follow this command? How can you “seek” His Kingdom? Can you seek God’s Kingdom while ignoring or avoiding His Church? Can you seek God’s Kingdom without being “active” in God’s Church? Answering these questions begins and ends with understanding Kingdom. Using Kingdom understanding, I offer you  this simple guidance to answer all of these questions: For the non-believer, “seek” truly means “search”; but, for Christians, “seek” means “build.”

In Ephesians 2, we read, For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them… So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit. (Ephesians 2:10, 19-22)

Look closely at the italicized words in the above passages to determine what they have in common. What they have in common is a “building” or construction theme. God is building His Kingdom here on Earth as it is in Heaven. To do this He is actively building up and advancing the body of Christ, His Church. He is building His Church in order to dwell in His Church as His Holy Temple. And Jesus Christ is the Chief Cornerstone. So, the best way for Christians to “seek” God’s Kingdom is to “build” His Church. And, using the building theme and people as stones, there are two things you can do to “build” His Church. (1) You can add stones (people) to the structure, or (2) strengthen or fortify the stones (people) that are already in the structure. Robert Short said, “The church is the great lost and found department.” And, C. Stacey Woods said, “The Church is an organism that grows best in an alien society.”

For those who prefer a lighter theme than construction, think of it like painting an impressionist painting. Impressionism is a form of artistic painting that became popular in the 1800s. Claude Monet is often credited with being a pioneer of this art form. You can recognize an impressionist painting by the fact that up close, the painting looks like no defined picture at all. Instead, it just looks like random brush strokes or dots. There is no attention to detail or fine lines. But, when you step away from the painting, the picture (or the impression of the picture) emerges. This is similar to the Church. When you look up close, you might see random and imperfect dots. But, when you step back and look at the Church from God’s vantage point, you see a glorious and beautiful Bride! And, by the way, for those either outside or even inside the Church, I have another piece of advice: don’t ever criticize the Bride of a King, especially the King of the universe. He may be benevolent, but He is also powerfully just.

Whatever God does in the world, He does through each and every one of His children. Nobody can be left out of the living and telling of the Gospel story. God is telling His story of grace through each and every one of Christ’s followers. No one is insignificant in this task. And, no one is dispensable or too young. Dwight Smith said, “Every single story of how each Christ follower came to grace is another unique brush stroke on God’s painting called Grace.” And, there is no more beautiful work of art known. 

So, for those searching for something significant to do with their lives of lasting importance, what could be greater than seeking (building) the eternal Kingdom of God?