Archive for The Gospel

My daughter has been monitoring tweets about actor Cory Monteith’s death this weekend. I think it’s been quite some time that a person who was on TV weekly and loved by many teens and young adults has passed away. For them I think this is going to be very hard and significant. They need our prayers. I want to blog about it more to the teens I know later this week.

But in her watching tweets, my daughter found that the Westboro Baptist Church is spewing its vile attitude again, being “Glee-ful” at Cory’s death, and threatening to picket. They don’t represent me at all, and when they are described as Baptists and as a church that really bothers me. I’ve been wanting to say something for a while about them, especially for people who aren’t part of the orthodox Christian community.

This is what I hope you know:

Baptists Are Not All the Same

First, “Baptist” is not a term that always stands for a well organized denomination. There are several good Baptist denominations or confederations between churches that provide checks and balances if needed to the individual churches and pastors. But “Baptist” basically means only that one believes that when a person becomes a Christian he or she should be baptized by immersion in water. It says nothing, really, about how the church lives out its faith.

If you and I wanted to go out right now, buy a building, and start a Roman Catholic parish to run any way we pleased, we couldn’t. We would need to come in line with the denomination and agree to their viewpoint. But if you and I wanted to buy a building and hang a sign that said, “Baptist Church – Come Sunday at 10”, there’s nothing to stop us.

The Westboro Baptist Church is run by one man independently. The condemning things the church says and the picketing and hatred they promote are the teachings of this man. He is in a miniscule minority. Very, very few Baptists would join him on the picket line, and many, many of us would be glad to serve in the lines of “human shields” who protect mourners from what Westboro’s doing. They do not speak for the American Baptists and Conservative Baptists I have known, and I’m sure they don’t impress the Southern Baptists, either. Overwhelmingly they speak only for themselves.

The Matter of Being a “church”

Usually churches are made up of believers from a community. The members share a faith in the essentials of Christianity, but from there, they can be from different cultures, races, and economic classes. The Westboro church is made up almost completely of the relatives of the pastor. That’s an unusual and insular situation, lacking diversity and giving the pastor the powerful dual relationship of religious leader and family patriarch with almost everyone. There’s a proverb in the Bible, “As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.” (Proverbs 27:17) In other words, my differences of opinion with yours are like two swords sharpening against each other and becoming greater tools to sharpen both our understandings of God and the Bible. The extreme and unquestioned opinions, and the lack of outside community participation, should give anyone pause. A church was never meant to be a closed group.

As It Should Be

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Although the terms “Baptist” and “church” grate me when used with Westboro, the last thing I hope you know is more important by far:

“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” John 13:34 and 35

Below is a beautiful song based on this verse by Christie Knockles:

They Will Know Us By Our Love

This command of Jesus is buttressed by so many parables and incidents in His ministry: the Good Samaritan, the adulterous woman, the injunction not to judge lest you be judged. Accusing people of sins and humiliating them is not the way to go. The Holy Spirit can convict people of their sins far better than we can. We were sent to love as Christ loved us.

The Westboro people may believe that Jesus died for their sins and is their Lord and Savior, and it’s not mine to take that away from them if they say they believe it. But my understanding is far different than theirs. I believe Jesus died not only to take my sins, but so I would have His life and love in me, and because of that, in my life and the lives of other believers this kind of hateful venom would end. Let me say it again:

My Savior hung naked on a cross so that this kind of hatred would stop. It’s that important.

Apr
05

What is Truth?

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Good Friday Prayer Request

My sister and I have long had a tradition of each choosing a special person to pray for on Good Friday. There is no question who my person is this year, and the need is so urgent I want to invite everyone to join me. Janice Wray, a beautiful 20 year old Christian woman, was in a terrible car accident on Palm Sunday. She has broken her neck and twisted her spinal cord. She cannot feel her hands or her legs, and doctors do not expect her to walk again. Please pray for her and her family – healing, strength, comfort, however you are led. There is no limit to how our God can work in this situation.

The Gnawing Question

The narrative of the Passion always draws me in, no matter how many times I’ve heard it. So many parts of it go right to the heart of the matter: who is Jesus, and why did He come to us? This exchange from John 18: 37 and 38 is one that hits me hardest.

Jesus answered, “…for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.”

“What is truth?” Pilate asked.

Pilate had a lot of “truth” to balance that day. He had to keep the Roman agenda in mind, but the Jewish leaders had their own idea of truth, and they wanted to entangle him in their plots. Then there is the extraordinary man before him, who began telling Pilate that He was the truth.

Pilate did not see that Jesus was the truth above all the others. With some misgivings he continued trying to balance the false with the true until it led to Jesus’ death sentence. But the disciples, or at least Philip, didn’t comprehend it fully, either. Jesus had just hours before told his disciples, “I am the way and the truth and the life.” (John 14:6) He is telling them that He Himself is everything they need – an astounding thought. But Philip answers, “Lord, show us the Father, and that will be enough for us.” He doesn’t see that the Father is in Jesus and Jesus is in the Father. Jesus explains to him, “Anyone who has seen Me has seen the Father.” (John 14:9b)

Even today I don’t think we always have such an easy time knowing what is truth when we go to live it out. Yes, Jesus is the truth. He tells us the truth of our spiritual condition. He gives us His blood, that becomes our salvation. What about truth in our day to day situations?

Two 21st Century Questions

Last summer someone urged me to walk away from my mortgage. Instead I chose not to believe her claims that the house was worthless and I would never be able to afford it. I fought to keep my house. Was that my stubborn pride, or was I fighting for what I believed God wanted me to have? What is truth?

When my son was on drugs several persons urged me to toss him out of the house. They were sure this would straighten him out and help me regain a peaceful home. I never could do it. Had I done it, he would never have gotten my help to keep him alive when he overdosed. When he came back from rehab, some still felt he should not live with me. My son and I have fought and negotiated and learned from each other over these months. We are closer than we ever would have been because I did not kick him out. What is truth? Was my method just the truth of a sentimental mother or was it a reflection of God’s truth for our situation? It is easy to say now that it seems to have worked out well. I took a lot of opposition for the decisions I made and the stands I took. And remember, those with contrary advice felt they were reflecting godly wisdom, too.

You know many examples from your own life. Things come up, and then what is truth? And is my truth a reflection of His truth?

Come, My Way, My Truth, My Life

This has made me think about the hymn, “Come, My Way, My Truth, My Life,” written by George Herbert, who lived from 1593 to 1633. The music, while sounding characteristic of Herbert’s era, was actually the work of 20th century composer Ralph Vaughan Williams.

Jesus’ declaration, “I am the way and the truth and the life” ceased being only doctrine to Herbert and became his own truth. He embraced Jesus, calling Him “my way, my truth, my life”. But there’s more. Herbert shows in his verse that he expects the way, the truth, and the life to speak into his life, teaching him and changing how he lives it.

Come, my way, my truth, my life:
Such a way as gives us breath;
Such a truth as ends all strife;
Such a life as conquers death.

Just think: a way that is so easy and light that we breathe peacefully in it; a truth that comes in and settles conflict without and our hearts within; a life that we live knowing “we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us.” (Romans 8:37)

I hope in your Easter you find Jesus to be your way, your truth and your life as never before.

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Aug
02

Accepted in the Beloved

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(Any terms I use in this blog are for explanatory purposes only. If any have fallen into disuse or are now “politically incorrect”, I apologize and assure you I intend nothing derogatory.)

A few weeks ago my daughter and I stumbled upon the movie “Freaks”, new to us, but evidently something of a cult classic. Made in 1932, the actors were people with anomalies who made up the circus sideshows of the time. By using the real circus performers, the movie caused an uproar. It was removed from the market, and Britain banned it outright. Ironically these actors were not being used as “freaks” but were being themselves with a dignity and normalcy the viewing public of the time probably never dreamed they had.

I’m telling you all this because I just can’t get the story out of my mind. Generally movies explain to you who the characters are. This one keeps asking me who I am.

Where I picked up the story, Hans, a young man who is a midget, is infatuated with Cleopatra, one of the normal size circus performers. She is amused and plays along as if Hans were a toy with no real feelings. When she accidentally finds out that Hans is heir to a great fortune, her game begins in earnest. She agrees to marry her unwitting suitor.

At the marriage feast, it is primarily the sideshow folk who come and sit together at one great, long table. The bride behaves abominably, getting very drunk, putting a drug in Hans’ drink (the first step toward killing him and taking his fortune) and kissing her real love interest in front of everyone, humiliating Hans. Apparently not everyone sees, because a dwarf begins a special ceremony at the far end of the table. (This you may already know because it is the most famous scene of the movie.) He gets on the table with an immense goblet of wine and walks to each guest, giving him or her a sip in turn. In your mind’s eye I want you to see these people. There are the bearded lady and the skeleton man; a woman with no arms and a man with no legs, and a man with neither arms nor legs; other little people; conjoined twins; persons they called pinheads who had tiny skulls that caused both physical deformity and mental retardation. As the cup is offered, the dwarf takes up a strange chant: “Gobble, gobble, we accept you, you are one of us.” Obviously, as Hans’ wife, Cleopatra is being accorded the honor of being embraced by the people of the sideshow, people so few understand. But when the goblet arrives, she pushes it away, screaming that she wants no part of them. “You’re all freaks!” she cries, betraying her true feelings.

The scene won’t leave my mind, but I am now in Cleopatra’s seat. I watch these unusual wedding guests, looking with some discomfort at their missing limbs and other unusual deformities. I think of how some of them cannot care for all their own basic needs and will always need caregivers. And then the cup comes to me. Will I take the cup? Will I identify with these people as ones like me?

I thought I wasn’t prejudiced. Or at least I wasn’t that prejudiced. I’m not prejudiced against blacks, and that’s the big one in the United States, so I’m okay, right? I have a dislike of some people groups, but if I met someone from one of those, I prided myself on putting that aside and concentrating on loving the person in front of me. But if I’m priding myself for coming halfway (or less), what am I really doing? Suddenly I wasn’t feeling so proud anymore.

What happened to the Scriptures I claimed I believed? Jesus prayed,

I have given [believers] the glory that You gave Me, that they may be one as We are one: I in them and You in Me. – John 17:22 & 23a

And Paul tells us:

To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law…so as to win those under the law. To those not having the law I became like one not having the law…so as to win those not having the law. To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some. I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings. 1 Cor. 24 – 27

But the truth is, when I think of being one with certain people, because of their culture or behavior, I recoil.

Author Steve Brown often writes of his conversations with the Lord. I sense something akin to that as I think of my reaction to the “freaks”:

“So it’s okay for you to look at them just to see what they look like but not accept them?”

Shame on me.

“I came down from heaven to live with humanity. What do you think that was like?”

I imagined myself looking down from a bright and perfect heaven onto the masses of humanity on earth: The smells. The crowds. The soiled clothing. The cacophony. And, as each night falls, the darkness.

More than that, there was the condition of our hearts, every last heart leaving something to be desired. You might say we all had something missing or misshapen there.

“I once shared bread and a cup of wine around a table and accepted every one of you – in your sin.”

Nothing is so humbling as Jesus telling you He already did this very thing for you, and you have been unwilling to do the same. As a believer I share in the new covenant that was made at the Last Supper. In my mind’s eye I see that goblet, Christ’s goblet, making its way around the table that Passover night, a symbol of Jesus saying, “I accept you” when we were filthy in our sin. I would gladly drink that goblet when Jesus is holding it. But I’m only holding it out to select others – not all others – even though He came for every one of them, and I know it.

Seems I have some things to work out with God. And if I ever catch “Freaks” again on TV, you can be sure that’s one movie I will never see the same way again.

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Yesterday Michelle was kind enough to post for me on “my” day.  I got up this morning and found that she had posted for me in more ways than one.  Her message about freedom was very nearly the post I intended to write today.  I’m going ahead because I am going to look at it from a slightly different angle, and because when God says something important in Scripture you find He has said it again, even a number of times.  Maybe we need to hear this more than once because it’s so important to us right now.  I know I do.

I started looking at the whole passage of Galatians where you find the verse about the fruit of the Spirit, Galatians 5:16 – 26.  I’ve been blogging about some individual fruits of the Spirit without looking at the bigger picture.

First, Paul has laid out the reason why his instructions are so important:  we are fighting a war.

For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature.  They are in conflict with each other, so that you do not do what you want. – Galatians 5:17

Where can I turn when what I see in the mirror of God's Word seems to condemn me?

"Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves." Where can I turn when what I see in the mirror of God's Word seems to condemn me?

The war is not overseas, it is right here in front of us.  Worse, in this conflict between the Spirit and the sin nature, we feel drawn to the enemy side.  We find the list of sins nauseating when we read them, but they don’t always seem so bad when the opportunity presents itself.

The acts of the sinful nature are obvious:  sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. – Galatians 5:19 – 21a

Sounds awful, doesn’t it, at the moment?  Paul even trails off from naming them all.  Our enemy has plenty of temptations and enticements.  Following along with them brings dire consequences:

I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God. – Galatians 5:21b

Why would anybody who lives like this be interested in inheriting the kingdom of God, I wondered.  Then I remembered those many who hear, and like what they hear, and do what they want anyway.

Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves.  Do what it says.  Anyone who listens to the word but does not does not do what it says is like a man who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. – James 1:22 – 24

Have we walked away from personal inventory and forgotten what our own soul looks like?  It is an inward act of the sinful nature that is potentially more dangerous than the ones in the list above. In this war, as a soldier on the Kingdom side, I do have my orders:  stay away; flee; cast them off; push them away because they no longer have a part of you.

And we have help:  God knows the battle we fight between our spirits and the sinful nature.  “They are in conflict with each other, so that you do not do what you want.”

Thank God for the hope in these next verses.  Paul proclaims decisively,

So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature. – Galatians 5:16

It doesn’t say, “With great and sad longing for your sinful ways, you can just eke out a victory, or a draw.”  “You won’t feel freed up, but you can pull it off.”  It says, “You will not gratify.” You can step forward and win the battle and be free, and get away from the law.  After listing the results of living by the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control, Paul adds, “Against such there is no law.” – see Galatians 5:22 -24

Now both Michelle and I want always to stress that any command to do something outwardly flows from something inward.  You can’t just take these lists and say, “Okay, don’t do this, do that, and I’ll go to heaven.”  It leaves you still under the law, and you won’t win.  Oh, you may think you win, but there will still be sin balanced against the good works, and the good works may not be as pure in motivation as they seemed, and you need to be cleaned from all sin.   What will wipe clean the sin side of the scales once and for all?

The thing that has cleansed us, given us a second spiritual birth, and given us the power to do good things and feel free in doing them is our belief in Jesus – a belief that is so strong that we have given our lives over to Him.  When we heard His words, when we saw our sinful souls in the mirror, we did not absentmindedly walk away.  Inwardly we have made the decision to serve God.  Look at the power that God gives us in this next verse:

Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires. – Galatians 5:24

We crucify the sinful nature.  We admit our sins and call our sins a part of all the sins Christ paid for when He was on the cross.  Now, because Jesus Christ is triumphant, we can win our battles.

The last verse in the passage is a warning:

Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other. – Galatians 5:26

In other words, avoid the trap of now weighing on the scales your success at producing fruit against that of others, or concerning yourself with the size and scope of the work you are called to in comparison to others.  You just don’t know the way God is working in someone else’s life.  Throw away the scales and let God prune His fruit trees as only He knows best.