Monday, August 30, 2010

a time and a place

Its been a while...

Paul wrote to the Romans,

"As for the one who is weak in faith, welcome him, but not to quarrel over opinions. One person believes he may eat anything, while the weak person eats only vegetables. Let not the one who eats despise the one who abstains, and let not the one who abstains pass judgment on the one who eats, for God has welcomed him. Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make him stand." (Romans 14)

He also wrote this to the Corinthians,

"It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that is not tolerated even among pagans, for a man has his father's wife. And you are arrogant! Ought you not rather to mourn? Let him who has done this be removed from among you. For though absent in body, I am present in spirit; and as if present, I have already pronounced judgment on the one who did such a thing. When you are assembled in the name of the Lord Jesus and my spirit is present, with the power of our Lord Jesus, you are to deliver this man to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord. Your boasting is not good. ... I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people-- not at all meaning the sexually immoral of this world, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world. But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler--not even to eat with such a one. For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? God judges those outside. "Purge the evil person from among you." (1Corinthians 5)

Is Paul confused? One letter tells us not to judge one another. Another letter tells us to publicly judge and discipline those that are walking in blatant, unrepentant sin. It seems like most people want to cling to one of these passages and ignore the other. One group wants to judge everything in sight, and the other wants to turn a blind eye to the sin that will destroy both the church and the individual, in the name of compassion. I am pretty confident that the Lord doesn't give us that option. So, how do we know when to judge and when not to?

I think, based on these two passages, it has to do with the subject matter. Sexual immorality of any kind, stealing, lying... these are all behaviours that are obviously wrong. There is no gray area here, and they are clear violations of God's moral law. We are no longer under the law as the means by which we are saved, but it is still true as His declaration of right and wrong, and what is best for us. Based on Paul's message to the Corinthians, we are in danger of eternal judgment if we continue in willful practice of that which is clearly in rebellion against the truths of that law. If that be true, then love requires us to confront the one in sin and call them to repent. And, according to Paul, if they refuse we must not allow them to fellowship with the church. In the spirit realm he even went so far as to turn them over to Satan to motivate them to wake up and return to the Lord. That's some pretty serious judgment, and Paul rebukes that notoriously carnal church for their lack of willingness to carry it out. This commitment to the holiness and purity of the church is not presented as an option.

On the other hand, there are areas of life that are not black and white before the Lord. Regarding these, he says to the Romans, "Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make him stand." It seems like a contradiction. We go from a command to judge strongly to instructions to refrain from judging completely. Which is it? Again, its all about the subject matter. Paul is talking about matters that are open to debate and personal conviction. What we should eat and when we should worship. There are groups who feel strongly about issues such as these that are "non-essential". They often look with disdain on those who don't have the same revelation they have. They judge them as not being quite as righteous as they are. On the other side, you have those who disagree with the other group's conviction, and look upon them as "in error" or legalistic. Both are wrong and damaging the unity of the church's love. Both are in pride rather than the humililty that Jesus demonstrated and calls us to.

It is interesting to note that we are accountable in these "gray" areas to our own conscience. "The faith that you have, keep between yourself and God. Blessed is the one who has no reason to pass judgment on himself for what he approves. But whoever has doubts is condemned if he eats, because the eating is not from faith. For whatever does not proceed from faith is sin." (Romans 14:22-23)

The question is not whether we should judge or not. There is a time and a place for both. The issue is learning to discern from the Holy Spirit what is appropriate for the situation we find ourselves in. Is this a black and white violation of God's law, or is it a matter of personal conviction? When we gain that understanding, we simply need to obey in the faith that works through love.


Friday, January 15, 2010

23 years

Jeremiah 25

“The word that came to Jeremiah concerning all the people of Judah… which Jeremiah the prophet spoke to all the people of Judah and all the inhabitants of Jerusalem: "For twenty-three years, from the thirteenth year of Josiah the son of Amon, king of Judah, to this day, the word of the LORD has come to me, and I have spoken persistently to you, but you have not listened. You have neither listened nor inclined your ears to hear, although the LORD persistently sent to you all his servants the prophets, saying, 'Turn now, every one of you, from his evil way and evil deeds, and dwell upon the land that the LORD has given to you and your fathers from of old and forever. Do not go after other gods to serve and worship them, or provoke me to anger with the work of your hands. Then I will do you no harm.' Yet you have not listened to me, declares the LORD, that you might provoke me to anger with the work of your hands to your own harm.”

Twenty-three years. The mercy and patience of the Lord is amazing. He goes on to say that He is now going to judge them for their hard hearts and disobedience, but the length of His patient call to a rebellious people was what caught my eye. Twenty-three years is less than the blink of an eye to the Lord, but it’s a long time in human terms. Today His Spirit calls within. How long has He been beckoning us to come to Him for the grace to turn from “the sin that so easily entangles us”? Are we listening, or have we become dull of hearing in the busyness of everyday life? Do we enjoy that one little area of compromise too much to let go? Are we “robbing God” of the full obedience of faith that He deserves? How long has He been calling to us?

Lord give us ears to hear what you would say, and if we have become hard of hearing, we ask you to speak so loudly that we just can’t miss it.

You won’t have to shout when we stand before your throne.

Monday, August 10, 2009

spiritual boredom

I received the note below from a friend on Facebook. My reply follows.

Re: Boredom in the Union life

Hello friends! I know that title seems oxymoronic, but I wanted to ask you about boredom. I've noticed that sometimes I get bored stiff! It feels like there's nothing mentally stimulating that Christ wants to do or teach me or anything. In the past, I'd to try to do things to "fill myself up", things that blessed me before but now felt very dry. Now, I'll tell God how bored I am and try to have a conversation, but I keep getting distracted by the boredom! Help! Has this happened to you and, if so, what did God say about it? I value your thoughts very much and each of you has been a tremendous blessing to me. It feels like a big, warm family on FaceBook!

my response:

I think spiritual boredom is epidemic in western culture. "Without a vision, my people perish." We need a vision for God's unfolding purpose in our world. Most people think that once Jesus died and rose from the grave, the story was over. Now we simply try to live this life and enjoy it as much as possible, and then one day we will "die and go to heaven". (I am not saying that is what you do... I am just describing what I typically see around me.)

That approach misses the whole point. Jesus came the first time to provide redemption and bring us into relationship with God, but now we wait eagerly for His second coming. The early church longed for His return, when He would begin His 1000 year reign on earth, bringing all of creation under His loving rule. That is our hope. All of creation reconciled to its Creator.

In the meantime, the infinite, awesome One longs to reveal Himself to us in deeper and greater ways. Its free, but it doesn't come easy. It requires that we come to Him in faith, to spend time praying, fasting, meditating on His word, and worshipping. I promise you, if you will give yourself to those practices, He will reward you with what Paul called "the spirit of revelation." That is what he prayed that God would give the Ephesians. Its not about legalistic works. The prayer, fasting, meditation, etc. are not to earn this revelation. Its about putting ourselves in the God-ordained position to receive what he graciously wants to give us. These are some of the works of faith that James speaks of.

Jesus wants to bring you into an intimacy with Himself that words can't describe. He wants to open our eyes in greater and greater ways to see his glory and goodness. He wants to awaken a fascination in our hearts with knowing more of Him. Forgiveness and freedom from guilt and works are just the introduction into this grace in which we stand. He truly wants to take us into the fulness of the knowledge of God. No human can explain that. It can only be experienced in His presence. Sometimes our seeking of Him will be stimulating and even exciting, and sometimes it will be a little on the dry, dull side. I just encourage your to persevere. God is faithful, and "a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him."

Once your heart becomes fascinated with Him, boredom will, for the most part, become a thing of the past.

grace and peace,


I know, I know.... I am not a very good "comforter" at times. But spiritual passivity is rampant in this generation and "the kingdom of God suffers violence, and the violent take it by force." There is a thread of theology that I have been running across lately that sounds more like muppet land than the kingdom. We just kind of passively go about our business, and let Jesus live through us. Any effort we make is "the flesh", and therefore useless, if not evil. I think the Lord wants partners, and not puppets.

But that's just me...

Lord, straighten out my thinking where I am missing it. Amen.

Saturday, August 01, 2009

a question

The other morning I was talking with a friend, and we were discussing a portion of scripture from Ephesians 5, verses 1 through 21. It’s a very challenging passage. It calls us to be “imitators of God” and to walk in the kind of love that that took Jesus to the cross for us. And then it calls us to holiness and purity in no uncertain terms. It speaks particularly to our struggles with our speech, sexuality and covetousness. But that’s not really what I am concerned with at this moment.

He called me a few hours later, with a thought he had as he was considering our conversation. While I can’t remember his exact words, the gist of his thoughts were to question why we wouldn’t live now with the same devotion and dedication to Jesus that we picture ourselves having after His return to rule "in the flesh" here on the earth. I thought it was a great question, and it led me to another one.

In our day to day lives, would we change anything that we are doing or not doing if Jesus was living alongside of us in the flesh?

A second question naturally follows.

Why are we waiting to make those changes?

I will leave it at that. Its a discussion we can only really have with Him.

And yes, I know, Jesus won't be "in the flesh", since He will be in His resurrection body. "In the flesh" just seemed to make the question more clear. ;-)

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

the same yesterday, today, and forever

From Jeremiah 21

The priests ask the prophet to inquire of the Lord regarding His deliverance for them from the king of Babylon and his invading army.

"Inquire of the LORD for us, for Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon is making war against us. Perhaps the LORD will deal with us according to all his wonderful deeds and will make him withdraw from us." They presume that the great God of Israel will arise as He did in Egypt and deliver them from their enemies."

But Jeremiah doesn’t give them the answer they are looking for.

"Thus you shall say to Zedekiah, 'Thus says the LORD, the God of Israel: Behold, I will turn back the weapons of war that are in your hands and with which you are fighting against the king of Babylon and against the Chaldeans who are besieging you outside the walls. And I will bring them together into the midst of this city. I myself will fight against you with outstretched hand and strong arm, in anger and in fury and in great wrath. And I will strike down the inhabitants of this city, both man and beast. They shall die of a great pestilence. Afterward, declares the LORD, I will give Zedekiah king of Judah and his servants and the people in this city who survive the pestilence, sword, and famine into the hand of Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon and into the hand of their enemies, into the hand of those who seek their lives. He shall strike them down with the edge of the sword. He shall not pity them or spare them or have compassion.' "

Not exactly what they were expecting. God was not happy with them. He loved them, they were His chosen, but they were in a place of unbelief and rebellion. They had been in idolatry, and the other sins it inevitably leads to. So… He was going to be faithful to His promises. Moses had given them severe warnings regarding disobedience to His ways, and He was going to follow through with what He had said.

“Even when we are faithless, He is faithful.” He will be true to His word, one way or the other.

“I myself will fight against you with outstretched hand and strong arm, in anger and in fury and in great wrath.”

Now, many people today would write this whole thing off as “Old Testament.” That’s the law, they say. We are under grace now. Hmmm. I am thinking of a couple of New Testament “promises.”

James, the brother of Jesus, wrote”You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. Or do you suppose it is to no purpose that the Scripture says, "He yearns jealously over the spirit that he has made to dwell in us"? But he gives more grace. Therefore it says, "God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble."

Let me see. In this “New Covenant” passage we are told that a wrong attitude toward this world can make us an enemy of God, and that pride will put us in a position where He, God, will oppose us. That sounds a lot like the situation we find in Jeremiah. The Israelites had been unfaithful to the Lord, and become “friends” with the idols of this world. In His perfect love and wisdom, God had to discipline them. He couldn’t leave them in their deception and rebellion. He had to do whatever was necessary to bring them back to a place of complete trust in Him, and the obedience that is always the result of that trust. We know from His own word that He delights in mercy. However, He will turn to discipline if that is what it’s going to take to restore our hearts back to Himself. That hasn’t changed. Remember Hebrews 12. His first choice is to win us with the revelation of His kindness. But, if we turn back to the deception of darkness and sin, He will still do whatever is necessary to wake us up to a place of repentance.

Why? Because He loves us… more than we could ever understand.

Have your way, Lord. In mercy, have your way.

The psalmist tells us many times, “He is good, and His mercy endures forever.”

I believe it.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

a good word

Jeremiah 9

Thus says the LORD: "Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom,
let not the mighty man boast in his might,
let not the rich man boast in his riches,
but let him who boasts boast in this,

that he understands and knows me,
that I am the LORD who practices steadfast love, justice,
and righteousness in the earth.
For in these things I delight, declares the LORD."

Lord, give us hearts that boast only in You.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

the prophet and the priest

From Amos, chapter 7:

Amaziah, the priest of Bethel, sent to Jeroboam king of Israel, saying, "Amos has conspired against you in the midst of the house of Israel. The land is not able to bear all his words. For thus Amos has said, "'Jeroboam shall die by the sword, and Israel must go into exile away from his land.'" And Amaziah said to Amos, "O seer, go, flee away to the land of Judah, and eat bread there, and prophesy there, but never again prophesy at Bethel, for it is the king's sanctuary, and it is a temple of the kingdom." Then Amos answered and said to Amaziah, "I was no prophet, nor a prophet's son, but I was a herdsman and a dresser of sycamore figs. But the LORD took me from following the flock, and the LORD said to me, 'Go, prophesy to my people Israel.' Now therefore hear the word of the LORD. "You say, 'Do not prophesy against Israel, and do not preach against the house of Isaac.' Therefore thus says the LORD: "'Your wife shall be a prostitute in the city, and your sons and your daughters shall fall by the sword, and your land shall be divided up with a measuring line; you yourself shall die in an unclean land, and Israel shall surely go into exile away from its land.'"

If you have read the prophecy of Amos at all, you know that he is not exactly a cheerful guy. Basically he was a farmer that the Lord called out of the fields to proclaim His judgments against the house of Israel. Really strong stuff. Here in chapter 7, we find that a priest has gone to the king, and said, “We need to get rid of this guy. He is telling the people that they are in sin, and that God is getting ready to bring down some heavy discipline. This is really negative, discouraging stuff, and the people can’t take it.”

The priest wants to shut down the prophet because he is upsetting the status quo. He didn’t see things from God’s point of view, and therefore didn’t embrace the word of the Lord. There is a great danger of that scenario replaying itself in our generation. That which we call “the church” is a thriving business in American culture. However, much of it bears little resemblance to that which we see in the scriptures. Instead of calling out disciples to follow Jesus in His counter-cultural kingdom, we teach people how to enjoy all that this world has to offer, and then go to heaven. We teach them how to live for themselves in Jesus name. That sells much better. Draws bigger crowds, brings in bigger offerings.

And then a voice rises up, exposing the deception, and calling His “followers” to actually follow Him. This world and its system and values are exposed as “under the power of the evil one,” and bringing us into enmity with God. There is a call to repentance, to the true holiness of passionate love for our awesome King. There are warnings of the coming discipline of the Lord in our generation.

And what do we hear from those who make their living from this religious system masquerading as the gathering of Jesus’ family? “Legalism! Religion! Bondage!” Grace is perverted to allow people to walk in unrepentant, willful rebellion against His teachings while claiming to be His followers.

And the priests once again try to silence the prophets.

Some things never change.

The end of this passage is the scary part, though. God’s response to the priest who would run off the prophet couldn’t be stronger. He declares another judgment, and this time it’s against the family of the priest. Prostitution for the wife, death for the children. It’s tragic beyond words. I wouldn’t begin to suggest that this is how God would deal with undiscerning leaders of our generation, but there is a lesson here. The status quo is not sacred. Peace and prosperity in the present are not the priorities of the One who sits on the throne. He is determined to have a pure and spotless bride for His Son. He will do whatever is necessary to prepare her, and He will not allow even the leaders of His people to stand in the way of His plan to bring that to pass.

Lord, give us wisdom, understanding, and discernment of your ways for our times.

Have mercy.