Another like the Other

As the cross came nearer and the hour of his departure was at hand, Jesus promised the disciples that he would ask the Father, and he would send them another [H]elper who would remain with them, and then later, reside in them. It’s interesting the word John uses when he writes another [H]elper. The word in the Greek is ἄλλον / allon. The use of this particular word is important because it signifies that he is talking about another like himself, another of the same kind- Another like the Other! In fact, many theologians will use this word in discussions on the Trinity and the deity of the Holy Spirit. I really don’t want to get into a bunch of academic theology (and you’re glad I know); I just want to use this word to communicate something I think will help us in our daily lives. Walk with me.

Jesus was a Rabbi and taught using tried and true rabbinic methods during his earthly ministry. The rabbis would speak in ways so as to conceal a truth within “surface” words. They would seek to make their disciples dig for the wisdom and truth. They would say things, all the while hoping that their followers would perceive the deeper spiritual lessons they were really trying to communicate. Remember when Jesus said, “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it up on the third day.”? Well, we know that he wasn’t talking about the physical temple that stood at the time. He was talking about his death and resurrection. How about the time he told his disciples, “Watch out for the leaven of the Pharisees.” The guys thought he was mad at them because they had forgotten to bring along bread on their journey. But again, Jesus desired to teach them spiritual truths. What about Philip and the feeding of the 5,000? Jesus asked Philip how they could feed so many when he knew beforehand what he planned to do. And the woman at the well, with whom he spoke of living water? Once more, he was trying to direct her into deeper, spiritual considerations. Jesus was always teaching. Everything he did and said was designed to communicate the heart of the Father. Every situation he exposed the disciples to was designed to teach them. That’s how a rabbi did it. His followers ate with him, slept with him, worked with him, lived with him, and sought to emulate him in every way. Life was the classroom. So, if in the person of the Holy Spirit, Jesus was sending us Another Helper just like himself; why would his teaching methods be any different?

Here’s my point. With the Holy Spirit as your teacher, your whole life is the classroom. So often we complain about this or that, and we fail to realize that each situation we find ourselves in can be another learning opportunity. Our first impulse is to ask God why we are going through a particular thing, when perhaps our question should be what are you trying to teach me. If we come to an understanding that the Father desires to reproduce in us the image of his Son, it will affect the way we respond to life. Now, let’s not get crazy and look for the secret meaning of the two birds that just flew overhead. Chances are, it was just two birds flying overhead. But we should pray that we discern what it is the Holy Spirit is teaching us as we find ourselves in different life scenarios. As a disciple of Jesus, God is at work in you by the presence of his Spirit to bring about that which is pleasing to him and eternally good for you, i.e. , you looking like Jesus! This happens not just by Bible study and prayer, but within the context of your everyday life.

You have received Another just like the Other, just like the Rabbi that taught his disciples in Jerusalem over 2,000 years ago.  Because we are children of God, “God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts,” and he wants to make us like Jesus. Let us walk in the Spirit, and be taught by him. With God’s Spirit as our teacher, may we move past the obvious “knee-jerk” responses to life, and search for the treasures God has hidden within even the most trying of times. Let our prayers be not “Why Lord?” but “What Lord, what are you teaching me?” I pray that you follow so close behind your Rabbi that you are covered with his dust.

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Splinters

I don’t know about you but sometimes I struggle. Yeah, I sincerely love Jesus and have given myself to him, trusting him, seeking him, consistent in fellowship, service, prayer and bible study; but, I still have areas in my life in which I struggle. If you’re like me; it starts with a thought. The “splinter” enters the mind, and there are times when I let it fester to the point that it brings about the disgusting pus of sin. BUT all praise be to God, as I walk with him, I am experiencing the truth that Jesus not only forgives sin, but is perfectly willing to share with us his victory over sin!

The reality is that as believers in Christ, God has declared us justified. Positionally so to speak, we are in Jesus, holy and blameless. Experientially, we are being conformed to the image of the Son as the Holy Spirit works within us on a daily basis. We exist in the tension between what God has done for us in Christ, what he is doing in us as we grow in him, and what he is going to do on the day salvation is fully realized.  As we grow in grace, we find that we no longer live a lifestyle of habitually practicing sin; but, we are still very much capable of sinning. Because we have been born again by God’s Spirit and given a new nature, we are grieved by our sin as we sincerely long to be perfect, complete, and mature as he has called us to be. I haven’t got there yet, but I’ve learned a few things and I’d like to share one of them with you now.

Regarding that “splinter in the mind,” the Bible tells us, “But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.” (James 1:14, 15 ESV) You can see the progression: temptation, sin, and ultimately death. I believe it’s usually at the point of that first thought (temptation) that the battle’s won or lost. The verses on our victory over sin are too numerous to cite here (google ‘em), but it is evident within scripture that, because of Jesus, we are/can be victorious. The thing is, when that first temptation comes we have all kind of twisted, pseudo-religious ways by which we respond. When tempted, have you ever offered up some kind of half-hearted token prayer like, “Lord please help me.” when you know you plan on giving in? Have you ever purposely hardened your heart to the voice of the Spirit, knowing you could escape temptation, but turned a deaf ear to the call to prayer because really you wanted to give in and didn’t want him to stop you? Sadly, I have to answer yes to both of those questions. “Oh, what a miserable person I am! Who will free me from this life that is dominated by sin and death? Thank God! The answer is in Jesus Christ our Lord.”

When temptation comes, you must understand that you have been given victory in Christ. At the first thought, as soon as you feel that “splinter” enter your mind; call upon the Lord in sincere prayer. Take to him the temptation that has beset you! By the grace that he has given so freely to you, BE WILLING to let him give you victory. Our problem is that sometimes we simply aren’t willing for him to do it. Cry out to him understanding that “God declared an end to sin’s control over us by giving his Son as a sacrifice for our sins.” The only prayer you may be able to muster is, “Lord, I’m willing to be made willing.” but willing he will make you! As you come to him in the hour of temptation, he will fill you freshly with his Spirit through whom “you put to death the deeds of your sinful nature.” My friend, we are victorious in Christ!

I remember being a kid and getting splinters from time to time. I knew Mom could get them out. She would heat the needle until it glowed and then carefully, lovingly extract the thing that was causing me so much pain. You know, I remember there were times I wouldn’t go to her, even though I knew she could help, because I was afraid. Looking back now, that seems really foolish, but don’t we do the same thing regarding the splinters of temptation that are in us. We know Jesus is more than able to help, but for whatever reason; we don’t allow him to. Foolish, huh?  I’ll leave you with this:

“And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

 

“Don’t Give Me No Lines and Keep Your Hands to Yourself”

Back in ancient Palestine, gathering around the well had been a place where it was not unusual for a future wife to be found. It was not lost upon the Jew of the day that it was at a well where Isaac’s wife –to-be (Rebekah) had been approached. So, while any self-respecting Jew of Jesus’ day normally wouldn’t publicly fraternize with a member of the opposite sex, he would have definitely avoided the “water-hole scene,” and he absolutely would not have been caught with a Samaritan woman at the popular “pick up spot.” So, it is not beyond the realm of speculation to imagine that the Samaritan woman who met a frazzled, worn out Jewish man on a hot afternoon beside  Jacob’s Well may have been thinking, “Don’t hand me no lines, and keep your hands to yourself.”

The day Jesus met the Samaritan woman, he was risking a lot. He risked being seen as unclean, flirtatious, unorthodox, and frankly, as a low life. But to our Lord, how he was perceived was not the concern. He was about the Father’s business, and doing God’s will sometimes puts you at odds with the status quo. In the Samaritan woman, Jesus met someone who believed in the scriptures (at least the first five books of the OT), expected Messiah, and had at least some knowledge of worship, yet was broken and misled. She had been drinking from a well which could never quench her thirst and needed the living water that only he could provide. And for her to get it, he had to put himself out there. She didn’t know what she thought she knew, and the only way for her to be made whole was to meet the Lord. Sound familiar?

All around us are people who need to meet Jesus, and that will only happen if we take Him to them. Too often, we are afraid of “getting dirty,” being misunderstood or loosing or reputation in the church if we are seen out amongst the “riff raff” of the world. We go to church and go through the motions all the while remaining motionless. The Bible says that Jesus had to go through Samaria. Well (no pun intended), he could have taken a much longer alternative route that would have steered him clear of those dirty Samaritans, but he had to go because that was why he had come. He came to reveal God to the world and reconcile fallen man with the Father. And Paul tells us that we have been given this same ministry of reconciliation.

“And all of this is a gift from God, who brought us back to himself through Christ. And God has given us this task of reconciling people to him. For God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself, no longer counting people’s sins against them. And he gave us this wonderful message of reconciliation. So gowe are Christ’s ambassadors; God is making his appeal through us. We speak for Christ when we plead, “Come back to God!”(II Corinthians 5:18-20)

Okay, now for a big DUH question. How can we reconcile people we won’t go to? Listen, if we are not moved to reach out to the world with the gospel, all of our religious experiences must be called into question. Jesus said that we would receive power TO BE HIS WITNESSES when the Holy Spirit takes up residence in our lives, and sometimes; being a witness leads you to people and places you would not normally frequent. A true witness has to tell the truth about what he has seen no matter the cost.

You don’t have to hand people a bunch of lines, you’re not selling them a used car. You don’t have to be manipulative; just tell them what you have seen and heard regarding Jesus. And for goodness sake, don’t keep your hands to yourself. We are His hands and feet. Go, be intentional, reach out and touch those around you with the love of God.

Perichoretic Salvation (Dr. James D. Gifford)

I want to tell you about a book that I really believe can change your life. I had the privilege of having Dr. James D. Gifford as a professor, and he has written a book entitled,  Perichoretic Salvation: The Believer’s Union with Christ as a Third Type of  Perichoresis, which I think is simply awesome.  I took the  pericope below off of the back cover and I hope it will entice you to click on the provided link, and get your own copy. Perichoretic Salvation by James d. GiffordI know the man, and I absolutely encourage you to get his book!

“For two thousand years, Christian theologians have struggled to explain the believer’s union with Christ. What sort of union is this? How can it fully be described? This book is an attempt to join the conversation to explore exactly what it means to be in union with Christ. This book will argue that the believer’s union with Christ can be rightly presented as a third type of perichoresis. Perichoresis is a word that describes the way the persons of the Trinity interrelate, without losing their essential oneness nor without being absorbed into each other. In short, the doctrine of perichoresis preserves the unity and diversity within the Godhead. It is also used to describe the hypostatic union of the divine and human nature in Christ. In Perichoretic Salvation, James Gifford argues that the union of the believer and Christ is a relationship of the same kind, though of a third type. Arguing from a perspective that is rooted biblically, historically, and theologically, the book will allow the union to be explained more fully than in the past while remaining within the bounds of what the church has taught over the centuries. It mat prove to be a basis for understanding the work of Christ afresh for the twenty-first century.”

http://www.amazon.com/Perichoretic-Salvation-Believers-Christ-Perichoresis/dp/1610971140

Motivated By Joy

“And we are writing these things so that our joy may be complete.”

If you talk to folks about ministry, you find that there are a variety of motivations which people refer to as the reasons why they do what they do. We speak of equipping the saints, transforming our communities, saving souls, etc…, but we don’t often hear someone say, “Serving makes my joy complete!” Now don’t get me wrong, equipping, transforming, and saving are all legitimate motives for ministry, and each can be justified biblically; however, I think John provides us with an all too often overlooked motive for ministry when he refers to “joy being made complete.”

In 1 John 1:1-3, John  told his readers that he had found the meaning of life in Jesus. He described the way Jesus is life itself, how he has always been in relationship with the Father, and how through him, we have now been invited to partake in the very life and communion of God. I don’t know about you, but those facts alone are enough to make me pretty joyful. However, in 1 John 1:4, John tells us that while he is indeed enjoying life in Christ; he can’t keep it to himself. In fact, he tells us that in order to keep the joy he is experiencing in Christ continually being filled to the brim; he has to share with others.

John tells his readers that he writes so that “χαρὰ ἡμῶν ᾖ πεπληρωμένη,” or that the “joy of us might be complete.” (Reading it in the Greek always reminds me of how Yoda talks.)  The “complete” part is in what is called the perfect tense and passive voice, and this is really cool. John is saying that while he has experienced this joy in the past, when he shares it with others; God causes his joy to overflow and remain full up. Christian, are you joyful today? If not, maybe it’s because you aren’t ministering to others. I’ll just go ahead and say it; there is a direct correlation between your personal joy and ministering to others.

We are not to keep the life we have found in Jesus to ourselves! So many Christians have the mindset that says, “Whew, thank God I’ve escaped hell. Now, I’ll just try to hang on.” These dear brothers and sisters are usually cold, bitter, and lifeless, and a large part of it is due to the fact that they aren’t ministering to anyone else. Remember the story of Jesus and the woman at the well? Jesus was tired and hungry, so the disciples went off to get some food, and when they got back; apparently, Jesus was revitalized in someway. When they urged him to eat he said, “I have food you don’t know about. My food is to do the will of the Father.” Ministry!

Do you need personal “revival”? Are you in a present state of overflowing joy? Well, don’t just sit there; get busy! Share the life you have in Jesus with those around you, and not only will they be changed; your joy will be made complete.

A Holy Ethnicity

I often have the opportunity to sit with “church leaders” of various ethnicities in the Charlotte NC area and discuss many hot button topics. As you could probably guess, as of late, the Presidential Election has been the prevalent topic. While the conversations have always remained civil and respectful, I couldn’t help but notice that there was an “elephant” in the room which we all avoided mentioning- racial tension. Sides were being taken along racial lines, and it really grieved my heart that no one (including me) addressed the issue. This got me thinking about the verse in I Peter 2, where Peter says, “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.” Hmm… race, nation… Is there anything we can learn from this other than the usual, “I’m royalty.” bit?

Peter tells his readers that they are a chosen γένος (genos) or race. That’s where we get our word gene, genetic, etc… He also calls them an ἔθνος (ethnos) ἅγιον (holy) or holy nation. Ethnos, hmm…ethnic, ethnicity- interesting.  I began to think of the diverse audience to which Peter had written. I thought of the social and cultural context in which they existed. Here were a people (Jew & Gentile alike) scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, living under the oppressive hand of the Roman Empire. If you weren’t a Roman citizen, chances are you were having a pretty bad day. In the midst of this difficulty, Peter wants the believers to understand that they are a holy “ethnic group,” intentionally chosen by God. Brothers and sisters, in Christ, we are no longer white or black Americans. We have been made into a brand new, holy ethnicity!

As children of God, we are a new creation. We are in Jesus, and there is no Jew, Gentile, Black, or White.  A new man has been created in Christ. A new, holy “ethnos” has been made out of every kindred, tribe, and tongue! There is no place for racism of any kind in the body of Christ for we are all together a chosen race and a holy nation. When we as members of the body of Christ define and/or divide ourselves along racial lines we are being carnal and have forgotten that we are literally joined together as one in Christ. When we make distinctions along racial lines according to the flesh, referring to “our people,” “our this,” or “our that”; we have forgotten who we are in Jesus. Frankly, I as a middle-aged, white, southern, male Christian should be more at home with my black sister from New York than I am with a middle-aged, white, southerner who doesn’t know the Lord. Think about it. The same Holy Spirit is conforming us to the image of Christ. Shouldn’t we have more in common with each other than with the world? Shouldn’t we resemble one another? Shouldn’t we desire  fellowship  with one another more than we do the fellowship of those who are our “kindred” after the flesh?

Brothers and sisters, a President is not the hope of our people. A transforming political ideology is not what our people need. We have a King, and his name is Jesus. We are one in his Spirit, a chosen race, a holy ethnicity. There is one Lord, one faith, one baptism, and though we are many; we have been made partakers of the same Spirit. So, while in the world, comments like, “You can’t possibly understand because you’re not black/white.” may be the norm, in the body of Christ, we know each other after the Spirit. We always have common ground and avenues of understanding because in Him, we are one.

The political process has served to expose the earthly-mindedness of many of God’s people. Apparently, we have become so in love with this world that we are willing to be divided from our brothers and sisters in Christ for the sake of our own carnal desires. We have forgotten that together, all of us make up the body of Christ. We belong to Him and to each other. We are called out from being simply a white man, or a black woman. We are a brand new creation in Christ. We are a chosen race with a common “genetic code.” We  are a holy ethnicity, a brand new nation of people, set apart in Christ,  to show the world the glory of our King.

 

 

 

 

 

True Ministry

Back in January I published a series on ministry, and it still weighs so heavy on my heart. I believe we have such a misconception as to what true ministry is and exactly who is called to do it.  I decided to condense the previous posts into this one, and I pray it speaks to your heart.

We find that in Ephesians 4 the bible tells us that Jesus gave gifts to the church: Apostles, Prophets, Evangelists, Pastors and Teachers for the equipping of the saints (that’s you if you are in Christ) for the work of the ministry (your Bible may say work of service or something similar). So really, the job of the “vocational minister” is to equip the saints to do ministry. We need to move away from this “clergy/laity mentality” and understand that all who are in Christ are called to do the work of ministry. Ministry is something all believers are to do.

Okay, so what does it mean to be equipped?  Well if you study the word translated equip you find that the word refers to that which has been restored to its original condition, is being made fit or being made complete. The root word was used as a medical term used for setting bones! Secular Greek also used it to refer to the furnishing a house. Paul’s use in the context of the Body, the Church, pictures the complete furnishing of the believer so that he/she might be made ready to fulfill their purpose in the body of Christ where they have been placed by God’s Spirit. This equipping denotes the “net-mending” process the fishermen would utilize, equipping the net to catch the fish. The Greek word denotes not so much an adding something that is lacking, but rather a straightening out. We have handed all ministry over to the “professionals” when in reality, it is the job of the “professional” to equip the saints to do ministry themselves!

But, what is true ministry? True, ministry may be manifested in many different forms. I have to be real careful when I try defining what real ministry is or is not. (Didn’t Jesus talk about giving someone water in his name?) What is it that Jesus is calling you to do? How does authentic ministry really look? We have a lot of mistaken ideas about ministry. Can I tell you that doing good deeds in and of itself is not ministry? (I Corinthians 13:3)  We must not mistake doing good things for ministry. Does not the world have programs to feed the poor and clothe the naked? Can I tell you that prophesying, casting out demons and things like that can be accomplished and it still not be true ministry? (Matthew 7:21-23)

There’s a story in the Bible that most of us have heard about which provides wonderful insight into how true ministry works, i.e., the Feeding of the Five Thousand. Let me break it down for you like this:

I. The Lord knows what he wants to accomplish through you. John 6:6 says that Jesus knew what He was going to do that day he fed the 5,000. He had asked Phillip how they would feed the people, but, He already knew what He was going to do. Jesus may bring you into a situation where you cannot possibly meet the need in and of yourself. Like the disciples you look out and say, “Lord, we need to send these folks away so they can get something to eat…” and He replies, “No, you feed them.” You look around and it seems impossible. The need is too great, but He knows what he’s going to do.

You may say, “Lord these people knew they were gonna need food, they should have brought some. I don’t have anything to give them.” But, He knows what he’s gonna do. You see, part of equipping Phillip,and the rest of the disciples (and you and me) was to deliberately put them (us) in a situation in which they (we) are insufficient within ourselves to minister. BUT HE KNOWS WHAT HE IS GOING TO DO!!

This feeding of the 5,000 would glorify Jesus and show the crowd who he was. That’s what you are called to do, show those he brings to you who he is. You may not be called to stand behind a pulpit, travel on a missions trip, write books, or make cds; but you most definitely are called to show others who Jesus is. The Bible tells us in Ephesians 2:10 that “you are God’s workmanship created in Christ Jesus for good works that God prepared beforehand for you to walk in.”  The first thing I want you to see about ministry is that the Lord is in control and He already knows what He wants to do through you. And oh yeah, don’t be surprised if it seems impossible.

II. The “face” of ministry. What do the ministers look like? The Body of Christ works together, no one part is greater than the other. As we have discussed, Jesus had brought them all into a situation in which He already knew what He was going to do; but, his disciples didn’t. They saw the great need and figured the best thing to do was send everybody away to fend for themselves. Keep in mind that Jesus is the ultimate shepherd/pastor, so, can’t you see that He was “equipping” (like your ministers are supposed to do)?) them?  The disciples had nothing to offer, but it was one of the disciples (Andrew) who brought the little boy whom Jesus would use to the forefront.

In ministry, Jesus may use you to be a coordinator. You may not be the one who directly meets the need, but you may be one who the Spirit of God uses to coordinate. Like the disciples, you may think you have nothing to give, but, God has a plan. How many people have not been ministered to because God’s plan didn’t look how we thought it should? Andrew (another disciple), who was a coordinator in this instance, becomes aware of the boy who had the loaves and fish, but still doubts that such a little bit could accomplish anything. How many times have you felt like sharing, giving, or saying something, but, felt like it wouldn’t amount to anything?

III. The Little boy and his lunch.  When Andrew became aware of the boy and his lunch, despite his doubts; he told the Lord. And Jesus said, “Bring it to me.” Now let me ask you, do you think that the little boy was really the only one who had sense enough to bring food or was he the only one who was willing to surrender his? We don’t know for sure, but it made me think how that sometimes we are so concerned with my growth, my relationship with the Lord (which is good), but we forget that its not all about us. In the Old Testament, when the land was being allotted, and the 2 ½ tribes opted to stay on the east side of the Jordan; they still had to send their warriors to help their brothers obtain their inheritance. Are you so focused on you and yours that you have forgotten that there are brothers and sisters in Christ who need you to minister to them, much less a world that is dying and going to hell?

Anyhow, back to the little boy; we don’t know who he was, his name, or anything. He’s the kid with the food. We see in this that true ministry is not intended to make us celebrities. We 21st century Western Christians may have said, “I can’t believe Jesus didn’t even mention my name. They should at least name a grassy slope after me. I’m keeping my stuff they should’ve known better. This little bit wouldn’t do any good.” Jesus took the boy’s lunch, gave thanks, then broke the loaves and had the food distributed among the people. We may hand the Lord something that looks good, appears to be whole and worthy of use, but, he must first break it so he can use it to feed people. So often, we are impressed with our “loaf of bread” and we don’t want Jesus to break it. “Jesus, you’ve messed up my loaf!” My gifts were so pretty. What was wrong with it the way it was? You could’ve just passed it around whole like a never ending loaf of bread.” Can I go further? It is we ourselves who must be broken. In the 1st century that word serve we talked about earlier was considered offensive and degrading by the Greeks. To the Greeks the development of ones own personality was the highest aim. To serve another was menial and common. (Sounds like us huh?) We must come to the understanding that service is not something that a lesser person does to someone greater; no, it is the lifestyle of a disciple. You are called to minister. You are called to serve. That pride and selfishness which is prevalent among us must be broken so that what God has given us may be used to bring others to Christ. Our American “I’m supposed to be a celebrity” mentality has to be broken. I once heard of a sign that hung over a kitchen sink which read “Ministry performed here three times a day.”

Conclusion:  True ministry points to and flows from Jesus. Jesus used a little boy to give the disciples something to distribute among the people. It all came from Jesus’ hand; that’s how true ministry works. Maybe you’re the little boy, nameless and faceless, or maybe you’re like the disciples, seen and used to distribute the food. It doesn’t matter; it’s all from Jesus and for His glory. Will you come and give yourself and what you have to Him. Will accept your role whether it be known or unknown? Will you come and surrender yourselves and your gifts? Will you allow Him to break you and your “loaf,” and distribute it as he sees fit? True ministry is not a result of some high-profile, superstar preacher, but rather; it is an equipped, surrendered Body of Christ that works of ministry are to be performed that the Lord will use to meet the needs of those around them. I’ll close with one final thought: Pastor, your people are not to be a burden, nor a distraction which hinders you from fulfilling the vision God has placed within you. No, they are the very ones who will accomplish the task. Equip the saints. As they work, shop, go to school, etc…; they will transform the community in which they live one heart at a time.

 

We Need More Jobs

There’s plenty of talk about unemployment nowadays; so many are looking for jobs. But, let me say what I think we need are more Jobs. You know, the guy in the Bible. It’s not popular among us Christians here in the West to talk a whole lot about suffering. We have been led to believe that the best way to show people how great the Lord is is for them to see you driving a Mercedes and living a luxurious life. Yep, we are all too eager to “work” for a God like that, but not many of us are willing to take the job if it carries with it the possibility of being a “Job.” No sir, it is a hard job being a Job; however, the benefits are literally out of this world.

It is strange for us to imagine that there are times when our suffering is the way in which we can most glorify the Lord. However, when you read the book of Job, you learn that sometimes; it is through our suffering that God is glorified and we gain deeper revelation as to his tender mercies. I know that to our sensitive American ears that sounds crazy, but it’s true. The Bible tells us that Job “was blameless —a man of complete integrity. He feared God and stayed away from evil.” Yet, we find that God allowed Job to lose everything: family, friends, health, wealth, and position. Why would a good God allow these things to happen to Job- to us?

Have you ever considered that belonging to God means that you are willing to allow him to use you as a living testimony? You’ve heard the old saying, “You may be the only Bible some people will ever read.” Well, if you’ve read the Bible, you know life aint always easy. We tend to think that we best show who God is by being some super anointed prophetic superstar whose very shadow causes people to “fall out” when we walk through Wal-Mart, but the reality is, sometimes; it’s the patient endurance of the suffering saint that best points to the One who is himself our strength and reward. Are you willing to let God use you to make himself known not only on the mountain top, but in the valley as well? Are you willing to be the “loser,” the “failure,” and the one who suffers injustice if those situations will best demonstrate the power and reality of God in your life?

Check out these verses (1 Peter 2:19-25) :

“For God called you to do good, even if it means suffering, just as Christ suffered for you. He is your example, and you must follow in his steps. He never sinned, nor ever deceived anyone. He did not retaliate when he was insulted, nor threaten revenge when he suffered. He left his case in the hands of God, who always judges fairly. He personally carried our sins in his body on the cross so that we can be dead to sin and live for what is right. By his wounds you are healed. Once you were like sheep who wandered away. But now you have turned to your Shepherd, the Guardian of your souls.”

Our suffering, like the suffering of Jesus, is to be reconciliatory. When we give up our “rights,” and place our very lives in God’s hands; he can use even our suffering to bring healing and restoration into the lives of others. Was not Jesus considered by the majority to be a failure and a loser? Yet, it is through his suffering that we have been reconciled to God and healed from our sins. Are we willing to follow in his footsteps in this way? God used Job’s suffering to give Job and those around him a better understanding of who He really is. Job’s suffering turned both his and his friends’ theology upside down. At the end of Job’s story, there was healing and restoration.

Yes, we definitely need more Jobs. We need Christians who understand that communion with the living God through Jesus, in the Spirit, is their portion and reward. And, because of this awareness, are willing to allow God to use even their suffering to glorify His name, making Him known to those around them.

Jiffy Lube, “Bruce Almighty,” and Our Need for Communion

What do Jiffy Lube, and “Bruce Almighty” have to do with man’s need for communion? I’ve been thinking about the Trinity a lot lately (thanks Dr. Gifford). I’ve begun to realize that because God is Triune in his nature, all that God is and does should be considered with that fact in mind. Creation, salvation, you and me, everything is affected by the Triune nature of God, and can really only be properly understood with that in mind. When you think about God, with his Triune nature in mind, it’s easy to see why we (who have been created in his image) have such a desire for communion. So, let me tell you a story.

A few weeks ago I took my car to Jiffy Lube for an oil change. Recently, I’ve noticed that they have begun playing DVDs in the lobby as you wait for them to service your car. That day, the movie being played was “Bruce Almighty.” So, here I am sitting in the lobby with four complete strangers, trying to ignore the movie and concentrate on the book I brought with me. Well, if you’ve seen the movie, you may recall the part where Bruce’s rival is trying to deliver the evening news broadcast, and Bruce messes with him, causing him to just be able to speak gibberish, which I think is totally hilarious. Anyhow, I’m trying to keep it together in front of these strangers, not wanting to just bust out laughing in front of them in the lobby of the local Jiffy Lube; but, I couldn’t do it. I lost it, and just died laughing. And, so did everybody else. It was like we were all waiting for somebody to break the ice  and make it okay to laugh. For a brief moment, it felt like we were old friends, completely comfortable with each other. It seemed we all felt a bond at that moment, we wanted to laugh together, but just didn’t know how. That got me to thinking.

Because God is Triune in his nature, and we are created in his image; there is this innate, God created desire within us for communion. Even folks who don’t know the Lord need and seek intimacy with others. We have been created for fellowship, with God and each other. Sin, has disrupted and corrupted this whole thing. First off, as this relates to the body of Christ; the most natural thing in the world should be for us to enjoy Jesus together, but all too often we don our religious masks and refuse to let anyone see what’s really going on in our hearts. We put on airs, and refuse to expose our weaknesses to one another, and this keeps us from truly enjoying the communion we so desperately need. Put plainly, we are afraid to be real and many times opt to show each other the fake self we believe is safe for others to see. We don’t want others to see us make mistakes or get it wrong. As a result, the communion we are to have with each other, which by the way is to lead us into deeper intimacy with Jesus, is shallow and often disingenuous. How can we teach and admonish each other in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, when we are uncomfortable around each other?

Consider God, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit eternally communing with each other in absolute holiness. Our relationships within the body of Christ are to reflect the communion of the Triune God. In fact, the only way you can mature properly in the Lord is in communion with your brothers and sisters. Yes, we are to have that personal walk with God, but you’ll only go so far by yourself. In each other, we visibly see God at work and are built up in the faith. You weren’t designed to know it all, or be the high and lofty anointed one. We need each other to be whole. It’s the way He set it up.

All of this means we have to willing to be vulnerable, and guess what; may be it is you who needs to be the one to “break the ice” in your fellowship. You could be the one the Lord uses to bring freedom and renewal in the lives of those with whom you commune. Try this. The next time someone asks you, “How’s it going?” tell them the truth. Spend time with Jesus, let his word abide in you, and then pour into someone else. They need you and you need them. I’ll leave you with this:

“The human body has many parts, but the many parts make up one whole body. So it is with the body of Christ. Some of us are Jews, some are Gentiles, some are slaves, and some are free. But we have all been baptized into one body by one Spirit, and we all share the same Spirit. Yes, the body has many different parts, not just one part. If the foot says, “I am not a part of the body because I am not a hand,” that does not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear says, “I am not part of the body because I am not an eye,” would that make it any less a part of the body? If the whole body were an eye, how would you hear? Or if your whole body were an ear, how would you smell anything? But our bodies have many parts, and God has put each part just where he wants it. How strange a body would be if it had only one part! Yes, there are many parts, but only one body. The eye can never say to the hand, “I don’t need you.” The head can’t say to the feet, “I don’t need you.” In fact, some parts of the body that seem weakest and least important are actually the most necessary. And the parts we regard as less honorable are those we clothe with the greatest care. So we carefully protect those parts that should not be seen, while the more honorable parts do not require this special care. So God has put the body together such that extra honor and care are given to those parts that have less dignity. This makes for harmony among the members, so that all the members care for each other. If one part suffers, all the parts suffer with it, and if one part is honored, all the parts are glad. All of you together are Christ’s body, and each of you is a part of it.”

 

 

The Trinity and You and Me

Why do you go to “church”? That building, that home group, the coffee shop fellowship, wherever you go; why do you go? Now let me ask you this. Do your reasons for going have anything at all to do with anyone  other than yourself? Sadly, one of the things we have done is make our relationship with God mostly a personal experience. No doubt, we have turned inward. Our songs, our “worship,” our whole life in Christ; you name it- it’s “me” centered. I think this has a lot to do with our concept of the doctrine of the Trinity.

For the most part, we give a mere head-nod to the Trinity. In our “belief statements” we acknowledge that God is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and that’s about it for us Western Christians. I have recently begun to think that maybe we have been a bit deprived. Most of us have never heard of Gregory Palamas, Basil of Caesarea, Gregory Nazianzus, Gregory of Nyssa, John of Damascus, or Athanasius. Anyway, it’s interesting to look back through history and see where the Eastern and Western church fathers kind of went their separate ways, and how we came to be where we are today. The “brand of Christianity” we practice here in the West comes largely from the teachings of Augustine. (As this is not intended to be a lesson in Church History, I’ll leave it to you to study and see if what I’m saying is accurate.)   Put very simply, it goes kind of like this: Augustine was greatly influenced by Plato, and the Reformers were GREATLY influenced by Augustine; as a result, the Christianity that has been passed down to us has evolved into an inward, individualistic experience, having little to do with the way God has revealed himself in scripture as a Triune being. And, this has direct implications upon the way we understand salvation and the way we see each other.

Growing up here in the buckle of the bible-belt, I was taught that I needed to accept Jesus into my heart as my personal Savior. If I did that, I’d be spared hell, and would get a mansion somewhere on the streets of Gold. I was never told that I had been invited by God to participate in the very life, the very communion of the Trinity. My salvation was about me. “Me and Jesus got our own thing goin’.” We didn’t spend too much time on verses like:

“… that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me.” (John 17:21-23)

Or,

“For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body.” (I Corinthians 12:13)

Can you see the connection? If we have no concept of salvation as an invitation by the Father, in Jesus, through the Spirit, to be freed from sin and partake in the very life of the Triune God; it’s hard for us to understand how necessary we are to each other. When we reflect on the  Triune nature of God, it begins to make more sense as to how our salvation, our relationships together in the body of Christ ought to reflect the very communion of the Trinity.

So many go to “church” because: “I need to get fed.” or “I want to get my praise on.” We come, we sit, we “pick up the remote control,” and if the praise team doesn’t sing my favorite songs, or if my favorite preacher isn’t preaching, I simply press the “mute button,” or maybe even turn the channel. We forget that Paul tells us,

“Let the word of Christ dwell in you [ the “you” is plural in the Greek ] richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.” (Colossians 3:16)

And again,

Ephesians 5, “And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart.”

We are to be in communion with each other, and as Jesus speaks his words into our lives, we are to teach each other. As a result, we are continuously being filled with the Spirit. Can’t you see how this reflects the very Triune nature of God? Doesn’t it make sense for God who has enjoyed communion, love, and WORSHIP in himself for all eternity (in a way we can’t completely describe or understand) to design our salvation experience to be that which “mirrors” himself? It is as we are in relationship with each other, mutually submitting, clothed in humility, putting others before ourselves that we more closely resemble Him who is three in one.

We may come to Christ as individuals, but w e live in Christ as his body, members of one another.When we grasp the reality of how our salvation and life together in the body of Christ reflects the very Triune nature of God, we will stop being mere religious spectators. When we realize that through faith in Jesus we are made participants in the communion of the Trinity, we will begin to view each other as we should, and understand how we are indeed one body, each a living stone being built up as a dwelling place for God, in the Spirit.