Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Monday, May 20, 2013

The Opportunist

opportunist

“Live wisely among those who are not believers,
and make the most of every opportunity.
Let your conversation be gracious and attractive
so that you will have the right response for everyone.”

(Colossians 4:5-6)

Are my conversations always “gracious and attractive?"  Do I always have “the right response for everyone?”  Do I always “live wisely?”

Of course not.

I would be a liar and a hypocrite if I claimed any of these things.

Does that mean that I shouldn’t bother striving to meet these measures?  Of course not, either.

There are two extremes in Christian doctrine out there that I’ve noticed discussed in the New Testament.  That isn’t to say that there aren’t other extremes as well, but the two that I am speaking of today are, in some respects, two sides of the same coin.

On the one extreme are those who teach that we are made right with God by following the Law of Moses in addition to what Christ has done for us.  The apostle Paul wrote his letter to the Galatians to specially address the false and dangerous teachings of the Judaizers – those who insisted that the non-Jewish Christians comply with the Law of Moses, including circumcision.

Of these people, Paul wrote, “Even that question came up only because of some so-called Christians there—false ones, really—who were secretly brought in. They sneaked in to spy on us and take away the freedom we have in Christ Jesus. They wanted to enslave us and force us to follow their Jewish regulations.  But we refused to give in to them for a single moment. We wanted to preserve the truth of the gospel message for you (Galatians 2:4-5).”

Instead, Paul writes in Galatians 5:16-18, “So I say, let the Holy Spirit guide your lives. Then you won’t be doing what your sinful nature craves.  The sinful nature wants to do evil, which is just the opposite of what the Spirit wants. And the Spirit gives us desires that are the opposite of what the sinful nature desires. These two forces are constantly fighting each other, so you are not free to carry out your good intentions.  But when you are directed by the Spirit, you are not under obligation to the law of Moses.”

Which brings me to the other extreme.

Over the last few years, I have been accused of preaching a “greasy grace” message. By proclaiming the good news of God’s unmerited grace toward us as exemplified through Jesus Christ, I am sometimes painted out as preaching and practicing lawlessness, when nothing could be farther from the truth.

The book of Jude addresses these types of ‘teachers,’ in writing “Dear friends, I had been eagerly planning to write to you about the salvation we all share. But now I find that I must write about something else, urging you to defend the faith that God has entrusted once for all time to his holy people. I say this because some ungodly people have wormed their way into your churches, saying that God's marvelous grace allows us to live immoral lives. The condemnation of such people was recorded long ago, for they have denied our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ (Jude 1:3-4).”

So, on the one extreme are those who teach legalism, and on the other are those who teach licentiousness.  Yet, the common denominator is that both extremes lead people away from following Christ.  As Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “But I fear that somehow your pure and undivided devotion to Christ will be corrupted, just as Eve was deceived by the cunning ways of the serpent. You happily put up with whatever anyone tells you, even if they preach a different Jesus than the one we preach, or a different kind of Spirit than the one you received, or a different kind of gospel than the one you believed (2 Corinthians 11:3-4).”

Earlier, Paul had written to the Corinthians, “Even though I am a free man with no master, I have become a slave to all people to bring many to Christ. When I was with the Jews, I lived like a Jew to bring the Jews to Christ. When I was with those who follow the Jewish law, I too lived under that law. Even though I am not subject to the law, I did this so I could bring to Christ those who are under the law.  When I am with the Gentiles who do not follow the Jewish law,  I too live apart from that law so I can bring them to Christ. But I do not ignore the law of God; I obey the law of Christ. When I am with those who are weak, I share their weakness, for I want to bring the weak to Christ. Yes, I try to find common ground with everyone, doing everything I can to save some.  I do everything to spread the Good News and share in its blessings (1 Corinthians 9:19-23).”

Which brings me back to Colossians 4:5-6, “make the most of every opportunity.

Don’t be a legalist –or- an anarchist.  Enjoy the simple freedom you have in Christ, but don’t abuse that freedom to please yourself.  Instead, use your freedom to serve others, walking in love.  Make the most of every opportunity, finding common ground with everyone, doing all that you can to save some.

Be an opportunist.

Love in Christ,
Pastor Joe

Friday, May 17, 2013

Conflict and Love?

"Again I say, don't get involved in foolish, ignorant arguments that only start fights.  A servant of the Lord must not quarrel but must be kind to everyone, be able to teach, and be patient with difficult people.  Gently instruct those who oppose the truth. Perhaps God will change those people's hearts, and they will learn the truth. Then they will come to their senses and escape from the devil's trap. For they have been held captive by him to do whatever he wants." (2 Timothy 2:23-26)

Why is it so difficult to keep Scriptures like this at the forefront of our minds?  I don't know about you, but time and again, I find myself caught up in a direct or indirect 'debate' about doctrine, about politics, about ethics, about any number of topics that involve a disagreement about what truth actually is, and what it means for us as believers.

Don't get me wrong.  Debate isn't always bad.  The above passage tells us to 'gently instruct those who oppose the truth.' The problem is that 'gently' is all too often overlooked.  Instead, it is too easy to get caught up into heightened emotions, which in turn end to lead to arguments laced with sarcasm, hostility, even rage.  As Christians, these things are far removed from who we are called to be.  Not only are our hearts not able to be heard through our contentious voices, but we risk invalidating any credibility that we may have otherwise brought to the table.

Likewise, when we fall into this type of emotional engagement, we cease to see the other person as another child of God, but as the embodiment of evil.  As we become more reactive and aggressive, it is no wonder we find ourselves feeling attacked, which only contributes to the downward spiral.  Such arguments completely betray what Christ has called us to do.

So, what do we do?  Do we avoid any semblance of conflict?

Yes and no.

Romans 12:18 says, "Do all that you can to live in peace with everyone."

Yet, Scripture also calls us to stand for truth, to contend for the faith, and to show those who oppose truth where they are wrong.  The apostle Paul was not afraid to name names, and even went so far as to publicly confront Peter to his face when the latter began to stray from the truth he had received (Galatians 2:11-16).

I write these things today because I find myself still struggling in this area.  I want to live at peace with everyone, yet I also want to defend the truth when I see it distorted or attacked.  I want to show mercy, yet I also feel compelled to promote justice.  I am afraid, though, that in trying to find the happy medium, I am only contributing to 'foolish, ignorant arguments that only start fights,' and that by quarrelling, even if it is only via Facebook comment threads, I am playing right into the devil's tactics to create further division among those who seek God with sincere hearts.

In trying to 'rescue' others from the devil's trap, I want to make sure that I don't fall into it myself.

I will be the first to admit it -- I have fallen victim to my baser nature in some of the Internet 'discussions' I've had in the past, letting my anger get the better of me, and in doing so, losing whatever ground I might have gained.  What also haunts me is that I may have also hurt others by my emotional extremes in my efforts to counter falsehood and error.

What we need to remember is that the battle is not ours but the Lord's, and that "we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places (Ephesians 6:12)."

Ultimately, it is as the Scripture says, "Perhaps God will change those people's hearts, and they will learn the truth."  Like Jesus illustrated in the parable of the sower (Matthew 13), and Paul reiterated in 1 Corinthians 3:5-7, we are responsible only to sow the truth, but it is God who changes the hearts of men.

Hostility, sarcasm, bitterness, and anger are not the ways to stand for truth, nor are they fruits of the spirit.

Love is.

And love is also a commandment.

And love expressed in word and deed, even when opposing others, is the one of the greatest ways we can glorify God.

This is a major part of what it means to live our lives as Jesus did (1 John 2:6).

I am still learning how to walk this out.  How about you?  Are you victorious is this area?  If so, what does that look like for you?  I would love to hear from you.

Love in Christ,
Pastor Joe

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Colossians 1:12-23

Colossians 1:12-23

He (God) has enabled you to share in the inheritance that belongs to his people, who live in the light. For he has rescued us from the kingdom of darkness and transferred us into the Kingdom of his dear Son, who purchased our freedom and forgave our sins.

Christ is the visible image of the invisible God.
He existed before anything was created and is supreme over all creation,
for through him God created everything
in the heavenly realms and on earth.
He made the things we can see
and the things we can’t see—
such as thrones, kingdoms, rulers, and authorities in the unseen world.
Everything was created through him and for him.
He existed before anything else,
and he holds all creation together.
Christ is also the head of the church,
which is his body.
He is the beginning,
supreme over all who rise from the dead.
So he is first in everything.
For God in all his fullness
was pleased to live in Christ,
and through him God reconciled
everything to himself.
He made peace with everything in heaven and on earth
by means of Christ’s blood on the cross.

This includes you who were once far away from God. You were his enemies, separated from him by your evil thoughts and actions.  Yet now he has reconciled you to himself through the death of Christ in his physical body. As a result, he has brought you into his own presence, and you are holy and blameless as you stand before him without a single fault.

But you must continue to believe this truth and stand firmly in it. Don’t drift away from the assurance you received when you heard the Good News.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

How to Spot a Legalist (link)

"21st Century Pharisees have replaced circumcision and keeping of the law with a more accepted evangelicalized list of dos and don’ts.

"These pious sounding party poopers are getting Christians to doubt their salvation, get discouraged in their salvation, and trying to prove, keep and/or earn their salvation. They are robbing believers of the joy that was once theirs in Christ and replacing it with the heavy yoke of legalism (Acts 15:5-11)."

Check out this refreshing post over at ChurchLeaders.com:

http://www.churchleaders.com/youth/youth-leaders-blogs/166149-greg-stier-to-spot-a-legalist.html

Love in Christ,
Pastor Joe