Christianity 201

January 8, 2018

Conflict at Church

This is our third visit to Art Toombs Ministries, and today I read several great articles trying to decide which one to carry here. Be sure to check out his archives of scriptures covered in past posts — he’s currently in the epistle of James — you never know when you might need it.  I also follow Art on Twitter. To read today’s item at source, and then look around the site, simply click the title below.

Resolving Church Conflict

James 4:7 Therefore submit to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. 8 Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded. 9 Lament and mourn and weep! Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. 10 Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and He will lift you up. 11 Do not speak evil of one another, brethren. He who speaks evil of a brother and judges his brother, speaks evil of the law and judges the law. But if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge. 12 There is one Lawgiver, who is able to save and to destroy. Who are you to judge another? (NKJV)

James is writing to first century Christian Jews who have been dispersed from Jerusalem. He specifically is writing to teachers of the Gospel. The current teaching is on the subject of resolving conflict in the church.

This passage begins with the word “therefore” (v.7a). This is a reference to the previous verse which states “God resists the proud, But gives grace to the humble.” The key to resolving conflict in the church is humility.

We see this humility lived out in six commands which if heeded will resolve conflict in the church. The six commands are listed in verses seven through nine:

(1) “Submit to God” (v. 7b). Submission to God requires obedience to His word. We do not know what to obey unless we know His word, the Bible. We should turn to the Bible for advice on all matters. Then we should be obedient to that Scripture.

(2) “Resist the devil” (v. 7c). The devil always hits at our weakness. For many of us Christians our weakness is pride. Pride is also the source of much church conflict. We must resist pride, and all other sin. When we do, the devil “will flee” (v. 7d).

(3) “Draw near to God” (v. 8a). When we do this, “He will draw near” to us (v. 8b).    We draw near to God through prayer. The more we fill ourselves with God, the less room there is for self. The closer we draw to God, the more we see things through God’s eyes and not our own. Our selfish desires then take a back seat to the will of God.

(4) “Cleanse your hands” (v. 8c). This is a reference to our actions. Sinful actions require confession, repentance and seeking forgiveness, from both God and from those we have offended. It is not enough to just confess our sin, if we intend to then repeat the sin. We must also turn from, repent of, that sin.

(5) “Purify your hearts” (v. 8d). This is a reference to motives. Our motives may be mixed, “double-minded” (v. 8d). We must be careful to keep our motives pure. Our motives may be what we perceive as what is best for us, instead of what is best for God’s kingdom.

(6) “Lament and mourn and weep“(v. 9a). Without getting too bogged down in the theology, let’s just say this has to do with our attitude. Our attitude needs to be one of sincerity. If we have wronged another, we should feel badly for our sin against our fellow Christian. We should feel so badly that we never want to return to the behavior or mindset that may have contributed to a problem. We should feel so badly that it is hard to laugh or have joy (v. 9b). Even if we are not the source of the problem, we should be upset with ourselves for letting things get to this point. We should not take the problem lightly, or pass off all the blame on others. We cannot control what others may say or do, but we can control our reaction. A poor reaction often escalates a slight, or an offense, into a problem.

So If you “humble” yourself in these ways, “He will lift you up”, (v. 10). God will provide a way to resolve the problem that will glorify God. Humble yourself, and then put your trust in God.

James then introduces what may be interpreted as a new subject. However, I believe that he stays on the subject of humility. He writes of criticism, specifically criticism of a “brother” (v. 11a), a fellow Christian. There is no place for criticism in a humble heart.

How can you be humble while criticizing another? The two do not go together. You are breaking the Golden Rule. You are not doing unto others as you would have them do unto you. No one likes being criticized.

When you criticize “you are not a doer of the law but a judge” (v. 11b). God is the only “Lawgiver” (v. 12a), the only judge. He is the only one “who is able to save and to destroy”, able to judge (v. 12b). We are not “to judge another” (v. 12c).

Correction is another matter. It is Biblical to correct a fellow Christian who has gone astray. The correction, however, should always be offered in the form of kindness and love, not criticism.

So the key to resolving church conflict is humility. Humility does not escalate a slight into a problem. Humility, instead, allows God to lift up the situation. Stay humble and trust God to resolve the situation in His own way, and in His own time.

 

September 12, 2013

A Time for Purging

And no, this isn’t an article about eating disorders.

Some of the items here follow an unusual route to get here. Today’s post came to our attention when WordPress automatically generated a link back to us. So we back-tracked the trackback, and discovered a brand new blog, consisting of only one post. Normally, we’d wait a while and look at the tenor and content of the blog over time, but this time we decided to encourage a new blogger at the start of his journey. (Even if he threw us for a loop by including a Bible quotation marked LAM, which we assume refers to the Lamsa Bible.) Doug Wildman’s inaugural post was titled Mind Purge. (Click through to read at source, and for illustrations.)

“The commander of the Lord’s army replied, ‘Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy.’ And Joshua did so. Joshua 5:15 [NIVUK]

During the conquest of Canaan, God told Joshua to leave no survivors. While this offends our modern sensibilities, it was the way God chose to create a territory that was distinct in it’s commitment to Him. God is unwilling to share devotion with any other so-called god. But before Joshua could claim the Promised Land, he had to face one last obstacle; the Jordan River. Imagine if you were one of those children born in the desert raised with the expectation that your generation would experience the fulfillment of an ancient prophesy; the claiming of a homeland. At the climax of the journey sits an immovable river blocking the path to the land flowing with milk and honey. Can you imagine the excitement mingled with fear as you witness God stopping the flow of the mighty Jordan to let you and your people to pass through. Extraordinary.

If you are a disciple of Christ, you too are called to the Kingdom of God. This Kingdom is not some distant ideal, it is within you (Luke 17:21) even now, but is not of this world (John 18:36). So, even though the days of fighting physical battles has ended, we are still engaged in a spiritual battle for holiness. Our minds are the holy territory that we must defend. Our “conflict is not only with flesh and blood” (Ephesians 6:12 LAM), but against malevolent spiritual forces which are not happy about the way that God miraculously allowed us to enter into the Kingdom of God. As it says in Joshua 5:1, When the rulers heard about it, “their hearts sank; the courage drained out of them”. (MSG) Make no mistake about it, you have crossed over into the Kingdom if you have given Christ the authority over your life. Notice though where the battle takes place, “We use God’s mighty weapons, not worldly weapons, to knock down the strongholds of human reasoning and to destroy false arguments.” So our spiritual Jericho is whatever appears to be an impenetrable reasoning against the will of God. Just remember what God did to Jericho. That stronghold came down not by human effort, but by the power of God himself! “Casting down imaginations, and every false thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, and to capture every thought to the obedience of Christ”  (2 Corinthians 10:5 LAM). This is a scorched earth policy. Your mind belongs to the One True God.

The spiritual battle is not to establish yourself in the Kingdom of Christ. God has already allowed you to enter in. The battle is in the mind for holiness, because God’s mark is upon you. Give your full attention to God throughout the day. I like the way the Message put this, “Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you.” (Romans 12:2) Good advice. How do we fix our attention on God? One way is to have his Word in our hearts. This is only be possible if we read God’s Word. Another thing is to practice the presence of God through an ongoing dialogue with Him. Allow the Holy Spirit to speak to you about the things you are experiencing. So many of us mindlessly go from one activity to another without any thought of God at all, and then we wonder why God seems so far away. We need to find ways to ensure that we don’t allow any spiritual forts to remain standing in the territory that God has claimed as His own.

June 15, 2013

Heart Guarding

The theme of guarding your heart turns up frequently on devotional blogs, but it’s something we need to be constantly reminded of. This post by Mike Brown appeared at the blog We Are Soma under the title, The Discipline of Guarding Your Heart. Soma is a network of 18 U.S. churches, and Soma School is for existing or potential church planters. Learn more at WeAreSoma.com

 Simply re-arranging the furniture of my life without pulling up the root of the sin that so easily entangles ensures yet another crisis where I am left defining myself by what I do, or don’t do.

When looking at every relationship I have through the lens of discipleship, I am always asking three questions. What do they need to know in order to develop a Biblical mindset about God, themselves and the world? Who do they need to be in order to maintain a close walk with Jesus where His kingdom is first in their heart? What do they need to do in order to live a life consistent with the truth of the gospel?

These are not bad questions, but due to my personality bent, I have given undue attention to the areas of knowing and doing, instead of being. I can teach and train anyone to grow in the knowledge of Jesus. I can imitate and model for others what action that flows out of the gospel looks like. What I can’t do is change someone’s heart, from which all knowing and doing stem. In Proverbs 4:23, King Solomon says

“Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life”.

Solomon says that above all else, we are to guard our hearts, for that is where every external thing in our life comes from. Merely focusing on knowledge or action without examining our heart motivations is a curriculum to develop Pharisees, not disciples.

My own heart is drawn astray when I am tempted to look at someone’s knowledge of, and obedience to the gospel as the mark of maturity. Yet I have both seen and been the man whose knowledge and obedience are based on fueling the idolatry in my own life, rather than being a reflection of my love for Jesus.

In Proverbs, the heart is seen as the source of all action. It is assumed that it will constantly be under attack, thus to need to guard it with vigilance. We know the Bible teaches that our heart is the essence of who we are as a person made in the image of God. How do we care for our heart in a way that ensures it stays a source of clean fresh water which purifies all of our thoughts and actions?

God led me beside still waters and restored my soul in such a unique way last year that I’m beginning to finally understand the value of rest. I was becoming increasingly concerned about the tone of my voice with my wife, my children, and my church. I was becoming aware of just how many nights I put the kids to bed, spent some time talking to my wife, then went to my laptop “to get a head start on my busy day tomorrow”. I was becoming more susceptible to believe the praise of others about my strengths as well as being crushed by the criticism of my weaknesses. Through the help of a godly community committed to seeing how the gospel speaks a better word over me (Heb. 12:24), I realized that my heart was looking to my productivity as the source of my strength. So, I stopped.

I took several months off to rest. I needed to know my identity was found in Christ, not my preaching. I needed to know the tone of my voice with my kids wasn’t dependent on how good or bad a day I’d had. I needed to see my wife as a God given help to me, not just a partner in life. I needed to care for my church in a way that reflects the self-emptying, sacrificial love of Jesus. I became a part of the community, rather than the guy in charge. I took a vacation where spending the whole day doing nothing but playing with my kids was the work of the ministry. I stopped basing my well being on how much I got done that day.

Through God ordained Sabbath rest, Jesus teaches us how to guard our heart. By resting, we are able to identify our affections and adjust our intentions.

When we take time to step off the treadmill of productivity, and can no longer gain an unhealthy sense of worth or value from our output, we are able to clearly identify the affections of our hearts. What is currently driving my thoughts and actions right now? What am I am showing that I love more than Jesus by the mental and physical energy spent pursuing it? Is rest something I do when all my work is finished, or a discipline practiced regardless of how much work is left?

Only after the Spirit leads us to identify where our affections lie can He teach us to adjust our intentions. Heart change will lead to a renewing of our minds and a re-evaluation of our actions. What needs to be left undone in order to pursue something better? Am I willing to let people down in order to live consistent with a heart that desires Jesus? If my intention is to glorify God and enjoy Him, what needs to be adjusted in my life in order to achieve that?

Simply re-arranging the furniture of my life without pulling up the root of the sin that so easily entangles ensures yet another crisis where I am left defining myself by what I do, or don’t do.

Sabbath rest is a command by God designed to bring life. Only when we see those things in our lives that poison our hearts can we view rest not as a burden, but as a gift from our Heavenly Father, who is always at work restoring our souls.

May 31, 2013

When Grace is Given Selectively

To paraphrase a popular saying, “All people in the church are given grace equally, but some grace is more equal than others.” Do you ever feel that way? That certain issues are elevated while discussion of others is suppressed? Mark at the blog Attempts at Honesty deals with this in a blog post titled Selective grace in the church

Grace is a word that Christians frequently use, too often glibly and without proper thought. For example, I have been in several churches with Grace in their titles who offered very little of it to the people who attend.

We all want grace, but sometimes struggle to give it when it is most needed. Perhaps this is why Jesus placed such an emphasis upon forgiveness, going so far as to say that He will not forgive those who refuse to forgive others (Matthew 6:15). Offering grace must be intentional and is sometimes difficult because it goes against our natural inclination.

What is even more bothersome to me is that in some churches, selective grace is offered. Selective grace is in operation when some people receive grace and others do not. Often this is due to the background of the person who needs grace.

In a denomination that I formerly attended many of the pastors would often refer to their drug abuse in their “B.C.” days. They would use their former behavior as an illustration of God’s grace, and rightly so. They did indeed receive grace and despite their past failures God uses them in ministry.

The problem comes in when some other sins are less likely to receive grace. In some churches, those who have experienced divorce, those who struggle with same sex attraction, those with mental illness and those who might disagree on minor points of doctrine receive anything but grace. Even in that denomination with the formerly drug addled pastors, selective grace was a struggle and some people were treated in a manner inconsistent with grace.

Let’s be honest and admit that sometimes we encounter Christians who make us uncomfortable. If we do not make a conscious effort to build bridges with those who make us feel uncomfortable, then we are likely to withhold grace from them.

Some make us uncomfortable because of their background or lifestyle. It is as if we want everyone cleaned up completely after becoming a believer. The problem is that we are all in the process of being cleaned up, yet sometimes we hold others to a standard we can not meet.

I have been in churches where those who came out of a “sinful” lifestyle continued to be suspect, no matter how they progressed in their relationship with Jesus or their understanding of Scripture. Sexual sins in particular seem to put people on the suspect list. I have also known of churches where divorce was treated as if it was the unpardonable sin.

Perhaps even worse than this is to withhold grace over a difference in belief or practice. Examples of some issues over which we might withhold grace are these:

  • How the gifts of the spirit are manifested
  • How prophetic portions of Scripture are to be interpreted
  • Whether a person is liberal or conservative in their politics
  • The preference or abhorrence of liturgy in the worship service

This is not an exhaustive list, we could find many more issues over which Christians have divided.

We cannot be selective in how we demonstrate the grace of God in our lives. We need to follow the example of Jesus in the way he was gracious to everyone, including the Pharisees. Ephesians 2:8-9 is often quoted as indicating that we are saved by grace, yet the verses preceding verse 8 set the correct context.

“And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” (Ephesians 2:1–9, ESV)

Apart from Christ, we were dead in our trespasses and sins. In other words, we crossed boundaries that should not be crossed and we fell short of the standard we know was in place. Yet, God gave us grace, the very grace that saves us.

How can we do anything less than offer that same grace to others? We must put an end to selective grace.

Read more at Attempts at Honesty: What Nehemiah Can Teach Us About Apologetics.