Christianity 201

July 28, 2017

When People Disappoint

James MacDonald is the pastor of Harvest Bible Chapel in Chicago’s northwest suburbs, the host of the weekday radio program Walk in the Word and blogs at Vertical Church Blog where this first appeared. Click the link to read at source.

Dealing with My Biggest Disappointment

The psalmist said, I have been young, and now am old . . . (Psalm 37:25), and that is how I feel. Fifty-something is not over the hill, but it is surely down the road—and now that I am down that road I see things a lot differently than I did when my shoes were new and I hadn’t broken a sweat. Back then I was filled with convictions that have lasted and idealisms that have not.

I am more convinced than ever that Jesus is God’s Son—the One who made atonement for sin and exemplifies righteousness—that the Bible is God’s Word revealed to us in perfection and sufficiency, that heaven and hell are real, and that God’s glory is the only thing worth fighting for. But I am less convinced about methods—mine or yours. I am not persuaded that my way is the only way, or even the best one in some instances. And I have lost my naivete about people. I frequently doubt when a person expresses their sincerity, their longevity in leadership, or their commitment to do as they say they will. It’s so shocking to look back and see how frequently people are excited about accountability until they are the one who needs it.

And it’s not just others I am disappointed with, it’s myself. I see how often I have failed to be all that I wanted to be for God and for others. Without question my biggest disappointment is with people—you and me, the whole bunch of us. On our best day we are incredibly flawed, and the harder a sincere person tries to push the blame on others, the more they should feel the weight of their own shortcomings . . . what “I” should have done differently.

But here’s the thing: give others the grace you know you need and move on in the lessons you have learned. Too much navel gazing and wallowing in disappointment hinders the work of God in and through you. The Christian life requires forgetting those things which are behind (Philippians 3:13). If your focus is on the rearview mirror today, I challenge you to lift your eyes to the road ahead and leave your disappointment with people behind you.

HOW???

Jesus had disappointments with people, right? With the religious leaders who attacked Him, with the family members who first rejected Him then fought for their own prominence when His popularity was on the rise. Where were they at the cross? Then the disciples—Peter denied, Judas betrayed, the rest ran when the Savior needed them most. Or did He? Of course Jesus loved people, but did He need them? An interesting verse in the opening of John is a lesson I could have used a lot earlier.

After many were flocking to Jesus and “believing in Him,” John 2:24-25 says: But Jesus on his part did not entrust himself to them, because he knew all people and needed no one to bear witness about man, for he himself knew what was in man.”

Jesus was neither cynical nor naive. He loved people without entrusting Himself to them, and He served people without exposing himself to their faults or failures. Are we so attached to one another that we set ourselves up to be shattered when the inevitability of our fallenness comes to the surface? Are we so in need of affirmation and acceptance that we find ourselves ‘wheels up’ in the ditch when a friend or colleague denies or betrays? Loving people, yes. Living in community, yes. But attaching ourselves to people in a way that we lose our footing in following Jesus when they stumble or trip us up? No!

Let’s fix our eyes squarely upon the only One worth following—praising God for the blessing of people, but refusing to attach ourselves in a way that puts our faith/following at risk. Looking back, if I had been a little less euphoric in the glory days with any particular person, I would have been less crushed by disappointment when I discovered their feet of clay . . . no doubt they would say the same of me. Only Jesus on the pedestal, the rest of us on level ground, looking up. That’s how I deal with disappointment.

John 21:21: “Peter . . . said to Jesus, ‘Lord what about this man?’ Jesus said to him, ‘. . . What is that to you? You follow me!’”

August 19, 2014

A Message to Prime Ministers, Presidents and Kings

We continue today with weekly contributor Clarke Dixon.  You can also read this at his blog by clicking the title below:

Biblical Message to World Rulers: Be Afraid, Be Very Afraid. Reflections on Psalm 2

There is no shortage of rulers, now, and in recent memory, who have plunged or kept the people under their care into darkness. We think of Bin Laden and the recruitment of people into lives of terror. We think of the Taliban and remember the dismal treatment of women. We think of Boko Haram and the atrocities committed of late. We think of those associated with the new “Islamic State” and the reports of beheadings, kidnappings, forced conversions, and executions. Already the rulers of these organizations are responsible for thousands dead and thousands more living in terror this year. But we can also look back to other atrocities within living memory. There is Hitler responsible for 10 million deaths, 6 million of which were Jews, and we are not even counting those who died in battle from the war he started. Stalin is said to be responsible for 7-13 million dead, some say much more. Mao is said to be responsible for 40-50 million dead. How many more lived, but lived in terror? These rulers and all like them have something in common beyond being responsible for plunging people into darkness: they are mentioned in the Bible. Consider:

1 Why do the nations conspire, and the peoples plot in vain? 2 The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the LORD and his anointed, saying, 3 “Let us burst their bonds asunder, and cast their cords from us.” (Psalm 2:1-3 NRSV)

These verses originally speak to the rulers surrounding Israel in Old Testament times, and the “anointed” referred to the earthly king of Israel. But they also point to Jesus Christ as true King, and to rulers throughout all of history and even today who operate in ways that are far from the Kingdom ways of the Lord. No thought is given by all such rulers to the possibility that Jesus Christ is “King of kings, and Lord of lords” (Rev 19:16) and that they are subject to His rule. They are expected to follow Christ as they lead others.

Since Jesus is the King of kings and Lord of lords, He has the right, in fact the obligation, to execute justice with regards to those who rule:

4 He who sits in the heavens laughs;
the Lord has them in derision.
5 Then he will speak to them in his wrath,
and terrify them in his fury, saying,
6 “I have set my king on Zion, my holy hill.”
7 I will tell of the decree of the Lord:
He said to me, “You are my son;
today I have begotten you.
8 Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage,
and the ends of the earth your possession.
9 You shall break them with a rod of iron,
and dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel.”
(Psalm 2:4-9 NRSV emphasis mine)

Revelation makes the connection between Psalm 2 and Jesus quite clear:

15 From his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron; he will tread the wine press of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty. 16 On his robe and on his thigh he has a name inscribed, “King of kings and Lord of lords.” (Revelation 19:15-16 NRSV emphasis mine)

Keep reading in Revelation and you will learn what happens next to “the flesh of kings, the flesh of captains, the flesh of the mighty” (v18). It is not pretty.

Can you imagine that day, when the each ruler of the earth will stand before the judgement seat of Christ to give an account for how they ruled? Can you imagine the questions that will be posed to them?

  • Why did you not follow Me? Why did you not follow the example I set of servant leadership? I am the Good Shepherd, who laid down His life for the sheep. Why did you not do likewise?
  • Why did you not lead people to Me? Is it not your duty as a leader, as a shepherd, to lead your people to greener pastures? Why did you instead plunge them into darkness?
  • Why are you making excuses? Did you not notice the greener pastures? Did you not see the positive impact My people have had in the world, wherever they have been truly following Me?
  • Why are you making excuses? Did you not notice how people have been following Me for many, many, many generations. Did you seriously think Christianity was just a passing fad? Did it never cross your mind that maybe your rule and your cause was the passing fad?
  • Did you stop to consider the positive impact upon your people had you drawn close to Me? The potential was too profound to ignore the possibilities.
  • Did you stop to consider the eternal implications for you in your relationship with Me? The potential was too profound to ignore the possibility.
  • Did you put any effort at all into exploring the evidence for My claim to being your Lord? Did you ponder the evidence for the truth of Christianity? As a leader, ought you not to have taken a lead in the most important questions ever asked?

Can you imagine it? And can you imagine what would happen if rulers everywhere would seriously explore the Christian faith? Can you imagine what kind of world we would live in if rulers everywhere would repent from their sins and turn to the Lord following the example of the Good Shepherd who “came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45 NRSV)?

Final questions: Are you aware that you have people in your realm of influence? Are you aware that you may be considered a ruler of this earth? Are you aware that those same questions could be posed to you?

10 Now therefore, O kings, be wise;
be warned, O rulers of the earth.
11 Serve the Lord with fear,
with trembling 12 kiss his feet,
or he will be angry, and you will perish in the way;
for his wrath is quickly kindled.
Happy are all who take refuge in him.
(Psalm 2:10-12 NRSV)

Let us pray for those who are living in darkness. Let us pray for the rulers who plunge or keep their people in darkness. Let us be encouraged that this world’s story is far from over and that darkness will give way to light. Let us pray that we will serve well, whenever and wherever we reign, and that in doing so we will reflect light into the lives of our families, friends, and enemies.

November 29, 2012

The Often Painful Discipline of Church Leadership

Just three months ago we included a post by Blake Coffin at Church Whisperer (churchwhisperer.com) but we’re back again because he has a wealth of material that those in church leadership, and those of us who aspire to serve God to the utmost need to consider. In this post he’s looking at ‘the rest of the story’ regarding the man in II Corinthians who is under church discipline. Is the job finished when someone is simply removed from fellowship or does our responsibility go deeper? Blake titled this post, When The Painful Part is Only The Beginning, and you’re encouraged to click through and read it there and then browse the rest of his blog.

Now, regarding the one who started all this—the person in question who caused all this pain—I want you to know that I am not the one injured in this as much as, with a few exceptions, all of you. So I don’t want to come down too hard. What the majority of you agreed to as punishment is punishment enough. Now is the time to forgive this man and help him back on his feet. If all you do is pour on the guilt, you could very well drown him in it. My counsel now is to pour on the love.  The focus of my letter wasn’t on punishing the offender but on getting you to take responsibility for the health of the church.  2 Corinthians 2:5-9 (The Message)

Years ago, I was in a race with several hundred other people.  It started on a beach in Corpus Christi, Texas.  After a half-mile swim in a very choppy ocean, we all ran to a transition area where we quickly put on cycling shoes and rode off on a 25-mile bike ride, about half of which was directly into a stiff and steady 20-mph headwind.  I considered myself a reasonably strong cyclist, so I was surprised that so many racers passed me on that windy ride. By the time I got off the bike, my legs were jelly and my body was exhausted.  I sat down in the transition area, thinking about the 10K run still ahead of me.  I was genuinely torn about what I would do…I could quit now and just lie back and relax (that’s exactly what a large part of me was wanting) or I could strap my running shoes on and stand up and “will” my legs to work again.  What I did next would reveal my real intentions…my heart.

Matters of Christian accountability, especially those related to church discipline, are never as simple as finding fault and imposing consequences.  Those painful parts are only the beginning of discipline…they are just stages in a much longer process, one designed to ultimately turn the heart of one of God’s children.  Think about when you disciplined your own children.  It never ended with just a punishment.  There was always the continuing conversation to make sure the reason for the consequences was clear and that a lesson was learned.  There was always the hug and the “we still love you” message.  There is always a transition from the painful part to the loving part…a critical continuation of the process.

That was Paul’s point to the church in Corinth when, in 2 Corinthians 2, he encouraged them to continue working with the man they had disciplined, even after the “punishment” had taken place. The whole point of church discipline is to “win the brother back”, so the process never ends with just removing fellowship from him. Like my triathlon, there is still more race to run and there is a necessary transition into that next phase.  I have walked prayerfully through this discipline process with a few churches.  I always caution them along the way to check their hearts and to make sure their motives are right.  Are they doing this out of love and concern for this brother, or are they just trying to get rid of him so they no longer have to deal with him?  The easiest and clearest evidence of their real motive comes after the discipline is imposed…what they do next will reveal their true intentions.

Churches who “discipline” a member and have little or no follow-up contact with him are not really practicing discipline at all.  Churches who are truly heartbroken over the whole process and who have the “sinner’s” interests at heart will certainly stay in contact with him and work to turn him around.  The race is not yet over.  In fact, it is just beginning.  Now it is time to transition to the next stage…now it is time to forgive and to love and to reconcile.

Oh, back to my race… I did finish my triathlon.  I did not set any records.  But I finished, because it was what I had set my heart on doing from the beginning.  I finished what I started.  That time, anyway.  :)

© Blake Coffee

Other posts by Blake here at C201:

Church Whisperer has been added to the blogroll here.

April 21, 2012

Bible Teaches Individual Responsibility and Personal Accountability

With help from my wife and son, I’ve started a project where I hope to upload to YouTube a number of songs that I feel have some significance in the history of contemporary Christian music and/or modern worship, that simply don’t exist online at present. Most of these are songs for which the 25-year copyright limitations have lapsed, and this involves transferring them from vinyl records to digital and then uploading them.

One of the first songs I wanted to do was a John Fischer song which goes by two titles; you may know it as “Love Him in the Morning” or as “All Day Song,” its proper title.  I’ve also included it above, so it seemed fitting that today’s devotional should be from John’s blog, The Catch.

Indirectly, John deals with our propensity to think the gospel message applies to someone else, and not ourselves. “What about them?” is a rather common question.  This appeared at John’s blog under the more concise title, ‘What is that to you?’

Peter turned and saw that the disciple whom Jesus loved was following them… When Peter saw him, he asked, “Lord, what about him?” Jesus answered, “If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you? You must follow me.”(John 21:20-22)

There is a popular argument for not believing that Jesus is the only way to heaven. How could Jesus be the only way to heaven when not everyone on the planet has even heard about Jesus? Would a just and loving God condemn people to hell for the crime of growing up where they never heard about Jesus?

There is more than one approach to this question, but one of the most important is that introduced by the example of Jesus and Peter in the dialogue above. Peter is wondering how John was going to die, and Jesus says, “What is that to you? You must follow me.”

What about the guy in another culture who never hears about Jesus? The answer is the same: “What is that to you? You must follow me.”

One has to already know a good deal about Jesus to even be asking this question, and to use it as an excuse not to believe is not even good logic. That’s saying you are not going to be accountable to what you know about Jesus, or could find out if you tried, because there is a guy somewhere in the world who in your estimation can’t find out.

When Jesus said: “You follow me,” He was saying: “You follow what you know of me — what has been revealed to you. You are not responsible for what has or has not been revealed to someone else; that is between my Father and that person.”

This also applies to our experience in life. When you want to compare your life to someone else’s — someone else has had it easier than you — guess what Jesus says. “What is that to you? You must follow me.”

Besides, I am of the impression from walking with Jesus that hell is more likely to be peopled with the self-righteous who had tons of chances to respond to God’s grace than with unlucky sinners who just happened to miss the “Jesus Saves” sign.

Don’t measure your lot in life by anyone else’s. You only have your own.

~John Fischer