Friendly Fire: Handling Internal Conflict Biblically

nehemiah wall_final

 

So where are we in dealing with conflict? Do we hide from it or cause it? Do we deal with it or ignore it? Do we conduct ourselves in a manner that we want God to remember or do we act in a manner that we would like God to forget.

Conflicts are a way of life for us, right? Who among us has lived their life without ANY conflict? The answer is none. So while we will have conflict we don’t have to allow that conflict to divide us or destroy our fellowship. Sadly far too often this division and destruction is what happens. But why? If we are all filled by the Holy Spirit and have the same Savior, why do we let conflict make us into strangers? The answer, to quote Sherlock Holmes, is “elementary my dear Watson”. Conflict divides and destroys because we don’t deal with it in a biblical manner. We ignore it. We sweep it under the rug. We (wrongly) assume that the admission of conflict in one’s life is an admission of failure. In short, we don’t do the right thing when there are problems. And that relatively small problem grows and grows until it explodes. We are then left with a ruined relationship and an astonished look. But really it doesn’t have to be this way.

Nehemiah teaches us here in chapter 5 how to handle conflict. There are six principles I’d like to address that I have gleaned from this chapter. Each one is important enough to stand on its own so I’ll address each one separately. Let’s dig in and learn how to resolve conflict because is we ever want to do the Lord’s work, we must – MUST – resolve the conflicts we have with others in a biblical manner.

 

Righteous Reporting

Now there was a great outcry of the people and of their wives against their Jewish brothers.

While chapter four dealt with opposition from outside, chapter five is going to help us deal with opposition from inside.

So what was the complaint? Well, they were being charged exorbitant amounts of money for food. See in v. 2 that they were mortgaging their possessions so that they could eat. These folks felt helpless and some of their children were being forced into slavery because the workers no longer owned their fields because they had mortgaged them to either eat or pay taxes. Pretty tough, huh! But this situation should not have existed within the community there. There were some who were taking advantage of others through high interest rate loans (we find this out later). These weren’t happy campers!

In order to deal with conflicts biblically, those in authority need to know about the problem. That seems obvious but it is overlooked quite a bit. Now here either they told Nehemiah directly or Nehemiah heard about it through the proverbial grapevine. How do you deal with things when they don’t go your way? Do you let the ones in authority know or do you act in a different way? We must remember that when something is wrong, we must address it to those who are in a position to effect change. Nehemiah is a wonderful example regarding how we should deal with conflicts.

Righteous Anger

First he got some righteous anger. Look at the beginning of verse 6 “Then I was very angry…”

This may surprise some of you reading this. “Nehemiah got angry? Really?” You may ask. Yep. He got some holy heat going on. Anger is not wrong (Eph 4:26, 31). It’s the motivation and the result of that anger that controls whether it is right or wrong. Anger that causes one to sin is likely unrighteous. Anger that causes one to act in a positive manner is righteous. To be angry about something that is corrupt, anti-God, anti-Christ is no vice. It may well be a virtue.  When we who know God and are His friend hear His name used as part of a cuss word, how can we not be angry? When we see His word perverted into some weird list of rules one must follow a specific way in order to gain eternal life, how can that not cause some discomfort in the people of grace?

If our anger motivates us to right a wrong, stand up for an oppressed person, or help someone in dire need, that anger is indeed righteous.

Righteous Discipline

The next thing that Nehemiah did was he stopped and thought about his response. He showed some control over his emotions. He showed some discipline.  Look in v. 7 “I consulted with myself…”

Nehemiah took time to reflect on his situation. He didn’t go off and start blasting away at those causing these conflicts. He took some time to ponder the situation and maybe even his response. We’re taught in Proverbs 16:32 that the one who is slow to grow angry is better than the strong ones or the mighty army rulers (my paraphrase).

So are you short-fused or long-fused? I hope you have a long fuse. If you don’t, look for ways to extend your fuse and remember that reflecting on your situation that is causing anger is an important step in handling the situation biblically.

Righteous Confrontation

Third Nehemiah followed the principles of biblical confrontation. You know sometimes when we cool off after being initially hot with anger we can decide to do nothing. But that is exactly the wrong response! Although cooling off is vitally important, we can’t cool off so much that we don’t care anymore.

Nehemiah situation was a significantly sticky one. He had to talk to the rich and powerful folks who were financing the project and providing labor. What would happen if these folks withdrew their support? Well, the facts seem to point to the fact that Nehemiah didn’t worry too much about these complications. He went to the ones causing the problems: “[I] contended with the nobles and the rulers and said to them, ‘You are exacting usury, each from his brother!’” Nehemiah confronted those who were part of the problem. We are taught this principle in the New Testament (see Matt 18:15-16). Nehemiah privately confronted these rich men before her did anything in public. We could stand to listen to Nehemiah here. If someone has caused conflict, go to them first. Talk to them before anyone else knows. We don’t know if Nehemiah was successful in this private confrontation. We do know that this confrontation moved on to the public realm because he recounts that he held a “great assembly” against them.

In this public forum, Nehemiah spells out the problem. He doesn’t hold anything back. But notice what he doesn’t do. Nehemiah doesn’t attack the rich for who they are. No, he points out what they are doing that is wrong. He rebuked them (v. 8) and pointed out that their enemies would mock the Jews (v. 9) for the Jews treatment of their own people. Have you ever experienced this in the church? I have. And unsaved folks love to mock us. Oh boy, we should learn how to treat each other so that we would not be the object of ridicule.

We cannot allow fear to keep us from confronting other Christians about their sin. We must be willing to love someone enough to point out where their actions oppress others and cause others to stumble.

Righteous Behavior

The next thing Nehemiah did was that he set an example of godly behavior. He had redeemed (purchased out of slavery) some of the Jews with his own money (v. 8). He loaned money without charging interest (v. 10). He didn’t do this out of pride but as an example of godly leadership. He didn’t use his position or power to extract anything from the people (vv. 14-15), he feared God and genuinely cared for those who were hurting (vv. 15b, 18b), he was committed to the work at hand (v. 16) and he was generous (vv. 17-18).

Do you live your life as an example to others?

 

Righteous Accountability

The last principle is that if we want to handle conflict biblically, we must be accountable and willing to submit to God, His word, and His leaders.  In v. 13 we see that Nehemiah demanded accountability:

I also shook out the front of my garment and said, ‘Thus may God shake out every man from his house and from his possessions who does not fulfill this promise; even thus may he be shaken out and emptied.’

Nehemiah sets the standard here. This was a serious charge before God. Do you think God would shake someone or empty someone easily if that person continued to take advantage of others? Later, in v. 19 Nehemiah asks God to remember him for what he has done. He has no fear of asking God to remember him for his actions. But can we do this when dealing with conflict? Hmmmm.

 

So where are we in dealing with conflict? DO we hide from it or cause it? Do we deal with it or ignore it? Do we conduct ourselves in a manner that we want God to remember or do we act in a manner that we would like God to forget.

Our answers to those questions really determines if we desire to handle conflict biblically or simply expediently.

Laying Brick with Mortar and Prayer

nehemiah wall_final

“Pray as if everything depends on God, then work as if everything depends on you.”  –Martin Luther

 

We should never ask God to use us then make ourselves unavailable. If we do that, then our prayers are mere words, devoid of conviction. We should always present ourselves for God’s use to answer prayers if He chooses to so use us. That is what Nehemiah did here in chapter one. This attitude should permeate us in our sanctification.

Do you see the progression in Nehemiah’s prayer? His concern about the problem led him to brokenness. While he was weeping and fasting, he expressed his conviction about God’s character. As he focused on the greatness and awesomeness of His holy God, he was quickly reminded of his own wickedness and therefore cried out in confession. After owning his role in the nation’s depravity, he prayed boldly and with confidence in God’s promises. This then leads him to a commitment to get involved. We see this in verse 11:

“O Lord, let your ear be attentive to the prayer of this your servant and to the prayer of your servants who delight in revering your name. Give your servant success today by granting him favor in the presence of this man. I was cupbearer to the king.”

While Nehemiah was praying, his burden for Jerusalem became greater and his vision of what needed to be done became clearer. He didn’t pray for God to send someone else – he simply said, “Here am I, send me!” He knew that he would have to approach the king and request a 3-year leave of absence and so asked God for “success,” in his request to the king. He wanted to see God break out on his behalf when he goes in front of the king to make his request. Proverbs 21:1 states “The king’s heart is in the hand of the Lord; He directs it like a watercourse where He pleases.” Nehemiah was committed to get involved and not just sit on the sidelines and lament the condition of Jerusalem.

Nehemiah was a different type of guy. We should be like him. He saw a problem with Jerusalem, was burdened by it, asked God to bless him with a plan, and then acted on the plan. How often do we follow these steps in our prayer time. Far too often we treat prayer as a one-way device: we summon God to listen to us but we fail to listen to Him. We lay our requests at His feet and then walk away. Instead of waiting and listening, we just move on as if God is constrained to do as we please.

God is not at our call. We are at His.

And this is how we should approach our responsibility in our progressive sanctification. As we saw in the last article, God has promised to fully sanctify every person He calls to salvation. We can count on His promise to do that. But we do have a responsibility to participate in our sanctification. God’s plan for each of us may vary greatly. The trials we face may be different – well, they WILL be different. Their difference may be in the nature, depth, intensity, or length of the trial. But there will be differences. All trials make us more like Christ and we need to embrace them fully…wait, I’m getting ahead of myself!

In our prayer life we must be willing to commit to God’s plan for our sanctification, rely on His promises, be very honest with God, understand our problem and ask God to bless us with a plan rather than for Him to bless our plan.

Where are you in this prayer process right now? Are you concerned about your requests? Do you have a conviction about God’s holy character? Are you ready to confess your sins? Do you have confidence in God’s promises? Are you ready to make a commitment to get involved in God’s kingdom work?

The walls of our lives have been toppled by our sin nature, deafness to God’s voice, selfishness, and arrogance. We are confronted with only two choices now:

1. To learn to live in the rubble of our lives

2. To be bold enough to admit our sins, ask God for His plan for our sanctification, and then commit to be  involved in that plan.

Which way are you going to proceed? The choice you make will affect you in a monumental way.

Deflated Footballs, Inflated Egos, and Repentence

Changing our mind toward our sin is key if we ever hope to be more Christ-like.

The current “scandal” involving a American football team – the New England Patriots – has enthralled Americans and taken over the endless news cycle. There has been many discussion with some becoming quite heated concerning whether the Patriots did indeed cheat in a football game. The evidence (at least that which has been released) seems to indicate that the Patriots cheated by using under-inflated footballs for when their team was trying to score points. An under-inflated football is easier to grip when the weather is nasty – and the weather was nasty for this game. The “they cheated” crowd is yelling about the principle of sportsmanship and fair play while the “they didn’t cheat” crowd makes a point that every team cheats in one way or another so, hey, what’s the big deal?

After I reflected on a discussion I participated in where the “everybody cheats” excuse was brought up I discovered why I find this whole event so disconcerting. And you know what? It has nothing to do with the apparent cheating. It also has nothing to do with the fact that cheating is prevalent in society. No, my reason for being so upset had to do with something much deeper and, in my opinion, more important that the cheating itself.

FIrst some facts…

We all sin and cheat

I am not using this as an excuse for anyone else cheating and thus saying their cheating does not matter. No I am observing a simple fact. All of us – you, me, everyone alive on this planet right now – have cheated and sinned.

For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God  – Romans 3:23 NASB

We are all in the same boat. We all do things that are wrong. We all try to game the system. In the parlance of this scandal, we all use under-inflate footballs to gain a competitive advantage. Yes even those reading this that think yourselves as good, moral people. So get over yourself – and myself – already. We are imperfect cheaters who want to win at just about any cost.

We are all helpless to change on our own

I don’t care how much you try to change, you will remain stained with sin as long as you try to change. “Turn over a new leaf” those around you may say. “Take some behavior modification classes” others may offer. Regardless of what you try to do, you will never be able to stop sinning on your own accord. Why? Because we are all as a dead person when it comes to sinning. What can a dead person do to change his condition? Yeah, thats right, nothing.

And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience.  – Ephesians 2:1-2 NASB

So what’s the rub here?

So if we are all sinners and cheaters and we can do nothing to change that fact, why then should we get so upset about the Patriots apparently cheating their way to the Super Bowl? If everyone does, what’s the big deal? It’s just humans being human, right?

It is about their attitude

The Patriots have come out and said they didn’t cheat. They have given implausible (my opinion) explanations about how a football will lose pressure. Their denials actually create more troubling questions for me. Their attitude seems to be of indifference to what they have done. They seem to be trying to dismiss this from everyone’s memory. I don’t think that will work.

So what is the Secret Sauce here?

What would help them get over this scandal and move forward? Simply put, they need to ‘fess up and repent of this mess and then they can move forward. Without that, this will follow them throughout the rest of their history as a team and franchise. And that is a good thing. But what does it mean to “repent”?

Repentance

The Greek verb for repent is metanoeo (meta-no-e-o). It means simply “to have a new mind”. The idea of this word is to have a new mind regarding Christ (for issues of eternal salvation) or a new mind regarding the issues of one’s sin (temporal salvation). Though both aspects are important, I’m mainly concerned with the latter point.

How often do we feel bad or sorry about what we have done that is wrong? Whether what we have done is run a red light, take more than allowed, taken something not ours, or some other act, do we feel a sorrow for having done that thing?

 I now rejoice, not that you were made sorrowful, but that you were made sorrowful to the point of repentance; for you were made sorrowful according to the will of God, so that you might not suffer loss in anything through us. 2 Corinthians 7:9 NASB

The passage above is referring to Paul’s scathing letter to the Church in Corinth that roundly condemned their hedonistic practices and perversion of the Lord’s Supper. If you want a good dressing down about sin, read through 1 Corinthians sometime. read it all at once. I dare you to stay the same after that. But in the selected passage here, Paul refers to the the sorrow that produced repentance. The Corinthians evidently repented of their wrongs when confronted about it. And here in 2 Corinthians Paul is commending them for it and even rejoicing that they did repent.

So what does all this have to do with me or you?

Well, simply put it has EVERYTHING to do with me and you. We have issues confront us every day where we must make a decision to sin or not sin. Every. Single. Day. What we do with that decision indicates where we are in our process of sanctification. If (when) we make the wrong decision and choose to sin or cheat, we suffer loss. Hopefully our conscience confronts us. When our conscience confronts us (as well as anyone else who confronts us) we have choice to either deny it and try to prove that everyone does it or we can choose to change our mind about our sin, agree we were wrong, ‘fess up and move on.

This is much more important than a football game where cheating happened. This has to do with your walk with Christ. Far too often we try to cover up our sin or even deny we did anything wrong. This is a huge mistake. Changing our mind toward our sin is key if we ever hope to be more Christ-like.  HIding behind excuses does nothing but enrage those around us and create further hindrances to our own spiritual growth.

So the next time you cheat, sin, or deflate footballs in order to win a game in bad weather and then get caught at it, don’t deny, obfuscate, or offer other excuses. Change your mind about your sin. Admit what you did, ask forgiveness, and then move on after being a changed person.

What Christmas Did…

Because Christ was laying in the manger, Christ would be nailed to the Cross. 

 

Another year is quickly coming to a close. We are about to celebrate Christmas 2014. I need to let that sink in for a moment. Christmas 2014. This is my 50th Christmas. Wow, thats a lot.  There are plenty of memories through those years. Plenty of memories for sure.

I remember the expectations rising as Christmas day neared. I remember my brothers and I decorating the Christmas tree my dad would bring home. I remember making my “wish list” out of the giant Sears catalog that would arrive in the mail every year. Ah yes, I remember it well. Over most generations, Christmas seems to be a time of expectation. We are always looking forward to Christmas.

The day itself, of course, is a reminder of what happened in the past. There is little consequence if this is or is not the actual day Jesus was born. What matters is that He was born. And He was born to die. For me. And you. For OUR transgressions. Wow.

Sometimes I wonder if God is remembering Christmas. I wonder if He looks back on the birth of Jesus at all. When I begin to think about that I am reminded that God has always looked forward to Christmas…and I’m not speaking of December 25th. I am speaking about the birthday of Christ which we celebrate on December 25th.

You see Christ being born was determined before man set foot on God’s earth. Before man, before sin, before the world was placed in  the heavens. Yes that long ago, God determined there would be a Christmas. That is, before anything was, God was looking forward to Christmas,

 

For He was foreknown before the foundation of the world, but has appeared in these last times for the sake of you.  1Peter 1:20 NASB

What a wonderful truth Peter shares with us here in 1 Peter 1:20. In his discourse in chapter one, Peter begins a talk about the conduct of the Christian and the call to be holy beginning in verse 13. Peter continues to talk about the need to be holy because that is the call of the Christian because God Himself is holy. Peter then speaks about giving a reason for our actions to be pure – because Christ was sacrificed for us. And with that Peter comes to the above passage – that the death of Christ was known before the foundation of the earth. So if God knew beforehand about salvation coming through the death of Christ,then He must have known beforehand that Christ would be born. He declares as much through the prophet Isaiah

Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, a virgin will be with child and bear a son, and she will call His name Immanuel. Isaiah 7:14 NASB

Isaiah uttered those words a more than 700 years before Jesus was born. And if there is any doubt to whom those words were directed, Matthew states

Now all this took place to fulfill what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet: Behold, the virgin shall be with child and shall bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel,” which translated means, “God with us.” Matthew 1:22-23 NASB

God planned for Jesus to come to earth before the foundation of the worlld. He declared it to be so  more than 700 years before His birth. But did you know that this event was foretold even before that?

And I will put enmity Between you and the woman, And between your seed and her seed; He shall bruise you on the head, And you shall bruise him on the heel. Genesis 3:15 NASB

Right after the fall of mankind – when pronouncing the curse that will befall creation – God brings forth His promise of a Savior. This is sometimes referred to as the first time the Gospel was proclaimed. It certainly is the first time there is a promise of the defeat of Satan. What a place to give hope!

 

So why do I share this at Christmas? Well the plan of God is not some grab bag of ideas thrown together at the last minute because of some surprising development. No, God’s plan and purpose is a careful one that brings glory to Him. God is not surprised for anything but has planned everything to bring glory to Himself.

And that is what Christmas did. Because Christ was laying in the manger, Christ would be nailed to the Cross. And with Him on the cross were my sins. And yours. The provision for the atonement was planned before it was needed, provided for before it was necessary, and promised before it arrived. In our moments of greatest desperation, God gave us then – and gives us now – hope. That hope came on Christmas.

From my family to you and yours – may you have a blessed Christmas. May your coming year be filled with a new zeal for God and the things of HIm rather than the things of this world. May your life be blessed. Most of all, may all that you think and do, bring glory to God in the highest.

 

Merry Christmas!

Heart Surgery

God cares about the position of my heart rather than the actions of my hands.

 

What is my motive for serving God? What is my motive for sharing my faith with others? Am I learning God’s word so that those who see me will think I’m great, smart, or something else about me? Or am I learning, sharing, and serving out of a grateful heart? Which describes you? Motives are often more important that the act.

“Teach me, O Lord, the way of your statutes; and I will keep it to the end. Give me understanding, that I may keep your law and observe it with my whole heart. Lead me in the path of your commandments, for I delight in it. Incline my heart to your testimonies, and not to selfish gain!” Psalm 119:33-36 (NIV)

The fourth plea from the Psalmist comes now to change the position of his heart. The Psalmist wants his heart to be bent toward God’s testimonies. That is really cool if we think about it. The psalmist wants his heart bent toward God. Why would he use such language?

“Incline my heart to your testimonies…”

Well, if we think about this I believe that the answer will be apparent. The heart of man is evil, that much is true from Scripture. Every inclination of mankind’s heart is toward evil, toward rebellion against God and His commands.

Nothing much has changed in the years since the first rebellion in the Garden of Eden. We continue to fight God for control. We continue to kick back at His commands. We scream and yell about our freedom and how God’s rules impinge on our freedom. We are indeed a selfish and arrogant people. God has placed His law to protect us. His rules form boundaries that will keep us from harm. Our harm is from not observing His laws.

The Psalmist is asking God to change the inclination of his heart. He is asking God to change how his heart is oriented. In essence he is asking God to correct the incorrect bend of his heart from rebellion and evil toward God’s righteousness. What a prayer this is to ask.

If God is to “re-bend” our hearts, we need to be ready to experience pain. This pain will be deep. To change the bend of one’s heart means that our every behavior—our every motive—must be changed. But can I change it myself? No. Only through God can our evil heart of stone be turned into a heart of flesh that seeks after God and His righteousness. It is only through the transforming work of God that we can do anything right or good.

The “re-bending” of our heart is a life-long process. It is like progressive sanctification I wrote about earlier. We continually become more like Christ. The process we undergo in this “re-bending” is fueled by trials. We get placed in trials to change our attitudes, heart orientation, and motives. Courage is needed—faith is required—to ask God to re-bend one’s heart. Do I have that faith and courage? Do you?

“…and not to selfish gain!”

The Psalmist wants his heart—himself—to be bent toward God’s testimonies—God’s words—but that is not the end. He desires that this re-bending will cause his motives will be toward God and not toward selfish gain.

Every church has experts in everything who are quick to judge, critique, and condemn. Sometimes these folks are pastors and elders. Other times they are those who sit in the pews. If a man can not serve quietly in submission to an elder or pastor, that person should never be allowed to lead a church. Someone who constantly draws attention to himself instead of being as quiet as possible should examine his motives. Sadly though these folks will probably never truly look at their motives. Remember, they’re the smart ones. But this problem has been around since the church began. It will remain until after the millennial reign of Christ.

We see this in the Judaizers in Paul’s letter to the Galatians. We also see it in John’s 3rd letter when he referenced Diotrephes (3 John 9-10). When we read about Doitrephes we read about a man who out for his own gain, his own position. He wants to be first. He wants to be “the man” when it comes to things of church. He always wants to be first. He is not so much a servant as he is a taskmaster.

Have you ever met on of these folks? You probably have. I have both seen these types of people while sitting in the pew as a congregant and preaching form the pulpit as a pastor. I like how Chuck Swindoll refers to these folks. He calls them “Boars in God’s Vineyard.”

What about me? How are my motives? Am I overly critical about tiny things? Do I want to bend toward God’s testimonies? How about my motives? Do I serve to truly build the body of Christ or do I have selfish motives? The motives of the heart are more important than the actions of the hands. How about you?

Crush me O Lord! Make me into YOUR workmanship and not mine. Conform me, shape me, change me, use me for YOUR glory, not mine. Re-bend my heart toward you and not toward selfish gain.

Hittin’ Nerves

 

“Leaders aren’t born, they’re made.”

I remember this mantra being drilled into my head as I served in the Marine Corps in the 1980’s. Yes I know I’m old. But an aspect of a good leader that is often lost is that a leader is first a good follower. A good leader is willing to be led and has been led.

“Teach me, O Lord, the way of your statutes; and I will keep it to the end. Give me understanding, that I may keep your law and observe it with my whole heart. Lead me in the path of your commandments, for I delight in it. Incline my heart to your testimonies, and not to selfish gain!” Psalm 119:33-36 (NIV)

In saying “Lead me in the path of your commandments, for I delight in it.” the Psalmist again hits a nerve in our modern culture. Actually I think he hits a few nerves. Especially for those in the Church.

The first nerve is that of being led by someone else. How long will we wrestle with God over just who, between man and God, is sovereign and who is not? How long will we battle with Him over control? And before you think I’m being holier-than-thou in asking these questions, I’ve already asked them of myself. Our battle for control goes all the way back to the Garden of Eden. How much simpler and enjoyable would life be if we simply observed God’s leading and His sovereignty over us.

Another nerve is the one of knowing everything, or being the smartest. Being led means I have to admit that I don’t know it all. That can be tough sometimes. Well OK, often times! If you haven’t noticed I am quite an opinionated person. I like my opinions. I think my opinions are right. But I hope I know enough to know I don’t know it all. While I may believe my opinions are right, I know that I’m probably incorrect in some of them. I need to be teachable enough to admit I’m wrong when I’m demonstrated to be wrong. I need to be willing to be led to the truth regardless of how many degrees I have on my wall. Being willing to be led means that I don’t know it all but the One who is leading me does. Am I humble enough to be led? Are you?

“Lead me in the path of your commandments, for I delight in it.”

And that is exactly what the Psalmist is asking God to do. Look again at our verse for today: “Lead me in the path of your commandments…” The Hebrew word here means “to tread on a path, to march or to cause to march”. Another meaning which I find interesting is that it can mean “to tread a bow (bend a bow to string it) by stepping on it with a foot”. It appears that the Psalmist is desiring that God make him conform his steps to His path. The Psalmist longs to be led into God’s commands, not into a particular place, circumstance, or anything else. Just lead me into the path of YOUR commandments! Are we willing to do this? There’s another nerve! Conform me to You, God!

The Psalmist also states his attitude: “for I delight in it.” Wow, what a great attitude. The Psalmist has his head screwed on correctly. Perhaps this is because he had seen so much disregard for God’s commandments in his life. Perhaps he had seen so much unrighteousness, so much ungodliness that his heart cried out for this. The Psalmist may have seen man at his worst and realizes that man at his worst—or even at his best—requires God to be center of all of man’s desires. Only God can save us from ourselves and our wicked ways.

 I delight in being led to God’s commandments

So the Psalmist not only desires the right thing (to be led God’s way) but also for the right reason and result: delighting in the way of God! How cool is that. Wouldn’t it be great to have a congregation full of folks this way? Wouldn’t it be great to have friends like this? To have those around me (and you) with this type of attitude would be encouraging and a huge blessing.

While we don’t necessarily have this universal attitude today, I know one way we can improve that situation. I can begin to have this attitude. I can desire to be led of God in His commands. I can delight in being both led in a certain way AND in the commands of God. And if every one of us dedicate just himself or herself to becoming this type of person, well, do I have to finish describing what this would look like?

Break my will, break my heart. Crush me O Lord that I might delight more fully in Your commands and Your leadership over me.

Fake Stuff Can Kill

We should always prefer the real stuff—however it is presented—over the fake.

I have no doubt that quite a few of you who are reading this have heard about the multitude of studies linking the fake stuff we put in our food to all sorts of bad things. I am amazed at the wealth of information out there regarding some of the additives we place in food and deleterious effect on the human body. Before I go too far, here is my disclaimer: I’m not a nut! I don’t think everything ever made in a lab is necessarily bad for us. But I do know that there is good, solid, scientific evidence for some of the stuff that is in our food that can kill us. Or at least really injure us.

One of my sons can not have red food coloring. If he has this red food coloring—well, lets just say he looks like “Dash” in “The Incredibles”! He’ll run around like a crazy man. He’ll stand on his head on our couch. He jump off stuff. He’s a maniac when he has red food coloring. He can’t control himself. That can’t be good for his body. He gets in trouble. He doesn’t prosper. He becomes a real mess.

Just as one of my sons can’t have red food coloring and be normal, the church can’t expect to be prosperous if it settles for fake stuff. Let me explain.

I’ve seen some uncharismatic men in the pulpit. And their delivery was passionless (or at least appeared to be). They were dry, slow, and some would say boring. But they absolutely needed to be in the pulpit. They were gifted and people prospered under their teaching. I’ve seen very charismatic men in the pulpit. They have the winsome personality I would love to have. They meet people and quickly make them close friends (or so it seems). I’ve seen men like this—and the ones I’ve seen should NEVER be in the pulpit. (There is nothing wrong with being charismatic. But if charisma is all you have, then stay out of the pulpit)

I’ve sat at the feet of at some of the most gifted teachers in Christendom. I’ve learned from them many different things. Most of all I’ve learned about selfless service. These great men of God—Dr. Jim Mook, Dr. Thomas Edgar, Dr. Mark Meyer, Dr. Todd Beall, Dr. George Harton, Dr. Ken Quick, Dr. Dan Mitchell, Dr. Ed Hindson, and many more—taught me that serving in one’s giftedness is more important that simply serving somewhere. When a gifted person is plugged in where he/she is gifted, watch out! Now all my teachers are very different in their approach to teaching and their style. Some are not as charismatic as others. But each one is authentic. And the students who have studied under them have prospered.

You see it isn’t what we see with our eyes that matters. What matters is the heart.

God told Samuel not to look at outward appearances when choosing a King. God said He looks differently than man. Man looks at the outward appearance—how attractive, “king-like” a person appears. But God looks at the heart (1 Samuel 16:7).

When the church chooses fake stuff—whether that be a preacher who shouldn’t be preaching or a teacher who shouldn’t be teaching—because they are just sooooo cool and charismatic, the church is in trouble. When we choose the smooth style of Mr. Charisma over the authentic but perhaps charismatically challenged preacher/teacher, we’re in trouble. (This is not to say that every person who is charismatic is bad. Or that every person who is not charismatic is good. These are broad generalities)

We need to look as much as we can on the inside not the outside. Is the person I’m sitting under truly called of God to that position? Is he authentic? Does he really care?

Sometimes we can get the answers directly. If a man claims to be a teacher but has never submitted to a teacher, we should have great pause. In order to teach one needs to be taught. If a person is a self-trained person, that is reason to be cautious. Being self-trained isn’t necessarily bad, but it can be.

I truly believe that to be a Pastor today requires a seminary education. Yes, REQUIRES a seminary education. Why? The proliferation of false teachers and false teaching screams for those in the pulpit who have been tested and tried at the highest level. And a good, solid seminary will test a person before he becomes a Pastor. A Pastor needs to be able to address these false teachings and horrible interpretations of the Bible that false teachers spread. We need pastors who can pass on what was entrusted to them (2 Timothy 2).

Would we trust brain surgery to a self-trained medical doctor? Or how about someone who was trained in veterinary medicine? How about someone who graduated top of his/her class in gardening school? Would you want them messing around in your noggin? I wouldn’t. Well then, why would we allow an untrained man to perform soul surgery on us? Why do we allow an untrained man teach us truths that were written in a culture far removed from our own or  in languages far different than our own? I am convinced that Pastoral ministry is the only “profession” where an advanced degree is seen as a hindrance.

But this isn’t just about Pastors. It is about everyone. When we choose based on appearances we are rejecting God’s model of looking at the heart of a person. When we want our building to look “just so” or our music to be “just this” we are looking at the outward. When we want to program worship so that there is a specific response at a specific time we are trying to be the Holy Spirit. Whatever happened to God moving in the midst of His people? Why can’t God simply be God and we simply worship Him? Sure we’ll worship differently but so what! Some may raise their hands in worship. Others may close their eyes. Me? I usually close my eyes and sing while holding one of my children. And I imagine in my mind that my heavenly Father is doing the same to me.

How cool would it be if we left our preferences at the door of church each week and simply enjoyed the fellowship of the saints of the preaching of His word?

The church has far too often embraced the appearances rather than the true. I’d much rather sit under a charismatically-challenged person who is a selfless, heart-full, compassion-full, grace-filled man rather than the most eloquent, charismatic fraud. The ineloquent, charismatically-challenged authentic Christ-follower will always bring life, love, and liberty . The fake, while he may give a little “sugar (or red-food coloring) high” for a while, will always bring about death, division, and degradation.

Choose the true. Look at the heart. Live authentically. Serve God only.

Look Ma! No Hands

Humility is not natural to us. But it is necessary to develop it. Humility is  a by-product of a sanctified life.

I was riding down Ezelle Avenue in my hometown in the 1970’s. I had tried to ride my bike without my hands on the handlebars before but always chickened out at the last moment. But this time I was determined to make it work. i sped down the hill that is Ezelle and built up my speed. When the street flattened out at the bottom I released my handebars. And there I was. My bike was moving straight ahead. I was pedaling it. And I was doing this without either of my hands steering my bike.

I let out my best “Yahooooooooooooooooooooooooooo!” I continued to scream as I sped towards the stop sign at the end of Ezelle I screamed “Look at me! Look at me!” All my practice finally paid off. I was riding with no hands. I had arrived to the elite of bike riders. And I wanted everyone to know I had arrived and I had achieved this great accomplishment. Do you remember ever doing anything like this? I bet you did.

Parading our accomplishments in front of others, showing off and drawing attention to ourselves is a natural part of growing up. Hopefully though we no longer feel the need to say “Look at me! Look at me!” when we accomplish something once we are adults. This is also true of us as we grow in Christ. Actually is it more important when we consider this attitude in spiritual things.

In Matthew 6 Jesus has some sobering words for us regarding showing off our righteous deeds in front of others hoping they will notice us. He seems to say that the person who does this is not mature – not very far in his or her sanctification process – but needs the attention and approval of others. How are you doing with this? Lets look at what Jesus has to say about this and how we can apply it to our lives

 “Beware of practicing your righteousness before men to be noticed by them; otherwise you have no reward with your Father who is in heaven. So when you give to the poor, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be honored by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. But when you give to the poor, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving will be in secret; and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you. When you pray, you are not to be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on the street corners so that they may be seen by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. But you, when you pray, go into your inner room, close your door and pray to your Father who is in secret, and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you. And when you are praying, do not use meaningless repetition as the Gentiles do, for they suppose that they will be heard for their many words. So do not be like them; for your Father knows what you need before you ask Him.” Matthew 6:1-8 NASB

Jesus gives us a warning about displaying our righteous deeds so that we will be noticed by others. Why is this a problem? Should we be ashamed of the righteous things we do? Well the problem with having an attitude that displays one’s good deeds for recognition is a heart issue. If I (or you) am doing things just to show off or draw the adulation of others, do I really care about what I just did? Or, did I do something nice for someone else simply as a way of drawing attention to myself. I think the meat of Jesus’ warning it toward our heart and not our action. If we want attention from others for the good we do, we are in trouble. At best we are immature.  At worst, well, lets leave it for the next article.

But notice here that Jesus begins with a broad statement of warning saying if our motivation for doing good lies in the recognition we receive from others, then our Father in heaven will not reward us for the good thing we just did. I want to concentrate on that first statement for now. though Jesus continues with the specific examples of giving and prayer. These were two things the Pharisees did out in pubic quite often. They displayed their holiness for all to see. Sadly though, it was just a show.In giving us the warning in the first broad statement Jesus is basically saying “Don’t be like those guys!” And why? The Pharisees were quite proud and loved reminding everyone of their status and accomplishments. Their motive for doing good works was the recognition they would receive (see Matthew 13 for more on Jesus’ thoughts on the Pharisees)

You see our motivation for doing good is more important than the good deed itself.

If we are looking to get something for the good we do, then the good we do is really not of any eternal consequence. Our heart will be exposed as more concerned with looking good rather than truly helping others.

If I could sum up Jesus’ instruction in this passage in two words, those words would be “Be humble.” Humility is not natural to us. But it is necessary to develop it. Humility is  a by-product of a sanctified life. If one is being more and more sanctified, that person will be more and more humble about the good deeds accomplished through him.

Do you have a problem with being humble? do you struggle with how much to do good works in the presence of others? Yeah, me too. I think we all have difficulty in this area because we all are, to a greater or lesser degree, arrogant and proud. The key is to know that I (or you) have a probem and being willing to work on it.

In my next article or two I’ll continue to work through Matthew 6 and uncover more truths to apply to our lives as we walk this pilgrim’s path. In looking at this passage I hope to help you if you are struggling with spiritual pride. I’ll not only use the truths in this passage but also through some experiences I have had throughout my life. Some of these experiences will bring back painful memories for me. But these things happened so that I can share them as examples with you and hopefully spur you on to a life that pleases God and not yourself.

 You see our motivation for doing good is more important than the good deed itself.

After all isn’t bringing glory to God the reason we do good things anyway?

Until We Cross The Bridge

Our sanctification wont be compete until we are judged by Christ and we receive our glorified body. What a day that will be! Until that day –  until we cross the bridge that seems both close and distant all at the same time – we will learn, practice, work, strive and press on to that goal.

I entered recruit training aboard Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island, SC, in August 1982.  Parris Island is, well, a rock covered in sand in the middle of a tidal swamp. That is it. Nothing more to see. It is inhabited by Marine Drill Instructors and recruits trying to become Marines. It is not a fun place to live. I spent three months on that island. The three months I spent there are some unforgettable moments.

One thing I’ll never forget is the bridge to the mainland. My barracks was right next to the swamp. I could easily see the bridge that would one day take me off the island. Every day it seemed to get a little closer. In fact a friend of  mine and I would encourage each other every day with a simple reminder: that bridge is getting closer. Until the day came for us to leave the island, we would continue to grow and mature into Marines…and we would look forward to the day when we would cross that bridge.

The same is true for us Christians. In many ways we are on an island that is seemingly disconnected with the rest of the universe. We live among hostile folks who not only don’t believe like we do but are also hostile to our beliefs. But we have a mission here on this island. We have a role, we have things to learn. The lessons may be difficult sometimes but they are necessary. We also have a bridge we can see from here. One day we will cross that bridge when we leave this world with all its problems and difficulties and go to be with our heavenly Father. But until we cross that bridge, we must press on as we press forward.

Paul addressed this in Philippians 3. There he wrote

“Not that I have already obtained it or have already become perfect, but I press on so that I may ay hold of that for which I was also aid hod of by Christ Jesus.Brethren, I do not regard myself as having laid of it yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 3:12- 14 NASB

There are many important truths being taught in this passage. I cannot cover them all in one article and do them all justice. So I want to focus on one and really emphasize the attitude I think we Christians should have as we walk through this life.

We are passing though this place much like I passed through my time on Parris Island. But the goal in different. When I was on the island, my goal was to become a Marine and then leave the island. In my life as a Christian, I want to grasp the goal for which Christ grasped me. That goal is to be like Him. I am to be perfected in Him, to the glory of God. I am to be conformed to the person of Jesus Christ. That is what I have tried to focus on in this first series of articles: the progressive sanctification of us as Christians. Our sanctification wont be compete until we are judged by Christ and we receive our glorified body. What a day that will be! Until that day –  until we cross the bridge that seems both close and distant all at the same time – we will learn, practice, work, strive and press on to that goal.

A key to achieving that goal is total abandonment of our previous accomplishments. Paul wrote that he practiced “forgetting what lies behind” while he pressed forward. 

One possible way to take this statement is that Paul chooses to forget his previous failures as he draws closer to Christ. Another way to take this is that Paul chooses to forget his previous accomplishments as he was progressively sanctified. So which is it? And why?

Because Paul so often is combatting those who denied biblical grace and relied on their own efforts, I really think that he is referring to his own accomplishments rather than his past failures. This emphasis would make it clear to those who read this letter that Paul rejected human effort and accomplishment when considering his goal of being Christlike. And so should we.

We like to talk about ourselves and about what we have acomplished. But we are called to a different life. We must not rest in our accomplishments or achievements. We must focus on what Christ is doing in us and through us. We must never look at our accomplishments as important. No, we must…we MUST focus in what Christ is doing rather than what we have done.

So how are you doing with this? It is tempting to say to ourselves and to others “look at what I have done!” But we must resist this. We must forget our accomplishments and focus on what Christ is doing…how we are becoming like Him, which is what we are to do anyway.

So keep pressing on this island existence. Keep reminding yourself that the bridge to this life to come is getting closer by the day. But until we cross that bridge, we must continue forward. We must continue to be more Christike. We must continue in our progressive sanctification Because one day – one glorious day –  we will cross that bridge and we will be like Christ.

Our work will be done, our goal accomplished. One day…one fine and glorious day. 

 

The Soul Canal

“YEOOOOOOOOOOOOW!

Dang dude, that hurt. What did you do?”

The dentist look back at me in disbelief. He said “You have a massive cavity there. I must have hit the nerve. You obviously need a root canal.”

“A root canal?” I thought. “How come I didn’t feel any pain before the torture master hooked me up?” The dentist seemd to sense what I was thinking and answered my question before I could ask it: “The reason you probably didn’t feel it is because your gum had grown into the cavity. Your nerve was never exposed to the air and irritants in your mouth so you couldn’t do anything about it.”

And that was my introduction to the wonderful world of root canals. It wasn’t pleasant or fun. But it was necessary so that there could be something salvaged of my tooth.

That was over twenty years ago. My teeth haven’t improved much. I must have inherited someone’s bad teeth. Being diabetic doesn’t help either. One may say safely that I am intimately aware of the process involved in root canals. I’ve even had a soul canal too.

A soul canal is similar to what needs to be done when we sin.  When we sin there is a cavity forming. Now we can choose to ignore it or allow the gum of excuses to grow into it and cover the damage done to us. That will work for awhile. But the sin will continue to grow.

Now the first thing I need to address is the fact that Christians do indeed sin. With all due respect to Mr. Wesley, we are not perfected in this life. Our perfection awaits us in the life to come. Since we are still imperfect individuals we can expect to sin and mess up. This isn’t ideal of course, but it is true. And it is reality. If you need proof that Christians sin, hang out with me for a day. I’m not proud of that fact, but I;m not going to hide from it either.

So what do we do when we sin? 

“If we confess our sins, He is righteous and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” 1 John 1:9 NASB

When, not if, but WHEN we sin we need to confess them. This word confess is important to understand because we could easily misinterpret it if we are not careful. The Greek word translated confess is homolegeo. Homolegeo basically means to “say the same thing.” SO when we sin, we confess. But confession is not something we necessarily do in front of another person. No, if I understand homolegeo correctly, we name our sins the same way that God names them: they’re sins! They are not mistakes, blunders, poor judgments, etc. We don’t make excuses for them, we see them the same way that God sees them. When we do this we are indeed connected with God in a very deep way. 

“He who confesses and condemns his sins already acts with God.

God condemns thy sins: if thou dost also condemn them, thou

art linked with God.”      –Augustine

When we confess – when we name sin the same way God does – we demonstrate our linkage with God. We do not hide our sin or excuse it away. We name it sin, rely on God to cleanse us and then move on. Think about how our lives would be transformed if we just internalized this truth. God will cleanse us. God isn’t waiting to club us with His hammer or hit us with a lightening bolt when we sin. No, He is waiting for us to recognize our sin the same way He does. Once we do this, He cleanses us.

When we sin there is a cavity forming. Now we can choose to ignore it or allow the gum of excuses to grow into it and cover the damage done to us. That will work for awhile. But the sin will continue to grow. Believer me, I know. Eventually that sin will grow and grow until God has no other choice but to perform a Soul Canal on us, just like I needed a root canal because of ignoring pain in my teeth. When God performs a Soul Canal on us, we can expect it to be less pleasant that the root canal a dentist performs. But is is more than necessary.

So how are you doing recognizing sin in your life? Do you even recognize it? If not, you need to do a little inventory into what you believe.

If you do recognize it, do you make excuses? Do you simply name it sin, agree with God that you did it and was wrong, and have Him cleanse you? I hope you recognize it, name it, and get cleansed from it. That is the best way to avoid the soul canal.