Friday, January 14, 2005

Wake Up Call

This post is from my previous blog, Ear to the Heavens. Enjoy.

I’ve really struggled with this one. For days, now, I have debated and edited and wrestled over how to say what’s on my heart and how to say it without sounding “angry” or “bitter.” My good and Godly friend Bob reminds me to “accentuate the positive.”

I reluctantly want to share what recently happened to my wife and children. Not to be critical of any one church or believer, but to highlight a behavior that is prevalent in the Church.

For the last three years, my beautiful wife and two incredible children have attended a weekly event for mothers and their pre-school children. The mothers would fellowship and share - sometimes focusing their time on a biblical study - and the children would play together. It was an event that my wife and children looked forward to every week: their “play group.”

Due to a numerous set of circumstances, we stopped attending the church fellowship that sponsored the event and began attending a local home fellowship. At the time, the women involved in this “play group” made it clear that my wife and our children were still welcome to attend. My children are best friends with these other children and my wife had developed lasting friendships with several of the women.

Several days ago, my wife was asked to meet with the wife of this fellowship’s Pastor. My wife’s “best friend” was in the meeting as well.

These two women told my wife that she was no longer welcome to participate in the weekly play group since she no longer attended their fellowship. They told her that the friendships could continue but that she could not fellowship with them as long as she worshiped and fellowshipped elsewhere. They, in essence, told my wife and children that they could no longer be a part of the most important recurring social event of their lives because we no longer attended their church.

I have to believe that the Holy Spirit is grieved.

It is obvious that many in the church do not understand who we are in Christ. They do not understand the nature of the relationships that we have with one another in Christ. They do not know the power that is available to them in the Holy Spirit. They do not know how crippled they have become.

I wrote previously about covenant relationships and the bond that is between brothers and sisters in Christ which exceeds that of even earthly blood or genetic relationships. And this is how Christ intends it: that we love one another and are one just as Jesus and God the Father are one.

We are no longer carnal creatures but Spiritual beings bound together forever in Christ..

Friendship, but not fellowship? We who walk in the Spirit of the Lord cannot help but have Koinania- fellowship- with one another. We are of the same body. We are of the same structure, designed to be a dwelling place for the Lord.

Can you imagine embracing every true believer you meet with great love in your heart and joy over the grace and forgiveness of God, looking to serve that person, to give to them, to encourage them, and to lift them up in the light and love of the Lord? Can you imagine a totally non-judgmental, absolutely-loving, all-forgiving, completely open, self-sacrificing, subservient relationship with other believers?

Can you imagine relationships that exists in light and truth because each of us is in total submission to the word and the work of the Holy Spirit, in agreement and harmony, remaining teachable and embracing one another as we use our spiritual gifts to edify one another?

This covenant relationship in the Church was evident as we read the first few chapters of Acts. The believers gave to one another as they had need and there was equity among them. No one sought to exalt himself above another, but rather, sought to serve and be used of God in the body of Christ. They went home to home sharing meals together. There were no denominations or walls to divide them.

Paul made it clear that we are one body, each with a different and necessary role. Peter describes us a living stones being out together to become the dwelling place of God. Imagine the Lord in our midst, dwelling among his children assembled together as His temple.

So, in contrast to how we should be, how are we today?

The enemy is so deceitful and we are so easily deceived.

Many of us are puffed up with knowledge. We are unteachable and unapproachable if an idea contradicts what we firmly believe. We are dogmatic to the death, even if we are dead wrong. We lean on our human understanding of God's word and allow little or no room in our lives for the voice of the Holy Spirit.

Not that many of us could even hear that voice or recognize it. Our lives are so cluttered with electronic noise, the pursuit of wealth and status, and the service of self that we measure our relationship with the Lord, not by quality or quantity of time spent in fellowship with Him, but by how little we sin and how well-disciplined we are. (None of which are reliable indicators of how spiritual we are, but how able we are to deny the flesh.)

Of course, such a worldly standard by which we can judge ourselves makes it all the easier to measure ourselves against others, too. We can look down our long noses at those who aren't as disciplined as we are, as wealthy, or who aren't as high on the social ladder, who don't dress as well, drive as nice a car, live in as big a house, have as credible a degree, or are as respected in our communities.

We divide the moment we meet by judging one another's character on the basis of our denomination. “What church do you go to?” we ask. The very question is ludicrous. What we really mean, is, “Of what sect are you?” And that question need only be asked because so many rebels have gone before with their immovable doctrine and decided to divide the church once again.

Instead of us being the wholly united, loving, power-filled body of Christ, we have become splintered, back-biting, judgmental cliques that are more focused on how we might further divide than with how we might love and serve one another and, in so doing, maybe reach the lost world for Christ's sake.

“The love of many shall wax cold.” [Jesus] (Matt. 24:12)

I want to remain positive. But I think we are in need of a wake-up call.

Thursday, January 13, 2005

Family Ties

This post is from my previous blog, Ear to the Heavens. Enjoy.

Blood is thicker than water.

Our western culture believes that family - the bond between a brother or sister, father or mother - is more important than any other relationship, and that, when push comes to shove, we always side with family, regardless of circumstances.

Blood is thicker than water.

I've even been witness to situations where a wife or husband would abandon their spouse and return to their parents or siblings when an event or circumstances has caused a rift. Blood relations are more important than even the marital covenant.

Blood is thicker than water.

Churches have been split when natural familial ties have been considered stronger than the bonds of Christ's love or His sacrfice. Wives have encouraged husbands to stand pridefully strong when the need of the moment is humility and, as a result, brothers in Christ have gone separate ways. We are united in water baptism, but family is blood.

Blood is thicker than water.

We westerners have little or no concept of what "covenant" means. Middle-eastern cultures have lived by covenant law for millenia. Making a covenant with another person is no little thing. Often, there is a process or ritual by which covenant is entered into. It usually involves some kind of sacrifice or blood spilling to emphasize the import of the agreement. At one time, the consequence for breaking covenant was death.

The two people entering into covenant would cut themselves, usually their hand or forearm, and then they would shake hands or cross forearms to allow their blood to mingle.(We, here in the west, have a similar thing kids often do to become "blood brothers.")

The two, bound by the blood covenant, have a responsibility to one another that is greater than that of any other relationship. If the one is hungry and the other has food, the one who has shares with the one who has not. If the one has a horse and the other does not, the one with the horse offers it to the other. No other relationship takes priority over that of the covenant partner.

So, if blood represents the covenant relationship, then what does water mean? Having only part of the picture - taking a phrase out of it's original context - always leads to misunderstanding.

The Blood of the Covenant is Thicker than the Water of the Womb.

We who have entered into covenant with Jesus Christ have a stronger bond with him than with any human, regardless of their genetic bond. Having been washed in the blood, having drank His blood - the blood of the new covenant - we have entered into the most powerful relationship we ever could and our responsibility to Him is greater than any other.

And our brothers and sisters in Christ are bound to us by the very same blood. The blood covenant relationship with Christ extends to His body: the church. The relationship we have with fellow believers is stronger and of higher importance than that of even "blood" relatives.
Blood is thicker than water.

"Who are my mother and my brothers?" [Jesus] asked.

Then He looked at those seated in a circle around Him and said, "Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does God’s will is my brother and sister and mother." - Mark 3:34-35

P.S. I rejoice that members of my family are also covenant blood brothers. It is awesome to know that the closest bonds on earth have been made closer by the blood of Christ and that those relationships will continue into eternity.

Tuesday, January 11, 2005

Remembering Noah

This post is from my previous blog, Ear to the Heavens. Enjoy.

In light of recent tsunami, flash flooding, and torrential rains, I am reminded of Noah. The floods and storms we have suffered of late are nothing on par with that which Noah experienced. Noah was to witness a global deluge with which God would destroy all life. But Noah was also faced with a deluge of social and moral decay that Satan sought to use to destroy mankind.

We, like Noah, are faced with a torrent of assaults against biblical morality and godliness that threatens to destroy us and the world. At every turn, another socialist group, activist, or politician is demanding that we abandon conservatism and embrace hedonistic behavior that grates against the very fiber of our spiritual conscience.

Some of us, so grieved by our culture, have adopted an escapist attitude and are awaiting the rapture- not only to deliver us from the coming judgment, but also from the decaying culture around us. In that respect, the work done on our behalf on Calvary and the cross has become our ark - our ticket to ride when the rapture comes.

But it is important to recognize that, apart from the coming wrath, a catastrophic and world-destroying flood has already come. All about us, the world is drowning in darkness and the cross is our - and their - only hope: God's provisional ark to keep us afloat in the surrounding sea of decadence and ungodliness.

In the midst of the decadence that swirled about him, Noah clung to the ark of God's sanctification. But instead of cowering inside the ark awaiting mankind’s final destruction, Noah was a light and a voice of prophecy crying out against the great sin and debauchery of his time.

Peter tells us that God was faithful to rescue Noah and his family from the coming judgment. We, too, have that assurance. But, Peter also tells us that the Holy Spirit which raised Christ from the dead also preached in the days of Noah. In Noah’s case, all hope was lost and instead of evangelizing, Noah proclaimed God’s truth, in effect, silencing on the Day of Judgment all those who perished in the flood.

Regardless of the outcome, God’s word will not return void: men will be saved or condemned by His word. How men respond to God’s message is not of concern to the messenger. Yes, we should rejoice when God’s Word is received and repentance is the outcome, and we should grieve when the opposite is true. But the outcome cannot become a barrier to our responsibility of being salt and light.

Nor should we ever allow our perceived depth of the world’s depravity and our desire to escape it cause us to imagine that God’s Word and our proclamation of it will be of no affect.

It is interesting that Peter is also the writer who cautioned us to remember that from which we were saved. Too often, in our Christian comfort zones we develop a sense of self-righteousness and we see ourselves as above or better than those who are perishing around us.

Unlike the time of Noah, when he alone was seen as upright and worth saving, God is still reaching out and calling men to Himself. Every new day is a day of salvation and we are God’s primary tool of reaching those who are perishing with the living water and life-giving Word. As Peter also reminded us, God is not slow in His coming but is patient, wishing that all men might be saved.

While Noah was shut up in the ark and subjected to the horrible screams and laments of those around him who were perishing and damned eternally, we have the privilege to throw the lifeline from the deck to those struggling in the undertow and to rescue them from the present deluge and the coming judgment.

In a time when we are so greatly reminded of the death that surrounds us, let us focus not on the condemnation or wrath of God, but on being light and life bearers and with a sense of urgency that the times demand.