What Did Christ Save Us From?

Words matter, especially when it comes to the biblical responsibility of teaching. Those who lead do not have liberty to be careless or vague with their expressions. The word of God understood rightly is life to our soul (Proverbs 3:22), so there is much riding on the faithful exercise of preaching (2 Timothy 2:15).

Those realities have led me to this post. This past Sunday I taught a message from John 13 and used an illustration intended to point listeners to the seriousness of sin and the kindness of God in salvation. And while still agreeing with my premise, I had the overwhelming feeling Sunday evening that I had failed in clarity and precision.

Here is a summary of what I said:

“There is a well-known sign on Interstate 65N in Alabama that says: ‘Go to church or the devil will get you’. The sign indicates the problem is the devil and the solution is go to church. But consider first that you can go to church every single day of your life and still die apart from Christ having never been redeemed. And second, that the biggest threat to your soul is not the devil. Rather the sign should say ‘Flee to Christ or suffer the wrath of God’. What we are being saved from is not the devil. The devil is an enemy – yes. But the cross was to save us from the punishment for our sins. That punishment comes not from the devil, but rather from God. On the cross Jesus became the recipient of God’s wrath against rebellion. God the Father abandoned God the son, as he made him – in that moment – responsible for our sin.” 
– from The Jesus Series #50, Authority to Serve

My main purpose was not to ridicule the sign or those who put it up, but to get us to think about the nature of salvation. Christianity is not best understood through pithy sayings, but by deeply and thoroughly examining eternal truths. The issue is that in my own explanation regarding the work of Christ on the cross, I failed to paint a full picture of what endangers us.

Did Christ Save Us from the Devil?

My statement “What we are being saved from is not the devil” certainly needs further clarification. Indeed, Christ did save us from the work of Satan. Consider these passages: 

  • Whoever makes a practice of sinning is of the devil, for the devil has been sinning since the beginning. But the son of God came to destroy the works of the devil. 1 John 3:8 (ESV)
  • Now since the children have flesh and blood in common, Jesus also shared in these, so that through his death he might destroy the one holding the power of death – that is, the devil – and free those who were held in slavery all their lives by the fear of death. – Hebrews 2:14-15 (CSB)

The devil is the author of rebellion against God. In Genesis 3 he incites man to follow his practice of sin, the result of which is death (Romans 6:23). The devil then seeks to exploit the fallen nature of man to bring them to his will rather than God’s so that they are destroyed (2 Timothy 2:26) and thus he holds over them the power of death. But Jesus has come to destroy the devil’s work. Christ shared in our humanity, yet never sinned. While perfect, He submitted to suffering the consequence of our immorality through death on a cross. And He triumphed over the grave in resurrection, demonstrating that He has authority over both sin and its effects. By grace Jesus credits his perfect obedience to those who through faith sincerely seek his saving work. And He has granted us a spirit that loves God and finds joy in being led by him (Romans 8:15). So yes, our hope is the continual power of Christ to save us from the devil (Ephesians 6:11) which is why the kingdom of darkness battles to keep people from hearing and believing the message about Christ (2 Corinthians 4:4).

The Importance of Understanding God’s Wrath

The original reason I chose to use this illustration is that many who acknowledge spiritual realities believe their greatest threat is the devil. And indeed, motivated by hatred for God the devil aims to bring to destruction all that He can. We ignore this at our own peril ( 1 Peter 5:8). But the devil does not administer justice and does not have the authority to sentence people to everlasting death. It is God who is the judge of the whole earth (Genesis 18:25); who pours his wrath out on the wicked (Romans 2:8, 2 Thessalonians 2:12). Jesus taught that it was wisdom to fear God as the only one who could cast a person into hell (Luke 12:5).

Many believers find it uncomfortable to talk about God’s wrath. We are tempted to conform to the world which has remade God in an image it can tolerate. With dwindling exceptions, mankind longs to conduct their lives as they choose without any thought of repercussions. Love in our culture increasingly means never saying someone is wrong. And so many have created an image of God that agrees with what they can accept: A God who would never judge anyone. The world cannot comprehend or accept a deity enthroned in glory who exercises judgement while maintaining unending, steadfast love. And most will never try. Mankind would rather reject any thought of divine punishment than accept responsibility for their own wrongdoing.

God’s Love for Rebels

I absolutely agree that those who follow Jesus should participate in a church that proclaims, relies on, and adheres to the Gospel. There is no picture of Christianity in the New Testament that does not include active participation in a community of faith. Furthermore, we are called to resist the devil in the power of God and the church is an integral part of God’s plan in this resistance. So, yes: Go to church and resist the devil. But remember that it is deadly dangerous to ignore the greatest threat to our souls, which is to fall under judgement for our sin. God is love, but His love is not exercised in allowing his creation to wander off in rebellion, living with themselves at the center of the universe. Rather He demonstrates his love by His willingness to put upon His own son the death due rebels, and subsequently share His own riches and honor with the ones who receive this gift of redemption.

Remedy for Rejection – pt2

This article was penned by Chase Thompson, elder at Agape Fellowship. The corresponding sermon can be found on this site under Messages / Singles / Rejection (July 6, 2014). Be sure to read the first part of the article, posted earlier.

rejection2Jesus’ Remedy for Rejection

Luke 18 “9 He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous,and treated others with contempt: 10 “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’13 But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a (THE) sinner!’ 14 I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”

The Pharisee and tax collector were BOTH looking for acceptance!  The Pharisee thought he had acceptance, because he was respected and accepted by men. The tax collector thought he was rejected, and was so eaten up by those feelings of rejection, that he couldn’t even look up to heaven. The Pharisee thanked God for a blessing he didn’t have, and the tax collector assumed he was rejected, because he was rejected by people.  HOWEVER – the tax collector was justified by God and therefore, he was ACCEPTED!! (As we will see shortly…justification is the ultimate acceptance and the great nullifier of rejection!)

The Marks of the Pharisee – he relies on what he has done, and how people view him. He fasts…he gives. He’s not like the pagan. He doesn’t do “bad things” and, although that gives him some level of temporary comfort, note that he is ultimately rejected by God. He is unjustified and unaccepted. EVEN THOUGH HIS RIGHTEOUSNESS WAS INDEED GREAT. Jesus gives no indication that his self assessment was wrong, that this particular pharisee was a hypocrite. On the surface, it appears that he was a good man in regards to his “good” works… He just wasn’t good enough. Note that he is praying by himself – away from the congregation. Withdrawn. Superior.

There are at least three major parables of Jesus where the one the Jews would have expected to be accepted by God would be rejected, and the one whom the Jews would have assumed to be far from God would be accepted.  The Tax collector and Pharisee. The Elder brother and the prodigal brother. The Rich man and Lazarus. All of those parables feature characters that the Jews would have thought would have been embraced by God: A rich successful man…a dutiful elder brother and heir, and a righteous preacher/pharisee. The Jews would have looked up to those men, but in fact, it was the younger brother (who had sinned so zealously) that was accepted by God. It was the poor, boil infected, Lazarus that spends eternity in Heaven and it was the traitor to his people tax collector that is justified by God. What a plot twist!!  

Scripture abounds with other examples as well: The tax collector and traitor Zacchaeus. The demon possessed and unclean Mary Magdalene. The rejected sinner Mary of Bethany – possibly a prostitute? The pagan Syro-Phoenician woman with the daughter in deadly peril. The children pushed away by the disciples. Over and over again, the story of the New Testament is the story of rejected people being called to repent and embraced by Jesus and the Father.

We see here in Luke 18 that a hated and vilified tax collector is justified and accepted by God while a respected and seemingly righteous Pharisee is ultimately rejected and unjustified by God. How is the possible? How can you trade in your rejection for acceptance? The answer is, ultimately, the Good News of Jesus…or, The Gospel.

The Good News of Jesus (The Gospel!)

If you are accepted by the Father – it doesn’t matter who rejects you. If you are rejected by the Father (and don’t dare think that He doesn’t reject…if the Bible is true – and it is – He will reject all who are not in Christ!), then it doesn’t matter who accepts you – you are ultimately rejected. In Galatians 2:15, Paul the apostle uses an incredibly powerful word – justification – to talk about ULTIMATE acceptance. We ourselves are Jews by birth and not Gentile sinners; 16 yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified.

Justification is the ULTIMATE acceptance – it is the ultimate NULLIFICATION of rejection. Justification is better than acceptance.  Acceptance merely means, “you can come into the party” Justification means, “you can be the KING of the party.” Justification means you’re not just allowed through God’s door – you’re the honored guest! You’re not just allowed to come inside, stand in the corner and see what the cool kids do – you ARE the cool kid. You’re the king of the prom, the queen of the prom – when you are justified by the sacrifice of Jesus.

BUT that justification doesn’t come through your activity or what you’ve done – it comes through grace by faith. Often those who struggle so much with rejection in general are those who are relying on themselves and are disappointed in themselves but are not looking to Jesus to be saved and approved. Rejection comes when you look to yourself to save yourself. (Do better, be cooler, look more attractive, lose weight, be funnier, etc) Acceptance and justification comes when you look to Jesus in faith!! It’s not your effort. It’s not like Jeff Kemp’s coach. He loved Kemp when he played well and rejected him when he didn’t.   We understand that – we understand acceptance THAT WAY. But the deeper acceptance is the justification by Jesus based on faith.

C.S. Lewis is one of my favorite writers. He has such a gift for words and weaving stories together. I find that much of his fiction is as impactful and as full of truth as his notable non-fiction works. There is a scene in The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe, where Lewis does a beautiful job of describing the Good News of Jesus and the power of the death of Jesus to OVERCOME rejection. If you aren’t familiar with the books, know that Aslan is a lion (who correlates to Jesus) and He has just given His life for Edmund, a boy with little character and little to recommend himself to anybody. Susan and Lucy, as followers of Aslan, are dejected that the evil White Witch has managed to sacrifice Aslan on the stone table. Here’s what happens next:

Susan and Lucy had just witnessed the horrific death of Aslan, and were now said to be “walking aimlessly,” unsure of how to proceed. At that moment they heard from behind them a loud noise — a great cracking, deafening noise as if a giant had broken a giant’s plate…. The Stone Table was broken into two pieces by a great crack that ran down it from end to end; and there was no Aslan.

“Who’s done it?” cried Susan. “What does it mean? Is it more magic?”

“Yes!” said a great voice from behind their backs. “It is more magic.” They looked round. There, shining in the sunrise, larger than they had seen him before, shaking his mane (for it had apparently grown again) stood Aslan himself.

“Oh, Aslan!” cried both the children, staring up at him, almost as much frightened as they were glad….

“But what does it all mean?” asked Susan when they were somewhat calmer.

“It means,” said Aslan, “that though the Witch knew the Deep Magic, there is a magic deeper still which she did not know. Her knowledge goes back only to the dawn of time. But if she could have looked a little further back, into the stillness and the darkness before Time dawned, she would have read there a different incantation. She would have known that when a willing victim who had committed no treachery was killed in a traitor’s stead, the Table would crack and Death itself would start working backward.”

Similarly, when Jesus died on the cross for the sins of the world, it caused death and rejection to begin working backwards, and provided for salvation for all “traitors” who had sinned against a holy God. Jesus’ death and resurrection paid for our sins and paved the way for what Paul calls justification in Galatians 2. Justification means that Jesus PAID THE PRICE for our sins and PAID THE PRICE so that we could be as accepted by the Father as Jesus is accepted by the Father. This means that those who repent and turn to Jesus in faith are just as accepted and just as justified as Jesus Himself is. Not by works (so that nobody can brag about it…) but by grace through faith.

Once again I write: If you are accepted (justified) by the sacrifice of Jesus – it doesn’t matter WHO rejects you – even if all of the world does…the acceptance and justification of Jesus NULLIFIES EVERY OTHER REJECTION!! Likewise – if you are NOT justified/accepted via the sacrifice of Jesus – then it doesn’t matter if you are the most popular person in your school…if you have the most followers on Twitter….the most friends in all of the world – if you aren’t accepted by God through Jesus…then you are ultimately rejected!

How do we respond to this? More specifically How do we cast off rejection and walk in peace and acceptance? I’ll close very briefly with two ways to ultimately REJECT rejection!

1. LOOK to Jesus in faith, repent and believe the good news!  If you have faith in Jesus alone for your salvation, and are following Him…then you are justified. Not by works but by faith. The tax collector perhaps didn’t realize that he was justified, but he was. The Pharisee FELT like he was accepted by God, but he was far from it.  Feelings aren’t as important here as faith. Sometimes you will FEEL rejected. The ultimate reality, however, is that you are ACCEPTED and justified if you are in Christ! Want to drive this truth deeper into your heart and life? Meditate on Galatians 2 and Romans 3:20-25. Hide God’s Word deep into your heart!

2. Radically change the posture of your life so that you ACCEPT others in an obvious and tangible and deep way. Resolve to NEVER be an agent of rejection, so far as it depends on you. INCLUDE both the lovely and unloveable, knowing that Christ your savior gave His life on the cross for those who were still in sin. You cannot be BEST FRIENDS with everybody. (and don’t expect everybody to be your best friend!) But you can LOVE, SERVE, and ACCEPT everybody!! Remember Paul’s words in Romans 15:7 “Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God”

Rejection is BOTH a spiritual problem AND a practical problem. Find your ultimate HOPE and ACCEPTANCE in Jesus, and, by loving and accepting other people, HELP them find their ultimate hope and acceptance in the Gospel of Jesus also.   

 

Remedy for Rejection – pt1

This article was penned by Chase Thompson, elder at Agape Fellowship. The corresponding sermon can be found on this site under Messages / Singles / Rejection (July 6, 2014)

rejectionLiterally everybody has struggled with rejection at one time or another. From supermodels, to frumpy moms…from quarterbacks to nerds…everybody has tasted the bitter bile of rejection. I still remember the day in high school when, after being goaded by my parents for a month to ask a particular girl out, I finally relented and walked into the drugstore where she was working. I had a good wingman with me, and was confident in my chances of success. First, because my parents (who were friends with her parents) had told me that she was interested and, second because, at that tender age, I had never been turned down by a girl. (Not because I was a Romeo…but because I was careful to ask out only girls that I knew would say yes…)  

Anyway, five minutes after walking into the drugstore, I walked out with a confused look on my face, and a hole in my heart. She had shot me down! I had been rejected. I still remember how bad that hurt…and how bad it hurt when my first serious girlfriend broke up with me to go out with another guy…and how bad it hurt when I had unrequited love for my third grade sweetheart. Rejection stinks, and keep in mind that I am only writing about my own rejection stories that are easy to share and not too embarrassing. I’m keeping the REALLY painful ones to myself.  

Rejection happens to all of us – the best and the worst of us. That rejection is a universal experience among humans, however, doesn’t make it any easier to bear….just know that you are not alone – and read on! Here’s one example: Jeff Kemp was the quarterback of the Seattle Seahawks in 1988. From his autobiography, he writes about one particularly stinging incidence of rejection:

“Coming out of the pregame meal, one of the offensive coaches put his arm around me and strongly affirmed his faith in me. “I want you to know how happy I am that you are the Seahawk quarterback. I’ve been waiting for this day.” On the day of the game, Kemp started out hot, but a pass that all-pro wide receiver Steve Largent dropped caused Kemp to lose confidence and it led to him having a terrible first half performance that all of the Seahawks fans lustily booed leading into halftime.

I waded through the players to find the coach who had been so supportive before the game. I wanted to discuss some offensive strategies that might turn things around in the second half. As I approached him and began, “Coach—” he turned his back on me without a word. Then he called to another quarterback, put his arm around him, and began to discuss plays he would run in the second half.

Now, I understood that I was being taken out of the game. That made sense. I was hoping it wouldn’t happen, but I understood. But that coach didn’t say one word to me for the rest of the game, even though we stood next to each other on the sidelines. Nor did he say anything on Monday when we watched the game films. For about a month, there was complete rejection. He simply couldn’t deal with the fact that I hadn’t lived up to his hopes, that I hadn’t helped the team succeed. He rejected me relationally because my performance fell short.

Can you relate to that? I think we all can! We have all come up short in our performance in one way or the other, and have seen people, whom we thought liked us a lot, turn their backs on us or at least shake their heads in disappointment.

I like quotes a lot, and I stumbled upon one this week that surprised me. This one is from a prayer by pastor Walter Marshall, “May God bless my discovery of the powerful means of holiness so much as to save some from killing themselves.” What a strange prayer that is…until you hear the back-story.

That was a prayer at the beginning of a message, and a very odd one. Pastor Marshall had been faithfully teaching the Bible, but many of the people in his church were so struck with feelings of rejection and inability to please God or each other…that suicide and self mutilation were rampant! He was praying that his message would lead to people stopping the practice of harming themselves, and even save some from killing themselves.

Pastor Marshall well understood their feelings, as He too had been despairing until he had finally understood the remedy for the constant rejection and separation from God that he felt. I’m writing about that remedy today, because rejection is still a tremendous issue among us.  I say still because Walter Marshall pastored in the 1600s. Yes – they dealt with suicide and self harm/cutting and such even back then. Rejection is prevalent, timeless, universal and deadly painful.

Rejection is so painful perhaps because we are wired to deeply need approval. On Instagram –  people sometimes comment, “spam for spam,” In other words, “like my pictures, and I will like all of yours.” We relish “likes” on FB, and followers on Twitter.   We SO want approval.

Where did this longing for approval come from? We can trace it back thousands of years – all the way back to the Garden of Eden…where a man and a woman lived that were so assured of the approval of God that they were naked and unashamed and living in freedom.

When we, as humans, were absolutely certain of God’s approval – we lived in ultimate freedom – no clothing – no airs. We can’t do that now! Once humanity lost assurance of the approval of God (after Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit…) they covered up and hid. They put on clothes AND fled from the presence of God.   Prior to the fall, Adam and Eve knew and walked in a deep confidence of the approval of God, and it brought deep and radical freedom.   After the Fall,  a return to that level of freedom is not yet available – keep your clothes on! – but a STUNNINGLY deep level of joy and peace is available to those who are justified by faith in Jesus and are deeply permeated by that truth. 

Rejection and the Spirit of Rejection. How to know if this is a big issue for you?

We have all tasted rejection – but some people struggle daily and nightly with rejection in a deeper way than many others. Why do some struggle so much in this area? Is it because of past abuse? Insecurity? Is it a spiritual attack? Or, perhaps, are some people just that much more of a magnet for rejection than others? Read on to find out how to know if rejection is a giant issue in your life. (Note: it is a significant issue in everybody’s life)

Signs you struggle with rejection more than most:

1. A regular, nagging feeling that you don’t belong – that other people fit in much better than you do, and that you are always on the outside. “Other people always get together and hang out…but I always feel left out.”

2. Regular and disabling feelings of unworthiness and lack of value.  “I guess that I’m just not important enough to people for them to call me.”

3. Being quick to take offense for yourself or a family member. “Why doesn’t my son or daughter get invited over to other people’s houses? Why are the other children better liked than my children?” 

4. Feeling that no matter what you do, it’s not good enough.  “I’ve tried so hard to be a friend to other people, but they just aren’t returning the favor. Why won’t anybody be MY friend?” 

5. Friend hopping – skipping around to different friends and confidants, moving around to different churches/groups of people a lot. “This particular group of people doesn’t like me and will never like me. We need to leave and go elsewhere so that I can find that group of friends who will truly embrace me and make me feel at home.”

6. Having a tendency to take things that happen and words that are spoken as particularly negative. “His/her words were pointed at me, and were intended to hurt me.”

7. Having a tendency to get your feelings hurt by words or an event, but not speaking about it, or masking your real feelings. “I feel left out…but they will never know how hurt I am!”

8. Having difficulty recognizing when others reach out to you in loving or friendly ways. OVER-Emphasizing when people hurt you or don’t include you and forgetting the times when people have encouraged you and included you. “My friends don’t care at all about me…all they do is leave me out and hurt me.”

If the above are your common thoughts and feelings then it is possible that you might have a significant issue with rejection. It is possible that you are truly rejected more than others OR it is actually more likely that you are OVER-focusing on negative things and UNDER-focusing on positive things, which is COMPLETELY distorting your ability to perceive and receive love and warm friendship.

Is there a Spirit of Rejection?

I have heard pastors and church leaders speak of a specific “Spirit of Rejection.” With the implication that some people struggle so much with rejection because they are actively targeted by a demon or malevolent spirit that seeks to feed and breed feelings of rejection in that person. Is such a thing possible – or is it outlandish? Is rejection more of an emotional/psychological issue or a spiritual issue?  I believe the answer can well be BOTH! What does the Bible say about a “Spirit of Rejection?”

The Bible speaks of spirits of sleep/slumber/stupor, evil spirits, unclean spirits, spirits of heaviness, spirits of foolishness, spirits of prostitution, lying spirits, elemental spirits, deceitful spirits, demonic spirits, and more…  1 Cor 12:10 speaks of a spiritual gift of distinguishing between spirits (!) Quite clearly, the inspired Word of God seems to indicate that there are active spirits, with specific characteristics, that work evil against God’s people. Are these spirits actually demons or a different being altogether? That question is an interesting one, but is beyond the scope of this project.

Are these spirits personal, or simply feelings, thoughts, etc? In other words, when the Bible speaks of various spirits, is the Bible actually euphemistically referring to what we would call psychological issues today? 2nd Chronicles 18:21 AND 1 Kings 22:22 both speak of a personified, real,active and living deceiving spirit who had the ability to communicate and develop cunning plans. Other Scriptural passages seem to confirm that these evil spirits do indeed have a personality and intelligence. 

Now – what about a specific “Spirit of Rejection?”  I note quite clearly that the Bible does NOT specifically list a Spirit of Rejection, but Paul writes to Timothy a very interesting warning that many biblical Christians do not take seriously in this modern age. 1 Timothy 4:1 Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith by devoting themselves to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons. Here Paul is very strenuously warning Timothy that a day will come when those in the church will be drawn away by the demonic false teachers AND will be devoted to deceitful spirits. I believe that one of the ways those deceitful spirits draw people away from faith is via the avenue of rejection. Put more specifically, you can’t make a biblical case for there being a specific “Spirit of Rejection,” but you can clearly make the case that there are deceitful spirits who lead people astray in the church. One of their primary tools, especially in this day and age, is the tool of rejection.

If I had to speculate – I believe that these “deceitful spirits” work on stirring up lies to separate believers and assault unity in the church. Whereas Jesus prayed in John 17 that His followers would be brought to “complete unity,” so that the world would know that God the Father sent His son…deceitful spirits endeavor to stir up lies to SEPARATE believers and DAMPEN the gospel through disunity. As Paul notes in Ephesians 6:12, “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” I propose that one of the clearest and most painful ways that we wrestle against spiritual forces of evil is in the context of rejection! And therefore, I conclude that it is likely that there are spiritual enemies opposed to us that seek to attack Christians with overwhelming despair and rejection. While there may not be a specific “Spirit of Rejection.” it is quite clear that the Bible warns us about deceitful spirits, and I believe these deceitful spirits can and do constantly assault Christians with lies and attacks designed to make them feel so rejected as to withdraw from fellowship!

Be sure to check out Part 2 of this article.

The Church: Navigating Diversity

Minolta DSCTwo weeks ago I wrote to argue that the word of God compels the local church to seek to be diverse. When the surrounding community is able to see an uncommon group of people in deep fellowship, serving together in love & unity – it speaks to a greater reality than human engineering. While our flesh often leads us to relationships with people who best suit our personality and preferences, our good Father leads us to relationships with ALL people, regardless of exterior traits. Jesus is most glorified when He is seen as the common bond among an uncommon group; And when the local church is a beautiful picture of diversity, it is best reflecting the eternal picture of the church to come (Revelation 7).

This week we are speaking about how to navigate diversity. I think it is important for me to say first that I am not calling for diversity on issues that the bible clearly gives us a stance. In those cases, we must simply obey. Secondly, I am not just thinking of race, which is where a lot of our minds may go. Racial diversity is certainly a key component for us to best reflect the eternal church. But I am also thinking about diversity in backgrounds, economic classes, personalities, preferences and ages. Any of these issues can be used as a dividing line in a church, the exact opposite of what we are calling for in this article. A church that is building diversity must learn how to embrace and celebrate their differences. And this is often a hard task, choppy waters, at least at the outset. So how do we navigate diversity? Let’s consider a few scriptural principles in contemplation. We will not unpack these very much, but pray that the Spirit will teach us about each one:

First, let us desire to glorify God in obedience to His will more than we desire to be comfortable. Diversity is hard and we often find it much more comfortable to be around others like us. But God has appointed His church to exist in a certain form, which Paul argues is like a body with equal, yet different parts. The body – in order to function – needs the unique parts to operate in unison. The body of Christ – likewise – is designed by the Father to have no divisions, and for each unique part to compliment the others, so the whole body functions as He has chosen. (Please read 1 Cor 12:14-26)

Second, let us remember that God intends for us to learn from one another. Scripture calls for the church to be made up of people willingly ‘submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ‘. Mutual submission should lead us to gentle interactions even on points of disagreement. Living together in the wisdom of the Father, we will see that every person has something to teach us. We do not have everything figured out, and the possibility exists that someone else’s way is equally as valid as ours. Unique preferences and views on life do not have to be points of argument. The beauty of a garden in bloom is intensified with a variety of colors. (Please read Ephesians 5:15-21)

Finally, let us be willing to remain in relationship with each other, in loving toleration. How quickly could diversity be built (and how many church splits could be avoided) if we simply listened and obeyed scripture?  May God’s word, wash over our souls: ‘Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another,forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive‘ (Colossians 3:12-13).

Grace and Peace

David

 

The Church: Intentional in Diversity

country churchWhat should the church look like? Of course, I do not mean the building where you worship and in this instance I am not focusing on polity (the way we do church).  Rather, for today the question is more of a second commandment meditation – the way we relate to one another. Who should we seek out to make up our local church? To what backgrounds, ages, races, classes, and sociocultural groups should we focus our outreach efforts? I believe the word of God compels us to this answer: Be Diverse. Yes, I think a local fellowship should seek to reach the people in their community, and I would be shocked if that group alone is not ripe with diversity on many levels. But I, perhaps somewhat controversially, would maintain that a church should SEEK to be diverse, as an intentional part of their outreach efforts.

If I may paint with a broad brush, I believe many churches have fallen into a bit of a pit when attempting to answer this question. For the most part, people tend to make intentional relationship choices based on their personal preferences. We all have our own ideas and views on the world; along with our own way of doing life. In general, we gravitate toward people who share at least some of our main inclinations. We find it easier, if not more enjoyable, to be around like-minded individuals. The reasons for this, I think, are both practical and spiritual. My dad loved motorcycles. Riding and working on bikes took up a huge portion of his free time. So, very practically, most of his friends came from circles of people who shared his interest. Those were just the people he was around the most; the ones he met at the bike shop and those he could take weekend rides with. So, very practical. But, I also think this can be spiritual. We tend to elevate our preferences to an idolatrous level. Because we think so highly of our views, our person and our way of doing things, we consequently run with those who ‘get it’ like we do; people who are most like us. And conversely we steer clear from – even vilify – those who are different. What is the pit I think the church has fallen into? Rather than work against this paradigm, I think the church often attempts to take advantage of it in order to grow. After all, people will come to where they are most comfortable, correct? So the church works to make it easy. We separate the body of Christ into small groups, worship services and events – all based on preferences. We seek to be labeled as young or old, contemporary or traditional, family, liturgical, free-spirit, black or white, home-school or public-school, liberal or conservative – the list could go on and on. Rather than work against the dynamic, the church is tempted to use it as a strategy for numeric increase.

When it comes to our local fellowships, I do think there is a higher, better foundation than preference. And while this way represents something that is harder and perhaps creates growth at a slower rate – I believe it is the Jesus way. The very team Jesus put together when he walked among us shows this. He chose the small group of guys who would run with him, spend time with him, learn from him and then go change the world when He returned to the Father. Jesus’ team was quite a picture of diversity. These men differed vastly from their professions, to their upbringings, their political views, and their personalities. This is NOT a group that would have ran together on their own. BUT among this uncommon group was a common bond: Jesus. And it is that same diversity that will encircle the throne one day, and bring all glory to Him:

After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” And all the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures, and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, saying, “Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen.” (Revelation 7)

My call for us to intentionally seek diversity in our fellowships is so that we reflect the intentional way Jesus is building His church. Man-centered development is fueled by taking advantage of our internal desire to elevate our preferences and be around people who share them. The Jesus way, I believe, is to intentionally seek out those who are different, join with them in fellowship and mission, and allow Him to be our common bond. This will not come easy and it will require that we are obedient to his commands on how we relate to one another; on how we treat one another. More on that next week, Lord willing…

Grace and Peace

David

 

12 Myths that End a Marriage – pt 2

This article was written a couple of years ago by one of the elders at Agape Fellowship, Samuel Knowles. It is a hard read, but a GREAT read; filled with straightforward wisdom and biblical principles. I highly recommend this for any married couple, engaged couple or a single person considering marriage. A few weeks back we posted Myths 1 through 6 and today we finish up with Myths 7 through 12. May God grant you His Grace as you read…

MYTH #7: THEY HAVE UNREALISTIC EXPECTATIONS OF ME. 

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And you have unrealistic expectations that they cannot meet.  This is your spouse whom you vowed to love and cherish for better or for worse. These expectations are usually unspoken and almost always misconstrued. It really is best to get these expectations out on the table and discuss them. Your spouse does not know (though you think they should) what it is you want them to do and how you want them to do it. You are going to have to let go of some expectations of yours, but you are also going to have to live up to some of the expectations of your spouse. That’s part of being married.

MYTH #8: OUR SITUATION IS DIFFERENT.

No… it’s not. It is the age old symptom of our sin nature that makes us think of ourselves as the only one going through a particular situation. You are not alone. You may have some degree of variation, but there is nothing new under the sun..nothingPlease don’t take this as saying that your situation isn’t extremely hard, or maybe even truly horrible… or sad, but you cannot fall into the temptation of thinking your situation is special and that’s why you have to divorce.  It is a lie, plain and simple.

MYTH #9:  WE ARE NOT GOING TO LET THIS AFFECT OUR KIDS.

You simply cannot keep this from devastating your children. I know many friends who grew up in a divorced home. I lived through my parent’s divorce. I can tell you from the testimonies of others, as well as my own, that it is NEVER easy on the children and will always negatively affect them the rest of their lives. They will be divided and torn and respond one of three ways to this division. They will:  1. Follow your example of selfishness and start positioning you against your spouse for personal gain. 2. Look to their friends, and more times than not, their boyfriend/girlfriend for the security and affection they should be getting at home. 3. Feel overwhelming guilt, withdraw from everyone and everything for fear of abandonment, and implode with despair. Yes..it’s that serious. Your divorce will negatively affect your children no matter how hard you try.

MYTH #10:  WE ARE GOING TWO DIFFERENT DIRECTIONS.

If it is possible for your legs to go one direction while your torso goes in an entirely different direction, then this myth is actually true.  But that is not physically possible, and it should be just as impossible for this to be true with your spouse. I realize that I have said this over and over, but since your vows before God, you are ONE.

Mark 10:8-9 “and the two shall become one flesh. So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.”

If you are going in different directions, you should join your spouse.  I hope both spouses read that previous sentence, because that is when it is most effective. There is an exception to this rule and that involves God’s direction. You should not follow your spouse in any direction that is anti-Christ, but that exception cannot be altered one bit from biblical context. Husbands, if you are loving your wives as Christ loves the church, and wives, if you are submitting to your husbands as to the Lord, then you will not be going in different directions.

MYTH #11: I’M NOT IN LOVE ANYMORE.

Marriage is not a tent you crawl into or a pool you swim around in, or a car you drive. You can only stay so long in a tent before it’s uncomfortable. The floor begins to feel hard, the room feels cramped and the air feels stuffy. You can get out of a tent to change your surroundings, stretch your legs and breathe easier. Your marriage is not a tent.  You can only stay so long in a pool before it starts getting old. Diving deep gets boring, your skin starts to wrinkle and look old, and you get tired of treading water to stay afloat. You can get out of a pool to rest, dry off, and de-wrinkle. Your marriage is not a pool. You can only drive a car for so many years before it starts to cost more than it’s worth. Your transmission can only be replaced so many times, the paint starts to chip and rust, the heat or ac starts to go out, and it becomes more unreliable after so many years. You trade in your old car and get a newer, faster, prettier car. Your marriage is not a car. It is invaluable. Your love for your spouse goes so much deeper than feelings. It is a commitment to love and cherish, to protect and provide, to nurture and enrich for the rest of your life. Remind yourself of this.

MYTH #12:  GOD IS OKAY WITH US… HE KNOWS WE TRIED. 

I want to make clear that what I’m about to say in this section does not pertain to your salvation or God’s love for you as His child, but you need to understand that God is NOT okay with your divorce.  Honestly, He could care less about your puny efforts to fool your conscience into submission for your selfish desires. I will simply let the word of God speak for itself on this myth.

Malachi 2:14-16 “You cry out, “Why has the Lord abandoned us?” I’ll tell you why! Because the Lord witnessed the vows you and your wife made to each other on your wedding day when you were young. But you have been disloyal to her, though she remained your faithful companion, the wife of your marriage vows. Didn’t the Lord make you one with your wife? In body and spirit you are his. And what does he want? Godly children from your union. So guard yourself; remain loyal to the wife of your youth. “For I hate divorce!” says the Lord, the God of Israel. “It is as cruel as putting on a victim’s bloodstained coat,” says the Lord Almighty. “So guard yourself; always remain loyal to your wife.”

Matthew 19:8 He said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so.

1 Corinthians 7:10-11 To the married I give this charge (not I, but the Lord): the wife should not separate from her husband (but if she does, she should remain unmarried or else be reconciled to her husband), and the husband should not divorce his wife.

Genesis 2:24-25 Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh. And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed.

If you have read all of this, I pray that the Lord has touched your heart with renewed strength and resolve to fight for your spouse, your marriage, and your family.  May His Love hold you, His presence sustain you, and may His Spirit give you peace in the midst of the war.

12 Myths that End a Marriage – pt 1

This article was written a couple of years ago by one of the elders at Agape Fellowship, Samuel Knowles. It is a hard read, but a GREAT read; filled with straightforward wisdom and biblical principles. I highly recommend this for any married couple, engaged couple or a single person considering marriage. Today I am posting Myths 1 through 6 and next week we will finish up with Myths 7 through 12. May God grant you His Grace as you read…

ringsIn the last few weeks I have heard of numerous married couples on the verge or having just followed through with divorce. The sad thing is that all of these couples say they are Christians. The Lord moved upon my heart to write this and I woke up with unction from Him to get it done and out quickly.  Please, disregard grammatical errors, but read this slowly and carefully.  I list 12 myths that end a marriage and provide commentary to “bust” each myth.

Also, I forewarn you that this is not an easy read.  This will not make you feel “good” whether you’re the victim or the villain in your relationship. But please, read it.  And in as much as God has breathed on this, please open your heart to the Holy Spirit and be challenged to fight for your marriage.  The enemy has gained such a foothold in this area of life and our society continues to decline as a result.  But this was not written to save our society or for my own cathartic purposes.  This was written for your marriage.  I do not know your personal situation to the depth you are experiencing it, but I do know that difficult times were promised to us by Jesus who suffered more than any of us could begin to imagine.  I also know that these difficult times make us stronger if we will walk through them.  This is not a time to try and avoid the issues, or go over and around your problems to deal with them later.  The time now is to fight for your marriage with more energy and passion than you’ve ever done before.

MYTH #1: I AM NOT HAPPY ANYMORE.

Unfortunately we have elevated happiness to an unhealthy level in America where we view it almost as a right instead of for what it really is. The word comes from the root Happ.  Here is one origin of the word: (1150–1200; Middle English < Old Norse happ  luck, chance)

We also get the word happenstance from the same root.  So you see, happiness is based on circumstances and is meant to be a fluctuating emotion, not a constant frame of mind.  We have to get over this feeling of entitlement to happiness. There are whole days when you may not be happy and that is okay…It’s not fun…but it’s okay.  Your spouse’s responsibility is not to make you happy.  You must get over this belief that if you are not happy in your marriage, then you have the right to divorce.  It is a myth that if your marriage is not making you happy then that means the marriage is over.

MYTH #2:  WE HAVE DONE ALL WE CAN AND IT’S JUST NOT WORKING.

Almost every couple I know that is on the verge of divorce or already divorced has made this statement to some degree.  IT IS SIMPLY NOT TRUE.  If your conclusion is divorce, you have not done all you can. “All we can” is remembering your vows that said “for WORSE” as well as “for better”.  “All we can” is realizing that the day you said “I DO” meant it is no longer about you.  Your wedding day was a miraculous moment of unity between you, your spouse and God.  You became one in such a way that you do not separate without serious repercussions.  Would you cut off your arm because you have tried and tried to curl 200 pounds, but no matter how much exercise and eating right, you are still not able to lift such a weight?  Of course not!   You should view the “impossible” circumstance with your spouse in the same way.  This is not “someone else”…they are just as much a part of you as you are.

MYTH #3:  THEY ARE NOT THE SAME PERSON I MARRIED.

This statement is true and you are not the same either. People change…sometimes for the better…sometimes for the worse.  But change is a part of life for anyone and any situation.  This is another poor product of our society.  We have bought into the lie that if you do not like the change in your spouse, change spouses until you do.  This is fine if you’re talking about food, or clothes, or a painting, or a song…but not marriage.  We have lost important traits of commitment and loyalty that allow us to disregard the “change” in favor of the commitment made.  Realize that if they have changed in an undesirable way, you are as responsible in making that change as they are. You are one, regardless of how they think, you feel, or you both act. Their change…is your change.

MYTH #4:  THEY CAN NOT LET GO OF PAST MISTAKES.

If you are truly regretful of your past mistakes and your spouse will not let it go, I’m sure that can be frustrating.  You are trying to move on, and you feel like every chance your spouse gets they are reminding you of your failure.  They may do so verbally or by their actions.   Suspicion, fear, and insecurity are very hurtful things both for the one feeling them and the one receiving the response to those feelings. Trust is easily lost, but extremely difficult to regain.

To the one who made the mistake…. deal with it.  Yes, the other person should forgive you and it would be great if they could even get to the point of trusting you again, but remember… you’re the one who blew it.  You can never make light of the action, as long as your spouse is suffering from it.  Whether it takes 6 months or 60 years, you MUST walk through this with your spouse.  You cannot leave them to deal with the issue on their own because you have dealt with it between you and God. Marriage does not work like that.  You cannot pick and choose areas you are one in and areas you are on your own.  YOU ARE ONE.  If your spouse has not forgiven you, meet it head on and do not relent until it is resolved.

To the one who has suffered from the mistakes of your spouse…. deal with it.  Yes, the other person broke one of the most important promises in their life, and broke your heart severely.  Yes! They should not have done whatever it was they did.  But continually reminding your spouse of that mistake by your words or actions does not just make it hard on them…it does not make it easier for you…it does not serve them right…it destroys!  It destroys families beyond your own. It destroys relationships beyond your own. If children are involved, it impacts them in ways you will never imagine…and that is as much your fault as theirs.  To clarify, this applies to the spouse who is generally grieved of their mistake and is genuinely trying to repent of what they have done.  You have to let them walk through this with you to the point of forgiveness…It will be hard, but do not give up. In your weakness Christs’ strength can and will sustain you. There is NO other option.

MYTH #5: WE CANNOT TALK WITHOUT ARGUING. 

Then do not talk…communicate. There are other forms of communication than audibly speaking words bathed in heightened emotion.

Write a letter. The heart has a direct line to the mouth (Matt. 15:18), but it must pass through the brain to get to the hand.  Sometimes writing it out helps you process what you really want to say and what you really should say.  As well, when you read what the other person is saying, it is a lot harder to misunderstand what they are trying to say.  When speaking, we tend to hear things that are not said or at least misunderstand the way they are said, and that compounds an issue to the negative really quick.

Use nouns (Persons, Places, or Things). Sometimes another person that you mutually respect is a good way to start the communication process. It helps you weigh your words and collect your thoughts a little more carefully. This also brings in some outside advice that may help bring clarity to misunderstandings. Yes, this can be awkward, but a little awkwardness is worth re-opening lines of communication and will save a lot more difficulties later on.

Another idea is going to a place that you both love (i.e. where you first met, where you used to always go when you were first married, where you proposed). The memories these places bring back also can serve to help soften words and cause you to remember that the person you are currently at odds with is not your enemy.

Also, things can help change the atmosphere and cause you to have conversation instead of conflict.  Things such as a board game you both enjoy, flowers, a favorite dessert, or having your “mixed tape” or worship music playing softly in the background can help change the atmosphere and help redirect some of the emotion and energy to a healthier place.

The bottom line is you are both adults, so act like it.  There was a time you talked without yelling or using hurtful words, so do whatever it takes to get back to that place again.

MYTH #6: WE JUST NEED TIME APART TO WORK OUT OUR OWN ISSUES.

NO! You don’t!  You don’t have personal issues anymore…. your personal issues became your spouse’s issues and vice versa the day you said “I DO”. The old war term (which is based on the scripture Matt 12:25)  is “Divide and Conquer.” Separation allows you to feed the selfishness that has caused this problem to begin with. If anything, you need to draw closer together. I cannot overstate the fact that you became ONE at your wedding, and that means you are not whole on your own any longer. You are not healthy on your own any longer. To physically separate yourself from your spouse only further weakens your defense and allows the enemy to exploit those weaknesses. You are not the exception to this rule.

Check back next week for the 2nd part of this article: Myths 7 through 12.

Relate to Each Other by Gospel Principles

I was chosen to explain to everyone this mysterious plan that God, the Creator of all things, had kept secret from the beginning. God’s purpose in all this was to use the church to display his wisdom in its rich variety to all the unseen rulers and authorities in the heavenly places. This was his eternal plan, which he carried out through Christ Jesus our Lord. – Ephesians 3:9-11

This past Sunday during our time in the word, I made the comment that as parents we must be careful to reflect Gospel principles to our children, rather than the prevailing ideals of our culture. Worldly principles convey the message that a person must earn their merit; prove their worthiness to be accepted. The Gospel, in response, clearly communicates that God has displayed His love for His children through Jesus; and that by grace through faith we are accepted; we are made worthy – not because of our actions but because of His mercy. You and I do not earn our position before God; Christ earned it on our behalf. And so the message that we need to hear from our Heavenly Father (and the message that our children need to receive from us) is that while from time to time He may be displeased with our actions, He is never displeased with us. His pleasure with us is based on Christ in us, and therefore it does not ebb and flow. So we need to ‘gospel’ our children in this same way.

A subsequent conversation that I had with someone in our fellowship reminded me of what a foreign idea this is to all of us – myself included. It is difficult to wrap our mind around it, while at the same time difficult to live out. How do we gospel our children? And by extension, how do gospel each other? And – should I even use the word gospel as a verb? Well, while I am not entirely sure about that one, here is why I use it as a verb: I believe the bible very clearly instructs the people who make up the Church, to relate to one another by gospel principles. As Christian families, the very core of how we operate should be based on God’s word to us. And even more importantly, as the family of God we must listen and obey when Christ teaches us how to live with each other. And we have to know going in, this will require a molding of our will and our preferences. We may have to move away from our upbringing or even reject our sense of how things should be done. Because as we have already covered, gospel principles typically find themselves in direct opposition to worldly principles. And all of us have spent our lives being inundated by the values of the surrounding culture.

What do Gospel principles look like? Well they are found throughout the word, specifically in many of the NT letters to the churches. They are too numerous to mention all of them here and too deep to dive into with any great depth. But let’s remind ourselves of a few: We should value other people in the body more than even ourselves (Phil 2:3); We should submit to on another (Eph 5:21) and speak the word to one another, teaching and even admonishing (Col 3:16). Toward one another we are commanded to be patient, gentle, kind and compassionate (Col 3:12 – really take time to think through those words, so that the meaning is not lost). We should not insist on our own way (1 Cor 13:4), we should be devoted to each other and go out of our way to honor our brothers and sisters (Romans 12:10 – honor means to ‘treat as valuable’). We are to make allowance for each other’s faults and if we get offended – quickly forgive (Col 3:13). Even when personalities collide – we are to accept each other (Romans 15:7) and go out of our way to not quarrel over disputable matters (Romans 14:1). We are not to criticize each other (James 4:11), we should listen well (James 1:19), we should not gossip at any moment (2 Cor 12:20), but rather encourage and build each other up (1 Thess 5:11).

I could go on (you all know I could) but you get the idea. Last question: What is our motivation to gospel one another? Paul gives us the answer in Ephesians: because God is building something among us – in the church – that is counter-cultural; an institution unlike any other that displays HIS wisdom, not the worlds. If we live together and relate to each other as the world does, then we do not display Christ but rather we display our culture. That is not our calling. So I urge us church, consider these words. Discuss these principles in your Gospel Communities. Consider – how do we live by Gospel principles in our families and our faith family. And strive for it – for the glory of Christ.