Who is Sacred, Who is Not

I wrote this post the other day for CSF. When I was finished writing it, I answered the phone, completed the call, and then posted it to the Life Project, and didn’t give it another thought until a few minutes ago… oops!

How would you approach such a quandary as a Christian? Would you approach it as a legalist and say that a person is sacred if they have behaved themselves and done certain other things that make them “cool” in the church? Perhaps one might say that a person who is a Christian is sacred, but that the lost are not, or maybe that people who are really good are sacred, while the rest are not. Some might suggest that a person is sacred if they are a member in good standing in their particular denomination, or even that no one is sacred until they die and go to heaven.

Yet, I wonder how God looks at this; would He see it the way we do?

Maybe God would say that a person whose sins are forgiven is sacred, and those who remain in their sins are unclean…

I wouldn’t presume to tell you that I am privy to all of God’s thoughts, but I can suggest that Scripture might give us some insight on this topic that can lead us to draw some conclusions.

As we have seen in a previous series of posts, all humans are created by God in His image, and yes, even after sin entered the world in Genesis 3, we still bear His image. With that being the case, and the image of God being in itself sacred, we all have an element of sacredness inherent in our beings; His image. Each of us was conceived in the mind of God and created in every detail with His intentional purpose in mind with talents and gifts, not to mention intelligence as God saw fit to give, and I doubt that God is in the habit of creating that which is unclean or inherently bad.

Yet in spite of this, we make choices as we walk through life, and sooner or later each one of us makes choices that are at odds with the ways of God; some really go out on a dark extreme and really make a mess of things. Yet even in such a dark place, distant and far from God’s presence and will, He still loved us:

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.

John 3:16

Because of God’s amazing love, He sent His Son to die for each one of us, while humanity was still in its sinful rebellion. I don’t know about you, but offhand, I can’t think of any cases in Scripture when God was said to have loved that which was evil, bad or unclean. In fact, the second greatest commandment was that we love our neighbor as ourselves; He made no mention of our neighbor needing to be perfect first, did He?

In fact, which of the patriarchs was so perfect? How about the great Israelite kings David and Solomon; were they perfect? No, I didn’t think so.

I would maintain that every single human being is sacred in God’s sight, not because of the way we behave, but because we were created by God in His image with a purpose that transcends this world. Of course, there are many sacred ones out there who aren’t all that attractive, and some behave in really nasty ways, in rebellion against everything God is and stands for. Yet I really don’t believe for an instant that this sad state of affairs means that they aren’t sacred in God’s sight; can you guess why that is?

Two reasons: First, they are precisely the ones Jesus gave His life to save, and second, because God has gone to all of the trouble to put you and me in this world to take the good news to such people, that they might be brought into His light. Imagine for a moment how different this world might be if more of us saw such people through God’s eyes and took our commission more seriously.

Come to think of it, I have another question to ponder: Who grieves God’s heart more, the lost person who dwells in darkness and acts accordingly, or the Christian who dwells in the light with all of the riches of Christ at his or her disposal, but who is afraid to get their hands dirty taking the light to those dark places where so many need it so desperately?

Yes, I’ll need to ponder that one for some time…

I Don’t Know What to Say!

There are times in life when we simply don’t know what to say. Suppose the phone rings in the wee hours of the morning, waking you from a deep sleep. If you are anything like me, your first thought, upon the comprehension that the phone is actually ringing, might be something like, “Uh oh, this can’t be good”.

You answer, and the person on the other end is your best friend who tells you that his or her spouse just died of a heart attack; your friend is simply overwhelmed… what are you going to say?

They ask you to come over… what will you say?

You arrive, and your friend is still overwhelmed by what has happened: what will you say?

What can you say? There are no magic words that will make the situation any better, and in all likelihood, your friend doesn’t really want you to say anything, he or she just doesn’t want to be alone right then.

At such a time, few are in the mood for speeches, fewer still are in the mood for condescension: “I told him he should exercise more and lose some weight”.

No, they just don’t want to be alone; it is a basic human need. This is sometimes called “The Ministry of Presence”. Presence is all about a person finding comfort in the fact that there is someone who cares enough about them to be present when they are at their lowest point, even though they might feel awkward or uneasy. It is more about a caring face, than golden phrases; it is more about connection and less about reason.

The Christian presence is powerful, it is more than merely the presence of another body in the room, for as Christians we are a royal priesthood, every one of us (1 Peter 2:9) and as a royal priesthood, each one of us mediates God’s presence to others by the presence of the indwelling Holy Spirit within us. If that sounds a little too theoretical to you, don’t worry, for I doubt that any mere human comprehends it fully, just know that when you are present with a person in need of your presence, there is more going on than we might be conscious of, for we are bringing the love of Jesus Christ to the situation.

Jesus needed the ministry of presence too. Do you recall the story of His praying in the Garden of Gethsemane? Jesus was “overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death” (Mark 14:34), and He asked Peter, James and John to stay close by and keep watch; He needed their presence. As a Kingdom of priests, our presence is an active service to God, one of the most powerful acts of service in God’s arsenal, a service that God has clearly modeled for us.

As you know the Temple in Jerusalem is one of the most powerfully significant symbols in all of Scripture, for it represents God’s dwelling place in the midst of his people. It served as the center of Jewish life, their pride, their joy and their great comfort, for when they gazed upon the Temple, they knew that God was present with them. In the fullness of time, God moved His presence beyond the symbol of the Temple, taking on the flesh and blood for of a man, in Jesus Christ. Jesus could walk and talk in the midst of God’s people; He could literally reach out and touch them, share a meal with them and bring hope and comfort to them. Yet He knew that His time was short; preparations were made to keep God’s presence among His people worldwide, and when the time, His people received the indwelling Holy Spirit. I think it is safe to say that God has gone to great lengths to make His presence available to humanity, and part of His effort is for us to make ourselves available to one another in the ministry of presence.

So, what will we say?

Not a whole lot, so don’t worry about it. Maybe a brief prayer, or a longer silent one. Maybe a hug, a shoulder to lean on or to cry on, maybe the holding of a hand. Perhaps an ear to listen… or maybe just being there.

Making Your Point by Changing the Meaning of Words

I am taking the unusual step of re-blogging a post by Don Merritt (one of the movers and shakers behind Church Set Free) to Church Set Free.

Because this post – whilst not quoting any verses or chapters or books – is a post that is inextricably linked with our communication of those very verses and chapter and books making up the bible (and any other text we might discuss). It is inextricably linked with “communication” – and church is about relationships – and relationships work with good communication (and suffer with bad communication).

And then (heaven forbid!!) add our Father to that mix: how we talk to Him, and how we hear Him. This post is relevant to that as well.

I haven’t seen a post like this which transfers so directly into the conversation about – and within – church. I am so glad Don wrote this.

(as always – comments are disabled here, please pop across to Don’s place and join the conversation, thank you)

TLP

It is entirely normal for word usage to change over time as a language and culture evolves. This is one reason that most people today no longer use the older English translations of the Bible; they are written in a language nobody speaks in the 21st century. I mentioned in a post a few years ago that once upon a time I had a bunch of people in a Sunday School class who objected to the NIV being used in class, preferring instead the King James. I offered to teach the entire class from then on in King James English and we took a vote: King James English won the day, and the following week, I spoke only in 1611 English.

The people couldn’t follow very much, quickly became frustrated, and the point was made. A new vote was taken, and we returned to language they understood the next…

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Heretics, Murder and Brotherly Love

A few weeks back I watched “The Tudors” again on Netflix. OK fine, you got me; I binge-watched it!

I had actually seen it some years ago, but enough time had passed so that it was almost like the first time again. As I watched the story of Henry VIII unfold, I was struck with a great sense of thankfulness that I live now and not back then; what a terrible time it was. I must add that I am also thankful that when America was established, our founders went to such great lengths to ensure that no such tyranny could happen here; and so far, their precautions have worked.

Yet more than anything else, I was impressed with the complete lack of understanding that people, at least those in leadership, had of what the Christian faith is all about. To be sure, this is not a Protestant versus Catholic observation, for none of these leaders on either side seemed to have a clue. I suppose that anyone who really did “get” Christianity was murdered, their names lost to history.

The specter of Bishops, Archbishops, even Cardinals  the very people who are supposed to know better, being so full of themselves that they would assert that anyone who disagrees with them on something must be burned alive is almost unbelievable, and yet it happened on a large scale across Europe in those days: Unspeakable evil.

Of course they all knew that there is no teaching remotely akin to this in the New Testament, so why not just make reading the Scriptures a capital offense for anyone outside clerical circles? Some of them did just that. I guess I could rant all day long on this, but history really isn’t my point in writing today…

I wonder: Do we still have the impulse today, to brand other Christians as heretics if they disagree with us on some point of doctrine? Do we belong to church assemblies that assert they are the only ones who are “right” and everybody else is “wrong”? Do our churches assert that they are “true” and all others are not? Do we stick our fingers in others’ faces because they see things a little differently than we do? Do we believe it is a sin for someone to disagree with us on a doctrinal point?

You are welcome to call me crazy, but it seems to me that these things result from the same impulse that used to burn people at the stake, and that these attitudes are still with us.

I have done quite a lot of Bible teaching over my lifetime, in classrooms, in churches, in writing and in various relational environments, and I always do my honest best to be faithful to Scripture. Yet I more than anyone am very much aware of the fact that I am just as imperfect and fallible as the next guy; surely I make my share of mistakes, and I am happy to admit it and make corrections where appropriate. Even as I write this it occurs to me that I’m getting close to doing the very thing by implication that I’m writing against, so let’s be clear; no, you don’t need to do or think as I do! Instead, I would simply encourage you to ask yourself a series of questions, much like those I posed above; do some soul searching, take this to God in prayer, for this is an important issue.

Jesus taught many things during His ministry and the highest of His teachings was that we are to love God with all of our hearts, souls, minds and strength, and that we are to love our neighbors as ourselves; He made this all very clear at the end of His ministry when He commanded His disciples to love one another. Doesn’t love require that we not burn one another at the stake, either literally or figuratively?

Well dear friends, at least it’s something to think about, don’t you agree?

Nakedness, Tough Guys and False Expectations

“The showering part however, I was completely wrong about. On the very first day, I noticed something very interesting: There were no tough guys in the showers. They might have been what today is called “bullies” before the shower, and after the shower, but never in the shower, for in the shower they didn’t have their tough guy pants, and their tough guy boots and shirts; no, there they were just like everyone else. Oh yes, it turned out that I wasn’t that much of a freak after all, I was just the tallest. What had seemed so uncomfortable, so awkward, was not nearly as scary as I had thought it would be.”

Don will never reblog this.

But Don is getting naked. He has been for some time now. And that word (and all my squirming) is becoming something completely different. Innocent. Enlightening. Inspiring. Beautiful.  There is no discomfort here. Not if I am being honest. Just another pathway to God, just another pathway to Love without Condition – but boy, what a wonderfully sneaky and disarming pathway this is!

Why not head across to Don’s place and join the conversation?

TLP

The tough guys never bothered me in Junior High School; that is something you should understand right from the first. Yet even though they didn’t bother me, they bothered everyone else, unless you were one of my friends. I was what one of my teachers called “an early bloomer” which I took to be a reference to the fact that when I was 12 years old, I was six feet tall and under my mother’s strict orders to shave every day.

That particular year was the year that my classmates and I went from Elementary School to Junior High School, and we had been told by everyone that bad things happen in Junior High School. In Junior High School, you went from being the oldest in the school to the youngest, and the oldest in the school, the ninth-graders loved to pick on the seventh-graders. We would be bullied, badgered…

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Questions, Answers and Context

I read John’s post entitled Bow and Confess earlier today with great interest and since he ended it with a series of questions, I thought it might helpful if I answer them. (If you haven’t yet read the original post, I suggest you do so now for best results) Before I do, I’d like to make it clear that John’s view is entirely his own and he is certainly entitled to it. Similarly, my view s are entirely mine, and neither of us is speaking for anyone other than ourselves, and I know that John would join me in saying that you, our readers and contributors are free to agree, disagree and freely express your own thoughts.

With that said, here are John’s questions and my answers to them. They are posed immediately after John stated this conclusion:

Here it seems Paul is giving clarification as to how anyone is ever able or confess Jesus is Lord—it is only by the Holy Spirit! It seems God’s plan is that at some point, every single person will willingly, honorably bow and confess Jesus is Lord, to the glory of Father, by the Holy Spirit!

Q: Do we really dare to hope in such a loving God?

A: The short answer would have to be “NO”.  A more complete response would be to point out the fact that this conclusion is based upon a passage that was taken out of its context; that passage is Phil. 2:10-11. When we look at the entire passage, we see something quite different; here it is:

Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross. Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Phil. 5:5-11

When these verses are seen in context, a different picture emerges, a picture that involves Paul’s instruction to the Church in Philippi comprised of those who are followers of Jesus Christ. Paul is telling them that their attitude should be like that of the Lord Himself, who set aside the glories of Heaven to take on the form of a servant and serve His Father’s will, even to death, to redeem humanity from its sin. As a result He has been raised to the highest place, and given all authority, and every knee will bow before Him, for the day is coming when all doubt as to who He is will be gone. It’s interesting to remember that demons, as they were being driven out by Jesus knew exactly who He was, and were terrified of Him, for they were in open and deliberate rebellion against Him. Oh yes, they will all bow down on the last day, and nobody will need to force them, but many on that day will have a serious problem on their hands.

Q: Is God’s plan really to save everyone?

A: God’s desire is to save everyone, as John 3:16 so clearly tells us, and God is willing to go to extraordinary lengths to do so in sending His Son to die. Yet He created us with the free will to choose whether or not to follow Him; if we do, He welcomes us with open arms, if we don’t, we have made the choice, and since God is loving and exercises restraint, He respects our choice to reject Him, even though it grieves Him greatly.

 

Q: Is he really that powerful?

A: God is all powerful, but His most amazing attribute is His restraint; He does not force us to love Him.

 

Q: Would God allow someone the indwelling of the Holy Spirit just to bow and confess, then rip it away so they are lost for all eternity?

A: Certainly not! Sadly there is a logical problem in this question, for it is based upon the quotation of 1 Corinthians 12:3:

Therefore I make known to you that no one speaking by the Spirit of God calls Jesus accursed, and no one can say that Jesus is Lord except by the Holy Spirit.

Can you see the problem? It begins with the word “therefore”. When you see the word “therefore” the author is drawing a conclusion, thus the quotation is necessarily taken out of context. In this case, the verse falls within the larger context of 1 Corinthians 11-13 that deals with spiritual gifts, the immediate context looks like this:

Now concerning spiritual gifts, brethren, I do not want you to be ignorant: You know that you were Gentiles, carried away to these dumb idols, however you were led. Therefore I make known to you that no one speaking by the Spirit of God calls Jesus accursed, and no one can say that Jesus is Lord except by the Holy Spirit.

1 Cor. 12:1-3

Again, Paul is addressing Christians who are already followers of Christ, reminding them of their former status as Gentiles in a larger discussion of spiritual gifts that are given to Christians when they begin to follow Jesus, not to pagans who refuse to follow Him. We know from Acts 2:38 within its larger context of Acts 2:14 ff. that we receive the indwelling of the Holy Spirit when we believe the message of salvation acknowledge our faith in Christ and enter into relationship with Him.

If there is a connection between the Philippians 2 passage and the 1 Corinthians 12 passage, it is this: On the great Day of the Lord, every knee will indeed bow voluntarily, and every tongue will voluntarily have to admit that Jesus Christ is Lord! Those who have already done so in faith will be filled with joy and jubilation, and those who refused will be having a very bad day.

Bow and Confess, in my view, proves us with a wonderful opportunity to explore, to toss out ideas, to ask and to answer, and I want to thank John for posting it, for sharing a point of view and giving us a chance to examine the Scriptures together and come to the realization that our God is simply awesome in His love, and to see and recognize that His love is so great, that He allows us the freedom even to reject His grace.

Kitchen Table Conversation: Justice Here and Now

And what does the Lord require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
and to walk humbly with your God.

Micah 6:8

Justice is one of God’s key attributes; as such, there are so many aspects of it, so many different direction we can go in discussion it, and I suppose that’s why it is a great topic for our Kitchen Table Conversation.

For me, the more pressing aspects of Justice are those that concern the here and now, those aspects of Justice that the prophet Micah wrote about so very long ago in 6:8. For each of us to act justly, to love mercy and to walk humbly with our God is, for me, the priority in this life.

Jesus took this to a higher level when He travelled around Galilee proclaiming the Kingdom of heaven, for when He did so, there was healing, wholeness, sight and… Justice.

Justice isn’t usually in this list, is it? Yet Jesus demonstrated what Micah was talking about as He preached and healed, for He took His message of the Kingdom of heaven to both Jew and Gentile. He healed both Jew and Gentile. He gave sight to Jew and Gentile, rich and poor, saint and sinner, breaking all of the cultural boundaries that had kept God from the masses of humanity for far too long. He respected the disrespected, He valued the humble, and He loved the unlovable, and that is Justice in the here and now.

There are times in this life when acting as Jesus acted isn’t the easiest thing to do; I sometimes fall short in my efforts and for this reason, I have little time to worry about the eschatological implications of Justice. I say this because I earnestly desire to serve Him as He called me to serve, and I desire to do so because I love God and I love humanity You see, I am a work in progress and I have not yet attained the goal that is set before me in Christ Jesus.

So I content myself with doing my best in Christ to act justly, love mercy and walk humbly before God, for it seems to me that if I do so, then if nothing else I can walk along with Jesus, secure in the knowledge that I have followed God’s ways, and done harm to no one along the way.