Monday, September 23, 2013

How To Answer "That Person"

Having talked about being QUICK TO LISTEN, this week; I thought I would run a post I wrote several years ago that highlights not just that we need to be SLOW TO SPEAK, but that when we speak our speech needs to be appropriate...

A well-known conservative Christian blog runs a series of posts entitled "Next". They are designed to be short, witty, and somewhat snarky responses to objections people raise about the God, Christianity and church.

Often the responses are well-thought out and reflect very good answers to sometimes tough questions. However, I shudder a little every time I read them because the answers just don't seem to reflect the type of grace I'd like them to.

If you know me well, you know that I'm not always the most gentle of people, but I feel like this is an area of my life that the Spirit has shaped over the years... which is perhaps why I'm more sensitive to this.


So I asked in the comments of one of these posts if they could show me some Proverbs (the author is absolutely brilliant in his use of Proverbs) that demonstrate this type of dialogue as appropriate. After not receiving a response, I went ahead and did a quick word search in Proverbs for "answer".

Below I listed the verses which seemed appropriate to this discussion, and then made a short list of things I learned about wisely answering people (especially those with whom you disagree). I'll continue working on answering THIS way, I hope you will to.

Proverbs 1:28
"Then they will call to me but I will not answer; they will look for me but will not find me.

Proverbs 15:1
A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.

Proverbs 15:28
The heart of the righteous weighs its answers, but the mouth of the wicked gushes evil.

Proverbs 18:13
He who answers before listening— that is his folly and his shame.

Proverbs 18:23
A poor man pleads for mercy, but a rich man answers harshly.

Proverbs 21:13
If a man shuts his ears to the cry of the poor, he too will cry out and not be answered.

Proverbs 22:21
teaching you true and reliable words, so that you can give sound answers to him who sent you?

Proverbs 24:26
An honest answer is like a kiss on the lips.

Proverbs 26:4
Do not answer a fool according to his folly, or you will be like him yourself.

Proverbs 26:5
Answer a fool according to his folly, or he will be wise in his own eyes.

Proverbs 26:16
The sluggard is wiser in his own eyes than seven men who answer discreetly.

Proverbs 27:11
Be wise, my son, and bring joy to my heart; then I can answer anyone who treats me with contempt.



WISDOM FOR ANSWERING PEOPLE:

1. Be Gentle, not harsh.

2. Listen well before you formulate your answer.

3. Weigh your answer, don't immediately gush.

4. Give answers that reflect Scripture.

5. Don't endlessly debate with a fool.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

What Exactly is the Church?

People think of church in a lot of different terms. Most of the times, we fixate on one particular concept, and as a result have a less than full understanding or just plain mistaken understanding of what church is.

Here are four of the most common ways we think about church:

Where we meet -- this is often associated with place and time. when we were young, we were always taught that "church was not a place", but that teaching was confusing for me because what I always heard was this:
1) we dress up and act "reverent" when we come to church.
2) church is not a building, it is people
3) stop running in the church.
what we believe -- many churches identify themselves (even in their names) by associating with the churches that believe the same things as them. For many people, this identity is the most important. I once had someone say to me in a newcomers class, "We're looking for a good baptist church". What he meant was, "We want a church that believes what we do". This isn't necessarily bad, it's just another way we identify the church.

What we do -- a lot of churches have labels describing their primary activities (usually Sunday). The labels are words like "seeker", "contemporary", "blended", "traditional", etc...  In more recent years, this type of identification has grown beyond just Sunday and other labels have been developed (purpose driven, church OF small groups, missional, yada-yada-yada).

Who we are -- here's a novel thought. The church isn't an organization at all. It cannot be defined by structures or systems. It is a fluid organism, always in flux because it is nothing more than the relationships holding a community of redeemed people together. It only exists to the extent their connectedness allows, and it doesn't exist where relationships don't exist. This one might need to be chewed on a bit, as there are some very attractive ideas here, yet they don't necessarily mesh with the way things are or how we might interpret Scripture.

so, when you think about church, how do you think about it?

is it a building? (the big one on the highway)
is it a time? (Sunday morning)
is it a belief set? (Baptist; Reformed)
is it an activity? (morning service)
is it people? (Bob, Larry, Junior, etc...)

Ah yes, perhaps it is all of them.

What if none of these was a full reflection of the church? What if we learned a better way of thinking and talking about the church? What if we used new terms to better identify the biblical story of God's community of redeemed?

What words would you use?

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Leftovers from James 1:5-18

The following is a list of some thoughts that were in my study notes this week, but didnt make it into the sermon. These are just the notes as I typed them during my study, they don't include any editing or contextual clarification.

  • there appears to be a minor chiasm of sorts here. Bookended by all-inclusive references, the man being tempted is contrasted by a generous God and the doubter is contrasted with the one who remains steadfast. Also the lowly and rich are addressed in the same train of thought.
  • "remains" is a time word. The idea is not one moment of withstanding the trial, but continual commitment to respond appropriately to an on-going trial
  • "when tempted" -- if we have not properly prepared ourselves for trials, we will have a difficult time withstanding temptation when it comes
  • from above -- good and perfect gifts are from above. not from below. not from here. we are incapable of giving good and perfect gifts. we give ok gifts, but never perfect.
  • In the midst is encouragement to the lowly because they are learning wisdom. and a warning to the rich, because their lesson is easily missed.
  • God's sovereignty/control is critical. James' entire argument is based on the assumption that God is in control.Secondarily, God's nature is critical. If God is loving and the giver of good gifts, then we can naturally respond to trials as prescribed by James.
  • Theology of blessing vs. Health and wealth theology. The health and wealth paradigm is attacked particularly in verse 11 where wealth and earthly gain is shown to be fleeting. PERISHABLE REWARDS SHOULD NEVER BE THE PRIMARY MOTIVATION FOR CHRISTIANS.
  • The gospel is the news of God's best gift... salvation. "Of his own will he brought us forth... as firstfruits of his creatures." Because of this gift, we have been restored to our original relationship with God. He has brought us out of the category of condemned and into the category of child.
  • Life is full of struggle. Struggle, rightly responded to, is OPPORTUNITY. Struggle is the path to wisdom (if you don't doubt). Doubt is the unwillingness to believe God is capable of turning struggle into success
  • Every Christian can avoid and defeat temptation by embracing struggle as a good gift from a generous God.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

The Unpleasant Gifts of God?

Something to think about before this week's study on James 1:5-18.

Job 2:10 -- ..."Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil?" In all this Job did not sin with his lips.

Assumption # 1: Every gift we receive from God is a good gift for which we are needful. (I guess this isn't an assumption, it's straight from James 1)

Assumption #2: Everything we have (time, circumstances, possessions, relationships, etc.) is a gift from God. (This may be uncomfortable if you think about it too long, but awkward truths are still truths)

Thought from Job 2:

If you are willing to keep the pleasant gifts God gives you, why would you not want the unpleasant gifts as well?

Perseverance Produces Great Results

Anna was really old. She might have been eighty-four years old. Or, she might have been a widow for eighty-four years. We’re not sure, but either way; Anna was really old.

Anna’s story is found in Luke 2. Her husband died after only seven years of marriage, and she devoted the rest of her life to serving God. For as many as eighty-four years, Anna faithfully spent her days and nights at the temple praying, fasting, and teaching about God. Her faithfulness was rewarded one day near the end of her life when she was allowed to meet the child Jesus who would one day redeem her people.

What if Anna had taken that day off? 

What if she had for some reason decided not to go to the temple, not to pray or fast or serve God that day?

She would have missed out on the most amazing experience any human could have, she would have missed God.

Anna didn’t miss that day, though, because Anna had developed patterns of discipline in her life. Over all those years, she certainly would have many reasons surface to skip her daily routine, but Anna chose to stick to her spiritual disciplines through thick and thin,

Popular marketing guru Seth Godin has written a book called The Dip. Godin’s premise is that before we ever truly succeed at any major accomplishment, we must first push through “the dip”. The dip is a time of frustration, distraction, and temptation to quit. The other side of the dip, however, is success often in the form of a new skill or habit.

Anna's dip lasted several decades.

James (Jesus’ brother) wrote:
“Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” 
Our spiritual muscles are formed and developed when we are willing to push through the dip, regardless of how difficult life may be at the moment. The only way to effectively push through is by habitually disciplining ourselves.

Jerry Seinfeld is considered one of the greatest comedians in the world. When he was first beginning to work in comedy clubs he realized he needed to spend time every day writing his material. As a motivational technique, he placed a large calendar on his wall, and every day he spent time writing, he would place a large red “X” on that day’s box. Later he said about that process, “After a few days you'll have a chain. Just keep at it and the chain will grow longer every day. You'll like seeing that chain, especially when you get a few weeks under your belt. Your only job next is to not break the chain.”  Developing spiritual habits requires the same type of discipline. Don’t break the chain!

We all embrace daily disciplines in our lives. Even those who seem to be the most undisciplined people still engage in a daily habit of food. Have you ever considered why meals are such an easy discipline in which to participate? I’ve identified at least two reasons:
1) Our bodies need food to function. If we don’t eat, we shut down and die. We all desire to live, so we eat. 
2) Our bodies have been conditioned to expect a certain amount of food at a certain time. If we don’t eat at our normal time, we have an internal alert system known as a stomach rumble. If we forget to eat, out body will quickly remind us.
Jesus said “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.

A disciplined person will have a spirit which is conditioned to expect a certain amount of spiritual food (prayer, the Bible, fellowship, etc.) at a certain time.

A disciplined person will not be able to endure if their spiritual food is withheld. Once they’ve pushed through the dip, their efforts will pay off with a new hunger and thirst for righteousness.

A fruitful life is the result of many habitual hours spent over time seeking more of God and less of me. As I discipline myself in this way, the results will begin to spill over to every area of my life.

Every day Anna spent time praying and fasting. Are you ready to start today? And continue tomorrow? Don’t break the chain!

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Kicking Off A New Season

The best part about opening day in any sport is that every team is on equal ground. Everyone has the same opportunity to win the championship. What has happened in the past has no bearing on what might happen in the future. Fresh Starts are opportunities to break from the failure and disappointment of the past and focus instead on the possibilities of the future.

God has graciously built fresh starts into His creation. Every morning, the sun rises as a reminder that we have a new day... A fresh start. Yesterday is in the rear view mirror and today is full of potential. Fall is often a time of fresh starts. The NFL kicks off today, school starts, routines change.
My desire is to see our community kick off this new season by focusing on Jesus.
John 15:10 records Jesus' instructions to his disciples just before He went to the cross. He told his followers that those who obey his commands will remain focused on Him. A community focused on Jesus will be a community committed to following his commands.

Mark 12 tells the story of a religious ruler who asked Jesus what was the greatest command? Jesus responded that the greatest command was to "love The Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength." In other words, Love God with everything you have. He then continued His answer by saying, "the second is similar, love your neighbor as yourself." In Luke's version of this story, Jesus used the parable of the Good Samaritan to explain that our neighbor is anyone with whom we have contact. Later in His life, Jesus provided his disciples with a third command. He instructed them to love each other with the type of love He had modeled for them.

These three commands make up the heart of Jesus' expectation of His followers. If we want to remain focused on Jesus, will concentrate on obeying these commands. We will work to love God, love one another and love our neighbors.

LOVING GOD (Knowing & Obeying)

A simple way to demonstrate love toward God is to pursue a deeper knowledge of his character, actions and expectations. The best way to better know God is to spend time in His Word. However, just knowing God isn't really loving Him. When we love someone, our knowledge of them compels us to action. Our love can most clearly be seen in that action. Our love for God is best demonstrated when our knowledge of Him leads to obedience. As we obey Him we become more like Him. We become more generous, more kind, more loving.

LOVING ONE ANOTHER (Connecting & Caring)

Jesus said that our love for each other would be the identifying mark of his followers. Our love for one another is cultivated when we connect with each other and care for one another. The more connected we are to each other, the more successful we can be in carrying out Christ's mission for His church. The better we are at caring for one another, the more we demonstrate to the world our allegiance to Jesus.

LOVING OUR NEIGHBOR (Investing & Inviting)

As those who have experienced true peace and true hope because of the work of Christ, we should regularly be inviting others to experience the same salvation and freedom. We should invite them to follow Christ, to explore our faith community, to experience the relationships we enjoy. However, an invitation without investment can sometimes be odd or even creepy. Jesus invited people into the kingdom of heaven, but he also invested in the lives of those around him. He healed the sick, set the captives free, touched the untouchables and loved the children. Loving our neighbors means we invest in their lives and invite them to know Christ.

Friday, September 6, 2013

Servant - The Highest Calling Possible

Last Sunday we began a series on the book of James. We will be addressing the misunderstandings,any people have about religion and pursuing the authentic Christianity James challenges us toward.i think our understanding of James' book begins with understanding how James viewed himself.

James’ identity in his own mind is that of a servant. He could have claimed “leadership” of the Jerusalem church, he could have claimed brotherhood to Jesus or sonship of Mary. Instead he chose to identify himself as a servant.

It would not be inconsistent to suggest that servanthood is one of the central character traits of those who have chosen to follow Christ.

Jesus suggested as much when he washed the feet of his disciples in John 13 and then told them to do the same for each other. This was a job reserved for servants and slaves.

Paul made a similar suggestion in Philippians 2 when he told the church to take on the mind of Christ, and then went on to describe Christ’s attitude as one of a servant, who subjects himself to an office far below that which he deserves.

For those who adopt servanthood as a marking identity, there is no room for pride, self-centeredness, entitlement, upward mobility, seeking personal advancement, etc. True servanthood requires the servant to be content with his station in life (“I have learned to be content…”) and to work only for the good of his master, not himself (“seek first the kingdom of heaven”).

If I am concerned with getting what I want or deserve, I am not a servant. If I am concerned with pusuing my own needs or advancement, I am not a servant. If I’m more concerned with how people think about me than with how they think about my master, I’m not a good servant. My only responsibility as a servant is to do everything within my power to bring the greatest possible benefit to my master.

James identified his masters as God and Jesus. When the cosmic dust has settled on the ever-waged warfare between right and wrong, it will be better to have been servants of the winner than to be king of the loser. Power, authority, fame, respect, and everything else the world encourages us to value and pursue for ourselves will all be meaningless if they put me on the wrong side of the conflict. The world promises many kingships and lordships and high offices, God promises none. In fact, there only exist two offices on God’s side, God and servants. If I am willing to be his servant, I am with him, if not, I lose.

 

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Don't Drown in Life's Stormy Seas. Rest in God's Control

But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. (James 1:6)

Some might like to take this tiny phrase and pull it out of the context of the surrounding paragraphs to suggest that no matter what we ask, if we have enough faith, God will give it to us. Some might take a similar approach and suggest that God will not give us something (which he otherwise would) because our faith is not strong enough, or because we have doubts.

This is not James’ point.

photo by Phil Jameson
James is telling his readers not to doubt that God has heard and answered their prayer. When they ask for wisdom, God may allow them a trial from which they will learn perseverance, and then become complete (full of wisdom). James does not want to see his brothers, while in the throws of suffering, doubt that God has answered their prayer. He wants them to believe.

Wisdom is the result of our knowledge being applied to our experience. We cannot gain wisdom without a variety of experiences, both good and “bad”. Therefore, when we ask God for wisdom, we should expect a variety of experiences, both easy and difficult. Rather than view our suffering as a sign that God has rejected our prayers, James wants us, in faith, to recognize that the difficulties we are facing ARE God’s answer to our prayer.

As the opposite of faith, doubt is a state we find ourselves in when we are uncertain that God is in control. Those who are not completely sure of God's ability find it necessary to exert their own effort and energy to control every situation. Rather than persevere through a trial to discover what God is doing, they are more likely to exhaust themselves trying to fix the trial, and in the process, miss the gift God is giving them.

When times are good, they believe God is blessing them; but when times are bad, they assume God has lost control and the resolution is now dependent on them. (Of course, very few people would consciously suggest that God has lost control; but their unwillingness to patiently be joyful in suffering demonstrates their lack of belief that God is in control)

A balance in life is lacking for those who are unconvinced of God’s sovereignty. Like waves of the sea, they are up and down, back and forth; driven into exuberance and depression by whatever situation enters their life. Unable to rest in God’s hands, they often drown in life’s stormy seas.