Friday, June 30, 2017

Why we run away...

Genesis 27:41 Now Esau hated Jacob because of the blessing with which his father had blessed him, and Esau said to himself, “The days of mourning for my father are approaching; then I will kill my brother Jacob.” 42 But the words of Esau her older son were told to Rebekah. So she sent and called Jacob her younger son and said to him, “Behold, your brother Esau comforts himself about you by planning to kill you. 43 Now therefore, my son, obey my voice. Arise, flee to Laban my brother in Haran 44 and stay with him a while, until your brother's fury turns away— 45 until your brother's anger turns away from you, and he forgets what you have done to him
Jacob and his mother had tricked his father, stealing away his blessing on Esau. They succeeded in getting their way, but things ended up with Jacob going away.  That's what happens often in the church. People push to get their way, then, when they have it, end up drifting or running away.  In fact, it would not be long till Esau disappointed his parents and he went away.  In reality, Jacob did not have to leave under such circumstances; he left based on fears, not faith. Thankfully Jacob eventually came back, something many church-leavers do not do.  Why do people run? An unwillingness to deal with shame and guilt, or the stress they have in relationships with someone else in the "family."  The result is that it takes us longer to grow up the way God wants us to, and we miss out on many of the family blessings we would have had if we had stayed.  Stop and think before you leave: "Am I just running way? What could God do if I stay?" 

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Strife that Separates...

Genesis 13:5 And Lot, who went with Abram, also had flocks and herds and tents, so that the land could not support both of them dwelling together; for their possessions were so great that they could not dwell together, and there was strife between the herdsmen of Abram's livestock and the herdsmen of Lot's livestock. At that time the Canaanites and the Perizzites were dwelling in the land.
Then Abram said to Lot, “Let there be no strife between you and me, and between your herdsmen and my herdsmen, for we are kinsmen. Is not the whole land before you? Separate yourself from me. If you take the left hand, then I will go to the right, or if you take the right hand, then I will go to the left.” 10 And Lot lifted up his eyes and saw that the Jordan Valley was well watered everywhere like the garden of the Lord, like the land of Egypt, in the direction of Zoar. (This was before the Lord destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah.)11 So Lot chose for himself all the Jordan Valley, and Lot journeyed east. Thus they separated from each other. 
Lots of times we give Lot grief for choosing the better-looking land, but it was Abram who initiated the conversation.  One might well view this more as "church planting" than a "church split", except for the afore-mentioned strife between the herdsmen of each group.  Sometimes there is not enough room, be it for the number, or for the egos.  I have seen many good, nice people who just could not be happy if they were not the one in front, in charge, all the time. There is not enough room for anyone else in their spotlight, and if they cannot be in charge here, they will go there instead.  The split here has split reviews: Abram continues to prosper; Lot barely survives.  Thankfully, Abram does not view Lot's demise as a sign of personal victory.  How do we view it when "the other church" goes down for the count?  There is something sick and saddening when it is viewed as a victory.  Strife saps life.  Let it not be known among us.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

The Third Great Split...

Genesis 11 Now the whole earth had one language and the same words.And as people migrated from the east, they found a plain in the land of Shinar and settled there. And they said to one another, “Come, let us make bricks, and burn them thoroughly.” And they had brick for stone, and bitumen for mortar. Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be dispersed over the face of the whole earth.
In the first two "church splits", we have seen a disregard for God's instructions, and disdain for a brother.  Though many peoples had already dispersed over the face of the earth, many stayed closeby, and all spoke the same language.  But a new divisive element crept in: The "church" became more about the building and the reputation of the people. They wanted to be known, rather than make God known.  It was a strickly human effort, with no thought or consultation of God on the matter.  I have had the opportunity, and sometimes the sad reality, of sitting with a group of godly advisors who have gone into a church to try to help them get back on track.  Sadly sometimes the attitude is: we don't need you (and unspoken, "We don't need God or His rules.")  There are a lot of people roaming around churchless today because they have had such attitudes. It doesn't end well, unless we all come to the point where we say: "I need Him and them; I want Him and them."

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Church Split 2: Disregard for a Brother...

Genesis 4 Now Adam knew Eve his wife, and she conceived and bore Cain, saying, “I have gotten a man with the help of the Lord.” And again, she bore his brother Abel. Now Abel was a keeper of sheep, and Cain a worker of the ground. In the course of time Cain brought to the Lord an offering of the fruit of the ground, and Abel also brought of the firstborn of his flock and of their fat portions. And the Lord had regard for Abel and his offering, but for Cain and his offering he had no regard. So Cain was very angry, and his face fell.The Lord said to Cain, “Why are you angry, and why has your face fallen? If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is contrary to you, but you must rule over it.”
Cain spoke to Abel his brother. And when they were in the field, Cain rose up against his brother Abel and killed him. Then the Lord said to Cain, “Where is Abel your brother?” He said, “I do not know; am I my brother's keeper?” 10 And the Lord said, “What have you done? The voice of your brother's blood is crying to me from the ground. 11 And now you are cursed from the ground, which has opened its mouth to receive your brother's blood from your hand."
I once spoke at a church that bragged it had planted four other churches in the community.  As the discussion proceeded, I found that it had done so by splitting four times.  In Genesis 3 we saw that this tendency we have to splinter off and go our own way is found in the most basic principle of Creation: God has made us for fellowship, but we like to break His rules and do it on our own. The second generation of man produced the second generation of "church splits." Cain not only took lightly God's commands for sacrifice; he also did nto see himself as responsible for his brother; it was all about him and his feelings. In his case it led to murder.  So is it really that big of a deal if I get upset with my brother in the Lord, go off in a huff, and either infect another body of believers with my bad attitude, or stop being involved in God's people all together? It's not like I'm killing anybody or anything..." Or is it? Maybe this is one of those situations Jesus had in mind when he said in Matthew 5:21 “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ 22 But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire." Maybe your walking away from God's people, grumbling under your breath, is murder.

Monday, June 26, 2017

The first Church Split...

Genesis 3:22 Then the Lord God said, “Behold, the man has become like one of us in knowing good and evil. Now, lest he reach out his hand and take also of the tree of life and eat, and live forever—” 23 therefore the Lord God sent him out from the garden of Eden to work the ground from which he was taken. 24 He drove out the man, and at the east of the garden of Eden he placed the cherubim and a flaming sword that turned every way to guard the way to the tree of life.
God had created the world and everything in it, then Man and Woman and put them over it, and then He also established a special place for fellowship with Him - the whole reason for the project to begin with.  All was going well till the created ones decided it was not enough, rebelled, disobeyed, and set in motion a history-long story of struggle.  In what sometimes seems like a postscript at the end of the list, we have this record of the created ones being kicked out of the Garden - the first excommunicants from the "church".  The first church split did not result in the members leaving, but being booted.  It was a breach in their fellowship not only with God, but with one another, as stated earlier in the chapter.  I have been thinking a lot about people who leave churches, why they do, and what to do about it. But first and foremost, the key is rebellion against the created order and the Creator.  We want what we want no matter what it does to the fellowship between us and Him.  

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Prayers as Worship

 Revelation 5:6 And between the throne and the four living creatures and among the elders I saw a Lamb standing, as though it had been slain, with seven horns and with seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth. And he went and took the scroll from the right hand of him who was seated on the throne. And when he had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each holding a harp, and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints. And they sang a new song, saying,
“Worthy are you to take the scroll
    and to open its seals,
for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God
    from every tribe and language and people and nation,
10 and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God,
    and they shall reign on the earth.”
In this picture of the throneroom in heaven, worship happens. The Lamb is present and worthy of worship. His very presence demands it.  He is even being worshipped by those not physically present: The Saints. As these key participants in worship are there in His presence, the saints are present by way of their prayers; they are brought before Him. When we pray - really trusting in Christ, His love, grace and power, we are in a very real sense brought into his presence. We are accrediting Him with the power, purity and worthiness to receive our requests and our worship. When we say "in Jesus' name", it is not just a rubber stamp or magical wand to make sure we are heard; it is an acknowledgement that His shed blood, sinless life, and sacrificial death all point to His being our only Savior - the only one worthy of such praise.  So, as we pray, let us think of it as it really is - entering into the throne room to worship Him, and trust Him as Savior and King with everything that concerns us today. 

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Saints don't Sit around Silently looking "Sanctified"

10 All your works shall give thanks to you, O Lord,
    and all your saints shall bless you!
11 They shall speak of the glory of your kingdom
    and tell of your power,
12 to make known to the children of man your mighty deeds,
    and the glorious splendor of your kingdom.
13 Your kingdom is an everlasting kingdom,
    and your dominion endures throughout all generations.

Psalm 145:10-13
Saints lead the way in praising and thanking God. They tell of how great it is to be in His Kingdom, and give personal examples of how He has blessed them.  They realize that it is their job to make known the best-kept secret: God is where it's at - always has been, always will be.  Somehow we have gotten the wrong picture that being a saint, a follower of Christ, a believer, is sittining around doing nothing - nothing bad nor nothing good. Nothing could be further from the truth. God has made us His to proclaim His glories. Don't shut up!

Friday, June 23, 2017

Never Forsaken...

27 Turn away from evil and do good;
    so shall you dwell forever.
28 For the Lord loves justice;
    he will not forsake his saints.
They are preserved forever,
    but the children of the wicked shall be cut off.
29 The righteous shall inherit the land
    and dwell upon it forever.

Psalm 37:27-29
There that word is again, used in conjunction with God's saints; they are preserved.  It is used to elaborate on what it means that God will not forsake us. That is what He is doing for us, despite our continued failures. Because of that, we are then challenged and encouraged to do something in reply: to turn from evil, pursue purity, and find ways to do good.  He wants us to live in such a way as to make justice prevail, because He is a God of justice.  He wants us to live by the law of His land, becuase that is our home.  Knowing that we will not "lose our place" should not make us "slack off" in our spiritual life, but spur us on as a sign of gratitude that we are not forsaken.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Saints: Preserved for a Purpose...

10 O you who love the Lordhate evil!
    He preserves the lives of his saints;
    he delivers them from the hand of the wicked.
11 Light is sown for the righteous,
    and joy for the upright in heart.
12 Rejoice in the Lord, O you righteous,
    and give thanks to his holy name!

Psalm 97:10-12
As David exhorts God's people, he refers to the LORD preserving them. Think about the process used to preserve fruit or other foods. He works on us, and with us, mixing us with others to make something good.  What He is looking to do is make something that makes people say "mmmm, good." That is a challenge to us: we are called to purity and praise - to allow Him to clean out the "dirt" that makes us unappealing, and to offer up joyful thanksgiving, realizing that He has been at work in our lives. May we be aware of His preserving power today!

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

No Solo Saints...

Ephesians 4:11 And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds[c] and teachers, 12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, 13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, 14 so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. 15 Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ,16 from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.
Lots of times, when we hear the word "Saint" as in "Saint Paul", we get the picture of these rare spiritual heroes who are bigger than life. But Paul himself had no such concept.  The Key word here is "We". God gave us so that we... Anyone can be a spiritual hermit, looking out at the world thinking everyone else is evil.  True spirituality can only be tested and proven in community, in relationship, in response and reaction to what others do, say, and think toward us.  Sainthood is by no means perfection, but process - becoming who God intends us to be in Christ.  So join in!

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Saints in the Struggle...

Psalm 31:21 
Blessed be the Lord,
    for he has wondrously shown his steadfast love to me
    when I was in a besieged city.
22 I had said in my alarm,
    “I am cut off from your sight.”
But you heard the voice of my pleas for mercy
    when I cried to you for help.
23 Love the Lord, all you his saints!
    The Lord preserves the faithful
    but abundantly repays the one who acts in pride.
24 Be strong, and let your heart take courage,
    all you who wait for the Lord!

David writes about one of his many times of struggle.  He was being pursued, and it often felt as if he was all alone, abandoned even by God. But he knew that was not true.  Often our feelings deceive us. We are saints in the struggle - we are being viewed wrongly, spoken of with evil, and treated with contempt.  The answer, says David, is to call out to God, humbly accept the situation we are in, and trust Him to vindicate us and give us victory.   Saints do that in the struggle. 

Monday, June 19, 2017

Paul and other Saints...

Ephesians 1:15 For this reason, because I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, 16 do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers, 17 that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, 18 having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, 19 and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might 20 that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, 21 far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. 22 And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, 23 which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.
English majors: bless you for putting up with this run-on sentence in verses 15-22... At times, it takes a saint to put up with Paul.  But then again, that is exactly what Paul is telling us: to appreciate the saints. The working out of our salvation takes place in the Church, as we watch Christ work in each of our lives, and we seek to aid the work He is doing in each other.  It's not easy, but it is the way God intends for us to grow: in the word, by the Spirit, with each other.  Take out any of those ingredients, and you will have "unsaintly" behavior.