In All Things Charity

I am amazed when I consider how some Christians handle conflict.

Some people seem content to throw the figurative grenade into the room, then pick up the pieces and see what’s left. No really, that’s pretty much a quote I was given as one person’s method of conflict resolution.

There are those who feel compelled to fire their Scripture-shotgun into the face of any opposition, no matter how tame. “I know what God says on this matter. I asked Him.” Or perhaps “I have a degree in Christian Ministry, so I don’t need your input on Christianity, kthxbai.”

Not exact quotes but close enough.

I attend a church whose stated vision is to “Saturate our city and our world with the heart of God.” My wife and I have been playing for the music ministry for about a year and a half now. When they announced a new members class, we realized “Oh hey, we should probably become members if we’re going to be up front leading worship.”

During the class, we covered the 16 tenets of faith held by the Assemblies of God (the denomination or association that this church belongs to). The pastor teaching the class made it clear that there’s a bit of room for disagreement, room for skepticism and other opinions. In making his point, he quoted an old phrase:

In essentials, unity. In non-essentials, liberty. In all things, charity.

There are certainly some core beliefs that we as Christians have to agree upon. “I’m a Christian, but the Bible is rubbish.” Well, good luck with that. “I’m a Christian, but I’m not sure about this Jesus is the Son of God business… he was a nice teacher but he didn’t rise from the dead or anything…” Yeah, good job, welcome to heresy, your religion is pointless according to a relatively unknown Christian named Paul who wrote half the New Testament. We have to have unity in some essentials or else there’s no point in us gathering together.

Non-essentials, to me, are those things that aren’t going to seriously change my behavior. All the debate about speaking in tongues, or what sort of music is “right” for church, or whether there’s going to be a Rapture or will it be Post-Trib or Pre-Trib or so on… does any of that change how I pursue God in my personal life? Not that much. Even “Once saved Always saved” versus “We can lose salvation” is a silly debate to me, because our focus should never be looking backwards to see how close we can get to walking away from Christ without actually losing salvation. Our focus should be on following after Him. Looking backward to whether there’s a line, or at what point we cross that line–that’s a mistake. So in those non-essentials, when I disagree with a fellow believer, I get over it and do my best to get along with them in spite of our differences. There’s some liberty, some room for differing views.

Because in all things, we are called to practice charity. You are more important to me than your particular theological persuasion. When we discuss theology, my goal is not to crush your misguided view and show you how much more correct I am. My goal is to see another perspective on God, and refine my understanding to better match Truth. And I hope you get the same result out of the dialogue.

I don’t have a degree in Christian ministry. But I do have some guidance from that little known leader in the early church:

24 The Lord’s bond-servant must not be quarrelsome, but be kind to all, able to teach, patient when wronged, 25 with gentleness correcting those who are in opposition… (2 Tim 2:24-25 NASB)

Scripture shotguns and Gospel grenades just don’t make a lot of sense to me. “In all things, charity.”

Not casualties.

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My Monkeysphere

“I want Jesus to be in my monkeysphere.”

Okay, weird conversation piece, maybe. First, what’s a monkeysphere (if you don’t know), and second, did I go off the sacrilegious deep end or what?

1. The “monkeysphere” is a term for the number of interpersonal relationships a brain can generally maintain and care about. The term comes from monkey research where the scientists discovered that the monkeys’ brains would only allow them to form societies up to a certain number of other monkeys. A bigger brain permitted a larger society. They then tried using a human brain and ended up boosting the monkey’s “sphere” of relationships from 50 to 150.

Basically, the monkeysphere is the collection of people you actually care about and think about as real people… not just friends on Facebook, or nameless humans that intersect your daily life. A good example is the trash man, whose job dramatically affects your quality of life, but whose name you probably do not know or care to discover.

The wiki article about it seems to make it pretty clear.

Clear on that one? Good.

2. No, I’m not losing my faith or mocking Christ. My wife and I were talking about how we relate to God, and she made the comment that she really wants to remember the personhood and humanity of Christ. A Man, someone she cares deeply for, willingly suffered beating and shame. He chose to endure anguish and agony, and He accepted His own execution.

Jesus is the soldier who jumps on the grenade to save the other soldiers in the trench (except multiplied by 20 billion or so).

If a person does that for you in real life, it’s kind of hard to forget it.

The fact that I can say it that way, and you probably understood and agreed – that says something about how we view Him.

I find I happily recognize and recount the transaction, the theology, the spiritual “chemical” reaction that took place at the Cross. My sins were washed away by His blood, my inky stain of death was turned scarlet, and my scarlet sins were washed clean. I can quote the scriptures to say what took place: He died for all, that those who live should live for themselves no longer, but for Him who died and rose again… if through one man, death reigned in all men, how much more shall life reign through the one Man Christ Jesus… for there is no other mediator between God and men… and so on.

It’s a historical fact. On such-and-such day, the battle of Gettysburg was won by the Union. Abraham Lincoln wrote a powerful speech about it. And on such-and-such day way back in 33 AD or 29 AD or whatever, the battle over sin and death and hell was won by the Messiah. And Paul the Apostle wrote some really powerful speeches about it. I like to quote them, just like I enjoy hearing “Four score and seven years ago, our forefathers brought forth on this continent a new nation…”

Hopefully my point is becoming clear.

I find it easy to recognize Jesus’ unique place in history and theology.

I find it all too easy to stop there.

I don’t want a historical figure. I don’t want a relationship with a spiritual principle, nor an affection for a moving quote.

I want a personal relationship, a constant interaction, a recognition that there was a Man… and not just any Man, but my best Friend… and when the enemy opened fire, He jumped in front of me, arms wide, to protect me from every deadly shot.

You don’t forget that sort of love. And neither do you recall it with cold distance. It changes your life.

Oh, and don’t forget, dear self… all those other monkeys outside my sphere? He did the same for them.

Maybe I should care. Because He does.

Remember

Still catching up from the lazy weekend. I hope to get S and T tomorrow, thereby getting back on track.

Saturday was R in the A to Z blog challenge. My ‘R’ is something I believe drives our lifestyle of worship and fuels our desire to chase God’s presence:

Remember.

When Jesus speaks to the church of Ephesus, He says, “You’ve forgotten your first love. Remember from where you have fallen; repent and do what you did at first” (Rev 2:4-5).

In the Old Testament, several times we see the people of God set up stones and altars as markers of remembrance, so that they and their descendants can remember what God did on their behalf.

In the Psalm 77, we see Asaph lay out a list of trials and troubles. And then he stops and focuses back on God, and writes:

I shall remember the deeds of the Lord; Surely I will remember Your wonders of old. (Psalms 77:11 NASB)

From there, his lament turns to praise, his despair to faith in the promise of God.

Frequently in the Gospel of John, we see the disciples confused by something Jesus said. But John adds the note that “Later they remembered what is written in the Scriptures” or “Later they remembered that Jesus had said these things.”

Paul writes:

remember that you were at that time separate from Christ, excluded from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who formerly were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. (Ephesians 2:12, 13 NASB)

I wrote a piece of prose-poetry a while back that expresses my thoughts as I remember.

I’ve forgotten what it meant

that You reached out to the leper.

You saw the need and You responded.

I’ve forgotten what it meant that You ignored the condemning cries

and told the sinner, “Go and sin no more.”

I’ve forgotten what You came for.

Sitting with the wicked,

yet separated by Your virtue…

I separate myself by venue.

You reach down into the gutter

and lift up the one in need.

I’d be afraid to get dirt on my Sunday best.

My Christian tie could get ruined.

And You loved those You saw

as You traveled by foot from city to city.

I try not to get caught speeding,

since someone might see the fish

or the church bumper sticker on my car.

Miracles followed You.

They don’t seem to catch up with me.

You did all You could

to make the message known,

while I get scared someone might ruin

the gold edge of my Bible as I witness,

armed with a leather-bound book.

You were armed with a heart of love,

and You died innocent between two thieves

to heal the one who was sick but never knew it.

I’ve forgotten what it meant

that You reached out to the leper,

but now I remember Your touch.

And though nine others forget,

I’m coming back to thank You,

And I’m bringing some of my sick friends.

Memory fuels worship. Sometimes we need the reminder of where we were to push us once again into pursuit of God.

What memories inspire or propel you into action in your spirituality? Let me know in a comment.

Owned

In thinking about various aspects of worship, I came to what I believe is the most important:

Our worship must be our own.

Trust in Him at all times, o people; Pour out your heart before Him; God is a refuge for us. Psalm 62:8 NASB

Since I’ve been recovering from foot surgery, my wife has been driving me to work, so she has been picking me up for lunch each day. We’ve been enjoying the rare treat of time together during my work day, and we’ve been going out to lunch. I saw very quickly how daily visits to fast food franchises have been affecting my diet and my wallet. Sure, I can make decent choices and save some money or some calories. But the fact is, eating out every day is not the most wholesome and healthy option.

It’s so different from selecting my own ingredients, preparing each item or dish to my liking, adding in spices to match my personal taste.

So too when I sit down to worship – whether with worship music (David Crowder’s “After All” and Hillsong’s “Alive in Us” are playing in my ears as I type) or with Bible study resources.  How much of my worship comes pre-packaged and processed for me? How much is coming from my own heart responding to the Gospel and the God of grace?

Imagine giving Hallmark cards to your significant other, but when they open the card, there’s no personal note, no signature, no explanation. Just the poem or joke or pretty words provided by the company. How much would that touch someone’s heart?

Resources are great. The huge variety of worship music is a blessing, and the vast array of Bible study tools is helpful, no doubt about it. But these are tools that should propel my own response to God, not take the place of it.

When we worship in church, do we ever take time to use our own words? Chris Tomlin, Matt Redman, and Jared Anderson are all amazing songwriters who can capture the heart of a message in a thought-provoking song, no doubt. But those words are theirs, written for our benefit and use, but still theirs.

How do we make it our own?

Consider the following:

In Bible study or devotional reading, we can set aside the commentaries and articles sometimes, and go to the God who speaks through His Word. Ask, “What does this passage reveal to me about You? What does it say about how I should live for You?” Pray for the Spirit to illuminate the meaning beneath the surface text.

In singing and meditating on music, the songs of others are a fabulous starting point. Can those inspire us to sing or pray our own additions, our own experiences put into words? For example, the current popular song One Thing Remains can call to mind specific trials and ‘mountains’ of mine, and give me the opportunity to cast those cares upon Him in light of His unfailing love.

In prayer, we may have specific structured methods or even liturgical and rote prayers, but these are likewise starting points that help us get out into the depths. Maybe it’s the Lord’s Prayer, maybe it’s an ACTS model (Adoration Confession Thanksgiving Supplication), maybe it’s something else. Whatever it is, I don’t want to stop there. I want to go further, to make my prayer time my own.

At one point, King David wants to make a sacrifice to God. He goes to make an offering, and the owner says, “Here you go, it’s yours, o King.” David says no, and purchases the items. His justification? “I will not offer burnt offerings to the Lord my God which cost me nothing” (2 Sam 24:24 NASB).

It’s a little bit more costly to take the time to personalize our worship, but the expression of love and the experience of love in return proves well worth the price.

How else can we personalize our time with God? Drop a comment with your suggestions.

The Journey

“It’s a journey, not a destination.”

Today, that was a friend’s comment on happiness. I’ve heard that said about relationships, about financial responsibility, even about being a whole person who lives the way the Air Force wants its Airmen to exemplify.

I’ve even said this phrase. Two days ago, for the H entry, I mentioned the hope we enjoy, knowing that we can strive for a closer relationship with God and a deeper spirituality. We’ll never arrive at a point where we can say we’re done, but every day, we can take steps in the right direction. I also made the same point about a fitness lifestyle on my other A to Z blog.

With that in mind, today’s joint topic on both this blog and the fitness blog is: the journey.

So what does this really mean?

For me, it means asking not only what goal I have in sight but also where am I actually headed. If we are believers in Christ then it makes sense to say that we will have Christ and some form of Christ-like living as the goal we home in on. But having that as a stated goal doesn’t mean we’re making progress toward it.

Campus Crusade for Christ uses a tract with a graphic meant to depict the difference that takes place in our lives after we accept Christ.

Three examples of our spiritual nature

Three examples of our spiritual nature

The first picture reflects our state before we were saved, where Self sits on the throne, Christ is out of the picture, and we do as we please. The black circles of various shapes and sizes are meant to portray our efforts and interests. In the first state, we do what we please.

The second shows the idea of a “carnal Christian,” someone who has “faith” as a part of their life but still does what they please. Christ is in the circle, but Self is on the throne.

The last circle puts Christ on the throne and Self at His feet, with interests and efforts balanced, ordered and directed by the Savior, not Self. That’s the ideal for a believer in Christ. That’s part of going on the journey.

But that’s not all. There’s a key point I believe we must understand.

When we think about spirituality, we often assume that the closer you are to God, the more spiritual you must be. A mean-spirited lustful slob of a man is pretty far away from Christ, where we might look at a faithful pastor or public figure and assume they’re pretty near to Christ. This is a faulty assumption. Sometimes the non-believer is more spiritual than the believer. How can that be?

Where you're headed matters.

Where you’re headed matters.

With a journey, it’s not just the goal that matters. It matters how you’re progressing toward that goal.

When my wife and I are headed to a new place in Omaha, we sometimes pop open maps on the iPhone and turn on location services. A little blue ball pops up to show us where we are, and it moves along as we drive. We might be really close to the red ball marking the destination on the map. But if we’re driving away from it, are we better off by virtue of being “on a journey” toward the destination? Of course not. Not at all!

Spiritually speaking, Christ is our destination, and He is moving and doing things in the world around us. Is our little blue marker slowly moving toward Him, moving with Him, orienting to Him, even if we’re on the other side of town? That’s healthy spirituality, recognizing that we may be nowhere near the level we want to be, while keeping focused on how to get there.

On the other hand, we might see Christian figures who are “so godly” in public and yet find out that they stopped moving toward the red location some time ago and started doing their own thing. Maybe they were really close compared to me, but it doesn’t matter, because they aren’t moving toward the goal, staying in line with Christ. They’re driving away.

“It’s a journey” doesn’t simply mean we should enjoy the process along the way. It means we should know where we’re headed, and roughly how we go about getting there. Then we should point ourselves in the right direction and take steps. No matter how far away we are from the mark, if we’re aiming for it and moving toward it, that’s what makes us “spiritual.”

 

Me Time

There’s a great blog post going around about the iPhone mom, the one at the park looking at her mobile phone and missing her girl dancing around or climbing the monkey bars, her son doing cartwheels or swinging high in the sky. The point is that those moments may be that stay-at-home mom’s only opportunity to converse with an adult during the course of a busy day. I know my wife and I have talked about the difficulties she faces when she gets almost no interaction with adults until I get home after work, let alone any quiet moments to herself.

There’s a Baby Blues joke about a Valentine’s Day gift the husband presents to the wife, purchased from the hardware store. She looks unimpressed, until he reveals that it is a titanium bathroom deadbolt so that the children cannot interrupt her privacy. Suddenly, it’s the most romantic gift ever.

Sometimes we need a quiet place where we can shut out all the distractions and just be alone.

This is where worship ties in. There’s a parallel here that worshipers would be wise to follow.

The worshiping church body hopefully has a team of worshipers that do all they can to remind the congregation of God’s presence and goodness. That worship team is hopefully made up of passionate individuals – the ‘I’ for the day’s A to Z blog challenge entry.

“There’s no ‘I’ in ‘Team.'” Or so goes the prevailing logic. But the truth is, there are several ‘I’s on any team, and those individuals need to be at their best in order for the team to succeed at its best. That involves time spent in the presence of God, not just corporately with the congregation, or even as a worship team. It means that I need to have an active worship life of my own.

Multiple times in the Gospels we see Jesus go off to be alone, early in the morning, late in the evening, spending time in prayer. There’s a reason. We read that Jesus discerned what was in men’s hearts, and did not entrust himself to any man, but solely relied on and followed what He saw from the Father.

Where do we think Jesus got this revelation of what the Father was doing? How did He develop the skill and intimacy with the Father to see where He was meant to go, what He was meant to do, what He was meant to say and to whom?

“Well, Jesus was God in the flesh, so of course He knew what the Father wanted Him to do.”

But Jesus was also fully man, and our example to follow. He was limited in His knowledge while He walked on the earth – how would anyone’s faith surprise Him, and how would anyone’s lack of faith spontaneously frustrate Him? He temporarily gave up that equality with God in order to come as a Man (see Philippians 2).

There are other examples throughout Scripture. Consider Daniel’s habit of private prayer, something he would not give up for any reason even on threat of death. Peter is in prayer, alone, when he has his vision in Acts 10. David had many opportunities to worship in solitude, and we read his songs throughout the book of Psalms. Job had a daily worship routine. Hannah goes to the Tabernacle alone to pray for God’s mercy.

Life is full of distractions, both good and bad. Everything vies for our time and attention.

But worshipers cannot point the way to a place they have not been, an intimacy they have not known or seen.

We often say we need to find time, but the fact is time comes to everyone in exactly the same quantity every day. We must make time, by locking out all other voices and distractions, throwing that titanium deadbolt on the door, and spending a few moments alone with God.

What ways do you find most helpful for blocking out the busy world to focus on the Lord?