Thursday, February 25, 2010

The Things Not Seen

"While we do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal." (2nd Co. 4:18)

It's important to have spiritual eyes. To keep our eyes on the eternal and not on the temporal. I think that's one of the reasons why faith is such a struggle for people. Believing what God has said is not always easy when compared to the mountain of physical evidence in front of us. What we see and how we feel wars against the truth of God's Word.

Romans 10:17 tells us that "faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God." We tend to synthesize this down to faith comes from hearing God's Word but it's a little more than that. Faith comes by hearing ... hearing comes by God's Word. The Jewish concept of hearing was a little different than ours. Hearing was equated with doing or believing -- not just the physical import of information.

When we submit ourselves to God's Word we begin the process of receiving what He has said. As we receive it faith arises in our hearts. Not a passive faith, but an active, life-changing faith. A faith that changes us -- that changes our lives. As we hear God's voice (in all the wonderful ways that He speaks to us) we grow in relationship. As we grow in relationship, we grow in trust. As we trust, we walk by faith and not by sight. When we do that we take our eyes off the temporal stuff and fix our gaze on the eternal. The view looks a whole lot better from there.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

The Fellowship

"I thank my God upon every remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine making request for you all with joy, for your fellowship in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ; just as it is right for me to think this of you all, because I have you in my heart, inasmuch as both in my chains and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel, you all are partakers with me of grace." (Philippians 1:3-7)

Fellowship is a funny word in the church. We have "Fellowship Halls" and "Fellowship Dinners" and "Fellowship Activities" but do we really have fellowship? I think some churches probably do a better job of achieving fellowship than others but it really is a part of the Christian life we all need. True fellowship is not going to church and shaking hands five minutes before and five minutes after. The Greek word that we translate fellowship is kononia. It is a powerful word. We get communion from this same word. It implies a joining together of our lives. One meaning of the word is actually intercourse.

In J.R.R. Tolkien's "Lord of the Rings" trilogy the first book is called The Fellowship of the Ring. It's about nine characters who commit themselves to a quest to help Frodo destroy Sauron's ring. In doing so they endure hardship, loss, fear, hunger and separation. Their commitment to one another endures. Natural enemies become close friends and the companions of the Fellowship achieve things they had never dreamed they could do.

In church it is all too common for us to cluster among people who are like us. But a big part of the joy in the journey is to stretch and to love those who don't look like me or act like me --to find fellowship with someone that I have absolutely nothing in common with except a love for Jesus. Real love is proven when it is tested. Real love will make you stretch. Real love is sometimes messy and inconvenient.

We all have people we admire and want to be around. Typically we gravitate toward people who encourage us and make us feel better. That's okay. But in doing that never forget that maybe, just maybe, you can be that person for someone else. Take a chance. Stretch a little. Reach out to that person at church who always seems to be alone. God will use you in doing so. Be an encourager for someone else.

We need one another. I believe in healing. I believe that Jesus paid for our healing at the cross according to God's Word. I have seen lots and lots of people healed. And yet, when I get sick or have a physical problem I have rarely seen a dramatic healing in my own life from one on one times with the Lord or by standing on the Word. I have seen some -- once when I had kidney stones and another time when I had a stomach virus, come to mind. But those times have been the exception. The dramatic healings in my life have occurred when I went to the church and had people lay hands on me and pray. I think this kind of thing speaks to our need for one another.

True fellowship happens in the ongoing interaction and intersection of our lives. One of my wife Gloria's favorite sayings is that church should be a place where we can "share our deepest joys but also our greatest pain." This can only happen in an environment of intimacy and trust and through the process of relationship. This kind of fellowship encourages a natural real ministry to one another. Sometimes you're on the receiving end and sometimes you're on the giving end. One of the weaknesses of church celebrity is that we put people on pedestals that can remove them from the safety and protection of this kind of fellowship. We all need real friends and real relationships that are healthy. We all need people in our lives who want to see God's best for us.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Rumors and Gossip

"Now the children of Israel heard someone say, 'Behold, the children of Reuben, the children of Gad, and half the tribe of Manasseh have built an altar on the frontier of the land of Canaan, in the region of the Jordan--on the children of Israel's side.'" (Joshua 22:11)

The tribes of Reuben and Gad, along with the half tribe of Manasseh, had returned to their allotted land after helping the other Israelites enter into the promised land. In doing so they decided to build a memorial to the Lord -- a reminder to generations to come of what God had done. Unfortunately, a rumor had spread that they were building an altar to offer sacrifices that were only to be offered in the Tabernacle. The other tribes of Israel gathered for war. Thankfully, they had enough sense to talk before attacking and sent Phineas and some other leaders to meet with the offending tribes. War was averted as the Israelites learned what these tribes had really done.

How easy it is for us to assume the worst in a situation. Notice the verse above. The children of Israel heard someone say. They heard a rumor. They listened to gossip. We need to be rally careful with our words and actions. Have you ever ended up in an argument with someone because you assumed things that were not true? It can happen to the best of us. Rumors and gossip are tools the devil uses to stir strife and division in the body of Christ. He is called the "accuser of the brethen" in Revelation 12:10. That is one his primary "ministries." That's one we don't want to participate in.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Saturday or Sunday?

"So let no one judge you in food or in drink, or regarding a festival or a new moon or sabbaths, which are a shadow of things to come, but the substance is of Christ." (Colossians 2:16-17)

I read an interesting article today about the "controversy" about the Sabbath. The article was kind of funny because it said that Christians were "at war' over the Sabbath. One gentleman quoted said the Christians meeting on Sunday is "the biggest hoax the world has ever seen." Another said it is "the most flagrant error of mainstream Christianity." The argument in question is what day is the Sabbath? Saturday or Sunday? Saturday was the traditional Sabbath of Israel. Sunday was the first day of the new week. What facilitated the change? There are multiple possible explanations. Jesus was raised between sundown and dawn. Pagan influences caused the change. Maybe it was because of prejudice towards Jews?

While reading the article I was struck by a couple of things. First, 99% of Christians don't care. This is a "war" in the mind of a few. Second, we have an amazing ability to focus on things that don't matter. I know this is a big issue to a few but what a colossal waste of time.

Paul nails the issue. In Colossians 2:23 he comments, "These things indeed have an appearance of wisdom in self-imposed religion, false humility, and neglect of the body, but are of no value against the indulgence of the flesh."

I guess the irony here is how we miss the point despite God's wonderful generosity to us. We no longer keep a day for the Lord. Every day is the Lord's day. We don't go to church. We are the church. The house of God is not a place where we go but now we have, literally, each one become, houses of God.

Paul writes extensively about the grace of God. And you can see why. The ever present need to create rules resides within our hearts. Rules are easier than relationship. Rules are much cleaner. Figure out what they are and keep them as best you can.

Relationship is much more difficult. It's messy and time consuming. It is an imperfect process, one that we have to wrestle with, but relationship is the greatest joy. Knowing God and walking with Him is the real calling of our lives. Jesus did not die so that we would keep one day a week to honor God but that we would come into fellowship with God and live lives every day that honor Him!