Tag Archives: gospel

test everything, hold fast to what is good

i have been asked to post on my practice of exposing this board to beliefs or lines of thinking that i myself do not hold to.

this thread is meant to be an answer to that request.

in the interest of keeping it clear for those who won’t read more than a few sentences, i’ll make my main point up top, and flesh it out below:

the verses i have in mind, mostly are:

“…test everything; hold fast what is good.” (1 thes 5)

“…always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you”. (1 peter 3)

“Let no one deceive himself. If anyone among you thinks that he is wise in this age, let him become a fool that he may become wise. For the wisdom of this world is folly with God. For it is written, “He catches the wise in their craftiness,” and again, “The Lord knows the thoughts of the wise, that they are futile.” So let no one boast in men. For all things are yours, whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future—all are yours, and you are Christ’s, and Christ is God’s.” (1 cor 3)

my main point is this: all that is truth is god’s truth, and we are instructed in scripture to seek it out and claim it as our own.

all too often, christians take an anti-intellectual attitude. we tend to discourage critical , questioning, or creative thinking. we do this, i think, in a misguided attempt at “guarding the truth” — but the end result is that the truth is actually supressed, or more likely, never actually encountered.

many of us who grew up in christian homes, and almost all of us who grew up in western society, have heard some version of the gospel all our lives. it is impossible to get through life without encountering a version or other of it. the problem with this is that fimiliarity breeds contempt: as people have become accustomed to what they have heard is “the gospel”, and rejected or accepted that gospel, they then go through their lives thinking they have done just that: accepted or rejected the gospel.

in fact, i submit that they have done no such thing.

as paul makes clear, if it is not the actual gospel, it is really no gospel at all.

and the pop-culture version of the gospel is not the actual gospel that jesus preached.

i’ll make that point again, because i believe it is vitally important: the story that most people in western culture have accepted or rejected is not the gospel, but something else — something crippled and distorted.

i am not questioning the “salvation” of millions of people who hold some christian faith now or in times past (romans makes clear that god judges all people based on what they know and what they do with what they know — i believe we can trust the father in heaven to do the right thing with each and every human soul). rather, i am talking about something else: living life with jesus as mentor, for the good of those around us and to the glory of the father.

jesus asked no less than for people to abandon all they held dear, turn their lives in a new direction, and pursue love and justice.

thousands crowded around him because he taught with an authority they had never encountered on a subject they had heard all their lives: the message of god’s love.

the message he preached was that the kingdom of god was available in a way it never had been before, and that anyone and everyone would do so may enter into it.

some rejoiced at this, some balked.

a few turned very bitter, and eventually killed him for it — because his message was threatening the status quo, where they were comfortabely in power.

but he proved that he was who he claimed to be — the perfect revelation of the father — by not staying dead, and he turned the world on its ear by sending his students out to teach others what they had learned about how to live life: by loving people.

as a couple of generations passed, and it became clear that the story of this incredible news should be preserved in writing, some of these students set out to do just hat — and others set out to write to the groups of people who had started meeting together to encourage each other in this new faith.

a few of those letters of encouragement were saved, and eventually gathered together as part of the scripture.

the three verses i qutoed above are from some of those letters.

in it, we have clues from some of the earliest believes — some of jesus’ first stuents — about how to live this life he instructed us in living.

so little of jesus message had to do with holding to this or that theory about theology, or subscribing to any one system of belief.

rather, jesus message was about doing. about loving your neighbor, and about taking care of the poor, and about taking care of the single most important thing god ever created: the people around you.

and all of the letters to the early churches were geared towards encouraging people to that effort, and against allowing the ideas of the culture to invade and infect that pure message.

they were encouraged to try out the ideas that came along, and compare them to what they knew to be true, and to allow the spirit of the one true god to help them discern.

they were instructed to be thinkers: to be ready to give answers about this faith to questioners.

they were reminded that even when they think they know that they still don’t know what god knows.

in light of all of this, as society changes it is still our duty as people who are trying to be students of jesus the christ to test all things.

to truly think through issues and not simply cling to the thinking we have always held, but to constantly evaluate our heads and our hearts and the ideas we find around us so that we can grow in our faith.

i post ideas that some may dissagree with (and i may disagree with) to further this effort.

i believe that we as christians must think critically about the ideas that the world around us holds, so that we may meet those ideas head on: embracing what is true, rejecting what is false, and always doing so with the help of the spirit of god.

i believe that too few of us bother doing that, because we have grown up in a culture that discourages it, and that it is one of my duties to encourage right behaviour.

some of the ideas i present are not in line with scripture. some are.

we who are jesus’ disciples are under instruction to test them all, and to cling to those that are.

ignoring these ideas won’t make them go away, though. the world around us, the one we are called to be in, holds these ideas, and if we are to be the salt and light in this world, we are obligated to reach them in a gentle, understanding way.

i believe that by thinking through tough issues, and by evaluating more sides that we might be comfortable with, we can grow as a body of beleivers — we can gain a higher understanding of the truth.

i trust the holy spirit in the believer’s life to help them discern that which is false from that which is true.

it must be evident that “truth” is a funny sort of thing, since many of us here claim to have it, yet disagree on so very many things.

so let us approach ideas humbly, and with open minds, as we are instructed to. let us reason together. let us think critically and creatively about this faith.

“test everything; hold fast what is good.”

what is holiness?

i have been studying the sermon on the mount for several months now, and i’d like to explore here some insight i have had on what, exactly, holiness is:

Matt 5 (ESV) 43 – 48

Love Your Enemies
You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

an important point that jesus is trying to make here is often lost in our familiarity with the words: we are to, really and truly, love our enemies.

we are to love, he says elsewhere, and really everywhere, everyone we come in contact with.

we are to constantly be truly loving other people the way god does.

we are to be living a life that follow in jesus’ footsteps: every interaction with someone should be aimed at furthering their walk in the kingdom, be they a robber in our house (ahem), our parents, our friends, the barista at starbucks, or our enemies.

the other stuff in the sermon on the mount speaks to how we get to that point:

letting go of anger, contempt, greed, lust, and so on.

actually following jesus example and words is a huge part of living a holy life.

on hurting a burgler

assume you live alone, and are home alone, in your apartment, asleep in bed, when you realize that your apartment is being broken into, downstairs.

what is the proper course of action for a follower of christ?

don’t assume you have, or don’t have, a gun, a bat, a tazer, or any other weapon: all of those choices that are made ahead of time play into your answer.

so?

the protection of one’s “belongings” are never worth violence.

we are warned, by jesus, against anger — let alone acting in anger against one who seeks to impose their will upon us.

we are instructed to treasure heavenly things (people, god, love) and not earthly things (dvds, tvs).

further, we are instructed to give to anyone who asks of us.

we are instructed to greet evil with kindness.

we are instructed to consider others as more important than ourselves.

i see no room in the scripture for “exceptions” to these instructions.

trying to improve one’s life through the accumulation of (let alone the violent protection of) “stuff” is antithetical to the very existence of one who follows christ.

if we are truly treasuring heavenly things, we will care more for the burglar than we will for our “things”.

it seems responsible, at first blush, to look out for our own safety.

but what is “safe”, really?

who holds our safety?

i can’t imagine the christ cowering in his bedroom, praying to god to help him stay alive.

rather, i imagine he’d call out, in some way that makes known that no harm is intended:

“hello there?

i have no plans to call the police. is there something you need?

i usually offer my guests something. can i get you a drink of water?”

we are told never to fear.

surely this isn’t just “pretty worlds”?

could jesus really mean to never, under any circumstances, fear anything, other than god?

i believe that is exactly what he means.

i think that jesus means, quite literally, that we are to greet a burglar in our home with kindness, not vengeful anger, or even the hope of retribution.

that if i am truly following christ, my thoughts will be on loving this person into the kingdom, somehow.

we are told explicitly to turn the other cheek.

are we to act out in a first-strike manner when our cheek has not even been struck?

we are simply instructed to turn our cheeks. this, i beleive, means to remain vulnerable to any and all attacks, not just physical, to our person, be they attacks on our ego, or on our our pride, or on our sensitive feelings, or, yes, even on our cheeks.

i don’t see room for exception to this, and, if you study the sermon on the mount as a whole, and look at “turning the other cheek” in its proper context, you’ll see that it is a major component of living a life in the kingdom.

we who follow jesus are, simply, to make it a habit of not meeting spite with spite, or sarcasm with sarcasm, or hate with hate, or force with force, but instead we are to treat all comers with love.

it is up to you whether you own a weapon, and it is up to you whether you think it is best to use that weapon against a human being.

my take is that the situations calling for violence against another human being (weapons or no) must be exceedingly rare.

i would think, perhaps, there’s been 1, ever. (when jesus himself drove people from the temple area)

like i said, i trust him with such acts, but never myself.

i do not believe i could ever be trusted to do it lovingly. i’m sure there’d always be some amount of selfishness driving my behavior.

of course, the idea of complete safety is absurd — if you are only considering what we can see.

but if you are living in the kingdom of god that jesus preached, the one where the father who created the universe and knows how many hairs are on your head, and who gives good gifts, and takes perfectly good care of the birds…

well, if you truly trust and serve such a god, and live in such a kingdom, then you can always walk unafraid.

for you are serving and laying up treasures where moth and rust do NOT destroy, and where thieves do NOT break in an steal.

fear god only. serve god only.

lord knows i could do better at this.

plankeye

a friend of mine recently wrote:

This is the very reason I stopped attending my youth group. It was so unwelcoming.

And, there’s something else, too. It seems to me, that rejection from the church crowd holds a bigger emotional consequence than rejection from other crowds. These are, after all, the people with whom you are supposed to be sharing God, a very intimate experience. It’s like rejection from a lover, in a way. Not to mention the fact, that church crowds are so darn good at rejection, and doing it group-wide. I have found that many churches are like giant rumor mills. If you get rejected at all, you get rejected ALL THE WAY.

no disciple of jesus’ could agree that the above statement about “our people” is the way it should be.

rather, all would say it would be best not to be this way.

so, what is it that prevents us from being the grace-filled, friendly, welcoming crowd that jesus himself clearly was?

plankeye

Matthew 7:1:

Judge not, that you be not judged. 2 For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. 3 Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? 4 Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? 5 You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.

(most people stop quoting this little section there, but jesus didn’t stop there….)

“Do not give dogs what is holy, and do not throw your pearls before pigs, lest they trample them underfoot and turn to attack you.

i see a few things in there that, by and large, are missed, through lack of sheer studying, as far as i can tell.

first: judgment IS the plank in our own eye.

as soon as we stop trying to correct other people’s behavior, we are freed, by grace, to love them.

as soon as we stop trying to force them into doing what they can’t, they’ll stop feeling (and being!) judged.

as soon as we stop trying to “force feed” our “pearls of heavenly knowledge” to pigs…

you know that pigs can’t eat pearls, right?

…they’ll stop trying to bite us.

judgment is something that only ONLY only god can do.

but, we want people to change, right?

we want them to come to the place we are, where pearls are appreciated, and treasured, not rejected?

how do we do that, if not by judging?

Matthew 7:7:

Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. 8 For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. 9 Or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? 10 Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? 11 If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!

asking for things is the key to obtaining what you want, in the kingdom of god.

you ask the father for things, so ask his kids.

simply turning your attitude from “demanding/shoving” to “asking” will make all the difference.

of course, to get rid of this judging and contemptive attitude, really, you need to go back to the passages of the sermon on the mount that lead up to it — the things where jesus teaches us how to be of his mind:

in reverse order:

do not be anxious
lay up treasures in heaven
fasting
how to pray
giving to the needy
loving your enemies
retaliation
oaths
divorce
lust
anger

…in all these little passages are deep deep mysteries of kingdom life — and the one follows the other: he put them in order for a reason.

once you have “worked out your salvation” in this order, and have (all with christ’s help) managed to lose judging, you are then, spiritually able to move on to:

the golden rule

the golden rule simply can’t be “done” apart from living out the sermon on the mount’s teachings.

but, through the spirit, if you seek to obey christ’s teachings in the sermon on the mount, by the time you’re ready to give up judging, you’re nature has changed so much that you are more than ready and willing to start doing to people — really and truly — what you wish they would do to you.

i could talk for hours about this, but i must get going on my day’s work.

this is the message we heard from christ

finish this sentence:

this is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you…

no, really… read it and try to finish it in yer head, knowing that this is the first half of a verse from john, how do you think he’s going to finish this sentence?

how would one of jesus’s best friends, one who wrote one of his gospels finish that sentence?

what is THE message that jesus taught his disciples?

what is THE message that they proclaim to us?

don’t be in a hurry, really think about it.

then, once you’ve arrived at your decision, click the link below, and see how it REALLY ends.

click here

patriotism

patriotism, as most people understand it (regardless of what the dictionary says it “means”) is, in my opinion, not a stance a follower of jesus can take.

it means, at its most basic, that one is aligning himself with an agency on earth, rather than with god’s kingdom, where jesus instructs his followers to make their homes and to put their trust.

i think most americans believe that it is simply self-evident that “america is the the most important nation in the history of the world”, and that it is somehow “blessed by god”.

regardless of our country’s fruit, we tend to hear, and absorb, and repeat the notion that we are a godly nation, a “christian nation”, and that our “way” is the best way.

clearly, however, jesus would say that the kingdom of god’s way is the best way, and that anything else is against god.

therefore, to pledge allegiance to anything other than the kingdom of god, for a follower of christ, is to, at the least, to just inherit beliefs from surroundings (to be OF the world).

instead, what ought to do is work them out through obedience to god and study of his word.

i won’t go so far as to say that patriotism is a “sin” — for there is wiggle room, to be sure.

but that’s my take on being “a patriot”.

sharing the truth in love

how did jesus do it?

he told stories that made points about heaven, and let people draw thier own conclusions.

he had a small group (120) that he encouraged to follow him around, learning how he lived, and an even smaller (12) that he went out of his way to teach deeper meanings to, and a very (3) small group whom he shared his deepest secrets with.

he forgave, and healed, and loved.

we have 1 story where he flipped some tables over — but we see almost no condemnation of individuals in that story.

the group of people who incurred most of his “wrath” were the religious leaders of the day who were holding the people hostage to rules that god doesn’t care about.

he walked around from town to town, encouraging people to simply love god, and teaching them, through stories and illustrations, how much god loves them, and what a person who lives in the kingdom might behave like.

for me, this is instructive.

i try to encourage my friends when they say things that are True, and i try to tell stories that make points about god and his kingdom.

i share what god’s doing in my life, saying what i have found to be exciting or helpful.

i know i didn’t get “saved” because of people condemning “bad behavior”, but the holy sprit has, over the years that i’ve been learning from it/him/her slowly been weeding bad habits out of my life.

you’ll never find me asking friends “not to cuss in front of me”, or telling them “you really shouldn’t smoke pot, dood”, or “you’re gay? did you know you were going to hell?” other such things.

i simply don’t think that will get them into the kingdom that i love living in.

instead, i try simply to get people to fall in love with god, and i figure once they do that, he can help them overcome any sin issues they have — so i simply don’t bother condemning or debating such things.

“not acting like jesus would”

Matthew 11:19 (Contemporary English Version)

19 But the Son of Man goes around eating and drinking, and you say, “That man eats and drinks too much! He is even a friend of tax collectors and sinners.” Yet Wisdom is shown to be right by what it does.

jesus was, as we see here, accused of being a drunkard, because he hung around with “the wrong crowd” and drank (gasp!) with them.

don’t let anyone tell you you’re wrong for doing so.

but, what is permissible is not always what’s best.

i have found that i grow the most when i am involved in ministry.

when i am out there giving of myself, i find that i *need* all god can give me, from his word and from his spirit, and then i grow.

i suggest you find some way to serve, and fast.

seek god’s kingdom, both in your life, and in the lives of your friends: love the heck out of them. you don’t need to pretend to be perfect — faith is messy.

but start studying the sermon on the mount, and put those words into practice, and find a place to practice it.

iow: seek god’s kingdom *first*

the spirit, when you are in a growth posture will take care of helping you flee temptation.

i promise.

“your life is your best witness”

i have heard, many times, something along these lines:

“your life is your best witness”

it is simply not true.

your words are your best witness.

your life, and the way you live, will prove out what’s really in your heart, but no one gets “saved” without hearing — and sitting there not sinning, but not loving and not sharing that love is NOT witnessing.

remember what “witness” means: it means you are testifying that jesus is alive.

you are a witness of his resurrection, and its power to transform your heart.

so get out there and testify!

that is witnessing.

on that note:

be honest about it all.

it is amazing how being open and honest about my failings, doubts, and the disappointment i have with myself at times, but god’s willingness to love me, mess and all, opens WAY more doors to meaningful conversation about kingdom things than simply “living a life that witnesses”.

some random waitress at a bar, if i’m not smoking, is not going to be impressed with my stand for christ.

some random waitress at a bar may well have her heart opened up to christ just a bit more if i am honest about my occasional cravings for cigarettes (still, after SO many years of not smoking), but how i am thankful i serve a god who has grace enough for even me.

living a “good”, but quiet life in front of the “sinners” at your school or workplace is simply NOT a witness — odds are it may even be destructive.

they probably know you are a christian, unless you are simply living a “dual life” — and they may well think you simply don’t care to mix with the likes of “them”.

(they are probably right, if you are like a lot of christians i know )

but that’s the point: we should care, and we should love, and we should be out there, in the thick of humanity, doing what they do, with them.

if they’re going to a movie, or a game, or the the club (all within limits — there’s a time and place to do and not to do), we’d better be there, being thier friends, so that when they get themselves into trouble, we can the ones with a real hope for them to cling to.

if the only time you talk to your co-workers or school mates is to tell them to please stop using the lord’s name in vain…

well, that’s not going to get them to fall in love with jesus.

love

john said that “they” will know us by our love.

jesus said the entire law and the prophets comes down to love.

the “odds” (if you will) of you going door-to-door and finding the right person who’s all ready to “give thier life to christ” and you “leading them to the lord” are amazingly small.

i submit that you’d have more success winning people for the kingdom by working at starbucks, and loving the heck out of your co-workers and patrons.

basically, shining the light of the kingdom into a dark world is best done by “everyday” people, rather than “full time christian ministers”.

(like, i’m part-time?)

use your job as a context within which to engage in your purpose.

intentionally love your co-workers, being real with them, making friends with them, going to the movies, and the pub, and thier houses for parties, and the births of thier kids, and thier divorces, and funerals, and generally LOVE on them the way your parents love you (or should have, if they didn’t/don’t)…

…and, eventually, they give into the love that’s being shined thier way.

louis giglio says, “be the moon”.

that means, essentially, that you have no source of light on your own, but reflect only what the sun shins your way.

people think the moon is beautiful, and if you’re shining the love of christ, they will think YOU are, too.

but eventually they’ll start to realize that the light is reflected — and some of them will start looking for the sun itself.

it’s easy as can be — and the most natural thing in the world for a person who is really and truly following in christ’s steps.

a thought on calvinism

i remember, back when i liked to take the label “calvinist” for myself, how i had so little understanding of what it means, really.

i imagine there are lots of people like i was.

i also know, now that i’m several years older (and hopefully wiser!), that all the discussions i had, thinking it mattered had so very little to do with what jesus taught on how to be happy, or what he taught on what it means to love god.

i remember being so angry at “armenians” who would say calvinism is just an excuse to not have to evangelize (that still, er, ticks me off, actually), and i remember thinking that anyone who isn’t a calvinist must not think god is truly sovereign.

but, somewhere along the line, i realized that i simply am not smart enough to understand god, nor his ways.

i came to the conclusion that perhaps him knowing who goes to hell ahead of time does not automagically mean he also hand-picked who goes to heaven, because his ways are above ours.

i have decided not to get into these debates, because i have never seen a mind changed, nor a life improved.