Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Resculpturing Peita

There may be a few people in this world who have been blessed with a solid, spiritual upbringing in a Christian home and who, because of wise parents and wise choices, have led outstanding moral and spiritual lives. Sure, they've made mistakes and have sinned; all have sinned (Rom. 3:23), but they've not been through the "valley of the shadow of death," so to speak (Ps. 23).

But most people have been raised in a home where God's standard was not upheld as it should have been, and therefore most people have memories of a dysfunctional home and/or very poor choices that have resulted in some degree of chaos in their lives and that have left scars. Then there are those who, despite having been raising in a "Christian home" still dealt with their fair share of dysfunction and chaos.

As adults, if we're in the latter category, and again, most of us are, we struggle in many ways (sometimes overtly, sometimes subtly) to find healing and to move forward. Even grown Christians are weighed down by this baggage to such an extent that it impedes their pursuit of total self-sacrifice (Rom. 12:1-2).

I found this quote in a book I'm reading called "Making Peace With Your Past." I think it applies to what I'm talking about here:
"When a fanatic dealt several damaging blows to Michelangelo's Pieta, the world was horrified. It surprised no one when the world's best artists assembled to refashion the disfigured masterpiece. 
When sculptors arrived in Italy, they didn't begin repairing the marred face immediately. Rather they spent months looking at the Pieta, touching the flowing lines, appreciating the way each part expressed suffering yet ecstasy. Some spent months studying a single part such as the hand until finally the sculptors began to see more and more with the eyes of Michelangelo and to touch and feel as the master artist would have done. When the sculptors finally began repairing the face, the strokes belonged almost as much to Michelangelo as to themselves. 
Not Michelangelo but rather God's sculpturing hand fashioned us from soil-dust into a masterpiece which surpassed even the Pieta (Gen. 2:7). It should not surprise us that God constantly refashions us - that as soon as we disfigure ourselves, He's already sculpturing the pieces back together. 
When we ask for healing, we shouldn't immediately rush into it. Rather, we should start knowing ourselves as does our Sculptor. We don't see the depth of our need for healing until we know our infinite value. The least self-centered blow destroys more than any blow to the Pieta. "We are God's work of art created in Christ to live the good life as from the beginning He meant us to live it" (Eph. 2:8). When we thank God for the gifts He gives us, we begin to see ourselves no longer from our own eyes but from His. If we know our giftedness, then we know how we require healing and thus we can become all that our sculptor envisions." 
(Matthew L. Linn and D. Linn, Healing of Memories, 11-12) 

Thursday, August 15, 2013

I Could Be Wrong

Those who really know me well know that I'm a man of conviction, especially when it comes to matters of faith and religion. I know what I believe and more importantly, I know WHY I believe it. 

And I truly believe that this is the way God wants us to be...
"For we are not writing any other thing to you than what you read or understand. Now I trust you will understand, even to the end" (2 Cor. 1:13).
"Examine yourselves as to whether you are in the faith. Prove yourselves. Do you not know yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you? - unless indeed you are disqualified" (2 Cor. 13:5). 
"by which, when you read, you may understand my knowledge in the mystery of Christ" (Eph. 3:4).
"Therefore do not be unwise, but understand what the will of the Lord is" (Eph. 5:17).
"Take heed to yourself and to the doctrine. Continue in them, for in doing this you will save both yourself and those who hear you" (1 Tim. 4:16). 
"Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth" (2 Tim. 2:15). 
 "But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, and always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear" (1 Pet. 3:15).
"These things I have WRITTEN to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may KNOW that you have eternal life, and that you may CONTINUE to believe in the name of the Son of God" (1 John 5:13). 
God doesn't want us to be ecumenical or half-hearted! Jesus didn't die for us so that we could be filled with uncertainty or doubt. The good Lord didn't expend so much time and energy on the revelation, inspiration and compilation of the New Testament scriptures only to find out that we, His humble servants, could not and cannot possibly understand or know His will for our lives and for our churches.

We are to be men and women of conviction...at least in matters where God has expressed His will.

Having said that, I am also human. As a human, I am fallible. I am capable of being short-sighted, of making mistakes, of misunderstanding the Scriptures, and I am certainly capable of being wrong. With this in mind, I always try to keep an open mind. Maybe I've missed something. Maybe I'm overthinking something. Maybe you know something that I don't, or have seen something in the Scriptures that I haven't seen.

You see, there is a difference between confidence and arrogance.

Someone who is confident believes that they are right. They've done the research, have studied, and have come to certain conclusions that they believe are true (i.e. convictions).

Someone who is arrogant, however, not only believes that they are right, they believe that they cannot possibly be wrong. Such an attitude is condemned throughout Scripture, especially in Proverbs. God desires that we be confident, but He loathes arrogance! We must always be willing to listen to what others have to say.

Even Paul said, "For I know of nothing against myself, yet I am not justified by this; but He who judges me is the Lord" (1 Cor. 4:4). The Bereans in Acts 17:11 were "more fair-minded than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness, and searched the Scriptures daily to find out whether these things were so." Both of these examples teach us that while we ought be assured that we're right, we ought to always remain humble enough to reconsider and reexamine the tenets of our faith...to recognize our own fallibility and to be open-minded to what others have to say.

Yes, I am a man of conviction. Most of you know this about me.

But at the same time, I am very aware of the line that can be crossed from confidence and conviction to arrogance and closed-mindedness. I have thought and prayed so much about this. And I pray often to God that He will keep me humble, and that when my faith is challenged, I will not clam up or revert to traditionalism or ritualism...but to a fresh study of the Scriptures.

Could I be wrong in my belief that baptism is essential for salvation? Could I possibly be wrong in using Scripture to condemn the practice of denominationalism? Could I be wrong in saying that it's sinful to incorporate instrumental music into church worship? Could I be wrong in condemning church-sponsored social and recreational activities? Could I be wrong in my view of divorce and remarriage? Could I be wrong in my view of the return of Christ? Could be entire approach to Scripture (hermeneutics) be off-base? These are all issues that I have discussed and debated with others over the years. 

Yes. It's possible. I could be wrong in any number...or in ALL of these areas.

Two young Mormon "elders" came by my house yesterday. I told them - and I meant this with all sincerity - that I wanted to learn more about the Mormon faith, and that if they could prove to me that Mormonism offers the true path to God and salvation, that I would become a Mormon. I've said the same thing to Jehovah's Witnesses in the past. And to Catholics, and others.

Am I contradicting my former claim to conviction? I don't believe so. I have convictions in all of these areas and will continue to preach those convictions. But hey, if I'm wrong and you can show me how or where I'm wrong, please do so; you'd be my friend and I'd be so thankful if you'd love me enough to correct me or to deepen my understanding of God's precious Word.

I read verses like these two and I tremble...because I do not want my Lord to say this of me:
"These people draw near to Me with their mouth, and honor Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me. And in vain they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men" (Matthew 15:8-9).
"Not everyone who says to Me, 'Lord, Lord,' shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. Many will say to Me in that day, 'Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?' And then I will declare to them, 'I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness" (Mt. 7:21-23). 
I am always asking the people I speak with, correspond with and study with to put their trust in Christ, not in their feelings, or their families, or their traditions, or in the majority opinion. I always ask people to be open-minded and to reconsider what they believe. 

I'd be a hypocrite if I didn't do the same.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Stricter Judgment (James 3:1)

"My brethren, let not many of you become teachers, knowing that we shall receive a stricter judgment" (James 3:1).
As a full-time "teacher" (i.e. evangelist), I'm very well-acquainted with this verse. While I don't believe James is truly discouraging the act of teaching the gospel, he is clearly offering a disclaimer to those Christians who want to pursue active teaching responsibilities...and that disclaimer is: don't take this work lightly! To teach the gospel of Christ is such a huge deal. 

Clearly, teachers ought to understand the gravity of what they're doing. No teacher should "abuse the pulpit" or approach his studies and presentations lightheartedly. After all, we "shall receive a stricter judgment."

But here's the real question: who is imposing the "stricter judgment" upon the teachers?

It's tempting for believers to assume this role of judging teachers. They might read this verse and think that they have the right to micromanage or be hyper-critical of teachers. Then again, a person doesn't have to read this verse to be that way. A lot of people simply tend to be more critical.

With that in mind, I'd like to remind you (from a teacher's perspective) of certain criticisms to avoid in your examination and/or dealings with teachers.
  • Please don't nitpick our words. Teachers are usually expected to speak for up to 45 minutes or an hour at a time. To speak for that long isn't easy. Please understand that we're all going to make mistakes. It may be a matter of semantics or phrasing. Have a lot of patience with us in these areas. Now, if someone shows himself to be consistently careless, then absolutely, take him aside and urge him to be more careful with his words. But if you're going to disagree, make sure that it's substantive.
  • Please don't expect a dozen disclaimers for every controversial point. Over the years, I've preached and taught on a number of controversial topics. Now, I try to be very careful in how I present the truth in these areas, and so, yes...I do usually offer disclaimers for the sake of avoiding confusion. But even still, it's not reasonable to expect every teacher to cover ALL bases when dealing with controversial topics. "Now I'm not saying that..." "This doesn't mean that..." "Please don't misunderstand me, I do believe that..." You get the point. We'd never get through a lesson if we sought to clarify every potential point of confusion.
  • Don't assume he's talking about you. There have been occasions where I've preached a sermon or taught a class and either someone came up to me afterwards or I hear through the grapevine, that they took it personally...as if I was calling them out or using the pulpit to "bully" them. Don't get me wrong, there ARE cases where a preacher misuses the pulpit in this way, but for the most part, don't take sermons personally unless there is clear evidence to the contrary.
  • If you have a substantive disagreement with a teacher, go to him. This is one of my biggest pet-peeves as a preacher. If you disagree with something I've said or an approach I've taken to an issue, please don't tell all your friends about it, don't complain to your family or to others in the church; just come and tell me. The principles of Matthew 18:15-17 apply here.
  • Hearers have a responsibility, too. There is no question that teachers need to make a concerted effor to "preach the truth in love." We need to choose our words, our tone and our method of presentation carefully. At the same time, those in the audience also have a responsibility to "listen to the truth in love." Try not to judge the teacher's motives. Instead of being overly-critical of his tone, grasp the truth of what he's saying. There are cases where a man's passion may be confused with anger or meanness. Don't write him off because you think he sounds a little rude. I doubt he really intends to sound that way. Or let's say that a man's presentation is a little disorganized or mundane. Be understanding and sympathetic. Don't complain afterwards. Teaching is hard.
  • Finally, it's not your right to hold the teacher to a higher moral or spiritual standard. There are many folks who think that preachers should be held to a higher standard. They can wear blue jeans and a nice shirt on Sunday, but the preacher has to wear a suit and tie. They can miss a service, but the preacher can't. "Regular Christians" can be careless with their words and even their comments in class, but if the teacher makes a mistake or miswords something, he can be scrutinized. They can have a nice house and car, but if the preacher makes any such purchase, he's materialistic and/or squandering the church's money. Their families can be dysfunctional, but the preacher's family has to be perfect. You get the point.
I'd like to close with this thought...

When James says, "Let not many of you become teachers, knowing that we shall receive a stricter judgment," he wasn't encouraging Christians to be judgmental of teachers. The "judgment" here is God's judgment and it's the teacher that needs to hold himself to this higher standard.