Monday, July 30, 2012

Love Comes First

Continuing the topic of my last post, these verses point out the purpose of spiritual discussions. God wants all believers to: 

be filled with love that comes from a pure heart 

have a clear conscience

have genuine faith

Meaningless discussions about spiritual matters are not just meaningless, they’re harmful. They are a waste of time and they don’t help anyone grow in faith.

I like theological discussions. I get passionate about some aspects of the truth. But I need to pause to consider why I’m in the discussion and stop if it is pointless. To defend the truth is good. To argue because I like to argue or to try to convince someone who won’t hear is harmful.

Paul wrote his first letter to Timothy to caution him about false teachers who just love to quibble over the meaning of words. There were specific issues that Paul addressed in the letter, but the principle about argument transcends those issues. Paul has some pretty scathing things to say about the false teachers. They talk with authority about things they don’t understand.

I like Paul’s approach, because it comes naturally to me. I tend to figuratively point my finger and yell, “Wrong!” But Paul’s objection is that these teachers try to sound like they know all about God’s ways but aren’t concerned about the people they’re pulling into their discussions. Instead of encouraging love, conscience and faith, they cause arguments, jealousy, division, slander, and suspicion among believers.

I need the reminder that the purpose of discussing the truth is to encourage and build up the others I’m talking with. It’s not to show that I’m right.

Or that I know about the Bible

Or that I’ve read a lot of books

Or that I have incredible insight

Yes, Paul tells Timothy to guard the truth God has entrusted to him. But he also tells him to avoid pointless discussions with argumentative people and their so-called knowledge. The whole point of talking about the truth is to help people live a life of faith in God and be filled with love.

Love comes first.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

NOT a Prophecy from the Lord

I want to make it crystal clear that this blog is NOT a prophecy from the Lord. I’m writing my thoughts about the scriptures I read after praying over them and meditating on them. I may be wrong in my interpretations. If I am, I rely on my friends and readers to make me aware of it.

This issue is on my mind lately because I’ve had some disagreements in doctrine and interpretation of scripture with some people I love a lot and agree with in other ways. I’ve become very conscious that I might be the one who is wrong.  

In Jeremiah’s time the prophets and priests were claiming to know God’s truth. They used the phrase “prophecy from the Lord” to give their ideas authority. God rejected that authority and told them to ask each other what His answer was. 

I wonder what I use to give authority to my ideas. Do I claim that they come from God? In my last post I made some definitive statements about why it’s essential to believe in the inerrancy of scripture. I almost left that paragraph out of the post because I knew it was written with authority, as if I know God’s mind. While I believe what I wrote is true, those were my words, not God’s. 

So what authority can I claim? God told His people to ask “What is the Lord saying?” I have a friend who often refers to scripture during discussions. She uses the phrase “scripture says.” I admire her knowledge of scripture and have sometimes used her phrase as well. But I know I need to be cautious about it. Unless I can quote the verse or find the reference, I shouldn’t assert that an idea or thought comes from scripture. And even when I can, I need to make sure I’m interpreting it correctly. Because when I use it, I’m telling others what God is saying. That’s a scary responsibility.

Claiming my ideas are from God doesn’t make Him happy. In fact, He told the prophets that if they didn’t stop He would forget them completely. 

I can’t begin to express the horror of that idea. 

So I pledge to always be careful not to claim the authority of my words comes from God. I will always go to scripture to learn what God is saying. If my blog inspires you or gives you something to think about, praise God. But read the Bible to find out what God has to say.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Investing in the Kingdom

My pastor often tells us that God doesn’t call the equipped; He equips the called. There’s a certain amount of truth in that, but I think He sometimes equips us before calling us to a particular ministry. He gives us gifts to be used for the good of His Body. Of course, Pastor Tim is making the point that we should be willing to serve where we’re needed and let God equip us for the task.

I don’t have to manufacture the ability to do things for God. I just have to use what He’s already given me:

Time. Money. My Home. Love. 
Spiritual gifts: leadership, teaching, administration, hospitality. 

When I use them for God I can watch them grow. God gives me gifts to invest in His kingdom. When I do, they will double and then He’ll give me more responsibilities. 

This parable is an explanation about how the Kingdom works:

God gives His servants gifts.
They invest them.
They present Him with the return on the investment.
He praises them.
He gives them more responsibilities.

Investment is the key principle in this transaction. He gives gifts precisely for that purpose. Giving back what He gave me isn’t good enough. Being afraid of His response to my use of it is wrong. Hoarding it so it won’t get lost is useless. Not investing my gifts isn’t just wasteful, it’s wicked and lazy. If I don’t invest in the Kingdom, my gifts will be taken away and I’ll be thrown out of it.

Using my gifts for Him is not a matter of choice. It’s so easy to say, I’ll volunteer eventually, but right now I’m pretty busy, or tired, or mad at someone or . . . God gave me gifts to invest in the Kingdom. All I have to do is use them and they’ll double. That’s what a good and faithful servant does. 

And the reward is His praise. I can’t imagine a greater joy than the Lord of Creation praising me for doing something for Him.

I can be lazy and wicked or good and faithful.
I can receive God’s praise or His wrath.
I can spend eternity in God’s presence or weeping outside the Kingdom. 

The difference is whether I invest the gifts He’s already given me.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Scripture and the Power of God

I’m reading a book called Pearl of China by Anchee Min. It’s a fictionalized biography of Pearl Buck, an author I really like. I was surprised by some of the things the book reveals about Buck, so I looked her up on the internet (I used Wikipedia, which I don’t let my students use). She was not only the daughter of Presbyterian missionaries in China, but she was one when she grew up. One reason her life interests me is that my grandparents were also Presbyterian missionaries in China, although they lived in a different part of the country.

The research led me into the roots of the battles over fundamentalism in the Presbyterian church. This topic fascinates me for several reasons. I think I’m just inclined to jump into theological discussions. But I also remember some of my father’s comments about this controversy and have read some comments by my grandfather on the same topic. My grandfather and my father, a Presbyterian missionary in Guatemala, were on a different side than Pearl Buck who was on the liberal side.

There’s something about the Sadducees that reminds me of the supporters of the modernist side of the controversy. The Sadducees didn’t believe in life after death. So they came up with a clever little story to trap Jesus. His answer silenced them and astounded the crowd.

His answer should be the guideline for resolving all controversy in the church.

He told them that they didn’t know the scriptures and they didn’t know the power of God.

One of the big issues in the fundamentalist controversy was whether the scripture was inerrant. The liberals believed the Bible was full of errors and some didn’t believe in the virgin birth of Jesus. There were other doctrines in the Presbyterian confession that they also disagreed with, but I think these two are what make them sound like the Sadducees.

If a person doesn’t accept the inerrancy of scripture, he has nothing on which to base his faith. It just won’t hold together. If you deny any part of it, then there’s no reason to accept the rest. That’s what happened to these liberals. I’ve attended several main line denominational churches where the only thing that was taught was the importance of doing good works. The rest of the truths of Christianity were ignored or even denied.

When the modernists denied the virgin birth, they denied the power of God. I don’t know if they thought God couldn’t do it, but they certainly believed He didn’t do it. 

This post is a little different from my usual meditations on scripture, but it touches on what’s most important to me as a Christian. So I’m going to close by listing the five fundamentals, which were declared by the General Assembly in 1910 to be "essential and necessary" to the Christian faith. They are the source of the term fundamentalist. In this sense I am wholeheartedly a fundamentalist.

The Bible is inspired by the Holy Spirit and is inerrant because of it.
Jesus was born of a virgin.
Jesus’ death satisfied divine justice and reconciled us to God.
Jesus physically rose from the dead.
Jesus’ miracles are historical events.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Stay True

Hal Lindsey published The Late Great Planet Earth when I was in college. It was an exciting book and my friends and I ate it up. We went to hear him, and others like him, speak whenever we got the chance. We were convinced Jesus was coming back very soon. Well, here I am forty years later and He hasn’t come back yet. In truth, my understanding of the scriptures about the end times has changed since then.

One of the things I get now that I didn’t then is that the scriptural teaching about the end times is hard to understand because they are things we can’t grasp without God’s help. That makes it easy for people to twist what is written and make it mean things God didn’t intend. (By the way, I’m not saying Hal Lindsey did that. I just don’t agree with his interpretation anymore.)

Now, while Peter is talking about the end times in this passage, he says people twist other parts of scripture too. So how can I know what the truth is? How do I know that I understand it correctly? How do I know what someone else says is true? How do I know my pastor, Bible teacher, favorite Christian writer, theologian, or apologist are right?

I know the Holy Spirit guides me and gives me discernment when I read the scripture. But am I hearing what He’s saying? I also trust the giants of the faith that have gone before me, but they don’t all agree with each other. 

If I get it wrong or follow someone who gets it wrong, it will end in destruction. Peter’s not talking about small disagreements. Twisting the scripture is wicked.

Thankfully, Peter gives us some guidelines to avoid being carried away by the errors of wicked teachers. 

Be on guard. Question new teachings; don’t accept everything I hear and read. Read the scripture for myself, pray about it and ask God to show me the truth.

Grow in the grace of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Grace comes from God so I must spend time with Him to receive it. Grace is undeserved forgiveness for my sins; I must repent and confess my sins regularly.

Grow in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. I must learn as much about Him as I can and the best way to do that is to spend time with Him. Read my Bible a lot and pray a lot. Walk with Him by my side all day.

Acknowledge that He is Lord. Submit myself to Him in every area of my life.

Remember He is my Savior. He died in my place, took my punishment and freed me from sin.

Remember He is Christ – Messiah, the promised one from God. When He does come back it will be in triumphant victory as the conquering King. 

Stay true by staying focused on Jesus. And that is always the core truth. Stay focused on Jesus.

Monday, July 9, 2012

No Name Calling

My daughter loves everything Disney. So of course she has introduced her kids to age appropriate Disney movies. She agonized over the right age to introduce some of them because of the evil monsters. But I think she was surprised that it was language, not violence, that was a problem in 101 Dalmations. In the movie, Cruella De Vil calls her henchmen idiots. That’s a word Eryn has not allowed in her home and suddenly she found her kids using it with glee. She worked hard to remove it from their vocabulary, so I was chagrined when they caught me using it. I sometimes call another driver an idiot if he does something I don’t like. 

I don’t have a temper, although I get cranky and grumpy when I’m mad at someone. But I don’t hold a grudge and I’m quick to apologize. But I am occasionally guilty of using terms like idiot. That doesn’t seem so bad. I don’t throw things or call people names to their faces. I’m really quite polite about my anger.

But it is bad. It’s just as bad as murder. 

According to Jesus, anger earns the same judgment as murder. I wonder why. Is it because every sin is equally awful in God’s eyes so they all deserve the same penalty? That is true according to scripture, but in this case Jesus is talking specifically about anger and murder. 

I think it’s the attitude that displeases God. The action is bad, but He’s talking about the motivation behind the action. The greatest commandment is to love God and the second one, which is just as important is to love others. When I get angry with someone I’m breaking that commandment. That’s why Jesus put so much emphasis on it. 

He wants me to love my enemies and pray for them. He blesses them with the same sunshine and rain as He does me. He died for them, just like He did for me. As His child, I should bless them with the same love He showers on me. 

When someone does something that makes me mad, I should turn to the Holy Spirit for help in responding with love. But until God has finished His work in me, and I truly love my neighbor as much as I love myself, maybe I can use the first stirrings of anger to remind me to call on Him. When a nasty name like idiot pops into my head, it can be a reminder to me to pray for the other person.

Lord, help me to say a prayer instead of calling someone a name.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Painful Discipline

One afternoon at boarding school, my friends and I were playing in the outbuildings behind the school. Some of the rooms were used for storage and we were allowed in them. But the school maids lived in the others. We were nosy and went into the maids’ rooms to explore. Naturally, just as we were coming out, a teacher caught us. I’m not sure how I managed it, but while the others were receiving a strong reprimand, I managed to hide in one of the storage rooms and avoided punishment.  I’ve always been ashamed of that incident, but I’m sure I’m not alone in wanting to avoid discipline. 

The Psalmist knows he is being disciplined by God, but begs Him to stop. He knows he deserves the discipline and he knows it is good for him, but he doesn’t like it. He wants it to end so he can be happy again.

Sometimes God disciplines me and it’s not fun. I could try to avoid it – although God sees me when I hide from Him – but I know I need it. Instead, I can learn the proper responses from this Psalm.

I should bear the discipline in silence and especially not speak about it to unbelievers. I shouldn’t complain about my suffering. I know God is the One who has done it, and I need to be careful not to malign Him. Of course, that’s not easy. The longer David keeps his mouth shut, the more the words build up in him. But when he finally explodes, it is in prayer. His words are directed toward God, not in complaints about God. 

At this point, David recognizes his mortality. He wants to be reminded of the brevity of his life. I too should respond to discipline with a desire for God to put it into perspective. The things I think are important lose their value in light of eternity. God disciplines me in order to prepare me to live with Him forever. 

David particularly points out the vanity of accumulating wealth. Wealth provides so much for us. We usually get wealth by working, which is where many of us gain confidence and self-esteem. When we have wealth we are able to get all the comforts and pleasures we enjoy. Like David, I need God to remind me that these things are temporary and not trustworthy.

So I should hope in the Lord. He should be the foundation on which I rest and the One I depend on for everything I need and want. 

Not hoping in Him is the reason for my discipline. When I trust anyone or anything other than God I am rebelling against Him. So I need to repent and ask God to rescue me from my rebellion. One of the things I can hope for is that He will eventually remove the scourge. But this isn’t a quick “I’m sorry God” so I can get back to being happy. God’s discipline consumes me and in my desperation I can only cry to God for help. 

When I beg God to leave me alone, what I really want is for Him to stop the discipline by rescueing me from my rebellion. When I’ve responded in repentance and obedience I won’t need His discipline anymore. In that sense He’ll leave me alone and then I’ll be able to smile.

His discipline is painful and I don’t like it. But I have to get through it to reach the smile. He won’t leave me alone until I repent and submit. Ouch.