Conflict Resolution

www.bible.com/1713/col.3.13.csb

When I come into a conflict, my sense get really hyped up and I have a significant stress response. I hate conflict. I get really nervous and anxious and it just messes me up. I’ve tried to get better at as I’ve gotten older, but conflict resolution is still challenging for me.

So this verse shows up in the feed this morning forcing me to address my fears. Conflict is the result of people in conflict. Often that conflict isn’t solved right away. The trap is to carry it with you as resentment or as a grudge. You may be carrying one right now against someone who offended you or wronged you years ago. STOP!

Don’t waste years of your life on someone who wronged you. Even if they never ask for forgiveness, never let that stuff poison your soul. But especially, as this verse instructs, never let that stuff happen in the body of Christ. Jesus died and forgave you both for far worse sins that what you’ve done to each other. You have no right to hold a grudge against a fellow believer, because if Jesus forgave them of their sins, you must.

Now I get it. There are some people you don’t like. There are some people you would just as soon not spend time with. That’s fine. But eternity is a long time. If you can’t get along now, heaven may not be so heavenly. Do yourself a favor and let go of the right to be upset at someone.

I relapse as I write this that there are some pretty awful things people can do to one another, especially in the church. I’ve had awful things done to me. And I cannot sit here and tel you I am completely over them. But with age I have perspective and understanding of why people do what they do. I still have scars, but they are healing. I hope and pray your scars are healing too. I think they make you wiser and more cautious, but don’t let them get in the way of true friendships.

God bless you today.

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Love Covers

www.bible.com/1713/1pe.4.8.csb

Brother Peter calls us to love this morning. He reminds us of the great commandment Jesus gave us, love one another, by saying we should remain constant in our love for one another. He adds here from Proverbs 10:12 that love covers offenses, or as he says, a multitude of sins. This should say something to us believers today.

You ever been offended by a fellow believer? Does the sun rise? Do people get on your nerves? Peter subtly acknowledges that yes, Christians can step on each other’s toes. So he reminds us of what Jesus said. Jesus said this, not just anyone. Love one another. This is the core of our relationships, the primary rule that binds us together. Love one another as He has loved us. Does it sound like he’s trying to say something here?

As a human being, Peter, probably more than most, knows we are prone to argue. He had disagreements with Jesus and Paul. So he knows how important it is to love one another, and how love covers offenses. I am looking at you Christian who holds a grudge against your fellow believer. Who remembers that wrong they did years ago and now you are holding it against them when they suggest the church support a mission or engage in a new project. I am looking at you Christian who hates other Christians because they don’t believe in the same way you do, or, heaven forbid, they dare to use instruments in worship.

This isn’t just about Christians in the same fellowship, though that’s bad enough. But it’s also also Christians of different *gasp* denominations. Christians have proved to the world over how important it is to be right. Let’s try also to prove how we love one another. If I recall, Jesus did not make the great commandment, be right at all costs, even if it costs Fellowship.

Now you may complain at this point and say, “I can’t fellowship with those who say gay is okay.” (As an example). If gay behavior is a sin (and I believe it is), how can I fellowship with Christians who don’t believe gay behavior is a sin? (Note: gay behavior is a sin in Scripture. Gay list would also be sinful, but to simply to be attracted to same sex people is a temptation, not a sin.) if they cannot be convinced of what the Bible plainly says, even at that, are be better of as Christians being hateful or being compassionate? Even Paul advocates separating from believers living in open sin, for a time, to give them time to repent, so that the sin would not taint the community.

I know these issues can be sharply divisive, but do we deal with each other according to the law or according to grace? In truth or in love? We are to speak the truth in love. We are to maintain love for one another, but not at the cost of truth. Even then, love should govern us, even if it means a temporary separation. Too long, and grudges set in, and they set harder than concrete.

A brother offended us harder to win than a strong city.

Just some thoughts today. Welcome your comments on this one.

Seeking Counsel

www.bible.com/1713/jhn.14.26.csb

The Silent Partner of the Holy Trinity is the Holy Spirit. Today on Pentecost Sunday we remember the birthday of the church and the role the Holy Spirit played on that day. Like tongues of fire the Holy Spirit descended upon those disciples of the early church and caused them to speak in various tongues so that all around were amazed, speaking of the works of God in their own language.

This remarkable event marked the beginning of the Church, the beginning of God’s mission of inclusion by faith of the peoples of the world by offering the “gift of the Holy Spirit” to all who would received Him by faith, repentance, and baptism. It was no longer exclusive to the Jews to know the Presence of God, to have a singular Temple where God resides. No, the presence of God is offered to all!

In one of Jesus final teachings with His disciples the night before He died, He told his disciples about the Holy Spirit, who would be a Counselor and a Teacher to them. This forms the basis for the teaching of the rest of the New Testament beyond the gospels. The Holy Spirit would and did guide them into all truth. That ceased when those disciples died, and those they directly discipled, like Mark and Luke. Paul was given special dispensation as an Apostle called directly by Christ and so too was given authority to write Spirit-inspired Scripture.

So what does the Holy Spirit do for us, if His purpose in this verse was to inspire Scripture? We aren’t writing Scripture anymore. No. But the Spirit is the same. He need only guide us to what is written, remind us of what we’ve read. The wisdom of the Spirit is already written for us to consume, but we may not always understand what we read when we read it. The Spirit works within us to help us understand it. The Spirit is just as powerful and effective for us in seeking wise counsel as it was for Solomon.

Celebrate today the birthday of the Church, and give place to the Holy Spirit every day as He points us to the Son and the Father.

God bless you today!

Defining Heresy

https://www.bible.com/bible/1713/TIT.3.10.CSB

Today’s heresy is tomorrow’s orthodoxy. When I was trained into ministry, I trained according to the understanding of doctrine of the Independent Christian Churches and Churches of Christ, i.e., The Restoration Movement. Many moons ago, the “Campbellites” as they were once called were maligned and shunned because they promote “baptismal regeneration” or the idea that getting baptized is what gets you saved. Alexander Campbell was asked to leave the Mahoning Baptist Association of Western Pennsylvania for his radical beliefs. Today the Restoration Churches believe that baptism alone does not save you, but that baptism is essential to salvation, as part of a process of faith, repentance, confession and baptism. We believe that baptismal regeneration is not heretical, but essential to the salvation process.

Funny enough though, salvation without baptism was considered heretical a few hundred years ago when Ulrich Zwingli first brought the idea during the Reformation. At that time, believer’s baptism wasn’t really a thing, but infant baptism was commonplace. Zwingli proposed that it wasn’t baptism that saved you (as the Catholics insisted), but that belief in Jesus was essential, and baptism was a work, an act of obedience. Thus, many who follow in his footsteps, including the Evangelical Movement today, put baptism on the back burner, as an act of obedience, rather than including it as part of salvation.

But then again, infant baptism hasn’t always been a thing either. In the beginning, those who believed and were baptized were the ones that were saved. Infants cannot grasp such ephemeral concepts as salvation from sin. Thus infants were excluded from baptism in the early church. However, the idea began to be taught that baptism, apart from faith, could be effective for salvation. This was a heretical idea that was espoused in the second century. The practice of baptizing infants was introduced primarily for parents worried that their children would not live long enough to believe. They were worried about this because of another heretical idea, “original sin”, which taught that one was guilty of Adam’s sin from conception, and only baptism could save someone from it. However, they missed this one point: while all carry the burden of Adam’s guilt, God also provides “original grace” for children before they reach the age of accountability, the age they are old enough to have faith in Jesus. (Is that another heretical idea, or something that makes logical sense?)

Thus today’s heresy becomes tomorrow’s orthodoxy. It just depends on who you listen to.

That said, this brings up today’s topic. In the verse above, the of “divisions” is in Greek “heresy”. It seems an odd thing to put in the Bible if we have no way to know what heresy is. Rather, Paul, as he is writing to Titus (an evangelist in Crete) assumed that Titus would know what is truth and what is heresy. As I listed above, baptism, which is a central component of Christian doctrine, has been thrown around the proverbial playground of theology. It has been labeled saving and an act of obedience. It has been called essential and non-essential. My friends, this is a core doctrine of Christianity. This isn’t like setting a date for Jesus’ return. This is at the core of what we believe about salvation, and yet it has been played with by the Church for 20 centuries!

All of that to say this: Heresy isn’t as easy to spot as it used to be. The idea of heresy also points to the idea that there is a “faith once for all delivered to the saints” that can be known and understood, and that we can identify counterfeits. Is there Paul? Is there really?

The only way to resist lies is to know the truth. A truth understood can spot a lie every time. In the early days of the church, even to the time of the Reformation, having a copy of the Bible in your hands was almost impossible and horribly expensive. Only the elite had the truth and dispensed it as they pleased. (Note: The Book of Eli movie is an interesting take on this idea, for if you are the only one who has the book, you can make it say anything you want and can control people as you please). You do not have the luxury today of waiting for others to tell you what the truth is. You no longer have the excuse of waiting for church time to read the Book. The Bible is available on every platform, every form of media. We are without excuse to not know what the truth is.

But that is just the start. Even being familiar the Scriptures can expose you to the eisegetical whims of false teachers, those who read their own ideas into the Bible and make it say what they want. Just recently I read an article about the “Prosperity Gospel” teachers who say that God wants you to be healthy and wealthy and quote Scriptures accordingly. If you go into the Bible with that idea in mind, every verse will seem to say that back to you. Even the verses that say Christians will suffer will seem mere symbolism to one so deceived.

Read your Scriptures. Study your Scriptures in context, in the context of the paragraphs and passages they are found in, their historical and literary contexts and how both original author and audience understood them. Also remember you have the Holy Spirit. He is with you to help you understand the Scriptures. If a teaching you receive sounds “funny” or “odd”, that may well be the Holy Spirit nudging you to study and pursue further. I have had many occasions for this this and been rewarded for my pursuit.

NEVER take a verse by itself. NEVER assume you know what a verse is saying until you read its context. NEVER let anyone tell you what a verse means if they don’t also include its context in their teaching. The world is full of false religions and heresies where single verses are ripped from their contexts and put together with others to create new doctrines.

Paul’s warning is clear. Heresy has no place alongside sound Christian teaching. If a false teacher will not recant, then he or she needs to be removed. In your study, don’t ever assume that you have come up with a new understanding of Scripture. The Bible has been around long enough that someone somewhere has already had that thought or that understanding. Research your interpretation. Check it against trusted sources. Remember also that the Church is old enough to have collected heretical baggage along her way and passed it off as doctrine, sometimes forming even whole denominations (which is also “heretical” when you think about it).¬†As Glenn Beck says, do your own homework. You may have actually exposed some of it. Be prepared to face the backlash of the Unstudied and the “This is the Way We’ve Always Done It” Crowd. If you are right, be humble. Don’t go around saying you’ve found the “Truth” because nobody likes that. Instead, offer it as an alternative, and be certain in your facts.

Think critically, both of what you have learned and what you study. Be wiling to ask questions when something doesn’t sound right. God bless you in your journey.

The Third Commandment

www.bible.com/72/jhn.13.34.hcsb

Jesus was once asked what are the greatest commandments in the Law. He said that the two greatest commandments were the Love God with all your heart, soul and mind, and to love your neighbor as yourself. These didn’t change with the advent of Christianity. We are still expected to follow these commands under grace. But Jesus then added a third commandment, one distinctive to the Christian faith and experience. He said that Christians ought to love one another. Weird, huh? It seems like that should be a given. If I love God and love neighbors, wouldn’t I love my fellow Christians?

It seems to me that Jesus knows us better than we think. But what commandments have we violated more than this? And do you know what excuse we use to avoid obeying this commandment? They don’t believe like we do. We don’t associate with them. We don’t fellowship with them. We don’t do anything with them that might look like we love them. Hmmm.

Should there be recognition of doctrinal differences? And are there boundaries that denominations should not cross, boundaries of orthodoxy? Is there orthodoxy? Should the Bible have the final say on what we ought to believe, or should the Church? Because if we are going to disobey this commandment of Jesus, then we ought to have a really good reason. Is our reasoning strong enough to “tithe mint and dull and cumin, but avoid the weightier matters if the law”?

This is the tension between love and truth. Many churches exclude others based on truth. Other churches avoid truth and include everyone based on love. Is the “other” in one another a person also saved by grace, washed in blood through faith in Christ Jesus who must also live up to a code of conduct expected of the Christian?

It is very easy for us to dismiss “one another” when they don’t believe as we do, or their practices are different. We may stand and point fingers at each and declare “heretic”! all day long. But we forget that we are all fighting he same battle, the same enemy. And this enemy has enjoyed much success because he has us fighting each other instead of him. Are there greater evils in the world than a rival denomination? It seems we have bigger fish to fry than making sure everyone believes in exactly the same way.

I believe that every denomination has a problem in its doctrine somewhere. Nobody has it right. And I don’t know if this side of heaven we’ll ever figure it out. But I do believe some have it more right than others. Certain essential doctrines like the resurrected Christ, His atonement for our sins, the veracity of the Scriptures, the presence of the Holy Spirit in the Church and a host of other things. But let us not turn on each other over petty things, like worship styles and architecture, crowd sizes and preaching styles. We have a bigger mission. Let us learn how to love one another, despite our differences, learn to combine our strength and defeat this enemy’s work among us.

God bless you all today.

Finding Joy

An additional meditation today for those that need a little extra. I’ve been troubled by the disparity between the coverage of the Muslim massacre in New Zealand and the Christian massacre in Africa. As you might notice, I can pinpoint where the Muslim massacre was because of the amount of coverage it has received. Not so with the Christian one. I think it was Nigeria, but I may be mistaken. The news has not been as forthcoming about he 120 Christians killed by Muslim militants. Jesus was certainly understating when He said “in this world you will have trouble.”

I don’t care what your denomination is. When Christians are attacked anywhere, it’s not because they are Lutherans or Pentecostals, it’s because of Christ. As one of our founding fathers once coined, “either we hang together, or we hang separately.”

Now I don’t agree with Lutherans, Pentecostals, or Baptists on certain points of doctrine. But if you attack my family, you are attacking me. I really don’t care if these Christians in Nigeria were Independent Christian Church like I am, whether they believed in the plan of salvation and baptism by immersion. It doesn’t matter if they believed in the Trinity or Modalism. They believed that Jesus Christ was able to save them. They believed the gospel, and I doubt that high theology entered into it. They were attacked because they believe in Jesus, as I do. They believed in the resurrection of the Son of God as I do. They were killed because they identified as Christian, as I do. Their death puts all of us on notice. Evil is real and it seeks to devour us, and it attacking the most vulnerable of us.

Wolves attack the weak and the sick. Both of the targets I’ve mentioned were vulnerable to attack and made for easy targets. I’m sorry that such a person attacked the Muslims. It an act of evil. But he was not by his own explanation a Christian. The militants that attacked the Christian congregation in Nigeria were muslim by their admission. Both are regrettable. One is a lone wolf. The other is part of a pack. I will let you decide which is which.

Is there any good in this? The meditation above was based on Habakkuk, who lamented that the enemy that attacked Israel was wicked, that God was using a wicked nation to chastise the people of Israel. Is God doing so today? Is God allowing His people, the Christians of Nigeria, to be attacked to chastise them? To chastise us all? Do we wealthy and well-off Christians in the west have an obligation to our brothers in the east? You might think so if you read Romans 15. If there is good in this, it may be to call to those asleep to awaken to the threat at our door. Our brothers are being murdered. Do you care?

I won’t advocate for a particular organization here, because there are several worthy ones. I advocate for those whose voices you cannot hear by reason of distance. In our day-to-day, we seldom think outside those in our circle of friends. May I ask that you at least pray for these brothers and sisters on the front lines? I don’t know what form their help will take, but I know the Lord is not slack concerning His promises.

Dear Lord, please help my brothers and sisters who are subjected to constant harassment and persecution. I pray for those families whose tragedy spans generations and have little peace. You are a mighty and all-seeing God. Even now, I know you are putting things in motion that will bring justice to all these murderers. But I pray that the sacrifice of your lambs would not be in vain, and that lives will be changed, saved by the grace and mercy through your Son, that even those who killed might receive saving grace. For our enemies are not of flesh and blood, but of the powers of darkness that seek to destroy your church, your bride, wherever she is. I pray this in Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Sup?

www.bible.com/72/rev.3.20.hcsb

in the old King James, Jesus offers to come and sup with whomever opens the door to His knocking. This verse always seemed to be in the wrong book. It doesn’t feel like a verse out of Revelation, but here it is, in the letter to the Laodiceans, a town that has done very well thank you very much. They have survived an earthquake and needed no outside help to recover. They were wealthy, well-to-do, and needed no handouts.

We don’t have a origin story for the church of Laodicea, like many of the churches of Revelation. There is no record of a Pauline visit or any of the other apostles making their way here. Her first mention is here. But the church ought to be very familiar to us, for it is one who has let too much of the world in. She is neither cold nor hot for the gospel, but lukewarm. Perhaps she never experienced the conflict or the persecution suffered by others. Maybe her relative wealth and lack of conflict has made for a complacent church. It would be easy to make imagined parallels here between the American Church and this one, and many have. Truth is, we just don’t enough about this church to know either way. And we ought not to compare. American churches stand before God on their own, but we ought to learn from this church, as we do the others.

That is why this simple verse is so striking. Speaking into a complacent church, with powerful warnings of removal from the body of Christ, Jesus comes back around gently. “Open the door, let me in, and we will dine together.” I’ve always read this in an individual context, but this is a message for the church as a whole. He is asking to be invited back into the Church so that He May dine with them, a strong reference to the Communion of bread and wine. Standing at the door is a subtle reference to His imminent return. Will they let Him in before it is too late? We don’t know if they did. But dare I ask, should a church neglect Communion, will they last? If they forget hat Jesus is at the door, will He stop knocking and leave?

Don’t be that church.