How To Squash Gossip.

gossip 1

We are taught a simple rhyme as children to help us cope with other children and develop thick skin:

“Sticks and stones may break my bones,
but words will never harm me.”

Unfortunately, we have all learned that this is not the truth.  Words are extremely destructive and hurtful, and there are times that we would probably prefer someone to just hit us rather than continue to talk about us.  This is why James says,

“And the tongue is a fire, the very world of iniquity; the tongue is set among our members as that which defiles the entire body, and sets on fire the course of our life, and is set on fire by hell.”

– James 3.6

James teaches us that our tongues, not by their nature of existence, but by the words that they say, are those while defile our entire body.  They can destroy everything.  They are ruthless, and are a fire set ablaze by Hell.  He even says that no one can perfectly tame the tongue, it is “a restless evil and full of deadly poison” (James 3.8).  Yes, it is a terrible thing to hurt someone physically, but we can also destroy someone with the words we say.

Thus Scripture regularly admonishes us not to gossip.

“A perverse man spreads strife,
And a slanderer separates intimate friends.”

– Prov 16.28

“Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear.”

– Eph 4.29

There are six things which the Lord hates,
Yes, seven which are an abomination to Him:
Haughty eyes, a lying tongue,
And hands that shed innocent blood,
A heart that devises wicked plans,
Feet that run rapidly to evil,
A false witness who utters lies,
And one who spreads strife among brothers.

– Prov 6.16-19

“Remind them to be subject to rulers, to authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good deed, to malign no one, to be peaceable, gentle, showing every consideration for all men.”

– Titus 3.1-2

Gossip is not always telling lies, it can be telling half truths as well as just talking about someone in an unsavory way.  The expectation for Christians is to only speak words that are edifying.  Thus we can always test ourselves by asking if the story we are preparing to tell will edify the listener and/or the subject.  Does it build one another up?  Or does it tear someone down?

We are commanded, quite simply, not to gossip.  Thus – as with all other commands – we can understand and tell ourselves to “just stop it”.  As with any other sin of habit, however, we must intentionally fight our sin.  How do we do that?

  1.  We agree with God that it is a sin.  If we desire to stop gossiping only because we know it hurts people, there will come a day when we want to hurt someone.  However, if we relinquish authority over our own lives and realize that God is King, and submit to His commandments and will, there is a greater power at play than our convictions and feelings.  God said do not do it, there will be consequences if we do, and it displeases Him.  Therefore, we recognize that gossip is indeed a sin.
  2. We recognize our tendencies.  Gossip may be so ingrained in our lives and personalities that we are unaware of it.  It may be second nature to update our friends and family about everyone in our lives that we do not recognize when we cross the line.  We must be thoughtful about our words and actions, examining them and asking if it is edifying to others and glorifying to God.
  3. Enlist an accountability partner.  Secret sin is exceptionally difficult to conquer, and even if we find victory for a season, there is little to keep us from slipping back in a moment of weakness.  An accountability partner can be a spouse, a friend or an acquaintance who has found victory over the sin in his life.  You do not necessarily have to air all of your dirty laundry, you can ask this person to hold you accountable on one specific topic.  Maybe he sends you a text once a week asking if you have gossiped.  Maybe you meet up for coffee once a month and discuss your successes and failures.  The moment you know someone will be asking you, and you have committed to transparency, you will watch what you say much more intimately.  Bringing our sin to the light will reveal it for its wicked nature and will help us find victory.

    “This is the judgment, that the Light has come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the Light, for their deeds were evil.  For everyone who does evil hates the Light, and does not come to the Light for fear that his deeds will be exposed.”

    – John 3.19-20

  4. Fight the battle in your mind.  All sin begins in the mind, with temptation.  Some people us fighter verses, some people practice the discipline of replacement.  A fighter verse is a verse you have memorized on the topic at hand.  When you find yourself thinking about gossiping, call to mind that verse about edification or James declaring our tongues a fire set ablaze by Hell.  Quote it to yourself, pray it to God, ask for the strength to control your tongue.  The discipline of replacement is to be aware that simply cutting something out of our lives is difficult, but if we do something else in its place we can more easily create new habits.  If we find ourselves ready to gossip, we can say something up-building about that person or situation.  Or we can pray for them.  Our thoughts pass through our minds before we say them, and if we catch them before they become action, we save ourselves a lot of grief and heartache.
  5. Remember that we will only find victory by the power of the Holy Spirit.  When we are born again, the Holy Spirit takes up residence in our lives.  It is His job to convict us of sin and push us on to righteousness (John 16.8).  Our human nature is to sin, and as long as we walk by our flesh, we will sin continually.  We must, therefore, declare war on our flesh and walk by the Spirit (Gal 5.17, 24).  Paul says,

    “I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me.”

    – Gal 2.20
    We cannot find victory over sin which is glorifying to God unless we submit to the Holy Spirit and allow Him to live through us.

  6. Remember that we will fail.  James says that no one can tame the tongue.  If a man is perfect in what he says, he is a perfect man.  We will not attain perfect.  We will all fail.  But when we do fail, we must remember that we have an advocate who intercedes for us.  We confess our sins to one another (our accountability partner and the person of whom we spoke ill), and we move on (1 John 1.9, 2.1-2).

What then, when gossip is running rampant around you?

Churches have, by-in-large, failed at addressing personal sin.  Jesus gives us crystal clear instructions about handling sin in our midst:

“If your brother sins, go and show him his fault in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother.  But if he does not listen to you, take one or two more with you, so that by the mouth of two or three witnesses every fact may be confirmed.  If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.”

– Matt 18.15-17

If someone is gossiping to you, call it out as sin.  Immediately.  If he does not respond in repentance, or if he continues gossiping even in a later situation, then enlist someone else in your circle to confront him.  If he still does not listen, then go to the pastor and bring it before the church.  If even this will not draw him to repentance and change, then we remove him from the church and disassociate ourselves with him.  Paul goes so far as to say we should not even share a meal with such a one (1 Cor 5.11).  Why?  Because such a one claims to be a child of God but yet refuses to submit to God by killing his sin.  He knows the Gospel and has refused to submit to it.  He is dangerous.

This system squashes gossip on all levels.  First of all, it changes the heart from one of judgment and disdain to love for the brother.  If someone offends us or hurts us, instead of talking about it to everyone else we confront him and make it right – for his soul’s sake.  We desire to see him freed from his sin.

Second of all, it outlines how to come to a healthy end.  Often times we gossip because we see the situation as stagnant.  There is just nothing we can do to change it, and we “vent” to our friends out of frustration.  But when there is a plan in place to address the situation, it is easier to control our tongues and not blow up or talk about it at inappropriate times.

Third of all, it makes the situation known when it needs to be known.  When the sin is brought before the Church, everyone hears what needs to be said about the situation.  The pastor takes ownership, the situation is clearly explained, and the sinner either repents and is restored, or removed from the church.  End of story.  No one is left wondering, no one is left confused, and therefore there is no need to gossip about what happened.  It is a closed matter.  People do not just slip out the back door, feelings are not left unresolved.

This is why we bring things into the light, and live transparently as a body and as believers.  We must fight our own personal sin, and we must also fight one another’s sin – out of love and concern for one another.

The bigger churches get, the more difficult this becomes.  But if you are part of a large body, do not let that hinder you from Jesus’ command.  Perhaps the church confrontation would be with your small group, or in a member’s meeting with a specific audience.  Your pastor will know how to best handle the situation, should he need to intervene.  We cannot make peace with sin – and we must squash it before it gains a foothold in our churches.

“For if we go on sinning willfully after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a terrifying expectation of judgment and the fury of a fire which will consume the adversaries.”

– Heb 10.26-27

 

The Danger of Prophecy

A woman riding a horse

A little over three years ago, my life fell apart.  Up until then, I had success in dreaming my dream, pursuing it, and living and working my dream job.  By-in-large, things went the way I wanted them to go, and I was happy, satisfied and fulfilled.  Suddenly and completely outside of my control, it all fell apart.  I found a new job and moved to Denver Colorado and started looking for and building community.  A friend took me to meet one of her friends, who was and elderly missionary who was highly influential in an inter-denominational mission board.  After eating lunch together and talking about common interests, he said, “Let me prophesy over you before you go”.

This was a new experience for me.  I was raised in more traditional belief systems, and while I was exposed to a level of charismatic variation in college being a part of Campus Crusade for Christ, this was the first time someone so boldly set out to speak God’s future intentions over me.  I have absolutely no recollection of what he said to my friend as I was busy praying, scanning through relevant Scriptures in my mind and wondering what was about to happen.  He turned to me, grabbed my hands, and closed his eyes.  Moments later he began speaking in that spiritual voice we all use when we pray, and he said, “I see you riding on a horse, at full canter.  Back where your heart desires.”  He opened his eyes, and said that I would certainly be back on path to my dream in just a short period of time.

Even in light of my upbringing and reformed beliefs, I am by no means a cessationist.  Many, if not most, in my circles of comfort have lived their entire lives in the Christian West which has come to believe God as sovereign over eternity and over salvation, but not involved in anything supernatural [in practice, at least].  We pray for healing but expect it to come through doctors or time.  We pray for intervention, but watch for it in explainable ways.  I, however, lived in a third world country for four years where people interact with the Spiritual world on an entirely different level.  And while I still wonder if I have the faith required to speak as the local Christians in these situations do, I have seen many miraculous events which directly led to the furthering of the Kingdom, which are inexplicable apart from God’s direct intervention.

In my circles of comfort, they would heartily agree that God continues to work miraculously in pioneering situations, where the Gospel has not yet gone, where there is not yet a Bible or Christian witness, but I do not see that taught in Scripture.  I think often times we simply do not have because we do not ask [or believe] (James 4.2-3).  If God is the same yesterday, today and forever, and if God is sovereign over all creation, then he is both capable and willing to work in ways we cannot understand (Heb 13.8, Ps 103.19).

We also see an interesting example of prophesy in the book of Acts.  Again, my background would seek define prophesy as “speaking the Word” or “speaking the authority of God – via the Scriptures”, but we all know – both from reading the Old Testament and from the normal use of the term – that prophecy usually implies telling of the future.  It is rare that someone gets up to proclaim Truth (as in the Gospel) and defines it as prophecy.

“On the next day we left and came to Caesarea, and entering the house of Philip the evangelist, who was one of the seven, we stayed with him.  Now this man had four virgin daughters who were prophetesses.  As we were staying there for some days, a prophet named Agabus came down from Judea.  And coming to us, he took Paul’s belt and bound his own feet and hands, and said, ‘This is what the Holy Spirit says: “In this way the Jews at Jerusalem will bind the man who owns this belt and deliver him into the hands of the Gentiles.”’  When we had heard this, we as well as the local residents began begging him not to go up to Jerusalem.  Then Paul answered, ‘What are you doing, weeping and breaking my heart? For I am ready not only to be bound, but even to die at Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.’  And since he would not be persuaded, we fell silent, remarking, ‘The will of the Lord be done’!”

– Acts 21.8-14

The book of Acts is an historical document that informs us of what happened, often without making a moral claim on the incident.  Luke assumes his readers to have a grasp of the Law and the will of God enough to determine God’s intention behind and the acceptability of those actions.  Thus, it is exceptionally dangerous to build doctrine based on the actions of a person in the book of Acts without weighing it against the rest of Scripture.  That being said, Luke openly names Philip’s daughters as prophetesses and when Agabus spoke by the authority of the Holy Spirit, Paul and his cohorts not only listened, but believed the prophecy to be true.  Those present begged Paul not to continue, and Paul had already made peace with that destiny, revealing later that the Holy Spirit had already told him the same thing:

“And now, behold, bound by the Spirit, I am on my way to Jerusalem, not knowing what will happen to me there, except that the Holy Spirit solemnly testifies to me in every city, saying that bonds and afflictions await me.”

– Acts 20.22-23

This is a direct foretelling of the future, that was not about Kingdom advancement (people coming to faith) and that was fulfilled, thus validating the prophet.  We are taught in the Old Testament to evaluate and test prophets by the occurrence of their prophecy:

“When a prophet speaks in the name of the Lord, if the thing does not come about or come true, that is the thing which the Lord has not spoken. The prophet has spoken it presumptuously; you shall not be afraid of him.”

– Deut 18.22

Paul spoke clearly of the gift of prophecy in many of his letters throughout the New Testament, and we see him interacting with the prophet Agabus, and we also see that the Spirit directs, warns, and reveals things to come to him.  We also believe, as Christians, that Jesus and John in the book of Revelation prophesied about the End Times.  And we are left now, in the Church Age, with a wide spectrum of variations on the practice:  some completely ignoring it, and others grossly abusing it.

It is so distorted, in fact, that some churches hold prophesy classes and conferences, promising to teach people how to prophesy over one another and assigning people partners to practice.  They stand before God demanding that He give a word for another person that is extra-biblical.  This is extremely dangerous folks.  And many times we end up with a psychic-like vision of a girl, riding a horse at full canter, implying that she will soon be back where she wants to be.  What does that even mean?  The Holy Spirit told Paul not only that he would be bound, but how and where.  It was not a vision left for interpretation, it was cold, hard fact.  This man might have seen a bold and driven spirit in me, and thus it would be a normal assumption that I would work diligently to pursue my dream, and thus his “vision” would most likely be self-fulfilling.  But God has seen fit to teach me, through this season, to wait on Him and not force my way.  For three years, I have waited on Him and learned faith.  Quite the opposite of this man’s prophecy.

People also grossly distort prophecy with the prosperity Gospel:  “God is going to bless you greatly, good things are coming your way” and similar hogwash.  Yes, God has promised that all things will work out for the good of those who love Him, but He has also promised that all who desire to live a godly life will suffer (Rom 8.28, 2 Tim 3.12).  Jesus appointed twelve disciples, and eleven of them were murdered.  New Churches were established throughout the known world shortly after Jesus returned to Heaven, and the believers were scattered by persecution and murder.  Jesus Himself was hated and murdered, and He promised us that in the same way people hated Him, they will hate us (John 15.18-20).  Is that your God?  Does your lifestyle and expectation of God allow for people to plunder your property and imprison you, and you to respond in joy?

“But remember the former days, when, after being enlightened, you endured a great conflict of sufferings, partly by being made a public spectacle through reproaches and tribulations, and partly by becoming sharers with those who were so treated.  For you showed sympathy to the prisoners and accepted joyfully the seizure of your property, knowing that you have for yourselves a better possession and a lasting one.”

– Heb 10.32-34

So what is the takeaway here?  It is simply this:  God is bigger than we expect.  He not only can, but does speak to us.  Often times it is directly through His Word, but He can also speak through His servants as prophets.  We cannot, however, force God’s hand to speak through us or to us through another.  Prophecy training and/or conferences will put people in a vulnerable situation in which they will get hurt and disappointed in God, expecting extra-Biblical blessings or promises.  Promises of vague blessings will be a self-fulfilling prophesy that we super impose on our situations.  And God will never promise or foretell anything that is against His nature.

Thus, if you believe that God has given you a word for someone else, test it against Scripture, and pray over it diligently.  If it is in any way contradictory to the Word, do not say it – it is not from God.  If it is in line with Scripture, then share it boldly – but know that your words will be proven with time.  If someone offers you a word from God, immediately examine it against Scripture, and pray over it diligently.  If I had taken this man’s word as truth, and pushed through to do what I wanted to do, my faith would be nowhere near where it is today, and I would have missed out on meeting my husband and being a part of wonderful things happening at my local church.

Prophecy played a role in testing Paul’s and the disciple’s faith.  Prophecy may play a role in maturing our faith as well.  But let us be passionately careful to never place our hope or expectation in the prophecy, but in the God who alone can fulfill it.  If the prophecy does not point you to Jesus and to greater faith, it is dangerous and takes our hope from Him and places it somewhere else.  Prophecy is extremely dangerous, because it can distract us from our only hope:  Jesus Christ.  Unless something is promised to us in Scripture, let us hold loosely any other promises or fore-tellings.  Let us know that we have been given everything that we need for life and godliness in the Scripture and in Jesus, and anything else is just icing on the cake (1 Peter 1.3).

Resolved.

new years resolution

New Year’s is just a few days away, and many New Year’s resolutions will be made.  Have you started thinking about yours?  Will you aim to eat better?  Or exercise more?  Perhaps you will simplify your schedule or get more rest.  Many will aim to be more spiritual – praying more, meditating, reading the Bible daily, and the like.

But there are also many who refuse to set a resolution because they know they will break it.  I knew someone who struggled so much in school and discipline that he simply refused to set any goals.  The fear of failing to meet them was so great and the guilt associated with it led him to remain as he was, as a guy in his late twenties.  He said, “I would only be setting myself up for failure”.

It is true, any goal that is set is an opportunity for failure.  But it is also true that unless we set goals or make an effort, nothing will ever be accomplished.  It is true on the micro level:  if you do not make a plan for the day, you will forget to go to the grocery store after work, or bring your workout clothes to hit the gym.  But it is also true on the macro level:  you have to apply to college and start classes to earn a degree, you have to send out your resume to get a job, and start lessons to learn a skill.

But the reality is that our relationship with God is more than just a goal.  Our spirituality is more than just dedication.  Goals, however, can enhance a relationship and a Spirituality.  Even in the midst of our emotion-driven society that believes love should be easy and euphoric, most will ultimately admit that marriage is hard work, and relationships take effort to maintain.  They might be born in emotion and initially driven by passion, but after time that can fade and commitment must mark our choices in order to maintain intimacy and happiness.

In the same way, there are times that our Spiritual walk and relationship with God will be easy and natural.  But there are other times when we are distracted, too busy, frustrated, or over stimulated and pleased with our physical lives that we neglect our relationship with God, and it will take a conscious effort and decision to pray, read the Bible, meditate and listen to the Holy Spirit.  And the nature of having discipline or a goal does not take away from the authenticity of the relationships – quite the opposite, in fact.  It portrays our convictions and passions to intentionally set aside that time, even in the midst of everything else.  A wife feels loved and valued when a husband takes time out of his day to call, to stop for flowers or to take her on a date where they can talk deeply.  She actually feels more honored that he would value her enough to go through to effort of planning.

Not only is it not disrespectful or disingenuous to set aside a specific time to pray or have a quiet time every day, it is also not an expectation or sin for which God will condemn us if we fail.  If you have a standing phone date with a friend, and you forget once or twice, that friend will forgive you if it is not your habit to forget.  If you need to reschedule a lunch date with your wife, she will understand if you are not in the habit of blowing her off.  If you consistently forget or blow off your relationships, however, there will grow a distance between you and a very real problem is established.  The same is true with God.  You cannot have a relationship with God and be Spiritually healthy if you neglect Him.  If you oversleep one morning, however, or have a change of schedule and have your quiet time in the afternoon instead of the morning, He will not consider you a failure.

“Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you unless you abide in Me.  I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing.  If anyone does not abide in Me, he is thrown away as a branch and dries up; and they gather them, and cast them into the fire and they are burned.”

– John 15.4-6

Jesus commands us to abide in Him.  The term abide can be difficult to understand, as we rarely use it in day-to-day language.  The Greek term used translates as “to remain, to not depart” and also “to continue to be present, to continue to be held or kept”.  The implication is continual interaction and relationship.  Jesus explains Himself with the imagery of the vine.  A branch depends on the vine for sustenance and life.  A branch cannot survive, produce fruit or grow unless is draws sap from the vine.  So we, when we are Spiritually born, must draw our Spiritual life from Jesus.  We cannot live, grow or bear fruit unless we stay connected to Jesus.

So as the new year approaches, let’s be bold to set a goal to go deeper with Jesus.  He will not be mad at you if you miss a day or two, and will not consider you a failure.  Quite the opposite, in fact, the commitment to and any progress towards greater intimacy with Him is a beautiful reality that will strengthen your Spiritual walk, health and maturity.  Let us not put a weight on ourselves that He hasn’t put on us, but let us abide in Him and draw our life and strength from Him as our source, as our vine.

You will find that as you begin those habits, it will soon turn into a situation where you long for your time with the Lord and needing to reschedule from the morning to afternoon will leave you ready and excited for that time.  Or missing a morning will leave your day lacking.  Let’s change our attitudes about resolutions, not seeing it as an opportunity for failure but rather an opportunity to grow and change.  Let’s not beat ourselves up and give up if we miss a few days, but find commitment anew by the encouragement and strength we draw from the days we succeed!

How will you commit to the Lord this year?

His law is love and His Gospel is peace.

o holy night

Many hymns are packed with great theology and doctrine, many Christmas carols are marked by the same.  One of my favorites – musically and doctrinally – is O Holy Night:

O holy night!
The stars are brightly shining
It is the night of the dear Savior’s birth!
Long lay the world in sin and error pining
Till he appear’d and the soul felt its worth.
A thrill of hope the weary soul rejoices
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn!

Fall on your knees, Oh hear the angel voices
Oh night divine!  Oh night when Christ was born
Oh night divine, Oh night divine

Led by the light of Faith serenely beaming,
With glowing hearts by His cradle we stand.
So led by light of a star sweetly gleaming,
Here come the wise men from the Orient land.
The King of Kings lay thus in lowly manger;
In all our trials born to be our friend.

He knows our need, to our weaknesses no stranger,
Behold your King! Before Him lowly bend!
Behold your King, Before Him lowly bend!

Truly He taught us to love one another
His law is love and His gospel is peace
Chains shall He break for the slave is our brother
And in His name all oppression shall cease
Sweet hymns of joy in grateful chorus raise we,
Let all within us praise His holy name

Christ is the Lord! O praise His Name forever,
His power and glory evermore proclaim.
His power and glory evermore proclaim.

Before Jesus came to walk this Earth, he world lay long in sin and error pining.  God had written His perfect Law and explained to the nation of Israel exactly how He desired to be obeyed and honored.  For centuries the people tried and failed to keep the Law, revealing to them and to us that it is impossible to live up to God’s standards.  In sin they were pining away at life, needing hope and a savior.  But with the birth of Jesus came a thrill of hope.  He was here as the king of kings and the savior of souls, to conquer sin and to set the prisoner free.  And yet, as sovereign king, He was born amidst our trials and struggles to be our friend.

Thus our appropriate response to is fall on our knees in worship, in respect, and in love.

What did He teach us?  To love one another:  His law is love and His Gospel is peace.  He fulfilled the Mosaic Law and wrote an amendment:  to love our neighbors and our enemies as we love ourselves.  God will execute justice and judgement through the authorities and eternally, we are to express the love and forgiveness we have been offered to others freely.  His Gospel has freed us from the guilt and weight of sin by paying our debt of punishment and giving us the Holy Spirit who enables us to obey.  Thus we have peace with God.

Chains He shall break for the slave is our brother:  physically and Spiritually.  He has broken the social and hierarchical casts that separate us, as well as the spiritual bondage of sin.  One might still work in service to another, one might still be a slave to a master in life, but our eternal state is free and before God we are on equal playing grounds, and when He returns all oppression shall cease.

What shall we do in response?  Sing praises and hymns, proclaiming his power and glory forever.

Sing His praises today.  Engage your mind as your Christmas Pandora station continues to blast those carols.  Sometimes the melodies have become so familiar that the words pass our lips without engaging our minds and hearts, but let their deep and rich truths remind you again of the beauty of the Gospel and your eternal forgiveness.  All which started by Jesus’ birth as a baby, laid in a manger.

Is unity possible with someone you don’t like?

body-of-christ

We are now three more sleeps until Christmas – one of the few days where we find ourselves surrounded by family, fulfilling traditions, and celebrating the birth of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.  Some of us have wonderful, picturesque and happy families while others of us have dysfunctional ones, and some of us simply live too far away and/or do not have the money to make the trek home for the holidays.

But if you are a Christian, you have a different kind of family as well:  the family and body of Christ, your local church.  If you have been involved in your local church with any dedication and for any amount of time, you have probably noticed that there are as varied personalities there as there are within your natural family.  There are people you cannot wait to see, with whom you love to spend time, and there are those whom you would prefer to simply pass in the hallway.  There are kind, generous and thoughtful people as well as selfish, rude and abrasive people.  We have a little bit of everything.

But as the body of Christ, we have been called to be unified.  We have been called to love.  We have been called to sacrifice for one another.

“Complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind.”

– Phil 2.2

“Finally, all of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind.”

– 1 Peter 3.8

“I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment.”

– 1 Cor 1.10

“And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.”

– Col 3.14

“Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others.”

– Phil 2.3-4

Have you ever heard someone say, “I love him, but I do not like him”?  It is true that love is deeper than a mere emotional affection.  Love is the intentional choice to care for someone, to put his needs above our own, to serve another and look out for their best interests.  It is also true that it is possible to make that choice to honor, respect and love another person even if the other person’s personality is abrasive and you do not particularly care to be in his presence.

But is it possible to maintain that tension in our spirits for a long period of time?  Can we truly make the choice to love someone while our hearts cringe at the thought of being around him?  No.  I would argue we cannot.

Emotions and affections are reactionary.  We learn as children that when we make up our minds and choose a course of action, everything else follows.  Jesus said simply,

“…for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

– Matt 6.21

Jesus is speaking directly about earthy treasure versus eternal treasures.  If we set our minds and goals on money, toys, fame or anything on Earth, our hearts will follow in desiring and longing for those things.  If we set our minds and goals on eternal things like honoring God and salvation of the lost, our hearts and affections will be pleased with those things.

Not only are emotions reactionary, but Scripture teaches us that our hearts are wicked and deceptive above all else.

“The heart is more deceitful than all else
And is desperately sick;
Who can understand it?”

– Jer 17.9

Our flesh is marked by our sinful nature, and the natural desires that flow from it are wicked.  If we depend on our hearts to guide us, we will make evil decisions continually.  The emotion of hatred or not liking someone is a result of a wicked heart and unchecked emotions.

As the body of Christ, we have been called to unity.  Unity of mind, unity of purpose, without any division, exemplifying sympathy and brotherly love.  And we simply cannot pursue someone else’s best interest if we do not like him and choose to avoid him.

Ok, so that’s great and all, but what do I do if I do not like someone?

First of all, we need to examine the situation.  Step back and ask yourself, “Why do I not like this person?”  Did this person wrong you at some point in the past?  Was there reconciliation?  Are you jealous of this person for some reason?  Does his personality just rub you the wrong way?

If there is an unaddressed sin, then for the sake of both of your souls, it needs to be addressed.  We are warned strongly throughout Scripture to not make peace with sin or let it continue (Heb 10.26-27, Rom 8.13).  In fact, Scripture teaches us that when a brother is in sin it is our responsibility to humbly draw him to repentance, and if he will not repent to remove him from the church so as to not lead others into sin and hopefully draw him to repentance through that discipline (Gal 6.1, Matt 18.15-17, 1 Cor 5).  This is an act of love, because continuing in sin has the gravest of consequences.  We confront sin in humility, remembering our own sin and being acutely aware that we could be tempted and fall as well.

Was a sin or offense addressed, but you still are bitter?  This is a lack of forgiveness against which we must intentionally fight.  Jesus says that we will forgive in the same way that we have been forgiven, and if we are unwilling to forgive then we prove ourselves to have not been forgiven by God (Luke 7.47, Matt 6.15).  The root of bitterness is a terrible and sly temptation that will ruin us if we do not keep it in check (Heb 12.15).  Recognize in your heart that even if you feel justified in your bitterness, anger or hatred, it will destroy you.  And if Jesus, who is perfect and God can forgive you, then we are compelled to forgive others any offense.

Are you jealous of him?  Perhaps he has a beautiful wife, perfectly behaved children, a wonderful job or that charismatic personality you wish you had.  Or perhaps he speaks too bluntly, makes awkward observations, or has an annoying laugh.  These are heart and sin issues that we need to address without confronting or involving the other person.  Jealousy is a wicked deception of the devil, convincing us that God has not been as good to us as He has to another person.  This is conquered by intentional thankfulness and pursuit of God’s direction in your life.  He may not be giving you money because you would become unfaithful with it.  He may have given you difficult children to grow your faith.  He may have you in your specific job to make a kingdom impact, even if the job is terrible.  God has a perfect and sovereign plan for your life, do not dishonor Him by wishing you had someone else’s, but trust and follow Him.

It is true that we will not be accountability partners, best friends or bosom buddies with everyone.  We simply do not have the time or emotional capability to do so.  Jesus chose twelve disciples, and of those twelve had three closest friends, and He was able to maintain this many relationships in part because He did not go in to an office from 9:00-5:00 every day.

It is also true that in the process of discipleship, people will fail and need to gain victory over specific personality flaws.  Thus, if a man has committed adultery and proven Himself unfaithful, then there is a season of growth, accountability and restoration required before he should be trusted fully again.  If someone has stolen money from the church, he needs to prove his repentance and be restored before serving on the financial team again.  If someone has been caught in a lie, then a system of checks and balances is established for a season while he is restored.

But all of these situations must be confronted and handled in love.  If we have been forgiven, then we must forgive one another.  If someone is seeking to confess and restore himself in the wake of a sin, then it is the body’s responsibility to pray for him and walk with him in that process.  If we never allow him to regain honor or trust, then we are sinning against him.  We, as the body, should be in the business of forgiving and restoring people – just as Jesus forgives and restores us.  We are all going to fall, and we all need grace from God and grace from one another.

As a unified and united body, we will have close friends, we will have acquaintances, and in a large enough body, we will have people whom we have never met.  What is important is that we have a unified heart to love and honor God, that we have a unified mission in reaching our communities and world, and that we are intentionally seeking one another’s well being through brotherly love.  If a need arises in the church, do we jump to meet it?  Do we encourage one another by helping people get connected and involved?

In short, we need to check our hearts.  Our hearts will deceive us and validate our sinful tendencies if we do not keep them aligned with Scripture.  We are commanded to love one another the very same way we love ourselves (Matt 22.39).  So those quirks and tendencies that we overlook in ourselves, we are commanded to overlook in other people.  Those allowances we make for ourselves, we are commanded to make for other people.  And if we care for one another in brotherly love, then we humbly and intentionally address sin that we see in one another.

Remember also, that we are united as a body – working towards a goal.  The Church should not be static relationships, but strategic team work towards impacting the kingdom.  We must therefore intentionally value what everyone brings to the table (1 Cor 12), and when we see a bigger picture we can value others more easily.

Thus we must be unified with someone that we do not like, but we should not be content to “not like” a brother or sister in Christ.  That is an emotional reaction to a bigger issue, which we need to address in our hearts.  Pray for him.  If you pray for someone long enough, you will begin to care about him on a selfless and real level.

So let’s get real with ourselves, with God, and with one another.  Are you harboring anything against someone else?  Confront it – either in your own heart, with God, or with the other person.  Do not let division begin in your Church, that is one of Satan’s greatest tactics to neutralize our effect in our communities and world.  Put one another above yourself.  Love boldly.  Remember that we are working together.  And trust God for the outcome.

Jesus is Lord.

sheldon cooper

Last week my husband and I were watching the Big Bang Theory.  Sheldon, one of the main characters, is the son of a “good baptist woman” from Texas, but as a scientist rejects the existence of God.  When he and his friends almost miss the opportunity to buy tickets to see the new Star Wars movie, however, Sheldon dropped to his knees and began praying.  He said,

“Lord! This is Sheldon Cooper. You’re good friends with my mom. I know I’ve spent my life denying that you exist [then the guys announce they got through and got the tickets]…and I will continue to do so!”

This near prayer is poignantly accurate on many levels, spiritually.  He verbalizes what many of us unknowingly and/or unintentionally do.  We know that Jesus is Lord, but we do not submit to Him in our daily lives and we consider Him our cosmic genie who helps us out in our moments of distress and need.  Sheldon needed tickets to see Star Wars, so he turned to Jesus to make it happen, but as soon as he got what he wanted he walked away.

Now, I would venture to guess that none of us are so aware of our pettiness and if we call ourselves Christians we would never verbalize (or even realize) that we live most of our lives as though Jesus does not exist.  If we honestly look at our day-to-day lives, however, how true would we find it to be?  There are a few key points that we need to recognize here:

First of all, Jesus is Lord.  When we turn to prayer, or when we start to explain Jesus to someone else, often times the term we use is “Lord”.  Unfortunately, lord is an old-english word that we rarely use today, mostly because there is no one who functions in the office of lord in our daily lives.  Lord, generically defined, is someone who has power or authority, but the office of lord in the feudal system was one to whom a vassal owed complete sworn allegiance.  The lord had authority, as a ruler and influencer, but there was a greater bond than boss/employee, it was overarching all of life.  The vassal was dependent upon and loyal to the lord.

This is the implication of Jesus as Lord we must understand.  As a Christian, we depend upon Christ for life and sustenance, and we are loyal to Him in our daily activities and lifestyles.  He has written the moral law, the expectations and outlines of life, and we submit to and obey them, while depending on Him for the ability to do so.  Jesus is both authority and life giver.

Thus, the second point is clear:  we do not make Him Lord.  My father has a pet peeve in Christian-isms, and that is the exhortation to “Make Jesus your Lord”.  The sentiment is right, but the wording is wrong.  Jesus is Lord.  When He arose from the dead and ascended back to Heaven, He sat down at the right hand of the throne of God (Mark 16.19).  He has been given all authority over Heaven and Earth (Matt 22.18).  He holds the keys to Hell (Rev 1.18).  He is the judge who will welcome some to eternal life and send others to Hell (Rev 20.11-15).  He is Lord.  He is in charge.  We do not have any authority or power to make Him Lord, we only choose to submit or rebel against Him.

Our salvation depends on our submission, however.  Sheldon was right.  Jesus is Lord, however he is sadly living as though He does not exist.  Paul teaches us clearly about salvation:

“…if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved…”

– Rom 10.9

Salvation is our recognition of our sin guilt, belief that Jesus paid that debt, and submission to Him as our Lord.  We cannot ask Him to forgive us and continue on in life doing our own thing.  When we confess our sins, the Holy Spirit begins the work of changing us and enabling us to kill our sinful passions and live a life to the glory and honor of God.  He actually changes our passions so that we desire to live holy and righteous lives, and we hate those things that God hates.  If you do not hate your sin, chances are that the Holy Spirit is not indwelling you, Jesus is not your Lord, and you are not saved.

In summary, Jesus is the Lord.  He has been exalted above all of creation and given all authority and power.

“Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.  For this reason also, God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

– Phil 2.9-11

We do not make Him Lord, rather we choose to submit to Him or choose to rebel against Him.  And our eternity depends on that critical daily decision.

“For if we go on sinning willfully after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a terrifying expectation of judgment and the fury of a fire which will consume the adversaries.

– Heb 10.26-27

The authority and power is not in our hands.  We cannot make Jesus our Lord.  He already is.  So let’s humble ourselves today, confess Him as Lord anew, and walk by the power of the Holy Spirit in submission to Him.  Recognize sin as how He defines sin.  Hate the things that He hates.  Love the things that He loves.  Obey the commandments He has given, to love God, love our neighbors, bless our enemies and make disciples of all nations.

Just be good for goodness’ sake.

american-atheists-billboard

Lifeway research has found that seven out of ten unchurched people have never been invited to church, and “eighty-two percent of the unchurched are at least somewhat likely to attend church if invited”(Dr. Thom Rainer, The Unchurched Next Door).  Interestingly enough, however, is this year’s holiday ad run by the American Atheists that references the popular Christmas song Santa Claus is Coming to Town, encouraging people to “just be good for goodness’ sake” and to skip church.  While culture is still widely open to at least exploring church, there is now a voice encouraging them that there is no essential need.

This is the root of American worldview, is it not?  Be good.  Just do your best.  Work hard and you will get a reward.  While this is not reality in much of the professional world, we have convinced the millennials that they deserve a high paying job that will change the world and satisfy them just because they exist.  We are teaching our children that everyone is a winner, just for trying.  Do your best, and define your own truth, it is all about you and your happiness.  You deserve it.

The philosophical problem with this worldview is clear, however:  How do we define good?  Who has the final say, if we all get to have autonomy?  Is it the law?  Is it some social standard that has been established culturally?  Is it some ever-progressing line of tolerance and acceptance?

We often seek to define “good” as not hurting anyone else.  This definition is weak, as it is the negative definition.  Instead of saying “benefiting others”, it simply is the void of doing harm to another.  But are we willing to say that anything is good, as long as it hurts no one?  Are we also willing to say that anything that hurts another is not good?  Is stopping a terrorist or locking up a murderer not good?  Is lying on our income taxes good, since it hurts no one?

And thus we are quickly left at a philosophical impasse.  As long as we are independent creatures with no higher authority, there cannot be an absolute truth and therefore no unifying good and evil.  There is no way to define good, en masse.

In order to adhere to true atheism, one must deny the existence of God – or any higher power.  We exist, and then we die.  When we die we cease to exist.  There is no moral law, other than what we define for ourselves and there is no ultimate meaning to life.  One cannot truly live by this worldview, however.  The moment he is threatened, the moment he is robbed, the moment his wife or child suffers, the moral law of God that is written on his heart begins to react, even if the thief is stealing simply to provide for his own family.

Thus we need a higher power to define good and evil for us.  Thankfully, God has.  We have the Ten Commandments.  We have the Old Covenant Law.  And we also have the Law of Christ giving throughout the Gospels and the New Testament.  We clearly see throughout Scripture that there is no possible way any human being can perfectly keep the law (Rom 3.23).  We have all lied.  We have all coveted our friends or neighbor’s belongings.  We have all lusted at some point in our lives.  We have all not honored God as first in our lives, kept the Sabbath or honored our parents.

Scripture teaches us that God’s standard is perfection, not “good”.  He kicked Adam and Eve out of His presence for eating a piece of fruit which He had told them to not eat.  Did you ever eat that cookie after your mom told you no?  Then you are as guilty as Adam and Eve – guilty of death and eternity in Hell.  But that is the very purpose of the Law:  to show us our guilt and need for a savior (Rom 5.20).  Since we are incapable of reaching God’s standard of goodness, we need a savior to rescue us from our sin and peril.

Enter:  Jesus.  He was God, and He was man.  He came to the Earth in human form and lived a perfect life, one not deserving death (because the punishment for sin is death – Rom 6.23).  But He suffered death and separation from God in our place, so that we can be forgiven.  God cannot simply overlook sin.  If we apologize to God for our sin, that does not appease His wrath for it.  Therefore, He poured His wrath out upon Jesus so that He can forgive our sin.  Jesus became our sin, paid the penalty for it so that we can become His righteousness (2 Cor 5.21).  He switched places with us, and it requires of us only faith (Eph  2.8-9).

When we recognize our guilt, when we confess our sins, and when we ask for forgiveness, we are born again and the Holy Spirit takes up residence in us to enable us to begin the process of dying to sin and living to righteousness.  He alone enables us to be good – according to His definition of good.

We can never be good enough on our own.  That is the truth we all know, deep down in our gut.  This is also the beauty of Christianity, that we do not have to strive to be good enough to earn God’s favor or merit.  We simply have to believe, and trust Him, and allow the Holy Spirit to transform us from the inside out.

So this holiday season, let us rejoice in the fact that Jesus has paid our debt and we can be welcomed into the presence of God by His merit and not our own.  Let us encourage people to not be good for goodness’ sake, but to know and love God.  And while there is a voice encouraging people to skip church, let’s remember that most will come if we only invite them – and Christmas is perhaps the most opportune time to invite them, since it is a holiday celebrating Jesus’ birth!  Let’s bring them in.  Let’s tell them the beautiful truth that we do not have to be good enough.  Let’s tell them the story.

 

The Sinner’s Prayer Won’t Save You.

sinners-prayer

It was hot:  high nineties, 100% humidity, tromping around on the equator during a mission trip with a group of untrained, well meaning Christians.  We walked into the local open-air market in teams of two, looking to engage anyone we could in meaningful conversation – you know, “In the marketplace” (not the intention of the phrase).  My partner and I approached a young man selling handicrafts, and found ourselves quickly in a conversation about religion.  Because of his belief system, he admitted that he did not know what would happen after death, but was hoping for God to be merciful in light of the good deeds he had preformed.  Then my partner said something that has forever been etched on my mind:

“If there was something you could say so that you could know you would go straight to Heaven, would you want to say it?”

We as Christians fundamentally believe that there is no way we could ever be good enough to earn God’s favor.  That is the whole point of the Gospel, and the need for grace.  God’s standard is perfection.  None of us will ever attain perfection because we have all sinned, and therefore we need a Savior who can intervene for us.  Enter Jesus.  He came to the world and lived a sinless life, and then suffered death and separation from God to pay the debt that we owe.  He took our place so that we could be forgiven of our sins and made righteous before God.

Therefore we know that we are saved by grace alone through faith alone.  I cannot earn it.  You cannot earn it.  We will never be good enough, it depends solely on Jesus.

“For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.”

– Eph 2.8-9

What, then, does that look like?  What does that mean?  Scripture teaches us that we must confess our sins (1 John 1.9), we must believe (Acts 16.31), and confess Jesus as Lord (Rom 10.9).  Over the years, we have blended these truths into a beautiful little package we now call “The sinner’s prayer”.  The faithful will remind us that it is not the words said, but the heart behind it – and it is not a phrase we memorize verbatim, but the sentiment is the same:  confess our guilt, admit our belief, and ask for forgiveness.

We must do those things.  Unless the cry of our heart is our confession of guilt, admission of belief, request for forgiveness and submission to Jesus as Lord, we will not be saved.

The prayer, however, holds no power in-and-of itself.  You cannot recite the prayer and be covered eternally.  Islam has the Shahada, a verbal recitation that will immediately begin one’s life as a Muslim.  You must say it to be a Muslim and the words alone, they believe, have power.  It is not so with Christianity.  We recognize New Birth as the beginning point of Spiritual life.

Jesus told Nicodemus that in order to be saved, one must be born a second time:  born Spiritually (John 3).  Ezekiel teaches us that God enters into our lives, removes our heart of stone – the heart that is dead, and replaces it with a heart of flesh – one that is alive and moldable by God.

“Moreover, I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.”

– Ez 36.26

We do not make this happen by reciting a prayer or mantra.  Rather, we cry out to God in confession in response to this happening.

Here’s where it gets tricky.  No one wants to go to Hell.  Sure, some people might say that they would prefer Hell, but the moment the realize what Hell actually is, they will regret that statement.  People might be seeking a comfortable eternity after living a self-serving life, and thus recite the sinner’s prayer.  Children might want to please their parents or have a minimal understanding of cause and effect and therefore recite the sinner’s prayer.  There are an abundance of reasons one might recite the prayer, but unless it is the utterance of a heart of flesh, of the Spiritually new-born, it means nothing.  It is superstitious and wicked – in that it offers a false assurance to the reciter and to those around him.

How then do you know if you are saved?  Scripture teaches us that when we are born again we are made into an entirely new creation:

“Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come.”

– 2 Cor 5.17

Scripture also teaches us that before we know Christ, we are Spiritually dead:

“And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience.”

– Eph 2.1-2

But when we come to Christ, we are born again and we are alive.  How do you know you are born again?  How do you know that you are saved?  If you are alive.  Does the Holy Spirit convict your heart?  Do you enjoy Jesus?  Are you changed, now hating your sin and the things that dishonor God?

Too many parents have assured themselves that their children are “safe” because they walked an aisle and said a prayer when they were six.  Too many friends have let one another live sinful and wicked lives because they made a commitment at youth camp.  Too many missionaries have assured hearers that they are eternally secure because they said a prayer.

The prayer is just the beginning.  Our lives will immediately begin to transform after being born again and confessing Jesus as Lord.  If you life is not changing, if your child’s actions are not driven by the work of the Holy Spirit, if your friend continues the same exact life style, if the national on the mission field is not a new creation who longs for and loves Jesus, then they are not saved.  They have simply followed our superstitious instructions to make sure that they do not go to Hell, or to make us happy.

So let us stop and consider our own Spiritual life.  Are you resting your eternity on a prayer you recited at some point in your life?  Or on a dynamic Spiritual walk with Jesus Christ?  Did you walk an aisle?  Or were you born again and made into a new creation?

Let us also stop and consider our evangelism methods.  Yes, we want to rescue the perishing from Hell.  But more importantly, we should desire to introduce them to Jesus, who is our life, our joy, our peace, our everything.  Is Jesus your get-out-of-Hell free card?  Or is He your Savior and your life?

Resist the temptation to placate yourself and others on the notion that a simple prayer will assure our eternity.  Eternity is a big chip to gamble.  Let’s make sure we know Jesus, we have been born again and made alive, and that when we see Him face to face He will welcome us into His presence.

Look Beyond the Star

christmas star

Have you heard the story of Jesus’ birth?  Do you have a nativity scene set up somewhere in your living room as part of you Christmas decorations?  Do you remember the part about the star?

“Now after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea in the days of Herod the king, magi from the east arrived in Jerusalem, saying, ‘Where is He who has been born King of the Jews?  For we saw His star in the east and have come to worship Him.’  When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him.  Gathering together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born.  They said to him, ‘In Bethlehem of Judea; for this is what has been written by the prophet:
“And you, Bethlehem, Land of Judah,
are by no means least among the leaders of Judah;
for our of you shall come forth a ruler
who will shepherd my people Israel.”’
Then Herod secretly called the magi and determined from them the exact time the star appeared.  And he sent them to Bethlehem and said, ‘Go and search carefully for the Child; and when you have found Him, report to me, so that I too may come and worship Him.’  After hearing the king, they went their way; and the star, which they had seen in the east, went on before them until it came and stood over the place where the Child was.  When they saw the star, they rejoiced exceedingly with great joy.”

– Matt 2.1-10

The gospels Matthew and Luke give detailed accounts of the birth of Jesus.  Luke teaches us that shepherds came and saw Jesus the night of His birth, and Matthew teaches us about the wise men coming in from the East. The book of Matthew was written for a Jewish audience.  He deals with prophecies, with the Law and with Jesus as the Messiah, but he very intentionally teaches that Jesus came to be the savior of the world, and he therefore begins his story with Jesus being worshiped by non-Jewish men of wealth who were led to Him by a star and ends the story with the Great Commission.

There is much glory in the coming of the magi.  It is a fulfillment of prophecy:

“Nations will come to your light,
And kings to the brightness of your rising.”

– Is 60.3

And their gifts spoke to His identity and purpose as Messiah on the Earth.  Gold was a costly gift befitting a king, frankincense was an incense symbolizing His deity, and myrrh was an embalming oil used in burial which foreshadowed His death.  The wise men were wise enough to know that the King of the Jews whom they sought was also the Messiah.  Notice that they asked Herod where the “King of the Jews” had been born, and after having a conversation with them Herod called for the priests and scribes and asked where the Messiah was to be born.

But nestled in this glorious story is that pesky detail of the star.  Much has been said about the star.  The magi have been called astrologers because they saw and followed it.  Books have been written about the nature of the star.  Ideas have been formed and many have been distracted by this relatively insignificant detail.  We are told that a star appeared and the wise men followed it.  Based on the time of the appearance of the star, Herod had every child under the age of two years murdered, so it is possible that they saw and followed the star for up to two years.  The star apparently led them to Jerusalem, or they understood its appearance to signify the coming of the Messiah, and it reappeared to direct them from Jerusalem to Bethlehem, and they rejoiced at its appearing.

Bethlehem is five miles from Jerusalem.  They had been instructed by the priests to go there, and then the star reappeared.  How can this be?  How can a star in outer space direct someone five miles?  And “stand over the place where the child was”?

While is it an extremely interesting facet to the story, it is secondary – a peripheral point.  Yes, it led the wise men to Jesus.  Yes, it designated the guidelines Herod used to murder the children which fulfilled prophecy and typologies with Moses.  But the glory and importance of the Christmas story is God taking on the form of a human being and entering into history as our savior.

It is very easy to get caught up in secondary issues.  You have probably met those people in your church who are continually digging into and distracted by those peripheral and unimportant matters:  was it really an apple that Eve ate?  How did God get the manna and quail to the Israelites?  If the sun stopped in the sky, does that mean the world stopped rotating?  If so, how did everyone not fly off the face of the Earth because of the lack of gravity?  How big of a wind would be required to part the Red Sea?  Did Jesus really go preach to spirits in Hell?  Christmas and Easter are pagan holidays that Christians just added our meaning to…

Instead of focusing on Jesus, being broken over sin, clinging to Him for salvation and meditating on the glory of God, we can find ourselves wasting energy fighting over if it is evil to set up a Christmas tree or have an Easter egg hunt.  But Jesus came with a purpose:  To seek and to save that which was lost (Luke 19.10).  He came to rescue us from our sin, to give us the Holy Spirit who indwells believers and enables them to live godly lives, dying to sin.  To show us the way to eternity with Him.

As we continue through this advent season for the next week, do take the time to reflect on the beautiful details of the story of Christ’s birth which Scripture offers us.  Think about the star, and the sovereign God who caught the attention of wealthy scholars who would travel for up to two years to see the child.  Reflect on the fact that He is in control of everything, including the universe outside of the World, and utilizes supernatural occurrences to bring about His plan.  But when you enter into Bible study, when you teach your children the story, when you go to church and when you consider the faith, intentionally focus your heart and mind on those things that make an eternal impact.  Keep the secondary issues secondary, and glorify Jesus.  Look beyond the star, and see to what it is pointing.

Does mentorship have to be from an elder?

mentor

The natural process of life is that children are born into the world helpless and completely dependent.  They learn and grow quickly, always asking parents, teachers and other “grown ups” the meaning of a word or how to accomplish some goal.  As a child, you assume that grown-ups know everything, and you trust what they tell you to be the truth.  As a child, and even as a youth, I believed that all adults were very wise, mature in relationship skills and decision making, and Spiritually mature.  One day, however, my dad did tell me that sometimes obnoxious children grow up to be obnoxious adults.  My eyes began to slowly open.

I was in high school and college during the initial thrust of peer-led small groups and Bible study.  In school they were developing “Peer Mediation” teams, where I was trained over a few months to help other students work out their problems without having to go to an authority.  At Church, as a fourteen year old Freshman, I was coached to teach and lead a small group Bible study, with students that were even older than me!

I drew strength from verses like 1 Tim 4:12,

“Let no one look down on your youthfulness, but rather in speech, conduct, love, faith and purity, show yourself an example of those who believe.”

I read a lot of books, and learned much from regular and deep conversations with my parents.  But then in college, our campus ministry emphasized a discipleship program where peers mentored peers.  The upper classmen, by virtue of being one or two years older, had great wisdom and responsibility to perpetuate the cycle of Bible studies, community, and discipleship – all outside of a local church.

There developed a very real void and lack of understanding or respect for inter-generational mentorship and discipleship.  We already section off our kids by age for school, sports, events and Sunday School, and we train them to only know and interact with their peers.  Thus that is where they are comfortable.  Their worldview becomes very small and limited to whatever fad is big for their current life-stage.

This is a relatively new cultural phenomenon.  Throughout history and around the world, it has been common place that elders receive the greatest honor and respect.  They were often given the seat of honor at the table, they had the final say, and most cultures had a system of the eldest child living at home with the parents, thus having multiple generations under one roof.

“A gray head is a crown of glory;
It is found in the way of righteousness.”

– Prov 16.31

There is a fundamental and essential discipleship that must happen inter-generationally.  Struggles we are facing and questions we have have been experienced and answered successfully before us.  Sometimes we are discouraged in a phase of life, and we just need an experienced voice to let us know that it will not last forever.  And sometimes we actually need instruction for how to navigate new waters.

Paul taught us that older women must teach the younger women how to love their husbands and children!

Older women likewise are to be reverent in their behavior, not malicious gossips nor enslaved to much wine, teaching what is good,so that they may encourage the young women to love their husbands, to love their children, to be sensible, pure, workers at home, kind, being subject to their own husbands, so that the word of God will not be dishonored.

– Titus 2.3-5

Love seems to be natural for a wife and mother, but sometimes we act foolishly believing it is best and loving.  Sometimes we spoil out of love and create a monster.  Those who have gone before us can offer us insight into those decisions.

But there will also come times when younger people need to speak truth into older people’s lives.  Like Timothy.  He was a young pastor, and found himself in a situation where he had to teach older men the truths about God and Jesus.

Consider the mission field, for example.  A missionary couple in their twenties or thirties is by very definition entering a foreign culture to teach a truth which is new and different from anything this host culture has ever heard.  They will have to teach people of all ages, and answer those extremely difficult questions about their long-standing beliefs and loved ones who have already passed away.

But here at home, too.  Any person of faith – at any age – can lead another person to faith – of any age.  A high school student can adequately know and communicate the Gospel to a senior citizen.  He can also teach basic spiritual disciplines like prayer, Scripture memory, daily quiet times, tithing and church involvement.  He will not be able to communicate experiential knowledge of raising a family by faith, or making career choices by faith, but it can and should happen that we recognize spiritual wisdom and truth from people of any age.

We should also not let our age be a hindrance to us, no matter where we find ourselves in life.  If God is calling you, you are neither too old nor too young:

But the LORD said to me,
“Do not say, ‘I am a youth,’
Because everywhere I send you, you shall go,
And all that I command you, you shall speak.
But the LORD said to me,
“Do not say, ‘I am a youth,’
Because everywhere I send you, you shall go,
And all that I command you, you shall speak.

– Jer 1.7-9

In short, we all have something to learn from one another.  Truth can be communicated from any age, and sometimes a fresh perspective from another age will speak a truth to us in the way we need to hear it.  There is always a level of experience that can help teach through a situation, but age and experience does not always mean wisdom.  Thus we must function as a body.  We must know, interact with, and learn from people of all ages.  We must recognize truth and wisdom when we hear it and learn discernment for things that are not truth.

So let’s get out there and start breaking down some of our age-barriers.  Let God bring people of all walks of life into your world, and we will all benefit and grow.