Sunday, March 10, 2013

Your Biggest Witness

As Christians we sing songs of praise, songs of victory, songs of faith and songs of adoration every Sabbath or every Sunday. We listen to Christian radio. We teach Sunday school, Sabbath school and various Bible studies. We preach, lead in worship, go on missions trips, lead men's and women's groups; translate scriptures, give sacrificially or are even prayer warriors. Yet none of these are our biggest witness. In fact, as the Apostle Paul said in 1 Corinthians 13:1-3:

        "If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels,
          but have not love, I am only a resounding gong
          or clanging symbol... and if I have a faith that can
          remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.
          If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender
          my body to the flames, but have not love,
          I gain nothing." 

So what is your biggest witness? Love for one another demonstrated through unity in Christ. One of Jesus' last prayers was, "My prayer is...that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me... May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me." (John 17:20-23)

It was Jesus who also said, the greatest commandment is "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all soul and with all your mind... And the second is like it: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments." (Matthew 22:37-40)

Then in 1 John 5:3, the Word says, "This is love for God: to obey his commands." In fact, the way that we know that we have come to know God is if we obey his commands. "The man who says, 'I know him,' but does not do what he commands is a liar, and the truth is not in him." (1John 2:3-4)

How is love demonstrated among us? Yes, it is when we give of our time in service. Yes, it is when we give of our resources to the poor and serve one another. However, the biggest demonstration of love is unity in Christ- in obedience to God's commands.

Love isn't all the grandiose things that we do for God or in God's name. It's how we treat one another. "Love is patient, love is kind...It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.(!) It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.(!) Love never fails..." (1 Corinthians 13:4-8)

Since then this is the character of love, why are we not bearing with one another more? Why do we not endeavor to walk in unity, to overcome misunderstandings and offenses? If we say that we are following Christ, that we are his disciples and have the power of his Holy Spirit within us, ought we not then to more readily overcome the perceived slights or offenses that we may encounter from within the body of Christ?

I reiterate Paul's appeal in 1 Corinthians chapter one, "I appeal to you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another so that there may be no divisions among you and that you may be perfectly united in mind and thought."
To agree with one another does not mean that we will agree on every point, for it is clear in scripture even the disciples didn't agree on every tenet of faith. For example, the Word of God says in Romans 14: "One man's faith allows him to eat everything, but another man, whose faith is weak, eats only vegetables...One man considers one day more sacred than another; another man considers every day alike... let us stop passing judgement on one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put a stumbling block or obstacle in your brother's way...Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and mutual edification. " (Verses: 2, 5, 13, 19)

The world will not come to know Christ because of the gospel we preach with our mouths, but rather with the gospel we preach with our lives. Paul told Timothy in 1Timothy 4, "...set an example for the believers in speech, in life, in love, in faith and in purity" (verse12). And to "Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers" (verse 16).

Jesus loved us with his life. "If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ...if any fellowship with the Spirit..." Paul exhorted, "then make my joy complete by being likeminded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. Your attitude should be the same as that of Jesus Christ..." (Philippians 2:1-5)

When you're tempted to give up on someone, a relationship, a brother or sister in Christ, or even your church, think of Jesus' prayer: "My prayer is...that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me... May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me." (John 17:20-23)

Your biggest witness is demonstrated in how you love and get along with your brother and sister in Christ. How's your witness?

My prayer:
"May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give (us) a spirit of unity among (ourselves) as (we) follow Christ Jesus, so that with one heart and mouth (we) may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ." Amen
(Romans 15:5)

Friday, January 25, 2013

What's Wrong With Traditions?

The Pharisees said to Jesus, "'Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders?...' Jesus replied, 'And why do you break the command of God for the sake of your tradition?... You nullify the word of God for the sake of your tradition.'" Matthew 15:2,3,6

Years ago I heard this story (paraphrase). A mother was about to bake pork roast for the holiday season. After seasoning the roast, she cut off about an inch off the long end on each side. Her young daughter asked her, "Mom, why do you cut off the ends of the roast?" Her mom answered, "That's a good question. I learned that from my mom and she learned it from her mom but I'm not sure why it's done." So the mother of the little girl asked her mother and her mother didn't know either. It was just tradition. Thankfully, the great grandmother was still alive. When the great grandmother was asked why she'd always cut off the ends of the pork roast she said, "Because the pan I cooked it in was too small. I had to cut the ends off to make the roast fit." What was wrong with that tradition?

Some traditions are great and meaningful, while others are outdated or even deliberately invented with evil or devious intent. In this passage of scripture Jesus rebuked the Pharisees and teachers of the law because they created a  tradition to circumvent God's commandment. Read it for yourself when you get a chance (Matthew 15:1-20). Jesus called them hypocrites! He repeated the words of Isaiah's prophesy, "'These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain; their teachings are but rules taught by men'" (verses 8-9).

I would like to think that the majority of traditions have their roots in good intentions, but it would be naive of me to believe that there aren't many traditions that were also deliberately developed with the intention to misguide and even repress others. The apostle Paul instructed the Colossians to, "See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy; which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ." (Colossians 2:8)

We have to be alert, prayerful and discerning of practices in which we participate; especially in the church and among believers. Satan is cunning. He often uses man's good traditions and practices to blind men and rob them of God's best. Scripture is replete with such examples and Jesus exposed the malady of them at every turn.

For example Jesus said to one man, "'Follow me.' But the man replied, 'Lord, first let me go and bury my father.'" (Luke 9:59) Well that was a reasonable and good practice. What was wrong with that? Only that it trumped God's direction at that time. God in the flesh was telling the man to follow Him now, not in a few weeks or months, as the traditional process for a Jewish burial and time of mourning required. (The Jewish mourning for a parent lasted up to twelve months.)

 In Matthew chapter 5, Jesus lists a series of traditions and laws and gives a higher, unearthly (heavenly) outlook. Jesus said, "You have heard it said to the people long ago, 'Do not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment. But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment." Again he said, "It has been said, 'Anyone who divorces his wife must give her a certificate of divorce.' But I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, causes her to become an adulteress... Again, you have heard that it was said to people long ago, 'Do not break your oath, but keep the oaths you have made to the Lord.' But I tell you, Do not swear at all;...' You have heard it said, 'An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.' But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also."

What about the good practice and tradition of hospitality, can anything be wrong with that? In Luke chapter 10, Jesus visits the home of Martha and Mary. In this passage Mary is sitting at the feet of Jesus listening to what he had to say. On the other hand, Martha was running around making preparations for her guest. Frustrated with Mary's apparent  slackness, Martha approaches Jesus and asked, "Lord, don't you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!" To which Jesus replied, "Martha, Martha,... you are worried and upset about many things. But only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better..." (Luke 10:38-42)

What is wrong with traditions? Nothing as long as they do no supersede God's plan, God's word, or God's way.

As you continue on your journey through 2013, I encourage you not to get so busy and caught up in the traffic and traditions of life that you fail to take time to listen for God's instructions that may be contrary to life's normal routines. Remember Isaiah 55 which says, "God's ways are higher than our ways and his thoughts are higher than our thoughts." Don't let your traditions, trump God's direction.