CHECKLISTS AND CHECKLISTS

1.Hear, Believe, Repent, Confess, be Baptized (check). 2. Acapella Singing (check). 3. Congregational Autonomy (check). 4. Elders (check). 5. That Which Every Joint Supplies, the Proper Working of Each Individual Part (       ).

Ephesians as the “church” epistle supports the 5th identification on our checklist above (Ephesians 4:16). You and I will decide if there will be a check and, if so, how big a check Jesus will place in the box. The elementary matters of 1-4 are fairly easy to affirm (though there really is more to them than is sometimes understood),however the fifth consideration on the list asks for more; relates to how well we practice connected, united, common purpose body/family service.

A question is then what are my niches? Hopefully, we all have more than one. With my involvement in mind, if the level of my church commitment to service were transferred to a spot with the Hilltoppers, what would the sports writers say and how well would the team fare considering the value of my contribution to the whole? Looking at this participation principle from a spiritual point of view, how fittingly am I described by Paul’s statement regarding my ability to suffer and rejoice with other members of the body (I Cor. 12:26)?

Okay, I understand that you and I are human and thus saddled with limitations hindering us from perfect performance. However, Jesus, the builder of the church, did not have the Spirit speak of expected relationships without His having some expectation that these relationships would be more than puny.

I also know that Rome was not built in a day. We are all works in progress; improvement comes with time. Also, progress involving a group can be messy at times. Therefore, the question isn’t whether or not we have arrived at perfection, rather it is a question asked about if we are consistently taking the next step. Is there movement? What tangible progress is evident in my life and in the life of the congregation?

A local congregation is expected by God to provide an environment conducive to growth. Individual Christians are expected to take advantage of this and grow. Even if the congregation’s environment is not helping me as much as I think it should, my responsibility before God remains. There is no way to escape my duty and privilege as a Christian to do the best I can to make things better in the Kingdom.

How does my “checklist” look? Is is just a checklist of outward behaviors or does it address my spirit and its ongoing quest for Christ-likeness? Who has made my checklist, me and my selfish, unambitious attempts to place my “commitments” in a rather small box, or Jesus who wants to own me?

In The World, But Not Of The World

Jesus is our perfect model for being in the world, but not of the world.
He was found where people were found, ate what people ate, lived in a political world without being absorbed in politics, surrounded by a wide gamut of social issues yet never lost sight of His Father’s balanced agenda, always put God first while remaining amazingly approachable.

We need to examine carefully His example lest our good intentions distort the priorities of the Kingdom. God is not the God of our cause; He has his on agenda. Christ-likeness, therefore, is not just the best way to go, it is the only way.

OMMM, A “MANTRA” FOR EFFECTIVE CHRISTIANITY

OMMM, not really a mantra, but an acrostic to pursue successful Christianity.

OBJECTIVE (needing to be objectified), CHRIST-LIKENESS (Rom. 8:29; Phil. 2:5; Gal. 2:20).

MOTIVATION, JESUS (Jn. 14:15, 23; I Cor. 5:14-15).

MATERIAL, SCRIPTURE (II Tim. 3:16-17; Jn. 17:17)

METHOD(S), CHRIST-IMITATED (Acts 1:1; I Cor. 11:1).

These create a synergistic effect that is powerful in the most extreme way. Jesus, however, must be the key in this energizing of Christianity. He must shape it, define it, motivate it, supply it, lead it, and serve as its model in every way!
This will work if we are willing to make the commitment. It is in fact, how Christianity is supposed to function (Rom. 8:29; I Cor. 2:10-16; II Cor. 3:18; Gal. 2:20, 4:19; Eph. 3:16-17; 4:11-16; Phil. 2:5; Col. 1:24-29; I Pet. 3:15, etc.).

THE MATURITY OF NEW COVENANT RULES

The Old Covenant is in many ways, but not in all, more elementary than the New. Therefore, we encounter more lists, more ceremony, and more regulations to restrain immature conduct.
The New Covenant is developed more along the lines of mature, abstract principles. By its nature it is a more “grown up” revelation (Heb. 5:12-14; 6:1-3; Gal. 3:21-4:7; Eph. 4:13-16).
Nevertheless, it is not the case that the principles of the New Covenant do not allow for inferences both concrete and abstract. Mature thought is expected. Such thought allows Christians to draw conclusions that lead to well-developed, specific actions.
As with the human growth process, there comes a time when warnings about playing in the street would be rather ridiculous. That time does not, however, give less shape to life. Maturity carries with it much more responsibility.
For my friends who are eager to move away from rules. Please remember adults have lives of greater definition than do children The Bible does not need to provide lists to present truths that can be listed.

HELPING IN TODAY’S CULTURAL CLIMATE

Helping people in need is imminently biblical. This is not even open for any rational discussion. Nevertheless, at the risk of being completely misunderstood, I want to address a matter of priority that seems to need clarification. I enter this post with caution, trepidation, and uneasiness, yet enter I will.

Though I am usually well behind most folks when trends dawn on me, eventually awareness makes its way into my head. Of late, a shift towards what was once styled the “Social Gospel” strikes me as an emphasis making a comeback. In the company of this return, I also sense a growing ascetic spirit floating around.

I get it that our culture in America is significantly materialistic and I also realize the need to do regular self-analyses to discover if I have become possessed by my possessions. As a Christian, these are not small matters. The Bible has much to say in this area. However, I think I see a baby headed out the window with its bath water in this one.

Maybe I am simply justifying that I have stuff. I have not sold my stuff to feed and house the unfortunate, though I have spent considerable time and money helping people in need. Not only that, I do not believe such a virtual total divesting of my stuff is supposed to be the defining mark of my Christianity. I do not believe Jesus came primarily to feed people and make them well. He could have done both of these things to every person in Judea, Samaria, and Galilee, but He did not. What He did do was preach and teach as many people as He could about matters tied to eternity.

Yes, we should share our blessings. A lack of compassion cannot walk in fellowship with the Good News about Jesus. Yet, the Great Commission is about salvation. Granted, compassion can and will open doors, but only the Gospel can open the doors of Hades to free its captives (Rev. 1:18). Well fed and housed lost people eventually die without Jesus (cf. Jn. 6:49).

I don’t intend to be guilted into a quick fix “Christianity” that either substitutes being kind for speaking a good word for Jesus or liquidating my possessions for proclaiming truth. I reiterate; Jesus saves! Churches are groups of people primarily in the business of growing in Christ-likeness so they may help the lost become saved.

I appreciate congregations, such as the one I attend, which have very well thought out assistance initiatives. But, pardon what may seem to some as mere self-justification, let Christians in their compassionate sharing be known without apology for talking to people about the Christ.

 

LABELING IN THE RELIGIOUS CONVERSATION

Labels are an interesting way to categorise things into groups. They are particularly interesting when used to define groups of people in religion. Some of the more common broad-brush terms are: liberal, legalist, and conservative. Like it or not, and some just refuse to acknowledge any proper use of labels, they are not without value. Religious labels may certainly be misused, but religious people are not homogenous, they are different and their differences mean some have more in common with some folks than with others.
Essentially, once a biblical center is discovered, religious people tend to either over do, under do, or do. They bind where God has not, loose where God has not, or adhere to what God has revealed. I realise the trick is to find the biblical center and that everyone seems feel they are there, nevertheless, beliefs differ and the Bible does not necessarily teach what any particular person thinks is right.
With the acknowledgement that labeling takes us into hazardous and often rancorous territory, we need to venture into its risky environs. However, I want to venture into an aspect of the discussion not often entertained. Believing there to be a biblical center, I propose that both liberalism and legalism exist for one or more of the following reasons: pride, selfishness, loving the praise of men, or ignorance. Walking with Jesus, on the other hand, is the result of loving Him more than self, caring more what He thinks than what others think, and knowing Him as a friend.
I’m not a fan of labels myself. They are commonly misunderstood, misused, and all too easily employed. Yet, they do have a place in religious discussion. If we will remember what they really mean and why those characterized by them fall into the groups they do, we can begin to have more honest discussions. The only question then is, can we handle the truth (Jn. 17:17)?

THE WAY OF THE CROSS

It has been observed by many that Christianity involves the united concepts of Cross and Kingdom. N. T. Wright, in particular, has had many useful things to say about this inseparable combination. Church history, however,  has often severed the two, much to the detriment of Christianity.

If the Cross becomes a virtual “stand alone,” the life Jesus so powerfully exhibited in the Gospels becomes largely lost to the arena of everyday life. A reductionism sounding something like, “Jesus died and was resurrected and I am saved, hurry up Heaven,” results. People enter a holding-pattern just trying to wait out life so they can get out of here. A life Jesus intended to reflect both His values and the salvation/hope He won come to be hidden to those who most need to see them (Matt. 5:14-16; Jn. 13:34-35; Rom. 8:29).

Conversely, when , for all practical purposes, the Kingdom’s agenda for daily living pushes aside the atonement of the Cross, a form of social gospel develops separated from the power of Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection. Right living as a virtual end in itself then isolates itself from the only true validation for a sanctified life (Rom. 6:20-22; Lk. 17:5-10).

By combining Cross and Kingdom, the full story is revealed. Then, both Jesus’ life and death/resurrection are released to cover the earth with  an influential example of Christ-like values and a manifestation of the power of God for salvation.

Currently, in the culture of the United States, many of those seeking to represent the Christ have, often with an apparent unawareness, fallen into an incomplete portrayal of the fullness of Christianity. Wagons are circled by some as they eagerly examine world events hoping they will testify that the end is near. Such positions often come to make the world an enemy to be avoided more than a group of people wandering like lost sheep in need of rescue. Others who, in principle, develop a similar distorted Kingdom view, largely ignore the world and take comfort in their fortresses of sacraments and religious lists, hoping bad things will somehow just go away if they behave like good people.

Alongside this inadequate, virtual escapism is an equally troubling, unbalanced engagement in repairing our world through primarily temporal “fixes” doomed to gain, at best, limited, inadequate results. The Cross, though mentioned in such expressions, comes to play a secondary role to human involvement. As a for-instance, politics, while an unavoidable aspect of American culture and political involvement certainly being a potentially useful exercise, at the end of the day, politics is not attached to a cross. Kingdom culture can and has thrived amid grossly immoral and unjust political systems. The power of the Kingdom is that, being tied to the Cross, it can triumph even in death. Our light must not be darkened by passions that appear to burn brighter over things destined to perish in the end.

The solution is a Cross-centered, Kingdom life. The Bible instructs and history confirms, when Cross and Kingdom unite in their mutually complimentary, divine partnership, the world has the opportunity to see what is vital to its victory (Jn. 13:34-35; 17:21-23; Gal. 6:14). In  seeing this, there is both a greater hope for more changed hearts in the decisions affecting this life as well as a greater expectation for more souls won for eternity.

CIVILITY IN THE CONVERSATION

GETTING A GRIP ON OUR WORDS

Being from olden days, Modernity often seems strange if not disconcerting. An example would be how we speak. Once upon a time, there were silently agreed upon boundaries that preserved a certain sense of public civility. Times have changed. Today, insensitive remarks, crude words or phrases, and irreverent expressions have invaded the space once held by a less inflammatory conversation.

Presently, the idea of, “because I can” seems to be understood as an insistence to opt for, “therefore I will.” Many seem to think their entitlement to free speech gives license to use words without proper forethought. This seems very immature. Surely, the stream of “bleeps” commonly inserted into the media is not a sign of intelligent, mature discourse! Or for that matter, is the increasingly “non-bleeped,” coarse language often heard and seen actually a sign of enlightened liberation taking hold of a better way?
It appears to me that autonomous freedom, paradoxically, leads to an enslavement to selfishness. Additionally, me-centered positions certainly seem to bring about endless clashes between those determined to be tolerated and others equally determined not to tolerate.

Our choices in speech are indeed ours to make. We can say whatever we jolly well please. Nevertheless, we should not think our choices carry no consequences. We can easily incite and inflame, but we can also choose a course of peace and common courtesy. We can also opt to dismantle all vestiges of difference between words of carefully considered respect and words of thoughtless utterance. The proper choices seem obvious. Is it then possible to agree to disagree in such a way as to preserve our personal convictions and integrity without becoming disagreeable, coarse, and rude?

Maybe such concerns have become mere archaic remnants of foolish attempts to rise above the lowest human common denominator? If so, I believe, we are the poorer for the “progress” such a conclusion would create. However, with regard to civility and courtesy being anachronistic, I think not. Our minds allow us to create social constructs capable of giving a greater quality to everyday exchanges. Though I view such possibilities from a Christ-centered perspetive, choosing a higher ground is open to all. We can do better!

God’s Purpose for His People

Christianity and the Purposes of God

            A vital part of being transformed in our heart to be more like Jesus is found in knowing God’s purposes. In short, there is a plan. It is also true that an initial determination to be Christ-like may not result in discovering God’s plan. There are side roads and cul-de-sacs the evil one has created to take us off course.

            One of Satan’s most effective strategies is to have us accept some form of substitute Christianity. Substitutions often have a partial, though distorted representation of Jesus. Substitutions may do many good deeds and hold to various biblical positions; however, only Jesus’ church follows God’s purposes. God expects us to grow in our Christ-likeness to understand what Christianity truly means. This cannot be achieved apart from understanding God’s purposes for His people.

            Ephesians 4:11-16 is very instructive at this point. In just a few verses, a broad overview is given of how Christianity is designed to work. Applied to our day, teachers are to equip Christians with the tools they need to build up the body of Christ. The completed New Testament is the source of this equipping and it informs us fully relative to a mature understanding of Christ and His will.

            All Christians are charged with growing up individually and working together collectively. We are a body (I Cor. 12:12-27). Our identity is the identity of Jesus. We are to conduct the Father’s plan in the way of the Christ. In oneness and through love the church grows into a captivating, challenging body of believers (Jn. 13:34-35; 17:21-23). If we do not seek and employ God’s purposes, we will fall short of our Father’s expectations.

 

Jesus and Our Heart

Jesus, Lincoln, and Paul

            Honoring God Must include Planting Truth in our Heart. Yet, while our heart is the only suitable place from which to honor God, not filling it properly presents a dangerous void (Matt. 12:43-45). Our hearts will be filled with something. Even a determination to reform, if it does not fill the heart with Christ-like virtues, will ultimately leave us the worse for the effort.

            Truth must fill the heart if God is to be honored. Yet it is here where many stumble. Filling the heart with truth is not to be confused with simply memorizing Scripture. God would fill us up with truth personalized in the form of Jesus (Eph. 4:20-24). The new mind of repentance is to be the mind of Christ (Phil. 2:5).

            Memorizing the Bible is certainly not to be discouraged rather it should be encouraged. My point is that simply remembering Scripture is very different from the transforming Christ being present in our heart. Let me illustrate.

            I am currently reading a book about Abraham Lincoln. It is a long book and I have learned many new things about Mr. Lincoln. I have come to admire him in many ways; he was a rare man! Like me, Paul doubtless knew many things about the famous people of his day. However, would he have said of any of them what he said of Jesus, “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)?

            The answer to my question is easily given. While Paul knew many things about many men, several of whom he undoubtedly admired, he would not have said of anyone what he said of the Christ. Knowing truthful things, even about an admired person, is much different from being radically transformed into that person’s image. To honor God, we must be walking in a transforming way (Rom. 8:29). To do otherwise is to dishonor God.