Monday, 21 February 2011

The Piggy in the Middle

"Let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth."
(1 John 3:18)

What is going on here?

Fellowship was once so sweet and then it’s like the devil himself stepped in and suddenly, everything went “to hell in a hand basket,” as the old saying goes. Suddenly walls of distrust have once again started to be erected between brothers and sisters. Suddenly walls of division have once again even been erected between husbands and wives.  Suddenly, brothers that once fellowshipped regularly together are now rarely seen together, and when they are, there is a cautious tension in the air.  Suddenly tensions of mistrust and misunderstanding, ultimately related to a lack of love, are pulling marriages apart in the Body of Christ at a rate even higher than among the non-believers.  Something is very, very wrong.

Somewhere along the way we have opened the sin-door wide and invited the devil himself to come into our homes and into our fellowship. How have we done that? I’m not sure. Maybe it has to do with the way we have become guilty of not addressing sin in the lives of members in the church. Everyone is quick to say, “Don’t judge, don’t judge,” forgetting that we are to judge (in a discernment way, not condemnation way) the church. We forget that ultimately we are even to cast the sinning brother or sister out of the church if, after being confronted by the church, they persist in the their un-repented sin.  But we’ve dealt with this before in the article entitled The Fellowship of Demons so we won’t rehash all this here.

Do you remember the childhood game “Piggy in the Middle” where one person was in the middle and two others would throw a ball back and forth between themselves, all the while trying to keep the “piggy” from intercepting the ball? I never liked that game. In retrospect it seemed almost like a form of schoolyard bullying in that your fun was always at the expense of the “piggy in the middle.”

Today I feel like that “piggy in the middle” once again in that I feel caught between some of my Christian brothers who are throwing, not a child’s ball back and forth over my head, but are now throwing insults and slanders back and forth. I feel caught in the middle, as they seem now to refuse to fellowship with each other. I like both of them, and truly desire the fellowship of both of them, but they can’t seem to get along with each other any more. Sometimes I think it would be best to just walk out of all of their lives, because at least then I would no longer have to play these childish games any more. However, if I did that, then I’m also not living up to the Scripture that teaches us to not forsake the gathering of ourselves together (Hebrews 10:25).

Where am I going with this? Let me try and explain. I was out for coffee with two friends recently. On this particular occasion I just about got up and walked out as I listened to the slandering of another Christian brother. It just sickened me to listen to the character-trashing of this other brother. Suddenly it was as my eyes were opened and I became aware of just how often we all are prone to doing the same thing. Over and over again, we faction the body of Christ with all our "petty" differences. Is this nonsense ever going to stop?

In my "awakening" I thought, maybe the slandered brother was wrong and maybe he wasn’t, but that really wasn't the point. There is no "yes, buts!" Aside from all our excuses, what was certainly wrong was the response that he got, behind his back no less, from the other professing Christians. What certainly was wrong was the “root of bitterness” (Hebrews 12:15) that was allowed to creep into the fellowship. We talk of the importance of love and relationships, and then we do this? Why can’t we all just get along? I’m tired of being the “piggy in the middle.”

Maybe we need to erect a big sign outside the place where two or more Christians gather that says, “Check your doctrines at the door, not your brains!” Doctrines divide! Maybe that’s why Paul said, “The faith that you have, keep between yourself and God” (Romans 14:22). We are called simply to "unconditionally" love, and not to slander each other with our doctrinal views about this, that, and the next thing!

“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres” (1 Corinthians 13:4-7, NIV).

Many a wedding has quoted those verses. Too bad they've become a sort of "pie in the sky" ideal that nobody really listens to, much less actually puts into practice. Too bad that all too often the opposite of almost every “love descriptor” mentioned here is exercised instead of the genuine love that the verses describe.  What is the opposite of love? It is hatred. There is no middle ground here. “Hatred stirs up strife, but love covers all offenses” (Proverbs 10:12, ESV). When we see this “hatred” in other believers, we must call them on it, and likewise, when they see it in us, they must also call us on it. I'm sorry to say that I failed to do that in the coffee shop that day. I should have called them on it right then and there. Failure to do this only opens the door for the devil to be welcomed into our homes and into our fellowship.

I cannot go there with people any more. It’s not that I’m better than they are, the Lord knows I'm not. I can wrestle with an unloving and impure spirit all on my own, and I do not need to be around others who persist with an unrepentant angry spirit. That would only drag me down in my own quest to live the holy life God has called me to live, because without holiness no one will see the Lord (1 Thessalonians 4:7; Hebrews 12:14).  I will continue to seek genuine fellowship as much as possible, and where ever possible, but I will not play “piggy in the middle” any more with those who persist in such pseudo-Christian bullying. Those who want to play that way can count me out.

Oh sure, I will still be cordial and respectful to all people as God gives me the grace and strength to do so, but I won’t look to such people for any sort of meaningful fellowship. How can I? People can say what they want and make whatever faith professions they want to, but the proof will always have to be in the fruits they produce (Matthew 7:16).

One of the problems with relationships is that we tend to develop the characteristics of those we hang around with. Hang around with a bully, and we can easily become bullies ourselves. Hang around with a man who swears a lot, and soon we begin to swear as well. Hang around with a godly man or woman, and we are likely to develop godly characteristics too. “Be imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises” (Hebrews 6:12, ESV). “Do not imitate what is evil but what is good. Anyone who does what is good is from God. Anyone who does what is evil has not seen God” (3 John 11, NIV).

Don’t ask me to choose sides, for you may not like the answer that you get. As the Lord enables me, I will side with those who exhibit godly attributes and fruits every time. There is no room for “piggy in the middle” in the kingdom of God.  

What is going on here?

I'm not really sure but one thing I do know is that, since that day in the coffee shop, I've laid awake many nights wondering about this. One thing I know is that our dear Heavenly Father is trying to say something to me about this. One thing I know is that maybe it is time for personal examination. "Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves" (2 Corinthians 13:5, NIV). If after doing so it becomes evident that you or I have failed that test, then maybe it's time to spend a little more time on our knees in repentance.

"Do not give the devil a foothold" (Ephesians 4:27, NIV). Have we done that? I wonder. God help us.

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Sunday, 20 February 2011

Oswald Chambers on "The Initiative Against Despair"

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The following devotional appeared in the Oswald Chambers classic devotional, My Utmost for His Highest" (February 18). I found it especially meaningful in dealing with some recent issues in our fellowship. I hope it blesses you as much as it has blessed me.

"Rise, let us be going." - Matthew 26:46

The disciples went to sleep when they should have kept awake, and when they realized what they had done it produced despair. The sense of the irreparable is apt to make us despair, and we say - "It is all up now, it is no use trying any more." If we imagine that this kind of despair is exceptional, we are mistaken, it is a very ordinary human experience. Whenever we realize that we have not done that which we had a magnificent opportunity of doing, then we are apt to sink into despair; and Jesus Christ comes and says - "Sleep on now, that opportunity is lost forever, you cannot alter it, but arise and go to the next thing." Let the past sleep, but let it sleep on the bosom of Christ, and go out into the irresistible future with Him.

There are experiences like this in each of our lives. We are in despair, the despair that comes from actualities, and we cannot lift ourselves out of it. The disciples in this instance had done a downright unforgivable thing; they had gone to sleep instead of watching with Jesus, but He came with a spiritual initiative against their despair and said - "Arise and do the next thing." If we are inspired of God, what is the next thing? To trust Him absolutely and to pray on the ground of His Redemption.

Never let the sense of failure corrupt your new action.

Tuesday, 15 February 2011

You Have the Right to Have No Rights

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“In this way no one will go to their grave with their music still in them.” (unknown)

When I first heard that quote, I remember thinking, that is really quite profound. I thought about that in terms of "rights." Everyone seems to be big on having their rights met. Could it be that when we adamantly insist on having our rights that we place ourselves in danger of going to our graves with our music still in us? Is not our music, however we define that, something that is really not our own at all, but rather something given to us for the sole purpose that we give it (or spend it) on others?
Do I really have personal rights? 
Contrary to what many may think, and spiritually speaking, NO, I do not have personal rights. Paul says in Romans 14:7, “For none of us lives to himself, and none of us dies to himself” (ESV). What does this mean? I am beginning to see that what this really means is that we are each spiritually responsible before God for one another. I am also beginning to wonder if concern for personal rights isn't really actually really quite "anti-Christ" in the sense that it is so unlike my Lord's example.
It is all about how I might bless someone else.
As true Christians, as opposed to those that I've begun to call pseudo-Christians, we have a responsibility for other people. Are we our brothers keeper (Genesis 4:9)? Most certainly, YES! I think it's time that we start to focus on the fact that it is not about me and my rights at all. It is not about what I can get, or what is owed me, but rather it's about what I can give. It's all about how I might bless someone else, in the name of Jesus, regardless what it costs me personally. It's all about walking in humility as Jesus did (Philippians 2: 5-11). Certainly He, of all people, had all sorts of rights. But He gave them up for us, and I believe that, if we call ourselves Christians, then that means that we must go and do likewise. What I'm trying to say is, we have no right to claim any personal rights.
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When we allow anything or anybody to get in the way of our devoted walk with the Lord, then everyone around us suffers for it. Just as in a marriage relationship a woman's body is not hers alone but belongs equally to her husband, and a husband's body doesn't belong to him alone but also belongs equally to his wife (1 Corinthians 7:4), so too spiritually speaking, we members of Christ's body do not belong only to ourselves but also belong equally to all other members of Christ's body.

I am not talking about the non-believers, for as Paul also asks in 2 Corinthians 6: 14-18, what does the believer have in common with the unbeliever? The answer is, nothing! While the context here has to do primarily with marriage between the unbeliever and the believer, the principle also applies equally to deep relationships between the Christian and the non-Christian. In the passage Paul actually goes further yet and says to come out from among the unbelievers and to be separate (holy).

As born again believers, we are all gifted by the Lord in one way or another. Everyone has something (1 Corinthians 14:26) to use for the benefit of others. We do not belong to ourselves alone. If God put a song in my heart, He didn't do so that I might keep it all to myself. He did it so that you and I might use it for the benefit of others. Your responsibility is to joyfully spend yourself on ministering to me just as much as my responsibility is to joyfully spend myself on ministering to you. That's what the body does; each part works for the benefit of all the other parts.

Do you and I have personal rights? In the Lord, we only have the right to give up our rights and to live for others and not to ourselves.

Tuesday, 8 February 2011

The Fellowship of Demons

Photo Credit: Melinda Taber
Flickr Creative Commons
“Why do you call me, 'Lord, Lord,' 
and do not do what I say?”
Luke 6:46 (NIV)

In reading Matthew 24 the other day something struck me yet again. I'm not sure why that sometimes surprises me, especially given that my prayer often is that the Lord might reveal my shortcomings to me, so that I might repent and walk rightly with Him. So this time what hit me was the phrase “eats and drinks with drunkards” (verse 49). What is the significance of eating and drinking? Is there one? The answer is, “Yes.”

It is my belief that throughout Scripture eating and drinking often symbolizes having fellowship with those we are eating and drinking with. In other words, just as Jesus ate and drank the Passover meal with his disciples, and just as our Communion, or Lord's Supper, is a fellowship with God's people and with the Lord himself, so too “eating and drinking with drunkards” symbolizes fellowship with the devil and his demons, and is in effect, a “communion” with them. If such “fellowship” is not repented from, it will ultimately lead to hell (verses 50-51). Does this shock you?

Yes, we all have to live in this world and be witnesses unto the world, but “partying and getting drunk” (the Living Bible's paraphrase of Matthew 24:49) with the world is not the sort of positive witnessing that the Lord Jesus desires. It's quite the opposite, actually. Such activity is in truth an agreement by association with the world's system through “fellowship” with its demons.

Having a drink here and there is not the issue; getting drunk is always the issue, and it is especially wrong for the Christian to do so when in the presence of unbelievers. Why? If for no other reason, then because of the witness that we are expected to be to the non-believing world. What kind of witness for Jesus am I? What kind of witness of God's love are you? When the world looks at you and me, do they even see anything different about us? Do they see Jesus? I wonder.

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Flickr Creative Commons
The Apostle Paul says that, “What pagans sacrifice they offer to demons and not to God. I do not want you to be participants with demons. You cannot partake of the table of the Lord and the table of demons. Shall we provoke the Lord to jealousy? Are we stronger than he?” (1 Corinthians 10: 20-22 -ESV).

We would do well to be on constant guard against the many “snares of the devil” (1 Timothy 3:7). Have we fallen into the devil's trap in this regard? Is his noose beginning to tighten around our necks to the point where it “chokes” (Matthew 13:22) the power of God out of our lives, thus making us unfruitful?

And what about our prayer life? Is it effective, or somewhat stale? Are we experiencing answers to our prayers? If not, then why not? If our prayers can become “hindered” by even something as relatively minor (from the world's point of view) as an unrespectful relationship with our wives (1 Peter 3:7), then how much more so won't our prayer lives also become hindered if we continue to “eat and drink with drunkards?”

I'm not trying to become legalistic here, but think about it! God calls us to “be holy,” a word that literally means to “be set apart.” Set apart from what? Set apart from the rest of the non-believing world. Without holiness no one will ever even see the Lord (Hebrews 12:14). If we call ourselves “Christian,” then it is also rightly expected by the Lord Jesus that we will also be holy. “You shall be holy, for I am holy” (1 Peter 1:16). If I am truly a Christian, then I have taken in, and put on, the nature of Christ (holiness). If, on the other hand, I deliberately do not “strive” (Hebrews 12:14) for that holiness in my life, then can I really be a true Christian? The Lord alone will ultimately be the judge of that.

Paul continues on this subject. “But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler – not even to eat with such a one. For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? God judges those outside. Purge the evil person from among you” (1 Corinthians 5: 11-13 -ESV). Do you and I call ourselves “brothers” in the Lord? If so, and if I continue to “eat and drink with drunkards,” then Scripture calls you to excommunicate me from your fellowship! This is serious stuff!

Photo Credit: Fergal of Claddagh, Flickr Creative Commons
Now I know there will be many who will say to me, hold on a minute, excommunication doesn't sound too loving. Nor does it sound too forgiving. We would do well to remember that even in Old Testament times God threatened excommunication to anyone who deliberately sinned by disregarding God's law. Like I said a minute ago, this is serious stuff! We would also do well to remember that God doesn't change (Malachi 3:6) and is the same yesterday, today and forever (Hebrews 13:8). Holiness continues to be of paramount importance today as much as it was during the Old Testament exodus.

Excommunication doesn't mean no longer loved; if anything it means loving and praying even more. Jesus said, “For God so loved the world” (John 3:16) and “Love your enemies and pray for those you persecute you” (Matthew 5:44). No, excommunication must always be done in God's love and must always seek restoration. Paul says, “hand this man over to Satan, so that the sinful nature may be destroyed and his spirit saved on the day of the Lord” (1 Corinthians 5:5 -NIV). As much as that may seem unloving at first glance, it is actually a loving gesture since it seeks the saving of his spirit. The entire chapter in first Corinthians actually deals with this; the expelling of brothers in the Lord who have persisted in immorality. Again, this is serious stuff.

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In the same way, to say that excommunication is not loving is the same as saying that God's sending someone to hell is contrary to His loving nature. We've all heard people say that; how can a loving God send anyone to hell? I would argue, how could He not? What kind of place would heaven be if all the wicked and unrepentant were suddenly allowed there too? That, then, wouldn't be very loving to the believers. Ultimately, in such a scenario, it wouldn't matter what anyone believed, for all would end up in the same place.

Contrary to the often misinterpretation on Matthew 7:1 (do not judge), we are to judge. No, we are not to judge in a condemnation sort of way, for only God can do that. But we are to judge in a discernment sort of way. Have we correctly discerned God's will in this matter? It seems to me to be a pretty serious thing if God's word instructs us to purge the hypocritical pseudo-Christian, who eats and drinks with drunkards, from our midst. Wouldn't you agree? Or do we want to continue, as Dietrich Bonhoeffer once said, to practice “cheap grace?” He didn't practice “cheap grace,” and it cost him his life. Are you and I prepared to go there too? I wonder.

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John says, “Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For everything in the world – the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes and the boasting of what he has and does – comes not from the Father, but from the world (1 John 2:15-16 -NIV). In the same way, who is the prince of this world? The prince of this world is the devil, and his days are numbered (John 12:31; 14:30; 16:11). In the mean time, however, the temptations continue.

How well God must like you –
you don't hang around at Sin Saloon,
you don't slink along Dead-End Road,
you don't go to Smart-Mouth College.

Instead you thrill to Yahweh's Word,
you chew on Scripture day and night.
You're a tree replanted in Eden,
bearing fresh fruit every month,
Never dropping a leaf,
always in blossom.

You're not at all like the wicked,
who are mere windblown dust –
Without defense in court,
unfit company for innocent people.

Yahweh charts the road you take.
The road they take is Skid Row.
(Psalm 1, The Message)

Whose table are you communing at? Are you “eating and drinking with drunkards” at the devil's table with his demons, or are you eating and drinking at the Lord's table with his true saints? Choose your table wisely, for your choice will have eternal consequences (Matthew 24:51).