Sunday, January 23, 2011

Another Church Casualty

How sad when the Church fails to reflect Christ… and by “Church”, I mean the collection of people that make up the universal church, not a specific person or denomination. Without going into a lot of details, shortly after I started getting more involved in my local church, I discovered that the church could be every bit as exploitative as the world. I found out that oftentimes:
  • a person’s value in the church was proportional to the time, talents or money that they contributed
  • it was okay to gossip so long as you put it in the form of a “prayer request”
  • in practice (or should I say “malpractice”), accountability and submission to authority were often control techniques
  • freedom and grace could be used to excuse a rebellious attitude
In reading Scripture, I’ve noticed that the only words of criticism Jesus had were for religious authorities. But I also see that one of His ending prayers was for these very same people: “Father, forgive them. They don’t know what they’re doing.” So as I think about it, I’ve come to the conclusion that the biggest problem with God’s people is that we get some healing and then we think we’re all done. It’s so much easier to see the speck in someone else’s eye than our own, and it’s very self-affirming to notice how someone is less healthy than us in certain areas.

I’ve also observed it’s so much easier to get angry at the people “who should know better”, than to figure out our role when God’s people act less than godly. Sometimes, we’re called to simply observe and learn so that we can apply this new understanding in our own lives. Other times we’re called to demonstrate love to the person in the wrong. Yet other times, we’re led to lovingly confront. Or perhaps we are placed in a position to take authority over a hurtful situation, boldly end the hurtful behavior, and hopefully use the incident as a teachable moment that changes lives and hearts, bringing reconciliation. Still, at all times and all situations, we are called to pray and forgive. Regardless, of our role or the circumstances, our prayers should reflect Jesus’ on the cross (Phillipians 2:5), and we should be promoting His Kingdom of grace.

Is it less important to forgive our brother than a stranger? Of course not, but I can honestly say it’s much harder! A stranger can’t hurt us as deeply, and our trust can’t be betrayed where it hasn’t been given. Jesus understands this: He was ridiculed by His brothers (John 7:2-5) and betrayed by one of His closest friends through a fake expression of love and respect. He understands our pain.

But Jesus didn’t come to save the healthy (Matthew 9:12)… He came to bring reconciliation, so that we can have a deep relationship with Him (John 15:7)… a relationship that changes us! In that relationship, we live as children who continue to grow… being changed from glory to glory (2 Corinthians 3:18). A Christian walks through this world with the realization that we are ALL still sinners in need of a Savior, and the realization of that need is an important part of our calling… especially when we enter into conflict with other believers. If we are mindful of our need for forgiveness, it’s much easier to forgive others.

We forgive them by relinquishing our right to hold them accountable for the wrong they have done. We don’t dismiss it as “okay”, because the reality is: it’s NOT okay. It WAS wrong. But we relinquish the right for justice to God, remembering that He has replaced His justice against us in favor of grace and mercy. And we remember with humility that He has retained justice by taking the punishment for us. 

Now, I don’t have this forgiveness thing down completely, and even if I understand it a little, that doesn’t make it any easier to live it out, but I try… which causes me to consider this reality about myself: that my words and actions don’t always reflect the desire of (or conflict within) my own heart. This self-realization makes it easier to understand that others could be going through the same internal conflict and that their external behavior doesn’t necessarily reflect the turmoil or well-intentioned desires that are inside.

So I begin to understand that my forgiveness needs to come before their repentance. In fact, repentance may never come. But if I can learn to relinquish my right for justice, I escape the bitterness of the offense. By forgiving, I’m freed from the event. It only takes one person to forgive. No one needs to come to my door saying: “can you forgive me?” With God’s help, I have the power and responsibility to forgive anyone, regardless of their response after the initial offense.

But it takes two people to be reconciled, and reconciliation requires trust. Foundational to any relationship is trust, so if there is going to be a continued relationship, trust needs to be built into the reconciliation process. Like forgiveness, trust is a decision. We can choose (with God’s help) to forgive and we can choose to trust. But they differ in this: wisdom dictates that we do not trust everyone in everything. The fact is: not everyone is trustworthy, and when trust has been broken, it needs to be earned back. 

It’s been my experience that many people believe that forgiveness requires trust, and because of a godly desire for reconciliation, trust can be given prematurely which can lead to even deeper wounding. And in some cases, this leads to the false belief that forgiveness is foolishness. But forgiveness is healthy, and when coupled with a trust that’s earned back, so is reconciliation.

So that’s where “the church” is today. Because the pain is always greater when it’s been inflicted by the one who was supposed to be “safe”, the Church has huge undertaking. Who should have been more “safe” than the Church? So many people have been hurt by church that we find ourselves apologizing for what others have done, hoping that we haven’t been one of the perpetrators… and wondering how we to earn back a trust that’s been broken. 

But the part of the Body that has been hurt and chosen isolation also needs to do its part, forgiving people who may never admit their wrong-doing nor desire reconciliation. As a people, we need to mature into a Body that can love without expectation, having grace for others… in response to the great grace that has been shown to us.
copyright ©2011 Mitchell Malloy (http://mitchellmalloyblogspot.com/)

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Extraordinary Gifts

In the late nineties, I taught at a Christian school in the Orlando area. As I was interviewing, I was asked the question: “Have you been given any extraordinary gifts of the Spirit?” My response was sincere: “Are there any gifts of the Spirit that are truly ordinary?” This caused the people in the room to laugh with me, and the interview continued without any further probing into my beliefs about spiritual gifts. I got the job and we moved from the Washington D.C. area to Orlando. The school was part of Reformed church that had very specific beliefs about the gifts of the Spirit, and it was at our first Sunday service I discovered the real meaning of the question I had been asked in my interview: in a sermon on spiritual gifts.

Now, there is the fruit of the Spirit (love, joy, peace, etc.), and there are gifts of the Spirit. I had grown up in a liturgical denomination and wasn’t familiar with the term “extraordinary gifts”. For me, the gifts of the Spirit were all lumped into one category. However, the church that employed me in Florida adhered to a theology that sorted spiritual gifts into “ordinary” and “extraordinary”. According to this theological system, the ordinary gifts such as knowledge and wisdom continue to be manifest in believers; but the extraordinary gifts, such as tongues and miracles, ended with the disappearance of the original twelve apostles. It was also their belief that some gifts had changed. For example: prophecy ceased to have a supernatural component; rather, prophetic gifting reflected a God-inspired passion to understand truth.

So after two years at this school, I learned two things: 1) that I still believed in the present-day manifestation of both ordinary and extraordinary spiritual gifts, and 2) there were many wonderful, Christian people whose theology didn’t match my own. As the years have passed, I’ve become much more interested in the fruit of the Spirit rather than spiritual gifts. At the school, I saw the fruit in believers who had no understanding of spiritual gifts as I have experienced them, but they had more spiritual maturity than some other Christians I’ve known with great spiritual giftings. Still, the gifts have been an important part of my life… before, during and since my time in Florida.

When my oldest child was two years old, the Lord gave me a vision of her as an older child walking with her toddler brother by a pool. From the time of this revelation, five years went by without any more children. Deb and I began to wonder if we were even able to conceive, and this led to my doubting in my ability to hear from God. It changed the way I looked at God, and He became more distant… less personal. When I accepted the position at the Christian school, Deb and I were surprised to discover that she was pregnant! By this time, I had forgotten completely about the vision. We moved to Florida, I started working at the school, and our oldest son was born. He started walking at the age of 10 months, and by 1 year, he was sprinting! Then one day, as our family sat around a pool, I saw my vision from five years earlier come to life, and I remembered both the revelation… and my doubt.

I do not hear from God in this extraordinary way daily. Moreover, this type of supernatural manifestation is not an indication of how closely I walk with Him. Sometimes, I hear His voice most clearly after I’ve stumbled, which has led me to believe that His gifts are more a reflection of His love for me than a conditional response to my faithfulness. It is a gift that I cherish, and one that I enjoy. Sometimes, in seasons of greater faithfulness He is silent, and I’m reminded that my gift to Him is being faithful when the world around me says: “He’s not there… and if He is, then He doesn’t care!”.

But the times that I enjoy His gifts most are when He uses their manifestation for the benefit of others: to bring a word of hope or an encouragement that God sees their situation and that He has a plan to bring them through it. And I know that He wants me to use my gifts to draw others to seek Him more… to know that they too can hear God’s voice and be hands that bring healing.

But the danger of spiritual gifts is that people may start to seek the prophet rather than the One who gives word to the prophet. And if a prophet, pastor or teacher encourages this behavior, it is more like idolatry or witchcraft than Christianity. There is a great opportunity to abuse the gifts for personal status or gain. Simon the sorcerer wanted to pay the apostles money to have their supernatural power, and he was rebuked for it.

So as ambassadors of the Kingdom, our job is to lead people to God our Father, through Jesus His Son; it is never to make someone dependent upon us as the “face of God”. When I receive a personal revelation, it is always an invitation to draw closer to God for greater understanding. Likewise, any revelation that He gives me for someone else, is an invitation for them to draw closer to Him and hear His voice with greater clarity. If someone has a dream and God gives me an interpretation, I try to deliver that message with an encouragement for that person to seek both greater revelation and understanding from the Father. When we seek His face, we hear His voice.

We hear God from reading His Word (a.k.a. – the Bible), listening in prayer, and observing how He works the events in our lives. He speaks to us in dreams, in visions, in random pictures that come to mind, in a still quiet voice, and in a knowledge of things that we have no way of knowing in the natural. Sometimes, it seems so natural that we think it is a part of us… and in a way, it is! After all: accepting Jesus into our hearts invites Him to live in us. His Spirit comes into the empty, hollow spots of our own spirit, bringing healing to our soul. We abide in Him by spending time with Him, and He abides in us, changing us from the inside out.

Then, spending time with Him, the fruit starts to grow in us; His Spirit changes our spirit and our spirit changes our response to the world around us. The fruit of the spirit grows in us, and the Christian walk becomes less of a struggle. We love. We have joy. We know peace. We demonstrate patience, kindness, goodness, and gentleness for others. And our faithfulness and self-control become a natural response rather than a forced effort.

So the gifts of the Spirit may be something I would never choose to give up, but the fruit of the Spirit are the real indicators of my walk with Jesus. And we are known by our fruit… by our love for one another. As we spend time with Jesus, the fruit grows. But it withers if our daily life goes on without Him. It’s not in our giftedness that the Kingdom is seen in our lives; rather, His Kingdom advances naturally when we seek His presence, causing the fruit to flourish. As His Kingdom reigns in our soul, we are prompted into action that brings restoration to the world around us. Relationships are healed and lives are changed… in a naturally supernatural way.
copyright ©2011 Mitchell Malloy (http://mitchellmalloyblogspot.com//)