Saturday, December 22, 2012

The Meaning of Christmas


I have a pin that says “Jesus is the reason for the season!”, and I used to wear it proudly. But recently, I’ve seen some things that make me a little less likely to wear it. Now, don’t get me wrong, I still want people to know I’m a Christian and I want to tell people about Jesus. I want others to remember that God so loved us that He gave us the Gift of His Son. I want people to know that God demonstrated His love and sympathy for even the poorest of humanity by having His Son born in the lowest of circumstances: unknown - a stranger in a strange city, homeless - refused the most meager of human housing and forced to lodge with animals at birth. I can imagine Bethlehem bustling with economic flurry as it’s filled to capacity with visitors drawn by the Roman census while a poor carpenter and his wife seek to find a better shelter for their newborn. I want people to know that shortly after the Magi found Jesus, bestowing Him with gifts worthy of a King, that the family fled for Egypt in order to avoid the slaughter of innocent toddlers and infants. A great and rewarding moment, acknowledging Jesus as King, followed by an attack from the Enemy. 

I want people to know why I celebrate Christmas, that it’s more than gift-giving and more than gathering with family. The truth is that many of these Christmas traditions come from the pagan holiday of Saturnalia. It can be argued that the holiday’s historical origins aren’t rooted in Christ, but that the Church turned the meaning around. But the truth is: It’s good to be with family, and it’s good to show our love for each other using the different love languages, including gift-giving. That the church would hold onto the good aspects and use it to demonstrate a deeper love is a good thing.

I want people to know that Jesus is the reason I celebrate the season, but more importantly, I want them to know the reason for Jesus: man (a.k.a. – “mankind”) walked away from God, and believing that the relationship was irreparably damaged, man kept walking further from God. But God wanted man to know that no matter what we had done or would ever do, He wanted a relationship with us. He wanted us to know that we can’t make it right – it was completely beyond our ability! But God has this unearthly ability to restore things, and in that restoration to make things better. So Saturnalia has become Christmas for Christians even though it remains a “happy holiday” for the secular world.

With respect to relationships, I’ve discovered through the years that when I hit a bump in the road and get past it, that relationship is stronger than before. The trust is more sure and relationship more grounded. When I’ve messed up and acknowledged my wrong, I am able to live more rightly. Usually, this is more of a refining process than a one-time occurrence as we work our way out of bad habits and into good ones, but through each iteration, the relationship is strengthened and matured. That’s especially true in my higher-priority relationships with God, my spouse, and my family.

So back to the pin: Jesus is the reason I celebrate the season, and I want Him to be glorified by me in actions and words. But I can’t expect or force others to share my belief. The reason God sent His Son is because of our brokenness, and whether we realize it or not, we need Him. If a Jewish friend wishes me a Happy Chanukah, I will welcome his wish in the spirit that was intended. Likewise, if a person wishes me a Happy Holiday, I will be grateful for the fond intention. St. Francis is quoted with: “At all times preach the Gospel. If necessary, speak.” I think that’s a pretty good message for us all. Let’s be known for our love so that by loving, we represent the values of the Father in Heaven Who adopted us despite our special needs. Jesus isn’t just the reason for the season, He’s the reason for every day.

Merry Christmas!

copyright ©2012 Mitchell Malloy (http://mitchellmalloyblogspot.com/)

Friday, December 14, 2012

Christmas Short Story for Kindle

I have a new Christmas short story available for the Kindle. It's something I wrote a few years ago called "The Shepherd's Letter". It will be available for free download Saturday, December 15th.

All that being said: please pray for the all families impacted by the Elementary School shooting in Connecticut today... so tragic!

See my Author's Page on Amazon

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Thankful Again

Why are we thankful? When we have nothing (absolutely nothing) and we are suddenly presented with what we are not entitled and which we don’t deserve… aren’t we most thankful in that moment? I heard the average American consumes over 5000 calories at the Thanksgiving meal. We have so much… we have historically enjoyed so much… we’re so fat, dumb and happy in our affluence that we often enter this holiday season without thought to the original gratitude of the first Thanksgiving.

So I think back to that original feast, a celebration by Christians humbled before the gifts of their God and neighbors. Physically, they found their needs being met. They weren’t entitled to it, and in the understanding of their great need, they found themselves in grateful abundance.

I confess that spiritually, I tend to forget my great need. God has given me so much: pulled me from death into life, placing a crown upon my head in promise to the great inheritance I have as an adopted son of God. He has given me that which I didn’t deserve, the very definition of “grace”. What is the right response to this great love? Shouldn’t it be gratefulness and love? Shouldn’t we desire to reflect the values of this new family?

But in our zeal and misunderstanding, representatives of the Kingdom may seek to uphold the law of God rather than the face of God, spitting out hateful accusations against all violators. This is Christian legalism. The legalist forgets God’s Christmas message: Peace and good will to men! God wants a relationship with us, despite our wanderings and warring, rebellious ways. He offers us grace, motivated by His great love for us.

But this grace can be misrepresented as well. Although His grace is greater than all our sins (past, present and future), this grace is not a license to sin. Sin has consequences.
“I have the right to do anything,” you say—but not everything is beneficial. “I have the right to do anything”—but I will not be mastered by anything. (1 Corinthians 6:12)
Perhaps the word “sin” could be better understood as “unhealthy behavior”. Unhealthy behavior leads to undesirable consequences, and while God continues to work out everything for our good, it’s so much better when we join Him in the process rather than resisting Him like a rebellious child. In our rebelliousness, we tend to get enmeshed with things that seek to replace God in our lives, vying for our affections. And sadly, when we devalue the love He has shown us, this cheap grace infects others with a similar rebelliousness, failing to represent the nobility of our new family.

Christian legalism spits out hateful accusations.

Cheap grace ignores the unhealthy consequences of sin.

But authentic Christianity responds to God’s love with a desire to represent Him well.
“I have the right to do anything,” you say—but not everything is beneficial. “I have the right to do anything”—but not everything is constructive. No one should seek their own good, but the good of others. (1 Corinthians 10:23-24)
As children of God, we are above the law, but if we seek to live out Kingdom values, then the truth of the law is seen through our lives. So if I am aware of my own great need and how much I’ve undeservedly been given, I will represent my heavenly family well: with a noble grace that is extended to everyone I meet, grateful that He has empowered me to embody the Kingdom.

Peace and good will to everyone this holiday season!

copyright ©2012 Mitchell Malloy (http://mitchellmalloyblogspot.com/)

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Can We Talk?

I’ve been thinking a lot recently… okay, I think a lot normally… but my mind has been troubled by the growing hatred in America. I’m not sure when it started, but somewhere in the past 30 years we’ve reached a point where we are a very polarized country where we just can’t seem to talk about issues. I see symptoms everywhere: generation gaps, workplace feuds, political firepots, divorce trends, suicidal bullying, and the list goes on and on.
 
Related to the upcoming presidential election, I typically see one of two actions on social media sites: attack or avoid. Anyone and everyone who sides with the views of the opposing camp is treated like an enemy, a subverter who cannot be trusted. Or maybe we like the person but just can discuss certain issues with them so we can keep everything at a “nice” level.
 
The problem with avoiding the issues is that they never get resolved, and going into fight or flight mode distances us from others. I imagine that prior to America’s civil war, the country stopped the dialogue, retreating into safe havens where hateful words could be uttered about the northern federalist tyrants and southern slave owners. Both sides had moral reasons behind their actions and both sides failed to work out the issues even after the war was over. I am grateful that slavery was ended, and I am saddened that it ever happened in this country, but what if the country had dialogued to find solutions? White oppression continued long after the Civil War and racial tensions still exist.
 
Are we so different today? Global warming, Illegal Immigration, Healthcare, and Presidential Candidates are topics that send people into fight or flight mode almost immediately. Sadly, I hear way too many opinions and far too few facts. I hear about how the other side is lying. But if we are brave enough to take the third option (no attack, no avoidance), we dialogue about the issues, decomposing as necessary to find what we can agree upon. My concern is that we are headed toward an unhealthy confrontation. America is in need of some healthy dialogue.

copyright ©2012 Mitchell Malloy (http://mitchellmalloyblogspot.com/)

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

America the Fallen


America, America, how far have you fallen?
Babylon the great has fallen indeed!
You who have led the world in idolatrous pleasures
and submitted yourselves as another’s treasure!
And conquest? No one needed to conquer you!
For you gave it away with all that you do…
to forsake your inheritance for a bowlful of stew:
the addict who desperately grasps for a fix,
completely oblivious, the eyes so transfixed
on that death-dealing high that will bring him down low!
So lower and lower and lower you go!
So sad. So true! Still you question “What’s truth?”
“It doesn’t fit my agenda… I must bury it!”
“But then I always preferred darkness to light.”
Babylon the great has fallen indeed!

copyright ©2012 Mitchell Malloy (http://mitchellmalloyblogspot.com/)

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Becoming a Man

I’m convinced the world, our society, is starving for goodness. It’s not just a desire for goodness, or even a yearning for goodness. There is a legitimate need in each of us to know and be a part of what is good. It’s a hunger that is not being met, and therefore the world is starving.
 
So what does that have to do with the title “Becoming a Man”? Everything.
 
A few weeks ago, I walked up to a breakfast café for a cup of coffee. I was walking up to the door ahead of an older woman, an older woman who incidentally had delayed me in the parking lot as she took her own sweet time, gingerly adjusting her car in her chosen space. In frustration and hurry, I backed my car up and parked in a decidedly distant spot, yet here I was approaching the door before her. The thought entered my mind that I should hold the door open for her, but she had already delayed my morning coffee! I knew if I held the door open for this lady that I would then be compelled to hold it for the next person (also an older woman), and I just did not want to do it.
 
Then I heard it, that Still Quiet Voice that interrupts self-centered Mitch. I knew it was God speaking to me, saying I should hold the door, give up the spot in line that my quick step had earned me and to delay my entry that would also safeguard a timely departure so I could get a fast start to what promised to be a frenetic day. Inside I was churning, but outwardly I pleasantly obeyed my heavenly Father. I remembered my earthly father had taught me to hold the door, to show respect for elders, especially those who had grown old like both the women following me to the door. Selfishly, I had thought to let go of this value, but God had better plans for me.
 
The first lady was genuinely surprised that I held the door for her as was the second. Both commented how their deceased husbands held the door for ladies but that it was so uncommon today. If they had known my thoughts a few minutes earlier, they would have been silent, but instead they went on and on, telling everyone in line what a gentleman I was, to the point where I had to ask them to stop. But when I finally got to the cashier, the cashier was so impressed with my trivial sacrifice that I received a free cup of coffee.
 
I was humbled. It wasn’t because of anything good in me, but the goodness of Christ working through me… despite me!
 
The women went on about how my momma brought me up right. I gratefully and politely (and oh-so humbly) excused myself and found a corner table to pray while drinking my cup of caffeine. Then God spoke to me again and said the world is hungry for goodness and that being a man, a real man, means bringing goodness into the world.
 
I was fortunate to have a role model. I had a father who obviously wanted to do what was right. Like me, he didn’t always do it perfectly, but he taught me that strength was for the benefit of others. I look at my brothers, who both hold leadership positions in their chosen vocations, and I can see from their actions that my dad’s message got through to them as well. It is the man’s job to lead through sacrifice and to use his strength to protect.
 
I’ve tried to pass this message on to my sons as well as to the men that have dated my daughter. To be honest, I don’t know if we ever fully get it… if anyone can sincerely say: “I’ve become a man.” Instead, us guys are in the process of “Becoming a man”… with each step starting with age one and continuing well past the half-century mark.
 
My dad modeled “Becoming a man” for me. Yet, every man, even with imperfect role models, can look to the life of Jesus, Who led both through His sacrifice and from His strength for our salvation. Jesus did not waste his strength on His own comfort, but He set it all aside, demonstrating what a real and perfect man does: He loves perfectly.
“We who are strong ought to bear with the failings of the weak and not to please ourselves.” (Romans 15:1)

The world does not know how to love. It believes that love is “give and take”. It asks the question: “Are my needs being met?” or “What am I getting out of this relationship?”. These aren’t bad questions to ask and to be sure, we need to proactively seek ways to get our legitimate needs met. But that is not love.
“Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” (John 15:13)

The kind of love that lays down one’s life is a foreign concept to the world. The world interprets this kind of love as a sign of weakness. But sacrificial love is not weak; it is incomparably strong! And as His representatives, we are called to demonstrate this radically different kind of love in ways both big and small. The world is starving for it.
 
copyright ©2012 Mitchell Malloy (http://mitchellmalloyblogspot.com/)
 

Saturday, September 15, 2012

A Little Yeast

Now, I’m not a baker, but I understand that one of the key ingredients is yeast. Just a little bit of yeast can work its way through a large amount of dough. Yeast transforms the dough into something that rises and expands. Jesus understood this and He used yeast to as teaching point to illustrate both healthy and unhealthy activities in our lives.

So using stories and analogies, He took the concept of yeast to explain a couple points:

1) He explains that God’s reign in our lives and the resulting expansion of His kingdom through us is like a little yeast added to a lot of flour. (Matthew 13:33) Accepting the Kingdom’s authority in our lives transforms us, and it works through every area of our life, changing us from “glory to glory”.

2) However, He used the concept of yeast working through dough to also explain our need to stay away from bad teaching. When talking to His disciples, He warned them to be on guard against the teachings of the Pharisees, Sadducees, and Herod (Matthew 16:1-2, Mark 8:15).

At first glance, this warning may seem to be directed at just the church fathers, something entered into the historical record to say: “Hey guys, you don’t know it, but you’re going to start my church and I want you to steer clear of all the bad teaching that’s out there. You know what I mean? Get the church off to a good start!” But I don’t believe His warning was just for the early church and just to establish the right foundation. It is an encouragement for every believer to hold onto good teaching and cast off any bad doctrines. So after 2000+ years, has any bad yeast made its way in? Just a few years (maybe decades) after Christ’s death and resurrection, Paul wrote: “Get rid of the old yeast, so that you may be a new unleavened batch—as you really are. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed.” So to answer my own question: “Yeah, I think there’s some bad stuff out there.”

Let’s think about this further. Jesus mentioned a few people by name and depending upon which Gospel account you’re reading, He says: “Steer clear of they’re teaching!” So who exactly were the Pharisees, the Sadducees, and Herod?

The Pharisees were the legalistic church. “Follow the law or be killed!” (or ostracized, excommunicated, ridiculed, etc.) In his own words, prior to a life-changing encounter with the Risen Jesus, Paul was a Pharisee of Pharisees – he followed the law with miserable perfection. Yet in his religious eagerness, he murdered members of the early church. Legalistic, he was out for justice over grace… that is until Jesus showed Paul just how blind his religiosity had made him.

The Sadducees on the other hand were the liberal church. They were willing to explain away the teachings of scripture as it fit their appetite of the day. Not too different from the liberal theologians of today, they would pick and choose what they wanted to believe from Scripture, more as a self-edification exercise than to truly understand how to enter the Kingdom of God.

Meanwhile, Herod was the government and the culture. There were several Herods, and they were an interestingly dysfunctional family, but I think it’s safe to say that Herod represented the secular worship of Self and the original sin of man: to become one’s own god. Rather than submitting to the reign of God, Herod submitted to Caesar, playing the political games necessary to elevate himself. He received his reward from the worship of other men, but was truly not a good role-model.

Looking at what each of these represented, I can’t help but believe bad yeast is still out there: the legalistic church, the liberal church, and the secular worship of Self. As His disciples, we’re each called to listen with a discerning ear, to question what subtleties of bad doctrine we’ve allowed to enter into our thought processes, and to humbly ask God to continue to reveal truth to us – transforming truth that will work its way through our way of thinking, change our knee-jerk reactions, and influence the world around us so that every knee will bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, the King of our lives, and the great Friend we all so desperately need!

May the good yeast of the Kingdom work in you, through you, for you, and for the restoration of a needy, fallen world!
copyright ©2012 Mitchell Malloy (http://mitchellmalloyblogspot.com/)

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Scriptural Perspective on Spiritual Gifts (Part 3)

Continued from http://mitchellmalloy.blogspot.com/2012/07/scriptural-perspective-on-spiritual.html
Part 3 – New Testament Summary

So I entitled this series “The Scriptural Perspective on Spiritual Gifts”, but I feel like I’m barely scratching the surface of all that the Bible has to say about this important subject. I had intended to write about "Applied Love", but I thought it important to actually outline my conclusions. I could probably write a mini-chapter on most of these, so I offer them simply as a starting point for others to explore. It’s my desire and encouragement that anyone reading this go straight to the Bible. Don’t just take someone else’s understanding as the final authority on the subject. Rather, ask the Holy Spirit to instruct you further about this topic.

  1. (1 Corinthians 12:1) It’s important for believers to know about spiritual gifts.
  2. (Matthew 7:14-16, 21-23, 2 Peter 2:1-3, 1 John 4:1-3) The manifestation of spiritual gifts through a person is not evidence of God working in that person’s life, even if the results seem to line up with God’s will (e.g. – prophesies in God’s Name, casting out demons, etc.).
  3. (Mark 16:20, Hebrews 2:3-4) The gifts bear witness to both God and His salvation plan
  4. (1 Corinthians 12:3) The gifts submit to the authority of Jesus, proclaiming by the way they are administered that “Jesus is Lord!”
  5. (1 Corinthians 12:4-5,8-11) There’s a different mix of giftings and services in both individuals and church bodies
  6. (1 Corinthians 12:7) The gifts are given more for the common good, building up a group of people rather than edifying an individual.
  7. (1 Corinthians 12:12-27) There’s one Body, many parts, each part being dependent upon the gifts and abilities of others.
  8. (1 Corinthians 12:27-30) There are different roles through which the members of the Body minister to each other.
  9. (1 Corinthians 12:31-14:1) There is a priority to the gifts, measured by usefulness in loving and building up others.
  10. (1 Corinthians 12:31-13:13, Galatians 5:5, Ephesians 2:8, 2 Thessalonians 2:16,1 John 4:19) faith, hope and love are the greatest spiritual gifts.
  11. (1 Corinthians 13:12) Even with these spiritual gifts, we still see but a poor reflection of spiritual reality.
  12. (John 15:5) God’s model with respect to our lives and fruitfulness is one of total dependence upon Him.
  13. (1 Corinthians 14:1-12) We should eagerly desire the greater gifts (see #8 above), especially prophecy as a way to strengthen, encourage, comfort and build up the church as demonstration of love.
  14. (1 Corinthians 14:39) We should be eager to prophesy.
  15. (1 Corinthians 14:39) We should not forbid a believer from speaking in tongues.
  16. (1 Corinthians 14:22) The gift of tongues is a sign to unbelievers and prophecy is reserved for building up of believers. Prophecy should not be used for evangelization.
  17. (1 Corinthians 14:13-28) If the gift of tongues is used as a public sign or proclamation, it should have an interpretation.
  18. (1 Corinthians 14:39) The administration of all spiritual gifts should be performed in an orderly way. A public display of the gift should be done in submission to the God-ordained authority appointed to lead that congregation.
  19. (Romans 11:29, Ephesians 4:7-11) A spiritual gift can be associated with a calling that reflects one or more leadership roles: Apostle (meaning “a person who has been sent” such as a missionary), prophet, evangelist, pastor (shepherd / mentor / coach), and educator. Jonah, although resistant to his calling, played the role of Apostle, Prophet and Evangelist, bringing the entire city of Nineveh to repentance.
  20. (Romans 11:29) Once God has imparted a spiritual gift either constitutionally or as part of a vocational calling, it belongs to the recipient; however, the Holy Spirit is still free to work supernaturally in any situation without having to a spiritual gift.
  21. (Romans 12:3-8) Whatever set of gifts that God puts into us, we should use them humbly, generously and joyfully.
  22. (Ephesians 4:11-12, 16) The gifts given to leaders are intended to build up the Body of believers, equipping each member for ministry and every member of the Body is called to minister to other members of the Body.
  23. (1 Thessalonians 5:19-21, Acts 21:10-14, 1 John 4:1-3) Leadership is called to walk the delicate balance of testing prophetic words without discouraging prophesy. They need to learn to hold onto what is known to be good and discern when a prophetic word is only part of the truth (e.g. – Paul refusing to be dissuaded from going to Jerusalem despite the fact that it would result in his suffering).
  24. (1 Timothy 1:17-19, 4:13-15) Prophecy encourages us to persevere in our calling.
  25. (Revelation 11:2-6) The supernatural manifestation of spiritual gifts continues through this very day and will continue through the last days as described clearly in the Book of Revelation.
It is also interesting what Scripture does not talk to:
  1. Scripture does not categorize the gifts into ordinary / extraordinary or prophetic / administrative. This is something done by man, and as I’ve already written (http://mitchellmalloy.blogspot.com/2012/07/signs-in-end-times-church-part-4.html), it’s my belief that the gifts of knowledge, wisdom and leadership should govern and empower the other gifts.
  2. Finally, I am not aware of any frequency for manifestation. Everything is in God’s timing. His power does not need to be evidenced supernaturally at every gathering of believers to somehow legitimize a church service. It’s enough that He loves us and that we reflect His love through obedience and by loving each other. Ultimately, love is the center purpose of every spiritual gift.

copyright ©2012 Mitchell Malloy (http://mitchellmalloyblogspot.com/)
  

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Concession Speech

I think it’s time to acknowledge the state of our campaign and admit defeat. We should admit our ineffectiveness and concede this age in church history for America as one in which the Kingdom has given ground to the Adversary. In short, we concede that our fear of being labeled has rendered the church silent and ineffective, virtually impotent in this present age. And a lack of confidence in the veracity and applicability of the Bible to our present culture has muted our voice and has minimized our influence.

Our attempts to become culturally relevant have resulted in an unexpected timidity;  confrontation and controversy are avoided as something inherently wrong rather than used to gently and appropriately demonstrate genuine love and thereby effect a positive change. This timidity has been fueled in part from the much publicized accounts of hypocrisy and judgmental attitudes. We sadly accept that in many cases these claims have a basis in reality. Far too often, we have judged the sinner along with the sin, and we have valued a virtue over the worth of an individual. In the process, we have ignored the very hope of our own salvation: God’s mercy and grace, which overlooks our own short-comings in preference to His great love for us.

In addition, we recognize the effectiveness of our Adversary’s “fundamentalist” campaign which has convinced both the general populace as well as Christians that God’s word and our experience of God’s truth is somehow an inappropriate input for our dialogue with others in: the work place, the street corner, schools and homes. In essence, we have chosen to rely upon other sources of information for our apologetic and passively agreed by our actions that God’s word is an opinion rather than fact, and by implication, it is an opinion to which we only meekly agree and which carries no more weight than any other man’s belief. We have refused to use our one weapon in demolishing unhealthy thought patterns: the Sword of the Spirit which is the Word of God.

This acknowledgement, however, is not one of resignation. Rather, it is a pronouncement of resolution: “though the righteous fall seven times, they rise again” (Proverbs 24:16) In the grace and power of God, we shall overcome. Every day is a new beginning and today is such a day. We will start anew, knowing what has transpired and eager to apply our knowledge with greater vigor. Learning from our history, we shall not repeat it. With God’s help we will learn to discern the sinful behavior that destroys lives while lovingly engaging individuals ensnared by the twisted lies of our common Adversary. And with God’s help, we will enter each discussion with a care for winning the person rather than the argument.

NOTE: the continuation of http://mitchellmalloy.blogspot.com/2012/07/scriptural-perspective-on-spiritual.html will be published in the future.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Scriptural Perspective on Spiritual Gifts (Part 2)

Continued from http://mitchellmalloy.blogspot.com/2012/07/scriptural-perspective-on-spiritual.html
In 1 Corinthians, Paul wrote 3 consecutive chapters about spiritual gifts, emphasizing up front the importance for Christians to understand this subject. Now some people may read chapters 12 through 14 and think chapter 13 has nothing to do with spiritual gifts, and in some ways it seems like Paul goes down a rabbit trail before getting back to the original subject. But I understand Paul’s writing to be very planned and purposeful. I believe that by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, Paul very intentionally placed “love” at the center of his teaching on Spiritual gifts. He doesn’t start off with “Before explaining this very important topic of ‘spiritual gifts’, I need to tell you something even more important.” And Paul didn’t place the subject of “love” at the end of the teaching, so he could build up to the one-big-most-important-thing. Paul placed “love” in the very center of this teaching, emphasizing that love is at the center of the gifts. Love is first among the Fruit of the Spirit. And love itself is a gift; it’s something that needs to be placed inside us before we have the ability to love. “We love because He first loved us.” (see 1 John 4) Love is both the reason and the reward, and any supernatural manifestation apart from love is not from God. Love is central to the gifts of the Spirit.
 
So following Paul’s example, I’m going to insert a small commentary on love. Now, I’ve been taught many things about love through the years. There are at least 3 words for love in the Hebrew language, but Greek has even more. C.S. Lewis wrote about the four loves, using Greek terms to describe the different types of love.
 
And in their famous “Do you love me… Feed My sheep” discussion, Jesus and Peter used different words for love, which has led to some pretty interesting revelations. Peter could only respond with a lesser form of love, and Jesus eventually came down to Peter’s level when asking him to feed the church, knowing Peter’s ability to love would grow.
 
Yet, with all the many things I’ve been taught about love, the most challenging thing I’ve learned is really rather simple: it’s the difference between love and lust. Once defined, it’s very simple to understand the difference, but it is still oh-so-hard to put into practice. Once I discovered the difference, it ruined me… convicting me of my need for a Savior. Simply put:
  • Love = a decision to give
  • Lust = a desire to get
Let the above sink in and ask yourself, with respect to your life’s ambitions and in light of your daily activities, are you motivated by love or lust? When playing a sport, parenting children, or facilitating a meeting are you motivated by love or lust? When saving for retirement or making vocational decisions, are you driven by love or lust? Think of the major activities you did this past week, recall the challenging conversations and the heated emotions. Then, ask yourself: were you driven by love or lust?

I shared a couple weeks ago that my love thermometer was trending toward the frigid side. (see http://mitchellmalloy.blogspot.com/2012/07/signs-in-end-times-church-part-5.html) The scary thing was that I was only vaguely aware of my state and completely blind as to where I was heading. Well, the Lord has been working on me, helping me to recall the difference between love and lust, and when I start asking myself the questions in the preceding paragraph, I understand again my great need for Jesus.

Agape, the highest form of love, is the word that Jesus used when He asked Peter: “Do you love me?”. Agape is a decision to love, even when you don’t “feel like loving” and even when the recipient of your love rejects it. When Jesus in His discussion with Peter used the word Agape, the extreme picture that comes to my mind is that of a suicide attempt being forcefully prevented by someone who endangers his own life. Now isn’t that what Jesus did for us? He pleaded in anguish with the Father to not go through the suffering of the cross, an extremely painful death at His expense for our sake. Yet after He came to terms with the cost of His calling, Jesus still had to endure the rejection and ridicule of the very people He chose to save.

Now, back to the discussion on spiritual gifts: the Enemy can imitate the supernatural power of God. Scripture tells us he can appear as an angel of light and his emissaries can seem to be righteous men, (2 Corinthians 11:14). But I believe that over a period of time, they can’t imitate the sacrificial love of Agape because there is no genuine love in them. So the Enemy appeals to our sense of lust -- our desire to get something in return -- as he demands our devoted attention. In the end, the object of our desire is nothing more than bait on a hook. Unfortunately, Satan knows how to tempt us, and he understands that we can lust after so many things: pleasure, status, and power… including spiritual power.

That is why it’s so important for us to understand that love is at the center of any gift from the Holy Spirit. God is love and His people are called to be known for their love, especially as it relates to each other. (see 1 John 4) In the context of 1 Corinthians 12-14 as well as within the context of all Scripture, Paul’s teaching on Spiritual Gifts centers on applied love, using the gifts to build each other up, encouraging each other in love and power.

Next: "Part 3 – New Testament Summary"

copyright ©2012 Mitchell Malloy (http://mitchellmalloyblogspot.com/)

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Scriptural Perspective on Spiritual Gifts

After writing about “Signs in the End Times Church”, I started thinking (with the help of my wife and a couple friends) that I spent more time describing how the church “shouldn’t” view spiritual gifts rather than how it “should”. Having worshiped in different denominations, I’ve heard many different teachings on the gifts of the Spirit. I’ve seen the gifts downplayed, and I’ve seen them over-emphasized. Still, I’ve also been fortunate to hear a few balanced lessons as well. Many very intelligent and faithful Christians have put a lot of thought into the development of some very different beliefs.

Well it might be a simplistic approach, but what if we just agreed to what Scripture has to say? The “Keep it simple” principle works for business, writing, or computer programming, why not apply it to spiritual understanding as well? And since some people believe the Old Testament and the New Testament treat spiritual gifts differently, in my attempt to keep it simple I’ll start with what the New Testament has to say about the gifts of the Spirit.

First, there’s a reality to the gifts.

Years ago, I moved my family from the Washington D.C. area to Orlando, FL to work at a Christian School. As I applied for the position, I was asked to describe my beliefs. Among other things, I stated that I was unashameably evangelical and unreservedly charismatic. Now “evangelical” was a good thing at this school, but “charismatic”? Not so much. During my interview with the board, a man I later grew to both like and respect asked me the question: “Have you ever manifested any extraordinary gifts of the Spirit?” If I had understood at the time what he was asking, I probably would have unwittingly built a case against being hired, providing in great detail how I had seen God work supernaturally in me and through me. The school was a ministry of a church and that particular church did not believe the extraordinary gifts were manifested anymore: prophecy, healing, tongues, interpretation of tongues, etc… the church believed only ordinary gifts were available in the present age. But I didn’t comprehend the intent of his question, and in my ignorance simply replied: “Are there any gifts of the Spirit that are truly ‘ordinary’?” Everyone laughed and the line of questions took a decidedly different direction.

So maybe it was intentional and maybe it was just God moving things to a quick confrontation, but during our first week at the church, they started a sermon series on spiritual gifts. As the definition of “extraordinary” unfolded, I finally understood the question. My wife and I decided to meet with the pastor. We took out our Bibles, thinking we would be able to discuss the church’s position, and he took out a sheet of paper that described the church’s doctrine, stating that if we had the uncontrollable desire to speak in tongues I should look for work elsewhere. There was no dialogue… no exploring what Scripture had to say… nothing but the realization that I had moved my family 19 hours from our nearest friends and family.

However, after praying about it, I decided that the pastor’s position didn’t change my belief that God had called me to be at the school, so we stayed at the church for two years before God gave us permission to move. During that time, I came to understand the church’s position better. It all hinged on two verses toward the end of the Bible:
For I testify to everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: If anyone adds to these things, God will add to him the plagues that are written in this book; and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part from the Book of Life, from the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book. (Revelation 22:18-19)
The church believed that if a person gave a prophetic word, it would be like adding to the prophecy of “this book”. But if they had looked at the Greek word for “book” more closely, they would have understood that the word did not refer to the entirety of Scripture (the Greek word “Graphe”). Rather, it described a “scroll” or “book” as in “a book of the Bible”, in this case being the Book of Revelation. So much built around a couple verses, even to the exclusion of what the rest of the New Testament says!

Ironically, the Book of Revelations inherently refutes the false doctrine that “extraordinary” gifts ceased to manifest:
And I will give power to my two witnesses, and they will prophesy one thousand two hundred and sixty days, clothed in sackcloth.” These are the two olive trees and the two lampstands standing before the God of the earth. And if anyone wants to harm them, fire proceeds from their mouth and devours their enemies. And if anyone wants to harm them, he must be killed in this manner. These have power to shut heaven, so that no rain falls in the days of their prophecy; and they have power over waters to turn them to blood, and to strike the earth with all plagues, as often as they desire. (Revelation 11:3-6)
While there can be different interpretations about the two witnesses, it’s clear they have been given extraordinary, supernatural power… and that their power is manifested after the writing of the Book of Revelation. In other words: the two witnesses demonstrate the extraordinary gifts after the Book of Revelation is written, therefore the extraordinary gifts continue to be manifested in God’s people after the writing of Revelations. So even if there could be doubt as to what John intended in his use of Greek words when he authored Revelations, there can be no doubt that he believed the gift of prophecy would continue to be manifested in believers after Revelations was completed.

Still, even if this implicit acknowledgement could somehow be explained away, there are 3 chapters from 1 Corinthians that insist upon both the reality of spiritual gifts and the importance of understanding them. It starts off with Paul’s words: “Now about spiritual gifts, brothers, I do not want you to be ignorant.” (1 Corinthians 12:1)

In more modern terms, Paul is saying: “Okay guys, listen up! I have something you need to know; it’s about spiritual gifts…”

Next: "Part 2 – Don’t Be Ignorant About Spiritual Gifts"
copyright ©2012 Mitchell Malloy (http://mitchellmalloyblogspot.com/)

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Signs in the End Times Church (Part 5)

Part 5 – Closing Thoughts
Continued from Parts 1-4 http://mitchellmalloy.blogspot.com/2012/06/signs-in-end-times-church.html

After publishing Part 1 on my blog and while in the process of editing subsequent parts, I was having a quiet time that resulted in dreams and visions the morning of 26 June, 2012. Some of it is quite personal, but it’s something I believe I’m supposed to share:
In my prayer time, I fell asleep and dreamt of annoying, mischievous demons displayed on the pages of what looked like a children’s book, much like alphabet pictures. Then the page turned and I saw letters – bold, black, gothic, and ragged letters – covering both open pages of the book. Then I saw Satan coming out of the letters, and I awoke hearing the words: “Hell hath no fury like Satan scorned.” I started to write all this down in my journal when I stopped to ask Jesus what this means, and I had a vision, like the world had gone grey – like a black and white movie – and I saw a metal door built into stone that was like a vault or leading into a cave. Then the door rapidly froze, visibly moving from the contraction of the metal, and I felt the extreme cold, hearing the word: “frigid”. And it was if the metal door was frozen even more tightly shut because of the cold. So I asked Jesus what all this meant, and I heard a voice that I believed to be Him saying it was the door to my soul, frozen cold. So I asked again what this meant and I saw many other things that caused me to believe my close relationships, including my family, was in danger of disappearing. So I asked Jesus to melt the door to my soul, and I saw it melt and evaporate. So I asked again about the pages in my dream. Then I fell asleep again, dreaming that I was talking to a man in a locker room. He was like a coach and he was showing me pages that were like plays in a playbook. I asked him why I hadn’t seen these before, and he said that I wasn’t on the distribution list. So I asked him why not, and he simply replied that I was on the list now. Upon waking, I understood that the pages I saw of mischievous demons were the demonic activity that has been allowed to play with man up to this point, but a page is being turned where all that will seem as child’s play compared to the horror of Satan that is being released upon the world. And I also understand from Revelation 12:17: “Then the dragon was enraged at the woman and went off to wage war against the rest of her offspring —those who keep God’s commands and hold fast their testimony about Jesus.”

So being completely transparent, I believe I have a homework assignment: while Jesus has already melted the door, I believe He’s calling me join Him in the “unfreezing” process. Looking forward to where that leads… I hope it’s not too painful!

Next: "Scriptural Perspective on Spiritual Gifts"
copyright ©2012 Mitchell Malloy (http://mitchellmalloyblogspot.com/)

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Signs in the End Times Church (Part 4)

Part 4 – Marriage of the Administrative and Prophetic
Continued from Parts 1, 2, and 3 http://mitchellmalloy.blogspot.com/2012/06/signs-in-end-times-church.html

So looking back at the preceding sections, the church represented by Ephesus has a strong administrative gifting yet suffers with a love problem. Meanwhile the sister church in Thyatira tolerates misleading doctrine as a result of its desire for greater prophetic understanding. (Revelation 2)

The prophetic and administrative gifts of the Spirit… passion and wisdom… find their union under Christ with difficulty. Yet somehow, these need to be woven together in love (see http://mitchellmalloy.blogspot.com/2011/01/extraordinary-gifts.html). I’ve seen this play out as a struggle for dominance within church bodies, where some administrative authorities earnestly squash the practice of any extraordinary spiritual gift. At the other extreme, the prophetic rebels against the ordinary gifts (e.g. – leadership, wisdom and knowledge) as oppressive, but without the loving and empowering leadership of the administrative gifts, the prophetic tends to tolerate teachings and pleasure-seeking of Christian Witchcraft, prone to every deception and doctrinal error Satan wants to throw their way. And without the supernatural, on-going experience of God, the purely administrative church is in danger of losing its First Love, having its lampstand removed.

I don’t think either option is acceptable. And just as I believe that “Divorce” and “Unhappily Married” aren’t the only options in marriage, so I believe there is a “Happily Married” option for the administrative and prophetic gifts that’s worth pursuing in every church. Just as God has provided headship within a marriage relationship, I believe He has a headship model for the Church (Eph 5:21-33). Christ is undoubtedly the Head of the Church, and I believe He exercises that authority through the administrative gifts. (1 Cor 14:29-40) The Bereans were applauded for their due diligence in researching Scripture when presented with a new revelation. (Acts 17:11)

I believe that the marriage of the administrative and prophetic occurs when both camps understand how they were meant to interact within the church: the administrative gifts empower the right use of the prophetic and the prophetic submits to the headship of the administrative. There is no “either / or” competition between the ordinary and the extraordinary; rather, they complete each other. And like a marriage relationship, they dialogue in mutual submission to Christ, respecting the structure He has given them in which to mature.

For an administrative head, the tough job of leadership is making the hard decisions, carrying the responsibility to direct Christian Education in a way that promotes a growing knowledge and application of the Bible. Church leadership is called to employ Scripture for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training the church in the right way to go. (2 Timothy 3:16) Sometimes, that requires taking a hard stance against prophetic activities that distract from the gospel message, even if they seem otherwise true. (Acts 16:16-18) Misleading teachings, intimidations and pleasure-ploys of Jezebel need to be unequivocally confronted, rebuked and cast out of church. In a healthy church, the prophetic willfully and humbly submits to the administrative headship: encouraging the leadership in the headship role, offering revelation for review and acknowledgement, assisting in the discernment process, and promoting true intimacy with God.

Continued... Part 5 - Closing Thoughts
http://mitchellmalloy.blogspot.com/2012/07/signs-in-end-times-church-part-5.html
copyright ©2012 Mitchell Malloy (http://mitchellmalloyblogspot.com/)

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Signs in the End Times Church (Part 3)

Part 3 – Intimacy with Our First Love
Continued from Parts 1 and 2 http://mitchellmalloy.blogspot.com/2012/06/signs-in-end-times-church.html

Experiencing God should be the biggest ambition of the church… He has to remain our First Love! Why would anyone want to go to heaven if not to be with God and the whole family of believers? The book of Revelation warns the church in Ephesus to recall and hold onto its First Love or face serious consequences. At first glance the Ephesus church seems to be rock solid:
I know your deeds, your hard work and your perseverance. I know that you cannot tolerate wicked people, that you have tested those who claim to be apostles but are not, and have found them false. You have persevered and have endured hardships for my name, and have not grown weary.  
Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken the love you had at first. Consider how far you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first. If you do not repent, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place. (Revelation 2:2-3)
But even though that particular community seems to be doing everything else right, without its First Love, God threatens to remove the church. (NOTE: Revelation 1 explains that lampstands represent churches). The Church was created to be Christ’s Bride and not just a vanguard of doctrinal purity. God’s message of peace is born out of His desire for a love relationship with us. His pure and infinite love demands a deeply committed and intimate love response from us.

I’ve talked with many people throughout the years about the importance of intimacy with God, and I understand that there are different interpretations for this term. Intimacy with God needs to be understood as something more steadfast than a string of spiritually euphoric experiences; it is recognized as a deepening relationship that grows through both difficult and victorious moments, much like a marriage relationship. The Fruit of the Spirit is produced through the maturation process: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. (Galatians 5:22-23) Even in the midst of great pain or trial, the mature believer bears this fruit. Sure, there might be some momentary breakdowns, but we recognize God’s working in us through the fruit He bears in us.

I’ve seen some Christian leaders point to the spiritually euphoric or profound experience as the necessary proof of God’s anointing, but if the Fruit of the Spirit doesn’t accompany the activity, I have to question if it’s truly from God. Without the spiritual maturing that comes through a committed relationship, it is more like “spiritual and emotional pleasure-seeking” than the “marriage model” He has given us. And like a marriage relationship that is only held together through physically euphoric moments, it will either wither under trial or break down under temptation.

Jesus told us that we can judge a tree by its fruit. A good tree will bear good fruit and a bad tree will bear bad fruit. (Matthew 7:16-18) I think we may have a misconception about what constitutes “good fruit” and “bad fruit”. I once thought: “I don’t know if I’ve ever led someone to the Lord… am I producing good fruit?” It really bothered me and for selfish reasons I wanted to evangelize. I was on a mission, and while Jesus used my selfish reasons for good purposes, I recognize it was my mission and not His. Then I read something that made evangelization easy:

I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow. So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow. The one who plants and the one who waters have one purpose, and they will each be rewarded according to their own labor. (1 Corinthians 3:6-8)


The pressure was off… I just needed to be faithful to plant and water, leaving the germination and growth to God. I recognized that my motivation needs to flow from both a loving obedience to God and a love for others, not as a self-edifying indicator of my salvation or holiness. So that caused me to wonder: “what exactly is ‘good fruit’?” When Paul taught in Galatians 5 (supported by Ephesians 5) on life by the Spirit, he explained the concept of the good fruit and the bad fruit in a way that fits contextually with Jesus’ description. The fruit grows in us, for us and through us a marker of Christ’s reign in our lives. When that happens, the Kingdom of Heaven is truly near!

Some people point to numbers as the fruit by which a church can be judged (e.g. – regular attendance, commitments / baptisms, etc.). But if people are following the wrong thing, I wonder if it might be an inoculation against authentic Christianity, destined for disappointment. In my experience, I’ve seen it lead people away from the One Hope we have in Jesus. So I’m reminded of Paul’s rebuke to those that proclaimed a false gospel:
But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let them be under God’s curse! As we have already said, so now I say again: If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let them be under God’s curse! (Galatians 1:8-9)

Continued... Part 4 – Marriage of the Administrative and Prophetic
http://mitchellmalloy.blogspot.com/2012/07/signs-in-end-times-church-part-4.html
copyright ©2012 Mitchell Malloy (http://mitchellmalloyblogspot.com/)

Saturday, June 30, 2012

Signs in the End Times Church (Part 2)


I feel like the last year or so has been a sort of rediscovery… to again understand what I previously knew but had in part unwittingly forgotten. I’ve realized that I’ve strayed slightly in my understanding. I’ve tolerated certain teachings and beliefs that quite frankly don’t line up with God’s Word. As my mind has cleared, I’ve adopted a phrase to describe a particularly nasty issue within the Church: “Christian Witchcraft”. This practice is not “Christian” in it’s orginal sense as a “follower of the Way”; rather, it has found its way into some church cultures. It’s a strong phrase and it should raise concerns, but I believe it’s scripturally sound. I’ll explain, starting first with my understanding of witchcraft. Typically, we associate the term with either devil worship or pagan rituals, but that’s not necessarily the case. There are certain characteristics of witchcraft that can be part of a “Christian” organization:

1. An intent to control others, it includes:
   1.1. Deceit with intent to manipulate
   1.2. Intimidation
2. Encouraging others to do what feels good over doing what’s right
3. Rebellion against authority, especially God’s authority
4. Self-worship (some pastors and lay leaders can easily fall into this)
5. Determined to replace God (e.g. – Jezebel)
   5.1. Being the “face of God” instead of leading others to God
   5.2. Seeking a prophet (more like a “psychic reading”) rather than seeking God

Some of these character flaws were cited by God when He fired the first king of Israel. He said through the prophet Samuel: “For rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft, And stubbornness is as iniquity and idolatry. Because you have rejected the word of the Lord, He also has rejected you from being king.” (1 Samuel 15:23 NKJV) The New International Version translates “stubbornness” as “arrogance”. Saul, the king, was manipulating the people with what they wanted rather than obeying God.

I find it interesting that the number-one-top-witch in the Old Testament is referenced in the Book of Revelations as somehow being associated with the church in Thyatira:
Nevertheless, I have this against you: You tolerate that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophet. By her teaching she misleads my servants into sexual immorality and the eating of food sacrificed to idols. (Revelation 2:20)

Jezebel was the wife of Ahab, King of Israel, during the time of the prophets Elijah and Elisha. There are different verses in Scripture that lead me to believe Ahab had the potential to be a good king, but he allowed himself and the kingdom he ruled to be dominated through pleasure-seeking and intimidation. He is often referred to as the personification of what a king should not be. I could easily digress into this intriguing time in history, but to stay on topic: God warns the end-times church against tolerating “that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophet.”

I interpret this verse along with all the verses addressed to the seven churches of Revelation as a warning to a “type of church” rather than a specific church in a specific time or location. So I believe this church-type is one that is open to the extraordinary gifts of the Holy Spirit, but its big stumbling block is that it too readily accepts all supernatural activity as being from God. Just as Jezebel encouraged Ahab to take whatever pleased his eye, including the property of another man, this church-type is sewn with elements of a prosperity message: God is only going to bring good things into your life… if you let Him: name-it-and-claim-it; we are to advance the Kingdom at all costs (including personal integrity and wounded brothers); etc. It takes on a militant, oppressive, entitled, prideful attitude and discards the Scripture verses that explain the glory of suffering in identification with Christ, assuming that someone suffers from lack of faith or in recompense for their sins. The grace message is perverted to licentiousness and the self-denial that enables holiness is ridiculed as either antiquated thinking or legalistic. Tragically, the wisdom of Scripture is set aside in preference to a new prophetic revelation.

I wish the above was an exaggeration, especially the part where Scripture is discarded in favor of a prophetic word. But it’s not and God has a promise for this type of church:
I have given her time to repent of her immorality, but she is unwilling. So I will cast her on a bed of suffering, and I will make those who commit adultery with her suffer intensely, unless they repent of her ways. I will strike her children dead. Then all the churches will know that I am He who searches hearts and minds, and I will repay each of you according to your deeds.  
Now I say to the rest of you in Thyatira, to you who do not hold to her teaching and have not learned Satan’s so-called deep secrets, ‘I will not impose any other burden on you, except to hold on to what you have until I come.’ (Revelation 2:21-25)

I believe the church should be open to practicing the supernatural presence of God. However, it MUST FIRST be committed to the Bible as the plumb line by which all promoted activities align. This includes the free-flowing of Spiritual Gifts. Supernatural manifestations can occur apart from God’s presence; it’s called demonic activity. Scripture warns that Satan can appear as an angel of light and his men as ministers of righteousness. But it’s all an illusion… a deception. God’s church will be known by the Fruit of the Spirit… primarily by each member’s love for one other. 

Continued... Part 3 – Intimacy with Our First Love
http://mitchellmalloy.blogspot.com/2012/07/signs-in-end-times-church-part-3.html

copyright ©2012 Mitchell Malloy (http://mitchellmalloyblogspot.com/) 

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Signs in the End Times Church

Part 1 – My Journey into Signs and Wonders
I’d like to be writing about God’s love – how to rest in His love and how to walk in it. And to be honest, I want and need more of His love – second by second, minute by minute, hour by hour… forever! But I feel compelled to write first about signs and wonders in the end times church. 

I believe we are either in or very near to the end times. Sure, Christians have believed this for ages, and I don’t doubt that some people will scoff at my beliefs (2 Peter 3:3), proposing other ideas (Jude 1:18). I’m not saying that we are definitely near the end times, but it’s my belief that we are… and it’s been my belief since a very young age that I would live through the end times. I don’t know the day or the hour, but I do know that the time is nearer than it has ever been and that the Church fathers warned us of its proximity (Rom 13:11, Rev 1:3, Rev 22:10). One thing is certain, we are nearer to the end times now than we have ever been before.

So if I still have your attention, I’ll tell you a little about my journey and how I’ve reached certain conclusions. I was raised as a Roman Catholic, which was a good thing for me. At the ripe old age of 25, the Lord reached out to me in the middle of the Mediterranean floating on a U.S. warship. Now, I don’t want to discount the prayers and actions of others who have played a part in my journey, but He chose to speak to me in a quiet, private fashion. He basically used a Gideon’s Bible that had been handed to me four years earlier, using it to reach me in a one-on-one discipleship program at sea. 

By the time my ship pulled into Haifa Israel, I was a newly re-committed Christian. Walking through the Holy Land, He spoke to me in both natural and supernatural ways so that I didn’t (and still don’t) question God’s ability to give spiritual gifts to His people (see http://mitchellmalloy.blogspot.com/2011/01/extraordinary-gifts.html). My sixteen years of Catholic education gave me a perspective of the Holy Land that allowed me to appreciate the places I visited through the Biblical stories I’d heard. Yes, being Catholic was a really good thing for me, and it prepared me for that special time in Israel where I could experience God’s presence in the context of scripture, history, and a reverence for His supernatural power.

So it’s in my spiritual DNA to appreciate both the natural and the supernatural, God working in both ordinary and extraordinary ways. Early in my Christian journey and continuing into the present day, Jesus has taught me through Scripture and experience, speaking to me and explaining verses that didn’t make sense, all the while showing me the importance of asking Him for understanding. In the years I’ve been walking with Him, I have not shied away from experiencing God or from weighing my experience against Scripture. So since signs and wonders are part of my personal experience, as I made my way through the Bible, a couple verses troubled me. First, was Jesus’ warning that “false messiahs and false prophets will appear, performing great signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect.” (Matt 24:24). My second concern was His admonition that a wicked and adulterous generation asks for a sign (Matt 12:39, 16:4, Luke 11:29). Because of these verses, I developed a couple principals when it comes to the miraculous: 
  1. Just because it’s supernatural doesn’t mean it’s from God
  2. I can accept God’s plan to unfold either naturally or supernaturally
 Continued... Part 2 – Christian Witchcraft
http://mitchellmalloy.blogspot.com/2012/06/signs-in-end-times-church-part-2.html

copyright ©2012 Mitchell Malloy (http://mitchellmalloyblogspot.com/)




Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Two Sides of the Coin

I was having a bagel and coffee with a friend one day when he paid me a compliment: he said that I had an uncanny ability to take a look at something, turn it slightly and show a perspective that was completely new. He went on to say that sometimes that makes people feel uncomfortable, that they have a certain way that they want to look at things and then I come around, point out what I see and pull them out of their comfort zone. (Hmmm… at least I think it was a compliment.)
 
So whether it’s a blessing or a curse, that’s just how I’m wired. As I was graduating from college and entering the Navy’s flight training program, I had to take a test that gave me two dimensional pictures and asked me to translate into 3 dimensions. It was an easy exercise for me and I blew the test away. It was supposed to be an indicator of how good I would be as a pilot, but the truth is it didn’t take into account other aspects of how I’m wired. 
 
When it comes to perspective, I can look at a coin and intuitively know there is another side, one that is hidden from view. I can recognize that no matter how thin, there’s a dimension of depth and 360 degrees to explore. Other people may look at the same coin and only see the one side. Still others may have the same understanding that I do, even understand the depth, but move on as something that isn’t of interest. That’s fine. We’re all wired differently, but I like to explore the angles.
 
Take for example the following two verses from Hebrews 12:14-15:
 
 
Make every effort to live in peace with everyone and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord. See to it that no one falls short of the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many.
 
At first glance, it mostly makes sense: 
 
  • Be at peace with everyone
  • Be holy
  • Something about “grace”
  • Don’t be bitter
 
Check. Move on.
 
But I look at it again, searching for depth and flipping it over to examine the coin more closely. Obviously, there’s a connection between living in peace and being holy, and it seems apparent to me that it’s with respect to my relationship with other people. Others can see God reflected through the holy living of God’s people. Recalling that holiness is to be “set apart for God”, I reflect on how my being reserved for Him means that His ways become my ways. Just as Jesus said to His apostles that they knew the Father because they knew Jesus, I understand that my actions reflect Who Jesus is when I am truly living a holy life.
 
Then I look at it more closely and I realize something about holiness. It hits me that I can’t see God unless I’m living a life that’s set apart for Him. I’m called to be holy not just to reflect His love to others, but I need to be holy to see His face. After all, that’s really why I’m in this game: to be with Him. When caught in grasp of sinful behavior, it’s the nature of man to hide from God, believing there’s no possible way He could want a relationship with a “sinner”. He is so good, pure, powerful, and perfect… why would He want to be near a wretch like me? Many at this point start to accuse God before He can accuse them: “If God is so good / strong / all-knowing, then why did He allow ____ to happen?” And to make ourselves feel better, we make up a story to explain why we don’t need to be faithful to God or to be set apart for Him.
 
So without holiness we can’t see the Lord, which leads to a whole new revelation as I turn the Holiness coin over to see Grace on the other side, and I recall that grace is “to be given what I don’t deserve”. I recall how God so loved the world that He sent angels as heralds, proclaiming peace and good will toward men. I remember how He sent his only begotten Son into the world with names that mean “Yahweh Saves” and “God is with us” as part of His message of peace, and that as proof of His great love for us, Jesus was sacrificed in our place to take the death we deserve so that anyone who believes in and calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved from death and have live forever with Him as His adopted children and co-inheritors of the Kingdom of Heaven. God wants a relationship with us despite all our un-holy actions: past, present and future.
 
But I look at the Grace / Holiness coin again, and I see something I overlooked at first: just as holiness pointed in two directions of 1) other men and 2) God, so does grace. Receiving God’s grace, I have the great need to extend it to others. Although striving for holiness, I am still a sinner in need of God’s grace. How can I believe in His grace and love unless I extend it toward others? And just as I am in great need of His grace and love, even when I don’t realize my necessity, I am called to reflect God’s nature in my dealings with them regardless of how they have wronged me. How can I be bitter toward someone who has hurt me if I truly understand God’s grace? Regardless of where we are in our spiritual journey, we must keep the perspective that all our righteousness is as filthy rags compared to His perfection.
 
So I see God and I show God when I seek to be holy, set apart for Him however He chooses to use me. And I extend grace as I receive grace, a gift that is neither earned nor deserved, as a response to this great love He has for me.
 
Turning this coin around in my hand, I realize what a priceless treasure it truly is, grateful to the God Who has given me this undeserved gift. I wonder how I should spend it today?

copyright ©2012 Mitchell Malloy (http://mitchellmalloyblogspot.com/)

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

For Every Thing

Seedlings sneak forth from the snow-dampened earth
    Winter's sigh fades in the the wind
Memories of seasons and years where once planted
    a mother, a father, a mentor, a friend.
Joyful anxiety! Cautious -- desirous --
    the season has come; it is here!
Petals shouting brightly! Blossoms sweetly singing --
    the season has come!  It is hear!

Time hallowed hopes of the summer arrive:
    Exhultation! Rejoicing abounds!
Songs understood from time-ripened growth
    Climbing earnestly up towards the clouds
Squirrels joust playfully, still slightly warefully
    in warm well-known days with the sun.
The landscape's familiar, horizon's peculiar
    in warm well-known days with the sun.

Now the statuesque trees of an earlier summer
    begin a new season of change
And stores from the harvest of meadows and forest
    are carefully planned and arranged
These acorns of wisdom, this grain gleaned with hard hands
    shall not simply fade away soon!
Projecting tommorrows: "These tid-bits we've borrowed
    shall not simply fade away soon!"

Now showing their laurels of snowflakes and starlight
    stately maples and oaks stand firm,
Enjoying their moments of present past future
    and the warmth they had strived to earn,
The seeds have been planted; this season's behind us.
    The time it is near -- it is near
Joyful anxiety! Cautious -- desirous --
    the time it is near.  It is near!

copyright ©2012 Mitchell Malloy (http://mitchellmalloyblogspot.com/)

Sunday, April 1, 2012

The Fickle Heart

“Hosanna! Hosanna in the highest!” shouted the people of Jerusalem as the King of Glory rode into the city. Here was the Promised One they had long awaited! Yet a week later, they shouted a different cry: “Crucify Him!!” Victorious King or Hideous Scoundrel… the heart vacillates between beats. Are we any different from the people who laid down palms for Jesus? I’m not.

My heart seems to work like a tide that ebbs and flows: one moment wholly devoted to Him and the next moment focused on my own selfish desires. The spiritual life is a constant battle, fighting through strategies and tactics toward victory, where any tactic that does not support the prime strategy is doomed to failure. No matter how noble a tactic may sound, it will be twisted to support the Adversary’s strategy if we lose sight of the primary objective that has been given to us: draw close to God.

Like the rich young ruler who asked Jesus what he needed to “do”, we desire a set of tactics so we can heroically win the war. But Jesus gave a strategy that confounded the man, who went away disappointed, essentially saying: “Abandon everything else and walk with Me.”

Or perhaps it’s like Martha, who in frustration complained to Jesus that her sister, Mary, was not helping out with the chores associated with Jesus’ visit, but Jesus responded that Mary had chosen the better activity: spending time with the Guest. Jesus never told Martha that what she was doing was wrong; He simply pointed out that Mary had chosen the better thing. I’ve come to believe that tasks are important, but only as much as they support the relationship.

Mary kept sight of the reason behind all the tasks associated with hosting Jesus’ visit. Martha was distracted by the tactics, perhaps letting her desire for everything to be “perfect” distract her from the main goal (e.g. – spending time with Jesus). The rich young ruler was fully prepared to sacrifice his desires to a set of rules that would give him victory, but he failed to understand that the victory really belongs to God and that our prize is being with Him.

I confess I don’t always appreciate the Prize because I can’t see it clearly. I sometimes forget how beautiful God is. I have not seen with my eyes or often heard with my ears the sights and sounds of heaven, and in my forgetfulness I become distracted by lesser beauties. The pleasure associated with being in God’s presence is incomparable, yet my heart is drawn to smaller things when I can’t see Him.

As a race, mankind is most guilty of two things: self-worship and forgetfulness. We forget God’s greatness and we seek our own will over the One Who desires what is best for us. Like the rich young ruler, we establish rules and standards that we can’t possibly live up to in our desire for self-edification. And in the end, the rules keep us from attaining the prize. Sometimes we turn away from the prize, mistakenly believing we know a better way.

So I identify too closely with the people of Jerusalem to judge their fickle hearts. I, too, can get lost in activities that distract and can seek my own desires over God’s. I am still a man in need a Savior.
If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word is not in us.
1 John 1:8-10 (NIV)
copyright ©2012 Mitchell Malloy (http://mitchellmalloyblogspot.com/)

Sunday, March 25, 2012

What is Church?

NOTE: since this is a long blog, conclusions are summarized at the end of this article
  
“What is church?” my friend Jim asked as he taught a class on Revelations. Jim had been studying the book for 12 years at the time, teaching it to others in both a unique and interesting way as his understanding grew. There are prophecies in chapters 2 and 3 of Revelation to the seven churches, and like all prophecies there are many different interpretations. There are various speculations about what these churches could be. But Jim’s question at the time was more generic, and I took his question as a challenge: “Explain to me what church is meant to be.”
Now answering that question is not easy, and while I think most people can come up with a couple quick opinions that reflect their personal experience, those subjective ideas may not line up with God’s plan. Understanding God’s intention for church can be difficult, especially in light of the diverse ways that we have experienced church. Man’s idea of “church” just doesn’t always line up with God’s.
Even more challenging: one man’s idea of “church” may not line up with another’s. The dictionary identifies seventeen definitions for the word “church”. (http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/church) It is both a noun and a verb. As a noun, it is an object, a location, a group of people, a vocation and a combination of each of these. As a verb, it has both positive and negative connotations. For example, to “church” someone is another way of saying you’re going to “discipline” them.
So I’m going to focus on the term church in a slightly different light from any of the dictionary’s definitions. I’ll start by defining it as an aggregated, living entity composed of members dedicated to God. I’ll describe it as I understand it from Scripture and through the filter of my experience. As a living entity, church can be either healthy or unhealthy, so I’ll limit my description to that of a healthy church.
Now a church is more than just group of people, a collection of individuals; it is an entity in itself. And “The Church” is made up of members across all the collection of Christian churches. “The Church” is the Body of Christ, the Bride of Christ, and while Jesus directly ministers to His Bride as well as to each member of Her Body, He also has a purpose for the Body’s members to minister to each other. It’s God’s purpose that as one body, we are being made into a holy and pure bride for Christ (Ephesians 5:25-33), submitting to Christ’s headship. (Colossians 1:17-18) As members, we are vulnerable with each other, challenge each other and grow together. Two Scripture verses that describe the Body are found in Ephesians 4:15-16.
Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of Him Who is the head, that is, Christ. From Him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.
Ephesians 4:15-16 (NIV)
God has a purpose for His Body as the members interact. The passage above challenges us to speak the truth in love. My experience has shown that a loving confrontation may violate what our society perceives as “nice”. We can be nice without being loving: avoidance, smoothing over the real issues, letting someone else “better equipped” address the issue. But “As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another” (Proverbs 27:17) No, God’s challenge to us is to challenge each other in love, and as the Day of the Lord comes nearer, we need to be intentionally and lovingly challenging each other:
And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.
Hebrews 10:24-25 (NIV)
God created us as social beings. “It’s not good for man to be alone.” (Genesis 2:18) He meant for us to identify with each other, to walk with each other, to work with each other, and to collaborate with each other. He intended for us to “commune” with Him and with each other. The early church understood this so much better than we do. Communion is an important part of the church, to be done frequently and reverently. The reality of our Lord’s Real Presence as we participate in the sacrament of communion is demonstrated in a simple act:
I speak to sensible people; judge for yourselves what I say. Is not the cup of thanksgiving for which we give thanks a participation in the blood of Christ? And is not the bread that we break a participation in the body of Christ? Because there is one loaf, we, who are many, are one body, for we all share the one loaf.
1 Corinthians 10:15-17 (NIV)
For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you: The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.” For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.
1 Corinthians 11:23-26 (NIV)
Our communion is more than bread and wine; it is act of worship and a demonstration of unity. When we worship with each other in celebration of Him, we glorify God. As we worship Him, He magnifies us. Our voices joined together in praise become more beautiful than any single voice. Some years ago, I went to a men’s conference in a football stadium and I needed to leave the event early. Outside the stadium, I heard a set of worship songs, sung by thousands of men who were pouring themselves out in worship to the Lord our God… it was beautiful! The worship band couldn’t be distinguished from the voice of Christ’s Body. It was a unique and wonderful experience, one that people inside the stadium couldn’t hear.
As the father of five kids, I am always heart-warmed when my sons and daughters are harmonious… when they interact well with each other. When my children work together and in other ways show their love for each other (e.g. - take care of each other, stand up for each other, etc.) I just can’t describe how good I feel! I believe this is a reflection of how God feels when His children minister to each other. I’m confident that He is overjoyed every time we encourage someone else. With smiling eyes, He looks upon us with pride when we build each other up, reflecting the love that He has for us. Demonstrating love for each other in both words and deeds is one of the foundational purposes of church:
What then shall we say, brothers and sisters? When you come together, each of you has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation. Everything must be done so that the church may be built up.
1 Corinthians 14:26 (NIV)
Every member of the Body is different, contributing in diverse ways. Each difference is like a spectrum of colors, coalescing on an ever-changing canvas called “church”. One man’s weakness is another’s strength, so that together we fill-in our gaps.
For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you. For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith; if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully.
Romans 12:3-8 (NIV)
(See also 1 Corinthians 12:12-31 and 1 Corinthians 14:11-13)
Church is a place to learn and be encouraged. It’s a place to minister to God and to others. It’s a place where we are ministered to and a place where we are built up.
Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts.
Colossians 3:16 (NIV)
Our talents are to be administered to build each other up. These abilities can appear quite ordinary or supernaturally extraordinary. (http://mitchellmalloy.blogspot.com/2011/01/extraordinary-gifts.html) God uses these extraordinary gifts to bring healing to His people and as a witness to the reality of His powerful love. He has intended the leadership of the church to administer healing, to facilitate a safe environment for healing.
Is anyone among you sick? Let them call the elders of the church to pray over them and anoint them with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise them up. If they have sinned, they will be forgiven.
James 5:14-15 (NIV)
God has always had a heart for the sick, and He desires for His people to share in His ministry to those that are hurting. I believe there are multiple dimensions to health: spiritual, emotional, physical, social, vocational, intellectual, and financial. When we minister to the sick and poor it demonstrates a godly character and reflects God’s love in an often-heartless world.
All they asked was that we should continue to remember the poor, the very thing I had been eager to do all along.
Galatians 2:10 (NIV)
We are called to reflect God’s character and His love, building others up with our gifts. A healthy church isn’t free from sickness or troubles, but it’s led by people of character. That’s why Paul was so clear in identifying the qualifications of an elder. (See 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1) Whether clergy or laity (words I don’t find in the Bible, by the way), church leadership provides spiritual direction for the church, paving a way to spiritual maturity and a growing intimacy with God.
So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.
Ephesians 4:11-13 (NIV) 
The role of an elder is to parent the church, and at times, the hard task of parenting children is to apply discipline.
In the same way your Father in heaven is not willing that any of these little ones should perish. If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over. But if they will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’
Matthew 18:14-16 (NIV)
As a young adult, I discovered the difference between punishment and discipline. We all know punishment: the harsh administration of justice in response to our failures. Many people punish themselves daily, and they fearfully expect punishment from an angry God Who sees all their flaws. But discipline is different. Discipline is applied to correct deficiencies in behavior. In the passage from Matthew 18 above, the key message is in verse 14: “not willing that any of these little ones should perish”!
Discipline is administered by loving parents. Discipline is applied to children who can’t exercise the discipline on their own to correct destructive behaviors. It’s not done for the convenience of the parent. In fact, disciplining children is much more difficult than punishing. Punishment comes from selfish desires to make others conform to an ideal, but discipline gently corrects, seeking creative ways to lead children into maturity.
A spiritual leader is called to be a loving parent who applies disciplines and exercises wise judgment.
Do you not know that we will judge angels? How much more the things of this life! Therefore, if you have disputes about such matters, do you ask for a ruling from those whose way of life is scorned in the church? I say this to shame you. Is it possible that there is nobody among you wise enough to judge a dispute between believers?
1 Corinthians 6:3-5 (NIV)
“Judgment” has become synonymous with “judgmental” in our society. But they are two very different things. To exercise judgment is a display of wisdom. It assesses a situation and determines the appropriate action for the benefit of the family. If a family member creates an unsafe environment, the parent needs to take action to protect the family.
But now I am writing to you that you must not associate with anyone who claims to be a brother or sister but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or slanderer, a drunkard or swindler. Do not even eat with such people. What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside?
1 Corinthians 5:11-12 (NIV)
It is the right and responsibility of leadership to promote an environment that will facilitate spiritual growth. Leaders typically grow up from within the church, but at times the Father adopts a foreigner into the family to remind us of who we are meant to be: an Abraham, a Ruth, or a Paul. He is constantly working to bring us up in maturity, both as individuals and as a family.
So as I best understand it, these are the foundations of church, the essence of what church is meant to be:
  1. To share Communion in Christ with each other
  2. To meet frequently, encouraging each other to love and do good
  3. To provide biblically sound, spiritual direction
  4. To use our different giftings in ministry to each other
  5. To offer healing and minister to the sick and poor
  6. To administer discipline and facilitate safe environments
  7. To be known for our love for each other
This last point is essential for a healthy church and it’s crucial to successful outreach. There’s no more effective evangelism tool than authentic love. That isn’t to say that other tools are wrong (e.g. – tracts, outreach events, etc.). But without genuine love, it’s nothing more than a manipulation technique. A church that is known by its love for one another naturally draws others into the family.
A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.
John 13:34-36 (NIV)  
copyright ©2012 Mitchell Malloy (http://mitchellmalloyblogspot.com/)