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 will be published in the future.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Scriptural Perspective on Spiritual Gifts (Part 2)

Continued from
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 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"

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