Civility

1 Timothy 3: 7

And he must have a good reputation with those outside the church, so that he may not fall into reproach and the snare of the devil.

Paul, in writing to Timothy, gave direction regarding the qualifications for church leaders. This verse points out one of the requirements, i.e. that he must have a good reputation outside of the church. I don’t know that we discuss these requirements often, in the general church but perhaps we should. Even if you have been privy to the discussions, is a person’s reputation outside the church something often considered?

When we contemplate this requirement for church leaders we must certainly pause. I know it has given me pause today. I think we are preferring the exact opposite result. We are listening to, choosing and following people who not only do not enjoy a good reputation outside the church but who, instead, alienate those outside the church.

This requirement makes a strong demand upon each one of us. It means that we are not given license to discriminate, and certainly not disparage, any group of people. This is an absolute and it is high time the church adopted love and its central theme. Love means we do not get to disclaim any group of people. One, especially, cannot be a church leader if he or she creates animosity or harm in any segment of the “outside the church” population.

I recall some of the men I have heard speak over the years, whose diatribe is an accusation, conviction and condemnation against a segment of the population. NO MORE, I say. Today is the day we must end this practice. No longer should you tolerate a leader whose rhetoric condemns those outside the church. You, my beloved, are called, this day, to stand up for those outside the church. You are responsible for only allowing leaders who are respected by those outside the church. This is the litmus test. It always was but we have neglected it out of laziness and our own comfort and prejudices. No longer is it acceptable for the church to stand against God’s kids, and I mean any of God’s children, not just the favored and blessed few who have been fortunate enough to come to know Jesus.

Furthermore, we, by our acceptance of abrasive, hate filled leaders are pushing people away from the invitation to Christ. We make grand gestures of missionary trips to remote parts of the world while we allow our leaders to advance positions of judgment and condemnation in our own backyards. Do not misunderstand me. I completely support free speech. I will defend your right to say what you think. However, if you cannot express your opinion in a way which allows you to retain the respect of others, I will not support you for a leadership position in the church. If your rhetoric smells of racism, bigotry, sexism, ageism, or any other intolerant ism, I will defend your right to spew that garbage but I will not allow you to speak for me and I will challenge your right to speak for God.

My God is love. He so loves “the world”, people, that he condemned His own precious son to die a horrific death. It is high time we listened to Paul’s admonition to Timothy and only support those as leaders who can preach a gospel of love and acceptance. We do not have to agree with one another. We don’t even have to adopt the party line. We do have to treat each other with human civility and kindness. It doesn’t matter which side of any debate you choose, that is not the point. The point is that Jesus died for each and every one of us and that includes those people outside the church, especially those outside the church. It is time we took the responsibility of social leadership which means embracing people of differing customs and opinions with grace and humility. Therefore, you and I have the responsibility to elect leaders in our churches, and even of other social and governmental organizations who can respect others and listen to them. If they cannot love the world, as God did, then Paul would have us reject them as leaders.

We can remodel our churches and make them a viable force for good in society if we will make this one requirement mandatory. If we will do this, the church can again become an important player in society instead of the institution of last resort.

And last, whatever your scars, blemishes, spots and wrinkles; despite your sins, beliefs and shortcomings; without regard to whether or not you are saved, you are a child of the living God. He loves you and so do I. Do not feel alone and unaccepted. Do not allow yourself to be isolated by judgment and condemnation. Of all the voices out there, only one of those gave his life for you. Listen to that voice and damn the others. Reach out to the Father who gave all for you. Let him bathe you in His continual love and mercy.

The Crimson Lens

Romans 5:9

Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from the wrath of God through Him.

In 2015 I wrote a devotion titled “The Crimson Veil.” The substance of that article is about the effect the blood has on our relationship with the Father. When He looks at us, He looks through a crimson veil, that veil being the blood of Christ. God sees Jesus’ righteousness and worth when He looks at us because He looks through the veil of sacrificial blood. Speaking for myself, that is a powerful image and certainly helps me understand who I am in Christ. And, it is a relief because which of us wishes to stand in our own right?

I had another thought about the crimson veil, though. You have heard that we all perceive the world according to our own filters or through the lens of our world, hence the rose-colored lens. It dawned on me that if I saw the world through a crimson colored lens it would most certainly color my perspective. What if I was able to see other people through God’s crimson-colored lens? I think that would change my world, and that would be a good thing.

Imagine if we all looked at the world through crimson-colored glasses. Think of some of the challenges of 2020 and then put on Dad’s glasses and look at them anew. Does it change our thoughts, our prayers? What does the world look like when it is covered in Jesus’ blood? Oh my!

This one observation shows why God cannot be the judgmental, vengeful God some people make Him out to be. He sees Jesus’ blood everywhere He looks. Imagine if Christians saw every other person through the crimson lens. What if, when we looked at someone who might not even have a redeeming character, we, none the less, saw them splattered with that precious blood? How would that change things? Well, it is something to pray for. I think I would be much more gracious and accepting. Wouldn’t anger recede? What about a sense of betrayal? Think about someone who really gets under your skin and imagine Jesus’ blood covering them. Isn’t it harder to feel the anger and frustration that you might normally experience? Maybe we should all take a deep yoga breath, slowly and fully exhale, and picture our adversaries covered in the sacred blood. I believe this could change the world and in a hurry.

Grace Extended

Proverb 3: 34

Though He scoffs at the scoffers, yet He gives grace to the afflicted.

While the simplest, and perhaps most functional, description of the word grace is “unmerited favor” it is far from a full understanding. If you run a search on the word grace and read all of the verses in which it appears, you will see that for yourself.

That which began my look into the word grace was actually an observation about judgment. I wrote in my journal, “there can be no grace where there is judgment.” That was my epiphany at that moment. It began me thinking about this “grace” we hear about. Two outstanding revelations have shown themselves as I have studied this word. The latter will be the subject of tomorrow’s Word of the Day. Today, the meaning of the word “grace” which has me mesmerized is, “acceptance.”

Lying on my writing desk right now is my Strong’s, my Bible, a Vine’s and Nelson’s Bible Dictionary. They are threatening to collapse my desk under their combined weight. The weightiest of all, though, is their exhaustive description of grace. I will refer back to them in a moment but there is another book here in front of me. It is a by Dr. Jim Richards and Chaim Bentorah and features ten words explained in the original languages. In the chapter on the word grace, Bentorah wrote, “There is one other definition of Chen and even Charis other than grace, it is acceptance.” Chen is the Hebrew word for grace and Charis, the Greek. Bentorah identifies one of the other synonyms in English as “acceptance.” That is a stunning, but then again, intuitive disclosure.

As I searched Chen and Charis in this mountain of resource material beside me, I saw that the scholars agree with that assessment. God’s grace includes acceptance. That rings true intuitively because how meaningful is “unmerited (unearned) favor” without acceptance. God called out to each of us inviting us into His family. He accepted us, as we were, and poured the righteousness of Jesus’ blood over us so that we could enter into His peace and dwell in His tent.

This chain of thought leads right back to judgment. It is logically impossible for either us or God to extend grace and acceptance while criticizing and condemning. We must choose. Either God is grace and mercy, or He is judgment and condemnation. Which is it? As applied to me, I choose to accept God’s grace. That isn’t a difficult intellectual question, theologically. The challenge is when I, or we, extend our theology towards others. Then we must either retract our judgmental approach towards others or evaluate if we really believe in a God of grace. Here is where the modern church often comes off the rails. We are challenged to keep the symmetry between ourselves and those “heathen” out there. We forget, sometimes, that we were once they. This is exactly why you hear theology of a God of love coming out of one side of the church’s mouth and a God of wrath coming from the other. We become very schizophrenic in our theology.

Let me make this simple. Our God is not only a God of love, He actually is love. He can do not thing which is inconsistent with love. That is why He is grace, mercy, kindness, forgiveness and acceptance. That is why He put His son on a cross for us. He knew our shortfalls. He knew our ridiculousness. None the less, love compelled Him to take all that judgment you hear about and heap it onto Jesus’ back. Only then could He express Himself towards us. He had to remove the judgment problem so that He could show His acceptance and shower us with favor.

In order, then, to heal the church from its emotional schism, we must extend the same acceptance to others, all others. This is the way, because Jesus is the grace of God. “We believe that we are saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, in the same way as they also are,” (Acts 15: 11). By grace we have been led to the throne of God. By grace we help others find their way too. Therefore, we will refrain from judgment and extend our hands in acceptance. In this way, we will show, and share, the grace of God.

Who Condemns?

Romans 8: 34              NIV

Who then is the one who condemns? No one. Christ Jesus who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us.

Yesterday I wrote to you about condemnation and freedom. Today’s verse asks, “Who … condemns?” There is only one fit and worthy to condemn anyone. That is Jesus. It was he who went to the cross, died and then arose to sit in glory at the right hand of the Father. So, does he sit there whispering into the Father’s ear all the things we are doing wrong? No. He constantly intercedes for us. Intercession is prayer on the behalf of someone else.

Jesus won his battle. He accomplished his purpose. Why isn’t he just relaxing, eating grapes. For that matter, why doesn’t he complain about all he did for us and how we fail to utilize his good gifts and even the way so many people ignore what he did for them. We may not be very holy either but at least we recognize his sacrifice.

The only person who is worthy to condemn you has chosen, instead, to pray for you. What does that tell you about condemnation and freedom? God values liberty over criticism. He isn’t a disapproving God. He sent his son to you so that your approval is guaranteed. Rejoice in the loving God who accepts you and calls you His own.

Unity v. Uniformity

1 Peter 2: 1 – 2

Therefore, putting aside all malice and all guile and hypocrisy and envy and all slander, like newborn babes, long for the pure milk of the word, that by it you may grow in respect to salvation.

We have all heard the sermons based on this scripture. I have no doubt that you could talk about its meanings and implications for quite a while yourself. I want us to look at this slightly differently today. Let us pull back from its application to us as individuals to a more global level. How does this scripture affect us as the body of Christ rather than just as Christians?

While we are all called to Christ by Yahweh, the Father of our Lord, we are also divided along many lines: denominational, theological, cultural, geographical and more. Sometimes I think there is more that divides us than that which unites us. Few would disagree, though, when I say that what unites us is much more important than that which divides us. Is this a call for unity, then? Absolutely, but that idea is so esoteric that as we devolve back to our daily, individual lives, it may be difficult to discern the larger implications of our individual thoughts, words and actions. I believe that as we close in on the end of this age, the age which is to usher in the return of the Lord Jesus, it is imperative that we find the means by which to lay aside our differences and to come together as a unified body of believers.

The beginning of such a move is imbedded in the end of today’s passage: “[L]ike newborn babes, long for the pure milk of the word, that by it you may grow in respect to salvation.” As we yearn for the pure milk of the Word, as we feed on it as on mother’s milk, we unavoidably grow.” There is no way you can feed your spirit on the Word of God and remain an infant. However, if you only feed your brain and intellect on the Bible, you will not necessarily grow. This longing for the Word comes from the deep places of our soul. It is not a pursuit knowledge but rather a quest for the Lord Jesus himself. When we long for his Word, we find him. In that finding is the growth in the fullness of salvation, remembering, of course, that this salvation applies to every facet of life: saved in your health, saved in your finances, saved in your family relationships, saved in your occupation. It means fullness in every one of those areas and all others as well. The more filled up we become with the Lord Jesus, the Holy Spirit and the Father, then the less our differences matter. We become united by that which is important and recognize that the dissimilarities in doctrine and belief are the Father’s problem rather than ours.

From that revelation comes the unity and it immediately applies itself to the former portion of the verse. No longer do we feel a need to slander another denomination or belief system. There is no more room for malice and guile. In these latter days it is important that we allow the leading of the Holy Spirit in our lives, personally, and in our assemblies. Even firmly structured denominations will find the need, and the impetus, to incorporate flexibility and acceptance. Jesus said to gather in the tares with the wheat and let the Father sort it out. In other words, we do not have to bear the responsibility of who gets saved and who goes to hell. That is all on the Father. We can even let people into our congregations that seem different. If the truth were to be known, few people in our denominations or even in our own congregations agree with every fiber of our doctrine anyway.

If the Church of Jesus Christ is to be fitted together as a Holy Edifice for our Father, then we must not reject one another. Each brick may be slightly different. The miracle is not in our uniformity but rather in our cohesion. Therefore, let us bite our tongues in criticism of other Christian groups or denominations. Let us individually abandon our superiority complexes in favor of acceptance. Only together are we the body of Christ. Individually, we are just a severed, lifeless body part. Malign no one nor group. Let the unfavored have a place and a voice. Embrace all who believe in Jesus as the Christ and Lord. Seek the pure milk which is Jesus as the Word and include all other seekers. We can now put aside the childish things, as Paul declared (1 Corinthians 13: 11), and take our positions as strong pillars of faith.

Love Quantified

John 17: 23

I am in them, and you are in me. So they are completely united. In this way the world knows that you have sent me and that you have loved them in the same way you have loved me.

This is one of those verses you may want to read in several translations. Although, the same point is made in all, they have slightly different nuances. As you will have perceived, these are the words of Jesus. This speech is conversation with the Father. The first observation we may make is how normal Jesus’ dialogue with the Father sounds. It is not stilted, formal prayer. He is simply talking.

Then, as we begin looking at his words, we learn that he is in us as the Father is in him. If we stop right there, we have a very powerful concept to meditate on. What does this mean to our lives? Jesus is to us as the Father was to him in his walk on the earth. Everything the Father is resided in Jesus. He is the all in all. Then all that Jesus had, which included the fullness of the Father, came to reside in us. Isn’t that what Jesus says in this passage? He is in us in like manner to the Father in him. This joining of the Father in Jesus and Jesus’ residence in us is supposed to bring us into complete, and even perfect harmony or unity. It does not say that we agree on all doctrine. It does not say we do not have differences of opinion. It does say, though, that we are united in him, completely and totally. If we are not in unity, I hazard to say we are not truly in Christ or allowing him to abide with us. There is no disunity for all who are in Christ and in whom Christ has made his home. I don’t care if you are Catholic, Baptist or even a Messianic Jew. There is only one body and we are either in or out, it is our choice.

This is a crucial message of the times. As we approach the end of this age, we must come into a united purpose in Christ Jesus. Only a united body will reach the world with the good news of Jesus, the risen Christ. As long as we are back biting and disparaging one another, the world will not come to know that God sent Jesus or that He loves us all, even the heathen unsaved, as much as He loves Jesus. Only our love and tolerance of one another will show the world the love of God. The doctrinal and theological points we tear the house apart over are of no importance to God. In fact, I very much believe we will get to heaven, run to Him and argue our case only to find we were all wrong. Those things just don’t matter. What matters is that the world, which is suffering and broken, sees the love of Christ. If we cannot love our brothers, if we constantly fight with one another, then how is the world ever going to believe in the love of God?

Jesus tells us in this passage that the Father loves us all as He loves Jesus. How much larger a revelation do any of us need than that. If you think God loves Jesus, then you must also accept that He loves you that much. He also loves every single non-believer in the same quantity and quality of love. Whatsmore, He even loves those crazy people in the church down the street.

We are not going to gain ground by telling the unsaved what decrepit, wicked people they are. In truth, I can’t think of much the Father despises more than that. They, like all of us, need to hear that God loves them. They also need to see us loving one another. So, regardless of our doctrinal stripes, let us wrap our arms around each other, joining in one united purpose – that is to share (and show) the love of Christ, the love that gives all for the other person. We need to major on love and learn what it means. There is a graduate study for you. It is a subject so rich and so deep that it will take the rest of our lives, here and beyond, to fathom its depths. Let’s just do our best to let a little of Jesus seep out of us today. You will have challenges today, especially if you have to drive anywhere. You will encounter unlovely people whose mind is solely on themselves. Reach in and touch Jesus within you and let him shine on those people. Let the world see for once and for all that God is love and that He loves ever single person.

Christ is in you today.

Unwed Shame

Luke 2: 4 – 5

And Joseph also went up from Galilee from the city of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and family of David, in order to register, along with Mary, who was engaged to him, and was with child.

Mary, the mother of Jesus; venerated, adored and even prayed to, alas was an unwed, pregnant woman.

The Christmas story of Jesus’ birth is such a heartwarming tale. I love to read it every year and try to imagine the glory of the Lord shining over the shepherds. What was it like to see the angelic and heavenly host singing praises to God. Wow! Just Wow! It is epic and I want to be translated back to that lonely field and witness the glory of the Lord. As I read, again, the glorious account of the arrival of Messiah, I am struck by the reality Mary, Joseph and others had to live in order to bring this miracle into the earth. I am humbled and whisper softly, “Thank you Father for these obedient servants.” I do not pray to Mary, but I sure am grateful and praise the Father that she hearkened to His voice and His will.

Consider for a moment, people all over this globe have heard the story of the Virgin Mary. She has been depicted in art probably more than any other person in history save Jesus himself. The truth is, though, she was an unwed mother. Now how does that truth play in your neighborhood? What do you think the neighbors said over 2000 years ago? Do you think everyone rushed to her side when her pregnancy was revealed? How celebrated do you think she was then? Think of all of her neighbors. I bet she had one of those judgmental, gossipy old crones living just down the street from her family’s home. Can you for a moment imagine what her parents endured? And bless Joseph, he hung in there with her but at first he wanted to put her quietly away. How familiar does that sound?

There is not going to be another virgin birth but what these matriarchal heroes endured for the glory of the coming king, gives me pause. What would I have said about Mary if I lived down the street from her when her pregnancy was exposed? As much as I do not wish to admit it, I can tell you that I would have judged her. I would probably have thought less kindly towards her and Joseph. I certainly would have assumed I knew how they came to be in that unfortunate circumstance.

I am condemned; not they. They obeyed God at great personal cost. The result of their obedience and shame is my own salvation. I must consider my judgmental attitudes and repent. Who is it today that I judge? Are they not also the beloved of God? Is God’s heart grieved when I judge and criticize His child? “Oh Lord, my God, save me from myself! Help me, help us all to have tender hearts towards all your children, especially, Father, those who appear far from you for we can never know their hearts or circumstances but we do know that you love them as much as you love precious Jesus. No matter how damaged and broken we are, regardless of how far we have wandered from the path, your heart is for us. Help us all to remember the pregnant, unmarried mother of the savior of the world when next we think harsh, judgmental words about one of your own.”

No minister and no ministry is perfect; I least of all. Nonetheless, I wish to echo Jesus’ beckoning statement, “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28). Do you know someone who feels shunned or branded as an outcast? Is there someone in your life who feels they have been let down by the church? Jesus took all judgment onto himself so that the grace of God could come on us. Let those people know that God loves them and so do we. In the famous words of Tiny Tim, “God bless us everyone.” And Scrooge, that means you too.