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.

Magnetism

John 12:32              KJV

And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me.

Jesus was talking about his death and resurrection. His being lifted up on the cross like the serpent being put on the pole in the desert is a sign of salvation. Jesus was also talking about his resurrection and ascension. He was making the point that those acts would be the message that called people to him. That’s not all though, to this day, he is still actively calling all people unto him and that is good news.

There is also an evangelical message in here for us. When we lift Jesus up with our words and actions, we demonstrate his attractive properties. People are drawn to the story of Jesus and how he gave himself to save all people. And, there is no one who is not being drawn toward Jesus. That is good news to us. That family member who seems like they are not leaning towards Jesus, are in fact, being drawn to him. They may resist, true, but Jesus is calling to them and drawing them to himself. He is too attractive a figure to say, “No,” to forever. People are moving towards the kingdom because he is drawing them.

We cannot always see the work that is going on in the kingdom, but we have it on the very best authority that we should not worry. Despite how circumstances look, be encouraged. Jesus is not asleep; he is not lying down on the job. He is drawing you to himself too. Even though you are already his, he is drawing you closer and deeper. Look at the verse again. It does say “all” and you are part of all. Isn’t that a lovely insight today? Jesus is pulling you closer to himself every day. With that in mind, how can you not have a great day today? Happy Wednesday!

Called to Preach

2 Corinthians 8: 18

So we’re sending with him the brother who is greatly honored and respected in all the churches for his work of evangelism.

Most of us have been taught at least something about evangelism but there is probably more confusion out there than clarity. Evangelism is definitionally associated with the public preaching of the gospel. Jesus said, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28: 18 – 20). This is the passage from which many people get their ideas on evangelism, but note, Jesus didn’t say go preach at every person you think is not as holy as you or whom you think is not saved. He told us to make disciples of the nations. You may also be familiar with this passage, “And He said to them, ‘Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation,’” (Mark 16: 15). So, there is the preaching piece and we might ask ourselves, to whom does this mandate speak? Is it to preachers or to everyone?

We have adopted a belief that everyone is called to “preach” the gospel. I don’t know if that is true. Ephesians 4, verses 11 – 12 may help clarify this point, “And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ.” There are the saints and there are those who have been appointed to equip the saints. The saints do the work of building up the body of Christ. They go out and tell people the good news about Jesus. The clergy are called to teach, preach and pastor. We are all ministers of God’s gospel, but we do not all have the same function. Enlightenment in this area will help each of us and the ones to whom we wish to minister.

There is another term we use frequently; witnessing. About this Jesus said, “You shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth,” (Acts 1: 8). I do believe every one of us is a witness to Jesus and his ministry. Witnessing is where we get to tell people about what Jesus has done in our lives and to share our testimony. The greatest testimony any of us have is our lives. In other words, the way we conduct our lives draws people to us or repels them. When the love of God is evident in our lives it gives us the chance to talk about Jesus. Of course, most of us want to share what Jesus has done for us but that begins with living a life which makes people care what you have to say. Far too often we have confused our roles and end up in over our heads and on uncertain ground. Rather than telling people the good news about Jesus, we tell them the bad news about themselves. Somewhere we have gotten the mistaken idea that judging people’s behaviors and/or beliefs is the way to attract them to Jesus. There is nothing Biblical in that and we are doing harm rather than spreading grace. Paul said that judgment is putting stumbling blocks in someone’s way.

Our job is to spread the love of God. That’s the message of the gospel. God so loved . . .. We do not even have to decide who is and who is not a good candidate for the Kingdom. God will sort out folks and He will guide them and teach them just as He did each of us. Leave the preaching to the one God calls to the task and take up the mantle of ministry, i.e. ministering to the needs of all people. That is the role to which we are called. Carry the good news, the love and the power of God to the hurting. Lay hands on the sick and release God’s healing power. Pray miracles into people’s lives. Do the work of ministering to people’s needs and God will save their souls. I promise!

C = L

1 Corinthians 13: 1 – 3

If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but do not have love, I have become a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy, and know all mysteries and all knowledge; and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. And if I give all my possessions to feed the poor, and if I surrender my body to be burned, but do not have love, it profits me nothing.

This passage reminds me a bit of Jesus’ brother, James, who said his faith was demonstrated in his works (James 2: 18). Paul essentially says, “I will show you my Christianity by my love.”

There is one true sign of Christianity. That is love. The world is waiting for a sign from Christians and this is it. When love is shown, God is glorified. Everywhere love is shared, God is shared. This is the true test of our faith.

Someone commented recently about how a mutual acquaintance always seems grumpy and in a bad temper. Yet, I know this individual to be camped at the church. He is very involved in church activities and service yet when he leaves the church, he seems to leave his faith behind. He would never be characterized as a gentle, kind, loving person. One wouldn’t say, “There goes the love of Christ.” He is not alone though. We can all think of folks who profess their Christianity but seem to have no love or kindness for others. They will spout theology all day and try to impress you with their Bible knowledge but to borrow from the book of Ecclesiastes, “Vanity of vanities! All is vanity” (Ecclesiastes 1: 2). No one is listening. If they don’t see your love, they will not listen to your speech.

Christianity (C) equals love (L). If not love, then not Christianity. Christianity is the dedication to following Christ. Love required Christ to sacrifice his life. This is how we came to know love (1 John 3: 16). It is, likewise, how the world will come to know Christ and see that we are his followers. “By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another,” (John 13: 35). You see, love is the evidence that something has happened within you. Without love, there is only philosophy. We can espouse our religious philosophy but without the evidence of Christ-like love, it is all vanity. Though we loudly, and even eloquently, pronounce our theology, I imagine Paul saying, “Show me your theology and I will show you my love,” knowing that his love trumps our philosophical, theological banter.”

If the truth were to be told, you could have weak theology but win thousands of people to Christ if you have love. So many people think they have to learn the Bible in order to witness to others but that is all wrong. We don’t learn scripture for them. We learn it for ourselves. All other people need is love. They will figure out the spiritual part if we show them the path and that trail is paved with love. Grace, mercy and love are the gifts God gives us for others. A kind, caring heart and gentle words are the tools of evangelism. Your words are not your witness; your life is. If we are always grouchy and ill tempered; if we are harsh with others, who is going to want to follow us? Who is going to be attracted to our God? This passage from Paul is some of the most important language he wrote. He wants us to acknowledge that love is the key. If we don’t have love, we are that clanging symbol that no one wants to be around. It doesn’t win anyone to God. In fact, they will probably run in the opposite direction. Our great spiritual deeds and faith do them no good. What’s equally alarming is that Paul says that even though you have mountain moving faith, it will do you no good if you don’t have love.

Our today and our future are bound to love because God is love. Love is the essence of our faith. If you don’t have love, then you don’t have the essential part of Christianity. It really is that simple. We may have scars and injuries that effect the way we relate to others, but we also have Jesus who has born our injuries. We must take those things to Christ and receive his mercy, grace and healing so that we can venture forth in the courage of love. Without demonstrative love, our Christianity fails. Christianity equals love. Without love, there is not Christian faith. Take your heart to the Father, to the master healer, and ask Him to conduct a physical. Receive His love so that you have love to give away. Let His love penetrate the deep places of your heart.

This is My commandment, that you love one another, just as I have loved you.” As followers of Christ we are ordered to love one another. If we profess to be his disciples, then we must live out his directive in word and deed. This is not elective; it is the prime directive. Let love become your theology.

Lighthouse Evangelism

Psalm 40: 3      Passion Translation

A new song for a new day rises up in me
every time I think about how he breaks through for me!
Ecstatic praise pours out of my mouth until
everyone hears how God has set me free.
Many will see his miracles;
they’ll stand in awe of God and fall in love with him!

How sweet are the sentiments of David towards his heavenly father. There are many kinds of relationships we can have with Yahweh but the emotional connection David displays is the most enviable of all. When was the last time ecstatic praise poured out of our mouths? Do you know anyone whose praise to God is as deep and meaningful? David was known for his public praise. In fact, he danced himself out of his robes once. It made his wife mad. She wanted him to be cool, show some decorum. He was the king, after all. David was not the foremost king in his own mind though. In his mind he was a minor king who served THE king.

More than anything, though, he loved (and still loves) our God. Yahweh wasn’t a Godly deity reserved for religious duty or rituals. David loved God and served Him out of that love. It is not too much to say he adored Yahweh. He learned to trust God and from that position of trust, they forged a fabulous bond.

Every morning David arose with a new song of praise and gratitude in his heart. Can you even picture what ecstatic praise looks like. David said ecstatic praise poured from his mouth. It wasn’t a trickle. It was a flood. What an image! It must have been a praise gusher, so much praise that David could not contain it. Then again, he didn’t want to. It seems he took great joy in praising our Lord and God.

This is such a beautiful song and verse. One person described it as romantic. It does have that feeling from the romantic period doesn’t it? Such beautiful poetry describing such intense and intimate emotions. I am moved by the end of this stanza. This is evangelism as we have not imagined it.

David said the praise poured out of his mouth so jubilantly that everyone heard about the greatness and the kindness of God. Now that is how we are supposed to evangelize the world. Praise God so freely and excitedly, declaring His great works and tender mercies to us that a hurting world flocks to the Lord of the rescue. David went on to say that miracles will abound and as a result, not only would people be astounded but that they would fall in love with our beloved, Yahweh, God, and His son. Can you picture this? It is beautiful and romantic. The perfect image of the love of our souls saving the entire world. That is, after all, why God sent Jesus to the world, to save our wretched souls.

God is worthy to be praised. Not only has He saved our souls from eternal torment but He is pouring out His blessing upon us right here and right now. He has picked our lives up from the ashes and given us robes of praise. He has bathed us in the glory of His dear son. I don’t know what it takes for us to praise Him as did David, but I would like to find that ecstatic praise not only pouring but gushing out of me. I would like to hear exuberant praise, instead of canned songs. I want God to hear our hearts even more than our voices, hearts that call out to Him with desperate passion. I want to be like David and see people flock to my Lord because I have become great at singing His praises.

Please stop for a moment today and consider this passage. Try to imagine what David must have looked like and what he must have felt. Put yourself in David’s shoes and imagine yourself praising God in that fashion. See miracles flowing out of that praise and thanksgiving so that everywhere we go, everywhere you go, people get healed and saved. You are a lighthouse. None of us will have to say much when people see what God has done. We don’t have to preach. We don’t have to cajole. When they see our joy and God’s love, they will fall in love with Him. What an amazing vision that is.

Witness This

Psalm 39: 1 – 2             NIV

I said, “I will watch my ways and keep my tongue from sin; I will put a muzzle on my mouth while in the presence of the wicked.” So I remained utterly silent, not even saying anything good.

If you want to keep yourself from sin, the tongue is an excellent place to start. Most of us do more damage to ourselves and others with our mouth than any other way. In my book, Journey Through the Bible, chapter 64 is titled Loshon Hora. This is a Hebrew expression for derogatory speech. If you study Loshon Hora, you will discover that the Rabbinical teachings advise against derogatory speech, otherwise called evil talk, not only because of the negative impact upon others but also because it is damaging to the speaker. The words which come out of our mouths either edify us or defile us. So, when we speak negatively about someone else, even if it is true, we tear down ourselves. I encourage you to take this to heart as absolute truth.

David knew the truth of this. Sometimes it is more beneficial to remain silent even when you want to speak truth. Fools cast their pearls before swine. Yet we find ourselves with many words. We want to preach people into the Kingdom of God, but God never told us to do that. Preachers are for the saved, to train them and teach them so they can do into the world and save the wicked. Paul said, “My message and my preaching were not in persuasive words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power,” (1 Corinthians 2: 4). If Paul’s witness was demonstrations of the Spirit and his power, then why do we choose to talk people to death? We are on the wrong path entirely. We should all know by now that people aren’t listening to what we say, they are watching what we do. So, are our lives demonstrations of God’s love? Are we harbingers of His power and grace? People are not interested in what we think. They are interested in God’s presence and we can be those carriers of God’s presence to people, literally, everywhere we go.

Our goal should be to honor Jesus’ commission to us by first obeying Romans 12: 2, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.” See, our job is to be transformed so that people see that which is good and acceptable and perfect. Not us, but God in us. We aren’t perfect in ourselves, but He is. Our mission is to allow the Lord to transform us. That is accomplished through the renewal of our minds. You see, mine and your first task is not to tell the world how to be. It is to let God show us who we should be. Our effort should be focused on our own renewal and subsequent transformation. When we are renewed and transformed, we won’t have to say much because God in us will be loudly visible. We will demonstrate the love and power of the Almighty as did Paul.

We have had this all upside down for so long and we absolutely must correct this. We are the church, we are the temple of the Almighty. That is where people are looking to see if God is alive. We must become more attractive images of Christianity. Don’t try to change them so they can go to heaven. Change you with the power of the Holy Spirit so they want to go to heaven. We’ve been making heaven look like hell. We’ve got to right this ship and mirror our Lord. We are to be his disciples which means we act like him, we talk like him. David said, “I will watch my ways.” We’ve been busy watching their ways. We’ve been acting like the world and frankly, talking like them too, and then trying to persuade others that we know truth.

Let us save ourselves. “Work out your salvation with fear and trembling,” (Philippians 2: 12). Let derogatory speech have no part with you. Keep your tongue from sin. By this we guard ourselves and minister to others.

Foolishness and Power

1 Corinthians 1: 18

For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.

Let’s talk about evangelism a bit today. When you find something good, don’t you want to share it with others? The news about Jesus is good news and we often want to share it with others so they can experience his goodness as we do. Beyond that, though, there is a certain expectation in the church that we share this gospel of good news. After all Jesus did say, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation,” (Mark 16: 15). So, we try to do our part to share the gospel to those we know and people we meet. Unfortunately, it is utter foolishness to them. One version says it is nonsense. To the unregenerate mind the things of God cannot be understood. For that reason, people need to see Christ in addition to hearing of him.

Paul said that Jesus sent him to preach the gospel but not in cleverness of speech that the cross of Christ might be made void, or meaningless (1 Corinthians 1: 17). What do you think he meant by that? How can the preaching of the gospel void the testimony of the cross? In the second chapter of First Corinthians Paul wrote, “And my message and my preaching were not in persuasive words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit, and of power,” (v. 4). Using the word demonstration, he intimates that people need to see the Spirit of God at work, not just be preached to about it. This is where most of us fail in our evangelistic efforts. We don’t let the Spirit of God be seen.

You see, it really is the Spirit’s job to evangelize. We are, as they say, boots on the ground, but the master architect of salvation is the Spirit of God. Paul reveals in verse 2 of First Corinthians: One, that people are called to salvation. By whom are they called? They are called to Jesus by the Holy Spirit. We are the light which, going into all the world, people see and are subsequently called to Jesus.

You and I can save no one but we can be light bringers. We can have testimonies. We can tell of God’s goodness, but we can never convince anyone because it is all foolishness to them. Secondly, Paul said the gospel, to us, is the power of God. This goes along with verse 4 from chapter two, “My message and my preaching were not in persuasive words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit, and of power.” The power of God can be demonstrated; it can be seen. That is our part in evangelism. We are to demonstrate the power of God. Think about this for a moment and let it sink in. Does this make sense to you? Is this what Paul is saying? If you agree that this is the point Paul is making then we need to each ask ourselves, “When was the last time the power of God was demonstrated through my life?” I grant you this is a challenging question and I think most of us will have to admit we have been living powerless lives. Powerlessness in not God’s will for our lives. Would you agree with that? If so, then what are we to do? Are we to continue in our drab existence doing nothing to show God’s power and love to the world? Shall we simply continue going to church on Sunday but keeping our heads low all the other days of the week? Or maybe we will continue to convince ourselves that when Jesus told us to go into all the world he meant for us to preach at the unbelievers until they are persuaded. Do we believe we will find the persuasive speech which will evangelize the world?

It is time we, the church, each one of us, began to take this gospel seriously and allow it to rock us out of our comfort zones. It is time we call upon the name of Jesus to be Lord in this world. It is our time; time to lay hands on the sick and heal them, time to mend broken hearts, but not by persuasive speech, rather by the power of God. Jesus, it is not me who heals, mends, and saves, but rather you. We need to get ourselves out of the center of this dynamic so that Jesus can step in and wield his power. We need not be so concerned that we cannot perform but be convinced that he can. What would it take for you to pray for someone? What kind of miracle is required for us all to begin walking in the earth like the early disciples did? Are you a disciple of Christ? Are you filled with God’s Spirit? Let the goodness and the power of God flow from you. Don’t be a hoarder. God is the God of overflow meaning that He wants His power to overflow from you onto others.

Look, evangelism is easy when people get healed. It is not difficult to convince people of God’s love when you raise their child from the dead. Let’s all get busy. Let’s fulfill the commission Jesus gave us. Go into all the world and share the good news of Jesus.