Divided Church

Imagine a church wracked by divisions. Powerful leaders promote themselves against each other, each with his ban of loyal followers. One of them is having an affair with his stepmother, and, instead of disciplining him, many in the church boast of his freedom in Christ to behave in such a way. Believers sue each other in secular courts; some like to habitually visit prostitutes. As a back lash against rampant immorality, another fraction in the church is promoting sexual celibacy- complete sexual abstinence for all believers- as the Christian ideal. Still other debates rage about how decisively new Christians should break from their pagan past. Disagreements about men’s and women’s role’s in the church add to the confusion. As if all this were not enough, alleged prophecies and speaking in tongues occur regularly, but not always in constructive fashion. A significant number of these immature Christians do not even believe in the bodily resurrection of Christ!

As the new semester begins, I am entering into a new routine.  God needs to be primary in my planning, if my priories are to line up with my professed beliefs.    So, each day will begin with reading a section of the NIV Application Commentary:  1 Corinthians.  To know about God is not the same thing as knowing God.  We are created to be in relationship with him.  Relationships, though, include knowledge.  We know about the person that we love.  God reveals who he is in Scripture.  So, a big part of a growing relationship is increased knowledge through the reading of the Bible.

1 Corinthians is my book to study this Autumn.  The above paragraph, written by Craig L. Blomberg, is helpful to see how relevant this ancient book is.  The church he is imagining is the reality of the Corinthian church at the time of Paul’s first letter.

I would invite you to join me in reading one entry from the commentary a day (except Sundays).  Today, I started with the introduction, I will re-read it tomorrow.  If you can get yourself a copy of the book, you can always just jump in wherever I am.

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Godliness

What on earth is godliness?  Is anyone interested in it any more?  I have been studying 2 Peter 1 in preparation for teaching at Warrenville Bible Chapel this Sunday.  Godliness is listed as a key step in achieving spiritual maturity.  However, I don’t think many Christians in the West are very interested in being mature.

Christianity has not often been presented as a way to growth and when it has it has often been slammed.  That Christians would claim that they have a path to better living would be elitist or hypocritical.  It is elitist in our culture to claim any monopoly on truth and to be godly implies a better way of living than being ungodly.  So in our ‘participation award’ culture, either everyone is godly or no-one is.  When ‘godly’is equivalent to ‘good’ in the minds of many people, the current belief is that everyone is basically good.  If everyone is good enough, why break your back trying to be better than anyone else?  In this line of reasoning the foundation of the problem can be seen.  We are, even in the church, ungodly in our approach.  The emphasis in our reasoning is often focused on ourselves and others, but the reasoning of a biblical faith is focused on God.  Godliness has two major facets.  One facet is that a person who is godly sees that God permeates all reality and that all of life is subject to the pursuit of God.  The second aspect is that when you live in the pursuit of God bad things don’t fit.  You will become better and better as you pursue God.

An obvious example of this is in the 2016 Rio Olympics where two divers, David Boudia and Steele Johnson were asked how they maintained their composure.  They said that they realised that their primary identity was in Christ and not in their achievement at the Olympics.  This did not make them the best in the Olympics, they won silver, but it did make them better versions of themselves.  In being the best versions of themselves, they became better divers than most other divers in the world.

The hypocrisy in the church is well documented.  Pastors too often fall from grace, having an affair with the secretary or running off with the funds.  Those who demand others cease sinning are often found to be malicious gossips or self-righteous bigots.  So when they might talk about godliness the perception is that they are pronouncing judgment from on high about what their self-righteousness affirms in them and sees as lacking in everyone else.

Another point is that godliness is not really an issue for atheists.  Atheists believe there is no God and so they have no reason to orient their lives toward him (it is ironic that many orient their lives against Him – that would seem like me orienting my life against Big Foot which might be a waste of time).  Agnostics don’t really care.  However, it is Christians and Jewish people in the Bible who are warned against ungodliness and encouraged to cultivate godliness.  So, while we know that most of the world continues in ungodly living, we must ask how the church is in danger of being ungodly.

Ungodliness is not just the condition of being antagonistic of God, it also describes the mind that forgets God.  When we acknowledge this we see that we have far to travel.  I know that I am mindless of God, but through apathy, rebellion, pleasure seeking, and forgetfulness my mind often wanders far from God.  I don’t believe I am worse than most people in this area, but most people are so consumed with achievement, a fast paced life, their own worries, and protecting their frail egos that they miss experiencing God.  We sell a version of the faith that gives salvation from hell, but we don’t call people to a life filled with God.  Subsequently people have a diminished view of what God requires of them because they are afraid of linking works with salvation.  Our watered-down gospel makes a sinful Christian life too much the norm.  By sinful, I mean that it falls short of the glorious existence for which God set us apart.

The greatest maturity often requires the greatest hardship or sacrifice.  Many people do not attain much godliness because they choose ease and comfort.  The easiest path does not require growth or adaptation, but it doesn’t lead to such great victory, either.  In fact, those who choose the easiest path often sneer at those who choose a path that is anything but easy.  Part of ungodliness in the church is an attitude that those who have joy in spite of their circumstances, or who communicate God’s goodness in trials are Pollyannas.  A surer grasp on reality, it would seem, only finds ecstasy in entertainment or coffee shop conversations.  So, our churches entertain more, chatter more, and stand in awe of God less. We seek not so much to understand but to be understood.  We seek to receive.  We seek to grow solely by looking to ourselves and then we find that we aren’t up for much.  Then we form a group and affirm ourselves despite what little we have.

Godliness calls us into ministries that are beyond us.  Godliness calls us off of the highway and along winding roads.  It is like the drive Kelli and I had through the Rockies in order to get back to Denver from Keystone and Arapahoe Basin. We drove directly from Keystone on Highway 6 over the Loveland Pass.  As we drove there were a surprising number of trucks on the highway, making their way over the 11, 990 ft pass.  Truckers might grumble that this route is harder than traveling on I-70, but I-70 goes through a long tunnel at Loveland and The Colorado Department of Transport has said that a truck carrying hazardous waste, having an accident in the tunnel, would cripple the economy.  I am not sure if the truckers appreciate the privilege of making a sacrifice for the Colorado economy.  I hope though, that they are not too busy grumbling to miss the views.

God requires more from some than others.  The reward is that he gives us more of himself and builds us up.  We may feel like God has directed us up over a mountain pass carrying a heavy load.  However, if we take the focus off of ourselves we will see the beauty more clearly of what God is doing through and around us.  That is the road to godliness.

 

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Greet One Another

My Uncle became a Christian but decided to attend one of the larger churches in my home town.  He intellectually assented to the idea that Jesus was a real person who had died for his sin; He knew that attending church is not just something extra for over-achievers; He wanted his wife and himself to hear teaching regularly.  However, he didn’t want to socialize. He didn’t want to get together with other people. He wanted his faith to be a private, personal thing.   You could say he was an introvert and so this was no big deal.   Of course, being an introvert is no sin.  However, introverts have to force themselves into relationships.  This is particularly important when it comes to mental and spiritual health.  Those who are not connected often wither on the vine.  They are less able to work as a team player.  The faith was not designed to be a privatized, internal affair.

In contrast, the apostle Paul had many connections which he made on his travels and he invested in the people whose lives he touched.  He was transparent about his thoughts, fears, and desires for them.  He was grateful for their work in the gospel.  Paul’s primary relationship was with Jesus.  The measure of his other relationships was how they centered on the gospel and whether they were growing in knowledge and depth of insight with Christ.

‘Greet’is repeated many times in the passage below.  Many churches have a time at the beginning, during, or after their service where people say a quick ‘hello.’  There is nothing wrong with that.  What is lacking, though, is any real relational connection.  In an age when regular church attendance is considered twice in a month, standards of connection are slipping.  Facebook or other social media helps us to manage our social interactions – but they lack the tears and trauma of real life-long friendships.  People can escape when hurts need to be addressed.  Greeting people with whom we have laboured is less common, because less people labour with or for the church and more expect a consumer Christianity.  Our churches are looking a feeling more like Selfridges and less like a place where real commitment is expected.

Over the summer I have had the honour of sitting down with young men in their twenties.  Each one of them has connected with me in ways that I did not anticipate.  When I come to camp for my weekly visit they rise with a smile and throw their arms around me and give me a hug.  Several of them have wept with me.  All of them have served with me.  This kind of connection should not be just what we offer at camp.  We must make time on our schedule to eat with our brothers and sisters in the church, to talk about hard things in transparent and vulnerable ways, and do the work of the gospel side by side.  Then, when we are not together, we should pass on greetings.

Greet Prisca and Aquila, my fellow workers in Christ Jesus, who risked their necks for my life, to whom not only I give thanks but all the churches of the Gentiles give thanks as well. Greet also the church in their house. Greet my beloved Epaenetus, who was the first convert to Christ in Asia. Greet Mary, who has worked hard for you. Greet Andronicus and Junia, my kinsmen and my fellow prisoners. They are well known to the apostles, and they were in Christ before me. Greet Ampliatus, my beloved in the Lord. Greet Urbanus, our fellow worker in Christ, and my beloved Stachys. 10 Greet Apelles, who is approved in Christ. Greet those who belong to the family of Aristobulus. 11 Greet my kinsman Herodion. Greet those in the Lord who belong to the family of Narcissus. 12 Greet those workers in the Lord, Tryphaena and Tryphosa. Greet the beloved Persis, who has worked hard in the Lord. 13 Greet Rufus, chosen in the Lord; also his mother, who has been a mother to me as well. 14 Greet Asyncritus, Phlegon, Hermes, Patrobas, Hermas, and the brothers who are with them. 15 Greet Philologus, Julia, Nereus and his sister, and Olympas, and all the saints who are with them.16 Greet one another with a holy kiss. All the churches of Christ greet you.

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Woman Deacons?

I grew up in a tradition that didn’t have female deacons or elders.  They took Paul’s admonition that a woman should live in all submission very seriously.  The women were quiet in all of the meetings that we had.  However, when I reached my late teens women were allowed to pray in the prayer meeting.  They had always been allowed to pray silently alongside the men, but now they were allowed to pray out loud.  Some would say that it was hypocrisy because women were allowed to lead in prayer, but not at the weekends.  Others would say that the church of God became more whole when this move was made.

In chapter 16 of Romans Phoebe is listed as a deacon, diakonos, or servant.  This is where we get our word minister.  Can a woman be a minister?  I hope that it is beyond debate that men and women both minister in the church.  The question is not whether a woman ministers, it is how a woman ministers.  The phrasing below seems to indicate that Phoebe had a respected position in the church of Cenchreae.  The emphasis, though, is not on her title but on her service.  In many church squabbles, the fight is one of power and status.  In this instance, a woman is commended for her leadership in serving others.  Men are called to the same type of leadership.

Men and women need to work together to see the needs in home, church, and community.  Rather than be nagged into submission by a ‘submissive’ wife, a man needs to look for ways the community is best served.  A woman often sees what needs to be done and serves by taking care of it.  Whether that role is empowered by using the title Deacon or whether the actions are behind the scenes, such a woman has the mind of Christ.

I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a deacon of the church in Cenchreae. I ask you to receive her in the Lord in a way worthy of his people and to give her any help she may need from you, for she has been the benefactor of many people, including me.

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So Often Hindered

I would like to go home to England for a visit.  I would like to take my family back to Plymouth and show them the ocean and the moors.  However, for some reason I am often hindered.  I would like to sell our house in McHenry and drop the two hour commute, but each time our house is on the market it doesn’t seem to go well.  We were hindered from selling our house last time because the houses around us went into foreclosure and the housing prices in McHenry plummeted.  This time we have had contracts on a house in Chicago and a contract on our house, but both have fallen through within 24 hours.  I feel hindered.  In Romans 15, Paul had a feeling that God was hindering him, and I identify.

We are hindered when we move forward with plans that are not God’s design for us.  I believe that we can push our way forward and God will allow us to make mistakes but, if we are sensitive to The Spirit orchestrating the environment, we can see God closing some doors to open others.  In Romans 15, Paul knew that he could not go to Rome because he had to go to Jerusalem.  Knowing why some doors are closed and others are open brings some peace.  James explains in his book that anyone who lacks wisdom should ask God and God will give him insight in response to trials of various kinds.  In our desire to sell our house we do not have that insight yet.  However, we received some peace when the second contract fell through.  It gave us insight as to why the first contract might have fallen through.  Why both contracts fell through, though baffles us.  We have a lovely house that has been improved over the years, but people don’t want it.  Meanwhile we still have a total of 4 hours in commute each day.  Either we are choosing to stay at the same job when we should be looking at other jobs, or we are not accepting a commute that God wants for us.  We had assumed that 4 hours in the car each day was a waste, especially when we feel called to homeschool.  We feel ‘hindered’.  However, we do not feel abandoned.  We wrestle with circumstances and we wrestle with God, but we are not isolated.

Please pray for us, if you feel led.  We could do with the wisdom that God gives.  However, these trials do develop our character.  We have to find more patience, more endurance, and we have to give up amassing some savings so that we can make more improvements on the home so that it is salable.  A life of simplicity and patience may be the result of being hindered coming to England or hindered moving house.  According to James, that would be worth more than gold.

This is the reason why I have so often been hindered from coming to you. 23 But now, since I no longer have any room for work in these regions, and since I have longed for many years to come to you, 24 I hope to see you in passing as I go to Spain, and to be helped on my journey there by you, once I have enjoyed your company for a while.25 At present, however, I am going to Jerusalem bringing aid to the saints. 26 For Macedonia and Achaia have been pleased to make some contribution for the poor among the saints at Jerusalem. 27 For they were pleased to do it, and indeed they owe it to them. For if the Gentiles have come to share in their spiritual blessings, they ought also to be of service to them in material blessings. 28 When therefore I have completed this and have delivered to them what has been collected, I will leave for Spain by way of you. 29 I know that when I come to you I will come in the fullness of the blessing of Christ.

30 I appeal to you, brothers, by our Lord Jesus Christ and by the love of the Spirit, to strive together with me in your prayers to God on my behalf, 31 that I may be delivered from the unbelievers in Judea, and that my service for Jerusalem may be acceptable to the saints, 32 so that by God’s will I may come to you with joy and be refreshed in your company. 33 May the God of peace be with you all. Amen.

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Bold Reminder

My grandmother would tell you exactly what she thought.  If you didn’t want to hear it, she would tell you where you could go.  Although more tact could have been employed, you knew where you stood.  If we can navigate the negative emotions of dealing with the truth, the truth is usually best out in the open.  Comments about whether  ‘you look fat in that dress’ are best kept to ourselves, but thoughts and feelings about church finances, kitchen renovations, or why young people are leaving the church should be talked about.

Who are you going to be?  What truth are you going to communicate?  If we are busy trying to make people happy, we often lose our sense of self or our calling in the process.  World changers like Paul, Martin Luther King, or William Wilberforce offended people because they had something important to say.  It has been said that in our postmodern culture reformers can’t be permitted.  The reason is that the majority opinion in culture can’t be challenged. It is immoral to tell people that what they are doing is wrong.  However, somehow, environmentalism, sexual-orientation, and economics have slipped under the radar and their is a lot of moralizing in the media on those subjects.  However, minority opinions are not really welcome.  The myth that Christians are in the majority is outdated.  The debate in the marketplace of ideas has become a rant where people often shout slogans, call each-other names, and drag up muck. It’s not really a place where truth is sought and reasonable argument is had.

Paul is bold and loving in his writing.  His tone may seem harsh to those who have been coddled by an over-protective social structure and education system.  However, he speaks truth and if we are secure in Christ, the truth sets us free.

14 I myself am satisfied about you, my brothers, that you yourselves are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge and able to instruct one another. 15 But on some points I have written to you very boldly by way of reminder, because of the grace given me by God 16 to be a minister of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles in the priestly service of the gospel of God, so that the offering of the Gentiles may be acceptable, sanctified by the Holy Spirit. 17 In Christ Jesus, then, I have reason to be proud of my work for God. 18 For I will not venture to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me to bring the Gentiles to obedience—by word and deed, 19 by the power of signs and wonders, by the power of the Spirit of God—so that from Jerusalem and all the way around to Illyricum I have fulfilled the ministry of the gospel of Christ; 20 and thus I make it my ambition to preach the gospel, not where Christ has already been named, lest I build on someone else’s foundation, 21 but as it is written,

“Those who have never been told of him will see,
    and those who have never heard will understand.”

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God Solves Conflict

We look for ways to serve others to show God’s goodness, but somehow the way forward does not seem clear.  This has been true in my own home where my wife has wanted to spend more on a new house than I have.  Finances are often a source of conflict between a husband and a wife.  I sincerely wanted guidance on how I should proceed in the selling of our house and the purchase of a new one.  Our house has, in our opinion, become under-priced and we thought no-one would buy it and so we thought God had plans for us when a buyer finally came through.  We, therefore, felt justified making an offer on a house in Chicago.

However, between Kelli and me there has been conflict.  We don’t see have the same opinion on finances.  I have tried to adjust my stance regularly, but I have wondered if I was just becoming more foolish.  The words of God to Adam were ringing in my head, “Because you listened to your wife and ate of the tree of which I told you, ‘do not eat,'”  and also the story of Samson listening to Delilah to his ruin.  This was contrasted with committing my way to God and he would make straight my path.

The last couple of days I have been reading Romans 14 and 15 about how Jesus is the example of emptying himself to reach others.  Jesus came in humility and although I have been confused about the limits of self-sacrifice I have sincerely looked to serve.

It is at that point that the seller in Chicago cancelled our contract because they were offered a better contract by someone other than us.  Within 24 hours the buyer of our house in McHenry cancelled their contract without explanation.  So, in one sense the conflict is resolved.  We have the hope of knowing that it is God who is working his will in these circumstances, so although we are sad, we are not crushed.  In one sense the conflict is resolved.

However, now a new conflict arises.  How do we solve the issue of homeschooling our son because of his special needs?  When the fall semester starts we will both once more have a two-hour commute.  Kelli’s solution is to get up at 3:30 a.m. each morning.  On the horizon is another conflict.  However, for now, we have sought the Lord as to what he would want in this situation and we have found that he has removed the disagreement by allowing both contracts to fall through.  At this moment I can sit in the house that I love and enjoy the summer.  I can let go of tomorrow’s worries because the God who is with us today will be present tomorrow.  Then the God of hope will fill me with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit I may abound in hope

For I tell you that Christ became a servant to the circumcised to show God’s truthfulness, in order to confirm the promises given to the patriarchs, and in order that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy. As it is written,

“Therefore I will praise you among the Gentiles,
    and sing to your name.”

10 And again it is said,

“Rejoice, O Gentiles, with his people.”

11 And again,

“Praise the Lord, all you Gentiles,
    and let all the peoples extol him.”

12 And again Isaiah says,

“The root of Jesse will come,
    even he who arises to rule the Gentiles;
in him will the Gentiles hope.”

13 May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.

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