Saturday, August 31, 2013

Seven Churches (3)

In the letter to the third church, Jesus reminds them that when he speaks, it is the word of God. It is the final word. It breathed life into the world. It is the standard by which everything is judged. It can be trusted beyond all else.

He reminds them of these facts, because they live in a place that is very hostile to the family of God. He calls it the throne of Satan. He doesn't say why specifically. Certainly, because of its oppression. (One of the church's leaders was executed in a particularly nasty way.) But he does commend them for being faithful in the face of the oppression.
But he does warn them about an area they are failing in. They are allowing disrupting influences to remain in their midst. They are allowing a group of people who do not hold to God's standards to influence them. They have not broken away from the sins of the people. Scripture specifically mentions eating meat sacrificed to idols, and committing immorality. They are not honoring God with their lives.

NOTE: It occurs to me that these people may not have fully given their allegiance to Jesus. Part of worship of idols at that time was participating in feast honoring a particular God, and visiting the temple prostitutes. We have people with one foot in one camp, and one in the other. So, the influence God wishes his children to have in the city has been polluted.
The second group who are influencing God's family wrongly are identified as the Nicolaitans. There is no certain definition of how these people were polluting the family of God. Some hold that these were followers of an early disciple of Jesus, who chose to follow the Gnostic philosophy. (Which held that only the spiritual world was true. The physical world was more or less illusion, so it did not matter at all what one did in it.) Others held that these were people oppressors. Possibly leaders in the church who did not walk in the love and service that Jesus commanded leaders to follow.

Jesus simply commands the church to repent, or he will bring judgment on the church. He encourages them to persevere and choose obedience. If they persevere, he will first give them a special food. He uses the word "manna" which identifies the food God miraculously provided in the wilderness, sustaining Israel for 40 years.

And he will give them a new identity. The symbol was a white stone with a new name. Only the person receiving the stone will understand what the name means. There will be a new identity and a new relationship with God, special and unique for each person.

Friday, August 30, 2013

Seven Churches (1)

In the letter to the first church, Jesus introduces himself as one who is present , active and ruling all his churches. He hasn't forsaken or given up on anyone. He continues to foster the growth and success of any church, of anyone who seeks to follow him. And he reminds us who is the boss. Most churches have a senior/leading pastor. Most member believe, as far as the church is concerned, that pastor is calling the shots. Not true. The head of the body of Christ, the family of Jesus, is still Jesus. And he still expects us to do things his way.

The church was "good" at following his standards. The bible does draw lines, and it would be good to stay on the right side of those lines. This church excelled at recognizing where the lines fell, how to stay within them, who went outside them, and what to do about that.

The church was "good" at morality; the church was "bad" at love.

Some people look at the "bad" as failing to keep their "first love." And some look at it as failing to love as "at the first." So, one says the relationship with Jesus was not right. The other say they became so focused on discerning calling out evil, that they forgot God's #1 priority -- love! 

The first two and most important commands, according to Jesus, are to love God, and to love people. No matter which way you look at it, this church had its priorities messed up.

I sometimes think that one feeds the other. If your relationship with God grows the way it should, you take on the qualities of God -- the first big one being love. And if you love people, you develop the heart and mind-set of God.So, your understanding of God and your relationship with God grows.

If they did not get their priorities with God straight, the church would die. If they did not follow the priorities of God, the Spirit of God would cease to flow through them. The relationship would dry up. The things that give any church life would cease to exist. So, the church would diminish until it was gone.

If they turned around and got it straightened out, they would eat from the "tree of life." God planted a tree in the first garden before the world broke. The tree provided life and healing. This new tree would do the same, but it will also be planted before the throne of God. So, they will have life, healing and continual availability to the presence of God. The relationship will grow more real in a way it has never been with anyone, except Jesus.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Seven Churches

There is a section of Scripture, where Jesus dictates some letters to one of his disciples. The letters are short, and intended for seven local churches -- ie. churches in a specific city.

The letters follow a basic pattern. Not all the letters follow this pattern fully. 
  • From: An identification of who wrote the letter. Which was Jesus. But the "from" highlights a particular trait or truth about Jesus.
  • Good: The church had strengths, something they did well. Jesus praises them and encourages them.
  • Bad: The church had weaknesses, something they were failing in. Jesus warns and corrects them.
  • Promise: Jesus wanted them to press forward, to keep striving. If the church did so, he gave them a promise.
  • Warning: In a number of cases, Jesus warns them of consequences of continuing in the bad behavior.
NOTE: If you haven't figured it out, I have been looking at this particular section of scripture, and I have some thoughts about the seven churches. 

Monday, August 26, 2013

Be the Church (Love) - XVI

"Always perseveres" is the last quality of love. (We could discuss "never fails," which I have not planned to. And we could discuss the possibility that the last four qualities form some sort of unit.) One might be tempted to put this quality in the same bucket with "patient" and "not provoked." I think those two deal with relationships and this one deals with circumstances.

Walking with someone through some type of trouble is different than walking through you own troubles, or walking through circumstances where another person has developed some type of animosity towards you.

There is a quote about Mother Theresa. Many people have gone into the slum of Calcutta to help people there. But, after a while, they went home. Mother Theresa went into the slums ... and stayed.

Just like God doesn't give up on us, but stays the course until the end, we need to stay the course.

I don't think this always means getting involved with something or someone, and never moving onto something new. But there is a tendency among many people to move on when the next glittery thing appears, or problems reach a certain threshhold.

It is staying until things work out, or improve, or until the parameters indicate one's part in the job is done, that shows love. Jesus had a purpose. It was to accomplish particular things. He did not need to walk for a long time, in terms of years. But he did have to walk along a very difficult road. And he stayed on that road until the end.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Be the Church (Love) - XV

"Always hopes" is the next quality of love. Hope seems to be the same things across all languages and cultures. It is a positive expectation of the future. In some cases, it can be more like wishful thinking. Like hoping to get rich by winning the lottery.

We can have positive expectations of the future that are based on whimsy. And we can have expectations that are based on the character of our Father. If our hopes are based on a chance happening with the odds of 175 million to one, we are going to be disappointed most of the time. If our hopes are based on someone who loves us, wants our best, has planned a good ending for us, and has the power and authority to complete it, we can be pretty confident it will happen.

There is another aspect of having a positive expectation of the future. It is how we look at people.

Often, when people look at other people, they see their lacks, failures, sins and everywhere else they are not meeting up. When God looks at people, especially children in his family, what does he see? He sees Jesus.

God is committed to transforming each and every one of his children into the image of Jesus. Eventually, if you are his child, you will be like Jesus. Your character will be forged. There will be no lacks, no failures, no sins and completion in everything. God has this picture of what someone will be like whenever he interacts with anyone, whenever he thinks about anyone.

This is a trait which probably is impossible for us to complete, because of physical limits. But this is a trait of love. We ought to approach each person -- saved, unsaved, ourselves -- with Jesus' vision of who that person is ultimately in mind.

This is really foreign thinking. Human beings see faults and failures so well, it is very difficult to imagine how viewing people's present condition from the perspective of their potential will affect current relationships. How will this affect words and actions toward other people? (Looks like more thought is required.) But I am convinced Jesus looked at people this way. God still looks at people this way. It was part of how Jesus impacted lives. Knowing that it is an expression of love, that Jesus followed this quality and that combination shook the world, that should be enough for any Jesus follower to seek to understand and practice it.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Be the Church (Love) - XIV

"Always trusts" is the next quality of love. It is another quality stated differently in different versions. "Always trusts", "believes all things" and "never loses faith" are some examples.

The original word is usually translated in some form of "I believe" in the Bible, and it is used for all variations of that.

  • I believe you -- meaning I think you are telling the truth.
  • I believe in you -- meaning I am confident of your abilities.
  • I believe in you -- meaning I trust you ... with my life, to do the right thing, with my money.
  • I believe in you -- meaning I am behind you, I support you, I am committed to you.
I tend to view this as the last definition mentioned: to stand with, to be  committed to other people.

If a person gets married, it doesn't take too long for he\she to realize that there are habits, traits and tendencies that they don't like in their partner. That person could follow the trend of modern society and divorce their partner for not being perfect. It is love that motivates people to choose to be committed in spite of failures.

The family of Jesus should be an inclusive group. Everyone is welcome. Young/old. Rich/poor. Male/female. Black/white/yellow/green/purple. Allegiance to Jesus should be given from every single type of background. (There is a place in the Bible describing heaven. Every nation, tribe, and language was represented as standing in God's presence.)
If everyone is welcome, there will be different foods, different manners, and different jokes. There will be people whose sense of modesty, morality and work ethic will be different. Those entering Jesus' family will naturally see their habits, practices, preferences and cultural norms as being jsut as valued as the family they are joining.

It is this commitment to one another that begins the unity, builds trust and facilitates God's transforming work in people's lives. It is certainly this willingness to embrace and endure differences in people -- cultural and lifestyle -- that will demonstrate God's love and his family's love.

NOTE: I am beginning to wonder if the last four qualities are intended to stand together. Four qualities that affect the way Jesus' family should view, interact and deal with people who are different, who do not fully embrace the Jesus-lifestyle, but who are God's children.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Be the Church (Love) - XIII

"Always protects" is the next quality of love. It is another quality that is worded in different ways. "Always protects", "bears all things" and "never gives up" are some examples. A number of people seem to think it connotes covering up something -- as in hiding or burying.

So, is it:
  * Putting up with the faullts of others?
  * Covering up the faults of others?
        (Not in the sense of abetting a crime or sin, but protecting reputations from unnecessary damage.)
  * Carrying people's burdens, as in helping to solve problems, or easing their effects?

Maybe, it is a panorama of response to the trials and troubles of others. Especially trouble they bring on themselves because of inexperience, a character flaw, or some chronic condition created by mistakes the person made. The three responses I gave above are all responses to the failures of people. Given someone's failure\wrong doing, love seeks to limit the ripple effects that erupt from the person's actions. It minimizes the damage done to the person, and to anyone else involved. It is one way Jesus followers fulfill their role as peace makers.

Any individual Jesus follower may not have an impact on the global stage. But dampening discord in families, neighborhoods and churches will decrease the overall "noise level." And who knows who will notice.    

Be the Church (Love) - XII

“Does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth” is the next quality of love. (I suppose we could separate this into two, bust like boasting and arrogance, they seem to form a unit.)

Love is not just serving, and being gentle and ice. It there is a parent, who feeds his children only candy and coke, the would be some truth the assertion that this parent does not love his children. The children may be happy and enjoying life, but we all know a strict diet of candy and coke is not good for anybody. To grow and be healthy, a person needs protein, fruits and vegetables, and whole grains.

We have discussed “fuels” here in the past. Like the body, the human spirit needs a diet of certain things, like: love, beauty, peace and security. And the primary spirit fuel is a relationship with God and Jesus. (Remember the example of a water/gas mixture in a car.) So, sometimes love needs an edge. Sometimes love needs to challenge someone to change what their heart is focused on, and establish a new allegiance with the Father and with Jesus. I am not saying we should behave like totals jerks when we are doing it. But it is a serious and important thing, and we need to treat it as such.

And this will definitely set Jesus followers apart, because it is a time when people are claiming there are multiple truths to live by, and we ought to let people do so. And while I believe that there is not just one way to follow Jesus, there is only one Jesus … and everyone’s heart ought to be focused in allegiance to him.

Friday, August 09, 2013

Be the Church (Love) - XI

"Keeps no record of wrongs" is the next quality of love. A lot of the qualities are concerned with dealing with another person's offensive behavior. This is another one.

I have heard about people who have held onto a grudge for 30 years. It takes continued, sustained, hard work to nurse a grudge for that long. It obviously is not good for the relationship. It is not good for the individual either. Energy that could be used to grow, produce, or create is being used (possibly a low level state) of animosity. Any state of animosity consumes a person from inside.

Jesus talked about the importance of forgiveness. Forgiveness is vital for people on so many levels.
  • The individual's heart health. (I am stressing the spiritual health here, but it could be argued that physical health is involved also.)
  • Relationship with the offender.
  • Often relationships connected to that relationship.
  • The Bible says that it affects a person's relationship with God.
The Bible says that when we choose to follow God, and move into a relationship with him, he erases our sins and he does not remember them. Now, does the all-powerful, all-knowing God of the universe delete some of his own brain cells? Or does he choose to treat us (in thought, word and deed) like we never sinned? It is not that we become like we never sinned. It is that he chooses to treat us differently now that we belong to his family.

The Bible also says we are to follow his example. We should forgive wrongs done to us. And, as well as we can, treat the people who wronged us as if it never happened. Depending on the pain we experience, and the damage done to us, it may take quite some time.

Imagine the different this would cause in numerous situations: divorces, church splits, Northern Ireland. This alone ought to proclaim how important right relationships, with God and with people, are to God ... and should be to his family.

Wednesday, August 07, 2013

Be the Church (Love) - X

The next quality of love is also stated many different ways: "not irritable", "not provoked", "not easily angered", etc.

This sounds very similar to patience. (Short fuse/long fuse.) I think that the effect is the same in the two qualities (a lack of getting back, revenge or retribution), but they come from different perspectives.

Imagine an acquaintance getting into your face, screaming at you and accusing you of something that is totally false. The normal, initial reaction would be to sense the falsehood, feel the injustice, and yell back. Maybe even getting physical somehow.

Patience would feel the offense, but hold onto the reaction. It would not explode, even though it would want to. Does it see the explosion as not being positive? Does it see the explosion as not helping the other person? Both?

Not being provoked would take a mental step backwards. It would recognize the falsehood. It might also recognize the pain it is feeling. But it might also recognize the pain behind the person screaming. If it did, it would try to cross the boundary between the two people, and try to understand what was going on. It might say things like "if someone said/did something like that to me, I would be angry too" or ask "how do you know I said/did this?"

Two different attitudes and responses to adverse circumstances. Both fly in the face of the natural, expected reaction. It is this counter-cultural response that stands out. It is this sort of non-natural, non-normal reaction that demonstrates the power of Jesus' love, and Jesus' love in us.

Monday, August 05, 2013

Be the Church (Love) - IX

"Does not seek its own" is the next quality of love. If we understand Jesus' work on the cross, this is probably the easiest to understand. It is a statement of love's willingness to sacrifice.

Love is always looking outside of itself. Love looks to serve, to give. It is generous. During new testament times, there was a region with a famine. Food was scare and expensive. A poor church collected money that they could not afford to give, but did, sending the money to help churches in the famine stricken region. In our economically difficult times, image churches in Africa sending money to help churches in the US, Canada and Europe. People living on $400 a year, sending some of that to people in more affluent countries to ease their burdens.

It is that willingness to sacrifice, and choosing to sacrifice, to help others is the essence of love. And in an age of "me first," that aspect of love stands out like a beacon in the dark.

Friday, August 02, 2013

Be the Church (Love) - VIII

The next quality of love is stated differently in different versions: "not rude", "not act unbecomingly" and "does not dishonor" are some examples. It speaks to behaving in inappropriate or unsuitable ways.

Each culture has developed ways to allow people to interact with one another, ways that are considered appropriate or suitable by the culture. The English term given to such behavior is "common courtesy." Courtesy demonstrates respect, acceptance and recognition of other people. "Civility" is another term that has been thrown around recently describing this type of behavior.

Courtesy communicates acceptance and respect. It recognizes the basic humanity and rights of other people. It recognizes the worth of a person in spite of tremendous differences.

In American politics, courtesy has been strongly tested, because there are wide and varied views of the landscape. People have different priorities, different opinions about problems and solutions, and different assumptions of what is good, what is bad, what the end result should look like, and how best to get there. This gets people thinking that since others don't see what they see (which is as plain as the nose on their face), you are either stupid, don't care, or are just plain evil.

What the followers of Jesus need to see is someone that Jesus loves, bled and died for. We need to see that Jesus values those people and have the same heart Jesus did ... and the same attitudes and actions. We need to be willing to pray for and bless those Democrats, those Republicans, the Tea Party, homosexuals, drug dealers, George Zimmerman, Ariel Castro, and Muslim extremists, because Jesus died for each and every one of them. And acting with courtesy should display the heart of Jesus. And if we have the heart of Jesus, we will stand out like Jesus stood out.