Sunday, October 18, 2020

Three-dimensional Holiness

The word holy has three distinct yet interconnected meanings. All are reflections of God himself, not just a list of arbitrary rules. Understanding holiness and God, are actually one in the same. So to seek holiness ourselves is to make ourselves more like him.

But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: “Be holy, because I am holy.” -1st Peter 1:15-16

Yet, I contend that our failures in achieving holiness often stems from approaching it so one-dimensionally. Our misunderstanding of it has left us confused on where to draw the line on many key issues as well. So let's take a closer look at this concept so that we may better walk the path that every true disciple should be following. As well as finally get past the repeated obstacles we have encountered.

1. The first thing that Holy means is, without moral flaw. This is the one we all know; so this is where most of us start. However, this is more of an end instead of a beginning. The destination of holiness if you will. The part we can all see and judge; hence, the fixation on it. Yet, by leading with this we are making holiness a matter of behavior. However, holiness is something we become, not just what we do. So we often set ourselves up for failure by trying to act holy without transforming into something that is capable of being fully holy.

2. Holy also means whole or complete. To seek holiness, we must seek wholeness. This fallen world in which we live often wounds us, damaging our wholeness. There is what God created us to be, and then there is what the world broke us to be. We often have a hard time making that distinction. Yet, there is nothing in this world that can truly make us whole again, not that it stops us from trying. Yet, everything the world offers in the name of pseudo-wholeness is notoriously temporary, unholy, and self-destructive.

‘’My orphan heart thought love was to complete someone else and to be completed by them. I didn’t understand that when two people who aren’t whole try to complete each other they both end up with less than when they started. I didn’t understand that the only one who can make a person whole is God.” - Lacey Sturm, The Mystery

Only the touch of God can heal us and make us truly whole again. Only then, can we become someone who can live a holy, moral, and upright life. (Isaiah 57:14-21)

3. Holy also means distinct or set apart. In a world, that is often motivated by conformity, and acceptance, this can be a hard one to swallow. Psychologists have done countless social experiments on social pressures, and they all point to the same thing. The human desire for validation often leads us to do things outside our own character, or even things that we know are wrong. So one can never become whole or moral by following our emotional human nature. Even the church can fall into this trap of making holiness about conventionality and approval. Where in reality, holiness requires that we reject this worldly notion of human approval, and comfort. 
Counter cultures often confuse the idea, often painting the notion of  “set apart” in a negative light. What we need to realize is that there is a distinction of being “set apart” from the world, and set apart from popular culture; which is just another brand of worldliness. While counter cultures movements often dis-identify with the popular culture, the irony of it all is that their own standards are often as rigid and narrow as the society they are rejecting. They are only comfortable in rebelling, when they can do it collectively. These movements only exist so that they can embrace a different brand of worldliness that they believe will appease their wounds, revolve around their feelings, and ideas of comfort. As well as create a subculture that will validate them by seeking self instead of God and his holiness.

The theologian John Wesley wrote about a concept called social holiness, meaning it takes a faith community to nurture transformation. You absolutely need to embrace all three dimensions of holiness for this to work at all. Without all of it people won't have a safe place to work out their salvation, with all its trials and errors. Without a safe place to fall you'll likely just end up following your feelings, and need for comfort instead of sound doctrine; only putting on the heirs of a superficial whitewashed brand of holiness. Which often leads to a very uniform church, with little diversity of gifts and experiences. So you won't be able to be of genuine help to one another as the body of Christ should. (1st Cor. 12) Yet, we wonder why counter cultures emerge. If these descriptions of church sound familiar, you may want to check the dimension of your holiness.


Jesus ofering a man without hads some new hands s that he can take up his cross


 


Friday, October 9, 2020

Land of the Lost

In Luke chapter 15, there is a trio of parables that all say essentially the same thing, revealing God's attitude of the lost. For Jesus to repeat this point three times over indicates that he wants to emphasize the vast importance of this teaching. A detail that somehow seems to be overlooked by many in the church, which seems to have been exaggerated by recent events. Since there seems to be much contempt for the lost. After a bit of prayer on the problem, this is what came to me.

Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance. -Luke 15:7

In each of these parables of, the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the lost son; there is a relationship between the lost and the one who suffered the loss. Keep in mind these examples where told to an agricultural society that had far stronger community ties than we have today. They knew very little of what happened outside their city. As opposed to today in the Information Age, where we know about every dramatic tragedy on the planet. (At least we think we do.) Yet we have no idea of what's going on across the street. While it's always happening in somebodies backyard, but much of this contempt we see is coming from people who are hundreds of miles away, expressing anger at faceless individuals. It's rather easy to be cold and indifferent of people where there is such a wide disconnect, and no real relationship. Is that a valid excuse though? Misguided as they may be, they are still God's children. That should be a source of grief for a disciple, not contempt.

Now consider the second son in the third parable. He is quick to show contempt for his brother, judging him for his past. Demanding that it should be all about him and not the prodigal, despite his repentance. Refusing to offer his brother any grace, and I dare say he would have preferred to see him punished for his wasteful actions. Is this not a dead on portrayal of the attitude of the lost right now? Is this not a call to be more Christ like to the lost?

Notice that the father in the parable of the lost son makes no attempt to stop his son from making the wrong choice. So unlike how overprotective earthly parents act. Yet, because the father handled it this way, the wasteful son couldn't point the finger at the father's lack of acceptance, so he had nobody to blame but himself for his situation. Not only that, since the father did not burn that emotional bridge by trying to control his son, the son felt free to come back once he realized the consequences of his own choices. However, has not the church universal burned that proverbial bridge when it comes to the lost by being so contemptuous of their choices? Someone even once told me that they felt like Christians live on the other side of a vast uncrossable cavern. Is this not a big part of the reason people are forsaking the church right now? Has the church only made these issues worse by being so judgmental? What would the Heavenly Father have to say about our attitude, and the harm it's done his church?

Lastly, are we putting our eternal lives at risk by forsaking God's lost sheep, and shutting the door to the kingdom in their faces?

twi people watching a fire in the distance that seems to have a life of it's own


But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to a brother or sister, ‘Raca,’* is answerable to the court. And anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell. - Matthew 5:22

*An Aramaic term of contempt


“Woe to you experts in the law, because you have taken away the key to knowledge. You yourselves have not entered, and you have hindered those who were entering.” -Luke 11:52

Sunday, September 13, 2020

What do you really put your hope in?

He who loves his life loses it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it to life eternal. -John 12:25

This is a rather hard saying of Jesus. So hard that people often try to skirt around it, and say he didn't really mean what he said; without actually offering a valid explanation for their vague stance. However, I do think he meant exactly what he said, and recent events help bring this perplexing statement into focus.

Let me put it this way, our mortal lives keep us from being as close to the Heavenly Father as we could be in eternal life. Our mortal life is what ties us to this troubled world.

The American dream is ultimately about creating as pleasurable life as possible by the standard of this world. If 2020 has taught anything about this, it's how very fragile worldly hope truly is. As well just how many people feel that the American dream is out of reach. Watching mankind try to fix its own problems, has only revealed just how selfish, shortsighted, and wicked humanity can truly be. Let's face it, the people who love life the most always seem to be the most exploitative. Which is not exactly very Christ like.

Our mortal lives are but a drop in the ocean of eternity, don’t sacrifice your eternal life for the sake of a mere drip. 

In light of this let me ask a few questions. What makes you upset about what’s going on in this world? Is it really about right, wrong, or holiness? Or is it about creating or preserving your worldly comfort? An honest answer says a lot about where your heart is really at. Where do you truly put your hope, eternity, or this world? In the end, are you just as worldly in your own way as those who frustrate you, and violate your comfort?

“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal; for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. -Matthew 6:19-21

The Lord looks from heaven; He sees all the sons of men; From His dwelling place He looks out On all the inhabitants of the earth, He who fashions the hearts of them all, He who understands all their works. The king is not saved by a mighty army; A warrior is not delivered by great strength. A horse is a false hope for victory; Nor does it deliver anyone by its great strength. -Psalm 33:13-17

As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good in order to bring about this present result, to preserve many people alive. -Genesis 50:20
Trust that God will one day create a perfect world out of our failures.

Therefore God gave them over in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, so that their bodies would be dishonored among them. -Romans 1:24
Sometimes people need to suffer the consequences of their own actions before they can see them for what they are. Don’t stand in their way, or God’s for that matter.

Although a wicked person who commits a hundred crimes may live a long time, I know that it will go better with those who fear God, who are reverent before him.
-Ecclesiastes 8:12


If anyone does attack you, it will not be my doing; whoever attacks you will surrender to you. -Isaiah 54:15

Tuesday, August 18, 2020

What's the matter with church?

Back in May, I did a blog predicting that the pandemic may prove to be a pruning season for the church. Now here I am telling you that my very own church will be closing at the end of September. So I thought in the tradition of the sermon on the mount (Matthew 5 & 6) I would do a post about what I see as the issues threatening the church from within; beyond the obvious things like holiness, finances, and attendance. Jesus’ teaching from the mount was unlike any of his other teachings, for he was challenging people's understanding, and correcting their misinterpretations.

But before I begin, let me be clear this is a general list based on observations of the church universal, not an attempt to condemn my own church. Nor am I claiming this is an exhaustive list.

Not living out the body of Christ model (1st Corinthians 12:12-30)
Scripture reveals that one must follow the Holy Spirit to live this lofty concept out. Where following our human nature only creates the opposite, unity through uniformity. Yet it’s that uniformity that we see more often than Biblical diversity. Let’s face it, sameness is more comfortable, safe, and easier than following the abstractness of the spirit.

Making worship about emotions
Internal conflicts about worship are usually about preference, not principle. Sentiment more than scripture. In the end, people just want to feel good and follow their emotions blindly, as if their feelings are some sort of universal standard. Which is more about worshiping self than God. I dare say the contemporary worship movement magnified this issue to catastrophic levels by confusing emotion for the spirit. (1st Corinthians 2:14)

Wanting to be served, instead of serving (John 13:1-20)
Whenever a church starts talking outreach of any form, some people get cranky. One time I heard someone blatantly say, "The people in the church already need help, why worry about outsiders?" Obviously, they didn't realize that serving others can be good medicine for the spirit. A major point in my Consider what it means to really live YouTube video. My least watched video I may add. People just don't want to reconsider how they are living, since how they live revolves around serving self, and they want to keep it that way. Nobody can be served unless people are serving, and the few who are can get burned out if too many people are only there to take, and not reciprocate.

Lack of spiritual responsibility (Proverbs 2)
We expect Pastors to meet our needs, yet everyone has different needs. There is just no way a minister can be everything to everyone. So they have to teach generally, and maybe address specific issues that they are aware of. Any genuine disciple worth their salt will come face to face with an untruth in their thinking eventually. So a responsible person has to take this challenge head-on, as well as seek out answers for their specific issues themselves. Instead of expecting your minister to take up that cross for you. If all you think you need is to have your feelings gratified, then you will likely dislike what you genuinely need. This can be a sign of a very spiritually immature person.

Lack of self-awareness
A licensed counselor once told me that most of his patients were merely looking for some sort of approval, acceptance, or validation. When one seeks this, it often means adapting to the people around you, so self-awareness is often seen as a deterrent to worldly approval. Yet, Holiness stands in opposition to worldly acceptance since holy literally means, set apart. Still, some people are of the impression that righteousness and conformity walk hand and hand. (Romans 12:2) {Also, how can conformity walk hand in hand with diversity of talent and skill as the body of Christ should be?} Maybe the reason we struggle with holiness so much is that our overwhelming desire for validation is moving us in the wrong direction. Not to mention we can't possibly know our purpose without understanding whom God truly made us to be. Which may be another reason why we are so averse to service, we are at a loss on how we can serve because of a lack of self-awareness. As you can see, this often unspoken issue is tied to many other issues.

Emphasizing the cross more than the resurrection. 
The cross is about forgiveness. Resurrection is about rebuilding a new victorious life with that redemption. Granted, we need both, but so many believers plateau in their faith by getting hung up on keeping their newly clean slate spotless, and never rewriting their story. The new and resurrected life is what delights and inspires people. Not playing ring around the cross as we try to fit our old life into our new faith. (Galatians 5:16, Luke 5:36-39) Yet, embracing resurrection requires self-awareness, and a desire to serve.

You might have noticed that there is one common thread in most of these traits, which is self. (Matthew 16:24-26) It lies at the root of everything that steers the church off track. As well as make us more like the world that we are supposed to be set apart from. I've often said that Christianity, as written, is not a religion that mankind would ever create for itself; yet how we practice it often is. So let me leave you with these questions? Am I confusing preference for principle? Am I confusing emotion for the spirit? Am I confusing self for God? If so, what are you going to do about it? What will happen to the church if we don't wake up to these issues?


a man getting a new perspective by viewing the world through the spirit and scripture.

Monday, June 8, 2020

Narcissists in the church

The term narcissist in common usage is often associated with vanity and self-centeredness. However, clinical narcissistic personality disorder goes much deeper than that. A simple layman definition can be summarized with the three E's. A narcissist acts Entitled, are Exploitative, and lack Empathy. Because of a rise in the frequency of this disorder, many blogs and YouTube channels have sprung up in the last decade to assist in dealing with their abuses. So I thought it time to address it myself.

While the average narcissist would never be a part of anything as altruistic as a church, there is a specific type that will. Which would be "the communal narcissist." They will often align themselves with a cause, charity, or religion; but their motivation is not for a greater good. They do it for the praise they receive, and to deceive everyone into believing that they are good people. (Which they are not) While they may technically do some good, albeit for the wrong reasons. They can also do much harm as well. So these stealthy and covert individuals need to be dealt with very strategically. So we will go over ten important things we need to know about the communal narcissists we may encounter in the church.
  1. Whitewashed tombs. (Matthew 23:27-28) While they go to great efforts to project an image of perfection. The one person they are trying to convince the most is themselves. Underneath all the bravado, there's a very insecure person with a very fragile ego. So they need as much grace and understanding as anybody. So don't be too quick to boot them out of your church. You never know when you might be able to get through to their heart of stone. So pray diligently for these damaged people.
  2. Very dangerous to confront them. They don’t like being vulnerable, so they are very prone to outbursts of rage if you back them into an emotional corner. They may also start to spread gossip about you to discredit anything bad you may say about them if you do so. So it’s best to not let them know you are on to them. It is quite impossible to reason with a narcissist, so you can easily get sucked into an adversarial relationship if you try. If they are truly doing more harm than good, then the safest way to get rid of them is to make sure everyone stops feeding their ego. The narcissist will only associate with people and institutions that stroke their ego. (That person who is always hopping from church to church MAY be a narcissist.) 
  3. Know how to fake empathy. As indicated before, a true narcissist has no empathy and doesn't care who they hurt to get their way. So any so-called empathy they seem to be projecting is all an act for the sake of their church persona. Don't be deceived by it.
  4. Habitual liars. They will say absolutely anything to maintain their false persona and get what they want out of you. So don’t be surprised if they tell you exactly what you want to hear Sunday, only to deny saying it Monday.
  5. Live by double standards. They are hypocrisy personified, and often defame any institution they are connected to because of it.
  6. Never admit to a mistake. They will play the hero, or even the victim, but never the one at fault. Even when presented with irrefutable evidence. 
  7. Judgmental. They are very critical people, offering lots of unsolicited advice. As well as being very vocal with opinions about people they find inferior. 
  8. May seek positions of authority. Narcissists love power, but the only person they are really serving is themselves. They will try to direct everything to revolve around them and their preferences with said authority. If they don’t have an official position yet, they will likely bully those in power with veiled threats. Constantly reminding leaders of their perceived obligations to them. (Congregational type churches that give as much authority to its laity as clergy tend to be more narcissist friendly.)
  9. May use their money to influence people. While some narcissists are tightwads but don’t be surprised if they can be quite generous with their offerings. They will make sure everybody knows it too because it’s only done for praise, admiration, and camouflage, not the good of the church. Also, do not be surprised if they suddenly withdraw financial support if they are not getting their way.
  10. Steal affirmation from others. If someone else accomplishes something good or is recognized for their deeds, a narcissist will likely try to make it seem like the person in the limelight owes their success to them. If that is not an option they will just plain dismiss and belittle that achievement. A narcissist cannot stand someone getting more attention than them.

Did you notice all the negative church stereotypes on the list? Apparently, this has been an issue far longer than our current heightened awareness of the disorder. All the more reason to address it. Just remember, they are often experienced advisories, so you can be like a sheep facing a wolf. So it's important to remember Christ's words of "be as shrewd as serpents, but innocent as doves." (Matthew 10:16) A narcissist can very well be that proverbial mountain that needs to be moved, (Matthew 17:20) so one truly needs divine guidance and strength to make it happen. So I urge you, seek that first if you have a communal narcissist in your church. So, you can maintain your integrity despite them.

It is true that some preach Christ out of envy and rivalry, but others out of goodwill. The latter do so out of love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel. The former preach Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely, supposing that they can stir up trouble for me while I am in chains. But what does it matter? The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached. And because of this I rejoice. -Philippians 1:15-18


a man exalting himself above God to the devils delight.
Click to zoom

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Pruning Season?

I once had a pastor who used to always say, we practice Christianity, not church-inanity. He probably needed to remind himself of this as much as everyone else. I made an Instagram post about this idea recently, asking people to consider that this pandemic may be casting a light on this distinction. However, maybe the corona effect on the church goes even deeper than that.

I say that because many churches are utilizing online worship via social media to maintain social distance, and it is proving to be an unexpected source of outreach. Many guests are tuning in searching for comfort and guidance in these crazy times. People who would not necessarily feel comfortable walking into a brick and mortar church. Churches who are still giving 100% despite the limitations are finding they are reaching far more than they ever did with a traditional face to face service. Where the churches that are submitting to the less than ideal circumstances, and are just doing the bare minimum; they are not seeing these same benefits. There have also been reports of people watching 3-5 services per week. Giving regular churchgoers plenty of opportunities to see what else is out there.

Granted it’s too early to say for sure, but I would have never predicted what has happed several weeks ago. But what I am getting at is that before all this is over, the less enthusiastic churches may end up getting pruned from the vine, so to speak. Allowing the more fruitful parts to thrive all that much more. This may be a hard pill to swallow for some, but it may very well be necessary to get the church universal back on track again. By narrowing our focus, and consolidating our talents towards a common mission once again. So you may want to consider this post a fair warning.

“I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit, He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit, He prunes it so that it may bear more fruit. You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you. Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you unless you abide in Me. I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in Me, he is thrown away as a branch and dries up; and they gather them, and cast them into the fire and they are burned. If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit, and so prove to be My disciples. -John 15:1-8


God pruning off the deadwood
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Tuesday, May 12, 2020

A backwards question.

"With so much evil in the world, how can you believe in a loving God?" I'm sure we've all heard a nonbeliever utter something like that many a time. To me, this is a flimsy excuse for dismissing God. When you get down to it, if you will not put your hope in God the creator, then your only other option is humankind and what it creates. For example, if you put your hope in things like fame, fortune, possessions, comfort, convenience, praise, self, accomplishments, or relationships, it all comes back to mankind and its cultural expectations in one way or another. Yet there is no denying that all the evil in the world originates with selfish people. Specifically when people seek their own good, instead of following the will of God. Or sometimes people trying to misrepresent God for self-serving means. So why are we blaming the one individual who is not responsible for all the evil in the world, only to put our hope in what's actually to blame? To me, the question is backward. It is we the church that should be asking "With all the evil in the world perpetrated by humanity, how can you possibly put your faith in mankind?" The human race is the most unreliable thing on the planet if you ask me.

Granted, God could make all this evil go away if he made us all puppets, but that wouldn't actually mean anything. Nothing we do, good or evil, would have any relevance at all if we did not have freewill. People may like to self-delude themselves through forced submission, but an all-knowing God will not. The strange thing about humanity's relationship with freewill is we all want it for ourselves, but we don't necessarily want others to have it when it's an inconvenience to us. So we expect God to change the world to suit us, yet we ourselves refuse to change. Consider just how much of our energy is spent on trying to take away the freewill of others, just so we don't have to change ourselves. Just another example of how unfair humankind really is.

The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it? -Jeremiah 17:9

A horse is a vain hope for deliverance; despite all its great strength it cannot save.-Psalm 33:17



a man angry at God for allowing his own freewill to hurt him
click to enlarge