Scripture Interpreting Scripture: Eternity
Walking in The Woods: The Meaning of Life
And I realized that this was exactly the way he wanted it to be.
How Jesus & the Apostles used "Repent"
Contempt for God's Kindness
Romans 2:4 says, “Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, forbearance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness is intended to lead you to repentance?”
He’s challenging the Roman believers for showing contempt for the riches of God’s kindness, forbearance and patience.
Who are the folks showing contempt for God’s kindness?
Well, this verse indicates part of that: the folks who don’t realize that it’s God’s kindness which leads to repentance. Folks who preach something other than God’s kindness? Yeah. Them.
The context makes it even more clear: those who “pass judgment on someone else” (v1) are the folks he’s addressing.
He’s very specific: “Do you think you will escape God’s judgment?” (v3) That’s pretty strong language there, Paul!
More specifically, Paul is saying that believers who condemn other believers, believers who emphasize something other than God’s kindness are “storing up wrath against yourself for the day of God’s wrath.” (v5) That’s what it’s saying, isn’t it?
That’s kind of a problem.
You know these people: people who get in your face (in person, or on Facebook) and shout about how others are going to hell for their sin, or how a nation needs to repent in order to escape God’s wrath. There are folks who go around denouncing everybody who believes differently than they do as false.
Unfortunately, a whole lot of this garbage comes from pulpits around the country.
When you see them, first of all, don’t buy the manure that they’re selling. It’s not good for them and it’s SURE not good for you. In fact, if you’re able, don’t even let them spew that garbage on you. Walk away.
But more than that: pity them. Pray for mercy for them. Because the path they’re on is storing up wrath against themselves for the day of God’s wrath.
And most of all, do not go with them. That’s a pretty ugly destination they’re headed to. If they insist on going there, you do NOT need to go with them.
Show them kindness.
With Every Increase of Freedom...
And like every other time that we experience new freedom in Christ, there’s also a fresh resurgence of legalism trying to take away our freedom. I can’t remember ever seeing so many people pushing an agenda of “Return to the Law.”
You may have run into people online who warn you about “going too far” in experiencing the infinite grace of God. Some are concerned about holiness and believe that holiness is the result of their good works. Others appear to have invested so much of themselves in making themselves acceptable that they resent those who are made acceptable without the same effort.
I’m finding more books than ever, arguing for a return to an obedience-based covenant, some emphasizing dietary laws, others emphasizing whom you may associate with, others focusing on Sabbath law, or using Hebrew names for God, or celebrating Jewish holidays instead of the “pagan” holidays of whichever culture you live among.
It is EXACTLY this environment into which Paul writes Galatians 5:1: “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.” This is also the context in which Paul writes, “... some false believers had infiltrated our ranks to spy on the freedom we have in Christ Jesus and to make us slaves.” (Galatians 2:4)
The apostle Paul was in the midst of the first great outpouring of the Spirit of God, the very first expansion of the Kingdom of God, and then, like now, there was a great surge towards returning to legalism, whether by circumcision, or by obeying Old Covenant rules about food or fellowship. The “Judaizers” who are promoting this legalism often call it a “restoration,” but the Bible calls it a “Yoke of Slavery.”
This is also the context into which Jesus said, “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” (Matthew 5:11-12)
This is a normal response of hell (often through people who don’t have freedom) whenever God’s people are moving in freedom: try to drag those who are escaping slavery back into slavery; if they can’t do that, then they’ll persecute the free ones and say all kinds of evil against them. Rejoice when that happens to you.
My encouragement is NOT to focus our attention on the people or the influences trying to drag us back into slavery. That’s an unworthy focus for our attention. Rather, be aware that some want to draw you back into their “yoke of slavery;” avoid them, as you avoid potholes in the road, while we “[fix] our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith” (Hebrews 12:2).
As you follow Him (who IS worthy of our attention!), He’ll lead you “along the right paths for his name’s sake.” (Psalm 23:3) Trust the freedom that he’s leading you into; it really is for freedom that he has set us free!
Let us “press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called [us] heavenward in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 3:14)
The OTHER Benefit of the New Covenant
Avoid Evil, not the Appearance of Evil
Jesus surely didn’t. He hung out with porn stars and filthy rich tax thieves and the most unacceptable people of his day. He went out of his way to connect with Zacchaeus the tax collector and all his tax-collector friends.
The Message We Preach
The Gospel of the Kingdom, or The Gospel of Salvation?
There's a Reason We're So Secure
If you are responsible for someone precious to you, but they're in absolutely no danger whatsoever, you take no special precautions. It's only when you're going to be in dangerous places that you put the leash on the toddler, the bulletproof vest on the officer, the rope around the waist of the mountain climber. You don't wear a seat belt in a church pew, or a life vest on your La-Z-Boy in front of your high-definition wide-screen TV.
God has secured us more surely than any of those. This suggests that he expects us to "Go ye" into more dangerous places than those folks go. We're held securely so that we can go to uncertain places, so that we can stand up in dangerous times and cry, "Follow me! I know the way out!"
We have the safety line keeping us from drowning, from falling. We have the great and precious promises. What's the worst that can happen: a welcoming party in Heaven.
It's interesting that the only time that anybody in the Bible walked on the water was during the storm, the only time a box lunch was multiplied for thousands was when facing thousands of hungry people. The only time the dead were raised was when God's representatives were around dead people. The only place that the incarnate Creator chose to go to redeem mankind and pay for their sin was into the middle of the sinful and rebellious world.
I’m thinking that if we don’t occasionally go places that make our knees knock, we’re missing the point. We need to have days where we’ve got to wash off the slime and the stink from the world, because we’ve been among them, carrying the love and the grace of the King in our bearing, in our words, in our smile, in our hugs, into the very darkest, smelliest, most un-welcoming places we can find. (Most of the time, that’s not in another country; probably not even in another city, but I assure you, it’s not in our comfort zone.)
If we don’t spend time in harm’s way, we’re not living up to our calling. And we’re not bringing the Lamb who was slain the full measure of the reward for his sacrifice.
I want a crown worth throwing at his feet.
Multi Level Marketing
Multi-Level Marketing is Expensive:
1. It costs relationships. Multi-level marketing (MLM), by its very design and nature, changes my relationships. People are no longer only my friends or family, but must become—to some degree—prospects for the business. MLM requires by its very nature that you bring others into it. I have not been willing to pay that price.
Furthermore, some of the relationships that are spent are those of my family. MLM works well only if both husband and wife are equally committed to and enthused about “the business.” But even then, the time and attention siphoned away from my family relationships is hard for me to live with. Besides, I’ll miss our golf games on Fridays if that’s part of the cost.
And beyond all that, every successful MLM that I have ever seen (and I’ve seen a lot!) virtually requires my joining their social subculture in order to be “successful.”
2. It costs time. Any business endeavor will require an investment in time. Ten hours a week (such as is often quoted) strikes me as idealistic, but even if it is true, I have other uses for those hours that are more consistent with my long term (eg. ten thousand years and beyond) goals. Ten hours a week usually means ten hours on a quiet week and more on other weeks. But even ten hours a week comes out to 520 hours in a year, or the equivalent of three months of full-time work every year. I’d rather spend that with my family, or with baby believers, or even raking out my lawn!
3. It costs money. Likewise, any business will require a significant financial investment. Even if I don’t buy product to sell (but then what would I show my customers?), I must buy advertising, brochures, gas to attend meetings, costs for meals & conferences, meals for some meetings, bookkeeping paraphernalia, office space, etc. TANSTAAFL, you know.
4. It costs focus. MLM is, by its nature, an opportunistic business. That means that when I find an opportunity, I must seize it and make the presentation. (Rather like evangelism, though it’s an either/or situation. One can’t evangelize for both MLM and
5. It costs reputation. Thanks to Amway, MLM has a really bad name in America: a low-life, get-rich-quick reputation. Of course, people involved in MLM aren’t always “low-life, get-rich-quick” people, but you’d be hard pressed to convince many Americans of that. They hear MLM and they begin to look at you differently.
6. It costs my values. The last thing I need is a values war inside me. Many people have observed a spirit of greed in MLM adherants. In my experience, this is a very (I repeat, very) common problem with MLM. Soon, often before they even sign up, people stop seeing a business and start seeing dollar signs. This is largely related to the way many MLM members promote “the business:” “Look at the potential,” they say. “Think of the things you could do with the money!” I know, this is not a given. It is a serious danger; one that I choose not to expose myself or my family to. I don’t want any of my family flirting with the lust of the eyes or the boastful pride of life.
7. It costs my self-esteem. When I am in MLM, I am associated with values that are opposed to my personal core values. I am part of a group that is considered “low-life, get-rich-quick” by people whose opinions I hope to influence. I get a dozen “No thank you” and a handful of “Hell No’s” for every “I’ll think about it.”
The official figures are that one out of every twelve presentations will be interested in the business and one out of every ten persons who signs up will do anything with it. (These figures come from Amway.) That means one out of every 120 people I take the time to make presentations to will be influenced by “the business.” That’s a lot of work.
The concept of “If you work hard at your business, you can be very successful,” is true for most businesses, most jobs. If I own a drug store and work with as much focus and dedication as is required to make a success of the MLM business, I’ll be a wealthy drug-store owner before long.
Benefits of Multi Level Marketing
Now, lest I be found guilty of one-sidedness, I should present some of the “other side:”
1. If your boss is involved, it may be the “politically correct” thing to do.
2. If you are willing to pay the price(s), MLM can indeed make you rich. My personal opinion is that nobody does it better than Amway, but then Amway has so many people and so much exposure that it’s hard to make it to the big time with them. (A note about startup MLMs: the support services are usually pretty skimpy.)
3. If everything goes exactly as planned (not a regular occurance in our world, but it does happen), you can end up with a sizable residual income, if the MLM company doesn't go bankrupt. (Most do.)
Having said all that, it occurs to me that perhaps I should explain where my opinions come from.
I have studied MLM quite closely. I have a friend who is in an Amway offshoot and is probably going to be rich before he’s my age. He and I have spent probably 100 hours or more discussing Amway and other MLMs (he had studied several before joining his organization). He is a single man who is fanatically devoted to his group. He got a job as a taxi driver simply so he can have contact with more people to “present the business” to. He reads dozens of books, listens to hundreds of tapes and CD’s, hangs out with his “upline”, and attends lots of meetings. He makes several presentations a week and has built a substantial organization. He probably spends (or spent, when I knew him), 15 hours a week actively working on the business, but it consumed him.
I have also studied several MLM companies fairly intentionally. I’ve gone to meetings, read magazines and books, evaluated programs, propaganda, and merchandise. I’ve interviewed both winners and losers in a load of programs: NuSkin, Herbal Life, NSA, Quorum, Amway, Shaklee, Fuller Brush (yes, they went through a MLM stage) and a dozen or more others selling everything from diet plans to insurance and annuities to houses to home security systems to home computers. I’ve named Amway in my concerns above, but every single issue (or “cost”) that I raise above has been found in every single MLM organization I’ve looked at. No exceptions that I’ve yet found.
And last but not least. I have been personally involved in two different MLM programs. My experiences from the inside have confirmed everything I had observed from the outside.
Why did I join? I wanted to invest some of my “spare” time and make some money. It seemed like a good thing at the time. I had been approached by a man I respected. What did it cost? Every thing I’ve mentioned above and more. For years, I carried a sizable debt from the last endeavor. I know whereof I speak.
Multi-level Marketing opportunities are everywhere, and they have a measure of truth in them. If you are willing to give your life to “the business”, you can make a lot of money in some of them. They are naïve (or worse) in their communication of how much work is required. That work is better spent, more cleanly spent, in other places.
The Power of Glory
If God is the only one who gets to be clothed in glory, then I can sit back and look forward to that day. But if I am designed to carry glory – whether His glory or my own – then these things should happen when I show up as well. Wherever I go, the glory of God goes. Wherever I go, the results of glory should show up: people should be changed, goodness should replace evil.
So here’s the bottom line commission: go forth and splash the glory of God! Go leak glory! Everywhere you go!
Mercy out of Control
It will be easy to miscommunicate on this subject, so let me state my premise, and then we’ll go to work on the subject: It’s my observation that most of the gifts of mercy that operate in our culture – both secular and spiritual – are messed up – out of control – and as a result, our mercy often does more harm than good. There are people who have what the Bible describes as a gift of mercy, and they’re real gifts. But too often, the gift is used inappropriately.
Let’s contrast this a couple of ways: First, there are others, who don’t have that gift, for whom it is less instinctive to respond with mercy; we’re not going to discuss these people today. Second, it’s possible to use this gift out of impure or inadequate motivation as it is for any other gift, and here is where there are some interesting lessons.
The other day I saw a mother and child in a grocery store; you’ve seen them too. The child is acting out in selfishness or in rebellion, and instead of disciplining the child, mom capitulates and the child gets her candy and is appeased for the moment. (We see the opposite often enough as well: a parent in the grocery store who disciplines the child to the point of abuse, but that’s not the point of this article.)
A friend of mine (we’ll call him “
The goal here is not to accuse or judge the addicted daughter, though doubtless she made her share of mistakes. The bigger error here may have been mom and dad not tempering their mercy with wisdom. Their choice was not between mercy and judgment (that one’s over: the Book is clear that “mercy triumphs over judgment”), but rather between the mercy of emotions and the mercy that is built on wisdom.
I tell these stories to illustrate my premise: most of the mercy gifts in the church today are out of control. First, we make the same mistake that
The second mistake we make is that we let the world tell us how we should express mercy, rather than letting God instruct us, and the world is not well informed in the wisdom of God. So the world says, “Do something, for pity’s sake!” and that may be part of the problem: pity is not the answer.
We see people making poor choices, and we want to make those choices for them. We see people hurting, and we want to ease the pain. But in reality, if we make their choices, then they never learn wisdom; if we ease their pain, then they never learn the lessons that discomfort can bring.
So rather than just jumping in to “rescue” and “fix it” and “save them”, I am proposing that we the church actually look to our Head for wisdom: “How would You like to meet this need, Lord?” Because none of us can claim to be more merciful than God, and certainly none of us can claim more wisdom than He. And because we’re damaging people by rescuing them unwisely.
So when we see people hurting, let’s stop and pray. Let's respond with the wisdom of God, not react out of our flesh.
The Failure of Christian Street Festivals
Covenant And Control
The Trouble with Christian Bumper Stickers
1. All they do is identify car’s owner, and they do that poorly: “I’m an ineffective communicator trying to get a message across without actually relating to anyone!” or “I’m a member of the Christian Country Club!”
2. Bumper stickers are a violation of the great commission: we substitute “I’m a Christian” instead of “The Kingdom of God is among you!” We don’t preach the gospel; all we do is show a sticker on our car, and we generally stop there.
3. It replaces dialog with our culture or government with a vinyl proclamation of “I’m better than you, and here’s why!” No wonder the world doesn't like us!
4. They’re excuses: instead of living a Christ-filled life, we slap a sticker on our car. We substitute appearance for a life of obedience.
5. Many bumper stickers are written in in “Christianese”: Christian culture vocabulary – which the world doesn’t understand. Why would we want to parade our irrelevancy on our car?
6. Many of them are a false witnesses. The State Patrol in my area talk about “Flying Fish”: cars with fish stickers who drive like hell. Rude drivers with Jesus stickers are only giving evidence for the assumed hypocrisy of the church. If you can’t live up to the standard, don’t put the sticker on the car!
7. They’re an exercise in futility: Who ever heard of someone’s life – anyone’s life – being changed for the better by a bumper sticker, regardless of how witty it is?
The Gospel Has Two Wings
I have an interesting family. My immediate family consists of two adults, a flock of energetic kids, a dog, a cat an a handful of birds. One of the birds, whose name this week is Chiquita, has recently taken for herself the position as head of the household; she has learned how to work the lock on her cage, and she gets herself out and flies around the room from time to time. I figure it’s good exercise for her wings, not to mention her heart.
We’ll come back to her shortly.
My extended family gets together often, to celebrate whatever is handiest for celebration, and it’s not infrequently that we have fifteen or twenty people gathered in my parents’ house, and when we gather, the house if filled with laughter and energy.
As you might imagine, there’s a lot of talk. Most of it is about family things or community things, or peoples’ lives, and it’s an expression of care for each other. We tend to steer away from the three social unmentionables: politics, religion and sex. I appreciate avoiding the latter conversation, but I am intrigued by the former two. We have a huge spectrum politically in our family, and a fair breadth religiously as well.
One brother-in-law has a position working for a liberal politician in a liberal community, and he seems to have political and religious beliefs to match. The other one gives the impression of being a right-wing republican and religious fundamentalist. My problem is that both are brilliant men, better thinkers than myself, and both are gentle and well-spoken – well, most of the time.
When I listen to my conservative brother, I hear opinions like “Why are we surprised that so much is going wrong with our schools when we’ve banned prayer, banned any discussion of God or of right and wrong and encouraged kids to do whatever they feel is right”, and I understand his point: there is an absolute right and wrong, and his name is Jesus, and when we lose sight of him, we lose direction in our culture.
Then my liberal brother opines about how morally evil our culture is because of the inherent disrespect for the poor and weak among us, and I remember how God values the poor, and I understand his point: a religion or a politics that ignores the poor cannot be morally upright no matter how many bible verses they quote.
An over-simplification would say this:
1) The liberal church says, “You can’t love God if you don’t care for the less advantaged folks.” It’s about mercy. For example, the abortion issue is about people who are victims, people who are in a bad way and need some help getting out of it.
2) The conservative church says, “You can’t love God if you don’t live right in relationship to God.” It’s about right and wrong. From this perspective, the abortion issue is about taking responsibility for your actions, and about killing babies is not a good solution.
Neither quotes James, but they could: “Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their trouble, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world.”
I don’t really like conflict or relational tension, and I see a fair bit of it when our family has these conversations, but I can’t get rid of this feeling that they’re important dialogs. If I take the traditional conservative position, then I need to either dismiss my liberal family members as irrelevant or uneducated – and they are manifestly neither – or I must admit a flaw in my position and in the logic that I use to defend it. The same is true if I hold to the traditional liberal position: there are some good-looking truths on the other side of the aisle, and I need to either abandon my traditional liberal position to embrace them, or I need to dismiss both those truths and the godly men and women who hold them as religious kooks. That doesn’t work for me.
1. Helping widows and orphans (having a heart of mercy for disadvantaged folks), and
2. Keeping myself unspotted from the world (making right choices and living in right relationship with God).
I know a bunch of churches that preach the necessity of being right with God. If you were to press them, they’d acknowledge the need for mercy to the poor, but in reality, far more of their church budget (and their sermon content) is invested in “right wing” values: evangelism, moral choices, particular moral evils in our society. And I know several churches who are so invested in the homeless, in the rights of women, or of social outcasts, or of the victim-of-the-week that they seem to overlook the necessity for salvation by faith, or the reality of eternal judgment.
This is where I come back to Chiquita, our little escape artist. It seemed to me that God brought her to my mind as I was thinking about these things. When she makes her escape from the cage, she spends the next several minutes working hard to break the sound barrier flying around our living room, flapping furiously to keep out of our reach if we try to put her back where she belongs.
I felt that God was saying that His church has two wings. We tend to emphasize one wing or the other: So many of the left-winged among us have declared forcefully that if we don’t love the poor, we can’t love God, and they’re right. And the right-winged among us have emphasized that if we don’t live according to God’s standard of right and wrong then our love for the poor is empty works, and they’re right, too.
Just like Chiquita can’t fly furiously around the room with only her left wing or her right wing; she needs both wings to fly. With just one, she’d flap furiously in little circles, and those watching would either laugh or weep.
We, the church, have been stupid. (This is my blog, remember, and my opinion!) Most of us, and most of our churches, have focused on one wing or the other, and we’ve so completely missed a good portion of what’s on God’s heart. Why do you think it is that the groups with the most of God's power (as in healings, signs and wonders) are the groups with both wings in action? If we stay in a “one wing dominant” position, we too will flap around in little circles, while hell laughs and heaven weeps.
So what do we do? My recommendation is this: figure out which wing you identify with (that shouldn’t be very hard, really). Don’t abandon it, but make plans to add the strengths of the other wing into your life and ministry. If we're part of a bible-believing, then we need to get involved personally with feeding the poor or helping the homeless, or something similar. If we're part of a socially-conscious gathering, then we need to add a focus on the gospel in evangelism or missions, or the like.
Come on, folks. We need both wings to fly.