Monday, August 27, 2007

Religious Terrorist

I heard this phrase for the first time this weekend during Sunday school. It was a term used to describe the religious zealots who too easily inflict devastating harm in the name of "holiness". I’m not talking about the kind of zealots who strap bombs to their chest and walk into a crowded mall. No - those are obvious villains whose crimes are undeniable. The ones I am talking about are a more subtle form of terrorism which is socially acceptable within most Christian circles.

They are killers of freedom and grace, crushing their victims under the weight of legalistic convictions. They hurl stones of condemnation when their philosophy of faith is not adopted. They walk proudly as those who should be commended for their courageous stand for truth. Self proclaimed "Defenders of the Faith" - or so they think.

The term came during a prayer request as a member of the class described a situation where a family had been hurt by the church on more than one occasion and there was concern that the children would grow up bitter towards God and His church. We all prayed for the unfortunate situation in hopes that the children would be able to rise out of the ashes of suffering and disappointment to trust in a God they have only vaguely witnessed in the Christian community.

I found it interesting that the passage of scripture we studied that particular morning was 1 Corinthians 5. This section of Paul’s letter describes a situation of immorality in the Corinthian church and the question from the teacher was, “Why is it important to address situations like these in the church?”

Without hesitation, the class responded with appropriate answers of protection for the church and the importance of an undefiled Christian witness. The discussion stimulated more questions about what should receive church discipline and if there was a “list” of sins worthy of such vigilant confrontation. A commentary on the text suggests that “public sin must be publicly judged and condemned”.

Although I would not deny the thought presented in this Sunday discussion, I would also suggest it is only half right. And to gravitate to only one side of this equation is to stir the rumblings of a terrorist camp.

We are to love God with all our heart soul and mind but also to love our neighbor as ourselves. Let’s protect the church but let’s also be a refuge to its people. The problem of the Corinthian church was more of a problem with the church itself than it was the issue of immorality. Immorality existed because the church was unwillingly to purposefully engage in a life of transparency and devotion among its members.

How can any of us remain pure and holy before God if we are not purposefully engaged in eachother’s lives for Christ’s sake? Perhaps the reason the man in question had slid down the slippery slope of lust was because no one was willing to extend the hand of brotherly love and accountability along the way. If this is the case, the church should bear the weight of the blame.

“He should be ashamed”, we might say. No, I suggest we are the ones who should be ashamed.

So go love on someone! Find a person who is broken and bruised. The most difficult part won’t be finding them. The difficult part will be mustering the courage and willingness to do something about it.

May we seek to be a church that holds the balance of Jesus’ instruction. We should have a holy zeal to love God with all our heart. But this love should motivate us to love His people with the same devotion He demonstrated in His humble sacrifice on the cross.

Today, choose to put down your stone of condemnation and find someone who needs the open hand of grace and love. Be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger; for the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God." (James 1:19-20)

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Cotton Pickin' Weeds

It has been a few weeks now, but the memory still fresh. The family was off for one of the rare extended weekend trips to the lake. We had been looking forward to this trip for a while as we would be joined by Kerry (one of my tri brothers in the picture) and his family. Our plan was to leave on Thursday early afternoon to get to the lake house in order to set things up for our friends who would be traveling in later that night. I was pulling the boat with my truck and we were loaded down with all the essentials of a fun trip to the lake.

As we passed through one of the first small towns, the two lane road was down to one due to construction. I began to hear an unusual noise. Thump-thump-thump-thump. It sounded like my tire had an object stuck in it. They were new tires so I assumed a rock had wedged inside the tread. I pulled over to investigate and everything looked good.

We got back on the road and the noise seemed to dissipate. Yet, after traveling another 30 miles into the middle of nowhere, the noise resumed and this time it grew louder and louder. Not only that, the truck began to vibrate and shake. Knowing something was definitely wrong, I put my foot on the brake to pull over. However, my anti-lock brakes had kicked in and I had minimal braking power. We eased over to a stop and the smell of smoke filled the cabin of the truck.

I get out to investigate to find my right front tire at about a 45 degree angle. I thought to myself, "That's not normal!". I reached down to remove the hubcap only to be singed by the extreme heat that had turned my wheel into a hot iron skillet. Trying to figure out what might be the problem, I considered the brake job I recently had done or the tires I had rotated just a few days prior. In a panic, I call my mechanic friend and fellow elder who drove 40 miles to give us a hand.

When he arrived, his assessment was quick and clear..."You're not going anywhere. I'll call a tow truck."

It's the middle of the afternoon in the middle of nowhere, my truck is filled with luggage, food and toys for the weekend and we are not going anywhere. This can't be true!

It is true. So we unhook the boat, unload everything (and I do mean everything) out of my truck and onto the side of the road. We looked like a gypsy family who had struck it rich!

Not wanting to give up on our rare weekend away, we called my brother who agreed to let us come back into town and get his suburban. We couldn't leave everything unattended, so Teri went back with my friend to pick up a suburban and I stayed with our stuff at the side of the road along with our 2 boys (2 and 7).

What transpired was a 3 hour delay, on a July West Texas afternoon, in the middle of a cotton field.

"Are you sad?", my sensitive oldest son would ask. "Maybe a little." I would respond. "But we have so much to be thankful for too. After all, it's not raining (I had a flashback to the Young Frankenstein movie at this point just waiting for a cloud to burst open in a downpour)."

What would follow was nice time of reflection with my sons about all that we were thankful for despite the fact that we were waiting for help in the middle of a cotton field. Yet, as thankful as we were, we still had 2 more hours to kill. So we played hide and seek in the cotton field. We threw dirt clods in the cotton field. And best of all, we pulled weeds in the cotton field.

My oldest was the one who discovered it. After pulling his first weed, he exclaimed, "Dad, try pulling a weed. It really does make you feel better!" So weed after weed, we made our way through the cotton field seeing who was strong enough to pull the biggest weed. Even my 2 year old got into the game and did quite well.

A few weeds, a few games of hide and seek, a few rock hunts and 3 hours had passed. The suburban pulled up and we were off to what would be a great weekend with friends.

Almost $1000.00 later, my truck was repaired as good as new. My family was safe and we had great memories with our friends.

How easy it was for me to be lost in the discouragement of the mess we were in. Ah, the gift of children! Those who remind us that pulling weeds actually makes you feel better. The reminder that as bad as the circumstance might be, we can usually make a long list of what we should be thankful for amidst the difficulties in which we find ourselves. And in the end, you can still pack up your stuff and move on down the road to better times.

One of the many lessons learned from my children.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

True Confession

What follows is a position paper I wrote while preparing for a recent sermon. The conclusions represent the conclusions of the elders of MPC on this subject. I continue to learn and be amazed at God's grace and love toward us. This topic is just one in a long list of examples.

Church tradition has addressed the application of confession in the life of a believer in a variety of ways. Some suggest it has no application for the believer because of the complete forgiveness found through faith in Jesus Christ. Others suggest just the opposite and go as far as to say that God has granted church leaders with ability to remit sins and confession should therefore be a consistent practice within the church in order to maintain a righteous standing before God. With such extremes in opinion, it is important to understand what scripture has to say about this topic.

Perhaps the most common text used in the discussion of this topic is 1 John 1:9. It is in this letter than John writes to 2nd and 3rd generation Christians within the context of growing false teaching in order that they may be encouraged in the promise of God and the hope of their salvation (1 John 5:13). However, the corruption of the Gospel message has created confusion and so John begins his letter with the express desire to bring clarity for those who have trusted in Jesus Christ as Savior.

To do so, John draws on the use of symbolic language to make his point clear. In this letter, he contrasts truth and lie by using the symbols of light and darkness. This usage is common for John and can be found throughout his writings (John 1:5, John 3:19, John 8:12, John 12:35, John 12:46, 1 John 1:5, 1 John 1:6, 1 John 2:8, 1 John 2:9, 1 John 2:11). In each case, John uses the term darkness to describe the realm of Satan and his mission of deceit among mankind. Light, on the other hand, represents the holiness and purity of God. Jesus himself used this same language when he said, “I am the Light of the world; he who follows Me will not walk in darkness, but will have the Light of life” (John. 8:12).

Beginning in verse 5 of his letter, John describes the attributes of the light (1 John 1:5, 7, 9; 2:1-2) which he then contrasts with the darkness (1 John 1:6, 8, 10). This pattern continues through the end of this chapter as John seeks to clarify truth amidst the lies being proclaimed by the false teachers. Understanding this pattern of comparison and contrast is important in the accurate interpretation of 1 John 1:9.

“If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).

The term confess literally means “to agree”. Thus, in the context of this verse, it means to agree with God regarding the existence of sin exposed by the light. Additionally, the grammar of the word “confess” indicates a continuous action. Therefore, it is not one single act of confession, but a habit or lifestyle of confession for the person who walks in the light.

For this reason, 1 John 1:9 is not a cause-effect statement suggesting only “if” we confess our sin will we then receive forgiveness for of sin. Instead, it is a comparison and contrast between those who walk in the light and those who walk in the darkness.

John says, if you walk in darkness, you will ignore the reality of sin in your life and you will have nothing to confess. Yet, if you walk in the light, you will recognize the sin revealed by the light because of the fellowship you have with your Savior and as a result, you will confess.

Confession is a defining characteristic for a person of faith. If you trust in Jesus alone as Savior, your life will be characterized by the presence of confession. In contrast, the person who walks in darkness, the one who does not admit to sin – He will not live a life of confession.

Forgiveness, as John instructs us, is not based on the act of confession. It exists because, and only because, of the faithfulness and righteousness of God. Because GOD is faithful and just, the saint who sins is forgiven and cleansed of all unrighteousness!