Wednesday, April 24, 2013

How to Have a Crumby Faith


As the story goes, it came to the ears of good King Alfonso of Spain that the pages in his court had been forgetting to ask God’s blessings for their daily meals.  Determined to teach them a lesson, the king invited them to a banquet, which they all attended.  The table was spread with every kind of good thing to eat, and the young me ate vigorously, but once again, none of them remembered to ask the Lord’s blessings for the food!  During the feast, a shabby beggar entered.  He seated himself at the royal table and ate and drank to his heart’s content.  At first, the pages were amazed.  They expected that the king would order him away, but Alfonso never said a word.  When the beggar had finished, he arose from the table and left without saying a word of thanks.  The pages cried out, “What a despicable fellow!”  But, the king silenced them, and in a clear, calm tone said – “Boys, bolder and more audacious than this beggar you all have been.  Every day, you sit down to a table supplied by the bounty of your heavenly Father, yet you do not ask His blessing or say thanks!”  The pages did not exercise much patience or understanding.  Like them, we like to eat, but we need to remember to say “thanks” in faith.  In fact, all things need to be discerned by faith.  Patience is long-suffering, willingness to wait on the Lord.  This passage is a lesson in the patience of faith, as Jesus’ discussion with a Gentile woman helps her to learn and grow.

Jesus has just had a confrontation with the religious leaders. So here (in Matthew 15:21ff), he has retreated to Gentile territory on the Mediterranean Sea.  Jesus is not in Phoenicia for the purpose of evangelism, yet He “providentially” encounters a woman in a situation where she does not belong…much like the Samaritan woman.  Here, she is a Gentile among Jews, and what is amazing is that she, being a Gentile, hears where Jesus is and comes looking for Him.  What is her purpose?  She wants Him to heal her daughter who is sick.  She boldly calls Jesus, “Son of David,” putting herself on Jewish ground, and place where she really would have no right to be.  This further reveals her peculiar nature.  All of this reveals her faith in God to call on the man she perceives is the Messiah.  As we have seen in other situations, as with the aforementioned Samaritan woman, Jesus is the Master Communicator.

Here we expect some great word of wisdom from Jesus, except the He is silent -- He says nothing. But, Jesus has an advantage in the situation -- He knows her heart.  He exercises patience with her, and His silence in this situation spurs her on.  For her part, she is a very patient, persistent mother, which we might expect.  But, she has no argument, as she is an outsider in every respect.  Still, she is simply a person who comes to Jesus as a sinner in need of help.  Now, the Lord speaks, and it is interesting to say the least.  Jesus says, “I have been sent to the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (v.24).  Jewish Messiah comes for Jewish people – case closed, right?  This might discourage most individuals, but once again, Jesus knows this lady…and He is not seeking to destroy her faith, but build it up.  This is patience at work!  As the drama continues to unfold, the woman’s response, "Lord, help me!" (v.25) shows that she is growing in faith and unwilling to let Him go without giving her an answer.

Lest we forget the third party in this situation, the disciples now chime in.  They are impatient with her persistent following and crying out, so they speak up…and they want her to be dismissed (not a whole lot of compassion here).  It is the disciples who have no respect for this woman of another place and another race.  Perhaps Jesus’ silence, in part, has been to see if the disciples would show kindness…but, to no avail.  His next response, "It is not right to take the children's bread and toss it to their dogs" (v.26) surely pleases the disciples.  Yet, once again, He is not refusing her as they might seem to think.  He is not trying to run her off, but He is about to “run off” the disciples’ ugly attitude.  He shares a proverb of the day, and it is shocking.  Is Jesus saying that she is a dog?  “Dog” was a frequent Jewish term of abuse for Gentiles at that time.  The “dogs” that Jesus refers to are “mongrels” that would run in packs like wolves.  The disciples are likely thinking, “Yeah, deal with her Lord.”  But, Jesus’ words cannot convey the true feelings of the situation.  Although He presents her with the sort of language that she might expect from a Jew, Jesus’ tone is not humorless or rude.  If only we could see the twinkle in His eye…once again, He continues to draw out a growing, patient response of faith.  Jesus has known she is capable, and this Syro-Phoenician woman does immediately seize on His illustration and provides a remarkable reply that is precisely what Jesus is hoping for and looking for.  Her point (v.27) “that dogs at least get the crumbs” is no less tongue-in-cheek than Jesus’ statement.  We see that she accepts His basic position that He has a mission to Israel, but also that His mission allows others to share in the blessings of His kingdom, even if secondarily.

Jesus acknowledges her “great faith” immediately and He heals her daughter…surely as the disciples’ jaws are hitting the floor in disbelief over what has happened.  They must have been equal parts stunned and confused.  There are two instances of “great faith” in the New Testament, and both are Gentiles, not Jews…this woman and the centurion in chapter eight.  Her faith is great because she persisted and was patient in asking and trusting when everything seemed against her – her race (Gentile), gender (woman, who had little social standing at that time), the disciples (obviously), and even Jesus initially (it may have seemed)…and she persisted nonetheless.  Life is often a matter of perspective isn’t it?

Many years ago, an American shoe salesman was sent to Africa by his company.  Shortly after arriving, he messaged back to the manufacturer saying, “Please bring me home – nobody wears shoes in this part of Africa.”  They brought him home and sent another salesman.  He sent back order after order for shoes and sent a message saying, “Everyone here needs shoes.”  And so it is with faith!  Seeing and believing in Jesus is a matter of perspective – a faith perspective.  Jesus was looking for a patient, albeit forthright, response from the Syro-Phoenician woman.  His connection with her was no accident, but according to the will of God.  As with this woman, we must allow the Lord to work with us, to grow us patiently, strengthening our faith.  We may not always understand what life is going to bring our way, but we must simply turn to the only One who can truly help us.  Like the woman, we have every capability to live according to “great faith.”  In addition, another sign of growth in us is our ability to work with and accept people who are different from us.  Jesus was empty of the prejudices of many who were close to the situation, be it the leaders of the Jews or His own disciples.  We must seek to serve those whom the Lord sends our way; He wants what is best for us and others!  So, we can be like the short-sighted, impatient disciples and doubt (although they undoubtedly learned from the experience and grew).  Or, we can be like the patient woman, hungering for righteousness, thirsting for salvation, moldable in the hands of the Lord…finding wisdom and life!  

Blessings, Don

Friday, April 19, 2013

United Status


One of the memorable stories found in the Bible is the story of Gideon.  “There is strength in numbers,” you may have heard.  Just ask Gideon…but not the number that he thought they would be.  According to God’s plan, he and 300 men united against and defeated the enemy.  Soldier battalions are strong because they work together as a united front.  They have one goal and strive to achieve it…this is a powerful motivation.  Families…be it the nuclear family, or extended families…working together display a unity that is powerful.  Paul shares with us that the church also can have a great influence on the world around us if we are united in one front, determined, working together to reach a common goal.  Though we in the body may all be different, we must continue to remind ourselves just how important it is for us to have and to promote unity.

Paul lays out key doctrinal arguments in this part of his letter to the Ephesians (4:1-16).  But, as he says, it does not mean much if we are not applying doctrine to our lives.  And, it starts with unity.  Once again, unity is not “uniformity.”  Unity is a spiritual grace that is born from within, from the Spirit of love, while uniformity is the result of outside pressure.  If we are to preserve “the unity of the Spirit,” we must possess the necessary graces.  There are six listed here – humility, meekness (gentleness), patience, forbearance (in love), diligence and peace.  Do these sound familiar? They are similar to the Spirit’s fruit, as seen in Galatians 5.  Some people attempt to unite Christians together in love…as if it all that matters.  This is not to say that love is not the most important matter, because it is, but there are other things that impact unity.  Paul says that doctrine is very important to unity. (Please notice that he does not say “opinion.”)  Not all Christians are going to agree on certain matters of opinion, but all need to be together on the foundational truths of the faith.  And what are these foundational truths?  Paul shares them here in this passage…what some have called “the seven ones.”  Unity built upon anything else is going to be shaky ground.  The seven spiritual realities that unite all Christians are -- oneness in body, Spirit, hope, Lord, faith, baptism, God and Father. 

Paul moves from what Christians have in common to how we differ from one another.  There is variety and individuality of gifts within the unity of the Spirit.  The Spirit has gifted us to edify the body.  In this passage, (as well as 1 Corinthians 12, Romans 12) lists of gifts are given…tools to begin building the body of Christ.  As God’s personal emissaries, the apostles helped to lay the foundation for the New Testament church.  Their purpose was fulfilled after John went to be with the Lord.  The prophets of the time predicted the future and proclaimed the Word of God in order to further the message of the Lord.  Their ministry of fore-telling would be fulfilled with the coming of the written message of God...although forth-telling would continue, even as it is being done today.  Evangelists are traveling preachers who shared the message of God’s grace.  Pastors and teachers are “teaching pastors” or elders who would shepherd the flock by caring for it, feeding it the Word.  As these gifts are exercised we grow in maturity, Paul says, and together this promotes unity.  Leaders are to equip, members are to be equipped, feeding on the Word, ministering to each other.  This all…to a degree…represents what it is to be Christ-like.  Maturing Christians are stable, but not stagnant.  They are not tossed about by strange doctrines or unhealthy methods, but are willing to try new things, to learn and grow.  They are willing “to speak the truth in love.”  Most importantly, maturing Christians are cooperative, not antagonistic. As members of one body, we belong to each other, need each other, affect each other – we need to work together, cooperating in order to see the full benefits of unity.  But, we have to be willing to fight against the system of our culture which works against all of the things I have just shared. 

Ron Clark shares some interesting thoughts in relationship to “living a life worthy of the calling with which you have been called.” -- “Church” is not a spectator sport where people gather as “consumers” waiting for spiritual food to be brought to them. The consumerism of our culture has shaped the thinking of many so that the value of one church over another is based on the level of benefits one gets out of church A over church B.  Consumerism is all about what we want not what Jesus has called us to do!  We live in a culture that revolves around consuming. Every TV commercial, every store, every credit card company, every bank, every TV show or movie, every piece of clothing, car or product, every website, every restaurant is tailored to fit your desires, needs or personal preference. We are easily frustrated when things don’t happen exactly as we want them. We exist in a culture that implicitly says this: We are here to serve you and meet your every whim and desire. Let us take care of you. What’s more, it’s never enough.  Churches also fall into this trap when they attempt to provide as comfortable an experience as possible, using every means at their disposal to attract people and then keep them in. They tailor what they do around people’s wants and desires. In reality, however, the only thing that Jesus is counting is followers, i.e. people dedicated to his mission -- to go into the world making followers!  Jesus really doesn’t care about attendance, budgets or buildings. It’s all about followers and followers by nature are producers not consumers.  As followers of Jesus we are all called to be out in our community sharing Jesus and sharing his love. We are called to “do good to all people” and especially to those who are fellow followers of Jesus. (Galatians 6:9-10) We are not called to sit and be waited on but to take up our own towel and serve whomever we are called to serve. Jesus said that he did not come to the earth to be served but to serve others and give his life as a ransom for many. (Matthew 20:28) So, what does “church” mean to you? Is it about sitting and being served (consumerism) or about getting out and being Jesus to the world (producers on mission)? Jesus said, “As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” (John 20:21) What an exciting time to be “On Mission” for Jesus. Ekklesia’s core belief is that we are a family of Jesus Followers called to be loving, serving and sacrificing ourselves for others because of Jesus. I’m ready to get going! Are you?

There really just is not a whole lot to add to Ron’s thoughts…it is good as it is.  If we are interested “in preserving the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace,” we are going to love and respect one another for who we are as God’s uniquely gifted people, we are going to seek ways to promote “unity” and not “factions”, and we will seek for ways to be active in living and taking the message to those around us. 

Blessings, Don

Thursday, April 11, 2013

The Holy Spirit is not History


I shared a message a few weeks ago concerning how the Holy Spirit works in believers from John 16.  My friend, Glen, offered some thoughts and an apt illustration that made me think, and so I am revisiting this thought concerning the Holy Spirit as He has historically related to our fellowship.

Glen shares this – I think it took a major event in my life 13 years ago this April before I began to see who the Holy Spirit is.  That was when I had my cardiac arrest and when I got home from the hospital after receiving my first defibrillator implant, I began to realize there is a power beyond what I ever realized that was working inside of me thru God, and I no longer took the position of I could do things "all by myself".  Or as an old country song goes with lyrics something to the effect of "no help wanted, I can handle this job all by myself".   That seemed to be the position I had until after April 12, 2000.  It is strange how we can be raised in the church, go to church and Bible class all our lives, and still miss the point of the Holy Spirit.  It seems that it is gradually being corrected after a hundred or more years of error.  It reminds me of a ranch I sold in Eastland Co., a modern survey showed it was 40 acres less than the deed stated. Guess what happened, the surveyor back 100 years ago missed a call in the survey (that is for example going from point A to point C, missing point B) which the survey showed 40 acres more land in the tract than there was.  This error had not been discovered until 100 years later under modern day surveys and more knowledgeable title attorneys knowing what to look for.  I took the owner to the courthouse and had him to look at the deed description which plainly showed a survey call was missing.   Took 100 years before it was noticed, I think similar as to what we are finding in the study of the scriptures today compared with what was believed yesterday.

This is not the first time (and it will not be the last), where I have gladly had to answer the question as to why the Holy Spirit was ignored for so long in our fellowship.  My original posting -- The KJV is an unfortunate translation of the concept of Holy a ghost and a Spirit are not at all the same thing, but many were led to believe that the Holy Spirit was something that was "not real" like a ghost.  To be certain, the Holy Spirit is not just some "ethereal influence" as the JW's and a few other religions view Him, but He is very much alive, personally involved in filling us (Ephesians 5:18ff) with His presence and fruit (love, joy, peace, etc. Galatians 5:22ff).  As I believe we have talked about in the past, many, if not most, churches of Christ virtually ignored the Holy Spirit until recent decades, thanks in large part to a reaction against the holiness movement in the latter part of the 19th century and early part of the 20th century.  Most rationalists could not get past what the restoration folks viewed as radical -- speaking in tongues, miraculous healings, etc...and perhaps rightfully so (in my opinion), but to take only a small slice of the pie with regard to the Holy Spirit and dismiss…or allow it to lead to misinterpretation concerning…the rest of such a critically important doctrine and working was a grievous error.  It seems that it was just too much for rationalists to overcome...that Someone else could be in control of their lives...(a bit of humor there).  However, there is simply too much biblical data concerning how the Holy Spirit works and how He works in our lives for us to miss what He is supposed to be doing in our lives individually and collectively – the aforementioned John 16 (as well as chapter 14), Joel 2, Acts 1 and 2, Romans 8, Galatians 5, Ephesians 1 and 6, etc. 

Blessings, Don

Friday, April 5, 2013

The Rutgers Leadership Dilemma


There is a lot to the story, but Tim Pernetti losing his job as Athletic Director at Rutgers University would appear to be up for debate.  Pernetti felt that he took the right and considerable action last fall when he fined men's head basketball coach, Mike Rice, $50,000 and suspended him for three games, because of Rice's mistreatment of players on the basketball team.  This seemed to be a good call at the time (and to others involved, apparently).  What is now certain is that the coach, Rice, has lost his job because of an ESPN report by Outside the Lines where the network has showed an unfortunate video of the coach abusing his players, physically and verbally.  It has also come about that an assistant coach under Rice who was also responsible for mistreating players has been fired.  Now, the athletic director himself has been fired.  Some are going to blame ESPN for much of this, and a case could certainly be made for such.  But, this is the result of investigative reporting that those in the sports world do, much the same as those in the political world.  I am not saying it is ethical or right, but "it is what it is" in the society that we presently live in.

What coach Rice did was reprehensible.  He should have been disciplined...and the debate will continue as to whether he should have been fired on the spot -- it is certainly feasible that this should have been the action by the A.D.  But, Pernetti was doing what he thought was best to help the man and to diffuse the situation.  I do not see how that this is so wrong and unredeemable?  Certainly coaches have been disciplined for similar matters and not lost their jobs.  But, rest assured...if anyone has eyes to see through the eyes of our culture...the coach did not lose his job because he threw basketballs at players or shoved them (although both of those actions are clearly in error); the coach lost his job because of the insensitive slur he made, which certainly should not have been done.  But, in the hypersensitive, reactive culture that we live in...that is all it takes in order for their to be a firestorm on the part of certain militant groups.  I could take an entirely different tangent at this point and discuss just how out of sorts our culture is in relationship to this point, but I am going to resist the temptation. 

I am not defending Pernetti's action not to fire the coach.  What I am defending is Pernetti himself...and whether what he did was a fireable offense.  It is important to note that as a 1993 Rutgers graduate who was hired as Rutgers' AD in April 2009, Pernetti was instrumental in Rutgers moving from the Big East to the Big Ten Conference for 2014. Because of the move, Rutgers will increase its media rights revenue from about $3 million annually in the Big East to more than $40 million annually by 2017, sources said.  On top of this, NFL All-Pro running back Ray Rice (a Rutgers graduate) said when he returned to campus recently after the Ravens won the Super Bowl in February, Pernetti's main message was positive and inspirational -- he wanted Rice to complete his degree.  It is apparent from a number of reports that Pernetti is a good man who has looked out for the best interests of people at Rutgers University and beyond.  I believe that he acted in good faith with the program, and so, to fire him seems to be the result of pressure from others in the university system and on the state level.  Could it be that they felt the need to make Pernetti the fall guy because this has been an enbarrassment to the University and so that they could save face?   This would seem to be the case.  But, was it the right thing to do?  I do not believe so...but this will be debated for some time. What has happened to Pernetti appears to be the result of the same "mob mentality" witch hunt that is created by such situations that usually results in someone "paying the price".  Should we be surprised by this?  No. It has been the same for millenia. And once again, I am going to resist the temptation to take a religious tangent with regard to Jesus' own crucifixion as the result of a "mob mentality."  But, I think the point is made...and open for thought, discussion.

Blessings, Don

P.S.  Now the reporting is that Pernetti "has resigned." 

P.S.S.. As I have further come to understand it, Pernetti was seriously considering firing coach Rice last fall after the incidents, but was talked out of it by a "consensus of school officials."  Apparently, it is a consensus of "officials" that have chosen to run him off, as well. Hmmm.