Wednesday, October 19, 2011

1 Peter 2:12: Good Manners, They’re Biblical


I have heard the claim that “good manners” are not taught in the Bible. Obviously that is an extreme statement but lesser forms of this are often used by Christians who would assert that while each culture has its set of norms and standard (and some quite sophisticated in their cultural development) there is no compunction in Scripture which requires us to adopt such cultural forms, thereby releasing us, in our liberty, to live in a manner that is dictated by our conscience through God’s Spirit and His Word. It sounds quite idealistic, quite independent and bold, something some associate with spirituality (come boldly to the throne of grace). But this kind of ignorance really ought not to be common among believers.

The fact is good manners are Biblical. And further one will find that where people have as successfully become both believers and matured, that community elevates its culture.They move from low culture to high culture. They move from low expression to refined expression.But why?

One reason is the directive from God through the hand of Peter who writes in his first letter, (1 Peter 2:12 NASV):

Keep your behavior excellent among the Gentiles, so that in the thing in which they slander you as evildoers, they may because of your good deeds, as they observe them, glorify God in the day of visitation.

The word for excellent is καλήν (kalēn). Other translations are beautiful, honorable and ideal. The concept is not simply moral excellence, though this is quite in view, rather in every area of our lives we are to set the bar far and above pedestrian expectations and seek to elevate all dimensions of our lives so that in very way, shape and form the view from others about us is a people who are regulated by a conscience that is being prescribed to by a source far superior than human, but that of the Divine.

And this is where manners come from within Christian communities. It is the thorough application of this imperative, that we live excellently, beautifully and ideally before others. We escort the weaker because we wish to live excellently and honorably. We give our seats to display deference or respect. We deport ourselves to demonstrate that others may trust us and depend on a clear system of consistent behavior.

Snobbery is not the basis for good manners and a sophisticated social structure which seeks to display all of the virtues of Christian values such as thoughtfulness, patience, goodness, kindness, respect and honor and so on. These may attract people for the wrong reason and sometimes become hijacked by such, but their origins are internal.

Do not hesitate with good manners, they are not snobbery, they are Christian. Good manners display καλήν living, something for which we should always strive.

Friday, March 4, 2011

The Myth of the Spiritual Desert


I do not doubt that most of you who are students of God’s Word have, at some point, heard a Teacher of the Bible talk about spiritual deserts, spiritual dry seasons, or times and places where they believed they were not hearing from God. Such events are described as:
  • I no longer feel God’s presence.
  • My peace is gone.
  • I don’t sense God’s work.
  • God’s blessing seems gone.
  • My inner voice does not seem divinely directed.
And you often will discover these narratives being related to occasions such as the record in Matthew 4:1-11 of our Lord being taken into the desert by God’s Spirit or Elijah’s wandering in the desert in his flight from Jezebel. Of course such imposition of one’s own experiences onto the narratives and contexts of these incidents is a liberty we are not granted in Scripture nor are they appropriate corollaries for understanding our lives. In other words we do not get to imagine that we, too, are in some desert like Jesus or Elijah simply because our experiences, our senses or our emotions do not find some kind of validation that God is present (BTW God is never seen in these biblical events as not present either!).

And this is exactly my point. The Christian cannot be and never is in a spiritual desert. The idea of a spiritual desert is a myth conjured up in the minds of Teachers for various reasons. Most often it is because they are experience oriented. That is, they rely on something not taught in the Scriptures for the church age believer upon which to rely for faith and practice. And what is that something? Experiences.

Such experiences might be defined by mysticism in the form of emotionalism. That is, if our emotions are discombobulated then there is something amiss spiritually. There are popular teachers today that promote this kind of spirituality. For example:
"We are transported (perhaps only for seconds) above the reasoning work of the mind and we experience feeling without reference to logical or practical implications. ” 
Or other experiences might come from the non-biblical expectation of hearing a voice inside because you were taught this is how God’s Spirit is suppose to work today. Additionally, those within Charismatism are instructed to expect certain kinds of supernatural occurrences, far beyond what I just described and likened to the events recorded in the book of Acts where one can immediately speak in a tongue never learned or spoken before so that others using that language understand (of course no one does that any more because this temporary gift is now not operative and because it is not genuinely operative today Charismatics are reduced to babbling and calling it “tongues of Angels” in order to claim such powers).

What all of these ultimately are, is a violation and rejection of the protocol of God for the church age believer. Today we have, in Christ, our completed revelation. And in Christ we have been left the canon of Scripture. In fact St. Peter made a declaration that is often ignored by all of us at time but particularly by those clamoring for experiences and accoutrements 2 Peter 1:2:

According as his divine power hath given unto us all things that pertain unto life and godliness, through the knowledge of him that hath called us to glory and virtue
A Common Complaint

Many believers adhere to the boundary limit of experiences vs. God’s Word. They understand that their spiritual constancy is not to be found in emotions/mysticism or any experience but from faith in God’s Word. However, one will find a complaint expressed by some in the form of, "But I’m not getting anything personal from the Scriptures”. That is to say, they properly reject experiences as objective for their faith and indeed rest solely on God's Word but something is still, seemingly, incongruous. Let me address this particularly kind of concern.

My dear brother or sister in the Lord, it isn’t up to you to make the Scriptures personal, they are already are personal. It is your responsibility to live by faith and trust in them regardless of your experiences. In other words the Scriptures are personal; you are to receive them as such.

This reminds me of Lordship Salvation proponents. They teach that you must make Jesus “Lord” in order to be saved. Nonsense! He already is Lord just like he is already Jesus and the Christ. You are to believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, not make him Lord, make him Jesus or make him the Christ, he already is all these. You, in receiving the gospel, receive the promise that the one who is Lord Jesus Christ lived and died for your sins that you may have imputed to you his righteousness and be saved from judgment.

I must admit that I have run across teachers of the Bible who communicate the idea that when the Scriptures are read, the believer should have this undefined but real experience that gives them the impression that somehow God means to personally communicate to them this verse or this passage for the day. You see what has crept in, even here in a context of faith alone in the Scriptures? The expectations for experience once again. No, no and no. Remember, God's Word is already personal. No matter what you read, God has already made it personal. Simply learn from what you have read. Even the mildest truth of the most seemingly benign passage (notice I said "seemingly benign") is God’s intention for you. Trust him. Rest in his way.

Do Not Be Fooled

Remember the complaint by the Hebrews about the manna from heaven? At first it was spectacular but after a while the Israelites grew tired and distrusted the plan of God and wanted something better. God gave them something else alright, and they threw it up.

Many Men (and women) make a living within the body of Christ being a Guru. Often they become entrapped by their imaginations and because they have so many followers they need only utter something for it to become an expectation within the body of Christ, even if it is a departure from God's protocol. The Word of God, on the other hand, has the lightest expectation and the greatest gift with eternal and immutable relief which is simply your faith in God’s Word. You might be in a desert emotionally, physically or mentally but you are never in a desert spiritually. God never leaves you. His Word remains true. Regardless of your emotional, mental or physical state they are not that on which you should ever rest your spiritual state, instead it should always be on God. He is always with you, he is always working in you, he is always pouring out his Spirit in you, he has given you, again as Peter says, “everything” we need for “godliness”.

No too long ago, at the end of my neighborhood as it exists onto the main road was handwritten placard on a wooden post about 3 feet high and about 2 feet wide. It read, “No matter what, trust God”. Tomorrow you could be in a nursing home, incapacitated and abandoned by all humans except for those paid to attend to you. Maybe worse, you could be in a third world country and lie dying of a dreaded disease with no one to care for you. Possibly you are headed to prison for a long time or going through a devastating failure in your life. Did God leave you? Of course not. Your surroundings and experiences are not God and do not let them become God for you or you will be in a spiritual desert. But for those who are God’s possessions, the myth of a spiritual desert is just that, a myth that is unsupported by Scripture. No matter what, trust God.

Friday, February 4, 2011

WHAT MAKES AN EXCEPTIONAL WOMAN? THE SAME THINGS WHICH MAKE AN *EXCEPTIONAL MAN


In a discussion a year or two ago the question arose as to the characteristics of a great woman. I was prompted to respond with the following:

1. Orientation to self. When a woman is oriented to self she accepts responsibility for her own life and decisions. The result of her self-orientation is that she will live life from a position of strength and contribute not only to her own welfare but the by-products of this kind of life will be to the benefit of others. She will recognize and accept the consequences of both good and bad decisions and not seek to burden others with blaming nor demand solutions for her self-inflicted dilemmas. 


As well, she rejects offers to be falsely elevated based on the efforts of others or through social flattery which leads to arrogance and vanity. Instead, she will rise and fall on her own merits.

Secondly, a woman oriented to self comprehends her unique and distinctive feature as a woman. She understands and accepts all realities regarding the nature of her feminine identity and embraces it with vigor. She seeks to align herself with morality and social customs which reflect feminine honor and excellence. She is neither a libertine nor prudish, both representing forms of a gender repudiation.


2. Orientation to the truth/honesty. When a woman is oriented to the truth, when she prefers honesty over deception and she is able to properly assess herself, her condition, others and the world around her. She possesses capacity to admit her weaknesses while identifying her strengths. She has come to terms with her self. A woman adjusted to the truth instead of fantasy, appropriately views others and the world around her. She does not place distorted expectations on others and the world to fit her ill-conceived notions and is able to appreciate the greatness of her peers while graciously perceiving their inevitable foibles.


Disorientation to Reality


On the other hand, a woman who is bewildered by the truth thus, not given to honest evaluations, will constantly be dissatisfied with herself and others within her gravitational pull.  She will not have come to terms with herself. Her existence will be in a constant state of flux, regularly embarking on campaigns of a "new self" through impractical programs and gimmicks which promise to transform her from the person she is to her magical hope which will forever elude her. 

She will have failed to identify and accept both her weakness and strengths and will live life from a position of weakness, never grasping her limits and gifts which open the door for accelerated self-expression, if only she would embark on genuine self-discovery. As well, her perspective of others in her orbit will be maladjusted. She will fail to acknowledge and benefit from the greatness and gifts of many family members, friends, and associates. Any social advances which come her way will be ill-received and bathed in skepticism and suspicion. Her view of the world will eventually be clothed in conspiratorial ideology.

Hence, much of what she does will center on her temperamental and perpetual interest in changing and manipulating others and her environment. She will become an expert in the faults and flaws of "them" to the point of denying even their most basic proficiency and contributions. Hers is a life of redundant criticism or at best, mixing her reluctant compliments with veiled and petty insults. She is a prisoner of flattery and vain endeavors and daily yields herself to such.


3. Orientation to authority. A woman who is oriented to authority positions herself to be a maximized asset in both in serving and leading. Understanding the nature and function of authority enables a woman to accept and excel in personal, marital, familial, institutional, and all other social contexts because she distinguishes the structure and boundaries of each. She understands and accepts, without resentment or personal challenge, those to whom she is subordinate, as well as identifying her peers and those over whom she is placed in in authority. Such hierarchical realities are viewed as benefits, necessities and divinely ordained schematics. At every point on any organizational or social grid she seeks to discover her place and excel in that role whether the most subordinate or most superior.


Disorientation to Authority 

In contrast, a woman disoriented to authority begins with a deficit and continues on an inevitable slide downward. Failing to understand the nature, function, and purpose of authority and its legitimacy, such a woman will always find herself discontented with subordinate roles, believing, instead, that she truly should be the person in charge. 

This pedigree of a weak woman will believe that any role in which she must take directives and carry them out is personally demeaning and disgraceful, never understanding the essential role of the subordinate and failing to respect and accept its necessity. Further, much of her time will be spent seeking to thwart, confront and disrupt the authority of others. In her mind, these individuals are a threat to her person. 

This daughter of Eve fails to be an asset to herself and others, rather she is disruptive, contrary and misaligned. And if a woman, disoriented to authority, finds herself in a position of authority, the execution of her role will be marked by blaming others when failure occurs, taking greater credit than due in the event of organizational success, and an abuse of power through personalizing policies and procedures that are designed for her benefit and not the benefit of the organization or person(s) over whom she is in authority. She also will regularly engage in the manipulation and control of others through sabotage, gossip and the promotion of disloyalty to others and preference to her.

Summation

As stated earlier, a woman who is fully oriented to self, truth and authority is poised to live life from the position of greatest strength. Subsequently, a woman with these characteristics will properly assign values to priorities in life and structure her life in that manner. She will have an appropriate perspective as to the order of her loyalties and make the necessary investment in each. A great woman understands herself and accepts her strengths and weaknesses. She does not pretend to have capacities which do not exist in her person. She does not seek to compensate for weaknesses through exaggeration, rather she guards her weaknesses from manipulation and attack and focuses on her strengths, making the most effort to enhance them and benefit from them.


Some might wonder, what about her spiritual orientation? Let me be clear in response. 


If a woman is disoriented to the realities of herself, truth, and authority, her spiritual orientation will be rendered impotent, by default. No matter how much it appears such a woman is engaged in spiritual activity, by rejecting the above she is automatically misaligned and spiritual neutralized whether or not she or others recognize this. This does not mean she cannot be saved but it does mean she will not advance in her spiritual walk beyond childhood. 

Before a woman can successfully involve herself in any endeavor she must fully accept all that encompasses orientation to self, truth and authority. It is through these mechanisms that personal greatness is achieved and is carried over into any context in which a woman *(or man)may find herself.

Edited 2017

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

WHAT DO YOU CHARGE FOR MINISTRY?



Charging people money to be ministered to is a rather bizarre idea in itself when one considers the definition of ministry. The essence of ministry is to give, not to take. When two agents exchange one thing for another, most accurately it is called business. Ministry, on the other hand, is the sacrifice of one for the other. One accepts the cost and the other receives the benefit.

This ministry dictum was expressed by our Lord, rather emphatically, when he instructed the Apostles in Matt 10:8 (NIV):

"Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons. Freely you have received, freely give. Do not take along any gold or silver or copper in your belts; take no bag for the journey, or extra tunic, or sandals or a staff; for the worker is worth his keep".
One might argue that if we apply this principle we must then apply the latter, regarding our not being permitted to take money or extra clothing and paraphernalia. However, the two commands, while related in context, are differentiated themselves in focus. One was a prohibition against charging for ministry, the other for establishing an incumbent principle regarding the work of the ministry and the response of its recipients as reflected in the latter comment, "the worker is worth his keep". And these were special conditions for this event which did not preclude the ownership of material wealth, rather that ministry is not a mechanism for personal financial prosperity and any such elements in a ministry pointing it to that direction, must be removed. Calvinist teacher John MacArthur makes this observation:
"Since the gifts we have were freely given to us by God, we're to dispense them freely...Throughout the years I have been repeatedly asked about my fee for preaching. I have been preaching for over twenty years, yet never once in my ministry have I set a price on it, and I never will. The Bible says I received it freely, so I give it freely. Why should I set a price?...A faithful worker is worthy of his hire, and God will move through people to meet his need. If you never ask for anything, seek anything, or put a price on anything, then whatever comes your way you can accept as a gift from God."
How Much Do You Charge?

So with regard to ministry and cost I ask, how much do you charge others for your ministry or is it, in reality, a business? One of my favorite contradictions which seems to be the elephant in the room when this topic is raised, are the Christian ministry musicians and singers who perform at events where people are charged money via personal fees at the door, in order to receive ministry. It is as if I hear them saying, "I am here to minister to you with spiritual music but you're going to have to pay, first." Odd in the least and truthfully, spiritually morbid as a practice.

Under this same umbrella is the arriving teacher of Scripture who either charges a fee to the host organization or directly to those attending in order for him to provide ministry. Clearly these examples violate the terms of ministry.

Is the Business Model Valid for Ministry?

The question is not whether business, itself, is valid but whether ministry may operate with the construct of a business. It is quite clear that the Bible does not forbid industrious personal commerce, the question is whether the Lord's work may engage itself with the priorities of business interests. Frankly I see no room for this and in the least, if this is their practice, let's not call it a ministry, let's call it what it is, a business.


Our greatest example
of ministry (the Divine example) and its true definition, belongs to our Lord Jesus. At no point was his ministry of any cost to those receiving its benefits but of all cost to himself. From the wisdom and instruction provided to his Apostolic disciples to our Lord’s sacrifice for sin, at no point did our Lord (nor his Apostles) charge men, ever, for their spiritual care.

There is no paradigm in Scripture of our Lord or his Apostles taxing anyone for their teaching, never mind miraculous healing and so forth. There is no case where the cost Paul incurred in his journeys was something for which he charged others in order for him to agree to show up and provide Apostolic ministry which included doctrinal instruction. Nor did John or Peter impose a financial obligation to anyone before their ministering. You will not discover any such instance in Scripture, either from explicit instruction or implicit observation, the concept of ministry being something for which those receiving its benefits must foot the bill, first.


How Is Ministry To Be Financed?

So how do ministries gain support? You would think the answer to this question is obvious but to some, it is not. This is in spite of the fact that of what the text earlier taught, "the worker is worthy of his keep". That means those who are ministered to are to respond to the one ministering with material needs, just as Rom 15:27 and 1 Cor 9:11-12 reflects. And if the response is tepid, then one must examine both their ministry and its content along with God's providence at the moment. In other words, if you receive scant support, that may be an indication this isn't a work being promoted by God rather, managed by your own ambition.


But as well, as the text also indicates, you must reflect on your audience. That is to say, where are they spiritually? Babes in Christ are often only capable of sucking milk and have little ability, if any, to bear this kind of fruit.

Even further, the order of ministry and support is also clear; your ministry is performed and their response is given, in that order. Thus, it is not appropriate to arrest the prescription for ministry and money and begin charging people for ministry simply because you need the funds and cannot afford to do so otherwise. Again my dear brother, is it possible that God has not provided because what you wish to do is not his work!

Certainly every detail cannot be answered in this brief essay but some fundamental question can be approached effectively. And the most fundamental question is whether or not you are engaged in business or ministry, and whether or not you are charging people for your ministry?


(Edited 2017)