Stronger vs. Weaker

1k6bhl

A lot of ink, pixels, coffee, and beer have been spilled over what the Bible says about Christian liberty. Are tattoos sinful? Is rock music demon worship? Can rap be redeemed? Is drinking a sin? Is dancing allowed at weddings? Should women wear pants? Can I eat meat that had been sacrificed to idols? Christians have debated these and a myriad of similar questions about what behavior will please or displease God. In basic terms, these are debates on subjects where Scripture is either quiet or confusing.

Interestingly, it seems that when the subject of Christian liberty surfaces, the modern modus operandi is to force conversations that aim at expanding the minds of weaker brothers. Usually a blend of education and confrontation, these “conversations” can range from peaceful talks to heated debates. The results usually never dictate a clear winner.

Yes, the popular approach to Christian liberty is a lot like cooking a frog. The key is to create a peer-pressure cooker that increases exposure until believers with opposing opinions either give up or become numb to what once offended them. But this begs the question: Is this how God wants these things to be handled? Romans 14 seems to indicate otherwise. In this passage, Paul is clear on two things: 1) In Christ, believers have lots of freedom; 2) If a freedom conflicts with a brother or sister’s conscience, avoid it for their sake. 

For Paul, the stronger brother is a person who is free in their conscience. Weaker brothers are believers whose conscience does not release them from the conviction that “this thing is not right for me to do.” In particular, Paul is using dietary laws as the illustration for this principle.

Romans 14:1-3: “As for the one who is weak in faith, welcome him, but not to quarrel over opinions. One person believes he may eat anything, while the weak person eats only vegetables. Let not the one who eats despise the one who abstains, and let not the one who abstains pass judgment on the one who eats, for God has welcomed him.” 

Paul continues in vs. 13-21: 13 Therefore let us not pass judgment on one another any longer, but rather decide never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother. 14 I know and am persuaded in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself, but it is unclean for anyone who thinks it unclean. 15 For if your brother is grieved by what you eat, you are no longer walking in love. By what you eat, do not destroy the one for whom Christ died.16 So do not let what you regard as good be spoken of as evil. 17 For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. 18 Whoever thus serves Christ is acceptable to God and approved by men. 19 So then let us pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding.

20 Do not, for the sake of food, destroy the work of God. Everything is indeed clean, but it is wrong for anyone to make another stumble by what he eats. 21 It is good not to eat meat or drink wine or do anything that causes your brother to stumble.[c] “ 

Are we catching this? Paul could not be anymore clear. Stronger believers should not force their liberties on their weaker brothers or sisters. If that approach is taken, Paul says that we are no longer walking in love. Rather, we should avoid such situations for their sake. Paul continues his reasoning in chapter 15.

Romans 15:1-7: We who are strong have an obligation to bear with the failings of the weak, and not to please ourselves. Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, to build him up. For Christ did not please himself, but as it is written, “The reproaches of those who reproached you fell on me.”For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope. May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God.”

Here, Paul lays it out clearly for us: our obligation as strong believers is not to exercise our freedoms, but rather to bear with our weaker brothers and sisters in Christ out of love for them. Paul grounds this exhortation in the actions of Christ, who bore our weaknesses not only in life, but also in His atoning death because of His love for us and on our behalf. Paul’s point is that believers should approach Christian liberty not with a sense of entitlement, but with sacrificial caution, being willing to ditch anything for the sake of our weaker brothers and sisters.

This means we should practice situational awareness as we journey through life together. This means that we may need to be ready to apologize for offending other Christians, even when we don’t see anything wrong. It also means we may need to abstain from exercising our freedoms in their presence. This seems counter-cultural to the common approach of exercising Christian liberty. Nevertheless, this is God’s desire for us.

So here are some simple notes of wisdom from this passage:

  1. Consider the weaker brother. (Be aware)
  2. Act in love. 
  3. Sacrifice for their sake; not for your gain. 

It is through this course of action that the God of endurance and encouragement will increase the unity of His body. God’s desire is for His children to grow closer in fellowship, and this takes maturity, wisdom, and love practiced by His stronger children.

Advertisements

Lent goes deeper.

cena-lent ………..for Ivan

Like many things in the liturgical calendar, Lent is what you make of it. For some people, lent is a time to give up Facebook or dessert, stripping away a worldly pleasure to more identify with Christ’s suffering. Some use it as second act for failed New Year’s resolutions. But Lent goes deeper. The events and seasons on the liturgical calendar can be great guides, facilitating worshipful experiences and reflections that deepen one’s understanding of God and their need of Him. Seasons like Advent often guide believers into a deeper understanding of the brilliant hope found in the coming of Jesus Christ while awaiting His return. In contrast, Lent is a season of darkness.

The six-week season of Lent begins with Ash Wednesday. Familiar to many only by the external sign placed upon foreheads, Ash Wednesday services act as a mirror for the Church, assisting believers to better understand the depths of human depravity. Recently, I heard a speaker do this in a session simply by asking the question, “How did we get here?” With each headline from the latest newsreel, she would state this question emphatically, almost serving as a liturgical litany. For Christians who walk in the glorious light of the Risen Savior, sometimes its good to remember just how dark the world can be. It’s good for us to re-sensitize ourselves to the pain found in God’s creation. It can wake us up to the reality that we need Jesus here and now, compelling us to say, “Come, Lord Jesus.” This type of examination is what we find in the laments of Israel; acknowledgement of guilt by association and saddened by the horror the nation had become.

And yet, there is still need to go deeper.

It is one thing to examine the cosmic brokenness of God’s creation; to survey the vast, global scale of brokenness and weep and mourn over it. It is another thing to identify your own personal and secret contributions. If we stop with a survey of the brokenness in the world, we have only participated in external examination. Lent is a season of examination and introspection. One definition of introspection is to examine one’s own mental and emotional processes. Using this definition, introspection for believers should entail examining one’s own personal responsibility for the brokenness in the world. It’s an in-depth look at what is broken in us.

I understand this can be unpopular, especially among Millennials. Social justice will always be more sexy than personal holiness. But, let’s be clear: social justice and personal holiness are not mutually exclusive, and Christians can and should care about both. Self-examination and repentance are critical to a life changed by the Gospel. The Gospel is good news because it brings hope to all despair. As the popular saying goes, “one needs to understand the bad news before they can understand the good news.” One cannot fully receive the grace God bestows through His Gospel without true introspection and repentance.

Yet another reason why we should take care to deepen our introspection in this season is that we are often prone to let ourselves off the hook. The sin of self-righteousness is stealthy. While we guard against attitudes of, “Look how good I am,” but we may find ourselves saying, “At least, I’m not like those other people who _____.” Jesus warns His followers about such behavior in several places. The parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector is pithy illustration of how God’s grace is received by those approaching God with a penitent heart. It is an essential part of Christ’s Gospel call, “repent and believe the gospel.”

The Millennial generation, to which I belong, are excellent practitioners in corporate speck-finding. We can identify brokenness in the world and point blame at those who are not joining causes to relieve or repeal these injustices and tragedy. Yet for all the brokenness we point out in the world, we need to pause and notice the plank-sized offenses we commit by severing relationships through group association, incubating lusts, indulging in covert idolatry, or simply hardening our hearts to the plight of our actual “neighbors,” because it’s not nearly as exotic, broken, or popular.

Given the exposure Christians have to the brokenness of this world, 2017 is a great time to make the most of Lent and introspection. It is by thorough introspection that the Holy Spirit can compel believers to not only say, “Come, Lord Jesus,” but also, “Lord, have mercy.” By understanding just how fallen we are, corporately and individually, we can experience the depths of God’s marvelous grace as we draw near to the throne of that grace, where Christ Himself mediates on our behalf before the Father in Heaven. And so fully embracing the darkness of this Lenten season can result in fresh revelations of God’s marvelous grace.

A Ray of Hope

 

In a time where public opinion rarely speaks well of Christianity, British Prime Minister David Cameron’s Easter address is a ray of hope. In his recent, viral video Cameron explicitly commends Christianity. After explaining that Easter celebrates the ultimate victory of Christ’s resurrection from the dead, PM Cameron proceeds to give reasons why every person should be thankful for the presence of the Church in the world.

Admittedly, I do not pretend to know the Prime Minister’s political or spiritual motivations/convictions for this video. However, as a Christian, I was thankful for this address. I see this as a ray of hope; of Scripture being fulfilled because it is an example of someone seeing the good works of God’s people and expressing and encouraging thankfulness for them.

A Lesson from the Beatitudes

Matthew 5:1-16: In this famous passage, Jesus outlines some characteristics of the “blessed” person. We can categorize them in the following ways…

Read More

Missing Discpleship Part 2

Holy Week has now passed, and it’s time to turn our attention to Jesus’ ascension. After Jesus rose again from the grave, he appeared to people for 40 days. Jesus called his disciples together on a mountain, and ascended into Heaven. As he ascended, he gave the charge to his disciples to make more disciples, baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and teaching them to observe all that Christ has commanded. If Jesus has all this authority and has given us the marching orders, why is the American church struggling so much? Why do we feel like the walls are caving in on Christianity? Why do we feel the kingdom is not expanding, even in our own communities? 
To answer these questions, we are examining some of the probable pitfalls that stagnate church growth. Last month, I wrote about how we can accidentally disciple people to a system of doctrine or a church, rather than leading people to Jesus. We could call this error, the big whiff. We can work really hard to get people on our side of thinking, but we fail to lead them to Jesus. They may love our church, or a preacher, or a book, or calvinism…but they still don’t know Jesus, yet. 
Yet, there are still other pitfalls in regards to discipleship. Probably the largest pitfall, the one most encountered is the hardness of our own hearts toward discipleship. There are two common reactions to the prospect of a discipleship relationship.  
First, one might feel resistant to allowing another person to exercise authority over us. This reaction can be seen in the way that people will listen to the teaching of a pastor, that is, until they disagree with them. At the point of disagreement, the western mind says, “either we can agree to disagree, or I can’t agree with you; I’m out.” There is a cultural narrative that says “I’m the boss of me.” Authority has become relative. This cultural narrative is subtle, and even though the Church speaks against this kind of thinking, we never the less practice it in regards to discipleship. For example, we allow the Word of God to be our guide…but we usually focus on the parts of Scripture that we agree with.  
The second reaction comes when we are encouraged to disciple others. Whether the humility be sincere or false, we become unwilling to enter into a discipleship relationship with others because we in some way feel largely inadequate for the task. The reason this is so is because WE ARE LARGELY INADEQUATE FOR THIS TASK! Who is sufficient for these things?  Only by the grace of God, granted to us in Jesus Christ, and the power supplied by the Holy Spirit can we ever be qualified for such a task. Thanks be to God that those who are in Christ Jesus have been given the God-given grace to carry it out…not in perfection, but with obedience. Inadequate qualifications are never an appropriate excuse against obedience to the commands of God. 
The solution is, in discipling and being discipled, we must humbly obey. We must submit to the lordship of Jesus Christ, trusting that his will is for our sanctification. He has placed people in the Church to build us up to maturity, and we must submit to their guidance and authority. Likewise, we must humbly guide and disciple others, knowing that our lives are not perfect models of obedience, but that they should point to one who is, Jesus Christ. 
To be continued…

Missing Discipleship – Part one

The Church is to be made up of disciples. These are people who have heard the gospel, believe in Jesus Christ, and seek to live as followers of his ways. The charge to make disciples is the key mission given to the Church by Jesus himself. Jesus came to earth, and ushered in the Kingdom of God. He taught and modeled the holiness of God, while highlighting the impurities of sin. In both religious and irreligious circles, Jesus clarified the issues with heavenly truth (Matthew 5-7).  Jesus displayed compassion to the downtrodden and opposed the proud. Jesus also died on the cross, paying the penalty of sin for his people, and rose again to secure their eternal residence and fellowship with God. In all things, He obeyed his Father in Heaven, to “bring glory the Father.” In essence, these are the things a disciple should be doing.

The Kingdom of God continued to advance by the movement of the Holy Spirit, and the cooperation of Jesus’ eleven disciples. Jesus had supplied clarity to the mission of his disciples. Duplicate and multiply. Duplicate what I have done and taught in your own lives, and train others to follow this way.  Fast forward nearly 2000 years, and the Global Church is still growing. Yet, growth seems stifled in some arenas, and discipleship is one of them. This is perplexing since this is the essential mission of the church. In America, participation in weekly worship is decreasing, the number of people claiming to be Christian is decreasing, and many churches are scratching their heads as to why things are turning out this way.  So why is it so difficult to get a church to grow? Why is it so painful to get the modern “evangelical” church to fulfill God’s call for kingdom expansion? I believe it is because we have far less disciples than we think. Over the next several articles, I will provide a few thoughts to re-kindle the flame of disciple-making in the church.

Part One: Reorientation

Evangelical churches may have lost sight of our mission. Of course, we place discipleship as one of our core values on our websites and mission statements. But our words often stray far from our deeds.

One reason is that, as a church, we can tend to primarily focus on the “event.” Church has become, like so much in our culture, sensationalized. Exciting events, moving music, and special services become the focus of our mission. Like a young couple preparing for a wedding, we become infatuated with the events of church. We put a great deal of resources into planning activities to please and tantalize our “guests”. We publicize, plan, and strategize how we can impress people with our events, rather than impressing them with our Savior. We try to bring them to church, instead of bringing them to Jesus.

Also like marriage, discipleship is messy. You see one another’s strengths and weaknesses. You struggle together through the good and bad times. You spend time with one another, and serve others selflessly. In an increasingly self-absorbed culture, it is no wonder that the church struggles to make true disciples. We can introduce people to the idea of Jesus, but we struggle to help complete the picture. Like having a stain-glassed window with no color, it is nearly impossible to see what Jesus looks like without discipleship. It is the Church’s primary task to supply a disciple with the fuller picture, to fill in the colors with the instruction of God’s truth, supporting them in prayer, and empowering them in the mission. We need to begin the process of reorientation. Discipleship must return to its mission; introducing them to Jesus and teaching them to observe all that He commanded us (Matthew 28:20).

Refining and Reforming: revisited.

The resurrection of Jesus Christ is arguably the most miraculous event in the Christian faith. The resurrection of this blog is definitively not.
I began a blog over 5 years ago, throughout which I posted twelve times. My last post was in 2012. This blog was dead.
But now, it is alive.
Since this is a re-birth, I’ll summarize that the purpose of this blog is to provoke thought, give opinion, and hopefully stimulate more affection for God. I started this blog from the recommendation of my beautiful, wonderful, encouraging wife, Lauren. We now have a wonderful 8 month-old son, Elliott. Now, that seminary is over, it’s time to get back to it.
So if you are reading this, I want to say thanks for checking out my blog. I hope that you will feel that your time is not wasted.
My deepest prayer is that this blog would glorify a gracious Triune God, who created us, redeems us, welcomes us into His family, through His atoning life, death, and resurrection, sealing and empowering believers to grow in greater holiness through the indwelling of His Holy Spirit…an unfathomable being, but intimately known and loved by his adopted children; The Father, Son, and Holy ghost.