Thursday, March 27, 2008

The Nature of Loving Others

A pastor was once asked about people who love showcase signs with “John 3:16” written on them. Some of these individuals showcasing these signs were very forceful and vehement about others knowing about the content of this verse, but they did not seem to love themselves. The pastor pondered the question for a few moments. He looked down at his Bible, opened it and searched for a verse. He then said, “I am going to read for you from John 13, verses 34 and 35. It reads,

John 13:34 A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another.
John 13:35 By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another.

Perhaps these people that push around John 3:16 but do not show the love of God to others should read this verse and John 3:16’s its counterpart in 1 John 3:16, ‘Hereby perceive we the love of God, because He laid down His life for us: and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren.’ It is equally important. Does not John also say in 1 John 4:20, ‘If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar: for he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen?’ It is important to know this if God is love, and he dwells in you, then His love dwells in you, and out of you His love will flow. And, how do we know someone really loves us? We know they love us, because they are willing to die for us, just as Christ died for us. This willingness can only exist when Christ dwells in us.”

We typically say that John 3:16 is good news. And, it is a true saying. But, it does not stop there. Christ wants to dwell in you - as the Holy Spirit dwelt in Him – so you can dwell with Him forever. As He dwells in you, through the Holy Spirit, He transforms you, from a self preserving, greedy, self centered, ego-maniac to a person that is willing to die for others - even those who hate you or can care less about you. When Christ transforms us, we are willing to do for others what Christ did for us. He died for us while we were yet His enemies, ungodly, or sinners (Romans 5:8).

We are not necessarily talking about kindness and sweetness. You can be kind and sweet in a hypocritical way. You can also have the wrong motives. This is especially true when we expect a reward. The sign of agape is not sentimental kindness, but a willingness to put others first even at a cost to us.

Perhaps the most effectual demonstration of agape was a woman’s outpouring of love toward Jesus. Let us read the account Matthew 26: 6 - 13,

Mat26:6 Now when Jesus was in Bethany, in the house of Simon the leper,
Mat26:7 There came unto him a woman having an alabaster box of very precious ointment, and poured it on his head, as he sat at meat.
Mat26:8 But when his disciples saw it, they had indignation, saying, To what purpose is this waste?
Mat26:9 For this ointment might have been sold for much, and given to the poor.
Mat26:10 When Jesus understood it, he said unto them, Why trouble ye the woman? for she hath wrought a good work upon me.
Mat26:11 For ye have the poor always with you; but me ye have not always.
Mat26:12 For in that she hath poured this ointment on my body, she did it for my burial.
Mat26:13 Verily I say unto you, Wheresoever this gospel shall be preached in the whole world, there shall also this, that this woman hath done, be told for a memorial of her.

We know from other gospel accounts that what this woman did was an act of love – agape. She did it because she was grateful to Christ for forgiving her and she wanted to honor Him. In the eyes of most she made a fool out of herself. They thought that her action was scandalous. But, when she started to pour the oil, she did not care what others thought. She had come to a point where self did not matter. She followed what the Holy Spirit prompted her to do. Christ, however, commended her work as good. Have we come to the point ourselves of following the Spirit’s prompting without caring what others may think? Eventually, the disciples did come to that point. In fact, we could say, that the scandalous act of honor that Mary did for Jesus, they eventually did for the poor that remained after Jesus ascended. If we love God indeed, we will love and honor those to whom God sends us, as if we were honoring Jesus.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Baptism In Light Of The Gospel

Recently, a study was made about how well churches were doing and why. Pastors were asked this question and they said that their church was doing well. When asked how they knew their church was doing well, they replied that offerings were up, church assistance was up, and program participation was up, also. When the members were asked the same questions a majority said that they did not feel well spiritually. Yes, they went to all services, contributed by tithing and offerings and even participated in programs but on a personal level they did not feel close to God. The study revealed that they did not have devotional time with God. They neither read their Bible nor prayed. This is a sad reality. This shows a gap in how both sides understand spirituality and a lack of belief on both sides. Some may be ignorant, while others are just rebellious.

Many see the amount of baptisms as a sign of how well a Pastor is doing. Why are baptisms so imperative to some? Because, baptisms, in the church management’s estimation, are a quantitative measurement that easy to see as opposed to spiritual growth which is very subjective. It is sad, because while a pastor may be baptizing many people, it does not mean him or the church are doing well spiritually.

Was baptism important in the Bible? In the book of Mark 16:15-16, Christ is quoted saying,

Mark 16:15 And he said unto them, Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature.
Mark 16:16 He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned.

Notice that the word baptism comes after the word belief. Baptism can only come after you believe. If you are baptized without you believing you merely got wet. Those who do not believe typically will not get baptized and of course this will lead to eternal damnation.

Getting baptized should show symbolically that you have believed the gospel. What is the gospel? The gospel is the good news of salvation. What does this mean? When Christ died on the cross, the whole world was saved from the eternal damnation or death that is the wages of Sin (Romans 6:23). Because of this we now know, that God is not against us (Romans 5:8). In fact, He is the one that sent His Son to pay the wages of Sin – “For God so loved the world, that He gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (John 3:16). He loves us so much, that He wanted to save us from this second death, which is good-bye to life for ever. As the Apostle John wrote, “Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins” (1John 4:10). And, He did this while we were yet His enemies or sinners (Romans 5:8). In other words it is not because we loved Him – we naturally hate God - but because He loved us. Anyone that loves God does so because He loves us first (1John 4:19). But that is only part of the good news. God not only wanted to save us from eternal death, He also wants us to live eternally with Him.

Those who are grateful for what He has done believe Christ accomplished this for them. We read in John 3:16 that those who believe not only will not perish but have eternal life. God wants to take us home with Him to be eternally with Him. But, as a friend of mine says, “you can’t take someone home if they don’t know how to act.” While God wants to take with Him the whole world, only those who believe – constantly and continually - that Christ has saved them from eternal death will learn how to act. They will overcome their sinful tendencies and will be transformed into new being by the renewal of their hearts and mind. To this group baptism is special.

To this group baptism represents the new birth experience. They have repented, left the old behind, died to self, been converted, given a new heart of flesh, and/or their mind has been renewed. Symbolically, when we go down in the baptismal waters we die, and when we come up we are resurrected. Baptism is not necessary for salvation. If it were, salvation would not be by grace through faith, but by baptism. The thief on the cross will be resurrected unto eternal life. He believed Christ. By faith this man accepted Christ as his personal Lord and Savior. Those who believe will have no problem becoming baptized.

Now, you will notice that Jesus never baptized anyone (John 4:2). Paul baptized only a few, he understood his mission as preaching and teaching the gospel, not baptizing (1 Corinthians. 1:17). Twice in acts Paul’s calling is mentioned, on neither occasions was the verb to baptize used. It is not to say that baptism is not important. Going against the Holy Spirit’s conviction that you should be baptized is Sin. Not baptizing is not an unpardonable Sin, but it may be a step toward it.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Peter’s Need for Approbation

When I was in college a Pastor working on his master’s asked our professor to use our class to fill out an inventory about personality temperaments. Our professor obliged and one morning we all filled out the inventory. It was long and tedious, but the results were worthwhile. At the end we found out what our personality temperaments were. In a great part, we could explain why we did what we did and in the way we did it. Since then, the topics of personality temperaments have fascinated me. With an understanding of this topic you understand yourself, and also others as well.

If you’re dealing with a bossy person his (her) temperament is probably choleric. If you are dealing with a calm, quiet, person that just want to get along his (Her) temperament is probably phlegmatic. If you are dealing with someone that loves data and love to stick to rules his (her) temperament is probably melancholy. If you are dealing with a vociferous, impulsive, life of the party type, his (her) temperament is sanguine.

Someone did a chart to explain this graphically. He drew a horizontal line and said that people represented above that line were outgoing and people represented below were reserved. After this he drew a vertical line crossing the horizontal line. He said those represented to the left of the vertical line are not people oriented and those represented to the right are people oriented. You end up with four quadrants. The top left quadrant represents Choleric people = Outgoing and not people oriented. The bottom left quadrant represents melancholic people = reserved and not people oriented. To the right and bottom you have represented the phlegmatic = reserved and people oriented. The top right quadrant represents sanguine people = outgoing and people oriented.

By studying the characters of people in the Bible we can tell what their probable temperament was. Many Pharisees were probably high on sanguine temperament traits. They loved to be around people, showing off and loudly talking about their achievements. It is a typical sanguine trait. In some circumstances it is an asset and in many others it is a weakness. Just like anything else if left unrestrained and bias toward the negative, it can become a character flaw. Sanguine people tend to love the approbation of others. Such was the case of the Pharisees. Such was also the case of Peter.

Peter showed all sanguine characteristics. He was impetuous, impulsive, and outspoken. He was driven by his feelings which vacillated from faithful to fearful (Consider the passage of Matthew 16: 16 -23). Peter like many other sanguine people, was also very concerned with his reputation. His need for approbation was very high. Still not understanding the gospel, he wanted the kingdom to be here and now. And, he wanted to be part of the elite when this Kingdom arrived. The cross did not fit his understanding of this Kingdom Christ was preaching about (Matthew 16:21-23). The cross was too humiliating for someone who craved approbation from others.

After Peter’s conversion all of these negative traits gradually disappeared. The Holy Spirit conquered Peter’s prejudice against gentiles (Acts 10:34; 15: 7 – 8; Galatians 2: 11 - 14). He increasingly became less dependent on his feelings and need for approbation. He learned to trust God more and more. Perhaps the greatest sign is that he agreed to die crucified (John 21: 18 – 19). Something years before he abhorred (Matthew 16:21-23).

Peter before conversion gets a lot of slack from people. He is looked down upon. However, Peter did not act any different than any of us would if we had the same personality temperament, circumstance and opportunity. Peter’s actions were not sinful because he was sanguine, but because he trusted self, instead of Christ. The same goes for us. Whatever personality temperament we have is not the Sin. But, resisting the Holy Spirit’s work in us, to take away character flaws that may come from weaknesses of our personality temperament is the Sin. Will you allow Him to work in you?

Thursday, March 06, 2008

The Manipulation/Guilt Model

Sister Carmen’s day started in a joyful manner. She had not been going to church because she was caring for her bed ridden mother. This day one of her sisters said she would look after Mom, so Carmen could take some time off and go to church. While in church, however, she felt bombarded with messages of what constitutes good Christianity. Through out the service it was said, “A good Christians give Bible studies, they pass out tracts, they bring guests to church, and they are active in community service helping others in need. A good Christian goes to church service and is very active in all the services and programs. A good Christian gives a lot of money to church. God is disappointed with inactive Christians. He is pleased with good Christians.”

Sister Carmen wanted to be a Christian in her heart, but how could she do this when she was to care for her mother. She could not leave her mother. Oh, the feeling of remorse she felt was unbearable. She wondered how many others in the congregation felt the same as her. She looked around and saw many long sad faces. “Was God being fair?” she thought. She silently prayed to God and asked Him, “O God, how can I please you?”

Sister Therese approached Sister Carmen at the end of the service. After doing the customary small talk, Sister Therese asked about Sister Carmen’s mother. Sister Carmen told her that her mother was fine considering the circumstances. She also told Sister Therese about how hard it was to care for her. But, she added, “God had been answering prayers.” Sister Therese said to Sister Carmen, “It is a wonderful work you are doing. I know that God is pleased with you. I remember when we prayed about you staying with your mother. You did not want to do it, but you said that if that is what God wanted you to do you would. And, you are.” Sister Carmen interjected, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” “Philippians 4:13,” Sister Therese responded immediately. At that moment Sister Carmen started to cry. Sister Therese got closer to her, and asked her, “What is wrong, child?” “O, sister,” Carmen answered through her tears, “I heard all these things about the things you need to do to please God. So, I prayed to God to show me how I could please Him. He sent you to answer me.” Sister Therese embraced Sister Carmen. She told her softly, “Child, don’t listen to these manipulators. They do not know any better. We just got to pray for them. As Paul says, ‘Without faith it is impossible to please Him[i].’ And, you know, what Christ told Nicodemus, ‘For God so loved the world, that he gave His only begotten Son…[ii] He loves us unconditionally. That is why He sent His Son. And, they sent the Holy Spirit to walk with us, so we can walk like Jesus: doing the will of the Father. That’s why He told the disciples, ‘This is my Son in who I am pleased. Listen to Him[iii].’ You listened to Him and you are doing His will. He is pleased with you.” Sister Carmen now was crying and laughing. She looked up and prayed, “Praise be to God. Thank you, Lord.”

Have you ever felt as Sister Carmen felt this one time? Has guilt ever driven you to do anything? Have you ever felt pressured to do something because of what you thought others may think of you? Has ‘others’ ever been God? Have you ever given in to others’ manipulative pleas because you did not want to feel remorse? Did you think that attempting to get rid of your remorse will make you right with God?

There is only one way to be made right with God: 1. It is by continually accepting by faith what Christ has done on the cross; 2. It by responding with a sense of gratitude to the belief that Christ is your personal Savior. This is what God wants from us. He wants for us to listen and to pay attention to Him because we trust Him. He wants agape to drive us, not guilt. He wants us to yield to the Holy Spirit leading, and not to a feeling of remorse of what others may think of you. God does not manipulate you into anything. He leads, you choose to follow.