Sunday, March 29, 2015

Don't Just Take My Word For It

“Now the Berean Jews were of more noble character than those in Thessalonica, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true.” Acts 17:11 NIV

How many times have we seen that emotional appeal for money in exchange for your breakthrough or as seed faith that is attached to your miracle? Is it really true that God wants me to be wealthy? Will my "wealth transfer" finally come if I send this $1000 gift of faith into the ministry? The minister said that God only wants good things for me, and that certainly must mean that He only wants me to be comfortable and happy. Right? The atmosphere seems electrically charged as the audience praises God with passion and cheers heartily as the minister proclaims that God wishes "above all things that thou mayest prosper and be in health, even as they soul prospereth."

What is going on here? This is the prevalent message that is seen on Christian TV all over America. It seems that a fine line has been crossed, and Scripture has been taken out of context to manipulate viewers into padding the pockets of these so-called men of God. Enough truth is mixed in so that many are easily enticed and deceived. For those who do not know God, will this faux gospel lead them to the saving knowledge of Jesus Christ? Will this attract outsiders to want to know more about God? Or, have others become so disgusted by the greedy business of religion that they have hardened their hearts to the real God?

This is dangerous territory to tread indeed!

It is so important to read and study the entire Bible, not just cherry-picked verses to support what we want to believe. This is the only way to keep yourself from being misguided or manipulated by false teachers. It is especially important to read within context - not just the verse above and below, but also consider cultural context, historical context, literal context, and accurate interpretation of words.

Here is a perfect example: I have heard the above verse quoted over and over again out of context and used as a foundation to support this gospel of greed.  "Beloved, I wish above all things that thou mayest prosper and be in health, even as thy soul prospereth." 3 John 1:2 KJV. 

I just go nuts when I hear a minister go there!

Do you not realize that this was written in a letter from John to his friend Gaius, a recent convert?  It was merely a greeting to open his letter, yet it if so often quoted as a direct message to us from God to seek wealth above all things.  John was simply wishing his friend blessings, that everything would go well for him just as his spiritual life was now on track. 

Although this letter was addressed to one specific person, it was also intended to encourage and strengthen the church.  After the initial greeting, the basic gist of this book is to encourage the church to provide for their brothers in Christ who are traveling and preaching the gospel.  Nothing in this letter teaches us to idolize money.

Do not get me wrong.  We can find ample Scripture that does support the fact the God loves to bless us, and He does prosper us!  He really does!  There are too many examples in the Bible not to believe that.  However, He blesses us so that we may bless others and glorify Him, not so we can hoard treasures for ourselves.  The important issue is to keep our hearts pure and not to allow His blessings to become an idol to us. 

It's all His anyway! We are mere stewards of what God has entrusted to us. Lord, let us be faithful managers of what belongs to you!

In other words, love God; seek Him first; enjoy His blessings; prosper abundantly; but keep a balanced, Biblical perspective, and do not become greedy.

Here is a list of verses that will help to balance this teaching. If any one of them is read by itself, it can easily cause one to jump to the wrong conclusion. However, as you study each of these verses together, rather than seeing contradictions, you actually get a clearer interpretation of how God really does see money.

“And God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.” 2 Corinthians 9:8 NIV

“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” John 10:10 ESV

“The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing.” Psalm 23:1 NIV

“For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Matthew 6:21 NIV

“No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.” Matthew 6:24

“But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” Matthew 6:33 NIV

“For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs.” 1 Timothy 6:10 ESV

“Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” Hebrews 13:5 ESV
 “And he said to them, ‘Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one's life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.’” Luke 12:15 ESV
“For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride in possessions—is not from the Father but is from the world.” 1 John 2:16 ESV

“He who loves money will not be satisfied with money, nor he who loves wealth with his income; this also is vanity.” Ecclesiastes 5:10 ESV

Please understand that these verses do not decry money itself as evil, but our approach toward money is where the problem often lies.  It is all in the heart.  Greed is the culprit, not money.  As you read in the first few verses, God does not want us to live in poverty or lack.  He generously gives us everything we need and more.  However, we are cautioned numerous times about our attitude toward wealth.  It is not the stuff, but how we react to the stuff. 

We can also read the stories of Abraham, Job, David, Solomon, and many more to see examples of how God loves to bless those who honor Him, but to have complete understanding of this topic, we must search all of Scripture rather than foolishly embracing the shallow and uninformed teaching of the few who manipulate for their own personal gain and lead the sheep astray.  Be wary!

Let us be diligent in researching Scripture and seek to comprehend each message in its full context. That is the example of the Bereans in the early church. Rather than merely accepting everything Paul said, they “received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true.” Acts 17:11 NIV.

Don’t just take my word for it. Don’t just read the verses I provided by themselves either.  Take some time and read the contextual message surrounding these verses.  Look into a commentary for the cultural context and the meaning of any words that may be unclear to you. Compare these verses in multiple translations for the clearest meaning possible.

Now, after considering this approach to Bible study, what do you really think this next verse means?  “I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.” Philippians 4:13 KJV.  Talk about a verse that has been taken out of context and misused more than just about any other! 

I’ll leave you on your own for this one!

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Making the First Move to Restore a Relationship

We all want to win the fight, to be the one who is right, to receive vindication for all the sweat and tears that we invested in the conflict.  We do not want to lose the upper hand in our relationships. However, while that is human nature, it clearly illustrates two of the biggest roadblocks to healing and reconciling relationships – stubbornness and pride. 

Who wants to budge and make the first move?  Does that mean we are admitting fault and conceding victory?  Why give in when it is clear that the other person is the one at fault?  We can never do that, can we?  After all, we have our pride to think about!

The unfortunate dilemma here is that the price to keep our pride, our upper hand, our right to be right, is sadly the loss of precious friendships or closeness in our family relationships.  Is it really worth the loss of a valuable relationship in order to avoid having our pride bruised just a bit?

Regardless of right or wrong, or who started the conflict, we need to be willing to take a huge swallow of that nasty pill of pride and take the first step toward restoration.  It does not matter how the other person reacts, if they are remorseful, or even if they accept our attempts at reconciliation.  The important thing is that we make the first move out of obedience to Scripture.  Romans 12:18-21 expresses so perfectly what our responsibility as Christ’s disciples is in our relationships and interactions with others.

Do all that you can to live in peace with everyone.
Dear friends, never take revenge.
Leave that to the righteous anger of God.
For the Scriptures say,
“I will take revenge;
    I will pay them back,”
    says the Lord.
If your enemies are hungry, feed them.
    If they are thirsty, give them something to drink.
In doing this, you will heap
    burning coals of shame on their heads.
Don’t let evil conquer you, but conquer evil by doing good.
Romans 12:18-21 NLT

1.    Forgive completely and then restore the person in a spirit of meekness.  You may need to discuss some difficult topics, but you may also need to just let some things go. Matthew 18:15 gives the prescription for approaching someone who has offended you. “If another believer sins against you, go privately and point out the offense. If the other person listens and confesses it, you have won that person back.” Keep a matter-of-fact tone, and do not let emotions take control of the situation. You may have to establish boundaries of safety as well in order to reconcile and establish peaceful coexistence.  Be mindful of what you say and how you say it, and do not rehash issues over and over again.  Once it is behind you, keep it there. For instruction on how to forgive, and what forgiveness is not, please see my video and blog, ChooseForgiveness.

2.    Keep in mind that we may not even be able to fully restore the relationship.  The other person may not be receptive (Matthew 15:16-17).  However, that does not give us an excuse to be disobedient.  We must continue to pray, to be kind, and to show love.  We are responsible for our part, and then we leave the rest in God’s hands.  He will deal with their hearts, but we will have peace that we have done all that we can do. In the case of an abusive relationship, however, you are not required to put yourself in a dangerous or compromising position. Praying for this person from a distance may be all the kindness necessary, and the rest is in God’s hands.

3.    Ultimately, it is about yielding our hearts and wills completely to the Lord.  When we love Him with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength, our hearts will mesh in unity with His heart, His will becomes our will.  Therefore, it is more than merely making the first move to restore friendships, but it is about having a pure and obedient heart before God. We will then have the desire to approach relationships in a way that pleases and honors God.  There is just no room for stubbornness and pride in a heart full of God’s love!

4.    Begin with a sincere and wholehearted examination of the deepest recesses of our hearts, and ask the Holy Spirit to “search us; cleanse us; fill us; and use us.”  (paraphrased from Debbie Alsdorf’s book, The Faith Dare)  We will then be in the place to follow His commands, regardless of the hurt. He will heal and empower us and fill us with His love.  We will become focused on the things that truly matter instead of being consumed by anger, bitterness, hurt, and pride.

Let us pray this prayer together:

 Search me, God, and know my heart;
    test me and know my anxious thoughts.
See if there is any offensive way in me,
    and lead me in the way everlasting.
Psalms 139: 23-24 NIV

My personal reflections…

God is asking me to…

·       Pray for and speak blessing to and about others. Regardless of who is in the wrong in a conflict, I will leave it in God’s hands to handle. My responsibility is only to bless and love others. 

·       When I have an enemy or a strained relationship, I must pray, be humble, forgive, be kind, speak well of and to, bless, and love sincerely.

My challenge is to…

·         Keep balance.  I cannot allow another person’s sour spirit to harm me, my family, or my church. There are times I must stand against wrong behavior, but bring correction only in love and submission to spiritual authority. I must maintain a Christ-like and obedient attitude at all times.

·       Continue to do what is right and keep a God-pleasing attitude even when others hurt, blame, or mistreat me or someone I love.

·     Not make excuses. Other people’s behaviors, words, or attitudes are never an excuse for me to disobey God.