I refuse to be impressed with the status of any individual in any organization.

I refuse…

…to be impressed with the status of any individual in any organization.

How’s your resume look? In our western culture we make resumes. We want people to know our status, what we’ve done, and how we have done it. We want to show off our accolades. There is some wisdom in this. I want my airline pilots and brain surgeons to have some relevant experience beyond a summer job. But, we subject ourselves to status. We seek to be impressed or to impress. For some churches, their pastor or elder must worthy enough to shepherd there. Or, a church would feel fortunate that God brought such a man to them of whom they are not worthy! And as in the previous chapter (don’t misunderstand), I have my heroes who are well known and not so well known. I do admire them. But, therein lies the danger. Where does my heart cross the line to follow blindly?

One of my historical hobbies is the study of World War II. I don’t know why; I just like to study it. Specifically, I’m amazed at the crowds of support garnered by Hitler. To be sure, not all Germans became Nazi supporters, but examine the throngs upon throngs of those chanting “Heil!” Even when it became clear that their dictator would sacrifice them, they continued to follow with blind obedience even at the costs of their children. Why so much devotion to a man and a very fallible man at that? Before we in the enlightened Christian church point too many fingers at that generation of Germans, do we not do the same? Do we not put some on pedestals so high that we blindly accept whatever they say?

The Apostle Paul became ticked off. From the previous chapter, we saw that he was not happy while writing a letter to the Galatians. Why? Lies crept in by those who should have known better. Some were adding to the Gospel. Some added to the blood of Jesus. Yep, that would annoy the Apostle! In fact, he would go as far as condemning an angel if it brought another teaching. We don’t mean the naked baby kind of angel. We mean the warrior, messenger type (see Gal. 1:8). So, if Paul would rebuke an angel, how about a human teacher? Of course! Did it matter who they were? Was Paul impressed with their status? In Galatians 2:6 he writes, “And from those who seemed to be influential (what they were makes no difference to me; God shows no partiality)—those, I say, who seemed influential added nothing to me.”

In the last chapter, we saw that even the best can fail. In this verse, Paul takes it a step further. He will not be impressed with a status of an individual or organization. How does this look?

  •  We often grant trust just on pedigree. In Christian circles (and especially in educational Christian circles), the titles of Dr. or PhD. carry quite a bit of weight. On one hand, we get this. I understand that a college professor needs to be qualified for a position. On the other hand, the letters fore or aft of one’s name does not guarantee credibility. One of my most influential Bible college teachers did not have a doctorate. Shocking! Early in ministry, I desired a doctorate. I began to plan how I could accomplish it. I had not even determined what field I would master. I became restless and feeling like George Bailey in the movie, “It’s a Wonderful Life.” Would I be stuck in my own “Bedford Falls” and never pursue my dreams? In my life situation at the time, a doctorate would have been costly financially and relationally. I finally had to admit to myself that I just wanted the fame and prestige. It would not make me more Christlike. Jesus could do that himself. When I abandoned that dream, relief flooded my soul. It is not a sin to earn a doctorate. But, it is mistaken to think it automatically leads to godliness and credibility. Philippians 3 chronicles how Paul felt about qualifications. Apart from Jesus, they are a pile of dung.
  • Many earn influence other ways. Perhaps they write a few books or lead a church of thousands. Outstanding! But, danger comes when we automatically give them credentials. They may be heretics. Paul warns that many seek to have their ears tickled (2 Tim. 4:3-4). Ear tickling often brings huge audiences. To be sure, there are many who have worldwide influence. I think of Rick Warren. While he is often attacked, I have yet to find the attacks to stand up to scrutiny. His books are translated into multiple languages. Saddleback Church is recognized worldwide too. I’ve never met Pastor Rick, but I assume that he would not assume people should give him a blank check of trust.
  • God’s approval is more important. Paul says this in the Galatians 2 passage in the negative when he says, “God shows no partiality.” Stop and think: is God ever impressed? As a parent, we make a big deal over the first soccer goal or scribbled picture that we cannot quite make out. But, while we are excited and affirming, we are not really impressed. The Lord never feels, “Wow, what would I do without ______________?” He does not call the qualified but qualifies the called. At best, the only quality that gets his approval is faith. We believe and act on what he said. We live our lives trusting in a risen savior. Besides that, no one has accumulated any more brownie points than anyone else. When James and John sought the right and left hand seat near Jesus, he said it, “…is for those for whom it has been prepared by my Father” (Matt. 20). I don’t know for sure, but I have a strong suspicion who gets those spots. Those two are not well known. They’re nobodies. God knows them well, though.
  • Fame is not greatness in God’s eyes. Let’s all give a shout out to Maurus C. Logan! He’s not Tom Hanks, Benjamin Cumberpatch, Taylor Swift, or Lebron James. Who is he? He invented the cable tie wrap. I had to look this up myself. Most homes have cable tie wraps. Some grocery stores even carry them besides your basic hardware store. They’re great! But, most have not heard of Maurus. Fame and greatness are two different things. To be sure, many who are famous are also great and vice versa. Many who are great are not famous. This is especially true in church spheres. While many famous believers will be soundly rewarded by the Father, there will be many who do not have fame. Billions of great men and women of the faith walked this earth. They discipled kids. They kept the faith. They lost sleep, money, and comfort. Who’s Who did not include them. God knows them though.

I so appreciate those who have built status by their faithfulness. Heroes indeed! But, I refuse to be impressed with the status of any individual in any organization.

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I refuse to believe that certain people are infallible.

I refuse…

…to believe that certain people are infallible.

From the introduction of I refuse, I noted that my list of refusals arose out of a time of frustration with myself and the church. Someone may rise in a church or community or nation where he is placed on such a level that we cease to evaluate them. We put too much emphasis on who someone is; we bestow trust on individuals who may indeed be trustworthy, but we also tend to give them carte blanche. Let me say up front that I have profound admiration and thankfulness for the work of authors and better known leaders in church circles. To name a few, Chan & Platt’s manual Multiply should become a classic. Other authors and speakers include Chandler, Carson, and Keller. There are more. A little more dated but still excellent, how about Lewis, Tozer, and Redpath? Many more can be listed. Everyone has favorites. They would, however, be the first to admit that they are not beyond fallibility. The issue is not their status (although, that’s for the next chapter!). The issue is the degree of trust we give them. Two passages, one from each Testament, illustrate this for us.

Numbers 16

Moses is facing another crises in the ranks. Apparently, Korah and his sons don’t like his leadership. “You’ve gone far enough, Moses!” Aaron was also part of the mix as chosen high priest. So, we have two brothers in positions of authority. They are all of the same tribe as Korah: Levi. This tribe received special privileges and duties from the Lord. But, Korah was not alone in his disgust. Numbers 16:2 reads (NASB), “…and they rose up before Moses, together with some of the sons of Israel, two hundred and fifty leaders of the congregation, chosen in the assembly, men of renown.” So, these were not “nobodies.” Other translations say they were “well known.” From our democratic point of view, we would conclude that Moses is certainly out voted. These influential individuals hold to the same point of view. They must be “right,” right? Except, the Lord chose Moses and Aaron. In the next chapter, he will confirm the choice of Aaron by causing his walking stick to bud and produce almonds. While Korah and his friends had credibility, they were wrong. They erred. They failed. God had the earth swallow them up. Later in the chapter, some still held to the side of Korah. Enter a plague. So despite the reputation, history, and position of these men, they found themselves resisting God. And, many still did not see that. How can Korah be wrong? Well, he is. See Jude 1:11.

Galatians 2

(Note: the next chapter will dive more deeply into Galatians 2 as well). Paul was not happy when he wrote Galatians. While his other letters explain his love and thankfulness for a particular church, the body in Galatia receive no such praise. This was a tough letter for him to write. One can hear his heart breaking in every verse. What happened to them?

Controversy is no stranger to churches. Our modern, western churches has it along with other churches in other cultures. The issues may be different. For the early church, the issue is the Old Testament Law. What is its place? And, with all these Gentiles (non-Jews) coming to faith in Christ, should they not follow the Law? In their context, this question needed answering. In fact, Acts 15 records the minutes of the meeting and the conclusion: While we have a few recommendations, Gentiles do not need to follow the Law. Sadly, that did not end the controversy. Some had even travelled to the region of Galatia and promoted the Law. Since we are looking at a region, more than one church may have been involved. Who would promote such a thing? It sounds like those who would normally be trusted.

Enter Peter – certainly one who can be trusted. But according to Paul in Galatians 2, he also feared what the Jewish believers would say. How can Peter interact with Gentiles? Even Peter failed. But it does not stop there. Paul refers to his friend and confidant, Barnabas. Galatians 2:13b, “…so that even Barnabas was led astray by their hypocrisy.” As an early pillar in the church, Barnabas accepted the newly converted Saul/Paul when everyone else ran from him. Along with Paul, he gave the original report about the Gentile churches and conversions. He should know better. Besides Paul himself, Barnabas understood the relationship of salvation by grace alone through faith. He witnessed it. Who knows how many discussions and sermons he heard from Paul? At this instance, he got it wrong. He failed.

So, let’s close out all the book stores, refuse to hear another sermon, and cancel all our podcasts, right? No, that’s not the point. Here’s the point: Even the best fail. I won’t go into details, but over the years I learned a tremendous amount through a particular man and ministry. I still have notes from his seminars on my shelf. By applying the biblical principles he showed me, my effectiveness rose. He was a national figure. Something happened. I could not believe my ears. As I sat in the audience at one of his seminars, all of us began to stare at one another in shock. He taught not only heresy but nonsense. What happened to this once anchor of the faith? Has he lost his mind? Should someone remove him from the podium? Many left the auditorium, but others hung on every word. Why? Because it was him, but he failed. He was not infallible. There are some lessons to learn.

  • Do your homework. We never learn it all. How many times have you had the experience of reading a passage you know you’ve read before, but it feels like reading it for the first time? And, take the time to study and dig. We are too apt to take cut & paste short cuts rather than dig down to the bones of a passage or point in theology. In short, we can’t be lazy.
  • Who’s side are they on? Watch for the self-serving. If Jesus is one’s lord, then he does not share the stage. Is this leader promoting himself, his products or is Jesus the center?
  • Yes, you can take and use the good even if there is an occasional whammy. The best professional baseball players get a hit one third of their tries at bat. As they say, “No one bats a thousand.” Sunday school teachers to multiple PhD holders are the same. Just because we may find a swing and miss from time to time, don’t toss them completely.
  • Don’t put that kind pressure on anyone. Pastors tend to be put on pedestals. That may feel good and complimentary, but it ultimately puts an unreasonable pressure on them.
  • Remember, you’re not infallible either. Try as we might, we all make mistakes. Correct the errors. Truth is more important than our pride. And, while it does not feel right, people respect the honest scholar and leader over the one who never admits a mistake.

In the end, let’s refuse to believe that certain people are infallible.

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I refuse to adopt fads over convictions and biblical principles.

I refuse…

…to adopt fads over convictions and biblical principles.

Don’t you love first dates? No, me neither. It’s been a while since I’ve been on one, but the awkwardness is the worst! Both parties try avoiding offending the other. Intense pressure rises to please the other and leave a good impression. So, this conversation ensues: “What do you want to do?” “I don’t know…what do you want to do?” “I dunna know…what do you want to do?” “Whatever you want to do.” “I asked you first; what do you want to do?” (Sigh). And so, it continues. What’s needed is a little stability and direction. Hopefully, as this couple learns more about each other, they will learn and appreciate each other’s tastes and expectations. Until then, they will mire in the tar pits of indecision. There is something amazing in the conversation. If just one of them would speak up and say, “Let’s do a movie” or “How about pizza?” or “Let’s hike in the park,” they would both gladly follow. Almost anything would be acceptable than continue that tedious conversation. They are at the mercy of the wind to be carried anywhere.

Churches, and individual Christ followers, can be the same way. They lose direction and focus. As a result, they can get tossed about with various fads. Google “Church growth strategies” and see what happens. I got over three million hits. It’s not as though they are all bad; some make a ton of sense. Many miss the mark. The tragedy occurs when we rely upon the next church growth high to another. We can even find ourselves preaching trends instead of truth. At times, these may even swerve into heresy. It’s easy to do as it happens subtly, slowly over time. Again, don’t misunderstand. I have listened at conferences and been inspired and encouraged. How do we, then, judge between something good and a distraction?

On face value, I would answer the question with ideas like more Bible study, more prayer, etc. And, those could help anchor the waywardness of our souls. In fact, they’re recommended. However, our friend, the Apostle Paul, writes something interesting about stability. Ephesians 4:14-15 speaks of the danger of getting pushed around, “…so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. 15 Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ…” So, according to Paul, how do we get there? How do we avoid being children tossed around? What’s involved with growing up in every way? We need to check the context.

Ephesians, like all of Paul’s writing, makes amazing claims. He can hardly contain himself as he explains all the blessings in Christ. He marvels at the free gift of grace to those who spit in God’s face. He overflows with thankfulness that God would consider him worthy to proclaim the mystery of God’s plan to bring the Gentiles in as a new people we call “church.” As we enter chapter four, he answers the unasked question, “So what?” How do we now live in light of these truths from chapters 1-3?

Giving and using spiritual gifts gives stability. We stand together better.

As I said before, the answer sounds like, “More Bible study!” However, that’s not what Paul says. In order to reach the point of stability in a stormy sea of fads and heresy, Paul recommends utilizing the spiritual gifts (Eph. 4:11-12, “And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ…”). This leads to maturity in the body of Christ but specifically to our resistance to fads and trickery. The danger is out there: so many distractions and out right deceptions lead to instability. Why and How? What’s the connection between stability and the gifts of the Spirit? See the next section, but also perhaps that specialization makes for expertise. In the old west, if everyone had to be a farmer, blacksmith, sheriff, and the barroom piano player, no one would become truly skilled at anything. What’s the old expression: Jack of all trades but master of none? Since Jesus himself has given these gifts to the church, the recipients become experts. Our apostle focus on apostling. Teachers teach. Prophets prophesy. Shepherds shepherd, etc. We naturally, by the power of the Holy Spirit, get better and better in our field of influence and expertise. So, when some scoundrel tries to influence the church, a team of experts springs into action. God will use the right one(s) at the right time. Very few people have more than two gifts much less three. That leaves some major holes in the leadership foundation structure if one or a few oversee the church.

More brains give more insight.

I hate committee work. It is soooooo slow. It’s much more efficient if I just make the decisions. When we work as a team, everyone has to contribute, and decisions take forever. Even in marriage, when a husband and wife work together, it takes a lot longer. But, teams can make better decisions (ideally but admittedly not always). So, when our group of experts above gather, some kidder with the gift of faith wants to step out trusting God in some outrageous fashion. Everyone ooo’s and ahh’s at the possibilities as dreams and plans flow. Then, the administrator pipes up and says, “How will we pay for that?” It’s not like the gift of faith person wants to be reckless or the administrator wants to be a kill-joy. Both are needed in the church. The multiple brains help the church not be overly influenced by the winds and waves. In our home, my wife gardens and I cut the grass. From time to time, she wants to remove grassy areas for more garden space. But, she does not consider how the change effects mowing. I can make mowing harder than it should be. My wife can envision a garden plot that will look nicer and carry less maintenance. Two brains = better solutions. Yes, too many brains can make a long, tedious meeting to the point that no decisions are made. Practically, shepherds need to lead and guide so that things can move forward. Even the most well balance leader is subject to his own weaknesses and blindspots.

This can be called plurality in leadership. More than one person has the target on their chest and the responsibility. When each activates their giftedness, they fulfill a primary role. Churches find balance in the team rather than bias of a few. And just by playing the odds, it’s easier for one person to get tossed around by every wind of doctrine than an entire team.

We speak truth in love.

Paul is not done hawking stability in the storm. In verse fifteen he writes, “Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ…” This does not so much imply a cause and effect but the establishing of an environment. While we are speaking the truth in love, we grow and mature. Both should be there. Marriage specialist Jimmy Evans says, “Truth without love is mean, but love without truth is meaningless.” In the church, not only should both be done, but the environment should exist with both present. It’s not an “or;” it’s an “and.” We are not the Holy Spirit nor are we moral cops. But, imagine a church environment where the relationships have such depth that they can foster examples and even confrontation if necessary in the context of love. We don’t confront because some rule is broken and the offender must pay. We speak gently and with love because we, well, love the other person.

Wait! It’s loving to confront? Yes, when done in that spirit. Sin is not a right. It cuts down to the soul and causes profound damage. When we love someone enough, we risk the friendship enough to speak the truth in love. I will always be grateful for a long distance phone call (before free long distance calling, that used to be a big deal) from a friend. Without going into details, she confronted me on an unhealthy relationship. At first, I became angry. Then, a switch clicked on…likely the Holy Spirit. I thought, “Oh my…what in the world am I doing?” I confessed and repented. And while painful, I ended the relationship. By coincidence, I met the woman who would one day become my wife a month later. I make no promises, but that’s what happened. I am forever thankful not only for that phone call but for brothers and sisters who really love me. They keep me moving towards maturity and stability. God uses them, his word, prayer, and conviction of the Holy Spirit to help me to say, “I refuse to adopt fads over convictions and biblical principles.”

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I refuse to take my eyes off the resurrection.

I refuse…

…to take my eyes off the resurrection.

I know a lot of stuff.  I graduated from Bible college, completed my Masters, taught through the Bible multiple years, and like reading theology for fun.  Some may feel I’m bragging.   Actually, it’s embarrassing to know so much but not apply or experience what I know.  I know about the dichotomy of the old man verses the new man from Romans 7.  I can prove the deity of Jesus by the words of men, God the Father, and Jesus himself.  I believe that God heals and often intervenes in the affairs of men.  I know he transforms the dead soul to one of new life.  I believe these things and hopefully live courageously enough to die for them.  It’s one thing to know them like studying for a test.  It’s another to know them experientially.  Recently, I passed through an experience that illumined my understanding of the old and new man.  Yes, I experience the war and do what I do not want to do and don’t do what I want to do.  I remember learning that as a new believer.  But, for the past few months, I’ve experienced the battle.  I had to slap down the tyrannical brat over and over again.  So while I gained no new knowledge of the doctrine, I know it more fully.  My previous understanding remained only in grey, black, and white.  Now, I have color.

In Philippians, Paul writes more than head knowledge of Jesus and his work on the cross.  He says in 3:10, “…that I may know him, and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of his sufferings, being conformed to his death.”  This is not filling the correct bubble on the SAT kind of knowledge.  He wants to experience and REALLY know it.  He wants three things: Jesus, power of his resurrection, and fellowship of his sufferings.  Oh, is that all?

Jesus

I particularly enjoy visiting Mt. Vernon, home of George Washington.  My first visit came in 2001 shortly after 9/11.  While I found it interesting, I left dissatisfied.  I felt I never met the man; I felt as though I could have read a book and gained just as much insight into Washington.  At the time, the museum announced plans to renovate and “show more of the man, Washington.”  Pleased, I hoped to visit again.  Several years later, I had the opportunity, and I was deeply satisfied.  Getting to know a historical figure is difficult.  But, while visiting Mt. Vernon now, one learns of this innovative, godly, humble, tragic, and leader of a man.  I feel as though I could sit at his table or talk at the tavern with him.  I transformed from knowing about to just knowing.

One may know about Jesus but not know Jesus.  In my aforementioned Bible college training, it amazed me that I could find so many who wrote about Jesus but did not really know him.  Authors spent so much time analyzing a particular fact only to drown in the swamp of insignificance (in other words, “Who cares?”).  Do not criticize my school, for godly instructors taught me critical thinking and analysis.  But, danger lurks at every turn for the Bible student to be satisfied to know about Jesus rather than knowing Jesus.  Mere Jesus facts become a self-deceiving opiate.  One becomes content with encyclopedic data.  Bunyan’s man “Talkative” in Pilgrim’s Progress illustrates such knowledge.  But, I want to know the man.  If I’m to be a disciple of Jesus and follow him, I need more than just a two dimensional picture. 

Fortunately, Jesus wants the same thing.  I need to want him.  He will bring the character and experiences to bear that I might know him.  It is one thing to know he answers prayer but another to experience the prayer answered.  I know he gives wisdom but I can experience that wisdom.  I know he is Lord of all, but I can live his lordship in all things.  I can give intellectual ascent to the sinfulness of mankind, but I can look into the abyss of my soul and marvel at the grace of Jesus that saves me.  Yes, I just want to know him.

Power of his resurrection

I have had two particularly painful experiences with death.  The first was the loss of my mother.  I was about ten years old.  While I experienced the loss of older brothers and sisters moving away, I knew I would see them again.  When mom died, that loss became permanent.  I felt this permanence immediately upon hearing the news.  I would NEVER see her again.  Loss. Pain. Grief.  My second painful encounter with death involves a puppy (What?  Not my dad?  I can’t explain this except that it remains painful to recall even after 35 years).  Our dog had over a dozen puppies.  With a litter that size, there was more than one runt and destined not to survive.  It fell upon me to euthanize the smallest.  The puppy would not die.  I did more harm than good.  As a big, strong teenage boy, I wept bitterly and uncontrollably as I dug his grave.  To this day, I feel horrible.  I hunt and killed predators after my dogs or chickens, but I remember that nameless puppy.  Death is final.  Death hurts.  Death is painful…especially for those who survive.

But, what if death died?  What if mothers and puppies did not have to die?  Or, what if they could rise again?  In all the movies and stories, no one thought death actually died.  But, Jesus did.  Yes, he did defeat death.  He resurrected.  I don’t know if Mary actually held the body of Jesus, but Michelangelo’s Pieta so heart fully expresses the finality of Jesus’ death.  But, he did rise.  Too often we, who have walked with Jesus for a while, forget this great fact.  This death hangs over us all like a rotting destiny.  Jesus beat it.  He conquered it!  No one else in history can say that.  Paul quotes Hosea, “Where, O death, is your victory?  Where, O death, is your sting?”(1Cor. 15:55).

Death is the ultimate bully.  Someone needs to take him on.  But, that someone needs to be strong enough to do so.  This is the power of the resurrection.  Jesus did not merely make a promise of defeating death, he really did so.  He took this bully’s face and rubbed it in the mat all day long.  No more do we need to fear it.  We have an advocate.  We have a redeemer. 

This kind of power is but one expression.  If Jesus can do this, what else is he capable of?  Chew on that.  Paul wanted to know (ie, experience) this kind of power.  But there’s more.

Fellowship of his sufferings

I remember my first auto accident where I was the driver.  I panicked.  I did not know what to do.  I almost admitted guilt but stopped just in time (especially because it was not my fault).  Nonetheless, my hands stopped shaking, my head cleared, and I finally considered what to do.  We swapped information.  I was 21 years old.  I’ve been in a few wrecks since…no, they were not my fault.  I was rear ended. I swerved to miss a deer and my van slid on its side.  Accidents happen.  Like all wrecks, we just want to make sure that no one is hurt.  Since then, I’ve had friends or relatives in accidents.  They freaked.  I could help them navigate the steps to take and start the process of insurance claims calmly.  While I do not relish being in another fender bender, I can not only handle it, I can help others through it.  Why?  Because I’m a paragon of strength?  Hardly.  I have just been through it. I have fellowship with someone else’s sufferings.  In other words, I get it, I empathize, and I share the burden.

Fellowship with Jesus’ sufferings is Paul’s third item for him to know.  One could explain the horrors of scourging and the cross.  One could paint a picture of people casting rocks and rotten food and spit at Jesus as he walked up the hill.  One could explain the basics of crucifixion.  And, one could try to empathize with that horrible moment when Jesus cried out to his Father, “Why have you forsaken me?”  Jesus did not want to experience this.  His journey to the cross left him in agony.  I need to speculate, but I think two things kept him going.  First, I think the “It is finished” moment.  Not only did it mean the suffering ends, but the fulfilling of God’s work that satisfies his justice.  That moment meant that all men could be made new in the eyes of God.  Second, the resurrection was in his view.  He knew that he would not stay in the grave.  He would not merely be vindicated but conquer death.  There was too much riding on his success.  And, succeed he did. 

But, Paul wants to know more than the theology.  Jesus has become more than an intellectual exercise for him. He could quote the verses on what God accomplished on the cross, but he knows Jesus.  He is his life.  He wants to know what it cost him.  He wants to share in it.  That’s what friends, good friends, do.  Even if this means suffering for Paul, he welcomes it so that he might feel what Jesus felt.  We need to see that Paul did not merely believe in Jesus, but he loved him.

Being conformed to his death

Paul’s desire does not end with fellowship of sufferings.  The last phrase explains the how.  How does one know Jesus, the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings?  Die.  In the end, we have only a life to give.  There is nothing on earth that has value.  I give Jesus my life. I may physically die or he may use me.  Regardless, I don’t own my life anymore.  This attitude may lead to uncomfortable circumstances.  However, even if I die, I also see the resurrection side.  I need to remember that while suffering may be here, it’s only temporary.  There is much more.  Resurrection WILL happen.  I gladly give my life to the one who gives it back repaired, restored, and renewed.  He turns death in to new life. He’s the only one who can do so.  So, with great joy (and a little fear), I refuse to take my eyes off the resurrection and the resurrected One.

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I refuse to be unsatisfied.

I refuse…

…to be unsatisfied if all I have is the love of God.

In my studies of “I Refuse,” I’ve noticed that I write in a context.  When I consider the “I refuse” statements, I often remember the circumstances I penned them.  When I give examples or teach on a passage, I admit that I have faces and events in mind.  I cannot divorce myself from this context when I write.  Perhaps it explains why writers are told to write that which they know.  I know of the circumstances and convictions of which I speak.  Some of “I refuse” convictions come from trial or even pain inflicted by others.  I do not need to name names.  Others come from joy God formed in my heart.  This one comes from my own shortcoming.  I like my stuff and rely on my own wisdom.

As I said, I write in a context.  At this time, I am evaluating income and spending.  If the worst case scenario happens, I will need to make some changes in the family budget.  We will cut cable.  We will need to be more diligent on use of electricity, gas, and gasoline.  We will cut out some of the other extras of life.  What really frustrates me is that I could have easily absorbed these cuts if I had been a better manager in years past, but that is another story.  So today, when considering the loss and what could be done, I began to feel a little sorry for myself.  I do not want to face my kids and say, “Sorry…daddy can’t provide this anymore.”  It’s not like we will lose our home.  Yes, I can see an unhealthy pride too.  So, I need not fear; I need to remember Job.

Job had it all.  He lived a comfortable life.  He seemed to have plenty in the bank account and paid his bills on time.  He did not live paycheck to paycheck.  But in one day, Job lost his vast herds, camels, sons & daughters, and his health.  He was left with a bitter wife and poor friends.  Look at what he said, and ask if you could say the same.  I’m not sure I could, but I want to be there. “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will depart.  The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised” (Job 1:21).  Some observations are in order.

Job understood that this life is temporary.

We should come to a profound understanding: we start and we end.  At conception, our bodies form from the union of two incomplete cells.  Multiply, multiply, and multiply over again.  If all goes well, we gulp down our first few breaths of air and separate from our mother.  There is debate among theologians of when our soul starts.  Does our soul exist beforehand or created at conception?  I don’t remember earlier than five years old much less before birth.  The bottom line is that I had a beginning.  That, by default, makes me a creature and not a Creator.  And, I plan on dying unless Jesus comes back first.  I will end.  In western PA, old cemeteries litter the landscape, and nature wipes the tombstones clean.  Someday, my creature-ness will end. My name will be forgotten.  All that I own and all that I have created will be bulldozed away.  There is freedom in this.  Job understood that.  While we know part of his story, we do not know what he looked like or any other stories of his life.  Very few live beyond their years in the pages of history, art, or literature.  But that’s ok.

This existence is temporary.  The one that continues through eternity is the big show.  When I meet Jesus, my heart wants to hear, “Well done, good and faithful servant!”  He remembers and takes note.  Only what I have done for and by Jesus will have any eternal significance.    So, why sweat the loss of a few things?

Job understood that all he has or has not is from God

We are under the false assumption that we earn things.  Yes, I know we punch a clock.  I applaud working hard and earning a living.  However, the Lord gave me the breath and life to make that living.  He provided the means and opportunity to work.  He gave me the hands to create and mind to imagine.  While I may draw a paycheck, he gets all the thanks for all that I have.  This includes my career, home, future, time, children, and spouse.  When I get this, I also acknowledge by default something special: He’s God.  He’s sovereign.  What I have or do not have is by his choice.  Have I committed to follow him or not?  If so, I take what I get.  This is raw sovereignty at work!  By all means he listens to my requests of not just what I think I need but also my wants.  He gives them if it serves his purpose.  He does NOT exist to give me stuff. 

We make God out to be less than he is.  Some feel he is a Santa Clause who fills the list we send in the form of prayers.  Yes, he does give and listen.  But he is much more than St. Nick.  Some feel he is a laundryman.  He cleans up our messes.  Thank God he does!  He is busy restoring our souls to the original specifications.  But, this is not the sum total of who he is.  Some feel he is the blue bird of happiness sent only to bless us.  Yes, he does bless, but this is not the sum total of who he is.  God gives us so much.  But, we have to accept that he does so for his own sake.  I want to glorify God and make him known.  That is an act of submission.  I should then be willing to take whatever he gives me with thankfulness.

Job understood that God is praised regardless.

Here is the hard part.  This is hard even to imagine.  Take it all away.  No home, car, job.  Your kids (if you ever had them) are gone.  Your spouse is no help.  You have barely enough clothes to cover body.  It’s cold.  You’re sick. No one likes you.  You can’t even sleep due to the discomfort of your sores.  You’re thankful just to get out of the wind and rain.  Others abandon respect for you.  Your friends won’t even take you in.  Still ready to praise God?  We know the “right” answer.  We hope that we have the wherewithal to lift our hands to praise.  It does not mean that we do not mourn or pray.  It does not mean that we cannot ask for relief.  But, can we praise?  Can we avoid blaming God or the people who caused our demise?  Can we even avoid blaming Satan?  I want to worship if it’s all gone.  Now, I am not looking for the commitment to be tested!  But, I want the heart that will praise.  Job always seemed to have that heart even in a state of wealth and plenty.  So, the issue does not need to be forced.  I can learn it now.  So, by his grace, if I lose it all, I refuse to be unsatisfied if all I have is the love of God.  I can never and will never lose that!  Job never did.  That remains.  I can start where I am at.  So, if I do lose some income, I will be satisfied not with what I have left. I will be satisfied with what I can never lose.  That’s weird.

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I refuse to be negative even when the enviroment is negative

(Note: While I wrote this article over a year ago, I find I’ve let myself get dragged into negativity by personal circumstances. It’s a strange thing to teach oneself.  Just a bit of confession…)

I refuse…

…to be negative even if the environment is negative.

Don’t you hate it when you realize you’ve been sucked in?  What do I mean?  There is some fad or some product that EVERYBODY does or has.  Right now, all I hear about is Twitter.  I got sucked in, and I set up an account.  Strangely, I don’t feel any different.  I have even sent and read a few tweets.  They tell me to stick with it, but I don’t want to center my life around Twitter.  Some how, I’ve managed to stay fulfilled.  So, while I gave into the dark side of Twitter, I still don’t have an iPhone.  In fact, I don’t own a smart phone at all.  I must admit that I would likely enjoy either, but I just hate paying my cell phone bill each month.  The thought of paying even more repulses me.  At least for now, I’m not getting sucked in.

The crowd usually sucks people in to its thought.  When I taught teens in a Christian school, I was always amazed that groups of students had unique personalities.  One would think that groups of students would be homogeneous.  Each group has a personality just like an individual.  Some are mean, some are playful, others are apathetic, and still others are engaging.  Sometimes, a group is even negative.  I grieved when I saw a normally cheerful student get sucked in to a negative crowd.  He abandons his own personality just to be part of the group.  He becomes mean and vindictive.  He complains.  Why?  I wish I knew.  Perhaps he wants to survive or just fit in.  How tragic to give up a normally light hearted personality to conform to the bullies, the gripers, the wrathful, or the gossips.

While I can be critical of students, I have been sucked into the negative vortex too (as an adult!).  I can remember when tensions were high over various disagreements over some policies at a Christian ministry.  Slowly the volcanic pressure began to build.  Sides were picked.  The stories spread.  Critical spirits reigned.  And, the slightest little mis-step was blown out of proportion.  While that environment was no fun, it frustrated me even more to get drawn into the fray.  I exchanged my joy, peace, and friendliness for criticalness and negativity.  I hated feeling that way!  I let them get to me.  I started playing at their level.  Now, I can point to the short comings of others, but I must admit to my own contribution to the environment.  I decided that my attitude would not be a function of someone else’s attitude.  While they may bring their rain clouds, I did not need to be subject to it.  Paul teaches a similar lesson in Ephesians 4:31.

Like the growth of mildew, negative and hurtful attitudes spread to others.  We can find ourselves part of the problem or (at least) refusing to add to the flames.  Paul writes, “Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice.”  Like the book of Romans in the previous chapter, Paul explains the new life in Ephesians.  Specifically, he teaches on the mystery that the Jews and Gentiles are unified in one, new people of God.  The Letter to the Ephesians is about unity.  There are attitudes that contribute towards unity and some that hurt it.  Ephesians 4:31 is about what hurts unity: negativity.

Take it away

We know the experience of smelling something disgusting in our home or car.  One Saturday, I was busy running errands.  Yard work awaited me, so I forgo the regular morning shower and put on a ball hat.  All morning I kept smelling something sickly sweet and disgusting.  Was it something wrong with the car?  Was it me?  Were some of my western PA neighbors burning wet leaves?  What was it?  When I arrived home, I kept smelling the odor.  It could not have been the car or burning leaves.  It was me.  Specifically, it was my ball cap.  Once in a while, our boy cat, CC, decides that he does not like me as much as I don’t like him.  He sprayed my cap.  Yes, I know, I wore a cat urine laced hat…gross.  However, I did find the smell.  What bothered me was that I really liked that hat!  Sure, I could try to wash it, but washed hats are never the same.  I considered it ruined and chucked it.  Stupid cat.

What does my hat have to do with this?  Paul gives a command in this passage, Ephesians 4:31.  He says to the whole church, “Put away…remove…take away” this list of things (we’ll look at those things soon).  Don’t try to clean them up or endure them, remove this garbage like a urine soaked hat.  Just get rid of it!  Get rid of these things in your individual lives and in your relationships.  They just stink.  They have no part in an individual or a church where there is a new life in Christ.  If you find yourself partaking with this kind of negativity, lose it.  I wish I could say I’ve never wallowed in this trash.  Believe me: I find no loop hole when I examine my own heart.

Garbage list

So, what does Paul want us to chuck?  He gives us a list.  There is some overlap of these terms, and they can synonymous to a degree.  But, let’s define each in Paul’s list of negative trash:

Bitterness, animosity, harshness: This is a dark attitude.  Bitterness is common, but also one of the most useless emotions.  People hurt each other.  Even the closest of friends and family do so.  We may intentionally hurt someone or not.  But, we hurt nonetheless.  The victim of this hurt enters a danger zone.  He may become bitter due to unforgiveness.  When we are hurt, we need to forgive.  If not, we become bitter.  Now, I realize that there are hurts that cut to the very soul.  But when the victim does not forgive, he slips into bitterness in a vain, vain attempt to punish the accused.  It never works. You only harm yourself.  Joanna Weaver states, “Bitterness is like taking poison and waiting for the other person to die.”  True enough.  And, while there are many great, grievous hurts, we often hold on to the small, stupid ones.  Furthermore, we forget the great forgiveness granted us by Jesus.  By what right do we hold an offence (Matthew 18:21-35)?

Wrath, rage: This is a very strong term.  It’s sometimes used for God’s wrath.  When we engage in wrath, we are placing ourselves in the place of God.  It’s not our job.  We have enough to do without worrying about God’s job description.  His wrath is tempered by his grace.  He sent his own son to die for us so that we may not face wrath.  He has a right to it, but it does not belong in the heart and life of a believer.  No justification will make it fit either.

Anger, wrath, jealousy: Like I said earlier, there is some overlap of these terms.  Truly, there are times for anger and jealousy.  God gets angry and jealous.  But like many things in this world, we have twisted them to our own means.  Anger and jealousy usually arise when we feel some sort of injustice or disrespect has come upon someone (or something) we love.  I’m jealous for my wife and will not tolerate someone not treating her correctly.  But, sometimes I become angry or jealous for my own rights or the manner I think things should be done or a perceived hurt against a friend.  We warp this one to our own means, and it mixes venomously with bitterness.

Shouting, clamor: Making your point louder does not make your point better.  Christ followers will have disagreements.  They are ok; in fact, they should be an opportunity for God to be glorified. We can still love one another even in the face of disagreement.  How much grief must it bring to the heart of God to see his children scream and carry on against one another!    Sorry, there is no place for this in our churches and relationships.

Slander, abusive speech: This word is often translated as blasphemy.  Have you ever noticed how words are like seeds?  Some words produce delicious fruit or an amazing flower.  Other words “blossom” into weeds.  They are ugly.  They choke the life out of the good plants.  And, to make matters worse, they seem to produce even more seeds and spread around to other gardens.  Each spring, our yard fills with dandelions.  There are so many, it’s impossible to get them all.  Even if I did get them all, my neighbor has a field full of them too.  Blasphemy (slander) is a lie designed to spread around like a weed.  Why is it that weeds and abusive words spread so easily?

Malice, ill will: This takes abusive speech to another level.  Some so-called believers actually feel justified in their own bitterness and wrath that they feel obligated to augment and distort their point of view.  Yes, they lie.  It comes from the darkness in their heart.  Perhaps they were wronged (or maybe just slightly), but they have no desire for reconciliation or forgiveness.  They justify their ideas and spread malice.  I hope you never see this from someone who claims to be a brother or sister in Christ, but you may.

Do you see all this…crap?  Sorry if that words offends.  You should have read what I really thought!  When we find ourselves among those who live like this, refuse to be a part.  We have a new nature in Christ.  These attitudes may even spread to your friends and loved ones.  Show them Ephesians 4:31.  And by the way, Paul does not even allow for a hint of these attitudes and actions.  He says to remove them all.  All means all.  Toss it away like an old, smelly hat.  You do not have to buy in to those attitudes even though everyone else does them too.  And sometimes, you will find others will follow you when you refuse to be negative even if the environment is negative.

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I refuse to think like the world thinks

I refuse…

…to think the way the world thinks.

My home has become a menagerie.  As of this writing, we have two dogs and three cats, and ten chickens.  One of our cats is named Scooper.  She’s not normal.  In fact, if cats had a self-image, I would have destroyed her’s months ago.  I tell her to her face that she’s a freak, a weirdo, and a creep-a-zoid.  Why? Because she licks people like she’s a dog.  Dogs joyfully greet people at the door and give “kisses.”  Scooper kisses too.  I’ve never seen a cat that enjoys it or even tries it.  She’s not normal.  She does not think like a cat.  The other cats are noticeably uncomfortable around her.  I suppose Scooper just thinks differently.

Perhaps you’ve been around someone who just seems off.  They don’t think like others.  They make a comment only to have everyone else in the room remain uncomfortably speechless until some brave soul says, “Wow, some weather we’re having, huh?”  We just expect people to speak and act according to the norms of our culture.  Even those who seem to rock the boat, function within our comfort parameters.  From the introduction, Jesus was the best at breaking out of molds.  Try these on for size: Eat my body and drink my blood, take up your cross and follow me, I and the Father are one, and you must hate your father and mother.  Those statements are not normal thinking.  Our world has an acceptable way to think that transcends cultures and languages.  It’s normal to take care of yourself, not go too overboard, and to think more highly of oneself than everyone else does (just to name a few).  The Christ follower should look for something outside the mold.  In fact, he has a whole other worldly mold.

As a new believer, one of the first Bible verses I ever memorized was Romans 12:2.  Paul writes, “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.”  We have two commands to obey.

Don’t conform

Many of us had a hero or movie star we tried to emulate.  When Raiders of the Lost Ark hit the screen, some took up wearing the fedora hat because Indy was so cool.  Halloween pirate costumes hit resurgence when Captain Jack Sparrow arrived.  In other words, people conformed.  Paul addresses something so much more critical than what we wear.  He refers to our very core.  In the book of Romans, he spends the first eleven chapters discussing in almost one transcontinental sentence (ok, a bit of an exaggeration, but it’s quite a treatise) our sin nature and the new nature found in Christ.  The whole Old Testament law is fulfilled (not removed) by the person and work of Jesus.  The pain of Genesis three melts away by Jesus.  Paul’s praise and amazement for God flows on to the page.  And once he lays down that framework, one of the first responses we should have is not to conform.  It’s a prohibition in the strongest wording Paul could use.  “Don’t, by no means, without compromise, in no way, or even think about, conform.”  “No” certainly means “no” here.  But, don’t conform to what?

From the day of our birth (and possibly before), we begin the process of molding.  No, not growing of fuzz.  We subtly but solidly learn the ways of this world.  Paul does not mean the world like a globe, but he refers to the way our world works, the way this world thinks and responds.  It does not matter how unique one’s drumbeat is, we have conformed to this world.  This is usually in attitudes and values.  For example, we usually think of ourselves first.  In fact, we usually think of ourselves second, third, and fourth.  In other words, we are self-centered.  We look out for number one.  Consider how much effort you and I put into daily meals and how much time we spend getting ready in the morning.  We want to make sure WE eat.  We want to make sure that we smell good for other people and wear enough make up to hide the blemishes.  Yes, me, myself, and I are my top three core values.  The fourth value is to be in charge.  My “god default” is me.  If we had godlike powers, we would use them for ourselves (again!).  We are prideful and selfish.  We do not think of others as much as we think we do.  We sin, and hold ourselves guilt free because we are God.  And, now imagine a whole world system full of these self-serving narcissists!  Paul’s command about this kind of thinking: knock it off.  You have a new nature (see Romans 1-11).  You have been recreated in the image of God by the grace and sacrifice of the Lord Jesus Christ.  You’ve been exonerated of all guilt. 

So, all that programming from birth needs to be scrapped.  It is incongruent with the Christ follower.  But, Paul does not stop there.  Remember…there are two commands.

Be transformed

This command is positive.  It’s not a prohibition.  So, in contrast to the conformity to the world, Paul says you and I need to be transformed.  It sounds like a process, and it is.  He uses the same word the Gospel writers use when Jesus transfigured (Matt. 17 and Mark 9).  So, that should give us an idea of how much of a transformation we are talking about.  The word Paul uses also has the idea of a block of stone transforming to a statue.  So, rather than thinking of me, I should think of others.  Specifically, I should be thinking of Jesus.  He is my God now.  I don’t consider my needs, but I transform my thinking to what He wants from me.  He’ll take care of my needs.  This is not compartmental living either.  It’s hard to imagine obeying this command with only a “Jesus box” in my life.  When we think like this, we are weird. 

As mentioned, this is a process.  Jesus is actively working in my mind and yours to transform our thinking.  Frankly, he’s got a ton of work to do.  It starts with the changed nature that Paul described in the first chapters of Romans.  It is also a process with purpose.  Paul continues and writes, “Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.”  This idea of “test and approve” does not mean that we have authority over what God’s will should or should not be.  It rather has the idea of verifying or discovering.  So, as this mind changing occurs, God’s will to transform this sinful, heartless world will be vindicated.  Our changed lives serve as evidence of his plan.  Mankind has messed the whole place up since the beginning.  God has been busy making it all right again.  The critical step in the process is the work of Jesus on the cross so that you and I may have a new nature. And, this will of God is good, acceptable, and perfect. 

Daily, what do these commands mean?  They sound good in theory, but what about in reality?  These are heart issues.  As you work your way through this process, you need to be willing to be pliable.  In high school, I tried my hand at pottery.  I was not that good.  But, we had a barrel full of used clay.  When a project did not turn out well, the teacher allowed us to put it in the barrel even it had previously dried out.  Over time, the clay would again become soft and moldable.  Many of us are hard and crusty in the world’s ways.  So, it becomes an issue of the will.  Abandon to God your will and hardness that’s been formed to the world.  He wants to soften you.  Next, let him continue the work and transform you to an entirely new paradigm.  You and I will find new ways to fight God at every step.  Don’t try to hold on to issues or parts of your life outside God’s transformational work.  You won’t win anyway!  He began an amazing work in you at the moment of salvation.  Not conforming and transforming continues that process.  You may have to daily remind yourself of this commitment.  In the end, we should all refuse to think like the world thinks.

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