Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Learning Obedience through Suffering

Church controversies have had their roots in political differences as well as personality conflicts and different approaches to biblical interpretation.In the mid-nineteenth century, several church groups in the United States splintered along north-south lines in part because of attitudes towards slavery and Christian engagement in politics. Personality driven conflicts often disguise themselves as doctrinal debates. In our own time, megachurches often have dynamic personalities that drive their church's success. After his (or less frequently, her) death or public embarrassment, those churches frequently decline, sometimes even when a plan for going forward has been put in place. Among the Churches of Christ, there is a need to ascertain or reclaim the theological undergirding of our movement (and get back to being a movement, as opposed to acquiescing to self-identifying as a denomination). Part of that journey perhaps is an appreciation for the role of suffering in growing toward the apprehension of truth. Jesus, it says in Hebrews 5:8, learned obedience through what he suffered. From experience comes maturity and humility, so older Christians often are less arrogant and assertive than in their youth. There are, as one may observe in social media, glaring exceptions to this rule. Suffering for truth has played a role in the development of churches of Christ.A preacher in Kansas was tarred and feathered for his abolitionist statements. Another in Arkansas was murdered when his evangelism hit too close to home. Members were pushed out of buildings that they had worked hard to build or to purchase when they did not accept changes to worship practice. Preachers sometimes had to borrow money or barter the produce with which they had been paid to return home from preaching revivals. Sometimes the memory of that suffering has hardened the grip of later generations on ecclesiastical traditions and interpretations of biblical doctrine. Scars endure. As the apostle Peter noted,
"But rejoice inso far you share Christ's sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. If you are insulted for the name of Christ, ou are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you" (1 Peter 4:13-14 ESV).
We should rejoice when we suffer for Christ, but not when we suffer because we tried to win an argument for personal gain or tried to advance an ideological agenda for an entrenched tradition or for change. Our focus should be on Jesus Christ and his intent for his people (See Hebrews 12). That passage in Hebrews 12 reminds that discipline and suffering are often means that God the loving Father uses to advance the maturing of his people.Let us learn to watch our Savior and to listen to our brother or sister as we seek comfort in the Lord.

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Back on the Path

A follow-up visit to the doctor last week revealed that my blood pressure had spiked! A feast at a Chinese buffet restaurant the day before may have contributed to that, as may have medication for my poison ivy reaction, but the number was high enough that it startled my new doctor and me both. He ordered some tests and I resolved to return to walking and running with fierce devotion. I enjoy walking and running, but I had allowed other worthwhile activities to crowd exercise out of my schedule. I marked about a route of just more than three miles and traversed it four times so far this week.Yesterday (two days after my poison ivy medicine ran out), I took my blood pressure and discovered a much, much healthier reading, but I have resolved to maintain the walking. Another thought that registered in my mind was how easily the good gets crowded out of our schedules and our minds. It's far too easy to find oneself engulfed in society's outrage over politics or celebrity behavior or climate change or what ever is the outrage of the week without submitting our minds to the disciplined guidance of God's Word and prayer. As I have returned to walking, I also have redoubled my attention to maintaining regular reading of the Bible and serious popular literature (the latter to help me keep attuned to reflection on what is going on around me). I feel some new aches and pains as muscles little-used in recent months are pressed back into service, but I also sens a revival of optimism and hope as I discipline myself and follow the light of god's Word and stay on track in my exercise regimen. The psalmist wrote, "Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path"(Psalm 119:105). AS we stay on the path and follow the light, we find courage and comfort fur our souls.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Deceptive Beauty

I worked in my yard last Saturday, trimming bushes and pruning trees. I also pulled some weeds and vines from the ground to create more space for other plants. We have several beautiful flowering plants and trees. I wanted to display their beauty more effectively. As I worked, I remembered that last year I had had my first bout with poison ivy in about forty years and regretted having not chosen to wear a long-sleeved shirt or jacket. The temperature was about 90 degrees Fahrenheit, so I dismissed the thought. I ignored the lessons learned from previous experiences. After I finished my tasks, I changed clothes and went for a three mile walk/run. Despite the heat, I enjoyed the exercise and the scenery I encountered along the way. By the time I finished, I was quite sweaty. After I cleaned up, I dressed so that my wife and I might dine at a favorite Mexican restaurant near our home. To my chagrin, while we were dining, I noticed tell-tale signs of inflammation on my arms. Actually, I noticed the itching first. I had a rather wide-spread rash on my arms and the edge of one eyelid (not the eye, fortunately). Three days later, I've endured quite some discomfort because I ignored my prior experience and did not prepare properly to prune and weed. In gardens, beautiful plants sometimes have exasperatingly effective means of protecting themselves. Failing to watch for them and to prepare for encounters with them can be quite uncomfortable, or perhaps even deadly to some with severe allergies. In life, too, what seems often most attractive is most damaging. We must prepare for our encounters and get to know people, situations, and plants well before we suffer unnecessarily.

Monday, June 05, 2017

The Great Physican

John chapter 5 describes a man who has been ill for more than thirty years. His frustration is increased by his perceived proximity to healing that remains always just beyond his realization His frustration ends one day when a stranger directs him simply to get up and walk. He arises, realizes suddenly he is healed, picks up his bed (cot?) and begins to walk home, only to be accosted by accusations that he is violating religious law by carrying the bed on the Sabbath. For years,decades, he had sought healing, but had not found it. Now he encountered one sometimes now called "The Great Physician;" both he and the healer are castigated by those so intent on keeping the fences of the law strong that that they forget the purpose of God's law, to heal and to save. Today, many still seek spiritual and physical healing for years. Too often, when they find it, alleged followers of Jesus castigate them for their prior affliction or because they still carry "baggage' from their illness or bad decisions. When Jesus later encountered the man whom he had healed, he told him to "go and sin no more." He did not handcuff the man to the sin or the illness he had known before forgiveness. He did not consign him to perpetual crippling by the scars of his past. Jesus came to heal soul and body. He urged people to realize the reality of their sin and to seek to escape it. He realized, though, that temptations would persist, and that scars would remain. He knew too about "older bothers" who never forget and seldom forgive long repented and now healed sin. Don't impede the Great Physician. Forgive and encourage those who have been abused, who have been scarred, who have made all the wrong decisions, but who now press forward, focused on the only one who can save them. Pleas don't distract them. The chart is one I remember my father preaching from when I was a child. The chart is mine now, and a few weeks ago I too preached from it. Dad taught me about the compassion of the Great Physician. He also warned of the scars that persist even after healing (forgiveness), and about those who seem to enjoy prolonging the pain for those who have fallen along the way.Jesus healed because he aligned himself with God the Father, who gave him the authority to heal those who were sick even when some thought it wasn't the right time or place.

Thursday, June 01, 2017

What Are the Boundaries of Forgiveness?

Are there actions or attitudes for which we will not forgive people? Well-publicized stunts or statements that horrify and cross societal lines of decency like a "comedian's" posing with a bloody head of a politician or a rock singer calling for violence against a national leader stir frenzied retorts. If a perpetrator apologizes in the midst of widespread public outrage, many question the sincerity of that apology. A man is convicted of identity theft; a women is convicted of sex with a boy who was her student at local school. We find it difficult to trust. You learn that your physician also performs abortions, or that a high school friend exploded a bomb at an abortion clinic. A friend married someone of the same gender, or another friend condemned that action. Last year, I read a social media post that identified being against divorce and remarriage as the most important indicator of faithfulness to Christ. Here is the question: What do you do when any of these people or the people that they oppose (if you agree with them) start attending the church where you worship? What do you require as proof of repentance? What are your conditions before you will forgive? What do you believe are the limits of God's grace? Some of the situations mentioned above might require different responses; a few might have legal requirements that present challenges to any assimilation. What would Jesus do? He reached out and touched lepers. He told an adulterous women to "go and sin no more" after quieting a group of men that wanted to stone her to death. He told a parable of a father who forgave a rebellious son and celebrated his return with a party (His other son did not appreciate the celebration). He also rejected some who could not commit fully to discipleship. I do not intend to minimize the horror of sin. I do ask how well we handle forgiveness. I question how well we help the fallen get back on their feet. Are the boundaries we set the boundaries that Christ sets? If we think that they are, have we considered carefully the arguments of those who disagree with us? How well do we comfort those whom God has called to salvation? How do we protect those who are vulnerable if they fall back into sin? What are the boundaries of forgiveness?