Friday, October 08, 2010

If You Aren't Thinking It...

...You won't say it. From MSNBC:
"California’s Democratic candidate for governor thought he had hung up the phone when he began a discussion of battle tactics with an aide in which derogatory language toward women was used. TODAY’s Natalie Morales reports."

When will people (politicians) learn that people won't find out about all the bad things you're saying and doing IF YOU AREN'T SAYING OR DOING THEM AT ALL?!?

Ecclesiastes 12:14: "For God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil."

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Fattened for the Slaughter

I was recommended by a friend to purchase a specific audio version of the NKJ version of the Bible, so I did. One of the things I learned from listening to it was that the chapters, section breaks and individual verses formatted into the Bible, not to mention the long-winded run-on sentences popular in the New Testament (much like this one), have caused me to lose something when reading the Bible. The audio version just flies along and you're forced to hear the context of each topic in its entirety without stopping. Yeah, I miss a lot of the details that I get from reading, but it paints a better overall picture of what purpose the author is trying to portray as each book is read.

That said, I was listening to James today and something stood out to me in chapter 5 that I didn't notice before. It begins with:
1 Come now, you rich, weep and howl for your miseries that are coming upon you! 2 Your riches are corrupted, and your garments are moth-eaten. 3 Your gold and silver are corroded, and their corrosion will be a witness against you and will eat your flesh like fire. You have heaped up treasure in the last days.

So some rich people were having some problems, to say the least. Clearly, these were people that were leaning on their riches rather than on God and were pretty impressed with themselves, but those riches were clearly temporary. God states what He thinks of such behavior in verse 4:
4 Indeed the wages of the laborers who mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud, cry out; and the cries of the reapers have reached the ears of the Lord of Sabaoth.
The word "Sabaoth" is a Greek-rendered version of the Hebrew word for "hosts". Hosts, in the context of the Old Testament, were also referred to as the armies of God. To paraphrase, "God has heard about your treacherous behavior; prepare for a whoopin'."

The next verse has something interesting in it that gets discussed in the first three verses, but this stands out to me because of the imagery it presents:
5 You have lived on the earth in pleasure and luxury; you have fattened your hearts as in a day of slaughter.
Just think about that for a second... Cattle probably think they've really hit the jackpot when they enter the feed lot. Food is constantly given to them anytime they want it. Just eat and eat and eat and eat for weeks on end... Nummy! Then one day, it's time to take a walk. "Oh, okay, I'd rather keep eating, but I probably do need the exercise seeing as how I put on 100+ lbs in the last few months." Next thing it knows, it's corralled down a few chutes with a few other fattened friends and... Well, the rest is obvious.

After verse 6, which I'll get to below, the audio version of the Bible kept on reading to verse 7, which is separated from this first section using a different header in the text.
7 Therefore be patient, brethren, until the coming of the Lord. See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, waiting patiently for it until it receives the early and latter rain. 8 You also be patient. Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand.
Notice how it starts with "Therefore", which clearly shows it to be a continuation of the proceeding section on rich people's attitudes and actions. In previous chapters, James is admonishing the Church to have a humble attitude and to tame their tongues. Here, he tells them that their materialism--and really, this section describes anyone who's overly materialistic, not just the richest among us--should be replaced with patience... Patience in waiting for the good gifts God has in store for us. Don't constantly seek to be better than the Joneses or add to our pocketbooks, our business "empire", our collections or our toys. Ecclesiastes 5:10-17 has an eye-opening view of this kind of pursuit of wealth.
10 He who loves silver will not be satisfied with silver;
Nor he who loves abundance, with increase.
This also is vanity.
11 When goods increase,
They increase who eat them;
So what profit have the owners
Except to see them with their eyes?
12 The sleep of a laboring man is sweet,
Whether he eats little or much;
But the abundance of the rich will not permit him to sleep.
13 There is a severe evil which I have seen under the sun:
Riches kept for their owner to his hurt.
14 But those riches perish through misfortune;
When he begets a son, there is nothing in his hand.
15 As he came from his mother’s womb, naked shall he return,
To go as he came;
And he shall take nothing from his labor
Which he may carry away in his hand.
16 And this also is a severe evil—
Just exactly as he came, so shall he go.
And what profit has he who has labored for the wind?
17 All his days he also eats in darkness,
And he has much sorrow and sickness and anger.
The point is that the numbers we see in our bank account can easily come to represent power and security we think we possess through material goods. Clearly, according to the above passage, those pursuits are empty and temporary. We've seen enough MCIs, Enrons, Bernie Madoffs to know that's true. They hurt us because they take our eyes away from the One who can give both riches and joy in the life to come. James exhorts that we must patiently wait for God to provide what we need when He finally sees that we're ready for it. "Establish your heart" in the humbling fact that God knows what's best for us and when.

Haughty materialism is not an effective path to living a godly life. It's fun while it lasts, but it leads us to a not-so-fun judgment. It has caused many people enamored with their power and wealth to treat "lesser" people with disdain and disrespect while employing an attitude of wishing such foolish, "lesser" people would simply go away--once they're done with the gardening, of course. Note verse 6:
6 You have condemned, you have murdered the just; he does not resist you.
Do you think the rich people James was speaking to or about were murdering their servants? Surely in the world, that was occurring! However, I think another point that can be made here that applies to us non-murderers is that selfishly acquiring objects can easily lead to a spirit of murder--that is, wanting someone to cease existing for reasons of hatred or disdain. Does this seem like a bit of a stretch?
9 Do not grumble against one another, brethren, lest you be condemned. Behold, the Judge is standing at the door!
James warns the Church to stop griping about fellow brethren--something materialistic individuals are guilty of--due to vanity (over what we own), jealousy (over what they own) or a competitive spirit ("I'll get the best of you!"). Grumbling against another potential son of God is a spirit of murder (Matt. 5:21-22) and James wants us to be aware of that attitude and destroy it. I will demonstrate how materialism translates into a spirit of murder by destroying an entire society a little bit later.

So who can we to look to as an example of the kind of conduct James is talking about?
10 My brethren, take the prophets, who spoke in the name of the Lord, as an example of suffering and patience. 11 Indeed we count them blessed who endure. You have heard of the perseverance of Job and seen the end intended by the Lord—that the Lord is very compassionate and merciful.
The prophets patiently endured some awful hardships and tests brought on directly by their work with God. Yet they are esteemed by God as blessed. And let's face it, when we consider today what they went through (peruse Hebrews 11 just to review a few), they've likely earned our respect, too. Righteous Job lost everything he had except his wife and some not-so-consolatory friends. Yet after a hard-learned lesson, he received double what he had before, yet had the godly character and wisdom built to appreciate and share it even with those same friends afterward.

God does not want us to refrain from riches or success. Nor does God despise us for desiring and working towards getting material things. But He does want us to build and utilize His holy characteristics, including a meek and thankful spirit, as we do. We follow His lead in our labors because His character is the very essence of joy, peace, quality and richness. And He is well-acquainted with what happens to our desires when He is removed from the picture. They mutate...

Materialism without God's character is pure selfishness, and selfishness leads to poverty and death. This is outright suicidal when you think about it. Yet God wants to save us from death, so He wants us to destroy selfishness in our labors. Note the shift in behavior He requires in Ephesians 4:28:
28 Let him who stole steal no longer, but rather let him labor, working with his hands what is good, that he may have something to give him who has need.
"Hey, burglar-dude! Stop robbing Quik-E-Marts, get a job and give it to the poor!" Much like tithing, finding a job, working hard at it and giving of that money to the poor seems counter-intuitive to the foolish. "How am I supposed to make money by giving it away?" the Burglar-Dude asks. This is uncommon sense, really. Successful people always cite the characteristic of drive, hard work, resiliency, resourcefulness and perseverance as primary reasons they're successful, which is contained in the part about laboring in an honest manner. But being charitable adds to our labor God's spiritual law that we are to love our neighbor. Stealing simply reinforces lazy habits, hurts others in the process and promotes distrust among society.

There are many proverbs about dishonest scales and weights. Looking at the business world today shows thousands of corporations and individuals trying to shortcut, lie, misrepresent, scam and outright steal money and goods from others. Proverbs 30:15: "The leech has two daughters--Give and Give!" Those who engage in such practices have seen short-term gains, prompting other fools and simpletons to follow in their footsteps.*

*My favorite such story is the guy who's selling a video on how to make thousands of dollars a month FROM YOUR OWN HOME! In the video, he tells his customers--future millionaires, all of them--to make a video and commercial to sell others on how to make thousands of dollars a month FROM YOUR OWN HOME!

What will happen when we find out that products, services, business practices and ethics of those claiming to serve our best interests have been cheapened just for the sake of a quick buck? Sadly, that has already happened. These companies--not to mention the nations housing and, at times, protecting and supporting them--are beginning to fail due to distrust and grumbling by their customers and partners. All of society as we know it is crumbling beneath our feet and our destroyer is our own lust for more.

All of this from the selfish desire for more riches and material objects that God says are fleeting. "[Y]ou have fattened your hearts as in a day of slaughter." Indeed, it makes us wonder who is actually performing the slaughter--God or ourselves. Regardless, let's follow James' sound wisdom and seek a patient spirit in our labors and establish our hearts in His ways so that we may embrace God's bountiful riches in peace and joy in the time to come.

Monday, February 01, 2010

Can I Get a Witness?

[This post is mainly me just exploring some words and is quite in-depth for, to be honest, such an obvious conclusion. It follows my line of thinking from my initial reasons for studying into this topic, then moves onto things I think I learned. Read it all if you dare!]

Strange Words

Growing up in the Church of God, I never really witnessed the other styles of church services that are out there. In fact, the church seemed to go to great pains to denounce any practices that were reflective of common stereotypes of false worship of Jesus Christ. This included the choice of words that those churches typically used. As a result, I always got a chuckle out of anyone that could do a good Southern preacher impression, saying something along the lines, "Ah have ex-or-cized the de-mons!" or "Have you found Jesus, son?"

There were many common sayings in Protestantism that just seemed to get overused to the point that they became common to my ears as a kid, but I never really knew what they meant; words like "justified", "providence", "redemption", and the list goes on and on. Other words like "holy", "good" and "true" have been hijacked by the human language to be more man-centered than God-centered, which leads to philosophical questions like "What is truth?" and "Whose version of good?" Once I came to this realization, I had to go back to re-learn what all these words meant in their proper context.

Enter in the words "testimony", "testify" and "witness", which are used over 300 times in the New King James Version of the Bible. I knew the meanings of these words in the context of a courtroom, but to me, they didn't seem to mean the same thing in a religious setting. I mean, if a defense attorney stood up in the middle of trial and asked, "Can I get a witness?" he'd probably lose the case.

"Testify, sister! Testify!" is cried out at some church services. But outside of that setting, I'm curious as to why that would be something worth praising another over. Really, it seems as though the only time appropriate to use these words is when we're taking someone to trial or having our own deeds put under the microscope of judicial review. I rarely get too happy when I'm seated before a judge.

Perhaps I’m just being purposely obtuse…


So I decided it was time to look into the definitions of these words. After all, they are used throughout the Bible in ways not commonly phrased in today's courts, right? My findings were not as surprising as I thought they might be. First, the technical dictionary definitions. To "witness" simply means to provide firsthand evidence of. "Testify" simply means to make a statement based on personal knowledge or belief, generally to be used to as evidence or proof. This is exactly what I would attribute to these words from the standpoint of a courtroom.

In churches everywhere today, it takes on a similar meaning, but—to me, anyway—it's completely different in context. In these cases, Webster's dictionary and others state that "witnessing" and "testimony" are more of an expression of "a strong belief, especially to make a declaration of faith".

My question is to whom? For what purpose? On a street corner banging your Bible on a soap box? Who's going to listen to you? I suppose in decades and centuries gone by, this individual may have gotten more attention than the kooks who do this today. [It did work for the Apostle Paul's in Athens: see Acts 17:17.]

If "testifying" occurs in a church, well, this is simply preaching to the choir. I mean, do those present in church need more proof? I'm not saying this is all bad, mind you. We do the same things by announcing miracles and healings which are meant to increase our faith. But if this is a major portion of your church service, it feels more like patting each other on the back for continuing to believe in Jesus for one more week. Hallelujah!

So as I read through the list of examples of the word "witness" throughout the Bible, I find, in most cases, that it is indeed the "evidence" context of the word. For example, the concept of "bearing witness" in a trial-like setting is used somewhere around half of the time in the Bible. Back before they had forensic evidence like we have today, a person's word and some scant evidence was all that could really be held against anybody.

[Exhibit A: This bloody coat of many colors is evidence of the victim's death along with the testimony of the victim's brothers. Exhibit B: The prosecution witnessed the defendant's hairy arms through touch alone and the defendant testified that he was Esau.]

In God's law, we find that He requires at least 2-3 eye-witnesses to testify against someone in order for them to be found guilty. It is up to the judge, perhaps, to determine if they were delivering false testimony. Even in Jesus' trial, the stories of the false witnesses had to somewhat agree before the Sanhedrin—who wanted Christ dead—even thought about handing Him over to Pontius Pilate. Really, it wasn't until Jesus Himself affirmed that He was the Son of God that they convicted Him.

Elsewhere, I find unusual statements like, "For God is my witness..." and "I tell the truth in Christ, I am not lying, my conscience also bearing me witness in the Holy Spirit" and so on. What kind of witnesses are these supposed to be if they're not technically present to tell us? Should I believe your conscience?? John writes about an equally perplexing exchanging in chapter 8. I mean, could you imagine the following discourse taking place in a court of law today?

13 The Pharisees therefore said to Him, “You bear witness of Yourself; Your witness is not true.”
14 Jesus answered and said to them, “Even if I bear witness of Myself, My witness is true, for I know where I came from and where I am going; but you do not know where I come from and where I am going. 15 You judge according to the flesh; I judge no one. 16 And yet if I do judge, My judgment is true; for I am not alone, but I am with the Father who sent Me. 17 It is also written in your law that the testimony of two men is true. 18 I am One who bears witness of Myself, and the Father who sent Me bears witness of Me.”
19 Then they said to Him, “Where is Your Father?”
Jesus answered, “You know neither Me nor My Father. If you had known Me, you would have known My Father also.”

Christ established that He had two witnesses of His authority, but then follows that up with the fact that the Father wasn't known to the party He was trying to convince. How was this expected to convince the highly skeptical Pharisees? Yet Jesus was performing amazing miracles that were unlike anything anybody had ever seen or written about up to that point, so His witnessing was backed up by strong evidence.

Also, in many places in the Bible, inanimate objects are said "to be a witness" for something, generally a promise or covenant. This is the case with Abraham and Abimelech over the area of Beersheba in Genesis 21, and between God and Israel in Deuteronomy 4:26.

"So what's the point, Mike?" you may ask yourself. Good question. Let's summarize what we've learned up to this point. The words "witness" and "testimony" are used in the Bible as firsthand evidence in a trial. But they are also used to bind agreements, build faith among the people and exhort others that what God or His servants are saying is true.


God has predestined a small group of people to be His followers at this time. Being omniscient, He knows the time in our life that we will most likely receive His word, hear His witnesses and come to the conclusions He desires us to come to. Naturally, we go on to a lifetime of learning to find out what is RIGHT, GOOD and TRUTH (capitalized to mean God's perfect version of these words). Of course, it's not the TRUTH that is changing, but rather we are continually uncovering more of it and throwing out the counterfeit versions Satan and this world has deceived us with.

Because we are only eyewitnesses of evidence of godly GOOD, and not its entirety, we must be mindful in how we witness to others. And this is where God instructs us to obtain a sound mind—the mind of Christ—to rightly divide the TRUTH from the stuff people merely call truth. So how do we convince someone else that our mind is sound and our message is worth listening to?

We could compare witnessing the TRUTH of God to somebody new to believing someone who's claiming to have seen a UFO. Both God’s TRUTH and UFOs are equally foreign to this world, but many claim to have some belief in them to one degree or another. So if someone claims to you that they've seen a UFO, what would convince you that they had? Would it be just their word? How detailed their story is? How about the sober-mindedness of the individual? Would you require physical evidence, like pictures or video? In practice, UFOgraphers have produced all of the above and more, yet there are still many more skeptics than believers.

The Church of God’s function of preaching the gospel is kind of like this. We are presenting material that to most will just seem odd or just flat-out wrong. Even Mr. Armstrong initially reacted to the Sabbath with incredulity. Some will find the Gospel fascinating whether it's our take on prophecy, Biblical truths they didn't see before, or how it answers questions they've always had. But as with the parable of the sower, many of these individuals stay interested for a time until some other distraction, the cares of this world or Satan pull them away. But it does serve a purpose: to get people's attention directed to the Truth of God so their minds are primed to receive it when the time is right.

Back to our UFO example, what if you went out and saw what the other believers did? That might be pretty compelling. Even the greatest skeptic would have a hard time explaining that away, but they may look for every scientific argument they can find to cast doubt on what they experienced. Most people would be compelled to share their story—far more so than the average believer who hasn't witnessed a UFO.

God's calling is more like this example. In my own calling, he began doing things that were beyond natural explanation. The Bible began to come alive to me in a way it hadn't before. I begin to get angry at the actions of this world, and I was sad at its ignorance. Then I got angry with my own inability to live up to God’s commandments. My prayers seemed to get answered over and over and questions I had in my mind got answered by a conversation I had with someone the next day. Coincidental and weird things!

It's here where the average person being called begin to sense there's a little more to this whole Sabbath/Holy Day/unclean meats/tithing/10 Commandments thing. However, they have to understand that this calling isn't happening to everybody else. But now we're at an impasse. Like the guy who didn't believe in UFOs before he saw one, we have a choice to make: Do I tell others or do I keep my mouth shut and let it drive me nuts? Do I seek out others who have seen similar things? What do I do? You know that it would appear crazy to everyone else, but you saw it with your own two eyes! Surely I'm not crazy, you say.

The Developing Witness

God tells us that His Holy Spirit produces in us a sound mind (II Tim. 1:7) rather than the blinders those trapped in this world have over their eyes. We shouldn't fear this new knowledge even though we will likely appear freakish to others. Over time, we come to see that we must fulfill the requirements Paul outlines in Romans 12:1-2:

"1 I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. 2 And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God."

Here, we’re given the purpose of why God is working specially with us. We have to prove that His way of life that we're witnessing is real. And yes, it will be a sacrifice, but one that's highly acceptable and notable to God—you know, the One who rules the entire UNIVERSE.

So we ask, as Paul did on the way to Damascus, "What will you have me do, Lord?" The rest of Romans 12 gives us that answer. We are to join His body, the church, and serve within it. This says that God, having called us for a specific role in His body, must begin training us to fulfill that role. At first, we are students. But over time, the Holy Spirit may lead us to various other roles. The whole way, we cannot forget to continue to "prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God".

In other words, no matter what position we receive, from babe in Christ to apostle, we must recognize that we haven't been shown the entire TRUTH yet, just the pieces needed to do our job. We grow—or read about a portion of God's eternal nature, take time to figure it out and practice it, and then see how it really works in real life. Another part of our role in the body is learning to care about the people of this world so much that we provide them with evidence of God working in our life, whether through example or by explaining. We must learn to do these things both individually and within the greater context of Christ’s body—the church.

It's a learning process. Others will challenge us and we will receive trials to refine our understanding. Step by step, we'll remove our feet from walking with this world, and that will cause others to take notice. We are showing evidence of Christ living within us. Paul makes this point in Romans 5-7 where he discusses that keeping God's word is proof of its authenticity because it creates the perfect man. Our mistakes and missteps of following God's perfect word will also be used as a witness. Paul states that our inability to keep the law proves its righteousness, too, in that our carnal nature couldn't begin to ascribe to the perfection of God’s law and character without His help.

This is why we must remain humble. We really don't know whether the evidence we're presenting in each moment of our life is really the Truth or just carnal self-righteousness. That is, until the Holy Spirit which is working and living within us lets us know. Over time, we'll begin nailing down those things that keep get hammered into our minds and they become readily-accessible knowledge and understanding. Other times, we'll just think figured something out, but will be proven wrong when we find we actually just stepped out on our own understanding.

Paul gives us good advice in how he chose to witness to others. He tells us in I Corinthians 2:

" 1 And I, brethren, when I came to you, did not come with excellence of speech or of wisdom declaring to you the testimony of God. 2 For I determined not to know anything among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified. 3 I was with you in weakness, in fear, and in much trembling. 4 And my speech and my preaching were not with persuasive words of human wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, 5 that your faith should not be in the wisdom of men but in the power of God."

This is just after he rebukes the Corinthian church for being sectarian. Are we representing Christ in the way he would want, or are we showing off like mere men? Either way, we are an example and people are watching.

A Spiritual Witness

Let’s look at John 15. “I AM the True Vine…” What does this have to do with witnessing? Read further to verse 5:

5 I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing. 6 If anyone does not abide in Me, he is cast out as a branch and is withered…”

If we really think about what’s being said in John 15, we see that our spiritual growth is directly tied back to Jesus Christ. We bear spiritual fruit only by being attached to Him. Even His body—the church—is Christ’s, which grows through His direct intervention. Spiritually-speaking, our ability to sustain anything in a spiritual manner comes from the Holy Spirit dwelling within us and Christ leading and guiding that growing process—not other human beings.

Peter, Paul, James and John spend much time talking about how contentions, strife, poor examples and sin can inhibit spiritual growth because they are distracting and destructive to our physical mind and body, which can take our thoughts and hearts away from focusing on God. That is, they have an effect on our emotions, stress levels, etc. But it’s only when we choose to let these things affect us that we remove ourselves from the True Vine and degrade spiritually. In other words, if other people attack us, that is not a valid reason in God's eyes for us to fall away.

Romans 7-8 explains this a little more. The spiritually-discerning nature of the Holy Spirit can use contentions and strife to demonstrate sin’s awful power over us. For example, if contentions arose between brethren, the Spirit may use that opportunity to point out that the source of the problem is one with attitude. This will resonate far more clearly and personally than just reading about fighting in the Bible. After experiencing it firsthand, we are repulsed by our actions. This is certainly not promoting sin, but rather shows how the Holy Spirit magnifies sin’s effects in our own lives and on humanity as a whole. It is at this point that we can begin seeing sin as horribly as God does and begin to destroy it. However, if we refuse to repent and continue to provide a home for sin—nurturing rather than destroying—we will be distracted by it and wither away from the True Vine.

We see that no other member of mankind other than our own self can distract us away spiritually from Jesus Christ; not a parent, a friend nor a minister. This idea is bolstered by I Corinthians 10:13 in that God will not allow us to be tempted more than we can handle. Matthew 10:28 tells us to not fear man, but God. Psalm 118:6 and Hebrews 13:6 ask, “The LORD is my helper; I will not fear. What can man do to me?”

It is in this way that the Holy Spirit and Jesus Christ are a spiritual witness to us—when we accept their help and surrender to their will.

Free Will

The apostles were firsthand eyewitnesses to Jesus Christ's life, teachings, death and resurrection. They were most qualified to accurately describe what He had said and done because they were right there with Him. And Jesus sent them the Holy Spirit to remind them of Christ’s words and to further show how they were to teach others. If miracles, signs or teachings were done through them, these actions were evidence of God's power. The prophets also spoke and performed similar miracles for ancient Israel’s sake through the Holy Spirit and God speaking through them. All of God’s servants’ roles throughout the Bible were to provide evidence that God exists and that He has specific instructions for mankind to follow.

Yet what I find interesting in no matter what any of them say, mankind still has the freedom of choice to do whatever they want. We all agree that if a witness testifies something, that testimony doesn't somehow become the de facto truth and all must agree in its correctness. Rather, it is simply placed in front of somebody and that’s it. No matter how much persuading, reasoning, logic or evidence that's there, it is up to the other person to accept or deny it as fact.

WOW! Or perhaps... "Duh!" But this is key: YOU don't have any power over what that person chooses. And even crazier still: neither do the prophets, the apostles, the Bible, Jesus Christ nor God. Now, it is true that Christ can be awfully persuasive when He chooses to be. Pictures of a mountain quaking with awesome lightning displays and trumpets shouting louder and louder might get your attention in a way that O.J.'s bloody glove might not. But even then, people can choose to reject God—and He has allowed for this in His plan.

The point for you and I is that we—when it concerns others—can ONLY be a witness to them. We can do no more. In my mind, this takes a great deal of the weight off my shoulders, similar to Jesus saying how His burden is light. We are not responsible for other people's decisions—they are.

We are not off the hook, though. Our testimony to others is required by God once we surrender our will to Him. And this testimony must take the form of a tireless and lifelong pursuit to a) provide ample evidence of God's existence, b) prove that the Bible is His Word, c) teach the correct way to understand and study it, d) reason with and exhort others to change their lives, e) live our lives as an example to our neighbors, f) and proclaim the Good News of the wonderful Kingdom of God to come to all nations, etc. But it ends where our words and example meet other people's eyes, ears and brain.


Those called by God are witnesses to the Truth, and these witnesses can only state the things they've seen and experienced. Others, who may or may not have experienced such things, can only guess if their word is true. Christ—the Word, Truth and Light—declared that His witness is TRUTH because He is the only one who knows TRUTH, outside of His Father. This is precisely why we need Christ living in us at all times. It is also precisely why—the moment we realize we're trying to take over—we need to stop ourselves and return to Him. No one else, if we are firmly planted on the foundation of Christ, can take that away from us unless we allow it.

When Jesus, Peter, Paul, Stephen and many others spoke in front of mass audiences, before kings, councils and judges, Who was witnessing? Likewise, when we are speaking to others, or just simply living our lives in the midst of other people from any background, who is witnessing? What evidence are we putting forth? The testimony that resonates the most with any one individual isn't important—that's for God to worry about. Our job, simply put, is to be a witness. But it must be accurately based on the powerful witness of God the Father and Jesus Christ testifying about a kingdom of love, joy and peace for all who are a part of it.

“Can I get a witness?” The whole world will soon desire one.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

I Was Just Trying to Help!

With the extremely terrible and difficult situation in Haiti, many are reaching out to help their fellow man. Donations range from pocket change to millions of dollars, food, clothing, tents, diapers, and other immediate needs. However, like 9/11, Hurricane Katrina and other disasters, some are sending food that spoils en route, fur coats and winter jackets to hot climates, and other items that are either not useful or actually hinder the aid efforts.

This article goes into a lot more detail about such issues. It's an interesting read because it shows that even good intentions can often times prove to be a hindrance in desperate times. Note this quote from the article:
No question, the two church-goers from New Jersey had the best intentions in the world when they arrived in Port-au-Prince this week to help victims of Haiti’s killer earthquake.

Trouble was, [best intentions were] all they had in a land where food, water, shelter and transportation are at a desperate premium, said Laura Blank, a disaster communications manager on the ground for World Vision, a Christian humanitarian aid group with long ties to the country.

“They seemed very eager and very passionate about helping the people of Haiti, but they didn’t have a ride to get out of the airport,” said Blank, who had to direct the pair to assistance.

It is described that 40,000 such people show up to volunteer their time at major disasters, but many times do not have the skills or resources to properly help. In fact, due to their lack, they oftentimes become part of the very group needing help!

The article goes on to discuss how a 59-cent can of tuna or veggies can be cheap for us to throw in a donation box, but due to its packaging's size and weight, it may cost up to 80-cents to a dollar of additional donations to send it. Whereas the aid groups who have warehouse contacts to buy in bulk for far cheaper than the average citizen has access to or ability to donate. It turns out that giving money to these larger organizations can be the most efficient way to help those in need even though these organizations have 5-30% of administrative costs taken out before help ever gets sent. This can seem counter-intuitive, but the average person needs to get all the facts before giving.

This is not to say that these aid groups want to stamp out the giving nature of people. Rather, it's how folks give that is most effective and helpful. When we give and serve others under any circumstance, we must prepare ourselves to give in a manner that's most helpful for those whom we're giving to. Sometimes our best intentions can make a situation less than ideal or perhaps pile on additional trials for those we're attempting to serve. The writer goes on to say:
From volunteer medical teams who show up uninvited, to stateside donors who ship boxes of unusable household goods, misdirected compassion can actually tax scarce resources, costing time, money, energy — and lives, experts say.

“Everyone wants to be a hero. Everyone wants to help,” said Dr. Thomas Kirsch, co-director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Refugee and Disaster Response. “It’s not the way to do it.”

"Misdirected compassion"... Yikes. Good intentions are wonderful, but we must consider the needs and feelings of those we are serving before doing so. It's a popular notion to think, "Of course others want my help." But do they? We should ask ourselves several important questions before choosing the way we're planning on aiding others. What are all the costs associated with my helping? Do I need to factor in time, additional money and resources, even borrowing from the very people I'm planning on serving in order to help? Is my timing right, or should I hold off? Am I offering something they would find usable? Am I the best person to help in this situation? Will my help actually be a hindrance? Would I want me to help if I were in that same situation?

Please don't think that I want to stop people from giving. On the contrary, we're commanded by God to do so. Jesus Christ commanded us to love our neighbor and gave us plenty of examples of His own service to mankind. He gave us parables about serving others, including the good Samaritan. He warns us that those found not feeding the hungry, visiting those in prison, clothing the naked, etc. will not be in the Kingdom. My purpose here is to take those good intentions and transform them into the most effective force possible. Simply acting in any case with minimal to zero planning is simply unwise.

Consider some of these more common forms of serving... If you're entertaining others, have you planned and prepared enough in advance so you can have maximum time with them? Do you have enough food and room for all your guests to be comfortable? If not, perhaps a having a smaller group over or meeting elsewhere might work better. Perhaps bringing food you've prepared to their home might be better.

If having people stay with you for a weekend, do you have enough beds and bedding to house them? Will all guests have enough privacy for prayer and Bible study? Are there any issues with "appearance of evil" to others; not just to those in the church, but by our example amongst neighbors? Just because you're comfortable with the situation doesn't mean your guests are. It's worth it to ask in advance to be sure.

Purchasing food or necessities for someone? Perhaps checking with a friend or relative to verify that it meets their needs. They may not have the resources or abilities to cook certain things (us men can barely operate the microwave). Others may have dietary restrictions.

God tells us to correct one another in love, which can be considered a service if it improves our relationships, or stops one from breaking apart. Need to talk with someone about a problem? Matthew 18 describes how to approach someone who has offended us, not others. If this is the case, this chapter also describes the attitude we are to have; that of a child with the willingness to be gentle, yielding and understanding. If it's not directly an offense against me, then it's worth it to consider if I'm the one who should be doing the talking. Bringing it up would potentially make that individual aware of the issue, but it might spark an even bigger conflict that has nothing to do with me.

Similar to this notion is giving advice. I'm not sure of the origin, but my brother-in-law said it to me: "Is that what really needs to be said? Is now the time to say it? Am I the one that should say it?" There's a time and place for everything and we need to give extra thought to advising others (myself included here).

Service is a vital part of the Christian's life. However, the act of giving mustn't be a self-serving act with no consideration given to those we are helping. Many today give to get that "feel good" feeling or to be seen by others, and while I don't believe most of us think in that way, we may be too wrapped up with the idea of doing good that we fail to do so in the end. Take the extra effort to analyze the situation fully before launching into action giving heed to love our neighbor in the process. If you're unsure, pray about the situation. Pray about it either way, really. God desires and will turn us into compassionate and effective servants when we allow Him to.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

...And Apparently That's Not All That's Contagious...

Blaming others for problems encourages others to do the same. See this article.

I blame Satan and society...

Friday, January 15, 2010

Self-Control Is Contagious

Here's an interesting read: They say a lack of self-control is also contagious, too.

"He who has, more shall be given him. He who has not, even that which he has shall be taken away from him."

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Patience and Perception

Okay, so I'm pondering something... How much of a wait-and-see attitude should a Christian have? What role does experience play in determining the "spirit" of a person's actions, a current event, etc.? How long should we wait before drawing conclusions on any fruits we perceive?

I'm interested because having a balance in two vital areas--that is, with patience and perception--is both a foundation for and true sign of building godly wisdom and character. However, being short on supply of either one or having a false variety thereof has caused millions to be blinded to the Truth.

Allow me to explain what it is that I currently think I think of these two qualities...

There seems to be varying levels of patience and perception (based on our experiences). Perhaps there are better words for what I'm describing, and maybe typing this out on a blog will flesh out those terms. One way to define these terms is to start with extremes: the person with much patience and little perception will wait and wait to draw a conclusion on a matter until they just accept the consequences of having not done anything when everything has finally unfolded. The person with much perception and little patience will sense the faintest whisper of a wind blowing similarly to their previous experiences and immediately draw conclusions that the same is happening now. The former is the typical frog in increasingly hotter water analogy and the latter is your wackiest conspiracy theorist. Certainly, this doesn't even begin to show the many varieties of patience and perception/experience nor even their good side, but it can show the flaws of having a false variety of each one.

To demonstrate some of the other sides of these two qualities, I'll try to describe them with examples. I am reminded by those older than me that "I haven't been around as long as they have to experience these things that they're seeing." And I believe them, I really do. On the other hand, the ever-optimistic, open-minded youth or rarely-judging pacifists seem to have peace, joy and a gentle spirit in their lives. Personally, as I grow older, I have tended to lean more on my experiences to help make quicker judgments of a situation. Still, I attempt to hold off some before making my final judgment to verify that my perception of the situation is indeed correct (I said attempt...).

A patient-only individual may have an opinion, but is waiting for further validation before acting. A perceptive-only person probably had their minds made up long ago and wondered what took so long for everyone else to catch up. Yet the perceptive-only person may have missed crucial information that wasn't initially presented and make a rash decision. The patient-only person may never find the validation they're looking for and take lumps for not acting decisively earlier.

Several years ago, the Worldwide Church of God was taken over from the inside and turned inside out. It was a terrible experience for all, but it was indeed experience-building. Based on everything I've read and everyone I've talked to, many lessons were drawn from each of these experiences. Some folks took the approach to wait it out and patiently see what God would do within the church He raised through Mr. Armstrong, allowing themselves to drift back into worldly Christianity as the Worldwide Church of God transformed itself into Grace Communion International over the decades to follow. Others, being badly scalded personally by this enormous trial, have ran in fear from all organized religion and point the finger accusingly at any who continue to live or teach such a "god" who would allow such a thing to occur. Of course, there are many, many shades of gray between these two extremes.

Similarly in politics, war, prophecy and religion, experience and education are especially needed, as is patience. Many people I know took one look at Barack Obama and immediately knew what kind of man he was by his words and his politics, while others want history to judge his actions. (NOTE: I'm not passing judgment on either camp here, just noting them.) The same goes with George W. Bush, the Iraq War and the recession as well as the future of Jerusalem, Germany, the Catholic Church, and even the Church of God.

Some with much godly experience may see the Church as having shed several of the problems of the past. Others with much experience** have identified loose bricks in the House of God that reek of the sins of the past.

**As a side note, it appears to me that some men with extreme cases of relying too much on their so-called perception have practically turned themselves into prophets and apostles, if they're not already declaring themselves to be so. These people are so sure of their predictions, even if done under the guise of "I've seen this all before" or even "God has given me special insight to know this."

Some with patience have learned from enduring such difficult trials and have gleaned a great deal of knowledge from the lessons each has taught. Others with a more complacent patience have come to the point of not worrying about nor praying for the problems of others because doing so might require some introspection on their part as well. I've seen people refuse to "judge" others because doing so would be hypocritical. We probably shouldn't be so patient with our own sins just because we're supposed to be patient with others. What are we hiding or not overcoming? Paul says we shouldn't want grace to abound for our sins' sake (Romans 6).

Why am I talking about all this? Because I want to figure out the right balance of each of these vital characteristics and make sure that I'm not misidentifying each one for something quite different. I would like to have the patience and mercy to be willing to let God work with every individual to perfect them in His image regardless of their current state. Yet I also understand that God will eventually draw a line in the sand when someone's character is set and their mind cannot be changed by Him or anyone else. Final judgment will take place.

Next, God expects me to make decisions with limited information at times to test me and I can't always have the time that I might want. Other times, He wants to see if I'll act upon my selfish desires or emotions of the moment or patiently dig deep and rely on past experiences to realize what a poor decision that would be. Other questions I've asked are: Will I let God and Jesus Christ lead Their Church? Will I leave in the case of apostasy? Will I scour for problem areas in others or will I get on my knees to pray for any problems that happen to come to my attention?

Also, combining these two characteristics is a powerful concoction. Together, we can draw on our experiences while patiently allowing our minds to sift over all available knowledge that's available, whether through seeking advice, researching and studying the subject in the Bible and asking God personally for help. Whatever mood we're currently in can color our perceptions. Patience can smooth out the erratic nature of our emotions and help us to see the larger picture by analyzing things through a variety of emotions and experiences. Humans are generally incapable of more than just a few emotions or memories at any given time, so repeated exposure to these things while not coming to one quick decision can help us verify that our original perception was or was not the right one.

Perception is absolutely required to make any kind of stand in our lives and it requires us to thoroughly re-analyze our experiences over a lifetime against a backdrop of fellow members' perceptions to build a more complete picture. This is why a Church is required in the first place--in order to allow the various parts of the body of Christ to share their individual growth and knowledge to edify, encourage and grow the Body. Our perceptions need to become the Body's perceptions and the Body's perceptions need to become ours.

As it is, the Body is constantly adding new members, and thus new parts, and this requires patience to help them draw closer to the stature of the fullness of perfection that is our Elder Brother. Our experiences can help us remember what it was like being in their position, if there are similarities, and sympathize with them...even drawing us closer to them by desiring to help them along. Of course, the opposite occurs when someone with more experiences than ourselves offers us a hand in our current trials and lack of understanding some issue.

Anyway, that's me getting all of this stuff off my mind. I suppose the wisest people of all are the most experienced folks around that still practice a great deal of patience in coming to a full judgment, even distrusting their own human nature until God delivers His perfect understanding to them. May each one of us continue to work towards that...