Friday, May 30, 2014

Admonition vs. Criticism

And concerning you, my brethren, I myself also am convinced that you yourselves are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge and able also to admonish one another. Romans 15:14

No one likes to be criticized.  That fact has no objections I am sure.  However, everyone needs to be counseled and, at times, admonished.  There really is quite a difference.

Paul presents the perfect example of how to approach someone when you need to caution them about something or question their choices or behavior.  His example is something every parent, friend and especially Christian should follow.

Stephen Covey in The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People speaks of the emotional bank account.  He recognizes that we make both deposits and withdrawals in the lives of others emotionally.  His caution is that we be careful to have a positive balance before we make a withdrawal or a statement of concern can register as a condemnatory criticism.

We are not prone to receive a negative comment from someone who does not have a good relationship with us or has not spent the time with us to know us.  Their opinions may be valid but their right to speak them to us has not been earned.  On the other hand, we will listen with attention to the ones who we know have an interest in our success and happiness.

Look at what Paul said to open the door for his words of counsel.  The first thing we notice is the way he addressed them. He said, “my brethren.”  This is an endearing term of relationship.  It speaks of being in a family and connected.  This is not someone from the outside sharing their observations but someone from the inside affected by another’s life.

Next, he addresses their character by saying, “I myself also am convinced that you yourselves are full of goodness.  People who condemn and criticize often use words about a person’s character instead of their actions.  It is one thing to question what I did, it is another to question who I am.  We all can learn from this.  There is a natural inclination to address someone’s motive instead of their action when we have no real idea as to why they may have done what they did.  “You are sorry!” is a defamation of character, not a loving admonition.

Then, Paul says that he sees them as intelligent when he says, “filled with all knowledge.” Few words can hurt more than the words, “You are stupid.”  We don’t say it like that though.  We couch it in other terms such as, “Any three-year-old knows better.”  However you say it, it is demeaning and condemning.  But Paul commends them on being able to listen with their mind instead of their emotions.  Too many have trouble with this.  The minute someone says something negative they feel they don’t like them.  They become defensive and listen emotionally.

The unity of a fellowship or a family is enhanced when honest discussion and loving concern can be given with respect and dignity.  Here is a good example for all of us to follow.  When someone we love is walking toward a bad end, we need to be responsible enough to stand in their way to warn.  Just use the right method for your good action.

Scripture to Claim

Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear. Ephesians 4:29

Thursday, May 29, 2014

The Power of Unity Through Servanthood

For whatever was written in earlier times was written for our instruction, so that through perseverance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope. Now may the God who gives perseverance and encouragement grant you to be of the same mind with one another according to Christ Jesus, so that with one accord you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Romans 15:4-6

A selfish or self-centered spirit is the death of unity in the church.  Even beyond that, we are told in Philippians to Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others. Philippians 2:3-4   For the one who seeks to disagree that the fullest of life is possible in this manner, Paul points to the course of life chosen by the Savior.  Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, Philippians 2:5 

Romans 15 shares that the source of unity is God.  Now may the God who gives perseverance and encouragement grant you to be of the same mind with one another…  Therefore, unity is not an act of man but a gift that comes down from our Father in heaven.  The phrase “of the same mind” translates a Greek word that means to be “likeminded.”  The New Living Translation calls it “complete harmony.”  This means that it is not merely an agreement of thought but of spirit as well.
Picture a group of people all pulling on a rope at the same time in the same direction. You could translate this, “May God give you a spirit of unity so that you will all pull together in the same direction for the Lord.”  This provides great power toward God’s purpose.  It is not that God makes everyone alike but turns their gifts toward the same end to accomplish His will.  The source of unity is God’s Spirit in the life of every believer coordinating them to God’s purpose.  Powerful!

The Acts of Unity are Understanding and Acceptance
Paul continues his discussion by sharing, Therefore, accept one another, just as Christ also accepted us to the glory of God. Romans 15:7  Unity means nothing unless we are willing to accept other believers.  The Greek word translated “accept” is a long word that is very picturesque.  It means to see another person and to open your arms to take that person to yourself.  It has the idea of taking someone by the hand and walking together as companions. It means to open your heart and your home to another person. 

We are to accept each other as Christ accepted us.  Christ received us as we were and then made us into His image.  Establishing relationship then allows influence.  If we cannot embrace people where they are, it will be impossible to take them to where they can be blessed.  This is a high standard, so high that we will never meet it in our own power. Only Christ himself can give us strength to accept others this way. 

Sadly, people try to gain acceptance by playing roles in church instead of being real.  Rejection of those who are not like us may cause them to don masks to gain acceptance.  People playing roles do not portray the reality of the Christian experience.  Christ has accepted all of us as and where we are and calls us to be the same.  It’s hard to run the risk of being real but worth the effort since only then can we truly be accepted and loved.

Scripture to Claim:

…with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing tolerance for one another in love, being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. Ephesians 4:2-3

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

The Problem...Disunity

One person has faith that he may eat all things, but he who is weak eats vegetables only. The one who eats is not to regard with contempt the one who does not eat, and the one who does not eat is not to judge the one who eats, for God has accepted him. Romans 14:2-3 
One person regards one day above another, another regards every day alike. Romans 14:5a 

Satan’s joy, if he cannot devise a scheme to keep men from following Christ, is to create ways to divide sincere men to keep them from serving Christ.  He loves nothing more than to create disunity and division in the body of Christ.  There is only one side to be on in a church and that is God’s side.  His is the side of Unity.

The Problem...Disunity 
Let’s face it, churches are filled with humans – imperfect and sinful.  It is easy for us to get caught up in what we see someone else doing that we don’t agree with and make a huge issue over it creating disunity in the body of Christ.  Unity is hard work. It demands an ongoing commitment from every believer.  Disunity in the church can cause many issues and can be very difficult to overcome, even causing some congregations to split if not reconciled quickly.  Some dangers of disunity are:

  • Disunity creates a lack of trust.  A fellowship cannot long exist without trust. Neither can a marriage, family, relationship.  We are prone to trust only those who act and think as we do.  Fellowship is partnership and demands trust.
  • Disunity creates criticism in the place of understanding.  Criticism is the forerunner of disrespect and haughtiness.  Criticism is the maker of a broken spirit and leads to bitterness. Criticism stops service. 
  • Disunity creates strife and division in place of love and unity.  When we major on difference instead of on similarity we separate instead of unite.  There will always be diversity because of the way God has made us and the gifts He has given us.
  • Disunity creates a loss of ministry.  The horrid final result - fewer baptisms than ever before this decade...less ministry. Loss of ministry to one another…churches on edge and pastors on the move.

Patience and a servant spirit are keys to unity.   Now we who are strong ought to bear the weaknesses of those without strength and not just please ourselves.  Romans 15:1

The call of God to Christian service involves the responsibility of Christian patience with others.  To "bear" in this passage is a word that means to endure patiently.  The cry here is for us not to demand the spiritual perfection of others that we have not achieved ourselves...OR even to demand what we HAVE achieved.

God is dealing with every individual at their personal pace of growth.  The fact that someone does not agree or does not act properly does not mean they are less than you.  It merely displays a place of spiritual immaturity or poor discernment that may need temporary indulgence and understanding until God changes them.  Or, it may be YOU that is wrong and God is using them to reveal it to you!
Realize that “Receiving an individual is foundational to ministry to them.”

A servant is more in tune with the needs of those they serve than their own needs.  A mother may deny herself for the needs of her children.  The Christian is most pleased with himself when others are benefited.  The nature of God is love and the Word says that "
love ...does not seek its own." I Corinthians 13:5  God is always glorified as Christians learn to love each other.  

Scripture to Claim:
Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.  Ephesians 4:3

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

The Eye is the Lamp Part II

The eye is the lamp of the body; so then if your eye is clear, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light that is in you is darkness, how great is the darkness! (Matthew 6:22-23)

Yesterday we talked about the eye receiving light from Jesus.  As light brings good, so darkness creates evil. The verse above says But if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness.  A body influenced by a bad eye is reflective of a life distracted by worldly factors, resulting in an inner darkness or blindness to true spiritual realities.  This saying spells out in a practical manner the delimiting consequences of a life devoted to material pursuits.  When we trust Jesus Christ, our eyes are opened, the light shines in, and we become children of light.  The important thing is that we take advantage of the light and have a single outlook of faith. 

It is not just the absence of light, but the presence of darkness that corrupts our vision.  Darkness is not just the absence of light but has its own nature and influence. Note: the light that is in you IS darkness.  The eye is open and ready to receive.  But in this case, not light makes its entrance, but darkness, which, as in the case of the light, permeates the body and perspective of the individual. 
Darkness is more than the absence of truth; it is the presence of lies.

For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places. Ephesians 6:12  False perceptions don’t lead to hesitancy but a false boldness for what we think we see clearly. Separated from the light of God, many people blindly wander toward lives of defeat, despair and false hopes.  Darkness causes them not to be able to understand the way of prosperity and peace.  It is a great darkness.

Luke 11:35 tells us Then watch out that the light in you is not darkness.  There a personal responsibility for opening our eyes to the light of Christ and the gospel.  How tragic this is! Thousands of people may think they have it all together, but their eyes are clouded by materialism and their lives are inauthentic. How is your vision?

Each of us is controlled either by light or darkness. The frightening thing is that some people have so hardened themselves against the Lord that they cannot tell the difference! They think they are following the light when, in reality, they are following the darkness.

If we keep one eye on the things of God and the other eye on the world, the light will turn into darkness! There is no “twilight living” for the Christian, for God demands total submission and obedience. 

The light that comes into a man’s soul depends on the spiritual condition of the eye though which it has to pass because the eye is the window of the body.  Without that light we walk in darkness.  Sin clouds our vision of truth and brings rationalization and ignorance. This is a growing darkness and eventually shuts out the light leaving us at peace in the dark. Stumbling occurs and injury from no light.  This dangerous spiritual condition directs the focus of our lives away from Christ.  We have to be vigilant to make sure this does not happen to us.  Satan is sneaky.  He wants to steal us away from Christ and He knows how to do it.  He causes blind spots and cataracts on our eyes to blind us from the light of Christ and His truths.  He can distort our vision so that we hesitate when God is calling us to move in a certain direction.  We have to guard our eyes and take care of their condition so that the right light comes in.  Be careful.  Be on guard.  Go towards The Light like a moth to a flame.

Scripture to Claim:
Then Jesus again spoke to them, saying, "I am the Light of the world; he who follows Me will not walk in the darknel,ss, but will have the Light of life." John 8:12

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