Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Attitude Adjustments

"Moreover, we have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respect them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of our spirits and live! Heb.12:9.

"Father of spirits" in the Mitchell translation reads "Mentor of attitudes", a novel idea. The concept of God as a celestial attitude adjuster differs dramatically from Mitchell's understanding.

According to dictionary.com mentor means to act as a wise trusted counselor/teacher or influential supporter/sponsor. Correction, on the other hand, can be providing advice and council which may take the form of punishment with the intent to reform, improve or rehabilitate. It is to chastise or reprove.

I viewed God as an attitude adjuster, one who monitored my behavior. When (not if) I veered off course, He would set me straight. He is after all perfect, and He does after all demand perfection...right?

Suppose for a moment that Mitchell is correct. What could an attitude mentoring session with God sound like?

God: "Hmm, a bit harsh. Did you really mean to use that tone of voice?"
Me: "Well no...but they deserved it. You saw it God. What they did was just plain wrong."
God: "Even so, would you want Me to talk to you like that?"
Me: "No...but if I don't stand up for myself and set them straight now, they'll just keep doing the same thing over and over again."
God: "Interesting perspective. In the future is this how I should correct you? You know, set you straight?"
Me: No...but this is different. They really hurt my feelings. I just gave them a taste of their own medicine to see how they liked it."
God: "Well now, since you're on the job, I guess I can resign my position as the Great Physician and let you take over. You seem to know just what people need."
Me: No, I didn't mean it that way...but if I don't watch out for myself, no one else will."
Maybe I shouldn't have said that.
God: "Really? Well I glad I know what you think about my ability to care for you."
Me: No.......(really squirming now)...but You seem so busy all the time and it feels like I get lost in the shuffle most of the time."
God: If I understand you correctly, you see me as sort of a slacker, undependable."
Me: No, I wouldn't put it that way... but you could show up on time more often when I'm in a tight spot. Maybe toss a miracle my way now and then."
God: Let me see if I've got this straight. You're disappointed with me because I don't rescue you when you get in a jam. When things get tough you to take matters into your own hands. So, should I treat you the same way you treat repeat offenders?"
Me: no.....
God: Well, it seems you've finally run out of buts, so now will you let me help you?

Without lightning bolts or caustic words, God performs radical surgery on our attitudes and never loses the patient on the table. He doesn't leave us crippled emotionally and stunted but gently guides us past all our buts to the one aspect of conflict we can control...ourselves. He'll provide the right attitude for every situation. More often He'll propose the "soft answer turns away wrath" approach, not only as our response to others but also as His relates to us.

I think I'll opt for the mentoring program. My attitude needs continuous work and a consistent dose of His wise counsel sounds like a solid and less painful treatment plan. Instead of bracing for an angry outburst, I'll anticipate His quiet faithful application of trustworthy advice and help.

How about you? Do you see God as the Angry Corrector or the Wise Mentor? In the past, how has He gently worked with you to re-phrase your response to a difficult situation? When you have blown it, how has He gently corrected you in order to be more Christ-like the next time?

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

That's No Fun

"Make it a habit to see (or: observe) [that] no one may (or: would) give back (render, discharge, display) evil in place of evil (or: something ugly as opposition to something ugly; worthlessness in exchange for worthlessness; what ought not to be in exchange for what ought not to be; poor quality for poor quality; wrongdoing for wrongdoing; injury in the face of injury) to anyone, but to the contrary, continue to always pursue (follow rapidly; run swiftly to acquire; chase after) the good (the excellent; the virtuous) unto [the benefit of] each other as well as unto all people." 
1 Thess. 5:15 Mitchell Translation.

That's no fun!

Removing opportunities for revenge/retaliation after being wronged is...just wrong. Why be denied the pleasure of an aptly time zinger that can put someone in their well deserved place?

If a person's sloppy work makes my job harder, why not return the favor? They might even learn a lesson if I do. Shouldn't cheaters and swindlers receive the same treatment they dish out? They might think twice before they try their old tricks again. Misery loves company so why suffer alone? Paul, you spoilsport, you've made enduring hardship much more difficult.

The apostle could have written the book on suffering and surviving hard knocks. He had more authorized visits from the Un-Welcome Wagon than most of us. Labeled a false teacher along with other nasty accusations Paul, using his training and skills, could have held his own and prevailed against most opponents. On occasion he slipped into that mode, but for the most part he lived 1 Thess. 5:15.

It's not only hard to be nice to those who mistreat you, but also it's difficult to wish them well and bless them. What they really need is a good, swift kick in the pants. Pray to be more like Jesus? Disagreeable people and hard circumstances might be the answer to your request.

As I child, I envisioned Jesus as a sort of "bubble boy" floating through life immune from and above the fray. Nasty words, snubs and cruel actions bounced off His invisible shield. Bingo - back at ya!

I know better now.

Jesus experienced the same "urge to kill" we feel, but He never gave in to it. He learned to curb His tongue and not lash out in anger, although He could say some pretty hard things in love. Tempted to deliver some powerful five-fold ministry via His closed fist, He restrained Himself. Jesus was no wimp. He knew how to pick His battles and how to avoid revenge and vengeance. His weapon of choice, even when it meant a well-deserved confrontation, was always love. Love never fails.

Paul encourages us to do the same. Neither easy nor fast, this way always works. The best part about love is it always wins.

How about you? How have you been tempted to avenge yourself when you were wronged? How did you respond? What good came out of it? Are you willing to do what is right if things don't change or even get worse? How and when have you seen love prevail over adverse circumstances.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Reverse Polarity

"Jesus answered them, 'It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous to repentance.'" Luke 5:31:32

Polarity in magnets is what attracts them to each other. If however you reverse their North/South poles (North to North and South to South) they repel each other.

While here on earth and fully human it's understandable that as the Son of God, Jesus' viewpoint could be diametrically opposed to ours.

"The poor, prisoners, the blind, the oppressed - groups mentioned in Jesus' first sermon give a strong clue to his upside down way of looking at the world."
Philip Yancey, What Good is God?

The Gospels demonstrate reversed magnetic polarity. The more reprobate, rejected, irresponsible and despicable an individual was, the stronger their attraction to Jesus. Yancey goes on to note that those who were upstanding, prominent and very important reacted in the opposite manner. The ones who felt they'd arrived actually missed out completely. Not thirsting for righteousness, they didn't access the Living Waters flowing from Christ. Others, painfully cognizant of their shortcomings, drank freely and were satisfied.

The church tends to follow social trends, not set them. We accentuate and elevate the gifted, the successful, the achievers; the very people who failed to impress Jesus. Do the unsaved see through the facade and correctly discern what we are loathe to admit? We don't have it all together either. It isn't that we shouldn't recognize people's accomplishments, mediocrity isn't the currency of the kingdom. We can just do without the pedestals.

What if those people outside the church's four walls actually showed up? Perhaps, if they weren't TOO different they could be cleaned up and whipped into shape quickly. There's plenty of slots to fill.

Suppose the chronically weird stopped by in order to give Jesus a try? Would we willingly admit to them that our need for Him on a daily basis is just as great as theirs? They're not fooled one bit and they just might be the people God sends in order to straighten us out.

How about you? How do self-righteous attitudes repel people away from and not toward Jesus? What can we learn from Christianity's critics? How can we genuinely engage with those who won't darken our church doors? How do we release that Jesus magnetism that will draw them to Him?

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Go In Peace

"Then Naaman and all his attendants went back to the man of God. He stood before him and said, 'Now I know that there is no God in all the world except Israel.'"  2 Kings 5:15.

Naaman was a man of contradictions. Commander of the Aram army, the victory God gave him brought esteem and recognition from his king. This accomplished military leader, however, was also a leper, a warrior who felt no pain.

Captured by a Aram raiding party an un-named Israelite girl found herself as a servant to the Commander's wife. On day she mentioned to her mistress that if Naaman would visit Israel's prophet, he would be healed.

With his king's blessing and an official letter of introduction, Naaman headed out. His arrival at Israel's royal court caused no small stir. The king of Israel was suspicious of a set-up. After all, who was he to heal a leper.

Word of the strange visitor reached Elisha. "Send him to me," he advised the king. The reason, "and he will know there is a prophet in Israel." 2 Kings 5:8. (hmm, why was it important to know there was a prophet and not a God in Israel?)

Naaman's road to recovery was about to get bumpy. Arriving at his destination he was greeted not by the man of God, but by his servant. Didn't this prophet know who he was? You'd think he would if he was a for real. Then, Naaman was instructed how to receive his healing. Dunk in the Jordan River seven times.

Outrageous. Naaman expected a grand show of power, fanfare and hoopla. Dip  in the Jordan River seven times? The Arbana and Phapar rivers in Damascus were much better than the Jordan. Why not one of these? In a huff he stormed off.

Finally, cooler heads prevailed. Naaman obeyed and was healed. His confession to Elisha was that Israel's God was indeed the only true God. Overwhelmed with gratitude, Naaman attempts to bless the prophet were declined. Finally, he made one last request:

"...please let your servant be given as much earth as a pair of mules can carry for your servant will never again make burnt offerings and sacrifices to any other god but the Lord." 2 Kings. 5:17.

Two mules of dirt...but he wasn't finished yet.

"May the Lord forgive your servant for this one thing. When my master enters the house of Rimmon to bow down and he is leaning on my arm and I have to bow down there also - when I bow down in the temple of Rimmon, may the Lord forgive your servant for this." 2 Kings 5:18.

So much for gratitude, at least toward God. Get healed and now you want Him to cut you a break when you bow down to an idol with your boss. How many Elisha wanna-be's would respond as the prophet did? "Go in peace."

Why didn't Elisha set him straight? Giving Naaman a worse case of leprosy than he'd come with would teach him not to trifle with Israel's God. Some of us standing in Elisha's sandals would have taught that boy a lesson, and missed God in the process.

Did Elisha know something that we don't? Did he know that Naaman's good intentions would wither away with the passage of time? It's easy to forget God when things are going good, and for Naaman life was great. Perhaps he discerned sincerity in Naaman's heart and understood that the return home to an environment with no spiritual support structure was sketchy. Like the patriarchs, Naaman would have to navigate uncharted waters of faith in God alone.

Maybe Naaman's healing would change the heart of the king away from Rimmon and toward God, eliminating those pesky temple visits. Whatever the case, better to give him grace for the journey ahead.

The Bible is silent about Naaman's homecoming and what if any impact it had on the king and the religious system of his country. Still the questions lingers. Why did Elisha act this way?

Maybe, like God, Elisha recognized that outward appearances are never the true measure of man. What's in the heart matters to God. Naaman wouldn't be the first court official required to step gingerly in his position. Daniel and his three friends would face tough tests and God's peace would see them through.

How about you? How does this study demonstrate to you the need for God's peace to rule your heart in difficult situations? When has the peace of God directed you through uncertainty and hard times? If you were in Elisha's place, what would you have done? 

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Escaping Escapism

"So I am being continuously held together (or: caught; squeezed) from out of the two: constantly having the craving (holding the strong desire and impulse) into the [situation] to untie and loose back up again [as in loosing tent pins and ropes when striking camp, or loosing moorings to set sail], and to be (to exist being) together with Christ -for [that is] rather to a much higher rank (a more advantageous situation; a more profitable thing; [it is] much better)! Yet the [situation] to be staying (remaining-on) in the flesh [is] more necessary (indispensable; a more forced constraint) because of you folks." Philip. 1:23-24 Jonathan Mitchell Translation.

Even Paul dreamed of escaping. He could have had it not been for an over-riding sense of responsibility for others.

You can't blame him. Paul's life and ministry were hard, not glamorous. Working full time as a professional tent maker, his free time was spent preaching and teaching. Newly established churches got a crash course in Christianity 101, and Paul was off to his next assignment. At times his departure was premature, beyond his control, forcing him to leave the fledgling flock in the Lord's hands.

Paul's life was pockmarked with conflicts. He tangled with Peter, James and the Jerusalem church over attempts to make Gentile believers more Jewish. He wrangled with local, religious and governmental authorities. Sometimes things turned personal like the dispute with Barnabas over John Mark.

In addition, his church plants caused him grief. Easily swayed by new teachings they formed cliques centered around pet teachers. Fellowship dinners at Corinth were out of control. When a church member there formed an incestuous relationship with his father's wife, Paul had to write and remind the members that such behavior was unacceptable. No wonder he looked for a way out.

How different Paul's mindset was from today's escapist mentality. He didn't focus on the unruly, chaotic world around him. People needed Jesus and Paul had what they were looking for. Even though he taught Christ's return was imminent, he never encouraged anyone to drop out, disengage and let the world fend for itself. He preached against such behavior.

Like us, Paul's hardships took their toll. His attempts to reach the far corners of the known world were filled with frustrations and disappointments. He tired of the constant opposition, especially when caused by friendly fire. His body bore the marks of repeated beatings. At a breaking point, he made a firm decision. Yes, being with Christ would be more enjoyable, but it was more profitable to remain here. The fate of people outweighed his desire to depart.

How about you? How would you describe the world's state today? What conflicts inside and outside of Christianity have you wanting to call it quits. Who could benefit if you, like Paul, chose to stay here? Are you ready/willing to escape an escapist mentality?