Monday, July 28, 2008
Monday, July 21, 2008
We talked last time, in Part 1, about how resentment is like taking poison and waiting for the other person to die. We talked about how toxic unforgiveness is to our bodies, as well as our souls.
Then we looked at a few verses of Scripture which gave us some instruction and some wisdom on forgiveness, forgiving one another, and not holding resentment against others.
OK, now let’s talk about what forgiveness actually is. How can we identify forgiveness, so that we aren’t harboring some unforgiveness or resentment under the surface that will spring up at any old time, or even worse, that will become a root of bitterness, not easily dug out? How do we know if we are really forgiving someone?
We’ll answer that today, but first let’s switch gears, and talk about another subject which may seem unrelated, but is VERY related to forgiveness. It’s SO related to forgiveness, it’s like wet is to water; like dry is to desert; like Abraham Lincoln’s picture on one side of a penny, and the Lincoln Memorial on the other side.
Love and Forgiveness
The subject I’m talking about is Love. And of course there are different kinds of love.
That Loving Feeling
There’s the affectionate kind of love, that anyone may have for another person that they are bonded to, such as a mother and child, or two long-time friends, or a couple getting married who we say are “in love”.
Now that’s a wonderful kind of love. That’s the kind of love that someone was talking about when they said that “Love makes the world go around.” It’s built into most people, and we could say like the old song says, “Everybody loves somebody sometime.”
It’s wonderful. But it also has a couple of problems.
And part of the reason it has a couple of problems is that it is based pretty much on feelings. Nothing wrong with that. Feelings are something God has built into us humans, so much so that if someone for some reason doesn’t seem to HAVE feelings, the psychologists diagnose them with some kind of so-called illness.
So this love which is a feeling is wonderful, but because it is based so much on feelings, it has a couple of problems.
First, it may not last. Now sometimes it does. Many parents keep their affectionate love for their children all their lives, and many husbands and wives grow old still feeling affection for their spouse.
But sometimes it doesn’t last, and the reason is, something has interfered with the good feelings. Maybe one person betrayed the other, or maybe they hurt them in some way, over and over, or maybe they rejected them, or slandered them, or left them, or physically abused them, or just ignored them.
Or maybe they just came across someone who gave them BETTER feelings, and so they stopped loving the one whom they loved before. Whatever happened, it knocked the legs of good feeling out from under the chair of love, and the chair crashed to the floor.
That’s the kind of love that most people talk about when they talk about love. That’s the kind of love that Hallmark and Soap Operas, and 20th Century Fox are usually talking about.
A Higher Love
But there is a higher kind of love than that. I’m not saying it’s better, exactly. And I’m certainly not saying that it necessarily FEELS better all the time. But it’s a higher kind of love, because it’s the kind of love that God has for His children.
And because it’s the kind of love God has for His children, He can put that kind of love into His children, so that they too can have that kind of love for God, and for other people.
Let me say that again: because it’s the kind of love God has for His children, He can put that kind of love into His children, so that they too can have that kind of love for God, and for other people.
And He does that through His Holy Spirit, and that’s why Galatians 5 says that Love is a fruit of the Spirit. It’s a fruit that is automatically produced in us when we are filled with His Spirit, when we walk by the Spirit, or walk according to the Spirit.
And when we do that, and when we have that God kind of love, it will have certain characteristics, which we see in 1 Corinthians chapter 13. You probably know these. Even Hallmark knows these, though they may not know what they mean. Here they are:
“Love is patient,
love is kind and is not jealous;
love does not brag and is not arrogant,
does not act unbecomingly;
it does not seek its own, is not provoked,
does not take into account a wrong suffered,
does not rejoice in unrighteousness,
but rejoices with the truth;
bears all things, believes all things,
hopes all things, endures all things.
Now an important thing about this kind of love is that it has these characteristics NO MATTER WHAT. In other words, it’s what we call UNCONDITIONAL.
It’s not conditional on what the other person does. It’s not conditional on how we may feel, or what wrong may have been committed to us, or who the person is, or whether the person is our family member or whether they are evil or good, Christian or non-Christian, friend or enemy.
Yes, we can even love our enemies, because this God kind of love is a fruit, produced in us by the Holy Spirit. And all we have to do is walk in that Spirit, and we will have that kind of love produced in us.
That’s why the Bible says that "Love Never Fails".
That God kind of love never fails. And that’s why God will never leave us or forsake us. Because He loves us with that kind of love that never fails. Never.
And we can love others with that kind of love. Love that never fails.
And may I say this? With love that FORGIVES.
Which brings us to our subject. Remember our subject? We are talking about resentment and forgiveness. And now we can clarify what forgiveness really means. Because forgiveness is the other side of the coin of love, this God kind of unconditional love.
And with that in mind, let me take a stab at a definition of forgiveness, as the Bible presents it, and as God desires us to practice it. The kind of forgiveness that is not based on feelings, but on the fruit of the Spirit, which is love.
I’m not saying this is a perfect definition, but we don’t forgive by definition anyway, we forgive by love, so cut me some slack and let this definition sink in a little, and I think you will profit from it. Here’s the definition of forgiveness:
“Forgiveness is not holding something against someone as regards your unconditional love for them.”
And we might define Love like this:
“Love is truly, by the Holy Spirit, desiring the best for the one loved.”
This means that when you forgive someone, you no longer hold their sin against them by withholding your love for them, that is, you still desire the best for them, in your heart. You still love them, with the love described in 1 Cor. 13.
Now there’s a lot packed into that little definition.
To use an extreme example, if someone physically abuses you repeatedly, do you continue to let them into your presence and just “put up with it”? Of course not. You take steps of wisdom to prevent that. But you still love them. You still desire in your heart the very best for them. That’s love.
When you forgive someone, you still love them, unconditionally. And love, as 1 Cor. 13 says, “does not take into account a wrong suffered”. It forgives. Forgiveness is merely the other side of the coin of love.
How do we know when we are NOT forgiving someone, maybe even growing a root of bitterness? When we are not acting and thinking in love toward them. When we’re not patient and kind. When we are arrogant, when we are selfish, and so on.
Which is why we need to stay in close fellowship with Jesus. He is our life. When we commune with Him, these things tend to take care of themselves. He is in you, friend, if you are a Christian. Draw near to Him. After all, He's already there.
In another message we’ll look at what forgiveness LOOKS like, and what unforgiveness looks like, and how to forgive, and what hinders forgiveness.
Until then, spend some time with Jesus. Fellowship with Him in some sort of quiet time, and throughout the day as best you can. Walk in the Spirit, and you will see changes in how you love and forgive.
One of my favorite quotes is from a fella named Malachy McCourt which goes like this:
“Resentment is like taking poison and waiting for the other person to die.”
Let me say that again:
“Resentment is like taking poison and waiting for the other person to die.”
Isn’t that great?
Resentment, or bitterness, or unforgiveness, is destructive, bodily, mentally, and most important, spiritually.
And in this day and age, I don’t know of anyone who would really dispute the health aspects of unforgiveness. You don’t have to be a Bible-believer, as I obviously am, to understand the detrimental effects of unforgiveness.
Toxic Effects of Resentment
The toxic effects of unforgiveness on our body/mind systems are clinically documented as well. Unforgiveness:
-distresses the central nervous system;
-stresses the circulatory system;
-stresses the muscular-skeletal system;
-stresses the glandular (endocrine and lymphatic) systems; and
-depresses the immune system.
One expert named McInnis put it this way,
“Unforgiveness distresses my central nervous system by harboring such feelings as irritability, nervousness, anxiety, hostility, anger, resentment and depression.
“Its distress constricts my heart rate’s variability, a crucial measure of nervous system health, as well as my cardiovascular system’s flexibility. It also disrupts the harmony of my brain waves, making me less able to think clearly and to make good decisions.
“In addition to fostering cardiovascular inflexibility, unforgiveness distresses my circulatory system by increasing blood pressure, heart rate and arterial wall pressure.
“Unforgiveness distresses my muscular-skeletal system by increasing forehead muscle tension, thereby producing headaches, and by also producing other symptoms: stomach aches, muscle and joint aches, dizziness, and tiredness.
“Unforgiveness distresses my glandular system via unproductive adrenaline rushes in support of fight or flight responses. When neither of these responses occurs to utilize this energy boost, it dissipates by agitating my other body systems.
“As my unforgiveness invokes all of the foregoing mental, emotional and physical strain, it simultaneously depresses the ability of my immune system to ward off both acute and chronic disease.”
Now this should come as no surprise when we look at what God has to say about forgiveness.
Some Scriptural Wisdom
And as an introduction to the Biblical view of this subject, I just want to do a survey of some Scriptures that deal with this subject, make some general observations, and then in a later message, offer some Biblical help in this area.
In listing those things which are common to the ungodly, in Rom. 1:29-31, Paul writes this:
“...sexual immorality, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, evil-mindedness; they are whisperers, backbiters, haters of God, violent, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents, undiscerning, untrustworthy, unloving...”
Now that's some pretty bad stuff, isn't it? But do you know what's next on Paul's list, there in verse 31?
A similar list occurs in 2 Timothy 3:2,3.
“For men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, unloving, unforgiving, slanderers, without self-control, brutal, despisers of good, traitors, headstrong, haughty, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having a form of godliness but denying its power.”
Ah, but Ephesians 4:32 injects some life and breath into this unforgiveness situation. It says,
“And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God in Christ forgave you."
Just as God in Christ forgave us? Yes, Ephesians 1:7 says,
“In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace.”
Forgiveness of what sins? All of them. He has forgiven us of all our sins. Are there any sins of others that we may not forgive? Of course not. Again, Col. 1:14 says,
“...in whom we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins.” And again, that's all of them.
And so it's reasonable for God to say to us, as He does in Col. 3:13,
“...bearing with one another, and forgiving one another, if anyone has a complaint against another; even as Christ forgave you, so you also.”
Now I don't want this to be one of those “beat the sheep over the head with their duty” messages. I would contend that you already know your duty in forgiving others.
Yet you may not even really recognize that you are harboring resentment. Or you may recognize it, but have problems forgiving others.
And so, in two more messages in this three-part series, I want us to talk about what forgiveness really is, how to forgive, what hinders forgiveness, and so on.
But let me give you a preview by simply saying this. Forgiveness is one side of a coin. The other side of the same coin is Love. And love is the fruit of the Spirit, without which we are nothing, 1 Cor 13 says.
Pretty strong language, isn’t it? But we have love, shed about in our hearts by the Holy Spirit of God.
Next time we’ll talk about tapping into that rich store of Love.
Monday, July 14, 2008
Monday, July 07, 2008
Before we get rolling today, I want to stress that this is a very introductory talk about Dominionism.
Dominionism itself, which I consider a false teaching, is a very large subject. Much has been written on it, and I don’t mean to get to heavily into the many tentacles of Dominionism itself.
I want to confine my comments to the legalism that is inherent in Dominionism. And so I’d like to start with two definitions. The definition of Legalism, as I’ll be using it today, and the definition of Dominionism, as I’ll be using it today.
Defining Legalism As Used Here
First, legalism. Legalism can have many meanings, and usually, in the Church, simply means requiring something or forbidding something that the Bible doesn’t require or forbid. For example, requiring a suit and tie for men, or forbidding jewelry for women. Those kinds of things that some churches delight in burdening their people with, and some churches cry, “Legalism!”
But that’s not the kind of legalism I want to talk about here. I want to talk about the kind of legalism that imposes laws and commands of Scripture, or (and get this please) SUPPOSED laws and commands of Scripture, on Christians, as a means of gaining God’s acceptance, or favor, or love.
In other words, God won’t really love you, or accept you, or favor you, even if you’re a born-again Christian, unless you do this and this, and don’t do this or this.
That’s the kind of legalism which I call Performance-based Christianity. And considering the size of the audience listening to this, I know there are some of you who are thinking, “Well of course! Isn’t that what the Christian life is all about is the do’s and don’t of the Bible? After all, isn’t our ultimate goal in the Christian life to obey and not sin? What’s wrong with Performance-based Christianity?”
Two Problems With Performance-Based Living
Well, there are two problems with Performance-based Christianity:
1. First, it’s simply not Biblical. The Bible continuously points us to the Lord Jesus and His New Covenant, in which He has not only paid the price for our sins, all of them, but has given us the gift of His righteousness, has made us new creatures in Christ, and has freed us from the condemnation of laws and rules.
So now we are free to get close to Jesus, without condemnation, and fellowship with Him, and commune with Him, and thus be filled with His Spirit, and so follow and obey Him, not in order to gain is love and favor, but because we love Him and desire to follow and obey Him.
We treasure His commands, because they reveal His beautiful heart to us, and let us know when we are veering off and walking by the flesh, so that we can get back in close communion with Him, where we belong are really satisfied.
Do you see the difference between Performance-based living, and Spiritual living?
So the first problem with Performance-based living, again, is it’s not Biblical.
2. The second problem with Performance-based living is that it just doesn’t work.
If we focus on our Performance to gain God’s love and favor, we will invariably fail. Because we are relying on what we DO, instead of on what He has already done. We are relying on Law, instead of Grace. This quenches the Holy Spirit, who wants us to live by faith in what Christ has already done, and when we quench the Holy Spirit, we lose the very power and internal motivation to follow the Lord’s ways, and we fall on our face.
And if we love the Lord, when we fall on our face, we shy away from Him, because we’re ashamed, and we doubt His love, and when we shy away from Him, we are even more prone to walk by the flesh, and the bad cycle continues.
So the second problem with Performance-based living is that it just doesn’t work.
Defining Dominionism As Used Here
Now, having defined legalism for our purpose today, let’s define Dominionism or Dominion theology:
Dominion theology basically stems from three basic beliefs:
1.Satan, through the fall of Adam, has taken over man’s rightful dominion over the earth.
2.The Church is God’s instrument to take back dominion from Satan.
3.Jesus can’t return until we, the Church, has regained control of the earth, having dominion in every area of worldly life, including social institutions, and government. This has been called such things as “reigning over” or “ruling over” the nations, in the name of Christ.
Now many people think this is a new movement. And with the amazing communication tools we have today – first the printing press, then radio, then TV, and now the Internet – with the amazing communication tools we have today, we are seeing a spread of this false doctrine at an amazing pace.
Contrasting Dominionism With The Bible
Now let’s contrast this dominionism with Biblical teaching about the true kingdom of God, and then we’ll address the legalism involved.
Jesus said in John 18:36, “My kingdom is not of this world”. You may remember that Jesus said this to Pontius Pilate, after Pilate asked Him if He was the King of the Jews. And when Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world,” the emphasis was on “MY”.
In other words, He distinguished His kingdom from all earthly kingdoms, and we know from many Scriptures that the biggest difference is simply that His kingdom is a spiritual one. Or to put it another way, it’s a kingdom which reigns in the hearts of those who have been born again.
That’s why Jesus said, “The kingdom of God does not come with observation, nor will they say, ‘See here!’ or ‘See there!’ For indeed the kingdom of God is within you.”
In other words, the kingdom of God is internal. Now, I am aware that there are some who say that what Jesus meant was that the kingdom of God is AMONG you, or IN YOUR MIDST – in other words that it’s sort of “all over the place”. But this is a ridiculous interpretation, which takes the simple point out of context and twists it to mean what it doesn’t mean. The whole point of Jesus is that the kingdom of God in this age is an invisible kingdom.
Now let me be quick to say that this spiritual kingdom of God in the hearts of believers WILL have visible effects from time to time. When a true believer has God in him working to will and to do His good pleasure, as the Scripture says – in other words, as Christ lives out His life through us, there will be things coming from our lives that can be seen. But do you see how far that is from the Dominionist idea that we will take dominion over the earth?
If the way is narrow, and few there be that find it, as Jesus said, then the future for the Church is surely a kingdom within many kingdoms, a spiritual kingdom operating in the midst of worldly kingdoms.
We are not destined to take dominion over the earth and all its institutions. But this is not bad news, or pessimism. This is the optimism of the spiritual kingdom of God.
When we realize that God IS working in us believers, that we ARE His workmanship, that He is CAUSING us to walk in His ways, as the prophesies of the New Covenant had promised, that He IS building His church, and the gates of hell cannot prevail against it, we have a great confidence in the plan of God.
But the plan of God is not to subdue the nations in the physical absence of Christ Himself. When He returns the nations will be subdued, but until then, we are sojourners and pilgrims (as Peter says in 1 Pet. 2:11), temporary residents, even while we are “a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people...”.
So Where's The Legalism?
OK, now what about the legalism.
Dominionists always divide the Church into those who are active in the takeover of the earth, and those who are not.
It's About Power
And they are very active, though often under the radar, in recruiting whoever they can to accomplish the purpose. It may be government, business, educational institutions, think tanks, even other religions, but with one common theme: power!,.
Whereas God said, “not by might, nor by power, but by My Spirit,” the theme of Dominionism over and over is, “gain the power”. I don’t have the time now to develop this theme, but the result is this:
Dominionism will always have authoritative leaders, often calling themselves Apostles, sometimes Prophets, but always exercising strong authority over the churches and people whom they continuously drive to “expand the kingdom”.
Sometimes it’s in the form of evangelism, sometimes in the form of social good deeds such as fighting poverty or disease, sometimes it’s in the form of the grasping of raw power, through political affiliations and unscriptural yoking with unbelievers.
Invariably, the importance of Biblical truth takes a back seat, and the emphasis is on “expanding the kingdom”, that is, the visible takeover of every aspect of society and power structures like government and other organizations.
In many ways, this is a repeat of the medieval Roman Catholic Church, but without the centralization of power in a single city.
But the results in legalism are very similar. Christianity is often redefined as those who are part of the movement.
Great emphasis is placed on "discipleship", but a form of discipleship that conforms to the authority of the so-called Apostles and Prophets. These self-proclaimed Apostles and Prophets regularly seek control over the lives of their congregations and organizations, sometimes actually choosing whom they should marry or where they should give their money, other times exercising cult-like mind control through various forms of “shepherding” or “discipling”, which puts these members on a constant guilt trip of “expanding the kingdom”.
Maturity, in these groups, is not seen as a growing understanding of Christ Himself, and a deep spiritual relationship with Him, and an understanding and belief in the eternal heavenly things of Scripture.
Maturity is seen as being discipled to “expand the kingdom”, and discipling others to “expand the kingdom” in or to reach the nations in order to rule the nations. All in the name of Christ, of course.
And so we come full circle to Performance-based Christianity, the legalism that Dominionism imposes on its followers. “Good” Christians have their nose to the grindstone of “expanding the kingdom” and “bad” Christians don’t. God really loves and favors those who are “expanding the visible power-gaining kingdom”, and those who aren’t tithing to it, and working hard for it, and praying for it, and recruiting others to do the same, well...let’s just say, they better get on board.
And so while the Dominionism pushes on, there are the bodies of many, leaders and followers alike, who are scattered along the road, wounded and disillusioned, because they failed, fell into moral sin, or simply woke up to the unbiblical nature of “expanding an earthly kingdom of Christ” without Christ, instead of seeking first the spiritual kingdom of God and His righteousness.
Such is always the result of Legalism. Even if the legalist thinks he’s doing pretty well, it only results in pride. But more often it ends in failure, disillusionment, and discouragement.
Please, friends, steer clear of that. Seek first the internal spiritual kingdom of God, and understand the unconditional grace by which He has made you His beloved.
Draw near to Him, commune with Him, be continually filled with His Word, and His Spirit, walk by the Spirit, and God will do His work in and through you, and you don’t have to answer to the marching agenda of any so-called Apostles.