Posts Tagged ‘gospel’

Meeting

In my 35 years of working experience I have come to recognize a phenomenon I call The Meeting Culture. Interestingly enough it crosses through the borders of the various regions in which I have been employed, across industries and even informal groups.  It became more salient in the later part of my career in the hospitality industry because I was engaged in trouble shooting challenged operations.  As I refocused my life on ministry and spiritual growth I was somewhat surprised to find the same culture at play within the fellowship of ministry, but then people are people no matter where we are.  Interestingly enough the heart of the culture has its genesis in both settings.

The early church, particularly the early Jewish church experienced a new phenomenon.  The practice of Judaism had long been tolerated by the Romans.  Zealots and radicals were put down but synagogues and temple worship were given a pass by the Latin conquerors.  However this new practice, these followers of Jesus were not content with their own kind and taught intolerance of other religions. Jesus was not just a god among gods, he was the God and the only one worthy of worship by all, not just the Jewish people.  Pack that up with the rumors spread by opponents and Christianity became anathema to 1st century rulers.  Gathering became dangerous.  It came to the point that the writer of Hebrews had to encourage and even mandate that the early believers meet together for fellowship and encouragement in the faith (Hebrews 1:25).  However there is a danger.  One that Paul clearly recognized when he wrote to the Corinthians and condemned their time together as not focused on their faith, “…because you come together not for the better but for the worse.”  He extends this warning in a positive sense when in Ephesians 4 he states:  “And he gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ;”  Ephesians 4:11-12  When the meetings stop resulting in “the work of service to the building up of the body of Christ.” – and this is not your local church body – then it ceases to serve or follow the Gospel.

This is what I found as I started engaging businesses in crisis.  The deeper the crisis, the more meetings they had scheduled.  They would have manager meetings, department meetings, position meetings, strategy meetings, every kind of meeting that you can imagine.  They would plan these meetings, record these meetings and unfortunately never adequately execute anything that came out of these meetings.  In most cases the company had fully executable procedures and policies already in place.  So that raises the question, “What is the purpose, what is the drive for all those meetings?”  It became pretty obvious that even in distressed operations people need to feel successful.  This is what they find in their endless meetings…success.  They are able to have the most successful meetings.  They come out of the meetings feeling like they have made real progress.  They feel like they are fulfilling their purpose and calling.  The focus of success ceases to be the execution of purpose but becomes the discussion and planning of purpose.  However life and business are hard.  So when push comes to shove it is easier to have another meeting than to actually hold oneself accountable for the execution necessary for success.  This was fortunate for me as it kept me employed for a couple of decades.

So how does all this apply to our faith.  Let me be clear the gathering of the Saints is mandated by Scripture and empowered by the Holy Spirit.  The problem is when the meetings instead of focusing our faith become the focus of our faith.  When the center of our faith life is in a building instead of in our hearts; that building becomes a cage for the Gospel instead of a launching pad.  The impetus for this is the same as the meeting focused businesses that I have engaged.  We believe that we can find success in our meetings (services, gathering, experiences….).  We can be holy, inspired and powerful inside those four walls.  We are rarely challenged and often supported inside those four walls (unless we find ourselves challenging the culture inside those four walls!).  We are safe in the practice of our faith inside those four walls.  After the conversion of Emperor Constantine in 312 AD Christianity transitioned from a fringe group of Jesus fanatics to the primary religion of Europe.  It was during this period that a corollary to the Meeting Culture developed.  It is the idea that there are special “professional” children of God who really should carry the weight of the Gospel ( re-read Ephesians 4:11-12).  They get to lead the meetings where we can be so successful.  The newest class of these professional Christians is the worship leader.  Again worship is wonderful, but if the top of one’s life in Christ exists only in the midst of well engineered worship sets, we go back to the problem of the meeting culture in business.  The Gospel is contained, not executed.  The personal satisfaction and alleviation of personal responsibility that this culture provided made it grow.  It was easy to move from a fellowship of equals celebrating and sharing the gospel of redemption both together and in their communities to being a culture of meetings and rituals performed by “professional” Christians and from there to the place where the meeting itself became not only a celebration of salvation but the mode of salvation.

There was a time in my life when I measured the health of my faith by the number of meetings I attended.  This week I went to two church services, Wednesday night prayer, a small group, served at youth group and did the Friday morning prayer card session.  I am rocking for the Lord.  Now none of those things is bad.  Not event the collection is bad.  The fact that I used my attendance as a Spiritual scorecard is bad.  Honestly at that time in my life my immersion in the church was probably necessary to my spiritual formation but God had to rip the scorecard out of my hand.  I am particularly stubborn so my grip on that card was pretty tight.  It took pretty intense situations in my life to move me from a meeting scorecard to a biblical scorecard.  Now I know that you are ready for me to lay out all the check boxes on that biblical scorecard.  Sorry, no such luck.  It does  not work that way.  There are two metrics for the scorecard, the Holy Spirit and the Word of God.

Jesus tells the disciples in Luke 12 that when they are brought to judgement for their faith, “The Holy Spirit will teach you in that very hour what you ought to say.”  Paul uses the Holy Spirit as a scorecard for his words to the Romans in chapter 9, “I am telling the truth in Christ, I am not lying, my conscience testifies with me in the Holy Spirit,…” and in chapter 14 he sets the Holy Spirit as the scorecard for the very kingdom of God, “for the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.”  

David says in Psalm 119:11, “Your Word I have treasured in my heart, That I may not sin against You.” and Jesus uses His Word as the metric for a Hupomone life built on the rock in Matthew 7 as compared to the foolish life of the man who did not act on his Word and built his house on the sand.  This is what we do when we center our lives in the house instead of on the foundation.

Build your faith on the Rock.  Fellowship together with purpose (the Gospel) not as a purpose and you will see the hand of God move in and around you like never before.

But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us. Romans 8:37

 

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“My son, thou art not yet strong and prudent in thy love.”

“Wherefore O my Lord?”

“Because for a little opposition thou fallest away from thy undertakings, and too eagerly seekest after consolation. The strong lover standeth fast in temptations, and believeth not the evil persuasions of the enemy. As in prosperity I please him, so in adversity I do not displease.”

“The prudent lover considerest not the gift of the lover so much as the love of the giver. He looketh for the affection more than the value, and setteth all gifts lower than the Beloved. The noble lover resteth not in the gift, but in Me above every gift.”

Thomas a Kempis, The Imitation of Christ

The strong lover, the fodder of many a dime store novel.  Yet too often the hero or heroine is just the opposite of Kempis’ hero, plunging instead into temptation and believing the persuasion that the fulfillment of lust justifies any behavior.  Jesus is our great example of love.  He is the archetype of hupomone.

5 Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, 6 who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. 8 Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Philippians 2:5-8

Christ stood fast.  He stayed the course to complete a plan that called for the complete sacrifice and abasement of his very being.  He rejected the lies of the enemy time after time.  He rejected that Matthew could never be anything except a crooked tax collector.  He rejected that a girl named Mary Magdalene was too soiled to be of any use to anyone.  He rejected that a woman of Samaria could never serve the Gospel.  He rejected that the human race was not worth the sacrifice.  He rejected that a young man who was raised in the faith but walked away wreaking destruction all around him for 25 years could not turn his life around and become a tool of the Holy Spirit and a man who sees value in imitating Christ.

8 But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.  Romans 5:8

16 “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. John 3:16

As the song says “This is love”.  It stands fast in Truth.  The strong lover is based not in circumstance but based in the Gospel, a love that is truly for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health but its strength transcends the grave.

38 For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 8:38-39

This is the love God has for us and it is the love that is required of any who would be proved a true lover.

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“My son, thou art not yet strong and prudent in thy love.”

“Wherefore O my Lord?”

“Because for a little opposition thou fallest away from thy undertakings, and too eagerly seekest after consolation. The strong lover standeth fast in temptations, and believeth not the evil persuasions of the enemy. As in prosperity I please him, so in adversity I do not displease.”

“The prudent lover considerest not the gift of the lover so much as the love of the giver. He looketh for the affection more than the value, and setteth all gifts lower than the Beloved. The noble lover resteth not in the gift, but in Me above every gift.”

Thomas a Kempis, The Imitation of Christ

The strong lover, the fodder of many a dime store novel.  Yet too often the hero or heroine is just the opposite of Kempis’ hero, plunging instead into temptation and believing the persuasion that the fulfillment of lust justifies any behavior.  Jesus is our great example of love.  He is the archetype of hupomone.

5 Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, 6 who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. 8 Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Philippians 2:5-8

Christ stood fast.  He stayed the course to complete a plan that called for the complete sacrifice and abasement of his very being.  He rejected the lies of the enemy time after time.  He rejected that Matthew could never be anything except a crooked tax collector.  He rejected that a girl named Mary Magdalene was too soiled to be of any use to anyone.  He rejected that a woman of Samaria could never serve the Gospel.  He rejected that the human race was not worth the sacrifice.  He rejected that a young man who was raised in the faith but walked away wreaking destruction all around him for 25 years could not turn his life around and become a tool of the Holy Spirit and a man who sees value in imitating Christ.

8 But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.  Romans 5:8

16 “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. John 3:16

As the song says “This is love”.  It stands fast in Truth.  The strong lover is based not in circumstance but based in the Gospel, a love that is truly for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health but its strength transcends the grave.

38 For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 8:38-39

This is the love God has for us and it is the love that is required of any who would be proved a true lover.

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hupomone

Why Hupomone?  Is it just to sound cool?  Is it to demonstrate that I know a word in NT Greek?  Ok, I have to admit it is partly because it does just sound cool.  God spoke this word to my heart while I was forming a series of short devotionals for radio.  I was engaging the idea of perseverance when I noticed Paul using this word over and over.  If you add the verb form hupomeno, then it appears just short of 50 times.  As I began to dig deeper into the concept (not only used by Paul but also by Luke, James the brother of Jesus, Peter and John in Revelations) I realized that the words so often used in translation only captured part of the idea these men were conveying.  Indeeds sometimes the connotations that we attribute to those word contradict the very heart of the message. So by focusing on Hupomone I stripped away my preconceived notions of what all of those words mean.  This is what I encourage you to do.  God has a very special message for each of us buried in this fairly simple Greek word as it sits within the whole of the Word of God.

“But the seed in the good soil, these are the ones who have heard the word in an honest and good heart, and hold it fast, and bear fruit with perseverance.”  Luke 8:15

Jesus in telling this wonderful parable of the Kingdom of God and the effectiveness of the Gospel tells us a little about those who have pursued the hupomone lifestyle.

  1.  They have heard the Word.  The Gospel is the basic unit of hupomone.  Without the Gospel hupomone does not exist.
  2. They are genuine.  Hupomone cannot be faked.  Hupomone requires an honest and good heart.  Many try to fake it.  They may even believe somehow that they are pursuing truth.  However in the end it is their fruit and the inconsistencies in it that betray them.
  3. They hold fast to the Gospel starting a positive “Crazy Cycle” (Eggerich, Love and Respect).  As the first point states the Gospel is the basic unit of hupomone.  It comes from the God of hupomone, the only one who can say that He is the same, “yesterday, today and forever”  This is the “crazy cycle” of hupomone.  The Gospel seeds hupomone in your life.  Then as you practice it by holding fast to the Gospel it grows, in turn your ability to hold fast grows, the Gospel Grows in you, in turn your ability to hold fast grows….well you get the picture.
  4. They produce fruit.  When all is said and done a hupomone lifestyle produces unmistakable fruit.  It is the fruit of the Spirit.  It is the fruit of life in Jesus Christ.  It is the litany of life qualities that Paul wrote to the Galatians encouraging them to get back on the hupomone crazy cycle.

Unlike so many other things in life, Hupomone is for everyone.  It may look a little different on each one of us but it will always start with the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  It grows when that Gospel is engaged honestly from a good heart.  It creates it’s own crazy cycle of growth and maturity that results in an incredible harvest of Spiritual fruit.

     

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    I always thank my God as I remember you in my prayers, because I hear about your love for all his holy people and your faith in the Lord Jesus. I pray that your partnership with us in the faith may be effective in deepening your understanding of every good thing we share for the sake of Christ. Your love has given me great joy and encouragement, because you, brother, have refreshed the hearts of the Lord’s people. Philemon 1:4-7

    Philemon,  I have to wonder if it is the least read of all the books of the New Testament.  It is unfortunate because it contains one of the most beautiful stories of redemption and reconciliation ever.  The story centers around three men, Paul the Apostle, Onesimus the slave and our subject today Philemon.  Philemon was a leader of the church that met in his home.  This was typical of the early church.  He was also a slave owner, specifically he owned a slave named Onesimus.

    Strangely enough we are not going to focus on the theme of the letter, instead we are going to take a quick look at the man and the qualities that I find qualify him as a hupomone man.

    People pray for him – Specifically in this case Paul.  However if the Apostle Paul remembered Philemon in his prayers I choose to assume that others were also. A true hupmone man inspires prayer by the example that he leads.

    Paul’s words are very specific here.  “I always thank God AS I remember you…”  We might make the mistake of thinking that Paul here is referring to a prayer of thanksgiving for this wonderful man of God.  There would be nothing wrong with this but it is not what he is saying.  Paul is praying for Philemon as he continues his hupomone ministry in Colosse.

    The placement of this phrase immediately following the greeting speaks of the importance that he knows Philemon places on this subject.  The hupomone man values prayer.  He values a life of constant communication with God (1 Thessalonians 5:17) and in this particular case he values the prayers of others on his behalf.

    People talk about him – People talk about the hupomone man.  They don’t talk about the amazing “things” he has accomplished.  They don’t talk about all the books he has written.  They don’t even talk about the incredible ministry that he has built.  “I hear about your love for God’s holy people and your faith in the Lord Jesus…”  They talk about his love for people and his faith in Jesus.  Now don’t get me wrong all of the hupomone men that we have discussed over the last few years in this blog were men of action, but it is the heart and soul that defines hupomone, not the results of that heart and soul.

    He is willing to collaborate – Partnership comes naturally to the hupomone man. I pray that your partnership with us in the faith may be effective in deepening your understanding of every good thing we share for the sake of Christ. The Holy Spirit cultivates collaboration among God’s people, very often among people very dissimilar or with competing priorities.  Consider the struggles of Paul and Barnabas, the motley crew of the twelve disciples.  Jonathon’s future clashed directly with the anointing on David.  The spies at Jericho and Rahab had so little in common yet together they brought down a city and brought forth the Messiah!  These collaborations serve to deepen our understanding of the faith.

    He cultivates joy and encouragement – If the joy of the Lord is his strength, the hupomone man likes to spread his strength around. Your love has given me great joy and encouragement. It is the essence of the Holy Spirit flowing out of him to those around that extinguishes fear with encouragement that is not tied to circumstances but to the source of all hupomone, God Himself.

    He refreshes – The word that Paul uses here is the same word that is used to quote Jesus when he said, “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest” Matthew 11:28.  The hupomone man is quite simply allowing the very basic qualities of his Lord and Savior flow out of him.  He calls out to those around him to cease their futile labors. Anapaow is an emphasized form of the Greek word for pause.  Literally it is an “up pause”.  The presence of a hupomone man brings “up pause”.

    Paul gives us a snapshot of the hupomone man.  It is the mirror for Philemon to look into as he stepped into a personal and cultural challenge.  Onesimus, his slave/property had run away.  Potentially he had stolen from Philemon as well.  Somehow this run-away slave met up with Paul in Rome.  Onesimus became a brother in the faith and told Paul what had occurred.  Paul sent Onesimus back to Philemon instigating a journey in faith and hupomone living for both of them.  Scripture leaves us to our own interpretation of the outcome of the journey, but church tradition tells us that some years later Philemon and Onesimus are martyred side by side proclaiming the Gospel message and establishing them both as hupomone men.

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    Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God.  Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love.  God’s love was revealed among us in this way: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him.  In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins. Beloved, since God loved us so much, we also ought to love one another.  No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God lives in us, and his love is perfected in us.

    1 John 4:7-12

     

    Someone that I have come to know a little and respect a lot recently said this to me. “You don’t know how to be well loved.”  As I absorbed this statement its truth resounded, echoing in my heart and mind.  Some time has passed since this discussion and the Holy Spirit has brought this statement to me again and again.  That gently nagging voice in my heart that tells me it is time to “grow up  in every way into Him” (Ephesians 4:15) a little more.

    Our Christian world is full of songs, sermons and teaching that God loves us and that we should love others.  However many of us miss the corollary that should be implicit and perhaps explicit in the consideration of God’s love.  Not only must we learn and be transformed into creatures that love well.  We must also learn and be transformed into creatures that are well-loved.  One might think that this is easy and requires no effort but the reality is that this may be even more difficult than loving others.  It requires a tremendous amount of vulnerability.  In fact it requires complete vulnerability to God.  Absolute surrender is integral to the competency of being well-loved.  It is amazing how tightly we will hold on to compartments of our life, locking them away from God’s loving and merciful view.  Given this propensity to wall God out it ceases to be amazing that we keep His people, those called to love us as He does, at arm’s length.  We deal in platitudes.  We segregate our lives.  Love me in the sanctuary, pray for me there, lay hands on me, pat my back and say “love ya brother”, but don’t reach into my life; into my real need.

    Satan whispers in our ear that being well-loved is just being needy, being weak.  He whispers that we don’t deserve it anyways, that we must strive harder, do more, be better before we can open ourselves up to being well-loved.  Some of us just have absolutely no idea what  being well-loved means.  As I considered this topic I felt drawn to two biblical characters, Peter and John.  Peter loved well, he loved with passion, with energy, with action.  Peter believed in his love for Jesus more than he believed in Jesus’ (hence God’s) love for him.  Don’t get me wrong, Peter’s passionate love for Jesus is a great example to us all and even though it landed Peter in hot water more than once it also energized him to Spiritual insight and action when others were frozen in fear or indecision.

    It always puzzled me that John referred to himself as the disciple whom Jesus loved.  It seems a little egotistical as a major theme in the Gospel.  What is the message?  Did Jesus play favorites?  Does God love some of us more than others?  I think that this lesson of learning to be well-loved is a framework that we can set over this idiosyncrasy of John’s Gospel and draw a real Spiritual lesson.  John understood what it meant to be well-loved first by God and by his brother’s and sisters in Christ.  “In this is love, not that we loved God but that He loved us”.  “Beloved since God loved us so much, we also ought to love one another”.  I find it no coincidence that the disciple “whom Jesus loved”, the disciple who understood and practiced being well-loved was at the foot of the Cross with Mary the Mother of Jesus, while the other disciples were cowering in fear.  “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love.”  1 John 4:18

    Teleios, the Greek word translated “perfect” here actually has the connotation of complete, mature or full-grown.  The person who understands Teleios love understands how to be well-loved, first by God and then by brothers and sisters in Christ.  It is out of this understanding that loving well grows into it fullness and the circle of Teleios love is complete.  I am here to tell you that the Spiritual discipline (and I believe it is exactly that) of being well-loved is not easy.  The chasms of pride and entitlement drop off on each side of this narrow path.  It is only through the transforming, maturing power of the Holy Spirit (often working through the words and deeds of God’s people) that we can walk the trail of being well-loved.

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    PrayerJust

     “With all prayer and petition pray at all times in the Spirit, and with this in view, be on the alert with all perseverance and petition for all the saints, and pray on my behalf, that utterance may be given to me in the opening of my mouth, to make known with boldness the mystery of the gospel,”  Ephesians 6:18,19

    The next aspect of the Hupomone man that we see in Daniel’s story is prayer.  I really believe that Daniel and Paul are just chillin’ together up in heaven.  Their lives mirror so many of the same qualities.  Prayer is just one more of those qualities that we see emphasized both in the epistles of Paul and the book of Daniel.

    “Now when Daniel knew that the document was signed, he entered his house (now in his roof chamber he had windows open toward Jerusalem); and he continued kneeling on his knees three times a day, praying and giving thanks before his God, as he had been doing previously.”  Daniel 6:10

    Prayer was important to Daniel.  In fact it was so important that 1.  The value that he placed on it was clearly visible to all, even his enemies.  2.  When his enemies laid a trap by effectively outlawing prayer Daniel risked everything to continue this vital communication with God.  Daniel had learned through his life that connecting with God on  a regular basis was key to his relationship with him.  Daniel was probably in his mid-sixties by this time.  I can only imagine that he had learned the importance of prayer through his many years of experience.  Perhaps there had been times when the duties of his high administrative/political office had impacted his prayer life and he had felt the Spiritual staleness that comes when we let circumstances push God to the edges of our lives.  He knew that no matter what, he had to spend his time with God each day, every day regardless of the consequences.

    Daniel not only valued prayer as an daily part of his life but also as a path to resolution for the concerns/problems that arise.  He also valued the power of corporate prayer.  He called on his godly companions to stand with him before the throne of God.

    “Then Daniel went to his house and informed his friends, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah, about the matter, in order that they might request compassion from the God of heaven concerning this mystery…” Daniel 2:17-18

    Daniel is joined by our great example of the Hupomone man in his dedication to prayer.  Prayer was at the heart of Jesus’ ministry.  We are given two wonderful complete examples/models for prayer by our Lord and Savior in the Gospels.  The first is of course The Lord’s Prayer,

    Our Father who is in heaven, Hallowed be Your name. Your kingdom come. Your will be done, On earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And do not lead us into temptation, but deliver us from evil. [For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever. Amen.]   Matthew 6:9-13

    The Gospel of John gives us a more comprehensive example of Jesus praying, not as a lesson, but interceding before God for His children in chapter 17.   Throughout the Gospels Jesus makes prayer a salient aspect of His ministry.  He spends extended times in prayer before important decisions or events.  He withdraws from his active ministry repeatedly, just to spend time with His Father.  Paul understood the importance of prayer in securing rest, peace and joy,

    Rejoice in the Lord always ; again I will say, rejoice !  Let your gentle spirit be known to all men. The Lord is near. Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.  And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.  Philippians 4:6

    Prayer is not a requirement or a chore that must be accomplished daily to keep us in God’s good graces.  Paul certainly did not see it that way and I don’t believe that Daniel did either.  Prayer is a great privilege.  Prayer for the Hupomone man or woman (who is in it with God for The Long Haul) is a way of life.

     

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