Thursday

God blesses a righteous man

“Hallelujah. Happy is the man who fears the Lord, who is ardently devoted to His commandments,” Psalm 112: 1, (Jewish Study Bible).

In my commentary before Mother’s Day, I paraphrased Proverbs 31: 10-31. While studying that Scripture, I came across commentary that said that the counterpart for the woman in Proverbs was found Psalm 112, the description of a righteous man.

We often hear about the traits of the wonder woman of Proverbs, but how often do we hear about the super man written about in Psalm 112?

According to Psalm 112, a righteous man loves God’s commandments, he fears, or lives reverently before, the Lord; he is compassionate and gracious; he is generous and lends freely; he conducts his affairs with justice; he is never shaken; he has no fear of bad news because he trusts in the Lord; his heart is steadfast, or prepared, firm and/or established. The righteous man gives to the poor.

Because of his righteousness, the man’s children will be mighty and blessed; he will have wealth and riches; he will be remembered forever; he will have dignity and it will be well known. The righteous man will also see the defeat of his enemies.

At first glance, the verses might lead us to think that happiness is linked to material items and self-fulfillment. That, however, is not the case. Throughout Scripture, true happiness is linked to a right relationship with God. Wealth and riches do not necessarily mean financial blessings. Wealth and riches are a state of mind that is shaped by a right relationship with God, the one who fulfills all of our desires and fills our spiritual emptiness.

Following God’s values and purposes leads to stabilization in life, the New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary said. A stabilized life can lead to financial prosperity, but not always. In any event, with any such increased prosperity, the righteous man remembers those who are less fortunate by giving generously. It is out of his gratefulness to God that he gives to his neighbor.

It is interesting to note that when you get down to basics the same standards are also placed on women in Proverbs 31 as well, “a woman who fears the Lord shall be praised.” According to this Scripture, a man who fears the Lord shall also be praised. God is equal in all his requirements.

For further study, parallel Psalm 112 with Psalm 1, 2 and 111.

Packin' a piece in church




A recent article from christianpost.com reported on a Kentucky church that is celebrating Second Amendment rights by encouraging "responsible hand gun owners" to openly wear their unloaded sidearm in a secure holster to an "Open Carry Celebration." People were asked to bring a friend and a can of food. There was a drawing for a free handgun.

The church has received a lot of flak, so to speak. People are asking whether or not Second Amendment rights are synonymous with following Christ.

Some say that Jesus condemns guns. Others remember Jesus telling his disciples to carry a sword. Some say that Jesus condemned the use of guns by telling Peter to put his sword away during his arrest.

In context, the situation in which Christ told Peter to put away his sword meant "Put that away or you'll get killed!" Also, by fighting the soldiers, the disciples were going against God’s plan.

One person who commented on the christianpost.com story said that he carries a gun to keep peace. Members of the New Life Congregation in Colorado Springs are probably grateful that certain members were "packin' a piece" the day two gunmen decided to shoot up their congregation.

Jesus told his disciples to carry swords in order to protect themselves, so it seems probable that if Jesus lived on earth today he might tell his followers to carry guns for the same reason. One commentary argues that from reading Scripture we do not know if the disciples ever carried weapons, however, this may be because it was a common practice.

"Blessed are the peace makers," Jesus said. For Christians, whether that means packin' a piece or not, being a pacifist or an advocate of just war is up to one's conscience as he or she is guided by the Holy Spirit. Because of the time period in which Scripture was written, the fact that people carried weapons was probably assumed. Scripture speaks against murder and violence, not self-defense.

It was in this light that the framers of the Constitution insisted on the Second Amendment—self-defense.

In the U.S. the decision to carry is synonymous with spirituality because carriers should have a proper view of life and humanity. If we choose to carry, we should do so responsibly with the intention of keeping the peace. Neither side should condemn the other. Carrying a gun does not tell the world whether I am a Christian or not, it’s how I use the gun that matters.

Tuesday

What's up at First Naz

All events are at the church, 10th and Topeka, unless otherwise noted.

Women of Hope ministry is offering a six week bible study led by Pastor Brian. The study addresses women in the bible, as well as examination of some of the scriptures regarding women that are often misinterpreted. The series is held at the home of Holly Lewis, 302 Vista Drive, Swink, Monday evenings at 7:00 PM.

The Women of Hope ministry is sponsoring a Rummage and Bake sale on Saturday, June 20. Proceeds go to the Ladies' Winter Gala fund. Bake sale items can be delivered on Friday between 9:00 AM and 12:00 PM, or Saturday morning before 7:30.

Men's basketball is every Thursday evening at 7:00 PM, in the church gym. You do not have to be a member of the church to play. Everyone is welcome.

Northwest Nazarene University's "Covenant" will be performing in concert June 22 at 7:00 PM. This is a free event and the public is invited. There will be a teen fellowship with eats and games following the concert.

Thursday

Judging: Some advice from Matthew Henry

"Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you" Matthew 7: 1, 2 (NIV).

"Don't judge me" is a common phrase nowadays. It is most often said when one person voices displeasure with or disagrees with the action of another. Seems you can't say anything anymore without someone complaining about being judged. In our society, judging is considered an insolent or impudent act worthy of censure and exclusion.

A long time ago, Jesus told his followers not to judge, but what did he mean? Did he mean that we were not supposed to develop opinions about right and wrong? That we weren't to determine that which is best for us and for those about whom we care?

Not forming an opinion goes directly against the context of Scripture. Forming an opinion is also called discernment. Having discernment helps us judge what is best. If we were not supposed to judge between right and wrong, we would be in a terrible mess. So how am I supposed to approach those with whom I disagree over lifestyle choices?

Matthew Henry, the Puritan preacher who wrote a commentary originally published in 1706, has some good thoughts on this subject. I'll paraphrase them because his language is a little antiquated.

Henry said first that we should only judge our own acts and intentions. We should not take this authority over others because we are supposed to be subject to one another. We must not speak evil of or despise anyone; we must not pass a judgment that results from jealousy, an "ill nature," or a "spirit of revenge."

We must not judge people because of one act, or because of the way they treat us, because (I love this) "in our own cause we are apt to be partial."

Henry also said that judging someone's intentions puts us on God's throne, a place where we definitely do not belong.

So what are we to do? Henry said, "Counsel him, and help him, but do not judge him." To do this, we have to let God kill the pride in our heart. Thinking that we are better than someone else causes us to judge. This is judgment based on sinful pridefulness rather than sensible or rational evaluation of a given fact pattern, and it is this kind of judgmentalism to which I believe Jesus referred. It is that pride that will cause us to fall and fall hard. We should work hard not to allow that pride to rise within us.

Economic downturn? God still takes care of us

For the last year or so, the news has been buzzing about the economic downturn and about how terrible everyone has it financially.

Granted there are people suffering because of the greed of CEOs and the ineptitude of the government bureaucracy, but when this crisis is compared to the Great Depression, I get a little steamed. Only my grandparent's generation truly understands the Great Depression--the lines for food, the 24 percent unemployment rates, cardboard shoes and only having a bowl of ketchup or sliced loaves of bread spread with lard, instead of butter, to eat for dinner.

While some are at this point financially, or are nearing it, it isn't that way for most of us -- and hopefully, they won't get there. Economists are beginning to confirm what was predicted last fall: we are past the worst of it on the broad national scale unless government meddling makes it worse.

In the midst of this crisis churches in general seem to be holding steady on a financial level. A study released by Leadership Network in April 2009 found that "while all churches are closely monitoring their finances, and the situation is worsening for some, in general most churches are cautious but holding steady--and churches that are growing are doing well economically."

According to the survey, churches are still not doing as badly as the economy. A survey of 1,000 randomly chosen Protestant churches, conducted by LifeWay Research, found that the average church saw offerings grow four percent in 2008 and that in January and February 2009, pastors report giving ahead of budget. They are also finding that there are more requests for help from people outside the congregation and that there is a greater excitement about the opportunities to minister to the needy.

Since there are also more requests from people inside the congregation for help, churches are stepping up their efforts in ministry. Instead of holding tight to their pocket books, they are using the recession as a basis for practical ministry. Many churches are offering financial classes, groups or seminars; pastors are preaching sermons on finances and generosity; there are annual stewardship drives; churches are making financial/generosity pamphlets available; they are making volunteer budget/debt counselors available and they are offering increased online/electronic giving opportunities.

Other churches are offering job fairs; symposiums on home foreclosure, accessing unemployment benefits and other public benefits; they are offering classes on starting businesses, practical job search skills, career coaching, first time home buyers classes; financial counseling and are offering food pantries.

This is great. In fact, it goes right along with what John Wesley, the famous English preacher of the 17th century who was responsible for starting the Methodist movement, said, "Without social holiness, there is no holiness." It is because of this saying that when it comes to sharing my faith, I tend to lean toward social action. Nothing shows people that God cares better than meeting a heartfelt need.

However, like Wesley, I do not lean toward this approach entirely.

As a young college student majoring in Sociology and wanting to save the world, I found through my courses and internships that people will not really do well until they have learned to trust God. In my personal life, as I have struggled financially and in other ways, I too have learned that I will not really do well unless I trust God.

Trusting in God and knowing that you are following his will brings a certain peace that trouble cannot take away. Oh sure, there are times when I give in to worry or fear, but the Lord is faithful to bring me back to that center, where peace abides--where he abides.

If we are to minister to the whole person, we must not forget this element as we provide for physical needs. We do not want to be pushy; we want Christ's love to exude from our pores. In this way, we will find that God will meet the needs of people and of our own as well.

Monday

Spiritually mature? Who can tell?

The Barna Group recently ran a survey asking Christians to define spiritual maturity. Their findings say that no one--churchgoers and pastors alike--can really define spiritual maturity. In fact, most churchgoers equate maturity with following rules and don't know what their churches expect from them in terms of spiritual maturity.

Perhaps they don't know because many churches are not prepared to teach or encourage real spiritual growth. Much of the activity we see in churches today tends to center more on validating the status quo rather than probing, challenging "conventional wisdom" and growing spiritually.

Churchgoers defined spiritual maturity as having a relationship with Jesus, practicing spiritual disciplines like prayer and Bible study, living according to the Bible, being obedient, being involved in church and having concern for others.

According to the study, even pastors struggled with defining spiritual maturity and articulated maturity in relation to what activities people did rather than by their attitudes.

I find all of these explanations of maturity inadequate. Anyone can have a relationship with Jesus, God has made it that way. However, there is a growth process involved. Anyone can practice spiritual disciplines and live according to the Bible--would that be regarded as obedient? But we do not live by every rule in the Bible. If we did, we would be stoning those committing adultery and dragging sassy adolescents into court and having them killed. How can we relate Scripture to our postmodern world when the majority of Christians do not truly investigate what it means? Most are satisfied with commentators who agree with their opinions (if they read commentaries), or are satisfied with what they've known for decades.

Anyone can be involved in the church, but that doesn't necessarily mean they are spiritually mature. Ask anyone who's been kicked out of a pew by an old "saint" who had claimed that pew long before the church was built, if everyone is spiritually mature. What about the fighting and bickering that goes on amongst congregation members? Does that reflect spiritual maturity? What about those who criticize the pastor either behind his or her back or to his or her face? Is that spiritually mature?

Having concern for others isn't adequate either. Atheists have genuine concerns for other people too.

So what makes one spiritually mature? I'm not sure. It's one of those things that you know if you see it and you definitely know if you don't see it. Most Christians are growing and one Christian's growth differs from another. Within ourselves, we may excel in one area and then completely blow it in the next. Some Christians are content to go to church on Sundays, yet do not listen to the Holy Spirit. Some hide their lack of obedience well, so defining, or more accurately, labeling someone as spiritually mature can prove difficult.

Nonetheless, I have found that the most mature Christians I know are those who show evidence of the fruits of the spirit (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control) more often than not. As Henri Nouwen said, they also exhibit attributes from the Beatitudes. Spiritually mature people are obedient to the Holy Spirit, even if it means changing some habit or some undesirable aspect about themselves. Love permeates their lives.

A good indication of spiritual maturity is in Proverbs 24: 16: " ... for though (righteous people) fall seven times, they will rise again; but the wicked are overthrown by calamity (NRSV)." The righteous are resilient despite circumstances and always come back to God after they fail. I believe that this resiliency comes from a deep love for God and a desire to please him. Returning, staying faithful, love--in my book that's the mark of a spiritually mature believer.

What do you think? To respond, e-mail me at ljtdchurchnews@gmail.com, or bring in or mail a signed written response to the Tribune-Democrat. Our address is, PO Box 500, La Junta, CO 81050.