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Sunday, July 26, 2015

Building your house: The value of learning and instruction in the Word

Recently, my pastor approached me about giving a testimony regarding growth in the Spirit through teachings and instruction in the Word, to which I was greatly humbled that he'd consider me worthy of giving a testimony to the congregation.  As humbled as I was, I realized that there's quite a bit on this I needed to think and pray about.  One thing that came to me was growing in the Spirit is much like building your house in Christ.

In Matthew 7:24 - 25, Jesus said, "Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. 25 And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock."

You listen to Jesus' wisdom and His Word, and you'll have a solid foundation for your life that will not be swept away when troubles come.  God will keep you safe if your founding is in Him.  Yet, when I read this, I see the foundation as something basic.  Just like a solid foundation is the most basic and  most important part of an actual house, there's still far more to be built.   And what can be built can vary in size and quality.  

As I've written about before, one of the primary mandates of the church to spread God's Kingdom to all the earth:
17 And when they saw him they worshiped him, but some doubted. 18 And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.  - Matthew 28:17-20
 And one of the ways we extend His Kingdom by letting our light shine:
In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven - Matthew 5:16

And how can we let our light shine? By building a house of beauty and quality that glorifies God.  People will see an inviting house and want to come in.  

So how does one build a beautiful house?  One way is by growing in the Spirit through learning and instruction in the Word.   What's learned is not  just knowledge, but it's the understanding and discernment that comes from knowing the details and the framework of the situations presented in the Bible.  

Consider it similar to the difference of someone like myself who has no idea how to build a house attempting to build one vs an experienced contractor building one.  At best I could build a ramshackle hut out of wood with questionable structural integrity.  Sure, I'd put my best effort into measuring and cutting precisely to build something to be best of my own ability, but ultimately the result of me "doing it on my own" without any instruction, learning, or training would be a rather uninviting house that I'd doubt many would want to live in.  

Yet, if someone were learned in building houses were to make one, you could expect it to not only be built soundly, there'd be more than just wooden walls.  There would be plaster walls, windows, electricity, carpeting, plumbing, and air conditioning just to name a few additional qualities.  

The point being the difference between the two would be quite stark.  One, despite being well built (or as well built as I could do it), would be made of the only the most basic material and could barely be considered a house, let alone something one would consider living in.  The other would be something people would see and want to come in to take a look.  

I've experienced this in my own life a couple different ways.  

The first is one of the things that I'll eternally thank my parents for doing: they enrolled me in a Christian school from kindergarten up to 6th grade.  There were many benefits to this, one of them being I received education in the Bible for all of those years.  Unlike many children who may only get exposure to the Bible during Sunday school, I was exposed to it every school day as well.  I didn't really understand the value of that until I was much older.  No, I didn't become the perfect little boy that built a beautiful house at such a young age to astound all those around me in my piety.  I definitely strayed far and wasn't what I'd call any type of shining example of a Christian life.  But, what it did do was instill a blueprint of right and wrong that stayed with me throughout my life even when I thought I was smarter than the Bible.  I didn't always listen to this sense of right and wrong, but it was always there to convict me when I did something I knew was wrong.  And that blueprint has been key in the building of my own Spiritual house.

The second, and more recent, comes from a New Testament survey class I took at our church earlier this year.  What this class did was provide the context for all the books of New Testament.  Not only who wrote the books, but whom they written to, why they were written, and what was going on at the time they written.  This was beyond valuable to me because while I've always had a decent grasp on certain Bible verses in the New Testament, the difference is about the same as my house building example.  Knowing a specific verse is having just one facet of the passage.  Having the details and the context fleshes it out.  

For example, while the meaning to John 14:6 is not hard to understand, one gets so much more meaning out of it when one knows that Jesus was answering one of the disciple's doubts about not knowing the way to where Jesus was going and that the gospel of John focused on Jesus' divinity.  On top of that, this was happening during Passover where Jesus was drawing closer to his own crucifixion, so Jesus was saying a lot of confusing and very heavy stuff.   And this is just one simple example.  

This type of learning has led to a growth in the Spirit that has allowed me to relate situations in my life easier and recognize patterns of behavior.  It has allowed me to become more mature Spiritually which has allowed me to build a more beautiful house on His solid rock foundation.  There's complexity and detail in all of God's designs and it's easy to gloss over them, and be happy with, the bare basic meaning.  Yet, it's in the details and the framework of these designs where God reveals His wisdom.  

So, if you want to grow Spiritually, learn the Word.  Do not just read it, but really learn about it.   One of the primary sources that was used in our class was New Testament Survey by Merrill C. Tenney, which is very good at explaining the books of the New Testament.  I highly recommend anyone wanting to know the beginnings of our church and what the New Testament is all about to read it in conjunction with the Bible itself.

And lastly, by building a beautiful house for God through learning His word, you will not only be an attractive light for others to extend His Kingdom, but you will also allow God to do more in you.

God Bless.

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Challenging conservatives on the Confederate Flag issue

I'm not one to cowtow to the ongoing onslaught of political correctness.  In fact, I consider political correctness one of the more insidious methods the Enemy uses to suppress to truth.  Truth is truth whether it's optimistic, happy, sobering, uncomfortable or unbearable.  When truth is something the world doesn't want to admit, political correctness swoops in to punish and shame those who speak it.

And I say these things to merely point out that in this particular case I just cannot get behind what appears to be the "conservative" side of this argument.  I'm not trying to add to the cacophony of PC warrior battle cries by any means, but just like a broken clock is right twice a day, occasionally they can be right.  And this is one of those times unless someone, after reading below, can explain it to me.

To many, the Confederate flag is synonymous to the Civil War era south as it was the banner they raised to symbolize the coalition of states that seceded from the Union.  And while there are some that like to believe that the Civil War wasn't about slavery, it ultimately was.  They may say things about state rights or how such a "heavy handed" move would have crippled the south economically, the bottom line is that the south seceded from the Union so they could keep their slave labor force intact.  I could go on more about it, but ultimately the war was over slavery.  The South, represented by the Confederate stars and bars, fought to keep their autonomy that would allow them to keep their slaves.  It symbolizes an act of rebellious defiance to a government that was trying to do the right thing and fix a grievous wrong.  

Don't get me wrong though, rebellious defiance can be a strong quality - if you're standing up in defiance for the right reason.  Standing in defiance to a government that tries to strip away Constitutional rights like today (and no - secession was NEVER a right for any state save Texas) can be seen as virtuous.  Yet, standing in rebellion to maintain a "right" that treats other human beings more like property than human beings has such an evil connotation to it that it's just indefensible.

The conservative side seems to be making the argument that the flag symbolizes Southern Pride and not racism.  Which ok, I can see this point. Those that wave the flag may not be trying to promote racism as much as they are proud Southerners.  But this is where I start to dissent.  Southern Pride, as I understood it, was born out of the residual bitter defiance and resentment the South harbors for their defeat at the hands of the Union.   A spirit of malice and hatred that clings to never repenting their wrongdoing in wanting to keep their slaves directed at the Union that forcibly kept them from doing as such.  

I'm not saying this is what Southern Pride means today.  What I'm saying is it has its roots in the resentment of being forced into not having slaves.  Southern Pride could easily mean just being proud to be from a Southern state, which is perfectly fine.  There's nothing with Southern Pride in that context.

However, when trying to claim that the Confederate flag, a symbol that was born out of the Civil War, is a symbol of Southern Pride, it erases any benign meaning of Southern Pride and links it directly with its roots because you are using a symbol born out of a war over slavery from the side that wanted to keep slaves.  

Yes, it's been a symbol of the South forever even after the war.  But again, it was expressly created to symbolize the group of states that wanted to retain the right to keep slaves.  If one wants to celebrate Southern Pride, that's fine, go for it.  But use a symbol that isn't so directly linked with the heinous act of fighting for the "right" to keep slaves.

If any conservatives can put it in a different perspective, please do so.  I just think this is one fight where many are being contrary to the PC police because it's the PC police and nothing more.  I personally oppose liberal policies and political correctness because it attacks Christianity and has a certain Orwellian deceit that reeks of the Enemy's hand.  And while yes, this issue may indeed be a springboard for other issues such as the ridiculous notion of doing the same thing with the American Flag (which isn't the same issue at all), it doesn't mean the issue doesn't have any merit.

This doesn't mean I believe all the other racial huckster talk about how we've still racist because some areas still wave this flag.  While in many people's eyes the Confederate flag no longer is a banner promoting slavery (and racism), it still is, and always will be, a symbol for the side of a conflict that wanted to keep slavery.  It's not something that should be honored or hallowed.  

If southerns are so keen on celebrating Southern Pride, then pick a new symbol for it.  Something that can represent the movement away from racism and slavery to a unity that represents all things good about the South.