Author: Bruce Pagano II (page 1 of 46)

Does the Counsel You Give Justify or Challenge?

 

Counsel

When I approach a friend for advice, I usually want them to give me a clear answer for what I should do. It always seems easier to not have to wrestle with making the “right” decision. Then, if it happens to not be the right decision, I do not have to be fully responsible for the outcome. But, as easy as that would be, those I count as my best friends never just hand me an answer. And I appreciate them all the more for that.

A Counsel of Friends vs. An Over-Saved Response

The way they do this is instead of just delivering me up an answer, they typically walk with me through the issue. That involves asking a lot of thought provoking questions and sharing perspective. One of the best parts of our interaction is the amount of thought and prayer that goes into their end of the discussion.  And, they never flippantly use scripture as a mask for not knowing what to say. But, because they care about following Jesus well and being Him to others, when God does reveal wisdom through His word, they obediently share it. Which, again, I appreciate.

And when it comes to scripture, we all have a friend that is really, really religious. You know, the over-saved friend. The one whose advice is drenched in scriptural references, most of which  doesn’t even make sense for the issue I am dealing with. Something like, me: “Should I take this job or that job?” Friend: “Jesus said, ‘I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.’” What? In hindsight those are my favorite bits of “scriptural wisdom”, because they are hilarious. If we are honest, we are all guilty of this.

Scriptural Counsel

When an issue comes up, one of the easiest thing to do is throw a few bible verses at it, regardless of whether they are contextually applicable. We all do it, as both the seeker and giver of counsel. As the seeker of counsel, we look to scripture that justifies our behavior or response, rather than letting Holy Spirit speak to our actual need. To be clear, I am all for using scripture as the foundation for the counsel we give. I wish, as a community of believers, we were more dependent on the word of God for how we are to live out our daily lives. How much fuller would our life in Christ, both individually and communally, be if we sought counsel from the word of God on an everyday basis? After all, wisdom begins with the fear of the Lord and understanding comes with knowledge of Him (Prov 9:10). So to be clear, using scripture is not the issue.

Scripture that Justifies

The issue is when we mis-contextualize scripture for our benefit. If you feel like someone has wronged you, how much easier is it to find a scripture that justifies our anger, rather than let God lead you in how to handle it? If you did, the possibility exists that God may require you to let it go, like, to just drop it. Or worse, He might ask you to forgive the offense and reconcile. Those can be jagged pills to swallow. Instead, we recall our favorite scripture verse to justify, rather than challenge. But comfort, in that sense, is never God’s desire for us; Christ-likeness is. And it has always been that idea that has always been the foundation of some of the best counsel I have ever received.

Counsel that Challenges

I do not remember the issue I was dealing with at the time, but I do remember the counsel. Whatever the issue was, my friend’s counsel came in the form of a question. He asked, “Regardless of the situation and how you feel, what actions would honor Christ?” Bam! Hard question to answer if I am looking to justify myself. It brought me to 1 Cor 10:31, which says, “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” If you want a bible verse that can apply to a whole host of issues, this is one. And, while it does not provide an outright answer, it does force you to ask a better question.

Rather than throwing scripture at each other in an attempt to justify, our love for one another ought to compel us to challenge each other toward Christ. I am not suggesting that there is never a time to use scripture to comfort. On the contrary, the Holy Spirit is our ever-present Comforter (John 14:16) and Counselor (John 14:26). There are occasions when it is more than appropriate to use scripture as a healing salve. But, scripture was never intended for use to justify our actions. If we desire to “walk as Christ walked” (1 John 2:6), asking “what would honor Christ”  is a question that we should ask each other often.

 

photo: Flickr/Bill Strain

Loving Your Enemy Requires Radical Love

Radical Love

A few months ago I heard a story about a musician who befriends members of the Ku Klux Klan (KKK). That may not seem like an impressive feat, except that the musician is a black man. His name is Daryl Davis. And, while Daryl did not set out to make friends with a group that outright hates him, because of his skin color, that is what happened. And because of those friendships, hearts are changing and people have departed from the hate fueled and filled group. You can listen to some of Daryl’s story, here.

After hearing Daryl’s story I wondered what type of love prompts this depth of change. It is not clear if Daryl is religious. I also do not know if he would name love as a motivator for his actions. But, regardless of what he calls it, elements resembling love are present. As Christians, it is worth examining what Daryl does and considering it regarding Jesus’ instruction to, “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matt 5:44).

Drawing the Line

When it comes to loving others, the distinction between how you love them and what type of love you offer is often blurry. In meeting needs there does not always need to be a distinction between the types of love offered as long as it originates from Jesus. But, for loving our enemies, we have two options; relevant love or radical love. On the surface it may seem like there is little difference, but there is enough of one that we must acknowledge it. Although subtle, when we look at the definitions of both words we can tease out an important difference.

Relevant means “having significant and demonstrable effect on the matter at hand.” While radical means “relating to or affecting the fundamental nature of something.” Both words cause change, but it is the last part of each definition that makes them different. Relevant “effects the matter at hand” and radical “affects the fundamental nature of something.” The main difference in them is what motivates them and what they change.

Relevant

Relevant love sees a specific need and responds to it. And while responding to needs is important, this love allows the situation to dictate the response. Because of that, when the need changes, the response changes. This love is a waning love. It allows us to decide the seriousness of the need and the level of love to apply. While responding with any love is honorable, this contradicts the love that Jesus instructed us to use with our enemies. Not only is it motivated by a specific circumstance, it only focuses on effecting the person’s behavior. Often, relevant love only changes behavior. And, although the love offered does not always intend to only change behavior, it is unlikely to create deeper change. I am not saying we should not respond to needs, but rather that we should offer love that reaches deeper than surface level needs.

Radical

Radical love does that. When we consider the purpose of the love of Christ, we see a love that changes everything. The love of Christ is so radical that it changes the very core of human nature and creation. Radical love arises out of the understanding that “love covers a multitude of sins” (1 Peter 4:8). Radical love is also the foundation by which Jesus walked out His entire ministry. It was the love that he offered His disciples in the invitation to follow Him. He offered it to the woman caught in adultery. He even offered it to a Roman centurion (His conceivable enemy).

In every case he changed the core of each person and ultimately the very nature of entire existence. Because of radical love, that changed everything, we get to be reconciled to God. And, while Daryl may not describe what he is doing as “offering radical love”, his response to the KKK is unquestionably radical and at the very least, challenging, if not changing, the core belief systems of many.

To be clear, any response with love at its core, is a good response. I would settle for love as a response in every situation, regardless of the type. But, we still need to understand that relevant love responds to changes in the culture and radical love is a change agent within the culture. When it comes to the type of love we are called to as Christians, it is always a love which affects the fundamental nature of creation.

photo: MNU Blog

Jesus Will Walk through the Walls You Build

Walls

Even though we know Jesus is resurrected and lives, at the time of his crucifixion His disciples did not. We can argue they should have known. Jesus was pretty explicit about the events that would occur, but we also have the benefit of hindsight. Nevertheless, after His crucifixion the disciples were consumed with fear and doubt. They likely doubted their belief in who Jesus was. And they likely feared for their own lives. Sadly, Jesus telling at least four people to inform the eleven disciples He was alive did little, if anything, to a lessen their doubt. Then, three days after Jesus’ resurrection, an incident occurs that levels the disciples’ fear and doubt.

Locked in Fear and Doubt

In John 20:19-23 we can see the disciples hiding; hold up in a locked room. The bible says, “…the doors being locked where the disciples were for fear of the Jews…” Then, out of nowhere, Jesus appears. The bible outright says “Jesus came and stood among them”. After seeing all of Jesus’ miracles (remember Jesus raised a man from the dead in front of them), Luke 24:37 records  they were “startled and frightened and thought they saw a spirit”. So, to extinguish their fear and doubt, Jesus showed them the wounds in His hands and side. After alleviating their fear and doubt, Jesus commissioned them for the work of making disciples.

*Little side note: I think Thomas can get kind of an unfair rap for his doubt in Jesus’ resurrection. The other ten disciples’ didn’t believe that Jesus resurrected, despite having being told by four others. They continue to refuse believing until Jesus shows up and shows them His wounds. And, even after they touched His wounds, they still did not fully believe until He opened their minds to the truth of the scripture. Sounds like a deeper level of doubt and still Jesus came to them, quoted their doubts and commissioned them.

The Walls We Build

Walls

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If I am being honest, there have been times in my life that I was one of the people in that locked room. I have read the bible and I know what it says about who Jesus is and how the story ends. Jesus’ words to me, and us, are the same explicit ones He spoke to the disciples. But regardless of hearing those words, fear and doubt still show up. Tragedy has a way of flooding your heart and mind with both. And this is different than unbelief. I’m not fully convinced the disciples were in full blown “Jesus was not the Messiah” mode of thinking. It still seems a far distance for them to go from seeing all of His miracles and confessing Him as Messiah, to complete unbelief. What makes sense to me is they likely struggled with believing what they saw and what Jesus had revealed. Maybe I am wrong and they were in full-blown unbeliever mode, but I have my doubts.

What I do know is that the times when I struggled with doubt, it was never about who Jesus was, as my Messiah. I struggled with being afraid of outcomes and consequences. I struggled with doubting in His provision, goodness and grace. There were times I even doubted whether His love and forgiveness could actually reach the depths of my mistakes. As a result of those doubts and fears, I erected walls and locked doors so that I could close myself and my heart in. I did it as a way to protect myself. But what from? I was trying to protect myself from other, from consequences, and sometimes from God. Walls we build can often be very strong, making it difficult for anyone, even those who love us, to get in. This is never good for us. God did not create us to live inside our walls of doubt.

Does Jesus Walks through Our Walls

When Jesus appeared to the larger group of disciples the bible said He was simply “among them”. I have heard numerous sermons mention Jesus walking though the wall or the locked door. Since the bible does not actually say that, it is mostly conjecture. What is clear is that the disciples were hiding behind a locked door, meaning to keep people out, and Jesus was still appeared among them. There is no reference to Him unlocking the door; I think the door opening would have drawn the disciples’ attention. He just showed up. And that is the same way that He deals with our walls and locked doors. Asking whether Jesus walks through our walls, or locked doors, is the wrong question. A better question is, “Do I recognize Jesus when He appears inside of my walls?”

Jesus Among You

Even in your fear and doubt, Jesus is there; among you. He stands in the midst of your fear and doubt, shows the wounds He endured for you, confirms His love for you, and breaths His Holy Spirit into you (John 20:22). He does everything you need Him to do in order to remove your fear and doubt. The bible tells us, “For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength.” And we find that strength when we receive the truth He reveals and take comfort in His presence, inspire of our walls and doors. Then, we are able to unlock our door and go out into the world, confident in who Jesus is and in who we are in Him.

 

photo: Box of Crayons
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