Urban Organic Function (1)

The function of the church in large urban centers is different than the social environment of rural areas. Since the members of the body in urban centers are faced with special problems in reference to remaining in contact with one another, we believe the Holy Spirit recorded for us a situation of organic dysfunction in the historical context of the early church. The “neglect of widows” was the ideal example to illustrate some of the obstacles the members of the body in urban centers must overcome in order to fulfill the mandate that widows are to be a part of the contribution of the church in any particular city (See Js 1:27). We are sure that the Jerusalem church fell short in other areas of function. However, dysfunction in the area that identified the fellowship of the one body was critical. The care for widows and orphans defined the church as an organic body that has the heart of God for people (See 1 Jn 3:10-24). For this reason, the Holy Spirit moved the mind of Luke to record this historical case of dysfunction in order to give us solutions on how to function as the organic body, even in the complexities and complications of large urban centers.

A. Identifying dysfunctions:

The first lesson we learn from this historical incident is in reference to a dysfunction in the organic body in concerning widows. Because the members of the church in Jerusalem were meeting in different homes throughout the city did not justify this dysfunction. It seems that some Hebraic groups had become so autonomous from one another that the Grecian widows actually became anonymous from them. Regardless of the cause, the dysfunction had to be corrected.   Solutions had to be made in order to correct this dysfunction in the entire body in Jerusalem.

Keep in mind that the dysfunction in distribution to the Grecian widows was realized because there were those who saw it as dysfunctional behavior among all the members of the church in Jerusalem.   They realized that the organic function of the body among all the members who were assembling in the approximate 800 groups throughout the city was actually behavior that was not worthy of the gospel. It revealed that some were not living in a manner that was worthy of the gospel that brought all them together into one body in Christ.

Great shepherds among us will always know their Bibles well enough to identify areas where we are not functioning according to the gospel. And when they speak out concerning dysfunctional body behavior, the body must listen. This is the focus of Paul’s instructions to the elders of the body. In listing qualities that the shepherds must have, Paul wrote that “an elder must” hold “fast the faithful word as he has been taught, so that he may be able by sound teaching both to exhort and refute those who contradict” (Ti 1:9). In the context of the Acts 6 dysfunction, though not mentioned, there may have been elders who initially brought the matter before the apostles.

Do not be surprised that we suggest that there were designated elders among the disciples at this time in the history of the church in Jerusalem. Paul and Barnabas designated elders in the cities of Lystra, Iconium and Antioch when the older Jewish men in these cities were only about six months in the faith.   Simply because Luke does not mention elders in the historical narrative of Acts before Acts 11:30 is not proof that there were no elders in the Jerusalem church.

The matter of dysfunction in distribution was brought before the apostles only because the apostles were still in the city at the time. The disciples, including possibly the elders, wanted to bring the “neglect problem” before the apostles in order to determine if there was any revelation from the Holy Spirit on this subject (See At 2:42). Since the church was in existence from three to four years by the time we get to Acts 6, it would be reasonable to conclude that some Jewish elders had been converted. This would be a valid assumption, especially in view of the fact of what was stated in Acts 5:7, that a great number of the priests were obedient to the faith. It would be logical to think that there were designated elders among the several thousand Christians in Jerusalem at the time.   Either these elders, or some other concerned members, identified the neglect of the Grecian widows to be a flaw in the organic function of the body. They knew the truth of God on this matter well enough to know that the “neglect problem” had to be corrected.

[Next in series, September 19]

 

Dysfunctional Challenges

From the beginning in Acts 2, the number of saints in Jerusalem grew from an initial infusion of 3,000 gospel obedient members—some of whom were traveling visitors for the Passover/Pentecost feast who later went home—to well over five thousand men three to four years later who were local residents (See At 4:4). These members were meeting in homes throughout the metropolitan area of Jerusalem at the time Luke inscribed the historical statement of Acts 4:4. If the 5,000 men of Acts 4:4 could be doubled to include the same number of women, and then conservatively add about two children per family, then by the time Luke made the statement there could have been well over 20,000 individuals of the church of Jerusalem within three or four years after the events of Acts 2.

Since there were no church buildings, civic halls, or public schools in which these Christians could meet on Sunday morning, of necessity they met in their homes. (The meetings outside in the temple courtyard of Acts 5:42 were evangelistic, not worship assemblies of the saints). The point is that the saints were meeting in homes throughout the city by the time of the dysfunctional distribution to widows that is recorded in Acts 6:1-6.

If we would suppose there were an average of about twenty-five people who could meet in any particular home in Jerusalem, then this would be an approximate number of 800 assemblies of the disciples in different homes throughout the city. Because of our experience with the disciples meeting in homes, people of like mind often gravitate to those with whom they feel comfortable. For example, those who speak a common language naturally gravitate to those house churches where a common language is spoken.

This would only be natural. In a small social environment the most inner feelings of one’s heart can be expressed only in one’s native language. And when there is only an average of about twenty-five people in the group meetings in Jerusalem, it was simply a natural thing that there be a common language that was spoken in each small house assembly.

We have found that most Bible interpreters forget this very important historical setting of the early church in all the cities of the Roman Empire where there were Christians. Because Bible interpreters have ignored the house assembly context and function of the early disciples, they often do not understand completely contexts as Acts 6 in the historical setting of the times.

When we step into the historical context of Acts 6, the Grecian Jews who spoke Koine Greek were meeting in homes that spoke primarily the Greek language. These were Jews who evidently grew up in Greek-speaking areas outside Jerusalem, but later migrated to the metropolitan area of Jerusalem. And since they were probably migrants to the area, then they were possibly living in the lower economic suburbs of the city because they were not connected to the established financial heritage of the local resident Jews, which Jews spoke Hebrew, or Aramaic.

Those local resident Jews who spoke Hebrew, or Aramaic, were meeting in homes that spoke the common local language, possibly homes that were in the upper economic or established suburbs of the city.   Because the approximate 800 assemblies were conducted throughout different suburbs of the city, we would certainly assume that none of the members of the 800 assemblies knew all those who met in all the assemblies. This would especially be true if the house groups were located in different economic suburbs of the city. It would simply be unreasonable to think that all the members knew the approximate 20,000 plus individuals of the church of Jerusalem during the three to four years since the beginning in Acts 2. This would particularly be true because of the rapid growth of the church in Jerusalem, especially since Luke makes the point of growth when he introduced the problem of the neglected widows (At 6:1).

In small groups people naturally have a tendency to bond closely with one another. Those of a common language and culture simply gravitate to one another, and subsequently bond around their common means of communication. There is nothing abnormal about this. It is simply the way God made us. We can imagine, therefore, how difficult it would have been for many of the disciples in Jerusalem, who did not share a common language or culture, to know those of different languages or cultures. This would especially be true if there were new converts in many different suburbs of the city, and thus, many new assemblies in the city since the initial Pentecost three to four years before.

This would be a particular challenge for those groups in the upper economic, or locally cultured suburbs of the city, to know those of the lower economic suburbs. There were simply too many groups and too many differences for all the saints to know all the saints. This seems to be the historical setting that led to the dysfunction that is recorded in Acts 6. The Grecian Jewish widows were being “neglected in the daily distribution of food” because they were not known by the groups who were taking care of their own widows (At 6:1).

We do not know all the reasons for this neglect, but for some reason the lack of fair distribution was occurring among the disciples in Jerusalem after three or four years from the beginning of the church in Acts 2. Understanding how the early church solved the problems does give us a great deal of information concerning how the early disciples allowed the gospel to move them as an organic body. The occasion also provides us with a “mission textbook” on urban evangelism.   Jerusalem was a typical multiple cultural city of the ancient world. The organic function of the church in the city, therefore, provides a great deal of information on how the organic body of Christ should function in urban centers.

[Next in series, September 16]

 

 

 

Learning from Dysfunctions (2)

Sometimes we spend so much time in the New Testament discussing, or debating, doctrinal points that we often fail to investigate the function of the early disciples as the organic body of Christ. In our quest to discover and implement doctrinal purity, we often overlook those areas of behavior where some early disciples dysfunctionally lived the gospel they had obeyed. Even more striking in our dichotomous religiosity in these matters, we are zealous in bringing an individual to the point of salvation, but while he is still dripping wet, we fail to enlist the baptized believer into the ranks of the organic army of God. The Holy Spirit wanted to exhort some in the Philippian church in this matter by reminding them that their behavior as disciples must always reflect the gospel that they obeyed: Only let your behavior be worthy of the gospel of Christ (Ph 1:27).

Since our behavior as Christians must reflect the gospel that we have obeyed, then it is imperative that we study in the New Testament those examples where the Holy Spirit recorded dysfunctions in the organic body. We must turn to the record of what was recorded with the same zeal by which the Holy Spirit encouraged the early disciples to consider the Old Testament examples. “For whatever things were written before [in the Old Testament] were written for our learning (Rm 15:4).   The same exhortation was written to the disciples in Achaia: “Now these things happened to them [the Israelites] as an example, and they were written [in the Old Testament] for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the ages have come” (1 Co 10:11).

Organic dysfunctions of the body of Christ in the first century were not recorded by the Holy Spirit for the simple purpose of filling in historical material of the early church. The record of these dysfunctions in the body is in our hands today for a purpose. Since all inspired Scripture is “profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and instruction in righteousness (2 Tm 3:16), then we would correctly assume that the Holy Spirit would record examples in the New Testament that we could examine, which examples illustrated dysfunctional behavior on the part of some early disciples. We must assume, therefore, that these recorded examples of dysfunctional behavior on the part of some were recorded for our correction and instruction in righteousness.

We must never allow all the noise that hovers around debates over doctrine to draw our attention away from examples of organic dysfunctions that reveal we may not be worthy of the gospel we obeyed. For example, we have found that we are quite hypocritical in this matter in reference to the Lord’s Supper. We will strive over matters surrounding the Lord’s Supper, when the Holy Spirit says at the same time, “Do not strive about words to no profit” (2 Tm 2:14). We divide over the Lord’s Supper that was instituted to remind us that we are one united body because of our common obedience to the gospel (1 Co 10:16,17). We sometimes become hypocritical humbugs in these matters.

The Holy Spirit wanted us to understand that when He recorded dysfunctional behavior on the part of the early disciples, He wanted us to be reproved by the examples of bad behavior. And in being reproved, He wanted us to refrain from such dysfunctional organic behavior that does not reflect the full power of the gospel in our lives.

The Spirit said this clearly through the pen of Paul: “If you then were raised with Christ [through obedience to the gospel], seek those things that are above” (Cl 3:1). The word “seek” in this statement goes far beyond mental assent.   Reference is to letting our behavior be worthy of the gospel of Christ (Ph 1:27). When our minds are focused on the resurrected and reigning Son of God, then we are encouraged to behave in a manner that is worthy of the gospel. We will thus “put to death … fornication, uncleanness, passion, evil desire,” etc. (Cl 3:5). In contrast to such dysfunctional behavior as members of the body of Christ, we will put on “a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, longsuffering; forbearing one another and forgiving one another” (Cl 3:12,13).

It is through the power of the gospel that our lives are transformed from worldly behavior that is dysfunctional according to the gospel. The organic body of Christ functions at its best when all the members put away the dysfunctional behavior that is typical of worldly behavior. Paul’s exhortation to the members of the body in Rome was not without his initial reminder that he was not ashamed of the power of the gospel that would not only save, but would also transform behavior (Rm 1:16):

“Be not conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind [that is focused on things above], so that you may prove what is the good and acceptable and perfect will of God” (Rm 12:2).

With the preceding thoughts in mind, we must establish a very important foundation upon which to interpret the historical statements concerning the function of the organic body of Christ that are recorded in the New Testament. We must not assume that the recorded historical accounts of the function of the body were arbitrarily placed in the New Testament by the Holy Spirit simply as statements of history. To do such would be assuming that the Holy Spirit simply wanted to give us an historical record of the early church. But in this history, there were dysfunctions of the organic body. We must assume that the Spirit wanted us to learn from the dysfunctions, as well as those times when the early disciples’ lives were worthy of the gospel. Therefore, we must look deeper than the record itself.

We would correctly assume that all historical statements that are recorded in the New Testament are there for the purpose of teaching something greater than the historical statement itself. In other words, we must look beyond the record of the historical events in order to understand what the Holy Spirit was seeking to teach through the function of the incident that is recorded. Since the early gospel-obedient believers sought to live a life that was worthy of the gospel of Christ, then we must seek to understand where they failed in those areas of function that were not according to the gospel.

Since an encyclopedia could have been written by the Holy Spirit to give an account of all the activities of the early church, we must assume, therefore, that those cases that are given were recorded for the purpose of teaching specific lessons. This was the Holy Spirit’s approach in recording key miracles in the life of Jesus.

“Jesus did many other signs in the presence of His disciples that are not written in this book. But these are written so that you might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God …” (Jn 20:30,31).

When come to the book of Acts, we must assume “that many other things happened in the early function of the church that are not recorded, but these events were recorded to teach how we should live according to the gospel.” We therefore come to both correct functions and dysfunctions of the organic body of Christ that are recorded in the New Testament—specifically the book of Acts—with the understanding that these historical accounts were meant to teach how we should live according to the gospel.

[Series to be continued.]

Dysfunctional Organs (1)

“Apartheid” is an Afrikaans word—the language of South Africa—that means “separateness.” The practice of racial and cultural apartheid found its legal roots in South Africa when a system of institutionalized racial segregation was introduced within society in 1948. From that date the system was maintained by the authoritarian political power of one group of citizens over the citizenship of the rest of the country.

The practice of apartheid within South Africa resulted in a system of dysfunctional social stratification, which social system legally prevailed until the early 1990s. However, even after the writing of a new constitution that did away with all the apartheid laws, the embedded social behavior of apartheid continues to this day among all social groups of the country. It is a system of dysfunctional social behavior much like the caste system of India that lingers on today, though the legal restrictions are long gone. Social changes continue long after the demise of legal statutes that seek to regulate society contrary to the principles of the word of God.

We live with the legacy of the dysfunctional social injustice of apartheid even to this day in South Africa. But before we target and criticize South Africa for her brief history of apartheid, we must remember that apartheid has always existed throughout the world. The experts use the word “ethnocentrism” to identify the foundation upon which separateness within societies often prevails. Without the principle of “love-your-neighbor-as-yourself,” apartheid is simply the legalization of ethnocentrism. If we take away legalized apartheid, we still of behave as segregated citizens within a society because of different skin colors or cultures.

We originally began the writing of this book in order to deal with dysfunctional behavior systems among the early disciples.   But the more we focused on the dysfunctional behavior patterns of the early disciples, the more we began to realize that apartheid was strong in the first century, and subsequently found its way into the organic function of the early church. When it came into the fellowship of the church, organic dysfunction resulted because apartheid is against the very core of the gospel.

Apartheid among Christians is contrary to the spirit of the gospel. When Paul wrote to the Philippians, “Have this mind in you,” he took the Philippians, and us, on a journey of the Son of God across cultural boundaries (Ph 2:5).   Jesus illustrated in His gospel mission that unless He transitioned the separateness between God and man that would eventually lead to the total annihilation of humanity for eternity, He had to destroy the “apartheid” between God and man (See Is 59:2). He had to set an example of a cross-cultural journey that would bring all men of society together into the fellowship of one body. This is gospel.   Therefore, for those who have obeyed the gospel of the Son of God, there can be no apartheid between those who have come into the fold of God’s gospel-obedient people. Because He so loved the world, the Son of God left the culture of heaven in order to cross over into our culture. He did so in order to reconcile all of us together into the united family of God. We must never forget that only in Christ can the following social order prevail over our natural instincts of apartheid:

For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek. There is neither bondservant nor free. There is neither male nor female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s seed and heirs according to the promise.

 Galatians 3:26-29

 

 

The Right To Happiness (3)

D.  Happy people are incurably optimistic.

Angelo Siciliano was a ninety-seven pound (44 kilogram) runt at the age of sixteen. He was bullied around by classmates, pushed around by friend and foe alike. As any physically weak and small teenager, life was not the best. However, one day he saw the statues of Apollo and Hercules in the Brooklyn Museum in New York. These images of two Greek gods formed an image in his own mind as to what he wanted to be. He immediately bought a newspaper and started exercising according to an exercise program that was printed in the newspaper. He eventually developed his own exercise program. He took control of his destiny through exercise. A few years later, his dreams were realized. We know him today as Charles Atlas.

Pessimism and unhappiness are twins. Numerous surveys have been conducted concerning the mental state of those who are successful in the business world. Every survey concludes that optimistic, cheerful business people who always look on the bright side of things are more successful than pessimistic business people. Successful people are optimistic about the future. On the other hand, pessimism produces unhappiness and unhappiness produces dis – ease, or better, disease.

Dr. Maxwell Maltz once wrote of a businessman who told him, “I have just lost $200,000 on the stock market. I am ruined and disgraced.” Maltz then said to the man. “It is a fact that you lost $200,000. It is your opinion that you are ruined and disgraced.”

Happy people never add their opinion to the circumstances. They are simply optimistic about the future. The great inventor Thomas Edison once lost a multimillion dollar laboratory in a fire.   Someone asked him immediately after the fire, “What will you do now?” Mr. Edison replied, “We will start rebuilding tomorrow morning.”   When things look bad, focus on good things to come. Truly happy people are incurably optimistic about the future. They always look on the bright side of things. And by looking on the bright side of things, things that are good are happening in their lives.

E.  Happy people allow the Lord to be their God.

Last and most important of all, the road to genuine happiness begins with faith that God is here. There is no truly happy atheist. A truly happy atheist is an oxymoron. No atheist can rejoicefully say, “Thank God I’m an atheist.”

 Happy are the people whose God is the Lord!” (Ps 144:15). It’s true. “Happy is he who has the God of Jacob for his help, whose hope is in the Lord his God” (Ps 146:5). “… whoever trusts in the Lord, happy is he” (Pv 16:20). When God is our Lord, we have laid the foundation for true happiness. It is for this reason that the materialist never reaches for that which he or she strives. Someone once said, “Be poor and sleep well. Be rich and sleep restlessly.” If we make riches our god, this god will not bring the serendipity of a good night’s rest. If God is our Lord, we will have the peace of mind that passes all understanding.

Paul wrote, “Do not be anxious for anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus (Ph 4:6,7). Those who trust in God have One to whom they can go for help. Just knowing that all things are working together for good brings an unexplainable sense of tranquility. And this we know: “… we know that all things work together for good to those who love God …” (Rm 8:28). Only those who truly believe in God can reap the emotional peace of mind that comes from statements as Jesus to His disciples, “Let not your heart be troubled. You believe in God, believe also in Me” (Jn 14:1). Believers can come to Jesus for peace of mind. They will answer His plea. “Come to Me all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.   Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls” (Mt 11:28,29).

Happy people believe in God. They are thus obedient to His will. Their obedience brings peace of mind. And in peace of mind there is true happiness. Solomon was right. “… happy is he who keeps the law” (Pv 29:18). It is as Jesus said. “Happy are they that hear the word of God and keep it” (Lk 11:28 – TEV). It is true, therefore, that the happiest people in the world are those people who believe in God and submit to His will. Their happiness is founded on what is yet to come, not what is only in this life. If you would be happy in the truest sense, you must focus on God and what He has prepared for those who love Him. And what He has prepared for the righteous is an eternal home of glory in His presence. This is the hope and happiness of the righteous sons of God.   Always remember the following words that are from God to encourage each of us:

The Lord bless you and keep you;

The Lord make His face shine upon you,

And be gracious to you;

The Lord lift up His countenance upon you,

And give you peace.

(Nm 6:24-26).

The Right To Happiness (2)

B.  Happy people live to serve others.

On the eve of His encounter with the cross, and in the presence of disciples who anxiously shuffled in His midst, Jesus took a towel, stooped to the floor, and washed twenty-four dirty feet, 240 grimy toes.   He knew that when the disciples finally got the point after His resurrection, they would understand what He meant in John 13:17. “If you know these things, happy are you if you do them.” “These things” refers to His humble service to others, even washing dirty feet, and finally dirty souls. It is only through servitude that we discover the secret to happiness. To feel good you must do good.

Why is it that on our way to the hospital to visit a friend we argue with God? We reason that we have other important things that we could be doing. However, once there, and after a prayer and simple chatter, on our way from the hospital we feel a sense of happiness? We grumble in service but we rejoice when the service is accomplished. Rejoicing after an act of service should enlighten us to the way we are wonderfully made by God. Service brings happiness, a sense of “well done.” Only when we put our hands to work will we be able to raise our hands in rejoicing. This is the way God created us.   You do good and you will feel good.

Solomon was right. “He who despises his neighbor sins; but he who has mercy on the poor, happy is he (Pv 14:21). Christians can rejoice in the Lord always because they are always in service to others. Galatians 6:10 was not written as a simple legal act to accomplish a supposed meritorious salvation. “Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all men, especially to those who are of the household of the faith.” This statement was written in order to reflect the nature of true Christianity and in order to exemplify in the lives of Christians what Jesus said, “If you know these things, happy are you if you do them (Jn 13:17).   Christians are happy, not because they are commanded to be so, but because of what they do. The serendipity of service is always happiness.

Dr. Maxwell Maltz wrote in his best selling book, Psychocybernetics, that people must focus on others in order to be happy within themselves. “One of the most pleasant thoughts to any human being is the thought that he is needed, that he is important enough and competent enough to help and add to the happiness of some other human being.” This truth is reflected in the words of Paul to the Ephesian elders, “I have showed you all things, that by laboring as this you must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how He said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive’” (At 20:35). It is more blessed to give simply because one receives the inner satisfaction of happiness when giving things rather than receiving things. I understand from this principle of Jesus that receiving or acquiring things is less blessed than giving things to others.   If you would be truly happy, therefore, you must be a giver. The more you give, the happier you are.

C.  Happy people focus on good.

In McGuffey’s Stories for children, there is the story of the Old Clock. The Old Clock ticked away until one day it started thinking about all the ticks it had to do for an entire year, a total of 31,560,000 ticks. As he concentrated on that tremendous number of ticks, discouragement set in, and finally, he ceased ticking. After some silence, the Old Clock thought for a moment. “How much effort is there in making only one tick?”   He then proceeded to make one tick.   “Not so bad.” Then two ticks were made in succession. Then three. Then one hundred. And finally, the Old Clock was back to ticking, thinking on only one tick at a time.

Some poet inscribed,

Don’t you trouble trouble;

Till trouble troubles you.

Don’t you look for trouble;

Let trouble look for you.

The problem with life is that we often look for trouble. We go to too many pity parties.   But it would be good to remember what the Holy Spirit wrote in Philippians 4:8. “Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are honest, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue, and if there is any praise, think on these things.”

It is not natural to remember bad experiences.   Think for a moment. Our minds naturally remember good things that happened to us in the past. We remember great experiences with people, events that brought us happiness and joy.   Our minds naturally suppress bad experiences, but focus on good experiences. Yes, we do forget the bad of the past. This is the way God made us. It is only natural to think on that which is good. So if it is natural to think on the good, then that is exactly what we must do. Our present happiness must not be determined by our past library of bad experiences.   Our minds naturally do not want us to determine our present state of mind by our past experiences. You cannot build a happy present state of mind over guilt of things in the past. Just do what Paul said, “I count not myself to have laid hold. But one thing I do, foregetting those things that are behind and reaching forward to those things that are before” (Ph 3:13).

Neither should our present happiness be determined by our present environment or circumstances. Unfortunate circumstances should not determine our inward state of mind. Dr. Matthew N. Chappel wrote, “Happiness is purely internal. It is produced, not by objects, but by ideas, thoughts and attitudes which can be developed and constructed by the individual’s own activities, irrespective of the environment.” True happiness is internally developed, not externally controlled.

Focusing on that which is good destroys worry about tomorrow. Matthew 6:34 is more than an exhortation. It involves a promise that changes our present mental behavior. “Therefore, do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will care for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.” If we mentally forecast bad times to come, we will unconsciously work toward our forecast. The opposite is also true.   If we anticipate that things will be better, sure enough, they will be better. So why ask for trouble when we do not have to be delivered a bag of troubled goods?

We must not be a member of a television audience where the program director holds up a card that says, “Laugh”, or “Applause.”   We do not have to allow life to dictate to us our mental state of mind. We can choose to be happy. We can choose by focusing on good in order to determine our emotional destiny. Our present state of mind is our choice.   Neither the environment or people with whom we work can determine our happiness.

[Continued]

 

 

The Right To Happiness (1)

An amendment of the United States constitution enthrones freedom which includes an article that each citizen has the “right to pursue happiness.” Not only is this the right of American citizens, it should be the right of every citizen of the world. It is what is inborn within every individual. It is what we want. It is our inner most craving. We want to be happy. Unfortunately, happiness is what everyone wants, but few know where to find it.
 
A little girl was once sitting at the breakfast table with her mother when the sun made its presence known by rising over the distant horizon. As its morning light beamed through the cottage window and on to the spoon of the child who was sitting with her mother at the breakfast table, she responded with joy to her mother, “Mama, I have a spoonful of sunshine!” Solomon was right, “A merry heart does good, like medicine” (Pv 17:22). Every morning we need a big dose of sunshine medicine to brighten our day. We should arise every morning with the declaration, “This is the day the Lord has made; we will rejoice and be glad in it” (Ps 118:24). Upon making this declaration, we must make a decision that each day of our lives will be a day of happiness.
 
It is not totally true what Menchken said, “The only really happy folk are married women and single men.” Nor is it totally true what another proverb stated, “Happiness comes by filling a child’s stomach, a woman’s wardrobe, and a man’s wallet.” And again, happiness is not really acquired as a frustrated younger brother said, “Happiness is having a sister with laryngitis and a TV with only one channel.” True happiness does not revolve around material things nor pleasurable events. It is almost as someone once said, “Happiness has a habit of pursuing the person who feels grateful to his God, comfortable with his conscience, in favor with his friends, in love with his labors, and in balance with his banker.” But someone correctly stated, “The secret of happiness is learning to accept the impossible, do without the indispensable, and bear the intolerable.”
 
In a secular and materialistic world, true happiness is elusive. The secular person unfortunately looks to events and activities that will entertain, but will not bring longlasting peace. He forgets that happiness is not something you experience. The materialist always looks for the right possessions, forgetting that happiness is not something that can be bought or owned. Happiness is not yearning for the things that we feel will make us happy. Money cannot buy us happiness. It only prolongs our search in the wrong direction.
 
Why do people struggle to find that which seems to be so elusive. Too many people find only momentary happiness in things and activities, and subsequently deceive themselves into thinking that they have acquired their goal. When things become old and activities no longer satisfy our thirst for inner happiness, we often add to our collection of possessions or change to performing other activities in order to get another “happiness fix.” It is too often too late after a lifetime of such misguided searching that we come to the realization of Solomon’s wisdom, “Vanities of vanity, all is vanity” (Ec 1:2).
 
An activity oriented culture is always afraid of being bored. The inhabitants of such frenzied cultures have concluded that their happiness is found in their ability to keep themselves involved in a host of events and activities. They are fearful of not having enough to do lest they discover that there is an emptiness inside that cannot be filled with possessions or an assortment of activities. True happiness is an elusive dream to the one who keeps himself busy with earthly diversions. The secularist must remember that happiness is not discovered in the things we want. Seneca wrote, “If you would make a man happy, do not add to his possessions but subtract from his desires.”
 
Contrary to a secular and materialistic world that would drive us to seek happiness in the wrong places, I would suggest the following to begin one’s road to a happy disposition of life. These simple keys will at least point one in the right direction to what is often an elusive goal for too many people, the goal of being happy.
 
A. Happy people develop a happiness habit.
 
Ninety-five percent of our behavior is simply habit. We subconsciously do that which we have always done. Since this is true, we must develop a habit of simply being happy. We need a happy habit. Norman Vincent Peale wrote, “The happiness habit is developed by simply practicing happy thinking. Make a mental list of happy thoughts and pass them through your mind several times every day.”
 
The desire to be happy is the first step to becoming happy. Former President Abraham Lincoln once said, “Most folks are about as happy as they make up their minds to be.” You must first make up your mind to be happy, and then set yourself to the task of accomplishing your desire for happiness. Sound too simple? It’s not.
 
I once found a recipe for happiness. I do not know the source, but I am sure the one who wrote it knew the key to happiness.
Take …
… 2 heaping cups of patience,
… 1 heart full of love,
… 3 hands full of generosity,
… a dash of laughter,
… 1 head full of understanding, …
… sprinkle generously with kindness; add plenty of faith, and mix well. Spread over a period of a lifetime, and serve everyone you meet.
 
Not bad advice. This is certainly what Paul meant when he wrote, “Rejoice in the Lord always. And again I say, rejoice!” (Ph 4:4). Solomon was again right when he said, “He who is of a merry heart has a continual feast” (Pv 15:15).
 
Most people can be happy in times when everything seems to be going right, or going their way. But this surface happiness is tried in the balance of life and found wanting when things go wrong. In the brochure, Attitudes Unlimited, which was written for executives of corporations in Dallas, Texas, it was stated, “Most anyone can smile when everything goes along smoothly … but the valiant one is that person who can still smile when adversities beset him from all directions.”
 
Christians must remember that they were not baptized in vinegar. Nor should they look as if they have been eating out of a milk churn. A long face does not come with age. Truly happy people have learned that happiness originates from that which is within, not from that which affects one from without. Once happy habits are developed from within, then our environment has little effect on our true inner emotional or mental state of being. It is for this reason that the happiness habit must come from our inside work, regardless of our past or our present circumstances.
 
[The above is from Book 21, than can be downloaded from the link below:
http://africainternational.org/files/Book%2021.pdf

The Gospel Connection

Something happened on that memorial Pentecost of A.D. 30 that separates religion from gospel. After the Holy Spirit had connected all the dots in the minds of the apostles through the baptism of the Holy Spirit, they were ready for the world (At 2:1-4). Even after Jesus had graduated them from His final “school of prophecy,” the Spirit had to connect the eternal incarnation of the Son, to the eternal offering, resurrection, ascension, and reign of the Son of God to the right hand of God. It was then that they were ready to stand up and go to work before the multitudes (At 2:14).

It may have been about midday when Peter finally stood up with the eleven and unpacked the gospel with only a few words.   He first revealed that all the rushing “wind storm” that had transpired at the beginning of the day was actually prophesied (At 2:14-21). And then he got down to gospel business in the reign of Jesus who was now both Lord and Christ.

Jesus of Nazareth was miraculously proved to be the One sent from God. He was miraculously validated to be the Christ of Israel. However, the confirming miracles that validated His Messiahship were not the gospel (At 2:22; Jn 3:2). Neither was the gospel the coming of the Holy Spirit upon the apostles at the beginning of the day, for it was the mission of the Spirit to glorify the Son, not Himself (Jn 16:14).

Those who exalt miracles and the Holy Spirit invariably minimize the power of the gospel. Their obsession with miracles and the Spirit diverts their attention away from the power of the incarnational gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ.   Instead of exhaling and focusing on the resurrectional ascension and reign of the incarnate Son of God, many obsess over those beliefs or ministries that are important, but not primary. Instead of focusing on the power of the gospel, they are searching for some power in the Holy Spirit to somehow confirm their own faith. We must never forget that the power to both save and transform lives is in the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.

It takes no diploma in theology to know enough about the work of the Holy Spirit to conclude that in His work in our lives, He would never seek to displace or minimize the transforming power of the gospel of the Son of God. If He did, then He would fail in His work to glorify Jesus (Jn 16:14). Gospel-living Christians must always keep in mind that the Holy Spirit will do His work regardless of our understanding thereof.   Though we may not understand all of the Spirit’s ministry for the saints, one thing is definitely clear: The Holy Spirit would never do anything to divert our attention away from the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. If we would claim that the Spirit must insert in our lives more power than the gospel, then we have asserted that the power of the gospel to transform lives is limited. It was never Jesus’ intention to send the Spirit in order to subsidize the power of the life-transforming gospel.

The personal ministries that later came into the organic function of the church was not the message of the apostles on Pentecost.   Later discussions in the epistles that emphasized corrections in dysfunctional behavior between the disciples was not the message. When churches become sectarian, and thus competitive for members, they often use their uniqueness as a message to “convert” others to their particular sect.   But the uniqueness that later characterized many autonomous groups of Christianity was not the message of Peter and the apostles. That which cuts religious people of faith to the heart was the message of the gospel of King Jesus. This was the apostles’ message to the Pentecost audience.

We cannot overemphasize this point for many have used the epistles to construct a systematic theology that has become their identity, and subsequently, their evangelistic message. Their supposed doctrinal purity is used to approach other religious people in order to convert them to one’s own particular sect. A theological message has thus replaced gospel preaching.

The crucifixion of God’s gospel Messenger in the flesh was not a subpoint of the apostles’ message. Because the cross was in the eternal plan of God, it was the core of the gospel message (At 2:23). “But God raised Him up,” was the confirming proof that Jesus Christ was the One about whom the prophets had spoken. And not only the resurrection, but there was an ascension to the throne of David in fulfillment of promises to David that One would reign upon his throne of authority (At 2:25-32). And then Peter revealed more: “This Jesus God has raised up, … being exalted at the right hand of God” (At 2:32,33). “Therefore, let all the house of Israel know assuredly that God has made this same Jesus whom you have crucified, both Lord and Christ” (At 2:36).

We must keep in mind the spiritual situation of those who heard this first announcement of the gospel. These were the “elite” of the representatives of the Jews’ religion. They knew their Old Testaments better than most people today. But when Peter was making these statements about the Man whom God had miraculously proved to be the One who fulfilled over three hundred Old Testament prophecies concerning the Messiah/Christ of Israel, they were overwhelmed. They were stunned.

Isaiah 53, Psalm 22, and a host of other prophecies concerning the Suffering Servant of Isaiah became reality. They did not need to return to their synagogues after Pentecost in order that a Rabbi read again to them the picture that God had painted for Israel throughout 1,400 years of history. They could quote all the prophecies by memory, for they were all as the two men on the road to Emmaus. The One that God said He would send was beyond the misguided hope of a restoration of national Israel. He was the One who “was wounded for our transgressions. He was bruised for our iniquities. The chastisement of our peace was upon Him. And with His stripes we are healed(Is 53:5).

The Jews’ murderous tragedy was turned to grief because they realize that they had become servants of Satan to lay the stripes on the back of the Suffering Servant by delivering Him over to the Romans for crucifixion. There were certainly tears of grief as they mourned over their participation of laying the stripes on the One who was sent to restore them again to an eternal fellowship with the God they had worshiped since before the days of Abraham.

“Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart (At 2:37).

This is the emotional impact that the gospel should have on every sincere heart. If it does not, then one either does not understand the gospel, or he understands, but with a hardened heart, walks away. In walking away he has judged himself unfit for eternal dwelling in the presence of the loving God who gave His Son for them. He does not, therefore, know God.

[Chapter from the forthcoming book, RESTORING THE LOST LOVE.]

 

 

Gospel 1

The Holy Spirit knew that there would eventually come the skepticism of the Gnostics the latter part of the first century, which theology would be formalized gnosticism in the second century.   Since God is light, and in Him is no darkness at all, the Gnostics erroneously assumed that the revelation of God through Jesus Christ meant that Jesus Christ was only a phantom. There could be no such thing as an incarnation because God could have no contact with evil flesh. Those who would teach such would be of those about whom John later wrote: “For many deceivers have gone out into the world who do not confess that Jesus Christ is coming in the flesh (2 Jn 7). They would not confess that Jesus Christ is now what He was after the incarnational resurrection.

Jesus’ final coming in the flesh of man is foundational in defining the gospel. There could have been no cross if He had not first come in the flesh. The Gnostics, therefore, denied the gospel by denying the eternal incarnational sacrifice of the Son of God. The Gnostic’s denial encourages us to reaffirm the prerequisite for the truth of the gospel. There could have been no gospel if there were truly no incarnation, which incarnation was in some way eternal, for He is coming in the flesh, into which flesh we will become like He now is (1 Jn 3:2).

We must conclude that the gospel (good news) was first revealed through the incarnation of the transcendent God who came into the physical world of our existence:

  • An unending incarnational existence: Now we have come to a necessity that explains the superlative, “God so love the world” (Jn 3:16). The gospel revelation began on earth with an unending incarnational birth in Bethlehem that will extend to the final coming of Jesus in the flesh of a glorious body. The incarnation would continue even into eternity wherein Jesus will dwell among His brethren in the presence of God. The gospel necessitates the incarnation of the One who was originally in eternity in the form of God (Jn 1:1,2,14). If Jesus were only a man, then there is no such thing as the gospel.   If there were no incarnation, then there would have been no offering. His sacrificial offering demanded His incarnation in the flesh of man.   So, the Gnostics were wrong.
  • Eternal (sufficient) atoning sacrifice: Since it was not logical or possible that created animals could possibly atone for sins against the eternal God (Hb 10:1-4), then there had to be a volunteer from God to repair the damage our sin created in our fellowship with God. That which was in the form of God, the Son, had to make the eternal gospel journey from the presence of God to the our presence on earth, and eventually to a sacrificial cross (See Ph 2:5-8). There was no other way.

We must conclude that the incarnation of the Son of God moves our understanding of the gospel beyond the cross alone. The fact that God the Son gave up being in the form of God in the spirit assumes the suffering that all of us in the flesh confront throughout our own lives. His suffering in the flesh began in a manger in Bethlehem and extended to the first driven nails through His flesh on the cross. When we speak of the incarnation, therefore, we understand that the sacrifice was more than the cross. This explains what John meant when he identified the deceiver as the one who denied the incarnation. We thus understand that the gospel sacrifice of the incarnation went far beyond His few hours on the cross.

His was an extreme love for us in that He was willing to be eternally incarnate in the flesh in order to transition us from our present flesh into that gloriously transformed flesh in which He now exists (See Ph 3:21; 1 Jn 3:2). (For more research on this subject, consult Book 73, chapters 1-3, The Gospel of God’s Heart, Biblical Research Library, www.africainternational.org.)

Comprehending the incarnational journey of the Son of God from the form of God in the spirit to the flesh of man is most difficult to comprehend (Ph 2:5-11). In fact, from a human perspective it is incomprehensible, for we are not God.   But the more we understand our sin, and our inability to live without sin, the more we begin to catch a small glimmer of hope in understanding the awesome love of God.

Understanding that the eternal God who existed in spirit would contemplate venturing out of eternal, spirit dwelling into our sin infested world is stunning. It is overwhelming. It is humbling. It knocks all pretentiousness out of our souls. It moves our hearts to the declarative question, “Wretched man that I am!   Who will deliver me from the body of this death?” (Rm 7:24).

In the preceding question, it was as if Paul—the self-confessed chief of sinners—could now understand the revelation of the Spirit that poured forth from the tip of his fingers on a quill while he scribbled the inspired words of the Romans manuscript. We assume that his hands were quivering in thanksgiving as he inscribed these thoughts. A tear may have smudged the ink as he followed with an outburst of gratitude: I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord (Rm 7:25).

The heart that is not emotionally overwhelmed by the eternal incarnational coming of the Son of God into the flesh of man is certainly a heart that is beyond submission. It is a heart that has disqualified itself from dwelling in the eternal presence of the God of sacrificial love. It is a heart that does not know God.

  • The resurrectional ascension and reign: The resurrection of Jesus was necessary to validate the purpose of the cross. The cross would have no power if there were no hope of eternal living for all those who would fall prostrate before the incarnational offering of the Son of God. The resurrection proved Jesus to be the Son of God (Rm 1:4,5). It also proved that those who obey the gospel will have life eternal as a result of their obedience to the gospel for the remission of sins (At 2:38).

The ascension was necessary in order to prove that the supposed resuscitated Jesus did not wander off into obscurity and die, as some Gnostics of the second century claimed. Reigning at the right hand of God, precluded ascension, and ascension precluded true resurrection from the dead. All of this is good news. It is gospel.

The cross alone would be meaningless if it were not for the resurrection. The resurrection could be questioned without the ascension. And the ascension would be meaningless without somewhere for Jesus to be in reference to our existence in the midst of Satan here on earth.   This is all gospel, for the sacrifice of the incarnate Son of God solved our reconciliation with God for eternity.   His resurrection solved our fatalism in believing that this world is all there is. The ascension solved our wonder as to where He went. And His reign solves our anxiety problem that no matter what transpires in this life, Jesus is still King of kings and Lord of lords with authority over all things (Mt 28:18; 1 Tm 6:15). This is great news! This is gospel!

[From a forthcoming book, by Roger E. Dickson, on the gospel of the incarnate God.]

 

Attacking The Gospel

If a Christian forsakes, or distorts in any way any part of the gospel, then he has delivered a death blow to the very heart of the existence of Christianity. If he remains religious in his attack, then he has turned away from being Christian to being a self-sanctifying religionists. If any part of the gospel message is either questioned, or denied, or disobeyed, then one leaves or distorts the very purpose for which the Son of God came into the world to reveal the gospel—to seek and to save the lost (Lk 19:10). If such attacks are made against the heart of the gospel, then one will lose his way as a disciple of the Son of God. In fact, he will simply cease being a disciple of the One who revealed the gospel to the world.
 
The Holy Spirit knew that such an apostasy would happen among some Christians in various areas of the world throughout history. He thus prepared some specific recorded cases in the New Testament where there were attacks made against the heart of the gospel. He recorded why and how some would lose their way, and thus cease to be witnesses in their communities that Jesus was the Christ and Son of the living God (See Mt 16:16-18).
 
While the apostles were still alive, there were some Christians who cut away part of the core of the gospel message. They were “saying that the resurrection is already past” (2 Tm 2:18). And by promoting this teaching, “they overthrow the faith of some” (2 Tm 2:18). The denial of the resurrection was one reason why Paul was on his way to Corinth. He was headed to Corinth in order to cut out of the fellowship of the church of God those who became arrogant and who attacked the gospel by denying the resurrection (See 2 Co 1:23; 10:1-18; 13:2,10).
 
There were those among the Corinthians who believed that the dead would not be resurrected. But if this were true, then why, Paul argues, would we ever be baptized in order to put to bury the old dead man of sin (1 Co 15:29)? Why would one be baptized to bury the old man of sin, if we in the future will not be raised to join Christ in eternal life (See Rm 6:3-6).
 
It was not coincidental, therefore, that Paul began 1 Corinthians 15—the New Testament chapter on the resurrection—with a brief definition of the heart of the gospel:
 
“For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He rose again on the third day according to the Scriptures” (1 Co 15:3,4).
 
In obedience to the gospel, we connect with the atoning blood of Jesus when we are crucified with Him in repentance before being buried with Him in the waters of baptism (Rm 6:4). We are subsequently raised with Him in order to walk in newness of life (Rm 6:4). Therefore, “if we have been united together in the likeness of His [Christ’s] death [in baptism], we will also be in the likeness of His resurrection” when He comes again (Rm 6:5). We connect with the future resurrection when Jesus comes again when we are raised with Christ from the waters of baptism.
 
If one denies the resurrection in the end, then he has denied the reason we are buried and raised with Christ in the present. If one denies this part in our obedience to the gospel, then he has denied the totality of the gospel! Why would the Son of God ever leave the comforts of eternity in heaven in order to die on an “old rugged cross” for our sins if there were no resurrection in the future? Why would one even be raised from the grave of water with Jesus if there were no such thing as a resurrection from the dead?
 
One is a Christian because he or she has followed Jesus to the cross, and from a grave of water, to the promise of a bodily resurrection in the future by being raised with Jesus from the waters of baptism. In this response to the gospel of Jesus, one has obeyed the gospel. It is for this reason that Christians are encouraged, motivated and compelled to both obey and preach the gospel to others (See 1 Pt 4:17).
 
When we bring into doubt any part of the message of the gospel, or response to it, then we deny the reality of the gospel. We have left the motivation of our first love, and thus, our motivation to seek and save the lost! Any doubt or denial of the resurrection of both Jesus, and ourselves in the future, cuts the heart out of the gospel. Christians are believers to be pitied for their faith if there is no resurrection of the body when Jesus comes again (1 Co 15:19). If there is no resurrection coming when Jesus comes, then we lose our motivation to take the message of the gospel into all the world (See Mk 16:15,16).
 
We thus preach and obey the “connection” (baptism) with the gospel of Jesus as necessary in order to enjoy the coming resurrection from the dead. We are not ashamed of the gospel of Jesus’ atoning death and bodily resurrection (Rm 1:16). Neither are we ashamed of proclaiming the mandate of the Holy Scriptures that one must connect with the gospel of Jesus through immersion into Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection. If we would be ashamed of this connection, then we would reveal to the world that we actually have little faith in the power of Jesus’ atoning death and bodily resurrection.
 
We must never lead ourselves to believe that the power unto salvation is simply in our own belief in the gospel. Neither is our salvation in a legal action of baptism in water. The power unto salvation is the gospel of Jesus’ atoning sacrifice and resurrection. When we are responsive to the gospel by baptism into Christ, then we connect with the atoning death of Jesus in order that our sins be washed away (At 22:16). It is through this obedient connection that we are raised with Him in anticipation of the resurrection of the dead when He comes again (See Jn 5:28,29). In order to connect with the power of the gospel, therefore, one must go to the cross, grave and resurrection with Jesus in baptism.
 
For more study, CLICK the link below:
http://africainternational.org/files/Book%2023.pd