Monday, June 24, 2013

Into the Grey - Led by the Spirit

To do something uncomfortable takes intentionality.
To do something you’ve never done that you may not want to do, means psyching yourself up to do it.
To do something that you aren’t sure about but you know is important means you make yourself do it.
It takes deliberate, intentional effort.
It took deliberate and intentional effort for me to buy my wife a personal feminine product one time.
My wife and daughters are vegetarians (which I will argue with anyone is actually a much healthier diet than most of us eat, definitely than what I eat)…It took deliberate and intentional effort to try Tofu.
It took deliberate and intentional effort to change my daughters’ diapers when they were babies.
It took deliberate and intentional effort to go on my first Carolina Cross Connection mission trip.  On that trip it took deliberate and intentional effort to act like I knew what I was doing when we built a huge wheelchair ramp so the youth that were in my group would not be discouraged.
            It takes deliberate and intentional effort for those of you who come out on a Saturday morning once a month to deliver flowers to a nursing home or prepare and deliver meals to people who need them or prepare food kits that are delivered at times when they are most needed or build wheelchair ramps or beautify the church. 
            In our scripture today Paul reminds us of something else that takes deliberate and intentional effort.  It will take a few minutes to get there, but when we do I think it will be worth it.  Will you hang with me?
Context of Galatians - Apparently the Galatian Christian Jews – at this point Christianity was still a type of Judaism – these Christian Jews were being tempted by other Gospels and there was a big debate about Circumcision.  If you were not Jewish and you became a Christian Jew should you be circumcised?  Every Jew was circumcised at birth as part of a covenant that God had made with Abraham.  There was a big debate about whether or not a non-Jew (a gentile) who became a Christian (which would be a new type of Judaism) should become circumcised.  Paul addresses this and some other issues.  He basically warns them of following evangelists of other Gospels than that of the one they have already received.
Paul addresses these issues and offers some corrective teaching and then we come to chapter 3 where that corrective teaching continues.  Read 3:1-6. 
There must have been some teaching around that was saying Jesus really was not crucified.  So Paul simply reminds them that indeed he was crucified.  The teaching that Jesus was not crucified is false teaching.  Someone, Paul says, is tricking you, is deceiving you is bewitching you.  To be bewitched is to be a victim of someone’s “evil eye” or “evil spell.”  Paul is using language that will call out the pagan aspect of what is taught so that they will hopefully see that take notice and change their ways.  Then he introduces the Spirit. 
Paul asks a question that is rhetorical, the question is how did you receive the spirit?  Was it: A. by works of the law or B. by believing what you heard?  The answer is obvious – obviously in Paul’s mind they received it by what they heard.  But they have been bewitched to believe that by following the law they gain the Spirit.
Paul asks another question. Really?  Are you so foolish?  Really?  You really think that you received the Spirit by performing good works.  You really think that by following the law of the Torah, the law of Moses, the Ten Commandments and more laws, you really believe that by doing those things you have received the Spirit?  Obviously some of them have bought into some false teaching and Paul is challenging them.  Don’t you know that you started in the Spirit and what the Spirit started in you was done by what you heard?  By living according to that Spirit?  Paul is saying: “You are trying to complete what the Spirit started by good works.  It doesn’t happen that way with God.”
            This work in you that the Spirit has started leads to good works not the other way around.  Some Christian Jews believed that their good works created the life of the Spirit in them.  No, the life of the Spirit in them leads them towards good works.  Some of these Jewish Christians have it backwards. 
            I believe some of us have it backwards as well.  We think that if we are moral, if we live moral lives, if we don’t cuss and don’t get drunk and don’t commit adultery and don’t lie and don’t steal and don’t cheat that God will give us His Spirit.  That if we don’t do those things we have the gift of the Spirit.  No, it’s a lie.  God has already given us His Spirit.  It’s not what we do or don’t do that makes the Spirit more alive in our lives, the Spirit is already alive in our lives and leads us towards the things God wants for us.
What Paul is saying is that the gospel way of life in the Spirit is not about the certainty of rules or of social status but about the certainty of living in God.  It’s about the certainty of freedom.  It’s about being no longer self centered, but others centered.  The desire of the Galatian Christians to find security in following the moral law, instead of living by the Spirit is in Paul’s mind a form of bewitchment. 
For us today, if your idea of living the Christian life is bound only in moral living you are bewitched.  If the highest Christian ideal for you is defined by morals and only morals, you are bewitched.  If a Christian is someone defined by what they don’t do, you are bewitched, the enemy has tricked you, the gospel you have adopted is not the gospel of Jesus Christ.  We are not primarily people of morals, We are primarily people of the Spirit.  People who acknowledge with Paul, that because Jesus was Crucified and raised from the dead, the Spirit of God has been unleashed within us and through us, so that our highest ideal is not a moral standard, but the Spirit of God Himself. 
The Galatian Christians are attracted by the law.  They know the law.  The law makes sense.  The law is specifically spelled out.  Now that Christ has fulfilled the law and we have the Spirit we can follow the law and get more of the Spirit, that’s what they are thinking.  And Paul comes along and says – the law is not what we should be attracted to – God is who we should be attracted to.  The Spirit does not come by obeying the law.  Catawba, the Spirit does not come by following a set of morals.  The Spirit comes by making ourselves open and willing to follow and live by the Spirit.  It takes intentional recognition and a willingness to be shaped and defined by the Spirit.  For Christians to change their minds about their priorities we have to open ourselves up to the Spirit of God.  It takes deliberate and intentional effort to live by the Spirit.
If you live primarily by morals you will be judgmental.
If you live primarily by morals you will often feel guilt and shame because we can’t keep the standards of God.  Just like the Jews could not fully obey the law.
If you live primarily by morals you will think you are better than everyone else.
If you live primarily by morals you will be defined by what you don’t do instead of what you do.
If you live primarily by morals and morals alone, you will miss out on the freedom and joy and abundance that God has for you.
Should we have morals, yes, absolutely we should.  Those morals should be led by the Spirit not by our own understanding of right and wrong.  We don’t put our trust in morals, we put our trust in God and in the truth that God’s spirit lives in us and through us.  We don’t follow morals, we follow Jesus Christ.  IT’s not a bunch of rules, it is a relationship offered through the Holy Spirit.  And it takes intentional and deliberate effort to follow and live by the Spirit.  If you trust in morals they will let you down, the Spirit of God will never let you down.
This is hard for us.  It’s easier, it’s much easier to have a set of morals laid out before us that we follow than it is to follow the Spirit.  But it does not lead to the freedom and joy and hope and transformational life that God has for us.  Living by the Spirit leads to that life.  We are tempted by the same thing these Galataian Christians were tempted by.  We are tempted to have a check list of morals that we follow and abandon the leading of the Spirit.  And following morals is oppressive and shackling, that’s why so many Christians live in guilt all the time and think God is mad at them all the time.
Following the Spirit sets us free from that type of oppressive thinking and belief.  One of the most powerful things Satan can do is make you think you are a good person because you follow a set of morals.  That type of life will drain the joy and freedom and abundant life that God has for you. 
Following the Spirit takes intentional and deliberate effort and it is not easy but it is worth it.  Paul talks about how hard it is for us later in this same letter to the church at Galatia.   After talking about being called to live in freedom, being called to love Paul says in Galatains 5:16 16 So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. 17 For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever[a] you want. 18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.
            Let me reiterate, if you are led by the Spirit you are not under the law.  If you are led by the Spirit you are not under morality.  The law was a good thing that the Galatian church let become the priority and let get in the way of the Spirit.  Morals are a good thing that we often let become a priority and thus get in the way of the Spirit.
           Paul says there is a war going on inside of us.  The Spirit and the flesh are at war with each other inside our hearts, inside our minds and inside our souls.  The war is raging and it’s not easy.  The flesh desires what it wants and the spirit desires what it wants – that’s the war.  It reminds me of an Indian story. 
One evening an old Cherokee Indian told his grandson: “A fight is going on inside of me.  It is a terrible fight between two wolves.  One is Evil. It is anger, envy, jealousy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego.
The other is good. It is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion and faith.’
The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather: ‘Which wolf wins?’
The old Cherokee simply replied, ‘The one you feed.’
And so it is with the battle between the flesh and the Spirit happening within each one of us.  Which one are you feeding?  Have you intentionally opened your heart, your mind, your soul to the Spirit of God, because if you haven’t done that the flesh is winning the war within you.  If you are deliberate and intentional about living for Jesus Christ, living by the Spirit, you have a chance, we have a chance to be the people of God that He wants us to be.
To be defined not by what we don’t do, but by what we do.  Not do be defined because we don’t cuss, but because we uplift and encourage with our words.  Not to be defined because we don’t get drunk, but because we can be around people who get drunk and still show them that we love them.  Not to be defined because we don’t cheat on our spouse, but to be defined by how we sacrificially serve and love our spouse.  Not to be defined because aren’t addicted to anything, but to be defined as one who goes out of our way to help those who are addicted.  Not to be defined because we don’t lie, cheat and steal, but because we are ridiculously generous and radically hospitable.
It is easier to be defined by what we don’t do.  But that’s not living by the spirit.  That’s not walking by the Spirit, that’s living according to set of morals.  Don’t drop morals, I’m not saying morals aren’t a good thing, what I am saying is that when we let morals become our priority we leave God out of our lives.  Jesus challenged the people who followed the law, Jesus challenged the people who were supposedly moral, more than he did anyone else.  Why?  Because those people thought they knew the way to God and they missed out on what God had for them. 
            To us Morals makes sense.  Morals are something we can follow.  Morals are easier than living by the Spirit.  But we are not called to trust in morals.  We are not called to be filled with the law.  We are not called to be defined by what we don’t do.  We are called to walk by the Spirit.  To live a lifestyle where we hear and obey the Spirit and sometimes it’s not easy, sometimes it’s risky, sometimes it will lead us into the grey areas of life.  It takes intentional and deliberate effort to open our hearts and minds and souls to the Spirit of God. 
            So I ask which wolf will you feed?  The wolf of the flesh where set your own set of morals?  Or the wolf of the Spirit which may just lead you into some grey areas.  Feed the Spirit.  Open yourself up to the possibility that God actually wants to talk to you.  When you open yourself to that truth.  When you are intentional about hearing the Spirit of God, you will experience a freedom and joy and new life and new boldness that you have never experienced before.  Feed the Spirit and watch what happens.

Sermon from Sunday June 16th - Luck and/or Providence

Into the Grey
Luck and Providence
            Raise your hand if you believe in luck?  Raise your hand if you believe God is still active on this earth?  The question then is this: How do we know when something happens if it was luck or if it was God’s will?  As we continue this series called Into the Grey I want to talk this morning about this Grey area of when is something luck and when is something God’s will.
            Some of you may have had some trees or large limbs fall from the small tornado that came through the area on Thursday.  Anybody?  We had a fairly large limb fall in the front yard towards the house.  However, it stopped before it actually hit the parsonage.  The leaves from the limb are just lightly touched the brick on the front of the house.  It did no damage at all.  Now, was that good luck or was that God’s protection?
            I ran a stop sign one time and the cop gave me a ticket.  Was God punishing me for running the stop sign or did I just catch the cop on a bad day?  Another time I ran a stop sign the cop didn’t give me a ticket.  I could say “thank you God for manipulating the cop so he didn’t give me a ticket” or I could say “wow, that was lucky.”   
            When I play Candy Land or Monopoly with my daughters, both those games are won by the person with the most luck.  They are games of chance.  So when someone wins did God orchestrate the dice and the cards so that who wins is who He wanted to win or is it just luck?
            We as Christians believe that God is at work in this world and that He knows the very number of hairs on our heads (He has to count more for some of us than he does for others).  We believe God has a plan and a purpose and that He wants us to be a part of His plan and purpose.  So where does luck fit in?
            What got me thinking about this is a conversation I had right here at a church a few weeks ago.  Let me read the scripture and then I will share that conversation with you.  The scripture is from Acts 1 verses 15-26.  Jesus has been raised from the dead and he has gone back up to heaven.  The disciples return to Jerusalem and they’re first order of business is to find a replacement for Judas.  Remember Judas betrayed Jesus.  We learn what happened to him from our scripture today.  (Read Acts 1:15-26).
            A few weeks ago (I think it was 3 weeks ago) I was saying good morning to the Explorer’s Sunday school class like I usually do on Sunday mornings after the early service and as always, Ronnie and Charlie were back there.  I think Sandy was back there as well and I can’t remember if anyone else had arrived for the class by that time.  Charlie asked me if I remembered who took Judas’s place as the 12th disciple after he had betrayed Jesus.  I said, I remember how they determined who they picked, but I don’t remember the name of who was chosen.  Whoever it was, I knew he was chosen by casting lots.  Casting Lots was the modern day equivalent of throwing the dice.  Matthias was the one chosen.  They rolled the dice and Matthias was the one the dice selected.
            And then I started thinking out loud and I said “it makes you wonder doesn’t it?  Was Matthias chosen because He got lucky, because chance was on his side?  Or was He chosen because God manipulated the Lots that were cast so that Matthias was chosen instead of Joseph?  And I said, “that will be a good topic to look at for the next series I’m doing about the grey areas in life.”  And here we are.
            Casting lots was something practiced by the priests in the Old Testament.  It was actually a way to determine God’s will.  God told Moses in Leviticus to Cast Lots to determine the scapegoat and the goat for a sacrifice.  When it came to dividing the newly conquered promised land for the Israelites, the way the twelve tribes divided the land was done by casting lots.  When Jonah was on the boat and the storm came up, the men on the boat cast lots to see who was on the boat causing God to bring the storm and Jonah was the one the Lots pointed to as the one causing the problems and they threw him overboard.  Casting Lots was used to determine God’s will in the Old Testament and it carried over into the New Testament as well.  When Jesus is hanging on the cross a few of the soldiers cast lots to determine who gets his clothes.  Then we have our scripture where lots are cast to see who would be the 12th disciple.
            One thing we have to understand is that this decision was not a small decision.  The church of Jesus Christ established in the book of Acts was the work of these 12 disciples.  These men would determine the future of God’s church.  For God’s church to grow and thrive and be healthy they had to choose the right person.  And they roll the dice believing that God would guide the dice to pick the right person.
            What do we do with that today?  I mean should we roll the dice to determine big decisions in our lives.  God I can either take this job or that job, I’ll roll the dice and decide and trust that you will make the dice fall how you want it too?  God I can either marry this person or that person, I’ll roll the dice.  I don’t think any of us made the decision on who we married by rolling the dice did we.  We just don’t let chance dictate our major decisions.  We may let it decide little decisions.  I have a good friend that’s as indecisive as I am.  And we’ll be talking about where to meet for lunch and he’ll often say “name two or three places you could eat and then I’ll pick one.  So I’ll name them and then he’ll say “well it’s down to two places.”  And then we will say, let’s flip a coin to determine which place we go to.”  We actually do this.  It gets even more ridiculous.  So we’ll flip a coin and then say it lands on heads…he’ll say “are happy or disappointed that it landed on heads.”  And if I say “I was hoping it landed on tails” then we will go to the other restaurant.  Isn’t that ridiculous.  We may leave small decisions to chance and that’s fine, but not big ones.  I think it is dangerous to leave big decisions to chance.  Here’s why. 
This text is from the book of Acts.  The very next book after Jesus was resurrected and ascended - went up to heaven.  God promised the twelve disciples that in a few days the Holy Spirit would descend upon them.  And in the very next chapter that’s exactly what happens.  When the Holy Spirit comes upon them, this is now the point when God has fulfilled His promise not to leave the disciples, not to leave the church as orphans.  Jesus promised that God would send a Holy Comforter, the Holy Spirit to be His presence on this earth now that God in the human flesh is no longer present on this earth.  The Holy Spirit comes and now we no longer need to rely on chance, on luck, on rolling the dice, on casting lots, because now we have a two way open door relationship with God where we talk to Him anytime and He can talk to us anytime.
We do not see another example of casting lots for the rest of the story of the Bible after Acts 1.  Why?  Because God has unleashed the Holy Spirit into this world and into believers so that we no longer have to rely on luck, we can now rely on the powerful, life-giving, all wise, creator of the heavens and earth to help us make decisions.  You want to know what you are supposed to do in any given situation?  Here’s the answer: seek God’s will. 
What should we do to seek God's will? First, we should look to the scripture. Many questions can be decided by simply knowing what God has directed us to do in scripture.  2 Timothy 3:16-17  16 All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, 17 so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.  Are you in the word of God?  Second, we should pray (1 Thes. 5:17).  Sometimes life is so difficult, it’s so hard that we don’t even know how or what to pray: Romans 8:26-27 tells us: "26 Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. 27 And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God."  Get in the word, pray and trust the Holy Spirit.  In John 16:13 Jesus tells His disciples of the promise of the Spirit: "When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come."
            We have received the gift of the Holy Spirit.  Because we have received the Holy Spirit, Christians today have no need for casting lots when it comes to making a major decision.  I still believe in luck.  I believe whoever wins in our family when we play Candy Land had the best luck.  There are some things in life decided by chance, so I believe in chance, in luck, I just don’t trust in it.  I trust in the God of the universe speaking to me and through me.  I trust that at the end of my life, God does not roll the dice to determine whether I go to heaven or hell.  But instead because I am covered by the powerful, redeeming blood of Christ shed on the cross that I am forgiven and saved and that I will enter an eternity of glorious splendor in heaven to be united with my loved ones and meet my savior face to face. 

Romans 10:9-10 says this if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved; 10 for with the heart a person believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation.  Don’t put where you spend your eternity to chance.  If you do not know, and I mean know.  You got know, that you know that you know that you’re saved, and if you don’t know that you know that you know that you are saved…it’s not something you want to leave to chance.  It’s not something you want to be in the Grey area.  The Gospel is clear that you can know that you are saved.  The altar is open this morning.  If you want to pray in your pew you are welcome to do that.  If you want to pray at the altar you are welcome to do that.  We gather here on Sunday morning to break from what’s happening in the world outside these walls.  Let this morning be a time for you to get right with God, to redidicate your life to God, to find assurance of your salvation.  Take that time now.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Sermon from Sunday - Righteous Deception

Righteous Deception

            We are beginning a new series today, a series that I’ve been thinking about doing for quite some time now.  If you read the newsletter article you know where this is headed.  The series is called Into the Grey.  Some of you are black and white thinkers. When it comes to almost every decision and every issue, you recognize that there is right and wrong.  You are wired to see it clearly.  Some of us however, think more in the grey area.  When it comes to a decision or issue we don’t necessarily see a right and a wrong, we see how both decisions or both sides of an issue have good points and we exist somewhere in the middle…we think in the grey area. 
            The Bible actually has some stories, some teachings, some illustrations that are clearly for grey area thinkers.  God has wired some of you to be black and white and of course there are issues and decisions that we can say as Christians are black and white.  There’s a good decision and a bad decision.  However, God knows that some of us are wired to think in the grey area and so he included some things in the Bible for us as well. 
            Now I am aware that some of you will have some push back to what I have to share this morning.  And that’s okay.  What I ask is that you just respectfully listen to the end, and if you still disagree by the end of it, that’s okay, and I would love to talk to you about it.  My hope is that we have an open mind today to hear from God and maybe be challenged with some things.
            The issue I want to talk about today is lying.  Is lying always a sin?  Is there such a thing as righteous deception.  I think there is.  Husbands, when your wife asks you: “do you like my new haircut.”  If you genuinely like it you can say yes and not have to practice righteous deception.  However, and you know what I’m going to say don’t you.  If you genuinely do not like it you are at a crossroads.  You can choose to not lie and think you are doing a good thing and suffer any number of consequences.  Or, you can choose to practice some righteous deception and build her up by saying “I don’t care what your hair looks like, I think you are beautiful no matter what.”  Rightly played sir. 
            There are several other examples where many of us have used righteous deception.  If you have ever thrown a surprise birthday party you probably used a bit of righteous deception.  You had to deceive the one you were throwing the party for so that they did not discover the surprise. 
            Historically, most of us would agree that it was the right thing to do when people in Germany and the surrounding countries lied to the Nazi’s to hide Jews in their homes before and during World War II.  In that instance lying was for the purpose of saving lives.  It was righteous deception.  My belief is that when telling a lie does more good than harm, that its righteous deception and God endorses it.
            Saint Augustine divided lying into three different categories.  Playful lies, which are told in jest or performed on stage by actors.  These are the lies you tell when you are telling a joke and using the first person even though maybe it’s not true.  It’s fun and it’s in jest and it’s enjoyable and does no one harm, that’s a playful lie.  Obliging lies are the ones told to protect someone else.  These are the lies in the WWII scenario and the lies you tell when throwing a surprise party.  These are lies that are done because they do more good than harm by telling them.  Lastly, are the Destructive lies – these are the bad ones.  These are the ones often associated when someone violates the ninth commandment.  The interesting thing about the ninth commandment, however, is that it’s actually more about bearing false witness against someone than lying in general.  The ninth commandment is a specific kind of lie.
            Anyway, I like the categories.  They make sense don’t they.  I believe there wisdom in understanding lies in this way.  If deception, if lying was a black and white issue, every single actor that has been in a play or a movie would be culpable of lying.  Lying is not a black and white issue. 
Some of you still may not be convinced.  Maybe the Bible will convince you.  There are several biblical accounts of people using righteous deception to do something that actually honors God and that is praised because they did it.  Jacob’s deceives his father and his brother to get the inheritance of the first born son…he does this with his mother’s (Rebecca’s) help.  Joseph, a little bit later on is sold into slavery and through a series of events becomes second in command in Egypt.  There’s a famine in the region and Egypt has food (because of Joseph) and Joseph’s brothers who sold him to slavery come to Egypt for food.  They don’t recognize Jacob and Jacob deceives them to be reunited with his father and welcome them into the Egyptian royal court.
The prophet Nathan deceives David to get David mad about an injustice.  Then Nathan reveals to David that it’s exactly what David had done. 
Rahab is a prostitute who hides Joshua and Caleb from the authorities when they scout the area to over throw it.  She believes God is with and asks them to spare her and her family’s life when they conquer the city.  How important was that…Rahab is listed in the genealogy of Jesus in Matthew 1.  She’s a pretty important figure and she used righteous deception to save herself and her family.
Lets look at the scripture in your bulletin today.  This is from Judges chapter 4.  Sisera is the commander of the army of Jabin who is the king of Hazor.  Jabin had taken the Israelites into slavery and treated them cruelly for 20 years.  So the Israelites cry out to the Lord for help.  Deborah is the leader of the Israelites at this time and with the help of a man named Barak, she is able to organize an army to oppose Jabin.  Deborah and Barak’s army defeats Jabin’s army who is led by Sisera.  However, Sisera escapes the battle.  This is where we pick up the story.  (Read Judges 4:17-24).
            So Jael says to Sisera “c’mon in the tent.”  She gives him milk and tells him to rest.  Then she takes care of business.  It seems harsh doesn’t it…talk about deception.  First Rahab, now Jael, before that it was Rebekah helping Jacob...what is it with the women of the Bible practicing deception?  I’m glad women aren’t like that today.  Okay, I’m going to stop right there…don’t want to dig the hole any deeper. 
What’s interesting though, in each instance they are actually accomplishing what God wants accomplished.  Do you know what happens in the very next chapter.  Deborah sings a song of praise to God and part of that song involves what Jael has done and Deborah sings this line “Most blessed of women be Jael.”  The last line of Judges chapter 5 is a commentary that says the land had peace for forty years.  Jael’s deception brought peace to the land for forty years.  She decided to side with God’s army instead the pagan army and God blessed her and the land for her righteous deception.  She lied to Sisera so that he would let down his guard and her actions led to peace in the land for forty years. 
            When a lie does more good than harm, that’s when it is righteous deception.  That’s when it’s actually a good thing.
            Now, there is such a risk in sharing this kind of teaching.  The risk is giving any number of you license to lie.  In most cases lying is sinful and destructive.  I do not want to give anyone here the license to sin.  There is a huge difference between lying out of convenience and lying that leads to something good.  Lying out of convenience is when you know you have done something wrong and someone suspects it and calls you out on it and you lie so that you do not have to face the consequences of your actions.  That’s not what I’m talking about.
            The question then is this: how do we know when deception, how do we know when lying does more good than harm?  In some cases it’s easy.  With the example of hiding the Jews in WWII and lying to Nazi guards…most of us would agree that that saved the lives of human beings and it’s pretty obvious that was the right decision.  But not all situations are that easy to determine whether or not to practice righteous deception.  So how do we know?
            I think it takes wisdom.  Wisdom is the key for someone who is a “grey area” thinker.  Not just some random worldly wisdom, but Godly wisdom.  Wisdom that comes from God himself either through Jesus’ teaching or through the Holy Spirit speaking to us.  Often times we find wisdom from other people.  Righteous deception is something Christians can only practice through the wisdom of God from the Holy Spirit of God.  If we ever practice righteous deception apart from that, it is not righteous deception, it is deception, it is a lying, it is sin.  This comes down to believing so strongly in the Holy Spirit of God that indeed there are times and places where God will call us to practice righteous deception.
            Now, to be in a place where we can hear from God clearly, we have to be in prayer regularly.  We have to study the Bible regularly.  We have to be in worship regularly.  We have to have fellowship with other believers who build us up and help us live Christian lives on a consistent basis.  We need the body of Christ, we need each other, in order to hear from God and follow God.
            Righteous deception is not something we just go out and practice.  It’s a rare thing that God call us to only when it does more good than harm.  And we often need each other to determine whether or not a decision we make will do more harm than good.  We need the wisdom from God, we need to be listening constantly for the Holy Spirit and we need to rely on each other.
            I look at it like this, the loving thing to do is the most important thing to do.  For Rahab, the loving thing to do was to hide the spies.  For Jael, the loving thing to do in the long run, was to invite Sisera into her tent and take him out.  It brought forty of peace.  The loving thing to do is always the right thing to do. 
            If there is one word that defines who God is, that word is love.  God is love and operates out of love.  Therefore, we are called to operate out of love as well.  The loving thing to is the most important thing to do, even if it means practicing righteous deception.  Lets pray.


Friday, June 7, 2013

Into the Grey

Here's June's newsletter article I wrote for Catawba UMC:

There are generally two different types of thinkers in the world, people who think in black and white and people who think in the grey area.  People who think in black and white easily recognize right or wrong on a given issue.  This allows them to easily take a stance on that issue.  They tend to like rules and standards.  They usually have a clear understanding of what they believe and are confident that they are correct in those beliefs.  The greatest strength of people who think in black and white is that they are certain of the truth…however, when that truth is not the truth it also tends to be their biggest weakness. 
People who tend to think in the grey area do not necessarily mind rules as long as there is an understanding that there is always an exception to each particular rule.  Grey area thinkers tend to see good and bad on both sides of an issue.  This doesn’t mean they won’t take a particular position or stance on an issue, it just means they allow the possibility that their minds could be changed.  Grey thinkers can seem wishy-washy at times and uncertain of what they believe.  The greatest strength of grey area thinkers is that their open minds mean they are usually people of grace and understanding.  Their greatest weakness is that the reluctance to take a stance on an issue can quickly turn into apathy and lethargy. 
Our next series will be called Into the Grey and we will explore some of the grey areas we find in the Bible (yes they are there).  If you’ve always held the black and white belief that lying is a sin, two women in the Bible (Jael and Rahab) will enlighten us to the grey area idea of Righteous Deception (Jael’s story is in Judges 4 and Rahab’s is in Joshua 2).  If you don’t believe in “rolling the dice” to make a decision because there always has to be a right and wrong choice, it might surprise you to discover that the disciples cast lots (the same as rolling the dice) to decide on their 12th man after Judas’s spot is left vacant.  And if you think following morality is the end all be all for living a Godly life, wait until you hear what Paul has to say about it.
Those of you who are grey area thinkers will love this series and probably already find yourself in agreement with where it is headed.  However, those of you who think in black and white may be challenged with some of these teachings.  Don’t worry, for all of you black and white thinkers out there I have something special planned for you.  I will either reserve the last message in the series for those issues that the Bible does teach as black and white, or I will end the Into the Grey series and do an entirely new series on black and white issues. 

Either way, just know that my commitment is to make the teaching Biblical and helpful for all of us since we live in a culture that often confronts us with issues that can be challenging to navigate. 

                                                                                                                        Pastor Rich