Saturday, January 14, 2006

Minding our Spiritual Manners

Minding our Spiritual Manners
– Proper Behavior for God’s Little Ladies and Gents

Let's face it, children are born little savages. Little boys and girls, as sweet as they are, do not start out fine little ladies and prim and proper gentlemen. They must be taught proper behavior: how to act, speak and conduct themselves in different social settings and situations.

For instance, they learn it is improper to bring one's picnic manners to a formal dinner. Likewise, nifty e-mail lingo and shorthand - LOL & L8OR- does not belong in Pap paw’s death notice or one’s wedding invitation.

To get along best in this world, avoiding offense as much as possible, it is important to know what is proper behavior and what is not.

Far more important though, for those of us in God's household, is the need to learn proper spiritual graces. When we are born the second time (John 3:1-16), we need to learn how God wants us to conduct ourselves – spiritual manners if you please.

Being redeemed little savages, we are ignorant of the proper expressions of our inner desires and drives. We need to know what is appropriate for fitting conversation and conduct.

As we relate to others, we must know God’s behavioral expectations of those claiming to be in His kingdom, as well as what awaits those who are not family.

These spiritual manners are most important since it is God more than anyone that we want to avoid offending and insulting. Note what this section from Ephesians has to say about proper behavior by dealing with several areas of improper behavior.

“But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God's holy people. Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving.

“For of this you can be sure: No immoral, impure or greedy person--such a man is an idolater--has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God. Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of such things God's wrath comes on those who are disobedient.” Eph. 5:3-6 (NIV)

Giving way to improper passions such as sexual immorality, moral impurity and greed are not to even be hinted at as part of the lives of God's people. It is not proper spiritual behavior (vs. 3).

Nor is conversation that is obscene, foolish, foul, demeaning or demoralizing. Rotten talk is not to be part of our lives (see Eph. 4:29).

Instead, our talk is to be filled with the giving of thanks (vs. 4). Indeed, those who consistently "walk and talk" with such crude spiritual manners show that they are not part of Christ's kingdom (vs. 5; see also 1 John 2:9-11 & 3:1-10).

Regardless of the many pleadings today for tolerance of sinful living, God's wrath will indeed come to those who live spiritually improper lives of unchecked passions (vs. 6; see also Rom. 1:16-20; John 3:36; 5:24).

In a day of slack manners, crude behavior and people ignorant of proper conduct, it would not hurt us to learn more of the social graces.

Yet, a far greater need in our day of unchecked living and unclean lips is to live proper lives of fitting conduct as God's holy people (see Isaiah 6).

While social customs change over time, God's standards are fixed and eternal. They are not determined by ever-shifting culture, changes of technology or philosophy.

Instead, His ways are rooted in His very nature, which does not change (see 1 Peter. 1:13-2:1; Heb. 12:8; Lev. 11:44, 45). God is immutable - unchanging.

As we seek to live a life of love, imitating God as His dearly loved children (Eph. 5:1, 2), let's seek to change to be more like Him in every way. His passions are always holy and controlled and His speech is always befitting of Him.

Let's behave as citizens of His kingdom, into which we gain entrance by His grace as we place our faith in His risen Son (Eph. 2:1-10).

Not being selfish – which is very bad form - let's tell others of His grace, as we warn them of the certain coming wrath of our holy and just God (Rom. 5:1-5; 8:1; 2 Thess. 1:8-10; Heb. 13:4-6; Rev. 21:8).

God wants to use His redeemed and spiritually refined ruffians to point others to our gracious God. He loves to forgive, cleanse and change each of us, even the most spiritually crude and ill mannered (read and meditate on these passages: 1 Timothy 1:9-17; 2 Timothy 1:8-12; Titus 2:11-14 & 3:3-8).

God alone can make a silk purse out of pig’s ear. If you don’t believe it, and you are one of His children, go look in the mirror. So, for Christ’s honor and other’s sake, let us keep our spiritual pinkies up, little dearies.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

The Lasting Mark of Encouragement

The Lasting Mark of Encouragement

"Only Luke is with me. Get Mark and bring him with you, because he is helpful to me in my ministry" - 2 Timothy 4:11 (NIV).

These brief words - as all words do - have a story, a context that explains and enriches them. Written by the Apostle Paul from prison to his young disciple Timothy, Paul contemplates his life and anticipates his seemingly imminent death.

Already speaking of life in the past tense – "I have fought the good fight, I have run the race, I have kept the faith" – Paul seeks to meet some basic needs. He requests a cloak for warmth, some books to study and some companionship to fill his last hours.

Deserted by Demas and having sent off others to fulfill various ministries, Paul and Luke are alone. Paul asks Timothy to come to him and to bring Mark with him "Get Mark, Timothy. Guide him to me. He is useful to me and my ministry."

What encouraging words of respect were from the legendary Apostle for this younger servant of God. Being called on to help Paul was quite an honor. Paul too was human, with real needs and limitations. He saw Mark as someone who could meet them.

Yet, the history of Mark and Paul fill this verse with even more meaning. As Paul Harvey would tell it "and now, the rest of the story."

When a younger man, John Mark was honored to join his cousin Barnabas and Paul on what we call "Paul’s First Missionary Journey". Finishing a gospel-sharing tour of the island of Cyprus, Paul and Barnabas planned a return to the mainland to share Christ in more unreached areas.

For reasons not stated, young Mark opted out of that phase of the mission, returning home to Jerusalem. In Paul’s eyes, Mark quit.

Some time later, Paul and Barnabas itched to visit the churches they had started. Like good parents, they longed to know how their spiritual children fared. When Barnabas suggested they take Mark along with them, Paul balked.

Mark had bailed out last time, Paul was not going to risk that again. His resolve was firm. So was Barnabas’ - just like when he took a chance on Paul when he was first saved and no one believed him a genuine disciple (Acts 9:26-29; 11:19-30).

This powerful ministry team had such a sharp disagreement about Mark that they parted ways. Barnabas took his cousin Mark to encourage the churches in Cyprus; Paul took Silas and set out to nurture the other churches (Acts 15:35-41).

Back now to Paul in prison - many years and mission trips later. We do not read what transpired, but things have changed between Paul and Mark. Paul’s apparently simple request teems with life: "Get Mark and bring him with you, because he is helpful to me in my ministry."

This reflects humility on Paul’s part. To ask for help from someone he previously saw as untrustworthy required some pride swallowing. Yes, Mark had maturity, but so had Paul.

Sometimes we put people in neatly labeled boxes and never let them out. Yet, Paul let Mark be what he had become – no small thing.

Behind the scenes reconciliation had occurred too. We do not read of when Paul and Mark were reconciled, but it is assumed here. It is too easy to let past offenses define our present relationships. Beyond unfortunate, it is so unfair. Paul knew Mark had forgiven him.

Asking Timothy to bring Mark speaks volumes. Timothy became Paul’s helper shortly after Paul refused to take Mark along. Mark is not only not bitter towards Paul, he holds no ill will towards "his replacement." Paul also assumes Timothy will not feel jealous or threatened.

Mark refused to hold Timothy responsible for something Timothy had no control over. How many homes, work places, neighborhoods, friendships have been soured by secondhand bitterness? No immature snubbing or petty grudges here! Just mature adults serving God together. How refreshing!

Paul’s request reveals his appreciation of Mark and who he had become. Oh what it means to have a mentor, a model, a hero appreciate a younger protégé. Our kids long for it – be they 5, 15, 25 or 45. Older men, rise up to this potent ministry to the younger men in your life, your church.

Beyond mere appreciation, Paul in this pen-stroke, publicly shares his affirmation of Mark. We are all too apt to keep appreciation of others to ourselves, admire them from afar. Here, in an eternal, God-breathed letter, Paul lets Timothy and all who read it know he affirms Mark’s ability to minister.

People knew Paul had turned down Mark’s last application for service, choosing even to part ways with Barnabas rather than take him along. Now Mark has Paul’s blessing, his personal endorsement. What must this have meant to Mark?

What kept Mark from being just one more of the multitude of bench / pew sitters? Prior to Paul’s call for help, Mark had been buoyed, nurtured and mentored by Barnabas, the "Son of Encouragement." When Paul rejected Mark, Barnabas enfolded him, giving him a second chance. What a boost when Mark saw Barnabas choose him over Paul!

I think its fair to speculate that if Barnabas had not fought for him, Mark’s ministry might have ended or been serious diminished as he avoided further risk of rejection. How many people have dropped out of service to God after even lesser hurts than Mark received? Would we have the gospel of Mark?

Paul had defined Mark by his past – a quitter. Barnabas saw God’s grace at work maturing Mark. He risked a relationship and reputation for the likes of lowly Mark. How many of us have longed for that or ever offered that to another castaway?

Let us begin 2006 knowing that God gives second chances. Enrich 2006 for others by following God, Barnabus and Paul’s example. Whom can you re-enlist into service for Jesus?