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Saturday, December 8, 2012

Some thoughts on God's ways of correcting one


On my last writing, I finished by saying,

That’s one of the great things about using participatory Bible studies instead of sermons—if someone doesn’t understand what you are saying, which includes you leaving out some thoughts in your head that tie two points together, that person can ask, and you can correct yourself, or maybe realize that you are running down a mental rabbit trail to nowhere. The greater problem is for those of us who are either leaders or more highly educated accepting correction when God somehow chooses to send it through someone less educated or with less leadership ability or who shows normally less obedience or faithfulness or commitment.

            Carolyn Spence commented that she would like me to develop that thought more, so I will attempt to.  Many (although not all) persons in this network do not know me personally.  If you knew me, it would filter out and add certain aspects to what I am attempting to communicate, and that occurs wherever you interact with persons whom you know to some degree.  Since this is not the case for most, I need to tell you a little about me.  There are persons I know, particularly in some traditional Pentecostal institutions which honor zeal or excitement over intellectual study, who might take this as a defense of being zealous over having put in time in study (and not just in Christian studies, but also in almost any practical subject).  That’s not me.  As a young believer I learned that, part of what shows that the God of the Bible is truly God is that, to speak creation into existence, before creation, God thoroughly understood all the various things that make the universe what it is, from laws of astrophysics in the universe to what works at the subatomic level to dna, much of which the intellectually greatest of us humans have begun to understand to a degree only over the last few generations.  God understood it sufficiently to speak it into existence.  Then, He gave us a group of writings that speak to persons from extremely primitive to our current modern technological culture.  From what we see in Genesis about the fall, He could and did even conceive alternatives, one of which He put in place at the Fall, and another of which He will put into place near the end, at the least.  To say that sentence doesn’t mean that I, or you, begin to understand it. Even then, maybe, even probably, we are just guessing to the best of our limited understanding. 

            To that effect, what He is doing is spiritual.  When I prayed to accept Jesus as my Savior, something happened.  I felt it, but I can’t explain it.  Later, I learned that I didn’t choose Him, He chose me.  It felt at the time like I chose Him, but I believe God is not a man that He should lie, so somehow it is true.  Maybe after this life is over, He’ll explain it to us, and maybe we won’t care. 

            To the subject at hand, I’ll tell you a story that first brought this aspect to my attention.  I came to faith in Jesus between by freshman and sophomore years in high school.  After graduating, I went to a nearby public liberal arts college.  By the Spirit, He directed me to getting connected to a group of fellow Christian students of all different backgrounds for mutual support and to be a witness of Jesus to the campus community, which, of course, has somewhat of an anti-Christian leaning to its culture.  This group was about 50 on a campus of 4000.  I’m not saying, by any means, that we were the only believers on campus, as I’m sure there were believers who just got on campus and off, and had other things in life going on.  Anyway, one of these other believers was a young woman named Kathy, also a freshman, who had been messing with Zen through her high school years, and had come to faith in Jesus over the previous summer.  Her wardrobe still reminded one of someone who had just walked out of an ashram.  When winter term came around, a young man named Mike came to campus.  He’d been hiking around the country, and it seems God started speaking to him while touring the cathedrals of Montreal, and, if I recall correctly, doing drugs.  Somewhere during the first week of school, Kathy and Mike wound up in a conversation, and Mike accepted Jesus as his Savior.  The next Thursday, I ran into Mike for the first time, and we had a short conversation, and realized that this was the person I had heard had gotten saved during the previous week during about the last sentence of the conversation.  The next weekend, some of the students in this group (I was not there that day), for whatever reason, or for the experience of it, visited a church which might fit into what Frank Viola describes as “wacky”, or, to put it into conventional terms, old-time Pentecostal.  Mike was with the group, and as none of the other persons came from that background, they directed Mike to a professor who is a believer and could explain what went on (the good, the bad, and the ugly) better.

            The next Thursday, I ran into Mike again.  In the course of a conversation, Mike said something (I no longer remember what) which, as soon as I heard it, I knew was something true about following Jesus, but which had never occurred to me before, and I knew that I, or at least my spirit, hadn’t ever heard.  Exactly what it was isn’t the point.  The point is that it was a jolt to my spirit that I had been desiring to follow Jesus for about four years, and someone who had been a believer for a week and a half was teaching me!  Now, I had grown up going to an intellectualistic institutional church which was always led, by denominational decree, by a person with a master’s in theology.  This started showing me that, in reality, leadership, in this case teaching, is by gifting, not position or title.  As I would know him for the next couple of years, I came to see that God gave him certain abilities immediately that I would never have.

            This is one of the wonderful things about the true church, that is, groups of believers.  God is showing us what true spirituality is by having the true church function in a manner different than businesses, government, or the military.  Now, I was still decades away from even realizing simple, organic church existed.  After I graduated from college, and particularly after getting married, I knew that there was something special and more powerful in a Godly way about that informal group in college than the institutional churches I was part of once I was living in the “adult” world.  Not just in salvation, but in many aspects of sanctification, we can look back and feel within one’s spirit, “How could I have missed that?”  Even if afterward, a certain thing looks like an intellectual point, it actually is a spiritual one.  You cannot learn the point, one must follow Jesus and eventually experience it, and then know what God said in the Bible.  The rabbis of Jesus’ day missed the prophecies of Him, and we almost assuredly are not  understanding some of the prophecies of His coming again the way we will when we can look back at it.

            So far, I have discussed the intellectual aspect.  Leadership ability can be a natural gift or a spiritual gift.  We know of persons, both believers and non-, who have an ability to lead, either in general, or in specific situations, and to differing degrees.  The military believes that it can teach leadership, but that is difficult to clarify in a situation in which leadership is stratified by titular position.  In many capitalistic businesses, leadership is nothing more than a position, its title and responsibility.  I have had many managers at work who both didn’t have a hint of even caring about leading the persons who reported to them.  The manager expected the amount of respect that went with his position sufficient for all in a working group to collect a paycheck every week or two.  In government, such as in the U.S. where I live, we elect leaders, but I don’t remember if I have ever met one of these “leaders”.   I am certain I could meet some if I would go out of my way and find out about the meetings of one of the political parties (assuming it is a major party). 

            In the world, it is a threat to power to open a situation where those who have less power can ask a question, which is why we often see conflict between politicians and reporters. As the world’s way of doing leadership was forced into the church, much of institutional church has operated that way for centuries.  In a fallen world, a major reason behind it is that those in power are protecting themselves from being challenged or embarrassed.  In a true church, Jesus is the Head, we are all followers, and, to honor Him, we should all be attempting to build up each other.  If we don’t, it is still a teachable moment.  Even when I was in institutional churches, oftentimes the greatest lessons in faith came from something not as planned, or, unfortunately, someone in their humanity attempting to cover up something going wrong (at least in their own mind). 

            The last category is learning from someone who normally has shown less obedience (to the Holy Spirit), or faithfulness, or commitment. This takes situations which are closer to organic church, even if they are formally marked by names such as youth groups, parachurch organizations, home groups, prayer meetings, participatory Bible studies (as opposed to what certain churches call Bible studies which are nothing more than sermons following a book of the Bible, in which no one other than the speaker studied the Bible or can contribute anything) or just informal interactions in real life.  It takes a situation in which any person can speak.  This means that someone can say the wrong thing, and others in the group get to practice dealing with this person in a way that shows Jesus’ love and care for them through us.  More to the point, that person just may be able to say something beyond where they have grown spiritually, and in doing so, actually grow closer to there.  I think of one time when I was a young believer, and I quoted “My house shall be called a house of prayer for all nations”, which is Isaiah 56:7, but I didn’t know that I knew that.  Afterward, when I was alone in my room, I was amazed to think of that.  As much as I assuredly heard it before, in my spirit, at that moment, it seemed miraculous.  I have been in other situations in which, particularly a young believer, says something that is wisdom, just in the midst of a normal conversation.  We don’t necessarily know what that means, except when either that piece of wisdom comes, surprisingly, out of one’s own mouth, or it is exactly the thing we needed to hear.  One special instance is when the person speaking says something that touches a point in oneself that God wishes to speak to you about, you know it, and you know the person saying it cannot know it.

            Before I conclude, I wish to bring up a situation that I struggle with.  This is those brothers and sisters in Jesus who wish to make every problem something that can be answered with a clever phrase and/or quoting one or, at most, a few scripture verses.  Among persons in that group, anyone that gives an involved answer, especially without quoting scripture verses (whether quoted in context or not is irrelevant) is somehow seen as unspiritual.  If these persons are in a leadership position, oftentimes they have been respecting those who have practiced emotionally moving others as opposed to teaching, and are unaware of the believers over the centuries who have struggled with problems of life and faith, and have communicated both excellent and incomplete answers, the latter of which has been further examined by others over time.    As I have said previously, I have not been able to have been in a missionary situation outside the U.S., but I suspect that such people appear in all cultures.  One last benefit of organic verses institutional church is that, if house church is the norm, such persons can send fewer persons off track.

            I sense that much more could be said about this issue, but these are thoughts I have at this time.

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