John T. Willis

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Church Politics: This is a Heart Issue

One of the most pervasive problems ravaging and destroying the church is church politics. This has always been a major portion of the wiles of the devil. The church does not fall because of external opposition, but because of internal strife and division. This always has to do with personal preferences, self-centered goals, and arrogant behavior. The Bible presents numerous examples of this. Here are only a very few. 1. Certain groups of Pharisees in the First Century A. D. spent their lives attempting to put themselves in control of the masses. They were a very small group compared with the entire community of faith. Jesus addressed this problem in Matthew 23:2-12: "The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses' seat; therefore, do whatever they teach you and follow it; but do not do as they do, for they do not practice what they teach. They tie up heavy burdens, hardto bear, and ley them on the shoulders of others; but they themselves are unwilling to lift a finger to move them. They do all their deeds to be seen by others; for they make their phylacteries broad and their fringes long. They love to have the place of honor at banquests and the best seats in the synagogues, and to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, and to have people call them rabbi. But you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all students. And call no one your father on earth, for you have one Father--the one in heaven. Nor are you to be called instructors, for you have one instructor, the Messiah. The greatest among you will be your servant. All who exalt themselves will be humbled, and all who humble themselves will be exalted." Personally, I do not want anyone to think of me or call me in an exalted way like Doctor or Elder in the sense of an authority figure or Pastor in the sense of someone spiritually superior to others in the body of Christ. Jesus emphasizes this point. 2. A major problem in the Corinthian church was small divisive groups. Some of them declared: "I belong to Paul." Others declared: "I belong to Apollos." Others declared: "I belong to Cephas [Peter]." Others declared: "I belong to Christ." (1 Corinthians 1:12). When all is said and done, this is a heart problem. Paul clearly responded by stating emphatically: "What then is Apollos? What is Paul? SERVANTS through whom you came to believe, as the Lord assigned to each. I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither the one who plants northe one who waters is anything, but ONLY GOD who gives the growth. The one who plants and the one who waters have a common purpose, and each will receive wages according to the labor of each. For we are GOD'S SERVANTS; you are God's field, God's building." (1 Corinthians 3:5-9). What a travesty--What a great sin--when we parade ourselves as leaders, masters, domineers, dictators of God's people when God teaches us to be followers, disciples, ministers, slaves, servants of God. See Matthew 4:18-22; 18:1-4; 20:20-28; Mark 10:35-45; Romans 6:15-18; and very often. The idea of leadership--smeadership is laughable before God our only master, king, lord, and leader. 3. The tiny letter called Third John contains these lines in verse 9-10: "I have written something to the church; but Diotrephes, who likes to put himself first, does not acknowledge our authority. So if I come, I will call attention to what he is doing in spreading false charges against us. And not content with those charges, he refuses to welcome the friends, and even prevents those who want to do so and expels them from the church." These types of groups of people isolate themselves from others whom they disapprove, and refuse them to have true fellowship with them and threaten their jobs, their families, and their future. Most people have encountered groups like this in your church or city or nations or community. Share YOUR experiences and testimonies and ideas and reservations and misgivings with others. Let me hear from YOU. John Willis

Friday, March 29, 2013

Jesus' Teaching about the End of the World--Luke 17:20-37

As Jesus was moving closer to Jerusalem, some Pharisees [apparently from Jerusalem] asked Jesus "when the kingdom of God was coming." Jesus replied, and then expanded on this by teaching his disciples about the end of the world. This appears in Luke 17:20-37. This falls into three parts. I. Jesus Speaks with the Pharisees. Luke 17:20-21. a. As Jesus was moving toward Jerusalem, a group of unnamed Pharisees approached him and asked when the kingdom of God was coming. Obviously they wanted to know when God would send a descendant of David to become king over Israel as David and many of his descendants did. Thus, they were asking about a concrete, visible indication of the coming of that expected king. [Of course, the background is 2 Samuel 7 and related texts]. 17:20a. b. Jesus was thinking along entirely different lines. He replied: "The kingdom of God is not coming with things that can be observed." According to Jesus, "the kingdom of God" is God the Father's rule in the hearts of human beings. Thus, one cannot possibly observe "the kingdom of God" visibly. This is wholly a heart matter. Paul emphasizes this point when he says: "The kingdom of God is not food and drink but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit" (Romans 14:17). 17:20b. c. Jesus put it this way: "The kingdom of God is among you." "Among you" means: (1) it is in the midst of you, in the presence of the person of Jesus himself and his ministry of preaching and healing, and (2) right now it is within your grasp or reach, it is at your disposal, if you will just accept it. The kingdom of God is God's rule in the hearts of human beings. 17:21. II. Jesus teaches his Followers not to be concerned about the time of the End of the World. 17:22-25. a. After responding to the Pharisees, Jesus intentionally turns to his disciples who have undoubtedly heard the question of the Pharisees. Jesus knows the hearts of all people. So he knew his disciples longed to see one of the days of Jesus. They hoped they would still be alive when Jesus returned and the world would come to an end. Jesus told them flatly that this will not happen in their lifetime. 17:22. b. Then Jesus tells them that other people will tell them about the TIME of Jesus's return. Jesus tells them not to "set off in pursuit" of these human imaginations. We can learn a lot from Jesus if we will just listen this message. Again and again, preachers will tell all of us that the end of the world and the second coming of Christ will happen on this day or that day. Jesus says: Do not "set off in pursuit" of these ideas. We human beings constantly run after a new movie, a new book, a new preacher, a new idea. These fads, these crazes are all a waste of time and energy. It is much wiser to keep returning to the Bible, to prayer, to meditation, to helping other people. 17:23. c. Jesus says that when he actually comes, this will be sudden and as manifest as the lightning bolts that light up the sky. In Jesus' own lifetime, he tells his disciples that first he must endure suffering and be rejected that that generation. What a great lesson for all of us. A person can spend a lifetime serving God through Jesus Christ, and the church and the people around him or her probably will reject him, just as Jesus' generation did. 17:24-25. III. Jesus gives two illustrations to make this point. Luke 17: 26-37. a. To illustrate his point, he turns to the Hebrew Bible. First, he reminds his disciples of the account of Noah. Genesis 6-9. In the days of Noah, people were eating and drinking and marrying and being given in marriage until Noah and his family entered into the ark and the flood came and destroyed all of them. For that generation, the flood was sudden and quite clear, but too late for them. Hence, Jesus is clearly encouraging people to live for God through Jesus Christ to be prepared for the second coming of Christ and the end of the world. 17:26-27. b. Jesus' second illustration is the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah in the days of Lot. Genesis 18-19. In the days of Lot, people were eating and drinking, buying and selling, planting and building, but on the day Lot left Sodom, God rained down fire and sulfur from heaven and destroyed all of them. We need to wake up and realize we are doing exactly the same thing. We are eating and drinking, buying and selling houses and cars and clothing=the works, planting gardens and fields, building huge buildings and mansions and capital of all kind. As in the days of Lot, God will appear like lightning, suddenly, unexpectedly, clearly. Will we be prepared? 17:28-30. c. Jesus says that wherever a person might be: on the housetop or in the field, that person cannot change his or her situation when Christ comes again. Jesus emphasizes Lot's wife. When the fire and sulfur fell on Sodom and Lot's wife turned back, she became a pillar of salt. 17:31-32. d. Jesus explains clearly: Those who try to make their life secure will lost it, but those who lose their life will keep it. Jesus' concern is not to attempt to determine the time of his second coming and the end of the world, but daily to take up one's cross and follow Jesus. 17:33. e. When Christ comes again, one will be taken and the other left; one will go into heaven, the other into hell. 17:34-36. f. Jesus' disciples then asked, "Where, Lord?" Jesus replied: "Where the corpse is, there the vultures will gather." What he means is that the vultures will inevitably show up where the carrion is; so the day of the coming of Jesus Christ will also inevitably be revealed. So, do not be concerned about determining the exact time. This is God's venue, not man's venue. 17:37. Share YOUR concerns and imaginations and desires and reversals and insights with others. Let me hear from YOU. John Willis

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Envy: This is a Heart Issue

A very prevalent attitude of the heart is comparing oneself with another person. If one thinks that another person is better than oneself, this often leads to envy. This is a huge problem for many people in the family, in the church, and in human society small and large. Here are a few thoughts about envy. 1. Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 10:12: "We do not dare to classify or compare ourselves with some of those who commend themselves. But when they measure themselves by one another and compare themselves with one another, they do not show good sense." Each person is unique. Each person will find others who have inferior gifts compared with that gift and find others who have superior gifts compared with that gift. In making such comparisons, a person will soon feel superior to another person and inferior to another person. One cannot win anything by comparison oneself with someone else. It just does not work. 2. In Galatians 5:24-26, Paul says: "Those who belong to Jesus Christ have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, competing against one another, envying one another." By nature, competition is huge in American society and throughout the world. Everyone yearns to SUCCEED and to EXCEL. This is why we have the World Series, the Super Bowl, the Olympics, etc. All of this is interesting and attracting. But spiritually, under God through Jesus Christ there is an entirely different way of thinking and living. Christians have the goal of pleasing and serving God. When we do this, we succeed and excel. But in doing this, we do not need or want a reward. God will take care of all rewards. Our goal is to please and serve God. Otherwise, even in the church we will constantly be competing with others in the church and being envy of other Christians. 3. James 3:13-18 describes a clear, sharp contrast between earthly wisdom and heavenly wisdom: "Who is wise and understanding among you? Show by your good life that you works are done with gentleness born of wisdom. But if you have BITTER ENVY and SELFISH AMBITION in your HEARTS, do not be boastful and false to the truth. Such wisdom does not come down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, devilish. For where there is ENVY and SELFISH AMBITION, there will also be disorder and wickedness of every kind. But the wisdom that is above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without a trace of partiality or hypocrisy. And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace for those who make peace." Envy--wanting to be or do what other people are or do--is contrary to the spirit of God through Jesus Christ. Instead, each godly person must strive to focus positively on God, Jesus Christ, and God's word. 4. A great example is Psalm 73. The psalmist describes his own earlier heart attitude of envy. "As for me, my feet had almost stumbled; my steps had nearly slipped. For I was ENVIOUS of the arrogant; I saw the prosperity of the wicked. For they have no pain; their bodies are sound and sleek. They are not in trouble as others are; they are not plagued like other people. Therefore pride is their necklace; violence covers them like a garment. Their eyes swell out with fatness; their HEARTS overflow with follies. They scoff and speak with malice; loftily they threaten oppression. They set their mouths against heaven, and their tongues range over the earth. [The psalmist continues several more verses, then he comes to his senses and turns to God, saying] When my soul was embittered, when I was pricked in HEART, I was stupid and ignorant; I was like a brute beast toward you. Nevertheless I am continually with you; you hold my right hand. You guide me with your counsel, and afterward you will receive me to glory. Whom have I in heaven by you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire other than you. . . . But for me it is good to be near God; I have made the Lord God my refuge, to tell of all your works." 5. When human beings SUCCEED or EXCEL, they become different people who are unacceptable to God. One example is Saul: as a young man, he was very humble when God called him to be the first king of Israel. But not long after he became king, he became another person. He began to take things into his own hands instead of pleasing and serving and honoring God. God rejected Saul and made David the next king over Israel. The account of Saul appears in 1 Samuel 8-15. A humble, good, honest person often becomes CEO, president, governor, boss, etc., and turns into an entirely different person. He has achieve SELF AMBITION, and has self-destructed. Share YOUR insights and explanations and misgivings and remorses and shortcomings and desires with others. Let me hear from YOU. John Willis