The Great Contrast

(Another insight from my journey through the Book of Acts)

Peter and John went to the Temple one afternoon to take part in the three o’clock prayer service.  As they approached the Temple, a man lame from birth was being carried in. Each day he was put beside the Temple gate, the one called the Beautiful Gate, so he could beg from the people going into the Temple.

Acts 3:1-2 (LT)

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve read this part of chapter 3, or the number of messages I have preached based on this passage. Probably not enough. But as I was reading this, out of nowhere, it hit me. Well, actually it came from somewhere–actually some ONE. What hit me? Glad you asked. It’s the Contrast! A gate that was named “Beautiful” and a beggar who has never been able to walk.

If ever there was a “great contrast”, then this is it. First, there were those going to worship God. They were careful to observe all the rules so that they would not be disqualified. In short, these were good moral people. Then, there is that man born unable to walk. In their culture they would have considered him cursed by God. After all, good people would never be born unable to walk. Bad things never happen to good people. Good, moral people going to church. A man outside who was viewed as cursed and unfit to be inside. Truth Time: He was NOT allowed inside. His birth defect disqualified him from admission. Contrast.

Here’s another contrast. People we going in expecting to receive a blessing from God. They were looking for the God of Abundance. After all, they are good, moral people. And that man? Begging to barely survive. Outside the Temple–so close to the abundance of God–but he wasn’t allowed in. So close…but so far away.

Person after person walks by. Maybe a few toss a mite or 2 in his beggar’s basket. Each person not looking at him–or looking at him as cursed by God. That is…until Peter and John come upon this “Great Contrast”. They looked at him…they could have tossed a few coins his way. But what would that do for him on the next day? And the next? And the next? He would still need to beg.

What that man born unable to walk needed…was TO WALK! Peter and John didn’t preach to him about being saved. They didn’t give him a discourse on the Roman’s Road-map To Heaven. They spoke hope into despair. Power into weakness. They spoke into his greatest human need–to WALK!

And you know what? HE WALKED! OK, they had to jerk him up and show him he would walk–but he walked. Then he started leaping–that’s dancing for those uninformed. Those on the inside couldn’t see that as a possibility for him–but Peter and John did…because Jesus saw it. So what’s the take-home lesson from this “Great Contrast”?

The church needs to stand with and by the outcasts–those deemed unfit, unworthy, cursed of God. We find those first disciples of Jesus going towards the disenfranchised, not away from them. What should mark us as disciples of Jesus is not what we do on Sunday…going with our best outfits, looking like good, moral people.

Our measurement of being a disciple of Jesus is how we speak to thee broken and hurting people all around the rest of the week. We need to speak hope and power into those hearts and lives, and let them know how God meets their deepest needs.

Oh, and that part about Sunday…inside the sanctuary should be a reflection of the community around it. Pristine chapels do not speak of God’s power, but our arrogance and self righteousness. The church is called to stand along that “Great Contrast”–not like those worshipers going into that Temple–but exactly like Peter and John. Reach out to anyone and everyone who feels the despair and hopeless of that man born unable to walk. Do those people feel welcome in your church building, or do they feel excluded, like that make born unable to walk?

The ugliest in the world, in YOUR community, should find the beauty and power of God’s grace and mercy–inside your sanctuaries and by you on the streets and roads, any day…every day…

Love God with all your heart. Love others the way Jesus loves you. And make sure all the Glory goes to Him!

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The Koinonia Life

Well, yesterday we looked the the foundation provide by Jesus that the very first believers embraced. But what good is a foundation unless something is built upon it. Right now I remembering from a previous appointment in a certain community, there was something I saw almost every day. It was a foundation for a house. What I noticed was that it was overgrown with weeds even saplings were growing up. Someone had started to build a house but got only as far as the foundation.

I don’t know the story or the reason why–but this morning I see a spiritual truth in that image. A foundation becomes worthless unless something–something worthwhile–is built upon it. In looking at the book of Acts–Acts Of The Holy Spirit In Surrendered People–those surrendered people took that foundation and began building. What they built is a far cry from most “churches” today.

Renewal and Revival are the exclusive works of God through the Holy Spirit. And it comes when we build upon that Foundation that is provided for us. You know I love to throw that phrase Kingdom of God around a lot. And there’s a life that goes along with the Kingdom. I call it The Kingdom Life. But what I’ve discovered in this journey is that it is more accurately The Koinonia Life. Koinonia is that Greek word which means “a shared, or join participation”. Look at Acts 2:43-47

43 A deep sense of awe came over them all, and the apostles performed many miraculous signs and wonders. 44 And all the believers met together in one place and shared everything they had. 45 They sold their property and possessions and shared the money with those in need.46 They worshiped together at the Temple each day, met in homes for the Lord’s Supper, and shared their meals with great joy and generosity— 47 all the while praising God and enjoying the goodwill of all the people. And each day the Lord added to their fellowship those who were being saved.


Acts 2:43-47 (NLT)

Here is what that first life together looked like; and take a moment to compare it with the life you see at your church:

1] There was an awe and reverence for God.  There was something about what was happening that it was clear to nearly all that this was a work of God—the implication is that even those who rejected Peter’s invitation could not deny that God was present.

2] There were signs and wonders.  The wonders is what caught their attention.  That’s what the Greek word means—to catch the attention of others.  The signs, well here’s the Greek definition of that word:  that by which a person or a thing is distinguished from others and known.  They were known by the power that was being revealed in them.  This is what produced the miracles.

3] They met together. Human connection is important. They actually enjoyed seeing each other. The Benediction wasn’t the sign that church was over. It signaled that it was time to get together.

4] They shared everything. It was their shared concern for each other that they gladly helped each other.

5] They were mission focused. They were willing to give up whatever they owned when someone was in need.  Others were more important than self.

6] Worship was central. Notice they did it daily.  Worship was important for them.  It wasn’t an act they had to do—it was the life they lived.

7] They Met in homes for Communion. They didn’t have church buildings, so homes became the key meeting place.  Today in congregations that are growing, one of the key reasons is small groups.  This is going back to the very beginning of Koinonia.  We have only a limited supply of time, so they invested in key relationships of people who shared their passion for Jesus. Just a side note here. How did they serve Communion with a seminary-trained,-church-ordained clergy to administer it? Have we made Holy Communion so “special” that it’s not sacred unless a pastor administers it? If so, we have robbed this Moment of it’s sacredness and power.

8] They shared meals and everything with great joy. The key word is JOY. To many church pew sitters look like they are chewing on a green lemon rind in one corner of their mouth and a green persimmon in the other. Hold a mirror up to your face and ask yourself, “Would someone really want to follow Jesus based on that image?”

9] They had generous hearts. What could show the heart of God more than Generosity? No one had to earn their way into their hearts. Their hearts were open to love and embrace others.

10] Their lifestyle was characterized by praise. They weren’t complaining about their community—they were doing what the apostles did when the Holy Spirit Indwelled them—telling others of the wonderful things of God!  Here’s an application—those outside the church, outside the Koinonia, see us more for what we are against that what we are for.

And the result of building this kind of life?

1] They were respected.  Is the church respected today in the U.S.?  Not so much.  Respect is earned, and maybe we need to get back to the Koinonia Life.

2] Others became followers of Jesus, daily this happened.  And make sure you pay attention to the cause of the new followers.  Who added?  The Lord!  We work the fields, HE takes care of the harvest.

If life within a local congregation does not mirror this kind of life, then it has lost its heart, its passion, and its purpose. Remember to Love God with all your heart. Love others the way Jesus loves you. And make sure all the glory goes to Him!

When Do You Pull The Plug?

The real problem centers around The Bible and deciding what amount of authority it holds over our faith and conduct.

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I do not choose this Title without understanding it may well bring up painful memories. I have sat with family members who were facing this most difficult decision. I have seen firsthand the angst in their faces. Long before we met, my wife Debbie had to make this choice after her youngest daughter was in an automobile accident. When she talks about it, I hear and see that angst again. Regardless of how right that decision is, there is something that lingers within the heart of the person who made the decision. So, you see, I enter into these thoughts sensitive to the memories it creates.

Beginning today, Saturday, 24 February 2019, marks the most important gathering of the people and Tribe known as Methodists since the 1784 Christmas Conference in Baltimore. That Conference formed the “Methodist Church” independent of the Church of England. Today’s Conference may mark (notice I said “may mark”) the beginning of the end of the United Methodist Tribe.

We are a Tribe in turmoil. In the U.S. we have been a Tribe in a steady decline and it’s starting to look like it’s entering into a spiral. In other parts of the world our Tribe is growing, but here, it’s on life-support. In an attempt to resuscitate it, it was decided in 2016 to form a Commission (which was just another name for something us Methodists seem to have perfected–a committee) whose sole purpose was to find a way forward out of this turmoil induced chaos. The question, beginning today, is this: “Can there really be a way forward in light of the chasm that exists?”

Truth is, we have reached the Yogi Berra “fork in the road”. This special called General Conference is convened in the hope that this fork in the road will magically form a single road, or that we can miraculously make another road appear between the fork in the road. All of the media and comments are focused on a single issue: The rights of the LBGTQI in the United Methodist Tribe. However, that focus is only a symptom of a deeper problem.

The real problem centers around The Bible and deciding what amount of authority it holds over our faith and conduct. At some point by the end of the day Tuesday, they will either make a choice to follow Biblical Authority, be our own authority, or allow the chaos and turmoil to continue by doing nothing; which will be a choice that it will make if it happens. Unfortunately, in my Tribe it seems the choice most often made is NOT to make a choice; and that is a choice, a poor choice.

In the last 3 years, I have been praying, seeking and listening. Praying to God, seeking His wisdom and plan, and listening to both sides of this issue, especially to those on the opposite from me. And here is what I have learned: that we who identify as Orthodox, and those who identify themselves as Progressives, each hold positions that are incompatible.

You see, the real issue facing our Tribe isn’t the rights of the Gay Community, but the authority of Scriptures. At this point let me say that no person should be discriminated in the secular workplace because of their sexual orientation. This is plain ol’ wrong. And allow me to also say that under our current laws, same gender weddings are legal and that no one should stand in the way of that marriage BECAUSE it is the law of our land. I will not perform those ceremonies nor allow them to occur in the churches I serve, but I will respect their rights under the law, and I will discourage anyone who tries to deny them that right under law. If there should ever be a federal law that demands I perform such ceremonies or be sent to jail, I choose jail.

All this being said, let’s get back to the issue at hand. Can the United Methodist Tribe be resuscitated or, is this the moment to pull the plug and take this long time Tribe off of life support? This is, to put it mildly, a difficult decision. In times past it has been easier, far to easy, simply to bail out and jump ship that to stay in and fight the good fight of faith. This is the reason why I’ve stayed, and the reason why I have been disappointed in my colleagues and fellow congregations who I believe gave up way too soon.

When all this began to happen in 2016, I prayed about, to borrow a line from a song of my era, “should I stay or should I go?” And the answer was clear as a bell: “No, not YET!” Before the answer was always a definitive NO, NO, NO! So for these past almost 3 years, I have focused on that word YET. The way God wanted me to focus on the YET was to pray and listen. I have prayed and I have listened; listened to God and to others on both side of the issue.

And now, now I sense the question that the doctor would ask a family member in a dire situation: “Do you think the best option is to disconnect your loved one from life support?” is the question facing our Tribe. So, where am I? Well, let me tell you where I am!

  • I am longing and praying for the wind and fire of the Holy Spirit to fall
    at the Dome at America’s Center in St. Louis, Missouri that turns the hearts of the delegates and observers back to God and His Word.
  • I am praying that the need for accountability will be seen as that necessary part of following Jesus.
  • I am praying that eyes will be opened that Truth (homosexuality and all others sins are not part of God’s design) AND Grace (that His grace helps all of us overcome our propensity to sin) EXISTS together in tension, and in that tension (thanks Caleb Kaltenbach for this gem) is where true love happens.
  • I am praying AGAINST fear, anger, and resignation.
  • I am praying that fellow Orthodox hearts will remain gracious and kind throughout this Conference, and long after it adjourns.
  • And I am praying something I’ve been adding to my messages over the past few years: What’s The Next Steps?

I am not hopeless, but am more hopeful now than ever. If the delegates hearts are closed to another Pentecost at The Dome, God will not give up on His Kingdom, and that He is prepared for the outcome, even though none of us know that outcome right now. I am both hopeful and confident that there is a new path opening up for us right now. It will be either in that Tribe called United Methodist, or it will happen in the formation of a new Tribe.

If the Bible is rejected as the final source for doctrine, faith and conduct, then the answer to that painful question is rather clear; at least to me: It’s time to pull the plug. But, if the Bible is affirmed and faithfully followed for all doctrine, faith and conduct, then get the patient out of ICU and unleash her on the world! Either way, Satan is trembling with fear, and that’s always a good thing when the Enemy trembles in fear!

All that is left for me to do–and for you like-minded Wesleyan hearts–is to keep praying and not think about whether or not to pull that plug. Come Tuesday evening, God will give us the answer, the answer that is both right and timely.

Step Up To The Plate

Welcome back to my musings from the Book of Acts. In case this is the first one you’ve read, or if you have forgotten, this is a different kind of journey as I read the Book of Acts. This is NOT a chapter by chapter, verse by verse exegesis. I am reading this powerful book about The Holy Spirit looking for either those things I have forgotten, or for those truths that I’ve been missing these past 45 years since I first welcomed Jesus into my heart. Honestly, I not looking for the obvious, but for those nuances that I’ve been overlooking since I started this journey of faith.

And today, it is Acts 2:14–

Then Peter stepped forward with the eleven other apostles …

OK, it’s 2 words….make that 3 words…rather 4 words….wait a minute….it’s all 9 words. So let’s begin….oh, what do you say….we start at the first word: Then. This word tells us something had just happened. That Promise of Jesus, that The Holy Spirit was a comin’….was no longer a promise, but the reality of Peter’s life. Peter doesn’t do anything other than wait and pray until the Then. When that Then happened, Peter stopped praying and waiting. He moved with that Spirit now living in him and every believer.

Next it’s the 3 words: Peter Stepped Forward. Why? Because of the Then. Up until Then, Peter was known as the one who would speak up without thinking. Come to think of it, I know some people like that. Oh, OK, I do that sometimes, too. He was rash and impetuous. He had the tendency for his mouth to overload his abilities. But….Then happened. With the indwelling and abiding of the Holy Spirit Peter Stepped Forward.

And why not? He had both the Power and the Message that could change his culture and world. This isn’t Impetuous Peter. This is Deliberate Peter. He saw what they did to Jesus. And he saw what Jesus did with what they did. And he paid attention to Jesus–WAIT UNTIL. Wait until…Then. Peter now has the Passion and the Focus. And he steps forward.

But today….so many….too many who profess to be a Christian….who are supposed to have the Power and the Message to change OUR culture….are either too timid….or unwilling to Step Forward. It seems to me that many Churchians and Tenured Pew Sitters would rather stay isolated and insulted from the world and then complain about the condition of the world. Yet….if they have had their own “Then Moment” they have both the Power and the Message to transform their culture.

It happens through the Holy Spirit. And today? People seem to get the heebie jeebies when it comes to the power and work of the Holy Spirit. They don’t want to look “weird” or like one of “those” kind of Christians. The result is out culture continues to spiral downward.

Oh, there are those who step forward–step forward with words of anger, judgment and condemnation; whose only concern seems to be that they have the appearance of being better than others. An unholy sanctimonious attired that is repulsive to the outsider. And then, they have the gall to wonder why their culture is going to hell in a hand basket. Peter wasn’t going to live with that kind of attitude. Peter Stepped Forward.

Which leads to that last part: with the eleven other apostles…. This wasn’t a solo act, a duet, or even a quartet. It was all of them. And here’s what speaks to me that I had not recognized: The Holy Spirit Provides The Means, The Message And The Power needed to transform our Time, Place and Culture. The time has come, urgently arrived, to stop trying to compromise or allow others to dictate The Message in order to make life more comfortable and convenient.

Appeasement is defined as “the action or process of appeasing”. And the word “appease” means: “pacify or placate (someone) by acceding to their demands. I looked up synonyms for placate and here are the words I found: “lull, tranquilize, calm, mollify.” Mollify? Had to look up that word and here’s what mollify means: “Make more temperate, acceptable, or suitable by adding something else; moderate.” Since 1974, I’ve been told by my leaders (well, except one, he IS a mighty warrior for God) that I need to make sure to appease the congregations I had been appointed to. I needed to pacify them so they wouldn’t complain. In other words, let them have it their way. Having it their way may have been a great advertising slogan for Burger King years ago, but it is a pitiful way to operate the Body of Christ.

And for Peter, he couldn’t make the Message more acceptable by adding something else to it. Why? Because of that single word: “Then”–the Holy Spirit had a hold of him and he had a hold on the Spirit. And the reason for Peter’s powerful message was two-fold:

  • The Power of the Holy Spirit
  • And the willingness of the other 11 to stand with him

It’s time for us to run with those who want to run with the Holy Spirit–His Power and The Message. It’s time to leave the paths of placation that does nothing but tranquilize people and lull them into a false sense of peace and security. Appeasement is the desire of Satan. Transformation is the Great Desire of God–and it happens only with HIS Power through The Message of The Kingdom of God–and not the petty preferences of those who have neither the Power nor the Message.

It’s time for us to Step Forward because if we don’t…..well Yogi Berra puts it like this:

And remember to love God with all your heart. Love others the way Jesus loves you. And make sure all the glory goes to Him.

More About The Kingdom Than The Church

Well, here we are, my first entry from my journal as I read the Book of Acts. As a little more background to this adventure, I’m reading with critical eyes. Hold on now! I didn’t say “criticizing” eyes–I said “critical eyes”. I’m looking for things I may not have noticed before, those “nuances” that are not often pondered. Here in Chapter 1, I’ve found a few of them.

Acts 1 is primarily taught with the emphasis on the Ascension and the waiting in Jerusalem until the Holy Spirit came. And as I was reading, I was captured and convicted by Verse 3 (emphasis mine):

During the forty days after he suffered and died, he appeared to the apostles from time to time, and he proved to them in many ways that he was actually alive. And he talked to them about the Kingdom of God.

Here is why this verse captured and convicted me. I was taught, trained, and expected to grow “the church”. The problem today is that “church” doesn’t mean what it meant by then. Besides, the Greek word used wasn’t “church”. (Sniff, sniff…I smell smoke and the heating of tar….as in being tarred and feathered). Hey, I’m just sharing what The Book says.

One would think that since Jesus knows He is shortly to be ascending back to Heaven, that He would teach and train them about the “church” and His expectation that they were to grow the church. Now, if this Book of Acts is truly more about the Apostles than the Holy Spirit, that’s what we would read.

But if Jesus is anything, He is CONSISTENT! Jesus taught about The Kingdom, not the church. OK, OK, He did mention “the church” in Peter’s declaration of His true identity. But Jesus didn’t speak English. I know, shock, shock. (Or for some, “Blasphemer! Blasphemer!”) The Greek word used was ekklēsia, and it means a gathering of citizens called out from their homes into some public place.

Jesus focused on the instrument of God’s Power and Authority–and that’s the Kingdom of God. And I’m wondering, “What if we stopped teaching and training people for the church and followed Jesus’ own example and taught and trained people in The Kingdom?” The Kingdom is important to Jesus, because it’s important to God. And it should be important to us.

But us “Americanized” Christians would rather have the church than the Kingdom for only 1 reason. It gives us the illusion of control. But Kingdom, on the other hand, presents us with the hard truth that there is an Absolute Ruler, and it ain’t us!

There must be a new language spoken in the ekklēsia. It’s the language of The Kingdom of God. Our terminology, mindset and focus must go back to what Jesus thought was most important. That was, and continues to be the focus of Jesus. If last words are important, and they are, then let’s listen to Jesus as He teaches about The Kingdom of God. If our emphasis was on the Rule and Authority of God, rather than our own, I strongly suspect we would see the same results found in the Book of Acts.

Let me leave you with this final thought, and it’s not an original one from me:

Love God with all your heart. Love others the way Jesus loves you. And make sure all the glory goes to Him!

Acts Of WHO???

Well, here I go again on another Journey. It seems I’ve become a bit slack in my spiritual discipline of reading the Word. I was looking at my Bible on the desk and it was like I heard, “You know, it’s been a while since we talked. Don’t you think it’s time to catch up?” So I reached over and took it; then I found me a journal to write in, and an ink pen. That’s all: the Bible, a clean sheet of paper and a pen. No commentaries and not even Google to help me look up words and thoughts. Just me, The Book, and of course, the Holy Spirit.

Speaking of which (the Holy Spirit, that is), I’m wondering right now why did I have to have all those commentaries (because I started this journey with Jesus before the internet was so readily accessible)? And why do so many today have this book, that website, that author along side THAT Book? Over the past several years, I discovered to my amazement, that the Holy Spirit actually helps me understand what I’m reading! Who could have ever imagined such a thing? Well, God could.

Back to The Book. Where would I ever begin such a journey? There are so many books to choose from. One would think I would have to spend a lot of time deciding which book to begin with. This time, I had no trouble. He, the Holy Spirit, whispered, “The Book of Acts.” So that’s what I’m doing. I’m not reading a chapter a day–nothing against people who read the Book that way–just reading until I sense Him saying, “Let that sink in for a while.”

And this morning my Companion and Comforter said, “You know, you’ve been talking, I mean talking a lot, about starting back to regular blogging. Why not share what you’re discovering? After all, I did give you that gift of writing.” So who am I to argue with the Wisdom of The Ages.

Today’s entry is simply about the title applied to The Book Of Acts. It’s been titled “The Book Of The Acts Of The Apostles.” For many, many years I’ve insisted that those earliest editors misnamed this Book. I wish right now I could borrow Doc Brown’s time-traveling DeLorean and go back to that first group of editors when they came up with this title and ask: “What are you thinking? It’s NOT the acts of the Apostles. It’s the Acts of the Holy Spirit in surrendered people!” Gee whiz, guys. You’re better than that! Think, man, then listen to that title. A bit short-sighted, don’t you think?”

Why do I think that it’s an inaccurate title? I’m so glad you asked me that question. To read Dr. Luke’s stories with the title “Acts of the Apostles” taints your thought processes, and it’s easy to conclude that what happened then, was “limited to a handful of select special people and not really for me or my time.” Calling it the Acts Of The Apostles limits what this Book can do in you and I.

First, it relegates it just another History Book. Now, I love History more than most. I blame it on my High School History teacher Ronald Pettus. He is a collector of artifacts, many of which he brought into the classroom. He filled my little mind with more than memorizing dates–but left me hungering to know more about the people and the times. This is a priceless tool in understand THE BOOK! If we see Acts are only a history book of a select few people, we’ve missed the point of Dr. Luke’s work.

Second, we slam the door shut to the potential of the Holy Spirit using folks like us. There’s more going on here than dates and geography. If we agree that the Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) are all about Jesus (and they are), then Acts MUST be all about The Holy Spirit, and it is. Each Amen on that? The Book of Acts opens up with Jesus telling those first disciples about, guess who? The Holy Spirit! And in Chapter 2, all Heaven breaks loose on earth. And it all happens because of and through the power of The Holy Spirit!

Now, I want to add a little side bar comment about the current state of the church culture. For the last century, more emphasis is put on human understanding and abilities rather than The Holy Spirit. I see it in my Tribe as Progressives try to tell me they know more about what God wants and expects than the Bible. Add to this that so many in churches want to hear what someone else says about the Bible rather than read it for themselves.

The result has been that a powerful Stallion has been reduced to a gelding. People are following today, an impotent message about an impotent life. And once again, Jesus weeps. So staring tomorrow, I will share from my personal journal some of the insights and wonder I am discovering as The Teacher, teaches me.

And remember, Love God with all your heart. Love others and way Jesus loves you. And make sure all the glory goes to HIM!

Everybody Has A Past!

(This is the first of a sermon series I am currently doing.  Next week I’ll share the second.  I pray this will speak something hopeful into your heart and life!)

Slide5

A new series begins today that I’m calling Everybody.  The Theme Verse of this series is Galatians 3:28—“There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male and female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus.”    A couple of weeks ago I was already thinking about what to preach about after Communion Sunday.  Almost immediately this word invaded my mind and my heart.  And I can see why.

We live in a culture that divides people into groups.  Us and them.  We and they.  Those people!  These have become the iconic words of our culture.  Black Lives Matter.  White Lives Matter.  Blue Lives Matter.  All Lives Matter.  Red States.  Blue States.  Republicans.  Democrats.  Socialists.  Such are the words that describe this Fractious And Fractured culture called the United States.

This spirit of division is fueling fear and hate—and it’s leading us deeper and deeper into chaos.  The recent hearings for a new supreme court justice isn’t the problem.  It’s just a sign of this Fractious And Fractured Culture.  But it’s not always been so.  In the beginning, it was an “Everybody”.

In Genesis 1:26-28 we read: 26 Then God said, “Let us make human beings in our image, to be like us.  They will reign over the fish in the sea, the birds in the sky, the livestock, all the wild animals on the earth, and the small animals that scurry along the ground.” 27 So God created human beings in his own image.  In the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.  28 Then God blessed them and said, “Be fruitful and multiply.  Fill the earth and govern it.”

This is God’s design.  He designed for life to be lived, experienced and celebrated TOGETHER!  Together with Him.  Together with the world.  Together with each other.  That’s how the Image, His Image looked in the beginning.  Look at the words our culture has forgotten—even the church many times has forgotten:  Let US make. . . in OUR image. . . to be like US. . .

Who is US?  Who is OUR?  God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit living TOGETHER in that depth of closeness that is the perfect mystery.  God exists as 3 but is 1—because they are TOGETHER.  And for a season, it was Everybody.  They were together with God, together with the world, and together with each other.

But then something happened.  Anyone know what happened?  Together was shattered.  Adam and Eve were no longer together with each other.  They were no longer together with the world.  And they were no longer together with God.  Eve admitted her sin, and blamed the snake. Adam blamed—who?  God!  Yes, he did.  He said, “It was the woman you gave me who gave me the fruit”.

Sin was now in the middle of God’s creation.  Together with God, with the world, and with each other was now just a memory.  And generation after generation continued that brokenness.  But God, God longs to bring us back together—back to being EVERYBODY.  Throughout time, God has been seeking to bring us back together.

The Kingdom of God is all about bringing the “Everybody” back into His Design.  And Paul, who at one point in his life thought he was with the only ones who would get into heaven—said in Galatians 3:28—“There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male and female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus.”  And thus. . .this word Everybody.  Though we are Fractious And Fractured, there is still Everybody.

Everybody has a common condition; really 3 conditions.  Everybody Has A Past.  Everybody Has A Present.  And Everybody Has A Future.  We are going to look at an example of each of these each week.  And here’s the 1 thing you need to remember:  Everybody Has A Past! 

I want you to know I’ve really challenged myself with this series—well, actually God is challenging me.  I started thinking about an example of this from Scripture—and almost immediately it hit me, “Hey, God!  This book is full of people who had a past.”  I suspect that God had this sheepish grin on His face.  It’s harder to find someone who didn’t have a past.  Then it finally hit me.  Turn to Romans 7:14-25 (the Message)

14-16 I can anticipate the response that is coming:  “I know that all God’s commands are spiritual, but I’m not.  Isn’t this also your experience?”  Yes. I’m full of myself—after all, I’ve spent a long time in sin’s prison.  What I don’t understand about myself is that I decide one way, but then I act another, doing things I absolutely despise.  So if I can’t be trusted to figure out what is best for myself and then do it, it becomes obvious that God’s command is necessary.

17-20 But I need something more!  For if I know the law but still can’t keep it, and if the power of sin within me keeps sabotaging my best intentions, I obviously need help!  I realize that I don’t have what it takes.  I can will it, but I can’t do it.  I decide to do good, but I don’t really do it; I decide not to do bad, but then I do it anyway.  

My decisions, such as they are, don’t result in actions.  Something has gone wrong deep within me and gets the better of me every time.

21-23 It happens so regularly that it’s predictable.  The moment I decide to do good, sin is there to trip me up.  I truly delight in God’s commands, but it’s pretty obvious that not all of me joins in that delight.  Parts of me covertly rebel, and just when I least expect it, they take charge.

24 I’ve tried everything and nothing helps.  I’m at the end of my rope.  Is there no one who can do anything for me?  Isn’t that the real question?

25 The answer, thank God, is that Jesus Christ can and does.  He acted to set things right in this life of contradictions where I want to serve God with all my heart and mind, but am pulled by the influence of sin to do something totally different.

Here’s what God is continuing to teach me about this passage.

1]  Everybody Is A Sinner By Nature

Do you believe the Bible is accurate and reliable?  Then there’s Romans 3:23—For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard.  That’s what he’s expanding on there in Chapter 7.  I want to do right, but I don’t do it.  I don’t want to do wrong, but Golly Gee Willikers Batman, I do it anyway.

You say, “I’ve been going to church all my life.  I’ve been baptized.  I’ve memorized Psalm 23, the Lord’s Prayer and Apostles’ Creed.”  That’s good.  “I’ve never stolen or cheated or killed anyone.”  Good for you.  But, we are still sinners by nature.  As followers of Jesus, we’ve been born again and transformed by Grace.  But. . ..

We are just as much sinners as those waking up this morning, hung over, in someone’s bed they don’t know, or in a jail cell somewhere.  We are all equally sinners by nature.  Even after we invite Jesus into our hearts and are born again—we are capable of sinning again.

Not only are we capable of sin—we actually sin.  The most commonly used Greek word for sin is ‘hamartia’.  It’s an archery term—missing the target.  Everybody at the foot of the Cross is Equal.  You and I are no different from Saddam Hussein, Osama Bin Laden, Charles Manson, or your ex-spouse.   When we understand and accept that we are equally sinners—it’s the first step in healing the divide between Everybody.

2]  Everybody Has A Story That Needs To Be Told And Heard.

One of the results of this Fractious And Fractured culture is that we have become good talking at and talking about people.  The result is that we have become poor listeners.  Coming together never happens if we never listen.  Some hear as much as they need to point the finger to tell them how wrong they are.  That’s not how Jesus listened.  Think about that episode with the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s Well found in John 4.

Plenty of people talked about her.  And they probably talked at her.  But did they ever talk with her?  Jesus did.  He never talked at her.  Even when she tried to hide her story, Jesus revealed her story.  Broken heart, broken marriages, broken life.  She knew Jesus heard the story of her life.  He never said to her, “Divorce is wrong.”  He didn’t say, “You need to quit shacking up with that man.”  Instead He created a safe space for her story to be heard.

People around us all have stories that need to be told and heard.  A couple of weeks ago at McDonald’s I notice that the young woman waiting on me had tattoos, and I really liked how they looked.  I notice ink because, well, I’ve been thinking about it for a while.  Just haven’t done it yet.  I mentioned about how good they looked.  She began to tell me the story behind the ink.  I listened because she had a story that needed to be told and someone to listen to her story.  I’m not bragging on myself—but I’ve been hoping for the opportunity to hear more of her story through her ink.  But I haven’t seen her again.  Looking back, I can’t help but think that God engineered this circumstance just for her—and for me.

YOU have a story that needs to be told and heard.  Oh, it may not be a story made for Lifetime Channel.  You may not be invited to appear on Fox and Friends on Monday morning, but understand that everyone, including you, has a story.  All of us are people with stories—stories that someone needs to hear.  You story will come out of 2 places:  a place of brokenness and the other place is where God’s Grace has touched your life.  Everyone has a story that needs to be heard.  The second step in coming back together as it was in the beginning requires genuine listening.

3]  Everyone Needs Kindness!

Kindness is the opposite of the words we hear in our culture today.  If our culture is ever going to stop this madness, it must start with us—the Body of Christ, the Citizens of The Kingdom of God.  Paul puts it like thin in Ephesians 4:31-32—“31 Get rid of all bitterness, rage, anger, harsh words, and slander, as well as all types of evil behavior. 32 Instead, be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you.

I’ll give you an example from Jesus on how to be kind.  It’s the story of Zacchaeus found in Luke 19.  I’m remembering a song from childhood at Vacation Bible School:  “Zacchaeus was a wee little man and a wee little man was he.”

He was a crook, cheating people.  He was a collaborator with their hated enemies, the Romans.  He ate high on the lamb while the people he took from struggled to get by.  This man deserved no kindness.  He made his bed now let him lie in it.  But Jesus showed kindness to Zacchaeus.  Jesus was criticized for it—but Jesus didn’t care they criticized Him.  What He knew was that Zacchaeus was a man who needed kindness, and He wasn’t about to allow public opinion to change His mind.

Kindness is not what is earned and given to people who deserve it.  Kindness Is Given In Abundance To Those Who Need It The Most—The Wounded, Broken, Angry, And Those Who Have Given Up On Life.

The division in our nation is getting worse.  It’s race, it’s economics, it’s politics, it’s a whole lot of stuff.  None of it is The Kingdom of God.  Everybody has a past—and they won’t get over it as long as people hold it over them.

Here are your Next Steps:

  1. Know Your Own Story. Your story comes out of your broken places and where God’s Grace restored you.
  2. Be Ready To Listen To Someone Else’s Story. God is going to provide you the opportunity to hear another’s story.  This will not happen every day.  So you need to pray every day for the Holy Spirit to help you recognize that Holy Moment God is preparing them to share their story.

Remember to love God with all your heart.  Love others the way Jesus loves you.  And make sure all the glory goes to Him!

Beware Of The Fall!

Falling.  Not the “trip over the rug” falling.  Not the missed the curb falling.  I’m talking about real falling–the moral and spiritual falling.  Last week I heard that a friend, colleague, and fellow pastor fell, and fell hard.  Now those of you who are close friends, please do not ask me who or where–because I will not tell you.  My friend and fellow pastor and his family are going through the unimaginable right now and such details will do nothing to bring healing and restoration, for them and that congregation.

I remember way back, the Jimmy Swaggert event.  And I remember thinking and saying, “Well, what should you expect from someone who considers themselves a superstar in the church?”  I know, I know, that was not very gracious, merciful or kind.  Truthfully, it was very self-righteous on my part.  Add to that, the recent fall of Bill Hybels.  I’ve heard Bill in person and followed him and the Willow Creek Church closely, reading many of his books.  After the recent move, I put those books on the bottom shelf, questioning his credibility.  But I am not judging him and I’m not throwing away those books.  There’s some good stuff in them, but I wrestle with the question of credibility.  That what sin does to us; it brings questions to our credibility.

And now, another fallen preacher and this is one I know personally.  Though I will not share the who, what and where, I now understand the why.  The why is true whether the preacher is on TV, writing books, or in the trenches.  They forgot–forgot 1 Corinthians 10:12.  From the New Living Translation it looks like this:

So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall!

And this morning I have a shameful confession to make.  I had forgotten that verse, too.  Up until last week I said, “I could NEVER do such a thing.”  Now I realize that I’m setting myself up for that fall.  In my local Tribe every 3 years I am required to attend “Clergy Integrity Retraining”.  Fail to attend and I would not be appointed.  Another shameful confession.  I would say about these trainings, “Well, my integrity is about to expire, so I need to get it back.”  A more shameful confession:  I signed in and really didn’t listen.  After all, I wouldn’t do such a thing!”

So what am I going to do now?  Well, in 2 years when it’s time for “Clergy Integrity Retraining”, I will listen.  But I’m going to do more right now.  I am going to guard my heart and mind.  In Proverbs 4:23 Solomon reminds us all:  Guard your heart above all else, for it determines the course of your life.”  To think I am immune to adultery or any other sin–it simply opens the door for Satan to come in, pull up a chair, and whisper in my ear counsel that is meant to, in Jesus’ own words, kill, steal and destroy.

Those who confidently say, “Well, I would never do such a thing!” are standing on a spiritual San Andreas fault line.  What can we do?  I want to speak especially to pastors now and church leaders, but for the rest of you, take heed because it applies to you as well.  Follow Solomon’s advice, guard that heart of your’s.  And I would add, also your minds.  This is where our Enemy sneaks in and attempts to change our logic.  Let us all become more intentional, not only in the realm of sexual sins, but in every sin–lying, cheating, gossiping, rejecting our Crosses, judging others by their appearance or their sin.  Even “small sins”, as if they actually existed, will lead us to even “bigger sins”.

How do we guard our hearts and minds?  So glad you asked that question.  Let’s read the rest of Paul’s words to the Corinthian church in verse 13:  “No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind.  And God is faithful; He will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear.  But when you are tempted, He will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.”  How will HE do it?  Look at this quote from D.L. Moody.

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But you need more than a printed Bible.  You need that Source of power that comes from beyond you.  That Source Of Power is the Holy Spirit.  He is the one who will guide you through that Bible to strengthen your inner being.  Fellow Pastors and Church leaders, I pray Ephesians 3:16 over you:  “I pray that from His glorious, unlimited resources He will empower you with inner strength through His Spirit.”  I’m praying this now over you, and myself, and ask that you pray this over me.

I close with a joke, that I used to think was very funny, but now it’s very poignant.  A preacher was walking down a street and saw 4 boys with 1 puppy.  He asked them, “What are you doing?”  They replied, “Well, Preacher, we found this puppy but all of us want to take it home.  So we decided the one who could tell the biggest lie wins the puppy.”  With the eyes and voice of a preacher, he sternly told them, “Boys, when I was your age I would never do such a thing.”  The boys hung their heads down.  The one holding the puppy raised it up towards the Preacher and said, “OK, you win.”

One more time, 1 Corinthians 10:12, but this time from the New Life Version:

So watch yourself!  The person who thinks he can stand against sin had better watch that he does not fall into sin. 

Stay close to Jesus, very close with eyes and ears open to Him.  And love God with all your heart.  Love others the way Jesus loves you.  And make sure all the glory goes to HIM!  Oh, and watch yourself…

Heaven–You Can’t Get There From Here! Part 6

So here we are, the next to the last class.  I hope you are learning something valuable here.  Yesterday we looked at the Rules Plan and its shortcomings.  Hopefully by now you know that God is not the Cosmic Warden, but that He sends The Good Shepherd to search for us.  Take really good notes as we now look at:

 

Now this plan acknowledges that we don’t always get it right.  But hey, it’s not our fault.  There’s always a reason and good excuse for whatever we do wrong.  For extra reading I encourage you to obtain the book Yes Lord I Have Sinned:  But I Have Several Excellent Excuse.   The best part of this plan is that it challenges our “creative” side to be able to justify our sins.  And if you come up with an excuse that sounds good to you–then you get into heaven.

Another bonus to this plan is that if we want to be lazy and not find an excellent excuse, then there’s someone else to blame.  It’s called “playing the victim” card.  This plan works off of a truth:  That Life Isn’t Fair.  But hey, life should be fair, am I right?  It’s about getting what we rightfully deserve, and usually without much if any effort.

Slide23In This Plan Consequences Are Inconsequential.  Either by justification (coming up with an excellent excuse) or by playing the victim card, surely God won’t keep us out of heaven.  It would not be reasonable of God to keep us out of heaven when there’s so much bad stuff out there.  It is His creation.  All He has to do is make life fair.  Yet because of the evil and unfairness in this world, God will not hole us responsible.  There are no consequences, so we get in.

Slide24But there are consequences to our choices and actions.  Paul wrote in Romans 6:23—For the wages of sin is death.  It doesn’t say, Unless you have a good excuse.  That’s not how it works.  Sin is sin regardless of our intentions or beliefs.  Our intentions may have been good, our beliefs may have been sincere, but sin pays the same dividend every time—death!  So, this plan doesn’t work either.  This is perhaps, the riskiest plan of all.  I say this because deep down inside us, we know there are consequences.  It’s called shame, guilt or that nagging sense of personal failure.

Well, class, that’s the last plan.  Tomorrow we will look at the Plan, the ONLY plan that will work.  It tripped up Nicodemus, but maybe it won’t trip you up.  And remember….love God with ALL your heart.  Love others the WAY God loves you.  And make sure ALL the glory goes to Him!  By the way, don’t forget there will be a final exam.

Heaven–You Can’t Get There From Here! Part 3

Welcome back class.  I hope you have reviewed your notes from yesterday.  I cannot stress it enough that there is only ONE test–the Final Exam that will be administered by the Head Master at some time in your future.  It may be years, even decades away; but He will administer the Test.  Keep those notes handy for your personal study.  Now, let’s continue.

Yesterday we looked at the Cosmic Accountant Plan–that God keeps a record of your virtuous deeds and your bad deeds.  So long as you have more virtuous deeds than bad deeds, you get in.  I hope you can see and understand how this plan doesn’t work to get us into heaven, nor have a relationship with God, a relationship HE designed for us to experience.

While the Cosmic Accountant Plan seems to make a lot of sense to us, it really doesn’t work because our “bad” deeds are more than bad–they are in reality, SIN.  I may not have mentioned this yesterday, but there are not enough virtuous deeds to cover the cost of just one single sin.  God demands that our righteousness, our account of “virtuous deeds” must exceed that of the teachers of the Law and the Pharisees.  Remember that these 2 groups had a wealthy balance of “virtuous deeds”, but they were still outside the Relationship God wants.

Now, today let’s look at another plan.  This plan we can see in Churchians and Tenured Pew Sitters.  Let’s look at another of what some consider to be one of many ways to experience relationship with God, and thus get into heaven.

Slide16

God Is The Cosmic Observer.  He’s there just to watch how we respond to life, and to Him.  He hopes we will be in the right place at the right time to soak it all in.  Here is how The Sponge Plan works:

  • Attend church regularly.  Some consider Christmas and Easter to be regular.  However, the more dedicated followers of this plan insist that unless you are sick or on vacation, the goal is perfect attendance.  The moderates of this plan insist that it’s not about perfect attendance, but at least once a month or so.
  • Read your Bible.  In the Sponge Plan, memorization is the key.  The more verses you memorize the more likely you are to get into heaven.
  • Listen to Church music.  This is important to give others the impression that you are on the way to heaven.  It is considered bonus points if you listen to songs just about heaven and what it’s like.
  • Attend some church functions.  This means volunteer occasionally to help, but not too often.  Attending church events or programs helps you absorb more.  This is like the safety net, in case you didn’t memorize enough verses or didn’t want to go to church on Easter.

That’s pretty much it.  All you must do is be like a sponge in water—soak it all in and voilà, you get into heaven.  Well, here’s the problem with this plan—it never addresses our real problem—sin.  Paul wrote in Romans 8:7— For the sinful nature is always hostile to God. It never did obey God’s laws, and it never will.

Slide17

Our default setting is to be hostile to God’s ways.  It seems like I am always going back to that “sin” thing, and for good reason.  All of us, bar none, are INFECTED with this DNA from Adam and Eve.  It lies deep within us and resists everything about God.  Oh, it doesn’t always show itself, but it’s still there.  Soaking up like a sponge will not deal with the root of sin in all of us.  The Sponge Plan is like treating a tumor in our colon with Hydrocortisone on the skin.  My personal favorite response is this:  “Sitting in a church sanctuary doesn’t turn you into a Christian any more than sitting in a garage will turn you into a car.”

Well, that’s it for today class.  Tomorrow we will look at another plan.  Take good notes and review those notes BEFORE the Final Exam.  And remember…love God with all your heart.  Love others the way HE loves you.  And make sure all the glory goes to Him!  Hopefully I will see you tomorrow….unless the Head Master gives you or me the Final Exam….yup, I have to take the Final Exam, too!

We Are More Than Our Feelings

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This morning I was reading 1 John chapter 1.  My reason was simple:  I was practicing what I preach.  Imagine that, a preacher actually doing what he or she preaches.  I was reading for the sake of listening to God.  No Bible study prep time or sermon prep or looking for my next blog.  Just reading, and listening.  Two things jumped out at me this morning:  Light versus Darkness.  In other words, sin versus Holiness.  And it got me to thinking about a common experience among us humans:  Feelings.  No, not the song (bet that got some of you hearing that song in your head), but that complex and complicated arena of human feelings.  In my thinking this morning, there 4 basic categories of feelings through which any particular feeling would fall into.

First there are what I term Emotional Feelings.  Thanks to this thing called emojis we have a way to express our emotions with a picture–happy, sad, confused, angry, disgusted and so forth.  I believe that God created us to have emotions.  After all God has His emotions–joy and sadness, love and hate, compassion and firmness are just a few.  Unfortunately we are not like Spock, not the infamous child psychologist, but the one on the Starship Enterprise, who could detach himself from silly emotions.  Emotions are our initial response to what happens to us in life.

Second are what I classify as Psychological Feelings.  These are those emotions that we have processed through our thinking and become a resident in our psyche.  Distrust, hopeful, optimistic, pessimistic, prejudice, accepting, doubting, inquisitive–these are just a few of what I would term as psychological feelings.  Often our intellectual reasoning is influenced here more than anywhere else.  Our phobias fall into this classification of feelings.  Phobias go deeper that just an initial response–they are deeply rooted in the human psyche.  This human psyche is another part of how God created us.  These are what influences how we see people and situations.  On the darker side, you see it resulting in sociopaths,  narcissists, or psychopaths.

Third are what I call Spiritual Feelings.  These are rooted even deeper than our psyche–they are rooted in what some call the heart or the soul.  This is our moral compass.  It, more than anything else, shapes and forms our values, of what is right and what is wrong.  Our spiritual feelings also creates our sense of guilt and shame, as well as our feelings of joy (which are deeper than feelings of happiness) and contentment.

And last, but by no means least, is what I term as our “Biological Feelings“.  In our culture, and in my own Tribe, this is a subject of great controversy.  It could easily be argued that biological feelings are at the root of psychosomatic illnesses.  (You know what psychosomatics want on their tombstone:  “I Told You I Was Sick!”)  But these feelings go deeper.  It is the root of the crisis of sexual identity.  Gays and transgendered hold on to that biological sense that they were born with same-gender attractions or were born the wrong gender all together.  Thus, they are free to act upon and direct the future of their lives based on what they call, this biological fact.  I know my gay friends will disagree with my next point but I still love and care about you.  It is still rooted in a feeling, be it biological, it is still a feeling.

And unfortunately, many people self-identify through their feelings.  Thus these words from 1 John 1:5-10 (NLT) speak another word:

This is the message we heard from Jesus and now declare to you: God is light, and there is no darkness in him at all. So we are lying if we say we have fellowship with God but go on living in spiritual darkness; we are not practicing the truth. But if we are living in the light, as God is in the light, then we have fellowship with each other, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, cleanses us from all sin.  If we claim we have no sin, we are only fooling ourselves and not living in the truth. But if we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness. 10 If we claim we have not sinned, we are calling God a liar and showing that his word has no place in our hearts.

Each type of “feelings” bleeds over into all the others.  Unlike Spock who prides himself in being detached from all emotions/feelings, we are humans, not Vulcans.  And this mishmash of emotions are causing people to live beneath and below their created design.  This reliance on feelings has created such things as The New Pharisees, Tenured Pew Sitters, Churchians, people who feel they are worthless, permanent failures, unloved, abandoned, and so many other words that reveal our brokenness.  Moral labels that people wear eventually will destroy them.

And I believe that this has resulted in the sexual crisis in our culture, and in the hearts and minds of those who identify as LBGTQI.  This sexual chaos and confusion, this creation of moral labels as well, is the direct result of this thing called “sin”.  Geneticists tell us that we have our own unique DNA.  But one day I foresee that they will eventually discover that every human being shares one gene equally–that it’s the same gene in all of us.  I hope they call it for what it is:  The Adam and Eve Gene!  While the New Pharisees, Tenured Pew Sitters and Churchians vehemently deny its existence in themselves, it remains true that all of us have that gene–and somewhere we are all broken–in different places and ways–but nonetheless BROKEN!

How we feel, what we think or believe we are, is not final–even in the arena of sexual identity.  Ever since the Adam and Eve Gene formed in their DNA and was passed along to every generation–God has been seeking to redeem and restore us who bear His Image.  When we live by our, call it “feelings” or “beliefs” about ourselves, we live within a lie and deny ourselves the only hope and cure to live life richly and with great purpose.

God invites us on a journey to wholeness–becoming whole emotionally, psychologically, spiritually, biologically and sexually.  He alone, through the Holy Spirit, can transform us into our original intended design.  We do not have to become a prisoner to our feelings, especially sexually.  If you are someone who thinks you have no choice about your sexual identity, I want you to listen to Sam Allberry (here’s a link to part of his story).  All of us are more than what we “feel”–for every feeling, every emotion, every way we self-identify is tainted by sin.

Be more than how you feel–because you ARE more than that.  Get off that “emotional” roller-coaster and sit down, sit down at the feet of Jesus.  Take whatever time is necessary for you to discover the true you, the YOU that God designed and created.  You are more than a label, a feeling, an emotion, or a desire.  Jesus brings the Light of God’s truth.  Follow that light and you will become whole–the person God created to bear His Image!  In Sam Allberry’s words:  Identity is something God gives us.  We do not create it or discover it.  It is GIVEN to us by God.

Eliminating Cultural Bias As Followers Of Jesus

 

Well, I know, it’s a deep subject for such a shallow mind as mine.  But the Holy Spirit finally led me to the concluding post about this scourge and plague infecting the Body of Christ known as Cultural Bias.  I could go on and on listing views and even honest beliefs people hold as the truth from the Throne of God Himself that are influenced more by the culture of humanity rather than the richness of heaven itself.  But all good things must come to an end, or so we are told.  And even bad things come to an end.  When life gets tough there are some words often repeated in the Bible I turn to:  “and it came to pass”!

What the Holy Spirit reminded me of was back in the ninth grade in Mrs. McPeters’ typing class.  Yes, I am that old.  At the risk of sounding like an old geezer, back in my day it was all about typewriters when it came to “publishing”.  But I do remember, probably much to the surprise of Mrs. McPeters, that the first lesson in operating a typewriter was in knowing the home keys, the position to put your fingers BEFORE you started typing.  Oh yes, there were computers back then, but the one you hold in your hand has far more capabilities that those back then that took up very large rooms.

And the very first thing we typed was this:  “The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog.”  This sentence utilized every letter in the alphabet.  Our first appointed task was to type this sentence, over and over and over and over and over.  Talk about boring.  But then she added stress–she started timing us on how quick we could do it.  I now understand what she was doing–making sure us students started in the right place, otherwise we would never master the typewriter.  And this is where the Spirit offered me a jewel known as wisdom.

The home keys for the left hand are asdf and the home keys for the right hand are jkl;, unless you type with 2 fingers using the biblical method of “seek and ye shall find”.  If we began there we would indeed type The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog.  But…if I change the home key for the left hand by moving it only one place to the right, it looks something like this: Yhr wuivy ntoen goc jumpd obrt yhr lsxy foh.  Well, that certainly make a lot of sense.  The spell correction feature of WordPress is scratching its head wondering, “What in the world is he trying to spell?”

Starting in the wrong “home keys” is not only disastrous for keyboarding, but also in living.  The influence of cultural biases affect our thinking and will create theological nonsense just like that sentence when my fingers were NOT on the right home keys.  So my mind began racing away by thinking of 7 simple steps to overcome cultural bias as Followers of Jesus.  It was then I heard the Holy Spirit say, “Holf on nih noy.”  Oops, my fingers were on the wrong home keys.  What He really said to me was, “Hold on big boy.”  So I thought, are there more than 7 simple steps?  Is it like a 12 Step Recovery Program?  I now can see the Holy Spirit doing a face palm.

Then it hit me, the word I needed to focus on is “simple”.  By use of this word I do not mean “simplistic”, rather basic.  The Bible is a narrative, THE Narrative of God.  “In the beginning” God creates perfection.  It remains perfect until Adam and Eve mess it all up and fall out of this perfect relationship.  Then the Bible becomes the narrative of 2 stories.  One narrative is how humanity keeps messing up God’s Intended Design.  The other narrative is how God faithfully and persistently seeks to restore His Image Bearers.

Everything in the Bible is about this narrative, this story of falling and restoring.  Unlike what most of us were taught, the Bible is not a library of different books.  It is the unfolding narrative about us falling and how God is seeking and working to restore us.  So to overcome the influences of cultural biases here’s what we all need to do–what I am doing.  I read.  I allow those words, just those words, soak and simmer into my mind.

Then I explore and study the what, where and when those words were spoken.  In other words, I seek to know the context, but always filtering those thoughts through the narrative of me falling and God seeking and working to restore this fallen Image Bearer.  And that is why I did not use the words “easy steps” and used the words “simple steps” because it is not easy, but it is doable because of this simplified process of allowing the Bible to speak TO us instead of us speaking FOR the Bible.

One of the good things, perhaps very few good things, about this internet thing is the easy access to uncovering the contexts of this Biblical Narrative.  I do not have to be a Hebrew and Greek scholar.  All I have to do is visit www.blueletterbible.org and see what people like James Strong and Joseph Henry Thayer have discovered about the ancient Greek or what Strong and Heinrich Friedrich Wilhelm Gesenius can share about the ancient Hebrew.

I can also visit www.biblegateway.com and look at that passage from a variety of translations and paraphrases and find certain nuances from each translation.  I can Google and find out the history of those times and places.  All the while listening to the Holy Spirit.  Many times I wrestle and struggle with the Narrative, but I do not wrestle or struggle alone.  I have my Companion, the one Jesus promises to freely give me if I only trust in Him.

So, first open the Bible then open your heart before you open your mind.  Our mind is where the junk and garbage of these cultural biases live.  Do not allow your minds to influence your heart as a Follower of Jesus.  The restoring work of God begins in the heart because this is where His Image resides and longs to be released and unleashed upon the mind, and then the world.  Jesus gives us a new heart that is designed to transform this mind that is polluted with the biases of our culture.  I cannot stress enough that you begin listening with your heart first.  Oh, you want me to give you a passage from the Bible on this?  Ok……you asked for it; Romans 12:1-2 (NLT):

And so, dear brothers and sisters, I plead with you to give your bodies to God because of all he has done for you. Let them be a living and holy sacrifice—the kind he will find acceptable. This is truly the way to worship him. Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.  (emphasis mine)

Better yet, listen to how The Message puts it:

So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him. Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you.  (emphasis mine)

Oh, one more thing.  This does not mean, by any stretch of even MY most active imagination, that I have mastered the Bible.  It does mean that The Bible, This Word of God, is mastering my life.  I am now being processed by God’s Word, and I am learning so much more than I ever have before.