MOTION OR MOVEMENT?

One day as these men were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Appoint Barnabas and Saul for the special work to which I have called them.” So after more fasting and prayer, the men laid their hands on them and sent them on their way.

Acts chapter 13, verses 2 and 3; from the New Living Translation

Any given moment of every day–you are either in motion or you are in a movement. Think about this definition of Motion: the action or process of moving or of changing place or position. In other words, something is moving. When I think of Motion, I think about a rocking chair. There’s motion in a rocking chair. Am I right? Well, of course I am. But where does that motion take you? Well, when you stop rocking, you’re still where you started. Capeesh? Motion, but going nowhere. Or think about a playground swing. Lots of motion going on. Right? But when the swinging stops you’re right back where you started. Well…unless you fell off or jumped out of the swing. Motion happened, but you really didn’t go anywhere. Ever heard the expression: “Going through the motions”? It describes life that is dull, drab, and empty.

But what about a Movement? Here’s the definition of Movement: abundance of events or incidents. With a Movement things are happening–and often at a rapid pace. Right now I’m thinking about a bulldozer! Yes, I am a man! Now there’s some Movement! When it’s done with it’s work–the landscape changes when there’s movement with that bulldozer! It just isn’t the same. It can’t be the same. I can’t speak for you, but I can, and will, speak for myself.

I want to be a part of a movement. But not just any movement, mind you! I’m talking about that Barnabas and Saul moment you just read about. If doing what you’ve always done is still leaving you bored and a bit empty–if all your motions (you know, all the things you’ve been doing to have a better life) you’ve gone through is leaving you with the same scenery, I would suggest–Nay! I urge and beseech thee by the mercies of God to stop going through the motions and get involved with The Movement Of The Holy Spirit!

Remember my analogy of that bulldozer? The Movement of the Holy Spirit that is happening all around us even as I write, is intended and designed to change our scenery. Church as usual is going away. Church as usual has a lot of motion but it’s not changing the landscape. But I sigh and say Alas! Some people want the motion more than the Movement! Not me! Ever heard of this thing called motion sickness? A lot of folks, and way too many churches are suffering from motion sickness. The sad thing is that some don’t even realize it.

But I’ve never heard of a condition called Movement sickness! That ought to tell you something right there!!! If you will allow me a bit of literary license, I want to say: Choose today! Choose right now whether you will embrace motion or movement! If motion seems better to you, then own it! But as for me and my house, we choose The Movement! So make up your mind! But don’t be surprised if the landscape changes and business as usual goes away–if your choice is The Movement.

WHAT ARE THEY TEACHING???

So letting your sinful nature control your mind leads to death. But letting the Spirit control your mind leads to life and peace. For the sinful nature is always hostile to God. It never did obey God’s laws, and it never will.

Romans chapter 8, verses 6-7; from the New Living Translation (NLT)

Recently I had a conversation with a fellow United Methodist clergy on Facebook. It was focused on a post this individual had made. It was surprisingly civil (up to this point)–still, I couldn’t help but think: What are they teaching now in United Methodist Seminaries? Here’s the screenshot of that comment:

This person compared understanding Scriptures to a 3-legged stool. The top is the Scriptures and the 3 legs are tradition, reason, and experience. Thus, without tradition, or reason, or experience, one cannot adequately understand Scripture. The primary (and often times “sole determining factor”) way to understand Scripture is through tradition, reason, and experience. Now, before you call me that dreaded “fundamentalist”, hear me out. We do not study the Scriptures in a vacuum. There are traditions. We all have experiences. And God created us to be able to reason, or think if you prefer.

But it seems that many of our clergy are using reason as the final determining factor. In other words, if it doesn’t make sense to us, or if the culture tells us something contrary, then we are free to change or ignore what the Bible clearly teaches. This is what many seminaries are teaching. Not all of them, mind you; but enough of them are and the result has been the dilution and devolution of the power of Scripture to guide us and form in us the life of Holiness demanded by God for His Image Bearers. Go back to the writer’s analogy of that three-legged stool.

The writer is correct in stating that for a three-legged stool to be secure enough to sit on, it needs all three legs. And, by implication, those 3 legs need to be the same length. Otherwise it is unstable. But do not overlook the other implication–that Scripture (the seat of that three-legged stool) cannot safely support us until all three of those legs are the same length. In other words, Scripture is to be formed by OUR traditions, experiences, and reasoning.

Can I be frank with you? I know, my name is Randy. But I need to be FRANK with you this morning. Using the writer’s analogy of that three-legged stool, when those who are supposed to be our Spiritual Leaders are taught that human reasoning overrides the Scriptures and that we need to change our beliefs about anything in the Bible, then the result is the chaos and soon to follow destruction of the United Methodist, and any other church that follows the same primrose path. And to my fundamentalist friends, if you allow your traditions to determine your beliefs about the Bible, then your three-legged stool is just as unsteady.

Hear me out! Yes, reason, tradition, and experience are helpful tools when it comes to understanding Scripture! But they do not determine what is THE TRUTH! The Truth is set by the Bible for all matters of faith, life, and conduct. But none of them gives us the permission to change The Standard clearly set in The Bible! From my perspective, many seminary professors took a bite of that apple Satan offered Eve and Adam, and unlike Eve and Adam who recognized the shame and mistake, they “reason” that the apple is good, and that Satan was right. Is there any doubts now as to why the United Methodist Tribe is imploding? It looks like that three-legged stool analogy doesn’t work after all.

WHO HAVE YOU INVITED?

16 Jesus replied with this story: “A man prepared a great feast and sent out many invitations. 17 When the banquet was ready, he sent his servant to tell the guests, ‘Come, the banquet is ready.’ 18 But they all began making excuses. One said, ‘I have just bought a field and must inspect it. Please excuse me.’ 19 Another said, ‘I have just bought five pairs of oxen, and I want to try them out. Please excuse me.’ 20 Another said, ‘I just got married, so I can’t come.’ 21 “The servant returned and told his master what they had said. His master was furious and said, ‘Go quickly into the streets and alleys of the town and invite the poor, the crippled, the blind, and the lame.’ 22 After the servant had done this, he reported, ‘There is still room for more.’ 23 So his master said, ‘Go out into the country lanes and behind the hedges and urge anyone you find to come, so that the house will be full. 24 For none of those I first invited will get even the smallest taste of my banquet.’”

Luke chapter 14, verse 16 thru 24; from the New Living Translation

If you were planning a formal dinner and extravagandza, who would you invite? Suppose there would even be that proverbial “red carpet” and the paparazzi. And suppose the menu was prepared by a famous chef from a 5 star restaurant. Add to that champaign and wine from the world’s finest wineries. I ask you again, who would you invite to such a merriment? Oh, and add to that, your reputation would be on the line. So I ask again, who are you going to invite?

Being invited is a big thing! It’s important. No one likes being left off the guest list. When an invitation is given to someone, it’s telling them they have value and worth. This is especially true when it comes to being the Body of Christ. We have been given The Invitations to pass out by The Party Host. Now, our Party Host really knows how to throw a party. He provides the best of everything. He’s already proven that no price is too high.

But church, can I be honest with you? We haven’t done a good job at all of passing out The Invitations. Unfortunately, whether unconciously or consciously, we’ve passed out The Invitations to those we think are worthy, those who will fit in. We’ve readily given invitations to those who look, act, andd think like us. But the house isn’t full. The Master of The Party wants His Venue full of people, all kinds of people. In the story He sent them as far as the byways and hedges.

You see, the hedges were the walls around vineyards. Often the workers would have to live there. Back then it mean us Gentiles. That’s those people who don’t look, act, or think like they did. And the application is really clear for us today. We need to be going to where the people are and giving them The Invitation. That means even those who don’t look, act, or think like we do. That girl with all those body piercings. That man whose arm is covered in tattoos. That person who is struggling with addictions. That person who would rather party than anything else. Those whose skin color is different from ours. In short, we are to give The Invitation to everyone out there. And why? Because The Master of The Party wants us to. He wants the Venue for THAT Party to be full! And trust me, if there’s room for someone like me–then there’s room for someone like “them”. So, church–get out there and start passing out those Invitations. Not to a church building–but to THE Relationship and THE Life

THE WRONG PRONOUN! (and maybe the wrong noun)

28 Peter said, “We’ve left our homes to follow you.” 29 “Yes,” Jesus replied, “and I assure you that everyone who has given up house or wife or brothers or parents or children, for the sake of the Kingdom of God, 30 will be repaid many times over in this life, and will have eternal life in the world to come.”

Luke chapter 18, verses 28 thru 30; from the New Living Translation

This morning’s passage comes on the heels of what is commonly referred to as The Story Of The Rich Man. He came to Jesus looking for real life; and if you remember, this man decided the price was too high. This passage came to me when I was reflecting on some posts in a “clergy” page on Facebook of which I am a member. There was a group of folks whinning about the fact that THEIR (the wrong pronoun) church they were in before they answered the call to ministry, had voted to disafilliate. In their view it was just WRONG for THEIR CHURCH to do such a thing. For the uninformed, it took a two-thirds majority vote to disafilliate. THEIR emphasis was on the one-third that would were being left out in the cold.

I’m remembering now a story when one of our granddaughter’s, Caroline who was about 4 years old, had been staying with us. When it came time to go home, Gramma laid her out some clothes to wear home. Even gave her a choice between two outfits. But Caroline wanted something different. Gramma insisted, and finally Caroline put her hands on her hips and said, “Well, whose clothes are these anyways?” And many seem to feel the same way about their church name and church buildings.

There is an unhealthy pronoun being thoughtlessly being tossed around: OUR CHURCH! MY CHURCH! Spoiler alert! It’s not YOURS, OURS, NOR MINE! And it doesn’t matter which side of the fence one stands on–it’s still the wrong PRONOUN! It is unhealthy to use such pronouns when talking about CHURCH! Way to much emphasis is being put on buildings and names on the sign.

Jesus says to Peter, (and to the rest of us today!) that one has to give up EVERYTHING in order to follow Him! And offers the positive promise that we gain much more now–and even more later–when we stop using those nasty possessive pronouns. Friends, it isn’t OUR church. We didn’t buy it! Jesus did on the Cross! It was never OURS to begin with–and it will never be OURS!

If what we have to offer this world is inseparably tethered to a building and a name–then we really don’t have anything worthwhile to offer. There’s a bigger story out there–it’s the story of The Kingdom Of God! After Jesus’ time of testing in the wilderness, he came back with a single message: “The time promised by God has come at last!” he announced. “The Kingdom of God is near! Repent of your sins and believe the Good News!” (Mark chapter 1, verse 15; NLT).

Friends, our story isn’t connected to a building–but The Movement! The Movement of God’s Kingdom that is storming the strongholds of the one who is trying to steal it, Satan! When our story is anchored to The Kingdom Of God, there’s something bigger and more powerful at work than a building or a name. Every church building has a beginning point, and even a name. And THAT name may have changed over the decades. But The Kingdom Of God doesn’t have a beginning point–it is eternal and everlasting. And this message is the one–the only one–that can and will change cultures, nations, and people.

There’s not doubt about this: that when we use the pronoun MY, it’s the WRONG pronoun. And perhaps when we use the noun, CHURCH, it’s the wrong noun. It’s all about The Kingdom Of God! And that’s a much bigger story than the one about our buildings and signs!

Wanting One Thing, But Doing Another

I don’t really understand myself, for I want to do what is right, but I don’t do it. Instead, I do what I hate. 

Romans chapter 7, verse 15, from the New Living Translation

The news is filled with stories about conflict. From homes, communities, within nations, and between nations. Even the “Church” is not exempt from conflict. But this morning I want to bring that word closer to home. And the word I am using isn’t conflict–but Conflicted. The definition of Conflicted is “having or showing confused and mutually inconsistent feelings. Notice those last 3 words: mutually inconsistent feelings. In this morning’s passage, Conflicted is what Paul is talking about–mutually inconsistent feelings.

It’s not enough to say there is conflict. Nay! It must go deeper within each person to realize that one is wrestling between 2 mutually inconsistent feelings. For example–let’s say someone has hurt you and you refuse to forgive them. And maybe it doesn’t bother them that they refuse to forgive that person. BUT. . .one day they read Ephesians chapter 4 verse 32: “Instead, be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you.” (NLT) Now, if they are serious about following Jesus there is more than a conflict going on. They should be Conflicted.

There are 2 mutually inconsistent feelings happening. More than feelings, it’s conflicting ideas; more than ideas–it’s between truth and THE Truth: Unforgiveness versus Forgiveness. Our “truth” (not being willing to forgive, as in this example) is in conflict with THE Truth (that forgiveness is uncondition)! If we are serious about following Jesus, the result should be that we become Conflicted! Like with Paul, we know what we should do–maybe even “want” to do it. But instead we don’t. In every issue of life there is our “truth” and THE Truth.

Until we are Conflicted we will never deal with the difference between our truth and THE Truth. And when we become Conflicted, what should we do? Well, simple! First become Conflicted! In verse 24 Paul wrote: “Oh, what a miserable person I am! Who will free me from this life that is dominated by sin and death?” Thankfully for us, Paul answered his own question (and what should be OUR question) in verse 25: “Thank God! The answer is in Jesus Christ our Lord. So you see how it is: In my mind I really want to obey God’s law, but because of my sinful nature I am a slave to sin.”

Jesus delivers us from whatever it is that is Conflicted with THE Truth. He doesn’t bless our truth–but works to take away that Conflicted desire we have. And to my fellow United Methodist Institution tribal members, we should be Conflicted over what is happening. We have mutually inconsistent feelings within this Tribe. So, will you live with and in “your” truth, or will you trust God enough to take you into THE Truth? Being Conflicted is not a bad thing. In fact, it’s a very good thing. Now we are contronted with truth versus THE Truth. Don’t allow truth to guide you to your conclusions. Instead, let THE Truth guide you and trust God with the results.

Which Do YOU Prefer? Onions Or The Promise?

3 “Why is the Lord taking us to this country only to have us die in battle? Our wives and our little ones will be carried off as plunder! Wouldn’t it be better for us to return to Egypt?” Then they plotted among themselves, “Let’s choose a new leader and go back to Egypt!”

Numbers 13:3-4 (NLT)

(This is from a few years ago.  Hope you find something to help you in your Journey!)

I have to admit and give credit to where credit is due.  Today’s Kingdom Musings are inspired by something I read this morning from another fellow blogger Matthew Winters.  Though we have never met, we are connected because we shared a dark journey through an identical situation-a pastor who experiences divorce first hand.  I encourage you to read his blog Does Anyone Take Risks Anymore?  Thanks Matthew for unclogging my mind to write in this blog again.

As with all Scripture, one needs to know the context of a passage in order to understand it and apply it to our lives.  God has been leading the Hebrews to the Promised Land through His chosen leader Moses.  Besides always providing for their physical needs, God has been visibly present with them.  In the daytime it was in the pillar of cloud and at nighttime it was in the pillar of fire.  Both evidences of His presence was clear and undeniable.

Even after a lot of grumbling and complaining, they are at the very edge of the land that God promised first to Abraham and now to them.  Can you imagine the people redeemed by God’s grace, mercy and love actually grumbling and complaining?  Aren’t you glad that people today redeemed by God’s grace, mercy and love never grumble or complain?  Yes, I’m being sarcastic, one of my many gifts.  To understand this passage we need to know what led up to it.  In Numbers 13:1-2 (NLT) we read:

The Lord now said to Moses,  “Send out men to explore the land of Canaan, the land I am giving to the Israelites.  Send one leader from each of the twelve ancestral tribes.” (emphasis mine)

They were to called out by God catch a glimpse of what HE was about to do.  The inhabitants were formidable, but for God who spoke light into the darkness, it would be a walk in the park.  Remember, HE is giving HIS personal guarantee that they would occupy the land and HE would give it to them.  But when these explorers came back they acted in a very human manner-there was a Majority Report and a Minority Report.  The Majority Report saw the risks and responded to the risks:  “It just can’t be done!  Before we even try, we are already whipped!”  Remember that this report is given in the light of God’s Personal Guarantee:  the land I am giving to the Israelites.  It’s a report given by those who have been witnessing God’s faithfulness.

The Minority Report saw THE SAME RISKS and said, “Look, people, if God said HE will give us this land, let’s consider this a done deal.  We don’t know exactly how He is going to pull this off, but that’s not my job.  The fact is we were never called out to determine success or failure.  We were called out to catch a wonderful glimpse of what God guaranteed HE would provide for us.”  So, the people went with the minority report, right?  WRONG!

People who had been faithfully provided food and water along the way, witnessed God delivering them in battle, AND who had witnessed the Faithful Presence of Cloud by Day and Fire by Night, want to go back to Egypt and back to slavery.  Where did this come from?  Well, it wasn’t a spur of the moment decision.  They had already given a clue to where they heart and mind was at before they arrived at the edge of risk.  It is seen in Numbers 11:4-6 (NLT)

Then the foreign rabble who were traveling with the Israelites began to crave the good things of Egypt. And the people of Israel also began to complain. “Oh, for some meat!” they exclaimed. “We remember the fish we used to eat for free in Egypt. And we had all the cucumbers, melons, leeks, onions, and garlic we wanted. But now our appetites are gone. All we ever see is this manna!”

Rather than enjoying the faithfulness of God, they wanted onions.  The price of the onions was to go back to slavery.  The modern parallel is clear, at least to me.  Today’s people of God, the church, are facing the same moment:  Do we take the risk of going into God’s Promise or do we go maintain the status quo?  The challenge for the Body of Christ here in the United States is do we keep on doing church work as normal or dare we take the risk of becoming involved in the work of the Kingdom of God?  Congregations that have plateaued or declining are doing so for one of two reasons:  Either their community is dying out, or they are more concerned with preserving the institution of their choice rather than doing the work of the Kingdom of God.  There is an alternative to the slavery of decline.

There are congregations that are thriving and making new disciples.  These are the congregations that have made Kingdom Work more important than church work.  The promise of God is not to have a land of beautiful church buildings and wonderful church programs, but to put in the middle of the territory of the Enemy the Kingdom of God on earth as it is in heaven.  This is our Promised Land-for the Kingdom of God to reach, touch and transform lives, homes, communities and nations.  For this to happen we must be willing to take risks.  And herein lies the problem.

When taking risks, there is the potential to fall flat on our faces.  I see a lot of good people who mistakenly believe that failure is fatal.  So to avoid becoming a fatality, they seek the comfort of the familiar because in the familiar, they live in the false illusion that they do have some type of control over their lives.  And this false illusion makes them feel more comfortable than taking the risk of trusting the Guarantee of God!  Comfort rules over risks for the Kingdom.

Recently I was at an event that was led by some of the Team Pastors of Grace Church located in the Cape Coral and Fort Myers area of Florida.  One of their pastor’s, Wes Olds said, “Don’t be afraid to fail.  In fact, do what we do.  Fail early, fail often, and fail forward.”  What he meant was that we need to be willing to learn from our mistakes and then move forward.  Some of our best learning, especially in the realm of the Kingdom of God, happens through our failures.  The problems arise hard and fast when we do not learn from our failures.  Remember this:  your failures, whether in the form of sin or in the form of trying to be faithful to our Kingdom God, never disqualifies you from God picking you up, dusting off your knees and telling you, “OK, get back out there!  I still believe in you!”

So here’s what I would like to ask you to do.  Answer this question:

Which do you prefer?  Onions or The Promised Land?

Your answer is clearly revealed in how you feel about the risks of stepping into a future where success lies entirely in the Hands of The Faithful God, the hands that were nailed to a Cross, and a future that is never controlled by our hands.  I personally know what it is like to walk into a future unknown by me.  But I go ahead and walk into this future because I have chosen to hold the Hand, the ONLY Hand, that knows exactly how this future will turn out.  My unknown future is only an illusion when I realize that God is in control of my life and my future; a future filled with His Promise.  I love a good onion, especially with beans and cornbread, but I am choosing to let go of the onions of predictability and comfort and enter into an adventure with the One who redeemed me and calls me to catch a glimpse of what HE is about to do!  Save the onions for hamburgers-go against the odds and remember that the Guarantee is given by the Faithful God!

Remember, love God with all your heart; love others the way Jesus loves you; and make sure all the glory goes to Him!

Using The Wrong Specifications

Image from Dreamstime.com

Are specifications important? Ask an engineer! Commercial jets are manufactured to exacting specifications. In the manufacturing and in the maintenance of an airliner each and every part must match the specifications in the design. If any part falls outside the tolerance levels, then we get to watch how it affects that plane on the show Air Disasters!

Why this musing about specifications and tolerance levels? Because I’ve been thinking–seriously thinking–deeply thinking–about the malaise of the church in the U.S. and throughout Western Civilization. Civilization! Now there’s an oxymoron–ain’t much civilized in the Western Culture. Let’s go ahead and address the pink elephant in the room–Western churches are in a state of decline. Truth is–this isn’t a recent phenomenon; it’s been happening for decades. And it breaks my heart.

My conclusion? The church has been built to the wrong Specifications–and it is way outside the tolerance levels. And like that jet headed towards that Air Disaster, so are we. In fact, many local churches have already crashed and burned–debris and dead bodies lying everywhere. They have built the church according to their specifications rather than God’s! The color of the church carpet? Our Specifications! The kind of music to sing? Our Specifications! Use of church building facilities? Our Specifications! The type of preaching? Our Specifications! The kind of people they want in? Our Specifications! Who’s in leadership? Our Specifications! The mission? Our Specifications! The expectations of members? Our Specifications! Got the point yet? Good!

When we build a church on Our Specifications it falls way outside the tolerance ranges established by the One who designed it, and the One who owns it. Instead of building by Our Specifications, what if we started asking those OUTSIDE the building what THEY would like to see in a local church? WHAT IF we designed a church that those who don’t like church would like it instead of designing a church that WE LIKE? I’m not talking about changing The Message! That would fall way outside the Specifications! Besides, look at many United Methodist Churches in The West who have changed The Message, and see the disaster that’s happening. In North Georgia, the largest United Methodist Church is being accused of not kowtowing to the progressive agenda and the Conference is attempting to take it over. They are accused of having closed hearts and closed doors–even though they are the largest congregation in that Conference. Madness, I say, Madness!

What if we designed our church according to God’s Specifications rather than our own? The church is designed to be a refuge for the messes (that’s not a typo–messes not masses). After all, that’s the kind of people that were attracted to Jesus when He walked His Creation in the form He helped create. Jesus attracted crowds of people who were messed up, broken up, and confused. They were drawn towards Him! And those Pharisees and Sadduccees, operating accord to their Own Specifications? How many were drawn towards their Specifications? Figure it out for yourself–and see if you are using the Wrong Specifications.

Apparently There Is!

Listen to the talk at the hair stylist or barber shop. Apparently there is. Listen to the conversations in the break room. Apparently there is. Sit down at the local liars table at the diner or fast food joint. Apparently there is. Listen to the words just about anywhere there are 2 or more people (yes, this includes the local church). Apparently there is. Someone reading this is thinking right now, “What is he talking about? A boatload of hopelessness? A superabundance of stupidity?” While this may seem to be true, it’s not what’s bouncing around in my mind–and my heart. It’s the answer to this question found in The Bible–a couple of times.

Is anything too hard for the Lord?

Genesis 18:14 (NLT)

Apparently it’s too hard for The Lord to change, much less use, the POTUS. Apparently it’s too hard for The Lord to change our culture. Apparently it’s too hard for The Lord to change Washington D.C. Apparently it’s too hard for The Lord to change the hearts and minds of millennials. Apparently it’s too hard for The Lord to change the hearts of the mega-rich. Apparently it’s too hard for The Lord to change pastors. Apparently it’s too hard for The Lord to change how businesses do business. I would expect to hear such things from those who are not Followers And Disciples Of Jesus. They just don’t know what The Lord can do.

But to hear this kind of balderdash and blather from those who call themselves “Christians”? Well, just call me Popeye!

If your “god” can’t use someone like President Biden. If your “god” can’t use someone like Nancy Pelosi. If your “god” can’t use someone like that discombobulation called The House of Representatives and The Senate. If your “god” can’t use someone like millennials. If your “god” can’t use someone like _________________ (fill in the blank of the stupidest person or group you know), then your “god” is way to small–and you need to change to a different “God”!

So, what if–I’m only talking to those who self-identify as Christian–instead of complaining, whining, griping, and yammering about all those “other people”, you begin praying FOR THEM rather than YALPING AGAINST THEM? What if you prayed for the peace of our nation? What if you prayed for those people to have wisdom? What if you used all that time spent bellyaching and sniveling to ask God to help them? Oh! One more thing! Make that TWO more things! What if you became the change you want to see in others? What if you became the model of HOPE rather than hopelessness?

If an old woman and an old man could have a child way beyond those child bearing years–and they did–can you imagine what WILL happen when we believe, act like, talk like, LIVE LIKE nothing is too hard for The Lord? This isn’t easy; I know! Even Jesus understood our tendency to believe more in the impossible rather than in GOD’S POSSIBLE!

Jesus answered, “What is humanly impossible is possible for God.”

(Luke 18:27 GNT)

You simply cannot be a follower of Jesus, if anything–I said ANYTHING (remember Popeye’s motto) is too hard for The Lord! If it is too hard, then, in the enduring words of the classic book by J.B. Phillips, Your God Is Too Small! And that makes YOU the real problem, not those people!

TO INSANITY AND BEYOND! (The U.M.C.)

As an adult, I absolutely loved the movie Toy Story. And some will want to flog me with a wet noodle for saying this–but Buzz Lightyear is my favorite character. Even though that was nearly 25 years ago, I still love to watch that movie. Now I am seeing why I am drawn to Buzz Lightyear. It was his catchphrase: To Infinity And Beyond! But seriously, how can one go beyond infinity since infinity has no end?

And for the last few weeks, I have taken his catchphrase and replaced one word–and it is a word that describes my beloved United Methodist Church; and thus the title of today’s edition: To Insanity And Beyond! How does one go beyond insane? Clinicians in the world of behavioral science have pretty much agreed upon their definition of “Insanity”! But there is a better definition that is easily understood and on which there can be no disagreement. Well. . .unless you are insane. OK, here it is:

Insanity is doing the same things over and over and over–and expecting different results.

I am hearing, and I’m being told by my fellow United Methodists, that we are at a critical crossroads in our Tribe. I laugh to myself when I hear the word “crossroads”. The United Methodist church is at a crossroads, and the Democrats and Republicans want to be nice to each other. HAH! This may hurt the feelings of some of my fellow United Methodists, but. . .oh well! Toughen up, buttercup.

To say we are at a crossroads in the United Methodist Church declares that we have four options: go straight, turn right, turn left, or go back the way we came. This has been the situation going on for 5 decades, and the United Methodist Church continues to be in a serious state of decline every year. And what should have been decided this year has been postponed until 2021–the affect of COVID-19.

A group in my own Conference has started a movement called Stay UMC (click here for their website). Centrists and Progressive sincerely believe that we can stay UMC and maintain a diverse view of the authority and reliability of the Bible. Friends, this has been attempted now through 5 decades and we continue to be in a state of decline. It is insane to continue this way.

The image of where the United Methodist Church is at is not a crossroads, but we are at the T-Intersection!

At a T-Intersection you can’t go straight. The road has ended. Now you must choose a different direction. And because it will be a different direction, it means that we will no longer together be United Methodists. Truth is, it’s insane to think over the past 5 decades that we have even been in the same area code of United. We are fragmented and broken and the time has come for a kind and civil farewell to each other.

Make your choice because the road that the United Methodist Church has been traveling has come to a T-Intersection. It is insane to think that doing what we’ve been doing is going to produce a different outcome. If you believe that, then I refer you to my statement after paragraph 2. My fellow United Methodists, this madness must stop! I join the growing crowd who is giving up this game of Kicking The Can down the road. I know that this moment is not a Crossroads moment. Make a choice. Either we can trust The Bible or we can’t trust The Bible. Really, one cannot go beyond insanity.

Really, What Is All This About?

Something got me to thinking this morning. Remember my last post, that where I’m from there are only 2 seasons: Hunting and Football. Well, it’s the Football Season that has filled my mind with so many random thoughts. But one thought screamed out louder than all the other. At this time lift up your trays, put away all electronic devices, and place your bags in the overhead compartment or in front of your feet. We are about to take-off.

Saturday the Alabama Crimson Tide and the LSU Tigers face-off on the gridiron battlefield in pursuit of that illusive National Championship at the capital of National Champions, Bryant-Denny Stadium. Neither team has experienced the agony of defeat thus far this season. But comes Saturday evening, one of them will. Players, coaches and staffs have worked hard for this moment. Both teams had a bye-week coming into this epic confrontation. Coaches and staff have been teaching. Players have been learning.

This is great stuff! Talent against talent. Desire against desire. This is THE opportunity for one of these teams to get closer to their goal of an SEC Championship and potentially another National Championship. The attention should be on those who, through sweat, tears and blood, have the opportunity to seek the rewards.

Ticket prices were already way above face-value because of the nature of this epic battle. And now, those prices are orbiting Mars. Why the spike in prices? Because President Trump will be in attendance at the game. THIS IS NOT A RANT AGAINST OUR PRESIDENT! Simply an observation from a football fan, and a Crimson Tide Fan. For many, it seems that the focus is off of the Teams and players and onto a single person. Granted, the last time President Trump watched the Crimson Tide play they brought home a Championship Trophy. But even the sports news outlets are focusing on “The Visit”. And that, my friends, is what screamed at me this morning.

In the Body of Christ, I see much, way too much emphasis put on things other than our Reason. Styles of worship, religious doctrine, personal feelings, superstar preachers (of which I’m NOT), appearance of facilities (exempli gratia–color of the carpet; I’ve seen a church nearly split on this issue), dress code in the ‘sanctuary’, is it ‘A-men’ or ‘Ah-men’ (again, I’ve heard this issue), who should be allowed in, who should NOT be allowed in, the use of robes (again, been there-done that-got the T shirt [wanna see my scars?] to prove it), denominational labels, pipe organs, drum sets, temperature in the sanctuary, pews versus chairs; and the list goes on ad nauseam.

Is this really what “church” is all about? A lot of folks think so–and it has become such a pungently odoriferous aroma that my spirit crawls with angst when I even hear the word “church”. The focus has become all those “other” things to the point that 6 things have happened (you can probably think of more, so add them to the comment section below):

  1. Those who long to serve Jesus have become disgusted and walked away; many after long years of service. They have been labeled “the dones”.
  2. Those who are hurting, broken, or disgusted with their life refuse to turn to the church because they see it as a place with more dysfunction than their own life. They have been labeled “the nones”.
  3. Those who sit in the pews believe that they should be the consumers of what the church provides, rather than the producers of the Mission. I call them “the selfish”.
  4. The Church that once influenced the culture for the better, is now influenced BY the culture. I call this “heart-breaking”.
  5. There is a lack of Biblical Wisdom and Knowledge that has led to people defining the Bible to fit their life rather than allowing the Word of God define their life. I call this “sad”.
  6. And people are being ignored and going into eternity without a relationship with Jesus. I call this “exponential tragedy”.

What is all this about? This life that Jesus came to provide through His suffering, death and Resurrection? It’s certainly none of the things I’ve described that blinds people to the real Reason for following Jesus. Our Reason for following Jesus must be the same Reason He came into His creation as one of His creations:

1When he came to the village of Nazareth, his boyhood home, he went as usual to the synagogue on the Sabbath and stood up to read the Scriptures. 17 The scroll of Isaiah the prophet was handed to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where this was written:

18 “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
    for he has anointed me to bring Good News to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim that captives will be released,
    that the blind will see,
that the oppressed will be set free,
19     and that the time of the Lord’s favor has come.”

20 He rolled up the scroll, handed it back to the attendant, and sat down. All eyes in the synagogue looked at him intently. 21 Then he began to speak to them. “The Scripture you’ve just heard has been fulfilled this very day!”

Luke 4:16-21 (NLT)

If you consider, or ‘call’ yourself a Christian, how much of you day looks like what Jesus said here in Luke? This is the Reason to be a Real Follower Of Jesus:

  • To live by the guidance and in the power of the Holy Spirit
  • To bring Good News, the BEST News of all to all who are spiritually poor, even bankrupt
  • To set captives free
  • To help the spiritually blind see The Father who loves them so very much
  • To bring freedom to those who are being oppressed by The Enemy (that’s Satan, just in case you forgot or didn’t know)
  • And that we can all be delivered from the Old Life and given the New Life–that everything in a person’s past is covered by the blood of Jesus and removed from them forever!

I just have to ask: If you go to church somewhere, is this the Reason your church is there? If not, don’t you think it’s time for this to become THE REASON? I do, and I’m seeing signs of this happening now. Make sure you know that you have the right Reason for your life.

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

When Did THAT Happen?

Though I haven’t been actively writing much lately, I have been actively thinking… more like…reflecting on the current state of affairs. I have been engaged in active observation of our culture… of the church… and though it’s given me a headache, frustrations, aggravations, agitations, and a variety of discombobulations, it has not filled me with despair nor desperation. Maybe a Goody’s Headache powder or a little 15 year old single malt–but I’m not anywhere near throwing in the towel and giving up. But I have reached a moment. It happened this evening as I was taking a shower. This moment is NOT an epiphany–but a question? Here it is:

In the book of Acts, those who committed to be Disciples of Jesus were committed to the Good News of The Kingdom of God. Their life was called Koinonia, a shared life together. Others were always more important than themselves. Sharing was natural. Caring was deeper. They hungered for more understanding of this Kingdom. This Kingdom came first. Koinonia Community marked by being TOGETHER in the Ekklesia (that’s the Greek word mistranslated as church). Ekklesia is a Greek word that means “the called out ones”. They were passionate about The Gospel of The Kingdom of God, telling that powerful story. And church today? Tenured Pew Sitters have stopped being producers for the Kingdom and started being the Consumers. As consumers, they want to church to do and be what best suits them. They want to be in control. It’s no longer about Koinonia Life, but what suits them.

Another thing, it seems there are those who think that with the passing of centuries, suddenly WE know more about what God means than the ancient writers who shared their stories. I know the saying , “With age comes wisdom.” LIE! LIE! LIE! I’ve seen way too many examples of age coming all by itself; wiðutan–that’s an old English word that means ”  a word expressing lack or want of something”. They called themselves “Progressives”, thinking that their thinking is making progress for humanity. They insist that there are parts of the Biblical Ethos that is, for a lack of a better word from me, WRONG! Progressives insist that our minds, our reasoning processes (a process that is polluted by sin in ALL of us) are better suited to guide us in life on earth. Pardon me, but isn’t that what Satan told Eve and Adam? It’s not longer about seeking, praying and listening to the Holy Spirit.

Yet another thing, unique to the U.S., is that politics will solve all our problems. Voting becomes a matter of religious preferences. It’s about which political party sits in the Oval Office, which party controls the Senate, which party controls the House of Representatives. We are about to enter a new election cycle and there will be all kinds of ads of candidates holding Bibles, talking about Biblical values, while standing in front of an American flag. Since when did Jesus give up His purpose of being The Messiah to a political party? I’m wondering if there are other responsibilities Jesus is giving up and where do I apply for it? People get all worked up over politics and say our nation is doomed because of this party, that party, that politician. Whatever happened to making our culture better through personal actions that reflect the heart, mind and glory of God? Somehow, I don’t think God is neither Democrat nor Republican. Furthermore, I strongly suspect that both parties causes God to have many a face palm moment!

Oh, I’m just getting started. Entitlement! In the words of Madea, “Oh, Lort!” Whatever happened to personal effort and goals worth WORKING toward? In an earlier blog I place much of the blame on participation trophies (Click here for that blog) People simply think that (and I call it a ‘philosophy’) I exist therefore I am owed! Look, folks, you are not owed anything simply because you breathe oxygen. It takes drive and determination to achieve success. You want us to reward mediocrity as if it were a virtue.

And then there’s “feelings”….feelings, nothing more than feelings….Got that song stuck in your head? Good. People are being lied to that you are who you feel like you are. In other words, your feelings override everything–biology, truth, reality. And to inflict as much damage and harm humanly possible, there are some who insist that God, the Creator, made you that way and that the Cross sanctifies your feelings. Well, I feel like a Billionaire, and you need to provide me with everything that would make me a billionaire. Whether I have the cash or not, give me what a Billionaire would want–a jet, huge mansion, multiple cars, you name it! After all, my feelings are that I’m a Billionaire, that’s what matters the most. Living by feelings does not liberate you–it makes you its prisoner. We are all more, much more, than our feelings!

Well, I could go on….but I’ll stop here. I’ll end with this:

The serpent told the Woman, “You won’t die. God knows that the moment you eat from that tree, you’ll see what’s really going on. You’ll be just like God, knowing everything, ranging all the way from good to evil.”

Genesis 3:4-5, The Message

An Open Letter To Young Clergy In The North Alabama Conference

It has been nearly a month. I have had time to process it, so now I will write.

Well, I have just been to Dante’s 45th Level of Hell. Excuse me, I meant to say my 45th consecutive North Alabama UMC Annual Conference. For those unfamiliar with my Spiritual Tribe, it’s that annual gathering of pastors and laity to “do” the “business” of UMC congregations within the boundaries of the North Alabama Conference. The italics and bold font indicates it’s alleged purpose. Honestly, sometimes I wonder how much we really do and how much of what we do really is the business of the Body of Christ and the Tribe known as United Methodists or the business of our personal opinions and beliefs.

To the young clergy and and young Christians, I want you to know I heard you cries of despair; of your feelings of being neglected because you felt your voice wasn’t important. It is important, but not in the way you may think. I also heard your anger because…well…because you did not obtain the results you wanted.

It appeared that you felt like BECAUSE you are young, your voice and your beliefs are the most important one. You were disappointed that none of you were elected to attend our General and Jurisdictional Conferences…and thus you assumed we weren’t listening. Au contraire, my sisters and brothers. You were heard, and there were many times when your voices did not sound like our Head, Jesus Christ.

With youth comes many advantages, but also disadvantages. The advantages of youth are qualities and virtues we all need to reclaim. We need to reclaim the excitement of the sense of unlimited possibilities. We need to reclaim the excitement of new discoveries. We need the stepping stones of fresh perspectives. These are just a few of the things you youth can teach us old fogies.

But there are also some disadvantages to youth, disadvantages us old fogies also had. The lack of depth of wisdom comes to mind. Wisdom doesn’t come from the surface of information, but from the depths of God’s heart and mind. This takes time…a lot of time. You lack the scars of battle with the Enemy. Don’t misunderstand me on this point. I know you have faced and done battle with the Enemy…otherwise you would’t be here.

Allow me to give you the image of my son, now retired from the military. He has been in many literal battles. And when the battle was intense, he did not look to that fresh out of West Point or ROTC second lieutenant for guidance and courage, he looked to the seasoned officers who had more experience in battle. What I want to say is that experience trumps youthful enthusiasm every time. Experience helps steady the ship when the storms are intense.

Young clergy and laity, you bring much to our Table. We need what you offer. But you also need what we old fogies bring to the Table. We bring years of failure and success. We bring hearts and minds deeply rooted in the Truth of Scriptures (well most of us anyway). We also bring a knowledge of our processes.

Do not think you are unimportant because you did not get your way at the North Alabama Annual Conference 2019. The anger many of you manifested at Annual Conference did not serve your purposes at all. Take a moment to breathe, and reflect in the presence of the Holy Spirit. And for a moment, set aside all that your seminary professors told you–and simply seek the Holy Spirit–then listen.

I do not blame you for feeling disappointed. I do blame those who told you that you have the only answer for the problems ad issues of the church in the 21st century. The Body of Christ has many parts, and you are one of those parts. Bring your energy and insights to the body of Christ.

But also listen…listen to the scars of us old fogies…listen to the wisdom from above that we have because we have been on the front lines for a while. The, when it’s time for decisions to be made, contact those delegates elected, and with the spirit of grace and kindness, share your views and opinions. Those will be a part of the mix that helps us ALL, regardless of age, to move forward with the Kingdom of God.

And most of all remember Paul’s words to young Timothy. Study…learn…seek wisdom from Above. Rejoice in your successes but also learn from your failures. The scars we bear are the most fertile ground for spiritual maturity…

When Do You Pull The Plug?

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.

The Missing Word Today

Well, after a season of computer problems (it died, had the blue screen) and getting caught up, I’m back to my insights from the Book of Acts (Of The Holy Spirit In Surrendered People). If you missed the first one, then click here, because it is, call it our Magnetic North in this journey. As I was reading in the first chapter, there’s another insight that I’ve overlooked for all my life. It is one word, and that word is TOGETHER.  It’s from Acts 1:14

They all met together and were constantly united in prayer, along with Mary the mother of Jesus, several other women, and the brothers of Jesus.

That word, “together” is one that has been, call it haunting me. I use the word “haunting” because it is M.I.A. in many, many established congregations. Between congregations and within congregations, little exists that would even slightly hint that we are together. And here, in the good old U.S. of A., people sit around McDonald’s, in church committee meetings, around the water coolers lamenting that this culture is so far from God. They blame Hollywood, Trump, Democrats, Republicans, Educators, Video Games and various News Networks. As I read this part, I am left wondering, “Is it really ‘their’ fault? Or is it the fault of the Body of Christ forgetting our humble beginnings? Of being together–in life, in helping others and in Christ?

Between congregations there is much competition. To have the best preacher. The best musicians. The most campuses. Rather than moving in and claiming the territory of The Enemy, they encroach on each other trying to draw away members. Together? Hardly!

And don’t get me started on within congregations. They meet in the same building, but are not really together. Each part moves, speaks and acts out of an agenda, their agenda. Those who have been in power do not want to give up their power. They operate on a seniority system–whoever has been there the longest (including previous family generations) are the only ones who should have power. And should a congregation actually decide that the Kingdom of God is the Pearl of greatest value, it becomes a matter of navigating the rapids. The Art of Compromise becomes the guide, and those who recognize that Pearl, either find another congregation, or simply give up. 

But it wasn’t that way then. They were Together. Men and women. Young and old. Educated and uneducated. Poor and the not so poor. They were in this TOGETHER. This means that they supported each other. Encouraged each other. Listened to each other. At this point, now get this: They were of one mind. They were in this for Jesus, not themselves. Jesus said stay together and they did. Jesus said wait, so they waited. Jesus said don’t begin until you receive the Holy Spirit, and so they waited–TOGETHER.

Think about this, they didn’t really know a lot about the Holy Spirit, other than what they saw of Him in Jesus. After the Resurrection, they were smart enough to know that they would be foolish to do this Kingdom Thing without The Holy Spirit. And to that goal, look at what else they did TOGETHER:

and were constantly united in prayer

Because they were TOGETHER, it wasn’t about selfish prayer. It was about being TOGETHER in what Jesus wanted. I strongly suspect, no, I strongly believe that they were so intimidated by the task in front of them that they knew they NEEDED each other. They needed each person to be committed to Jesus; to be completely surrendered, completely passionate about this Kingdom. Folks, they were UNITED in prayer. They were praying FOR each other, not against each other. Wow!

Recently I was reading through one of my personal study times. It’s from a group called SEEDBED (website is here). J.D. Walt is one of the writers and one of my teachers. He wrote that there are only 2 stories being told in our world: 1 is the story of the world, and the other is the story of The Kingdom of God. J.D. said that we will live out our lives on one or the other storyline. Then he said this (and I quote):

“Until Jesus becomes the center of our devotion, He’s just another distraction.”

And thus, that word, TOGETHER. I want to speak now only to my American readers. What would happen here in the good old U.S. of A. if WE, who profess to be followers of Jesus, gave up our agendas and made an all out commitment to being TOGETHER?

Feel free to answer this question in the comments section. I would love to hear what you believe would happen IF we were really TOGETHER. 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!

A Potato Theology–We Need It Today

potatoes

It hit me late yesterday afternoon.  We had been to our family doctor for check-ups, blood work, renewing prescriptions, flu shots, oh, a taking a slice of a mole on my shoulder for a biopsy.  That last part wasn’t part of the plan.  But perhaps it was that last one that led me to these thoughts:  The Church Today Needs A Potato Theology.  Are you scratching your head now, wondering where this left-handed maniac is headed?  I know I’m thinking that, so stay with me a moment.

The nurse practitioner isn’t expecting anything bad from the biopsy of that mole.  But…but to be sure she needed to get beneath the surface to know for certain.  Then I started thinking about potatoes.  Growing up with a Dad who loved to garden, I clearly remember that sometimes he planted potatoes.  Most of the other fruits and vegetables he grew could be seen.  But potatoes–all one could see is the plant.  And they didn’t look like the french fries I so dearly loved.  Oh, and the mashed potatoes.  Before I could savor those flavors, I had to wait…wait until what was beneath the surface could be brought up.  And it is now what I realize the Holy Spirit is trying to teach me.

The Bible is a lot like the simple potato.  What we need and long for isn’t found at the surface, you have to dig down into it.  It’s what I’m calling a “Potato Theology”–a theology that goes beyond the surface, and to the heart.  Now, I know some, actually a lot of folks who openly say, “I’m not a theologian, I’m a Christian!”  And they wonder why the church is suffering such great losses.  Look at that word:  Theology.  It comes from 2 Greek words:  Theos which means “God” and Logia which means “to reason or to study.”  Theology is to study and think about God.  To say you are not into theology or being a theologian means you are not into studying about God.

A Christian who claims they are not a theologian is saying “I’m not a thinking Christian.”  Such an attitude fails to fully love God.  Isn’t the greatest commandment to love God with all your heart, MIND, soul and strength (Mark 12:30)?  The place, the best place, the foundation place to study about God is the Bible.  But many, way too many, read only the surface words.  And the result is that though they deny they have a theology, they do have one, and a poor one at that.

For example, many people believe that divorce disqualifies one from being a pastor and quote Titus 1:6 as their proof.  That phrase “husband of one wife” in the Greek is ane mia gyne.  It literally means “be faithful to the woman”.  The Greek word for divorce is apolyo.  Not present in Titus 1:6.  Then there’s all those who quote from the Old Testament without understanding what is being said.  Some use Leviticus to back up their point without discerning the different kinds of laws God gave the Hebrews.  Some were moral laws while others were health laws.  Unless one studies deeply they can mistake health laws needed to protect the population from sickness and disease, and consider them moral laws.  For example, pork and shell-fish back then could contain all kinds of deadly bacteria.  They didn’t know anything about bacteria, so God tells them not to eat those items.  But today, we have health codes to protect us from those deadly bacteria.

It’s not always easy to discern what the Bible says.  But because it’s not easy, doesn’t mean it is impossible.  Use good resources to explore deeper.  And thanks to this varmint called the internet, you don’t have to pay for tons of books or spend time in your local library.  All I’m saying is that just as the best part of the potato lies beneath the surface, the best parts of the Bible are beneath the surface words.

Words cannot contain the wisdom of eternity, so we need more.  We need the Holy Spirit to guide us through this awesome and powerful book.  Take the time to go beyond the surface, beyond what others have said a passage means.  Discover it for yourself.  It’s not what’s on the surface we need most of all, but the Truth that lives deeply within these words.  Without that deep dive into scriptures, we will reduce the Good News of The Kingdom to a list of rules, a list of “do this” and “don’t do that”, which results in a lot more “don’t do that”.  Thus, a disciple of Jesus is reduced to what they don’t do, rather than the Holy Spirit that lives in them.

In short, we need to quit judging people based on what’s on their surface.  Body piercings, tattoos, designer suits, how they fix their hair, wearing jewelry–all on the surface.  Even Jesus made the point in Matthew 15 that it’s not the external that matters, but the internal.  And when God went searching for a king to replace Saul, He looked deeper than surface appearances, He searched for a king who would share His own heart.

So, you see, we do need that POTATO THEOLOGY, one that looks beyond what’s one the surface.  Let’s all dig deeper, it’s where the really good stuff is…..

Love God with all your heart.  Love others the way Jesus loves you.  And make sure all the glory goes to Him….and get that shovel out and start digging, thar’s gold in them thar’ hills! 

potatoes 2potatoes 2

What The Church Should Learn From Bikers

 

 

I started to title this “What The Church Can Learn From Bikers”, but I realized that should is the word that fits.  Now, a bit of explanation of my terminology.  When I say “biker”, I mean BIKER!  Not those people who wear spandex peddling those steel  or some alloy tubes on skinny wheels.  Those are called bicycles, not bikes.  Cyclists are NOT bikers.

Bikers wear leather, not spandex.  I know, because I am one.  In 2003, after my divorce ended 29 years of a marriage, I set out to “redefine” myself.  Decades ago I had a dirt bike and then a smaller street bike; but that was decades ago.  I found myself drawn into a local dealer and started looking.  Then I even went out price shopping at other dealers.  Then I bit the bullet, and picked one out.

Being a preacher, it had to be black and it must have lots of chrome.  I love chrome!  I thought at the  talledegatime I was redefining myself from the rubble of my life.  It turns out, though, that God was taking me on a journey to DEFINE my life, the person HE created.  For over 4 decades I allowed others to define me; that’s my fault.  I needed God to define me, and He did.  Not that I always got it right, but I kept coming back.  And HE kept accepting me back.  That’s how I became a biker.  Now, back to what I’ve been learning.  One thing I’ve learned is that many churches look nothing like the Body of Christ, but Bikers….they get it!  And here are 6 things the church today needs, urgently needs to learn from bikers.

1.  We Love What We Do!

We take great joy in what we do.  There are few things more exhilarating than finding a winding road with the wind in your face.  I never have heard a biker complain about going for a ride.  However, I have heard bikers lament when they had to hang up their174809558-612x612 leathers.  Now that’s a sadness that words cannot describe.  No whining.  No complaining.  Just loving what we do at the end of the day and wishing for more time and planning the next ride.  You will never hear a biker say, “You know, this morning I just don’t feel like riding today.”  If you do, immediately dial 911 and get her or him to a level 1 trauma center.  One of my Biker friends had this pillow on his book-case that said:  “You never see a bike parked in front of a psychiatrist’s office.”

But church?  Whining?  You bet!  Complaining?  You can take it to the bank.  Missing church?  There is an unending list of really good sounding excuses.  And when at church?  Not much joy, except that it’s over for another week.  Like Bikers, we should love what we do, but….here’s another lesson for church today.

2.  We Are A Diverse Group

White collar, blue-collar, dog collar….a model of diversity.  I’ve met factory workers, farmers, retirees, a federal judge, dentist, lawyer, small business owner….and yes, other preachers.  But in leather, we are held in a common bond.  Our backgrounds do notBiker matter.  There is a brotherhood and sisterhood that is not formed by how we are alike–but by our differences held together by a common passion.  Whatever you do the rest of the week doesn’t matter when you fire it up, put on the leather and ride.  It doesn’t matter how much money you have, what your politics are or where you live.  The diversity adds beauty and strength to this ‘Hood of Bikers.

And church?  Martin Luther King, Jr. was right then, and still right today when he said, “Sunday morning at 11:00 is the most segregated hour every week.”  And today, segregation still happens.  In some churches it’s race.  For others, it’s political views, traditions, economic status, where you work, where you live.  The church for decades has tried to be a cookie cutter factory, where we all look and sound alike.  I don’t think those 12 guys Jesus hand-picked for the first disciples looked alike, talked alike and acted alike.  I love seeing a congregation that’s gathered, reflecting the diversity of the community around it.  But it’s rare to see it.  Conformity rules the group.  But like Bikers…we should be a diverse group.  Another lesson we should learn from Bikers.

3.  We Are Friendly

Bikers who do not know each other, never met before, meet at the gas pump , we talk to each other.  In a meat and 3 diner, we talk to each other.  If a biker is having trouble with their bike, we do more than just talk, we help each other.  There’s a lot of people who act afraid of bikers.  I don’t know why.  They are some of the friendliest people I’ve ever met.065.jpg  Ever noticed how Bikers acknowledge each other on the road?  Usually with 2 fingers down.  It mainly means “keep 2 wheels down”; that’s important on a bike because you don’t want them on their side, because you will be, too. The bike, the leather, the road–is a culture of friendliness.

I know that churches like to say they are friendly.  And they are friendly–if you talk like them, act like them, believe like them.  They are friendly, as long as you don’t sit in their pew or try to change something in their church.  Then it’s Katie bar the door.  Friendliness stops.  Bikers are friendly because they don’t focus on the surface things.  They focus on what matters the most to them.  But we Bikers are more than friendly–we are friends–even if we don’t know each others names.  It’s unconditional friendliness, a lesson the church should learn.  Another lesson we should learn from bikers is:

4.  We Are Loyal To Each Other

Bikers have each other’s back.  They stand up and support one another.  Even among thef220bc461577d6409506165d8758af56 “One Percenters” (that’s outlaw biker clubs for the uninformed) there is a loyalty for those in their club.  If someone gets hurt and can’t work?  Forget Aflac, they hold a Rally, a Poker Run, or simply pass the helmet to help the one who’s hurt and their family.  Bikers stand with and by each other, through good times and hard times.  They even help others.  There are Rides to benefit St. Jude’s, March of Dimes, Toys For Tots, and the list goes on.

And the church’s track record on loyalty?  As long as everyone behaves themselves, and does what they are told to do, yeah. they’re loyal.  But when one falls, when one is hurting, when one is struggling–many churches either kick them out, or even worse–they simply ignore the fallen and the hurting.  Speaking as one wounded (more than twice) by the church, I didn’t see a lot of loyalty.  Honestly, I didn’t expect it because their track record had already been establish–and it wasn’t good.  But there should be a strong sense of loyalty to each other in the church.

5. We Don’t Worry About What Others Think About Us

We accept that some people will never accept us because, well, we are different.  We look different, act different, talk different.  Though I’m a preacher, truthfully when I have 3jpeg days growth of beard and in all my leathers on my loud bike, I can see why some good honest church folks who don’t know me might think not so nice things about me.  One Saturday I went riding with some friends, all of us with at least 2 days worth of beard, full leathers and we stopped at a little diner for lunch.  As we walked in I noticed people staring at us, and not in a good way.  Know what?  I’m OK with that.  I’m not out trying to win the approval of others.  There’s only One whose approval I need.  We don’t care about external stuff, well maybe except for our bikes.  We are comfortable in our own skin and do not need validation through the approval of others.

And in the church?  Nearly, if not everything is about appearances and outward stuff.  Emphasis is on the external, the very thing that angered Jesus about the Pharisees.  Being a Christian becomes more about what one does NOT do than what one actually does; more about how they look more so than who they are deep inside; more about certain beliefs than Kingdom Living.  When it’s all about appearances, we lack the substance of the Kingdom Life.  Bikers teach us not to worry about appearances and what others think.  Here’s another thing that Bikers can teach the church.

6.  We Know The Risks And Ride Anyway

We realize the being a Biker isn’t for everyone.  It is risky.  There’s a motto often seen in motorcycle-wreck-maggieour community.  “Live To Ride.  Ride To Live.”  There are inherent dangers.  In my part of the world one of the dangers is deer.  You’ve seen the damage they inflict on a car, think about a bike.  Then there’s the dangers of car drivers.  Road conditions.  And when we are inattentive to those dangers.  Honestly, there are tons of reasons not be to a biker.  Yet, each day we gear up and ride.  Are we oblivious to the dangers?  Absolutely not.  But we believe that the rewards most definitely outweigh the risks.  Do I pray before I ride?  While I ride?  Is the Pope Catholic?  We respect these machines but we don’t allow the fear to keep us from riding.  When fear does override the joy, they sell those bikes and buy a convertible.  What should the church learn from this?

A malady that has inflicted the 21st Century Church is the unwillingness to take risks for Jesus and the Kingdom.  They want to play it safe.  They want to know the outcome before venturing out, and that the outcome is worth it; meaning, the church will get new members.  If you can’t get new members then it’s not worth the risk.  The Devil knows he can’t defeat The Kingdom; he’s already tried and failed.  Remember that empty tomb?  Instead of attacking The Kingdom, he has filled many local churches with the need for playing it safe, and avoiding the risks.  He won’t win the final victory, but he takes great delight in the impotency of churches unwilling to risk it all for Jesus.  People risk eternity for the sake of time.  Why not risk Time for the sake of Eternity?

 

Well, that just 6 of the lessons many churches should learn from Bikers.  It’s 5 lessons the church MUST learn if it is ever to escape the current “survival mode” and once again THRIVE!

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

Now, if you will excuse me, I think there’s a curvy road calling out to me….

Was Shakespeare Right?

truth-in-advertising-300x277

I’m referring to Juliet’s sadness of heart when she said, “What’s in a name?  That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.”  I know it’s a romantic tragedy play, but today I would engage those famous words in another context.  I would write it this way:  “What’s in a name of a church?  Doesn’t it’s true nature always reveal itself?”

I have a habit of reading church signs–both the name and those cute little messages.  One of my favorite “cutesy” is “Honk if you love Jesus.  Text while driving if you want to see Him.”  And names–it seems every community has a “Calvary”, “Bethlehem”, “Grace”, “Faith”,  and “First”.  I’ve also seen several “Corinth” named churches.  Really?  Do you know what was actually going on there?  Why not just name it “Charles Manson”?

I’ve also seen “The Church of The Divine Metaphysical Reality” (what happens there???), and one of the more interesting ones, “First ******** (I’m leaving out the name of the Tribe to protect the innocent) Church, Number 2”.  And I noticed one that read:  “Little Hope Church”.  Please, understand I’m not belittling or making fun of that church.  The road is named “Little Hope Road”.  Perhaps this explains the name of that church; I certainly hope so.  But what kind of person would name a road “Little Hope”?  The Body of Christ is a place for Mega Hope, not Little Hope.  Perhaps I am the only one who notices this bit of incongruence.  But it got me to thinking:  What if those truth in advertising laws applied to church names?  Here are a few I’ve come up with, along with their appropriate Mission Statement:

The Church Of We’re Better Than You

Where the Mission is to develop our sense of moral superiority

 

The Church Of The Sanctimonious

It’s all about the show and not about the action

 

The Church Of The Judges

Faithfully fulfilling our task of telling others where and why they are wrong, wrong, wrong!

 

The Church Of The Preacher

Providing The Best Preacher Out There For Your Entertainment

 

The Church Of The Comfortable

From seating to your conscience, our name says it all:  Making you comfortable

 

The Church Of Wearing The Sunday Best

Because everyone knows you can’t worship God in jeans and flip-flops

 

The Church Of The Culture

Studying our culture with intensity so that we can better change the Bible to fit the Culture

 

The Guilt-Free Church

That’s right, if you think it’s right for you, then it’s right for you

 

The Church Of The Circle

Where a small and elite group runs everything so you don’t have to worry about anything

 

The Cookie Cutter Church

Working with all our energy to make you just like us

 

The Church Of The 50’s

Faithfully Doing What The Church Used To Do

The Church Of The Professionals

Providing staff to do the work so you don’t have to

The Church Of Apathy

Who cares about mission and mission statements

 

The Church Of YOU

That’s right, it’s all about you and never about others!

 

The Church Of God Wants You Wealthy!

Providing live feed from Joel Osteen every week

I could just go on and on.  What about you?  If you have a “Truth In Advertising” church name, feel free to share it in the comments section.

A Moving Journal-Day 4

Well, good evening to all.  I’m sure this journal has you sitting on the edge of your chair.  Yeah, Right.  Even I’m not that delusional.  Well, today can you guess what we did?  If you guessed that we sat in easy chairs watching TV, you will not make it to Final Jeopardy.  More packing and today I moved my boxes of books and office stuff from the office into the garage here at home.  Did some more packing here, and still throwing away.  And now I’ve been told by the Boss Lady that I need to get more boxes.

Gee Whiz!  How much stuff is there around here?  Truthfully, I don’t want to know the answer.  Oh, and I just ordered Direct TV to be installed a week from today.  Man, I hope we have enough boxes unpacked in the rooms for the installation guy.  And then there’s that other thing:  a funeral message tomorrow morning.  More tearful goodbyes.  It was hard to say goodbye to the Tuesday Morning Prayer Warriors group, though they call themselves the Women’s Prayer Group, I know that are Prayer Warriors.  I know they will continue praying for me and Debbie, because it’s in their DNA to pray.  I’m thankful they keep us in their journals.  Still, they had to give me their verbal assurance that they will keep praying for us.

I think this is about it.  So what have I learned today?  Honestly, this morning I was thinking to myself, “What other lessons could I learn than what I’ve already learned?”  Well, that’s the danger of thinking TO yourself.  I almost skipped class, but this evening, here is what I have learned:

  • Don’t talk to yourself.  Talk to Dad, The Son, and The Holy Spirit.  My shortcomings happen when I narrow the scope of who I talk to.  Talking to myself, well that just doesn’t work.
  • Lose sight of yourself in order to lose sight of the stresses of life.  Saturday afternoon we had visited with Wynette, the one whose funeral I am doing tomorrow.  As I watched her struggle for breath, I had vivid images of 3 weeks ago when I watched my Mother struggle for her breath.  I honestly thought the worst was behind me.  Boy, was I wrong.  But in preparing for tomorrow, sharing with family and friends today, I soon found my heartache being comforted by the Comforter.  For a while, I forgot about my heartache as I focused my attention on their heartache–and I am being strengthened.
  • Goodbye Is NEVER easy because it’s not meant to be easy.  Especially when it comes to those who care about you, and for whom you are about, too.  I’ve been moving stuff to the curb I don’t want to move to Fayette, Alabama.  But my friends?  I’ve carried them in my heart and I will continue to carry them in my heart.  That is one thing the movers can’t charge us for.  I can take stuff to the thrift store and stuff to the curb.  But I cannot let go of those relationships that we have built over the past 4 years.  Honestly, I don’t want to let go of them and I won’t.
  • There is still a little bit of bitterness in my heart.  I was talking with a very good friend and someone in my Band of Brothers, who wasn’t happy with me moving.  I felt it again–my bitterness.  It wasn’t a lot, but it is still bitterness that will grow if something doesn’t happen.  Only the presence and power of God–and His Grace–through the Holy Spirit’s work, will ever get rid of it all.  I’m counting on Him and I must not forget that not even the smallest root can remain in my heart.

Well, Good night, John Boy!

A Moving Journal-Day 3

OK, Day 3 is in the books.  In 4 more days the moving company will arrive to pick up our belongings.  Then, on Monday afternoon we will meet them again at our new home.  I guess you could say this is entering “crunch time”.  At least it feels this way.  Here was my day.

At about 5:30 a.m. I boxed up some more of my stuff in the garage.  Now it’s trying to figure out which box will work without any wasted space.  Back to the office to finish all the filing and paperwork.  Filing and sorting was something I was going to get to, eventually.  But it is evident I never got around to it.  So now it’s sorting through documents; filing them chronologically–something that wasn’t done before I arrived, but it will be done before I leaven.  I began preparing notes for my successor of things, people and situations he should be aware of in the beginning–again, something I wasn’t given much of upon my arrival.  I’m finding duplicate documents so I am properly disposing of them.

I arrive at home and after supper, it back to “seek and ye shall find” the right size box.  I’m finding some more “stuff” that I was going to do something with eventually.  Now it’s at the curb for curb shoppers and the street department to pick up on Thursday.  I need to get everything out to the curb by Wednesday night so that my successor will arrive without “stuff” stacked by the curb.  And now, I am writing.  So, what lessons have I learned today?  To the casual observer, it might not seem like much, or worth mentioning.  But I have come to realize that the greatest bits of wisdom most often come from lessons learned; even the smallest lesson.

  • First, I learned that organizing is essential for the long run.  I mean, by putting things that will go together in the same space at the new home will make the unpacking go much quicker; not that it’s all that quick.  But if I put things from 3 different spaces in just one box, I will be spending more time going between spaces that putting those things up.  Forward thinking is either an art that is being lost in people and churches; or it is a skill that is about to become lost upon the general population; or it is a gift that no one wants anymore.
  • Second, I learned that I need to quite practicing the art of procrastination.  There you have it, the one thing that keeps me from being perfect.  I know I just heard someone I know who is reading this fall to the floor laughing.  One of my constant struggles is putting off until next week what I should have done yesterday.  I gotta work on this problem with better results.
  • Third, there are still things to be done here before I leave.  One thing I started doing today that I haven’t mentioned is I’ve been praying, listening and thinking of what to say at our friend’s funeral on Wednesday morning.  Another thing I did not mention is that I’ve been working with our financial manager and volunteer accountant on an accurate financial statement.  This church has been using a system that had 2 not so slight issues–it never balanced with the bank statements and it never balanced at the end of the year.  I made a commitment that the financial picture would be clear as a bell before I left.  And after today, I believe it is.
  • Fourth, I need to be thinking about our next place of Kingdom work.  About midway through the day I realized I have not been praying nor thinking about our new appointment.  I had not been taking time to listen to the Holy Spirit who I believe is guiding us to these 2 wonderful communities of Jesus followers.  Even in crunch time I need to also be thinking about the most immediate future of next week.

 

 

Heaven–You Can’t Get There From Here! Part 4

 

Welcome back class.  We’re already half-way through this subject.  Yesterday we talked about The Sponge Plan where God is The Cosmic Observer who hopes that we are in the right place at the right time.  In case I didn’t mention it, The Cosmic Observer doesn’t seek us for transformation, but hopes we find the right information.

Slide18

God is the Cosmic Santa.  The nitty-gritty of the Santa Claus Plan is that there is a naughty and a nice list.  We just need to be sure we get in on the nice list.  But here’s the thing about the Santa Plan—everyone still gets Christmas presents.  The naughty list is just something to try to get us to behave a little better when we get sick or get old.  It’s  what they call at cemeteries, excuse me, seminaries, Universal Salvation.  Universal Salvation says that there is no hell and that  In The End, We All Get In.

Slide19

Don’t sweat it or worry about it.  Dying is Christmas Day—we’re going to get a present after all.  No, we don’t!  In James 1:15 you can read—These desires give birth to sinful actions. And when sin is allowed to grow, it gives birth to death.  Maybe James is overreacting here, but I don’t think so.  Sin will consume and destroy us and keep us out of heaven.  Even Jesus said that not everyone who says “Lord, Lord” gets in.  In this plan, the death of Jesus is applied to us whether we want the Gift or not.

Our purpose in life is to hopefully make this world a little better place until God brings the Final Kingdom.  This plan says we are just waiting around.  Whatever “mistakes” we make, really don’t matter.  Even if you believe that In The End We All Get In, the thing about sin is that it is overpowering and thus destroys the Image of our Creator.  This plan is a lie from the pits of hell designed to keep you from the loving relationship God longs to have with you.

That’s it for today.  Review your notes for 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.  See you tomorrow and maybe the next plan will help.

 

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!

Heaven, You Can’t Get There From Here! Part 2

Good Morning Class, or whatever time of the day it is you are reading this.  I’m so glad you decided to return.  Remember there will be a Final Exam on this class of How Do You Get To Heaven?  I cannot tell you when it will be because, well I don’t know.  This test will be administered at some point, not by me, but by the Head Master.  So pay close attention to this lesson.

As you remember from our last session this question about getting into heaven is really about this question:  How Do I Have A Relationship With God?  Remember from our text book, John 3 that it is this guy named Nicodemus who posed this question to Jesus.  So let’s proceed with today’s lesson with one of the ways some people think they can get into heaven.  Each of these “ways” has a name, that I cleverly came up with; well, truthfully, it was the Holy Spirit that gave me these names.  Here is the first plan:

Slide14

This one is really easy to understand.  Raise your hands if you have a checking account or savings account.  OK, you’ve got this plan.  God keeps a set of books with debits and credits—good things we do and bad things we do.  God is the Cosmic Accountant keeping tabs on us.  At the end of each business day, The Cosmic Account runs a tally of your life.  And if we do more good things than bad things, we get into heaven.  The good things we do help cover the costs of the bad things we do.

Now this is very appealing to many folks.  It’s relatively simple.  Some days you make a lot of deposits because you are kind and helpful.  That’s good because some days, well some days you are not so good.  So the Cosmic Accountant subtracts from your good things.  You just have to make sure you have more “good things” deposited to your account that “bad things” that are taken away from your account.

But Sin is more than just a “bad” thing—Sin is rebellion against God, against our Creator, against His design and purposes.  And then there’s what Jesus said God demands from us.  Matthew 5:20—But I warn you—unless your righteousness is better than the righteousness of the teachers of religious law and the Pharisees, you will never enter the Kingdom of Heaven!  Now these teachers of the law and Pharisees, man they had a lot of deposits.  Don’t misunderstand me–they had their “withdrawals” as well.  But they certainly had more virtuous deeds than bad deeds.  But–you don’t get into Heaven because you think you have more virtuous deeds than bad deeds.

God is MORE than the Cosmic Accountant.  He IS the Righteous God who expects nothing less from us that Righteousness.  He IS the Holy God who demands nothings less from us that holiness.  Were this so, then it was a waste of time for Jesus to become our flesh.  If it were so, then the death of Jesus on that Cross was a tragedy.  But His life AND death were neither a waste of time, nor was it a tragedy.

Well, that’s it for today class.  I hope you took good notes because there will be a test at the time determined for you by the Head Master.  Until tomorrow…..remember to love God with all your heart.  Love others the way HE loves you.  And make sure all the glory goes to Him!

Cultural Bias And Women Clergy

 

I was going to wait until I finished this series of posts before I addressed this issue.  But the Holy Spirit won’t leave me alone, so here goes:  What does The Bible really say about women as teachers, pastors, or preachers?  As with all these posts about the influences of cultural biases and how these biases may be keeping us from seeing “the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth so help me God”.  I am not expecting anyone to change their view, and especially on this one.  So let’s take a deep dive on this controversial subject.

Here is the approach I am taking.  I am using the Bible IN its contexts AND looking at the whole picture of the narrative the Bible tells, not just bits and pieces to backup my position.  Much of the Bible is written in light of its current context and culture.  I believe what some see as biblical approval and biblical disapproval of certain issues are really passages about how to navigate in a culture that does not reflect the original intention of God in creation.  For example, slavery was not a part of God’s Original Design.  So how do we live faithfully as God’s people in the midst of something He clearly never intended?  And could it be that the role of women, in a culture that clearly does not honor them as being image bearers of God, can be misinterpreted as well?

Here are some of the passages I typically hear from those who say it is unbiblical for women to be pastors and preachers, and my response from looking at the contexts:

11 Women should learn quietly and submissively. 12 I do not let women teach men or have authority over them.  Let them listen quietly. 13 For God made Adam first, and afterward he made Eve. 1 Timothy 2:11-12

Seems pretty clear, doesn’t it?  Until you look at the classical Greek and the original meaning of those words.  The Greek word Paul used is authenteō and it means one who acts on his (or her) own authority, autocratic.  Could it be that Paul is warning against women, or anyone for that matter, to do things that God has not called them to do?  The context is about order in worship.  Worship should not be chaotic and Paul chastised the church at Corinth for some of their ways of making worship more about them and thus, less about God.

And when Paul wrote this letter Timothy was leading the church at Ephesus.  Did someone just think, “So what?  What’s that got to do with anything?”  Glad you asked!  Ephesus was the home to the Temple of Artemis and was considered one of the 7 wonders of the world.  Artemis was considered, among many things, to be the goddess of fertility, and you know how fertility normally occurs–SEX!  When women went to the Temple of Artemis they would adorn themselves with signs of sexuality–beautiful, seductive dresses, jewelry, hair fixed just all, all to seduce men by exerting power over them through sex.  There’s more to say about Artemis’ Temple, you can Google that for yourself.  Suffice it to say, “Couldn’t Paul be telling Timothy that church at Ephesus shouldn’t look or act like those going to the Temple of Artemis, that celebrates sexuality?”  I’m just saying….

Well, let’s look at some more passages

21 And further, submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.  22 For wives, this means submit to your husbands as to the Lord. 23 For a husband is the head of his wife as Christ is the head of the church. He is the Savior of his body, the church. 24 As the church submits to Christ, so you wives should submit to your husbands in everything.

25 For husbands, this means love your wives, just as Christ loved the church. He gave up his life for her 26 to make her holy and clean, washed by the cleansing of God’s word. 27 He did this to present her to himself as a glorious church without a spot or wrinkle or any other blemish. Instead, she will be holy and without fault. 28 In the same way, husbands ought to love their wives as they love their own bodies. For a man who loves his wife actually shows love for himself. 29 No one hates his own body but feeds and cares for it, just as Christ cares for the church.30 And we are members of his body.  Ephesians 5:21-30

I just heard someone say, “Aha, you radical liberal, you just sunk your own ship!”  In the immortal words of Sheriff Andy Taylor, “Now hold on just a minute, Barney.”  Context!  The context is verse 1, NOT verse 22:  “Imitate God, therefore, in everything you do, because you are his dear children.”  And imitating God hits the high point in verse 21, NOT verse 22:  “And further, submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.”  It is all about how we honor God by submitting to each other regardless of status or gender.  The Greek word used is hypotassō and it means to arrange under, to subordinate; to subject, put in subjection.   

If you expect women to submit to men, then men should submit to women, if Paul is correct in verse 21.  The remainder of these verse are about how do we honor each other, respect each other by showing humility to each other.  It certainly isn’t by being lords and dictators over anyone.  Now, just hold on to that thought about imitating God, OK?

Let’s look at another passage that people believe disqualifies women from being pastors and preachers.

34 Women should be silent during the church meetings. It is not proper for them to speak. They should be submissive, just as the law says. 35 If they have any questions, they should ask their husbands at home, for it is improper for women to speak in church meetings.  1 Corinthians 14:34-35

Someone was just thinking, “Would you like for me to throw you a float.  Your ship just sank.”  Now wait a minute Barney!  Context, if you don’t mind.  There was a lot of chaos and confusion in the Corinthian worship.  Paul is speaking about order in worship, again.  That word for silent means just that–silent–to not disrupt the worship service, which was happening at Corinth.  Here is their cultural context–not that God designed it that way–it was just the way they did it.  People were segregated in meeting places, and one way was by gender. Women were placed in the area farthest from where the speaker was–just like in the Temple.  Mr. Peavy hasn’t been born yet, so could it be that the women who could not hear whoever was speaking, so they shouted from the rear of the room, “We didn’t hear that, would you mind repeating that?”

Remember context–and in the case of 1 Corinthians 14, it isn’t about women cannot speak, but it is about so many speaking that there is no chance for people to learn about Jesus.  I’ve heard several men “preachers and teachers” who spoke in unknown tongues.  Oh, they were speaking English, but I didn’t understand a word they said.  I’ve also heard several women preachers and teachers who spoke with clarity and wisdom.  What if the context was maintaining order and reducing chaos, instead of saying women can’t be preachers?  I’m only asking a question…

A couple of paragraphs ago I asked you to hold on to that thought about imitating God, and allow me to pursue it now.  The Bible opens up with life as God designed it to be–it reflects His intentionality.  But in Genesis 3 we see both Adam AND Eve moving in the opposite direction, against God’s intentionality of creation.  From this point forward in the Bible, the narrative is that God seeks to bring us back to His Intended Design.  It is also the narrative of humanity continuing to go against His Intended Design.

This resulted in the forming of cultures that God never designed or intended, but that we humans did because of our sinful nature.  Part of the narrative is our failings.  The rest of the narrative is about God moving to restore His Intended Design to His creation.  This movement of God to restore is always counter-cultural; moving in the opposite direction to what the world says is right.

When Jesus came in our humanness it was the final part of how God one day will restore His creation back to His Intended Design, where men and women together reflect His Image–to be restored to being His Image Bearers.  That plan not only included the death of Jesus, but also the Resurrection of Jesus.  But that ultimate plan included one more step:  The Coming Of The Holy Spirit into the hearts of those He is in the process of RESTORING.  The prophet Joel described to a fallen people how God would do a brand new work in His people,  It is all about restoring what had fallen because of sin–which includes us.  We read in Joel 2:28-29–

“Then, after doing all those things, I will pour out my Spirit upon all people.  Your sons and daughters will prophesy.  Your old men will dream dreams, and your young men will see visions.  In those days I will pour out my Spirit even on servants—men and women alike.

According to Strong’s Hebrew dictionary the word prophesy means to speak by inspiration, meaning inspiration of God.  Joel said both men and women would prophesy–young and old see visions.  He would pour out His spirit on servants–men and women.  Is Joel right or did he get the message from God mixed up?  Fast forward a few centuries.

The Holy Spirit came to those disciples in that upper room at the Feast of Pentecost.  It’s all in Acts 2, but I want to highland, IN CONTEXT, a portion of Peter’s message in verses 14-18–

“Listen carefully, all of you, fellow Jews and residents of Jerusalem! Make no mistake about this.  These people are not drunk, as some of you are assuming. Nine o’clock in the morning is much too early for that.  No, what you see was predicted long ago by the prophet Joel:

‘In the last days,’ God says, ‘I will pour out my Spirit upon all people.  Your sons and daughters will prophesy.  Your young men will see visions, and your old men will dream dreams.  In those days I will pour out my Spirit even on my servants—men and women alike—and they will prophesy.

There are 2 words with a connectional word:  sons AND daughters.  Then a few lines down:  men AND women alike.  What?  They will prophesy.  Did someone just think, “Oh, that’s not really preaching.”  No wonder the North American church is in such a state of decline!  Alas, you may be correct–much preaching I have heard was not prophecy in the truest meaning of that word.  Prophesy in the Greek means “to be a prophet, speak forth by divine inspiration”.  To prophesy doesn’t mean you foretell the future!  Prophecy is FORTH-TELLING not foretelling.  It is about the present moment, not future moments that truly we do not come close to fully understanding.  Oh, it may include something about the future–but it is about the consequences if you do not apply the inspiration of God’s Truth in the here and now.

And even for Paul, who understands the rich extravagance of God’s grace could not fully wrap his mind around this issue of women preachers.  He grew up in a culture, actually, 2 cultures that most often demoted women to second class citizens.  But an epiphany came to Paul in Galatians 3.  The context is being under the influence of the Holy Spirit and living by faith in Jesus.  Here are the verses (26-28) that comes out of that context:

26 For you are all children of God through faith in Christ Jesus. 27 And all who have been united with Christ in baptism have put on Christ, like putting on new clothes. 28 There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male and female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus.

In the beginning, God chose to reflect His image in 2 unique forms–we call them male and female, men and women.  Neither form is better than the other.  Truth is, each single form comes up short in revealing the image of God.  But when you put those 2 images together, as God INTENDED, the image of God becomes clearer.  I know there are those (who shall remain nameless) point out that the responsibility for the Fall rests solely on Eve.  Clearly, this is the early Jewish belief, which culture did influence Paul.

But the sole responsibility does not rest on Eve for this tragedy.  Adam was present, too.  I have a very good friend who insists Adam wasn’t present when the serpent was deceiving Eve.  But Genesis 3:6 says:  “The woman was convinced. She saw that the tree was beautiful and its fruit looked delicious, and she wanted the wisdom it would give her. So she took some of the fruit and ate it. Then she gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it, too.”  Adam should have fought for her against the Serpent, but he didn’t.  Adam didn’t do a thing–and that was his first sin.

And when they were confronted by their Creator about what happened, Eve was honest:  “I was deceived.”  And Adam?  He takes no personal responsibility but blames Eve, and thus his second sin:  “This woman you gave me made me do it.”  Hard truth time:  Adam is blaming God.  “God, if you had not made her, I would be OK.”  So, men are the only ones who can lead in church?  If that’s so, men we have a very bad track record on leading, from the very beginning.

Now, back to my beginning.  I’m not asking anyone to change their views on this matter.  The purpose of this series has been to prod each of us into examining if we are being influenced by our culture.  If so, where at?  Remember, the Kingdom of God goes counter-cultural to everything this culture thinks is right and true.  Now excuse me, I hear a noise outside my office, people shouting something about tar and feathers and something else about a stake and fire…..

Cultural Bias And “The Church” Conclusion

 

 

 

(Here is the rest of the conversation going on in my head about cultural bias and the church…Due to the nature of this mind, viewer discretion is advised.  The Spiritually immature, not to be confused with “new believers”, may not be able to comprehend these thoughts. Please read the first part before reading this one:  Cultural Bias And “The Church”)

Mr. Churchian:  First you’re talking about Greek and now Latin?  All of that is irrelevant.

Ms. Tenured Pew Sitter:  Besides, we speak English, American English.  I agree with Mr. Churchian, Greek/Latin–that doesn’t mean a thing!

Me:  (Fighting hard to keep my gift of sarcasm in check)  Yes, we speak American English (I’m wondering why Ms. Tenured Pew Sitter insists on the KJV) but yet there are different meanings to words now than when these wonderful letters and books were written.  I know that we cannot all be Greek and Hebrew Scholars and this is why there are so many resources that can help us to understand in a deeper way the intent of the writers by looking at the original meanings of those words.

Mr. Churchian:  Well, I know what I know!

Ms. Tenured Pew Sitter:  And I know all I need to know!

Me:  (Now I’m smiling again!)  And that, my dear brother and sister in Christ, is the problem.  What you know is what you have been taught by well-meaning people who have been enveloped in that fog of misinformation called “Church Cultural Bias”.  We have accepted, BLINDLY accepted what we have been told about what it means to be a follower of Jesus.  And at the root of this, I’m calling it what it is, this DECEPTION are these 2 diametrical words:  the original word Ekklēsia and that substitute word Circulous.

Circulous is a “circle”.  A circle is a closed system.  What ever is outside that circle must be allowed in to be a part of the circle.  The circle then supports itself.  Whatever is allowed to be a part of the circle must have 2 key attributes:

  1.   First, it must conform.  If they do not conform, then the circle is no longer symmetrical.  And God knows we can’t have circles unless they are symmetrical.  And Ms. Tenured Pew Sitter I know how important symmetry is to you. (She’s smiling now, but wait for it!)
  2.   Second, it must contribute something to the existing structure.  They must be able to reflect the current image.  God knows we cannot have people in jeans with tattoos and piercings a part of the circle that is full of suits, ties and women wearing conservative fashionable dresses.  They must be able to add to the existing and prevailing views, otherwise we would not be uniform.  And Mr. Churchian, I know how important contributing to uniformity is to you.  (Now he’s smiling, but wait for it!)

And all of this must happen within the confines of a specific geographic location, otherwise known as The Church Building.  Am I correct in this, Mr. Churchian and Ms. Tenured Pew Sitter?

Mr. Churchian and Ms. Tenured Pew Sitter:  (In unison) ABSOLUTELY!  Thanks for finally coming over to our side!

Me:  ‘Hold `em thar’ horses!’  What I just described is the Body of Christ as Circulous, a “circle”.  The circle exists to serve those already in the circle.  Anything that doesn’t support the circle is deemed both unnecessary and unimportant.  The focus is entirely on human activities; what WE do.  It creates that sense of entitlement, and I know how both of you feel about “the entitlement generation”.  The circle produces consumers.  As long as the pastor, staff and leadership puts out “consumables” for you, everything is great.  When they no longer put out consumables, it’s time to replace them.  This, my Sister and Brother, is the Body of Christ as a circle.  I see you nodding your heads in agreement.  But remember that Circulous is a substitute word for the original word.

The Body of Christ as the Ekklēsia focuses on the One who does the calling.  By focusing on the One who does the calling, the focus is on the life that God offers us and the foundation of that life that God offers us is about dying daily to self in order to live in unselfish ways in order to care about and for others.  Putting it another way, here are 3 things the Ekklēsia is not:

  1.   It does not look like a geometrical circle.  It looks more like coloring outside the lines.  I know how much both of you detest coloring outside the lines.  But when Jesus was in our human form He was the Master Artist of coloring outside the lines.  Jesus continues coloring outside the lines by storming the strongholds of human values and culture.
  2.   It is not being uniform.  Our Creator loves unique diversity.  Look at the animal kingdom.  You have an armadillo and you have the giraffe.  Look even at horses, varieties of sizes, shapes, colors, and purposes.  God loves diversity so He created us uniquely and loves it when we use our uniqueness to honor Him.  Think about the beauty of a rainbow.  The colors are not the same.  When the light hits those raindrops at the right angle, then the beauty shines.
  3.   It does not focus inwardly.  The One who calls us is always looking outwardly.  Thus, to respond to that call, the Body of Christ also looks outwardly.  The Ekklēsia cannot be confined to a postal or 911 address.  All that happens inside the geographical location is designed to drive us out of that location to where real people are enslaved by sin, bringing light to the dirtiest and darkest places on earth.

Ms. Tenured Pew Sitter:  Well, that’s not what I was taught!

Mr. Churchian:  Well, I earned my way to be here and everyone else should earn their way, JUST LIKE I DID!

Me:  Well, it wasn’t what I was taught either.  And I admit, I haven’t earned my way into the circle.  But I have been called out by God’s grace.  Called back to my Creator, my Father.  I have been called out to follow Jesus wherever He wants me to go in order to do whatever He wants me to do.  Now, if you two will excuse me, Jesus has left the building, so I must also leave the building….

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

Jesus-Left-Building-2

(Maybe Elvis had it right)

Cultural Bias And “The Church”

 

 

In this my personal journey (which I am sharing through this series of blogs) about the influences of what I am calling “cultural bias”, I have already discovered many things that have caused me to question much of what I have been taught, and what I have taught over the decades.  I am already questioning the term “christian” as the dominant term to describe people who believe Jesus is the Savior of all (see: Which Is A More Accurate Term:  Christian Or Disciple?).  Where else has cultural bias, even “Christian Cultural Bias” influenced us, and maybe even changed our true identity and real purpose?  So now I address another issue where I see an over-abundance of cultural biases.  (Here is the conversation going on in my head…Due to the nature of this mind, viewer discretion is advised.  The Spiritually immature, not be be confused with “new believers” may not be able to comprehend these thoughts.)

Me:  What does the Bible really say and teach about “the church”?  Well, let’s look at what the One whom we are supposed to reveal said about “the church”.  Jesus only mentions the word “church” twice.  Well, truthfully He never said the word “church”.

Mr. Churchian:  “You idiot!  You need to be tarred and feathered and run of town!  Blasphemer!”  (He’s looking for either a torch or a pitchfork….not sure)

Me:  Well, as I am fond of saying, “The truth will stand even when the world is on fire.”

Ms. Tenured Pew Sitter:  “Now you know the word ‘church’ IS in the Bible.  So, Mr. Smartypants, what word did Jesus use if it wasn’t church?”

Me:  Oh my, did you ever ask the wrong question.  In the Greek…

Ms. Tenured Pew Sitter:  “Wait a minute, we’re not talking about the Greek.  We’re talking about English, you know, the language Jesus used.”

Me:  As I was saying before I was rudely interrupted, the Greek manuscripts use the word ekklēsia.  Ekklēsia has been translated as “church” in the Gospels.

Mr. Churchian:  “Aha!  Proves my point!”

Me:  Not so fast, bucko!  According to James Strong, in Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance, ekklēsia means “a gathering of citizens called out from their homes into some public place; an assembly”.  Joseph Henry Thayer, primary editor of Thayer’s Greek Lexicon says it means an “assembly, company, congregation, multitude”.  It is used to describe secular, Jewish and Christian settings.  In other words, it can accurately be translated “synagogue” as well, public arena, stadium, or town square would all work in place of the word CHURCH.  More than likely, the preferred language of Jesus was Hebrew, the common language, and the Hebrew equivalent is the word qahal, which means assembly or congregation.  This is the most likely word Jesus would have used.  Remember that the audience of Jesus isn’t 21st Century Americans.  His audience is 1st Century Jews.

Mr. Churchian & Ms. Tenured Pew Sitter:  (Sitting silently.  Their faces are still angry red, but there’s a look of confusion now, finally they break the silence, in unison, of course) Huh?

Me:  The Bible was originally translated from Hebrew and Greek into Latin, the “official” language of the Roman CHURCH.  A few had attempted to translate some of the Bible from Latin into English…

Mr. Churchian:  Look, I showed up to argue with you and prove you wrong, not to hear a history lesson.

Me:  I’m getting there, be patient.  Now, as I was about to say before I was rudely interrupted, the Bible was not translated into English until John Wycliffe led a group of scholars who rendered the Latin texts into English…

Ms. Tenured Pew Sitter:    (frustrated) Get to your point!  Enough of this nonsense!

Me:  I’m trying but y’all keep interrupting me.  As I was about to say, the Bible appeared in the English language, much to the consternation of the Roman CHURCH, around 1382.  In fact, after his death, Roman CHURCH authorities exhumed his body and burned it to ashes.  That will definitely teach Rev. Wycliffe a lesson, won’t it!  Patience please, Mr. Churchian and Ms. Tenured Pew Sitter, stop rolling your eyes at me.  I’m getting to my point.

Ms. Tenured Pew Sitter:  Well it’s about time!

Me:  As I was saying before I was rudely interrupted, again, it was the Wycliffe Bible translation that first used the word “church”.  Wycliffe wanted fellow Catholics to be able to hear and read the Bible in their own language.  His concern was not necessarily about rendering the best meaning of those original words; just getting them into the language of ordinary women and men was the goal.

Mr. Churchian:  Now are you ready to repent, you blasphemous sinner?  The word is CHURCH!  Hey, anybody seen my torch?  Get my pitchfork while you’re at it!

Me:  (Sigh…….)  Well, overlooking that last interruption, Wycliffe and his crew chose the English word “church” when translating the original word ekklēsia.  However this is a translation from Latin to English, not from Greek into English.  John Hus promoted this idea of the “common” language to the point, and he was burned at the stake by the Roman CHURCH.  An interesting side-note: they used a copy of the Wycliffe Bible to start that fire.  Surely by now Wycliffe has learned his lesson.  But in 1526, William Tyndale and his team published the first New Testament that was taken entirely from the Greek texts.  And…

Ms. Tenured Pew Sitter:  (Angrily) Get to the point!  I need to be dusting the covers on all my King James Version Bibles!

Me:  (Now I’m rolling my eyes AND sighing) And for the Greek word…

Mr. Churchian:  I still don’t know what the Greek has to do with it (while shaking his head in disgust)!  It’s all Greek to me!

Me:  And for the Greek word ekklēsia, Tyndale and his crew translated it congregation.  Truthfully, the word they used was congregacion, which was the way they spelled “congregation” back then.  The word “congregation” fits both the Greek word AND the Hebrew word.  When the Roman CHURCH set out to put the Bible together, they selected Latin as their OFFICIAL language.  No problem there–but…there isn’t a Latin word for ekklēsia so they opted for the word circulous which is translated either “circle” or “circus”.  It was chosen because in their culture, gatherings or congregating, happened in, you guessed it–CIRCLES!  Circle or circus (which the latter is a better fit for many congregations today in the U.S.) became the English word CHURCH.

Me: (Amazed I haven’t been interrupted again)  NOW my first major point:  The Latin word circulous and the Greek word ekklēsia, have 2 diametrical meanings.  Excuse me and forgive me Mr. Churchian and Ms. Tenured Pew Sitter, I was so caught up in this moment I may have used a word that you may not understand–diametrical.  It means one thing is completely different from another thing.

Me (continuing without interruption, PTL!):  Circulous refers to the actions and activities of people.  Ekklēsia refers to the action and activities of the One who does the calling out.  Circulous/Circus/Church focuses on the people–they are the “star” attraction (sorry, I couldn’t let that one slip by me–the circus reference about the church).  The Ekklēsia focuses on God who calls us out from the world to be visible assembly of–you guessed it–Jesus Christ.

(This conversation will continue in the next edition.  And remember–Love God with all your heart.  Love others the way Jesus loves you.  And make sure all the glory goes to Him!)

Give Up The Guilt! 

Romans 8:1-4 (NLT)

1 So now there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus. And because you belong to him, the power of the life-giving Spirit has freed you from the power of sin that leads to death. The law of Moses was unable to save us because of the weakness of our sinful nature.  So God did what the law could not do.  He sent his own Son in a body like the bodies we sinners have.  And in that body God declared an end to sin’s control over us by giving his Son as a sacrifice for our sins. He did this so that the just requirement of the law would be fully satisfied for us, who no longer follow our sinful nature but instead follow the Spirit.

There’s nothing worse than a guilty feeling, is there?  Maybe you can go back to a time when you were younger, and you were just waiting for Mom or Dad to find out what you had done.  You wanted to avoid that conversation more than anything else in the world, but you knew it was coming.  Perhaps recently or in the past you made a mistake at work that was just inevitable someone was going to notice, and you’d have to answer for it. And then, once someone uncovers your mistake then you have to live with the fact that whatever discipline comes down on you because of that, it is your fault and if you had just not done that one thing, you could have avoided all of the bad from that situation that is now in your life.

By nature we live under a cloud of guilt because we’re born knowing that there is a God, a God that demands a perfect life from us.  We also know that in so many situations we have failed to live up to his perfect ways.  So there we sit, like a child waiting for Mom and Dad to see the destruction that one marker can make on freshly painted walls, hoping the day of punishment never comes.

But in this situation, it is so much worse because we’re not talking about being grounded from TV for a few nights; we’re talking about our soul’s eternal welfare.  And if you can remember only 1 thing tonight, this is it:  Jesus Paid It All For Our Deliverance From Sin!

These words in chapter 8 are a continuation of that thought in chapter 7.  Paul has just wrestled with his own inclination to sin in the famous words of Romans 7:15-19 “15 I don’t really understand myself, for I want to do what is right, but I don’t do it. Instead, I do what I hate. 16 But if I know that what I am doing is wrong, this shows that I agree that the law is good. 17 So I am not the one doing wrong; it is sin living in me that does it.  18 And I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature.  I want to do what is right, but I can’t. 19 I want to do what is good, but I don’t. I don’t want to do what is wrong, but I do it anyway.

Paul finds himself continually facing sin because of the sinful nature that dwells in him.  He can’t get rid of it, despite feeling like an alien part of himself.  He wants to be freed from it, but can’t be.  And guilt keeps hanging over him.  And it hangs over us.

Despite all of that, though, Paul says clearly and confidently, “So now there is no condemnation.”  So what happened?  The law didn’t lose its bite; God didn’t stop caring about sin. The difference is that So there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.

How does Jesus do that?  What is so remarkable about what He did on the Cross that it causes God to remove the Guilt and then the power of sin over us?  We still can’t overpower sin.  God still demands holiness.  How does the guilt go away?

Allow me to share with you 4 insights into why we can give up guilt.

  1. He Suffered In Our Place

For God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin so that we could be made right with God through Christ. 2 Corinthians 5:21 (NLT)

Jesus became our substitute.  Anyone here ever watch Major League Baseball?  In the American League there’s this person called the Designated Hitter.  He doesn’t play any position in the field, just bats.  Why?  Because pitchers are not known for being good hitters.  They are paid to throw strikes, not hit home runs.  So the Designated Hitter takes the place of the pitcher in the batting order.  I know this is not a good analogy—but it is an image of what happened on the Cross.

We need to be punished, every one of us, for our sins.  Punishment isn’t being put on probation or writing 500 sentences that says, “I will not do that again.”  It’s receiving the wrath of the Holy God and then separation from Him.  This is exactly what Jesus did for us.  And the thing is, Jesus had the choice—to accept this or walk away.  And as mind-blowing as this is—The Father had a choice.  He could have stopped this whole thing—and been well within His authority.  Guilt is taken away because Jesus carried it for us while on that Cross.

  1. He Breaks The Curse Sin Has Over Us

21 I have discovered this principle of life—that when I want to do what is right, I inevitably do what is wrong. 22 I love God’s law with all my heart. 23 But there is another power within me that is at war with my mind.  This power makes me a slave to the sin that is still within me. 24 Oh, what a miserable person I am!  Who will free me from this life that is dominated by sin and death? 25 Thank God!  The answer is in Jesus Christ our Lord.  (Romans 7:21-25 NLT)

The Curse is that knowing that no matter how hard we try, we keep messing up.  It’s a constant battle where we lose again and again and again.  None of us are good enough, strong enough to resist the power of sin in us.  The curse of sin is that it reminds us of our failures.  It points out again and again where we mess it up.

Oh, we may win a skirmish or 2 along the way.  Who knows, you may win enough skirmishes with sin to make you say, “Hey!  Know what?  After looking at how other people are living, I’m not so bad.”  Sure, everyone here looks better than Charles Manson.  And if being better than Charles Manson was the standard?  Hey, we got this.  But it’s not about comparing our lives with someone else’s life.

You will always find someone who appears worse than you, and you will always find someone who is better than you.  The measuring standard for us is to be just like our Creator.  Sin shows how much we miss that mark, because sin’s curse prevents us from being Holy.  By dying on the Cross, Jesus delivers us from the curse that we can never be good enough.  Jesus is good enough—for God and for us!

  1. He Reconciles Us To God

19 For God in all his fullness was pleased to live in Christ, 20 and through him God reconciled everything to himself.  He made peace with everything in heaven and on earth by means of Christ’s blood on the cross. (Colossians 1:19-20 NLT)

In the Greek, there are 2 different words that are translated RECONCILE.  One word is “katallassō” and it describes an exchange, such as currency.  It describes a transaction that produces the same results on both sides of it.  But the word here in Colossians is “apokatallassō” and it means to restore completely.

In this “transaction” it is God who is providing the means and the process.  There isn’t some kind of ladder of things to do that you climb up to get to God. There is only one way—that’s Jesus and He is able to fully reconcile a man to God.

All we bring into this act of restoration is to accept God’s offer.  Since God has taken away the barrier to peace with Him through Jesus dying on the Cross.  Where’s the guilt?  It’s Gone!  Gone with the Blood of Jesus!  One more thing:

  1. He Breaks The Power Of Sin In Us

14 He canceled the record of the charges against us and took it away by nailing it to the cross. 15 In this way, He disarmed the spiritual rulers and authorities.  He shamed them publicly by His victory over them on the cross. (Colossians 2:14-15 NLT)

Every person born after The Fall of Adam and Eve was dominated and controlled by sin.  Adam and Eve did not foresee that consequence, but Satan did.  And until the end of everything we now know, it will remain this way.  But Jesus broke sin’s power by nailing my sins and your sins to the Cross.

Jesus and only Jesus breaks the chains that sin puts on all of us.  We remain the prisoners of sin until we allow Jesus to set us free.  We are now free to live righteously.  We are free now to pursue the life of Holiness—where we honor and glorify God through Holiness of Purpose, Holiness of Heart, Holiness of Spirit, And Holiness IN Community.  It’s both personal holiness AND social holiness.  Redeeming our hearts and redeeming society by pursuing love, hope and justice.

In the end the Roman authorities and the Jewish council wanted Jesus dead.  He was a political, social and religious trouble-maker.  But what made the death of Jesus more significant than the countless other crucifixions carried out by the Romans and witnessed outside the city walls by the people of Jerusalem?

Jesus was far more than a political, social and religious radical. The death of Jesus was part of a divine plan to save humanity.  The death and resurrection of this one man is at the very heart of the Gospel of The Kingdom.  For followers of Jesus, it is through His death that their broken relationship with God is restored.

(For a bit of context, worshipers at the Good Friday Service were given a nail to take home with them.  For my readers, I want you to find a nail, any size will do.  Remember that nail represents what really held Jesus on that Cross.  It was our sins that held Him there.  Think about that kind of love as you look at that nail.  Friday is dark.  But God has an answer to that Friday!)

Slide19

 

Give Up Going Through The Motions!

  1 Corinthians 11:23-26 (The Message)

23-26 Let me go over with you again exactly what goes on in the Lord’s Supper and why it is so centrally important.  I received my instructions from the Master Himself and passed them on to you.

The Master, Jesus, on the night of his betrayal, took bread. Having given thanks, He broke it and said, “This is my body, broken for you.  Do this to remember Me.”  After supper, he did the same thing with the cup:  “This cup is my blood, my new covenant with you.  Each time you drink this cup, remember me.”

What you must solemnly realize is that every time you eat this bread and every time you drink this cup, you reenact in your words and actions the death of the Master.  You will be drawn back to this meal again and again until the Master returns. You must never let familiarity breed contempt.

The definition of familiarity is: “close acquaintance with or knowledge of something or someone; or to a feeling of comfort and closeness with someone or something.”  Familiarity can lead to know someone or something so well and in such a way as to cause you to lose your admiration, respect and sense of awe.  That is unhealthy familiarity.  One of the synonyms of unhealthy familiarity is presumption.

And we end up simply Going Through The Motions.  And this is something we need to give up for good.  And if you can remember only 1 thing from tonight’s message, this is it:

We Need Healing From The Spirit Of Familiarity With God If We Are To See The Power Of God In Our Lives.

This was what was happening in Corinth.  And it can just as easily happen to us as it did the Corinthians.  We cannot treat God as nothing and at the same time expect Him to do something for us.

But when we honor His name, honor Him for who He is and reverence His name, He will do greater and mightier things in our lives than ever before.  When we honor His name He honor’s us with His presence and power.  Honoring God’s name also means to honor the Body of Christ—the Church.

The problem is that we have turned the church into our dwelling place instead of His dwelling place.  Our voice, opinion, will and desires are bigger than God’s.  We worship self more than we worship Him and yet we desire Him to do something big in our lives.

Tonight we remember the Sacrifice Jesus made for each of us and everyone else.  And it’s time to ask ourselves some hard questions:

  • Do you want to get God’s attention and to have Him look deeply into our lives?
  • Do you want to walk in the power of The Holy Spirit?
  • Do you want God to come through in our lives, and nation?
  • And do you want to see the Real Fire of Revival burning in your life, in your communities and nation?

If your answer is yes, then you must avoid growing too familiar with who God is in our lives.  This means we change our attitude towards God and honor His name above everything else.  The Church today is not experiencing a tangible presence and power of God simply because of  the “spirit of familiarity” that is sweeping through the hearts of men and women in Churches around this nation and especially in our own Tribe.

There are some obvious dangers of going through the motions—of allowing that vile spirit of familiarity control our minds and hearts.  There are 5 dangers when we simply go through the motions:

  1. Familiarity Causes Us To Look At What Worked In The Past To Copy And Then Recreate It. This is a deadly way in regard to the Kingdom of God because the Kingdom of God is always advancing into the new thing. {Isaiah 43:18-19} “Forget about what’s happened; don’t keep going over old history.  Be alert, be present. I’m about to do something brand-new.  It’s bursting out! Don’t you see it?  There it is!  I’m making a road through the desert, rivers in the badlands.  Holy Communion is not just about looking backwards—it’s all about looking forward to the future!
  2. Familiarity with God causes us to lose the respect and fear for the Lord. Fear of the Lord isn’t terror—it is living in awe of Him—His Glory, Power and Wisdom.  Awe and Reverence is what creates our hunger for God’s Wisdom {Proverbs 1:7} “Start with God—the first step in learning is bowing down to God; only fools thumb their noses at such wisdom and learning.   When we lose that respect and fear, we close the door to learning from God.  Like concrete, we get set in our way.  When we get set in our ways, then we do not respect His ways.
  3. Familiarity with God, causes us to lose respect and honor for the Body of Christ. We disrespect and dishonor the Body of Christ when we make it more about us and less about Him. {Mark 11:17}.  “And then he taught them, quoting this text:  My house was designated a house of prayer for the nations; You’ve turned it into a hangout for thieves.”   Jesus rebuked the people who had turned the house of God into a market place because of their familiarity with God.  Familiarity reduces the church to an institution and museum rather than a living movement of God’s power.
  4. Familiarity with God prevents the Holy Spirit from working effectively in us and in the church. Inevitably familiarity creates presumption, and presumption leads to assumptions, which is a slippery slope when it comes to the ways of God.  It will lead to the most terrible place for anyone who considers themselves a Christian—The Place of Taking For Granted.  {2 Timothy 3:5 NLT} “They will act religious, but they will reject the power that could make them godly.”  This was what was happening at Corinth.  They were using this Sacred Meal as a party for just themselves.  And God was left out.

 How we can stop going through the motions?

  • Live each day by the word of God. {Psalm 119:105 NLT} “Your word is a lamp to guide my feet and a light for my path.” Life gets complicated. The world offers the wrong advice.  Even our own minds trick us.  But God’s Word is dependable.  Whatever we face—His Word will guide us.
  • Spend time with God in prayer. {Psalm 42:1-2 NLT} “As the deer longs for streams of water, so I long for you, O God. I thirst for God, the living God.  When can I go and stand before him?”  Prayer is that glass of cool water for our thirsty heart.  Prayer is all about taking in the Holy Presence of God.  Too many treat prayer like it’s the Divine Vending Machine—insert money, make your selection of what you want.  Receive item.  Prayer is intentionally focusing your attention first and foremost on God Himself, not what we want or need.  And God will always amaze us with His presence because He is always showing Himself in fresh, new ways.
  • Come to Church with an expectant heart. {Numbers 14:9} “Just don’t rebel against God! And don’t be afraid of those people. Why, we’ll have them for lunch! They have no protection and God is on our side. Don’t be afraid of them!” This is from that moment after God promised them the Land in front of them.  But they wanted to go back to slavery.  They didn’t expect God to move.  Every Sunday people walk into churches expecting nothing powerful to happen—and it usually doesn’t.  When we walk into this place expecting God to show up, He does.  And now we can walk out there expecting God to show up and He will.
  • Give Yourself to the Mission of God. {Matthew 28:19 NLT} “Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.” Our identity and purpose is found only in the Mission of God.  God gave Adam and Eve a Mission in the beginning.  He gave Noah a Mission.  He gave Abraham a Mission.  He gave Samuel a Mission.  He gave Elijah a Mission.  He gave The Prophets a Mission.  He gives us the most important mission of all—helping people see Jesus.
  • Desire God above everything else. {Matthew 6:33 NLT} “Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need.” There is nothing physical in this building that you must have for life. There is absolutely nothing physical out there that you must have to experience real life.    What we need cannot be seen with the natural eye.  It is only found through the heart.

These symbols of bread and wine, are nothing—mean nothing—until we stop going through the motions of doing.  This is our moment to proclaim the greatest event in all of human history—God becoming human—dying for us—so that we can be made right with Him!

Slide25

 

Which Is A More Accurate Term:  Christian Or Disciple?

We all have some way of self-identifying:  “I am a husband.  I am a wife.  I am so-and-so’s daughter/son.  I am a parent, grandparent.  I am                  (fill in the blank).”  Self-identifications such as this is a good way to identify our roles–at home, work, community, family, church, etc.

If you consider Jesus to be your Savior, then how do you usually identify yourself:  a Christian or a Disciple?  I know, I know, it sounds like I am about to strain at a gnat just to swallow a camel.  You may be thinking, “What difference does that make?  There’s more important issues going on in the world, in our nation that needs to be address.  Christian or Disciple, really?”  Yes, really!

We find the first use of this word “christian” in Acts 11:26–The disciples were called Christians first at Antioch.  Well, well, well, it seems that Jesus did not use that word “christian”.  The Greek word is “christianos and it means “follower of Christ”.  And it seems that this word “christianos” is used only 2 other times in the New Testament.  Could it be, mind you I’m only asking a question, could it be that the word “christian” should not be our first choice of words when self-identifying with Jesus?

Well, what about the word disciple?  It is the Greek word mathētēs” that means “a learner”.  Furthermore it seems that word mathētēs” is used an additional 267 times for a total of 268 times.  This means that for every time the word christian is used, the word Disciple is used 89 times.  I’m not against the use of the word “christian”, but…

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When we self-identify by the use of a word, it usually means we are describing a role and a purpose for our life.  Strictly speaking out of my culture and experiences, many use the word “christian” as a title, not a role or purpose in life.  Contrary to what is often heard, the Great Commission is not about creating christians but making DISCIPLES!  The cultural bias that often drives a congregation is twisted up in the word christian, that does not mean now what it did those 3 times the New Testament writers chose that word.  The cultural bias I see is that the word “christian” is a title, not a role.  Before Antioch they were called “people of The Way”.  “The Way”, by the way, came from a phrase used by Jesus that described His Role and Purpose.  (John 14:6–“I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me.”)

There are 3 Key Qualities of a Disciple:

Disciples Listen

Do you remember when you were in school and the teacher said those 7 most feared words?  “Take out a clean sheet of paper.”  It mean it was time for a test, pop quiz or announced.  When listening to Jesus, we need a clean sheet of paper.  Not for the test, that comes later.  But we need to listen with an open heart and open mind.  We need to listen to Him directly; not what someone else said about what He said.  We need to approach each passage as if it were the first time we read it.  Listen to God’s mind and heart.  There are some “deep” passages, but what we need for life–for our role and purpose isn’t rocket surgery or brain science.  You just need to listen.

Disciples Learn

Don’t be like you were when you were a kid and your parent was talking to you.  You know, letting it go in one ear and out the other.  Begin to uncover and discover how the Good News is designed to work in our life.  Memorization is a tool, a very good tool, but go deeper.  There is a wisdom in God’s Truth that we need to accept and embrace in our journey through this life.  Explore how this Good News can make a difference in your life.  I once heard this illustration.  When a duck dives into the water for food, it comes back up at a different place.  Internal transformation is the beginning point and the source of the Power that comes only from the Holy Spirit.

Disciples Apply

Information and knowledge are not enough.  The key is application.  It has been said, and very well I might add, that Wisdom is the APPLICATION of knowledge.  Unfortunately, the cultural church has been inundated with the Intelligentsia.  The Intelligentsia is a status class of educated people engaged in the complex mental labors that critique, guide, and lead in shaping the culture and politics of their society.  In others words, lots of thinking and talking but not a whole lot of doing.  Someone once told me that C. S. Lewis defined The Intelligentsia as people who are educated beyond their intelligence.  I cannot verify C. S. said it, but I know more than a few that meets that definition of The Intelligentsia.

The goal of Jesus’ teachings was APPLICATION.  Once a student listens, then learns, they are now ready to apply that knowledge.  Knowledge with application is like a coke (I’m from the south, so the word ‘coke’ refers to a variety of different brands) without the  carbonated water–it’s flat and loses its true taste.

Jesus wants Disciples, after all that was His invitation.  People who will listen, learn and apply The Good News of The Kingdom of God.  Being a Disciple isn’t a title–It is our role and purpose.  This is just me, OK?  If I believe the writers of the New Testament chose their words carefully (and I do believe that), if Jesus never asked for people to become christians (and He didn’t), then maybe I need to self-identify as DISCIPLE.  Yep, I think I will do just that!

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