HOW TO BE A WATER-WALKER: STEP 1: GET OUTTA THE BOAT!

For the next several weeks, we are going to be looking at this story from Matthew.  Turn in your Bibles or your phones to Matthew 14:25-32.  As you are turning, I want to ask you for a big favor.  I’m asking you, at least through this series, to forget everything you know or have heard about this story, and use this season to ponder some things you may have either forgotten, or never thought about.  Let’s read:

25 About three o’clock in the morning Jesus came toward them, walking on the water. 26 When the disciples saw him walking on the water, they were terrified.  In their fear, they cried out, “It’s a ghost!”  27 But Jesus spoke to them at once.  “Don’t be afraid,” he said.  “Take courage. I am here!”

28 Then Peter called to him, “Lord, if it’s really you, tell me to come to you, walking on the water.”  29 “Yes, come,” Jesus said.  So Peter went over the side of the boat and walked on the water toward Jesus. 30 But when he saw the strong wind and the waves, he was terrified and began to sink. “Save me, Lord!” he shouted.

31 Jesus immediately reached out and grabbed him. “You have so little faith,” Jesus said. “Why did you doubt me?”  32 When they climbed back into the boat, the wind stopped.

This Is More Than Just A How-To Series; It’s About Questioning Ourselves On Which Side Of The Boat Are We Living Our Lives.  Are we inside the boat or are we outside the boat?  And if we are in the boat, are we really safer?  Is it really safer holding onto what we think makes us safe?

You see, We are all on a journey—it’s called Life.  And we get only 1 trip, one opportunity at this thing called LifeWill We Seek To Make This Journey Of Life Inside The Supposed Safety Of The Boat, Or Will We Take The Risk To Step Out Of The Boat And Walk On Water? 

Will We Seek To Make This Journey Of Life Inside The Supposed Safety Of The Boat, Or Will We Take The Risk To Step Out Of The Boat And Walk On Water? 

Please, make no mistake about it; it’s risky outside the confines and comfort of the boat.  But let me share something with you about life inside the boat:  It’s Boring, Mundane, And It Drains The Life Right Out Of Us.  The question of the hour is this:  Which is stronger in your life?  The so-called safety of the comfortable and predictable? Or, the desire to live a life that makes a difference? 

We will be looking at several issues that we must deal with if we are going to be Water-Walkers.  And the very first principle that we must address is so simple, it must be stated and it is the one thing you need to remember:  Water-Walkers Have To Get Outta The Boat Or You Will Never Walk With Jesus

Water-Walkers are not dreamers; they are people of action.  They don’t focus on developing great ideas or thinking lofty thoughts.  They are not interested in how much they can know—but they want to know how much they can do.  Water-Walkers are not interested in getting the credit, or being on the front page. 

They are in the deepest sense of the word—servants, for they are the greatest risk takers.  For them consensus is nice, but they won’t wait long for it to happen, unless they know that waiting is a part of God’s plan. 

President Teddy Roosevelt described Water-Walkers this way“It’s not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done better.  The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena—who, at best, knows in the end the triumph of great achievement, and who, at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while doing greatly.  So that his place will never be with those cold timid souls who know neither victory or defeat.” 

Let’s look at what goes into the making of a Water-Walker.

1.  Water-Walkers Recognize God’s Presence.

Peter and his friends got into the boat late one afternoon.  Jesus needed to be alone with The Father.  Peter didn’t mind being in the boat.  This is where he is most comfortable and at ease.  This he can handle, much better than the stuff Jesus has been doing. 

But this boat trip was different; this time this time it was a storm so violent that it was all the disciples could do to keep the boat upright and floating.  By 3 a.m., they weren’t interested in getting to the other side; they just wanted to stay alive.  It was then it happened—a shadowy figure appeared through the storm.  Mark’s Gospel adds a twist on this story.  He says, “Jesus was about to pass them by.” 

This doesn’t mean Jesus was trying to sneak pass them.  The Greek word for “to go past them,” is the Greek translation of an Old Testament technical term—Theophany.  A Theophany is a defining moment when God makes an extraordinary appearance for the purpose of revealing a message.  This is an Intentional Act of Jesus—not sneaking by them—but Revealing Himself To Them!

It’s like when God sent Moses to a cleft in the rock so God’s glory could pass by him, or when God sent Elijah to stand on the mountain because he was about to pass by.  With each person God was going to call them to do something extraordinary.  In each situation the person that God called felt afraid. 

And every time those people said yes to their calling, they experienced the power of God in their lives.  Jesus was waiting to see if they would recognize him or not.  Before God speaks to us, he has to get our attention. 

Understand, that it’s in our crisis moments where we most frequently encounter God.  Those Divinely Appointed Defining Moments Will Come To You And Me.  And If You’re Not Looking For Him, You Might Just Miss Him.  Of those in the boat, it was Peter who recognizes the moment.  He recognized that God was present—even in the most unlikely place.  He realized that this was an extraordinary opportunity for spiritual adventure and growth.  The second thing you need to know is this:

Divinely Appointed Defining Moments Will Come To You And Me.  And If You’re Not Looking For Him, You Might Just Miss Him.

2.  Water-Walkers Discern Between Faith And Foolishness.

In an instance where some would call Peter foolish, again, he calls out to this other Water-Walker, “If it is you Jesus, command me to come to you on the water.”  Why does Matthew include this detail?  Why doesn’t Peter just plunge into the water?  I think it’s for a very important reason. 

This Is Not Just A Story About Risk-Taking; It Is Primarily A Story About Obedience.  That means I have to discern between an authentic call from God and what might simply be a foolish impulse on my part.  Courage alone is not enough; it must be accompanied by wisdom and discernment.

I have to discern between an authentic call from God and what might simply be a foolish impulse on my part.  Courage alone is not enough; it must be accompanied by wisdom and discernment.

Matthew is not glorifying risk-taking for its own sake.  Jesus is not looking for bungee jumping, hang-gliding, day-trading, tornado-chasing drivers in Smart Cars.  Water-Walking is not something Peter does for recreational purposes. 

This is not a story about extreme sports.  It’s About Extreme Discipleship!  Before Peter gets out of the boat, he had better make sure Jesus thinks it’s a good idea.  So he asks for clarity:  “If it’s really you, call me!”  Asking for clarity is a good thing.

I’m almost sure Jesus smiled a bit, because one person in the boat got it.  Peter had some inkling of what it is that the Master is doing.  I don’t see the other 11 lining up for their opportunity!  Not only that, Peter had enough faith to believe that he too, could have the adventure.  And the third thing I want you to know is this:

3.  Water-walkers Get Out Of The Boat.

Right now, I want you to put yourself in the story.  Imagine in your mind how violent the storm must have been if even seasoned professionals were afraid.  Imagine the size of the waves, the strength of the wind, the darkness of that night—and no Dramamine! 

These were the conditions under which Peter was going to get out of the boat.  It would be tough enough to try to walk on the water when the water is calm, the sun is bright, and the air is still.  Imagine trying to do it when the waves are crashing, the wind is at hurricane force, it’s 3:00 in the morning—and you’re terrified!

Put yourself in Peter’s place for a moment.  You have a sudden insight into what Jesus is doing—The Lord Is Passing By.  He’s inviting you to go on the adventure of your life.  But at the same time, you’re scared to death.  What would you choose—the water or the boat?  The boat is familiar.  You know the boat. 

On the other hand, the water is rough, the wind is strong; there’s a storm out there.  And if you get out of the boat—whatever your boat might happen to be— Reason And Logic Says You Will Sink And Drown.  But if you don’t get out of the boat, there’s a guaranteed certainty that you will never walk on the water. 

I believe there is something—Someone—inside us who tells us there is more to life than sitting in the boat.  You were made for something more than merely avoiding failure.  There exists inside you the desire To Walk On The Water—to leave the comfort of routine existence and abandon yourself to the high adventure of following God. 

There exists inside you the desire To Walk On The Water—to leave the comfort of routine existence and abandon yourself to the high adventure of following God.

Look, a lot of folks point at the Sinking Peter and say, “Just look at you!  Shame on you, Peter!  Why didn’t you keep you eyes on Jesus instead of the storm?  You’re pathetic, Peter.” 

Let me ask you a question:  Where Were The Other 11?  They were in the boat—the boat that was about to sink.  And this leads me to:  Your Next Step:

Identify Your Boat.  Your boat is whatever represents safety and security to you apart from God Himself.  Your boat is whatever you are tempted to put your trust in, especially when life gets a little stormy.  Your boat is whatever keeps you so comfortable that you don’t want to give it up even if it’s keeping you from joining Jesus on the waves.  Your boat is whatever pulls you away from The High Adventure Of Extreme Discipleship.  

Want to know what your boat is?  Your fear will tell you.  Just ask yourself this:  What is it that most produces fear in me—especially when I think of leaving it behind and stepping out in faith? 

Now, what area of your life do you need to call out to Jesus with the words of Peter:  “If it’s you, call me out!”?  What is one risk you can take in your life that could help your faith to grow? 

I believe that right now, that a Theophany is happening in your life.  Jesus is about to pass by.  Can you recognize Him?  And if so, are you using discernment in discovering his will for you?  Jesus is passing by, right now.  Will you become a Water-Walker?  Will you today, right now, engage in extreme discipleship?  Jesus is passing by—are you going to stay in the boat, or will you experience your own Theophany, and hear Him calling you, “If you want to walk on water, get out of the boat!”

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…

BE LISTENING TO GOD!

Listening To God Leads To Learning And That Learning Leads To Holiness. Hearing God doesn’t accomplish that. Hearing only captures the sound. Listening Captures The Listener. We need to Listen to God for Kairos Time to invade this Chronos Time culture that surrounds us.

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This is Message #3 in my current Series

Quick review:  We have only 1 word for “time” but the Greek has these 2 words.  Here is the difference between the 2:

Chronos Time is Time measured by the ticking of the clock.  Kairos cannot be measured by the ticking of a clock, But By The Beating Of The HeartKairos Is When God Steps Into Our Time And Space And Does Something Incredible.  Chronos Is Measured by Quantity.  Kairos Is Measured By Quality.

We live in a Chronos World—but God offers us more than the ticking of the clock kind of life.  He offers us the Kairos Life, and it’s found when we recognize Kairos Moments.  So today we look at another way we can be in a place where the Kairos Time invades and overwhelms our Chronos Time.  Turn in your Bibles, tablets or phones to Hebrews 1:1-3 and I want to share it with you in The Passion Translation.  It spoke to my heart and I hope it speaks to your heart.

Here’s one of my personal observations:  Most People Tend To Be Listening Impaired Rather Than Hearing Impaired.  There is a difference between Hearing and ListeningHearing is simply the act of perceiving sound by the ear.  Unless you are hearing impaired, Hearing just happens.  However, Listening is something you Intentionally choose to do.  Listening requires concentration so that your mind can process those sounds.

How we live each day is rooted in what we choose to listen to.  Hearing is simple enough: the ears register the sounds produced and the brain interprets them.  But in the act of Listening, we must be paying attention.  Sometimes we may be distracted by something we see, or we may be lost in our own thoughts and we are Hearing but not Listening.

Think about this worship service.  Do you Hear worship in Chronos Time or do you Listen to it in Kairos Time?  Here is an easy way to tell if you are Hearing or Listening.  If you are waiting for the service to end—then you are Hearing in Chronos Time and your worship happens As Chronos Time. 

But—if you wish the service wasn’t over because you have been captivated and caught up in this moment of Worship—then you are Listening In Kairos Time and your worship becomes a Kairos Moment

If you can remember only 1 thing from today’s message, this is it:  Listening To God Leads To Learning And That Learning Leads To Holiness.  Hearing God doesn’t accomplish that.  Hearing only captures the soundListening Captures The Listener.  We need to Listen to God for Kairos Time to invade this Chronos Time culture that surrounds us.

To remember this, we need to intentionally cultivate some Holy Habits that will move us from Hearing God to Listening To God.  What I am about to share with you is not natural, nor is it easy.  But when we do them Intentionally it opens our hearts and minds to the invasion of Kairos Time.  To help you remember how to Intentionally develop this, the Spirit has reduced it to only 3 words:  Each word comes with its own example from the Bible.

1.  Be Alert

Become Aware Of Your Surroundings With A Sensitized Heart, Not A Desensitized Mind.  Do you understand the difference between being sensitized and being desensitized?  Sensitized means to quickly detect and respond to even the slightest changes in the moment.  It’s being tuned into your surroundings. Desensitized means we are emotionally insensitive or detached.  It numbs us so much that we fail to act for the sake of The Kingdom.  Be aware of what is ordinarily going on around you. 

When ordinary surroundings change, then it is likely to be a Kairos Moment.  Moses is a great example of this.  One day he was taking care of his father-in-law’s sheep.  He would have been in that area many times, taking care of those sheep.    

He walked by that mountain so often that his mind could have become desensitized to any changes.  But on that day—Moses knew something was different.  A bush was burning, but not burning up.  He was alert and he went to investigate.  And because Moses was alert and went to investigate, here’s what God said in Exodus 3:5—“Do not come any closer,” the Lord warned. “Take off your sandals, for you are standing on holy ground.”

When we are alert to God’s presence, Ordinary Chronos Time becomes Extraordinary Kairos Time.  An Ordinary Place becomes Holy Ground.  Alert means to be on the lookout for what’s happening—and if in your ordinary day-to-day life, you do not expect to find Holy Moments and Holy Ground, guess what—you won’t find it.  But, if like Moses, you are alert to your surroundings, any moment will become the place that Kairos invades the Chronos.

2.  Be Sensitive. 

Love God So Deeply That Whatever Moves Him To Act, Causes Your Heart To Act.  One of the things Jesus manifested in His daily life was His sensitivity to the people around.  He was so sensitive that one day He knew when a woman touched the hem of His robe.  Jesus was sensitive to Zacchaeus, sensitive to the lepers, sensitive to the hungry crowds.  He’s sensitive because He knows the right time to move.  Samuel is a great example.  After King Saul had turned against God, God sent Samuel on a quest—to find the next king of Israel.  God led Samuel to the family of Jesse. 

And we read in 1 Samuel 16:3—“Invite Jesse to the sacrifice, and I will show you which of his sons to anoint for me.”  But God doesn’t tell Samuel which son.  Samuel is ready to pick the tallest, strongest, oldest and most handsome son to be the next king. 

But that wasn’t the one and God said in Verse 7—“The Lord doesn’t see things the way you see them.  People judge by outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” 

God thinks, plans and operates on a different level than us.  He wants us to know and to see what HE knows and sees, so we need to be sensitive to God because He is aware of what lies within people—both their needs and their potential.  We need to be sensitive to God because He is on the move and working in the hearts and lives of the broken and fallen All The Time.

3.  Be Ready

When God Steps Into Our Time And Space He Is Ready To Act—And So Should We.  God steps into our space and time Intentionally.  Readiness on our part needs to be Intentional, too!  Being ready means that we seek and anticipate the movement of God—in the culture and in the lives of people. 

Isaiah is a great illustration on the importance of being ready.  In chapter 6 we find Isaiah grieving the death of King Uzziah.  Naturally he goes to the Temple to grieve.  And in that moment of grief, Isaiah sees God—but he thinks his goose is cooked—that he is about to die.  Isaiah admits his condition—that he’s a sinner surrounded by sinners.  But God redeems and purifies Isaiah, and then He asks this question in Isa. 6:8—“Whom should I send as a messenger to this people? Who will go for us?”  I said, “Here I am.  Send me.” 

Isaiah was ready to go!  And here’s the thing you need to really pay close attention to in Isaiah’s response: 

  • He didn’t know where he would be sent,
  • didn’t know what he would have to do,
  • and he didn’t know what that message would be. 
  • But he was still ready to go! 

If he was only Hearing God I don’t believe he would have been excited nor even wanted to go.  But because he was Listening to God, Intentionally processing that Kairos Moment, he was ready to go implement that plan of God.  God is looking for people to implement His plan without their corrections or additions.  God doesn’t need us to improve his plans. We need to respond like Isaiah:

  • We must be ready to go not knowing where it might be 
  • Ready to do not knowing exactly what we will be doing
  • Ready to speak not knowing exactly what He wants us to say
  • Just be ready.

God is always looking for ordinary lives through which HE can do extraordinary things.  I mean, if it takes being extraordinary to do what God wants—then how would the world know that it’s God doing it?  They would think it’s the result of extraordinary people.

Sometimes things you may not even want to do can open the door for the Lord to use you to impact the life of another!  Let me tell you the story of John Egglen.  John had never preached a sermon in his life—until that morning.  In January 1850, snow buried his town of Colchester, England.  He thought about staying home. Who would go to church that day?  But he reconsidered.  He was, after all, one of the leaders and if leaders didn’t go, who would?  

He put on his boots, hat, and coat and walked the six miles to the Methodist Church.  Only thirteen people were present: 12 members and 1 guest.  Even the pastor was snowed in.  Someone suggested they go home.  John would hear none of that.  They’d come this far; they would have a service.  Besides, they had a guest; a thirteen-year-old boy.  But who would preach?  John was the only leader there, so it fell to him.  His sermon lasted only ten minutes.

It didn’t make a lot of sense, he struggled to make any point at all.  But at the end, a Kairos Moment stirred him, and He looked straight at the boy who was that guest and said:  “Young man, look to Jesus. Look! Look! Look!” 

Did the challenge make a difference?  This boy grew into a man and when he told this story he said, “I did look, and then and there the cloud on my heart lifted, the darkness rolled away, and at that moment I saw the sun.”  The boy’s name? Charles Haddon Spurgeon—England’s prince of preachers. 

Tens of thousands of people came into a relationship with Jesus, and even more deepened their commitment to Jesus through the life and preaching of C.H. Spurgeon.  It would not have happened, except that John Egglen recognized his own Kairos Moment.  And If You Don’t Have This Hope And Belief That You Can Make A Difference, Then Chronos Time Has Devoured You.

John Egglen was Listening to God.  Could it be, that somewhere around here, is the next C. H. Spurgeon, Mother Teresa, Billy Graham, E. Stanley Jones, C. S. Lewis, Charles Swindoll, Charles Stanley?  

Who knows what impact 1 person will make down the line, when we are Listening to God!

Here Are Your Next Steps:

  1. Are you hearing God or Listening to God?  Make an intentional decision to Listen.  This is a decision you need to make each day and several times during the day.
  2. Partner with someone with whom you can deepen each other’s spiritual life.  Have 2, 3, 4 no more than 5 who will love you enough to tell you the truth about yourself, and who will allow you to do the same.
  3. Look around here to see what needs to be done, and volunteer.  There’s always something to do, something that needs to be done.  These are Kairos Moments waiting for you.
  4. Allow your complaint to become your job description.  Look around this community to see what needs to be done and do something to help out.  Whatever is wrong, work to make it right!

More About The Kingdom Than The Church

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Acts Of WHO???

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Did You Know Someone Touched You?

Jesus knew when she touched that hem, and you can know it, too–when you are tuned in to the Holy Spirit!

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Well, God just wouldn’t leave me alone about this, so here I go.  Before I start, please know this isn’t about me.  It is about something I did, but it’s not about me.  Now that this is clear as muddy water, on to what happened to me.

Yesterday I delivered a gift from Mt. Vernon to a young single parent who is living like many single parents–under great pressure.  I went to the home, introduced myself, and presented her with a gift from the Body of Christ at Mt. Vernon.  As with baptisms and weddings, this is the part of my job I absolutely love.  I simply told her, “God loves you and so do we.”  I left and went to Wal Mart to exchange something and pick up a few more things.

I’m waiting in the refund line when my phone rang.  OK, here’s where the story takes a twist.  When I’m in a line I NEVER answer my phone.  I consider it rude and a tarnishing of the image of me as a citizen of the Kingdom of God.  The number that came up was not in my contacts.  My natural response to a number not in my contacts is, “Oh, dear Lord, another telemarketer!”  Usually at that point, I send it to voicemail.

But this time, I didn’t.  Something, well, actually SOMEONE said, “Answer it Randy!”  So, I did.  On the other end of that call was that single Mom crying profusely, telling me how much that gift meant to her.  She needed to express her gratitude.  And God selected me to hear that gratitude.  And I was overwhelmed with gratitude that I had a small part in reminding this single Mom, she was loved by God and that He remembers her every need.

But…WHAT IF….I sent that message to Voicemail?  Maybe in a couple of days I would have listened to it, since it was from someone NOT in my contacts….and I would have missed the joy of her heart….and being humbled to be a part of God’s Kingdom work in even a small way.

And then I remembered….on one of those typical days when Jesus walked this earth.  There was a crowd, pressing against Him.  When…well just read Luke 8:45–“Who touched me?” Jesus asked. Everyone denied it, and Peter said, “Master, this whole crowd is pressing up against you.”  It was that woman who had run out of hope that she could ever be whole.  But she believed if she could just touch the hem of that garment, it would be OK.  And Jesus knew the moment she touched that hem.

And I wonder, how many people today are looking to touch the hem of hope and reach out to us for that hope, but we are unaware of it?  We live in a “Way Too Busy Culture” to notice the people pressing in against us.  And that is sad….too sad.  So be aware of those pressing in against you.  They just may be looking for Hope!  You are the HEM of HIM!  If you’re too busy to help someone find Hope, you’re just too busy.  Jesus knew when she touched that hem, and you can know it, too–when you are tuned in to the Holy Spirit!

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

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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! 

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What I Am Discovering At New Room 2018

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When most attend a seminar, conference or retreat they usually say, “Well, this is what I learned.”  Notice the grammatical tense of that word.  It’s in the past tense.  I know my high school English teachers At Mrs. Weir and Mrs. Pettus would be shocked that I remembered anything from their lessons.  And I have been guilty of using that word “have learned”, that the lessons are in the past tense of my life.

But one of the many, many, many things God has been teaching this “getting older” man is that while life has a “past tense” it also has a “present” and a “future” tense.  Here is a nugget that God has been teaching me these past few years.  Lessons that we learn about Him and our relationship with Him are not to remain in the past existing as a memory.  These lessons are to be a continual part of this Journey in Grace.  Thus the title of this morning’s blog:  What I AM Discovering (notice the tense) At New Room 2018.

Most of these lessons are direct quotes or my shorthand version of those quotes from this incredible group of Holy Spirit Led and Empowered Speakers.  This list is by no means, everything I am discovering.  And if history repeats itself, as I’m sure it will, there will be even more discoveries come to my mind in this Journey In Grace:

There are too many loose ties and not enough strong bonds in most churches today.

 

There are things that happen when God’s People get together with Jesus in the lead, that would otherwise never happen.

 

God does the work, but He does it through us.  It’s time to get our hands dirty.

 

It’s not about trying to get God to abide in us–He’s already abiding–but it’s about getting US to abide in HIM!

 

Being a Christian is all about entering into THEIR Relationship–Father, Son, and Holy Spirit–and NOT about getting them to enter into OUR relationship.

 

There are some things in our life that happen only because of our relationship with Jesus.  And there are some things that will never happen in us if we are not in a relationship with Him.

 

Revival is more than goosebumps and excitement, but a driven passion and holy obsession in us.

 

When Jesus shows up, life happens!

 

Stop making excuses for doing nothing.  We have the King of Kings on our side and the Holy Spirit living in us!

 

Jesus left heaven for us.  It’s time we leave our stuff for Jesus! (Maybe my favorite quote!)

 

Find the broken.  Church ain’t the church unless it is reaching out into the community!  (OK, maybe this is my favorite quote!)

 

We need to ask God to break our hearts with what breaks His heart.

 

Fire in a home without a fireplace will do harm.  A fireplace in a home without fire is pointless.  We need The Fire or we are pointless!

 

There is no greater tragedy than a sick church in a dying world. (Leonard Ravenhill)

 

The Holy Spirit transcends human ability and transforms human inabilities!

 

It is wrong to think that the Bible contains the Holy Spirit.  The Bible constrains us.  The Holy Spirit cannot be contained anywhere.

 

If Jesus in human flesh needed the Holy Spirit, we especially need the Holy Spirit!

 

When the church stops being the church we will die and become a monument to what God used to do rather than the movement of what God is doing.

 

You do what you from your passion.  The church today has stopped doing out of its passion and replaced passion with a boring religious obligation.

 

God shouts to His enemies, but whispers to His friends.

Oh, this ain’t all of it.  But just some of the things the Spirit impressed on me to share with you readers.  Somewhere in these “nuggets” is a truth that some reader urgently needs to hear.  And remember….

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

A Moving Journal: Day 1

Last night I was prompted to start a journal of this journey we are facing.  It’s called “Moving”!  One would think that as a pastor, I would eventually get accustomed to it.  But I’m not.  Since the Spirit has been developing this “writing thing” in me, I might as well use it.  So each day I will post something–not just the stresses and  events of moving–but the spiritual lessons He is teaching me–excuse me–trying to teach me.  I admit that at times I am not always the best student.  I would rather teach–but I know I can’t teach unless I also learn.

Today is Saturday, 16 June 2018 and this coming Friday, 22 June 2018, the moving company will be here to pack up our belongings.  At 62, I’m not going to load a U-Haul.  Then on Monday, 25 June 2018, we will move into our new home and to our new appointment to serve Jesus and The Kingdom at Mt. Vernon (near Fayette, Al.) and Oak Hill (near Sulligent, Al.).  We’ve been packing up all along, and now it is at the stage of “when we’ve used it, it’s time to pack it up”.  My current office is all packed up.  It’s just the things here at home.  This the timeline.  Now, to what’s happening today.

More packing of course, and in a bit, I will assist at the funeral of a long time family friend, and personal friend.  I met Benny, I think it was in 1968, when my Dad was sent to Mhoontown for his very first appointment as a pastor.  Our families stayed close and through the years, Benny was always encouraging me as a pastor and preacher.  And I consider it a great honor to be there; to remember him and to remember what he always told me:  “Randy, keep telling them about Jesus!”

And something else is happening today.  Tomorrow will be my last sermon here.  I know, I know that Jesus said don’t worry about tomorrow, just take care of today.  But I’m not worrying, so I Jesus is OK with me simply thinking about it.  Isn’t it amazing how we can justify our own sins!  God has a vision for this place–to transform it from a typical downtown “first church” into a Kingdom Church.  Signs of this transformation have been happening the past 4 years.  I had dreamed of being here long enough to see it come to full fruition.  But we are not.

And this is what I am struggling with.  Though I am convinced that I still had much to offer in this process of transformation, the powers that be thought otherwise.  This belief stung my heart like a simultaneous swarm of yellow jackets and hornets.  The wound is healing, thanks to God’s grace and those who have are instruments of that grace.  I promised this journal would also be about what I am being taught by Him.  So here is what I am learning so far.

  • The Kingdom of God is much bigger than me.  It is His Kingdom, not mine.
  • God is sending me, not a group of people.
  • God still has Kingdom Work for me at Mt. Vernon and Oak Hill
  • God still cares about us and will take care of us wherever we go

I have always viewed my appointments as Divine Appointments–not my Tribe sending me somewhere, but God sending me somewhere.  There was one appointment where I was absolutely convinced that the Tribe wasn’t listening to God.  I had no idea why I was there–the chaos was crushing.  But on my last Sunday there, 3 people were saved and one of them, was a hard case.  Joe only went to church when his kids were in some program.  He had no desire for God.  But then the Spirit did an amazing thing–He connected me and Joe through fishing and hunting.  A friendship developed and on my last Sunday, Joe rushed to the altar, tears in his eyes and said, “If anyone is going to show me how this happens, it’s going to be you!”

And now looking back, I see so many “Joes” who are taking their relationship with Jesus much deeper.  Many of us have laughed together, celebrated together and cried together.  I truly hate to leave behind these friends.  But I know that our friendships will continue on, deeper and better than ever before.

And I also know that there are more “Joes” in Fayette and Lamar Counties who need to know the real Jesus and others who need to grow in that relationship.  It is what some call “Mixed Blessings”.  And what is hold me together now, is that this moment and this new journey is in God’s hands and HE is charting the path for me.

We Are More Than Our Feelings

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Eliminating Cultural Bias As Followers Of Jesus

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Better yet, listen to how The Message puts it:

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

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

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!

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(Maybe Elvis had it right)