Surviving Your D-Day Of Divorce

Divorce Is A Sin, But It Never Disqualifies You From Serving God.

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Job 3:20-26 (NLT)

20 “Oh, why give light to those in misery, and life to those who are bitter?  21 They long for death, and it won’t come.  They search for death more eagerly than for hidden treasure.

22 They’re filled with joy when they finally die, and rejoice when they find the grave.  23 Why is life given to those with no future, those God has surrounded with difficulties?

24 I cannot eat for sighing; my groans pour out like water.  25 What I always feared has happened to me.  What I dreaded has come true.  26 I have no peace, no quietness.  I have no rest; only trouble comes.”

Let me set up today’s message with an image from the novel by Nathaniel Hawthorne, “The Scarlet Letter” set in Boston in the Puritan era.  It’s the story of a woman who conceived after committing adultery.  Because of her act she was forced to wear the Scarlet letter “A” stitched on her clothes.  It was the religious community’s attempt to fill her with shame. 

There’s another Scarlet letter that many of us have worn—The Scarlet Letter D!  When we launched this series called Surviving Your D-Day Invasions, we said that each of the attacks we would discuss come as a sneak invasion from a hostile enemy.  When you look at today’s topic of Divorce, we know that to be true.  In this series, we are looking at the Old Testament story of a man named Job.  Job did not experience divorce, but these words he wrote fit those of us who have.  I also said that we would be walking through my own personal story.  Here is the one thing I ask you to remember: 

Divorce Is A Sin, But It Never Disqualifies You From Serving God.

Today we’ll be talking about the darkest time in my life.  This is the most difficult message I have ever had to prepare or deliver.  I realize this message will not apply to all of you.  But maybe you know someone with someone who has faced or is facing The Scarlet D.

The first time I did this series was 2003.  When God first started working on me about this series and today’s topic, you have no idea how I resisted.  At the time Vicky and I had been separated, a fact known by only a very few people.  Before that, we have been sleeping in separate rooms, living separate lives.  God has an amazing sense of timing.  The first time I did this message was 1 week after I announced to the congregation I served, that we filed for Divorce. 

And even now, I still have difficulty sharing these thoughts with you.  Today is deeply personal, a reflection of what I learned as I dealt with the fact of Divorce in my life.  I never said, “Let’s try this thing called marriage, and 29 years later, if it doesn’t work out, we’ll get a Divorce.”  But sometimes, in spite of our best intentions, the path of our lives takes an unexpected turn.

Of all the “D’s” of the D-Day Invasions, Divorce can be overwhelmingly painful.  It sneaks up on two people who began a union deeply in love.  They had dreams and aspirations of what their marriage could be and should be.  For the most part, they thought their marriage would last forever.  That is until one day, when the D-Day Invasion of Divorce lands right in the middle of their home. 

Maybe some of you here have personally experienced the D-Day Invasion of Divorce.  Some of you may have seen the results of that invasion in your parent’s Divorce.  All of us have probably had friends, close friends, whose marriage became 1 of the unfortunate statistics of our culture. 

Many people are dealing with the pain, turmoil and rejection that come with Divorce.  Believers, non-believers, seekers—the D-Day Invasion Of Divorce cuts across all lines.  And because of deep misunderstanding, the church only adds to the pain.

Once we are faced with the Invasion of Divorce, how can we survive?  How can we discard this Scarlet D?  Many people feel hopeless, confused and rejected.  I looked at my failed marriage and I felt like a total failure.  God’s plan for marriage is for a lifetime.

But God also understands that we are human, we have feet of clay.  So, how do we move beyond the hurt, beyond the humiliation, beyond the pain, beyond the uncertainty of this D-Day InvasionAllow me to share 4 things with you that I believe work together.  Follow these steps all the way through.  Here they are:

1.  Accept Only Your Responsibility

Somewhere down the line, you’re going to have to attach some responsibility.  In all Divorce cases, one or both people were responsible.  Someone screwed up; someone made a mistake.  It may not be you but it was someone.  This once perfect thing now has division.  You cannot speak of Divorce in generalities; each case must be examined in its own situation. 

Who is responsible?  Why did it happen?  Owning responsibility is the key to surviving the D-Day Invasion of DivorceAccepting only your responsibility is the key to giving and accepting forgiveness where it’s needed.  Responsibility has to be attached, but through a lot of prayer, discernment, and sometimes even counseling.  Last week we talked about learning from failure.  The way we are to learn from failure is to know what’s wrong, attach responsibility for our part, learn from our mistakes and move on. 

That’s what we need to do here.  Some of the most happily married people I know are people who have learned from their past mistakes.  However, we know the statistics, don’t we?  67% of people who Divorce once will Divorce again.  Most second marriages fail also.  73% of third marriages end in Divorce

There has to be something there.  Be Careful Not To Take On Someone Else’s Responsibilities.  False Guilt Will Eventually Affect All Our RelationshipsBut I caution you, don’t stop here.  Don’t hold on to the Deadly G’s:  Guilt And Grudges.  If Divorce is the only recourse, then it’s time to move beyond guilt, and give up our grudges.  The second step is:

2.  Work Toward Forgiveness

Once we understand who is responsible, we can begin to work toward forgiveness.  We understand that true healing requires forgiveness for wrongs done.  Forgiveness must be accepted and must be given.  Some people say, “That’s crazy!  There is no way I’ll forgive that person—it’s too difficult.”  You are right. 

It’s very, very hard.  You may be the only one that wants to work on forgiveness.  When we have been hurt and wronged we will never be healed until we forgiveYou don’t have to walk up to that ex-spouse and announce your forgiveness.  But you have to do it in your heart.  Forgiveness is saying, “I Refuse To Hold On To The Pain.  I Refuse To Live In The Past.  I Release Them From Holding Me Captive To Any Grudge Or Pain.”

You must also learn to forgive yourself.  As you work through the responsibility part of Divorce, you may find that some of the blame lies with you.  I know there were times when I was uncaring.  There were especially times when I was too busy. 

But I ended up taking a lot of the responsibility that wasn’t mine to take.  The result was that I could not forgive myself.  But in order to offer forgiveness and receive forgiveness, I had to forgive myself.  I do not know about you, but this was the hardest thing for me.  I ended up carrying a lot of guilt I didn’t have to carry aroundIf you have guilt, you must forgive yourself.  This was the hardest for me.  I wouldn’t do it until I remembered: We Must Accept Forgiveness From GodFor those of us who are believers, we understand this.  No matter what we’ve done, He died on the cross two thousand years ago, and in him we are forgiven AND Cleansed. 

All we have to do is accept his grace and forgiveness and the slate is wiped clean.   You must accept forgiveness for yourself, and give forgiveness to the other person.

3.  Allow Kids To Stay Relationally Connected

We need to make sure that if kids are involved in this D-Day Invasion of Divorce, that we encourage them to stay relationally connected to both parents.  Kids of all ages are the biggest victims in Divorce

Kids of Divorce go through confusion and pain when their parents got divorced.  They wondered if it was their fault.  There is no sense of closure to it.  It’s true for even adult kids.  Kids of all ages need to stay connected with both parents.  It’s the best thing for the kids.

Let Your Kids See You Living Out Forgiveness.  Teach them, by your example, about owning up to your mistakes and about receiving and giving the grace of God.  Let them see you working to live at peace with your ex-spouse.  Here is a powerful opportunity to bring something good out of something horrible. 

If you, or a family member, or close friend experiences the D-Day of Divorce, and there are children involved, even grown children, it’s important for them to see the spirit of grace, the spirit of forgiveness and reconciliation at work.  Don’t Take Sides, Be A Model Of God’s Grace.  Finally, in order to move beyond the pain, and experience healing and wholeness:

4.  Align Your Different Life With God’s Principles

In my nearly 44 years of working in ministry, I’ve never met a person who didn’t want their second marriage to work.  There is only one way to do it, friends. 

That is to align our different life with God’s principles.  Many of us just need to understand that we’ve tried it our way and failed, now maybe we should follow God’s plan.  If you follow God’s principles for sex, dating and marriage, you can have a very happy marriage. 

Do you ever feel like you have The Scarlet D pinned to your shirt?  That you could never be normal again in God’s eyes because of this thing called Divorce?  Maybe there’s another Scarlet Letter pinned to your shirt.  Maybe yours is the Scarlet A—Addict, Adultery Abuser, Abused.  Maybe you know someone with the Scarlet L—Loser.  Maybe yours is the Scarlet S—Sinner!  I want to leave you with this last verse and encourage you to align your new life with God’s principles.

2 Corinthians 5:16-17 says:  In Christ We Are New Creations; The Old Is Gone, And New Has Come!

Grace is all about a fresh start.  Do you need a fresh start?  God has one for every person who is wearing any Scarlet Letter.  He will take that letter off of you and you will never have to wear again.

Next Steps

  1. .  If You Are Living With Shame Put On You By Family, Church, Or Even Yourself Because Of Divorce, Bring That Shame To Jesus Right Now. The shame of anyone who wears The Scarlet D was carried by Jesus so that you do not have to carry it anymore.  No sin that anyone commits ever disqualifies them from both a relationship with God and the opportunity to be called by Him to serve Him.
  2. If You Have Been Through Divorce Or Not, Read The Scriptures About Divorce WITHOUT Whatever You Have Been Taught About It.  Take 2 steps in your reading.  First, ask the Holy Spirit to be your guide and teacherSecond, read those passages within the big picture of what God is seeking to do with ALL who have sinned.  Our God is focusing on both Redemption, and Restoration, making people useful for His Kingdom.  God chose Saul the murderer to become Paul the Apostle to the Gentiles.  If God can use a murderer, why can’t He use someone divorced in any role He wants?

Beware Of The Fall!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

dwightlmoody1

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

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

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

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

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

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!

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(Maybe Elvis had it right)

Cultural Bias And Holy Communion-Part 2

Well, this is the sixth in my series about how cultural biases may have, probably have influenced our understanding of the Bible, especially in the U.S. churches.  I had intended to do only one blog per issue, but the Spirit has prompted, well actually SHOVED me, dragged me screaming, into going deeper because there exists a deep misunderstanding about Holy Communion by some who occupy the pews.  The issue is about “who”–WHO can receive these sacred symbols?

Let’s begin with the 2 camps known as The Closed Camp and The Open Camp.  The Close Camp Rule state that only members of their Tribe are allowed to receive the sacred symbols.  No ifs, ands, buts or maybes–you have to be a full member of Their Tribe.  The Open Camp Rule state that church membership is not a requirement.  And now things become a little more complicated.  Have you ever noticed how humanity tends to make the grace of God more complicated?  Or is that just me?

Within The Open Camp there are 2 Sub-Camps.  Both agree that church membership is not a requirement, both Camps agree that this is that powerful reminder of God’s Grace.  There are some other points they agree on, but here is where it becomes a bit more complicated.  First there is The Open Camp But You Have To Be Worthy.  This Camp says, “Stay away from this Table until you are worthy of it.”  Those who hold this view have hitched their wagon to 1 Corinthians 11:26-27 (NLT)

26 For every time you eat this bread and drink this cup, you are announcing the Lord’s death until he comes again.  27 So anyone who eats this bread or drinks this cup of the Lord unworthily is guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord.

At the ripe old age of 21, I had an older member who refused to celebrate Holy Communion all because her father had drilled it into her head, “Don’t receive it until you feel you are worthy.”  The position of This Camp is that this Table, HIS Table, is a Reserved Table.  Your reservations for His Table are made through your performance.  They may not agree with my conclusion, but as I often say, “The truth will stand when the world’s on fire.”  Though the Table is not a “Members Only Club”, it is demeaned and devalued into “The Table For Only Those Who Perform Very Well.”

The other is The Open Camp For Those Who Need Grace.  This Camp says, “If you are hungry for God’s grace, then there’s a chair for you at this Table.”  The Communion Table becomes more of a doctor’s office for the sick, than a “Heisman Award” for the really good folks.  This Camp sees Holy Communion as a Means of Grace, a way to connect with God’s Grace.  And I am proud to say that I have a lifetime membership in this Camp.

I understand that some will say, “Look, the issue is much more in-depth (which is just another way of saying ‘complicated’) than you have presented it.”  But when I take my cultural eyeglasses off and simply read the Bible, here is what I see and understand; and it’s not all that complicated.

For those who must insist that we become worthy BEFORE we receive the Sacred Signs, and base it on 1 Corinthians 11:26-27, you’re not applying this verse in its context.  See what some of the Corinthians were doing.  They were having a private party for their own kind.  Kinda like those who say Holy Communion is only for ‘their’ kind of folks.  So you think you’re “worthy”?  You better check out verses 28. 39 and 30.

It is called The Lord’s Table for a reason, and a purpose.  The Reason it is The Lord’s Table is because He alone has set the table and provided the meal, so HE  gets to decide who receives the invitation.  Luke 14 describes the invitation sent to those on the little dusty trails, in other words, those on the fringes.  Mark 2 describes that He is looking and calling for the sick, not the allegedly healthy.  And who can forget John 3:16 and THAT powerful word WHOSOEVER.  Everyone is a WHOSOEVER.

I don’t think anyone should come to The Lord’s Table casually or out of habit.  It is a sacred moment where we can both SEE and TASTE that The Lord, He is Good!  And I certainly do not believe that it’s a performance based reward.  This, The Lord’s Tableis for anyone who needs to be reminded of these 2 eternal truths:

  1. We need God’s grace every moment of every day
  2. God freely gives us the grace we admit to needing because of the death of Jesus.

Holy Communion has this Message:  “For anyone who needs and wants My Grace, pull up a chair at My Table, and have a Feast!  Don’t worry about the cost.  I’ve taken care of that, too!”  And that, my friends, is something to celebrate!

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

The Apostolic Age? Really?

 

 

 

OK, I’m not doing this to start a theological debate, doctrinal fight, nor a “Roman Catholic” versus “Protestant” argument.  It really is just a question:  “Where did the concept of the ‘Apostolic Age’ come from?”  I’ve had the mandatory seminary classes on church history, and I know the traditional thought about this alleged Apostolic Age.  But when and where did this concept of an alleged The Apostolic Age originate?  And I know that the consensus is it ended with the death of John.

Many teach and many more believe that it was limited to those Original 12, well, excluding Judas.  But according to Matthew 10:2-4, Judas is listed as one of the 12, you guessed it, “Apostles”.  but were there just those 12, including Judas?  Well, maybe including Paul there were 13 “Apostles”.  Perhaps we could add Barnabas to make an even 14.  Maybe we could add Silas for 15.  Some might have a good argument to include Timothy as an “Apostle”, making the number an even 16 “Apostles”.

Could it be this “Apostolic Age” is the result of the interpretation of History?  I know, I know, most want history to be just the facts.  Yet most of written history includes the result of human interpretation.  And herein lies my contention:  Is the concept of this alleged “Apostolic Age” the result of human interpretation?  Now please understand, I’m not asking you to agree with my hypothesis, theory and conclusion.  I am asking that you simply think for yourself, and then draw your own conclusion.  I have a “Leroy Jethro Gibbs” gut feeling some of the comments may disagree with me, or some might stop following this blog.  I’m OK with this, as long as you are thinking and seeking the Holy Spirit.

Me?  I’m a KISS kind of man–Keep It Simple Stupid!  With this as my backdrop, let me frame these words as best I can.

  • My Hypothesis:   Our God is a “Sending God”.  It is His nature and His deepest desire to send out His heart and message to redeem and restore fallen humanity; the ones who alone bear His image.
  • My Theory:  He sends others that He has redeemed and restored to Himself for the purpose of redeeming and restoring others.  Don’t try to sell me on the benefits of a Ford if you are only driving Chevrolets.  If you want to reach deep into me, tell me what (or whom) is deep inside you.
  • My Conclusion:  Because God is still reaching out to His Fallen Image Bearers through those whom HE sends, this thing called The Apostolic Age as defined by historians, hasn’t really ended.  Furthermore, I assert this concept of an “apostolic age” to be anathema and has robbed the Body of Christ of it’s most basic identity–that of being a sent people.  The result of no longer living with that sense of being “sent”, most, especially Churchians and Tenured Pew Sitters, are living with a sense of being settled.  And that, my blogging friends, is one of the worst tragedies; for a people who were redeemed and restored in order to be sent, to accept being settled.

What started this train of thought (some may say this train never left the station, or has derailed by the end of these thoughts) was my work on this week’s sermon.  This work included the passage from Matthew 10 when Jesus “sends out” those 12 “apostles”.  I looked up that Greek word we have translated “Apostle” (*NOTE the typical use of the Capital “A” as in THE Apostles and THE Apostolic Age, which “capital” letter is not found in the Greek texts) is apostolos.  An apostolos is a delegate, messenger, one sent forth with orders.  It comes from the word apostellō— which means “to order one to go to a place appointed.”

So, why isn’t an apostle (lowercase “a”) simply someone sent as a messenger to go to an appointed place with The Message?  If my hypothesis is true, that God is the Sending God, doesn’t this mean He is still sending today?  Tomorrow?  Next week?  Next month?  Now this left-handed, right-brained preacher is about to put it into overdrive.  What if we forgot about this “historical” image of an alleged long gone “Apostolic Age” and began living our lives right now as apostles (note the lowercase “a”)?  Live as people who are sent to a certain place with a certain message?  Can you imagine the transformation that could happen?

I now see myself as an apostle–but not with the delusions of grandeur.  I see myself as one who is being sent with a Message to specific places and people.  And you do not have to be a pastor, preacher, evangelist or missionary to be “sent” somewhere.  God is looking for people to send to specific places.  Those places are where there are human hearts and lives, made in God’s image, that need to be redeemed and restored to the Father’s Glory.  God is looking to send someone across your street.  God is looking to send someone across the aisle, across the hall, across town, across county lines, and who knows, maybe across the state or across the world.

What are the places that God is looking to send people to?  The places where people need to be redeemed and restored.  God’s best work is always done through ordinary people.  Remember 2 Corinthians 4:7 (NIV),

But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.

Sent people are never settled people.  They are ready and willing to go into every human situation with the Message of The Good News, this Kingdom News that redemption and restoration are now available to anyone and everyone.  First these 12 were disciples before they were apostles (lowercase “a”, please).  They learned from Jesus and then they went.  How I pray for more people to live first as disciples, then go as apostles–people sent on a Mission from God!  If you live with that sense of being sent, then the Apostolic Age isn’t over.  How sad it must be to think God has stopped sending ordinary people to do extraordinary things.  Nothing is more miraculous nor extraordinary than when another heart has been redeemed and restored by The Maker, our God who sends!

I may not have convinced a single person that this alleged “Apostolic Age” thing is a human concept.  But if there is just one of you who are now thinking, “Could God be sending me somewhere?”, then it has been worth it!  It is both overwhleming and liberating to know that we can be “sent”.  And it is a prison all it’s own, to be simply settled where you are.  Still think that the Apostolic Age is over???

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“When Unity At All Costs Is Too Costly”

 

The link below is from a fellow pastor, mentor, leader and friend.  While his thoughts are directed towards and fitting for my fellow United Methodist Pastors, the principles Paul lays out will fit a variety of situations.  Sometimes we forget that when Jesus walked this creation as one He created, He was one of the most divisive personalities ever seen.  And if any of my readers are United Methodist, please take this blog as being hopeful–hopeful as we follow Jesus.

Click on the picture to go to Paul’s blog…

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A Post By Thom Rainer

(I thought this one was worth sharing with all of you…certainly is thought provoking….)

 

EIGHT SIGNS YOUR CHURCH MAY BE CLOSING SOON

We call it the death spiral.  I know. It’s not a pleasant term. I can understand if it causes you to cringe.  By the time I am contacted about a serious problem in a church, it is often too late. The problems are deeply rooted, but the remaining members have been blind to them, or they chose to ignore them.

There are eight clear signs evident in many churches on the precipice of closing. If a church has four or more of these signs present, it is likely in deep trouble. Indeed, it could be closing sooner than almost anyone in the church would anticipate.

  1. There has been a numerical decline for four or more years. Worship attendance is in a steady decline. Offerings may decline more slowly as the “remnant” gives more to keep the church going. There are few or no conversions. Decline is clear and pervasive.
  2. The church does not look like the community in which it is located. The community has changed its ethnic, racial, or socioeconomic makeup, but the church has not. Many members are driving from other places to come to the church. The community likely knows little or nothing about the church. And the church likely knows little or nothing about the community.
  3. The congregation is mostly comprised of senior adults. It is just a few years of funerals away from having no one left in the church.
  4. The focus is on the past, not the future. Most conversations are about “the good old days.” Those good old days may have been 25 or more years in the past. Often a hero pastor of the past is held as the model to emulate.
  5. The members are intensely preference-driven. They are more concerned about their music style, their programs, their schedules, and their facilities than reaching people with the gospel. Their definition of discipleship is “others taking care of my needs.”
  6. The budget is severely inwardly focused. Most of the funds are expended to keep the lights on and/or to meet the preferences of the members. There are few dollars for ministry and missions. And any dollars for missions rarely include the involvement of the members in actually sharing the gospel themselves.
  7. There are sacred cow facilities. It might be a parlor or a pulpit. It could be pews instead of chairs. It might be the entirety of the worship center or the sanctuary. Members insist on holding tightly to those things God wants us to hold loosely.
  8. Any type of change is met with fierce resistance. The members are confronted with the choice to change or die. And though few would articulate it, their choice by their actions or lack of actions is the choice to die.

Churches with four or more of these signs have three choices. They can embark on a process of change and revitalization. Or they can close the doors for a season and re-open with a new name, a new vision, and some new people.

Of course, the third choice is to do nothing. That is the choice to die.

Thousands of churches will unfortunately do just that the next twelve months.

Curb Shopping

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Another one of my moments of random thinking this morning, and it seems I’m being afflicted with this more often than usual.  The thought?  Curb Shopping!  Now if you are not familiar with Curb Shopping, I will warn you that it may become addictive.  Simply put, Curb Shopping is watching for what people put out on the curb to be picked up and taken to the landfill and quickly thinking if it is something you can clean up and re-purpose.  Then stopping and picking it up and take it home.  It is giving what is being thrown away a new life.

I admit and confess that I am a Curb Shopper.  I never knew the joy of it until a few years 0119170519_hdrago.  My wonderful wife Debbie and I had taken a trip down to Winter Haven Florida to spend time with some of her family and to have a sabbath rest.  Whenever we are down there, we count on seeing some of her cousins she grew up with; one of them is Janie.  That particular year Janie was telling wonderful and humorous stories of her adventures Curb Shopping.  And that got me started.  Every day going to the office, hospitals or visits, I watch the curbs for some hidden jewel, even scrap pieces of lumber.  I also watched businesses for discarded pallets to re-purpose.  The crosses and firewood rack are just a few things I’ve done.  (Notice the Folger coffee cans, that’s where I keep the tender for starting fires in our fireplace, that is, when it is cold enough for a fire.  I do live in Alabama where we defy Mother Nature by having all 4 seasons in the span of a week.)

Point is, I find Curb Shopping expands my thinking and moves me from the realm of “what is” into the wide open spaces of “what could be”.  And this morning’s random thought was more than about “junk” and thrown away pallets.  I realized that Janie had opened my eyes to yet another facet of God.  God is the original Curb Shopper and Dumpster Diver.  A perfect case study to prove my assertion that God is the original Curb Shopper and Dumpster Diver, is found in Luke 7:36-50 (The Message)

36-39 One of the Pharisees asked him over for a meal. He went to the Pharisee’s house and sat down at the dinner table. Just then a woman of the village, the town harlot, having learned that Jesus was a guest in the home of the Pharisee, came with a bottle of very expensive perfume and stood at his feet, weeping, raining tears on his feet. Letting down her hair, she dried his feet, kissed them, and anointed them with the perfume. When the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man was the prophet I thought he was, he would have known what kind of woman this is who is falling all over him.”

40 Jesus said to him, “Simon, I have something to tell you.” “Oh? Tell me.”

41-42 “Two men were in debt to a banker. One owed five hundred silver pieces, the other fifty. Neither of them could pay up, and so the banker canceled both debts. Which of the two would be more grateful?”

43-47 Simon answered, “I suppose the one who was forgiven the most.”  “That’s right,” said Jesus. Then turning to the woman, but speaking to Simon, he said, “Do you see this woman? I came to your home; you provided no water for my feet, but she rained tears on my feet and dried them with her hair. You gave me no greeting, but from the time I arrived she hasn’t quit kissing my feet. You provided nothing for freshening up, but she has soothed my feet with perfume. Impressive, isn’t it? She was forgiven many, many sins, and so she is very, very grateful. If the forgiveness is minimal, the gratitude is minimal.”

48 Then he spoke to her: “I forgive your sins.”

49 That set the dinner guests talking behind his back: “Who does he think he is, forgiving sins!”

50 He ignored them and said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you. Go in peace.”

Here was a woman who had been pushed to the curb as trash to be disposed.  Others had seen her and thought, “Well, the curb is exactly where she belongs!”  But Jesus was a great Curb Shopper and Dumpster Diver for He could see beyond “what is” to “what can be”.  Here’s my two thoughts on this random thought:

First, God does not see you as curb trash or dumpster material.  He sees more clearly than even yourself “what is” your current condition, and regardless your current condition He can see “what you can become”.  He can and will re-purpose your life and keep you from the landfill of despair.

Second, I have a question for you:  How do you see people who have been pushed to the curb?  Who are people pushed to the curb?  Of course we think about the homeless, but there are many others.  It is anyone who has been pushed aside because someone decided that they no longer had any value or purpose.  Do you join in their assessment or can you see that with a little work, they can be re-purposed to a better life, a higher life?

Re-purposing takes some imagination, often a lot of work, and even more patience.  And our God has plenty of both–in fact–more than enough for anyone, everyone, even you.  One more not so random thought and for some it may be my spiritual gift of annoyance that hits you:  What are you going to do with the next person you see that has been pushed to the curb?  Use your imagination and time to invest in someone who has been deemed too broken or no longer needed, and ask God to show you “what can be” for them.  Then stop at that curb, pick them up and watch what happens when we don’t give up on someone.

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