Think I’ll follow Jesus of the Street Party over the Jesus of the Political Party any day!
Think I’ll follow Jesus of the Street Party over the Jesus of the Political Party any day!
Well, yesterday didn’t end like I had planned it. I even forgot to publish Day 8 until this morning. Everything was supposed to be finished with just our dirty clothes, bedding and toiletries to pack. This morning was supposed to be a “chilling-out” day. Well, you know what they say, the best laid plans of mice and men often go awry. Oh, and good old Murphy! How I despise that guy–you know–Murphy’s Law. If anything can go wrong, it will go wrong and at the worst possible moment. I know he’s not on that moving truck because he’s still around here. I hope we don’t pack him in our vehicles. But I suspect he will find a way to get to Fayette. He always seems to know where I am.
I woke up at 1:30 a.m. and I couldn’t go back to sleep because all those best laid plans of mine went awry. An hour or so later, I finally managed to go back to sleep. The turning point in my mind was when I said, “Jesus, you’ve got to help me!”
So this morning, it was back to the plan that wasn’t completed. Now it is. Had a representative from the church inspect the parsonage–it was in great order. After the last thing, I cleaned up, and spent some time with my Dad. He was obviously sad, but at the same time, encouraging. That’s what he does–I know a lot of people who need to learn that lesson. Stopped by my very good friend Dennis’s home for just some good conversation between friends. Now, I am home–ready for some sleep.
So, what did I learn today? I love it when y’all ask that question. Here goes:
Jesus helps us, if we will just cry out to Him!
My plans didn’t work out the way I wanted. But God’s plans always works out. Sometimes people get in the way. Sometimes WE get in the way. But neither situation will stop God’s plans. He just chooses another route to accomplish His purposes. I am in the middle of God’s purposes, so even though it feels like it’s out of control, the reality is it’s out of my control–but never HIS!
Good night, John Boy.
Good night, Elizabeth. Good night, Daddy.
Good night, Son. Good night, Mary Ellen.
Good night, Daddy. Good night, Mama.
Good night, Mary Ellen. Good night, Jim Bob.
Good night, Mama. Good night, Erin.
Good night, Jim Bob. Good night, Ben.
Good night, Erin. Good night, everybody.
So here we are, the next to the last class. I hope you are learning something valuable here. Yesterday we looked at the Rules Plan and its shortcomings. Hopefully by now you know that God is not the Cosmic Warden, but that He sends The Good Shepherd to search for us. Take really good notes as we now look at:
Now this plan acknowledges that we don’t always get it right. But hey, it’s not our fault. There’s always a reason and good excuse for whatever we do wrong. For extra reading I encourage you to obtain the book Yes Lord I Have Sinned: But I Have Several Excellent Excuse. The best part of this plan is that it challenges our “creative” side to be able to justify our sins. And if you come up with an excuse that sounds good to you–then you get into heaven.
Another bonus to this plan is that if we want to be lazy and not find an excellent excuse, then there’s someone else to blame. It’s called “playing the victim” card. This plan works off of a truth: That Life Isn’t Fair. But hey, life should be fair, am I right? It’s about getting what we rightfully deserve, and usually without much if any effort.
In This Plan Consequences Are Inconsequential. Either by justification (coming up with an excellent excuse) or by playing the victim card, surely God won’t keep us out of heaven. It would not be reasonable of God to keep us out of heaven when there’s so much bad stuff out there. It is His creation. All He has to do is make life fair. Yet because of the evil and unfairness in this world, God will not hole us responsible. There are no consequences, so we get in.
But there are consequences to our choices and actions. Paul wrote in Romans 6:23—For the wages of sin is death. It doesn’t say, Unless you have a good excuse. That’s not how it works. Sin is sin regardless of our intentions or beliefs. Our intentions may have been good, our beliefs may have been sincere, but sin pays the same dividend every time—death! So, this plan doesn’t work either. This is perhaps, the riskiest plan of all. I say this because deep down inside us, we know there are consequences. It’s called shame, guilt or that nagging sense of personal failure.
Well, class, that’s the last plan. Tomorrow we will look at the Plan, the ONLY plan that will work. It tripped up Nicodemus, but maybe it won’t trip you up. And remember….love God with ALL your heart. Love others the WAY God loves you. And make sure ALL the glory goes to Him! By the way, don’t forget there will be a final exam.
Welcome back class. We’re looking at How Do You Get To Heaven? I’ve come up with a subtitle to this class: Spiritual Navigation Course. Yesterday we look at the Santa Claus Plan and its obvious failure. By the way, you can’t drop this course. Even those who skip class or refuse to sign up for it, they, too, will have the Final Exam by the Head Master. So I say again, take good notes and refer back to them daily. Now, on to the next plan:
God is the Cosmic Prison Warden who lays down the rules for us inmates. Know the rules, obey the rules and you get into heaven. That sounds simple enough. Here’s the Rules you need to remember:
Now if you can do this, you’ve got it made. It’s the religion of the Pharisees with a Protestant twist. It’s what I call “Legalism Light”. The biggest rule to remember is #4. Got it? It focuses on the external parts of our lives. Work on Rules Keeping. Everything you need to get into heaven is in the rules. Now, there is a beauty to this plan, in Rule #3. Every local church has its own set of rituals and traditions. If you don’t like the rituals and traditions at one church, shop around until you find one you like.
Well, there’s a problem. God is more than just rules, and so is His Kingdom. Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 4:20—For the Kingdom of God is not just a lot of talk; it is living by God’s power. It is a Kingdom, HIS Kingdom which means HE alone determines what it looks like to live in that Kingdom. God invites us to experience His power, the power that raise Jesus from the dead. And that power can never be found in rituals and traditions. Rituals and tradition can point us in the direction of that power, but they are NOT the power.
And then there’s this: Believing we are right, we can be wrong. In the end it doesn’t matter what we think God wants. It’s about what God really wants. Talk is just that–Talk. Power is what we need–words, rituals and traditions have none–unless they lead us to the throne of Grace.
That’s it for today. You know what I am about to say: Keep good notes. Review them every day because The Final Exam will happen. And remember…Love God with ALL your heart. Love others the WAY He loves you. And make sure ALL the glory goes to HIM.
Tomorrow we will look at the last plan, and then the last class will hopefully open your mind and heart to the only plan.
Welcome back class. We’re already half-way through this subject. Yesterday we talked about The Sponge Plan where God is The Cosmic Observer who hopes that we are in the right place at the right time. In case I didn’t mention it, The Cosmic Observer doesn’t seek us for transformation, but hopes we find the right information.
God is the Cosmic Santa. The nitty-gritty of the Santa Claus Plan is that there is a naughty and a nice list. We just need to be sure we get in on the nice list. But here’s the thing about the Santa Plan—everyone still gets Christmas presents. The naughty list is just something to try to get us to behave a little better when we get sick or get old. It’s what they call at cemeteries, excuse me, seminaries, Universal Salvation. Universal Salvation says that there is no hell and that In The End, We All Get In.
Don’t sweat it or worry about it. Dying is Christmas Day—we’re going to get a present after all. No, we don’t! In James 1:15 you can read—These desires give birth to sinful actions. And when sin is allowed to grow, it gives birth to death. Maybe James is overreacting here, but I don’t think so. Sin will consume and destroy us and keep us out of heaven. Even Jesus said that not everyone who says “Lord, Lord” gets in. In this plan, the death of Jesus is applied to us whether we want the Gift or not.
Our purpose in life is to hopefully make this world a little better place until God brings the Final Kingdom. This plan says we are just waiting around. Whatever “mistakes” we make, really don’t matter. Even if you believe that In The End We All Get In, the thing about sin is that it is overpowering and thus destroys the Image of our Creator. This plan is a lie from the pits of hell designed to keep you from the loving relationship God longs to have with you.
That’s it for today. Review your notes for THE Final Exam. And remember…love God with all your heart. Love others the way HE loves you. And make sure ALL the glory goes to Him. See you tomorrow and maybe the next plan will help.
Welcome back class. I hope you have reviewed your notes from yesterday. I cannot stress it enough that there is only ONE test–the Final Exam that will be administered by the Head Master at some time in your future. It may be years, even decades away; but He will administer the Test. Keep those notes handy for your personal study. Now, let’s continue.
Yesterday we looked at the Cosmic Accountant Plan–that God keeps a record of your virtuous deeds and your bad deeds. So long as you have more virtuous deeds than bad deeds, you get in. I hope you can see and understand how this plan doesn’t work to get us into heaven, nor have a relationship with God, a relationship HE designed for us to experience.
While the Cosmic Accountant Plan seems to make a lot of sense to us, it really doesn’t work because our “bad” deeds are more than bad–they are in reality, SIN. I may not have mentioned this yesterday, but there are not enough virtuous deeds to cover the cost of just one single sin. God demands that our righteousness, our account of “virtuous deeds” must exceed that of the teachers of the Law and the Pharisees. Remember that these 2 groups had a wealthy balance of “virtuous deeds”, but they were still outside the Relationship God wants.
Now, today let’s look at another plan. This plan we can see in Churchians and Tenured Pew Sitters. Let’s look at another of what some consider to be one of many ways to experience relationship with God, and thus get into heaven.
God Is The Cosmic Observer. He’s there just to watch how we respond to life, and to Him. He hopes we will be in the right place at the right time to soak it all in. Here is how The Sponge Plan works:
That’s pretty much it. All you must do is be like a sponge in water—soak it all in and voilà, you get into heaven. Well, here’s the problem with this plan—it never addresses our real problem—sin. Paul wrote in Romans 8:7— For the sinful nature is always hostile to God. It never did obey God’s laws, and it never will.
Our default setting is to be hostile to God’s ways. It seems like I am always going back to that “sin” thing, and for good reason. All of us, bar none, are INFECTED with this DNA from Adam and Eve. It lies deep within us and resists everything about God. Oh, it doesn’t always show itself, but it’s still there. Soaking up like a sponge will not deal with the root of sin in all of us. The Sponge Plan is like treating a tumor in our colon with Hydrocortisone on the skin. My personal favorite response is this: “Sitting in a church sanctuary doesn’t turn you into a Christian any more than sitting in a garage will turn you into a car.”
Well, that’s it for today class. Tomorrow we will look at another plan. Take good notes and review those notes BEFORE the Final Exam. And remember…love God with all your heart. Love others the way HE loves you. And make sure all the glory goes to Him! Hopefully I will see you tomorrow….unless the Head Master gives you or me the Final Exam….yup, I have to take the Final Exam, too!
This, and the following posts, are not about Heaven, what it’s like or what you will see. There’s a lot of misinformation out there about what Heaven is like and what you will see. I don’t have enough time right now to straighten out bad theology. But I do have a question for you. The most important question you will ever be asked is this: How Do You Get To Heaven? Your answer has consequences beyond what you could ever imagine.
Talk about a lot of misinformation and confusion, just listen to how people will answer that question. I will give this warning—I may make you mad with the answer that the Bible gives us. OK, with the disclaimer out of the way, look at this picture.
Do you see anything wrong with this picture or is it OK? Raise your hand if you think something isn’t quite right with these signs. It’s obvious. If you want to get to I-4 or Florida Highway 482 East or West, you must turn left. HOWEVER, that other sign, “Right Turn Only” says that you can’t get there from here.
When looking for direction signs on how to get to heaven, it can be as confusing as these road signs. So today my only goal is to help you lift the fog of confusion and see the only answer to that question. Look at John 3:1-12 (NLT)
1 There was a man named Nicodemus, a Jewish religious leader who was a Pharisee. 2 After dark one evening, he came to speak with Jesus. “Rabbi,” he said, “we all know that God has sent you to teach us. Your miraculous signs are evidence that God is with you.” 3 Jesus replied, “I tell you the truth, unless you are born again, you cannot see the Kingdom of God.” 4 “What do you mean?” exclaimed Nicodemus. “How can an old man go back into his mother’s womb and be born again?”
5 Jesus replied, “I assure you, no one can enter the Kingdom of God without being born of water and the Spirit. 6 Humans can reproduce only human life, but the Holy Spirit gives birth to spiritual life. 7 So don’t be surprised when I say, ‘You must be born again.’ 8 The wind blows wherever it wants. Just as you can hear the wind but can’t tell where it comes from or where it is going, so you can’t explain how people are born of the Spirit.” 9 “How are these things possible?” Nicodemus asked.
10 Jesus replied, “You are a respected Jewish teacher, and yet you don’t understand these things? 11 I assure you, we tell you what we know and have seen, and yet you won’t believe our testimony. 12 But if you don’t believe me when I tell you about earthly things, how can you possibly believe if I tell you about heavenly things?
Have you ever been taught by the Holy Spirit? You really should try it sometimes if you haven’t. The Holy Spirit has been teaching me so much these past 4 years, especially when it comes to the art of preaching and teaching. Normally when I’m preaching, at this point I would say, “And if you can remember only 1 thing from the message, this is it.” But the Holy Spirit wants me to save that 1 thing until the end of these thoughts; so, I will.
Another way of asking the question of how to get to heaven, is to ask: How Do We Find God? Now here’s where it gets confusing. Some say there are many ways to find God. They insist that it’s like taking a trip to New York City. We could take different routes, different modes of transportation; but we all still end up in New York City. But what works with maps doesn’t work with the human heart and spirituality.
There’s a wide diversity of thoughts and feelings on this subject. It’s this thing of pluralism—that there can be a multitude of ways to God. And this isn’t about Christianity versus Islam versus Hindu versus Buddhism versus New Age versus Judaism. It’s not about Christianity versus Baptists versus Methodists versus Church of Christ versus Presbyterians versus Church of God versus Whatever Name is out there. The longing of the heart for heaven is really the longing of the human heart for a connection with God.
So, let’s look at some ways people think they can be saved and get into heaven, and why they can’t get there from here. I’ve even managed to come up with some names for some of these different ways people are trying to get to heaven. Check in tomorrow for some of the ways people think you get to heaven, and why you can’t get there from here.
Love God with all your heart. Love others the way HE loves you. And make sure all the glory goes to Him!
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:
5 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. 6 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. 7 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. 8 If we claim we have no sin, we are only fooling ourselves and not living in the truth. 9 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.
Grief is another of the tools of the trade used by our Enemy to make us dread another week, another day, even another minute. Our source of grief can be the death of a family member or friend. Just yesterday we found out our family doctor’s wife died after a lengthy battle with cancer. Dr. Wampler is more than our doctor. I consider him a friend.
And if it isn’t death that causes us to grieve, then it is the ordinary “stuff” of every day life. The loss of a job, a home, a marriage, a friendship. And if that isn’t enough to make us grieve, then there is the news—the heartaches and tragedies we see in the news. Without some comfort and relief, grief drains us of peace, hope, and even our purpose in life.
And so, we have these words from Isaiah. Did you catch the last two words? Deepest Grief! Not to minimize our griefs, He has experienced deepest griefs. His is deepest griefs not by comparison to our griefs, but because He takes into the deepest part of His heart, our griefs. All our griefs, all of everyone’s griefs. And He does this for only one reason: He Loves Us Completely And Unconditionally.
God hears our cries this morning. We can cry to Him because He has felt, feels now, and will always feel the pain of grief. We need to turn our grief over and release it to His grace and compassionate love. For it is His heart—His love that always reaches out to us, to heal us and make us whole. We need deliverance from the easy thing of pointing out the symptoms of what we think causes our griefs.
All we need to do is tell Him. Tell Him honestly everything you feel. Even if—especially when you are angry and blame Him. Then simply lean on Him and listen—listen as He pulls you against His chest, so close you can heart His heartbeat—the heartbeat that is for you. Then He will begin to heal your broken heart and bring back the peace, hope and purpose that you thought was long gone. He went the distance for your heart—all the way to the Cross. Then He went the distance to reclaim your heart—to that tomb and then He walked out of that tomb in victory!
When you know He feels the deepest grief—your grief—and remember that He does it for you out of deepest love—and will restore your heart, then you can say, “Good! Lord it’s Monday! What shall we do together this week?” Let’s pray:
Lord here is why I am grieving……..(put your list of griefs here)…… It hurts and honestly, I wonder where is the hope? Where is that peace? How can I go on? I share my questions with you because You know deepest grief. I trust You now to lead me out of my grief. You walked to the Cross and walked away from the Tomb. I know you will do the same for me. Even if I don’t see how….I know you see the way. Amen and Amen…
Now, I’m not here to brag about College football, just making some Kingdom Observations. For football fans, last night and for the next few days, there is an air of excitement. It’s the NFL selecting which players will have an opportunity to take their skill sets to the next level. I admit that though I’m not exactly an NFL fan, I did watch the first round last night. Reason being is that I wanted to see how players from THE University of Alabama would fare, and how the Southeastern Conference fared. And once again, the dominant program of the dominant Conference can celebrate success. Out of 32 players selected, 10 came from the SEC, and of that 10, 4 came from Alabama. Both numbers more than any other Conference or School. I’m just sayin’…
All this got me to thinking this morning. I know, I know. I think differently from most folks. Some folks think I live in my own little world, but that’s OK. They actually like me here. The thought I had this morning is this: What if there was a draft when Jesus was selecting His disciples? A little background.
Back in the day when the Creator walked in His creation as one HE created, there were a lot of Rabbis and what we might call Rabbinical Schools League. We usually think of a Rabbi as a “teacher”. But that word “Rabbi” means someone who is a master and in their culture, a master of the Word of God. And Rabbis would often have “schools”, so what if there was a draft for who would get into which school. Picture this, if you can.
Rabbis from around the region gather in Jerusalem in a room. They are busy reading scouting reports about potential students. They cast lots (because that’s just a thing they did) and an order of drafting is established. What qualities are they looking for in a future student/disciple? Probably they are looking for the cream of the crop. The best educated and most honorable men available. They would look for people from the largest towns. Men who were well-groomed and noble. After all, no Rabbi worth his weight in salt would want anything less. Fast forward now.
The Disciple Draft is over and the experts are giving their analysis on how the Rabbis did and who did the best. “This year’s Draft is now over, and we have a new School in the League: The School of Rabbi Jesus. Now here are the 12 students that this Nazarene Rabbi Jesus selected in this year’s draft and how they are seen by the rest of us.:
“In the view of this reporter, the success or failure of this Rabbi clearly hinges on his selections in subsequent drafts, because there is nothing here to indicate this Rabbi will make any impact in the nation now. If future drafts look like this one, do not expect Rabbinical School of Jesus to hang around very long. I would say after just 3 years, you won’t hear anything about Rabbi Jesus and His School. Without a defined location, simply moving from place to place, we do not expect this Rabbi’s School to draw in many students. He’s making it too hard for anyone to follow Him. Look for Judas to jump ship to another School. He’s too good not to!”
Last night it was all about the best of the best, those who had already proven themselves and their skill sets. None of those selected by Jesus were among the very best. The above analysis would have been true, based on what they knew about these 12 draftees. There is more here than meets the eye. And there is more to others, more to you, than what meets the eye of so-called experts.
It is this group of The Least Likely that literally turned the world right-side-up back then. It seems that Jesus has a knack for bringing things out of people that others don’t see in them, and that they don’t see in themselves. And it is still the way Jesus works today. So, if you feel like you are the least talented, least gifted–if you see your past track record as a complete failure–then get ready for Jesus to call your name in “The Draft”. Two thousand years later, the technique of Rabbi Jesus has a proven track record. Trust Jesus with what He wants to do with your life. He does know what He is doing–even if the world calls Him crazy!
Love God with all your heart. Love others the way Jesus loves you. And make sure all the glory goes to Him!
(This post is for those I wounded last week. I am truly sorry.)
15 While Jesus was having dinner at Levi’s house, many tax collectors and sinners were eating with Him and His disciples, for there were many who followed Him. 16 When the teachers of the law who were Pharisees saw Him eating with the sinners and tax collectors, they asked His disciples: “Why does He eat with tax collectors and sinners?” Mark 2:15-16 (NIV)
We know the Pharisees, A.K.A. The Religious Police, loved to ask questions. Many of their questions directed to Jesus were attempts to discredit Him or find just cause to put Him to death. So today we often ignore and disregard their questions. But this question…this question is a great question and deserves our full attention. Regardless of their motives, it is a question that should be allowed to roll over in our gray matter. And I believe the answer says something, not about the nature of the Pharisees, but about us and the very nature of God, Himself.
Sharing a meal in their culture was a very important moment. Meal time was a moment of sharing life with friends or showing hospitality to a stranger. It was deep and intimate, even sacred. Perhaps in our day of take out, eating in front of the TV, families eating in shifts, meals don’t seem to be sacred moments. And the images of the Walton Family around the dinner table are forgotten memories. But when this question was asked, it shows the significance of the dinner table. Why does He eat with tax collectors and sinners, like ME? Who are we to have Jesus share such an important moment? Look at the people who would have been around that table that evening. Better yet, look at ourselves as being at that meal.
I know that I am truly the least deserving of sharing a meal, of eating dinner with Jesus. I fail Him more times than I care to admit. I mess things up. I assume. I forget. I become careless. I surrender to the wrong things. I fail to fight the right things. I am sitting at Levi’s table. And there HE is, passing me the mashed potatoes, smiling at me and my fellow sinners. Laughing at our jokes and telling his own. Why in the world does HE seem to enjoy sitting at the sinners table? I hide it, but inside I’m twinging at the thought that here I am, eating a meal with Pure Holiness, with God Himself. Inside I’m cringing, desperately wanting to run out the door and hide in my shame.
And then I overhear the Pharisees question: “Why does HE eat with tax collectors and sinners, like him (pointing that finger at me)?” Or am I pointing my own finger at me? (Heavy sigh, and some tears right now.) “Why, Jesus, why? Why me? Why now? Can’t you see what a mess I am? I can’t stand to look at myself in the mirror. I am a man of unclean lips! Why are you smiling at me? Why? Why? Why? Quit looking at me with that smile, I’m unfit and worthless. I’m a failure!” But HE keeps on smiling and says, “Would you like some more bread? Here, let me refill that cup.”
More bread? Refill the cup? Me????? Now I really want to run out that door and hide and bitterly cry. I could, I should–I ought to run away now! “Run, Randy, Run!” My hands are shaking as I take the bread. My legs are shaking as I take that cup. Were I to stand up now, I feel like my legs would collapse. So I stay at the sinners table, holding the bread in one hand, the cup in the other, and my eyes locked into the eyes of Jesus. I just don’t understand, why? I am so small, so unfit and unworthy, such a mess. I feel like this failure is final and fatal. Washed up and washed out. But then HE says, “Eat that bread, I know you’re hungry. And that Cup has the finest wine ever. You should taste it. It is really good.”
Could it be true? Does Jesus still care about me? Dare HE forgive me? A fresh start? Is there unfinished business that this sinner needs to do for HIM? I’m still unsure, uncertain when He reaches out and touches my hand with HIS hand. And I see it, clear as day–the Scar! It’s the exact size of those spikes used by Roman Soldiers to nail someone to a Cross. I have to ask, “Jesus, does that scar still hurt?” He keeps on smiling and gently says, “Not anymore. In fact, I’m rather proud of that scar. I have a few more I could show you, but not at the dinner table, Randy. And I’m just as proud of them, too.” Vainly I hold on to my question, “But why? Why Jesus? Why me?”
The smile is gone but the look is serious, like urgent business, like something important needs to be said, MUST be said. His lips begin to move and HE says, “Randy, just eat the bread, son, and drink the wine. It really tastes great. None better, I tell you. If that doesn’t answer your question, then ask ME again.” That scarred hand lifts my hand holding the bread to my mouth as if to say, “It’s OK.” I taste that bread, and tears roll down my cheeks; not tears of shame I had been holding back. They were tears of release. With that same scarred hand, HE guided my hand holding the cup, and I drank.
There was a flood of relief coming over me. Oh, I still had some uncertainties about the future, but I knew those scarred hands were holding me now and would not fail me later. And reality hit me back to the moment; the moment of that question: “Why does HE dine with tax collectors and sinners like Randy?” Those disciples looked terrified. Why don’t they put those Pharisees in their place? I wanted to jump up and shout, “Hey! Why don’t you just ask Jesus? You cowards!” The word cowards being directed at both the disciples and the Pharisees.
But it was like Jesus knew what I was about to do. His hand gently pushed me back into my seat, at the sinners table. HE leaned into me and whispered, “Don’t be so hard on My disciples there. They don’t know what you know. Not yet, but they will, they will. Besides, I’ve got this. And about last week? If you had given your pain over to me, I would have handled it, too. Excuse me for a moment, I need to say something.”
“Guys, you are right. I am here eating with tax collectors and sinners.” His scarred hand now rests on my shoulders, as if to say “Like this one”. He continues talking, every eye in the room on HIM, including mine. What will HE say? “Healthy people don’t need a doctor—sick people do. And these people around this sinners table?” Now HE is looking at me, and smiling again. “Unlike some, they know they are sick. So they have come to the Doctor, all in hope that they could become whole again. Now, if you will excuse me, MY patients are waiting for me and I don’t need to keep them waiting any longer.”
And as for me? I don’t have to ask why anymore. The wonderful taste of that Bread and that Wine are still in me. He IS right, the taste is good, great, and wonderful. I should have trusted Him last week. I was just thinking, “You know, Randy, if you had done that last week you wouldn’t be sitting at the sinners table now.” But, I thought again, “No, I need to be at the sinners table at every meal, because I am still sick and need what this Doctor alone will give me.” Now excuse me, Jesus is about to tell another joke and I do not want to miss a word He says…
In this my personal journey (which I am sharing through this series of blogs) about the influences of what I am calling “cultural bias”, I have already discovered many things that have caused me to question much of what I have been taught, and what I have taught over the decades. I am already questioning the term “christian” as the dominant term to describe people who believe Jesus is the Savior of all (see: Which Is A More Accurate Term: Christian Or Disciple?). Where else has cultural bias, even “Christian Cultural Bias” influenced us, and maybe even changed our true identity and real purpose? So now I address another issue where I see an over-abundance of cultural biases. (Here is the conversation going on in my head…Due to the nature of this mind, viewer discretion is advised. The Spiritually immature, not be be confused with “new believers” may not be able to comprehend these thoughts.)
Me: What does the Bible really say and teach about “the church”? Well, let’s look at what the One whom we are supposed to reveal said about “the church”. Jesus only mentions the word “church” twice. Well, truthfully He never said the word “church”.
Mr. Churchian: “You idiot! You need to be tarred and feathered and run of town! Blasphemer!” (He’s looking for either a torch or a pitchfork….not sure)
Me: Well, as I am fond of saying, “The truth will stand even when the world is on fire.”
Ms. Tenured Pew Sitter: “Now you know the word ‘church’ IS in the Bible. So, Mr. Smartypants, what word did Jesus use if it wasn’t church?”
Me: Oh my, did you ever ask the wrong question. In the Greek…
Ms. Tenured Pew Sitter: “Wait a minute, we’re not talking about the Greek. We’re talking about English, you know, the language Jesus used.”
Me: As I was saying before I was rudely interrupted, the Greek manuscripts use the word ekklēsia. Ekklēsia has been translated as “church” in the Gospels.
Mr. Churchian: “Aha! Proves my point!”
Me: Not so fast, bucko! According to James Strong, in Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance, ekklēsia means “a gathering of citizens called out from their homes into some public place; an assembly”. Joseph Henry Thayer, primary editor of Thayer’s Greek Lexicon says it means an “assembly, company, congregation, multitude”. It is used to describe secular, Jewish and Christian settings. In other words, it can accurately be translated “synagogue” as well, public arena, stadium, or town square would all work in place of the word CHURCH. More than likely, the preferred language of Jesus was Hebrew, the common language, and the Hebrew equivalent is the word qahal, which means assembly or congregation. This is the most likely word Jesus would have used. Remember that the audience of Jesus isn’t 21st Century Americans. His audience is 1st Century Jews.
Mr. Churchian & Ms. Tenured Pew Sitter: (Sitting silently. Their faces are still angry red, but there’s a look of confusion now, finally they break the silence, in unison, of course) Huh?
Me: The Bible was originally translated from Hebrew and Greek into Latin, the “official” language of the Roman CHURCH. A few had attempted to translate some of the Bible from Latin into English…
Mr. Churchian: Look, I showed up to argue with you and prove you wrong, not to hear a history lesson.
Me: I’m getting there, be patient. Now, as I was about to say before I was rudely interrupted, the Bible was not translated into English until John Wycliffe led a group of scholars who rendered the Latin texts into English…
Ms. Tenured Pew Sitter: (frustrated) Get to your point! Enough of this nonsense!
Me: I’m trying but y’all keep interrupting me. As I was about to say, the Bible appeared in the English language, much to the consternation of the Roman CHURCH, around 1382. In fact, after his death, Roman CHURCH authorities exhumed his body and burned it to ashes. That will definitely teach Rev. Wycliffe a lesson, won’t it! Patience please, Mr. Churchian and Ms. Tenured Pew Sitter, stop rolling your eyes at me. I’m getting to my point.
Ms. Tenured Pew Sitter: Well it’s about time!
Me: As I was saying before I was rudely interrupted, again, it was the Wycliffe Bible translation that first used the word “church”. Wycliffe wanted fellow Catholics to be able to hear and read the Bible in their own language. His concern was not necessarily about rendering the best meaning of those original words; just getting them into the language of ordinary women and men was the goal.
Mr. Churchian: Now are you ready to repent, you blasphemous sinner? The word is CHURCH! Hey, anybody seen my torch? Get my pitchfork while you’re at it!
Me: (Sigh…….) Well, overlooking that last interruption, Wycliffe and his crew chose the English word “church” when translating the original word ekklēsia. However this is a translation from Latin to English, not from Greek into English. John Hus promoted this idea of the “common” language to the point, and he was burned at the stake by the Roman CHURCH. An interesting side-note: they used a copy of the Wycliffe Bible to start that fire. Surely by now Wycliffe has learned his lesson. But in 1526, William Tyndale and his team published the first New Testament that was taken entirely from the Greek texts. And…
Ms. Tenured Pew Sitter: (Angrily) Get to the point! I need to be dusting the covers on all my King James Version Bibles!
Me: (Now I’m rolling my eyes AND sighing) And for the Greek word…
Mr. Churchian: I still don’t know what the Greek has to do with it (while shaking his head in disgust)! It’s all Greek to me!
Me: And for the Greek word ekklēsia, Tyndale and his crew translated it congregation. Truthfully, the word they used was congregacion, which was the way they spelled “congregation” back then. The word “congregation” fits both the Greek word AND the Hebrew word. When the Roman CHURCH set out to put the Bible together, they selected Latin as their OFFICIAL language. No problem there–but…there isn’t a Latin word for ekklēsia so they opted for the word circulous which is translated either “circle” or “circus”. It was chosen because in their culture, gatherings or congregating, happened in, you guessed it–CIRCLES! Circle or circus (which the latter is a better fit for many congregations today in the U.S.) became the English word CHURCH.
Me: (Amazed I haven’t been interrupted again) NOW my first major point: The Latin word circulous and the Greek word ekklēsia, have 2 diametrical meanings. Excuse me and forgive me Mr. Churchian and Ms. Tenured Pew Sitter, I was so caught up in this moment I may have used a word that you may not understand–diametrical. It means one thing is completely different from another thing.
Me (continuing without interruption, PTL!): Circulous refers to the actions and activities of people. Ekklēsia refers to the action and activities of the One who does the calling out. Circulous/Circus/Church focuses on the people–they are the “star” attraction (sorry, I couldn’t let that one slip by me–the circus reference about the church). The Ekklēsia focuses on God who calls us out from the world to be visible assembly of–you guessed it–Jesus Christ.
(This conversation will continue in the next edition. And remember–Love God with all your heart. Love others the way Jesus loves you. And make sure all the glory goes to Him!)