LOOK WHO’S TALKING!

Question for you this morning: Do we speak for the Bible or does the Bible speak for us? No, it’s not the same thing! Folks, believe this or not, it doesn’t matter one single iota! The church today has a serious problem–when it comes to the answer of this question. In my own Tribe, the United Methodist Tribe, the given answer by leadership is literally ripping us apart. But before you Baptists gloat over our split, look at the beam sticking out of your own eye. And this isn’t just a 21st Century problem. It’s plagued the history of The Body Of Christ. The disease is speaking for the Bible rather than the Bible speaking for us–and thus–to us!

It was even a problem back when Jesus walked this earth as one of us. The Pharisees and Sadducces saw their job was to speak for The Word Of God. They thought it was their job description–but it wasn’t. And today, it isn’t in anyone’s job description to speak for the Bible. In my own Tribe we have those who are doing just that. Speaking FOR the Bible means it’s up to us to determine what it means and how it applies to daily life! Mishegas! Oy vey, nosh, klutz! It’s pure schlock! Pure bupkis! I love Yiddish words and phrases. Here’s some examples of speaking for the Bible.

  • Torturing and killing anyone NOT a “christian”–by their definition
  • Judging others based solely on their race
  • Justification of slavery
  • Making women as second class citizens by saying they can’t do certain things
  • Jesus only died for certain people (predestination)
  • The blood of Jesus wipes away every sin and gives us all a new beginning–except when it comes to divorce
  • Jesus came to show us how to love, so this eliminates the long-standing sexual ethic, so it’s OK to be how you feel, sexually speaking

On that last example–Oy, Oy Vey, Oy Gevalt! It’s Dreck! Our Tribal leaders feel it is their job description (remember how Jesus felt about the Pharisees and Sadducces?) to tell the world that the tried and proven sexual ethic from the Bible is outdated. It takes an enlightened person, like them, to straighten out what the Bible got wrong. And if we don’t agree with them, then we’re mean, ugly, phobic, and hateful. What a bunch of schmucks!

Using The Wrong Specifications

Image from Dreamstime.com

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

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

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

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

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

Caught Up!

This morning my thoughts, like at the start of the Boston Marathon, are running together in a certain direction. How odd, I know! It’s a leftover from last night’s devotional reading. It’s a book titled Nobody Left Out: Jesus Meets The Messes by Michael Murray. The line from last night’s reading is this:

When we insist we have all the answers, we miss out on what God is doing.

I guess I should be a good Bible Scholar and give the context of these words. Michael is using the story of when Jesus healed the man born blind (see John chapter 9). Jesus did this on the Sabbath. I think Jesus loved to heal on the Sabbath just to raise the hackles of those Pharisees. They were such an easy target! Anywho, some people trying to earn brownie points with the Pharisees took this man who had never seen anything in his life, but now sees everything with clarity, to the Killjoys–a.k.a. Pharisees!

Two paragraphs earlier, Michael wrote:

“The Pharisees were so caught up in the knowledge of God that they missed the joy of God. They couldn’t (or wouldn’t) acknowledge the beautiful thing Jesus did for this man. (emphasis mine)

And this morning I kept thinking: “Wow! We still have Pharisees today! And some people still think Jesus doesn’t know what we go through!” Pharisees prided themselves on their knowledge about The Word of God. No doubt, few if any, knew more about those “words” than they did. But all they knew were words–they did not know the heart of the Giver of The Words! Had Jeopardy been around back then, they would have been in the Hall of Champtions!

People who focus on their knowledge of The Bible spread across the entire theological spectrum–from (no-fun) fundamentalists to (aggressive) progressives, and all points in between. There are still Pharisees who use their knowledge about the Bible to, as Michael puts it in his book: steamroll others! How sad it is to be so focused on knowledge–that one misses the heart of God. I would rather spend a day talking with some reprobate than spend a single minute with some Killjoy Pharisee.

Don’t spend you time learning the correct answer but spend your time leaning into the ONE who loves guiding us into the only way of life where we can see with clarity rather than being full of erudition.

What’s Your Sign?

Sign, sign
Everywhere a sign
Blockin’ out the scenery
Breakin’ my mind
Do this, don’t do that
Can’t you read the sign?

“Signs” performed by Five Man Electrical Band, written by Arthur Thomas

If you were not singing along with the above lyrics, you are NOT a part of the best and coolest generation ever! Yep! I’m thinking about signs today–and the messages they disclose. When I’m on my motorcycle, I absolutely LOVE this next sign! As I recently posted on Facebook, sometimes you need a really crooked road to get your head straight!

There are more signs that just highway signs. Signs of summer:

Signs of fall:

Signs of winter:

And the ever popular signs of Spring:

But I am aberrating. There’s a road sign I’ve seen a few times, and today I started thinking about that sign. Can I be honest with you? It’s a sign that bemuses, bewilders, and stupefies me. And here it is:

I realize that a lot of churches are indeed slow, but I wonder what are the qualifications to receive such a designation? If I was the pastor of the church that had this sign–I would seek a new appointment. If I was a member, I would insist that the highway department take it down immediately. I mean, who wants to lead or attend a slow church? Apparently, there’s a lot who will fit the bill.

I call them Tenured Pew Sitters. The church has been SLOW to realize it doesn’t exist to serve it’s members. The church has been SLOW to accept people who don’t dress, think, or vote like them as people who need God’s grace. The church has been SLOW understanding that our story isn’t the story about the church, but the Saga Of The Kingdom Of God. The church has been SLOW recognizing the it isn’t a building but supposed to be a people.

It seems the church has been SLOW in responding the Great Heresy Of The 21st Century–that of progressive theology. This started back in the 1960’s. Yet Churchians and Tenured Pew Sitters refused to believe it would ever gain traction. So…they remained silent.

And now it threatens to ripe apart the fabric of many churches. It’s a theology that depends and relies on human intellect and logic. And that is a train wreck about to happen, the likes of which have never been seen before. In it’s carnage will be victims of both sides–you see falsehood and heresy doesn’t care who it hurts–it will even hurt it’s most ardent supporters. The wake that will be left by progressivism will be a bloody mess of anger, doubt, fear, and broken spirits.

Slowness is killing the church in the U.S. of A. Elsewhere in the world, where the church isn’t SLOW, the Body Of Christ is Alive, Vibrant, and bringing new citizens into the Kingdom of God. Perhaps in the U.S., they should change words to a familiar hymn: Like a little snail, move the U.S. Church. But that’s just how I feel.

7 Things God Finds Disgusting: A Heart That Plots Evil

16 There are six things the Lord hates—
    no, seven things he detests:
18 a heart that plots evil,

Proverbs 6:16, 18 NLT

Today’s disgusting thing to God is a heart that plots evil. And this is one that most folks say is easily identifiable–in others. Isn’t it amazing that it is so easy to identify evil in others–but fail to see it in ourselves? I remember what a friend, Ronnie Wicks once said in a small group: “My sin is not as bad as your sin.” Ronnie wasn’t being self-righteous–simply stating the attitude that so many Churchians and Tenured Pew Sitters have.

Have you ever taken one of those surveys that asks you to rate your experience? People tend to follow that same format when looking (which is a polite way of saying judging) at others. We rate them on this scale: Very Good (which are those folks who go the extra mile to be good)–Good (which is simply another word for mediocre)–Bad (typically those who aren’t like you)–and Evil (this is the elite of the Bad who do unspeakable things). And most folks would never see themselves as Evil.

We don’t like that word Evil; it’s rarely used nowadays, and it’s used to describe something out there. But Solomon is very clear that Evil exists–and it exists in the human heart. There are 2 words Solomon uses: machăshâbâh and ‘āven. Machăshâbâh is a contrivance–which is a ruse or scheme. āven is used for the word Evil or Iniquity. But here’s something interesting about that word–the proper meaning is to pant, to exert oneself, usually in vain; to come to naught.

What’s my point? Here’s my point. Evil is everything we do to avoid living under God’s rule–the way we are created to live. It’s the plans, schemes, devices, the machinations (another strong word) we conspire with to avoid the life, the only life we need. There is no difference between bad and evil. Rebelling against God, choosing our own way–is simply Evil.

Now, let’s get back to that word machăshâbâh. Remember that its proper meaning is to pant, to exert oneself, usually in vain; to come to naught. Whatever we do that fails to produce the life of holiness, as God designed it–all the different spins we put on The Gospel to justify ourselves and our views–are only exertions of our imaginations that leave us exhausted and produces nothing!

There is not difference between Bad and Evil. Exerting our own ways over God’s way is Evil–and God finds this Disgusting!

Time To Turn The Collars Around, Or So It Seems

This post may be offensive to pastors, but please read the entire post before making up your mind about me

A text message this morning got me to thinking. My thinking went way back in time–October 1974 to be exact. This was when I was appointed to serve 2 small congregations while I pursued licensing as a pastor at the ripe old age of 18 years old. I mention this because we all know that beginning at 18, we tend to be full of vim and vigor; or was the vim and vinegar? Come to think of it, the latter is more true for me than I want to admit. My thinking moved forward through all the years I served as a pastor all the way to right now.

And now? I have less vim, but at times, a whole lot more vinegar. If you have followed me here on this blog, you know it’s true. And you may wonder who is about the become the object of my vinegary thoughts. It is my profession–“the” pastor. I was trained in the classical model of “The Professional Pastor”. I had someone whom I thought was a colleague, tell me once after I made the decision to remain in serving small and medium churches as what we call a “Local Pastor”, “You really need to become one of us.” His poke was that until one was an ordained elder in the UMC, they weren’t really pastors. By the way, I was eventually ordained, but not to be “one of them”.

The text message from this morning, well, it brought me under conviction of the Holy Spirit. Stay with me a moment, especially if you are a pastor. And really hang in with me if you are studying to become a pastor. In reflecting over these past 46 plus years, one picture stands clear to me. The church in the U.S. has been in a steady decline; almost to the stage of an avalanche. There have been all kinds of explanations, even justifications (even though we can never justify decline) for this event. But the biggest thing is the placing of blame on this state of disgrace.

I realize that some of this decline is caused by Churchians and Tenured Pew Sitters who vainly think the local church exists for them–and who fight tooth and nail to keep their control. But from my perspective–we pastors share the major share of the blame. We were trained to be professionals rather than authentic people who are to be servant leaders. I remember an incident at my previous appointment. After a funeral in my first year, the family was gathered for a meal in the church fellowship hall. I noticed the tea glasses, water glasses, and coffee cups were nearly empty. Well, I proceeded to go to each table refilling their beverage of choice. One of the church members mentioned, “This is our new pastor.” and the response was obviously one of shock when she said, “Oh, really?” To my fellow pastors–if you expect church folks to do things you are unwilling to do or think it is beneath your training, then you’re in the wrong place.

I am convinced that Professionally Trained Pastors are the Achilles Heel of the U.S. Church. It did not happen overnight–it took centuries for this to develop and in 2021, we are reaping the harvest of this with declining congregations. When I began this journey, I thought my job was to herd them up and get them moving in the right direction under MY leadership. What I discovered was that this model was more like herding cats. So I started looking for a different model to emulate. Here’s what I noticed over the past 4 decades plus of noticing.

  • The Underachiever Model. This is the pastor who really doesn’t care about the flock, just the paycheck, and the next church.
  • The Don’t Rock The Boat Model. This pastor is focused on survival–their own and that of their family. These fear confrontation–and as such, cannot guide the church to where it needs to be.
  • Then on the opposite end is The Dynamite Model. I do not mean as in dynamic–but dynamite, C-4 explosives, and the like. They are convinced that their job is to correct the problems that they see as the real problems. Their definition of “real” problems are typically about 7 bubbles off plumb. They do catastrophic damage to a congregation and leaves the damage behind for the next pastor to deal with. And you can always count on The Dynamite Model to leave a few unexploded devices behind which will explode at the worst possible moment.
  • The One Issue Model. This pastor has defined the one issue that a church needs to address even before they arrive. They are convinced that their own wisdom knows which issue the church MUST address.
  • The Goodyear Blimp Model. I’m not talking about their physical size. It’s the size of their ego. It is large and very inflated. They want the church to know that they have the latest Rock Star Pastor. I once listened to a mega-church’s podcast of a worship service. Truthfully, I only listened for about 3 minutes. The person who was going to bring God’s word opened up that “their” pastor and wife would be back next week. And she said, “Let’s give a hand to Pastor ________ and his wife _______ and let them know how much we missed them. I changed to another podcast–it was about herding cats.
  • And last but by no means least, The Control Freak Model. Churches are not churches without them. Instead of checking the pulse of the congregation, they are putting the thumb down on folks. Nothing can be done without their permission. If something is done without their permission? Forget that adage that says it is easier to ask for forgiveness after the fact rather than seek permission first. Obviously, whoever came up with that adage never had to deal with The Control Freak Pastor. They make Kim Jong-un look like the second coming of George Washington.

Why do I say that The Professional Pastor the primary cause of church decline? I look at the first Models of the church. There was leadership, trained leadership–but that leadership did not get in the way of the church reaching thousands and thousands of people. Oh, for sure, when a local church lost its sense of its true mission, someone was there to set the record straight. And then turned them loose to be The Body Of Christ. No one had to ask permission to lift up the name of Jesus. No one had to ask approval to feed the hungry, take care of the widows and orphans, and bear witness to Jesus and the power of the Cross to save. No one waited for some Professional Pastor to do the work.

There is another Model, a Model that the U.S. church in particular needs today. I would call us The Pastor Model. This pastor guides the congregation into a deeper relationship with Jesus, first and foremost. Then The Pastor Model challenges and equips the Congregation to BE the Body of Christ. And when the Congregation wants to be that Body–he or she gives them PERMISSION to be the Body Of Christ. The congregation doesn’t have to ask The Pastor Model for permission to do anything that lifts up the name of Jesus–and lifts up the least, the last, and the lost. In recent years, when someone comes to me and asks, “Is it OK with you if I do this, that, or the other?”, my response now is: “If it exalts Jesus, if the honors God and the Holy Spirit, if it touches the least, the last, or the lost, then know you have God’s permission and that’s good enough. Now, can I help you or do I just need to stay out of the way?”

In my tribe, only Ordained Pastors can administer the sacraments–as if we are somehow more holy than anyone else. Local pastors can administer the sacraments ONLY in the church they serve. The irony of my tribe is that it also professes the power and importance of the priesthood of all believers. I guess all doesn’t mean all. Before this pandemic hit, there was a significant rise in the number of House Churches. These are homes where people are hungry for a deeper relationship with Jesus, a connection with other Followers, and believe that the Kingdom Of God is needed in their neighborhoods, towns, cities, communities, states, and nation.

To my fellow Pastors, encourage your congregations. Inspire your people given to your care (not your dictatorship)! Don’t be afraid to give them permission to be who God calls them to be, The Body Of Christ. Support them in what they do. Help them but only when asked. Praise them when they look like Jesus. And if they get off-mission–gently take them aside and remind them who WE BOTH serve. You can’t build someone up (remember Ephesians 4:11-12) if you constantly tear them down, or worse, never give them the opportunity to do the real work of Jesus Christ.

If some pastor (or Churchian or Tenured Pewsitter) is upset with me, understand I will soon be 65, closer to the moment I stand before my Judge. The last thing I want to be held accountable for is my failure to speak the truth in love. So if you are offended–it is what it is. I still love you and my prayer for you is that your heart, mind, and eyes will be opened to the Mission God has called us to do.

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

Monday Musings: The Joy And Laughter They Must Have Had–And Still Have

This morning as I was sitting on the patio, enjoying the last 2 days of this holy respite at Millsite Lake, I had another Musing. This time with family has always been a time to rest and recharge the old batteries. As I was looking across the calm lake, seeing the reflections of the stars on the surface, I looked up at those stars; as I did I told Heavenly Daddy, “Wow! What joy y’all must have had as you created this universe!”

And I meant it! I started imagining the joy the 3 of Them had as they unfolded their heart and mind in creation! Yes, I believe in Intelligent Design! I don’t have enough faith to think this wondrous universe just sorta happened by accident. It would take a lot of faith to believe in the big bang because it doesn’t make any sense to think everything I see is the result of “it just so happened that” kind of thinking.

And as I imagined that scene, the 3 of Them in Perfect Collaboration, creating this Wonder, I saw them smiling, laughing with joy; patting each other on the back and saying to each other, “You did real good with that one” And in that moment, I joined in with their smiling and joyful laughter. And then I realized something that brought me back down to earth. Here’s that thought: “So many people do not see the joy of God; they only see a god of anger and judgment.”

And I’m looking up at all those stars, knowing there were unfathomable more stars out there that I couldn’t see because of the lights from nearby cities wondering, “How in the world can people not see how great a joy that Daddy, Jesus and Spirit have for them? How do they NOT hear the joyful laughter of God?” And in an instant I had the answer to those 2 questions: “They have not seen or experience this because the typical image produced by the typical church hasn’t given them this view.”

Churchians and Tenured Pew Sitters paint not an imperfect picture of God (because none of us are capable of painting that perfect picture–if you can then your god is way too small)–they paint a distorted picture of God. They paint a Salvador Dali or abstract art type of picture of God. Recently in one of my messages I said, “If we go into a church service looking like we’re mad at the world and leave looking like we are relieved the service is over, no wonder people want nothing to do with our God.”

Not long ago, I had the holy moment to talk with a “Done”. If you are unfamiliar with the term “Done” (what rock have you been hiding under?), “Dones” are those who haven’t turned their back on Jesus, but they are “DONE” with the church; finished with it; fed up with it; exhausted from it. This person explained to me they dropped out of church because of the judgmental attitudes of that particular church (not the ones I currently serve, thank you, Jesus). This explains why at times I loathe the terms “church” and “christian” to describe the movement that I have given my heart, mind and life to.

We, as Disciples And Followers of Jesus (I prefer this term to the word “christian”) need to reclaim the Joyful Laughter Of God. Isn’t this what Jesus meant in this story:

“Suppose one of you had a hundred sheep and lost one. Wouldn’t you leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the lost one until you found it? When found, you can be sure you would put it across your shoulders, rejoicing, and when you got home call in your friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Celebrate with me! I’ve found my lost sheep!’ Count on it—there’s more joy in heaven over one sinner’s rescued life than over ninety-nine good people in no need of rescue.”

Luke 15:4-7 The Message

There is coming a moment when God will bring everything we now see and know to an end–and bring about The Everlasting And Eternal Kingdom. We call this The Great Wedding Banquet. Do you think this scene will be like some formal dinning event like in The Hampton’s or with the Rockefeller Family, where people are sitting politely and subdued?

There is going to be “Great Rejoicing”, UNRESTRAINED JOY when it happens. And here’s the Great News–WE DON’T HAVE TO WAIT TO EXPERIENCE THAT KIND OF UNSHACKLED AND UNCONTROLLABLE JOYFUL LAUGHTER! It’s out there–the reason for it–it’s all around us–the JOYFUL LAUGHTER OF GOD. It is heard when you marvel at His Creation rather than looking with disgust at the culture. You can hear it every time another miracle happens. It’s the loudest every time a person surrenders and submits to His Grace and discovers that both the guilt and power of sin over them is taken away.

So, Love God with all your heart. Love others the way Jesus loves you. Make sure all the glory goes to HIM…and join in the laughter of Daddy, Jesus, And The Spirit!

Really, What Is All This About?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Luke 4:16-21 (NLT)

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

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

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

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

The Inconvenient Jesus

Being “in the country” means sometimes you have to go the distance to find what you are looking for. Now, understand that I model the example of buying locally as much as possible. But sometimes . . . you have to go the distance. We frequently have to go north of here to see some of our doctors, and most importantly, to go see Dad. In one of these paths I inevitably have to stop at this particular convenience store; “have to” being the operative word.

You see, I have an enormous love for coffee, and I have to take a little “fluid pill” prescribed by my doctor to help with my blood pressure. Well, if you love coffee and have to take one of those demon pills–then you understand why I “have to” stop there. And out of respect for that business owner, I do purchase something for the convenience of their restroom. Now, to my gripe.

The first time I stopped there, I was in shock. This is a southern convenience store and to my horror and deep disappointment, they were no where to be seen. My heart sank and a gloomy cloud formed over my mind. My heart and mind were set on, and wanted one of these southern delicacies:

How dare them consider themselves a southern convenience store and NOT sell Little Debbie products. It’s immoral and should be illegal for a southern convenience store shelves to be bare of Little Debbie snacks! It’s the preferred snack of Coach Nick Saban! This alone should be enough of a mandate to carry them. I shouldn’t stop there; I wouldn’t stop there–if it weren’t for my love of coffee and that little demon pill. So, I stop there nearly every time because it creates an inconvenience if I don’t! What’s all this ranting have to do with the Kingdom? What’s the lesson in this? Glad you asked . . .

The influence of the Kingdom of God is waning and even sickly in the U.S.  This sickness did not happen overnight–but through a process over the last several decades.  It happened as Tenured Pew Sitters began longing for a ‘More Convenient’ Jesus; a Jesus that is comfortable with what they are comfortable with; a Jesus who does not challenge their views; and most of all, A Jesus That Serves Their Desire To Be The Consumer Of Rather Than The Producers Of The Kingdom Life.

And this desire for a ‘More Convenient’ Jesus by the Tenured Pew Sitters has produced a new variety of people who have diluted The Message of The Kingdom.  They proudly label themselves as Progressives.  They, too, want a ‘More Convenient’ Jesus.  They want a Jesus that neither challenges nor inspires them to the life of Transforming Grace.  But rather than being consumers like the Tenured Pew Sitters, they are producers of a message that Jesus is all love, and as such, requires nothing to change in us except that we love, and that is all.  It’s not considered ‘loving’ to embrace the Christian-Judaeo morals and values–but being mean, ugly and unreasonable.  Cover immorality over with love and instantly it’s no longer immoral.  ‘Convenient Jesus’ does not mention sin–but angrily points the finger at any who disagree with their ‘Convenient Jesus’.

But here’s the thing:  ‘Convenient Jesus’ doesn’t exist–never has–never will.  Whether one is of the ilk of Tenured Pew Sitters or the ilk of Progressives, Jesus is anything but convenient.  Allow me to explain with some examples from the Real Jesus:

  • When the woman caught in the act of adultery was dragged before Jesus: (John 8:10-11) Then Jesus stood up again and said to the woman, “Where are your accusers? Didn’t even one of them condemn you?”  “No, Lord,” she said.  And Jesus said, “Neither do I. Go and sin no more.”  Giving up what makes one feel good, well that’s inconvenient.
  • When someone wanted to follow Jesus, but wanted first to bury his father: (Luke 9:60) But Jesus told him, “Let the spiritually dead bury their own dead! Your duty is to go and preach about the Kingdom of God.”  Jesus doesn’t want to fit into your schedule; that doesn’t sound convenient.
  • When Jesus told the disciples of him impending death He called out to the crowd: (Luke 9:23)   Then he said to the crowd, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must give up your own way, take up your cross daily, and follow me.”  Life from a cross doesn’t sound convenient.  (OK 1 more in case you missed the point)
  • When James and John wanted the places of honor:  (Matthew 20:26-27) But among you it will be different. Whoever wants to be a leader among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first among you must become your slave.”Being a servant and a slave doesn’t fit into the sin-tainted game plan.

Convenience is the desire of the old heart and the old life.  It is also the lie from Satan.  Jesus came to create inconvenience in us so that we can be set free from the bondage of sin.  Jesus did not come in our human form to make our lives easy–rather He came in human form to make our lives full and complete.  And sometimes . . . well it is inconvenient.  But don’t stress out–He promises to be with us to guide and empower us to the only life that really matters.  The life God created for us–not the life we designed for ourselves.

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

Statistical Christianity

Well, it’s the day after the Fourth of July, and I’m on a rant. Go figure. Maybe it’s seeing on Facebook all those who allege they are Christians going all patriotic, ranting against Kap and Nike. singing God Bless America. Some seem to “up their game” when it comes to achieving the status of being a “Patriotic Christian”. Patriotic Christian? Really? But that’s a rant for another day.

Today I’m ranting against “Statistical Christianity”. I’m not talking about Barna or Pew Research. I’m talking about those who use statistics as proof of their beliefs–why they are right and I am wrong. Maybe I should give you my definition of Statistical Christianity:

Statistical Christianity is defining what it means to be a Christian by the numbers, rather than the truth.

Randy Burbank

Statistical Christianity has two branches. One branch is occupied by the Tenured Pew Sitters. They look at the past and try to build the future based on what they used to do. They look at the numbers back then, and in an act of ultimate futility, insist that it can be that way again IF we just replicate what we did then. For this branch, it’s all about 3 things: the building; their personal preferences dressed up in the clothes of tradition; and the most important part of all: DEMOCRACY! Every decision should be made based on the vote of the majority–and they make sure that their governing boards are stacked with people who think like they do. It’s about the numbers!

The second branch is occupied by “The Allegedly Enlightened”. The Allegedly Enlightened Branch looks to the culture to define what it means to follow Jesus. It is a life based on assumptions, presumptions, feelings, and sincere personal beliefs. Oh, and don’t forget THE NUMBERS. Mark Holland is proud to point this out in his blog 76% of US Annual Conferences Reject Traditional Plan. Mark bears witness to something I learned way back in college days when taking Statistical Math: 92.5874685% of all statistics are made up on the spot with a 99.99 percent margin of error.

The Allegedly Enlightened have the Numbers on the assumptions, presumptions, feelings and sincere personal beliefs to back up their claims. This Branch of Statistical Christianity wants us to allow the views, feelings, and emotions of culture define the Body of Christ. Public Opinion, be it a majority or minority, trumps anything else provided our personal experiences and feelings bear them out as truth.

And so we see it: The Tenured Pew Sitters Branch and the Allegedly Enlightened Branch stand across from each other shouting derogatory remarks at each other, while the rest of the world (statistically speaking they are the true majority) shakes its head and says, “If this is what being a Christian is about, thanks but NO THANKS!”

I close with this:

Excuse me for a moment. Statistically speaking, I need another cup of coffee…..

Was Shakespeare Right?

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

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

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

The Church Of We’re Better Than You

Where the Mission is to develop our sense of moral superiority

 

The Church Of The Sanctimonious

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

 

The Church Of The Judges

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

 

The Church Of The Preacher

Providing The Best Preacher Out There For Your Entertainment

 

The Church Of The Comfortable

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

 

The Church Of Wearing The Sunday Best

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

 

The Church Of The Culture

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

 

The Guilt-Free Church

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

 

The Church Of The Circle

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

 

The Cookie Cutter Church

Working with all our energy to make you just like us

 

The Church Of The 50’s

Faithfully Doing What The Church Used To Do

The Church Of The Professionals

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

The Church Of Apathy

Who cares about mission and mission statements

 

The Church Of YOU

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

 

The Church Of God Wants You Wealthy!

Providing live feed from Joel Osteen every week

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

Heaven–You Can’t Get There From Here! Part 5

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:

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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:

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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.

Slide21Well, 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.

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

 

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

Slide18

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

Slide19

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

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

That’s it for today.  Review your notes for THE Final Exam.  And remember…love God with all your heart.  Love others the way HE loves you.  And make sure ALL the glory goes to Him.  See you tomorrow and maybe the next plan will help.

 

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

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

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

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

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

Slide16

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

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

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

Slide17

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

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

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

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

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

Slide14

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

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

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

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

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

Heaven—You Can’t Get There From Here! Part 1

Slide1

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.

Slide3

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. 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?”

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!

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 “The Church”

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What’s A Martyr?

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We urgently need more martyrs today!  Can you imagine the revival that would happen in the U.S. if “Comfortable Christians”, Tenured Pew Sitters, Churchians and others who are more focused on their little piece of the church than the Kingdom of God would embrace J.D.’s challenge?

Top 10 Symptoms Of The Tenured Pew Sitter

I owe this blog to a challenge from Dawn at Inspiration with an Attitude.  It’s one of many blogs that I follow and if you’re not following her, you might want to.  I say this because if I offend someone with this blog, blame Dawn.  She responded to an earlier blog, Seeds Live Truthfully with the challenge to do a follow-up with the symptoms of The Tenured Pew Sitter.  Even at 61, the competitor in me still likes a good challenge.

I don’t know exactly how I formed this phrase, I think it was inspired from reading another blogger, See, there’s this thing called biology (you might want to check insanitybytes out, too. Some more good stuff!).  She coined a word “Churchians” and from that, I would like to think I was inspired by the Holy Spirit.  So, I started using the phrase “Tenured Pew Sitters”.  So to answer the challenge from Dawn, here goes from Number 10 to Number 1:

10.  A Love For The Bible That Does Not Include The Application

For the Tenured Pew Sitters the goal is information.  The more information one has, the better person they become.  The problem is that the Bible is not given to us for information, rather transformation.

9.  Trapped In The Past

They see the height of the church being in the 1950’s, 60’s and 70’s.  If church leaders would just do what they did back then, the result would be church growth.  If we were living in the same “Christian” culture as back then it would work.  But we aren’t and it won’t.  There is a reason why this era is called the “Post Christian” culture.  The values of Jesus are no longer the primary values of society.  They insist that we must go back and do what we used to do, and be.  If you always do what you’ve always done, then you will always be what you’ve always been.

8.  Religion Replaces Relationship

Tenured Pew Sitters focus on the external rather than the internal.  It is all about “the show”.  The rich traditions and liturgy that once inspired a previous generation to know and love God more deeply, are now sacred cows to be protected at all costs; even at the cost of a local church dying.  It is the desire for form over substance.  John Wesley wrote near the end of his life that he never doubted that there would ever cease to be a people known as Methodists.  But his greatest fear was that they have the form of godliness but without the power of the Holy Spirit.

7.  They Are The Ultimate Image Of A Christian.

Therefore, everyone else must conform to their image.  If anyone is to be a part of “their” church, then they must agree with them.  They see themselves on the “path” and everyone else is either a trouble-maker or a “well bless their little hearts”.  You have to be a Southerner to know what “well bless their little hearts” means.

6.  Power Over Purpose

It’s not the “power” you are thinking about.  It’s not about the power of the local church, but about holding power OVER the local church.  They do this in a variety of ways:  being on the right committees; being vocally abusive even in a nice kind of way.  More important for them is the power of the Offering Plate.  They see it as the ballot box–of approving or disapproving of the mission of the church.  They care more about the weight of their power than the true purpose for the Body of Christ.

5.  Heightened Sense Of Self Importance

The Tenured Pew Sitter sees themselves as the source of all wisdom.  Some will actually say that the church cannot survive without them and their support.  This is another way of saying they have a serious ego problem, not that different from the Pharisees and Sadducees of Jesus’ day.

4.  It’s All About What Happens In Here

There is no sense of mission, except to send money somewhere far, far away.  Supporting foreign mission projects becomes a way to ease the conscience of the Tenured Pew Sitter.  The bulk of the budget must be spent on what happens INSIDE the church building.

3.  A Deep Seated Desire To Judge

The Tenured Pew Sitter thinks of themselves as a “fruit” inspector.  What they really are is a bulldozer; quick to run anyone down they see as a threat to their power and/or their comfort.  They think that the Lord helps those who can help themselves; and only the worthy deserve any help.

2.  An Obvious Absence Of Deep Joy

The Tenured Pew Sitter has “that” expression, on their face and in their words.  “That” expression is what I call “The Painfully Pious” look.  Imagine this:  Chewing on a lemon rind on one side of your mouth and a green persimmon on the other.  Try it if you would like and look at yourself in the mirror.  I wouldn’t recommend it; just trust me on this one.

1.  The Local Church Exists For Them.

 They see the local church as a producer of goods and services for them, the consumer.  For the Tenured Pew Sitter, for “church” to be “church” then it must offer things that appeal to them first and foremost.

Well Dawn, I hope this gives you my insights.  Anyone else out there have other insights into The Tenured Pew Sitter?  Feel free to add them below in the comments section.