The Missing Word Today

What would happen here in the good old U.S. of A. if WE, who profess to be followers of Jesus, gave up agendas and made an all out commitment to being TOGETHER?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

and were constantly united in prayer

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

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

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

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

Feel free to answer this question in the comments section. I would love to hear what you believe would happen IF we were really TOGETHER. And remember to love God with all your heart. Love others the way Jesus loves you. And make sure all the glory goes to Him!

The Gethsemane Life

The is NO Glory without THE SUFFERING. This was true for Jesus, and it is true for US!

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Welcome to my next edition on the Book of Acts. If you haven’t read my first one on Acts, then you need to read it here. I’m looking for those nuances and truths that I may have missed. And here’s my second observation. It is in Acts 1, verses 11 and 12

“Men of Galilee,” they said, “why are you standing here staring into heaven? Jesus has been taken from you into heaven, but someday he will return from heaven in the same way you saw him go!” Then the apostles returned to Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives, a distance of half a mile. 

Did you see it? I confess I’ve seen it before, but I never really paid attention to it. I suddenly realized the importance of verse 12 and I’m putting myself in time-out for not understanding the importance of THE PLACE! I would like to think that I am like so many that simply focus on the BIG event–The Ascension–and think the rest of the story isn’t important. I was wrong, and so are you if you think that way.

Why is the place, the Mount of Olives so important? I’m so glad you asked that question. Go back 55 days from the Ascension. It’s nighttime. Jesus has just celebrated Passover with the Disciples. But this time there were new words and new meaning. They left the supper table and went, where? The Mount of Olives. Good class, I’m glad you remembered. And where did Jesus go when they arrived at the Mount of Olives? It said He went to the Garden of Gethsemane. Great, class! You really know your stuff.

Now, before I ask you what did Jesus do in the Garden of Gethsemane, do you know the meaning of that word “Gethsemane”? It means “oil press”. If you got the correct answer, consider it a bonus point on the test. Most folks I’ve found do not know this. Every, I mean EVERY olive grove had a gethsemane. It’s where the olives would be squeezed and pressed for its true purpose–to produce olive oil.

Now, the next question, and this counts on the test. What did Jesus begin doing? Did you answer “Pray”? If that’s your answer, you missed the question. It was at the Oil Press that Jesus began His suffering. In the magical world of theological terminology, the word is “The Passion” begins. His suffering didn’t begin on the Cross, in the court of Pilate, or in that Roman Garrison courtyard, or at the place of the Mock Trial of the Sanhedrin. It started BEFORE He was arrested.

Only 3 people were privy to those moments: James, John and Peter. Read the account from the historian Luke in Luke chapter 22 verses 39-46. His suffering there was for each and every one of us. Without His suffering we would be without any hope. And here’s my Epiphany Moment: At the place His Suffering began for our redemption and transformation, the Mount of Olives, is where those disciples saw the Glory of Jesus.

Now, here’s the lesson: The is NO Glory without THE SUFFERING. This was true for Jesus, and it is true for US! But, alas, (insert very heavy sigh, here) we want the Glory but sans the suffering. If Jesus teaches us ANYTHING, it’s that without the Suffering there is no Glory.

We don’t suffer the way Jesus suffered. Jesus’ suffering was unique–to pay the penalty of our sins. But suffering is inevitably a part of following Jesus. In the desire to miss our suffering, we opt-in for Comfort and Convenience. When you opt-in for Comfort and Convenience, you opt-out of the Glory. Suffering means the same thing it meant for Jesus–Giving up Comfort And Convenience for something much bigger.

Have you given up your comfort? Your conveniences? The easy way? If not, you will miss out on the glory. Jesus gave up the Comfort of Heaven for the womb of Mary. Jesus gave up the conveniences of His Eternal Nature being adored and worshipped, for a dirty diaper. The One who spoke creation into existence had to learn how to talk. The One who walks across the expanse of Heaven, had to learn how to walk. Need I say more? OK, just one more:

He who lives in eternity stepped into time in order to die!

We would rather be on the Mount of Transfiguration and on the Mount of The Ascension. It is, after all, a much better and easier place to live. But to get to those moments, we have to go by way of The Gethsemane. It’s the Gethsemane Life, and only the Gethsemane Life, that gets to the Glory. Jesus was squeezed and pressed for His True Purpose. And so must we be squeezed and pressed for our true purpose. Here’s your homework:

In what ways are you suffering for Jesus?

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

A Potato Theology–We Need It Today

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

potatoes 2potatoes 2

Heaven–You Can’t Get There From Here! Part 7 The Final Answer

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Well, here we are at the end of this semester.  I pray and hope that you are able to see with clarity the fallacies of these 5 Plans.  I would be remiss and a failure to be a good professor if I did not give you the correct answer to the question:  How Do You Get Into Heaven?  Now, there are some other ways out there, but I think they will fall into one of these 5 plans.  So, what’s the answer to the question, How do we get into Heaven?  Remember my earlier disclaimer—this might be offensive to some.  If you’ve been reviewing your notes as I instructed you to do, you will now remember from the first lesson that this question is really the question of your heart:  How Do I Get Into A Relationship With God?  With no further ado, let’s look at the correct answer:

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We do it like Jesus said to Nicodemus—and here’s the plan:  To Get Into Heaven, We Live In A Relationship With God Now!  And here is how Jesus says this relationship happens, the only way the relationship happens:  Be Born Again

Anyone here ever heard of the expression Born Again Christian?  This phrase falls into the category of Repetitive Redundancy.  It’s the same thing as saying “Christian-Christian”.  If you’re a Christian, you’ve been Born Again.  If you’ve been Born Again you’re a Christian.  You don’t have to say it both ways.  Here’s a diamond of Truth:  You can’t be a Christian if you’ve never been born again.  Not now—not ever!  But if you have been born again–born from above–born through the Grace and Mercy of God–you are a Christian, or as I prefer to say–A Real Follower Of Jesus!

Slide26.JPGThis was the source of confusion for Nicodemus.  Do you know what Nicodemus’s name means?  Conqueror of the people—but Nicodemus is the one conquered by this single thought.  And this is the one thing you need to remember today:  You Cannot Have A Relationship With God Until You Are Born Again!  We need to be conquered by the same thought that conquered Nicodemus–the conqueror of people.  Until we have been conquered—our egotistical pride has been conquered—our feelings are conquered—our ways of thinking are conquered—heaven will always be out of reach—and so will God be out of reach.

None of these 5 very human Plans will cause anyone to be born again.  So, how are we born again?  It’s 3 simple steps that defies human logic and destroys human ego.

 1. We Die! Die to all that you have been.  If it’s your goodness, then die.  If it’s your sense of failures, die.  If it’s you sense of worthlessness, die.  If it’s your fears, die.  Being born again is all about starting all over in a new way of living in relationship with God.  Philippians 3:8-9—

8 Yes, everything else is worthless when compared with the infinite value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.  For his sake I have discarded everything else, counting it all as garbage, so that I could gain Christ 9 and become one with him.  I no longer count on my own righteousness through obeying the law; rather, I become righteous through faith in Christ.  For God’s way of making us right with himself depends on faith.

Until you die in this moment and die to all your past moments you can never live in this Relationship with God.  This is what it means to Confess our sins—that God is right about us being sinners.

2.  Be Born By The Water. Not the waters of baptism, but the water of the Word of God.  Paul was writing to Ephesus about how husbands are to love their wives.  But it’s also about how God loves us and what needs to happen in us.

Ephesians 5:25-26—For husbands, this means love your wives, just as Christ loved the church.  He gave up his life for her to make her holy and clean, washed by the cleansing of God’s word.

This is what repentance means and looks like.  We turn away from that old life and into the new Life.  We let the Word of God go to work in our daily life—doing what the Word says do—avoiding what the Word says don’t do.  You allow the Bible to shape your life from this moment forward.  What God’s word says to do and not to do cleanses us and liberates us from our default setting–that of being hostile towards God.

3.  Be Born By The Spirit.  The Spirit is the one who creates the new heart that fills you with new desires, new passions, new strength, new gifts and a new purpose for your life.  It’s the only power for people who are Born Again.  People who are not Born Again only want the form but not the power.

2 Timothy 3:5 (TPT)— They may pretend to have a respect for God, but in reality they want nothing to do with God’s power.  Stay away from people like these!

This is what walking by faith means.  This is what it looks like to live a life IN the Grace of God.  You look towards and listen to the Holy Spirit.  This is the power of God that you need to be at work in you.  It is the Power that you need UNTIL the Head Master gives the Final Exam.  Read what Paul wrote in Galatians 3:3

How foolish can you be? After starting your new lives in the Spirit, why are you now trying to become perfect by your own human effort?

At that moment of The Final Exam, He will see you as you are–covered with the blood of Jesus and clothes in both His righteousness, and your life of honoring Him–if you have been born again.  The Final Exam has only 2 questions:

1.  Did you trust in Jesus so that your sins could be taken away?  Did your trust come through Confession (admitting you’re a sinner) and repentance (meaning you choose to turn away from your old sinful life in order to live life as He intends)?

2.  Did you join in with God’s work of redemption and restoration by living in His Power as you loved the least, the last and the lost?  It is the Holy Spirit that both empowers and equips you for this task–the very task you are created for.

Get ready for the Final Exam by practicing–practice living in the Presence of Jesus so that you become the Presence of Jesus in this fallen and sinful world.  At the risk of sounding like your piano teacher:  PRACTICE! PRACTICE! PRACTICE!

And remember…love God with ALL your heart.  Love others the WAY He loves you.  And make sure ALL the glory goes to HIM, The Head Master and Keeper of your hearts!

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Heaven–You Can’t Get There From Here! Part 6

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.

Slide23In 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.

Slide24But 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.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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!)

Which Is A More Accurate Term:  Christian Or Disciple?

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

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

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

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

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

There are 3 Key Qualities of a Disciple:

Disciples Listen

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

Disciples Learn

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

Disciples Apply

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

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

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

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

Cultural Bias And Holy Communion

 

Who is ‘authorized’ to administer (or serve) Holy Communion/The Lord’s Supper/The Eucharist/The Mass?  This was the question I asked in the beginning of this series of blogs.  As I prayed and reflected on this topic, as with the other topics I’ve already addressed, I am finding it taking me deeper than my original intent and adding additional, call them questions or angles, that may be getting in the way of understanding this powerful moment of Holy Communion.  Before I get to the others questions the Spirit has confronted me with, allow me to address this original question.

In every Tribe and Tradition of which I am familiar, in order to serve or administer or oversee (ecclesiastical requirements) this “Sacrament”, one must be a licensed, commissioned or ordained pastor.  In my Tribe, to be “qualified” you must be either “ordained” or a “licensed” local pastor.  In the case of a local pastor, you can only serve Communion in the congregation to which you are appointed.  Truthfully, from the time of my entrance into this calling, I have always had an issue with my Tribe’s rule.  But in order to be licensed and then ordained, I kept the party line in tact with my papers and what I said in my interviews.  (In one paper I had to do, I ripped apart the commentator…turned out he was the one who “graded” my paper, so I had to redo it….edited of course to fall in line with the author of the commentary I ripped apart….lesson learned!)

The rationale behind such views is that a properly credentialed person is necessary in order to protect the sacredness of this powerful moment.  It is as if Holy Communion (notice the use of caps) loses both the “Holy” and the “caps” if someone administers or oversees it who is not “properly credentialed”, thus becoming only “communion” (lower case ‘c’) which in turn, the powers that be, believe diminishes its effect.  Really?  It loses its purpose and power when someone administers it who isn’t ecclesiastically qualified?  That the sacredness of God’s grace is not present?  Wow!  I never realized that God could not move in a moment UNLESS He has someone ecclesiastically qualified like me!

My long-standing “disagreement” on this issue is based on this passage from 1 Peter 2:5-9

And you are living stones that God is building into his spiritual temple.  What’s more, you are his holy priests.  Through the mediation of Jesus Christ, you offer spiritual sacrifices that please God. As the Scriptures say,  “I am placing a cornerstone in Jerusalem, chosen for great honor, and anyone who trusts in him will never be disgraced.”  Yes, you who trust him recognize the honor God has given him.  But for those who reject him, “The stone that the builders rejected has now become the cornerstone.”  And, “He is the stone that makes people stumble, the rock that makes them fall.”   They stumble because they do not obey God’s word, and so they meet the fate that was planned for them.  But you are not like that, for you are a chosen people.  You are royal priests, a holy nation, God’s very own possession.  As a result, you can show others the goodness of God, for he called you out of the darkness into his wonderful light.

We call this The Priesthood Of All Believers.  Unless Pete’s first letter was limited to only ecclesiastically qualified people, then I believe that “proper” Holy Communion (again, notice the caps) can be administered by anyone who has turned away from sin, accepted the Gift of God expressed on The Cross, and is growing in that Grace.  Either we who seriously follow Jesus (meaning being a Christian is more than a name, but a life-long commitment of heart, mind and will) are ALL Priests or NONE of us are to be considered Priests.  Ecclesiastical Authority does NOT make one a priest.  Only the authority of the One who Created us, Redeemed us, and Transforms us has such authority!!!! (Notice the use of multiple “exclamation marks”; that means I’m passionately serious about this!!!!)

Jesus revealed and modeled the new work of Priests, this Priesthood of All Believers. (See Hebrews 9:11-12 and Hebrews 4:14-16).  The mission of Priests in the Old Testament were to presents the needs of the people to God and to reveal God’s mind and heart to the people.  Jesus did this perfectly by becoming both the Priest who stands before God to represent the needs of the people, and the perfect sacrifice that meets all the needs of all people.  Picture this:  Jesus REPRESENTING us BEFORE God, and then PRESENTING the heart and mind God TO us.

And there is no clearer picture of the Heart and Mind of God than in the Holy Moment of Holy Communion.  We present and re-present to each other the perfect Sacrifice through Holy Communion.  And who better to “preside” over that moment than anyone who has been touched, redeemed and now being transformed by this marvelous Grace?  Certainly it doesn’t take ecclesiastical credentials to “preside” over this Sacred Meal.  Maybe I’m missing something, but I do not see ecclesiastical credentials as a requirement in the first century Body of Christ.  So why now is it necessary?

Enough for now…there are some more cultural biases I see around the Sacred Meal…and as hard as it may be to believe….I have something to say about them, too….later!

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