JUST THROW IT AWAY AND FORGET ABOUT IT!

For my fellow United Methodists, I don’t have to tell you we are nothing but The Denominational version of the Titanic. If you are a United Methodist and don’t know what I’m talking about, “SHAME ON YOU! GET YOUR HEAD OUT OF THE SAND!” Why? Because this problem isn’t going away. And we cannot remain true to our Wesleyan heritage as long as This Problem exists. They (meaning Progressives, or as I prefer to call them, ‘ProAgressives’) want–nay DESIRE–nay again–they are DETERMINED to throw out the Bible and our Orthodox faith like yesterday’s trash. They “know” more than what The Bible clearly says–and for more than the Saints who sought and fought to preserve the Orthodox Faith. In case you may not be familiar with the word Orthodox (because it is a big word like mahogany), perhaps these synonyms will help you understand it better.

from http://www.thesaurus.com

Three of them in particular fit the bill to understand what I mean by the Orthodox Faith: authoritative, buttoned down, and by the numbers! But. . . there are those in this Tribe I have been a part of for over 66 years who are convinced (or should I say deceived) that the tried and proven truth about sexual ethic of the Bible is. . .well. . .just plain wrong. Jesus was all about the love, they claim. And they claim that only 2 genders, male and female, are way too restrictive for people to really be who they are. So, they’ve added 72 additional gender designations. Forget the science, forget the biology, and forget Genesis chapter 2. And forget how our stance on sexuality has been unchanged since 1972. It states that all people stand equally in need of God’s grace. However, the practice of homosexuality is incompatable with Christian teachings–i.e.–the orthodox faith. Homosexuality is not any worse than any other sin–but it is outside God’s design and thus it is a sin–along with that long litany of stuff that puts all of us outside of God’s Desgin.

And now to this past week–and it shows how far my beloved Tribe has wandered. According to our approved procedures and rules, no self avowed practicing homosexual can be licensed, commissioned, nor ordained. To assure fidelity to the Bible and our procedures, we have this group called The Board Of Ordained Ministry. Some call it the BOOM or BOM for short. In the most recent session of the Florida Annual Conference, their BOOM recommended 16 candidates to be commissioned on the path to full ordination. Of the 16, two admitted that they were self-avowed practicing homosexuals–clearly in violation of The Bible and our rules. However, the Florida BOOM approved them. But they still needed 3/4 of the ordained clergy to give final approval. And the stuff hit the fire.

What Bishop Ken Carter and the Florida BOOM did was to put all 16 candidates in a single vote. As a group, vote up or down. Now, in fairness, I do not know that the other 14 candidates met the requirements. However, we do know that 2 did not! And the resulting firestorm has been aimed at the 27.3% who voted against the 16 because Bishop Carter would not allow them to vote on the candidates one by one. 27.3% voted according to their ordination vows and the Bible, and now they are the villians. So, the 27.3% who acted in the same spirit as Joshua and Caleb (see the story of the 10 spies) are treated with great disdain and anger.

And a fellow blogger joins in the disdain and anger, Rev. Jim Harnish. You can read his blog here. Jim asserts that the orthodox faith is invalid because, well because we are such more enlightened. And during the eventual commissioning and ordaining service, Bishop Ken Carter apologized to that group with these words:

“I grieve the harm you have experienced.
I am committed to the support of your callings …

I would have gladly commissioned each of you, and gladly appointed each of you …

Bishop Ken Carter

So, Bishop Carter would have gladly thrown away both the Bible and our Discipline. Whether that’s what he meant or not, this is exactly what he was saying and doing. And to my fellow Brother Jim I say that simply because you have changed your views about The Bible and our Discipline, a Discipline you promised you would faithfully follow when you were ordained, doesn’t mean you are right. I am grieved that you would allow culture to define your faith rather than allow God’s Word to Transform the culture. And thus, we see the 21st Century version of the Titanic raising her bow in preparation for sinking. I am not angry–I am sad–and I am disappointed that there are those who will abandon John Wesley’s passion to be people of “homo unius libri.” (a people of One Book!)

To candid, reasonable men, I am not afraid to lay open what have been the inmost thoughts of my heart. I have thought, I am a creature of a day, passing through life as an arrow through the air. I am a spirit come from God, and returning to God: just hovering over the great gulf; till, a few moments hence, I am no more seen; I drop into an unchangeable eternity! I want to know one thing the way to heaven; how to land safe on that happy shore. God Himself has condescended to teach the way; for this very end He came from heaven. He hath written it down in a book. O give me that book! At any price, give me the book of God! I have it: here is knowledge enough for me. Let me be “homo unius libri.”

John Wesley (June 17, 1706-March 2, 1791)

Footnote: Though I am saddened, maligned by others, accused of quitting and giving up–I am still praying and hopeful that this blight and disorder–this cancerous lie–can be put in it’s rightful place. Back to hell where it came from and where it belongs! Furthermore, I am confident that the Wesleyan desire for renewal and revival is not dead on this earth. The signs are everywhere. And if our leadership in the UMC doesn’t have a change of heart–it will happen with another people–NOT in the UMC!

TAKING WHAT’S NOT MEANT FOR YOU!

IT’S NOT MEANT FOR YOU!

We love watching birds; and we don’t have to leave our home to watch them. We have bird feeders and we even scatter some seeds on the ground for them. We also have a suet feeder. Woodpeckers, Nuthatches, and few others love it, especially since we found this apple flavored one. And when it’s empty, Woody (one of the woodpeckers) let’s us know when it’s empty. Lately we’ve been going out in the morning to watch Woody, but the feeder has been empty. I know Woodpeckers are not nocturnal, but other critters are–such as Raccoons. And this morning Ricky Raccoon and I came face to face! So, today I will purchase a live trap, just for Ricky, hopefully catch him and relocate him far, far, away.

And what do birdfeeders, suet feeders, and Raccoons have to do with the Kingdom Life? Well, here goes! Often times, as human beings, we see things that are not meant for us–but still we go after them, just like Ricky. We see nothing wrong. We see no danger. Besides, it “tastes” good! So, that makes it OK! Right? Not hardly. That extramarital affair; using others to promote yourself; keeping that extra change the cashier gave you; wanting that new car because your neighbor just got a new car; leaving your server a measely 5% tip, especially on Sundays; putting your hope in political parties. These are just a very small sampling of things that are not meant for us. And hold on to your hat for the next line: Whether you are a Follower of Jesus or not, these kind of things are not meant for you–that is–if you really want to enjoy the gift of everyday life!

Wanting what’s not meant for us is where the trouble all started–in the Garden of Eden. Remember, it was Satan (who is also known as the father of all lies) who successfully convinced Adam and Eve that they could become their own gods. And the downward spiral began–and the joy of life disappeared! Our Creator, God, designed a way for us to enjoy life to the max! But sin–and sin is very, very real–takes it away from us. Just yesterday afternoon while working in our garden, I was reminded of the curse placed on Adam–that thorns and weeds would infest our gardens. Paul reminded the Thessalonians (and thus a warning to us) in First Thessalonians chapter 5, verses 19 through 22

Don’t suppress the Spirit, and don’t stifle those who have a word from the Master. On the other hand, don’t be gullible. Check out everything, and keep only what’s good. Throw out anything tainted with evil.

(from The Message)

And what determines what has been tainted with evil? The Bible, of course! As much as we may desire certain things; as much as we believe certain things are right though it contradicts the Bible–they were not meant for us. And when we get “caught” in that trap? Unlike Ricky who will have no choice but to relocate–we do have a choice.

On the other hand, if we admit our sins—simply come clean about them—he won’t let us down; he’ll be true to himself. He’ll forgive our sins and purge us of all wrongdoing. 

1 John chapter 1 verse 9 from The Message

So quit going after what’s never been meant for you! And. . .Love God with all your heart. Love others the way Jesus loves you. And make sure all the glory goes to Him!

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!

HOW DO YOU MAKE YOUR DECISIONS?

Making decisions is the most important decision you can ever make! But to make more than good decisions–you need to make GREAT decisions. But to make a decision you need a source that will shape and form that decision. And it needs to be a tried, tested, and proven source; unchanged by time. An ever changing source leads, always leads, to poor choices. This scene from Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade bears it out.

For example, the Supreme Court of the United States. They are preparing to undo a flawed decision made 22 January 1973 with Roe v. Wade. The SCOTUS at that time ruled that abortion was a constitutionally guaranteed right. But there’s nothing in the U.S. Constitution that guarantees it. So, it is about to be overturned. Now, before my Fundamentalist friends declare that abortion is unconstitutional, that’s not what this Court is about to declare. Their decision, and a right one I might add, is that abortion is a state and legislative issue, not a constitutional issue. Bravo, SCOTUS, bravo! About time the Tenth Amendment is recognized. Enough about the SCOTUS.

Today’s culture wants to make decisions based on feelings and how they think. Forget the proven science–each decision is a matter of personal preferences and how one feels. If you feel a certain way, then you make your decisions based on that feeling or that thinking. Remember my earlier comment about having a source for making great decisions? That source needs to be anchored to an unchanging truth. Feelings are subject to change more than the weather. And about our way of “thinking”? Well, thinking is always influenced by information. Unfortunately many are using flawed and untruthful information. (Go back and watch that scene from the above and what happened to Walter Donnovan)

What about you? What is the source for your decisions? Anything that is tethered to human logic and thinking is flawed. Always flawed. Think about it. Have you ever bought something and when you got home and opened it up, you discovered that it didn’t work! Why do you think there are so many automobile repair shops?

What you need to make GREAT decisions is the most reliable and greatest source ever: The Bible! Not what people say about The Bible. But what the Bible really says. The Apostle Paul reminded young Timothy of this by writing in 2 Timothy, chapter 2, verses 16-17: “All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right. God uses it to prepare and equip his people to do every good work.”

And when (not IF) you can’t or don’t understand The Bible, God has an app for that! It was developed by James, the biologically half-brother of Jesus and the full brother of Jesus by faith. He wrote in James chapter 5, verses 5 and 6: If you need wisdom, ask our generous God, and He will give it to you. He will not rebuke you for asking. But when you ask Him, be sure that your faith is in God alone. Do not waver, for a person with divided loyalty is as unsettled as a wave of the sea that is blown and tossed by the wind. Remember the words from William the Lion, Duke of Brittany in the movie The Last Crusade: Choose Wisely! And yes, the picture is of my Go-To Bible!

they happen on Tuesdays, too!

My “Oh Lord, It’s Monday” post talked about how Interruptions get in the way of life the way God intends. Well, guess what? A Monday can happen on a Tuesday…and it did to me. Sunday night Debbie, my wife, got that blessed “stomach bug”. I prayed for her to get over it quickly–but I didn’t pray for it to stay away from me. Another “Guess What?” for you this Thursday morning: Tuesday afternoon that “stomach bug”–I prefer the term “Spawn Of Satan”–hit me, too. I hope this isn’t too graphic for you–but my mouth revisited everything I had eaten the past 2 years, or so it seemed. About 2 hours later, Satan’s Spawn decided I needed to visit the Porcelain Altar again until it was sure absolutely nothing remained in my stomach.

And that got me to thinking–OK, so I’m one of the few who can get a lesson from a “stomach bug that’s really Satan’s Spawn”. The lesson is this: What The World Offers Us Comes Back On Us, And It’s Never Pleasant. The food I had enjoyed so much, that tasted so good the first time it was on my palate, tasted horrible the second time it was on my palate. (Again, I hope this wasn’t too graphic for the “delicate” folks out there.) That’s the nature of Sin! It always does!

Yet we go back to it again and again. The outcome is always the same. Progressives who teach that some sins are no longer sins bear proof of this axiom. People who live by their “insights” that parts of the Bible are wrong continue to be miserable. And so they blame us Orthodox folks for their misery–that if we would just accept their views, the misery would disappear.

Sin always tastes worse when it comes back up when we least need it to. That’s why God tells us to avoid it! Not to make us miserable–but to keep us from being miserable! How long will you and I keep going back to the Porcelain Altar regurgitating the effects of sin and keep believing one day it will taste as good the second time as it did the first time? Be confident of this–that Sin will always come back up on you. I’m not asking you to be honest with me–be honest to yourself! Think it through, people! Do you still need more convincing?

The man described as the wisest man ever, Solomon, tried to live his life outside of God’s design–in other words–in SIN! He wrote a book about it; we call it Ecclesiastes. And in the very first chapter, he lets us know what it’s like living without God’s guidance. He wrote in Verses 16 and 17–I said to myself, “I know more and I’m wiser than anyone before me in Jerusalem. I’ve stockpiled wisdom and knowledge.” What I’ve finally concluded is that so-called wisdom and knowledge are mindless and witless—nothing but spitting into the wind. I would say, “It’s like kneeling at the Porcelain Altar rehashing what I thought was good–but it ain’t!” For 2022, why not give up thinking that sin will ever taste good the second time around? And Solomon would agree with me–It’s never as good the second time as it was the first time!

411

Does one have to be “my” age to know about 411? Hopefully not. For readers not familiar with it, it is the number one would call to contact the phone company if you needed information about someone’s phone number. I think it’s still around. If it’s a business, I just use Google. What does this have to do with today’s musings? I am so glad you asked.

We all need to be INFORMED. The issue is, who or what is INFORMING you? I came across this recently:

People want to be INFORMED–but alas, they make one of these mistakes; or both. They get their INFORMATION from the wrong places. Or, they process that INFORMATION the wrong way. There are three ways for processing INFORMATION from any and every source.

One way is to rely on how we feel about the information. Gee whiz! What the what? Blech! Arghhhh! Hmph! Oy, oy, oy! Tsk-tsk! It makes my head ache when people use feelings to process INFORMATION. Feelings fluctuate like a politician’s views. It’s like trying to erect a vertical wall without using a plumb. Oh, my, the chaos in the United Methodist Church should be enough to show the imbecility of this approach. In spite of the fact that their feelings continue to undermine the church, they persist with the ferocity not seen in even the animal kingdom. Feelings change more in a day than weather does in a typical Alabama day.

Another way is to accept what THEY say. OMG! Jeeezus Christ! This is doltishness and stupefaction to the Nth degree! Or as Buzz Lightyear would say:

Who, in the name of all that’s sane, is THEY? You’ve heard it, may even said it: They say blah, blah, blah. . . .” It may be the Democratic Party, the Republican Party, the Libertarian party or some institute of alleged (but not proven to be) institute of higher learning. Or it may be some Instagram Idiot, or Twitter Twit, or Facebook Fatuity, or maybe some YouTube Boob. Often times they are anonymously unknown. Absorbing the views of they is like drinking a glass of water dipped right out of Love Canal. No thank you!!!!!

If the first two ways are exasperating and rankle your sensibilities, then maybe this will help–more than MAYBE–it WILL help. Turn to the Truth of The Bible. Not someone else’s explanations about The Bible–just The Bible itself. What some people say about The Bible–well–it sometimes verges on, and other times go beyond the obtuse. Oh, it may take some time–it may even take a lot of time–but God’s Word is both relevant and reliable.

When it comes to processing INFORMATION, you can rely on The Bible. Our world is filled with all kinds of alleged truth. God’s Word will give us the tools, skills, and wisdom to process all that IMFORMATION in the way that builds us up, and keeps us from falling apart.

Every part of Scripture is God-breathed and useful one way or another—showing us truth, exposing our rebellion, correcting our mistakes, training us to live God’s way. Through the Word we are put together and shaped up for the tasks God has for us.

(2 Timothy 3:16; The Message)

It’s Right There In The Bible! NOT! Part 7

This will be the last in the series of blogs. And in my humble opinion, here is the greatest heresy of all that some believe is in The Bible, but it’s NOT!

All God Expects Of Us Is To Love Like Jesus!

This is the creed and mantra from those who self-identify as progressives. I have a difficult time calling it a theology, because Truth has been completely ignored–even erased. Those who have been deceived by this lie freely quote all the passages that talk about love–and ignore the rest. They love to even quote a “bit” of Jesus: “Neither do I condemn you.”

They insist–scratch that! The DEMAND we see this their way–or else we are mean, ugly, dumb, hateful, homophobic, despiteful, heinous, odious, vicious, and vile creatures. To focus on LOVE and ignore TRUTH is a train wreck about to happen. Yes, sometimes Truth hurts–but living Lie? This hurts beyond our wildest imaginations.

They want us to think the the death of Jesus opens the way for us to think for ourselves about what is right and what is wrong. If we love like Jesus, then what once was immoral–instantly becomes moral. I just came across this in my research for today blog. It’s another blog called Jesus Without The Baggage by Peter Enns. In one blog he writes: “The essence of what we call ‘sin’ is not breaking God’s rules (that is Law–legalism); it is the way we treat each other causing pain, alienation, and all the other words mentioned at the beginning of this article.” For Mr. Enns, there is no such thing as “Original Sin”.

However, here is what Jesus says in Matthew 5:17-19 (NLT)–“17 Don’t misunderstand why I have come. I did not come to abolish the law of Moses or the writings of the prophets. No, I came to accomplish their purpose. 18 I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not even the smallest detail of God’s law will disappear until its purpose is achieved. 19 So if you ignore the least commandment and teach others to do the same, you will be called the least in the Kingdom of Heaven. But anyone who obeys God’s laws and teaches them will be called great in the Kingdom of Heaven.

And let’s not forget good old Peter. He wrote affirming the standard of God’s holiness is to be our standard in 1 Peter 1:15 (NLT)–But now you must be holy in everything you do, just as God who chose you is holy. If one cannot trust The Bible to identify sin, then they cannot trust The Bible at all! Love doesn’t mean we “gotta” obey God–it means we “get to” obey God. Yes, sin does still exist–and we are not qualified nor capable of defining sin.

It’s Right There In The Bible! NOT! Part 6

I struggled this morning–not for a lack of ideas in this series–I have more than enough ideas. No, I struggled for what I should write–more of What’s Not In The Bible or Hurricane Ida. I firmly believe that The Bible has something valuable to say about every thing that happens on this third rock from the sun. At first, I thought I was going to interrupt this series, but this I remembered something I’ve often heard people say was in The Bible:

It’s God Punishing Our Nation!

Be it floods, tornadoes, wildfires, or hurricanes–it seems to me that many believe that God is punishing the U.S. of A.

Now, if God was even interested in establishing a “Christian nation”–then it might be possible. But Jesus didn’t come to proclaim the Good News Of A Nation–rather it is The Good News Of The Kingdom! I know my friends who believe this will respond by saying, “The why did God punish the nation of Israel in the Old Testament?” Glad you asked. God established Israel for the express purpose of revealing God to ALL nations–and for one of Abraham’s descendent (that’s Jesus) to open the way for all people to have a relationship with Him! Remember, that when Jesus came in our human form, the Religious Folks were looking for The Messiah to establish a “nation” that no one would mess with. Thus, they failed to recognize the True Messiah.

And there’s a Biblical Reason why Hurricane Ida (and its ilk) is NOT the punishment of God for us not being that illusionary “Christian Nation” that God wants. The reality is there are several Biblical Reasons why disasters aren’t God’s punishments. For the sake of time, I will quickly share two. Here’s the first, and it’s a biggie:

4 Yet it was our weaknesses he carried; it was our sorrows that weighed him down.  And we thought his troubles were a punishment from God, a punishment for his own sins! 5 But he was pierced for our rebellion, crushed for our sins.  He was beaten so we could be whole.  He was whipped so we could be healed. 6 All of us, like sheep, have strayed away.  We have left God’s paths to follow our own.  Yet the Lord laid on him the sins of us all. Isaiah 53:4-6 (NLT)

Either Jesus carried our punishment, all of it, or He didn’t. If these disasters are God’s punishment, then apparently, someone forgot to put all of our sins on Jesus! Nope, don’t think that happened! And here’s another reason of many why it just ain’t so:

“O God, declare them guilty. Let them be caught in their own traps. Drive them away because of their many sins, for they have rebelled against You.” (Psalm 5:10, New Living Translation)

Notice the underlined part: Let them be caught in their own traps. That’s what sin does–it traps us in our own traps. Paul Young, author of The Shack, wrote: “Sin is its own punishment, devouring you from the inside.” And if you need a New Testament verse to verify it (as if the two Testaments somehow contradict each other), try this on for size:

7 Don’t be misled—you cannot mock the justice of God. You will always harvest what you plant. 8 Those who live only to satisfy their own sinful nature will harvest decay and death from that sinful nature. But those who live to please the Spirit will harvest everlasting life from the Spirit.
(Galatians 6:7-8 NLT)

We bring the punishment of sin upon ourselves–through our choices and our designs. God doesn’t “punish” us–through disasters. The punishment is that we reap what we sow–we call it CONSEQUENCES. Every day–with each choice and decision–determines our eternal outcome.

Do the survivors of disasters really need to be told, “Look, it’s God’s punishment on our nation!” But what about those who are faithfully living this life of grace? Does God inflict collateral damage, cause victims of fratricidal? What about those who were on the verge of surrendering their life to Jesus? Would they want to serve a god who creates hurricanes?

If you want to do something in the aftermath of Hurricane Ida, do something constructive. Help them! The best way to help them is with “Green”–not environmental green–money! But give wisely. Find an organization where your donations go to the survivors, not those sitting behind a desk. My favorite organization is UMCOR. I know how they use their funds; I have overseen several grants in our area. To donate online–click here!

And PLEASE, PLEASE, PRETTY PLEASE–DON’T SEND USED CLOTHES! (this also includes your yard sale leftovers!) I served at a distribution center in Waveland, Mississippi in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. We built our own levy with used clothes around our center. In the aftermath of disasters, there is neither the time nor people to sort through used clothing.

For now, pray for the survivors. And if you want to do some hands-on work, wait until the local authorities say it’s both safe and OK for you to go in. Ida wasn’t God’s punished on America. America is punishing itself right now. No, it’s the result of living in the aftermath of Adam and Eve’s choice, and our own choices.

It’s Right There In The Bible! NOT! Part 5

Here is one of the most challenging things that simply are not in the Bible. You may want to don your Personal Protection Equipment for this one:

God wants me to forgive others, but He doesn’t expect me to forget it.

See, I told you this was the most difficult one–and it’s one that I struggle with perhaps the most. It definitely falls into the category of “Things I wish was not in The Bible!” One of our justifications for believing this is that God gave us the ability to remember, so surely He doesn’t expect us to forget when someone wounds us. But then, there’s this Text that fits my definition of “Things I wish was not in The Bible!”

Instead, be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you. (Ephesians 4:32)

And how does God forgive us? Just look at Jeremiah 31:34 to see: “And I will forgive their wickedness, and I will never again remember their sins.” Tough and hard, isn’t it? So we come to another justification to alleviate our duty and responsibility: “He’s God and I’m not! God can forget, but I just can’t!” Granted, we cannot just forget–a truth I was painfully reminded of last week when an old wound opened up.

But there is a way to forgive and forget. It’s in how we treat the memory of the wound. Let me tell your a true story–a short one. I was only 6 years old when my Papa Burbank died. I was sad when it happened. But when I remember “Papa Banks” (that’s what I called him), the memory is me with him in his blacksmith shop. I remember him turning the bellows handle–the coals getting hotter–and the smell of that coal and coke. I not only smell it, I can taste it. Remembering him doesn’t make me sad, it makes me smile.

My point is, it’s not in the forgetting but in how we respond to the memory. When we remember how someone wounded us, we choose how we respond to that memory. We can either open that wound back up and feel the heat–and like I watched in Papa Bank’s smithy shop–the let all that resentment and bitterness grow and glow hotter. OR–we can respond by remembering how God has forgiven us.

We choose how we respond to our memories. It’s about maturing to the point when we remember the wound–but without the pain. It’s about releasing our pains to the One who was pained by us as He hung upon that Cross. It’s not easy to get to this point–trust me; I still struggle. Not easy–but it is possible. It will happen as we allow God to work ON us and IN us. We’re not the finished product–yet. But as we learn to think more like Jesus and less like us–we arrive at the point where we have forgiven them just like God has forgiven us–when we choose to release that pain. And God does expect us to release that pain. OUCH!

It’s Right There In The Bible! NOT! Part 3

Well, here I go with yet another one of those incongruous and cacophonous things some people believe are in the Bible. Today’s episode is:

The Lord Helps Those Who Help Themselves!

Now, I do agree that way too many people live out their paltry and pathetic lives as if there are no consequences for their decisions, choices and actions. Way too many are waiting for a free lunch that isn’t going to be delivered. Heck, there’s no one even in the kitchen cooking that free lunch. And The Bible is clear that whatever kind of seeds we plant, THAT is going to be the crop we produce. But this? The Lord helps those who help themselves? That’s a train of thought that derailed at the station! This kind of thinking isn’t a train without a caboose (this analogy goes back to the days when trains had a caboose)–it’s a train without an engine! It doesn’t get us anywhere!

It’s preposterous and maniacal to think that God is waiting for us to do something to help ourselves before He is willing to lift a finger to help us. It only makes sense to those who live in the futility of believing that we, broken and messed-up human beings are au fait when it comes to fixing the messes we create. Do you want the truth about the human (in)ability to help ourselves?

SPOILER ALERT! We cannot help ourselves. Our best efforts are always tainted by our sinful and fallen nature. Here’s the Truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth! It takes the Grace of God to help us, period! God doesn’t give His Grace to those who are trying–and certainly not to those who think they deserve His Grace. If we deserve Grace, then it’s no longer Grace. It’s payment for our efforts. Do you want a Bible Verse to prove it, and thus make me “Biblical” in this assertion? OK, buckaroo, you got it!

The law of Moses was unable to save us because of the weakness of our sinful nature. So God did what the law could not do. He sent his own Son in a body like the bodies we sinners have. And in that body God declared an end to sin’s control over us by giving his Son as a sacrifice for our sins.

Romans 8:3 (NLT)

So, quit tell others that if they want their lives to change, they have to help themselves first before God will help them. And if you still believe this anathema and abomination–all I can say is: God help you! Please God, help them!

It’s Right There In The Bible! NOT! Part 2

Loopholes! Admit it, we all look for them. Whether it is in a legal contract, or tax laws, and even in The Bible. Loopholes relieve us of something we should do, but don’t want to. And the best part of loopholes is that we rest easy at night thinking we are justified. And here is one of the oft used loopholes by those who self identify as Christians:

I love them but The Bible doesn’t say I have to like them!

I wonder if God looks like this when people say this? Well guess what, buttercup? That’s not in The Bible. To those who hold tightly onto this loophole, it may hurt your brain–but think about it. Now, according to Merriam-Webster dictionary, as a verb the word like means “to feel attraction toward or take pleasure in; enjoy”.

Now if you don’t like someone, it means that you dislike them. And what do you suppose the word dislike means? It means “to regard with displeasure, antipathy, or aversion”. Look at that word antipathy! It means “an instinctive contradiction or opposition in feeling”. Catch it? CONTRADICTION! When you say, “I love them but I don’t like them” you are contradicting yourself. And it certainly doesn’t look like the kind of Love that Jesus modeled, and expects us to do.

Here is what The Bible says about Love: “Don’t just pretend to love others. Really love them. Hate what is wrong. Hold tightly to what is good.” (Romans 12:9) And please, please, please, notice that Paul said hate WHAT is wrong–not WHO IS WRONG! What is a THING and not a PERSON! If you don’t like someone, this means you have an aversion towards them. And God doesn’t have an aversion towards any person.

To say you love someone but just don’t like them and think it’s OK because The Bible doesn’t say you must like them–my response to you is: Negatory! Nope! Absolutely not! No way! Not at all! Nay! Never! And in the words of the immortal philosopher Barney Fife: Andy, you gotta nip it! Nip it in the bud!

And hear the conclusion about this loophole:

If you don’t like them, you can’t love them.

Some Parts Are Missing

Image from Omni Containment Systems

Three of the most dreaded words to read are: “Some Assembly Required”. Maybe that’s just the “man” in me–you know–“Who reads the instructions? Real men don’t need instructions!” But have you ever tried to put something together and near the end find out that some parts are missing (or lost)? Frustrating, isn’t it!

Several years ago my fabulous wife purchased me a Smoker. I couldn’t wait to put it together and try it out! Well, I removed all the parts, found that useless Instruction Manuel, but something was missing! The nuts and bolts required to assemble it. I called myself looking, still no nuts and bolts. I started to return it to the store, but that useless Instruction Manual caught my attention. It said, and I quote: “If any part(s) are missing contact customer service. Do not take it back to the retailer.” So I called and in just a couple of days the nuts and bolts arrived. And I assembled it; mind you, without the Instruction Manual because that’s what real men do!

It was a work of beautiful art when I finished it. I began cleaning up all that cardboard and packing materials and something hard hit the patio floor. Can you guess what it was? Yep! The nuts and bolts. In defiance of my most diligent search, right there they were; plain as day! But how could that be? I rummaged through all that packing material and I knew they weren’t there. Put me on a lie detector machine and I would have passed it with flying colors! So, how could they have been there all along? There must be somebody to blame! They snuck in when I wasn’t looking, carefully cut the packing tape, found those nuts and bolts, and sealed the box back. Yes, that’s what must have happened! I mean, it’s impossible for me to have missed something! Isn’t it?

No it’s not impossible! And it’s not impossible to miss the presence of God. It happens with regularity to the best of us. It happens as we get more busy with things than with life. It happens as we live life haphazardly–with no real focus. It happens when, as in my case, we think we are right–but we are wrong, oh, so wrong! It happens when we look only at the surface of Scriptures without taking that deep dive where the Treasure often lies.

Following Jesus isn’t always easy–but it is really simple. So simple, that many often miss out on Real Life. We let the wrappings and “packing materials” get in the way, and like I thought about those nuts and bolts, we believe the lie that God is holding out on us. The truth is, Life has been there all along–we just didn’t look deep enough. Learn from my mistake (no, not ignoring the Instruction Manual)–take a deep breath, and look through everything. And if you want Life–I mean Real Life–I mean Life To The Max–look to Jesus. He’s been there all along!

For all of God’s promises have been fulfilled in Christ with a resounding “Yes!” And through Christ, our “Amen” (which means “Yes”) ascends to God for his glory.

2 Corinthians 1:20 (NLT)

The Americanization Of The Gospel

 This is from an older post. When I started blogging I made a promise to myself to never re-post a blog because I wanted my material to always be fresh. Well, early this morning, The Spirit asked me, “Would you like salt and pepper for eating crow?” Needless to say, this morning’s post was from a few years ago, August 3, 2016. I’ve updated some personal references and edited some of my typical errors, a.k.a. typographical errors. It just seems that this is the Word God wants me to share this morning. It seems that Solomon was right, “There is nothing new under the sun.”

   Before I begin sharing my heart I must, in all honesty, begin with a warning and a disclaimer.  The warning is that due to the mature subject matter, some may find this offensive, even to the point of labeling me something I am not.  The disclaimer is that I am NOT being unpatriotic.  I fly our country’s flag at our home.  I stand at attention with my hand over my heart when the national anthem is being played.  I am very patriotic for many reasons–I appreciate the many freedoms we enjoy and I have a son and son-in-law who are combat veterans. Since this was first published my son, Matthew has retired from the military (and now serving in law enforcement). My son in law, Michael, continues to serve in defense of our wonderful nation.  I am very proud of Matthew and Michael and every day I pray they will never have to go back into harm’s way.  With this being said, I want to share something with you that has been troubling my heart and mind.

     I am acutely troubled by the emotional climate that exists in our nation in this current election cycle.  I am seeing and hearing a lot of conversations that are soaked with frustrations, anger and fear, especially around this current Presidential election.  My deepest concerns are the words I see and hear from the “Christian” community.  Many of my friends are saying that this is THE sign that Jesus is about to return because the wrong person was elected.  Others are saying that America is doomed.

     I am left wondering, “Why so much concern about who sits in the chair behind that desk in the Oval Office?  Why does that thought create such anger or even fear?”  Regardless of who sits there, God is still God.  He is still sovereign.  He is still in control.  The waves and the winds still know and obey the voice of Jesus.  In a message series it was something I said that inspired this blog.  It came from a series based on Ecclesiastes, that book where Solomon shares all the things he tried to find a life with meaningful purpose that would give us that deep and abiding peace with joy.  Of the many things Solomon tried one was the political process.  He described putting our hope on the political process was like “chasing the wind.”  During that message, here is what I said:  “The hope for the United States is not about who sits in the chair behind the desk of the oval office, but rules on the throne of your own heart.”

     I listen with all respect to the passion of the many voices who spend their time and energy on their desire for the United States to become once again a Christian nation.  There seems to be a lot of passion and energy as well as fear being expended in this idea that God, and thus the Gospel, wants us to create a Christian nation.  Now comes the offensive part so brace yourselves for you have been warned.  Jesus never asked us to follow Him in order to set upon this earth a Christian nation.  God hasn’t called us or anyone to create a Christian nation.

     If you, the reader, are among the many here in the United States that sincerely believe that God wants us to create and maintain this Christian nation and are now offended (and maybe even labeled me a heretical liberal), I have one word for you:  Good!  About six and a half ago years God turned my theology and understanding about the collective gathering we call the church on its ear.  Well, actually He helped me move from upside down to right side up, by reminding me the work of the collective body called the church is not about what we call church work, but Kingdom Work.

     Out of this has God has brought me back to a familiar verse from which directs my thoughts and words in this blog, and why I do not think God wants us to be so adamant about this being a Christian nation.  It is from 1 Peter 2:9-10 and I want to share it from both the New Living Translation and from the Message:

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.  “Once you had no identity as a people; now you are God’s people.  Once you received no mercy; now you have received God’s mercy.”

New Living Translation

 But you are the ones chosen by God, chosen for the high calling of priestly work, chosen to be a holy people, God’s instruments to do his work and speak out for him, to tell others of the night-and-day difference he made for you—from nothing to something, from rejected to accepted.

The Message

   The call of God is about more than a piece of real estate.  Notice Peter’s carefully selected word:  YOU!  We, who have been called out by God only because of His grace and mercy, are to be royal priests that are to be collectively formed, under the guidance and power of the Holy Spirit, to be this holy nation.  It is just like the church.  We never, ever go to church if we are doing it right.  WE are the church, not a piece of real estate.  The real church never has a single address, nor does it exist within multiple campuses.

     The church exists wherever you happen to be at that moment, that is, if you are have some clarity about the nature of the church.  And within our collective body our work is to be Kingdom Work.  Kingdom Work is about restoring people to what Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert describe in the book When Helping Hurts: Alleviating Poverty Without Hurting the Poor. . . and Yourself as the 4 key relationships God intended in creation for us.  They describe these 4 key relationships as relationships with God, self, others, and the rest of creation.  Poverty exists when 1 or more of these relationships are broken.

     One way that I see that we have Americanized the Gospel is in how we define and treat poverty.  In their book, Corbett and Fikkert point out because of our American bias, we define poverty as the lack of material substance.  So we treat poverty with material substance.  And be honest, how has this worked out?  IF poverty is the lack of material substance (which it’s NOT), then we should have solved the problem a long time ago.  Instead of solving the problem, people continue to live in broken relationships with God, self, others, and the rest of creation.  Even we who call ourselves Christians experience poverty in one or more of these relationships.

     The Work of God’s Kingdom ever since the Fall of Adam and Eve has been to restore His most loved part of creation to those 4 key relationships.  It is in these 4 relationships that we reflect His nature, His heart, and His glory.  And it is within these key relationships that we begin to live out our created design and purpose.  And here is where I believe that we “American” Christians have forgotten something that should never be forgotten.  I am convinced that much of our dysfunction as a nation (notice I did not say “Christian Nation”) is that we have chosen to ignore this absolute truth.

     God calls us to proclaim the Kingdom right smack dab in the middle of the Enemy’s Kingdom.  Albeit the kingdom of Satan is temporary, still at this time he rules it.  Do you remember what Jesus said to Pilate when questioned about being a King?

Jesus answered, “My Kingdom is not an earthly kingdom.  If it were, my followers would fight to keep me from being handed over to the Jewish leaders. But my Kingdom is not of this world.” (John 18:36 NLT)

     If Jesus wasn’t interested in establishing an earthly kingdom, meaning “a nation”, then why are so many of us obsessed with having one in the United States?  Here is my thought:  We have forgotten that God has placed us in the middle of enemy territory for the purpose of spiritual warfare (and remember this warfare isn’t against people, corporations or governments, but the Evil one) to reclaim those whom God created in HIS image, but have been disfigured with the image of the Enemy.  I’m sitting here wondering if Christians in places like Iran, Iraq, Pakistan, Indonesia, and a host of other nations ruled by petty despots, are wondering, “Why are those Americans so up in arms about that election?  Every day we live under the threat of imprisonment and death and it hasn’t slowed the Kingdom down one little bit.  Truth is, God’s Kingdom is growing here but declining there.”

     I want to challenge you stop insisting that our job as Disciples of Jesus Christ is to make sure this great nation with so many wonderful freedoms turn back to becoming a Christian nation.  You may think I am dishonoring our Founding Fathers and their desire and intent.  Are you aware that some of our Founding Fathers were Deists?  Deists believe in a divine creator but not in the Trinitarian God.  Though they rejected the idea of Jesus, they understood the importance of freedom of thought, speech, and yes, religion.

     Let’s stop trying to “make” this a Christian nation and instead BECOME the nation God has called us to be.  A nation that exists, not on real estate, but a PEOPLE who faithfully live out as His priests, Royal Priests!  Forget Republican or Democrat priests–let’s be Royal Priests who serve not a political ideology or party or even flag, but The King of all Kings!  Would you love to see a culture shift in the United States?  A culture shift that moves away from political ideologies, from greed and selfishness, from that sense of entitlement, and from the idea that as Disciples of Jesus we are supposed to establish a “Christian” nation?  Then remember where your citizenship lies and under whose command you serve.

     Stop freaking out about Donald and Joe and instead focus on your own brokenness in the 4 Key Relationships–God, self, others and the rest of creation.  And then step into the Territory of the Enemy and share your brokenness with others who are broken and say to them, “Let’s walk together out of our brokenness towards the only One who can restore us to who we truly are.”  Don’t worry about the nation–BE the Nation of people called out by God to walk through the Enemy’s territory with the light of His love, grace and mercy.  I was reading the other day but unfortunately I did not write down the source of it, but here are my closing words:  95% of Christians pass the test of adversity but 95% of Christians fail the test of prosperity.

Sometimes They Got It Wrong, So Do We; And That’s A Problem!

There is a crisis in our culture. Duh! The cause of this crisis? Well, that’s where things get dicey and heated. I may loose a few “followers” (that’s OK, just keep following Jesus) with the next few thoughts; but I believe I have uncovered the roots of this present crisis. To overcome a crisis one cannot deal with the surface issues but get to the root cause. Failure to get to the roots is like breaking off a dandelion on the surface but never extracting its roots. The dandelion will come back and bring all its cousins.

We read the Bible through a set of lenses provided by opinions–both our own and those of others. The result is we do not see Truth. We accept that it is true, but we never Discover THE Truth. And the results of such a view is. . . chaos, discord, disarray, turmoil, pandemonium, and anarchy. People are muddling through life angry, disappointed, unruly, distressed, disillusioned, disgruntled and add your own synonym here. So how do we unsnarl this mess of yarn? See the Bible for what it truly is; not what we think it is!

The Bible is a book full of human stories. Each story is unique; each story is the same. In these very human stories we find people who sometimes get it right–the rest of the time they get it wrong. But we read it is as though they were perfect saints issuing to us perfect edicts. But sometimes they got it wrong.

Abraham and Sarah got it wrong when they came up with their plan.

Moses got it wrong when he struck the rock instead of speaking to it.

David got it wrong when–where do I begin with this guy.

Solomon got it wrong when he tried to find the purpose of life outside of God (See Ecclesiastes). Just a small sampling from the Old Testament.

Even in the New Testament, some got it wrong; I’m not talking about Judas or Peter’s denials. Yes, even Paul got it wrong sometimes. Now that I’ve raised the hair on your neck with such a statement, I’ll show you some examples (This is where I may lose some followers, but I’m OK with that because I’m a “Follower” of Jesus) where Paul got it wrong. Paul, who had been the champion of the Gentiles and insisting they did not have to be circumcised, had Timothy circumcised. Paul who claimed citizenship in the Kingdom of God, played his “Roman Citizenship Card” in Philippi and insisted on an apology from the city officials. In Athens, at the Acropolis he preached without ever mentioning the name of Jesus. Enough about Paul’s getting it wrong.

Now, I am not revealing these character flaws to diminish their accomplishments; truth is, I find hope in their flaws because if God used them in spite of those flaws, He can use me. No, my purpose is to make this point:

Humans, even those in the Bible, sometimes gets it wrong–But God Never Does!

The stories of those “saints” in the Bible are that, stories; stories that reveals their ups and their downs. But they also reveal the faithfulness of God who never gave up on them.

Progressives want to take the fact these “saints” were sometimes wrong, so there must be other places where the Bible is wrong. Thus, we are free to figure out, on our own (boy, is this a disaster waiting to happen!) where else the Bible is wrong; especially in the realms of the role of women in the church, drinking, marriage, divorce, the meaning of church, politics, nationalism, and sexual ethics, just to name a few.

We need to see The Bible for what it really is: Stories of flawed human beings in the process of being restored by the Flawless God. There are things in the Bible that humans said that are sometimes Truth; and sometimes flawed. BUT. . . whatever God says is NEVER flawed. Look at the example of the Bereans in Acts chapter 17. They looked, studied, talked and did all that again and again. And Luke called the “Noble People”. Man, do we need some Noble People today!

Think about the California Gold Rush; how many people walked by looking in those streams but never saw that there was gold just lying there waiting to be discovered. It was there all along but you needed to work to get it; sifting through all the other “stuff” to get those nuggets. Now, more than ever we need to become Bereans and Gold Prospectors who will take the time and energy to sift through the “stuff” to find the nuggets of Truth. And that Truth will not be found through the eyes of others nor even through our own eyes.

We need the Holy Spirit to help us “see” the difference between the human flaws and His Eternal And Unchanging Truth! There are standards God has clearly given; but we may never see them using the wrong lens. But we can find The Truth even in the middle of this muddle of 21st Century Culture. This is possible if we commit to the effort through our time and energy under the direction and authority of the Holy Spirit to “pan for the gold” that is always there.

If I have made someone mad with this post, oh well. But. . .if this post is prompting and prodding you to open that Bible in a new light, with different “eyes”. . .you’re welcome.

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

The Missing Word Today

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

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

potatoes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Slide1

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.

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!

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!

Jesus-Left-Building-2

(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!!!!

What’s A Martyr?

Martyr

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?

GIVE UP THE QUICK FIX!

Romans 5:1-5 (NLT)

Therefore, since we have been made right in God’s sight by faith, we have peace with God because of what Jesus Christ our Lord has done for us. Because of our faith, Christ has brought us into this place of undeserved privilege where we now stand, and we confidently and joyfully look forward to sharing God’s glory.  We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance. And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation. And this hope will not lead to disappointment. For we know how dearly God loves us, because he has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with his love.

When life does not go as planned—forget that, let’s call it like it is—when life derails us with stresses and pressures, as humans we tend to want the Quick Fix.  We want it over as quickly as possible and to get back to some form of “normal”.

I have before you THE QUICK FIX BOX!  What’s in this box will fix anything and everything.  If the problem you have cannot be fixed with what’s in here, then it simply cannot be fixed.  And what’s in THE QUICK FIX BOX?  For only 3 easy payments of $29.95 you can find out.  But there’s more.  I’ll reduce it to 2, that’s right 2 easy payments of $44.92.  But wait, there’s more.  For the first 100, because you know we can’t do this forever, I’ll double the offer—that’s 2 QUICK FIX BOXES for the price of one.  Just pay a separate process and handling fee of $29.95.  Here is what’s inside The Quick Fix Box—1 roll of duct tape, 1 pack of zip ties, and an assortment of bungee cords.  Order yours today & mention the word QUICK and I’ll throw in free delivery to your doorstep!

Sometimes quick fixes work.  It was 1986, I was serving near Haleyville.  A friend in Cullman County asked me to come over and preach for a revival.  It was Friday, the last day.  I was going down Highway. 278 near the Cullman County Line.  I was behind a slow driver and when I finally came to a straightaway, I pushed the accelerator to the floor to pass them.  Suddenly it started misfiring and sputtering.  The temperature gauge was moving the wrong direction and steam was starting to come out.  I pulled over at an old country store, hoping they might have one of those flexible hoses I could buy that would fit.  They didn’t.  But in my toolbox, there was a roll of duct tape.

I taped the leak, added water, and did lot of praying.  Stopped in Cullman at a parts place, purchased the correct hose and a gallon of coolant in case that night I didn’t make it home before my quick fix wouldn’t work in longer.  Well, to make a long story short, I drove my truck for 3 more weeks before I decided to do the repair, and it still wasn’t leaking.

I tell this story because that while duct tape, zip ties and bungee cords may work as temporary, even long-term quick fixes—they do not work in the Spiritual Journey we take as followers of Jesus.  And if you can remember only 1 things from today’s message, this is it:  Life Is Not Easy, But It Is Good.

The temptation to follow the path of The Quick Fix always seems desirable.  Isn’t the quick fix backed up by one of the most basic rules of geometry?  The shortest distance between 2 points is a straight line.  The quicker the fix, the better we think we will be—but we’re not.  While we want the quick, God’s best teachings are rarely, if ever, found there.

In that Wilderness Time, Jesus understood that The Quick Fix is a temptation.  The 3 Quick Fixes that Jesus faced were Physical: to satisfy His personal need of hunger rather than God’s mission for him—turning stones into bread; Emotional:  use Sensationalism to win over the people’s hearts rather than challenging them; and Spiritual:  Compromise the Truth to make it easier rather than calling people to the Life of Holiness.  Jesus rejected all 3 Quick Fixes because He knew that none of them would really solve our most serious problems and our deepest needs.

Our most serious problem is sin—broken inside and alienated from God.  Our deepest need is forgiveness and redemption.  The problem and the need are met in one place—at the Cross of Jesus where His life was offered in our place.  Our part is to have faith—to trust in the work of Grace on the Cross to make us right with God.

And as Paul says, this is great joy for us!  I cannot understand people who say they have given their heart to Jesus, but their face and their voice looks and sounds like they have given their hearts to Satan.  I’m not judging, I’m just looking at the fruit, OK?  But I think most of us can agree it’s a moment of astonishing joy to invite Jesus into your heart.  But…but what about all those moments afterwards?

What Debbie and I are facing doesn’t lend itself to much joy.  Add to that what our family is dealing with concerning my Mother, there’s not much joy in it either.  Truth is, there’s a lot of hurt and frustration that comes from being hurt and helpless.  Yet there is this truth from Jesus, Himself in John 16:33—“Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows.”  “You will have” is in the indicative mood—the indicative mood means that it’s a matter of fact.  Not maybe, not possibly, not even probably—trials and sorrows, the pressures of life—they are going to happen.

When they come—and they will come—your natural tendency is to look for the Quick Fix.  The desire of the mind and heart is to get out of it as quickly as possible.  But this desire to give into the temptation of The Quick Fix does not solve the problem—it postpones the inevitable—and the inevitable always comes back with a vengeance and the real problem becomes much bigger.

So how should we handle the pressures, the trials, the sorrows that happen to all of us?  Well, long before Nick Saban developed and polished “his process”, God already had His Process in place.  Give up The Quick Fix for something far better—the process of The Holy Spirit living in you.  Here’s step 1:

Endurance Development

Vs. 3—We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance.

Sept. 4, 1987 is a splendid example of endurance.  Henry Dempsey and his co-pilot Paul Boucher for Eastern Express were flying a small commuter plane from Lewiston, Maine to Boston, Mass.  Not long after takeoff they heard a rattling sound from the back of the 15-passenger plane.  Henry handed off the controls to his co-pilot when he investigated the noise.  As Henry reached the rear of the plane they encountered turbulence and Henry fell against the rear door, which wasn’t closed properly.  Immediately it opened, and Henry was sucked out of that door but managed to hold on to the stairs.  Co-pilot Paul saw the indicator warning of an open door and immediately declared an emergency and landed at Portland, Maine.  He also notified the coast guard that the pilot had fallen from the plane and they started a search and rescue.  10 minutes later to everyone’s amazement, Henry was still holding on, half inside the plane and half outside, upside down.  His head was only 12 inches from the runway.  Henry managed to hold on in spite of 190 mph speed with only minor injuries.  Rumor has it that it took ground crew about 10 minutes to pry Henry’s hands off that ladder.  That’s endurance—the ability to hang-on when it would have been easier to give up.  Here are some guides to help develop endurance.

  • Accept The Unchangeable. In real life, sometimes airplane doors aren’t closed good; unfair things happen; problems arise.  Think about a pearl.  Pearls happen as the result of the irritation from a grain of sand.  The oyster begins the process to produce that pearl, all from an irritation.
  • Adjust To Obstacles. Plans inevitably will change.  Think of it like this story.  A young naval officer took his first command, it was a destroyer.  One night he saw a light and sent out a radio command, “Alter your course 10 degrees.”  He heard the reply, “You alter your course 10 degrees.” The young commander was irate and said, “This is a destroyer and I am a Navy Commander.”  He heard the reply, “This is a lighthouse and I’m the lighthouse keeper.”  Don’t let the changes in your plans blind you to lessons you need to learn.  Detours are full of surprises of God’s grace.
  • Abide With Patience. The late Margaret Thatcher, former British Prime Minister, once said, “I am extraordinarily patient provided I get my own way in the end.”  Abiding is living in your connection to God.  You’re not alone in those difficult moments.  Learn to lean and rest on The Father.  He will sustain you through anything you are facing.
  • Affirm The Presence. God is always with you. He is guiding you, sometimes teaching you, sometimes empowering you, always encouraging you. It’s the world that tells you to give up—never God!  No matter how much pressure is on you.  The Grace that puts us right with God, is still present in the pressures, problems and trials we face.

Step 2:

Character Development

Vs. 4a—And endurance develops strength of character

God is more concerned with your character than He is with your comfort.  He is more concerned with your holiness than He is with your happiness.  He is more concerned with you as a person than He is with your possessions.  God is getting you ready for your inheritance.  Your possessions will not go with you–but your character—and your holiness—who you are as a person will go on.  And if you are a Christian—you will live in God’s Kingdom–forever and ever amen!  There are 5 key qualities that God looks for in your Character:

  • Compassion. Compassion is more than an emotion; it’s love in action.  1 John 3:18—“Dear children, let’s not merely say that we love each other; let us show the truth by our actions.”  You can have success everywhere else in your life, but when you fail to show compassion you’re a failure in God’s eyes.
  • Consistency. God is looking for consistency over conformity.  Proverbs 10:9—“People with integrity walk safely, but those who follow crooked paths will slip and fall.”   Character is built over the long haul—consistently reflecting the life of Jesus.
  • Cooperation. It’s all about recognizing your place in the bigger picture of The Kingdom.  Philippians 2:3—“Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves.”  God is more concerned about how well you work with others than what you do on your own.
  • Commitment. Jesus doesn’t care for a Sunday afternoon stroll in the garden. Luke 9:23—“If any of you wants to be my follower, you must give up your own way, take up your cross daily, and follow me.”  Jesus didn’t like fans when He walked creation in human form and He hasn’t changed His mind.  You must commit whatever circumstances or situations you face.
  • Courage. Courage is fear under control. 1 Corinthians 15:58—“So, my dear brothers and sisters, be strong and immovable. Always work enthusiastically for the Lord, for you know that nothing you do for the Lord is ever useless.”  God is looking for people who are willing to stand up for the Kingdom of God over everything else.

Character is developed and revealed in all 5 traits.  Not 3 out of 5, or 4 out of 5.  This is the Character God wants from His people.  Step 3:

Expectation Development

Vs. 4b—character strengthens our confident hope of salvation.

Henry Ford once said, “Whether you think you can or think you can’t, you’re right.”  Ephesians 3:20—“Now all glory to God, who is able, through his mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think.”  Expand Your Expectations!  The word expand means to enlarge or spread out.  The word expectation means eager anticipation.  When you expand your expectations, you are enlarging your anticipation.

The more you anticipate the movement of God and His Holy Spirit, the more you will do, even in the face of demanding times and disappointments.  Expand your expectations of yourself.  Expand your expectations of this church.  Expand your expectations of who God can use.  Expand your expectations of the ways God will move.  Then and only then will you see God move in ways well beyond what you think.  Step 4.

Love Development

Vs. 5—And this hope will not lead to disappointment.  For we know how dearly God loves us, because he has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with his love.

If you desire your love for God to grow, then spend time—a lot of time focusing on how much God loves you.  1 John 4:10—“This is real love—not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as a sacrifice to take away our sins.”  It’s not God loving the good and lovable people.  It’s about God loving the bad and unlovable—and that’s you and me!  The Quick Fix circumvents opportunities to experience how much God loves us.  You can trust that God’s love is good because HE is good.  Whatever pressures life brings your way, know that God’s love will bring you through it.

The Gospel is not about us having enough or doing enough to appease God. The gospel is about what we have received from God in Christ to live in a way that pleases him.

Quick fixes lead to counterfeit Christianity–where “formalities” replace the integrity of faithful living.  Faith does not count what it will cost or the rewards they might receive, but serves God willingly and joyfully, then trusts God with the outcomes.

The gospel is about what we have received from God in Christ, and it’s then about the sometimes slow, but sure ways that God teaches us to live in a way that pleases him.  And this is the only way to find peace in the middle of pressures and problems.

Cultural Bias-The Bible And The Role Of Elders And Deacons

(This is the third post in a series around this question:  Are we reading our own Cultural Biases into the Bible?)

In examining the issue of cultural bias influencing one’s understanding of the Bible, nothing is protected from examination–even the practices of my own Tribe, the United Methodist Church.  Here is today’s question:  Are ‘deacons’ and ‘elders’ to be considered clergy (pastors/preachers) or laity (the person in the pew)?  Who’s right?

In case you may be unaware of this, but in my Tribe the offices of Elder and Deacon have traditionally been restricted to clergy or those engaging in specialized ministries–us folks who go through extensive education and even more extensive inquisitions from what we call the Board of Ordained Ministry (the Board of Ordained Ministry prefers the term “interview”, though it often looks more like an inquisition).

In other Tribes, the offices of elder and deacon are given to the laity; from among the rank and file membership.  Though my knowledge of these Tribes is limited, my experiences with members and pastors is that the deacons and especially the elders, carry great authority, even to having pastors and other staff fired, and of course, choosing who will be “hired”.

The first mention of Elders in a church is found in Acts 11:30 when Paul and Barnabas delivered a love offering from the churches in Antioch to the church in Jerusalem.  The word that has been translated as “elder” is the Greek word presbýteros, (pronounced pres-boo’-ter-os) and is comparative to the Greek word présbys ( which means elderly).  It refers to someone who is older;, a senior.  It is the same word used to describe key leaders in the Sanhedrin as well as local community leaders.  In other words, the church “borrowed” this word from the Jewish tradition.

First mention of “deacon” is in Romans 16:1, a letter Paul wrote around 57 A.D.  The Greek word used is diákonos, (pronounced dee-ak’-on-os) probably came from an obsolete word diákō (pronounced dee-ak’-o), which means to run on errands, an attendant, a waiter at table or in other menial duties, and one who executes the commands of another such as a master; one who is a servant, or attendant.  Now this doesn’t sound like someone with great authority or who carries around a big stick.

As I did my due diligence in this research there’s another word or “office” described by Paul–bishop!  It’s mentioned only twice in reference to people:  1 Timothy 3:1-2 and Titus 1:7.  It’s the Greek word episkopḗ, (pronounced ep-is-kop-ay’) and means  inspection, examine, and to visit.  It comes from the word episképtomai (pronounced ep-ee-skep’-tom-ahee) and means to go to see, relieve:—look out, visit.  By the way, it’s the same word found in Matthew 25:36 when Jesus said, “I was sick and you visited me.”  This “office of bishop” is seen only in a limited number of Tribes, mine included.

From these passages I see nothing about these offices (deacon, elder, bishop) being limited to clergy/preachers.  Furthermore, I do not see nor hear that idea of wielding great power or authority, especially the offices of deacon and bishop.  So how did these offices of the early church become what they are today?  In other words, “Where does this show signs of cultural bias?”

What I see is the influence of the Roman Catholic Tribe.  Now to my Roman Catholic friends, please understand I am NOT picking on you or putting your Tribe and Traditions down.  I’m simply stating a historical fact.  The first major organizing of the church resulted in the formation of what we know as the Roman Catholic Church/Tribe.

The first significant reorganization of the church happened in 1517 when Martin Luther posted his “95 Theses” (FYI, use of drums and guitars in a sanctuary were not listed in this document).  This led to what we now call the Protestant Reformation.  As bodies of believers, churches reorganized and new Tribes formed.  Over the decades and centuries these newly formed Tribes either copied the formal clerical structure of the Roman Catholic Tribe, or in an effort to distance themselves, went in the opposite direction of putting major leadership among laypersons rather than preachers.

This was influenced by Western Civilization of creating a hierarchy of authority and power.  Tribes such as mine, used the term “elder” and “bishop” to create that sense of authority and power.  These offices and roles were a far cry from the very first churches.  The influence of Western Europe and England are seen in how the Greek words are translated, in particular, the office of Bishop.  The word most commonly used in the English language is OVERSEER.  That sounds like an office filled with great authority, when in reality it is a word about visiting the sick, examining and looking at what happens.  OVERSEER also was used to describe an office in the ancient Feudal System.

At least to me it seems we have brought cultural biases when it comes to the offices of deacon, elder, and bishop/overseer.  And I find myself at odds with my own Tribe in the use of these offices.  I am also at odds with other Tribes that use these offices as forms of power and authority rather than offices of serving, caring for and caring about people.

Again, I am not asking or expecting anyone or everyone to agree with my thesis that these offices are another way that we have added cultural bias to our understanding of the Holy Writ.  But if we have added our cultural bias to even one part of the Holy Writ, then there is a high probability that we are adding our cultural biases into other parts.  What if, mind you, I’m only asking What If, What If we spend our time in the Holy Writ without the teachings and commentaries of our Tribes and listened to what was written?  What If we sought the Giver of all Wisdom to guide us in the struggle of understanding it for ourselves?  What If we looked back to the original languages as to the meaning of those words without adding cultural influences on those words?  What If we sought the Holy Spirit to be our Guide, instead of primarily resting upon our cultural biases?

A very good friend, mentor and spiritual guide in my life came out of a Tribe with a very strict legalistic background.  But now Tim embraces Grace and the understanding that the body of Christ is more than one Tribe, than God longs for Relationship over Rules.  I asked him once what led to his personal transformation.  He told me it happened as he was reading the Bible and the Holy Spirit began to challenge his personal cultural biases.  Maybe this is what we all need.

 

Cultural Bias–The Bible And Divorced Pastors

 

This is the second in this series around the thoughts of how cultural bias influences the truth of The Bible.  Remember that we all tend to read our personal cultural bias into the understanding and application of The Truth of The Bible.  It is a struggle to set aside personal and cultural biases for the sake of The Holy Writ.  Let me share with you again where I come from.  I am:

  1. A disciple of Jesus
  2. A pastor
  3. I am divorced
  4. I have remarried

I am, with the help of the Holy Spirit, setting aside my personal and cultural biases for the sake of first, understanding The Truth of The Bible and second, a true application of that Truth from The Bible.

And as promised from the first post, I am addressing the issue and question of divorced pastors.  More specifically is this question:  “Is a pastor disqualified  from future service if he or she is divorced?”  Well, let’s just see what we find in The Bible.  Today I am breaking away from my own cultural bias by not using the New Living Translation© nor The Message©, which are my personal favorites.  Instead, I will use the King James Version© because this is the translation that many use to justify their church cultural bias.

1 Timothy 3:1-7

1 This is a true saying, if a man desire the office of a bishop, he desireth a good work.  2 A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife, vigilant, sober, of good behaviour, given to hospitality, apt to teach; 3 Not given to wine, no striker, not greedy of filthy lucre; but patient, not a brawler, not covetous; 4 One that ruleth well his own house, having his children in subjection with all gravity; 5 (For if a man know not how to rule his own house, how shall he take care of the church of God?) 6 Not a novice, lest being lifted up with pride he fall into the condemnation of the devil. 7 Moreover he must have a good report of them which are without; lest he fall into reproach and the snare of the devil.  (emphasis mine)

Titus 1:5-9

5 For this cause left I thee in Crete, that thou shouldest set in order the things that are wanting, and ordain elders in every city, as I had appointed thee:  6 If any be blameless, the husband of one wife, having faithful children not accused of riot or unruly.  7 For a bishop must be blameless, as the steward of God; not self willed, not soon angry, not given to wine, no striker, not given to filthy lucre; 8 But a lover of hospitality, a lover of good men, sober, just, holy, temperate; 9 Holding fast the faithful word as he hath been taught, that he may be able by sound doctrine both to exhort and to convince the gainsayers.  (emphasis mine)

OK, no beating around the bush.  Let’s cut to the chase.  The church cultural bias of many is that if a person has been divorced or remarried after they divorce (some Tribes allow it so long as they don’t remarry) they cannot become a pastor/ preacher/ elder/ deacon.  And if they become divorced while serving in these offices then they are disqualified from any future service.  This cultural bias comes from that one phrase in the King James Version© the husband of one wife.

The application of this phrase is that they cannot, must not ever be divorced.  However, this application is not consistent with the interpretation of this passage.  When Jesus used the word “divorce”, the Greek phrase was apolyō autos gynē.  It means “put away his wife” or in legal terms–divorce.  This is NOT the same wording in either 1 Timothy nor Titus.  The Greek phrase from 1 Timothy 3:2 AND Titus 1:6  is anēr mia gynē, which means guess what?  “The husband of one wife”!  Instead of meaning “They cannot have been divorced, why can’t it mean “They cannot be a polygamist?”  Why can’t it mean, “They cannot have a spouse and someone on the side”?  The phrase anēr mia gynē literally means “one-woman man“.  Furthermore it is written in the PRESENT TENSE, not the PAST TENSE.  The application is for the current condition of the person in question, not their past.

Now, someone reading this may be thinking, “Well, what does the Greek language have to do with all this?”  Many years ago I offended an older “saint” when he challenged my use of modern translations.  He told me, “Look preacher, I only read the original Bible and I think you should, too!”  I replied, “Well, I am impressed with you, truly impressed.”  A bit disarmed, thinking I was paying him a high honor, asked, “What do you mean?”  And I replied, “I had no idea you could read and understand Hebrew and Greek.  This is most impressive.”  His reply was, “I’m not talking about Hebrew and Greek, I’m talking about the King James Version.”  His was offended when I said, “The original Bible was written in Hebrew and Greek.”  To his dying day, I do not think he believed me.

Those who insist that divorce disqualifies anyone from church leadership has applied an application that is inconsistent with the original Truth.  I have noticed that some do give allowances, in fact, the only allowances they claim that The Bible approves of:  adultery or abandonment by the other spouse.  Even this is a misapplication of The Truth of  The Bible.  If someone has been divorced, it is a sin, for any reasons according to God’s Intended Design.  Those 2 exception clauses were added by men, Moses and Paul.  But when we confess our sins, any sin, God forgives us and we are no longer called that by God.  (You can see the previous post here.)

Church Cultural Bias often excludes those who, like myself, have been divorced and remarried because of the wrong application of The Truth of The Bible.  If someone currently possesses those qualifications of leadership share with Timothy and Titus by Paul, then they are qualified to hold those positions and offices regardless of  the fact they may have been through divorce.  If God wipes the slate clean, then why can’t people?

Post Script:  I am not asking, nor expecting, anyone to agree with my applications of The Truths found in The Bible.  I only ask you to consider the possibility, even remote possibility, that you are making a misapplication of Spiritual Truths by bringing into your applications your own biases.  I know sometimes I am guilty of this…