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…

Cultural Bias-The Bible And Divorce

 

This is the first in a series of posts about how cultural biases influence the truth of The Bible.  As I accepted this challenge from the Holy Spirit, I realize, especially on today’s topic, that I am influenced by certain biases based on who I am.  Today’s subject is DIVORCE (and try to imagine Tammy Wynette singing “D-I-V-O-R-C-E“).  My personal culture is challenging me and I confess it is a struggle.  For I am:

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

On those last 2 bullet points, I will address in the next post.  But for now, let’s just focus on the single issue of divorce and The Bible.  Let’s look at the oldest known manuscript from the New Testament which is Mark 10:2-12

Some Pharisees came and tried to trap him with this question: “Should a man be allowed to divorce his wife?”  Jesus answered them with a question: “What did Moses say in the law about divorce?”  “Well, he permitted it,” they replied. “He said a man can give his wife a written notice of divorce and send her away.”

But Jesus responded, “He wrote this commandment only as a concession to your hard hearts. But ‘God made them male and female’from the beginning of creation. ‘This explains why a man leaves his father and mother and is joined to his wife, and the two are united into one.’ Since they are no longer two but one, let no one split apart what God has joined together.”

10 Later, when he was alone with his disciples in the house, they brought up the subject again. 11 He told them, “Whoever divorces his wife and marries someone else commits adultery against her. 12 And if a woman divorces her husband and marries someone else, she commits adultery.”

To understand what The Bible says about divorce, you need to understand what God says about marriage.  We see this in Genesis 2:24–“This explains why a man leaves his father and mother and is joined to his wife, and the two are united into one.”  Even Jesus quotes this in Mark 10:6-9.  Marriage is a life long commitment of a man and a woman.

So, what about divorce?  There are 2 camps on this issue.  One camp says that since the death of Jesus, this “law” has been abolished.  God is all about the love now and the “law” doesn’t apply.  Sound familiar?  Isn’t it easy to justify our views!  Yet Jesus said in Matthew 5:17-19–17 “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.”  So much for this cultural bias.

The other camp says that if divorce happens, neither should remarry, otherwise they are guilty of adultery.  Adultery is a violation of the boundaries God provided for His gift of sexual intimacy.  I will address the issue of sexuality later, but for now, let’s understand that the only expression of sexual intimacy that God approves of and blesses is that between husband (man) and wife (woman).

I admit that at times I am not the brightest light bulb in the box, but it is very clear that God, and thus The Bible, does not approve of divorce.  Now remember my own cultural bias–I am divorced and have remarried.

So let’s set the facts:

  1. Divorce is a sin
  2. Remarrying results in adultery, which is also a sin

I believe that the biases around divorce are not about the Principle, rather it is in the Application of this Truth.  I think most of us would agree the divorce violates God’s Intended Design.  So how do we apply this, I’ll call it “Truth Principle”, to the lives, like myself, who are found in the muck and mire of divorce?  I might as well use myself as our case study.

First, I violated God’s Intended Design, thus I had sinned.  How do I apply this Truth Principle to my life?  Well, what should any of us do when we have sinned?  I brought this sin of divorce to the place I had always brought my sin:  to the foot of The Cross.  It wasn’t easy.  The part that wasn’t easy at first was believing He would actually forgive me and give me a fresh start.  After all, I was a “pastor” and would He even want me any longer because of my sin?  I was broken and a mess.

I was ready to pull a “Jonah” and walk away from His calling.  With a handful of people, God used them to let me know that I was forgiven.  But now there were 2 deeper issues for me:  “Could I forgiving myself?  And what does God do with me now?”  There were those who were beating me up over the divorce and I don’t know why.  I was doing a real good job of beating myself up.  Right after the divorce my best friend at night was Jack, Jack Daniels that is.  But God stayed faithful to me and in this process He taught me this:  “Look bonehead, if I can forgive you, and I have, then it’s OK to forgive yourself.  Jesus already took your guilt and condemnation.  You’re carrying around false guilt and false condemnation.  STOP IT, ALREADY!  I’ve got work for you to do!”

The Spirit then reminded me of these passages:

Psalm 103:12 (NLT)

He has removed our sins as far from us as the east is from the west.

Isaiah 43:25 (NLT)

“I—yes, I alone—will blot out your sins for my own sake and will never think of them again.”

2 Corinthians 5:17 (NLT)

This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun!

1 John 1:9  (NLT)

But if we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness.

The Principle Truth of the Bible says that I am forgiven, my sins are forgotten by God, I have a brand new life and that He has cleansed my sin from me.  But the cultural bias says that because I have remarried, I am now guilty of adultery BECAUSE I am divorced.  But am I now guilty of adultery?  Cultural Bias says “YES” But the Principle Truth of The Bible says “NOT AT ALL” because God has forgiven and forgotten my sin.  Had I not brought my sin to The Cross, then most definitely I would be guilty of adultery.

Here’s the application of this Principle Truth of The Bible.  God no longer sees me with the label of “divorced” even though the Cultural Bias calls me more than divorced, it calls me a “Divorced Pastor”.  Tell me this:  if someone was guilty of stealing but repented and confessed to God and trusted by faith in the redeeming work of Jesus on The Cross, do you still call that person “Thief”?  If their sin was gossiping and they turned away and were forgiven by God, do you still call them “Gossiper”?  If she was a prostitute and she came to Jesus and turned away from her old life would you still call her “Whore”?  (I suspect someone reading this is more upset by the word “whore” than the fact they put labels on people that God refuses to put on them.)

Cultural Bias treats divorce different from every other sin because it puts the moniker over the person for the rest of their lives, even though God doesn’t.  I know that to some this may sound like self-justification for my own sin.  But here’s the truth:  I have walked through this dark night of the soul.  I was allowing cultural bias define me rather that the Principle Truths of God’s Word.  And I have approached this subject with great struggle and with even greater humility.  I am NOT one of those who loves to show off my scars.  I would rather keep them hidden.  But if my scars helps one person to be set free from this cultural bias and rip off that horrible name put on them by cultural bias, then God has used my scars for His Glory, and I’m OK with that.

If you are divorced, first and foremost GO TO THE CROSS!  Allow that most precious blood pour over you and hear The Father say, “It’s gone and forgotten!  You are a brand new person!”  Now you are free to live your life by God’s Design.  I have learned much from my sin and apply those lessons every day.  God brought a wonderful gift into my life when I was in the dark night of my soul.  Her name is Debbie.  Debbie lavished God’s Grace on me and though I was reluctant (I mean VERY reluctant) to fall in love with her, I did.  I see her as one of God’s wonderful gifts and try (not always successfully) to treat her the way any of God’s gifts need to be treated.  With respect, honor, gratitude and joy.

wedding reception

But What About…???

If you are not a United Methodist, or have not been following “The Great Controversy”, or are simply a United Methodist who has had their head buried in the sand while hoping “The Great Controversy” will just go away, these words from my heart and mind will probably not mean much to you and you will just pass over these words.  As “The Preacher”, called by God’s infinite Grace and ordained by God and my Tribe, I am compelled by the Holy Spirit to speak into “The Great Controversy”.  I do this with great humility because I know I am far from perfect; but I also know that God, through the Holy Spirit, is working on my imperfections.

To my friends who identify themselves as “gay”, and to my friends who support being “gay” as being acceptable to God, I know we are on different sides of this “The Great Controversy” and my heart and mind could cause you to “unfriend” me.  I pray that our connection is deeper than one issue.  I believe it is.

In a recent small group I was leading that focused on the question of human sexuality, the question was asked of me:  “Can a person be gay and be a Christian?”  Because I had spent a lot of time in prayer and meditation in The Bible before we began this small group, I know it was the Holy Spirit that inspired my response.  I replied, “Can a person who cheats on their income tax be a Christian?  Can a person who steals office supplies from work be a Christian?  Can a person who engages in premarital or extramarital sex be a Christian?  My answer is yes.  But one cannot be fully formed and developed in Christ as long as any sin remains in us.”  And to my hyper-conservative friends (and foes), I ask again that you refrain from using that horrible word “abomination” against the LBGTQ community.  Truth is, all expressions of sin is an abomination to God.  Those who insist that they don’t struggle with some recurring sin is not, in my humble opinion, being honest.  What they have done is made peace with their “sin of choice”.  And now the reason I am writing this blog.

That body known as the “Commission On A Way Forward” shared their report to our bishops.   (You can read about this report here.)  While I have been hopeful about the work of the Commission, I am not surprised by their report, nor am I surprised by the response of some of our bishops; and this deeply saddens me.

The article (you can see the entire article here) opens with this line:  “Placing emphasis on the values of unity, space and contextuality – all for the sake of mission – the Council of Bishops (COB) is exploring sketches of three models as possible directions for a way forward for The United Methodist Church over LGBTQ inclusion.”  But what about The Bible?  Does it no longer hold any value?  Is unity, space and contextuality more important than Truth?  More important than God’s Grace that transforms us into HIS image?

Here are the “options” presented to the bishops:

  • Affirm the current Book of Discipline language and place a high value on accountability. The church policy book says the practice of homosexuality “is incompatible with Christian teaching” and lists officiating at a same-gender union or being a “self-avowed practicing” gay clergy member as chargeable offenses under church law.
  • Remove restrictive language and place a high value on contextualization. This sketch also specifically protects the rights of those whose conscience will not allow them to perform same-gender weddings or ordain LGBTQ persons.
  • Create multiple branches that have clearly defined values such as accountability, contextualization and justice.  In other words, “Choose which branch of the United Methodist Church you like. “

And what about The Bible?  Everything in each “option” is about “their view”.  And thus the source of humanity’s mess that goes back to “the view” of Adam and Eve.  Truth is that our view can and will violate God’s view without a commitment to and trust in God’s intended design and purposes.  I realize that mean and vicious people have twisted the Bible to fit their views rather than allowing the Holy Spirit to renew and transform what can only be called stickin’ thinkin’  so that we may be formed in God’s intent and design.  But alas, it seems the church that God used to save this wretch like me, would rather I and others, even everyone, be formed by “their view” than transformed by God’s truth.

So, as I await the decision coming in February 2019 from the governing body of my Tribe, a Tribe of which I have been in my entire life, I have made my decision.  My decision is to become the person God intends for me to become and be faithful to His design.  After all, HE created me.  Furthermore, as one called out because of God’s grace, I will no longer be tied to a group that emphasizes feelings over truth.  I grieve deeply over this informed decision in my heart, but I will be faithful to this decision with deep humility.  Though I grew up in the United Methodist Church, and have served Jesus for over 43 years in this church, I probably will not finish my race in this life in this Tribe if the decision is “choose your own way”.  As Joshua challenged the Hebrews, his challenge is now before me from Joshua 24:15 (NIV)

But if serving the Lord seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.”

It is better to serve the Lord…and this is my choice, my only “option”…

The Family Values Of Jesus

1 Family Values

(This is from my current sermon series on the Hard Sayings of Jesus.  Feedback welcomed and encouraged)

There is a tendency among us “church-goers” to focus on the kinder and gentler Jesus.  We love the Jesus that is kind and gentle because, well, that’s what we really need.  For one reason, we live in a world that is harsh and unkind.  Another reason is that we recognize our own shortcomings and we need that kind and gentle Jesus to correct us when we’re wrong.  So, we focus on the kindness of Jesus and bypass what I can only describe as the Tough Jesus.  Jesus was at times Abrasive, and I’m not talking about how He dealt with the Scribes and Pharisees.  So I need to begin this series with a, call it, a Disclaimer:

Disclaimer

Jesus said some things that can be difficult to handle.  Most of us don’t want to deal with that part of Jesus.  But if we believe that Jesus is the Son of God who came to teach us the truth about God, then we need to listen to everything Jesus taught, even if it is harsh or difficult to understand.  If Jesus said something, I believe that we need to pay attention to those words.

To understand what Jesus says, we need to get a grasp on Jesus the Communicator of The Truth.  First, He was a great Story-Teller, using ordinary things to describe the extraordinary truth of the Kingdom. Second, He spoke direct authority, meaning we should take them as having authority over us.

A final communication tool of Jesus was his superb use of Hyperbole.  The definition of Hyperbole is an obvious and intentional exaggeration, embellishment or magnification.  Here’s an example:  “He’s older than dirt.”  That can’t be because we came from dirt.  It just a way of saying, “Man, they are really old.”  Here’s an easy hyperbole of Jesus:  (Matt. 7:3 NLT)—“Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?”  We know that a plank won’t fit into an eye socket.  Maybe some people’s big mouth, but not their eye socket, OK?

When it comes to the meaning of the words of Jesus, we simply do not have the luxury, nor the authority, nor the wisdom of choosing an understanding that simply makes us feel better about ourselves or about Jesus.  Let’s take a moment to lay some groundwork that will carry us through the rest of this series, and through those passages we will not be able to address at this time.  How do we sort through what is hyperbole and what is authoratative? Here are 2 steps to guide us in this determination:

  1. Is It Possible? Back to the speck of dust and plank story.  It’s simply not possible to walk around with a plank sticking out of your eye.  Not possible?  Then it’s hyperbole.  If the answer is Yes, then go to Step 2:
  2. Is It Consistent With The Message And Principles Of The Kingdom? Jesus will never contradict Himself.  If it is not consistent with the Kingdom Message, then it’s hyperbole.

If the answer to either of these is No, then there is a very high degree of confidence that Jesus is speaking in hyperbole.  If the answer to both questions is Yes, then there should be an even higher confidence that Jesus is speaking literally.  Then our response is clear:  do what Jesus said to do.  But if He is speaking in hyperbole, how do we get to the truth?  3 steps that help us find the truth:

  1. What Is Happening Just Before Those Words?
  2. What Happened Or Was Said Right After Those Words?
  3. What Is The “Point” Jesus Is Trying To Make? What is the Kingdom principle Jesus is teaching?  Sometimes it comes with Jesus explaining it directly, sometimes it’s more subtle.  This step may take a while.

Our first passage is from Luke 14:25-35 (NIV)

25 Large crowds were traveling with Jesus, and turning to them he said:26 “If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even their own life—such a person cannot be my disciple.27 And whoever does not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.

28 “Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Won’t you first sit down and estimate the cost to see if you have enough money to complete it?29 For if you lay the foundation and are not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule you, 30 saying, ‘This person began to build and wasn’t able to finish.’

31 “Or suppose a king is about to go to war against another king. Won’t he first sit down and consider whether he is able with ten thousand men to oppose the one coming against him with twenty thousand? 32 If he is not able, he will send a delegation while the other is still a long way off and will ask for terms of peace. 33 In the same way, those of you who do not give up everything you have cannot be my disciples.

34 “Salt is good, but if it loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? 35 It is fit neither for the soil nor for the manure pile; it is thrown out.  “Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear.”

Wow!  Is it just me, or does Jesus come down hard on our concept of family values?  Yet there it is, in black and white, unless you have a red-letter edition of the Bible.  Here’s the one thing you need to remember, and it’s directly from Jesus: “If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even their own life—such a person cannot be my disciple.

Maybe the NIV translators did a poor job with the Greek and Jesus didn’t really say “hate your family”.  But, nope, it’s there even in the KJV.  Why would Jesus say such a thing?  Maybe He was just having a bad day, or He was just tried of walking, or maybe tired that all those people were following behind Him and He simply wanted to be alone.  Or better yet, maybe this is that hyperbole thing going on—He didn’t mean it literally—He was just exaggerating.  Hyperbole isn’t meant to be taken literally.  But when Jesus uses hyperbole, He really is making a point and we need to understand the point Jesus is making.  Is today’s passage a hyperbole or is Jesus saying something literally?

 Now, let’s apply the first 2 questions to today’s passage:

  1. Is It Possible? Matthew 12:46-49—46 As Jesus was speaking to the crowd, his mother and brothers stood outside, asking to speak to him. 47 Someone told Jesus, “Your mother and your brothers are standing outside, and they want to speak to you.” 48 Jesus asked, “Who is my mother? Who are my brothers?” 49 Then he pointed to his disciples and said, “Look, these are my mother and brothers.”  Now let’s apply the 2nd question
  2. Is It Consistent With The Message And Principles Of The Kingdom? (Mark 8:34-35)   34 “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must give up your own way, take up your cross, and follow me. 35 If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake and for the sake of the Good News, you will save it.

OK, the answer to question 1 is YES and the answer to question 2 is YES.  So, we must conclude that Jesus isn’t speaking in hyperbole, but literally.  But why should we love God so deeply, even more than our closest relationships?  Why would Jesus tell us to set aside everything, including family, and follow Him?  Here’s what I see Jesus saying why we must set our families aside in order to put our love for God ahead of every other relationship:

 1) Our God Is A Jealous God!

“For you must not worship any other god. For the Lord, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God.” Exo. 34:14 (NLT)

God is unwilling to accept any divided loyalty.  Anything can come between us and God.  Usually we think in terms of stuff coming before God.  Those trinkets called idols—like money, that job, that house, that car—physical things.  But it’s not just the physical things that can get between us and God.

Some think it’s the bad stuff—the sinful stuff—like another religion, drugs, pornography, politics.  No doubt this bad stuff can become more important than God.  But it’s not just the bad stuff that can get between us and God.

Good stuff can AND will get between us and God. Have you ever thought that the good stuff gets in the way of following Jesus?   God refuses to play second to anyone and we dishonor Him when anyone takes priority over Him.

2)  It’s The Difference From Following Jesus As A Disciple And Following Jesus As A Spectator

Then he said to the crowd, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must give up your own way, take up your cross daily, and follow me.” Luke 9:23 (NLT)

Here’s the approach many people take.  “OK, I have this, this, and that to do this week, so where can I fit Jesus into my calendar?”  When we look for places to fit Jesus in, we are no longer following Him as a Disciple, but as a spectator.  There was this crowd following BEHIND Jesus.  But they were NOT following WITH Jesus.  Here’s an example from Mark 3:21-34.  That woman had a health problem.  She decided that if she could just touch the hem of his garment she could be healed—and she was.

Now here’s the point—Were there others in that crowd around Jesus who had problems that had physical contact with Jesus?  More than likely she wasn’t the only one with issues.  But only she was made whole.  Why?  She wanted more than to be around Jesus—she wanted the power of Jesus in her life—and that took direct contact of her heart and her faith in Jesus!

We cannot give our families what they really need unless God is more important to us than them.  In our culture, we need a realignment of priorities.  This is the whole point of what Jesus is teaching then—and especially teaching now!  It’s important for families to understand this—because we are the front-line battle formation for the reclaiming and restoration of God’s Creation.

Next Steps

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!

You’re Just Not Yourself When You’re Hungry! Part 2 of 2

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Welcome back!  For this to make sense you need to read yesterday’s post.  I left off with the truth that our heart hungers for a way to hear the voice of God in a way that is personal, and in a way that acknowledges 3 things.  Here are those 3 things:

That We Are

God did not create us to be His slaves, but His children.  God made us to experience an intimate relationship and fellowship with Him.  In The Word we discover that God knows us.  He knows where we are.  He knows what we feel.  When we are deeply hurting, God knows that we are hurting.  When we are so afraid, God knows we’re afraid.  When we are so angry, angry at life, angry at others, angry at Him, God knows we’re angry.

When we mess up and our life lies in ruins around us, God knows our despair.  When we doubt His presence, doubt His love, doubt His promises, and even doubt His Word, God knows our doubts.  Are you afraid that God will turn away from you?  Don’t be!  In The Word we discover the God who knows everything about us and with tender compassion understands our fears and our pains.  This Word always finds us and in the good times and the darkest times.

That We Are Important

God values you and deems you important to Him.  Your family may tell you you’re worthless.  People you know may tell you that you’re worthless.  Bosses and coworkers may tell you you’re worthless.  Your world may tell you you’re worthless.  Even your mind may tell you that you’re worthless.  But you will never hear God call you worthless.

In Isaiah 43:1 we hear The Word say:  The one who formed you says, “Do not be afraid, for I have ransomed you. I have called you by name; you are mine.”  Every day we read or hear about a child, a spouse, an elderly person, someone mentally ill being abandoned.  But you are so important to God that He will never abandon you or forget you.  In The Word we hear God speak in Isaiah 49:16, “See, I have written your name on the palms of my hands.”  Those hands are nail scarred hands.  To hunger for the Word is to know that you are going to encounter the One who has written your name on His hands!

That We Are Important To His Purposes

In The Word we can discover that God has a plan for this world and that you are an important part of His plan.  God has a place for you.  Paul wrote in Ephesians 2:10, “For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.”  God sees you as His Masterpiece.  As we immerse our minds and hearts into His Word, we can discover and see His Masterpiece.  A simple glance at The Word is not enough.  We cannot see the Masterpiece that He sees until we linger and remain in His Word.  He reveals what He sees in us, and what He made us to be.

But it takes time, and often, a lot of time.  God does not reveal it all at once, but piece by piece.  In this process we will discover the trustworthiness of God.  You are so important to His purposes that He will not give up on you, even if you do.  He created Adam and Eve to be an important part of His creation plan.  And he saved us to become an important part of His redemption plan.

In The Word, as we read, study, wrestle, and reflect we do indeed discover that God has a plan and a purpose for your life.  And you are important to Him.  How important is He to you?  Let’s read the rest of the passage from Matthew 13:18-23 (The Message)

“Study this story of the farmer planting seed. When anyone hears news of the kingdom and doesn’t take it in, it just remains on the surface, and so the Evil One comes along and plucks it right out of that person’s heart. This is the seed the farmer scatters on the road. The seed cast in the gravel—this is the person who hears and instantly responds with enthusiasm. But there is no soil of character, and so when the emotions wear off and some difficulty arrives, there is nothing to show for it.  The seed cast in the weeds is the person who hears the kingdom news, but weeds of worry and illusions about getting more and wanting everything under the sun strangle what was heard, and nothing comes of it.  The seed cast on good earth is the person who hears and takes in the News, and then produces a harvest beyond his wildest dreams.” (Verses 18-23)

Each of us is found somewhere in this story.

  1. Some people’s heart is like the road. They put up a barrier to God’s word.  Some put up a barrier because they are unwilling to surrender their hearts to God.  Some are afraid that God is going to take away the fun in their life.  I believe that many more are afraid to give up control of their life.
  2. Some people’s heart is like ground covered in gravel They lack the depth to allow god’s word to grow in them. These are the ones who choose respectability over commitment.  They want to give the appearance that they love God.
  3. Some people’s heart is like ground covered with weeds. They allow doubts, fears, worries, problems to be bigger than God.
  4. Some people’s hearts are the good, fertile ground. The good soil is the heart that takes the seed deep within, where we find strength, comfort, hope and the challenge. It’s in the deepest parts of our heart where we wrestle and struggle.

The word is not always easy to understand, nor is it automatically easy to accept.  His Word Comes To Stir Us Up, To Face The Truth About God, About The World, And Most Importantly, About Ourselves.

 

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

You’re Just Not Yourself When You’re Hungry! Part 1 of 2

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Remember that line from those Snickers commercials?  I just love that ad campaign.  I’ve always heard, “Never go grocery shopping when you are hungry.”  Know what?  It’s true!  My wife Debbie will send me grocery shopping when the budget is a little tight.  She sends me because I have a list—and I stick to that list.  If it ain’t on the list it ain’t going in the shopping cart, unless it is a really good sale price.  BUT, you should know I have a but to put in here, if I go when I’m hungry, I stray big time from that list.  So, I don’t go grocery shopping when I’m hungry.

Here’s another but, BUT when it comes to reading God’s Word (The Bible), I need to be hungry; otherwise I will probably miss what my heart is truly hungry for.  To limit one’s self to a list when grocery shopping is a good habit.  My tendency is that without that list I buy too much of the wrong stuff and forget what we really need.  I even have an app on my phone to help me stay with “The List”.  (FYI, my favorite app is ColorNote®)

When it comes to God’s Word, many people read it with a shopping list.  For many people that shopping list doesn’t have “How Can I Be More Like The Real Jesus”.  It has things like, “How can I prove my point?  How can I find a verse to justify my life?” Unfortunately our “twisted-unrenewed-untransformed-into-the-mind-of-Christ” perspective will usually find a verse (taken out of context of course) that justifies our position and our life.  The Bible isn’t God’s gift to help us feel better about ourselves, but His gift to help us know Him better.  Maybe it is better that we just go hungry while “shopping” in the Word.  And in knowing Him better, see a truer image of ourselves.  This truer image of ourselves starts with understanding our own brokenness and sin.  As a side note, read the Bible to see where your life is going wrong, not to point out what’s wrong with others and the world

Let’s look at Matthew 13:1-9 (The Message) 

At about that same time Jesus left the house and sat on the beach. In no time at all a crowd gathered along the shoreline, forcing him to get into a boat. Using the boat as a pulpit, he addressed his congregation, telling stories.  “What do you make of this? A farmer planted seed. As he scattered the seed, some of it fell on the road, and birds ate it. Some fell in the gravel; it sprouted quickly but didn’t put down roots, so when the sun came up it withered just as quickly. Some fell in the weeds; as it came up, it was strangled by the weeds. Some fell on good earth, and produced a harvest beyond his wildest dreams.”  “Are you listening to this? Really listening?”

Inside each of us is a hunger that will never go away.  People are always trying to satisfy that hunger.  Some try things like money, possessions, drugs, and power.  Others even try to fill that hunger with respectability.  They try to give the appearance of being kind, caring and loving.  They try to believe if they look good, then they are good.  They truly put on a good show, so good that they are able to hide the emptiness from others, but never from themselves.

This hunger is so much more than anything on this earth can fill.  It is a hunger to hear the voice of God, to hear His Word in a way that is both to us and for us.  Our hearts cry out to hear God speak to us.  We try to silence that cry by occupying our time with other things, but the heart still cries out.  The heart knows what the heart wants and needs.  We try to silence it, but it will not go away.  If you try to give it anything other than The Word, it will not be satisfied.  To truly pursue the heart of God, you must have that unending appetite for His Word. To hunger for the Word means we want to encounter the living God.  There’s more to The Word than ink and pages.  Every word of the Bible is meaningless without the Presence of God.

There is not a single word in this book that will transform us without the Power of God.  I do not mean to be irreverent to God, but I may offend someone who hears this:  Having a well worn Bible does not necessarily mean you have a well formed life in Christ.  Our heart hungers for a way to hear the voice of God in a way that is personal, and in a way that acknowledges 3 things:  And we will look at them tomorrow.

Overlooking The Signs!

Has anyone ever told you of a place you needed to see but you did not have a clue where it was located?  Obviously you needed directions and inevitably those directions included certain “signs” to look for, either the ones mounted on a post or a particular place.  Miss that sign and you miss where you are needing to go.

In the last few years God has been taking me on a radical journey that has completely turned my understanding of church upside down.  Well, let me rephrase that:  it has turned my understanding of the church right-side-up.  And while I thought this journey began about 5 years ago, this morning I realized it started much sooner.  Right now I am recognizing that this journey started in 1990.  Who knows, maybe even further back than that.

In early 1990 a friend and fellow co-conspirator in this work of being a called out pastor, called me to let me know one of our former professors was about to retire due to the continued deterioration of his vision and that summer would be his last time to teach.  Dr. David Naglee was a professor of New Testament Theology and had a profound impact on me.  His insights and style of sharing those insights were amazing and opened my eyes to a new depth of understanding.  I did not need to further my education in terms of Tribal demands, but I wanted to sit at the feet of Rabbi Naglee one more time, so I enrolled.

The drawback, or so I thought at the time, was I had to take 2 courses.  The other course was called “Good and Evil:  A Christian Perspective On Suffering.”  Due to the short term nature of this summer semester, there were required readings and papers that had to be submitted 2 months in advance of these classes.  Rabbi Naglee’s reading list was enjoyable and I loved writing those papers.  But that other class, well, some of those books were heresy I tell you, absolute heresy!  So I accepted the assignment as just a necessary  evil in order to learn from this Rabbi.  By the way, he wasn’t Jewish, it’s just a term of endearment from me to Dr. Naglee.

About 2 weeks before I left for Emory we were taking a family camping vacation at a state park.  We had set up the camper and went to the grocery store for supplies.  When I returned the park ranger had left an emergency message to call a church member.  When I called Ronnie he informed me that one of our youth, a 15 year old cheerleader and honor role student, had just been killed in an automobile accident.  It now fell upon me to find some way to offer God’s comfort in the middle of a tragedy that just didn’t make sense.

But almost immediately I remembered (actually it was the Holy Spirit who reminded me) one of those books from that “other” course, that necessary evil I had to endure in order to sit at the feet of Rabbi Naglee.  It was Philip Yancey’s classic Disappointment With God.    Actually it was the only book I thought worth reading at the time from the list.  Yancey had taught me this:  If it is not Good News in the hospital, if it is not Good News in the nursing home, if it is not Good News at the funeral home, then it is not Good News at all.  But it is Good News because the truth of the Good News endures the hard times of life and even thrives in the tight, dark and difficult places where real life happens every day.

The Spirit flooded my heart and mind with words of hope that I otherwise would not have had IF I had not chosen to sit at the feet of Rabbi Naglee and endure that “necessary evil” called “Good and Evil:  A Christian Perspective On Suffering.” God knew I would be facing a hurting family, a hurting church, a hurting community and a hurting school that urgently needed to know there is still Good News in the middle of tragedy.  On the day of that funeral, the funeral home chapel was full, as were all their parlors, the halls and anywhere a person could squeeze in to stand.  Fortunately the Fire Marshall wasn’t there because that building had exceeded it’s maximum occupancy rating.

Looking back, I now see that God’s gracious presence and plan was already setting me up for even more.  Now I am looking for those signs, those moments that may not seem to be important to me or most and may even feel like a necessary evil, for I know that God is not finished with me and has much more to teach me.  Right now I’m thinking about Romans 8:28 and from The Message it goes like this:

He knows us far better than we know ourselves, knows our pregnant condition, and keeps us present before God. That’s why we can be so sure that every detail in our lives of love for God is worked into something good.

It is inevitable that living in a church-centered world we will miss one of God’s road signs in this Kingdom Journey.  The church-centered world and message will disappoint us because it is built around and upon human effort and human personalities.  But when we live in the Kingdom-Centered Good News, God is prepared for what lies ahead and is preparing us for those moments.  John Wesley calls this part of the nature of God’s grace Prevenient.  Prevenient is a big theological word like mahogany.  It comes from the Latin word that means “to go before”.

God is going before, ahead of you, and along your journey He has some well placed signs for you.  They may not make sense to you at the time, and may even seem like a necessary evil.  Just don’t miss them!  People, things and events are some of the means God uses to bring us into the life that is much bigger and better than we ever imaged.  Don’t give up, and don’t miss a sign, because…..

There has never been the slightest doubt in my mind that the God who started this great work in you would keep at it and bring it to a flourishing finish on the very day Christ Jesus appears.

(Philippians 1:6 from The Message)

Remember, love God with all your heart.  Love others the way God loves you.  And make sure all the glory goes to Him, by becoming Great in the Kingdom of God!