Sunday, June 26, 2011

Pull, don't push

Have you ever walked up to a building and tried to enter into a door that is clearly marked "pull" but you paid no attention and tried to push your way through anyway?  I do this often sometimes on the same door over and over again. You would think that after several attempts ending in injury instead of entry I would learn, but, my head is obviously too thick to get it.

I think this is a good analogy for how leadership works in the church.  Biblically, leadership is defined as service.  The first will be last and the last will be first.  If you want to be the greatest you must be a servant to all.  Great leaders lead by example.  They are in the front with everyone else following their movements.  They are pullers.

Somehow we have gotten bogged down in this idea that leaders are supposed to be pushers.  So we pay them a salary so that they can yell at everyone in order to push them into doing the right thing.  They push this doctrine and that program and these rules but the only example of service they give is their pushing.  So, as leaders, those who should be following them are actually being pushed by them and in turn end up pushing the person in front of them who pushes another, who pushes another and the pushing continues forward till everone is being pushed and no one is pulling.

If the door says pull, then pushing just causes injury and no one is able to enter.

Do you think that the kingdom of God has a door that says "push" or "pull"?

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Chain Blog: solving the problem

I've been tooling around with some ideas on how to contribute to the chain of blogs set forth by Alan Knox on the topic of division.  There have already been five great posts in the chain.  Be sure to check them out, there's some really good stuff going down.

“Links” in this chain blog:
This is the sixth post in the chain and I know more are coming.

  1. If you would like to write the next blog post (link) in this chain, leave a comment stating that you would like to do so. If someone else has already requested to write the next link, then please wait for that blog post and leave a comment there requesting to write the following link.
  2. Feel free to leave comments here and discuss items in this blog post without taking part in the actual “chain”. Your comments and discussion are very important in this chain blog.
  3. When you write a link in this chain, please reply in the comments of the previous post to let everyone know that your link is ready. Also, please try to keep an updated list of links in the chain at the bottom of your post, and please include these rules at the bottom of your post.

So that's how we do this thing and now its time to make this chain a little longer.

If we want to solve the division problem it is important to ask ourselves the question: "what is the opposite of division?" Many of the previous writers in the chain have alluded to unity as being the goal and opposite of division. I agree that division is a tool of our nemesis to prevent the unity of the church. Yet, as I read what was written to the churches in the NT, what I see is that unity is something we already have in Christ. We are to hold on to it, it is ours already. It's not something we have to work for, but something we have to be mindful of. Christ prayed for it in the garden and with the coming of the Holy Spirit I believe it has been given. If then, we are already united in Christ, why are we still divided? And how do we overcome that division and walk in unity?

Well, my answer is rooted in what I do everyday: math. Yep, in my mathematics riddled mind the opposite of division is multipilication. I know that thought seems pretty whacked, even coming from me but before you go gettin' all technical on me, check out how it clicks in my noggin.  There are several good answers to the question like faith, humility and love along with many practical ways to keep the gospel of Christ crucified at the center of any disagreement but I'm gonna stick with the math angle because I think weird.

Consider this: if we work hard with our focus and efforts aimed at unity with one another, what is the result? We eventually reach our goal of unity. YAY!  But as I said in the beginning, I believe unity has already been granted, it is something we already have in Christ and our job is to walk in it by faith.  There is a huge difference between trying to make something happen by our own strength, our knowledge of right and wrong (good and evil) and living by the divine life in hope of the promises already secured for us in Christ.  With that faith as our starting point where should our focus be? On our great commission!  Now doesn't that put just the slightest kink in the chain?!  What can I say?  I'm a rebel.

This is where the math comes in. Instead of focusing on how to be unified we can focus on the work set before us. We are free to turn the world upside down. We rest in the finished work of Christ and bring others into that rest. With multiplication as our factor and Christ as our sum we are no longer too busy solving the division problems that have already been solved. The secondary issues and personal preferences fade into the background. The fractions are broken down and we establish that the least common denominator is Christ. We rightly see how we are various shapes and sizes but are members of one whole. The variables in the equation are all solved and we find that all the X's and Y's are changed into numbers being added to the kingdom.  Math:  it"s like the divine order of all things.

We must see ourselves as we are in Christ and move on from there. We are different members united into one body, a new man. All this striving to get to the starting line means we haven't even begun to run the race. It's impossible to finish well in a race we haven't begun.

So, how do we attain unity? We can't, Christ prayed for that for us and it has been granted through his indwelling.  We can continue to pray like Paul did for the church in Rome
May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God. (Romans 15:5-7 ESV)
What is the opposite of division?  Multiplication.  So let's get back to work doing what God created us to do and follow the instructions he gave before the fall
 “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”
Or in the words of Jesus
And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18-20 ESV)

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

To speak or not to speak

I think I suffer from diarrhea of the mouth. It's incredibly scary when I think that I'll be judged for every word I speak because I honestly don't know what's right and what's wrong. If I went around examining everything I was going to say I probably wouldn't say anything. Maybe that wouldn't be such a bad thing, after all the wise holds his tongue, right?

Line me up with the fools who need a rod on their back.

It's such a paradox. I'll be judged for every word deserving of lashes but before the throne of judgement I am clothed in Christs perfect rightoeusness. I can't quite grasp the depths of God's grace.
All I know is that it gives me hope and as I look forward to the day I see God keep all the promises He has granted in Christ, I am being changed. Even if it seems like a turtles pace to me. He is satisfied with me because He is satisfied with Christ.

So I'll keep letting the abundace of my heart speak and trusting in God to continue to change the source. After all, He is probably using all the times of conviction to do that changing work and I wouldn't want to miss out on that now would I? I may seem foolish but I'd much rather be broken for what I said than proud that I didn't say it.

Another paradox.

Wow, there is so much I don't understand and so much that I have to learn.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011


I remember getting picked up by the school bus or van from the local baptist church and getting shipped off to Sunday School, which was kinda cool to see my friends and then having to sit still and quiet while some dude up on the stage yelled at everyone. We'd stand up, sit down, stand up, sit down, stand up and then go home after the show was over and get back to our lives. This is probably how your kids view your regular Sunday routine but are too afraid to tell you because they aren't big enough to budge the golden calf.  Kids are too young to understand anyway, right? (unless you become like little children)

I always wondered why the adults I grew up around didn't "go to church" but thought it was necessary to send me there.  I remember how everyone in church looked all clean and proper, like they had life figured out and well organized.  They never cussed or smoked or drank alcohol or wore black tee shirts with their favorite band on it.  They had the brightest clothes and big smiles on their faces.  I wanted to be one of them.  I thought my life sucked and theirs was the bomb and believe me, they didn't mind telling me that my life sucked and theirs was the bomb, either.

Looking back I think I understand why none of the adults "went to church".  They were all honest with themselves.  They knew that they didn't have it all figured out and they didn't want to put on a show while they went to watch a show with other showboating show-offs who pretended to be something they are not. They didn't want to hear the "in" crowd talk about how they had it all figured out and everyone outside sucked because outsiders are stupid.  They didn't fit in and so they didn't feel welcome.

I can remember going home and looking down on everyone because I thought that since I was hanging out with the "in" crowd once a week, I was better than them.  Truth being, they were better than me.  At least they knew who they were and knew how to enjoy life together.  I didn't have a clue.  Granted, there were some great folks and purely evil folks both within and without, but I couldn't discern the difference.

Maybe you think I'm showing my rear end here but I'm just being honest and I like being honest.  The problem is that honesty is not appreciated by most religious folks, it is shunned, judged, mocked, ridiculed, condemned and sentenced to a life outside the camp (boy that rings a bell).  I don't mind the idea of being on the outside, in fact it puts a smile on my face.  I get a bit of a thrill when people don't like me for who I am, because I like me and I like who I am becoming.  I have Christ to thank for that and in Christ I have nothing to be ashamed of.  I am exactly who he wants me to be and where he wants me to be right here and right now but I'm pressing on and pressing in.  I don't have it all together and the more I look for answers the more I find questions.  I love the wonder of it all and the feeling of having so much to learn and so many things worth examining.

As I sit and reminisce about my childhood I can't help but yearn for the kind of honesty and livelihood of those outside the camp among people who love Jesus more than all else and are willing to share in life's ups and downs, in's and out's without the masks and shows.  I want to be around people who weep with one another and love one another and share with one another share each other's joys and sorrows.  I wanna go where everybody knows my name and I can be loved for who I am, even though I'm not perfect and i don't want to pretend to be. Where is that church?  Don't you want that?

Just imagine that group.  Throw open the doors of your mind and picture it.  Think of the highs and lows of emotions shared and the bond made between so many.  The love, the zeal, the sorrow, the tears, the hugs, the shouts and the somber silences.  Isn't it beautiful?  Isn't it delightful?

Monday, June 20, 2011

When the perfect comes

but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away.
The question I hope to answer with this post is:  what is the "perfect" and "partial" that Paul is referring to here? To get us started lets do what any good Bible student should do and look at the context in which it is written.

This passage appears right in the midst of Paul's dealings with spiritual gifts. Leading up to this point, Paul lays out what spiritual gifts are and what they are for.

Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.
(1 Corinthians 12:4-7 ESV)
 Then the Apostle tells us how spiritual gifts are useless without love
If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing. (1 Corinthians 13:1-3 ESV)
This is followed by him explaining to the church what love is which is immediately followed by our passage in question
Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away.
(1 Corinthians 13:8-10 ESV) 
I have heard many pastors, preachers and teachers say that the "perfect" in this verse is referring to the closed canon of scripture. Outside of the Pentecostal/Charismatic circles, this is the accepted understanding.  But does this line up with what Paul is saying to the church in Corinth?

 I think not.

To accept that "perfect" is talking about the 66 books we now refer to as the bible is to elevate the gift of teaching above all other gifts.  In my opinion, to say that Paul is prophecying that all the other gifts will pass away is to say that only those who can teach from the Bible in the future can exercise their gifts to build up the body.  This cripples the body of Christ and leaves the church maimed.  Yet this thinking prevails in much of christianity today and contributes to a huge problem in the church.  One man's gift is elevated over all the others and the laity remains silent in the gathering while the teacher teaches.  This is most certainly NOT what Paul had in mind.

What I believe Paul is saying in this passage is that all spiritual gifts will pass away when the perfect, which is Christ, comes.

 Reason with me here, in Ephesians 4 we are told that those gifted individuals were given to the church UNTIL
we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.
Again, immediately following our passage in question Paul writes
When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known. (1 Corinthians 13:11-12 ESV)
Do you see the similarities?  In both passages Paul speaks of us as children looking forward to manhood: partial and perfect.  He speaks of spiritual gifts leading to our being like Christ:  partial and perfect. The closed canon of scripture is not the fullness of Christ.  The Bible in every place points to Christ but they are not one and the same.  The Bible is not what Paul was referring to when he said that the perfect shall come, he was looking forward to the fullness of Christ coming upon His bride.  He was looking forward to the members holding every thought captive to Christ. He was looking forward to us being built up into a new, perfect man and that man is Christ.  Christ is the fullness.  Christ is the "perfect".

Until we reach the fullness of Christ we will need all of the spiritual gifts.

I leave you with this:  desire, be eager, and strive to build up the body into Christ.
Pursue love, and earnestly desire the spiritual gifts, especially that you may prophesy.
So with yourselves, since you are eager for manifestations of the Spirit, strive to excel in building up the church.
(1 Corinthians 14:1 & 12 ESV)

Saturday, June 18, 2011

What's with all this "remnant" business?

Something doesn't sit quite right with me.  Hopefully this post will generate some healthy dialogue over this subject.  I need that right now.

As the title suggests, what I'm talking about is a remnant in our day and time.
I've seen this before. So and so church thinks they have some corner on the truth that all the other churches have missed.  They declare themselves to be the remnant of only true believers and command everyone else to repent and join them.  The whole thinks reeks with an arrogant and cult-like stench.  It's a total turn off for me but it still begs the question: Is there a remnant?  If so, what does that look like?

 This is the attitude coming out of  pockets in the organic/simple church movement today.  Am I missing something?  Is this the prevalent thinking of the movement?  Has anyone else noticed this?

Don't gloss over this.  This is a big deal.  If you think you are part of some remnant please make your case in the comments or at least post a link to an article that best articulates your understanding.  I think this is very dangerous ground to tread and I fear the subtle pride that is contained therein but I also recognize that I do not know it all and want to remain humble right now.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

My thoughts on Open Theism

 If your god doesn't hold the future in his hand, your god is too small.

If your god is not sovereign and in control, your god is too small.

If your god helplessly sits back and waits for humans to do what he wills, your god is too small.

The god of open theism is not the god of the Bible.

I can't embrace a god like that. I see nothing at all beautiful or awe inspiring about a quadraplegic god with no tongue.  He is no better and no different than the idols made with hands that cannot speak or act.  Rather than wood or metal, he is made from the skewed passions and ideas of men in an age where information is treasured like gold but truth is cast away to the dump.

No doubt this god angers me.  I wish he were a god made with hands that I could crush into powder the way Moses did the golden calf.  These teachings have a form of godliness but deny His sovereign power.  Those who teach such things are a plague to the Church and would be better of if they were as mute and limbless as their god.

Our God is the all-powerful, active and sovereign Creator of all things.  He speaks things into exististence and forms planets and stars with his fingertips.  Inexpressable joys are in store for those who know he is at work in spite of our failings.  He does not depend on us to perform his will according to our own wisdom and strength nor does he limit himself against violating our perceived free-will.  No, He is glorious and worthy of praise because he works out his will in spite of our evil, even through our evils and the works of the evil one.

Oh, the heights of gratitude that pour forth from my soul as I think on the grace of God towards his children and the glorious good news that Christ came in to an evil generation in order to save sinners who were the very reason he had to die.  These thoughts overwhelm me.  I am so thankful that our God is living, active and ever present even in our hour of greatest need when we are farthest from him in our thoughts.  His grace abounds.  His love covers.  His will is done and his kingdom advances.

We, like little children in our daddies shop, are invited to join him in his work.  His hands over our hands, our ears attentive to his instruction, each step guided and directed by his wisdom and skill.  He has the end product in mind and we follow his direction to make his vision a reality.  What a privilege!

If he left us on our own we would make a complete mess of things.  We would create something in our own image and pass it off as his which would bring shame to his name.  This is no good.  We have a great need to abide in his wisdom and direction if we desire to bring about his purpose.  We must see ourselves as the helpless little children that we are and trust our hands to our father's guidance.  He knows his plans for us and the world and he wants us to join with him in bringing it to pass.  Once complete, the glory belongs to him and the pleasure of our sins being covered by his grace and our being invited to work in his shop will overflow all the more in praise to him for his work.

God knows the future and is bringing it to pass exactly according to his plan.  We can trust in him to work all things together for good for those who love him and are called according to his purpose.  We may not fully understand because we cannot see the future but we can trust.  He is worthy of our trust and humble adoration.

May we bask in the delight of being a part of His marvelous work of bringing all things into Christ.  All things were made by him, through him, and to him and all things will be brought and laid at his feet.  Let us go to him be the firstfruits of those who find pleasure at his feet and listen as he dictates our part of bringing about his purposes for the future.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Suffering: God's sovereignty and man's responsibility

 We're continuing to think through the reality of suffering and trying to make sense of it all. Without a firm grasp on the inevitability of suffering and what scripture has to say about it we will be caught by surprise and left defenseless when it comes. It is in our best interest and the interests of others to think critically about suffering so that we are prepared to stand when the battle reaches our land.

In order to deal with tough issues like these many are prone to abandon the truth of God's sovereignty and allowance of such evils. They contend that we must be active in fighting against the forces of darkness. I agree. But then they deny that God holds the future in His hand and is actively directing the steps of man. They blame the forces of evil for all forms of suffering and deny that God is willfully allowing it to happen for His own purpose and pleasure. They join with the mockers of God and say "if Satan is God's devil and can only do what he is allowed to do then God is responsible for Satan's actions". Not so. Joseph's life is a testimony to that fact. Job, also. What Satan means for evil, God means for good and both are happening at the same time in the same way. It boggles the mind.

There are others that hold fast to the sovereignty of God but see themselves as helpless in the battle. They figure God has it all planned out anyway and He is gonna do whatever He wants to do. Again we have only a half-truth if this is our mindset. Yes, God is in control and He has all the works set before us as part of His plan but we must walk in those works. Like Jesus we must be actively working where we see our Father working.

Rather than being kind of crippled by recognizing God's sovereignty it should empower us and give us enough faith to fill a mustard bottle.  With that mustard bottle we are called to actively engage in the battle between two kingdoms.   It's just as foolish to think we can win a war with a mustard bottle as it is that we can change the world by preaching a message.  It seems foolish but we must always remain mindful that we are completely dependent on God to do the work through us.

We shouldn't ignore the scriptures that reassure us of God's complete control over His predetermined will for creation or the ones that call for our active involment in bringing about the either/or's that God places before us.  One doesn't trump the other.  Both are at play here, God will do exactly what He planned to do and He will do so exactly how He planned to do it = through the faithful prayers and actions of humans.  God is soveriegn AND man is responsible.

What about you, do you tend to lean to one side more than the other?

Monday, June 13, 2011

Guest post at The Assembling of the Church

Today I am honored to send you all over to the weblog of my friend Alan Knox.   He has been inviting bloggers to guest post on his blog lately.  I am happy to announce that he has invited me to be a part of that.  Today he has published a guest post by yours truly I titled A simple post about simple church.  Basically I run through a few of the ups and downs of our journey and hope to offer some encouragement to others who are on the same path.
Jump on over and check it out.  If I know anything about Alan's blog I'm expecting some good comments and interaction over there.  If you like reading my blog, you don't want to miss this!

Friday, June 10, 2011

Two sides: wrath and love

Difficult situations come to all of us. If you havent been through anything that makes you question the goodness of God, brace yourself because it's coming. Some people have it harder than others but suffering in some form comes to all of us.  That is why I think this topic is relevant for everyone.  We all need to be equipped to help one another as we go through the struggles of life.  I hope these posts help to equip you and your comments help to equip me as we minister to one another and to others.

To get this ball of thought rolling in an effort to answer the difficult questions of the previous post, we need to lay down some foundations to build on. First, I think it's important to remember that all suffering comes as a result of the fall. If there were no sin there would be no suffering. Now, that is not to say that all of our suffering is a consequence of some sin we have committed. It may be someone else's sin that brings us suffering or it may be suffering that comes simply because we still dwell in a fallen world (such as a disease or genetic disability). Still, the root of all suffering is the curse that resulted from the first man's sin and the human race continues to perpetuate this sinful nature which results in more and more suffering.

Now, this is where some are likely to disagree or get upset. The suffering we go through is just as much a display of God's mercy as it is a display of His wrath. I can say that because of what God says we deserve for committing sin. We deserve death. Not just death somewhere in the distant future and not only spiritual death.  Death like rotting corpse returning to dust and eternal separation from God.  Anything less than a lake burning with fire is grace. I don't think that means we should go around telling others that they deserve a lot worse than the suffering they are going through, that would be the truth but it would not be love.  It does give us a better perspective as we endure our own trials knowing that it is really God's grace that we are being bombarded with.  Sounds like an oxymoron doesn't it? That has to do in part to the fact that we really don't understand the weight of our sin against our Holy God. He offers us life but instead of taking it we shake our fist in His face and choose death and in spite of that He continues to grant us the breath of life. His grace is amazing, even in grace in the form of suffering.

In line with the "two sides to every story" theme, I've argued in this post how suffering is both a result of the fall (a curse from the wrath of God) yet less than what we deserve (grace granted instead of death). It is both wrath and love. The most striking place to see this point is at the cross of Christ. On the cross we can see this same dynamic of love and wrath reaching their climax by the death of Jesus Christ. He became sin who knew no sin that we might become his righteousness. Christ triumphed over suffering and death and brought us life. In Christ we have triumphed as well and as we endure the trials and tribulations of life by faith in Christ we display his sufficiency. We share in Christ's sufferings because we share in his life.

Since suffering is a result of the fall and the cross is God's answer to the fall, all suffering points to the cross. So, ultimately our sufferings are meant to display the glory of God by his grace shown to us in Jesus Christ. As with all things, it's all about Jesus, suffering included.
I think that gives us a good lens through which to look at suffering. In the coming posts I'll tackle the paradox between God being in complete control (sovereign), plotting mans steps according to His will (predestination) yet changing His mind and allowing us to be a part of His plan as it is carried out. Of course I don't understand it all but I hope you'll join in as we think through these huge questions.  We'll be better epuipped if we think through it together.

What else do you think is an important foundational principle when facing suffering?

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Two sides to every story

A little girl is raped, tortured and beaten. Is this part of God's plan? A dictator commits genocide against his people. Is there nothing we can do? After spending her life helping and serving others, a mother is diagnosed with terminal cancer at age 39. How do you comfort her and her family?

We all know God never changes but can the future change? Is everything going according to plan? Is rape, genocide, murder and cancer part of the plan? Is God ever caught by surprise? If God is in control and does all things for his own pleasure according to the counsel of his will, what does that say to the recipients of such horrible suffering?

What about all the times when God changes his mind after someone prays and pleads with Him? If God already has it all planned out then what is the purpose of prayer? Isn't there a war going on that we should be participating in? Do our prayers have an effect on changing the future? If so, what does that say about God's predestined will?

I've asked a lot of questions and I've heard a lot of different answers in the past. I'll come back and do my best to answer them. As a teaser I remind you of the title of this post. There are two sides to every story. Things aren't always drawn in black and white. Often, deep things like this are more complex than we want to know about. It may make us uncomfortable but certainly the truth is worth knowing. We don't want half truths, we want the whole truth and I hope you, my readers, will settle for nothing less and join with me to sort out these things.

So, what is your answer to these questions?

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Warming pews and waiting on food stamps

In many ways the professional clergy serves the same way the welfare system does.  That is the point Arthur Sido makes in his post entitled Clericalism and the welfare state.   Here is one of my fave parts:

 Why is the welfare system dehumanizing and an utter failure? Because it provides for people while asking very little from them in return and actually discourages them from seeking to support themselves. The very people who are supposed to be helped by the welfare system are actually hurt by it and the dependence it causes becomes generational. Passivity begets passivity.
The clergy-laity distinction does the same thing. How else can you explain the vast numbers of people who have been in church all of their lives, people in their later years with decades in the pew, who are sincere, prayerful Christians and yet are spiritually immature and doctrinally deficient? The solution for this problem among my Reformed brethren is more and longer preaching. The problem is that more and more preaching adds to the already heavy burden of ministry because one guy has to do it all and I am increasingly unconvinced that passively listening to a sermon week after week, no matter how good the sermon, is really the key to bringing people to spiritual maturity.

As I see it, most pastors are not power hungry control freaks who need to be put out on their can.  They are faithful brethren who do more than their fair share of the ministry out of their love for Jesus and often retain their joy in the Lord even though that burden is not meant for them to bear.  Likewise the problem doesn't entirely rest on the people in the pew because they are doing exactly what it is they think they should do and what people have been doing for nearly 2000 years.

The problem is the system that keeps the pastors at pulpits and everyone else in pews.  People are waiting for the first of the week in the same way welfare recipients wait for the first of the month.  What the Body of Christ needs is a gathering outside of the current systems in which people stop depending on their food stamps and their welfare check.  We gotta get off our Lay-Z-Boy and do the work of the ministry.

More than a feeling

Some people have an idea of religion based on experiences. They attended a service somewhere and felt some emotional rush. It may have been the powerful speaker or the upbeat music. It may have been the high ceilings or the beautiful stained glass windows. They go back again and again hoping to have a similar or even better experience. Are you this person? Have you ever been there? I sure have.

I can remember a time in my journey when my seeking after God amounted to no more than seeking some exhilerating emotional high. It was like going to the dope man over and over again after getting my first hit free. I knew God was there, so why wasn't I getting that felling? Other people were so it must be my fault somehow. I figured that I needed to pray more, study scripture more, have more faith, fast more, obey more, do more, and work more. I couldn't do enough. All I wanted was just one more hit like the first. Maybe the reason the first hit was so good was because it was free, but that never occurred to me. I was too busy trying to get another and another and another.

That was a long time ago. Since then I have stopped searching for a feeling. Now I'm searching for truth and signs of life. Basically I'm searching for Christ and I'm finding him in everything. Wouldn't you know it? The feeling comes with it. The feeling of delight in knowing that I am his and he is mine. The feeling of peace knowing he is in control. The feeling of awe because he is so wonderfully glorious. The feeling of love for him and for my fellow man.

Christ is more than a feeling. He is a person who embodies truth. I've found that the feelings come more from the revelation of deep truths than they do from the makeup of my environment and those revelations come from the most unexpected places. If you're looking for a feeling, don't look at the high ceilings and stained glass. Don't depend on any one place or one person. Christ is all in all. You can find him in a simple song on your Ipod, the beauty of a flower, the love of a relationship, the forgiveness of a friend, the cries of a baby, the majesty of a mountain, the expanse of the ocean, and the truths of language.

What we seek as a feeling is really a yearning for Jesus and all too often we are prone to make Him much smaller and more confined than He actually is.

Where have you seen Christ recently?

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Searching for Neverland

Maybe the lost boys got it right.  When I think about it, Neverland sounds more like the place to be rather than the place to flee.  Sure, in the eyes of the "grown ups" the lost boys are immature and naive because all they want to do is enjoy life and be free from what everyone else thinks they should be.  Maybe instead of deconstructing Neverland I should be showing others the way there.

Imagine a land where you were free to live by the rules that were understood by all.  A code of conduct that remained unwritten yet everyone obeyed.  A place to be free from the systems and rules of others who think they have it all figured out.  Where your sense of wonder can flourish and your imagination run wild.  A world that is your playground, full of discovery and yours for the taking.  A land to conquer and enjoy full of friends who conquer with you but don't want to conquer you.  Everything is freely given and shared because ownership has no meaning but community means everything.

I find it telling that the enemies of the lost boys are the "grown ups" who all happen to be pirates.  The pirates come to steal, threaten, and conquer the people of Neverland.  They want to own and dominate.  They want everyone to serve their needs and their cause.  They come with their own rules and codes, all meant to control people and keep them in check.  Their brotherhood is based on a common goal under a common captain.  Pleasure at the expense of others is what guides their ship.

If that's what it means to grow up, I'll remain a boy.  I see more wisdom in the enjoyment of creation and trust in our creator than there is in regulating everything to be like the creator.  There is obviously a builder of this magnifiscent place and He is a much better maker, shaper, and controller than you or I could ever be.  We can be free to enjoy what He has made and provides.  Like little children who give no thought for our needs but fully trust in Him.

There is a Neverland that remains untouched by the wisdom and control of men.  That is where I want to be.  A city not made by hands who's builder and maker is God.  Where building community matters and the desire for control doesn't exist.  I'll search until I find it.  Although I haven't seen it, I know it exists and my hope remains strong.

There is another Neverland built by men that is very useful to make men into what the captain thinks they should be.  It is a system of control and domination built on the desire for power, wealth, and selfish pleasure.  It's an imposter's island.  Most don't discern the danger of it until it's too late.  Others flee and seek to deconstruct it's influence in their heart and mind.

All we need is a happy thought and enough pixie dust to fill a mustard seed and we'll be well on our way.  Third star to the right and straight on till the morning:  Neverland.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Keeping our focus

When my studies and meditations were steeped deeply in the reformed traditions one of the main things I gleaned was an appreciation for the need to be born again in order to be justified by faith. Recently I have been broadening my horizons and really putting my skills of discernment to the test. As I read a more broad collection of works there seems to be some sort of tension between the need to preach the gospel of regenerate (born again) hearts that are justified (declared innocent and righteous) by faith (belief, trust, and cherishing) in Christ and the need to preach the Kingdom of God.
Notice I took special care to somewhat define the terms of the first argument but haven't attempted to define the second. That was purposeful. I did that because often I find that those who would argue for the increase of preaching the Kingdom often don't define what that Kingdom looks like beyond an accumulation of good works.
My thoughts here are going to summarize some of the ideas bouncing around in my skull regarding this tension but could (and may in the future) be expanded. I'm not rying to be exhaustive and I'm not turning this into a series. I just want to get some of this down in writing.
The best place I know to start is with Jesus and Nicodemus in John 3. Nick tells Jesus about how he has seen Jesus' works and knows he comes from God. He doesn't ask a question, he merely states what he has seen. Here is how Jesus responds to him:
3 Jesus answered him, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God."
4 Nicodemus said to him, "How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother's womb and be born?"
5 Jesus answered, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.

So we see both sides of the tension here: the need to be born again and the kingdom of God. Like love and marriage, you can't have one without the other and one precedes the other. I think everyone gets that.
The question then arises, can we talk too much about the need to be born again and too little about the advancement of the kingdom? I think so, check out what the writer of Hebrews says:
6:1 Therefore let us leave the elementary doctrine of Christ and go on to maturity, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God,

So there is a sense in which we can focus too much on elementary things.  Even so, as I recall many of the parables where Jesus led off with"the kingdom is like" he pointed in some way to the need to be born again.

Here's the thing: we don't need to be born again in order to want to help people, escape hell, be free from the guilt of sin, be healthy, happy, prosperous and live forever on streets of gold. We don't need to be born again to buy someone a meal, give generously to our favorite charity, be a friend in a time of need, or tell people about Jesus. These are some of the ways people describe the kingdom of God and they are good descriptions but something huge is missing and that missing piece is what should drive all our good works. The missing piece is an enthralled heart that is consumed with love and passion with the Christ that was crucified.

We must be born again to treasure, cherish, prize, and supremely value Christ above all things. As we find our delight in Jesus we move on to maturity in Him and advance the kingdom by displaying Christ as worthy above all things. This is what it means to be born of the Spirit. To focus on the things above in heavenly places with Christ and embrace the promises that are ours in Him is what the Kingdom is all about.

I believe this is why Paul continually preached Christ and wrote letters to the churches that brought their focus back on to Christ.  When Christ is our all consuming desire and the outpouring of our lips, hands and feet the kingdom of God advances.  Without Christ, efforts to build the kingdom build something apart from him.

I don't think we can talk too much about the need to be born again.  Jesus only mentioned it twice in all recorded scripture and that was within the one conversation I quoted and the kingdom of God was spoken of 110 by Jesus during his ministry but that doesn't go to show what was more important for us to preach.  Like I said, every place I can think of in which Jesus preached the kingdom, he was implying the need to be born again to enter it.

We can preach the kingdom in a way that excludes Christ and is made up of good works.  We cannot have born again believers  who love and delight in Christ above all things that are not advancing God's kingdom.

Do you think we can focus too much on one side or the other?  What do you think the effects would be if we were lopsided in our focus?

Friday, June 3, 2011

Thinking critically about criticism

If we have anything to say that has a sharp edge of truth there is one thing we can count on:  criticism.  When criticism comes, how do you discern what's valid from what's merely someone grinding their axe and aiming their red hot sparks in your direction? Certain kinds of criticism is good like the kind that point us back to the truths of the scripture and are intended to help us keep our hope and focus on Christ. Other kinds of criticism is bad like personal attacks when someone disagrees with what you say based on their opinion. These seem like they are easy to discern the difference but when you throw in our tendency to justify ourselves, we can be left blind to our own faults and failures.

It's like a never ending cycle of he said, she said. When you have a diverse group with diverse gifts and diverse likes/dislikes you have a recipe for disaster if each person is out to shape everyone else into their image. It'll never work. It just stirs up strife and contention. Everyone is "right in his own eyes" and Christ is out of the picture. What a mess!

Then what? What if you find yourself in such a situation? What if someone criticizes you and you can't make heads or tails of it? Pray? Check. Read scripture? Check. Listen to God's Spirit within? Check. Talk to a faithful brother or sister about it?

"So and so said so and so about me because I said so and so.  What is your opinion?"

Okay, but does that just perpetuate the he said she said? Who can you trust? Who can you confide in? Where can you turn?
I ask alot of questions, I know. Maybe that is my downfall, maybe it is good. Maybe it keeps me on the straight and narrow. Maybe it just leads me in circles. "A double minded man is unstable in all his ways."  So what does a single minded man look like cuz that is who I want to be.

A single minded man would be the man who says what comes flowing from his innermost being. Or he would be the man who says what everyone wants to hear every time he opens his mouth. They may even be the same man who is so conditioned to what others expect of him that what proceeds from his depths are the outpourings of his programming. I don't want to be that kind of single minded man either. That doesn't sound like a man at all. I'd rather be the single minded man who says what's on his heart and isn't afraid to say it because he trusts his heart to the One who made it.

Back to criticism...what if we take criticism with a grain of salt, let it roll off like water off a ducks back? Is that arrogant? Probably in someone's eyes it is. How about in God's eyes? That is what matters, right? If we truly believe that Christ is in us and His Spirit is guiding us, who is there that can criticize? Answer:  Only those who speak for Him and not for themselves. How do we know the difference? Answer:  We can tell the difference because as they criticize, we sense the rebuke of the Spirit within. Now I am answering my own questions. I must be unstable. You may think so, but I don't and that's what matters (to me anyways).

Without our Spirit led conscience crying out there is no use giving criticism a second thought. I am convinced that the best thing to do is say what you mean and own it until the Spirit tells you otherwise. If our tongue needs some taming, he will let us know. Till then, we shouldn't quench the Spirit within us. We can't give in to the fear of man leashes that those who are trying to form us into their image want to put around our neck. We must either bark back or take their hand off, but we must not bow down.

I think of Paul's words:

But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged by you or by any human court. In fact, I do not even judge myself. For I am not aware of anything against myself, but I am not thereby acquitted. It is the Lord who judges me. Therefore do not pronounce judgment before the time, before the Lord comes, who will bring to light the things now hidden in darkness and will disclose the purposes of the heart. Then each one will receive his commendation from God. (1Cor 4:3-5 ESV)

Thursday, June 2, 2011

It's not about you, it's about Jesus

Why do we purposefully gather with other believers?  What is the purpose?  What's the point?  Is it about worship or edification or both?  Is it just a religious exercise so we can feel good about ourselves?  Is it so we can build relationships and love others?  Is it so we can stir others up and share knowledge?
Have you ever asked yourself why?????
I've been asking myself why I want so bad to gather with believers.  I think I've come to the conclusion.  My final answer is Jesus.  Seems simple enough, right?  "Bobby that's kind of vague, what do you mean by that?"
Well for starters, we as believers have a few main purposes for still being on the earth.  One is to advance the kingdom by spreading the gospel so that more and more will come to know and be changed by Jesus.  The other (which is just like it) is to be a spiritual house for God by becoming more and more like Jesus "in whom the fullness of the Godhead is pleased to dwell".  So what does this look like and what does it have to do with the gathering?
There is no simple answer.  I think it will look different for everyone because everyone is different.  But the one common denominator will be that Christ will be on our lips.  We will be encouraging those who are faithfully seeking and sharing Christ and rebuking those who are satisfied with empty religion that pleases only themselves.  We will be revealing the richness of His character and marvelling at his love until we've stirred each other up to overflow with Christ everywhere we go.  We will be plotting and planning ways to share the love of Christ in word and deed with a lost and dying world.  
As for those who are already in Christ:  we will not hold grudges with one another.  We will give each other the benefit of the doubt and let love cover offenses.  We will seek to edify and build up others and give no thought to ourselves.  We will have to regularly forgive each other when our feelings get hurt or someone rubs us the wrong way.  We will be gracious by not demanding perfection according to our standards but by seeing one another as God sees us:  as a perfect work, yet in progress.
One thing I am realizing is that I have spent so much time in church trying to get others to love me.  I say the right things, act the right way, drop the right names, read the right books, and recite the right creeds.  In the end I'm only trying to please myself.  Not good!  We have two commandments:  love God with all we've got and love others as ourselves.  It's not about being loved, it's about giving it.  More than that, it's about giving love to those who least deserve it and reciprocating love back to the One who love us first when we didn't deserve it.
So, my answer to the questions above as to "why?"  Like I said, Jesus.  He embodies the tender, giving, loving, forgiving, grace of God that we are to display and spread around the world.  It's time we stop trying to please ourselves and get with the program.  It's time to pour ourselves out and let God have his vessel.  It's time to realize He doesn't exist for us, we exist for Him.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

The convenience of the clergy

I think about the stats concerning pastors and I am left surprised. I'm not surprised that they left the pastorate but how they lasted as long as they did. How can we not expect someone (or a very few) to carry all of the responsibilities that God meant for the entire body to carry out. Every believer is called and expected to be an active minister to the body. I'm not talking about just stacking chairs and vacuuming carpets. I'm talking about teaching, encouraging, praying, rebuking, exhorting, correcting, preaching, baptizing, evangelizing, showing hospitality, holding others accountable, shepherding, overseeing, sharing burdens and visiting the sick. These are all things that the pastor is expected to do on his own. After all, he gets paid for it, right? Wrong! The distinction between the clergy and laity is not a biblical distinction.

This is one reason why simple church is so difficult. There is no single person expected to take on all those jobs and drive themselves in to the ground doing so.  Therefore everyone is going to get their hands dirty.  Every person is not just invited but expected to work as the Spirit leads.  The pastors can focus on shepherding and overseeing.  The evangelists can be looking for ways to more effectively preach the gospel to the local community.  Those that are hospitable can be busy organizing and throwing get togethers.  We don't have to wait on an appointment to meet with "the man of God" to receive counsel on our marriage when it's on the rocks.  Everyone shares our burden.  Everyone prays and advises as he/she is lead.  Everyone is the man/woman of God.  No longer can we be wallflowers and pew warmers who only get our "fill" on Sunday.  We each have to play our part in the body.

I've seen pastors time and time again stand at their pulpit and beckon the members of Christ's body to get involved.  Many don't but some will.  I've often wondered why.  Surely the main cause is the sinful hearts of those who are content with their complacency.  There is no excuse other than that.  Still, I also think that the institution itself has played a part in leading the masses into this indifference to service.  When we pay a guy to do something, that is his job.  He is the professional.  Everyone else "serves" by paying his salary and we get to reap the benefits of all of his hard work.  Isn't that convenient?  Well it is, at least, for everyone except the guy up front.