Sunday, July 17, 2016

What's Wrong with Church

I recently read a post entitled "Why They Don't Sing in Church." While it's informative and raises good points, I found that it hit on some of my pet peeves regarding how people think about their relationship with the Body of Christ, Worship and God in general.

Who and what is The Church 

When addressing spectator set-up, it was suggested that "the church has constructed the worship service as a spectator event," which begs the question: who's the church? Clearly it's not the "congregants" referred to in the next paragraph of the aforementioned blog.

But there's a deeper problem in Christianity today and it stems from how the Bible, particularly the KJB, was translated and subsequently, all later versions.

In the Tyndale Bible (the Bible which the KJB follows most), the word church appears only two times, in the book of Acts. In both instances, it refers to a place of pagan worship - as it does in every other language in which it's found. Secondly, the word "church" was used in the KJB not because the translators thought it to be a superior word to convey the meaning of assembly, but because King James required that "the old ecclesiastical words to be kept; as the word church, not to be translated congregation" (here).

The effect of that rule moved the focus from the assembly and their relationship to God to a focus on the organization - the institution.  So when your pastor is complaining about the cost of payroll and utilities, and follows it up with "you need to support your church," there's no question in your mind that it's the paid professionals that are considered as "the church" in that context.

Pride is a Symptom

What's wrong with the church can be found by tracing backwards from one of it's symptoms: pride.

Our pride is based in our sense of belonging, perhaps to our sense of being right and being associated with the correct group.  We take pride that our particular denomination or local assembly can trace it's roots back to a 19th or perhaps even an earlier century congregation.  As a matter of fact, some people believe that if you cannot trace your church's pedigree through a lineage of properly confessing and baptized individuals to a first century congregation, then you are not a part of a New Testament Church.  I'm not exactly sure what the converse of that logic means to those individuals, but given that they put such a preponderance of importance upon it, then surely it must mean that you're otherwise out of the will of God, or somehow otherwise cut off from His perfect will.

So, back to pride.

Having been a Presbyterian and a Baptist, I can assert that people who belong to those denominations do so because they believe their doctrines are better than the other groups' doctrine.  In other words, I was a Presbyterian because I believed they were right about their interpretation of the Bible (just as my Presbyterian friends believe today).  When I figured out that baptism was not for infants, I searched for a denomination that based their doctrine on what I believed was in concordance with Biblical teaching.

In other words, doctrine divides.  To many people, that's a great thing.  Because to them, not to worship in truth (correct doctrine) and spirit is anathema to proper living.  I have my doubts that they understand the spirit bit, but they've got a handle on truth - at least according to them.

The problem is that doctrine doesn't guarantee truth or correctness.  Jesus rebuked the Pharisees many times for their doctrines.  The Pharisees had tons of doctrine, but they were dead wrong.  And doctrine can't explain how God is loving, but hated Esau (Malachi 1:3); how He is the bright and morning star, yet veils Himself in darkness (Psalm 97:2), and how He hates divorce and yet is Himself divorced (Malachi 2:16, Jeremiah 3:8and preachers call divorce a sin - might you try re-reading your Bible on that, SBC?).

Discernment - Anyone can do it

As I see it, Holy Spirit is much closer than we realize.  Our ability for clarity of thought is much greater than we know.  But we're going to churches where the preachers think the congregants are just plain stupid, to dumb to know any better.  And by-in-large, the people lap it up.  Perhaps it tickles their ears?  I don't know.

But I do know that we have an innate ability discern more than we realize.  Consider what Jesus said to the crowds:
Ye hypocrites, ye can discern the face of the sky and of the earth; but how is it that ye do not discern this time? (Luke 12:56)
There are two key things we must understand about this passage.  First, Jesus called them hypocrites.  Second, it's not about the this time or the face of the sky: it's about discernment.

In our day and age, we consider a hypocrite as a person who says one thing, but does another.  But it goes deeper than that.  A hypocrite is also a person who does one thing in a certain context, but another thing in a similar context.  Paul accused Peter of being a hypocrite for his contradictory actions when with Jews and Gentiles.

The rebuke is about discernment: Jesus is addressing their hypocrisy around it.  In other words, they could to discern the face of the sky, but refused to discern the epoch, the time in which they were living.  In other words, they were hypocrites.  They weren't unaware, they didn't lack the ability to understand.  They were purposeful in their assessments.

What does this mean?  Everyone has the ability to discern good from evil, spirit from works.  You do not need to be born again in order to discern Life from Death, or right from wrong, or when God is speaking.

And therein is the rub for our good Bible Teaching Churches.  They believe that people can only understand, analyze or discern truth after being taught and exposed to truth.  Apparently, Jesus disagrees.  That's not to say we don't grow into maturity, seeing that "solid food is for the mature, who because of practice have their senses trained to discern good and evil" (Hebrews 5:14).  But rather, what Jesus is talking about in this scripture is to be understood as the milk, the elementary principles of the oracles of God - which are about the Christ (Hebrews 5 & 6).

Conclusion

So what's wrong with the church is that we've traded doctrine for relationship, and good works programs for imputed righteousness.  We teach, learn and debate doctrines so we can be assured of our correctness and we do the good works so we can feel good about ourselves, so that we can measure up to a modern Christian standard.

Father RelationshipTeachers (not after Jesus' example)
LifestyleGathers around Intimacy in Spirit and TruthGathers around ideas (divisive)
AttitudeHumilityPride (knowledge puffs up)
MinistryWorks in Power and AuthorityWorks in many words
FocusThe KingdomTeaching / Doctrine




Faith without Works is Dead

wait a minute ... isn't pitch black?
Recently, the image to the right reminded of my heritage, as a Bible Thumping Baptist.

The image didn't set right with me, and it took a few moments to process why.  First, it called back to the legalism I was entrench.  Secondly, it touched that old spirit of division and elitism that so easily ensnares all of us through Denominational Doctrine.

It's been a while since I've last read Genesis and Hebrews, so I headed back there to re-read the story of Noah.

And what do you think I found?  

Noah was saved by grace, through faith - not through obedience as many would like to believe.
But Noah found grace in the eyes of the Lord (Genesis 6:8)
By faith Noah, being warned by God about things not yet seen, in reverence prepared an ark for the salvation of his household, by which he condemned the world, and became an heir of the righteousness which is according to faith (Hebrews 11:7

But ... Obedience!

So then, what do we do with obedience? 

Obedience from the heart is what matters, not obedience for the sake of obedience - and that's where my Bible Thumping Baptist heritage took me through "learning the Bible."  They were all about being obedient to God.  Granted, there are many who can consume that doctrine and respond from the heart.  But since Christian denominations are rooted in Doctrine (which divides) rather than Relationship (which unites), I find it very unlikely that Mr. or Mrs. Average Christian actually gets it.  Rather, they find themselves right in the midst of living up to a standard through regular church attendance, singing in the choir, feeding the homeless and knocking on doors:
“What are your multiplied sacrifices to Me?”  Says the Lord. “I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams and the fat of fed cattle; and I take no pleasure in the blood of bulls, lambs or goats.  “When you come to appear before Me, Who requires of you this trampling of My courts?  “Bring your worthless offerings no longer, incense is an abomination to Me.  New moon and sabbath, the calling of assemblies—I cannot endure iniquity and the solemn assembly. (Isaiah 1:11-13)
The modern church doesn't need a relationship with God in order to function: they just need charismatic leadership, money and enough nicely designed programs to keep people entertained in their pursuit of pleasing God and measuring up through obedience.  So it's not the style of music that drives people away from God, it's doctrine without relationship enabled through good works programs.

Paul addressed this problem at Corinth.  He learned early on to not attempt to "wow" people with his dexterity of doctrine, but to bring them into an encounter (an experience) with God:
And when I came to you, brethren, I did not come with superiority of speech or of wisdom, proclaiming to you the testimony of God ... and my message and my preaching were not in persuasive words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith would not rest on the wisdom of men, but on the power of God. (1 Corinthians 2:1-5)
But I will come to you soon, if the Lord wills, and I shall find out, not the words of those who are arrogant but their power. For the kingdom of God does not consist in words but in power.  (1 Corinthians 4:19-20)

Conclusion

It wasn't obedience that built the Ark, it was the works of faith, based in a relationship with God.
But are you willing to recognize, you foolish fellow, that faith without works is useless? (James 2:20)

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Faith and Experience

Fruitful faith has a target or object upon which it is founded. It varies, but it could be reason, experience or a person, among other things. It's why we get our word faithful from faith: a faithful person has demonstrated two things: they have the ability to produce (you believe they can do a thing) and they will produce (you trust that they will do as they say). Faith placed in a faithful person always carries an expectation of experience. Such faith is well founded or well grounded because the person has demonstrated themselves to be reliable.

Therefore, faith is not demonstrated by how you feel, it's not demonstrated by the beliefs you hold, neither the doctrines you keep

Faith is demonstrated by what is produced: the outcome, the experience.  Faith "is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. For by it the men of old gained approval."  What happens when the thing not seen and hoped for, shows up?  Faith moves out of the way and gives place to the experience.

Therefore, believing a doctrine for the sake of belief only, is worthless. That is not faith because such belief produces no work, no experience. James summed it up by suggesting that the demons have a proper belief too, but it is to them, worthless.
“But someone may well say, "You have faith and I have works; show me your faith without the works, and I will show you my faith by my works." 
You believe that God is one. You do well; the demons also believe, and shudder. 
But are you willing to recognize, you foolish fellow, that faith without works is useless?” (James 2:18-19)
Therefore, the conviction of the thing unseen must always bring fruit.  You can know if your faith was well place by observing the fruit.  As a matter of fact, you can determine the efficacy of a work or ministry by the same standard - "you shall know them by their fruit" (Matthew 7:20)
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. (Hebrews 11:1)
But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, reasonable, full of mercy and good fruits, unwavering, without hypocrisy. And the seed whose fruit is righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace. (James 3:17-18)

Sunday, May 22, 2016

You've Already Won the Battle

Count it all joy when you encounter various trials knowing that the testing of your faith will produce endurance (James 1:2-3)

But remember this: you will not be tested beyond that which you can handle (1 Corinthians 10:13).

So, what's the deal? This: 
You will not be lead into battles you cannot win, nor are unable to fight. You will only be lead into conflict you can overcome.  Every battle that you encounter, is always a temptation to rely upon self or rely upon God.  Every single one.
Every battle is different, but they all will have one of the following characteristics
  1. There are battles wherein we are to do nothing but stand or take refuge (2 Samuel 22:3)  
    • These are the battles wherein God is demonstrating who He is to you.
  2. There are battles wherein we are to we are wrestle against the enemy.  
    • These are the times when God is demonstrating who you are in Him  (Ephesians 6:10-18).
That testing of your faith, the conflict that's wearing you down? You need to understand that since you're in the midst of it, you're already an over-comer, a victor. You're in the midst of something you can beat, win and conquer.  The devil may be seeking someone to devour, but not everyone is devoured.

So stop sulking and start living.

Consider that the Hebrews were lead away from the Egyptians, but lead into battle for the Promise Land. Why? They were already defeated against the Egyptians - in their minds, they were slaves, victims, they had already lost: it was a battle they could not win.

The first battle for the Promise Land was a shoe-in, but they missed the blessing because they did not have faith - they did not place their trust and confidence in God.

So, don't miss your blessing. Know that there are always two trees in your garden: there must always be something that comes against the promise.  Because without conflict, without choice, there is no growth.  In the process of the battle, pruning/cleansing will take place (John 15:1-5) to remove away those things that don't look like Him.


The question you must answer is this

To what do you give your voice, your heart?

The doubt, or the God of the promise?

Monday, May 16, 2016

The Un-Grace of Today's Piety

I recently spent some time reading the Pulpit&Pen blog and came away thinking it's not atypical of the un-grace behaviors we observe today in our churches and their pulpits.

So with full knowledge that I most likely will be accused of doing the same, I'll put my pen to the subject and provide my opinions on the matter.

What is Grace?

There's a parable that expresses grace very well, but no one ever teaches it that way.  We're tied more to un-grace and, as a result, we express that sentiment instead.  It's called the Parable of the Vineyard Workers and is found in Matthew 20:1-16.

In this parable the kingdom of God is likened unto a man who arose early, went out and found workers, agreed with the laborers a wage and hired them.  He later went out and hired other workers - but without the negotiations: he simply said, "you go into the vineyard too, and what ever is right, I will pay you."  This happened several times that day, at the third, sixth, ninth and the eleventh hour.  At the end of the day he instructed his foreman to pay all of the laborers, beginning with the last to be hired and ending with the first who were hired.  All of the workers received the same wage, even those who were hired first.  So they who were hired first grumbled, thinking they should receive more.  The vineyard owner said, 
"'Friend, I am doing you no wrong. Did you not agree with me for a denarius?  Take what belongs to you and go. I choose to give to this last worker as I give to you.  Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or do you begrudge my generosity?'  So the last will be first, and the first last."
Only in our propensity towards un-grace can we see this as a lesson about God doing what He will with you - His prerogative -  and you just needing to suck it up and be happy you got something out of the deal.

But lets look more closely.

This parable does speak towards the right to "do what I choose with what belongs to me."  But the parable has more to do with His generosity than it does with his money.  Observe how the wage was agreed upon:
After agreeing with the laborers for a denarius a day, he sent them into his vineyard.
Did you notice who was setting the wage?  It doesn't say, "after the laborers agreed with him for a denarius a day."

In other words, the laborers had a wage in mind, asked for that wage and the owner agreed.  All of the other laborers hired that day did not ask for a wage, but were instead encouraged to place their faith in the owner, that he would indeed pay them "whatever is right."

At the end of the day, the owner paid what was owed to the laborers hired early in the morning.  But he poured out generosity - grace - upon those who chose to trust in his good nature, his integrity: that he would do as he promised.

So then, this parable isn't teaching about God's prerogative, that you just need to buck up and accept your lumps.  It's teaching about the generosity of God: that He can be trusted to be generous - just as the owner was trusted to make good on his word: "I will pay you what is right."

And as a side note, it's suggesting that it's best to let God decide how to reward you rather than asking for recompense yourself: the last will be first, and the first last.  When you set the rules, you're saying "I'm first."

What is Un-Grace?

Without realizing it at the time, un-grace is the reason I left what many consider to be main-stream Christianity.  It's taken a good long time to unlearn and undo the damage unknowingly inflicted upon my soul and spirit all those years ago.  I would go as far to say that I'm still un-doing the damage today.  But don't get me wrong: I am thankful of my Baptist up-bringing and for some of the teachers I learned from - there are things they get right: fundamental truths they properly understand and teach.  But eventually, I had to discharge myself from their ranks and find relationship with God through His word without the encumbrances of the traditions of men I had learned to embrace, love and disseminate.

So what exactly is un-grace?  Quite possibly the best explanation can be found in Philip Yancey's book, "What's So Amazing about Grace?," but I'll give it a bit of a go here.

Un-grace is expressed in many different forms.  One form is legalism: un-grace asserts one must work for a proper standing.  Un-grace makes people pay for their mistakes.  Un-grace condemns rather than builds up.  Un-grace requires repentance before forgiveness.  Un-grace is relentless in it's exposure of the sins of others.  Un-graces strips a person naked and exposes their shame.  And un-grace calls others stupid and dumb when they don't meet your expectations.

Another way in which un-grace is expressed is when it uses the Bible as a sword against believers, or people in general - something I've been guilty of many times.  So "what's wrong with that," you might ask?  Plenty.  Lets allow scripture speak to the issue in order to understand why.

In the book of Ephesians, Paul equates the word of God to the sword of the Spirit; specifically, to be used against the enemy:
Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil.  For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.  Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm.  Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace.  In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one;  and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints (Eph. 6:10-18)
Paul clearly states that "supplication" is to be made for the saints - not "use the word of God" to wrestle against the saints.  Secondly, these things - as enumerated by Paul above - are known as the "weapons of our warfare" (2 Corinthians 10:3-5).  No where in scripture are we exhorted to take up spiritual weapons against people.  Quite the contrary: we are encouraged to bless those who curse us (Luke 6:28).

Consider also, Galatians 6:1
Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted.
The point, therefore is this:  the sword of the spirit is not to be used against people: it is to be used against our common enemy.  Anyone overtaken or caught (eaten before others is the idea in the Greek - Satan seeks to devour: 1 Peter 5:8) is to be restored in gentleness.  But that is not what we do, that is not what we see happening.  What we observe is outright condemnation and vile disparaging, the laying bare and casting of shame.  And if there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, then what right do we have to condemn others?
Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make him stand. (Romans 14:4)

Deceitful Religion

James is one of my favorite authors.  He is incredibly deep: with few words he packs incredible amounts of truth.  Consider the following:
If anyone thinks himself to be religious, and yet does not bridle his tongue but deceives his own heartthis man's religion is worthless.  Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world. (James 1:26-27)
First, what is a religion?  In its simplest form, religion may be defined as a particular system of faith (beliefs) and worship (actions).  That definition certainly fits a belief system resulting in works.

Secondly, he's not condoning religion.  While he refers to those who have and express a religion through words, he's careful to define a pure religion through action: tending to orphans and widows in need, and keeping oneself unstained from the world (hardly an apt definition of Christianity today).

Finally, consider that the great commission did not include an admonition to keep one's self unstained - that's simply to say this: we're not commissioned to pursue moral purity, we're commissioned to be witnesses (Acts 1:8;  moral purity is a topic for another blog).

However, what we want to pay attention to from James' admonition is this bit of truth:
those who do not bridle their tongues, practice a religion of deceiving their own hearts.
In other words, James is asserting that we can express our religion through our speech.  And an unbridled tongue is the evidence required to expose a worthless religion.

Bridle

Lets make sure we understand bridle.  It means to hold in check, to restrain - so James is referring to those of us who do not keep in check, or restrain our tongue, our speech - which is sourced from our thoughts, ideas and imaginations.  

Deception

Jesus addressed deception and lies when He said, "you will know the truth and the truth will make you free" (John 8:32).  If knowing truth sets you free, then what does knowing a lie do?  It does the exact opposite: it puts you into bondage, into a stronghold.  And scripture is clear on what we're to do with strongholds:
For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war after the flesh: (for the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strong holds;) casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ; (2 Corinthians 10:3-5)

Our Heart

Finally, we need to understand that our speech reflects our inner most being:
Watch over your heart with all diligence, for from it flow the springs of life (Proverbs 4:23)  
For as he thinks within himself, so he is.  He says to you, "Eat and drink!" but his heart is not with you. (Proverbs 23:7)

In Conclusion 

James is saying this: "when you do not bridle your tongue (when you speak condemnation), you may believe you're doing well, but you're not: you're deceiving yourself and practicing a religion based in self deception."

In condemning others, we use the Bible as a sword (as a weapon) against people: that's the deception of our hearts, the tongue unbridled, as James called it.  Condemnation is un-grace, it is the opposite of restoring someone in gentleness.
But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, reasonable, full of mercy and good fruits, unwavering, without hypocrisy. And the seed whose fruit is righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace. (James 3:17-18)

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Is Cursing a Sin?

Sin is more subtle than missing the mark or disobeying God, the Word, etc., etc. We need not a better definition, but another attribute to carry with our definitions.

Consider: "Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven."

That idea, imagination or word - as some would say - carries a tremendous weight of possibilities. But I want to focus on one aspect, that being the idea of a reality. Heaven is a reality distinct from our own, a place where sin does not exist. But just because a reality doesn't look precisely like Heaven, doesn't mean it's sinful.

Consider that all things were created to live, reproduce and die. In other words, things would be born, grow, reproduce, suffer corruption and die - trees, fish, cows, etc., etc. That was the plan, that all would bear fruit after their own kind (Gen. 1:11, ff). Think of it this way: there was always a hungry, bigger fish; or a whale chomping on plankton or sea weed. These are realities distinct from heaven, but not sinful in their own right.

When Adam and Eve sinned, what did they do? They asserted their imagination, their reality contrary to that which was designed. In doing so, they brought upon themselves spiritual separation from God - they created an inferior reality for themselves.

So what's the point? Add to your definition of sin, this: a state of reality expressed that is inferior to purposed design. And in doing so, remember that which is not of faith, is sin - or, inferior to God's design.

So, is cursing sin? Consider it in the context of 1 Corinthians 14:3, "But one who prophesies speaks to men for edification and exhortation and consolation." We can then understand that corrupt communication (Eph. 4:29) is not prophecy. 

It is inferior to God's purposed design.

Monday, March 28, 2016

On Being a Bunny Hopper

Today I became a Bunny Hopper.

Well, not exactly.   Let me explain.

Back in the day, when the church doors were open, I was there.  Sunday mornings (sometimes twice), Sunday School, Choir or Orchestra, Sunday evenings and Wednesdays.  If I had the time, I showed up for evangelism on Tuesday nights.  Later in life, I became a Sunday school teacher for a while.

One of the things that irritated me most was Easter.  Not Easter itself, but all of the people who otherwise never darkened the doors - who for what ever reason - showed up on Easter.  What right did they have to be all pretentious and some how think they could make right for all of the wrongs on one day out of the year?  I called them Bunny Hoppers - they hop in once or twice a year, and then hop out.  I'm going to guess that there are a number of people who believe or feel similar to how I felt, in that regard.

For you see, I earned my position within the church, I worked for my right to be there and partake of the family, the friends and the worship.  They, the Bunny Hoppers, weren't there at all the rest of the time - so why right did they have to show up and ruin it for everyone else, or presume they were even half as spiritual as anyone else?

Eventually, things changed for me.  I began to see todays' Church for what it was, an Institution - divergent from the Assembly, the Ecclesia - a construct made mostly by man, driven to collect tithes and maintain a status of quo of laity vs. clergy, men vs. women; filled with teachers of the traditions of men and people comfortably numb to the Spirit and Truth.

I came to the place where I could no longer tolerate the doctrine of "God doesn't do that any more," so easily taught in complete conflict with what is in the Bible.  So I excused myself from the Institution.  The day I left, my Sunday School Director said to me, "you're an out of the box type of person," and motioning to the walls around us said, "and this is the box."

Today, worship is no longer what I do on Sundays, its' something I do every day.  On one day a week, I rest - usually that's Sunday.  To me, the assembly is family and friends in the Lord - people who can speak into my life because they know where I am, what I'm doing, how I'm living in Christ.  To put it bluntly, a Pastor can't do that.  They can cast a wide net, but that's about it.

If you're in a Evangelical church, you've heard the Gospel three dozen different ways; and if you're a good christian, you've re-examined yourself ten times that amount.  But in actuality, the Gospel was efficacious once - beyond that, we don't need to hear it again: so what good has repeating it done us?  We hear the Gospel being preached yet again from the pulpit and somehow think that's what it's all about: let the ministry save the people, not the priests sitting in the pews.

The Church, the Ecclesia, has been corrupted.  We show up, sit down, shut up, pay up, get up and leave.  And if you're really spiritual, you'll do it all over again in Sunday School.  Where exactly is that modeled in our scriptures?  And therein is the problem: it's not.  We've been duped into a false sense of security, spiced with condemnation and guilt for not paying our tithes and serving the pastoral staff.

So I bowed out (more or less), and set out on a journey to find Jesus, rejecting the notion - as I was taught in my church - that The Church is Jesus and by bringing people to The Church, we're introducing people to Jesus.

Eventually, I joined another church and their Community Group - they didn't have Sunday School, which was more than fine with me.  The Community Group was a place were we could discuss life and things we were learning in Jesus.  That suited me just fine.  I actually preferred the small group setting to the large congregation.  I found myself going there more than I went to Church.

So today, I found myself going to Church on Easter.  Just like all of those other people, whom several decades ago, I condemned because they hadn't earned the right to be there in the first place.

I had become what I loathed: a Bunny Hopper.

But today was different.  Today it didn't matter to me where anyone had been, or why they were there, or why they might not have been there consistently in the past.  I injected no presuppositions of spirituality (the lack thereof) upon their souls.  I didn't consider them as being spiritually aware as a brick, or spiritually stupid as I have known other people to do.  And most of all, there was no self condemnation - which is a miracle in-and-of itself.

I found that instead of saddling them with rules, regulations and condemnation, I had found that suddenly, I was able to extend grace.  I wanted to build them up, not instruct them on how to better live their lives or to measure up to a standard; I found myself not judging them for any perceived or imagined lack of prior participation.

So when the invitation came, I ignored the pastoral instruction to close my eyes.  I found two people raising their hands, indicating they wanted to know Jesus - to pray the "sinner's prayer," as we called it.  So I prayed for them, I blessed them, I stored up some treasure in heaven.  And I walked away knowing that my prayers were impactful, not because of who I am in and of myself, but because of who I am in Christ - a King and a Priest (Rev. 1:6).  This means I have the authority to affect change in the natural (as a King) and to affect change in the Spiritual (as a Priest).  It's my identity.

So today I learned that I've become something better than I was decades ago.  I've not been stagnant, I've changed, I've grown - I've produce fruit of the spirit.  Not because I tied it on like I used to, not because I picked it up and purposed to do it: because it is a natural by-product of who I have become.

If that makes be a Bunny Hopper, then so be it.  I'll take that any day over who I was in the past.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

A Brief Synopsis of Modern, Western Christianity

We've exchanged the higher purpose of making Disciples and Worshipers for making Christians.

The problem is this: to make a modern, Western Christian, we must add our doctrine, our Traditions of Men and our varied philosophies in order to successfully mold one into our image.  We call them Baptists, Methodists, Presbyterians and Catholics - just to name a few.

This is precisely why The Church, and most Christians, are almost universally known more for an adherence of a given set of rules than for Grace or Love.  They demand adherence to form and function, rules of law rather than being known because of their love.

It is why we, as Church Members, demand purity over substance, demonstration over Love.  We demand that our new members clean themselves up and demonstrate proper, spiritual etiquette before being accepted into the clique.

In another vernacular, it's known as legalism - a system practically void of Grace and Love; a system designed to improve the external to acceptable standards, to shackle the broken hearted and obfuscate the Truth that could set them free.

God does not desire our worship, and He does not force people to worship Him.  God desires worshipers, not worship.  There is a distinct and significant difference.  Anyone can worship anything.  But only a true worshiper of God is changed from the inside out, into the image of Christ - a true Disciple.

It is the difference between tying fruit onto a tree with string that rots and is good for nothing, and becoming the tree that bears fruit to nourish all who partake of it.

"But an hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for such people the Father seeks to be His worshipers."  (John 4:23)  
"and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free" (John 8:32
"These signs will accompany those who have believed: in My name they will cast out demons, they will speak with new tongues; they will pick up serpents, and if they drink any deadly poison, it will not hurt them; they will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover.” (Mark 16:17-18




Sunday, February 7, 2016

Divorce, Adultery, Perfect Will and Sovereignty

It hath been said, whosoever shall put away his wife, let him give her a writing of divorcement: But I say unto you, That whosoever shall put away his wife, saving for the cause of fornication, causeth her to commit adultery: and whosoever shall marry her that is divorced committeth adultery. (Matt 5:31-32)

Over the years I've learned a few of things about Bible study:
  1. text without context is a pretext (eisegesis)
  2. let scripture interpret scripture
  3. all translations have biases  
When trying to understand divorce, marriage and adultery, what we need to do is see how the Greek words are used in scripture and how divorce is handled in the Law.

The problem we find in Matthew 5:31-32 (and it's companion verses in Mark 10) is that the Greek word for 'put away' is actually found thrice, but translated as divorce the third time.  An alternative reading would be as follows:
It hath been said, whosoever shall put away his wife, let him give her a writing of divorcement: But I say unto you, That whosoever shall put away his wife, saving for the cause of fornication, causeth her to commit adultery: and whosoever shall marry her that is put away committeth adultery.
The Strong's number for 'put away' is G630, apoluō. According to E-Sword, it's used 69 times in 63 verses in the KJB NT, but it's translated as 'divorce' only twice.  The word for divorce is apostasies, Strong's G647.  It's use only 3 times in the NT, all being a form of divorce. Given how apoluō is used elsewhere and given that you can't just swap apostasies and apoluō in every other context, then what we are left with is a red-flag: we need to consider #3 (bias) as a possibility for this interpretation.

What put the nail in the coffin for me was Deut. 24 (KJB): write a bill of divorce, put it in her hand, send her out; then she may re-marry. 
When a man hath taken a wife, and married her, and it come to pass that she find no favour in his eyes, because he hath found some uncleanness in her: then let him write her a bill of divorcement, and give it in her hand, and send her out of his house.
And when she is departed out of his house, she may go and be another man's wife.  (Deut. 24:1-2)
Sending out is a tertiary action to the prior requirements.  In other words, writing a bill of divorce and giving it to her must occur before sending her out.  Since putting away (sending out) is not writing a bill of divorce, we have to view them as different activities, although related.  

A question then, might be this: did Jewish men put away their wives without divorcing them?  I'll leave that to you to research.

But the clincher is far more subtle.

If Jesus had actually taught that putting away a wife was the same as writing a bill of divorce, and that remarriage after a legitimate divorce caused adultery, then He would have contradicted the Law: 
And when she is departed out of his house, she may go and be another man's wife.
But we need to remember that "to catch him in His words" (Mk 12:13) was a goal of the Pharisees.  However, scripture is clear: in failing to do that, they eventually left Him alone (Mk: 12:34).  So, either the Pharisees didn't notice that Jesus was breaking the Law, or they understood that putting away a wife was different from divorcing one.

This also helps explain this verse:
That whosoever shall put away his wife, saving for the cause of fornication, causeth her to commit adultery (Matt. 5:32)
Seeing that she is put out of her husbands house and then remarries, her husband causes her to commit adultery when he has not provided to her a bill of divorcement.  This is only true outside of the case of fornication: if she has committed fornication, then she has caused her own adultery, not her husband.

The bottom line is this scripture was translated with bias in the KJB.  The traditional interpretation causes us to put on blinders and make excuses for Jesus and/or scripture.  The better interpretation on the other hand, coalesces with scripture and adds cohesion between both Testaments, while insuring that Jesus kept and fulfilled the law.

On Sovereignty and Perfect Will

One of the things I used to hear frequently in church was talk about God's Sovereignty and His perfect will.  Mostly as couched in how we needed to find His perfect will and be in His perfect will, etc., etc..  So with that in mind, I'll pose a couple of questions.
  1. Is (was) the Law written completely from the perspective of the Sovereignty of God?
  2. Is (was) the Law Gods' perfect will for Man?
Now consider what Jesus said about divorce:
And they said, "Moses suffered to write a bill of divorcement, and to put her away."  And Jesus answered and said unto them, "For the hardness of your heart he wrote you this precept.  But from the beginning of the creation God made them male and female.Mark 10:4-6
Did you catch that bit, "for the hardness of your heart, he wrote you this precept."  In other words, that which was inspired was not due to or sourced from the sovereignty of God, nor was it His perfect will.  But it became Law because of Man, because of the Hebrews, because of us.  In other words, God understood man's nature and inspired a Law that was less than His perfect will entirely because of Man.

If you think about that too long, it might just cause your head to explode.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Forgiveness vs. Reconciliation

Forgiveness is for me.  Reconciliation is for us.

We can't be friends outside of reconciliation because that would make one of us codependent.

“If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother."  Matt. 18:15

Sunday, August 30, 2015

The Difference Between Legalism and Knowing Him

The judgement of Solomon

Legalism

When we read the Bible to know what we should do, the Bible becomes our task master.  When we see those not keeping the law as we have learned, we judge them because they don't do as they should.  When we see those keeping the law we don't keep, we become permissive because we will not judge or add burdens to ourselves.

Jesus Heals a Leper

Knowing Him

When we read the Bible to know Him, we find rest because His yoke is easy and His burden is light.   When we see those who are not doing as we have become, then we're not judgmental because we understand that the process of knowing Him is a journey.  We build them up in gentleness and bear their burdens.  When we see those on the same journey, doing more than we have done, we become inquisitive students, because we want to know Him in a new and wonderful way.

Moving Foward

Our Christian heritage is based mostly in legalism.  When you find yourself judging another, step back and judge yourself instead.  Change your ways, take another path.  Find rest for your soul.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Incomplete Recall

Every once and a while you'll hear a preacher complaining about the fact the parishioners can't remember his sermon.  Somehow, we presume from their commentary on the this subject - that if we remembered what they said - then perhaps we wouldn't have so many problems.

Never one to let a sleeping dog lie, then I'll provide my two cents on the subject.

First, those of use who would fret over whether or not someone remembers what we've taught, spoke or preached are in a place of pride.

Seriously.  Just admit it now and get over it.  Dress it up in all of the humble platitudes you care to create, but it's still pride.  False humility is still false - it's still pride.  If you actually cared for someone's well being, then you wouldn't mind that people didn't remember your sermon.  You'd simply find another Logos of God to plant in their soul.

So, here's the meat:

Recall is not the measurement of impact. Recall is the measurement of memorization.

When Biblical precepts and principles are the driving forces of our responses to everyday pressures, then we are practicing legalism - we're Pharisees.  That's memorization. 

Is there anything wrong with learning precepts and principles?  Nope.

Is there anything wrong with leaning on them when all else fails?  Nope.

But occasionaly leaning on them is not what I'm talking about.  I'm specifically addressing the driving forces of who we are and how we respond.  There are some people who believe the measurement of spirituality is quantified in the amount of scripture you learn and the skill you demonstrate in applying said scripture to your life.

Is applying scripture to your life wrong?  Nope.

But if learning and applying the scriptures were all it was about, then the Pharisees would have rocked Jesus's boat.  Rather He said,
You search the Scriptures, for in them you think you have eternal life; and these are they which testify of Me. But you are not willing to come to Me that you may have life.
So, they understood some of the principles of Joshua 1:8
This book of the law shall not depart out of thy mouth; but thou shalt meditate therein day and night, that thou mayest observe to do according to all that is written therein: for then thou shalt make thy way prosperous, and then thou shalt have good success.
You see, it's imperative that you know the spirit speaking the Word to you.  Scripture spoken by Satan is not truth:
For He shall give His angels charge over you, to keep you in all your ways.  In their hands they shall bear you up, lest you dash your foot against a stone.
 So the suggestion he made  to Jesus, to just go ahead and throw yourself off the temple (Luke 4:9), was not truth, it was a lie.

In the same context, Jesus said:
Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God.’”
The problem is that the average preacher will tell you that "every word" refers to the Bible.  But that's incorrect.  The context is "every word that proceeds out of" the mouth of God.  That word "proceeds," is active, present tense.

For if Abraham had only listened to what God said (past tense), then his son would have died.  Consider also that we are to honor our father and mother, but on the other hand, if we don't hate them then we can't follow after Jesus.  Which is it?  Honor or hate?  If you don't understand the word that proceeds out of the mouth of God, you'll remain confused.  Living by the spirit and applying the scriptures as He directs, is the key.

The point is that we must learn to live in the spirit.

Therefore, we can observe living the Christian Life in two ways
  1. Memorizing the precepts and principles as best as possible so that we will know what to do when a given pressure of life occurs. 
  2. Being changed (impacted) by the Word of Life so that when pressures arise, we naturally respond in the Spirit without having to recall or think about the corresponding principle or precept.
In other words ...

In example (1) we do witnessing, while in the second example, we are the witness.

In the first example, we're living in legalism, attaining to a prescribed standard of behavior. We're orphans working to gain an identity and approval.

In the second example, we're becoming Christ like (a new creature), overcoming through the blood of the lamb and the word of our testimony. We're Sons/Daughters (we have an identity) working out the Father's mission with authority.

So then, obeying for it's own sake is never wrong.  It can put us on the right path, or it can stunt us like a Pharisee.   


The point is that there's a better way: it's called becoming Christ Like, living/walking in the Spirit. 

In any circumstance, we will either respond in the flesh, respond from principle or respond from Spirit.

You want to be in the grouping of the later two, always moving towards the Spirit.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Slaves, Orphans, Sons, Kings and Priests

As a follow on to this post, I would submit for your consideration, the following.
  • A Slave serves from a point of fear, towards the purpose of self preservation.
  • An Orphan serves from a point of loss, towards the purpose of identity
  • A Son serves from the point of identity, towards the purpose of the Father's mission
  • A King or a Priest, serves from a point of identity, exercising their authority in humility and service.
 Only the last two describe the Child of God: we are Kings and Priests (Rev. 5:10),  and Sons of God (Gal. 3:26)

Both the slave and the orphan serve for selfish reasons.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Some Reasons Why People are Leaving the Institution called Church

We can't categorically suggest that all former institutional church members can be sorted into the buckets I've provided here.  But these are at least two factors to the mass exodus from the institutional organization called 'church.'

In the video linked below, we observe a congregation who, never owning a copy of the Bible, each receive their own copy.  It's made the rounds in various social media forums for several years.

In those forums, someone almost always prefaces the video with a variation of the rhetorical question, "do you love your Bible this much?"  The implied answer is "no," and self condemnation of  sin follows.  In this post, I'm going to put forth two arguments as to why Americans don't seem to love their Bibles as much as the precious believers in the video below.



Used as a Tool to Enable Power

In America our view of the Bible is, more often than not, corrupted through the process of it being used for control and condemnation.  This is not a new phenomena: the scriptures have been misused in this way for millennia.  It's one of the reasons, outside of the necessity of the printing press, that the Bible remained inaccessible to the common man for so long.  It's why King James decreed that ekklésia would be translated "church" (a pagan temple) and not congregation or assembly, two words often seen in the Hebrew Bible (OT).

Hence, if you grew up or were indoctrinated in some churches, you could never read or hear the scriptures without a voice of condemnation.  To those people the church represents manipulation and condemnation.  It's easy to see then why these people don't love, read or revere their Bible.

Principles without Spirit

Most Christians have little or no understanding of walking in the Spirit.  We are taught instead to keep the law as describe by the Pastor - to live by the principles of their interpretation of the Bible.  In this endeavor we are to acquire knowledge of the Bible and it's laws.  The more laws you know, the more spiritual you become.  Spirituality is then measured by your ability to act in the correct manner based upon your accurate understanding and implementation of the Bible.

In this framework, the laity is expected to uphold the doctrine of the Pastor and perform within the Church only as the Pastor either dictates or would perform a given function himself.  In this context, the Pastor's desire is law, upheld and established by his interpretation and application of the scriptures.

As such, we view the Bible as a list of rules and laws we can't keep, as evidenced by repeated failures and corrections.  It begs the question, what's the use?

Why the Difference?

The people in the video haven't lived through either of those experiences. They've lived only in the Spirit, being taught by God. To come into possession of the written Logos, the Word you've walked with every day, can only be viewed as a blessing; not an opportunity for condemnation nor an iteration of failures.
 

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Iniquity, Sin and Transgressions: Breaking Free from Bondage and Addiction

Around the 2010 time frame, I danced around the topic of iniquity in some other blogs without really understanding it's relationship to sin, transgressions and bondage (or captivity and addiction).  But recently I've been encouraged to study the concept further.

As a result, I'm challenging the defacto teaching around iniquity, sin and transgression that suggests they are just different levels or severities of offense.  In example, one might suggest that abortion and murder is iniquity, stealing much money is a sin, but exceeding the speed limit by 5 MPH is just a transgression.

I'd like to suggest that such a concept of parceling sins into escalating offenses is a corruption that enables us to create standards for behavior contrary to our personal belief systems by which we dispense judgements against humanity.  Just such a thing is what many Christians do best: create sorting systems for sins resulting in varying degrees of judgements, penance and punishments - Dante's Inferno, for example.

Consider then, Psalm 32:5
I acknowledge my sin unto thee, and mine iniquity have I not hid. I said, I will confess my transgressions unto the Lord; and thou forgave the iniquity of my sin.
Notice the precise construction of "the iniquity of my sin."  The question is this: what is the "foo of my bar"?  Is Psalmist suggesting that God is addressing the silver used to create the jewelry, or He is addressing the jewelry created from the silver?

In Strong's Concordance of the Bible, 'iniquity' is indexed at H5771.  It is derived from H5753, and it means "perversity."  Sin, on the other hand, comes from H2403, and it means "an offense."  So then, does the offense create perversity, or does perversity give rise to the offense?

Lets look at the problem from something a bit more concrete: Adam and Eve.  Adam made a choice, Eve was deceived.  Both sinned.  We call it original sin, the lynch-pin from which humanity is bound in unrighteousness.  So, did the sin cause the perversion, or did perversion cause the sin?  Many people will suggest that the reason Adam and Eve sinned is because satan corrupted Gods word; he created lie, or a perversion of the truth.  From this perversion then, sin and transgression arose.

In the New Testament Paul enumerated a number of sins he called the "deeds of the flesh."
You were running well; who hindered you from obeying the truth ... For you were called to freedom, brethren; only do not turn your freedom into an opportunity for the flesh ... walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh. For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you please ... Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are: immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these (Gal. 5:7-21)
The question then becomes, what exactly is the flesh?  Well, for starters, it's not your body.  Although it appears that Paul generally speaks of it in this way, the flesh is instead used to describe a contrary-to-God state from which sin flows, the human nature, or principle of evil, the law of sin that we carry with us.
But if I am doing the very thing I do not want, I am no longer the one doing it, but sin which dwells in me.  I find then the principle that evil is present in me, the one who wants to do good. For I joyfully concur with the law of God in the inner man, but I see a different law in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin which is in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, on the one hand I myself with my mind am serving the law of God, but on the other, with my flesh the law of sin. (Romans 7:20-25)
What we find then in scripture, is the concept of two natures: the sin nature, and the Holy Spirit nature.
But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh. For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you please. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the Law. (Galatians 5:16-18)
So, where does this leave us?  Is there a difference, does God forgive both?  Yes, He forgives both; yes there is a difference.  Therefore, Paul describes the law of sin as the controlling force responsible for sin.  The law of sin, then, is iniquity: and thou forgave the iniquity of my sin.

Just as walking in the Spirit is sourced from the spirit, waking in sin is sourced from the flesh, or iniquity.  And just as there is a relationship with the Spirit, we must put to death our previous relationship with iniquity and give rise to the Holy Spirit within us:
Therefore consider the members of your earthly body as dead to immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed, which amounts to idolatry ... in them you also once walked, when you were living in them. But now you also, put them all aside ... since you laid aside the old self with its evil practices, and have put on the new self who is being renewed to a true knowledge according to the image of the One who created him— a renewal in which there is no distinction between Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and freeman, but Christ is all, and in all. (Colossians 3:5-11) 
The lesson we take from this is that there are two ways to live: from the point of unrighteousness and from the point of righteousness.  While we must deal with sins and transgressions, we also must eliminate the source from which they are birthed: the iniquity itself.  One way this is done is through the Armor of God (Ephesians 6).  Another way we do this is rejecting the lies we believe and knowing the truth (John 8:32).  And yet another way we do this is turning towards God with our heart, so that our minds may be unveiled (2 Corinthians 3:16).  Consider also that we are putting to death the deeds of the flesh (Col. 5:3) and working to put on a heart of compassion (Col. 3:12).

But most important, we must realize that dealing with sin and iniquity are different.  Sin is the "what."  Iniquity is the "why."  We can confess our sins of lust without dealing with the why of the lust.  And that's where your journey to true freedom will begin: by rooting out the whys of your sins.

But the crux of the matter is that we must learn to live from a point of experience, rather than a point of declaration.  While it's wonderful that God has declared us righteous, it is another thing entirely to live and walk from that perspective.

If you're like me, it helps to see things.  This isn't a perfect model, but it does help us visualize how we live in both the new and the old: