Saturday, January 14, 2012

A Good, Bible Teaching Church

The Bible is not a compendium of facts, laws, precepts and moral standards that are to be taught, learned and practiced for the purpose of being or becoming a Christian nor for demonstrating to yourself or others that you are a good  person or a good Christian.  Neither do we implement them for the purpose of demonstrating to ourselves and others that our behaviors are improving and becoming more acceptable, or at least, should be more acceptable to God and to others.

Graham Cooke said, "All knowledge in the Bible is linked to experience. God doesn't want you memorizing scripture. He wants you to become the living embodiment of it!"

Hence, one of the most critical problems we have with the so called "good bible teaching church" is that they have a greater capacity to churn out fruit inspectors than they have to churn out fruit cultivators.

Disillusionment and Hooks
Consider the not-so-far-fetched story of a church member named John.  He was a man who, for one reason or another, left his church to find another.  Upon arriving at that new church, it was the opinion of some that the visitor had not "learned a thing" at his previous church.  Nevertheless, John was excited about a few of the new things he was learning about the bible.  Regular Sunday school attendance, various service projects and knocking on doors for evangelism were part of his new life and activities.  But after a while, when John's mind was once again full of doctrines and precepts, when the regiments of the law were consumed to overflowing and when the glancing judgments did not wane, the excitement wore off and he disappeared to find another good, bible teaching church.

Church staff members are painfully aware of how many tithing units they need to keep running through the doors in order to make payroll and bills.  They also know that they can't keep everyone enrolled so they augment their services with in-depth bible studies, popular personalities and various blends of music and entertainment - the hooks, as I call them. They're a best effort of keeping those who do show up, returning as tithe-paying members.  Although these churches may have knowledgeable pastors and staff members who want to do the right thing, their version of the right thing is usually not enough for some people - something is missing and members come and go, looking for that elusive fit.

Where's the Beef or, Where's the Focus?
When we look closer at these churches, do we find that the members are living by the spirit, or are they living by the letter of the law?  Do they hold themselves accountable to the law of liberty, or something else?  Are they active members of the Body of Christ, each joint supplying that which the other needs, or are they simply laying their minds bare at the alter of the pastor, only to go home and forget about the "God thing" until their next regularly scheduled attendance function, such as bible studies, evangelism, concerts or the next christian comedy troop?

Give us a King!
The problem is that We the People generally desire a leader.  Israel had the same problem - give us a king - they said.  But since our good, bible teaching churches haven't taught us how to be lead by and seek the Holy Spirit, haven't taught us to how seek first the kingdom of God for ourselves, haven't taught us how listen to the Holy Spirit, and frankly since the churches leaders would rather set themselves up as our authority, we've come to accept and expect that learning doctrine, principles and moral precepts are the only things necessary to being a Christian.

The problem is that's Christian Religion not relationship with the Creator.  I've come to believe that in the minds of some, that's all God expects.  Because to them, God is a dispensationalist - He did everything in various stages in order to do two things: to save man and give him the Bible, and now that Jesus has been to the cross and we have the Bible, He doesn't "do that any more" (what ever "that" may be).  So, all we have is the Bible and it's rules and precepts to learn, memorize and follow.

Please understand that I'm not suggesting that we don't live by every word of God, or that we don't study the bible for the purpose of strengthening our relationship with God or to understand Godly principles.  Rather, that we discern the difference between learning to do for the sake of doing, and just being.  For example, scripture is clear regarding those in need:
What use is it, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but he has no works? Can that faith save him?  If a brother or sister is without clothing and in need of daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and be filled,” and yet you do not give them what is necessary for their body, what use is that?  Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself.  (James 2:14-17)
Clearly, we're suppose to help those in need.  But what happens when you simply practice the doctrine, but don't mix it with a relationship with God?  In some cases, you'll loose all of your money to people who are more interested in stealing it from you than they are holding down a job.

It's About Being - Not Doing
In terms of being rather than doing, consider that Jesus never commanded us to do evangelism.  If you disagree, then lets look at some of the core scriptures regarding evangelism:
{Jesus said} "All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth.  Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit,  teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age." (Matthew 20:18-20)
To these He also presented Himself alive after His suffering, by many convincing proofs, appearing to them over a period of forty days and speaking of the things concerning the kingdom of God.  Gathering them together, He commanded them not to leave Jerusalem, but to wait for what the Father had promised, “Which,” He said, “you heard of from Me;  for John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.” (Acts 1:3-5)
{Jesus said} "but you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth." (Acts 1:8)
While it is abundantly clear that Jesus commanded His disciples to go, the follow on to that commandment wasn't to "do witnessing" or "do evangelism", rather that they would simply "be His witnesses."  There is a vast difference between being a witness and doing a thing called witnessing.  Anyone can perjure themselves and do witnessing in a court of law.  But it's only those who are witnesses that don't get into trouble for their testimony.  Furthermore, any number of people can learn the tenets of Evangelism Explosion, but have they learned to do witnessing or how to be a witness? We can go to college and learn to do medicine, engineering, and basket weaving, but we're not taught to be scalpels, re-enforced concrete or a basket.  Rather we're taught how to learn and utilize specific skills so that we may be a doctor, be an engineer or be a basket case.  And unfortunately some of our good, bible teaching churches instruct their members in only enough Bible knowledge to insure that they can some day be a participant in this frightening scene:
“Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter. Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’  And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness."
“Therefore everyone who hears these words of Mine and acts on them, may be compared to a wise man who built his house on the rock.  And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and slammed against that house; and yet it did not fall, for it had been founded on the rock. Everyone who hears these words of Mine and does not act on them, will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. The rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and slammed against that house; and it fell — and great was its fall.” (Matthew 7:21-27)
Acting upon the word of God, through faith, results in God creating a new creature, created by God for good works.  A new creature is a new being, not a new doer: we can teach a dog to walk on its hind legs, that doesn't make the dog a human.

Faith and Works and Keeping the Law
But then, what do we do with the book of James?  Aren't we supposed to do works to demonstrate our faith?
But one who looks intently at the perfect law, the law of liberty, and abides by it, not having become a forgetful hearer but an effectual doer, this man will be blessed in what he does. (James 1:25)
There are here a couple important things to consider.

First, we have to consider scripture as a whole.  If we are dead to the Law, then why are we to look at the Law and be doers of it?  Secondly, if the Law of Moses is the law of liberty, then why does scripture tell us the following:
Now we know that whatever the Law says, it speaks to those who are under the Law, so that every mouth may be closed and all the world may become accountable to God;  because by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified in His sight; for through the Law comes the knowledge of sin.  (Romans 3:19-20)
nevertheless knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the Law but through faith in Christ Jesus, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, so that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the Law; since by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified. (Galatians 2:16)
Wasn't keeping the Law for the purpose of being right with God, to be blessed in what man does, the entire problem at Galatia?  Of course it was.

So then, what James refers to as the perfect law, is actually the law of liberty, not the law of Moses which we find being discussed in Romans and Galatians.
Therefore, my brethren, you also were made to die to the Law through the body of Christ, so that you might be joined to another, to Him who was raised from the dead, in order that we might bear fruit for God.  For while we were in the flesh, the sinful passions, which were aroused by the Law, were at work in the members of our body to bear fruit for death.  But now we have been released from the Law, having died to that by which we were bound, so that we serve in newness of the Spirit and not in oldness of the letter. (Romans 7:4-6)
Therefore, I submit to you that the perfect law of liberty is Jesus Christ, or in the least, Love.  And that being the case, then the perfect law of liberty transforms us into a new creation.  Therefore, in abiding by this perfect law, we are in essence submitting and yielding to that which can  renew our minds.  And through the regenerative power of God (love edifies - 1 Cor 8:1), we become effectual doers of Jesus Christ, through the perfect law of liberty.  So then, it is through the perfect law of liberty that we may say:
For through the Law {of Moses} I died to the Law {of Moses}, so that I might live to God.  I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me.  I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness comes through the Law {of Moses}, then Christ died needlessly. (Galatians 2:19-21)
See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deception, according to the tradition of men, according to the elementary principles of the world, rather than according to Christ {the Perfect Law of Liberty}.  For in Him all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form, and in Him you have been made complete, {not by the Law of Moses} and He is the head over all rule and authority;  and in Him you were also circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, in the removal of the body of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ;  having been buried with Him in baptism, in which you were also raised up with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead.  When you were dead in your transgressions and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He made you alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our transgressions,  having canceled out the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us, {the Law of Moses} which was hostile to us; and He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross.  (Colossians 2:8-14)
So then, be careful of that which you learn to do at church: those things which you are taught to practice only to be acceptable to some external standard.  Even in the day of Christ, Jesus said "but in vain do they worship me, teaching as their doctrines the precepts of men" (Mark 7:7).  Scripture teaches us to live by the spirit, walk by the spirit and pray in the spirit.  Not live by the law, walk by the law and pray by the law.

What we need in a church is a spirit filled congregation interested in the individual, interested in edifying each other in the Body of Christ, as each member of the body of Christ is commanded (Ephesians 4:11-32).  What we don't need is a bunch of people interested worshiping the pastor, who think they are there to make sure you tow the line, learn their doctrines and don't bring embarrassment to their establishment.

Although I said it before, it bears repeating:
One of the most critical problems with our churches today, is that they have a greater capacity to churn out fruit inspectors than they have to churn out fruit cultivators.


Sunday, January 8, 2012

Depression - A spirit of Evil

Of all the things that depression is, that which is most often forgotten by those of us who find themselves smack-dab in the middle of it, is that depression flows from a spirit of evil. If you're not so sure about that, then lets look at it this way: God is Spirit,  God is Love and Love edifies.
  • God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth. (John 4:24)  
  • We have come to know and have believed the love which God has for us. God is love, and the one who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. (John 4:16)
  • Now concerning things sacrificed to idols, we know that we all have knowledge. Knowledge makes arrogant, but love edifies. (1 Corinthians 8:1)
A quick rhetorical question: does depression edify, does it build you up?  I think we would all say that the emphatic answer is no.  Rather, depression tears one down, it destroys a person.

Therefore, what is the opposite of edification?  Destruction.  That which doesn't build you up, tears you down.  Scripture says, 
Be of sober spirit, be on the alert. Your adversary, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour." (1 Peter 5:8)
For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places. Therefore, take up the full armor of God, so that you will be able to resist in the evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm.  (Ephesians 6:12-13)
Love and hate: they're opposites for a reason.  Love builds you up,  evil tears you down.  I think this is why scripture says
Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice!  Let your gentle spirit be known to all men. The Lord is near.  Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.  And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things.  The things you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.  (James 4:4-9)
I dislike the academia that has become the corner stone many of our churches today.  They've become institutions of learning Denominational Thought rather than places of rejoicing, places where we can discard our anxiety.  Instead they're full of condemnation of you for not following the rules and precepts of God, where they pull down the Law that Jesus nailed to the cross and reapply it to your soul with guilt, duty and servitude.

Nevertheless, I suppose at the risk of being academic, there are some things that need to be discussed in lieu of helping us be active in God grace towards us in the process of defeating depression.

Rejoice.  That's pretty much plain and simple.  In rejoicing, specifically in this context, is praise.  When I was a much younger man, Russ Taft sang a song 'Praise the Lord'.


The established religious intelligentsia of the day hated the song (at least those I was associated with), because it seemed to suggest that simply giving God credit, thanking Him and rejoicing in Him could some how be a stepping stone to making your problems less of what they were.  No, instead what you needed was a good Bible teaching church, some self flagellating 12-Step doctrines and a good preacher you could submit to.

I on the other hand, I believe we should just skip all of that rot and just stick to the spirit of scripture:
But about midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns of praise to God, and the prisoners were listening to them; and suddenly there came a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison house were shaken; and immediately all the doors were opened and everyone’s chains were unfastened. (Acts 16:25-26)
Let your spirit be known to all men.  That's not possible to do, in the spirit of the context of this scripture, unless you've moved out of depression, into rejoicing and from there into something better.  And fortunately for us, the only pre-requisite is our choice to rejoice.

Don't be anxious, pray.  Hopefully part of your depression isn't a self-condemnation for your apparent lack of all things "spiritual," including prayer.  But even if it is, it doesn't really matter: "you shall know the truth and the truth will make you free." (John 8:32)  The only thing left for you to do, is act upon the truth.

And finally, Change Your Thinking:
Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things.  The things you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.
That's a pretty big promise.

In the midst of depression, you're thinking about rotten, awful things.  Your belief system is tied up in death and evil, and things which which do not edify.  But changing your thinking is not the king-pin: you've got to first rejoice, then pray and then you'll be in a position to change your thinking.



Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Praying for Snakes

Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened. Or what man is there among you who, when his son asks for a loaf, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, he will not give him a snake, will he? If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give what is good to those who ask Him! In everything, therefore, treat people the same way you want them to treat you, for this is the Law and the Prophets.  (Matthew 7:7-12)

Praying for snakes is what happens we're so wrapped up in our own emotions and perceived well-being that we cannot see any other possibility or palatable outcome other than that which we desire.  So we ask and ask and ask hoping that we'll be like the widow who bugged the judge until he relented and gave her want she wanted (Luke 18:1-8).  And that some how, because of our persistent nagging, God will throw up His hands and say "here, have what you want but just leave me alone."  If that is your view of your relationship with God, then I'm sorry - because that's not His relationship with you, and that's not the point of the story.

We must remember that God only gives good gifts (Matthew 7:7-12).  Bad gifts destroy, good gifts edify.  So, if you're not seeing what you're praying for then there are at least a couple reasons why:
  1. There is something better for you.
  2. You didn't hear Him say "I've got this taken care of - you don't need to pray anymore."
In other words, you're praying for snakes.  You're asking God to give you something that He knows is not good for you.  But because of your emotional investment, you either can't (or will not) hear Him respond with a better alternative or you can't (or will not) hear Him respond in the affirmative that the issue is taken care of.

When life "happens," our first response shouldn't be an emotional prayer of "God, please fix this!"  Rather, it should be "God, what are you doing?  What do you want me to learn?  How do I pray through this?"  The first, emotional response puts you in the position of making God into a vending machine: prayers in, goodies out.  The second response puts you in the position of cooperating with God towards receiving a double blessing.

Maybe you need to back off just a bit and reflect.  Are you praying for snakes when you should be asking for something else?

Plucking the T of TULIP.

Within Calvinism, there is the idea of the TULIP, an acronym that describes the fundamental axioms of Calvinism. The TULIP was constructed...