Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Learning to Pray - In Secret, Ask, Seek and Knock

It happened that while Jesus was praying in a certain place, after He had finished, one of His disciples said to Him, “Lord, teach us to pray just as John also taught his disciples.” And He said to them, “When you pray, say:
‘Father, hallowed be Your name.
Your kingdom come.
‘Give us each day our daily bread.
‘And forgive us our sins,
For we ourselves also forgive everyone who is indebted to us.
And lead us not into temptation.’”
Then He said to them, “Suppose one of you has a friend, and goes to him at midnight and says to him, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves; for a friend of mine has come to me from a journey, and I have nothing to set before him’; and from inside he answers and says, ‘Do not bother me; the door has already been shut and my children and I are in bed; I cannot get up and give you anything.’ I tell you, even though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, yet because of his persistence he will get up and give him as much as he needs.

“So I say to you, 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. Now suppose one of you fathers is asked by his son for a fish; he will not give him a snake instead of a fish, will he?  Or if he is asked for an egg, he will not give him a scorpion, will he? If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him?”
Since this blog series is about prayer, we'll just skip the fact that Jesus was praying and any implications that might be made around that fact.  But one of the things I do want you to see is something that most people consider anecdotal:  "It happened that while Jesus was praying in a certain place ..."

Why do we find a reference to "a certain place?"  If there was something special about a particular place, say the garden of Gethsemane, then why wouldn't we be told exactly the name of that place?  I think we would, but that's not the case.  Rather, the important thing we're left to understand is that there most definitely was a "certain place." 

So why is that important?  Because it's important that you designate a place for payer.  This isn't to say that you cannot pray in any place at any time, but you need a retreat, a secret place:
But you, when you pray, go into your inner room, close your door and pray to your Father who is in secret, and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you.  (Matthew 6:6)
The Model Prayer
It took me a long time to figure out that the Lord's prayer is a model, not something we're supposed to corporately repeat week after week, which is why I typically avoid repeating it at the pre-defined time.  There are a plethora of bible studies and sermons on this prayer, but suffice it to say we should remember to acknowledge who He is, and the necessity for us to be in harmony with His will and that as His will is in Heaven, so should it be here.  We ask for our needs to be met and then confess our sins, and acknowledge our responsibility to forgive those who sin against us.  And lastly, we ask for protection.  The model prayer is something in which we should pay special attention to the order of the given concepts.  We will express our priorities through prayer, and the model prayer helps us keep our priorities in line with His priorities.

Ask, Seek, Knock
This is where the meat of the lesson lives.  We find a man, who upon having a friend arrive from a long journey, realizes that he has nothing to set before him.  In other words, he can't meet his needs, which for any of us in a similar situation, would be embarrassing.

Asking is a necessary step.  So, lets assume, for argument's sake, that the man asked his wife, "where is the food?"  Upon learning there was none to be had, his next step was seeking.  So, out of his house he went, seeking food for the hungry traveler and seeking after the friend whom he knew could meet his needs.  Upon finding his friend's house, he then knocked on the door.   He could have just stood at the door, upon finding it closed.  But if he had done that, then the door would have never opened.  Many times, God provides provision, but we refuse to knock.

One of the things we must avoid when considering this example is that God is not annoyed with us, neither are we an inconvenience when encountered through prayer.  The point the Jesus is making regarding the two men is two fold: true friends meet each others needs, and secondly, you have to seek, ask and knock when opportunities are presented.
No longer do I call you slaves, for the slave does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all things that I have heard from My Father I have made known to you. (John 15:15)
Relationship and Persistence
So, why did the man go to his friends house?  I know, it's a rhetorical question, but it's worth considering.  He could have stopped at any other house along the way.  The answer is simple: when we ask favors of people whom we have not earned the right to impose upon, we are more often than not, rejected.  But our friends are different.  We've invested in them and we've earned the right to ask favors of them.  True friends help one another, and there is no more truer a friend than Jesus.  Again, we're getting back to knowing the nature of God, for we don't earn the right to ask, seek and knock at His door, rather we are imputed with that authority.

But why the persistence?  Because persistence represents conviction - the conviction that we know who we're dealing with, that we know the nature of God, and that we know His will.  The man continued to knock on the door because he knew that eventually, his friend would get up and meet his needs.   While persistence helped, it was the relationship that provided a basis for having his needs met.  And that's the position from which we must approach God.

Learning to Pray - Knowing Him

This is the confidence which we have before Him, that, if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us.  And if we know that He hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests which we have asked from Him. (1 John 5:14-15)
In a previous post, I suggested that there is a vast difference between doing for God and knowing God.  Interestingly enough, that concept segues into our greatest problem with prayer: understanding how to apply scripture like 1 John 5:14-15.  Which poses the question, how do you know His will?

Answer: just like any child knows the will of their parents.

Children can tell you what their parents would think of many different things.  They can tell you when they're likely to get into trouble through their actions, and when they're likely to receive praise.  Is this information impossible to come by?  Apparently not, for through a simple thing called relationship and "getting to know someone," children come to exercise these abilities naturally.

And therein lies the rub.  We're too busy learning pseudo-doctrine, denominational tradition and how to keep the Law, and in doing so, we substitute those things for getting to know Him.  The Scribes and Pharisees had the same problem:   they were well versed in the Law, but didn't have a clue when it came to knowing who God was and what he was all about.

In order to know Him, you generally have to give some things up, such as your view of church or your reliance upon the Law.  Church isn't about the worship service, it's not about the sermon, and it is most definitely not about the preacher, the projects or the ministries.  Church is about exercising the heart and nature of God.  With certainty, those things can be found in the aforementioned.  But it is woefully too easy to just do those things because it's the right thing to do, rather than because it is an overflow of His nature pouring out of you.  There is a vast difference between the two, as seen in Matthew 7:21-23:
“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.’
So, boys and girls, our assignment today is to get to know something about His nature and His character.  And here's a suggestion on how to do that.  Read a Psalm, and when you finish a verse or a complete thought, ask this question: why?  Why did the Psalmist say that?  Why would God say that?

Here's something to get you started:
Many are the sorrows of the wicked, but he who trusts in the Lord, loving kindness shall surround him. (Ps. 32:10)
Why?  Why would God surround us with loving kindness simply because we trusted in Him?  What does that say about His nature?  Next, can you imagine an experience that must have been necessary in order for those words to flow from the authors heart?

Consider those questions, or others you may prefer, and consider the answers that would be consistent with other Bible passages that you're familiar with.  The purpose of the exercise is to learn something about the nature and character of God.  Doing so will enable us to understand His will, at least in some limited fashion.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Isaiah 41:10-12

Do not fear, for I am with you; do not anxiously look about you, for I am your God.  I will strengthen you, surely I will help you, surely I will uphold you with My righteous right hand.’
“Behold, all those who are angered at you will be shamed and dishonored ... You will seek those who quarrel with you, but will not find them ..."

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Serving vs. Knowing

Where or what, are your priorities in life as a Disciple of Christ?

But before getting too much into that, you need to determine for yourself one thing: are you a Christian or a disciple of Christ?  There's a difference.  According to the world today and the various diverse denominations, being a Christian is pretty much being anything you want to be: just ask the people as Westboro Baptist Church - they've garnered more press for Christendom than any one else in recent history.  If you attempt to define Christian through scripture, you'll find it to be a difficult thing to do, since it's only used three times:
Acts 11:26  and when he had found him, he brought him to Antioch. And for an entire year they met with the church and taught considerable numbers; and the disciples were first called Christians in Antioch. 
Acts 26:28  Agrippa replied to Paul, "In a short time you will persuade me to become a Christian." 
1 Peter 4:16  but if anyone suffers as a Christian, he is not to be ashamed, but is to glorify God in this name.
Based upon these verses, we might say that Christians are disciples, possibly persuasive and sometimes suffers.   It's also safe to assume that disciple, in the context of Acts 11, refers to a follower of Christ.  So if that's what you mean when you call yourself a Christian, you've made a step in the right direction.  But you're still not off the hook, you still must define what it means to be a disciple of Christ.  In the NASB, the word 'disciple' is found as follows:

255 verses found, 272 matches
2 verses found
3 matches
73 verses found
76 matches
42 verses found
46 matches
36 verses found
38 matches
74 verses found
79 matches
28 verses found
30 matches

So hold onto that thought about being a disciple, because I'm going to get back to it.  But until then, I would suggest that ...

Your First Priority is to Know Him, Not to be Used by Him

You probably think I'm off my rocker, for any good Christian wants to be useful to God.  It's what we hear week after week from the pulpit: find a place to serve God in your church.  What they really mean is stop being lazy and help us do the job you've hired us to do because we can't do it all by ourselves.  But I digress...

Eventually, if you hang around long enough, you'll hear one of them say something about being "put on the shelf" or finding yourself "useless" for kingdom work.  They will claim that it usually happens because of some sin you've committed, or because you're just not interested in Godly things, or you're a back-slider or just simply in rebellion towards God.

But it turns out, more often than not, being found useless is our greatest fear, right?  Well then you might want to also remember this:  that which you fear loosing most is that wherein you've placed your security.  Which means, if you fear being useless to God, then your security in your relationship to God is found through your usefulness to Him, not in His nature, not in His character, nor in His loving kindness towards you.

Which means this: you have a performance based relationship with God: if you do good things, you're rewarded with cookies and candy.  But if you do bad things - or possibly no things at all - you're punished by being ignored and cast away like a worthless piece of trash.

If you still think I'm off my rocker, then answer this question: do you want to be used by your spouse?  Do you want to have a relationship wherein your spouse micro-manages your life, tells you what to do, when to do it, how to do it, and then judges you on the outcomes?  Or possibly you have an enlightened view of the marital relationship and you want to figure out what pleases your spouse the most and then be judged on your performance?  Sounds like a perfect relationship right?  No?

Actually, the truth about the marriage relationship is that you need to get to know your spouse.  Only after you have learned who your spouse is can you anticipate his or her needs.  When you know your spouse, you know what they are doing at any given time, what they will think regarding a given situation.  When you know your spouse, you can act with confidence in your relationship towards others on their behalf.  And when your relationship is built upon mutual trust, love, affection and respect, then you can live your life with them in safety and assurance.  That is how the marriage is supposed to work.

But we're quick to forget that our relationship to God is described as a husband and wife relationship.  Instead, we turn it into that which we have created in our churches: an employer relationship wherein we hire the employee and then let him run our spiritual lives.  Kinda like we treat God: we employ Him to save our souls and then expect Him to run (or ruin) our lives through micro-management and weekly, judgmental performance evaluations.  And in this dysfunctional, co-dependent relationship, we are taught to believe that only through service and wanting to be used by God can we find true happiness.

Serving God is fine.  Unless it's what you do instead of who you are.  Jesus never called us to "do witnessing."  Rather, He said we would "be witnesses."  There's a big difference.  Any one can purger themselves by doing witnessing in a court of law, but it is only the real witness that can enter and leave the courts of law with confidence and a clear conscience.  People who "do for God" may eventually burn out or retire from the ministry because what they were doing was a vocation, not a reflection of who they were in Christ.


So, what has all this got to do with priorities?  If your priorities are to be used of God, then your priorities are wrong.  You're in a performance based relationship.  You're either trying to perform for God, or you're trying to perform for man, or possibly both.  In either case, it's your ego that you're feeding through adulation and approval.  While you can gain the approval of Man, there's not a blooming thing you can do to gain the approval of God, for Jesus has already earned and imputed that approval to you.  If you are not made righteous by God, then you're not righteous or worthy of any kind of approval by God, at all, period-the-end.

So then, what's the priority?  Get to know Him.
More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ, and may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith, that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death; in order that I may attain to the resurrection from the dead. Not that I have already obtained it or have already become perfect, but I press on so that I may lay hold of that for which also I was laid hold of by Christ Jesus.
(Php 3:8-12)

What did a Disciple Do?

When you consider the disciples of Christ, what was it that they did?  Well, basically, they just followed Jesus around every where He went.  Yes, that's a very small way of looking at it, I know.  But consider it for a moment and ask yourself, why did they do that?  What benefit was there?  Could they have not picked up a sermon on the mount here and there and figured out what Jesus was all about?  Everyone else seemed to, or at least we can assume that many people did.

The Disciples followed Jesus in order to get to know Him.  You don't really know someone until you've lived with them, walked in their paths, experienced them in those private times - it's only then will you learn if their talk matches their walk.  That's what a disciple does - He learns who his master really is, and what his master is really all about.

You can be a Christian and define yourself anyway you want to.  But in order to call your self a disciple of Christ, you must yield to a higher authority and a different standard.  And in doing so, you will learn the difference between knowing Jesus and serving Jesus.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Retired from the Ministry

I recently read something by a retired, Lutheran pastor.  It was a how-to regarding sharpening tools.  According to his comments,  he had been in the ministry for 40 years and apparently had determined that it was time to leave all of that behind and move on to something else.

And it got me thinking.

What exactly is retirement, and how does it fit - in its classical definition - to a member of the body of Christ?

In terms of occupation, there are a couple definitions that bring into focus exactly what we mean when speaking of retirement:

  • to remove from active service or the usual field of activity, as an army officer or business executive.
  • to withdraw (a machine, ship, etc.) permanently from its normal service, usually for scrapping; take out of use. (
Therefore, a pastor or teacher who has retired considers themselves to no longer be a pastor or teacher.  They would say, "I used to be a pastor, but I'm retired now."  Which begs the question: "what are you now?"  And the answer?  "Not a pastor or a teacher."  Out of work, out of service, and possibly, no longer useful.

The Holy Spirit teaches us a many things about being a member of the Body of Christ, and using the example set forth, He says that "He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers ... " (Ephesians 4:11).  I've talked a lot about the Body of Christ and it's responsibilities throughout this blog, so I won't go back through those issues again.  But lets add one thing to the thought of being a member of the Body of Christ: "the gifts and calling of God are irrevocable" (Romans 11:29).  And lest the connection between gifts and being a pastor/teacher is missed, I'll remind us that the Holy Spirit also says that  "there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit. And there are varieties of ministries, and the same Lord.  There are varieties of effects, but the same God who works all things in all persons.  But to each one is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good" (1 Corinthians 12:4-7).

The Holy Spirit draws many parallels between a living, breathing and functioning human body, and the Body of Christ, which God equips for ministry.  He even goes as far to suggest that one part of the body cannot say to itself or to another,  'you are of no use, I shall cut you off'  (1 Corinthians 12).

In other words, you're not allowed to suggest that you (or anyone else for that matter) are no longer useful.  This isn't to say, however, that there are not differing periods and shades of ministry throughout our lives.  But the fact of the matter is this: we is who we are, and we ain't gonna change that.   Just because one does not stand before multitudes does not make them any less of a preacher or a teacher than one who shares their story to a friend or acquaintance.

Which brings us back to retirement.  Is there really retirement for the pastor or teacher, for the evangelist or the healer?  Can one who spent his entire life guiding and shepherding or teaching actually say, "that's no longer who I am, I do not do that any more?"

I believe the answer is no.

How would you like it if your kidneys decided one day that they were just going to stop working?  That actually happens, you know.  People without medical treatment die pretty quickly, and even those who do get treatment sometimes do not survive.  Of course, God is bigger than all of that and His will shall be done.  So we don't have to worry that the Body of Christ is going to wither up and die, though it certainly does look quiet ill these days, at least in some parts of the world that I'm familiar with.

So where does the notion of retirement come from, as applied to a member of the Body of Christ?  No where else other than the world system of secular, God denying, thought.  Which Christians have embraced with gusto and applied liberally to their organizations, called churches.  We may even go as far call the Pastor the head, or Chief Executive Officer of the church.  In other words, chop off the head, and the church will crumble, or at least the members find another head to follow.

But the problem with that philosophy, and those who set themselves up as an authority to be obeyed in the local church (locally autonomous or not), is that such a system doesn't come from the Holy Spirit.  Rather, He says that Jesus is the head of the Church, not some guy in a robe with gold cords and a bad accent.  But be as that may, God is certainly aware that we're going to put these organizations together, for He also says, "submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether to a king as the one in authority,  or to governors as sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and the praise of those who do right" (James 2:13-14).  So being a member of the local Religious Institution on the corner isn't wrong, until we forget who is the real Head of the Church.

But I digress.

The point I'm trying to make is this:  when does a Christian get to retire?  Possibly when The Ministry is a vocation and not a calling?

Retirement from functioning in ones gifts isn't something that should naturally occur to a member of the Body of Christ.  While God does  provide periods of rest and seasons of change in ministry to His children, we will never cease to be who we are, as gifted by God, in Christ.  And it makes me wonder regarding those of use who would retire from ministry: were we ever one with Christ in the first place, or did we just have a vocation?

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Why should you believe?

On the next day, when they had left Bethany, {Jesus} became hungry.  Seeing at a distance a fig tree in leaf, He went to see if perhaps He would find anything on it; and when He came to it, He found nothing but leaves, for it was not the season for figs.  He said to it, “May no one ever eat fruit from you again!” And His disciples were listening. 
As they were passing by in the morning, they saw the fig tree withered from the roots up.  Being reminded, Peter *said to Him, “ Rabbi, look, the fig tree which You cursed has withered.”  And Jesus *answered saying to them, “ Have faith in God.   Truly I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and cast into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that what he says is going to happen, it will be granted him.  Therefore I say to you, all things for which you pray and ask, believe that you have received them, and they will be granted you.  Whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone, so that your Father who is in heaven will also forgive you your transgressions. (Mark 11:12-14, 20-25)
There is a vast dichotomy taught in our churches.  On the one hand, we're told to have "faith in God."  But on the other hand, when troubles come we're expected to just take our lumps because "God doesn't do that any more - we have Doctors now."

So, in all honesty, what does this passage of scripture mean for us today?  Here are my questions:
  1. Was this given to the just the disciples of Jesus of that day?
  2. Was it given just to the apostles?
  3. Or was it intended to be given to all, for all time (which infers that it's not just something for us to know about and believe that happened)
And lastly,what does "have faith in God" really mean, and specifically, what does it mean in this context?  I have an idea, or two about that.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Escaping the Thorns

The following scenario is from The Gospel for the Middle – A Synchroblog

Fielding Melish and his wife Felicia have two children, ages 10 and 6. They live in a very remote part of Maine, USA. They are surrounded by extended family, none of whom are Christians. The nearest churches are one hour away, and by all evangelical standards, none of them are good. These churches are either highly legalistic, highly libertine, or just flat-out flaky.

One of Fielding’s cousins is a practicing Christian. They see each other once a year. Fielding’s cousin has shared Christ with Fielding many times over the years. Whenever they’ve talked about spiritual things, Fielding shows interest.

Felicia grew up in a Christian home. She’s received Christ, but she isn’t evangelistic and is overwhelmed with working long hours and raising two small children. She would love to find a church nearby for the spiritual support and instruction, but none exist.

Fielding has no college education. While he is capable of reading, he is not a reader. He doesn’t use the Web either. He’s a man who works with his hands, both for his career and for recreation. He’s an “outdoorsman.” He hunts, he builds, he does manual labor, etc. In his spare time, he helps his elderly parents with various building projects.

Fielding is not an atheist. Neither is he an agnostic. He believes in God. He believes Jesus is the Savior of the world who died for our sins and rose again from the dead. He hasn’t fully surrendered his life to Christ, but he is not sure what that looks like exactly. His children know a little about the Lord, mostly because of what their mother has taught them.

Recently Fielding asked this question:
When I’m with my cousin once a year, I want to learn more about God. But when I come back home, and I’m around everyone else, my mind is off of God, and I am back to working, raising my kids, and helping my parents. Someone needs to come up with a solution for people like me . . . people who are in the middle. (By “in the middle,” Fielding means someone who believes in Jesus, but who isn’t fully absorbed in the faith yet either. They simply don’t know enough nor do they have any spiritual support system around them.)
Relocating is not an option for Fielding and his wife. Even if they wanted to relocate, they don’t see a way they could do it financially.

Remember: Fielding and his wife don’t personally know any Christians. None of their extended family or coworkers are believers either. And the nearest churches (which are an hour away) aren’t recommended.


If you were Fielding’s cousin, how would you instruct him and his wife the next time you saw them?

Mark 4:3,7-9: The sower went out to sow; as he was sowing ...{some} seed fell among the thorns, and the thorns came up and choked it, and it yielded no crop. Other seeds fell into the good soil, and as they grew up and increased, they yielded a crop and produced thirty, sixty, and a hundredfold.” And He was saying, “ He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” 
It's all up to You
In all honesty, there is nothing that anyone can create to help people who are looking for things to do (other than changing their behaviors) to build and strengthen their relationship with God.  Relationship with and thirst for God is not found through traditions, programs, churches, pastors or teachers.  Those things may be helpful in supplementing our pre-existing relationship with God, but it is our desire, our seeking that fulfills the need.

It can be likened to a woman finding a man she loves and wants to marry, but then finding that she also adores his family.  So she ends up spending all of her time with his family, listening to his father and mother speaking wonderful things about her husband-to-be, all the while wondering, "why is my relationship with the man I love, suffering?  I'm learning about him, I'm understanding things about him, I love him, but his relationship to me and my relationship to him are practically non-existent."  What did she do wrong?  She applied an inappropriate focus.  There were many things his family could teach her about her husband-to-be, but it was the relationship that suffered because she refused to seek after him and, instead, sought after something related to him. 

Seeking follows Drawing
Jesus said, "and I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to Myself." (John 12:32)  Did Jesus mean that the crucifixion would draw men, or was He speaking of His intention to draw all men?  I believe He was speaking of His intention to draw all men:
So also it is written, 'The first man, Adam, became a living soul.' The last Adam became a life-giving spirit. However, the spiritual is not first, but the natural; then the spiritual." (1 Corinthians 15:45-46)
So, the drawing of the life-giving spirit happens in the natural first.  Once we are aware of a drawing, we then may seek after it - which means we "do something."  Conversely, when we do something without His drawing, then we are answering a calling from the flesh, or better, the spirit of man.

Doing vs. Seeking
We have been continually, repeatedly, ad-nauseum taught to "do" things for God.  Doing in and of itself is not wrong - it is how we teach children - but the Scriptures teach us to be seekers.  And I do not mean "Seeker" in the man-made traditional sense, but a Seeker in the Biblical sense.  Consider Psalm 1: 
How blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked, nor stand in the path of sinners, nor sit in the seat of scoffers!  But his delight is in the law of the Lord, and in His law he meditates day and night.  He will be like a tree firmly planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in its season and its leaf does not wither; and in whatever he does, he prospers.  The wicked are not so, but they are like chaff which the wind drives away.  Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the assembly of the righteous. For the Lord knows the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish.
Where does a person walk?  Towards that thing which they seek.  Why would a person obtain counsel?  Because they seek wisdom.  Why do we stand in or walk in a path?  Because we seek the destination to which it leads.  Seeking is our first step, which is followed by doing.  A person who is tired of doing has been doing for the sake of doing.  It is most likely they never attempted to seek first the Lord.  There is a difference in seeking the Lord for the sake of seeking the Lord - it being the end its self, and seeking God for the purpose of asking Him, "what do I do?" We do and do and do but with the wrong fuel to power the engine.  Seeking the Lord for the relationship with the Lord is the fuel, seeking Him moves us towards the Drawer of all men, Jesus Christ. 

In the end, you must determine for your self: do I know Him?  If the answer is yes, then you need to answer the next question: why do I let the cares of the world choke out His drawing of me towards Him?  Once you've either answered that question, or accepted that it is the truth of your existence, then you have a decision to make.  Are you going to continue life in the weeds, or are you going to make time to seek after God?  

There are a lot of ways to seek after God - the Bible is full of them, but the Psalms are a good place to start.  The Psalms reflect the hearts of those seeking after God through their fears, their hurts and their joys.  They also make for incredible discussion material with God.  For example,
I acknowledged my sin to You, and my iniquity I did not hide; I said, “ I will confess my transgressions to the Lord”; and You forgave the guilt of my sin. (Psalm 32)
In essence, the Lord has given us conversational material to use in building our relationship with Him.

If you don't like to read, then I would suggest that you listen instead.  One of the best auditory versions of the Bible is the KJV by Alexander Scourby.  The KJV may be difficult for some to read, but Alexander Scourby makes the KJV extremely accessible and easily understood.
Deuteronomy 4:5-6a, 9: See, I have taught you statutes and judgments just as the Lord my God commanded me, that you should do thus in the land where you are entering to possess it. So keep and do them, for that is your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the peoples who will hear all these statutes ... Only give heed to yourself and keep your soul diligently, so that you do not forget the things which your eyes have seen and they do not depart from your heart all the days of your life; but make them known to your sons and your grandsons
Psalm 119:2-3: How blessed are those who observe His testimonies, who seek Him with all their heart. They also do no unrighteousness; they walk in His ways.

Matthew 6:33: But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.

Hebrews 11:6: And without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Is it really for God to Use in Your Life?

"All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16)

What does this mean?  It means that there is value and meaning in the genealogies and significance in what appears to be the insignificant and mundane.  Scripture is not the issue, rather the limited, fragile and biased vessels we are is the issue.

Nevertheless, there exists among some, a doctrine within Biblical hermeneutics which states that 'some scripture is written "for you" but not "to you."'  This is best understood by considering an epistle of Paul: he clearly wrote the Epistle to the Philippians "to" the Body of Christ at Philipi, though he might have presumed it would have a wider audience than just the Church at Philipi.  By this we understand that Paul wrote the letter "to" the Philippians and possibly "for" others who might read it.

But today this interpretive instruction is better described as method used to foist traditions of men onto unsuspecting minds and at worst, deliberately used for the corruption of the work of the Holy Spirit  (1 John 2:27).

Consider then, this hypothetical scenario:
You write a personal and intimate letter to a third party, but include some things that are applicable to both your spouse and to the other person. You then deliver the letter to both people, with some additional instructions to your spouse that define which portions may be interpreted as "to your spouse."  But all of the letter is to be considered "to" the third party, and is intended to be read and understood by the third party in that context.
What have you done? From the perspective of your spouse, you have invalidated portions of the letter by making some sections and statements inapplicable to your spouse's intimate relationship with you. The other parts are just "for your spouse to read."  She or He might gain some insight into your thinking or psyche, but any such information would be incidental and subject to his or her interpretation and application, since clearly your instructions were "that is not 'to you', it's just for you to read."  In simpler terms, the 'for you text' is not reflective of your relationship with your spouse.  But the entire letter is purely reflective of your intimate relationship with that third party. 

The same is true with the doctrine of which I speak.  The exception is that instead of getting a word from God Himself, we allow a third party (a Pastor or teacher) to define which portions of scripture are not valid for Jesus to use in our life and walk with Him.  Thus we understand that the purpose of  this doctrine is to define which things may be used to formulate or support various teachings and reproofs, and which ones are not suitable for such things.

In other words they're effectively teaching us that not all Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness. Thus, there are some parts of the Bible, according to them, that are not and never shall be considered as reflective of your relationship with God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit.

When you hear such a thing, you can be certain it is a tool being used to promote one's agenda.  I vividly remember hearing the Pastor of a Good Bible Teaching Church (in the early 1980's) admonish his congregation that a particular book was helpful for understanding and comprehending what happened in the early Church, but that it was not ever to be used to formulate or support doctrine or teaching of any kind.  In other words, it wasn't profitable for teaching, reproof, correction or training in righteousness.  It made me wonder why he was teaching from it in the first place?  But like the good little Baptist I was, I swallowed it hook, line and sinker.

What they're doing (whether they know it or not) is implementing a well known and often used debate tactic which states the following: "one may conduct a debate while attempting to exclude those things which damage one's position."  Any good debater knows that when such a thing happens, the path to victory is found in the opponent's excluded material.  This happens in court cases all of the time.  It starts with the evidence and continues into the selection of the Jury.

The problem with it in Christianity is that most church members trust their Pastors implicitly - possibly through a form of worship I might add - and therefore blindly follow wherever they shall lead, never considering the validity of the precepts and statements leveled in their direction from the pulpit week after week, after week.

Nevertheless, to provide some practical examples, I have noticed that some Calvinists prefer to exclude the Old Testament when debating the merits of Calvinism, and Cessationists will undoubtedly exclude The Book of Acts (and sometimes portions of 1st Corinthians).  In the least, they'll construct some other interpretive rule that appears to allow adherence to 2 Timothy 3:16, while shunning and excluding what they consider to be the less desirable parts.

So the next time some one admonishes you to not use this or that scripture as a source for doctrine, teaching, reproof and correction, do yourself a favor and ignore them - they're either just trying to win the debate, or they're just ignorantly repeating what they've heard from someone else.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Why do you go to church?

Why do you go to church?  It's a reasonable question, but do you have a reasonable answer?

Do you go because you learned to go from peers or family?  Do you go to be accepted by God?  Do you go to be accepted by others?  Do you go to look good in the community?  Do you go to honor someone or some group with your time, effort, and money?  Do you go to honor or worship God?  Do you go to contribute to society through tithes and offerings?  Do you go because you want to learn something new?
James 1:27
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.
Going to church is not the prescribed way to keep oneself unstained by the world.  Neither is it a substitution for visiting orphans and widows in their distress.

Religion - even pure and undefiled religion - can only be defined as the act of doing something repeatedly.  Keeping oneself unstained from the world is not a one-time effort: it is a continual struggle.  Neither is there any end of widows and orphans in distress.  Therefore, one visit will never be enough to be considered a "religious activity."  It is only through repetition that we begin to define these things as belonging in the realm of Religion.

Man defines religion as follows:
  • A set of beliefs concerning the cause, nature, and purpose of the universe, especially when considered as the creation of a superhuman agency or agencies, usually involving devotional and ritual observances and often containing a moral code governing the conduct of human affairs. 
  • A specific fundamental set of beliefs and practices generally agreed upon by many persons or sects: the Christian religion; the Buddhist religion. 
  • The body of persons adhering to a particular set of beliefs and practices: a world council of religions
Only in the vaguest of terms can we find a semblance between the world's definition and God's definition.  There is an intersection between doing and believing, but that's where it ends.

Maybe you go to church because you're obeying the command to not "forsake the assembling together" (Hebrews 10:23-26), but in no way can that scripture be likened to the behavior of showing up, sitting down, shutting up, paying up, getting up and leaving - like most people do on an average Sunday morning.  So if that's your reason (to not forsake the assembly), then I'm afraid you've only listened to the propaganda, and you're no closer to practicing "undefiled religion" than you were before.

If we're to take James 1:27 seriously, then there's only one type of Religion you can practice that is acceptable.  This means your religious activity of "going to church" is just that: your Religion, not God's prescription.

The Pharisees actually taught some truth, but they completely missed the point on its implementation.  And that's still a problem today because we, as Jesus suggested, learn behaviors through the observation of our modern-day Scribes and Pharisees.  Unfortunately, that which we have observed is not pure and undefiled religion - rather, it's just plain old religious activity.

The issue is that we have acted upon a misconception that God wants Religion from us when, in fact, what He wants is a relationship.  It is only through a relationship that one can be truly changed.  Oh, we can learn new things and thereby augment and change our behaviors - that is true.  But one does not simply choose to change their behaviors because they're married. Rather, they learn what is important to their spouse, and because of love, because of caring, they become new creatures in marriage because of edification.  Not because someone sat them down and said, "these are the rules for marriage, do these things, and you will be acceptable to your spouse."

This is exactly why some of us go to church: we've been taught, "do these things, and you will be acceptable to God."  In the metaphor of being the Bride of Christ, does that make any sense?  Of course not.

Systematic Theology has quantified God, it has quantified relationship, and it has quantified the narration, the song, and the music of God.  And in doing so, it has stripped it of its spirit.  If anything, the Song of Solomon teaches us that there's more to the so-called doctrine that we are spoon-fed week after week.  But please don't misunderstand - there's nothing wrong with doctrine, per se.  Rather, it's how we define and implement doctrine; it's how we use it that exposes our wrong actions.  Our pastors have taught us to not forsake the assembling together, although they may not really tell us why.  But when they do, it's always couched in the activity of us showing up on Sunday for "worship."  Therefore, what we learn from said admonishment is that the Pastor (and/or the Sunday school teacher) has something to say, and should we miss those things (because we're not there), then we've missed out on what God has to say to us.

But what does the scripture say?
Take care, brethren, that there not be in any one of you an evil, unbelieving heart that falls away from the living God. But encourage one another day after day, as long as it is still called “Today,” so that none of you will be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.  For we have become partakers of Christ, if we hold fast the beginning of our assurance firm until the end, while it is said, Today if you hear His voice, Do not harden your hearts, as when they provoked Me.”  (Hebrews 3:12-15
Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful; and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near. ((Hebrews 10:23-26)
 but speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him who is the head, even Christ, from whom the whole body, being fitted and held together by what every joint supplies, according to the proper working of each individual part, causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love.  (Ephesians 4:15-16)
It is an unfortunate fact that in our current day model of church participation (the "worship service"), there's no way for you to stimulate one another to love and good deeds in what has been defined as the "assembly" by our pastors.  Why?  Because you've sat down and shut up.  And if you're not talking and interacting, then you're not stimulating one another to love and good deeds.  

What we're left with a model that prescribes (through dictation and observation) that one person has the best answers (or stimulations) and the rest of the people are to yield to that person's opinions and doctrines.

Jesus' words were never more true: "therefore all that they tell you, do and observe, but do not do according to their deeds; for they say things and do not do them"

Of course, there is a time and place for preaching, teaching, and evangelism - that I do not deny.  But as a member of the Body of Christ, we have a calling.  Or do we suppose that Romans 8:28 applies only to a select few?  The religious caste system has been obviated, done away with.  We are all priests, and we all have the right and duty to participate in the edification of the body of Christ.  Therefore, I admonish you:

Find your calling and edify the Body of Christ.

And while you're at it, find a way to practice pure and undefiled religion in the sight of God, your Father.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Christianity - The Machine

Within the past couple of years, I was a member of a nearby Sunday school class.  It was a good place too be: nice people, thoughtful subjects and I had the opportunity to participate.  Probably too much participation for some people's taste.  My wife and I were invited to their functions and treated nicely, cordially and with respect.  But honestly, that's about as far as it went.  Trying to otherwise 'break in' to their clique proved impossible.

Eventually, we just stopped attending.  It seemed to us, that while we were welcomed to attend their functions, parties and services, we were not too welcome in their hearts or lives.  Once we stopped showing up, the Sunday school teacher began sending us messages in the mail.  We were being missed, so it seemed, and it would really be nice if we came back.

So we did.  Once or twice.  For we could cut the tension in the air with a knife.  It was as if we had offended them by actually coming back after such an absence.  Even the single person that my wife had connected with was a bit upset that she had gone missing for such a period of time - "oh, so you decided to come back?" is a close paraphrase to the first thing she said to her.

It also turned out that we showed up at the 'shift change:' There was a new teacher taking the reins of the class.  And once he took over, the old teacher stopped contacting us, stopped inviting us to their functions, stopped sending the thoughtful and appreciated messages in the mail.  And the new teacher?  He certainly didn't care to pick up where the previous one left off.

You see, it seems to me that the previous teacher was interested in us as long as a couple things where true: first, that we were there to support her Ministry and to be involved in her class and the church functions, and secondly, as long as it was her job to be involved in our lives.  Once it was no longer her job to coerce us into participating, we were off her Ministry radar.

So what happened?  Did we make errors in our participation?  Probably, but only inasmuch as every relationship has two parties that are mutually responsible for how things turn out.  But please understand that I'm not trying to assign blame here or point fingers at who did what right or wrong.  I'm well aware that it's difficult to find a Church body that actually fits, it's difficult to make friends, and that it's difficult to get involved in "The Ministry" at a local church - since those things are reserved for the vetted elite.

What I'm really interested in however, is the bigger picture.  Why does it have to be this way?

For you see, what my wife and I experienced was normal - at least for Christianity in the United States.  That's just how it works.  Historically, Christianity in the USA has held that The Church is equivalent to The Ministry.  And if you're in anyway involved in ministering to others (which is defined as teaching or organizing) then you're in a different, more special class - the Ministry Class.  And everyone else is in the lower, people who have needs to be met, working for The Ministers, class.  And people in the Ministry Class have certain expectations placed upon them - such as keeping in touch with those for whom they are deemed responsible, and attempting to keep those people involved.

So I'm not at all surprised that our Sunday school teacher(s) stopped contacting us - for we never really were their friends, we were no longer in their sphere of responsibility and we no longer had anything to offer them - or possibly never really did at all.

What's the Problem?
The fundamental problem (for a lack of a better phrase) is that we're doing Church wrong.  Because Church is not something you "do" - it's something you are.  Consider that Jesus never called us to "do" witnessing, rather He commanded us to make disciples, and that we would be witnesses.  There's a big difference between the two (being and doing) - and the Religious Intelligentsia doesn't understand that (or refuses to acknowledge it).  Probably because it's all part of being the machine we have made Christianity and Ministry into.

Somewhere along the way, Man messed it up.  He determined that there should be a  people (the Ministers) who's job it is to make your life right with God, and wherein it is your job to feed and clothe said Ministers.  So, that's what we do today.  We live our lives, throughout any given week, piling guilt upon our souls for all of the mistakes we make so that we can go to Church in order to be Ministered to for the purpose of being made to feel better about ourselves for the next week.  And while we're there, we pay our dues to keep them fed and clothed so they can in turn, organize and recruit "lay" (volunteer) Ministers - so that we can participate in Their Ministry and hopefully along the way, somehow feel better about our relationship with God and others.

It's time to wake up folks.  Its time to rouse ourselves from our placid dreams, our apathy and our abdication of personal responsibilities.  The machine we have made Christianity into is not the Church - although the Church does participate therein.

Inviting someone to church is not inviting someone to meet Jesus, as I was once instructed to teach my Sunday school.

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.