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Monday, November 28, 2016

"Where Do You Go To Church?"

"Where do you go to church?"

 

It is a question I have asked and one I have been asked over and over.  It used to be a simple question.  I was naïve.  It is more difficult for me to answer these days and it has also clarified what I really am asking someone.

 

Over the last 15 years, I have been studying THE church.  I have researched scripture.  I have read the documents of our faith fathers.  I have read multiple versions of church history.  I have explored research and studies regarding the state of the institutional church.  I have been active in THE church and the institutional church from one on one relationships to small groups to local fellowships to denominational leadership groups.  I have spoken and written on the subject.  Mostly I have prayed for God to help me understand THE church from His perspective.  I say all that to say this...  We shouldn't use words we don't understand and if we understand them, we should make sure our understanding is shared by those we talk with.

 

THE Church belongs to God.  In scripture it is referred to as Jesus' body and his Bride.  It is applied to groups of disciples of Jesus Christ from house churches to entire countries to all disciples of Jesus Christ.  In our popular culture lexicon, the word "church" has gotten hi-jacked and its meaning diluted.  We use it to refer to buildings, to corporations, to processes ("let's do church"), to doctrinal factions, all in addition to (and too often in preference to) its scriptural and God intended meaning.  So when someone asks me "Where do you go to church?" I cannot answer it simply.

 

I recently asked my Christian and (Institutional) church going friends what they meant when they asked this question.  I also asked them how they would ask it if the person they were speaking to didn't understand the meaning of the word "church".  The answers were expected and enlightening.  They referred to collections of people, affiliations with faith systems, a place, activities (i.e. "worshipping God").  In most responses, this one question became multiple questions and even confessions of needing to engage in a protracted conversation. 

 

Our intimacy with Jesus, either in the form of His Body or His Bride, is profound and complex.  It seems to me that being so casual with something so profound is at best naïve and at worst disrespectful if not willfully ignorant.  Be clear with our intentions.  The Adversary has made a career out of distorting God's Words.

 

Where am I intimate with Jesus?  Everywhere and as often as I can be.

Where am I actioned by Jesus, as a part of His Body?  Wherever and whenever He chooses.

With whom do I share this relationship?  Every disciple of Jesus Christ.

When and how do I grow in knowledge and intimacy with Jesus?  In quiet times almost every morning.  In Bible reading and study.  In sharing what I read, learn, and experience with other Disciples of Jesus Christ (wherever and whenever I encounter them).

How do I remain accountable for my relationship with Jesus?  Ultimately, I have to answer to God.  Practically, through the relationships I maintain with Brothers and Sister in Christ.

 

These are the topics, the real questions, hidden in the simple phrase: "Where do you go to church?".  THE Church isn't a destination or a process.  THE Church gets its context in the person of Jesus Christ.  Consequently it can take form in coffee shops, at work, in homes, at dinner, on walks, anywhere and everywhere two or more are gathered in His name.

 

Please understand this... THE Church is community.  You cannot be alone and be part of THE Church.

 

Having said that, community isn't exclusive to the institutional forms that too often mask the topics and real questions reflected above. 

 

To my Brothers and Sisters who are part of THE Church and happy in your relationships through some corporation... ROCK ON!  To my Brothers and Sisters who seek something different,  seek and you will find... knock and doors will be opened... ask and you will receive.  God's grace doesn't take attendance.  Please understand your responsibility.  You must materially support those who are your teachers.  You must give of what God has given you... to the poor and needy.  You must do good for all, but especially for those of the Household of Faith.  Realize, our faith muscles have atrophied because the Institution provided a paid resource who did these things for us... for self-preservation purposes and sometimes for spiritual purposes.  You will work harder, better, than you ever did in the institution but it will be more of a life style than a task... a gift of service more than an obligation.

 

To those convinced I am lost, out of fellowship, and needing to be rescued by a local corporation who is accountable to the State which grants it permission to pursue your faith... Two questions:  What happens when that State no longer blesses your corporation with permission or more likely requires that your corporation revise its message and methods?  (Read up on the Lutheran Church in Germany during Hitler's leadership.)  Second, really?  Can you not see beyond the traditions of your fathers?  Have you lost sight of the reality and bigness of THE Church?  Is God only limited to working in and through our corporations?  Doesn't this smack of being a pattern of this world?

 

It is time to awaken, you Disciples of Jesus Christ.  It is time to trim your faith lamps, to give up all you have for the "pearl of great worth", to abandon "law" for "life".

7:37 am est 

Saturday, August 20, 2016

God is God

God is god.  I am not.

 

He answers to no one.  He does not owe me an explanation.

He is bigger than science and reason.  He cannot be defined by either but is evident in both.

He does as He pleases and is pleased with what He does.

 

It pleases Him to love me and He is pleased with how he made me.

I love Him and owe Him everything because...

 

...He is God and I am not.

7:28 am edt 

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Law and Freedom

Two important words... Law and freedom.  In the Greek, my research revealed that the word translated "law" comes from the idea of parsing out food to animals.  It is a prescription and regulation (in the sense of being metered or governed).  It isn't this idea of taking away or preventing.  It is guidance intended for our good.  And this guidance, intended for our good, promotes freedom.  In the Greek, the word translated "freedom" or "liberty" comes from a root word meaning unrestrained.  Combining these two words leads me to this understanding... "God's prescription of living, or laws, release me from restraints and enable me to live free."

 

Take a look with me.  First, let's look at Galatians 5:1... "It is for freedom that Christ set us free.  Stand firm, therefore, and refuse to submit again to the yoke of slavery."

 

Freedom is something God intended for us in Christ.  It requires effort on our part to maintain that freedom.  So now let's look at James 1:25... "But he who looks into the perfect law, the law that makes us free, and does not turn away, remembers what he hears; he acts on it, and by so acting he will find happiness."

 

There is a prescription God gives us.  It is to treat an infection, a corruption in our being, that is a consequence of sin and lust (2 Peter 1:3-4).  This prescription gets called "law".  It is a perfect law.  A law (or prescription) that frees us and leads to our happiness.  It is this "law", this prescription, that should guide our conduct and serve as the basis of evaluating our wellbeing (or "our being judged" - James 2:12).  This leads to last the verse I will ask us to look at:  2 Corinthians 3:17... "Now the Lord of whom this passage speaks in the Spirit; and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty."

 

When I am in God's presence and He is in me, I have permission, I am guided, I am shepherded, I am protected, I am FREE!  When I am free, I am happy.  I am free when I follow God's prescription for me.  It is what God intended.  It pleases Him.  It is an act of grace.  How exciting to know we can live truly free as we live in the presence of God, through Christ Jesus our Savior.  Amen.

8:52 am edt 

Saturday, June 27, 2015

I Was Born That Way

Yesterday was an historic day for the United States of America.  The Supreme Court of the United States decided that it was unlawful to discriminate against two people who wanted to be recognized by the State as being married.  Regardless of their gender.

 

In my conversations with my friends who have a preference for same sex relationships, most times our conversation comes around to this statement:  "I was born this way".  I haven't always agreed with that statement but find myself, as a result of study, in agreement today.

 

The New Testament makes clear that I am a descendent of Adam.  I inherited my relational status with God from Adam.  I inherited my spiritual "genes" from Adam.  I inherited my physical "genes" from Adam.  So what exactly did I inherit?

 

I inherited...

  1. Thinking I know better than God. (Genesis 3:6)
  2. Knowledge of both good and evil. (Genesis 3:5,7)
  3. Being separated from God. (Genesis 3:9, Ephesians 2:11-12)
  4. Fear (Genesis 3:10; 1 John 4:18)
  5. Irresponsibility. (Genesis 3:11-13)
  6. A curse. (Genesis 3:14-19)
  7. Sin. (Romans 5:12)
  8. Death. (Genesis 2:17 ; Romans 5:12)

 

The Apostle Paul gives us a recap of what this mean and what I am capable of in Romans 1:18-32.  Because I think I know better than God, I suppress His Truth...in essence I suppress Jesus (John 14:6).  Because I know both good and evil, I am plunged into spiritual darkness and pursue my own desires which lead to degrading my body.  I am given to shameful passions and break every rule of conduct.  I also celebrate and encourage others to do the same.  I have taught myself that there is no God or that He is immaterial to life.  My fear leads me to greed, envy, rivalry, gossip, and more.  My irresponsibility leads me to foolishness.  The curse blooms in my physical and spiritual being.  I sin.  I deserve to die spiritual and will die physically.

 

This is true for me.  It is true for all of us.

 

My "sin", my inheritance is consuming desire (also known as lust in the Bible).  It has manifested itself through my diet, my relationships, laziness, work, wealth, power, approval, self-aggrandizement, and probably ways I haven't discovered yet.  My body and mind, my spirit aches for food at times, especially pizza.  It is overwhelming.  I have had the same experience in relationships.  At those times I feel compelled, almost helpless against the yearning in my body and mind.  It is real to me.  It is primal.

 

Your "sin" may not be my sin.  Yours may be different.  It's OK.  It is a condition we all share and the sooner we admit it, the sooner we can pursue a remedy for it.  I learned that just because I tell myself I "must have" something, doesn't automatically mean I need it or that I should even have it.  I found I was telling myself I was hungry when my body had had more than enough nutrients to survive and thrive.  I just wanted more.  I found I was telling myself I wanted relationships that were out of context with God's moral code and sometimes with the laws of the land.  I still wanted them but they were and are still wrong.

 

As humans, this is our condition.  God provided a remedy for it through his Son, Jesus Christ.  The issue isn't really what I do or what you do but what was done, what we have inherited.  We just keep proving it over and over.  The issue is a need for restoration, a need for forgiveness.  I realize some will struggle with this.

 

When we offend someone we care about, we apologize and ask for forgiveness.  In an act of love and grace, they forgive us.  It is no different with God.  Sin offends God.  It goes against the "rules of the house", the "family values".  If I care about and when I realize I have offended him, I should apologize and strive to not do it again.  Because God loves me (and you), he shows us love and grace by forgiving us.  The "punishment" for our offence was paid by Jesus.  No more punishment is required.  But we do need to work at not offending again.

 

In this (not offending again) God helps us too.  He gives us His Spirit to live within us.  He does the "heavy lifting" of life change and works with us and in us to help us become what he created us to become, not what we inherited from Adam.  And like any good Father (I realize that this may be difficult for some who haven't had the experience of a good father), he disciplines us and trains us in living as part of his family (which by the way consists of all believers in Jesus Christ - this is the true church, not the institution that goes by the same name).

 

Like any family, we have some family members that are difficult to love, some that are "crazy", some that insist on making relationships difficult, some that are judgmental, some that are offish, some that are fun, some that are more responsible than others, some that are too serious... just like a family.  God loves us all and calls us to love each other and allow him to be the agent of change in their lives.

 

The Apostle Paul goes on in Romans (2:1-11) and calls us out if we insist on judging one another.  It isn't my job to judge you.  Nor is it your job to judge me.  I got my issues.  You got your issues.  It doesn't mean we can stay as we are.  It does mean we accept each other while God works with us and in us.  This is the correct functioning of the Family of God, the Church.

 

So, "Yes" you were born that way.  God still loves you.  God still provides for you.  God still wants you.  God still accepts you... as you are.  But WE can't stay as we are.  We must let God mold us into the image of His family.  The Apostle Paul tells us our measuring stick is nothing less than the full stature of Jesus Christ (Ephesians 4:13).

 

Sin makes life hard.  God's love makes life right.  Please accept and live in God's love and embrace ALL the change that it brings.

7:55 am edt 

Sunday, June 14, 2015

The

Ephesians 4:1-6:20

 

It has been said that there is no "I" in team.  I want to suggest to you that there is an "I" in team AND there are no "I's" in team.  Let's start by defining what we mean by team.

 

Team:  a number of persons associated in some joint action.  (Obsolete:  offspring, progeny, lineage, stock.)

 

The idea that there is no "I" and team developed to help members of a team understand that they were part of some bigger whole.  It plays on the individual's self importance against the spelling of the word.  It is fun and can be effective but incomplete.  Our team, the persons associated in a joint action are our brothers and sisters in Christ or the Disciples of Jesus Christ.  I included the obsolete usage of the word because in our case it fits.  We are all sons and daughters of God.  We were adopted as a result of our belief and willingness to accept God's free gift of forgiveness.  He gave this gift because He wanted to.  He wants a relationship with all men and women, the off spring of his creation.  This gift was effected by Jesus's death on the cross.  His perfect life, in union with God, for our infected life, out of unity with God.  Believing this and accepting it has consequences.  Let me explain.

 

Dianne believed I loved her enough that she accepted my invitation to be man and wife.  This belief and acceptance changed how she lived, where she lived, what she did.  Her life was no longer just her life.  It was now our life.  The same is true for me.  The Apostle Paul in writing to the Ephesians articulates this in a most compelling way using the idea of submission.  We submit to one another in the cause of Christ.  It is true for Husbands and Wives.  It is true for brothers and sisters in Christ.  "I" is exchanged for "We".  "Me" is exchanged for "Us".  We and Us are different the I and Me.  I cannot continue to function as an "I" in the context of "We" or else there really is no "We".  Unless I give up MY self for US, there will be no US.  If we believe and accept God's gift, we give up the life we had and accept a new life, a life He gives us and calls us to.  It is different.  We think different.  We speak different.  We do different.  If we don't,... maybe we aren't.

 

The different makes us a team.  God leads the team.  He defines our roles, our rules, the plays we run, the things we value.  He defines acceptable and unacceptable.  He decides the when, the where, and the how.  As a result, there are some "I's" that do not fit.

  

The "I" that doesn't belong...

1)  Infection  - 2 Peter 1:3-4 says that we are infected with lust.  It is part of the curse, the old man.  The infection of lust, whether visual, phsical, or emotional puts us at odds with God as John writes in 1 John 2:15-17.  Therefore, it cannot be a part of the disciple nor a part of the community of disciples... the team.

 

2)  Independent - There are two terms that are contradictory:  Belonging and Independent.  You cannot belong and be indepenent.  Because of our adoption we belong to the family of God and to each other.  It is hypocritical to think you can belong and maintain your independence.

 

3)  Impurity/Immoral - The Apostle Paul writes in Ephesian that those who live in the futility of their own minds display ignorance and become hard.  The consequence of this ignorance and hardness, the futility of our own minds, is that we eventually end up pursuing impurity of some sort.  God is holy and can have nothing to do with the impurity of our acting like gods in our own lives.  If we are part of the team, we must do away with impurity which means we must give up the futility of our way of thinking in exchange for God's.  This leads us to the next "I".  The "I" of ignorance.

 

4)  Ignorance - A hard heart, insensitivity to God's leading, makes us ignorant according to the Apostle Paul.  God is the source of everything.  He is the creator.  He is all knowing.  How else would you describe someone who won't listen to God?  It is ignorance.

 

5)  Immaturity - Paul's instruction also tells us we need to grow up.  God gives gifts, He calls, and He provides leadership for the team in order for us to grow up together.  A disciple of Jesus Christ (a member of the team) does not have the option of remaining a spiritual infant.  We must be learning, growing, and maturing in our knowledge of Him, of ourselves, and of our fellow man.

 

For our team, there is no room for these "I's".   There are some "I's" that do belong.  Let's look at those...

 

1)  Interdependence - We are one body with each of us a member of that body.  The hand cannot say to the eye, "I don't need you".  We depend on each other and collaborate with each other in life and ministry.

 

2)  Intimacy - We are not strangers.  When one of cries, we all cry.  When one of us celebrates, we all celebrate.  Our relationship with Jesus is one like that of a husband and wife.  It doesn't get more intimate than that.  We are in Christ.  He is in us.  We share that life with each other.  We need to be open in how we live, open in our communication with one another.  This is how we know to minister to each other, to help carry a load, to gently restore.

 

3)  Imitator - The idea of being a disciple is that you imitate while you assimilate the teaching, thoughts, values, and practices of the "who" of your discipleship.  In our case, that would be Jesus.  We are to be imitators of Jesus until he takes complete control of us (2 Corinthians 5:14).  Then it isn't imitation, it is assimilation into the Body of Christ.

 

4)  Intentional - God is intentional with the gifts and people he gives us. He is intentional in the roles he calls us to.  We are called to be intentional in pursuing maturity as a disciple.  We are called to be intentional to maintain the truth in our lives and in our community of faith.  We are called to be intentional in cultivating peace and unity within our community of faith.  We called to be intentional to lay aside the ways of the world, the ways of the "natural man" and to pursue our new nature being renewed in our mind and spirit.  We are to be intentional in love, in submission to one another, in our roles within our families, and in our roles with all those we serve.

 

You see there is an "I" in Team. I am part of our team just as you are. Know your role and the roles of others. Learn to perform your role and trust others to perform theirs', thus living in interdependence.  Share your life with those in your community of faith.  Be willing to invest yourself in others.  Cultivate the intimacy inherent in a the relationships defined by God.  Be an imitator of Jesus Christ.  Be intentional.  Don't let your life, a day, or even a moment slip by without knowing and acting out God's call and role for you in it.

 

"Peace to the community and love with faith, from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.  God's grace be with all who love our Lord Jesus Christ with undying love."

7:35 am edt 

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