The Racial Millstone

When I write about culture or current events, always in the back of my mind is what the Apostle Paul told the folks in Corinth: “It isn’t my responsibility to judge outsiders, but it certainly is your responsibility to judge those inside the church…” I understand that as the Body of Christ we do speak prophetically into the world. We also desire justice and to see liberation brought to those who are oppressed. But as followers of Jesus, our understanding of these concepts and the means by which they are achieved differ greatly with the world. And so, when I speak of these things, knowing that those who are “outside” are of a different spirit and mind-set altogether, my conversation is primarily with those who claim to be believers. In other words, I don’t expect unbelievers to behave nor see the world as those who are in fellowship with Jesus. But when I see those who call themselves Christians carnally provoked, divided and at odds with one another I am more often than not moved to speak.

It would seem that American Christians have either forgotten or simply do not believe that “we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places.” A war involves strategy, and one of the strategies being employed by the Enemy at this time is to entrap believers in racial conflict. So many American Christians  are being deceived as the Enemy stirs up strife and inundates the media with coverage of racial issues/tensions. His goal is to distract, discourage, and “defile” followers of Jesus by soliciting strong, carnal, emotional responses. He knows how easy it is to push the “pride & anger button.”

Jesus turned around and looked at his disciples…. “Get away from me, Satan!” he said. “You are seeing things merely from a human point of view, not from God’s.”

Racial conflict within the Church is always due to seeing and responding to things according to the basic principles of this world rather than by the Spirit of God. And the strategy of the Enemy is to bring about that kind of response in the believer. Answer honestly, when you watch the news and read the content so abundantly supplied by social-media, how many times have you become irate and thought, “Man, I can’t stand those ___ people.” How often have you as a Christian thought of your brothers and sisters in Christ as one of those ___ people instead of as a member of the Body of Christ? How often do you think of yourself as one of those ___ people instead of as a son or daughter of the living God? This type of mind-set is fleshly, of this world, and contrary to the Kingdom of God.

But if you cause one of these little ones who trusts in me to fall into sin, it would be better for you to have a large millstone tied around your neck and be drowned in the depths of the sea.

Finally, a word of caution to you who teach and have leadership positions within the Body of Christ. If you are using your affluence to influence others to adopt your carnal mind-set you will receive a more severe judgment. You would do well to remember the warning of the Apostle James, “Dear brothers and sister, not many of you should become teachers in the church, for we who teach will be judged more strictly.” Jesus takes very seriously the way you feed his sheep, the way you molest his bride. Repent and allow God to heal you of the racism within your own heart, and then you will see more effectively how to minister and care for his people.

[Jesus,] you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God
    from every tribe and language and people and nation,
 and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God,
    and they shall reign on the earth.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Rethinking Church Practice and Liturgy

Well, my brothers and sisters, let’s summarize. When you meet together, one will sing, another will teach, another will tell some special revelation God has given, one will speak in tongues, and another will interpret what is said. But everything that is done must strengthen all of you.  No more than two or three should speak in tongues. They must speak one at a time, and someone must interpret what they say.  But if no one is present who can interpret, they must be silent in your church meeting and speak in tongues to God privately.  Let two or three people prophesy, and let the others evaluate what is said. But if someone is prophesying and another person receives a revelation from the Lord, the one who is speaking must stop. In this way, all who prophesy will have a turn to speak, one after the other, so that everyone will learn and be encouraged. Remember that people who prophesy are in control of their spirit and can take turns. For God is not a God of disorder but of peace…

Among the prophets and teachers of the church at Antioch of Syria were Barnabas, Simeon (called “the black man”), Lucius (from Cyrene), Manaen (the childhood companion of King Herod Antipas), and Saul.  One day as these men were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said [ever wonder how he said it?], “Appoint Barnabas and Saul for the special work to which I have called them.” So after more fasting and prayer, the men laid their hands on them and sent them on their way.

There are so many things that are revealed to us within these various pericopes of the Bible; I must admit that I find my mind wanting to go in several different directions. But I ‘ll put forth a sincere effort to stay focused on what the title of the article indicates that the content found herein will be. I’ve thought about these things for a LONG TIME, studied them in Bible College/Seminary, but woke up this morning and as I worshipped, felt the desire to put some things down “on paper.”

Truthfully, I suppose that it was something I read yesterday that stoked these embers again. I was reading an About section a church had included on their website, and it read something to the effect of, “And we believe that worship [singing] puts us into the position to receive the preaching/teaching of the Word..” I couldn’t help but be a little disappointed, and I began to think again: Why do we do “church” the way we do it? Why do we hold to the practices/liturgies that we do? And ultimately, why do we call what we do worship?

If you’ve ever studied Church History, the obvious answer to the questions I’ve asked extend all the way back to what is known as the Reformation. For the uninitiated or perhaps I should refer to you as “the blessed,” simply stated, the Reformation was what caused the existence of what we call the Protestant church. A breaking away from the Catholic Church ultimately resulted in what we have today: Presbyterians, Lutherans, Baptists, Methodists, and so on. The Reformers rejected many of the teachings that the Catholic Church maintained. And after much fighting and bloodshed (even amongst the Reformers themselves), the Protestant Church came to be. But the Reformers retained some of the liturgies and practices of the Catholic system, including the priest.  Only now he was called the Pastor. Insert spooky time travel music…, and we come to the year 2017.

Today, we have divided “church” into everything that comes before the Pastor preaches/teaches, i.e., worship and the “true reason” for our gathering together- The Word. Usually it looks something like this: 3 Songs (A good fast one to get ’em going, then some medium to slow ones to induce “worship”), the offering gets collected, the Pastor preaches/teaches (nowadays there may be a “team” that fulfills this position), prayers are scattered throughout at different points during the “service,” and then you go home. This paradigm has been “successful” for a long time. The trouble is: 1) According to statistics, it’s not working anymore. 2) You don’t find it anywhere in the New Testament.

Thankfully, the Holy Spirit is awakening the Body of Christ to the reality that we need to change. He is challenging us to prayerfully and humbly reconsider the practices and liturgies that we have made into idols. A mighty Wind of God is sweeping among his people: shifting, moving, changing, reviving, and stirring our hearts to surrender all. And asking those who lead, “Are you willing to relinquish control? Is it success or my heart that you truly seek?” Sometimes, the two are not synonymous.

Perhaps the reason for this “awakening” has come to remind us of what true worship is. Worship is relationship, namely, the perichoretical relationship of the Trinity. And our worship can only be “understood” within the context of this relationship, and our participation in it. It is not something we do apart from God, to get to him, or to get him to come to us. Worship is something we “do” in Him. Although worship may/will be expressed through our actions, it is not merely things that we do: singing, preaching, praying, Bible-study, service, etc… It is who we are, men and women living their lives in Jesus, participating in the very life of the Triune God. That which the Father, Son and Spirit have known from all of eternity has been given to us. Before there were angels, planets or people, there was worship. There is no Step 1, Step 2, Step 3…   Worship is not centered around any aspect of worship or liturgical practice, it is centered around the person of Jesus and his union with his people. And it can look different in every gathering as the Spirit provides the order.

As worship is relational, derived from the mysterious perichoretical union the Church has with the Triune God, our coming together is not designated to the control of any individual other than the Spirit of God. While there are leadership gifts,  the shepherds/pastors who feed, watch, care, and guard the souls of God’s people are but one expression. According to scripture, God has also placed within the Body Apostles, Prophets, Teachers, and Evangelists, who are also to equip the people of God for the work of ministry. And as we see in the passages above, when the Church comes together it is not only the “office gifts” that are used, but each member functions according to the grace that God has allotted. We do not have to fear that chaos will ensue, but can trust that as we humbly submit to one another, the Spirit will provide decency and order and correction if needed. To put it in today’s vernacular, “This ain’t no one man show.”

Before I am accused of denying that biblical instruction/teaching has no place in our gatherings, let me say that it should be obvious to anyone familiar with me or acquainted with my writings that I believe that “all Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” As I have said so many times before, I’ve spent a lot of money and time acquiring my degree in Biblical Studies/Theology. I do however question the way we have limited the means by which the “impartation” of the Word is expressed. 

While authentic worship most definitely involves receiving the Word of God, I fear that we have failed in that we have come to see preaching and the “Bible-study” as the only means by which this is to be accomplished. It would seem that we have forgotten Paul’s exhortation to “let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.” We must remember that the Bible itself declares that the gifts within the Body are also they that strengthen, encourage, and declare God’s Word. The Word of God, engrafted, alive, and expressed in and through the hearts of believers, holding fast to the Head, from whom the whole body, nourished and knit together through its joints and ligaments, grows with a growth that is from God.

I suppose I could talk about buildings, home churches, small groups, etc…, but I think all of that will work itself out as we sincerely seek the Lord concerning these matters. After all, the “where” of worship is any place that two or three gather in his name. So, when it comes to rethinking church practices and liturgies, may we be willing to lay everything we think we know at his feet and trust him to mold us after the kind intentions of his heart.

 

 

 

 

 

TV, Seduction, Balaam, and Boiling Frogs

“…Balaam, who showed Balak how to trip up the people of Israel. (Rev. 2:14)

Lately, my wife and I have been praying more than ever about what we watch on TV. We’ve asked God for the willingness to let him change our viewing habits and for the grace to act once he speaks to our hearts. His response was immediate and there have been casualties! There were series that we had invested a lot of time in  (too much time) that have not made the cut. There has been no real discussion between us about which shows have to go, its been more like we’ll be right in the middle of an episode, and we’ll both just KNOW. The Holy Spirit is cool like that!

As I’ve thought about my relationship with TV, why it even matters, and the possible effects and consequences of our interaction; it was the story of Balaam and Balak that came to mind. For those of you who may not know the story: Balaam was a “prophet for hire” waaaaay back in the day. Balak, the king of Moab, had become afraid that the people of Israel were going to destroy him as they had several other kings. So, Balak hired Balaam to curse Israel and assure his victory. Long story short, Balaam was unable to utter any kind of curse over the Israelites, but what he did do was concoct a brilliant trap by which Balak could undermine Israel by causing them to defeat themselves. Seduction.

There is no doubt in my mind that Television and entertainment as a whole for that matter can be a tool by which the Enemy of our souls seeks to seduce and entrap us. And like never before, we as followers of Jesus need to seriously consider whether or not the TV shows (including the NEWS) we watch are causing and/or contributing to us introducing spiritual stumbling blocks into our own lives. Are the things I am willfully allowing into my heart, mind, and home hindering my walk with God? Is it hurting my family?

I can’t give you a list of shows that “you can’t be Christian and watch at the same time.” That’s something you’re going to have to work out between you and God. But seriously, how much of what’s passing as entertainment today can we embrace before we begin to suffer spiritually?  How desensitized have I already become to the things that grieve the Spirit of God? To what degree am I at ease with the seduction? Remember the anecdote of the boiling frog.

I’ve got a long way to go, but I want to go all the way. And I’ve learned that sometimes, the first step is saying, “Lord, help me to at least be willing to be willing to let you rule over every part of my world.” It’s frightening, but sometimes I wonder if the truth is that I doubt whether or not God can truly be enough to satisfy my soul should he  remove the things by which I am seduced and to which I have become addicted. God forgive me for making you so small!!

 I once thought these things were valuable, but now I consider them worthless because of what Christ has done.  Yes, everything else is worthless when compared with the infinite value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have discarded everything else, counting it all as garbage, so that I could gain Christ and become one with him…Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead,  I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.  Let those of us who are mature think this way, and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you. Only let us hold true to what we have attained.

 

 

 

Mystic

mys·ti·cal: spiritually allegorical or symbolic; transcending human understanding; inspiring a sense of spiritual mystery, awe, and fascination; of or relating to mystics or religious mysticism…

I rarely listen to the radio anymore. With Google Play, Pandora, YouTube, CDs, etc…, I just don’t have the need or desire. Anyway, while I rarely listen to the radio, I hardly EVER listen to “Christian Radio.” Today, I was reminded once again why I do not. Coming through the air-waves was some pastor,  somewhere, warning his congregation against “Christian Mysticism.” He exhorted them to beware of such things as “practicing God’s presence,” sitting quietly and waiting on God (meditating), getting yourself in a position to hear from God (he said something about brain-waves…), and pretty much anything along these lines.

Strangely enough, the one thing he DID do, was hold up the Bible  (and his denomination’s paradigms, by the way) as the only way to truly “hear” from God. I couldn’t help but see the irony: he encouraged his congregants to get truth from a book, a holy book that an invisible God uses to communicate his truths to mankind- sounds pretty mystical to me!

You know, I spent a lot of money and a lot of time in seminary getting my degree in Biblical Studies/Theology; I believe that what the Bible claims about itself is the absolute truth.

All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness,  that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.

But I want to say something very carefully: the Bible is not God. You can know the Bible, quote the Bible, teach the Bible, and pray prayers from the Bible, but still have no true knowledge or relationship with God whatsoever.

When Jesus was teaching, at one point he told his listeners, ” You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life.” With that one statement, he declared that true biblical knowledge, true theology, true revelation an life is relational. And how are we who are over 2,000 years removed from Jesus’ physical presence on earth supposed to have an abiding intimacy with him? How are we to be relational?  Well, it is through the Spirit who lives within us. Again, that sounds pretty mystical to me!

Consider the following:

Then Elisha prayed and said, “O Lord, please open his eyes that he may see.” So the Lord opened the eyes of the young man, and he saw, and behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha.

Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life…

It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life.

…we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal…

…so that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places.

I could go on, but those are just a few verses that immediately come to mind. And again- it sounds pretty mystical to me!!

I think I do understand to some degree the motivation behind the warnings of many “Christian Leaders” regarding “Christian Mysticism,” but I’d like to offer a word of exhortation if I may:  Apostles, Prophets, Evangelists, Shepherds(Pastors), and Teachers are called to EQUIP the Church, not CONTROL the Church. And effective equipping involves understanding that each member of the Body of Christ is indwelt by the Spirit of God or as the Apostle John said, “But the anointing that you received from him abides in you, and you have no need that anyone should teach you. But as his anointing teaches you about everything, and is true, and is no lie—just as it has taught you, abide in him.” Care for the flock, feed the flock, Shepherd the flock, but understand that each of us have received the oil of God’s Spirit and are being led by that same Spirit of Truth. Do not let your desire for the well being of God’s people become that which quenches the Spirit.

The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.

(Sounds pretty mystical to me.)

 

 

 

 

Lamentation For America

“I have cried until the tears no longer come;
my heart is broken.
My spirit is poured out in agony
as I see the desperate plight of my people…

“Your prophets have said
so many foolish things, false to the core.
They [do] not save you from exile
by pointing out your sins.
Instead, they [paint] false pictures,
filling you with false hope…

“Rise during the night and cry out.
Pour out your hearts like water to the Lord.
Lift up your hands to him in prayer,
pleading for your children…

“The guilt of my people
is greater than that of Sodom,
where utter disaster struck in a moment
and no hand offered help…

“But Lord, you remain the same forever!
Your throne continues from generation to generation..Restore us, O Lord, and bring us back to you again!”

Being A Christian In Babylon: A New Reality

I mean really, how do you respond when the Spirit says, “You are not an American any more.”?

We have previously looked at three different ways in which being a Christian in Babylon may tempt us to respond: assimilation (Being A Christian In Babylon: Assimilation), isolation (Being A Christian In Babylon: Isolation), and rebellion (Being A Christian In Babylon: Rebellion). I have argued that these were not the ways in which Peter counseled his original audience nor us to respond, and now comes the part where I tell you what I believe to be the “right” way. I’m supposed to share with you how I believe we are to live as a people without political influence, misunderstood, falsely accused, slandered, shunned, reviled, assaulted and even physically abused? This has been burning in my heart for quite a while, and frankly, other than in conversations with close friends; I’ve never tried to articulate it before. It runs contrary to what most are saying these days, challenging our very concept (American/Western) of identity and reality. I mean really, how do you respond when the Spirit says, “You are not an American anymore.” How do you deal with the understanding that what culture says is right is wrong, that your idea of freedom is actually slavery, that you have actually been called to suffer as Jesus did, that you are not who “they” told you you were? See what I mean? But I do believe that our coming to terms with all of these questions is essential to being a Christian in Babylon. So, we’ll go slowly, a step at a time, asking Jesus to make his truth, his reality known to us.

For the Christians in Babylon during Peter’s day, in coming to terms with their reality, it had to be hard not to adopt a defeatist mentality. By all appearances, they were defeated, marginalized, and excluded from mainstream society. That was their reality, and their suffering would have made it very obvious. Babylon had declared them outcasts. But Peter wanted his early readers to remember that their reality was not defined by the way in which they were classified by Babylonian culture. Peter reminds them that they were personally chosen by God. Their “dispersion” across the Anatolian peninsula was not to be viewed as a scattering by the winds of fate, but rather an intentional sowing of seed by the hand of God. And as people of God’s choosing, people baptized into a new reality in Christ, the hardships endured within Babylon did not define them, but rather served to refine their faith as fire purifies gold.

I guess it’s a little different for us today, especially us American Christians. Really, it was probably easier for those 1st century Christians to see themselves as “other than,” being in, but not of so to speak. Their suffering at the hands of Babylonian culture would have made it obvious that they were not held in great affection by mainstream society. But we have, for the most part, been accepted by Babylonian culture and to our detriment defined by it as well. We have come to see ourselves as Babylonians who happen to be Christians instead of a holy nation, a new ethnicity, strangers and aliens who happen to reside in Babylon. Because we derive our identity from the culture in which we live, we tend to react as “Americans,” not Christians when suffering and trials come (or appear to be headed) our way. In order to mask our fear and the pain of separation from a culture we have mistakenly called our own, we protest and demand our rights, ignoring the reality to which we have been called- the reality in Jesus which defines suffering and trial as those things that result in glory and honor and praise. “By his stripes we have been healed.”

We are beginning to see that being a Christian in Babylon can make you feel like the world has crumbled to pieces around you. As the normal ebb and flow of life is replaced by the storm of opposing realities, the disciples of Jesus can be dismayed at the ruin of monuments they once held sacred. But our “security” is found in the understanding that our lives are built upon a Cornerstone that Babylon has discarded, and the bricks with which they are constructing their ziggurat are lifeless stones, its glory like the flower of grass that withers and falls. We must see ourselves as living stones being built up as a spiritual house upon the Living Stone, rejected by Babylon, but chosen and precious in the sight of God. It is in this “house” that we serve as priests, proclaiming the excellencies of him who has called us into his marvelous light. We are not called to serve in the Tower of Babel, to somehow prop it up and ensure its survival. On the contrary, we understand the reality that Babylon is doomed to fall, and as alien priests we extend mercy, grace, and hope to any who would seek refuge in the temple not made with hands.

I’m tempted to go on, and maybe I will . But we’ll stop here for now. Being a Christian in Babylon is inextricably linked to our relationship with Jesus. It is in the context of his life, death, and resurrection that we receive clarity, definition and assign value to our stay in Babylon and the suffering we are bound to encounter, that many of our brothers and sisters around the globe are already enduring. By “assimilating” Jesus’ reality, we neither isolate from nor rebel against Babylon. But as we see ourselves as he has declared us to be, men and women called to follow in his steps; we count it all joy that we share in his sufferings, glad when his glory is revealed.

Being A Christian In Babylon: Assimilation

“…I have written briefly to you, exhorting and declaring that this is the true grace of God. Stand firm in it.”

In the introduction  to this series (Being A Christian In Babylon: An Introduction), I mentioned that I think that the readers of Peter’s first letter and we 21st century Christians living in “Babylon” are tempted to respond to the culture in which they find ourselves in basically three ways: assimilation, isolation, and/or rebellion. I believe that Peter offers a fourth way, an alternative that invites us to see our “exile and suffering in Babylon” in the context of Jesus’ life, death, resurrection, and our relationship with him. But before we get to that, I want us to look at the three alternatives I mentioned above. So today, let’s begin with assimilation.

For a moment, let’s go back in time. We arrive on the Anatolian peninsula in the mid-60s AD. There are various communities of believers who have found themselves scattered throughout this area, and they are experiencing what Peter calls  “a fiery trial.” They have no political influence what so ever. Their relationship with Jesus has caused them to be ostracized by mainstream society. They are misunderstood, falsely accused, slandered, shunned, reviled and assaulted. They are suffering. We don’t know whether or not they are enduring officially sanctioned persecution by the Roman Empire or more of a localized form or a combination of the two.  But we can infer from Peter’s comments to them and the underlying theme of suffering in his letter that they are indeed suffering. One writer describes their circumstances in this way:

“[They] would have distinguished themselves from the general populace by their nonparticipation in public festivals (cultural affairs imbued with religious, political and social consequence). Failing to associate themselves with these religiocultural activities, their behaviors would have been perceived by the general populace as atheistic, perhaps even bordering on unlawful.” (Joel B. Green)

I don’t want to spend any more time with historical background, but I think you can see from our brief look back how assimilation might have appeared attractive? Being the “assimilator” or the “assimilatee” could have eased some of the pressure. Incorporating a bit of Babylon into their communities or allowing Babylon to assimilate them back into the mainstream populace would have relieved some of the suffering. Perhaps some even felt that a little Babylonian assimilation would have made them more relevant, more effective in spreading the gospel. Perhaps some even commented, “Hey, didn’t we hear of this guy named Paul going around saying that he becomes all things to all men so he can win them to Jesus? What good are we going to do if we wind up dead?” Assimilation had to have been an attractive idea. Can you blame ‘em?

It’s in this climate that Peter urges the believers to stand firm. He tells them that they shouldn’t go back to the way they lived before. He reminds them that they have become obedient to the truth and are no longer to be shaped by their “former ignorance.” Peter describes them as sojourners and exiles who have been called out of darkness into light. Their very lives are to be lived in such a way that “silences the agnosticism of foolish people.” They are not the “assimilators” nor “assimilatees,” but rather priests who mediate God to those around them in grace and humility.

Each new day seems to bring news that bridges the gap between the communities to which Peter wrote so long ago, and 21st century Christians living in Babylon today. We are only beginning to experience some of the pressures of living as strangers in Babylon. We are only beginning to suspect the cost of being a disciple of Jesus in this hour. Our “fiery trial” has just begun. And though the motivations may vary (fear, desire for relevancy, etc…), the temptation to assimilate or be assimilated is so very alluring. Sadly, I believe that for a very large portion of those who call themselves Christians, the assimilation has already begun.

We have for the most part ignored Peter’s admonition to “not be conformed to the passions of our former ignorance.” We have seen it as easier to assimilate Babylonian culture than to live our lives in such a way that would influence it. “The passions of the flesh that wage war against our souls” have been redefined and dismissed as archaic, draconian, pharisaical moral paradigms that no longer have relevance. We have assimilated the Babylonian definition of spirituality and love and hidden our deception behind words like tolerance and inclusion. The grace and mercy in which we are to be mediators of God have instead become a cloaking device behind which we conceal our desire for acceptance and our fear of exclusion. Many of our ministers more closely resemble Babylonian celebrities than servant shepherds who humbly lead the flock by example. We have ignored Peter’s admonition, “For it is time for judgment to begin at the household of God; and if it begins with us, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God? And if the righteous is scarcely saved, what will become of the ungodly and the sinner?” Our assimilation only obscures the revelation of Jesus and points those who need him back to themselves.

I don’t think assimilation is the key for being a Christian in Babylon. In fact, the reality is that it actually does more harm than good and undermines the very things we say we desire. So, what is the answer? We’ll get to that. But before we do, we’ll next consider whether or not the appropriate response for being a Christian in Babylon is isolation.

Abide in Jesus. Watch & pray.

Judges, Ruth And The American Church: In The Midst Of The Madness

(I know this is a long article, but I honestly feel that to divide it would not be best. I think it needs to be read as one article. Please, endeavor to persevere!)

I think it’s safe to say that we find ourselves in a time in which America could be characterized by the title of an old movie: “It’s a mad, mad, mad, mad world!” People are crying, “It’s the end of the world.” while others lament, “The end of the church!” Politically, American citizens are divided, and the church fairs no better: Democrats, Republicans, Libertarians, hybrids, traditional churches, home churches, prophetic, signs & wonders, fire& brimstone, love & grace, hybrids. Each group speaks of tolerance and inclusion, but only if you see it their way. Who are enemies? Who are allies? It seems to change from one day to the next. For every ten who see it one way, there are twenty who see it another, and fifty who see it differently still. So, most have resigned themselves to doing what seems right to them and hoping for the best. I’ve got good news; God is at work in the midst of the madness. Allow me to present a “prophetic allegory” (if you will) from the books of Judges & Ruth which I believe will provide insight into our own mad, mad, mad, mad world.

The book of Judges finds God’s people living in the midst of political turmoil and oppression. And spiritually, they were schizophrenic at best. At various times, the people would “repent,” God would send “judges” to deliver them, and there would be seasons of renewal. But inevitably, the people would slide back into doing their own thing. For the most part, it was a tumultuous cycle in which “each man did what was right in his own eyes. And it came complete with levels of craziness that would make Jerry Springer scratch his head.

Gideon was just an ordinary guy that God used to deliver the people from the Midianites. Subsequently, the people of Israel asked Gideon and his family to rule over them. Gideon took gold from the people, made an ephod (a religious garment), and the people actually began to worship it. Don’t we see this today? We see the high profile preachers, worship leaders, the big name evangelist, and we make them into idols. We worship gifts and not the Giver. We fall in love with the “anointing” and not the Anointed. Instead of lifting up Jesus we concentrate on signs & wonders or the prophetic or our traditions or our doctrines or our education. We make idols out of what God does and gives, and cease to worship the God who is. We worship a move of God instead of the God who moves. Signs & wonders will not save us. The prophetic will not keep us. Our traditions and education will betray us. This is idolatry, and it leads us into that same tumultuous cycle that Israel experienced in the book of Judges.

What about Samson? What a perfect picture of anointing gone wild. There was great giftedness, but no holiness. We see it in the church today, gifted people who can preach, sing, administrate, raise money, etc…. They denounce the evils of same-sex marriage as they sit by their computers, watching porn, planning their next adulterous rendezvous. Like Samson (a Nazarite) who defiled himself and his parents by eating honey scooped from the carcass of a dead lion, the people of God are often times eating contaminated honey provided to them by ministers who have defiled themselves. It still tastes good, folks may “get saved,” there may even be instances of the miraculous, but it is not pure and the stench of the flesh permeates it. The flesh can only give birth to flesh, and we, like Samson, reach a point that we don’t even know that the Spirit of the Lord has left the building. Like Samson, so many of us have been called and gifted, but insist on following our own lusts to the point where we end up spiritually blind, bound between two columns, and begging God to please move just one last time.

What of Micah? Micah stole some money from his mom, and upon returning it,  she (now get this) dedicated the money to the Lord so that a carved and metal image could be made. Micah then made an ephod, set up his household gods, made a shrine, and ordained one of his sons to function as a priest. He completely ignored the parameters of worship God had instituted through Moses, and sought to syncretize the worship of God with the god(s) he had created. He didn’t stop there. He found a Levite (Remember, they were to be the priests of God.), bribed him, and got him to participate in his idolatry. Micah said to himself, “Now I know the Lord will bless me because I have a Levite priest.” Micah and his mom were so far gone that they dedicated their idolatry to God. Today, we’re doing the same thing that Micah did. We redefine that which God calls profane, and pronounce it holy. We’re snycretizing pagan practices, new-age philosophies, and the god we’ve created in our own image with the worship of the one true God. All the while praying, “God, bless us.” We have even incorporated our own brand of sorcery into the mix. Who among us has not received the magic christian email that promises blessing if you’ll forward it to at least ten people? Who among us has not been told that if we “click like” on a certain Face Book post, God will send us a miracle? To our shame, we have created an idol that looks and behaves as we do, accepts our definition of righteousness and called it God.

We come to the book of Ruth. This story takes place “in the days when the judges ruled.” We don’t know exactly when, but we do know that it was in the days of the Judges (Ruth 1:1). (It would take up a lot of space to summarize the entire book of Ruth, and I do need to bring this to a close, so I’ll trust you to read it.) For our purposes we’ll skip to the part where Ruth and Boaz finally get together.

“So she went down to the threshing floor that night…After Boaz had finished eating and drinking and was in good spirits, he lay down at the far end of the pile of grain and went to sleep. Then Ruth came quietly, uncovered his feet, and lay down. Around midnight Boaz suddenly woke up and turned over. He was surprised to find a woman lying at his feet! ‘Who are you?’ he asked. ‘I am your servant Ruth,’ she replied. ‘Spread the corner of your covering over me, for you are my family redeemer.’”

Right in the midst of the madness that engulfed Israel during the time of the Judges, when both the political landscape and the people of God were , there was a marriage taking place. A marriage of eternal consequence that would lead to the birth of King David, and eventually Jesus himself! And in our day, right in the midst of our own madness, God is calling forth a remnant, a bride who, like Ruth, has gone to the threshing floor, that place of separation, to meet their husband and Redeemer. She has come softly to lie at the feet of her Lord. She has eyes only for him, and will not love another. Her only glory and hope are in the One she calls Lord. She has endured suffering and loss; she is of no reputation, and even looked upon with scorn by many of  those around her. But in the midst of the mayhem and the madness, she will be wed to the Son of the living God!

Abide in him beloved. Watch and pray.

GMOs & The Genetically Modified Church of America

“I am the true Vine…”

I got into a conversation with a friend the other day about GMOs. That conversation prompted me to do a little research on the topic, and I came away with what I guess is a rudimentary understanding of the issue:

1) “Genetic modification is the process of forcing genes from one species into another entirely unrelated species.”

2) The process is producing “food” that’s  not even really  “food” anymore.

3) While the manufacturers claim that they produce GMOs to help feed an ever growing population, closer scrutiny suggests that the true motivation may be “profit.”

As I pondered these things I came to a very disturbing realization that much of what passes for church in America, what is called the “body of Christ,” is actually a “genetically modified organism”- The Genetically Modified Church of America (GMCOA).

The true Church is made up of individuals who, through their abiding union with Christ, have become one body. It is through this abiding union that they are nurtured, strengthened and maintained. Each part “does its own special work, it helps the other parts grow, so that the whole body is healthy and growing and full of love.” Its “DNA” is holy and pure in that it is derived from Jesus. This Church, this Organism is strong, vibrant and able to prevail against “herbicides, pesticides, insects and draught.” Its Life flows from the true Vine, and needs no “enhancement” of any kind. But as the American “church” has perceived itself as being increasingly threatened in today’s world, to defend itself, it has begun to “force genes” from an entirely “unrelated species” (i.e. the world) into the Body. This “fusion” has resulted in the production of the GMCOA which may look like the Church in some respects, but lacks the reality that only comes from Jesus. Unfortunately, because many “corporate manufacturers” (pastors of the GMCOA) fear that the “church” is losing its’ place in society, much of what passes for worship in today’s churches is merely an emotional, surface level experience. The Spirit of God is stifled or  quenched altogether as the GMCOA endeavors to resist the “pesticides of culture,” and attempts to make the “church” more appealing to the world. (A more blatant manifestation of the GMCOA can be seen in the recent actions taken by  Presbyterian USA and the United Church of  “Christ.”)

Just as GMO manufacturing results in the production of food which is not even really food, the infusion of “foreign genes” into the body of Christ is manufacturing Christians who aren’t really Christians. American church goers are habitually being fed an adulterated, modified gospel that in most cases merely serves to stroke the wounded self-image of the hearer. Congregations are told that Jesus just wants to make them into the best “thems” that they can be. True union with Christ, life in the Spirit, repentance and faith has been lost amid the promises of fulfilled destiny. Jesus, who is Life itself, has become nothing more than an ingredient to add to your life to make it better. The meat of the Word has been reduced to hash-tags and fluffy tweets devoid of true substance by the purveyors of the GMOCOA. Like Samson who scraped honey out of the carcass of a lion, ate it himself, and then gave it to his unsuspecting parents; the GMOCOA’s “gospel” is pleasing to the taste. But instead of experiencing life and wholeness in Jesus, those who eat it are left wanting.

Most opponents of GMOs in America insist that while the corporate manufactures claim that they produce these organisms to help feed the world’s population, the true motivation is profit. I think a similar motivation may be found within the GMCOA. As many within the American “church” sense the impending doom of the traditional Christian corporation, the desire to keep their “corporations” in tact is concealed within the words of “the great commission.” So many pastors today are doing everything they can to keep the “business” up and running. The building or complex has become the church, and the people (those in Christ who actually are the church) are merely the means by which to maintain it. Sadly, much of what is done “in the name of Jesus” today is actually an attempt to keep the “business” and the “business men” in the black.

To combat GMOs, the experts say it is best to “go organic.” Perhaps the same advice should be heeded by us Christians. Let’s turn away from the artificial and contrived additives we’ve introduced into the body of Christ. And being motivated by Love alone, let us pursue true, living intimacy with Jesus and each other.

501c3 Hypocrisy

Christians in  America today have become consumed by and divided over political ideology. This is unfortunate, and I would argue  “unchristian” as well. I would also argue that it reveals the hypocrisy prevalent in mainstream American “christianity.”  What do I mean? Let me explain.

The “christians” on the right lament, “The left is the antichrist!” Those on the left cry, “The right is the antichrist!” The Libertarians cry, “Both parties are the antichrist!” But they all have one thing in common. But no matter who is in charge, the “church” gladly holds on to their 501c3 and takes advantage of the tax breaks concerning tithes and offerings. The “church” claims that a government that uses tax dollars to fund birth-control goes against their religious beliefs, but then allows those same “atheistic tax dollars” to pay for their churches.  You can wrap “it” up in pretty paper, put bows and ribbons on it, but it’s still hypocrisy.

You may not agree with me, but I think the whole political system is “antichrist.” It’s time for the Church to get “out of bed” with the government, and be the bride of Christ. I believe that in the not so distant future the precious 501c3 will be taken away from any group that preaches the truth about Jesus. I believe that the gospel will be labeled as “hate speech,” and persecution/prosecution will be visited upon those who preach it. Why not throw this “yoke” off right now, and repent of the carnal allegiances that divide the body of Christ.

“Come out of her, my people,that you will not share in her sins, so that you will not receive any of her plagues;for her sins are piled up to heaven, and God has remembered her crimes.”