Monday, July 30, 2012

Systems - III

I have read a number of post and articles recently that have started a number of thoughts percolating. I hope I can set them down clearly here.

Don’t expect me to cite them all. I don’t think I can even remember them all. And I probably couldn’t do it correctly anyway. Hopefully I can remember all the points. But it was other people’s thinking that started it all.

Some has listed and counted all the commands of Jesus. And someone else – to facilitate memorization, teaching and obedience of this large number of commands – has combined, sorted and summarized the list into seven commands.

Receive Christ – by faith, make a change of allegiance.
  • To baptize – lead people to make a public declaration of that change of allegiance in a specific type of ceremony. 
  • Worship/have communion – spend time focusing and celebrating the nature, character and deeds of God.
  • Pray – express you heart to God; invite him into each facet of life.
  • Love – sacrifice and serve for the benefit of others.
  • Give – provide resources to help others, ease suffering, and promote people’s welfare.
  • Make disciples – assist people to make the change of allegiance, to grow in character, and to understand and obey these commands.
Modern western churches have had various amounts of success in fulfilling these commands. Some individual churches have succeeded in some areas better than others. Some others, realizing that there has been failure in achieving overall obedience, have made passionate fervent calls to all Christians to get back to the basics, and complete God’s call on our lives. And some, hearing those calls, have launched forth to live in obedience: some with success, some with dismal failure, and some with discouragement and eventually giving up.

Generally, these calls to complete God’s work, and to live the God designed, are correct. They are true. But we have a thousand ears of history and a huge cultural mind-set to overcome.

Much of the western church labors under some false understanding. They believe that churches need professional leaders. And those professional leaders should perform all the work. All Christians should receive Christ, be baptized and gather to worship. All Christians should pray, give and love. But it is only the leaders who know enough to make disciples.

The Bible explicitly states that the process of making disciples involves teaching others to obey all the commands of Jesus. If we are disciples of Jesus, then this includes us; and it includes the process of making disciples.

The Bible explicitly states that leaders are supposed to equip followers of Jesus to minister. As a result of words and actions taken by leaders, followers of Jesus should:
  • Pray with increasing effect.
  • Live with greater generosity.
  • Be committed to people.
  • Participate in the process that promotes a change of allegiance in people, growth in character and obedience to God’s word.
It is God’s will that his people become a nation of priests. Each follower of Jesus is a representative of God to others in churches, neighborhoods, work places, schools, coffee shops and stores.

I have witnessed one person tell another person, “I think I should follow Jesus. How do I do that?” And the second person immediately turn to look for a leader to explain and pray with the first person. I have witnessed someone come to Jesus, chose to be baptized and arrangements by made for a time a leader could come to do the baptizing. (The command Jesus gave was not “to be baptized”; it was explicitly “to baptize.”)

Because of false gospels and false prophets, a clergy system was created to defend against errors and deception. This was man’s plan to defend the truth. God’s plan was to make everyone responsible for and experts in the truth.

We are all priests. Moreover, we are all high priests, because we are all allowed into the holy of holies. We can approach the unapproachable light. The Jewish high priest was allowed to enter the holy of holies once a year. We can enter it at any time.

We are all responsible for doing the priestly stuff. And either we have gotten used to spectating, and for some reason cannot get out of the rut. Or the leaders who should be doing the equipping, don’t realize they are equipping priests and all that that means.

UPDATE: The command to make disciples involves baptizing and teaching. The teaching involves obedience. So, in reality, it is probably a command both “to baptize” and “to be baptized.”

As priests, we promote a change of allegiance, accompanied by a public declaration of that new allegiance. As disciples, we need to understand and take steps of obedience – including this declaration.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Systems - II

Lest people start tearing down all churches, denominations and associations, because of what I said in my last post, systems are not necessarily evil. The church of God is a group of people called out from the general populace to complete God’s mission, to demonstrate God’s nature, to love one another and to love the world. Anytime a group of people function together, there has to be an agreement of how the group, whether it is a family, a club, a church or a business, should act as a group with those on the outside of the group and with those within the group. As a result of these agreements, formal and informal policies and guidelines are built, based on the common, organizing values and principles of the group. And a system is born. It is inherent in the agreements that bind the group together.

The danger of systems is that policies established for good and profitable reasons get cast in stone. They can last unchanged and unchallenged long after the reasons that caused them to be formed have ceased to exist.

As followers of Jesus, we use the Scriptures as the basis for all such policies. They should be tailored to the conditions of the culture and society. Which may mean that a policy set up in one context may have a hindering effect in another context.

For example, there are groups of Christians that hold that “dancing” is an inappropriate and bad activity. Does the Scripture say anything about dancing? There is no command against dancing. There is no teaching about dancing. It is mentioned:

  • In celebration of a deliverance.
  • In celebration of an important event.
  • Encouraged as an act of worship.

Scripture hardly paints this human activity as inherently evil. Why do these groups have this policy? I do not have definite information regarding this. So, I assume/deduce that a policy was formed, because dancing was associated with something definitely bad. It was something that interfered with God’s mission, or that hindered people from living out a life that agreed with God’s design. So, these groups agreed to avoid this area, not because it was evil per se, but it tended to have a countering influence in other important areas. In this context, it hindered things that God considered vitally important. Therefore, it was a wise, God-honoring decision.

But, as I stated earlier, these policies can become cast in stone. They attain a status almost equal to Scripture. They persist long after the reasons for their existence, no longer exist.

(I am not taking a pro-dancing position. I am using it as an example of a gray area that Scripture does not condemn, but has been abused in certain contexts. In those contexts, it was wise and God-fearing to avoid. I am hoping to make a point about systems.)

Things like these take on a life of their own. They develop a momentum that makes it difficult to shift direction. It becomes much easier to find other motivations, other reason, to perpetuate the policies. And a refusal to change can dishonor God.

One of my assumptions is God communicates to me in all my current situations. God does not just direct me through a book with an historical context. His Spirit illuminates this book in my current context. He whispers to my heart about where I am right now.

He is more than able to direct policies – to initiate, to cancel, to reformulate. It takes effort, self-denial, honesty and humility on our part to approach these policies, give them to God, and ask what does he want done with them.

Monday, July 23, 2012


The Bible says that God established Israel to obey him and to demonstrate to the world his nature, his heart and his desire for everyone to come into relationship with him.

Israel has always seemed to have a problem giving their hearts to God. In the time of the judges, if they obeyed God, they lived in peace and prospered. But they consistently chose to disobey, and they were oppressed by the nations around them. Then, they would turn their hearts to God, and cry out for deliverance. And God would rescue them.

There were definitely people among them who would lament the people’s unfaithfulness. And they sought with honest hearts to understand God’s ways and keep them. Usually that meant proscribing rules or practices. “God said we should do this. So, if we do this, we follow what God said.” It is hard to find fault with people trying to solve problems in this way.

There is a prayer type invented by Ignatius called the “examan.” The examen is a way of reflecting on the day and applying prayer to it. Imagine reviewing your decisions and actions at work. Imagine reviewing all your interactions with people throughout the day. Then, imagine asking god for his wisdom confirming each decision. You beseech God to bring his will to each action. You invite God’s Spirit and grace into the life of each person you met, to apply his live into the issues they face and to draw them to his presence, to embrace his family and a relationship with him.

It is really hard to argue against such a practice. If I encouraged everyone to carve out time each day, many would give it a try. And if many became excited with the concept, and received benefit from it, it could become an expectation that everyone practice this type of prayer. And given the power of agreement, maybe we should expect everyone to practice it at 10:00 PM every day. And given God’s desire for everyone to pray, and his desire for us to invite him into every situation, maybe we really should establish this as a rule for all followers of Jesus. And maybe we begin to get an inkling of how easy it is to create a system of religious practices.

No one can argue that being disciplined is not good. Followers of Jesus agree that spending time praying, reading and meditating on Scripture are profitable to us. (One could argue that these practices are not only good for us, but they are good to the world around us.) And one can certainly see the wisdom of beginning the day with such a discipline.

But is there a command in Scripture to begin the day with such a discipline? I haven’t found it. (I do agree with the fact that there is wisdom with having this type of discipline. I have not found a command for it.) But how many people are there who seek to follow God, who would regard someone not having an early morning quiet time as being apostate? In many ways, just like the Pharisees, Christians have created a system with practices that someone invented for good and profitable reasons that have gotten included in the “must” column.

The “call forward” was invented in the 1800’s as a way for people to express publicly their inner convictions and a change of heart allegiance to Jesus as Lord and Savior. This is not a bad thing. Even Jesus instituted something for this purpose. It’s called “baptism.” But, whole revivals have occurred without one “call forward.” But in some churches this has become an essential practice. A meeting is deemed a failure if there is no “call forward” of some sort.

To some people, a church is not a church if it does not have a building, a seminary trained professional leading it, a certain number of people attending, and certain practices and programs. At one point in this country, Sunday School was an evangelistic tool. No self-respecting, God-fearing person would send their children to Sunday School, because it meant you were failing in your job as a parent. Now, you are almost a failure if your children don’t go.

There is nothing with Sunday School as a means of educating children in the ways of God. There is nothing wrong with a group of Christians corporately owning and using a special building. But neither is there anything wrong with three people meeting in a coffee shop or under a tree praying, worshiping and sharing together.

We have quite often interpreted our system, devised to help us obey God, as God’s system. And sometimes, that system, in time, can hinder our obedience.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Seeking God - V

Why does it seem there are times God goes silent? There seems to be times God speaks … and continues to speak. And there are times we cannot even hear a whisper. The silences stretching out far too long.

One of my basic assumptions is that it is in God’s nature to communicate. He created communication. He excels in it. As communication is at the heart of relationship, and one of his prime purposes is the creation of a family as a center of relationship, it is his intention to maintain a constant flow of communication with that family. With all the members of that family.

So, as a member of that family, I should be receiving constant communication from the Father. As a limited human being, I know that I cannot physically be receiving constantly. The need for sleep, for one, precludes it. (God is not really limited by my sleep, because he can communicate to me in my dreams.) But I should be receiving when awake.

If it is God’s aim to consistently and continually communicate, and he is not limited by his nature, then it must be my receiver that is broken.

My lack of hearing can simply be my lack of listening. I may simply not be paying attention. This can happen with anyone. One can witness this happening with couples all the time. Stereotypically, the husband is focused on an article in the newspaper and the wife is attempting to talk about her day.

Jesus uses the metaphor of a branch connected to a vine to describe how life, power and grace flow from the God-head to his family. A focus on the relationship between God and a person is part of this connection. A loss of focus results in a loss of connection.

Another part of this connection is a heart-focus on the same things God has his heart-focus set on. If our hearts are not focused on the same things, the connection is broken and there is no communication.

Our hearts can be focused on things on things that are contrary to God’s will, or on things that are neutral. In either case, they are things that will break the connection between God’s heart and our heart, and break the communication.

The enemy delights in causing these breaks. It robs us of a source of God’s grace in our lives. And it is that grace that produces fruit. And that fruit gives God glory. Lust, hate, work or fantasy baseball can all consume our heart-focus, break the connection with God and leave us powerless.

The enemy would probably prefer to capture our heart-focus with things contrary to God’s heart. It breaks the connection, robbing us of grace, robbing us of fruit and robbing God of glory. But it robs God of glory twice by capturing our hearts with sin.

But above all, he seeks to break the connection. If we lose connection, his purposes are being attained. Why do we always think of spiritual warfare as some type of overt oppression. Satan succeeds by getting God's family to fixate on issues – even issues that we should rightly and justly be concerned with. We should be concerned with our budget. We should be concerned with problems at work. But if we are consumed by them, Satan succeeds in cutting our connection to God. We need to invite Jesus into work problems, our budget … our fantasy baseball team. (“Please, Lord, help Ichiro go 3 for 4 today, so my team batting average may improve and I might go up in the standings.” I am definitely NOT being serious here.)

Here’s a question: If we focus our heart on God and our legitimate concerns, is there a point in which Satan succeeds, because our hearts are not focused on God’s concerns? CPM’s in unreached people groups? Rampant HIV, malaria and untreatable tuberculosis? Crushing poverty sapping hope and health from families the world over? Members of his family living in love and holiness?

Monday, July 09, 2012

Kingdom Living

It is pretty obvious that God is concerned with personal transformation. He intends to establish his kingdom over all his children, with each child showing what life in the kingdom looks like.

One way he establishes his kingdom over creation is by taking holding of people's lives, one by one, and leading them in living kingdom life. Scripture describes in many places what God's children need to leave behind and what they need to practice.

Personal testimony should have an earthquake-like effect in society. God's family should stick out, displaying goodness, like a sore thumb. (How's that for a mixed metaphor.) Each day God's family acts in kingdom behavior should be like another hammer blow on the thumb of society.

One Roman writer is often quoted as saying of Christians "behold how they love one another." Has anyone noted that recently? Is the most outstanding feature of the family of God its love?

Thursday, July 05, 2012

Seeking God - IV

We are designed to live in relationship with God. We are designed to live in dependence of him. That means we cannot live – successfully – without him.

Life is complex, complicated, problematic and a hassle. There are multitude of steps and ways we can work through any issue. Do we always know the right path? How many times have we looked over our shoulder and she a less arduous, less expensive, more enjoyable way we could have done something? And even if we see the most expedient, efficient method, is it always the most profitable?

That’s why it is better to have a daily, moment by moment, connection with the holder of all wisdom. He can see the perfect, optimal path for us – leading to the best effect for us and the most glory for him.

Monday, July 02, 2012

Kingdom - 13a

And he continues with long simile. It is a comparison of those he condemns with those he approves. The basis of acceptance or rejection is how they treat the least people. Do they feed, clothe, house or visit those in need? God’s work in a person’s life is shown by how he interacts with others. God’s effect in a person’s heart is demonstrated by his treatment of others.