A simple thought

Have you ever sung that song in Sunday school that goes like this, “Here is the Church, here is the steeple, open the doors and there’s all the people?”  I used to sing that song all the time.  We had the motions down perfectly and yet, as I grew older and began to understand a little more about our culture, I realized that perhaps there aren’t as many people as I thought there were in the Church.  In fact, studies and polls tell us that there has been a significant decline in most churches around the U.S. for some time now and it is projected to get a lot worse.

It blows my mind that Billy Graham has spoken to 200 + million people throughout his ministry thus far.  I believe God has brought him to this earth to preach the Gospel and has used him for many significant and important endeavors.  Where are the people though who came to know Christ through the ministry of Billy Graham?  Where are the 15,000 people who gave their life to Christ when I went to his meeting in 1991?  I don’t know – and apparently the Church doesn’t know either, which is a big problem.

With events like 9/11 and others, our churches experienced a huge increase of people who were searching for answers about life and death.  They were looking for comfort and for a place to find something real – both in a community and in God.  Where are they now?  Why have many of them fled the church?  Have they received the answers they are looking for or have they left in disappointment because the church, rather than using this opportunity to bless the unbelievers and wayward Christians to The Ultimate Healer, used that time instead to press their own agendas about financial giving and becoming members for their local community?  How many people are still walking around attempting to fill a void in their lives due to the confusion and complexity of life?

I don’t know how many lost people there are who have had their interaction with the Church in the past.  I wish I could throw out a conservative number of people who are desperate to hear good news and experience a hope they have never experienced before.  If I knew how many, I think I would somehow attempt to reach them all, if it were actually possible.

I write this small post to make an important statement:  We are the body of Christ – the Church.  And, in a lot of ways, we have failed to shine as a light to those who are searching for Jesus.  We have missed great opportunities to bless the world and those around us with the Truth of Jesus because we have inflicted our agendas instead of being who we are called to be.  We however are given grace by God to attempt once again to get it right.  And – to be extremely honest – we need to get it right.  We need to step into the body of Christ and love people and show them Jesus.  I hope my children will learn that simple song one day and it will be the truth.  I hope many people will be in the Church – the body of Christ.  It would stink if we had to change the words to, “Here is the Church, here is the steeple, open the door – where’s all the people?”

John 14:6 – A unique conversation (3)

I am convinced that life is what we make of it.  Nothing happens solely on the basis of fate or even destiny but there has to be apart of life that is formed and shaped by what we bring to the table – even if it is not much.  I know I have said this before (at least ten times on this blog alone) but our stories and our relationship with God are two very important things we can bring to the table – they are two things that will ultimately shape who we are and what we are about while we are here on this earth.

This will be my final post for a while concerning the passage of John 14:6.  It is not due to a lack of information or a lack of thoughts – I have a lot of those.  For now, I have found that there is a lot of back tracking I need to do before I can move on and press forward with this journey.  I might be easy enough to say we can “just start off again from now” but there is something important about going back and reflecting on where one has been in order to understand perhaps where one might be going.  I don’t always understand why God does what He does but I know that I need to come to a place of reflection within myself before I can warrant any more time to this subject.

My final thoughts are simple but will take me down a road that I am not ready for, or at least, I don’t feel entitled to walk.  My first thought is that other people need to hear this message – Jesus is the journey.  No one should ever need to realize after 15 years of being a believer that Jesus is the journey – the way.  I am convinced that people need to hear the message of Jesus all over again.  I am also convinced that we need to learn how to read the Bible all over again as well.  We have a problem though with regards to reading the Bible that we need to deal with.

I think one of the biggest problems is the issue of isogesis.  Isogesis is a big word for “reading into the text” and it is a huge problem we have within the church.  This is a problem because the text is to read into us and change us for the better – we are not supposed into the text and change it – that is us playing God.  We need to continually reshape our thoughts and come to a place where God’s word reads us and shapes us into the type of people God desires to use.

How do we end our isogesis reading of the Bible?  I don’t know that we can fully end our selfish reading of the Word of God.  For the very beginning, Man (Adam and Eve) wanted to be like God and not much has changed since that time.  In fact, I believe in a lot of ways, the Church has lost its identity of being like God and falling into the sin of trying to be God to the local congregation.  There are though, some things we can do so that when we hear passages like John 14:6, we can use its powerful words to challenge believers in the way it was meant to challenge believers and provoke unbelievers to follow Christ instead of following themselves.

1.  Study the Word of God:  Not just study it as a student of the Word but place yourself into the stories of the Bible and ask/write questions in reaction to what Jesus says in the Word of God.  Ask yourself how do these Words of God challenge you to live as a believer of Jesus – a disciple of the way?

2.  Test the many voices that speak loudly:  There are a lot of voices telling us how the Church should act and how we should read the Bible.  The tools and tracts we are given are proof of an indoctrination of our minds and thoughts regarding the Word of God.  Within my personal life, John 14:6 would be a great example of this issue.

3.  Read books and commentaries you might not agree with:  One of the many “joys” I have is reading a lot of books.  Many of them are from people I do not agree with but have been proven to assist in my understanding of what I actually believe.  Their words have caused me to research once again the basics of their thoughts and determine their religious bend on a variety of thoughts and beliefs.

4.  Run away from the culture and do missionary work:  One of the biggest problems I have found within myself is that I am so consumed with in the culture of elitism that I need to run away from a culture that persists that it has all the answers and simple remove myself from it all and do work as a short-term missionary where I can live as Jesus lived and love people as Jesus loved.  The more I separate myself from a superior model of Christianity and simply do the work of Christ, perhaps I can allow the words of Christ to change me and not allow myself to change the Word of God.

I am convinced we need to rethink and relearn how to read the Bible all over again.  Once we are able to engage in the Word of God the way we were meant to, we can change a culture that is looking for truth in all the wrong places.  We can encourage people to follow the way(s) of Jesus and come to know the Father, through Jesus – the calling of a believer – and the heart of discipleship.  This should be our goal.  How we get there will be dependant on how we take the steps and allow ourselves to be transformed by the renewing of our minds.  This is how we will know God’s will – His good, great, and perfect will.

Doing Church: Acts 12

Being in church this Sunday, I looked around and saw so many new faces.  It seems as though our church is growing both in people an in spiritual eagerness.  That is something to be really excited about.  Today Gary shared from Acts 12.  It is a short story but it has a lot of significance that is worth sharing about.  Here, we find Peter is imprisoned and an Angel came to him and set him free and helped him walk right out of prison.  What is funny is the reaction of the servant girl who worked at the house – she ran away and left Peter at the door when she realized he was there.

You know – prayer is a funny thing at times.  Sometimes, we can pray and God will answer our prayer right away.  Other times, it takes a lot longer.  No matter what the circumstance though, God answers prayers.  He is always there to listen.  I don’t think we allow that part of our lives to be as powerful as it should.  Prayer lifts our hearts to God and God holds our hearts in His hands and loves on us as we desperately come to him with a fervent and determined attitude and need.

I believe the one thing I received this Sunday that I need to continually think about is why we pray.  We do not pray to God in order to tell God our needs – He knows our needs even before we could ask Him.  I believe the purpose of prayer is more for us – to build our faith – and to believe that God will move in a powerful way.  In the end, we will know it is God and praise Him.   Amen.

John 14:6 – A unique conversation (2)

I have been a Christian now for about 15 years.  I don’t say that to be prideful or arrogant.  Rather, I am saying that to make a very important statement about this passage that I have been studying now for almost two full days.  John 14: 1-7 has got me thinking once again about my walk with God.  What interests me this time around is the amount of time the disciples have been walking with Christ up until this point of the story.  For almost three years, these disciples have left everything behind to follow a Rabbi who said that these misfits could be like Him.  For three years, the disciples have seen Jesus in a variety of situations:  Healing people, loving people, serving people (even washing the disciple’s feet later on), and even how He leads as a Rabbi.  It is almost as though the most undeserving people on earth have been given a free ride in the most unbelievable training ever and they have come to this point in their training and forget the elementary information.  Jesus has called each one of them to follow Him.  Even despite someone like Judas was given a free access pass into this very exclusive crew of students.

As I said, I have been a Christian now for about 15 years.  I have at least eight Bibles (mostly different translations), Bible commentaries, Bible dictionaries, other religious and spiritual books on a variety of topics in which the Bible speaks of, and even possess a decent knowledge of the original language of the Greek in order to translate and understand a fuller picture of what Jesus and the rest are saying in the text.  Finally, I also have the ability to know the end of the story – we win and Christ reigns for eternity in a new heaven and a new earth with us being His co-heirs and co-kings and queens.

BUT:

I am no better off than these twelve disciples.  For 15 years, I have not attempted to understand this passage in any significant form or challenge the status quo of those who have taken a verse here and a verse there and compiled a list of verses to push and press an agenda without a care in the world to the context of the verse or to whom Jesus was speaking.  For 15 years, I have used this verse in a wrong way and feel as though perhaps I need to apologize to those in whom I have spouted this verse off to and yet have not done my part in researching why a tract or a “Christian book” would use this verse the way in which they do.

Here is what I have come to understand thus far concerning this text.  Jesus is the journey in which I am now on and have been on for almost 15 years and have not even understood what that means with regards to the way in which I live, in how I work, in how I build relationships, in how I worship, and even in how I read the Word of God respectively.  Each page of the Bible is there to help me understand how God calls me to follow and imitate Him as Lord and Savior.  Paul says we are to be Ambassadors for Christ.  What does that even mean though?  It means that we are to be representatives of Christ in the here and now and not just in the then and there.  With each step and each page of the Word of God, Jesus continues to push me forward and conform me more into His image and His likeness so that when the world sees me, they see a reflection of Jesus instead of looking at an average sinner.

Jesus did not speak these words to the unsaved but to His disciples.  They are words of encouragement to you and to me.  They are words, which we are given to press on and not give up living as Jesus called us to live.  Those who understood this ended up calling themselves, “Followers of the Way” and I have to ask myself if I can be included in that club or if I am worried more about how I am going to get there on my own behalf.

Jesus said He was going to go and do what He needed to do and then He is going to come back and bring us to Himself.  Meanwhile, we are to continue doing what Jesus has taught us to do – we are to continue in His way, with His truth, sharing His life with others.  We are not to sit around and pout.  We are to be actively engaged in what Jesus has called us to do right now – each day, every moment of every day.

When we look at these verses through these lenses, I am convinced that we need to somehow learn how to reread the Bible all over again.  I shared that with a woman today in the library after I had spent a good bit of time reading these verses over and over again and she just looked at me and said, “That seems so impossible.  How on earth can we learn to reread the Bible all over again after reading it the way we have read it for so long?  It would take such a long time.”  I took her response to heart and told her that I agreed that it would take a really long time to figure that out.  But for me, that is my goal.  I want to learn desperately how to reread the Bible afresh and put my feet into the sandals of the disciples as Jesus speaks.  I want to ask the questions the disciples would have asked.  I want to journey with Jesus and allow the dust from His feet to fall on me as we walk together.  I want to understand why it is so hard to believe in Jesus after seeing all the signs and miracles Jesus displayed while the disciples were present.  I would love to be present when Jesus transfigured Himself on the mountain – that must have been the most amazing sight.

In conclusion, I don’t think I could ever look at these verses the same way again.  I am certain that this message needs to be shared with others and cannot sit in the minds of man.  We need more pastors and teachers to learn how to reread their Bibles all over again and ask the questions the disciples would have asked.  Maybe asking these questions is something that will actually help the church grow rather than seeing the church decline.  Perhaps I am not seeing the fullness of the questions I should be asking, but I am nonetheless going to continue to ask.  I am learning and I praise God that I am finally understanding what it means to be a follower of the way.

John 14:6 – A unique conversation

If I were to think of the most popular verses of the Bible I have learned as a young child, I would pick ones like John 3:16, Romans 12: 1-2; Philippians 2:12; and John 14:6.  John 14:6 had always been one of those “evangelistic” verses I was taught in order to save souls from the depths of hell.  And, though I believe perhaps there is some bend in that general direction, I have to admit that oftentimes I have always skimmed or even skipped the context in which these words were written.

So I want to take a few moments and investigate the context in which this passage was written for and then perhaps paint with a thinner brush how we can incorporate these thoughts as the present themselves in our daily lives.  For part of this thought process, I am going to put the Word of the text in italics while putting my own thoughts in bold.  My thoughts will be in a more “question-thought” orientation as to what I would guess the disciples would be thinking as they heard the words of Christ.  I do not claim in anyway to know the exact thoughts of the disciples – I can only attempt to place my thoughts after hearing these words for the first time.  I know that I will most likely be extremely off in thought but I hope that perhaps my “thoughts” of the disciples will be close to what their thoughts in this respect.

Let not your hearts be troubled. Why would our hearts be troubled Lord?  Why should we be concerned?  You are with us, as you said you would always be.  You are Emmanuel, God with us.  We have nothing to fear. Believe in God; believe also in me. We do believe in YHWH.  He is so good.  His law is good and so are His ways!  Of course we believe in God…  Believe in you?  Why wouldn’t you?  What’s wrong?  Did something happen?  Why are you telling us this? In my Father’s house are many rooms.  If it were not so, I would have told you that I go and prepare a place for you?  And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself that where I am you may be also. All right, what’s the deal?  Why are you talking like this?  You are going to see the Father?  When are you doing that?  I thought you said you were going to be with us till the very end of the age?  Are you saying we are no longer going to be poor, going from city to city anymore?  It would be so nice to reside in one place and have a home…  Won’t you need help?  I mean, it takes a lot of work to prepare a place – we are strong and healthy – we can help you prepare the place.  Where is this place and why haven’t we been there before? And you know the way to where I am going. We know the way?  What do you mean we know the way?  Did someone drop the map to where we are supposed to go?  I don’t remember learning the way to the Father’s house!  Oh man… Which disciple dropped the ball this time?  Someone is in big trouble.

Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going.  How can we know the way?”  Oh good, No one has lost the instructions.  Now the Master will give us the instructions again – or for the first time – it doesn’t really matter which.  I am just glad we will know how to get there.  I don’t want to be away from Him.  He called me to follow Him.  I have left everything I have to be with Him and He has changed my life.  And now that I am learning to understand who He is, I don’t want to spend a moment away from Him.  He said I could be like Him… No one has ever told me that before.  I wonder what how He will respond.

I am the way, and the truth, and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through me. You are the way?  What on earth do you mean?  We have been following you for almost 3 years and now you are saying that you are the way to the Father?  This is unbelievable!  He is leading us to the Kingdom.  If He is going to leave us to establish His Kingdom that means that it is almost ready.  Oh man.  This is great.  I wonder what it looks like…

As I said – I do not claim to have the authority or the knowledge of the original 12 to state any of those thoughts.  To me, they seem almost begging questions and thoughts that perhaps the disciples would have thought about.  We need to constantly remind ourselves that the fullness of what Jesus was about to do had not hit the disciples yet and therefore, it was very confusing.  For me, if I had walked with Jesus as one of the 12, I guess my thoughts (but in bold) would have been the multiple thoughts and questions I would have had.  Maybe my thoughts are ridiculous in that I could not possibly understand all that Jesus was sharing with His disciples.  Perhaps they understood what it meant when Jesus said, “I am the way.”  Then again, perhaps they were as confused as I am.  I can’t be sure.  I can only surmise my thoughts based on the text we are given – and it seems as though there were a lot of questions to be asked and a lot of confused disciples during this unique conversation.  As we can see in the text, the conversation does not end here.  In fact, there is a whole new set of questions for another day that pop up after Jesus announces that He is the way and the truth and the life.

As I sat and contemplated this passage last night with a group of people, I was more confused after taking the time to read it over and over again than when I had simply memorized the passage for a gold star in Sunday school.  What is Jesus really saying in this passage to His disciples (me being a regeneration of the 12 as well)?  There are a few things that we discussed about this passage that I thought I would share and then conclude this post with my own thoughts.

First we are told that we know the way to where Jesus is going.  I think that is a remarkable statement Jesus could have made.  He says He is the way – the journey, the path, and the road – and through Him, we will be united with the Father in His house.  The only “map” is Jesus, and the journey that we experience through Jesus – living day in and day out – is the Journey we are called to take as His disciples.  The place where the journey ends is the Father’s house.  The disciples ask a very definite question and Jesus answers with three very broad, abstract responses:  Way, Truth, and Life.  How do we understand this?  How do we live, believing this though?

I conclude this with some thoughts of my own:  Verses 2 and 3 are familiar words a groom would speak to his bride after they have become engaged.  The groom was responsible for building a place where he and his bride could live.  The residence of this place would be connected to his father’s house.  And, when the father said that the house was suitable for them to live in, the groom would race to his bride and they would be married and united in marriage.  The bride would wait each day and place a lamp of oil lit in hopes that her groom would come soon.  Remember the parable of the virgins?  Half of them did not have any oil left and the other half did.  The ones whose oil lasted were taken to be with the groom and the ones who did not have any oil left, were put outside.  That parable, coupled with these events, puts a new spin on “Letting our light shine before all men.”

Jesus is the way – the journey and the path. My question is:  Do I believe that?  Do I realize how crazy it is that Jesus is my path and my journey?  Do I live as though Jesus is the path in which I follow?  I would love to say that I do but oftentimes I do not.  I struggle with the best of them to believe such a thought.  I believe the fact that Jesus calls us to follow Him, as He did the disciples, bares a huge amount of obedience.  If Jesus is willing to invest in me, I should be more than willing to walk with Him as He leads us.  My desire should ultimately mean that the dust of Jesus’ feet land on me as we walk.  I don’ always live that way though.  I don’t wake up each morning and say, “Lord.  You are the way, the truth and the life.  There is no other journey I would rather take than the journey that leads me to the Father.  Help me to continually learn the way, the truth and the life that you give me each day.”  I should though – and will probably end up writing something like that in bold letters on my computer and printing it out so that I can tape it up near my bed so that I am faced with it each day before my feet hit the ground.

When we continually live the way, the truth and the life through Jesus, we are free to be ourselves.  This is the greatest joy we can experience as disciples of Jesus Christ.  It is a great joy indeed.

God Cannot be Mastered

So, I have been thinking a lot lately about how much we try to rationalize God or even put God in a box. I find it to be quite amazing how much we say we should never do such a thing but end up doing it anyway. Why is it so easy to try and rationalize God? In some respects, we could say society aids in rationalizing God but I think perhaps we need to go much deeper than that. I do not think the answer of society is wrong, just incomplete.

When I was in Mathematics class growing up, I remember learning fractions. Simple problems like 14/21 would be reduced to 2/3. The math of these fractions would become a lot more complicated though. The amount of numbers would increase and oftentimes, the fractions did not “fractionalize” as well as I would have liked. The whole basic importance of the problems though was to simplify and reduce the fractions into easy numbers that could not be reduced again without going into decimals or something. Though I was good at that type of math, I think perhaps we treat God in that fashion.

Our problem is that we treat God as a problem we need to answer and reduce in order that we can simplify Him (but Him into a box). When we believe we have come up with the answer, we show it off and pat ourselves on the back. I don’t think God was ever intended to be a problem though or to be seen as one anyway. Call God a mystery or a complex entity if you would like but God is not the problem nor should He be seen as one – we are the problem.

If and when it ever comes to the point where I believe I have figured out God or have made it possible to reduce God into a single equation or formula, I would have positioned myself in the place of God. That is a scary and most unreal venture. Still, God wants us to get to know Him. He calls on us to study and know His Word and His ways. He desires to be in relationship with us despite our pathetic attempts at love Him and loving others as He has called us to do. Oftentimes, I just sit and shake my head, wondering why God would ever want to know me and dwell with me as my Father. I don’t know why Jesus would ever want to die on my behalf. I don’t know why the Spirit of God finds joy in indwelling me and taking up residence in myself. Despite anything and everything that makes sense, God is God. He is not a problem though. He is not a math problem we are called to solve. He is so much further beyond that.

Therefore, I hope you will put down your pencils and pens. I hope that you will give your mind a rest. I hope that perhaps, even for a moment, you will allow yourself to be dumb and non-intelligent. God is not a God to be mastered but to be known through a sincere and honest relationship. For eternity, God will continue to reveal Himself to us, even when we are perfected in the age to come. What then should we do? Read His Word, pray, living in community with other believers, serve the poor, give generously, love our neighbors as we would ourselves, obey God, and above all else, allow God to be God. Learn to enjoy who God is and what God has done for you. Step trying to master God and allow God to be the Master of your life. The end result is so much sweeter.

I have to think already?

Yesterday, I began my classes for the third term of the year at Biblical.  I am lucky to only be taking two classes this time around rather than three, which is very hard to do.  The class I am taking is “The Story of Jesus” – an appropriate class to take after taking two semesters of Greek.  It is my hope that I will be able to incorporate my knowledge of Greek into this class.   Near the end of the class, we were faced with a thought that I thought I would share with you all.  It is the idea concerning the mission of Jesus.

Here is the question we were asked:  What is Jesus’ Ministry?  Sounds simple right?  Here the options we were given to choose from:  (1) Bring the Kingdom of God to earth, (2) Save sinners, (3) Build the Church, (4) Transform culture, (5) Institute a new ethic, (6) Redeem/restore creation (7) Other…

After spending a day outside of class thinking about these thoughts even more, I have come to the conclusion that Jesus did not come for any “one” reason in and of itself.  We cannot forget the story of the Bible as it pertains to the life of Jesus.  Jesus came to dwell among creation and mankind.  From the beginning of time, God’s desire was to dwell among His creation.  Throughout the whole Bible, we can see that playing out.  It really is this story that plays itself out throughout history and Jesus is a very important key to that special community.

In Matthew 28, Jesus says, “and Behold, I will be with you, even to the very end of the age.”  I will be with you – Emmanuel – Jesus (God) with us.  Do we even get it?  Without that desire of wanting to be with us, we have no hope in a future.  If God decided that He was bored with His creation, we would be in a heap of trouble.  In fact, we would not be here today if God ever did not want to be with His creation because ultimately, God does not need us.

Do I struggle with any of these ideas presented to me in the class?  Yes – Build the Church I would say is the one that I struggle with probably the most.  The reason I say that is because it was not Jesus who built the Church but the Holy Spirit whom Jesus gave to the disciples to lead them in all truth after Jesus left them to sit at the right hand of the Father.  The problem remains no matter how one slice these idea it is still incomplete.  I believe if we take only one key of this list and make it God’s goal or reason for coming to earth, then we are missing out on so much more of whom God is.  God came to earth because God is God.  We cannot understand His ways or His thoughts.  We only have clues through the Word of God to lead us to understand that from the very beginning God created a mission and Jesus is a very important part of that mission.

The part that somewhat concerns me though is that we have not resolved this issue.  We are scattered through out each denomination and Church sect as to why Jesus came.  Doesn’t anyone think that perhaps we should figure that out soon in order that we can come alongside of God and being about Jesus’ work and mission?  I think so.  I think it is ridiculously important for us to figure out and soon.  Without this understanding, we are crippled in our day-to-day life as the church.

Needless to say, I am already being challenged in this class to think intelligently about spiritual things.  Here begins a new term for my walk and me with God.  I wonder if perhaps we will figure out this very important component through this class.  It is a goal to shoot for anyway.