Friday, September 29, 2006

Sacred "HOWS"

There is such comfort in "formula faith" because it gives ready, though supremely legalistic, answers to all doctrinal questions. We are taught to think of our sacred "Hows" as "the undisputed truth" for all rational thinkers, and quickly learn to spout them out in catechistic fashion. It's more than a cute pun to call them sacred "Hows" because they've become the definition of orthodoxy. More than that, they define us as a fundamental, evangelical, restoration religious movement! It's not that they are wrong - I have preached and still preach most of these things myself, just not the same way. The problem is that they are man-made, man-contrived, and man-driven! They promote self-righteousness, institutionalized faith, and forget the only thing that Jesus said proves we are His disciples. They're not formulas for loving one another, they are systematic theology, which has its place but does little to build a personal relationship with Jesus. They are steps to follow, which also has a place, but that promotes self-sufficiency when the need is to walk in His steps. Most of all, as correct as some "Hows" may be, they push seekers into legalistic thinking rather than connecting with the Spirit of Christ. "How to interpret the Bible?" Answer: "Look for three things; command, example, and implied inference!" Who decided that? It's never taught in the Bible! Okay, a command is obvious, but who and where is it ever taught that the second two where equal or on the same level as a command? When was the last time anyone in the church ever argued over a command? "How to become a Christian?" The five step plan of salvation - though neither the "five steps" or "plan of salvation" ever appears in the Bible and it's a stretch to see all five in any example of conversion (but of course we can assume....). "How to worship on Sunday?" The five "Acts of worship" must take place, though there's not a single example of an assembly in the New Testament where we see all five (but of course we can assume...). (Look at Acts 2, 20, and 1 Cor.10-14 for yourself.) Does anyone care that Sunday is never called "the day of worship" or even "the Lord's day" in scripture? Don't even start looking for "the five acts of worship" because worship IS NEVER AN EVENT IN THE NEW TESTAMENT CHURCH, IT'S A LIFE GIVEN TO GOD! (But I've already got three books about that!) Well, you get the idea I hope. I could add "How to structure church leadership?" and "How to do ministry?" and others that have been reduced, minimized, and legalized by man's formulas. Again, some of the conclusions are totally correct, but it becomes too easy to leave Jesus out - to leave spiritual relationships out! I love some "Hows," like how do you show the world that you are disciples of Jesus? "The world will know that you are My disciples, if you love one another." How do you know you are a child of God? "This is how we know who the children of God are and who the children of the devil are; Anyone who does not do what is right is not a child of God; nor is anyone who does not love his brother." (1 Jn.3:10) How do we know we have eternal life? "We know we have passed from death to life, because we love our brothers." (1 Jn.3:14) John doesn't have the neat steps or formula approach, but he sure sounds an awful lot like Jesus.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

WARNING! Radical Stuff!

I am presently reading two books that are talking about the nature of the church. Both are challenging most of the traditional thinking that drives our conclusions about what church is, and showing that most of it just doesn't come from the Bible. Yet even these radical books are not free from the temple/sanctuary paradigm that colors our conclusions. Our traditional view of "church" is so integrated into our culture, our history, and our thinking, that it may be impossible for large numbers of us to break free and see what the Word of God really teaches. I think it is one of the great paradoxes of Restoration promoters. Theoretically and philosophically we understand that "church" is any "called out" or "ekklesia" person. As a child of God, I am the church. When I'm with other Christians, we are the church assembled, but not any more THE church than when each of us are alone in our cars driving home. Every person from the Restoration heritage who has been in more than two Bible classes knows this and can give you the Greek word for church in their sleep. They've heard hundreds of sermons saying that "Church is not brick and mortar, but people who live for God!" Still, everyone, including the preachers who preached it, can not stop thinking of church as a structure, a building, a place to pilgrimage to three times a week (if you're faithful) and offer up one hour of "worship" to God, because it's the least you can do for Him after all He's done for you! What we know intellectually and biblically is disconnected from what we "feel" culturally. Because we start out with a time & place temple paradigm, we interpret scripture in the light of that paradigm. We don't read about New Testament Christians singing (Eph.5:19), we read about Christians establishing a pattern for "acts of worship" in the formal church service! We don't read about New Testament Christians using some simple elements of their meal together to remember Jesus, we see a sacrament, a religious ritual that is legally reserved for only a special place and time! And since "we are right," we couldn't possibly own up the the fact that we are more guided in our interpretation of the New Testament by a Catholic/cathedral heritage than we are by an honest Restoration heritage!
Let's go one step farther, not only is church not a building or a structure, it's not an organization or an institution. Every preacher used to be required to preach the "Three institutions of God" sermon. God gave the institutions of marriage, governments, and the church. Makes for a good three point sermon, but it's not taught in the Bible that way. Since when is a "body" an institution? Even if I give you the government as an institution, marriage is "one body"and nothing in any dictionary anywhere will equate "one body" with and institution. The church is not an institution for the same reason. We have to totally ignore God's metaphors in the New Testament. Have you ever thought about what it means for the church to be a body (1 Cor.12), the Bride of Christ (Eph.5), or the Family or household of God (1 Tim.3)? The church is not a business, a corporation, or a government with laws and charters. We are a living organism, a body, and a family! It's relational not institutional! We have had so many centuries of cathedrals, temples, sanctuaries, and church buildings that we can't see the simplicity of what God intended. Church is what we are - like worship! It means we belong to Him and are part of everyone else who belongs to Him. The church together, is not an institution, but simply a tool for building spiritual relationships, which is how we learn to love and serve Him. God knew we would need help as we sought to grow in godliness. In His tool box that gives us "all things that pertain to life and godliness"(2 Peter 1:3), relationships - Christian togetherness, is one of the tools He gave us to help make it happen. It's a tool, just like prayer, the Holy Spirit, the Lord's Supper, and several other awesome things He provided for our spiritual growth.
Bottom line: church is a tool for building spiritual relationships! How ironic is it that we usually don't have time for that on Sunday morning? Now read 1 John again and see if it doesn't make a whole lot more sense. If you're pushed for time, just read 1 John 3:23 and look at the only two things that John says are "His commands," and then explain why relationship building is optional or and extracurricular activity with most congregations!

Monday, September 25, 2006

God Is Good!

He's always good - even when we don't feel good or think we are having a good day. I'm writing this on a Monday morning (my official day off), it's beautiful outside, with just a touch of Fall in the air, and my biggest problem of the day is trying to decide whether or not to go hunting. Wow! Life is good - at least today - that's why I'm glad He is always good, because tomorrow may not be so lov-er-ly! So with things being so good, why not complain a little? I have some wonderfully controversial things about the nature of the church that I want to write about, but hey - this is Monday! I don't want to think that hard! I was just checking our emails and thinking how nice it is that so many folks write to us and share so many wonderful things with us. The emails that require a long wait as they download are a little bit frustrating - particularly when you're just wanting to do a quick check of the emails, but all in all I appreciate what folks send to us......However????? The quickest way to guarantee a quick punching of the delete key, is to get to the end of a forwarded anything and be challenged to "send this to five more people" if you "love your country" - "love your friends" - "love the Lord" - or for some reason need to prove that you are unashamed of all the above. What a load of cow patties! I appreciate the patriotic, the spiritually enriching, and the conservative concerns of all these articles, presentations, and paranoid postings! I agree with nearly all of them and enjoy reading them! But what gives anyone the right to try and dump some manmade guilt on me because I don't follow their techno-test of loyalty, faith, and friendship! Sorry, but pleasing God and enjoying his marvelous grace frees me from accepting unnecessary and unwarranted guilt created from someone elses imagination! I am fully capable of developing my own reasons for guilt and I've spent a lot of years trying to make sure that I only accept the guilt He sends so I can conform to His will - not the arbitrary will of well meaning advocates of postitions I agree with. So, don't take it personally if you discover that I didn't forward something you sent me or didn't receive something that you find out I was challenged to forward to you. My care for you is not defined by the silly requirements of others tests of loyalty. I read it, I enjoy it, and I appreciate it, but if it has a "prove your love" or a "show your patriotism" clause at the end of it - one click will take care of everything. Now, if the guilt of sin could just be taken care of that easily...

Friday, September 22, 2006

Living Proof

OKAY - so I'm living proof that someone with horrible spelling can still get published! I've written six books that are published and two others that should be and I'm in the middle of a new one now. Since I can't figure out how to make the spell check work on this blog stuff, everyone who logs on will discover that spelling is not one of my strong talents. I spell phonetically (is that right?) and so most of my ongoing mistakes are usually things like when to use double consonants and "ence" endings vs. "ance" ending and such - and a few hundred others... So, until my daughter or some other techno-helper can tell me why when I click the cute little icon that says "Spell Check" does nothing to help me, you'll have to read the "spirit" of my blog and not the "letter". How's that for a theological escape-clause?

So for now, please settle for this picture of a Colorado mulie (brother to the one whose antlers I am holding below) that really turned out beautiful. In fact, it's my new screen saver in place of the year and a half old family picture that was there. Sorry family - we're overdue a new one anyway.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Coincidence or Providence?

For some reason, Elizabeth and I both wrote about cigarette smokers in our blogs today. Within minutes of writing my blog, without anyone reading it, I got this picture sent to me by two different people. It's great! The title is "The Mural in the New Smoking Lounge". That's got to be a little inhibiting.

Morning Musings

I really enjoy my morning run/walks that I take every Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday. It's my exercise for the week, but also my meditation time - at least one of them. It has been alittle difficult getting used to the heavy morning traffic on Shackleford Road as everyone is rushing off to work at that time of the morning. It can't be good to breathe in all those exhaust fumes as I run down the sidewalk, but such is modern life - right? To be honest, the human exhaust is worse than the engine exhaust. I'm talking about the cigarette smoke that blows from the windows of passing addicts. I've never been much of a "smoker basher," like a lot of preachers tend to be, because people have just as much right to kill themselves with tobacco as the rest of us do with overeatting! But at least overeatters don't stink up the air around them for thirty yards in all directions. It's amazing to me that so many have decided that cigarettte stink is socially acceptable. Personally, I think my Skunk Cover Scent that I've used while hunting smells better - especially in a restaurant while trying to eat - but I digress - there's just something about the spoiling of the fresh morning air that makes me sad. And, if I hadn't come away from so much of it in my past it might not be such a noticable and noxious smell. It really is such a small distraction, just hard to ignore. I see God's creation in such a special way early in the morning. The freshly cut corn fields look like His two-day-old beard. The golden bean fields remind me of a new 1965 shag carpet (remember Harvest Gold?), and the flocks of geese flighing overhead look like God's arrowhead zooming to a new azure target. I pass four church buildings and wonder if each is a family of God who are joyful, Spirit filled, and seeking a deeper relationship with Him. I ask myself, "Is my error better than theirs?" Will we meet at the heavenly chorus rehearsal and say, "How did we live so close to one another and yet never praise God together?" I'm glad God is bigger than my prejudices and traditions. I'm excited to know that His grace is surely much more inclusive than my conclusions. It's not just the sidewalk I'm walking on, I'm walking in the light of His love and being cleansed by blood that is greater than all my doubts and weaknesses. Now if I could just learn how to use the spell check......

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Welcome to the Twenty-First Century?

Okay - I've been known as a radical since my early preaching days in High School. I don't think of it as being "radical" as much as I think of it as "being on the cutting edge of change." When I wrote Spilt Grape Juice in the late eighties and it was published in '91, I was the only one proclaiming the New Testament doctrine of 24/7 worship. I was quickly marked "radical" again, and black-listed from many of our Brotherhood spotlight activities. Two more books on worship, both challenging all our traditional thinking on the subject, simply entrenched my position as one of the "radicals" or (and I love this label) "Change-agents" in the church. Praise God! I have no doubt whatsoever that Jesus would have been called both of those things by the Pharisees of His day if they had known such words were available. They're actually much nicer than most of the words they called Him. My point is not to rant about labels - though I probably will in the future, but to point out that while I may be a "free-thinking, change promoting, wild-eyed fearless iconoclastic radical" in religious circles, I'm a techno-wimp when it comes to blogging or using any new comupterized communication contraptions.

My kids program my phone for me (they're all married and in their late twenties but I call'em kids as a term of endearment- and to remind them that "I'm the Papa!"). Deborah put my pictures on my phone for me. Elizabeth took me by the hand and showed me how to download my digital camera into my computer. Jonathan had to hook up our widescreeen HDTV and DVD player. And of course, my lovely wife Donna, can program new phone numbers into my phone much faster than I can, so in my pitiful ignorance, I usually hand my phone to her and say, "Honey, could you put their number in my phone for me?" She always does because she's sweet and she knows what a techno-clutz I am.

So why start a blog? I don't know. I'm not even sure as I write this whether or not it will come up on a screen. But sometimes you gotta be courageous and trust the pixels. Actually, I've been thinking about it for a long time and after some encouragement from Elizabeth and my roomate of thirty-four years I decided to jump into the blog and see who cares! My plan for now is to just let it flow on whatever subject I feel like talking about that day. This is not a doctrinal debate blog or a political forum. I want to have fun, share thoughts, challenge some thinking, vent on things I may not preach about, and generally drop some melons from the cerebral tenth floor and see how they splatter. How's that for an intriguing metaphor. I really want to share, with anyone who wants to be part of it, my own journey in seeking a closer relationship with our Father and our best friend, Jesus Christ. I want Him to be pleased with whatever I blog about. He knows blogs! He did the first one in stone on Mt. Sinai and folks are still trying to delete it!

May this honor Him and encourage someone to seek Him. More later - if it works?