Tuesday, October 7, 2014

160. WHEN WE TELL JESUS TO LEAVE .... WHAT FILLS THE VACUUM?

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. (John 14:27)

If there would be a geographical area on earth where the highest density of human conflict, violence, and bloodshed has occurred - in ancient history, in more modern history, and continuing today -- what might that area be? This is the same general area where the above words were spoken. What happened?

The region of the Golan Heights has been, is now, and likely always will be the epitome of conflict between people and nations over political control, rights, and ownership. Nations have attempted to work out treaties, agreements, promises, whatever seemingly with one hand holding a pen and the other a hidden knife. Why does conflict and chaos seem so entrenched in this region? Perhaps it is because it was prophesied to happen (Gen. 16:11-12) and because the answer, that had been provided to change the outcome, Jesus, was rejected and asked to leave - go away - get outta town - leave us alone - we don't want you around here; you mess everything up.

Mark 5:1-20 relates an event in Jesus' ministry of the healing of a man possessed by a legion of demons. The demons had made the man powerful and fearsome, and he was uncontrollable. Jesus cast the demons out of the man and allowed them to enter a herd of pigs. The possessed pigs ran down the hill, over the cliff, and into the sea where they perished. The people who lived in the area came out to investigate, and, upon seeing the healed man, who had been possessed, and the deviled ham in the water, they were afraid.

"Then the people began to plead with Jesus to leave their region." (vs. 17).

And He did. He got back into the boat and left. (vs. 18)

This region to the east side of the Sea of Galilee is the Golan Heights. About 2000 years ago, the people of that region wanted the Prince of Peace to go away and leave them alone. "We don't want your kind around here." Jesus did leave, physically and symbolically, and it doesn't seem like He has ever been invited to return. The words of Jesus give peace, but in the world there will be trouble (John 16:33).

So, what about the region called the Golan Heights? What rules - the peace of Christ or the trouble of the world? What filled the vacuum created when Jesus was asked to get out? Could those spirits of 2000 years ago still inhabit the area? By what power could the influence of demonic elements be driven out?

So, what other regions or territories could the Golan Heights symbolically represent? How about where we live?

How many families have virtually nothing but a consistent generational conflict produced by the consequences of self-perpetuating bad decisions? Alcohol, drugs, crime, prison, abuse - just one stupid thing after another. Jesus is not the Prince of Peace in their lives. And, if asked, it's certainly never their fault - they're the victims. On the other hand, many families have had generations of blessings after a key family patriarch allowed Jesus to enter their life, thereby introducing peace and changing the future course for those who would follow.

What about a society that can determine its future destiny by present choices? What about a society that decides for itself whether Jesus is invited to stay or told to leave? What about a society that increasingly tells Jesus to "make like a tree and get outta here?"

The President of the United States said "American is no longer a Christian nation," and some people got upset. Why? It's not true because he said it; he said it because it's true.

It's promoted like an agenda. Let's get Jesus out of the schools; let's get Jesus out of the books; let's get it forbidden to pray publicly in Jesus' name; let's get rid of prayer altogether (unless it's addressed to some other deity, or non-deity). Let's get Jesus out of our vocabulary, unless it's used as profanity in the media. Let's get nativity scenes off any public property - certainly governmental, but also schools, libraries, and firehouses. Let's get Jesus out of Christmas and have a "Holiday Season." Now, the "reason for the season" is consumer debt. Let's get Jesus out of any consideration of people for public office - elected or appointed. Let's make it offensive to someone to have to hear the name of Jesus uttered in their presence, unless it's embedded in a curse word. Let's complain about Jesus represented in name, in appearance in paintings, pictures, or statues; let's complain about God being on our coins and in our pledge. Let's wonder why our government is so functionless and why greed and pride and self-idolatry prevail. Let's promote anything anti-religious in the media and put an evil slant even on good things that might be related to Christianity.

Let's wonder why there are school shootings and political calls to confiscate guns and beheadings that are called "workplace violence." Let's make peace by not offending anybody no matter what they might say or do - as long as it doesn't promote anything like that Jesus person. Let's wonder why the destruction of the home continues - until it begins to become the "norm."

Let's allow and even promote Satan worship because we don't want to appear like fundamentalists or bigots. Let's live in fear because someone might call us that name or another one.

So, as a society, let's just purge ourselves of this Jesus person. We're afraid of Him (capitals are mine); He interferes with our lifestyle, economics, and choices; we are smarter than that. So, we don't plead with Him to get outta here; we tell Him. Oh, yeah, and we're sweeping out our church buildings, too.

What fills the vacuum that is created when Jesus is told to leave? What happens when Jesus is not recognized as the Prince of Peace ... but maybe more like Beelzebub? (Mark 3:20-30). Uh, oh, better read verse 29.

Well, one could say, "The world is doing it to itself. At least the church isn't saying 'Jesus be gone.'"

And just what makes that statement correct? Who has been called to be the presence of Jesus on earth? Who is supposed to make up the body of Christ?  Is the body of Christ shaped like a million parcels of real estate?

The church doesn't create the vacuum, like saying, "Let there be vacuum." The church allows the vacuum to happen because the church does not fulfill its mission to be the presence of Jesus - the body of Christ - the temple for the Spirit of God - the kingdom of God on earth.  Vacuum exists when the influence of the Spirit of God in the church is not present.

Pigs, arise?

This could be a horror movie. Instead of "Lord of the Flies" it could be "Spirits of the Pigs" or "When Pigs Fly." See the moonlit shapes of the ugly demonic critters as they claw their way back over the cliff and slither around looking for someone to possess who has removed Jesus from their life. The demons of the region had ruled until Jesus arrived and exercised His authority over them. What did the demons do when the people in the city asked Jesus to leave? The demons asked Jesus to not send them out of the region, so did the demons return after they finished the bacon?  Speculation - has peace ever come to that region or not?  Maybe the demons stayed in the region.  Maybe they came back.  Maybe the influence is still there.

What do we want for ourselves and for our children and their children? Order, peace, justice, righteousness, and true freedom, or chaos, conflict, discrimination, and bondage? What is on the increase; what is trending up? Is it peace or conflict?

On Friday, September 26, 2014, the Wall Street Journal published an article "Mass Shootings On the Rise," describing casualties in active-shooter incidents increasing 1-2 orders of magnitude since 2000. "The FBI said more gunmen have tried to kill large numbers of people in recent years, with shooters seeking 'an act of catastrophic violence.'" And those data didn't count violence using knives or bombs.

We still have choices, but it is the beneficial and positive outcomes of our choices that are becoming less probable. A choice to continue good will have a high probably of producing a good outcome. However, a choice requiring a turnaround and recovery from a history of bad choices expends a lot of energy trying to correct things, and the remaining benefit quality is reduced.

"Keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace." (Eph. 4:3). Any unity in the Golan Heights? Any bond of peace? Any unity in the church? First Church of the Golan Heights? Has the church headed toward unity or toward creating more division over that last 100 years? 200 years? 2000 years?

"If anyone has ears to hear, let him hear." Mark 4:23

Grace and peace to you from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

(Rom. 1:7; 1 Cor. 1:3; 2 Cor. 1:2; Gal. 1:3; Eph. 1:2; Phil. 1:2; Col. 1:2; 1 Thess. 1:1; 2 Thess. 1:2; 1 Tim. 1:2; 2 Tim. 1:2; Tit. 1:4; Philemon 1:3; 2 John 1:3; Rev. 1:4-5)



Thursday, September 18, 2014

159. BUILDING MY DOCTRINAL HOUSE UPON THE SAND

And the winds of change blew against that house;
and it could not withstand,
because it was built upon the sand;
and so it fell with a great clatter,
in a heap of words that never did matter.
(with apologies to Matthew 7:24-27)

Got milk? Got doctrine? Got milk of the doctrine?

Because the English words "doctrine" and "teaching" both come from the same Greek words (either didache or didaskalia, teaching or that which is taught), oftentimes people want to say the words mean the same thing. However, the developed connotations of doctrine and teaching are different in our common usage. Doctrine has a connotation of a teaching that has been around long enough to have become somewhat established and accepted. Teaching implies a word description of findings gleaned from a process of study. What is taught may have a range of evidence behind it, from substantial to tenuous. The credibility of what is taught often depends on who is doing the teaching. Doctrine implies a teaching that has been passed down generation to generation (of people or of knowledge) until it is essentially assumed to be unimpeachable - at least by the proponents of that way of thinking. Thus, a doctrine is a tradition - a teaching that is assumed to have been adequately vetted and thought through in the past - a teaching that is defining, bonafide, calcified, even petrified. A doctrine is a hook upon which to hang your hat of salvation. It is to be taught; it is to be perpetuated; it is to be defended. It is a part of your structure of faith. It is a hill to die on - at least for the proponents of that particular doctrine.

The problem comes when there are many different teachings that have become different doctrines that are established on many hills that many people die on. Therefore, the way we have become accustomed to using the words teaching and doctrine, they do not equate to the same thing. However, there is an association between the two, because doctrines started from teachings which started from teachers with credibility. There are many doctrines today that began as teachings from discoveries by Protestant reformers who were contrarily reacting to certain doctrines that had evolved through the Roman Catholic Church since the first century.

Got trouble?

Are our doctrinal standards flying on the summit of a mountain or a molehill?

Doctrines can be like the "warm fuzzies" that we carry with us to answer some of life's perplexing questions, such as --

how God works or doesn't work in this world, 

how or who is saved or isn't saved,
what a person (or an institution) has to believe and/or do in order to be saved,
what is means to get saved, be saved, and stay saved,
what sort of hell awaits those who don't obey all of this
(note that the above subjects are listed as elementary teachings of Christ in Heb. 6:1-2)

Doctrines are derived from hermeneutics, which are methods of scriptural interpretation. This is not a process like a scribe copying the Biblical text onto a new page as verbatim as possible. It involves human interaction with the text that is influenced by natural human preconceptions. A person may go to the scripture because of frustration with a particular currently accepted religious dogma that they know can't be true. That's a preconception, and it will be difficult to impossible to discover a new interpretation of scripture that is really balanced without overcompensating for the error in question. Such circumstances easily introduce human thinking into a derived hermeneutic, and the resulting doctrine and the proponent groups that follow it will tend to have certain characteristics -

[1] The doctrine will have embedded elements from the sinful nature

Legalism. There will be rules to be obeyed, protocols to be observed, institutional human activities deemed necessary for salvation or to maintain salvation. An institutional compliance with being a "living sacrifice" will be manifested in precisely defined liturgies, forms of architecture and dress, proper labels and names, proper humanly recognized pedigree for those who lord it over, and proper performance of duties - all of which is to be maintained in the form of a static tradition.

Pride. Doctrine is important; Jesus taught doctrine; we must also. One takes pride in their legalistically defined activities; it is part of their assurance of salvation. A doctrine of performance-based salvation is transparent to the believer until the doctrine is threatened by a successful contradiction. Then it's time to fight and argue and debate as though one's very salvation was at stake - because he thinks it is.

Selfishness, greed, ambition. Either Jesus saves through one particular doctrine and everyone else is out of luck, or else that doctrine brings the believer closer to Jesus than does any of the others. Believers maintain doctrine like they are in competition.

If, according to Calvinistic doctrine, everyone is born as a depraved sinner bound for hell, when a doctrine is conceived, could it have a sinful nature?

[2] The basis for the doctrine will have come from a reaction to the shortcomings of a previous human doctrine.

This ensures that a doctrine will be adulterated by a response to another human teaching rather than purely directed to searching for a greater understanding of the true revelation of God. This is okay if we understand that limitation and continue to search to come closer to understanding God's will. It is not okay if we deify the doctrine and put it in a trophy showcase for display.


[3] Even doctrines corrupted by humanism must still be defended against other competing or contradictory doctrines that likewise incorporate different errors.

If God has really determined in His foreordained will that certain preselected people will be part of the elect, why are there so many different opinions and interpretations and doctrines resulting in divisions within the body of Christ? It's almost like the more the Bible is made available to people, the more opinions develop about what it says resulting in more groups exercising their free will to divide the church.

Why has the increase in number of separate Christian groups been so proportional to the availability of the Bible in easy to understand English translations? The more the Bible is distributed, the more divisions are produced? Is it easier to follow Biblical teachings in unity when the institution keeps all the Bibles and just tells the people what they should believe? Does greater knowledge of the Word of God really produce division? Is this the Bible's fault or are people misapplying their knowledge by exercising their free choice to introduce human elements into doctrinal interpretations? Yes, and then having the arrogance to argue
with one another over which one is right - when none of them are.

[4] Another evidence of human elements in doctrine is if the validity of that doctrine is necessarily linked to a particular (usually "literal") interpretation of certain Biblical passages.

How long will we continue to fool ourselves that the meaning of these passages cannot change?

There are entire movements that depend on the doctrine of creation in 6x24 hour "literal" days and the doctrine of original sin by Adam. Creationism, Calvinism, and Armenianism depend on "literal" interpretation of Gen 1-3 that must be defended at all cost because, if these chapters were figurative, the domino effect on creationism, the Fall of Man, Original Sin, Depravity of Inherited Sin would be catastrophic. That's a pretty tenuous doctrinal structure when the winds of change start to blow.

There is increasing evidence that the Pentateuch was not all written by Moses and that the book of Genesis is likely a compilation of more than one document. There is growing evidence among Biblical scholars that the first three chapters of Genesis are symbolic of God's living in the temple of His creation, in a kingdom, in which mankind was appointed as the caretaker - as God's representative to the physical creation - as God's priest - as God's image bearer to the creation. Most everything in these three chapters takes on a different meaning.

There is good evidence supporting the suggestion that Genesis, including chapters 1-3, was written during the exile and that the Garden story with Adam and Eve represented Israel.

There is increasing acceptance of the overwhelming plethora of data supporting an evolutionary explanation for the formation of the universe and the origins of mankind over about 14 billion years. In fact, there is a symposium coming up to examine the doctrine of the Fall of Man in light of all this evidence that Genesis 1-3 is not "literal." ("Literal" being defined as what it means to us today in the English language and superimposing our definitions upon the Biblical Hebrew text.)
 

The doctrine including Original Sin and Depravity and the "Adam is the only human who had a choice" are not compatible with the increasing knowledge and evidence discovered about God's revelation in His creation (Rom. 1:20).  But this evidence will continue to mount until it cannot be ignored or just outright rejected.  

Defending these doctrines of the Garden and Original Sin will become increasingly difficult. Just denying anything contrary will give an even greater appearance of blind ignorance. People who insist on doctrines involving the extraction of Original Sin from out of verses in Genesis 1-3 will be backed into a corner of geocentricism. What's that? That refers to thinking everything revolves around you and what you can understand. By the way, that included God. It involves being in denial to maintain the status quo. It's the position the Roman Catholic Church had when they considered Galileo's notion of the earth revolving around the sun to be a heresy, because this new idea contradicted "doctrine."

The "literal" interpretation of Genesis 1-3 endorsed by creationists, Calvinists, and Armenians will become unreasonable in the face of evidence. What will happen to these doctrines when the winds of change hit this house built on the sand?

The foreordained plan of God for our sanctification and glorification will stand on the rock. Creationism and Calvinism will not. Human-derived doctrines do not comply with the will of God that predestined we should be transformed into His likeness for eternal fellowship with Him.


We are being changed from one glory to another as we are transformed into the true righteousness and holiness of the Creator as a gift of His grace.  Can't we understand that the church is not growing into the maturity of a historical Jesus in a human body.  The Jesus we serve and are being transformed into is the King; He is the victorious Lord at the right hand of God with all things under His authority.  This is the Jesus that fulfilled the will of the Father when the foreordained plan of God was enacted.  We are being transformed into the image of the Creator because we KNOW Jesus - because we have the Holy Spirit living within us carrying the spiritual DNA of God.  We are not being transformed into a description about God that passes through our finite human filters - a so-called doctrine, belief statements, vision statement, whatever.  We yield the job of transformation to the Spirit, who searches the mind of God (1 Cor. 2:10-11).  Since all my trust is in God, I don't have to get upset if something about my doctrine-based interpretations gets challenged, even with successful contradiction.  If I do get upset and defensive, could I be holding my doctrinal view as an idol?   I should be continually standardizing my own doctrines and interpretations against the Word anyway in order to grow closer to the revealed nature of God.  Knock and the door will be opened (Matt. 7:7-8).  Don't knock and do what -- sit down in my padded pew and read a tract advertising why my group's doctrine has to be right? 

[5] Idolatry.
 

An idol is lurking when the emphasis of one's doctrine is more on how they got here rather than on where (toward whom) they are headed. 

The idol of humanism in doctrine is exposed when a particular insistence on the "right way" to get to Jesus is functionally elevated in importance over becoming like Jesus, Himself. This mirage of what is important is formed when people do not understand that Jesus told us, and Paul explained, the mystery of the foreordained plan of God. Our single most important function is to be transformed into the image of God - into the true righteousness and holiness of the Creator. When Jesus said "I am the way....," the emphasis is on the "I am" (the name of God) and not on "the way." We try to humanly define "the way" instead of focusing on Jesus as Lord. We say that we focus on Jesus, but then we argue over who has the "approved" definition of "the way." That error in direction results in more errors (which is a characteristic of "works of the sinful nature," by the way).

The "wisdom" of the idol abandons the one who has to explain when something is inconsistent with their brand of "the way." People may explain the exceptions to their doctrine by saying "God thinks this or doesn't think that." People often admit that "God is sovereign and can do whatever He wants."  Nice.  But it seems that God is allowed to be sovereign only in the mysterious areas that can't be "explained" by the human doctrine.  In those other areas, people seem pretty confident they know exactly what God thinks.  Hearer beware. 


The idol of competition makes one feel they must explain away the success of someone else - "They may act like Jesus, but if they didn't get there in the right way, they're tricking themselves and only saying 'Lord, Lord.'"

Another result of an idolatrous doctrine is the emphasis on evangelism is more on preaching an intellectual argument to people, that Christians have developed themselves, instead of showing the fruit of transformed lives.

You foolish person, do you want evidence that doctrine without transformation is useless?

As the body without the spirit is dead, so doctrine without transformation is dead.

Dear children, let us not love with doctrine and sermons but with actions of truth and transformation.
(cf James 2:20, 26; 1 John 3:18)

An A-slop fable.

Some people were standing beside an intersection discussing how they had gotten there.

"I got here in a bus from the TULIP bus lines."

"I got here in the Batmobile."

"I got here in an airplane."

"I got here riding a bicycle."

"I walked here."

They stood around a sign that pointed an arrow in an easterly direction. The sign said, "Jesus, the way." 


Someone asked, "Where ya' going?"

"East," another replied. 


"Me too," said another.

"Yeah," said another.

Someone said, "Hey, since we're all going east, let's go together."

Then, the tone changed. "Ehhh, not so fast. You can't go - you didn't get here in the right way. You think you were specially elected by the ticket master to ride that bus, don't you? What about the people left behind - did the ticket master not like them? TULIP bus lines only go south from here, buddy."

"Yeah, well, you think you rode in the Batmobile, but it was actually a hearse! You're were born dead, but don't know it, yet. You're going nowhere."

"Well, my airplane passed all of you up; I have faster ground speed than anyone; I just zoomed past you like you're standing still. Yes, sir! Fly on the wings of eagles with the DAISY Air Lines."

"Yeah? Then why didn't you arrive before anyone else? Did you have a doctrinal problem called "delayed departure?" Something faulty about your plane or your flight plan? Was TSA searching your luggage for contraband? If your DAISY chain is so great, why don't you get to places faster?"

"My bicycle is the way of the meek and humble. I'm going to inherit the earth. In fact, I've already inherited the ground you're standing on, so get off my property!"

"Boloney! Let's see your deed for this property God gave you. Who do you think you are? Abraham?"

"Walking is the only way. You should know that walking is the only approved New Testament example. That means none of you are authorized to be here. Jesus didn't use any of your so-called modern conveniences. Jesus walked everywhere He went."

"Yeah? Once Jesus rode a donkey - did you ride a donkey? No? Well, then, you're not so scriptural after all, are you? Besides, Philip got translocated (Acts 8:39-40), so why don't you just transport yourself somewhere else!"

Hmmm. Instead of traveling on together in an easterly direction toward "Jesus the way," they all argued over how they had gotten to the intersection. It seemed to be more important to determine who had gotten to the intersection in "the right way" than to travel on "the only way" to Jesus. It's like the continued trip was invalidated by internal debates. They could have combined their spiritual strengths and traveled in unity toward the destination of Jesus; instead, they combined their human weaknesses and remained stationary, recycling their private arguments in division.


Got unity?

...until we all reach unity in the faith... (Eph. 4:13)

Unity isn't using the same method of travel. If everyone had to ride with the TULIP Bus Lines or in the DAILY airplane, that would be uniformity. Unity is being one in mind and purpose (Phil. 2:3) - it is having our focus on the same destination. It is being transformed into the true righteousness and holiness of our creator God (Eph. 4:24). One Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of us all and through all and in all (Eph. 4:5-6).

Got transformation? (as predestined by the foreordained plan of God)
If I have all the TULIPs and DAISYs in the world, but if I spend all my effort and attention in the garden honoring the flowers I've grown instead of the Chief Gardener who created everything, it profits me nothing.

Whether I can raise a TULIP or a DAISY; whether I know all about their anatomy and can successfully debate the merits of one over the other, if I am not being transformed into the likeness of the Creator, it's the same as if I knew nothing.

Because I know in part, I build doctrines that are partially true. But when I keep my eyes on Jesus, I am headed for the Truth.

When I was on the milk of the word, I emphasized immature things, but as I have matured, I have put these inadequate human doctrines behind me.

Doctrines are of this world, but I am headed for being perfected in love with God.

Whether there be TULIP's, they shall die, whether there be DAISY's, they shall wither away.

But transformation into the ever increasing glory of the Lord is eternal.

Let us not build our house on the sand of human doctrine, but on the foundation rock of Jesus Christ, as we are being transformed into His likeness.

Human doctrines are among the entanglements and sins that we need to get rid of in order to run the race with eyes only on Jesus. (Heb. 12:1-2). Arguments and even protracted discussions about the validity of one human doctrine or another are a waste of time. The undue attention that is given to this sort of thing maintains division, not unity of the Spirit (Eph. 4:3) and is one reason the church is falling behind the advances in the world - including the advances of the darkness of evil.

Monday, September 15, 2014

158. WE ARE CALLED TO BE LIKE GOD, NOT JUST DIFFERENT FROM SOMEONE ELSE

Can we get so caught up in ourselves that we lose sight of Jesus?

The radio was on Sunday morning, and someone was teaching a lesson from Matthew 7. The program may have been going on awhile, but when I began listening, the speaker was on Matt. 7:15-20 .... false prophets. These were said to be those who attracted attention to themselves and spent time at one location until they were discovered, and then they moved on to somewhere else to spread their error. One can tell they are false prophets because of their fruit -- they always cause division in the body.

On to verses 21-23 - "Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord' shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but only those who do the will of my Father in heaven." These "Lord, Lord" people were those who called on the Lord while doing all these showy things on TV - like supposedly healing people and falling down and all the other sensory overloads getting people excited and just saying, "Lord, Lord" with no substance. No one particular name was mentioned, but the description given just happened to fit a certain TV evangelico-personality pretty well. Let's not refer to a real name, but, just to have a name, we'll call him Henny Benn. So, now, we have Henny going "Lord, Lord" and supposedly driving out demons and working miracles, like the passage says, but he and those of similar ilk will hear "depart from me" from Jesus, also like the passage says.
 

This is a classic application of these scriptures from groups who genuinely want to interpret the scriptures in a respectful, conservative, "literal" manner. I grew up in such an environment and am still part of a group coming from that tradition. But that approach is an example of misdirected applications that come from an immature understanding of the foreordained plan of God. Up until a few years ago, I wouldn't have recognized it as such.

First of all, if we are going to be recognized by our fruit, what might that be? How about the fruit of transformation -- of fulfilling the foreordained plan of God? How about the true righteousness and holiness of God (Eph. 4:24)? How about the growth of the church into the maturity of the full knowledge of Christ (Eph. 4:12-16)? How about the love of God? Jesus said we will be known as His disciples by our love one for another. But how does growing in love and maturity include judging other people's efforts in the name of Jesus and claiming that Jesus is going to tell them to "get lost?" Is that "tough love?"

But surely we would not promote the fruit of false judgment of others and division. So, who is crying "Lord, Lord?" Could it be people who compare themselves to other people in such a way that they, themselves, look better? Is that saying, "Lord, Lord, look at me -- isn't it a good thing I am in the good fruit category and not like that Henny Benn person making such a fuss over himself?" Hmmm. Wasn't there a parable about that -- publican, Pharisee, or canusee, or something.

What would the foreordained plan of God have to say about some parts of the body of Christ calling other parts "unclean." Even if they are, that's for God to determine, not us. Even if I think God's word is being clearly applied to "them," that is according to my interpretation, which precludes the possibility that the lesson applies to me even more. I also have my sights on a human fallible standard rather than the righteousness of God. So, if I can just be better than Henny Benn, in the estimation of the wonderfulness of my very own self, does that mean Henny is saying "Lord, Lord," but I'm not?  There seems to be some self-deception going on here.

What is the approach that we are supposed to take? Let us show the results of following the foreordained plan of God. Let us show what it looks like to have eyes on Jesus and to be running the race toward Him. Show the world what the standard looks like - what it looks like to be devoted to being transformed into Jesus Christ - and the Holy Spirit can convict the world of any differences between the standard they see in the church and their own wayof doing things. Let us testify to the manifold wisdom of God, which is His plan for the church (Eph. 3:10). Otherwise, what do we have to say that has any validity?

"Well, you're just saying that Henny Benn is okay and that God is happy with him and that he represents the truth and you're verifying a false prophet and ....." No, we are saying that we need to keep our eyes on Jesus and represent the truth and grow into the maturity of Christ and the righteousness of God or else we will fall away. We need to testify to the wisdom of plan of God and nothing else and let the Holy Spirit do the identifying and convicting, or else we will be crying "Lord, Lord" ourselves. We need to be "doing the will of the Father" according to His foreordained plan, by which He laid out the predestined way we become like Him. It is God's will that we give our attention to being like Him, not different from Henny Benn.

If we claim that we know what the plan of God is about, then why do we take the lesser road that falls so short of the will of God?

It's taken me some years to understand this message, which is a reflection of how much our background reinforces our preconceptions. Years ago, I happened onto a TV channel broadcasting the show of the evangelico-performer previously referenced in an oblique manner. I was complaining to God about the outrage before my eyes, asking Him how He could allow such a poor representation of the church. In response, I sensed some words coming into my thoughts that went something like this. "I can handle ("Henny Benn"), and I can do it without your help, thank you very much! You just give your attention to the things I have told you to do!"

Let's set our eyes on Jesus and run the race (Heb. 12:1).  And by God's help, we will (Heb. 6:3)


Friday, September 5, 2014

157. GOD DESIGNED THE PLAN FOR US, BUT CREATED US FOR THE PLAN

we speak of God’s secret wisdom, a wisdom that has been hidden and that God destined for our glory before time began. (1 Cor. 2:7)

Everything in Creation submits to the foreordained plan of God
Does the foreordained plan of God, made before creation of space, matter, energy, and time, submit itself to our human definition? Do we get to make interpretations of the scripture and say that we understand the mind of God? Do we get to make human doctrines that undermine the spiritual body of Christ - the church? If so, then we create a false god in our own image, because that image is not God. No, that image is the walls of the inside of a box, because that is what we have created for ourselves. It's what we sometimes call ... "the church building." 

No, we are the created. We and the rest of creation were made to fulfill the predestined plan of God, not the other way around. We only understand about the plan of God from the scripture; we understand the nature of the plan more fully when we undertake our part of it - when we as individuals through the mechanism of the church, the united body of Christ, grow to be like God in true righteousness and holiness (Eph. 4:24). This is a mystery -- the plan was designed for us, but we were created for the plan, and God is sovereign over everything.

Revelation and cessationism do not mix

Has revelation ceased? Did revelation stop when the last book of the Bible was written or when it was admitted to the canon? If so, then how is the body going to grow up into the full knowledge of Christ? It is the church's job to grow into perfection and take all members of the body with it in the process - and in so doing proclaim to the world the manifold wisdom of God's plan (Eph. 3:10).

Anyone who says that they or their group understands all of the mind of God are self-deceived and only babble foolishly. Has the Holy Spirit finished His work? If so, then we are in even bigger trouble. The Holy Spirit guides into all truth, but truth is not divided into different human opinions. The truth may have been revealed through Christ, but Jesus poured out the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:33) so that the church could reveal Christ to the world by its unity of mind and purpose (John 17:21-23, Phil. 2:2)
Because you do not know Scripture or the power of God (Matt. 22:29)
Does our story of redemption start in the Garden of Eden? Is our God-story the redemption from sin and its consequence of spiritual death through the blood of Jesus? Is our redemption the same as the predestined plan of God? Is our redemption from the sin introduced by Adam the story of the love that God has for us? Is that why it was predestined that Jesus would come into the world and die for our sins -- so we would not be lost eternally?

What if the response to all of the questions posed above had to be either "Yes" or "No?" What if it were suggested that the best answer was "No?" How many believers would be upset by that? "No" might be the best response to inadequate questions.
One reason why we do not have more answers concerning the nature of God and what we, and the church, are supposed to doing is that we don't ask the correct questions. The answers are there, but in many cases our own human limitations are enhanced by pride keep our questions "within the box" that we ourselves have created. Even worse, is when we think we already have all the answers, or when we think we really shouldn't be so presumptuous as to be asking questions. If this is the case, what does the passage on "Ask, seek, and knock" mean? (Matt. 7:7-12)
The questions in a previous paragraph are an example of inadequate questions - it's more than the answer being "No." They are not valid questions. All the questions ask the wrong thing. Why? Because they are based on the wrong presumption. Why? Because we continue to recycle the incomplete thinking of the past instead of searching for a greater understanding of the revelation of God. Science searches for the revelation of God in the things He has made (Rom. 1:20), although science usually doesn't say it that way. In this respect, science does a more rigorous job than Christians do when they search through the written Word for a greater understanding of the revelation of God.

Paul clearly states that the foreordained plan of God was made before the creation and before time - which means before the Big Bang and the universe and humans and Adam and Eve and sin. Everything in that instant of creation was made to fulfill the plan of God according to His predestined will.
 

A Fall?
So, let's think about that one. Does that mean God planned for mankind to fall on its face and be bound for hell in separation from God? Was mankind rebellious to the plan of God as the Garden story has been interpreted? Did God plan for Man to fail so that God could redeem him, or did God make a mistake and have to bail Himself out of it?

Did God show His love by sending Jesus to die for our sins? Wasn't the love of God displayed in creation? Wasn't the love of God displayed in the predestined plan he had for our perfection - made before the world was created? Jesus existed before creation, and He was the plan before time began. Christ is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow, so God's love hasn't changed - just our understanding of it. We understand more as we grow in the love of God ourselves.

Have we disrespected God by ascribing human character to Him even in our attempt to relate to and understand better the plan of God. We need to ask the right questions that reveal more of the nature of God instead of imposing our nature upon God. We try to explain things retrospectively from recordings of history made by people who wrote according to their own understanding of the limited revelation God had given up to that time. Our retrospective analysis is, itself, limited to human thinking. Yet, we piece things together, fill in the gaps, and make doctrines out of the results.

Doctrinus fossilacious
I used to be amused at how much imagination could go into a reconstruction of an early hominid evolutionary ancestor, when an entire creature could be shown walking around with facial features and everything -- all from a discovery of some bone fragments and a tooth. A picture of the proposed skull features would show the small actual fossil parts that had been found with the rest of the image being a clay reconstruction. Wow - some artist sure filled in a lot of gaps. How misleading! Bad, bad! Oh, really? How about a log in the eye?

How many times have Christians taken fragments of scripture and filled in the rest with the clay of imagination into the formation of a fossilized doctrine? How many times have such doctrines been represented as gospel truth instead of traditional interpretations. How many churches have brother (sister) Australopithecus afarensis walking through their liturgical corridors? Maybe he (she) wrote the material for the sermon.

We make a human retrospective analysis of incomplete data from the Old Testament (hey! Paul said so!) and come up with interpretations and doctrines that supposedly represent the mind of God - when He prospectively created the universe as it had been predestined according to His foreordained plan. And then Christians dare to form groups that practice squatters rights over the different human traditional interpretations, as if they were in themselves inspired, and competitively defend their territory at the expense of unity in the body of Christ!

Instead of continuing the search for truth as revealed by the Spirit, do we stop searching for the revelation of God's character and of His will for us and start protecting what we think we have because our finite human capacity for understanding God is easily saturated?

In this respect of a continual search for new knowledge, Paul said that the church has the Spirit of God (Eph. 2:22), the Holy Spirit that guides into all truth. Why then is the church falling behind the world in discovering new knowledge by science and technology? Why are so many of these new technological discoveries being used for the advancement evil purposes? Because the church is falling behind in its influence -- in its guidance and example of a moral ethic growing into the character of God. The complexity of the world's need is growing faster than the church's capacity to supply the answer, because the church is too busy dividing - with the fragments protecting themselves from one another.

The church is busy preaching "the gospel," but the gospel it proclaims is basically that Jesus came to free us from the Old Law. This is evidenced by the fact that now we are free, we respond by making up some new rules -- the steps to salvation, how to keep your salvation, the way to avoid hell, do and say this and this every Sunday, now lead a good Christian life and hope you're good enough to get saved (if your good deeds outweigh your bad ones). We give ourselves away by what we do. We need to stop protecting and start furiously searching for God, because the gospel of the foreordained plan of God is much greater than what the church is proclaiming. The preaching of the church is inadequate because our understanding is too human-based and inadequate.
Note also that the questions in the earlier paragraph are directed toward revealing the negative - what is wrong - what is bad - what is "sin," as a straw man for setting up the remedy. Man rebelled; Man sinned; Man was bad. Therefore, God had to redeem what His creation (yes, that creation He called "very good" in Gen. 1:31) had gone and fouled up. We sure did place God in a bad position. So now we have to keep identifying the sin - the Fall - the depravity. But that is what the Old Law did - the Law pointed out sin. Jesus did away with that so we could put all that behind us and be free to become like God. Jesus made a new creation, not just patched up the old one. We are not to be focusing on escaping our past; we are growing into our future. Redeemed from what? From the Old Law of sin and death. Redeemed for what? To become like God. As worthy as it might seem, celebrating our redemption from the past is still squandering time that should be spent becoming like God. Jesus came so that we could be like Him, not that we might just escape the Old Law.

Jesus saved us from sin. Shall we now fall short of the glory of God by spending our time glorifying our escape from the past instead of becoming our future in the glory of God? Falling short of the glory of God is sin (Rom. 3:23). So did Jesus cleanse us from sin so that we could continue in sin of a different type? (Rom. 6:1-2). Most Christian doctrines today define sin as an action of doing something bad, i.e., committing sin. Like, we are okay as long as we are really careful not to mess up too badly? Oh? That's so Old Testament! What is it called if we continuing in immaturity instead of growing into the fullness of Christ - being renewed into the image of the Creator? What is falling short in that area called? It is called "falling away" (Heb. 5:11-6:12). That is the sin of the New Testament. Sometimes infants die because of a condition called "failure to thrive" -- meaning they fail to mature properly. Is the church of today showing signs of "failure to thrive?"

When God's plan is preeminent, things of human origin come into submission

When the foreordained plan of God has its proper preeminence over everything in the universe, including interpretations of scripture and the resulting doctrines, many discussions of human importance take a position of submission to the perspective of being with God, in unity with the character of God, and in fellowship with God for eternity - all according to the predestined will of God. The following subjects are examples:

The Fall, the Fall of Man, the Fall of Adam, the Sin of Adam, the Fallen Nature, Human Depravity, the Fallen World.

A preoccupation with discussions about the nature of Hell, particularly in the American churches - eternal torment, conditional, redemptive, annihilation, other.

Physical manifestations of the Spirit - spiritual gifts, speaking in tongues, "strange fire" or not, "miracles."
Justification - a la John Piper and N.T. Wright; redemption as salvation; preaching justification as the basis for the gospel.
The interpretation of Genesis 1-3, the creation account. The Young Earth Creationist vs.evolution. Is Darwinism correct? Let's worry about the public school science textbooks.
What is a "literal" interpretation of the scripture? Is this interpretation approach applied consistently to all passages?

Doctrines of predestination, once saved always saved, if saved always saved; depravity, election, falling from grace; Calvinism vs. Arminianism; TULIP or one-lip?

Current issues of elevated social importance and media attention - women's roles in the church, gay marriage, divorce and remarriage, abortion, "rights" of the individual.

Human tradition, protocol, liturgy, procedure, pomp and circumstance; feigning an acceptance by God by using physical, human symbols of authority.

Competition over limited resources; ownership of physical materials, square footage, real estate; preservation for self-perpetuation; crowd-count, group hysteria, sensory auditory and visual overload in the name of worship.

Anything that separates or divides the body of Christ, church organization or hierarchy or offices or names or labels, all from works of the flesh - pride, selfish ambition, greed. Understanding what "maintaining the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace" means. (Eph. 4:3)

Present views of a "historical Jesus" in worship services, the Lord's Supper, devotionals, sermons, and holidays.

Celebrity preachers elevated to the status of published idolatry; non-celebrity preachers elevated to the same status, but with a more local sphere of attention.

An immature understanding of the work of the church in the world; recycling human immaturity instead of growing into the fullness of Christ (Heb. 6:1-3).

Identifying the real definitions of "evangelical" and "missional."

An understanding of the times -- if the church does not recognize, repent, and change, the discipline of God is rapidly approaching. When the signs are such that even the folks into self-protection and self- perpetuation recognize them, it will be too late. Then, those responsible will blame everybody else, just like they do now.

Concerns, discussions, debates, and divisions over topics such as the above, and many more, take on a very different perspective when placed within the context of why God created the universe and what we are supposed to be doing with all of our power and energy supplied by the Holy Spirit.

Some of these topics fade into unimportance. Others we might discuss while we help one another travel toward the fullness of Christ at the fastest possible rate. That is, if we have enough time left over to spend on that.

Making issues out of the above subjects necessitates a retrospective view of the Old Covenant - either dragging physical requirements of function necessary to satisfy doctrine, protocol, dress, liturgy, or entrance into membership or making the entire point of the sacrifice of Jesus doing away with the Old Law's requirements. Most of the time, it is a combination of the two - emphasizing our escape from condemnation of the Law, but, at the same time, carrying along some of the legalistic trappings for the ride to the church services.

Everything in creation, from the first instant of the Big Bang until now, was predestined to point toward God, and by the predetermined purpose of God it is still pointing, and it will continue to point to God until Jesus comes to claim His own. God did not set up the Old Law only to declare it inadequate. The Old Law was adequate for a period and for the social and religious maturity of the people of that day. It was inadequate compared to the covenant under Christ. God has a designed purpose for the Old Law to fulfill. God's purpose in the death and resurrection of Jesus was greater than redemption from the condemnation under the Law. Jesus poured out the Holy Spirit on all people according to the Promise of the Father for a reason. This reason was predestined and foreordained and pointed to God -- that we should be transformed into the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness as the church is being perfected into the fullness of Christ.

What if we continue to fall short of the plan of God for our glory?

therefore I do not run like someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air. (1 Cor. 9:26)

So, what happens when we cannot see the perfect plan of God? In politics it might be called a "backlash"; in weather it might be an "inversion"; in the stock market it is a "correction" (if that doesn't do it, then a recession, a depression, or a crash); in sports it might be a "slump" or a "losing streak"; in nature it is called "entropy" (maybe extinction); in scripture it might be called "reaping the corruption from sowing to the flesh"; in the church it is called "the discipline of God." There are consequences to falling short of the glory of God. Not just missing the bulls-eye -- but not even making it to the target.

Headed for a target is not necessarily the same as heading for the target - there is only one plan of God - no substitutes. Heading for a target that is substandard might generate some spiritual power, but it is much less than the promise of the Spirit associated with pursuing the real target - the truth of the foreordained plan of God for the church. The "system" seems to be designed so that, in order to overcome evil with good, the church has to operate at a higher efficiency doing good than the world doing evil. If the world operates at 70% efficiency, the church will have to operate at >70% to have a net positive effect. If the church has the wrong target in sight, its highest possible efficiency might be reduced to only 50%, in which case the church would be falling behind and coming more and more under the control of the world. And, all the while, the church fragments are thinking they are doing the very best they can - work harder, work longer, try harder to obey the rules - why do we still fall further behind? Well, go figure. Try to look through the Spirit from the eternal mind of God rather than the temporal product of human doctrine and see the foreordained plan of God - out of which the universe was created and predestined. The only way for the church to overcome evil with good is to get with the perfect plan of God and, in love, peace, and unity, race forward at maximum efficiency into the fulness of the Lord Jesus Christ. It's either overcome or be overtaken.

The signs of what is coming are already on the horizon (Matt. 24:33). How long can they be blissfully ignored?

Are we forgiven for missing the target? Does God still love us? Does God love and forgive the church for seeking its own human opinions over unity in the Spirit? Of course! But God disciplines as sons those whom he loves so that they will not be brought along with the world into judgment by God's righteousness, but that instead they may share in His holiness (Heb. 12:4-11). We do not escape God's discipline now so that we will escape God's wrath later. What then, is the price to pay for our falling short (sin)? The church fails to grow into perfection and we as members fail to grow into the image of the Creator. Because our rate of maturation is slower than the rate of development of evil in the world, evil is not being overtaken with good (Rom. 12:21), but the opposite is occurring - with predictable consequences just like the children of Israel (1 Cor. 10:1-13).

Does being included with "the elect" give anyone a sense of entitlement - so that if we just maintain the doctrine the church has at this point everything will be okay? The exhortations in scripture to the First Century Christians to "hang in there" and to "remain faithful to the end" and to "persevere with patience" (found especially in epistles of Hebrews, John, Peter, Jude, Revelation) were written as encouragement to people undergoing acute physical and social persecution. These messages were not written to Christians who lived in protected social affluence and who drove their new chariots to a large physical edifice every Sunday. Some of those early Christians had been geographically scattered because of persecution. Today, it might be more like encouraging those Christians who are fleeing ISIS by leaving their homes and going to hide on a mountain (Matt. 24:16-18).

To what extent do Christians act as though their salvation rested on a specially tailored list of their very own accomplishments? Can we develop a complacency of self-assurance that comes from meeting our own self-defined standards that are based more on human doctrine from private interpretations of scripture than on the true righteousness of God? This would be like developing a standardized test to supposedly validate a weak educational curriculum that is developed to be biased toward a group of people or some esoteric goal. People pass the test and get course-certified, but they are unprepared to function in the world, because neither the course nor the test pointed to the genuine truth.

To what extent does the Western church live in a world of wonderland where the church exists comfortably only by fragmentation into little parts housed inside a box of self-deception clothed with pious liturgical robes?

That sounds somewhat cynical, harsh, and iconoclastic, Jeremiah! If only it were! One has to believe a delusion to think that God's discipline for the church will not soon happen. In fact, the discipline should be expected to be even harder on the prideful and self-righteous to bring them to repentance.












Sunday, August 24, 2014

156.  IS THE CHURCH TODAY “OF NOBLE CHARACTER?”

Now the Bereans were of more noble character than the Thessalonians, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true. Acts 17:11

Hasn’t this passage been held up as an ideal for us to emulate in our study of the Bible?  Don’t we want to be of “noble character?”  Of course!  Once I was prideful because of my faithfulness in exercising the discipline of this passage.  When I heard someone else’s doctrinal views, I received that message with great suspicion, and I re-examined the Scriptures to be sure that my different interpretations was still true.  I would pray, “Lord, give me an open mind.”  And, over and over again, I proved the truth of my geocentric view of God and His revelation through creation and the Word – always confirming to myself the correctness of my preconceived interpretations.  I knew that those sorts of errors in doctrine happened –because that’s what those other stubborn people did. 

The Bereans were receiving new revelation from Paul about the foreordained plan of God, which completed and gave meaning to the Old Testament scriptures and prophecies of things to come.  They did not crouch, growl, and protect their previous doctrines from the Old Covenant, but they received the new message of salvation with great eagerness and anticipation.  It was out of this eagerness that they searched the Scriptures - probably more with a sense of joy and expectation than suspicion and protection of preconceived interpretations.  The Bereans were of more noble character because they did not place themselves in the center of their own thinking.  The Bereans saw an opportunity to get beyond themselves and their established preconceptions handed down from the Old Testament.  The Bereans did not examine the Old Testament to find something wrong with Paul’s message and to protect their institutionalized doctrinal beliefs, so they wouldn’t have to change.

Our situation is a little different from the Bereans. 

In the Western Christian part of the world, we have the completed revelation of God - it has been given, taught, written down, translated, printed, widely published, distributed, and readily available.  We don’t have to hear this revelation for the first time and update our understanding of the Old Law.  We can start with the completed revelation and then see how the Old Testament and everything else in creation fit into that.  But, how noble a character do we display in doing that?   Do we search the Scriptures to see if our preconceived interpretations are true under the scrutiny of discovery, knowledge, and thinking - being led into all truth by the Holy Spirit?  Or, do we form and protect doctrines insulating our traditional teachings of patented methods to get to the truth and be saved? 

Could we have so much doctrinal pride and institutional history at risk that we would never admit that things like the following could fall far short of the mark of the glory of God revealed to us in Christ Jesus? 

How about ....
..condemning those who haven’t been appropriately water baptized according to a specifically approved protocol,
..structuring “God-ordained” higher authority of some humans over others,
..using the doctrine of the Fall of Man to set up salvation by Jesus “or else you fry,”
..setting up the “have’s and have-not’s” by divine predestination and “once in locked in,”
..clinging to an insistence - unsupportable by science or scripture - that God zapped the world into existence over a 6day x 24hr continuous period in 4004 BC, 

..insisting on certain approved external manifestations of the Spirit to prove one's worthiness of salvation,
..or a bizillion other human interpretations?

Can’t Christians see that the plan of God, made before the creation of the world and predestined for our glory, absolutely and totally precludes all of these human constructions?  It is God’s foreordained will that we should be transformed into His likeness in true righteousness and holiness (Eph. 4:24) – into the image of the Creator (Col. 3:10).  Everything must point to that goal; if something does not, then it is a distraction and an idol.

How can we afford to stop, camp, circle the wagons, and protect our doctrinal baggage instead of keeping on the narrow path upward toward God?  The Holy Spirit will guide into all truth (John 16:13), but we have to do the searching and asking for it to be opened to us.  Ask, seek, knock (Matt. 7:7-8).  No need to seek for answers if you don’t have any questions.  If we already have all the answers, let’s just arrogantly inform the Holy Spirit of what the truth is!  How noble of character is that?  Sure, God’s revelation is complete, but that doesn’t mean our understanding of it is complete.

Could the Holy Spirit say that the Bereans of the 1st century were of more noble character than the church of the 21st century, because the Bereans eagerly searched the Scriptures to learn of the revelation of God, whereas the 21st century Christians divided up into competing tribal groups who couldn’t bring themselves to be in unity and fellowship because those other groups didn’t hold to the same human traditional interpretations of Scripture? 

The Bereans made a choice, just like the Thessalonians made a choice, and just like we make a choice.  The Bereans were of noble character because of the Godly choice they made – what type of character does today’s divided church proclaim by the choices it is making?

...that all of them might be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you.  May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me.  John 17:21

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

155.  PEERING INTO THE LOOKING GLASS -- IT'S TIME TO GET REAL

The church must get real and stop seeing a reflection created from what it wants to see instead of what the world sees (and what God sees).

"Mirror, mirror, on the wall, who's the most spiritual of them all?"

"Oh, you already know the answer, church -- it's you, just like always.  Just gaze upon thyself ... property owners, big buildings, multi-campuses, good credit ratings, big debt, no debt; brand names of posted propriety, publicized positions of pompousity, postulated propensity for prosperity, published pundits of grandiosity; the bigot never be, nor the hypocrite in thee; for thou shalt rise to e-e-ter-nit-e-e, in the lofty spires of thy humble abode."

Hmmm.  That's a bit over the top, isn't it?  Maybe, maybe not.  How could we know?  What is the image of Jesus Christ that the church thinks it is proclaiming to the world?  What is the image the church has of itself?  Consider that the church expresses its own self-image in sermons that are preached, in what is written, by what is proclaimed in the media (that Christians control) ... essentially, this painted image represents the confession of the Lord Jesus Christ -- this is what Jesus looks like to the church.  And when the church peers into the looking glass to see the reflection of itself, this image is what is "seen" (or, perceived).  That's another way of saying when the church sees itself, it sees an illusion that has been self-created.
  
How would one describe the reflected image?  Is it an image of a set of moral standards?  What does the church hold as the high standard for Christians to meet?  Is it complete?  Can't require too much -- if the standard is too high, some cafeteria-style Christians may go to a more seeker-friendly establishment to choose their dietary milky doctrine. 

There's the old joke -- He said, "The church is full of hypocrites."  She said, "Yeah, that's right.  So, why don't you join us - you'd fit right in."  While that little cutie comeback may be true, it doesn't address the observation.  Could the church be operating below the glory of God, so that it is falling short of God's purpose, while believing the lie of self-congratulatory denial that comes from the flesh and not the Spirit?  It would seem from the "joke" that the church admits to a certain level of mediocrity.  The church is supposed to be full of people being transformed into the likeness of God and putting hypocrisy and other forms of fleshly conduct behind them.  The church wouldn't have to be concerned with answering name-callers if the church were being renewed and transformed to the max.  Names wouldn't stick because those former ways have been left behind -- out of date, no longer relevant. (1 Pet. 3:16)

Does the church have a transparent ceiling of expectation for itself that limits goals to only those that are incomplete, lacking and just plain wimpy?  What is the picture of Jesus (and of the church's concept of itself) that is painted in Bible study materials? (This is used just as a source of a description of how the church sees itself, not as a format to criticize Bible materials.)  What is the image of Jesus that the church holds up for itself?  It is the same image that the church sees when it looks into the mirror using rose-colored glasses.  This is the Jesus that the body of Christ so graciously allows to be called its "head."  (You heard that right).

The image portrayed is one of a theoretical Jesus, a theological concept of Jesus, an intellectual concept about Jesus, a historical Jesus.

As mentioned above, the church provides its own evidence that it fulfills its missional goals by holding up an intellectual description of a perfect, powerful, historical Jesus -- born into the world, sacrificed for us while perfect and holy, resurrected in power, ascended to God having all authority.  Yes! -- preach it, brother, proclaim it, celebrate it!  That's easy to say.  Now what?  Now, let us stand and be dismissed and go home.  

An example (and, again, for illustrative purposes only):

Sending Bible materials home for family study is a good thing, but does the message conveyed by the materials rise up out of the confines of a box of self-created images of Jesus and the self-view of the church?

The following paragraphs contain actual quotes extracted from one week of a daily study devotional guide published as part of an integrated curriculum.  The source isn't given, because this is not intended as a criticism of this publication or of the writer.  That is not the point -- this material is only used as a representation of current, good conservative Christian thinking. 
"The devotions for this week point us to the truth about Jesus, the Light of the World."  

Monday.  "People have often tried to demand a sign from God."  "God is real and He is all-powerful, but He doesn't usually respond to the demand for a sign."  "God has already given us a sign of absolute proof.  Jesus' resurrection is the ultimate sign that God is real and that He is all-powerful (Matt. 12:40).  How does the resurrection of Jesus give you certainty about who God is and why you should serve him?"
Fact:  Jesus is the ultimate sign from God.
 
Tuesday.  "Christianity unashamedly claims that forgiveness of sin and eternal life are found in Jesus alone; all other religions are imposters, little more than distortions of God's truth."  "Jesus was clear that faith in Him makes all the difference.  What did Jesus say is the result of believing or not believing in Him (John 5:24).  How would you respond to someone who says that all religions are equally true?"
Fact:  Jesus alone gives eternal life.

Wednesday. "Was Jesus just a good man?  No.  Jesus was not just a good man and He didn't leave that as an option for us."  "The only other option is that what He said was true, and everything in His life backs up His claim.  As you pray today, praise Jesus for His greatness."
Fact:  Jesus is Lord!

Thursday.  "How can two people read the same article and come to such different conclusions?  It's because they have radically different worldviews."  "How could you help someone understand why you see the world the way you do?"
Fact:  The Bible is the lens through which we see the world.

Friday.  "When Jesus warned about false teachers, He called them wolves in sheep's clothing (Matt. 7:15).  "Part of their ruse is trying to sound like believers."  "This means that just because someone says he or she is preaching Jesus doesn't mean that person is actually preaching the truth about Jesus.  What truths about the biblical Jesus are found in Col. 1:15-20?"  "What difference does it make what one believes about Jesus?  Do you need to adjust your view of Jesus?"
Fact:  True teachers teach the true Jesus
What's wrong with what is said above?  Basically, nothing.  The message is based on scripture; it is sound teaching; it teaches about Jesus, the Light, the Resurrection, and the Truth.  It is good, conservative, Biblical teaching that is representative of Christians who hold the Bible as the inspired word of God and Jesus as the Son of God and our Lord and Savior.  It is mainstream Christianity; it is core teaching; it is conventionally accepted.  And that is regrettable, because that infinitely amplifies the problem.

The problem is so subtle that it is easy to miss.  It is easy to miss what is not said.  It's easier to analyze something that is "there" than detect what is "not there."

The church today, and Christians within the church, particularly in the Western cultures, maintain an intellectual concept of Jesus instead of an experiential one.  However, if it is not the real and complete Jesus, then it is a partial and incomplete substitute for the real Jesus.  That is an idol.

When the church describes a vision, such as in the above-referenced published devotional,  it is all "about" Jesus -- it is a conceptual framework of a historical Jesus.  "About who God is" and "about Jesus." J.I. Packer made this point decades ago in the book, "Knowing God."  "Knowing God" is not the same as just "knowing about God."  Just going through all the Sunday school materials and memorizing the scriptures and knowing all the facts and being the master of the "Bible Bowl" is still an intellectual "knowing about Jesus" unless a life proclaims that truth.  The world isn't seeking the intellect of the Christian; most non-believers don't hold that in high regard, anyway.  The world needs to experience Jesus. 

"Jesus' resurrection is the ultimate sign that God is real ...."  Ultimate sign to whom?  To a small closed community of people who are for the most part selected because they believe the resurrection in the first place?  Or, is it a sign to the world who the people of this community are supposed to convert to Christ?  Try to convert an unbeliever or atheist about the human recorded evidence of Jesus' resurrection.  Go ahead and wear your pages out turning to all the passages in the Bible about the resurrection.  Remind them that the Bible is inspired -- like they care about that?  This is having a debate about an intellectual concept.  The church is the translator of God's revelation.  The church's job is to live the revelation; it doesn't just preach it from a pulpit or in front of a TV camera.  The non-believer says, "What has Jesus' resurrection done for you?  I don't see any difference, so why should I listen to your intellectual argument about a historical person?"

The "ultimate sign" for the Christian is not the resurrection -- it is what happened because of the resurrection.  Because of Jesus' death and resurrection, we have received the Holy Spirit, the down-payment of our eternal salvation and the final delivery of the promise of God (Eph. 1:13-14).  Faith in the resurrection gives life in the Spirit.  (Romans 8 links the resurrection of Jesus with the Holy Spirit's work in us). The work of the Holy Spirit is the ultimate sign both to the Christian and to the world -- and that includes the resurrection both of Jesus as well as our own (Eph. 1:19-20).  

"What did Jesus say is the result of believing or not believing in Him (John 5:24)."  If we don't show Jesus to the world by the way we live, we then have to resort to preaching condemnation without Jesus - in order to set up Jesus as Redeemer.  If Christians really believed that Jesus was the Redeemer, there wouldn't be any need to preach about condemnation -- there would only be glorification to be seen in the life of the church -- and an welcoming invitation to come be a part of this. 

"Praise Jesus for His goodness."  Okay, and then what?  Go home and watch football?  If we really praised Jesus for His goodness, the world wouldn't have to wonder about what the value is of the church. 
 
"The Bible is the lens through which we see the world."  That's rather "us-centered."  How about, "The church is the lens through which the world sees Jesus."  Sees Jesus, not just hears about Jesus.  How's that one been working for us?  Because of poor exegesis of the epistle to the Romans, the church too often looks at the world through a lens of condemnation, and that is not the job of the church.  There's the church's self-image of a historical Jesus showing again.

"What difference does it make what one believes about Jesus?  Do you need to adjust your view of Jesus?"  Believe "about Jesus?"  Doesn't that give it away?  We need to adjust the communication channels between our intellect (about Jesus) and our heart (becoming Jesus).  How many times can Christians can go through the liturgy and a feel-good message and sing and lift hands to Jesus and leave and go about their real business. "From the heart" means more than sincerely thinking about it really intently for at least 2 minutes.  (Go ahead, check your watch).

The church is too much about a casual representation of an intellectual, historical Jesus that can be kept at arm's length for an hour each week.  Let's talk about resurrection; talk about light; talk about what Jesus did -- that's nice, but the world doesn't speak that language.  The world understands Jesus when lives are being transformed because of Him.  "Seeing is believing?"  Let's practice that. 

This involves much, much more than a responsibility of each Christian on an individual basis.  That is the usual application, when there is any application made.  Showing transformation is the responsibility of the church, the sum of the individuals, or, more accurately, the "product" of the individuals, because the Holy Spirit power is multiplied with unity.

Why do we go the "intellectual route" about Jesus when we know full well that God did not create humans to learn in that manner?  Even human knowledge could tell us that -- be it from human psychology, evolutionary science, human sociology, the neuroscience of brain function -- whatever.  We like to think we are such objective and reasoning and conceptualizing people, but we are primarily driven by emotion and experience.  In making a decision or exercising an opinion or judgment about something or someone, about 90% of the judgment occurs in a split-second based on past experience.  That's the way the brain is designed.  What about the other 10%?  The "intellect part" of the brain is busy figuring out all the reasons why the judgment of the "emotional brain" is correct.  And, at least "in the natural," the intellectual part will go to ridiculous ends to justify the judgment that has already been made (from Jonathan Heidt, "The Righteous Mind.")

We say that we have our minds under the control of the Spirit.  If that's really the case, then why can't the church see itself in a more discerning manner?  We are transformed into a living Jesus -- alive through the continuous power of His resurrection -- not into a doctrinal description of a historical image formed though the eyes of traditional thinking.

Knowing the way the brain works, why do we think presenting an intellectual concept of a historical Jesus convinces anyone of anything?  What are we, ourselves, doing with the historical Jesus?  The world can say, "If this doesn't do anything more for you than what I can see, I don't find much value in your historical Jesus."

The world cannot be convinced that Jesus is the answer unless the world can see Jesus in the church.  Arguments about Jesus and sermons preached to the choir about needing Jesus can be easily ignored by the world, because the world can see how irrevelant all this is in lives of Christians. 

Let's get even more pointed.  Why should the world listen to arguments about a historical resurrection from a church in which division and competition is clearly of greater value?  How can there be one resurrection, yet many bodies?  How could anyone claim that Jesus is Lord unless there is unity in the body of Christ?  Don't give the "it's all their fault" routine.  That immature dribble isn't going to stand up to the discipline of God in the present age or the wrath of God in the age to come.  Just don't even go there.  God has no partiality or discrimination between people on human standards, and if anyone does, then they are not being like God.  If the church is in division through discrimination and elevation of doctrine above Christ, then the church is not being like God.  Anyone who thinks differently can go to John 17:20 and argue with the intellectual, historical recording of the prayer of the same Jesus who lives today, and the same Jesus who will come again to claim His own and to whom we will give an answer about why His body has been fragmented.

A historical conceptual Jesus is easier to divide over than a living Jesus standing beside you looking you in the eye.  If the church really "lived Jesus Christ," the church couldn't bring itself to divide.  The chaos and factions within the body of Christ are enough evidence that Jesus is not Lord of the church.

Talking about Jesus instead of becoming like Jesus only creates problems, because that is coming out of the flesh more than the Spirit.  It's not Jesus who creates disagreement and division, it is the opinions about Jesus -- it is the human interpretations from their hemeneutic that separates.  That is like the human interpretation being the emotional experience part of the church and the hermeneutic being the logical, rational part.  The theological hermeneutic is used as a way to justify those human traditional interpretations that need to be protected like copyrighted brand names.  Hermeneutic is like the 10% to justify the 90% interpretation.  Don't be fooled.

So, if Christians don't divide because of Jesus, what causes the divisions?  It is the different approaches to Jesus.  "You can only get to Jesus our way."  "To get to Jesus, you have to believe this, say that, do this in the exactly right way, or else -- you miss Jesus."  "We have the right aim to Jesus -- they don't."  When the approach to Jesus of different groups is so important that the church divides, then human opinion is being elevated over Jesus.  What is that other than idolatry?  But that sequence is made easier with a historical Jesus.  With a historical Jesus, one has to look through their telescope across two millennia to see Him; but with a Jesus living in a transforming life and church, one doesn't need a telescope.  We are the telescope, and not our exclusionary doctrine.

More evidence of a historical Jesus

There is even more evidence that the church maintains a historical Jesus on the shelf.  What is the significance that virtually all church groups place on the observance of the Lord's Supper?  Does the Lord's Supper mean the same thing today as it did when Paul wrote to the Corinthians to stop mishandling it (1 Cor 11)?  Are we supposed to recreate the Lord's Supper of the Corinthian church 2000 years later during which time the Spirit has guided into all truth?  When we do so, we create a historical Jesus, and the Lord's Supper becomes a sanctimonious liturgical ceremony to remember certain things 2000 years ago.  That's not bad in itself, but most the purpose of the Lord's Supper is thwarted unless Christians portray the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus in their lives of transformation.  The historical Jesus can be left at the church building along with the trays of unleavened bread and grape juice.  How is that "discerning the body?"

How much easier it is to remember a historical Jesus who finished a work for us that we can read about and be thankful for and go about our lives than it is to submit to the Lordship of a living Jesus into Whom we are becoming  -- actively and purposefully?  Jesus said to "Do this in remembrance of me," but did Jesus ask that we remember Him as a historical figure hanging on the cross?  Or, did He say, "I have washed your feet, now you go and do likewise"?  Or, did He say, "And you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you"?   "Not everyone who says, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only those who do the will of my Father who is in heaven." 

A historical Jesus is also celebrated at Christmas, or what is left of it after being shredded by commercialism.  What happened to celebrating the coming of Jesus anew in our hearts every day as we are being transformed by taking off the old nature and putting on the new?

A historical Jesus is celebrated at Easter.  "Well at least it gets people to church one of the two times a year.  That's better than nothing."  That rhetoric may have some truth, but it also falls short of the glory of God.  It is easier to detach a historical Jesus from the control of my behavior than it is a Jesus who is Lord of my life.  A historical Jesus imposes control more by guilt.  "Remember what Jesus did for you?  You owe it back to do this...and this....and this...or else shame on you because you don't live Jesus."  We condemn ourselves.  How much better to identify with the Jesus who endured the cross "for the joy set before him"?  Do we not have joy set before us when we can look forward to an eternal fellowship with God?

Who does the church see in the mirror?

So, what does the church see in the looking glass?  If one peers into a glass darkly, they may not see much that deters them from making up their own reflective image.  Like looking at yourself in the mirror and thinking, "Well, I don't look too bad."  Yeah, but then look at a picture of yourself - that will help you get real.   

What does it take?  1 Cor 13:10-12 says that when perfection (maturity) comes, "Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face."  We have been declared righteous - the church has been declared righteous - because of the blood of Jesus, but that doesn't mean we actually are.  That declaration is to free us to become like God in true righteousness and holiness (Eph.4:24) and for the body to grow into the full knowledge of Christ (Eph.4:12-16).  Does the church look into the mirror and see a reflection of a perfect historical Jesus -- a view that somehow authenticates whatever doctrine or behavior the church wants to adopt - including that of the world, including the right to divide itself into competing pieces? If so, then the church is kidding itself.  That's not what the world sees -- the world sees the real thing in the now and not the historical real thing (i.e., the description of Jesus in the New Testament).  The world sees a bunch of people in the unreality of denial about themselves.

Can we just describe a historical Jesus, thinking that is what has been assigned to the church by grace -- as if the church has already "arrived" at perfection because Jesus is perfect and the word (the canon) is the "perfect that has come" (1 Cor. 13:10)?  Jesus came and did it for us and gave it to the church, so now what we have to do is to "defend the faith."  Is that what the church is about?  Once the body of Christ ascribes to itself this perfect righteousness, the church can do no wrong.   The body can divide, compete, and war within itself and even embrace and welcome the world's influence.  Just put God's representative in charge, like the Pope, or the President of the 12 Apostles, or the chief TV evangelist who hears from God for everybody else -- and the church places itself on the same pedestal beside the historical Jesus.  Then the responsibility for transformation is just up to individuals -- that's certainly how the sermon applications are made -- "go ye out and do it."  Just about every Christian group does this to some extent.  This is a major self-deception of pride that institutionalized Christianity has bought into.  This doesn't hold spiritual weight.  The cracks in the foundation are becoming visible.

Guess where this behavioral characteristic comes from -- this tendency to define one's group as perfect and to gather around and protect its belief system.  Hint: it doesn't come from studying the Bible.  It is a survival tactic traced back to early ancestors in human evolution (Jonathan Heidt, "The Righteous Mind") -- meaning we can be totally operating out of the flesh while exhibiting this "defense by offense" behavior against one another.

Does the church think that there isn't much difference between itself and the historical, perfect Jesus -- the Jesus whom the church preaches about?  The church seems to define itself at = or >95% perfect and maintaining, so the image in the looking glass is pretty good.  But it's like a 2-way glass, reflective only on one side and transparent on the other.  The church sees a reflection of the perfect Jesus that it preaches, but does not live, whereas the world sees through the glass and see the church for real, and not what it claims to be.  What is just a little 5% miss in the reflection of the church to itself is 100% of the picture the world sees.  No wonder there is a communication problem.

Yes, the world also has a distorted and inaccurate view of the church.  But, to a large extent, that view is a reaction to the church's prideful presentation of itself in the wonderfulness of its own perfection.

The goal of the church should be the same as stated by Paul, "We proclaim him, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone perfect in Christ.  To this end I labor, struggling with all his energy which so powerfully works in me." (Col. 1:28-29).  The goal is transformation into the likeness of God, according to His plan made before the creation of the world.  The church is to show this wisdom of God to the world and to the heavenly realms (Eph. 3:10).  It is not God's energy that works powerfully in the church to create division.  However, using the energy of the prideful flesh, different groups can divide over methods of archeologically excavating a historical image of Jesus, mummified by years of human universal thinking and galvanistic doctrine.  

The evidence is plain - the church likes a historical, statuary Jesus.  This attitude is displayed in the church's own sermons, literature, and traditions, but this display seems transparent to those within the church -- like reading your own paper and continuing to miss the typo's.  Maybe no one wants to see it -- maybe they've invested too much to get where they are in the liturgical halls of theocracy, academia, comfortism, or commercialism.  The world reads the church's papers and hears the messages and gives their editorial feedback, which the church doesn't appreciate.  Therefore, those so-deemed "attacks of Satan" are placed in the condemnation basket when it is passed around.

So, which is it to be -- is it an all out pedal-to-the-metal drive on "the way" to the living Lord and Creator of this universe by the renewal and transformation of the Holy Spirit into the righteousness and holiness of God and the full knowledge of Christ?  Or, is it a protection of a sedentary, stationary image of Jesus, carefully maintained in a case filled with argon, and described in writings explaining the ancient history of what this person once did?  Pick up a booklet in the gift shop ... only $13.99 in paperback or save and buy the $15.99 Kindle version -- and find out what we are about.  Collector's copy, $99.99.  Plus tax.

Transformation requires eyes to be on Jesus, not a dust-him-off-when-you-need-him historical Jesus painted in theoretical conceptual terms, but a Jesus who is the author and perfecter of our faith (Heb. 12:1-2).  A get-real Jesus -- maybe like the Son of Man Stephen saw standing at the right hand of God (Acts 7:56).  

If the institutionalized church can become unified in Christ instead of divided in human doctrine, maybe we can see the glorified Jesus in our transformation process, rather than when we are being martyred. 

So, what is being missed by the church?   Oh, not much, just the unifying field theory, the reason the universe was created, that which is held together by Christ (Col. 3:17), that which the whole creation groans in anticipation to be revealed  (Rom. 8:22-23).  Just the ordained plan of God made before the creation of energy, matter, and time.  Just the reason for our existence and the role of the church (Eph.3:10).  Not much.  Just the most important thing ever in the physical realm - the entire creation. 

If the church understood the plan of God, there wouldn't be time for selfish competition or division -- there would only be transformation into the likeness of God with ever increasing glory, in preparation for eternal fellowship with God.

2 Cor. 5 [16] So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view.  Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer.  Therefore, if any one is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come.  [21] God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.


Let us no longer regard Jesus just historically -- that is a worldly perspective -- like a war hero with a list of sacrificial accomplishments that are celebrated on Memorial Day.  We are grateful for the mercy of God extended through all that which Jesus did historically.  But, Jesus did this so we could be free of sin that the presence, the very spiritual DNA of God, could abide in us, so that we can become like God in true righteousness and holiness.  That is the foreordained plan of God for us.  

"And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord's glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit." (2 Cor 3:18).

The reflection in the looking glass?  It is the glorified One whom we are becoming.