Tuesday, February 26, 2008

The Spirit-less Need Not Apply

Jesus taught in parables, not to give understanding to people, but to prevent people from understanding. This is a hard concept for us. We expect Jesus to want us to understand. Yet he tells his closest disciples in Luke 8:10 (quoting Isaiah 6:9):
The secrets of the kingdom of God have been given for you to know, but to the rest it is in parables, so that
Looking they may not see,
and hearing they may not understand.

Notice that this understanding is not something that the disciples acquired for themselves; it was a gift. Notice also verse 17 of Matt 13:
Many prophets and righteous people longed to see the things you see yet didn't see them; to hear the things you hear yet didn't hear them.

God may have called you to be a prophet, or you may be a very righteous person, but that does not automatically qualify you to have understanding. Understanding is not something you acquire for yourself; it's something that is given to you from God.

We see the same sort of God-given understanding later (Matt. 16:17), when Peter pronounced Jesus as the Messiah:
And Jesus responded, "Simon son of Jonah, you are blessed because flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but My Father in heaven."

Paul sums up this idea in 1 Corinthians 2:10ff, emphasizing that without the Spirit of God dwelling in us, we will fail to understand the things of God:
Now God has revealed them to us by the Spirit, for the Spirit searches everything, even the deep things of God. ... Now we have not received the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, in order to know what has been freely given to us by God. But the natural man does not welcome what comes from God's Spirit, because it is foolishness to him; he is not able to know it since it is evaluated spiritually. The spiritual person, however, can evaluate everything.... For:
who has known the Lord's mind,
that he may instruct Him?
But we have the mind of Christ.

The take-home message, for me at least, is that we should recognize that the Spirit does indeed "magically" work directly on our minds, even if we're not aware of it. To claim otherwise is a form of quenching the Spirit, and is quite unBiblical.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Blind to the Most Obvious Things

For someone who travels from the Southern Hemisphere to the Northern and vice-versa, I'm sure this little factoid is obvious:

Those people looking up at the moon from the Southern Hemisphere see a moon that is upside-down from that which the Northern Hemisphere observers see.

For someone who doesn't have this travel experience, it just highlights how greatly experience can color our understandings.

Men Vs Women

This past weekend I had a friend provide an analogy for men and women that made sense to me.

Men are like waffles; everything is compartmentalized.

Women are like spaghetti; everything in their lives is touching everything else, in a convoluted manner.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Challenge Traditions

I've always wondered about the two- or three- or four-part nature of Man. What's the difference between "soul" and "spirit"?

This morning, as I woke up, the influence of this past weekend gelled into an understanding for me.

During the weekend someone quoted an anonymous person, saying, "There comes a point when 'being right' is not enough." I woke up thinking about my home church, and how her focus has been on the Mind, on "being right", and I realized that the reason I'm stifled there is because she ignores the other facets of Man (whereas many other churches I've visited have ignored the Mind aspect).

Man is Mind, and Soul, and Spirit, and Body. The following are merely working definitions, not technical definitions.

- Mind - that which thinks and analyzes. My home church is good at this aspect (albeit her logic is sometimes flawed).

- Soul - that which feels. My home church is lousy at bringing Mans' emotions into the equation.

- Spirit - that which is mystical. All of Western Civilization is lousy at bringing Man's Spirit into the equation. My home church basically believes that the spirit part of Man is only activated by God's will, and that such activations by God have ceased long ago.

- Body - that which is physical. Many church groups do well at this aspect, raising hands, looking heavenward, kneeling, dancing*. My home church is lousy at this aspect.

My home church is eaten up with tradition. There's nothing wrong with Tradition, until it gets in the way. My home church needs to stand up on her school desk** and see the world from a different angle, but she has been steeped in Tradition so long that she believes (wrongly) that her Tradition equates to Truth. I believe the healthiest thing for her now would be a concerted effort to challenge various aspects of Tradition.

- Move a Sunday morning assembly into the basement. Many people will object, and ask, "Why are we doing this? Is this just 'change' for 'change's sake'?" And the answer is that it forces us to question (on an experiential level, not just a mental level) what's needed for corporate worship; do we need pews in straight rows, and a podium/lectern in order to worship? Change/challenge/difficulty serves the purpose of exercising unused muscles; this is change for 'spiritual exercise's sake'.

- Have the men raise hands during prayer. The first century church did it, and yet we find it offensive.

- Have the church kneel during prayer. The first century church did it, and yet we find it offensive.

- Have the women serve the Lord's Supper (while the men still lead the prayers). Martha served in the assemblies of Jesus, and yet we find it offensive because we've over-applied the principle of women not having authority over men into women not serving in the presence of men.

- Move all the singing during worship into an uninterrupted grouping at the front or the back of the assembly, and triple the time spent singing; no interruptions for announcements, or for announcing song numbers, or for prayers. Singing gets into the soul and spirit of Man, but only if it has a chance to. The way singing is done at my home church, it's so choppy that it never gets a chance to dig into a person's spirit or affect his soul.

There are many more ways of challenging our traditions, but these should suffice to "stir the pot" (a necessary action in preparation of meals; why do we think we should remain unstirred in order for us to be sufficiently prepared for the Lord?).

Some traditions we'll find are really based on doctrine (I believe the lack of mechanical instruments in worship music is one such justified doctrine/tradition); but some traditions we'll find are just getting in the way of acceptance of our brethren who do things differently, and are just crufty deposits on our joints that prevent us from moving as freely as Jesus would have us do.

I'm afraid that I have been marked by the leaders at church as being "un-safe" because they perceive my willingness to challenge their traditions. Accordingly, I can not have much influence on the church now, which again is a stifling thing for me. I have thoughts and ideas I'd like to share with my brethren, to challenge and to be challenged by them. But I have no venue to do so.

It's human nature to say we want to be challenged out of our comfort zones and then to defend against any and all such challenges. I do it too, so I can't judge my brethren without judging myself. Still, I went this weekend and faced some significant challenges "outside of the box"; all I'm asking from my home church is to do likewise.

* Stay with me, here. Don't let the word "dancing" turn you off the basic message; we can deal with the word later if need be.

** A reference to the movie, "Dead Poet's Society".

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

My Trip to Houston

Some Notes from a Conference I Recently Attended

I can not vouch for the accuracy of any statements below; these are just items I heard at the conference that I thought were worth jotting down.


"Satan only counterfeits that which is real."

"God's wired us differently."

God is --
  • Invisible
  • Spirit
  • from another dimension ("heavenly places", "things unseen")
  • /favors dwelling in people rather than in places
  • very creative
    • humanity is his favorite medium
    • "Human beings are vandalized works of art."
    • "If we go to the Telescope, the Microscope, or the Mirror, it ought to lead us to worship."
    • "Eph. 2 - we're called 'God's Masterpiece'"
  • Almighty
  • Personal
In John 12, God spoke, and there were three types of responses depending on the "tuning" of the listeners:
  • some heard God's voice
  • some heard a divine voice (angel)
  • some heard thunder

"How can we restore experience to our lives?"
"There comes a point when 'being right' is not enough."

Tame a Wild Horse <-----------> Raise a Dead Mule
. . (Pentecostal) <------------------> (Evangelical)

Jesus said, "The scriptures do not give you Life -- they bring you to me, and I give you Life." -- John 5:39

I've often been "enamored with the written word / oblivious to the Living Word".

"Jesus performed most miracles, not via his divinity, but via his spirit-filled humanity."

"Earnestly desire...", not "Be open to..." spiritual gifts - 1 Cor. 14:1

See It
Hear It
Feel It
Know It
Speak It

Spiritual gifts are not an evidence of being spiritual. The fruit of the spirit is the evidence of being spiritual.

And then the next morning at church, in a completely different venue, it was pointed out that we were commanded to "take and eat" the Lord's Supper, not to "take and understand" the Lord's Supper.

Sunday, February 03, 2008

Church Giving

One of the underlying assumptions is that money from the offering or tithe belongs to the church. But the Scriptures consistently teach that the offering is God's instrument of redistribution and that it belongs to the poor. Giving to the poor should not make its way into the budget; it is the budget. One could argue that small portions of the Israelite offering (no more than 10 percent) was given to the Levitical priesthood (Neh. 12:47), and that in the early church an even smaller contribution could be given to the church's itinerant evangelists, who, incidentally, were themselves poor (1 Cor. 4:11). But it is not a coincidence that the first major organizational structure in the early church was created to assure order in the redistribution of resources to widows and orphans (Acts 6:1-6).
Shane Claiborne, "The Irresistible Revolution", pg. 330

Saturday, February 02, 2008

What Kind of God is This?

Shane Claiborne, in his book, "The Irresistible Revolution", relates this story:
One beautiful Iraqi mother threw her hands in the air and said, "Your country is declaring war in the name of God and asking God's blessing, and that is the same thing my country is doing. What kind of God is this? What has happened to the God of love, to the Prince of Peace?" - pg. 218
Of course our response is that "our God is the True God, so we're in the right". But even assuming that to be true, is it really the Prince of Peace's will that we be so aggressive in "protecting" our country?

Just askin' ....

True Leadership

Peace among enemies - "the wolf will live with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the goat, the calf and the lion and the yearling together ..."

And ...

"a little child will lead them."

Isa. 11:6

Says something about leadership in God's Kingdom, eh?

Protecting the Innocent

If they come for the innocent and do not pass over our bodies, then cursed be our religion.
-- "one of the saints", reported by Shane Claiborne, "The Irresistible Revolution", Zondervan, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 2006. Page 208.

Friday, February 01, 2008


This one's for the men....

From Marvin R. Wilson's book, "Our Father Abraham: Jewish Roots of the Christian Faith", page 306:
Other covenants made use of a different kind of visual aid than the blood of an animal. Sometimes the hand was placed under the thigh so as to grasp the genitals (Gen. 24:2,9). Since this vital area was the seat of reproductive power, to touch it in this formal manner might convey the threat that the offending party would become sterile or that his offspring would be destroyed. In any case, the servant Eliezer makes this gesture to Abraham as he is about to leave on a mission that will assure the patriarch of descendants God had promised to him. This graphic act finds its counterpart in a Roman practice that provided the etymological root of our English word "testify". A witness would take the preliminary oath with his hands clutching his own testicles. Such gestures underscore the seriousness of the ancient concept of witnessing. More than reputation was at stake when one pledged his word about a matter. The very existence of one's children -- and even grandchildren -- was potentially in jeopardy.

Education in Jesus' Culture

According to Marvin R. Wilson (pg. 299), there were 480 synagogues in Jerusalem just prior to 70 A.D., each with its own bet sepher and bet talmud.

The bet sepher (house of schooling) was essentially elementary school, starting at age 6 or 7, and focusing on "the book", or the written law.

The bet talmud (house of study) was for the older student, starting around age 10, and focused on the oral law.

The better students, around age 13, went on to bet midrash in their spare time. These "academies" were taught by such distinguished rabbis as Hillel and Shammai.

It's interesting that the Jewish culture considered it inappropriate to use the Torah as a "'spade' for the digging of wealth" (pg. 300), so teachers taught for free, making their living at an occupation, such as woodchopper (Hillel), surveyor (Shammai), blacksmith (Joshua), tanner (Ishmael), water-carrier (Huna), or leather-worker (Paul). I wonder if Jesus was still doing carpentry/masonry(?) during his three years of ministry.

Only males 20 years of age and older were required to pay the Temple tax. When Peter asked Jesus about paying this tax, Jesus told Peter to go fishing, and doing so he caught a fish with a coin in its mouth, just enough to pay the Temple tax for both men, but for none of the other disciples (Matt. 17:24ff). This is suggestive that most of Jesus' disciples were between the ages of 13 and 19 at the time - mere teens.

The Hallel

According to Marvin R. Wilson, when Jesus and his disciples sang a hymn after eating the Passover, the hymn they most likely sang was the traditional song sung at that time, the Hallel, Psalms 113-118, or more likely, just the last half of that song (115-118).

On another note, it's interesting that "hallel" means "praise", and that the familiar term "hallelujah" means "Praise Yah" (with "Yah" being the short form of God's name, YHWH).

Jesus Wasn't Always "Biblical"

It's always bothered me somewhat in the back of my mind that Jesus reclined when eating the Passover with his disciples. Just recently this bother has come to the forefront of my brain and I realized that it means that Jesus did not always do Bible things as prescribed by the Bible.

When the Passover was originally instituted, the Israelites were told to eat it dressed, with staff in hand, standing, and in a hurry (Ex. 12:11). To my knowledge, these instructions were never rescinded. And yet by the time Jesus eats the Passover, he has dropped the Biblical pattern for the "new" pattern of his culture, one of relaxed leisure (Luke 22:14).

Furthermore, originally the instructions stated that one was not to leave the house at all on the night of Passover (Ex. 12:22b), yet Jesus led his disciples out of the house after the meal (Luke 22:39). Again, Jesus fails to "be Biblical".

What do we do with this information? For those of us who have traditionally been sticklers for doing Biblical things in Biblical ways, this is a mite uncomfortable.

Discomfort is good for us; like exercise is for the muscles, spiritual/mental discomfort is for the soul.

A Blessing for Children

According to Marvin R. Wilson in his book, "Our Father Abraham: Jewish Roots of the Christian Faith (p. 218),
A beautiful practice is often followed in traditional Jewish homes on the eve of Sabbath. Shabbat shalom ("Sabbath peace") is the appropriate Sabbath greeting among members of the family. When the father arrives home from praying in synagogue he customarily blesses his sons and daughters. Putting his hands on the heads of his children, he recites this blessing for sons: "May God make you like Ephraim and Manasseh." For his daughters he prays: "May God make you like Sarah, Rebekah, Rachel, and Leah. May the Lord bless you and keep you. May the Lord make his face to shine upon you, and give you peace [shalom]." The children reply, "Amen." Thus the Sabbath begins with a prayer for peace.