Thursday, March 25, 2010

A Dream with a Message

I had a dream the other night. Although it was more detailed, this is the basic jist.

I was going on a job interview unexpectedly and wasn't attired appropriately. I was on a road trip (maybe as a 20-something, with "the guys"?), and was dressed accordingly: ratty jeans, stained t-shirt, river-wading sneakers, hadn't bathed in two days, scraggly beard, etc.

The woman with whom I would be interviewing was known to be demanding, and it was clear that she would not approve of my appearance, and I had nearly zero chance of getting a job.

Yet I knew something that astounded me, and it is this message that I believe God sent via my dream. I knew that when she challenged me on my unkempt appearance at a job interview, I was going to answer with the following, which I believed entirely:
It's not your choice whether or not I get a job. That's God's choice. You just think it's your choice.
When I woke up, I realized that is true. We think we have control over this or that, because we have the position/power/ability/whatever. But like Pharoah who thought he was making decisions about the Israelites, it's all God.

Where God wants us, is where we'll be. It's in our best mental health interest to accept/acknowledge His control over our lives, and quit thinking we're in control.

At least, that's the message that so strongly rang out to me in my dream.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

The Third Heaven

The apostle Paul, in 2 Corinthians 12:2ff, writes:
2 I know a man in Christ who was caught up into the third heaven 14 years ago. Whether he was in the body or out of the body, I don't know; God knows. 3 I know that this man—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows— 4 was caught up into paradise. He heard inexpressible words, which a man is not allowed to speak....
Much mental effort has been expended trying to figure out how many levels of heaven there are, and what those levels are.

But the more I think about it, the more I suspect that we make a mistake to approach this issue from a Western mindset. I don't believe Paul is telling us that he's been to Level 3 of 7 levels, or 3 of 28, or whatever.

If you search Biblegateway for the term "heaven", and try to figure out what the terms mean as you look at each reference found, you'll find there's a lot of crossover between usages. Sometimes the heavens are eternal; sometimes they're temporary. Sometimes God dwells in the highest heaven; sometimes He dwells above the highest heaven. Sometimes the stars are in heaven, sometimes rain comes from heaven. In other words, there's no Western-thought-type consistency in what/where heaven is, and we damage the text to try and force-fit an Eastern text into a Western mindset.

Instead, ask yourself what the number three meant to an Eastern mind of the time.

The number 1 usually referred to God ("God is One"), and the number 2 usually referred to humanity (Adam and Eve), so the number 3 referred to the union of God and Humanity (1 + 2 = 3).

From another angle, animals had a body of flesh (1 - Gen 6:17), and the breath of life (2 - Gen 6:17), just as humans did. But humans also had the image of God (3 - Gen 1:26), so again, 3 refers to the union of the worldly image with God's image.

When Paul writes of the third heaven, it seems to me that he's saying he went to a place beyond the two heavens where the birds fly and the stars dwell; he went to the place where God receives human visitors. He went to God's guest parlor, so to speak.

I'm no expert in Eastern thinking, by any stretch. But I seriously doubt that Paul's reference is correctly approached from a Western way of thinking.

I may be wrong.

Monday, March 15, 2010

The Format of Church

Many of us have grown up with the idea that church consists of most of the members sitting quietly in the pews, only opening their mouths for singing or an occasional "Amen", while the leaders, particularly the preacher, speak from a raised platform, lecturing the quiet members.

But I contend this is more a format we've retained from 2000 years of tradition rather than gleaning from New Testament principles.

Even in the very first Gospel sermon, in Acts 2, there was give-and-take dialog rather than a strict lecture format.

The apostles spoke as the Spirit gave them utterance (Acts 2:4). The people around asked what was happening, and some accused the apostles of being drunk (2:5-12). Peter addressed the crowd with his answer (14-36). The people again began to chatter and discuss (2:37). Peter again responded with his answer (2:38ff).

Then for the next few chapters there's a lot of brief history that doesn't really focus on church assemblies as such, but in chapter 20 we do find a church assembly, and in this assembly, Paul "dialogs" and "discourses" with the church. Note that he does not lecture, but that he "discusses", "reasons", "converses", "communes", "talks with" them (see Strong's Greek Dictionary, #1256 dialegomai, and #3656, homileo).

In the previous chapter, "Acts 19:8 [Paul] entered the synagogue and spoke boldly over a period of three months, engaging in discussion and trying to persuade them about the things related to the kingdom of God." Again, it's not a lecture; it's a discussion.

Looking closely at other hints in the New Testament, it appears that most of the assembling was about dialoging with each other rather than passively sitting and listening to a lecturer. 1 Tim 1:5 refers to those whose discussions have become unfruitful.

Turning to the church in Corinth, Paul does not instruct the members to sit quietly and listen to a lecture; instead, he says:
The Message 1 Cor 14:26-33So here's what I want you to do. When you gather for worship, each one of you be prepared with something that will be useful for all: Sing a hymn, teach a lesson, tell a story, lead a prayer, provide an insight. If prayers are offered in tongues, two or three's the limit, and then only if someone is present who can interpret what you're saying. Otherwise, keep it between God and yourself. And no more than two or three speakers at a meeting, with the rest of you listening and taking it to heart. Take your turn, no one person taking over. Then each speaker gets a chance to say something special from God, and you all learn from each other. If you choose to speak, you're also responsible for how and when you speak. When we worship the right way, God doesn't stir us up into confusion; he brings us into harmony. This goes for all the churches—no exceptions.
Notice, it's not chaos, but neither is it everyone sitting being passive. He wants the members to be involved in some way to build up the others, with the speaking roles not taking over.

We also tend to think that church and eating are two different things. But to the same church in Corinth, Paul writes just three chapters earlier that when they come together to eat their meal combined with their observance of the Lord's Supper, they need to not be selfish about eating, but to rather wait on one another and eat as a family (1 Cor 11:17ff).

And we see the same church assembly/eating activity in Acts 20:7ff.

And we have the example which Jesus set for us in the very beginning, where the first Lord's Supper was incorporated into a meal (Mk 14:12ff).

Please do not get me wrong: I am not saying that the format to which we're accustomed is wrong. I am not saying that we should not have sermons/lectures.

I am saying two things:

Our traditional way of doing things has turned the bulk of the church body into do-nothing, passive listeners, and that we need to rethink how we do things. Should we have pews, or chairs/couches facing each other? Should we remove the podium altogether, or move it to the center of the group, or lower it, or replace the lectern with a chair? (Jesus sat when he taught; Matt 5:1-2; Luke 4:20-21). Should we encourage discussion, or continue with the lecture format?


Our traditional way of doing things may be marginalizing those people who don't fit into our traditional way of doing things. I'm thinking of those people who need a little chaos in order to learn. As a teen, I needed music blaring in my ear in order to study my school stuff. But that would not be allowed in our traditional way of doing things. Someone else may need to busy one part of their brain with a game on their cell phone in order to pay attention with another part of their brain to the sermon. Someone else may need lots of colors and artwork and sculptures in the building to feel comfortable enough to learn, and can't learn in our traditional blah color-scheme decorated by ... nothing.

I'm just asking you to rethink whether the format you know as "Church" is really Biblical, or just traditional. If it is just traditional, is there a format that is more Biblical, or that might would appeal to different learning styles?

Or is that what different congregations are for? The Northside Congregation is designed for fuddy-duddies; the Southside Congregation is designed for artsy-touchy-feely types? I think that might be a workable solution, provided that the Northside church does not condemn the Southside for their "unBiblical" format, and vice-versa.

God made us all different. Let's not condemn each other because they don't fit in with the way we learn. That person may need to play with his cellphone while sitting passively during a sermon; but he may need to move to the back to not distract those around him. Or he may need to stand and sway back and forth rather than sit for 20 minutes at a time. Move him to a place where he does not distract you; don't condemn him for not being you.

Let all things be done for edification (1 Cor 14:26); don't mistake your style of learning as being the Biblical style, and don't make the mistake of thinking that your style of learning works for everyone.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Dying, You Shall Die

Notice the structure of this verse:
HCSB 1 Kings 2:37 On the day you do leave and cross the Kidron Valley, know for sure that you will certainly die.
It's the same structure we find in Genesis, when God warns Adam and Eve against eating the forbidden fruit:
HCSB Gen2:17 ...on the day you eat from [the tree of the knowledge of good and evil], you will certainly die."
On the day you do something, you will certainly die, or know you'll certainly die.

In the Hebrew, this "certainly die" is muwth-muwth - or "die-die". The meaning behind this repetition is that "dying, you will die".

So, in Genesis, on the day that Adam ate of the forbidden fruit, he was as good as dead, and on the day that Shimei violated his house-arrest by crossing the Kidron Valley on the way out of town, he should realize that he was as good as dead.

In both cases, the death is not immediate, but it is sealed. In Adam's case, it was immediately apparent because of physical changes that started taking place, including his realization that he was naked and needed covering. In Shimei's case, he probably thought no one would notice.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

The Night Grannie Died

As I remember the story (and I'm sure I'm misremembering how it was told to me), one late night out in the country in the first half of the 1900's my family was gathered at the old home-place, where Great-Grannie was in bed, sick. After dark, the folks noticed a ball of fire fly by overhead, and the men-folk gave chase to investigate. The ball of fire ran along the ground ahead of them, and disappeared under the house in which Great-Grannie was lying, and was seen no more.

That night, Great-Grannie died.

As a young man hearing this story, I was fascinated by this tale of what I later came to believe was just a coincidence involving the rare phenomenon of ball-lightning. Too bad I don't have any of the really old-timers around anymore to ask how close my story is to their recollections of it.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Jesus = Father, Son, and Holy Spirit

I had never noticed this before.
HCSB Matt 28:19 Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit....
It says "name", not "title". The terms "Father", "Son", and "Holy Spirit" are all titles, not names.

It also says "name" (singular), not "names" (plural).

Many of us have been "baptized in the name of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit", as Matthew indicates we should be, but it's interesting to note that in the book of Acts, at least some of the conversions are done in an actual name, and not in three titles:
HCSB Acts 2:38 "Repent," Peter said to them, "and be baptized, each of you, in the name of Jesus the Messiah for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.
HCSB Acts:8:16 For He had not yet come down on any of them; they had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.
HCSB Acts 10:48 And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ.
HCSB Acts:195 On hearing this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.
So it becomes pretty clear that the one name of "Jesus" is equivalent to the three titles of "Father", "Son", and "Holy Ghost", and to be immersed in the name of Jesus is to be immersed in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Monday, March 08, 2010

I Come to Give Praise ....

Spoiler Alert: If you haven't seen the movie, "The Sixth Sense", and don't want to ruin the plot, do not read the next paragraph.

You recall in the movie how the Bruce Willis character had all sorts of evidences presented to him that he was dead, but he never saw them until a final piece triggered the flashbacks of all the evidences. This happened to me yesterday.

I was raised on "Star Trek"'s Mister Spock: cold, logical, emotionless. And whereas I'm not emotionless (even less so as I get older), I do tend to drop into a Mr. Spock mode, especially in a debate situation. I approach the debate as logically as I can, leaving the emotion at home.

The problem is that this worldview, so to speak, has caused me to miss the evidences before my eyes that I can be hypercritical; I see something wrong, I point it out. It's nothing personal. It's just logical that if it's wrong, it should be made right.

Yesterday, a friend called me on this, and I realized that I often criticize him without giving him praise. I think highly of him, but he doesn't hear that; all he ever hears is the criticism. And when that clicked in my brain, I had a bunch of flashbacks about the same treatment I give to other people, especially those I love.

So to you who get my criticisms, I'm sorry. I can't promise I'll remember tomorrow, or next week, that I've decided to offer more praise than criticism, but as of right now, this moment, that's my decision.

You have my permission to help hold me to it.

And you especially have my request to help me learn to do it, to make it a habit.