Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Encounter God Retreat

I was recently privileged to attend an Encounter God Retreat (EGR) conducted by the Fountain Gate Fellowship (FGF) in Abilene, TX.

I didn't really know what to expect when I signed up for it. I was encouraged to go by someone who had gone last year, and who was participating this year as a "coach" at the event. I knew I had seen some significant life-changes in this person as a result of her attendance last year.

Going into it, I expected to gain some new perspectives, that something good would come out of it, but I did not expect any great life-changing value for myself. And even after the three-day event (Fri evening, 7am-5pm Saturday &; Sunday), I felt the same way, that I had experienced some things that were good for me to experience, that might color me in some ways in the future, but nothing that could be considered "life changing" in the way I had heard it described from several attendees/testifiers at the event.

But looking back now, a few weeks later, I'm really rather surprised at what was accomplished. In my "normal" church life, there has been little excitement, little motivation to move beyond the ritualistic same ol', same ol', punch-your-'I've been to church this week'-ticket mentality.

Friday night and Saturday were mostly focused on getting free from the shackles of sin, guilt, shame, fears, anything that's weighing us down and keeping us from experiencing God more fully. Sunday was more focused on re-filling after the emptying, but this time with the Spirit-things of God rather than the spirit-things of this world.

Judging by what I've witnessed in several people, including a friend I took, who was at least as skeptical of EGR's value as myself, if not more so, and definitely more weighed down by life-scars, Friday and Saturday were successful. In myself, I was surprised to find that I wasn't weighed down by most of the shackles which the event focused on: I'm not feeling particularly guilty about things I've done, I don't have any major addictions (laziness, junk food, overeating, and soft drinks are my biggies, all of which are unhealthy but not debilitating), I'm not involved in most of the "big" sins, I don't have crippling fears, etc. (This is not to say I'm perfect; I do have a couple of issues which needed to be addressed, toward which EGR provided a step that I wasn't otherwise taking, but it is to say that I perceived myself as more of an observer of EGR than a beneficiary at this time.) But my friend found some significant healing in these days, which has been needed her entire life, and which she had never gotten anywhere else, regardless of the amount of professional counseling (she's had much) and other church influences she's had.

On that aspect alone, remembering the words of Jesus that we will know them by their fruits, EGR is a very valuable offering to the community. I've seen the fruits of EGR, in the person who recommended the experience to me, in the person whom I encouraged to go, and in many attendees and speakers thereat. And judging by that fruit, EGR is a very good thing.

The filling-up with God's Spirit on Sunday was less fruitful for me and my friend, but like I say, we're both intuitively resistant to such "holy-roller"-ness, and I'm reminded that Jesus did not do many miracles in one place because of the unbelief there. I recognize that my resistance to "being led by the Spirit" could be a blockage caused by me, that my failure to be "moved" could be on me as much as anything, if not more.

But now, weeks later, I look back, and I realize I did get filled up with God's Spirit. It just wasn't a "gee-whiz bang!" filling like what seemed to be the norm among the "more emotional" attendees. I intentionally tried to be open to whatever God wanted to do with me, but I refused to allow myself to be emotionally manipulated into "being struck by the Spirit", or whatever the terminology is.

How did I get filled?

I think it was accomplished because FGF/EGR designed their assembly to feed the entire person, and not just the intellect. My home church is very staid, very focused on the mind. We study our Bibles; we discuss what the text means; we find book/chapter/verse; we present three-point lectures as sermons, and make sure our prayers are "Biblical".

EGR was a very multi-media event. Loud music, soft music, dancing, standing, sitting, quiet times, group prayers, one-to-one prayers, praying for each other, hands-on praying for each other, Bible reading, video lessons, testimonies, projector presentations, skits, singing, confessing, intimate opening-up to one another, hands-on worksheets, eating together, lights, sounds, movement, humor, sombering stories - the works. The entire person was encouraged, swept along, to be involved.

And even for someone as logical, unemotional, resistant as myself, the effect was a seeping into my deepest parts a light from God, a filling, a craving for the deepness of God calling out from the deepness of my soul, a connection, an Encounter with God.

During the weekend, a song that was played a couple of times by the band (yes, I know many people, particularly from my normal fellowship, have a HUGE problem with this, but again, look at the fruit (and at my arguments elsewhere on this blog about our approach to music)) struck me at first as non-sensical, and although fun to listen/dance/sing to, had no real value, as it wasn't valuable to my intellect, which is pretty much how I determine the value of anything at a foundational level. Parts of the song go:
We're stirring up deep, deep wells/water
We're going to dance/jump in the river
We're falling/walking into deeper waters
Deep cries out to, Deep cries out to
We cry out to, We cry out to, you Jesus
Those words didn't mean much to my intellect; they didn't make sense.

But the song has been reverberating in my head ever since that weekend, to the point where I had to look it up on YouTube (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B8fCTlER3sE). I've since listened to it 7 or 10 times.

One of the images lingering in my brain from the weekend was a good-looking 20-ish young man at the front of the "sanctuary" (I'm told they don't call it an "auditorium", because they are not spectators in worship to God, but participants), along with a crowd of 50 others or so, "line-dancing" (sort of) first to the left then to the right, to the part of the song that says "If he goes to the left then we'll go to the left; if he goes to the right, then we'll go to the right". I'm also reminded of the "Pastor" urging the participants to come down and join in this crowd at the "altar" area, which he likened to a "river", and that imagery clicked somewhat with me: this crowd at the front formed a flowing river, involved in the flowing of God's spirit amongst his people, and in this part of the song, the river flowed left, then right, as Jesus led them.

And as I listened to this song via YouTube in the weeks since, it's begun to make sense to me. As you may have noticed in what I wrote above, there's a craving deep within me that cries to/for the deepness that is God. This song sings about that. The lyrics start to make sense to my intellect, but long before they made sense to my intellect, they were speaking to my spirit, and in language my intellect could not comprehend. As Paul writes in 1 Cor 14:15, "I will sing with the spirit, and I will also sing with my understanding." There's a way to worship God which is done without understanding. A verse earlier Paul wrote, "For if I pray in another language, my spirit prays, but my understanding is unfruitful." This is a God-inspired approach to worship, brain not required.

And then amazingly, one of the YouTube videos opened with this quotation from Psalm 42:7:
Deep calls to deep in the roar of Your waterfalls;all Your breakers and Your billows have swept over me.
Wow. now the song makes even more sense! It's Biblical!

This EGR did change my life. Granted, it's not a huge visible change. But to realize that the brain is not required when worshiping God is pretty big for me. Paul goes on to say that using your brain is better in a corporate environment, so that the others around you benefit (vv 4-5, 17-19, 26) but when it's just you and God, go for it (vv 2, 4, 17). This freedom has been in front of me my entire life, but it took EGR for me to see it.

And additionally, I realize that not everyone has the same gift of "intellection" which I have; some people are touchy-feely; some are artsy; some are musical. My friend loves songs, and communicates through music. She gets frustrated with me for not "getting" what she's trying to say when she shares a song with me; I don't speak that language, which is native to her. She doesn't speak the language of intellectual Bible study, which comes naturally to me and which is almost exclusively the language used at the church of which we're members. That church which we attend does not speak to her; the FGF music normally wouldn't speak to me.

But this one song, after a couple of weeks, spoke to me. She's thrilled that I "get" it. And it's clear to me that a one-size-fits-all approach at church simply doesn't fit all. EGR showed me that there's another way than the way we do things at my home church.

It wasn't a huge life change, but the speakers/attendees were right: EGR changed my life.

Huh. Go figure. (And praise God while figuring.)

Originally posted at: http://kentwest.blogspot.com/2013/04/encounter-god-retreat.html

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Unity in Diversity

It seems to me that the Holy Spirit was pleased in Acts 15 with the dividing up of the church into two groups with two different doctrines/practices, not because it carved up the body of Christ, but because it provided a way for the two groups, Jew and Gentile, to maintain an overall unity while respecting their differences.

I don't believe anyone who speaks of "unity in diversity" is arguing for carving up the body. Not at all. But the old 1950's Church of Christ doctrine that we must all think and believe and look exactly alike before we accept each other is simply not Biblical.

HCSB 1 Cor 12:13 For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body—whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free—and we were all made to drink of one Spirit. 14 So the body is not one part but many.
There is only one body. But in Acts 15, the Torah-keeping Jews and the non-Torah-keeping Gentiles, who made up that one body, were different, to such a degree that if we were to see these two groups today in buildings across the street from each other, we would refer to at least one of them as a "denomination" and condemn them as sectarians, whereas the Scriptures record the Holy Spirit as seeing such an arrangement as "good" (Acts 15:28).

Should we call evil that which the Holy Spirit calls good?

I believe we do this because we still think we're supposed to look exactly alike, and believe exactly alike, and sport the exact same name. But the Scriptures show that's not the case. T
he body is not one part but many (1 Cor 12:14). This is true on an individual level (1 Cor 12:27), on a race level (v. 13), on a social-status level (v. 13), on an ability/giftedness level (Rom 12:3ff), on learning-styles level (1 Pet 3:1 word vs demo; Acts 21:10-11 skit vs words only), and on a different doctrines/practices level (Acts 15 & Rom 14).

The goal is not division, or branding; the goal is unity, despite division and/or branding. We don't want to carve up the body into different brands. But in order to follow the Biblical example, in converting or interacting with members of another group, we must be willing to allow that group to retain its pre-existing distinctiveness, allowing them to differ from us, significantly.

We've typically interpreted this "many parts" passage as having very limited range: you can be an elder, while I'm a deacon, while sister Sheri is the Joy Bus driver, but we still must believe the same thing about Pre-destination and the nature of Hell/Hades/Paradise/Heaven and when the Lord's Supper is to be observed and by whom. But the Scriptures say this range is broader than that: you can meticulously observe the Torah of Moses (Acts 15, esp v. 5), observing holy days and dietary restrictions such as avoiding ocean scavengers as food, while I could care less about some day of the week being more special than another and consider everything as clean, including shrimp and wine (Rom 14).

Just look at those particular differences: what if you belonged to a group that insisted on meeting every Sunday morning, and total avoidance of alcohol, and total avoidance of pork products, and your group met in the old Safeway store on 3rd street, and you had a sign out front that said "church of Christ", whereas I belonged to a group that met every Saturday night after sundown (believing the Jewish time-keeping system is more Biblical), and we had a meal together that was often composed of BLT sandwiches, and that after midnight (as per Paul's example in Acts 20, which, btw, puts his Lord's Supper observance on Monday for you Gentile time-keepers), we had some unleavened bread and alcoholic wine in remembrance of the Lord's death, and we met in the old Baptist assembly building on 4th street, having painted over the word "baptist" and left the sign just saying "4th Street ...... church"? To many in the brotherhood, one of our groups (probably mine) would be a "denomination". But as long as your group and mine got along as part of a united one-body, it seems that the Holy Spirit would be pleased that you don't force your scruples on me and I don't force mine on you and that despite our differences, we are brethren.

What matters is not whether we have the same function (1 Cor 12:27ff), or have the same doctrines on unclear issues (Rom 14), or look/dress the same (James 2:1ff), or even agree on what we're going to call ourselves when we gather together ("the Way", "the church of Christ", the "church of God", the "Circumcision", etc); what matters is "that the members would have the same concern for each other" (1 Cor 12:25), so that "there would be no division in the body" (v. 25).

In other words, Unity is not based on having the same "brand", or even the same practices/thinking, but on getting along as a unified group; this is the greatest, "better way" -- Love (1 Cor 12:31--> chapter 13), regardless of our differences.

2 Corinthians as a Fund-Raising Letter

At the beginning of the second letter to the Corinthians we have a hint that it's a fund-raising letter: "help us by your prayers" - 1:11, and "help us to go on to Macedonia; give us a start" - v. 15.

He then spends the next few chapters focusing on spiritual matters, pointing out that we do not focus on the seen but on the unseen (4:18), that we walk by faith and not by sight (5:7).

He then more fully leads into the fund-raising in chapter 8, saying that they need to finish the task of donations to the ministry which they had started a year earlier (8:10-11; cf 1 Cor 16:1-2), and that the Have's should give to the Have-Not's (8:13-15), assuring them that the donated money will be safe-guarded to its intended destination (8:19-21).

Chapter 9 is, as a whole, a fund-raising appeal, starting from the first line ("Now concerning the ministry to the saints"), going through the middle ("The person who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly"), all the way to the end ("They (the needy saints) will glorify God ... for your generosity in sharing with them.").

Chapter 10 is a defense of the methodology of Paul and his companions ("Just as [you] belong to Christ, so do we." - v 7 ; "We don't dare classify or compare ourselves with [others]." - v 12 ; "we" - v 13 ; "we" - v 14 ; "we", "we", "our", "we" - vv 15, 16). Paul essentially says, "Don't accuse us of being unspiritual; for indeed, our warfare is not fought with force, but with persuasion. Nevertheless, we live in the body, which has unspiritual needs".

Chapter 11 continues the defense, as well as the fund-raising effort. "I am in no way inferior to the 'super-apostles'" - v 5. "I preached to you free of charge." - v. 7. "Other churches were 'robbed' to provide that service to you." - v 8. "I've sacrificed a lot - I'm not seeking a material reward; I'm not unspiritual like many." - v 22-33.

He continues that line of thought in Chapter 12 - "I've had visions; Christ speaks to me personally; I've shown you the signs of an apostle."  He then adds in verse 14, "Now I'm ready to come to you a third time; in the meanwhile I urged Titus to come, and the brother with him", which we see in 8:16-24 was for the purpose of collecting their donations.

Yes, there's an emphasis on being spiritual in this letter, on not being focused on the material. Paul warns that when he comes, he's afraid they won't be what he wants, that they'll be caught up in material, fleshly issues like quarreling and promiscuity (12:20ff). But what he wants is for them to be focused on spiritual matters, which includes letting go of their money for the sake of others and for the sake of funding Paul's ministerial travels. This does not make Paul unspiritual; indeed, his focus is on fighting spiritual battles with spiritual weapons. But that statement has nothing to do with fighting physical battles as we go about living in our bodies, needs which can not be ignored, else the Corinthians would be justified in ignoring his plea for donations to take care of such needs. Paul makes it clear that although our battle is not worldly, we live in the world, and need to take care of worldly issues. Even in Romans 15:26-27, Paul makes it clear that the Corinthian donation is for wordly needs ("For if the [Corinthians] have been made partakers of [the Jews'] spiritual things, their duty is also to [pay them back] in carnal things").

We tend to think of Paul's writings as being focused on spiritual things, but it seems to me that the core purpose of 2 Corinthians is to be a fund-raising letter.


He Was Counted Among the Outlaws

From Luke 22 (HCSB):
36 Then He said to them, “But now, whoever has a money-bag should take it, and also a traveling bag. And whoever doesn’t have a sword should sell his robe and buy one. 37 For I tell you, what is written must be fulfilled in Me: And He was counted among the outlaws. Yes, what is written about Me is coming to its fulfillment.”
Jesus did not tell his disciples to carry swords to cause him to be numbered with the transgressors. It's the other way around. He told them to carry swords (and other provisions) because he would be numbered with the transgressors.

Else, carrying those other provisions (money-bags and suitcases) is also part of what makes Jesus a rebel.

Jesus was contrasting the two sendings: the first time, he told them not to take provisions. This time, he tells them to take provisions, because he will be counted among the outlaws.

There's an ancient Hebraic practice of interpreting scripture called remez. This method uses an allusion to a deeper meaning than what is plainly said, found in the context of what's being quoted. For example, when Jesus has a meal with sinners, and the Pharisees challenge him on that, he says, "Go and find out what this means - '
I desire mercy and not sacrifice.'" (Matt 9:9ff). In doing this, he's using the technique of remez to allude to the entire context around that quotation from Hosea 6:6. He expects the Pharisees to know the text well enough to know that he's telling the Pharisees that they are the ones Hosea is talking about, they they are the sinners, and that the people with whom Jesus is eating are the ones being healed. His message is not in his own words, but in the words surrounding the quote which he is citing. This is remez.

I believe that's what he's doing in Luke 22:37; he's using remez to allude to something deeper from the prophecy he cites about being counted among the outlaws. To see what that is, we need to look at the prophetic text. It's from Isa 53:12.

This is the chapter in which the Messiah is despised, rejected, carries our sicknesses and pains, is struck down by God, pierced for our transgressions, heals us by his wounds, is oppressed and afflicted, led like a silent lamb to slaughter, cut off from the land of the living, crushed for YHWH's pleasure, to make a restitution offering, submits to death, counted among the rebels, yet intercedes for the rebels.

The passage is NOT saying that Jesus will be considered a rebel because he's hanging around people who are considered rebels because they're carrying swords. It's saying that Jesus will be treated as just another rebel, suitable for execution. Jesus is not telling the disciples to get a sword so that he can be considered a rebel because of his association with them while they're armed. He's telling them that as the disciples of "a rebel", they will themselves be considered rebels against the government, and thus will now be on the fringes of society, no longer able to expect the Pax Romana, the Peace of Rome, to apply to them. They will henceforth be on their own, no longer protected by a government with whom they will be at odds, no longer able to run to the police for protection (Acts 18:17 testifies to this, where Sosthenes is beaten without trial in full view of the legal system).

The context of Luke 22:35-37 is that previously Jesus sent the disciples out on a mission trip without provisions, and they lacked nothing, but now he's telling them to take provisions, because they, like their leader, will be considered rebels. Those provisions include money-bags, suitcases, and self-defense weapons. They need these provisions because they will have to go "underground", no longer relying on the protections afforded by the legal societal system.

Someone might object that Jesus couldn't possibly be telling his disciples to prep themselves for violent self-defense, because just a few hours later he tells Peter to put away his sword, and that they who live by the sword will die by the sword.

But notice that Jesus told Peter to put his sword back in its place (on the sword-bearer's person), not surrender it to the authorities (Matt 26:52) -- he told Peter to keep his sword.

The reason he gives for not using the sword in this case is two-fold:

1) a readiness to live by the sword is deadly (Matt 26:52)


2) arrest & execution must occur, according to the prophecies, so stop resisting it (Matt 26:53-54). John (18:11 HCSB) makes this point even more clear:
At that, Jesus said to Peter, “Sheathe your sword! Am I not to drink the cup the Father has given Me?”
He then tells when swords and clubs are to be used --> against criminals (Matt 26:55).

Shortly thereafter Jesus says that if his issues were of this world, he would approve of his followers fighting; it's just that his concerns are not of this world. (John 18:35-38). In other words, he's saying that physical fighting has its place, just not in this situation.

Simply put, Jesus told his disciples to arm themselves, to carry a weapon, but to use it with discretion, and not to thwart his intention to get arrested. He's not telling his disciples to carry swords to force the fulfillment of prophecy that he would be considered an outlaw. He's saying that he (and his followers, by association) will be considered outlaws, as prophecy foretells, so they need to prepare to take care of themselves, and that having a self-defense weapon takes priority over even having a jacket to keep them warm on cool nights.

The Weapons of Our Warfare are not Wordly

It's been argued that Christians are not to serve as military soldiers, policemen, etc, based on 2 Corinthians 10:4, which reads (in the KJV):
(For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strong holds;)
But I'd like to look at this verse in its broader context (from the HCSB).

1 Now I, Paul, make a personal appeal to you by the gentleness and graciousness of Christ—I who am humble among you in person but bold toward you when absent. 2 I beg you that when I am present I will not need to be bold with the confidence by which I plan to challenge certain people who think we are behaving in an unspiritual way. 3 For though we live in the body, we do not wage war in an unspiritual way, 4 since the weapons of our warfare are not worldly, but are powerful through God for the demolition of strongholds. We demolish arguments 5 and every high-minded thing that is raised up against the knowledge of God, taking every thought captive to obey Christ. 6 And we are ready to punish any disobedience, once your obedience has been confirmed. 
7 Look at what is obvious. If anyone is confident that he belongs to Christ, he should remind himself of this: Just as he belongs to Christ, so do we. 8 For if I boast some more about our authority, which the Lord gave for building you up and not for tearing you down, I am not ashamed. 9 I don’t want to seem as though I am trying to terrify you with my letters. 10 For it is said, “His letters are weighty and powerful, but his physical presence is weak, and his public speaking is despicable.” 11 Such a person should consider this: What we are in the words of our letters when absent, we will be in actions when present.
The preceding chapter/context, which Paul thought might cause some to "think we are behaving in an unspiritual way", was focused on the material ("non-spiritual") aspects of fund-raising for poverty-stricken saints in another part of the world.

In other words, Paul was conducting a fund-raiser, and after making his presentation, said, "I beg that I won't need to scold those who think we're being unspiritual. For even though we're living in material bodies, with material needs, our focus is not on waging war in material ways - the weapons of our warfare are not worldly. Rather, we use our words to convince people to obey Christ. But once you belong to "us" (vs 6), to "Christ (v. 7), we're ready to use our authority as needed (v 6, 8ff)."

To press Paul's statements in this context to mean that we are never to take up arms for worldly warfare is to move Paul's statements into a context which is foreign to the context at-hand. It would be like pressing Jesus' statement, "Judge not, lest ye be judged" (Matt 7:1), to mean that we should never make judgment calls, even though within the same paragraph Jesus is telling us to not cast our pearls before swine, which requires just that, a judgment call.

Context matters.

Paul is speaking of the church's "Mission Statement"; he's not making a prohibition. The mission of the church is to persuade people, not to convert them at the point of a sword. The business of the church is to change minds, not to subjugate them by force.

That's what the context of this passage says. The context does not address being a soldier, or policeman, etc.

However, the context of other passages does address the issue.

Acts 10 strongly indicates that being a soldier is consistent with being a Christian, as the Roman Centurion Cornelius converts to Christianity.

Also, when the soldiers came to John the Immerser and asked what they must do, John did not tell them to quit the army; he told them to not use force for selfish purposes (Luke 3:14).

If being in the army was unacceptable as a follower of Christ, it seems to me that the one paving the way for that Christ would have at least hinted that such a change was coming, and it seems to me that Luke would have made it clear that Cornelius had to quit his commission to become a Christian.

So how do I understand 2 Cor 10:4? I understand it to be a mission statement for how the church is to grow: via persuasion, not by force. But that does not address the mission statement for how human government is to punish evildoers, which, by God's decree (Gen 9:5-6; Rom 13:4), uses force. These are two different contexts, and this passage only addresses one of them.

Saturday, April 06, 2013

Paul the Artist?

The following info is from a single person on a random forum, so I would not put a lot of stock into it, but it raises an interesting concept.

According to Yancy Smith (and yes, it seems like it might be that Yancy Smith, the scholar):

1) "Further, Paul’s day job is like connected to graphic arts. See the BDAG article on tent-maker and you will find that the word is never used of tentmaking in Hellenistic Greek, only for scene or wall painting. There is ample evidence of Jews working in theater arts in the first century."

2) "In 1st century domestic spaces of nearly every socio-economic level, living areas were decorated with wall paintings. One can confirm this abundantly by looking at the wall art in Pompley, Herculaneaum, and the terrace houses in Ephesus. Floors were also decorated in mosaics and Christian worship spaces continued the use of converted pagan artistic themes in the early worship spaces that survive from Dura Europos and the many mosaics of Christian spaces in Jordan." ... "If you look at BDAG carefully you will [sic] that Paul’s use of this verb is closely associated with the artistic connection of this word. The theme of suffering was ubiquitous on the wall art and, indeed the theme of vicarious suffering was quite common. Such portraiture as Iphigenia (of Euripides fame) would have provided ample points of contact with the gospel story of Jesus who redeemed believers at the cost of his own blood."

3) "The verb γράφειν is quite often used to mean 'paint' (Lucian, Essays in Portraiture, 4, 8, 17, 18, 19, 23; Essays in Portraiture Defended 23 etc, etc)."

A relative of the word γράφειν (in #3 above) is what's found in Gal 3:1. Now notice how the HCSB renders this word in that verse (see underlined):

You foolish Galatians! Who has hypnotized you, before whose eyes Jesus Christ was vividly portrayed as crucified?
(Originally posted at: http://kentwest.blogspot.com/2013/04/paul-artist.html)