Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Outside of the Box?

In a conversation, someone posed an interesting and much needed question to me. "Is it wise to think outside of the box?" There are many, including myself, who have used this phrase. Wisdom would seem to dictate that this, like many other things, should have a caveat to it. Many things pressed to the extreme can be self-defeating and have just the opposite effect we desire. As I reflect on this question, I am not thinking of things such as science, medicine, and technology. We all can readily see the great progress and improvements we have had in these areas due to "outside the box" thinking. Of course, there are some serious caveats, such as the issues associated with cloning, abortion, and other things that "outside the box" thinking has brought. There still has to be some sort of limitation when you go outside the box, especially in the area of ethics. But this is not what I am thinking about.

I am thinking about our faith in God as we live it out in our daily life. Is it wise to "think outside the box" as it relates to my faith? As I reflect on this, I need to back up and ask myself the question, "What does this phrase mean?" The idea of a "box" suggests limitation. Limitation is not inherently a bad thing. God placed bounds on the sea so that it would not inundate the dry land. This is a limitation that is a blessing to us land-lovers. God also set a boundary between night and day. Without this limitation, our world would either freeze to death or burn up. God gave the Torah to his people, which also had limitations. It would be similar to putting a fence around the yard to keep the children from wandering out into traffic. Keeping the Torah was a limitation that God gave for the good of his people. God has limited even our life span. In the beginning, it appears that humans lived nearly a thousand years. During that time, the world became very wicked, and God was grieved about what had happened to man. Imagine the amount of knowledge, wisdom, and technical expertise you could amass if you could live that long! Since sin had corrupted mankind, imagine the amount of godless pride you could also amass as well! God decided to limit man's years. Though the text does not say whether this was a punishment or gift, this limitation can be seen as a blessing by limiting the amount of pride we could amass in a lifetime. So, a box is not inherently a bad thing.

On the other had, a box is not inherently a good thing either. If the box means falling short of God's will, it is actually a bad thing. Those who think outside of the box cast off whatever falls short of God's will. Some examples include people like Hezekiah who did not accept the status quo and enacted reforms in order to be more faithful to Yahweh. He broke down the high places, which had been around for so long, the people accepted them as a part of life. He also destroyed the bronze serpent that God had instructed Moses to build because Israel began to venerate it and burn incense to it. Then there was Josiah, who also enacted reforms that not only included destroying the high places, but also destroyed the first shrine that Jereboam ben Nebat had built at the beginning of his reign 300 years earlier. He even went so far as disinterring the graves associated with the high places and burning the bones on their altars in order to defile them. This was definitely "outside of the box." For the Jews, especially the Pharisees, Jesus himself was way outside of the box. His actions on the Sabbath, his revolutionary teachings about the nature of greatness, mercy, and justice were all outside of the box. The inclusion of the Gentiles into the Kingdom was way outside the box for many Jews, including Peter the Apostle. He had a lot of trouble with accepting this to be the new norm. Throughout history, there have been others who have went outside the box, such as John Wycliff, William Tyndale, Martin Luther, Menno Simons, John Wesley, Alexander Campbell and Pardee Butler. Going outside of the box resulted in death threats for people like these. One translated the Bible into a language all people would be able to read and not just those with advanced degrees and training. Another was very innovative and used the printing press to distribute scriptures to the common man. One was a professor of theology that dared to question the doctrines, practices, and beliefs of the church. Another taught that as God's people, we are not of the world; therefore there is no such thing as a "state church." God's people are citizens of Heaven. One decided to preach the Gospel outside in the open air to the lowliest classes of people who did not attend a Cathedral, and then enrolled them in classes dealing with holy living after their conversion. Before this, preaching was confined to the cathedral to those acceptable classes of people who attended. Another taught that we should discard all creeds because they tend to be divisive, and that our only authority should be the word of God, and that all who claim to be Christians should unite rather than divide into various sects. Then there were those who made moves to abolish slavery, speaking out against those brethren who waffled on the issue and those who supported slavery. Many brethren not only accepted, but actively promoted slavery. For many Americans, including Christians, the rejecting of slavery was most definitely outside of the box. These ideas were revolutionary. They were outside the box. So, a box is not inherently a good thing either.

So, what of the question? Is it wise to think outside the box? I suppose it depends on what you mean by the "box." By itself, this is a nebulous question.

As I reflect further, it occurs to me that we all have a "box." It is our way of understanding the nature of our world, our humanity, and the nature of the God who created it. It consists of what we think is right, good, and proper. Fifteen hundred years ago, the "box" included the belief in "Christian" monarchies, and that the government and God's kingdom were one and the same. Since the time of the reformation, especially the Anabaptists, that has changed. This is one example of something in the box that did not belong there.

I remember putting together some toolboxes at one of my jobs. Everyone's toolbox had to be identical to the master toolbox, which was the standard. There was the master toolbox, and there was my toolbox. They had to match. Once put together, everyone was issued one of these toolboxes to go out and do their jobs. If something was missing from the box, no one could check out until the missing tool was found. I remember one time when no one could go home for a couple of hours because someone on the shift did not account for all his tools and we all wound up having to go look for it. This was not just an issue about missing tools, but about tools being left in equipment that could cause damage, dollars, or even death. Tools left in running machinery can be disastrous. Each tools was shadowed, which made it easy to identify what was supposed to be in that particular spot in the toolbox. This was a reflection of the "standard" of what was supposed to be in the toolbox.

It occurs to me as I think about our "box," the question should not merely be one of whether we are thinking inside or outside the box, but what is the standard for the box? What is in the box may not belong there, and thinking outside the box may be correct or better depending on what is inside the box. Without a standard, it merely becomes a subjective enterprise - "My box is better than your box."

God is a God of both freedom and limits. When God freed Israel from slavery, he brought them to Sinai and gave them the Torah, which included the limits and boundaries for their daily lives. When God created the world, he set limits for the day and night, for the land and the sea, so that they would not transgress and bring chaos and disorder to the order and beauty of the world that he had created. Limits and order go together. Limits and beauty are cousins to each other.

Unrestrained freedom brings gross distortions to what God has created. One well-known example of this is Joseph Smith and his Mormon Church with all its strange teachings. The teaching that humans become God, that Jesus and Satan were at one time brothers, that blackness of the skin is God's curse, and other such teachings are fabrications of an imaginative mind and not from the true word of God. This manufactured religion is just one example of unrestrained freedom.

On the other hand, unrestrained restrictions can also bring gross distortions to what God has created. An example is the medieval church with its inquisitions. Religious inquiry, questioning the status quo, reading the Bible for yourself, and forming your own conclusions, and things of this nature were ruthlessly suppressed. This is an example of unrestrained restriction.

What is inside the box in each of these cases? What is outside the box? It depends on your perspective. Once again, the question should not merely be whether we think and operate in the box our outside the box, but what is the standard? Going with the standard may mean going "outside the box." From God's perspective, our going "outside the box" may be getting back in the box.

The most basic questions should consist of things such as, "What is the nature of God?" "What is the nature of man?" "What is God's desire?" "How has God instructed us to serve him?" "What are my presuppositions?" "How does my background color my understanding of the world, of myself, my God, and his will for me?" "How does God guide us through these questions?" "How much time do I spend in reading his word, in prayer, in inquiry, in confession and prayer?" And the questions go on. That we should "examine ourselves" is an imperative given to us by God. The answers, as they come from God, gives us a picture of the "standard" for the box.

So, is it wise to think outside the box? If our beliefs, practices, and attitudes fall short, and "outside the box" entails a change of practice, beliefs and attitudes that are more inline with what God has set as the standard, then the answer is clearly "yes." Not only is it wise, it is mandated. Without this sort of thing, there would have been no reformation, and no restoration movement, and no back to the Bible movements. We would still be trapped in the dark ages. God has given us a "box," so to speak. He has painted a picture of what goes in the box and what does not belong in the box. It takes commitment, courage, and a humble, repentant heart to make needed changes, especially when we become so comfortable with the box that we think that this is inherently the way it is supposed to be, as many did in the dark ages.

How about some specific issues? Does evangelism happen through building church buildings? What does God's word say about this? How does the character of God illuminate this question? God modeled evangelism through the incarnation, and its implications are far reaching. In fact, any reflection on evangelism, methods, etc. should begin with a theological reflection on the incarnation and its implications (Jn 1:1-14; 14:7-11; 15:15-16; 20:21). The example in Christ, passed on to his Apostles, and to the Apostolic church, are all connected to this. Incarnation means "fleshing out" the message in such a way that it can be heard, understood, and even identified with (Acts 2:14-39; 17:22-31). It is not tied to a culture, language, or place (Mt 28:18-20; Acts 1:8). As many cross-cultural missionaries learning in past decades, it speaks the language of the people, uses analogies of the people, and in turn transforms people through the power of the Gospel which can be communicated in any language and in any culture. Is evangelism cross-cultural right here in our own country? Since the Christian faith is not tied to any culture, language, or people, then any evangelism is inherently cross-cultural. Evangelism in the USA is every bit as cross-cultural as evangelism any place else. Perhaps this is why more new congregations that are effective are less concerned about owning a building, and more concerned about being transformed into the image of Christ. Maybe this is why some Christian assemblies are happening in homes, coffee-shops, rented halls, and other conventional places. Maybe this is why many are seeing Christian faith as not tied to a "place," like a church building, but tied to a people who are tied to Christ. Maybe this is why some have determined to "be" the church rather than "go" to church. Is this outside the box? It depends on the nature of your box.

What about the nature of a Christian assembly? What is the thrust, the emphasis. Is it worship? Is it evangelism? Is it to put on a production? Is it edification? There are some more specific instructions concerning assemblies than there are methods of evangelism. The underlying theological foundation for Christian assemblies has to do with love not only for God, but love for God expresses as love for one another. The "body of Christ" (1 Cor 12) has a focus on edification in Christian assemblies (1 Cor 14; Eph 4). This makes worship distinct. It is not merely a performance by some professional worshippers to God as in the Old Testament, but a participatory event where everyone sings and worships not only to God, be especially "to one another" to edify and build up in the name of Christ (1 Cor 14:26). In Christian assemblies, there should be "mutual edification." A Cappella congregational singing to "one another" is the music of mutual edification (Eph 5:19). It is something all can participate in. It is not the time to put on a Christian production for an audience, nor is it a time for evangelism. It is a time for mutual edification even in the actions of worship. Praise bands, professional musicians, orchestras, etc., while they can be glorious in the sounds they produce for God, are not appropriate for a time where there needs to be "mutual edification," which entails participation from the whole congregation. This is why the synagogue service entailed congregational A Cappella singing. The focus there was on mutual edification. It was not like temple worship where the focus was on worship to God by the best professional musicians who were able to make beautiful music for God. Even though God approved of (Ps 150), and in one case even commanded such worship in the Old Testament (2 Chr 29:25), this is not the focus of Christian worship in the New Testament. Since we ourselves are temples of God, we ourselves make melody in our heart and we each sing to one another in worship for mutual edification. Is this outside the box? Once again, it depends on your box. For many, doing away with the choir, the band, etc. would definitely be outside the box. Or, since it is in harmony with what we see in scripture and with the practice of the Apostolic church, perhaps it is a return to "inside the box."

What about something as basic as conversion? There are a variety of ways people say it happens. Nearly all agree it involves faith. There is no question about this. Jesus is God who came to earth in the flesh (Jn 1:14), died on the cross for the remission of our sins, was buried, and raised on the third day (1 Cor 15:1-4), and ascended to the right hand of God and reigns as Lord in his spiritual kingdom (1 Pet 3:22) where he has given the Spirit (Acts 2:38) and will one day return to resurrect humanity (1 Thess 4:9-5:11), some to a resurrection of eternal life, and others to a resurrection of judgment (Jn 5:29). Most agree that this is the object of our faith, what is central to it. However, how is faith to be initially expressed? Has God given any instruction on this? In the New Testament examples in the book of Acts, conversion involved a faith that included the following: repentance, confession, baptism, and reception of the Holy Spirit. Many disagree on the place of baptism. Some relegate it to a sacrament, others dismiss it as unnecessary, and some claim that if it is performed as a part of the salvation process, then in invalidates your salvation since you are trying to be saved by works. However, God has clearly revealed that baptism is rich with meaning and is intimately tied to your salvation. As an expression of faith and conversion, it is a dying to your self (Rom 6:1-8). You are passive as you are lowered into the watery grave and raised to walk in newness of life. You become a new person. Jesus washes away all your sins as you express your faith. In fact, you cannot express your faith without action. Faith without action is no faith at all (James 2:14-24). Even the demons "believe" and shudder. In baptism we are buried with him and are raised to walk in newness of life (Rom 6:4). As Noah was saved through the water, we are also saved through the water by the resurrection of Christ and the power of his blood he shed on the cross (1 Pet 3:20-22). Baptism is like the Christian's wedding ceremony to Christ (Eph 5:25-27). This is where you are united with him and start your new life in him. Bottom line is that we do not save ourselves, Christ saves us when we express our faith in him in the way he has prescribed. So, baptism (as an expression of faith) is intimately tied to our salvation. Is this outside the box? Once again, it depends on what is in your box. To practice Christian conversion in this way may seem outside the box, but in reality, it may be a return back into the box.

And the list goes on and on. So, is it wise to think outside the box? Perhaps this long reflection will help you to better answer this question.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Our Creed

Studying the history of creeds is interesting. The earliest creeds arose in reaction to heretics who were teaching heresy concerning the nature of God and Christ. They served to unite the church in sound doctrine against false teaching. When the church and government became fused, resulting in the paganization of the church and the christianization of society, many abuses, aberrant practices, and erroneous teachings flooded into the church. Worldly values such as power and authority overshadowed biblical ones such as humility and meekness and deeply affected the leadership of the church in a negative way. With the Reformation came an explosion of reform movements all over the world. In order to unite and define their distinct belief and practice, these movements formulated creeds. These dizzying array of creeds tended to divide and fracture these movements into various sects, all claiming to be true Christianity.

On the American frontier, there were two "Great Awakenings." During this time there was an emphasis among many people on going back to the Bible alone. One of the mottos from this time period was, "No creed but the Bible." Many leaders believed that if we discarded denominational names and creeds, we all could unite upon the simplicity of the Gospel as presented in the Bible. We would all be simply, "Christians," nothing more. This was a vast improvement on former movements that tended to formulate creeds that tended only to bring more division and more Christian sects. Effort of many of these pioneers were designed to move away from sectarian Christianity on the basis of the Bible alone as the basis for unity.

Churches of Christ and Christian Churches are descendents of this back-to-the-Bible movement. Historians have often said that one of the greatest strengths of this movement was its emphasis on biblical teaching and authority. The article in Mead's Handbook of Denominations in the United States says that it is remarkable that Churches of Christ, without any centralized government, headquarters, or creed, have the level of uniformity that they do in regards to doctrine and practice. There was for the most part a large degree of unity among Churches of Christ based in large part on biblical teaching without an official creed.

However, some in their zeal to return to the Bible may have missed the big picture and have neglected the weightier matters of scripture. There is an emphasis on the Bible, but not a greater emphasis on what is more central in the Christian faith.

This seems to be to sort of thing that many scribes, doctors of the law, Pharisees, and Jews had done. Jesus said, "You search the scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; it is these that testify about me" (Jn 5:39). Faith in God wasn't primarily about counting out each grain of wheat or spice to make sure it equals exactly 10%, or about not lifting a finger to do anything that remotely looks like work on the Sabbath, or about making sure you were thoroughly ritually washed. These were not bad things in themselves. However, these in themselves did not endear the people to God. The reason they did not is that these folks had neglected the weightier matters, such as justice, mercy, and love. They knew their scriptures, but didn't know God. To them, God was reduced to a set of rules. They often elevated the wrong rules. There seems to have been a religious debate on which commandments were the greater commandments. This is probably why Jesus was asked which is the greatest commandment. The rules that these Pharisees, Jews, lawyers, and scribe elevated indicate what God was like to them. To them, God was not relational, but a rule giver and a accountant of who keeps all the rules.

Those who know God reflect the vary character of God. That is why John says, "He who loves is born of God and knows God because God is love" (1 Jn 4:7). God IS love! Love is one of the central aspects of his character. That is why Jesus elevates Love as the greatest commandment (Jn 13:34-35). That is why justice, mercy, and kindness, and other "relational" things are weightier matters. The commandments flow from one of the most prominent characteristics of God. These Jews had missed this because they had reduced God to a set of arbitrary rules. This is not to say that God does not have rules, because he most definitely does. But his rules flow from his character. Some are more central than others. Some are "weightier." The greatest expression of God's character, of his love and relationship is when Christ becomes flesh, lives among us, fully identifies with us in our humanity, and dies on the cross as one of us. This is the high point and the central thing in scripture. Everything points to it. The "rules" God has that flow from this are the weightier matters of the law.

These are things I remind myself of when I read scripture. If not, Jesus could just as easily say to me, "John, you search the scriptures because you believe that in them you have life, but it is these that testify of ME!" Everything beginning with Genesis and ending with Revelation points not to a set of arbitrary rules, but to Christ, who is God in the flesh and the ultimate message and explanation of God and his character. If I miss that in my study of scripture, then I have truly missed it.

Remember that the word of God is the Sword of the Spirit (Eph 6:17). It is the Spirit's primary tool to transform you into the image of Christ. We also need to keep in mind that we are encountering scripture that is "inspired" (2 Tim 3:16). More literally, this verse says it is "God-Spirited" or "God-Breathed." It is from the breath of God, and it is only the breath of God that gives life (Gen 2:7; Eccl 12:7). This is why the word of God is said to be "living" and "active" (Heb 4:12). You cannot read it the same way as you read Plato, Shakespeare, and other great literary works. Indeed, the Bible is a great literary masterpiece, but it goes far beyond this. Jesus said that his words were spirit and life, or "breath" and life (Jn 6:63). Jesus also said "I am the resurrection and the life" (Jn 11:25). Furthermore, Jesus said "I am the way, the truth and the life" (Jn 14:6). In other words, the God breathed scripture is not merely a manual to memorize, but a tool of the Spirit to bring us to Christ, who is our life.

So, here is a suggestion on reading scripture. Studying scripture is beneficial. But don't limit yourself to just studying the scripture. Set aside time to merely read it, not dissect it, do word studies, and things of that nature. Let God "breath" new life into you through his God-breathed word. As you read the Gospels, dialogue with God. Ask things such as, "What are you telling me here? How does this point to Christ? What does this say about you God?" Read the Psalms regularly as part of your personal worship. Read the great accounts of God in the Old Testament to learn what he is like. Read the epistles of that deal with specific issues of the Christian life, remembering that Christ is the foundation of the message in the epistles. Read the book of Revelation, and see how all of human history culminates with Christ, the faithful and righteous divine warrior.

Indeed, Christ is the source of true life, and scripture bears witness to Christ. The motto, "No creed but the Bible" is a good one, but I believe we can improve on this even more. Since the scriptures point to and bear witness to Christ, and since Christ is the fullness of Deity in bodily form (Col 2:9), God in the flesh (Jn 1:14), the exact representation of God's nature (Heb 1:3), and the explanation of God (Jn 1:18), you could correctly say based on this,

"Our Creed is Christ."

What a powerful statement. Spend some time in reflection on this and how it might affect the nature of your Bible reading.

Monday, March 31, 2008

"I AM" or "I WILL BE"

I remember talking to a Christian from another country. He commented about how different many of us American Christians are than the brethren were from back home. He talked about how "dead" many of us were and how "dead" many of our churches were. At first, I thought he was referring to the mood in our worship services, which tend to be pretty formal compared to what he was used to. Their worship is less structured and has more spontaneity, and has a lot more singing, reading, and praying. But this isn't what he was talking about. He said it looked like most of us in worship did not want to be there and were in fact bored out of our minds. It appeared we were going through a ritual, fulfilling a duty, and were not really there because we wanted to be together and together thank God, worship God, and pray to God. I took a little offense at this at first. This is a matter of difference in culture. Besides, how could he possibly know what was in the hearts of worshippers. After I got past being offended, I began to consider what he was saying. Could it be true? Do I want to be there? Am I really focused on thanking, honoring and praising God or merely fulfilling an obligation? Am I struck by the wonder, grace, majesty, and holiness of God when coming together with my brethren for worship? Is there a sense that we are, in a manner of speaking, on "holy ground" when God invites us into His presence in worship?

I have had conversations with people who believe that we are too casual and laid back. We do not act as though worship is a particularly holy time in the way we start and begin, in trying to quiet down the chatter so we can worship, in writing notes back and forth in worship, and so on. I know there are those who came from a high church background where even the physical structure of the building was constructed in such a way that this was to be a holy place and a holy time when coming together. The colors, the stained glass, the use of precious metals all communicated something of the holiness and highest worth of God. Do we need to contract our worship space in such a way that it reflects a little more of the purpose of this space and its use and think of it as a "sanctuary?" To be sure, it sure would communicate something of the majesty and the holiness of God.

On the other hand, I have had conversations with people that believe we are too formal, cold, and even lifeless. From an outsider's perspective, it looks as though we are bored and apathetic. It is not just that we don't say Amen much, that we don't raise our hands or kneel when praying, or that we don't clap our hands. It is the fact that it seems we do next to nothing. We might sing, but only in a whisper if we sing at all. We don't sing out loud. It is subdued, it appears, not because we are in the presence of the holy, but because we are just not excited or overjoyed to be there. The "feeling" in the room is dead. I took offense at this as well. This is not a concert, a pep-rally, or anything like that. It is worship and needs to be dignified and honoring to God. Once again, after I got over being offended, I had to ask myself is there any truth in this? To be sure, worship need not be so stuffy, formal, and ritualistic that we squeeze the meaning out of it. Isn't shouting to the Lord, making a joyful noise, raising open and undefiled hands toward Heaven, reading to God and ready to receive his blessings, or even an "Amen", aren't these appropriate responses from the heart? After all, David leaped about with all his might before the Lord during that special occasion when God's Ark was coming to the city. I don't think I would dance in a linen ephod in a worship service, but surely when God has done something special in my life, singing with joy or an "Amen" would be appropriate. I remember in a worship period with a bunch of teens, we all gathered together on the floor to sing. Some sat, others were on their knees, and a couple at one point even reached toward the heavens as we sang a particular song.

As I reflect on this, I ask myself, do we really need to make the worship space more ornate an holy looking in order to inspire the sense of majesty, holiness and awe? Then I remember God telling the Israelites about how to build their altars. Not with cut stones, but with uncut stones. In other words, a pile of rocks. Wouldn't that be embarrassing in light of some of the ornate pagan temples and high places that had existed at that time? Why did God tell them to do this? Perhaps it was to keep the focus on God and not on the work of men's hands, which could lead to idolatry. Holiness is not about gold, wood, or stone and what you can fashion it into.

Later in Israelite history, many Israelites began to treat the temple like an idol, thinking if they performed the right rituals and incantations that they would be invincible because it was the Temple of Yahweh. They had not circumcised their hearts, therefore worship was either a duty or merely a means to try and be manipulative and satisfy their selfish desires through their worship.

What about the other end of the spectrum. Should we try and whip all the worshippers up into an excited frenzy so it can be more upbeat and outsiders will see that our faith is indeed real and we are happy to be there? This can be just as artificial. In fact, if it is artificial, outsiders will see it for what it is. How tragic it is when outsiders can see artificial worship for what it is and insiders do not! I have been in worship services that were frenzied like this. It seemed forced, orchestrated, and phony. On the other hand, I have also been to worship services that were very upbeat, but were not forced, orchestrated or phony. I have been to more formal worship services in buildings that were made with the utmost care, artistry, and dignity, including sculpted trim, stained glass, and things of this nature. Yet the worship services were lifeless and dead. On the other hand, I have been to other worship services in the same type of structure that was beautiful, dignified, full of awe, majesty, and life. I walked away as a believer declaring, "surely God is among you."

What was the difference? It surely wasn't about orchestrating a frenzy. Nor was it merely about creating an aesthetically majestic and awe-inspiring space. It had more to do with the people. You can tell when they love God and truly believe that he is the living God and not just some character in a book. It is clearly evident when you are among a group of people who are theists rather than deists, who believe that God has been and is still working out his plan and reject the idea that God has merely wound up the clock and leaves us on our own.

I am reminded of Exodus 15, the very first act of worship by Israel. It came as a "response" to God's mighty act of salvation from bondage. They sang a song declaring Yahweh as a mighty warrior who rescued them from the clutches of Pharaoh. This worship was meaningful, heartfelt, and moving.

True worship does not begin with us. It doesn't begin with, "what shall we do?' or "how shall we worship?" It begins with God himself. Worship is response to God. If worship does not begin with God, then it will either be dead or orchestrated.

Isn't it appropriate to begin worship with a declaration or reminder of who God is and what he does? Many of the Psalms give us the language, words, and images to call to mind what God does for his people and what kind of God he is. No matter how bad things get, no matter how much enemies persecute, no matter how much it seems the world no longer needs God, God is still on his throne and is still God. He is our shepherd; we are the sheep of his pasture. When we come before his throne, remembering who our God is and who we are, we kneel, we pray, we give thanks, we praise, we worship. Pride diminishes. Humility with joy increases. Fear shrinks. Strength and courage expands. We are reminded that God is with us and all is well.

In Exodus 3, God tells Moses, "I am who I am." In Hebrew, it is "ehyeh asher ehyeh." This could also be translated, "I will be who I will be." The exact same word in the exact same form is used earlier in the chapter when God tells Moses "I will be (ehyeh) with you." The difference is huge. God is not merely telling Moses that he exists, but that he will be who he will be…for them. God will be the Lord of Hosts, Deliverer, Warrior, Provider, etc… God is not a mere watcher, but is the living God who is active in his creation. He came and tabernacled in the midst of Israel and dwelt symbolically enthroned above the cherubim on the Ark of the Covenant. He tabernacled among us as Jesus, our savior and deliverer. Jesus sent the Spirit when he departed, and we as God's people have become God's temple. Since we are God's "mobile" temple, you could say in a sense that God still tabernacles in us. Our Lord is with us to the end of the age. If we believe that, then our natural response is to worship him. If we do not believe that, worship may be a little more difficult. I suppose that what you "actually" you believe about God and what he is like will affect how you worship.

I do not merely see God as "I AM" (that here merely exists 'out there' some place far away), but as "I WILL BE" (God will be for us and with us as our rock, our salvation, our strength, provider, our song, etc.). He is not just our God, he is our "Father." Doesn't that just want to make you sing a song, to give thanks, to worship?

Thursday, March 20, 2008

The Center of our Faith

My wife and I recently attended a theology lab for church planters. Even though it was geared for church planters, it was pertinent to anyone involved in any kind of ministry. This theology lab was a good time to re-focus and rejuvenate. My wife and I got a clearer picture of how God is leading us in our ministry. In order for this to happen, we needed to refocus on the center of what Christianity is all about. If we are not centered properly, then peripheral things often can take center stage and crowd out what is supposed to be at the center. Good theology is like a rudder than guides not only church planting ministries, but all of ministry.

What is it all about? There was a time in my early Christian life when I would have said it was all about salvation. The end goal was to be saved. The first person that I had the opportunity to bring to Christ was scared to death of Hell. He did not want to go there. Who does? I certainly did not want to go there. So we sat down together and went over the steps to salvation and the things he needed to do and believe in order to stay out of hell. When we were through, he was eager to do it all as soon as possible. He didn't want to take a chance that if he didn't do it right away, he might not get a change and therefore go to Hell. So, I called up the preacher who opened the building for us so that we could get him into the water. That was the goal, to get as many people in the water as possible so that they can be saved. I have come to realize that salvation is not the end all be all. It is not the ultimate goal. It is a means to the goal.

I had also thought at one point that the ultimate goal was to go to Heaven. Salvation was the means by which we could go to Heaven. It was comforting to know that after we die, that existence doesn't just end. There is so much more awaiting for us after we die. Death for the saved person is merely a transition, a graduation into eternity. We move many places throughout life and live in many places. But the final home will be in Heaven. What is Heaven? Some think of mansions over the hilltop. Others think of streets paved with gold. Some think of a glorious, beautiful garden. The Bible describes a time when the tree of life is restored, and there will be no more death or sickness. I used to think of Heaven as a calm, peaceful place where there was lots of light and everyone wore robes. It was a nice thought, but I have also come to realize that Heaven is still not the ultimate goal. If I understand Heaven merely as a "place" to go to, then I have missed the whole point.

All of life, all of Christianity, all my faith, and my ministry stems and is centered not in salvation, not in Heaven, but in God. The end all be all is fellowship with our creator, our God, our Father. This is the core, or the center of all Christian theology. That may sound strange because I used to like to do theology by "list." I suppose that is a product of my Western, scientific culture in which I love that likes to categorize, describe, and list things. So I wound up with the five points of salvation, or the three points of the Lord's supper, the five acts of worship, the four characteristics of the Holy Spirit and such.

One of the drawbacks in doing theology "lists" is that we tend to make everything on the list of equal importance. There are some things that are more central than others, and then there are some things that are peripheral things. Sometimes doing doctrinal studies by "lists," obscures this fact. Another drawback is it tends to be reductionistic. God didn't reveal himself through lists. The majority of the Bible is narrative, history, or story, which cannot be reduced to lists. These reveal who God is, what he is like, and what the implications for us are.

So, a better way to think of theology is that it has a core, and everything radiates from that core. This is especially necessary when you run into situations that the Bible doesn't directly address. This is necessary when you run into cultural challenges to the way we have always done things. How are we to do ministry? How are we to serve? How are we to "do church?"

As the world changes and challenges our mode of operation, what should we do? There are typically two reactions. One is to get defensive, take an adversarial stance, retreat into a spiritual bunker and protect our traditions. Anyone that deviates from these traditions is suspect at best, or labeled a heretic at worst. Change is a bad word. This is traditionalism.

The other reaction is to look at all of our practices, identify what no longer works, and to adopt practices that work. On the surface, there are those that have tried this and have appeared to be successful. Some famous mega-churches have grown out of this. They have identified what "works," and have done it. This is pragmatism.

Neither one of these is a theologically sound reaction. If we are not theologically grounded, then we slide into a default mode, whether it is traditionalism or pragmatism. Leaders in many of the pragmatic churches have found that they have grown a mile wide and an inch deep. The traditionalist churches are often an inch wide and an inch deep. Neither have much depth to them. For one type of church, the center is tradition. For the other, the center is the ABC's of church - "attendance, buildings, cash." These are just a couple of example of the default mode you can slide into if you are not theologically grounded.

So, what lies at the center and what radiates from it? Go back to the very beginning. What do you have? In the beginning God. It all starts with God. Who is God? What is God? God is not whoever you want him to be. For thousands of years people have tried to make their gods in the image of whatever they wanted, but that is not God.

Let's go back to the beginning. Genesis is such an important document. It introduces us to who God is, what He is like. It introduces us to ourselves, what we are and what we are like. In the beginning, God created the Heavens and the earth. God's Spirit, God's "breath" was hovering above the waters. The "breath" of God is what gives true life. So, God created man in his own image and breathed into him the breath of life. He did this with no other creature. God walked with man in the garden that he prepared for him. Everything was in perfect harmony. There was harmony in the creation. There was harmony between man and God. There was harmony between man and creation. Man had dominion over all the creation and was the keeper of the garden. He could eat from any tree, except one. If they ate of that one, they would die. But they could eat from any of the others. It was all very good. The God who is good created something very good.

One day man came across a serpent. The serpent pointed to the tree that God had told them not to eat. He told them that God had lied. They wouldn't "die" if they ate of the tree. He told them that they would become like God, they would know the difference between good and evil, they would be smarter.

Imagine what might have gone on in the minds of Adam and Eve. Wow! Could it be? Is there more to life than this garden? Is God withholding something from me? I could become greater than I am? I could become more independent. I could become….well, I am not sure, but I sure wouldn't have to be so reliant on God….. But God said not to, that I would die. Maybe the serpent is right…..

So, man ate the fruit. Then came the guilt, the shame. They knew what they had done. Like that serpent said, they really "knew." They had become "smarter," and now they wanted to go hide. Then they heard God walking in the garden. Any other time, they might have run to him like children run to their father when he comes home. Instead, they went the other way. They hid from him. They could hear God calling, "where are you?" Adam, Even, where are you?

Why does God call? Because God is a relational God. The Bible tells us that God is our Father. The Bible tells us that Jesus is God. The Bible also seems to say that the Spirit is God. Bible tells us that God is three in one…one God, three "persons." This is what the word, "trinity" refers to. God is eternally three in one. What this means is that He was already a God of fellowship, a God of love, a relational God even before he created us. He did not NEED us to be relational. He is inherently relational within himself. He didn't create or redeem us because he so needed us, but because he chose to love us. So, God calls to man.

The serpent was wrong…and he was right. They did not die, at least not in the way many think of death. They went on "living," but it wasn't really "life." They suffered the worst kind of death, the death that comes from alienation from God. Instead of harmony, love, peace, security, fellowship, beauty, and all of the things that comes from the very character of God, there was something they never could have quite grasped…until now. Now there is alienation, pride, hate, war, violence, murder, anger, deceit, and other things which are the exact opposite of God. This result of being alienated from God disrupted the beautiful, relational harmony of God's creation.

But the story doesn't end there. God promised to destroy the power of sin and re-unite mankind to himself. God continues to "call" to man. He called to Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, Israel, and he calls us. Why? Because God is inherently a relational God.

This really hit home with us at the theology lab. We hit the major mega-themes of the Christian faith. We spent some time trying to identify the core. Stacey and I identified it as our God who is a relational God. This is the core. The makes the Bible a book about relationship. This is why the greatest command is love. This is why the Bible tells us that God is Love. God is a relational God and we see that throughout the Bible. Everything radiates from this and identifies those core, non-negotiable aspects of Christian theology.

Our personal reflection put relational God at the foundation, and scripture as connected to it all, since we would not know much without scripture. From there is Jesus who is God, the incarnation which demonstrates God's relationality, his death and resurrection, atonement and sin. There is baptism with is intimately tied to atonement. These are right next to the core. Jesus said, "unless you believe I am, you will die in your sins," in John 8:24.

There is humanity, made in the image of God. Because we are all made in God's image, all human beings are worthy of the inherent dignity and worth that comes from God. This is why Jesus says that when we serve others, we are serving him.

As humans, we carry the breath of God. All life comes from the breath of God. In the beginning, the breath of God brought life, beauty, and harmony. Sin disrupted that life, but God breathes new life into us. He has given us his spirit, new breath. The flesh profits nothing, but the Spirit, the breath of God is what gives life. What does this mean? All around we see the worse kind of death, the death that came as a result of Adam's sin. We see the hatred, pride, fear, shame, murders, etc. Where do people find the breath of God? We are a temple of the breath of God, a temple of his Spirit. Life….true life exudes from us as we reflect the very life of God in love, peace, mercy, kindness, and goodness. The breath of God, his Spirit, sanctifies us and transforms us. The Spirit renews us and is restoring the image of God in us. The spirit restores harmony, unity, and beauty.

Jesus came to reconcile. He came to restore what was lost. He is God in the flesh. God, because he is relational, came from Heaven to earth. He came alongside us. He became one of us. He experienced our hurts, our temptations, our human nature. He became weak, he poured himself out, he became vulnerable. He had to live by faith as a human. He had to trust that when he was put to death, that God would not abandon him to Hades and would raise him from the dead. I can hardly get my mind around it! God. Crucified as a common criminal. Died. Buried. Forgiveness. Love. Resurrection. Life. Because of the forgivness Jesus offers, we now have the ability to forgive anything no matter how heinous. We have the ability for reconciliation, for unity, for renewed life in him. Jesus died, rose, and gives the Spirit.

But this restoration work is not finished. God's kingdom is near, it is here, but it is also still to come. Jesus said the world is like a field with both wheat and tares mixed together. God has already established his kingdom alongside the kingdom of this world. The kingdom of God overlaps this world. It is a parallel community of justice, peace, and mercy. It is a kingdom of light and salt. It is a kingdom where our whole lives become worship and service to God. God places us alongside the world for a redemptive purpose. As people experience the breath of God, the Spirit of God, true Life of God in us in our love for each other, then the world will know Christ.

The time is coming, when the kingdom of this world will become the kingdom of his Christ, and he shall reign forever and ever. God will once again walk in the presence of man as in the beginning. That is the goal, fellowship with God.

Since God is inherently relational, that means our relationship with God is not grounded on some "legal" requirement. You see it in Abraham, in Israel, in Job, and in Christ. God cannot be appeased or paid off. That is not who he is. The basis of our relationship with God is the love of God. This is why Jesus became flesh. This is why he went to the cross. This is why he prayed for his enemies.

The strength of this type of theological reflection is that it allows us to allow the "weightier matters" to have weight. Theology by lists have a tendency to treat everything of equal importance. There are things that are close to the core and are non-negotiable items. They stem from the core character of God. These have a strong bearing on the direction and nature of our ministries. These are the values that shape our direction. The chart above visually expresses our theological framework for ministry. I am just now beginning to reflect on how the affects our attitudes and how we are to relate to God, to each other, and to the world. The greatest command is love. It is about love. If you strip this away, if this is not the center or the core, it all tumbles down. It is foundational.

There is so much more that can be said, but this in a nutshell describes where we are. We are seeing this as sort of a new beginning in our ministry. I think all ministry training should begin and end with this type of theological rudder, but it typically does not. There is sort of a default mode even in many of our ministry training schools that needs to be evaluated in light of good, sound, biblical theology.

We are thankful to God for what he is showing us. We are not sure how that will take shape, but we are excited about it.

I have recently felt a certain restlessness, and a certain inadequacy, a longing, but wasn't sure what it was. This theology lab along with other recent classes and workshops have been instrumental in putting some better perspective on myself, on the kingdom, and on ministry. So, we are renewing our commitment to God not to merely slide into a default mode with our faith. It is about relationship, first and foremost with God, and also with others. This includes ALL who are made in the image of God. I need to connect with God, with my brethren and with those who have not yet entered into the Kingdom. This means being more relational. Not only is there reading and praying, but also sharing and encouragement. There is togetherness, joy, and fun! Yes, fun! We need to learn to enjoy the fellowship and togetherness that comes from our relational God.

As the Kingdom, we are living alongside the world for a reason. Jesus didn't bring the kingdom near the world so it can be isolated, but so it could be a kingdom of life. As a temple of the Spirit, we have the breath of God, we have life. I have come to realize that I am most energized when leading people into the Kingdom. So, I am looking to discern how God will accomplish this through us.

This is an exciting sense of new renewal and beginning. I realize that we are always learning, always being formed, and therefore always need to be as clay in the hands of the master.

Saturday, March 08, 2008

Rites of Passage

After discussions in church planting workshops, readings associated with it, and further discussion with others with a passion for discipleship and church planting, I have been spending some time in reflection and prayer on the idea of "rites of passage" in our walk with God. So, here are some more of my rambling thoughts on all of this.

In many societies, there are time honored rites of passage. Whether it is a Jewish Bar-Mitzvah or a Graduation Ceremony, they mark important transitions in a person's life. They give order and stability to the process of personal growth.

I find it interesting that the early church had such rites of passage. The most obvious rite of passage is Christian baptism. This is not merely a human tradition, but one that begins in the ministry of Christ. The meaning of baptism was transformed by the atoning work of Christ on the cross and his resurrection. The association of baptism with Christ's atoning work as what made it "Christian" baptism."

In the book of Acts, most of the converts came from Jewish backgrounds. They already had a history and background with Yahweh, the God of Israel. Many were familiar with biblical ethics, worship, and lifestyle. When they accepted the Christian message, they were converted quickly, usually being baptized on the same day. They typically did not need instruction on morality, ethics, worship, and things of this nature. They needed instruction on the Messiah who has fulfilled, or made full the Torah of Yahweh.

After the destruction of the temple, the church quickly became gentile in flavor as the "Jewishness" of the church began to wear off. In fact, the Jewish liturgy after the fall of Jerusalem changed in such a way that it became impossible to remain both a Jew and Christian. With the addition of a prayer that basically pronounced a curse on Christians, Christians could not longer participate in Jewish worship. Even though gentiles had been flooding into the church, the church still was in touch with its Jewish roots until this time.

As the church increasingly became more gentile and less Jewish, more and more people were coming who had no Jewish background. Their world-view was either pantheistic or henotheistic. Their ethics, morality, and worship were awash with pagan ideals. Conversion to Christianity was not merely a simple matter of accepting Jesus as the Messiah because gentiles had little point of reference for this concept. The term Messiah, or "Christos" in Greek did not resonate with pagan Gentiles at all because it was solidly a Jewish concept. For the pagan, to be "anointed" meant nothing more than to be medicated with some sort of oil or ointment.

It was perhaps for these types of reasons that the situation in the second century was different. Quick baptisms were not longer the case. In fact, it was not unusual for there to be a considerable instructional period before catechumens were admitted for baptism. The four stages in this period included Seeker, Hearer, Kneeler, and Faithful. There was a rite of passage that marked the end of one stage on the beginning of the next that included such things as the rite of welcome, or ultimately the rite of baptism and communion when people officially became a member of the body. It is interesting that in the early church, the hearers were separated from the faithful at some point in their worship. The hearers received instruction pertinent to their stage in the journey while the faithful received communion.

I will not go into great detail, because the details of theses practices were pertinent and relevant to their particular time, which is far removed from us today. However, I am wondering if the baby was not thrown out with the bathwater. The Protestant movement slowly distanced itself from the medieval church, rejecting many practices that were either neutral or even beneficial. Then came American Christianity which fractured into many, many religious groups, each distancing themselves from each other. Our own "Restoration" movement, as we typically call it now, began as a unity movement, but also has given that up in favor of distancing itself from anything that looks or feels like practices that exist in other religious groups. In effect, the faith, life, and practice of the church became reduced to the lowest common denominator. Anything not expressly commanded in scripture is rejected, especially if it is a practice found in other religious groups.

I have to wonder, do we honestly believe that something is bad simply because it exists in some other religious group? Is something that is neutral in itself to be rejected simply because some other religious group has it? What about something that is a positive practice that exists elsewhere? Should we turn away from it simply because it looks like something someone else does? Shouldn't our faith and practice be rooted in good, sound, biblical theology rather than reactionary theology? I think most of us would agree with this…on the intellectual level. However, I have seen the emotional reactions to practices which is "like what those (insert the name of the religious group) do." Our emotional reactions tend to overshadow our intellectual ones. So even though we say that there is nothing wrong with certain practices that may be found in other religious groups, our actions say otherwise. We treat some practices and those who do them as though they were wrought of Satan.

We need to realize that some practices in various religious groups pre-dates those religious groups. Some practices go back to the 2nd century church, and perhaps even to the first century church, which is prior to many of the deviations that degenerated into the problems, abuses, and heresies in medieval Christianity. If we get past some of the baggage associated with some of these practices, we may be able to re-claim the baby and still leave out the bathwater.

I am thinking specifically about the practice of formal instruction in preparation for Christian baptism. Many that still practice this today call it "Catechism." The word itself came from a Greek word, katachizein, which means to teach or instruct orally. Even though there were some variations from area to area, the overall instructional practice of the pre-Nicene church was pretty much standard. There was extensive and fairly standardized teaching that included intense discipleship training for all believers as a prerequisite for baptism . One could not straddle the fence and still be considered faithful. The process of instruction had definite, identifiable stages with definite rites of passages going from one stage to the next.

To most older evangelicals, this seems archaic, a step back to what we have tried to get away from. It smacks of authoritarian Christianity. What many do not realize is that this is older than they think. This did not originate with the medieval Catholic church. It goes back to the early church fathers in the first three centuries of the church. This practice of instruction is likely a major contributing factor to the ability of the church, though marginalized, illegal, and persecuted, to not only be able to survive, but to also inundate the Roman empire in such a short amount of time. This is probably why the church was able to stay pure in the midst of so much defilement. This would have been a major factor in the church remaining holy. The church didn't become flooded with pagan ideas until after the legalization of Christianity and the outlaw of all other religions, which made virtually everyone in the empire a "Christian." The culture paganized the church and the church Christianized the culture. The two became indistinguishable. This was such a far cry from the biblical perspective that affirms that Christ's kingdom is not of this world, that we are aliens, that our citizenship is in Heaven, that familial relationships have to do with faith rather than genetics or nationality. The church became married to the powers, authorities, and principalities that were supposed to have been hostile to it. With the paganization of the church also came the "worldly Christian," which is the Christian who worships, prays, performs various Christian rituals, but whose way of thinking, interactions, attitudes, and affections are still of this world. No wonder it became "respectable" in the world's eyes to become a Christian. But from the beginning, it was not this way.

I believe that we are returning to our rightful place, which is out of the mainstream of this world. This was the church of the first three centuries. Contrary to what many believers think, the church is not the chaplain to society, which is the role it received as the result of its paganization. Even when the church was "officially" decoupled from government in America, the church still remained a "chaplain" to it in an unofficial sense, though this has been changing over the last forty years or so. We need to understand that the church is not the "pastor" of the community, but is the body of Christ. The church is salt and light. It is a counter cultural community of people who has aligned their allegiance to Christ and Christ alone. This is why early Christians did not take oaths of allegiance. They had already declared their allegiance when they were converted to Christ. They saw the world clearly for what it was and knew clearly what their role in the world was. There was no confusion in the first three centuries. Why? A major reason was the instruction and training they received.

Curiously, it is often the younger evangelicals that want to go back to the "old days," or to use a biblical term, the "old paths." There are some people that use the term "old paths" to refer to the way things were 50 years ago. But these younger evangelicals are thinking of the practices and faith of the apostolic church. They are thinking of faith and life in the first three centuries when the church was at its best. I ran across a term that has become popular for many evangelicals under 30 that seems to express their perspective. That term is, "ancient-future." The "ancient" faith (not the faith of the 1950's) provides the compass to face the challenges of today and the future as God would have it. Some ancient practices are being recovered, such as Christian rites of passage, intense discipleship, a greater emphasis on the holy in worship, the devotional and not just academic reading of scripture, a passion for social justice, and the idea of every Christian as a minister. Getting away from the modern paradigm for Christianity which really began with the emperor Constantine, a growing number of younger Christians are identifying their faith not with a place or building, but with Jesus himself. They are seeing the church as themselves rather than a locality. They don't strive to "go to" church, but to "be" the church.

Most sociologists and anthropologists recognize the impact of rites of passage on the growth and socialization of people in a given society. All societies have them. It is an integral part of personal growth. Even here in America, we go from Junior High School to High School. Jewish children do a Bar-Mitzvah. And there are countless others. It is what defines the end of one stage of life and the beginning of another. Even scripture recognizes that we are at "stages" in our growth. We start out as babes, we long for milk, we grow in grace and knowledge, we reproduce, etc. The early church embraced this idea and with a formal training program that involved what we would call a mentor, the elders, and the congregation (usually a house church). Christians grew strong. Whether we call the stages seeker, hearer, kneeler, and faithful, as the early church did or call it something else, it should be clear to see how this idea along with rites of passage can be immensely helpful. Whether you call it "catechism" or use some other name, it should be clear to see how this would be helpful and almost necessary.

Yes, these are man made. Yes it would be a tradition. Keep in mind, though, that traditions are not inherently bad. Most of us have family traditions that we cherish. They order life, help give it meaning, and help us to remember where we have come from and face the future with confidence. Whether we recognize it or not, our life is full of traditions. Our churches are full of traditions. We are blind to many of them as being traditions, but they are traditions none-the-less. We need to not be so afraid of "tradition" that we avoid what is needed and could be immensely helpful.

For church leaders to employ a definite program of discipleship with identifiable stages and transition points is beneficial. When they "give an account" of their ministry as shepherds, they would be able to say that this is one of the ways they ensured that the sheep were healthy and fed.

As I continue to reflect on all of this, it occurs to me that this is easier said than done, especially in a church that is already established. I have heard some people say that it is easier to start a new church than to renew an old one. It is also easier to kill a church than revive it. Is this pessimistic or realistic. If we love God and are dedicated to knowing him and carrying out his purpose, how could this be? Lord, I pray that you give me wisdom, give us all wisdom to see clearly. I am still looking forward to some further workshops in the near future, Lord I pray you bless me, my family, and my ministry through these. Help me to understand the nature of the kingdom, your purpose in it, and my place in it. Help me to be devoted to kingdom purposes, not to a "job," to a single "congregation," or to merely "getting a paycheck." Help me to capture your vision. In the name of Jesus, Amen.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Ancient Perspective on Evangelism

Over the past few years, I have read some interesting studies on the evangelism of the church in the first three centuries. What really jumps out at me is the high level of unyielding expectation alongside the proclamation of the Kingdom of God that brings true freedom, community, and joy. The early Church preached Christ as the ultimate victor.

In contrast to conversion of Jews which took place in a very short period of time, conversion of pagan gentiles usually took more time. Unlike Jews, pagans had little concept of God, his word, biblical ethics, godly virtue, etc. The church tended to classify pagans in the process of conversion as moving from being a seeker to a, hearer, to a kneeler, to faithful. The time of being a seeker was a time for Christian inquiry. The time of being a hearer was the time of receiving Christian instruction. The kneeler phase was the time of intense spiritual preparation for baptism. After baptism, the faithful were completely incorporated into and nurtured to mature faith by the church. So the early church had developed a clearly defined process of discipleship for those seeking to become a Christian.

Hippolytus was an elder in the church who was born in the later part of the 2nd century. He was a disciple of Irenaeus who was a disciple of Polycarp, elder of Smyrna, who in turn was a disciple of John the Apostle. His writing, known as "The Apostolic Tradition," was an attempt to maintain the practices of the 2nd century church, which he saw being corrupted. Therefore, his writings give a window into the practice of the 2nd century church.

When Hippolytus writes about evangelism, the picture we get is that no one was in a hurry to get pagans into the water. Since they were so clearly enmeshed in pagan thought, belief, world-view, and lifestyle, there would be a period of instruction and clear guidance as to what repentance means. It is clear that considerable thought went into what repentance means for pagans who wished to become Christians. Keep in mind that this is before the time of Constantine when Christianity became fashionable. At the time of Hippolytus, the church was still on the margins of society. Here is an excerpt from Hippolytus' The Apostolic Traditions, concerning those who were in the process of converting to Christianity:

"15:1 Those who are newly brought forward to hear the Word shall first be brought before the teachers at the house, before all the people enter.
2Then they will be questioned concerning the reason that they have come forward to the faith. Those who bring them will bear witness concerning them as to whether they are able to hear.
3They shall be questioned concerning their life and occupation, marriage status, and whether they are slave or free."

What follows is a long list of various acceptable and unacceptable occupations and marital situations. Those involved in unacceptable situations or occupations were to change or "be rejected." Those involved in Romans entertainment, whether gladiatorial shows, dramatic shows, or other types of entertainment had to be rejected. Christian took a dim view of Roman entertainment because so much of it involved killing. A government official who wore purple had to resign or be rejected, probably due to his duty of carrying out capital punishment and the required allegiance to Ceasar. In fact, anyone involved in an occupation involving allegiance to Caesar or activity that was contrary to Christian ethics had to cease. If one was a military man in authority, he was not to execute anyone and was not to take military oaths. Christian's not already in military service were not to seek it. Then there are the more obvious changes that needed to take place, such as the pimps, prostitutes, pagan priests, or the one who is living in sexual sins.

This clearly demonstrates the early church's attitude toward the world. It was very clear that conversion meant a turning away from commitment to the rulers and authorities of this world and turn allegiance to Christ as Lord, living in community with his people. They were the Kingdom of God under the eternal lordship of Christ the victor king, and therefore refused any activity or occupation that either demanded allegiance to Caesar or involved activity contrary to Christian ethics. Expectations were clearly high. Their negative view toward Roman entertainment and their rejection of many, many "respectable" trades due to their connection with paganism, and their rejection of public office put Christians on the margins of society. Repentance was not merely saying one believed Jesus is the Son of God, but is was also about declaring allegiance to him. Anything and everything that conflicted with that allegiance was rejected. The Kingdom was social, political, and spiritual. It meant re-identification as a citizen of the kingdom. They didn't worry so much about public "respectability" and acceptance as they did about walking with Christ in his Kingdom which transcends this world.

Would setting the bar so high dampen the desire to become a Christian? It did not. In spite of the fact that Christians were marginalized at best and persecuted or killed at worst, a steady stream of genuine converts entered the church.

But there was another side to this picture. Christians were among the most compassionate people due to their conviction of the sanctity of life. The regularly rescued abandoned babies, rejected abortion, which often killed the mother along with the baby or rendered the mothers infertile. When pagans ran from disease, danger and other such things in an attempt for self-preservation, Christians sacrificially stayed behind and cared for the sick, destitute, and the helpless. Christians had a close bond with each other and took care of each other. There was a "social security" among Christians that amazed the pagans. If a seeker quit his trade in preparation to becoming a Christian because it was unethical or ungodly, he could rest assured the church would help him get on his feet so he could support his family. In fact, several early church writers referred to the church as "mother." What they meant by this is that the church's role in addition to evangelism was the nurture of believers into a mature faith.

As I reflect on all of this, here are some good qualities I see in the early church that we can learn from:

1) Clarity: The early church had a clear understanding of what their place in life was. They were not of this world and had been transferred to the Kingdom of God, which re-characterized their affections, loyalties, beliefs, and attitudes. They were citizens of Heaven, not of this world. They were very specific about what this meant in daily life. The Gospel of liberty freed them from bondage to the principalities of this world and united them to Christ as their ruler. Repentance was literally a change in life, not just something to be done "at church." No one coming to baptism would have been unclear as to what "conversion" meant.

2) Conviction: The early church was passionate about their loyalty to Christ as King, Lord, and Victor over the rulers, powers, and authorities. They were passionate about living as loyal citizens of the kingdom in a hostile world. Unlike many of the pagan religions, Christianity was not just a series of religious rituals, it was a lifestyle, a philosophy, and true template through which to view all of life.

3) Openness: The process of discipleship revealed that the church was open to outsiders. Among them were those who were "seeking" or "hearing" but not yet converted and fully incorporated into the church which happened at baptism

4) Compassion: The church had a reputation for compassion. Unlike pagans, they cared for their own and even cared for outsiders. Ministry to the poor, caring for the outcast, adopting children that were discarded, caring for the elderly, and the equal status among slave and free, men and women, foreigner and native all as brethren stood in sharp contrast to the pagan culture around them. This was perhaps the strongest apologetic for the Christian faith.

5) Nurture: The church had very clear steps for outsiders, especially for those with a pagan background. The classifications, seeker, hearer, kneeler, and faithful made it clear what stage they were at and white kind of nurture they needed. The rigorous instruction, mentoring, and nurture firmly grounded believers in the faith in a world they were no longer of. They taught them how to live in two worlds with their loyalty clearly in the next.

So, here is something to reflect on. What can we learn from our brethren 1800-1900 years ago?


For further Reading:

Bosch, David J. Transforming Mission: Paradigm Shifts in the Theology of Mission.

Green, Michael. Evangelism in the Early Church.

Webber, Robert E. Ancient-Future Evangelism: Making Your Church a Faith-Forming Community.

______________. Journey to Jesus: The Worship Evangelism, and Nurture Mission of the Church.

White Light and Black Light

It couldn't have happened at a better time. I had just finished preaching a sermon about light and darkness earlier that day. Jesus is the true light who "lightens up" everything (Jn 1:9). There is nothing to do in the darkness except grope and stumble.

And there I was after dark, running across the yard with the dog. Well, running until I stepped in one of his ongoing projects - a hole that he has been digging on. POP! I felt something snap in my angle…and the pain! Never felt pain quite like that. I was completely helpless laying in the yard. I couldn't get up. To top it off, the dog was climbing on me. He is just a puppy, so I don't know whether he thought I was playing or he was concerned.

The world is in darkness, and many do not even realize it. Oh, there is light, but it is not the true light. It will light "some" things up, but not everything. I like to use a blacklight to illustrate this. It will light some things up, but not everything. What it does light up does not appear as it really is because the colors will be off. There will be dangers that do not show up.

Some examples that I can think of include such things as the current way of dating. It seems rather harmless on the surface. A new boyfriend or girlfriend every week? What could be the harm? Everyone is doing it. Yet, I wonder how continuing a pattern of using people until they are used up will affect a person? I wonder how the casual going together followed by break ups desensitize people to the ravages of divorce? Whether it is for popularity, to fit in, or some other reason, is this really a good thing? A better question - is this a godly thing?

Then there is the "faith is private" message so prevalent today. I hear it often these days. "Religion should have nothing to do with public policy." Whether it is the ethics of medical research, the direction of public policies, or the education of our young people, religion no longer has a public place. God has been replaced by science, psychology, sociology, and other things of this nature. The result is voodoo science that no one sees as voodoo science. Whether embryonic stem cell research, abortion, cloning, so called' euthanasia, and other such things, the guiding principle seems to be pragmatics. But is pure pragmatics good? Many of the Hitlers and the Stalins of the world sure seemed to think so. The sad thing is that when Hitler was committing some of his most atrocious acts, much of the religious community did nothing. Faith was a private, not a public matter. In matters of public policy, the church took a hands off policy.

The scary thing is that in our country faith is considered a private matter much more so than in Europe a century ago. Professing Christians often do not see God as a relevant part of their world, only in their religious devotion. That is why you can have contradictory public figures who profess faith in God and the Bible as his word yet hold social and political ideologies that are contrary to the nature and will of God. They have divided truth up into secular truth and religious truth. Secular truth is the truth of science, history, medicine, etc. It is seen as public, objective, universal truth. Religious truth is seen as private, subjective, and personal. This is not "true" light. It is black light.

I have come to realize that "secularism" is an illusion of supposed enlightened minds. The word "secular" is less than 200 years old, so you will not find it in scripture. The concept does not even exist in scripture. Why? According to scripture, God is the creator and sustainer of the world.

"For by Him all things were created, {both} in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities--all things have been created through Him and for Him. He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together" (Col 1:16-17).

This is God's world, it all belongs to him.

"The earth is the LORD'S, and all it contains, The world, and those who dwell in it" (Ps 24:1).

Many today use a world that comes from the field of anthropology, "World View." In primitive places in the world, they speak of an "animistic worldview" that sees the world and all of it objects as full of spirits who need to be appeased. In our country, there is the secularist world view that divides the world up into religious and secular. But the Biblical world view is that the world and everything belongs to God and is accountable to God.

"For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse" (Rom 1:20).

God was involved in world affairs of people other than Israel. Some more well known examples come from Nineveh through Jonah and Babylon followed by the Persians and the Medes through Daniel. In fact, God refers to Cyrus as his "anointed" (Isa 45:1). Amos 6:2 seems to imply that God had done something among places we know nothing about.

A biblical world-view is a huge subject to tackle. There is a biblical and theological view of everything, whether it is medical ethics, politics, history, science, philosophy, or mathematics. Most classes on these subjects, even in Christian schools, do not begin with God as the foundation of whatever discipline is being studied. There was a time when biblical theology was considered the "Queen of all the sciences." This world view no longer dominates the world of academia.

The question always to ask is this - where is God in this? How does God view this? How does the nature and character of God affect this? If you are not used to thinking this way, then it will be hard. Resist the inclination to try and avoid or explain away uncomfortable conclusions, especially conclusions that suggest you need to do an overhaul in your thinking or practice. If not, then you have blacklight. It may look cool, it may draw more attention, it may be more acceptable. However, at best that will lead you into the potholes rather than the glory of the Kingdom of God. Jesus is the true light, and we need to see our lives, activity, our world through his eyes.

Monday, February 04, 2008

Musings About What is Important

I have been spending a lot of time lately reflecting on the nature of love. There are those that define love in so many ways. There was a time when I would have automatically thought of unbelievers as being the ones who have all of these various ways of defining love. But I have come to realize that many Christians have unknowingly fallen into the trap of defining love according to their own pre-conceived notions, friends, culture, etc.

In a recent teen gathering, one of the young men made the distinction between what he described as "Love," and "Lo-----ve (said with oogly emotions)." The former is true love, the love that Christ commanded in John 13 when he said, "I new commandment I give to you, that you love one another as I have love you…" It is not "lo-----ve" that puts butterflies in your stomach, that might be hear this week and gone the next. It is not the puppy love that star struck people have experienced. It is the love that God has demonstrated. I was glad to hear that these young people already beginning to have a good handle on what real love is.

But in my experience, I have both seen and heard twisted definitions of love. I still remember Steve's dad, Larry. He was gruff and emotionally abusive. I am not sure if he was every physically, abusive, but it wouldn't have surprised me because sometimes there was evidence of what looked like physical abuse on his wife. This was a man who regularly yelled at his wife and kids. If they didn't get good enough grades, didn't act polite enough, didn't come home on time, or when the kids were younger, if they went across the street, he would yell at them, lecture them, and often demean them in his tone of voice and in what he said. Most of us without hesitation described him as mean and self-centered. Most of his conversations were full of himself. He rarely truly listened to what other people were saying unless it was to use it against them, win an argument, or something like that. The befuddling thing about Larry is that he thought this was okay. He used to tell people that he was trying to care for his family, and at times he would even say it was because he loved them. In reality, he was trying to justify his meanness under the guise that it was love. The reason he was such a hot-head, the reason he could be so mean, the reason he was an unsafe person, according to himself, is because he loved.

I eventually learned that his wife, Tammy, had grown up with a Father not unlike Larry and an emotionally and physically distant mother. Tammy never really understood what love was. Her Dad "loved" her so much he used to abuse her. It wasn't until Tammy became a Christian that she began to experience Christian love. To make a long story short, she tried to get into some counseling, but Larry refused. Out of concern for her children and herself, for their physical, emotional, and spiritual health, Tammy separated from Larry. Tammy and her kids began to experience Christian love from brethren in the church. It was not harsh, but gentle and kind. At first it frightened her. But as her faith grew, her love grew as well.

Love. What is it? Tammy only began to understand it after experiencing it through the kindness of Christians and through spending regular time in God's word. She began to see Jesus as the perfect husband, and how she could be a godly mother to her children by following his example.

Love is not what we say it is. Love is what God demonstrates. Love is what God says it is. One interesting feature about the most common word for Christian love in the New Testament is the word chosen to express it, "agape." It is interesting that this word is used very, very little in secular Greek literature of the day. In secular literature, things like "philia" (affection) and "eros" (fleshly love) are commonly found. But in scripture, agape is used profusely for Christian love and the love of God. The fact that many writers did not use the more common "philia" for love, but chose the rarely used "agape," itself shows that the godly concept of love differed from what the culture at large thought of.

This is why it is so important to spend time in the word. The word of God is the "sword of the Spirit," according to Ephesians 6. The word will help to combat worldliness. It will help fight off acceptance of a worldly concept of love.

1 Corinthians 13 gives an explicit description of "agape." This "agape" chapter tells us first of all that, "Agape is patient, agape is kind." Tammy experienced patience and kindness in that group of Christians. The harsh "love" of her husband and father was not Christian love, in spite of the fact that Larry called it "love." 1 Corinthians 13 also says that "agape does not act unbecomingly." Another way to put it is that it does not act in an ugly way. It is kind. Larry was one of the most unbecoming men we knew at the time.

When it comes to love, I think Christians everywhere need to remember that it is the greatest command and that all of our service, all of the Bible hinges on love. Jesus said the entire law and the prophets rest on the command to love God and love our neighbor. I recall that Jesus was a kind and loving person. Usually when he was harsh, it was with the abusers, such as the Pharisees, whom he described as "white-washed tombs." But overall, the scriptures tell us that Jesus was righteous and full of compassion and kindness. Jesus demonstrated the love of God. Jesus demonstrated real and genuine love.

One of my favorite illustrations of the nature of love is to talk about fake plastic food that you sometimes find in food displays in the store. Sometimes they are very real looking. I remember picking up a block of cheese, only to discover it was not real cheese. It was rubber! Let's say you look at a barbeque grill and there is a steak on it. You can't tell whether it is real or not. One way to test it is to light up the grill and start grilling the steak. If it were a real steak, what would happen? It would first start to sizzle. It would let off a pleasing aroma. Juices would start running off the steak as it begins to turn into a golden brown color. You stomach would start growling as you anticipate a good steak. And if you like a good steak, it would still be pink in the middle and brown on the outside and served with… well, you get the picture.

Now, lets say it is a plastic steak. What would happen then? It sure wouldn't sizzle, but would start to melt. Instead of a pleasing aroma, it would let off toxic fumes. Instead of your stomach growling, you would probably get sick to your stomach at the fumes. Instead of turning brown, the steak would melt and turn into an ugly, sticking, useless black lump of burnt plastic.

That is the different between "real" love, the love of God, and other kinds of love. When the heat gets turned up, when things get ugly, when it gets hard, self-defined plastic love gets ugly. It can even make you sick, just as we were sickened at Larry's brand of love. However, "real" love turns into something even more pleasing. There is no more powerful demonstration of this than Jesus at the end of his ministry washing the feet of Judas, comforting one of the thieves on the cross, or praying for his persecutors as he hung there. In the words of 1 Corinthians 13:8, "Agape never fails."

I believe that if we as husbands, wives, brothers, sisters, co-workers, friends, and brethren base our relationships on this so very different "agape," then our relationships will never fail.

How important is love? Here are some clear answers:

"And He said to him, 'You shall love the Lord your God will all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.' This is the great and foremost commandment. The second is like it, 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.' On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets" (Mt 22:37-40).

"If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but do not have love, I have become a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have {the gift of} prophecy, and know all mysteries and all knowledge; and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. And if I give all my possessions to feed {the poor,} and if I surrender my body to be burned, but do not have love, it profits me nothing" (1 Cor 13:1-3).

What is love? Here is a very good description:

Love is patient,
love is kind
and is not jealous;
love does not brag
and is not arrogant,
does not act unbecomingly,
it does not seek its own,
is not provoked,
does not take into account a wrong suffered,
does not rejoice in unrighteousness,

but rejoices with the truth;
bears all things,
believes all things,
hopes all things,
endures all things.
Love never fails;…" (1 Cor 13:4-8).

What is love? Here is an excellent definition to spend reflection time on:

"…God is love" (1 Jn 4:8).

Thursday, January 17, 2008

A Godly Perspective on Wisdom and Strength

Paul spends time defending his ministry. Evidently there were eminent "super-apostles (2 Cor 12:11), who were sharp in every way. Paul was unimpressive and even contemptible in comparison. These other leaders apparently had letters of commendation (2 Cor 3) which was impressive, they apparently boasted in their success, knowledge, and accomplishments (2 Cor 10-12), they apparently were skilled (2 Cor 11:6), unlike Paul, they were paid by the people they taught (2 Cor 11:7), which is what any eminent teacher/philosopher/etc. would do. Paul could have easily used many of these same methods but chose not to (2 Cor 2). He intentionally "de-exalted" himself. Apparently his trainees did the same(2 Cor 12:18).

There is a theme of spiritual warfare that seems to run through much of what he says, but it is a war that runs upside-down and backwards to conventional thought about ministry, strength, power, and success.

2 Cor 1:5 - "For just as the sufferings of Christ are ours in abundance, so also our comfort is abundant through Christ."
2 Cor 1:12b - "… not in fleshly wisdom but in the grace of God we have conducted ourselves in the world, especially toward you."

Paul rejected conventional wisdom and chose to operate in the grace of God instead. He recognized that God's grace is sufficient. He does not need anything else, and anything else may actually be detrimental.

2 Cor 3:fb - "…but our adequacy is from God."
2 Cor 3:18 - "But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory (or, with ever increasing glory"), just as from the Lord, the Spirit.

The goal of his ministry was not amassing a large following like some of the "super-apostles" of the day. The goal came from his Lord - it was lives that are being transformed into the image of Christ. In other words, people lived like, thought like, and had the attitude of Christ. It was never about the greatness of the vessel, but the greatness of God.

2 Cor 3:7 - "We have this treasure in earthen vessels, so that the surpassing greatness of the power will be of God and not from ourselves;"
2 Cor 4:18 - "…we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen…"
2 Cor 5:7 - "…we walk by faith, not by sight…"

Paul and his disciples had 20/20 spiritual vision. They could see, perceive, and understand the world around them. They also understood their own inadequacy, weakness, and brokenness. This is why Paul was able to correctly say "I am a nobody (2 Cor 12:11).

2 Cor 5:16 - "…from now on we recognize no one according to the flesh; even though we have known Christ according to the flesh, yet now we know (Him - this word supplied by the translators and not in the original text) in this way no longer…"

Paul does not look at anyone or anything from a fleshly point of view. He operates out of a different paradigm that is not of this world, which redefines greatness, success, and wisdom.

2 Cor 10:1-4 - "Now I, Paul, myself urge you by the meekness of gentleness of Christ - I who am meek when face to face with you, but bold toward you when absent! I ask that when I am present I need not be bold with the confidence with which I propose to be courageous against some, who regard us as if we walked according to the flesh. For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh, for the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh, but divinely powerful for the destruction of fortresses."
2 Cor 10:7-10 - "You are looking at things as they are outwardly. If anyone is confident in himself that he is Christ's, let him consider this again within himself, that just as he is Christ's, so also are we…For they say, 'His letters are weighty and strong, but his personal presence is unimpressive and his speech contemptible."

Only a fraction of what a person can communicate gets across when he puts his words in print. Body language, tone of voice, and other things do not come across. Paul's words were powerful because he was speaking the will of God. However, his personal presence was unimpressive and contemptible. Yet this did not stop God from using Paul. In fact it appears that God uses Paul not in spite of his weakness, but through his weakness.

2 Cor 11:6-9 - "But even if I am unskilled in speech, yet I am not so in knowledge; in fact, in every way we have made this evident to you in all things. Or did I commit a sin in humbling myself so that you might be exalted, because I preached the gospel of God to you without charge? I robbed other church by taking wages from them to serve you"
2 Cor 11:21 - "To my shame, I must say that we have been weak by comparison."
2 Cor 11:30 - "If I have to boast, I will boast of what pertains to my weaknesses."
2 Cor 12:10 - "Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ's sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong."

Compared to those "super-apostles," Paul has been weak. Paul never shied away from his weakness, brokenness, or his failures. In fact, he seems to embrace them so that God can use them as tools for his mission. Paul often uses his weakness to build up the church. I wonder what the effect might have been if Paul had highlighted his strengths, successes and made use of every skill he had, trying to outdo those super-apostles?

2 Cor 13:3-4 - "…since you are seeking for proof of the Christ who speaks in me, and who is not weak toward you, but mighty in you. For indeed He was crucified because of (out of, or in - Greek is "ek") weaknesses, yet He lives because of the power of God. For we also are weak in Him, yet we will live with Him because of the power of God directed toward you.

For Paul, modeling weakness was not just the result of being honest and mature enough, but it was also a matter of following in the footsteps of Christ who himself was crucified in weakness. Paul lived in weakness with Christ so that the power of God would work in his weakness.

The lesson for us in all of this is clear. If we are going to walk according to the Spirit and not the flesh, if we are going operate out of the grace of God rather than worldly wisdom, if we are going to walk by faith and not by sight, then it is imperative that we be honest enough with ourselves and those around us to embrace our weakness and failures so that God will work through them. If we simply do nothing, we, like the first generation of Israel, can find ourselves wandering the wilderness for a whole generation. If we become defensive, argumentative, or combative about it, we may find ourselves in the same boat as the Pharisees who were like whitewashed tombs but full of death inside. Instead, God worked people like those bumbling, rag-tag group of Galileans that didn't seem like they would ever get it. God worked through one who persecuted and killed Christians. God worked through those who persecuted and scattered everywhere. God worked through messed up people.

Yet how often do we have the tendency to see things through the eyes of conventional wisdom? I remember years ago visiting a church building that had over 1,000 in the congregation. We were impressed at the building, the counseling center, the foyer with looked like a mall, and the gifted multi-staffed ministry team. Boy! This was a healthy church that was going places. Or was it? That little church in a small town in Arkansas is in a tiny, aging building, the parking lot is gravel or dirt, the carpet and pews are worn, and they only have a semi-retired farmer to "preach." Some may find this little church contemptible compared to the big, slick church. Yet those people in that little church do all kinds of meaningful ministry. They fed their hungry neighbors, were involved in World Bible School, and were always more than generous in the name of Christ whenever there was a need. They were truly godly people. In fact, percentage-wise, there was much, much less sin, scandal, gossip, dishonesty, pride, etc. at this little church without all of the ministry specialist than there was at the large church with the impressively trained staff and resources.

Seeing things according to the flesh is to look at all of the worldly indicators of success which was gained through skill, training, and the right management principles. However, seeing the unseen is to look deeper. No one needs advanced degrees, training, or impressive skill for God to work through them. In fact, it could wind up being counter-productive in so many ways. Maybe this is why Jesus told his disciples to wait in Jerusalem for the Holy Spirit before they went out. They needed to go out in the power of the Spirit rather than the flesh. As a result, they never tried to downplay, "clean-up," or make more palatable the foolishness of the cross. They gloried in it not only as they means of their salvation, but also as a pattern of live. They died with Christ an live according to his model.

My flesh wants what makes me look good. I sometimes want to have a contingency plan for everything before moving forward, which tells me I may be relying on my flesh rather than on the power of the Spirit. I sometimes make ministry more complicated than it really is. I need to be filled with the Spirit and walk according to the Spirit and think according to the Spirit rather than the flesh.

It is an illusion to think that we need to have it all together before we can serve God. This illusion stems from a lack of faith, from pride, and from worldly wisdom. Whether it is something that looks a silly as a group of untrained ex-slaves marching around a walled city like Jericho, or a warrior whose military plan involves love, turning the other cheek, loving your neighbor, and ultimately being executed through a contemptible torture method like being hung on a cross, what is important is faithfulness to God. Sometimes I just need to step forward in faith and do what God wants me to regardless of how it looks from a worldly point of view. This is true wisdom.

I believe that one of the key ingredients to spiritual health, spiritual growth and transformation is a keen understanding of this.