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followHow many times have you heard someone say that he/she is leaving one church or another because of not being fed. Really! What does that even mean? You see, I can be indignant about this point of view because I was one of those people. And it was stupid and prideful and totally off base.

Honestly, is the gospel message so complicated that it requires years and years of Sunday sermons and adult Sunday School to get it? Is sanctification about learning the words or something else? Is it about memorizing the verses or walking them out?

Paul says, about his own journey . . .

I’m not there yet, nor have I become perfect; but I am charging on to gain anything and everything the Anointed One, Jesus, has in store for me—and nothing will stand in my way because He has grabbed me and won’t let me go. . . . For now, let’s hold on to what we have been shown and keep in step with these teachings. [Philippians 3: 12, 16; The Voice translation]

It’s application. Plain and simple. It’s practicing the message. It’s acting like a real human being.

How hard is it to understand this: “Love God with all your heart, soul, strength, and mind; and love your neighbor as yourself.” [Luke 10:27] The words are simple, the message is simple, and the doing? Not so much. If I could just love and love love, that is, really love, so many other things would fall into place, wouldn’t they? After all, love covers a multitude of sins.

Here’s another complicated one [NOT]: “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.” [James 1:27]

Or maybe we’re not reciting the Apostles Creed enough, to remind ourselves of what we believe. Or the Nicene Creed. Or, if that’s not enough, we can review all the ancient creeds and the articles of faith and the statements of faith of most major denominations HERE. That will keep anyone busy for a week or so. Study on.

But will any of this additional teaching make me a better follower of Christ, a transcendent soul? If I “feed” on more messages of some of the greatest theologians or influential preachers of all time, will my heart and soul be on fire for God more than it was before . . . because of the teaching?

Or can it really be more simple than that?

I think most of us get the “message” within the first year or so of a committed relationship with Christ (either through fellowship, church, or bible study). We understand the gist of it from the beginning. We just don’t want to do it, to live it, to walk what we understood from the beginning.

I know I made it all more complicated. I spent so much energy looking for a shortcut or an inside track or a supernatural anointing, as though walking a life of faith is magic. It’s not magic and it’s not about the miracles. It’s just being real and authentic and transparent. And it’s living the paradox! That’s why it’s called FAITH. And for that reason, because the Christ life is woven in with the paradox [another word for true love] (with Bible examples like turn the other cheek, pray for enemies, walk the extra mile, and care about the other person more than self), I keep trying to work the system, the institution, the traditions, the rules.

And Jesus says to me today, “Just walk what you know.” Do that? And your understanding will be sunshine on a Spring day.

 

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The very thing the people didn’t want (to be scattered) was exactly what happened anyway. They thought by building a city with a great tower, it would protect their place, their homes, their city; instead, disunity broke their dreams. Miscommunication is the root of most discord, whether it’s in a marriage, a family, a neighborhood, church, a business, an organization, a government, a city, or a nation. If we do not understand one another, we cannot build or grow because our foundation is sand.

Genesis 11:4-5; 6-8
Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves; otherwise we will be scattered over the face of the whole earth.” . . . The Lord said, “If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them. Come, let us go down and confuse their language so they will not understand each other.”  So the Lord scattered them from there over all the earth, and they stopped building the city.

People often get an idea of how to build something and more often than not, don’t play well with others in the sandbox.

At my work, we have a training class that I help lead, and at one point in the workshop, a table group is asked to build the tallest structure possible with marshmallows and raw spaghetti. It usually ends in disaster or a a very puny, unstable construction. In some cases, the tower is tall and even solid, but often, this comes at the cost of unity, a dictator emerges from the group who forces cooperation. That kind of accord is fleeting.

It’s always been a curiosity to me as to why God would not allow the group to build that tower in the plains of Shinar when they still had the same language. Most commentators talk about the issue of pride. The idea that they wanted to build the tallest tower, as though that, in itself, would seal their safety and confirm their power and authority. And I see that. But I cannot help but wonder if there was more to the story. That they spoke the same outward language but did not really communicate.

Were they really all in agreement about the nature of the tower? Or did they argue and argue and argue about it? Were there power plays and the formation of spheres of influence? Did leaders emerge who were then challenged by other leaders? It’s usually a matter of perspective, of vision poorly expressed that causes misunderstandings. Often, over time, one group develops their own secret vocabulary. Have you ever tried to sit in on a conversation of techies or researchers? They’re speaking English, but I have no idea what they’re talking about.

Of course, it’s in all arenas. Even librarians have lingo like standing order, YALSA, professional collection, MARC record, catalog, folksonomy, bibliographic instruction, boolean searching, call number, controlled vocabulary, ALA, and format, just to name a few.

But Christians are no better: saved, born again, walked the aisle, rapture, name it and claim it, holy laughter, received the baptism of the Holy Spirit, tongues, testimony, and so on.

Groups develop their own language within a language. And we often take those secret languages to build, not a tower, but a wall around ourselves.

So, what happens? Either you have to learn the language of the group or you might as well go elsewhere. Just something to think about today.

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What is the take away for doing something 40 days? Whether it’s in fasting or in temptation, there’s something here about forty days that should be considered, should be pursued. It’s a whole lot of waiting: more than five weeks of consideration. I wonder what would happen if I waited (prayed, contemplated, meditated) forty days before I initiated a plan or a major decision?

Matthew 4:1; Mark 1:12-13a; Luke 4:1-2a
Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.
At once the Spirit sent him out into the wilderness, and he was in the wilderness forty days, being tempted by Satan.
Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, left the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil.

There are other scriptural examples of 40 days: the flood (Genesis 7:17); Moses on Mt. Sinai (Exodus 24:18; 34:28; Deuteronomy 9:9); Spies in the Promised Land (Numbers 13:25); Goliath’s challenges (I Samuel 17:16); Elijah’s flight and fast (I Kings 19:18); Jonah warns Nineveh (Jona 3:4); Jesus appeared to the disciples after his resurrection (Acts 1:3).

All of these 40 day increments are wrapped up with important events, usually before something major would happen.

So, let me put this in perspective (for myself, if nothing else). If I claimed this 40 day waiting period starting today, that would mean on Friday, September 14th, I could begin: I would know whether to go forward or not. If I seriously pursued my quest for those 40 days, I would know. It’s like a promise, I think.

Don’t misunderstand me. I get it that this period should be led of the Spirit and yet, I have a feeling. If I laid out my heart’s desire, my plan before God and then repeated my request each day, I believe I would have an answer. I would also have a bit of a struggle along the way. Based on the stories, a truly authentic 40 days is laden with challenges. Satan (or however you want to call that negative voice/power in our lives) tempted Jesus the whole time just like Goliath tempted the Israelites. Goliath mocked them and taunted them: Dare you! Double dare you to come out here and fight me (on his terms of course). Satan does the same thing. The forty day challenge puts the entire experience on God’s terms.

Apparently, 40 days are just long enough. They take the person just beyond that point we can do it on our own. Forty days include the extra mile.

What do I really want to know? What game-changing decision do I want to contemplate? What would be the best news ever?

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Isn’t it peculiar how many people are adamant about the dangers of astrology and “magic,” but wholeheartedly repeat and support the classic story of the “three magi” who supposedly visited the baby Jesus by way of King Herod and left in their wake, three famous gifts for the child: gold, incense, and myrrh? Their “astrological” roots have been overlooked in favor of calling them “wise men.” But is wisdom treated any better?

Matthew 2:7-8,
Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. He sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search carefully for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.”

There are so many symbols in ancient storytelling. Some interpretations have carried down through the ages while many more have been adjusted along the way through natural evolutions in the telling. After all, many ancient tales and wisdom narratives were a verbal art form. Even the New Testament was put into writing years after the death of Jesus and although they were based on eyewitness accounts, how many witnesses can agree on anything)? The letters of Paul and other apostolic letters were written and then carried from place to place, and no doubt, ruined along the way and copied from memory or pieced back together. Accurately? Maybe and maybe not.These are just a few of the questions and discoveries of Bible scholars of today.

Now before anyone panics: relax. I’m not setting forth an anti-bible or a particular bias against “scriptura sola” (which means by scripture alone). If anything, my faith is unshaken as I uncover the variations and discoveries  about the Bible: the presence of the Holy Spirit within me is untouched by modern science nor is it enhanced by Biblical narrow-mindedness.

Ok, here are a few facts and personal observations:

1) Herod (the Great) was actually assigned his role to be King of Judea by the Romans. In many ways, he was a puppet king. And although he built many great buildings during his 34 year reign,  he was considered to be a madman and killed many of his own immediate family. Clearly, he suffered from paranoia. This is later confirmed by his order to murder the boy-children of Bethlehem. (On a side note, I have learned that this genocide of male children is not confined to ancient history, but has been repeated throughout history. One notable example is the story of 20,000 boys and young men displaced in the second Sudanese Civil War of 1983-2005 and beautifully depicted through the documentary, the Lost Boys of Sudan.)

2) The Magi (and really, nowhere does it really say three except through the reference of three gifts), or magicians or astrologers or wise men or astronomers or whatever, made a journey based on their interpretations of the heavens and the prophecies carried through the ages and across nations. They studied, they read, they heard, they watched and then they acted. They made a HUGE journey based on their discoveries. They expended a great deal of time and money to get to where they were going. I’m guessing they figured everyone knew about it already, that is, those who lived near the event. But they didn’t. Herod was caught off guard and so were the “people of Jerusalem” (verse 3). The biggest juncture in Jewish history had happened and they missed it? How could that be? The Messiah was born and nobody knew about it except for a bunch of foreigners?

3) The star was exactly what? Really, a star? Based on our modern day knowledge, a star is a gigantic sun that is really, really far away. It doesn’t just “rise” and hover over a location. I mean, Earth is round (not flat as they imagined it to be back then). You can’t chase a star in the heavens any more than you can chase a rainbow. So, what was it? The shape and its placement in relation to other stars? Perhaps it was a super nova or a comet or some conjunction of the planets Saturn and Jupiter? We’ll never know really. But they saw something. And as a result of what they saw, they packed their bags (which was probably a very large caravan) and took a very long journey (some scholars say up to two years).

So, what do I end  up with? A mad king, three (or more) eccentric soothsayers and a celestial mystery.

What’s my take away? Today, we have quarks, the Higgs Bosun particle, Virgin Galactic (space travel by tourists), and 1,740,330 identified species of invertebrate and vertebrate animals, plants, and others. These things are no less amazing. Our world is full of natural wonders as well as unknowns. How would a primitive describe any one of the things that modern man has discovered or invented?

Will we be any better at recognizing the second coming of the Messiah? Or will we be like the people of Jerusalem? Or will we work really hard to explain away the wonder? Would an appearance in the sky be too much like the latest Sci-Fi movie? Would we miss the point. . . again?

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Anointing His Feet 2
by Wayne Forte

Worship, in English, can mean to “declare worth.” That’s comfortable. However, in the original Greek, proskynéō means to kiss the ground while falling prostrate to a superior. When was the last time you fell to your knees before someone or something of such awesome worth or value?

Revelation 22:8b-9
I [John] fell down to worship at the feet of the angel who had been showing them [the prophecies] to me. But he said to me, “Don’t do that! I am a fellow servant with you and with your fellow prophets and with all who keep the words of this scroll. Worship God!”

The angel is saying to John, don’t fall down before me, but fall down before the One God, individually and corporately.

In some ways, the Muslim expression of worship is more in keeping with the intent of the word. Other faiths like the Orthodox denominations, Catholics, and some Eastern religions practice deep bowing and submissive movements. In recent years, some charismatic believers have found their deepest experience of prayer when it is coupled with lying prone, face down.

But most of us have lost the physicality of worship. A high church may still have kneelers (to make the submissive act more agreeable) but generally, the most common form of respect is standing up, not kneeling. Some church congretations stand to sing and some stand to pray while still others stand to hear a gospel passage spoken. There are denominations who do lots of standing up and sitting down (with a kneel or two in between) and there are denominations who have made the standing part optional, for those who find standing difficult.

And yet, for little children, the cliche for night time prayers is on the knees at the side of the bed. Perhaps even that has gone a bit out of style, I don’t really know, although figurines still abound with cherub children, hands sweetly folded, and eyes closed. It’s sweet. It’s innocent. But is it worship? Is it prayer? Is it surrender? Why do we encourage children to do this kneeling bit but not we ourselves?

In more contemporary churches, worship has come t mean the singing part of a service: a series of songs, starting with fast praise and then followed by a gradual slow down into devotional melodies and words of adoration. And repetition has become a sign of a deeper experience.

I’m not putting any of these “expressions” down. I faithfully attend a contemporary church. I’m right in there.

But, if I take any time at all to think about it, I do find most forms of Western worship to be very predictable and perhaps, if truth be told, a bit colorless and watered down. We keep boiling down the experience of worship into the most common denominator. Whether the service is a lively 60 minutes or a filibustering three to four hours, we are no closer to kissing the ground before God in adulation and acknowledgment of a divine presence.

After visiting several churches of the Middle Ages up through the Renaissance periods in Europe, I can understand why they designed them that way: they were attempting to remind us of the enormousness of God and smallness of Human. Whether sitting, standing, or kneeling, a person feels the divergence between self and the vaulted representation of all that is above and beyond. What do we have in the U.S.? Mauve chairs, blue carpet and artificial flower arrangements. Comfort, comfort, comfort, to the eye as well as the buttocks.

Everything is so controlled in our churches. Either it’s a repetitive liturgy or it’s an “order of service” that is constrained by the clock. Even those services not confined to time are confined to set rituals.

How many times have I really felt and expressed my absolute surrender to God, Spirit God, Father God, Holy God? When has my body responded spontaneously to my soul’s understanding? When did I ever put my life in danger and touch the hem of the Master’s cloak or wash His feet with tears and dry them with my hair? When did we moderns lose our ability to relinquish self to the Holy Spirit?

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The Bible is rich with measurements, from paces and handbreadths to ephahs and hins. One of the first things described in cubits [generally considered to be the length of a forearm] was Noah’s ark. And here, New Jerusalem is described in stadia [generally considered to be 600 feet, give or take]. But really, who cares?

Revelation 21:15-16
The angel who talked with me had a measuring rod of gold to measure the city, its gates and its walls. The city was laid out like a square, as long as it was wide. He measured the city with the rod and found it to be 12,000 stadia [1,200 miles] in length, and as wide and high as it is long [a cube].

Some people seem to think these measurements confirm, by specificity, the reality of what is being written about. In other words, the ark must be real, why else describe it in such detail? Some people have taken these descriptions and measurements to such “lengths” (pun intended), to recreate the items or places, either in life size or intricate models.

Another set of folks are fascinated by the actual numbers in scripture (a type of numerology if you will), citing the repetition of certain numbers and their implication.

I’m sure all of these studies are fascinating and may even give additional insights to the richness of the text. Of course, there are a number of holy document that have received the same treatment. Numbers, measurements, dates (and dating) are just a few of the ways that humans establish themselves in space and time.

Personally, I’m still trying to come to grips with the relationship between the European kilometer and the mile, or the length of my son’s ship in the Navy in relationship to something I know (it’s about two football fields, he finally said). I can barely figure out if a chair in the store will fit in my living room, much less the size of the ark, the temple, or the New Jerusalem. In the old days, when I felt much more compelled to diligently read every word of scripture (including the begats via the King James), I tried to picture every length, breadth, Old Testament celebration and sacrifice. I was determined to figure out the secret meaning or mystery embedded there.

I confess, today, I’m much more cavalier. I’ve been through the Bible, from front to back, more times than I can accurately count (another falling down, I’ve stopped keeping track), and honestly, I’m no closer to uncovering the ultimate number or truth. If anything, I’m backing off the detail and looking for the big picture. In the same way the Pharisees were chastised by Jesus for trying to tithe on spices used in foods [Matthew 23:23], I’m letting go of it too.

I’m not counting how many people I have “brought to Christ” or with how many people I have shared the gospel. I’m done with measuring my effectiveness as a human being by how many people I speak to or speak to me, or how many agree with me or how many people read my blog. I will not be running for office so I won’t need to count how many people vote for me.

My faith and my ability to love others is not really measurable, so why try? The size of my church doesn’t really tell much of a story either. It’s time to give up the cubits and work the quality of the event, the encounter, the moment.

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Just as the early Jews got hung up in the first covenant, today’s believers have created a version of the second covenant that resembles the first: earthly sanctuaries, regulations and time-honored traditions.

Hebrews 8:13 – 9:1
By calling this covenant “new,” he has made the first one obsolete; and what is obsolete and outdated will soon disappear. Now the first covenant had regulations for worship and also an earthly sanctuary.

Of course, it’s even more complex in our religious world of today. There is not just one version of the tabernacle, but many, depending on the sect or denomination. The worship regulations are more rigid if one is affiliated with a high church but even the seemingly “free” new churches have developed mores and practices that eventually become similarly rigid by repetition.

Until I read Pagan Christianity by Frank Viola and George Barna a few years ago, I considered contemporary churches as spontaneous and unrestricted by “ritual.” But truly, haven’t these services become equally predictable and patterned in structure? Isn’t there still a type of “call to worship,” music, prayer, announcements, and sermon structure every week?

Is that necessarily bad? Of course not. But I do wonder if we’re missing something by our focus on buildings and “ministries” and committees of various authority.

Several months ago, my family made a huge leap and ventured away from our church of twenty years just to see “what else is out there.” We visited several other churches, some larger and some smaller. We would attend for several services in a row if we felt attracted to the service. It usually takes longer than a visit or two to get a sense of a place or the priorities. In one case, we were intrigued by a very high-tech, seemingly culture-relevant church. Only to be turned off a few Sundays later when the price tag for this type of savvy “presentation” was revealed as their next “strategic” goal was announced: $14 million!

I don’t have any answers, just a lot of questions. What is important to the Church: the body of Christ? Who really requires weekly “discipleship” with state of the art video and music? Are we competing with the world? Or can we simply stand in within our culture like Jesus among the tax collectors and prostitutes and be agents for change by our steadfast faith and Holy Spirit presence? Does a Christ follower of 10 or 15 or 30 years need to hear sermons every Sunday or should he/she be the one equipping the poor and lost. . . out there?

Shouldn’t prayer and worship be a constant companion? Shouldn’t every gathering of people be a celebration of God with us, Emmanuel?

I have just started reading Brian McLaren’s new book, Naked Spirituality, and I cannot recommend it enough. He uses a single word in each chapter as an exploration into the faith journey. The first word is “here.” And I re-discovered that “here” is about “here I am.” I can choose to be aware of myself in God right now, right where I am: sitting at a computer or taking a shower or getting ready for work. Call to worship isn’t me asking God to show up, it’s me telling God I am present and ready to listen and learn and experience God in the moment.

There are no regulations for “here.”

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