Fatherly Advice

“Listen, O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord alone. And you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your strength. And you must commit yourselves wholeheartedly to these commands that I am giving you today. Repeat them again and again to your children. Talk about them when you are at home and when you are on the road, when you are going to bed and when you are getting up. Tie them to your hands and wear them on your forehead as reminders. Write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.”

This passage is from Deuteronomy 6:4-9; and it’s one of my favorite in all the Bible. The Israelites are getting ready to cross over the Jordan River and move into their new homeland – the land that God has been promising them since they left Egypt. A lot has gone on between now and when Moses led them out that night. One of the biggest things to happen was that Moses got himself into trouble with God. And his punishment was that he was not going to be allowed to go into the Promised land with the rest of the Israelites.

For quite some time now, Moses has been their spiritual father. He has led them, cared for them, watched after them and even judged them. Without Moses they certainly wouldn’t have made it this far. And now, Moses has one last opportunity to give them some directions, some wisdom, some advice before they go on without him. This is like a parent sending their kid off to college for the first time – only these kids would never return. The book of Deuteronomy records for us what all Moses told his kids.

This passage you just read is one of the most poignant, inspiring and challenging of Moses’ messages. The last sentence is verse 9. Referring to the commandments that he had given them, he told them to write them on the doorposts of their homes and on their gates. As much as this was a literal command for them – it’s a metaphorical command for us. He told them to do that so that everyone who came to their home would know that without any doubt, that God was worshipped, honored and respected in that home. And also, it was a constant reminded for the family that lived there that the Lord was the God of that home. And that He was the center of their family. And that He, and He alone, would be worshipped, honored and respected in their home.

God hasn’t called us to write his commandments on our houses anymore. Instead, we are supposed to write them on our hearts and demonstrate them in our lives. Is your home a place where the Lord is the only God that is worshipped, honored and respected? Do you live that out so forcefully and so aggressively that everyone who knows your family can easily see that?

Take time with your family to look and listen to your home. Is what you see honoring the Lord? Is what you hear honoring the Lord? Maybe it’s time to write it on our doorposts again.

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Love Is . . .

I’ve seen my share of church fights – even a couple that ended up in members of the congregation deciding to pack up their bags. Some of them were just awful situations, but most were just dumb. You’re probably thinking of a couple yourself now. Of course, your perspective will always determine who was right and who was wrong. But we can always be sure of this – satan was the only winner. When God’s family fights with each other no ever wins. I just wonder if God isn’t left standing alone in the middle, as His children walk away from one another to stake their flags in their territory, left with nothing but tears of sorrow? Such a disappointing thought.

You know, even the best or most healthy congregations have problems. I know, kind of a simplistic statement. No church is immune from people going on power trips, being too sensitive or unforgiving or just having one or two folks who seem to be possessed by satan. That’s a joke – well, sort of ;-). So since it is the case that even the most healthy congregations have to work through issues, how do they do it? How are they able to fight through satans’ attacks more united, more in love with God and still growing strong? There’s really no simple answer. But here’s a thought for you to consider.

Jesus is pretty clear what He thinks are the two most important rules. Read this scripture with me.

One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating. Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked him, “Of all the commandments, which is the most important? “The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.” Mark 12:28-31

This kind of gives me the idea that if I would just focus on these two that I would have a good start on living a Godly life that will make my Savior proud of me and able to use me. That’s the same case for groups of people – especially the most important group of people – Jesus’ body.

You’ve heard of the love chapter – 1 Corinthians 13. Kind of ironic that the chapter isn’t about love at all. It’s actually more about a church fighting with each other over who had the greater spiritual gifts. Look at what Paul wrote to them. Only, you’re going to notice the scripture is written a little differently from what is inyour Bible. For every occassion where Paul wrote ‘love’, you’ll read ‘family.’ After all, isn’t that what a family is . . . love? Read it with me.

Families are patient, families are kind. Families do not envy, they do not boast, they are not proud. They are not rude, they are not self-seeking, they are not easily angered, they keep no record of wrongs. Families do not delight in evil but rejoice with the truth. Families always protect, always trust, always hope, always perseveres. Families never fail.

Kind of changes the perspective a little? May God bless you and your Church family.

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5 Acts of Worship

I love studying the Bible. Now, I realize that I’m a nerd. My little sister often points out particular evidence for this by reminding me that I enjoy buying religious text books and reading them for fun. She’s right. I do. But, who doesn’t love learning more about God? Who doesn’t love growing closer to God? Who doesn’t enjoy digging deeper and gaining a deeper understanding? Okay, you get my point.

Here’s a topic/issue that I have looked at a little deeper. I have heard many people refer to the “five acts of worship.” In the sense that there are five separate acts of worship that must be completed each time the church assembles in order to have a worship service. Those five “acts” are preaching, praying, sharing communion, singing and taking up a collection. Let me start off by saying that this is a man-made term and is not in any way a Biblical term. I’ll try to explain why.

The writers most often use four different Greek words that we (English speaking people) have translated as “worship.” The most frequently used (by far) is proskuneo. Here’s a little deeper info on this word. It’s a compound word. The first part of the word is pros. It’s a preposition that means or is translated as “to, towards or with”. The second part of the word is kuneo which is a verb that means “to kiss.” So combining the words you get the definition of kissing towards something or someone. This explains the word was originally used to describe the act of kissing the outstretched hand of a King. Much like the Catholics will kiss the ring of the Pope when he stretches out his hand.

This word began to be used to also include prostrating yourself before a person. In other words, physically bowing down lowly or lying face-down on the ground in front a person (like a King or idol) and kissing their feet or the hem of their robe or even the ground. Most all of the ancient cultures did this. Mostly because ancient cultures deified their kings.

From this point until now, the word is thought to mean an expression of a person’s attitude through a gesture of that person’s complete dependence on or submission to a high authority figure. More literally, to fall down and worship, to do obeisance to, to prostrate oneself before or to do reverence to.

So when we talk about worship in the context of the New Testament, we have to consider all this information when we talk about the “five acts of worship.” It doesn’t make much sense to talk about a word or idea that was generated almost 2 thousand years ago and used our current definitions for the terms. But when we talk about the “five acts of worship,” that’s what we’ve done. I’ll let you consider this on your own as I conclude with two more thoughts.

The Bible does not ever refer to a collection of acts of worship, ever. No NT writer ever said, “you have to do these five things or else you are not worshiping.” But this is exactly what many Christians contend. So for example, on Wednesday evening Christians sing and pray together prior to or after going to Bible class, this would not be considered worship.

In this case it seems like we have taken an idea and run with it. Unfortunately, when we ran, it took us away from the Bible. This seems to be another example of tradition taking precedent over scripture. One last thing, given this definition (an accurate definition that Paul would have been using), is it possible that worship is so much more than what we have turned it into?

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Socialism in the Bible

According to Dictionary.com, capitalism is “an economic system in which investment in and ownership of the means of production, distribution, and exchange of wealth is made and maintained chiefly by private individuals or corporations.” Based on this definition, the thrust of capitalism is that all things economic (being the production and consumption of resources) are to be held privately and not be governed by a single source, i.e. government. Further then, the idea of being private is to assume and infer freedom of choice with limited interference or direction; and that direction being only that minimal amount that is necessary to maintain social order. Leaving these principles leads to an abandonment of capitalism.

The question then is, where does Bible stand on this? And even more specifically, does God call his followers to practice capitalism? The answer is yes. The scriptures referring, in even the slightest manner, to economics are undoubtedly biased towards capitalism; and not just capitalism, but capitalism that is in its purest form. Said another way, we should not necessarily look to the context of the current economic environment for an accurate example of the ‘what’ and ‘how’.

This having been, there are certainly scriptures that on the surface do not appear to be favoring capitalism. And Christ himself teaches lessons throughout the New Testament where it could be reasonably deduced that capitalism is unhealthy and leads to a sinful life. Here are examples of both.

Acts 2:45 – “and they began selling their property and possessions and were sharing them with all, as anyone who might have need.”

This text provides an example of the early Church practicing a model of socialism. Perhaps more specifically, they were practicing a form of what we refer to as welfare or the redistribution of wealth. They collected and combined their resources and then redistributed them throughout those who had need within their group.

Another such example is found in Acts 4:32-37 – “32And the congregation of those who believed were of one heart and soul; and not one of them claimed that anything belonging to him was his own, but all things were common property to them. 33And with great power the apostles were giving testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and abundant grace was upon them all. 34For there was not a needy person among them, for all who were owners of land or houses would sell them and bring the proceeds of the sales 35and lay them at the apostles’ feet, and they would be distributed to each as any had need. 36Now Joseph, a Levite of Cyprian birth, who was also called Barnabas by the apostles (which translated means Son of Encouragement), 37and who owned a tract of land, sold it and brought the money and laid it at the apostles’ feet.

This text goes a step further and indicates a centralized organization and distribution through the apostles. And because of this factor, this illustration more closely represents a socialist system than the previous text – which is obviously in contrast to capitalism. To take this thought a step further, the text continues by telling the story of a married couple who sold their land but held back some of the profits for themselves. They were struck dead for their transgressions.

These two arguments that have been presented are common in this religious debate – does the Bible teach socialism? With that having been said, while they do portray this picture a certain way, there is much more to be considered than just the practical perception – which is that this collection and redistribution of resources inherently speaks against capitalism. This is an errant argument because it ignores the political and social context of the situation and the theological framework of the text. In both these examples there is a clear inference of the participants willing participation – which as referred to previously is paramount to the definition of capitalism. There is no indication of organizational, social or political pressure being applied. To the contrary, the primary theological lesson of these texts is that these new Christians are motivated and called to give liberally by Christ’ love that now lives in them and is poured out through the Holy Spirit. Consideration of these facts leads to the conclusion that these two scriptures are examples of capitalism being practiced in its purest form. More specifically, individuals of greater means saw a need and opportunity to help and then freely choice to give of their personal resources. These examples dispel the argument that some form of socialism is necessary to care for and provide basic necessities for those who are unable to do so for themselves.

There is often a perception that the primary premise or purpose for capitalism is for the individual to be able to gather and accumulate as much wealth as possible – otherwise, why not just endeavor to make the collective group as wealthy as possible. In accepting this idea, the text found in Matthew 6:19-21 becomes particularly relevant. It states, 19“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. 20“But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal; 21for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also”.

The Christian who opposes capitalism or perhaps is just of the opinion that the Bible teaches socialism, will reference this scripture to argue that capitalism leads to a sinful love and accumulation of money. And then deduce and further argue that since Jesus stated that it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God,” that capitalism is wrong or leads to sin. This argument ignores the context of the text and audience to whom Jesus was speaking. He was talking about our priorities. He understood, even then, the strong attraction (or temptation) of materialism. He was simply providing a stern warning to avoid the temptations of materialism.

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The Way

From what I can tell, Luke refers to Christianity as “The Way” five different times. In each of these occurrences, Christianity is being compared (directly or indirectly) to a pagan, temple-based Greco-Roman religion or to Judaism. It’s so neat to see how this wasn’t an accident. Think about how regimented and strict the orthodoxy is for each of these religions. Because they are temple-based, there is a step-by-step approach to how and when the “sacraments” are to be completed. Christianity was originally set in opposition to this. That’s why it was given an alternate name like “The Way.”

The original Greek word (hodos) has four common meanings: the way, the road, the journey, conduct. Think about how significant this is. Christianity is the way . . . to what? It’s the road . . . leading to where? It’s the journey . . . which ends when? It’s the conduct . . .  of whom? Let’s try to answer these questions.

  • Christianity is “The Way” to God through Christ. It’s also “The Way” for God to redeem us through Christ.
  • Christianity is “The Road” that leads to a relationship with God.
  • Christianity is “The Journey” that involves me walking hand in hand with the One who rescued me and ends when I get home.
  • Christianity is “The Conduct” that I exhibit that leads me to live a Godly life.

To frame our “religion” in this context and allow it to resonate in our lives, forces us into a paradigm shift that completely alters our perspective and our relationship with God. We quickly move from being a part of a religion of doing and into a movement of being. You see, instead of being a temple based religion where we come at designated times to offer our sacrifice, we live a life that is a sacrifice; and we come together as a community or family to offer our worship to the one who makes the journey possible.

The more I understand this concept, the more my relationship with God grows. Do you see the connection? Do you see the difference? Luke didn’t choose to use that word (hodos) on accident. He was communicating to the audience of Acts exactly what this new “sect” or “religion” was all about. What he communicated was that it was nothing like any religion they had ever seen. It wasn’t like Judaism or any pagan religion.

Think about this the next time you say to yourself (or your kids), “it’s time for Church”. Or you answer the question, “what’s your religion”? Or the next time you find yourself defining your religion by what you do on Sunday and Wednesday. Instead, let’s focus on thinking in terms of our Conduct and the progress we’re making on our Journey, Way or Road “home.”

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5 Small Kernels of Corn

The story goes that after the pilgrims had “formally” instituted Thanksgiving they would begin their yearly feast with a plate filled only with five small kernels of corn. And before eating, one at a time, they would stand and share five blessings from the previous year that they were thankful for – one for each kernel of corn. Perhaps you’ve heard the story. Maybe it’s true, maybe it’s not. But the point rings true, loud and clear. So here’s my five kernels of corn from this past year.

  1. I’m thankful for the times of brokenness so that I can learn to rely on my Father to sustain me; instead of my own insignificant power and abilities.
  2.  I’m so thankful that I am free from worry about this life. And that all I have to do is the best I can do to walk in the light and abide always and only in Him.
  3. I’m thankful for a deeper understanding of God’s grace and Mercy and the deeper relationship I now have with Him because of that understanding.
  4. I’m so thankful to be the Daddy for five terrific kids. They are a source of unending and self-less love that continuously renews my spirit and brings me peace and joy.
  5. I’m forever thankful for a wife who is my companion in this life and the next. I’m thankful that she loves God more than she loves me and that her greatest desires are not for the happiness of her family, but the salvation of our souls.

Well, those are my kernels. What do yours say?

Have a Happy and Blessed Turkey Day!

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