Category Archives: Setting the record straight
Note: This is an excerpt from my book UPRISING: Time for Christians to Stop Waiting and Start Winning.
This site, and my ministry work, is dedicated to the understanding that believers are here, not to mark time and “do our best” till some random time we’re rescued, but instead to advance the Kingdom of God till the pre-eminence of Jesus is manifest in all creation.
When we embracing our God-given purpose of achieving Kingdom victory, it should compel us to look more strategically at how best to tackle the problems facing our world.
When we do this, we can see that for each of the enemy’s cultural strongholds, there is both a supply side and a demand side. There are people who produce pornography and people who purchase it, people who sell illegal drugs and people who use them, people who govern poorly and people who vote them into office, and so on.
Our human nature is to look for shortcuts – the perceived path of least resistance – and also to seek recognition for our endeavors. This nature generally leads us to attack the supply side of a stronghold; it just seems to be the logical way to bring it down, and we can certainly make a big splash by doing so. As a result, with all the best intentions, we picket abortion clinics, organize electoral campaigns, wage war against drug cartels, seek to outlaw pornography, and the like.
Now, we each need to do as the Lord leads, and there’s nothing wrong with any of these activities. If the Lord calls you personally to focus on the supply side of a stronghold, then you should do it with all your strength. However, if we as a Body embrace these tactics as our sole strategy for pulling down strongholds, and do so for any reason other than the leading of the Spirit, victory is impossible. How can I say this? It’s a simple lesson in Economics 101: For any given demand, limiting the supply simply drives up the price. For example, attack the supply chain for illegal drugs without addressing the demand – that is, keep the number of addicts the same, but make the drugs harder to come by – and you’ve only hiked the street value. As a result, you’re driving addicts to do even more extreme things to get them! Hardly sounds like the desired outcome to me.
Want to tear down the stronghold of illegal drugs? Just like every other cultural stronghold, removing the demand is the winning strategy. When former drug addicts would rather “get drunk on the Holy Spirit” than high on dope, the illicit drug trade will disappear! Instead, we’ve spent oceans of money and manpower fighting the supply … and how’s it working for us?
When men hunger and thirst for righteousness more than for the desires of the flesh, the pornography industry will collapse. Attack the supply – whether it be through shutting down pornographers or simply putting “porn blockers” on computers – and allow the demand to linger – and men will still commit adultery in their hearts. No victory there!
When our elected leaders are storing up treasures in Heaven instead of pursuing earthly riches, corruption will vanish. When the hearts of the electorate are turned towards righteousness, and they vote accordingly, the righteous will once again rule. Connect gang members to real, loving, edifying relationships and street violence will stop. When the truth of God’s love is known by all, then all religions and sects based on legalism, division or hate will fail.
Attack the supply side of any of these and you may get some temporary relief, but it’s no better than putting a Band-Aid on an infection. It may look fine on the surface for a time, but the real problem is still there, only getting worse.
When you get to the heart of these issues, you realize the ultimate supply of all our cultural ills is the deception of the enemy. Even those people who are agents of the “supply side” are, in their hearts, simply demanding gratification from something other than God, and they have believed the lie that they can find what they’re looking for through sin.
We must remember that our battle is for people and not against them! Any perceived shortcut is really a dead-end street. God’s Kingdom will come when we personally connect with the hearts and minds of individual people, one at a time, and turn them towards Christ. Victory will not be accomplished through blunt force, but instead through loving kindness. Put two and two together –“The meek shall inherit the earth”and “He who (conquers, carries off the victory) will inherit all things” —and it becomes clear that we will conquer through meekness. There is no other way.
– You are the salt of the world. Stay salty, my friends!
Note – This is an excerpt from my book UPRISING: Time for Christians to Stop Waiting and Start Winning.
WARNING: This is blog post contains a Greek lesson.
Now don’t get scared. I’m not some boring academic type, and this isn’t some intellectual, ivory tower lecture. Instead, if this information is new to you (as I’ve found it is for most Christians), I think it will be one of the most explosive, exciting, faith-expanding things you’ll ever learn.
This is one of those truths that hit me like a ton of bricks when I learned it, and it’s taken my relationship with the Lord to a level I never knew was possible in this day and age. It can do the same for you.
I am shocked and disappointed that I had to learn it on my own, outside the “four walls” of the “church,” after decades of sitting in pews, dutifully doting on the teachings of my pastor and denomination.
Rest easy – it’s not a mystery, it’s not a new pop theology, it’s not an odd mountaintop revelation from some mystic, and I’m not asking you to “just trust me” – it’s simply Greek, and it’s been there in the Bible all along, lost in translation.
The word I’m going to dig into here is just that: The English word for “word.” Bible translators slap this four-letter word on top of several Greek words with vast differences in meaning. Much more than simple nuance is lost. Rather, a vital, foundational principle of the Christian faith has for generations been virtually erased from the Bible by this translational shortcut.
For years I’ve asked Christians what they think of when they read or hear the phrase “the Word of God.” Every single person I’ve asked has the same answer: The Bible. That’s all there is to it: The Word of God is the Bible, and the Bible is the Word of God. Period, end of subject.
So when they hear, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God,” they picture a Bible floating in space. When they hear, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God,” “Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God,” or “Take … the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God,” their minds insert “Bible” and come up with this: We live by the Bible, have faith by hearing the Bible, and fight the devil with the Bible.
I must ask you to pause for a moment before you read on. Please ask God to open your heart to His truth. It’s hard for me even to type this, because I know most readers who (as I do) revere the Bible more than life itself may initially take this statement as shocking blasphemy, but the fact is this: Inserting the word “Bible” into these great verses is wrong, sucks meaning out of them, drains them of power, and robs us of possibly the most precious promise of God in this life.
There, I said it.
I hope you’re still with me (and still breathing normally!). And I hope that seeking God’s truth is more important to you than holding onto long-standing, traditional paradigms that simply aren’t working. If you have difficulty with anything I am presenting here, don’t take my word for it — dig into it! Get a Strong’s Concordance or other Biblical Greek dictionary and see for yourself. I’m not making this stuff up.
Ok, back to it. As I said, there are numerous Greek words, expressing widely divergent meanings, which most English-language translators simply lump under our word, “word.” These include logos, graphe (grah’-fay), and rhema (ray’-muh).
As I dig into the definitions for these, allow me to couch them in a metaphor so they make more sense. Think of God as an architect and us as His work crew. He wants us to complete a building project (His Kingdom) and is seeking to guide our steps as we do it. He has a crystal clear vision for the structure, including every detail, and He must communicate this to us so we can build it according to His specifications.
At its essence, communication is the effort to transfer a thought from one mind to another. There are lots of ways to do this – through writing, speech, pictures, demonstration and much more. When you look at all the Hebrew and Greek Bible words we translate as “word,” you begin to see that God employs all of these means to transfer to us His vision and guide our steps. Yes, the static, printed words of the Bible are a vital and incredible source of divine communication, but they are just a small fraction of what He offers “those who have ears to hear.” As long as we remain stuck in man-made tradition, and continue to view the Bible as the sum total of God’s “Word,” we will never be able to find The Way or complete our Kingdom building project.
Before the dawn of time, God had a vision for His Kingdom, His sons and daughters, and this world. This original, founding vision is best expressed in Greek by the word logos. It is “a decree, mandate or order; what is declared, a thought, declaration, aphorism, a weighty saying, a dictum, a maxim.” This word is used 316 times in the Greek New Testament. It says, “In the beginning was logos, the logos was with God, and the logos was God,” and that Jesus was logos made flesh. Before the dawn of time, there were not little scrolls or books floating around in Heaven; instead God had a vision, a plan, a Big Picture. And Jesus was not a talking Bible with arms and legs! Instead, He was the physical incarnation of God’s vision. (Is it starting to make a little more sense?)
An architect must start with a clearly defined vision. This is the source of all other forms of communication related to the building project. All other methods of attempting to transfer this vision from his mind to others’ – including scale models, drawings, etc. – are derived from this original vision. It is important to understand that nothing less than the finished building itself fully expresses the architect’s vision. Every other form of expression, while accurate, is incomplete.
Once the architect has conceived the vision in his mind, next he drafts a set of blueprints. These are printed sketches, descriptions and instructions intended to guide the steps of the builders. The Gospel writers used the word graphe for this concept. It means, “written word, scripture,” and is used 51 times in the New Testament. We get the word “graphics” from this root. The printed pages of the Bible are graphe. Interestingly, this is always translated as “scripture” in the standard King James Version – and so while this is never called “word” in the Bible, it is the one thing people think of when they talk about the “Word” of God!
Our traditions have led many of us to take the Architect’s blueprints and then just run along with the assumption that they fully and completely express His divine purpose, plan and will. But as anyone who works in construction can tell you, if you simply take blueprints and hand them out to your work crews – with no hands-on, step-by-step supervision from the architect or a general contractor – the building will never take the precise form intended by the architect. A building may come together but it will be plagued by quirks as the different subcontractors interpreted things their own ways, and the look, feel and functionality will differ from what the architect intended. As hired hands for God’s Kingdom construction, we need more than blueprints!
Let me step out of this metaphor for a moment. You deserve more than human reasoning to accept this point so let me spell it out straight from the Bible. At what we call the Last Supper, Jesus told His disciples that His time on earth was coming to an end, and there was of course much more information they needed to know in order to continue His work. “I have much more to say to you,” He said. “More than you can now bear.” But He couldn’t because His time was up. He told them not to worry, however, because “the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things andwill remind you of everything I have said to you.”
Right here, in Jesus’ own words, He clearly said there is much more to the Architect’s vision than He could communicate to His disciples, even after spending three years in their close company; that all the words He spoke and demonstrated to His disciples were but a fraction of the entirety of God’s logos. Then, just a few chapters later in John, the great apostle concludes his book by saying, “Jesus did many other things as well. If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written.” And so my point here is confirmed by the words of Christ and the personal admission of one of the Bible’s primary and most prolific writers: The graphe (written word) – what most Christians assume is the entirety of God’s Word – is but a fraction of a fraction of all that God desires to communicate to us.
Of course Jesus didn’t leave us hanging. As He said, in reference to the Holy Spirit, “When He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all the truth.” Back on the metaphor, Jesus is saying here that the Architect isn’t going to leave us hanging with just a set of blueprints; instead, He will send a jobsite foreman (in the form of the Holy Spirit) to fully and completely communicate His vision to us, every step of the way.
This brings us to what I believe is the most important Greek word for “word” of them all: rhema. This word means, “that which is or has been uttered by the living voice, thing spoken; word any sound produced by the voice and having definite meaning.” It is used 67 times in the New Testament, in some very key places.
Rhema is the personal, conversational, relevant, relationship Word of God. It is God’s voice for each of us, like it was for Samuel as a youth when God called out to him in the middle of the night, saying, “Samuel! Samuel!” Interestingly, in this story it says, “In those days, the word of the LORD was rare.” There weren’t fewer scrolls in the temple than before. Instead, because of the high priest’s disobedient household and nation’s rebellious people, the personal, spoken word of God is what was rare.
This story also says the great prophet-to-be didn’t recognize that voice because “Samuel did not yet know the LORD: The word of the LORD had not yet been revealed to him.” By this time in his life, he had been fully inculcated into the religious structure, he obviously believed in God, and he had been exposed to the Scriptures. But he still didn’t know God, in the true sense, because he hadn’t yet been introduced to God’s rhema word. Personal communication is the basis of every real relationship. Jesus said, “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow.” Prior to hearing and following His rhema, Samuel wasn’t in the flock. But then God’s living voice came to him and he responded – and that changed everything.
– You are the salt of the world. Stay salty, my friends!
To my friend and blog followers –
Some of you already know that I’ve felt called by God to assemble some of my recent writings and publish them as my second book. The working title is Church Burning.
This is a play on words, of course, with multiple meanings. In the Bible, fire is used metaphorically for several clear purposes. On the bad side, it is used by God to judge and punish. On the good side, it is used to purify and motivate.
There is no doubt God wants to bring a fire to His Church. If we are doing things the way He intends, we should welcome this, like the disciples at Pentecost. If we are not, we should dread it.
If you think “church” is a place to go or a thing to do — a building, an organizational structure, a set of teaching and traditions, or an event — then Church Burning may well conjure terrible images in your mind. If you know Church as the intimate fellowship of God’s sons and daughters on earth, then you probably see Church Burning as a glorious thing.
I said that Church Burning is the working title. I’m still not quite convinced, but the more I chew on it, the more I like it. It seems sizzling enough to sell books and yet multi-faceted enough to make people think, but I reserve the right to be wrong about that. I’d value your feedback. Do you like it? Would you pick up, buy and read a book with that title? Or is it so in-your-face that it’ll turn off the average Joe Christian? If the people that most need to read it are repulsed by the title, that’s bad. Please leave a comment or drop me a note and let me know what you think.
ALSO, below is what I’ve written as a draft of the first chapter. My goal is to clearly express my heart — that I am not angry, hostile, or bitter, as so many “church” critics come across — so that the reader will be more prone to seriously consider the things I write.
Thank you for all your comments and feedback over the past several months. I appreciate your prayers as I work to bring this project to completion.
First chapter –
Talk about kicking a hornets’ nest! Writing a critical book about modern churchianity is probably not the best way to go about winning friends and influencing people, but I believe somebody has to do it.
Despite the intentionally controversial title (gotta sell books, you know – and it has multiple meanings, many of them positive), I’ve done my very best to approach this topic with tenderness and candor.
I’ve found there are generally three groups of people who are eager to discuss the problems with “church” today.
First are those who are hostile to our faith and are quick to pounce on and propagate anything they think will get us to question our beliefs. Many of these are deeply wounded folks who come from a “church” background, and who rejected God when they rejected the institutions we’ve build in His name. (Sadly, these formerly-churched people seem more numerous and harder to reach with the truth than the un-churched, which I think is something we must address.)
Second are those who have been wounded by “church” politics, legalism, hypocrisy and religiosity, and yet who still hold on to their faith, and to the often vague hope that there is a better way. These people seem to talk about “church” like a cheated-on wife talks about her ex-husband; they feel betrayed by someone they love.
Both of the above categories of “church” critics often put their fingers on some very real and important issues, but they tend to communicate their points with bitterness and hostility, as if they are trying to win people over to their side of a conflict. As a result, their hard-learned lessons often are lost on those who most need to hear them, who can do something to help fix the problems. While their ranting may draw a flock of birds of the same feather, it tends to compel their “church”-bound brethren to defensiveness, and not much good results.
There is a third group, however, and that is forward-thinking Christians who love God’s Church, seek truth and know there is a better way. These folks have dug into the roots and fruits of our modern “church” system, and into the original intent of our Father, and found that we are terribly missing the mark. Theirs is constructive criticism, for the purpose of calling God’s people to a higher, better, and more God-pleasing express of Church.
Because their intended audience has been bombarded by hostile complaints from both wounded brethren and opponents of the faith, and because the kernels of their messages are often quite similar to those the bitter critics, this third group can have a very tough time getting their points across. Theirs is a challenging calling. I know, because I fall into this third group.
You need to know that I thank God for my mainline, denominational, liturgical upbringing. I have fond memories of Sunday School classes, stirring sermons, inspirational music, fun fellowship, and even service on various committees. Some of my best friends over the years have been pastors, and I nearly went to the seminary to join their ranks. Sure, as I grew up and my horizons broadened, I began to question some things about “church,” and to seek to make improvements from within, but it was always “by the rules” and with deep respect for the institution and the other people involved. I do not consider myself wounded, bitter, or hostile toward churchianity in the least.
But I must tell you, as I have dug into the truth of God’s will for His sons and daughters on earth, and the true potential for His Church, something has changed in me over the years. I no longer feel called to work entirely from within the four walls of the “church.” While I still have love and respect for the people, my respect for the institutions themselves has greatly diminished. I’m just being honest here.
I want to ask you a favor as you dig into this book. Will you please give me some grace, and approach it with an open mind? I know these are sensitive issues, and we can easily become quite emotional, defensive and hostile when we discuss them. We can also jump to conclusions about the other person’s motives. I am asking you to accept that my heart is in the right place here, and I am only seeking to call God’s people to the very best. My goal is to build up, not tear down (although a little constructive demolition is necessary in any remodeling job).
And yet, I am only human, too. Maybe I have been a little wounded and not fully healed, and maybe it does come through a little at places. I don’t think that’s the case, it’s sure not my intention, and I’ve done my best to write with sensitivity and grace. But if anything I write seems bitter in any way, please forgive me, and try to look through it to the heart of what I’m saying. My writing style is often passionate, colorful and to-the-point; please don’t confuse passion and righteous frustration with hostility.
Anyway, just because someone is wounded doesn’t mean they’re a bad person, it just means they’ve experienced something that hurt them very deeply. We should not write off the words of the wounded; rather, we should have compassion for them. If elements of our “church” are hurting people deeply, then we need to bring them to light, however hard that may be, don’t you think?
As God has led me deeper into His Word, and into a greater understanding of The Way that He desires for us to come together as the Body, I’ve taken that understanding and laid it side by side with what I’ve personally experienced, observed and learned about churchianity. At times, this journey of discovery has been like watching a movie, where sometimes you want to laugh, sometimes you want to cry, and sometimes you want to yell at the person on screen. Writing this book has been a very personal and emotional journey, and at various points its content reflects all of these emotions.
This stuff is very important to me, and try as I might I simply cannot approach this topic as a scientific, emotionless observer sitting on the sidelines. Serving God by advancing His Kingdom and building up His people is my deepest passion. I pray that is the common ground on which you approach my writing.
There’s one more thing you should know before you jump off into the rest of this book. I wrote this over the course of about a year, and for most of the time I didn’t even realize I was writing a book. Rather, I was simply keeping notes of my observations, insights and experiences. It was only later that I felt the Lord’s call to pull it all together into one package. As a result, it’s more of a diary than a narrative, and like any diary, you will see a variety of emotions expressed.
There are certainly consistent threads and overarching themes throughout, but each chapter is also something of a stand-alone essay. This book is not a profound theological research volume, but rather a collection of thoughts, impressions and revelations I’ve had as I’ve wrestled with this topic in my own life. If there are chunks of it you simply can’t abide, that’s fine. I’m not trying to sell you anything. But I hope you’ll keep going anyway, because you may just find a few nuggets along the way that will revitalize your faith, bring you closer to the Father, and maybe even spark a healthy dialogue in your own congregation. If this happens, I’ll consider it a success.
Folks who know me know I’m a solutions-oriented guy. I don’t think much of bomb-throwers who do nothing but point out flaws and problems but never offer solutions. I agree with Theodore Roosevelt: It is not the critic who counts.
Yes, there’s absolutely a time and place to dig into what we’re doing wrong, but the point isn’t to find fault, lay blame or simply complain. Rather, the point is to uncover exactly where and how we’re missing the mark so we can take the appropriate corrective action. Constructive criticism offers a better way forward. Everything else, as I see it, is pointless and destructive.
Some who have kept up with my recent string of posts regarding my issues with modern churchianity have accused me of pointing out problems without offering solutions.
I would beg to differ. I believe I have presented the fundamental solution all along, but I can see why some folks have missed it. The misunderstanding lies in the fact they aren’t looking deep enough at the problems. Because underneath it all, there is just one fundamental problem plaguing the modern system we call “church” – and there is only one real solution. It’s really quite simple.
Yes, there’s a problem with what we call Sunday “church services.” But the solution isn’t to re-jigger the format or theme of our Sunday morning gatherings.
Yes, there is a problem with who we designate as “leaders,” and the organizational structures we build beneath them. But the solution isn’t a new way of choosing and elevating leadership, or re-mapping the organizational chart.
Yes, there are problems with how we raise and spend money and build useless buildings to house our Christian clubs. But the solution isn’t a new budgeting strategy or building design.
There are problems with what we consider “evangelism” and how we go about it, what we call the “gospel” and how we preach it, the traditions we follow, the teachings we embrace (and reject), and a whole host of other aspects of what we call “church” today. But to address these on the surface, and offer a “new way” of doing them, is nothing more than treating the symptoms without addressing the disease. It is all just re-arranging the deck chairs on a sinking ship.
If that’s what you’ve been looking for from me, I can certainly see how you’ve been disappointed, and how you may think I’m just lobbing bombs. I hope you’ll let me take you a little deeper.
Unless we’re just completely blind or clueless, we all see problems with churchianity. Many of us disregard these by saying, “well, you’ll never find a perfect church,” and so they settle for far less than the best, just seeking to make the most of it. These are the folks that get offended by the slightest fault-finding with the status quo, and discount any criticism that doesn’t come with a superficial “quick fix.”
Others of us just don’t buy that cop-out; we believe perfect Church definitely is possible, here and now. The Bible says Christ is waiting for His spotless Bride to arise, and that someday she will make herself ready. He modeled for us a perfect expression of Church, and that is exactly what He is calling us back to. Our Father has not called us to fail in this endeavor. Yes, a perfect expression of Church is definitely possible, it is God’s will, and I, for one, will not rest until I find it.
Our human nature demands a “plan.” We want quick fixes. We want to have a firm handle on the present and the future. We want a roadmap we can wrap our minds around that spells out exactly how we are supposed to get from Point A to Point B. We would never think of starting a building project without a blueprint. Those who expect me or other critics to offer such a roadmap or blueprint for “fixing” things need to understand that this is exactly the element of human nature that has caused all these problems to begin with!
Here’s the fundamental problem with churchianity: We have taken control of things. In doing so, we have built our “churches” on own understanding, conformed to the patterns of this world – which is the precise Biblical recipe for remaining outside of God’s will. We have – with the best of intentions – done our best to build “churches” for God. This is the opposite of God’s desire, and it is the underlying disease – the malignant cancer – that is causing all the symptoms I’ve written about.
There is only one cure, one fix, one path to a perfect Church, and it’s is really quite simple. It is to remove this mindset from the Body, and return to the day-by-day, step-by-step leadership of the Holy Spirit.
Theological defenders of man-made churchianity for generations have misinterpreted one of the most important portions of Scripture, creating a false, two-sided debate in which both sides are flat wrong. In this passage, Christ clearly spells out the true foundation on which He desires to build His perfect Church. Here it is (Matthew 16:13-18):
When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?”
They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”
“But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?”
Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”
Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven. And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.”
Here’s the $64,000 Question: What is the rock on which Jesus desires to build His Church?
For countless generations, Catholics have interpreted this passage to say that Peter, the man, is the original rock of the “church.” This understanding is the foundational stem cell of their entire institution, and explains virtually everything they do. It is a structure built on positional authority, and on the traditions and leadership of men. This is a dangerous thing!
Contrary to this, most Protestants since the Reformation have interpreted this passage to say that the rock is the words Peter spoke, “Surely you are the Messiah, the son of the living God.” Peter’s statement is indeed true, and the heart of our faith. The belief that this statement alone is the intended foundation of Christ’s Church is the Protestant stem cell. This reliance on a static statement led to the principle of Sola Scripture (by the written Word alone), and explains virtually everything Protestants do. It is a structure built on the goal of having people believe and follow the written word alone (or at least their interpretation of it). This is not enough!
For hundreds of years this debate has raged, with both sides missing the mark. The current state of churchianity in the world today is the fruit of these two faulty interpretations. We’ve tried both, to an absurd extreme, and both have failed.
There is third option!
Here’s what that passage really says, and what we’ve missed all along: God doesn’t desire to build His Kingdom on a mortal man, or on the words spoken by a mortal man. Rather, Jesus was saying that it is the underlying truth of what had just happened – “This was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven” – that He desires to serve as the foundation of His Church.
What made Jesus so excited, and prompted Him to speak this vital statement, was that Peter had just received and responded to the simple prompting of the Holy Spirit. Jesus was saying, “Yes! Somebody finally got it! He didn’t tell me what he thought, he just listened to the Father and obeyed. I can work with that!”
The key to the Kingdom is simple obedience to the Holy Spirit, the step-by-step leading of God.
Simple obedience is how Moses led the Israelites out of bondage, and how Joshua led them to conquer the Promised Land. When they relied on men, or the statements of men, they failed. When they followed the continual revelation of their Father in heaven, they succeeded.
This is what made David a man after God’s own heart. It is how every single servant of God recorded in Scripture lived, including Christ Himself. They let God call the shots – day by day, step by step – into the great unknown.
Jesus said we must be born of water and the Spirit to see and enter the Kingdom. Paul said that the true sons and daughters of God are those who are led by the Spirit. He also said that we are to grow – individually and corporately – into Christ the Head, who desires to call the shots.
Throughout the Bible it says we are not to lean on our own understanding … we are not to worry about material things, or about tomorrow … we are not to conform to the patterns of this world. When we do, we cannot know God’s will, and we are not on His path. Anything called “church” that is built this way – on our own roadmaps and blueprints – is built on the wrong rock. And the cure for what ails us will never be found in another man-made plan.
Instead, the solution, the way forward, is to simply cease from our works! It is to be still and know that He is God. It is to enter into His rest, take on His easy load, and let Him lead the way. It is to do nothing at all without His specific, personal prompting – and then to simply obey what He tells us to do, step-by-step, day-by-day.
He doesn’t care what we do “in His name” – because there is nothing worthwhile that we can do for Him. Our best works are like filthy rags! Rather, He just wants to know us, to have a real relationship. He wants to be the true center, the true Head, of our lives and our fellowships.
Yes, to abandon our understanding, to scrap our plans, to throw away our roadmaps and blueprints, will be a great adventure. When we do this, He will lead us to forge into the unknown and do things beyond our understanding, as He unveils our plan for us, one day at a time.
This is the walk of faith! This is the path to true, perfect Church. It is The Way modeled by Christ and recorded in Scripture.
Is this disappointing for you? Do you still want a man to give you a plan? I’m sorry, I can’t help you there.
– You are the salt of the world. Stay salty, my friends.
I’m madly in love with my wife, even her little quirks. One is that, when she gets excited, she’ll often use a random word to refer to something, like “hurry, hand me the … uh … fork,” when she really means a hairbrush. I think after being married 18 years I’m actually learning to read her mind and can usually figure out what she means. But our children aren’t so good at deciphering her meanings, and sometimes it makes for a good laugh – like when she’s doing her hair and they actually bring her the fork she asked for.
Words are only useful so long as they stand for something that is commonly understood. If your meanings and mine for the same words don’t line up, we might as well speak to each other in a foreign language. That’s what a foreign language is, isn’t it – just a system of different words that refer, ultimately, to the same basic ideas and objects? When your meanings and mine don’t like up, things can get quite confusing. Just ask the builders at Babel.
I bring all this up to explain why it’s getting harder and harder for me to have a “normal” conversation about “church.” I’m even finding it hard to write about it.
One of my deepest desires is for my meanings of words to line up with God’s. That’s a passion of mine because it’s central to living a life of obedience. Aligning our meanings to God’s is a fundamental aspect of understanding and discernment. If God tells me to “jump,” I want to jump, and not run in circles. If He tells me to paint something blue, I don’t want to paint it red. If He tells me to be active in my local Church, then I want to do that, the way He intends it, and not according to a misguided understanding of that word.
Over many years I’ve studied, prayed, observed, and followed the Lord’s leading to gain a deeper understanding of the meanings of key words He uses. The root of my challenge is that my journey towards the truth has taken me further and further away from the meanings that are generally accepted in churchianity today. What this boils down to is, now that I’m learning the true meanings of the words we use, I simply can’t bring myself to use those words in the way most people understand them.
As a result, my obedience to God has led me to be further and further out of step with many brothers and sisters whom I dearly love. It’s a situation that can be painful, frustrating and sad. I can’t abandon my pursuit of the truth and all the Lord has taught me, and yet I can’t abandon my fellow Christ-followers, either.
All I can do is try my best to communicate the truth, in love, and lead by example. And it seems to get harder every day, because when it comes down to it, we’re really speaking different languages. It’s almost like what happened in Babel: We’re called to build the Body and establish the Kingdom, and yet we’re talking past each other on the most fundamental of concepts, and so we’re getting nowhere. Except this time, the different languages weren’t sent by God but rather the enemy has worked them in over many centuries.
Thankfully, the truth is the truth, and if we’re all teachable truth-seekers, we should be able to get over this hurdle and finally work together.
In the spirit of unity, let me tell you the most challenging words I face on a daily basis and offer some suggestions for moving forward together:
Church – When you read this in the Bible, it simply means, “the called out ones,” with connotations of civic duty and authority. It has absolutely nothing to do with a time, place, building, meeting methodology, organizational structure, system of ordination or hierarchy, or anything of the sort. The things we’ve built and call “church” today have zero basis in Scripture, and simply are not what God means when He says the word. Belonging to one of the man-made organizations and/or participating in the traditional Sunday-morning gatherings is an optional part of a Christian’s life, and has no bearing on our obedience to God’s desire for us to belong to His Church; the two things are entirely unrelated.
You may notice in my writing that when I refer to the authentic Biblical meaning, I capitalize the word Church, and when I refer to the man-made structures, I put “church” lowercase and in quotation marks. But in the long run, that’s not good enough. It certainly doesn’t work in conversation. My proposal, and it’s a modest one, is that we re-name the thousands of fragmented, facilities-based organizations called “churches” today “Christian Clubs.” So it’d become First Baptist Christian Club, or Hallelujah Bible Christian Club. If this suggestion catches on, then believers would be freed up to pursue true Church, and not feel so guilty for not “going to church” on Sunday mornings. Whether you accept this or not, please, do me a favor and stop calling your local Christian Club a “church” – because it confuses those who are seeking the truth, and it sure as heck isn’t something God calls Church.
Church Service – This one is almost comical. Service is what we do to help someone. According to the Bible, it is the basis of true religion, which God says is “helping widows and orphans.” So, in God’s eyes, a true Church service involves the fellowship of believers pooling resources and working together to meet the needs of those less fortunate, like feeding the homeless or painting a widow’s house. In today’s language, however, a “church service” is when the local Christian Club gathers and performs a Sunday morning ritual involving a musical performance, a motivational speech and some fundraising. How we came to call that a “church service” is beyond me! How about we start calling them “Christian Club Weekly Rallies”? As in: “Hey, you want to come to my Christian Club’s Weekly Rally this Sunday?” “No thanks, I’ll be up late Saturday performing a Church service, and will need to sleep late Sunday after working so hard at the homeless shelter.”
Ministry and Minister – The Greek word means “service.” (See above.) It’s a menial job, and the title of “minister” (and “deacon,” which has the same root) is most closely translated as “bus boy.” To clarify this, I suggest we start calling ministries “grunt work,” and ministers “servants.” As in: “I want to go into full time grunt work. My servant thinks I’m called to it.” That’d clarify things big time.
Worship – Literally, this means groveling like a dog before his master and/or lying face down before a king. It has nothing to do with music whatsoever. (And no, “praise” is not fast music and “worship” is not slow; that’s silly.) True worship is intensely private. Yes, it’s a condition of the heart, and it’s a state of being that we can bring to all our activities, including singing songs. Just so we can all be on the same page, here’s my suggestion: Let’s start calling the music portion of our Christian Club Weekly Rallies “inspirational music sing along time.” Then, if our hired Inspirational Music Sing Along Time Servant wants to truly lead worship, he can lie down on his face while the other members of the Christian Club are singing.
Pastor – This word has no Biblical meaning, because it’s a completely man-made title and job description. It was made up by the Roman “church” during the Dark Ages to pertain to a facet of the pagan-inspired priesthood, and inserted in one place in Scripture by translators looking to justify the position. The word they stepped on is shepherd. This is a hard one to suggest a possible replacement, because there are a multitude of folks filling this position who have no shepherding gift or calling whatsoever. Even if they did, their full time job running the Christian Club would mainly be a distraction from the real work of shepherding as it’s portrayed in the Bible. I think the best idea is to start calling them what they are, and that is “CEO” of their Christian Club.
There are quite a few more words we need to change if we’re going to be able to journey together towards the truth, but I think this is a good start. When we get these right I think the others will begin to fall into place. Will you join me? Think it’ll catch on?
Oh … and I’ll see you next Sunday at our Christian Club’s weekly rally. I’m sure our inspirational music sing along time servant will put on a good show, and the CEO will deliver a great motivational message!
After that, if you’re up for it, we can put on our work clothes and join the Church service down at the old widow’s house…
– You are the salt of the world. Stay salty, my friends!
What do the statements “God wants us to ‘go to church’” and “Jesus was gay” have in common? Both were true long ago, when the words “church” and “gay” meant something different. And neither is true today.
Words are important to God. The Bible says Jesus was “the Word made flesh,” and that “in the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” So yes, words are important.
That said, a word in and of itself is just a noise or string of letters. What does “skopeta” mean? I don’t know, I just typed in random characters. But if I declare skopeta is the new word for “muddy shoe,” and this gains common acceptance, then all of a sudden those random characters have value. Take off your skopetas before you come in, please!
Here’s the point: It is the shared meaning behind a word that gives it usefulness and power. Fifty years ago the word internet would have been nonsensical. Now that we all know what it means, that string of letters is a meaningful word.
God’s Words give life. They are multifaceted, living and active. But it is not the syllables spoken or the letters on the page that contain this power. The words we attribute to Him are meaningless if they are not backed by the truth of His intended meaning.
Satan knows this and is very clever at manipulating the shared meanings behind words to suit his purposes. If we’re not diligent, we can obediently follow a “word,” but in reality be doing all the wrong things.
Let me give you an example: Those of us my age or older remember when the word “gay” meant happy and joyful. Back before the 1970s that was the only meaning of the word. There were no negative connotations at all. I frequently read my children old books, and when I come across this word I find myself changing it to “happy” so they don’t get the wrong idea. Tell a man today he looks gay and he may well be offended, where 40 years ago he would have thanked you!
Now imagine you are a young, new Christian who is eager to serve the Lord. You’re in a used bookstore and find a first-edition, 40-year-old book written by one of our recent heroes of the faith, like Billy Graham, and you buy it so you can learn how to better serve the Lord. In it, suppose there’s a section that says “Jesus was gay and taught his disciples to be gay, too – and He desires the same for each of us.” Fifty years ago that would have been absolutely true; He was indeed a joyful man, and He wants that for everyone.
If you’re too young to know the history of the word “gay,” you’d have no way to know that what you take it to mean is not what the author meant. You could certainly be confused, if not led astray. I trust Billy Graham’s reputation, and I want to serve God, so no matter how strange it sounds, I guess I need to give it a shot… Sure, that example may be a little silly, but it makes the point: Knowing the original intent behind the words we use is vital.
If we are serious about our faith, we must realize the original, inspired words of the Bible were written thousands of years ago, in obscure languages, by and for people in a world radically different than the one we know today. Even if we could be assured of accurate translation of the words, fact is that scores of generations, mind-boggling technological advancement, radical cultural shifts, and countless other factors have changed many of the understood meanings behind the written words.
Unfortunately, we can’t even safely rely on the accuracy of our modern translations.
The King James 1611 “Authorized Version” is revered as infallible by many. Even those who prefer more modern translations nearly universally respect it as a masterwork of artistry and accuracy, and it is pretty much the touchstone for virtually all modern translations. Yet as I’ve pursued the truth and dug into the original languages of the Bible, I’ve become painfully aware of the cultural bias of King James’ translation team, and how badly this has hurt us today.
This bias is especially profound in how it’s shaped our understanding of “church.” Heck, just using the English word “church” – which conjures very specific pictures in the minds of readers – to represent Greek ekklesia is profoundly misleading. There’s a long list of equally charged words they stuck into “God’s Word,” not least of which are the titles of bishop, pastor and deacon. I believe the Apostle Paul would be spitting mad if he knew these misguided, man-made concepts were inserted into his divinely-inspired epistles.
Let me give you an example. The word bishop today is a title reserved exclusively for high ranking “church” officials. So when we read 1 Timothy 3:1, our minds see: “If a man desires a career as a high ranking ‘church’ official, he desires a good work.” Yet this is very far from the original intent!
The Greek word translated as “bishop” literally means “inspector,” and connotes one who looks into things. In a functioning, organic, non-heirarchical Body, as was the context at the time Paul wrote it, this would have implied one who digs into meanings, visits people, and/or helps settle disputes. It was not a “church”-specific, narrowly-defined title, nor was it a paid position, as the word “bishop” means today. The paid, high-ranking “church” officials of the day were the ones who crucified Christ!
We must step back and look at God’s Word objectively, and not get defensive when the real meaning challenges our status quo. Here is the cold, hard truth: The translators who chose to stick the word “bishop” (and all the other churchy terms) there originally were working under the authority of the English king, in an era of totalitarian churchianity, and on the heels of intense persecution. They also made their livings from the established “church” structure, and many held the title of “bishop,” so seeing outside this stained glass box would have been very difficult for them. If that weren’t enough to warp their worldview, history shows that King James himself commanded the translators to be sure that their translation supported the High Church traditions and structure!
Regardless of how much they may have known better (assuming some did), they were not going to buck the High Church system. Many of their peers, in their very recent past, had been burned at the stake for such “heresy.”
If we are going to seek the truth, we must accept the fact that King James’ translators – who brought us the Bible as we know it today – were apologists for the monarchy and the High Church bureaucracy. Unable or unwilling to think beyond their own, limited worldview, they inserted these concepts and titles into the text. In doing so, they paved over God’s divine design for His Body, and built their human-made structure on top of it. There are no bishops, pastors or deacons – or “churches,” or “sermons,” or “Sunday services” – in the original, inspired text of Bible, at least how we define those terms today.
The Bible says we are to find out what pleases God. To do so we must dig deep into Scripture, with an open and inquisitive mind. Blindly obeying words at face value – when we know full well how meanings can change over time, and how translators are bound to be influenced by their worldview – does not make God gay … uh, I mean, happy.
– You are the salt of the world. Stay salty, my friends!
Regardless of our individual theological views on legalism, Christians today by-an-large seem to still value the Ten Commandments, and seek to obey them as clear-cut rules for Godly living.
Of course, we seem to pick and choose our favorites. I don’t know anyone who endorses murder or stealing, for example. We’d never think about breaking those Commandments. Also, as a rule, we still tend to frown upon lying and committing adultery, although in general it appears we’ve gotten a bit more tolerant of slips in those areas. Most Christians, I’d say, don’t endorse taking the Lord’s name in vain, and wouldn’t intentionally put another god before the real One, yet we don’t frown upon those quite as much as we do the “big ones” like murder. As for not honoring our father and mother and the two about not coveting … well, while we can quote those when convenient, I question how many folks really take those as ironclad, guiding principles.
Of these mentioned, even the ones we don’t seem to take so seriously, we at least seem to understand what they mean, and know deep inside that we’re doing wrong when we violate them.
There’s one more Commandment, however, that belongs in a class by itself. It’s one that even the least legalistic of us tend to beat ourselves and others over the head with, even if subconsciously, and yet it’s the one that virtually nobody properly understands. Our generally-held interpretation of this Commandment is so backwards and wrong that our attempts to be “obedient” to it can actually cause us to violate it!
When I quote it here, I want you to take a moment and pause. Think about the first thing that pops into your head when you read it. Think about what your Sunday School teacher told you it means. Think about how it’s been used in your life, and what it’s driven you to do. I suspect that your experience with this Commandment is identical to that of the vast majority of Christians around the world.
Here it is: Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy. (Exodus 20:8)
Ok … so what does that Commandment mean to you?
I’ve been to a few “Cowboy Churches” over the years, and there’s a commonly-displayed poster that has the “Cowboy Ten Commandments.” The creator of this “translated” the Ten Commandments, reverently yet colorfully, into colloquial “cowboy” dialect, capturing the essence of the generally-accepted meanings. I suspect your understanding lines up with this quite well. It says, “Git yourself to Sunday meetin’.”
That sums up the modern understanding of this Commandment. “Remembering the Sabbath day to keep it holy” is interpreted to mean we’re supposed to go to “church” on Sunday, pure and simple.
Of course, since we’re supposed to “go to church,” then by default we need a “church” to go to, right? And since we are commanded to go there on a particular day, this requires a set meeting time, doesn’t it? And so this Commandment, as it’s nearly universally interpreted and applied today, is used as a logical foundation to support the whole modern “churchianity-industrial complex.” (A new term I just made up. )
Since obediently “gittin’ ourselves to Sunday meetin’” requires a designated meeting time and location, then this logically supports building buildings called “churches,” having “pastors” to officiate our meetings, having seminaries to train our “pastors,” and on and on. We’re just trying to obey God, and we can’t do it without all this, right?
Therein lies the problem. You see, this Commandment means something entirely different! Taking out the poorly-translated religious jargon and breaking the verse down in the original Hebrew language, you get this: Remember a day of rest, and keep it set apart.
On the seventh day of creation, God rested. We are called to enter into Christ’s rest, and to cease from our own works. God instructs us to “be still” and know that He is God. Every major good-guy character in the Bible that I’ve studied took time on a regular basis to relax and connect with God. The concept of resting, of being still, of getting some good down-time on a regular basis, is an important Biblical concept. So important, in fact, that God made it one of the Ten Commandments!
Of course, our human nature wants to codify things. Over time the Israelites made the Sabbath into a very legalistic thing, with detailed instructions on how to avoid work on that day. These laws were so convoluted, and the punishments meted out so strict, that I’d bet most of the Jews of Jesus’ day were pretty darn uptight on the Sabbath, which was contrary to God’s desire for the day.
In the same way, we’ve taken that verse and made it something very different than what God desires. Whether you’re in front of the pulpit or behind it, the whole idea of “Sunday meetin’” is anything but restful. Behind the pulpit, there’s an incredible amount of preparation and performance for the Big Show. Pastors, worship leaders, Sunday School teachers, ushers, etc., are “clocked in” on Sundays, no two ways about it.
And as an attendee, well, if you’ve ever had kids and tried to get them to “meetin’” on time, you have an idea how the whole thing can be anything but restful. And even if the kids do happen to get up on time and have no difficulty getting dressed and in the car, the traffic isn’t too bad, and our designated pew spot is not occupied by some ignorant visitor, there’s still all the stand-up, sit-down, sing this, sit quietly, act like you’re paying attention to the sermon, etc., etc., that goes along with the Sunday ritual we call a “church service.”
You can argue with me all you want, and tell me how uplifted you are by the music, how meaningful the “message” is for you, how every minute of it is always pure joy, etc., etc., but I’m sorry, it’s still not taking a day of rest and keeping it set apart as God instructs. It’s not being still and ceasing from our works as modeled and commanded in the Bible.
Something I learned a long time ago is this: If the devil can’t make you bad, he’ll make you busy. If he can’t get you to consciously turn away from God, he’ll get you so tied up in doing things that you can’t hear God’s voice. To me, that’s just as bad, if not worse. Worse, because when we’re busily doing things “for” God that we think are “right,” we tend to stubbornly cling to them, and it’s that much harder for Him to get through to us. And when we get caught up in a herd of other well-intentioned but misguided, busy brethren, the social stigma of doing things differently can keep us in bondage on the wrong path.
Yes, we are not supposed to forsake gathering with other believers. This is not related at all to the Sabbath commandment. And, the way they modeled “gathering with other believers” in the New Testament was nothing like the way we do “church” today. It was organic, unstructured, unscripted, fun, personal, deep, not presided over by “clergy,” not at a pre-set time or location, not stressful, not “religious,” the kids didn’t have to sit quietly, and everyone participated in a meaningful way. They met in homes, in public locations, in shops. They ate meals together, worked together, served together, shared their daily experiences with the Living God together, and pooled all their resources to make sure everyone had enough.
They did this throughout the week. And then, they each took a day of rest, to be still, to fellowship with God, to get the “busy” out of their system.
Boy, we’ve sure got this one wrong, haven’t we?
– You are the salt of the world. Stay salty, my friends.
Note: I wrote this last spring before I began this blog. Stumbled across it today and thought it’d be a good one to throw out here. Nothing like the slaughter of a sacred cow to start a meaningful dialogue …
In 1959, the greatest Christian salvation machine ever conceived by man invaded Australia, as a Billy Graham Crusade swept over the continent, from shore to shore. Leading an ecumenical effort that included a vast and varied union of denominations and congregations, blasting through all forms of mass media, and speaking in the largest venues in the land, Billy faithfully shared a clear, direct and inviting presentation of the Gospel of Salvation to more than 3,300,000 people in person, and countless millions more through radio, television, newspapers and closed-circuit broadcasts.
This was in the early days of Billy’s remarkable, life-long outreach efforts, and his organization’s scope and scale continued to grow for decades. He returned to Australia with similar Crusades in 1969, 1979 and 1989. Several associate evangelists of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association (BGEA) visited throughout this period as well. In 1996, Billy’s son Franklin, now the president of the BGEA, led a full-fledged crusade that touched the largest cities on the continent.
It is beyond argument that the majority of the population of Australia, for at least two generations, have heard the straight-up Gospel of Salvation, clearly communicated by the most sincere, faithful, capable, organized, and well-funded mass-market evangelists of modern times.
Yesterday I saw a news item from the BBC (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-12811197). The lead paragraph says, “A study using census data from nine countries shows that religion there is set for extinction, say researchers.” Using a proven statistical model applied to a vast amount of census data, the researchers found “that religion will all but die out altogether in those countries.” Top of their list? Australia.
What’s gone wrong? The Bible says the truth will set us free, but this truth is a hard one to swallow.
Is the Christian faith fated to dwindle into oblivion?
Is the Bible outdated and meaningless for today? Is it even, really, the true word of God?
Are the hearts of the people in Australia simply hardened, and they are doomed as a nation to spend eternity in Hell?
Is the rise of the Antichrist inevitable, and so he’s conquering that continent against the best efforts of the Body of Christ?
If you, like me, reject these notions, then what is it?
Did these leaders lack faith, integrity or competence? Of course not! That’d be the easy way out – to claim these Crusades, and all others like them, have failed because the men weren’t righteous. It’s easier to abandon men than methods. But that’s wrong! I believe these men, and others like them, are incredible, faithful, sincere and highly-capable men of God. They are not the problem. Instead, I believe the facts prove that mass market, salvation-based evangelism is not the way to win the world for Christ.
Jesus and Paul modeled for us a different method: Personal discipleship.
They also taught a different message: The Gospel of the Kingdom. This, according to Christ, is the seed we’re supposed to plant. He said the message of salvation is just the first step; that you must be born again just to see the Kingdom. The Kingdom message tells us we are His sons and daughters, with a victorious identity and destiny, and a mandate to establish dominion over all creation. With the “born again” message alone, we view the cross as a means of salvation, a way out of here. (And how’s that message working for us?) With Christ’s message of the Kingdom, we view the cross as God sees it, as a means of invasion. Through Christ, we now have full access to the power, provision and direction of God Himself, to seek first and establish His Kingdom!
It pains me to say it, but the facts are the facts: The methods, models and messages that the Body of Christ have dogmatically revered, embraced and funded for generations have been measured, and they are a massive failure.
But our faith is NOT fated for failure. Victory is our destiny!
The Bible IS the word of God, and it is more relevant and needed today than ever before!
Hearts around the world are parched and hungry for the reality of the Living God, ready to embrace Him when they meet Him!
“The Antichrist” is the one whose days are numbered; the Kingdom WILL come on earth as it is in Heaven, just as Jesus prayed! We are more than conquerors!
We just need to plant the right seed and use the right cultivation methods, returning to the ways of Christ and the early apostles. This truth WILL set us free – free to bring the victory and seize God’s eternal inheritance that is stored up only for those who conquer the world for Him.
It is time for an UPRISING. It’s time for Christians to stop waiting and start winning!
– You are the salt of the world. Stay salty, my friends!
God’s had me write a mountain of stuff over many years, and yet He has had me keep much of it on the shelf. Now that I’m doing this blog thing, occasionally He prompts me to pull something out of the archives and post it. This is one such post. I felt called this morning to get up early for the specific purpose of posting this; I pray whoever it supposed to be on the reading end got up early, too!
“Pastor” is a word inserted in only one verse of English translations of the Bible for the word translated elsewhere as shepherd. There is no job description in the Bible for a pastor, and there are no men with that title written about. Where it is used in English translations, it is listed as a spiritual gifting, not a profession. It does not mean priest, preacher, spiritual father, administrator, a guy with a seminary degree, ordination certificate, special robe or collar, or anything like that.
The actual word “pastor” is entirely man-made. In the dark ages, Catholic leaders began to speak of the “pastoral” (a fancy word for shepherding) duties of a priest. Eventually this word evolved into a job title of “pastor.” When the early English translators were working on the New Testament and came to the Ephesians 4:11 where it lists the spiritual gifting of various leadership positions – where it says, “some are given to be …” – they came to the word meaning “shepherd” and just stuck the man-made title in its place – working backwards in an effort to incorporate a specifically defined manmade job title into the Word of God.
Man, not God, through centuries of evolutionary, institutionalized tradition, first made up the role and title of “pastor,” and then it was stuck into the Bible in place of the word for shepherd. No one in the Bible is “given to be a pastor” as the word is generally used by man (that is, a degreed and licensed “preacher” who answers to a committee or board, who officiates ceremonial “services,” and who is the center of attention in institutionalized gathering of folks who go by the label of Christian). Instead, they were given to be shepherds of God’s people.
Even for that there is no job description, although two men are shown as having “shepherding” responsibilities in the New Testament. Both these men, James and Timothy, were actually apostles (James appointed by Jesus and Timothy apprenticed by Paul). So even then their titles weren’t “shepherd” – but rather, helping shepherd God’s people was just one of their many responsibilities. People in those days knew what a shepherd is – a man who lives with the sheep, makes sure each one individually is healthy, fed, groomed, safe from harm, together with the flock, etc. A shepherd is a lowly, hands-on, down-in-the-dirt servant of the flock in intensely personal ways – he exists to support them, not the other way around.
Only God can give the spiritual gift. Virtually everything the word pastor conjures up in our modern mind is entirely contrived by man. Only a man whom God has specifically appointed to the job of shepherd by personal gifting and calling (not through a bureaucratic or democratic “call” process) is a “pastor” (if we insist on calling it that) in God’s eyes. How many are there in the world today for real? I think everyone would be shocked. There are many who faithfully stand behind the pulpit and honestly preach the Bible, who hold a position of authority in a congregation, who have all the right paperwork … whom God looks at longingly and says, “Son, what are you doing there?” There are also many who drive trucks or herd cattle or polish fingernails or sell cars for a living who are called and gifted to be true shepherds as God intends, but who rightly don’t feel called to go to some man-made seminary – and so they feel they can never step into the role God ordained for them. They are ordained by God but will never be by man. They are called and gifted, but the systems we’ve built won’t let them serve as God desires.
It is also important to point out that, in God’s eyes, true “pastors” take their place alongside apostles, prophets, evangelists and teachers. The Bible says that the Lord is giving men to serve in these roles until we all reach maturity and grow up into Christ who is the Head. We’re a long way from that happening, so there are still apostles, prophets, evangelists and teachers in our midst, alongside true shepherds, but our culture and organizational structures don’t accommodate them. (Apostle, by the way, means one who is sent, with connotations of a military leader on a mission to conquer.) God is sitting on the edge of His throne, holding His breath, feeling like He’s just going to pop, waiting for us to finally get it.
Please hear my heart. I know and thank God for the fact that there are genuine spiritual shepherds who go by the title of pastor today who faithfully walk in their God-given spiritual giftedness and calling. I have met many. They are fantastic men of God who truly know God’s purpose for their lives and have pursued it faithfully. They lead their sheep as they themselves are led by the Holy Spirit, to God’s great delight. I admire and honor them.
As I stated previously, because the written Word is so vague on how the spiritual gift of shepherding is to be put into practice, it is necessary for one to follow the prompting of the Holy Spirit to walk the path the Lord has set out for him. The way this works in a given shepherd’s life may bear a close resemblance to the man-made job description, and may compel him to serve in that which man calls “church.” Certainly God in His infinite grace desires for those people who are trapped by tradition to still hear His truth and be ministered to – in fact, I believe He is stirred especially greatly for this, as these people are just so close – and He leads men to serve Him obediently by speaking the truth and ministering to people in that setting. For a man to truly serve in that capacity in our world today, he generally must walk in the man-made system and title. That said, for this specific “filling in the blanks,” as with any other, to be truly from God, it must be prompted step-by-step by His Holy Spirit for each individual. When these blanks are filled in by anything else, whether tradition, expectations, ignorance … anything but divine revelation – there is no auto pilot, cruise control or back-seat driving that can keep us on God’s path – then it gives the enemy a wide-open field in which to manipulate and wreak havoc.
Once again, I’ve met men with the title of pastor who are truly called, trained and ordained, by God first, and then by man, for that role. I’ve also met many who make a living under that title and man-made job description – called, trained and ordained by man alone – yet it is clearly not their true, God-ordained purpose in life. (And some are so mixed up by the difference between God’s way and man’s, they may not rightly know!) I personally know a man who became a pastor because his fiancée wanted to be a pastor’s wife! That’s no joke. He’s “leading” a congregation now – certainly through the motions of churchianity – but how can a man who has never found his true identity actually lead anyone to anything? That is the blind leading the blind. How many others do so out of family tradition, or because it’s a good living doing something “meaningful,” or because they didn’t feel cut out for the dog-eat-dog world of the marketplace, or because they believe it’s their only avenue to serving God vocationally, or some other equally “valid” but not Spirit-led reason?
I am absolutely certain these men love God and are passionate about Him, serving Him with all their heart, soul and mind. But it’s important to realize that Paul, before the Road to Damascus – when he was still known as Saul and actively persecuting followers of Christ – was not a bad man at heart. He deeply loved God and was serving Him passionately. But he was stuck in a system that had drifted away from God’s meanings, and thus drifted away from the true, intimate, revealed knowledge of Him. The system he was in had become the old wineskin so couldn’t accept the freshness of the Living God, and actually condemned those who lived in it. When Saul met Jesus personally, face to face, the scales fell from his eyes, he could finally see through spiritual eyes of true faith – and the world would never be the same!
I pray passionately that men out there who are modern day Sauls – passionate and sincere men of God, every one of them, but stuck in an old wineskin – will finally, truly meet Christ face to face (and not in some mystical, “religious” sense!). When they do, the world will never be the same!
– You are the salt of the world. Stay salty, my friends.
NOTE: I am writing this from a hotel lobby in Abuja, Nigeria. I’m here for a quick BAM (business as ministry) trip…
Most churches and ministries these days play fast and loose with the word “conversion.” They speak of making “converts” and liberally quote the quantity of “conversions” from a given activity. Problem is, there generally is no understanding of what “conversion” really means, so in reality these efforts and statistics – and indeed, many of these “ministries” – are pretty much worthless.
I realize those are very strong words, so please allow me to make myself perfectly clear. God is absolutely all about conversion, and He desires for us to work to convert all mankind. But if we don’t know what authentic conversion is as God intends it, and instead pursue a misguided, watered-down, man-made conception of “conversion,” then we simply are not going about our Father’s business. We can do all sorts of things “in His name,” and in the end He will tell us, “away from me, I never knew you.”
To avoid this terrible outcome, we simply must know what God means when He says the word “conversion.”
Ray Croc, founder of McDonald’s, once famously said, “When you’re green, you’re growing, and when you’re ripe, you rot.” Truer words are rarely spoken. A disclaimer: What I’m writing here may be new information for you, and it may be unsettling. I pray you are green.
Another disclaimer. Someday, I’ll get a hat or button made with this on it, and wear it when I preach:
“Correct me if I’m wrong.”
While what I write here may be new and unsettling to some, it’s fully substantiated by Scripture. And if you allow Him to do so, I believe the Spirit of God will confirm it to you. But if you think I’m off base, please, please tell me. I seek nothing more than truth.
Now here’s the heart of it: For way too long, we have confused “faith” with “belief,” as if intellectual acceptance of the truth of Jesus as the risen Son of God is all it takes to be saved. And so, when someone finally has come to accept this truth, we have counted them as a “convert.” Problem is, this is simply NOT the case. Satan himself believes that Jesus is God’s son, that He was crucified, died, and rose again on the third day to save us from our sins. And last I checked, Satan isn’t a convert, is he?
The Bible clearly tells us that true conversion is something different entirely. It’s a two-step process, with belief being the first step. Yes, belief comes before conversion. But belief itself is NOT conversion. If you’ve convinced someone of the truthfulness of the Bible, and led them to an intellectual acceptance of Christ as our risen Savior, then you’ve done a good thing, no doubt. But you have NOT made a convert!
The second step, the most important step, the step the devil won’t take, the point of TRUE conversion, comes when a person yields their will fully to the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Before this, a person is not saved. After this, they are. This, and only this, is the point of conversion in God’s eyes.
The Bible repeatedly makes a pronounced distinction between these two things: Belief and Surrender.
(Were this a book and not a blog post, I would proceed with many dozens of substantiating Scriptures. For the sake of space, allow me to give just a few.)
In Chapter One of his gospel writing, the Apostle John says, “As many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God.” (John 1:14) So receiving Christ — believing in Him – is a big deal. It gives us the right to become children of God. It opens the door. But it is a right only; it does not make it a done deal! Later in the same book, John records that Jesus said the same thing, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the Kingdom of God.” (John 3:3) Being “born again” gives us the right to become children of God; it allows us to see the Kingdom.
Actually becoming children of God, and entering the Kingdom, is another step entirely. It requires more than simple belief! The Apostle Paul put it this way, “For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are the children of God.” (Romans 8:14) In the same vein, Jesus said, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the Kingdom of God.” (John 3:5) Being led by, being born again by, the Holy Spirit, is the point of conversion, and not a moment sooner. THIS is when we become God’s children and enter His Kingdom. And this is distinct and separate from intellectual belief in the truth of Scripture.
The question is, in my life, who’s the boss? If I lean on my own understanding, if I am conformed to the patterns of this world, if I follow the impulses of my flesh, then I am not converted, and I am not a child of God. If, instead, I am a sheep who knows my Master’s voice, if I have the mind of Christ, if I live by faith and not by sight, then I am indeed converted, and adopted as a full child and heir of the King of Kings.
Over and over, the Bible makes this point clear. And yet in our quest to build bigger budgets and buildings, we’ve simply left the truth by the wayside.
We don’t talk much about the rich young ruler, who asked Jesus what was required for salvation, because it’s too hard: “Go, sell all you have and give to the poor, and then come follow me.”
We don’t sing pop-praise songs based on the words of James: “Faith without works is dead.” Folks don’t want to sway back and forth all bleary-eyed to that refrain.
We don’t hear too many sermons about James’ instruction to “be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.” Hard to fill pews and plates with that one.
I read a blurb in an in-flight magazine the other day about a woman who met a famous violinist after a concert. “I’d give my life to play like you do,” she said.
“I did,” was his reply.
Jesus is calling us to the exact same understanding. We want the eternal life that He died for? We must die, too. We must offer ourselves as living sacrifices, according to the words of Paul, who said, “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.”
No, belief alone does not save us. It gives us the potential, the right, the power to become children of God. Changing our minds is not conversion. Changing our hearts is. When we die to self, when we crucify our flesh, when we yield fully to the step-by-step guidance of His Spirit … this is the true point of conversion, and not a moment before.
Conversion doesn’t come when folks raise their hands after a rip-roaring sermon, or when they say the magic words of the “sinners prayer,” or when they check the “I received Christ today” box on the response card. These are great things, and thank God for them! But they are not conversion. If you’ve achieved this, you’ve done a good job – you’ve made a good START. But that’s all it is – a START. Your work is not yet done!
Remember, our job is to make disciples, not just to make believers. If all you’re doing is making believers, I’m sorry, but your ministry results are all make believe.
– You are the salt of the world. Stay salty, my friend!