After a month of mission trip travel, and then a couple weeks of recovery, it’s hard to get back in the pattern of writing. Here goes…
A lot of gadgets run in reverse if you put the batteries in backwards. The thing can be built just right and in top working order, and you can still get the exact opposite results than you desire if the energy is flowing the wrong way.
This is a spiritual principle for organizations, and not just a physical phenomenon. Sometimes the solution to a problem is not in changing the structure or mechanics, but in flipping our paradigms upside down.
Look at it this way: It is people who give energy to organizations, and paradigms that direct our energy flow. Jesus said, “the eye is the lamp of the body.” What we fix our eyes on determines our direction. You could say our vision of the way things are supposed to work – that is, the paradigm we hold – is like the polarity of a battery. When we’re properly focused, our institutions produce desired results. When we’re focused the wrong way, we can get the exact opposite results – out of the exact same organization, facilities and people.
If you know me or have kept up with my writings, you know I have a passion for God and His people, and I believe I share His righteous grief that our organized “churches” often produce results that are exactly opposite of what He desires.
There are those revolutionaries who advocate for complete abandonment of the religious institutions and liquidation of “church” facilities, and a wholesale return to the unstructured, unorganized, house-to-house fellowship of the first century. I’d be lying if I denied believing that this may well be called for in quite a few instances. If we want to see Book of Acts results from our faith, we need to go back to Book of Acts expression and manifestation of our faith. But revolution is not the only solution. In fact, I’m beginning to see that as a last resort.
Centuries of faithful effort and investment have been poured into Christianity’s enormous installed base of resources. God can and will use it all in breathtaking ways, if we will only get out of the way and let Him. Old organizations and resources do not have to be old wineskins! If we the people are flexible, open-minded, and malleable in the hands of our loving God, and let Him lead us in a new way, He will pour His new wine into us, and things can change overnight.
The revolutionaries are right about at least one thing: Owing largely to the output of our institutions, Christians have been losing ground – becoming decreasingly influential, relevant and respected in the world – for decades. Just as we can reverse the output of a gadget by turning the battery around, if we let God flip our paradigms, we can turn around the downward trends of our institutions, and put the Body back on path to victory.
I believe this is God’s heart. In the Book of Acts, when the Apostle Paul went into a new city, he was sent “first to the Jew, then to the Gentile.” His hope, and the hope of the One who sent him, was that the institutional people would turn around and accept the proper paradigm, The Way. Only when they refused did God lead Paul down the revolutionary road.
I expect I’ll be writing more along this line in the future. For now, I’d like to touch on three institutional paradigms that I believe need to be flipped around, back to the way God intends them to be:
1) Who equips who? Often it seems the flow of energy in our churches is to equip the pastor for greater works of ministry. The way we typically practice it today, we see the pastor as the gifted orator, the designated minister, the point man of the enterprise. And so we put more money in the plate to advance his vision, get him a bigger staff and more resources, expand his broadcast reach, and enlarge the facility so more people can hear him speak on Sunday. It’s all about equipping him. But this energy flow is opposite of what God intends! Ephesians 4:11-12 says that, properly aligned, pastors exist to equip the saints for the work of the ministry. When we let this energy once again flow the proper direction, things will change!
2) Coming or going? We seem hung up on the whole Sunday “service” thing, as if attending some traditional, officially-sanctioned music/lecture/fundraiser event on a weekly basis somehow qualifies as having “done church” for the week. As a result, our energy flows into trying to get more people to come into the building to hear about God. But this is 180 degrees opposite from God’s paradigm. To God, it’s not about receiving the Word, it’s about doing it. It’s not about coming into a building every week to hear, it’s about going out into the world every day to tell! We are to send out the workers, not call them in. Church is who we are, not where we go. (And if we think it’s where we go, then clearly it’s not who we are!) Flip this over, and the world will change overnight.
3) Giving or getting? Many believe that if we give to God, then we stand to receive more from others. This is the basis for the whole “prosperity gospel” shtick. The energy flow is all behind the thought that “if you give to God (that is, put it in the right offering plate, of course), your business will prosper.” This is why, after 41 years on the earth, I’ve learned the hard way never to do business with anyone who has a Christian fish symbol on their business card: In my experience, they generally feel entitled to “prosper” a little too much from their dealings, if you know what I mean. God’s paradigm is 100% different, and it’s time we flip. It’s not “give to God and get from people” – instead, it should be give to people and get from God. Jesus said if we give “to the least of these,” then we’re giving to Him. True religion is helping widows and orphans. When we do this, with all our heart – with our time, talent and treasure – God will make sure we have the means to keep doing so. (I encourage you to find out what percentage of the money you put in the offering plate actually goes to widows, orphans and “the least of these.” You may be shocked.)
Let’s flip our paradigms, back to what God intends … and let the world marvel at what He can do!
– You are the salt of the world. Stay salty, my friends!
Context is key: How slicing and dicing Scripture can lead to all kinds of goofy and dangerous teachings
That headline alone is one big can of worms. There are SO MANY well-established teachings embraced by Christians today that simply do not stand in light of full, deep, contextual reading of Scripture. I just want to point out today two bits of the Bible that all too often are taught together (often by teachers who simply don’t know any better), with the end result of twisting quite a few believers in knots.
These two passages are favorites of teachers of the modern “Prosperity Gospel.” Some call this type of pastor a “Prosperity Pimp.” Now, I’m sure many of them are simply parroting what they were taught, so I won’t paint them all with that damning epithet. It probably applies to some, but I prefer to let God sort all that out. I’ll just call them misguided.
The first is 3 John 1:2. This passage is from the greeting of a brief (only 13 total verses!) letter from John to a friend of his named Gaius. As a cordial introduction, John says, “beloved, I pray that you may prosper in all things and be in health, just as your soul prospers.”
I’ve heard this one brief, ancillary verse taken out of context and pounded into peoples heads over and over again. There’s a whole — well, I’m not going to call it a cult, but what is it? — “school of teaching” around this little snippet. The folks who teach this claim that it means GOD’s number one desire for EACH OF US is that we MAKE A TON OF MONEY. (Taken together with the second out-of-context verse I’ll mention in a moment, this is the first of a one-two heretical Bible punch that bamboozles countless believers, and fattens the bank accounts of way too many preachers.)
Of course, in context it’s plain as the nose on your face that this is a greeting, from one friend to another. The book of Third John is not about this at all. And from nowhere else in the Bible can this conclusion be deduced, that wealthiness is next to Godliness. Of course, too many itching ears are eager to absorb a message that justifies materialsm, and so too many folks don’t bother to dig deeper. It suits their purposes, and the pastor “prospers,” too … so what if it’s a false teaching?
Want to see if these folks want to practice what they preach, and really, truly live their lives around every single salutation in every recorded epistle? Then quote them this one: 2 Timothy 4:13, “Bring the cloak that I left with Carpus at Troas when you come….” Now let me ask you, where’s the pastor who has inspired his congregation to go out and look for Paul’s cloak? Come on now, it’s in the Bible, right there in black and white. Of course, GOD wants US to look for His cloak, right?
Give me a break! There’s no MONEY in teaching this one, so they skip it (and every other salutation) and simply zero in on the one that brings in the Benjamins.
(I’d be shortchanging you if I didn’t mention that the Greek word we translate in the 3 John verse as “prosper” is EUODOO, which means “to have a successful journey.” It has nothing to do with material wealth, even if it COULD be taken out of context to apply to us today!)
The second out-of-context verse, which completes the one-two punch of the “Prosperity Gospel” is taken from Malachi 3:10 “‘Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this,’ says the LORD Almighty, ‘and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that you will not have room enough for it.’”
Of course, this is taught to mean, “put one tenth of your money in my offering plate, and you’ll get rich!” The implication is that this is a current, stand-alone promise from God for every believer today. And that couldn’t be further from the truth.
To understand this, you need to put the book of Malachi in the context of the Old Testament, and this verse in context in the book. The Old Testament records the old covenant between God and His “chosen people,” the Israelites. A covenant, of course, has two parties, each of whom have obligations. In the old covenant, the Israelites were to keep God’s laws, and He would show them special favor when they did. Of course, they often abandoned their part, and when they did, they suffered the consequences — because God was no longer obligated to fulfill His part of the covenant.
Beginning not long after the covenant was first established, the people would rebel, and God would call them back to obedience. Starting with Moses, this was the job of the Old Testament prophets — to call the people back to their part of the bargain. Malachi was the last of these, the last chance of the Israelites to live as God’s chosen people, before He gave up on them and implemented a new covenant through Jesus Christ.
The book of Malachi is all about this: Calling the Israelites back to the law. Malachi 2:8-9 says, “‘You have departed from the way, you have caused many to stumble at the law. You have corrupted the covenant of Levi,’ says the Lord of Hosts. ‘Therefore I also have made you contemptible and base before all the people, because you have not kept my ways but have shown partiality in the law.’” And in 3:7 it says, “Yet from the days of your fathers you have gone away from My ordinances and have not kept them. Return to me, and I will return to you.”
Malachi is a call to the ancient Israelites to return to the law. The book enumerates many ways they must return, and confirms that God will once again favor them as a nation if they do. The tithe was a very specific law (like not eating pork or wearing clothing of mixed fibers), with the specific purpose of supporting the priesthood. The Old Testament storehouse, similarly, was a very specific, legalistic system of welfare that was administered by the priesthood.
For a pastor today to make the claims that 1) this verse is a stand-alone, universal promise to every believer, 2) that he serves in the same role as an Old Testament priest, and that 3) his offering plate is equivalent to the Old Testament storehouse, is simply beyond the pale. We are all a royal priesthood in Christ, and we are no longer bound by the law — including the law of tithe. (I’ll get into that more in a future post.)
I know many good, well-intentioned folks who teach these things, and they are simply and dramatically wrong. The promise in Malachi is super-contextual, purely legalistic, and explicitly applied only in conjunction with all the other aspects of restoration that God called for in that book. Moreover, just one book later — in the book of Matthew — God abolished the old covenant and established a new one on the basis of faith in Jesus Christ.
To paraphrase Paul, if you want the Malachi verse to apply to you, you can choose that — but then you will be obligated to follow every letter of the old covenant law. Good luck with that one!
So … like the title says, slicing and dicing Scripture can lead to all sorts of goofy and dangerous teachings. The Prosperity Gospel is but one example.
- You are the salt of the world. Stay salty, my friends!