In the previous post I referenced some key Bible verses that, when we understand the Greek behind them, are able to unlock for us the next level of faith. Let’s revisit those verses and insert the proper Greek word. I believe this will make them come alive for you in a new and exciting way.
In Matthew 4:4 Jesus said, “Man doesn’t live by bread alone, but by rhema.” In context this is particularly stunning. If you recall, Jesus spoke this to satan after His first temptation in the wilderness. Satan had come to Him after a 40-day fast and tempted Him to turn rocks into bread and eat them. Now let me ask you, what would have been the sin in that? Where is it written, “Thou shalt not turn rocks into bread and eat them?” It’s not! Only a few times in the Bible do we see beyond the veil into the spirit world. No doubt satan dangled temptations in front of Christ over and over again – like when He was walking on water, the enemy must have been screaming, “you’re gonna sink!” – but it’s simply not recorded for us. If this story were like the others, and we only saw the “natural” side of it, we’d simply think it was another miracle if Jesus had finished fasting, turned rocks into bread, ate them, and moved on. Nobody would look at that and say, “See! He wasn’t God after all! He sinned!” – because there was nothing in and of itself “wrong” in the thing He was being tempted to do.
Indeed, our whole human checklist for decision-making was satisfied: Jesus had the power, the right, the freedom – and no doubt the desire and physical need – to do that very thing. So why didn’t He do it? Herein lies the vital importance of rhema. Jesus said, in effect, “Satan, I acknowledge that I need bread, but what’s more important to me is that I follow the step-by-step instructions of God, and He hasn’t told me to do this yet.” Jesus would have rather starved to death than do anything outside of God’s specific, step-by-step, rhema-given instructions for His life! He didn’t live on bread alone, and not on graphe (the written word – because on that basis alone, the thing tempted would have been just fine!), but on rhema.
Here’s another key verse: “Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.” If you have dedicated of your life to evangelism according to our traditional methods this may hurt you in the gut, like it did me, because here’s the truth: The “word” in this verse is rhema. Faith comes by hearing rhema from God. Like in the story of young Samuel, a person can be dedicated to God, live in the temple, observe all the proper religious activities, have a trusting knowledge of graphe, and still not have true faith as God defines it. If we do not, like Jesus, recognize and follow God’s personal, present voice in our lives, we simply are not in His flock.
I admit this is a hard truth. It was painful for me to accept, because of all the years I tried to serve God without this understanding.
Most denominations don’t teach this, but it is the truth, and as such I know that when you accept it, it will give you new life, freedom and power. We can give away cases of Bibles, quote Scripture till we’re blue in the face – and the people we are working to reach can believe every word of it – and yet without a real, meaningful, personal relationship with God through Jesus Christ – a relationship with rhema at its heart – then it is all a waste of time and energy. This is precisely what Jesus meant when He said, “Many will say to me …, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!” He just wants to have a real relationship with us – built on intimate communication – that’s all. Nothing else we can do matters. Nothing else can lead to victory.
Before I present one last key rhema verse, I want to make something perfectly clear: I value, honor and revere the Bible more than life itself. I’m old fashioned in that I never let anything sit on top of my Bible – it’s always the top of the stack. I believe it is the infallible, inspired graphe of God, and I base my entire life and worldview upon it. But fact is, the written Word, while fully true, is just a portion of what God desires to communicate to us, and mere intellectual acceptance of the Bible as truth does not save us. Without a real relationship with God through Jesus Christ, based on personal rhema from Him, everything else is worthless.
Of course, God often gives rhema to me through graphe, but rhema is much more than that. He speaks in all the ways He promises: guiding my steps, making sense of things, giving me words to say, and – dare I say it – even telling me what to write.
When you realize the believers in the Book of Acts didn’t have what we call the Bible – the few scrolls they had were hard to access, especially for the Gentiles – and instead, only had rhema, you begin to realize how important it is. Look at what God was able to do through them! They weren’t skeptical of God’s power – they lived in it! If I were in a situation where I had to choose between rhema and graphe, I’d choose rhema, 100 percent of the time. Thankfully we don’t have to choose. But sadly, out of tradition and ignorance, most Christians do choose – they choose graphe alone (“sola scriptura”) and the results are … well, the results are what we have today.
Ok, back to the key rhema Bible verses. And this one is a doozie. In his letter to the believers of Ephesus, who were called by the Lord and shepherded by Paul to maintain and expand upon the transformational work that had been won in their community, the great warrior apostle wrote:
Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.
Did you notice – in all of the items Paul lists, there is but one weapon? One tool we are given with which to tear down every stronghold, demolish every argument that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, and utterly defeat satan and his kingdom of darkness? What is this one, all-powerful weapon? It is not the written Word.
The sword of the Spirit is rhema.
This has been translated as “word” and interpreted as “Scripture” for too long! You can’t beat the devil by quoting the Bible to him – he knows that Book better than any man ever will, and he believes every word of it, because he was there when it all happened! What satan doesn’t have access to, which we as followers of Jesus Christ do, is the rhema of God – His fresh, relevant, personal word, through which He guides our paths, orders our steps, tells us what to do and when to do it, when to pray and what to pray for, puts the proper words in our mouth, and prompts us at all times in all things to do His will. And when we are in His will, His power flows through us to defeat anything the enemy can throw at us. When we are in His will, the very gates of hell can’t stand in our way!
The rhema of God proves Christianity as the one true faith. Only a Living God can utter a living Word, and no other faith offers this. Practiced without rhema, however, Christianity is just a religion, no better than any other. Without rhema, our faith is merely a collection of holy writings, a prescribed way of living, a system of worship, a community of like-minded people, belief in a distant and silent deity, an avenue for “prayer,” a reason to hope, a basis of ethics and morals, an opportunity for full-time ministers to make a living, and the promise of “heaven” when we die if we play things by the book – just like virtually every other religion on earth. Without rhema, Christianity is empty, ritualistic, legalistic, and ultimately pointless. Without rhema, our religion truly is, as Karl Marx famously wrote, “The opiate of the masses” – a mysterious, superstitious code that keeps the deluded population under control.
Jesus didn’t come to start another religion. He came, ultimately, to reconcile us to a real relationship with our Father. All the other things He accomplished – destroying the works of the devil, reclaiming that which was lost in the garden, setting the coming of the Kingdom in motion – all spring from this one thing: We now, through Him, have open access to a personal relationship with the Living God, and all the benefits that come with it.
– 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!
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.
A note to my friends and blog followers:
This is my first post in a few weeks. I apologize for the long gap. My family has been tied up in a huge spiritual battle and period of unexpected hardship. Our local newspaper, the San Antonio Express-News, wrote a story about our situation and ran it on their front page two days ago. If you’re interested in finding out more, here’s a link to the article. I appreciate your patience and prayers. – M.A.
I find it amazing how so many Christians simply cannot properly take – or assign – responsibility for the foul fruit of human failings.
It’s like they think, “So long as we don’t outright kill anyone or steal anything, or get caught breaking any of the other commandments, then everything else we do is irrelevant to the outcome of our actions.”
I’ve seen long-time ministers, who are indeed gifted at teaching the Word, live the most slothful lives and make the most foolish decisions – and then blame God (and/or the “immature” believers around them, who “don’t give enough”) for their poverty. Now, they wouldn’t outright say “it’s God’s fault” in so many words — rather, they seem to believe God is perpetually holding them in a “dry season” to “teach” them something – but it’s the same thing. Yes, God is trying to teach them something, like get off your butt and actually do something productive! The dry season they’re facing is not God’s fault; it’s the inevitable endpoint of the path they’ve chosen.
I’ve seen other long-time ministers form committees, councils, boards or teams of people who are incompetent, shallow, immature, conflicted and/or otherwise not trustworthy – and because they are “good Christians,” the organizer holds to an irrational belief that everything that happens will be “God’s will.” So when the group’s resulting action (or inaction) makes no sense or goes the wrong direction, the minister just follows merrily along, the blind following the blind, with God’s name stenciled on the mess.
The Lord gave me a vision onetime of a Christian farmer in a farmhouse, praying earnestly for a bumper crop of corn. This farmer has the most fertile bottomland in the county, the best equipment in his barn, it’s a wet year, and there is nothing standing between him and a record harvest. But a few weeks after planting time, this farmer’s field is still brown, while his unbelieving neighbor’s field is sporting healthy sprouts.
So the farmer gets on his knees and prays even more. He fasts, digs deeper into the Word, activates the prayer chain at “church,” and resolutely declares the “word of faith” that God is definitely going to give him a huge harvest this year. And yet another month later, when the neighbor’s crop is “knee-high by the Fourth of July” and growing, this farmer’s field is still desolate.
So our farmer pours out his heart to God. He puts a bigger check in the offering plate. The elders of his “church” pour oil on his head and pray over him. His touchy-feely, super-“spiritual” friend helps him dig into his childhood and analyze all the bad things that ever happened to him, seeking the “root of his troubles.” His holy-roller pastor waves his arms and flaps his tongue in a wild prayer of deliverance. But a number of weeks later, while his neighbor rolls out the combine and brings in a bumper crop, our friend’s field yields nothing but weeds and dust.
Finally the Christian farmer, at wits end, lays face down before the Lord, humble and broken. “Why, Lord? Why is it your will that I suffer, while my unbelieving neighbor gets rich?”
The Lord, with grace, yet a touch of frustration, replies, “My son, I gave you the best bottomland in the county, the best farm equipment there is, plenty of rain, and everything you needed to produce a bumper crop. But you didn’t do your part! All you needed to do was plant the seeds I gave you, and I would have made them grow….”
This scenario is more common than we may realize. Even as I write this, I am once again convicted of my own guilt in blaming God for the failures and lack in my own life. It is not His fault! He has given me more than I need, and I alone am to blame for the consequences of my own poor decisions. I pray God helps me see clearly where I’ve mis-stepped, because I know that taking responsibility is a pre-requisite for learning and doing better in the future. When I blame Him or anyone else for my mistakes, I am doomed to repeat them.
Here’s the truth: God gave us the authority and mandate to establish dominion over the world. He freely offers Wisdom and Revelation to guide our steps. He promises provision and direction when we seek and obey His will. And He also gives us free will to do it His way, or not.
We must realize that He didn’t give all this to us so that we may have a free pass on the principles of His creation. Believers are not exempt from reality! Instead, the opposite is true: God established the fundamental principles of creation – scientific, economic, political, business, etc. – and gives us access to His very mind, so that we may master them. He wants his sons and daughters to rise up and take dominion over these things, not cede them to the unbelievers through our own foolishness, ignorance and inaction!
This truth applies to us, wherever we find ourselves. I see everyday believers “blame” God for their unemployment, yet they don’t hustle to find work, don’t present themselves well in interviews, and never took the time to master the skills necessary to be successful in their given field. No, their unemployment is not God’s fault! It is a result of their own bad habits and poorly-chosen path.
I see believers who actually believe their broken marriage is God’s will. Of course, it must be God’s will, and certainly has nothing to do with the fact that they’re lazy, self-centered, worldly, and didn’t put Christ at the center of their relationship!
I see Christian business owners “blame” God for hardship and failure, yet they continually ignore wise counsel, make stupid decision, and do not put a professional face on their endeavors. How is it God’s fault when they go out of business? Just because they’re a “Christian” business doesn’t mean they don’t have to compete in the marketplace!
Sure, there are legitimate “dry spells” and hardships in life. God teaches us through trials and fires. We’re not here to live it up in the here and now, and material outcomes are not necessarily any measure of Godly success. That’s not what I’m talking about. I’m talking about all the times that we miss out on God’s desired outcome through our own ignorance, stubbornness, foolishness, laziness, and bad habits – and then, instead of facing the truth, we chalk our failure up to God. I believe this is more widespread than any of us may care to admit.
Where this grips me the most is in “church.” Pews and pulpits today seem filled with folks like the Christian farmer in my little story. We are failing in our God-given mandate to bring His Kingdom on earth as it is in Heaven, and we are becoming increasingly mocked and marginalized in the world. At the same time, frauds and phonies are reaping a bumper crop, leading multitudes down the path to destruction.
How can we honestly believe this has nothing to do with the fact that even the most “contemporary” of our “churches” today – compared to The Way modeled in Scripture – are legalistic, ritualistic, materialistic, tradition-bound, shallow, inbred and downright goofy?
Instead of facing the facts and returning to The Way, what is our answer? Redesign the bulletin. Rejigger the order of “service.” Play more modern music. Wear flip-flops on Sunday. That, or double-down on the archaic traditions of our denomination’s founders.
Fact is, we reap what we sow, and we don’t reap what we don’t sow. It’s time we step up and accept responsibility! Churchianity is failing, and yet our “church” leaders continue to inflict us with failing methods – and then blame God for the outcome.
As if claiming that our failure is somehow His fault were not bad enough, now we’ve come up with a pop theology to justify it all. The ultimate insult to our Lord and King, and the pinnacle of the “blame God” mindset, is the modern teaching that global dominion of the Body is not really inevitable, after all, and the best thing we can do is just wait to be rescued. The only one glorified by modern “end times” teaching about the inevitable rise of the antichrist is the antichrist himself! This is not Biblical in the least. Holy cop-out, Batman!
It’s time to grow up, stop blaming God, beg for wisdom, follow His lead, take responsibility for our failings, learn from our mistakes, plant the right seeds, and set our faces like flint towards finally establishing dominion over the world He created for us.
This is His will, and He continually gives us everything we need to do it. If we continue to miss out, it’s not His fault.
– You are the salt of the world. Stay salty, my friends!
I can be obsessive. The Bible says that whatever our hand finds to do we should do it with all our strength, and doing so is hardwired into my psyche. When I focus on something, I really dig into it and don’t rest till I fully get it. While my kids might tell you this can lead to some over-the-top board game competitions in my family, I don’t think on the whole it’s a bad personality trait.
The Bible also tells us to be wise and to take our thoughts captive. Doing the one without the other – that is, committing fully to something without being strategic about it – is a surefire recipe for a misspent life. In my youth, I gave myself to all sorts of projects and causes that, sadly, will not stand in light of eternity.
As a result, over the years I’ve learned to be deliberate about my obsessions, to guard my passions. I realize I’m past the midpoint in my life and I don’t want to waste my remaining years pursuing random, meaningless or selfish things.
As my recent string of blog posts reveals, for quite some time I’ve been focused on getting to the heart The Way that God desires for us to function as a Body of believers. Some folks have asked why this is so important to me, as it can seem like an obscure topic. No doubt it’d be easier for me to follow the herd and focus my attention on the latest football stats, celebrity gossip or political drama, and then sit in a pew and baaaa in unison with the rest of the sheep.
This pursuit has proven to be a challenge and a sacrifice, as it’s taken me into a territory where I often feel the need to tiptoe and whisper, lest I incur the wrath of those who are content with the status quo. But try as I might, I simply don’t think there’s anything more important for me to be obsessed about. This is where the Lord has called my attention, and I can’t rest till I complete my assignment.
As I see it, there are three main reasons why this is so important:
First is practical. For years I sat in pews, served on committees and paid my tithes at a local “church,” going through the motions of churchianity. All the while, we heard messages, sang songs, and participated in studies based on the Bible, which was said to be the inerrant Word of the God (the same God, we were told, who established this “religion” to begin with).
Call me a rebel, but I figured, if I’m going to give so much of my life to my “church” and abide by its rules for living, I should probably read its Holy Book and see what it says. In it, I found a number of crystal-clear promises like if I seek first God’s Kingdom and righteousness, He will provide for all my physical needs, and if I trust and acknowledge God above my own understanding, He will guide my steps. I also read that the Christian’s life is supposed to be marked by true and abiding peace, love, joy and contentment in all situations (which I certainly wasn’t feeling despite my devotion to “church”).
And so I decided to see for myself if all this stuff was legit. I mean, if the Bible is true and God is real, then He should be able to keep those promises, right? And if He can’t, then it’s all a big joke and we’re wasting our time with all this “church” stuff. If it’s not true, and there is no eternal judge or afterlife, then we’re fools not to live large and make the most of our time on earth. On the other hand, if it really is true, then we’re fools not to do every single thing He tells us to do, every step of the way. Living in the twilight zone in between these, as I did for so long, is a meaningless, pointless existence.
To get to the bottom of it all, I jumped into my part of God’s promises with both feet, and it wasn’t long before I saw first-hand that God is real and His promises are true. He’s given me everything He promises and then some, and has demonstrated His reality in countless, miraculous ways.
Grounded in this certainty, I’ve made my pursuit of the Living God and His perfect will my overriding obsession. I want to know Him more and understand – and obey – His Word as deeply as humanly possible. I’d be a fool not to. And since the thing we call “church” absorbs the lion’s share of the time and money we dedicate to God, I figured this was a good place to start digging into His will.
Fact is, if I found out “church” as we know it today is aligned with God’s desire, then I’d want to do it will all my strength. (And I’d want to know which one is right, because most claim all the others are wrong.) On the other hand, if the way we practice “church” is not what God desires, then why do it? If it’s for tradition alone, that’s a terrible reason. Think about it: If we’re off target with this, we’re flushing a massive, tragic amount of human time, talent and treasure down the toilet – and missing the full realization of the blessings God has in store for us.
So my quest for the truth of Church is, in part, fully practical. I want to know how God wants us to live, and I want to follow it to the best of my abilities – because I want to grab hold of all that He has in store for me, and I don’t want to waste my time on an activity He doesn’t endorse.
The second reason I believe this is a worthwhile obsession is because we are called, as ambassadors of Christ, to truly serve the needs of others, as He served us. This is the true religion that pleases God, and we are falling terribly short of it.
We were designed by God to fully thrive only when rightly connected to the Body, according to The Way put forth in Scripture. It is in and through the healthy Body of Christ alone that all our needs are truly met: financial, physical, emotional and spiritual.
Compared to the integrated, inter-dependent, egalitarian, dynamic, immersive, organic fellowship experience of the early Church, our “churches” today offer very little. Sure, there are often “fellowship” opportunities in the “fellowship hall,” and many are making headway with “home groups,” but these are insignificant in light of the richness of true Body life as God intends it.
The lifestyle of the early Church, as recorded in Scripture, is so foreign to us that we simply don’t know what we’re missing and how badly we’re failing. If only we knew how much better things could be for all of us – especially for “the least of these” – I believe we’d drop everything to grab hold of it. If the Body were to stand up in its full potential, we would transform the world overnight.
Instead, we live lives of disconnectedness … superficiality … lack … competition … fear … pride … despair. Scratch the surface of just about any “church” today and – if you are sober-minded and humble enough to admit it – you will find these in abundance. We should stop accepting this as our lot in life! It doesn’t have to be this way!
(Please understand, I say this in comparison to The Way that God desires for us. I’m not pointing fingers at anyone; I’m just trying to point us all towards Him. No doubt there are a huge number of “churches” that are much better than the cruel world. It’s just that to me, “better than” is not satisfactory when Christ came to give us the best.)
Here’s a hard truth: If you’ve sat in the same “church services” as someone for a long time, and you’re not integrally connected to each other – sharing possessions, truly serving each other’s needs, praying insightfully for each other, enjoying frequent fellowship, and so on – then you can call that place a lot of things, but please don’t call it a Church, because God sure doesn’t. Deep, all-in, intimate interconnectedness, where we come together to fully meet each other’s needs, is the heart of the Biblical definition of Church. But it’s virtually unheard of in “church” today.
This kind of interdependence is such an inborn need that throughout history countless millions of people have fought and died for corrupt, counterfeit versions. In reality, the promise behind communism and socialism is nothing more than an empty, evil, God-less version of the promise of true Church. There’s a reason this political paradigm is a continual, global force to be reckoned with. The meteoric rise of “social networking” is another testament to this universal human need. God made us to crave Body life!
We will never have our own needs fully met, or be able to meet the needs of others as we are called to, until we rediscover The Way. We will never be able to fully practice the true religion that pleases God, or unleash our full potential, until the living Body of Christ rises up, free from the shackles of division, human control and traditionalism.
Until we do our job, fake, shallow and harmful counterfeits will continue to flourish, and the people of the world – even “churchgoers” – will continue to needlessly suffer.
The third and most important reason I’ve focused so long on this topic is because I believe it’s central to God’s Big Picture, His original intent for creation and mankind.
God’s first words to mankind were the instructions to establish dominion, to conquer. Some of the last words in the Bible say that “he who conquers will inherit all things.” From beginning to end, and all points in between, the Bible gives us examples, instructions, promises and commands from God all pointing to His overriding desire for us – His children – to establish His Kingdom on earth as it is in Heaven.
Creation exists, and we are here in it, for this one purpose, and the end won’t come till we are done. We are not here just to “do our best” or enjoy “prosperity” until some random “end of the world.” We are instead here to conquer the kingdom of darkness; to follow His step-by-step guidance, and make use of His divine provision and power, to continually and successfully advance His Kingdom into every sphere.
The more I dig into it, the more I realize that God’s Kingdom is synonymous with His Body. The uprising of the Body of Christ is the same thing as the manifestation of the Kingdom come. The Body is the Kingdom – the Kingdom of righteousness, love, peace, joy and contentment in the Holy Spirit. It is the living entity that will emerge when we all let Christ live in and through us, and allow Him to knit us together in the unity of the Spirit.
His Kingdom cannot advance separate from true, organic Body life. It will come not by might or power, but by the Spirit of God – inside-out and from the bottom-up. Ultimate victory will not come through building projects, committees, mass-market campaigns, strident activism, or any amount of time and expense sunk into the institutions we call “church.” These things only get in the way.
We’ve been doing “church” our way for centuries, and yet we’re increasingly mocked, marginalized and fragmented. I’m passionate about God’s Kingdom, and so I am passionate about rediscovering God’s strategic plan for His Body on earth.
Advancing the Kingdom is our God-given mandate and purpose, and our only path to an eternal inheritance. By His design, there is only one way to advance the Kingdom, and that is by following The Way.
And so, yes, I think that getting to the heart of this is a worthwhile obsession. I wish more Christians felt the same!
– You are the salt of the world. Stay salty, my friends!
Jesus prayed for God’s Kingdom to come on earth as it is in Heaven. There is a divine design in Heaven for how God wants us to do things here. Jesus and His early disciples modeled this Way, and it is clearly recorded for us in the New Testament.
Of course, there are other designs we can choose to follow. The enemy offers counterfeit ways that can seem right to us. Tradition – that is, trusting our predecessors above the step-by-step leading of the Spirit – is a powerful rut we can fall into that will inevitably lead us away from The Way. Same with intellect, insecurity, ambition, competition, and all the other patterns of this world.
To know The Way, Paul said, we must intentionally stop conforming to these patterns, but instead let God renew our mind – because His way is way different than anything we can come up with on our own. Doing things on earth The Way they are designed in Heaven doesn’t make sense to the human mind.
Fine people, who truly love God more than themselves, can still be trapped in doing things on earth as they are on earth. I’m certain the Apostle Paul, when he was Saul the persecutor, really loved God, and thought he was serving Him by killing Christians. He was stuck in the earthly way – the way of tradition, intellect, insecurity, ambition and competition – and was oblivious to the true Way of Heaven. Paul had to literally be blinded by The Light before he could see the light, and afterwards it took him living many years in the wilderness for God to be able to fully renew his mind.
There are a number of take-aways we can glean from Paul’s transformation, and one is this: Fine, faithful people, who truly love God more than themselves, who are trapped in doing things on earth as they are on earth, can feel deeply offended by, even compelled to hunt down and kill, those people who are seeking to do things on earth as they are in Heaven. These people, as Jesus said, believe “the old wine tastes better,” and that the “new wine” of The Way is a threat the structures they’re so fond of.
Correspondingly, we must realize that if we do seek to follow The Way, there are quite a few good people out there – even respected “church” leaders – who will feel offended and threatened by us, and who may even work to take us down hard. Finding and following The Way requires that we offer ourselves as living sacrifices, willing to lose our lives. There is no other Way.
There really, ultimately is just one choice set before us. It is the same choice that was before Adam and Eve in the garden, Jesus in the wilderness, Paul on the road to Damascus, and every human who’s walked the earth. This is our line in the sand: Are we going to live “as it is in Heaven,” or as it is on earth? Following The Way requires a conscious decision and commitment, and it’s all or nothing. If you’re not intentionally all-in on The Way, then you’re not in The Way at all. There’s no two ways about it.
So, what is The Way of Heaven?
First, it is complete submission to the headship of Christ, step-by-step obedience to the leading of the Spirit, regardless of the apparent earthly consequences. On The Way, we do not lean on our own understanding, and we don’t worry about any earthly thing.
On The Way, we realize there is nothing we can do for God – in fact, all the things we endeavor to do for God only drive people further away from Him. Instead, we must allow Him to do things through us, and these two things are polar opposites. His presence is the only place we wish to be, His words are the only words we wish to speak, and obedience to Him is the only thing we wish to do. On The Way, it is no longer I who lives, but Christ who lives in me.
From another perspective, The Way is synonymous with Body life – that is, true Church as God intends it. There is a divine, Heavenly design for the Body of Christ, for Church. We must be passionate about functioning this Way, and never settle for or indulge anything less. This Way is clearly spelled out in Acts 2:42-47:
They continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers. Then fear came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were done through the apostles.Now all who believed were together, and had all things in common,and sold their possessions and goods, and divided them among all, as anyone had need.
So continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they ate their food with gladness and simplicity of heart, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved.
Pretty far off from what we call “church” today, don’t you think?
As this passage indicates, they had tangible fruit from following The Way. That’s because the Kingdom comes when people follow The Way of Heaven, and there’s no other way it can. When we, as a Body, can finally find the courage to do it same Way they did, the same results will be inevitable.
After Jesus modeled The Way and sent out his disciples to experience it, they came back excited that even the demons submitted to them in His name. Jesus said that when we follow The Way, we can do greater works than He did. This was demonstrated daily by the early Church through signs, wonders, healings, deliverance, miraculous provision and other manifestations of Heaven on earth. Indeed, Jesus said these very things are how we can identify those who follow The Way, and this statement is just as true today as it was when He spoke it.
The other day, I enjoyed a lively discussion with a “church” board president who rigorously defended the traditional practices of churchianity. His primary argument was the statement, “But it’s taken us 2000 years getting to this point!” Although he didn’t outright say it, the implicit premise of his argument was, “… and this is a good thing, because all our predecessors must have known what they were doing.”
Here’s my response to that line of reasoning: After 2,000 years of tradition, are we closer to The Way of Heaven or further away from it? Are we still growing “in favor with all the people,” or are we increasingly mocked and marginalized in the world? Are we better at functioning “in one accord” with all our Christian brothers and sisters around the world, or are we increasingly denominational and divided? Are we better at sharing “all things in common” and giving away our things “as anyone has need,” or are we more possessive of our money and things? Do we see more true, overt, dramatic miracles daily – real healings, real deliverance, real signs and wonders – or are these occurrences few, far between and far away? (Or worse, has our “denomination” adopted the false teaching that these things just don’t happen anymore?)
The fact is, we are way, way off The Way in what we call “church” today. I’m almost to the point of Elijah, when he believed he was the last one on earth who understood what God was all about. Now, I know that’s not true – there is indeed a growing remnant, and it is only by God’s grace that He’s revealed His designs to us – but it sure feels that way sometimes. Sadly, today The Way can be a lonely path, but it’s not supposed to be!
There is a line in the sand. On one side is The Way that leads to life, and few so far have found it. On the other side is a bright, wide, well-worn way that ends in death. Which side are you on?
“Our Father in Heaven, hallowed be Your name.Your Kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”
– You are the salt of the world. Stay salty, my friends!
I worked as a plumber’s assistant for about a year back when I was 20. I loved the work, as it always involved intelligence, creative problem solving, and the wisdom that comes from experience. My boss was, rightly, quite proud of his chosen profession, and considered plumbers to be the elite among tradesmen. I’ll never forget his statement: “Give a person a saw and hammer, and he’ll call himself a carpenter. But give any old person a pipe wrench, and he wouldn’t dare call himself a plumber.” He was well aware that most people realize working on water and gas pipes is a great responsibility, and there’s more to the profession than just having the right tools.
The profession itself recognizes the practical skills and seasoning necessary to be a plumber, and so has established the progression from Apprentice to Journeyman to Master Plumber. These are meaningful titles, based on years of experience as well as proven accomplishment. You can’t go to college to be a Master Plumber; you must roll up your sleeves and put in many years of hands-on labor. As I recall my boss telling me, a person must have eight years of experience before they can even apply for a Master’s license. This is as it should be. A simple water leak can ruin a house, and a gas leak can do even worse.
Man, I wish Christians had the same respect for ministers of the Word. Fact is, false or immature spiritual teaching, counseling, etc., can cause much more damage than any plumbing mistake. Yet, as a Body, we’re foolish in how we appoint our spiritual authorities.
My experience is that the Body gives credibility to people based on just about every single factor BUT spiritual maturity and hands-on, front-line, Kingdom experience. A guy has a big “church”? Expert. He’s on TV or radio? Expert. Talks smooth from the pulpit, smiles and calls us “friend”? Expert. Went to seminary? Is “ordained”? Has the title of “pastor”? He must know his stuff. Puts a lot of money in the plate? Can play “church” politics well? Ditto and ditto.
Even worse is this: There appears to be two classes of “expert.” There’s “those who are exalted” (the “clergy” class — see above list), and then there’s everyone else.
Like my old boss said about carpentry, in the ranks of “laymen” it seems that if you give any old person a Bible they consider themselves to be a theologian, and they do not generally recognize the authority of any fellow “layman.” You could have 20 years mission experience, have led to Christ, baptized and discipled hundreds, witnessed countless miracles, and defeated demonic powers in frontline spiritual combat, but if a disagreement arises in a Bible study, the perennial pewsitter will think he’s got just as much right to his “opinion” as you have. And then, of course, when the “pastor” speaks – even if he’s done nothing in his spiritual life but go to seminary and preach sermons – he’s considered the ultimate authority, and Heaven forbid you disagree with him!
If you have a clear picture in your head of who the Apostle Paul really was, and how he must have appeared in person, you must realize that, were he to walk into the vast majority of “churches” today, he’d would certainly not be provided a platform. He’d at best be considered a threat, if not a freak. Heck, if anyone calling himself an apostle were to walk into most “churches” today, he’d be cast out.
What have we come to, when we anoint our leaders based on superficial, meaningless measures, while failing to honor the ones among us who have a genuine, seasoned, proven connection to the Holy Spirit? It’s a sad state of affairs. The blind are leading the blind.
– You are the salt of the world. Stay salty, my friends!
I just got back from running a summer camp for our youth group. My wife and I took a co-ed group of 14 teens on a week-long wilderness adventure, kayaking down a long stretch of the remote Pecos River in West Texas, sleeping under the stars, and living off the land. We had a great time.
After 10 years of running near about 40 camp sessions, this was my first time to do it through an “established” summer camp outfit that provides a turn-key experience. Most groups simply turn their kids over to the camp staff for the week. I was the rare group leader who told the staff that I intended to be in charge of the spiritual aspects of the trip, and they “let” me do it, considering my background in youth ministry.
Our assigned summer-staff counselor was a 21-year-old seminary student. He’d already been in charge of several sessions this year, and expressed no small amount of dismay that he was not going to be allowed to run the “teachings” which, as for all the other groups, would have been a generic curriculum, handed down by the camp managers, with the same lessons taught on the same pre-set schedule.
Now, I didn’t tell the young man that I’d been leading teen groups since before he was born, or that many of my past campers are now much older than he is. But I did politely tell him that maybe he could learn something, if he had a desire to. Sadly, it became apparent that he didn’t, as he checked out of the spiritual aspects after three days, in what seemed a rather aloof way.
I knew there would be issues when, on the first day, I asked the campers to weigh their own spiritual maturity considering three factors: 1) Bible knowledge, 2) authentic relationship with God, and 3) real-world experience. After we finished that exercise, he expressed to me that “many of the campers were very discouraged by the exercise.”
I guess he didn’t realize the depth of relationship I have with these kids. I asked each and every one what their hope was for spiritual growth at camp, and each of them communicated great expectations. A few expressed they were definitely confronted by the reality of their own lack of spiritual maturity, yet said this was not discouraging but motivating. I am left to conclude the young counselor was the only one discouraged by the exercise.
Next I taught about what a real relationship with God looks like, and how it includes two-way communication with Him – not just book-reading and one-way petitions. I broke down the Scriptures, including a brief Greek language study on the word translated as “word” in the Bible. And I recounted a few real-world encounters I’ve had with the Living God. Many of the youth communicated their own experiences.
And then our young counselor spoke up. In what seemed to me to be a rather defensive tone, he stated his belief that God doesn’t necessarily communicate to His children any more other than through the written Word. Of course, he had no written Word to back up that assertion! Instead, he could only reference things told to him by his seminary professors.
No wonder he was discouraged. He grew up in the “church” and is an upperclassman at an established Baptist college. To be around a group of teenagers, many of whom have a closer authentic relationship with their Father, and who have experienced the reality of our Living God in more tangible ways, must have been a shocker – especially after having been thrust into a position of “spiritual authority” for most of the summer.
The next day, I spoke on the Gospel of the Kingdom – including our identity as offspring of the King with a destiny to conquer the world and rule in eternity – and after that our young friend completely checked out. He didn’t participate in one more lesson or discussion.
Jesus said that by our traditions we render the Word of God meaningless. My first-hand experiences, and thus my teachings, don’t fit into his traditions. Going forward, half of me suspects our young counselor will outright reject any overtures the Holy Spirit was making in his heart, write me off as some hack, and lament the lost opportunity to teach our kids some Bible trivia.
The other half of me is not going to give up hope. He was a fine young man with a good mind and deep love for God. Jesus said the seed we’re supposed to plant is the truth of God’s Kingdom. My prayer is that he listened enough to get some of that seed into his heart, and that it will eventually grow and take over.
The battle for his mind will be intense.
I don’t have a seminary degree and I am not ordained. There’s no way I would be accepted as credible by his seminary professors, and much of what they teach stands against what I have personally experienced and received from God. I don’t teach from a pre-set, handed-down curriculum. I don’t seek to give folks a spiritual “sugar high,” or to simply fill their heads with Bible trivia. I don’t tell them they have to sit in a pew on Sunday, or submit to a man called “pastor,” or put their money in the offering plate.
Instead, my goal is to personally introduce folks to the Living God and let Him take it from there. I ask tough questions and encourage them to dig. I teach about their royal identity, purpose and destiny in Christ, and about the true meaning and usefulness of spiritual authority. I tell them my own stories of hearing from God, miracles I’ve witnessed, and how He’s used a damaged vessel like me to do mighty things for His glory. And then I send them out to go and pursue the same experiences.
I don’t claim to be anything special. The Bible instructs us not to think of ourselves more highly than we ought, and I take this injunction seriously. I adamantly teach that the things I’ve experienced in Christ are available to anyone who has a heart to learn and a willingness to count the cost. I hope and believe the people to whom I minister will go and do far beyond me.
At the same time, I refuse to diminish the gifts God has given me and the price I’ve paid to receive them. Over many years, God has taken me to multiple continents to meet a wide range of people and to see His work first-hand. I’ve been blessed with many remarkable experiences in Him and relationships in His Body. He has given me some remarkable mentors and a front-row seat to incredible works of the Spirit. I’m not the top of the heap, but dang it, I have quite a few battle scars, reams of revelation, and bushels of fruit to show after more than a decade in full time ministry.
And that brings us to a big problem with churchianity. If a man twice my age, with exponentially more experience in front-line Kingdom service, brought a group of kids to my camp, I’d be eager to sit at his feet and learn. That’s honor. That’s wisdom.
That poor kid. The “church” system has put him through a few years of “official” training, handed him a pre-set curriculum and given him a title. To them, that counts as “authority.” (It must count as authority to them, because that’s all their system has to offer!) He admits he’s never heard the voice of God or witnessed a miraculous healing, and I suspect he’d mess his pants if he ever met a demon face to face.
And yet somehow, in his world I’m the bad guy for not bowing to his “authority.”
Come to think of it … isn’t this why the “church” leaders of the day crucified Jesus?
– 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!
Note: This is a follow-up to my last post called “Leaders Leave.” Hey, I’m mindful of the fact that this is just a blog, and that I can be longwinded. Sometimes I just throw out a main thought, and leave a lot of rabbit trails unaddressed, to keep it brief, and with hopes that it’ll get folks thinking and spark a dialogue. It sure worked with this one!
My last post, “Leaders Leave,” has sparked some good dialogue and soul-searching in a number of folks who have contacted me, and I think some of that is worth sharing.
My point was quite simple, yet paradigm-shattering: Leadership, as we define it today, is an entirely man-made thing, and is contrary to the will of God.
The definition of leader, according to Dictionary.com, is: “A guiding or directing head, as of an army, movement, or political group.”
There is only room for one Head in the Body of Christ, and it’s the role that Christ alone can and should fulfill.
Our desire to be drawn into the construct of human leadership and followership is a pattern of this world and a manifestation of our sinful, flesh nature. On one side, those of us who are prone to be “leaders” are lured by the authority, esteem and other perks of being the “leader.” On the other side, those prone to being “followers” desire to outsource responsibility to someone who acts like he knows best.
Against God’s will, the Israelites begged for a king, “that we also may be like all the nations, and that our king may judge us and go out before us and fight our battles.” (1 Samuel 8:20) Elsewhere in Scripture, the people tried to make Jesus their earthly king, and to make Paul and Barnabas into gods. Thankfully, these Godly men fled from this temptation. They knew that there is no room for earthly “leadership” (as we define and practice that term) in God’s Kingdom
Search the words “leader,” “leaders,” and “leadership” in the Bible and you may be shocked at how few times and the context in which they appear, considering the universal emphasis we put today on training and equipping people for this man-made role.
If you are in a position of influence over anyone, the only place that God desires for you to lead them is into His presence, through His Son, and then let Him take it from there. Paul said that, “As many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are the sons of God.” (Romans 8:14) Our job here, as it pertains to others, is to help expand God’s family; to bring them under the headship of Christ, and then serve them. When we are all led by His Spirit, there is no room or need for human headship in the Body. God is more than ready, willing and able to call the shots, if we’ll just let Him!
God’s model is to raise up influencers, organizers and agitators for a reason and a season, and then have them return home, without solidifying their position or building any permanent “leadership” structure. God modeled this through the Old Testament judges and the New Testament apostles; they “led” and then left! It’s how Christ Himself functioned. He came to serve and not be served. He came to introduce people to the Father through the Son, and then He left them to it, with the Holy Spirit calling the shots.
Gideon, one of God’s Old Testament judges, perfectly reflected the heart of a true servant. After God had used him for a reason and a season, he went to return home. “Then the men of Israel said to Gideon, ‘Rule over us, both you and your son, and your grandson also; for you have delivered us from the hand of Midian.’ But Gideon, said to them, ‘I will not rule over you, nor shall my son rule over you; the LORD shall rule over you.” (Judges 8:22-23)
Now, don’t get me wrong. The Bible doesn’t call for disorganization or anarchy. We are certainly supposed to coordinate our efforts, and function as an organized, well-trained Body, with the Head calling the shots.
There is certainly a need for administration and management in the Body. In fact, in 1 Corinthians, Paul talked about a Spiritual “gift of administration.” It is important to understand the big difference between administration or management, and “leadership” as we define it. The Greek word for “administration” here is actually a Latin-derived word meaning pilot or nagivator, contextually meaning one who helps give direction to a ship. The navigator is not in charge of the ship, nor does he choose the direction; that is the job of the captain. Note that Paul did not use the word for captain in this reference, as he knew there was only one captain of the Church, and that is Jesus Christ. Yes, in any group activity we need servants who help coordinate activities and keep folks focused, but this is not the same as serving as the “head” of the group.
When navigating the Israelites to conquer the Promised Land, Joshua learned the hard way not to step into the role of captain. God carefully called the shots for each and every engagement, and when Joshua followed His plan (even if it seemed crazy!), they were victorious. Only when Joshua stepped from navigator to captain did they lose a battle. Yes, God used Joshua as a point-man to coordinate activities, but he played this role as a servant of servants. God simple does not want any man to call the shots, only to pull the trigger.
Search the Scripture and you will simply not be able to deduce anything to the contrary. A friend of mine thought he had when we found this Bible reference: “This is a faithful saying: If a man desires the position of a bishop, he desires a good work.” (1 Timothy 3:1)
This verse illustrates just how far off the mark we’ve built this thing we call “church” over the centuries. When reading Scripture in English, we must be mindful of the fact that we are two steps removed from the real meaning of the words. First, the translators were influenced by their frame of reference when choosing what words to use, and then second, we are similarly influenced by a different, modern frame of reference in our efforts to interpret it all. That’s how we can come to do all the wrong things for all the right reasons.
Today, when you say “bishop” you generally think of one of two things: either a chess piece, or a high ranking “church” official. There is nothing else I know of in our culture today that this word means. So when we read that verse, since it’s clearly not referencing a chess piece, we think, “if anyone desires to be a high ranking church official….” And yet, that is very far from the original intent!
The translators who chose to stick the word “bishop” there originally were working under the authority of the English king, in an era of totalitarian churchianity, and on the heels of intense persecution by the “church” hierarchy. They had no frame of reference to compel them to buck the system; it was all they knew.
As a result, in way too many instances, their English word choices reflect inductive reasoning. This means they started with their understanding of the world, and then forced the Bible into it, even when the text, in context, is saying something completely different. The insertion of the words “pastor” in Ephesians 4:10 and “bishop” here are examples of this.
The translators were by default apologists for the monarchy and the “high church” bureaucracy, whether they knew it or not. There were a lot of important people, members of the translating team included, who held these titles. Unable or unwilling to think beyond this, they jimmied these man-made titles into text. Fact is, there are no “pastors” in the Bible! (See my blog post from a couple weeks ago.)
To the point, the Greek word here translated “bishop” literally means “inspector,” and connotes one who looks into things. In a functioning, organic, non-hierarchical Body, as was the context at the time, this would have implied one who digs into meanings and/or one who helps settle disputes, like a counselor. It was not a “church”-specific, narrowly-defined title, as the word “bishop” is today, and the Greek word would have conjured a very different mental picture for the original readers of the epistle. In light of the literal definition of “ministry,” which means menial servant – and the Scriptural examples of judges and apostles who led by leaving – there is no way we can apply this to the exalted, man-made position of “bishop” that we see today.
The Spirit-led headship of God through Christ is available to each and every believer. It is not something we can outsource, nor should we. God desires to direct our paths, steer the ship, and call the shots. He desires to be the Head of the Body, and there is only room for one. When we all follow the beat of the same Drummer, we will finally find the true unity of the Spirit that God desires for us, and our final victory will be at hand.
Yes, it is good for a person to desire to be used by God as a judge, or apostle, or “inspector.” It is not good for a man to desire to be “the guiding or directing head” of any organization, or to accept that role when people seek to thrust it upon them, as they by nature will.
Sadly, we’ve created “church” bodies that are built entirely on the sinful, man-made ideas of “leaders” and “followers.” Any group that follows the codified teachings of a man, or the active “leadership” of anyone, is misguided and factional at best. Denominations which teach that only the man at the top can truly hear from God are blasphemous.
We certainly have freedom to build organizations that go by the name “church” and that claim to serve God, but if they’re under the headship of a person, then how can we say they are truly a part of the Body of Christ?
– You are the salt of the world. Stay salty, my friends!