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Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Review: Frank Viola's "Revise Us Again"

            Over the past couple of weeks, I have read Frank Viola’s “Revise Us Again.”  This book is quite unlike the five books on modern versus early church methods of operation and also quite unlike the book he co-wrote with Leonard Sweet, “Jesus Manifesto.”  This is more practical everyday teaching, with the notation that being connected to the simple church movement (if it is a movement), there are people who have come from a variety of traditional church backgrounds, all of which have their over- and under-emphases.  In the information given to originally promote the book, most of the discussion has been about what he writes in the third and fourth chapters, but, unlike some other writings one may have encountered, the chapters before it, in my opinion, are not just information to set up the presentation of these points and the chapters after breaking down more detail about them.  Each of these chapters is, to a degree, a stand alone teaching, all with the overlying theme of the Christian traditions one has come out of can reasonably lead to various over- and under-emphases that are less than God wishes for us.

            Chapter 1 deals with how God, in the Old Testament, spoke to his people through the priest, the prophet, and wisdom.  They were all means of God communicating to his people, and we can see in the Old Testament that there were times each of these methods were ignored to the people’s detriment. Today, likewise, we are likely to have come from a tradition that has emphasized the importance of the past or present or future, and Viola discusses the danger of emphasis on any one versus seeking the mind of God.

            Chapter 2 is titled “The Lord Told Me” and it speaks about a habit some persons from some backgrounds have of spiritualizing their decisions, and even more obviously, how some people continually proclaim that the Lord told them to do thing X one week, and do something contrary the next. From there, he goes about what this has to do with God’s glory.

            Chapter 3 is titled “Let Me Pray About It” which is along the same line—this is used by some as a spiritualization of “no”.  Viola proceeds to teach about overspiritualization of everyday living.

            Chapter 4 is “Spiritual Conversational Styles”.  Much of the publicity about this book has centered on this chapter, and Viola here contributes something important with regard to why certain parts of God’s people continually misunderstand the words, motives, and actions of persons in other parts of God’s people.  Probably the reason for the publicity being centered on this chapter is because this chapter is worth getting the book.

            Viola indicates that Chapter 5 lightly goes over a theme of “Jesus Manifesto”—leaving parts of Jesus’ message out of how we communicate his message. 

            Chapter 6 deals with the idea of feeling God’s presence—what that is said to mean in some parts of God’s people, what some people mean (and miscommunicate) by the idea of “feeling God’s presence”, and what scripture tells us about this.  Then, interestingly, he juxtaposes this in the last part of the chapter with a seemingly spiritual opposite—what St. John of the Cross tagged “the dark night of the soul.”  For those who haven’t been in contact with the “Toronto Blessing” on the first end, or experienced “the dark night of the soul” on the other, this chapter may not make any sense, but it was a notable contribution to me.

            Chapter 7 hasn’t been talked about in the publicity, possibly because to try to shorten this idea down is to distort it.  The title is “Captured by the Same Spirit You Oppose.”  Some persons involved in simple church know that during the beginning of the Reformation, the Catholic Church sought to have Luther put to death, and interestingly, people who supported Luther succeeded in having believers to respected Hus put to death.  This is notable in that there were ideas that are basic to simple church, such as not having titular, as opposed to gifted, leadership that Hus also taught in his day.  The point is not a history lesson, but that the believer examines one’s motives.

            Chapter 8 is “The God of Unseen Endings.”  Viola develops the theme of God giving the Old Covenant, and via Jesus completing that covenant so we might have a better covenant.  This is because God, albeit in control, does not promise to meet our expectations of him.  I have written in previous blogs about the analogy between the physical chosen people of the Old Covenant and the spiritual chosen people of the New Covenant, but this chapter taught me more about this concept (that gets me excited because, the longer one is a believer seeking to know him, the less often one actually learns something, as opposed to having been reminded).

            Chapter 9 deals with the ministry of the Holy Spirit.  In other writings of Viola, it is clear that Viola comes from a charismatic background, and in another place tells the story that he was part of a house church in which some of the people came from a charismatic background, and some came from a church background antagonistic to that.  He has told previously how the situation was dealt with by agreeing not to talk about that doctrine one way or another, and how God, after a period of time, healed the situation.  Viola speaks of this in greater detail in this chapter, as he introduces a bit of Rob McAlpine’s concept of “post-Charismatic.”

            Chapter 10 is titled “Your Christ is Too Small.”  In this, Viola develops a bit on the idea that we can get caught up with a certain move of God and fail or refuse to even note the next thing the Holy Spirit is guiding God’s people toward.

            Last is the Afterword, titled “The Three Gospels”.  This deals with the tendency of many believers to move toward being legalistic or libertine, as opposed to the liberty of following the One who lives in the believer. The last 13 pages are a sort of “if…then” sentence of taking each of Paul’s letters, first quoting passages that indicate truths of the Christian life, followed by “then” quotations of what Paul directed each of the groups and us to do because of the previous truths.

            This is very different from Viola’s previous books, but, as with his others, is good and personally challenging.

Friday, June 17, 2011

My adventure with a malfunctioning computer program

            A couple of days ago, I set myself towards figuring out a little bit more about what makes a blog work, given that, during the first six months of my writing this, I perceive that few persons have actually looked at it.  To that effect, I got a book from the library, which told me that a website, www.technorati.com was like a search engine for blogs.  I went to it, found that they had news stories on their home page, and began to read one.  I was about 10 seconds into reading a news story (oddly, I no longer even remember the subject), when I was hit by a program that was telling me I needed to buy a program to repair Windows.  About a month before, I was at a point where I could not get online, at a time when the other computers in my house had no problem.  I had a promotion for a repair program pop up, and, silly me, I bought it for $39.98.  It did get me back online, but the computer was still running slow.  Threee times, they called me about a week later to check on how things were, and each time they were on the phone with me for about 1½ hours attempting to correct things, but I could see no improvement.   I could easily figure out that, even at the minimum wage, and phone tech persons make a lot more than that, they had spent far more than $39.98 on me.  I called them, mentioned that they had run their diagnostic three times in the past month already, and I was running it again.  After a few questions, the person said that what I was talking about demanded technical help, which they could provide for an additional $249.  Since I knew that I could buy a brand new beginning of the line computer at Sam’s Club for $298, I declined.

            About a year and a half ago, I took a supposed intro to computers course at the local community college.  I say supposedly introduction, as, after I got in it, I found that the only people who were actually learning from the course were persons who either had a bachelor’s from another school or had received training and experience in the military.  I commented on that long in the past.  Anyway, one of the few things I learned from that course was that one should have on one’s computer two accounts, an administrator account for significant adjustments and a user account for day to day work (yes, if you have Windows 7, Microsoft corrected the flaw of allowing users to work on administrator without knowing better, as had been the case previously).  Therefore, since I couldn’t get on my user account, I thought I would try deleting my user account, making a new one, effectively starting from scratch, I hoped.  Since I am in no way a computer geek, I wasn’t sure if that would work, and it took me most of the day, but it did, and the computer runs far faster, at that.  Then I found that a copy of my writings and audio was still able to be accessed from the administrator account.  I thought I really had done well.  I am certain that the garbage program is still in the computer, but, if it is hidden from the program list, then I can’t get at a program I don’t want to get to.  Yes, it could be set up to migrate over to something else, but it hasn’t so far.

            Today, I went to Wal-Mart, and saw a computer for $249.  I don’t think I’d want that little machine, but the price is the same as that online technical service.  I think of a few years ago, when the Better Business Bureau would have a representative appear on a soft news feature of a local news program and advise that one should do business which people you know.  For years, I would feel like screaming at the screen (not actually doing so in that no one could hear) that that was impossible.  They have, I perceive, stopped doing that in that, in our society, that is impossible.  I almost never do business with people I know, because I have no choice.  Every week, I must go to the gas station, but I don’t know any of those people, or their bosses.  Same at Wal-Mart.  Same at Home Depot;  I used to work at one close to my home six years ago, but only a small number of people who were there then still are, as much as that is supposed to be a good place to work.  I know I don’t know anyone at my city offices.  My ISP, power company, garbage company—I’ve never overtly met someone with those companies, much less know them.

            A couple of months ago, I posted a letter to my neighbors with regard to some of the things I normally deal with on this site.  This week, as I had printed 100 copies (that only cost about $7 at the quick printer), I distributed them to nearby houses on a day in which my knees could take the walking.  I was surprised to find that a good 10% of the houses had some kind of “No Solicitors” sign on the door.  I knew more neighbors when I lived in the country!  I’m not sure what that says about our society, especially when one almost never has door-to-door salesmen knock anymore (because it generally doesn’t work anymore, except for kids selling stuff for school projects).  How do we deal with a society in which many members want to hide from everyone? 

            I don’t have an answer to that one.  I can see, from various simple church literature I have read, that examples given where people in an area come together, the area is very poor.  A few people I have talked to in person don’t have any positive answers, either.  How does one get to know neighbors in an urban or suburban, non-poverty level community?

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Book review: Finding God at Harvard

            Finding God at Harvard, ed. Kelly Monroe Kullberg (Veritas Forum Books, div. IVP, 1996, 2007).
            Harvard University has the justifiable reputation of being one of the most difficult institutions of higher learning in the world, and, therefore, one of the most difficult to get into.  One irony is that it was founded by persons with Christian principles, but over the last two centuries has moved to a direction where it is even more antagonistic than most schools to a Christian worldview.  Still, there has been and is a committed Christian minority at the school, and in 1992 started a series of lectures titled the Veritas Forum.  Veritas, which means truth (think, as in the KJV, which has Jesus saying, “Verily, verily” and more modern versions saying “Truly, truly’) was the original motto (dated 1643) of Harvard.  The Veritas Forum lectures, which over time have spread to many college and university campuses, have speeches from Christian intellectuals on a variety of subjects dealing with the intellectual congruity of being a thinking person and believing in Jesus.
            To that effect, “Finding God at Harvard” is a group of 42 three to seven page essays written by persons who were students, faculty, or in some way connected to its campus and intellectual life writing on something connected to their spiritual journey.  Except possibly for a couple of essays near the end, they are all written in a style that doesn’t demand that the reader himself is college material to understand. 
            In my opinion, this is a good book for either a believer or non-believer in Jesus that is honestly struggling with the intellectual congruity of faith in Jesus and living on the intellectual cutting edge of the real world.  For the person, believer or non-, who doesn’t want to deal with intellectual issues, this book isn’t even close to something that person, except possibly Chapter 1, the first five essays.
            Since this book has been out for many years, one can probably find issues at www.half.com in addition to new book outlets.  I would not be surprised if this book is one of those IVP books that get updated and re-released every decade, a trait that imprint has with regard to their most timeless subjects.

2007--on the word preach

     Back in December, 2010, I wrote one hundred two minute commentaries, entitled "Simple Church Minute."  At this time, I am anticipating that when the opportunity is open to air messages, I will have a five, not two, minute time limitation, which gives the opportunity to develop some ideas more thoroughly.  To that effect, below is one on the word "preach", a word whose definition today is unlike what it meant to the persons in the first century church.
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2007--preach
  My name is Tom; this is Simple Church Minute.  According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary Online, the definition of “preach” is 1) to deliver a sermon, 2) to urge acceptance or abandonment of an idea or course of action; specifically: to exhort in an officious or tiresome manner.  These definitions truly indicate the modern understanding of the word “preach” and also, to a degree, the negative attitude a significant segment of our society has towards what we call preaching.  Is that what the Bible means by the word?  I know—for me to bring this up implies that I’m going to say “no”, and that is correct.  Somewhere after the recording of the Scriptures, preaching became a Christian form of the equivalent of Roman oratory, a one-way form of communication.  Interestingly, if one looks at pieces of speaking in the Book of Acts and later, one can find that a speech is preceded by words like “said” or “speak”, and not preach.   This does, though, vary by translation.

          The Bible tells us Jesus preached.  What did he do?  His style of speaking was like that of the style common to Jewish culture, in that it was two-way communication.  We are fully well aware that Jesus had to tell the disciples that it was ok for children to be around him, John 3 and 4 tells of Jesus speaking one-on-one to two extremely different persons with regard to their spirits.  The Jewish religious leaders overtly came up to him to ask him tricky questions.  It was the style the rabbis had taught the people with. 

          In Acts and following, we see that preaching was sporadic, unplanned, without rhetorical structure, delivered on special occasions to deal with special problems, and was dialogue, not monologue.  A word found in the original Koine Greek that is sometimes translated preaching is dialegomai, which is obviously where we get the word dialogue from.  In the early days of the New Covenant, ministry came from all believers, and worship in the early church included teaching, exhortation, prophecy, singing, admonishment, speaking was conversational and even the teaching of local elders was normally impromptu. 

          For many years, it was something I noticed, but didn’t understand, that all the times that it seemed that the Spirit taught me the most significant things about following Jesus came through situations that were not what we in our western Christian culture consider regular worship services.  I must now say that the reason for this is that those informal gatherings of believers, whether we call it a home or cell group, Bible study, prayer meeting, or maybe even no meeting, but just believers living and working together,  outside the building walls, are more congruent with what the books of the New Covenant, that is, Acts to the end of the Bible, showed as being church than what we call church in our culture.  Conversely, our ritualistic services, and any regular way of a service that is always or almost always the same way is ritualistic, is not taught in the Word.  A regular order of worship is common for most beliefs in the world, and the Roman Empire forced buildings, paid leaders, and official structures into the church, and those structures have morphed over and over again over the centuries, An unbeliever can understand that structure, as a strong head person structure is used in government, military, and business, but God gave us, the true church, the Holy Spirit for us to follow where He wills.  When we don’t do that, we get messed up.  If there is any official titular office in the New Covenant church, it is in Colossians 1 verse 18 and Ephesians 5 verse 23, which mentions what could be a title, head of the church, which is filled by Jesus.  I believe a further indication of God’s blessing upon living informally and meeting informally as the proper way to honor Jesus in our lives is how we see the church throughout history in persecuted areas see the blessing of growth, where the organizational church in the West has forgotten the Great Commission for centuries and has tied itself up in its bureaucratic complexity, and has not seen such growth.

          You can contact me at simplechurchminute@yahoo.com or by phone at 757-735-xxxx.  If you wish to review what I just said, a transcript is posted at my blog, tevyebird.blogspot.com, at the entry dated June 12, 2011.  You can find out more about being church without corporate structure in this area at www.hrscn.org.
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          Almost all of what I said here comes from Frank Viola and George Barna’s book, “Pagan Christianity” page 88.   That, in turn, has seven footnotes for the person looking to verify the historicity of what I said.  As most bookstores in this area, Christian and secular, will not have this book on the shelf, one can obtain it quickest from www.frankviola.com or www.amazon.com.
For reference, the Greek word dialegomai appears in Acts 17:2, 17:17, 18:4, 18:19, 19:8-9, 20:7, 20:9, 24:25.  None of the other words translated “preach” imply a speech, oration, or rhetoric, either.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

2005--On the New Covenant spiritual sabbath

            My name is Tom; this is Simple Church Minute.  A number of years ago, I was speaking to a man who had a friend who was a church leader among college students at the University of Ramkhamhaeng (rahm-kam-haung) in Bangkok, Thailand.  At this university, like ours, wasn’t a particularly devout place, but unlike ours, nearly 95% of students showed up at sunrise Thursday mornings to make the ritual offering of rice to the Buddhist monks.  In a society such as this, when would be the best time for the small group of believers in Jesus to meet for worship and prayer?  Sunup Thursday, when most of that society was somewhat shut down.
            I bring this up in that, the reason most of believers in western culture meet on Sunday morning is not that, somehow, it is connected with Jesus rising from the grave on a Sunday.  It’s really much more pragmatic than that, and like the Thailand example.  In all the time of the New Testament and for the next couple hundred years, there were few believers, although the amount grew quickly over this time.  The church, that is, believers in Jesus, was technically illegal in the Roman Empire.  The official belief had as part of it worship of Mithras, the sun god, on Sunday.  That’s why it’s s-u-n-d-a-y, not s-o-n-d-a-y.  When most of society outside Israel was doing that, it was the best time to meet to worship.
            In the Old Covenant, God gave the Law for the physical children of God, the Jews, which included some non-ethnically Jewish persons who had come to believe in the God of Israel. A physical Sabbath day today is celebrated among Jews on sundown Friday to sundown Saturday.  We should recognize that, in that day, the four festivals of the Old Covenant did not count as days of the week, so by our calendar standards the Sabbath day rotated.  When Jesus died, He fulfilled the Old Covenant, and his New Covenant children of God are those of us who have believed on him.  We went through a spiritual six days of creation before finding Jesus, who has given us our spiritual day of rest.  We see in Acts that the early church went house to house, giving thanks to God, and desiring to serve him.  Revelation 1:6 tells us we are now all kings and priests.  The church is believers who meet to worship Jesus in spirit and truth, and build up each other. As we seek to follow Jesus, each day we grow to become spiritually mature.  A mature person is a basic definition, in a wide variety of cultures, of the word elder. 
            This brings up the question of why, in our fast paced, 24/7 society, is it so hard, if one must work on Sundays, to meet for worship?  Even when it is recognized that the body of Christ is people, and not ritual or a building, far too often in the Christian subculture, those of us who must work Sundays, which oftentimes is those of us on the lower end of the economic scale, are treated, I believe and hope unintentionally, as second-class believers.  Let me say that, even if unintentional, to do so is bad applied theology.  History has shown from the beginning of the church that God’s true devotion has grown most spectacularly among the economically poorest of people.
            You can find out more information about believers who, albeit imperfectly, are overtly attempting to avoid unintentionally adding to scripture in ways such as what I’ve just been describing, at www.hrscn.org.  I can be reached at __________.  If you wish to review a transcript of what I just said, I have it on my blog, tevyebird.blogspot.com, dated June 9, 2011.
Being many years ago, I cannot give any specific citations of persons for the Thailand story.   

Sunday, June 5, 2011

On Matthew 5 verses 3 to 12

            A couple of weeks ago, I heard or read someone (I no longer remember who) say, with regard to Matthew 5 verse 3, that this statement, the beginning of Jesus’ teaching which been called the The Sermon on the Mount, is not a general comment about the wrongness of poverty, but is a specific comment about those who are in poverty and suffering because of following Him.  We are no longer in a position to say whether 5:3 to 7:28 constituted what we would perceive today to be a sermon, one person doing one way communication, although what we know of that culture would indicate that that was almost assuredly not the case, but that Matthew, long after this happened, presents this as a condensation of the important points of what Jesus said, as Jewish teaching allowed for dialogue by the listeners, as is shown in other places in the Gospels. 
            While most of the world lived in relative poverty at the time, and the Jews were an especially out of favor people group within the Roman Empire for their lack of acceptance of Roman custom with regard to religious ritual. It is also certain that the people listing to Jesus, including his disciples, had only a meager clue, at best, as to what Jesus was speaking of with this phrase—“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”  This isn’t just speaking about poverty, but the specific poverty that comes from, as a result of following Jesus, rejecting the world’s ways of doing things, and that system rejecting you, and was, therefore, prophetic to the New Covenant church. 
            The next sentence is, “Blessed are those that mourn, for they shall be comforted.”  All of us eventually have friends and family that suffer ill health and pass away, but from the context of the previous statement, we can infer that Jesus is speaking specifically about the mourning that comes from seeing in others an aspect of what He himself would go through at the end of His human life, persecution, suffering, and dying a death in the least reputable form, with the comfort being His sending the Holy Spirit.  The comfort of believers on Jesus is the Holy Spirit giving a life one cannot experience without Him, even as one is treated as society’s scum, as has been the case through most of history.  Even a socially- or governmentally-sanitized form of Christianity, i.e. Christendom, has been in opposition to those who desired to follow Jesus in spirit and truth at many points in history. 
            “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth” is a phrase that is nonsense outside of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.  History shows us that the powerful and evil control the politics and economics.  We are still to see that in the new heaven and earth of Revelation, but as we see the Spirit move in person’s lives, we get to see a small glimpse.
            “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be filled.”  This is a sentence that cannot be understood in an earthly manner.  Right living does not literally fill our stomachs.  Also, as Jesus’ other statements make clear, this is not any humanistic “righteousness” of relieving poverty, stopping wars, or stopping human rights abuses.  Such things were happening then, and have continued here and there, and will continue.  We see righteousness come about only by seeing in oneself and others the desire to obey God without care as to the human, social, and political consequences, and knowing such consequences will occur in a fallen world.  For me, that is far easier to say than to do on any consistent basis without the encouragement of others mutually committed to the same, which, in turn, is far more difficult to do in a middle class neighborhood. 
            “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.”  In the society I live in, the word “mercy” mainly appears in R&B and jazz songs, which, in turn, have inherited it from the African-American underclass experience of the last 300 years.  The latter, I am certain, had an element of its proper use, but most of the current use is just an inherited exclamation, with its true meaning gutted on the altar of capitalism, i.e. entertainment corporations.  I see little mercy in how persons of Muslim background are treated in the media as the Russians before them, the Germans and Japanese before them, etc. ad nauseum.  Overall, society seems generally incapable of handling mercy, as it can be replaced with greater accounting oversight in social service programs.  Mercy is an attitude that comes from a desire to be Jesus’ hands and feet today.
            “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.”  When I see “pure in heart,” I somehow want to take the phrase totally out of context and complain on the capitalistically-motivated sex-saturated media.  But being pure in heart is far more than thoughts of sex, violence, and ill will to our currently favorite boogeymen.  I know, as I get older, it is harder for me to desire that those that I most vehemently disagree with a) repent and follow Jesus, b) desire to know Him and grow in faith even such that they can teach me, and c) have a Spirit-motivated call/guidance on an individual’s life that challenges this world to God’s glory, as opposed to that person’s mere change of fame.
If I am human, then I struggle with the purity of my motives, but I must act, because if I wait until I know my motives are pure, then nothing will ever get accomplished.
            “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the sons of God.”  We, again, need to remember the way Jesus was speaking.  Today, we wish to think of ambassadors negotiating the end of a war as peacemakers, or those protesting for a war to be ended.  Whether you know such a person or not, one can easily figure out that Jesus is talking about something else.  The ambassador may be motivated by money, fame, or this being a stepping stone to more political power.  The protester can be more violent than the average soldier; the soldier is just doing his job, and the protester wants the war out of his way so he can foment his own revolution, and maybe even have a crop of trained mercenaries to recruit.  Jesus’ peacemakers know that every human is a war front, with Jesus calling a person to change sides from original sin to His peace, and his Enemy using every distorted reason and emotion available to stay on the opposite side, not even seeing that the war for his soul exists.
            “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”  Over the past couple of years, I have had a discussion with a person, who feels we believers in Jesus stretch the idea of persecution, and to a point, that person is correct.  Jesus, though, further defines persecution in the next sentence.  “Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you and say all kinds of evil against you for My sake.”  As I see it, mere gossipy, unkind, and slanderous talk is persecution.  This may not apply to the world’s definition of persecution, such as a country torturing the POW’s it captures, but God’s war is bigger and longer lasting than countries that come and go.  Jesus follows, “Rejoice and be exceeding glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”  When I sit here un- or under-employed because one employer after another wishes to promote, not the honest, hard-working, employee with an education in favor of the lazier employee that is willing to cheat the customer, vendor, and other employees (and, will eventually try to cheat the boss, too, who somehow couldn’t see that coming), I don’t necessarily feel like rejoicing.  That’s when one must walk by faith, and not by sight.