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Monday, December 30, 2013

Some non-traditional ideas about evangelism

  A couple of years ago, I wrote a series of two-minute commentaries for radio on ideas drifting around simple, organic church.  Today, I am reposting one which is made up of facts from Steven S. Lynenga's thesis, the text of which has a link at the bottom.  Just as a note, I have read the thesis, and it mentions just about every notable book on Western non-organizational church up to that point in time.  

2152—Information about evangelism

            My name is Tom; this is Simple Church Minute.  Today, some statistics, out of the work of Steven S. Lyzenga that I have quoted in previous blips, which should be food for thought:

Don Richardson, the famous missionary author of the book Eternity in Their Hearts, observed that one of the biggest problems in the Church today is its penchant to focus on micro themes in the Bible, themes that “offer worms-eye views of brief passages of scripture,” instead of macro themes that “offer eagles-eye views of major Bible themes.”  He went on to say that there are really only two macro themes in the Bible, both taken from God’s mandate to Abram in Genesis 12:2-3: (1) we are blessed (the top line), (2) to be a blessing (the bottom line). This theme is so prevalent in Scripture that
there are 395 passages in the Bible where these two tracks are abridged... Not coincidently, God’s promise to bless Abram was preceded by a command. Genesis 12:1 states, “Leave your country, your people and your father’s household and go to the land I will show you.” God’s command to Abram was to “leave…and go…” Incidentally, “So Abram left, as the Lord had told him…” (Gen 12:4). Hence, God’s promise to bless Abram (top line) that he might be a blessing to the nations (bottom line) was predicated on His command to “go.” Jesus, in His last two recorded commands, followed the same pattern. His promise to the disciples: “I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (top line: blessing) was so they would “make disciples of all nations…baptizing…and teaching…” (bottom
line: to be a blessing), but it was predicated on His command to “go” (Mt 28:19,20).
        Following this commission, Jesus’ last commission also followed the same pattern: “But
 you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you (top line: blessing), and you will be my witnesses (bottom line: to be a blessing) in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (“go”) (Acts 1:8).
       Missionary John Mott said, “If it is a good thing to go where we’re needed, it is more Christ-like to go where we’re needed most. Whereas there are multiple “something’s” that work against the mission of the Church, there is a culprit that fights largely against the equality of resources needed to send workers to UPGs. … that culprit is bulky Institutional Church (IC) operating expenses. Sadly, the current benchmark for Western IC giving to reach UPGs is 0.02% of their overall budget. Conversely, this 0.02% benchmark has the potential to be shattered to the upside by millions of Western believers operating from “small, simple, easily reproducible churches.”
              Consider the allocation of missionaries to foreign fields: 96% work among already existing churches, whereas only 4% work where no church exists!  Along these imbalanced lines, 40% of the Church’s foreign mission resources in North America are being deployed to just 10 oversaturated countries, which already possess strong citizen-run home ministries.  Nearly 97% of the total income of all Christian organizations was spent on Christians themselves. Whereas $261 billion was spent on ministering to Christians, only $7.8 billion was spent on already-evangelized non-Christians, and even more alarming, only $52 million was spent on reaching the 1.9 billion unreached peoples – a mere 0.2% of what Christians spend on themselves!
            The total income of Christians in the USA is $5.2 trillion annually, nearly half of the world’s total Christian income.39 Out of this, the evangelical annual share of income in the year 2000 was 2.66 trillion. And out of this, evangelicals had $850 billion annually in disposable income. To put this amount of wealth in perspective in the context of the GC, the Southern Baptist Convention’s International Mission Board estimated that only $650 million was needed to complete the task of global evangelization. In view of this, where is all the wealth going that instead could be used to enable GC workers? As the following statistics bear out, much of it is going towards Church bureaucracy:
When asked “What would you do with an unexpected financial windfall?” thirty-one percent of Protestant pastors said they would build, expand or update their church buildings and facilities. Seven percent said they would give more to foreign missions and evangelism.
A 2004 survey of 34 denominations showed that the average amount of total denominational budgets earmarked for overseas missions was 2%. Annual church embezzlements by top custodians exceed the entire cost of all foreign missions worldwide. Emboldened by lax procedures, trusted church treasurers are embezzling from the Church $5,500,000 per day. That’s $16,000,000,000 per year!
85% of all church activity and funds are directed toward the internal operations of the congregation, such as staff salaries, building payments, utility and operating expenses.
50% of the average church’s budget goes to staff and personnel salaries; whereas missions/evangelism accounts for only 5%.

           I should state that writing I am quoting is dated April, 2009, but I know of no reason to believe that the statistics connected to church corporations has changed significantly. 

          You can contact me at 757757tev@gmail.com* or 757-735-3639. My blog is tevyebird.blogspot.com, and a transcript of today’s talk will be posted to the date October 5, 2011.  For more information about simple church in this area, visit www.hrscn.org (in areas other than Hampton Roads, VA, visit www.simplechurch.com)*
==============================================================
            From pages 5 through 19 of Steven S. Lyzenga’s dissertation, ASSESSING THE STATE OF SIMPLE CHURCHES IN THE USA REGARDING RELEASING RESOURCES TOWARD FINISHING THE GREAT COMMISSION, which can be seen at
http://house2harvest.org/docs/Simple_Churches_Releasing_Resources_S_Lyzenga.pdf.
* changes from the original posting

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Ray Mayhew and clergy salaries

This is a reprise of the radio script I posted on August 21, 2011.  As I originally posted it so long ago, Blogger's stats page tells me that hardly anyone saw it.  Therefore, it gives me a chance to re-examine the issue, i.e. see if I made any errors.
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2015—clergy salaries, Mayhew


            My name is Tom; this is Simple Church Minute

A while ago, I read an article by a man named Ray Mayhew, a megachurch senior pastor in the Chicago area entitled, “Embezzlement: Corporate Sin of Contemporary Christianity”.  What he writes about is not the actual legal problem in modern society that every day, in the U.S., an average of five and a half million dollars is being embezzeled from one Christian church or another by persons entrusted with the monies collected, which is in and of itself a significant problem, but a matter of the heart that is connected to how over half of all money in today’s churches are spent.

  The subject of the article is what the church was like in the day that was the cultural context that the books of Acts through Revelation were written about, with respect to the subject of helping the poor.  Mayhew concluded that the early church, which I might remind you were underground groups in cities and towns, first in Jerusalem and Israel, then around the Roman Empire--that those groups were officially illegal.  Therefore, they had no fixed expenses, unlike the temples of Roman paganism.  They collected money for only two things—first, helping the poor, both within the group of believers in Jesus, and in helping their neighbors and, secondly, helping to send apostles, which meant gifted and mature fellow believers to be able to go places where the message of Jesus had not been communicated, help guide persons there to faith in Jesus, and teach them how to be the church, God’s group of people desiring to live to honor him, both as individuals and, more importantly, as a group.  Even then, the example of an apostle that the New Testament tells us the most about, Paul, in having formerly been a Pharisee and having had to learn to make tents, had a culturally transferrable skill such that he didn’t need to be tied to receiving funds from his church home, Antioch in what would be now modern Israel, as he traveled to as far away as modern Spain.

            Now, this conclusion had some personal problems for the writer, who, you might recall, I said was the head person of a megachurch in a modern suburb.  The example of the early church leaves no room for 1) his salary, as a local leader of a congregation, 2) his position, as, a salaried* local church* leader by any name did not exist back then, and 3) his responsibility over a religious corporation that 4) owned buildings that need to be maintained.  In the article, Mayhew only brings up only points 1) and 4), but publicly recognizing just one or two is a theological and ethical dilemma he addresses slightly, and doesn’t offer any resolution to. 

            I believe the reason for not offering a solution is because there is none. I do wish to show respect to his publicly mentioning the problem. I know there are others in his position aware of these problems, but are not going out of their way, as he did, to mention them, particularly where in those who are not in the "clergy class" might hear them.  If you are listening to me today, this is a problem that is not the making of any pastor or denominational leader or anyone on earth today.  In the 3rd century, the Roman Empire forced the church--whether intentionally or not, I have no clue--to adopt the ways of beliefs they were familiar with, which included buildings and specially trained religious ritual performers and heads over organizations in a manner similar to governments, the military, and businesses.  The problem is that that was not then or now based on scripture.  Governments, businesses, and the military have leadership grids, with one person at the top.  The tradition has been passed down from generation to generation.  In a fallen world, it works.  In the Bible, Jesus is Head of the church, and there are believers, of which some are more mature, some have a spiritual gift that another doesn’t, but are are equal in being before God, and equally a child of God. Today, if one is a leader of a corporate church, and one realizes this problem, that the corporate structure with expending most of the money collected on itself isn’t scriptural, it isn’t a matter of just refusing to accept a salary.  In almost all cases, the people on the staff have families to support, bills to pay, and almost no businesses find theological training of use to them, particularly in the amount of persons who have such training in our society’s job market, which, I might say, is where the vast majority of persons who are not believers are spending 40 or more hours per week.  I wish to believe that none of us care for this observation of A. W. Tozer:  “The church is like a constitutional monarchy, where Jesus is allowed the title, but has no authority to make any decisions.”

            For more information on simple forms of worship of Jesus in this area, visit, on the web, www.hrscn.org.  To contact me, visit 757757tev@gmail.com  or call 757-735-3639*. To read what I just said, I have it on my blog, tevyebird.blogspot.com, as the entry dated August 21, 2011.

            To read the article I referred to in this commentary, you can find it at:


            The Tozer quote is from a sermon, “A New Type of Preacher”, SermonIndex.net.

            The statistic on actual embezzlement is from Barrett & Johnson, World Christian Trends, p. 3, quoted by Steven S. Lyzenga, Assessing the State of Simple Churches in the USA Regarding Resources Toward Finishing the Great Commission, p.19, http://house2harvest.org/docs/Simple_Churches_Releasing_Resources_S_Lyzenga.pdf .

Frank Viola and George Barna, Pagan Christianity, 181.

Email address and phone number are changes from original publication of this post.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

The Curse of Knowledge/Understanding in Context


Yesterday, I was watching tv and somehow stopped on that great philosophical program, the World Poker Tour. I stopped just as poker pro Tony Dunst began a segment explaining what happened in a previous hand. He started by mentioning a concept that, as soon as he said it, I perceived had a broader life application than just poker playing—The Curse of Knowledge. In the hand Tony was explaining, the situation was near the end of a tournament, one of the top pros was playing against a recreational player who entered the tournament and had advanced to the last four. The amateur was dealt a good hand, and made a move that signaled it. The pro, used to playing people as skilled as himself, discounted the obvious and finally played, eventually playing himself into losing the hand. Tony's commentary was that it was an example of The Curse of Knowledge—that it is difficult to imagine what it is like to not know the things you know.
Somehow, I have never heard that thought communicated, even though I've certainly experienced it on both ends, and had a gut feeling this was not a unique thought of Tony Dunst, so I looked it up on the net. I found a more general explanation written in a blog by Maggie Summers at www.sliderocket.com/blog/2012/05/presentation-tips-curse-of-knowledge . There, and possibly down a little bit of a rabbit trail, the writer quotes Albert Einstein, “If you can't explain it simply, you don't understand it well enough.”
This only too well applies to my experience in following Jesus, but so does it's converse. I grew up going to a Calvinistic denominational church where a master's in divinity was demanded to be allowed to be hired as a pastor. I heard many sermons which I later learned were not that different from seminary lectures. Only when I was married did my wife point out that most of those sermons went over everyone's head to a large degree. I can look back now and see that the problem was compounded by a tradition that no one was expected to actually ask questions, and then further compounded by the simple fact that the speaker had spent hours preparing the presentation, but the listeners had no clue the subject they would be hearing about until the speech started (or maybe when they was the sermon's title in the bulletin, although sometimes even that wouldn't be a help).
On the converse side, I spent some time in some traditional churches of the pentecostal variety in which leadership was based on gifting with (usually, not always) some basic Bible School training. It actually isn't that hard to build up a half hour or more by connecting via a speech a number of verses that are apparently related. Before Jesus, in the days of the Old Testament rabbis, this was called “pearl stringing.” That a method is that old doesn't make it valid. As I wrote previously, a verse can be taken out of context. When we have been told this, the person speaking usually means literary context, that the way it is spoke about is something other than what it means when one reads it as part of the chapter or so it appears in. That, though, can be easily seen by reading the passage in the Bible. Those previous to us in the faith, or unbelievers, for that matter, can have an easier time seeing this today, than those previous to us that either were illiterate, like most of the believers in the days of the New Testament, or did not have access to the Bible, like most persons from that day through to the trend of universal education in the West, which brings us up to the last few centuries.
Only in the last couple of years have I come to learn that there are (at least) three types of context—literary (which I just mentioned), historical, and cultural. For the last two, one needs more than just a Bible. In sermons and “teachings” (as some are long on getting people excited and devoid of actual teaching), one hears and I have heard examples of both, but the idea that they are types of understanding a scripture in context is a relatively new revelation to me. For example (and, since this is the Christmas season and that story is on my mind, I'll use examples from that story), historical context tells us that where Jesus was born was politically controlled by the Roman Empire, and as Israel rebelled semi-successfully against Rome in 166-164 B.C., the Romans didn't trust the Jews. Those of us who have been believers in Jesus for a significant period of time have heard that, but I never heard any teacher flat-out label that fact as part of understanding the Bible in context.
Here's two examples of cultural context in one sentence. In Matthew 1:19, it says (NKJV), “Then Joseph her husband, being a just man, and not wanting to make her a public example, was minded to put her away secretly.” In our culture, a man isn't referred to as a woman's husband until they are married, but, at that time, they were betrothed, which is similar, but not the same as our culture's term “engaged.” One difference is in the next phrase, “not wanting to make her a public example”. In Jewish culture (I'm not exactly clear how being occupied by Rome affected this), if a betrothed woman was found to be pregnant by her future husband (to use a phrase appropriate to our culture), and he knew it didn't occur by him, he could have her stoned to death. From that fact, Mary's reply to the angel in Luke 1:38, “ Behold the maidservant of the Lord! Let it be according to your word.” showed extreme faith, particularly in comparison to Moses and Gideon, in how they reacted to God's supernatural direction. That Mary was so faithful at only 12 to 14, probably, leaves me in awe, but maybe that's because I didn't come to follow Jesus until I was 15, and still, at 60 feeling that I'm playing catch-up when it comes to learning how to hear and be obedient to the Spirit.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Simple Church Minute--Leadership among God's people over history

 Today, I am reprising my post of September 14, 2011.  About three years ago, I wrote a number of scripts for what, in my mind, were two minute radio commentaries on various subjects which are behind what has been called simple, organic church.  Almost all never got used as radio programs, but they do break down the reasoning behind non-organizational fellowship around Jesus from a belief and history standpoint.  On this one, at the bottom, I have added footnotes (when I originally published these, as I was thinking radio, I didn't write my sources down--I am attempting to correct that).  At the bottom, I reference www.hrscn.com, a website that services non-organizational churches in the Hampton Roads, VA area--at www.simplechurch.org, there is a place to possibly find similar connections in other areas of the world.
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2016—leadership in God’s people over history

            My name is Tom; this is Simple Church Minute.  In the Old Testament, after Joshua led the chosen people into Israel, the Bible tells us that for about 200 years, God Himself was the leader, with persons called judges as the human leaders.  These persons had wider responsibility than what we think of a judge today as having. For one thing, having responsibility for people before God did and still does have a spiritual element.  Still, as it says in Judges chapter 21 verse 25, “In those days, there was no king in Israel, everyone did what was right in his own eyes.”  There were threats by enemies in various directions, and the people, who were the chosen people not by faith but by to whom they were born, eventually demanded a king, the story of which is in First Samuel chapter 8 and following.

            In the time of the New Covenant, God raised up a new chosen people by faith, not ethnicity.  They were opposed by both the Old Covenant status quo supporters and the government who heard that believers in Jesus saw Him, not the emperor, as king.  The church had no buildings to destroy, and leadership was by gifting, not to which family you were born to or under what person or group you were trained by. As an underground group that wasn’t a true organization, there was no need to collect money, except to help the poor, both from within and neighbors in need nearby AND also to assist fellow mature believers who were constrained by the Spirit to travel to areas where people had not heard the message of Jesus.  Even then, the apostle we know the most about is Paul, who had a skill by which he didn’t have to depend on others as he spoke about Jesus in his travels around the northern Mediterranean.

            Whether it was intentional or accidental, when the Roman Empire made faith in Jesus officially legal, it forced the trappings of religions of the world it was familiar with onto Christianity—buildings, paid staff, regular collection of money to pay for the buildings and paid staff, and tax-favored status for the now formal organizations. History shows that if something is forced onto a culture for a period of time long enough that no one remembers the thing not being around, everyone treats it as normal.  For instance, in this culture, no one remembers not having radio, and almost everyone doesn’t remember not having TV, and with them, news from around the world being whipped to us almost immediately. 

            I grew up with it assumed that a church was a building and a pastor held a job that one went to school for years to be able to do.  When I was in high school, I learned that there were some pastors and people who taught them or were their overseers who did not believe the standard beliefs of faith in Jesus.  Years later, I learned about spiritual gifts, but where I was, most of the talk was about speaking in tongues, not about who was the one who appointed the leaders.  About this same time, I met persons who didn’t have a church leadership title, but did have a special ability to teach about faith in Jesus in a way that spoke to both my mind and into my spirit, or at least the latter.  Some of these people did normal, everyday jobs.  Only in the past couple of years did I learn that the title “pastor” was not used as a title for a leader until after the Reformation, and that that word’s appearance uniquely in Ephesians chapter 4 verse 11 in our English Bibles does not reflect a unique word in the original written language, but was a translation decision by persons who reflected their experience of church—whether accidentally or intentionally, only they knew.  Leadership in the true church, the believers desiring to follow Jesus, is not a title for any person or group to hand out, but a responsibility accepted by a believer in Jesus who cannot do other than whatever the Spirit guides, AND if that includes sharing with other believers or not yet believers what he or she has learned about following Jesus rightly AND if that falls into one or more of the categories of leaders mentioned in the Bible*, so be it.

             I can be reached by email at (757757tev@gmail.com--website posted originally is no longer in use) or by phone at 757-735-3639.  To see a transcript of what I just said, my blog is tevyebird.blogspot.com, and this is the posting of September 14, 2011.To find out more about simple church internationally, visit www.simplechurch.com, and in the local area, at, www.hrscn.org.
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Frank Viola and George Barna, Pagan Christianity, 2002: Present Testimony Ministry, later, Barna Books/Tyndale House, p. 12,13, 18, 21, 107, 176, 177.
2 Cor. 2:17 clearly connects to this discussion, but not mentioned in the text above.
*correction of the way I phrased the sentence originally.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

The thrid anniversary of tevyebird.blogspot.com


I just realized that, on the tenth of this month, this blog touched the third anniversary of its beginning. I guess that it is time to retell the story of why I started this blog.
A long time ago, I remember not when, a person sent me a comment through some other source, as I as of yet haven't gotten the “comments” function of this site to work (according to the functions screen on my end, it is supposed to be operable), saying that I had a lot of time on my hands. That person was absolutely correct. In the time immediately previous to opening this blog, I had a job which was mainly sitting at a desk of a high-rise condo, and pressing a button to allow residents in when they came to the door. To a large extent, I was sitting at the desk doing nothing. A couple of years previous to that, I was running a small business which developed such that 90+% of my business was on Saturdays and Sundays, making getting to the church I was going to difficult. I knew that there was nothing special about Sunday as a day of worship, so I looked on the internet for a church that met sometime other than on the weekend. I couldn't find anything I was comfortable with.
A couple of weeks later, my Sunday business started late enough that I was able to get to the beginning of the early morning service at my church. That day, Larry Kreider was to speak, so out in the lobby, there was a selection of his books for sale. One of them was his book “Starting a House Church” (or something like that—I can't seem to find it on my bookshelf at the moment). I didn't find it particularly useful, except that, in the bibliography, it directed me to other works. That shows something of my personality, as so many persons in Jesus' people read only simple books, and definately don't read footnotes and bibliographies. That eventually directed me to the works of Frank Viola and Wolfgang Simson, and to a website that, in turn, directed me to the website of the housechurches in my metro area. From that, I called up and talked to a person who was connected to one of the housechurches, called and invited myself to another one that met at a time I was generally free, and started reading the works of the authors writing on this subject.
Over time, my business failed, and I started the sit at a desk and press a button job. I started picturing in my mind that the ideas in George Barna & Frank Viola's Pagan Christianity and Wolfgang Simson's Houses That Change the World might break down into a group of 2 minute segments that would be appropriate for radio, and wrote a number of scripts for the two minute programs. Later, I added a few more from Steve Lyzenga's doctoral thesis that can be read online, http://house2harvest.org/docs/Simple_Churches_Releasing_Resources_S_Lyzenga.pdf. Thanks to the wonders of the recording program Audacity, I recorded these. Eventually, I temporarily had enough extra money to actually get about six episodes broadcast on a local station. I started the blog to post the texts of those scripts, which goes back to December 2010 and January 2011.
Over the past year, I haven't felt well, specifically with regard to being able to think properly. Also, since last March, many days, I've been putting in some time working on a project fixing up my son's house. About two weeks ago, I got to the end of that part of the project that I could do by myself. Yesterday, fumbling around writing yesterday's post, the old computer I was working on somehow flashed off the screen I was typing on, and over to the page on Blogger which shows how many page views my posts have received, and I saw that there has been a significant increase in views on those posts of the last 15 months or so. As I believe that what I wrote the first two months are the most significant things I've written, I'm going to make a point of reprising some of those entries.
Just, as a matter of intrest, yes, that is my real phone number in them. No, to my total surprise, that hasn't been a problem.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

On literary, historical, and cultural context


            I have a Facebook account, but rarely look at it.  Maybe its because I see a lot of short comments by people I may know, but are pushing some idea, like “Mabel likes Wal-Mart”.  Yippee.  She sends that to enough people and she gets some little benefit from them.  I, too, like the low prices, and dislike how its pushing many people’s paycheck lower, and, no, most of us don’t believe their “That’s the real Wal-Mart” commercials they air to counteract statements such as I’ve just made.  Somehow, though, I opened up Facebook about a week and a half ago, and saw a blip from a man I used to work with at a traditional church in Florida.  He was associate pastor/youth leader, and my wife and I assisted him.  Before coming to faith in Jesus, he was a bar band drummer for about twenty years.  The founding pastor of that church just felt called, and started a church, albeit without training.  This man came along years later, a few months after coming to faith, was there a few weeks, and told the pastor that he felt called.  The head pastor gave him a responsibility, and then more and more.  My wife and I volunteered to help with the teen class.  Sometimes both the head pastor and the assistant did or said something I felt to be a little strange, but, as they were leaders, I kept my mouth shut, partly because I thought my wife was happy being there.  Finally, a situation came up where we both found out that the other wasn’t comfortable with what was going on, but though the other like being there.  At that point, we left.

            Time went on, we eventually moved to another state, and one day, for some odd reason, I decided to attempt to find on the net people I had known in the past.  This man I found easily, as he had left that church to found one himself a few miles down the road.  This was of no surprise to me, as I learned after leaving that church that many people had had a falling out with that head pastor, so that this man did too, particularly when working with him as close as he did is no surprise. 

            I did find it a surprise that he was into something that I personally believe has wandered into false doctrine, what is known as Hebrew Roots Movement.  Shortly, this thread believes that we believers in Jesus are still to live by the Mosaic Law.  As such, he leads whatever group he heads to meet on Saturdays, and he continually is putting out little blips on Facebook hyping some aspect of his unique doctrinal view.  Anyway, when I opened up the Facebook messages that day,   had a little box with a couple of questions followed by Romans 3:31.  If one looks at that sentence alone, he could maintain that the word “law” is talking about the OT law. I could maintain that what the word “law” refers to is the law of love, walking by the Spirit.

            It got me to thinking about an old fundamentalist clever phrase many have used while sermonizing, “A text out of context is a pretext.”  Only in recent years have I learned that there are actually three (at least) contexts.  What is usually implied in sermons is literary context—how a certain thing fits into the larger group of sentences that it is a part of.  In the case above, reading the whole of Romans 3 indicates that what he was attempting to say with that one verse is the exact opposite of what Paul was saying.  This is also easy to figure out by any believer reading a passage, or, for that matter, any person.  The catchy phrase above actually applies to all kinds of writings. 

            The second type of context is historical context.  As this is Christmas season, when we hear the Christmas story, particularly as it is popularly sermonized, we hear a passage in which the historical context is explained thoroughly, as Israel being under Roman control is key to why things happened as they did.  It needs to be explained to us because we are so far away from that scene in both time and culture.  Still, some aspects are oftentimes passed over, such as why the Romans were so distrustful of Israel.  From modern culture, we perceive that a number of peoples that are under the control of a foreign power wish to overthrow the oppressors.  Rome generally wasn’t that way, but, given that Israel did overthrow them for a couple of years in 166 to 164 B.C., they were distrusted more than most peoples under Roman control.

            The third type of context is cultural context.  Sticking with the Christmas theme, and as I seem to write just about every Christmas, possibly because I see it as an amazing piece of faith, and so foreign to modern culture, in Luke 2, when the angel of the Lord comes to Mary to tell her that she will bear the Christ child, and she speaks words of assent and faith back to the angel, she is doing so at age 12 to 14 probably, with a slight chance she could have been as old as 16, that she does so in a culture in which, if a young man would find that the one he is betrothed to is pregnant, he could have her put to death. That is why we are told that Joseph, before the angel came to him, was going to have her put away quietly, that is, have her go away so the marriage never happens.  When the angel comes to him, and he agrees, God miraculously allows them both to be in a situation which, from normal social mores of the time, puts them both in a position of dishonor.  We later learn that Joseph is, in the Koine Greek, a teknon.  This is normally told to us to be “carpenter”, but is more appropriately a stone mason that may occasionally do carpentry.  Even that has to be noted that, in our culture, a stone mason is a rarer, and therefore, more treasured skill than carpentry, in that culture the opposite is true.

            The trick about all this is that all one needs (at least sometime) to figure out literary context is the Bible, for the other two one needs other material.  I am 60, and have been a believer since I was 15, but only learned about the different types of context a couple of years ago.  I certainly heard things taught which included historical and cultural context over that time, but never heard anyone differentiate the types.  This goes for both intellectualist, even over-intellectualist, leaders, and non- or anti-intellectualist types, such as the man I referred to above.

            Earlier today, I was listening to Wayne Jacobsen’s podcast, “The God Journey”, where Wayne mentions hearing an author from Great Britian who studied psycopathy.  A psychopath does not care what happens to his victims.  The author devised a study.  He found criminals and c.e.o.’s were high on this trait.  He was surprised to find that so were clergy.  This is understandable, as they must protect their organization, just like the c.e.o.  Maybe that’s why I wasn’t trusted it some places where I went for traditional church—I knew too much.  In the church were I met the man referenced above, I was told only after I left that the founding pastor sometimes didn’t understand things that I said, but, given his position, wouldn’t admit it to me (he did to my wife).  Desiring to know the Bible and faith in Jesus in detail, but not desiring to (i.e. pushing one’s way into) the traditional leadership system is threatening to parts of the status quo.  So be it—I have slept with a clean conscience.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

On Matthew 25:31-46


In Matthew 25:31-46, Jesus told a parable about the sheep and the goats. This passage ends in verses 44 to 46 with, “Then they also will answer Him, saying, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to You?' Then He will answer them, saying, 'Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me.; And these will go away into everlasting punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”
About thirty years ago, I knew a young couple named Jack and Phyllis. They desired to be involved in prison ministry. They contacted the local jail, and were told that they needed to submit to a background check, get finger printed, and take a course offered by the jail. They did all those things, and completed the course. At the end of that, they were told that they were scheduled to be allowed to come to the jail and meet prisioners one hour per month. Why so little? The idea that the jail had a programmed course would tell us the answer—so many persons had volunteered to do the same.
I have written in the past that I am no longer able to work consistent hours. I live in my son's house, and he lives in a suburban area. As I do not make any money, I go to a food pantry. It didn't occur to me that that was an option until a couple of years ago, when one put a posting on craigslist. It was about ten miles away in the country. One day, they closed down. Upon that occurring, I thought that there must be one closer to me. In looking on the website of the regional food bank, I found, to my surprise, that there were three within one mile of me. Why so many? Well, for manufacturers, I imagine they can donate food that doesn't quite match the taste they expect their product to have. For grocery stores, they can send things that have passed their freshness date the same way. For the food bank, it takes volunteers, but no specialized skills. For churches (who almost exclusively are the organizations who are doing the passing out of food), it takes people with time, but not necessarily specialized skills.
With clothing, once again, a few organizations are involved in receiving donated clothing, reselling the best in stores for very reasonable rates, and giving clothes to the most extremely poor, and bundling and selling the rest of the cloth in bulk to companies who export that to the Third World. Every city has an organization or more to shelter the homeless. As my friends above attest to, many individuals volunteer to visit prisioners. Certain hospitals will care for those who cannot afford it to a minimal level, but it is only to a minimal level, as, at this point in history, this is the one of these directives which involves a need for highly skilled persons. Of course, there are many hospitals which were founded a long time ago by various Christian organizations, although in many, maybe even in most cases, this has minimal impact on the persons who are the actual caregivers anymore. I particularly think of the idea that the higher the medically trained persons, the more time they have spent in the scientific educational system, which in our culture has an anti-Christian bias, although they have been trained that, once in their job, to put on the socially acceptable face.
I question that Jesus meant for this scripture to be so over-literalized. In my city, and in most metro areas of this country, there is an overkill of food pantries and prison ministries. I have been aware of that for years, as what God has put on my heart is college campus ministry. In that, literally all one has to do is go. I will say that having the intellegence to care about a wide variety of ideas is important to actual valid ministry, but there's no guard at the door. For a few years, I did this at a certain private college campus where, technically, I didn't have permission to be, although, in actuality, I am sure to the administration, it was far more important to get a grip on who was walking onto campus dealing drugs than one person talking to people about Jesus.
One of the factors, once again, is that there is this unspoken communication, at least among some leadership, that, with the exception of personal evangelism, it is only truly ministry if it is organized within an institutional church or non-profit, and has a budget attached to it. Of course, no one would actually say that...

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Systemic arrogance--an elaboration on my previous post


I wish to expand upon and clarify what I wrote in my previous blog,on ARROGANCE.
I could picture that to some people, I am accusing many leaders within the church of Jesus of a negative quality that is not a part of them, which is, of course, silly.
To this effect, I will mention a quality in me, which isn't necessarily a positive, and is sometimes clearly a negative, which is that I am a sports fan. One sport that I an not a fan of is hockey. At the highest level, the degree to which intentionally breaking the rules, even when caught, is helpful to winning the game, is irritating to me. In this, I am referring to the idea that physically intimidating the opponent gets one as little as a two minute penalty, when in other sports it gets one ejected from the game, and that fans of this game defend this quality, I find abhorrent. This is in spite of the paralellism that I come from Michigan, and the team from Detroit was dominant over about a twenty year period of time. One of the years they didn't win, the team from New York did. Some marketer that year came up with a catch phrase for their team, while on the way to the championship, “Nice Guys, Mean Game.” I personally doubt the accuracy of the first part of the statement, but the last part alludes to the way the rules are set up, as I referred to above. The way the rules are set up bring about an attitude of personal meanness to the atmosphere around a hockey game that is specifically different from the other major sports—one can start a fight with a player on the other team, and instead of getting thrown out of the game and possibly getting suspended for more, one gets disqualified (possibly offset by the player on the other team getting the same) for two, five, or ten minutes. One has to do this maybe three or more times before actually getting tossed from the game.
Why I bring this up is that it occurred to me that, in most of the western church, the arrogance that selectively ignores certain directives of scripture is not personal, but systemic, but not all. Matthew 18: 15-17 states, "If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over. But if he will not listen, take one or two others along, so that 'every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.' If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector.” Let me give two examples that I see are exceptions to the rule. There is a famous Christian personality that goes by “Dr. ...” He overtly tells the story that he and another young believer started a Bible study in college, and, when it was time to graduate, i.e. Bachelor's degree, it was formed into an institutional church and moved to a building nearby. It eventually grew to be very large. Leading such a large organization, when did he get time to get a doctorate? Yes, I know that, at least a few years ago, one could buy a “doctorate” in theology from a P.O. Box in California for $75 and signing a statement of faith. Actually, it was $25 for a bachelor's, another $25 for a master's, and a third $25 for a doctorate. Clearly, it isn't accredited, but that's not the point (unless one moves to Germany, where that kind of thing is closely regulated). This man has claimed, in the course of a sermon, that it is in a type of counseling, which implies a doctorate that takes real time and work to get. Where'd he get the time? More to the point, from where? As best as I can tell, that question has never been publicly answered. I don't know this man; he lives hundreds of miles from me. Even if I was nearby, could I actually get an appointment to talk to this man? Let me put in this way—in many of today's megachurch's, even if one is a member, it's difficult to talk to the head person. If one calls on any common reason for talking to a church leader, one gets to speak with an assistant. Now, it just so happens that a few years ago, I happened to send an email to the above person's organization to ask where he got his doctorate from, just to see if I would get a response. I did! They politely thanked me for interest in their ministry, hyped what they were doing for a couple of paragraphs, told me how to send money to them, and promised to add me to their mailing list. They have proceeded to send me neither emails nor paper materials. Not that I need more bulk mail nor bulk email, but just that, while they didn't answer my question, they did make an unsolicited promise on their own and didn't follow up. Might I just point out that, in most times of history, and even many cultures today, I wouldn't know this man existed.
I wish to touch a second example. Again, I do not personally know this man, do not live near him, and probably couldn't get to meet him if I tried. I will say that I do know two persons who are in institutional church ministry who do know him (my understanding is that at one time they looked to this man as a mentor, but no longer do), and I have heard him speak twice. He started by working in music for two big internationally known ministries, started a church, and shortly after was asked to take over a large church lead by another internationally know name who is known for being spectacular. This man teaches “prosperity message.” With my own ears, I have heard him say that he has been given three gold(-color) Mercedeses. Other writings say that he has been given a house in an expensive suburb of the city he lives in, and a pool, and pool service, and lawn service. His wife filed for divorce (I am not close enough to know more than that), and put in the filing, which is a public record, so the local newspaper could get access to it, that she told who was so generous. The church corporation, of which he was in charge. That is, he gave all this stuff to himself out of donations. That's not at all a level example of “believing and receiving.” Once again, I can't go to this person and talk to him about it, he doesn't know me. That's why I would not mention his name (although, in this case, you can find it if you search the net). Also, in any time other than this culture now, I wouldn't have heard of it. These are two examples, in my opinion, of personal arrogance. I personally do not believe that this type of thing is the norm, but, the persons who engage in it are likely to be the most famous.
I will go back to when I was young to give what I see the norm as being. My parents did not “go to church,” but, when I was eight, decided that I should go to Sunday School. As I lived in the country, the nearest church was about three miles away. It was in a town of about a hundred people. There was one diner. My dad dropped me off at the steps of the church, drove a couple of blocks to the diner, got the Sunday newspaper, and, as he was a farmer working by himself all week, got to talk to other men hanging around the diner for about an hour plus. At the end of Sunday School, I walked to the diner, and he left and we went home.
As I grew up, at about age 15, I came to faith in Jesus. I started going to the church service. There was a young pastor who had just graduated from seminary. He was the right person to come across my life as a young believer. Over time, I come to realize that part of the reason he would up in this little church was that he finished in the lower part of his seminary class. I came to know that to be a “minister” in this denomination, one had to have a seminary (master's) degree and ordination. The morning and evening services followed an order of worship. The denomination had six approved orders of worship, all of which were similar. Except for an occassional visit by a missionary looking to raise support, the person giving the sermon and leading the service had to be ordained by the denomination, with two exceptions. One was if the minister fell ill or injured so late before the beginning of a Sunday service that there was insufficient time to get a replacement, at which time a designated elder would lead and speak. As, just before I came to faith in Jesus, this church had a pastor who was in his 80's, this actually happened once. The second exception was if there was enough time to get a replacement, in which another “minister” or a seminary student could fill in. As the church I went to was about thirty miles from the seminary, twenty miles from where the denominational magazine was published, and near to many other churches of that denomination, most of which were doing financially better than this small church, this method of having a substitute was normal. One problem I didn't realize until years later was that the seminary was notable for demanding more Greek courses than any other seminary, so it attracted persons who wanted to become Greek professors, and didn't necessarily want to be pastors, or even agreed with the denomination's theology. I remember hearing a student named Roger speak, and getting the feeling that he wasn't even saying anything.
At that church, I remember sensing something special happened every time, somehow, the service did not follow the order of worship. The pastor, during my senior year in high school, one day when speaking to me personally (this church was small enough that, in addition to his standard duties, he taught a Sunday School class that was 7th grade until one either gets married or moves out of town) suggested that, when I went to college, I check out Inter-Varsity. There, I met other persons my own age that desired to follow Jesus, from a wide variety of backgrounds. I sensed the Holy Spirit move in meetings and situations that had no “order of worship”. Some of these persons, including a sister than came from the same denomination as I, had some involvement in what was called the Charismatic Renewal. I learned about the work of the Holy Spirit, and met some persons of Roman Catholic background that desired to follow Jesus. Near my senior year in college, I looked at going to seminary, but struggled with my church's implied teaching about a minister being “called”. It seemed that that was a special experience, and I wasn't sure that I had received that revelation. I applied anyway, and was accepted. I was uncomfortable with a few doctrines of the church I grew up in. I realized that, if I became a pastor in that denomination, I would be responsible to defend those points of view, and I wasn't convinced of them myself. For the record, these included infant baptism, that this denomination had just taken the position that the gifts of the Spirit were for today, but no one taught about this doctrine, and many non-leaders in the churches opposed it, and that there was so much taught in the seminary and done in the churches that just weren't useful to help persons grow in following Jesus, such as doing things the same old way just because that's the way it's been done.
I could go on with my story, but that last phrase is systemic arrogance. It doesn't matter if there is a Biblical basis for doing a thing, just do it. One can see in the world that almost everything has minimum standards—the power of current down the electric lines, a level of training for a certain job, the procedure for trading stocks, or livestock, or repossesed property. God's standard gives us humans fits. God ordains, as He looks in our heart, and not by academic standards, so someone, almost assuredly an unbeliever or really deceived believer in the late days of the Roman Empire, enforced standards like the religions of the world in those days had. I have observed that if one keeps a tradition in force for more than two full human lifetimes, such that no one remembers how it used to be, the new tradition then seems like the normal one. Therefore, there are many brothers and sisters in Jesus through a wide variety of systems that have accepted whatever system they are in as being the norm. Even among those of us who left the system we grew up in (and that's almost half of all believers in this culture), we moved to another system. Even the “undenominational” institutional churches copied some of the structures from the traditional churches.
I think of the line in Larry Norman's “Right Here In America”, a song woefully dated to the times of the late 1960's-early 1970's, “And we don't have the time/To build nice little churches/Besides, we don't need them/We're holding our church in the streets.” Maybe, where Larry was in southern California, it happened somewhat, but, for the most part, it didn't happen. Pastors got tossed from their denominations, and started new organization's with the form they were familiar with. Those who were young respected older leaders who taught and guided them. Calvary Chapel (and a few other associations) stand as representative of how Larry's line above was not the rule in the 1960's, and all the pentecostal churches stand as representative of how it wasn't the rule in the 1880's to 1910's, and this point can be developed back and back.
Personally, I am kind or hard-nosed on the idea that persons learn more about following Jesus from open discussion Bible studies than from sermons. Being stuck in a room attempting to prepare one to one and a half hours of teaching per week is a poor way to know what questions need answering, and questions can be better answered the smaller the group is. Also, the smaller the group is, the less likely the leader is going to get off track, and if he/she does, the fewer persons will be harmed. The problem with the two persons described in the beginning of this writing is that both lead organizations of thousands of attenders.
I can understand why. I love and respect education. If one is a pastor, married with kids, and one realizes that one has no skill other than running the system, it takes immense courage to step out of it, and it oftentimes doesn't go well. Getting accredited and having the skill to form a new group of believers are two widely different things.
Lastly, I must tack on that, in North American culture, where “Christianity” is somewhat status quo, there are a lot of people going to church, having learned the phrase “I believe in Jesus as my Savior and Lord”, who may believe in Jesus for salvation, but are unwilling for Him to actually be their Lord. You nor I know who is on the side of Jesus, and who is faking for personal cultural benefit. Some may clearly look like a fake, but then repent. Some may seem sincere, but only they know inside they are not actually committed, and maybe they have deceived themselves. Only when the culture turns overtly hostile is it clearer, but that's not pleasant.
I struggle with the idea that it is difficult to be a part of a church that doesn't collect money to advertise its way to growth, but it oftentimes looks to be the only way that works in this culture. The only thing is that having a bunch of upbeat musicand a motivational speech needing a budget that precludes sending people and money to that part of the world that doesn't have believers isn't a good trade off.
But then, maybe I'm just looking at things from the distorted angle of a person who is old enough to be unable to earn anymore.....

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

On (possibly unintentional) arrogance





Today, I got around to listening to the October 25, 2013 edition of Wayne Jacobsen's podcast, The God Journey. Now, it seems to me, after listening to a number of this series, that when there is some really notable truth that comes out in one of the programs, it appears near the end, after going 30+ minutes of no particular direction, which one can get by with in a podcast. On this, Wayne retells a conversation he had with a woman who came to faith in Jesus later in life, and asks a question about a certain (unnamed, as almost all would fit the situation) televangelist. Wayne tells that he deflected the question back to her, to which she replied that he seemed (after 5 minutes) arrogant.
To me, that clicked. I've been trying to put a finger on what it is among, not just radio and TV Christian speaking personalities, but also the huge amount of institutional church pastors. I will be kind enough to not specifically charge the persons with arrogance, although assuredly in some cases it must fit, but the system, albeit unintentionally breeds arrogance, in the sense that the idea that one person who, according to his/her position, is largely disconnected from whatever our “real world” is, has all the edifying, and the large number of other believers who do live and work in the largely unbelieving world have none of the answers, should reasonably come across as absurd.
Now, I recognize that in a large number of cases called denominational churches, such as the one I went to when I was a teen, only authorized, approved leaders (i.e., graduated from their seminary) are allowed to speak to the congregation, following a tradition that goes back to the 4th century. It is so ingrained that most, including myself up until a few years ago, and on both sides of the artificial clergy/ laity divide, just accept it as status quo. In those churches in which it is not an enforcable rule from some headquarters, it still happens to varying degrees. Still, that one or a small number of persons have all the answers, and have them without even having to ask what questions the others have, should come across as ridiculous. Now, to go back to the story Wayne tells, the persons on radio and TV are insulated, usually first by geography, and when in their general presence by a layer of staff, from actually dealing with what questions people have, and, of course, the problem that it takes time for any one of us to truly trust even fellow believers to give, as Francis Shaeffer wrote sometime in the 1960's or '70's, “honest answers to honest questions.”(1)
1) The phrase appears in one of his books; at the time of this writing, I wasn't in a position to look up which one or where.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

The view from the backside of dental painkiller


Today, I had to have a tooth pulled. I have had so many teeth pulled previously, that this tooth barely hurt, but more felt uncomfortable when food got stuck in it. The pain was greater on the back side of the dental work, as the anesthetic was wearing off.
As such, for whatever reason, I started poking around on the internet, and decided to go over to the site of Gottalife Ministries. At one time, they ran an internet radio station. At the time, it was somewhat ironic, as it was based on organic church, which, as discussed many times on this blog, sees discussion as a more effective method of teaching than giving speeches, and every time I tried catchining the station, it was a replay of a speech. Anyway, in poking around that site, I saw a writing posted on the subject of false prophecy, which had below it a place to say “like” or “dislike” on the writing, which had, on this day, zero likes and 13 dislikes. That drew me into looking at it—what did the person say which was so unanimously disliked. To put it shortly, in the article, the writer specifically named names of a variety of nationally known tv speaking personalities and why he felt they were false prophets. The person, to the best of my knowledge, appears to have his facts correct. The Bible directs us, if we have a disagreement with a brother, to go to them privately, but almost all big name teachers are just inaccessable. I'm not saying that I like his writing, but it is a problematical point specific to the culture that we live in, that there is a significant degree to which freedom of speech is limited or enhanced behind the amount of money one can put behind one's point of view being disseminated. This doesn't just apply to Christian teaching and/or ministry, but to politics, and secular opinions off all sorts. A paid communication allows one to ignore ideas contrary to the idea one is communicating. Maybe one can get a little free dissemination of an idea if it shows exceptional talent (I am thinking of popular music) or is unusual in an entertaining manner, such as stand-up comedy, or the news-opinion programs in which the moderator allows two or more opposing persons to argue such that one can understand neither.
As I struggle with living to honor Jesus with my life, and see persons overtly communicating something that is at some level the message of Jesus in a way that is dependent on getting money to communicate their message over a din of similar messages, recognizing that some may not be doing so from a pure heart, and others are decieved by the historical precedent of “this is how others do it”, it is oftentimes dissapointing that the communication seems to be no more than what Buffalo Springfield referenced in the late 1960's with their line, “Singin' a song that they carry inside/Mostly says 'Hooray for our side'”.
As I may have written previously, I no longer have the stamina to work at a normal job, and live in my son's house, which is in the suburbs. In spite of the houses being relatively close together, I know few of my neighbors, as most only go out the front of their houses to immediately get into a vehicle and leave. The forming of a local community happens more easily in an inner city. I might tack on that it also works on liberal arts college campuses with dorms. As much as I might wish, I don't have an excellent idea, but do desire to keep my spirit open to God's daily guidance.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Automotive V-belts

This post is outside the theme of the normal postings.  I went to post what is below on craigslist.norfolk, but someone or some computer kept flagging it. Therefore, I've posted it here.
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I wound up with a box of new auto v-belts. Most are Fresh Start brand, made by Goodyear, and are marked with the same numeration system as Goodyear brand. Almost all are types currently stocked by automotive parts stores, and I have priced them, below, at approximately 1/2 of typical retail. Except where noted, I have one of each. Also below, I note the extremely few which are another brand.

300K3 (3 ribs on inside of belt, 30 inches), $8
385K3,(3 ribs, 38.5 inches) , $5
390K3, $6
415K3, $6
(I have 2 of this one) 245K4 (4 ribs, 24.5 inches), $3.50 each
275K4, $4.50
285K4, $4.50
(I have 2) 320K4, $7.50 each
340K4, $7.50
355K4, $8
360K4, $5
385K4, $6
425K4, $6.50
445K4, $5
(I have 2), 470K4, $5 each
200K5 (5 ribs, 20 inches), $4
355K5, $4.50
Goodyear Gatorback, 4060720, size equiv. to 720K6 (6 ribs with Gatorback angle crosshatch, 72 inches), $8.50
10375 (10/32 inch wide, 37.5 inches circumference), $2
10390, $1.50
10460 (Auto Zone brand, 10/32 inch x 46 inches)$2.50
13240 (13/32 inches x 24 inches), $2.50
13300, $4
13320, $4
13345, $5
13385, $1
13400, $4
13465, $2.50
13660, $1.50
(I have 2) 15290 (15/32 inch x 29 inches), $3 each
15320, $4
15330, $4
15340, $4.50
15355, $4.50
15360, $4.50
15365, $4.50
15380, $5
15420, $4.50
15425, $2.50
(I have 2) 15430, $4.50 each.
15455, $5
15470, $5
15475, $4
15480, $6
15549 (15/32 inch x 54.9 inches), $5
15565, $4
15580, $2.50
15585, $2.50
15590, $1
15600, $2.50
15620, $1.50
15625, $1.50
17315 (17/32 inch x 31.5 inches), $5
17320, $3
17325, $3
17330, $2.50
17335, $2.50
17345, $5.50
17360, $4.50
17365, $4.50
17370, $4.50
17375, $4.50
(I have 2) 17380, $2 each
17385, $4
17390, $2.50
17395, $4
17415, $4
17425, $1
17430, $3.50
17440, $4.50
17465, $2.50
17630, $2.50
Tru Star 8370 (which package claims replaces Gates 9370, which is a premium quality belt), (.47 inches x 37.36 inches), $11

Sunday, June 9, 2013

The story of how my life changed


I can't remember if I've written in the blog my story of how everything changed in my life. If I have, it hasn't been lately, so it's a good time to do it, again.

I was born in a rural area between Grand Rapids and Muskegon, Michigan. My parents were farmers, and, as I only came to understand as an adult after my dad passed away and my mom was close to that time also, they were not particularly successful at it. My mom didn't get along with other people very well, and my dad was a Masonic Lodge chaplain (that means he had the Masonic funeral ritual memorized). They were honest, moral people, but didn't specifically bring me up to know what it was like and teach me the importance of following Jesus. When I was about 8 years old, they decided to drop me off at a church about three miles away just before the service ended, so I could go to Sunday School. Afterwards, I would walk a couple of blocks to a diner, where my dad was waiting for me.
I can remember that my mom would turn the tv to Billy Graham specials, when they were on. There was one from Jet Stadium in Columbus, Ohio when I was about 9. Near the end, Rev. Graham, as he often did during the altar call, reminded anyone listening that we have no assurance as to the length of our lives, and that this might be one's last chance to accept Jesus and Savior. That particularly caught my attention for the first time that my life, as every living thing's, is finite, and will come to an end. The part about Jesus and salvation didn't register one way or another at that time, just the idea that I would die someday.
My parents struggled financially, but I had an aunt and uncle who had no kids themselves, but both had been teachers, and later a school administrator and librarian. About at age 12, they invited me to stay with them for a week during the summer, and they took me to places my parents could not, both financially and because, as farmers, they needed to be home every day and night to care for animals. They took me to places like the Musuem of Science & Industry in Chicago and Tiger Stadium in Detroit, from their home in Kalamazoo.
In the summer of 1968, they came one Sunday afternoon, and I expected to go with them to their home. History now, and even then, referred to it as “the long, hot summer”, not so much for the literal temperature, but because anger in the inner cities of the U.S. Seemed to be boiling over with regard to how blacks had and were being treated by the overall society. When my uncle got to our house, he told us (and I have never seen this in any historical writing) that these riots were being caused by a group of individuals overtly fomenting the riots in one city after another. He told us that the local police had told him that they had gotten information that this group was to start a riot in Kalamazoo that evening, so aunt and uncle wished to postpone my visit for a couple of weeks. Usually, when they visited, they would leave for home in the late afternoon or early evening, but this day, they wished to stay until the 11pm CBS News came on (at this time, CBS had a national newscast at 11 on Sunday evenings). Sure enough, the lead story was an inner city riot breaking out. The city wasn't Kalamazoo—it was Detroit, and history would record it as being the largest of that summer's riots, lasting for eight nights. There was some spill over into Grand Rapids. Since I lived only 20 miles from GR, I could see the sky lighter to the southeast from my home, but due to the arson going on there, the light was much brighter in that direction for a couple of nights.
About two weeks later, I got to visit my aunt and uncle. Since my uncle's vacation week was the week originally scheduled for my visit, he was back at work that week, and we didn't go as many places. We went to the first Detroit Tiger game after the riots. Since old Tiger Stadium was in the inner city, and there was no planned parking for that facility, we walked past blocks of smoldering rubble to get to the stadium. Inside, there was a feel that what was happening was more than a ball game, but a first sign of a community coming back to normal. The years and decades to come would show that feeling to be an illusion.
Since we weren't able to go as many places as before, and because I grew up being taught by example that paying attention to the news was important, I watched a lot of the big news event of that week, the Democratic National Convention, which was in Chicago. This was during the Vietnam War, President Johnson had previously announced that he would not run for re-election, but as the majority party in Washington, many in the U.S. Who were against the war aimed their protest at this convention. There was rioting in the streets, and the eventual trial of the Chicago Seven would spin out of what would happen in the streets that week. We would learn only decades later that certain events in the streets would get covered up, as the reporters were not impartial on this subject.
The next week, I was back home. I no longer remember whether it was Tuesday, Wednesday, or Thursday, but around noon, I started mowing the lawn. The little push lawn mower was making enough noise no one could have spoken to me if they tried. While mowing, I was thinking of the events of the previous few weeks. I realized that, on many problems in the news, commentators would discuss possible solutions to problems—we now know that sometimes these were planted by politicians as “trial balloons”. If others poked holes in the ideas, no politician would be mocked with saying an idea so silly, and if the idea was spoken about as being reasonable, someone soon would publicly say the idea to get credit for it in the public eye. I noticed that there weren't any such ideas being floated about how to stop the rioting, or correct the underlying problem, or to stop the war protests, or deal with the underlying problem of why the war was dragging on.
A statement came into my mind. It wasn't audible, but was more real than if it was. “It's not the radicals, or the politicians, it's Me.” I knew this was God speaking to me. He doesn't need to introduce Himself. I couldn't do anything about these other problems, I could only deal with that there was sin in my life, and what I could do was give myself to Him. I had heard the teaching in Sunday School, and on tv, but suddenly it was not only important, but the only thing I could think of.
Many years later, I would read Pilgrim's Progress, where there is the story of Pilgrim climbing a hill with the heavy load on his back. The rest of the day felt like that for me. I did the things I normally did, but suddenly sin was this heavy load. Night came, and I went to bed. The head of my bed was right below a window, so I could look up into the night sky. Looking up into the sky, seeing the stars, and knowing how very far away they are, and how vast that area is, and realizing that God was caring for me such as to burden me with the decision I must make about Him, I felt so small, yet simultaneously feel that I am important to Him to have this happen right then. I rolled over and cried into my pillow. That was my prayer asking Jesus to be my Lord. I sensed a change from my toes slowly up to my head. Then I could sleep.
The next morning, I woke up, and, while everything looked the same, everything had changed, somehow. I was now aware that there was a spiritual war, and that I was on the other side, God's side. I knew my parents wouldn't understand, and didn't. I wanted to know how to live to please God, and He started revealing that to me. Because I wasn't the kind of kid to be in trouble, I may not have looked different to others, at first. In fact, maybe I got in more trouble after becoming a follower of Jesus, as I no longer followed the status quo. That's ok, I'm on the ultimate winning side, even if I've lived a life that looks like an underachiever to the world's way of doing things.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Thoughts about pain

            As I have written a few times, part of the reason why I started this blog back in December, 2010 was that I had the time to do so, due to not having the physical stamina to do a normal job.  Further, over the past three months or so, I haven’t felt sufficiently well to think enough to even blog.  Strangely, the past week or so, I have begun to feel better with regard to the latter, but there wasn’t a specific subject on my mind.
            On Friday, I was eating lunch, and I cracked a tooth down to the nerve.  It was a little painful at first, and increased over the weekend such as to realize that I needed to have it dealt with first thing Monday morning.  I did exactly that, calling my dentist about 8:15 am.  By 9:15, I had been asked to come in, had it x-rayed, had it confirmed that it was broken, given anesthetic, had it pulled, and was paying the dentist.  About 12:30 pm, the anesthetic began to wear away.  I have had teeth pulled before, and had been given warnings about pain staying around for a while, but there had never been a problem.  This time, pain was a real problem—one whole side of my head hurt.  Soon thereafter, it was off to the pharmacy to get a prescription of acetaminophen with codene filled.  Even with that, there still was some pain.  Today (Tuesday) at about 2:30 pm, I could finally say to myself that I don’t need to take the next acetaminophen with codene pill.
            Strangely enough, I feel like thinking.  One particular thought occurred to me over the past day and a half.  It is about the significance of pain.  I have never gotten around to reading C S Lewis’ The Problem of Pain, although I have certainly heard speakers and read authors make reference to major points that appear in that book, and understand that it is generally considered the major work on the subject.  This thought is really basic:  it couldn’t have been produced while experiencing significant pain.  Over the past day and a half, much of the time, I didn’t feel like doing anything other than holding my hands on my head.  On the converse, if one’s not going through significant pain, there is a degree of thinking about it as a memory, or something that is, to some degree, disconnected from one’s current state.  In other words, even as a believer in Jesus, when I was in significant pain, I was not particularly waxing thoughtful over its role in reminding me of the sinfulness of man and the all-powerfulness of God.  In fact, I couldn’t think of much else than wanting the pain to go away, and not knowing what else to do about it, or, if I had an idea about what to do about it, doing it.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Thoughts on edification and traditional structure

    I have written in the past that I have been struggling with health issues, but over the last couple of months, I have not blogged because I haven’t felt like writing , reading, or even thinking about anything of significant complexity. Hopefully, I am getting over that, given that I feel like writing today. The feeling of not wishing to do anything more complex than staring at the tv or doing simple things around the house is something I have never experienced before, and has given me experiential insight to how others feel about certain aspects of life.
There are times when thoughts have been bouncing through my head, which I would wish to comment on. One concerns an aspect of a favorite verse of those believers in simple, organic church, 1 Thessalonians 5:11, where it states that the believers in a church are to comfort and edify each other. Oftentimes, in the writings I read, the point of the comment on this verse is on the words “each other”, and the point that the traditional western way of one person (pastor, priest, or whatever) doing almost all the speaking makes the “each other” part practically impossible. One thing that I have noticed, but not seen commented on, is that a very large part of what is being called teaching, or edifying, is not so much teaching, but merely entertaining or inspiring talk. Further, a large portion of what could be called teaching is blatantly unbalanced, in that the speaker asserts a point, but does little to factually back up his/her point, or deal with those who would maintain a differing point of view as to the topic’s understanding, but merely asserts his/her idea (which can sometimes be way off track from the historical understanding of believers over the centuries, or even most learned believers today) and supports the assertion with clever phrasing, and anecdotal stories. Once one sees the difference between the two, it is amazing how much teaching has little true teaching in it, according to the way your local school teacher understands the word “teach”.
Therefore, more than ever before, I am coming to believe that the participatory Bible study, as implied in Acts 20, is far superior to sermons in teaching believers about faith in Jesus. Sermons, like other speeches, are totally dependent upon the speaker for the quality of teaching within them, and most persons giving sermons have concerns such as protecting their position, and using the point to increase support of their organization’s program. My feeling is that oftentimes that reaction is so buried underneath their previous experiences that they have no idea that they are even doing that.
Just in case this sounds too vague, let me give a few examples that I have seen. I know of a famous tv preacher that usually goes by “Doctor _____”. Strangely, he nor his organization will state where he got his doctorate from. Also strangely, he has written a book about integrity, and in this book, they somehow failed to put Dr. in front of his name. I further think of every sermon I have ever heard on tithing, in comparison to Bible commentaries clearly teaching that there are two tithes, at the least. Yes, I’ve heard that John McDonald does teach that the tithes are part of the completed Old Covenant, but I didn’t personally hear that, as one just can’t listen to everyone. I could go on and on, but it would sound like I have some kind of vendetta against all kinds of traditional organizational leaders, and I don’t. It’s just that they don’t usually have the intellectual check on them that the professor (including secular schools and subjects) has on him/her to keep their facts straight.
There is something I learned many years ago, when I was in college. I saw it in the college fellowship I was part of, and also in a revival trend I was involved with, and an institutional church I was part of later that would have an “open mike” night such that anyone could share. That is, that more learning as to how to function as a body of believers came out of someone occasionally standing up and saying something incorrect than from the rule of many institutions that allowed only those certified speakers to speak. The person getting up and saying the wrong thing taught those listening how to discern teaching, how to lovingly correct someone, and how to present the difference between correct and incorrect teaching. Opposingly, I have been part of institutional systems which had certified speakers who still taught incorrectly, and, even more than then, I see no practical means of correcting such a person, particularly if such a person is more concerned with holding onto position over following the Spirit.  

Friday, January 4, 2013

On simplicity and complexity within faith in Jesus


            Yesterday, I was watching a tv program, in which a reporter was interviewing Walter Isaacson, the writer who wrote the biography of Steve Jobs.  In it, it was said that, while Jobs and Steve Wosniak visited India for seven months after they first became financially set, one idea that influenced Jobs’ later career that he absorbed from Zen was the idea that simplicity was the ultimate sophistication.  One can easily see how that influenced the products Jobs was connected with for the rest of his life, and how those products have influenced the world.

            As a believer in Jesus, I recognize that every philosophy has some element of truth in it, and sometimes we can learn from it without saying that such fact negates the ultimate truth of God, as centered in Jesus.  I fully recognize that some people, including some of my fellow believers, have problems with that.  One great example is Martin Luther King.  He went to Boston University Seminary to study whether the principles of Ghandi on passive civil disobedience for the purpose of social change, which he based on Buddhism, were equally applicable within a Christian belief structure.  Under normal instances, I wouldn’t recommend Boston University Seminary to any believer, and one only has to go to their website and spend a few seconds to see why.  Also, I am certain that King already had the conclusions of his doctoral thesis in his head, to a degree, before he ever even applied there, in the sense that Ghandi’s principles would also apply within a Christian framework.  In this case, there was a professor at BU that was as significant an expert on Ghandi as one could find at that time.  That also would be why King chose to lead a church in Montgomery, AL after graduating from seminary, when he could have had a professorship at many evangelical seminaries.  That is why, as I have stated previously, that Soledad O’Brien of CNN’s statement, in the documentary on King CNN aired, that King was “an accidental leader” is, at the least, untrue, and, at the worst, revisionist history to make a point that isn’t held up by the facts.

            Back to Jobs.  In marketing a product, the idea that simplicity is sophistication is true.  I was just given a used iPod for Christmas, with no directions.  So far, I have figured out that it has about 300 R&B recordings in it.  One of these days, I’ll figure out how to actually hear something out of it.  Then will come erasing what’s in it and putting in something I actually want to hear, provided it doesn’t cost too much, which at this time is any number over zero.  Part of the MacIntosh’s genius, with other things have followed, is that people like a product far better if it is simple enough that one can just guess what to do with a thing and be able to use it.  If you question that, when was the last time you read a car’s owner’s manual before driving it for the first time?  To quote that famous Ed Asner tv commercial, me neither.

            As it applies to faith in Jesus, though, this idea is largely not true.  There is a sense that all a person needs to be saved is to accept, “Jesus loves me.”  I am thinking of a man I know with about an 80 IQ. That’s about what he can handle, and that’s got to be OK from the standpoint of us humans.  It raises a lot of unanswerable questions that none of us are big enough to handle.  The larger idea is that, if (in the sense of the logical if-then sentence) God created the universe, which includes man, who, after the Fall, has a body, soul and spirit, and can give or not give his/her self to accept Jesus as Savior and Lord (however that works, which God alone understands), then mankind, in having been given dominion over the earth, has the God-given ability to learn about this universe while we live here.  Whether we choose to live to honor Jesus or not, we can learn facts about the complexity God put into His creation.  This includes people who do not honor Jesus with their lives learning such facts, even though they may misinterpret them, and people who do live to honor Jesus either misinterpreting those same facts in a different direction, and/or not caring about the details of God’s creation or being unable to make sense of the details, as with my aforementioned brother in Jesus, above. 

            Further, God, somehow, in His all-powerfulness, has chosen to make how we come to faith in Him beyond our understanding.  He has told us in scripture that He chose us, and that we didn’t choose Him.  I think back to when I came to faith in Jesus.  It felt in my spirit that I had a choice to make.  We have heard this wording, “make a decision for Christ”, or something like it, in evangelistic messages for our lifetimes, and most of us can look at a specific moment where we know that we moved from the unsaved to the saved, but we don’t understand how that works.

            I recently have been in correspondence with two persons who see themselves as leaders within the church.  Both occasionally write in a manner that seems to imply that to be intellectual in one’s approach to life and faith is a negative thing.  I have minimal doubt that neither has any significant amount of persons who respect them as a leader who have significantly greater education than they do.  They have valid points that, over history, many persons have used their intellect to deny God or, while affirming the God of the Bible, lead others down various dead ends or into incorrect understandings.  Part of the problem is that there is no simple rule for being able to determine who presents a proper understanding of a point of faith, and who doesn’t.  Oftentimes, as with the two persons I mention above, there is an implication that intelligence and education is a mark of improper teaching.  I also can find others who imply the opposite.  Even more irritatingly, some teachers are correct and excellent on one topic, and are off track on a different one.  An example is the second century church leader Tertullian.  His writings tell us about what was going on in the church in the generation just after the church in the Bible.  Still, for some reason, he wrote that Paul wrote the book of Hebrews, which, for a number of reasons, we can see is incorrect.  We can recognize that he was a respected leader in the church of that time.  He tells us details about those times that, if one throws them out, we know nothing about.  Was he not feeling well the day he wrote that?  I think of that given that, over the past few months, I have not been thinking as well as I used to.  If you knew me slightly, you might not be able to tell, but I can.  That’s why I’ve written few blogs over the past few months, as I just didn’t feel like even sitting and typing.  Could he have been going through something like that?  I believe that many of us believers have felt like crawling under a couch when Pat Robertson, Harold Camping, Gene Edwards, and others have said certain things.  I guess I think of that in that I’m still about twenty years younger than those three men, and I’m beginning to struggle to say things just right.

            Now, on the opposite side, sometimes I see things said due to a person thinking he/she is saying something bold, when it is just faith mixed with ignorance.  I know a leader that has personal leadership ability, but has had the tendency to read one book (which may be a popular, but unbalanced view of a subject) and go running with its conclusions, without bothering to examine writings that hold to the opposite side of a subject.  If this is mixed with the traditional “sermon” system, he gets up and says things again and again, the situation is such that others cannot challenge his point of view, but don’t change their lives with regard to this point because he just hasn’t been convincing. The results are that the leader is frustrated, and he is actually building a wall between him and the people who are supposedly looking to him as leader, putting up with him for other reasons, such as liking the other people around the group, or that it is always easier to keep the status quo than change.

            I feel the need to be sufficiently vague in what I’ve written above, and possibly it just doesn’t make sense outside of my head, but I cannot recall seeing or hearing someone attempt to address this point, so I’ve given a stab at it.  As an elder at a church I once was part of named Walt Thompson said more than once, “Take what’s good and pray about the rest.”  Even better yet, if I was unclear or flat our wrong, in your opinion, write me and tell me why.