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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...