Monday, June 1, 2015

The World, The Flesh and The Church - Part 2

Ya'll Don't Listen Too Good, Do Ya?

Well it’s Saturday morning at 20 minutes after three and I’m still awake. That probably doesn’t mean anything to you, because you, if you have any kind of common sense whatsoever, are sound asleep, proving once and for all how much smarter you are than I am. But we didn’t have to run any kind of heavy resource intensive program to determine that - it’s just a fact of life. I’m not a morning person. Much to my wife’s chagrin, I’m a late night person. I always have been. It seems to work best for me, in that I am able to get more work done late at night than most people get done during daylight hours spread out over several days.

For example, now that everybody except the cats and I are asleep I’m able to spend time working on this essay without worrying about disturbing anyone. I don’t have to worry too much about disturbing my wife, she’s sound asleep at the other end of the house. As long as I don’t get too excited, and keep my voice down, I won’t wake her up. Now the flaws in my reasoning are I’m very excited about this particular subject and likely to get more excited about it as we go along, and my wife and I share a similar sleeping disorder – neither of us really sleeps that well when the other one is not there beside them.

Now, on to the study.

I began the last time introducing the subject of world problems, and stating that I believe all of the world’s problems can be synthesized down into a single world problem and that problem is a spiritual problem. And because I like to stir up trouble whenever I can I took this a step further and said not only is this a spiritual problem I put a name to that spiritual problem. I said the spiritual problem was the Church. But I also took that a little bit further than what you’re probably normally used to hearing when you talk about the Church. I said I was going to use the Biblical definition of the Church.

Under normal circumstances I wouldn’t go through this much trouble; I would just say “Church” but because I believe this is the core problem, I want to make certain it’s understood that this is serious. We’re in deep trouble people, and it begins with our place of worship with the people who lead us in worship and with the people who go to worship. Now before you go getting your knickers in a twist, I’m not talking about your worship style. I’m not talking about the music that’s used to set the mood of service that praise or worship teams use, or whether your lead pastor is wearing a shirt and tie or T-shirt and jeans when he preaches. I’m talking about a lot bigger issues than that. And these are problems that began long before there ever was such a thing as an organization or organism called a “Church”.

Now, we established in the first part of this study that when you see the word “church”, unless otherwise specified, I’m referring to the body universal; the ecclesia, the organism which may or may not be functioning as an organization; the elect; the blood bought redeemed, the justified by grace through faith. I am NOT talking about a building, a gathering place, or any specific organization. For the purpose of this study unless otherwise specified, the church is people. I should also mention that in some places the people will be people who couldn’t possibly technically be the church because technically the church began at Pentecost, as mentioned in Acts, chapter 2. However, the church was pictured in the Old Testament through numerous individuals and imagery, some of whom and which will be part of this study.
With the exception of God, everything has a beginning. For the church, I guess you could argue that since the church is made up exclusively of human beings, and since the first big problem with the church we’re going to examine was one held in common with the first human beings, the place to begin is with the first human beings: Adam and Eve.

There is a longer version of this in Genesis 1, but for brevity’s sake, I’ll go with the short version. This is the background to the beginning of the problem.:
This is the history of the heavens and the earth when they were created, in the day that the Lord God made the earth and the heavens, before any plant of the field was in the earth and before any herb of the field had grown. For the Lord God had not caused it to rain on the earth, and there was no man to till the ground; but a mist went up from the earth and watered the whole face of the ground.
And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being.
The Lord God planted a garden eastward in Eden, and there He put the man whom He had formed. And out of the ground the Lord God made every tree grow that is pleasant to the sight and good for food. The tree of life was also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.
Genesis 2:4-9

Two things to notice here. This is where God uniquely creates man, and this is the first mention of the Garden of Eden, and the Trees of Life and of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, the latter of which being key to this narration.

I mentioned that God’s creation of Adam was unique. Let me explain. Throughout the first chapter and the creation of the universe , the earth, the sun, the moon, the stars, the other living creatures, the plants and animals? For all of that God spoke them into being. He said “Let us make” and when it was over he said “it is good.” But do you see the difference with the creation of Adam, and again with Eve in verses 18-25 of chapter 2. God got down on His hands and knees and shaped the first two human beings with his own hands!

Every bone, every muscle, every ligament and tendon stitching them together, carefully placing bursa sacks between the moving joints that would need cushioning when we walked, ran, jumped or whooped a boisterous Hallelujah! when Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead…or just as miraculously caused a bag of groceries or an envelope with just the amount of money you needed to make that payment before the electric company flipped the switch on you. That same God formed the mechanism in your bones that creates red blood cells and the alveoli in your lungs to transfer life giving oxygen from the atmosphere He spoke into being, but breathed into Adams mouth and lungs and blood. He gently wove each strand of nerve from the furthest reaches of our most distant appendages in and out and through the processes and sulci, and canals of the bones and spinal column that make up the superhighway of passages to the magnificently crafted motherboard that controls it all: our brain! Around this, weaving and blending in and out, He stretched, layered and shaped each muscle and organ in our newly forming bodies, hardwiring them with function and purpose but not so hard wired that we couldn’t shape them further ourselves, teaching them; shaping them as we went.
Then He covered them with skin and hair, gave them the ability to speak, to think, to reason, and to grow; physically, emotionally, intellectually, and in a new way none other of his creation had been given the capacity: Spiritually! He gave this first handmade creation something else entirely new to creation. He gave them a soul!

When He finished this gargantuan, miraculous, totally unique in all of creation task, forming them with His own hands – the very Hands of God Almighty  - He then performed one more totally unique act of creation nowhere else recorded in the creation of the universe and all that involved : He breathed into them His holy, divine breath – the breath of life – the selfsame breath of life with which He breathed life into the Words and Word of God that became our Scriptures. The theopneustos of 2 Timothy 3:16 gave the first two human beings, handcrafted by the Master-Creator, God, Very God their first breath of life giving air. That, to me, is beyond amazing! This is the God we worship and serve, and this demonstrates how special we are to Him – the only from among all of His creation he personally, with his own hands, shaped into being and breathed into life.

Something very amazing and awesome has happened here, and, before we go further with the study, I want to take a moment to reflect on this.

I believe that the Bible , in its original manuscripts – by that I mean what Moses, David, Solomon, Isaiah, Daniel, Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Paul, etc. Simply put, “The Bible in its original manuscripts contains 66 books, written by 44 different authors, over 1500 years, in 3 different languages, on 3 different continents, with no historical errors or contradictions. The entire Bible, from Genesis to Revelation, bears the mark of Divine inspiration.” Source unknown

In addition to human scholarly claims like that, there is the Word of God itself, which makes the same claim:

16 “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.” 2 Timothy 3:16-17

From this I believe that while the translations we have 2,000 years after the fact can, and in fact, to, have the occasional translational or transcriptional error, that in no way minimizes the inerrancy of God’s Word as given to the original writers of Scripture. Now – why the need for such a declaration at this point? Because I believe everything I just told you happened pretty much the way I said it did.  I admit to taking some literary license describing the actual process of God creating Adam, which I believe He repeated with some variation when He created Eve, and that the Scriptures will bear me out on this, so I won’t repeat the play by play, but here’s the point: I believe the Bible is to be taken as absolutely literal unless context indicates otherwise. And guess what? The Bible does tell you when it is speaking in allegory or metaphor or parable, so you don’t have to play a guessing game with God! He is the real deal, and He is straight up front with you from the get go. He is immutable and His word is ineffable. That’s a fancy theological way of saying neither God nor His Word ever change! Men’s translations and interpretations change, but God Never Changes!

Now about translations. I also believe God has always intended that people have His Word in the lingua franca - the common language they speak every day. Perhaps you’ve noticed that none of your friends speak 17th century UK English any more. Yeah. Me Too. And yet there are some well-meaning brethren who will tell you that God inspired the Authorized King James Bible of 1611 in the same sense that He inspired the original manuscripts, so that’s what we should be using. They tell you this translation or that has X-number of translational errors in it. What they are really saying is that it has that many differences NOT from the manuscripts, but from the 1611 KJV, and that’s a big difference. The Authorized 1611 KJV everyone uses today isn’t even really the Authorized 1611 KJV, but the 1768 Birmingham-Baker revision. But that is an entire book worth of study. I personally use the New King James, and have at my fingertips NIV, Geneva, ASV, and about a dozen other translations. The key is use a translation, not a paraphrase, and use one that The Holy Spirit speaks to you through.

Back to the Creation. Have you realized yet that of all of God’s creation we are the only ones that are hand crafted personally by the very hands of God Himself?

I’m a wordsmith. I was blessed to have had three very good English teachers in high school. My junior year teacher was determined that no one entering her doors would exit them without at least a working college level vocabulary. Some of us she took under her wing, not that we actually had any say in the matter – if Mrs. A decided you had potential, then potential you had, whether you liked it or not. My senior year English teacher was the school debate coach. She took that armory of college vocabulary and taught us how to use it. And yet…

I’m sitting at my keyboard about to explode because I cannot imagine a word big enough or magnificent enough to express what I’m felling at that realization of how special we are in God’s eyes and heart! And I’ve only told half of the first part of this part of the story! My God! How Great Thou Art!

But God’s not done! The long version of this is Genesis 2:18:25, but the heart of it is here in verses 21-22:

21 And the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall on Adam, and he slept; and He took one of his ribs, and closed up the flesh in its place. 22 Then the rib which the Lord God had taken from man He made into a woman, and He brought her to the man.

Same God, same hands on personalized creation. Again, I just can’t say it enough. When the Creator of the universe, Who knew in eternity past that we going to screw things up anyway, so much so that He would ultimately in His part of the Godhead that is the Son, come to this world He would create for us, take on our flesh, be crucified and die as the ultimate final sacrifice for our sins, knowing that after He SPOKE everything that is into being and calling it good, He did it again! He put the man He so meticulously crafted into a deep sleep, performed the first surgical procedure, practicing medicine without a license, but it’s OK – He’s God, after all, and as He had done with Adam, took the rib He removed from Adam’s chest, closed up the incision without leaving behind a scar, and not with the awesome, power of His words, but with the loving, intimate touch of His hands, created He, woman, and breathed into her the breath of life. So loved this God of relationships when He created the human beings He would one day send his Son to live among, and for whom the Creator of the universe would give His life.

Well, this the moment you’ve been waiting for. The “I said all that, to say this” moment, or as my pastor in Pittsburgh used to say, “That’s the introduction”. I’m calling this series The World, the Flesh and the Church. This segment is labeled “Ya’ll Don’t Listen Too Good, Do Ya? “ there are going to be a couple more AHA moments to support that, but it seemed necessary that we begin by showing that it’s a genetic problem. Look at the miracle of the creation of Adam and Eve! I spent a lot of time with that to impress on you how utterly unique their creation was from that of everything else God created, and yet. . .

Here they are. Two perfect people. A perfect home with everything they need including God coming down to walk with Adam in the Garden now and then – how cool is that? God only gave them two instructions. Number One: Make babies. Okay, it really says be fruitful and multiply, but we’re big kids here – we know what that means. Number Two: Stay away from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. Two rules. Just two. That’s all. Two. You know the story. He Serpent came, Eve took the fruit, she and Adam ate. The whole story is in Genesis 3, the whole chapter.  You can look it up.

But “Ya’ll Don’t Listen Too Good, Do Ya?” Oh, the price they paid for not listening to God! Not only them, but all of humanity ever since. Here’s how Moses recorded it in the last two verses of Genesis 3:

23 therefore the Lord God sent him out of the garden of Eden to till the ground from which he was taken. 24 So He drove out the man; and He placed cherubim at the east of the garden of Eden, and a flaming sword which turned every way, to guard the way to the tree of life.

Listen to me: there is always a consequence for disobeying God.

Look at Abraham. God promised him that He would make of him a might nation. One so great its number would be as the sands of the sea and the stars in the sky. (Gen. 22:15-18) But Abraham wasn’t so certain, and not unlike Adam, who took bad advice from Eve, but ultimately Adam made the bad decision, Abraham took bad advice from his wife. She said sleep with my handmaid – let her be my surrogate. So Abraham did, and Ishmael was born because Sarah figured God needed help.  But lo and behold, one day Old Lady Sarah is suddenly pregnant – just as God promised – and gave birth to Isaac. And boys and girls, here’s another “Ya’ll Don’t Listen Too Good, Do Ya? “ moment. God’s promise of an abundant seed was given to both Abraham’s sons. Just as Isaac is the father of the Hebrew race, so Ishmael is the father of the Arab race, and this whole middle east squabble we’re still fighting nearly 6,000 years later is all because “Ya’ll Don’t Listen Too Good, Do Ya? “ and one mama who thought God needed her help to fulfill His eternal Plan.

The Old Testament is full of “Ya’ll Don’t Listen Too Good, Do Ya? “ moments, and I could go on for pages. Moses was denied entrance to the Promised Land because God told him to speak to the rock to get water in the wilderness but Moses struck it with his staff instead. David’s firstborn son died and he was denied building the Temple Solomon built ultimately because of his sins with Bathsheba.

From this point I want to focus on us. The Ecclesia. The Church. Where do I support my claim that when it comes to the church, “Ya’ll Don’t Listen Too Good, Do Ya?”

We jump ahead about 1100 years from David. Israel has had a great number of “Ya’ll Don’t Listen Too Good, Do Ya?” moments in the ensuing years. Enough to demonstrate from the time of Adam and Eve, we humans haven’t really changed that much. Oh, we like to think our cultures have evolved and we have become more civilized through the centuries, but the fact is, our worst years as a species still lie ahead of us. I’m chasing rabbits. Back to the present-past.

Jesus has come! He has lived a sinless life, been unjustly crucified as the final sacrifice for our sins, effectively repairing the huge tear in the space-time continuum created when Adam and Eve broke their perfect relationship with God. When Jesus said “It is finished!” Satan’s attempts to subvert God’s plan for our redemption was defeated. As Bill Gaither put it, “The battle’s over, and the Vict’ry been won, It is finished, and Jesus is Lord.”

And yet, even after witnessing all that He did for the three years, the disciples Jesus hand-picked, which I suppose you could say is remotely analogous to God hand forming Adam and Eve, even after seeing Him raise Himself from the dead on the third day just as He promised, still had their doubts, as recorded in Matthew 28: 16-20:

16 Then the eleven disciples went away into Galilee, to the mountain which Jesus had appointed for them. 17 When they saw Him, they worshiped Him; but some doubted.
18 And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Amen.

The first thing to notice in this passage, which scholars and theologians later came to call “The Great Commission” is the repetitive nature of the event. The eleven – the twelve minus Judas – accompanied Jesus to a quiet place in the mountains – not unlike during the giving of the Sermon on the Mount. They worshiped Him! The very first thing they did was recognize Who He was, and before any questions, before anything else, they worshiped Him. What a mighty statement of the power of the presence of God among men, and their realization of it. That worshiped Him!

But some doubted. How like us today! Pentecost and the official beginning of the Church has not yet occurred, but this the first instances of a group of people acting like the 21st century church. There they are standing in the very presence of God; they just finished worshiping Him; but some doubted. If that isn’t a reflection of today’s church, I don’t know what is. But it’s not the reflection I’m getting to for this segment. Look at what comes next. Jesus leaves them an instruction and a promise. One simple instruction. Granted, it was a multi-faceted instruction, but all those parts are summed up nicely in a single word. GO. That’s it. GO! While you’re going, make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you. And like Fox Mulder kept saying in the X-Files: you are not alone! Jesus promised “and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Amen.

To make certain they understood both parts of this simple command, He repeated them. The “GO” in Acts 1:8: “But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” Here not just GO, but REALLY go! Jerusalem (your hometown), Judea (your State, perhaps,) Samaria, (your Nation?) and the uttermost parts of the world (piece of cake: World Missions). He also promised the coming of the Holy Spirit, which occurs in the first verses of Acts 2, and is viewed by many as the official start of the church.

There is so much that can be said about that and other things that follow in the rest of the New Testament about the church, because the rest of the New Testament is written to the church. Acts is the History book of the first century church, and should never be used as the basis for forming doctrine. What is practiced in the beginning often changes several times before the end.

Paul’s 27 books are written either directly to church fellowships, or church leaders, and even Revelation is written to all the churches of the first century, and he names seven of them specifically! None of this is written for unbelievers. It is God’s love letter to us. The Gospels ending with the Great commission set us up with our marching orders. Paul teaches how to conduct our lives “in Christ” and as a body of believers. Acts bridges the two with the history of the development and growth of the first century church.

I said I would bring this to a close with the 21st century churches “Ya’ll Don’t Listen Too Good, Do Ya?” moment, and there it is: GO!

When I got saved it came about because a church in my area believed God wasn’t kidding when He said GO! Every Saturday teenagers from the youth group flooded neighborhoods of our city evangelizing two by two. One of those Saturdays, they hit my house. That led to me hearing the gospel and trusting Christ.

As a young family man, a knock on my door from the pastor of a local Baptist church brought my family where my children were raised and they, in turn trusted the Lord and were Baptized.

6 years ago my wife and I moved to Florida to care for her aging mother. The first church we attended was because we saw their sign. That didn’t last. The second church became our home because we found a door hanger promoting one of their programs, and one of their members invited us! That was home to us until they were taken over by what I can only describe as a “Field of Dreams” church. If you saw the movie, you’ll get the inference. They prefer the term Seeker Church but in the six months we gave them, the only seeking we saw was seeking to grow their little ‘k’ kingdom.  There was no “GO”. They are very proud of their preacher – who is the preacher for all their campuses, and their technology, and their bands, and their programs. No outside evangelistic outreach, however. No GO! But as someone said, it seems they worship their worship more than they worship their Creator. Kind of like “Ya’ll Don’t Listen Too Good, Do Ya?”, they’ve forgotten God’s first command wasn’t build a state of the art edifice with all the coolest tech and wait: God’s first command was GO! and He never rescinded that command.

Now maybe you’ve read all this and you’re wondering, what difference does it make?  I mean, does it really matter where you go to church or how you worship God, or IF you even go to church? We’re all worshiping the same higher power, no matter what name we call him by, right?

No, my friend, There is only one God, and only one way to Heaven. You’re absolutely right about religion – religion doesn’t matter, but God isn’t about religion. God is about relationship, and love, and faith. And He is the only way to get to Heaven.

You see, it’s the people who are the Church. Again, an organism because the Church is alive! Not the organization. Not the building. The people. And the only some of the people. Romans 3:23 reads “All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God”. Romans 6:23 reads “The wages of (or the payment for that) sin is death but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.”

In John 3:16 Jesus said “For God so loved the world he gave his only begotten son that whosoever believes in him would not perish but have everlasting life” and in John 14:6 Jesus said “I am the way I am the truth, I am the life. No man can come to the father but by me.” And in 1st  John 1:9, John wrote “If we confess our sin he meaning Jesus he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness”.

In other places the Bible tells us that it is not God’s will that anyone should perish. You see, Jesus came to this earth to live a sinless life, to die on the cross. to be raised from the dead on the third day as proof the Father accepted His sacrifice to be the substitutionary sacrificial of atonement – the final payment for our sins - so we wouldn’t have to spend eternity in hell.

If you want to take part in the discussion about the church, doesn’t it make sense to you to be a part of the church? I hope you noticed that I haven’t been singling out denominations in this discussion. They don’t really matter. While the church is made up of members of different religious denominations, the church isn’t any particular religious denomination. In fact Christianity is not even a religion at all!

To be a Christian means to be a Christ follower! Not a member of man-made religion.

We’re going to be talking about the church over the course of the next several blogs. I’d like to invite you to be a part of that discussion, by being a part of His church. You might ask how do I do that? It’s simple. Invite Jesus into your heart. You see the Scripture that I posted a few paragraphs above? You do it by first confessing your sins to Jesus. Then by repenting of your sins. That word repenting means turning completely around and going in the opposite direction from the one you’re headed now. Changing your mind about sin is another way to put it. Then ask Jesus Christ to come and live in your heart and forgive you of your sins and be your Savior and Lord

You can do that by saying a simple prayer like this one. In your own words, say something like this: Dear Jesus, I know I’m a sinner. I confess my sins before you today. I repent of my sins and I ask you to come into my heart and forgive me of my sins. Be my Lord and my Savior and I claim your promise that you will forgive my sins; you will live in my life and I will live with you in Heaven forever! In Jesus Name I pray, Amen.

That’s all there is to it. It really is that simple. But it’s life-changing.

Or, maybe, “Ya’ll Don’t Listen Too Good, Do Ya?”

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