Wednesday, September 17, 2008

What Was Jesus' Favorite __________ ?

Had breakfast with a fellow churchmember the other day. He said he'd been missing church some, lately, as he felt he could read the bible and pray as well at home as he could at church. I suppose that's possible, but we can't do most of the other stuff that God tells us He saved us for, if we don't go assemble with some others. Like in church.

He also said that his wife wanted him to go with her to church, but he'd preferred to stay at home some, in the past couple months. That sparked a discussion of the husband's role, and duties, in the family.

My belief is that the husband is, indeed, the head of the wife and the house, as the Bible says. Even today, with today's mindsets, woman's lib, and all the rest. BUT ... I hasten to add, the Bible also says we're to love our wives as Christ loved the church. So, if we want in on the blessings, we're going to have to lead our household as Jesus leads the church.

That sparked a discussion on personal preferences. I asked what Jesus' favorite food was. Or favorite color. Or favorite place for a vacation. Or favorite recreation.

Or favorite anything.

Personal preferences can really mess up a church. Worship styles, order of service (we once had a big stink at FBC when the offering was moved to the end of the service), colors, all those things and many others can get folks arguing and even lead to church splits. I had a good friend who told me of a church split in a good-sized SBC church when they had a special Sunday afternoon prayer meeting, to pray over one of their most beloved Deacons. Some of the congregants didn't believe in divine healing, and when the Deacon's advanced Stage IV cancer disappeared after the prayer meeting (much to the puzzlement of his doctors), it split the church!

Yes, it did!

Jesus didn't let personal preferences, "getting His own way", sway His commitment, that I'm aware of. Other than prayer, which is the only thing I know of that took Him away, briefly, from His people, the guy at breakfast and I couldn't think of any personal preferences, of Jesus. None.

We can clearly see His role as the Head, the redeemer, the sustainer, of the church. Yet it was clearly sacrificial, up to and including death on the cross. And just the other day I noticed something God said, which I always knew, but just realized a few days ago:

Philippians 2:6-8: (speaking of Jesus...) Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death-- even death on a cross! (NIV)

God Himself, becomes flesh. That seems extremely humbling. But that wasn't far enough; when He was found "in appearance as a man", He humbled Himself even further, becoming a Servant to all, and ultimately a Sacrifice.

Talk about humble. Talk about setting aside your own wants. Your own preferences.

BUT .. the interesting thing ... the following verses:

Philippians 2:9-10: Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth...(NIV)

I was taught that, whenever I saw "therefore" in scripture, I should find out what it's there for. In this case, it illuminates the fact the fact that it was Jesus' obedience, to His Father's desires, that resulted in His receiving that Name above all Names.

While Jesus may be a common name in Hispanic culture, when you're referring to God's Son, it takes on earth-shaking meaning, promise, and power.

Adopting God's preferences over the personal. Sacrificing the personal in deference to the Person of God. Setting aside personal desires for the good of the Body. Powerful things in Jesus' life.

I wonder if they aren't just as powerful in our lives.

Or would be........

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Tuesday, September 16, 2008

I Went For Lunch; What I Had Was Church

I was downstairs in the middle of browbeating my recalcitrant 1984 Dodge Ramcharger into running like a good little 4WD Hot Rod, when Peg came down to put some trash in the trash can; she then asked if I was ready to come up for lunch. I took 30 seconds to hook up one final wire that'd come loose (I really DO want it to charge the battery while it's running, after all), and then went up for lunch.

Now, I should start by saying I'm a ketchup (catsup for you Easterners) addict. Fanatic. Junkie. In fact, I'm so happy they're now advertising the stuff as being chock-full of Good Things, like antioxidants, which I previously thought was something they put in Simoniz to keep the paint on your car all pretty. That gives me a lot more freedom to slop the stuff around.

In fact, I love condiments in general. I put mustard on liver, vinegar on greens, lots of dressing on salads, Durkee's sauce on Reubens, and ketchup on everything else. In my diet, condiments are the seventh Food Group.

Anyway, when I got upstairs, I found a lovely plate that looked a lot like the picture over there. Chopped Steak with Onions, and mixed veggies (but no frou-frou tomato thingie).

With a bottle of Heinz' best sitting alongside.

Now I also ought to say Peg is NOT a big ketchup consumer. A little here, a little there, but she'd never ask for any of that when she orders a quarter pounder and fries. Me, I tell them to throw a handful in the sack, and that's rarely enough.

SO .. here she'd worked over the stove, slicing and cooking the onions, shaping and cooking the chopped steak and the veggies, and then setting them there for me. And putting the ketchup bottle there, too.

I was about a quarter-way through the meal when she said "I put the ketchup there for you", to which I replied "I thought I'd rather eat it just the way you fixed it".

She said, softly, "Thank you".

I wonder if God feels the same way about us. I don't think He ever needs to thank anybody for anything, but Peg's expression of thanks told me that she valued the fact that I wanted to honor her preparation, as it were, by not adding a lot of stuff to it, just to suit my personal tastes. And I can't help but wonder what God thinks when we go 'way beyond what scripture instructs us to do, to suit our own personal preferences. Such things as adding to what the Bible says about baptism, what the Bible says about communion, what the Bible says about teaching (and not just what one Biblical writer said He didn't do or not do), what the Bible says about how we're to be saved, etc.

You get the idea.

Tell me how the things we've added to what the Bible says, and what it clearly commands us to do, are different from what the Pharisees and Chief Priests did in response to what the sacred writings available to them, in their day, instructed them to do.

I don't see much difference.

And what does it look like to God, when we deny fellowship or cooperation to, say, Presbyterians, who by and large have a much better understanding of what they believe, and who can back it up just as well with scripture, as we can with what we believe (the BF&M) and all the things we do. And, in my experience, those guys are much more active (and probably effective) in their witnessing and evangelism efforts, than we are.

I used to read mystery/spy novels about a sort of "American James Bond". Their super-secret organization was about doing what was beneficial for the people, regardless of the law, rather than doing what was beneficial for the law, without regard for the people.

Naturally, THAT little thought brought me back to Dr. Sheri Klouda, and her plight (brought on by one Seminary head's unilateral "interpretation" of a bible passage (which is questionable to me, regardless of his credentials), enforced unilaterally without any real consideration of the people. I'll be very, very surprised if that whole transaction did anything in the heavenlies beyond angering God. Anger over one in such a "high position" apparently using scripture to enforce personal preferences, and anger over trustees who seem more attuned to "keeping the peace" (and the status quo), seemingly desiring those things over doing the right thing.

Sometimes I think the SBC is feasting on so many condiments that we're missing the entree.

I think it's time we tuned in on God's preferences. I don't think we are.

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Friday, September 05, 2008

The God-Shaped Hole .... or the God-Shaped WHOLE?

The Bible tells the story of a Pharisee named Nicodemus, and his coming to see Jesus. At night.

Most folks seem to opine that Nicodemus wanted some of what Jesus' followers had; if that were the case, he wouldn't have wanted anybody to see him go. If, on the other hand, he'd been going there to tell Jesus a thing or two, I imagine he'd have gone at high noon, and would've called CNN and the Jerusalem Times in, too.

I have always found a couple things fascinating about this passage. First is that it contains John 3:16, yet very few people in the church seem to know Who said John 3:16, and to whom was it actually said?

As respects what's arguably the most important verse in the Bible (can you say "the gospel in a nutshell?"), I'd think we'd all have that down pat.

The other fascinating thing about that passage is the exchange between Jesus and Nicodemus. For starters, after his late-night trek, Nick starts out by saying something along the lines of "You're some guy, man, all that stuff you're doing". Now I doubt that Jesus thought Nick came all that way just to blow some smoke at Him, so Jesus didn't even address that. He just told Nick that he must be born again.

That should have been hilarious! How on earth could Nick have possibly understood that term? To my knowledge, that's the first time it was ever spoken!

So Nicodemus tries unsuccessfully to integrate that statement into what he knows about obstetrics, and asks how that might be possible. I mean ... well .. you know what he meant.

Jesus' response, again, doesn't deal with what Nick said. Instead, He gives a dissertation about the wind blowing here and there, and being born of the Spirit as well as the flesh. And, the most important response, yet, from Nicodemus, follows: "How can these things be?"

Put another way: "I don't understand".

Now THERE'S a response Jesus would work with. Someone admitting he doesn't understand. So Jesus fills him in with some more goodies, including the first revelation of that fact that God gave His Son, that we might be saved by faith.

I was leading the "Serving God .. Discovering and Using Your Spiritual Gifts" class this past Wednesday night, and I commented that we're taught a lot of conclusions (in the churches I've been in, at least), but not as much of the scripture behind them. That thought had led me some years ago to stop teaching "Lessons" and to start teaching "Bible" in my SS class. And I think it's made a big difference. I said we all know about eternal security and the priesthood of the believer and that Jesus is God, but we're a little less certain about where in the Bible it actually says those things.

Then, just as an example, I asked the question about John 3:16. Neither of the two guys in the room, knew.

So I gave a thumbnail view of my interpretation of the passage, and said something like "We've all hear about the "God-shaped hole in us, that only God can fill". I told them that my thought is quite the opposite of that; God has a place for us in His life, into which He invites us. And you know the shape we need, to fit in there.

God invites us to join Him in His eternal life, which is what really completes us. Being part of His life, His work, His family. He doesn't fill a place in us so we can be happy, He uses us to fill a place in His life, so we can be holy.

My getting saved never was about me. It was always about Jesus! He loved us, and the desire He has is to see US saved!

My thinking about such things even shades my thinking about verses like Romans 8:28. God isn't about the business of working things out to my design, but He's SURE working out things for the benefit of HIS purposes. And when I joined the family, so to speak, I cast off my own purposes, (think: crucify the flesh) and adopted HIS as my OWN.

I once heard a story about a man traveling through Tennessee, who saw hundreds of targets painted on trees, each with a bullet smack in the bullseye. He finally found out who'd done the shooting, and asked how far he'd done the shooting from. He said 200 yards. The traveler remarked that was awesome shooting. To which the backwoodsman said ...

"Nah .. not when you shoot first, and then paint the target." In our case, God has already painted our targets. We don't get to do that, but it's OK. He'll tell us where they are and where to shoot.

The other story ... which I told a couple posts ago .. is about the man who was an expert in sculpting elephants. Soap, wood, stone, whatever. When he was asked how he was so good at that, he said...

"Simple. I just chip away everything that doesn't look like elephant".

Well, to be the best fit into God's family, to be the most "at home" there, you know what our shape needs to be. But even that's OK ... God's a pretty good sculptor, if we'll let Him go to work on us.

At my age and size, I could use a new shape anyway. Chip away, God,

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