Tag Archives: Doctrine

“If I Really Believe What I Say I Believe…”

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O Lord, I love the house in which you dwell,
    and the place where your glory abides.

Psalm 26:8 (NRSVCE)

“If I really believe what I say I believe…”

I used this phrase a few weeks ago as the foundation for a message I gave about resurrection and eternity. It’s a phrase that I utter increasingly in my personal conversations with Life. Along my spiritual journey, I have observed that the institutions of Christianity to which I’ve belonged, along with their respective members, are faithful in reciting what we believe, but our personal beliefs and subsequent behaviors don’t always align with the recitations. Often, this is because of well-worn patterns of thought and belief that are embraced without question.

Jesus came to radically change the way we think about God and relate to both God and others. Instead of believing, embracing, and living out what Jesus taught us, the institutional church largely fell back into ancient patterns of religion. In short, we don’t really believe what we say we believe.

One of the more common ways I’ve observed “stated belief” being incongruent with “true belief” came to mind this morning as I read David’s song lyrics. David states that he “loves the house in which [God] dwells, and the place where [God’s] glory abides.” For David, he is referencing God’s tabernacle/temple which is the central location God asked the Hebrew people to worship.

Jesus changed that. Jesus changed that completely. Jesus tore down the established human concept of “temple” and told His followers to follow an entirely different train of thought.

The Jews then responded to him, “What sign can you show us to prove your authority to do all this?”

Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.”

John 2:18-19

You realize, don’t you, that you are the temple of God, and God himself is present in you? No one will get by with vandalizing God’s temple, you can be sure of that. God’s temple is sacred—and you, remember, are the temple.
1 Corinthians 3:16-17 (MSG)

Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies.
1 Corinthians 6:19-20 (NIV)

Jesus shifted the location of God’s dwelling on Earth from a physical building in a central location to the flesh and blood humans in whom His Spirit resides. For the first 300 years after Jesus resurrection and ascension, the followers of Jesus had no buildings. There were no churches. Believers met mostly in homes around a dinner table. God’s temple was the flesh and blood individuals who believed and followed Jesus.

So, if I really believe what I say I believe…

I don’t go to church, I am the church.

Loving God’s house means loving my own body.

When I don’t take care of my body, I’m not taking care of God’s temple.

Treating my body with contempt, neglect, or abuse is a spiritual issue in which I am profaning the dwelling place of God.

Acting one way on Sunday in a church building and another way all week at work or home is evidence that I really don’t believe.

In the quiet this morning, I get why followers of Jesus went back to the old edifice complex. For 1700 years we rebuilt temples made with human hands and ignored one of the fundamental changes Jesus came to make on Earth. We shifted the dwelling place of God from ourselves back to church buildings, cathedrals, and basilicas. In essence, we said:

“No thank you, God. Really. It’s nice of you to want to dwell in me, but I’ve come to realize that it’s so much easier the old way. I’m much happier if your house is a building down the street. If you’re dwelling in me, then there are so many strings attached. That’s a whole new level of expectation, and I’m not sure I’m up for that. I mean, there’s no escape. This whole COVID thing has taught me that sometimes I’m better off having my own space. Seriously, if you dwell in me, all the time, you’re always there. I have to be honest. I’m not sure you want to see me at my worst. I know I don’t want you to see me like that.

“In fact, God. I have to tell you. I’m not all that thrilled with this body you’ve given me. I despise it sometimes. And I know you created it, and that’s just not a conflict I really want to get into because I’m pretty comfortable being self-critical. It’s all I’ve really known.

“So, let’s go back to the old way of doing things, God. Hang out in that building down the street and I’ll visit you on Sundays and holidays. I’ll drop in, sing your praises, say that prayer you taught us, and recite the words on the screen. I’ll even give a few bucks. Is it still tax deductible? Whatever. I’ll give. Let’s just forget this dwelling in me and me. Let’s just keep our boundaries.

Trust me, it’ll be better for both of us.”

If I really believe what I say I believe. Then loving the house in which God dwells takes on a whole new level of meaning.

I’m headed to CrossFit.

Have a great day.

Transformed by Love

He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.
1 John 2:2 (NIV)

As I mentioned in my previous post, the letters of John are, chronologically, the last of the letters to have been written by Jesus’ apostles. Tradition holds that John outlived all of the other apostles and is the only of the original Twelve to die of natural causes. The rest were all martyred for their faith.

The indisputable theme of John’s writing and life is love. He was known as “the disciple Jesus’ loved.” He was the only disciple with the courage to personally show up at the crucifixion. Jesus, while hanging on the cross, entrusted John with the care of His mother. As you might expect, having been the last of Jesus’ disciples, John was sought out and revered by Jesus’ followers. Tradition holds that, in his old age, John said nothing except “Children, love one another” over and over and over again.

What’s fascinating about the perpetual theme of love in John’s writing and the description of John as a person consumed with love is that it stands in stark contrast to the John we meet in the biographies of Jesus written by Matthew, Mark, and Luke. John and his brother James were nicknamed “Sons of Thunder” for their intense anger and rage. At least twice John pleaded with Jesus to call down fire from heaven and burn up those he was condemning. John, his brother James, and their mother were at the center of multiple attempts to selfishly claim positional power within Jesus’ followers.

John was transformed from a raging, self-centered Son of Thunder into a generous, humble man who knew nothing but “love one another.”

In today’s chapter, John makes an interesting statement. He states that Jesus’ death was the atoning sacrifice for “the sins of the whole world.” In ancient times, a sacrifice of atonement was an offering or a literal animal sacrifice intended as a type of penance for wrongdoing in order to appease God and ward off God’s wrath. The atoning sacrifice was limited to the person making the sacrifice, or in the case of the sacrificial system handed down through Moses it was limited to the people of Israel. Jesus’ sacrificial death, however, was unlimited atonement. It was a sacrifice for the sins of the whole world.

I have often observed that Jesus’ followers often get focused on doctrine to the exclusion of the very things those doctrines mean (I’m including myself in this). If Jesus died for the sins of the whole world, then every person in the world is a person for whom Jesus died. If I truly believe what I say I believe, then I think that simple fact should transform how I view others, how I address others, and how I treat others.

My life should be transformed by love the same way John’s was. If not, then something is amiss. Or, as John put it in today’s chapter:

Anyone who claims to be in the light but hates a brother or sister is still in the darkness.

Want to read more?

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Not Earth to Heaven, but Heaven to Earth

But our citizenship is in heaven.
Philippians 3:20a (NIV)

Since last September our local gathering of Jesus’ followers has been engaged in a year-long study of the book of Acts, which starts as a history of the early Jesus Movement. The second half of the book, however, is really a history of Paul. While history records that what remained of the Twelve original disciples gave their lives in service to advancing Jesus’ message to the known world, the latter half of Acts does not mention them. The author, Luke, traveled with Paul and his focus lies there.

In case you didn’t know it, that’s why I’ve been blogging through all of Paul’s letters in, roughly, chronological order.

One of the discoveries I’ve made in my study this year is the degree to which Paul was focused on Jesus’ mission to bring God’s Kingdom to Earth.  “Your Kingdom come,” Jesus taught His disciples to pray. “Your will be done on Earth, just as it is in heaven.” This isn’t a minor point. It’s a transformative shift in paradigm.

As I look back on almost forty years of my spiritual journey the emphasis I’ve been taught by teachers and authors and commentators has been on getting to heaven. We want people to walk the aisle, get their ticket punched and their reservation made in eternity. That accomplished, we encourage spiritual growth, but in practice only a few really take the whole thing seriously on a day-t0-day basis. Most go about life without giving it much thought in daily life. But no matter, the important thing is that the sinner’s prayer was dutifully said as a child back in church camp. Your fire insurance policy is paid up. The church can breathe a sigh of relief if you get hit by a Mack truck later today. (In case you didn’t know it, Mack trucks have been unexpectedly sending people to untimely deaths in hypothetical Christian scenarios for many decades).

In today’s chapter Paul certainly has his sights on eternity. He talks about being called heavenward. He tells the Philippian believers “our citizenship is in heaven.” His emphasis, however, isn’t on getting there. His emphasis in today’s chapter is on the work in his here-and-now, Level Three journey on Earth. I paraphrase:

  • Rejoice today in your circumstances (Paul is writing from prison).
  • Watch out for those who would lead you in the wrong direction.
  • I’m giving everything I’ve got, today, to advance the Kingdom (on Earth).
  • I’m approaching everything in this Level Three earthly journey with a Level Four eternal perspective.
  • I’m following and suffering to live out Jesus’ teaching and calling.
  • There’s more to do. I’m not waiting for it. I’m pressing into it every day in every way.
  • I’m not sitting back and waiting to die, I’m doing everything I can right now.

This morning I find myself reexamining my entire life and faith journey. Mental adherence to the right set of beliefs, a muttered rote prayer, a membership certificate, or a religious habit of Sunday attendance were what Jesus’ message was about, but that’s largely been the message that I think I’ve unwittingly lived out in too many ways. I have to confess that bringing the Kingdom of Heaven here to Earth hasn’t been where my focus has been. I regret that.

Well, as Paul wrote in today’s chapter: “forgetting what lies behind, straining toward what is ahead.” I’m getting ready to head into a full day of client meetings. I don’t want to leave the Kingdom in my hotel room once I publish this post. I want to take the Kingdom with me into every meeting, conversation, word, relationship, and action.

The Activating Ingredient

If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.
1 Corinthian 13:1 (NIV)

As I’ve mentioned in recent months, I’m making my way chronologically through all of Paul’s letters. This is in conjunction with a year-long study my local gathering of Jesus’ followers is conducting of the book of Acts.

One of the patterns that is repeated over and over again in the book of Acts is an action or event that is followed by an opportunity to teach, testify or pray. The action always precedes the teaching or testimony. “Do” then “Teach.”

I thought about this as I read Paul’s famous discourse on love. He begins by acknowledging that religious actions void of love are empty, impotent, and useless. Love is the action. Love is the activating ingredient. Love is the “Do” that opens the way for meaningful conversation, interaction, and Life-giving moments.

In the quiet this morning I’m looking back over my entire spiritual journey. As I put on my 20-20 hindsight goggles, I confess that I’ve gotten a lot of things wrong. Oh my, have I missed some things. Simple things. Basic things. Things I should have seen long ago.

I was taught, and embraced the notion, that moral and doctrinal purity were “the most excellent way.” I and my Protestant tribes have been so worried about avoiding a doctrinally errant “gospel of works” (i.e. you earn your salvation by doing good deeds) that I believe I elevated the importance of belief and right-thinking. In so doing I diminished the activating ingredient: Love. And, without the activating ingredient, my faith is….

I’m reminded of James’ letter to believers (a letter Martin Luther hated and wanted struck from the canon of scripture). James is echoing the same sentiment as Paul. He just says it in a different way. If I say I have faith and I believe all the right doctrines, but I don’t have the activating agent of love motivating me to “Do” unto others, love my enemies, forgive those who’ve sinned against me, welcome the outcast, take up my cross, go the extra mile, turn the other cheek, give my coat as well, and et cetera, then my faith is void of Life. And, that which is void of Life is dead. I and my right doctrine are dead on arrival.

Lord, have mercy on me. I’ve still got so much to learn, and “Do.”

A Tyrant, My Faith, and Possibility

“I will summon all the peoples of the north and my servant Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon,” declares the Lord, “and I will bring them against this land and its inhabitants and against all the surrounding nations.”
Jeremiah 25:9 (NIV)

On my spiritual journey I’ve had the opportunity to worship with, and serve among, a wide variety of denominational groups. Methodist, Regular Baptist, American Baptist, Presbyterians, Quakers, and Reformed denominations to name the major ones, though the list expands to everything from Roman Catholic to Pentecostal when you consider a vast number of smaller experiences and events. I’ve observed along the way that most institutions dedicated to the notion of following Jesus, along with their respective followers, are reductionist in their faith.

Take the little town where I live, for example. The town was settled by one group of Jesus followers who were led to America from the Netherlands by their pastor. Not long after settling the group split. With time, the two groups split again. Most often, divisions were predicated on some minor disagreement in doctrinal belief. Eventually, some groups aligned with one denominational institution while others joined another. Rinse and repeat. Eventually there are over twenty different shades of the same belief system; Small groups of seemingly homogeneous people who have boxed themselves in their respective neighborhood church entrenched in their firm belief that the way they dot the “i” on their doctrinal statement or the music they sing on Sunday is the correct way.

The problem with this systemic pattern, I’ve come to believe, is that eventually my understanding of God’s designs and purposes get reduced right along side my insistence that my particular corner of truth is the correct way. It’s so easy to get lulled into believing and accepting that God’s official stamp of approval is really only good in my particular box. God can’t possibly bless or be at work in the box across the street where they dot their doctrinal “i” with little happy faces. [cue: rolling of the eyes] (“Goodness, where’s their sense of holiness and propriety?”)

As I journey through God’s Message time and time again I’m always struck at how expansive God’s purposes and designs really are. In today’s chapter, God calls the Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar “my servant” and when I read the book of Daniel I find God going to great lengths to reveal Himself to the pagan monarch from “outside” God’s people, to humble Nebuchadnezzar, and to draw the Persian king in. In other words, God is working outside the box and outside the defined lines of “God’s people.” God uses and cares about an evil, arrogant, murderous tyrant who is so deceived as to believe himself a god. God expresses a genuine desire for Nebuchadnezzar to know Him.

This morning in the quiet I’m thinking about all of the different shades of denominational institutions I’ve experienced and the ways in which I saw God at work in and through each and every one of them. I’m also thinking about specific individuals with whom I shared each of those stretches of my faith journey; Individuals who isolated themselves within their denominational box to the point of believing that God could not, would not possibly bless those outside their particular box.

Lord, have mercy on us.

The further I get in my own journey the less reductionist, and more expansive my faith has become. I realize that the eyes of my heart are in the process of increasingly seeing that the divine dance of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit reaches further, has far greater design, and pulls in far more people from every walk of life than I can possibly know or imagine.

Who can possibly be saved?” Jesus’ disciples asked Him.

With man, it is impossible,” Jesus replied, and then He continued: “But, with God all things are possible.”

I don’t want my faith shrinking into the belief that it’s impossible that God would dance in the lives of others simply because they are different from me, hold to different traditions, have radically different views on religion/doctrine/life/economics/politics, or live a very different life style than mine. I want my own faith dancing and growing into the possibilities that God is dancing with the Nebuchadnezzars of my day (and in my life) as His Great Story continues to be revealed day-by-day, moment-by-moment.

Inclusive Thinking Among Exclusive Thinkers

…for my house will be called
    a house of prayer for all nations.”
Isaiah 56:7c (NIV)

I was raised spiritually among various “holy huddles” of Jesus followers who were proud of their correct doctrinal interpretation of the scriptures. I remember one professor at Bible college who proudly showed us a video-taped debate of him arguing with a scholar of another denomination. He almost cackled with glee as watched himself intellectually corner and badger the poor old man until it seemed like his opponent was going to take a swing at him. I remember being amazed and appalled watching a teacher who said he loved God with all his heart taking joy in belittling and administering a intellectual beat down on another. Of course, my professor justified his actions because he had already excluded his opponent as a heretic who was going to hell. He simply took on the mantel of God’s theological inquisitor.

One of the things I love about Isaiah’s prophecies, the thing that is often overlooked by many in my holy huddles, is how incredibly inclusive it is. Over and over again Isaiah speaks of all nations experiencing salvation and those who are marginalized being graciously brought into the fold. In today’s chapter, that includes “foreigners” and “eunuchs” who were two constituencies excluded from worshipping in the temple. Isaiah promises them love, hope, and acceptance by God.

Today I’m thankful for the example Jesus continually showed in choosing, loving, and embracing those who were marginalized and excluded in this world. I’m inspired by the inclusive vision God shares through the prophet Isaiah. I am, once again, motivated to worry less about holy huddles of perfect doctrine and concern myself more with the simple law of Love Jesus gave us – the one He said summed everything up nicely.

My Butt Ain’t That Big

God’s Message to his anointed,
    to Cyrus, whom he took by the hand…
…I’ve singled you out, called you by name,
    and given you this privileged work.
    And you don’t even know me!
Isaiah 45:1,4 (MSG)

Yesterday, over coffee with a friend, I was sharing my experiences of attending a fundamentalist Bible college one semester. My friend asked me where the college was and I told him where it was located.

He looked at me in surprise.

I never knew there was a Bible college there!” he exclaimed.

Shhhhh!” I whispered, lifting my finger to my mouth. “They don’t want you to know they’re there!

I was jesting, of course, but the truth of the matter is that throughout most of my life journey I’ve found many followers of Jesus, and especially many of the denominational institutions, are an exclusionary bunch. Membership requires strict adherence to a rigid set of doctrinal beliefs and/or public adherence to a list (sometimes formal, sometimes not) of moral and puritanical behavioral rules. If you don’t tow the line, you’re not welcome. Many will go so far as to say that if you don’t tow the line then you’re not only not welcome in their church but you’re also not going to be welcome in heaven either.

The further I get in my spiritual journey, and the deeper I get in my relationship with God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, the more I’ve come to see this exclusionary religious model, adhered to by so many proclaimed Christian institutions and denominations, as antithetical to God’s actual Message and example.

In today’s chapter the prophet Isaiah gives a message about Cyrus the Great, the founder of the Achaemenid empire in the middle part of the sixth century B.C.. Cyrus was not Jewish. He didn’t claim to believe in the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel. In fact, Cyrus had a reputation of a “live and let live” policy for allowing the nations he conquered continue to pursue their local religions. It was quite progressive in his day. Cyrus was not one of “God’s chosen” people, and yet God through the prophet Isaiah calls Cyrus his “anointed” whom He has “taken by the hand.” God has “singled Cyrus out” and “called him by name” even though Cyrus has no knowledge of this.

This morning I am reminded that the Creator, and Almighty God, does not live inside the box of my personal doctrinal and religious parameters. I am responsible to follow the path to which I am called, to follow Jesus’ teachings and example, to live out the comprehensive law of Love, to let God be God, and leave judgment to the Judge who is infinitely beyond all that my finite mind can think or imagine.

The Judgment Seat of Christ is a huge chair.

My butt isn’t nearly big enough to fit on it.

 

Priests, Protestants and Me

The Lord spoke to Moses, saying: Take Aaron and his sons with him, the vestments, the anointing oil, the bull of sin offering, the two rams, and the basket of unleavened bread; and assemble the whole congregation at the entrance of the tent of meeting.
Leviticus 8:1-3 (NRSV)

Aaron was Moses’ right-hand man, and it was Aaron and his sons who were chosen to be the priests in the sacrificial system of the ancient Hebrews. In today’s chapter, God through Moses takes Aaron and his sons through a ritual of ordination to become priests. It is a long ritual filled with metaphor from their priestly vestments to a little dab ‘ill do ya of blood on the ear lobe.

A priest is a mediator between God and man. A priest stands in the spiritual gap. The priest represents God to humanity and represents humanity before God. A priest is spiritually elevated and ordained to handle and serve the sacrifice, to carry our prayers into the presence of the Almighty, and to bestow forgiveness and absolution to the common sinner.

Among Christian institutions, the priesthood is one of the major differences between Roman Catholicism (and Greek Orthodox and Anglican) and the Protestant denominations. Protestants believe that since Jesus death and resurrection there is only one priest and mediator, and it is Jesus:

Since, then, we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast to our confession. Hebrews 4:14

“For there is one God; there is also one mediator between God and humankind, Christ Jesus, himself human, who gave himself a ransom for all….” 1 Timothy 2:5

Three of the four gospel writers report that when Jesus died the curtain in the Hebrew temple was torn in two. That curtain separated people from the area of the temple where God resided. Only the priest could enter. When the curtain was torn, the way was made for anyone to enter into God’s presence. Jesus was the sacrifice, the mediator, and the priest who stands in the gap.

In my Protestant circles, we think very little of the role of a priest anymore. I have, however, observed along my journey that Protestants often like to unwittingly bestow priestly powers on our pastors and spiritual leaders. It seems there is something innately human about doing so despite what we say we believe.

This morning I’m mulling over my own understanding of the role of priests, the work of Jesus and what that means. The ultimate sacrifice has been made. The curtain is torn. The way is open for me to enter into God’s presence. I need no other emissary, or representative, or priest. I need only approach.

Will I?

 

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