Sunday, November 28, 2010

Christian Mythology: 3. Jesus – Myth: He saved us from hell to take us to heaven

Why does God save us?

Kaoru Ishikawa was a Japanese master of the quality sciences. He has a particular measurement tool named after him - the Ishikawa Diagram. This simple seven-legged diagram helps us to determine the root cause of a problem or process. It answers the question "Why?" Sometimes folks augment this diagram with another simple tool called the "Five Whys". To figure out why something happened (at the root), one asks the question "Why?" to each response. Usually after five rounds, the root cause surfaces.

For instance, parents use this question often when a child misbehaves. "Why did you do that?" A childlike answer usually follows. As Christians, we all should know that the root cause of all bad behavior is our sin nature. This could logically lead us to a conclusion about how to fix the bad behavior of our children. Get them saved and God will fix them up.

Is that why God saves us? To make us better people? You take a look around and answer that question for yourself. Granted, Jesus indeed saves some folks from their wicked ways. Deliverance from drugs, alcohol, anger, and such is quite common. But these are all effects of salvation. They are not the why.

Many people preach about heaven and hell. Scare children enough with talk about hell and every hand will go up at the salvation invitation. Is that why God saves us? To keep us from hell? While it is true that we escape that certain condemnation, it is nonetheless an effect of salvation.

On the other hand, folks hung up on the "God is love" thing are delighted to go forward at the invitation. Of course they want to go to heaven. Who doesn't? But is our heavenly destiny why God saved us? No. It is an effect.

All these things are wonderful effects of salvation. They are all certain. But they are not the answer to why God saved us. Take a careful look at them again. Notice who the effect is on for each one. Us. What about God? While God is glorified in these effects, the focus is nonetheless on us. What's in it for God?

That is what leads us to the answer of why He saves. That is what leads us to the power of preaching. That is what points us to the single thing which should dominate our minds, speech, and actions. That is the cross of Jesus Christ.

God saves us because Jesus died and shed all His blood. That is what saves us from our sin nature. That is what delivers us from our sins. Nothing but the blood from Calvary.

All other preaching is vain, man-centered, and dangerously leading hearers to no salvation at all. We must learn not to confuse a cleaned-up man with a blood-washed man. The former washes himself in filthy rags while the latter wears the spotless white linens of righteousness in Jesus Christ.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Christian Mythology: 2. Salvation – Myth: Salvation comes in many ways and many times

Think about this accusation against Christianity. It comes from the Muslim world. Don't discount it now that you know the source. Christians have the Bible. Muslims have the Koran. All around the world the Bible may be found translated into hundreds, perhaps thousands of different languages. In the middle East, the Koran may be found in only one language, its original language, Arabic. True, you may find the Koran in other languages. But this accusation comes from those faithful, let's say radical, followers of Islam. (Don't get stuck on that word "radical" either. This isn't the media's radical. Think more along the lines of David Platt's book by the same name.)

The faithful, radical Muslim's number one issue with Christianity is the fact that we have made the holy Word of God impure by adopting all these translations. Along the way, we have lost its meaning. They consider this defilement. Even among their own, those who do not use the original text are considered lesser.

I suppose it would be difficult to find anyone who could speak and understand the original languages of the Bible (ancient Greek, Hebrew, and Aramaic). I have a Greek friend at work and even he has a hard time with the ancient Greek language. I have asked him for help on translating a few times without success.

While I don't necessarily agree with the accusation, there is a point to it. Americans, it seems, find it easy to superimpose their own words and interpretations upon the Word of God. We substitute experience for reality. We tell a story instead of relying upon the power of God. Nowhere is this more evident than in salvation.

There is a great danger in adding to or taking away from God's Word. Hellfire is one of those dangers. When we tell sinners to "ask Jesus into your heart", or "pray the sinner's prayer", we take the very lives of these hell-certain people into our own hands. Salvation comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God. These phrases are not the Word of God. They are not real. They are a death sentence. We fall asleep when we do not rightly divide the Word of God. We ensure the permanent sleep of the sinner when we do not use God's Word aright.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Christian Mythology: Church – Myth: Church is for everybody, saved and unsaved

I realize this book will provoke some readers. It will also provoke thought in others. Thinking is required here because the things you read about are subtle. Sin is usually just that way. If it were blatant, surely Christians would jump right on it and do something about it. But you will see over these next thirty days that much of what you thought was normal at church is not God's desire, intention, or design. You can decide for yourselves whether you believe sin is involved. However, I will say this: where you find subtlety and confusion, there you will also find temptation. Sin is never far behind.

Most American churches practice an open door policy. Sinners are welcome. How do you feel about that? If you, a righteous Christian, go to church to worship God, how is that experience affected by the presence of evil? Pay very close attention to the words now.

You know what the world often says about going to church. "I won't go there. I wouldn't want to be a Christian. After all, they're just a bunch of hypocrites."

Have you ever been to church where everybody is all dressed up? The women in their Sunday finest of skirt, blouse, and hat? The men in suit, shirt, and tie? Even the children look their best. This is not uncommon. Until a street person walks in. Dirty, unwashed, soiled clothing, reeking of the world. How do you react? Are they welcome in your church? Jesus welcomed them to Himself.

God told us that His kingdom is a mix of wheat and tares, sheep and goats, saved and unsaved. That is surely a picture of the world today. But it is not a picture of the Church Body of our Lord Jesus Christ. There is a difference between the church organization that we all know and the Church Body of our Lord Jesus Christ known by but a few.

Church organizations put on big shows and hope the world will show up to hear a message. The Body of Jesus goes into the world with just the Gospel and begs God's Spirit will quicken the dead to new life in Jesus.

Church organizations welcome everybody to worship. The Church Body worships God in spirit and truth, dressed in the beauty of holiness. Sin and sinners are not welcome. Neither a Christian in sin nor a sinner dead in sin can worship God. There is no holiness in sin. Sin departs a Christian through God's gift of repentance which draws on the cleansing power of the blood of Jesus Christ shed on the cross.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Christian Mythology - Introduction

For the next thirty-one days, I will post some extras about each chapter of my newly completed manuscript "Christian Mythology". This book began about 8-10 years ago when God woke me up. That's a phrase you don't hear much in church or Christian circles. It is a Biblical term. It applies to Christians who God wakes up from sin sleep. No big sin really. Nothing drastic or worthy of the tabloids. My life was quite like any other, normal in fact. I was just like most every other Christian. So why would I suspect that anything was wrong?

Well, apparently, a lot of Christians do think something is wrong. They just don't know what it is or why it is happening. But the result of their feelings and attitudes is a max exodus from churches across America. Christians are on the move either out of church altogether or church-hopping with greater frequency. This is all according to a Pew poll published about a year ago.

I believe the root cause of all this is sin. I knew it was true in my life. I knew it was true in the lives of two other men who were faithful brothers in the Lord. We went through the wakeup process together. Sin was at the root of it all.

God woke me up the day I read Ephesians 5:25-27. I have read this passage many times in my 25 years as a Christian. But this time for some reason the power of God was behind it and He said, "Wake up." I realized I am the Bride. I realized Jesus is coming soon. I realized I was not pure, spotless, and blameless. I realized I did not want Him to find me that way. I realized I was no better than the day Jesus saved me.

Suddenly God poured out His Word upon me in great teaching, conviction, and cleansing. I wrote it all down. I shared it with my friends. I prayed through it. I watched God produce tremendous fruit from it in our lives together. At the same time however, I became even more discouraged with church. I still felt like one of those who wanted to leave altogether or find another one.

I looked around for a while. Finally my wife convinced me that I would not find what I was looking for. There is no perfect church. This is true. Then I realized something else. I really wasn't looking for a perfect church. What I want is a perfect Church Body. I wanted Jesus and the people He has awakened. Together, we function to worship Him, witness in His Name, and make disciples who follow Him.

That's all the good stuff I wrote about in the sequel "The Remnant". All the hard stuff is in this first book "Christian Mythology". It's all about the stuff in church that we teach and believe that is false, unbiblical, and puts us to sleep. If you find that hard to believe, then read the New Testament again. The harshest words of Jesus started against the religious institutions. His words of warning at the end of the Bible were against the church - Repent!

For the next thirty days I want to encourage you to come here daily. You will find out the meaning of "stop going to church and start being the Church Body." I pray along the way that if you are in sin sleep, God will wake you up to a glorious purpose He has for you.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Published and Writing

I self-published my first book ten years ago. Earlier this fall my first story appeared in a book anthology published by Guideposts. Last weekend I submitted my first manuscript to two agents and one editor - publication pending!

My wife and I like to sneak out for dinner dates about once a week. Tonight we enjoyed an early-bird dinner in a packed restaurant. I quipped about such a large crowd eating a heavy meal the night before Thanksgiving. Who am I to talk though since I had a crock of French Onion soup and a wonderful rare sesame-crusted tuna steak. My wife chided me to put away my Droid which I constantly check as I anticipate the cherished email from the agents/editors to send the full manuscript.

Instead we talked about writing. I shared with her the common ailments of writers. We write differently than we speak and think. As I edited my final manuscript, I removed hundreds of passive voice sentences. At work we compose thousands of Powerpoint slides for customer presentations. Even engineers write and later edit out those pesky passives. Even worse, our style guide requires us to remove all noun modifiers. Microsoft spell and grammar check sure becomes handy over thousands of pages.

Novice writers also write with a tendency towards the imperative case. The word "must" shows up a lot along with too many exclamation points. My wife's coupon blogger friend re-wrote an entire article because of this. The frugal homemaker and her husband saved a bundle by paying for their house in cash. The way she wrote the article caused quite the negative stir among her faithful readers. She sounded arrogant. Why? Because she didn't tell the story. Instead she wrote the process and the facts. It sounded cold-hearted and proud to the readers who know this kind, compassionate Christian woman. They felt guilty for not doing what their coupon guru did. So they let her know it. She quickly learned to show her story instead of tell it.

She told her readers about how she and her husband lived frugally in a trailer for six months. Meanwhile, they haggled with every contractor and DIY salesperson for the best price. Her husband, a lawyer, drove a beat-up old car even though he could afford a Mercedes. By all appearances, they lived at poverty level for eight years on a six-figure income in order to ultimately pull off what they did. It was not magic. It was hard work. When she told the story by showing these details, her readers understood the real "how-to". They felt much better. They forgave her.

I removed so much of the imperative from my manuscript. I did not want to though. Its message is urgent. But if I think about it, the message I wrote is thousands of years old. Its urgency is no lesser or greater today than when God said, "You must be saved." (Wow - a passive voice and imperative all in one little sentence.) Nevertheless, the style that sell books is the style that shows a good story. Funny then that the Bible is still the best-selling book of all time. It is full of passive voice, imperatives, run-on sentences, tons of semi-colons, and other items that would not pass the Chicago Manual of Style. I'm sure God knew what He was doing though. I hope the inspiration He gave me for "Christian Mythology" will also powerfully guide readers to the Truth of Jesus Christ.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Follow Me

Jesus walked into my cube today. He said, “Follow me.” I thought about the other times He spoke those words. In those days He still walked the earth in physical form. Peter and John dropped their fishing nets and immediately went with Jesus. They did not know where He was going. They did not ask questions. They left their father behind to continue the family business. As far as I could tell from reading God’s Word, these men forsook everything and followed Jesus. Later on Peter demanded from Jesus reparations due him for leaving everything behind. He wanted to know, ‘what’s in it for me?’ Jesus replied, “For the kingdom of God’s sake, you’ll get more in this life, and eternal life in the next world.”

Matthew left his job as tax collector. No questions asked. No knowledge of the future. Like Peter and John, he may not have ever seen or heard of Jesus before now. I have the luxury of God’s Word to tell me all that happened next. What about me though? I sit here pondering my answer. I know where Jesus went after He called His disciples. I know what He did, said, thought, felt, and ultimately endured. I know a little bit about what He does today but that is a rather sketchy. If I follow Him, I will do it blindly, just like those first men. There is one major difference however.

Jesus picked these guys up and remained for the most part in familiar territory. He met them at the Sea of Galilee. The first places they visited together were the familiar Galileean synagogues and then the surrounding mountains. The men probably felt comfortable in these places. Maybe they didn’t know where Jesus was going or what He was doing, but they certainly knew where they were. I don’t know what questions went through their minds when Jesus said, “Follow me.” But I do know they didn’t have to worry about hopping on a plane, getting in a car, taking a train, checking email and phone messages, or any other modern string like we have. They just dropped their nets and left their father. We don’t even know if they said goodbye. We can surmise that by following Jesus, they knew that in the short term at least, they weren’t going very far.

I’m not too worried about where He would lead me. I’ve been all around the world, eaten lots of strange food, slept in some pretty nasty places. I’m sure there’s worse but that doesn’t really phase me. Like those men, I have a job and family. Jesus said, “If you don’t hate your family and your own life, then take up your cross and follow me, cannot be my disciple.” I think it all comes down to one simple question. The question is simple because the situation is simple. If I really leave everything behind, all I have left is Jesus Himself and some level of faith and trust that He will do everything He says. It would be like climbing a sturdy tree, crawling out on a main branch, hanging onto a limb, grasping a twig, then finding all that’s left are filaments of carbon nanotubes. They are invisible to the naked eye. Science tells me they are stronger than steel. But I’m about to plummet and cannot see or sense in any other tangible way something to grab. Like Peter in the middle of the sea, I start to see the waves even though Jesus is standing right in from of me. Common sense says that if I grab for Him, we both go under. Jesus chided Peter for his doubt and little faith.

Right now Jesus knows what I am thinking. He hasn’t said another word since, “Follow me.” No coercion. I wonder if He ever called anyone else like that and they didn’t follow. God’s Word does not say. But it does talk about the many who left Jesus because they were offended by Him. They would not forsake their religion and tradition which told them how to get to God. Jesus said He was the only way.

Can I get to God and still continue on my current path? Is He in my office? Is He where I work? Does He have any interests here such that if I arose and followed, He would remain in this familiar place? What would He have me to do? What would He do while I followed? Would I be like the disciples and ask a lot of dumb questions? Would I be so thick-headed to rarely get the point of what Jesus was saying and doing such that He had to explain most everything twice to me, once in a parable and then again in plain language? Then He would teach the same thing all over again the next day and for the next three and a half years. Even after His resurrection some of them still doubted. It seems like they really didn’t get Jesus until He breathed on them and gave them the Holy Ghost. Suddenly these men were bold. God did all things through them. They took credit for nothing, still forsaking all, still hating their own lives, still taking their crosses and following Jesus. But how did they recognize Him and follow Him now that they could not walk in His footsteps? How did they know where to go and what to say?

Jesus said He filled me with His Holy Spirit too. So why am I so different from the post-resurrection disciples? Why do I feel like I’m still Peter sinking fast?

What compelled these men to follow Jesus in the first place? Why did they stick with Him? At one point they all forsook Him. But after that Holy Ghost filling it seems like they never turned back. But some others did. Ananias, Sophira, Demas, are infamous examples. Have I blown it so badly that I’m like one of them? Or what about the countless thousands who God saved and filled with the Holy Ghost in those early days. I never read about them again. Were they as bold as Peter and John? Did they go on to be like Paul in other parts of the world? Did God choose not to record their acts in His Word but only in His books of judgment? Or were they like me – unsure, questioning, always studying, hoping I’m doing it right, groping forward, falling backward, wondering if God is really there, if I’m really filled with the Spirit, if Jesus will really do more than could be recorded in books which the world could not contain?

Are these the questions of a faithless man? Unconvinced? Fearful? Pragmatic? All the above and very confused at times. And all the while Jesus stands there waiting for my answer. I start to wonder if His patience will run low and He will walk away, never to ask again, never to hear a yes or no from me, not available to answer some clarifying questions. As a father, my patience is short and I force my children to reckon with me. They always get the choice to answer or clarify. They always receive a list of consequences depending upon their ultimate choice. That doesn’t seem like Jesus at all. Sometimes His choices are black and white. Many times I sense gray, left to myself to decide with no compelling evidence to sway me either way. Just like the question before me now. While the answer may be simple, there is no compelling reason to decide either way. I’m stuck grasping, gasping, failing, again.

Why did He make this question so hard? It feels like the Groundhog Day of final exams. I keep getting the question over and over until I answer it. Who knows what will happen next depending upon my answer. Am I afraid of the answer itself? Is it wise to take this long to answer? Maybe if I ignore Him He will just go away. What if I try to change the subject to stall for time? What would we talk about? What could possibly interest Him? He makes me so uncomfortable just standing there. Can’t He come back tomorrow, leave a message, put it in an email instead? Get with the 21st century? Shouldn’t He check with my wife and kids first? My mom would certainly have an opinion about it.

Maybe all He expects is an answer of affirmation but not actual commitment at this time. Sure, I’m willing to go. But since you don’t seem to be in any hurry I guess we don’t have to leave right now. I can follow later. There, that feels much better. I took the pledge, signed the card, showed up for attendance. Now I can get back to whatever I was doing before this whole dissertation came to my mind, obviously something of much greater than importance than following Jesus. Couldn’t He tell that I was busy? Doesn’t He know that it’s rude to interrupt? Why can’t people respect my time and space? Hey, wait a minute! Where are you going?

“Many who say to me, Lord, Lord….”

“Do ya know me Bert? Ha ha! Whaddaya know about that Bert? My mouth’s bleedin’. My mouth’s bleedin’! Merry Christmas!”

“Unless I see the nailprints in his hands, and his side, I won’t believe.”

Take up your cross and follow me. A dead man has no claim to anything. Being dead makes it easy to forsake all. Nothing matters to a dead person. The instant you revive who do you see? That is the one you will follow. When Jesus died, He left it all behind – family, friends, familiarity. That’s what He brings to us in the new life – nothing but Himself. He is not standing here with an offer of door #1, #2, or #3. He is the door. He is on the other side of the door. There has to be more to the exclusivity of Jesus. After all He is King of kings, Lord of lords, creator God of the universe. Everything is His to give liberally as He wants to . Why oh why do I seem to want all the goodies and not the giver? Just Him and for ever after just let Him dish out what He wants to in order to accomplish His purposes with me. Go ahead, surprise me Jesus. If it has to be just you I follow, then let there be a few surprises along the way okay?

Apparently that was not the answer He was looking for. He’s still standing there. At least tell me a parable or something. Explain it to me this call to follow you. Right now? Are there any rest breaks? Vacation? What is your preferred mode of transportation? I want to get around like Philip. He was caught up in the Spirit and somehow just transported around from place to place, materializing like some Star Trek officer.

It’s a day later and He’s still standing there and I’m still sitting here. This is worse than the Cold War. At least bring me a crisis so I can take some definite action. The call to “follow me” just doesn’t get the creative juices flowing, doesn’t pump my adrenaline. There is no urgency in His voice. No hinting gleam in His eye that some consequence awaits. No wink wink, nod nod. It’s not even a dangling participle, something I can grammatically correct. It’s a short sentence, clear, concise, coherent. I understand it perfectly. Hard as I try to add to, take away, or modify it, the simple meaning is clear. Follow me. Yea, and then what? Is this a contest of wills? Trying to see who’s fencepost is wider? While I totter from side to side, Jesus is perfectly still as if there is no precarious perch at all. He is quite well balanced on a wide plain, farther than the eye can see. Is there no tipping point with Him? Where’s the center of gravity, the fulcrum, the end of the lever? Maybe if He moves the perspective changes and with it everything else. What if I move Him? Rush Him just a bit to make Him flinch? Would that change His tune? I try it and it’s like I pass right through Him. He does not move. Is He real? A ghost? Or is He really fast, moving out of my way and then right back, imperceptible to my eyes? None of these seem fair. He has the Star Trek beam thing and I don’t.

There’s just no reckoning with Him on this plane. I’m wondering if He even knows what I am writing or thinking. Probably does. Problem is, I don’t know what He is thinking. This field is not fair. How do I change the game? Is that even possible? Let me ask Him whether He would consider changing it.

Is He thinking about it? No word. Still no word. I need a potty break. Time out. Be right back. I check all my room sensors – pressure? No movement; camera? Stood there the whole time; sound bug? Not a peep. At least He blinked. I am beginning to think that this is entirely up to me. Nothing happens until I decide one way or the other. Perfect Newtonian physics law #1, 2, and 3 all in one. He won’t move until I move first. He won’t move. I’m quickly deteriorating. Is the entropy taking me to the chaos of my own life or the order of His? Do I trust Einstein or Hawking for that one? No, no, no. This is not a science test. And I never took a class in the spiritual things. Although I remember a girl once in high school who was into metaphysics. That still sounds weird. A contradiction. But that’s almost what is going on here. Nothing seems to adhere to the rules with Jesus around. Everything is a contradiction to what I know and believe.

Therefore, I would love for Him to just strip all that preconceived stuff from my brain. Help me to unlearn all the wrong things. Purge the bad thoughts. In with the good air, out with the bad. C’mon breathe stupid breathe! You forgot to breathe! I seem to recall something about being transformed by the renewing of one’s mind. Is that what this is all about? Do I do that first and then answer? He won’t say. Another stupidly injected prerequisite on my part. Sorry. This is getting old.

Follow me. Paul said that. Follow me as I follow Jesus Christ. Nervy guy. How did he figure it out? Hey, is there anybody out there? Anyone at all who has done this? What was it like? What did you say in reply? What happened next? What did Jesus do? How about you? Was your experience the same? No? That doesn’t sound like what happened to you either?

I wonder if I can call this a tie. How about a truce, a cease-fire, a draw? What do we have to do here Jesus to make this a win-win? Anything to sweeten the pot? Do I need to cut costs somewhere? Add a few features? What about you? Here I am back at Peter’s question. Suppose I follow you. What’s in it for me? It really drives me nuts to get back to the same point after a thousand words. Wasted breath. Tired fingers. Taxed grey matter. I haven’t the energy to even burn off the frustration. No desire to even sleep on it. And it just won’t go away if ignored. Any normal person would have given up long ago. How can he stand there like a statue just waiting for me? So calm. Serene. His face is hard to describe because it changes appearance constantly yet remains constantly the same.

Folks talk like that when they look at the Mona Lisa. But this is even more. I’m looking into the face of the eternal Son of God. Not at. Into. Kinda through. It’s a face of love. Then it’s a face of fire. Then the face of a lamb. An innocent lamb. The a face as blue as the sky, yet full of storm clouds one moment, wispy clouds of spring the next. Each face is indescribably pleasant. No fear there. No expression of anger, judgment, or wrath. Even that face of fire is just the warm glow of a wintry hearth or a campfire surrounded by friends. That’s the one that gets to me. He beckons me to sit by Him and join the silent mates. They look at one another. They look at Him. Each one knows. They know. I can see it in their eyes. Their expressions all read the same. We’re all one here.

Wait, what’s this vision? A campfire on the other side? Is that what you saw? No? A beachhouse with those same people gathered? A crowded city street where they’re gathered around silently watching a sidewalk chalk artist? But you all see the same people, just in different places at different times? I don’t get it. But they are all happy. Wouldn’t have it any other way. None of them are bored, scared, confused, or regretful. None of them look the other way. They all look at one another and yet at the same time they all look at Jesus. One. The simplicity is beautiful. It draws me. Entices me.

Is that the look Jesus gave to Peter, Andrew, John, and the rest when He said, “Follow me?” Did they look into His eyes when He called? Or did they just hear His voice, not yet taking their eyes off their nets, change tables, or tents? Was His voice just as tender as those eyes? He only asked me once. He only asked them once. Do they remember His voice still? Do I? Wait a minute and let me bring it back. He said I should know His voice because I am His sheep. It should ring distinctive, unique, and clear above any other voice or noise I hear. Did it come through like that? Definitely. I would not have spent two-thousand words on it otherwise. If you are reading this I hope you just skimmed to this point to read the end. I hope you answered Jesus way back in the beginning. I hope you did not have to live through all my pain added to your own. I certainly would not want to endure your story of getting to “yes” with Jesus. I just want to know that you got there.

I just joined the campfire. Now I’m looking at the ones in the circle and we’re all looking at Jesus. Not even paying attention to you anymore. Suddenly it’s just me and Jesus. I no longer see outside. The door is closed. It’s a Matrix kind of thing. I went through the door with Jesus. The door is no longer there. I don’t even have to turn around to check. I’m following Jesus. I can see His form surrounding me and sense His presence within me. My body does not even look the same. There is this translucent aura around me. I’m not following Jesus behind Him watching every step, pausing every so often to see where He is and where He is headed. I’m not walking by His side and certainly not in front. And I’m definitely not walking on that sandy beach with just the one set of footprints that are really His. It’s still me. It’s still Him. We are one. My size-11’s are His. His sandals are mine. We fit into one another perfectly, yet I only see Him. That we may be One and I may behold His glory. Follow me.