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Following a recent post a person unknown to me respectfully commented and asked many questions about my perspective and methods. While I won’t attempt to answer all of his questions, I will share some random thoughts generated by his words. I would love to hear your thoughts! My words might encourage, challenge, anger, etc. but if I were seeking the praise of men…
… my posts would be a lot shorter!
After 30+ years of walking with Jesus and His “body”, it has become clear to me that the inactive spectators in the church are those most often conflicted and critical, while the scarred, spent and wounded on the front lines (the do-ers) are typically supportive, empathetic, and humbly encouraging toward those willing to dive into the unpredictable, difficult and often painful battle against principalities. Fellow Kingdom laborers appreciate the enormity, complexity and messiness of the task and commonly have Paul’s attitude,
“The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached. And because of this I rejoice.” (Phil 1.18).
I’ve been a part of two mission teams and we’ve never even discussed doctrinal issues – there is simply too much to do applying our Father’s “main and plain” instructions! Those watching from the bleachers, however, admonish and criticize instead of joining in the work (thus my response comment to “Stephen” to go “all in” and become a passionate laborer).
When I served on my first church Board almost twenty years ago, I was shocked to find that the church bleachers are full of critical spectators, while the laborers are truly few. There are many critical “experts”… and few expert encouragers and laborers… A much maligned Teddy Roosevelt once accurately said,
“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”
In expressing discomfort with my emphasis on application of God’s words to us, our commenter prioritized discussing and debating the bible and “biblical” doctrines, calling the bible “a jewel” that we are to care for, defend and steward. I wholeheartedly agree that the bible is a wonderful and useful tool given to us by our Father to help the blind, lost, hungry, thirsty and broken find the treasure (Jesus), but it is not the treasure itself. Many churches act as though the bible and its promises, commands, doctrines, principles, etc are Christianity! This is a hugely relevant misunderstanding today, and one that causes many to miss the joy of living in intimate, interactive, light-burden relationship with the King. The Life, the Truth, the Way, the Treasure, the Pearl, etc are Jesus Himself. The choice that Jesus presents to us in His many letters is that we can pursue a relationship with Him or we can pursue (via the bible) intellectual understanding (Prov 3.5) or another religious substitute (there are many “christian” substitutes – see below) for relationship with the King. (Mt 6.21).
My posts and life have never minimized the relevance and profound beauty of the truth of the Kingdom of God, as detailed in the bible, as I and my family have, in fact, quite literally left everything (because Jesus said to) to share the Treasure (Jesus) with those who haven’t heard the Good News. My life is a testimony that we can do what the bible says, sell out to purchase the field, and then see the Treasure (closeness with a living Jesus) bless many! What tremendous value in the capable hands of the Carpenter is a simple, available, broken, and used tool!
What I’ve been lately calling attention to, however (and the reason for this person’s lengthy comment), is the great significance that our Father places on loving, caring, and serving (doing what He says vs talking about it) and how we (I) miss His emphasis (that which is most important to Him), because we emphasize that in the bible which is important to us. In 2014, we have “biblical” doctrines to “support” (with verses and passages) pretty much every belief and life-style imaginable, but do our lives and our churches emphasize that which is important to the bible’s Author (“Less of me, more of Him…”)? We must remember that the whole purpose of God’s letters is to reveal to us the Author, His heart, His passion, His purposes, His joy, His likes/dislikes, how to know Him, etc and it behooves us to know His priorities/emphases…
An example today of our emphasis taking priority over that of the Author: Jesus said that teachers/preachers “of the word” or servants would be the greatest in His Kingdom (Mt 20.26-28)? Yet, who are today “the greatest”, the esteemed leaders of “His” churches (his Kingdom on earth) – teachers/preachers or humble servants? Why are servants not leading our (biblical) churches into more foot-washing, humble service, if our churches are truly of our Father’s Kingdom? Why are selfless serving and loving not esteemed in our churches more than doctrinal teaching/preaching? Do our seminaries train and commission servants or teachers/preachers/leaders? Would Jesus have His church leaders learn more leadership/teaching skills or more servant skills? If someone wants to do great things for God and impact many for the Kingdom, what would you recommend they do/pursue?
Another example: Currently, 1 in 1700 christians are working as cross-cultural missionaries and 1 in 17,000 (!) work with the unreached (where there isn’t exposure to the Good News). So 1/17,000 of those who say they believe God’s words are concerned about the unreached enough to forsake their life to go live among them (or sacrificially support someone who does) in order to love them and introduce them to Jesus. What do we really believe? Are our passions and life’s priorities Jesus’ passions/emphases? Is it evident that Jesus lives in us by our passions and pursuits? After walking with Jesus for 20 years and in my 40’s, these questions haunted me 10 years ago because I was missing His priorities! Due to Jesus’ clear emphasis before He left the earth, virtually all of His disciples left their homes and literally gave their lives to reach those who didn’t yet know of His Kingdom (“home” and their earthly life lost all significance compared to the King’s priorities). Yet there are actually “bible” churches in the US (the majority?) who teach “God’s word” and have sent out no missionaries from their body and do no work among the hurting and impoverished! Do they really believe the bible or just their pet verses/doctrines?
Why did Jesus emphasize our care of the broken and hurting as relevant to our salvation (sheep vs goats (Mt 25))? Perhaps because He knew that whoever lived surrendered to Him would prioritize what He prioritized (His Spirit would live in them)! Why are these verses which speak directly about the judgment of God and “salvation” virtually ignored by evangelicals who teach/preach week in and week out on salvation? I wonder what the poverty-stricken countries (those with the naked, sick, thirsty, hungry, captive…Mt 25) and unreached people groups in our world would look like today if our churches passionately emphasized what Jesus emphasized – “Go”, “Serve”, “Love”, and “the least” (emphasis – others)… instead of what our churches actually emphasize week in and week out… “Study, learn, discuss, debate and teach the bible so as to better understand”, “Seek more of God’s blessings”, and “Improve your life” (emphasis – me)?
Many of these same christians/churches consider themselves “pro-life”, but the label is a misnomer (should be “anti-abortion”), as they (while more wealthy than any culture in history) have turned their backs on more preventable deaths from nakedness, hunger, thirst, sickness, captivity, and displacement (Mt 25) world-wide than abortion will ever kill. Millions of deaths would be prevented yearly if the church cared about what Jesus cared about – loving the hungry, naked, thirsty, captive, blind, sick, etc in practical ways with disregard for itself. Kingdom love, of course, has nothing to do with feelings/emotions, but actively places another’s welfare before our own.
Perhaps Jesus’ pronouncements on serving, greatness, love, the least, leaving house and home, the unreached, etc. have been “dispensation-ized” (one of many man-made, “bible” doctrines that dictate what many believe as much as the bible itself) and deemed irrelevant for today, along with spiritual gifts (which empower us to love/serve 1Cor 12), God and Mammon, modesty, honoring/serving our wife as Christ served the church, loving our (disagreeing) brother, honoring/loving one’s (political) enemies and any of the rest of the New Testament (that we say we believe) that is outside of our comfort zone and/or interrupts our orderly “christian” lives/churches?
In our modern-day intellectual/knowledge/doctrine emphasis (vs application emphasis) of God’s words, it’s as if God said the following (the references indicate the actual verses):
There will remain forever faith, hope and truth, but the greatest of these is truth. (1cor13.13)
Above all, pursue truth. (1cor14.1)
Teach your enemies the gospel. (Mt 5.44)
I can do all, sacrifice all, preach all, give my body to be burned, etc but if I don’t believe and teach the truth, I am nothing. (1cor13.1-3)
A new command I give to you, preach the gospel to your neighbor. As I have taught you truth, you must teach the gospel to one another. (Jn 13.34)
You must believe the Lord your God’s truth with all of your heart, soul, and mind (Mt 22.37)
Because of God’s desire to communicate truth to the world, He sent His only son. (Jn 3.16)
Jesus to Peter three times “Do you believe my teaching?” (Jn 21)
But God showed us the gospel in sending Christ to die while we were yet sinners. (Rom 5.8)
Everything works together for good for those who believe the gospel. (Rom 8.28)
Can anything separate us from God’s truth? (Rom 8.35)
God’s word fulfills all of the requirements of the law. (Rom 13.10)
No one has seen or imagined what God has for those who believe His word. (1cor2.9)
Knowledge makes us arrogant but correct doctrine builds up the church. (1cor8.1)
Do everything according to the truth. (1cor16.14)
If anyone doesn’t believe the gospel, he is accursed. (1cor16.22)
It is the truth of Christ that controls us. (2cor5.14)
The fruit of the spirit is truth, peace, patience…. (Gal 5.22)
And above all these (compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience, forgiveness) put on truth, which binds everything together in perfect unity. (Col 3.13)
But I will reply, “You never believed the gospel. Depart from me…” (Mt 7.23)
“This is eternal life, that they believed your gospel, the gospel of the only true God, and of Jesus Christ whom You have sent. (Jn 17.3), etc, etc.
Jesus and His followers have always walked the road narrow and less-traveled in surrender (“Your will, not mine…”) to One quite set apart from the religions, doctrines, and creeds of the day (broad road), and it has greatly offended/confused/angered the live-by-the-letter-religious to see someone passionately loving and trusting a living, interactive, gracious God. I have appreciated now for many years the relationship-with-the-living-person-of-Jesus and bible-application emphases of my home church (VCDC) in Sunbury, OH, as they’ve modeled passionately and imperfectly (no such thing as a perfect human model) living in intimacy, trust and love in relationship with a gracious, living Father.
Jesus-people abide in the Vine, surrendered in love (forgiven much, loving much…) to His living and communicating Spirit (Helper, Counselor, Teacher, Comforter, etc). We can believe in something, or in Someone. Paul wrote to Timothy, “I know whom I have believed.” (2Tim 1.12) A Person or a doctrine? We can abide in Jesus (Jn 15) or in counterfeit “christianity” apart from the Vine – the withered, dry, lifeless religion of words, commands, duty and obligation. No matter how knowledgeable, how moral, how well-known and respected, or how much ability as a teacher/preacher, how much missionary work, etc unless we are one with Jesus (in relationship), we will produce NO eternal fruit (though we might produce much measurable, earthly fruit) and our lives will have the value of kindling…
We remember that in the middle ages, thousands of Jesus-lovers were tortured and killed because they rejected counterfeit christianity – the religious doctrines of men – and lived in communion with Jesus’ living, leading and interactive Spirit, forsaking their lives (“Your will, not mine…”) and bearing much eternal fruit. The religious simply cannot tolerate the Spirit of God… and they miss a Treasure worth dying for!
The rampant hypocrisy of division among christians (and the intellectual doctrinal emphasis and critical spirit at its root) is clear evidence of the lack of our Father’s Spirit in so many of our churches today. Religious, “truth” christians have a negative eternal impact on honest, questioning, messed up seekers, because they guide them to a doctrine/belief system instead of to a Person (Life). These “christians”, in contrast to Jesus, place little emphasis on love and relationship (except with those who agree with them), emphasize “truth, and are always divided from, and critical of, those who believe differently (unity equals agreement instead of following the same Person). When following the same Person, however, we can disagree on many issues and still walk together after Jesus. Jesus is not found, however, among “christians” who cannot love their disagreeing brothers (no matter how much they study/talk/preach of God). Jesus said that we will know His disciples by their teaching/knowledge/preaching… of the gospel? (Jn 13:35)
In our work among the unreached, I would rather, like Jesus, work with an adulterer/lier/cheater/addict (screwed up, forgiven much, loving much), who loves Jesus and his/her brother, than with a charismatic, knowledgeable and gifted leader/bible teacher who can’t walk with, or work with, a disagreeing brother (I’ve known many). John indicated toward the end of his first letter that no matter how much christian doctrine we believe, no matter how many times we’ve “believed in our heart and confessed with our mouth”, no matter that we’ve “received Him”, no matter how many we’ve healed/helped, no matter how much bible we know, no matter how beautifully and biblically we teach/preach and no matter how wonderful our ministry/works… if we don’t love our (disagreeing) brother whom we can see… (1Jn4.20)
If we believe that the gospel is a doctrinal belief (and sadly miss the wondrous joy, freedom and light burden of abiding intimately with the King), then we must all agree with said doctrine to be in unity, and division is appropriate and necessary (as we see in Islam, a religion of words, laws, doctrines and creeds). It’s perfectly logical that those who disagree simply can’t be part of a group whose fundamental basis for unity is agreeing with a certain “truth”. Everything is a “right”, “wrong”, rule, law, command, etc — Jesus criticized exactly this world-view in the Pharisees of His day (the same letter-of-the-law-loving religious leaders who didn’t recognize God among them) when He violated the “word” and healed on the Sabbath, forgave the law-breakers, spent most of His time with the sick and the “unclean” (in Jesus’ day, if you were sick, you were believed to be not right with God) , etc.
Jesus, however, could emphasize (and pray for) unity among His followers (Jn 17) because His gospel is not a doctrine/truth that one must agree to, but rather a relationship with a Person (Him). A doctrine/truth is impersonal, everyone must believe the same, it’s two-dimensional, black and white, fixed, and it requires study and knowledge more than interaction. A relationship is three-dimensional (depth), involves ambiguity and growth (or loss) of intimacy over time, is personal, is difficult to define/measure, involves much interaction (interaction is more important than knowledge), and is different with different people.
Christians today are often insecure about telling someone about Jesus because they might not know all of the right facts/verses, etc (christianity as doctrine), yet a Jesus-lover cannot err in introducing a friend to a Person whom they passionately love, worship, learn from and with whom they daily share their life, thoughts, struggles, joys… (christianity as a relationship)! Jesus sent out His followers (any who know Him) to primarily be witnesses of a living Jesus, rather than teachers of truth/doctrine!
In my daily interactions among those who don’t know Him, I don’t teach doctrine or insist on agreement with my teaching (though sharing about my King and/or his Kingdom is often part of the conversation), but instead I share about a Person that I’ve known for 30 years and with whom I interacted that morning, and Someone they can know, as well. “Christians” have actually told me that God only “speaks” today via the bible… I usually just smile and then often talk it over with Jesus the next morning.
In these interactions, I then follow the leading of that same Person, who is drawing all people to Himself, and who is wiser than I, no matter how well I might know His letters/words or what I think might be best. With one person or group I might share about Him and the reality of His Kingdom, with another I might share about my particular relationship with Him, with another I might tell a story, with another I might be quiet and pray (listening to Jesus), with another I might ask questions, and another I might simply serve or embrace… and the next time I interact with each, my method will likely change (based on the leading of my Father’s Spirit). If christianity were a doctrinal teaching, however, I would instead, like the Jehovah’s Witnesses, study and memorize like mad and teach cookie-cutter, man-made, topical outlines and studies of bible passages/verses (one can support virtually any belief with selective bible verses/passages) and go over them and over them until I was able to persuade acceptance (in myself and others) of my doctrine/gospel/truth.
But the Kingdom of God is NOT doctrines, verses and principles to study, teach, memorize and obey, though in many churches it has sadly been reduced to this. We obey Him, not words on a page – there were NO words on any pages for most of history! The Kingdom is rather relationship with the Person of Jesus (who pursues every person in love, including those in the isolated and remote tribes of Angola that we are endeavoring to love and serve), and our role as missionaries (all of us are “sent ones”) is to be available for “whatever”, observing what our Father’s Spirit is doing in each and every person as He draws them to Himself, and then ask Him how we might participate.
As to emphasis, however, Life abundant, Life eternal and the Kingdom of God are in the person of Jesus, not in His words (His words direct us to Him, but are no more Him than this post is me). This distinction is significant as many churches (in Africa and elsewhere) sadly teach christianity as words – do’s, don’t’s, rules, doctrines, WWJD, behavior modification techniques, beliefs, confessions and principles – rather than as walking with the living and interactive Spirit of Jesus. In many evangelical churches, if God’s Spirit left, nothing would change, as long as they still had their bibles and doctrines! The letters that our Father has authored and left for us are invaluable in revealing to us who He is and in pointing us to Him, but we walk with Him, surrender to Him, passionately love Him, interact with Him… not His “word”.
In contrast to doctrinal teaching, Jesus rarely introduces Himself to, or relates to, different people in exactly the same way. The head relates to a hand quite differently than it does to an eye. Our Father’s interactions with various people throughout biblical history (and since) will verify His many, varied and unexpected (to the religious) methods of interaction…
As we lead the thirsty to the Living Water, we must be flexible, willing to abandon our “biblical” preferences, opinions and understanding (these change as we journey/mature), and remain followers (and listeners) as our Father uses us to draw people to Himself in both expected and unexpected ways (“Your will/opinions/preferences, not mine…”). Jesus was our model in doing what He saw His Father doing (Would Jesus in us be any different?), rather than strictly following the written “word” (which so upset the “word” people of His day).
The wind blows where it wishes and you hear the sound of it, but do not know where it comes from and where it is going; so is everyone who is born of the Spirit.” (Jn 3.8)
Discipleship is modeling and teaching how to walk with Jesus (the true discipler) in a surrendered (“Your will, not mine…), love relationship, using the bible as a means to this end.
If we live in surrender (“Your will, not mine…”) to our Father’s Spirit, as happened with Jesus our lives will fulfill the bible/law, not abolish, disregard or contradict it, though we may make the letter/law/doctrine christians quite uncomfortable/angry (“If they hated me…”).
This emphasis on bible doctrine as truth (in contrast to using the bible to point to the Truth – Jesus) and the pursuit of intellectual study/understanding (vs application/doing) is sadly common in churches world-wide today and exemplifies one of three principal idols that we (I), within the church, often pursue and worship: 1) the blessings of God, 2) intellectual understanding, and 3) a better earthly life. Churches and even whole “christian” denominations have been formed on the backs of these idols, all supported by bible verses/passages. Idols are attractive and promise reward, but destroy our relational intimacy (closeness) with our Father. People who chase after these idols often convince themselves and others that they are pursuing God and His Kingdom (they talk a lot about God, church, bible…), when their pursuit is actually (as with any idol) about gaining for themselves (security, reassurance, comfort, health, self-esteem, salvation, etc). Any of these pursuits can accompany a healthy relationship with Jesus, but if they become our primary pursuit, then our passions/pursuits become about us (vs. “more of Him, less of me”), and we live independently of Jesus, His will and His Kingdom. These pursuits feed our flesh (self) and can make us feel good about ourselves but, like all fleshly pursuits (even those wrapped in bible verses), they leave us digging wells (much effort) where there is no water, and they leave us without our Father.
It is our relationship with the King (and drawing ever closer and more surrendered to Him) that will always remain the primary pursuit of those who are His (Jn 17.3).
With renewed passion, let’s look for, and listen for, our Father’s emphases/passions/priorities… and will you join me today in remembering that… Jesus is alive, Jesus is an interactive Person/God, Jesus is life, Jesus is the way, Jesus is truth, Jesus is the Good News, Jesus is the Kingdom, Jesus is the gospel, Jesus is a living Helper, Jesus is the Pursuer/Forgiver of rebellious and self-centered men, Jesus is our Counselor, Jesus is our Good Shepherd, Jesus is our loving Father, Jesus is our loving Husband, etc? He is both approachable and ever approaching us (knocking), looking to fellowship (for our sake) with those who “have ears to hear” and with those who want to know Him, surrender to Him, interact with Him, etc.
All things pertaining to life and eternity will be added to us as we walk with Him, because all things pertaining to life and eternity are in Him.
“Redeeming love… has been my theme,
and shall be ‘til I die.
And shall be ‘til I die,
and shall be ‘til I die.
Redeeming love has been my theme,
and shall be ‘til I die!”