Why attempt to duplicate something when it is so well written and so thought-provoking?
There are many who claim the name, “Baptist,” but who really do not know what it means to “be Baptist.” Oh, sure, there are caricatures and images of “Baptist” which people have, but, sadly, there are many who do not truly understand what it means to “be Baptist.”
To demonstrate my point, let me give a very brief, one question quiz. Those who read this, I invite you to give your answer either on this blog post itself or on the social media site where you saw this posted. Here’s the question: name the four freedoms which Baptists’ hold dear. While none of these valued freedoms originated with Baptists, the first time the four came together as cherished freedoms forming a firm foundation was when the Baptists brought them together. (By the way, if you are unable to come up with all four, you are not alone.)
The reason that I am, once again, broaching this topic is because of an article across which I stumbled. Here’s the link: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/02/16/us/a-christian-college-struggles-to-define-itself.html?_r=0. The college and seminary I attended were approved institutions by the Regular Baptists, but they were not Regular Baptist institutions. For that, I must admit to being grateful. I was taught to think, especially in my Bible classes in college and my seminary courses, not to just spew back some line of doctrine or theology. I was taught to be a Biblical theologian. I have spoken about what this means in an earlier two-part post. If you want to read them, here they are: https://pastorjim86.wordpress.com/2013/01/28/being-a-biblical-theologian-part-i/. and https://pastorjim86.wordpress.com/2013/01/28/being-a-biblical-theologian-part-ii/.
When an institution such as Cedarville College and more conservative Baptist groups squash dissenting viewpoints, they are actually going against one of those four freedoms which make a Baptist a Baptist – Bible freedom. Of all groups, Baptists should be one group which encourages opposing and alternate viewpoints. It is from this dialogue and discussion that we move deeper into what Scripture means and holds for us.
The other thing that I admit I find deeply disturbing is this continued marriage between conservative politics and the conservative wing of the Baptist family. I’m not really sure if it is politics giving the marching orders with the Bible offering proof and support or the other way around. Sometimes I think it is more obvious to be the former rather than the latter.
Historically, Baptists have been about not maintaining the status quo, but about shaking things up and championing causes which ran against the accepted social, religious and political climate of the day. When Baptists championed religious freedom here in this country, they were persecuted by those who were not Baptist. Baptists were looked upon as divisive and causing trouble. (Consider once again the story of Roger Williams in the 1600’s and the founding of Rhode Island)
It was often times Baptists who were on the leading and cutting edge of dealing with societal issues. It was Baptists who were the champions of the minority and those without a voice, those who suffered injustice, oppression and inequality. This meant shaking up the status quo, which is not really a conservative thing to do. Historically, Baptists were more liberal leaning in their views of society and culture and were seen as a subversive group by those who held power and wanted to maintain the control that went along with it.
How does what I just said in that last paragraph measure up with today? I read comments from way too many Baptists who are more concerned with keeping wealth and keeping those who are wealthy happy than economic inequalities which are present in this country. For example, while legal, how is it moral and ethical for a company to lay off employees whose sole source of income and provision for his/her family is that paycheck and then turn around and give executives, who already make many times over the salary of that employee, bonuses which reach into the millions of dollars? If you have any question about this, read the story the prophet Nathan tells King David in 2 Samuel 12. We Baptists should be screaming at the top of our lungs about this injustice!
Anyone who is either Baptist or interested in knowing what it truly means to be Baptist should read a book authored by Walter Shurden titled, The Baptist Identity: Four Fragile Freedoms. I am of the opinion that this book should be required reading for every person who claims the name Baptist. I am proud to be a Baptist, but not the type of Baptist many today picture. I am proud to be what I call an “historical Baptist.” That means that I hold tenaciously onto the legacy my Baptist forebears created and for which they bled, suffered persecution, and yes, even died.
If I might be allowed a bit of a soapbox moment, when I read of places which claim the name Baptist yet do things that are against what it truly means to be a Baptist, I want to rip the name from them. Ok, I’m done. Lord, forgive me, but I had to get that out.
I have often read a certain passage from Hebrews 12, but for some reason it has really been opened up to me and the implications of it. In the second verse, we are told for the joy set before him Jesus endured the cross, scorning its shame and then sat down at the right hand of the Father.
This verse has come up in my recent reading. The Holy Spirit has also reminded me of it in connection with what my Sunday school class has been studying in James 3-4 about God’s wisdom. The wisdom that is not from above is characterized by bitter jealousy and selfish rivalry. We are also told that when we ask for things we do not receive them because we ask amiss based upon our own desires.
How often do we want to skip any suffering, struggle or pain in order to get to the joy that is on the other side? We ask God to remove or “fix” situations that cause pain, but from what motive or motives do we ask for this? Could it be that we want to bypass the suffering and only experience the joy? That would be natural desire, but it’s not necessarily God’s. (As an aside, it’s interesting to not that it’s most common to hear the phrase, “God is good,” when someone is healed or a good report is given. It is much less common when that healing doesn’t come or a bad report is given.)
The ultimate joy for followers of God is to be made in to the image of his Son, Jesus. But just like it is necessary to put gold through the fire to rid it of any impurities in order to make it pure, God must take us through the fire to purify us by eliminating any residual effects of the flesh nature. While not fun at all, the joy we get to experience the more we become like Christ is well worth it.
The process cannot be shortcut if we want to experience that joy. So, what part of the purifying process have you been asking God to shortcut and take you directly to the joy? And I’m guessing that this is a prayer God did not answer with an “OK.”
When a theology of joy, when a theology of comfort, is taught apart from the theology found in Hebrews 12:2, we reveal ourselves to be just like the world and using its natural, earthly and demonic wisdom.
When this is truly our approach, God cannot trust us with much, if at all. I want God to be able to trust me. I need to examine the way I pray. How about you?
Recently, I heard someone remark about being unsure about knowing whether something is God’s will or just their own idea. Since that time, I, via Facebook, came across a quote from Graham Cooke, whom I consider a prophetic follower of Jesus. Graham said, “When we give ourselves to a full relationship with God, His will becomes crystal clear. We never have to ask for a word of guidance again. Instead, it will flow to us out of the largeness of His love for us.”
Have you ever noticed how a husband and wife, who have been married for many years, are able to oft-times accurately predict what the other will say or do in a given situation? Why is that? It is because they have spent so much time together, grown to know each other very intimately.
The same is true for our relationship with God. The deeper we dive into who he is, the deeper we allow ourselves to go in a relationship with him, the better we understand his character, desires and heart better and better. We naturally recognize and anticipate his actions because we KNOW him. The Apostle Paul says that we have the Spirit of God, and who knows a person but his spirit. Therefore, since we have the Spirit, we have a direct connection to knowing God fully and we possess the mind of Christ. Do not ever underestimate the truth and implications of this reality.
The deeper this relationship goes and the more intimate it becomes, the more natural it is for us to act as he would act. For example, in Acts 3 we read how Peter healed a lame man. Have you ever noticed what did not happen? Peter did not pray and ask for God’s leading before he interacted and healed that man. I find that very revealing. Peter knew from his relationship with God that this was the right thing to do at that time. It was not necessary for him to worry or concern himself with whether or not this was what God wanted. It was a natural outflow of his intimate relationship with God.
The same can and should be true for all followers of Jesus. The key to this becoming our reality is this – God’s desires, character and heart must become our own. When this is our reality, no matter where we find ourselves, we can see how that is the place for us to be at that moment.
In my studying this morning in Acts 17, I was struck by something. As Paul and his companions were traveling on the second missionary journey, I believe Paul’s plan for travel was continually being blown up, either directly by God or by God allowing different situations to happen that would cause a change in course. Paul desired to go into Asia province but was forbidden by the Holy Spirit. He then desired to enter in the region of Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them to do so. In Troas, Paul had a vision that they were to go into Macedonia. So they did. They were kicked out of Philippi which was on the road known as the Via Egnatia, a major road in that area.
The next major city to the west was Thessalonica, so there they went. I’m of the thought that Paul may have had this plan of continuing to visit cities along this road. But when he needed to leave Thessalonica at night, the brothers there did not go that route, but actually went southwest to Berea. I’m thinking that this was not the direction Paul desired to go. Even when finding it necessary to leave Berea, Paul was taken to Athens which was probably not where he envisioned going next.
Paul went with the flow and leading of the Holy Spirit. He knew that his desires mirrored the desires of God through the Spirit. Therefore, he didn’t have to wonder if something was what God wanted. Wherever he went, he sought to fulfill those desires to share Christ and bring glory to God.
If you are wondering whether or not something is God’s will, instead of trying to figure it out, take a look at your own motives and desires. If your motives and desires are pure, meaning that they mirror God’s, then stop wondering if something is God’s will, for he will take you there. Even if you end up in a place which you could never have imagined, if your motives and desires mirrors God’s, then that place is his will for you.
Wherever we are, it is God’s desires that those around us encounter his character, heart and desires through us. If that is what truly motivates you, you are right where God wants you to be right now. And it is an awesome feeling.
I am continually amazed at the way God uses different things in creative ways and in purposeful ways. Those who are familiar with the story of Jonah in the Old Testament know that God used a storm at sea to put Jonah back on track even while Jonah was trying to run from God by booking passage on a ship going in the opposite direction. Whether God just used it or specifically caused it, it really doesn’t matter; he used the storm to get Jonah back on the right path.
On January 27th, much of Iowa awoke to ice, ice that made travel difficult and dangerous. The Iowa State Patrol was highly recommending people stay home. Due to the weather, many churches cancelled services for that morning, First Baptist of Fort Dodge included.
Here is how God used that ice storm to redirect me. Early that following week, it was my intention to just preach the sermon I had prepared for January 27th on February 3. However, God was having none of that plan; he had other ideas. Somewhere between Tuesday night and Wednesday morning, through a couple of sources, God made me realize he had something different he wanted to say. So, through a few conversations between him and me, he communicated to me what that was. It was a refocusing on why he had us journeying through Acts – specifically, exploring questions around our identity as the people of God and how that makes us different than those who are not of this people. (We have been looking at the legacy of the church to answer these questions; hence the journey through Acts.)
Connected with other aspects of that morning’s worship, it was a powerful experience. God talked to us about 4 identifying characteristics of his people: prophetic, priestly, temple of the Holy Spirit and possession of the mind of Christ. (If you want to listen to the sermon, you can find it here: http://pastorjim86.podomatic.com/entry/2013-02-05T06_44_32-08_00.) We also had a couple of different opportunities to participate in being the people of God for each other.
So, this week, I intended to use the sermon that I had prepared for January 27th (I mean, why waste a sermon, right?), but as I was reviewing it and the passage upon which it was based, God made me realize that these sermons had become more and more academic in nature as the weeks have passed. They have not been as directly connected to us as he desired. They were becoming more history lessons with a moral rather than God’s personal message to and for us. That was not the case with this past Sunday. So, God’s message from that text is being re-crafted to much more reflect and speak to our identifying characteristics as God’s people.
And I am finding this to be an exhilarating experience. And it’s because he redirected me and this is causing me to go deeper into his character and desires and ours as his people, deeper than I have ever been before.
Amazing how he can use an ice storm.
When was the last time you read a book that you just couldn’t put down due to excitement and before you knew it, it was 2AM? When was the last time you watched a new movie that you just couldn’t pull yourself away from? How, in either case, could this have happened? Could it be that this excitement was from not knowing what was going to happen next and you just had to know what was going to happen next? Could it be that you were so invested in that book or movie that you became mesmerized by it?
More than a few times, and usually from those of younger crowd, I have been told that one reason they, among others, don’t go to worship is because they find it predictable and boring. And if we are truly honest, in most worship services this cannot be legitimately refuted. Who was it that first deemed it necessary for certain activities to always happen in a proper and God-honoring worship service? For those who have been in the worship services in a variety of churches, have you noticed that there is a consistency in what occurs from church to church, albeit, maybe in a different order? Announcements are communicated in some way; there is singing by everyone in the sanctuary, usually led by an individual or a praise team; there is usually some type of special number, whether by an individual or a group such as a choir; an offering is taken; a sermon is preached; one or more prayers are said; in many faith traditions, on the first Sunday of the month, communion is observed. Rarely does the content vary, even from church to church. Eventually, it becomes very rote to people. And eventually, it becomes very predictable and loses its luster and its ability to cause excitement in people. In other words, it has become boring.
Was it ever God’s intention that worship of him become predictable and boring? Was it ever God’s intention that humanity substitutes its definition and picture of order for God’s? Why is it that when we, through our human eyes and understanding, see what we would consider chaos, we typically are of the opinion that God cannot be in it, for as I Corinthians 14:33 says, “God is not a God of confusion, but of peace?” What if what we see as chaos God actually sees as orderly because it is order as he defines and gives it, not how we do so.
On the day of Pentecost in Acts 2, there was chaos when the Holy Spirit descended upon the 120 in the upper room. The events of that day were so chaotic that those observing them were of the opinion that way too much alcohol had been freely flowing among the group. But God was the author of what was occurring that day. In human eyes, chaos was seen, but in God’s eyes there was a sweet and beautiful order as he defined and orchestrated it.
For the vast majority of people who found themselves in a worship service sometime over the past weekend, most likely their level of participation in worship was limited to singing a few songs, shaking a few hands while greeting a few people, listening to a special number, a prayer or prayers and a sermon. Is this really participation? I’m thinking that if this is the definition of participation in worship, then everyone in the crowd at a sporting event or concert are participating with the athletes on the field or the performers on the stage. It is a very low level of participation.
What if the way God intended for worship to be was much different than what is normal in sanctuaries on Sunday mornings? What if he desires that different things happen from week to week? What if he desires that one draw for people to worship him is that they never know what will happen any given Sunday? What if how and through whom he communicates changes from week to week? What if, much like what Paul describes in I Corinthians 14:26 where he says, “Whenever you come together, each one has a psalm, has a teaching, has a revelation, has a tongue, has an interpretation for the purpose of building up each other and the body,” this is the common experience for churches today? What if God speaks to and directs someone, in the days leading up to the corporate worship experience, to bring a song, or a word of revelation, or a skit or something else that would bring all deeper in an encounter with the living God?
If what I have just described becomes the norm and not adhering to a set order of service, or even deeming certain actions and activities to be necessary in every corporate worship experience, what would happen to people’s level of excitement about and participation in worship? Much like that book or movie that has its firm grip on someone, there is an increase in the level of excitement because you never know what is going to happen in worship from week to week. The level of excitement will increase because you never know how God is going to reveal himself and his desires to the corporate whole or even through whom. People will walk into a sanctuary wondering, “What’s going to happen this week?” or “How will God reveal himself this week?” or “What will God say this week?” The level of participation will increase and be deeper because now, not only are more people actively involved because God speaks through all his people, but what is being communicated draws us deeper into God and who he is for us and what he has for us right now.
Predictable and boring are not two words which describe the way I understand God, his character and his desires, the way he reveals himself and the way he has worked throughout the centuries. God has worked in ways that cause amazement and marvel because he has done so in ways, places, situations and through people that are totally unexpected and more than a bit chaotic. God multiple times describes what he does as a “new thing.” If all this is the case, why then is it that these two words (predictable and boring), many times, accurately describe the way we present God to others and/or our worship of him? I wonder; does constant predictability and boring worship in some way offend God?
When people are allowed the freedom to bring and present whatever and however God has directed them, there can be a form of chaos, but only from a human standpoint is it so. To God, since it has been he who through his Spirit has directed each person to bring what he/she brings, there is actually a sweet order to that which he has beautifully crafted. This is not to say that what is brought is not of excellence for God likes it when we bring beautiful stuff to him. If a person is given a song to bring, that person should practice that song in order to bring a wonderful gift to enhance our corporate worship of God and encourage the building of the body.
In all of this, it is the responsibility of leadership to create an environment where people are granted the freedom to participate to this level. It is the responsibility of leadership to encourage people to listen to God and bring what he tells them to bring to enhance worship and build up the body.
It is the responsibility of this pastor. And through God’s direction and strength, having the unexpected happen will become what we expect.