A different type of worship gathering

This is the article I wrote for the current the January 2014 edition of my church’s newsletter.  It discusses a different type of worship gathering which will be held this coming Sunday, December 29 in place of Sunday school and our regular type of gathering.

“I am anticipating that you will receive this Newslight before Christmas.  Because of that, I would like to encourage you to be in attendance for a different type of worship gathering to be held on December 29th.  On that morning, there will be no Sunday school.  Starting at 10AM in the fellowship hall, you are invited to gather together for brunch, which will be served from 10-10:30AM.  You can come at any time during that period and be able to get some food.

The “official” start time for worship will be 10:30AM and it will be held in the fellowship hall as we are gathered around the tables where we have just eaten or some who will be finishing up.  During this gathering, please continue to enjoy a cup of coffee or juice as we worship and build up each other through sharing.

As I said, this worship gathering will be different.  It will be what I call an ‘organic’ worship gathering.  What that means is this: while there will be a theme for it (which is “Looking Back: Moving Forward”), there will really be no set order for this gathering like there is for a ‘typical’ worship gathering.  The goal is to look for the order to be set by the Holy Spirit and have shared what He would have shared that morning as we look back upon 2013 and prepare to move forward into 2014.

And because the Holy Spirit moves and speaks through His people, you are crucial for this gathering to be successful.  Worship is both a culmination and a beginning.  It is the culmination of the days since the last gathering of the body in sharing what the Spirit has done for, through, and in us as individuals which should cause amazement and awe in us, resulting in praise, adoration, and joy.  It is also a beginning because what the Holy Spirit reveals to each of His people is to be used to build up the body of Christ, the church, in some way, as we move forward.  It could be an exhortation to move in a certain direction.  It could be an encouragement of some sort.  It could be a song that really spoke to someone during the previous week, words that someone in the gathering really needs to hear, so we together sing it.

The idea is that this gathering would begin with those at individual tables and then “break out” from there to include the whole gathering.  That could be a testimony shared; it could be a song to be sung by the entire group; it could be a prayer request shared and then the whole body prays for that person or circumstance.  It could be a passage of Scripture through which the Holy Spirit impacted someone.  The idea is for us to be continually wondering what the Spirit is going to do next in the midst of our gathering.

And it will be a conversation-oriented.  As Baptists, we believe strongly in the priesthood of all believers.  The Apostle Peter, through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, called all those who are followers of Christ a royal priesthood, but often the way churches operate in practice is that it is the pastor or a small group of individuals who is viewed as priests because it is through that person or small group that the Holy Spirit speaks.  The Holy Spirit speaks to each of His priests, and if you are a follower of Christ, that includes you.  This gathering will give you an opportunity to operate in that capacity and reality.

I realize that many people struggle with things being different or change, but I would ask that, if you plan on being present for this gathering, you ask the Holy Spirit in the days leading up to this gathering to share with you what He would have you bring to this gathering for the edification of the body, the church.  The Apostle Paul said in 1 Corinthians 14:26-31,
‘When you come together, everyone has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation.  All of these must be done for the strengthening of the church.  If anyone speaks in a tongue, two – or at the most three – should speak, one at a time, and someone must interpret.  If there is no interpreter, the speaker should keep quiet in the church and speak to himself and God.  Two or three prophets should speak, and the others should weigh carefully what is said.  And if a revelation comes to someone who is sitting down, the first speaker should stop.  For you can all prophesy in turn so that everyone may be instructed and encouraged.’

As I conclude, you may have noticed that I have not call this gathering a worship ‘service.’  I actually have removed that word from the way I describe our coming together to worship.  I now call them worship “gatherings.”  Here is the reason the Holy Spirit has pushed me to change my language.  It speaks directly to how each person present is viewed, what his or her purpose for being there is.  The Holy Spirit has shown to me that a “service” is something that is done to or for me.  I take my car to a mechanic to have it serviced.  He or she is doing something for me that I’m not doing myself.  Worship is not something that is done for or to me.  Worship is something that I do along with others with whom I’m gathered.  In this way, each one present is vital to the depth and character of the worship when the body gathers.  The gathering on December 29th is designed to reinforce this reality.

I look forward to worshiping with you in this way as we look back at 2013 and prepare to move forward into 2014.

It’s sad that this is what causes an outrage.

I have watched with consternation the reaction concerning A&E’s decision to indefinitely suspend Duck Dynasty’s Phil Robertson over remarks he made in an interview with GQ magazine concerning his personal stance about homosexuality among other things.  It is not my intention to dive into the merits of whether or not the network’s decision was appropriate or whether or not Robertson’s First Amendment rights were violated.  No, it’s not about that.

What this blog post will concern itself with is this: why has this whole thing caused such the response that it has?  Much of this response, which much of is from Christians, is filled with vitriol against A&E.  I must admit, I find it interesting, and saddening actually, that this whole situation concerning a man who  was a millionaire before “Duck Dynasty” and a TV show has caused such a intense response.  Why is it that these types of situations cause such a response when there are other more important situations that do not cause this type of outrage?

It is my opinion that this situation causing outrage in Christians and not these other situations reflects poorly on Christians.

For example, where was the public and intense moral outrage and calls for a boycott from Christians against the companies whose “CEOs of the 50 U.S. firms that slashed the most jobs between November 2008 and April 2010 and then took in 42 percent more than the average CEO at an S&P 500 firm, according to the 17th annual Executive Excess study by the Institute for Policy Studies, a progressive Washington think tank. The study also found that 36 of the 50 layoff leaders ‘announced their mass layoffs at a time of positive earnings reports,”‘ suggesting a trend of ‘squeezing workers to boost profits and maintain high CEO pay.’

The 10 ‘highest-paid CEO layoff leaders’ ranked in the report include the CEO of Hewlett-Packard, Mark Hurd, who earned $24.2 million in 2009 as the company laid off 6,400 workers and Walmart CEO Michael Duke, who earned $19.2 million as the company laid off 13,350 workers.

Overall, the study found that executive pay remains astronomically high compared to previous decades. “After adjusting for inflation, CEO pay in 2009 more than doubled the CEO pay average for the decade of the 1990s, more than quadrupled the CEO pay average for the 1980s, and ran approximately eight times the CEO average for all the decades of the mid-20th century,” the study says. Currently, CEOs of major U.S. companies average 263 times the average compensation of American workers, the study claims.” (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/09/01/ceo-pay-layoffs_n_701908.html#s133351title=10_Ivan_Seidenberg)

Where’s the outrage concerning the many people who lost their ability to provide for their families only then to see high level executives pull in huge salaries?  I liken this to the story the Prophet Nathan told King David after David’s adulterous affair with Bathseba and having her husband killed to cover it up.

Where is this same type of response regarding the issue of human trafficking which is much more prevalent in this country than many would like to realize, preferring to keep heads buried deep in the sand.  Where is this type of response to the reality that one baby dies every 9 minutes in this world due to maternal neo-natal tetanus?  By the way, that’s 58,400 needless, preventable, agonizing deaths after approximately 7 day life spans.  Where’s the outrage over that?

Where is the outrage over the vulnerable in our society bearing the brunt of budget cuts?  Where is the outrage over organizations like one with which I’m familiar that works with those who are physically and mentally challenged in some way having their funding cut by the government and, therefore, having to provide with less money the same level of service for those who desperately need it??

Where was and is the outrage over the approximately 15.9 million children who experience food insecurity on a daily basis, which is defined as not having consistent access to enough nutritious food?

I could go on and on, but I think I have used enough examples.

It is sad that it is this situation of Phil Robertson that has caused the response that it has from Christians, one that is filled with hate and hate-filled speech that does not emanate from my God as I know Him.  

And one last thing.  The fact that it is this type of thing that causes this response I believe cements in the minds of those outside the church the picture of those inside the church as hate-filled, judgmental, hate-mongering, argumentative, looking for a fight, and holier-than-thou.

As adopted sons and daughters of God through and in Christ, we are called to reflect God’s character and be conduits for God’s goodness and kindness on earth, demonstrating what the Kingdom of Heaven is truly like.  Spouting vitriol at people and situations is not to what we are called, yet how often is that what people who are adopted sons and daughters do?

And what does it communicate to the world around us about our Heavenly Father when it is a situation like that of Phil Robertson which causes the type and character of outrage from many Christians?  

Remember, we are a reflection of Him.  So, maybe it would be an appropriate thing to consider how a word typed or spoken or an action taken will reflect of the Heavenly Father before it is said, typed, or done.

My Incredibly Brilliant Wife (of course that’s redundant)

Once again, I have been reminded of how incredibly brilliant and frugal as a shopper my wife is, groceries-wise. I saw a column about SNAP (formerly Food Stamps) being cut so a family of 4 would only be receiving $632/month in assistance. Including the amount we spend for our son’s lunches at his high school, for a family of 4 (and 6 when the two college kids are home), my wife does it on less than that and she puts good meals together. And, her grocery budget also pays for toiletries/cleaning supplies, etc. Her mother taught her well.

How does she do it? Her main shopping is done semi-monthly. She has a menu all planned out, shops her cupboards first so as to not to spend needlessly (unless something is on a ridiculously good sale, of course!), and then goes to get what else is needed. When her schedule isn’t ridiculously crazy, like it is right now, she sets aside shopping day, or the day after, as “freezer cooking day,” where she cooks in mass.

Doing her cooking in this manner does a couple of things for her.  First, in the long run, it saves her time.  She prepares multiple meals concurrently.  Second, it saves money because it enables her to buy a single larger size of a product which is cheaper than two smaller sizes of the same product.  Less of the product goes to waste because more of it is being used than being stored or refrigerated, just to be forgotten.  Doing it this way also enables her to make a larger size of the entrees so that there are typically leftovers for me and others to eat as lunches.  I cannot remember the last sandwich I had to make for a lunch.  Also, I absolutely hate it when food has to be thrown out because it has spoiled.  

Now, our menu doesn’t often include steak or other high-priced items, but it is delicious nonetheless.  It does take time and planning and preparation, but living on a restricted grocery budget is very doable.

I have an incredibly brilliant and talented wife in many areas and ways.  The way she handles her monthly grocery budget is just one example, but one that can get lost.  And I wanted to take the opportunity to bring it to the forefront this morning in light of that column I read.

Continued learning about identity

Over the last number of months, the focus of most, if not all, of my study and learning has been about identity, the identity of the one who is in Christ and the direct and radical and revolutionary implications of that identity.  This whole process has taken me so much deeper into my understanding of who I am, who God is, and who God is for me, and Scripture itself, depths which even 5 years ago I would not have dreamed possible.  As I think back, I have gone so far past and deeper than the teaching of my youth could have taken me had I stayed on that track, for that teaching rarely went beyond seeing the relationship between God and this world in a philosophical, rational and logical way.  

I have come to the conclusion that there are many Christians who, while not wanting to admit it, are truly double-minded, as James says in the early part of his letter.  I say that because I have come to the conclusion that there are many Christians who think of themselves in two different ways.  On one hand, they see themselves as “in Christ,” but on the other hand, they still view themselves as sinners and separate in some way/aspect from Christ.  There is an underlying perspective or mindset or approach that is characterized by a duality of nature.  It is from this duality that the idea of an ongoing internal war between the new nature, given to us by God, and the old sinful nature comes.  The problem with that is that that old nature is dead.  God crucified it when He crucified me with Christ, and just like He raised Christ glorified, I was also raised being given that new glorified nature which is Christ Himself.  That old nature stayed put in the grave; it wasn’t resurrected.  That enemy is dead, and the last time I checked, when the enemy is killed, the war is over.

The reason I bring all this up today is because of the passage that was the focal point of my study this morning.  It deals with my identity as God knows it and how God sees me.  The following passage is from 1 John 4:7-16 and is my translation: “Beloved, love one another, because love is from God, and everyone who loves is begotten from God and knows God.  The one who does not love does not know God, because God is love.  In this the love of God is revealed in us, because God sent his only begotten Son into the world that we should live through Him.  In this is love, not because we loved God, but because He loved us and sent His Son the propitiation for our sins.  Beloved, if God loved us thus, we also ought to love one another.  No one has beheld God at any time.  If we love one another, God abides in us and His love is being perfected in us.  In this we know that we abide in Him and He in us, because He gave to us from His Spirit.  And we beheld and testified that the Father sent His Son, Savior of the world.  Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him and he in God.  And we have come to know and believe the love which God has in us.  God is love, and the one who abides in the love abides in God and God abides in him.  In this, love has been perfected with us, that we should have boldness in the day of judgment, because just as He is, we also are in this world.

Think about that last sentence.  The one in whom God abides and who abides in God has the identity of Christ – “…because just as He is, we also are in this world.”  There is no duality; my identity, my nature, in this world is singular and it is Christ.  The one true identity has been established.  “Love has been perfected with us.”  That is a perfect tense verb, meaning that the action began in the past and has been completed also in the past.  The identity has been established in God’s eyes.  As Christ is, we currently are in this world.

Later on, in verse 19, John says, “We love because He first loved us.”  What God desires from us, He first gives to us.  He placed His love into us as an aspect of our identity in Christ so that we could love Him as only He could love Himself and those around us as only He could love them.  Because our nature is now Christ, it is our nature to love.  Because God is a humble God, He places humility in us so that we would be humble before Him in response and also before those around us in this world.  Think of any characteristic of our God-given identity and the paradigm is the same: what God wants from us He has already given to us for Christ possesses it and we are “in Christ” and Christ is in us.  God initiates and gives and we respond by returning it to Him, allowing others around us to experience it as we do so.

And just as James says in James 1:6-8, a person who has a duality of identity has no right to expect to receive anything from God.  But, the one who has the singular understanding of his/her true identity, that one has the right to expect to receive from God for that one abides in God and God in him.  And, even as awesome as a reason and logic might be, it cannot explain the position, identity, and standing which is anyone’s who is in Christ for they are spiritually discerned. 

How do you see yourself?  Is your view of your identity of a singular or dual nature?  What I have discovered is that anyone who has the dual mindset has the struggle that was experienced by Paul while he was still under the law.  Read Romans 7 where Paul describes what that whole push-pull style of attempting to live as God commanded in the law was like.  Paul isn’t saying that’s what his life was like when he wrote those words; he was remembering and describing that approach to life to Jewish believers in Rome who were wondering what to do regarding the law now that they were followers of Christ.  That was the old lifestyle with all the feelings and thoughts associated with guilt and shame and condemnation.  And it should not be surprising that someone still living under this approach doesn’t seem to grow in his/her God-given identity because that’s not how God does things anymore.

I have discovered this; once I received a singular mind concerning my identity and how God works in and through that, the speed of my realizing and experiencing the completeness I already have in Him went into overdrive.  It will be the same for you, because that’s how God works.

Shalom

Identity Crisis

I would like to give a quiz to anyone reading this blog.  Of the following 3 phrases, which one will you not find in the Bible?

1. Jesus, our apostle and high priest

2. Sinner saved by grace

3. We should become the righteousness of God in Christ

I believe there is an identity crisis running amok in the church in America today. That identity crisis is how Christians view themselves after believing the message of Christ and thereby receiving the adoption as sons and daughters of the living God who then sent forth the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, sealing our identity.  Because of Christ, those who believe are no longer sinners, but saints, for the Apostle Paul says in 2 Corinthians 5:21, “He made Him who knew no sin, sin, so that we should become the righteousness of God in Him.”  

Nowhere in Scripture do I ever see one who is in Christ being called a sinner.  No, they are called saints, holy ones, a holy priesthood, a holy nation, etc.  But how is the common way for Christians to describe themselves as they currently are?  As “a sinner saved by grace.”  Problem is, that phrase never shows up in Scripture.  Oh sure, the principle is there.  At a point in my past, I was a sinner who needed to be saved by God’s grace, but that is what I was formerly; that is no longer who I am.

Paul says in Galatians 2:19-20, “I have been crucified with Christ.  Yet no longer do I live, but Christ who lives in me.  And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith, that of the Son of God.”  If I say that I am still a “sinner saved by grace,” that means the nature of Christ which is now what I am and living is a sinful nature.  I don’t know about you, but I absolutely will not go there.

I do not believe there is even a war raging between my old nature and the new nature of Christ.  How often does Paul state that the old nature is dead, passed away, gone?  2 Corinthians 5:17 says, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation.  The old has passed away/gone/left; behold the new has come.”  The old nature is gone, it’s dead.  God killed it off when He crucified me together with Christ.  It didn’t somehow resurrect itself so it could sneak back in while God had His back turned.  It’s gone; it’s dead.  And the last time I checked, if I have an enemy, if said enemy dies, no longer can that enemy wage war against me.

Some use different passages (Romans 7 and 1 Timothy 1 for example) to support that there is still an internal war waging between the old and new nature.  First off, if what God did in dealing with the sin nature wasn’t enough or fell short, well, I’m not going to tell God that He didn’t do enough.  In dealing with these two passages, it is so important to see them in context.  If you don’t read something in context, it then becomes a pretext for proving what you want to be true.  

In Romans 7, Paul seems to be saying that there is still this internal war waging in his body between the good and bad.  Not read in context, this passage absolutely says that.  But, read in context, it doesn’t.  When Paul starts this chapter, he says that he is saying these words to his brothers, those who know the law.  The idea is that he is talking to those who are Jewish, are believers, and are wondering how the Mosaic Law all fits into this.  That is the reason why Paul uses the analogy of marriage and a surviving widow being free, under the law, to remarry and have it not be adultery.

Throughout the rest of this chapter, Paul begins to describe what life was like under the law, which was good because God sent it.  The law of sin and death used the law to kill.  There was this back and forth of knowing what was right to do and not doing it, and then feeling condemned.  That was the direct result of the law of sin and death, which then caused Paul to describe himself, under that paradigm, as a wretched man.  Paul then begins chapter 8 with this: “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.  For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and death.”  

Then in verses 5-6 he says this: “For those who are according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh (this is the law of sin and death), but those who are according to the Spirit, the things of the Spirit.  For the mind set on the flesh is death, but the mind set on the Spirit is life and PEACE.”  The problem is that it has been commonly taught that Christians are still sinners, albeit saved by grace.  The proper teaching is, “I was a sinner who was saved by grace and now I am a saint, one of God’s holy ones and that is how I view myself because that is how God sees me.”

The other passage, 1 Timothy 1, to which people point as proof of this inner war, Paul is remembering what he was formerly; it’s his testimony.  Again, in context, Paul in verse 13 says that this was what he “formerly” was.  He’s not saying that he is still the “chief of sinners.”  He is remembering what he once was.

Proverbs 23:7 says, “As a man thinks in his heart, so is he.”  It should not be surprising that if a Christians views him/herself as still a sinner, s/he is characterized by sin or some “inner battle.”  When this is the common view, then religion is necessary with all of its rules and regulations because sin still needs to be “managed” for the Spirit of the living God within and what God did through Christ wasn’t enough.

When a Christian has the proper view of his/her true identity, things change.  How s/he thinks, how s/he perceives what is happening to and around him/her, and how s/he talks.  His/her thinking, perception, and language change.  Paul says that transformation happens by the renewing of the mind (Romans 12:2).  

When Paul says we are a “new creation,” the word for new used there means something totally different.  In Colossians 3:10, he uses a second word for new meaning renewed like an upgrade.  Between the two, what I believe Paul is saying is that we are a new creation complete in Christ because that is how God now knows us.  And God, through the work of Christ and His Spirit, is giving us upgrades so that our completeness becomes more our reality all the time.  So, with every upgrade I receive in that realization, I must continually put on the latest upgrade, exercise it until it becomes my norm.

I have discovered something in a practical aspect.  When I changed how I view my identity to match how God sees me, I have found two things to be my reality.  First, there no longer is any sense of contending or fight.  I have found that refreshing.  Second, I have experienced upgrades in areas where I have struggled constantly over the years.  For example, my level of patience with certain people and in certain situations has upgraded.

If the common view of our identity is as sinners, it should not be any surprise that there is so much judgment occurring within the church and from it; sinners focus on judgment.  But, if the common view is the proper one, saints, then we will focus on God and His goodness to us.  

I choose the latter.  How about you?