Friday, May 31, 2013
Reading from Hebrews the other day and noticed an interesting correlation between the Levite priesthood under the Old Covenant and the New Testament priesthood of believers.
Under the Old Covenant, the Levitical priests were allowed to eat what was offered on the altar. Whether that was a sacrificed lamb or bull, after the animal was sacrificed and burnt on the altar, they were given the leftover meat to feed themselves and their families. In fact, it was one of the various ways that the other tribes of Israel provided for the well-being of those Levites who worked in the temple and had no land or property of their own.
Paul references this principle here:
“Don't you know that those who serve in the temple get their food from the temple, and that those who serve at the altar share in what is offered on the altar?” (1 Cor. 9:13)
Now, what struck me was how Jesus gave us His body to eat and stressed that if we did not eat it (receive His sacrifice) that we would not have life in us.
“Jesus said to them, “Very truly I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day. For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in them.” (John 6:53-56)
Not only is this meant to illustrate the need for us to have the life of Christ within us, I believe it’s also meant to correspond to the sacrificial lamb which is eaten only by the priesthood.
So, because we who are in Christ are now members of the new Priesthood of Believers, we are privileged to eat of the One true sacrifice of the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.
No one else is allowed to eat of this sacrificial food from off of God’s altar, only those who are of the true priesthood.
Because we are the new priesthood of a new covenant, we are allowed to eat the body of the sacrificial lamb that was laid on the altar in sacrifice for our sins.
Thursday, May 30, 2013
Leadership: No one was more interested in this topic than the first disciples of Jesus. But what was His response to their arguments about which of them was the greatest? Why is "Leadership" so important in the Body of Christ and how can we get it right?
Wednesday, May 29, 2013
According to the New Testament, the Christian faith was inaugurated at Pentecost when the Holy Spirit, in fulfillment of Joel 2:28-32, was poured out on all flesh. From that day forward, the followers of Jesus became empowered to preach the Gospel, baptize new believers, plant churches, and share communion with other believers. Everyone was in the ministry of Jesus Christ. There was no distinction between clergy and laity because in their minds, every follower of Jesus was “…being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ." – (1 Peter 2:5)
When the Spirit of Almighty God was poured out on all flesh at Pentecost, those first Christians got it. They understood that the same Holy Spirit of God that once rested over the ark of the covenant behind a 300 pound veil in the Temple of Jerusalem was now living within their own hearts. They were excited beyond belief and consumed with a fire and a passion to share this living presence of God with everyone they knew.
The original Christian church was one “not made with human hands”. Rather than following “the pattern of this world” the Biblical Christian church was birthed by the Spirit of God, empowered by words of Christ, and under submission to the Father. Simply put, the Christian church we read about in the New Testament was something that God was doing, not men. In contrast to our Church today, the first Christians were ordained by the Holy Spirit of God Himself and sent out to proclaim the Gospel, the Good News, that the Kingdom of God had come to every man, woman and child.
The artificial, man-made hierarchy we see in the Christian church today is not what the Church practiced under the Apostles in the New Testament. Instead of a Body made up entirely of Spirit-filled ministers of the Gospel, the Christian church eventually surrendered this heavenly model for a more top-down approach.
As one New Testament scholar, Howard Snyder, put it:
"The clergy-laity dichotomy is…a throwback to the Old Testament priesthood. It is one of the principal obstacles to the church effectively being God’s agent of the kingdom today because it creates a false idea that only ‘holy men,’ namely, ordained ministers, are really qualified and responsible for leadership and significant ministry. In the New Testament there are functional distinctions between various kinds of ministries but no hierarchical division between clergy and laity. The New Testament teaches us that the church is a community in which all are gifted and all have ministry.”
I believe this is partly why Jesus strategically chose his disciples from among the most common and ordinary strata of society. He wanted to make sure that when a run-of-the-mill fisherman stood up and proclaimed the Gospel no one would bow down and worship him. Instead, the people saw ordinary men and women just like themselves, uneducated, dirty, and painfully normal, who had been caught up into the eternal purpose of God.
When Peter spoke under the power of the Holy Spirit, or when Paul prayed for people to be healed, or when any of those unnamed disciples ministered to one another in the Body, everyone knew it was God doing the work, not the people themselves.
"When they saw the courage of Peter and John and realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus.” – (Acts 4:13)
When they gathered together it wasn’t to hear words of “eloquence or superior wisdom” but to experience Jesus in their midst as the Head of the Body and to share Him through a communion that went beyond bread and wine. The original, New Testament Christians were empowered, “not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit's power” (1 Cor 2:1-5).
The Church is what God is doing, not what we are doing. We are living stones, but only because we are filled with the Life of Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit. Gathering apart from that is just a gathering. When we come together, to the Living Stone, we also like living stones are built up into a holy priesthood, offering sacrifices of praise to celebrate our Risen Lord who is present with us in the meeting.
Can you imagine being in a room with Jesus and allowing someone other than Him to speak for over an hour? Can you imagine experiencing the awesome presence of the Spirit of the Living God and reading announcements?
The Body of Christ is an expression of the tangible, resurrected Christ. Have we settled for less? Have we become comfortable listening to the wisdom of Men rather than waiting quietly for the whisper of our Eternal Creator?
The more I read the New Testament the more I see a people who were caught up in something beyond themselves. They were the most common, uneducated, normal people you can imagine. Even their leaders were humble, ordinary, everyday men and women who saw themselves as fortunate participants in the fulfillment of Biblical prophecy and the heart’s desire of Almighty God to reveal Himself to the World.
*NOTE: This article originally appeared in the online magazine www.theyoke.org.
Monday, May 27, 2013
Friday, May 24, 2013
Paul, in the epistle of Titus urges us not to waste our time with people who like to argue. In fact he says this:
“Warn a divisive person once, and then warn them a second time. After that, have nothing to do with them. You may be sure that such people are warped and sinful; they are self-condemned.” (Titus 3:10-11)
If you consider what the fruit of constant argumentation brings to the Body of Christ, Paul’s admonition is very practical. The point of coming together as the Body of Christ is not to entertain controversies or to argue endlessly about this doctrine or that teaching. The purpose of gathering together is to build one another up in faith. (See 1 Cor. 14:26)
Does this mean that we cannot build one another up by teaching simply because we might end up disagreeing over how to understand a scripture? Of course not. But we can allow people to disagree with us without turning the entire meeting over to this point of contention.
As an example, in our house church many of us disagree on how best to interpret various scriptures. However, we go out of our way to honor one another and to leave room for others to express their viewpoints. Understanding that either person, or both, could be wrong, everyone listens and no one attempts to sway the church in any specific direction. What’s more, we don’t make these differences our main points of discussion.
Disagreement is not divisiveness. The divisiveness comes when one person, or more, cannot let something go. It comes when those persons allow their needs and wants and agendas to become more important to them than the spiritual health and well-being of everyone else in the Body. In those cases, Paul’s words are very helpful to us:
“Warn a divisive person once, and then warn them a second time. After that, have nothing more to do with them.”
Find your unity in Christ, not in your doctrines. Do not allow being right to rob everyone else of their right to experience Christ in the midst of the Body. As Paul also says, “Why not rather be wronged” than to allow divisions among us? (1 Corinthians 6:7)
Seek first the Kingdom, and let go of your petty arguments.
Thursday, May 23, 2013
I'm honored to share a recent Google chat conversation I had with my good friend, Herb Montgomery.
Herb shares his testimony and we talk candidly about following Jesus into non-violence, caring for the poor, and the Gospel of the Kingdom.
Wednesday, May 22, 2013
It happens all too often. A tidal wave, a tsunami, a hurricane or a tornado devastates a community. Within hours a prominent Christian televangelist or bible teacher pronounces blame. Without fail the blame falls upon the shoulders of “those sinners” out there.
Without going into detail about how our sins affect various weather patterns around the globe, let’s look instead at what the Bible says about where blame should actually fall:
"If my people, who are called by my name will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land." - 2 Chronicles 7:14
Who are God's people? We are. Who are those who are called by His name? Christians. Who must humble themselves and pray and seek the face of God? Us.
What is holding back the healing of our land? The lack of Christian humility and prayer. Who should repent? We should.
Obviously, if our Christian leaders are so quick to blame earthquakes and hurricanes on the sins of others, we’re not looking in the mirror. And if our leaders brazenly suggest that the solution to the world’s problems would all be solved if everyone were more like them, we’re not really practicing humility.
So, if we understand scripture correctly, the ones who deserve the blame for random acts of weather-induced judgment are the Christians among us who do not humble themselves or pray, or seek God’s face, or turn from their own wicked ways.
If anyone needs to apologize here, it’s these Christians who are too proud to confess their sins and humble themselves and pray.
Now, we could also entertain the possibility that hurricanes and earthquakes and tornadoes are just naturally occurring phenomenon and not necessarily the result of an angry, vengeful God who can’t wait to smite us. (That’s sort of what I’d suggest). But if you’re insistent that God loves to pound people for their sins, keep this in mind - According to the Bible, the things that really anger God the most are not abortion, atheists, liberals, or homosexuality.
For those keeping score at home, the issues that really inspire the wrath of God are:
*Ignoring the poor
How do I know this? Well, the grand-daddy of all “Wrath of God” moments is Sodom and Gomorra, of course. No arguments there, right? Well, according to God the reason He decided to rain down the fire and the brimstone on those cities was this:
“Now this was the sin of your sister Sodom: She and her daughters were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy. They were haughty and did detestable things before me. Therefore I did away with them as you have seen.” – (Ezekiel 16:49-50)
So, what God really, really hates are clearly these Top 5 sins of Sodom: Pride, Apathy, Gluttony, Arrogance and Ignoring the poor.
As Christians, "called by His name” our first response to tragedies should be to help, and to pray, and to serve. Let’s leave the judgment to God. That’s His job, not ours.
See, if God really did want to judge a city or a nation, the pattern He takes is to speak to the prophet BEFORE the judgment comes so that A) people have an opportunity to repent and B) when the judgment comes everyone will know that God told them about it in advance.
As far as I know, these television and radio preachers, (who are now proclaiming the tornadoes in Oklahoma are due to the sins of the people), didn’t say a word about these storms before they happened. You know what that means? It means that they are not speaking for God. It means they are not humbling themselves and repenting of their own sins. It means they are more focused on the failures of others than on their own need to be more like Jesus.
To all of you affected by this recent storm, I apologize. I’m sorry, more than you will ever know, that in addition to your suffering you had to endure the blame placed upon you by those who are called by His Name but who lack the compassion of Jesus, or his humility and grace.
Thursday, May 16, 2013
There are some who disagree with my advice regarding how to conduct ourselves when the ekklesia gathers together. Even those who are avid house church participants still believe that arguing over different doctrines is essential for Christian assembly.
Part of that viewpoint is based on their philosophy of ekklesia, I suppose. See, our fellowship is intentionally seeking to take hold of Christ whenever we gather together. That means we don’t want to waste our time talking about doctrines, or arguing over differences in opinion, or even focusing too much on our own struggles and needs. Instead, we work together to allow Jesus to speak to us and to lead us corporately. This isn’t easy. But, if we are all focused on this one thing, and if we are all sincerely surrendered to Christ, then we can experience the presence of Jesus in our midst. When that happens, Jesus encourages us. He heals us. He speaks to us. He teaches us. He rebukes us. He inspires us. He comforts us.
How exactly does Jesus do this? Often it is through one of our own members. As we each are surrendered to Christ, one of us might sense that the Lord is prompting us to share a specific verse of scripture. We might not even understand why, but in obedience to Him we read that scripture. Then another person might confess that they are struggling with something that exact verse was speaking about. Then another person might feel the Lord prompting them to lay hands on that person, or another person, and to pray something specific over them; a blessing, an encouragement, or yet another verse of scripture.
Sometimes a member in our group might sense the Lord wants us to sing a particular song together. Another person might feel that the Lord is asking us to sit in silence for a moment. Then another person might realize that they need to ask forgiveness of someone else in the Body for something that was said or done. And so on.
As wonderful as this experience might be, we don’t always enjoy this kind of thing. At least, not as often as I would like, anyway. Sometimes we start off in this direction and then someone might derail the process, or we get distracted by something else and then we cease to wait on the Lord and to respond to His voice. It happens. And when it does we all have to have grace for one another and recognize our own weaknesses, and even confess that we’ve done the same thing many times ourselves. These are opportunities for more grace and another chance to love one another in spirit and in truth.
But if our group spent most of our time debating points of doctrine, or engaging in “sword fights” over what scripture teaches about this or that, we would never – and I mean never – allow Jesus to lead us and to speak to us in the way I just described.
In our individual walk with Jesus, we are commanded to surrender ourselves to Christ and take up our cross daily. Jesus says that we cannot be His disciples (followers) if we don’t do this. In the same way, whenever those same cross-bearing disciples get together in the same room, the need to remain surrendered and crucified doesn’t change. If anything, our need to die to ourselves and to let go of our agendas is probably even more necessary whenever we enter a room with other Christians.
Jesus must be our Head. He must be submitted to at all times, and especially in the gathering of the ekklesia. Without this complete and total surrender we cannot follow Jesus, and we cannot “be the Church” that Jesus desires.
“He (Jesus) is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy.” (Colossians 1:17-18)
Wednesday, May 15, 2013
In a recent correspondence with another brother in Christ, the question of unity in the Body came up. Specifically, there was a difference of opinion in his house church group over a certain doctrine. He had one opinion, fueled by articles written by respected New Testament scholars. His brother in the fellowship had another opinion, also fueled by articles and sermons provided by respected Christian teachers.
While I agree with one side of that argument, my main concern was for the unity of that fellowship. Since I’m certain that he is not alone in this regard, I thought it might be helpful to share my response with everyone, in the hopes that there might be more unity in the house churches.
Here’s how I responded to my friend:I'd encourage all of you guys not to spend any time when you are together arguing about the things you disagree on. In our group all of us disagree on many things, but we do not spend our time talking about what we disagree about. Instead, we spend our time together working to see Jesus and experience Him in our midst.
Remember, we are not "One" in our doctrines or opinions, and I for one don't believe we ever will be. According to the New Testament, our unity is in Christ. Not in our doctrines or theories, but only in Christ are we "One".
"...for you are all one in Christ Jesus." Galatians 3:27-29
So, if you strive for unity in these doctrines you won't find it, I'm afraid. If you strive for unity in Christ, you will find it because He is the One who brings unity, and reconciliation, and love. We're the ones who bring differences and opinions and arguments.Leave those arguments at home. When you gather, take hold of Jesus. Focus on Him. Talk to Him. Worship Him. Magnify Him. Glorify Him. Set your eyes on Him. The rest of that stuff will fade into the background.
If you want to discuss these issues together, do that one-on-one over coffee and don't drag that into the ekklesia. That's my advice.
Friday, May 03, 2013
I’ve come to realize that I have an ongoing conflict within myself. Part of me wrestles with pride and self-love while another part of me wallows in self-loathing. So, my pendulum swings between these two extremes. Either I feel an inflated sense of self, or I beat myself up for not being a better person.
If I’m prideful then I hate myself for being so full of myself. If I feel sorry for myself then I hate the fact that I have given in to these feelings of self-doubt.
Then the cycle repeats.
If I’m prideful then I hate myself for being so full of myself. If I feel sorry for myself then I hate the fact that I have given in to these feelings of self-doubt.
Then the cycle repeats.
Self-love or self-doubt. Bravado or pity. Pride or condemnation. Those are my choices. I either compensate for my feelings of inadequacy by telling myself I’m better than I really am, or I beat myself up for being too self-absorbed. Where do I find the balance? How do I change this inner struggle? How do I rewrite the script that continually plays in my head over and over again?
I recently began reading a book about self-image. Specifically, about how our identity is wrapped up in Christ. Not all of it was great. In fact, a lot of it really didn’t click at all for me. But what God did show me was significant and important.
Identity has always been a fascination of mine. It’s why I love the books I love. It’s why I love the movies I love. If I listed them for you now you’d see what I mean. The point is that the question I’ve been asking all this time is, “Who am I?” and deep down, deeper than I’ve known until now, the other question I’ve been asking is, “Who is God?”
Frankly, answering the question, “Who is God?” is easier for me to answer than “Who am I?”, as crazy as that sounds. I’ve never doubted God. Not in the sense that I’ve doubted His existence. Truthfully. I can remember being a little boy and talking to God, thinking about Him, reasoning out how He could have created everything without needing to be created Himself, praying to Him for help, promising Him that I would be a preacher if He would put my parents back together again. All of these things took place years before I formally went forward and surrendered my life to Him. I have always felt Him near me. So finding out who God was and is has never been that much of a struggle for me.
But finding out who I am? That’s another story. In fact, I think it’s difficult for most of us. We can tell people our name, and our address, and where we’re from, and what our hobbies are, and who we love, but none of us can accurately answer the question, “Who are you?” Because my name, and my address, and my hobbies, and my job, and my associations do not define me. They are all things that exist outside of me, they are not me.
What I learned from reading this book was this very simple truth: “To know myself I have to know God, and to know God I have to know myself.” In other words, my identity is revealed in Christ when Christ is revealed in me. Jesus put it this way:
“If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?” (Matt. 16:24-26)
Denying myself is part of finding myself revealed in Christ. It’s more than simply saying “no” to my sinful desires. It’s also about giving up on defining myself. In other words, I am not who I pretend to be. I am not who you think I am. I am not who others tell me I am. I am only who Jesus reveals me to be.
So, letting go of my ideas about who I should be and embracing the person that God made me to be allows the veil to be removed from my eyes. Losing my life allows me to find my true self hidden in Christ, where I have been all along.
At the same time, I have to fully embrace the person that God has made me to be. For a long time now I’ve been hiding from my true self. I have a teaching gift yet I often sit quietly in the background and let others talk. Yet, God made me to be a teacher. That’s part of my identity. To deny that is to deny my true self.
All of this takes me back to when I was five years old, laying on my bunk bed in the dark, whispering to God from my heart of simplicity. The more I shared my heart with God, the more God revealed His heart to me. It takes me back to sitting in my closet and pouring out my soul to God as a teenager. This is a relationship. The more I know God, the more He allows me to know my true self.
Over time I think I’ve forgotten how to let God love me like that. I’ve become so used to pretending to be the person I think I’m supposed to be that I’ve been hiding my true self from Him. I’ve been rolling over in the darkness when He calls my name. I’ve been going through the motions instead of coming before Him just as I am; simply trusting that He will love me because of who He is.
The beautiful truth is, He just wants me to know Him. He really wants to show me who I am, too. The more I open my heart to Him, the more I know Him, and the more He reveals myself to me.
One of my favorite promises in scripture is found in Revelation 2:17 where Jesus promises that one day He will give each of us a white stone, and on that stone is written a new name. It is a unique name that Jesus has already picked out for each of us individually. He tells us that no one will know that name except the two of us. It’s a special secret name that reveals our true identity through His eyes.
I can’t wait for Jesus to drop that white stone into my open hand. I can’t wait to turn it over and to read that secret name etched there by His own hand.
I am only who I am when He whispers that name to me.
Thursday, May 02, 2013
Jesus makes a few radical promises to those who would take up their cross daily and follow Him. One of those promises is that he will give those people an incredible gift called “rest.”
For those who are weary, exhausted, burnt out, and frazzled, Jesus says, “I will give you rest.” For those who are ready to quit, walk away in disgust and throw in the towel Jesus says, “come find rest for your souls.”
But the fact remains that many Christians are not experiencing that rest. They are overworked, stressed out, and pushed to their limits.
What’s wrong? Is it that Jesus lied about giving us rest? Or maybe when Jesus said he would give us rest he meant after we die and go to heaven? You know, sort of like the phrase “I’ll be dead soon and then I’ll sleep.”
Or maybe Jesus really meant what he said. Maybe Jesus is holding out peace and rest to us and we’re just not able – or willing – to reach out and take it.
“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” (Matt. 11:28-29)
Jesus invites everyone to come to him, especially those of us who are weary and burdened. Why? Because he wants to give us rest. If our weariness is real, then the rest he’s offering is just as literal. If our burdens are heavy, his rest is light. His offer is as real as our need.
Jesus also asks us to take his yoke upon ourselves. What does that mean? It means that he wants us to submit to his leadership in our lives. He wants us to actually surrender our will to his own on a daily basis. He wants us to listen to his voice and to obey him. He wants us to learn from him.
Learn what? How to live our lives. How to be as gentle and as humble as he is. Why? So that we can find rest for our souls.
Notice how finding rest for our souls comes after we take his yoke and learn from him. That’s the only way it works. Rest is something we have to follow Jesus into, one step at a time.
If you’re needing some relief today, I’d encourage you to go to Jesus. Ask him for his yoke. Let him teach you how to follow him and trust him daily. Then you’ll start to experience more of his promised rest as you exchange your worries for his peace of mind.
Remember, if God is in control then we are not. Real peace comes when we surrender the things we’re clenching in our fists to Jesus. Rest is received with an open hand.
Wednesday, May 01, 2013
I don't often use my blog to promote things, but in this case I'm making an exception. Frank Viola is someone whom I respect and I've been very blessed by several of his books over the years. He has been very accessible to me personally at various times when I needed insight or advice, and he's very generously shared his time with me both over the phone and by email on several occasions.
Because of this, I've decided to donate a free PDF of my latest book, The Power of Weakness, to everyone who buys a copy of his new book in the next 7 days.
Frank Viola's new book, God’s Favorite Place on Earth is now available, and if you buy the book betwen May 1st and May 7th you'll also receive a bonus package of 24 Free Gifts from 15 different authors (including my book, "THE POWER OF WEAKNESS" on PDF).
ABOUT FRANK'S BOOK:
The premise of the book is simple: When Jesus walked the Earth, He was rejected everywhere He went - from Bethlehem, to Nazareth, to Jerusalem. The only exception was the little village of Bethany.
The curtain opens with Lazarus, who is now ready to die, telling the incomparable story of Jesus’ interactions with him, Martha, and Mary. God’s Favorite Place on Earth blends drama, devotion, biblical narrative, and first-century history to create a riveting book that you’ll find difficult to put down. Within each narrative, the common struggles Christians face are addressed and answered.
Frank's intention with this book is that your relationship with God might deepen and that by reading this book you might find victory over bitterness and be set free you from guilt, fear, doubt and discouragement, once and for all.
As part of an online promotion, Frank is giving away over $200 worth of free extras, including books, mp3s, PDFs, and more from people like Leonard Sweet, Jeff Goins, Andrew Farley, Steve McVey, DeVern Fromke, Pete Briscoe, Frank Viola himself, and me.
I'm honored to have my book, The Power of Weakness, included in this massive grab bag of free goodies that Frank is giving away to those who purchase his book online.
Go to GodsFavoritePlace.com to claim your 25 FREE GIFTS, read a Sampler of the book, and be sure to watch the video trailer.