The Problem With Gender Neutral Bibles & Gender Neutrality in the Church

Years ago I led our church through a doctrinal study over the distinctives that define us as Baptists. In an age where denominational labels tend to offend or in some cases are avoided at all cost, there is value in knowing and understanding the doctrinal pinnings of one's church. This study led us through our doctrinal statement, known as The Baptist Faith & Message (2000.)

Article I of our statement of faith reveals our understanding of the inspiration and value of the Bible. The article expresses this as follows:

The Holy Bible was written by men divinely inspired and is God's revelation of Himself to man. It is a perfect treasure of divine instruction. It has God for its author, salvation for its end, and truth, without any mixture of error, for its matter. Therefore, all Scripture is totally true and trustworthy. It reveals the principles by which God judges us, and therefore is, and will remain to the end of the world, the true center of Christian union, and the supreme standard by which all human conduct, creeds, and religious opinions should be tried. All Scripture is a testimony to Christ, who is Himself the focus of divine revelation.

 As we dug into this teaching on the value of Scripture, it becomes confusing to some, especially in the English-speaking world, as to which version of the Bible should be used. There are some who believe the only valid version to be read, studied and preached is the Authorized King James Version. While I am not one to discount the value of the tried and true KJV, primarily because I grew up, like many of you, reading and memorizing passages from this version. It's a beautiful version and yet, it is often hard to follow due to the changing vocabulary and different meanings of English words from the 1600s to now. As an American with friends from Great Britain, I find that phrases we use have vastly different meanings to them, and vice versa. 

Some have asked why there are so many modern English translations. The simple answer relates to money. Each publishing house tends to own the rights to its own modern translation. Therefore, since Biblica owns the rights to the very popular New International Version, it stands to reason that Broadman & Holman would rather own it's own version for publication, as would Crossway and other publishing houses.

Yet, it is more than a business decision. Sometimes, there are decisions made by translators that seem less connected to history or the oldest documentation and more to swaying with the cultural shifts of the day. 

A movement has continued to grow that seeks to delete all masculine references to God throughout Scripture. On the surface, this may seem to be insignificant.

"It's more inclusive," some would say.

"It's less offensive to those who have difficult relationships with men, especially their earthly fathers," is declared by others.

So, in this age where gender and sexuality are the unavoidable subjects through the media and the amoral revolution continues to occur, I find myself going back to a previous teaching on the value of Scripture and the use of non-gender neutral versions. (The original post from January 2011 may be read here.)

A number of churches are also intentionally moving away from using gender-specific terms. This was printed in a church's bulletin recently and ended up on Twitter. I wish I could say I am surprised, but this is little more than the next step down a slippery slope.

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Why Does Gender in the Bible Matter?

It is my assertion and belief that gender matters in life and therefore within the Bible. Regarding Bible translations, it matters at a deeper level than most realize. 

In an article posted a number of years ago by Wayne Grudem and Vern Poythress and The Council for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood (full posting here,) the writer touches on some of the most common translation questions and issues:

In Greek the word aner usually has the sense of husband or man (male human being).3 Until recently, English translations included the male semantic component in translation. But the new gender-inclusive translations show some changes.

In Acts 1:21 Peter discusses the replacement of Judas: "Therefore it is necessary to choose one of the men (aner) who have been with us…" (New International Version [NIV] 1984). But in the New International Version Inclusive Language Edition (NIVI 1996) and in the New Living Translation (NLT 1996) "men" becomes "one of those" (NIVI) or "someone else" (NLT). The change is theologically significant because it no longer conveys in English the Greek evidence that Peter did not think that a woman could be an apostle. In Acts 20:30 Paul warns the elders at Ephesus about false teachers: "Even from your own number men (aner) will arise and distort the truth…" (NIV). Indirectly Paul indicates that the elders were all men. This theologically significant detail drops out in the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV 1993), NIVI, and NLT.

The common thread in the verses above is that they all involved situations where males were examples of larger principles. This is not to denigrate females, for both male and female are made in God's image, unique and special. It was, however, descriptive of the role of the men within the early church.

Another translation issue revolves around the Hebrew word 'ish.

Consider the translation of 'ish. It almost always means "man." It can be used in idiomatic constructions with the sense "each one" (e.g., 1 Chron. 16:3, Job 42:11). The main problem is that gender-inclusive translations eliminate male marking in other passages where they have no lexicographical warrant.

Consider Psalm 1:1, "Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked or stand in the way of sinners or sit in the seat of mockers" (NIV). NRSV, NIVI, and NLT change it to read, "Blessed are those who…," or a similar phrasing. The change from singular to plural produces a description that is "less specific…, less easy to visualize." Moreover, with the singular, the reader tends to picture a single man standing against a multitude of wicked people, sinners, and mockers.

After reading Psalm 1, sensitive readers know that it offers the "man" as a representative, an ideal, for men and women. The principle applies to many. But the starting point is the picture of one, and that one is male. The semantic component as well as grammatical gender is present for the original readers.

The gender-inclusive translations simply eliminate this semantic component. They contain a formulation that expresses the general principle of equity, and that is part of the point. But they drop one aspect of the meaning, by not expressing the subtle interplay between a male representative on the one hand, and a general principle applying to both men and women on the other.

The writer speaks of the more traditional usage of the word man to describe the entirety of the human race. This, now is not considered politically correct or tolerant.

The biggest issue in removing gender from Scripture is the elimination of the word he.

How do we treat generic "he" in English? Matthew 16:24-26 says, "Then Jesus said to his disciples, ‘If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it. What good will it be for a man, if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul?'" (NIV)

The verses contain several occurrences of generic "he," referring back to "anyone." Some people find this usage distasteful, so the NIVI eliminates it: "Those who would come after me must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their lives will lose them, but those who lose their lives for me will find them. What good will it be for you to gain the whole world, yet forfeit your soul? Or what can you give in exchange for your soul?" Singulars are converted to plurals, third person "he" becomes second person "you."

Meaning Is Warped

The arguments for eliminating gender is both explicit and implicit. There's no neutral ground in this movement for neutrality. The most dangerous issue is when the meaning of Scripture is warped from poor translators. Though some declare that "all translation is interpretation" the end result is the justification of already held beliefs when seeking affirmation. In other words, it fuels the fire of those who are set on their beliefs, and then seeking to find a verse or passage that affirms their already held beliefs. If the verse is taken out of context, so be it.We've seen this done numerous times. If the verse is mistranslated, all the better. Why? Because the truth in these cases is not that Truth is sought, but justification. This is a dangerous slide.

John 14:23 in the NIV reads, "If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching. My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him." The NRSV reads, "Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them."

The NRSV substitutes plurals for the generic singulars found in Greek and in the NIV. But this results in an unintended ambiguity in the product. The last clause, "make our home with them," has a plurality of people, "them," combined with a single dwelling place, "our home." Conceivably, it might mean that the Father and the Son make a home with each person. But it might also mean that the Father and the Son make a single home with the plurality of people together. That is, they come and dwell with the church corporately. This latter interpretation is closer to the surface or more "obvious" than the first, since it responds to the difference between the singular "our home" and the plural "them." Such a thought of corporate dwelling is genuinely biblical (see 1 Cor. 3:10-15, Eph. 2:22). But it is not the thought found in the Greek text of John 14:23. Both the Greek and the NIV picture the Father and the Son making a dwelling with each person, not with the church corporately.

Gender neutral Bibles weaken the Word. They represent poor scholarship at a minimum and the conformation to cultural sensitivities. Do the masculine pronouns really matter? I believe they do, but not because men are better than women or that we are insensitive to the plight of those who have had terrible experiences with men in their lives. They matter because they signify the deconstruction of God's Word which will inevitably end for some with a Bible that looks like Swiss cheese, with holes throughout and passages that only align with our previously understood realities.

The introduction of mainstream gender-neutral Bibles was little more than a foreshadowing of removing gender tags within the church (for some.) The cultural influence within the church is immense and while "neutral" may be the stated goal, "neutered" is the end result of a church that abandons the truth of God's Word.

RELATED: Interview with Dr. Mohler Regarding the Need for Christian Counter-Culture

 

Listing of Gender-Neutral English Bible Translations (Not a complete listing)

  • New Jerusalem Bible (1985)
  • New American Bible (1986)
  • New Century Version (1987)
  • Revised English Bible (1989)
  • New Revised Standard Version (1990)
  • Good News Bible, 2nd Edition (1992)
  • Contemporary English Version (1995)
  • New Living Translation (1996)
  • Today's New International Version - TNIV (2002)

 


THE SIN OF OUTSOURCING: How "Good" Ministries Are Robbing the Church

Not too long ago, I wrote a post about the danger of buidling silos in ministry within the church. It garnered a number of hits and created some talking points among other ministers, ministry leaders throughout the world and members of the local church.

As a local church, we now find ourselves at a place of decision regarding ministry roles and purposes.

Over the past few weeks, I have had some one-on-one meetings with ministry leaders and church members regarding the future of the church in our community and culture. We have had numerous pastoral/ministry leader meetings where vision-casting tempered with cautious optimism about next steps reigned. Most recently, I had the privilege of sharing with our Deacons and then our Children's Ministry Leaders about the future of ministry and programming.

A few weeks ago, our Associate Pastor of Discipleship & Students preached in my stead a message that reaffirmed the role of parents as being the spiritual heroes in the lives of their children.

GOOD IS THE ENEMY OF BEST

Like most evangelical churches in the west, we have grown and developed ministries based on the very same metrics every other church has used over the past forty years or so. It's not that those metrics were wrong, but over the long haul, the good ministries established have become what every long-standing ministry becomes when the bigger picture is blurred or never clearly defined - ministry silos.

In other words, we have built some incredibly good ministries over the years (i.e. children's, student, collegiate, single adults, married adults, women, men, senior adults, etc.) but the "goodness" of these programmed ministries have led to an inability to experience and offer the "best."

OUTSOURCED DISCIPLING

We are a culture that outsources everything. I do. If there's a plumbing issue in my home and the 2 minute YouTube video cannot help me fix it, I have to outsource the work to a professional. When we had carpet installed in our home years ago, I outsourced the installation to a professional. When I need work done on my car, I have to call a professional. There are skills I have and am comfortable with, but in many cases, I must find an expert to help.

The problem in the Christian family and in the church is that we have borrowed this "outsourcing" from our culture and implemented in the church. Therefore, when our children have spiritual questions, most parents feel ill-equipped to respond and answer and must call the "expert" which in many cases is a deacon, minister, pastor, small group leader, etc.

While it is a good thing to gain wisdom from others who have journeyed a similar path, the truth is that parents cannot outsource the discipling process to others for their children and be obedient and effective.

We must live out the truths of Scripture. 

You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. Deuteronomy 6:7 (ESV)

This is a command to parents and to God's people. Ultimately, it is our responsibility to lead our families in faith. The church then is to come alongside the parents and the families and give encouragement, offer helps, pray for and give moms and dads clear handles of leadership. In those cases where parents are not believers, or there are no parents in the story, the church stands in the gap. It's an incredible model. In fact, it's best.

Our Associate Pastor of Discipleship, Dave Paxton, will be spearheading our strategy shift to this biblical model of family discipleship. He will be overseeing the full model and implementation with ministry leaders and families.

While there is nothing new under the sun, sometimes we need to be reminded of the basics. In that moment, it seems that the old is new again. 

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CELEBRATING MILESTONES

Over the years our church, like many, has offered numerous studies and resources for families and for personal growth. However, it seems that never have we connected all the strategies as they should be for an overarching movement and ministry. It has been like trying to put together a jigsaw puzzle without being able to see the cover of the box. In other words, all the "good" ministries and resources were just that, but not best because the end was never clarified.

If the goal of the church is to make disciples and develop fully devoted followers of Christ, which it is, we must realize that everything we do must be evaluated and judged by this criteria.

A sister church in Texas has been developing a strategy for years and under the theme "Legacy Milestones" has been fruitful in connecting these dots. We have communicated with them about their strategy and have been given permission to use what they have developed as needed.

The truth of the matter is that what works in the south Texas culture will be different than what will work in the northeast Florida culture, so understand clearly. . .our framework is still being built.

Once the framework is built, we will then be free to staff positions as needed in these areas of ministry to lead families forward and to ensure that all within the church are engaged in the process.

Some of the milestones that must move from being just "age-graded celebrations" to full-church body events and celebratory moments are:

  • Parent/Child Dedication (more than just a photo op with the babies and a gift of a certificate and a keepsake Bible that will never be read.)
  • Salvation & Baptism
  • Preparing for Adolescence (a strategy for pre-teens as well as their parents)
  • Pathway to Purity (leading students to live biblically pure before & after marriage)
  • Rites of Passage (an biblical event for those stepping into manhood and womanhood, rather than a culturally-defined passageway such as getting a driver's license, getting to vote, or being legal to buy liquor)
  • High School Graduation (more than just a photo op with students wearing the caps and gowns and receiving a gift book they'll never read.)
  • Disciple's Life (the lifelong journey of faith as defined by Scripture and enforced through our Grow, Serve and Engage groups)

At these key times in a person's life, moms and dads speak Truth into their lives clearly. Effective and proper handles, or next steps, are provided for families and the church as a whole walk through the journey as well. 

WHAT ABOUT SINGLE ADULTS, SENIOR ADULTS AND OTHERS?

This is not a ministry strategy for a specific ministry, but is holistic discipleship where every person is led to understand their role in the story. Parents, aunts, uncles, cousins, siblings, friends, mentors, grandparents, etc. all play vital roles. 

It is the responsibility of the church to give the handles, walk the path, keep the focus on the Gospel and Christ and make disciples.

That means. . .everything that's "good" must be put on the table. Change will happen. It will be worth it, eventually. 

WHAT IF NOTHING CHANGES?

More to come regarding how this will work at our church. In the meantime, consider your church, your ministry, your area of service. Are you settling for "good?" 

In other words, if your church does everything exactly how you're doing it today and never adjusts, what will you look like in five years? Ten years?

The Gospel is never-changing. 

The Truth is never-changing.

The strategies are always changing.

Live like a missionary. Study your culture. Don't compromise your faith. Don't compromise the Gospel. Go. Make disciples.


The New Testament Church

 

01 3 - The New Testament Church

While the term "New Testament Church" has been used for centuries to describe an authentic gathering of believers, it is valuable to define what this actually means.

For some, to be a New Testament church tends to relate to Bible versions and music style and the use or non-use of instruments and sound equipment. 

For others, it has to do with church polity and hierarchical denominationalism.

Yet, there is a definition that is clear. It is affirmed with Scripture and is the template for who we are (since the church is the people, not the building.)

There are at least two (and some say three) ways the word "church" is used in the New Testament.

  1. Universal body of believers throughout history.
  2. Group of Christ followers associated because of geography.
  3. Home groups*

*While there are home groups mentioned in Scripture (i.e. Nympha's, Aquila & Prisca's) some believe this could actually be another version of definition number 2 in that in certain areas there were very small groups of believers gathering together as the church, thus the home became the meeting place.

Church-steeple-at-sunset-in-oklahoma-ok007Therefore, for the purposes of our discusion, the working definition for the local New Testament church is. . .

The local church as seen in the New Testament is a group of baptized believers who gather together regularly to worship God, exhort the Word of God, partake of the Lord's Supper together and celebrate the goodness and holiness of God. They seek to serve God by serving each other. They fall under the teaching and leadership of God's appointed man for the sake of the Gospel.

Thanks to John Piper for clarifying much of this. So, using this defintion as a template, here are some things that make a "church" a real church. . .

  • It's full of believers. Only those who have surrendered to the lordship of Christ are part of His church. While guests may visit in our gatherings, the church truly is the people of God.
  • The believers have been baptized. This is not a legalistic rule. This is an affirmation of Christ's death and resurrection and the disciple's new live in Christ. Baptism is not salvational, but a sign of obedience. Of course, I believe the biblical mode of baptism is immersion.
  • The believers gather regularly. What is regularly? Once a year? Probably not. I like weekly. For some, it may be once every couple of weeks. For others, two or three times a week, but the key is to gather together regularly. The writer of Hebrews encourages us to not forsake the gathering together.
  • There is a purpose for the gathering and it is worship. I know, I know, there are five purposes for the church (thanks Rick Warren) but of the five, the paramount one that identifies the church is worship. Our gatherings are ultimately about God. He is the center of the story. He is the reason we exist. The other four purposes (fellowship, discipleship, ministry, and evangelism) flow from the first one - worship.
  • Meetings include the exhortation of the Word of God. The Bible is to be taught. The truth is told. The shepherd (pastor) holds a great responsibility of bringing the Word of Truth. A gathering with no exhortation is fruitless. The Word can be presented in creative ways, however. It may be through song, drama, video or preaching. Nonetheless, the gospel must be clear.
  • The Lord's Supper must be celebrated. This ordinance is commanded by Christ and is for the church. It's a time of remembrance and worship. Not necessarily observed at every gathering, but it must not be forsaken nor turned into a minimal expression of worship or a worship service "add on."
  • The church must fall under the leadership of God's chosen shepherd/pastor and appointed leaders. I understand there are many "pastors" who have muddied the waters here. Those with titles and no integrity are dangerous. The men of God who have been called and serve accordingly are called to study the Word, pray and equip the saints. Other duties are there as well, but these three are primary.

In Acts, when the church was birthed, the Spirit of God led them to love Him and each other. The New Testament church? Seen first in Acts here.

Acts 2:42-47(ESV)
42And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.
43And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles.
44And all who believed were together and had all things in common.
45And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need.
46And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts,
47praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved. 

 


What's Next After "Four Zero"?


Four280 copyWe have been systematically working through the last seven statements of Jesus on the cross. Through the ministry and resources provided by Worktalk and Geoff Shattock, we have been challenged and blessed to see how the final six hours of work Jesus did on the cross have become a template for us today. It is a model for how we are to "carry our crosses" daily into the workforce and world we live in, all for the glory of God.

But, what's next?

Many times when churches and Christ-followers embark on forty day studies, there is a sense of completion on Day 41. This is not all bad, in that it is good to complete a task. However, if what is learned is shelved on day 41, it truth is we miss the point of the journey.

In truth, FOUR ZERO is a beginning of a life-long journey. It is not just a program or a book to be completed. It is about living for Christ daily.

So, with that in mind, Geoff has put together this short video message of encouragement and challenge for us.

Also, be sure to check out www.worktalk.gs for more details.

Note that we still have Daily Guides available. Though our church-wide journey has come to an end, the forty day strategy can begin again, or for some the first time, at at any time. Perhaps you have some co-workers who would like to join you on a journey of the cross? Daily Guides are $10 each and available in the church office.


FOUR ZERO - "Moments"

01 04 - Midweek Menu - _Moments_

 

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Last night we discussed the elements of having "the perfect day." As the weekly study in our FOUR ZERO journey, this one looks at the statement of Christ from the cross to his mother and his disciple John. What struck me was that this day was Jesus' best and worst at the same time. Best in that this is why He came. The cross was his purpose and until the day of resurrection, this was the best day. The worst in that, well, he was crucified.

 

Yet in the midst of the pain, he spoke into the moment before him. He spoke to his mother and friend and did not miss the moment. 

Apart from an intimate relationship with the Father, through the Son, we will not experience perfect days. We will miss the moments He has placed right before us.

It's about the Gospel. It's about Jesus. May we never fall into the trap of just trying to "manage our lives" and become better people apart from the key element that makes it possible - Jesus Christ.\

Oh, I showed this video last night. It's by the group Emerson Drive. Good song and reminds us that we all have moments. Be sure to speak into them. . .


Who's Your Jesus?

A few weeks back a friend of mine shared a book on Nook (nice app - you can share books for up to 14 days.) The book is titled Imaginary Jesus and is written by Matt Mikalatos. It's hard to classify the book. It's not really non-fiction. It's not a novel. One reviewer said it was C.S. Lewis meets Monty Python. Perhaps.

The book description on Amazon states this:

Imaginary Jesus is an hilarious, fast-paced, not-quite-fictional story that’s unlike anything you’ve ever read before. When Matt Mikalatos realizes that his longtime buddy in the robe and sandals isn’t the real Jesus at all, but an imaginary one, he embarks on a mission to find the real thing. On his wild ride through time, space, and Portland, Oregon, he encounters hundreds of other Imaginary Jesuses determined to stand in his way (like Legalistic Jesus, Perpetually Angry Jesus, and Magic 8 Ball Jesus). But Matt won’t stop until he finds the real Jesus—and finally gets an answer to the question that’s haunted him for years. Be warned: Imaginary Jesus may bring you face-to-face with an imposter in your own life.

 

Since I haven't had the time to sit and read this book for hours on end, I'll probably end up purchasing it because the free 14-day borrow will end soon. I am about halfway through and I must say the concept of the imaginary Jesus is intriguing. It echoes things I have thought and said for years. I even find myself guilty of creating my own imaginary Jesuses at times.

As a believer, I stand firmly on the Word of God believing that it is inerrant and that the Jesus described within those pages is the authentic man (Son of God & God the Son.) Yet, culture has a way of leading us to re-create Jesus in our own image.

This has been the case for years. That's why the short Jewish man from Nazareth is depicted as a tall, very white, European man, sometimes with blue eyes, in many classic works of art. While it's easy for us to identify these depictions of Jesus to be wrong, it become more difficult to clearly see how the Jesuses we create are just as wrong.

Mikalatos introduces and describes many imaginary Jesuses in his book. You may recognize some of them. 

  • KJJ "King James Jesus" - This Jesus speaks only in King James English. There are many "thees" and "thous" coming from the mouth of this one. 
  • Harley Jesus - This one wears a leather vest and has a tattoo or two. He's not just a biker, he's a "holy roller."
  • Liberal Social Services Jesus - This one has arms and legs and works hard to clean up areas and serve the community, but has no mouth. That's because he never says anything about why he does this. He just lives in the social gospel. There's also a Jesus on the other end that has no arms, but has a really big mouth. All he does is talk down to people, but never serves them.
  • 8 Ball Jesus - This one is like the Magic 8 Ball toy that has been around for years. Ask this Jesus anything and he'll answer like the 8 Ball. It's all chance with fortune like answers.
  • Patriotic Jesus - This Jesus is "red, white and blue" and loves America (more than any other nation) and basically wraps the flag around everything.
  • Political Jesus - Yes, he's exactly what he sounds like. This Jesus is intent on changing the world by electing the "right" people into office. 
  • Testosterone Jesus - This is my favorite. This is the "men's retreat Jesus" who talks grunts like Tim Allen on Home Improvement and spouts lines from Braveheart whenever he gets the chance. "Free-e-e-e-e-e-e-dom!!!!" He also cries alot and tells men to be better husbands and fathers all the time (when he's not quoting Braveheart.)
  • The Secret Society of Imaginary Jesuses - These guys are basically like the Jesus Seminar, only imaginary.
Buddy christThere are others scattered throughout the book like CEO Jesus, Hippie Jesus, Legalist Jesus, Health Nut Jesus, iPod Jesus, and others. This reminds me of the Buddy Christ from the film Dogma (no I didn't see the film, but I have seen the "Buddy Christ" figure - pictured to the right.) It's funny how Christians were so upset about the "Buddy Christ" imagery and the film (and rightfully so) but many continue to create their own personal caricatures of Jesus.

 

As I read (the portion I had the chance to) this book, I couldn't help but  do a little self-evaluation. What Jesus have I created in my own image? Am I guilty of this? 

Unfortunately, I believe I have been at times, and to be honest, so is just about every believer I have ever met. I guess since we are image-bearers of the Creator, we tend to create. It's just in this case, we create what we feel is right, but it's, oh, so wrong.

The authentic, biblical Jesus does not need to be recreated into our image or for our cultural acceptance. While we lament that many unbelievers truly do not know who Jesus is, the reality is that many church-attenders and "Christians" tend to see a Jesus who is not truly the real deal. Even true believers can slide into this.

While this is not really a review of Imaginary Jesus (I can't review a book I haven't finished,) the subject matter did cause me to question. Questioning is not a bad thing. Isn't it the Truth that sets us free?

So. . .who's your Jesus?

Is he one listed above? Is he the Patriotic Jesus, the Political one, or maybe the Liberal Social Services one? Maybe he's a mixture of some or a creation yet to be listed.

Is He the One revealed to us through Scripture or some other version?

Stick with the real one. You can read Mikalatos' book. It's fun, but I recommend you spend more time in The Book. Read the Gospel accounts of Jesus (Matthew, Mark, Luke & John.) The truth is there. It's evident who He is, what He came to do and what He is doing now. Don't settle for a cheap imitation.

John 14:6(ESV) 

 Jesus said to him, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me." 


Why The Church Doesn't Need Small Group Leaders

I'm a Sunday School guy. I say that proudly. I grew up in church hearing the message "You grow a church through it's Sunday School." I even focused on Religious Education in seminary because I believed so much in the small group (i.e. Sunday School) model for reaching a community for Christ.

I still believe the small group is essential, but . . .

Things are changing.

I know many cringe when you hear that word in church. It's almost a dirty word for some. . ."change."

For the city_final The truth of the matter is, things are changing and yet, in a world of changes, we hold on to the truth that the Gospel never changes. That being said, we must continually discover the best ways to get this unchanging Gospel message to those who need it most.

By the way, those who need it most are the ones who aren't here every Sunday.

While I still believe the small group is a key to reaching our community, the old model and even old terms may not be best. Let me share something I just read from Pastor Matt Carter of the Austin Stone Church in Austin, Texas as they began to discover God's plan for being missional in their city.

We began investigating a new structure for relating to each other and to our neighborhoods, something we called missional communities. We began moving away from a traditional small group model that emphasized church community and evangelism by invitation. While this model continues to be popular at many churches, we saw several barriers in this model that kept us from truly engaging the people of the city who were not from a church background. The very people who needed to hear the gospel weren't able to establish relationships with those who were sharing the gospel.

Existing small group models typically aim for community first, but they often miss the mark and are ineffective at fostering either mission or community. Yet when they aim for mission first, they are effective at fostering mission and developing organic forms of community. When community was the focus, mission and community both suffered. But when mission takes priority, community naturally follows.

Interesting.

We decided that since disciple-making is best done by missionaries who are living out the Great Commission to specific people, we needed to redefine the identity of our community leaders, seeing them as missionaries rather than small group leaders.

(For the City by Patrick & Carter, p. 120)

When I read this, it was as if scales had fallen from my eyes. Community missionaries rather than small group leaders. Wow! I know it's just a term, but it redefines what we do completely. In fact, it's biblical. This doesn't mean that we disassemble the Sunday morning small group ministry, but it does mean that our leaders need to begin thinking of themselves as community missionaries. Look at it this way - if you are a leader in a married adult class for 30-40 year olds (I know the ages don't mean much around here, but you get the picture) then in a real sense, you have been called out to be a missionary for every married adult in our community in that age range. In the past, leaders just saw their "flock" as the group that showed up on Sunday. The emphasis was getting through the lesson on Sunday and maybe organizing the obligatory "fellowship" complete with BBQ and games for the kids every month or so. That's all good. . . .it's just doesn't have much to do with Kingdom growth.

This concept is still ruminating in my mind, but I'm excited about this. This moves our structure into a missional mode. However, names don't mean much unless the vision is understood.

Our ministry is like bifocal lenses - able to see far away and close up at the same time. The larger portion of the lens is the "far away" portion. In other words, the priority of our small groups must be outward mission first, then inward care. Too often we swap these.

Many churches will never get this. The jury is still out as to whether we will. The times, they are a changin'. I fear that what Ed Stetzer said is true, "If the 1950s ever come back, the SBC church is ready."

We must be a church in our time, for our time, for the glory of God.

Interesting. . .and exciting.


We Were All POWs

I am currently in Americus, Georgia. I am leading a group of our senior adults on a trip to some sites up here nearby. Yesterday, we left early from Orange Park and arrived a little after lunchtime at Andersonville. While some in our group have been here before, the vast majority have not.

Andersonville, Georgia is the home of the National POW Museum and a National Cemetery. If you travel on I-75 in Georgia, you may have seen the brown sign showing an exit leading toward Andersonville. If you're like most, you just drive by. Click here for the National Park Service info regarding this site.

Andersonville is not close to the interstate. It's a bit of a drive.

So, why did the federal government put the National POW Museum so far off the beaten path? 

DSCN0070 Andersonville is the home of formerly named Camp Sumter - the largest Civil War era POW facility in the nation. In this Confederate camp, that existed for only 14 months, over 43,000 Union soldiers were confined. Of these, almost 13,000 died from disease, poor sanitation, malnutrition, overcrowding, and exposure to the elements. The camp was not a prison as many would imagine, but an open air 26 1/2 acre stockade with a 16 foot log wall surrounding. While the walls no longer exist, a portion of the stockade has been recreated to help visitors imagine the setting. Today, it's a grassy hill with a few large trees growing in one corner, complete with monuments from northern states commemorating their war dead. At the time the prison was active, there was no grass, just red clay and sandy ground with a trickling stream running through the middle (which was the only source of water, and also served as the public toilets.) 

In 1970 the legislature established Andersonville as a National Historic Site. The goal was to create at the park a museum that would "interpret the role of prisoners-of-war camps in history" and "to commemorate the sacrifice of Americans who lost their lives in such camps." This museum is wonderfully designed and takes the visitor through the plight of POWs in various wars, from the Revolutionary War to Operation Desert Storm (expansion to cover stories from current wars is in the works.) The features of this museum are interactive and very emotional. 

DSCN0045 As we walked through the museum, toured the prison grounds and the National Cemetery, the sobering reality of the depravity of man is very clear. I heard some of our seniors saying things like "It's hard to believe that man can do this to other men." 

We discussed how this relates to the larger story. In a sense, every person on the planet is a POW, being held by the Enemy in a prison of sin as the great spiritual battle continues. The sad thing is that most do not even realize they're being held prisoner. Once a person surrenders to the Lordship of Jesus Christ and accepts Him and his substitutionary atonement, he/she is rescued from prison and set free (see Galatians 1.) This is true liberty.

In the museum, there are a couple of short films shown. One titled "Echoes of Captivity" we have shown at our church in the past. Yet, every time I view it, I tear up. The personal stories of men (and one woman) who have served in the American military and have been held captive (some for almost a decade) as prisoners-of-war are incredibly moving. Perhaps the most moving portion of the film is when the former POWs describe the day they were liberated. Some are sharing of an event that took place decades earliers, but the tears start flowing. 

These reunion stories of former prisoners and family are incredible. The joy that is described is overwhelming. The images of these men (and woman) stepping out of planes to be greeted by spouses and children will bring a tear to one's eye. 

DSCN0088 We are reminded as believers that heaven rejoices when one soul is saved. I think perhaps this rejoicing resembles these images somewhat (but on a much larger scale.) The rejoicing that takes place when a child who has been held, unknowingly, as a POW in the real battle is liberated and set free. Now, that will bring a tear of joy to your eye. . .or at least it should.

So, this started as a trip to a historic site and has become a great illustration of God's great love for us. I guess it's true. . . everything's spiritual.

He who has ears to hear. . . listen.


When a Royal Marries a Commoner

William-and-kate-kiss This morning all around the world, millions of people gathered in front of their television sets, computer screens or smartphones to view the wedding of a Royal to a Commoner. The vast majority of people watching this event and taken by the splendor of the wedding have absolutely no connection whatsoever to those being married. In fact, most are not even residents of the realm of this royal family.

Yet, people watched.

News reports were aired live globally.

Merchants were and are making quite a bit of money off this wedding.

Of course, I'm talking about Prince William and Kate (oops - she's now only known as Catherine) Middleton.

This brought to mind another wedding. One that seems supernatural and almost like something from a fairy tale. It's hard to get our heads around it because, according to the story - we (Christians) are in this wedding.

In John's vision as recorded in Revelation 19, he saw and heard multitudes praising God because the wedding feast of the Lamb - literally "the marriage supper" - was about to begin. Of course, wedding customs in the days of John and other first century Middle Easterners is much different than our Western customs. 

According to the description on www.gotquestions.org, there were three major parts to the wedding customs of the day. First, a marriage contract was consummated between the parents of the bride and groom. The parents of the bride would pay a dowry to the groom or his parents. This was the betrothal period. In some countries, this is still the practice today. This was actually the period that Mary and Joseph were in when she was found to be pregnant with the Son of God.

The second step normally took about a year later (so much for quick engagements.) The groom, accompanied with his friends, would go to the bride's house at midnight by torchlight and parade through the streets. The bride would know this was going to happen and would be ready with her maidens. They would then join the parade and end up at the groom's home. Jesus spoke of this in his parable of the virgins in Matthew 25. It's also a picture of the "thief in the night" coming to receive his bride.

The third step was the wedding supper. This event could go on for days. You can get a picture of this in the story of the wedding in Cana as shared in John 2.

So, back to John's vision.

In this vision, he sees a wedding feast. This was a common scene during John's day, but in this vision, the bride and groom were unique. The groom was a Royal - a King. The groom was Jesus. The bride was a commoner - His church. I have to be honest, this illustration always confused me, because I never saw myself as a bride (still have a hard time with this.) However, as I have discovered the "rescue" motif of the Gospel, and realized that we (humanity) are the ones being rescued - with our hero, Christ Himself, coming to receive us . . . just like a thief in the night . . . the story begins to resonate.

The wedding feast of the Lamb is this third phase as described above. This means that the first two phases have already happened.

Phase One was consummated on earth when we, as invidual members of the Church, the body of Christ, placed our faith and trust individually in Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord. There was a dowry paid. This dowry, paid to the groom's father (God), would be the shed blood of Jesus Christ on the cross on behalf of the Bride (that's us - remember, it's a debt we cannot pay.) Now, the Church would belong to Christ in the sense of betrothal and, lie the wise virgins in the parable, all would be watching and anticipating the return of the groom.  This is the Second Coming.

Phase Two is the rapture of the Church that will happen when He returns. The Bride (us) will be taken to the Father's house. 

Phase Three, and this is the good part, is the marriage supper.  

Wow!

This marraige supper includs not only the Church as the Bride of Christ, but others as well. The "others" include Old Testament saints who are going to be raisd at the Second Coming. Also, the martyred dead of the Tribulation who form the "multitude" will be there. 

The angel told John to write this. . .

And the angel said to me, "Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb. And he said to me, "These are the true words of God." (Revelation 19:9 ESV)

You may not have received your invitation to the wedding in London, but guess what? You've been invited to this one. . .and it's really a bigger deal.


What Are You Crying About?

Funerals are scenes that most people like to avoid. I've talked to junior high students in my Friday morning group who have never even attended a funeral. In the past, when families were more closely knit and communities were tighter, funerals were events that would shut down the entire community and all family members would attend.

I've attended my fair share of funerals, even before becoming a pastor. It's been said that a church's theology is best stated at funeral services. This is true. What we believe about heaven, hell and life and death is best explained at these services.

This being the day before Easter, there is the natural remembrance of the death of Jesus Christ. The story of the tomb and the burial, the Roman guard being posted, Judas committing suicide and the delayed preparation of Jesus' body due to the Sabbath restrictions are all part of this study.

At most funerals, even when the eternity of the deceased is secured in heaven, the depth of grief results in mourning and tears. 

I recently read where in many countries, professional mourners fill the gap on these days. In Guy Kawasaki's book on leadership and vision titled Enchantment, he uses the example of professional mourners in a section titled "Provide Social Proof." He states. . .

Families pay women to mourn at funerals in cultures all over the world. I posted a message on my blog asking for verification of this, and my readers told me this happens in Pakistan, Israel, Russia, India, Spain, Lebanon, China, Romania, Malaysia, Serbia, and Vietnam. In Vietnam, there are even two tiers of pricing: With and without tears! (Enchantment, 73)

What a strange concept. Kawasaki goes on to say that these women provide proof that the deceased was loved and will be missed.

This is a foreign concept to many of us in the West. Here, funerals tend to be attended by family and friends, maybe some co-workers and sometimes neighbors and community members. All attend to show support for others (perhaps the family members) or to honor the memory of the deceased.

I found this clip from 1963 of professional mourners in Sardinia. It just seems so strange to me. . .

This practice is also mentioned in Scripture at times. 

Thus says the Lord of hosts: "Consider, and call for the mourning women to come; send for the skillful women to come;" (Jeremiah 9:17 ESV)

Therefore thus says the Lord, the God of hosts, the Lord: "In all the squares there shall be wailing, and in all the streets they shall say, 'Alas! Alas!' They shall call the farmers to mourning and to wailing those who are skilled in lamentation," (Amos 5:16 ESV)

We also see the professional mourners alluded to in the account of Christ's raising the little girl from death in Mark 5.

What does it mean to mourn?

Christ death The dictionary states that it is to feel or express sorrow or grief for the dead and to show the signs of grieving.

I'm sure, as accounted for in Scripture, the professional mourners and those truly saddened by the death of Christ were lamenting and wailing the death of Jesus. Some did this in hiding, for fear of being crucified themselves. The time following the death of Christ must have been the lowest for those disciples who had followed Him for up to three years. The questions about life, the Kingdom of God, the full grace of God offered and all that Christ taught must have been innumerable. There was a great emptiness in the world and in the hearts of these followers.

The three days since the crucifixion must have seemed like an eternity. 

I'm sure tears were flowing, wails were loud, clothing was torn and tempers were probably flaring. 

Then. . .the day of resurrection came. 

We often talk of the day of the crucifixion (celebrated on Good Friday, but as noted in a previous post, could have been on Thursday or maybe even Wednesday.) We focus, rightly so, on the morning of resurrection. But, what about the days in between?

As a believer have you ever felt confused? Scared? Unsure? 

That's what these bold men and women of God were experiencing. Why? They didn't see the full picture yet. They didn't understand the fullness of God's grace. 

Then, Sunday came.

Perhaps this is what you need. Maybe you're a believer, but you feel disconnected. I meet many that feel this way. They've forgotten the bigger story. They've found themselves mourning. . .but not knowing why. This weekend is a great time to re-boot. To re-focus on what the story is truly all about. To realize that the story isn't over. Christ rose again, defeated death and is alive today. . .to glorify the Father and allow us the great opportunity to live.

The mourners tears were transformed into joy the moment they saw Jesus. Maybe you just need to see Jesus clearly today?

Are you mourning? Remember what Christ said here. . .

"Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted." (Matthew 5:4 ESV)

How can you be blessed for mourning and find comfort? Those who mourn and recognize the depth of their depravity and needs will be comforted by the grace-giver. The life Christ offers and the message of the gospel is the comfort needed. The disciples mourned and were comforted by God Himself. That, too is our story. In Him, you find peace.