I love to revisit the events of the last week of Jesus as we prepare for the great celebration of Resurrection morning! Many of the familiar stories of scripture get lost in the timeline of events and thereby loose much of the impact and meaning for us personally. As Jesus prepared Himself for death what was He thinking? What was He doing? What did He say to His followers? How did He respond to life? You see, I happen to believe that a person’s words and actions at the end of life reveal much of what they believe to be important.
The traditional Christian Church around the world celebrates several of these events. Let’s look at some of these and learn the principles our Lord lived by.
One of the events celebrated is called Holy Wednesday. It is thought to be the day when Judas Iscariot first conspired to betray our Lord. There are many theories as to the real reason Judas would betray His Lord. First, did Judas see Jesus as the true Messiah? Did he come to believe that this was, after all, a mistake? Jesus simply didn’t “operate” like the Messiah they expected. He seemed to be a little too soft on the Romans. This “love your enemies” stuff was just a little too farfetched! Come on man! Let’s do this thing and wipe out Rome and this oppression! Did Judas become convinced that the “political machine” was not employed enough by Jesus? After all, if you want to see societal change, the political machine was your weapon! Regardless of his motives, Judas betrayed Jesus with a kiss! Even the kiss has been debated! Was he actually sorrowful and repentant? Had he come to his senses or was he putting forth a good “religious act” and going through the motions? Not that any of us have ever done that! Well, okay, maybe we have. Okay, of course we have! Are we sincere in our affection for The Lord or are we simply “going through the motions” as we worship?
Maundy Thursday is the next celebrated day of what is known as Holy Week. “Maundy” originates from the Latin word “mandatum” which means “to command." From it we get our English word mandate. This celebration started as Christians realized the “commands” of The Lord on the Thursday evening before His arrest and torture. Being the night of Passover, Jesus and His disciples celebrated the festival as commanded in scripture as all Jews would. They prepared and gathered for the Seder Meal where each Jewish family practiced an elaborate celebration expressing God’s faithfulness delivering Israel from Egypt and journey to the Promised Land! Various pieces of matzo bread which represented God’s promises and several cups of wine which represented the many faithful promises of Jehovah! As Jesus and His disciples enjoyed this meal of God’s faithfulness, He said, “This bread is My broken body for you and this cup is My blood shed to establish a new covenant for you!” Can you imagine the utter shock to the disciples? Jesus had a habit of saying outrageous things, but this was one of the most precious celebrations of the Jewish faith and Jesus was even changing that too! Their heads must have spun when they heard this! What? Can You leave some sacred things alone? Good grief, Jesus you have now totally changed the way we do everything! Yes, yes, He did! The Master washed the servants’ feet! Jesus said you have no need for a priest to approach God for you, you can go to Him yourself! He is Abba, your heavenly daddy! Yes, He did change a few things!
Then there is Good Friday. It’s good because that is the day when the Christ or Messiah fully represented God as a co-suffering servant and laid His life down as He showed the world forgiveness! The darkest day of human history was the womb of the greatest day of human history! The latent power of the all-powerful eternal God was put on display in such a bazaar and confusing way! Death. Not open conquest. Not brandishing strength by overwhelmingly embarrassing an opponent, but by dying! Admit it, that makes absolutely no sense whatsoever! None! Are we ready to humbly admit that “His ways are not our ways?” Could it actually be true that “His thoughts are not our thoughts?” Yes, it’s true. Death was defeated by dying! It’s also true that separation was healed by being separated! When Jesus cried out, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” He experienced for the very first time a “separation” from Father! No human words can describe that event! Perfection separated from perfection! Pure love separated from pure love! It had never been before and I’m sure all of heaven was confused and in awe! What. Was. Happening?
Holy Saturday is another day celebrated by some in the traditional church. It is a day of reflection of the day Jesus was “in the tomb.” Be honest, have you ever wondered what was going on that day? Scripture has little to say of the activities of that day. I’m sure the disciples and other followers of Jesus were in shock and devastated to say the least! This movement that they all had completely given their lives to was abruptly over. Their Rabbi dead. Movement over! Or was it? While most of the activity on earth had stopped it seems that the activity of heaven was in full swing! If we could “see into the spirit,” might we observe activity such as this?
“So, Christ has now become the High Priest over all the good things that have come. He has entered that greater, more perfect Tabernacle in heaven, which was not made by human hands and is not part of this created world. With his own blood—not the blood of goats and calves—he entered the Most Holy Place once for all time and secured our redemption forever. Under the old system, the blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer could cleanse people’s bodies from ceremonial impurity. Just think how much more the blood of Christ will purify our consciences from sinful deeds so that we can worship the living God. For by the power of the eternal Spirit, Christ offered himself to God as a perfect sacrifice for our sins. That is why he is the one who mediates a new covenant between God and people, so that all who are called can receive the eternal inheritance God has promised them. For Christ died to set them free from the penalty of the sins they had committed under that first covenant.”
The Epistle to the Hebrews 9:11-15
A concerning phenomenon is taking place in the Body of Christ in America, and it has actually been building for many years. The love we have for our country and the pride we share as a nation have actually overtaken many Christians' identity as a believer in Christ! We learn from the Early Church that the commitment of believers is to the “Jesus Way”. Sadly this has been replaced in the lives of many in the United States with the “American Way”! A healthy love of country and patriotism has been replaced by an unhealthy version of nationalism and exceptionalism. I love my country deeply but I refuse to allow it to become an idol that usurps the place of my Lord and Savior! I refuse to allow passionate words from powerful people to distort the life and words of my Lord!
Many believers in America can tell you much about the Bill of Rights but have little to no understanding of the Beatitudes. We have chosen to live and express our faith in such a way that the “moving of God” is governed by political advancement instead of Kingdom advancement. Some live in such a way as to act as though Christianity exists to promote the “American ideal” of life. Christianity is actually a radical challenge to some of those ideals! If you don’t believe it, read the Beatitudes.
The Christian confession of “Jesus is Lord” has been replaced by “We the people”! From scripture we learn that only Jesus has all authority to direct and rule nations. Only Jesus can determine the “manifest destiny” of nations! God has determined and set “times and boundaries” of nations. The best hope of the world is Jesus, not America!!!
In 313 A.D. it appears that Constantine unknowingly injected nationalism and all of its accommodations into the Christian faith. Looking at that point in history, we began to see trends that have made their way into our modern western time. If we look closely, we can see that all of the noble and Godly advances of the Kingdom of God become precariously dependent upon political posturing! We must pass a bill, convince a politician or rule by state the tenets of the christian faith! Why, you ask? Could it be that we simply do not trust in the moving and power of God’s Spirit and therefore need instead the influence of political sway?
As a result we equate the American Way with the Jesus Way! Instead of being a voice for the Kingdom of God and challenging society with the ways of God, we have become a compromised version of The Body of Christ in the world that perpetuates the subtle lie that by conforming government to our definition of godliness, we will have the blessings and favor of God! We are NOT a voting block; we are The Church of Jesus Christ! We are NOT a special interest group; we are the representatives of God Almighty! Or at least we should be. After all, I seem to recall that being God’s original plan!
You see, nationalism, while sounding noble at first; can actually lead to the colonization of people, imperial expansion, economic injustice, militarism and racial oppression.
Back to an original question: Have we in The Church promoted The Bill of Rights over The Beatitudes? I think so! I fear that when we rise to our feet and salute, we can say The Pledge of Allegiance without flaw, but we stumble when reciting The Lord’s prayer! We live a life of unwavering loyalty to our country and its freedoms, but we are spiritual adulterers when it comes to our relationship with Jesus Christ. One of my favorite Christian authors asked the question, “Are you tangled up in red, white and blue?” Again, I must convey my love for America and my profound appreciation for those who serve here and abroad. I am simply concerned for The Body of Christ and the unequaled message of the Gospel! The only message that has within it the power to change mankind.
As a preacher, minister and pastor I am concerned first and foremost with helping people become more Christlike! I am driven daily by helping people walk in authentic discipleship and become an expression of God in the earth. That's my heart, my desire and my calling. The Lord has also called others to serve the purposes of God in other ways such as business, education and government. There are obviously places for service and expressions of service in all areas and I am grateful for those who do serve in these areas. We as followers of Christ can influence all parts of our world through these varied avenues. Let’s commit our lives to Christ in all of these areas and serve well and represent the Lord well! As we do, our society will be changed by the Gospel of Christ rather than trying to expect society to promote the Gospel of Christ and therefore align with my ideals of Christianity. We must realize the difference!
We live in a violent world! We have all recently experienced the horror of mass killings, church shootings and terror acts both locally and around the world. Most of us just do not understand how or why people can be filled with such hatred for each other. How does such a lack for the value and sacredness of life exist? How does a person get to the point of taking another life? How do we all become so used to this that we simply move on with our own lives a couple of days after a tragedy?
Unfortunately, our first thoughts concerning a proper response to these events exposes our own condition. Do we declare our political opinions and how we should propose a particular policy to become law? Do we organize a retaliation that further perpetuates more violence? Do we suggest we “wipe the whole bunch” off the map? What does our response, both inward and outward, reveal about the heart of man and the state of civilization in general? After a close examination and logical realization, we realize that violence is the very foundation of our existence! In the story of Cain and Abel we see violence erupt when Cain was displeased with the Creator’s thoughts of his and Abel’s offering. “It just isn’t fair!” “It’s not right!” Our own views and opinions of “right and wrong” cause violent outburst from inside us! Why? I believe it is because violence is in our “fallen DNA”! Violence was Cain’s first response to what he felt was unjust. After this event Cain “goes out from God’s presence and dwells in Nod.” So here we have it! The first known civilization in the world was founded upon violence!
I am convinced that we do not fully appreciate the power of our fallen natures and how contrary it is to the nature of God! All through the narrative of the Old Testament we see violence perpetuated! What was the reason and basis for all of the blood shed? It is interesting that God told David he would not see the fulfillment of some things “because he had experienced so much violence and bloodshed”. If Jesus is the “express image of God” and “His exact representation” then it would seem the life of Christ would express and reveal the nature of God! Jesus says “love and pray for your enemies” and to “pray for those who despitefully use you” and also to “turn the other cheek”! Okay, I know I just lost some readers right there. I don’t pretend to have all the answers much less pretend to be perfectly Christlike. Let’s at least admit that things are amiss! More to come……….
Several years ago I wrote a short study manual called, “Seven Pillars of Society.” In it I stressed how christians should allow their faith and values to guide them in their careers to the point that whole areas of society are impacted by the gospel. I considered how media, arts and entertainment, business, government, religion, and families can be changed as people of faith become leaders in their fields and express God’s standards. These pillars of society can greatly change by people living their faith consistently and openly. Simply put it is “lifestyle evangelism”. I still believe this today and have even become more convinced of this approach and it’s impact on culture!
Today in the Body of Christ, I have observed this approach turned on it’s head. Rather than allowing our christian standards and godly lifestyle to influence the “pillars of society”, we have begun to rely on the “pillars” to change society! Jesus responded to Pilate by saying, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest.” (John 18:36) I do firmly promote christian involvement in every area of society, especially in government! Unfortunately, today we are “fighting to prevent His arrest;” therefore, we are living as though His kingdom is of this world! It is not! Salvation and societal transformation will never come through political actions and influence. Rather societal transformation and influence come as, “The kingdom of this world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ.” ( Revelation 11:15)
I believe that presently theological divisions in the Body of Christ have been replaced by political division! We are hearing, “You may not have to believe the same as I believe about baptism, but you certainly must have the same political views!!” “You may not observe communion the way I do, but you must vote for the same candidate as I!” How sad! Yes, that is the climate in which we seem to live. I recently heard someone say that some Christians' behavior in the recent political cycle has set back our Christian message for a generation. I am sincerely concerned that they are correct. Let’s not lose our focus and message while being completely involved in all areas of society. Run for political office; but realize that your influence is your lifestyle and message not your political persuasion! Prayerfully consider your vote but realize societal change comes through a kingdom influence that is not of this world! May we not forget what we learned in Sunday School! “May Your kingdom come and may Your will be done on earth like it is in heaven.” (Mathew 6:10) Let’s live from a kingdom perspective!!!
Do not let misinterpretation, tradition, or what “they say” keep you from experiencing the life of God. Although I have always wanted to be a “they”, I have never really understood who “they” are. One thing is for sure “they” really have an opinion about everything. Well, enough of that! Rather than worrying about what “they” say we should all desire more of God’s opinion and what He says!
When it comes to living the life of Christ, we have several contexts to consider. First and foremost is my personal devotion to Him! It has been said that the real me is the one who exists in my personal-private life… the me “on the inside”. At times I have to admit, I’m not too fond of this person. Sin can creep in all too easily since no one but me realizes how much like Christ I’m NOT. In the context of husbands, wives, or best friends; does my part in this relationship look like Jesus? I ask myself, “Am I loving my wife like Christ does the Church?” Then I make the circle bigger to include my family. Do I love and serve my family like Jesus does? What about my neighbors? Do I love them “as myself”? Then I must consider my community and so on. The Lord expressed His desired for all of us to express Him to those around us!
The context I want to focus on here is the “community of faith”. The Holy Spirit has inspired much to be written about how we are to live out our faith in community together! From relationships, to our spiritual gatherings, to how we structure this life of faith; He has shown us much! We often act like the letters written in scripture to the various churches in particular cities were written to mature or even perfect Christians! Oh, how contraire!! The letters were generally written to encourage, instruct, and even correct behavior in those fellowships! They were not perfect in any sense. These letters in scripture explained the new faith called Christianity and revealed a new life of Christ that is now lived from the “inside out”. Consider an overview of I Corinthians and the basic comments as the letter progresses:
So we see that the Holy Spirit has revealed much about the desires of the Lord concerning this new life we live through Christ! Before I make my main point, I would like for us to consider a scripture.
2 Timothy 2:15
15 Work hard so you can present yourself to God and receive his approval. Be a good worker, one who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly explains the word of truth.
The point I want to focus on here is “correctly explaining the word of truth”. There are various scriptures through which I believe we have “incorrectly explained the word of truth”! God never contradicts Himself and is understood only in the context of the statement. With that said, lets look at a scripture that is quoted often to defend a person’s “order of worship” or a certain “style of worship”.
1 Corinthians 14:40 (NLT)
40 Let all things be done decently and in order.
To many the interpretation, or misinterpretation, of this scripture is that it defines how worship is experienced and how a church service is designed! The humorous thing is that by this standard, “decency” and “order” is defined by the individual. Since we are all different and prefer certain things we are “all over the map” in defining what is proper worship and what is “out of order”. This is even true culturally and is generationally sensitive. As we realize this, we should extend grace to others about how they express their faith! Since this interpretation is vague, it should be obvious that we have not fully understood the truth of this scripture. When we “correctly explain the word of truth” this scripture becomes richer and more awesome than we realize! The Greek word for “decently” is the word that means “decorum: what is suitable, proper and in good taste.” It can also be translated “honorable and noble”. It is used in a couple of places in scripture that helps define the use of the word.
13 Because we belong to the day, we must live decent lives for all to see. Don’t participate in the darkness of wild parties and drunkenness, or in sexual promiscuity and immoral living, or in quarreling and jealousy.
1 Thessalonians 4:12
12 Then people who are not believers will respect the way you live, and you will not need to depend on others.
This word seems to suggest a life that is lived with the standards of the Lord defining my behavior and not simply an “order of worship” or certain “style”. The other word mentioned is “in order”. The word for “order” is “arrangement and dignity”. Here is another example of the use of the word translated “order”.
5 For though I am far away from you, my heart is with you. And I rejoice that you are living as you should and that your faith in Christ is strong.
Without getting bogged down into the details, Paul seems to be saying that this new life of Christ encompasses traditions, cultures and generations and is practiced in preference and respect to those around you and with character and integrity!! When you leave the “decently and in order” statement in the context of the letter to the Corinthian Church this is where you naturally land. After realizing we are part of the “greater Body of Christ,” we seek His wisdom to walk out this new found faith: we are in relationship with each other: I must deny myself to serve others and God gives gifts at times to accomplish this: God has certain accepted behaviors that guide our love for one another. Let’s express worship together as a family that is honorable and in good taste for all present!
What we finally realize is “decently and in order” has less to do with God’s theological dictates and more to do with loving and respecting others of the family of faith as we live a worshipful life together!
As we hear the “creation story” we will often hear comments about “original sin”. We are reminded of Adam and Eve taking the forbidden fruit with complete disregard for God’s instruction. That implies to many of us that there are things in life that are simply forbidden, and therefore we are to avoid them or “pay the price”. Life becomes more about what we can’t do and little about what we can! We are relegated to live by a list of “do’s and don’ts”. While God does point out destructive behavior that is against His blessed will for our lives, He does not stand over us with a checklist and a big stick. Closer consideration of the creation story will bring an order to our lives.
Rather than the sterile fact of what isn’t allowed by God, the real issue of the Fall is my separation from God! No longer having the intimacy of fellowship with my Heavenly Father is the core reason for all of the dysfunctional behavior of man! In Genesis we see Adam hiding from the very God with whom he craves fellowship! This hiding stems from the shame that now controls him!
When God asked Adam, “Where are you?”
Adam’s reply is, “I was hiding because I am naked.”
God then says, “Who told you that you were naked?” As if to say, “I didn’t.”
This separation from God produces shame and the result of this shame is further separation! Hiding from God.
We live in a time of ultimate shame! At times we feel stupid, inadequate, dirty and unworthy. Why would God pay any attention to me and my situation? Because of these feelings we neutralize the moving of God in our lives. We feel we are simply too much trouble to God and a very bad investment of His time and effort. It is strange that we feel this way since God is infinite. He doesn’t have to budget His efforts because His love is endless!
The next thought that we mistakenly embrace is believing that if we behave correctly, He will notice us. If we do better He may think we are worthy of His notice. This demands a performance on our part which eventually wears us out or perverts our relationship with Him.
All of this is prevented when we realize original blessing rather than original sin. John says that God is love. That’s Who He is, not what He does! Since love is Who He is, everything He does stems from Who He is! Love! I cannot do anything to increase His love for me! I cannot be bad enough to cause Him to love me less. I do not have to hide from Him! I do not have to perform for Him! I am free to receive His love and be in fellowship with Him. I am safe to admit my brokenness! I am safe to acknowledge my inadequacies! I am not naked anymore because I am clothed in His righteousness! I am free!
Over the years, I have traveled to many parts of the world. During these travels, I have discovered the need to educate myself in the proper behavior of various cultures. "Do not put your hand in your pockets." I was told about Germany where hands in the pockets while talking is considered a sign of being uncaring of others. In Turkey, I was told that when I finished a meal I should belch out loud. It was a sign of respect for the lady of the house and her great cooking abilities. I have to admit, I enjoyed that trip!
At the end of one very grueling trip, my wife and I were waiting for our flight by relaxing in a sitting area of an airport. We had elevated our very tired and aching feet. Unexpectedly, a man approached us yelling loudly with some words in English and others in another language. After a few uncomfortable minutes, we realized the issue and placed our feet firmly on the ground with the soles of our shoes facing down. You see, in that culture exposing the soles of your feet to someone was a sign of great disrespect and dishonor. To us it was a sign of exhaustion and longing for home.
These stories illustrate various proper behaviors as defined by different cultures. When you are a natural part of a particular culture, you automatically know proper behavior. You observe what is accepted and are taught by your parents. When you change cultures, proper behavior must be learned. At times the learning curve is dramatic and completely foreign.
Jesus tells us that we are in the world but not of it! Paul tells us to live as children of God in a crooked and perverse generation! In other words, as we identify with Christ, we are redeemed people living in an unredeemed world. Believe it or not that’s the easy part! The hard part is the specific behavior and treatment we have toward one another. Unfortunately, there are times that the Body of Christ chooses to relate to one another according to the World's standards! As Christians, we must realize we are now living life in a foreign culture. Our redeemed citizenship is in God’s kingdom not the World’s. Acceptable behavior in God’s kingdom is different from that of the World. We must take our hands out of our pockets, quit belching and plant the soles of our feet firmly on the floor! Well, sort of. In other words, you and I need to learn how to relate to each other and to the world around us! If we do not, we will continue to injure each other, continue our disrespectful attitudes toward one another and push others away.
Live as Citizens of Heaven
Philippians 1:27-30 (NLT)
27 Above all, you must live as citizens of heaven, conducting yourselves in a manner worthy of the Good News about Christ. Then, whether I come and see you again or only hear about you, I will know that you are standing together with one spirit and one purpose, fighting together for the faith, which is the Good News. 28 Don’t be intimidated in any way by your enemies. This will be a sign to them that they are going to be destroyed, but that you are going to be saved, even by God himself. 29 For you have been given not only the privilege of trusting in Christ but also the privilege of suffering for him. 30 We are in this struggle together. You have seen my struggle in the past, and you know that I am still in the midst of it.
Paul stresses that we are “in the struggle....together.” Together. Yes, together. My wife still says I can’t belch after a meal because I do not belong to that culture and my Lord tells me I can’t relate to my brother in Christ a certain way because I do not belong to the World’s culture. My citizenship must direct my behavior! Jesus even says that the World will know He is the “real deal” because we love one another! Our kingdom message is greatly hindered by our treatment of one another! After careful consideration, you will notice that Paul doesn’t even demand that we all agree on every detail.
Unity Through Humility
Philippians 2:1-4 (NLT)
2 Does your life in Christ give you strength? Does his love comfort you? Do we share together in the Spirit? Do you have mercy and kindness? 2 If so, make me very happy by having the same thoughts, sharing the same love, and having one mind and purpose. 3 When you do things, do not let selfishness or pride be your guide. Be humble and give more honor to others than to yourselves. 4 Do not be interested only in your own life, but be interested in the lives of others.
As we step back and really consider the scriptures, we realize that an enormous amount of its content deals with how we relate to one another! The way we treat each other is extremely important to the Lord. Are we living as citizens of His Kingdom or of the World’s? Are we adopting the behavior of His Kingdom or that of the World’s? Figuratively, does the Lord teach and allow for belching after a meal and resting our feet after a long journey? Just what kind of behavior is acceptable to Him? He really does have an opinion!
To make it more personal and applicable, what is acceptable behavior in our relationships in a local church setting? How are we to interact and live together in unity? Do we have to believe the same things about every detail of our faith to embrace each other? Have we developed a local church culture that is merely a place we all gather once or twice a week or is it a true family? The answers to these questions are not rhetorical! They must be answered. Most of us have our opinions; and in many of us, they are strong and tightly held. Do we hold to our opinions more tightly than we do our brothers and sisters? If we do, as time goes by and our opinions change, we will awaken to the fact that we have lost both our pet beliefs as well as our brother! If, on the other hand, we humble ourselves and value others more than certain personal beliefs about of our faith, we will enjoy the fullness of life in the Lord!