It ain’t Baptist!

 

Before the Passover Feast, Jesus, knowing that He had but a few hours left in the world, got up from the super table. He took off His robes and dressed himself as a servant. He approached the disciples with a basin of water and began washing Peter’s feet.

Peter was taken aback, and a little indignant, saying to Jesus, “Lord, Dude, what are you doing? You don’t wash my feet! You’re the Lord!”

 Jesus replied, “Look, man, you don’t get it right now, but eventually you’ll figure it out.”

Peter got even more heated, and said to Him, “No way, no how, nuh-UH, I am gonna let the Son of God wash my feet. Ain’t happenin’.”

“Pete, dude, settle down,” said the Lord. “If I don’t wash your feet, you have nothing to do with me.” Jesus let that sink in for a minute. Peter looked thoughtful as he mulled it over. Peter spent a lot of time looking thoughtful.

And then, suddenly, it was as though he’d had an epiphany. He jumped to his feet (which were still in the basin—water splashed all over the place), held his arms out (an irony which was not lost on Jesus, who kept His thoughts to Himself) saying, “If that’s the case, how about we take care of my head and hands, too!” Flippin’ Peter.

 

Jesus shook His head and looked around at the other disciples as if to ask, “Do you see what I have to deal with?” A snicker went around the table, except for Judas Iscariot, who was fiddling with something on his belt. Jesus looked up at Peter. Peter looked down at Jesus. Water dripped from Jesus’s beard, back into the basin. Jesus said, “He who has bathed only needs to wash his feet to be completely clean, and you are clean.”

 

Peter looked thoughtful again. Then he lowered his arms and said, “You were speaking symbolically again, weren’t you?” Jesus nodded. “Oh. Sorry. Carry on, Lord. I’m gonna shut up now.” Peter sat back down as the other disciples giggled.

 

~John 13:1-10 (totally unauthorized paraphrase mine)

So: it definitely wasn’t Baptist.

 

Right now, a lot of readers are asking themselves, “What is BlogDude on about this time? And what’s with that paraphrase?” Patience! I’m getting there!

Last night I had an opportunity to attend the Monday-night service at another local church, on the invitation of a friend. I knew going in that the church had a slightly different perspective on worship, but I wanted to hear the Word, and not for nuthin’, but my friend isn’t unpleasant company, either. I wasn’t quite prepared for it—the pastor was preaching barefoot (and as someone with neuropathy in both feet, I can tell you—I was envious of the pastor), but the message was very good.

The message was actually taken from Isaiah 47:1, but it related to what I paraphrased, above. The message was about being a servant to the Lord, but it was also—mainly, I think—about recognizing the Lord when He comes into our lives, and how the Israelites didn’t get it because they had laid their own expectations on God and forgotten God’s word on the subject. (That’s it, roughly—not the subject of this blog, though, so I’m glossing over a lot.)

What this got me thinking about, though, was service, specifically servanthood. Being a servant. Now all of us have known for a long time that the Lord expects us to do His will on earth as an outward sign of our inward faith (James 2:14-26). But until last night, I had never really given thought to how this works; now that I am giving it thought, it’s making me a little bit mind-bendy. Because in the past when I read those lines from John, I just went with the idea that Jesus expected us to be of service to others in keeping with his teachings from the Sermon on the Mount, namely, “Do unto others as you would have others do to you.” (Matthew 7:12) I was missing the most important part of this whole thing, though!

God led by example. I know. I just heard someone in the back of the room say, duhhhh. Hush, you. I’m a bear of very little brain; Peter and I will probably have a good time together in the afterlife. But to my point, and this is the part that hurts my head: God—sovereign Creator and Sustainer of all that is or ever will be, Lord of the universe, its contents, and the architect of all human existence, came to earth not to conquer, but to serve. (I just heard that “duh,” again. Stop it.) Here’s a Guy (and I use the term “guy” in the most general sense possible since God is, you know, incorporeal) that basically left the nicest house in Hollywood Hills, where He paid no rent, no utilities, had glowing folks serving His every need and keeping the room cool with the beat of their wings, in order to move into a Warsaw ghetto and serve the Nazis. I mean, that’s really what we’re looking at. Jesus came to earth, served the thankless people that would eventually kill Him, and then— in the act of dying—saved all of them from the noose.

“That’s it. I’m done. I’m gonna wipe these jokers out and start over.” (Numbers 14:12… sorta.) That’s what I woulda done. But God is a lot more merciful than I am (that whole “perfection” thing that He does, remember) and He not only didn’t smite us like we deserve, He gave us a way to become unsmite-able! There’s a bad joke about Christmas in there, but the literal parallels make it more of a bad pun, and I try not to punish you guys too much…

So: if God can come to us as a servant, how much more that we should serve each other? We can’t pay God back—what are we gonna do, “Hey, God, here’s, uh, eleventy dollars, and I have some change, and the title to my Yugo, and lessee, OH! I baked brownies!” Really? GOD MADE THE BROWNIES. I’m not sure He wants credit for the Yugo, but the rest of that stuff is ALREADY HIS. We got nothin’, and He proved it to even the most foolish of us by coming back and serving even those that were the least deserving of His love. Heck, most of us can’t even bring ourselves to tithe, for cryin’ out loud, and that’s the one demand God makes from allllllll the way back in the Old Testament. Even the cheapskates get into heaven as long as they accept that “gift of salvation” thing. He gives, and He gives and He gives, and what do we do? Waste the salt.

Seriously. This baffles me. This actually hurts more than trying to contemplate eternity. I don’t get it, so I’m trying to share the headache. Not that He did it. We know that He did it. Why did He do it? Why? He didn’t have to. Love? Okay, great: now (answer honestly) do you think you can even comprehend that kind of love? What do you do with a dog that tries to tear your baby’s throat out? You don’t give it a bowl full of kibble and bacon treats! But that’s what God has done for us. (Oh, and by the way: continues to do for us daily, in the form of answered prayer.)

I need some Excedrin. Talk to ya’ll later.

 

~BlogDude

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The Gospel and Harold Speed

”… New facts are but the addition of new instruments to the orchestra with which the artist creates his symphonies. They increase the range of possibilities open to him and enlarge the scope of his work. But they immensely increase the difficulties of composition, and… become so intricate and engrossing that they are apt to occupy the whole of his attention… The orchestration becomes the subject of the symphony, instead of its means of expression. The point is reached when the instruments of expression are too difficult to be controlled… and themselves begin to control the work.”

 

~Harold Speed, Oil Painting Techniques and Materials

So today’s article will be mostly targeted at folks that are fairly new to their faith. You should know that what I’m writing about, I write from intimate personal experience; struggling with finding a balance between what God expects me to do, and what I want to do for God, has been a serious and very real challenge for me since I came to Christ.

On the one hand, I want to do everything I can for the Lord. I went through a period in which I tried to do everything that I thought would please Him, with the result that I wasn’t getting anything done. It took me a little bit of time to realize that the Holy Spirit had endowed me with certain spiritual gifts for a reason; that reason was to focus on the specific tasks that God knows I am best suited for. For instance, public speaking is probably not my forte’.

On the other hand, I have these spiritual gifts, and I want to use them constantly. The trick is to find that balance. Jesus, in the parable of the soils, talks about believers who fall into this category. He tells of those who “fell upon the rocky places, where they did not have much soil,” and as a result they immediately sprang up, because they had no “depth of soil.” But when the sun rose, they were scorched, and having “no root, they withered away.” (Matt. 13:5, 6)

My son calls people like this, “try-hards.” What it amounts to is that we get so wrapped up in the ecstasy of the moment that we forget to root ourselves before we start trying to branch out. Getting back to the art metaphors, “Do far less with your brush, and much more with your head at first.”

When I first got saved, I remember becoming fascinated with apologetics (I still am). I thought, “Oh, awesome! I can argue and be a good Christian? This is wicked cool!” The only problem with this was that I was learning the arguments before I learned the reason for the arguments. As a result, there were a couple of occasions where I fear that my arguments did more harm, than good; not having a firm foundation in the spirit of the argument, I let the argument itself become the point of the discussion. I regret to say that the two people that I am thinking of in this example have probably become even more entrenched in their resistance to Christ, as a result.

God, in His perfect wisdom, used this as a lesson to me. He has also put people in my life who have an almost eerie tendency to say exactly the right thing at the exact moment that I need to hear it; in this case, the lesson was reinforced when one of these people suggested that sometimes we get so busy doing for God that we forget about God. Yikes.

So, I backed up, and started reading more Scripture. I got into the Word about spiritual gifts, and at just about exactly the moment that I start wondering, “Well, what the heck is my gift? And how do I find out?” Pastor Reggie gave a sermon on—yup—spiritual gifts. Double yikes. Twice in ten days. Like I said—eerie.

Here was the information that I needed! After a couple of false starts—the direction in general was the right one, but it was the wrong path, both times—I finally found a couple of things that I could do for the Lord without having to compromise the quality of my work for Him. One of them, obviously, is this blog; the best part of this for me, in a spiritual sense, is that where I might get lazy about reading Scripture the way I should, writing this forces me to stick my nose in the Word pretty much daily so that I can be sure that what I’m writing is true to Scripture. It works great—I get to work for the Lord, I get to do that work by doing something I enjoy, and it actually forces me to grow spiritually! Awesome!

Of course, I try to do everything with God foremost in my mind. It wouldn’t do if this blog were the only thing that I dedicated to Him, so no matter what I do now I try to do it in a way that I know would be pleasing to Him, and with the knowledge that if it weren’t for His blessing I wouldn’t be able to do anything at all. But by just listening to the Spirit, I was led to the right outlet for my gifts—and my weaknesses.

“Everyone stumbles upon some methods that suit his particular temperament.” Experienced painters say that it is more important to focus on the foundational basics of the craft, than to focus on style. The problem is that most beginning painters get wrapped around the axle trying to be unique in their own way, rather than learning how to paint and letting style come about as a natural extension of their growth as artists. As Christians, I think we can be guilty of the same mistake. We get a taste of how great it is to be saved, and we want to just run out and start “being saved,” rather than building on that first stone and letting the building take shape as God intended. The result is that we get tired, frustrated and lost—which is what the Devil would love for us to do. “It’s better to burn out, than fade away,” as the song goes (yes, I’m dating myself, hush, you) but as Christians, this isn’t what we want to do. We want to finish the race, and finish strong. Just listen for God’s instruction, and take your time. He knows how best to use us, so stay out of His way, let yourself be attentive to His voice, and realize that what He wants us to do will be to His glory, and to our benefit.

God bless us all, and I’ll talk to you again on Tuesday!

Aich Eee double hockeysticks (part 1)

Hello again, brothers and sisters!

Today, I wanted to write a little about Hell. There are a couple of reasons that I wanted to address this particular subject:

a)    It doesn’t get much attention in sermons.

b)    It can be a confusing subject, with many conflicting views expressed– even among evangelicals.

c)    Jesus talked about Hell more often than Heaven, which should give some indication as to its importance in His teachings.

d)    A great many people have romanticized the notion of Hell, and popular culture, art and philosophy have tended to downplay, rather than illuminate, the horrors of the place.

Now before I get too far along, I want to be clear that the reason I believe that the subject of hell doesn’t get much attention in sermons—at least in our church (and Pastor Reggie actually talks about it more often than most preachers I’ve heard in the last twenty years) —isn’t because anyone is “afraid” to preach or teach on it, as is the case in many churches. It is just a very, very complicated subject to approach in the context of a one-hour church service, or even in a Sunday school lesson plan. It’s also not the easiest of lessons to create an outline for; as stated before, it is a complicated subject that tends to engender a large amount of disagreement.

Bearing that in mind, there are a few guidelines that I’d like to lay out for this discussion. Of course, I am encouraging more thorough conversation about the subject, but these guidelines will tell you where I come from as I present the material—and I believe that this position is both theologically and philosophically sound.

First, Hell is a real, literal place of eternal suffering for people who have rejected Christ Jesus.

Second, Hell is a place of punishment, not a place where people are sent simply because God doesn’t want them around. (I will explain this point in some detail, especially as it pertains to popular culture.)

Third, Hell is the final destination of the unsaved, to which they will be consigned at the time of the Second Resurrection.

Fourth, the devil does not rule in Hell.

Fifth, there is no escape from Hell. All people live, die once and are then judged (in other words, there is no Purgatory or similar state into which the soul passes after temporal death).

I will not address the subject of Limbo, or specifically whether or not unsaved children go to Hell (as some denominations and other religions would have us believe), except to say that I believe it to be sound doctrine that children who have not reached the age of moral discernment are taken to Heaven at death; there is no sound theological or scriptural teaching that contradicts this idea. (It also exceeds the scope of the present conversation, although we may well address it later, if an interest in this topic is expressed).

 

So, I’ll start with some of the various views of Hell (this will be, by no means, an exhaustive list, but I believe it will cover the most prevalent ideas), after which I will attempt to narrow down the concepts until we have reached what should be a pretty good idea of its reality; we will discuss the specific teachings of Jesus on the subject of Hell; and finally, we will talk about the ways in which popular, secular culture has perverted the idea of Hell in ways that tend to romanticize, and even glorify, Hell in order to entice people into a state of fatuousness.

Thursday, I’ll begin by discussing the various names for Hell and its environs. See you there! (Thursday, I mean. Not the other place. I’m not going there, thank God.)