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[This is a partial repost of an article from a couple years back, dealing with the original context of the events and teaching in John 6.]

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Galilee Region (From www.followtherabbi.org)

On hearing it, many of his disciples said, “This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?”Aware that his disciples were grumbling about this, Jesus said to them, “Does this offend you? What if you see the Son of Man ascend to where he was before! The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you are spirit and they are life. Yet there are some of you who do not believe.” For Jesus had known from the beginning which of them did not believe and who would betray him. He went on to say, “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless the Father has enabled him.”

From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him. (John 6:60-66)

This is part of a very interesting narrative, covered in all of John 6, on one of the conflicts in which Jesus was involved – where the people wanted him to be one thing, while his purpose was very different in nature.
The typical (mis)use of this passage I’ve heard goes something like this – “Jesus’ message was not a popular one, and so it doesn’t really matter all that much if we’re offensive in the way we present it. After all, Jesus drove away all but his twelve disciples with his message, winnowing out all of the ‘false converts’ in the process.” Such an interpretation of John 6 is unfortunate, and tends to spring from ignorance of the world Jesus lived in, and in this case, the Galilee region.

Galilee Geography

To get a firm grasp on this passage (and a number of other stories in the Gospels), it is helpful to know the geography and demography of the Galilee region.

On the northern shore of the Sea of Galilee primarily lived the hasidim, the pious ones. Some, primarily of Pharisaic or ‘orthodox’ affiliation (not to be confused with modern Orthodox Judaism), believed that a purity of faith and obedience would bring God to overthrow the Romans and establish the Kingdom of God, and did not condone violence or political power in overthrowing the Romans and unseating Hellenism. The other primary group of hasidim, called zealots, believed that God would use them to overthrow the Romans and Hellenism using whatever means necessary.

The hasidim primarily lived in and around Capernaum, Korazin and Bethsaida (an area dubbed ‘the Orthodox Triangle’ by the late archaeologist Bargil Pixner), and the zealots lived in and around Gamla (just NE of the Sea of Galilee in the Golan Heights) and Magdala, near Mount Arbel (see the map above, or click it for a larger view).

Tiberius, in the southwest part of Galilee, was where secular Jews referred to as ‘Herodians’ lived. Tiberius, itself, was an unclean city (as it was built over a graveyard), and was cut off from northern Galilee by Mount Arbel, which came all the way down into the water (today, a road has been built, and it is silted in 20-30 meters from the waters edge during dry seasons).

On the east and south shores of Galilee was the Decapolis, ten pagan cities founded by Hellenistic Greeks. No good Jew would be caught in the Decapolis, as almost everything there was ‘unclean’, they ate pork, and worshipped many gods. (It was here that Jesus healed the demoniac amidst the tombs, casting the demon into a herd of pigs.)
Early Contextualization

As you read about Jesus’ miracles and teaching, you will find that he tailors his methods (and miracles) to those places:

When he is in the Capernaum/Bethsiada region, he uses many more scriptural quotations (particularly invoking remez and other techniques), and when he performs miracles in this region, he is recorded many times telling those he healed ‘do not tell anyone’ about the miracles.

However, when he heals the demoniac in the Decapolis, he tells that man to go tell everyone!

Why the difference?

With the dominance of zealots in northern Galilee, it is likely these people will want to make him into a military messiah who will lead them and throw out the Romans (as they were also recorded, by Josephus, to be the most fervent in their search for a Messiah). Think about it. How valuable would it be to have an army with a king who can feed an army without carrying food, immediately heal any injuries and raise the dead? Sign me up for that army!

Back to the Story

Now, to get the full context of the John 6 passage, we really need to read the whole thing. First, we have Jesus near Mount Arbel on the west side of the Sea of Galilee, where he miraculously feeds the five thousand people. After this, we read:

After the people saw the miraculous sign that Jesus did, they began to say, “Surely this is the Prophet who is to come into the world.” Jesus, knowing that they intended to come and make him king by force, withdrew again to a mountain by himself.

Mark tells us that he went up the mountain to pray (interestingly, Mount Arbel is known in Judasm to be the rabbi’s ‘prayer mountain’ – a solitary place where rabbis go to pray). From verse 15 (highlighted above), we can see that the crowd must have been heavily zealot influenced.

Meanwhile, his disciples take their boats up to the Orthodox Triangle, somewhere between Capernaum and Bethsiada. In the middle of the night, he walks across the water to meet them. The next day, the crowd figures out that Jesus has left for the other side, and hurries over there to see him. Why, though?

Jesus answered, “I tell you the truth, you are looking for me, not because you saw miraculous signs but because you ate the loaves and had your fill. Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. On him God the Father has placed his seal of approval.”

So, Jesus notes that the crowd was looking for him to provide food (having already recognized that they were looking for a physical messianic deliverer in v. 15).

Then they asked him, “What must we do to do the works God requires?”

Jesus answered, “The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.”

So they asked him, “What miraculous sign then will you give that we may see it and believe you? What will you do? Our forefathers ate the manna in the desert; as it is written: ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’

They still didn’t get it. They were still looking for Jesus to provide food. His message wasn’t even second, third or fourth consideration. So, Jesus becomes a little more direct in his answer:

Jesus said to them, “I tell you the truth, it is not Moses who has given you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.”

“Sir,” they said, “from now on give us this bread.”

Are you starting to notice a pattern here?

Some have argued that the reason for the single-mindeness on provision of food could be attributed to general poverty in the area. However, this region of Israel was (and still is) on of the most fertile in all of Israel, and many Second Temple period scholars believe that the Galilee region was fairly well off (comparable to ‘middle class’ in the First Century culture) because of the rich natural resources in the area. It is much more likely that the desire for miraculous provision was in line with providing for a standing army or preparation for a siege (NOTE: Mount Arbel was the site of a siege, where zealots held out against Herod for a period of time. Later, Gamla would be the last stronghold before Masada to fall to the Romans).

Then Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty. But as I told you, you have seen me and still you do not believe. All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away. For I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me. And this is the will of him who sent me, that I shall lose none of all that he has given me, but raise them up at the last day. For my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day.”

At this the Jews began to grumble about him because he said, “I am the bread that came down from heaven.” They said, “Is this not Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How can he now say, ‘I came down from heaven’?”

It was becoming clear to them that Jesus wasn’t going to be feeding them that day. The key word here is ‘grumble’ (Jesus repeats this word back to them in the following verse).  As in many cases in scripture, using such a specific word often refers back to its first use – in this case, Exodus, where people ‘grumbled’ to Moses because of what they would eat and drink there in the desert. This fits with the discussion that has already come up because the people asked about manna in the desert when their ancestors were with Moses.

“Stop grumbling among yourselves,” Jesus answered. “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him, and I will raise him up at the last day. It is written in the Prophets: ‘They will all be taught by God.’ Everyone who listens to the Father and learns from him comes to me. No one has seen the Father except the one who is from God; only he has seen the Father. I tell you the truth, he who believes has everlasting life. I am the bread of life. Your forefathers ate the manna in the desert, yet they died. But here is the bread that comes down from heaven, which a man may eat and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.”

Then the Jews began to argue sharply among themselves, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?”

Jesus said to them, “I tell you the truth, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in him. Just as the living Father sent me and I live because of the Father, so the one who feeds on me will live because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven. Your forefathers ate manna and died, but he who feeds on this bread will live forever.”

Jesus has now chosen to stick with his ‘bread’ metaphor (after all, His is the ‘bread of life’ and he was born in Bethlehem (lit. house of bread, or bakery)), which fits with his role as an atoning sacrifice. Some have taken part of this literally to develop the doctrine of transubstantiation, which was never intended, but rather that one would have to accept Jesus flesh and blood as an atoning sacrifice, and no longer the blood of doves, rams and goats. We, fortunately, have the gift of hindsight and the Holy Spirit to understand Jesus’ words and the prophetic import. His audience, however, wanted him to be a miraculous provider and to lead them (i.e. to be the next Moses).

At this point, Jesus had not only lost the crowd, but he was also going to lose those who followed him solely as a physical messiah. This had to do not so much with ‘hard teaching’ as we think about it today (repentance, self-sacrifice), but with ‘hard teaching’ for those people who believed that Jesus was going to deliver them from Roman oppression. It cannot be expressed how huge a let-down this was those people.  The idea that the Messiah would save them from Roman oppression as a ruler and king in Jerusalem was at the core of Messianic belief – but that this salvation would not be a physical one had never entered their minds.

Later, in 68 A.D., it would be these zealots rebelling under the leadership of Simon bar Giora (who some believed to be a messiah) that led to the fall of Jerusalem. However, because the Messianic Jews chose not to fight against Rome, instead fleeing to Pella (per Jesus warning in the Olivet Discourse), many were later persecuted by Jewish zealots in retaliation (though far worse persecution of the Jews would come later from those who claimed to follow Jesus’ teaching).

And so, with the crowds upset and/or gone, we finish this passage of scripture:

On hearing it, many of his disciples said, “This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?”

Aware that his disciples were grumbling about this, Jesus said to them, “Does this offend you? What if you see the Son of Man ascend to where he was before! The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you are spirit and they are life. Yet there are some of you who do not believe.” For Jesus had known from the beginning which of them did not believe and who would betray him. He went on to say, “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless the Father has enabled him.”

From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him.

“You do not want to leave too, do you?” Jesus asked the Twelve.

Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.”

Then Jesus replied, “Have I not chosen you, the Twelve? Yet one of you is a devil!” (He meant Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot, who, though one of the Twelve, was later to betray him.)

One last item to note here is that the name ‘Iscariot’ is indiciative of Judas being a zealot, as well.  The name ‘Iscarior’ comes from sicarii, the knife often carried by zealots when they assassinated public figures. This coda to the story is one more indication that it is the zealot idea (changing the world through violence and political intrigue) that Jesus is rejecting, and that those who seek Him for such purposes will be disappointed, because that is not his purpose.

So What?

Going back to the original thesis, this passage of scripture has nothing to do with winnowing out ‘false converts’, or acceptability being offensive in one’s presentation of the Gospel. This has everything to do with keeping the purpose of the Kingdom in focus, and Jesus’ (and only Jesus!) role as sacrifice and salvation for all men who will listen to the Father and comes to His Son. If you drive the weak and wounded out of the kingdom, you are just a resounding gong or clanging cymbal, nothing more.

Additionally, as we’re now into the four-year-cycle of the “silly season”, it is likely that Christians will be putting hope in the government being the solution to the problems we face – specifically problems linked to the purpose of the kingdom.  For those of us who start being seduced by this idea – that Jesus will bring his kingdom about via political means – John 6 is a warning to us, as well…

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In response to some questions (and requests), I am going to repost some older articles on scriptural context and interpretation in the coming days, following on the heel’s of yesterday’s repost.

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It is interesting how the Spirit works – I don’t know about you, but I cannot count the times that I have read a passage of scripture, a chapter in a book, or listened to a sermon and *BAM* within the next day or so I find that I need exactly what I heard/read. What if I hadn’t taken the time for personal study and devotion? It is a sobering thought.

Interestingly, when I hear/read scripture being misused (particularly by literalists), I often bite my tongue, waiting for that ‘leading’ or ‘tugging’ that seems to then happen when I see the exact passage misused multiple times by multiple individuals in multiple forums.

Today is just such a day, and the passage(s) in question are the three gospel accounts where Jesus states that ‘the poor you will always have with you’. These are located in Matthew 26:11, Mark 14:7, and John 12:8. Where these scriptures seem to be (mis)used is in casting aside calls to be ‘missional’, particularly relating to serving the poor and addressing poverty at home and abroad. Usually, the misuse is along the lines of “We should be far more concerned with eternal issues, rather than temporal ones. Besides, Jesus said that ‘For the poor always ye have with you; but me ye have not always.’”

So, what is Jesus’ point here?

First off, let’s look at the context. All three accounts are of the same event in Bethany, where Jesus is eating at the house of Simon the Leper with Lazarus, Mary, Martha, Judas and at least some of Jesus other disciples. There, a woman (identified by John as Mary) took expensive perfume and anointed Jesus with it (two accounts accentuate her use of it on his head, the other account accentuates the use on his feet – possibly indicating that she was anointing the head, heart, hands and feet, as with a miqvah.)

Then, Judas criticizes Mary’s actions by saying ‘Why wasn’t this perfume sold and the money given to the poor? It was worth a year’s wages!’. However, John also includes this statement about Judas’ motives:

He did not say this because he cared about the poor but because he was a thief; as keeper of the money bag, he used to help himself to what was put into it. (John 12:6)

So, we can already see that the question being put to Jesus isn’t really a genuine one in the first place. It was one that was self-serving with the appearance of appealing to service to the poor. And so, Jesus answers:

“Leave her alone,” Jesus replied. “It was intended that she should save this perfume for the day of my burial. You will always have the poor among you, but you will not always have me.” (John 12:7-8)

As I’ve discussed on a number of occasions, Jesus was a master rabbinical teacher, using PaRDeS and Parable as his key methods. As such, this teaching contains (at the very least) P’shat and Remez.

The P’shat (or ‘plain meaning’) is often expressed in contrast and placed second (like with ‘you have heard it said X, but I say to you Y’). In John 12:8, the emphasis (or plain meaning) is after ‘but’. The key is ‘you will not always have me’ and not ‘you will always have the poor’. So, to give the proper interpretation to Jesus’ words, you would see that he is agreeing with the sentiment (you will always have the poor), but making an exception based on his physical presence and the significance of Mary’s anointing with the perfume to be used in his burial. This is not a callous statement that ‘we will always have the poor, and therefore we have no responsibility to do anything about it’ – that is 180-degrees apart from His teaching!

To emphasize this, we need to look at the remez (the ‘hint’). When Jesus says ‘You will always have the poor among you’, he is actually quoting from Deuteronomy 15:11, which states ‘There will always be poor people in the land.’ If you will remember, to understand remez, we must look at the verses immediately before and after the one quoted. Jesus’ audience, who had the Torah memorized, would have been able to do this instantly -

If there is a poor man among your brothers in any of the towns of the land that the LORD your God is giving you, do not be hardhearted or tightfisted toward your poor brother. Rather be openhanded and freely lend him whatever he needs. Be careful not to harbor this wicked thought: “The seventh year, the year for canceling debts, is near,” so that you do not show ill will toward your needy brother and give him nothing. He may then appeal to the LORD against you, and you will be found guilty of sin. Give generously to him and do so without a grudging heart; then because of this the LORD your God will bless you in all your work and in everything you put your hand to. There will always be poor people in the land. Therefore I command you to be openhanded toward your brothers and toward the poor and needy in your land. (Deut 15:7-11)

So, if it wasn’t obvious from the P’shat, the Remez should not only put the lie to those who misuse Jesus’ words, but show us, once again, that – while the eternal destination is not unimportant – our temporal responsibility is to care for both the physical and spiritual needs of those less fortunate.

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While I probably could have gone on and discussed the brilliance of Jesus’ approach, and the modern social-science derivatives (such as Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs), this was just looking at the scriptural interpretation. Perhaps I’ll pick it up and continue at some point in the future…

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(Note: I’m not a fan of either of these presidential candidates — nor any of them, for that matter. So I’m not interested in a political discussion. The political realm just happens to be where this example lies.)

In Monday night’s Democratic debate, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama got testy with each other. There was one exchange though, that gave me a serious case of déjà vu:

Obama: I was helping unemployed workers on the streets of Chicago when you were a corporate lawyer sitting on the board at Wal-Mart.

Clinton: I was fighting against misguided Republican policies when you were practicing law and representing your contributor … in his slum landlord business in inner city Chicago.

See the difference? Obama claimed to be working with actual people. Conversely, for Clinton, the important thing was to be anti-Republican, (apparently, the highest calling that any human being can aspire to).

Then I got a flashback.

A bit over a year ago, I wrote an email to one of the group-written incarnations of Slice asking why my comments kept getting un-approved, despite the fact that they were civil and not particularly strident. I contrasted my comments to stuff like:

RICK WARREN IS NOT A CHRISTIAN!

– and –

Houston will be a desert before I accept a liar, a slanderer, a self-promoting name-dropper, and a blasphemer of the Holy Spirit as a brother in Christ. (regarding Warren)

I marveled that such anti-Biblical skubala was permitted on a site on which comments were carefully screened.

Put down your coffee before you read the next sentence. I don’t want to be responsible for the spit-take all over your computer screen.

The response that I received was that comments at Slice were not carefully screened. Rather, the only comments that were disallowed were apologists for the emerging church and Rick Warren, and comments that were truly malicious.

Since my actual point was totally ignored (the anti-Biblical nature of some comments), I re-iterated it again. The response that I got this time stated that even guessing who is saved is unbiblical.

I responded that I was glad that this was her stance, pointed out that this was not the stance of all the writers at Slice, and then asked the following:

Does this mean that you place a higher priority on being anti-emergent and anti-Warren than on being pro-Biblical?

“Surprisingly”, I didn’t receive a response to that note.

Sure, being pro-Biblical will inherently mean that we’ll be “anti” some stuff. But the latter follows the former. Talk about getting the cart before the dead horse that you’ve been beating.

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Recently discovered document, from backstage at the REDACTED show.

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TO: “Christians” with Artistic Gifts
RE: Success and Doing Your Best

It has come to our attention that you are employed in the world of entertainment. While this, alone, should disqualify you from the book of life, since you claim the title “Christian”, please realize that we will be watching you like a hawk. At some point, you will fail, and when you do, you will get a foretaste of what your experience will be like in hell, as we will be the hands and feet of God to deliver it to you. So please, keep in mind the following:

1) If you are ever interviewed, our skepticism of the press will vanish to be replaced with an “absence detector”, which identifies anything and everything you never said in that interview. Even if you DID say what didn’t get printed, it does not matter – you must not have said it forcefully enough, or else they would have printed it.

2) If you are involved in an artistic venture that requires dancing, you are going to hell. Unless you are encased in a full-body cast, we will characterize your performance as “writhing around” and “fanny shaking” and “pelvic thrusting”. Fanny-shaking is of the devil.

3) If you’re a woman, it doesn’t matter if you’re wearing a burkha. Your dress will always be called ‘immodest’, and characterized as “fleshly” or “worldly”. Deal with it.

4) If you’re an actor, you’d best marry another actor and ONLY perform with that person. Otherwise, do not take any part which requires you to so much as hold hands with another actor. If you do so, be prepared for an onslaught of criticism for your cavalier attitude toward sexuality.

5) If you are required to travel as part of your work, please realize that – unless you travel back to your home church EVERY week – we will exoriate you for your lack of faithfulness in attending your local church. NOTE: If you have support from your local church community while you’re on the road, that doesn’t mean you’ll get a free pass. We’ll just criticize you because of all of those people who can’t afford such nicities.

6) DO NOT, by any means, attain any level of ‘success‘. If you do, it will be evidence of your carnality and worldliness, which we will roast you for. If you are successful, that is a sign that you’re not being persecuted, and, therefore, not a Christian. Your best bet is to suck enough to prevent success, but not so much that your tithe won’t pay for the new educational wing at your “church”. Remember – the tallest blade of grass is always the one that gets cut down first.

7) If you do not mention “Jesus” (”God” doesn’t count) at every available opportunity, we will trumpet this as evidence of your fleshly, worldly motivations and your selling out on the altar of worldly success. We will thump our breasts to show what an awful hypocrite you are!

8) If you are a painter, we’d best not find any paintings of things outside of Christianity (or, worse yet, which depict anything apart from a modernist or romantic view of the Biblical account). If we can construe something to be anti-Christian, we will, and we will blame you.

9) If you are a singer, every song had best mention “Jesus” (not “God”), or you’re a worldly sell-out.

10) If you are an actor, never play the part of a villan or do anything that would be a sin. Additionally, do not ever act in a movie that gets a rating of PG or higher (unless it is a semi-realistic portrayal of the crucifixion, in which case we will only criticize you for being a Catholic instead of being a Christian). We may give you a pass, though, if you act in poorly-produced pre-mill dispensationalist fantasies.

11) At some point in your life, after you are on the public stage, you will sin. We will be there to point it out for you, just in case you don’t see it. After this, we will be sure to label you by your sin for the remainder of your life. If we could (and unfortunately, your lawyers would probably prevent it), we would engrave it on your tombstone. Regardless, we will bring it up at every turn to justify why were were right to hate critize you in the first place. If, by some chance, you don’t have publicly known sin after awhile, we will dig into your past to find it for you.

12) If you attend a church that is not on our short list of “approved” churches (like Grace Community Church in CA), then you don’t really count as “Christian”, as your pedigree is suspect. Should we ever see you in the same photo with Rick Warren, Erwin Mcmanus, Rob Bell or other “Christians” we hate disagree with, you can pretty much expect the ink to flow from our loving pens.

So, please realize that as a Christian artist, you have chosen a profession with more minefields in it than the Kuwaiti border. Your best bet would just be to turn back now. Should you decide to trudge on forward, remember – we will be watching you – like a hawk.

In Christian love,

The watchmen (and women)

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Christian men have become too feminized, according to some. It seems that all those lattes, diet sodas, and I-Phones have turned us into the spiritual equivalent of the local Girl Scout troop. That is, at least according to this article, which portrays a version of a feminized Christian man in this way:

“All you truth-detectors and discernment watch-dogs are just so nasty all the time… Can’t we all just get along? Just be nice; make nice; play nice; and OOZE nice? I don’t think it is loving to criticize others. You’re all just a bunch of big ‘ol meanies. You think you know it all. If you say anything negative, I’m just going to ignore you. Tissue please… it’s just too much to bear…”

The problem with this is that it’s a classic strawman. I’ve never once met a person who’s said anything like that, even on the far left. I have heard and read various requests that call for reasoned responses. I have read things that call the Church to get it’s own house in order before criticizing others. Yet somehow, the calls are translated into a caricature of limp-wristed, cardigan-wearing man. Why is that?

I think that in a large part, this is an instance where the American church has let masculinity be defined by the culture. Even though we live in the era of the “sensitive man” to some extent, it seems that the image that is still glorified most is the warrior, the strongman, and the conquerer. Why do we love football so much? Why do we like movies where one guy takes on an army? It celebrates these type of men.

For a large part this is what this article is defending. It is portraying the ideal Christian man as someone who fights for truth, defends against heresy, and guards the Church. Now these things in and of themselves aren’t wrong. The problem is that using war-like language has led to some serious distortions in the past. It easy to get confused as to who the real enemy is. This type of language has a way of inciting people, and unfortunately the Church’s history of violence is something we need to own up to.

So what is the definition of masculinity we should look to? What is the Biblical role of men. In some ways, the Bible is surprisingly silent on gender roles. It does give us some guidelines, though. Paul says in Ephesians 5:25-27:

Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless.

So, husbands are to love their wives as Christ loved the Church. How did Christ love the Church? He put His life on the line for her, and He served her. Christ wasn’t about “winning” some culture war. He was about serving others. He was about washing the disciples filthy, stinking feet. He was about radical sacrifice. This is the true measure of a man.

The measure of a man is not about presenting a strong front. It is not about being inpenetrable. It is about having the courage to serve. I will end with this quote by G.K. Chesterton:

Brave men are all vertebrates; they have their softness on the surface and their toughness in the middle.

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It’s been twelve years or so since Ted Kaczynski, aka “the unibomber”, was finally caught and brought to justice. One of the quirks of the case was Kaczynski’s anonymous letters to authorities, insisting that they publish his unaltered ‘manifesto’, Industrial Society and its Future, in a reputable, public newspaper. In the interest of public safety and with the hopes that someone might recognize the writing and identify the bomber, the FBI allowed New York Times and the Washington Post to publish the document.

I remember picking up a copy of that document and trying to wade through it, to see what kind of person was behind such senseless violence. As I sifted through the manifesto, it became pretty obvious that, with its conspiracy-saturated ramblings, esoteric terminology, paranoid delusions and apocalyptic visions of doom, the author was completely off his rocker. It was hard to imagine that I’d ever see a document quite so off-kilter and swimmingly delusional, attempting to document a worldwide conspiracy.

Apparently, I was wrong.

In looking for boogeymen within the church – with conspiracy, esoterica and innuendo to tie them all together – this piece (referenced today here), with a tinfoil-hat-fairy-tale version here, seems to be wanting to give Ted a bit of competition. [Please note that this is not, in any way, to infer that the author of this piece is an anarchtic terrorist, but rather, I was making a comparison of tone, timbre, function and pathos.]  In the end analysis, the unibomber’s document likely contains more truth than the other, which is a sad commentary in itself.
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All comparisons aside, this is a rather sad document, in which the author arrogantly places huge swaths of God’s kingdom under the umbrella of Beelzabub:

So I have very good reason why I “lump” the Purpose Driven Church, the Emerging Church and the Word Faith Church together as they are pureed in Beelzebub’s blender into today’s Christianity Lite.

Sadly, this is reminiscent of an incident recorded in the Gospels:

Then Jesus entered a house, and again a crowd gathered, so that he and his disciples were not even able to eat. When his family heard about this, they went to take charge of him, for they said, “He is out of his mind.”

And the teachers of the law who came down from Jerusalem said, “He is possessed by Beelzebub! By the prince of demons he is driving out demons.”

So Jesus called them and spoke to them in parables: “How can Satan drive out Satan? If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. If a house is divided against itself, that house cannot stand. And if Satan opposes himself and is divided, he cannot stand; his end has come. In fact, no one can enter a strong man’s house and carry off his possessions unless he first ties up the strong man. Then he can rob his house. I tell you the truth, all the sins and blasphemies of men will be forgiven them. But whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven; he is guilty of an eternal sin.”

He said this because they were saying, “He has an evil spirit.”

While it is commanded of us in scripture to “test” what is being taught, what this particular bit of screed does goes far beyond ‘testing’ and into the realm of slander and quite possibly blasphemy against the Holy Spirit.

That, unlike the ramblings of a mad-bomber, is a serious thing to consider…

Are there churches that use “Purpose Driven” methods which have been taken to extremes and watered down the gospel?  Certainly.  Are there churches that use PD methods in a thought-out, balanced fashion, which produce spiritual fruit? Certainly, as well.

Are there “Emergent” churches which have jettisoned scripture and embraced liberal ideology?  Certainly.  Are there ECM churches that hold scripture in high regard and are living examples of salt and light in the world?  Most certainly.

Are there “Reformed” churches which are bastions of legalism, clinging onto systems and traditions as if they were biblical doctrine, all the while being functionally dead to the world?  Certainly.  Are there “Reformed” churches where orthodoxy and orthopraxy are in good balance?  Certainly, as well.

Is there “false teaching” (i.e. teaching a different gospel, apart from grace, that is sending people to hell – here and in the afterlife) going on in the church as a whole?  Certainly.  Is it as wide-spread and ingrained as the ODM’s would like you to think?  Highly doubtful.
There are aspects of most every denomination/tradition in modern Christianity which are either on the wrong track or are being poorly executed. Some are more guilty than others – but every one of them is made up of individuals – indivduals who are our brothers and sisters in Christ. Even if we hold differences where doctrinal unity would be unwise or unteneble, relational unity is still important to hold within the church, as a whole. Attempting to toss millions of faceless Christians under the bus as products of “Beelzabub’s blender” is an unordained, fruitless, loveless exercise with a very real danger of hellfire…

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I confess that I have a few American Idol alumni in my Itunes, but just like my voting policy, I’ll never tell you who they are. Last night, my wife reminded me as I was doing homework with one of my daughters that the season premier was on in a little bit. A couple of years ago watching what I like to call the American Idol pre-season became a tradition of sorts for my wife and I. Back then we could only watch one channel and we were in a little cabin waiting for something a little bigger to open up for us. Of course like a lot of Americans we laughed at some of the contestants, wondering what in the world they were thinking. So last night I stopped what I was doing and from the first commercial on we watched the carnage. I’d like to tell you that we had empathy for those people who tried and failed but the truth is we laugh at most of them. The truth is after the auditions I’ll hardly watch any of the episodes. About half way through, I said to my wife, “There’s something we can learn from this, I just don’t know what it is.” Believe it or not, I actually pondered this for the rest of the show. I pondered what can the church learn from American Idol? Not, how can the church emulate American Idol but what are the inherent truths here that I’m missing.

Then it happened. Near the end there was a series of failed contestants walking out the door, some sad, most angry, and all of them talking about how they were going to make it “without American Idol!!!” Now, let’s think about that for a moment, here is two of the best talent evaluators in the business (Randy and Simon–I’m not really sure why Paula is on the show) and they’ve just told you that you’re not good enough but you’re gonna go make it on your own. Sure, there probably will be somebody who will do that once, maybe. Realistically, though these people are not going to make it. They’re just not that good.

All of the Princess Leia like hair do’s and chest hair waxing isn’t going to make their voices any better. No amount of one finger salutes or complaining about the make up girls that all look alike is going to change that. It’s amazing really, these people just lie to themselves. The truth is too hard to face. It’s easier to blame the judges. It’s even easier to get angry instead of facing the truth that your hurting. I imagine for many if not all of these people this is a life long dream. Many have probably had the flames of this dream fanned by well intentioned friends and family members who have listened through ears that are well… friends and family ears. Rather than hurt the person they love they encourage them that they could make it, that they might have a chance and their voices might be good enough. The idea of being dishonest in an effort to be nice is a topic for a whole other day. So they rant, they rave and they blame everyone out there. Before we get too hard on these idol wannabes I want to ask, doesn’t the church do this?

Seriously, the conservatives blame the emergents, the emergents blame the conservatives. One denomination blames another, free-willers blame Calvinists, Calvinists blame free-willers, etc.

I know of a pastor who led a church to a third of the size it was when he took over. You know what he says the reason is? People just cannot handle good hard preaching anymore. Now, I wonder what that says about the guy before him, who hired him and groomed him to take his place. Is he saying that guy didn’t preach solid Biblical truths? That church has lost most of its influence in the community in which it has historic roots, mostly because it fought the wrong battles.

Read the gospels. It’s fascinating. Jesus was hated or loved depending on who was around him but he was never marginalized. He was never ignored. Everywhere he went people talked about Him, they knew about Him. Same thing with the Apostle Paul. It’s amazing, people tried to kill him in a variety of ways. The early church grew. Maybe it was because it didn’t have the time to blame outsiders because those outsiders were persecuting them.

I love when a church or some para-church ministry rants and shrieks about “the Culture Wars” and taking America back to the golden age when “it was a Christian nation.” When I was a kid we used to spread that kind of talk on our fields as fertilizer. I’m afraid the church has lost some of its effectiveness because we’ve failed to tell ourselves the truth. We’ve failed to look at the mirror and see where we are failing. We’ve been too busy blaming people who don’t believe like us for not acting like us. We’ve gone crazy trying to defend things are extra-biblical. It’s time we take a long deep look at us and ask if we are redeeming the time or punching a time clock. The problem is that this is hard. It’s hard to say that you were wrong, It’s even harder to ask for forgiveness. If you really want to do something extremely hard that Christ commands us to do, don’t worry about taking the gospel to some third world country–just try to forgive someone who has really hurt you. For many, going to that third world country will be far far easier.

There are people who actually fight over the terms we should call ourselves. Christ-follower or Christian? I sincerely doubt that the label we proudly slap on our chest has ever shown anyone what it means to be loved. I doubt that anyone has ever decided to follow Christ because of some label. Both terms drives at people looking like Jesus. One of the terms actually means “little Christ.” I wonder if Christ would have thumped his chest over a label?

When the disciples were exercised over someone doing Kingdom things they told him to stop because he wasn’t one of them. How did Jesus respond? He told them to let the guy alone. The time has come for the church to stop blaming “those people” whoever those people are take a long hard look at the church. What if every church, every Christian/Christ-follower were to just ask one simple question this year? What if we asked how much we looked like Jesus? The Bible is full of great ways that we can demonstrate that we are like Christ. They all involve actions.

If you really want to be relevant to your community, go love somebody this week. Let the person behind you jump ahead at the checkout next time. Write a thank you note to the person who’s opening the envelope that contains your check for a bill you owe. Forgive the person who wronged you. It’s time we started telling ourself the truth. It’s not some catchy phrase on a sign that is going to show people that we love them and each other and that is important, after all how well we love each other is a sign of who we’re following.

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