Probably Not as Intended

At the end of devotional reading today, the author of the book through which I’m currently reading and using as a study-guide wrote:

 Now, one last question. How has God spoken to you today?

My response? Probably not in the way the author intended….

I did something new today. I did the usual pour a nice hot cup of freshly made coffee and shut my computer to avoid that as a distraction. Today, I also turned down the volume on my phone to mute and flipped it over so I would not see the flashing green light alerting me to a new message. Normally, I just leave it on the counter behind me, but the beeps of the new messages still serve as a distraction from focusing on the Word of God.

I began reading about Jehovah-raah, the Lord my Shepherd.

The author had some solid insights that caused me to pause and reflect on how what she said applies or is observed in my own life. “New” verses to look up and post around my house and on facebook as a reminder throughout the week. So far so good.

Then we get to the main Scripture passage for this morning – John 10:1-17, 26-33.

The author wanted us to make some observations about the different characters in the passage, compare and contrast different actions, etc. I began reading.

The first thing I noticed or that struck me was verse two:

But he who enters by the door is the shepherd of the sheep.

The power of this verse, the confidence of the shepherd in this statement caused me to pause. The first verse had a thief and robber climbing up the back way trying to avoid being seen in a cowardly, underhanded way. The shepherd just walked right in to the fold of his sheep. Picture it.

Then we get to the part where Jesus very clearly and patiently spells it out for His audience who were not quite comprehending what He was saying.

I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd gives His life for the sheep. But a hireling, he who is not the shepherd, one who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees; and the wolf catches the sheep and scatters them. (vs 11-12).

This is the part where my train of thought left the path the author probably intended for it to follow.

A lot of pastors refer to their congregation as their flock that they need to shepherd, to guide. As of today, I think that is something they probably should not be saying.

John is part of the New Testament. These words are coming straight from the mouth of Christ Jesus – He is the Shepherd! Go back to the Old Testament, and we have David saying, “The LORD (Jehovah-raah) is my Shepherd” (Psalm 23:1). If we follow the chain of command, that means pastors are the hirelings – the help.

It makes sense. How often do we hear of pastors who left a church during a split of congregation or who back down from preaching the Word of God because it’s not the popular opinion of the world? They’re fleeing when the wolf comes for the flock of the Shepherd. Good help is hard to find….but it’s not impossible. There are many good pastors who stay to fight the wolves who enter the church with a mission to scatter and devour the flock. I am certain not every hireling in biblical times abandoned their post when a wolf came near the flock of which they were charged with protecting.

Look at the TV preachers and churches or religions with their thousands of followers…of what man is saying. They are not preaching salvation. They are not preaching that yes, God is loving, but He is also holy and just. They have just enough bits and pieces of the Bible – usually/always out of context – that they sound like they are working for the Shepherd. In reality, they are leading a group of sheep closer to the side of a cliff to fall.

 

A Lesson From 2 Timothy 4:2-5

In the Baptist, Evangelical, and really any Bible-believing church these days, there is an alarm being raised about different well-known leaders in Bible study materials. My Facebook feed has been flooded with articles and pictures and thoughts and the spiritual battle-cry about ban these authors from the materials used in church in for Sunday school, Bible studies, and recommendations from personal studies.

I am actually, partially disgusted by this.

To a point, I agree. If there is questionable theological content in their books, then that should not be included in study material given to new or young believers who need a solid foundation before they start sifting through the work of false preachers. However. To completely ban an author eliminates what could be a good learning experience for older believers, a chance to go from eating hamburger to eating steak. Allow me to explain.

For starters, just because an author has recently published questionable material does not mean their earlier writings were not spiritually, biblically sound writing. They may have only recently been taking in by a false preacher and been led astray as Satan decided they were becoming to great a threat to his plans. To ban and disregard what has already been taught after being studied and deemed appropriate in the church could have damaging effects such as believers who took comfort in those writings might be questioning decisions made based on that comfort and study. A believer who came to Christ through a message in a study written by that author might now be questioning their salvation.

It also gives more mature Christians the chance to sift through tactics of the devil. Recognize the truth in the false writings to see how it has been warped so they may be better prepared in the future in an instance when they have to determine for and by themselves whether or not something is true per the Bible. They can use it as a study tool. For example, this morning during my devotions, I came across a paragraph with which I took issue. Instead of throwing away the whole book, I instead wrote in a note at the top of the page reminding myself when I read through the book again later that there is something on that page that is not necessarily biblically sound. That paragraph did not contradict Scripture per se, but the idea behind the paragraph was on shifting sand. I noted it and moved on to the rest of the chapter.

I read a book which I highly recommend (Cold Case Christianity, a Homicide Detective Investigates the Claims of the Gospels by J. Warner Wallace) and loved with the exception of a single concept near the end of the book regarding celibacy. It was not even that the author was promoting or stating that concept was absolute per the Bible; it was more that he was simply stating a viewpoint of another person to contribute to that section of the book. Again, I just wrote a note on the side of the page and kept reading.

Banning books or teachings of someone previously accepted just because you disagree with their theology is taking things to the extreme. This is what the Catholic, Muslim, and other churches do to control their members. It’s also not trusting of the teachers to discern the difference between the truth and false teaching nor is it giving them the opportunity to take a concept or topic provided by the banned author and turn it into a biblically sound lesson.

Part of the growth of each believer should include learning how to study the Bible on their own looking at context (verses and chapters before and after the section being studied), word origins, what scholars of old have written on that passage, etc. If that is being done correctly, and the believer is growing in their relationship with their God, they should be able to discern false teaching on their own.

Again, using evil for good, using the change of writing of a well-known author from truth to false teaching as a teaching opportunity is much better than simply banning that author and becoming like false religions attempting to eliminate free will and control the actions and beliefs of their members.

Old Soul Raised Right

The door is open letting a breeze blow into the house. Birds are singing. Alabama, Alan Jackson, and others are singing in the background of the sound of dishes being washed while coffee cake bakes in the oven.

I’ve been told before I have an old soul in a young body. I think I was just raised right – simple, appreciative, well-mannered.

As I mixed that coffee cake, I chuckled to myself. I was using my grandma’s KitchenAid mixer, Tupperware measuring utensils while other Tupperware pieces dried in the dish rack, and the recipe used is from my copy of the “big red cookbook” from which many recipes of my childhood came as my mama followed and tweaked the recipes in her copy of that cookbook given to her by her mama.

I should be used to it by now, but I am still shocked when I hear my friends say they don’t cook or when they say their girlfriends or ex-girls never baked for them. Most Saturdays, after chores were finished, the kitchen became mine as I baked cookies or cakes or some other (usually) tasty treat for my family! I was raised by a mama who loves to cook for anyone and everyone! I have that same mindset. It makes me happy to cook for family and friends and co-workers and people I’ve never met.

It truly makes me sad to hear that my age group and those younger than I no longer take pride in their ability to throw a meal together for unexpected company or no longer have a cake or bread on stand-by. Ice tea in the fridge? Nope.

(Sidenote: I’m excited to be getting a new Tupperware pitcher! It will probably be tea-stained by the end of the summer!)

I don’t know if I’m just an old soul in a young body and not up to modern behaviour or if people these days just aren’t raising their kids right – with manners and preparedness -, but as I listen to the ballads of Brad Paisley and smell the cinnamon in the coffee cake heating up, I’m content.

 

Time of my Life…

I’ve been reading through a book about the names of God in the Bible for a couple months now. The book should have been done in one month, but, for possibly the first time in my life, I’m not just reading through this devotional book to complete it. I’m actually reading through it to learn about my God.

Last week, I was attempting to understand – and, please note, I’m chuckling to myself as I write that – Adonai. As I was reading through the chapter on that description of God, I was growling to myself about how it was poorly written. Why on earth would the writer throw Adon into the chapter without explaining the difference between Adon and Adonai? I don’t really understand what this verse has to do with this name…and so on.

Then I quit growling with one more thought: Maybe I’m having trouble understanding the qualities and nature of God we can know through this name because I have not yet had to call on God using this name.

When I first originally started this study several years ago before getting distracted and feeling the need to begin it anew, El Roi – the God Who Sees – was the name that jumped out at me. That is the name that I have used quite often in my personal conversations with God when I don’t understand what’s happening in my life, in the world, in my family, etc. I’ve called on the God Who Sees, a quality first made known in the life and account of Hagar.

Most everyone who has grown up in church or attended a Christian school for any number of years has likely heard of the Jefferson Bible. Thomas Jefferson reportedly butchered his Bible, cutting out verses or passages that he did not like or with which he did not agree. I am by NO means advocating such actions. When you choose to place your faith and hope in the Holy God, you don’t get to pick and choose which words of God apply to you. They all do; every word has a truth, a lesson, a challenge, a command by which you must live.

However. Just like my daddy has different ways of communicating, disciplining, teaching myself and my siblings, I can’t help but think that God started that method. Make no mistake: when God says via inspiration of the writers that something is wrong, He means it’s wrong for everybody. There should not be any debate or question about that. But most people have a verse they may call their “life verse” or just their favorite, a verse that challenges or encourages them, a verse that seems to speak to them more than others. Mine is Proverbs 24:10 followed by Ephesians 4:1. My favorite book of the Bible is the book of Proverbs.

Listening to a podcast of my favorite pastor to whom I listen, he mentions that growing up, he would much rather read through the book of Revelation than the book of Proverbs. I was the exact opposite. I still dislike reading through Revelation. Love the book of Proverbs. I read through that book and am challenged with how I should be living, behaving.

Going back to the study on the names of God. For whatever reason, El Roi and El Shaddai (essentially, the Provider or the God Who Provides) are two of the names of God which I use when I call upon Him for anything, even just regular conversation. I have no problem or struggle recognizing Him as Adonai, Lord or Master. I have not had any problem standing strong when more or less telling a former employer, “no, I serve and obey God; I’m not doing this” when they wanted me to follow their (unwritten) policies that clearly compromised what we as Christians have been instructed to do regardless of how major or minor it might appear. I just struggle with need or occasion to call on Him with that name.

I call my dad “daddy” whereas my brother and sister use “dad.” My brother occasionally calls him “pops” just like he called his dad at different times. Maybe, just as everyone is challenged differently or is taught differently by different passages of Scripture, everyone goes to their heavenly Father with a different name based on where they are in their spiritual life. It makes sense, to me at least.

Forgotten History

February in the United States is Black History Month. I do not care either way about if it’s fair or needed or whatever. However. I do have a MAJOR pet peeve about the month though: Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, apparently Oprah, and Rosa Parks are the only famous Americans of African descent who are discussed and quoted!

Harriet Tubman used to be a big name during this month, but her name is slowly falling out of conversation as time passes.

A co-worker of mine reminds us daily that we should be celebrating all this month. The leaders of the workplace have been humoring him with our morning, motivational quote (whole different post I could write on that) being from MLK and Booker T. Washington. This co-worker was going on about how we all could stand to study these greats a bit more and how America would not be the same without them.

Guess whose favorite genres of books have always been historical fiction and non-fiction? That is correct. Yours truly. I decided to give him daily quizzes.

The first: Who was Phyllis Wheatley? Nobody knew. The Answer? She was a brilliant African woman who was stolen from her people and sold into slavery before she turned ten years old. She was sold in the British colonies of North America where her “family” recognized her intelligence and gave her an education which emphasized literature and history far above even what the daughters of most colonists were given. She was a poet. Unfortunately, with the dominance of the slavery in the colonies at that time, her work was not overly welcome. Her family took her to England where she and her work was well-received clearing the path for her to return to success in the colonies, which began to fight for their freedom from Britain. She was freed and continued to write and be close to the family who encouraged this African girl who chose to embrace her circumstances and her new country, the United States of America, until she married another free-man who unfortunately ruined her life and led to her death and the death of their children. Nobody talks about her anymore.

Next I asked about Crispus Attucks. Nobody knew. The first death in the War for Independence of the colonies, of the United States, and nobody remembers him. Nobody remembers that the first death in the Revolutionary War was actually a free-man (granted, that was because he was a runaway slave) with good business sense and worth ethic. MLK praised him for his role in American history, in the founding and fight for America’s freedom.

I don’t have a problem with people remembering and recognizing the importance of MLK and the others mentioned at the beginning of this post because they are more recent. There are still people who remember being a part of their influence on current events. However, don’t completely disregard or discard the importance of those who came before any of us or any of our great-grandparents were alive. Those are the people who paved the way for the recent figures. There were four other men, white men, killed with Crispus Attucks. They were all buried together. The British soldiers who killed the men were taken to trial for the deaths of all five men. The final straw that led to the Revolution, the birth of America started with the death of a black man who died alongside his white, brother sailors. How is that fact so forgotten?

Americans have forgotten their history. It is time to learn again and remember.

Sunday School

This morning, while getting ready for church, I wrote a – in my opinion – brilliant post in my head about slavery. I was super pumped to type it out here.

At church, while watching a video about the sanctity of life, I started writing a post, again in my head, about individual world-views. I was excited about.

After church, ran into my parents in town for lunch where we started discussing Sunday school.

Background: I grew up in a church that was quite sizable. Children’s Sunday school was divided by school grade and age. Youth group was youth group, 7th-12th grade. College and Career was essentially everyone out of high school into their late 20s/early 30s. After that, I’m not entirely sure on all the different classes. I know there was a class titled “Homebuilders.” You picked which class you wanted to attend. (You could pick right out of high school, maybe in senior high too, but most chose to go with age we transitioned from kid to adult.)

Back to today: The question was brought up: do churches need or should have a college and career aged Sunday school class? Why can’t the young adults join the older adults in a group Sunday school?

My thoughts: Yes. Here’s why.

  1. If all the adults are sitting in the same area being taught the same lesson, how is that any different than the main church service? Especially in smaller churches?
  2. Sunday school classes typically have more interaction when smaller. A quieter person might be able to work up the courage to give their thoughts on a topic or passage of Scripture when there are only their peers in the room but remain silent when faced with talking in front of “older” Christians are adults they’ve grown up listening to in church.
  3. Graduating high school can be overwhelming to a teenager; why have that stress or overwhelming feeling at church too? A college and/or career class allows that teenager to transition from high school to adulthood a bit easier. They can learn with their peers facing the same struggles or those who have recently gone through the same struggles – budgeting, relationships, new co-workers – how to handle those specific challenges Biblically in comparison to sitting through a lesson on how to handle disciplining young children according to the Bible and trying to focus on that instead of their new trials.
  4. Sunday school does not take the place of morning worship service, evening worship service, or Wednesday night prayer meeting. Those are all still combined – all ages – when the younger adults fellowship with other believers across the range of ages.
  5. New members or those visiting a church for the first time might feel more at ease with their own age group, be less concerned about what that senior saint is thinking about them, and actually focus on the lesson.

I realize the college group could hold Bible studies apart from church, but, in my experience, those studies are sporadically attended by this age group due to work and school schedules.

These are just the reasons I could think of today for why churches shouldn’t dismiss the idea of a college/career group. I’m sure I will think of more over the next few days. Feel free to comment your thoughts on the subject!

Why I Wish You a Merry Christmas

“Happy Holidays” is becoming the only greeting you hear at Christmas. A lot of people whine or mutter about how political correctness is taking over everything including the holidays – yes, I am one of those people – but that’s not why that phrase upsets me.

It is so impersonal!

When I wish someone “Merry Christmas,” I am inviting them to enjoy a holiday I celebrate and love! I don’t get offended when someone tells me “Happy Hanukkah” because that is them extending the specialty of their holiday to me to enjoy!

Hearing “Happy Holidays” tells me that person does not truly care about what or how they are celebrating this year, and they certainly do not care about my celebrations. Happy Holidays is a phrase that can be used any time of year during any holiday season – late winter, spring, summer, etc. The phrase is so general it is almost irrelevant to say.

I actually had this discussion with a co-worker the other night who agreed my reasoning makes total sense. We then began wishing everyone a “Merry Christmas” with positive results. Many people returned the Merry Christmas while others thanked us and wished us Happy Kwanza or Hanukkah or a holiday special to them which I have no idea what it is or can even begin to try to spell! Nobody was offended.

To summarize: I tell people “Merry Christmas” because I want to include everybody in my favorite time of year. I don’t get offended or put off when somebody wishes me the best for their holiday because they are including me in their special time of year.