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20161023_113955I have had the privilege of visiting many church buildings/structures within the United States as well as overseas during my adult life. I have been in Russian Orthodox, Roman Catholic, and Protestant buildings of worship, as well as being too close to Voodoo “churches” for comfort! Within the walls of many of the Christian structures I have found great comfort, likewise within many of these structures I have felt unfulfilled. I am not sure when the unfulfilled feeling became noticeable to me, perhaps as I crossed the threshold into my 50’s, years that is.

My first memory of worshiping in a church building was that of a one-room frame structure with only a fan for the summer and gas heaters for the winter. Sunday school (Bible Study) was in the same room, as the people broke into four age groups and occupied the corners to study.

There was an upright player piano with a circuit-rider Preacher. The music leader (Worship leaders had not been invented yet) was a hard working laborer who, after 5 days of working 12 hour days and under the power of the Holy Spirit, would sing his heart out. Then he would lie in the bed of his truck because his arthritis hurt so bad the steel bed was a welcome relief as he listened to the preaching through the open doors of the church. His favorite song was The Old Rugged Cross, as became mine at the ripe old age of 5 years.

After I had been in this church building for about two years, a crisis occurred, another denomination built a BRICK church building next to ours and it had an indoor toilet!! We were not sure they were saved! Long after I had moved on to other places and church buildings many committee meetings had occurred at my original church, eventually leading, my ‘starter’ church building to gain in-door plumbing and conditioned air. Yes, God is good.

Through the years and various church buildings I became somewhat of a cross aficionado…. kind of. I discovered little crosses, big crosses, metal crosses, wood crosses, even crosses with Jesus still on them; some were painted, some were stained, some were raw wood. The crosses were put together by various means, such as, glue, nails, or ropes, even welded. Many of these crosses, I noticed, were at the front of church buildings. Some of the crosses were on dangles and cords that people used for bookmarks, necklaces, earrings, and bracelets.

I became impressed with the significance of the cross of Jesus Christ in relation to the core of my relationship with Jesus Christ as my Savior. During Master-Life training, many years ago, we were discussing how to avoid becoming distracted in our prayers and quiet time with the Lord. This is when I realized, 20161120_105708that for me, the need to vision a blood stained, empty cross to orient myself to my purpose in Christ Jesus. The Bible tells me:

Luke 9:23  Then to everyone he (Yeshua) said, “If anyone wants to come after me, let him say ‘No’ to himself, take up his execution-stake daily and keep following me. (Complete Jewish Bible)

Luke 9:23  Then He (Jesus) said to them all, “If anyone wants to come with Me, he must deny himself, take up his cross daily, and follow Me. (Holman Christian Standard Bible)

As the years have gone by, it has become apparent that many churches have removed the cross of Jesus Christ from their buildings. I have wondered why?

1 Corinthians 1:18  For the message about the execution-stake is nonsense to those in the process of being destroyed, but to us in the process of being saved it is the power of God. (Complete Jewish Bible)

Leonard Ravenhill, an English Christian Evangelist, has been credited with saying, “One never really knows the height of God’s love, unless he first identifies with the pain of His loss.”  Is it possible that many congregations/ Pastors exclude the cross of Jesus Christ from their sanctuaries because they have not identified with the pain, suffering, and death of Jesus? This type of thinking could derive from the fact that the congregation does not believe that Jesus really died or that his death and resurrection provide a “get out of Hell free card” such that the focus is only on what the believer gets from God, not what the believer brings to the worship of God in his daily life. It is possible that congregations/ Pastors do not want to identify with the pain of Jesus’ death because they would rather focus on the happy, more pleasant concepts of the life of a believer without recognizing that it was the work of the painful cross that yielded a promise of joy in service to God.

Without the cross, there is no need for Jesus Christ. The Holy Spirit calls the believer to the cross of Christ as the believer confronts his failure to live a life of righteousness as reflected in the Decalogue, found in Exodus, chapter 20.

Romans 2:14-16  For when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them on that day when, according to my gospel, God judges the secrets of men by Christ Jesus.

Galatians 3:24  Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith.

Luke 14:27  And whosoever doth not bear his cross, and come after me, cannot be my disciple.

Apparently, the cross upon which Jesus Christ died is central to the life of the follower of Jesus Christ, not to be worshiped, but to be seen as the most important tool that God uses to remind the believer of the pain and suffering the Savior of mankind endured in response to the Creator of all things for the sin of mankind. Paul of Tarsus understood this focal point of his faith in the finished work of Jesus Christ for his salvation. Paul knew about enduring suffering in his physical life.

2Timothy 3:10-13  You, however, have followed my teaching, my conduct, my aim in life, my faith, my patience, my love, my steadfastness, my persecutions and sufferings that happened to me at Antioch, at Iconium, and at Lystra—which persecutions I endured; yet from them all the Lord rescued me. Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, while evil people and impostors will go on from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived.

Paul finished his writings with the book to the Philippians. In this book, he notes that he keeps pursuing the goal (mark) of the “high calling”.

Philippians 3:14  I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus. (King James Version)

Philippians 3:14  I keep pursuing the goal in order to win the prize offered by God’s upward calling in the Messiah Yeshua. (Complete Jewish Bible)

This naturally begs the question of what is the “mark of the prize of the high calling?” The mark is the cross with all the humiliation and pain suffered by our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

Where is that “Old Rugged Cross…where the dearest and best for a world of lost sinners was slain…..it has a wondrous attraction for me. For the dear Lamb of God, left his Glory above
to bear it to dark Calvary…..In the old rugged Cross, stain’d with blood so divine, a wondrous beauty I see, For the dear Lamb of God, left his Glory above to pardon and sanctify me…..To the old rugged Cross, I will ever be true. Its shame and reproach gladly bear. So I’ll cherish the old rugged Cross ‘till my trophies at last I lay down. I will cling to the old rugged Cross and exchange it some day for a crown.” (https://www.google.com/?gws_rd=ssl#q=old+rugged+cross+lyrics)

The lyricist, George Bennard, understood the meaning of the ‘mark’. I wonder the effect that has been wrought upon the surrounding communities as our churches have denied the centrality of the cross of Jesus Christ in the lives of their congregants? If it is missing from your sanctuary, please return the cross of Jesus Christ to your sanctuary of worship. The cross will be found in the hearts of the congregants and Pastors who follow Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior of their lives. You need only bow in submission to the Lord Jesus Christ as your savior and seek your identity in Him. Then, you will want the cross in your primary place of worship to remind you of God’s great mercy that was poured out for you that day as He sent His son, Jesus Christ to the cross that all mankind deserved; thereby offering to all mankind eternal salvation through Jesus Christ.

May God forgive our insensitivity to His cross and restore in our souls the great desire to return to the first works of the believer in Jesus Christ. Amen.

Note: This article was taken from a Navigator on-line publication several years ago. I think it is even more important for all of us as many of our churches have become far removed from the core text of the Bible.

Current research supports Joshua 1:8!

This book of the law shall not depart from your mouth,

but you shall meditate on it day and night,

so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it;

for then you will make your way prosperous,

and then you will have success.

How important is it for a man to spend time each day personally, reflectively reading Scripture? After all, he can listen to any number of teachers on the radio while traveling to and from work and his couple’s small group discuss Scripture passages or at least some religious idea. On Sunday he gets another shot of Scripture. Considering that he has probably been in the church environment for decades, he has probably logged some 800-1000 sermons!

In spite of this, we are painfully aware that when it comes to biblical values and behaviors, churched men do not display a distinctively different lifestyle from their nonreligious neighbors…accept for what they do on Sunday morning.

Discipleship is fundamentally a relationship with Christ. And relationship is the foundation to behavior. We are hardwired to need relationships and yet, most men have no other male friend with whom they feel close and safe enough to relate beyond news, weather, and sports.

In a man’s world, it is even difficult to find the language to talk about relationships. Most of the words that relate to deep friendships come across as feminine or romantic…like the word “intimate”. Most worship songs dealing with our relationship with God are perceived by men as feminine and do not reflect how one man talks to another. Since God and Christ are referred to and portrayed in the biological terms of Father, Son and our Brother, singing “I am so in love with You” creates angst in most men that probably explains why so few sing in our worship services.

Building deep relationships requires three elements regardless if we are relating to our wives, children, friends, or Christ.

Mutual respect

Shared experience

Consistent conversation

Let me highlight the consistent conversation element. Conversation must be two-way and honest. It must involve transparency if it is to deepen the relationship. It must have a high degree of consistency or regularity as well. Reflecting on God’s Word and praying from the platform for our conversation with Christ. Daily time reflecting on Scripture and responding back in prayer are at the core of relationship, real life transformation, and ultimate success. It is what God told Joshua centuries ago and it is still true today (Joshua 1:8).

For more than eight years, the Center for Bible Engagement has researched the spiritual lives of more than 100,000 people from around the world. The overall conclusion: Engaging the Bible most days of the week is critical to grow in the Christian faith.* Their findings include:

If people reflect on the Bible four or more times a week, their “odds” of giving in to temptations such as drinking to excess, viewing pornography, lashing out in anger, gossiping, and lying, significantly decrease.

Drinking to excess: -62%

Viewing pornography: -59%

Having sex outside of marriage: -59%

Gambling: – 45 %

Lashing out in anger: -31%

Receiving, reflecting on, and responding to God’s Word four or more times a week decreases a person’s odds of struggling with issues such as feeling bitter, thinking destructively about self or others, having difficulty forgiving others, and feeling discouraged.

Feeling bitter: -40%

Feeling discourage: -31%

Experiencing loneliness: -30%

Christians engaging in the Scripture most days of the week strongly predicts a more proactive faith.

Giving financially to a church: +416%

Memorizing Scripture: +407%

Sharing their faith with others: +228%

Giving financially to causes other than their church: +218%

These results probably don’t surprise you, but this one will. They found no statistical difference between those that read or listened to the Bible one to three days a week and those who do not at all!

The research also showed that attending church made no difference in a man’s behavior. If we are to see men changed to reflect Christ, to inculcate His values and character, we must challenge them to step up and make a daily appointment with God a life-long, spiritual practice. A relationship with Christ, consistent reflection on Scripture, and godly behavior cannot be separated.

*Scientific Evidence for the Power of 4, Center for Bible Engagement, December 2009/12

     I was talking with a dear friend the other day and he related the following story to me. It seems that he was driving down a long country road on a very hot afternoon. The journey through the rural countryside would yield a home about every mile or so. He became expectant of seeing an, as yet to be seen, human. It seemed as if everyone had left the area when he noticed on the approaching hillside a fairly large frame house with the ever-present clothesline in the backyard.

Standing at the clothesline was a person doing what one usually does at a clothesline, hanging out the clothes that had been recently washed. She appeared to be about half through with her task. Many thoughts of his now lost childhood began to flood his mind.

A lazy summer afternoon, the high pasture grass begging for the next hay cutting, the air hot and moist as if your head were in an oven and the overwhelming fatigue that settles in just from struggling through such a day were all thoughts and feelings that began to invade his brain. Likewise, the ultimate pleasure of the day, finding a swimming hole to break the heat, became the dominant idea of survival for the moment.

He momentarily forgot the needs of the day; why he was traveling on this back road and the great hurry he had been experiencing to get the day accomplished. The tyranny of the urgent had just been jettisoned out the window as he slowed down, turned of the air-conditioner, opened his window and enjoyed the wind flying through his hair with the increased moisture forming on his body.

Suddenly, out of the corner of his eye, he spied a small figure on the side of the road, near the driveway to a house. It was very dark in appearance, he could not make out exactly what it was, but it was moving. Caution brought him to slow his vehicle and watch the object, closely.

The figure seemed to be falling or jumping, he couldn’t be sure. As he drew near, he could hear screaming, but it didn’t seem to be hurtful, but rather extreme glee! What an odd, dark brown to black, figure that, now, he could tell for sure, was repeatedly jumping onto the earth while happily yelling!

He finally realized that he was witnessing a true release into the Kingdom of Heaven. Here was a young boy, about the age of 7, covered from head to toe in dark brown mud with only the whites of his eyes and teeth visible. The boy had achieved the ultimate ascent to joy and relaxation as he had found a “holy” mud-puddle!! He was wallowing and jumping in that mud-puddle in ways that would make most pigs quite proud!

“Oh!”, my friend with tears now in his eyes, cried. “How I remember those days, when my sole purpose in life was to find the next mud-puddle!”

We quietly, yet wide-eyed, looked at each other, both seminarians with many years of ‘learning’ and much life-experience under our belts, as we finally had our eyes opened with the impression his story had brought to us. The truth was that we had forgotten about mud-puddles. We had forgotten about the simple pleasures of life that brought so many fond memories of friends and family.

This was the memory of real koinonia, the fellowship of the family in the real church of Jesus Christ.

For moment, we both cried. Why must we make it so complicated and difficult? Why do we seek to live our lives based on differences, rather than everyone joying in being wonderfully, wet and muddy-brown as we find true unity in our mud-puddle?

I remember a line from the movie, “The Incredibles”, “If everyone is special, then no one is special.” Does the converse hold? If no one is special, then does everyone become special?

Perhaps, this is what our Christ was trying to say to us when He noted in the second greatest commandment to love our neighbor as ourselves. Maybe, if I would focus on making my neighbor successful….well, I might just become successful.

What a thought from a mud-puddle. I think I am going see if I can find a mud-puddle in the 100 acre wood. I hope you can find you mud-puddle. Talk with you later.

TFP

I versus We?

I had a recent question asked by a fellow believer in Jesus Christ regarding the proper way to end a prayer to God. Being of the fairly conservative persuasion, I got a little formulaic, when I expressed to him that I was pretty sure we needed to pray in the name of Jesus Christ. Meaning, that our prayers should literally end, “in the name of Jesus Christ, I pray.”
He informed me that it was not the name but rather the personal pronoun, I, that was the problem. It seems he was asking whether we should be ending our prayers with, we, rather than I.
I must say, that I have never thought about this before. I have prayed a lot in public over many years and this question has never entered my mind, although, it seemed like a very legitimate question.
Reflecting on prayer and the several examples given to us in scripture, with two of them being deliberate versions from our Christ, I suspect there is even a uniqueness to the way we are to end our prayers.
In the book of Matthew, Jesus Christ gives us the model prayer denoting that we should pray after that fashion. The the ending of this model prayer seems to be an overwhelming notice of God’s supreme position in all of this, “for thine is the kingdom, and the power and the glory forever. Amen.” (KJV) If you are a student of textual analysis of the Bible, you will know that this ending is a later added ending and that the majority of the more ancient text sources of Matthew end this prayer with, “and lead us not into temptation but deliver us from the evil one.” (HCSB)
In John 17, the high priestly prayer of Jesus Christ is recorded ending with, “I made your name known to them and will make it known, so the love You have loved Me with may be in them and I may be in them.”
Certainly, there is a difference between me praying and Jesus Christ praying to God. I am told in scripture that Jesus Christ, now, sits at the right hand of God interceding for my prayers, Romans 8:34. Scripture informs me in Romans 8:26 that, “I don’t know what to pray, but that the Holy Spirit will teach me…” I also know that prayer is one part of worship. I am told in scripture in the book of John 4:24, that I am to worship in spirit and in truth.
This spirit refers both to my soul (mind, will, and emotions) as well has the Holy Spirit. Perhaps it is the Holy Spirit that teaches my soul what it is I am to pray, if I am praying in the name of Jesus Christ.
Through all of this, I have come to realize that my friend is correct to raise the question, for too often I pray with my own words, in my own power, and with my own time. Who am I to assume that God has to yield to my timing or words?
Once again, the simple question of a friend has led me to ask, “Why?” and God, in His benevolence has shown the truth from His Word. It seems only correct that I should end my prayers with the, We, rather than the, I, because it is both myself and the Holy Spirit that are praying and Jesus Christ is interceding to God.
Thank you, God, in the name of Jesus Christ, WE pray. Amen

Gardening

My daughter and I have recently had the experience of planting new little vegetable plants in our new garden located in central Louisiana. It is not a large garden by any imagination, in fact; it is small; about 6 ft by 40 ft. I do realize there are readers that do not have the space for any garden and plant in pots, only. This prompts one of the deepest, most provocative, metaphysical thoughts I think I have ever had, “Why do we plant?”
To Christians, it would seem rather counterproductive, I mean, after all, didn’t God say that we would struggle with the thorns and vines as we tilled the soil by the sweat of our brow? I think I could find something else to do in life with information like that, yet….I plant.
My father planted. My father’s father planted. My mother’s father planted, in fact, I had the opportunity to plant with him (many stories here!!). I am quite sure that most of my ancestors planted.
Is it because we have been warned of the struggle that we seek the challenge?
I remember when God brought me my life-mate. One of our favorite times spent together was the planning of our first garden. We started out in apartments and, yes, we planted in pots. With our first house, we moved to the trusty “square-foot” garden. I must say that seeing watermelons grow vertically in panty hose holders was quite a site! This definitely provided motivation to think out of the box and I am quite sure my children have altered perceptions of reality because of this method of gardening. I even think the raccoons had no clue to look up for the watermelons.
Psalm 139 confirms that God knows our character so much better than we do. Perhaps it is the struggle with planting that identifies some of the innermost strengths of our character as humans created by the eternal God. Certainly, to plant, one must overcome the inertia of the “couch potato”; the dirt must be brought under submission of the “gardener” through chemical manipulation and terra-forming; seeds must be nurtured to shed their seed coats in the correct environment, send down roots, and eventually grow the fruit that will be consumed. The whole process is fraught with potential disaster every step of the way.
Some of us may never actually put the seed in the dirt, but we watch the plants grow around us. Whether we acknowledge it or not, in some way, we have a need to be part of the struggle.
We not only consume our plants, but many of us tend to grow plants to see their beauty and enjoy their fragrance. It seems, at times, that observation is our motivation rather than eventual consumption. It is almost as if some are missing the point to life by simply observing and not participating in the life cycle of the plant.
The Christian church, as a whole, has become observational and turned away from participatory behavior in the life, death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Some in the church do not want to get the dirt of the garden on their hands. Jesus Christ does tell us that the burden of His cross is light. Could this be because all who enjoin the struggle in Christ’s cross are focused on one thing, following Jesus Christ and are no longer seeking individual recognition and achievement to satisfy their personal pride?
God notes in His scripture that He has placed within the heart of mankind His law. We know what is right and wrong, yet we seek not to engage the world, but rather to observe. We are not interested in planting, so it seems. The world has become an angrier place. Perhaps, this is the result of not doing what we know is the right thing to do. I know when I take this position it makes me quite angry with myself.
I encourage you, to engage life, fully. Learn to plant and enjoy what God has made. The struggle is good for it brings growth, strength and dependency upon the only one who has the truth, God. Planting allows us to participate in the growth of God’s Kingdom. May you be ever mindful of the “Great Commission” of Jesus Christ from Matthew 28:19-20 “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe everything I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
May you find the true blessing of Gardening,
FPB

One of the many joys of having children is that when they are allowed to ask questions of their parents, quite often, those questions bring significant learning experiences for all involved. My oldest son has found an article in Relevant magazine titled, “Is Christianity Anti-Intellectual” by Andrew Byers, which is an expansion of some material that Byers has written in a book, entitled, Faith Without Illusions: Following Jesus as a Cynic-Saint. These are very provocative ideas with catchy titles. (actually, this title provokes a desire in this author to explore the question of whether or not a Saint may be cynical – I digress, perhaps another time)
The premise is that the modern church seems to have a disdain for those individuals who would seek to study the great theological ideas of man and somehow this is worsened when our academics disconnect us from the first and second great commandments of our Lord. One responder
highlights this idea when they note that highly educated congregations tend to desire highly educated pastoral leadership in the form of the doctoral degree, where the evangelically swayed congregations seem to shun the educated pastoral leadership for those who would simply rely upon the simplicity of scripture and leadership of the Holy Spirit for their guidance in the pulpit.
One should be reminded that in 1 Corinthians 2:14 we are told, “But the natural man does not welcome what comes from God’s Spirit, because it is foolishness to him; he is not able to know it since it is evaluated spiritually.” This passage not only lets one know the direction the information regarding God will come from, but also provides a minor test to help one see where biblical cynicism is rooted in the life of the individual.
Moving to our title, what really is an “intellectual Christian”? Intellectual (n.) is defined in Merriam Webster’s dictionary to be “given to study, reflection, and speculation”. Christian (n.) by biblical definition as described in Romans 10:9-10: “if you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. With the heart one believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth one confesses, resulting in salvation.”
One may recall that the first commandment is to love God and the second is to love man. Certainly, an order is given to establish priority. One will find in Romans 1:22a, “Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools,…” Clearly, God provides a caution for those who would place their intellect before His worship. Well then, how does one love God and pursue an intellectual approach? The first aspect to this is to acknowledge that in ALL things loving God must come first. In 2 Peter 1:5 one finds, “For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with goodness, goodness with knowledge,…”
One must begin with faith. No surprise, here. Faith is established on the fact that God is, and for no other reason. It all begins with God, the ultimate independent function. Truth exists because God exists. Truth then becomes a dependent function. Intellect, being that which studies, reflects, and speculates can only properly focus its work upon the things of God. God, once again, shows that intellect is a dependent function established upon the premise of His truth. Otherwise, intellect establishes its own truth apart from God. This is a rather dangerous place to be when contending with the creator of everything.
There cannot be two truths regarding the same concept of God. This would suggest that two dependent variables may be located by the same independent variable, which, mathematically becomes and vertical line and is undefined.
Have no doubt that our approach agrees with Byers in premise that there can be “intellectual Christians”, however, we diverge in thought as application demonstrates that if we presume to be Christian then, by definition, we are contained within the domain of God, thus evangelical exclusion does not make sense. Otherwise, we become gods unto ourselves, and, well….good luck with that. fpb

Hello world!

Welcome to TSP!!

The word from Pooh, today, is, “Oh Dear!!!” The world is turning upside down.

      This opening blog is written on a day when Americans face devastation, destruction, and the “great unknown” in almost every geographic area of the United States…by the way, are you an American? What does it really mean to be an American? This is an important question at a time such as this. 

       It seems that there is only one group of people who can claim to be true Americans. The rest of us are just immigrants from different places and cultures around the world. I remember living in different places in the United States where the locals would not accept you until your family had been there for at least one generation and understood how to “act, think, and talk” like everyone else.  Maybe that is what it means to be an American.

       So many people in the United States want to focus on their cultural identity rather than seeking to identify with this great cause called “America”.  Perhaps, they have forgotten that it is the very freedom that is granted through the writings of our forefathers, based on the precepts of Christianity; eg, bounded by the absolute authority of God, that has established a wonderful country where they may seek improvement in their lives; provided they are willing to work at it.

       By seeking to enhance our cultural differences, we force our dogmatic religious differences to the forefront of our daily interactions with each other, for we all practice some form of religion based within whatever or whoever we place our faith. We all have faith in something or someone.

        I wonder what life in these United States would be like if, instead of constantly highlighting our differences, we made a determined effort to celebrate those things that we have in common; like the desire for a better life in a country that has in-place the guiding principles that can make that happen.

       We face multiple geographic crises, today. The Christian God has noted that devastation will come to the land of the people who turn from Him. We have the opportunity to set aside our differences and seek to pull our strengths together to, once again, stand, shoulder to shoulder, as a formidable nation of immigrants.

       Let us seek to reconcile ourselves before the Holy God rather than depending on those things that will one day fail that we may once again have focus and purpose to our existence.  

Blessings,

Pb

You are encouraged to contribute to the thoughts of this blog via the comment section. Please, refrain from irrational, vitriolic hyperbole. Instead, seek the path of communication that will yield reconciliation under the banner of truth. As our guide, Winnie the Pooh, has said, “Sometimes, if you stand on the bottom rail of a bridge and lean over to watch the river slipping slowly away beneath you, you will suddenly know everything there is to be known.”  (http://thinkexist.com/quotes/winnie_the_pooh/)