Thursday, December 29, 2005

Origins and the Bible

ok steve here is some questions i have ,i was reading about dinasaurs and evolution ,from a national geographic and it has me questioning God and his creation as opposed to the Bible they are very contradicting and as science seems to proven the earth and its inhabitants have been around for billions of years

First of all, the Bible doesn't teach that the earth is only a few days older than Adam. Genesis 1 says that before the seven day creation "The EARTH was formless and void and was covered by the DEEP" The earth already existed before the seven day creation, which means that it was a re-creation, rather than the initial creation.

There is other Biblical evidence for that-- in Psalm 74:12-17, it talks about a battle that God had with Leviathan BEFORE the seven day creation (talked about in the latter part of the passage). So this is how creation works out in the Bible-- God created the earth sometime in the past, we don't know when or how. Then there was a terrible, chaotic war between God and other spiritual powers that threw the earth into chaos, and the ocean covered all of the earth. Then God began re-creating the world, with the current species and land forms we have.

Now, there are a lot of gaps in the Bible, here. We know nothing between the creation of the world and the war. What happened there? Scientists who have studied the fossil record have discovered something interesting. That species, rather than evolving over a long period of time, would suddenly spout in a revatively short period of time-- ten thousand years, perhaps-- and then remain stable for a long period of time. Then, there would occur some catastrophe which would kill off most, but not all, species, and then there would be a quick period of new species appearing again.

Frankly, I think this works with what we know about the Bible pretty well. God created the world and then populated his world-- this creation was done not just by God but by the "Sons of God", or angels, including Satan. Once they had made a level of creation they were satisfied with, they left it alone, to see what would happen. Then they would "wipe the board" with some kind of disaster, and begin the creation process again, building on what they had already creating, but making it more complex, more interesting. This time, say, with dinosaurs. Then they let it go for a while. Then they decided to "wipe the board" again, and begin with a new creation, building on the old one, but getting rid of the species they decided didn't work-- like dinosaurs. The battle with Leviathan effectively "wiped the board" again, and then God made a new creation. And then we have the flood which "wiped the board" again, but instead of creating new species-- so it seems, but he might have-- he allowed the earth to re-populate with the creatures on the ark.

Does this dispute evolution? No-- it is just one explanation of the fossil record. Those who don't believe that God and angels have been changing the earth for millions of years won't ever accept it-- but they can't disprove it, either, for the fossil record agrees with it. And if evolution worked the way they said, then why didn't species evolve evenly, over all the times? But the fact is, they didn't. The fossil record proves it.

So why does the fossil record show that the less complex creatures were earlier and the more complex creatures later? Doesn't this prove evolution originated the species? No. If that were true, then computer programs over the last thirty years were caused by evolution. Because computer programs now are much more complex than thirty years ago, and we can display a growth of complexity over a period of time.

Increasing complexity is how intelligent design works as well. If the angels were busy making species, on and off, for a period of millions of years, then why shouldn't they build on what they have already created? Why should anyone think that it wouldn't be from less complex to more, improving as they move on. Frankly, I think that the fossil record better displays intelligent design rather than strict evolution.

Of course, this is a matter of speculation and faith, rather than pure science. But saying that evolution without intelligent design naturally caused the origin of all species is also speculation and faith, rather than pure science. Pure science only says-- "This is what we found, this is the evidence", the conclusion from that evidence belongs to philosophy.

We have to say that evolution exists as a force that changes species. I don't have any problem with that. To say that there was no person involved behind those changes is speculation. I chose to agree with Jesus and the Bible.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Apocrypha and Hospitality

I have been reading the book of Sirach, which I consider to be inspired, but I've been reading some passages in there that talk about not welcoming in strangers in your house because they might ruin your reputation. How does this square with Jesus teaching about welcoming the stranger in to your house?

My view of the apocrapha is that they are good books to read, but not inspired. They are like books you might pick up at a Christian bookstore-- good to read, but they aren't doctrinally perfect. I do recommend reading them-- my personal favorites are Sirach and Tobit and the extra stories of Daniel-- but we need to recognize that they will contain some errors.

As far as the passages you mentioned in Sirach, you are right that they do seem to contradict the New Testament teaching about hospitality. Sirach is reflecting the fact that hospitality is primarily for those we count as friends, companions, bosom buddies. The Old Testament, especially in wisdom literature (Psalms, Proverbs, etc), emphasize that who you hang with will, to a certain degree, determine your reputation and character. And we know this to be true, to a certain degree-- our friends convince us of our morality. Peer pressure isn't just an issue for teenagers, it is a way of life for all of us.

But in the New Testament, our character is determined primarily by the Spirit. This gives us the freedom to do some things that the saints without the Spirit could not. We are able to love those who, without the Spirit, could drag us down the path of evil. The other thing, is that Jesus is encouraging us to practice benevolence, not only to our friends, but also to those we don't like, even to our enemies, who do evil to us. This takes hospitality to a different level, one in which peer pressure doesn't enter.

Jesus calls us to a higher morality than Sirach, just like the Old Testament. Not a different morality, just to a higher level. Love for others must overcome our personal concern for reputation.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Why Repent?

1. If we repent, then we will be forgiven of our sins.
Ezekiel 18:30-32—God judges everyone according to what they do. Therefore repent and turn away from your sin and God will forgive, for he takes no pleasure in the death of anyone.
Jonah 3:1-10—Nineveh was not destroyed because they repented
Matthew 3:4-8—The people came to John, confessed their sins and was baptized by him.
Mark 1:4; Luke 3:3—John preached a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.
Mark 1:15—Jesus’ basic message was to repent and to believe in the gospel.
Luke 15:1-10—The Lord rejoices at the repentance of sinners.
Luke 17:3-4—A brother is to forgive a repentant brother.
Luke 24:47—Repentance for the forgiveness of sins will be preached to all nations.
Acts 2:38—Repent and be baptized and you will be saved.
Acts 3:19—Repent so your sins will be wiped away.
Acts 5:31—Jesus grants repentance to Israel and the forgiveness of sins.
Acts 8:22—Repent that your intention might be forgiven you.
Acts 11:18—God granted to the gentiles the repentance that leads to life.
Acts 20:21—Paul taught repentance and faith in Jesus.
Acts 26:20—Paul taught repentance, turning to God and doing acts in accordance with repentance
II Tim 2:25—God might grant repentance to them leading to the knowledge of the truth
II Pet 3:9—God does not desire anyone to be punished but that all would come to repentance.
I Cor 6:11—Some of you were evildoers, but now you are justified and sanctified.

2.If we don’t repent, we will be punished eternally.
Luke 10:13—Woe to cities of Israel because they did not repent—they will be judged on the last day.
Luke 11:32—Nineveh will condemn the generation of Jesus on the judgment day because Jesus’ generation did not repent
Luke 13:1-5—Unless you repent, great punishment will come upon you
Rev. 2:5—Repent or else Jesus will come and take the lamp stand out of its place

3. If we repent, we can have a good relationship with God.
I John 1:5-10—This is the message we have heard from Him and announce to you, that God is Light, and in Him there is no darkness at all. If we say that we have fellowship with Him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth; but if we walk in the Light as He Himself is in the Light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar and His word is not in us.

4. If we repent, we can be restored to our brothers and sisters in Christ.
Luke 17:3-4—If your brother sins, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him. And if he sins against you seven times a day, and returns to you seven times, saying, 'I repent,' forgive him."

5. If we don’t repent, we will be separated from God’s people.
Matthew 18:15-17—If your brother sins, go and show him his fault in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother. But if he does not listen to you, take one or two more with you, so that by the mouth of two or three witnesses every fact may be confirmed. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.
I Corinthians 5:11—Do not associate with any so-called brother if he is an immoral person, or covetous, or an idolater, or a reviler, or a drunkard, or a swindler-- not even to eat with such a one.

Discussion on Hubris and Hermenutics

It seems like some of your assertions are approachingself-righteousness. I doubt you mean them to, butthat's how I read them.

In responding to Larry Eby about the judgment of NewOrleans, you said, "I understand that this seemscontradictory. It is not. If you can't understandit, I respectfully recommend that you meditate on it. Otherwise the Bible and the God of Jesus just makes nosense."And in your response to me, you said, "I understandthat you have probably heard quite a bit of preachingon the prodigal son, but, of course, what we shouldmost be interested in is what Jesus' point is, not anygiven pastor's point."The first example demonstrates an attitude that if wedon't understand the Bible the way you do, it "justmakes no sense". And we should all endeavor to takethe time to understand it the way you do.

Maybe youcan't see it making sense another way, but thatdoesn't mean it can't make sense for others.In the second example, the implicit attitude is thatwhat you are about to exposit *is* Jesus' point. Thisis hubris. Every preacher I've ever heard is"interested in Jesus' point" and is attempting todiscern it. The way you pose "any given pastor'spoint" against "Jesus' point" is specious. For inthis age, 2000 years after he walked the roads ofGalilee, none of us has perfect knowledge of Jesus'point. We're all interpreting. If you cast yourinterpretation as "Jesus' point", this doesn't changethe fact that it's still your interpretation.

In fact, I think the passages you described thataccompany the prodigal story actually support *my*interpretation, in that they say *nothing* about Godor the angels in heaven "accepting" the repentant onesafter having rejected them before. They simplydescribe the joy and rejoicing in heaven now that theones who were lost have repented. Remember, I saidthat repentance is critical to our being able toaccept God's forgiveness. I assert, however, andthese passages don't contradict, that our repentanceis not a prerequisite or requirement for God to acceptus.I don't see how it could be otherwise. For why wouldanyone *want* to repent, if they are facing only thewrath (non-acceptance) of an angry Father God. Howcould they trust that God would -- bing! -- becomeimmediately loving and welcoming only *once we decidedto be good*? Rather, I think people repent becausetheir brokenness allows them to recognize that God isstill there, loving them and welcoming them backwhenever they are ready to come.

On simplistic interpretation...It's risky to take any one passage as toorepresentative, and I know this happens from allsides. But as an example, your passage cited below tosupport the fact that Jesus judges (John 5), actuallysays that the Father does not judge, but that only theSon does. What? Then, does this mean that God does*not* judge? Well, yes, on its face. I'm sure manypeople have bent over backwards to reconcile this withother passages, but I'm not sure why they bother.

Thetake-home point I get is to be a lot more humble aboutinterpretation, seeing through a glass darkly and allthat. Anyone out there claiming there is *ONE RIGHTINTERPRETATION* and that *THEY KNOW IT* is full ofthemselves, not the Holy Spirit. There may indeed beone right interpretation of every part of the Bible,but I'm not sure any of us can fully know it.As it happens, I agree with you that the dialectic ofa God who shows mercy and a God who judges seemsreadily apparent in scripture. Yet that doesn't meanwe can know how or where that judgment is occurring,nor should we try to participate in it. (And I thinkthe key point here is that by claiming to know whereit exists, we are actively participating in it.) "Judge not, lest ye be judged." "take out the log inyour own eye" etc. etc. God may judge the wicked, butI don't think any of us is capable of unbiasedlyidentifying who God considers wicked, unless it isclaiming our own wickedness.

I certainly don't think that a singing "prophet" fromSouth Africa who makes vague Nostradamus-likeprophecies and is considered by many *conservative*Christians to be a "New Age prophet", is the voice ofGod in the 21st century. (Did you know, Steve, thatthe "prophet" you cited that started this whole thingoff has been criticized for not preaching the need forrepentance?! light of this discussion, that's highly ironic.) But this is all just my opinion.Apologies to the peacemakers among us for all thistheologizing.Shalom,Dave

I think this "theologizing" is significant, because it gets to the heart of why we do peacemaking, and how we do it.

If repentance is not necessary for forgiveness, then we do peacemaking because it is the "right" thing to do, and we accomplish peacemaking by helping people see other people's sides. If repentance is necessary for forgiveness, then Jesus is essential in peacemaking-- not just to tell us to do it, but to accomplish the repentance necessary for peace. This is because repentance is impossible without God's Spirit to empower us to repent. Creating peace between people (especially individuals) is easy compared to helping people live a right lifestyle before God. Only God can do that.

As far as my arrogance, I apologize for that. I AM arrogant at times and I will do my best, with God's help, to alleviate that. However, hubris-- a terrible sin in Greek morality-- isn't a terrible sin biblically. Yes, pride is rejected as evil, and humility is certainly exalted. But pride is described in Scripture as attempting to take a higher social position on one's own power and authority, and not being grateful to the one who gives one position (namely God). Humility is described as taking a low position, and doing the actions of that position-- such as Jesus enacting the role of a slave in John 13. Thus Jesus, Paul, Peter, the Pharisees, James, etc all exhibited hubris, and yet were considered very humble. And their hubris was no sin.

The problem with hermeneutics is unbelievably huge. From my understanding, the key to understanding Jesus' message is to look at what Jesus' says, in the first century cultural context. Like you said, Dave, it is not a matter of taking one verse and looking at that, and then deciding what it says, solo. It is a matter of looking at a consistent body of literature, and determining the message as a whole. The core of my understanding, my belief, is the synoptic gospels. I will use the rest of the New Testament to assist with details, but Jesus' message-- as a whole-- is found in the synoptic gospels. I will not take just a part of it-- such as just love, or just purity-- and say it represents the whole. I must accept the whole, or else I do not have any of it.

I have attached a file listing verses that show that God's acceptance of us, as well as the church's acceptance, is dependant on repentance, according to the gospels, with supporting verses in the Old Testament and the rest of the New Testament. As I said before, this forgiveness is not the same as God's general "love" of all humanity. Forgiveness is equivalent to being welcome in God's presence, having the blessings of God's kingdom, and no longer having God's punishment. Forgiveness is the equivalent of salvation. I didn't put it all on this email, because I didn't want to make it longer than it already is. But if you are interested in my full argument on repentance, it is there.

Reading over your email once more, I wanted to talk about a couple more things:

First of all, I think that there really IS "one right interpretation"-- and I think you do, too. Otherwise, you could accept that God can either require repentance for forgiveness or not require repentance for forgiveness. That either interpretation is acceptable. However, we are having this discussion because we feel that one interpretation is correct. That's the way thinking works-- God will not give us a contradiction. Interpretation is trying to understand that which isn't clear to everyone.

However, our interpretation must be based on evidence. We cannot say, "I think that Jesus supported war" based on no evidence. And the statement cannot be supported by saying that Jesus accepted soldiers, welcoming them with salvation, either. There is inadequate evidence for that interpretation. I think we all agree with that. And we also agree that Jesus' statement "Love your enemies" speaks against Christian participation in war. Others would disagree with that. But is it just a "matter of interpretation"? Or is there evidence one way or the other? Well, we can look at other passages of Jesus to confirm one way or the other, and we can look at the example of his life-- whether he made choices for war or against it. And we can look at the rest of the New Testament to see if that body of literature supports our theory or stands against it. And looking at the New Testament as a whole-- interestingly enough, in opposition to the Old Testament-- that it stands against the Christian participation in war. The position may need to be nuanced, but it stands firm.

Even so, we can look at Jesus' message and life as a whole concerning the issue of repentance and forgiveness. We know for a fact that Jesus' message is deeply concerned with repentance. His basic message, according to Matthew is to prepare for the coming kingdom of God by repentance. When asked forthrightly about how to gain God's kingdom/eternal life, he responded by saying to obey the ten commandments, to sell one's possessions and give to the poor, and to follow Jesus. He did not say, "There's nothing for you to do-- just accept God's forgiveness." And he was very concerned that those who did not repent would be punished eternally (Luke 10:13; Luke 13:1-5).

In the passage we were dealing with (Luke 15), the Pharisees were complaining about Jesus because he was eating with "sinners"-- those who have failed the covenant treaty with God through their continuing disobedience. They didn't want Jesus eating with them because it implied covenant brotherhood with them-- which the Pharisees rejected. This brotherhood was tanamount to "forgiveness"-- acceptance, despite their past sin. Jesus then tells three stories about God, who goes out of his way to seek out and accept certain people. But in all three, Jesus qualifies the acceptance to sinners who repent, not sinners in general. God seeks the sinners in general, but only accepts the ones who repent.

Theologically, we have to say that repentance is difficult, even impossible, in many cases. It is for this reason that in Jesus we can receive the Spirit who will assist us. But repentance is first of all turning to God, and receiving his assistance in overcoming sin.

Those who do violence and kill another are in sin. Those who continually threaten and do harm to others are in sin. And we need to warn them about the judgment that is coming on them because of their sin, even as Jesus did-- "Those who live by the sword will die by the sword." And we also talk to them about the God who loves them so much that they will forgive their sin, if they would but turn to Him and turn away from that sin. Then the murders will be forgiven. The soldiers will be accepted by God. The warmongers will be converted. And Jesus will have created peace. Not just through carte blanche "forgiveness". But through the power of forgiveness and repentance in unison.

Steve Kimes

Monday, December 05, 2005

What Should We Do With Prophets?

What is Prophecy?
There are these people out there and they are obnoxious. They get in your face, and say things you aren’t comfortable with and often they claim to be speaking for God. Those who want to say something positive would typically say, “Oh, he’s a prophet” (inevitably, the prophet is a “he”). But just because a person has a “hard message” does that make them a prophet?

Not necessarily. A “prophet” in Scripture is specifically someone who has a message directly from God through God’s Spirit. This isn’t just a message from the Bible or a rewriting of a Bible text. It is something one hears from God directly. Not everyone hears God’s voice in the church, nor does everyone who hears God’s voice necessarily have to speak his messages to others. But a prophet receives a message from God and then he or she must go and speak it to the ones God commanded them to tell. Prophecies could be in dreams, visions, voices or just listening to a silent voice. But it is clear, and it is clearly from God.

Do We Need Prophecies?
The Bible says we do. God often spoke to prophets in the past, and Moses exclaimed, “I wish that all of God’s people would be prophets!” (Numbers 11:29). All of Jesus’ followers receive God’s spirit and all of them have something from God’s spirit to share with others (I Corinthians 12:3-4). Some people are led by the Spirit to serve, others to give, others to teach. Prophecy is one of those “gifts” that some have received from the Spirit.

While prophecies are uncomfortable for many, Paul says that prophecy is essential. He calls it the most essential work of the Spirit for the community of believers. Why? Prophecy, more than any other service to the church, can point out the weaknesses and the issues the Lord wants a particular congregation to work on. The Lord can speak both encouragement and rebuke clearly and immediately without confusion or as many interpretation problems.

How should we respond to a prophet?
If a prophet has a message to give to a church, they should be allowed to do so. This may not be comfortable for many, but Scripture tells us clearly not to “quench the Spirit or despise prophetic utterances.” (I Thessalonians 5:19-20). Prophecy may be a hard pill to swallow, but it is necessary from the Spirit. Such a prophecy should be shared at an appropriate time determined by the leader of the worship time, so any prophet should ask for an opportunity to speak and not be upset if they are asked to wait. Only two or three prophecies per service so that others may share what they have from the Lord as well (I Corinthians 14:29-33). The prophet should speak the exact words of the prophecy and allow the people to test and interpret the prophecy. “No prophecy is of private interpretation” says the Scripture, so the prophet should not interpret the prophecy themselves before they give it to the congregation (I Peter 1:20).

Testing the spirits
After a prophecy has been given, then the spirit of the prophet must be tested. There are many spirits, and not all are the Holy Spirit come from God. We must test every word we receive from a spirit.

We can know if a message is not from the Spirit of God if:
 It encourages people to sin
 It encourages people away from the God of Jesus (Deuteronomy 13)
 It slanders someone with an evil act that is not already publicly known. (Matthew 18:15)
 It serves the personal interests of the prophet.
 It is a message to the whole people of God, but only one group of God’s people has received it. (I Corinthians 14:36)
Another indication that a prophet is sent from God is if they speak a prophecy about a future event, and the prophecy does not come true as stated. If a prophet is inaccurate about the future, then Scripture says “You need not fear that one.” This means that they are not a true prophet from God (Deuteronomy 18:22)

However, a prophecy is more likely true if:
a. The prophet is humble before the Lord and God’s people, and shares with love and gentleness. (Galatians 5:22-23)
b. The message the prophet shares is accurate with the Bible. It does not have to be accurate with popular theology, but it must be accurate with the message of Jesus in the New Testament. (John 14:26)
c. The message leads people to godly repentance, drawing them closer to a relationship with the Lord.

How should we respond to Prophecy?
If a prophecy and the prophet has been tested and has passed, then the word of the Lord is to “fear that prophet”. We must do as the prophecy says. We do not need to tell other people to obey the prophecy, unless they were given it personally. But we need to do it, for it is the word of the Lord for us. If we do not listen to the prophet who spoke truly, the Lord will judge us for not listening to Him. (Deuteronomy 18:18-19; Ezekiel 3:19)

Discussion on New Orleans and God

This discussion took place on the Peace and Justice Forum of the PNMC:

Thank you for this information. I know some of us may not be comfortable with this or with the idea that God speaks prophetically today such as this. I am most concerned when we who call ourselves followers of The Way disregard the written Word of God. I for one was very thankful for our conference Bible teacher, William Higgins, when he responded to J. Denny Weaver on the “Workshop on a Non-violent Atonement” as J. Denny simply disregarded many scriptures to propagate a theory which ignores that God Himself provided the sacrifice for our sins and God alone determined the manner in which it would happen. God alone (Deut) established that there is no remission of sins without the shedding of blood. Isn’t it marvelous that Jesus shed his blood for the whole world so there is no longer a need for the blood of others to be shed! Byron Shenk

“I found those 2,000 verses on the poor. How did I miss that? I went to Bible college, two seminaries, and I got a doctorate. How did I miss God's compassion for the poor? I was not seeing all the purposes of God. The church is the body of Christ. The hands and feet have been amputated and we're just a big mouth, known more for what we're against."
Steve, this something you sent some time ago. How do you reconcile the two? I can agree more with the above quotation than with the essence of the prophecy. I have spent much of my life under the leftovers of being taught that God is a vengeful God rather than the loving God that sent us Jesus to show to us what is a cross-bearing life that we are challenged to follow other than in name. But to me that does not mean condemning people. It seems to me that Jesus might have felt more at home on Bourbon Street in N.O. than in the temples of the megachurches or perhaps in some of the smugness in the Mennonite and other well-known evangelical churches that wish to remain orthodox above every thing else.
I admire you, Steve, for your work with the homeless. Would that some more of us would feel the same passion. So it saddens me a bit that your are distracted by prophecies that wherever their source seem to be in disagreement with the loving God incarnated in the loving Jesus and who seeks to be incarnated in us.
Larry Eby

Thanks for your response, Larry. I understand your confusion. It would be difficult to reconcile a God of full mercy with a God who judges. But Jesus' God is a God of mercy who assists everyone (Matt 5:44), and also a God who judges the wicked, especially the oppressors and the hypocrites (Matt 23; Luke 13:1-5). And God is the same now as then.

I read last month an article by Tony Campolo about how Katrina couldn't be God's judgment because the poor were the ones worst hurt by the hurricane, and the poor are God's people, he couldn't be judging them. While I firmly agree with Dr. Campolo that the poor are God's people, I respectfully disagree with him that the hurricane isn't God's judgment based on Amos 6.

Yes, the poor were terribly hurt by this. But the poor in New Orleans were hurt, not because of God's judgment, but because the wealthy and powerful in New Orleans and Louisiana did not provide for the poor, what they could easily provide-- transportation to escape. All of the poor would have left, staying in shelters somewhere else, if only it had been provided them.

As I have written previously, the powerful didn't help the poor simply out of their ignorance, not out of hatred of the poor. However, it is the responsibility of those who have resources and wealth to provide for the needs of those who do not have. And the poor being harmed in New Orleans is the result of the attitude of focusing one's compassion only on "one's own".

I understand that this seems contradictory. It is not. If you can't understand it, I respectfully recommend that you meditate on it. Otherwise the Bible and the God of Jesus just makes no sense.
Steve Kimes

While I appreciate your work with the homeless, Steve, I can't let your interpretation of prophecy pass without a comment. My first question is how do you know that New Orleans is or was more deserving of judgment than any other American City? Just because New Orleans is well known for its drunken debauchery doesn't mean that God automatically regards that city as more sinful and deserving of judgment. What about all the American suburbs filled with self-satisfied people who are ignoring the needs of the poor? Aren't they equally as sinful? Why didn't the hurricane hit them instead?Secondly, if God really intended to make New Orleans the target of his judgment , then why didn't the French Quarter get destroyed? One can make a very convincing argument that it is the most visibly sinful section of the city. Since the flooding barely touched the French Quarter, I must conclude that God either has a very bad aim or else that he intended to target the poor black sinners of the Ninth Ward and leave the wealthy residents of the French Quarter relatively unscathed.In my opinion, it's this kind of nonsense we get into whenever we fallible humans try to decide who is or who is not deserving of God's judgment. I prefer to focus on my own foibles and leave the judging to God.
An alternative interpretation is that God lets us suffer the consequences of our own stupidity. Building a city on ground that is well below sea level and then destroying the wetlands that protect the city is the ultimate in arrogance and hubris. Perhaps the message we are to receive from God is that it is folly to think we humans can control either God's creation or even our own destiny.Love in Christ, Joe Blowers

We only can know whether or not a catastrophe, like tsunamis, earthquakes or hurricanes, or military attacks like the attack on New York city, or America's attack on Afganistan are naturally caused, or divinely caused through the testimony of prophets. Bad things happen on earth that are not necessarily the hand of God (though I believe He is still sovereign over all). In the old testament, disasters and military invasions happened all the time like they do today. But it took the prophets to interpret the meaning of the disaster or military invasion.So the issues today are...a). does God still judge through military invasions and disasters. not all catastrophes, but specific ones.b). are there still prophets functioning?c). how do we test the prophets?These questions need to be answered generally before we can deal with specific events. If a person has no criteria for testing prophets then they'll blindly accept every prophecy they hear. If a person doesn't swallow the notion that God still judges through events that affect both the guilty and the innocent, then they won't accept a prophetic interpretation of an event.Personally, I believe that God does still judge this way and I believe that there are prophets still functioning. The only one I give attention to is David Wilkerson who ministers in New York whose heart is broken for New York pleading that they would repent and turn back to God. I know nothing of the prophet that Steve quoted. I believed that the New Orleans disaster could have been the hand of God just as i believed that the attack on the twin towers and the attack on Afghanistan could be the hand of God. But without confirmation of a prophet I trusted, I wasn't willing to commit to such, or to preach such. So where I struggle is with c). how do we test the prophets. The messages of prophets are often hard for us to accept because they make us very uncomfortable by railing against the status quo. And the temptation is to pridefully accept the message of a prophet when it is pointing at everyone but me. But if they are doing God's work, they will make _me_ uncomfortable. Or they will cause my heart to break for the people who under God's judgement.While I don't question the appropriateness of this subject to this forum, I wonder as a followup how this issue impacts us from a peace and justice perspective. Do we only use the term "justice" when it speaks of fair treatment of the oppressed and not use it to speak of appropriate measures for the oppressors? Would it not be a measure of peace to warn a group that they are susceptible to God's judgement if they do not repent? Was Jonah a peacemaker? I think he was. It seems that we only do peacemaking when it is testifying to the government to not use military action. But were we peacemakers by warning Sadaam Hussein that if he did not repent and turn from his sins, God was going to bring judgement on him and his nation. I think peacemaking is both sides of the coin, though we only give attention to one.
Jeffrey C. Long

Jeff, I think this is a very good point. I think that as peacemakers, we do not have the right to take the measure of justice against oppressors ourselves. We do not harm our enemies. However, we have the responsibility to warn oppressors that they would be judged by God. We don't necessarily have the responsibility to force change to oppressors. If people want to do that, it might be okay, but the more humble position is to speak to them God's truth and allow them to make their own decisions.
BTW, I do have a teaching which lays out how to test a prophet.
Steve K

1. I never said that New Orleans was worse than other cities. I said that God declared that a city isn't destroyed without his plan, and that he doesn't do it unless a prophecy is declared ahead of time to that effect. Since there WAS a prophecy to this effect, and the timing was right, I believe that we can confirm that it was done by God.

2. New Orleans, however, is a good target because they had a number of issues: They promoted sorcery, they also ignored their poor, and what was worse, they promoted the abuse of Christian tradition as an excuse for drunken debauchery-- Mardi Gras in particular.

3. I am not the one second-guessing God's plan or work. I have evidence to that effect. Where is your evidence that God does not act that way? What texts prove that God would never act in judgment? It seems that the requirement of proof is on the side saying "God wouldn't act that way"-- since we have clear evidence all throughout the Scripture that He does.
Steve Kimes

Of the answers I've read so far, I find that I agree most with Joe. Are we afraid to trust in a loving God who, as in the story of the prodigal, allows us to go our own way, but is waiting, not to hand out the punishment we deserve, but with open arms to welcome us back? This God, described by Jesus, is the one I choose to follow.
Tom Brenneman

Jesus prophesied destruction as well.
Jeffrey C. Long

The one thing that many people don't recognize when the use the prodigal son as their paradigm of salvation is that the prodigal repented of his sin first.

The paradigm of the prodigal son is as follows:
a. Rejection of the Father
b. Lifestyle of sin
c. Destruction due to lifestyle of sin
d. Realization of salvation of the Father
e. Return to Father
f. Confession/Repentance
g. Acceptance by the Father

New Orleans actually fits the prodigal son paradigm-- it's just that they are in the destruction part of the story. Some individuals are in the "realization" stage. But all of them still have the opportunity to repent and be accepted by the Father.

Jesus and Paul and Peter and the whole bible recognizes that God sometimes initiates destruction in people's lives. The New Testament paradigm is that God does it in order to save some people. This is certainly God's purpose for New Orleans.
Steve K.

Steve, your interpretation depends on what you mean by"first". I have heard this preached differently(multiple times). The father accepted the prodigalson before the son did any confession or repentance,as evidenced by the father's running to the son andembracing him upon the mere sight of him. It was*after* this acceptance that the son made hisconfession. Yes, the son had *planned* to repent,which is what led him home. But the father didn'trequire the words; he was just overjoyed to see hisson back home!This is a subtle but key distinction in thisdiscussion. And it is one that has always bothered meabout those who supposedly preach "salvation bygrace". Even though they profess this claim thatworks are not required, they still require the "work"of repentance prior to acceptance by God. In otherwords, they say that God won't love or accept us untiland unless we repent.In contrast, if God's love for us is constant and hiswelcome is always available, the "requirement" ofrepentance is only for our sakes. In other words,*we* can't accept God's love for us until we re-turnto God and recognize that God is there waiting for us,arms open wide. Repentance is crucial, but notbecause God requires it before he'll love us.

I appreciate your comments, and this discussion is helpful, I believe.

I understand that you have probably heard quite a bit of preaching on the prodigal son, but, of course, what we should most be interested in is what Jesus' point is, not any given pastor's point.

Jesus had given three parables about acceptance in Luke 15, and the main point is the same with all three. Jesus' explanation is given in this way:
"I tell you that in the same way, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance." and "In the same way, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents." (Luke 15:7, 10). If one looked at each of these parables-- that of the woman looking for a coin and a man looking for a sheep-- no indication of repentance is given. But Jesus inserts repentance into his interpretive statement of them.

In the prodigal son, the son did repent before the father accepted him. On the human level, the father would not have known about that repentance. All that is well and good. But we need to accept Jesus' interpretation, not restrict it to human limitation. Jesus' interpretation, and the reason the son is given a paragraph to describe his repentance before he reaches his father, is that the repentance is a pre-requisite of the father's acceptance.

This does not mean that God does not love everyone. Of course he does. He sent his son to die for everyone in the world because he loved the whole world-- Hitler, Stalin, Herod, everyone (John 3:16). And he offers rain and food to everyone, without exception to their sin (Matt. 5:45). But he does not offer his blessings, his kingdom, his full promises to everyone. Some are accepted, and some are judged (John 5). And some are judged in this life, by God's hand (Acts 5). That is how God works.

God is the God of mercy and forgiveness. And he is the God of judgment and vengeance. If God never gave vengeance, then it would be foolish for us to be sacrificed for peace. The way of the cross is founded on the fact that God judges the wicked. And those who do not repent will be judged (e.g. Luke 6:24-26; Luke 13:1-5).

And here's something that perhaps you didn't notice-- that even our forgiveness of other's can be limited by whether the sinner repents or not (Matt 18:15-17; Luke 17:3-4).

By the way, I never called myself a "grace" theologian. I am just interested in teaching what Jesus taught, doing what Jesus did-- no more, no less. To the degree Jesus showed grace, so will I. Inasmuch as Jesus limited grace, so will I. Jesus is the Savior, not I, so I must depend on Him to show me who to declare salvation to. And I still find that I usually have to preach "do not judge" and "forgive" more often than "rebuke the sinning brother".
Steve K

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Is the New Orleans disaster a judgement of God?

Many have been concerned about the New Orleans disaster, and the questions has been asked and argued over-- Did God judge New Orleans? I believe that the answer is yes, based on a passage of Scripture and a prophecy given to New Orleans before the event.

Amos 3:6-8
6 If a trumpet is blown in a city will not the people tremble? If a calamity occurs in a city has not the LORD done it? 7 Surely the Lord GOD does nothing Unless He reveals His secret counsel To His servants the prophets. 8 A lion has roared! Who will not fear? The Lord GOD has spoken! Who can but prophesy?

What the Lord is saying through Amos is that a city is destroyed through the judgment of God. However, we cannot be certain of this unless His messengers, the prophets, speaks of it. A city is not judged at God's hand unless God's prophets speak of it, and warn about it. However, a prophet did speak God's message, warning New Orleans of impending disaster before the event occurred.

This is a prophecy spoken by prophet Kim Clement in July, 2005, one month before the disaster that would overtake New Orleans:
"O New Orleans God speaks to you from Houston tonight and says enough of this! For a judgment is coming says the Spirit of the Lord, and I will take the men that have stood in faith, raise them above the flood that shall destroy those that constantly bicker and stand against my servant Moses, or my servant Bilbo. I want you to understand there are great men in New Orleans that have faith but you have been set aside not to lose but to win. Enough of this! For I will take the curses and the bodies will even rise and they will come forth on the water, but I will keep you and the stench of death will only last a few days. And then what I promised two years ago will come to pass for August, September and October of this year I made a promise it would happen, and God said be strengthened now, be strengthened now for enough is enough says the Lord."

For the full prophecy and more information, look at the following web page:

The "Bilbo" is not the character in the Hobbit, but Pastor Garland Bilbo of New Orleans, who was somewhat involved in the scandal of Jimmy Swaggart. For more info on this, look here:

Many have questions about Kim Clement's ministry and previous prophecies he has made. However, concerning this particular prophecy, I think his words after the fact are right on:
"I had no joy hearing of the devastations as news came to America of the dreaded "Katrina" and I found myself in a state of mourning and tears. I pray for strength upon the people of these States, especially those who have lost everything. God said to "be strengthened"."

I understand that this point of view doesn't sit comfortably with some of our theology. I don't like it either. But we must recognize that judgement and vengeance is in the hand of God, and that God will, on occasion, use that right. However, if we pray for God's mercy, then he will surely listen. So let us use this opportunity to continually pray for God's mercy. Go's peace is established through the prayers of his people. If they fail to pray, then judgement will fall.

May the Lord have mercy on all of us who live among degenerate peoples and have mercy on the poor who are harmed the most in any judgement or destruction caused by the Evil One.

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

I believe that God... (the significant word is "I")

I heard someone say this: "The christian bible says that, 'Jesus is the way'. But, there are many holy books that teach something else. I believe that there are many ways to God". How would you respond to this?

There's not much that you can say about that. If you believe in something else, then that's your choice.

Some have taken Pascal's wager, which is that believing in Jesus is taking less chances than not believing in him.

I personally believe that if Jesus is risen from the dead, then he is the only one to give us any accurate information about the spirit world and God. For everyone else, God is a matter of guess work.

But if you don't believe in the resurrection and believe that there are many ways to God, what CAN you say?

I guess for me the only thing is that you cannot have contradictory ways to God. In other words, if one person says "The best way to God is to get all desire out of your life so you no longer want anything" (fundamental Buddhism) and another says "The only way to God is to desire righteousness" (fundamental Judaism and Christianity). These contradict each other, and cannot be reconciled. God is not a schizophrenic. Nor is he a kindly old grandfather, just happy that his children are paying any attention at all to him, so he will accept any kind of gifts. God isn't like that, if he is uniform, if he is the most powerful being in the universe. He wants what he wants and it isn't up to us to tell Him what he wants. What we need to do is to determine what He best wants.

The problem with people saying "I believe" about God is that they are dictating to God who He is and what he wants. They aren't saying, "I believe that God revealed such and such..." They are saying that whatever idea that came into their head is what they determine is God. So what does that really mean? It means that their god is their mind, their opinions. Thus, the cult of "I believe" is the most insidious and narcissistic of idolatries-- the worship of one's own frail, human thinking.

I believe that it is pretty pathetic.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Reincarnation in the Bible?

It is appointed for man to die once, and then comes the judgment.(i don't know where in the bible that is located- do you?)The above verse tells me that reincarnation is not going to happen (would i be correct in this, or am i being naive?). Would you please direct me to all of the other scripture references that support the above verse?The reason that I bring this up is that the other day I over heard this guy say that, "Jesus said that John the baptist is Elijah," to support reincarnation. I know that the guy is wrong, but I cant prove it. So, what say you?

That verse is found in Hebrews 9:27.

Yes, that verse clearly says that reincarnation isn't something the Bible teaches. Rather, the Bible teaches in resurrection-- that after a period of our bodies being separated from our souls, they would be brought back together (Luke 16; Daniel 12; John 5:28-29). Paul and Jesus also clearly teach that the resurrected bodies would be powerful "spiritual" bodies-- kinda like Superman (Matt. 22; I Cor. 15:42). The Bible is clear that these bodies will live eternally, never to die again (Rev 21:4; Matt 25:46; John 5:24).

As far as what Jesus said about John the Baptist: Yes, he said that John the Baptist marked the return of Elijah-- Matthew 11:14. But did he mean reincarnation by that? Obviously not, since Elijah met with Jesus during his ministry at the transfiguration, not John the Baptist (Matt 17:3). The disciples did not recognize Elijah as John, but instead asked about the prophecy that Elijah would return (Malachi 4). Jesus said that Elijah had already come, as prophecied, and he was clearly talking about John. However, the angel speaking to John's father clarified exactly what was meant, that John would have the spirit and power of Elijah. Not that he was Elijah himself.

So could Elijah come again? Jesus said he would (Matt 17). And it is still possible, and not in the way John the Baptist did. The reason for this is that Elijah never died. He was taken up to heaven directly, without dying first (II Kings 1-2).

Does this mean reincarnation isn't possible? No, God could do whatever he wanted, and since Jesus experienced birth after he already existed, then it is certainly possible that God COULD do it. But I think Heb 9:27 (the verse you quoted) clearly says that it isn't God's normal plan. Every person has one life to live. People's consciousnesses don't start over. That's the Bible. If someone wants to believe in something else, that's fine. But don't say the Bible teaches it.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

More Questions Answered

Question # 1) If Christians are to "love their enemies" as is told us in the Scriptures, does that mean we are to love satan as well?

It is interesting that Jesus told us to "not resist an evil one", by which he means human authorities (like the police or governments) that use their authority to harm us. So in that context, we are not to "resist" them, (the word is antisthmi, which literally means "stand against"-- the Strong's number is 5629) which means that we are to submit to their authority and harm them in no way. That is Matthew 5:38-41. But for Satan, the same word is used in a number of contexts, but just the opposite counsel is given-- we are to "resist" or "stand against" Satan and all evil powers of the heaven. We can see this in Eph 6:13; James 4:7; I Peter 5:9. Thus, Scripture is clear-- while we do not harm humans in any way-- even if they harm us-- we are to cause Satan and his forces as much damage as possible. Note also, that though we are not to take part in warfare with humans, we are to throw ourselves into warfare against Satan and the evil powers of heaven-- Eph 6:11-12; II Corinthians 10:3-4.

Question # 2) If a woman's husband dies, is she still considered a "Mrs"?

When a spouse dies, the marriage commitment is lapsed-- the couple is no longer considered married. This is clearest in Romans 7:2-3.

Question #3)Actually, the real question is: If a woman is divorced, is she still considered a "Mrs."?

Oh, that's different.

I am assuming that you are speaking in the eyes of God, not in the law, and so I will answer it that way.

Jesus statement about this is as follows: (Matthew 19:3-9-- NAS)

Some Pharisees came to Jesus, testing Him and asking, "Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any reason at all?" 4 And He answered and said, "Have you not read that He who created them from the beginning MADE THEM MALE AND FEMALE, 5 and said, 'FOR THIS REASON A MAN SHALL LEAVE HIS FATHER AND MOTHER AND BE JOINED TO HIS WIFE, AND THE TWO SHALL BECOME ONE FLESH '? 6 "So they are no longer two, but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let no man separate." 7 They said to Him, "Why then did Moses command to GIVE HER A CERTIFICATE OF DIVORCE AND SEND her AWAY?" 8 He said to them, "Because of your hardness of heart Moses permitted you to divorce your wives; but from the beginning it has not been this way. 9 "And I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery."

This has been interpreted many times and ways over 2000 years of Christians trying to get out of what it clearly says. Let me summarize it as clearly as I can:

Divorce, according to Jesus, does not break a marriage that God established. Divorce is a human institution, not a God-made one. The commitment to marriage is for life, and a divorce does not break that. Thus, if a divorcee marries another person, then they are probably committing adultery-- because the original marriage isn't actually broken.

However, there is a circumstance in which a marriage is broken: adultery. In other words, if either partner in a marriage-- whether there is a divorce or not-- has sex with someone who is not their spouse, then they have broken their marriage. The commitment is null and void. The "innocent" partner can forgive the lapse and the marriage can be established anew, but the commitment is broken at that point and it is up to the partner that did not break it to determine that.

This is a difficult thing to hear-- even as the disciples said-- but much of what Jesus said is like that.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Update on my health

Thank all of you who have been praying for my health and my energy. I have really needed it, because my body has had some real ups and downs the last couple months. I am officially diagnosed with diabetes, as my blood sugar has been going through a roller-coaster ride. My doctor and I are working on a diet/exercise plan to maintain my health and energy. I have also been seeking healing prayer and have been praying to the Lord myself. I do believe that the Lord will grant me enough energy to do what He has appointed me to do, but at the same time, I think this time of testing will continue for a season.

I pray that it will only be for a season, but I also am constantly remembering the Lord's conversation with Paul in II Cor 12. When Paul asked for a "thorn in the flesh" to be removed three times, the Lord refused him and instead said, "My strength is made perfect through your weakness." I am personally feeling very weak, very human right now, although I understand it is far less than some of you have experienced. This difficulty is small for me, but the task I have been given is great, almost overwhelming. But if this weakness allows God's strength to displayed more perfectly through me, then I gladly accept it.

As I do my ministry, I am constantly reminded of Mother Theresa's words, "I know that the Lord only gives us as much as we can handle, but I wish he didn't trust me so much." At this point, the only way Anawim will be sustained is through the Lord's work. Not just His work in me-- because I am frail and weak and of limited ability and strength-- but also his work in other's who have been and will be participating in this ministry.

This is a difficult trust for me. I have been trusting in the Lord for his strength and power through me, and that is an easy trust to have because I know my heart is open to His will, as strange as it may seem sometimes. But it is harder to have trust that God will be working through others in such a way that I must lean upon them as well as God's miraculous power. Yet this is the situation I am in now. An opportunity to grow in trust in the Lord.

I thank all of you who have participated in our ministry up until this point. You have all been necessary to God's work in Anawim. I will ask you for nothing else. But I do ask this-- keep your ears and hearts open to the Spirit's leading. There may be a time ("and that time may never come"-- Bill Palmer quote) that the Spirit will ask you to do Anawim some additional work. I guess what I'm asking is: if the Spirit calls you, please listen. I have no back-up personal reserves right now to do the work the Spirit asks others to do.

Of course, I know the Spirit is leading you to participate in the ministries you are already in-- your churches, your families, your friends, your day-to-day work. And that should be your focus. But whatever additional small things the Spirit leads you to act for Anawim, I just want to let you know, we appreciate it.

A couple more things:
We have been delayed in sending our folks to hurricane country, but we now have a confirmed reservation to send three folks to Gulfport, Mississippi on December 4, for a week. Please continue praying for these folks.
Anawim has lost one of our major donors, through Birch Gleaners. But we have gained about a hundred gallons of dry food in a donation this month, which proves God's generosity again!
Also, if any of you are interested in my blog, I have been putting articles on it for two months now, so there is much to see. Also, the comment section is now opened up to everyone, and comments are certainly welcome. The address is,

Thanks for your prayers and counsel and assistance. May the Lord grant you peace in the same measure as you seek his peace.

Answering Some Questions

All questions were provided by Gordon Smith (not the senator).

1) Is okay to pray for animals? I heard a woman pray that no cats would be sacrificed this Halloween.

To pray for animals is fine. We can be emotionally attached to animals, and the Lord understands that attachment. I don't pray for animals usually, myself, but there's nothing wrong with it. Heck, I've prayed for a car before, and we can pray for technology-- why not animals? No where in Scripture does it say that we cannot pray for animals and as humans it is our responsibility to care for animals (Psalm 8). So why not pray for them as well? I'll bet there have been many low level dairy farmers praying for the health of his cow in which his whole economic life depends on.

2) Should Christians pray against legalizing gay mirages? My thinking is on this one, is that, does it really matter if they marry? Should we (the church- the church), pray that they would come to repentance? Rather than waisting time and energy, worrying about the political ramifications, and looking like bad guys.

I think you're right. If we were to pray about this issue, then why don't we pray for all of it-- I mean pray against every area in which the U.S. is unrighteous. The fact that they do not require everyone to worship Yahweh, but allow idolatry-- that's opposed to God's pure righteousness, if anything is. Note that out of the ten commandments, the U.S. only legalizes three of them (murder, stealing, purjury), while the rest are left to each person's "conscience". And Jesus' command of loving one's enemy is considered immoral in many circumstances, as the American justice system is based on punishing one's enemies. The fact is, many wrong things will be legalized before Jesus comes and there will be no really "Christian" nation until Jesus' return.

3) In, the /book of Nahum (1.3) , it states that the "whirlwind and storm is His way." The devil used the whirlwind and storm, to take out Jobs sons and daughters. So, what does that mean, that the whirlwind and storm are exclusively, the Lords?

Storms are under the Lord's command, and Satan-- the minister of God's judgment against humanity-- will sometimes use great powers to judge humanity. God allowed Satan to use that power to test Job-- this is one of the reasons why Job wanted to put God on trial for crimes against him, when he had been righteous.

The main thing we need to remember is that Satan is playing a couple sides, here. He acts for the Lord in judging sinful humanity-- that's his job. He also can judge any human that puts him in authority-- that's all of us.

As far as disasters in the world, we have to look at them open-mindedly. Satan can take pot-shots at humanity any time he wants, and he will occasionally cause a large disaster-- such as the Indonesian tsunami-- just to spark fear in people. He is also sometimes appointed by God to judge a particular area or city because of specific sin-- but the Lord doesn't do this unless he has warned the community ahead of time. This is what I understand happened in New Orleans, and certainly it is true for ancient Jerusalem and Babylon. On occasion, Satan can also ask the Lord to test a specific righteous individual to "prove" their faithfulness. The Lord will sometimes allow these tests, to prove his righteous people.

Thus, in general, it is the Lord's power enacting these judgments, but Satan is the one who is specifically appointed and motivated to use the storm as judgment.

You can see the Lord's relationship to Satan and evil spirits in the following passages--
I kings 22:19-23; Job 1-2; Exodus 12:23; Jeremiah 51:1-4, 56; I Cor 10:10; Hebrews 2:14

Thus, when Satan is finally judged, then this whole system of punishment and testing will be finished. Isaiah 33:1 and Revelation 20. Then we will only have Jesus' method of mercy and repentance.

4) What does it to abide, practicly speaking? Does it mean to seek and serve? What about His 'words?' I read my bible constantly, but I cant rember, hardly a lick. The main reason, that I continue to read it all, is because, God said that His 'word does not come back void.' I am trusting in that promise. So, I guesse my qustion is, What does it mean to truly abide in Christ? Also, what does it mean to have His words abide in you?

"Abide" of course, basically means to "continue in". The opposite of this would be to forsake or to set aside. To abide in Jesus means to retain the covenant with Him. He has established a covenant with us through his death, and that covenant has certain obligations on both sides. On Jesus' side, as we see in John 15, we have complete access to the Father, and thus, the Father's power. On our side, we covenant to obey Jesus and to be faithful to Him-- that is abiding in Jesus and to have his words abide in us.

It is interesting that Jesus mentions both sides. If he had said just "abide in me" then it would have led to easy-believism, that just as long as you claim Jesus you're doing okay. If he had just said, "have my words abide in you" then Jesus would just be giving us a philosophy to live by and it doesn't matter whether it's Jesus or someone else presenting it.

But Jesus said both-- not just honoring and speaking about Jesus; and not just obeying Jesus, but the full faith package.

But this isn't talking about some strange mystical experience (although some people do have that experience) nor is it about Bible memorization (although that is very helpful, and all the early disciples did that-- they literally memorized the exact words of Jesus), but it is about remaining in faith and obedience.

5) How does one know if he or she has the Holy Spirit?

There are a number of ways to know how one is having a spiritual experience:
1. You could be doing things you wouldn't do on your own
2. You could experience a miraculous event, such as a healing or speaking in another tongue you haven't learned
3. You could obtain knowledge you wouldn't have known on your own

However, we must remember that there are many spirits out there, and people are experiencing many different spirits apart from the ones that are pleasing to God. If a person is experiencing the HOLY Spirit, specifically, then we need to look for four things:

1. The Holy Spirit will manifest in some miraculous way, such as described above and also in I Corinthians 12.
2. The Holy Spirit will lead one to act in an attitude of love, peace, patience and self-control, as described in Galatians 5:22-23.
3. The Holy Spirit will enable one to proclaim "Jesus is Lord" I Corinthians 12:3.
4. The Holy Spirit will remind and guide one back to the words and teachings of Jesus. John 14:26

If we see one of these four, it isn't enough. All four must be present to be assured it is the Holy Spirit, and not just our imagination, social pressure, or a different spirit.
If we only see miracles, it might be a spirit, but not the Holy Spirit.
If we only see love, it might be community pressure forcing one to act that way.
If one only proclaims Jesus as Lord-- then it is possible today for a person to be caving in to social pressure, as opposed to the days of Paul in which only a person with a death wish would proclaim Jesus as Lord apart from the Holy Spirit.
If one focuses on the teaching of Jesus, that could be intellectualism.

If we are missing any parts of these, then we do not know it is the Holy Spirit--
If we don't see a miracle, we could be living out our own fantasy.
If we don't see love, there may be power, but it isn't holy.
If a person doesn't proclaim Jesus as Lord, they are experiencing idolatry.
If we aren't guided to Jesus' teaching, we could be experiencing a false spirit in Jesus' name, but not the true Jesus.

But if we experience a spiritual power displayed through the miraculous-- healing, tongues, special knowledge, etc-- that leads us to proclaim Jesus as Lord and to obey his words and that assists us to do all this in an attitude of love-- then we know we have the Spirit.

6)Okay, here is a little story for you. (I'll tell you the short version) I was hanging out with these three guys, driving from here to there, and they stared praying. Eventually, they began to laugh and giggle as though they were drunk. In fact, they were drunk in the spirit. I have heard about people being drunk in the spirit, and I have read about it. But, this is the first time, I have witnessed it. I could "feel the Holy Spirit in that car(i felt something). I did not not break out laughing. I personally in that time felt a calming, that I never felt before. So, what are your thoughts?

These guys are certainly experiencing a spirit, but I don't have enough information to know if it is the Holy Spirit or not. There is a spirit throughout North America that is manifesting a laughing, joyful spirit, but it also seems limited in its power. I don't think this spirit is evil, per se-- that is, he isn't causing destruction of God's people. But the spirit isn't necessarily the holy spirit, either.

I will say that it is strange that such a spirit is being manifested within one of the most hedonistic cultures that has ever existed. Our culture is more focused on "having a good time" than any other, and so why should the Holy Spirit be communicating in this way? Is it because it is a way that these people will understand? Or is it a different spirit taking advantage of the hedonistic times?

I want to make it clear, though, that I have not seen this spirit do any evil, other than to de-focus people from acting sacrificially. Of course, since the way of Jesus is the way of the cross, perhaps that is just enough. It is a real spiritual experience, but I haven't yet had enough evidence to call it the Holy Spirit.

Monday, October 31, 2005

Parable of the Model Christian

Once there was a man who was a model Christian. He read his Bible and prayed every day. He sent his children to private Christian schools. He invited his fellow church members out to lunch every Sunday. He received food from grocery stores that weren’t wanted, and he gave it to the poor. He adopted orphans from other countries, and provided them their basic food, clothing and education. Finally, he died and he stood before God. After it was read to God all that he had done from the book, God pronounced his judgement: "According to the mercy you gave, so you shall receive." Thus, for all of eternity, the man ate moldy bread, food from dented cans, and cold entrees. It was given him a shack with holes in the roof to live in. He was given a Bible to read, but he never saw God.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Self-Love and Other-Love

I edited this from Thomas Merton. It has become especially important for me to meditate on since I have been diagnosed with diabetes and it has been recommended to me that I cut back on my ministry to care for myself.

Every human being ultimately seeks their own salvation and the salvation of those whom they live with. This salvation is the "good life", not found in the realization of the "american dream", but in the fulfillment of each individual’s God-given powers, in the love of others and of God. This fulfillment cannot come through one’s own ability, but each person must be found in and through others. These three Scriptures are fulfilled in this: "If any man would save his life, he must lose it"; and, "Love one another as I have loved you"; and "We are all members of one another."

Some would say that salvation, then is discovered in the setting aside of ourselves. On the contrary, the discovery of Christ is never genuine if it is nothing but a flight from ourselves. Our salvation cannot be an escape. It must be a fulfillment. I cannot discover God—the power that raised Christ from the dead—unless I have the courage to face myself exactly as I am—a poor, limited perplexed soul.

Thus, salvation is a terrible tangle of paradoxes. We become ourselves by dying to ourselves. We gain only what we give up, and if we give up everything we gain everything. We cannot find ourselves within ourselves, but only in others, yet at the same time before we can go out to others we must first find ourselves. The best way to love ourselves is to love others, yet we cannot love others unless we love ourselves since it is written, "Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself." But if we love ourselves in the wrong way, we become incapable of loving anyone else.
There are many errors in achieving a balance between loving others and oneself:

Giving for oneself
There is a spiritual selfishness which even poisons the good act of giving to another. It is possible for me to love selfishly in the very act of depriving myself of material things for the benefit of another. If my gift is intended to bind him to me, to put him under an obligation, then in loving him I am really loving myself. And this is a greater selfishness, since it traffics not in flesh and blood, but in other person’s souls. This says that in loving another we simply seek the most effective way to love ourselves.

Loving one other
We might be tempted to the hedonism of romantic love. In this, we deny ourselves just enough to share with one another the pleasures of life. We admit a certain selfishness, and feel that in doing so we are being realistic. Our self denial is just sufficient to provide us with a healthy increase in our mutual satisfactions. In a bourgeois world, romantic love knows how to mask as Christian agape. This limits love to only one, no other.

Destroying ourselves
There is the temptation to destroy ourselves for the love of the other. The only value is love of the other. Self-sacrifice is an absolute value in itself. And the desire of the other is an absolute value. No matter what the other desires, we will give up our life or our soul to please the other. This is a false love, which makes it a point of honor to follow the beloved even into hell. This says we must only love others.

Another temptation is to go the other extreme and say, "Hell is other people." In that case love itself becomes the great temptation and the great sin. Because it is an inescapable sin, it is also hell. But this is simply the love of self in solitude. It is the love that is mortally wounded by its own incapacity to love another, and flies from others in order to not to have to give itself to them. This says we must only love ourselves.

All these answers are insufficient. The true answer, which is supernatural, tells us that we must love ourselves in order that we would be able to love others, and that we find ourselves by giving ourselves to them. True love is the gift of ourselves—cared for and fully functional—for others.

This is not merely a helpful suggestion, it is the fundamental law of human existence. Man is divided against himself and against God by his own selfishness, which divides him against his brother. This division cannot be healed by a love that places itself only on one side of the rift. Love must reach over to both sides and draw them together. We cannot love ourselves unless we love others, and our love of others is incomplete without loving ourselves. And a selfish love of ourselves makes us incapable of loving others.

This truth never becomes clear as long as we assume that each one of us, individually, is the center of the universe. We do not exist for ourselves alone, and it is only when we are fully convinced of this fact that we begin to love ourselves properly and thus also love others.
What do I mean by loving ourselves properly? I mean, first of all, desiring to live, accepting life as a very great gift and a great good, not because of what it gives us, but because of what it enables us to give to others. We have what is called a "death instinct." It is the power of a self-love that has turned into self-hatred and which, in adoring itself, adores the monster by which it is consumed. It is therefore of supreme importance that we consent to live not for ourselves, but for others.

We will only be able to do this when we face our own limitations. As long as we secretly adore ourselves, our own deficiencies will remain to torture us with an apparent defilement. But if we live for others, we will gradually discover that no one expects us to be "as gods." We will see that we are human, like everyone else, that we all have weaknesses and deficiencies, and that these limitations of ours play a most important part in all our lives. It is because of them that we need others and others need us. We are not all weak in the same spots, and so we supplement and complete one another, each one making up in himself for the lack in another.

Only when we see ourselves in our true human context, as members of a race which is intended to be one organism and "one body," we will begin to understand the positive importance not only of the successes but of the failures in our lives. My successes are not my own. The way to them was prepared by others. Nor are my failures my own. They may spring from the failure of another, but they are also compensated for by another’s achievement.

Every other man is a piece of myself, for I am a part and a member of mankind. Every Christian is a part of my body, because we are members in Christ. What I do is also done for them and with them and by them. What they do is done by me and for me.

Only when this truth is absolutely central do other teachings fit into their proper context. Humility, self-denial, action and contemplation, service, giving and community—none of these make sense except in relation to the central reality which is God’s love living and acting in those whom he has incorporated his Christ. Nothing at all makes sense unless we admit, with John Donne, that "No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent."
To love others is to make a gift of oneself.

(This teaching was re-written from Thomas Merton’s preface to his book, No Man Is An Island, pp. xv-xxiii)

Sunday, October 09, 2005

Is The United States A Christian Nation?

"The Majority of people in the United States are Christian"
In a recent national poll, as many as 90% of the people in the United States consider themselves Christian in some way. A Christian viewpoint certainly dominates the U.S. culture. In broad outlines, most people in the U.S. believe in one God who created the universe and that Jesus died for our sins. Almost everyone has good things to say about Jesus in the U.S., even those who do not claim to be Christians. People desire to be forgiven for their sins and they think that Jesus is ready to help them.
However, most people in the U.S. do not understand what Jesus demands to follow him, let alone follow it. To be a "Christian" may be a good thing, but it is mostly a social title today, having nothing to do with Jesus’ death or teaching. Even the majority of people who go to churches have a false understanding about what it means to be a follower of Jesus. Most people will agree that Jesus said, "I am the way, the truth and the life: no one comes to the Father except through me" (John 14:6). But they do not agree with or even understand the following:
If anyone is to enter the kingdom of God, they must obey the teaching of Jesus. (Matthew 7:21-27)

If anyone is to follow Jesus, they must deny themselves and take up their cross. (Mark 8:35)
If anyone wants to gain their life, they must lose it. (Mark 8:36)
Whoever wants Jesus to accept them before the Father, they must accept Jesus before men. (Mark 8:38)
No one can follow Jesus unless they renounce their possessions. (Luke 14:33)
Those who will gain the kingdom of God must be poor, mourning and persecuted. (Luke 6:20-24)
Whoever will be raised from the dead must humble themselves. (Luke 14:11)

These are the demands of faith, and the people of the United States, especially the "Christians", are usually looking for ways to avoid this faith of Jesus, not embrace it.

"The Laws of the United States are based on the Bible"
Some say that the foundation of the law of the United States is based on a British system of law, which is based on the Bible, especially the Ten Commandments. The Declaration of Independence and the Constitution are based on "Christian" principles. Thus many people think that the laws of the U.S. are fundamentally Christian.
However, the laws of the United States have been drawn up and applied without reference to the teachings of Jesus, which is the basis of the laws of the kingdom of God. Seven of the Ten Commandments are not enforced by the laws of the United States. The makers of the laws of the U.S. are not concerned with the Bible, but with making the society well-running on their own principles, not on the principles of God.
Here are a few examples of where the law of God and of the United States are in opposition:

The law of God insists that idolatry is unacceptable. (Exodus 20:4; II Corinthians 6:16-17)
The law of the United States says that everyone has a right to worship whoever they want.
The law of God insists that those who take God’s name in vain will be punished. (Exodus 20:7; Matthew 12:31)
The law of the United States insists on freedom of speech, without punishment.
The law of God forbids covetousness and greed. (Exodus 20:17; Ephesians 5:3)
The law of the United States encourages corporations that thrive on greed.
The law of God says to teach one’s children about loving God. (Deuteronomy 6:7; Ephesians 6:4)
The law of the United States forbids the public teaching about God.
The law of God teaches to love everyone, even if they harmed you. (Matthew 5:43-44)
The law of the United States insist that the police and the military must harm others, and even encourage them to kill, if the threat seems bad enough.

The laws of the United States are, in many ways, opposed to Scripture, not in agreement with it.
"The United States is a Christian Nation"
The early colonists of the United States were all Christians, many persecuted for their faith. North America has been the site of many major revivals, which caused many towns to turn completely to the Lord. The majority of the leaders of the United States have been Christian, and have written statements that could be called devotional. So many say that the United States is a Christian nation, or that it should be.
However, the United States cannot today be called a Christian nation—nor can any nation on the earth. There is already a Christian nation, called the kingdom of God and Jesus is the king. There can be no other nation with any other system of government with anyone else as leader that could call itself "of Jesus" or "Christian". The kingdom of God already has its people all throughout the world. And though the kingdom does not now have a land that it can call its own, it is very much a living, vibrant nation.
On top of this, the United States is opposed to the kingdom of God in many areas. Following are many areas that the United States and the kingdom of God are diametrically opposed:

The kingdom of God is a distinctly religious kingdom, devoted exclusively to God.
The United States separates any religious practice or belief from the government.
The kingdom of God is a nation in which every member and citizen is devoted exclusively to God through Jesus Christ. (Romans 10:9)
The United States insists that every citizen can worship whatever God they want, or none at all, and hold to any teacher they want. To insist otherwise, it claims, is unethical.
The kingdom of God is a country ruled by an appointed benevolent dictator: Jesus Christ (Romans 1:4)
The United States firmly believes that only a republic where the leader is voted in by the people is a proper government.
The kingdom of God has all of its laws and ethics come from God himself, and all policies are allowed to be determined by local bodies, as long as they do not judge apart from God’s law. (James 2:8-10)
The United States judges according to the laws passed by their legislative body, with no regard to God’s will.
The kingdom of God is empowered by the Holy Spirit. (Romans 14:17)
The United States is empowered by economic and military strength—namely, the flesh.
The kingdom of God has values such as faith, love, endurance through persecution, following the teaching of Jesus that are requirements to remain in it. (Acts 14:22)
The United States does not promote love, generosity to the poor, devotion to God, faith in Jesus, humility, sound teaching or other values that would cause one to enter the kingdom of heaven.
The kingdom of God insists that one’s security comes from God alone, who sends angels to fight for it. (Matthew 26:52-53)
The United States firmly insists on having the strongest, most superior armed force in the world to promote its own security and its ideals.
The kingdom of God insists that greed must not be found among God’s people. (Ephesians 5:3)
The United States promotes greed, self-gratification and spending beyond one’s need as the backbone of its economy.
The kingdom of God teaches that to hate or destroy one’s enemy is to be unlike God and unworthy to be in God’s kingdom. The kingdom of God claims that God’s way is to do good to one’s enemy and pray for that one. (Luke 6:27-36)
The United States promotes the destruction of their enemies, killing even innocents in the pursuit of their goals of revenge, security and economic stability.
The kingdom of God grants salvation to those who have faith, obedience and love in Jesus Christ. (Galatians 5:5-6)
The United States grants its salvation to those who qualify and have filled out the proper paperwork—whether rich or needy, deserving or swindlers.

The United States, like all other nations, is not any kind of a Christian nation. It is a secular state, based on the principles of the world. It is completely opposed to God’s ways of running his nation.


In my weakness…

Let me never deny you by my actions
But allow me to be pure
Let me never speak in hostile wrath
But allow me to gently grant courage
Let me never ignore or reject the difficult
But allow me to welcome and make whole
Let me never isolate or hide my love
But allow me to join your people in heart, mind and body.
Let me never rely only on myself and my resources
But allow me to be strengthened by your love.

But even thus, allow me to gain rest
Allow me to cease striving
Allow me to gain peace
Allow me to be flooded with your Spirit
…if only for a moment.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Middle Class Assumptions

When Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans, thousands of people were stranded in the city, which was soon destroyed by wind and flood and filled with diseases. Because the great majority of people stranded in the city were black, it is assumed that latent racism underlying American society has taken its toll again. Racism is an easy card to play—it seems to be a problem everywhere from the LA Police to grandpa’s living room. There is the prejudice inherent in racism as well as the system in which groups are held back from positions of power.
Personally, however, I don’t think that the problem in New Orleans was racial prejudice. Yes, the far majority of folks trapped in the city, lied to and even shot at were black—but certainly not all. Nor do I actually think that the problem stemmed from authorities "not caring" about those who were stranded. Yes, I am sure that there are some who didn’t care about them, but I don’t think that is what created the situation.
I think, rather, that the horrors in the city were created from the assumptions those in power had about society in general.
The powers that be knew that there were many people who had no intention of leaving the city, no matter how many evacuation warnings were given. These were people who had ways of getting out of the city, but they chose not to. So, as many authorities were leaving the city, and they saw people staying behind, it was no surprise. After all, many people were foolish and decided to ride out the storm.
The real problem lay in what they didn’t think about. They didn’t think about the fact that there is a vibrant street culture in New Orleans who wouldn’t have the capacity to leave the city. They didn’t think about the many who were injured or elderly who were incapable of leaving, and without family to assist them. They didn’t think about the poor who rely on public transportation for their daily needs, and do not have money to pay to leave the city. They assumed that everyone could get out of the city if they wanted to. It was never a spoken assumption. If it had been spoken, it could have been questioned. But the assumption was still there, still and quiet in the minds of those in power.
And who could really blame them? They were under a tremendous amount of stress. They had to figure out how to take care of their families and property. They had extra responsibilities. They just never thought of those who wanted to be evacuated, but couldn’t be.
We mustn’t judge these authorities. It is easy to point fingers after the fact, "You should have done this!" Rather we should think about what we would have done in similar circumstances. Would we have thought of those who had no transportation? Would we have thought of those who had no reserve of cash to deal with an emergency? Would we have thought of those in nursing homes and mental health facilities and prisons, if we had no one that we personally knew in such circumstances? Would we have thought beyond ourselves to those who lack the resources we do on a daily basis?
These questions are easy to answer. First we need to ask, do we think of these folks now? This is not asking—WHAT do we think of them? If pressed on the point, I suppose that most of us would honestly say, "I never think badly about the poor and lowly." But the reason it is true is because the poor and lowly are so far out of our context, out of our lives, that we never actually think about them at all- either good or ill. If we don’t think of them now, how could we expect anyone else like us to think of them when they are facing a personal crisis? How can we expect anyone to assist the lowly in an emergency when they never thought of them on normal days?
The stranded in New Orleans weren’t put in a life-threatening position because of racism or even because of blatant prejudice of any kind. They were stranded because of middle-class assumptions.
What is a middle class assumption? It is what most of us who are middle class assume that "everyone" has in society, because everyone we know has them. It is what we assume is the minimum standard to live and function in our society. It is what goes thoughtless when dealing with large groups of people—from leading a church meeting to organizing a free concert to governing an entire population.
Having assumptions is not wrong. It is a part of the cultural baggage we all have. We learn it bit by bit beginning as infants, and our culture grows and is reshaped and is transformed as we get older. The assumptions, however, is just what we get used to—what we never see missing. If we have never (or have rarely) experienced a person speaking anything but Russian, then "normal" people speak Russian, and everyone who is not "normal" just doesn’t come to mind when we make plans. Sure, we can understand intellectually that other people speak other languages, that they are people who are just as important as us and that they have their own need that doesn’t include speaking Russian—perhaps they speak Bengali or use sign language. But in the normal course of day-to-day events, non-Russian-speakers don’t count because we have never experienced them.
And this is the case of the middle class with the lower class. Yes, most middle class people know—intellectually— that lower class people count as much as they do and have their own needs and issues that differ from middle class needs and issues. However, since the majority of the middle class do not "rub elbows" with those of the lower class, then the needs and issues of the lower class are unknown, not to mention the specific needs of individuals who find themselves in the lower class because they suddenly are lost without one of the things that they assumed was necessary to survive—but never really thought about it.
What are these assumptions? Well, it is beyond my ability to list all of them. But below are a list of those that I and those whom I know experienced.
Ability to remain clean—The idea that everyone in our society has the capacity to a shower or bath with a change of clean clothes and proper hygiene items, such as soap, shampoo, deodorant, toothbrush, toothpaste, etc. However, this is a huge assumption to make. To remain clean in this way requires many resources that people, especially those who live on the street, do not have. Think casually how much you pay for your cleanness—between water, a place to have privacy, all the various items to clean clothes and hygiene items. Even a quick overview can help us realize how expensive hygiene is. Now we can know that cleanliness is next to godliness because only the gods can afford such a standard!
Ability to gain identification—Most people assume that identification is simple to obtain. But if you had all of your identification stolen from you or lost in a fire, then you might find that you were in a grave situation. For legal state I.D. you need two pieces of identification. And you cannot obtain any other identification without identification. And without identification, you cannot even check out a library book, let alone get a job or cash a check.
Well spoken English with no or minor accent—This is an assumption that many immigrants face daily. It is assumed that because they learned English with a strong accent that they do not know English well at all. And this is a barrier to many avenues of our society, although bi-lingual services are being provided more and more frequently now.
Basic knowledge of national events—Most of the middle class assume that everyone has access to a newspaper or at least watch television news. However, for those who do not have televisions or who do not choose to pay attention to news, this limits conversation and the main source of knowledge of basic cultural information for the middle class.
Personal transportation—According to the middle class, "normal" people have access to an automobile, and thus can drive to places quickly as often as they like. However, the cost of an automobile is such that a large percentage of the lower class cannot afford to pay for the car, insurance, repairs and gas.
Ability to travel out of town—This is the assumption that stranded many people in New Orleans. It is assumed that if necessary, with some planning, anyone can leave to another county or state if they so desire. However, many people are limited to public transportation, which is limited to a metropolitan area. Or Greyhound, but if you can’t book two weeks in advance or have extra money, then you ain’t going anywhere.
Well dressed, (but not necessarily fancy)—This is the assumption that keeps many lower class folks from attending church services or weddings. It is assumed by most of the middle class that everyone has at least one set of "nice" clothes for special occasions. However, many people, especially those of the lower class, just do not have them.
Computer literate—It is an assumption being made more and more often that everyone has the ability to get on a computer and know what one is doing. Along with this assumption is the idea that we can send important information to people on the internet, or through email, and that is adequate for all who need it. However, not everyone can use a computer and a large percentage of people have difficulties accessing the internet.
Health insurance—Some assume that everyone has some kind of health insurance, although is it becoming widely recognized that most people’s insurance is extremely inadequate. Again, it is a large percentage of the lower class has no insurance whatsoever, and a growing group is being turned away from almost any medical care due to past unpaid bills.
No mental illness—This is the most widespread assumption and the one that is most wrong. Perhaps some 10 percent of people have a diagnosed mental illness. And perhaps another ten percent has a mental illness that has not been diagnosed. But every single one of us has a mental weakness that makes us inadequate in an area that most people are adequate in. Some of us are weak socially, some are weak in mathematics, some are weak in self-assessment. But more often than not, those of us who are strong in an area cannot understand or appreciate those who are inadequate in some area of mental ability. What we must remember however is that mental weakness is what is normal.
Disposable money—It is assumed and expected that everyone has some money, even if it is a small amount, that they can use for an occasional lunch out or for an emergency. However, those of low income, while they might have the occasional financial surplus, they cannot predict ahead of time when they will have disposable income. Thus, having a middle class friend ask if they want to do lunch together is just embarrassing.
It is important for all of us to recognize these assumptions and to fight such ignorance, both in ourselves and in others. To know that many people do not have these culturally significant items for the middle class is important for all of us. It is especially important for those who organize events or lead large groups of people to recognize what assumptions are being made, for the more assumptions we make, the more people we are excluding. But most importantly, it is important for those in civil leadership to be aware of their assumptions, so that they could truly represent all of their people, and not just the middle class and above.

Sunday, October 02, 2005

Eleven Characteristics of a True Church

1. Devoted to God through Jesus Christ
This is a minimum requirement for everyone committed to the community. Baptism is the entrance rite of the community, and regular statements of commitment to the Father and the Lord Jesus are made.
Acts 16:31, Romans 10:9; John 14:6-9

2. Committed to one another
The congregation is committed to each other to be involved in each other’s lives. This means that they meet together, are accountable to one another, will work on agreement on essentials and be patient with each other with differences.
Hebrews 10:24-25; I Corinthians 12:13-21; John 13:34-35

3. Obedient to Jesus
This means that there is constant growth in knowing what Jesus requires and in practicing those requirements. It also means that when a committed member fails to obey Jesus, there is repentance or some kind of discipline process.
Matthew 12:50; Matthew 7:21-29

4. Spirit-filled
This means that the church is guided by the Holy Spirit to do as Jesus said. This guidance is toward love, peace and joy and is accompanied by spiritual healings, exorcisms, prophecies, and speaking in tongues.
I Corinthians 12:3-7; Mark 16:16-18; John 14:26

5. Participating in acts of worship
Acts of worship that are emphasized are prayer, praise and the Lord’s supper. Also included are singing, giving, fasting and prophesying.
John 4:23; I Thessalonians 5:16-22; I Corinthians 14:26

6. Helping the needy
This specifically means providing for those in need among the congregation, but also includes acts of charity among those outside the congregation.
Acts 4:34-35; Luke 12:33; Galatians 6:10

7. Building each other up
Churches are committed to seeing all the members grow in their maturity in Jesus. They assist each other in this by using what talents and gifts God has given them to support each other in living for Jesus. This could be done through teaching, Scripture quotes, singing, giving, prophesying, speaking in tongues, and many other ways. It also means that churches purpose to honor the lower ones of the congregation, never dishonoring anyone.
Romans 12:4-8; Ephesians 4:11-13; Mark 9:35-42

8. Involved in outreach
The church of God is committed to reaching out to those who need to hear the message of Jesus and of his kingdom. This outreach is not only words, but action, through teaching, prayer, service, hospitality and love.
Matthew 10:27, 32-33; Mark 16:15

9. Persecuted
The true church of God is attacked by those who find the truth of Jesus and the cross to be unacceptable and even immoral. The more involved in outreach, the more persecuted the church is.
John 15:18-21; Matthew 5:10-12; II Timothy 3:12

10. Servant leadership
The community of Jesus is led by those who are committed to serving others, not forcing others to do the will of the leaders. The leaders are gentle, prayerful, merciful and filled with the wisdom of Jesus through the Spirit of God.
Luke 22:25-27; Philippians 2:5-11

11. Part of a larger Community
Any individual community of Jesus recognizes that they are not alone, but a part of a larger, worldwide community of Jesus. They seek to be accountable to that community and to give to that community as they are able.
II Corinthians 8-9; Mark 9:38-41

So, are you "scandalized" by my list? Perhaps you are uncomfortable because many churches you know of—perhaps even your own—could not be characterized in this way. I will say that some churches exemplify some of these characteristics better than others. But every church of Jesus, I believe, will have some of each of these.

And it is interesting that for most American churches the component 9 is missing completely. I think it has to do with thinking too often that we are a part of this system, either that the United States is "Christian" and we have to restore it to its former glory or that it is close to reaching the ideal ethical system through the democratic process. Either ideal makes the church a part of the world, and thus we lose our prophetic voice. If we lose our prophetic voice, then we have nothing to be persecuted about.

Jesus, however, had no problem with being a scandalous man. And we lose out of part of who we are as a church because we decline to be scandalous.