Monday, July 29, 2019

Another One Bites the Dust...and That's Good!

One of the most painful things to walk through as a follower of Christ is your own crucifixion. This is what every disciple walks through at some point. This is a season of death. It is when we are freed from things like the love of money, power, selfishness, desires for control, harmful doctrinal beliefs, lies we believe about God, and pharisaical attitudes and beliefs. Like an actual crucifixion, it is excruciatingly painful and messy. We do all kinds of goofed-up things in that season simply because one is in so much pain it's difficult to see clear so sound judgement often escapes us. All you want is for the pain to stop

This season is difficult enough as it is. But what breaks my heart is that it's made even more challenging by the cross-less version of Christianity most Americans have. This lack of understanding about crucification and transformation; death and resurrection, causes many of those going through a crucifixion to be judged and rejected. Crucifixion is not pretty. It often involves things like moral failure, divorce, job loss, terrible financial decisions, loss of a home, loss of security, personal failure, humiliation, and/or betrayal by close friends and/or family. And like when Jesus faced His cross, it is the Father who leads us right to it, not for the pain and the shame one will endure, but because of the glory on the other side of it. There is an amazing transformation that takes place. This is where we die and Christ lives through us more fully.

This all came to mind as I'm watching a well-known evangelical author go through what I believe is his own crucification leading to transformation. It breaks my heart to see Christians writing articles about his failures and seeking to cling to the previous version of him that is now dead while rebuking the transformed man that is coming to life. The thing is, when I see failure in the church, I have a different reaction than many Christians. I believe the modern state of Christianity is a train wreck. It's loaded with the quest for money, power, fame, control, and lots of other works of the flesh. So, when I hear of a pastor or leader failing I get this glimmer of hope. I ponder, "Could this be his/her crucification leading to transformation?" I hold out hope that this is the love of the Father taking this person to the cross to free him/her from the worldly systems in which he/she has been a part. Sometimes that's the case, sometimes it's not, but I hold out hope none-the-less.

The people I know who truly love like Jesus and are drawing people to Christ have ALL been through seasons of death and not ONE of them look anything like they did at the start of their journey. I'm not talking merely about moral changes, like we we hear in many conversion testimonies or simply coming into conformity with a congregation or a denomination's doctrinal beliefs. I'm talking radical foundational transformation in the heart and in the mind. Each of them went through DRASTIC transformation.

-One was a rising preaching star functioning at a caliber most pastors only dream about. He abandoned that whole world having found a loving Father and gained a love that causes him to invest his life into others, making disciples.

-One was a pastor for 30 years that had influence in the church community in a large city and lead a successful evangelical church. He gave up his title and salary, the people willingly sold the building, and he walked away from that whole scene. Now he lives a simple life but has tremendous influence on the lives believers all around the world as he helps them get back to the bottom line of following Jesus - loving Him and loving others.

-One is a brilliant man with an intellect that runs circles around most people. He pastored several congregations and had seen it all, the good, the bad, and the ugly. He was pulling down an extremely comfortable salary. But he walked away from it all and now he teaches people all over the world, helping them get untangled from twisted doctrines and Bible beliefs to have a revelation of Jesus, the exact representation of God.

-One pastored a mega church and regularly had millions of dollars flow through his hands. He walked away from it all and now he feeds the hungry in his community and is a spiritual father in the lives of several men.

-One was a pastor of a thriving house church network, a published author and a known writer for a popular Evangelical magazine. Now he travels the world helping people learn to live loved by their heavenly Father. He still writes, but now all his writing is for that purpose. You've probably heard of some of his works.

-One has a powerful prophetic gift and is a gifted teacher. He's the son of the founder and leader of a church and ministry that was recognized all around the world. He had a prominent position, recognition, and authority in the church. He left that whole scene and now pours into the lives of others and helps people know the amazing grace and love of God.

-One was a gifted youth pastor on the road to becoming a senior pastor. His speaking gift often got him offers to be on staff at various congregations. He left all that and now teaches students at a low income high school and produces videos for the purpose of helping people live free from the lies religion tells them about God and themselves.

What lead to such radical transformation in the lives of these people?
  • Divorce
  • Bankruptcy
  • Extreme frustration
  • Betrayal
  • Slander
  • Foreclosure
  • Humiliation
  • Loneliness
  • Isolation
  • Depression
  • Suicidal Thoughts
We love to see the transformed person. There is nothing more wonderful than the sweet fragrance of Jesus in the life of a person. But, what we fail to understand is that the process first involves the person carrying the stench of death as all those works of the flesh that aren't Christ go up in smoke. That's when we like to judge the person and write nasty articles about them. And often we do so because we adore the things of the flesh that their crucifixion is jeopardizing. So we launch our PR campaigns to protect our little kingdoms lest they also go up in smoke. When we see the things we adore being put to death in another, that person becomes a threat to us. The stench of their embrace of money, power, selfishness, etc. going up in smoke causes us to fear that ours is next. So, we run and hide it all behind polished Christian veneer and minty fresh breath and launch our attacks on the one being crucified. But Paul the apostle said all the works of the flesh are going to go up in smoke sooner or later. Those who are crucified now are the blessed ones who will see the Kingdom of God in their own lives because in order to have a resurrection there must first be a death.

People keep talking about the fact that Christianity is dying in America. Well, of course it is! Christianity is dying because it refuses to die.

Loren M. Rosser

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Star Wars Episode 8: The Movie Message for the Church

Warning: Major Spoilers! If you haven't seen the movie stop reading!

Every so often a movie comes along that is more than a movie, it's a "now" message for the Body of Christ. "The Matrix," released in 1999, was one such movie. In that hour the Spirit of God was exposing religious systems and calling His people to freedom from all the machinery. The movie powerfully carried that message and for many it served as a either a catalyst or a confirmation to follow the voice of their Shepherd speaking within their hearts

In this hour another movie with a "now" message for the church has hit the screen. This time the movie is Star Wars Episode 8: The Last Jedi. Allow me to begin with a confession. I am a huge Star Wars fan. However, I have never felt that any other Star Wars movie contained a prophetic message for the Body of Christ when it was released. Certainly some contained wonderful Christian themes like repentance, reconciliation, perseverance, selflessness. faith, love, temptation, discipleship, etc.  But, Christian themes can be found in numerous movies. What causes Episode 8 to stand apart is that it not only contains some Christian themes, but it actually contains a message the Spirit of God is speaking to His church right now. Let's take a look!

Warning: Major spoilers ahead! Stop reading if you haven't seen the movie and plan on seeing it!

Stop Worshiping the Bible and Live From Christ Within You

While living in self-exile at the first Jedi Temple, Luke clearly sees the failings of the Jedi order as well as his own from trying to strictly follow their codes. He realizes those failings paved the way for the dark side to constantly emerge. Out of his frustration and fury, Luke takes up a torch and moves towards the shrine containing the original sacred texts of the Jedi, with the intent of destroying it. Yoda suddenly appears, and to Luke's astonishment, his old master beats him to the punch. Yoda causes lightning to strike the shrine, engulfing it in flames. Yoda then goes on to explain that it's time for the Jedi stop living by the dead letter of ancient texts but to live from the living force within.

Jesus stated to the Pharisees, “You search the scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that testify on my behalf." (John 5:39) No matter how many times Christians read that verse, they continue to believe more Bible knowledge will make them closer to God and more like Jesus. Yet, they fail to understand that Jesus is Lord and that means He is even greater than the scriptures. (Oh, how offensive what I'm saying is to many.) He is not equal to the scriptures. He doesn't live inside the Bible. He is the living Word of God and God's first and final Word to humanity. And that living word doesn't live inside a book, but in the hearts of people! How do you think the early believers lived before the Bible was even compiled, and most were illiterate? You think they went from Bible study to Bible study? You think they sat around for hours studying the letters the apostles wrote to them? NO! They lived out of what Paul addressed NUMEROUS times - CHRIST IN YOU. Living in Christ was not about studying a book, it was about the reality Jesus spoke of, "The Kingdom of God lies within." They lived out of a very present reality, that the Spirit of God dwelt within them. This is the whole point of the New Covenant! Of course, many reading this will think I'm disparaging the Bible. That is simply not the case. The scriptures are of great value - in their proper place, which is under the lordship of Christ. For many the Bible has become like the Ephod Gideon made and the Israelites worshiped. The Spirit of God is saying, "Get things back into their proper place. Live from Christ within you!" 

"Oh, so you're saying ignore the Bible?" Of course not! But if you aren't living from Christ within, the Bible is of ABSOLUTELY NO USE to you! It will do you as much good as the scriptures did the Pharisees. You'll even find yourself like them, using the Bible to stand against Jesus. But you'll actually be worse because you'll be doing that while you're saying, "Jesus is Lord." It's time for the church to depart from living out of the dead letter and to live out of the powerful, life changing reality of the living Christ in us.

It's time to grow beyond the past 

Luke saw the failures of the Jedi and saw that the past must be left behind. But Luke viewed
his feelings about the Jedi Order as being deviant and rebellious. When Yoda appeared to Luke as he was approaching the shrine to burn it down, Luke reacted like he was a defiant child addressing a parent who caught him doing something wrong. Luke was shocked that Yoda not only supported his decision to destroy the sacred shrine, but he did it for him. Yoda spoke about the future Jedi and stated, "We are what they grow beyond." He went on to speak to Luke about passing on what he learned through his failures as well because "failure is the greatest teacher." Luke then went on to lay down his life for the hope of a better future.

Luther, Calvin, Wesley, Spurgeon, Booth, Roberts, and all the other "stars" of the past are dead. Billy Graham's day is done. The Reformation and the Jesus People Movement are over. If you're clinging to the past you're living in a frustrating place. The Spirit of God, like the wind, has moved on. We have a generation who clearly sees the failures of Christianity. They look upon hierarchies, institutionalization, religious obligation, Bible worship, sexism and racism in the church, the Americanization of Christianity, and the scapegoating of gays and undocumented workers with disdain. They see that God is love and are angered that much of the church has not reflected that. They have their torches in hand and are ready to burn it all to the ground. All one has to do is spend a few minutes on social media to see this is the case. What we have to understand is THEY'RE RIGHT! They may respond to us like defiant children thinking they're in the wrong. But, they're actually expressing the very heart of God! We are what they grow beyond. We need to understand that. It's time for the church to let go of it's desire to cling to it's dead past and start acknowledging our failures so the next generation can out grow us. We need to beat them to the punch and torch the failures and legalism of the past for their sake. Love must become our priority. We need to free them from the chains and burdens of the past so they can move on to the future unhindered. Our vision needs to see beyond ourselves. Like Luke, we need to lay down our lives for a future we will most likely never see. 

The difference between Luke and Yoda was Luke simply saw that it all must end. Yoda saw that it all must end for the sake of creating a better future. Luke caught Yoda's vision and that's what motivated him to lay down his life. We need to support the desire of the next generation to torch the failings of the past, but with a vision for the future that is so contagious they become beacons of hope, not agents of destruction.      

The Day of the somebodies is over! This hour belongs to the nobodies.

Star Wars started out being about "nobodies." The first movie released (now Episode 4: A New Hope) centered on a nothing farm boy who had special abilities, a cocky smuggler with a heart, and a princess with lofty ideals up against insurmountable odds. These three shaped the future and defeated the darkness of their day. Then Star Wars changed. It became all about family lines and everything being linked. Luke and Leia are siblings. Vader was their father. Obi Wan was both Anakin's (Vader's) and Luke's teacher. Yoda trained Luke and Obi-Wan, advised Anakin, and fought along side Chewbacca. Jango Fett was Boba Fett's dad. The Emperor (Palatine) served in the Senate with Luke and Leia's mother, Padme, and also trained their father, Vader.  Han and Leia's son, Ben, is the villain in the new trilogy (Kylo Ren) and is obsessed with his grandfather, Darth Vader. The series went from being about nobodies to becoming a tight circle of "elites" where everybody who matters is connected to a "somebody."

Episode 8, to the frustration of some Star Wars fans, blows up the "somebody"
paradigm and returns the reigns to the "nobodies." After spending two years pondering the heroine's (Rey's) parentage, fans were shocked to learn she wasn't a Skywalker, Solo, Kenobi, or even a Papaltine. Rey was just the abandoned daughter of drunks. The brave Finn is a First Order deserter. The best pilot in the galaxy is just some guy named Poe. And those who we were certain were "somebodies" turned out to be "nobodies." The powerful and terrible Supreme Leader Snoke, who we were certain was the Emperor of this trilogy, was quickly snuffed out by his pupil, Kylo Ren, in only the second movie without even a fight!  And Kylo abandons his attempts to be a somebody from the past (Vader) and comes into his own. The movie ends by giving us a glimpse of the future Jedi's. They're slave children! 

The church started out being about "nobodies." Jesus, the founder, was a nobody from Nazareth. The Apostles were nobodies. Much of the New Testament was written by an abandoned prisoner. But then, somewhere along the line, it became about being a "somebody." Climb the ranks, be in charge, make a name for yourself, gain a following, and on and on it goes. The Spirit of God is saying, "Get ready for a twist!" The twist is simply that, like Episode 8, we're going back to the beginning when it was all about the "nobodies." If you're trying to be a "somebody" in this hour you're on the wrong path. It is the "nobodies" Father is working through. They are the ones who are shinning. Father has hit the reset button and we're getting back to the way the church was meant to function.  

This generation doesn't fear the darkness like those of the past - that's by design!

When Luke began training Rey, he was terrified at how fearlessly she dove into the dark. He was bothered that she didn't even hesitate to travel into places filled with the dark side of the force. We found ourselves troubled along with Luke. We pondered whether Rey would be lured to the dark side. But as the movie progressed we realized she wasn't drawn to the dark at all. Rather, she was completely unafraid of it. It had no hold on her so she didn't fear it.

The church has existed in a state of "sin management" for centuries with Christians fearing the dark. Christians have spent their time obsessing over what's right and wrong and splitting hairs over what one should and shouldn't do. They've been reluctant to love the outsiders. They've been hesitant about moving beyond the walls of their institutions. Christians have behaved like the world is a contagious disease and if they live in it they'll be contaminated. Even many of those with huge hearts of love have been hesitant to immerse themselves into the worlds of others. But now we have a generation that is so fearless of the dark that they've been viewed by many Christians as being immoral or tainted. They are so fearless of the dark they actually have genuine friendships with people who aren't Christians. And they are so confident in Christ's love that they aren't afraid of other religions. They study them, glean from them, and have friends who belong to them. Just that sentence made some of you shutter like Luke. We expect some kind of fear and hesitation to be present. We have not learned that there is no fear in love. By design this generation is fearless because they get it. They understand people aren't projects or agendas but God's good creation who are meant to be loved. So they dive right into the darkness without hesitation and love them. Get used to it!  

Final Thoughts
These are the things I heard our Shepherd speaking through this movie. It's humorous to me that many of the die-hard Star Wars fans reacted to this movie the same way many Christians are reacting to this season.They were frustrated that the nobodies took the stage and the somebodies' day is over. They were upset that none of their theories of how things should go panned out. They didn't like the way it shifted away from the past towards a future in which many of the things they held dear are being left behind. They didn't like that it didn't play by their "rules" or fulfill their expectations. Instead it took many unsuspected turns towards a destination they didn't see coming. For these same reasons, this is a season of intense wrestling for many believers. But remember, this is all by God's design. It's His church and the government rests upon His shoulders

Friday, December 1, 2017

A Lesson for the Church from the Star Wars Prequels

Have you ever heard of a little movie called Star Wars? Unless you've been living in a galaxy far, far away, of course you have! The vast majority of fans felt the original trilogy was fantastic. Then came the prequels. Before the release of Episode I the expectations and excitement of the fans was off the charts. They figured with the amount of time that had passed between the conclusion of the original trilogy and the release of the new trilogy, the story lines and characters would be incredibly well developed. And with the advancement in technology fans figured the special effects would be mind blowing. But when the movies were released fans found the prequels to not even come close to the quality of the originals. The story lines were clunky and felt forced, the dialogue was weak and often cheesy, much of the acting was sub-par (even from amazing actors), some of the characters were way over the top (Jar-Jar Binks), and being that almost the entire trilogy was shot in studios in front of green-screens, the movies felt sterile. What happened? Why did the prequels end up being so horribly inferior to the originals? The answer is simple. They were made by a bunch of "yes-men."

When George Lucas created the original trilogy he stepped onto the scene as a young director and screenwriter who was known by most only as the guy who created American Graffiti. He had to fight to get the movie made and was at the mercy of the producers and studios funding his vision. Being that he was breaking new ground, Lucas was heavily dependent on the input from his team. When Lucas went on to create the second and third movies in the original trilogy, he recognized his limitations. He teamed up with Leigh Brackett and the great Lawrence Kasdan to write the movies and had Irvin Kershner and Richard Marquand direct them. Lucas clashed at times with Keshner over his decisions as he was directing The Empire Strikes Back. Yet, Empire went on to arguably be the best Star Wars movie of them all. Oddly enough, Lucas has stated that it's his least favorite. But the key to the success of the original trilogy was the variety of voices giving input into their creation and the freedom to disagree with Lucas, out of concern for the quality and success of the movies.

This was not the case during the creation of the prequels. By the time Lucas set out to create the prequels he had become one of the top power brokers in Hollywood. Star Wars was legendary and everybody wanted to be a part of Lucas' new endeavor. So people in the biz went out of their way to kiss up to Lucas. Famous actors began talking publicly about what big Star Wars fans they were. This helped actors like Samuel L. Jackson land a part in the new trilogy. Lucas' power and the sense that one was overwhelmingly blessed to be a part of his new trilogy created an environment of unquestioning compliance. Lucas even wrote and directed all three movies himself, with only Attack of the Clones having a second screenwriter (Jonathan Hales). The collaboration and input that existed among the cast and crew during the original trilogy was virtually gone as Lucas wielded his power and nobody wanted to risk being ousted from what was certain to be another legendary trilogy. The cast and crew ignored their own creative senses and became a bunch of "yes-men." Nobody dared challenge Lucas. Nobody wanted to be the one to shout out, "The Emperor has no clothes!" Even the Oscar caliber actor, Natalie Portman, seemed wooden as she performed under Lucas' direction. The absence of the collaborative atmosphere that allowed for creative ideas to flow and creative differences to exist resulted in a far inferior trilogy that didn't even come close to the power of the original.

The conditions that existed during the creation of the Star Wars prequels are the same conditions that exist in much of the church and have made her weak and immature. What at one time was a family that valued the input of each member (or at least that was the ideal Jesus spoke of and Paul wrote about) has come to esteem "yes-men." Most Christian groups most value those who will "put up and shut up," who will conform to the group, not question any of their practices, not promote change, not point out error, and will agree with everything that is taught. Anybody who dares, IN LOVE, to point out "the Emperor has nor clothes!" is branded, not as one who has everybody's best interest in mind, but a rebel. Those who love the church and voice where they see she is going off track are not viewed as fellow collaborators on the same journey but as troublemakers who need to get back into yes-man mode. The church will never grow in love and power through the man-pleasing conformity of the "yes-men." It is through collaboration in an environment where each member is free to offer her/his input that the body of Christ comes into maturity. But you can't hear what I just said through institutional ears. That will never work in the hierarchical systems of men where people are still clothed in the old creation. This only works when we are family (invested in each others lives) and we live out of our new nature in Christ. Where the old nature reigns "yes-men" are esteemed because everybody is in it for themselves. There has to be some kind of order. Where Christ though the new nature reigns collaboration is esteemed because we're humble enough to realize we all only see in part and we have each other's best interest in mind.

Saturday, May 28, 2016

The Best Marital Advice I Ever Received

Lilly and I had just returned from our honeymoon and as I bumped into friends around town,
at work, and at church many of them jokingly asked, “Have you guys fought yet?” I started to feel this dark cloud of dread hanging over me. It was like, “Enjoy the fun while it lasts because it’s only a matter of time before ‘peace time’ is over.” The way folks spoke it seemed it was inevitable. It was written in the stars. Sooner or later this woman I love and I would have a knock-down-drag-out-fight!

It was then we paid a visit to Rob and Jill, a couple whose marriage we greatly admired. After chatting with Rob for a bit he asked me, “Are people asking you if you’ve fought yet?” I was floored! He’d been through this too!

“Yes.” I responded.  

“Well, don’t listen to them. You don’t have to fight.” It was as if the weight of the world was lifted off my shoulders. Our bleak future had been removed. There was no longer a dark inevitable fate awaiting us.  For the first time I realized how we get along is OUR CHOICE.

When I share with other married couples that the best marital advice I ever received was “You don’t have to fight,” they often look at me like I’m living in fantasyland. “What are you talking about? Everybody fights!” Wrong! Everybody disagrees. That’s perfectly normal. We’re even built to have two completely different perspectives. That’s part of the beauty of marriage. I mean, if Lilly and I don’t even agree on which color is the best, how are we possibly going to agree on even more significant issues? But, how we handle those disagreements is our choice.  We can choose to treat each other respectfully and attempt to see things from the other person’s point of view and then come to a conclusion, or I can be selfish and proud and insist on my way. Fighting occurs when we choose to be self-centered and place numero uno ahead of the other.

At this point I’m sure you’re wondering, “Have you ever fought?” Yep! We sure have. So now you’re thinking, “See! The advice you received was stupid! You fought!” Let me ask you this; when a new driver gets behind the wheel of a car do you tell him/her, “It’s inevitable you’re going to get into an accident!”? Of course not! That would not only be foolish, it would be cruel! We spend our time and resources teaching new drivers to drive defensively so as to AVOID getting into accidents. Yet, statistically, it actually is pretty much inevitable that the new driver will at least end up in a fender bender at some point. So why don’t we go around constantly asking new drivers if they’ve been in an accident yet? Simple: we value the person so we choose to focus on his/her safety and success as a driver rather than tying him/her to a bleak fate. Why aren’t we the same with marriage?

Just like drivers and accidents, it is inevitable that couples will fight. Why? Simply because at the core of being we’re all self-centered. So at some point our selfishness and pride is certain to get the best of us. But, just as drivers can acquire the skills necessary to avoid accidents, couples can also acquire skills to make fights far less likely to occur. Disagreements will constantly come our way. It’s what we choose to do with them that determines whether or not we end up in a fight. Yes, it is inevitable couples will fight. But couples can also choose to have a marriage in which those occurrences are few and far between. It really is possible to have a marriage in which peace, not combat, is the norm. 

Recently, on The Today Show, a study was revealed that found that just about all couples who stay together have one thing in common. It was the use of two little words: “Thank you.” In the article What Makes Marriage Work by John Gottman, (Psychology Today, March 1, 1994), Gottman found that politeness is usually the first thing to go in a marriage. Couples who continue to be polite to each other have a much stronger shot at lifelong happiness. There is a reason mom taught you to say, “Please” and “Thank you,” and it wasn’t just to impress your teacher. Just our tone of voice and the words we choose to use determines whether there will be peace on the Homefront. 

I remember one time as things got a little heated between Lilly and I, I thought I was being “cute” as I got in a little verbal jab. My teenage daughter, who was seated on the sofa nearby, placed her palm on her forehead and began shaking her head as she mouthed the words, “Dad, no.” My daughter was right. My little moment of victory cost Lilly and I a whole evening of peace. And the truth is, before I even took the shot I knew I shouldn’t. And that’s just it. Nine times out of ten we know we shouldn’t say something before we do, but our pride often gets the best of us so we start flapping our gums.
Peace in our relationships is our choice. We don’t have to fight. And I’m not talking about bottling up our emotions and becoming a bunch of passive-aggressive freaks either. There are healthy ways to release emotion that won’t undermine our relationships. There are healthy relational tools we can utilize to live in harmony. But peace in the home begins when we realize we don’t have to fight.       

Loren Rosser

Sunday, April 3, 2016

The Bible Clearly Says...!

When I was working with my friends David Fredrickson and Bob Humphrey on our video series Church Outside the Walls, one of the things that was a bit rattling was realizing that when scholars approach scriptural texts, the way they interpret them is at times influenced by the people and/or organizations that are paying them for their work. This isn't to say the scholars have evil motives or are purposely twisting texts. But what it does mean is when they come to a word or phrase that's meaning is either unclear or can lean one of two or more directions the interpreters will choose the interpretation that is most satisfying to those who are paying for the work to be done.

Dr. Stephen Crosby illustrates how challenging translating texts can be in his book, How New is the New Covenant by relating it to our use of "hot dog." He points out that when one says "hot dog" he could be referring to something we eat, an overheating animal, a person performing dangerous stunts, or he could simply be making an excited exclamation, "Hot Dog!" The interpretation depends entirely on the context and one's understanding of our culture. This is why you can have one scripture but depending upon the translation, two different interpretations. 

Let me give you an example of this. One scripture where this can be seen is Hebrews 10:25. In the King James Version it reads, "Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching." Notice the phrase "the assembling of ourselves together." The NKJV and the NASB also use similar phrasing. Looking at the verse at face value in these translations, what does the writer seem to be saying? I don't know about you, but when I hear the phrase "assembling of ourselves together" I immediately think of an assembly. You know, those large meetings we had to attend in high school held in the cafeteria or gym? So the writer seems to be saying we need to attend large scheduled meetings in which most of us are spectators. 

The Holman Christian Standard Bible also upholds this point of view, "not staying away from our worship meetings, as some habitually do, but encouraging each other, and all the more as you see the day drawing near." So there you have it! Make sure you don't skip out on attending worship meetings.  Got it!

That sounds correct until we turn to the 1599 Geneva Bible which says, "Not forsaking the fellowship that we have among ourselves, as the manner of some is: but let us exhort one anotherand that so much the more, because ye see that the day draweth near." Wait a minute! Hold the phone! What is this business of, "the fellowship we have among ourselves"? That doesn't sound like an assembly type meeting at all but rather relational connections. The NIV says, "not giving up meeting together..." That one can go either way. It can be an assembly type gathering but it can also be simply getting together with others. The New Living Translation has similar wording. While The Voice says, "not forgetting to gather as a community..." That sounds similar to the Geneva Bible.  

What's up with the mixed messages? Why do some seem to be saying "attend assemblies" while others seem to be saying, "stay relationally connected with other people?" Well, it hinges on what the translators want the Bible to be saying. Take the KJV, for example. Can you think of any reason why on Earth the translators commissioned by a Protestant king who wanted to maintain law and order in his country would prefer the phrase, "assembling of ourselves together" over "the fellowship that we have among ourselves"? Can you think of any reason why churches with leaders whose salaries depend upon the faithful contributions of members would feel the same?  

So next time you pick up your Bible and are tempted to say, "The Bible clearly says!" Stop and realize that is not the case. You are reading an ancient collection of writings that has been painstakingly translated into your language by passing through the filters and "biases" of the translators and publishers.  

Loren Rosser

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Little Timmy and Big Tom: Two Different Views of the Cross

Many of my Christian views have radically changed over the
last 16 years. A big one is my view of the cross. While growing up in church and attending vacation Bible school, before asking us if we’d like to receive Christ as our Lord and Savior, my pastor used to tell us a story about Little Timmy and Big Tom. I even told it several times myself in high school as a counselor at a Christian camp. The story went like this:

Once back in the 1800’s there was an old one room school house where all the children of all ages would gather to attend school. The school house had a small room by the entrance where they would all leave their coats and lunches. One day at lunchtime one boy’s lunch turned up missing. The teacher, a just man, warned the class not to be stealing lunches. The next day another student’s lunch was missing. Then a third day the same thing occurred. So when class was in session the teacher stood in front of the class with hickory stick in hand and firmly informed them, “This stealing needs to stop. If I find out who is stealing the lunches he will be brought in front of the class and be whipped 10 times with the hickory stick.”

To everybody’s surprise, the very next day the culprit was caught in the act. It was a frail, skinny boy they called Little Timmy. His family’s crops had failed that year so they didn’t have much food. The teacher cringed at the thought of whipping this young man, but being a just man he knew that rules are rules. He had to carry through with what he said. So Little Timmy was brought before the classroom and the teacher asked him, “Did you steal those lunches?” Timmy nodded yes. The teacher’s heart sank. He asked Timmy to take off his shirt. His tattered shirt practically fell off exposing his yellowish skin and the bones beneath it. “If I whip this boy it may kill him.” thought the teacher. But he knew somebody had to pay for stealing those lunches. He told Timmy to clasp his ankles. Then the teacher raised the hickory stick and just as he was about to bring it down on Timmy’s back a large hand grasp the teacher’s wrist and stopped him. The teacher turned to see Big Tom standing there. Tom was the biggest and brightest student in the class.

Tom said, “Teacher, don’t hit Timmy.”

The teacher responded, “I don’t want to Tom. But somebody has to pay for what he did.”

Tom said, “I know. I’ll do it. It was my lunch he stole. Whip me instead.”

The teacher agreed. Timmy put his shirt back on and took his seat as Tom took Timmy’s punishment for him. Afterwards the teacher commended Tom and Timmy ran up to him, threw his arms around him, and with tears in his eyes cried out, “Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!”

And then the teller of the story turns to the audience and says, “Big Tom did for Little Timmy what Jesus did for us.” But now I don’t agree with that story.

Today if I were to tell the story, it would go like this:

Once back in the 1800’s in the town of Willow Glen (founded by the rich and powerful Captain “Big Tom” Collins) there was an old one room school house where all the children of all ages would gather to attend school. The school house had a small room by the entrance where they would all leave their coats and lunches. One day at lunchtime one boy’s lunch turned up missing. The teacher warned the class not to be stealing lunches. The next day another student’s lunch was missing. Then a third day the same thing occurred. The anger amongst the students as well as with teacher was rising. It was becoming very difficult for the teacher to maintain a constructive learning environment. Something had to be done or he would lose control of the class. So the teacher stood in front of the students and told them, “When I find out who is stealing those lunches he will be brought in front of the class and whipped with my hickory stick ten times.” The class cheered!

Sure enough! The very next day the culprit was said to have been caught in the act. Little Timmy, a skinny, frail boy who was bullied from time to time was brought in front of the class. “He was caught eating my lunch!” Cried out Will, one of the students. “Look! Three bites were taken out of my sandwich.” Will’s best friends, Jeff and Jason shouted out, “Yep!” and “I was there! I saw him do it!” The students all turned and sneered at Little Timmy. Some could be heard muttering words like, “Criminal!” “Thief!” and “Jack-ass!”

The teacher signaled the class to be silent and he turned and asked Little Timmy, “Young man, tell me, did you steal those lunches?” Timmy didn’t say a word. He just stood there. The teacher asked again. “Timmy, I’m going to ask you a second time, there won’t be a third. Did you steal those lunches?” Timmy remained silent. The teacher picked up his hickory stick and said, “You leave me with no choice. Take off your shirt.” Timmy removed his shirt exposing his yellowish skin and the bones beneath it. The teacher was undeterred. He ordered Little Timmy to clasp his ankles. As Timmy bent over to do so he could see the faces of his classmates. Some were sneering at him, others had twisted grins of satisfaction. One thing was for sure, there wasn’t a friendly face in the crowd. Not even counting those who he played with every day. He looked at them and said, “I forgive you all.” He clasped his ankles and the teacher proceeded to whip him. After each blow a faint whisper coming from Timmy’s lips could be heard saying, “I forgive you.” By the seventh blow Little Timmy collapsed on the floor. The teacher struck him three more times then asked a few of the big students to help him to his seat. They carried him to the desk in the back where he sat slumped over like a corpse for the rest of the day while the students peacefully returned to their regular instruction.

The next day the teacher and students began to hear rumors that Timmy had been treated by the best physician in town. This troubled them. That physician only treated the rich and important. When they returned to class they were shocked to see Timmy sitting in his seat looking perfectly healthy and stronger than ever. It was as if nothing had even happened. And to make matters even worse, a rumor had begun to spread and was proving to be more and more true, that Timmy was the son of the rich and powerful naval captain Big Tom Collins, the founder of the town who was lost at sea for over a decade and was recently discovered alive and well and was returning home. Seeing Timmy sitting there caused them all to shutter with fright. Timmy smiled at each student as they walked by his desk, wishing them a good morning. Some sheepishly responded back with a nervous “good morning” while others had no idea what to say. Who knew what Big Tom would do to them and their families when he found out what they’d done to his son? One thing was for sure, they’d pay a hefty price!

Then, as class was about to begin, Timmy did something shocking. He stood up and called for everybody’s attention. He said, “You’re all forgiven. You have nothing to fear.”

The class was silent and then finally the teacher got up the nerve to ask the very question they were all pondering, “Wh-what about your father?”

Timmy smiled reassuringly, “I’m just like my father.”

The class was left speechless and completely dumbfounded.

The Cross

Jesus didn’t take our place on the cross as a sacred religious sacrifice to appease an angry God. Jesus revealed us to us by exposing our constant drive to scapegoat and sacrifice others by becoming the victim. Through the resurrection he revealed a terrifying thing: we, Jews and Gentiles alike, are even willing to go so far as to scapegoat God Himself. And Jesus revealed God to us by being the meek victim and forgiving the very people who had done this to him and refused to return to us what we deserved. Rather, he calls us family and welcomes us with open arms. God is not like us, demanding blood and sacrifice. It is we who demand it. Jesus said, “But go and learn what this means: 'I desire mercy, not sacrifice.' For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners." (Matt. 9:13) The prophet Hosea spoke, “For I desire mercy, not sacrifice, and acknowledgment of God rather than burnt offerings. (Hosea 6:6) Jeremiah prophesized, "For I did not speak to your fathers, or command them in the day that I brought them out of the land of Egypt, concerning burnt offerings and sacrifices.” (Jeremiah 7:22) And David, under prophetic inspiration wrote, “Sacrifice and offering you did not desire-- but my ears you have opened -- burnt offerings and sin offerings you did not require.” (Psalm 40:6) And again, “You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it; you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings.” (Psalm 51:16)

Is it any wonder Jesus was angered when he looked upon the temple sacrificial system? Instead of prayer (communion with God) they were charging the people to sacrifice to Him! Jesus was in line with what the prophets had revealed about God’s view of sacrifice.
It is we who demand sacrifice. It is we who demand blood. It is we who scapegoat to maintain peace and order. And it is humankind all through time who has created a god in our own image who does the same. The first story of Little Timmy and Big Tom is actually a picture of our fallen nature and humanity’s view of God. He is the unforgiving, unrelenting exactor who demands blood. No. That is us.

In order to break the barrier WE had constructed between us and God (God was never hiding from anybody), Jesus became the very thing we wanted; a scapegoat. He went right to the heart of humanity by revealing us to us. He stood alongside all of the scapegoats throughout history, from Able to Joseph to Achan, to the daughter of Jephthah, to Isaiah. As theologian Michael Hardin pointed out, the Bible is not a book about God. It is a book about us. We see through most of the Bible who we are and God’s attempts to break through our wrong perceptions of Him. By becoming OUR scapegoat, Jesus blew the lid off our delusion. God knew this was the ONLY way we could see Him.

I don’t think the conversation in heaven between Father and Son went like this:
Father: Sin has a price. I have to kill those sinners!
Son: Don’t do it Dad!
Father: But I have to son! I demand blood!
Son: Then let me take their place! Kill me instead!
Father: Okay Son. You just saved humanity!

Rather, I think it went more like this:

 Father and Son (as one): They just don’t understand who I am! Oh how I want to commune with them and for them to abide in my love! But they won’t have it. The veil over their hearts and minds is too thick. There is only one way to remove that veil. They need to meet me in person. They need to see me. I must live amongst them. But surely if I do this, they will kill me. I am so opposite of their image of me and who they are that they won’t be able to handle it. Just by being who I am, I will so completely disrupt their status quo that they’ll do to me what they do to everybody who doesn’t fit or disrupts the status quo. They will scapegoat me and kill me. But this is the only way they will ever truly understand my love for them.

I will go to them so they can know me because I love them, with no illusions of what they’ll do to me. They want to punish and shed blood for sin? Then I will BE sin for them. They want to curse people? Then I will be the curse for all of them. They want to scapegoat others? Then I will be the scapegoat for all of them. They want to shame and humiliate others? Then I will bear the shame and humiliation for all. I will end the blood lust and thirst for a sacrifice to appease their version of me once and for ALL. They believe they can’t commune with me without a sacrifice for their sins? Then I will be their sacrifice once and for ALL. Then after they have broken my body and shed my blood I will return to them loving them as I always have. I will make it clear they are all forgiven and the slate is wiped clean. The drive to appease their illusion of me will forever be removed because they will finally see me as I AM. The veil will finally be lifted and their eyes will be opened. They’re self-delusions will crumble and we shall finally commune together as a family. The very thing for which I have always yearned. I will bring peace on Earth by ending the friction between humanity and I forever!

Loren Rosser

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Being Instead of Doing

In our culture and mainstream Christianity there is such a drive to do stuff. We are so prone to get our identities from what we're doing. And often, all we're doing is spinning our wheels and not really accomplishing anything of value. Yet, the truth is when you're living loved by your heavenly Father you are producing fruit through your connection with Him. We have to realize in ourselves we can do nothing. Only through Him does anything of lasting value happen.