"The kind of thinking that will solve the world's problems will be a different sort than the kind of thinking that created those problems in the first place." (Albert Einstein)
"To look at something as though we had never seen it before requires great courage." (Henri Matisse)
It occurs to me that we humans become almost entranced by the idea of "what is". It is as if what we’re used to seeing is some set of landmarks upon which we depend for stability and a sense of well-being. The reason for this is that we are so earth-bound that we really do depend on the visible for stability.
Then sometimes Jesus comes along in our lives and gives us a discomfort with "what is" and begins to lead us to do something that screams out to us, "This is wrong!"
...but it isn't wrong.
If just FEELS wrong because our standard for that thing is not the Word of God. Our standard for that thing is "I'm used to this."
Or....maybe...our standard for it is "But it has always been this way."
A standard is like a ruler; it is something that is an absolute (the way 12 inches always equals a foot) that never changes.
At any rate, for Christians, the Bible was meant to be our only standard all along:
"Retain the standard of sound words which you have heard from me, in the faith and love which are in Christ Jesus. Guard, through the Holy Spirit who dwells in us, the treasure which has been entrusted to you." (2 Timothy 1:13-14 - NASB)
Whenever we find that we as individuals or as a people have drifted off course we will discover this only because God personally or through other people will have revealed it to us.
It will, in the words of Matisse, take great courage to look at where we are as if we had never seen it before.
It will take even greater courage, having looked at it and having found it to be off course, to resolve, even if only in our own sphere of influence…..to do our best to put things back into order.
Why will it take courage? Because, first of all, it will be uncomfortable. After all, we’re used to things being this way and it may have always been this way to us.
It will also require great courage because everyone else is used to it being that way and it’s always been that way in the experience of everyone else – and THEY will be uncomfortable just hearing about you putting things into order in your own small sphere of influence.
These will not always be gracious about how they express their discomfort.
When Jesus came to the earth, people had done things the same way for a long time. They were used to things being like they were. The problem, though, was the way things were being conducted was out of compliance with God’s standard. They had taken God’s intentions for interacting with Him and had gradually twisted them so much that they were barely recognizable anymore.
God’s love and personal touch was obscured by man-made
traditions and practices.
So, Jesus came and He began to speak in ways that revealed God’s heart about these out of order things and ways. He began to do things differently: touching lepers, associating with tax collectors and sinners, and the sort.
He was obeying His Father and honoring the intents of God but….it made people uncomfortable. Very uncomfortable.
At first, they challenged Him publically, hoping to embarrass Him into silence.
That, of course, did not work.
Then they became aggressively negative, falsely accusing Him of various things: saying He was demonic (John 8:48) and a drunkard (Matthew 11:19). At His trial those who loved “how things were” even hired men to lie about Jesus (Matthew 26:59-61) and testify that He said things He did not really say.
The love affair people have with their familiarity with “how things are” can provoke them to do all sorts of sinful things: gossip, slander, character assassination, and worse.
Eventually, those who were uncomfortable with what Jesus was saying and doing killed Him.
They killed Him so they would feel better.
They DID feel better, too….for a while. Then, He rose from the dead.
They didn’t count on resurrection power!
After He rose He poured that power into all who believed in Him and He established His Church, which was God putting things back into order.
So long as His people depended on that Holy Spirit power in them to establish God’s Kingdom on the earth the Body of Christ flourished. However, people are people and over the centuries the Church has gone off course a number of times.
This always involves dependency upon ourselves, other mere humans or our own earthly systems and programs.
When Martin Luther read the simplicity of the Bible and saw how out of order the Church was he went to the spiritual leaders of the day and spoke of the disorder. Basically, he was told to sit down and shut up.
He could not do this. His love of the Lord and God’s Word was too strong to do this, so he persisted.
Those in earthly power concerning spiritual matters decided that the way to handle this was to do the exact same thing the Pharisees and Sadducees did to Jesus in the first century: they first attacked his credibility and reputation and eventually put a contract out on his life. He later died from physical ailments but lived as a fugitive from the spiritual leaders of the day for the rest of his life.
History since that time has seen repeated cycles of Christianity drifting from the purity and simplicity of God’s Word – adding to and taking away from God’s Word.
There are several places in the Bible where we are told to not alter it at all. One was in Deuteronomy and the spiritual leaders of Jesus’ day were in violation of this verse:
“You shall not add to the word which I command you, nor take from it, that you may keep the commandments of the LORD your God which I command you.” (Deuteronomy 4:2)
Why did God warn them not to add to or take away from His Word?
There are 2 reasons:
He said it because He knew man would be tempted to do this. Hence, He warned them not to do it.
His Word is perfect on its own.
As David put it: “The entirety of Your word is truth, and every one of Your righteous judgments endures forever.” (Psalm 119:160)
Proverbs presents us with some wisdom on this issue:
“Every word of God is pure; He is a shield to those who put their trust in Him. Do not add to His words, lest He rebuke you, and you be found a liar.” (Proverb 30:5-6)
Even with these warnings in God’s Word man has, as I said earlier, always slowly drifted away from God’s intentions for anything. No one is exempt from having satan try to cause us to do this.
Seeing this tendency in myself has provoked me to seek the Lord about it. I’ve come to the conclusion that because of the Fall of Man in the Garden of Eden we are all born into an earthly system that we instinctively trust from the moment of our birth.
In the same way a planet exerts its influence on the things in orbit around it, the world system has its own gravitational pull. A chunk of rock in space….or a man-made satellite in orbit around the earth will eventually crash into it if something isn’t done to resist the pull of gravity.
Rocks in space have no power, so eventually their orbits degrade and they enter earth’s atmosphere and burn up and crash to the ground as meteorites. Man-made satellites do have power so occasionally rockets built into them are fired to adjust the orbit and, thereby, keep them from crashing and burning.
Humans who are not born again have no real spiritual power. They are, sadly, at the mercy of the systems of the earth no matter how independent and capable they consider themselves to be.
People who have received Jesus as their Lord are born anew. Peter said this about us:
“…having been born again, not of corruptible seed but incorruptible, through the word of God which lives and abides forever, because ‘all flesh is as grass, and all the glory of man as the flower of the grass. The grass withers, and its flower falls away. But the Word of the Lord endures forever.’ Now this is the word which by the gospel was preached to you.” (1 Peter 1:23-25)
In terms of what I am writing today, the “flesh” is that thing in mankind that makes it change what God so simply puts in His Word.
It’s like grass. It will all eventually wither.
The “glory of man” is all those grand schemes and systems and programs that he institutes (often for and in the name of God) to enhance the simplicity of God’s Word. These are like the flowers that grow on grass. We know, from watching flowers come and go, that they all eventually fall off, dry up and blow way.
After Martin Luther stepped away from the religion of the day there came many other men and women who were inspired by God to do the same. They were committed to following God’s Word as best they knew how. Many were also sentenced to death. Some were burned at the stake and tortured to death in various ways.
Often this was done to them in the name of God – but God certainly never sanctioned this. It was always humans doing to them what first century humans did to Jesus and for the same reasons: what was happening threatened their comfort because it challenged “the way it is” and it threatened whatever it was they got out of “the way it is” for themselves.
Just as history reports repeated cycles of people drifting from the purity and simplicity of God’s Word, there have always been repeated cycles of God touching the hearts of other people to try to honor the Word of God simply, obey God and practice simple, organic Christianity.
We seem to be in one of those seasons now.
Fortunately, none of us seem called to challenge the modern day Pharisees on the Temple steps the way Jesus was. Neither are we called to nail a challenge on a church building door the way Luther was. The likelihood that anyone in spiritual leadership will actually kill us or threaten to physically kill us is very low in this season.
In contrast to Luther, most of us seem to be called to simply read the Word of God, ask the Lord to examine our beliefs and bring us into compliance with His Word through the Holy Spirit deep inside us.
This HAS, however, affected how we worship, gather, give back to God, speak about spiritual matters, etc. and that will cause others to hold us up against the false standards that they employ to evaluate their own spiritual health. We will fall short of these standards that add to and take away from the Word of God and it will be evident that we do.
Some will approach us out of love and concern for our souls. Their worries will be genuine and heartfelt.
Others will be threatened because when we do not honor how they see Christianity and “Church” they will take it personally and they may express this in ungracious ways. They will do this for 2 primary reasons:
People tend to identify with the systems to which they join themselves and if we (in their eyes) reject the systems with which they identify they take it as a rejection of themselves personally
Some will have the sense that when we reject a spiritual system that benefits them personally we are threatening them personally because they may eventually lose whatever it is they get in their flesh from the system.
It’s important, then, that we commit to never make it a goal to reject any system of the earth (even spiritual ones). We should never be focused on what we will not do. If we fall into that trap it will be all we think about and it is a short trip from focusing on the counterfeit to worshiping it.
If, instead, we commit to allow ourselves to ever gravitate toward God and His Word our focus on earthly systems that were added to or subtracted from the beautiful simplicity will simply evaporate eventually.
There is a beautiful hymn that was written by Helen H. Lemmel in 1922. The first verse goes like this:
O soul, are you weary and troubled? No light in the darkness you see? There’s a light for a look at the Savior, And life more abundant and free!
The refrain of that song captures perfectly what I am saying here:
Turn your eyes upon Jesus, Look full in His wonderful face, And the things of earth will grow strangely dim, In the light of His glory and grace.
I am told that people trained in spotting counterfeit money never spend any time studying the countless ways people break the law in this way. Instead, they study REAL money and become so familiar with it that when the fake comes along they know it’s not real.
As we spend more time looking at the Gospels and Acts and the Epistles as if we never saw them before, asking Holy Spirit to speak to us and reveal His simple intentions for the way the Church was structured in the first century we will become VERY familiar with the genuine Body of Christ.
As we practice that simple lifestyle of devotion to God, fellowship, discipling others and being discipled, walking in our calling as ministers of reconciliation and royal priests, we will see what has been done to supplement or even replace God’s intentions for the bride of Christ. We will learn to instinctively step around it and continue working in partnership with God to build the vital Body of Christ as God intended.
I have not studied the life of Martin Luther deeply but my understanding of the man was that he was not so much rejecting the religion of the day as much as he was falling more in love with God and His Word and, therefore, sought to draw closer and closer to simple compliance with God’s Word. This is why one of his themes was “Sola Scriptura” (or Scripture Alone).
So shall we be.
It may, though, exact a cost for us from others just as it did for the first century Jewish Christians as the Pharisees expressed their displeasure toward them and their own discomfort in ungracious ways.
The Apostle Peter spoke to them…and speaks to us now:
“And who is he who will harm you if you become followers of what is good? But even if you should suffer for righteousness' sake, you are blessed. And do not be afraid of their threats, not be troubled. But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, and always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear; having a good conscience, that when they defame you as evildoers, those who revile your good conduct in Christ may be ashamed. For it is better, if it is the will of God, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil.” (1 Peter 3:13-17)
It is very important that we do our best to not sin in retaliation against those who choose to sin against us. Let’s resolve to allow the Lord to handle it should anyone behave that way toward us.
Peter said that there are two things we can do to prepare ourselves:
Sanctify the Lord God in our hearts
The term means that we are to set God apart in our hearts, recognizing and honoring Him as the One who owns us eternally. Living like this frees us from the burden of having to defend ourselves from others.
Be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you.
The term “be ready to give a defense” is not really about defending ourselves. It means to “be prepared to give an answer”.
Our goal is not to fall into a defensive posture. There is no need for that with the name of God as our strong tower (Proverb 18:10).
There IS a need, however, for Christians to have a chance to experience the vibrant life of Christ as they only can with truly personal fellowship with their Father. Being approachable and casual about practicing what some call “organic church” as we answer questions is an excellent way to introduce others to the simplicity of biblical Christianity, free of the additives, preservatives and pollutants added to it by people since the first century.
As we continue on this exciting journey, let’s keep our faces toward God and may this be our prayer:
“Look upon me and be merciful to me, as Your custom is toward those who love Your name. Direct my steps by Your word, and let no iniquity have dominion over me. Redeem me from the oppression of man, that I may keep Your precepts. Make Your face shine upon Your servant, and teach me Your statutes.” (Psalm 119:132-135)