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Thursday, August 27, 2020

The Tale of the Two Adulterers

2Early in the morning he came again to the temple. All the people came to him, and he sat down and taught them.
3The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery, and placing her in the midst
4they said to him, “Teacher, this woman has been caught in the act of adultery.
5Now in the Law, Moses commanded us to stone such women. So what do you say?”
6This they said to test him, that they might have some charge to bring against him. Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground.
7And as they continued to ask him, he stood up and said to them, “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.”
8And once more he bent down and wrote on the ground.
9But when they heard it, they went away one by one, beginning with the older ones, and Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him.
10Jesus stood up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?”
11She said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more.” John 8:2-11


1It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that is intolerable even among pagans: A man has his father’s wife. 2And you are proud! Shouldn’t you rather have been stricken with grief and have removed from your fellowship the man who did this?
3Although I am absent from you in body, I am present with you in spirit, and I have already pronounced judgment on the one who did this, just as if I were present. 4When you are assembled in the name of our Lord Jesus and I am with you in spirit, along with the power of the Lord Jesus, 5hand this man over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved on the Day of the Lord.
6Your boasting is not good. Do you not know that a little leaven works through the whole batch of dough? 7Get rid of the old leaven, that you may be a new unleavened batch, as you really are. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed. 8Therefore let us keep the feast, not with the old bread, leavened with malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and of truth.
9I wrote you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people. 10I was not including the sexually immoral of this world, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters. In that case you would have to leave this world. 11But now I am writing you not to associate with anyone who claims to be a brother but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or a verbal abuser, a drunkard or a swindler. With such a man do not even eat.
12What business of mine is it to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside? 13God will judge those outside. “Expel the wicked man from among you.” 1 Corinthians 5:1-12

Here we have two New Testament stories about sexual immorality, each focusing on forgiveness, but from opposite ends of the spectrum. 

In John, we have the legalists who are so proud of their strict adherence to the law that they  want to stone the adulterer to death. 

In 1 Corinthians we have the antinomians who are so proud of their freedom from the law that they are actually bragging about a sin that would typically make a pagan blush. 

In both stories, the facts are not in dispute. The woman in John was basically dragged to the confrontation directly from the scene of the crime. 

The man in 1 Corinthians and apparently the whole local congregation were happily letting their freedom flags fly. 

If we look carefully at both stories, we will find that the primary focus in each is actually on the people who are surrounding the guilty parties, with special attention paid to what their response to the parties should be, rather than on the parties themselves. 

In John, the scribes and Pharisees seem almost gleeful at the prospect of not only enjoying a good stoning,  but also the likelihood of catching Jesus in some quote that they could use against him later to destroy him, almost literally taking down two birds with one stone! They were practically salivating. 

Jesus' response to them was to start writing something in the sand, which he interrupted for only a second to suggest that whichever one of them was sinless could go ahead and throw the first pitch, before he continued writing. 

Whatever he wrote was personally convicting enough to each accuser, as far as their qualifications, that they left one by one, starting with the oldest. 

In 1 Corinthians, on the other hand, Paul was appalled at the apparent gleefulness of the believers at the opportunity to flaunt the efficacy of the blood of the Passover Lamb to cover malice and wickedness. They were literally proclaiming as true the exact spurious idea that Paul refuted in Romans chapter 6, that we, as Christians, should go on sinning so that grace might abound. 

What strikes me first in this story is that Paul's response wasn't to go off about the affront that this error was to Christ. His concern, rather, was that the error would corrupt all of Christianity at the outset, like yeast quickly spreading through the whole batch of dough, turning grace and forgiveness into a license to sin. 

He was adamant and urgent in his orders for the people to turn that proudly unrepentant sinner over to Satan to save both Christianity and the man's own soul. 

"The world is gonna world," he basically said to them, "they aren't my concern. You are! Get that guy outta here fast! It's both your and his only hope!"

In John, when Jesus finally spoke to the woman, who I picture as standing there with her eyes closed, waiting to die, he asked her where her condemners were. She looked around then and saw there was no one; not one of her original accusers met the criteria for casting a stone at her. The fact was, of course, that only Jesus actually qualified, and he knew it, but he opted out. 

The truth is, Jesus, the true Passover Lamb came willingly and specifically for the purpose of shedding his blood to justify the ungodly (Romans 4:4-8), because every one of us is in that category. At the same time, he wants not only forgiveness and salvation for us but everything that is good. 

Slavish pursuit of sin, particularly sin that we justify in the name of Christ, never has and never will fall into that category. So, after telling her that he did not condemn her, Jesus pointed her away from sin. 

As for the man in 1 Corinthians, the believers did as Paul asked. They completely separated themselves from him, for both his sake and their own. 

In 2 Corinthians 2:5-11 Paul says that the punishment did its work and that the man should now be forgiven and comforted, and that their love for him should be reaffirmed, lest he be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow. 

Forgiveness is available to all, through Christ.  Only the circumstances and the means by which it is best given and received may vary. 

Wednesday, July 22, 2020

What is Truth

Pilate went back into the Praetorium, summoned Jesus, and asked Him, “Are You the King of the Jews?”

“Are you saying this on your own,” Jesus asked, “or did others tell you about Me?”

“Am I a Jew?” Pilate replied. “Your own people and chief priests handed You over to me. What have You done?”

Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world; if it were, My servants would fight to prevent My arrest by the Jews. But now My kingdom is not of this realm.”

“Then You are a king!” Pilate said.

“You say that I am a king,” Jesus answered. “For this reason I was born and have come into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to My voice.”

“What is truth?” Pilate asked.
John 18:33-37

Truth is a subject that I ponder all the time now. Almost every subject brings me back to it. It seems to be the greatest concern of all. Some Christians I know and love are saying openly that it is not even possible to know the truth now. This makes me so terribly sad. 

I understand what they mean. The confusion sown on every single subject today is overwhelming. No matter what is said, its opposite is also immediately presented as truth. I know this is the work of the Father of Lies, but surely God would not leave us with no recourse. 

Jesus identifies himself as Truth. He also repeatedly refers to the Holy Spirit as the “Spirit of Truth,” and promises that the Holy Spirit will lead us into all truth. Did Jesus really mean it when he said “all truth?”

I believe he did, and I believe he told us what to look for and how.

In Matthew 7:15-23 Jesus says: 

"Beware of false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves. By their fruit you will recognize them. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? Likewise, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. So then, by their fruit you will recognize them.

Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of My Father in heaven. Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you workers of lawlessness!’”

Let’s take a look at what Jesus is and is not telling us in this passage, which is all about recognizing those who pretend to be representing God, but who are actually seeking to destroy His people with their lies. 

First, he tells us that we can recognize them by their fruit. In order to understand what that means in practical terms we have to first understand what is meant by "fruit."

Fruit is the literal outgrowth of the life process of the tree from which it grows. The type of fruit is dependent on the species of the tree (grapes aren’t coming from thornbushes or figs from thistles). Jesus is telling us, first of all, that the fruit of lies is inedible.

This leads us to the entire point of fruit. It is food. Throughout the Old Testament there are many promises connected with the blessing of fruit. One of the most beautiful is found in Isaiah 45:8:

“Shower, O heavens, from above, and let the clouds rain down righteousness; let the earth open, that salvation and righteousness may bear fruit; let the earth cause them both to sprout;
I the LORD have created it.”

The fruit of salvation and righteousness  comes from the tree that God has created, which is Jesus. The fruit from his tree will always and only give the nourishment and life of the gospel. 

But, a bad tree, one that is not from God will give neither nourishment nor life. It will be like thorns and thistles. It will offer starvation and death.  It is fit only to be cut down and thrown into the fire. 

The next verses also give us important insight. They show us that fruit is completely different from works. Jesus tells us that, at the judgment, there will be people who have actually prophesied in Jesus' name, driven out demons and performed miracles, who will call him “Lord,” but to whom he will say that he never knew them! How stunning is that? That is quite the list of works! But despite those works, as impressive as they are, Jesus says he never knew them! Never

If the fruit is inedible, if it is not the nourishing, life-giving truth of who Jesus is, what he did and why he did it, if it is not rooted in righteousness and salvation, if it is not grounded in love, it is false and fit only to be burned. 

That, of course, applies to those who are pretending to belong to Jesus, but who, in reality, do not. 

What, then, about discerning truth from lies that are spoken in the world at large? 

The concept of fruit still applies, but in a little different sense. The fruit is the result of what is said. The words spoken, whether truth or lies, will bear fruit. In order to discern what is truth, it is necessary to carefully examine what is being said and to prayerfully ask God for his discernment to be given to you regarding the primary effect that those words will have on both yourself and others. 

Will what you are hearing or reading likely result in blessing or harm? To whom and how? Does it promote love or selfishness? Does it stand for mercy and justice, or does it serve revenge or greed? 

In situations where you can see the results of the words after the fact, what fruit did they actually bear? Did they move people to compassion or to bitterness. Were people inspired for good or for evil? 

The bottom line is, will your standing in support of the words that you are examining and questioning tend to point people to Jesus or drive them away? In the end, are the results of these words nourishment and life for both you and others, or are they the emptiness of thorns and thistles?

The key, is truly desiring to know the truth, sincerely asking and then earnestly listening. 

In John 14:13-17 Jesus promises us:

“Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it. If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you."

Saturday, July 4, 2020

Be the Neighbor

25And behold, a lawyer stood up to put him to the test, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?”
26He said to him, “What is written in the Law? How do you read it?”
27And he answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.”
28And he said to him, “You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live.”
29But he, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”
30Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who stripped him and beat him and departed, leaving him half dead.
31Now by chance a priest was going down that road, and when he saw him he passed by on the other side.
32So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side.
33But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion.
34He went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he set him on his own animal and brought him to an inn and took care of him.
35And the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, ‘Take care of him, and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back.’
36Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?”
37He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” And Jesus said to him, “You go, and do likewise.” Luke 10:25-37

There is so much in this story that is important and relevant! The reason Jesus tells the story commonly known as The Good Samaritan is as important as the story itself. 

The term "lawyer" used in this passage to describe the man who wanted to engage Jesus in a discussion about what one needed to do to be saved, or 'inherit eternal life," bears no resemblance to lawyers of today. This man was a student of the Mosaic Law and his job was to minimize risk, by carefully defining the obedience requirements and then codifying them into additional supporting laws that would ensure compliance with the primary Law. 

His question then was not even from a place of personal desire to be saved, but rather from a desire to minimize the risk of not inheriting eternal life by nailing down the specifics.

Jesus, therefore, referred the man to his own area of expertise, The Law, and asked him what he thought the answer was. As Jesus expected, the man gave him the accepted response, to love God and your neighbor.  And Jesus agreed. 

But the man then pressed the question that must have been his real concern: "Who is my neighbor?" Again, this question came from the original context: "What is it that is actually required?" The question had nothing to do with love, its purpose was to identify the minimum compliance necessary to achieve the desired end, which was inheriting eternal life. 

I can almost hear Jesus saying, "I'm glad you asked," as he begins his story. You can read the story above. 

The lawyer would have known that the priest and the Levite should have been the good ones in the story. They should have been the ones who cared most about obedience to the Law. They were the very ones who were appointed to offer the sacrifices for the atonement of all who had broken God's laws. Yet, in this story, they distanced themselves. 

There is a lot of backstory here, because they would actually have been breaking some ceremonial laws involving touching blood if they had helped the man, so the Lawyer may actually have been agreeing with what the priest and Levite chose to do at this point in the story. 

Then, along came the Samaritan. An interesting point is that, in Jesus' time, the both Jews and Samaritans considered each other to be defiled. In other words, neither of them wanted to be touched by the other. Each would have been equally disturbed by what happened next.

Jesus goes into great detail about the lengths to which the Samaritan went to minister to the needs of this wounded man. By the time the story is finished, even the lawyer knows the answer to the question that Jesus poses, but first, let's look at that question. 

Remember, the lawyer's question was, "Who is my neighbor?" 

By the end, Jesus asks, "Who proved to be a neighbor?" What happened there?

Ponder with me a moment. My neighbor and I are neighbors to each other. The very term excludes one sidedness. We are both neighbors. The original question was, in essence, "Who do I have to love?" 

Jesus' story and question show that we become neigbors to someone when we see their need and respond to it. We are to be a neighbor to anyone in need. 

The lawyer's question was intended to narrow the field--to be exclusive. Both Jesus' story and his question were intended to broaden the field, even to perceived enemies--to be inclusive. 

The Lawyer's answer, in the end, was that the one in the story who proved to be the neighbor to the victimized man was the one who showed mercy to him. Jesus acknowledged his answer as correct and told the lawyer, "You, go and do likewise."

If we think carefully about this story, we will realize that we, humanity, are the ones lying bloodied by the side of the road and that Jesus alone is the One true Neighbor, who provided everything that was necessary for our healing. That is the most beautiful understanding of it. 

But that understanding provides the only true basis for us to go and do likewise. Not in the way of the lawyer, searching for what requirement we must meet to be saved, but with unbridled gratitude for the gift of salvation that is already ours, in Christ!

As Christians, we can relate to every situation we encounter by asking ourselves to identify those in greatest need and the most selfless and loving way we can respond to that need, because that is what Christ, our neighbor, did for us. 

Friday, July 3, 2020

Forgiveness: The Gift You Cannot Give to Yourself

In my blog post "Surprised Goats," posted in here yesterday, I said,

"The only antidote for that fear is hearing the gospel from the lips of another over and over and over, ad infinitum. I say we need to hear it from another because that truth is easier to believe when someone else says it to us than when we say it to ourselves. It just is. 

"That, right there, is the primary reason for the need of a group of at least two or three! We must have continual outside confirmation and reassurance that the gospel is true and that we are safe and loved by God, or we will soon succumb to fatal doubt and die...or worse, we will revert to the default and fatal belief in the need to earn God's approval by being good enough, which is spiritual death."

Today I would like to talk about another primary and related need we have for each other:


Even atheist psychologists will tell you that the need to be rid of guilt is basic. Unless we are severely mentally ill, everyone feels badly about things they have thought, said or done. 

The non-Christian advice is to "forgive yourself." That sounds right. The problem, however, is that we are not built to do that. The closest we are able to come to accomplishing that feat is to keep burying the guilt. I say "keep", because the guilt typically repeatedly  rises from the "grave." 

As inconvenient as what I'm about to tell you sounds, it is the truth: We are created in such a way that forgiveness, in order to be truly accepted, must come from the outside.

As a Christian, I recognize first and foremost that the only means of true forgiveness is found in Christ. The reality is that every wrong in the world is, at its heart, first an offense against God, and for that reason he is the primary source of the forgiveness for all offenses. It was for that reason the entire forgiveness operation, otherwise known as the Gospel, was established. Christ came to make forgiveness a thing. Outside of him, there is no forgiveness, only repeatedly buried guilt. 

That is, as I said, first and foremost. Following right on it's heels, though, is the fact that one of the most precious and important things that we get to do for each other as Christians is to forgive one another; but I'm not saying what you probably think I'm saying!

Surely, we need to be as generous with our forgiveness, when we are wronged, as God has been with us! No question! But that is not what I'm talking about here. 

What I mean is that, in the same way we need to hear the Gospel spoken to us from the lips of another, we also need to hear the words of forgiveness and absolution from the lips of another, which is simply applying the Gospel to one another!

Forgiveness is not only easier to believe when someone else says it to us than when we say it to ourselves--It is the only way we have a chance to truly believe it! And even then it will need to be spoken repeatedly. 

I'm not talking about a priest in a confessional booth, although the recognition of this genuine need was initially at the heart of that concept. I'm talking about the privilege and responsibility we all have as believers to offer that forgiveness to each other, to speak over each other the life giving words that, no matter what we have thought, said or done, we are forgiven because of what Christ did to make that forgiveness a reality. 

That privilege is granted to every single believer. We have every right in the face of any need to say to each other something like this:

"By the command of and in the stead of my Lord, Jesus Christ, I declare to you that you are forgiven of all of your sins in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Be at peace. You are loved."

I know, personally, the relief that those words can give. My hope and prayer is that, if you needed to hear those words spoken to you today, you will take them as your own. I speak them to you! And I pray that you will begin to find the freedom to ask for them as you feel the need, as well as the freedom to offer them to others.

Thursday, July 2, 2020

The Surprised Goats

32Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.

33And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left.

41¶“Then he will say to those on his left [the goats], ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.

42For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink,

43I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’

44Then they also will answer, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?’

45Then he will answer them, saying, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’

46And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”
Matthew 25:32-33, 41-46

I recently had a conversation with a dear friend who has a difficult time believing that her salvation is genuine. Regarding the passage above, this person said, "I always identify with the surprised goats at the end, who thought they were saved, but they weren't." Her fear was that this doubt itself was a deal breaker to God.

I wanted my friend to understand that stories of doubt about the genuineness of conversion are very common among believers and to know that God isn't put off by our doubt. He knows our frailty and loves us through it. 

In the Bible, right off the top of my head, I  think of Moses, who doubted that he could speak well enough to do what God asked him to do, even though God went overboard to reveal that it was actually GOD, right there in front of him, telling him that he could do it; but, instead of striking Moses dead for doubt and insubordination, God just let him take Aaron. 

There was Peter, who literally lied about knowing Jesus instead of trusting God when things got tough, but who was not only forgiven but commissioned by Jesus to go and "feed my sheep." 

Then, there was poor "Doubting Thomas," ever identified by his weakness, but who saw Christ and then became a stalwart apostle.  

There was also the poor father who desperately just wanted his son to stop being tormented, who famously said, "Lord, I believe! Help, my unbelief!" He speaks for all of us.

Apart from stories in scripture, I would suggest that most of those who "made a decision" for Christ at some point in their conscious lives will tell you their sad stories about their doubts regarding their sincerity, primarily fed by false teaching about the supporting evidence we are supposedly going to be able to see when we look at our ever transforming lives after that decision. The lack of that "evidence" leads us straight to doubt and fear. 

The thing is, we will never find the assurance we need when we look to ourselves! All we will ever have when we look inward is doubt, for one simple reason: People always mess up! 

Most of us have experienced enough disappointment and dysfunction in our lives to condition us not to trust, because, bottom line, people just aren't trustworthy! 

The proverbial rug gets pulled out on us. The people who are supposed to love us and take care of us frequently not only don't do the bare minimum properly, but they inflict serious damage. The things we all should have been able to count on, have all too often turned out to be just dangling carrots. It is almost inevitable that we will transfer our learned lack of trust to God! As a result, there is a part of every Christian that fears we will be a surprised goat!

The only antidote for that fear is hearing the gospel from the lips of another over and over and over, ad infinitum. I say we need to hear it from another because that truth is easier to believe when someone else says it to us than when we say it to ourselves. It just is. 

That, right there, is the primary reason for the need of a group of at least two or three! We must have continual outside confirmation and reassurance that the gospel is true and that we are safe and loved by God, or we will soon succumb to fatal doubt and die...or worse, we will revert to the default and fatal belief in the need to earn God's approval by being good enough, which is spiritual death. 

As brothers and sisters in Christ,  our greatest privilege is to remind each other daily that we are safe and loved not on the basis of our own merit, but solely on the basis of Christ's righteousness, credited to us, and our punishment, borne by Christ for us. 

The fear that this gospel is too good to be true will never, ever be grounds for him to take it away! Your fear that it will be just another rug pulled out from under you, won't either. 

Those surprised goats were the ones who thought they deserved salvation! They never doubted! They were certain that they were good enough...and that was their problem. 

Only those who know for certain that they don't deserve God's gift when they look at themselves are the ones who are accepted in the end. They, too, are surprised, but with joy, because they know there is only One who is worthy, and they aren't him!

My friends, you are safe and loved, on Christ's account. 

Let's keep reminding each other!

Wednesday, July 1, 2020

Tomayto, Tomahto or Hostile Takeover?

A very brief history on the origin of the substitution of the term "church" for "ekklesia" in scripture.

It is still shocking to me that the word "church" is not used anywhere in scripture! The Greek word in every instance is "ekklesia." The literal meaning of the word is "called out ones." Its common usage was as "assembly," "congregation" or "gathering."

The root word for our word "church" is Germanic. It is "Kirche." Some have traced that to the Greek word "Kuriakos", meaning "belonging to the Lord." That word is only used twice in the New Testament, once for the Lord's Supper and the other for the Lord's Day. Never once does it refer to the Lord's people. 

It seems to have originally come into use at the same time that buildings came into use as places of worship, rather than small home gatherings, primarily in the time of Constantine. The term referred specifically to the building as belonging to the Lord.

The term "church" in biblical translations as a replacement for the word "ekklesia" did not occur until much later. In the 1300's Wycliffe's translation from the Latin version used "church." However, Martin Luther, in his translation of the Bible, did not.

William Tyndale specifically refused to translate the word "ekklesia" as "church" in his English translation from the Hebrew and Greek.

The institutional "church" of his time actually forbade the translation of the Bible into English, for fear that it would undermine the authority the "church" wielded over the people. Part of the issue centered on  the use of the word "church." As a result of Tyndale's "treachery" he was hunted down and strangled with a noose and then his body was burned!

When King James authorized an English translation of the Bible it was governed by 15 rules of translation.  One of those rules stated specifically that, "the Word Church [was] not to be translated Congregation." The only reason for this was, again, to ensure that the authority of the institutional "church" was not undermined in any way. 

The history of the substitution of the word "church" for "ekklesia" is purely political in origin. The word matters because the concept of "church" is utterly foreign to, and in many ways the complete opposite of, the descriptions of how Christians were intended to be, as originally presented in Scripture both by Jesus and subsequent New Testament writers. 

This substitution of ideals has been so complete that it is now almost impossible to think in terms of separating institutional "church" from Christianity. The idea and ideals of "church" have effectively coopted every biblical term and infected them, after the fact, with an institutional meaning (e.g. pastor, elders, even the bride of Christ...more on that later).

I feel the need here to reiterate that this hijacking, as I have termed it, was not unforeseen by God! It was not his ideal, as nothing in this world has ever been, aside from Christ, but it is what was always going to happen. As such, "church", as political as it is and as despicable as its use of power has been throughout its existence, has still been used by God to minister truth, forgiveness, grace, mercy and peace to his people within it. This is no different than how God can take any circumstance and use it for good for those who love him and are called according to his purpose. There absolutely are still "churches" today that are oases of grace, although they seem to be more and more rare. I have friends who are faithfully pastoring some of those "churches."  

The only point of even talking about this, then, is for permission to DeChurch, as needed. So many of us have remained in "church" or felt guilty for not being in one simply for lack of that permission. 

The word "ekklesia" means "called out." I propose the possibility that, with God's recognition that "church" was always what would happen, the word "ekklesia" may have foreshadowed the eventual "calling out" of some, and perhaps one day all, believers from that institution.

The Decapitated Body

Very few "churches" preach the Good News. Since religion today is almost completely professionalized, "church" should be the one place you can go to hear the Gospel, but the "professionals" that even understand it enough to preach it are few and far between. 

The most prevalent form of preaching in "churches" today is what some have called Moral Therapeutic Deism. It is basically a form of self-help therapy that is supposed to teach you how to live a good, moral life, which for religious purposes is referred to as a "Godly" life. 

Sadly, this form of teaching has virtually nothing to do with Christianity. In fact, it bears a much closer resemblance to what Jesus repeatedly condemned in the empty, self-righteous, behavior-based religion of the Scribes and Pharisees of his day.

To those who taught that form of religion, Jesus had much to say!  His most scathing opinions of them are found in Matthew 23:13-35. It will make your toes curl!:

"13 “But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you lock people out of the kingdom of heaven. For you do not go in yourselves, and when others are going in, you stop them. 15 Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you cross sea and land to make a single convert, and you make the new convert twice as much a child of hell as yourselves.

16 “Woe to you, blind guides, who say, ‘Whoever swears by the sanctuary is bound by nothing, but whoever swears by the gold of the sanctuary is bound by the oath.’ 17 You blind fools! For which is greater, the gold or the sanctuary that has made the gold sacred? 18 And you say, ‘Whoever swears by the altar is bound by nothing, but whoever swears by the gift that is on the altar is bound by the oath.’ 19 How blind you are! For which is greater, the gift or the altar that makes the gift sacred? 20 So whoever swears by the altar, swears by it and by everything on it; 21 and whoever swears by the sanctuary, swears by it and by the one who dwells in it; 22 and whoever swears by heaven, swears by the throne of God and by the one who is seated upon it.

23 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint, dill, and cummin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith. It is these you ought to have practiced without neglecting the others. 24 You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel!

25 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and of the plate, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. 26 You blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup, so that the outside also may become clean.

27 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which on the outside look beautiful, but inside they are full of the bones of the dead and of all kinds of filth. 28 So you also on the outside look righteous to others, but inside you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.

29 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you build the tombs of the prophets and decorate the graves of the righteous, 30 and you say, ‘If we had lived in the days of our ancestors, we would not have taken part with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.’ 31 Thus you testify against yourselves that you are descendants of those who murdered the prophets. 32 Fill up, then, the measure of your ancestors. 33 You snakes, you brood of vipers! How can you escape being sentenced to hell? 34 Therefore I send you prophets, sages, and scribes, some of whom you will kill and crucify, and some you will flog in your synagogues and pursue from town to town, 35 so that upon you may come all the righteous blood shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah son of Barachiah, whom you murdered between the sanctuary and the altar."

Stunning, right?

Even if you don't quite get all of the "inside" historical references, you can pick up on the main idea. Their focus was on appearances. All that mattered was looking like good people on the outside, to those around them. The fact that they were putrid on the inside wasn't a troubling issue to them. 

Jesus didn't spare their feelings in telling them exactly how he felt about that! And, keep in mind, Jesus is God, so there's no doubt as to God's opinion on those trying to appear like model citizens, when they're really "full of the bones of the dead and other filth," which, as I said, is basically what most "churches" are teaching these days. 

So, if Moral Therapeutic Deism is not the  true Gospel, or Good News, what is?

Because the basis of all Morality is the Law, otherwise commonly known as The Ten Commandments, I will explain what the Gospel is by starting with the very misunderstood role of the Law and then proceed to the Gospel in light of the Law's actual purpose. 

Contrary to popular belief, the Law was not given for humanity to obey! 
The role of the Law is to wound and to kill. What do I mean by that?

Basically, the primary function of the Law is to show us our sin. It is like a mirror. The mirror may show us the mud that is on our faces, but that is all it can do. The mirror can only identify the problem. It has no ability to fix the problem. It cannot actually remove the mud. 

In real life, the Law is intended by God to hurt our pride--our trust in our own sufficiency. It is meant to show us the depth of our need as well as to show us our own absolute inability to "fix" ourselves. 

The purpose of the Law is not to show us what to do, it is to show us what we are not doing, and cannot do. It is intended to bring us to our knees until we cry out, "Woe is me!!! I cannot do it!!" 

That is the wounding God does through the law. But he never leaves us there! The very moment the Law has brought us to despair, the Gospel is ALWAYS to be immediately applied. 

The job of the Gospel is to point out that, indeed, we are correct, we cannot do it!!! And for that very reason Christ had to come and do it FOR us!! He did it all specifically BECAUSE we are incapable of ever doing it ourselves. 

He lived the life of perfect obedience and credited us with his record. He then took our messes, our failures and shame, that were only deserving of punishment, upon himself and he paid the penalty in our place. 

It has been called "The Great Exchange." 

The Law wounds us to show us our abject need of a savior and the Gospel heals us by giving us the joyous knowledge that we already have one, in Christ. 

The Law kills us by showing us that we are already dead in our trespasses and sins. The Gospel raises us to our new life "In Christ", where everything has already been satisfied, and there is no more condemnation. 

This is the Good News that has been all but lost in the "church." I dare say that some of you may never have heard the Gospel in your entire "church" life! 

It is utterly counterintuitive to anything else we have ever experienced. It seems ridiculous! Scandalous, even. That is the very reason the Bible refers to the scandal of the cross! 

The inability to accept the scandal of the cross is at the very heart of why people, like those who have zealously taught a false idea of the gospel, keep teaching those things. The Gospel is so counterintuitive to the way the world works that it seems wrong to them. Scandalously wrong. But it is the Truth. 

What I'm telling you is true. It is all there, in scripture, and it has virtually been buried by false teachers of a Christless message. The "church" has effectively all but decapitated the Head from the Body.