Tuesday, February 24, 2009

There is No "I" in Church...the failing of the Church in the last forty years

I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.

Philippians 4:13

No...you can't.

You can't save anyone. Especially yourself. You can't condemn someone to eternal punishment. You can't change the sentence that God has passed on Satan. There are a multitude more.

So...no, you can't.

Why, then, is this verse in the Bible?

The constant miss-use of this verse over the last forty or so years is emblematic of the number one problem in the Church today. "I". "I" is not the actual subject of this verse, nor should it be the subject of our focus or attention. Christ is the actual subject of the verse, just as He should be the subject of our lives.

Panta/ ischuo/ en/ to/ endunamounti/ me/ Xristo.

All these things/to be strong/in/the/who strengthens/ me/Christ

It is Christ who empowers me to be strong in all these things.

Christ's indwelling power enables me to do these seemingly impossible things.

Greek, as I've told you, is a funny, yet powerful language. The structure is not the same as ours. The correct reading of the verse, in today's language, is closer to the last one I've written. How can I be so sure? Outside of giving you boring lectures on Greek grammar and syntax?

Easy...the three Cs. Context...context...context.

The context of the verse within the passage. The context of that passage within the book that contains it...and finally, the context of both within the Bible as a whole. So, let's first look at the context of the passage.

But I rejoiced in the Lord
greatly, that now at the last
your care of me hath flourished
again; wherein ye were also
careful, but ye lacked

Not that I speak in respect
of want: for I have learned, in
whatsoever state I am,
[therewith] to be content.

I know both how to be
abased, and I know how to
abound: every where and in all
things I am instructed both to
be full and to be hungry, both
to abound and to suffer need.

I can do all things through
Christ which strengtheneth me.

Paul is speaking to the Churches of Philippi about their gifts. He thanks them, and reassures them. Not their fault they hadn't sent anything in a while. They didn't know what he needed. But they should never worry about him anyway. The Lord has taught him to be content in any circumstance.

Now he tells them something else. Something amazing. Something that, to the human mind, is impossible. God has taught him to be humble and exalted...at the same time! To be hungry and full in all things...at the same time!

Think about it...I command you to be faster than the speed of light...and never move...at the same time. I command you to be taller than a mountain, and smaller than an ant...at the same time. You would think I'm crazy...or at the very least, unfair. How can you be up and down...North and South...frozen and boiling...all at the same time? These are not just extremes...they're extreme opposites. Impossible!

If Christ commands me to do two impossible things at the same time...He will give me the power to accomplish what He has commanded me to do. The focus from Paul is on Christ...not himself.

The second "C" is the context of the book of Philippians. It is a book that exemplifies contrasts. Extreme contrasts.
For me to live is Christ...to die is gain.

Let this mind be in you,
which was also in Christ Jesus:

Who, being in the form of
God, thought it not robbery to
be equal with God:

But made himself of no
reputation, and took upon him
the form of a servant, and was
made in the likeness of men:

And being found in fashion
as a man, he humbled himself,
and became obedient unto
death, even the death of the

Wherefore God also hath
highly exalted him, and given
him a name which is above
every name:

That at the name of Jesus
every knee should bow, of
[things] in heaven, and [things]
in earth, and [things] under the

And [that] every tongue
should confess that Jesus
Christ [is] Lord, to the glory of
God the Father.

The first is the opposite of how we think...to live is Christ? To die is gain? Yet Paul tells them he's in between a rock and a hard place. He's ready to go...wants to go...home. But he knows it's better for them if he stays for a while longer. Not how we look at life.

The second is mind boggling to me. The All Mighty God came and put on a tent of human flesh. Lived like us. Was scorned. Spit on. Beaten so badly His face wasn't recognizable as the face of a man. Every hair of His beard plucked out. Mocked to the point of His death. The ultimate in power made Himself nothing for us. Wow.

The third "C" is the Bible itself. The Bible does not glorify man. It glorifies God. It doesn't start out, In beginning Man...

The first sin, by Lucifer, was the five "I wills". We sin, or miss the mark, because, "to will is present in me." We are saved by Grace...we are the called out ones...chosen.

The Greek word for Church is Ekklesia. Ek/out...Kaleo/to call. To ekklesia/ the out called ones. Once again you see that the specialness is in being called out by someone else. Not yourself.

Why is this problem so prevalent in the Church? It starts at the top. I can't tell you how many Pastors I've heard this little gem from..."I'm a fine instrument for God's use." Yeah...right. No, you're a dirt bag...just like me. My only saving grace is the fact that I know I'm a dirt bag. No delusions of grandeur here. I'm not doing God any favors by doing His work. It's the other way around.

Where do they get it from? I would think, from what I've learned, that it's systemic. It begins with the teaching at the seminaries. Pastors are taught that they know more, know better, than their congregations. Most of what they are taught, especially in higher criticism, can't be trusted to the masses. Too dangerous. It's the old shell game of the heresy of the Nicolaitans: you must rule over(Nicos/completely conquer and vanquish) the laity/people(laoston/people) for their own good.

The Bible expressly forbids this. Jesus taught that we should call no one Master or Lord(Reverend or Pastor) because we are all brothers and sisters in Christ...we have but one Lord and Master...Christ Himself. Paul took on the title of doulos, or bond servant, which we translate minister. It means far more than that. A bond servant was someone who screwed up so badly that they were sold into slavery for their debt. Their Master paid the debt, and they had to work for that master until the debt was paid. In our case, as Paul's, the debt is our life...which God paid for with the life of His Son. So, our debt will never be paid off...at least not in this lifetime.

If you look at yourself that way, it makes it much harder to have your ego fly off into flights of fancy...to elevate yourself, or your knowledge, above others. To think that "I" can do anything.

Sadly, that is the state of the Church as a whole today. I name it and claim it. I have needs. I sow my seed. I need extra classes at Church for what I want. I need support groups to minister to me. I need God to bless me financially. I need God to heal me. I need...I need...I need...sounds like Bill Murray in "What about Bob", doesn't it?

Story time. I told this one at my Fathers funeral.

My dad taught me everything I needed to know. How to be a man. How to be a husband. How to be a Father. Most importantly, he taught me how to be a servant to my Lord and Master. He didn't teach me these things by preaching to me...or at me. His testimony was his life...the way he lived it...the way he treated me...and the examples he set.

I can still remember the time my brother and I "painted" the shed for my dad. I was about four years old. My dad had built the garage on our lot back in the forties after he and my Mom bought the house. He built a little shed onto the back of it a few years later. Now, it was time to paint them both. My dad was going to paint the garage. We wanted to help. We were still young enough to have that desire...to help our dad.

He took us around behind the garage to the shed. Set us up with paint...brushes...rollers...the whole deal...then he went to paint the garage.

We painted the sidewalk...the brick wall behind us...the avocado tree...the dogs...the dirt...and each other. I think we might have accidentally gotten some paint on the shed. We had quite the high time back there.

My dad came around back when he was done with the garage. Cleaned us up and sent us in to my Mom to take baths. Then he had to clean up our mess...and still paint the shed.

Any time anyone came over for the next six months or so, they commented on how great the garage looked. You could see it down the drive way from the street. My dad would make sure I was around before he led them behind the garage...to the shed.

"Look at what a great job my boys did on the shed".

My chest would swell in pride every time. My dad was proud of me.

I was crying when I said this at my dad's funeral. I'm crying now.

I didn't realize I hadn't helped him paint the shed. I was only four. I hadn't helped him at all...in fact, I'd been in the way. He had to work ten times harder, just to let me help. He cleaned up all of my mess, and still did the job.

I looked back on this, and many other things that my dad did when I got older. Why would he go to all that trouble? I knew the answer not long after my oldest daughter was born. He wanted me to learn, at an early age, that it's not what you are able to do that counts. It's your attitude...your willingness...your desire. He wanted to reward that...and make me feel good about myself. Most importantly, he wanted me to know that he loved me...that he was proud of me...no matter how ineffective I might be.

He loved me.

But...he also wanted to teach me what it means to be a servant of Christ. We are, all of us, four year olds painting the shed. We aren't helping God...in fact, we're in the way...and not even aware of the big job He's doing while we're screwing up the little one he gave us...the one no one can even see. He cleans us up...does the job...and then praises us to everyone for how hard we worked...when we never did a thing worthwhile.

Read Hebrews chapter 11 when you have time...and you'll see why I call it God's wallet. He takes out the pictures of His kids...and brags about them...but if you read their stories in the rest of the Bible, you'll see what monumental screw ups these "heroes of faith" really were. Most of them would never even make it into a Church today, let alone be in any position of importance...but to God....well, they're His kids. He loves them. He's proud of them...in spite of their faults.

You see, everyone of them was a four year old painting the shed...and that's what God wants from us. He wants us to have that earnest desire to serve, like a four year old...and yet, at the same time, He wants us to grow into the maturity of knowing that we can't do anything but screw up...and still show up anyway.

Some people here today have asked me if I think I can fill my Father's shoes. The answer is painfully obvious...no. But I can do my best to keep them shined...because he taught me how.

I love you dad.

1 comment:

abaddon911 said...

I have often been told - when given advice for competition, sales, whatever it might be --- to "begin with the end in mind" I don't know if that is what you do with your writing or if just comes out of you, but it sure seems as though you do...
If not the one who influences you.
In my true style, I go around the block to get next door - just to say, I love the way you tie everything up and end it on a note that sends shivers up my arms.
Not ashamed to admit it either.
Thank you is starting to sound automatic and trite but I hope it is not taken that way, I really do appreciate your ministry
And when your writing is not directly in a Bible study mind set, I appreciate your willingness to share your talent with us all.
Your number one fan - aside from your direct family,


About Me

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Christopher Blake is a loving husband...devoted father...minister...crippled ex-cop...screenwriter...novelist...actor...and more than a little rough around the edges...