Ever learning, and never able to come to the
knowledge of the truth.
When I taught fencing (sword fighting, not building fences around a horse barn) it was easy to convince my students that they needed to learn to fence, and that they needed to learn to fence the proper way. One thing I noticed is that my beginning students recognized they didn't know how to fence. And because they knew their lack of ability, they set themselves to learning. All this may seem superfluous (meaning more than you wanted to hear), but in a moment you'll understand why I felt it necessary to tell about their ability to see their lack.
When I first begin teaching a student, I start them off with the very basic of moves. They learn how to hold the weapon, then how to make precise parries (defensive moves) and attacks. This they learn before they even have an opportunity to face an opponent, which might take months in some cases. Did they get frustrated and want to begin fencing even before they knew how? Of course. And so do children who've been shown how to turn the steering wheel want to drive even before they know where the brake pedal is located. This very thing happened with my younger brother with my motorcycle when he was still a teenager. I was showing him where the brake and the clutch is located, and of course his response was "I know! You don't have to tell me." After I pried him and my bike off the neighbor's mail box which he had collided with just seconds after his declaration of ability, he was a bit more receptive to what I had to tell him.
As a conjectured defense, he may have said "So, you probably would've done the same thing when you were my age." "No doubt, but you're the one being untangled from a mail box."
It's hard for us to accept the reality of our inability even when it's thrust upon us.
As my fencing students progressed in their training, they were able to determine their skills by judging how well they competed with the other students. Eventually a few of the students found they were better fencers than their fellow students. Some of these leading students acquired an inflated ego because of their being the top student in the class.
Then I let these superior fencers compete with the "big boys" of fencing, which very soon took the air out of their sails faster then did the mail box deflate my brother's swelled head.
Another class I taught was that of framing. No, not framing houses but something on a bit smaller scale, that of picture framing. Here again my students took my class because they recognized they didn't know how to frame a picture. This knowledge brought them to someone who could teach them what they wanted to know. With picture framing one's ability is judged by how well the frame and the mat set off the picture. A frame may be a masterpiece of craftsmanship, but if it doesn't promote the picture, it's no more than a pretty piece of junk. Some students wanted to learn no more than how to do the basics, that is, a simple double mat in a store-bought frame. Others wanted to learn color matching, decorative mat cutting, archival framing and such. Different strokes for different folks as they say. Again, students were willing to learn because of recognizing they lacked in a certain area.
Yet another class I taught was that of Native American Indian craft and culture. This class didn't garner the number students needed to keep it going, therefore it died a premature death. However, even in this short-lived class I found that my students had the same attitude as those of the classes previously mentioned; they knew they lacked something they wanted to obtain. They, as did all my students, did not come to class with the attitude that they knew it all.
Teaching bicycle repair was a different story in that my classes filled up rapidly. In the case of bicycles, people knew how to ride them, they just didn't know how to fix them. Their recognition of their lack brought them to me. Twenty-five lessons of three hours each and my students were able to disassemble and reassemble their bicycle. Their lack had been alleviated.
Does it sound as if I'm taking this opportunity to tell you of my several abilities? If it does, I suspect you're right, at least I suspect there's at least a bit of that motive in my intentions. But just to keep on the fair side, let me tell you about a time when my shoes were on other person's feet.
Many years ago, half a lifetime in fact, I underwent intensive therapy. There's an interesting aspect in regards to taking on such an endeavor, for it to be successful the patient must first recognize that he or she has a problem, and along with that recognition have a desire to be rid of whatever may be the problem. In my case recognizing that I had a problem was the easy part, the hard part was trying to decide which of the many deep-set problems I wanted to deal with first.
Because I recognized that I had a problem(s) I was able to work my way through them to one degree or another. (I continue to find more problems to deal with as the years roll by, the uncovering of one exposes two or three others that had been buried under the surface.) One of the most important things I learned at the very beginning of my therapy is that I must first admit the possibility of a problem, then I have to be willing to take an honest look at myself in order to discover what the problem might be. Once this is accomplished, finding a solution to the problem becomes possibility (rarely a cure, like an alcoholic, which was one of my problems, one can never risk assuming he is over the problem and therefore can hang around the fringes of temptation). As long as I, or anyone, denies they have a problem, the problem will never be eradicated, and will in fact intensify. How many people do you know that you can easily see they have a problem, but they refuse to admit to their having anything wrong with them? What do you think of them? Is it possible that you are also hiding from a problem you've turned a blind eye to? Most of us have you know.
In the beginning I recognized that I had problems, but they, the psychologists and therapists, were unable to see that they had problems as well. I think of the parable of the log and the mote. I could see my optical log jam, but the one who was supposed to be watching for my logs was having to peek through a log jam of his own that he was unable to see. I found it interesting that those in the psychiatric field believe they know everything about their client even before they hear their story, and the only way to be right about your problem is to agree with their observation, even though they are telling you that you, a male are in need of a hysterectomy.
Back to basics.
My last attempt in the field of teaching was an art school I established. I call it a school, but in fact it was just some TV tables and folding chairs set up in a store showroom after hours. My purpose for creating this school was to teach the basics of art, anatomy to be more precise. I had noticed that there were many elderly artists who were fairly well established as artists in their own right, making a living (oftentimes) with what they produced, but everything they produced was nothing more than copies of something that already existed. In other words they were copyist and not creators. They had to see something in order to paint (draw) it, and this being true of drawing people as well as still life or whatever. I understood this aspect of art because that was all I was able to do up until I was in my fifties. It was at this time I decided to learn to create, and I attacked my lack of ability with gusto, and within two years I was able to draw just about anything from my imagination. An artist who can't create is bound to (though I'm sure not all do) feel as if they are cheating, that they are being paid for being an artist when they were in actuality merely copyist, a cheap camera if you will. I say this because that's the way I felt, until I learned to create.
39And Jesus said, For judgment I am come into this world, that they which see not might see; and that they which see might be made blind. 40And some of the Pharisees which were with him heard these words, and said unto him, Are we blind also? 41Jesus said unto them, If ye were blind, ye should have no sin: but now ye say, We see; therefore your sin remaineth. (John 9:)
Back to basics. In my art class (which you can view what little I converted to HTML on this website) I started everyone off with stick figures. Everyone had to begin with the very basics if they wanted to take my class. Some people felt they were too good for stick figures since they could already paint the finished product, the outside of the subject. I wanted them to learn the inside of the subject, the part they couldn't see, but that so strongly effected the part that they could see. Some found they were unable to draw a simple stick figure, which represents the skeleton of the subject, not just a child's attempt to draw momma.
In essence what I taught was how to see, to see what was in fact there, not merely what appeared to be there. To see we have to learn what to look for. For instance, who has ever seen the various shades of blue, green and purple in the skin of that beauty queen who looks so fleshly and pink? They're there, we just don't know they're there. But when the artist applies these colors to the portrait, the picture comes alive. If we paint what we expect to see, the painting looks flat and lifeless, similar to a Peanuts cartoon. The Bible expresses this failure to see the essentials this way:
9Whom shall he teach knowledge? and whom shall he make to understand doctrine? them that are weaned from the milk, and drawn from the breasts. 10For precept must be upon precept, precept upon precept; line upon line, line upon line; here a little, and there a little: 11For with stammering lips and another tongue will he speak to this people. 12To whom he said, This is the rest wherewith ye may cause the weary to rest; and this is the refreshing: yet they would not hear. 13But the word of the LORD was unto them precept upon precept, precept upon precept; line upon line, line upon line; here a little, and there a little; that they might go, and fall backward, and be broken, and snared, and taken. (Isaiah 28:)
Of course I'm stretching a point with this portion of Scripture, however the application, in my opinion, is still appropriate. When we take what's correct and use it incorrectly, it becomes incorrect. Add a green to the shadows of a person's face where it should be a purple, and the portrait becomes grotesque. Each part must be properly applied or it is less than useless. And consider a face without highlight and shadow: it becomes nothing more than a cartoon, which I find many portraits are. Why does the client pay for something so lacking in quality? Because the client doesn't know what to look for any more than the artists does. Gold in the rough looks unappealing, while iron pyrite (fool's good) appears valuable.
14Let them alone: they be blind leaders of the blind. And if the blind lead the blind, both shall fall into the ditch. 15Then answered Peter and said unto him, Declare unto us this parable. 16And Jesus said, Are ye also yet without understanding? (Mat 15:)
Fool's gold brings to mind another substance that fools are attracted to. Have you ever heard of a "fool's paradise"? A fool's paradise is when a person is happy because of a belief in a false assumption. Does that bring any situation to mind? Try retaining this thought in memory and see if something comes to you during the course of this story.
Jesus told Nicodemus that a person will teach what they know. I assume that a teacher who teaches his or her students faulty or substandard techniques does not know himself to do any better. If I was to see approved shoddy work in a student's product, yet the teacher's work was exceptional, I would come to the conclusion the teacher was robbing his students of what he was capable of. In teaching this same way, if a preacher teaches a faulty doctrine, I assume the preacher is only teaching what he believes himself. Is this always the case? Unfortunately it isn't. I've seen preachers who teach what they know to be a substandard and faulted doctrine because that is what the church will accept. We find this in the secular world as well, teachers who submit to the demands of the system and teach evolution when they firmly believe it to be a false and dangerous theory.
Back to basics.
For most of my life I lived the life of a typical Christian. I essentially grew up in the church, taking part wherever I could, this being particularly true when I was a child. As far as understanding doctrine, I didn't even know what doctrine was until very recently (I'm now 72). I thought all churches believed the same thing and felt the same way as I did about their Christianity. I thought the different names on the church doors were like the names of the schools, they all teach the same thing, they just call themselves something that caused them to be recognized more easily in the same way everyone doesn't go my the name of Sammy. "Hi, I'm Sammy." "Me too." "And me three," etc.
The Bible to me was not only beyond understanding to me, but it was less interesting then my least favorite comic book, and far larger. As to Jesus, I, a "Christian" only knew He was a man who died on a cross and did a lot of magic during His lifetime. The rest of it was beyond me and of no interest. I was baptized and I went to church. That made me a Christian. That's all I knew, and that's all I cared about. They told me I was saved, whatever that meant, and that I was going to Heaven, wherever that is. I accepted this, because I figured they knew something I didn't, so who was I to argue? Nothing anyone said made any sense, like talking about some ghost that I had no understanding of. But it didn't matter anyway, since as I said, I knew I was a Christian, and what was there to know beyond that?
Like I said: a typical Christian.
I must add something to what I've said. There are those of you I'm sure who do not feel as I have felt in the past or you would never be reading anything I write. You want to learn more about the Lord and the Word, otherwise you would never read anything outside what your church teaches, which of course you won't find here, conventional doctrine is what I mean.
Back to basics.
25And there went great multitudes with him: and he turned, and said unto them, 26If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple. 27And whosoever doth not bear his cross, and come after me, cannot be my disciple. 28For which of you, intending to build a tower, sitteth not down first, and counteth the cost, whether he have sufficient to finish it? (Luke 14:)
Earlier I said it's necessary to see our lack if we want to grow in the area we're interested in. I assume you already know this and wonder why I even bother to mention it. The reason I tell you this is because there are millions of people who claim to have a very strong interest in a certain subject, but they have absolutely no interest in learning anything beyond the most rudimentary elements of what they claim is their greatest and only interest. In their own words of confession they have abandoned everything in pursuit of this one goal, yet they spend very little if any time and effort to achieve this goal. And wouldn't you know, there are thousands of "professors" willing and anxious to give them, the lackadaisical, highest honors and degrees without their having to make but the slightest effort in the subject of their interest?
In the passage above Jesus said a person should count the cost before beginning a project. What greater and more costly project can one begin than one that effects not only one's present life, but their eternity as well? Yet there is no cost mentioned in any of the churches I've attended (conventional churches that is), only promises of reward for doing next to nothing. When I taught a class I warned the beginning student that if they wanted to learn their craft of interest they had to work, and work hard and long. Ask any music student if this is not so. Life evolves around what we have taken on as our central interest, just as Jesus said of being His disciple. There's no middle ground with God. Either you're all the way for Him, or you're against Him (Mat 12:30).
62And Jesus said unto him, No man, having put his hand to the plow, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God. (Luke 9:)
A person who desires to be a great musician, let us say a guitarist, expects, and is told by their instructor, that they must spend a large part of their day, every day, practicing on the guitar. They know they will have to work through the pain of sore fingers as they learn to fret the cords, they will experience many months of frustration while their fingers learn which string to pluck, and when to pluck it; and they will spend many grueling and boring hours studying aspects of their craft that seems to have little or nothing to do with the actual playing of the guitar. Then, even after years of this practice, after having mastered a repertoire of songs, if they slack off for any period of time, become a backslider if you will, all they had learned will abandon them. This is what is expected in the field of music, and for that matter any other field of interest. We have to keep our hands on the plow and not look back if we expect to get ahead in this world.
24Know ye not that they which run in a race run all, but one receiveth the prize? So run, that ye may obtain. 25And every man that striveth for the mastery is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a corruptible crown; but we an incorruptible. 26I therefore so run, not as uncertainly; so fight I, not as one that beateth the air: 27But I keep under my body, and bring it into subjection: lest that by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway. (1Cor 9:)
Our aspiring guitar hero realizes that he must work harder than all the aspiring guitar heros of his generation if he is going to make it to the finish line because the field is filled with people just like himself, all striving for the same crown.
2And ye shall be hated of all men for my name's sake: but he that endureth to the end shall be saved. (Mat 10:)
"Come on out and play" say those of his fellows who have interests other than music. And while indeed the youngster would like to be playing with those of the world outside, and he must endure the taunts of those not so inspired, he realizes that this is just part of the quest he is on. He may have learned to expect this because he has a good instructor who has prepared him for the teasing and the momentary regrets when the sun is out in all its glory, or he might have learned by history, having read that his hero has had to endure this same thing.
1Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us, 2Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God. 3For consider him that endured such contradiction of sinners against himself, lest ye be wearied and faint in your minds. (Heb 12:)
Heros, leaders in any field, have to endure the rejection of those who do not hold the same interests as they do. I suppose there isn't a single inventor who hasn't had a bevy of scoffers following at their heels trying to dissuade them from their efforts. Jesus' scoffers went so far as to kill Him. And He tells those who choose to follow in His footsteps that they must endure the same thing if they are to attain to where He is.
When a guitar player is being taught by his master, he is instructed to pay close attention to every jot and tittle printed on the sheet music he is playing from. Every "accidental" has a purpose for being there and can not be left out. A musician can't pick and choose which notes he wants to play, and leave out those that are hard for him to master. If he wants his song to be recognized by anyone else, he has to play what is written, not what he thinks the song should sound like. We know this, I don't need to tell you this. But there is one field where these rules don't seem to apply, at least they're not taught in most of the "schools" I'm aware of. Take for instance the passage of Scripture above. There are many teachers who will use these words as reason to say that because our guitar hero has made it to the top, we need do nothing but use his name and we will be afforded all the credit and rewards given to our hero. Does this sound right to your ears? I didn't think so. But for millions of people it seems to make sense to them. In spite of all their firm belief that what they believe is fact, what do you think will be the outcome when payday comes?
19While they promise them liberty, they themselves are the servants of corruption: for of whom a man is overcome, of the same is he brought in bondage. 20For if after they have escaped the pollutions of the world through the knowledge of the Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, they are again entangled therein, and overcome, the latter end is worse with them than the beginning. (2Peter 2:)
Our guitar aspirant spends his youth closed in a room learning the ABC's of guitar picking. Then comes romance, marriage and raising a family. He must now go out in the word and do everything he doesn't want to do in order to support this new enterprise he has entered into, that being the humdrum of daily living. The guitar sits in a closet collecting dust and rust. All the wonderful dreams of herodom has been cast aside, though the hope of one day taking up the craft once again persists. But time and rust waits for no man. Should this ever occur, all that had been gained in the past will have been lost. It had been better if the fallen hero had never set himself to have his dream than to not continue to pursue it. "Once the hand is put to the plow," and "count the cost if you have it in you to endure to the end" (my abridged version in synopsis). Jesus says it this way:
7And some fell among thorns; and the thorns sprung up, and choked them: 8But other fell into good ground, and brought forth fruit, some an hundredfold, some sixtyfold, some thirtyfold. 9Who hath ears to hear, let him hear. (Mat 13:)
We think of weeds as a bad thing. Elsewhere Jesus refers to weeds being planted in the harvest by the wicked one. Weeds are not weeds in themselves, nor are thorns troublesome in themselves. There is nothing wrong with a rose bush, but a rose in a field of corn is a hindrance that must be disposed of. This is true of a stalk of corn in a rose garden. Roses are beautiful, but without the thorns, they would not be roses. Blackberries are enjoyable to eat, and for the most part they're good for us. But anyone who has a blackberry bush in their yard knows the problems those thorns can be, and how difficult it is to keep that bush confined to its assigned area. Children are fun, and in a sandbox or a play ground they are easily tolerated. But when trying to entertain and impress our upper crust guests, their childish antics can be more than troublesome. Tares in the church are much the same. Tares do not know they are tares any more than the Pharisees knew they were a hindrance to the will of God, who they believed themselves to serve. At the same time those in the fields, the outcasts Jesus chose to hang around and instruct, did not know they were being prepared as good soil to receive the seed Jesus was about to plant. Those who placed themselves up, were torn down. And those who were down, were given the opportunity to be lifted up.
Tares, the weeds in the harvest, fill out the field. Without them the field would be almost barren ground. Jesus said to leave the tares in because by uprooting the tares, the true crop could be pulled out as well. We don't know who the tares are since in the growing stage they look the same. Besides, unlike in the natural, tares could easily become the greatest of the harvest in time, while the one who appears to be the cream of the crop may turn out to be the most poisonous of weeds.
Jesus said we'll know the true crop by his fruits. But few of us are very good fruit inspectors. This certainly is true of me. And I know in my lifetime I've produced many harvests of rotten fruit. I can only hope my harvest has improved over the years, and I can be thankful my "tree" has been given a second, third and onward chance to prove itself before being cast aside in preparation for the fire pit.
The churches are filled with tares. To deny this is to set ourself up for becoming one of the tares discarded. Like the students I've described who didn't want to consider the basics, if we deny the existence of tares in our own church, then we turn to the wall the very mirror we must use in order to detect our own tare qualities, such recognition we need in order to rid ourself of poison so we can become a good fruit fit for the Master. James tells us:
2But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves. 23For if any be a hearer of the word, and not a doer, he is like unto a man beholding his natural face in a glass: 24For he beholdeth himself, and goeth his way, and straightway forgetteth what manner of man he was. 25But whoso looketh into the perfect law of liberty, and continueth therein, he being not a forgetful hearer, but a doer of the work, this man shall be blessed in his deed. 26If any man among you seem to be religious, and bridleth not his tongue, but deceiveth his own heart, this man's religion is vain. 27Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world. (James 1:)
Have you noticed the lack of mirrors in the churches of today? How often do you hear it preached that we must examine ourself closely and deal with what we find if we expect to obtain eternal life? It's assumed that everyone sitting in the pews is made clean by the washing of water at baptism. Mirrors are outlawed in far too many of the traditional churches.
The above passage is another song where it's cut 'n paste, causing it to be unrecognizable as a song of demanded obedience.
30Also, thou son of man, the children of thy people still are talking against thee by the walls and in the doors of the houses, and speak one to another, every one to his brother, saying, Come, I pray you, and hear what is the word that cometh forth from the LORD. 31And they come unto thee as the people cometh, and they sit before thee as my people, and they hear thy words, but they will not do them: for with their mouth they show much love, but their heart goeth after their covetousness. 32And, lo, thou art unto them as a very lovely song of one that hath a pleasant voice, and can play well on an instrument: for they hear thy words, but they do them not. (Ezek 33:)
Wouldn't you assume that the prospective students who enter my school or class wants to, and expects to have to put out a lot of effort in order to learn what I have to teach them? You wouldn't expect an art student for instance to daydream through class, and not do any practicing on their own, then think they've learned to be a great artists because of having taken the class, would you? Taking this same concept into the church, would you expect a new convert, especially one who shows little interest in the Bible or the things of the Lord to be told they are now a full-fledged Christian fully prepared to enter into the world of the Spirit? Would you send such a one out as a minister of righteousness with directions to win others to Christ? Or would we do as in every other field, teach the person so sent the basics of Christianity, watch for signs in their life that they are truly versed in the subject, and knowledgeable regarding things of the Lord, and then send them out?
I find it interesting that the church I now attend went to great pains to insure that the new pastor they hired has a high degree of learning in the doctrine of the church, but they demonstrate little attention to their own education of the Bible, and even less to the understanding held by the congregation.
6He answered and said unto them, Well hath Esaias prophesied of you hypocrites, as it is written, This people honoureth me with their lips, but their heart is far from me. 7Howbeit in vain do they worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men. 8For laying aside the commandment of God, ye hold the tradition of men,...13Making the word of God of none effect through your tradition, which ye have delivered: and many such like things do ye. (Mark 7:)
"But," you might say, "that's what we do in my church. We teach them the ABC's of doctrine before we send them out to bring others into the church." Yes, the doctrines of the church, which is not at all the same as the doctrine of the Lord.
42But I know you, that ye have not the love of God in you. 43I am come in my Father's name, and ye receive me not: if another shall come in his own name, him ye will receive. 44How can ye believe, which receive honour one of another, and seek not the honour that cometh from God only? (John 5:)
1Take heed that ye do not your alms before men, to be seen of them: otherwise ye have no reward of your Father which is in heaven. 2Therefore when thou doest thine alms, do not sound a trumpet before thee, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward. 3But when thou doest alms, let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth: 4That thine alms may be in secret: and thy Father which seeth in secret himself shall reward thee openly. (Mat 6:)
John tells us that we can't say we love God who we can't see if we don't show love to those of this world who we can see. I find this to be true in the arena of pride as well. I want honor from God for what I do, but I can't help but want to brag and receive recognition from those who I can see as well. I find it hard (impossible may be a more appropriate word) to keep to myself what I have accomplished or the sacrifices I might have made. My right hand is not only unable to keep to itself what it is doing, it screams loudly to my left hand its abilities and accomplishments. I know it's possible for a person to fulfill this commandment (if it be such) because I see people doing it. I just can't see such a one when I look in the mirror
When I was young I looked upon those who flung their arms in the air and shouted "Hallelujah" loudly as the Spiritual ones, the ones closely in touch with God. Being the shy soul I was I did not exhibit such Spirituality. Because of my lack, I considered myself to be so far out of the Spiritual realm as to not even be in the vicinity of the door. My father was one who demanded perfection, not of himself, nor really of others, but of his one and only son (at the time). "Can't you do anything right?" he would yell when I attempted anything, especially when I was in the process of trying to help him. I suppose the only answer to his question was a resounding "no."
As I matured, I learned that I could do many things, some of these things to a higher level than most other people. What do you suppose was my reaction to learning of these skills? Of course I wanted (and still do) to let the world know that I can do something right. This is especially true of my father, who wasn't interested in my having gained some ability.
We like to compare ourselves to others. We rarely compare ourself to those more capable than ourself, but rather we search high and low to find someone less able than ourself to whom we can judge ourself. "I may be bad, but I'm not as bad as so 'n so" we say proudly.
There has been one person sent by God to whom we are to compare ourself. The Son of God should be our model. And as we become more like our Master, our Teacher, we are not to become proud of having done so, but rather we are to become even more aware of our lack and try to strive for even more of what we desire. We find this in Paul, a person desiring to be the frontrunner in the quest for perfection.
Another similarity we find in Paul, a quality that we find in Jesus, is a desire to help all he can to become all he is, and even more if possible. Far from being a braggart (although by his own admission he has bragged), he praised others who were doing well rather than putting them down because of their inabilities. Those who led the sheep astray he chastised and rebuked, as did our Lord. And we must keep on guard to insure we are not one who is interfering with the growth of others on the road we are on. We're not to be a stumbling stone to those running the race.
They tell us there's no one who stands taller than a man who will stoop to help a child. In the quest to be like our Savior we are all children of the Lord. Those of us who are more Spiritual, who are further along the road to Glory, are to stoop in order to help those who are at the starting gate, and do all we can to insure they receive the basics and are not fed sour milk in their infancy (Gal 6:1).
19Now therefore ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellowcitizens with the saints, and of the household of God; 20And are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone; 21In whom all the building fitly framed together groweth unto an holy temple in the Lord: 22In whom ye also are builded together for an habitation of God through the Spirit. (Eph 2:)
11And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; 12For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ: 13Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ: 14That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive; 15But speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ: 16From whom the whole body fitly joined together and compacted by that which every joint supplieth, according to the effectual working in the measure of every part, maketh increase of the body unto the edifying of itself in love. (Eph 4:)
Some races are such that each participant strives with all his or her might to be the one and only to win the prize. Other races are designed in such a way that every member of a team wins or loses according to how the entire team performs. It does no good to have one bright star in a team effort. The best of runner is the loser if one of his teammates falters along the way. In a team effort it is expedient that the best performer do all he can, to sacrifice, in order to make the worst performer even better than himself if at all possible; and the worst performer will benefit himself if he helps the ones better than himself to be even better rather than to try and hold them back. We are told:
18But now hath God set the members every one of them in the body, as it hath pleased him. 19And if they were all one member, where were the body? 20But now are they many members, yet but one body. 21And the eye cannot say unto the hand, I have no need of thee: nor again the head to the feet, I have no need of you. 22Nay, much more those members of the body, which seem to be more feeble, are necessary: 23And those members of the body, which we think to be less honourable, upon these we bestow more abundant honour; and our uncomely parts have more abundant comeliness. 24For our comely parts have no need: but God hath tempered the body together, having given more abundant honour to that part which lacked: 25That there should be no schism in the body; but that the members should have the same care one for another. 26And whether one member suffer, all the members suffer with it; or one member be honoured, all the members rejoice with it. (1Cor 12:)
We tend to see Christ as a man hanging on a cross sacrificing Himself for the sins of the world, solitary and singularly different than you and I. This is not the picture given to us in the Bible. Jesus is not a one-man-act, but the forerunner of a team which is to follow close at His heels. He has broken down the door so-to-speak that separates us from our Heavenly Father. But we're not to sit back and enjoy the view, to sit in the bleachers and watch the game, but we're to enter the race and strive with all our might to help the "team" win the prize. This is the picture presented to us in the Word, even though it is far from the picture given to us in the churches.
1I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service. 2And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God. 3For I say, through the grace given unto me, to every man that is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think; but to think soberly, according as God hath dealt to every man the measure of faith (Rom 12:)
There's a story of a farm where the animals were planning on having a feast. The organizers of the banquet came to a chicken and a pig and gave them their assignment. "We would like you, Mrs Chicken, to bring to the banquet eggs in a basket." "Fine," replied the chicken. "I'll be most happy to bring the eggs." Then they turned toward the pig and said "Mr Pig, we request of you that you bring to the banquet the bacon and the ham." "What?" responded the pig. "I protest your request of me." "What's the matter" inquired the chicken. "I see nothing wrong with their request. I'm happy to bring what they ask of me." "Of you" replied the pig "they only ask a contribution, but of me they ask a total commitment."
Jesus said we're to make a total commitment if we expect to be His disciple. He tells us we must do as He has done. We are to lay down our life for our fellow man just as He has laid down His life for us. Without that full commitment we are not on His team. The churches teach we are to make the most insignificant of contribution and we are fully accepted as one of the Lord's own. For myself, I am unable to find that concept in the Bible unless I want to obliterate a few verses and take them out of context.
15I know thy works, that thou art neither cold nor hot: I would thou wert cold or hot. 16So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth. 17Because thou sayest, I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing; and knowest not that thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked: (Rev 3:)
When a person is not a participant in a race they have signed up for, they will not win the crown or even be given recognition as one having been selected to run. It is the participants who stand in the winner's circle, not those who stand on the sidelines waving banners or selling hot dogs.
Jesus was the lead man in the tag team of God's race for perfection. When He completed His part of the race, the part that He and only He could perform, He passed the baton to His Apostles in the form of the Holy Spirit of God. These twelve men then passed the baton to others, and it has now been passed to us, the final runners of the race. As we look back through history we find those who have run against all odds and have (many of them) lost their lives because of their efforts to bring to us a more perfect understanding of the Word. This should not surprise us since it is precisely what Jesus said would happen to those who enter His race.
24Know ye not that they which run in a race run all, but one receiveth the prize? So run, that ye may obtain. 25And every man that striveth for the mastery is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a corruptible crown; but we an incorruptible. 26I therefore so run, not as uncertainly; so fight I, not as one that beateth the air: 27But I keep under my body, and bring it into subjection: lest that by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway. (1Cor 9:)
14For he is our peace, who hath made both one, and hath broken down the middle wall of partition between us; 15Having abolished in his flesh the enmity, even the law of commandments contained in ordinances; for to make in himself of twain one new man, so making peace; 16And that he might reconcile both unto God in one body by the cross, having slain the enmity thereby: (Eph 2:)
45And so it is written, The first man Adam was made a living soul; the last Adam was made a quickening spirit. 46Howbeit that was not first which is spiritual, but that which is natural; and afterward that which is spiritual. 47The first man is of the earth, earthy: the second man is the Lord from heaven. 48As is the earthy, such are they also that are earthy: and as is the heavenly, such are they also that are heavenly. 49And as we have borne the image of the earthy, we shall also bear the image of the heavenly. 50Now this I say, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; neither doth corruption inherit incorruption. (1Cor 15:)
Paul did all he could to insure that the team he is coaching is a winner and not an also-ran (1Cor 3:10-12). He was striving to be all he could be, holding back nothing for himself, no fleshly desires that cause a runner to do less than his best.
It seems to me that the picture of Christ, the Church, being a team is all too evident. And because it's so apparent, I wonder why it's missed by so many.
When I take a class I expect to learn all I can from the class, or I don't bother to take the class. I expect this attitude from those who take a class I teach as well. I used an example of when I taught picture framing. I see this example used by Paul in the form of a building God is creating for himself. Paul calls it a Temple, a Church. As with a picture framer, the frame can not be a singular player but must act as a team, a lesser participant of the team in fact, standing in the background in order to set off the main player, the picture. This is true of a team in the natural as well. The star player knows he is useless without the least member of his team. A fast end runner is bound to fail if the one holding the ball fumbles his pass to him. Many years ago we all watched in horror as Challenge 2 faltered and exploded. What was the cause of this disaster? Was it something dynamic worthy of such a historical event? On the contrary it was a simple "O" ring that was perhaps the simplest and cheapest part of the rocket that failed. Paul tells us the least part of the Body of Christ is held in the highest honor. We might consider the Church to be a team with the pastor as the coach. The coach is not the star, albeit he is an important background participant. When too much attention is placed on the coach, it effects the team which is the important part of the team. A team can have the greatest players, but if the coach is deficient, the team suffers. And the opposite is true. A team may have the greatest coach, but if one member of the team tries to hog the spotlight, the team is very likely to be the loser.
In the churches today we find far too many stars trying to outshine the other participants. And we find the "Team" of Christ not working as a unit but rather each segment isolating itself from the rest of the team causing confusion and an inability to function. Jesus said:
25And Jesus knew their thoughts, and said unto them, Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation; and every city or house divided against itself shall not stand: (Mat 12:)
Attributing this injunction to a team, a team divided must fall. In the same way, a church divided must fall, it can not be the winner of the race. When parts of the team refuse to recognize and honor other parts of the team, the team as a whole is the loser. Jesus gave His life for His Church. Paul and the Apostles struggled to train the Church and to keep it together. We do all we can to keep segments of the Church from communicating with other parts of the Church. What do you suppose Jesus is going to say to those churches that feel so superior, so right in their doctrine, and who condemn the fragments of His body He died for? We think we will be rewards with Heaven, an eternity in Glory. If we were in Jesus' place, would we see us in such a light?
Every team that is serious even to a minimum degree trains each member to be all he or she can be. The members of the team are put through grueling practice sessions, often learning those skills they expect to never use. The catcher learns what the pitcher learns and vice versa. The effort is to make the team into a top contender, whatever the costs. Those players who are incapable or unwilling to sacrifice for the team and put their all into the team are ejected. There can be no laxity or murmuring in a team that strives for the trophy.
This in the natural, whether it be something as simple as a picture framing class or some children playing sandlot baseball. And so it should be expected to be found in the churches.
Back to basics.
Just what do we find in the churches? Do we find pastors telling their congregation that they must give their all as demonstrated and commanded by Jesus and the Apostles? Do we hear pep talks directed toward cleansing the excess weight of sin from the participants? Do we hear that those who do not do their best, and who are not serious about their part as a team member will be trimmed from the team and will not be part of the winner's circle?
Tell me, if you were to enter any of the churches today (barring those called a cult), and you were a scout looking for potential members of your team, would you select any of those you find in the traditional churches?
Changing the picture a little, what if you were a spy for the team any of these churches were to compete against, what would you report concerning the teams you spied out? Would you advise the coach of the rival team to prepare for battle? Or would you tell him he can relax because the prize is in the bag?
29Or else how can one enter into a strong man's house, and spoil his goods, except he first bind the strong man? and then he will spoil his house. 30He that is not with me is against me; and he that gathereth not with me scattereth abroad. (Mat 12:)
There's two points Jesus made here I would like to comment on. First we see that the strong man must be bound in order to "spoil his house," or in the case of a team effort, to beat him at his own game. I for one can not understand a team undermining its own purposes, doing all it can to weaken the purpose and the abilities of the players. I can only see a sincere team doing all it can to educate and train its members. Is this what you imagine of such a team? If I see a team destroying its own purposes, I would assume that an enemy had entered its midst and has caused division amongst them and has planted seeds of doubt and complacency in their midst.
The second thing Jesus said is that those who are not with Him are against Him. What does this mean? If we associate this statement to the team image presented here, I would say a person who is not doing as he is told, or not doing his best, and especially one who is trying to convince others of the team that they needn't work at doing as they're instructed to do would be one who is against the team. What did Jesus say of such a person? What happens to people who are not part of the Lord's team, who do not produce fruit?
1And I, brethren, could not speak unto you as unto spiritual, but as unto carnal, even as unto babes in Christ. 2I have fed you with milk, and not with meat: for hitherto ye were not able to bear it, neither yet now are ye able. 3For ye are yet carnal: for whereas there is among you envying, and strife, and divisions, are ye not carnal, and walk as men? (1Cor 2:)
11Of whom we have many things to say, and hard to be uttered, seeing ye are dull of hearing. 12For when for the time ye ought to be teachers, ye have need that one teach you again which be the first principles of the oracles of God; and are become such as have need of milk, and not of strong meat. 13For every one that useth milk is unskilful in the word of righteousness: for he is a babe. 14But strong meat belongeth to them that are of full age, even those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil. (Heb 5:)
Adam and Eve were unable to discern between good and evil, and they suffered because of their disability. They had a reason for this ignorance being that they were the first to be tested. We don't have that excuse. We've been given every opportunity and form of instruction as to what decision we should make. We've been warned of the consequences for ignoring the warnings and the samples we've been given for disobedience. We will have to stand before the Judge having no excuse. In spite of all that has been afforded us, we still ignore God's Words and twist them to suit our wants.
When I was in the Army they had to send me a second time to qualify with the M1 rifle. I was a lousy shot. Now, I had taken all the lessons they gave that were intended to teach me how to shoot, but in spite of that training, I missed the target most of the time. Was I given credit for all the training I was given the first time and allowed to merely try again on the rifle range? No, I had to start from the basics and work my way back to the test of my abilities. This holds true when I took my driver's test, if I failed, I had to start from the basics. And certainly this was true in school. If I failed to graduate from one level to the next, I had to take the level (grade) I failed from the very beginning. I couldn't claim credit for what I had done right and miss that part, I had to begin from the basics.
My father was an accomplished mechanic working in an authorized garage. Although he knew the cars he worked on very well, he was sent to school every year as a refresher and to learn the ins and outs of the new cars coming out that year. This is common practice in many trades. And although this is also true of some denominations in that the pastors are sent to refresh their knowledge of doctrine, how often do you see this advised for the congregation as well?
Jesus tells us:
9Doth he thank that servant because he did the things that were commanded him? I trow not. 10So likewise ye, when ye shall have done all those things which are commanded you, say, We are unprofitable servants: we have done that which was our duty to do. (Luke 17:
We see war heros who have risked their life to do courageous things. When asked what it felt like to be so brave, they very often said they just did what they had to do, that there was nothing particularly brave about their actions. We find that the hero of the team doesn't take credit for his actions, but rather gives credit to his coach and his team mates, knowing they just did what was expected of them, and they couldn't have won the game without the dedicated efforts of the team supporting him.
There are no heros in the war we're fighting, but there are many enemies. If I'm at war I want to know three things in particular. First I want to know that I've been trained and equipped for battle to the best of my abilities. Then I want to know that the one training me has fully been trained himself and has my interest at heart, not merely trying to pass me through so he can get to his TV program. And thirdly I want to know that those who are fighting with me have been as thoroughly trained, and are as determined to win the war as I am. If any of these are lacking, I will feel very uncomfortable indeed.
18This charge I commit unto thee, son Timothy, according to the prophecies which went before on thee, that thou by them mightest war a good warfare; 19Holding faith, and a good conscience; which some having put away concerning faith have made shipwreck: (1Tim 1:)
6And he opened his mouth in blasphemy against God, to blaspheme his name, and his tabernacle, and them that dwell in heaven. 7And it was given unto him to make war with the saints, and to overcome them: and power was given him over all kindreds, and tongues, and nations. (Rev 13:)
3For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war after the flesh: 4(For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strong holds;) 5Casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ; 6And having in a readiness to revenge all disobedience, when your obedience is fulfilled. (2Cor 10:)
Before a soldier can be of any value he must first overcome his ego, causing him to be a team member instead of a one-man show. This goes contrary to our nature, and it conflicts with what we have been taught during our upbringing. We're told to be the top man, the best, the star. We're not taught to be a supporting player. Everyone wants to be the star, the big winner. But when everyone tries to be the winner, nobody wins, everyone loses including the winner.
Our war is not against an enemy, at least not in the beginning. Our main enemy is ourself, our carnal nature that must be put away if we are going to fight a Spiritual battle. If we're not being trained to fight such a battle, then perhaps we have to find a new trainer.
There was a period long ago that I was unable to raise myself from the floor. I was hurting all over and extremely tired all the time. The doctors checked me out for every illness, but found nothing. It turns out that I have hypoglycemia, low blood sugar. But knowledge of this illness was lacking at that time, it had only been discovered for 15 years. For some reason this was not a long enough period for the medical profession to give the illness any validity. Because of this lack of acknowledgment I would have suffered many tests and trials if I hadn't taken myself out of their hands and treated myself, which involved nothing more than eating properly.
A man I know was having severe problems of many kinds, and taking doctor's prescriptions for his illnesses. He continued to grow worse until his life expectancy grew quite short He withdrew from the doctor's prescriptions and began taking herbs for his problems, and he is doing fine now. I have no doubt you can add to these examples, possibly from your own experience.
Those we look to for advise are often less capable of providing the right advise in spite of their education and our lack of information, than we ourselves are. This is never more true than in the field of theology. Evidence of this fact can be found in that there are so many conflicting views of what a single Book is telling us. Since there are thousands of opinions, that is, denominations and churches within those denominations that do not agree with each other, the chances of our picking the correct one is mighty slim. Jesus said we're to listen to Him. But of course the only way we can listen to Him is if we have the Holy Spirit to communicate with. If we do have the Holy Spirit we will not be inclined to listen to human voices. And if we're not hearing from God directly, then all we can do is hear human voices and hope we've turned our ear to the correct voice (which again is very slim indeed).
Those who lead the churches who do not instruct their listeners to return to the basics if they are unstable in their understanding of the Word, and who not challenge their listeners to grow in the Spirit, may in fact not be connected to the Spirit themselves. It behooves us to seek out those who strive for the mastery if we desire to enter the winner's circles. Those instructors content to sit in the bleachers, and who teach that the bleachers are all there is to the game are not very likely to be part of the wining team when all is said and done.
14Let them alone: they be blind leaders of the blind. And if the blind lead the blind, both shall fall into the ditch. (Mat 15:)
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