Hey, Good Buddy, Ya Got Your Ears On?

original photo credit: Travis Isaacs via photopin cc
photo credit: Travis Isaacs via photopin cc

There was a season during my teenage years when CB radios were all the rage. People installed them in their cars and sometimes even their houses. My buddy’s dad had his own little CB station set up in the corner of his living room to keep him entertained through the long winter evenings.

“CB Lingo”—once only the language of truckers and rednecks—became common jargon for all of American society. Whether by radio or by phone, it was common to greet a friend with, “Hey, Good Buddy, Ya Got Your Ears On?” Little did I realize then that it was Jesus who coined that phrase—only His was a slightly different version.

Talking on CB Radio
photo credit: Andrew 鐘 via photopin cc

Matthew 13:3-9 records what is often called “the parable of the sower.”

And He spoke many things to them in parables, saying, “Behold, the sower went out to sow; and as he sowed, some seeds fell beside the road, and the birds came and ate them up. Others fell on the rocky places, where they did not have much soil; and immediately they sprang up, because they had no depth of soil. But when the sun had risen, they were scorched; and because they had no root, they withered away. Others fell among the thorns, and the thorns came up and choked them out. And others fell on the good soil and yielded a crop, some a hundredfold, some sixty, and some thirty. He who has ears, let him hear.” (NASB)

Did you notice how Jesus ended His little story? “He who has ears, let him hear.” It’s similar to, “Hey, Ya Got Your Ears On?” but with a slightly different twist. Jesus commonly used this phrase when in the process of making a difficult statement. In a sense, the Son of God was saying, “Listen up folks, you may not like what I’m saying, but you really need to hear this.”

photo credit: Natanis Davidsen via CreationSwap
photo credit: Natanis Davidsen via CreationSwap

After Jesus presented the parable of the sower, the crowds went on their way marveling about the eloquent stories that He told. Christ’s disciples, however, pulled Him aside and began to ask questions in an effort to get to the heart of the matter. The Messiah’s followers didn’t just hear what Jesus said; they actually listened.

You know, one thing about Jesus is that He is just so darn easy to ignore—at least in the short-term. A few people in Western culture totally reject what Jesus had to say, and I’ll say that, at the very least, I applaud them for their honesty. Most of us simply pick and choose, approaching the teachings of Christ like we would a restaurant buffet. We keep what tastes pleasant to the palate, while conveniently ignoring anything we deem to be distasteful.

Buffet
photo credit: Andrew Michaels via photopin cc

The problem with this approach is that the words of Jesus Christ can never be simply a matter of preference—they are the very words of life. Whether we choose to reject His teachings, or simply ignore them, I can guarantee that we will find ourselves paying a steep price in the end. The Creator of the Universe is not to be trifled with.

Personally, I really do prefer the pleasant parts of Christianity. I like, for instance, going on retreats—taking time to linger in the presence of God and sitting around the campfire singing Kumbaya with my brothers and sisters in Christ. But along the way, I have also learned the life-giving value of less palatable things like hard truth, correction, and discipline. The fact that I don’t like something doesn’t mean that I don’t need it!

How about you? Ya Got Your Ears On?

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Implications – Part II

Potluck Photo by scottfieldstein - CC By 2.0

Much has been made over the years of the Greek word koinōnía – a word most often translated as fellowship in the New Testament.

“What we have seen and heard we proclaim to you also, so that you too may have fellowship (koinōnía) with us; and indeed our fellowship (koinōnía) is with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ.” 1 John 1:7 (NASB)

Koinōnía has multiple dimensions that all converge for us into a common theme – the shared lifestyle of fellowship, giving and devotion of those voluntarily bound together through the New Covenant in Christ. A sense of the depth of this word is found through the celebration of communion—our ongoing covenant meal.

“Is not the cup of blessing which we bless a sharing (koinōnía) in the blood of Christ? Is not the bread which we break a sharing (koinōnía) in the body of Christ?” 1 Corinthians 10:16 (NASB)

We’re talking about something here that far exceeds your typical potluck fellowship dinner. There is such a sense of unity between God and His people that we sometimes find ourselves wondering where one begins and the other ends. His presence fills us and binds us in a profoundly powerful way. There is so much more to fellowship and unity than meets the eye!

Unity releases life! We see it in the natural sense through the God-designed sexual union between male and female. In the paradigm of a God-ordered family that life goes far beyond the physical reproduction of children—a healthy emotional life is imparted as well.

Those who enter into fellowship with God through the shed blood of Jesus Christ are brought to life spiritually. As they continue a shared lifestyle  with God, excess life is released, taking form as the fruit of the Holy Spirit. (Galatians 5:22-23) Celebrating the bread and wine both requires and produces fruit.

Fellowship with God necessitates fellowship of some type with other believers. God then imparts a unique measure of life as we draw together in the unity of covenant through the presence of the Holy Spirit.

“Behold, how good and how pleasant it is
For brothers to dwell together in unity!
It is like the precious oil upon the head,
Coming down upon the beard,
Even Aaron’s beard,
Coming down upon the edge of his robes.
It is like the dew of Hermon
Coming down upon the mountains of Zion;
For there the LORD commanded the blessing–life forever.”

Psalm 133 (NASB)

Make no mistake about it! There is a supernatural element to Biblical unity as God anoints the intended culmination of His plans and purposes. The life of God released cannot be contained!

Can church structures affect koinonia? Most certainly! However, the greater question is whether the life of God is being continually released in our midst as we prefer one another in love and honor. Do we want to see the life of God transform the world around us? Then let us learn to honor and love all other Christians within and without the walls of our local fellowships!

Dancing with Who?

Original Photo by liza31337 - CC By 2.0

Did you know that Hines Ward of the Pittsburgh Steelers football team is doing really well right now on Dancing with the Stars? Baltimore Ravens fans are upset with his success and launching a vote against Hines campaign. Go Hines!

I’m on top of all of this, but not because I watch the show. The Pittsburgh area news stations provide an update just about every evening. To be honest, it all really bugs me! My real concern isn’t about how well Hines is dancing or whether Ravens fans despise him, but why a trivial entertainment issue garners so much attention on the nightly news. But there it is–right up there with earthquakes, tsunamis, nuclear meltdowns and global conflict!

As a culture we are losing our ability to identify what truly matters and what doesn’t. We struggle with understanding how key issues relate to one another. More and more, people are critical of others, but not critical thinkers for themselves. Through it all we lose the value of individuality and set ourselves up for mass deception.

I’ve also noticed some other interesting (and somewhat frustrating) trends over the past several months. Readership peaks when I post about finding personal security in the midst of a crazy world, or about the ideal of Christian unity. But when I speak of the concept of covenant and some of its powerful ramifications, interest drops significantly.

This tells me that we are grasping for an ideal which we don’t have a clue about how to achieve. Don’t we get it? One is a prerequisite for the other!

Do you want to find personal security in the midst of an ever unstable and chaotic world? It comes not from some wishful thinking about some far off God who maybe, hopefully might actually care. Personal security is a byproduct of understanding the nature of our covenant relationship with the Creator of our universe.

Do you want to find deep, rich fellowship with other people–relationships in which you are loved and accepted for who you are regardless of appearance, money or status? The substance of such connections is established in the foundation of covenant.

For a long time I mistakenly thought that an understanding of covenant was lost to the western church due to some quirk of history. I’m slowly beginning to understand that we want it to be lost. Real love is expensive! We long for the unconditional and sacrificial love of God to be shown toward us, but like bugs scurrying from an uncovered log, we flee from extending that same form of costly love to others.

Photo by Adam Zivner - GNU Free Documentation License

As a culture we selfishly grab at the sweet fruit of Christianity while ignoring or rejecting its true substance. We’re left grasping for nebulous concepts of love and peace that we will never be able to achieve.

All that we truly desire is found in Christ, but our faith will remain shallow and hollow if we do not adjust our thoughts and actions to His paradigm. God will not yield, not even for a moment, to a human manner of thinking. For Him to do so would mean the destruction of all that is good. No, it falls upon us to search out the ways of God and to align our lives with His divine order.

How does all of this apply to the unity of the church? Unity is possible, but only on God’s terms. If we choose to ignore those terms, we will tremble with the fear of abandonment as this world continues to shake—all while He brings His faithful church to a peace-filled maturity in these last days.

Who Ate My Chocolate?

Many of us have had that Kumbaya experience. Perhaps it was at a retreat as everyone sang around the campfire, basking in the warm, fuzzy feelings of fellowship. The moment was so special and everyone was just so wonderful—that is until you returned to the lodge only to discover that some schmucks had eaten the chocolate candy bar you had squirreled away in your room. So much for warm and fuzzy—somebody is going to pay!

My underlying point is that unity must be Christ-centered. The idea of everyone just getting along like one big happy family simply doesn’t work. You may really want world peace, but eventually someone will eat your chocolate. What then? Love isn’t some cheap commodity that can be purchased in a dollar store. The ability to forgive those who hurt and offend us can’t be downloaded from the internet. If love and forgiveness came that easily, we’d all have an abundance!

People will let us down. Sometimes it’s an unintentional oversight. Or perhaps a person means well and is misguided. The fact that we all have self-centered tendencies doesn’t help. As long as even one person performs a selfish action, someone will need to forgive. In a world with billions of self-absorbed people we’re in trouble (as evidenced by the reality around us).

Our reality is that the noblest of all thoughts for unity mean little unless empowered by some type of mechanism to transform the core motivations of human hearts. This leads us to both the centrality and the beauty of the Gospel.

“For he is our peace, the one who made both groups into one and who destroyed the middle wall of partition, the hostility, when he nullified in his flesh the law of commandments in decrees. He did this to create in himself one new man out of two, thus making peace, and to reconcile them both in one body to God through the cross, by which the hostility has been killed. And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near, so that through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father.” Ephesians 2:14-18 (NET)

While this blog format doesn’t allow for the opportunity to explore this passage in depth, the imagery is clear and certain.  He is our peace. Through the cross He has destroyed the wall of hostility that separates us. Any other methods and motivations toward unity fall woefully short when confronted by the harsh realities of life. The real question for the church is whether or not we will allow Christ to be our peace and to destroy the walls of hostility that separate us.

The Gospel really is a universal message of community that goes well with or without chocolate.