Friday, September 23, 2011

What Really Matters

In the “real” world, the recipient of service gets to determine the value of the service received, not the individual providing the service. Demand determines supply, and price. For instance, the customer in the restaurant not the waiter, determines the size of the tip, based on the quality of the service provided. Too often in the church we believe our own press clippings. That is, our own evaluation of ourselves and what is important, bears no resemblance to reality, but we feel good about ourselves none-the-less.

Have you ever wondered what would motivate pagans in the first few years after the resurrection, to want to align themselves with this “Jewish cult” of a crucified, criminal, itinerant peasant preacher from a despised country? There were no “services,” choirs, “special music,” solos, a good Sunday School program, youth ministry, singles ministry, young adult ministry, men’s ministry, women’s ministry, nurseries, paved parking lots, latte bars, sound systems, worship teams, prayer summits, proper church government, budgets, elder boards, etc., to “attract them.” Something other than a clever name resulting from a demographic marketing survey to determine “relevance,” and a slick highway billboard with Ken and Barbie grinning down in stylistic perfection, had to be working.

Why would pagans risk losing everything that matters to them in life (perhaps even life itself) to “join” the “Way” as it was called. What was “attractive” about the church that made pagans risk everything?

I think that is a fair question.

The catch phrase: “We want to be a New Testament church,” sounds noble, but it was unnerving to me to discover some years ago, that in spite of that mantra being on my lips, very little, perhaps nothing that I was involved in as a “pastor,” had any bearing on what was attractive to pagans in New Testament times.

Some years ago there was an article in Christian History magazine in which the author did a survey of pagan literature regarding the church. Since the church is supposedly called to “serve the world” as ambassadors for Christ, it makes sense to not just believe our own press reports, but to believe what objective critics had to say about “the church,” both fairly and unfairly. Sometimes, our critics are the most honest harbingers of evaluation. Even in an unfair criticism, we need to look for the germ of truth. It is usually there.

Herein is a condensed and adapted summary of what the author of the article discovered from pagan sources regarding what attracted them to want to become a Christian, join the community. I cannot expound on every point here, except to say, none of the things we typical value (the quality of the sermons, the worship music, the “ministries” offered, the heat and air conditioning in the building, etc.), had any bearing whatsoever on the interest of unbelievers. Here is the list (not listed in any particular priority):

1. Fortitude under persecution/pressure
2. Fearlessness of death
3. Tight community
4. A life of moral purity and prayer
5. Strong leadership
6. Care for one another, care for the needy, they lived longer. They shared risk in a time of trouble, people drew together.
7. Miracles and deliverances
8. First century evangelism consisted of relationships not arguments.
9. Many women were drawn to Christianity, because the Christian ban on abortion appealed to them, as abortion was often fatal or sterilizing. No female infanticide also appealed. A Roman could leave a baby exposed to die if it was defective in any way, or if it was a girl, and a boy was desired. These things would “motivate” women.

Friends, what is distinctive about this list? The answer to this question was instrumental in my own journey of re-evaluating everything I was doing as a “pastor” within a traditional church. It was humbling to discover, that just about everything I was giving my time, energy, and other people’s money to maintain, was irrelevant to what really matters in reaching the lost. Just about everything that is valued in a typical, Western, American “size and success” Evangelical church, isn’t in this list.

God help us all to give ourselves to what really matters, for Jesus’ cause, rather than the perpetuation of a ghetto of irrelevant religious practices, that we happen to enjoy on a weekly basis. God deliver us from a man-centered, ego-centered, bless-me-centered, false gospel that permeates the very fiber and fabric of American cultural “Christian” religion.

The gospel of Jesus Christ is manifested in a life that is lived, not an argument that is won.


Copyright 2011 Dr. Stephen R. Crosby Permission is granted to copy, forward, or distribute this article for non-commercial use only, as long as this copyright byline, in totality, is maintained in all duplications, copies, and link references. For reprint permission for any commercial use, in any form of media, please contact

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Thursday, September 8, 2011

The Good Side of the Wrong Tree

God’s purpose in humanity is not behavior conformed to biblical standards. It is transformation into the image of Christ, and the two are not unequivocally the same. Transformation is a faith appropriation process realized in us through death and resurrection, not a behavior modification process realized through the acquisition of layer upon layer of correct biblical information.

Have you ever wondered why sometimes when someone is teaching something biblically true, imparting a “great revelation,” or trying to implement something biblically accurate, that the end result is often spiritual death? It doesn’t matter how “biblical” the topic is—authority, family, marriage, government, finance, honor, submission, leadership, “accountability,” repentance, for-giveness, revival, worship, prayer, etc.—or how great the revelation is. The animating power and spirit behind it makes the difference between life and death. It’s possible to be deeply “revela-tional” and biblically accurate in one’s doctrine and practice, and touch nothing of the life of Je-sus in the process.

There were two trees in the middle of the Garden of Eden: the tree of life, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. The promise the serpent made to Adam and Eve was not, “Eat of this tree and it will make you a bad person.” The promise was God-likeness. God is good and you will be like Him, only without God. The serpent wasn’t joking. He delivered on his word. Unbelieving humanity resembles God in human “goodness.” There is a good side of the wrong tree. The good side of the wrong tree has a striking resemblance to the tree of life. The only problem is, it is a form of goodness and God-likeness, separated from Life, and the end result is, and always will be, death.

The tree of life and the good side of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil are like identical twins—you have to be close to notice any difference. Imagine two identical quarts of milk in the fridge. Neither has been opened. You cannot tell from a distance and by outward appearance if they are really identical or not. You have to open them, and check the expiration date. Though they look the same, the aroma will tell you which you want on your cereal. So it is with the good side of the wrong tree. It stinks. Biblically conformed behavior, of itself, means nothing.

There are many legitimate principles and precepts in the scripture. However, when any biblical precept is implemented or energized from the good side of the wrong tree, its effect will be death:

Accurate Bible doctrine + good side of the wrong tree = death.
“Prophetic” revelation + good side of the wrong tree = death.
Well meaning intentions + good side of the wrong tree = death.
Passion for Scripture + good side of the wrong tree = death.
Passion for prayer + good side of the wrong tree = death.
Passion for the kingdom + good side of the wrong tree = death.
Passion for soul winning + good side of the wrong tree = death.
Passion for moral purity + good side of the wrong tree = death.
Governmental order + good side of the wrong tree = death

A life built solely upon adherence to biblical principles is designed by God to fail. A life built precept upon precept, line upon line, was the judgment God put on a leadership that was acting like babies, drunken in their own vomit. It is designed to cause those who try to build their life that way, to fall backward, be broken, snared, and taken. Precept upon precept, and line upon line was the punishment God laid upon Israel for refusing Him in His Person and the relational rest that is in Him. (Please read Isaiah 28 in context.)

It is possible, and common, to have one’s outward behaviors morally conformed to a biblical standard, and to be at the same time, relationally alienated from God and humanity. We can be blameless according to the “scriptural standard of behavior,” and be relationally toxic at the same time. According to Paul’s own testimony, his behavior was blameless according to the standard of God’s law. Yet, he was the chief of sinners, alienated from God and humanity, and he counted all that moral conformity as excrement compared to the excellency that is in Christ.

That is why a new convert whose behaviors are . . . well, consistent with being a new convert . . . can experience life-changing transformation into the image of Jesus, and know very little about the Bible. Freshness of love and relationship begets life, not mastery of the Bible. It is a matter of right relationship, not right doctrine. Knowledge puffs up . . . yes, even “Bible” knowledge. I can be “wrong” in my doctrine, and “right” in my relationships, and thus enjoy the manifest life and blessing of God. I can be right in my doctrine, and wrong in my relationships, and enjoy neither.

Since Jesus was explicitly clear that the fulfillment of all the law, and all God’s moral expecta-tions for humanity were relational not behavioral in essence, morally conformed but relationally alienated behavior that is from the good side of the wrong tree is still sin, and the fruit thereof will always be death.

The Adamic nature in us—the propensity to live life without consideration of God and His ways—has a death sentence on it, not a mandate for self-improvement through the exercise of biblical principles. We all would rather “try to live right,” than to die daily and experience His newness of life.

The unredeemed, natural, soulish, Adamic human nature can, from a base of sheer will power, conform itself to the mandates of biblical principles. This is especially true if there is some in-centive of esteem or reward that the Adamic nature will receive from being conformed to biblical principles.

The life we have been given in Him is like an artesian well. We do not have to flail the Adamic pump handle trying to make Christianity “happen.” It cannot be coerced to manifest through the application of biblical principles. If yielded to through faith appropriation of Christ’s finished work, and the experiential process of death and resurrection, it flows freely. It is in the nature and design of an artesian well to flow. It doesn’t need any help.

The problem is, Adam would rather flail than die. Professional pump-men earn the respect and admiration of others in the Christian community: “Look at how hard Brother Pumps-A-Lot is working for Jesus.” “Look at his earnestness!” “Wouldn’t it be wonderful if everyone were as devoted as Brother Pumps-a-Lot?”

There is just a small problem. Brother Pumps-a-Lot may not be converted. You cannot tell by his activity what kind of water he is bringing up, just like you cannot tell if the milk in the fridge is good or sour by looking at it from a distance. Religious activity in the name of Jesus is not the same as having a life-source change. Adam in a tuxedo and clean fingernails or Adam in grimy rags is still Adam.

Adam would prefer to pump in the noonday sun until the sweat is rolling off His nose like water over Victoria Falls, than to embrace the death sentence he has in Jesus, yield to the Spirit of Chr-ist within, experience unspeakable deaths, and be brought up again in His newness of life. Adam will always choose the pump handle over the grave.

The yoke that is easy, the burden that is light, is the yoke of His rest. The familiar Psalm 23 states: He makes me to lie down . . . (Not try harder!)

Makes me . . .

That sounds to me that we are not inclined that way!

The essence of the Christian life, the life we have been promised, is not the arduous acquisition of virtue through human discipline. It is the unfolding of the life that is in us, that has been given in the indwelling Holy Spirit. Through faith—relational trust—learning how to appropriate mo-ment-by-moment, the ever sufficient, eternally emanating life of Christ in resurrection. Through cycles of death and resurrection, all the days of our mortality, you and I will be transformed into the image of Christ: God gets many sons, and Messiah gets the nations!

Copyright 2011 Dr. Stephen R. Crosby