Saturday, May 30, 2009

Rant and Rave...again

Today, I'm on a rant...again.  I came back from from vacation a week ago full of vim and vigor ready to take on the world once again.  Guess what?  Nothing had changed from before I decided to enter the world of make believe and contemplate my navel on vacation.  This week our dear Guvinator, his honor, Gov. Arnold Swartzenwhatever, pronounced that the State of California was about to enter bankruptcy.  Well...duh!!!  Tell me something I don't know.  So what does he and the lawmakers come up with as a solution?  
Well, looks like we'll have to cut services to the poor, infirm, elderly, disabled (mentally and physically), police and fire services, and forestry, among others.  We'll have to add taxes as well.  Nationally, the same message comes from our Prez.  Only he adds taking over private industry to bail out a bunch of yahoos who have stolen from the poor to make themselves rich.  
So the government who is called by God to administer justice and mercy to the poor and disenfranchised decides to punish those who need help the most to finance pork belly projects that probably have no other purpose than to keep them in office and line the pockets of their richest supporters.  Seems to me God may have something to say about that. 
Nationally, our bankrupt nation, continues to promote values that destroy rather than build up.  We carry on a war with tin horn dictators from the middle ages, with primitive values and lifestyles who covet twenty first century weapons to be used by their primitive mindsets in a modern world.  Scary!!  Tell me something, What has all the intelligence of 2000 years of mental, educational and scientific advancement given us?  Seems to me, all our scientific advancements have done nothing to change our relationship with mankind.  We still, maim, kill, abuse, steal, lie, and generally make mayhem with the world.  Our scientists have just fashioned greater ways of taking advantage of the the weak of our society.  
Uh...didn't the Bible have to say something about that?  Seems to me the Bible is more relevant than ever.  

Now I'll take my gloves off and put on some steal knuckles.  I think Christians  bear just as much guilt as the rest of society.  We have completely turned the words of Jesus into hammers and sickles.  The Bible has become the bludgeon to crush anyone who disagrees with our theology.  In America, our churches are more of a reflection of our secular neighbors than of the Kingdom of God.  Most of our mega-churches are filled with WASPS or tend to reflect the political mindset of either the political left or right.  If we are Peace and Justice churches we tend to hammer the pious right.  Then there are those churches that tend to think they are God's gift to the right wing political groups.  They adopt the rhetoric of the politically conservative talk show hosts and party.  And to hear them talk, you'd think God only cared about the powerful.  In their eyes, the poor are "those" people we might, just might slip a dime to on the street corner.  After all, if the poor would only gain some common sense they could lift themselves out of their poverty.

Makes me want to puke. 

Sorry...It's my rant and since nobody cares..I'll rant on.

The church fights over doctrine and tradition.  My tradition is better than your tradition.  Catholics have the "fullness" of faith because they have the Eucharist.  Forgive me my Catholic friends, but if you have the "fullness", spare me.  I've never seen a church in more disarray than the Catholics....until I look at my Protestant wing.  Oh Lord...have we ever screwed up.  We have a different doctrine in every church.  We can't get along.  We protest everything and accomplish little.  Oh, we have our mega-churches with their song and dance worship.  Not that all that isn't right, but what are the end results?  

Have we ministered to the poor, the hurting, the disenfranchised, the forsaken, the widowed?  Oh sure, we give money, but are these people in our small groups?  And don't give me this, anti-organized church clap trap.  Those who don't believe in the organized church are just as guilty. Many say this is new, but I saw this when I first encounter it in the Plymouth Brethren Bible studies 40 years ago.   It didn't take hold then and it won't now.  They criticize the organized church and live a self centered kind of religion that assumes something never implied in scripture. 

 Folks, there is no pattern for any organized or unorganized church.  The only pattern is Jesus and he set the pattern.  He said, "you shall love the Lord you God, with all your heart, soul and mind, and you shall love your neighbor as your self."  That is a commandment that we are to follow.  So if you prefer the small group movement, then this commandment will compel you to reach out.  You see, worshipping and loving God is done through others.  The Holy Spirit, who is love, returns His love to the Father, through us as we love his image in other people.  That will expand the kingdom and the small group will begin to grow.

Folks, this commandment cuts at all levels.  It reaches out to the all the racial, ethnic, economical levels of our society and brings peace, justice and mercy to all.  I'm tired of fighting.  I'm tired of Christians claiming the higher ground, but living like we prefer the life patterns of those set up by a society that ignores Christ.
I'm tired of living that way.

Now let me tell you a dirty little secret.  Christianity is not a popularity contest.  It's a life of sacrifice.  The world hated Christ and it will hate us.  The world cannot stomach Christianity and will do all it can to eliminate it.  So get used to it.  But...BUT...we don't have keep arrogantly giving them ammunition by acting like jerks.  
If we do wrong, our actions will result in the kind of disarray we are in.  But remember too, even if we act like Christians who carry out the great command of our Lord to love God, love others and serve the world, we will still incur hostility.  Because, darkness cannot stand the light of truth.  

So what do we do?  I think we need a new reformation.  I'm praying for new Calvins, new Luthers, new Francis De Sales, new St. Augustines to step up and live out this great commandment of Jesus to Love God, Love Others and Serve the World.  What if our Mega-Churches changed their focus slightly and reached out to the smaller faith communities in their areas and offered worship teams, teachers, educators for the purpose of building up and encouraging those dying faith communities in our cities and towns.  That of course means that those smaller communities need to look at the larger churches as sources of encouragement rather than competitors who steal from their congregations.  I think Christian colleges and universities have done this to a smaller degree, but imagine what how a poorer church could benefit from a Christian university professor who would be willing to help out smaller congregations or a worship team being in charge of the worship of that congregation?  

The internet is a powerful tool, but is largely nothing more than an expansion of "what I think vs. what you think".  What if it became the tool for spreading love and mercy and justice to all rather than a hammer to crush an opponent?  

O.K. I've meandered enough for today.  I've probably pi...ed.. er...ticked off everyone.  But it's my blog, so let me rant.  But somehow the message has to get out.  Jesus is for everyone.  Jesus taught us a life of love.  He'll take care of the rules and regulations.  Ours is to simply Love God, Love Others, Serve the World.  
We'll still take our licks, but at least it will be for the sake of Christ and not because we have made ourselves a stench by our actions to the world.  Phew...I think I need a shower after that one.

God bless.


Monday, May 25, 2009

Grandpa and Memorial Day

Last night I watched the powerful PBS presentation of the Washington Memorial Day Tribute.  I was deeply moved by the whole program.  I think it was the best they have ever done.  I couldn't help think of my Grandfather, Harold Olsen, Lt.Jg.  He was Grandpa to me.  Grandpa Olsen served our country with the U.S. Navy for 31 years.  He lived a charmed life.  I've seen pictures as a child of his ship traveling through the harsh winters of the North Atlantic on the destroyer escorting other ships to the European theatre.  The ship would be covered with ice from the sea spray.  He and others would be out, daily breaking ice off the guns and rails to lighten the ship.  In all his trips across those dangerous waters, he never saw a U-boat, enemy plane or any fighting.  
The only time he ever saw bloodshed was when a sniper shot a sailor during one of his trips through the Panama Canal when he was assigned to the Southern waters.
Grandpa loved the Navy.  He never had any aspirations to move beyond Lieutenant Junior Grade.  He simply enjoyed serving others.  That was Grandpa.  Always a man with a serving heart.  He loved his country and loved the people he served.  
After retiring from the Navy, he worked for the San Diego Gas and Electric Company for another 30 plus years.
But it wasn't his Naval service or his stint at SDG&E, but for his service to our Lord.  I first met my Grandpa in 1952 after my parents moved to San Diego from West Virginia.  We arrived in San Diego on Christmas Day to sunny skies and warm weather.  I learned right from the start what my Grandpa was all about.  
Though he was retired from the Navy by then, he still had the Navy in him.  It always seemed strange to me to see his bedroom as neat as a pin, looking like a seaman's office/bedroom while my Grandma slept in a flower scented frilly bedroom down the hall.  It wasn't be because they didn't love each other anymore.  That's just how it was.  Grandpa loved his "Snupsy" as he called her. 
I learned right from the start that he had a servant's heart.  He did everything for Snupsy.  While she cared for the house, he toiled in the garden bringing her flowers daily along with the vegetables and fruit he'd grow.  I'll never forget the 14 foot tall Poinsettias he grew.  
But that still isn't what stood out for me.  You see, Grandpa never left the Navy.  Every Sunday he and Grandma get up before dawn, drove several miles to downtown San Diego to hold a Bible study and service for the Navy boys who were away from home.  Here at the service center, he'd have hot coffee and donuts for every sailor or service man who would come into the building.  Along with the coffee and donuts, he'd conduct a little church service where the sailors could worship away from home.  Many of our boys  found Christ thanks to his loving service to them.  (There weren't many ladies in the service back then, so most of the guests were young men)  
Not one young man ever left those services without a New Testament.  You see, Grandpa was also a Gideon.  He give out a Bible or New Testament to everyone he met.  I can remember him standing outside of High Schools giving out New Testaments to anyone who would want one.  He'd go to churches and  speak about the Gideon ministry, help supply Bibles to motels and hotels and do whatever he could to spread the word. 
Grandpa never said much about is faith in private, but he certainly lived it.  So this Memorial Day, I remember my boyhood hero, Grandpa Olsen.  
Grandpa, if you can hear me, thank you for your witness to me and to the thousands of lives you touched.


Sunday, May 24, 2009

Vacation's Over--Silence was Golden

Vacation is over.  Time to slip on the chaps and spurs again and board the saddle.  

I wish I could say it's great to be back, but when you vacation in your dream spot where you plan to retire, well, you get the picture.  We are back from blue skies, clear air, and the biggest thing I notice, no noise.  
Have you ever noticed how much noise is all around you?  I sure noticed the lack of it on our trip.  We stayed at the beautiful Eagle Crest Resort in Redmond, Oregon which I highly recommend to all of you, especially you golfers.  Check out the scenery in the video on the webpage.  You'll see what I am describing.   Our condo was right on one of the fairways and I was reminded of that when one morning while sipping my coffee and reading I heard a loud "thunk" and the sound of a ball bouncing on the wooden patio.  Yup, some guy had the world's worse hook and had sent his ball careening through the junipers right into the condo where we were staying.  

Back to noise.  I took particular notice of the quiet on my first early morning walk.  About half-way around the facility I stopped and listened.  What was different?  I heard birds of all kinds from geese to finches, robins, quail, magpies and the breeze as it drifted through the juniper trees.  But other than an occasional car, or maybe a solitary plane off in the distance, nothing but quiet.  And I marveled, how much of my life is surrounded by noise? 

Constant freeway traffic, planes taking off overhead every five minutes, radios and tv's blaring from nearby houses all contributing to an every present din of background noise.  But on our vacation, none of that.  Oh, if you go downtown, yes, you are in civilization and traffic and noise are all around you there, but out in the 'burbs and then in the areas out of town, nothing but quiet.  In Bend and Redmond, which are 15 minutes apart, wilderness and woods are only five minutes out of town.  Bend Oregon is on the edge of the high desert in central Oregon, on the eastern slopes of the magnificent Cascade mountains.  

This year I didn't even turn on my Ipod but decided to break myself completely from noise and relax with good books and go brain dead watching the Seattle Mariners struggle with the Anaheim Angels.   Seattle?  Yeah...I don't know about that.  I may have to get the sports package for my Dish when we finally settle into our home in Bend.  I can't go without watching my San Francisco Giants.  So no Ipod, nothing in my ears to entertain my mind, no sermons, no nothing.  I can't tell you how liberating that was.  

Back to the golf course walks.  The walk completely around the facility takes about forty-five minutes.  Time to look at the snow capped volcanos that line up like sentinels in the Cascade range.  Time to take in the beauty of the juniper forest all around and in the resort.  Time to stop and watch the playful ground squirrels run and bark at each other.  Time to hear the scurry of the quail running through the sage.  Time to listen to the wind, talk to the friendly robins, watch the crazy antics of swallows chasing bugs, and time to pray.  Yes, pray.  

I found those early morning walks to be the most precious time of my day.  The Lord strolled with me past those fairways, fragrant junipers and sage.  We had the most wonderful chats.  And  I think I've come home with perhaps a different outlook toward life.  One that is more contemplative perhaps, but even more determined to find places of quiet for my life.  My Ipod, which I use primarily for instruction and prayer and not for music, will be used less.  Instead, I'll return to my first love and spend more time reading.

Nice thought huh?  Well, we'll see how it all works out when I hit the mainstream of traffic Tuesday morning.  But for now, peace is something I've discovered.  Peace in finding the value of silence.  
Try it once in a while.  Get away from the noise.  Find out what science has been telling us for years and what the Bible has said many times.  Silence really is golden...and you really don't have to be bored experiencing it.

God bless

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Wednesday Frolics

Hey folks, it's Wednesday, the 13th.  The first day of my vacation.  I'll be offline for the next week and a half so this is it for a few days.  

I have a few fun places to check out today.  First, for all of you who love old timey radio shows, here's a great place to get them.  Radio Spirits.com is a great source of old shows.  Check it out and listen to some samples.  You may find a show that you remember.  (for those of us who are older, that is)  Remember the Shadow?

And if you like Southern Gospel, check out Southern Gospel First.  There are tons of links to great foot stompin' music.  Also check out Southern Gospel News.  It has more good stuff.  And of course, one of my favorites, Paul Heil's Gospel Greats, a cool weekly show heard on stations all over the South and on the internet.

For a change of pace, Scot McKnight has been doing a great series on Justification on his Jesus Creed blog.  It's worth a read.  Check out also his reviews on the controversial issue of gays.  He's been reviewing an explosive new book called, "Love Is An Orientation: Elevating the Conversation with the Gay Communities.  I must confess, I wrestle with this often.  Just how do I minister to gays in love without driving them away from Christ.  I can tell you I'll never raise a placard against them.  It's a tough question we in the evangelical church had better come to grips with.  

Have you ever been rude to your spouse or encountered a rude neighbor.  Warren Baldwin a minister from the midwest has written a fine article on his Bible Fountain Blog called Rude Neighbors..Character Development.   It's a long but well worth read.  

Then I discovered David Rudel's website, Fire in the Bones.  Man, is this guy ever good.  Check out his blog today, What is a Christian?  David is a mathematician and you can tell.  But his research is nothing but mind blowing.  Read it slowly and then ask yourself, Just how do I evangelize?  I'll bet you'll rethink some of what you say to the unbeliever.  

Now for something light stuff.  It's almost Father's Day.  Want to get something cool for the father who loves to fish or hunt?  Check out one of my favorite places.  Bass Pro along with Cabelas are my two favorite places to find cool fishing stuff.  Also check out the food on Cabelas.  They have a great selection of seasonings for all you BBQ's.  Check 'em out.  

And now...a big sigh of relief.  My internet and phone lines went down in the middle of this draft.  I think I lost my sanctification for a moment or two.  At least I'm sure my wife thought so.  I didn't know if this had been saved or not.  But...thankfully, good old AT&T discovered the problem was on their end, nothing was wrong with my line and Earthlink was not at fault.  And, thanks be to God, my draft was saved.  Now...gotta work on that attitude problem I get when sudden irritations arise.  Gee...thank God the Anti-Christ didn't show up about that time.

I'll see you in a week or so.  I'm off to the great Northwest for some R&R.  

God Bless


 

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Pope Paul VI Had It Right

I always keep an open mind and will share articles that I feel are true to the gospel. Jesus Christ is our message, not theology, not doctrine, not philosophy of religion. Jesus is our central message. I think Pope Paul VI had it right in this article that Marcellino D'Ambrosio spotlights on his Cross Roads Initiative Today. I can't think of a clearer expression of the Gospel than Pope Paul gave in this message in Manila many years ago. It is as fresh today as it was then. This is a message all of us Protestants can accept.
I hope you enjoy it.

Monday, May 11, 2009

N. T. (Tom) Wright

No writer in modern history has probably challenged me more in my personal theology than N.T. (Tom) Wright, the good Bishop of Lichfield Cathedral in Staffordshire, England. I'm just finishing up his small, but powerful book "What Saint Paul Really Said". The good Bishop simply floors me with his profound thinking. Apparently, I'm not the only one who is impressed with his writings. He is influencing a large number of people in the evangelical world. His debates and partnering in books with Dominic Crossan, a well know Jesus Seminar scholar, are marvelous.

But what has really impacted me the most are his views on Justification. I hope to pick up his book on Justification soon. For years now, I have questioned a great deal of the reformation theology as more reactionary to the abuses of the Catholic Church rather than actual explanations of what the Bible teaches. I have come to believe that the reformation was more about defending its proof texts for Sola Scriptura rather than extracting what the New Testament authors where actually teaching the early churches. It always seemed to me they ignored the historical context of the passages taught.

Tom Wright addresses this problem in many of his books. I won't go into detail, as, if you are interested, I encourage you to do the research. It's all out there. There is a great interview by Intervarsity on his book, Justification that I recomment for starters. Check it out. Tom's books and papers aren't for the written for the beginner. I find his books to be more written for the scholar, which, in a way, is a shame as what he teaches needs to be put in everyday street vernacular so that the average person can relate to it and understand. Some of his books such as his New Testament Guides For Everyone series are an exception. This series of books are for the average reader and easy to understand.

Those who know me well, know that I love history and am greatly influenced by liturgical thought and have a great appreciation for the Catholic underpinnings of our faith. But Tom Wright is one of the reasons I've not crossed the Tiber or have totally embraced reformation thinking. He and others like him make too much sense for me to ignore God's ultimate call to embrace the entire church at the table of the Lord. Christ teaches us inclusion, not exclusion.
Wright's works really make that clear and for that reason, has made a great impact upon me.

Check him out. Go to his webpage and view more of his works. I guarantee you will be challenged too.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Interesting Links-One graphic in content

I'm piggy backing Scot McKnight's recommendations today.  Check out Jerrod McKenna's Sojourner blog on Mark Driscoll, St. Francis, and the MegaChurch.  It's a good one.    Thanks to Scot for pointing this one out.  I'm not a super fan of Sojourners, but they are often right on when it comes to peace and justice issues.

My next link is totally out of the realm of our faith.  But, I think there is a life lesson here.  It's cruel, graphic and hard for us soft westerners to grasp.  But this lesson from a 21st century primitive man can teach us a lot about persistence.  Warning...this is graphic and not for the squeamish.  Thanks to the internet guru, Kim Komando for highlighting this video.  

Back to mundane matters.  In case you haven't noticed, there is a war going on in the Catholic Church for its survival.  There are a small number of people who are intent on bringing revival to this creaky, ancient Church.  Check out this May 4th article.  What Does the Prayer Really Say?  It highlights the divisions going on.  And you think Protestants are divided!!  Thank you Jeff for bringing this to my attention.  

Just another thought...ponder this...If the Eucharist is NOT the body, soul, blood and divinity of Christ, then the Catholic Church is the greatest fraud ever devised by man.  Take away the Eucharist and the whole Catholic church disappears.  But if the Eucharist IS the body, blood, soul and divinity of Christ, then maybe we Protestants need to take another look.  Maybe we don't have to accept the doctrine of substantiation to believe it...maybe???

Think about it......ta ta

Friday, May 8, 2009

Theological Confusion--I think I Are....

Hey, I'm back. After a long and busy week with no time to blog, I'm back briefly.



I've decided that I'm confused. Or is it frustrated...or fed up...I'm not sure which...so I guess that's confused. I mean, what is a theologian? I'm beginning to think a theologian was invented by the devil to confuse the simple minded like me. Who cares what they think anyway? All they seem to do is muck up things. Ok...Ok...before lightning strikes me down...I love theolgians. I love theologians. I love theologians...Love God Love others, (that includes thologians), and serve the World. (Take a deep breath Richard)



I'm a simple minded fellow in my sixties. I was born into an theologically Armenian Pre-Trib, Pre-Mil, Anti-Catholic family. We were the church with the "deepest" theology...after all...we had A.W. Tozer to revere along with our founder A.B. Simpson. I can remember a story told to me by a former student at Nyaak College, the Christian & Missionary Alliance C&MA college in New York, (now a university) about his college professor who would arrive to class each day, walk over to the window and open it and look out over the grave of A.B. Simpson with his hand over his heart in a moment of silent reverance. (And we made fun of Catholics and Mary and Crucifixes)



Then I discovered George Eldon Ladd and decided I was a Post Tribber. I just knew Jesus had to come after the Tribulation and we were going to have to sweat it out through the pain of the Anti-Christ. In the meantime, along came the Charismatic Movement, the Plymouth Brethern Bible Study groups and the nursing mothers I used to stare at during a Bible study. About that time, the Jesus People exploded in Southern California and all hell..uh...all Calvary broke loose. Remember the confusion between Watchman Nee and Witness Lee?



And then of course, Vatican II hit the Catholics along with the insueing Charismatic movement, but the only contact I had with them were a few nutty nuns who would come to a charismatic prayer meeting, end up laying hands on people to receive new teeth to replace fillings, bridges or whatever was connected to the teeth. Over the years I discovered Calvinism, thanks to the great sermons of C. H. Spurgeon. I was convinced that maybe there was hope and maybe some truth to the Baptists.



Then my world fell apart when I ended up being divorced. Christians just didn't get divorced. I was now damaged goods. No one knew what to do with me. My denomination weren't too favorable to divorced pastors so I ended up on the rocks...shelved...And we didn't have Divorce Recovery Groups.



But then I met a wonderful Presbyterian woman, got remarried and became a Presbyterian. I was now a Presbyterian Calvinist. I loved the worship and theology. But then, I got a deep hunger for the word, got introduced to liturgy...first from the Anglicans and then of all people, the Catholics. I loved it and fell in love with private liturgical praying. My life deepend by leaps and bounds.



But while I was in my monk's cave studying ancient theology, the world was changing. The theological world exploded with new ventures in theology I'd never knew existed. Please understand. I'm a simple minded ex-preacher with only a BA in Pastoral Theology. Now that degree is basically a kindergarden degree, for in order to pastor in most churches today, you need a Masters or PhD. And to be able to talk sensibly with anyone at that level you have to go through a bevy of corporate officers to get to the hallowed sanctuary of the mahagony row set aside for the church pastors. Don't pastors pastor anymore or are they all becoming CEO's?



Now we have something called the Emergent Church that everyone is slobbering over. What the h...uh...heck...is the Emergent Church? I certainly don't know for everywhere I look, the description is different. Is God confused too? Are we all just going off into a multitude of directions making up things as we go in order to make an imprint on the theological world?



But then...who cares? The world sure doesn't. They just laugh at us or worse yet, ignore us. Somehow, ...somehow I don't think Jesus had this mess in mind when he pulled his desciples around him...

Or did he..a tax collector, a fisherman who wouldn't stand up for you when the chips were down, a zealot who would turn you in for thirty pieces of silver, a physician, (good guy there), others who would desert him as well. Then there was that prostitute. But then..she was in good company with a hooker in the Jericho wasn't she. Hmmm...Could it be? Does God fellowship with idiots, crooks, call girls, the poor, the downcast, normal people who screw up all the time...and confused theologians?



Makes my head spin.

P.S. Before you theologians, those paid or not, start throwing your darts, I really do love and appreciate you. You have done a marvelous service to the cause of Christ. But...you aren't as hot as you may think you are.

Sigh...Now I feel better. I needed to rant at somebody........

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Let's Find Balance


"Who needs a church building to worship God?  I can worship God anywhere without having to meet in a fancy box. "  "We left the organized church and became a New Testament church that just meets in homes."  "God never meant for us to have ordained clergy.  All the gifts are equal so anyone can teach or preach if the Spirit moves them"

 

Have you ever heard those kinds of statements?  Is it necessary to meet in a fancy cathedral or building to worship God?  The simple answer is, Of course.  You can worship God anywhere. After all, if Christ is in you and he is everywhere, you can worship.  St. Paul said that you couldn't escape his love no matter where you go in Romans 8.  But does that answer the question?  I'll not have space to answer all those questions, so I'll address only a few.

 

Jesus said in Matt. 18.20 that where two or three meet together in his name (to worship), he is there also. 

 

"See, house churches are the Jesus way." 

"Oh?"

 

W-e-e-e-l-l-l, let us reason together, to coin a phrase I've heard somewhere.  Let's travel through a wormhole in time and space to a land far, far, away.  Let's walk into a synagogue and see what we find when Jesus walked the dusty streets of Jerusalem. 

There's Jesus, over in the corner.  He's twelve years old.  What is he doing?  Read Luke 2:39-52.  He's listening to the teachers (rabbi's) and asking questions.  And the rabbi's are amazed at his understanding of their answers. 

 

So what's so special about this?  Take in the scene.  Here's the place of worship.  His parents had days before celebrated the feast of the Passover.  After they had left, Jesus remained in Jerusalem, unbeknownst to them, and is finally found in the one place that was the central place of worship.  (I won't get into the discussion here of his purpose)

This isn't the last time Jesus visited the temple.  Throughout the Gospels, you'll find him worshipping in the temples and synagogues, teaching, singing the Psalms (Psalter), and generally dialoging with people there.

 

Step back into the wormhole and fast-forward to a few years.  Look at Acts 2:46.  Daily they met in the temple.  How?  Together.  Doing what?  Worshipping of course.  And they met in the homes to eat around the table and share their possessions.  (um..do we do that in our churches)

 

Fast-forward a few short years. Several thousand have been added to the community of believers that became known as the church.  A murder kicks things off.  The brutal murder of Stephen occurs in Acts 7.  And guess who is in on it?  Saul, the man who later became Paul.  But then what happened.  Persecution! 

 

The "church" was scattered through persecution.  Where they had been meeting regularly in synagogues and homes for worship, singing the Psalms and studying the law and prophets, now they were driven out of the synagogues and temples into the surrounding nations.  God began his church, ecclesia, the called out ones.  They were no longer welcome in the synagogues, although they met there when they could.  After all, that was where the scriptures were read and sung and taught.  But they were also forced into hiding.

 

Their homes became church.  Not because the home was the new pattern for church.  They met because it was the safest place to worship.  At first, it was in twos and threes or small groups of family and friends.  If they were fortunate, a wealthy person would be converted and they'd meet in larger facilities to accommodate larger groups.   If they could find a safe meeting place that could accommodate large groups, they would meet there.

 

It was not safe for a person to be a Christian.  As they were scattered into more distant regions they were continually forced into small groups, homes, caves, catacombs.  But, records indicate, where they could, they'd still worship in the synagogues because that was where scripture was taught.

 

So the small group fellowship we are excited about, was actually a place of survival.  The benefit was providential in that individual needs were more easily met and it was relatively safe.  What was worship like?  If you go back into the history books, you discover it was not at all unlike temple and synagogue worship.  There was liturgy.  Scripture was read and sung.  Psalms were most often sung or chanted. So the Psalter has come down through the centuries and is still sung and chanted today in the liturgical churches.  And they celebrated around the meal of Thanksgiving.  This later became a dinner separated from the Eucharist (thanksgiving communion celebration) was celebrated on Sunday.

 

Until the letters of the apostles were written and dispersed, the scriptures that were read, sung, and taught, were the Torah, writings of the Prophets and the history books of what we know as the Old Testament.  

 

I'll wrap this long story up.  So what does this mean for today?  First, church is a body of believers, not a building.  But buildings large or small enable the church to worship and minister to each other.  There is a reason the church is called a body.  We are part of each other and corporate worship is important.  Whether it's done in an organized church or not, is not the issue.  What is the issue is, are we ministering the love of God and one another and carrying our ministry to help the world.

 

The strongest churches, large or small, will have small groups at their core.  Not as a program but as the life of the church.  We all need closeness and fellowship.  That can only be done in a small group.  I believe ideally a large church benefits the community at large, giving strength, extending our "reach" and helps build an identity.

 

Small groups help provide the depth and close friendships of people who become our support system, both in good times and bad.

 

So there is a place for both large and small.  There are no lone rangers in the body of Christ.  So let's rejoice where the church reflects Christ and always strive to Love God, Love Each Other and Serve the World.