The church is (rightly) concerned about homosexuality, it is a perversion against the original design for humanity, it degrades and destroys society, and it means that there is no fruit of the womb.

However, the church should be, in this hour, more concerned about homo-sectuality.  If a homo-sexual can only have sex with his same gender, a homo-sectual can only have fellowship and only learn from people within his small sect.

Some Christians are homo-sectuals. They really are – they cannot fellowship, learn from or receive from anyone outside of their sect. And like all homo-sectuals, they have no fruitfulness from their life because offspring only comes from differences.

Recently, one individual failed to go and hear a guest preacher at the Tree because they never went to or taught at Bible College X. They stupidly missed out on a real message of grace and love because they are homo-sectuals.  It’s caused by pride and a tribal mentality – if it doesn’t come from my group, it can’t be good.  That’s arrogance mixed with stupidity, with a dash of prejudice!

Another individual said to me recently “Did you study at Bible College X? You must have because you preached such an amazing message, and only people from Bible College X can preach that good?”

I said “No, I’ve never studied there in my life”

He said back, confused, “well I guess the message cannot have been that amazing then”.  His devotion to his sect actually meant he re-defined reality to fit around protecting and elevating the sect.  How can you have a fruitful life if that is the case?  You can’t.

The truth is that the church is so much more varied and beautiful than we can imagine.  And the people who offer the most to the Tree Network will learn from and absorb from a number of different streams.  Sometimes you go and hear certain preachers and you will be criticised because they don’t do this and that – they don’t fit in our sect.  Well, perhaps they were never meant to.

I was criticized recently for listening to a number of Billy Graham meetings.  The person criticizing was a charismatic (like me) and said “well, you’ll never get baptized in the Holy Spirit listening to Billy Graham”.  Well – I wasn’t listening to him to get baptized in the Holy Spirit, I was listening to get the wisdom he had gleaned over the years of running a huge, evangelistic ministry with integrity and longevity.  Sadly, some people baptized in the Holy Spirit haven’t managed those last two points too well!

Learn to learn from those who don’t look like you.  Remember we are part of the body of Christ.  When your foot gets a splinter, you can’t take it out with another foot.  You simply can’t.  You need a hand.  Yet when most Christians get into trouble, they end up going to people just like them.  Selah!

Homo-sectuality. It divides people, it stops people encountering preachers and ministries and churches that would really bless them.

Homo-sectuality. It engenders pride, it engenders smallness of thinking. It refuses the humilty to say that I can learn from those who are different from me.

Homo-sectuality. It means you will spend your life barren – remember fruitfulness only comes when two different things interact!

Homo-sectuality. It causes you to redefine your world to fit your sect. It will mean your life paradigm will always be deficient.

Homo-sectuality. It’s so gay!

Difficult Verses 9: Hebrews 12.6

Here is a verse that a lot of people struggle with as it does not at first glance paint the same picture of God that Jesus does:

For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth.

It’s in Hebrews 12.6, and I have seen this verse used by many to tell them that God is going to beat them, whip them, smack them about the head, make them sick, kill their cat, blow up their car – whatever is necessary to bring them to their knees.  In fact, by reading v.8 they then tell people that if God isn’t out to get you then you are not even really a Christian.

Now I think it’s obvious to anyone who understands what happened on the cross – that Jesus Christ is not about to whip anyone.  When He made a whip he didn’t even hurt a dove – Jesus is happy to turn over tables, but not people.  And if you have seen Jesus you have seen the Father, so it seems obvious that the Father does not chastise us or scourge us.

So how do we handle Hebrews 12.6 – the same way we handle all difficult verses, not by looking away from them, but by looking at them.

Firstly, does God chastise us?  If we read the word in the Greek it is paideuo.  It means “the process of training children”, “to correct with words” and “to correct with punishment as a legal judge”.  So in the context of family this word means to tell someone the truth and keep them on the path and to train someone as a child.  In the context of a legal setting, it means to punish someone for their misbehaviour.

It’s similar to the English word “discipline”, which if used of an athlete means to run the race, to make right choice.  We praise people by saying they are self-disciplined, we do not mean they beat themselves.

God isn’t disciplining us in the headmaster’s cane sense of the word, He is disciplining us in the good Father and Coach sense of the word!   God isn’t chastening us in the Judge sense of the Word, but training us and correcting us with kind words in the good Father sense of the Word.  The context lets us know that!

So that’s solved then.  But what about the second word, scourging.  In the Greek that word is mastegoo, and it means to beat with a whip.  The only times it is used in the New Testament it is referring to Jesus’ literal whipping.

Now I have heard a number of options about how the Hebrew word underlying this word can also mean “inquire into”, or can mean “delight in” – and indeed it is clear that Paul – or whoever you consider wrote Hebrews – is referencing Proverbs 3.11-12 which does say the Lord disciplines those He delights in.

However, there is zero evidence that Hebrews was originally written in Hebrew, there is no extant copy of a Hebrew copy of Hebrews and the idea has no external evidence.  We can’t build a case on the possible meaning of the alternative meaning of a word in a language that it simply isn’t in and there is no proof it is in, even if the language is Hebrew.

We have to look at the Greek and assume Occam’s Razor, that Hebrews was originally written in the language we have it in – koine Greek.  We also have to deal with the fact that in every other usage in the New Testament it is used literally – it actually means to literally whip someone.  In this usage it is being used as a picture – even the most strident Calvinist doesn’t believe God is going to literally whip his children!

So what is it a picture of, and how can this verse be comforting to us?

It can be used as a metaphor for sickness – someone being whipped with pain!  But we know for sure our Father does not put sickness on us.  It can be used metaphorically for to whip a horse, in the sense of anything you do or say to speed someone up.  This possibly fits – the idea of our Father speaking to us to encourage us to run our race, to get to where we are going is certainly one that fits the picture of the Father that Jesus painted.  Although there is no indication this context is meant, and nothing else that helps with that word-picture.

Finally, though, the word is used as a metaphor in ancient Greece (as it still is today) in the sense of castigating someone.   A sharp telling off.  Did Jesus ever sharply tell off His disciples?  Did He say “oh you of little faith”, did he say “how long must I put up with you”, did He say “why did you doubt”, did he castigate them for being hard of heart?  The answer is yes he did.  It seems most like that this scourging is done with the Word, which fits into the context of the first word discipline which is also done with the Word.

When we read the Word, it trains us – it chasteneth us – and shows us the correct path.  This is mainly a simple thing. However, sometimes in my life, and I am sure in your life too,

However, sometimes in my life, and I am sure in your life too, something jumps out at me from the Word, and then it hits me hard – it makes me think “ouch”.  I would probably described times like that as a metaphorical whipping.  There have been times mentors of mine have explained certain things to me and I realize that I have been foolish.  It felt like a smack in the face.  I might even say “Jimmy slapped me good today!” – and I don’t mean for one second that Jimmy hit me, just that correction doesn’t feel good at the time.  If you look closely at the word castigate, it generally means to be corrected for setting a bad example.  I’ve had moment likes that as a Christian, and it’s not easy!

So does this verse teach that God beats us up and whips us?  Of course not.  Does it teach that through His Word God corrects us, trains us, and sometimes castigates us?  Yes.

Not Ashamed!

I like to blog every week, and generally I blog on a Tuesday.   This Tuesday was a bit difficult though as on a prison visit I was on, there was a lock down and we were stuck for about three hours.  To top that off, the M1 was closed on the way back down and it took a long time to get home.  So, a bit behind this week.

Anyway, I was praying and thinking on what to blog on when I saw yet another church-bashing blog on Facebook, this time penned by a graduate of a well-known Bible College.  In this one, the author shares about his wandering to several local churches and how deficient they were.  He expected on fire, vibrant, power-filled, Spirit-enabled powerhouses with the gifts flowing.  Instead, he found doughnuts and friends, and worship that – although people were “having a good time” – was ultimately religious.

In this one, the author shares about his wandering to several local churches and how deficient they were.  He expected on fire, vibrant, power-filled, Spirit-enabled powerhouses with the gifts flowing.  Instead, he found doughnuts and friends, and worship that – although people were “having a good time” – was ultimately religious.

Apparently not one of these churches preached the good news of the gospel – only good advice, and religious philosophy.  And, of course the fact that these groups haven’t grown is obviously because they are not how this man expects them to be.

Finally, after the services of all these churches, this gentleman tried to engage people in conversation about the Holy Spirit, but these people were all too defeated and full of doubt and unbelief to listen – because nobody knows what the Bible actually says about who God is!

Now we are not to misunderstand this person – according to them, they are not ripping these churches to bits.   They just think it is sad that the body of Christ don’t know who they are, what they have, and any revelation on the true nature of God.  They want to go to church to be challenged, to see the gospel preached with signs.  The reason the church is not doing this is because, apparently, they are ashamed of the gospel!

This kind of thing is becoming de rigeur these days – it is trendy to bash the local church!

But let’s just put some things in perspective shall we:

1. Not every church service has to be swinging off the chandeliers with healings and miracles every service.  If the man who wrote this article remembers back to Bible College days he might remember a teaching where blessings and miracles are compared, and blessing are shown to be superior to miracles.  It’s better to be in the Word and focus on the Word and learn the Word week in week out than see miracles.

In the Tree, we have miracle services every so often.  They are well attended.  But the people who grow in Christ are not the people who show up every few months for a miracle service. They are the people who are there week after week renewing their mind with the Word.

2. There is nothing wrong with doughnuts and friendships.  They are important.  It’s amazing that although Jesus became fully human some of his followers find it difficult to do the same.  The early church used to eat together – and not mystical superfood, but food.  And they weren’t all glowing and all amazing, they just ate together.  It’s just eating together.  One of the most important things any church can offer people is food and friendship.

3.  The obvious frustration this man feels I believe is at least partly based on a misunderstanding of the Christian life.  It’s not supposed to be a roller coaster, it’s supposed to be a walk in the spirit.  Jeremiah wanted to hear God and God sent him to the potter’s house.  There he watched the potter turn a piece of clay around and around and around and around, each time crafting it a tiny amount.  That is how God works in our lives – through repetition.  Whenever someone calls church boring, they have failed to grasp this simple truth.

4.  Any donkey can kick down a barn.  It really isn’t hard to attack the church.  I pastor a network of 4 (very very soon to be 5) churches.  If you want to find things to criticise about them, then you won’t have to look very hard.  They are made up of imperfect human beings, working out their salvation with fear and trembling.  But it takes skill and wisdom to build something.  I decided a long time ago I do not listen to people on how to build unless they have built more and better than me.  This has saved me from a lot of foolishness and a lot of bluster.  I would like to see this man start a church, and in six months after having meetings every week, dealing with people, loving people through divorce and death, being there for people in their best and worst, and then see if he is so strident in his assessment of churches and the people in.

5.  We have to be careful in dismissing whole movements and denominations.  Now, I say this carefully – I am one who many people have said to me that my preaching of the gospel has spoiled them for legalism, and I know how they feel.  Law preaching is the number one danger for Christians as it cuts them off from the live of Christ and makes the cross of no effect.  But I also once a month listen to a sermon from a different preacher from a different stream – and they go to Scriptures I don’t often hear preached from and they bring gold I haven’t found.  Yes, I might have to sift a little, but I hold on to what is good.  You would think a few years of Bible College would have given someone those skills.  I would be more impressed to hear about the grains of wisdom, even if they were just grains, that this person had learned from each church they have been to.

6. There is something I call the credibility factor.  When you are brand new at a church, you have zero credibility.  No one knows who you are – and some visitors to churches can be a little strange.  If you start conversations with people during the post-service cup of coffee about why is the church not growing, why is everyone so unspiritual, why were there no miracles today – is the Holy Spirit not present I should expect to be looked at like an alien! It’s not their unbelief that is causing them not to answer, it’s their shock at the lack of manners.

It’s not their unbelief that is causing them not to answer, it’s their shock at the lack of manners.  Go for a few weeks, get involved in a small group, join a rota, get some credibility – listen to people where they are.  Then you will have the right to feed, to share, to encourage, to inspire and maybe even to challenge.

If you don’t have the time to do tthat, then you are not the person God has raised up to challenge that church, so be quiet, drink your coffee, and learn something as you listen!

7. The final diagnosis of the original author is that the problem is that the church is ashamed of the gospel.  It may be some church leaders are playing politics, I don’t know.  It seems more likely to me that the gospel of grace is not preached in some places because they didn’t know it.  Unfortunately, the one critical visit from someone who just wants to talk about miracles over coffee, criticize the worship, the preaching and the heart of the leadership of the church is probably not about to change that anytime soon.

Here is something amazing: when Jesus was in the synagogue to read from Isaiah, Luke tells us it was his custom.  Yes, that dead synagogue.  That synagogue with no signs and wonders.  That synagogue with it’s doughnuts and friends!  That synagogue where a man comes in week after week with a demon and nothing is done.  That synagogue where they talk about the Messiah, but they never encounter him.  That synagogue where the worship is not my style, the preacher is a human being and its all a bit murky.  It was Jesus’ custom to go.  What is our custom and is it the same as Christ’s?

Because when Jesus’ time came, he had no credibility gap – because he was there.

Just saying.