Saturday, November 23, 2013

God Uses Nobodies and Nothing: A True Story

In 2007 I flew back to Kyrgyzstan in Central Asia to visit some of the people I had baptized on a previous trip (for that story, see “What Does Your Faith Rest Upon?” @ Before I left the United States, I had a picture in my mind that I was to play one a guitar in the upstairs area of the Moscow Sheremetyevo airport. I thought God put the picture in my mind, and I expected all kinds of people to come and listen to me play. Ha! Anyone who has heard me play and sing knows that cats wailing have a better chance of drawing a crowd. Anyway, deluded as I was, I took out my guitar and played and sang my heart out. Nobody came except Ingrid, my wife, and Kirstie, my daughter—but they had to be there because they were traveling with me. I played and sang my heart out with all my favorite Jesus’ street rocker songs: Momma Killed a Chicken, Born to Be Unlucky, Why Don’t You Look into Jesus, I’m Feeling So Bad, Outlaw, Great American Novel and such.
No one came. Except 6-year old Eva from Denmark. She was the best audience ever. She was so into it that she got completely worn out. After listening for awhile she had to go lie down and fall asleep. Her dad, Jakob, gave me the peace sign (two fingers), took her by the hand, and led her back to their spot on the concrete a little farther down the balcony. She fell asleep on someone else’s card board/blanket makeshift pad.
A bit of time went by, and Eva’s father Jakob came walking up and held up the two-finger peace sign and said in perfect English, “Peace!” Now, I’m from California so I could have gone with hippy- surfer-dude, but my brain started to go with Matthew 10 and Luke 10—this must be a “man of peace” who opens the door for the good news about Jesus to be shared....Right? Wait. No. He said this: “My daughter is asleep on this strange woman’s bed and I have to go check on my flight. Can you watch my daughter and make sure this woman doesn’t run off with her?” Not exactly my idea of “ministry,” but I agreed, walked over and stood by the rail by Eva and the African woman sitting next to her while Jakob went to check on his flight. He came back, and I tagged off guard duty and went and sat back down. I was a little disappointed. It didn’t appear my Christian rock concert was having any effect.
Later, I looked down Jakob and Eva’s way, and there he goes again giving me the peace sign and smiling. I say to myself, “Self, this must be a man of peace. I’m going down there.” So I got myself up, went to save Jakob’s soul, sat down and tried to talk to him about God. But I couldn’t because the African woman there named Elizabeth kept interrupting me with complete religious nonsense. I looked over at her and she was surrounded by Watchtower materials that a Jehovah’s Witness had shared with her. I looked at these magazines then I looked Elizabeth in the eye and said in a very parental way, “You should not be reading these.” I cannot explain what happened next, other than to say she immediately complied. She looked down at the magazines, gathered them all up in her arms and walked over and threw them in the garbage can. She came back, and calmly listened to me tell her about Jesus and prayed out loud to submit to Jesus as her new owner and boss, and to do whatever he says. I spent some time telling her the six things every new follower of Jesus should know and gave her my Bible and all the trail mix and toothpaste we had, then we had to rush and catch our plane to Bishkek.
Oh, one more important detail. I forgot to mention that I found out Elizabeth was captive in this airport’s transit/transfer area, an international no-man’s-land. The story is still not completely clear to me, probably because she has some shame associated with it.

The part that is clear is that the guy taking her to Palestine from Germany told her that he had to take her passport outside the airport to get her ticket, and he never came back (probably sold her passport, since passports are big money on the black market).

Without a passport, she could not leave the transfer area to enter Russia, and without a ticket or a passport she couldn’t get on a plane. For 18 months, she was stuck there in that cold, heartless, inhospitable piece of concrete.
What did she do after we met? She read the Bible I gave her through many, many times. She prayed. She fasted. She waited for God to provide her food through some kind soul passing through the airport and having mercy on her. She shared Jesus with everyone who would listen and, by my count, evangelized people from at least 19 nations (nearby is a picture of the guy from Eritrea she shared Jesus with, and our co-worker in Christ Steve Hill from Canada who was one of the kind souls traveling through that airport from time to time). With the help of the United Nations’ High Commission on Refugees, we were able to get her out and back to Nigeria where she serves Jesus still.
“God has put his incredible power in cracked pots with the express purpose of demonstrating that the power is from him and not from us” (the apostle Paul, in 2 Corinthians 4).
Brian Joseph Dodd, Ph.D., Orlando, Florida, USA

Nothing or a little bit? None or two? (How Much Money and How Many People does it take to start a church?)

Everybody knows it takes a lot of money and people and a good band and a funny, smart speaker to “start a church.” Competence, training, giftedness, skill, good looks, healthy psychological profile, good health and general goodness and greatness. A beautiful wife and kids doesn’t hurt. Okay, scratch that. You absolutely need a beautiful wife and kids. Go check it out at The First Church of What’s Happening Now in your area. See for yourself. It must be true. Everybody knows it.
There are a four problems with what “everybody knows”:
1. It’s not true. “Everybody” is limited to Americans and American wannabes around the world.
2. It’s not how Jesus taught his first followers to do it.
3. It’s not how the rapidly growing Jesus-follower movements around the world are doing it today.
4. It’s not what the Bible says about the upside-down kingdom where strong is weak, weak is powerful, and poor is rich. It’s not what the Bible says about God choosing to use cracked- pots so no one will confuse his power with human effort and his glory with human arrogance.
So, I raise two questions:
How much money does it really take to start a church
How many people do you need to start a church?

Bear with me. This won’t take long. There are only two answers and they are really short and easy to figure out.

The two, possible correct answers are:
$0. Nothing. Nada. Zilch. Squat. Goose egg. Bagel. Jesus doesn’t need money to rule the world and be King of the universe.
Some. A little bit of money—whatever it took the Jesus-follower to get to where he or she was sent by Jesus to meet the person of peace (also sent to that same spot by God).
I’m not sure which answer is the correct one, but I’m pretty sure it is one of these two, and no other answer. I still crack up every time I remember hearing that one First Church of What’s Happening Now requires 50 people minimum to start a church (because that’s what you need musically to make it sound good, I think they believe). My old denominations (I was ordained in two different ones) thought you needed about 200 rich people so you could afford the needed building and salary, pension and benefits to afford a seminary-trained religious professional. Man, are they good managing pensions! I digress.
There are also two, possible correct answers to this question:
0. Zero. No one. Nobody. Jesus is the initiator, the starter, the builder of HIS church.
2. Two. It takes two people to start a church since, by definition, a church exists wherever two or three come together in Jesus’ name and, remember, Jesus sent them and us to go two by two, right?

This question is easier to answer with certainty than the first question. The correct answer has to be the first one: zero people are needed to start a church. Jesus said he is the starter of his church: “I will build my church, and the gates of hell will not prevail against it.” Two is almost right, but not quite. Jesus sent them out two by two to “teach people to obey Jesus,” not start churches. When we do our part (teach to obey), Jesus does his part (builds a church that makes hell fear). Two people together cannot start a church by themselves, since Jesus needs to bring them together and show up for it to be church at all.
One person does not a church make, nor two people meeting without Jesus present through the Holy Spirit.

Brian J. Dodd, Ph.D.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

From my Canadian friend, Steve Hill. Poignant and potent. If your ideas don't fit with Scripture, then too bad for your ideas. Prepare to be jarred. -Brian

"Hello Friends
Many of you can identify with my journey of beginning to question and then discard  firmly held convictions (mostly about how to do church).  Too many "Biblical principles" turned out to be cultural or institutional dogmas.  In this process I began to wonder about the early disciples and to look at the book of Acts through a big question mark-  What was their journey?

Luke writes the Acts account by simply telling the story.  He makes no value judgements.  He does not say whether something done was consistent with the teachings of Jesus or not.  He just tells the story.  We assume that everything he records the early apostles as doing was good,  but should we?  Acts begins with them asking Jesus,  "Lord will You at this time restore the Kingdom to Israel?"   They were still thinking of an earthly kingdom that would kick out the Romans and give them BMW camels.  They were still asking this question after a forty day seminar on the Kingdom of God!  They were on a learning curve and I do not think it ended with the Day of Pentecost.  

Jesus talked about building on rock or on sand.  Sand used to be rock.  Sand is bits broken from the rock.  You can choose bits of the scripture but what you build upon your favourite bits will fall.  We need to wrestle with the whole as revealed in the Rock, Jesus, if we wish to build something that will last.  The old saying  "Text without context is pretext." is accurate.  If you cut and paste, you can make the scripture say anything you like.  

Maybe the problem  is not just understanding the original historical context but seeing our own?  How much of what we see in the scriptures is because we are looking at them through the filter of  our present presuppositions and reading that back into them?  Or maybe just reading the scriptures through the lens of our own desire for significance, power, position and privilege? 

Is this what the early apostles did?  The church at Jerusalem was hugely successful but were having a problem feeding all the widows and orphans.  More accurately they were having a cultural problem in that the Jewish background widows and orphans were getting better food than those of Greek background (Acts 6). The apostles did not think it was desirable "that they should leave the Word of God and serve tables.....  but we will give ourselves continually to prayer and the ministry of the word."  so they appointed deacons to this task.   Luke says this  "Pleased the whole multitude"  but does not say if it pleased the Holy Spirit.  

These verses have been quoted over and over again in support of "full time ministry" but should we not question them?  How could the very men for whom Jesus made breakfast, the very men who heard Him say that even a cup of cold water given in His name would be rewarded, the very men who  helped Him feed the multitudes, the very men who received the  instruction that whatever was done unto the least was done unto Him.... How could these men think that serving tables was beneath them?   In appointing deacons were they forgetting the teachings and example of the Master and reflecting the privileges of the religious leadership culture all around them?

To ask questions through the book of Acts you may have to question some of your favourite bits and cultural filters.
You may have to acknowledge that you are on a journey.
You may have to question some of your security blanket convictions.
You may have to ask the Holy Spirit some questions.
Your brother

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Boss and Owner of It All (What “Lord” Means)

We live in a nation of people who believe they are following Jesus because they go to church or their kids attend a “Christian” school, or because they listen to a Christian radio station and have the bumper sticker on the back of their car to prove it. A good portion of these same people practice serial monogamy, cheat on their taxes and have a unquenchable thirst for stuff in the face of, and in spite of, tremendous human needs all around us. Saying Jesus is “Lord” or putting a Christian bumper sticker on your car does absolutely nothing for you in eternal terms, except perhaps give you the false illusion that you are headed to heaven when you may well not be going that direction at all. 
Here’s how Jesus put it:

Not everyone who says to me, “Lord, Lord,” will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of 
        my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, “Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in 
        your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?” Then I will tell them plainly, “I never knew 
        you. Away from me, you evildoers!” (Matthew 7:21-23).

Rather than offer words of explanation here, I encourage you to re-read the three verses above again and give long pause to ponder them. It has been pointed out that in Matthew’s Gospel, whenever someone says “Lord, Lord” twice like this, it is not good. It may reflect Jesus’ ominous warning about people who act religious or seem spiritual and wrongly think that their prayers will be heard by God, “because of their many words” (Matthew 6:7).

Jesus goes on in the next verses to say this:

Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his 
        house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did 
        not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put 
        them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the 
        winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.
(Matthew 7:24-27)

Let’s face it, if a friend spoke to us like this we would call him or her bossy, arrogant, full of himself or herself. But, if we understand what “Jesus is Lord” means, then our compliance with His orders, commands and teaching determines whether Jesus is MY Lord, or just someone else’s “Lord, Lord.” 

The word “lord” in our English New Testaments is a translation of the common Greek word for master (kurios). If you grew up at the time of Jesus, just about everybody had a slave or was a slave or had been a slave. As an American, I have shameful, racially tinged and painful images in my brain associated with the words master and slave. (See my chapter, “Slave of Christ and Slaves of Christ,” in The Problem With Paul [IVP, 1996]--I’ll be glad to email it to you if send a request). But, to really get Jesus I have to push past all that and understand what it meant for Him. Jesus is not a white, antebellum plantation owner, nor is He an oppressor of black people. He is the Boss of it all and Owner of all things, white people included. If we don’t belong to Jesus--if we don’t know and act like He is our owner and boss--then He has no part of us. If Jesus is not your boss and owner, neither is He your savior.

Does Jesus really mean to communicate to us that He is some kind of royal owner and boss, and we will not go to heaven unless we act and live like it? Yes. To strengthen this observation, consider a Roman military commander’s recognition of Jesus’ authority as a master and commander like the officer himself had seen in his military service:

When Jesus had entered Capernaum, a centurion came to him, asking for help. "Lord," he said, "my servant lies 
        at home paralyzed, suffering terribly."

Jesus said to him, "Shall I come and heal him?"

The centurion replied, "Lord, I do not deserve to have you come under my roof. But just say the word, and my 
        servant will be healed. For I myself am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. I tell this one, 'Go,' and he 
        goes; and that one, 'Come,' and he comes. I say to my servant, 'Do this,' and he does it."

When Jesus heard this, he was amazed and said to those following him, "Truly I tell you, I have not found anyone in 
        Israel with such great faith. I say to you that many will come from the east and the west, and will take their places at 
        the feast with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven. But the subjects of the kingdom will be thrown 
        outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth."

Then Jesus said to the centurion, "Go! Let it be done just as you believed it would." And his servant was healed at 
       that moment. (Matthew 8:5-13).

Jesus calls it “great faith” to understand that He is the boss of it all. “Faith” is not merely about beliefs or spirituality or religious feelings. Faith is TRUST THAT THE BOSS KNOWS BEST. Faith trusts so much that you do what He says, when He says it, without hesitation. Much of the rest of the book of Matthew is about the difference between people who see this about Jesus and either get it or don’t get it. The people who killed him got it. If they let him live, they reasoned, he was a threat to THEIR power, control and authority. Indeed. But after they killed Him, they learned a little death and pain could not keep Him down. After He had flicked off the coffin lid, these are the first words He said to His disciples as Matthew remembers it:

“"All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.” (Matthew 28:18).

Wow. Jesus IS Lord. He is a complete and total threat to whoever or whatever is in control of your life, and He will dramatically interfere with your decision-making and choices for yourself. He can and does do a better job at being God than you could ever hope to do. (Click here to read more: ).

It is no surprise that Jesus is not a “do as I say, not as I do” kind of boss and owner. He himself had to lay down a foundation of His own obedience to require it of us. You can’t lead someone where you have not or are not going yourself. He got to be the boss and Lord of it all by submitting to and obeying the will of God. As Paul puts it in a potent little passage:

[Jesus], being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be clung to for his own 
       advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a slave, being made in human likeness. And    
       being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death--even death on a cross.

Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of 
       Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that 
      Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God. (Philippians 2:6-11).

My patient doctoral mentor, the esteemed Professor Ralph Martin, did his doctoral work on the Philippians 2:6-11 scripture above (and two other passages similar “poems” in the New Testament). He identified these as perhaps the words of a song sung by the earliest followers of Jesus. If they are a sung poem of the earliest Christians, then they give us crucial insight into their understanding of who Jesus was and is, and what it means to be devoted follower of Jesus. It is the reason I have made this Boss/Lord the first word study in this book.

The most important thing to notice if you want to know the way to heaven is the V-shape movement of Philippians 2:6-11. Down, then up. The down-stroke, first part of the V-shape of this passage is that Jesus obeys and He gets killed as a result. He lowers himself, down, down, down, lower still, eventually to dead-low. After this comes the upstroke of the V: God lifts him up from the dead, and up, up, up to the highest place and gives Jesus all this amazing authority and respect. How do we get to heaven? We must follow Jesus’ example of costly obedience. Paul’s segue into quoting this song is to tell us to “have the same mindset as Christ Jesus” (2:5). After quoting the song, he reiterates that we should obey the boss, owner and Lord of all: “If you believe what you sing, dear friends, obey Jesus!” (2:12). The earliest Christians, according to this song’s lyrics, understood being a Christian was not about merely praying a prayer but about living an obedient life, regardless of the cost. 

Not all Christians today get that they must learn to die with Jesus if they want to be raised up with Him. The servant is not greater than the Master. If Jesus goes down to go up, so must we. For many, Jesus is his savior but not boss. In this watered down version of Christianity, one can get an eternal fire insurance policy to protect from hell by “praying the prayer” or “going forward” or by raising a hand. If you do that once, you are safe forever.

But read Jesus’ words themselves (in red in my New Testament):

When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. All the 
        nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the 
       sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.

Then the King will say to those on his right, “Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the 
        kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was 
        thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you 
        clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.”

Then the righteous will answer him, “Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you 
        something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did 
        we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?”

The King will reply, “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you 
       did for me.”

Then he will say to those on his left, “Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil 
        and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I 
        was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and 
        you did not look after me.”

They also will answer, “Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in 
        prison, and did not help you?”

He will reply, “Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.”

Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life. (Matthew 25:31-46)

Do you want to know what happens when you die? Do you want to know the way to heaven? Listen to Jesus. Look at Jesus. Follow his example of obedience. Hear and heed his commands. Jesus is only your savior if he is also your boss and owner.
You are not your own. You have been bought with a price. (1 Corinthians 6:19-20)
From everlasting to everlasting the Lord's love is with those who fear him, and his righteousness with their children's children—with those who keep his covenant and remember to obey his precepts. The Lord has established his throne in heaven, and his kingdom rules over all. (Psalm 103:17-19)5
  Obey me, and I will be your God and you will be my people. Walk in obedience to all I command you, that it may go well with you. (Jeremiah 7:23)