Category Archives: By: Steve Holt Sr.

Attack on poverty:  A page from God’s playbook

By: Steve Holt Sr.

The food was late arriving at my place setting.  And when it finally arrived, it was a salad!

But all that is to be expected when you attend a fundraiser for a nonprofit, especially one aimed at helping the poor.  The five hundred or so of us weren’t there to eat.  The occasion was a fundraiser for a local organization that serves the poor in my home town. The campaign is entitled “Beyond Charity, a Vision for the Future.”

The real food at this luncheon were the insights and information shared by eight speakers from a variety of organizations whose missions intersect with some of this city’s poorest citizens.  Each panelist had his own idea of what the major issues are regarding poverty and how the people of our fair city might come together to address those issues.  A few examples:  the police chief called for a detox facility, the mental health advocate stressed the importance of programs for those suffering more serious mental issues, a doctor who sees a large number of poor women in his practice said sex and contraceptive education would make a big difference, a successful entrepreneur pointed out the importance of hiring people with limited skills and checkered pasts, the city councilman talked about synergy and the importance of working together to address the issues of homelessness and poverty, the representative from the local school district noted that education is the key to breaking the cycle of poverty. There was no doubt that the panel participants care.  The fact that the mayor served as moderator gives you an idea of where this city’s administration is regarding the welfare of all our citizens.  I was impressed and challenged.

The problems of poverty are real, they are deep, and they affect us all as reflected in crime statistics, increase of single parent families, withering neighborhoods, run-away drug abuse, rising costs of goods because of theft, and more.  The most unfortunate result of poverty might be what it does to the human spirit. Poverty destroys hope, happiness, and will.

But the idea that holds the greatest possibility for permanent reversal of poverty—people of means actually moving to impoverished neighborhoods to live among and love the folks who live there—was barely mentioned.  People touching people instead of people throwing money at the issues from safe, well-to-do neighborhoods makes a difference in both long-time and relocated neighbors.

Where this has been practiced, real and lasting changes have begun.  And the changes work both ways—both rich and poor sharing from their respective wealth of experiences, knowledge and gifts, and in the process, simply loving each other, bring blessings beyond measure to all.

Why is this simple concept so often missing in the discussions about what to do about poverty?

The luncheon’s opening invocation, Bible references from several panelists and occasional hearty “amens” from the assembled made the luncheon a decidedly faith-centered event.  Several churches hosted tables for their faithful and friends.  Perhaps, then, you will excuse this paraphrase (with liberties) of Philippians 2:

Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being able to afford any neighborhood he wished, did not consider himself worthy to live any place he wished.  Instead, he gave himself up and chose to dwell among people who were so unlike himself. And moving to that needy neighborhood, he took on the identity of the poor, isolated, forgotten, abused, maligned people who lived there, thus submitting to his Father’s wishes.  As a result, his Father rewarded him handsomely with new friends, new perspectives, and contentment beyond measure.

 

The point is that God dealt with the dire human condition (far more serious than poverty), not by isolating himself behind the vast expanses of space, but by leaving the safety and comforts of heaven and choosing to dwell among a vastly different neighborhood…a neighborhood so hostile that it eventually cost Jesus his very life.

Perhaps it’s time for we who call ourselves disciples of Jesus to take a page from God’s playbook by moving into neighborhoods that need us, to live with people we desperately need.

And perhaps that’s what neo-restoration is really all about.

(Disclaimer:  I confess that I currently live in a comfortable, safe neighborhood—if, indeed, anyplace is safe—surrounded by giving neighbors who keep their yards up.  But, I’m seriously rethinking all of that. I’ll keep you posted.)

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Steve Holt lives in Texas. His recent book, “Intentional: In Jesus’ name we play,” tells the story of a fictional wealthy professional basketball superstar who moves to one of the poorest neighborhoods in America to connect with the people who live there and the hope and renewal he brought.  Contact him at sholtsr@gmail.com.

Iv’ry Tower

By: Steve Holt Sr.

When I was in my mid-teens, Dad decided to build a motel.  He had built houses before, but this was his first venture into a project of such magnitude. I watched as the Iv’ry Tower Inn took shape from the ground up to become the premier “motor hotel” in our small but growing town.

Since our family traveled a lot, my dad took notes at every motel we stayed in to record those amenities and features that stood out so that he could incorporate them to enhance a traveler’s stay.  For examples, the Iv’ry Tower was one of the first motels that featured an “endless loop” hot water system so that travelers would not have to wait for their bath water to warm up.  He selected the best mattresses he could find and replaced them at the first hint of sagging.  There was always free, fresh coffee in the lobby.  The motel’s restaurant was the first in the area to feature Colonel Sander’s Kentucky Fried Chicken.  And the $3.99 all-you-could-eat Sunday brunch buffet was the best in town.

I started working at the motel when I was about fifteen years old doing a variety of odd jobs, one of the oddest being driving through the parking lot of our biggest competitor, the Holiday Inn down the street, counting the cars and reporting my findings to dad.

There were many nights when the Holiday Inn had twice as many cars as the Iv’ry Tower, and on other nights, we had a few more cars than the big “franchise” hotel.  I often wondered why anyone would want to stay anywhere other than the Iv’ry Tower.  We had the best service, the best amenities, the nicest swimming pool, and the best restaurant.  We cared for the traveler.  Our rates were better.  It was the traveler’s home away from home, offering all that anyone could possibly want and need while on the road.

I remember becoming quite angry when anyone suggested that the Holiday Inn was the best motel in town.  I mean just because the place had world-wide recognition, was part of the number one motel chain in the world at the time, was considered by some to be the only place to stay when on the road, was easily recognized by the “great sign” out front…none of that mattered.  Dad’s place was a better idea because it focused on the comfort of the individual traveler.  “If they only knew…” I would lament.

If they only knew.

My affections for the Iv’ry Tower Inn were, to a much lesser degree, pretty similar to my love for God’s church—greatest idea ever!  The church—the repository of the redeemed—was made to perfectly fulfill a human being in virtually every way, designed to nurture, encourage, guide, and protect.  It is a place of grace and latitude, receiving its charter from none other than the Loving Shepherd, Jesus, himself.  Among  fellow saints, weary travelers receive the strength and provisions to continue the journey.  With locations around the world, pilgrims are nudged forward, often carried the last mile or two when the going is too tough for some.

I envision a community that, when working as it should, enjoys the “favor of all the people,” as it did when first born. I imagine a community to which people flock—like the ark—for refuge and safety.

Why, then, are people settling for less in a traditional religious institution that calls itself “church”? If people only knew, they wouldn’t be lured away by the name recognition and familiar design of institutional churches with their fancy buildings, large congregations, elaborate music, hip preachers, and programs for every demographic. Rather, they would find what they seek—and so much more— within the comfortable confines of God’s purposed group.

It’s not that institutional churches are all that wrong, it’s that they are so far from being all that God wants for his community. In God’s family, every voice is heard, every gift is encouraged and used, every need fulfilled.  In God’s family, the direction for the group is determined by listening to the voice of the Father together and joining God in his work, together—no child is left behind.

There are wonderful, godly folks who choose the institutional brand of church. And they aren’t bad people for doing so. They’ve just settled for less, and I’m truly sorry for them. They’ve opted for the known, the safe, the secure, the familiar, and in most cases, the comfortable.  It’s like their attitude is “Oh well, we’re here; it’s not so bad.  So, let’s just stay with what we know.” And they never come to know what they are really missing.

Through his family, the multi-faceted wisdom of God is laid bare for all to see.  Here, the world gets a glimpse of how people, so different from one another, co-exist and move toward a common goal. Here, the world gets to see all the ways God does his work of loving, feeding, guiding, and nurturing human beings. Here, the wisdom of “little ones” is esteemed as highly as the “learned.” Here, scripture is not just talked about; it’s lived out. Here, the needs of those not yet in the community are tended to as purposefully as those in the community.

God’s design holds the possibility of a “vital family within easy access of every person on earth.” God’s group is easily reproducible. It is simple, transportable, and fluid. God’s church can function fully with as few as two and clearly demonstrates the maxim that “less is more.” It costs nothing but blood—his blood—to maintain. God’s church is the only great leveling presence on earth where human beings find equality, purpose and meaning.  Only God himself determines membership.

If only they knew…

I Love America, but…

By: Steve Holt Sr.

I love America.  But I am, first and foremost, a citizen of a Kingdom that is not built on man-made ideals, is not dependent on any “ism” to thrive, is not vulnerable to a more powerful army, and doesn’t encourage nationalistic arrogance.

I love liberty.  But I love the freedom found in this Kingdom most—a freedom not won through the futility of war. It wasn’t negotiated through the political scheming of men and women. It is granted to each and every person who realizes and accepts the reality that our freedom cost God everything.  This liberty frees us to give all, love unconditionally, grant mercy to all and gratefully receive everything as a gift.

I love the U.S. flag, but let’s face it; it’s just a piece of cloth fashioned by a seamstress.  Thousands upon thousands who died so that we can fly the flag didn’t give their lives for that piece of cloth.  They died for an ideal, a political system, a way of life or some other factor that will never compare in value to even one of those who lost his/her life.

I love independence.  But I love interdependence more.  I dream of a world in which people get along despite their differences because they respect one another, they need one another, they share a loyalty to an ideal that is loftier than party, pleasure, or personal agenda.

I love progress, but not at the expense of exhaustible resources, wildlife, clean air, my sanity and fellowman’s wellbeing.

I love air conditioning, a comfortable home, good food, nice clothes and a reliable car.  But I must learn not to be dependent on any of these things, nor to consider them entitlements.

I love safety.  But I realize safety is never guaranteed.  Stuff happens to good, bad and indifferent people indiscriminately. I have no unalienable right to safety and know that no army, police force, neighborhood, fence, or weapon can fully protect me from personal harm.

I love the church.  But I hate religion.  The only measure of God’s church is the height and weight of a believer.  The effects of church as God intends can’t be seen, only sensed.  Religion boasts, manipulates, condemns, takes, controls, and fights to preserve itself.  I hate religion.  I really do.

I love family.  But I really love kinship formed out of mutual respect, devotion to the Father, and is inclusive, welcoming and nurturing.

I love the USA.  But I love planet Earth more, where, from space, you can’t tell where one nation begins and one ends.

I love Americans.  But I love the family of mankind most.

I love Facebook, texts, Tweets, emails, phone calls and blogs.  But I love seeing you face-to-face more.

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Steve Holt Sr. lives in Abilene, TX.  His new book, Intentional, In Jesus’ Name We Play offers a glimpse into life in a Kingdom not of this world.

Dear Rosten three:

By: Steve Holt Sr.

My position from the beginning is that the church through the millennia has focused on harvesting to the exclusion of sowing and watering.  As a result, we are in an age when the gap between believers and non-believers is arguably as wide as it has ever been.  The fields are not white as they may have been in Jesus’ day.  Jesus appeared on earth “in the fullness of time”—the right time because God knew it was right, when the fields were white. Even God himself is sensitive to the seasons.

The fields in Jesus’ day had been sown centuries before by prophets and others who, as agents of God, told the story in both word and deed. The entire Hebrew record is that of God cultivating the human race in preparation for the One who was coming. God worked the process by using hardships of slavery, famine, drought, oppression, persecution, and injustice as well as the blessings of deliverance, mercy, bounty, and promise to create a thirst in people for the coming Messiah.  John the Baptizer continued the watering process by pointing to “another” who would take away the sins of the world.  Even John’s baptism wasn’t a harvesting baptism, but, rather, it pointed forward to the miraculous harvest we see begun in the book of Acts.

This blog is not the place to cover the history of what happened after Jesus’ ascension when his people took their eyes off the fields, taking matters into their own hands to build the church—which, according to Jesus, only he can do.  Long story short, we know what we have today as a result: skepticism, division, fear, denominationalism, sectarianism, an ever-widening gulf between believers and non-.  Suffice it to say we have generations of work to do to repair the harm done to the fields by so-called and well-meaning Christians through the centuries. Harvesting today is kind of like a farmer tearing a young radish plant from the ground and yelling, “Grow, damn you, grow!”

 So, as I post my last blog on this subject, Rosten, allow me to sketch out what I think God would have his people be about in this barren time.  And please know, I don’t have this as figured out as it might sound.  I’m still thinking and testing and guessing.  I welcome yours and all other’s thoughts, as always.

Pre-sowing

First, Jesus says to open our eyes and look at the fields (see above).  Before we do one thing, let us consider the field.  

My dad grew tobacco, corn, and wheat.  I was with him when, in late winter, he would walk around the fields to see what’s there before even one seed or seedling was planted.  He would note rocks and tree stumps that had to be removed and field corners that needed rounding. He would analyze the condition of the soil and send samples to the county agent to see what minerals needed to be added or balanced.  Then there was the clearing, plowing and tilling…all before one plant or seed was dropped into the soil.

What if every believer dropped their scythe or got out of their combine and simply walked the fields?  What if we listened to people? Got to know them and their stories? What if we made no assumptions about people, no judgments?  What if we didn’t argue or correct?  We just listened.  For the next fifty years or so!  Here’s what I think we’d find: people at a whole different place than we thought. We would hear their objections, their hurts, their hope and dreams, and their fears.  We’d find people with the most outlandish views of God, church and faith.  We’d even find “people of peace” and a few who are ready and willing to be harvested.  We would treat every person uniquely, based on what we learn.  Landon Saunders use to say, “If you treat any two people the same, you’ve mistreated one of them.”

What’s most vital about this stage, perhaps, is that when God’s people are listening and not talking, much of what repels people would not be heard.  When we are actively listening, we would not be engaged in our political campaigns, anti-abortion marches, anti-LGBT rallies, church wars, exclusive prayer meetings and elaborate worship services—all of which seem to have worked against the purposes of God.  There would be a blissful silence over the land that provides the right climate for seeds of the Kingdom to grow.  I’ve heard the language of God is silence.

Planting and watering

When the fields have been properly prepared, the seed can then be carefully sown in human hearts.  A lengthy period of listening would put God’s farmers in a strangely unique relationship with people of earth.  Once again, perhaps, we’d enjoy the “favor of all the people.” Genuine friendships would form, stories exchanged, trust regained, bridges built and gaps filled in.  As the people of God, on whose hearts are written the words of life, we would demonstrate joy, love, contentment, empathy and all those traits seekers don’t often see in God’s people.  

Christians living in intentional faith communities would demonstrate to the world, without a word, the “multifaceted wisdom of God.” As we continue to show the world that we are allies, not enemies, messages from God and about God would be welcomed.  (God’s word is still like honey, refreshing water, and a lamp to a world that has ears and hearts to receive it.)  During this time, the messenger truly is the message.   Note:  we still have our eyes on the fruit, letting it decide what we do next.  So, when there is push back, we step back.  

This post has gone on too long.  So, I’ll stop and say thanks for this helpful give-and-take. You’ve taught me some things that I will take to heart. I know we’re on the same side, so this exchange has not been about convincing the other of some grave error in thinking.  I appreciate you and Laura and can’t wait to have you back from India…na.

Blessings,

Steve

Dear Rosten too:

By: Steve Holt Sr.

Are you finished? For a while there, I thought you were posting a book. Interesting stuff, though; I must admit. At least you’re giving me plenty of fodder to respond to.

There is one other principle set forth in the Mark 4 passage that needs mentioning.

“All by itself the soil produces grain—first the stalk, then the head, then the full kernel in the head. As soon as the grain is ripe, he puts the sickle to it, because the harvest has come.” vss 28, 29 (NIV)

The plant (grain, in this case) determines what the farmer does next.  How does the farmer know when it’s time to harvest?  When the plant tells him! When the farmer sees that the grain is ready, he harvests…not before. In fact, the maturity of the seed is the determining factor for every step in the process…not what I think, not what the church thinks, not what the world thinks.  The clear, unmistakable signs that the fruit gives, guides the farmer as to what to do and when to do it.  Today, the signs aren’t too promising for those whose gift is harvesting.

Rosten, you can’t just deem we are in the harvest season. The plant determines that.  Jesus would say to us, “Open your eyes! Look at the fields!” (John 4:35)  Are we so blind that we can’t see all the discouraging signs here in America?  Or do we just refuse to look?  If we dare look, we’d see racism, greed, bigotry, envy, jealousy, pluralism, division, fear, aggression, blame and more (and that’s just from the Christians!) which tells me that there is much work to do before we can even think about harvesting.

This is understandable.  Church leaders through the millennia have done a poor job of teaching the whole counsel of God on this important issue. I agree with you that the tactics the church has usually tried haven’t worked very well. I can certainly relate to your thoughts on harvesting with inappropriate tools.  In fact, I cringe that I have been guilty of promoting all of them at one time or another.  The church has created an unwholesome atmosphere by thinking her greatest work is that of harvesting, even ignoring the power and necessity of loving those most unlike themselves as vital to the process.

The proliferation of military terms (“win the lost,” “army of the Lord,” “soldiers of Christ,” “fight the good fight,” etc.) has created a we-vs-them mentality that surely can be sensed by those who remain aloof. Who wants to be “won over?”

There’s a better way…Jesus’ way.  It’s a process doomed for failure unless each step is engaged and followed to the end.  It will fail unless we look at the signs and allow the hungry, hurting, fearful people to determine what we do next.  And that’s the dilemma in which we find ourselves.  A standoff.  A deep crevasse dividing two camps—one claiming to be the righteous people of God and another in which reside people desperate for truth, love, meaning.

Rosten, you made a power statement when you wrote: “The best argument for God has always been a people formed in the likeness of God.”  Sadly, the converse is also true:  “The best argument against God will always be a people who claim to be formed in his likeness, but fail to live like it.” That’s where we are today.

My final post on this issue will focus on the entire process with hopes that we will stop trying to evangelize without a clue of what season we’re in.  Don’t say, ‘Four months more and then the harvest.’ Rather, lets’ open our eyes and look at the fields.  Stop the harvest! It’s time to sow!

Blessings, friend.

Steve

Dear Rosten

By: Steve Holt Sr.

So you think today is a good day to harvest?  You are joking, naive, uninformed or deceived. I would ask only that you go out today and test your position.  Do some harvesting.  Go bring a soul into the Kingdom.  Then let us know how that went.  Even if you were fortunate enough to find someone ready to harvest, it only means that someone before you has done the “hard” work of getting that person ready.  Christendom’s efforts to reap, at least in the northern part of our hemisphere, are coming up empty.

Have you read the stats? Have you noticed that harvesting in America is coming to a grinding halt? Have you noticed that the fruit in the bins is growing older, not being replaced by fresh fruits and veggies?  Have you read where more and more people are becoming less apathetic and more hostile toward Christianity?  In your last post, you attribute that to poor harvesting techniques.  Good try, but even the best techniques and tools won’t bring in a harvest that’s simply not there.

There’s one other possibility as to why we hold such differing views on this issue…miscommunication.  Perhaps we are not speaking the same language. Perhaps “harvest” to you means something completely different than what Jesus and I mean (notice what I did there?).

So, allow me to dumb down the discussion. (I could only say this to my friend who knows when I jest. I truly esteem this man highly.)

First, a few thoughts on your first rebuttal.  You really missed the point of why I used these two passages, so let me break it down.

About Mark 4, you said: “The miracle (of growth) isn’t accomplished by his (the farmer’s) careful, loving attention.”  I was not discussing how God miraculously brings about a harvest but about how each step in the process requires a farmer’s participation. (The farmer scatters the seed; the farmer harvests.)  You and I, friend, have a role in the whole process.  God won’t grow squash in our gardens unless we plant squash.  He won’t override our stupidity of not watering by bringing about a plentiful harvest.  Likewise, unless we as his people plant and water, God won’t (can’t?) bring forth a harvest.  So, I would edit your sentence to read, “The miracle of growth isn’t accomplished by his careful, loving attention, but growth would be impossible without it.”

To restate, we have not done the “hard” work (love and service) of preparing the field, planting the seed and watering the crop.  As a result, we have nothing to harvest.  And even if we did, unless God’s farmers set about the task of harvesting, the fruit will lay waste in the fields.  The demise of God’s church in America is clear and unmistakable.

Next, you said: “John 4 and Mark 4 paint a picture of a plentiful harvest.” Yes they do.  And that illustrates my point all the more.  Sowing the fields to result in what Jesus called “ripe for harvest” was begun hundreds of years before when prophets like Isaiah painted those beautiful images of the “suffering servant” who would bring justice and peace to his languishing people.  What a contrast this passage makes between the fields of Jesus’ day and our day.

You just can’t escape the lesson Jesus presents in these two passages:

  1. Farmers play a crucial part in the whole process.  If the farmer fails to do his part at each phase, the crops fail.
  2. Often, the one who reaps is not the one who sows and waters.  Such was the case with the Samaritans and especially the multitude that was “harvested” on Pentecost. The Samaritans who believed in Jesus because of the woman’s testimony had been prepared to receive that word (You did a good job of recounting the Samaritan’s rise to ripeness and favor. Jesus is so good and so inclusive!)  Too many people think that simply spouting information will result in a harvest when there has been no preparation.  How shortsighted and wrong!
  3. Each of the phases in farming is distinct and vital.  (More on this in my next post.)
  4. Sowing and watering are the hard work.  Harvesting is relatively easy in comparison.

 

What few ripe souls there may be in twenty-first century America were prepared by faithful farmers who took the time to love, nurture, and feed them.  We can expect fewer and fewer ripe souls as God’s church continues to believe that the fields are ripe and, therefore, refuses to do the hard work of loving and serving. It’s time to sow!

 

Love you, Ross,

 

Steve

God Sends

By: Steve Holt Sr.

God sends.   He sent Jesus.  He sent the Holy Spirit.

Jesus sends.   He sent the 70/72.  He sent the apostles.  He sent the demoniac.  He sent the blind man to wash.  He sent the man with leprosy, and he sent the paralytic. He sent the woman at the well.  He sent, he sent, he sent…look it up.  And he still sends his disciples…even today.

*Church keeps.   Church ensnares.  Church creates a membership.  Church keeps count.  Church traps and manipulates.  Church exacts money.  Church maintains lists.

Jesus knows that in the safety of his shadow is no place to grow spiritually.  If it were, he would have stayed forever.  He knows that outside, where there are threats and dangers, is where one grows in faith…where one displays faith.  Jesus knows that away from his physical presence, where there are obstacles, traps, temptations and enticements, his power to provide and protect can be seen in its fullness.  Otherwise he would have built a temple and lived here permanently.

 Jesus calls, then he sends.

Church calls and keeps.  Church is afraid to let its people go.  Church doesn’t trust its people to trust God.  Church has deceived its people into believing that they can’t make it “out there,” that membership in their institution is where it’s safe and secure.  Therefore, Christians are afraid to let go of Church in order to walk more closely with Jesus.

Jesus trusts his people to trust him and him alone.  Not all do, but he continues to trust.  His goodness and power are so overwhelmingly obvious that the competition pales in comparison.  “Where else…?” is the response of those who have truly tasted his goodness and power.

Jesus takes away guilt. Church induces guilt.

Church is jealous of the competition.  Churches compete for the affections of the public.  Read it in the newspaper ads and Church bulletins and other shameless promotions.  Church lives in fear.  Church constantly has to improve, become more, do more, do better, do bigger, build bigger, build better.  Nonetheless, Church blends in with the competition, and in most cases, pales in comparison to what the world has to offer.  Jesus says Be last.  Churches all claim to be number one.  (One day I saw the “Blessed and Highly Favored Christian Center,” I kid you not.)

Aside: Take a look at the Church bulletin where you are a member.  Be truthful…have you ever seen a more blatant display of self-promotion?  Can you imagine what Jesus would say if his disciples ever presented the concept of a Church bulletin to him?

I think I’ll place all my eggs in Jesus’ basket and see where that gets me.

What about you?

 

(*Church with a capital C refers to an institution of Christendom with its pomp and ritual and countless denominations.  Church with a little c means God’s eternal family which transcends denominations and that he brought into being through Jesus.  If your Church has a name out front that differentiates it from other Churches in your neighborhood, it would probably carry a capital C.)

 

Jesus is the Hope that Will Not Disappoint

By: Steve Holt Sr.

I know you have more books on your nightstand then you’ll ever get to, but if you read ten books in 2014, make sure one of them is Donald Miller’s, A Million Miles in a Thousand Years.  One of the many soul stirring thoughts is the following…

Growing up in church, we were taught that Jesus was the answer to all our problems.  We were taught that there was a circle-shaped hole in our heart and that we had tried to fill it with the square pegs of sex, drugs, and rock and roll; but only the circle peg of Jesus could fill our hole.  I became a Christian based, in part, on this promise, but the hole never really went away.  To be sure, I like Jesus, and I still follow him, but the idea that Jesus will make everything better is a lie.  It’s basically biblical theology translated into the language of infomercials.  The truth is, the apostles never really promise Jesus is going to made everything better here on earth.  Can you imagine an infomercial with Paul, testifying to the amazing product of Jesus, saying that he once had power and authority, and since he tried Jesus he’s been moved from prison to prison, beaten, and routinely bitten by snakes?  I don’t think many people would be buying that product.  Peter couldn’t to any better.  He was crucified upside down, by some reports.  Stephen was stoned outside the city gates.  John, supposedly, was boiled in oil.  It’s hard to imagine how a religion steeped in so much pain and sacrifice turned into a promise for earthly euphoria.  I think Jesus can make thing better, but I don’t think he is going to make things perfect.  Not here, and not now.

What I love about the true gospel of Jesus, though, is that it offers hope.  Paul has hope our souls will be made complete.  It will happen in heaven, where there will be a wedding and a feast.  I wonder if that’s why so many happy stories end in weddings and feasts.  Paul says Jesus is the hope that will not disappoint.  I find that comforting.  That helps me get through the day, to be honest.  It even makes me content somehow.  Maybe that’s what Paul meant when he said he’d learned the secret of contentment.

…………………..

All of this may sound depressing to you, but I don’t mean it to be.  I’ve lived some good stories, now, and those stories have improved the quality of my life.  But I’ve also let go of the idea things will ever be made perfect, at least while I am walking around on this planet.  I’ve let go of the idea that this life has a climax.  I’m trying to be more Danish, I guess.  And the thing is, it works.  When you stop expecting people to be perfect, you can like them for who they are.  And when you stop expecting material possessions to complete you, you’d be surprised at how much pleasure you get in material possessions.  And when you stop expecting God to end all your troubles, you’d be surprised how much you like spending time with God.  

Time to Sow

By: Steve Holt Sr.

What time is it, anyway?

To everything there is a season
And a time for every purpose under heaven.
A time to be born, a time to die
A time to plant, a time to reap
A time to kill, a time to heal
A time to laugh, a time to weep.

“My food,” said Jesus, “is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work. Don’t you have a saying, ‘It’s still four months until harvest’? I tell you, open your eyes and look at the fields! They are ripe for harvest.  Even now the one who reaps draws a wage and harvests a crop for eternal life, so that the sower and the reaper may be glad together.  Thus the saying ‘One sows and another reaps’ is true.  I sent you to reap what you have not worked for. Others have done the hard work, and you have reaped the benefits of their labor.” (John 4)

 (Jesus) also said, “This is what the kingdom of God is like. A man scatters seed on the ground. Night and day, whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how.  All by itself the soil produces grain—first the stalk, then the head, then the full kernel in the head.  As soon as the grain is ripe, he puts the sickle to it, because the harvest has come.” (Mark 4)

Contrary to the passage from John 4 above, it appears we are not in the “time” of harvesting.  Such may have been true for the time Jesus said it, but it is true no longer.  The world is fragmented and pluralistic.  No one position holds much, if any, persuasive power with all the other positions.  I think Christianity is largely, though not exclusively, responsible for this.  Since before Jesus ascended, Christians seem to have been more eager to harvest than to sow.  We didn’t cultivate the land.  We didn’t hoe.  We didn’t water.  We just went out there with our machetes and began chopping at the plant even if there was nothing to harvest.  We weren’t careful with the sensitive seedlings; we just hacked away.  We didn’t invest much in the crop; we just wanted the fruit.  We made “Christians” out of pagans who didn’t have a clue about what faith was all about.  We forced people to see our point of view.  We wielded scripture like we would a sword, swinging away and believing that hearts would certainly accept our point of view and fall in line.

We believers haven’t loved much through the millennia.  We haven’t tried to see others’ points of view.  We haven’t accepted people where they are.  We’ve condemned those who wouldn’t go along.  We thought “shaking the dust off” meant having nothing to do with an infidel, so we kept to ourselves, isolated behind our church doors.  We simply skipped over the sowing and watering stage and went right to harvesting.  I think that’s where we still are.  That’s perhaps why we just throw out scripture willie-nillie (or is it willy-nilly?) thinking the world is going to suddenly say, “Oh yeah, now I get it.  So, that’s what that means.”  And when they don’t, we condemn the whole lot.  Friends, the grain is not ripe…stop trying to harvest it!

Harvesting puts you in one camp or the other.  When you attempt to persuade another to accept your point of view, you must expose your hand.  And today when you reveal where you are in regards to any issue, you are labeled and set aside by everyone in the opposing camp.  The lines are drawn, the armies are gathered, and very little persuasion takes place.  Deadlock becomes the rule.  In vain, we keep trying to reap what we have not worked for.

Love is how you sow.  It’s the only way.  It’s the “hard work” from the passage above.  Love is the only universal language, the only universal religion.  When done like Jesus, it’s the only thing that will get the attention of the world.  Christians are called to reach out to those who are farthest from us with love…not scripture, not sermons.  Book, chapter and verse might be useful during the harvesting stage, but not when sowing.  We must get off our soap boxes and get in the trenches with the rest of the world.  We’ve got to admit our own sinfulness and view all others as fellow sinners who have as much to teach us as we might have to teach them.

The sad truth is that the Bible means absolutely nothing to most people on Earth.  We are FAR, FAR away from having the right to quote scripture to this world.  Christianity is viewed by most people as empty and impotent.  We are a LONG, LONG way from presenting Christianity or “church” as a viable option for most people in the world.  What can change that—slowly, imperceptibly—is true, deep, unconditional Jesus-like love.  Love will outlive us, if sown sincerely and consistently.

So, Christians can continue to throw out scripture, call people names, label and condemn, but we will continue to reap the same results…bitterness, anger, isolation and fragmentation.  That’s insanity.  And the Kingdom cause will suffer.

What if… FUTURE?

By: Steve Holt Sr.

Well, the past is gone, and the present is upon us.  We can do nothing to affect those two time dimensions.  But, ah, the future!  The future is ours to shape based on what we learned in the past and choices we make today.  It will take courage.  It will take skill.  It will take humility.  It will take sacrifice.  It will take repentance.  Most of all, to return the church to the path God had marked out for her when Jesus called her into being, it will take the power of God; the love of Jesus; and the guidance of the Holy Spirit.  I’m game.  Join me in moving toward this neo-restoration ideal!  

What if we stop playing church and actually become the church Jesus envisioned?

What if all the money we give to institutional churches is spent helping the poor get through the day, gain job skills, eat better, raise their children, get healthcare, find housing?

What if the $7.1 billion that religious institutions receive in tax exemptions per year is used instead for community development, addiction programs, job training, better schools, better teachers, better roads, safer bridges, law enforcement, fighting injustice?

What if you begin to see your neighborhood as your parish, your mission field?

What if your house becomes the center of neighborhood hospitality, safety, encouragement and enlightenment?

What if we stop studying the Bible and actually become God’s letter to the world?  (Haven’t most of us spent enough time digesting, analyzing, discussing, contemplating and regurgitating those ancient words?)

What if every meal reminds us of the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus?  What if we began doing everything in remembrance of him?  What if our remembrance caused us to imitate him?

What if we stop trying to convert people and just love them in the name of Jesus?

What if we just admit to the world that Christians don’t act any better than any other religious people and start trying to outdo all others in love?

What if we stop talking and began listening?

What if we start understanding what’s behind the phenomenal rise in numbers of coffee shops, bars, social media, yoga classes, house churches, communes, etc. and became participants in such “communities” where people can see Jesus in us?

What if we stop listening to preachers, priests and rabbis and started listing exclusively to the Holy Spirit?

If you’re a preacher, priest or rabbi, what if you just shut up?

What if we consider as “elder,” “deacon,” “prophet,” or “apostle” anyone who has the heart of Jesus?

What if we stop buying stuff and start giving stuff away?

What if each of us knows exactly why God has put us on this earth and start doing that?

What if our mission over our remaining years is to help establish vibrant communities of God within easy reach of every person on earth?

What if we begin embracing foreigners as beloved by God as our own citizens?

What if we begin treating this planet as if it might be where heaven ultimately is?

What if we begin chillin’? Laughing more?  Fretting less? Playing more? Working less?  Loving all?  Hating none?  Sharing more?  Hoarding less?

How would the world be different if all believers live out these “what ifs” in the days to come?

(Disclaimer:  The three lists, “What if…past, present and future,” are offered semi tongue-in-cheek.  I hope you won’t judge me too harshly for attempting to stir our minds to consider other ways to think about our faith and practices.  I hope we can agree that things don’t look too rosy right now for religion.  Churches are getting older and dying.  Christendom is not taken seriously by most of the world.  Something has to happen.  Help me out here:  what are your thoughts on what has to happen to regain the spirit of God’s people?  Believe me, at this point, no opinion or idea is too silly or far-fetched.  One condition, don’t offer something that we have been doing all along.  Insanity is doing the same thing expecting different results.  We need your input.  Care to comment?)