Wednesday, May 2, 2007

False Teeth and Sin

Steve was a homeless fellow at Myrtle Beach when one of the hurricanes came through a few years ago. Huddled in a corner alone and frightened he cried out to the Lord for mercy and said, "Oh God, if you will bring me through this thing safely, I will get rid of my cigarettes and my false teeth!” Then having made it safely through the storm, he got rid of his false teeth and went around toothless, but hung on to his more pleasurable sins such as profanity and whoremongering. When I asked him about his logic in the matter, he told me that it is a sin to wear false teeth because the Bible warns us about things that are false. He told one of his friends, “You don’t want to be wearing false teeth when Jesus comes back. But then again, you just as well go ahead and smile and look pretty cause it will be too late then.”
This story is true, and we smile at the crazy logic involved. However, the world often sees the church in this light. We often "strain at a gnat and swallow a camel." I think this is what Jesus meant when he said the sons of this world are often wiser in their generation than the sons of light (Lu.16:8). When the church gets religious it ends up like the children playing games in the marketplace, irrelevant and not touching people in the realities of their lives (Mt11:16-17). It also loses touch with the heart of God.
I learned in a sociology course in college that one of the unspoken requisites for being an accepted part of a group is that everyone in it consciously and subconsciously ignores the inconsistencies of the group. I pastored for many years, but I think I've seen the church more clearly since being in a "secular" profession for the last five years. Being on the outside gives a different perspective. Not seeing the forest for the trees is a true saying. Therefore, we should not quickly dismiss our detractors. While they may see us in a distorted light, yet very often they will see and point out faults that our friends can not see.
This season of being on the outside has caused me to cry out to see the real church. What will the church be like when the Holy Spirit is allowed to develop it without all of our impositions.
God is going to work according to the eternal purpose which He accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord. He is going to do exceedingly, abundantly above all that we can ask or think, and He is going to do it in, with, and through the church.


John P. said...

I am suppose to be cutting back on my "internet time"...this isn't helping...Thanks for sharing, I always enjoyed when you came down and does seem like the church is "in the box"...Like an old Blues song says "We're gonna kick out all the windows,
We're gonna knock down all the doors"...then the church will be able to touch "people in the realities of their lives"...Well I am going to go make sure my "windows and doors" are open, of course that means anyone can come I think of that...time to go pray...John P.(from Joseph's Group)

josenmiami said...

hey Billy,

good post. And good comment John! Billy, it was good being with you last night. As I was telling you about Edward Demming, the management guru, who turned Japan around, his first law of organizational change was that one must fully understand the system in order to change the system. His second law of transformational leadership, was that in order to fully understand a system, one must see it from the outside.

You are truly having the opportunity to see the system from the outside...and it is not a pretty picture.

hang in there buddy... i like what you are sharing.


steve H said...

You wrote, "What will the church be like when the Holy Spirit is allowed to develop it without all of our impositions."

It's a scary and exciting thought. The older I get and the more I read the Bible, it seems like the less I see in Scripture of what we call "church" most of the time.

It's exciting because I have this sense that there are new things ahead as God continues to show us what's in His heart and mind concerning His people. The adventure is still ahead.

It's scary because I have learned enough to know that the process by which God strips us of those "impositions" is not always painless. What's more, the cost of doing things a different way can be high indeed.

Even so, "To whom else shall we go? You, Jesus, have the words of eternal life!"

josenmiami said...

I agree Steve. As I commented earlier in my quote of Demming, it is amazing how different the current ‘system’ looks from the outside. Very little of what we see in contemporary American church life seems to have any kind of connection with the patterns of the Jesus movement in the New Testament.

I have been reading The Forgotten Ways, by Alan Hirsch. It is one of the most insightful books on the mission and the church that I have read in a long time (Brian: the post I wrote to you [hammered you?] about the ‘micro-church’ in history, I wrote BEFORE I read his book).

At the end of his book, he has an addendum, where he attempts to give a crash course on chaos and living systems theory. Living systems theory is taken from current ecological studies, and chaos theory is taken from quantum physics if I am not mistaken. He assumes that God is the creator of ecological systems as well as Lord of quantum physics, and therefore his principles for ecclesiology will be consistent with living systems (as opposed to the Newtonian mechanical universe and it is linear thinking).

He is basically focusing on the need for fundamental change at the core of modern Christianity. Hirsch sees the church in a situation of “adapt or die” in a culture of rapid discontinuous change. He quotes the book “Surfing on the edge of Chaos” with an example of gorillas. Their basic defensive strategy when threatened by another troop of gorillas is to gather in a tight group around the alpha male silverback gorilla. Unfortunately, a good strategy of defense from other gorillas, does not work well at all with poachers armed with tranquilizer guns and nets. Gorillas will have to “adapt or die.”

He believes that there is a need for adaptive leaders (rather than operational leaders), who will deliberately disturb the church out of its equilibrium and complacency, in order to help the church begin to adapt.

In this light, here is how Hirsch defines the role of the apostolic: “ essential part of apostolic leadership is to cultivate adaptability and responsiveness in order to ensure the survival, as well as the extension of Christianity. As such, a core function of the apostolic vocation is to keep the church moving, adapting, and incarnating the gospel into new contexts…Christianity is at its very best when it is on the more chaotic fringes" (Hirsch:258).

Whatever other issues are involved in your current journey outside of the box, Billy, I am quite sure that God is preparing you to be an “adaptive” leader for a new generation in the years ahead. He has taken you outside the system, out of the fish bowl into the ocean, to develop your hardiness, and your perspective…to teach you how to follow Jesus in the world, so that you can help others follow Jesus in a world of rapid, discontinuous change. I am looking forward with anticipation to our discussions here in your blog. Blessings!

Michael said...

HI Billy,
It is always interesting to me that we talk and talk about what ought to be but very seldom do it.
Most likely the majority of the churches in place at this time will change at all or very little. A few may see it and change a bite but as it says in Matthew, Mat 9:17 "Nor do people put new wine into old wineskins; otherwise the wineskins burst, and the wine pours out and the wineskins are ruined; but they put new wine into fresh wineskins, and both are preserved."
So if we try yo cause the existing churches to fit into something radical we see the will not make it and the answer is the next generation that forms the church from the Jesus pattern.
Some of us see it but we most likely will not be able to do it.
I recall when I was younger that we wanted to build New Testament churches. We did what we could see but now we see more.
Finally, we see something now but not clearly and I would believe it will take another twenty years for it to surface and I might add with a lot of Criticism from the old wine skins.
Blessings Billy.

OUT OF THE BOX said...

Brothers, it is really great to hear from you all. It will be really interesting in the years ahead to see what God does in the church and in the world. The analogy of the woman in labor seems appropriate for our time, not only for the world but also for the USA. Like the animals that sense an earthquake before humans are aware of it, we know something is about to happen. We can't define or describe it fully, but we see travail in the world, and we sense that the Lord wants to make the church effective and relevant in it all. For me this means to hungar for His presence. I pray every day from Psalm 90, "Let your work appear to you servants, and your glory unto our children." I also pray Isaiah's prayer, "Rend the heavens and come down to make your name known..." We pray as David, "When I am old and gray-headed forsake me not,until I have shown your strength to this generation and your power to everyone who is to come." I do not understand apathy and complacency in those who know God. Too much is happening and about to happen to be asleep and routine.
The time in which we live is not a time to be "at ease in Zion," but a time to interceed and enter the council room of the Lord. The church as God intends for it to be will emerge because of people who hear His voice, because of the sovereign and providential hand of God that administrates the seasons (Eph1:10), and maybe through the distress and circumstances that press upon us in society. God moves comprehensively in history and society, not just in the four walls of a church and not just among Christians. But I know He will raise up a church that will reflect His nature, presence, power, and purpose, and which will be an instrument in His hand to reach the world.

OUT OF THE BOX said...

Hello, my friends. Its Billy again. One thing I appreciate about you brothers is the sincere and honest searching to know and do the will of God, a genuine desire for Him to lead us into what we could not find on our own. It is nice to be able to analyze and re-evaluate our paradigms and methods and to ask questions without being accused of already having the answer. Sometimes people do have honest questions that are produced by a genuine search. Even so there will be those who are threatened by our questions because they perceive them as maneuvers designed to manipulate them to our predetermined conclusions.
I have some ideas, and I am looking in a certain direction. But I don't come with the final answers. I am asking the Lord to teach and lead. I can can search out the Lord's path for me without attacking or being critical of others who are content with what they are doing. I don't have to pull down anyone else's house in building my own. However, if the Lord grants me opportunity to "build" again, I think it will be surprising what actually comes forth.
I would like for the Lord to lead me to two or three couples who have the same burden and who would seek the Lord with me for Him to birth something where we live.
Billy Long

josenmiami said...

Billy, we are having a good discussion over at

hope you can join us.


Chris said...

Thanks for contacting me about your blog....Looking forward to reading more....I was blessed tonight by all of the comments.. Hope you are doing well..Tell Laurel Carla and I said hello.

bellyroller said...

Billy, thanks for allowing me to read your blogs. I am a person from Billy's secular world and consider him a friend an very interesting person.

I, too, know well the Steve mentioned in the blog and know that Steve is the most interesting person I have ever met. No story about Steve can be told without saying that he retired at age 40 and moved to Sarasota, Florida. He has no retirement income. When asked how he survives he stated that upon awakening each morning there were 10 or 12 hotels inviting him to come and eat a "FREE' continental breakfast...that's Steve.

As I grow older I wonder if Steve may not know more about life than I do.

Tim said...


I, too, have enjoyed getting to see what "we" look like from the outside. And, I'm ashamed to say, much of what we're accused of IS true!

Thanks for inviting me to your blog. Keep up the good work! :-)


Mark W said...

great to hear from you again