- Rick LoPresti
Thinking outside the box
There is a well known puzzle which is used to illustrate a point. It is a set of 9 dots in a square. The challenge is to connect the 9 dots by drawing four straight, continuous lines that pass through each of the nine dots without lifting the pencil from the paper. We assume we must stay inside the imaginary shape of the box our minds think is there although this is never stated. The solution is to draw lines outside the area we perceive as a box we are not allowed to go outside of. The point is that sometimes problems can be solved by going outside traditional ways of doing things which we think are rules we cannot break or borders we cannot cross. These are self-imposed in our imagination.
There is a spiritual application to this. One of the greatest hindrances to Christianity is not necessarily the devil. Jesus already defeated the devil (Jn 12:31, Jn 16:11, Col 2:15). He gives His people authority and victory over the enemy (Mt 16:18, Lk 10:19, 2Cor 2:14, 1Jn 5:4). He equips us to fight and win (Eph 6:10-18). A real danger to the church is tradition (Mk 7, Col 2:8). Not all traditions are bad (2Thes 2:15), but when our traditions replace the word of God, or we become so entrenched in the way we are used to thinking and doing things that we even refuse to let God change anything, we are in trouble. The Jews in the Old Testament kept falling into idolatry though the centuries. Ezekiel said 63 times that when God restored Israel after their exile in Babylon, "ye shall know that I am the Lord". When Jesus came, we do not read of Him ever once bringing up idolatry. He never said anything about Baal, Ashtoreth, Molech, altars in high places, or any such thing. He did repeatedly go up against the religious traditions of the Jews. They had swung from one extreme to the other.
The church needs to have its beliefs clearly defined by scripture. It also needs to have clear direction, organization, and methodology. "For if the trumpet give an uncertain sound, who shall prepare himself to the battle (1Cor 14:8)?" However, when we become so set in our ways that we refuse to move forward with any new ideas, we cease to grow. We need to beware that our methods, “ministries”, organizational structures, mindsets (paradigms), and man-made dogmas do not replace what God is wanting to do. They will never produce the results God is wanting to give us.
One example is buildings. God did not have a building set apart for Him for the first half of the history of the world. Then on Mt. Sinai He gave Moses the pattern for the tabernacle (Ex 25:9 & 40, Num 8:4). This was nothing more than a tent surrounded by a curtain. The tabernacle only contained 6 pieces of furniture. It was a very simple structure, and it was mobile. About 450 years later, David decided to build God a temple, but God did not let him do it (2Sam 7). God told him in all those years He had never called anyone to do this. This temple was destroyed twice because of the sins of Israel - once by Babylon (2Ki 24), and once by Rome (Mt 24:1-2). After the Babylonian exile, the Jews began to use synagogues for their religious gatherings. The word synagogues only appears once in the Old Testament (Ps 74:8), and it means meeting place. This word appears 223 times in the Hebrew. It is translated congregation 150 times, feast 23 times, season 13 times, appointed 12 times, time 12 times, and assembly 4 times. Jesus and the apostles never owned any "church" buildings, and they rarely used any large indoor places for their meetings. Building or purchasing large indoor gathering places was not on their agenda. Jesus did not even have a building to call a home during His ministry (Mt 8:20). Granted, their culture was different, and they were in the area of the Mediterranean until years later. That gave them moderate climates. Jesus used people's homes (Mt 2:11, Mt 8:14, Mt 9:10 & 23 & 28, Mt 13:1 & 36, Mt 17:25, Mt 26:6, Jn 12:3, 2). So did the apostles (Mt 10:12-14, Acts 2:2 & 46, Acts 5:42, Acts 8:3, Acts 9:11 & 17, Acts 10:6, Acts 12:12, Acts 16:15 & 40, Acts 18:7, Acts 20:20, Acts 21:8, Acts 28:30, 2Jn 10). They were traveling evangelists but they also did this where they were, for example in Jerusalem. This sometimes led to entire households being saved (Acts 10:2, Acts 11:14, Acts 16:31-34, Acts 18:8, 1Cor 16:15, 2Tim 1:16 4). Paul also wrote to people who had churches in their houses (Rom 16:5, 1Cor 16:19, Col 4:15, Philemon 2). Sometimes they used natural amphitheaters (Mt 5:1-2, Mt 13:2), and sometimes they used man-made ones (Acts 19:29-31). Sometimes they used the temple (Mt 21:14, Mt 24:1, Mt 26:55, L:k 24:53, Jn 5:14, Jn 7:14 & 28, Jn 8, Jn 10:23, Acts 2:46, Acts 3:1-8, Acts 5:20-25, Acts 5:42, Acts 21:26-22:30). Sometimes they used the synagogues. Jesus did:
1. All cities and villages of Galilee – Mt 4:23, Mk 1:39, Lk 4:15 & 44
2. All cities and villages – Mt 9:35
3. Withered hand – Mt 12:9
4. Nazareth (Mary’s son?) – Mt 13:54 (Mk 6:2)
5. Capernaum (unclean spirit) – Mk 1:21
6. Nazareth (read Isaiah) – Lk 4:16
7. Woman bowed 18 years – Lk 13:10-16
8. Capernaum (bread of life) – Jn 6:59
9. I ever taught in the synagogue and temple – Jn 18:20
So did Paul:
1. Damascus – Acts 9:20
2. Salamis – Acts 13:5
3. Antioch – Acts 13:14
4. Iconium – Acts 14:1
5. Thessalonica – Acts 17:1
6. Berea – Acts 17:10
7. Athens – Acts 17:17
8. Corinth – Acts 18:4
9 Ephesus – Acts 18:19, Acts 19:8
Sometimes they used the gathering places of Gentiles (Act 17, Acts 24, Acts 26). Wherever they gathered or ministered, they never called the gathering place the church. The church is the people. During the days of the American colonies, there was a decline in spirituality. Then began what was called the great awakening - a revival of Christian spirituality. One of the main preachers of the Great Awakening was George Whitefield. Rather than going into established church organizations and using their buildings, he held his meetings outside. He felt the established religions were part of the problem and had become too stale and traditional. He went "outside the box" and preached people need to be born again (Jn 3:3-5).
We are to have regular gatherings (Heb 10:25). Therefore we need a place to have them,
but what place, how many places, or when is not mandated. Only the who, some of the what, the why, and some of the how are. How much did the meetings of the early church (and even those of early 20th century Pentecostals) resemble ours? Some of this is time and situation, but some of it is traditions of men. There is a little information about the early church using the first day of the week (Mt 28:1, Acts 20:7, 1Cor 16:2) (Rev 1:10?). How apostolic are we?
How aware and knowledgeable are we about the spiritual world? When the Syrians came to kill Elisha, his servant got scared (2Ki 6:14-23). Elisha prayed for his eyes to be opened, and he saw the angels on the mountain there to protect them. Then Elisha prayed for the eyes of the Syrians to be closed so they could not attack. Whoever wrote the book of Job had insight into what goes on in the spiritual world (Job 1-2). The spiritual world is invisible unless it makes itself visible or God opens our eyes. The spiritual world has laws but they are above the laws of nature. The visible world was made from the invisible one (Gen 1-2, Heb 11:3). There was no visible world. The invisible world was first. Faith makes the invisible visible - Hebrews 11:
Vs 1 – substance and evidence
Vs 8 – not knowing whither he went
Vs 10 – he looked for a city
Vs 13 – having seen them afar off
Vs 19 – he received him in a figure (Jn 8:56)
Vs 27 – as seeing Him who is invisible
Jesus passed right through crowds attempting to kill Him (Lk 4:30, Jn 8:59). He had a real physical body after He rose (Lk 24:39-43), but He could appear, disappear, and walk through walls (Lk 24:31-36). Angels are above men:
1. Ps 8:5 w. Heb 2:7-9 – even the humanity of Jesus
2. 2Pet 2:11 – greater in power
3. Lk 20:19 – only in the resurrection man will be equal with them)
They are not God. How do they travel? Is heaven a geographical location or a spiritual condition (or both)?
A miracle is when the spiritual world overrides the laws of nature. They happen all the time
all over the world, but do we perceive them? With God all things are possible (Mt 17:20, Mt 19:26, Lk 1:37). The devil is a spirit and that is why he can also do limited miracles:
1. Ex 7-8 – snakes, blood, frogs – but they could not match God from lice on – this is the
finger of God (also God’s snake ate theirs)
2. Deut 13:1-3, Mt 7:22-23 - false prophets
3. 1Sam 28 – witch brings up Samuel
4. Job 1-2 – Satan attacks Job, but only by God’s permission
5. 2Cor 11:13-15 – transforming into apostles, ministers of righteousness, angel of light
6. 2Thes 2:9 - antichrist
7. Rev 13:14, Rev 16:14, Rev 19:20 – false prophet, demons
Paul had a vision of a man caught up to the third heaven who heard words which were not lawful for man to speak (2Cor 12:1-5). There are angels, demons, and the spirits of men operating all around us all the time. Are we aware, or are we thinking inside the box of our carnal mind?
Here are some definitions of thinking outside the box spiritually:
1. Changing methods while following scriptural principles without compromising doctrine
2. Being adaptable and not overly rigid when it comes to new ideas
3. Being willing to forego traditional ways not prescribed in the Bible for ones that are
4. Understanding the difference between adapting to do what works in your setting in time and
location and “cultural relevance”
5. Following “the pattern in the mount” (Ex 25:9 & 40, Num 8:4 – the tabernacle) while
understanding that God may give us a new pattern for bigger, better things later (1Chr
28:11-19 – the temple). The Jews became so religiously rigid they rejected their own
Messiah and killed Him because He did not fit their false concepts of Him, even though He
fulfilled all the scriptures they allegedly believed in so much. He wanted to do a new thing,
and He will do it again (Is 65:17, Is 66:22, 2Pet 3:13, Rev 2:17, Rev 3:12, Rev 21:5). We should
not limit the Holy One to our ways, or what we are used to and comfortable with (Ps 78:14, Is
55:8-11). Did God make the box which contains our thinking, or did we?