Saturday

Keeping up with the horses.

Jeremiah 12:5
"If you have run with the footmen, and they have wearied you,
Then how can you contend with horses?
And if in the land of peace,
In which you trusted, they wearied you,
Then how will you do in the floodplain of the Jordan?


This is an interesting challenge that I believe God is speaking to His church right now. “You think you’re tired now? What are you going to do when the pace picks up? He’s been saying this for the past couple of years.
And now the pace is picking up. If we were content to jog along in the back of the pack, maybe also in the back pew, not pressing very hard into “God things”, then we’re discovering that isn’t working as well as it used to. I expect we’ll find the back rows of the church becoming more sparsely populated as their usual inhabitants can no longer keep up and fall away.
But the Denizens Of The Back Pew aren’t typically readers of blogs, particularly blogs like this one whose purpose is to challenge the status quo. Readers of this type of blog are more likely to be followers of Christ who are intentional and pressing forward in their relationship with God.
Believers who take the position of, “I want more in God,” tend to be among leaders of this race that we’re running with the footmen. And if the pace of the race is picking up, if the pacesetters are no longer soldiers but horses, then what will happen to those runners who were not falling behind? What will happen to the leaders of the pack?
What do we do? An examination of this passage reveals some answers.
First, the terms are military: “footmen” refers to solders on foot, and they only ran to the battle they looked forward to winning (a different verb was used of fleeing from a defeat). The run to the fight is indeed capable of wearying us, though it does not need to; by running regularly, with discipline and passion, we can keep up with the footmen. That’s valuable when we’re running with the footmen – as we have been, but not as valuable when the horses come onto the battlefield – as is beginning to happen now.
But the assumption is that after running with footmen for a while, we will run next with horses, or more precisely, we will “contend with horses.” Horses, while valuable other uses, were primarily tools of war in this era, nearly always pulling chariots, so the image is still one of warfare.
But the verb Jeremiah chose is not about “keeping up with” the war horses and their implied chariots; it’s about contending with them. The Hebrew word charah is a primitive root, speaking of passion, jealousy, anger; it’s related to an Aramaic root word meaning “to cause fire to burn
Let’s just be bold and come right out and say it: our pace is picking up. It used to be that we could keep our place in the race by running with a certain level of exertion, and it isn’t working any more. We’re running just as hard, but we’re falling behind.
The solution is not about running harder. There is benefit in running harder when the pace is slower, when the pace-setters are foot soldiers. When the battle horses come onto the field, it’s not about running harder, it’s about charah: it’s about passion, anger, burning.
In this phase of the race, running harder won’t help. Passion is the only thing that will get us through this season, passion for the Man Jesus, for our relationship with Him, passion for the battle we’re facing, for the people who will be the spoils of war for one side or the other. Passion, fire in our soul, is the solution in this season we’re entering.
In traditional Hebrew fashion, the question is asked twice, using two different metaphors:
· If you’re getting weary just running with the footmen, what will happen when you need to contend with horses?
· If you’ve gotten weary in a land of peace (in which you’ve trusted), then how will you do in the floodplain of Jordan?
The phrase “floodplain of the Jordan” is interesting, particularly as we’re heading toward that place, away from the land of peace that we’ve become comfortable with. In the Hebrew, “floodplain” is a the metaphorical translation of the KJV and NKJV, while NIV and RSV translate “thickets”. The original word references “majesty” and “splendor.”
Both speak of abundance, of increase. The region around the Jordan was thick with growth, nearly a jungle compared with the rest of the land, and the reason was the water of the Jordan. So the figure of speech “floodplain of the Jordan” is talking about a season of fruitfulness, of increase, of abundance: an increase of the River, an increase in growth, an increase of harvest.
It might be worth noting that the increased growth around the river also provided cover for predators: lions particularly were known to hide in the cover there. Where there is an increase of harvest, there is often an increase of predators.
The point is this: “If you have been caught up in the crises of the land of peace, what will you do when I begin pouring out more of my river, when you enter the season of fruitfulness?”
It’s easy enough to be caught up with the stuff of life. We have challenges from information overload, from on-line distractions, from provocations coming from landlords, co-workers, other drivers. It’s easy to become overloaded in the drama of this season of running with the foot soldiers.
The fact that it’s foot soldiers we’re running with should help give us perspective: this isn’t about my comfort: we’re running to a battle. I need to be prepared for that battle, my attention needs to be on eternity in order to not be caught up in order to not be wearied in this race. I must “fix my eyes on Jesus” (Hebrews 12:1-2) and run with the discipline of a single focus to keep up with the soldiers. That season was marked by “Just keep on running. Just keep running.”
But with the increased pace of the war horses, there comes an entirely different focus. This season is being marked by an increase of the River among us, and by an increase of growth and of harvest. In this season, we’re beginning to experience the outpouring of God and the ingathering of the lost that we’ve been praying for during the years and decades of “just keep running.”
This is what we’ve been praying for, what we’ve sacrificed for, what we’ve been waiting for! But now that God is answering those prayers, things are different than they once were. The water is higher. The undergrowth is thicker. There’s life sprouting up all over the place, whether in healings, in people coming to (or back to) faith, or in unbelievers being open to hearing the gospel of life.
But there are lions hiding in these bushes as well, still roaring, still seeking someone to devour. If not you, then some of the new believers, some of the people who have been recently healed, some of the folks asking questions now.
We’ll be sustained in this battle by the fire of passion. Discipline – which was so valuable before – is of less value now; its place is perhaps a safety net: if passion falters, then we’re not completely destroyed. But the successful warfare strategy will be to develop a burning heart, to fan the spark of our love for God and for His people into a flame and nurture it into a bonfire. In the wild, have you noticed how a campfire always draws the people around it, but the wild animals are driven away from it in fear?
The successful strategy in this season is to cultivate a fiery passion for God. In that way, we’ll contend with the war horses, we’ll gather together with other passionate believers, we’ll chase off the lions, and we’ll have both warmth and light for our work.

Stages of Spiritual Development

There’s this interesting passage in 1 John 2:12-14

12 I write to you, little children,

Because your sins are forgiven you for His name's sake.

13 I write to you, fathers,

Because you have known Him who is from the beginning.

I write to you, young men,

Because you have overcome the wicked one.

I write to you, little children,

Because you have known the Father.

14 I have written to you, fathers,

Because you have known Him who is from the beginning.

I have written to you, young men,

Because you are strong, and the word of God abides in you,

And you have overcome the wicked one.

Since I’ve been obsessing with the thought of believers growing up, this seemed appropriate to discuss.

In the English translations of this passage, there are three stages of development, each is repeated twice:

1. Children

2. Young Men

3. Fathers.

In the original Greek language, “young men” twice is a translation of neaniskos, which is literally, a young man, a man under 40 years of age. Both times, “fathers” is a translation of pater which is not a giant intellectual leap.

But John uses two different words for "children." The first time, he uses the Greek word teknion, which means “children”, but is only used figuratively in the New Testament: it’s a term of affection by a teacher to his disciples connoting tenderness. The second time, he uses the word paidon, an infant freshly born.

Distinguishing those two, we show four stages of development. But since John is a father of the faith, since he is writing to his spiritual children, then his stages of development are stages of spiritual development:

1. fresh newborns, characterized by knowing God as Father.

2. young children, disciples, characterized by the revelation of forgiveness, and that forgiveness is for “His name's sake.”

3. young men, both times described as “have overcome the wicked one,” and the second time adds “you are strong, and the word of God abides in you.” In other words, the young men (who may or may not actually be “men”) are the warriors (they overcome the wicked one) and they’re strong (“you are strong”) because the word of God of God abides (dwells, lives) in them.

4. fathers, both times described as “you have known Him who is from the beginning.” Fathers, of course, are people who are raising the next generation, in this time, the next generation of the church. But John describes them not in terms of their actions, but as he does the other stages: by how they know God. The fathers have a knowledge of God as the eternal one, the deepest, most experienced knowledge of Him.

When I teach this to young believers, I always follow it up with two questions, which I present for your consideration:

1) Looking at the descriptions, who are you? Which group do you fit in? What is your stage of spiritual development?

2) Looking at the descriptions of that group, what is the thing you should be working on now? How do you need to know God in this stage of spiritual growth? How well do you know him in that way? Then stop worrying about not living up to the other stages if they’re not where God has you right now!!

Turnabout And Fair Play.

An interesting thing has happened. Perhaps you noticed an election just past? Who didn’t, eh?

Do you remember 8 years ago. When George W Bush was elected, much of the church was excited. Right or wrong, we breathed easier because we believed that we had “God’s man” in the highest office of the land. (This was more true among believers who focused more on the spiritual than on the social, of course; the other end of the spectrum was appalled.)

When the “liberal media” attacked him, demeaned him, smeared his reputation, we were saddened and angered. In the eight years he’s been in office, they have not relented, but only increased the pressure. Some would argue that this fact was foundational in the successful election of Barack Obama: we weren’t electing a black man or a liberal man or a democrat as much as we were ousting the man we had vilified for most of a decade, and everyone near him was painted with the same brush. The reality is that there was a great deal of public outcry among the more liberal among us, speaking uncomplimentary things about him as often as they spoke of him.

During the recent election season, I heard similar dismay about Mr. Obama, this time from the more conservative among us, and this includes much of the church world. Many among us were looking to John McCain as our only hope; there was much fear about Mr. Obama. Then – moments after the campaigning started – the mudslinging started. If the candidates and their campaigns were un-lovely, their supporters were less reserved; they were deceptive, bigoted, and downright vile.

Those among us who had supported Mr. McCain’s campaign – perhaps largely for moral reasons – considered him to be the recipient of the greater amount of mudslinging. We were saddened and angered at the often unfair attacks against him, but we were mostly fearful of Senator Obama: this inexperienced, pro-abortion man of unclear faith and questioned loyalty was considering leading our nation? It was hard to imagine.

Now Mr. Obama is President-elect Obama. Now what do we do?

The precedent is clear: the supporters of the defeated candidate increase the mudslinging, the civil disobedience, the vilification. That’s what this nation has done so well after so many elections before: if there was disrespect shown during the election, then there were many and awful things said against them during their office: the victorious candidate was vilified, pilloried and subverted at every opportunity.

I am proposing another response.

Barack Hussein Obama will be our president in this country, beginning the middle of next month. I propose that, beginning now, if not sooner, we treat the man with respect, if not for his own sake (though I would argue that every human being is worthy of respect), then for the sake of his office.

1) Pray for him: Pray for the man. Pray for his office. Pray for his family (I can’t imagine raising children in the White House). Paul writes to Timothy: “Therefore I exhort first of all that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks be made for all men, for kings and all who are in authority, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and reverence. For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior.”(1 Timothy 2:1-3)

2) Honor him: speak of him with respect. Yeah, I know: the disrespect, the vilification is part of the process of preparing for the next election: don’t do it. Peter instructs us to “Honor all people. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the king.” (1 Peter 2:17) I would go so far as to argue that “honoring” Mr. Obama (or anyone else, for that matter has a lot to do with treating them the way that God sees them more than the way his political enemies see him. That’s a far more appropriate way for believers to deal with leaders, isn’t it?

3) Seek the welfare of his government: Pray towards, speak towards, even work towards the success of his policies, his administration. In Jeremiah 29, the prophet is writing to the exiles: “But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the LORD on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.” (Jeremiah 29:7 NRSV) It is our job as believers to seek the wellbeing of the city that governs us, and the government of that city and this nation.

One last statement before I finish: Mr. Obama will be our president, not our king. While he deserves our honor and our support, he is not our ultimate authority. Jesus said “Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's.” (Matthew 22:21) Paul echoed the statement in his letter to the Romans: “Render therefore to all their due: taxes to whom taxes are due, customs to whom customs, fear to whom fear, honor to whom honor.” (Romans 13:7) There are some things that don’t belong to Mr. Obama, but belong to God.

Barack Obama will be our president. If we don’t support his administration, then we are free to work to support his opponent in the next election, free to appropriately influence our representatives and other governmental representatives. But we are not free to dishonor the man.

Friday

Dependence or Rebellion: a Third Way

My friend Zelda had a scary experience a few years ago. She was driving home late from work in her Kia in the middle of winter. The temperature had dropped below freezing, and the roads were slippery, and a bit of snow was in the air. Her Kia lost traction and she didn’t know how to handle the slippery road and she panicked; she ended up in the ditch.
It wasn’t a big ditch and she didn’t damage the car. If she hadn’t panicked, she might have been able to drive out of it, but it was slippery and she was afraid, so she called a tow truck and while they were towing her car to her mechanic’s for a checkup, she talked the driver’s ear off about how dangerous the roads were and how frightening her experience was.
Today, Zelda is still terrified of ditches. She drives a small SUV nowadays, and she stays away from ditches. Most of the time she drives the SUV on suburban streets with curbs and sidewalks, but when she’s on a road that has a ditch, she crowds the centerline; she pretty much straddles the yellow line on any road with a ditch. If she’s not paying attention, or if she’s particularly scared, she probably has her wheels over the yellow line, but she’s not watching the line, she’s still got her eyes on that ditch.
I’m concerned for Zelda. It seems that she’s in more danger now than when she slid into the ditch. If there’s someone like her coming the other way on that road, crowding the centerline, eyes on the ditch, then they’re going to crash head on, and they’ll both be badly hurt; or she’ll swerve dramatically to miss the oncoming car, and she’ll land in the ditch again anyways.
We do that, don’t we: when we have a bad experience, we can get – if we’re honest with ourselves – a little extreme about the opposite viewpoint.
Let me tell you about three imaginary people: Arlene, Bernard and Charles.
Arlene is a consumer Christian. She goes to church Sunday mornings and Wednesday nights usually, unless something is seriously wrong. She goes out to lunch afterwards with friends and they critique the service. For Arlene, a service is always measured by how good it made her feel, and if it made her feel like she could make it through the next few days until the next service. If she felt good enough to go.
She’s plugged into a couple of support groups, though she doesn’t really have to deal with the issues that one of them addresses and she’s not sure what the other is about; she just wants to be connected, and the leaders make her feel better. She reads a fair bit, always books about the good things she has the right to expect from life and how to deal with the bad things that have happened to her. She invites her friends to church, but they usually aren’t really interested, or they come once but usually not again.
Arlene has become dependent. She’s dependent on her church services, her church and group leaders, on her Christian resources and her Christian culture. Her life is defined by “I need to depend on you!
Interestingly, Arlene’s twin sister Arielle has similar issues. She’s been living on welfare or disability for several years, and now she has a case worker that’s pretty helpful. She’s cared for by a number of helpful but impersonal government programs.
Now, I don’t want to judge Arlene or Arielle for their lifestyle choices. I don’t know the stories of their lives (partly because they’re fictional, but you get the point), or whether God expects a different standard for their lives or not. I am not their judge, and I like it that way. The point I want to focus on is their dependence on others.
Dependency is not evil. Children (whether young people or young Christians) must be dependent, but the need for dependency is something that any adolescent – biological or spiritual – must grow out of.
Bernard goes to a real organized church. After attending for a number of years, he’s been appointed to be an usher and so Sunday is the only day he ever wears a jacket and tie because that’s expected of ushers. He tithes to the church now too; that was part of the expectation for becoming an usher. His family attends the appropriate classes that the church offers, and they’ve been assigned to one of the home groups that one of the elders leads in his home where they review the pastor’s sermon every week.
Bernie’s church is big on obedience, on discipline, on accountability. Tithing is a big subject there. So is regular church attendance. And daily devotions. And the need to be involved in the programs of the church.
Bernie loves his pastor’s sermons. They teach him about the reality of the weaknesses in his life, how the problems in your life are because you aren’t devoted enough, submitted enough, obedient enough, and they show him places where he can submit more, be devoted more.
Questions are really not encouraged. It’s hard to do something new, something different, because there always seems to be some unwritten or unspoken standard that he needs to live up to before starting something new, and besides, shouldn’t you be involved in this new program that the pastor started rather than starting your own? “No, you can’t be a home group leader: all home groups do is breed rebellion and distension; besides, we still need you to teach Sunday school; later, after you’re more submitted we can talk about it again.” But that time never comes; though he continues to grow, Bernie’s never mature enough.
Success in Bernard’s church is measured by conformity.
Bernard has a twin named Bertrand who was dating Arielle for a while, until one of the elders pulled him aside and explained how she was rebellious because she used to attend this church but had left here for another church without the pastor’s permission.
Bernard’s church life is characterized by the phrase “You need to depend on me!
It’s easy to be judgmental of Bernie’s church, or Bertrand’s, and that’s probably not appropriate: their leaders will have to report to a different master than you or I, who has given them different marching orders than ours.
I want to point out that Bernie’s basic issue is the same as Arlene’s: it’s dependency. Arlene has made herself dependent; Bernie was made dependent by his church leaders, but ultimately it’s the same issue for both of them.
Charles has a different story. Years ago, he got frustrated by the church. He rejected his neediness and his dependent life, and he hasn’t gone to church for years, and he’ll tell you all about it if you bring up the subject: the wounds are still fresh, even though they’re years old. He’s still rejecting the church’s attempts to control him.
Sometimes, Charlie stills inclined to pursue God but “without the constraints of organized religion.” The reality is that he’s more talk there than action; maybe he doesn’t know how to follow God on his own, or maybe there really is something of value in worshipping in community that he lacks, but it’s hard for him to follow God on his own.
Charlie’s brother Chad has also been burned by experiences in church, but he’s still part of church. Chad kind of keeps his distance. He has a few friends in church, and they talk about the weather, the sports, the government. They’ll sometimes argue passionately about favorite doctrines, but Chad never finds himself in a circle that expects to hear about the issues of his heart, the passions of his life or anyone else’s. It’s not that he’s afraid of being known, but he’s determined not to be needy; sympathy makes him uncomfortable. “I’ve been needy long enough,” he said years ago. “Never again.”
Charles has been in the ditch before, and now he straddles the yellow line, racing towards a wreck of one kind or an other, though he has no idea. Chad doesn’t straddle the yellow line: he limits his driving to roads with sidewalks, so he never has to deal with his fear of ditches, but he can never leave the suburban community in which he lives: the highways don’t have sidewalks. They’re so determined to avoid one danger that they’ve placed themselves in another danger, a dangers than the one they’re avoiding.
The generation we live in is changing the face of the church. This generation questions everything that previous generations have held as truisms. Worse, they expect to be in charge of their own destiny rather than placidly following the course that someone else has laid out for their life. As a result, I’m meeting many believers who have a tough time fitting into the church. They look at the options A, B & C, and they are confused and increasingly frustrated. They have decided for themselves that they’ve grown out of the need to be dependent (A), and they’ve developed a habit of when people try to tell them to be dependent, they interpret that as control (B), and they resist it. They look at the alternatives: the rebellion of Charles’ life, the spiritual lobotomy of Chad’s, and they understand that these are at the very least unhelpful, and in reality, they’re probably sinful, so they don’t choose them.
Many young believers are finding themselves in a “no man’s land”: there is no place for them in the church, and being out of the church denies a fundamental value they have for fellowship with God and with other believers.
The irony is that many pastors and church leaders are missing this fundamental fact: Church-as-we’ve-always-done-it has some weaknesses. “Church is successful” they say, some because their attendance and their offering baskets are growing, some because they know that “The Church” is God’s only plan for believers on this planet. Some church leaders – more than I expected – teach their people that leaving fellowship (or leaving this fellowship) is rebellion, is dangerous, or is sin.
Here’s my question to the church leaders among us: is it possible to make room for grown-up believers, to receive them as peers, not as “sheep” or as “underlings” but as “co-heirs with Christ, if indeed [they] share in his sufferings in order that [they] may also share in His glory.”
I’m having difficulty imagining what that would look like.
It does not look like a fellowship of believers with no leadership, no authority. It does mean no man-made authority: nobody gathering people around themselves in order to be a leader; nobody every says, “Because I said so.”
It does not look like anarchy, where everyone does “as is right in his own eyes.” But it also doesn’t look like one primary person in a position of leadership dictating the only vision, the only one who knows the plan, the vision, the direction of the group.
It does not look like people rebelling against control, nor like some people controlling or manipulating others. Have you ever noticed that the only “control” in the New Testament is “self-control”? Controlling others has been replaced by their own self-control.
I imagine a group of believers who are committed to the personal growth of each other. Each member is determined to see the others grow more than themselves, to see their dreams and hopes fulfilled more than their own.
The people are committed to the people in the group, not to the positions those people hold. I have a living covenant relationship with others in the group (with all of them in a small group, with key individuals in a large one), and they are committed to those individuals, knowing that those others are equally committed to me. I will never be considered “expendable”, and neither will any one else in the group. People are more valuable than programs, than schedules, than services, than positions.
There are leaders among them: leadership by committee so often is a euphemism for a situation where the strongest rule by force or by manipulation. There is a senior leader; there are other leaders, though it’s not a position of seniority or of additional privileges: these men and women are called to equip the rest of the body, to develop and deploy the rest of the congregation. But the leaders are first brothers and sisters in the group Before they are “leaders”, they are family. They are like the head of the family: dad knows how to be firm, but in a healthy family, everybody knows that his love for them comes before his firm direction or corrections.
This is a group where there are very few people that are not involved in “the ministry,” though few (if any) of them are paid by “the ministry”. They work in the community, among the community, and they all see themselves as “ministers” of God, ambassadors of Heaven in their workplaces, their stores, their neighborhoods. Their leaders both affirm this and model it.
There are very few people in this community who are not involved in mentoring someone else, and in being mentored themselves in one way or another. The relationships among them are sufficient to allow for sincere (and perhaps blunt) questions from others that are in their circle of friendship, without raising self-righteous or self-defensive challenges.
I know several churches where these values are held and lived. Some are denominational churches, others non-denominational, and some are house-churches. None of them walk in perfection in this, and they may point out (and I would agree) that as long as we’re dealing with human beings, perfection may be a little tough to come by. The point is, this is do-able.

Saturday

There’s a Goal to the Process.

There’s a lot said, and it’s generally right, about our life in Christ being a process as much as it is a goal: that we need to walk in relationship along the way, that we need to “stop and smell the flowers.”

Like so many things in the Kingdom of God, we have a paradox here. Yes, our walk of faith is a process; there is tremendous value in the steps along the way: the relationships with each other and with the Lord, the lessons learned in trials and victories, they joy of worship and of being part of the move of God in a region or in an individual: these are priceless treasures, and clear indications of the value of the journey, apart from the goal at the end. In no way do I intend to devalue that truth in what I am about to say.

But ultimately, we really are working towards a goal. There will come an end to the process – regardless of how valuable that process has been – and our effectiveness at accomplishing the goal will be measured. The goal can be quoted a number of different ways:

Make disciples. (Matthew 28:19)

Produce fruit of the Kingdom (Matthew 13:23)

Preach the gospel (Mark 16:15)

Be witnesses to the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8)

Bring forgiveness to the world (John 20:21-23)

Ultimately, they can all be summarized by a passage in the middle of the Lord’s Prayer. It is our job to make this happen:

Your kingdom come.
Your will be done
On earth as it is in heaven.

Some whom I trust would argue that this is not our task to do, but this is our prayer to pray; to them I would answer: do you not expect your prayers to be answered? If you are praying for the expansion of the Kingdom of God on earth, then we should see that the Kingdom expanded on your watch, in your area of influence.

Others would argue that this responsibility is ours not just to pray about, but to work towards as well, but the same standards apply if they’re right: we should see that the Kingdom expanded on your watch, in your area of influence.

My point is this: There will come a day when we will stand before our Heavenly King, and He will judge us. This is not about heaven or hell: we who believe in Christ will miss that judgment, but the fruit of our labor will still be evaluated: there will be rewards based on how well have we done at the assignment He has given us? I think there’s great liberty as far as how we accomplish the goal or how we measure the goal, but the reality is that there must be something accomplished as a result of the investment of grace in our lives.

I have the privilege (and I consider it a privilege, an honor) of talking with thousands of people from thousands of churches. One of the things that I hear as I talk with them is the value for the weekly events of the church. I hear the value of “business as usual.”

It seems that there are an awful lot of local congregations that have the “church as a process” value down well: they gather Sunday mornings, talk over coffee afterwards. Midweek, they have the same event that they did last year. Their Easter and Christmas are a little different this year than last, but functionally, they do the same thing week after week, month after month, year after year, decade after decade.

Please don’t get me wrong. This is not the waste of time and energy that some of the more radical voices among us might imply. These congregations are doing a good job of “shepherding the flock of God” which is not, as the evangelists among us might imply, ignoring the command of God. They are very effective at the “process” part of the paradox.

But many churches, perhaps tens of thousands of them, are succeeding at the process but are not succeeding at the goal. They’re enjoying the fellowship at this week’s coffee hour and this month’s potluck supper, but the kingdom of God is not expanding in their area of responsibility.

Sure, a few more people are attending the church this year, but their community is not more representative of the Kingdom of God this year than it was last year; there are not increasing numbers of people pressing back darkness or similar numbers pressing darkness back more effectively; the dead are not raised, the sick are not healed, and nobody is grieving about it because the fellowship is good, the mortgage on the building is paid, and we’re enjoying the journey.

I’m thankful that we the church have finally begun to learn about the process of the Christian life. Now I’m praying that we’d reach the prize effectively as well.

Let’s go change the world; let's really change it!

Telling the Truth in Our Relationships

Have you ever sincerely asked someone, “How are you doing?” and had them answer “fine” when you knew they weren’t fine? Have you ever had someone ask you how you were, but you knew they weren’t sincere? Irritating isn’t it?

I suppose we should pause for a moment and define those as lies: Answering “Fine” when I am not fine is clearly an untruth. Acting, by my inquiry, as though I care how you are when in fact, I do not, is equally a lie.

I understand that some of this truthless communication is part of a larger body of socially acceptable lies, part of a formal communications ritual that our culture has evolved – rather like the mating rituals of wild geese – though perhaps for less noble purposes than the continuation of the species. There are some times when they – the salesman, the political lobbyist, the person you’re talking with that you don’t have any real relationship with – there are times when they are asking “howyadoin” and they don’t want an answer: they are making a formal noise, a greeting to which the formal answer is “fineanyou” or the like. A genuine answer in that environment would throw them off, derail the traditions.

I’m not talking about these communications: they’re meaningless apart from that formal, meaningless function, and they need to be treated that way.

I’m talking about the times where the same words are used in genuine communication, a genuine inquiry after one’s wellbeing, and they are misinterpreted as the content-free ritual described above. They do use the same vocabulary, or nearly the same, and it’s easy to misunderstand. I am of the opinion, however, that much of the misunderstanding is more strategic than genuine: we make the assumption that the question is formal, empty, because that is the more convenient interpretation.

The most disturbing aspect is that the church, the people with “The Truth,” seems to be an equal participant in this untruth-telling. “Brethren, this ought not be this way.”

I’ve seen grown men, men who grew up with the English language, miss this one in the church fellowship hall: a friend who knows something of the challenges he’s been facing asks how he’s doing in the face of those trials, and the answer is embarrassingly often, “I’m fine, thanks. How are you?” Or worse: “Bless God, Brother! Isn’t God good?” Well, yes, He is good, but that’s not actually the question. The question is “How are you doing with those trials?” not “Is God still good?”

I’m more concerned about the reasons behind such truthlessness. Somehow, we’ve convinced ourselves that there are real reasons not to be genuine with each other. I can think of a few reasons:

1) Lousy theology: We’re convinced that if we appear more “together”, that this will somehow make God look better. Or the reverse: if a Christian is known to have problems, then somehow it will make God look less God-like. This often incorporates the brilliant assumption that when we trust in Jesus to forgive our sins, that somehow this erases all of our character flaws while simultaneously eradicating tribulation from our lives. Its like we believe the advertising. Bad idea.

2) PUFF: Pure Unadulterated Fear Factor: We don’t know how people will react to us, or we think we do know based on how someone has reacted to us in the past. Perhaps we remember someone who hurt us, and whether truthfully or not, we associate that hurt with our own vulnerability, and we swear that we’ll never put ourselves through that particular ordeal again. There are a thousand variations on this one.

3) Ignorance: We don’t open ourselves to others simply because we’ve been taught known that we should or even that we could. Our leaders don’t model vulnerability in any way that we can see (that’s a subject for another session!), and nobody has taught us how to be vulnerable in an appropriate way, with the right people, in the right settings. We’ve never seen someone else do it well, so we have no role model.

4) Lack of opportunity: There are in my observation, millions of believers that are actually willing to develop genuine, caring relationships, but they don’t have people around them that are similarly open to genuine relationships. There may be others in the next pew, but there is no mechanism in their culture to broach the subject of “Can I tell you my secrets? Will I be safe when I do?” We need an environment where honest relationships are appropriate.

The Bible models intimate in-home gatherings of the Church (Acts 2:42), and it was such a gathering (a large one) in a house that first received the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:2). One of those groups was characterized by prayer and the other by supper, eating with gladness: these don’t sound like formal, content-based gatherings. They sure sound to me like they’re based on genuine relationships instead.

The Bible doesn’t just model ministry built on relationships, it also teaches it. “So, affectionately longing for you, we were well pleased to impart to you not only the gospel of God, but also our own lives, because you had become dear to us.” (1 Thessalonians 2:8, NKJV) The teaching is clear: when I am “ministering”, I’m doing two things: I’m imparting the gospel, and I’m also giving you my own life. There is a correlation: my imparting of the good news will be more complete if I am also imparting my life. Content is incomplete without relationship.

We could also point out that Jesus’ ministry followed the model of relational ministry: sure, he taught the masses and did miracles among them, but it was they guys he lived with that he touched the most. There were times that He saw the needs of the multitudes, and turned to the twelve to teach them, to send them, or to involve them in the solution.

If we are wanting to see a change in the way we do church, we’re going to need to do church differently. I propose that we change ourselves first: let’s find settings where we can be genuine; let’s create them ourselves if we need to. If we can find or build these relational gatherings within the structure of our churches, let’s do that, but if we need to, let’s be willing to put people ahead of religion: let’s gather informally “from house to house” as they did in the early church.

And, when it’s appropriate, let’s learn how to answer the “how are you doing?” question honestly.

Friday

An Egyptian Delivered Us

As the book of Exodus begins, Israel is in captivity. They were the chosen people of God, descendants of Abraham, but they had become enslaved. They lived like slaves, they thought like slaves, their culture was a slave culture, they believed in their slavery.

Moses was the deliverer for the people of God. He knew it; he tried to fulfill it prematurely, and that’s why he was running for his life.

From Exodus 2: 15 When Pharaoh heard of this matter, he sought to kill Moses. But Moses fled from the face of Pharaoh and dwelt in the land of Midian; and he sat down by a well.  16 Now the priest of Midian had seven daughters. And they came and drew water, and they filled the troughs to water their father’s flock. 17 Then the shepherds came and drove them away; but Moses stood up and helped them, and watered their flock.  18 When they came to Reuel their father, he said, “How is it that you have come so soon today?”  19 And they said, “An Egyptian delivered us from the hand of the shepherds, and he also drew enough water for us and watered the flock.”

Moses was also the deliverer for Reuel’s daughters and his sheep.

It was interesting that Reuel’s daughter’s described Moses to their dad as “an Egyptian.” I’m sure Moses looked like an Egyptian, but he was in fact a Hebrew. You know the story: his parents hid him in the bushes at the edge of the Nile and the Egyptian princess – Pharaoh’s daughter – found him, had Moe’s own mom wet-nurse him (thank God for a quick thinking sister!), and after he was weaned, he was raised as Pharaoh’s grandson.

Some have suggested Mo was in line for the throne; that may be just an interesting theory, but it illustrates the reality: Moses may have been biologically a Hebrew, but culturally, he was an Egyptian. He dressed like an Egyptian, he spoke Egyptian, he knew the Egyptian culture and mannerisms, and when he confronted the bad-guys at the water troughs, he approached it from the point of view of his position for the past several decades: as a member of the Egyptian royal family.

No wonder the ladies thought he was an Egyptian.

The church in America is in captivity. Genetically, at our very core, our essence comes from the realm of heaven, but we’ve lived on earth for so long, that we’ve become earthly, natural, in every other way. We think in natural terms. We live among the natural world. Our culture and mannerisms are of this world. We believe in the world we live among.

If the church were actually free, we’d reflect the culture and values of our birth-culture, Heaven. We’d see the events and people of the natural world through the values and resources of heaven. Like it happened around Jesus, and later around some of the apostles, people would find themselves healed – whether in body or in soul – when we were around. We’d measure our resources by the balance in Heaven’s account, not in the bank’s account. Our lives would be characterized more by joy, peace, faith, hope, love, and less by business meetings, church services, project deadlines, job descriptions or stress.

God is raising up deliverers in our day. God has spoken it prophetically, but it doesn’t really require prophecy to see it: there have been only three times that a generation has been wiped out: the massacre that preceded Moses’ birth, the massacre that followed Jesus’ birth, and the massacre of aborted babies today: God is certainly up to something!

Here’s my point: I believe that many of the deliverers that God is raising up in our day will look like “Egyptians.” Egypt has often been used as an illustration of the ways of the world, and many deliverers will look very worldly. They’ll speak in worldly vocabulary and use colorful worldly metaphors. They’ll use worldly mannerisms – not church-cultured mannerisms. They’ll have worldly friends: business leaders, gang leaders, political leaders, artists, educators, barkeepers.

But they’ll be God’s people inside, under all that “worldlikeness.”

The first thing we might see in some of these leaders is that they’re standing up for believers in the secular arena. We’ve already seen some of that: when radical Hindu’s blamed Christians for a popular teacher’s death and started massacring Christians wholesale, there was an outcry, and some of it was from the secular world. The mainstream media didn’t touch the story as far as I can see, but the blogging community did, and many “secular” bloggers spoke out about the injustice.

Does the appearance of a secular person standing up for Christians mean that they’re a deliverer, that they’re even a believer? Certainly not in every case. I don’t believe we’re seeing God’s “Egyptian” delivers quite yet, but I expect that we will in the next several years.

Many men and women who find themselves in the position of defending God’s people against Egyptian slave-masters will shortly find God moving in their lives. They may have a dormant faith, from their childhood or youth, that God suddenly fans into flame. They may be “about to be” Christians, ready for harvest. Or they may be genuine followers of Christ who have been hidden away from the public eye for a long time, possibly even hiding away from the church for many years.

We are coming into a day where God is bringing deliverers out of hiding, men and women who will not look like church-goers, and who in fact, won’t be church-goers, but they will be deliverers sent by God. If we’re not careful, we’ll reject these young leaders because we don’t recognize the clothing, the mannerisms, the style of speech. If we do, we’ll be rejecting something powerful that God is doing among us.

Saturday

My Church is Better Than Your Church

I don’t know if you’ve noticed it, but we live in a competitive culture. Our kids are taught to compete in school through both their sports and grades. Our business model is fundamentally built on competition. We’re quick to identify with a pro sports franchise and declaim their all the reasons why our team is better than your team.
But our bent for competing is deeper than that. Have you noticed how often someone finds something that helps them. That’s well and good, but then they bend your ear on why their diet is the best, why their favorite restaurant is better than others, why their 12-step program is better than the other 12-step programs.
For example: I’ve watched with interest as two different movements have been growing in the church. On the one hand mega churches are growing in number, size and influence in this country. At the same time, the house church movement is also growing in size and influence. The two movements are almost opposites: one is composed of churches whose membership is counted in the thousands or tens of thousands; the other aims for church populations under two dozen.
Both groups have their proponents and their critics, but I’ve noticed that the most vocal critics of both groups are most often found in the opposite group: the biggest critics of large churches are proponents of house churches; the most vocal critics of house churches are leaders of large and organized churches.
Two observations occur to me:
1) We seem to be obsessed with the concept of “mine is better than yours!” and
2) We feel compelled to tell people we know why we feel this way, to convince them to agree with us.
These motivations are seldom exercised vindictively; the pastor who warns his youth group against the evils of that other denomination is usually sincere; misguided perhaps, but sincere. The elder who speaks out against that popular para-church ministry doesn’t see his words as “speaking evil” of his brothers and sisters in that ministry.
We’re awfully short-sighted. We see that this thing that I have, this group that I’m part of, is good, and we have difficulty imagining that that thing you have, that group that you’re part of, is also good. Heaven forbid that your group might be somehow “better” than my group!
The last I checked, it wasn’t “my church” or “my group.” Somebody pretty big and important said it was His church, and that He would build it. First, He is taking responsibility for both my church and yours, and second, His goal is building the church, not tearing it down.
I wonder what would happen if we took the perspective that God is working in both the house church movement and the mega churches. Would we somehow be betraying God if we acknowledged that both fundamentalist churches and Pentecostal churches were being built and led and loved by the same God that loves me. It’s possible that the One who sent His only son to die so I could live also loves that weird group who teaches strange things that I don’t understand.
One more step and we’re done. Any human being, and any human group, will be limited to human capacities: finite people cannot contain all of an infinite God (though theologically speaking, all of Him is available to each of us). One group has laid hold of one revelation of God and His kingdom, and another group has laid hold of other revelation.
I can limit myself and my experience of God to only that which my own group has figured out, or I can receive from other groups as well. Wouldn’t it be great if Pentecostal churches developed the passion for the Word that fundamental churches have, and liturgical churches developed an eagerness for personal evangelism that some evangelicals have, and combined that with an experience with the power of God that exists in the Healing Rooms movement. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to find a group with the intimacy and accountability of a house church, but the resources and the influence of a mega church.
I think God is moving us that direction. I’m sure He’s moving me that direction: toward participation in The Church, not just “my church.” That’s the one He’s building, anyway.

Bad Things from God?

I have run into hundreds of Christians who maintain the view that if something happens in their life, it must be God’s will. They completely misquote Romans 8:28 as some sort of karma verse: if something happens, it must be God’s will for them; if an event occurs in their life, it must be God’s plan for them.

The verse says that God will cause the events in my life to work together for the ultimate goal of good, provided I love God and “are called according to His purpose.” It does not say that every single event is good (He seems to never comment on that), and the promise is completely void for those who don’t love God or aren’t walking in His calling. I’m bothered by the fact that the people most often abusing this verse are not God’s people. “Bad things happened in my life; it must be God’s fault, therefore I won’t love God.”

Grrrr.

This is such a blatant abuse of scripture that I find myself fairly angry when I hear people misrepresenting God’s word this way: exchanging what He said for what they think He should have said. And it bothers me when people assume that just because something happened (typically, something evil), it must have been God’s plan for them. Deliberately misrepresenting God’s heart is one of the best ways I know of to make a mess out of life.

Another thing that makes a mess out of people’s lives is their own poor choices. It seems that God was very serious when He gave us free will, though we often confuse the consequences of our free will – our choices – with God’s will. I know a man who committed several crimes and then blamed God that he was caught and put in jail, and a teenage mother that attributes her toddler to God’s will for her life rather than her night of passion with a classmate.

The funny thing is, God seems to take it all in stride. He accepts the blame for crud that happens. I have two primary examples.

1) The example of the life of Job.

The Book of Job is a long story about how Satan hit Job, but Job didn’t know it, and how Job responded. Job’s “friends” kept saying, “You must have sinned; this must be God!”, while Job, who was a righteous man, kept saying two things: a) to his friends: “No, I haven’t sinned; I’d know it!” and be) to God: “So God, why is this happening?”

Eventually (some 30 chapters later!) God answers Job, and instead of saying, “Relax, Job. The devil did this, not me,” (which would have been true, according to the first few chapters) God takes responsibility Himself for Job’s disasters, only answering Job with, “Look, son, I’m God and you’re not,” though He does restore Job’s fortunes. He also enters the record in the Bible for you and me to learn from. (Job appeared to learn his lesson: “I have heard of You by the hearing of the ear, But now my eye sees You.”)

2) Bible verses where He claims responsibility for troubles.

I’ve recently become amazed at the number of places where God takes responsibility for bad stuff happening. Here are a few:

Ezekiel 20:25: Therefore I also gave them up to statutes that were not good, and judgments by which they could not live;
Psalm 81:12: So I gave them over to their own stubborn heart, To walk in their own counsels.
Romans 1:28: …God gave them over to a debased mind,….

In all of these verse, God is taking responsibility. He’s saying, “I did this,” but if you look at the context, each example was where people were making stupid choices and were experiencing consequences of those actions. I’m not saying God did not intervene; I’m saying that whether He intervened or not, the motivating force was the people’s unwise exercise of their free will.

In Ezekiel, for example, a dozen verses before God gave the people judgments “by which they could not live,” He described those same judgments as “if a man does them, he shall live by them” (emphasis added). So it wasn’t God’s judgments that were out of the reach of man; it was not following His judgments that kept them separated from life.
But God took the blame.

In the Psalms illustration, God gave the people over to their own stubborn heart after He laments, “My people would not heed My voice,” and then He immediately cries that this was not His plan. “Oh, that My people would listen to Me, That Israel would walk in My ways!”
And Romans 1 is famous as a downward spiral because “although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were they thankful.”

In every case, people made lousy choices and then bad things happened. I don’t know if they blamed God for the consequences of their actions, but God was certainly willing to take the blame.

So while it irritates me that people blame God for foul things in their lives that come from the devil (in Job’s case) or from their (our) own stupid choices, God doesn’t seem to be too offended by it.

The first step to solving a problem, so the psychologists say, is to acknowledge we have a problem; the second step, apparently, is to identify it. If that’s the case, then I’m more likely to resolve trouble in my life accurately by correctly identifying the source of that trouble, particularly if the trouble comes from my choices. If I’m failing at my job because I’m reading when I should be working, then blaming God may not help solve the problem; putting away the book and doing the work may be a wiser course. Taking responsibility for our actions will be good for our well-being.

Some problems – like Job’s – aren’t from our poor choices, but from a demonic agenda, and these we may never understand.

I think we need to come to the same conclusion that Job did: He’s God and I’m not. There will be bad things that happen, and many of those I’ll never understand. But if I can know God, if I avoid building a wall of blame between Him and me, then whether I understand or not, I can – like Job – walk in the best available blessing.

Wednesday

The Church: a Flexible Body or a Building of Stones?

Leadership by Friendship

The Bible uses metaphors, illustrations, to teach about complex subjects (and sometimes about simple ones). One of the more complex subjects that the New Testament addresses is the question of “What is the church.” It’s also one of the most important.

Our problem with that question is that we deal with the church enough that we have a very rich functional definition of the church: we attend church on Sunday mornings and Wednesday nights and we know what will happen there, who will be there: we know what the church does, and we use that for the working definition of what the church is.

Occasionally, we remember that the Church is more than our congregation, and we think of her in terms of “believers everywhere,” but this definition seldom impacts our life, how we relate with God and with other believers.

Let’s look past what we have experienced in church – what church has been to us – and instead, let’s examine what the Bible says about church – what it should be. Interestingly, Jesus said almost nothing about the church; in fact He only used the word in two places, and He never described her.

The real teaching in the NT about the Church is in the letters from the Apostles. Peter declares that we are “…as living stones, are being built up a spiritual house….” The concept is that you and I are each stones, or bricks, and together we’re built into a brick building, a suitable house for God, and presumably for us, the church, as well.

Paul uses a different metaphor for the church, that of a body: “If the foot should say, ‘Because I am not a hand , I am not of the body,’ is it therefore not of the body? … But now God has set the members, each one of them, in the body just as He pleased. And if they were all one member, where would the body be?” So Paul’s metaphor is that the church is a body, like our human body, and each of us is a part: a hand, a foot, a big toe, an adrenal gland, etc.

So the two predominant metaphors for the church are a house made of living stones (who are people), and a body made of different parts (who are people). The two are similar in that they both teach that we together (not individually) make up the church. At the same time, the two images are substantially different:

A house built of stones is solid, immovable, inflexible, unchanging, while a body is flexible, always moving (only a dead body doesn’t move), growing, changing. The two are nearly opposites. What an amazing paradox: the church is unchanging and yet always changing; solid and immovable and yet always growing and moving.

But the church really is like that: there are some aspects that are solid, immovable, unchanging, and other characteristics that are flexible, growing, always changing. The mixed metaphors actually work! It’s one of those paradoxes that God is so fond of: opposite realities contained in the same truth! Both actually are true, and at the same time.

Here’s where the trouble comes: in the application of the two truths. Think about it: in what ways has the church historically been solid and immovable, and in what ways has she been flexible, growing and changing?

Haven’t we generally been solid and immovable in the structures of the church: the programs are consistent year after year, the church government remains unchanged (though different faces move in and out of the fixed positions), the services and special events are consistent week to week and year to year; the only thing that change are the names of the songs and the faces in the worship team.

The flexible and changing elements of the church have been the relationships, or at least the covenant relationships. We’ve seen a vast “sheep shuffle” in the body of Christ: people moving from church to church over the years, usually leaving a few broken or wounded relationships behind at every transition. The church leadership has (generally) welcomed the sheep who are shuffling in and either vilified those shuffling out or maintained a stern silence, while they hire a new youth pastor or children’s minister every two or three years, reinforcing the value for shuffling sheep.

And in the process of all of those changing relationships, each broken relationship leaves a measure of brokenness in our soul; it teaches us not to rely on friends and church leaders, it slowly poisons a little bit of hope with every accusation and every failed relationship.

Pardon my saying so, but I think we have this completely backwards.

What would happen if we turned this around? What if we decided to make the relationships permanent, unwavering, and allow the programs, the services, even the government, to be flexible? Wouldn’t that be different?

It would be revolutionary. Can you imagine a fellowship who says, “The friendship that we share is more important than the things we do.”? If the vision of the leaders change, then the things we do change. If someone has the vision for a conference, then several members of the team gather around him to support that vision, not because someone has decreed the vision, not because they have to, but because they love their friend and they trust him. If the vision for a core program changes, then we make changes; we probably ask God what He wants to do instead, or how He wants to do this now, but we trust our friends, the leaders.

There are several implications to this change:

· We will have to trust each other to hear God, to be led by the Holy Spirit. This is a radical departure from the traditional concept of the Senior Pastor (or Apostolic Leader) having all or the majority of the vision and everyone else supporting that one vision. We take seriously the concept of Jesus leading and building His church.
· We will have some meetings that are about nothing more than maintaining and enjoying the friendship we share.
· Our friendship will include the leaders of the community, and it will include friendship with God as well.
· Change will have to not be an enemy anymore. (Have you heard the joke: “How many church elders does it take to change a light bulb? Answer: Change? Change????!”)
· Our ultimate values will have to change. Success will not be measured in attendance or budget, or even in the number of lives we impact, but by how well we obey God.

For example, traditionally, most churches have made certain strategic decisions about how they approach ministry, and they make certain staff decisions based on those strategic decisions. If the senior leaders have decided on emphasizing evangelism for example, or home group ministry, they’ll probably hire an outreach pastor or a director of home. But they’re generally hirelings, employees of the institution, not members of the family. Their acceptance as “staff members” is dependent on their continuing to fulfill that particular function for which they were originally hired, and to adapt to the changes in vision as it’s handed to them from the Senior Pastor.

But what if we started with the relationships and made that primary? What if the group of senior leaders (the “staff” or the “elders”) is committed first to their friendship together and with God? In that environment, we don’t start the home group ministry until God gives someone on the team a vision for it. There’s no hireling needed, no job description to post for applications: the vision has grown up internally, and we support, equip and resource the vision while it’s effective, and while the vision lasts.

But we’re not surprised if the vision changes after several years; that’s the part that is built on the metaphor of the body: flexible, changing, growing; it’s the relationships are solid, committed, unmovable, cast in stone. So every so often – maybe every year or three – we review the vision: not the decree from on high (from the Senior Pastor, or the Bylaws), but the vision that’s currently growing in the hearts of these friends? “Do you still have the vision for home groups? No? Well, what vision is growing now? And does someone else have that vision? You do? Good, good.”

There are a couple of assumptions in this:

· Jesus was serious when He announced His intent not to abdicate the senior leadership of the church: He really is building His church, it really is His, not the pastor’s, and He really will resource the church to carry out His vision – which may or may not be the same as the people’s vision.
· Our friendship with each other is committed to each others’ growth. It’s characterized by “encouraging one another, and all the more as [we] see the day approaching.” We are challenging each other to growth, provoking increase in our worship, our friendship, our passion for Jesus. There is no passivity in this.
· Because of these two values – the leadership of Christ, and the encouragement of each others’ growth – we can have confidence that if a particular church program is part of God’s plan for bringing life into the church, then He’ll provide for the program. Provision is moved off of our shoulders and onto His.

I’ve become convinced that one reason that this model of church leadership is not real popular is that it expects so much more of church leaders:

· We must be vulnerable with the other leaders in the church.
· We must be confident in our ability to hear God and in the ability of others around us to hear God.
· We must let go of our control over the organization, and trust God’s leadership. And He leads differently than we do.
· We must be able to embrace failure, even celebrate it as a family, if one of us makes a mistake. (Personally, I’m in favor of annual awards for the Best Idea that Didn’t Work and the Most Spectacular Failure.) If someone fails, our relationship is not threatened; we gather around him to restore him to the family.

This whole vision of leadership by friendship is close enough to some of our aspirations as leaders that we miss the revolutionary nature of it; we’re tempted to take one or two principles and add them to our pastor-led or committee-led structure of mostly stone. The biggest may be the temptation to build personal relationships among our staff and leave the “I’m in charge” foundation in place.

So what would happen if we used this kind of a model to lead our congregation? Would that be a fellowship that would make you interested in being part of a church again?

I'm indebted to Graham Cooke for sparking this idea in me.

Saturday

How Do You Relate to Scripture

I was asked recently why I celebrate holidays - like Christmas and Easter - that are neither illustrated nor commanded in Scripture; does that betray an underlying issue of a disregard for the Word? It made me think.


I do observe celebrations not found in Scripture, and that’s an interesting question. I have an odd worldview, and perhaps an odd view of how Scripture relates to my life, or maybe how I relate to it.

I came to the realization some years ago that if I limited my life to only those things found in Scripture, it would be nearly impossible to live today. I couldn’t use a computer, as computers are not found in Scripture, or a car, or even a refrigerator. I would be limiting myself from using anything made with steel, metal, plastic, computer chips, or anything transported by truck or by air. (Certainly this would have huge implications on my chosen career!)

This led me to the realization that for decades, I have looked at the Scriptures as a guide, not as a rulebook: that in NT times, the Scriptures are a tool to introduce me to a living relationship with a living God who has come to earth as man, that my relationship is with Him, not with His book.

I also realized that the Book has a series of prohibited activities and a number of things that it encourages or commands us (depending on where it’s found in the Book) us to do. I could limit myself to doing only those things that it commanded me to do (such as only celebrating holidays that it talks about), or I could limit myself to avoiding only those things (in deed, in attitude, and in principle) that Scripture instructs me to avoid (which would allow me innumerable celebrations of Him). The difference was huge, and the repercussions of that decision would completely affect my life.

It took me quite a while to come to the conclusion that the way I relate to my heavenly Father is far more about “Yes” than about “No”, and therefore, I should probably assume “Yes” unless He said “no” (in one way or another). I’ve chosen – quite consciously – to say “no” to the things the Scriptures say no to, and to say “yes” to most everything else, with Paul’s limitations in mind (“Not everything is profitable,” and “Don’t make others stumble if you can help it.”).

So I celebrate any chance I get. I was worshipping last night with a gathering of saints, quite contrary to the model in the Scriptures (we used an iPod and a stereo for our worship band). I celebrate Christmas, not as a fertility rite, but as a celebration of my Savior who was God born as man, even though His birth had nothing to do with trees or colored lights or reindeer or fat men in red suits or even (most likely) with winter. I’ll take any reason I can to celebrate Him, and if I can use it as an excuse to draw my unbelieving neighbors into that celebration, that’s even better. (They certainly don’t know how to worship Him “in Spirit and in truth.” Yet.)

But you know what: that’s my belief, my way of relating to a God that is so big that there is no conceivable way I could understand all of Him. I know believers who celebrate mass and go to confession, and believers who change water into wine by prayer for communion every week, believers who choose a lifestyle similar to Bible times, believers who attend a drive-in church outside a crystal cathedral, and believers whose primary fellowship is via the internet. Those are all different than my beliefs, or at least my practices, but they’re still my brothers and sisters. I’ve got a real big family, and even if some of us are kind of quirky, they’re my family and I love ‘em.