Are Christians Lazy?

I was walking along the lake this morning, praying. (Trust me, 6:30 AM in February qualifies as “the cool of the day!”) As we walked, he brought back to my mind a hope, a dream really, regarding ministry that He and I had talked about decades ago. I realized that I’ve seen nothing come of it.
I need to explain something before I go too much further here. I’m a direct communicator. God knows this and seems to not be offended by it. He sometimes speaks directly with me; it works for us.
So I’m reflecting on this ministry dream, and it crosses my mind that it hasn’t come to pass; in fact, I’ve known several folks with similar dream, and theirs hasn’t come about yet either. Hmmm. Oh look, it’s beginning to snow.
And the voice of the Holy Spirit whispers in the back of my thoughts: “That’s because my people are lazy.”
Whoa. Suddenly He had my attention, and he unfolded a series of thoughts in my mind, like a slideshow; no, more like an MTV video clip: fast, active, and full of energy. I feel the need to share some of those thoughts.
In many ways, the work of the Western Church has been functionally indistinguishable from the work of the secular world in which we live. Not completely, of course, but in some critical ways. We’ve often governed our congregations by political process (show me one place in the Word where the people voted; there is one, but it’s not our model). We’ve accomplished what we considered the work of the Kingdom, but we’ve been directed by our own goals and we reached them by our own strength.
There’s been a growing movement in the church that has rejected the concept of using the arm of the flesh to accomplish the work of the Spirit, and encouraged a more Spirit-led model of ministry. For example, we don’t often see Jesus setting goals and forming committees; rather, we hear Him talk about doing and speaking only “what He sees the Father doing,” and we see the supernatural results that He had, and we want to be like Him!
Then we read the story of Mary and Martha, and we hear Jesus rebuke Martha and affirm Mary, and we think, “Well, I should sit at His feet, not run around working hard, or He’ll rebuke me too.”
Unfortunately, what worked for Him turns into religion and passivity in us. We become religious because we forsake our vision for the marketplace for “more spiritual” vision. We become passive when we look at Jesus’ statements as if He sits around waiting for God to give Him direction.
A verse that has driven us is poorly translated Isaiah 40:31: But those who wait on the LORD Shall renew their strength; They shall mount up with wings like eagles, They shall run and not be weary, They shall walk and not faint. We see “wait” and we think about sitting in the lobby of the doctor’s office reading antiquated news-magazines, and that’s made us lazy. The Hebrew word actually means “to wait or to look for with eager expectation,” and is the root word for the making rope: becoming intertwined. When Jesus “waited”, He did it early in the morning or late at night: He worked hard to wait, to intertwine Himself with Father. Maybe that’s the reason that we don’t accomplish as much as He: we don’t work as hard at waiting.
I’ve encountered an attitude that appears to be uncomfortably commonplace among believers, particularly among believers who believe in and like to associate with the power of God. We wouldn’t put it this way, but it’s accurate: we kind of wait for God to hand us our dreams on a silver platter.
There’s a reason that Bill Gates or Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton are as successful as they are, despite the fact that they don’t (as far as anyone knows) spend much time waiting on God: they work hard.
We as believers should work as hard as unbelievers work, though certainly we don’t worship market dominance, wealth, or power as they do. Jesus didn’t rebuke Martha for working; He rebuked Martha for dismissing Mary’s choice as insignificant, or for working without having spent time sitting at His feet first. He never said, “Be more like Mary,” perhaps because if we all did nothing more than sit at Jesus’ feet, nothing would get done. I rather suspect that the goal is to be like both Martha and Mary. As Mike Bickle says, “Lovers make better workers.”
I hear people complain that if they take the time to be with God, time to be with their family, time for church, then the won’t have time to do the work of the kingdom. First, I suspect that’s more of an excuse than a reality, at least in the lives of some who have made that complaint to me. And second, I’ve become willing to suggest that we seriously cut back on the number of services we attend in order to spend more time with God, with family, and in the work of the kingdom.
So, to answer the question that I posed in the title of this posting, yes, I think Christians (including myself) are lazy, and we’re lazy because we have been poorly instructed. When we learn who we are in Christ, when we learn that it is our work to reign with Him, when we figure out that “waiting” has more to do with warfare than it does with killing time, then I think we’ll find our dreams come to pass, our promises fulfilled, and His kingdom come.


The Third Place of Worship

Some time ago, I wrote a posting about The Two Tabernacles, and how they’re a metaphor for the people of God today. Please allow a brief quote, because I need to use that metaphor as a launch point.
We live in a day where there are large and prestigious and prosperous gathering places on the hilltops, in the public places. They’re in the media and in the eyes of the nation, and the people go there by the thousands to perform the rituals and offer the sacrifices and be trained by the religious authorities of the nation. They have the professional musicians, the professional speakers, the professional media technicians. The ceremonies are moving and the messages are relevant and uplifting. Thousands come to a faith in Christ through these tabernacles.
They lack only one thing. The presence of God is not in them.
These churches carefully following plans laid down by godly men and women, whether that’s the vision of the founders, the vision of the pastor or the directions of the board of directors. They’re doing their best to be what they think a church ought to be. They’re following the law as they know it.
But David’s tabernacle is not about following the Law. In fact, it was completely outside the Law. The Law required the Ark of the Covenant to stay in the Tabernacle of Moses. David was working outside of the law, outside of the rules that God had established for worship, outside of the Tabernacle.
But it is David’s Tabernacle, not Moses’, that God likes best and that He promises to restore.
Heaven is committed to this kind of worship, and this is the pattern of worship that makes God happy: people coming directly to God, coming freely and joyfully, without the pomp and circumstance of the Tabernacle of Meeting, without the religious trappings of the grand ceremony and tradition.
My point was not that the big churches are evil, rather they are in fact following the Command of God, though sometimes it’s hard to worship God with abandon in those places: worshipping in small gatherings makes it easier to be passionate and reckless in our worship. But where we worship is not the issue: how we worship is the issue: we must do whatever it takes, go wherever we need to, in order to worship God passionately, as He deserves to be worshipped! Our worship – yours and mine – is the issue, not whether it’s in a big building or a back bedroom, and this is the call on the church today: worship vigorously.

The Third Place of Worship

David worshiped at Shiloh, and he worshiped with the ark of God in the back bedroom. But there’s a third place where David worshiped, and God has for a few years begun calling His people to worship here as well.
I need to start with some background.
In Psalm 5, David declares, “But as for me, I will come into Your house in the multitude of Your mercy; In fear of You I will worship toward Your holy temple.” In Psalm 18, he says, “In my distress I called upon the LORD, And cried out to my God; He heard my voice from His temple, And my cry came before Him, even to His ears.”
And Psalm 27 has one of my favorite quotes of David: “One thing I have desired of the LORD, That will I seek: That I may dwell in the house of the All the days of my life, To behold the beauty of the LORD, And to inquire in His temple.”
So David didn’t just worship in the Tabernacle of Meeting at Shiloh and the pup tent in his back bedroom (which history calls the Tabernacle of David), but he also worshiped in the temple. And if Psalm 27 is any indication, he worshiped passionately there, too.
This is something that has confused Bible scholars for years. David worshiped at the temple, but the temple wasn’t built until after his death, after his son Solomon became king. The temple did not exist in David’s day, but he worshipped there anyway. David knew of the promise of the temple.
The best I can tell – apart from science fiction-type guesses – is that somehow David experienced the fulfillment of a promise that had not yet fulfilled on earth. Somehow David managed to visit the place of the promise, even though – in the natural – the promise hadn’t been fulfilled yet.
David visited the promised temple of his God by faith; either he moved himself into the place where that future promise will have been fulfilled (how do you handle verb tenses for something like this?) or brought the promise into his present reality, again by faith.
I’m not suggesting that David was physically transported through time, or that some years later, some worshiper in the temple would bump into the time traveler from the past (though that sounds like an interesting movie plot). Worship is a spiritual activity: this whole process happened in the spirit. David visited the promised temple of God in his spirit.
Now as for me, I have no aspiration to worship in a building that was built from stone and gold, that was torn down two or three millennia ago. However, I certainly do get to worship by faith like David did, but the place where I worship by faith is not the same as the place that he did. By faith, David worshiped in the temple that God had promised to David: no, he wouldn’t build it, but his son would build the it. That was God’s promise to David. In David’s day, the temple existed only as a promise, but David worshiped there by faith.
There are promises for us today. Ours aren’t about a temple of stone and cedar and brass and gold. Our promises are about … well, we have some promises in common and some promises that are different.
Together, we share promises about the presence of the Kingdom of Heaven on earth (“Thy kingdom come”: think about what that means for a while…). We share promises for an outpouring of His spirit on our generation unlike any the world has yet seen: a billion souls in a generation.
We also have individual promises. One of His promises to my family is a house that’s large enough to have home groups in. He’s made other promises to me about my place in His work: He’s told me things about who I will be and what I will be doing. The significant point is that whether I have seen the fulfillment of them or not, I can worship Him – I can approach Him – from the middle of my fulfilled promise. I can worship Him from the large-enough-for-a-home-group living room of my new house, even though I own no such house today.
Sometimes, it seems like God is forgetful. Sometimes, He makes a promise to us, and then He forgets that it’s just a promise: it hasn’t happened yet. He does things like call Abraham a “father of many nations” when he’s still childless. He speaks about things which do not exist as though they did exist.
Since God is not forgetful (even if it seems like it), then it must be something else: the promise must actually exist once He’s spoken about it; it just doesn’t exist here, where I am. But God, being omnipresent, isn’t limited to just “here, where I am.” And in another place where He is, the promise exists. In that place, His promises already exist, done, finished, completed. In that place, Abe was already the father of many nations, even though he had no children on Earth yet. In that place, the temple already existed, even though it would not be built here until after David’s death. In that place, a billion people worship Jesus who do not yet know Him here.
If my thinking goes no further than what I can see and experience in my flesh, I’ll never inhabit those promises until they’ve been fulfilled in the physical realm. If I limit myself to what I see and feel, those billion souls don’t exist, and my promises are but empty words. But if I look with His eyes, then I can see the fulfillment now. If I experience them with my faith, then I can walk among those believers and begin to understand their hurts and know their needs, so that when I encounter the men and women of that promised outpouring, we’ll already have things ready for them.
You see, by faith, I worship in a different temple. I worship in the temple in Heaven. I worship in the presence of God. Ephesians says I’m already seated in heaven, I’m already seated in Christ, I’m already in that place, in His presence. And that’s real, that’s true, even though it looks to me like I’m sitting on a wooden chair typing on a laptop computer. I only experience the hard chair and the computer if I’m only experiencing physically. If I look with my spirit, with my faith, I can see the angels crowded around crying, “Worthy is the Lamb!”
This is really hard to communicate; we don’t have a language to describe our very real experience of a not-yet-fulfilled promise. But my lack of language does not indicate a lack of reality, a lack of priority to that experience.
It is given to us to worship from the place of our promises, by the God who calls things that are not as though they already were. There are many and significant implications, but first, we must stand in that place of our promises. I propose we start there with worship. Then we can think about other things.


Gathered Together in My Name

In Matthew 18, Jesus said, “where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there in the midst of them.”

Let’s think about this for a minute, please. If you and I and a handful of others are gathered in a church on a Sunday morning, or a home group on a Thursday night, then we’d expect the presence of God with us, on the basis of this verse, wouldn’t we? We’re gathered together in His name, after all.

But if I walk to the far side of the room, or step outside the front door, is His presence still with us? How about if I walk across the street? Or down the block? What kind of distance does “together” encompass? If I fly to Djibouti and you remain at home praying for me, is His presence somehow removed because we’re not “together”?

My point is that it doesn’t make sense for us to interpret “together” as primarily a function of physical location. I can see two hindrances to a physical interpretation: a) if we’re defining “together” as “within physical proximity,” then there comes a point when nothing has changed except physical distance, and now God’s presence is no longer with us, and this isn’t particularly consistent with scripture, and b) this passage is talking about a spiritual principle (unity), but “distance” and “location” are physical descriptors, not spiritual ones: feet and inches don’t have significance in the realm of the spirit.

Or another application: what would happen if you and I met at Safeway? Does that qualify as “gathered together”? Do we still qualify as “in His name”? Is His presence still with us in something approximating the way it is on Thursday night at home group?

Here’s where I’m going: I think that “gathered together in My name” should perhaps be defined as a state of covenant relationship existing between us. After all, His presence among us doesn’t begin when the meeting starts any more than it somehow vanishes when the pastor says, “Amen.” God is present in our relationship when our relationship is built on a covenant commitment to each other, and when our relationship includes Him at its center.

If you and I are in a covenant relationship, then certainly we will meet together sometimes. We might meet at the same church, the same home group. We might meet at Starbucks (I have a friend who calls it “St. Arbucks”) or we might meet over the phone. There are some people with whom my “meeting” primarily happens via email. But our relationship won’t continue without us connecting in one way or another, and with some regularity.

OK, if all that’s true – if being “together” speaks of relationship more than location – then God’s presence is in our midst, even when “our midst” is on opposite sides of the city, or the world. If that’s the case, then the necessity of our Sunday Mornings together is reduced: if God is really with us when we are united in heart, then you and I “going to church” will happen whenever or wherever we are “being the church.”

There are some very significant implications from this:

· I can be refreshed, strengthened and equipped by God anywhere, anytime.

· I don’t need to invite people to church in order to introduce them to Jesus.

· I can pray for the sick, or share communion, or instruct people in the Word in the mall or in the church building with equal effectiveness.

· I can count on the guidance and instruction of the Holy Spirit pretty much anywhere I go.

· Wherever I am, Jesus is. Wherever I am, the Church is.

So does any of this suggest that gathering on Sunday mornings (or Thursday nights) is irrelevant or unnecessary? May it never Be! The Book encourages to gather together “all the more” as time goes by: My responsibility to be the Church is increased, not decreased, by this.

So it’s valuable, it’s important and even necessary that we gather together as believers. But the time and place are maybe not so important. And wherever I am, whenever it is, I am a representative of Jesus, of the Kingdom, of His presence: whomever I am meeting with, I need to represent Jesus. As St. Francis once said, “Preach the gospel at all times. If necessary, use words.”