Showing posts with label reformation. Show all posts
Showing posts with label reformation. Show all posts

Thursday

Why the Law?

Way back when, God proposed a relationship with humankind based on equal access for everybody, one-on-one with God (Ex 19:6).

But the humans involved rejected that covenant, and substituted a counter proposal based on a priesthood and obedience to rules, aka Law (Ex 20:19). What a disappointment that must have been to God.

And so the Law was given, in deference to the only covenant the human species would accept at the time.

And of course, since there was a Law to follow, there had to be enforcement of that law, and that was always done by the people's god. So God, who never wanted the Law, had to either enforce the Law that was not his idea, or walk away from the human race. He said plainly, "I have no pleasure in the blood of bulls and lambs and goats." (Isa 1:11)

Nowadays, though, we have a New Covenant, based neither on a priesthood nor obedience to a Law. So the Law, being fulfilled, has been archived. The entire system of relating to God with the Law was destroyed when Jerusalem went down (70 AD). It could never be revived.

Nowadays, we all have access, face-to-face, with God (Heb 4:16). Even better, we're seated with Jesus, full time with God (Eph 2:6). Just like he always wanted.

Aaah. That's better. That's MUCH better.

--

The best part of the conversation will be on Facebook. Come join in.

Remembering the Great Commission

We've misinterpreted the Great Commission, I think.

We're called to introduce people to Jesus, but sometimes it seems that sometimes we forget. Sometimes, we end up introducing them to our club, to churchianity. To religion. Ewww.

They're looking for real relationship, and Jesus offering real relationship, but we're offering membership in a Sunday Morning Club complete with its own foreign language and foreign culture. "Bring your friends to church!" we are exhorted, forgetting the "Go" of the Great Commission.

Coming to faith does NOT require leaving your culture, leaving your language, leaving your community, leaving your music behind. (Yes, it does involve leaving your slavery behind.) For example, there's no need for a pipe organ or Taylor acoustic guiter in a tribal church in order for their gathering to be legit. They worship with drums; you don't have to!

Here's a radical thought: Christian pop music is by NO means the only music that's acceptable - or desirable. Some believers like barbershop quartets! Others touch God in metal music or Dixieland or Baroque or dance music.

I even know of a church that worshiped with (shudder!) country music! They would line dance in church! What?!? (And they shared the building with a church that worshiped with grunge rock music! What's up with that?)

I get it that some folks often can't go back to the culture that enslaved them for years, but let's distinguish between the slavery that held us captive and the preference of music the enslavers enjoyed while they practiced their torture upon our souls.

And since music reaches people, the Great commission applies to music: GO TO THEM. Do NOT expect them to come to you. So bring the gospel to their music; not Gospel music, but the "Good News" of the Kingdom: that belongs in THEIR music, too. There's no need for them to leave their love for Italian operas behind in order to meet Jesus.

Our commission is to go to them, and to bring the good news of the Kingdom to them.

Our job is NOT to bring them to our culture, our little club.

When we disciple folks, we are to make them followers of Jesus, not into MiniMe's.

Another Look at the Forsaking of Jesus

I grew up in a church that sang hymns. Lots of hymns. Old hymns. A big, red hymnbook full of hymns, each with a hymn number.

Did you know that many hymns, particularly the old hymns, often didn’t have titles. I don’t know if song titles hadn’t been invented yet, or if they didn’t want to waste the space, or what. That’s why we use hymn numbers, because often there was no name to use. In that old red hymnbook, Hymn 100 was “Joy to the World, the Lord has Come.”

Instead, they referred to the hymn by the first line. Several relatively well-known hymns are still known by their first lines. “Amazing Grace” is one of the more well known. I grew up singing hymns like “All Hail the Power of Jesus’ Name” and “Blessed Assurance,” hymns that are still known by their first lines.

There’s a hymnbook that’s even older than the old red ones I grew up with. The Book of Psalms was the hymnbook of the Jews before Christ, as well as that of the early church.

Have you ever noticed that those psalms, like many hymns, don’t have titles. We generally refer to them by number (like we do with hymns). But the chapter numbers and verse numbers weren’t added until the middle ages (by Steven Langton, in the 12th century if you’re interested). Before that, there were no numbers associated with the psalms.

So before that, they used the first line as the title. People referred to that psalm which we now call “The Twenty Third Psalm” as “The Lord is My Shepherd.” It worked well, because that’s how everybody did it back then.

In fact, it functioned as kind of a shorthand as well. When someone spoke of “The Lord is My Shepherd,” others of their culture knew that was a reference to God’s faithfulness in trying circumstances. (Read Psalm 23 again: that’s what it’s about.)

Star Trek followers may remember “Darmok.” This memorable episode was about a race that spoke only by this sort of reference. In that context, the phrase, “Darmok and Jelad at Tanagra,” clearly spoke of cooperation, while “Sokath, his eyes uncovered” was an obvious reference to understanding or revelation.

The Psalms worked that way. Quoting the first line referenced the entire psalm, and brought the message of that psalm into people’s mind.

Another example: We talk about Psalm 22 only as the twenty-second song in a very long list of songs. But the Hebrew people knew that this psalm spoke about the Messiah, in more detail than many other passages.

Verse 8, for example, predicts his mocking: “He trusts in the LORD,” they say, “let the LORD rescue him. Let him deliver him, since he delights in him.” (See Matthew 27:43.) Or consider verse 18, which says that “They divide my clothes among them and cast lots for my garment.” (Compare that to John 19:24.)

When someone referenced Psalm 22, Hebrew listeners knew that they were talking about the suffering of the Messiah.

But they never called it Psalm 22, because the numbers hadn’t been added yet. They referenced it by quoting the first line: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

Do you remember Jesus saying that on the cross? (Matthew 27:46 and Mark 15:34)

When we hear Jesus quoting Psalm 22:1, we scratch our heads and wonder why Jesus was accusing God of abandoning him. But that question didn’t occur to someone who grew up with the Psalms, especially the Pharisees and Sadducees. To them, Jesus was clearly referencing Psalm 22. Jesus was reminding the people listening of the Messiah who suffers.

When Jesus quoted this verse, he was saying, “Guys, what you’re witnessing is the Messiah suffering. I am that Messiah, and you need to recognize it.”

Jesus wasn’t accusing God. He was announcing, finally, now at the end of his life, that yes, he was God’s Messiah. Messiah has come. Messiah has been killed. Now what are you going to do about it?

--

Note: Dr. Jonathan Welton provoked these thoughts in me.
Others have considered them as well: http://bit.ly/1I5R2JZ

The OTHER Benefit of the New Covenant

Our history with God is a history of covenants. Covenants between God and mankind. This is how the mighty Creator King and the human species relate: through a covenant.

We do it too. We’re up-front about it with marriage covenants, and more subtle about other covenants. There is a powerful – unwritten – parenting covenant: violate that one and society takes your children away from you.

Now hold still, I’m going to talk directly about covenant for a minute. Necessarily, I will engage in willful oversimplification of some details in order to illustrate my point: the actual situation is much more complicated than this simple explanation.

A covenant is a “promise to engage in or refrain from a specified action.” Covenants are how people agree to relate to each other. Covenant is how God relates to humanity.

Noah had a covenant. Abraham had a covenant. David had a covenant. But the Big One was the Mosaic Covenant, often called The Old Covenant.

The Old Covenant was kind of a failure in before it ever got going, of course. God proposed a covenant to the people of Israel that had a lot of the elements of our New Covenant in it. Before there even were the Ten Commandments, God offered Israel a covenant where every single person is a priest, every single person can come to God for himself or herself:

“Now therefore, if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be a special treasure to Me above all people; for all the earth is Mine. ‘And you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ These are the words which you shall speak to the children of Israel.” (Exodus 19:6-7)

“Kingdom of priests and a holy nation”? Twice in the book of Revelation, we’re described as “kings and priests unto our God” (1:6 & 5:10). God was offering that relationship to the Israelites four thousand years ago? (Can you imagine what the world would be like if we hadn’t had the last four thousand years of legalistic bondage? But I digress.)

But the people who were offered this intimate “everybody is a priest” relationship with God reject that offer in the very next chapter.

“Then they said to Moses, “You speak with us, and we will hear; but let not God speak with us, lest we die.” (Exodus 20:19)

In the re-telling of it, it's even more clear:

“Go near and listen to all that the LORD our God says. Then tell us whatever the LORD our God tells you. We will listen and obey.” (Deuteronomy 5:27)

The people had rejected a “kingdom of priests” covenant, and propose a covenant that requires a priesthood, and is based on obedience. Neither the Levitical priesthood, nor an obey-the-rules covenant, was God’s idea!

And so the “everybody is a priest” covenant was put aside, and was replaced with a covenant based on the people’s obedience. Any covenant that’s based on obeying will necessarily have consequences for disobedience. Thus this is a covenant about blessings for obedience, and punishment (sometimes called “curses”) for disobeying.

Deuteronomy 28 functions as kind of a summary: You’ll be blessed when you obey, and you’ll be cursed (or punished) if you disobey. Verses 1 through 14 outline the blessings. The rest of the chapter talks about the punishment for disobeying, and it’s God that is charged with that punishment.

Frankly, that was a lousy covenant, it’s a poor substitute for God’s first proposal, but it’s a covenant! Even that poor replacement was better than no relationship at all between God and man!

We remember that the terms and conditions of the Old Covenant (which we call “The Law”) were intended to constrain the behavior of the humans in this covenant relationship. But we tend to forget that the Old Covenant constrained the behavior of BOTH parties of the Covenant: God had chosen to bind himself to the Old Covenant as well.’

So when we read in Deuteronomy 28 about “If you disobey, you’ll be punished.” Guess who the punisher has to be. Yeah, that’s God. He has bound himself to this busted-up covenant, because it’s better than no covenant – no relationship – whatsoever. Moreover, this was the only covenant that the people would agree to, so this was the covenant that he bound himself to.

And this covenant, proposed by fearful men, required that God punish (or “curse”) the people that he loves so very much, every time they disobey. (Seriously, go read Deuteronomy 29!)

Now let’s remember that there was a third party loose on the Earth, who was not a party to the covenant between God and man. Lucifer had already demonstrated his eagerness to accuse God at every opportunity (see Genesis 3:4-5). And he’s up to his old tricks here as well.

So every time the people disobeyed (and that happened so very often!) and God was required by the people’s busted-up covenant to punish them, Lucifer steps up to the microphone and declares, “Look how mean God is! Look how bloodthirsty he is! Look how angry God is!” completely ignoring the fact that God is merely complying with the conditions of the covenant that mankind offered him.

That’s a hot mess. I’ve oversimplified the story in this short article, but it’s easy to see the mess that the Old Covenant is: seriously, the only one who benefited from that debacle was Lucifer, and that’s not actually what we’re aiming for.

Now skip forward until Jesus is sitting in the Upper Room, where Jesus is offering – for the second time – a covenant of an “everybody is a priest” relationship between man and God: “For this is My blood of the new covenant, which is shed for many for the remission of sins.” (Matthew 26:28, Mark 14:24, Luke 22:20, 2 Corinthians 11:25.) But this time, the representatives (the twelve) accept the offer.

I still marvel at that cup, that biscuit. With that token meal, God removes us from the Old Covenant and makes us participants instead in the New Covenant (Hebrews 8:13 makes it clear: “In that He says, “A new covenant,” He has made the first obsolete.”). And this is a covenant whose sole commandment (John 13:34) is to love each other.

What an amazing relief that is: in a single moment, these guys are plucked from a covenant of “If you obey, I’ll bless you; if you disobey, I’ll punish you!” and dropped into a Covenant of Love.

The seminal New Covenant verse, John 3:16, says it beautifully: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” And if that wasn’t clear enough, verse 17 clarifies that the New Covenant is not about punishment: “For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.” What a relief that is!

All that is amazing, spectacular, and otherwise completely awesome.

But it is also only half of the story. The Old Covenant is made obsolete, and we are released from its bondage, but we were not the only ones held in bondage by it.

With the passing of the Old Covenant, God Himself is no longer constrained by the Law to provide blessings when people obey, like treats for a dog that sits when you tell him. More importantly, God is no longer constrained by the Law to bring punishment, curses, judgment on the people that he so desperately loves.

When the Old Covenant was replaced by the New Covenant, humanity could give a great, corporate sigh of relief. We’re no longer under the law, but now we’re under grace, under love.


But the greater relief may not be ours. In the New Covenant, God is now free to love us with all that is in his heart, as he has longed to do since the day he said, “Let us make man in our own image.” (Genesis 1:26). God is now free from the Old Covenant, and he’s more excited about it than we are. 

We are free. But more important, God Himself is free! 

Returning to the Glory of the First Century Church

Every so often, I hear someone moan wistfully, “If only we could return to the glory days of the first century church! If only we could be as full of faith as they were!”

I think if I hear that again, I’m going to scream.

May I speak plainly? That’s one of the stupidest spiritual-sounding things we could say in this day and age. I make the assumption that people who say that mean well, but come on! Let’s think about this a little bit:

The first century church, the church in the book of Acts, was a wonderful beginning. But they were only a beginning: this was the baby church, in diapers, as it were. I can tell you that I have no interest in going back to diapers. That would be such an epic failure, for the church of today to return to the “glory days” of the first century church! What was for them glorious success would be the worst of failures for us.

● “But,” someone will moan, “There were three thousand saved in a day!” That’s pretty good for rookies. Today, that’s less than an hour’s work in the Kingdom, and some reports suggest that’s closer to 20 minutes’ work.

Let us note that it only happened twice in the Book of Acts that three thousand were saved in a day. Today, more than three thousand people come to faith every single hour of every single day of every single year.

I’m thinking that’s an improvement.

● “But there were signs and wonders!” Somebody is seriously not paying attention. There were fewer than 20 miracles reported in the book of Acts, though there were repots of “lots of miracles.” Nowadays, we have lots of miracles on a regular basis.

I know one group that has a 100% success rate at healing the deaf, and nearly as good success healing the blind. I know two groups that won’t let people become elders unless they’ve raised someone from the dead. I know a group that legitimately calls themselves “The Dead Raising Team,” and they’re successful at it. I can’t tell you the number of successful healing teams I’ve heard about! They’re everywhere, and best of all, NOT just among the leaders, like the book of Acts.

Bethel Church in California reports thousands of documented miracles every time they send their students on outreach. And have you talked to the Healing Rooms movement recently?

Besides, I’m not sure I want more “Ananias & Sapphira events.” It’s my private opinion that even when that happened in Acts, it was an error, and not the will of God, but that’s another story. Surely it won’t be best for folks to fall dead in our meetings, when nobody can agree why it happened!

● “But they had all things in common!” I’ll grant that this is an area that we have room to continue growing in. But I am also aware that we’re talking about completely different cultures here. In that culture, if you couldn’t work, you starved to death. In our culture, the homeless guys on street corners make a (meager) living that in most of the world (or in the first century church) would be considered unmitigated wealth. (http://nwp.link/1s8woOt)

This does NOT mean that I propose that we stop helping the poor! Heaven forbid! This means I propose that we quit berating ourselves simply because we still have poor people among us: Jesus said we always would! (Matthew 26:11)

● “But they sold their homes! That’s dedication!” Well, some of them sold their homes. That was just good business; these were smart Jews! Jesus had clearly declared that the city would be destroyed shortly. It’s just good business to sell a house this week for full price that’s going to be destroyed with the city next week and be worth nothing! And clearly, if they “met house to house,” then not everybody sold their homes.

For the record, I know a bunch of people who’ve sold their homes for the ministry, several more than once. I know of others who sold themselves into slavery so that they could bring the good news to those in slavery, and they died in slavery. Most of these folks haven’t had books written about them, so they’re not known as well. But then Jesus taught us to keep quiet about our generosity, yes?

We could go on.

It is NOT my intent to disparage the excellent start that the Church had, as reported in the book of Acts. That was glorious.

What we have now is substantially more glorious. And that, too, is what we were promised. (See Isaiah 9:7)


--

Come join the conversation at https://www.facebook.com/northwestprophetic. 



Wednesday

Your Town's Move of God



I'm hearing something in the Spirit, feeling an unction in the Wind. It's time.

If you've been seeing the move of God in other regions, and hoping for it, praying for it in your own community, I believe this is the season that God is blowing on that, encouraging that hope, encouraging that vision, because it's on his heart too.

May I encourage a couple of first steps that you might consider on behalf of your town, your region:

  • Pray for the leaders – especially pray for the emerging apostolic leaders – that God is raising up in your region (and note that it may be YOU that he’s raising up for such a time as this). When God does things, he often works through leaders, but those leaders are often not the people in “positions of leadership,” or the people you’d expect.

  • Expand your relationships with God’s people in your region. It doesn’t matter if they believe what you believe, or if they worship like you do, as long as they serve the same God you serve. Some don’t, you know. Some serve the agenda or structures of man. But don’t shy away from people who are within those structures, people who do things waaaaay differently than you do.

    (Note that "build relationships" is not related to "attend meetings." It probably has more to do with the local coffee shop, or the dinner table, than it does with church meetings.)

  • Give thanks for that which is not yet happening, as if it were. Give thanks for the barest little sprout of the thing that God has promised, even if (possibly especially if) it looks completely different than what you expected. The business of expanding the Kingdom is a work of faith, not sight. It’s when we can recognize and bless the tiniest hint of revival that revival is really planted.

  • You pursue God. Fan your own passion into a good, healthy flame. Set your own heart to pursue the Kingdom, to expand the Kingdom, regardless of whether anyone else comes with you.

    Interestingly, it’s often when we declare that we’re moving forward, whether anyone else comes with us, that people decide they want to come with you. They can’t follow unless someone is willing to lead the way.

  • Take ownership. Understand that you are God’s representative in your community. As you take that seriously before Heaven, your prayers will change, and you’ll have more authority in Heaven to move Earth. If you’re praying as a resident of the region, you have more authority than a stranger. But if you’re praying as Heaven’s representative in the region, accountable before God for what happens here, you’ll have both more authority and more passion.

  • Recognize the strengths of who and what is in your region already. There’s nothing wrong with driving to another area for a conference, or bringing guest speakers in, but God wants to raise up His voice in your region, not just to your region. Look for “the voice” of your region. Look for the gifts that God has given your community. You’re not above others in the purposes of God, of course, but neither are you below them. God is at big in your little town as he is in New York or Seoul or Redding.

I believe that there is a grace available for this, for spreading the fire, for infecting the entire Northwest (well OK: the whole world, but the Northwest is my focus!) with the move of God. I believe that the time is right to move from a region with a handful of campfires, to an entire region on fire in God.


Saturday

New Beginnings or Second Chances: What's the Difference

by Sue McLain

Perhaps I’m splitting hairs, but recently I’ve come to the realization that subtle differences can make a large impact on the way we view something or someone. Besides, I’m in good company. Jesus has been known to say, “You have heard it said. But I tell you…” The Pharisees and Sadducees had their own very specific and unmovable understanding of the Law of Moses. (Similar, perhaps, to the political parties of today?) Along comes Jesus with a fresh understanding of the Law, based not on legalism but rather, on character: the Fathers character. Looking at something from a different point of view can radically alter our understanding of it. That’s what happened to me.

Several years ago during pre-service prayer I very clearly heard, “I am not the God of the second chance. I am the God of new beginnings.” It was one of those God moments where I knew that I knew that the Holy Spirit wanted to break through and make a point. It has stayed with me all these years as I’ve struggled to understand what that means and what the implications are in my relationship with Him.

I began by trying to understand the differences between a new beginning and a second chance. After all, aren’t they basically saying the same thing? Don’t both speak of a fresh start?

I found that chance, in its purest form, speaks of fate, the luck of the draw, the roll of the dice. Statistically, it’s 50/50. It’s “…the absence of any cause of events that can be predicted, understood, or controlled.” It is impersonal, detached. That does not sound like the Father. He is anything but impersonal or detached. The very fact that He is a person removes the ‘chance’ factor.

OK what else may chance imply? It can speak of opportunity. For example: a job offer from an old classmate you haven’t seen in years, an investment opportunity from a start-up company, a cancelled appointment giving you the time to catch up on some unfinished business. We are given opportunities every day, and they can be monumental or insignificant. They can be created by us or given to us. They can be purposeful or accidental. They can be relational or impersonal. It’s safe to say, “opportunities happen!” But what does second chance communicate?

A second chance is always given by another. There is history inherent in it. It carries weight or debt. An abusive boyfriend gives his girlfriend a ‘second chance’. The husband gives the alcoholic wife a ‘second chance’. The boss gives the chronically late employee a ‘second chance’. There is a sense of control, authority or dominance. “I give you.” You have the right to choose, yes, but it’s tainted, stained by the past. You did this but I’m going to give you a chance to be different this time. Different according to my rules, according to my expectations. Good or bad, there is baggage in the person giving the second chance and baggage in the one it is being given to.

God, on the other hand, says He as a God of new beginnings. He has said, “I will do a new thing”. According to the law of first mention, creation is foundational to the concept of the God being all about new beginnings. Out of chaos He created something entirely new. It was fresh, clean, and untarnished.

What does that mean for us personally? He rewrites our history, gives us a fresh start. Isn’t that the very definition of adoption? He gives us a new name, a new family? He makes us a new creation! What about forgiveness? He does not hold our sins against us. He chucks them into the sea. He is very intentional, very personal. Condemnation, debt and baggage are not in His vocabulary. He has nothing to do with fate or chance.

Some might say, “What about Jonah? Didn’t he get a second chance? ” My answer to that is ‘no’. God had a mission for Jonah. Jonah had personal issues with that mission. But God had a plan and Jonah was an integral part of it. God is not in a hurry. As Banning Liebscher says, “…the Lord will get me where He wants to get me, when He wants to get me there and how He wants to get me there”. Jonah’s call, the storm, the whale, the prophecy, all of it was part of God’s plan for Jonah and Ninevah. There was no ‘second chance’ involved because God completed His plan just as He intended.

Both second chances and new beginnings give us a do-over. Both are given from relationship. But, they start from completely different places. Second chances start from a place of failure. A new beginning, well, from a clean slate, just as if it never happened.

What if we could truly grasp the freedom and intentionality that comes from a God that gives us new beginnings? Past that is dead and gone, sin that is no longer held in debt against us. Who could we become? How would it change the way we view God? How would it change the way we view each other?

Wednesday

What is an Apostle?

One of my favorite things to do on a fine, sunny afternoon is sit with a friend at the edge of a meadow and watch the clouds. I always see interesting shapes in the clouds (Look! There’s a puppy!), but my favorite friend (who still wears a ring I gave her some decades ago) generally sees different things than what I see (No, that’s a flower!). And as we watch, the cloud shifts slightly, and it’s no longer what I saw or what she saw; it’s something else entirely, except that what she sees now is still not the same as what I see. And a couple of minutes later, it shifts again, and again, and again.
  I’ve been asked by a friend about “What is an apostle?” I’ve decided that the question reminds me of watching those clouds with my sweetheart: a good working definition of an apostle is hard to see; it changes fluidly and consistently, what you see depends on your viewpoint and expectations, and it doesn’t really matter what you think you see: that doesn’t change what it is. The clouds are really water vapor, not a puppy, floating across the sky, no matter how loudly I declare that it’s a puppy!
  Because of some unusual circumstances in my life, I know a couple of dozen apostles personally, and a couple dozen more at a distance. And I’ve worked on that exact question for several years, long before my friend brought it up. All the apostles I know are completely different from one another. What is it about them that defines them as an apostle?
  Fair warning: this document is not intended to be a treatise on apostles; it’s thoughts about apostles, and it’s written from the perspective of “very early in an apostolic age.”
  I have studied this topic intently for a while, and I’ve been gathering input for a decade or two, so some parts will come from memory; many others will come from observations. Some fresher portions comes from watching and interacting with apostles.
  What Does Not Make an Apostle?
  First, here are some things that I have rejected as signs (or even requirements) of an apostle:
·         Church planter. Most church planters I know (I know several dozen) are pastors, teachers, or pastor-teachers.
·         Pioneer. Often, apostles pioneer new works, yes, but not always.
·         Head of a network, ideally an “apostolic network.” Bah, Humbug. Many heads of networks are ambitious, not apostles.
·         Famous. Most apostles I know are not famous. A few are. Most shy away from it.
·         Strong willed. Hmm. Often. Not always. I think.
·         Leaders of mega-churches. Most leaders of mega-churches are successful businessmen, excellent administrators, or, in those that are in the Calvary Chapel movement, gifted bible teachers. I have known only a couple of real apostles who led large churches, and for them, their large church was an accident.
·         Miracle workers. Some argue that miracles accompany a true apostle. I won’t argue, but that doesn’t make them specialists in miracles, nor does it make them famous for miracles. People who do miracles and draw attention to the miracles are often either evangelists, or they’re self-seeking. Apostles don’t seem to seek the spotlight, unless they’re also working under an evangelist’s anointing (some do). Some apostles use miracles regularly; many don’t. I will say this: I don’t know a single apostle who shies away from miracles or refuses to start something just because it would take a miracle to complete it!
·         Experienced. Nope. Nobody’s mature when they start something, and we’re just beginning the Apostolic Age. There are a lot of rookie apostles out there. A lot of them don’t even know the calling on their lives. Some do, and run screaming. A few embrace the calling and want to know why they aren’t suddenly experienced.
·         Clear or powerful vision. Often. Not always. Most with strong vision are merely ambitious. Paul – the prototypical apostle – had only the vision of “preach where no-one has preached before.” Other than that, he pretty much stumbled into his ministry trips.
·         In the Marketplace. For a long time, almost every successful Christian Businessman in his 50s was considered a “Marketplace Apostle.” Most of them weren’t apostles. Some knew it. Paul was a successful businessman. Peter, James & John left their business behind to pursue Christ.
·         Missionaries (cross cultural). A few are. Most are not. Evangelism is a more useful tool to most missionaries.
·         Male. Yeah, the mindset of “only men can be apostles” still exists in some circles. Heidi Baker ought to be enough to kill that little heresy, all by her little lonesome.

  “Apostle” in Ancient Culture
  Studying the original language for “apostle” is an interesting exercise. It was a word that was well used before it was ever used in the Bible, so the best tools for understanding the concept are often secular tools. It was never used for religious purposes before Jesus co-opted it for the twelve.
  In fact, the word is so unique, that we haven’t even translated it into English. The Greek word is “Apostolos” (ἀπόστολος). All we did was spell the Greek word with Roman letters.
  The concept of an apostle was something that was invented by the Phoenician empire and used heavily by the Romans. When the Roman army conquered a new nation, a new culture (something they did with remarkable regularity!), the Emperor would send an “apostolos.” It was the name given to the lead ship in a fleet of ships sent from Rome to the new land, and especially for the man – one man – who led that fleet. The fleet – and that man – were carrying the embodiment of Rome with them to the new territory.
  The apostle’s job description in Roman culture is functionally the foundation for the apostle’s job in the Church: to bring the home civilization to the new territory. In Rome’s day, the apostle brought Rome’s legal system, education system, language, government, financial systems, entertainment, culture. His job was to make the new culture fit into the Roman empire, to become Roman, to the degree that when Caesar arrived, he’d feel at home in the new territory.
  In our day, a Christian apostle is probably the spearhead of God’s answer to the prayer that he taught us to pray: “on earth as it is in heaven.” The apostle’s job is to see heaven, to understand what he sees enough to cause it to be done on earth: to manifest heaven on earth, to the degree that Jesus will feel at home in the territory.
  How’s that for vague? Pretty good, eh? Now let’s try to make some application from that. This is where it gets really interesting!
  Apostolic Ministry
  So the apostle observes what’s going on in heaven, draws on heaven’s resources, and works with heaven’s strength and strategy to accomplish change on earth. In my experience, the biggest changes are needed in the ways we think, so an apostle’s job often involves a new, heaven-based worldview, one that emphasizes the spiritual realm and de-emphasizes the natural realm. So apostles often teach, but they teach from revelation as often as they teach from straightforward study. I think.
  The teaching includes foundation-building: this is what the Kingdom of God is like. But the teaching of a true apostle will often involve strategies: this is what God is emphasizing right now, and that changes. Bill Hamon teaches – and the Bible illustrates – that occasionally, and under limited circumstances, apostles may find themselves teaching new doctrines from revelation rather than from scripture. No, they won’t teach doctrine that isn’t supported by the written Word of God. To be honest, this one scares me, but I recognize the validity of the principle.
  Seeing spiritual realities, apostles often confront strongholds, though that may be a casual confrontation, or it may be “collateral damage” when they’re going after something else. Since apostles are fixated on Heaven (and with Him who sits on Heaven’s throne), their idea of warfare is often God-focused; since they’re in touch with God’s plan for people, they may also be mercy-driven, and American Church culture doesn’t know what to do when spiritual warfare is driven by mercy.
  The power of God is present to support the work of an apostle, though it may not manifest dramatically. I know one woman who hated harsh language, but couldn’t rid herself of it. She said, “Oh crap!” around a young apostle. He replied, “No thanks. Already did,” and she was delivered from her “addiction” to swearing. Accidentally, really. Was that power? Yes. But it didn’t fit in the “normal” way we expect to see miracles.
  The apostle Paul always travelled with a team, and the apostles in Jerusalem were a team. I want to say that apostles generally work well with a team, but I don’t think that’s true of all the apostles; Apollos doesn’t seem to have travelled with a team. It may be God’s intent, and they’re not connecting with his means. Or it may be completely fantasy.
  I’ve had some really frustrating interactions with people who have called themselves apostles; some are frustrated religious businessmen and others are fresh bible-school grads. It’s probably superfluous to say, but it still needs to be said: not everybody who calls themselves an apostle is a true apostle. As an apostle friend of mine has said, “It takes more than a business card to make an apostle.”
  Since there are both bad prophets (inaccurate ones) and false prophets, it is likely that there are both bad apostles and false apostles: the first are unsuccessful at building the things of heaven (or successful at building things of flesh); the latter are building things from the realm of darkness; I believe they’re rare.
  Apostolic Relationships
  I’ve been frustrated by apostles’ difficulty relating to other folks sometimes, but again, that’s not consistent. Some don’t relate well to anyone; others relate best to other apostles, or other 5-fold people. I’ve never known an apostle that fit into a crowd well: they pretty-much all have been kind of other-worldly a little, not completely at ease with social skills like an evangelist or a pastor is.
  Since they see things from heaven’s perspective, sometimes apostles see better where individuals fit in the strategic plan of things: they can see, “Oh, you’re a prophet,” or “Your gifts would fit better here,” or “You and you should think about working together.” Again, not a focus of their ministry, and not exclusive to apostles (prophets do this too), but sometimes.
  Apostles and prophets work pretty well together. But again, it’s not consistent. I know some apostles who are themselves prophets (I think of Harold Eberle and Jonathan Welton), but there are others are paired with prophets (I think of Bill Johnson with Kris Vallotton, Dutch Sheets with Chuck Pierce).
  Apostolic Function
  The work of an apostle has already been outlined by Paul in Ephesians 4:11-12: “And He Himself [that would be Jesus] gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ…” So the work of apostles, like the work of prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers, is to equip the People of God.
  What does that look like? Well, like the clouds, it’s always different, and it often changes. It might look like a pastor who spends more time raising people into their calling and sending them to the nations than gathering a flock. It might look like a businessman whose work in the marketplace brings the presence and provision for the kingdom of God. It might look like a woman leading an orphanage and a church, who teaches on the kingdom, heals the sick, and raises the dead, and who sends out hundreds of pastors and evangelists and apostles who also teach the kingdom, heal the sick, raise the dead and plant thousands of churches. It might look like a young man who teaches the Kingdom in churches, home groups, and on the streets, who heals the sick and teaches others how, and in his spare time, he and a squad of intercessors break demonic strongholds off of regions.
  There is a degree that all the “fivefold gifts” (Ephesians 4:11-12) are about “equipping” saints. The Greek word there is “katartismos” (katartismos), which is about adjusting, aligning, like the work of a chiropractor aligning the spine. And as with a chiropractor, don’t be terribly surprised if a visit from an apostle leaves you feeling sore, but better, stronger, than you were before.
  1Corinthians 12:28 has been misunderstood about apostles: “And God has placed in the church first of all apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then….” Some have taken this to mean that apostles deserve honor first, or are the greatest authority in a disagreement, or get the biggest paycheck. Bosh.
  Jesus was real clear about leadership in the Body of Christ. “Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.” (John 13-14-15) So the apostle should be the first one to wash the feet of others, to serve other ministries, to lift up others. If you meet someone wanting to be respected as an apostle who is more interested in greater honor than in greater foot-washing, you’ve met someone who is confused about apostles.
  The Apostle Paul said an odd thing in Romans 11:13: “For I speak to you Gentiles; inasmuch as I am an apostle to the Gentiles.” I suggest that no one is an apostle without a people to minister to: Paul was an apostle to the Gentiles. Peter was an apostle to the Jews. It’s important to know who you’re called to. I know a man who is “only” an auto parts salesman when he’s in the US, but when he’s in India, he’s holding crusades, training pastors and leaders, and starting training schools: he’s an apostle to India, but not to the US. I would maintain that there is no such thing as an “apostle at large” or “apostle without a people” (though I have known some people who think they are).
  The principle is broader than just apostles, by the way: I may be trained as a pastor (or a prophet or whatever), but until I’m a pastor to a group of people, I am not walking in the ministry of a pastor. This is an extension of the principle that “Ministry flows out of relationship.” If there’s no relationship, then there’s no real ministry. This is not formal assignment, by the way. We know those we are called to: they’re the ones that listen.
  There are clearly young apostles being raised up today. But it’s probably worth mentioning that this is not the only way that God forms an apostle. Many of the apostles I know have encountered success in another area – in pastoring, in business, as a prophet – before God released them to apostolic ministry. And while apostles are always called by Jesus (see Ephesians 4:11) into the role, they are very often forged for the work as well: most apostles I know have been through incredible failure, have been crushed, and have learned, first hand, to say, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.”
  Finally, probably the best way to tell an apostle (or a prophet): wait until those already in the office recognize it in you before you attempt to walk in it. Believe it or not, one doesn’t become an apostle by getting Apostle business cards. More significantly, when a bunch of people in your church’s pews start calling you an apostle, ignore it: they don’t generally know what makes an apostle.
  But when apostles recognize the apostolic calling on you, it means it’s coming out, moving from “potential” to “actual.”
  

Saturday

Knowledge Puffs Up. Love Edifies.

I have a principle, a value that influences me, that shapes me, in the area of knowledge and wisdom. The value is this: there are better tools that knowledge, than learning, to work with in accomplishing the goal of “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done.” This might sound controversial; hear me out.


1 Corinthians 8:1 says. "... Knowledge puffs up, but love edifies." This doesn't say that "secular knowledge puffs up" or “ungodly knowledge puffs up;” it says that knowledge, any knowledge - apart from love - brings a puffing up, an inflation, a pride that prevents useful ministry, useful relationship, or even a meaningful life: this comes from knowing, from building up knowledge.

It is not by chance that Father said, "Don't eat of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil." It isn't about good and evil; it's knowledge itself that kills. Knowledge of good and knowledge of evil are equal in this tree: the fruit of knowledge brings death. We were meant to eat from the other tree: We were meant for life, not knowledge. (Now, don't take this too far; don't assume that knowing stuff is bad. That is not where this is going.)

2 Corinthians 3:6 says "[God] also made us sufficient as ministers of the new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life." Same story: knowing - by itself, apart from the Spirit, even knowing the truth - that kills. It brings death.

We have a lot of knowledge in us. It's killing us, killing the people we minister to. To be fair, I have a great deal of knowledge in me; I'm beginning to learn how to exercise it in love, how to be led - really led - by the Spirit of God. I have a whole lot of un-learning to do; I'm getting a start.
There are some forerunners helping. When I listen to them, I'm listening for the life in their words, the Spirit in their words. Their knowledge is good, but it's knowledge: I'm allergic. I get all puffy with too much of it. It's not good.

The goal here, is to move from the tree of knowledge to the tree life. To move from knowing good and evil to experiencing life. To never (again) minister the letter of the law, the letter of truth, even the letter of the Word. There really is much done with the Word that brings death; a lot of it is online; a not insubstantial portion is done from pulpits.

I say again, knowledge is not evil. It's only evil by itself. With the Spirit, led by love, knowledge is a tool. Frankly, it's a minor tool, but not an insignificant one. There are other, more powerful tools. Paul disdained knowledge, even knowledge of the Word, choosing power instead, for his preaching of the gospel, and he valued love over power.

My purpose is not to judge them, these ministers of the tree of knowledge. Nor is my purpose to disdain or diminish the Word of God; it is the fount of our lives.

My purpose, instead, is to depart from the Tree of the Knowledge, to move to the Tree of Life, to minister the Word with life, but to minister love more.

Care to come with me?

Wednesday

An Underground Gathering

My information said that the meeting started at two o’clock or so, but I didn’t have the chance to get there for a couple more hours. Besides, I wasn’t sure about it, so I wanted to arrive after they were well under way.

By the time four o’clock rolled around, I was quite lost in the county roads trying to find the place: It was already dark, and I was looking for an old barn, maybe half a mile from the nearest paved road so finding it was no easy task. I backtracked, tried the turnoff that I’d passed by a couple of miles back, saw another truck pulling into a dirt road, and headed down the same way. The road ended at a place that was obviously not what I was looking for, but we turned off just before that, wound around some sharp corners, and emerged into a field full of parked cars surrounding a barn, looking in the dark like a flock of baby chicks around their mother hen. Out of the barn came the sound I was expecting, the sound I was looking for. When I heard it, I realized how much I’d been longing for it.

I parked my truck and walked through the parked vehicles towards the barn; I noticed some older SUVs, some fancy new cars; the variety caught my attention. There were a handful of other folks arriving, and we said very little as we approached the barn: words weren’t actually necessary. This was also the sound that they were looking for; their faces showed the same sense of expectation that I was feeling.

We slid the door open, and the sound washed over us. It was palpable, nearly physical, though it wasn’t all that loud. Inside were maybe a hundred people. Twenty or thirty of them were playing instruments, men and women, black, white and others, young and old. The instruments were equally diverse: guitars, keyboards, drums from America, from Africa, from Ireland, from Asia, from places I'd never heard of. Even a didgeridoo from Australia, wired into the sound system. There were young kids playing drums and rhythm instruments. Most of the sound came from the instruments and from the several people singing into microphones. There was a basic sound system set up, but it was obvious that this was no show.

Nobody but the handful that entered with me even knew that we had arrived. Maybe twenty people had their hands in the air, others were kneeling, still more were dancing or waving flags. Some were visiting together near the tables in the back, tables piled high with food and drink. Kids played on the dirt floor. They took nothing away from the music.

I worked my way to the back of the room. I was trying not to disturb the worshippers, but I needn’t have bothered: most of them were oblivious of my passage; those that were greeted me with the great bear hugs of old friends or the whole-hearted hugs of family; it didn’t seem to matter if they knew me before that day or not. The diversity of people struck me again: these were people from almost every imaginable background, age, race, socio-economic group, religious persuasion.

The music never took a breath. There were a couple of microphones set up where anybody could walk right up and sing along with the music; those mics were nearly always busy, with intricate harmonies and counterpoints accentuating songs that nobody had ever heard before. Before I realized it, four or five hours had passed.

There were a hundred people there, and people were coming and going throughout the night. But the audience had only One. His presence filled the room like birdsong in the spring, like a welcome home after a long journey. There were a hundred voices singing a hundred different songs, all blended into one glorious chorus, and our Audience roared back His approval.

This was worth getting lost in the backwoods county roads for. This was worth being part of.

Friday

Prophesying Judgment?


I have heard a number of prophetic words recently that have carried a tone of judgment in them. That concerns me.

This is one example. I did eventually publish it on Northwest Prophetic, but not until I’d run the word past a number of prophets with whom I have a relationship to add their discernment to my own, and they are correct, this word adds a large dose of hope at the end, after the disasters are declared. But it really made me think.

Words of judgment bother me. I was discussing that with a new friend recently, and it made me think about why it bothers me.

If I were to sit in the judgment of 1Corinthians 14:29 over this word, I would say that this is definitely from God, this is definitely from the heart of the Father, and in that sense, it is both prophetic and accurate. But I think I would suggest that this legitimate and no doubt powerful prophetic experience might have been intended as a call to that prophet to intercession for the cities she spoke about, not as a declaration or calling-forth of judgment on them.

One of the principles that God is reinforcing in this season is the power of the prophetic declaration. It’s the means by which God performed the work of creation: “And God said …. And it was so.” Job 22:28 captures it clearly: “You will also declare a thing, and it will be established for you.”

I can tell you of a prophet I know (Kris Vallotton, Bethel Church, Redding CA, and he shares this publicly), who was visiting with a couple who wanted desperately to have kids, but were medically unable; the doctors had given up hope. God whispered to Kris, “Tell them that this time next year, she’ll be holding her son in her arms.” Kris argued with God, “I can’t say that!”, and God answered, “If you don’t say it, I won’t do it.”

I can also tell you of times that I have made declarations and seen circumstances change, sometimes literally overnight; unfortunately, not all of my declarations were as well informed as they were well intentioned, and so not all of the miraculous power released through them ended up bringing praise to God. There were expensive lessons there.

One reason I hesitate so much to declare prophetic judgment is because I have learned that accurately declaring a sinful state that does in fact exist only releases power to strengthen the sinful state. I can find chapter & verse to support the concept, but I have enough experience that has taught me as well.

One of the most powerful parts of a prophetic call is the call to be with God: without intimacy, we can’t speak intimate words. He pointed out to me one time that there are a whole lot of things that my wife speaks to me in our intimate moments together that I would never think of sharing publicly, the vast majority of them in fact. So it is when He and I are intimate: many, perhaps most, of the things that pass between us in those moments are not intended for public conversation. Not everything that God reveals in private is to be declared publicly.

Occasionally, He has revealed someone’s sin to me so that I can pray for those caught in the sin. Other times, He has shown me failure so that I learn His ways better (“This is what grieves me, Son”). And other times, he reveals failure to me as a warning to me personally: I must guard myself if I don’t want to go the way that some of the “huge” ministries you spoke of will go. He has never revealed someone's sin to me so that I can tell people about that sin.

I'm convinced that the vast majority of the time that God shows us something of judgment, something of sin, something about someone's problems, He is not giving it to us to declare, to prophesy, to talk about it. He's telling us of the things that break His heart so that they'll break our heart, so that we'll pray.

He reveals His heart in Ezekiel: "I looked for a man among them who would build up the wall and stand before me in the gap on behalf of the land so I would not have to destroy it..." His goal is that he "would not have to destroy it." His goal is mercy, because mercy always triumphs over judgment!

So please allow me to encourage the prophetically gifted among us: don’t prophesy the problem. Pray until you can prophesy the solution.

Thursday

Are you a Cowboy or a Shepherd?

In Photoshop, there’s a filter that you can apply to a photo that converts it from a nice color photograph to a black and white drawing. I’m using that filter in this article. I know I’m unnaturally separating an issue with thousands of gradients into extremes, but I’m trying to make a point.
I have friends from New Zealand. They don’t understand our Westerns: the movies that are built around the Old West mean nothing to them. New Zealand doesn’t have cowboys; they have shepherds. And shepherds have as much in common with cowboys as sheep have with cattle: not much.
Nowadays, neither sheep nor cattle have much say in the matter: they’re both mechanically guided through the process of feeding, caring, milking or shearing: it’s all automated.
Back in the day when human beings were the shepherds or the cowboys, not robotic fences, and milking machines, in that day, you learned a lot from watching how the two related to their animals.
A shepherd, in the pre-automation world, knows his sheep, and his sheep know him. I’ve heard stories about how in early agrarian societies, when the shepherds would come to town, they’d put all the sheep in the same pen. When it came time to leave, the shepherd would come to the pen and call his sheep; they’d recognize his voice and distinguish it from the other shepherds’ voices, and follow the shepherd out of the mass of other shepherds’ sheep to follow him.
More than that, when the shepherd had called his sheep to himself, the shepherd directed his sheep by leading them, not driving them. He would go before them, and they would follow. It might be too much anthropomorphism to say that they followed out of love, but certainly they had enough experience with him to trust that when they’re with the shepherd, they’re safer and better fed than when they’re not with him.
When it comes time to bed down for the night, the sheep all lay down together, and the shepherd lays down among the sheep, in the midst of them. They keep him warm; if he has wounds, the lanolin in the sheep’s wool worked to protect and heal him. And there’s no question of knowing about what happens during the night, or about discerning when an enemy shows up to stalk the sheep: the shepherd is already there among the flock, and his presence there comforts his sheep and deters the enemies. It’s almost like he’s one of the sheep himself.
The cowboy accomplishes similar function – moving a group of animals from one place to another – but by an entirely different method. Think of the what we see in the cattle drive. There are a thousand misconceptions, but ultimately, the cowboy gets behind the cattle and drives them. He may crack the whip, or shout at them, or whatever, but the cowboy is behind the cattle, driving them away from himself, toward the goal. It’s helpful for the cowboy to know something of the ways that cows work, and he should have some understanding of the trail ahead, but ultimately it’s still a process of “Get behind and push.”
When they settle down for the night, the cowboys gather together by the chuck wagon, tell stories by the fire, and generally make their own community, apart from the animals they are caring for. They’re over here by the fire; the cattle are over there. If something happens during the night, they find out about it in the morning. If there’s enough trouble, they’ll get up, go to the herd, deal with the problem or the interloper, then return to their place by the fire.
American corporate business leadership is very often built on the metaphor of the cowboy. The corporate leader sits in his corner office and directs his managers who cause the people to do the work at hand. He studies his spreadsheet and trend reports, and issues orders to the cattle that do the actual work. When night comes, the managers gather in one place, and the blue-collar workers return home to another neighborhood. When was the last time that you saw the company owner having lunch with the junior mechanic? If it ever does happen, it’s either time for the mechanic’s review, or it’s such an uncommon occurrence that everyone talks about it.
There are a thousand allegorical issues we could look at, but ultimately a cowboy drives his herd and a shepherd leads his flock. A cowboy gets behind and pushes the animals; a shepherd is in front calling for his animals to follow him.
God likes shepherds. The agrarian society had both cattle and sheep; God could have drawn His analogy from either. But He didn’t. He portrays Himself as shepherd. (I can hear it now: “The Lord is my cowboy, I shall not be bored.”) He portrays the leaders of His people as shepherds, and calls His apostles to the shepherd model. It was to shepherds that He announced the birth of His Son. In fact, in the scriptures, the concept of shepherds is used more as a metaphor than it is literally. There isn’t even a word for cowboy in the Bible.
As leaders in the church, we are called to be shepherds. Using that metaphor, we are called to go ahead of the sheep, to know the sheep by name and to call them to ourselves, to devote live in their midst – not separated from them over by the campfire and cook trailer. We are called to draw our warmth from the sheep in the night, and discomfit ourselves for their wellbeing.
OK. That’s the theory. Now how are we doing as leaders of the Lord’s flock? Are we shepherds, or are we cowboys?
When I look at the church in America, I see an awful lot of corporate managers. I see senior cowboys who direct the associate cowboys who do the work of organizing the cattle into their stalls. They declare their vision, and drive the cattle to reach that goal. Then they gather in their staff meetings and cluster around the chuck wagon until the next service. When was the last time that you actually saw the senior pastor being warmed and comforted by the young sheep?
I’m becoming aware of a movement among the church in my nation that is resisting the cowboy mentality, and I see several expressions of it. I see a blossoming house-church movement. I am learning of a revolution growing, as if it were sheep rebelling against cowboys.
I am hearing of believers by the hundreds beginning to question “the way we’ve always done it” and looking for new and more meaningful ways to connect themselves to God. It almost looks as if the sheep were beginning to reject the cowboy leadership of God’s church and, if they can’t find a shepherd who knows their name, then they’ll shepherd themselves, thank you very much.
I hear cowboys bemoaning the sheep that leave them to seek a shepherd. Having been a pastor, and being a cowboy by nature, I feel for them, the frustration, the confusion. But I wonder if it’s really a problem?
Maybe the problem is that we have shepherds living as cowboys, that we have lost track of the gospel of the Kingdom. We have men and women who should be shepherds picking up their spurs and saddles and whips, becoming cowboys, and the church is dying. How then shall we speak life into this revolution? How shall we change the model within our sphere of influence?
I propose that we start by living as shepherds ourselves. We lead by example. We give ourselves for the sheep that know our voice. We live among the sheep, in relationship with them, comforting them, protecting them, and training them that good shepherds lead by example.

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.