Showing posts with label wineskins. Show all posts
Showing posts with label wineskins. Show all posts

Thursday

The Tidy Deception


There’s a deception that I’ve come to … well, I don’t know that I actually “hate” it, but I sure don’t love it.

It’s a deception, an illusion, and it’s perpetrated, many times, in God’s name, and often with the best of intentions.

It’s the deception of the finished lesson.

I became aware of it while I was studying something-or-other for teaching. I felt like I was wrestling a greased pig. I cut my way through bunny trails and wild goose chases and fought off premature and inaccurate conclusions.

It was a long and arduous process.

And when I was done, I presented my results to the folks I was teaching, all tidy, all logical, all wrapped up with a nice little bow on it.

It was good teaching. And my conclusions were both accurate and relevant.

But I was uncomfortable with how tidy it was. This was not a tidy topic, and I felt that I’d done folks a disservice by hiding the blood, sweat, toil and tears that went into the process.

In actual fact, the blood, sweat, toil and tears are a legitimate part of the topic, of the conversation. Let’s be honest: outside of TV shows, there aren’t a lot of thorny questions that tidily wrap themselves up in 30 minutes, are there?

It seems to me that the need to make things tidy and clean and neat is not actually a benefit to American culture.

Let’s be specific. If we think that the abortion issue has a clean and simple answer, we’re not paying attention. If we think that the topic of social justice can be solved easily, we’re smoking something interesting. If we think the fear of God, or the grace of God, or the rapture, or the solution to immigration, or balancing a household budget have tidy answers, we’re not seeing the whole of the subject.

Christian platitudes are an abysmal failure. But Christian blogs and Christian books (and not-so-Christian books) that have clear-cut answers are equally deceptive.

We’ll see how I respond to this, how I deal with this in the future. As much as anyone else, I like having clear answers readily available, and I like not looking like a dork as I stumble for an answer that actually means something on a complex topic.

But we might find that not every post has a confident conclusion. I don’t know. We’ll see how this turns out.


The Commandments of Christ

I've heard John 14:15 quoted many times in reference to obeying some of the laws of the Old Testament:  “If you love Me, keep My commandments." Or they've quoted John, 15:14 "You are my friends if you do what I command."

The verse is thrown out as a prooftext: "You have to follow the commands of God!" though nobody's expected to follow all the commands: they don't promote blood sacrifices or stoning sinners. It's just an attempt to coerce believers into submitting to their own favorite part of the Law.

This is an attempt at control: whether from ignorance or malevolence, this is an attempt to wield the Law, as it has always been wielded, to exercise control over you: "You must do what I say you must do, because of this verse!" This is part of "the curse of the Law." And implicit in it is "If you don't do what I say, you're guilty!" and this is the rest of "the curse of the Law."

Let's look a little closer, shall we, at what Jesus said? Jesus doesn't say, "If you love me, keep all the commands of the Law," or even "If you love me, keep this particular group of the Law's commands."

What does he say? "Keep MY commandments." Keep the commandments that Jesus has given. Not the commandments of the Law: the commandments of Jesus!

What did Jesus command? Let's pull out a concordance and look, shall we?

Jhn 13:34
A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.

Jhn 15:12
My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you.

Jhn 15:17
This is my command: Love each other.

You're welcome to look it up yourself (http://nwp.link/1HpK278); these are actually the only commandments that Jesus gave. It's pretty clear that, while he has commanded it several times, he only gave one command: love each other.

So yeah: if you love Jesus, keep the commandments he gave: they're all about love each other. That's it. This isn't about obeying the law, or about religious traditions, or about dietary requirements or even a command to "do good works."

It's about loving each other.

It probably is appropriate to point out that love - true ἀγαπάω love - is a pretty big topic. It's all about pursuing their good over your own good, and that's a costly love that will itself require much of us. But the command is love; the command is not about submitting to the Law, either the Old Covenant Law, or the rules that someone is trying to control you with.

Brothers and sisters, the Law is dead. Long live the command of love.

Some Thoughts About the Purpose of the Prophetic

How many times has it happened that a prophet gives a word to someone you know, and you think to yourself, “They missed it! That is SO not them!”
                                               
Sure, it might be a muffed prophecy; the only guy who never muffed a single prophetic word was murdered for it a couple of thousand years ago. Nowadays, we all completely miss it occasionally. It’s like the man said, “Now, we see in a glass darkly.”

But it might not be a failed prophecy. That’s actually the goal sometimes. The goal of the prophetic is NOT to declare what everybody already knows.

The prophets declare the goal, solution, the finished product, the end result of God doing something in the person’s life. And sometimes they declare it as early as when God is just beginning work on the project. They're "declaring the end from the beginning." If you don’t know what you’re aiming for, how do you aim?

So when God speaks to a destitute homeless guy, “I see you as a man of substance, a man of wealth,” he’s probably not saying “This is they way you are now, in case you didn’t know.” No, he’s more likely saying, “This is your calling, this is your destiny. If you come with me, this is where you could go. Do you want in on this?”

Or he might say to the destitute homeless guy, “I see you as a leader of men,” and that may not show up the way we expect it to. The English language – especially American English – is not God’s first language. When he speaks of a “leader of men,” he may not mean what you’d mean: a recognized position of appointed leadership or power. 

I’ve known guys that chose to be homeless so that they could reach those that nobody else would reach. Their leadership was often just conversation between bunks in the local mission. They are indeed “leaders of men,” but nobody except the homeless guys they lead recognize it.

Really often, the fulfillment of the prophetic promise doesn't line up with our expectation of what it would look like. But it does line up with the word.

Second, the prophetic declaration releases God's resources to bring about that which they declare. 

When God speaks to the destitute homeless guy about wealth, that declaration, when activated by faith, is releasing the grace of God, the power of God, to gather wealth to the guy. Power to accomplish the word is carried by the word.

That doesn’t necessarily mean people will hand him cash money, though I’ve seen that happen. It may mean that God is lining up an educational opportunity, or bringing him an advocate, or giving him an idea for an invention, or lining up other, unexpected circumstances to make it happen. 

And fairly often, it's true about prophetic words: "If you don't declare it, it won't happen." 

If we want to be in on what God's doing, we can discern what God is breathing on in the prophetic declarations (1 Corinthians 14:29), and then join in with that. We can add the prophetic word to our worldview and begin to see and relate to people according to the things that God has said to them.

Or we can bury the prophetic declaration, and the power that it carries to accomplish the thing of which it speaks, under our own unbelief and jealousy and resentment, and kill the word.

It’s our choice.




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



The Wordless Prayer of Faith

It happened during a gathering in our home. We’d had dinner some time ago, finished the dishes together, and now we were gathered in the living room, with mugs of hot tea, and the warm glow of good friendship.

It seemed good to us and to the Holy Spirit to pray for individuals, for healing. We were all good friends, so there was much laughing and interaction while we prayed. That’s just who we were, and we didn’t feel the need to be different when we were with God.

We’d just finished praying for one person, and they got up from the “hot seat” (really a “hot hassock”: a place for them to sit in the middle of the group, so we could all see and all lay hands on if called for).

One of the women kind of hobbled to the center of the room and sat gently down on the hassock as soon as it was vacant. She announced that she’d hurt her back lifting something incorrectly, and needed it healed, please. We turned our attention to her, and asked God for his prayers for her; if Jesus only said what he heard Father saying, we figured that was a good model for us, so we waited for those prayers.

And we waited.

The silence went on for a while, and it became kind of awkward. The fact that it was silence was unusual: there wasn’t laughing or joking going on; people were listening for God’s prayers for our sister’s back.

And we waited. I asked a couple of the more prophetic people if they had anything, but they didn’t. This was unusual. So we waited.

Then, quietly, a teenager in the back of the room giggled. Yeah, I thought, this is rather odd: all these adult believers can’t even pray for one woman’s back. I can see why she’d laugh.

And her laughter continued. She tried, for a moment, to stifle it, but that never works, and it didn’t work this time. OK, so she’s laughing. What is God saying, for how to pray for this back?

But the laughing teenager was herself funny, and a couple more people glanced at her and chuckled. And they fought it, and they, too, were unsuccessful. And the laughter spread. And nobody knew why.

And soon, nobody was even trying to pray for the woman’s strained back; we were just laughing, loudly, uproariously. We didn’t know why we were laughing, but it was clearly not something we had the capacity to stop!

And after four or five minutes of unrestrained hilarity, the laughter slowly faded back out, ending as it began, with the happy teenager in the corner. Maybe five or ten minutes had passed.

And the woman who had sat down with the hurt back now stood up and stretched. “Aaaah.” she announced. “That’s much better. No more pain. Thanks guys.” And she walked, confidently, completely upright, out to the kitchen for a fresh cup of tea.

We looked at each other, shrugged our shoulders, chuckled again, and decided that we like hanging out with a sneaky God.



The God Who Gossips?

How often does this happen to you: you’re minding your own business, and suddenly God points out someone’s fault to you? Sometimes, it’s a dream or a vision; sometimes it’s suddenly becoming aware of what’s going on around you.

I’m hearing of how God is speaking to people – regular people, people without position or influence – about how individual believers are experiencing trouble or lack from pastors and church leaders. 

Clearly, sometimes this is just disgruntled people speaking out. People do that. Why would God point out the failure of pastors and other leaders of local congregations? And so many people dismiss this phenomenon as “not of God,” as if this disgruntlement is the only motivation here. And so people who talk about unlovely things that God has showed them are often labeled as gossips and malcontents or fleshly believers.

Have you read Ezekiel 34 recently? Why don't you read it again, keeping this trend in mind. It’s not a lovely conversation. God himself is calling pastors and leaders to task about how they’re treating the sheep, the believers that they’re called to care for! And he’s not doing it gently. This is obviously a matter that God cares very deeply. But Is God actually gossiping?

Some people – generally people who are enamored with the prophetic or who aspire to be a prophet – read this passage, or hear this complaint from God, and then feel the need to go prophesy it. I understand how “prophesying” what God said is a defense against being labeled (yet again) as a gossip or a malcontent.

But think about it: God tells them something in private, and they feel the need to shout it from the mountain tops. I’d like to suggest that this is not the smartest thing to do. 

Actually, I recommend starting with a question, not an action, and this is where it becomes a little tricky; not just any question will do.

We very often are used to beginning with a question from our souls:

■ Our emotions are part of our souls, and so when we see, hear or feel something harsh or unflattering, it’s easy to let our emotions flare up, and ask questions like, “How could they DO that?” or “That’s icky, why would God show me icky stuff; this must be demons talking to me!” and so it’s easy for the enemy (or my own flesh) to turn it toward accusation of one sort or another.

■ Our minds are also part of our souls, and so when we see, hear or feel something harsh or unflattering, it’s easy to let our thoughts flare up, and ask questions like, “Where is this in Scripture?” “How does this line up with other principles I live by?” “How do I think I should deal with this?” and so it’s easy for the enemy (or my own flesh) to turn it toward confusion.

■ Our will is also part of our souls, and so when we see, hear or feel something harsh or unflattering, it’s easy to let our choices flare up, and we make choices like, “I must tell someone!” or “I must warn them!” and so it’s easy for the enemy (or my own flesh) to turn it toward manipulation and self-importance.

I’d like to suggest that when God shows us uncomfortable things by the Spirit, that we respond to him with our spirit. In fact, I suggest – and I encourage this as a regular practice – that we ask the question of Acts 16:30: "What must I do?" God, you’re showing me this for a reason. What do you want me to do with it?

Talking about someone’s sin without working toward a solution is pretty much the definition of gossip, and I’m pretty sure that God’s not actually a gossiper. If he’s sharing it with you, he expects you to do something with it. If we stop listening before we get to the application, then we’ve left God in an awkward place, leaving both him and ourselves open to the accusation of gossiping. He’s trying to partner with us, but we run off before there’s been any real partnership.

In fact, it’s not unusual for God to bring up a problem with you specifically so you can help him solve the problem. Ezekiel 22:30 (in context) talks about how God sometimes tells people about icky stuff specifically so that they can “stand in the gap” before Him on their behalf. That’s very often the primary role of intercessors: hear what’s weighing heavily on God’s heart, ask how he wants us to respond, and then respond that way.

I’d suggest that the vast majority of the time, when God shows us something un-lovely, he’s asking for us to bring the thing back to him and ask him to do something in that place. He’s bringing it up so we can pray.

Why does he invite us to get involved? Why doesn’t he just go do it himself? He can’t, not without going back on his own word. Psalm 115:16 says, “The heaven, even the heavens, are the LORD’s; But the earth He has given to the children of men.” Stuff in the realm of Heaven is his responsibility; stuff on earth is our responsibility.

This responsibility started back in Genesis, chapter 1; that’s pretty early. In v28 he assigned rulership of physical creation to Adam & Eve. If he steps in and does things without consulting with the delegated rulers of the planet (the race of Adam & Eve), then he’s stepped outside of the way He himself set things up to be done. Who can trust a leader – divine or human – that gives us responsibility for something, but keeps the authority for doing it to themselves? That’s not smart.

The ministry of intercession is a very important ministry. When God shows you a problem, begin by asking him for the solution to the problem. “What must I do?” is a really good starting place.

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http://www.pilgrimgram.com/2014/03/the-god-who-gossips.html
Subscribe at www.pilgrimgram.com. 




A little bit of self disclosure. Or maybe an explanation.


You’ve probably already figured out that my first name isn’t actually “Northwest” and that I’m not really Gandalf the Grey. This is a “pen name”  (“A pen name, nom de plume, or literary double, is a pseudonym adopted by an author.” ~Wikipedia).

Pen names, of course, are not uncommon. Stan Lee (born Stanley Martin Lieber) to Mark Twain (Samuel Clemens) and George Orwell (Eric Arthur Blair) all wrote under pen names, though for different reasons than I do, I’m sure.

Here’s a little insight into my reasoning:

         For the vast majority of people who read my writing, there is no functional difference between knowing me as “Todd” or as “Nor’west.” Whether you know my name or not, you don’t actually know me. Knowing me only comes through relationship, not through names. Get to know me, and then you'll know me, regardless of the name you know me under.

         Some people want to say, “But that doesn’t tell me anything about you!” Those people aren’t paying attention: knowing my name doesn't tell you anything about me either. On the other hand, a fair bit of my calling is to build up the prophetic gifts in the Pacific Northwest region of the US, the area that geologists and sociologists call Cascadia; that’s where the name comes from. Facebook wouldn’t take “Northwest” as a first name, so we go with “Nor’west,” a nautical term that means the same thing. That certainly says more about who I am than “Bill Smith” ever would.

(By the way: Note that my name is NOT “Nor’west Prophet.” I’m not naming myself a prophet. Too many people give themselves titles and offices; don’t count me among them, please.)

         I’ve run into a fair number of people who want to know my name simply to exercise some sort of power over me, whether imagined or real. I’ve walked this walk long enough to know that the enemy of our soul is real, and has real followers.

         I’m not, as some have feared, trying to accomplish some nefarious purpose with this pseudonym. If that were my goal, I’d need to do something nefarious, and no thank you. I can’t think of anything nefarious that sounds interesting. Besides, I don’t like doing things I’d need to repent of later.

         More important to me, I’ve watched many believers work for the Lord, but build up their own name. I’ve met so many “ministers,” who are quick with their business card, announcing that they’re the founder and apostolic leader of “Fredrick J. Fuffenfuffer Intergalactic Glory Network” or some such foolishness. It is my opinion that there’s only one Name that needs to be magnified, and let's agree, it isn’t mine.

         Perhaps you’ve heard the stories about the children of Christian leaders? They’re called “PK’s” (Preacher’s Kids) or MK’s (Missionary’s Kids). One of my best friends growing up was a PK, and I watched as he lived up to (down to?) the nasty reputation surrounding the title. There is a stupid amount of social pressure placed on the children of known church leaders. I determined not to do that to my treasured children. Frankly, I think it’s sad how many amazing kids are sacrificed on the altar of a parent’s ministry or career or public image. My children are in full agreement with my anonymity and the reasons for it.

         The only folks who are treated worse than PK’s are Pastor’s Wives. I’ve been a pastor much of my life. If you knew the Treasure who is The Lady that has, at great personal cost, gloriously lived out her vows about “for better or for worse,” then you’d understand why I don’t care to force her, against her will, into a fleshly limelight that glorifies people instead of God. It’s repugnant to both of us. I will not knowingly ask more of this from her.

         A few people have been concerned that I’m not accountable. That’s silly. I’m just not accountable to them. I have a number of godly men (and one beautiful bride) whom I trust completely, and to whom I make my life as open a book as I am able. I reserve that kind of relationship for folks who have walked many miles through stinky places with me, and I’m not actually looking for new accountability partners at this time.

         I’ll tell you how the Gandalf image came about: over the years. (I use his image as an avatar on Facebook and other social media sites.) Over the years, I’ve used a number of photos as avatars (http://on.fb.me/1119FTZ ); one time when I changed my image from Gandalf to something else, a lot of people fussed and wanted Gandalf back. OK, sure. Since Gandalf has, as I do, has long hair and a big ol’ beard, and since he doesn’t come with all the social baggage of the other bearded guy (Hint: Ho, Ho, Ho!), I stuck with it.  I admit, I've been inconsistent, if only to save me from having to come up with new faces every few weeks. Besides, I love who Gandalf is in the books wherein he appears.

If you want to know more about me, then read what I write (I do write under this name for several blogs; they’ll generally get posted to Facebook, so that is where you’ll find the biggest selection.)

Feel free to dig through my archives in this blog and on Facebook, and read what I write about. Listen to see if God speaks to you there (that is, after all, the goal). Or you may ask other people about me (but please honor them [and me] enough to NOT ask them private details, like my personal identity or my family life).

I’ll say this much about me: I’ve been walking with Jesus for half a century, and that, in fact, is the high point of my life. I’ve been a pastor (usually associate), a missionary, parachurch ministry leader, church planter, wayward son and religious hypocrite. I’ve learned of His ways in all of that. Oh, and I’m in love with his fiancé, but he tells me he’s not jealous.

If you want to really know me, join in the conversation, though understand that I’ll be far more receptive to it in the public arena, particularly on ongoing threads on my wall. As a matter of policy (and honor for that treasured lady I mentioned earlier), I generally don’t engage in private conversation with women.

If all of this offends you, that’s actually OK. God has given both of us a free will, and you’re completely free to choose not to be in relationship with a strange old guy with hidden face and a funny name. God bless you as you follow Him along the path He’s leading you on.

This is the path He’s leading me on. I really like walking with him, so I’m going to stay on this path, because that’s where I find him. If any of the insights from my path help you on yours, then we’re both richer for it, aren’t we?


Tuesday

Home Fellowship or Church Fellowship?


There has been a fair bit of discussion among Believers recently about what it means to “go to church” or “be part of a church.” 

The illustration (it’s not model) that the Bible gives us for where the church met in Jerusalem is in Acts 5:42: “Day after day, in the temple courts and from house to house, they never stopped teaching and proclaiming the good news that Jesus is the Messiah.”

[Note that there were at least 5000 believers (Acts 4:4) in the temple courts (Acts 5:12), and they had no PA system. It was not physically possible for one man to stand in front of that many people and communicate well with them all. Either they had miraculous sound reinforcement (I think Jesus used this method sometimes), or each apostle taught a more modestly-sized portion of the larger crowd. Either way, they spent more time (every day) meeting in homes.]

Later in Jerusalem, and also in Asia, Paul showed another model when the persecution showed up: Act 19:9 “But when some were hardened and did not believe…. he departed from them and withdrew the disciples, reasoning daily in the school of Tyrannus.”

Paul did make use of synagogues, but as places to practice evangelism, not the place for the fellowship of the saints: the synagogue was their history, but not their community any longer: they were no longer the People of the Law.

I observe that the Biblical model involves Christians meeting in public spaces (the temple courts were perhaps the social equivalent of the shopping mall; the School of Tyrannus might equate to the local high school gym) for training. But it’s clear that the church was more equated with people’s houses in the Biblical model (Acts 8:3, Romans 16:5; 1Cor 16:19; Colossians 4:15; Philemon 1:2.…). Some say that the only reason they met in people’s homes was persecution, and that may be a factor, but that factor doesn’t seem to be a major issue in the Book.

I also observe that when the church was meeting among the Jewish people, it used Jewish methods and settings (temple grounds), but when it met among the gentiles, it used gentile methods and locations (School of Tyrannus). It appears that while Christianity – the Church – came from Jewish roots, it is not a Jewish function. The Judiazers were one of the greatest heresies opposed by New Testament apostles. The apostolic conclusion: you don’t need to become or to stay Jewish in order to become a Christian.

In our “Western Culture”, we make everything into a mass-production factory. We’ve done it with education in the public schools, with government, with sports, with our shopping malls. So of course we’ll do it with our church-life.

My point is NOT that mass-producing Christian fellowship is inherently evil. My point is that it that it is equally not evil to choose a different model for fellowship.

I home-schooled my kids, for about half of their education. In hindsight, they preferred the homeschooling to the public schooling, and I observe that they learned more during those years, they encountered far less social “drama”, and they where happier in the non-factory education model rather than the factory model. Home-schooling is WAY more work than shipping the kids off to the local public school, which is rather factory-like.

I shop at WalMart. A little bit. (I figure that my prayers for the company have more authority if I have an investment in the company, but that’s another conversation.) But I also shop at the local farmer’s market. The factory shopping experience has more variety, and often has a lower cost-of-participation (selling price), but the quality of food that I get at the farmer’s market is hugely superior. In addition, the instruction I get from the farmer’s market about how to use the item that I’m purchasing is light years ahead of what I get from the factory.

As for sports, I prefer to play Frisbee golf with my friends rather than watch the Seahawks or the World Cup on TV. It’s way better exercise, better fellowship, and the relationships forged there actually means something, whereas the pro sports have no eternal significance that I can discern. On the other hand, I don’t ever have sore muscles from watching the factory sports on TV, and I can switch channels freely when I get bored.

In the same way, I’ve learned (the hard way, frankly) that farmer’s market version of church, the home-school version of fellowship produces a superior product, albeit at a greater cost.

We have this value system in America that if it isn’t done on a big scale, it isn’t really the right way to do it. I’m looked at as weird because I don’t have a TV and don’t like the shopping mall. And so many American Christians appear to look down on their brethren and, er… “sistren” who choose to find their fellowship outside of the American Church Factory.

I say all this to say this: Christian fellowship in the home is actually “more Biblical” (found more commonly in the Bible) and more historically accurate (existed long before) than the building of large and expensive “church” buildings.

People who choose home fellowship should not feel inferior to people who choose the large, formal setting for their fellowship. The mega-church is not somehow “better” Christianity. Neither should people whose primary fellowship is in the home feel or declare superiority to others who find a place in the large fellowship.

Let’s find ways to enjoy unity, to celebrate each other.



Saturday

Misconceptions About Church

It was late on a Sunday morning, and I was just waking up. I’d slept in, knowing that I wasn’t healthy and that I needed rest. I was thinking, “I’ll miss church if I don’t get up soon.”

For context, my Sunday morning “Church” is online and I attend by webcast. My “in real life” fellowship is another time during the week. This train of thought applies to both, really.

So I was thinking about what would happen if I miss church this morning, and that turned into an interesting train of thought. “What is my tradeoff? What am I missing if I miss church?”

The accusation crossed my mind that my online church is unnatural, not really what God has in mind for me, so I considered that for a moment. There actually is some merit in the argument that an online “fellowship,” where I am only an observer, not an actual participant, is not really what God had in mind as ideal for me. OK, let’s follow that thought for a moment?

But wait! Isn’t that what most Sunday morning gatherings are like? I’m an observer there, too. Oh, yes, I stand up when they say to, and sing the words they tell me to sing, and sit back down when they say to. But there’s no point during our time together at First Church of the Sunday Morning where I can raise my hand and say, “You know, I’m struggling here; could I get some prayer?” In some Sunday morning gatherings I know, I’d be thrown out for that action, and while there are exceptions, most churches would freak out and either ignore the “interruption”, or take steps to minimize it.

Someone will say, “That’s not what Sunday mornings are for. That belongs in a home group.” [And here is where I’ll add my commercial: if you’re not part of a fellowship of believers that meets in an informal setting like a home, then they’re seriously missing out.] that kind of “sharing” is not an appropriate expectation for a Sunday morning gathering, though it would fit in the hallway or the lobby, maybe. There’s merit in that statement: Sunday mornings aren’t really designed for those kinds of things (which is rather a strong argument in favor of my online church – or for house church – but I’m going a different direction here).

So what are Sunday mornings for? What is the church gathering for, really?

Is Sunday Morning for worship? That can’t be right. My best worship is private, and I hear others tell me the same. I find that I believe that corporate worship is at its best when the worshippers have worshipped privately, and I know that I am a far better worship leader when I have worshipped privately. So while I affirm the value of corporate worship, I suspect that it is not the primary motivation, at least in God’s mind, for the gathering of the Saints.

I hear people talking about the value of getting fed at church; maybe the value of the church gathering is in the teaching. And I do value the teaching of my online church! But the Book is clear, and I’m fully committed to the concept that I must learn to feed myself first. The teaching there is good, but it is to supplement my own feasting on the Word. That can’t be the main value of church gatherings.

I’m going to be blunt here: It seems clear that the idea of “the message is the most valuable part of church gatherings” has come from those who preach. And it is from worship leaders that I most often hear that worship is the most important part of the service. (Please don’t assume that I don’t value a well-preached message from a gifted teacher, or that corporate worship isn’t glorious. If that’s what you’re hearing, you need to read this again more carefully!)

The thought crossed my mind, “What does the Bible say about the church coming together?” and as it did, a verse from Hebrews came with it:

“And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” Hebrews 10:24,25

It hit me like a freight train: God’s purpose for us coming together is to encourage each other. Specifically, it’s to “spur one another on toward love and good deeds,” which is how we are to encourage each other.

That’s the reason for coming together as a congregation: encouragement.

There is more extensive teaching on the church gathering together in 1 Corinthians 11, and it’s focused on meals together. Paul touches again on the topic in the midst of teaching about spiritual gifts in chapter 14, and in that context, he says, “Everything must be done so that the church may be built up.” Same thing: encouragement. Apart from these passages, there is no definitive teaching on church meetings in the New Testament, though Acts shows that the early church met daily in homes and weekly for apostolic teaching.

We could take it all together and form this model: When the saints come together, let’s gather around the dinner table, and let’s encourage one another, and let’s use what God gives us to that end.

My recommendation: learn to worship by yourself, not dependent on a leader and a band, though worship with them when you can. Learn to feed yourself, though supplement that with good, inspired teaching sometimes. But choose the congregation you gather with by this: “Is this a place where we can encourage one another?” And then go there, prepared to encourage, prepared to encourage others.

Spiritual Adolescents

I’m a dad. I rather like being a dad. I think I’m a pretty good dad, though I know I can do better, and I really want to.
So I watch dads. More specifically, I watch guys who have kids – which isn’t quite the same thing – and I watch for two things: First, what are they doing with their kids – especially what can I learn from them – and second, how well does it work?
The “how well does it work” part is the tough one. I watch the kids for that one. How do they react to him? Especially, how do they do in the long run? As they grow up, do they turn into responsible (even fun-loving) adults? Or do they stay children, but in adult-size bodies.
I watch that child-to-adult transition pretty closely. I don’t think we do that very well as a culture. I can’t tell you the number of kids that I’ve watched who follow a particular pattern: they show every sign of being ideal kids during their teenage years: they have responsible jobs, they are involved in responsible things like scouting or youth group or the like, and they seem to be enjoying life. They appear to be making the transition from dependence to independence really well. Except they’re not.
There comes a point in the lives of some of these “responsible kids” where they just seem to blow up. They may run away from home, or turn up pregnant, sprout lots of tattoos and piercing, or develop a drug or alcohol addiction. If it happens, the meltdown seems to come just about at the point where they were getting ready to make the jump from “adolescent” to “adult.” They make it to adulthood, but they lost traction and crashed going around that last curve.
That tells me that something’s gone haywire: somehow it took something violent to make that final transition into adulthood.
I’ve talked to some of those kids, after their crash, and there seems to be a trend: they were being “adult-like” but they were doing it for someone else, usually for their parents, sometimes for a teacher or youth pastor or scout leader. But they weren’t doing it for themselves. They were play-acting. And as the time came closer for them to become the person that they were play-acting, they couldn’t do it. They panicked; they spun out.
Watching as an outsider, particularly watching from the viewpoint of hindsight, I could see what they were talking about. I could see the pressure to perform. Dad boasts to his friends about his little princess because he’s so proud of her and it’s his way of telling her that he’s proud of her, but she hears it as another chain tying her to this make-believe role that nobody but she herself knows is make-believe. And it’s terrifying. She looks independent, but she’s not. She’s acting out a role that has every sign of successful independence, and people think that’s her, but it’s not. Not yet, anyway.
The reality is that we really aren’t very good at becoming adults. Think about your own life: what was the defining point when you could say, “Yesterday I was a kid; today I’m an adult!” Was that defining moment an accident or was it something intentional? Most of us have made the transition, but for the vast majority of us, it was by accident: we just stumbled into adulthood as we’re aiming for something else.
So there comes a time in every kid’s life where he or she needs to make the jump: not from “kid” to “adult” (so much of that happens biologically), but from “dependent” to “independent”. We never leave the extended family, but we’re no longer holding onto the apron strings.
Some tribal cultures have rite-of-passage rituals: they have this ceremony one night where the men take the adolescent boys out into the jungle or the desert or whatever, and in the morning, or the next weekend, those boys come back as full-fledged adult men. Everybody in the tribe knows it. There’s no question.
And I don’t think we ever teach kids how to do that. 
But I’m not an adolescent psychologist specializing in child development; I’m an observer and a leader in the Church, the body of Christ. And I think we have the same problem there.
Perhaps you’ve heard the statistics that most churches don’t ever talk about: the majority of kids in their youth group will never make the transition to adults in the church. The Southern Baptist study that shows that 70% of the kids never make it from youth group in the church to adulthood in the church. The guy who ran the study said, “Too many youth groups are holding tanks with pizza. There's no life transformation taking place.”
In other words, there is no successful mechanism (and in most churches, no mechanism whatsoever) to help “youth” become “adults.”
As a result, we have a lot of young people who don’t fit in the church anymore. Many have left the church altogether. But there are a substantial number of disenfranchised “young adults” – twenty something and thirty something individuals – in many churches who don’t fit into church:
· They’re too old to still be in the youth group; that would maintain their dependent status, as “junior members” of the church, which they’re not interested in.
· They don’t want to plug into a bunch of programs that were designed by old people and are still dominated by them. That’s just dependence in another guise: “This isn’t for people like you; it’s for older, more mature people. But you can come and watch if you want.”
· They don’t want to abandon the church altogether: they aren’t looking for rebellious independence. Well, OK: some of them are, but they aren’t the ones still hanging around the church wishing they could fit in. The goal isn’t rebellion; the goal isn’t rebellion, it’s independence. But sometimes they just have to go through the place of rebellion to reach it.
Most of us fit in this description one way or another: we want to be in relationship, but we don’t want to be “junior members” of that relationship.
The church is really good at setting up programs to fix what’s wrong with you, and for people who are in a place of immaturity or of real need, that’s wonderful. Sometimes it’s a real life-saver.
I’d love to hear your thoughts on this: what needs to happen – what needs to change – in order to invite the next generation of believers to take their place beside us in the Great Cloud of Witnesses?
Here’s what I propose:
· We start by talking with this generation rather than at them. We spend as much time listening to them as we do talking to them. Talk to them as individuals.
· We resource their plans and hopes and wishes. We provide money, training, opportunity, whatever it takes to say “yes” to their ideas. Not all of their ideas; they have as many stupid ideas as you and I have, and you know that’s a big number. But we say “yes” as much as we can.
· We make church center around them and their generation, not the blue-haired folks that have been here since they were that age. We don’t turn everything around for them, but we turn some of it around. What part? I don’t know. Ask them.
· We mentor them. Instead of plugging them into a program (“a holding tank with pizza”), we invite them into real relationship, one-on-one, with the “franchised” adults: the ones who hold the power, who have positions of authority in the church. We help them with the frustrations and the confusion of the transition. We teach them things that their single-mom-working-two-jobs never had a chance to teach them.
· We play with them. In their arena. Sure, we’re going to be a little slower in the laser-tag or paintball games, but the fact that we’re there means a lot. We need to be with them; we don’t need to beat them. (Maybe it’s more important that we’re there for the beer and pizza party afterwards. Not sure.)
· Follow their leadership. Did you know that under all that youthful energy, there are some honest-to-goodness powerful leaders? No, they don’t have experience yet, and they never will until someone is willing to trust them with actual leadership. Make them home-group leaders, choir leaders, worship leaders in their own right, not only as an assistant to someone older.
· Invite them into positions of power with you. Involve them in planning – and not just for the “youth events.” Invite them to the board meetings. Put them on the decorating committee (now there’s power!). Put them on the ministry team. Let them lead the ministry team sometimes.
· Notice them: when they do well, point it out and celebrate. When they screw up, don’t pretend it didn’t happen: deal with the issue. Laugh about it if you can. Believe them when they repent and move on.

Multi Level Marketing

I have been approached many times in my life about an “opportunity” to join in a multi-level marketing organization. I have always declined. God challenged me to clarify my opinion one day.

Multi-Level Marketing is Expensive:

1. It costs relationships. Multi-level marketing (MLM), by its very design and nature, changes my relationships. People are no longer only my friends or family, but must become—to some degree—prospects for the business. MLM requires by its very nature that you bring others into it. I have not been willing to pay that price.

Furthermore, some of the relationships that are spent are those of my family. MLM works well only if both husband and wife are equally committed to and enthused about “the business.” But even then, the time and attention siphoned away from my family relationships is hard for me to live with. Besides, I’ll miss our golf games on Fridays if that’s part of the cost.

And beyond all that, every successful MLM that I have ever seen (and I’ve seen a lot!) virtually requires my joining their social subculture in order to be “successful.”

2. It costs time. Any business endeavor will require an investment in time. Ten hours a week (such as is often quoted) strikes me as idealistic, but even if it is true, I have other uses for those hours that are more consistent with my long term (eg. ten thousand years and beyond) goals. Ten hours a week usually means ten hours on a quiet week and more on other weeks. But even ten hours a week comes out to 520 hours in a year, or the equivalent of three months of full-time work every year. I’d rather spend that with my family, or with baby believers, or even raking out my lawn!

3. It costs money. Likewise, any business will require a significant financial investment. Even if I don’t buy product to sell (but then what would I show my customers?), I must buy advertising, brochures, gas to attend meetings, costs for meals & conferences, meals for some meetings, bookkeeping paraphernalia, office space, etc. TANSTAAFL, you know.

4. It costs focus. MLM is, by its nature, an opportunistic business. That means that when I find an opportunity, I must seize it and make the presentation. (Rather like evangelism, though it’s an either/or situation. One can’t evangelize for both MLM and Jesus simultaneously. “No man can serve two masters…” and all that.) The inevitable result is a significant loss of attention to the task at hand, whether that’s groceries, landscaping, job search, or pastoring.

5. It costs reputation. Thanks to Amway, MLM has a really bad name in America: a low-life, get-rich-quick reputation. Of course, people involved in MLM aren’t always “low-life, get-rich-quick” people, but you’d be hard pressed to convince many Americans of that. They hear MLM and they begin to look at you differently.

6. It costs my values. The last thing I need is a values war inside me. Many people have observed a spirit of greed in MLM adherants. In my experience, this is a very (I repeat, very) common problem with MLM. Soon, often before they even sign up, people stop seeing a business and start seeing dollar signs. This is largely related to the way many MLM members promote “the business:” “Look at the potential,” they say. “Think of the things you could do with the money!” I know, this is not a given. It is a serious danger; one that I choose not to expose myself or my family to. I don’t want any of my family flirting with the lust of the eyes or the boastful pride of life.

7. It costs my self-esteem. When I am in MLM, I am associated with values that are opposed to my personal core values. I am part of a group that is considered “low-life, get-rich-quick” by people whose opinions I hope to influence. I get a dozen “No thank you” and a handful of “Hell No’s” for every “I’ll think about it.”

The official figures are that one out of every twelve presentations will be interested in the business and one out of every ten persons who signs up will do anything with it. (These figures come from Amway.) That means one out of every 120 people I take the time to make presentations to will be influenced by “the business.” That’s a lot of work.

The concept of “If you work hard at your business, you can be very successful,” is true for most businesses, most jobs. If I own a drug store and work with as much focus and dedication as is required to make a success of the MLM business, I’ll be a wealthy drug-store owner before long.

Benefits of Multi Level Marketing

Now, lest I be found guilty of one-sidedness, I should present some of the “other side:”

1. If your boss is involved, it may be the “politically correct” thing to do.

2. If you are willing to pay the price(s), MLM can indeed make you rich. My personal opinion is that nobody does it better than Amway, but then Amway has so many people and so much exposure that it’s hard to make it to the big time with them. (A note about startup MLMs: the support services are usually pretty skimpy.)

3. If everything goes exactly as planned (not a regular occurance in our world, but it does happen), you can end up with a sizable residual income, if the MLM company doesn't go bankrupt. (Most do.)

My Sources

Having said all that, it occurs to me that perhaps I should explain where my opinions come from.

I have studied MLM quite closely. I have a friend who is in an Amway offshoot and is probably going to be rich before he’s my age. He and I have spent probably 100 hours or more discussing Amway and other MLMs (he had studied several before joining his organization). He is a single man who is fanatically devoted to his group. He got a job as a taxi driver simply so he can have contact with more people to “present the business” to. He reads dozens of books, listens to hundreds of tapes and CD’s, hangs out with his “upline”, and attends lots of meetings. He makes several presentations a week and has built a substantial organization. He probably spends (or spent, when I knew him), 15 hours a week actively working on the business, but it consumed him.

I have also studied several MLM companies fairly intentionally. I’ve gone to meetings, read magazines and books, evaluated programs, propaganda, and merchandise. I’ve interviewed both winners and losers in a load of programs: NuSkin, Herbal Life, NSA, Quorum, Amway, Shaklee, Fuller Brush (yes, they went through a MLM stage) and a dozen or more others selling everything from diet plans to insurance and annuities to houses to home security systems to home computers. I’ve named Amway in my concerns above, but every single issue (or “cost”) that I raise above has been found in every single MLM organization I’ve looked at. No exceptions that I’ve yet found.

And last but not least. I have been personally involved in two different MLM programs. My experiences from the inside have confirmed everything I had observed from the outside.

Why did I join? I wanted to invest some of my “spare” time and make some money. It seemed like a good thing at the time. I had been approached by a man I respected. What did it cost? Every thing I’ve mentioned above and more. For years, I carried a sizable debt from the last endeavor. I know whereof I speak.

Conclusion:

Multi-level Marketing opportunities are everywhere, and they have a measure of truth in them. If you are willing to give your life to “the business”, you can make a lot of money in some of them. They are naïve (or worse) in their communication of how much work is required. That work is better spent, more cleanly spent, in other places.

Engaging an Enemy

Observations from 1 Samuel 17:

It seems that there are seasons in our lives when maybe we’re a little more gutsy than we otherwise would be. There are seasons where we take on some larger enemies, either in own lives or in our communities, like David did with Goliath. We can expect several responses:

1. Brothers accusing us of wrong doing. (“I know your pride and the insolence of your heart, for you have come down to see the battle.” v. 28)

2. Leadership or people in positions of authority say, “You can’t do that!” (v. 33) These folks are often – if not carefully Spirit-led – very good at pointing out our weaknesses and the difficulty of the circumstances.

3. Others trying to put their own revelation/tools/limits on us (v. 38: “So Saul clothed David with his armor, and he put a bronze helmet on his head; he also clothed him with a coat of mail.”) There is room to find symbolism in these components, but the point is unchanged: they want to make us like them before they decide we’re ready to “be released.”

4. The enemy also will speak to us:

a. Some enemies will disdain us (v. 42) (Hebrew: “to despise, regard with contempt;”)

“Who do you think you are? What makes you think you can take on this kind of thing. You’re nothing but a ‘wimpy, wimpy, chicken, chicken!’

b. Some enemies will curse us by their own gods (v. 43) (Hebrew: “to make despicable; to curse,” but in a verb form that indicates intensity and repeated action.)

Goliath cursed him vehemently and repeatedly! In the current vernacular, “He ripped him a new one!”

c. Some enemies will make threats. (v. 43: “Come to me, and I will give your flesh to the birds of the air and the beasts of the field!”)

In contrast to the enemy’s words, David took action:

A. Before the challenge:

1. David carried (received, walked in) the anointing of God (1 Samuel 16:13).

2. David was a practicing worshipper (1 Samuel 16:23 & most of the Psalms).

3. David had a practice of serving others (Saul, see above; Dad’s sheep, 17:15; brothers in the war, 17:20).

B. During the challenge:

4. David hung around the warriors (17:22), and became aware of the reality and nature of the war by first-hand experience(v. 23).

5. David asks questions (v 26, 30). I think he's essentially asking, “What’s it take to fight this guy?”

Sunday

Honor in our Relationships

Our culture has grown to embrace a whole lot of technology that previous generations neither had nor imagined. It’s changed our society, our culture, our families.

I really don’t like the fact that so much of our culture is informed by television. Now our kids learn about relationships from sitcoms, reality shows, and made-for-TV dramas. They used to learn about how to relate to their friends by watching their parents relate to their friends, or by relating to others themselves. Now, we learn how people relate from America’s Next Top Model or House MD.

I have to admit: I have pretty much never regretted blowing up my TV a few decades ago. The fruit has been very pleasing.But I’m not talking about television today; I want to talk about our relationships.

I have a core value that says that relationships – particularly relationships among believers – need to be things that work for our growth, our well-being.

The relational skills we pick up from Gregory House make for engaging entertainment (we love to hate misanthropes like him), but such relationships fail to “encourage one another.”

The catfights on Top Model (or The Apprentice, or Project Runway, or how many others?) don’t qualify as encouraging relationships.

This may come as a surprise, but the relational skills we learn from the television are not good examples for our lives. They’re designed, crafted, for entertainment, to capture our attention, and to discourage us from flipping the channel to some other over-the-top show.

I’m fascinated by the reverse lesson: those are the world’s ideas of relationships. What would godly relationships look like?

I’m captured by the idea of relationships among us that are focused on building each other up. Since we live in an era in which prophetic gifts are commonplace, I’m captured by the idea of prophetically discerning the calls, anointings, plans for blessing that God has established for others, and relating to each other on the basis of what God says about them, rather than what we see or hear.

In fact, I’ll go this far: we can relate to each other from at least three different perspectives, three different viewpoints that I can work with as I relate to you:

· What’s best for me in this relationship? What do I need in this? How can I relate to you in such a way that I get my own needs met? I see you as a means to my ends, as a repository of resources to meet my needs. Sounds pretty ugly.

· What’s best for you in this relationship? I’m not sure that this perspective has any real value beyond the theoretical. I have neither the capacity to discern what it is that you truly need, nor the means to provide it, but it always sounds good to say I’m working for your best interests.

· How does God see you? I think of this as the prophetic perspective: I can’t know all that God knows of you, of course (my brain would explode), but I can know what He chooses to show me. And if I choose, I can relate to you as if you already were the person that God has described you as.

I wonder what would happen if we stopped trying to persuade each other of how we’re right (and therefore you’re not), and instead focused on “What can I do to help you become this person God sees you as today?”

For example. Let’s assume that you’re an ordinary with ordinary issues, like you get angry when people treat you unfairly, or if you haven’t had enough sleep. Or whatever.

Now let’s imagine that we have a chance to pray together, and in that process, God reveals that a) He loves you a whole lot (no surprise there), and that b) He sees you as a leader among His people. Now if I’m working on the concept of relating to you according to a prophetic perspective, then I’ll treat you as someone loved by an omniscient God, and as a leader and teacher.

I’ll treat you with honor. Yeah, I really don’t want to piss off the guy that’s in love with you, but that’s the short view. More significantly, as a lover of God myself, I probably want to love the people that He loves, and that includes you. It’s true theologically, but if He’s pointed it out personally, then it’s an even more powerful motivator.

I’ll also regard you as a leader, even though right now the characteristic that’s most evident about you is that you get angry a lot. God sees you as a leader, and if I’m going to agree with Him, then I’m going to see you – and therefore treat you – as a leader as well. I’m going to respect your opinion. Heck, I’m going to listen to your opinion!

Note that God has not put you into a position right now of leader. Those are your calling, your destiny. You can grow into those (or not), but they’re part of how God sees you. I don’t defer to your leadership above that of my existing leaders.

In at least three ways, I treat you differently because I now see you according to the revelation of your calling as leader:

A) I treat you with the respect that a leader and teacher would deserve. If the President walked into our room, how would I respond? If a business leader I respected walked in, how would I respond? How much of that response would be appropriate with you? More, how far can I push it: How much of that respect, that honor, could I get away with before it became inappropriate or excessive?

B) I look for signs of a leadership anointing in your life. I expect leadership gifts from you. Subject to a whole lot of other things (like the role of established leaders in both of our lives), I look for the gift to show up.

C) I look for opportunity to equip the gift. If I have the authority, I might give you opportunity to demonstrate the gift in a limited setting. I might see if I can find an environment where you can benefit from training in leadership; I might invite you to hang around with leaders, and talk with leaders.

If we want to do what God is doing, to agree with what God is saying, how can we do that in our relationships?

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.