Friday, December 26, 2008

Community as the Hope for the Church

I think I want to chime in again... if that's OK. (I guess that is why we have the delete key.) (SEE BLOG BELOW)

I think often about the church and her future; I can get pretty worked up if the truth be known!

Let me build on a few of broad principles:

1. God, by His very nature (Trinity), is relational (community).
2. That makes you and me - created in the essential image of God - relational, too.
3. (Therefore) Church - whatever else we make of it - is and must be relational.
4. Sin, like drift, provokes in us what I might broadly term anti-relationship.
5. The future of the church lies in her ability to re-capture COMMUNITY.

Eugene Peterson in A Long Obedience in the Same Direction, in his chapter on Community, says, "Another way to avoid community is to turn the church into an institution" (pg. 179).

This is true; in fact, you and I above the age of, say, 30, know very little about church that is not institutional. Therefore, as we try to come together post-Twentieth Century and post-Christian Era, we are entirely likely to build the church AS WE HAVE ALWAYS KNOWN IT. Getting out of a rut takes lots and lots of strength, courage and perseverance! Otherwise, we'll end up with just another version of the institutional church.

I do not want to harangue on about what I think we oughta do at this point. I do want to make points, if you will, what I see will characterize the church successful.

1. We need to take our lessons from … Jesus.

2. He reached the point of total surrender to His Father. He said, "My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me and to accomplish His work” (Jn 4:34). Those church-ers will be successful if they look, smell, and taste like Jesus because they have become so intimate with Him and His will. That is the first endeavor.

3. Jesus had three intimate relationships (Peter, James and John), nine in His Sunday School class, and seventy that He taught. His teaching was almost exclusively life-on-life. Jesus simply said to His friends, “Follow Me.” “Come live life with me.” Jesus was intentional and strategic about His relationships. Jesus knew He was worth knowing and being with. Successful church-ers will strategize their lives similarly.

4. Jesus was not hindered by church. Church was a normal part of his weekly life, but His ministry was not hampered because He had to park camels for early worship (what the institutional church calls “service ministry”). I do think Jesus served in the nursery as needed. Servants at heart do that kind of thing!

5. Jesus taught by example. Nowadays we call it “training.” Church-ers will not enlist; they will train, and train by example. Apprenticeship comes to mind at this point.

6. We must presuppose, as Jesus did, that people are ignorant and must be shown how to do relationships. Jesus did not conduct “sign-ups.”

7. Church-ers who get clued into this be-with-Jesus thing (not that complicated, I might add) will do anything and everything possible to obtain holiness. Look no further than Jesus: Jesus disciplined Himself for godliness (Mk 1:35, et. al.). Jesus practiced disciplines the institutional church is downright hostile toward! Like stillness, rest, prayer, and solitude.

8. Church-ers who desire success for the church understand incarnation. We are little Jesuses. That makes us worth knowing. It is good for those who do not know Jesus to be with us! Church-ers will spend a lot of energy simply doing relationships.

9. One caveat: Doing relationships is not the same as having a meeting. It is not the same as what we have come to know as “fellowship,” either! It is costly and dirty; mysterious, unpredictable and protracted, the fruits of which are in God’s hands!

I am not intending to take pot shots at what we know as church. However, we are in a deep rut. May we aspire toward the charge leveled against Peter and John after being arrested for healing a lame beggar by the institutional church leadership:

Now as they observed the confidence of Peter and John and
understood that they were uneducated and untrained men,
they were amazed, and began to
recognize them as having been with Jesus. Acts 4:13

Friday, December 05, 2008

What Ought We Be Becoming?

This is a response to a conversation the leadership of our church is in regarding the ways and means of church, particularly how to get people un-stuck.

Thanks for including me in this conversation. I perused it earlier in the week and it grabbed me; it is just now that I can sit, pray and write.

The questions we ask and continue to ask are, indeed, from the heart. No question. We all want God to be glorified in and through ourselves, our families and our church. I am convinced we all want to see God's Kingdom built in our community.

I want to challenge our ideas of what that is supposed to look like.

What is the definition of "stuck"? I am afraid the answer is often subjective beyond my comfort: Not enough people are coming to church, not enough people are in small groups, giving is down, shallow faith is rife, people are leaving the church, etc.

All the assessments below notwithstanding (all are "accurate" insofar as I can see, by the way); I think people are not stuck. I think they are right where they want to be.

I am not sure what the remedy is, either. I am not even sure we need to be asking that question, as if: When we discover that "remedy" and DO it, then God is obliged to bless us - make our church healthy, big and growing.

God is the giver of increase (1 Co 3:7). We are to be faithful, evangelize, make disciples, pray, pray for workers, pray for increase, assemble, worship, obey, raise our family "in the nurture and the admonition of the Lord," etc., etc.

I remember J. I. Packer in Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God saying that the evangelist is finished evangelizing not when "he seals the deal" so-to-speak and a convert is made. Evangelism has taken place when we elicit a decision from the one to whom we have just shared.

We must learn to battle in the realm of ideas; ideas we possess and live by that may or may not be God-honoring no matter how Christian they sound!

I think the question might be changed from "What ought we do?" to "Who ought we be becoming?" This question is first and foremost and individual question long before it becomes a corporate one. We are to abide in Christ and He will, through us, bear fruit (Jn 15).

Am I guilty of being with Him? Have I submitted the hours of my day to Him? Is my lifestyle such that if the plug were pulled on Christianity, I would be the laughingstock of the neighborhood for the silly and yet large investment I have made? Read 1 Corinthians 15:19!

Do I know Jesus intimately? Do I smell like Jesus?

Am I seeking first the kingdom of God and His righteousness? By the way, there it is again: "...And all these things will be added unto you... [by HIM!]."

Richard Rohr in his book Everything Belongs uses the phrase "Don't push the river." You and I are traveling along life's journey in the boat of God's Providence. He "works all things at the counsel of His own will" (Eph 1:11). No doubt you and I are to "work out our salvation with fear and trembling" (Ph 2:12), choices matter! But, I think we could adjust our ideas a bit and learn - through our intimate relationship with Jesus - that our charge is to trust and leave the driving to Him.

This is the death to self that the New Testament refers to.

I blame Larry Crabb for the following indictment:

You maneuver; you do not trust. You negotiate, you do not worship. You analyze to gain control over what happens; you do not depend. You seek the Better Life of God's blessings over the Better Hope of God's Presence. (From The Pressure's Off, pg. 8)

Later in the book, Dr. Crabb introduces us to the "Papa Prayer." This is up against our traditional (what Crabb calls the "Old Way") - idea driven - prayer that goes like this:

Change that.

Whatever in my life is causing pain, I ask you to change it. Straighten out my daughter, give me a spouse, restore my health, provide an income.

Use this.

Show me what principles I'm to follow to make that happen. Direct me to the person or resources I need to help make it happen.

Satisfy me.

I long to feel alive, content, fulfilled, and happy. Do whatever it takes to make me feel satisfied with me, with life, and with You. (The Pressure's Off, pg. 209)

Here is the Papa Prayer:

Present yourselves to God as you are.
Attend to where you notice God's presence of absence.
Purge yourselves of whatever, at that moment, might be keeping you from noticing more of God.
Approach God with abandonment and confidence, dedicating yourselves anew to coming to Him to know and enjoy and reveal Him, not to using Him to make your life better. (The Pressure's Off, pg. 211. Incidentally, Crabb's next book, The Papa Prayer elaborates on this simple prayer.)

To the church I say:

Sit with Jesus. Allow Him to calm your soul. Realize when the calm comes that this is normal. Then learn to cultivate stillness, for it is in stillness that we see, hear and touch God.

Live with each other. Ask for the eyes of Jesus when dealing with friends as well as enemies.

Pray with maturity - for forgiveness, for others, for God to advance His Kingdom using you and me.

Then, move out, calmly, into faith-driven obedience. And trust Him.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Eternal and Natural Therapy

Never wait to praise God, when things are just peachy.
Praise Him ever - at sun up, at dusk. Praise Him because He is your own personal God.

Can you praise Him when you are in circumstantial pain?
If so, you are numbered among those who know Him well enough that knowing God is Joy in itself, un-affected by anything ... anything.

If not, your joy is circumstantial, fickle, unpredictable, shifting sand... idolatrous! It is more about you than God.

If not, get there - you can, you know! Repent. Be with Him, think on Him. Imagine Him and His enormous love and care for you.
For you!

And the things of earth will grow strangely dim in the light of His glory and grace.
Praising is really natural. Complaining is not.
Think on God! Do it a lot, for a long time.
Wrestle against distraction. We've been taught not to listen and think.

Let's recover our natural bent to think long on God.
Eternal and natural therapy for the soul!
You and I were made for this.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

God's YES !

Beth (not her real name) has captured my heart. I think she is my alter-ego. I see a ton o’ me in her… not all good, some good.

Recently, as I was listening to a wise friend speaking about God’s YES, I had her very on my mind.

Let’s say, before time began, God “pondered” whom He might create. Among His infinite and perfect thoughts were the names of forthcoming children. Deep in the heart of God, at one divine, sweet moment, God smiled Beth into existence! There was no Oops! God does not goof. Even before Beth actually came to be, she was “fearfully and wonderfully made” by the Master Creator.

Beth is more magnificent that any beautiful sunset. She is more exquisite than the DNA of which she consists. She is gorgeous in the Eyes of God… and that is all that matters.

I don’t think Beth has come to appreciate God’s beauty quite yet. Trouble is, when you and I and … Beth look in the mirror and have negative thoughts, we are audaciously dissin’ God’s sterling handiwork.

God said YES to Beth. Not MAYBE or OH, WHATEVER. HE SAID YES!

Beth is the only Beth there ever was or ever will be. She is one of a kind. She is a prototype of one. She is priceless. I can see God now! Through tears of joy and a quivering, smiling chin, He whispers, “Beth, I love you! I think I’ll give you lots of red hair! Yes, Beth, YES!”

Beth hears lots of NO’s, the loudest of which are her own. God I pray for Beth. Mute the NO’s that have such a negative impact on Beth’s heart. Give her a chance to hear Your YES. Help me say YES to her for You.

Saturday, April 05, 2008

On Living in the Present

(From Henri J.M. Nouwen's Here and Now, p. 20)

When we dare to trust that we are never alone but that God is always with us, always cares for us, and always speaks to us, then we can gradually detach ourselves from the voices that make us guilty [dwelling on the past] or anxious [fearing the future] and thus allow ourselves to dwell in the present moment. This is a very hard challenge because radical trust in God is not obvious. Most of us distrust God. Most of us think of God as a fearful, punitive authority or as an empty, powerless nothing. Jesus’ core message was that God is neither a powerless weakling nor a powerful boss, but a lover, whose only desire is to give us what our hearts most desire.

To pray is to listen to that voice of love. That is what obedience is all about. The word “obedience” comes from the Latin word ob-audire, which means to listen with great attentiveness. Without listening, we become “deaf” to the voice of love. The Latin word for deaf is surdus. To be completely deaf is to be absurdus, yes, absurd. When we no longer pray, no longer listen to the voice of love that speaks to us in the moment, our lives become absurd lives in which we are thrown back and forth between the past and the future.

If we could just be, for a few minutes each day, fully where we are, we would indeed discover that we are not alone and that the One who is with us wants only one thing: to give us love.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Wasting Time With God

And so here I am, preaching and writing about things that are way over my head, the inexhaustible riches and generosity of Christ. My task is to bring out in the open and make plain what God, who created all this in the first place, has been doing in secret and behind the scenes all along. Through followers of Jesus like yourselves gathered in churches, this extraordinary plan of God is becoming known and talked about even among the angels! EPHESIANS 3:8-10 MSG (italics added)


The headline reads: CHRISTIANS DIVORCE AT A RATE HIGHER THAN NON-CHRISTIANS! Have we lost our minds?! Have I lost mine?

Why is Tiger Woods the greatest golfer in the world? Because he acts like the greatest golfer in the world, that’s why! His behavior confirms his claims. He is consumed with golf – golf is his passion. His heart is for golf; his life is completely congruent to his claim. He is exactly what he says he is. (Mind you, I doubt if he, himself, has ever clamed such superiority, but you get my drift. And, the fact that he makes no claim is confirmation in and of itself!)

Tiger’s eternal destiny aside, I absolutely admire the man because he is so authentic. He has committed his life to being the best at golf he can be and patterns his life perfectly accordingly.

Now, take out golf and put in Jesus, church, or Christianity. BAM! We get it right in the kisser (or maybe the heart….). Is my life as congruent and consistent as Tiger’s? Is yours? NO. I could go on for days talking about all the ways the church is NOT the church, but neither of us need to be convinced of what we already know so sadly and clearly.

My response is to get down on my knees before the Father, this magnificent Father who parcels out all heaven and earth. I ask him to strengthen you by his Spirit—not a brute strength but a glorious inner strength—that Christ will live in you as you open the door and invite him in. And I ask him that with both feet planted firmly on love, you'll be able to take in with all followers of Jesus the extravagant dimensions of Christ's love. Reach out and experience the breadth! Test its length! Plumb the depths! Rise to the heights! Live full lives, full in the fullness of God (Eph 3:14-19).

God can do anything, you know—far more than you could ever imagine or guess or request in your wildest dreams! He does it not by pushing us around but by working within us, his Spirit deeply and gently within us (Eph 3:20,21).

THIS IS NOT ROCKET SCIENCE – you and I have been given the gift of knowing (relationally) the God of the Universe. This is the simplicity of the Gospel. And, the extent to which you and I BATTLE WITH ALL OUR MIGHT against DISTRACTIONS EVERY SECOND OF EVERY DAY, and simply become still long enough (Psalm 46:10) to know by experience our Loving and Relational God, we will smell like the One we represent, the One Who loves us infinitely, the One Who wants ALL to have this Pleasure.

Hear the words of Jesus:

When he came back to his disciples, he found them sound asleep. He said to Peter, "Can't you stick it out with me a single hour? Stay alert; be in prayer so you don't wander into temptation without even knowing you're in danger. There is a part of you that is eager, ready for anything in God. But there's another part that's as lazy as an old dog sleeping by the fire" (Mt 26:40,41).

We cannot be a church of activity if we have not been first and foremost the church passive, sitting with and enjoying the Presence of Jesus and receiving the spiritual impetus for all the activity. We cannot go out and win the lost if we as individuals have not been impassioned by spending time with Him in secret aloneness. We cannot give away what we have not received.

You and I can become passionate for God, first for Him and then for His mission work. It begins alone in stillness… something of which the devil has robbed us. Just try to spend a scant 10 minutes alone with Him! Our brain shrieks of the stupidity of this “foolishness”! “You coulda been mowing the yard, paying the bills… leading someone to Christ!” What a waste of time stillness is!

Well, it is in this wasting of time with Jesus that you and I hear the voice of God calling us His beloved! It is in times of silence and solitude that we are renewed – capable of letting God be God and not requiring the same of our world and friends.

It is in stillness and solitude that we become passionate for God’s Kingdom work. And, not before then.

To borrow a phrase: JUST DO IT.

Sunday, January 06, 2008

Desk Calendar Devotion #3

"I rejoice in following your statutes as one rejoices in great riches" (Ps 119:14). Compare Psalm 1:2. It's all about doing things God's way. When we do, life is smooth (in His eyes), we glorify Him, AND it brings US delight!

Imagine - delight - a part of my daily experience: the same kind of delight we experience when we eat fine chocolate! A non-delight-er is a sourpuss! The image of God in us LOVES to bring Him glory!

Today, Lord, may I unleash the power of Your Spirit in me and BRING delight to You ... AND ME!