Thursday, September 29, 2005
“Will you also go away?” He said.
Friday, September 23, 2005
Thursday, September 22, 2005
And where we're going:
Hmmmmmm....so, what does this look like practically. This changes everything we know to be "true" about how church looks, functions, and acts.
(SOURCE: These images were originally created by Adam Young. You can find them here and here.)
Most of my life I've made the mistake of believing God for too little. For the rest of my life, if I have to make a mistake, it's going to be believing God for too much. But how can you believe an omnipresent, omniscient, omnipotent God for too much, especially when he himself says, "Everything is possible for him who believes" (Mark 9:23)?
- Jack Deere
Sunday, September 18, 2005
Richard J. Foster and Dallas Willard on the difference between discipleship and spiritual formation.
Interview by Agnieszka Tennant | posted 09/16/2005 09:30 a.m.
Prayer. The Word of God. Spiritual gifts. The sacraments. Social justice. Pursuit of holiness. Christian disciplines. These are the rivers of Christian tradition that flow into the interdenominational sea of small groups called Renovaré. It's impossible to say how many of these spiritual formation groups function worldwide, because the group's leaders say that "it would be a failure" if they counted them. They're not into numbers and organizational growth charts.
But it's likely you've heard of them anyway.
The founder of Renovaré is Richard J. Foster, Quaker author of Celebration of Discipline: The Path to Spiritual Growth, a classic named by CT as one of the top ten books of the 20th century. Another luminary at Renovaré is Dallas Willard, a Southern Baptist, professor of philosophy at the University of South California in Los Angeles, and author of The Divine Conspiracy: Recovering Our Hidden Life in God, which was CT's Book of the Year in 1999.
The two men recently collaborated on The Renovaré Spiritual Formation Bible (HarperSanFrancisco), which they edited with The Message's Eugene Peterson and Old Testament scholar Walter Brueggemann.
Foster and Willard sat down with CT associate editor Agnieszka Tennant for a rare interview at a Renovaré conference in Denver to explain the difference between spiritual formation and its imitations.
What do you mean when you use the phrase spiritual formation?
Willard: Spiritual formation is character formation. Everyone gets a spiritual formation. It's like education. Everyone gets an education; it's just a matter of which one you get.
Spiritual formation in a Christian tradition answers a specific human question: What kind of person am I going to be? It is the process of establishing the character of Christ in the person. That's all it is. You are taking on the character of Christ in a process of discipleship to him under the direction of the Holy Spirit and the Word of God. It isn't anything new, because Christians have been in this business forever. They haven't always called it spiritual formation, but the term itself goes way back.
Is spiritual formation the same as discipleship?
Willard: Discipleship as a term has lost its content, and this is one reason why it has been moved aside. I've tried to redeem the idea of discipleship, and I think it can be done; you have to get it out of the contemporary mode.
There are really three gospels that are heard in our society. One is forgiveness of sins. Another is being faithful to your church: If you take care of your church, it will take care of you. Sometimes it's called discipleship, but it's really churchmanship. And another gospel is the social one—Jesus is in favor of liberation, and we should be devoted to that. All of those contain important elements of truth. You can't dismiss any of them. But to make them central and say that's what discipleship is just robs discipleship of its connection with transformation of character.
What does this misunderstanding of discipleship look like?
Willard: In our country, on the theological right, discipleship came to mean training people to win souls. And on the left, it came to mean social action—protesting, serving soup lines, doing social deeds. Both of them left out character formation.
Isn't character formation very much a part of many Christian schools and institutions?
Willard: What sometimes goes on in all sorts of Christian institutions is not formation of people in the character of Christ; it's teaching of outward conformity. You don't get in trouble for not having the character of Christ, but you do if you don't obey the laws.
It is so important to understand that character formation is not behavior modification. Lots of people misunderstand it and put it in the category of Alcoholics Anonymous. But in spiritual formation, we're not talking about behavior modification.
Foster: I think what Dallas is referring to is that many Christian institutions have a system by which you find out whether you're in or out. Sometimes it's rules; sometimes it's a certain belief system.
You just look sometimes at what they produce in terms of solid families and marriages. Do they really love their enemies? If that's the case, great. If it's about the number of verses you can memorize or the answers you give to a certain set of questions, while you're full of bitterness or pride—that's not spiritual formation.
Pride is one of the socially acceptable sins in some corners of the evangelical culture. It's just straight-out ego gratification—how important I am; whether my name gets on the building or on the tv program or in the magazine article.
So how do we cultivate humility?
Foster: We can't get humility by trying to get humility. But we can't assume there's nothing to do and just wait for God to pour humility on our heads. No, no! Take disciplines, like service, like Benedict's rule. His 12 steps into humility almost all deal with service to God and to others. That produces a perspective in life that works a grace of humility in us.
How does Jesus address spiritual formation?
Willard: Jesus teaches it, but often his teaching gets identified with general moralisms, like turning the other cheek and so on. You don't actually find much instruction on how to do that. So we've come to a place where we just assume we're not actually going to do it. Some time ago, I was in Belfast, a place where your enemy may have lived across the street and may have killed your child. I was talking to ministers and church leaders about Jesus' teachings on loving our enemies. A gracious man stood up and said, "When we talk about loving your enemy here, it means something. And we're not sure that you can do that."
I asked, "Are any of your churches teaching people how to love your enemy?" There was a moment of silence. No one was.
That's a question we all should ask ourselves: Do you know of a church where they actually teach you how to love your enemies, how to bless those who curse you? This is extremely radical material because it goes to the sources of behavior.
At this conference, I heard some panelists criticize megachurches. I wonder what your take is on seeker-oriented congregations.
Willard: What they do well is establish a public presence that draws many people under the sound of the gospel. They are led by wonderful people who are under the call of God to do the work they're doing.
In many seeker-sensitive churches, the focus is on getting people to confess Christ as a basis for going to heaven when they die. I don't want to diminish the importance of that, because you're going to be dead a lot longer than you're alive, so you ought to be ready for that.
But it is possible to lose sight of character transformation as a serious element for the people you're bringing in. We need to do both of those things.
Foster: The problem today is that evangelism has reached the point of diminishing returns. I talk with people and they say, "What am I to be converted to? I look at Christians and statistically they aren't any different." You want to be able to point to people who are really different.
Willard: … and people who are running a bank or a school, or functioning in government, maybe even in the military. What we need is more examples of people who actually have character that is Christlike. Isaiah brought up this problem of people whose lips are "near me" but their heart is "hard toward me"; Jesus also talked about it. Spiritual formation is for developing a heart that is one with God—whether you're in a lush hotel suite or down on the street. The business of the church is to bring that about.
A heart that is one with God— sounds like a tall order.
Willard: We're not talking about perfection; we're talking about doing a lot better. Forget about perfection. We're just talking about learning to do the things that Jesus is favorable toward and doing it out of a heart that has been changed into his.
You two have been friends for a long time. Tell me how you glimpsed the character of Christ being formed in each other.
Foster: In the early '70s, Dallas and I were members of a small group of men who met every week. We became aware that Dallas, who was driving this old beat-up Volkswagen, needed tires. So we decided to buy a set of tires for him without telling him.
We went up to his home with these four tires. We're feeling very righteous about this. I'm thinking, Oh, isn't this wonderful. He'll gush over this. What was I doing? I was thinking of how I'm going to put him into my debt. When we presented these four tires, he said, "Oh, thank you very much. I needed those." That was it. He hadn't said anything else. Not any sense of, "Oh, I'll pay you back." That reaction set me free from this game of tit-for-tat, "I scratch your back; you scratch my back."
Willard: For his part, Richard has a discipline of simplicity. It comes out of his tradition as a Quaker. It is so deeply rooted and so pervasive. It's one reason things go so well in conferences: He does not put on. The Quaker writer George Fox—a mentor for both of us—talked about taking people off of men and putting them onto Christ. That's what you see in Richard. He doesn't care to be noticed, and, despite his notoriety, he can actually pay attention to people.
In what context do Renovaré spiritual formation groups usually function?
Foster: They're sometimes organized by churches. Sometimes there will be people at our conferences who will find each other and begin to meet together. Sometimes they go to the same church; sometimes they don't. Some group members don't go to any church. It doesn't matter.
So you don't stress the importance of being connected to the local church?
Foster: We bless the organized church structures and their meetings. But if there are 10,000 others that meet outside of these ecclesiastical structures, that's wonderful too. The kingdom of God moves forward in lots and lots of ways.
Willard: One of the limitations of the megachurch is that it cannot be mega enough. You cannot take all the people to church.
But if we're really concerned about reaching the world for Christ, we have to bring the church—which is the people of God—to permeate society. You can't tie it to a building. That's where we started. We went to buildings, but it was about community. It was Christ coming upon preexisting community and redeeming it where it was.
The current interest in spiritual formation is part fad and part timeless. How much staying power do you think it has?
Foster: We don't know yet whether people are going to take this seriously enough to where it really sinks down into the deep habit structures of life. You can't hope to accomplish in 40 days what it takes 40 years to do. There has to be a willingness for barren day after barren day after barren day, a willingness for new forms of worship, new forms of living.
Thursday, September 15, 2005
"15 THESES towards a REFORMATION of CHURCH"
- by Wolfgang Simson.
God is changing the Church, and that, in turn, will change the world. Millions of Christians around the world are aware of an imminent reformation of global proportions. They say, in effect: "Church as we know it is preventing Church as God wants it." A growing number of them are surprisingly hearing God say the very same things. There is a collective new awareness of age-old revelations, a corporate spiritual echo. In the following "15 Theses" I will summarize a part of this, and I am convinced that it reflects a part of what the Spirit of God is saying to the Church today. For some, it might be the proverbial fist-sized cloud on Elijah's sky. Others already feel the pouring rain.
Fifteen Theses towards a Re-Incarnation of Church
1. Church is a Way of Life, not a series of religious meetings.
Before they where called Christians, followers of Christ have been called "The Way". One of the reasons was that they have literally found "the way to live." The nature of Church is not reflected in a constant series of religious meetings lead by professional clergy in holy rooms specially reserved to experience Jesus, but in the
prophetic way followers of Christ live their everyday life in spiritual extended families as a vivid answer to the questions society faces, at the place where it counts most: in their homes.
2. Time to change the system.
In aligning itself to the religious patterns of the day, the historic Orthodox Church after Constantine in the 4th century AD adopted a religious system which was in essence Old Testament, complete with priests, altar, a Christian temple (cathedral), frankincense and a Jewish, synagogue-style worship pattern. The Roman Catholic Church went on to canonize the system. Luther did reform the content of the gospel, but left the outer forms of "church" remarkably untouched; the Free-Churches freed the system from the State, the Baptists then baptized it, the Quakers dry-cleaned it, the Salvation Army put it into a uniform, the Pentecostals anointed it and the Charismatics renewed it, but until today nobody has really changed the superstructure. It is about time to do just that.
3. The Third Reformation.
In rediscovering the gospel of salvation by faith and grace alone, Luther started to reform the Church through a reformation of theology. In the 18th century through movements like the Moravians there was a recovery of a new intimacy with God, which led to a reformation of spirituality, the Second Reformation. Now God is touching the wineskins themselves, initiating a Third Reformation, a reformation of structure.
4. From Church-Houses to house-churches.
Since New Testament times, there is no such thing as "a house of God". At the cost of his life, Stephen reminded unequivocally: God does not live in temples made by human hands. The Church is the people of God. The Church, therefore, was and is at home where people are at home: in ordinary houses. There, the people of God: share their lives in the power of the Holy Spirit, have "meatings," that is, they eat when they meet; they often do not even hesitate to sell private property and share material and spiritual blessings, teach each other in real-life situations how to obey God's word-
dialogue- and not professor-style, pray and prophesy with each other, baptize, 'lose their face' and their ego by confessing their sins, regaining a new corporate identity by experiencing love, acceptance and forgiveness.
5. The church has to become small in order to grow big.
Most churches of today are simply too big to provide real fellowship. They have too often become "fellowships without fellowship." The New Testament Church was a mass of small groups, typically between 10 and 15 people. It grew not upward into big congregations between 20 and 300 people filling a cathedral and making real, mutual communication improbable. Instead, it multiplied "sideward" -like organic cells-once these groups reached around 15-20 people. Then, if possible, it drew all the Christians together into citywide celebrations, as with Solomon's Temple court in Jerusalem. The traditional congregational church as we know it is, statistically
speaking, neither big nor beautiful, but rather a sad compromise, an overgrown house-church and an under-grown celebration, often missing the dynamics of both.
6. No church is led by a Pastor alone.
The local church is not lead by a Pastor, but fathered by an Elder, a local person of wisdom and reality. The local house-churches are a movement by the combination of elders and members of the so-called five-fold ministries (Apostles, Prophets, Pastors, Evangelists and Teachers) circulating "from house to house," whereby there is a special foundational role to play for the apostolic and prophetic ministries (Eph. 2:20, and 4:11.12). A Pastor (shepherd) is a very necessary part of the whole team, but he cannot fulfill more than a part of the whole task of "equipping the saints for the ministry," and has to be complemented synergistically by the other four ministries in order to function properly.
7. The right pieces - fitted together in the wrong way.
In doing a puzzle, we need to have the right original for the pieces, otherwise the final product, the whole picture, turns out wrong, and the individual pieces do not make much sense. This has happened to large parts of the Christian world: we have all the right pieces, but have fitted them together wrong, because of fear, tradition, religious jealousy and a power-and-control mentality. As water is found in three forms-ice, water and steam-the five ministries mentioned in Eph. 4:11-12, the Apostles, Prophets, Pastors, Teachers and Evangelists are also found today, but not always in the right forms and in the right places: they are often frozen to ice in the rigid system of institutionalized Christianity; they sometimes exist as clear water; or they have vanished like steam into the thin air of free-flying ministries and "independent" churches, accountable to no-one. As it is best to water flowers with the fluid version of water, these five equipping ministries will have to be transformed back into new-and at the same time age-old-forms, so that the whole spiritual organism can flourish and the individual "ministers" can find their proper role and place in the whole. That is one more reason why we need to return back to the Maker's original and blueprint for the Church.
8. God does not leave the Church in the hands of bureaucratic clergy.
No expression of a New Testament church is ever led by just one professional "holy man" doing the business of communicating with God and then feeding some relatively passive religious consumers Moses-style. Christianity has adopted this method from pagan religions, or at best from the Old Testament. The heavy professionalisation of the church since Constantine has now been a pervasive influence long enough, dividing the people of God artificially into laity and clergy. According to the New Testament (1 Tim. 2:5), "there is one God, and one mediator also between God and men, the man Christ Jesus." God simply does not bless religious professionals to force themselves in-between people and God forever. The veil is torn, and God is allowing people to access Himself directly through Jesus Christ, the only Way. To enable the priesthood of all believers, the present system will have to change completely. Bureaucracy is the most dubious of all administrative systems, because it basically asks only two questions: yes or no. There is no room for spontaneity and humanity, no room for real life. This may be OK for politics and companies, but not the Church. God seems to be in the business of delivering His Church from a Babylonian captivity of religious bureaucrats and controlling spirits into the public domain, the hands of ordinary people made extraordinary by God, who, like in the old days, may still smell of fish, perfume and revolution.
9. Return from organized to organic forms of Christianity.
The "Body of Christ" is a vivid description of an organic, not an organized, being. Church consists on its local level of a multitude of spiritual families, which are organically related to each other as a network, where the way the pieces are functioning together is an integral part of the message of the whole. What has become a maximum of organization with a minimum of organism has to be changed into a minimum of organization to allow a maximum of organism. Too much organization has, like a straightjacket; often choked the organism for fear that something might go wrong. Fear is the opposite of faith, and not exactly a Christian virtue. Fear wants to control, faith can trust. Control, therefore, may be good, but trust is better. The Body of Christ is entrusted by God into the hands of steward-minded people with a supernatural charismatic gift to believe God that He is still in control, even if they are not. A development of trust-related regional and national networks, not a new arrangement of political ecumenism is necessary for organic forms of Christianity to reemerge.
10. From worshipping our worship to worshipping God.
The image of much of contemporary Christianity can be summarized, a bit euphemistically, as holy people coming regularly to a holy place at a holy day at a holy hour to participate in a holy ritual lead by a holy man dressed in holy clothes against a holy fee. Since this regular performance-oriented enterprise called "worship service" requires a lot of organizational talent and administrative bureaucracy to keep going, formalized and institutionalized patterns developed quickly into rigid traditions. Statistically, a traditional 1-2 hour "worship service" is very resource-hungry but actually produces very little fruit in terms of discipling people, that is, in changed lives. Economically speaking, it might be a "high input and low output" structure. Traditionally, the desire to "worship in the right way" has led to much denominationalism, confessionalism and nominalism. This not only ignores that Christians are called to "worship in truth and in spirit," not in cathedrals holding songbooks, but also ignores that most of life is informal, and so is Christianity as "the Way of Life." Do we need to change from being powerful actors to start "acting powerfully?"
11. Stop bringing people to church and start bringing the church to
The church is changing back from being a Come-structure to being again a Go-structure. As one result, the Church needs to stop trying to bring people "into the church," and start bringing the Church to the people. The mission of the Church will never be accomplished just by adding to the existing structure; it will take nothing less than a mushrooming of the church through spontaneous multiplication of itself into areas of the population of the world, where Christ is not yet known.
12. Rediscovering the "Lord's Supper" to be a real supper with real
Church tradition has managed to "celebrate the Lord's Supper" in a homeopathic and deeply religious form, characteristically with a few drops of wine, a tasteless cookie and a sad face. However, the "Lord's Supper" was actually more a substantial supper with a symbolic meaning, than a symbolic supper with a substantial meaning. God is restoring eating back into our meeting.
13. From Denominations to city-wide celebrations.
Jesus called a universal movement, and what came was a series of religious companies with global chains marketing their special brands of Christianity and competing with each other. Through this branding of Christianity most of Protestantism has, therefore, become politically insignificant and often more concerned with traditional specialties and religious infighting than with developing a collective testimony before the world. Jesus simply never asked people to organize themselves into denominations. In the early days of the Church, Christians had a dual identity: they were truly His church and vertically converted to God, and then organized themselves according to geography, that is, converting also horizontally to each other on earth. This means not only Christian neighbors organizing themselves into neighborhood- or house- churches, where they share their lives locally, but Christians coming together as a collective identity as much as they can for citywide or regional celebrations expressing the corporateness of urch of the city or region. Authenticity in the neighborhoods connected with a regional or citywide corporate identity will make the Church not only politically significant and spiritually convincing, but will allow a return to the biblical model of the City-Church.
14. Developing a persecution-proof spirit.
They crucified Jesus, the Boss of all the Christians. Today, his followers are often more into titles, medals and social respectability, or, worst of all, they remain silent and are not worth being noticed at all. "Blessed are you when you are persecuted", says Jesus. Biblical Christianity is a healthy threat to pagan godlessness and sinfulness, a world overcome by greed, materialism, jealousy and any amount of demonic standards of ethics, sex, money and power. Contemporary Christianity in many countries is simply too harmless and polite to be worth persecuting. But as Christians again live out New Testament standards of life and, for example, call sin as sin, conversion or persecution has been, is and will be the natural reaction of the world. Instead of nesting comfortably in temporary zones of religious liberty, Christians will have to prepare to be again discovered as the main culprits against global humanism, the modern slavery of having to have fun and the outright worship of Self, the wrong centre of the universe. That is why Christians will and must feel the "repressive tolerance" of a world which has lost any absolutes and therefore refuses to recognize and obey its creator God with his absolute standards. Coupled with the growing ideologisation, privatization and spiritualization of politics and economics, Christians will-sooner than most think-have their chance to stand happily accused in the company of Jesus. They need to prepare now for the future by developing a persecution-proof spirit and an even more persecution-proof structure.
15. The Church comes home.
Where is the easiest place, say, for a man to be spiritual? Maybe again, is it hiding behind a big pulpit, dressed up in holy robes, preaching holy words to a faceless crowd and then disappearing into an office? And what is the most difficult-and therefore most meaningful-place for a man to be spiritual? At home, in the presence of his wife and children, where everything he does and says is automatically put through a spiritual litmus test against reality, where hypocrisy can be effectively weeded out and authenticity can grow. Much of Christianity has fled the family, often as a place of its own spiritual defeat, and then has organized artificial performances in sacred buildings far from the atmosphere of real life. As God is in the business of recapturing the homes, the church turns back to its roots-back to where it came from. It literally comes home, completing the circle of Church history at the end of world history.
Monday, September 12, 2005
And the wonder of it all is that I'm living just to fall
More in love with you
Maybe I could run
Maybe I could follow
It's time to walk the path
Where many seem to fall
Hold me in your arms
Just like any father would
How long do we have to wait?
How long, we're going all the way
There's a part after "How long do we have to wait" where Martin yells out "Keep praying!" And then after he asks, "People are we going all the way?"
There's a cry in my heart right now, "How long do we have to wait?" And the answer from heaven is to keep praying and to go all the way. Keep praying!
And what am I living for? I'm living just to fall more in love with Him. Man...I've lost that.
"I have become absolutely convinced that nothing in God's whole world has any power to separate me from the love of God in Christ Jesus my Lord."
"Nothing, Paul? What about death?"
"No, not death."
"No, not life."
"Messenger of Heaven?"
"No messenger of Heaven can do it."
"Monarch of earth?"
"Not even a monarch of earth."
"What happens today?"
"A power from on high?"
"No power from on high."
"No power from below."
"Anything else in God's whole world?"
"Nothing else whatsoever. Absolutely nothing."
"Paul, I think you forgot something."
"Love life. Matters of the heart. I'll take the floggings and the shipwrecks and the persecution--those are things people are supposed to bear for Christ. But what if the woman I love turns me down? What if the man I've got my eye on doesn't even look at me? What if I'm rejected? What if..."
"Oh. I never thought of that."
Is that the answer you'd expect the apostle to give? He'd forgotten all about love's terrors and pitfalls. If he'd thought of them, he would not have been able to say "in all these things we win an overwhelming victory." He wouldn't have said "nor anything else in God's whole world" would he? He'd have had to say "nor anything else except my passions, my poor broken heart, my miserable bad luck in my love life, has any power to separate me from the love of God." He'd have added that God can take care of the big things--Paul had plenty of proof of that.
Perhaps matters of the heart would seem like little things to Paul. I have a hunch they would. Well then--what about those? Can they put us beyond His love and redemption?
The point is that we have to learn to trust in little things, even in what may seem like silly things, if we are ever to going to be privileged to suffer in the big things. "The man who can be trusted in little things can be trusted also in great; and the man who is dishonest in little things is dishonest also in great things. If, then, you have not proved trustworth with the wealth of this world, who will trust you with the wealth that is real."
Excerpted from "Passion & Purity" by Elizabeth Elliot.
Friday, September 09, 2005
Have You Been Robbed of the Power of The Holy Spirit In Your Life?If you have read everything, I congratulate you. I know it's quite long.
"And afterward, I will pour out My Spirit on all flesh; and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, your young men shall see visions. Even upon the menservants and maidservants in those days I will pour out My Spirit" (Joel 2:28-29).
The infilling of the Holy Spirit is different from anything else we may experience. Through the Spirit of God we are enabled to be what we are supposed to be in God, and then to do what we are called to do for God.
Many Christians try to do something before they have something. This produces a type of Christianity that is dry and boring, dull and lifeless. Many preachers discourage members of the church and many others from seeking the baptism of the Holy Spirit because they have not experienced the it themselves.
We should not tell people that something does not exist just because our experience says it does not. Instead, we should turn to the Word of God and expierence the multitudes who have gone before us and who have been baptized in the Holy Spirit and have spoken with other tongues, those who have witnessed miracles of healing and seen demons cast out. We should talk to those who have seen lives radically transformed by the power of God. The primary purpose of the Holy Spirit is not to empower us to speak in tongues, heal the sick, or even prophesy to others. The primary pupose of the Holy Spirit is to lead us to the heart of Jesus in the true knowledge of God.
There is a lack of firsthand encounter with the man Christ Jesus, and as a result, pastors are powerless, churches are sick, society is deteriorating, and our hearts are filled with the lies and deceit of the enemy. We have bought in to the lies of who God is without even really noticing it. Most of us find God to be angry or sad-- happy only when we live in perfect righteousness. We also think prayer is boring, and church to be just a social gathering of people. AW Tozer writes, "Christians don't tell lies. They just go to church and sing them." Why am I saying all of this? I am merely trying to show you that our lack of revelation and wisdom comes from a lack of encountering Jesus by the power of the Holy Spirit. Most of us go to conferences, experience a "spiritual high" and then just immediately slide back into our old habits, weaknesses, and thought patterns. It is a shame to throw water on fire. The reason we do not maintain "passion" for Jesus is because we're not contending for the Spirit of God to awaken deep within us after we leave a meeting or retreat. If we desire a change in our walk with God, we must make a change in lifestyle. Make a conscious decision to be set apart. By the grace of God, cut yourself off from any compromise. If you cannot overcome pornography, lift it up to God in prayer. If it takes throwing away your computer, so be it. If you spend your life wasted on television, then disconnect it. You guys get the idea. Be extreme in your desire to holiness and devotion to uncompromising love. Do not let your time (seeking God) revolve around sports or other activities. Re-prioritize your life around spending time with God, and I promise--You will have a deep encounter with God. "Seek first the kingdom of God, and then all shall be added unto you." In Leviticus, the Lord says: "The fire on the altar shall never go out." The hour is urgent, and we are being called forth, in such a time as this, to labor in the secret place.
Some people just go to church and park there, and that is the beginning and end of their spiritual experience. I found out a long time ago that if I wanted to get anywhere, I had to take the car out of the parking lot. It is absolutely impossible to drive a car stuck in the parking lot. We need to take our life out of the lot and put God in the driver's seat. If we do this, we will be in for the ride of our lives. Ask God to do a new thing in your life. Don't insist that He fit inside the boundaries of your particular religious doctrine or other type of "box." According to the Bible, the power of God is shut down by the doctrines of men:
"For [although] they hold a form of piety, they deny and reject and are strangers to the power of it. Avoid all such people" (2 Timothy 3:5).
"If then you have died with Christ to material ways of looking at things and have escaped from the world's crude and elemental notions and teachings of externalism, why do you live as if you still belong to the world? Do not handle [this], Do not taste [that], Do not even touch [them], referring to things all of which perish with being used. To do this is to follow human precepts and doctrines. Such [practices] have indeed the outward appearance [that popularly passes] for wisdom, in promoting self-imposed rigor of devotion and delight in self-humiliation and secerity of desicipline of the body, but they are of no value in checking the indulgence of the flesh (the lower nature). Instead they do not honor God but serve only to indulge the flesh" (Colossians 2:20-23).
Man-made doctrines have robbed multiple thousands of believers of the power of the Holy Spirit in their lives. God is not interested in our man-made doctrines; He is only interested in what His word says, and what our response will be to the fullness of His invitation. The first time I experienced the tangible presence of God was when I asked for the Holy Spirit. My life (literally) was transformed, just by meeting with God for the first time. Most Christian friends did not approve, and simultaneously, I lost all my so-called friends. It was a difficult time in my life, but through it, I learned how Satan attemps to use the pain of rejection to try to keep people from going foward with God. I was, of course, tempted to forget the whole thing and just go back to being a "normal" Christian, but I knew that God had done something wonderful and real in my life. I knew it my heart "there must be more than this." I had never felt complete before, and I made the decision that even if I never had any friends, I could not go back to what I used to be and have. As a friend of mine once said, "Once you've tasted wine, how can you go back to water?" I purused so many different worldly things, yet I came up dry every time. I was never satisfied then, and I knew after the encounter, that I would never be. Since then, I've given my life to pursuing Jesus--knowing Him in the secret place, and from there, making Him known. He has made my sacrifice nothing. There is no loss, there is no cost--because He is our inheritance.
I simply had to go on with God no matter what I had to leave behind. I pray that we would all be awakened to a "one thing" (Ps. 27:4) desire. The only reason I am writing this is to stir up a hunger in those who love God but need more of the Holy Spirit in their life. If you are one of those people, I pray you will open every room in your life and let God take control. We must remember that Jesus did not die for us so we could be religious but so we could have a deep, intimate, personal relationship with God, and that through Him we would be able to know the joy of being filled with His presence.
Sitting in church does not make one a Christian any more than sitting in a garage makes one a car (I didn't want to use the McDonalds analogy). Our experience with God is to go far beyond church attendance. It always grives me when I ask people if they are Christian, and they tell me what church they go to--it usually means they go to church but don't really know the Lord in a personal way.
"Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if anyone hears my voice and listens to and heeds my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him" (Revelation 3:20).
Josh McDowell on Small Groups
" . . . much of this meeting time is spent with people sharing their subjective ideas. Ideas born out of a post-modern worldview. . . If Christian leaders don't take hold of the small group phenomenon it will take on a life of its own and redefine the church in a way that we do not even want to venture to imagine. " Josh McDowell, newsletter.
[HT: Ingrid, who has a great looking new site - love that brown and black! I posted a long comment there but have not seen it approved yet]
On the other side of the argument is the small group movement (that Josh is addressing) and the simple/house church movement that says things like this:"In most modern-day home churches, all members are considered to be equal. There are no professionals in charge; they often have no leaders. Those which do have leaders select them democratically and often rotate the position. Instead of a minister or priest addressing a congregation, they have discussions, prayers, and sharing among equals." Link
Well, its Friday morning and I got up early. I have just enough time to scribble some thoughts about Josh's challenge . . and then I am off to work. . I have grown up with Josh McDowell and his books. Love the guy. I heard him speak once at Jesus North West - he rocked!
I realize the challenge that the small group phenomenon, simple church/ house church movement and underground church scene worldwide brings to the more hierarchical top-down church structures who feel that, without a strong teacher to guide the people, how will they avoid heresy? Josh recommends marrying style with substance. And for Christian leaders to bring "church-wide unity to these small groups."
As for me, I respect what Josh says and share the same commitment to truth and fear of untruth. But I am seeing it from a different angle:
- The problem of having to listen to people share their subjective ideas in a small group will not be solved by sending them to a church service to hear a preacher behind a pulpit share his or her subjective ideas.
- Research has shown that heresy usually comes through higher education [seminaries] and foreign elements. It normally does not come up from the grassroots but down from the top. Good book to read here is "Church Planting Movements" by David Garrison.
- Heresy can flourish when false teaching goes unchallenged, or when people are confined to a learning environment where they feel scared or unempowered to speak up when they detect something wrong. A small group setting where interaction is encouraged, even disagreement, is a safer place to find truth than a monologue from a preacher lifted high and not available for correction.
- Unity does not have to come from the top down or from the institutions. Small group networks can host city wide events that bring unity to the the wider body of Christ - We did this in Austin, Texas in 2001.
- Emergence theory, as demonstrated in ant colonies (Prov. 6:6) has shown how an organization can emerge and flourish when leadership and responsibility is shared, rather than ordered from one commander. The goal is not stronger direction from the leader and more obedience from the slaves but rather more communication and response, simple structures, more empowerment to those on the ground. The church already has a leader - his name is Jesus - and we have all been given our orders.
- If George Barna's numbers are correct, we should not be looking at house churches and small group type expressions as secondary church structures that should be subjugated under modern church but rather as a viable, Biblical, effective, powerful way of doing church and an option that will be chosen by at least the same number that today chose the institutional model. In fact, house church may become the new standard by which we measure other structures.
- The small group phenomenon already has taken on a life of its own in many countries - China, India. Even USA had its National House Church Conference last week in Denver. There is no stopping it and traditional churches cannot expect to jump in to control it because leaders in one ecclesiastic world may not carry the same weight or respect in other worlds. If traditional leaders have not been speaking into the micro church at its inception, how can they expect to gate crash the party half way through with the same level of respect. Or in other words, if they have not helped to build the foundation, why should they hoist the flag?
- Style and substance? Yes. But another element must be added, both in the church hall and in the living room: Submission.
"Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ" Ephesians 5:21. Style + Substance + Submission This will allow churches to be, as Garrison says, "self-correcting".
" Will The Emerging Church Fully Emerge? by Frank Viola
Thursday, September 08, 2005
USA: Hollywood more Christian than believed Hollywood may not be as godless as many proclaim, concludes a study just published by The Barna Group (TBG). 24,147 adults in the 86 largest cities and 27 most populous States of the USA were interviewed about 28 factors of their faith. One of the results is a shock for many people: Los Angeles, the city which evangelical Christians often criticise for the media produced there, is home to almost a million 'deeply committed Christians', more Evangelicals than New York, Chicago and Boston together. "Los Angeles is huge," says Barna. "Even if the percentage of the population which is Christian is below the national average, the city is so large, with over 10 million inhabitants, that it contains the highest number of Christians." The State with the highest proportion of Evangelicals in California, with 2 million; the State with the least Evangelical adults is Connecticut, where only 26,000 of the 2.5 million inhabitants consider themselves Evangelical. Of the 86 largest cities in the USA, Salt Lake City, Utah, Hartford, Connecticut and Providence, Rhode Island have the smallest and Little Rock, Arkansas (22%), the greatest percentage of Evangelical inhabitants.Wow. Really? It doesn't seem like it...(hey just being honest...)
They desire to see the American Church experience its own revival
By Dan Wooding — ANS
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — A Southern Baptist leader has revealed that the Chinese house church movement is praying that American Christians might experience the kind of persecution they have seen in China so that it would ignite a similar revival in America.
In a column written by James T. Draper Jr., president of LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention for Baptist Press, Draper revealed the surprise he experienced recently when he heard about an incident that occurred near the end of an interview with the Southern Baptist International Mission Board, which was meeting with a prominent leader in the rapidly expanding Chinese house church movement.
Draper said that a reporter asked this leader how American Christians could pray for house churches in China.
“Stop praying for persecution in China to end, for it is through persecution that the church has grown,” he responded.
Draper then said, “’What astounding faith!’ I thought when I heard the story. However, my admiration of his faith was quickly tempered by what he said next.”
Draper then recounted what the man said.
“We, in fact, are praying that the American church might taste the same persecution, so revival would come to the American church like we have seen in China,” the Chinese Christian leader told him.
Draper stopped in his tracks.
“Once I recovered from the shock of such a profound statement, I thought about the irony: We in America keep praying for God to bless us–-and Christians in other nations are praying God will allow us to experience persecution so that we’ll act like the blessing we were made to be. I shudder at the thought that we are on the road to persecution, brought on because of our own arrogance.”
Draper said he was quickly reminded of a recent column he wrote, called “Are You Chasing Donkeys?”
“In it, I said that the book of Isaiah is replete with examples of God humbling the haughty,” Draper said. “Arrogance followed by judgment is a recurring theme; survey the Old Testament and confirm it for yourself. However, before dismissing those examples as ancient history, flip to Revelation and read Christ’s seven letters to the churches. More specifically, read what Jesus says to the church of Sardis: ‘I know your works; you have a reputation for being alive, but you are dead. Be alert and strengthen what remains, which is about to die....’ (Revelation 3:1-2, HCSB).
“I also referenced two prophetic voices—David Watson and John Burke—who, speaking 25 years apart, made indicting statements about the state of the church. Burke wrote, ‘Unless Christians leading the church in America change, and unless the church begins living out the magnetic attractive force Jesus had on the world, the Christian Church in America will be completely marginalized within decades.’ His concern is rapidly becoming reality.”
Work has been good. I feel like God's favor has been on me the past couple of days here...in some ways I feel it as a confirmation that I am where God wants me to be in this season. Several instances of just thinking about needing something, or needing to talk to someone...and right at the moment the person calls or contacts me. Its been quite bizarre...its almost feeling like being at the right place at the right time, several times a day. I don't know how to else to explain it. Pretty cool.
I would take a picture of my cube and post it, but camera's aren't allowed inside the building. Any ideas to decorate my cube?
Reminder: You're in this for the long haul. What is God's vision and how are you joining Him?
Wednesday, September 07, 2005
Then Jesus said to His disciples, "If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me." -Matthew 16:24
Here is what grieves me, and I believe this also grieves the Holy Spirit: My hearers rise to this call emotionally, but they will not confirm it by a corresponding change in their way of life. Their goodness is like the morning clouds-by 9:00 o'clock the sun has burnt off the fog. This is what happens to many people's good intentions. They rise emotionally to an urgent message that we become a New Testament church, that we become a model church, that we have the order of the New Testament and the power of the Holy Spirit in order that we might worship, work and witness. Emotionally they rise to it, but they will not confirm their emotions by corresponding changes in their way of life.
They want to be blessed by God, but they want God to bless them on their terms. They look pensively to God for victory, but they will not bring their giving into line. They will not practice family prayer, rushing off without it. They will not take time for secret prayer and will not forgive those who have wronged them. They will not seek to be reconciled to those with whom they have quarreled. They will not pick up their crosses and say, "Jesus, I my cross have taken, all to leave and follow Thee." Rut, Rot or Revival: The Condition of the Church, 146-147.