Category Archives: Christ

The problem with talking about “my” church…

…is that it reeks of sectarianism. Now, don’t get me wrong. I don’t believe for a second that most of the people who use this language when referring to the congregation they’re a part of mean it like that, but when I come along talking about “my” church as opposed to “your” church I am denying a great deal of the New Testament revelation concerning Christ’s church in doing so.

In the New Testament “the church” is identified simply according to the place where the community of Christ-followers is gathered together. A few times this is seen to be in a private home, but mostly it is confined to the boundary of a specific city or town. The local church is just that-all the disciples of Jesus in a given locality.

To talk about the church in any other way is to perpetuate the centuries-long confusion that daily arises over the rampant (mis)use of that word.

Some Christians are very frustrated with their oft-attended congregation. They are disappointed with the leadership’s lack of social concern as opposed to the more liberal-minded gathering on the other side of town, for instance. Yet other Christians are very proud of the work and assumed identity of their particular group, finding it hard not to boast about the way “their” church follows more closely to the heart and teachings of Jesus than others do.

And again I say, it all reeks of sectarianism.

Please don’t take this the wrong way. I’m not ranting and I’m not upset. And I don’t claim to know the way any better than the next guy. I myself experimented with a handful of other brothers and sisters for about three years in a more “organic” expression of church life and we too failed to impact the world in any significant way. So I will gladly take my place in line and join the swelling ranks of those who talk like they know what’s up when evidently they really don’t. 🙂

It’s just that when you’ve seen something you’ve seen something, that’s all there is to it. And when you’ve really spied something of the truth-something which you would gladly compromise on if you could but you can’t-then the only recourse is to pursue it.  

All I know is, I cannot in good conscience talk about “my” church and “your” church like I once did. It took a heavy dose of revelation and lots of practice to break those old habits and bring me to the point of actually changing my speaking. In other words, I had to train myself to begin to speak in a language that better reflects the reality of Christ. And the journey is not over, obviously. 

Wherever we are, we all need a greater consciousness of our oneness with fellow seekers. The more we get in touch with the actual source of life the more our living and speaking will reflect that life, and vice versa. There is no merit in merely imitating the language and forms of first-century churches, as that would be counter-productive to our calling. Our calling is not to follow a form or a model but a living Person. This is the true meaning of “organic.” At the same time, however, we may certainly gauge the success of our own following by looking at the standard of those who have followed him closely in the past.  

Jesus said it best when he pointed out that what is in a man’s heart will inevitably come out of his mouth. The way we talk about things reveals our understanding of things, and the church is no exception to that rule. When I talk about “my” church in contrast to “their” church in reference to other believers who live just across town, a few blocks away, or in some cases only a few doors down, all I am doing is showing the world that I have no idea what the church really is.

Capice?

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Captivated by His beauty

Paul once made mention to some saints about “making melody” in their hearts to the Lord. Yesterday while I was home alone and folding laundry for my wife (ten points for me!), I began to sing one of the songs we used to sing when the church was gathering in my town. My spirit was lifted to the Lord in a tremendous way just by singing to Him, so tonight I thought I would share with you the lyrics of one of my favorite songs.  I’m not sure of the author, but the tune we always used to sing it to was that of “‘Tis so sweet to trust in Jesus.” Only this one is called “Captivated by His Beauty.” Don’t just read it, sing it; you’ll enjoy it far more that way. 🙂

1)Have you heard Him, seen Him, known Him?

Is not yours a captured heart?

Chief among ten thousand own Him

Joyful choose the better part

(CHORUS)

Captivated by His beauty

Worthy tribute haste to bring

Let His peerless worth constrain thee

Crown Him now unrivaled King

 

2)What has stripped the seeming beauty

From the idols of the earth?

Not a sense of right or duty

But the sight of peerless worth

 

3)So the crushing of those idols

Was accomplished from the start

By the beaming of His beauty

The unveiling of His heart

 

4)‘Tis that look that melted Peter

‘Tis that face that Stephen saw

‘Tis that heart that wept with Mary

Can alone from idols draw

 

5)Draw and win and fill completely

Till the cup o’erflow the brim

What have we to do with idols

Who have companied with Him?


The thing we evangelicals can’t stand about Jesus

It’s impressive to see the way Jesus presented Himself differently to different people. To Nicodemus he said, “you must be born from above.” To the rich young ruler, “go and sell all you own and follow me.” To the woman at the well Christ was living water. To the Jew He was the fulfillment of the Law. Certain religious rulers he rebuked, demanding repentance before they dare approach the Lord, while to the woman caught in adultery he offered not a single harsh word, only complete and utter acceptance.

It’s beautiful, isn’t it? To borrow Paul’s expression, “Christ is all.” He is all the things that men need. Yet He is not a “thing” at all, but a living Person. To those seeking an entrance, Christ is the door. To those in need of guidance, He is the shepherd. For those without life, He is the resurrection!

But He is unboxable at the same time. His self-presentation does not come in one pre-packaged form, and that is just what we evangelical Christians can’t stand about the Lord. We like it all cut-and-dry, methodical, systematic. We prefer a neatly defined approach to God and a bullet-pointed salvation: Follow these steps and you’re in. Then check these boxes everyday to make sure you stay in, or (for those with more Calvinistic tastes) to constantly re-verify that you were actually in to begin with. 😉 We may not care to admit it, but that is how we often view things.   

What I love about the Lord Jesus is that He does not fit into the molds of men, even the Christian molds which we’ve been told Christ Himself invented. He is untameable by any of our standards. One moment He’s telling me that the person who is not with us is against us, but then just as I’m about to rise up and denounce my brother’s heresy, he comes back at me with “but he that is not against us is for us.”

Obviously these kinds of statements demand some further clarification, but I hope you get the heart of what I’m saying. For all my knowledge of the Bible I know Christ Himself so little-I’m just seeing that more and more lately. I know the temptation to try to be a great leader, to feign certainty over things I’m not really certain of and draw tight lines over who is in and who is out of my particular version of the “true church.” But I see how great the call is to deny myself in these ways. There are just too many young Christian men out there-myself included-who take themselves and their role in God’s kingdom far too seriously. Humility, brokenness, being sent by God and not just called… these are the qualities that should demand more of our time and attention. 

I’m rambling a bit off course here, but maybe I just needed to let loose some of my inner stirrings today. We certainly do need leaders in life-men and women of real vision and gifting who can advance the purpose of the Lord in the earth-but we need leaders with far more than just vision, gifting, and Bible knowledge. We need character, wisdom, true holiness, and a healthy portion of real life experience, among other things. Qualities, like it or not, that take a lot of time to develop.

For, as T. Austin Sparks once said, “it is not what we do, but what we have that is the secret of service.”

Oh well. I’ve said my piece for the day. Thanks for listening. 🙂


What kind of life is God pleased with?

This is a re-post from my other blog, Reconstructing the First Century Story. I thought it might be beneficial to people, so I figured I would bring it over here in order to reach a wider audience. (As it turns out, even fewer people are interested in New Testament history than are interested in the themes I write about at this site… alas! 😉 )  Either way, I hope you enjoy it!

“He will be great” (Luke 1:32).

That’s what the angel said to Mary about Jesus before he was born. And in every respect it turned out to be true. His greatness was not like that of the Roman or Greek conception; his was the greatness of a servant.

Have we ever really stopped to consider that?

Think about it this way: Jesus came to be baptized by John in the Jordan river in A.D. 28 when he was about 33 or 34 years old. It was here the heavens were opened, the Spirit of God descended like a dove, and the voice of God was heard saying, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:16,17).

Notice, as of that moment in time Jesus had not yet healed a single person, he had not raised the dead, he had not made the deaf to hear, he had not said and done unprecedented things all throughout the region of Galilee and beyond. For all we know, all Jesus had done from his youth until that time was live and work as a carpenter in Nazareth, attend the synagogue each week and Jewish festivals each year, and just be human.

And with that normal life, His Father was well pleased.

The greatness of Jesus was not just all the miracles we read about or the unparalleled teachings or anything at all spectacular that He did. His greatness was primarily found in those thirty-three silent years, where he simply lived a normal human life in fellowship with His Father… deity and humanity co-habiting as one.

This is the kind of life which causes God to smile: a normal human life lived in fellowship with the Divine. So you and I may relieve ourselves this very moment of the pressure to be something “great” according to this world or religion’s standards. God just wants normal people doing normal things in oneness with Himself. That’s the goal of the gospel. That’s the heart of it all. That is what God has brought and is bringing us to “in Christ.”


Christ is the conquering of death!

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about death, and how people are driven by the fear of death. I’ve also been thinking about my dad. This should come as no surprise seeing that now is the time of year he passed away.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer once said, “Death reveals that the world is not as it should be but that it stands in need of redemption. Christ alone is the conquering of death.” I couldn’t agree more. When I sat at my dad’s bedside shortly after he passed, I was struck by the paradox of death: On one hand nature is full of it. Death has a wonderful purpose in the cycle of seasons, and all things die that they might live again in some renewed form. So death is natural.

On the other hand, anyone who has watched a loved one struggle against terminal cancer and eventually give way under that beast can tell you that there is nothing natural about death. Despite the mystery of death and resurrection being written into the very fabric of the universe, there remains another side to death’s face-an ugly side-which I dare say no honest man can face up to without being brought to realize that something is wrong with our world. The pain, the emotional trauma, the heart-wrenching effect on family and friends… all together it goes to show, like Bonhoeffer said, that something is amiss. Death is the evidence of a breakdown in the original, God-intended order of things.

The writer of Hebrews was firmly convinced that God came into our world in the person of Jesus Christ for one mighty purpose: 

…that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery. (Hebrews 2:14,15)

Those are some heavy words.  But isn’t it true that people are driven by the fear of death? What else can explain man’s tireless efforts to preserve his life, to prolong it, to avoid pain at any cost, and hopefully, ultimately, to overcome death altogether and live forever? Death is an enemy-the last enemy, according to Paul (1 Corinthians 15:26)-and deep down in his heart man knows this, and he is terrified by it.

Now, I understand some cool-headed atheists out there will deny this. Come to find out, they are not at all afraid of dying. That’s fine, I understand where they’re coming from. But at the end of the day I just can’t believe it, because they’re human just like I am. We’re made of the same stuff. And this instinct-this primeval fear of dying-goes deep into the heart of man, whether he cares to admit it or not.

This is where the significance of the resurrection of Jesus Christ comes into play. Without the resurrection there is no Christian message. We can go on and on about how Jesus “died for us” and everything that entails, but the fact of the matter is, until the Lord rose from the dead there was no good news to tell. Consider the two disciples on the road to Emmaus: Christ died, and though they may not have understood it, he died for them. But that meant nothing to them or to anyone as long as he stayed dead just like everyone else. Just like Lao Tze, just like Confuscius, just like the Buddha, and just like every other man and woman, even the great ones who brightened their little corner of history with flashes of light and truth.

The good news is in the resurrection, for “Christ alone is the conquering of death.” Until death is defeated, man is not free. Rather, he is “subject to lifelong slavery” through the fear of what is to come, namely death.

So I’ve been thinking about all this and how it pertains to my life and the thoughts I have about my dad. And I can say with all honesty, through my faith and experience of Christ in the Spirit, that the resurrection of the Lord has worked an incredibly practical effect in my life. I wrestle with fear and doubt just like the next guy, but I can testify that the sting of death is gone for me. From the day my dad fell asleep until now, I can say that I sense him with me as much and sometimes more than I did before when he was living in the flesh. What’s more, I can say that with each passing day, even as I move on with my family and my life, I am not haunted by the fear that I am losing more of dad through the  passing of time. A lot of people feel that way, I think. They feel that as the initial trauma goes away, time passes, and memories begin to fade, they are somehow moving further and further away from their loved one. I have the opposite sense. For me every day is not a drifting away from dad, despite the pain I feel from missing him; on the contrary, with each day that passes I have a growing sense of closeness to him… a drawing together rather than a fading away. 

This is the reality of Christ in me, the hope of glory! Nothing in life can amount to this experience which is mine, and I hope yours, by faith. It is a tremendous joy, a liberation, which I can’t fathom knowing any other way. Yes, something is terribly wrong with our world-death reveals it-and in this life we will have pain and sorrow. “But take heart,” Jesus said to the twelve, and through their testimony to us, “for I have overcome the world” (John 16:33)!


Watching my son, seeing the Lord

With utmost confidence I can say that my wife and kids have been the greatest teachers in my life when it comes to knowing God. Watching our kids grow up I can see the Lord so clearly just by being with them and observing the way they are. 

For instance, the other day I was with my son in his room. As I’ve mentioned elsewhere on this blog, my son absolutely loves Thomas the Train. In fact, it would be safe to say he’s a Thomas fanatic. Anyway, he often asks me to play trains with him. The other night was one of those times.

Josh (my son) received a new set from my brother and his wife for Christmas. It’s the biggest Thomas set we own to date. So when Josh told me he wanted to take it apart and put it back together all by himself, I was a little hesitant. The fact of the matter is I was afraid I’d have to do it myself if he wasn’t able to figure it out!

However, I was in for a pleasant surprise. Josh took it all apart, laid the tracks and pieces in their respective piles, and began to rebuild. I merely sat to the side and watched. Now, unless you’re a dad or have ever been a dad you may not understand this, but I was absolutely delighted as I watched my boy work. Piece by piece he put that set back together-thinking it through, correcting his mistakes, and changing this piece for that. There was even a point at which I thought he’d messed up the design and would have to go back and fix it, but come to find out (as I did at the end) he was right all along! I was impressed, to say the least.

Anyway, I can’t adequately describe the joy I had watching my son build that track. To see his creativity, to share in his discovery, and to express my pride and delight at his building in such a way that brought a smile to his face when he was finished gave me an awesome insight into the Lord. I could sense the mutual joy between Father and Son as they counseled and created our universe, taking delight in one another as they labored together.  I sensed the joy they share in everyday life-creating, molding, shaping, touching lives, and doing all that they do. It’s indescribable, really. But I got a taste of it in that moment watching my four-year old do his thing, as the student, shall we say, became the teacher. 🙂

I’d be interested to hear any similar insights or experiences you might have. It doesn’t have to be a father-and-son thing, either, just some way in which you saw the beauty of the Lord through a relationship, a happening, or whatever. Here’s your chance to chime right in.


Worship in the New Testament

With all the talk in Christian circles about worship, worship services, experiencing God through worship, and so on, you’d think the New Testament was full of such sentiment, too, right?

Guess again.

The idea that humanity was created to worship God, or that one day when we die we’ll all go to heaven and have one big worship party around the throne for endless ages is nowhere to be found in scripture. Even in the story of creation, where you might (rightly) assume we’d be given some view of God’s original intention for mankind, we find no such element. Strange, is it not? We do find some mention of eating and drinking, of walking, of bearing God’s image and exercising authority, but not a single word about worship. Nowhere does God say, “Adam, you are a worm of the dust and I am Almighty God. I have created you to worship me for who I am.”

And what about the New Testament? We Christians believe that God became flesh in the person of Jesus Christ. And though Jesus’ disciples were slow to grasp the significance of who He was, there were flashes of light here and there which helped them to see into the mystery surrounding this unconventional Rabbi in whose footsteps they were following.

So did they spend their days prostrated at his feet? Singing praises and chanting hallelujah as they swayed from side to side to the heavenly music? Actually, no. In all the gospels we only find one or two instances where it says “they worshipped him.” And in each of those moments their worship was a spontaneous response to some clear, heaven-sent revelation to their hearts concerning Christ.

Looking at my own life and relationship with the Lord, I find it to be very similar to this pattern. In all honesty I can think of only a few times when true, spontaneous worship has risen from my spirit unto the Lord. And each time it was in response to some sighting I’d just received of Christ.

For instance, I can take you back to the very moment and the spot on the bed where I was sitting in the room of a friend at college when I first said the word “hallelujah” in true and living response to a revelation of the Lord. It was during a time of fellowship as I sat listening to some brothers share about their experience of God. As one of them spoke it was like a light turned on inside my spirit-some connection was made-and I saw the Lord in a way I’d never seen Him before. Instantly, without thought, from hidden depths within me, worship arose and came out of my mouth in that word which I’d used rhetorically countless times before. 

This is not to say I was never sincere in my attempts to “worship” God, or “press in” to His presence in all those church services from the past. I was, actually. But so much work remained to be done in me (and still does) in the way of what the writer to the Hebrews calls “dividing between soul and spirit.” I had no idea that the majority of my thoughts and feelings of connecting with God in those moments was taking place mostly in the realm of my soul, and therefore was very natural and not spiritual. Unfortunately, this is what so much of what passes for “worship” across the Christian world today seems to be based upon: A highly orchestrated emotional experience (or, for you thinkers out there, an intellectual experience) masquerading as fellowship with the living God.

The soul is an incredible thing, don’t get me wrong. Our minds are God-given. The intellect, the emotions, the will-all are wonderful in their proper place. But they are there to express the life of God residing in our spirit, not to be the source of our living themselves. This is where we all know so very little compared with what we ought to know. This, in fact, makes up a great deal of the Christian quest: learning to live by the life of God in our spirit rather than the natural life we each possess in ourselves. And what a long and arduous quest it is! But well worth the effort, if you ask me. I was never fully convinced I was connecting with God in those vaunted times of “worship” anyway, to tell you the truth. I strained and strived and tried my best, but deep down I knew I was really just practicing at faking it.

🙂

I hope what I’m trying to say with this post has come across clearly enough. Dividing between soul and spirit is not a topic that gets much airplay in the evangelical world today. I would love to open up a conversation among anyone out there who has anything to say in relation to the thoughts I’ve shared here.