Category Archives: fellowship

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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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.”


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.


Moving towards a practical experience of the Lord

We all need a vision of the Lord. Without vision, the scripture says, things fall apart. Vision has a way of uniting and holding together. Yet vision alone is not enough. Ultimately that grand vision must issue into something practical and real. Otherwise we will be left to wander in the realm of mere theory for the rest of our lives. Yes, vision is important, and there can be no beginning of the spiritual quest or church life without it, but vision alone is limited as to how far it can take us.

The Lord has saved us and brought us into a relationship with Himself so that He may be real to us. Experience is what we all so often lack of God. Many have a great deal of vision, or revelation, but very little has been wrought out in actual experience.

I remember my first days of seeing the Lord Jesus Christ. I’m talking about real heart revelation. The same goes for the church. When I first began to get an objective revelation of the Lord and His Bride, I was overwhelmed. The vision was staggering. It led me out of institutional Christianity. It liberated me from many of my tired, old mindsets.

Even here, though, I eventually began to discover the limitations of vision and the need for something more. I was reading a lot of T. Austin Sparks in those days, and when it comes to the presentation of the vision of Christ and the church, Sparks is without peer. But for myself, I did not know how to translate what I saw into practice. Eventually it became frustrating rather than rewarding. This is because what is objective must become subjective or else it will lose its value to us.  God in heaven must become God within. The Christ of the cosmos must become my inner life supply, an indwelling Lord. I must come to know the Lord deeply in my spirit, and it must be real, living experience. Otherwise I will abandon the vision that once drove me as a mere pipe dream and return to being content with that surface-level, objective kind of relationship to God that most of Christianity seems to be built upon.

The way the Lord presents Himself in the gospel of John is staggering in its simplicity. Here, among other things, the Lord presents Himself as food and drink. Food and drink are things we need for our life, and as good as they may look or smell to us on the outside, until we receive them within-until we actually partake of them-they remain nothing and of no value to us. The Lord is like that. We may hunger for Him, thirst for Him, smell His fragrance and be so drawn by the vision to follow Him, but until we discover Him in the unexplored depths of our spirit and begin to touch and know Him there He will forever remain an elusive concept to us. I can believe all I want, study all I want, talk and think about God all I want, but until I know Him in the Spirit all I have is a theory. All our talking, thinking, studying, and faithful seeking is meant to issue in a real encounter with the Lord Himself, and until we have this we do not really have eternal life.

But take heart! For the Lord is incredibly gracious, eager to reveal Himself to those who will become like little children before Him. We may glory in the objective vision of Christ Paul received on the road to Damascus, where Jesus appeared to him from heaven, but the greater thing, the thing Paul would go on exploring in greater depth for the remainder of his life, was his subsequent experience of Christ within. “When it pleased the Lord to reveal His Son in me…” (Galatians 1:16)

So then, may the Lord give us vision. May our view of the Lord Jesus increase and abound. But may we also discover a very real and practical Lord dwelling in our spirits-a Life we can live by and a Land we may explore, day by day, moment by moment.


The greatest prospect ever given to man

It is all too common for people to look at the life of Jesus Christ-even we Christians who hold Him to be sinless, the perfect Man, and the full expression of the Godhead-and miss seeing the wellspring of His incredible life. It is also possible to so overemphasize the deity of Christ that the fact of His humanity is lost sight of. Jesus was a man, a man just like you and me. Yes, He was God, but he was also just a man. He was flesh and bone, he got tired, and he wrestled with every anxiety and temptation known to mankind. Jesus was fully human, the son of man.   

And yet look at the life He lived! He did wonders. He healed the sick. He loved people. He spoke with an authority no one had ever heard before. He threatened the whole superstructure of the religious system. He shook the Empire to its very core.

And He did it all… as a man. Don’t you ever stop to wonder at the source of such an incredible life?

Simply put, the source of the Jesus’ living was the indwelling life of His Father. His own confession-“I do and say nothing but what I see and hear from my Father”-signifies as much. There was a Divine life within the spirit of this simple Nazarene which moved Him to do and say the things He did. What a thought!

But that’s only the half of it. The most incredible prospect ever to graze the consciousness of man is found in what Jesus said in John 6:57:

“As the living Father sent me, and I live by the Father, so whoever feeds on me will live by me!”

Can you see what the Lord is saying here? Basically He is saying that what the Father was to Him He is now to us, and that just as He lived by the life of God in His spirit, we too may live by His life in us! No difference! No separation! No one kind of living for the Lord Jesus and another kind of living for us! The same life Jesus lived by is the life we have to live by as well! What a prospect!

The fact is most of us have never seen this. I can’t tell you how many days of my life I’ve overlooked it. Jesus of Nazareth did not get out of bed each morning and live by a certain ethical code or set of rules. He did not read the scriptures as a manual on “how to be the Son of God.” He enjoyed communion with God in His Spirit as a man just as He did in the eternals before taking on flesh, and His daily living was regulated by the flow of that life within Him. This was His wellspring for being. This too is our source of life. This is the prospect He left us with which we so often overlook. Jesus was a man, and the life He lived came out of this inward fellowship He experienced with His Father. We have been called into the same fellowship. So turn within to your spirit. Quiet yourself and wait before the Lord until you sense the presence of His life deep inside. Behold Him there. Practice turning to Him throughout the day, moment by moment if you can. Let the transformation that comes from this daily exchange be the source of your living just as it was for the Lord.  


Who will be the greatest?

It’s funny how my kids will sometimes argue and fight over who gets to sit by daddy. Sometimes when I come to the dinner table and sit by one of them, that one will look at the other and say, “see, daddy is setting by meeee.”

Funny, yes. But frustrating, too. Tonight when this happened it made me think of the disciples of Jesus. James and John once came to Jesus (or their mother did, depending on which gospel you read) and asked to be granted the prime place of honor next to the Lord in His kingdom (see Mark 10:35-39 or Matthew 20:20-28). Apparently the other disciples caught wind of this campaign and did not take very kindly to it. Jesus simply asked if they were able to endure the same kind of suffering he was in order to gain such honor. Of course they said yes.

This vying for spiritual position reminds me of the way I once prayed: “I want to be closer to you than anybody else, Lord.” “Lord, even if everyone else turns away from you, I won’t” (I borrowed that one from Peter). Then there was the quote by that guy who said to D.L. Moody, “The world has yet to see what God can do though a man who is fully given to him,” to which both Moody and I responded, “I will be that man” (emphasis upon the “I”).

All this kind of praying just seems silly to me anymore. I’m fairly certain it’s a mark of spiritual immaturity. Like the disciples arguing over who would be the greatest in the kingdom, or my kids fighting and gloating over who gets to sit next to daddy.

The person who has really faced life and become honest about him or herself is more like the man Peter became after the cross. Such a man is not so sure of himself anymore. In love with the Lord, yes, but not so quick to broadcast his selfless devotion and superior allegiance to the Master. A man who has truly experienced the cross is more confident in God’s love for him than he is in his love for God.

There is nothing wrong with aspring to be great, dont get me wrong. When the disciples argued about who would be the greatest, Jesus did not condemn them for their ambition. He simply corrected their notions of what true greatness really is. Greatness comes not by being on top but by being on the bottom. Not by ruling but by serving. Not through strength but through weakness. So we should all strive to be great. Just get your definition right. 🙂


The practical benefit of a meeting where every member supplies

“Speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.”-Ephesians 4:15,16

Where there is a real priesthood of believers gathering together regularly to minister to the Lord and to each other, each member of the Body is pressed to know the Lord in a real and living way.

If I come to a meeting each week where there is no pastor or “minister” present to do the work of ministry that all the saints together are intended to do (see Ephesians 4), then I will be conscious every day of my responsibility to not come to the meeting “empy-handed” (see Deuteronomy 16:16,17).

If I know that I’m a member of Christ and that His full expression depends on my practical functioning as one of His Body parts then I will be driven to seek after and experience the Lord in such a way that I am filled with His riches, ready to share them with other brothers and sisters when we meet.

This is just one practical benefit of meetings where every member supplies something for the building up of the Body. There are many more. 🙂