This was a typically beautiful weekend on Grand Manan Island. I am blessed to have nothing to escape from so our visits are not meeting some need or relieving pressure or anxiety. They are simply an opportunity to get away together and to connect with wonderful friend and family. Last evening we enjoyed some “providential” pizza with Jeff and Marcia Benson. We spent a few hours sharing spiritual stories. For us, this was Church at it’s finest.
I also watched David Wilkerson preach a sermon on the true Church of Jesus Christ. I am including the video in this post. If you are at a place in your life where you believe that there has to be more than gathering on a Sunday to sing songs, listen to a message and give an offering, then this video will challenge you, I believe. It is a 48-minute watch and well worth the time.
I was privileged to be the speaker at Mooers Teen Camp for 17 years. It was without exception a spiritual high-water mark for me. Each year I returned with some fresh insight, renewed determination and a hunger for God that was not church-centric.
The Kingdom, which we pray to come in the here-and-now, involves the Agenda that God is executing today and it is happening all over the world as we simply live for Him. This is His agenda, not ours. We get to participate but not to orchestrate. He is still the functional head of His Church, not a royal figurehead.
To be a missional Christian means to live out our faith in the mainstream of life, aware and involved in this Kingdom Agenda. The highest expression of our faith is not a Sunday morning meeting but a 24/7 experience of God in which we serve Him. We move from a “come-and-see” mentality to a “go-and-be” presence in the world. The term has been commonly co-opted to refer to recruiting or inviting people to the church building. If our hope of winning our generation is pinned on this exclusive strategy, the future looks grim.
This is a sermon that I preached at Mooers. There are interactive portions by my invitation, in which campers or counselors come forward to a microphone to share what God is saying to them in the moment. Consequently it is longer than a normal message. But “we” preached that day.
I invite you to listen to it and keep your heart and mind open for God to stimulate your own passion and imagination in terms of what He might be calling you to do.
I was reading from Exodus 16 the other day. It was early morning and my prayer was that God would show me something that I could take to the street with me. The chapter deals with God’s provision of manna and quail to the Israelites as they were leaving their slavish security in Egypt. Freedom sounded good in Egypt but the unyielding wilderness slavery was preferable in many ways. Many times they were tempted to turn back.
There were by estimate, as many as a couple million people plus livestock and belongings in the entourage. The logistics would be challenging for anyone. God arranged to have their food air dropped in the form of manna in the morning and quail in the evening. The directions were relatively simple. Gather as much as you need for the day.
There were some who had what Steven Covey would call a scarcity mentality. That means that they believed down deep that there was not enough to go around so they hoarded what someone else needed, just in case. It was the contingency plan just in case God reneged or failed to deliver tomorrow. Most of us make these contingencies with regularity. It seems perfectly sane and reasonable.
Much of our faith has become just that, sane and reasonable. If you want faith that makes sense, it sells everywhere these days. You can do it in an hour and a half or less a week. It is largely prescriptive and formulaic, leaving little to the imagination and has all the appeal of a TV dinner.
Living by faith is not for the faint of heart at least if you do it the way that Jesus suggests.
When they gathered more than they needed and hoarded it, the scripture tells us that it was filled with maggots and began to stink … with one exception. On Friday they were to gather twice as much so that they could rest and still be fed on the Sabbath day. This smart food seemed to know what day it was and .somehow self-preserved for a two-day shelf life.
I read what I needed that morning. Here were my take aways:
God provides for us in the moment, one day at a time. This doesn’t work well for most of us. We are constantly monitoring our investments if we have any and what we see happening in the money market either brings a false sense of security or robs us of any peace that we have today. Most of us are preoccupied with gathering tomorrow’s provisions today.
Living by faith by implication means that we depend upon God because He is more dependable than anything else that exists in the world today. I realized even as a pastor that I had pinned my hope for years on a denominational pension fund that was more compelling than a sense of calling when it came to my vocation. I couldn’t imagine life without that money that I was squirrelling away. Over the years I unwittingly became system dependent rather than God dependent. It made me unavailable and risk averse and it was killing me slowly. John Ortberg wrote a book called, “If You Want To Walk On Water, You’ve Got To Get Out Of The Boat” … the spiritual journey is filled with decision points where we lay it once again on the table and choose whether or not God is more trustworthy than our own resourcefulness. It never makes sense to trust God over our own plans but this is the basic commitment of faith. When I know what God wants, I choose it every time, regardless of the consequences.
There are times when God’s provision is not to our liking. The Israelites lived to complain about the provision that saved their lives. In our complaining and whining we are in effect complaining to God about God … we are being critical of what God has given us. I believe that God has already given each of us what we need to experience fullness in the here and now. Wanting something else simply causes us to neglect the treasure within.
God provides so that I can rest one day a week. He makes it possible for me to to have nonproductive time. We are not machines. Life is not all about being productive. There are points at which we are meant to stop and allow our souls to catch up with our bodies. This is more of a challenge to some than others. If you are constantly focused on achieving or acquiring, the idea of doing nothing is a foreign notion.
Now I know that many people have experienced incredible hardship, abuse, neglect. There are those who know hunger every day of their lives or chronic pain. These words may seem trite naive. You can’t get to where you are going from somewhere else. You have to begin where you are. Accepting our station in life is essential if we want to create movement. You can’t get to the Promised Land from Ur, if you are a slave in Egypt. You have to start with what you have, where you have it.
For me that morning read through Exodus 16 was a beautiful experience because I saw myself as an Egyptian slave. In so many ways that is what I have been for most of my life.
The American Civil War is a good example of two opposing views, so passionately held that people were willing to kill each other. The nation was divided right down the middle. People who attended the same church, families, communities were split right down the middle. It is likely impossible for us to imagine the horror and heartache.
Both sides justified their position from the same book … the Bible.
It happened when the church was expanding in an unprecedented way through the Methodist movement (small groups) under the banner of the “Holiness” movement. Untrained circuit riding preachers moved westward with national expansion, ministering to people in fledgling communities.
A national spiritual malaise settled in after the war. People were generally and rightfully skeptical of the holiness message when it seemed to endorse division rather than healing it.
Was this what Jesus promised? Today the fact remains that a person can justify most anything from the scripture. I recently had a discussion with a wonderful godly brother who cited several scriptures related to Jesus statements that he had come to bring a sword and division.
But Jesus was called “The Prince of Peace”. In John we read scriptures like, “My peace I give you … I do not give as the world gives.” What about “follow peace with ALL men and holiness without which no man shall see the Lord.” James indicates that division is the presence of carnality rather than the presence of Christ. A person might reason that if Christ came to bring division then when we find fractiousness … this would indicate that Christ is truly working. The opposite is actually true, according to James:
“But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate … ” James 3:13-18
You could throw scripture verses around all day long. I can cite some that offer one perspective and others return fire with verses that seem to indicate the opposite. These debates which are never resolved seem to thrive in propositional or disembodied truth. Some would say that truth is just truth as though it exists apart from the human element. In terms of proposition, truth is sterile and unfruitful. Larry Richards, in a an older book called “Youth Ministry in the Local Church, spoke of cheap truth. Basically this is information that requires nothing of me. We learned as children that Columbus discovered the America’s in 1492 and we never questioned it because it required nothing of us. For many people, the gospel is cheap truth. It is simply information.
John 1 paints the picture of incarnate truth. This is where Truth ceases to be propositional and becomes personified in Christ. “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” Jesus didn’t come to bring us a propositional body of “Truth that is just Truth” … He said of Himself, “I am the Truth.”
So truth then becomes relational … in order for us to know truth that passes knowledge, we enter into relationship with Truth as a Person … Christ. We don’t enter into a course of study … Christ also becomes incarnate in our lives … (Galatians 2:20) … in this relationship we know Truth that many times passes our understanding, yet is fully knowable.
I no longer see the gospel as information to be communicated but a relationship to be experienced. The written word has a critical place in my life … not fodder for argument. There are 41,000 Christian denominations and ministries in the world who all see the Bible differently. This is not a testimony to the presence of Christ but our prideful relationship with disembodied truth. So let’s not waste time pitting one scripture verse against another … when Truth comes close up and personal it requires something of all of us.
I am sitting in the newest Starbucks to the Fredericton area. Actually the Grand Opening has yet to occur. Consequently, there is plenty of “third space” available today. This will change as the news disseminates.
My primary assault weapon as I type on an iPad, is a recently scraped index finger which is causing me more pain than is justified by the injury. That’s the way it is with our minor irritations. Many of us spend more time preoccupied with minor, than major issues of all sorts.
As I examine my damaged digit, I am realizing that while its “primary” physical connection to my body, may be my hand, it has a direct connection to my head. And there is communication taking place, right now, between the two. The slightest movement of this finger is a result of this connectivity.
When my fingers collaborate with one another, they are actually carrying out instruction directly from the Head. Each finger is coordinated to work with another for a prescribed end result.
In a normal hierarchical relationship, there would be a chain of command. The hand would outrank the finger. The arm would outrank the hand … the torso, the arm and so on. You remember the old song, “shin bone connected to the knee bone” … not really sure where it goes from there?
Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming. Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work. (Ephesians 4:14-16 NIV)
If you extend this analogy to the Body of Christ, His Church, it poses some interesting observations and challenges.
We have become accustomed to getting direction from other lesser sources and we have accepted this as normal and proper. Many of these influences are good, godly and benevolent. Still we have a “go-to-God”. He desires that we would come first and directly to Him for everything that we need or desire. To seek others before we seek Him is a tragic diminution of the relationship that every follower of Christ is privileged to enjoy. You are meant to get your direction directly from God. No one else is needed to augment this process. God wants to speak directly to you.
The lack of collaboration and division within the Body of Christ would indicate that we are not listening to our Soul-Source Provider. Forty-one thousand Christian denominations would suggest that we have many “heads”.
To go to God first is an exercise which requires attentive listening. It involves waiting. Inactivity preceding the right activity. It may position you to be misunderstood, maligned or mocked as a wing nut. Reviewing the unorthodox people and methods that God seems to use, this should be no surprise. Those who have dared to step out from the crowd to first-follow Christ, have always been suspect. We need these kinds of first-followers more than we need independent leaders.
YOU have a direct connection to Christ, dear brother or sister. Do not allow another to short circuit this privilege.
We have much to say about this, but it is hard to make it clear to you because you no longer try to understand. In fact, though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God’s word all over again. You need milk, not solid food! (Hebrews 5:11,12)
As I re-re-read this recently, I reflected on the times as pastor when we tried to get a small group program going in churches that I pastored. It was hard enough to get people to commit to come (which seems self-defeating from the start), harder still to find people willing to open their homes as hosts and nearly impossible to find people to lead, who weren’t already doing more than they should have been doing. Yet these were the ones who came to the plate. They realized that in many ways, these small gatherings were more important than the larger ones.
Then we would finally manage to pull something together and the first meeting would take place.
I was never sure what the real agenda was. We talked a lot about studying the Bible but never talked a lot about the Bible. I had questions about the need, to be truthful. Most of us have a head full of unused knowledge. James says this is the formula for self-deception. When you think about it, there isn’t an abundance of justification for reviewing what we never intend to implement. All of have this stockpile of heedless scriptural information. Sunday School classes were the same. So many times I looked around the room at a group of people who were absolutely capable of teaching others and preferred to sit and soak.
Honestly this is a picture that haunts me … and frustrates me.
Apparently, in my frustration, I am in biblical company. The writer of the book of Hebrews pens this phrase laden with sarcasm and impatience. It must have missed God’s edit.
“In fact, though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God’s word all over again. You need milk, not solid food!”
There is an indication here, at least one that I read, that there comes a time when we begin to teach others, the things that we have learned. We no longer sit and soak. In this way, we lead. We put ourselves on the line for something that it worth it and we intentionally influence others in the spiritual walk.
A few years ago, I attended a Steven Covey Seminar in Halifax. He taught and then broke us into small groups. Each person had to re-teach what he/she had just heard. The exercise was supported by statistics like this one from Bill Glasser
“We Learn . . .
10% of what we read
20% of what we hear
30% of what we see
50% of what we see and hear
70% of what we discuss
80% of what we experience
95% of what we teach others.”
I am convinced that Glasser and Covey were right. The thing that bothers me the most is the this dead-end approach that we have to our information. To pass along an experience of living to someone who plans to simply abdicate further influence, seems to be a waste to time, to be frank. It would seem to me that faith is more than information to be taught. It is a life to share with many people along the way. I wonder if anyone disciples one. My experience suggests that many people have participated in my own experience of God and I have participated in the experience of many other people. Sometimes it is a seasonal relationship. Sometimes it is task related. Very few are enduring relationships but those are the best of all when we walk together through the journey of life.