…of “all of [them] on the Facebook Team” to wish me a happy (30th) birthday (on the ’30th’ of January). Continue reading “how nice…”
I admit it. I began to tear up at the end of this 15-minute short video called ‘validated‘ (couldn’t work out how to embed it) … :)
Don’t get me wrong…
the internet is great…
but the by-line for this online ‘friend’ site…
‘be who you wanna be’…
I hope humanity doesn’t forget…
how to have a simple meal together…
sharing LIFE with each other.
That would be very sad…
What does the phrase ‘missing church’ mean to you?
Poor attendance? Vacation? Sickness? Sleeping in?
Perhaps we’re all aware of the pressure to ‘make it on Sunday.’ Various methods are employed to encourage people to show up. In some situations, if you don’t show up for a few weeks, you’ll get a phone call from someone who – usually after a bit of small talk – will mention that they ‘haven’t seen you’ for a while.
Before I say any more, let me be very clear about how I feel about Sunday morning. I believe that the followers of Jesus after Pentecost gradually adopted Sunday as a time to meet together. It seems that they called Sunday ‘the Lord’s day.’ I agree with the writer of Hebrews that we shouldn’t forsake the’ assembling of ourselves together.’ (Heb. 10:25) I am enthusiastically in support of Sunday meetings so that we can – as the writer of Hebrews instructs precisely before the above passage – ‘stir up love and good works’ and also remember and celebrate our Lord’s resurrection. I aim to always meet on this day and in this way.
While I don’t mind people being encouraged to make meeting on Sunday a priority, I am nervous about the way this is often done. I fear that in our genuine (but possibly unhelpful?) attempts at ‘getting people along,’ we may be in danger of missing the point. For example, I wonder if we can mistakenly assume that a person’s regularity of attendance is an indicator of their walk with God. If they show up regularly, then things must be fine, and if they’ve missed a few weeks, they might be struggling with their faith. I’ve heard such comments many times. All the time, I’m wondering, “Yeah, but what about the people that are regular attendees that might be struggling?”
For many, Sunday morning is a great time of catching up with friends, celebrating God in song and receiving useful Bible teaching. But let’s not forget how others can see it. A routine trip to a building, making their way to their seat (if they are greeted, it is impersonal and brief), singing songs that make them feel guilty for not being ‘happy all the day’, sitting through a monologue that doesn’t relate to where they are at but still manages to leave them feeling discouraged about their relationship with God, briefly hanging around afterward in case someone may talk to them or invite them to lunch or something else, and heading to their car wondering how they will motivate themselves to go through the same routine next week. And that is an example of how a Christian may feel. What about someone who doesn’t have a relationship with God?
I’m not suggesting we do away with Sunday mornings. I am suggesting that we work hard to make them as relevant to reality as possible, and that we realise that what we ‘do’ on Sunday morning will never be able to meet all of our needs as the ‘church.’
It seems to me that failing to understand why we meet, combined with a misunderstanding of what ‘church’ is, creates a dangerous situation. Not a small, harmless one, but one that can either contribute to someone being hurt, or someones hurts not being known or cared for. Let me offer some thoughts about these two ingredients.
‘What’ Is The Church?
This is the wrong question to start with. It’s not a question of ‘what’ the church is, but ‘who’ the church is! ‘Church’ is not the building you go to to meet with other Christians, a street address, or a block of time on Sunday. The Church consists of people who recognise Jesus as Lord. This understanding is not new, but we still ask each other the same confused types of questions that reflect the mistaken view of Church, such as “how was ‘church’ this morning” or “where do you go to ‘church’ at?” or “what is your ‘church’ like?” Instead, we should ask, “Who do you church with?” I think it would be a great excercise for us to not call Sunday ‘church.’ I’m not saying make Sunday less important! I’m just suggesting that it might be helpful in reminding us that ‘church’ is not some ‘thing’ that we do on Sunday mornings, but rather it is people who follow Jesus every day of their lives – and people who happen to meet together on Sunday.
Why Do We Meet?
This is a great question, and deserves a great answer. More and more I’m seeing that there is not really any biblical doctrine or instructions for what we are supposed to ‘do’ when we meet. The commands that are given in the New Testament are the kind that we can follow any time, any where. So what do we ‘do’ when we meet? Well, I think Hebrews 10:24-25 provide a nice summary statement.
“And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching.”
This, of course, is just one passage in the New Testament. As you can see, the time, place and style of the meeting is not the point here. It is exhorting each other to love and good works that is called for. We need each other. We really do. If we are to live lives that are counter-cultural, we are going to need help. We’re going to need more than a few songs, a sermon and a cup of coffee.
That is why we must never stop meeting together! That is why our songs must be real, and reflect that life (yes, even the Christian version) is not a smiles-only club. That is why teaching must be more than a Sunday sermon, and must be interpersonal, challenging and sharpening. That is why our relationships must go beyond ‘catching up at church’ and develop to the point where we not only allow others to sharpen us, but we actually look for it. That is why ‘church’ is not a place or a time, but a people. That is why so many Christians are ‘missing church’, but still attend a building and service each week.
May we truly be committed to Christ and to each other.
May we stop expecting all our needs to be met on Sunday.
May we see the difference between the Sunday meeting and church.
May we exhort one another to love and good works.
May we develop our relationships to where we can give and recieve such instruction from each other.
May we stop ‘doing’ and ‘going to’ church, and start ‘being’ the Church.
The casual type perhaps comes from individuals who desire to break free from what they feel to be impersonal and overly eloquent methods of prayer. Their convictions take different form in that they, perhaps, feel quite strongly (and not without biblical support) that we are invited to a personal, fatherly way. (the word ‘Abba’ in Scripture would quite literally mean something like ‘Daddy’) Rather than make the mistake of not meaning what they say, they opt for a more personal expression of their heart to God.
I think both types have strengths and potential dangers. While I think reverence for God in prayer is deeply important and more and more overlooked, I find it hard to imagine how some of the lofty sermon-esque prayers can be totally free of at least a hint of spiritual pride – having prayed all too often this way myself. There seems to be a subtle arrogance in the ‘Amen’ to these prayers, as though we might feel quite pleased with ourselves with the eloquent prayer we have just offered. Conversely, while I appreciate the personal and relational informality some bring to their prayers, I am deeply concerned that we may risk losing the vital essence of God’s majesty and sheer holiness.
But none of this is my point, really…
There is another dimension that I wonder if we often forget altogether…
– Abraham in Genesis 18:25 (check out the whole story)
“O God, why have You cast us off forever? Why does Your anger smoke against the sheep of Your pasture? …O God, how long will the adversary reproach? Will the enemy blaspheme Your name forever? …Do not forget the life of Your poor forever. Have respect to the covenant;”
– Psalm 74:1,2,10,19,20
“Do not keep silent, O God! Do not hold Your peace, and do not be still, O God!”
– Psalm 83:1
I don’t think God is in the slightest way afraid of these. Why should we hide them from Him? (as if we really can anyway!) In the same way that God knows our needs before we ask for them in prayer, He also knows how we feel – whether we tell Him or not. But He still wants us to ask for things and to be real with Him about how we feel! We don’t need to ‘protect’ God from who we are. He wants you. He doesn’t want ‘not’ you. We must be honest with Him. Don’t trust me, trust Him – He can handle it.
To take things a little further, I wonder if this shows up in our relationships with those around us? If we can’t be honest to God, then might we also struggle to be completely honest and real with others? Maybe the reasons we struggle to be honest with each other are the same reasons we avoid honesty with God. We may be trying so hard to respect each other, we may forget to trust each other.
My best friends in life have been the ones who have trusted me enough to do at least these two things: 1.) admit who they really are (how they’re really doing, etc.) to me; and 2.) challenge me when they think I need it. To me, it shows that our relationship is not so fragile that they feel the need to walk on egg-shells around me. If someone has a problem with me, I’d rather know it than wonder if they do or what it is, etc. I think that God feels the same way with us – except He doesn’t have to wonder – he already knows!
I’ve heard someone say that by not telling someone when you have a problem with them, you are actually disrespecting them. If effect, you are saying that they can’t handle it. True, some people deal with conflict better than others, but dishonesty is not an option if we are to develop better relationships with each other. I’m convinced that the same goes for our relationship with God.
Perhaps no verse summarizes this better than Hebrews 4:16 – “Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in our time of need.” (I think the idea of the words ‘boldly’ and ‘throne’ being in the same sentence should be more striking than we often appreciate.)
I believe I can approach God with such ‘boldness’ and honesty precisely because I believe He is who He says He is! Let us be people characterised by trust. So much that our trust is evidenced in our honesty toward God and each other.
People love to wrestle.
They just do. Sure, it doesn’t always involve mud, sumos or fake punches (W.W.F.), but people like to engage one another. Games like arm-wrestling, mercy and tug-of-war show that we like to test our strength against that of an opponent.
Things like talk-shows (with their intentionally explosive topics), newspaper opinion columns, web-site battles, negative book reviews and many more examples show that such wrestling often takes place on the battlefield of ideas. Some, when they hear or read an idea that they disagree with, they are compelled to corrective action, as if driven by an unseen force that motivates them to set the wrong to the right. Even people who don’t like to argue will engage in some passionate sharing from time to time. This testing, trading and exchanging of ideas seems to be ingrained into our very humanity.
I think this ‘wrestling’ is a healthy, beneficial and necessary practice for Christians to embrace. But in our 21st century, western, comfortable church communities, there’s a problem…
We’re horrible at it.
We avoid conflict. We avoid uncomfortable subjects. We avoid wrestling. We let things grow and fester until an issue that would have been merely uncomfortable becomes one that is seen as hopelessly unbearable. Often, issues that need resolving are never dealt with, and if/when we finally do deal with it, our relationships are often never the same or so severed that they seem beyond repair.
I’m convinced that communities that wrestle are much more likely to be communities that can foster lasting unity. Somehow, we seem to all expect unity to happen though avoidance, sugar-coating and/or positivism. I don’t see how it can happen that way.
Unity must be grown, maintained and fought for. Certainly this is evident in the Scriptures. Whether it was Moses disciplining the Israelites, one of the many Hebrew prophets calling the people of God back to true worship, Jesus rebuking the disciples and Pharisees, or Paul exhorting the new covenant communities back to their identity in Christ, the struggle for unity is evident.
I find the Apostle Paul to be a shining example in how he protects the unity of the various communities he addresses. First, we can recognise that Paul was probably not writing to these churches because he had nothing better to do, but because there were existing issues that compelled him to write. Second, we can observe how he responded to the various issues that he was confronted with. In Romans 14, he doesn’t take sides, but points both the ‘strong’ and the ‘weak’ back to an ethic of sacrifice on the behalf of the other (v.14-21 in particular). Consistently, however, Paul becomes incensed any and every time an additional burden is placed on the churches – particularly the Gentile converts (Gal. 5:1-12 and Phil. 3:1-3). Paul didn’t even hesitate to name names and even challenges his co-Apostles (Gal. 2:11, 13; 2 Tim. 4:14)!
Whether we like it or not, it seems we – all of us, not just pastors, elders or other church leaders – have a responsibility to know our faith and protect the unity of it. To submit to this calling is to be willing to both give and receive correction – to sharpen and be sharpened – to bounce ideas off each other – to allow others to think differently – to challenge and be challenged – indeed, to wrestle.
This powerful, unique, simple and foundational unity is worth the effort it takes to protect it. How we go about this is paramount. Our protection of unity must not be characterised by control. Unity is not unity if it is forced. This means we must allow people to discuss, question and explore ideas other than our own (which are often actually the ideas of others that we’ve embraced or been taught).
One misconception I perceive is that we confuse unity with uniformity. Neither Jesus, nor Paul seem interested in everyone being the same in every way (Mark 9:40; Romans 14:5; 1 Cor. 6:12, 7:6-9), however, both are uncompromisingly steadfast concerning the truth of the Gospel (Matt. 10:32-39; 1 Cor. 15:16-17; Eph. 4:4-6).
For the Church, there are many hard and difficult conversations to be had. Many long-standing and long-questioned doctrines and/or traditions are being reviewed (although some of these doctrines and/or traditions may not be as long-standing as we think). Voices that have been silenced and controlled by church leaders throughout the centuries are finding ways of being heard. The Internet alone has provided instant messaging, chat-rooms, web-logs and post-threads where people can find long-desired wrestling partners, and ask the questions they were either never allowed to ask, or were given short, insufficient, simplistic, careless answers to. This is both liberating and scary.
As we head deeper into the 21st century, many challenges await us. With these challenges comes the need for discernment. A balance between the evil of forcing or assimilating people to accept our ideas (are we not falliable?) and the greater evil of teaching that all ideas are equal. It is my suspicion that the more we force ideas on people, the more they will wriggle out from under our the control we think we have of them. However, the more we let them test and embrace ideas on their own, the more they will commit to (and share) those ideas.
While the future may look bleak, perhaps we should remember that we are not the first generation that has faced such challenges. False teachers, ‘super-apostles’ and ‘other gospels’ were no stranger to Paul and the Apostles, and they seem to have not gone away since.
Jacob (Israel), wrestled with God (Genesis 35:10), and the people that took his name (Israel) also took on his example. In my Judaism class, the rabbi shared how Jewish communities were and still are marked by their culture of ‘wrestling’ with God and each other over their Scriptures, yeilding a beautiful culture of learning and growth.
Finally, I suggest that a culture of wrestling will help us to keep small problems small, help us to maintain a sharpening, strengthening and growing ethic in our communities and help us deal with the challenges that the future has for the Church.
So wrestle well, and wrestle with love.
I have a friend who has all but left the church…
The agenda of the churches has has been associated with has left him wanting…
Please read his cry for help written months ago…
life never stops…even if you do. People change, I change….the cycle of death and life doesn’t just pertain to the physical….but also to relationships and friendship and even your own personal being…It’s just strange I guess……I feel as though I’m outside of it all…..I just watch it all go by like telephone poles outside a car window…… gone as quickly as they come…. I’ve met some amazing people lately…. real genuine people that I’d love to get to know…. but somehow I am unable to cross the barrrier that seperates my life from theirs…..to break into their circles, their worlds….I live in a glass box…..people come and watch for a moment, for I am a novelty a new thing to enjoy, but the excitement soon fades and they walk away with those they love and I, I am unable to follow, bound by invisible contrainsts…. I’m sure all of you who are reading this think I’m crazy or could use some help, and perhaps I do….I admit that my life is a mess, and I know that I have made that mess myself…. I admit that I am not living up to my potential, that i could be so much more than I let myself be… But there is something invisible that holds me, something I cannot see…… I need help, perhaps that is the whole reason i write this… I need to know what true Christian love is again…. to know that there are people who won’t just leave a comment that says “I know how you feel, I’m praying for you” which is a well and good….but the help I need is messy help, the kind of help that frodo gave to sam, and sam gave to frodo…. a single person or a group of people who realize the broken state that they are in….that do not sugar coat life and pretend to be better than they are…. I need real people…. I need to look behind the mask and not be repulsed by the ugliness within because I know that they see the ugliness in me since my mask lies shattered on the ground. I need to hold someone as they cry, and be held as my world collapses around me…. Please don’t tell me, “well that’s what Jesus is for…” Because all of you have the potential to be His arms….to be His voice….to be His eyes that weep along with me as we all walk through this thing called life. The answer does not lay within myself….trust me I’ve looked…. the answer lies in people…. all giving, all taking… all needing eachother… all knowing that we are all the same…. This is a bearing of my heart to all of you…. It is not me asking for answers…. It is just me wanting to see the real you…. and knowing that we’ll all make it….broken, weary, worn down, crying and laughing at the same time at the sheer ridiculousness of the pain that we all have felt, but always knowing that there is someone there to pick us up when we fall, or to lay down in the mud right next to us willingly and just crying with us……. I suppose there is more….but this is enough for now….
from a naked heart,
(name removed to protect identity)
Before you try to prescribe the magic cure for my friend, please hear the honesty in his plea.
We certainly do need each other.
Do you know that? Let it sink in. Let it go deeper than just intellectually agreeing with the statement. Dare to think of things you participate in that actually hurt the nature of your relationships. Be honest with yourself. Take some time to do that now…
(really… stop what you’re doing… think about it…)
Loving each other is not systematic. It is not regular, controllable or convenient (or as Derek Webb says, it is not efficient.) It is hopelessly random, uncomfortably personal, terribly schedule-wrecking and more importantly, it must be REAL. There are people in your life that need you. The opposite is also true. There are people in your life that don’t need ‘not‘ you.
Be real for someone.
There’s more to the Garden of Eden story than just apples, trees and snakes.
Adam and Eve had the most precious thing in existence: unhindered, unbroken and fully realised intimacy and union with God! What more could a human ask for? On top of that, they had a complete and totally healthy relationship between them!
Think of it. The First and Greatest Commandment AND the ‘second’ one – done. But they wanted more. They bought the lie that they could be like God. This brought many consequences, but the one I’d like to highlight here has to do with the loss of intimacy.
Remember what Adam and Eve did right after sinning? Well, not only did they gain an ever-increased concern for their nakedness (resulting in the birth of the clothing industry), but they also did something that (at first) seems ridiculous…
They hid from God. Isn’t that just hilarious? I mean, why would you ever think that you could hide from God? And by the way, didn’t they know they were naked all along? What’s with the random fig-leaf fashion statement? What in the Garden of Eden is going on?
Question. What is the opposite of unbridled intimacy and joy in relationship with God and each other? Hiding. Adam and Eve ‘hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God.’ (Gen. 3:8) Why did they do this? Adam explains for us a few verses later: he was afraid. Sin had put a barrier of fear between him and God. The secure bond of love and intimacy was shattered into the fearful isolation of guilt and shame.
We still experience these shattering effects today. Sin continues to make intimacy unbearable. Some of the hardest things to produce in humans are honesty, vulnerability and transparency. Recently I admitted to some friends that I like to keep people at arms length, so they don’t see my faults. I prefer having a lot of acquaintances rather than having a few really close, honest friends. After all, if I let someone get too close to me, they might love me enough to challenge, correct or sharpen me.
I must not allow this to happen.
I must protect myself from this every happening in my life.
I must keep my relationships shallow.
I must hide.
I must make myself a suit of fig-leaves.
Allow me to assert that in Christ we have no reason whatsoever to hide! The shattering effect of sin has been undone by the Cross of Christ! No guilt! No shame! No fear!
If only we would dare to believe that we are really, totally, wonderfully, perfectly and completely cleansed of our sins (past, present AND future) by the blood of Christ! If only we would dare to be intimate with each other! If only we would be real, honest, vulnerable and transparent!
Intimacy is not neat, organised or systematic. It’s relational.
It’s not expedient, efficient or entertaining. It’s rough ground.
But most of all, intimacy means not hiding.
In Christ, we can have the confidence to know just a little of the freedom that Adam and Eve knew before they sinned;
“And they were both naked, the man and his wife, and were not ashamed.” – Genesis 2:25
Last week, we talked about how important thoughts are.
This week I want to continue that theme as we look at a passage in Galatians. Our thinking about sin and righteousness just plain matters. In the first century, Paul, who was a Jew among Jews (Gal. 1:13-14), was radically transformed into the Apostle that we know so well for reaching Gentiles (non-Jews) with the Gospel. When he converted, he eventually joined the rest of the Apostles. In Galatians, Paul recalls a ‘disagreement’ he had with Peter (yes, Peter.) and a few of the other Apostles. (And you thought disputes in church were a recent thing?) Paul literally got in Peter’s face about being a hypocrite. When Peter was at Antioch, he had no problem eating with Gentiles until some folks arrived that said that believers had to be circumcised. Peter was afraid that he would be seen eating with these uncircumcised Gentiles, so he stopped eating with them!
Paul openly rebuked him, asking him why he should expect Gentiles to live as Jews, when he (a Jewish believer) lived as a Gentile? Paul then reminded Peter that justification was not from keeping the Law, but by faith in Christ!
Some of the early Jewish-Christian believers of the 1st century struggled to welcome Gentiles into the church. After all, they were the good, moral, circumcised, Sabbath-keeping ones. They were appalled by these Gentiles walking around like they own the place. After all, these ‘other’ people didn’t keep the Sabbath, they weren’t circumcised, they ate pork and other non-kosher food… they just weren’t like them! How could these people be believers?
The Apostle Paul consistently reminds us that we are not saved by what we do, but by the grace of God. That’s it! It’s true! Done deal! You don’t have to jump through all the right hoops or measure up to any standards.
“I do not set aside the grace of God; for if righteousness comes from the law, then Christ died in vain.” – Galatians 2:21
May we recognise where our life comes from, and extend grace even to those who don’t dress, talk, smell, look or act like we do.
Trusting in His Grace,