Archive for the ‘Organic Church’ Category

Three Women, pt.3

September 15, 2009

This is the third and final section of the message I spoke in Lithia Springs not too long ago.  Once again, you can hear the final form of the message here.

THE THIRD WOMAN:  THE CHURCH

Well, I need to finish up by moving on to the third woman, and that’s the Church.  The question I want to hack away at tonight is “What is the purpose of the Church?  Why did God create the Church? What were we put on earth FOR?”  I think the best way to answer that question is to go back to the Garden of Eden to ask “What was Eve put on the earth for?”  We already know the answer to that:  She was put on the Earth to be Adam’s helper.  To help Adam complete the task for which he was created.  And that is the reason the Church was made.  The Church was created to be a part of the work of Christ.  And remember that work doesn’t have to be a dirty word. It doesn’t have to be a word tainted by the fall.  I think the concept of work really needs to be redeemed.

Jesus said, “Just as the Father sent me so now I am sending you.”  Jesus was sent.  He was the first apostle.  He was sent to accomplish the will of his Father.  And he said “I do nothing of my own.  I just do what I see the Father doing.”  Once again, an active relationship with his Father.  Knowing his Father well meant doing the same things his Father did.  And for the Church, I think it’s the same thing.

We often say that the Church is here “for the Lord,” and “the Church is here to know the Lord.”  That’s why we’re put here.  What I’m trying to say tonight is that knowing the Lord involves doing the same things that he does.  It is an active relationship.  Just as Eve wasn’t put on the earth only for companionship—she was here to be his helpmeet, his helper—so the Church was put on the earth to help complete the work of Jesus on the Earth.  She was put here to do the same kinds of things that he does.

But speaking of ourselves, I think we get caught up in a romantic notion of what it means to be the bride of Christ.  When we think of a bride, we think of the wedding day itself.  We think of the build up and the anticipation of the actual ceremony, and of the beauty and radiance of the bride herself.  But there’s something about being one spirit with the Lord (just as Eve was one flesh with Adam) which goes beyond the wedding itself.  The wedding day itself is really just a preparation for the rest of the life that will be shared between the man and the woman.  If they were only coming together for a day, it wouldn’t be that exciting of a celebration.  The meaningfulness of the day itself, and the ceremony, is that you’re celebrating that two people are coming together for life.  It’s the beginning of a lifetime of shared experiences, shared purposes, shared tasks.

Incidentally, I feel like I knew my wife pretty well when I got married.  But I also knew that the day we got married would not bring the full extent of how well we would know my each other.  I think I could have told you back then that 13 years later I would know my wife better than I knew her on the first day.  And she can say the same thing about me (for better or for worse!).  She has gotten to know me over time and I have gotten to know her over time, because it takes time to get to know somebody.  It takes living a life together, doing things together, having common aims and purposes like raising children together, or following the Lord and moving to the church together.  All of these are things which brought us to know one another better.  You can’t separate knowing someone well from doing things with that person, and for that person.

We talk a lot about knowing the Lord, and we talk about loving the Lord.  But loving someone isn’t just a feeling you get.  It’s expressed in doing things for them.  That’s why Jesus said “if you love me you will do what I ask.”  Mary loved Jesus.  And because she loved him, anything he asked her to do she would do.  If he had said he was thirsty and asked Mary for a cup of water, I’m sure she would have gotten up and got him a cup of water.  She certainly wouldn’t have said, “But Lord, how can I get up and get a cup of water when the most important thing is to sit here at your feet?”  She would have done anything he asked her to do.  That’s what loving someone is all about.  Sitting at his feet, listening to his word, was ultimately for the purpose of hearing whatever he wanted to say, and sometimes what he has to say is that something needs to be done.  Knowing someone means knowing what they want.   And loving someone means taking care of the things that they want and need.  I cannot say that I know my wife without knowing what she wants.  And I cannot say that I love my wife without actually caring for her needs and doing the things that she needs me to do.

We can say that we know the Lord and that we love the Lord but the best way for that to show is for us to:   1. Know what it is that he wants, and 2. Do the things that he wants.  We have an active relationship with the Lord.  So when we ask what the church is here for, someone answers that “we’re here for the Lord.”  That’s great!  But what does that mean?  What does the Lord want?  If we’re here for him, then what does that look like? What does that mean we do?
Jesus put it really succinctly when he said “If you abide in me and my words abide in you, you will bear much fruit, and this will glorify our Father in heaven.”  There’s that fruit again.  Do you remember how I said that was going to show up again?  His intention was that his people would bear fruit, and that fruit would bring honor to him.  And we know what that fruit looks like love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, self control, these are all evidences of his presence in us.  He wants to see those evidences brought out.  He is honored and glorified when that happens.

So if we want to say that we are here for the Lord, then we must understand what it is that he’s here for, what he’s after.  He’s after a people that will bear fruit, which is how we bear his image—it’s the same thing.  These fruit of the Spirit are just aspects of who he is.  We’re just bearing his image when we bear his fruit.  Do you also remember that he told us he wanted us to multiply and fill the earth?  Well, multiplication is certainly something the church did in the first century.  The church had a tendency of taking the life that was in them and sharing it with other people in such a way that they, too, would come to have that life inside of them.  It’s a natural function of fruit to nourish others.

Now I know that all of this may be striking you as a lot of self effort somehow.   Maybe it seems legalistic to you to hear that God wants to see things come out of us.  But we shouldn’t be overly reactive to this idea.   I know why we would lean that way.  It’s because the rest of the Christian world out there is obsessed with performance.  So we run the other direction.  We downplay performance, and we downplay results, and we downplay progress in the Christian life because we know the incompetencies and the incapabilities of our own flesh.  But we don’t need to run too far the other way, jumping out of one ditch and into the other.  The Lord really does want to make a difference, make a change in the life of the church.  In the end, there should be some things present in the church that you don’t see in the rest of the world. . When that happens, he is given the glory that the church was put here for.  He is glorified when we bear fruit, and when we multiply.

So I have a couple of observations that I want to make about that.  This is where I get really personal, and really direct.  I don’t think that we as a church have always been good about understanding the goal of what we’re about.  That there is meant to be the fruit of the other realm coming out of ourselves.  On the contrary, I think that we have always worked to be a place where nobody is ever held up to any kind of measuring stick.  We don’t want anyone to feel under the law.  We know the incapabilities of our own flesh.  And so we end up shrugging our shoulders and saying, “Well, I’ll just never be able to do anything.”  But that’s not really what the Lord is after, is it?  I think that we have cultivated a habit here of saying, “Don’t worry, you’re not any worse off than anyone else…we’re all failures in the Lord and we’re okay with that.  Let’s learn to be okay with who we are.  But years later we never really get beyond that to saying, “Doesn’t the Lord want to move us forward in his grace?”

The Lord doesn’t want to leave us the way we are.  That’s not grace.  That’s not love.  Love wants to see sick people get better.  Love means wanting to see dysfunctional relationships become functional relationships, healthy relationships.  Dysfunctional people become healthy, functioning, balanced, well-adjusted people.  That is part of the evidence of the fruit of his Spirit in us.  His Spirit in us is meant to make a difference, and he does!  But I think we downplay that too much.  I think that we are so afraid of getting back under the law, and feeling bad about ourselves, that we recoil away from any kind of talk of actively following the Lord.  We don’t want to go back under the law again.  We’re like an abused child that recoils away from an outstretched hand.

But there is a goal to which we have been called.  Paul talks about pressing on to lay hold of something that was the reason for his calling.  That implies some kind of a progress.  There is direction; there is trajectory; there is purpose.  There is progress toward a goal, and I think that this is the way we should approach the church and our own lives individually.  There is something that the Lord is after in this group of people.  And it does not involve somehow going in circles.  There is meant to be some kind of progressing toward what he is after.  And it involves bearing fruit of the other realm.  Which, by the way, means putting tangible, physical expression to a life that originates in the other realm.  There are things that are not from this world but they enter into this world.  Call it a kind of incarnation.  God is always about incarnating himself.  That’s a whole other message that we could get into sometime.  But for now, I’ll just briefly state that we often talk about fellowshipping with God outside of time and space, and we talk about God living outside of time and space.  But we cannot forget that he chose to become visible because there was something he wanted to do in this world.  And there is still something he wants to do in us.  He wants to continue becoming visible to the earth.  And that means that he’s not staying outside of time and space.  He wants to get inside of time and space.  So if we are going to know him, then we are not only going to know him outside of time and space; we are going to somehow know him inside of time and space, as well.  But like I said, that’s a whole other message that we could discuss.

But that’s what it means to bear the fruit of the other realm:  putting physical expression to something that is from the spiritual or non physical realm.  He wants us to bear fruit, and he wants us to multiply.  To be completely honest with you, I don’t think I know much about what that looks like in our context.  I’m more convinced of what I don’t know than of what I do.  But I know this:  It means growing.  And I don’t mean that a house church like ours should have a hundred people in it.  But I am beginning to believe that churches should produce other churches, just like families naturally produce other families.  I really don’t know all the ways that this happens; I just know that it’s part of what we’re about.  At some level I imagine that involves both bringing in new people to know the Lord, so that they, too, can bear this fruit.

Three Women, pt.2

September 6, 2009

Below you will find part two of the transcript from the message I brought in Lithia Springs a few weeks ago. The transcript doesn’t match the spoken message (found here) word for word, but it’s close. Part three will come in the next post.

THE SECOND WOMAN: MARY OF BETHANY

Let’s leave Adam and Eve for a minute and move on to our next woman. But before I can tell you what I want to tell you about her, I have to talk first about Jesus. When Jesus called people into a relationship with him, he had a consistent way of calling people into that relationship. What did he say to them? He said “Come and follow me.” We have come to use that phrase figuratively to mean all kinds of things. We say things like “I’ve been following so-and-so’s career for a long time,” or “I’ve been following the Braves for a long time.” We use the word in a figurative sense when we say we follow Jesus. But when Jesus originally called people to follow him, He really was telling them to follow him. It was actually a call to get up and walk around wherever he went. It was a very literal following him. He was a man who did not sit still. He kept moving, so to be in a relationship with Him required that you get up and follow Him and go around with Him. It was a very active relationship. Knowing Jesus in the first century meant actively following him around wherever he went, going where he was going, and doing whatever he was doing. In fact, after knowing him for a pretty short time, many of them were sent out by Jesus, 72 of them in fact, to do what he had been doing. All of that was a part of following him. It was an active relationship. Just like Adam’s relationship with God was a very active relationship. So it was with the followers of Jesus.

Come to think of it, Jesus would always say that his relationship with His Father was an active relationship. He told us that his Father was working even up until that day. He said that for that same reason he was always working, because he lived by just doing what he saw his Father doing. For him, knowing his Father involved doing the same things that his Father did. I would point out that this is true of any relationship. If you would know someone well, you will have to do some of the things that they do. You do things with them. You don’t get to know someone by just sitting with them, or just looking at them. You get to know them by talking with them, listening to them, spending time with them and doing things with them, by having some of the same interests that they have. That’s how a relationship works. Jesus’ relationship with his Father was no different. And Jesus’ relationship with his followers was no different. So he called them to follow him.

Now there was a precedent, an established role in Jewish society in Jesus’ day which fit this very well. It was that of a Rabbi and his disciples. The New Testament calls Jesus’ followers just that: disciples. Disciples are people who follow a rabbi around. So it should catch our notice that they called Jesus “Rabbi,” teacher. In the first century, a Rabbi wasn’t a person who sat in a room and lectured for hours on end dispensing knowledge and information. A Rabbi was up on his feet, moving around all the time. And his followers, his disciples, were people who would follow him around, doing the same things he did. When their time with him was finished, they were meant to become like their teacher. They would do the same things he did and understand things the same way he understood them.

Whenever a Rabbi did sit down, they would sit at his feet. They would gather around him and sit near him so they could hear anything he had to say. That’s what it meant to sit at a Rabbi’s feet. It was part of a larger relationship that involved following him around wherever he went, learning to do whatever he did, and learning to listen to what he said and understand what he was talking about. If you wanted to tell someone that you were a follower, a disciple, of a person, you would say that you were sitting at his feet. When Paul was introduced to the Roman world (and the Christian world), they explained that he was well known because he had sat at the feet of Gamaliel. That meant he was one of Gamaliel’s disciples, one of his followers. For years, he was taught by Gamaliel, followed him around. That made Paul a distinguished person because Gamaliel was a famous Rabbi. That’s what it meant to sit at the feet of someone. It meant declaring that you were that person’s follower.

Jesus had many disciples. You know there were more than just twelve. Many people were referred to as his disciples. At one point there were 72, and later there were up to 120. And besides his faithful followers, there were scores of people who were around him at any given point. One time he had to provide food for as many as 5,000 people because that’s how many were pressing in to see him and hear him. But I’m sure you know there were really more than 5,000. That was just the men being counted. There were also women and children present, but they had a funny way of not counting women or children back then. For example, have you ever noticed that the birth of women is never recorded in the Bible? The birth of the boys is chronicled for us, but not the girls. That’s just ancient Jewish culture for you. Even the New Testament refers to women like they were a separate group from Jesus’ disciples. It would refer to the disciples and also the women who traveled with them. That’s a pretty fascinating detail.

In their culture, women just didn’t have the same social roles as men. Now these women traveled around with the rest of Jesus’ disciples, and they went wherever the disciples went. They were always there, helping to tend to the practical needs of all these people, because somebody had to cook the food and take care of the material needs of the group while they traveled. They probably cleaned house, washed clothes, prepared food, all that kind of stuff. To the first century Jewish followers of Jesus, that was just the role of women. Maybe that sounds foreign at first, because we’ve always thought of the early church as treating men and women very equally, but I don’t think that was always the case. In fact, I suspect that the early believers were really slow figuring out certain things.

Take the issue of the Law of Moses, for example. The earliest disciples seemed to think that the gospel was only going to be for the Jews. They had a major crisis about whether or not Gentiles should be circumcised in order to get in, to become followers of Jesus. Of course we know that they later decided that was not going to be the case but they had to really debate it for a while. They seemed to be originally under the impression that the only way to be a Christian was to also be a good Jew. In fact, the earliest apostles only went to Jews.

Years later God told Peter to go to a gentile named Cornelius to share the gospel with him, but Peter was reluctant to do it because he thought the gospel was only for the Jews. The only way he could imagine a Gentile being a part of this is if he became a good Jew first. You may also remember that God had to take Peter by the hand and give him a vision of a sheet coming down out of heaven with all kinds of clean and unclean animals on it. He told him to kill and eat but Peter said he couldn’t. The Lord replied “Don’t call unclean what I have called clean.” So even years later Peter had to be taught by the Lord that the gospel was not just for the Jews. Even more amazing than this is that, years after the incident with Cornelius, we find Peter going to a Gentile town called Antioch and refusing to sit with Gentiles. For Paul that was a complete denial of the gospel. My point in all this is that the early believers were slow learners about certain things. I think the equality of women as followers of Jesus was one of those things that came too slowly for many segments of the church.

Incidentally, there was one other group of people who the twelve were slow to accept: the children. The children were always coming to Jesus, and the men were always pushing them away because they didn’t want them getting in Jesus’ way. But Jesus said “don’t make these kids go away.” They’re a part of these things, too. But maybe that’s something to talk about another time. Let’s return to the women.
Reading the gospels, you find the disciples, the followers of Jesus, and “the women.” Well, good ol’ Luke, who’s always the first to tell these kinds of things, tells a story in Luke 10 about how Jesus came to the house of Mary, Martha, and Lazarus in Bethany. And I want to paint a picture for you first, before I finish this story. You understand that wherever Jesus went he was always surrounded by crowds of people. The only way he could get any time alone was when he intentionally sent the crowds away. On at least a couple of occasions he found himself stuck with finding a way to feed thousands of people. There were throngs of people following him around, hoping to see the next miracle.

I think a good comparison for today would be if you imagine a celebrity passing through town, like Brad Pitt or Angelina Jolie. They wouldn’t be on the street long before hordes of people would be around them, snapping photos and asking for autographs. They probably need handlers or bodyguards to ensure that they have the space they need. Well, it was kind of like that for Jesus. Wherever he went, crowds of people would end up following him. And when he would stop to teach in a house, you couldn’t fit everyone inside the house.

More than likely, that’s what it was like when he went to Bethany. When he entered the house of Mary, Martha, and Lazarus, there were at least 12 men who followed him around everywhere. Beyond that, there were up to 72 people, or maybe even as many as 120 who were almost always with him. And then beyond that, there were crowds of people who would turn out to see him heal or hear him speak. So when he entered a house, he typically packed it out. So when we turn to this story, we shouldn’t picture a house that is empty except for Mary, Martha, and Jesus. We should be picturing a house that’s full of shoulder-to-shoulder, knee-to-knee people squeezed together on the floor, standing around the edges against the walls, hanging through widows and standing in doorways, and even more standing outside the house, straining to hear what Jesus is saying inside. At any given destination, there were dozens, scores of people sitting at Jesus’ feet, listening to him talking.

We all know what Martha was doing at this time. She was busy with preparations for all of the people who just crashed her house. Suddenly this new picture makes so much more sense doesn’t it? We learn to poke fun at Martha for freaking out about things to do for Jesus. It always seemed pitiful how worked up she was getting over one single visitor, didn’t it? Even if it was Jesus! But she wasn’t just serving Jesus, was she? She was serving everybody! Maybe a hundred or more people! Think of how much food it would take!

She was merely fulfilling the role of a woman that she was given. Now she may have been that way naturally—she may have been an oldest child. She may have naturally been the one to make sure the dishes were washed, food had been prepared, feet had been washed, all those kinds of practical things. But then again, there’s nothing that says Mary wasn’t normally responsible, too. What we do know is that on this particular day, Mary chose to make a statement. She made a gesture, and you know what it was. She went and sat down at his feet with all of his other followers. That made a major statement, and Martha didn’t agree with her statement. The way Martha saw it, there was work to be done, mouths to feed, and Mary’s place was in the kitchen (so to speak…there probably wasn’t a kitchen the way we would imagine it, but you get the point). She was dropping the ball here.

But Mary had a different role to fulfill. She was numbering herself among Jesus’ disciples. She wasn’t content to be in a category called “the women.” She was saying that she was both a woman and also a follower of Jesus’. Not just a maid, or a waitress, but a disciple. That was a very liberated thing to do, wasn’t it? And Jesus took the time to draw attention to what she had done. Martha came in, told Jesus to tell Mary to help her, and Jesus said, “You know what? Mary has figured something out, and I’m not going to take that away from her.”

I have to stop and tell you that I first heard this story a looong time ago, as a new Christian. And the way I heard this story was very different from what I just told you. I had always pictured Mary and Jesus sitting together in a quiet, empty room, just sitting and spending time with each other, talking intimately with one another, or maybe with Mary just sitting and gazing at him as he spoke. Very passive. Very contemplative. Very still and intimate. Meanwhile Martha’s running herself ragged trying to get things perfect for Jesus. Which of course looks even sillier when you imagine an empty house and just Martha and Mary entertaining their single guest. Just how high maintenance did Martha really think Jesus was, anyway? Well, that’s just the point. He wasn’t alone, he had probably packed the house and there was a noisy crowd of people squeezing in to listen to Jesus, with Mary situated right smack dab in the middle of it all. Just who did she think she was, anyway? And why didn’t she know her place? There were so many mouths to feed and she was getting distracted by the delusion that she could do whatever the men were doing in there.

I don’t think Jesus was criticizing Martha’s determination to meet everyone’s needs. He was just drawing attention to something new, something Mary had discovered. She had figured out that, for this particular Rabbi, being a woman didn’t mean she was any less of a disciple. She had equal access. From now on she wasn’t going to accept a lower status because of her gender. And Jesus only reinforced it!

Whether the rest of those men understood what was happening or not, Luke made sure that story got included, right after telling us how obsolete our national and ethnic distinctions are, too (story of the Good Samaritan). Neither did Luke pass up the opportunity to tell us that it was a couple of women who first witnessed the resurrected Christ, and that it was those two women who were the first apostles to the apostles! They were charged with the responsibility of breaking the news to the men, who were hiding somewhere afraid for their lives.

Now I’m ready to make my main point here. Mary sitting at Jesus’ feet was not a display of contemplation, or passivity. It wasn’t about sitting in silence or being still. It wasn’t about resting versus work, either. It ultimately wasn’t about ceasing to do certain things. On the contrary, it was a startlingly active role to choose. Sitting at his feet demonstrated that she was to be his active follower, just like the men filling that room. She was way ahead of her time. And once again, we’ve got an active relationship with a person who is quite active himself. This One will only be known by being willing to move around quite a bit, keeping you on your toes.

Three Women, pt.1

September 1, 2009

A few weeks ago I brought a message to the saints who meet in my neighborhood, and I’d like to post it in three parts. If you want to listen to the message, you can download it here.

What follows is part one of a transcript of the message as I first rehearsed it. It’s pretty close to the message that eventually resulted.  I’ll post the next two parts over the next couple of days.

++++++++++++++++++++

Today I’m going to talk about 3 women. The first is Eve. The second is … a surprise. The third is the Church.

THE FIRST WOMAN: EVE

First we’ll look at Eve. Why was Eve created?

Before we can answer that question we have to ask why was Adam created? There tends to be a standard answer to that question, and it goes along with the plan of salvation. It goes something like this: Adam was created for fellowship with God. That’s certainly true to some degree. Adam walked with God in the cool of the day. So it’s true in a way. Adam was created for fellowship with God. But that’s not all that Adam was created for. The cool of the day only lasted so long. The rest of the day God had something for Adam to do.

Genesis is clear that God put Adam on the Earth to do something. He was given a task to accomplish. Adam wasn’t merely put on the Earth for fellowship. He was meant to bear the image of God on the Earth, in a sense representing God on the Earth. He was to rule over creation, exercising God’s dominion over his creatures. So he was put on the Earth to accomplish a task. I think you can still say that God created Adam for a relational purpose. He was made in order to be in a relationship with God. But that doesn’t rule out his having a task to accomplish for God. You could say the task he was given was part of the relationship with God.

He had work to do. One of the things we must realize is that this work came before the fall. Adam didn’t get work as a consequence of the fall. It wasn’t a punishment to have to work. He was given work to do before there ever was a fall. Now it’s always been important to us to step outside of the fall, to go back to before there was a fall and a need for redemption to ask what it was that God was doing. That’s how we determine what the Eternal Purpose is. We look at what God created Man for before there ever was a fall. And what we discover when we look is that Man was created to do a work, and that work predates the fall.

We tend to not like work because for us work is always bound up with the fall. All of our work seems doomed. We work hard to create order out of chaos and it just falls back into chaos before long. So we always associate work with fallenness. But there was such a thing as work before there was a fall. I think work was originally intended to be a rewarding experience. It gives purpose to a day. At the end of a day you’ve accomplished something. Maybe you’ve even created something that wasn’t there before. That’s very much like God, isn’t it? Jesus said his Father is always working. That means that anyone made in His image will be at work, too. So there must be something redeeming about work, something enjoyable. It involves exerting yourself, but with a reward at the end. Some of the best things in life are things that require some effort on the front end but in the end they’re rewarding. That’s what work was meant to be, minus the fall and minus the curse.

That’s a pretty exciting idea to me. And it’s a new idea to me, that work in and of itself is not bad, even though I have learned to dread it. But in the beginning God intended for work to be something enjoyable, satisfying. So to some degree I think it’s possible to anticipate that now in our daily lives. If we could find meaningfulness and purpose in work, well honestly that’s still a new thought to me. I think it applies somehow to what we do in life, as well as in the church. There’s more thinking through to be done about that. But for now I’ll restate the main point, that Adam wasn’t merely created to know the Lord. He was created to accomplish a purpose.

Now I think we’re ready to answer the question “Why was Eve created?” Eve was created in order to be his helper. She wasn’t merely created to keep him company. She was created to be his help meet, to be his partner in the task that he was given. Remember that God said “it is not good that man should be alone.” Now I do think that companionship is in there somewhere. I think it is a component of why Eve was created. It couldn’t have been that rewarding for Adam to hang out with the animals. Don’t get me wrong, they can be affectionate. There can be some reward there. But it’s not the same as the companionship we get from one another. So companionship is part of it. But it’s not the only reason she was created. She wasn’t just created for fellowship with Adam. She was created in order to share in the task that Adam had been given. He was instructed to be fruitful and multiply, and to exercise God’s dominion over the earth. There was a job to do. Eve was created to be his helper in that work.

We know what happened next. Adam misunderstood, or failed to believe what God had said, and as a result, he went about doing his job the wrong way. He took from the wrong tree, not because he didn’t have a task to do, he just misunderstood the way he was supposed to go about it. I think there’s a parallel in what happened with Abraham. God had promised Abraham that he would be the father of a great nation. But rather than understanding grace, and understanding that God would perform a miracle, he misunderstood the method. So he went about the wrong way getting what God was after. He was after the right end; he was just using the wrong means. I think that’s what happened with Adam as well. He was after the right end…being like God was exactly what God was after. But Adam was going about it the wrong way. He misunderstood the nature of his task. But there was a task to be accomplished and Eve was created to help Adam accomplish it.

Another thing we need to note before we leave Genesis is that God spoke to Adam and Even and told them something that explained what their purpose and function on the Earth was to be. He said be fruitful and multiply. I’ll be mentioning fruit again a little later–and maybe multiplication, too. For now, I should point out that when God said it’s not good that Man be alone, I don’t think he had in mind only the creation of Eve. I think he had in mind an entire race of people, a huge family that would come from Adam and from Eve. They couldn’t really accomplish their task, just the two of them, could they? They would have to be fruitful and multiply, filling the earth, in order to do what God had called them to do. If they remained just the two of them, and never grew in number, they’d never be able to do what it was they were created to do. So multiplication and being fruitful were very central to what God put Adam and Even on the earth to do. They were put on the earth in order to, among other things, produce families that could assist them in doing what they were called to do.

Hunting Fruit

July 11, 2009

Yesterday I embarked on a journey to visit four very different churches, each of them vibrant in different ways. All four of them have a handful of things in common: First of all, they each identify themselves as a network of house churches, a church of churches if you will. These meetings keep to a simple, organic style patterned after the primitive Christianity of two thousand years ago (filtered as it may be for us today through the lenses of the Jesus movement of the late 60s and early 70s). Each of these churches also maintains a larger gathering in which all of its constituent groups come together for regular worship, prayer, teaching, fellowship, and outreach. Finally, each of them actively pursues ways in which it can contribute to its local (or global) community, sharing grace with those around them, particularly with those less fortunate and marginalized. As one church puts it, they juggle inward movement (intimate fellowship), upward movement (corporate worship), and outward movement (mission/outreach). I kinda like that framework.

I am travelling to four cities and meeting with almost a dozen different small groups in order to learn from them. I’ve got tons of questions and I’m eager to catch their perspective on things. I want to catch a sense of their group personalities, their meeting styles, their quirks, and their passions. I want the kind of information you can only get from visiting in person. In case you didn’t know, you can’t really tell what a church is like from a website.

I suppose most of all I am hunting fruit. I want to personally sample the outcome of each of these churches’ way of life, discovering for myself what it produces in the lives of its members. I know it’s hard to do in such a short time, but hey, I’m usin’ what I got.

You don’t get many opportunities like this, so I intend to make the most of it. I plan on posting pictures and reports about each group I meet along the way, so stay tuned and WATCH THIS SPACE for the next couple of weeks.

Maybe we’ll all learn something in the process.

Meantime, thanks to my gracious hosts, the Kurkians, for my stay with them in Cincinnati!

A Really Good Meeting

February 20, 2007

Do you know what it looks like when the body of Christ builds itself up in love? Have you ever seen the church grow (in quality, not necessarily in quantity) by what each joint and ligament supplies? Well I saw it happen this past weekend and I wanna tell you about it.


The brothers in our church recently received invitations to attend a get-together done by the sisters in our fellowship. The invitations themselves were fantastic, with little burnt-looking edges and nice lettering. They gave us our invitations after treating us to an amusing skit, featuring camouflaged scouts surveying the promised land in the days of Joshua and Caleb. They gushed as they reported the size of the grapes in the new land and encouraged us to see for ourselves what the Lord has given us in that land. Because we’re not new at this, each of us in the room understood that the land was always a picture of Christ. It was an object lesson in finding our every need fulfilled in Christ. They were speaking of land, milk, and honey, but we knew they were really talking about the Lord.

Then Saturday night we showed up at the appointed time to a home that was partially hidden behind a veil. Our beautiful greeters made sure we noticed that the veil had been ripped open, so that we could go in and see what awaited us inside. We were hungry and ready to see what was in store for us.

Before we went in, each of us was given a new name which would be ours for the remainder of the night. Those who greeted us inside knew our new names and seated us in front of well-made placecards with our new names on them. One of us became Righteousness, another Sanctification. One of us was Truth, and another Glory. Each name sounded far better than we deserved but they persisted in calling us those names for the duration of the evening.


We sat under a beautifully-lit canopy (inside the house!) , eating a deliciously grilled meal on fine china. We were served wine (optional) and cheese and bread and steak and fish and rice and vegetables. Each of us had on his plate exactly what he would have ordered if he had been asked, only none of us had to ask. The brother across the table from me, himself a vegan, had tofu instead of meat along with his veggies. The meal itself was exquisite and it just kept coming until we were FULL.

All throughout the meal, we were serenaded by the lovely women of our fellowship. They sang a selection of our songs which speak of Christ as our food, and of Him as our fertile land. They even rewrote a song that had needed a good rewrite for some time, and it was beautiful! A blog just won’t do it justice, so you’ll have to just imagine why we were moved to tears as we ate. We had several choices for dessert (mine was very chocolatey) and they were delicious.


They served us like we were royalty and spoke such encouraging words of how they see us in the Lord. Now let me assure you, each of us has had one reason or another to think poorly of himself over the last year or so. Our intentions have always been good, but we would not have to work hard to catalogue the ways in which each of us feels that we have failed as brothers in the church. There are so many things that we wish we did, but never seem to pull off.

But this night, we were spoken to as men who had fulfilled every expectation. They reminded us that we no longer judge one another according to the flesh, and they set about demonstrating for us what that looks and sounds like. They read out what they had written about each of us, calling us by name, and we sat and (a few of us) cried as we heard such high things said of us by our precious sisters. They ministered to us. I don’t know any other way to put it. We feasted on their words and their love. We basked in their music and their warmth.

I think it was a healing time for some of us, if not all of us. Thank you, sisters, for your example of how to love the Lord and His church. You are a precious gift.

Passing the Time

April 11, 2006

Yeah, no blogs in a while. Haven’t had much to say that’s profound lately. Well, there was this one day that I had a really deep thought… but then I lost it. Oh, well.

The fellowship that I’m a part of is taking a break from meeting for a while. When you’re not stuck in a ritual (or you’re trying to avoid becoming so) you can do that once in a while. This got me to thinking… What can a person do when his or her church is “on a break”?

Top Ten Things to Do When Your Church is on a Break

1. Rest.

2. Write new songs.

3. Read a few good books. Maybe ones you’ve never read before.

4. Spend time just hanging out with brothers and sisters in the church. Eat together. Watch movies together. Whatever.

5. Read the New Testament.

6. Or don’t.

7. Exercise.

8. Spend some time with the Lord, rediscovering your individual relationship with Him.

9. Visit other fellowships and see what’s going on there.

10. Got any more suggestions? Post them below!

+++++++++++++++

Another thing you could do is spend way too much time on the internet by installing the StumbleUpon button in Firefox (thanks Jeremy!).

That’s how I came upon this:

http://www.f355kit.com/videos/heyyacb.mov

Even the short credits at the end cracked me up.

What About the Kids?

January 31, 2006

Sign up for any conference or workshop on “home-churching” anywhere in the country and I guarantee you that you will hear pretty much the same questions asked at every one of them. The first one is almost always the same: What do you do with the kids?

I have mixed feelings about this ubiquitous question. My good feelings come from the fact that I identify with parents who seek to actively integrate their kids into the activities of the church. I happen to think that if a church has any desire to live beyond one generation then it will have to somehow involve the kids at every stage of their development. Somehow they must come to “own” church life as their own, and the Lord must be real to them as they grow up. As my kids are entering grade school, I’m becoming more and more eager to include them in some form, maybe writing songs for them, or occasionally scheduling a kids’ meeting (something they’ve elected to do on their own on a couple of occasions), or simply including them in one of our regular meetings (with some preparation of course).

But there’s also something not-so-good underneath the perennial what-do-you-do-with-the-kids question. Too often the church asking the question is operating with a meeting-centered mentality. If you think church=meetings then the kids aren’t a part of the church if they’re not in the meetings. When the life of the church isn’t based in community (i.e. a more comprehensive involvement in each others’ lives), then the meetings are all you’ve got. On the other hand, when “church” means who you are all the time, then you see that the kids are already involved in the life of the church. They spend time together, play together, sometimes eat together. The interact with adults from families other than their own, and that fact alone places them in a priviledged group (Research shows that kids who get regular, positive interaction with adults outside their own nuclear family have a higher chance of success in things like social development, behavioral expectations, etc.)

We “westerners” (products of the European Enlightenment) have always been program-centered. When we think of education, for example, we inevitably picture a classroom situated in rows with an educator perched at the front. Our concept of learning is teacher-centered, lecture-based, and restrictive. But there’s another model (a much older model) for learning that happens naturally in a church like ours. It’s relational. It’s “situational” (anchored in real-life situations as they arise). It involves active learning based in the needs of the kids as they discover them.

Think about it this way: Which kind of learning do you think sticks with a child better: When they hear a biblical principle illustrated during a Sunday School lesson in a classroom, or when a life circumstance motivates the child to ask her mother a question about the right thing to do in that situation? I’d definitely go with the second one. A family and a church community who love the Lord and actively pursue Him in daily life will prepare a child to know Him immeasurably better than years of Sunday School lessons. Even from a standpoint of educational theory, stuff learned in real life situations are generalized into the rest of life more easily than stuff learned in an environment like a classroom, which is too divorced from daily life.

So how you approach this question of “what do you do with the kids” turns out to reveal a good bit about how you see the church and daily life in the Lord. The church isn’t about meetings. And knowing the Lord is a relational process, not an intellectual procedure. Knowing Him isn’t about memorizing the right things. It’s about knowing and loving a Person who also comes to you in the form of your brothers and sisters in Christ. The meeting is when you come together to report your experience of Him to each other. More on that in the next blog, I believe…

What’s a Meeting For?

January 30, 2006

The brothers in the church where I live have been tossing around this question for a little while. What’s the purpose of the gathering of the saints? That question keeps popping up and we seem to be hitting on some similar conclusions each time we come at it. Now, don’t get me wrong…there’s no consensus about this thing because it’s multi-faceted. There’s no one simple answer that encompasses the purpose of the meeting of the church. And I’m not about to presume to give any definitive answer on it. But I think we’ve hit on a few things that it ISN’T about, and a few things that it IS about. So here goes my attempt:

The meeting of the saints ISN’T an end in itself. It’s not the reason we exist. As we say in the churches I run with: The church isn’t the meetings. The meetings express what the church is. But the church can’t be reduced to its meetings. We are the church all the time. Of course, this is so much easier to see when there’s some kind of community going on. When you live really close together, for example, the communal aspect of the church is made visible. It’s like a family. And a family doesn’t become a family by eating supper together. It already is a family. Everything it does is as a family. But because it IS a family, they spend a lot of time together, and they eat together. Likewise the church is the church whatever it does. It doesn’t become the church because it does the right thing when it meets. Please don’t buy that mentality. The church is so much more than its meetings.

For this reason, “tweaking” our meetings must never become the focus of our attention. If the meetings are bad, the problem isn’t with the meetings. The meetings are an expression of the life of the church. If the meetings are flat, or boring, or whatever, it’s because the rest of the life of the church is needing more Life. Now I’m not knocking the occasional “how are we doing” talk, where you frankly discuss what’s going well and what’s not going well (including what happened in the last meeting). We should always be willing to discuss what is helpful to the meeting. For example, if one guy never shuts up, or has to get the first word or the last word on everything shared, it’s okay to point that out. If you don’t say something it’ll never stop. But the mechanics of our meeting should never become the preoccupation of our minds. The meetings are the natural outgrowth of the Life of the church. So manipulating the meeting to effect change in the rest of the life of the church is getting the cart before the horse. The meeting is like a barometer, or a thermometer, rather than a thermostat. It shows how the church is doing. It’s not a mechanism for fixing the church’s temperature.

I’ve heard brothers and sisters in other places make this same discovery recently: You can become so caught up in trying to BE the church that you forget that you ALREADY ARE the church. The heart of religion is in trying to get it right. Say it right. Feel it right. Let us never fall into that trap. We’re discovering that those of us who have forsaken so many of the traditional Christian trappings will still fall into the very same things we were hoping to escape. It’s in human nature. We are always trying to reduce this Life into something clearly definable, easily repeatable. We want a clear measuring stick by which we can judge everything we say and do as a church. But it doesn’t work that way. Following that cloud is a bit more unpredictable than that. There’s always more to learn. There’s always sides to Him that we’ve barely even touched. He’s a vast Ocean of experience, and we’re still snorkeling around the shallows of Him.

There’s so much more to say here. But I’ve got to teach a class of reprobates now. Maybe I’ll wax eloquent again later.

Learning to Love Seasons

December 14, 2005

I grew up in Mississippi, a place that has no clear seasons. Sure, sometimes it’s hot and wet or it’s cold and wet (though seldom in between). But often it’s both in the same day. When I had a paper route as a teenager, I’d have to bundle up for a 30 degree morning even as late as May, knowing that by Noon I’d be wearing short sleeves in order to welcome the 80 degree weather that came later. A typical December day is just as likely to be hot as it is likely to be cold. It’s difficult to say what’s “seasonable” in Mississippi. Granted, a summer day is mostly hot and a winter day is mostly cold, but seasons just run together in a blur, like God ran his finger across the calendar, smudging the months together. Which I guess is why I never grew up appreciating seasons.

Now I live in North Georgia. Here we have winter separate from autumn, and spring separate from summer. I love it. The leaves actually turn into all their beautiful colors as October rolls along (In MS it’s mostly pine trees, which don’t turn with the months). Cold days come when they’re supposed to. Hot days (mostly) come when they’re supposed to. I’m learning to love seasons. There’s something so beautiful about change at the appropriate time. Change, yes, but familiar change. Change that’s happened before, and will happen again every year about this time, and in much the same way. There’s something so comforting about that.

It’s the same way with a person’s spiritual life. We’re supposed to enjoy seasons. All living things go through cycles of up and down, cold and hot, wet and dry. Our spirits are no different. Life in the Church is no different. Of course, we live in a world that fails to grasp the beauty of seasons. We invented things like “climate control” to eliminate seasons where we live and work. We invented light bulbs to eliminate the difference between night and day. It’s no wonder we lose sight of the “rhythms of life” as they are called. We think in straight lines while Life moves in cycles. We would do well to stop and learn to appreciate seasons.

Take a church, for instance. There’s nothing more natural than a group of people taking a break from their usual routine of meetings to do something else. But even now as you read this something in the back of your mind starts to scream “NO! Don’t do it! Everything will be lost! You can never recover from something like that!” Why are we so afraid to embrace seasons? Sometimes the sap in the trees runs upward and outward, producing leaves and fruit and extending the branches. But then the sap reverses direction and goes inward and downward, to quietly build on the root system underneath the ground, where no one can see the difference. But without that time, the tree would never be able to grow beyond its current span. Both seasons are necessary. A person blinded by modernity will fail to grasp this, but it’s a natural part of life.

Variety is the spice of life, they say, and life in the Lord is no different. He works in seasons. Right now, in our church, we are enjoying just being together for the holidays. We’ll get together and sing some Christmas songs this weekend. Then we’ll break from meeting for a couple of weeks while several of us head to other states to visit familiy members. In fact, the last few weeks have been a kind of “slowing down” of activity in the church here. We won’t be having any special morning meetings or times together “with the Lord” (as if we could ever NOT be). But that’s not a problem. Relax and enjoy the variety. After two or three more weeks, we’ll be coming together again and refocusing our hearts and minds on the reason we exist in the first place (to know Him and love Him).

A tract of land cannot be farmed year after year, over and over again with no rest. Once in a while land must lie fallow. Soil needs time to regain its richness, its nutrients. Israel even had a law about taking a break from working the same field year after year. Land needs time to replenish itself. We are no different. So as a wise old man said one time:

Relax and enjoy it.

[P.S. Just a few days after this entry I read this entry written by a dear sister in Arlington TX who is showing us how the Lord carries his children through Winter. All I can say is I thank God for his tangible love through our brothers and sisters.]

Two Trees in the Garden

December 5, 2005

I bought a book one time just because I was so captured by the title. It was titled There Were Two Trees in the Garden, and it was by Rick Joyner. It sits on my bookshelf still and I’m sorry to say I still haven’t read it after several years of owning it. Maybe I’ll get to it someday. But I love the title anyway.

One day recently I was teaching World Literature to a small class of reprobates when I noticed in our Literature book an allusion to the Garden of Eden. The textbook explains that “Adam and Eve [were] forbidden by God to eat the fruit of the Tree of Life in the center of the garden.” It goes on to say that they in fact did eat the fruit and were therefore banished from the garden forever. My wife, who grew up faithfully attending a “Bible-believing church” and is herself a minister’s daughter, commented that she probably wouldn’t have caught the error when she was in high school since so little attention was given to the fact that there were, indeed, two trees in the garden.

But the one with Life in it was the one from which God wanted them to eat. It was that other tree that God warned them not to eat–said it wouldn’t be good for them. Folks miss that little detail and consequently miss one of the most important stories of our revealed faith. God had a Life that He wanted to put inside of us, but we were (and are) lured away by something else that appears to offer something very good: The knowledge of good and evil. Whatever that is, of this I’m sure: It sounds really good. Like something you need. But in the end it will only bring death.

Where I live now, there is much talk about those two trees, and about what that forbidden tree was offering. And I’ve noticed something: We often make much of the fact that the word “knowledge” is in there. I’ve even heard it called “the tree of knowledge.” The implication there is that knowledge is itself somehow a distracting thing. And the truth is, it can be. But I’ve had just enough Hebrew to know that when the Old Testament says “knowledge,” it’s practically synonymous with “experience.” Adam knew his wife. And Man was invited to know good and evil. I don’t think this tree was so much about learning things or becoming too cerebral. It was about pursuing perfection in order to make ourselves right. It was about “doing it right.”

This is the basis of all religions, isn’t it? Doing it right. All religions (including the Christian religion) share this endeavor: To get it right. Do it right. Say it right. Pray it correctly. Think correctly. Feel correctly. This was what was offered to Mankind in the garden, and only this was strong enough in its appeal to lure them away from the greatest gift ever offered: The Life of God with Us. Well, it remains for us still today to partake of that Life of God with Us. Daily we stand beneath that tree somehow, and daily something inside of you craves that life that comes from the Vine, and daily you can partake. But there will always be this other preoccupation that you will have to deny…this obsession with doing it right.

Should I say that? Should I go there? Should I feel that way? Is it right for me to desire that? Did our meeting go as it should have? Are we doing it right? How are we supposed to… You get my drift. Those that had confrontations with Jesus were always amazed at His disregard for what He was “supposed to do” at so many moments. He just didn’t seem to do things the way He was supposed to. Drove those religious men crazy. He even drove the unreligious fishermen crazy with His choices. But what they didn’t get was that He was living by another Life. The Life of God with Us. He wasn’t chasing the chimera of “doing it right.” He was listening to a voice. He was following a Shepherd. He had very little control over what each moment would present for Him to endure, but He trusted that His Father would not lead Him astray. It wasn’t about getting it right. It was about following the sound of those footsteps that Man was meant to encounter in the cool of the day. That’s what it’s still about today.

How does church life work? What should we be doing? We want to get it right, don’t we? No, let’s not make that our goal. Let’s make it our goal to find Him wherever He is, and live there. And whenever He moves, let’s get up and go wherever He’s going. Let’s never get too comfortable in one place, because like Rich Mullins used to say, we’re following a homeless man. He rarely stays a long time in one spot. And let’s not fret too much about if we’re following Him right. As long as we are following Him, it is right.