Category Archives: The Living God
Note: Just yesterday, I finished the first draft manuscript of my latest book, Church Burning: What will it take to rediscover The Way? Thought I’d share with you the book’s introduction.
In the years after Christ walked the earth, the men and women who had walked with Him continued to journey down the same path.
Following His footsteps, their vibrant, Spirit-led lifestyle was completely free of ceremony, tradition, organizational structures, facilities and clergy. Virtually all the things Christianity is known for today were non-existent. In every way imaginable, theirs was the anti-religion.
The growing community of brothers and sisters was centered on sharing, service, deep fellowship, and experiencing together the awesome wonder of their living, loving God.
In the face of mounting persecution from the institutions threatened by this uncontrollable, organic movement – long before there were steeple-topped buildings, ordained ministers, Sunday “church services,” committees, Christian radio stations or fish emblems … and centuries before the Bible as we know it was printed – the Body of believers experienced Christ’s presence daily, as they forcefully advanced His Kingdom in exciting, miraculous ways.
Without the trappings of religion, Christians then were known simply for their authentic loving kindness, and nothing else. They lived as Christ did – a life of love, passion, purpose, peace and selfless service. “And the Lord added to them daily those who were being saved.”
During His time on earth, Jesus had declared He was The Way. And this is what the early believers called their Christ-centered lifestyle: The Way.
So what’s happened in the past 2,000 years?
Under the influence of 20 centuries of Judaizers, Romanizers, legalists, traditionalists, theologians, intellectuals, religion-seekers, “prosperity” pushers and students of the world’s ways, Christianity has become a religion much like all the others – I call it “churchianity” – that bears little or no resemblance to The Way of our faith’s forefathers.
What are Christians known for today? No doubt, we’re better than ever at building big “churches,” organizing group activities, staging “services” on Sunday mornings, recruiting “members” and raising funds. Yet despite all this (or, just maybe, because of it) we are failing to accomplish the mission He gave us, in every possibly way, and people – believers included – are suffering as a result.
I need to tell you up front, this book does not seek to establish the fact that we’ve lost The Way. This has been well proven by numerous, excellent researchers and writers over the past few decades. Heck, it’s plain to see by anyone who simply reads the Book of Acts!
Instead, this book addresses the question: What now?
A course correction is due on a grand scale. It’s time we rediscover The Way.
– You are the salt of the world. Stay salty, my friends!
In the previous post I referenced some key Bible verses that, when we understand the Greek behind them, are able to unlock for us the next level of faith. Let’s revisit those verses and insert the proper Greek word. I believe this will make them come alive for you in a new and exciting way.
In Matthew 4:4 Jesus said, “Man doesn’t live by bread alone, but by rhema.” In context this is particularly stunning. If you recall, Jesus spoke this to satan after His first temptation in the wilderness. Satan had come to Him after a 40-day fast and tempted Him to turn rocks into bread and eat them. Now let me ask you, what would have been the sin in that? Where is it written, “Thou shalt not turn rocks into bread and eat them?” It’s not! Only a few times in the Bible do we see beyond the veil into the spirit world. No doubt satan dangled temptations in front of Christ over and over again – like when He was walking on water, the enemy must have been screaming, “you’re gonna sink!” – but it’s simply not recorded for us. If this story were like the others, and we only saw the “natural” side of it, we’d simply think it was another miracle if Jesus had finished fasting, turned rocks into bread, ate them, and moved on. Nobody would look at that and say, “See! He wasn’t God after all! He sinned!” – because there was nothing in and of itself “wrong” in the thing He was being tempted to do.
Indeed, our whole human checklist for decision-making was satisfied: Jesus had the power, the right, the freedom – and no doubt the desire and physical need – to do that very thing. So why didn’t He do it? Herein lies the vital importance of rhema. Jesus said, in effect, “Satan, I acknowledge that I need bread, but what’s more important to me is that I follow the step-by-step instructions of God, and He hasn’t told me to do this yet.” Jesus would have rather starved to death than do anything outside of God’s specific, step-by-step, rhema-given instructions for His life! He didn’t live on bread alone, and not on graphe (the written word – because on that basis alone, the thing tempted would have been just fine!), but on rhema.
Here’s another key verse: “Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.” If you have dedicated of your life to evangelism according to our traditional methods this may hurt you in the gut, like it did me, because here’s the truth: The “word” in this verse is rhema. Faith comes by hearing rhema from God. Like in the story of young Samuel, a person can be dedicated to God, live in the temple, observe all the proper religious activities, have a trusting knowledge of graphe, and still not have true faith as God defines it. If we do not, like Jesus, recognize and follow God’s personal, present voice in our lives, we simply are not in His flock.
I admit this is a hard truth. It was painful for me to accept, because of all the years I tried to serve God without this understanding.
Most denominations don’t teach this, but it is the truth, and as such I know that when you accept it, it will give you new life, freedom and power. We can give away cases of Bibles, quote Scripture till we’re blue in the face – and the people we are working to reach can believe every word of it – and yet without a real, meaningful, personal relationship with God through Jesus Christ – a relationship with rhema at its heart – then it is all a waste of time and energy. This is precisely what Jesus meant when He said, “Many will say to me …, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!” He just wants to have a real relationship with us – built on intimate communication – that’s all. Nothing else we can do matters. Nothing else can lead to victory.
Before I present one last key rhema verse, I want to make something perfectly clear: I value, honor and revere the Bible more than life itself. I’m old fashioned in that I never let anything sit on top of my Bible – it’s always the top of the stack. I believe it is the infallible, inspired graphe of God, and I base my entire life and worldview upon it. But fact is, the written Word, while fully true, is just a portion of what God desires to communicate to us, and mere intellectual acceptance of the Bible as truth does not save us. Without a real relationship with God through Jesus Christ, based on personal rhema from Him, everything else is worthless.
Of course, God often gives rhema to me through graphe, but rhema is much more than that. He speaks in all the ways He promises: guiding my steps, making sense of things, giving me words to say, and – dare I say it – even telling me what to write.
When you realize the believers in the Book of Acts didn’t have what we call the Bible – the few scrolls they had were hard to access, especially for the Gentiles – and instead, only had rhema, you begin to realize how important it is. Look at what God was able to do through them! They weren’t skeptical of God’s power – they lived in it! If I were in a situation where I had to choose between rhema and graphe, I’d choose rhema, 100 percent of the time. Thankfully we don’t have to choose. But sadly, out of tradition and ignorance, most Christians do choose – they choose graphe alone (“sola scriptura”) and the results are … well, the results are what we have today.
Ok, back to the key rhema Bible verses. And this one is a doozie. In his letter to the believers of Ephesus, who were called by the Lord and shepherded by Paul to maintain and expand upon the transformational work that had been won in their community, the great warrior apostle wrote:
Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.
Did you notice – in all of the items Paul lists, there is but one weapon? One tool we are given with which to tear down every stronghold, demolish every argument that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, and utterly defeat satan and his kingdom of darkness? What is this one, all-powerful weapon? It is not the written Word.
The sword of the Spirit is rhema.
This has been translated as “word” and interpreted as “Scripture” for too long! You can’t beat the devil by quoting the Bible to him – he knows that Book better than any man ever will, and he believes every word of it, because he was there when it all happened! What satan doesn’t have access to, which we as followers of Jesus Christ do, is the rhema of God – His fresh, relevant, personal word, through which He guides our paths, orders our steps, tells us what to do and when to do it, when to pray and what to pray for, puts the proper words in our mouth, and prompts us at all times in all things to do His will. And when we are in His will, His power flows through us to defeat anything the enemy can throw at us. When we are in His will, the very gates of hell can’t stand in our way!
The rhema of God proves Christianity as the one true faith. Only a Living God can utter a living Word, and no other faith offers this. Practiced without rhema, however, Christianity is just a religion, no better than any other. Without rhema, our faith is merely a collection of holy writings, a prescribed way of living, a system of worship, a community of like-minded people, belief in a distant and silent deity, an avenue for “prayer,” a reason to hope, a basis of ethics and morals, an opportunity for full-time ministers to make a living, and the promise of “heaven” when we die if we play things by the book – just like virtually every other religion on earth. Without rhema, Christianity is empty, ritualistic, legalistic, and ultimately pointless. Without rhema, our religion truly is, as Karl Marx famously wrote, “The opiate of the masses” – a mysterious, superstitious code that keeps the deluded population under control.
Jesus didn’t come to start another religion. He came, ultimately, to reconcile us to a real relationship with our Father. All the other things He accomplished – destroying the works of the devil, reclaiming that which was lost in the garden, setting the coming of the Kingdom in motion – all spring from this one thing: We now, through Him, have open access to a personal relationship with the Living God, and all the benefits that come with it.
– You are the salt of the world. Stay salty, my friends!
Note – This is an excerpt from my book UPRISING: Time for Christians to Stop Waiting and Start Winning.
WARNING: This is blog post contains a Greek lesson.
Now don’t get scared. I’m not some boring academic type, and this isn’t some intellectual, ivory tower lecture. Instead, if this information is new to you (as I’ve found it is for most Christians), I think it will be one of the most explosive, exciting, faith-expanding things you’ll ever learn.
This is one of those truths that hit me like a ton of bricks when I learned it, and it’s taken my relationship with the Lord to a level I never knew was possible in this day and age. It can do the same for you.
I am shocked and disappointed that I had to learn it on my own, outside the “four walls” of the “church,” after decades of sitting in pews, dutifully doting on the teachings of my pastor and denomination.
Rest easy – it’s not a mystery, it’s not a new pop theology, it’s not an odd mountaintop revelation from some mystic, and I’m not asking you to “just trust me” – it’s simply Greek, and it’s been there in the Bible all along, lost in translation.
The word I’m going to dig into here is just that: The English word for “word.” Bible translators slap this four-letter word on top of several Greek words with vast differences in meaning. Much more than simple nuance is lost. Rather, a vital, foundational principle of the Christian faith has for generations been virtually erased from the Bible by this translational shortcut.
For years I’ve asked Christians what they think of when they read or hear the phrase “the Word of God.” Every single person I’ve asked has the same answer: The Bible. That’s all there is to it: The Word of God is the Bible, and the Bible is the Word of God. Period, end of subject.
So when they hear, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God,” they picture a Bible floating in space. When they hear, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God,” “Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God,” or “Take … the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God,” their minds insert “Bible” and come up with this: We live by the Bible, have faith by hearing the Bible, and fight the devil with the Bible.
I must ask you to pause for a moment before you read on. Please ask God to open your heart to His truth. It’s hard for me even to type this, because I know most readers who (as I do) revere the Bible more than life itself may initially take this statement as shocking blasphemy, but the fact is this: Inserting the word “Bible” into these great verses is wrong, sucks meaning out of them, drains them of power, and robs us of possibly the most precious promise of God in this life.
There, I said it.
I hope you’re still with me (and still breathing normally!). And I hope that seeking God’s truth is more important to you than holding onto long-standing, traditional paradigms that simply aren’t working. If you have difficulty with anything I am presenting here, don’t take my word for it — dig into it! Get a Strong’s Concordance or other Biblical Greek dictionary and see for yourself. I’m not making this stuff up.
Ok, back to it. As I said, there are numerous Greek words, expressing widely divergent meanings, which most English-language translators simply lump under our word, “word.” These include logos, graphe (grah’-fay), and rhema (ray’-muh).
As I dig into the definitions for these, allow me to couch them in a metaphor so they make more sense. Think of God as an architect and us as His work crew. He wants us to complete a building project (His Kingdom) and is seeking to guide our steps as we do it. He has a crystal clear vision for the structure, including every detail, and He must communicate this to us so we can build it according to His specifications.
At its essence, communication is the effort to transfer a thought from one mind to another. There are lots of ways to do this – through writing, speech, pictures, demonstration and much more. When you look at all the Hebrew and Greek Bible words we translate as “word,” you begin to see that God employs all of these means to transfer to us His vision and guide our steps. Yes, the static, printed words of the Bible are a vital and incredible source of divine communication, but they are just a small fraction of what He offers “those who have ears to hear.” As long as we remain stuck in man-made tradition, and continue to view the Bible as the sum total of God’s “Word,” we will never be able to find The Way or complete our Kingdom building project.
Before the dawn of time, God had a vision for His Kingdom, His sons and daughters, and this world. This original, founding vision is best expressed in Greek by the word logos. It is “a decree, mandate or order; what is declared, a thought, declaration, aphorism, a weighty saying, a dictum, a maxim.” This word is used 316 times in the Greek New Testament. It says, “In the beginning was logos, the logos was with God, and the logos was God,” and that Jesus was logos made flesh. Before the dawn of time, there were not little scrolls or books floating around in Heaven; instead God had a vision, a plan, a Big Picture. And Jesus was not a talking Bible with arms and legs! Instead, He was the physical incarnation of God’s vision. (Is it starting to make a little more sense?)
An architect must start with a clearly defined vision. This is the source of all other forms of communication related to the building project. All other methods of attempting to transfer this vision from his mind to others’ – including scale models, drawings, etc. – are derived from this original vision. It is important to understand that nothing less than the finished building itself fully expresses the architect’s vision. Every other form of expression, while accurate, is incomplete.
Once the architect has conceived the vision in his mind, next he drafts a set of blueprints. These are printed sketches, descriptions and instructions intended to guide the steps of the builders. The Gospel writers used the word graphe for this concept. It means, “written word, scripture,” and is used 51 times in the New Testament. We get the word “graphics” from this root. The printed pages of the Bible are graphe. Interestingly, this is always translated as “scripture” in the standard King James Version – and so while this is never called “word” in the Bible, it is the one thing people think of when they talk about the “Word” of God!
Our traditions have led many of us to take the Architect’s blueprints and then just run along with the assumption that they fully and completely express His divine purpose, plan and will. But as anyone who works in construction can tell you, if you simply take blueprints and hand them out to your work crews – with no hands-on, step-by-step supervision from the architect or a general contractor – the building will never take the precise form intended by the architect. A building may come together but it will be plagued by quirks as the different subcontractors interpreted things their own ways, and the look, feel and functionality will differ from what the architect intended. As hired hands for God’s Kingdom construction, we need more than blueprints!
Let me step out of this metaphor for a moment. You deserve more than human reasoning to accept this point so let me spell it out straight from the Bible. At what we call the Last Supper, Jesus told His disciples that His time on earth was coming to an end, and there was of course much more information they needed to know in order to continue His work. “I have much more to say to you,” He said. “More than you can now bear.” But He couldn’t because His time was up. He told them not to worry, however, because “the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things andwill remind you of everything I have said to you.”
Right here, in Jesus’ own words, He clearly said there is much more to the Architect’s vision than He could communicate to His disciples, even after spending three years in their close company; that all the words He spoke and demonstrated to His disciples were but a fraction of the entirety of God’s logos. Then, just a few chapters later in John, the great apostle concludes his book by saying, “Jesus did many other things as well. If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written.” And so my point here is confirmed by the words of Christ and the personal admission of one of the Bible’s primary and most prolific writers: The graphe (written word) – what most Christians assume is the entirety of God’s Word – is but a fraction of a fraction of all that God desires to communicate to us.
Of course Jesus didn’t leave us hanging. As He said, in reference to the Holy Spirit, “When He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all the truth.” Back on the metaphor, Jesus is saying here that the Architect isn’t going to leave us hanging with just a set of blueprints; instead, He will send a jobsite foreman (in the form of the Holy Spirit) to fully and completely communicate His vision to us, every step of the way.
This brings us to what I believe is the most important Greek word for “word” of them all: rhema. This word means, “that which is or has been uttered by the living voice, thing spoken; word any sound produced by the voice and having definite meaning.” It is used 67 times in the New Testament, in some very key places.
Rhema is the personal, conversational, relevant, relationship Word of God. It is God’s voice for each of us, like it was for Samuel as a youth when God called out to him in the middle of the night, saying, “Samuel! Samuel!” Interestingly, in this story it says, “In those days, the word of the LORD was rare.” There weren’t fewer scrolls in the temple than before. Instead, because of the high priest’s disobedient household and nation’s rebellious people, the personal, spoken word of God is what was rare.
This story also says the great prophet-to-be didn’t recognize that voice because “Samuel did not yet know the LORD: The word of the LORD had not yet been revealed to him.” By this time in his life, he had been fully inculcated into the religious structure, he obviously believed in God, and he had been exposed to the Scriptures. But he still didn’t know God, in the true sense, because he hadn’t yet been introduced to God’s rhema word. Personal communication is the basis of every real relationship. Jesus said, “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow.” Prior to hearing and following His rhema, Samuel wasn’t in the flock. But then God’s living voice came to him and he responded – and that changed everything.
– You are the salt of the world. Stay salty, my friends!
Folks who know me know I’m a solutions-oriented guy. I don’t think much of bomb-throwers who do nothing but point out flaws and problems but never offer solutions. I agree with Theodore Roosevelt: It is not the critic who counts.
Yes, there’s absolutely a time and place to dig into what we’re doing wrong, but the point isn’t to find fault, lay blame or simply complain. Rather, the point is to uncover exactly where and how we’re missing the mark so we can take the appropriate corrective action. Constructive criticism offers a better way forward. Everything else, as I see it, is pointless and destructive.
Some who have kept up with my recent string of posts regarding my issues with modern churchianity have accused me of pointing out problems without offering solutions.
I would beg to differ. I believe I have presented the fundamental solution all along, but I can see why some folks have missed it. The misunderstanding lies in the fact they aren’t looking deep enough at the problems. Because underneath it all, there is just one fundamental problem plaguing the modern system we call “church” – and there is only one real solution. It’s really quite simple.
Yes, there’s a problem with what we call Sunday “church services.” But the solution isn’t to re-jigger the format or theme of our Sunday morning gatherings.
Yes, there is a problem with who we designate as “leaders,” and the organizational structures we build beneath them. But the solution isn’t a new way of choosing and elevating leadership, or re-mapping the organizational chart.
Yes, there are problems with how we raise and spend money and build useless buildings to house our Christian clubs. But the solution isn’t a new budgeting strategy or building design.
There are problems with what we consider “evangelism” and how we go about it, what we call the “gospel” and how we preach it, the traditions we follow, the teachings we embrace (and reject), and a whole host of other aspects of what we call “church” today. But to address these on the surface, and offer a “new way” of doing them, is nothing more than treating the symptoms without addressing the disease. It is all just re-arranging the deck chairs on a sinking ship.
If that’s what you’ve been looking for from me, I can certainly see how you’ve been disappointed, and how you may think I’m just lobbing bombs. I hope you’ll let me take you a little deeper.
Unless we’re just completely blind or clueless, we all see problems with churchianity. Many of us disregard these by saying, “well, you’ll never find a perfect church,” and so they settle for far less than the best, just seeking to make the most of it. These are the folks that get offended by the slightest fault-finding with the status quo, and discount any criticism that doesn’t come with a superficial “quick fix.”
Others of us just don’t buy that cop-out; we believe perfect Church definitely is possible, here and now. The Bible says Christ is waiting for His spotless Bride to arise, and that someday she will make herself ready. He modeled for us a perfect expression of Church, and that is exactly what He is calling us back to. Our Father has not called us to fail in this endeavor. Yes, a perfect expression of Church is definitely possible, it is God’s will, and I, for one, will not rest until I find it.
Our human nature demands a “plan.” We want quick fixes. We want to have a firm handle on the present and the future. We want a roadmap we can wrap our minds around that spells out exactly how we are supposed to get from Point A to Point B. We would never think of starting a building project without a blueprint. Those who expect me or other critics to offer such a roadmap or blueprint for “fixing” things need to understand that this is exactly the element of human nature that has caused all these problems to begin with!
Here’s the fundamental problem with churchianity: We have taken control of things. In doing so, we have built our “churches” on own understanding, conformed to the patterns of this world – which is the precise Biblical recipe for remaining outside of God’s will. We have – with the best of intentions – done our best to build “churches” for God. This is the opposite of God’s desire, and it is the underlying disease – the malignant cancer – that is causing all the symptoms I’ve written about.
There is only one cure, one fix, one path to a perfect Church, and it’s is really quite simple. It is to remove this mindset from the Body, and return to the day-by-day, step-by-step leadership of the Holy Spirit.
Theological defenders of man-made churchianity for generations have misinterpreted one of the most important portions of Scripture, creating a false, two-sided debate in which both sides are flat wrong. In this passage, Christ clearly spells out the true foundation on which He desires to build His perfect Church. Here it is (Matthew 16:13-18):
When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?”
They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.”
“But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?”
Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”
Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven. And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.”
Here’s the $64,000 Question: What is the rock on which Jesus desires to build His Church?
For countless generations, Catholics have interpreted this passage to say that Peter, the man, is the original rock of the “church.” This understanding is the foundational stem cell of their entire institution, and explains virtually everything they do. It is a structure built on positional authority, and on the traditions and leadership of men. This is a dangerous thing!
Contrary to this, most Protestants since the Reformation have interpreted this passage to say that the rock is the words Peter spoke, “Surely you are the Messiah, the son of the living God.” Peter’s statement is indeed true, and the heart of our faith. The belief that this statement alone is the intended foundation of Christ’s Church is the Protestant stem cell. This reliance on a static statement led to the principle of Sola Scripture (by the written Word alone), and explains virtually everything Protestants do. It is a structure built on the goal of having people believe and follow the written word alone (or at least their interpretation of it). This is not enough!
For hundreds of years this debate has raged, with both sides missing the mark. The current state of churchianity in the world today is the fruit of these two faulty interpretations. We’ve tried both, to an absurd extreme, and both have failed.
There is third option!
Here’s what that passage really says, and what we’ve missed all along: God doesn’t desire to build His Kingdom on a mortal man, or on the words spoken by a mortal man. Rather, Jesus was saying that it is the underlying truth of what had just happened – “This was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven” – that He desires to serve as the foundation of His Church.
What made Jesus so excited, and prompted Him to speak this vital statement, was that Peter had just received and responded to the simple prompting of the Holy Spirit. Jesus was saying, “Yes! Somebody finally got it! He didn’t tell me what he thought, he just listened to the Father and obeyed. I can work with that!”
The key to the Kingdom is simple obedience to the Holy Spirit, the step-by-step leading of God.
Simple obedience is how Moses led the Israelites out of bondage, and how Joshua led them to conquer the Promised Land. When they relied on men, or the statements of men, they failed. When they followed the continual revelation of their Father in heaven, they succeeded.
This is what made David a man after God’s own heart. It is how every single servant of God recorded in Scripture lived, including Christ Himself. They let God call the shots – day by day, step by step – into the great unknown.
Jesus said we must be born of water and the Spirit to see and enter the Kingdom. Paul said that the true sons and daughters of God are those who are led by the Spirit. He also said that we are to grow – individually and corporately – into Christ the Head, who desires to call the shots.
Throughout the Bible it says we are not to lean on our own understanding … we are not to worry about material things, or about tomorrow … we are not to conform to the patterns of this world. When we do, we cannot know God’s will, and we are not on His path. Anything called “church” that is built this way – on our own roadmaps and blueprints – is built on the wrong rock. And the cure for what ails us will never be found in another man-made plan.
Instead, the solution, the way forward, is to simply cease from our works! It is to be still and know that He is God. It is to enter into His rest, take on His easy load, and let Him lead the way. It is to do nothing at all without His specific, personal prompting – and then to simply obey what He tells us to do, step-by-step, day-by-day.
He doesn’t care what we do “in His name” – because there is nothing worthwhile that we can do for Him. Our best works are like filthy rags! Rather, He just wants to know us, to have a real relationship. He wants to be the true center, the true Head, of our lives and our fellowships.
Yes, to abandon our understanding, to scrap our plans, to throw away our roadmaps and blueprints, will be a great adventure. When we do this, He will lead us to forge into the unknown and do things beyond our understanding, as He unveils our plan for us, one day at a time.
This is the walk of faith! This is the path to true, perfect Church. It is The Way modeled by Christ and recorded in Scripture.
Is this disappointing for you? Do you still want a man to give you a plan? I’m sorry, I can’t help you there.
– You are the salt of the world. Stay salty, my friends.
Back in the late 1960s, three US servicemen commandeered a massive piece of very expensive government equipment and took it for a joyride. After only a few minutes, they had succeeded in destroying the majority of it. Even so, they successfully made it away from the heavily-guarded compound and outside the reach of authorities.
Eight days later, after a massive effort to track their location, when government agents finally caught up with the three, they had utterly ruined the last bit of equipment and had to be rescued by the US Navy. Nothing was left to show for their big adventure but a nearly $2 Billion bill to the US government (in today’s dollars), a few bits of unusable equipment strewn in their path, and far-out stories of a wild ride.
Sounds like the plotline for the next “Hangover” movie, doesn’t it? What do you think happened to these three thrill seekers?
Would you be surprised if I told you they ended up lionized as some of the greatest heroes of all time, and their adventure inspired a generation?
That might make sense if I gave you two more bits of information: The equipment they destroyed was a Saturn V rocket, and their joyride was the Apollo 11 mission to the moon.
There’s a vital spiritual lesson here.
Before the launch, these three men were sitting on top and in control of the world’s most sophisticated asset, built at a cost of millions of man hours and billions of dollars. They had worked tirelessly and played their cards right for their entire careers to get to this point, where they were respected as the elite of the elite and in the center of international media attention.
And then came the moment when they had to make the conscious choice to push the launch button. They knew that single decision would destroy the rocket that carried them, use up every last drop of their fuel, put their very lives in jeopardy and – if they survived – inevitably leave them stranded and helpless in the middle of a vast ocean. All to plant a flag on a far-away rock.
When God calls us to do something, this is what He is asking, and it is a conscious choice we must make. For the astronauts, they had the full support of the US government behind them and they understood the Big Picture purpose of it all, so I’m sure they didn’t hesitate to launch when it was time. For us, all we have behind us is an invisible God and promises of eternity, and we often lose sight of the Big Picture. As a result, I’m ashamed to admit, we often don’t push the launch button when called upon.
Have you ever noticed that it’s the young, relatively inexperienced entrepreneurs who seem to hit all the home runs in business? Why is this?
I’m beginning to see that there’s a negative, worldly version of “wisdom” that can hold back the most capable of us.
When a young person sees a vision, he sees nothing but the potential, whereas older ones often see nothing but risk.
Sadly, the folks who have been around the block a few times – the ones who have learned the most, and in theory are the most capable – often fail to answer the door when opportunity knocks. We can let our own idea of “wisdom” – we may call it “experience,” “due diligence,” or “caution” – drown out the call of God. Now, there’s nothing wrong with real wisdom, but fact is this thought process is often really a cloak for, “I’m wounded, jaded, tired, prideful, afraid, and/or I have too much to lose.” When this happens, we are allowing all the good aspects of our life experiences to be negated by the bad ones. I admit, I’ve fallen into this trap.
Imagine how Moses must have felt after his first encounter with Pharoah after returning from the wilderness. “Let my people go,” he’d said. Pharoah’s response was not only “heck no,” but he harshly added to the forced labor of the Israelites, who of course loudly complained to Moses.
So here’s this 80-year old man who had once again failed. I’m sure there was a part of him screaming to himself, “I knew it! Last time I tried to help these people, I lost my place in the palace and ended up spending forty years in the wilderness. Now I’ve screwed it up again!”
And then guess what God did? He told Moses to go back to Pharaoh and try again. When that failed, He did it again … and again … and again … and again. Nine times in a row, God called Moses to failure, and each and every time it made matters worse for himself and his people.
Thank God Moses didn’t refuse to hit the launch button the tenth time. Had he let his “wisdom” get in the way … well, who knows how many more generations of Israelites would have lived in slavery?
The early apostles didn’t hesitate to lay down their nets and follow Christ, and they eventually lost everything as a result. Think they’d do it again if they had the chance? Or, do you think their “due diligence” would lead them to make another choice? (“This fishing business isn’t so bad after all! We should just make a lot of money and give it to the ones on the front lines…”)
Paul was influential and upwardly mobile in the Jewish hierarchy when Christ called him. He could have refused the call, and may well have ended up as High Priest. Instead, he didn’t let his “wisdom” hold him back.
Think of all the towns where he ended up beaten or imprisoned, only to launch off to the next town and start over again, and again, and again. He could have given up at any time and retired to Tarsus as a successful tentmaker. But he lived all-in, and never looked back.
Paul knew that the things we build on this earth will all burn someday, and he knew that the trials we face exist to build our character and faith, and so – despite all the times he was broken and hurt – he was not afraid of being broke or hurt again.
The only things we can take from this world to the next are the character, people and relationships that we build in Christ. God gives us everything else – wealth, fame, followers, facilities, reputation, etc. – for this one purpose: To serve as our own Saturn V rocket, to launch us to new places to plant the flag of His Kingdom.
So you’re one of the elite. So you’re at the top of it all, and the whole world is watching. Guess what? You can’t take it with you!
You have a choice, and if you’re afraid to push the button, and put it all on the line, every time God calls, He will eventually pry you from the command module and put in a new crew who will use it for His purposes.
God wants to plant His flag somewhere new. He’s calling you to do it.
Are you willing? Or, like the rich young ruler, will you refuse?
I’m not telling you to abandon wisdom. Instead, I’m imploring you to reject the false “wisdom” of the world that keeps able men and women bound up in the prison of “risk aversion.” I’m encouraging you not to lean on your own understanding. Don’t let the fear of trouble or persecution or failure, or the cares of this world and deceitfulness of riches, hold you back from hearing the Lord’s call and pushing the launch button when it’s time.
Yes, God tells us to count the cost, and that’s like a “due diligence” of sorts. But He also tells us not to worry about tomorrow, or what we will eat, drink or wear. As Christ said it, such worry is the opposite of seeking the Kingdom. “Counting the cost,” as He means it, is simply being conscious of the quantity of poker chips you have, and then pushing them all-in to the center of the table anyway.
You know what? He may have another lesson for you at the end of this assignment, and it may be one that He knows is best learned by abject failure. Do you trust Him? Are you willing? You have a choice.
Whether you have a lot or a little to your name, fact is you have nothing to lose and everything to gain, because God is still real and His promises are still true — the same as when you were young and reckless, and the world was yours for the taking. He doesn’t change. Have you let the world change you?
It may be a relationship, or a business venture, or taking your ministry in a radical new direction. Whatever it is the Lord is calling you to do, the words of Franklin Delano Roosevelt ring true: “The only thing to fear is fear itself.”
(And fear by any other name is just as bad.)
– You are the salt of the world. Stay salty, my friends!
Holding you, I held everything
For a moment wasn’t I the king
But if I’d only known how the king would fall
Hey who’s to say, you know I might have changed it all
And now I’m glad I didn’t know
The way it all would end, the way it all would go
Our lives are better left to chance
I could have missed the pain, but I’d have had to miss the dance
— From “The Dance” by Garth Brooks
Don’t let the fear of pain keep you on the sidelines when God calls you back to the dance floor.
I can be obsessive. The Bible says that whatever our hand finds to do we should do it with all our strength, and doing so is hardwired into my psyche. When I focus on something, I really dig into it and don’t rest till I fully get it. While my kids might tell you this can lead to some over-the-top board game competitions in my family, I don’t think on the whole it’s a bad personality trait.
The Bible also tells us to be wise and to take our thoughts captive. Doing the one without the other – that is, committing fully to something without being strategic about it – is a surefire recipe for a misspent life. In my youth, I gave myself to all sorts of projects and causes that, sadly, will not stand in light of eternity.
As a result, over the years I’ve learned to be deliberate about my obsessions, to guard my passions. I realize I’m past the midpoint in my life and I don’t want to waste my remaining years pursuing random, meaningless or selfish things.
As my recent string of blog posts reveals, for quite some time I’ve been focused on getting to the heart The Way that God desires for us to function as a Body of believers. Some folks have asked why this is so important to me, as it can seem like an obscure topic. No doubt it’d be easier for me to follow the herd and focus my attention on the latest football stats, celebrity gossip or political drama, and then sit in a pew and baaaa in unison with the rest of the sheep.
This pursuit has proven to be a challenge and a sacrifice, as it’s taken me into a territory where I often feel the need to tiptoe and whisper, lest I incur the wrath of those who are content with the status quo. But try as I might, I simply don’t think there’s anything more important for me to be obsessed about. This is where the Lord has called my attention, and I can’t rest till I complete my assignment.
As I see it, there are three main reasons why this is so important:
First is practical. For years I sat in pews, served on committees and paid my tithes at a local “church,” going through the motions of churchianity. All the while, we heard messages, sang songs, and participated in studies based on the Bible, which was said to be the inerrant Word of the God (the same God, we were told, who established this “religion” to begin with).
Call me a rebel, but I figured, if I’m going to give so much of my life to my “church” and abide by its rules for living, I should probably read its Holy Book and see what it says. In it, I found a number of crystal-clear promises like if I seek first God’s Kingdom and righteousness, He will provide for all my physical needs, and if I trust and acknowledge God above my own understanding, He will guide my steps. I also read that the Christian’s life is supposed to be marked by true and abiding peace, love, joy and contentment in all situations (which I certainly wasn’t feeling despite my devotion to “church”).
And so I decided to see for myself if all this stuff was legit. I mean, if the Bible is true and God is real, then He should be able to keep those promises, right? And if He can’t, then it’s all a big joke and we’re wasting our time with all this “church” stuff. If it’s not true, and there is no eternal judge or afterlife, then we’re fools not to live large and make the most of our time on earth. On the other hand, if it really is true, then we’re fools not to do every single thing He tells us to do, every step of the way. Living in the twilight zone in between these, as I did for so long, is a meaningless, pointless existence.
To get to the bottom of it all, I jumped into my part of God’s promises with both feet, and it wasn’t long before I saw first-hand that God is real and His promises are true. He’s given me everything He promises and then some, and has demonstrated His reality in countless, miraculous ways.
Grounded in this certainty, I’ve made my pursuit of the Living God and His perfect will my overriding obsession. I want to know Him more and understand – and obey – His Word as deeply as humanly possible. I’d be a fool not to. And since the thing we call “church” absorbs the lion’s share of the time and money we dedicate to God, I figured this was a good place to start digging into His will.
Fact is, if I found out “church” as we know it today is aligned with God’s desire, then I’d want to do it will all my strength. (And I’d want to know which one is right, because most claim all the others are wrong.) On the other hand, if the way we practice “church” is not what God desires, then why do it? If it’s for tradition alone, that’s a terrible reason. Think about it: If we’re off target with this, we’re flushing a massive, tragic amount of human time, talent and treasure down the toilet – and missing the full realization of the blessings God has in store for us.
So my quest for the truth of Church is, in part, fully practical. I want to know how God wants us to live, and I want to follow it to the best of my abilities – because I want to grab hold of all that He has in store for me, and I don’t want to waste my time on an activity He doesn’t endorse.
The second reason I believe this is a worthwhile obsession is because we are called, as ambassadors of Christ, to truly serve the needs of others, as He served us. This is the true religion that pleases God, and we are falling terribly short of it.
We were designed by God to fully thrive only when rightly connected to the Body, according to The Way put forth in Scripture. It is in and through the healthy Body of Christ alone that all our needs are truly met: financial, physical, emotional and spiritual.
Compared to the integrated, inter-dependent, egalitarian, dynamic, immersive, organic fellowship experience of the early Church, our “churches” today offer very little. Sure, there are often “fellowship” opportunities in the “fellowship hall,” and many are making headway with “home groups,” but these are insignificant in light of the richness of true Body life as God intends it.
The lifestyle of the early Church, as recorded in Scripture, is so foreign to us that we simply don’t know what we’re missing and how badly we’re failing. If only we knew how much better things could be for all of us – especially for “the least of these” – I believe we’d drop everything to grab hold of it. If the Body were to stand up in its full potential, we would transform the world overnight.
Instead, we live lives of disconnectedness … superficiality … lack … competition … fear … pride … despair. Scratch the surface of just about any “church” today and – if you are sober-minded and humble enough to admit it – you will find these in abundance. We should stop accepting this as our lot in life! It doesn’t have to be this way!
(Please understand, I say this in comparison to The Way that God desires for us. I’m not pointing fingers at anyone; I’m just trying to point us all towards Him. No doubt there are a huge number of “churches” that are much better than the cruel world. It’s just that to me, “better than” is not satisfactory when Christ came to give us the best.)
Here’s a hard truth: If you’ve sat in the same “church services” as someone for a long time, and you’re not integrally connected to each other – sharing possessions, truly serving each other’s needs, praying insightfully for each other, enjoying frequent fellowship, and so on – then you can call that place a lot of things, but please don’t call it a Church, because God sure doesn’t. Deep, all-in, intimate interconnectedness, where we come together to fully meet each other’s needs, is the heart of the Biblical definition of Church. But it’s virtually unheard of in “church” today.
This kind of interdependence is such an inborn need that throughout history countless millions of people have fought and died for corrupt, counterfeit versions. In reality, the promise behind communism and socialism is nothing more than an empty, evil, God-less version of the promise of true Church. There’s a reason this political paradigm is a continual, global force to be reckoned with. The meteoric rise of “social networking” is another testament to this universal human need. God made us to crave Body life!
We will never have our own needs fully met, or be able to meet the needs of others as we are called to, until we rediscover The Way. We will never be able to fully practice the true religion that pleases God, or unleash our full potential, until the living Body of Christ rises up, free from the shackles of division, human control and traditionalism.
Until we do our job, fake, shallow and harmful counterfeits will continue to flourish, and the people of the world – even “churchgoers” – will continue to needlessly suffer.
The third and most important reason I’ve focused so long on this topic is because I believe it’s central to God’s Big Picture, His original intent for creation and mankind.
God’s first words to mankind were the instructions to establish dominion, to conquer. Some of the last words in the Bible say that “he who conquers will inherit all things.” From beginning to end, and all points in between, the Bible gives us examples, instructions, promises and commands from God all pointing to His overriding desire for us – His children – to establish His Kingdom on earth as it is in Heaven.
Creation exists, and we are here in it, for this one purpose, and the end won’t come till we are done. We are not here just to “do our best” or enjoy “prosperity” until some random “end of the world.” We are instead here to conquer the kingdom of darkness; to follow His step-by-step guidance, and make use of His divine provision and power, to continually and successfully advance His Kingdom into every sphere.
The more I dig into it, the more I realize that God’s Kingdom is synonymous with His Body. The uprising of the Body of Christ is the same thing as the manifestation of the Kingdom come. The Body is the Kingdom – the Kingdom of righteousness, love, peace, joy and contentment in the Holy Spirit. It is the living entity that will emerge when we all let Christ live in and through us, and allow Him to knit us together in the unity of the Spirit.
His Kingdom cannot advance separate from true, organic Body life. It will come not by might or power, but by the Spirit of God – inside-out and from the bottom-up. Ultimate victory will not come through building projects, committees, mass-market campaigns, strident activism, or any amount of time and expense sunk into the institutions we call “church.” These things only get in the way.
We’ve been doing “church” our way for centuries, and yet we’re increasingly mocked, marginalized and fragmented. I’m passionate about God’s Kingdom, and so I am passionate about rediscovering God’s strategic plan for His Body on earth.
Advancing the Kingdom is our God-given mandate and purpose, and our only path to an eternal inheritance. By His design, there is only one way to advance the Kingdom, and that is by following The Way.
And so, yes, I think that getting to the heart of this is a worthwhile obsession. I wish more Christians felt the same!
– You are the salt of the world. Stay salty, my friends!
Are you up for an adventure?
I am convinced there simply must be more to our faith than what we’re experiencing today, and I can’t rest till I find it.
I mean, we claim that we trust the Bible and strive to follow its instructions. So why is it that, when we read about The Way the early church functioned, it seems so foreign? Why does the way we follow our “religion” seem to have more in common with the Pharisees and Romans who persecuted our faith’s founding fathers – not just in practice, but in results. When’s the last time you saw a real, honest-to-goodness, in-your-face miracle? It was a daily occurrence back then.
Something’s just not right. I mean, we have the same Word they did, with the same promises of guidance, provision, power and victory. We have the same Father, the same Savior, the same Spirit and the same divine destiny. In fact, we’re more advanced in knowledge, technology and organization today than they were back then. And yet, compared to their vibrant, growing, influential, adventurous, miracle-filled Body life, we are by and large languishing in hollow, powerless, tradition-bound, entertainment-oriented, personality-driven social clubs we call “church.”
Is the Biblical record of the early church simply a collection of fables?
Did God change His plans, cancel His promises, or withdraw His Spirit from the earth?
Is The Way no longer how God wants us to function?
Is the enemy more powerful than Christ, and we’re not really “more than conquerors”?
Is our faith irrelevant in the modern world?
If we think we’re doing things “right,” then these are the only possible explanations for the fact our “church” is night-and-day different from the early Church.
If you, like me, reject these explanations, then we must come to the conclusion that the way we are practicing our faith and fellowship today is simply way, way off the mark. This is the only possible way to explain why what we call “church” is so different from what’s clearly spelled out in the Bible, both in practice and results: We have wandered from The Way.
I, for one, believe the Bible is accurate, God is who He says He is, His promises are still true, His Spirit is still present, Christ is supreme, we are more than conquerors in Him, and our faith is every bit as relevant today as it has been since the dawn of time.
And because of this, I march forward with the certainty that we can and should return to The Way God desires for us, and that when we do, our cultural tide will turn, signs and wonders will abound, and the Kingdom of God will once again advance towards dominion on earth as it is in Heaven.
Now I’m no fool. From personal experience and what I read in the Bible, I know that returning to the simplicity and power of The Way will be the most challenging journey we’ve undertaken. The enemy wants us to remain bound up in tradition, ritual, “religion,” and rigid organizational structures. The world wants us to sit nice and quiet inside our steeple-topped boxes. Our “church”-bound brethren will think we’re “rocking the boat” or have lost our minds.
The deck seems stacked against us. Getting from here back to The Way can seem like an impossible journey. But our faith demands we pursue it!
The Apostle Paul made clear that, in God’s eyes, under the New Covenant, those of us who have faith in Jesus are the true Israel. Because of this, I believe the experience of the Old Covenant Israelites in Egypt, and their journey to the Promised Land, is a divine foreshadowing of where we are right now, and where we need to go.
Like they were then, today we are slaves to a religious system that requires us to give up our day of rest to primp and rush to participate in a pre-fab, tradition-based, shallow, Sunday morning show. This system hoards the Lion’s share of our offerings to build opulent edifices and grand pyramids (that is, organizations built under positional authority). It exalts a select group of “clergy” whom we are to obey and bankroll. Worst of all, by controlling our language and traditions, this system has convinced us that to escape from it will mean certain spiritual death.
Yet our Savior came to set us free, and to proclaim a Kingdom to come, that is our rightful inheritance! In Him, we have a grand destiny, with the absolute pledge of divine guidance, power and provision as we push forward to claim it.
Yes, it will be rough. We’ll be forging into the unknown, facing unimaginable obstacles and hostile enemies. There will no doubt be times that some among us will long to return to the days of slavery, when being a “Christian” meant nothing more than sitting in a pew, forgetting how empty and weak we were under that system.
But we can’t go back, and we can’t have both. To pursue God’s Way demands we make a choice, go all-in, and never look back. We must summon the courage to face the unknown. Our loving Father has engineered it this way, so that our journey can make us more dependent on Him, stronger in faith, and more closely connected to each other.
Like the Israelites advancing towards the Promised Land, our quest for The Way is really a long-awaited homecoming. Just as the Israelites dwelled in the Promised Land before they abandoned it, true, organic, dynamic Church is where we come from. Just like their original migration to Egypt, I’m sure our journey away from The Way made sense at the time; as famine drove the Israelites to Pharoah’s land, our early Church fathers were under brutal Roman persecution. And like the promise of property to settle near the Nile, Constantine’s offer of institutionalization probably seemed like a great blessing at the time.
And just like the Israelites in Egypt, the passage of time has brought us to the same spiritual bondage experienced during Moses’ boyhood. How much longer do we have to languish before we rise up and break free?
Staying in spiritual Egypt – that is, sitting silent in pews, stuffing bulletins and slaving on committees as acts of “ministry work,” trying not to sleep during the “sermon,” letting the bulk of our giving be squandered for buildings and staff, going along to get along – is just not a viable alternative. I’d have to flush everything I’ve learned, most of it the hard way, down the toilet. I’d need a spiritual lobotomy, and I refuse.
A great adventure lies ahead. We have a wilderness to endure, a community to forge, enemies to battle, a river to cross, and a Kingdom to establish. We can’t know what it will look like; thankfully, we are promised victory, and we can rely on the Spirit at every step.
Yes the advance of freedom will be hard. But the words of Joshua and Caleb, spoken on the banks of the Jordan as they gazed into the Promised Land, still ring true today: “If the Lord delights in us, then He will bring us into this land and give it to us, ‘a land which flows with milk and honey.’” (Numbers 14:8)
Will you join us?
– You are the salt of the world. Stay salty, my friends!
There are some things that make no sense if you divide them up and try to understand them piece-by-piece. Cut a balloon in half and give it to someone who’s never seen one before. Think he’ll figure out its purpose? Like a piston without a cylinder, or a fuselage without wings, some parts have no use disassembled.
Scientists call this “irreducible complexity.” Things that can’t be reduced beyond a certain point and still work right are irreducibly complex. An eyeball, for example, requires each of its pieces to be in its proper place for the eye to see. A retina or cornea or lens by itself has no use.
We must remember this when we study The Way God wants us to practice Church. Irreducible complexity in the Body is a principle that was long-ago abandoned, as the trend toward elite clergy and distinct denominations took over. The “theology” of Christianity, as studied in disconnected-from-reality seminaries and implemented in churchianity, has become a vehicle for dissecting the Word, analyzing it piece-by-piece, and then re-assembling it in all sorts of odd ways. It seems every denomination and leading non-denominational “church” has its own unique angle on how they practice “our” religion.
Problem is, in this traditional way of doing things, we’ve come up with all sorts of Frankenstein-ish monsters. Instead of accepting God’s blueprint for Church as an irreducibly complex design, we’ve served it up al-la-carte, picking only those pieces that tickle our taste buds. In God’s nutritional plan, however, it’s only the full meal deal that satisfies; any selective combination of entrees leaves us hungry at best, and can even be toxic.
As I see it today, there are five elements of The Way that are irreducible integral to the proper functioning of the Body. If we don’t understand and embrace all the other components, each one by itself doesn’t make much sense, and can be harmful to practice:
- The first element is the fact that followers of The Way are called by God to have all things in common, fully sharing their possessions and income with each other so that there is true equality among the brethren. Practice this without the others, and you’ll likely end up in a cult compound somewhere, on the FBI watch list, with “tongues of fire” courtesy the BATF. Kool-Aid anyone?
- Second is that we are supposed to maintain the strictest of standards for those we include in the fellowship. Paul was very clear that we are to “expel the immoral brother.” Active maintenance of the highest standards for inclusion is absolutely vital to a healthy Body that has everything in common. The mutual vulnerability and interdependence that is central to The Way requires that we employ high barriers to entry and active filters. If we truly practiced Body life, we’d be blithering fools to establish watered-down “altar calls” as the only criteria for membership, or to “turn the other cheek” to a brother who persisted in sin. Our outstanding obligation of forgiveness, love, mercy and grace does not carry with it the obligation to blindly trust or foolishly include a wayward brother. Those who seek to practice this principle exclusive of the others, however, flirt with legalistic hypocrisy.
- Third, we are to follow the step-by-step leading of the Holy Spirit in everything we do. Each member of the Body is to receive his or her instructions from, and be obedient to, the headship of Christ, and nothing else. God wants the Holy Spirit – and not tradition, intellect, or the patterns of this world – to fill in all the blanks and call all the shots, every step of The Way. Like the others, when we practice this in part, with blinders on, it can lead to bad results. True Spirit-led community is free from rigid organizational structures and positional authority. When we seek to follow the leading of the Spirit inside the constraints of churchianity, we can end up with all kinds of cockamamie, hyper-emotional jibberish that we attribute to the Holy Spirit. That, or we can wind up seriously wounded and discouraged. My experience is that many pastors encourage us to “listen to the Spirit” only to the extent that it fits nicely within their pre-fab organization and “services,” and the encouragement abruptly ends when the Spirit leads us to question the fundamentals of “church.” As a result, our growth is stunted, and the full work of the Spirit is constrained.
- Fourth is the understanding and pursuit of God’s original, victorious intent for mankind, the Gospel of the Kingdom. Our Father is raising us to reign with Him for eternity. To prepare us for this, He has giving us the task of establishing the dominion of His Kingdom on earth as it in Heaven. Victory is our destiny – not merely to endure and escape – and He promises to give us all the guidance, power and provision we need to accomplish this, when we follow Him step-by-step. Because the Kingdom can only manifest in full when the Body is properly formed and aligned — and today it’s not – many theologians have written off the reality of miracles, signs and wonders. Also, those who think advancing “God’s Kingdom” is equal to expanding their man-made religious system — instead of a Christ-centered, Spirit-led community of love — can cause serious damage. Examples include the Crusades and the ham-handed tactics of the “Religious Right,” who often do more harm than good. Conversely, without the centrality of the Gospel of the Kingdom, any attempt at true Body life is ultimately pointless.
- Finally, the fifth component is authentic discipleship from seasoned Spiritual fathers who are fully submitted to God. Paul was crystal clear that, in the Body, apostles are first, then prophets … and administrators are way down on the list. It was the apostles who were used by God to spark Body life in communities, and who helped teach, encourage, equip and maintain standards. Those with apostolic and prophetic Spiritual gifts, however, are designed to function and thrive only in the context of true Body life, and have little or no real place in the churchianity we practice today. Our rigid organizational structures, which are built around positional (and not Spiritual) authority, are ripe for corruption, incompetence and abuse, and are not designed to accommodate true Spiritual fathers. No wonder true apostles and prophets are written off by many as long-ago relics, and the folks who claim these titles today are often viewed suspiciously (and rightly so, in many cases).
No, the principles of Body life, taken one at a time, do not make much sense. Combined, however, they form the basis of fellowship that truly reflects the Body of Christ, a tangible manifestation of the Kingdom of God on earth as it is in Heaven. Church as God intends it is a community that wholly employs these principles.
– You are the salt of the world. Stay salty, my friends!
(Only remember that salt — sodium chloride — is made up of two components — sodium and chloride — that are poisonous when taken without the other.)
Life in the Body of Christ as God intends it, and as practiced by the first apostles and their brethren, is night-and-day different from what it’s evolved into today. One of the hallmarks of Body life back then was that “all who believed were together, and had all things in common, and sold their possessions and goods, and divided them among all, as anyone had need.” (Acts 2:44-45)
Literally going all-in for Body life was so central and vital to what they knew as Church that the Bible records an incident in which a husband and wife were struck dead by the Spirit for holding back from the fellowship a portion of the proceeds from sale of their property. (Acts 5:1-11)* They understood back then that following Christ required more than lip service or half-way commitment; it was an all-or-nothing deal.
One crystal-clear Bible reference is enough for most Christians to accept a principle. God must really want us to get this particular point because He re-iterates it numerous times in the New Testament, in detailed, no-interpretation-required passages.
Here’s another one: “… nor was there anyone among them who lacked; for all who were possessors of lands or houses sold them, and brought the proceeds of the things that were sold, and laid them at the apostles’ feet; and they distributed to each as anyone had need.” (Acts 4:34-35)
This tangible foundation of Body life was not unique to the faith epicenter in Jerusalem; rather, it was a key component of The Way they spread across the known world. Paul wrote about it extensively in his letters to the fellowships he founded.
To the brethren in Corinth, Paul explained the purpose of this key tenet of The Way was “that there may be equality. As it is written, ‘He who gathered much had nothing left over, and he who gathered little had no lack.’” (2 Corinthians 8:14-15) Stop and think about that a moment. It’s a breathtaking contrast to our generally-accepted way of thinking today.
In fact, Paul made the point that this Way of living is not just at the center of Body life, it is at the center of true love. In his second letter to the followers of The Way in Corinth, Paul told them how the fellowship in Macedonia was not only sharing with their local brethren, but these impoverished people, in spite of their lack, were still sharing generously with their brothers and sisters in other communities.
As Corinth was a more affluent community, Paul mentioned this to them to illustrate the true meaning of The Way, and to challenge them to do likewise. “I speak not by commandment,” he wrote, “but I am testing the sincerity of your love by the diligence of others.” (2 Corinthians 8:8, emphasis added)
In other words, Paul was saying this wasn’t a law – because in the New Covenant we’re no longer under the law – but instead, the diligent giving of the Macedonians, who shared fully even when they had little, was the benchmark of the sincere love that is supposed to be the defining characteristic of our lives.
In light of Macedonian love, how are we passing Paul’s test today? My friends, if we’re honest with ourselves, we must admit we’re not even enrolled in the same class, much less ready to take that test. We’ve got a long way to go.
It’s certainly understandable how we’ve let this one get swept under the rug. We want to believe we deserve and own the things we have, and if others have less than us, it’s because they’re not as smart, hard-working or “blessed” as we are. Sucks for them. The patterns of this world, and our human nature, tell us that this level of trust, love and sharing is crazy.
But crazy love is the point, isn’t it? What good thing has the Father held back from us? What did Jesus fail to give? This is The Way God loves us, and how He wants us to love each other.
It’s also supposed to be how those outside the Body know we are Christians. Not because we “go to ‘church,’ or put a fish sticker on our car, or act holier-than thou, or even because we claim to really, really, believe in Jesus. But rather, because we don’t claim to deserve or own anything, and we freely share with our brethren as they have need, to the point that there is literal, full, complete equality of all things within the Body.
As Paul continued to the Corinthians, “… you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, that you through His poverty might become rich.” (2 Corinthians 8:9, emphasis added) This was not an abstract, poetic, feel-good statement. In context, and in light of the tangible acts of the Macedonians’ love, the brothers and sisters in Corinth knew it was quite literal. This is the love we’re called to reflect; this is what Church means, and how God eagerly desires for us to live, even today.
Paul went so far as to say that this Way of life is a sign of true conversion. “Let him who stole steal no longer,” he wrote to the brothers and sisters in Ephesus. “But rather let him labor, working with his hands what is good, that he may have something to give him who has need.” (Ephesians 4:28, emphasis added)
In all the Bible references to the Body or Church and our roles in it, and in all the stories of the miraculous manifestation of the Kingdom come in those days, it is impossible to understand them if we don’t view them from this frame of reference.
More importantly, it is impossible for us to truly follow Christ or duplicate these same results if we don’t get it, and live it like they did. The Way really is a hard and narrow path. We really are called to be strangers here, separate from the world. All Christians really are supposed to be fully knit together, members of one another, like the cells in an indivisible, unified Body. Absolute, selfless loving-kindness really is supposed to be the most obvious characteristic of a Christian. God really does expect us to go all-in. This is The Way.
I must say, studying The Way our long-past brothers and sisters practiced their faith really convicts me, because it just seems so dang foreign. I mean, from our I-me-mine mindset – and I don’t care how “generous” I am, if “own” even one thing I consider my own, or if I know a brother or sister has less than me and I don’t do anything about it, then I’m guilty of it – the early Christians seem like a bunch of freaks from outer space. I mean really, if a community of believers today were to step out on faith and seek to embrace our true calling, most folks – even other “Christians” – would call them all sorts of things: fanatic, cult, hippy, or much worse. And that breaks my heart, because it shows me how far we’re missing the mark – and the mountain of work we have cut out for us.
God didn’t include all those stories and instructions so we would write them off as “quaint” or “foreign” or “irrelevant” to us. He included them to be a model for us; a blueprint for how we are supposed to be living.
Do we really believe what we claim to believe? Do we really trust the Bible, and the God who inspired it? If we do, then who among us is willing to put up or shut up?
Imagine what it would look like if all we did.
– You are the salt of the world. Stay salty, my friends!
*Yes, this story is traditionally explained in such a way as to suggest their only crime was lying to the Spirit. In light of the centrality of all-in sharing in the early Church, I think this traditional interpretation waters down the bigger point. We must look at it in context. This couple wanted to be considered part of the brotherhood, and said they would live up to the obligations, but they were unwilling to do what was required.
I remember as kid being forced to sit in a hard pew during Sunday “church services.” My mom would hand me some crayons and a piece of paper, or a small toy, or a snack, so I would be inconspicuously entertained as the music played and the holy man talked. Whatever it took, I guess, to keep me from being a distraction to the people who were there to “worship.” “Be quite,” I was often told. “This is God’s house.”
Occasionally, my father would give me some pocket change to “give to God” by putting it in the offering plate. I still recall a mental image of some guy behind the scenes stuffing all the offerings into a big bag and taking it to “God” in His office at the top of a tall building. What He did with it after that, I never knew.
The “services” were long, boring and way over my head. One time, I counted all the times I thought the pastor should have said “amen” during a long prayer. As I recollect, he could have finished that flowery oration more than a dozen times, but he just kept going on and on and on, until the long-awaited “amen” finally came, freeing me from the uncomfortable hands-folded/head-bowed position.
Often on the way to “church” my parents would argue, or yell at us kids, or say bad things about some other member they were at odds with. The anger and frustration would be thick, yet as soon as we stepped out of the car, we had to smile and act like everything was just great. “We’re at church,” was the reason given for the sudden suppression of true feelings. Of course we had to be “nice” and put on our Sunday best whenever we visited “God’s house,” didn’t we?
I was too young to know the details, but I recall my father many times coming home fit-to-be-tied after some or another “church” committee meeting. “They” were all a bunch of self-serving, incompetent idiots, and just didn’t “get it,” was basic gist of his reports.
Sure we kids sang the little song, “the church is not a building, the church is not a steeple, the church is not a resting place, the church is the people…” But we did it in a building, with a steeple, that we called “church,” so this quaint little ditty really made no sense at all. Even back then, I think I knew what “hypocrite” meant. “The medium is the message,” Marshall McLuhan said. True that.
When I grew older and finally moved from home – after all the Sunday school classes with sugary, goody-two-shoes teachers … all the V-BS arts and crafts, flannel graphs and Kumbaya sing-alongs … all the gold stars for getting my memory verses right … all the youth functions with some dorky, over-the-hill dude who tried too hard to be cool to “connect” with us kids … all the countless “services,” and “sermons,” and potlucks in the fellowship hall – I was finally given a choice of whether or not I wanted to get up early on Sunday morning to “go to church.” Of course, my reaction was not just “no” but “hell no.”
Who really wants a God who is distant and dull? I mean, if His “house” is so boring and fake, His designated holy men are so namby-pamby, His “services” are so repetitive and rote, and His “church”-going “children” so superficial and divided – and if, in the end, after all our effort and expense to be active in “church” we’re really no different than our neighbors who actually get to sleep late on Sundays – what’s the real point of it all? I sure as heck didn’t see it.
I still don’t see the point. Thankfully, however, I’m now able to distinguish between the reality of the Living God, and the box we’ve put Him into after 2,000 years of tradition … between the things God truly does for and through us, and the things we’ve done ourselves “in His name” … between His true children (those who are led by the Spirit), and those who simply claim to “believe” … between God’s organic design for Church, and the clergy-led social clubs we call “church.”
But back then, however, the very thought that the true God was way different from (and also displeased with) “church” as we know it was not in my frame of reference. So I walked away from “church,” and pretty darn near walked away from Him, too. Had I only known then what I know now, I would have been spared loads of heartache.
Thankfully, my Good Shepherd left the 99 others and came after me. He had to chase me halfway across the country, and through quite a few dark places, but He got me, and I’ve been with Him ever since. Now, I haven’t been in “church” so much – I sat through a “service” only a handful of times during a recent decade! – but I’ve been blessed with an ever-closer walk with Him. Odd, isn’t it, that the further the “organized church” gets in my rearview mirror, the closer I get to Him? Maybe that’s not so odd after all.
You see, a big problem with the way we practice “church” today is that we can be so adamant in claiming our way of practicing “church” is the only way to connect with God, that when people reject our way, they end up rejecting our God, too. This happens way, way more often that most “church” people realize.
(“Well, they never came to my ‘church,’” you may say. You must realize, I’m not just talking about the specific way it’s practiced at “XYZ Church,” I’m talking about the whole dadgum thing we call “church” today – the whole show-up-at-the-designated-time, face-the-front, sing-the-music, listen-to-the-lecture, put-the-money-in-the-basket thing – because that sure as heck isn’t “church” as God designed it. I don’t care how much your “church” dresses it up or claims to be “non-traditional” or “relevant” – or, on the flip side, how diligently you’ve kept the traditions of your denomination’s founders – if you recognize a distinction between “clergy” and “laymen,” you think a “service” is a pre-set time and way of meeting, or you think funding your local “church” is equal to giving money to God, then yes, I’m talking about your “church.”)
Fact is, whether they leave from burnout, woundedness, boredom, a subconscious realization that our traditional practices are hollow and man-made, or seeing that we Christians can’t agree on even the smallest things with the folks at the “church” down the road, “back-door losses” are a big issue in churchianity. In all my efforts at evangelism, I must say, this seems to be THE primary reason most of the “lost” in our culture don’t want to get found: They, or someone who influences them has been there, done that, and got the bloody t-shirt to show for their experience in “church.” Truly, I do believe that what we have done “for” God all these years has driven more people away from Him than the devil himself. The devil can only offer emptiness, shallow “solutions,” and short-term “pleasure.” We’ve been doing the same, only we’ve been stamping Jesus’ name on it.
The fruit of the Spirit – love, joy, peace, patience, gentleness, kindness, mercy, self-control – is what everyone in the history of the world has ever looked for. And it can only be found in an authentic relationship with God through Jesus Christ. And this can only be fully experienced in Body life as He designed it. Jesus Christ – as manifest through His true Body on earth – is the authentic hope of the nations, and the true, deepest desire of every human being. When we finally get this, we will be an unstoppable force.
But to get it, we must learn to separate God from churchianity, and choose which one we will serve. Because the two are NOT the same.
Introducing people to God through Jesus Christ is entirely unrelated to inviting them to “church.” In fact, inviting them to “church” is quite often the very worst thing we can do for them!
We must learn to truly trust God. If we do our job and personally introduce people to Him, He certainly reserves the right to lead them to plug into a “church” and participate in “services.” And if He does, more power to them! If He doesn’t, then we must realize that Father knows best.
– You are the salt of the world. Stay salty, my friends!