Pilgrimage, Journey, Story and The Ultimate Goal

They go from strength to strength; each appears before God in Zion.

-Psalm 84:7
All of life is a journey, a story and a pilgrimage.  We are sojourners and pilgrims.  We are pilgrims making progress and we are pilgrims who are pioneer explorers, on our way somewhere.
The life of the believer is not static.  If we do not move, we will be moved, backwards.  We are always being called to move forward, upward and onward: from strength to strength.
We are always gaining new skills as we go further along in the journey.  The skills are things like humility, graciousness and deeper and wider love.  
As believers, we are growing up and the fruit of the Spirit that grows in our lives is deeper in flavor and in the exquisiteness of its refreshment.  As we are built and strengthened, we are growing up before we grow old.
The further on that we go, from strength to strength, we have better discernment and we are more patient with others.  We talk less and listen more.
The further along we go, the better that we are able to love in agape, sacrificial, unselfish Christ-like love.  A sign or example of someone who has been on the strength to strength journey with God, is that they handle challenging people with more grace, love and forgiveness.
There is a saying that, “Even the Lone Ranger had Tonto”.  Going solo in your whole life is a no no.  
Have you ever looked at the V formation of birds, particularly migratory birds, in flight.  Birds, designed by God, often practice shared leadership, in flocks.  Migratory birds would not be able to make their long journey without shared leadership.
We need the support and shared leadership of others, for our journey.  God did not design us to “go it” or be alone.  Sin is bad and destructive.  But a human condition that is deemed “not good” is being alone.  We need a companion, we need a friend; and the best way to find a companion or a friend is to be one to a variety of people and some of these will stick (around).  There is a proverb that says to find a friend, be friendly.
We are plural as friends, family, church and community; but we are each, singularly on a journey to God.  And God, Elohim, is plural.  God is three in one and the God who appears in different ways, but is still the God, God, the only true God.
We are on a journey together, but as individuals.  Each one of us has our own relationship with God.  Some or much of it is secret and intimate, although we share with others about our relationship.  I am ultimately seeking God in an “I Thou” relationship or encounter.
Even though I am one of Jesus’ disciples, in the larger group, he says to me as an individual, “follow me”.  If I ask him about someone else and their walk with him, he will usually tell me to love that person, and follow Him.  His dealings with others are sometimes instructive, but I am ultimately responsible for myself and what he has called me to do and be.  And my quest is to follow him and obey him and become who he is making me to be and do what he has for me to do.
We together are sojourners, on a journey together, with those we live with or have partnered, aligned or been made family with through Christ in the church.  Our whole groups depend on our leaders who spearhead our journey together and make choices when there are a number of options on the path.  And sometimes there is a disagreement and we reason together and prefer one another while sharing wisdom and passionate desires in what or how we think God is guiding us, and we seek for a consensus.
We all have the ultimate goal of seeing God face to face and hearing God say words to us individually.  We all have the goal of resting in God now and forever.  The goal of life for believers is to be with God and that is what animates and gives fuel, inspiration and endurance for the whole journey of our life stories.

Decision Making In The Church: notes from Michael Green

For it was the Holy Spirit’s decision—and ours—to put no greater burden on you than these necessary things.

-Acts 15:28

Photo: Pixabay
These are notes and quotes from “Thirty Years That Changed The World: The Book of Acts For Today”, by Michael Green (1993: Acts For Today, 3rd Ed., 2004)
Chapter 11: What of Their Church Life? –The decision making of the church:
  

“How should decisions be made in the Christian church?  In many churches, decisions are made by the minister alone, or a group of elders.  The assumption is that they know best; that they are appointed to lead, and that therefore the church would be wise to let them get on with it.  However, this has led to some very bad decisions in many churches, so a strong reaction, coupled with cultural trends, has led to the opposite assumption: the church is a democracy and decisions should be made by arguing a case, by lobbying if need be, and then by voting.  The fact that this leaves a dissatisfied and probably aggrieved minority is reckoned to be just too bad.

The trend in recent years, at all events in mainline churches, has been to follow more closely the way of secular decision making, with its politics, its synods and its powerful standing committees.  The early church did not make decisions that way.  The overall principle they adopted, as we shall see, was to seek the will of God together, and then resolve to follow it.  There is no hint of voting, of powerful groups behind the scenes influencing decisions.  We see them proceeding in a variety of ways.” (p. 199)

Green then gives six ways of decision making shown to us in Acts (pp. 199-205), then writes this summary:

“All of these varied ways of decision making have one thing in common: there was an utter dependence on God to guide them, and an overwhelming desire that their personal preferences should not prevail but that God’s will should be done.  Prayer, scripture, and testimony to the present working of the Lord were all part of the process that led to decisions, and then, with the possible exception of Acts 15:36ff, it was put firmly in the hand of God for him to show his will.  As a result there was growth in fruitfulness.  And because it was done in this way, we do not find a minority of dissatisfied people angry with any of these decisions.

I believe that we have much to learn today from the decision making of the early church.  I have been on many committees and councils where major decisions have been hammered out, and have often missed the love and warmth I see in Acts, the prayer, the reverent wrestling with Scripture, the determination not to push one’s own view but rather seek God’s will.  Certainly these things have sometimes been given verbal ascent.  There has been prayer, maybe, before the room fills with smoke and the gloves come off.  But my lasting impression after many years has been that very often our decisions are man-made.  We seek to run God’s church our way and then ask his blessing on the result, or imagine that the Holy Spirit must be behind the majority.  We ape secular parliamentary procedures in our synods and wonder why the minorities are so resentful of what has been steamrolled through by the majority.  If we want to learn at all from the life and structures of the early church, we could do worse than allow ourselves to be influenced by their ways of making decisions.” (pp. 205-6)

Decision making through prayer, scripture, and testimony; is how they did it in the early church, chronicled in Acts.  It was neither a top-down, nor a pure (voting) democracy.  They discussed, they listened to each other with honor, and they searched the scriptures and prayed together about their decisions.

Listen, pray, go to the scriptures, listen, and pray.  

The Body Has Spoken

Now in giving the following instruction I do not praise you, since you come together not for the better but for the worse. For to begin with, I hear that when you come together as a church there are divisions among you, and in part I believe it. There must, indeed, be factions among you, so that those who are approved may be recognized among you. Therefore, when you come together, it is not really to eat the Lord’s Supper. For at the meal, each one eats his own supper ahead of others. So one person is hungry while another gets drunk! Don’t you have houses to eat and drink in? Or do you look down on the church of God and embarrass those who have nothing? What should I say to you? Should I praise you? I do not praise you for this!

For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you: On the night when He was betrayed, the Lord Jesus took bread, gave thanks, broke it, and said,“This is My body, which is for you. Do this in remembrance of Me.”

In the same way, after supper He also took the cup and said, “This cup is the new covenant established by My blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.” For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes.

Therefore, whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy way will be guilty of sin against the body and blood of the Lord. So a man should examine himself; in this way he should eat the bread and drink from the cup. For whoever eats and drinks without recognizing the body, eats and drinks judgment on himself. This is why many are sick and ill among you, and many have fallen asleep. If we were properly evaluating ourselves, we would not be judged, but when we are judged, we are disciplined by the Lord, so that we may not be condemned with the world.

Therefore, my brothers, when you come together to eat, wait for one another.If anyone is hungry, he should eat at home, so that when you gather together you will not come under judgment. And I will give instructions about the other matters whenever I come.

-1 Corinthians 11:17-34
Photo: Pixabay

I was in the car a few weeks ago, listening to KBRT, and I heard a remarkable story that I want to share.  I do not recall the exact details, but here it is:

There was a certain church, that was enjoying their lives together and they had a leader.  One day, that leader announced his plans or his vision for the next thing that they were going to do.  It was something like an outreach, a sister church plant, or a mission.  After he laid it out, the people had a chance to discuss it.  It was like, “What do you all think?”
The people, almost unanimously said, “No, we don’t want to do that”.  The leader listened.  There was a silence.  Then he opened his mouth and said these words:  “The church has spoken”.
This church continued life together.  And together, with it’s leader and leaders, decided what it wanted to do.
This story is remarkable because, so often this is not how our churches make decisions.  The one leader dictates or the elders or the hidden board decides.  When they do that, they kill body life and are not following the head.
Change is so difficult because the body is not recognized or a person or persons are assuming headship of Christ’s body.  When people’s voices are not heard, they simply leave.  We say, “They voted with their feet”, because their voices were not heard.

The kingdom of God is flat. Everyone is equal, but some are more mature. All are gifted, but some have equipping gifts, to coach and nurture and help set others on the playing field of Christ’s ministry.

There are no bosses in the body, only people who live in father and mother roles; and we are specifically forbidden from giving folks titles like “father”. We are just people with first names. No titles.

The man that I heard about on the radio, sounded like a gifted individual, who had gathered a group of folks, who were also under his care.  He got it that he is not the head of that body, but Christ is.  He was excited about the plan he had for what they were going to do.
But when they said “no thanks”, he accepted it and that was that.  Perhaps the idea he proposed was put away or on the back burner of his mind.  Perhaps later, they were ready and the consensus changed.
The beautiful thing is that, when there was opposition, in the body, he recognized or discerned it.  He (Jesus) is the head of the church, his body.  He leads his church, and we, his body, discern his leading.
In the world, they do not do it that way.  Men and women lead and the followers or employees follow or leave or are fired.  It is not supposed to be that way in the church.  
Are you leading in the world’s way or Jesus’ way?  In most churches that I have been familiar with, they say Jesus is Lord, but they lead their churches in a dictatorship or ruling committee of “the board” or “the elders” or “the elder board”, of people.
Have you ever seen or heard the leader say, “I have decided”, or “We have decided”, or “The elders have decided”?  Sometimes, when a big change is coming or there is a crisis, they will have a big meeting.  The meeting will be to tell us what they have decided and we will be lucky if they allow for questions.  There is no discussion, because it has already been decided.  
Why not instead, function as a body, where all the members of the body are on the same level, with Jesus as the head?  Watch not just what you say, but what you do and how you do it, in your leadership.

“Ah, I did not recognize you, but now I do.  You are the body of Christ, of which I am also, with only Him as the head.”

Sky Links 6-11-15

Photo: Spacebridge by longobord CC 2.0

And they were all together in one place…
-Acts 2:1

A Church For All Ages

Do you dream of a church where all ages are present?  I do.  J.R. Miller wrote some ideas about what his church has done to make this workable.  His church formulated, through a consensus of the adults, a list of expectations:

 Adults need to “Put on love” so we don’t ‘porcupine’ each other!  But what about the kids?  J.R. Miller wrote a

This list of expectations would be like a fence around a playground; it would keep our kids feeling safe, yet not restricted. The list of expectations would be like a guardrail along a cliff; it would provide security without unnecessary restriction.

So here is what we did.

The adults sat down during one of our gatherings and each of us listed behaviors we felt acceptable or unacceptable. This was a great opportunity for us, as parents, to build trust in one another to be responsible for holding all the kids accountable to our shared expectations.

J.R. Miller, What can we do with all these kids

Kevin Brown just wrote about why the “family of God” should gather all together, with all ages:

This fact seems almost strange in our day and age when, in many churches, we send our children off to “Children’s Church” to eat snacks, color and watch videos. Yet, as we study the Scriptures, we can’t find any verses in the entire Bible where the children were pulled out of the meeting. It would have been completely unorthodox to do so. There is never a time or an instance in Scripture when the children were separated from the parents/family when the people of God met together. At this point, I’m reminded of Jesus and his rebuke of the disciples for not allowing the children to come to him recorded in Mark 10:13-14:

And they were bringing children to him that he might touch them, and the disciples rebuked them. But when Jesus saw it, he was indignant and said to them, “Let the children come to me; do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God.”

I know for many churches, the idea of having young children in our services is very counter-cultural. Many church leaders and members say the children are too noisy and disruptive and people can’t worship the Lord. Yet, when we say these things, we are much like the disciples when they tried to shoo away the children. Consequently, in our day, we have lost the blessing of the full body being together in the meeting. Sadly, we have become comfortable with some of the body missing. How have we gotten to this point? The Church wasn’t this way in the New Testament or even 40 to 50 years ago. It has happened, because it’s convenient

…Children are a blessing of a growing church, not a nuisance.

I am grateful for a church that is literally willing to suffer for the children. I’m grateful for my granddaughter’s church, Parkview Baptist, in Morehead City, NC. They allow Charlotte to be with them. Thank you Pastor David Mills!

Yes, a church should allow families to worship together as a part of the onefamily. Churches have the opportunity to tell the body, (a family of families), that all are welcome at the Lord’s Table, even our youngest. I know for many reading this, seeing church life in this way is a total paradigm shift and would be a significant change in philosophy, church culture and practice at your church. But, I promise you what I’ve described to you embodies biblical patterns that can successfully be integrated in the fabric of any church if we’ll take the risk of being biblical versus convenient. 🙂

D. Kevin Brown, Why Do We Have Babies and Small Children in Our Church Services?

The photo is from a story about a house church, from NPR- Swapping Steeples For Sofas.


Robert Stamps: “The supper of the Lord is a place where Christ is appointed for the church to meet him.”

Dr. Robert Stamps teaches that what happens to us, by Christ, in communion, is the purpose of it.  Stamps has a PhD in Eucharistic Theology.  The emphasis of remembrance or memorializing Christ gets it wrong, says Stamps, because communion or The Eucharist is not about the past, but about the kingdom breaking in now.

Jesus said, “Do this in remembrance.”, not, “Remember as you do this.”  The “this” is Jesus working today in people’s lives (together), delivering and saving them to be his disciples.  The “this” is not a hushed (memorial) moment.  Christ’s life is celebrated in a meal with laughter and weeping, sharing life in his life.

The “table” is the table at your house, or in your “upper room”, and not a special table, on a stage, or at an alter.  Your table might be a tv tray or a blanket spread on the floor or ground.  The table is the place between us where we experience the presence of Christ.  That’s Holy Communion, The Lord’s Supper, or The Eucharist.

The message of the Lord’s Supper, Communion, or The Eucharist (and The Gospel); is that God comes to your house, to your table, into your world, in this world.  We’ve had it backwards.

Stamps said,

“We don’t don’t just reflect.  Jesus Christ is a living presence.  And when the church has communion, and ‘remembers’ him, we remember as an encounter…  John Wesley said we believe in a real presence with a real encounter.  Jesus Christ is not a distant savior back there in history.  Jesus Christ is alive and present to us in the Holy Spirit… So, the question is not one of how he is present, but what his presence will do to us.”

Robert Stamps- The Meaning of Communion

Dr. Stamps is a longtime friend of Wayne Jacobsen (Finding Church) and has been on Wayne’s show recently and in the past:

“The supper of the Lord is a place where Christ is appointed for the church to meet him.”

Broken ‘People Pickers’

Many of us have trouble in our friendships.  Friendships are very unsatisfying when they are one-sided, when you do most of the giving, while the other person mostly takes.  We are all in the process of ‘growing up’.  Donald Miller wrote, Do You Filter Your Friendships?  You Probably Should. :

Growing up as a Christian I was taught I should forgive and accept everybody. I still

believe that. But what forgiving and accepting has looked like over the years has changed.

One of the best pieces of advice I’ve received was given to me by my friend Ben. We were taking a break from a writing project, sitting out on my deck when I brought up some trouble I was having with a friend.  I’d grown a little tired of this friend using me and I was losing trust.

Ben said something I’d never forget.

He said You know, Don, there are givers and takers in this life, I got rid of the takers years ago and I’ve been better for it. I’d recommend you do the same. To be sure, this was reductionistic but Ben was making a general point.

The point is this: Some people aren’t trustworthy. He’s right. And if we don’t believe that, I think we’re being naive.

Don Miller: Do You Filter Your Friendships?  You Probably Should

Don highly recommends the book, Safe People, by Henry Cloud & John Townsend.

The Biggest Mistake a Successful Church Planter Can Make 

Aaron Gloy is the pastor of a 5 year old church.  He recently wrote about how church planting and
disciple making are two different things:

I was trained in all the conventional methods of planting a church. But what I wasn’t trained in and what I failed to think through entirely was how we were going to make disciples.

This is rather problematic when you consider that Jesus never commanded us to plant churches. He commanded us to make disciples. Now when you effectively make disciples I believe church planting becomes inevitable, but it is very possible to plant churches and never get around to actually making disciples.

I thought, studied and planned relentlessly when it came to planting our church, but disciple making wasn’t given nearly the same kind of attention. I assumed that if we moved people into small groups it would just sort of happen on its own. This is easily the biggest mistake I’ve made as a pastor and church planter…

Aaron Gloy- The Biggest Mistake I Made As A Church Planter.


NT Wright: “Jesus is the hinge on which the great door of history swings…  ‘As the Father has sent me, so I send you’, is the key to the Church’s mission.”     

Shane Blackshear interviewed NT Wright on his show.  I was deeply impacted by his words on Jesus and the kingdom and the church.  I found this book and his chapter in it, where he speaks on this more.  He takes up the issue of holding together the kingdom, the cross, and the resurrection.

“He is the crucified, resurrected, kingdom-bringer, and Israel’s Messiah.  His crucifixion established the kingdom, his resurrection established him as Messiah.  On the cross, he did the work of Messiah, defeating the powers of evil, conquering death.  His resurrection means new creation has come, now and here.” -NT Wright

This is Wright, from the 2010 Wheaton Theology Conference, on his work, that became this book; Jesus, Paul and the People of God: A Theological Dialogue with N. T. Wright.  These words are from his address & chapter entitled, “Whence and Whither, Historical Jesus studies in The Life of the Church?”:

“…What about fresh readings of the Gospels in the service if the church?

What is the “so what”?  This, I believe, is not basically about apologetics… but about mission.

Somehow, the whole complex of kingdom, cross, and resurrection must play out into a full-orbed gospel-rooted mission which will be significantly unlike the social gospel mission that forgot about the cross, or the “Jesus died for you” mission that forgot about the kingdom.

One of the great breakthrough moments for me when I was first struggling with historical Jesus questions was John 20:21: “As the father has sent me, so I send you.”

That derivative correspondence – the “as” and the “so”, with Jesus’ own mission the source and the template for that of his followers, as they receive the Spirit- suddenly opens up an entire hermeneutical world, demanding that the church again and again study the historical mission of Jesus not just to find out the back history of the crucified and risen One, but to realign itself with the shape and content of that mission in order to carry out its own.  

Jesus’ own mission becomes the template and the energizing force for all that the church has to do and be. We are to be for the world what Jesus was for Israel.

You will only understand the mission of the church in the world if, instead of using the canon as a closed story, a charmed circle in which it means what it means, but which you can’t break into or out of, you go back to Jesus himself, which is what the canon is pleading with you to do, so that you can then see who he was and is and then discern, in the power of the Spirit, what (who?) we have to do and be.

If you want to know what it looks like, read the book of Acts: a story of doing the kingdom, bearing the kingdom, suffering for the kingdom, and eventually announcing the kingdom under the nose of Caesar himself. That is what it looks like when the church goes out, with the breath of Jesus in our lungs, to tell the world that he is its rightful Lord.

Sometimes people get hurt; sometimes a thousand people get converted ; sometimes all sorts of things in between take place; and somehow the Gospel gets to Rome, to the center of human power and authority, to announce there that Jesus is Lord and God is king, openly and unhindered.

 To do this, however, the church needs constantly to reconnect with the real Jesus, who the canonical Gospels give us but whom we have so badly misunderstood.  The world will pull these things apart again, will lure us into the smaller worlds of either social work or saving souls for a disembodied eternity.  

Our various Western worldviews will force on us political agendas that are culled from elsewhere, which we can feel good about because they don’t have the cross attached to them.  

-NT Wright: “Jesus and the People of God: Whence and Whither Historical Jesus Studies and the Life of the Church.”Jesus, Paul and the People of God: A Theological Dialogue with N. T. Wright By Nicholas Perrin, Richard B. Hays (pp. 151-2).  The original audio of Wright’s lecture is here.

Engaging The LGBTQ Community

I listened to Debra Hirsch‘s Seminar on “Enagaging The LGBTQ Community”.  Debra Hirsch is the author of Redeeming Sex.  Here are some endorsements of her book:

“With lived experience, direct frankness and a pastoral heart, Deb Hirsch addresses the church on sexuality. In so doing, Redeeming Sex prepares the way for the places the church must go to be ‘among’ today’s confused and strife-ridden world of sexuality. It is a vulnerable gift that moves us beyond faulty stereotypes and pre-set notions. I cannot think of a better book to start the conversation.”

David Fitch

“Debra Hirsch’s own story—and what she learned about sex before and after meeting Jesus—is both convincing and convicting. But the book is more than testimony. Debra makes intelligent, faithful use of Scripture and of authors who have engaged with this topic. She also untangles key differences between sexuality and cultural roles. Noting the Bible’s extensive ‘sexual language and imagery,’ Debra affirms that ‘our sexuality lies close to our spirituality.’ Her book can lead Christians to an integration of sex and sanctity that enriches both—and makes us more faithful and redemptive disciples of Jesus Christ.”

Howard A. Snyder 

“I’m so grateful to Deb Hirsch for writing the best book on this conversation I have read. It speaks to the heart of our identity in Christ. It addresses complex and sensitive realities and tensions with grace, love, compassion, truth, justice and mercy. It is prophetic, profound, candid, transparent and should be read by every Christian. It will challenge you to the core, but we can no longer stick our heads in the sand and ignore the fact that people are hurting and need real answers to real issues. I am giving a copy of this book to everyone I know. It’s that important.”

Christine Caine

Deb Hirsch: Engaging The LGBTQ Community – Exponential Podcast (you  might need to subscribe)
Redeeming Sex (Amazon link)
A 4 minute video primer from Deb Hirsch, on the topic in her book.

Participate Now, Understand Later

Jesus answered, “You don’t really know (realize now, know now) what I am doing, but later you will understand.”

-John 13:7 (CEV, NIRV, NRSV)
I am fond of the quote by Søren Kierkegaard, where he says that life can only be understood looking back, but it must be lived looking forward.  What is implied is that we walk through things that we do not understand, that we do not know.  Later, we can know or understand.  We gain experience.  We are seasoned.  We get it now.
It is encouraging that we do not need to understand all things in order to participate in life.  Not understanding is normal.  I believe that God wants us to participate.  I believe that God calls each one of us to walk with him, into the unknown, in order to grow and to gain working knowledge of how to walk the walk.
I don’t really know what he is doing, and that is ok.  God chooses to not have us know.  He is doing something with me, and I don’t need to understand it.  He says that I will understand it later.  I think he wants me showing up and not understanding or knowing.  Saying, “I don’t know”, is humbling, but God gives grace to the humble (1).

We have things we want.  I have had things I have wanted to see God do.  All the time, God has been on the move, doing things, and wanting to do things.  I have not understood what he is doing.  But looking back now, I understand some of it and the good of it.

Peter and the other Apostles spent all that time, intimately with Jesus.  They heard and saw way more than we have in the four written gospels.  They had the day of Pentecost, so they were not lacking in spiritual fullness.  Yet, they did not understand the whole thing, all the time, and had to continually work things out.  They had to pray, they had to be bewildered.  They had to come together and seek consensus.

When Jesus knelt down to wash Peter’s feet, it threw him for a loop.  Jesus did something to him that he did not understand, that he frankly refused, but then accepted.  I like Peter.  And after all the intimate teaching, in the communion of the upper room, Peter also struggled with who he was and publicly saying who Jesus was to him.  This wavering, unsteady, man is the man who gets the revelation that Jesus is the rock that the whole called apart, gathered, people of God is built upon.

The lesson here is that we don’t have to understand.  He will teach us to understand.  And how Jesus teaches us is that he has us do things or he does things to us that we do not know.  They are not from us, they do not come natural to us.  They are ways of the spirit and they are paths in the kingdom of God.

I believe that God does not demand ever that we understand.  What he wants is faith that is walked out by showing up and participating in his life.  Jesus says, let me do this uncomfortable thing to you, that you don’t understand.  It is unknown to you, but see me, experience me in it.

When we let Jesus do something in our lives that we don’t know, that is uncomfortable; we end up with a spiritual upgrade.  You don’t get it now, but you will have experiential knowledge later.  When Jesus comes to do something to us, it is not optional.  If we don’t allow it, then our spiritual lives stunt or stick or halt there.

The road that he has for me goes through the uncomfortable experience.  Any other road is a detour, and when we are ready, the door to that path he chooses, is awaiting.  We talk about waiting on God or laboring in prayer and life, for God to do something.  All the while, God is waiting for us to let him do what he wants to do, with us, so that we can learn and grow, in him, on his path for us.

Jesus is often beckoning us into the uncomfortable, with him; while we are sad that he is not serving us, and making us comfortable and entertained.  The life is not about understanding, but about trust.

To say, “I don’t understand, but I trust you”, is to have faith and to gain experiential knowledge through intimate relationship.  Maybe God wants us in humility, so that he can grace us.

Real experiences with God are humbling, and that is a good thing.  We need to be obedient to the things he puts before us that are awkward and even seem backward.  We do not ever need to understand, but he says, that like Peter, we might get it later.  Today, he says, “just do it”.  And the one who calls us gives us the ability to do what he calls us to do (2).

______________________________________
1. Prov. 3:34. 29:23; James 4:6, 1 Peter 5:5
2. 1 Thess. 5:24

Sky Links 4-19-14

Truly,truly I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains alone.  But if it dies, it produces a lot of grain.

-John 12:24

He died so we could die

Ben Sternke wrote about dying to self and discipleship.  You Have to Die to Make Disciples:

On Good Friday I’m always reminded of Dallas Willard’s statement that Jesus didn’t die on the cross so we would never have to. Instead, he died on the cross so that we could join him there. Good Friday, when we commemorate this beautiful act of love and sacrifice and atonement, is a fitting time to reflect on the journey we take as leaders.

Ben Sternke writes about how we die when we offer discipleship and how we die some more when we walk beside others.

Plurality of Leadership is the NT model

I was browsing some denominational documents about how to run a church and there was a section on how, in their tribe, that the pastor (solo pastor, senior pastor) is the one who calls the shots, so to speak.  It basically said that each important decision is made by the one person.  The rationale or reasoning behind this was given as that it expedites getting things done.  There wasn’t even a fuzzy proof-text from the pastoral epistles.  A note to that line of argument is that Timothy, Titus, and most other names mentioned, were not pastors or leading local churches.

Ron McKenzie wrote in Being Church, about Leadership by Elders:

The New Testament calls for a unique leadership model.  Each church should be led by

the Holy Spirit working through a team of elders who are equal in status, but bring different gifts to the leadership process.  The co-ordinating and directing role belongs to the Holy Spirit.  He should be the leader of each church.

The principal of plurality of leadership is basic to the New Testament.  Each church should be led by several elders working together in unity.  They will submit to each other, by giving others permission to speak into their lives.  Important decisions will require consensus among the elders.  No elder will stand above the others.

Lucas Allen, Giff Reed, and Jordan Warner are three men who are doing this, leading their church together.  Jordan wrote A Case For Shared leadership in the Local Church.  Here’s some excerpts:

…In contemporary America, long-standing approaches of plurality in leadership have given way to today’s widespread hierarchical models which establish one person as ultimate authority. This pyramidal model of leadership generally leaves final control of the church in the hands of a senior pastor, who either originally founded the church or was appointed to serve in that capacity… 

…most pastors would shudder at even the mention of the idea of shared leadership, or a plurality of shepherds to oversee each local church. With clever phrases and anecdotes – such as, “anything with more than one head is a monster” – most church leaders brush aside any questions concerning the appropriateness of modern leadership structures. Unfortunately, the rates of pastoral burnout and moral failure continue to shock the body of Christ, all the while putting even greater pressure on those called to shepherd the flock….

…All the while, in its typically soft yet compelling voice, the Bible has something to say about the issue of leadership within the church. In fact, Scripture seems to speak authoritatively and clearly regarding this issue. To begin with, it should be noted that every church mentioned in the New Testament, best as we can tell, possessed an appointed set of elders. Many churches also had members who were pastors. It is significant to note that the title of “elder” denoted a specific office given to help govern the church, while the term “pastor” referred to those who had a spiritual gift of shepherding others (whether in leadership or not). It is important to understand that the leadership of the church was not given to exclusively to those with pastoral gifts, but instead, was placed in the hands of a council of elders with a variety of spiritual gifts. Scripture reveals a consistent precedent in which a plurality of elders was given shared authority over new churches established in the early church….

…From the perspective of the study of God and his revealed will for humanity, it can be demonstrated that shared leadership promotes a healthy response to Christ’s Lordship and encourages Christian virtue.

…a culture of shared leadership encourages the church to view Christ as the head, rather than a senior pastor…

…a plurality of leaders embraces the heart and central theme of what Christ came to do… …the death of Christ was a redeeming effort that enables each man to be a minister.

The full post is here.

Burnout and Early Body Wear-out 

Eddie Hyatt is a church historian, who cited a letter from John G. Lake to Charles Parham, from 1927. These men were both fathers of the Pentecostal movement. Lake wrote (page 5):

In my spirit I have been troubled about you. The last time I saw you you were too fat. You were eating too much and manifestly you were eating more meat than a man of your years can assimilate without producing

blood pressure and heart strains. I am not aware that my advice or council ever did you only good–that you paid any more attention to it than I have to yours. However, I do want to assure you, brother, of my deep heartfelt and continued prayer for you. I will never forget the man who brought the

glorious message of Pentecost and all that it has meant to both hell and heaven in my life.

Hyatt comments:

Faith does not exempt us from looking after our mortal bodies in this life. Lake reveals that his health is broken and expresses concern about Parham’s health. Interestingly, Parham died 2 years later at the age of 56 and Lake died of a stroke 7 years later at the age of 65.

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The picture of the three elders was borrowed from Dave Miller’s Baptists and Elders post.

Sky Links, 10-1

Should a church vote?

The apostles and the elders gathered to consider this matter.  After much debate, Peter stood and addressed them…
-Acts 15:6-7a

Dave Black posted another excerpt from his book, he is working on, titled, Seven Marks of a New Testament Church:

In chapter 4 (“Genuine Relationships”) I deal with the matter of “voting” in church. In case you might be interested ….

In the third place, here was a church where unity was valued. We saw in our

last chapter how this unity played out among the leadership of the church in New Testament times. There was no hierarchy, no senior pastor (other than
Christ), no so-called first among equals. Their leadership was shared. How rarely is this seen in a modern church, even one that practices plural eldership. I am quite certain that nobody would object if the “senior pastor” in their church rescinded his title and receded into the group!

Unity was also seen in their decision-making. A feature of the early church that fascinates me is the way in which consensus was built. They spent time waiting upon God before making a decision. Today we need Robert’s Rules of Order before we can decide on anything. Hardly anybody sits down nowadays to ask where the idea of voting came from. Part of the value of having every-member ministry is the weight it assigns to consensus-building. It seems to me that there are good reasons to reject our manmade modes of decision-making. Not only does it lack a biblical foundation, but it undermines the example of the early church itself. In Acts 15 we read of a time when the early Christians made an important decision. Together the believers sought the will of God, and together they found it. There was nothing mechanical or business-like about their decision-making either. Their protocol was minimal, and the unity it produced was amazing. As James put it (Acts 15:28), “it has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us….” We vote, and leave an aggrieved minority. They waited upon the Spirit, and it produced a unified whole. This way of making decisions could make a huge difference in the life of many a church today. Why do so many of our business meetings end up in shambles? Are we afraid of the work and prayer needed to come to a common mind? There was no such fear among the earliest Christians. We have a long way to go until we reach their sensitivity to the Spirit.

Did you know that Robert’s Rules of Order were published by a frustrated  trustee of First Baptist

Church in New Bedford, Massachusetts, in 1876; some time after a terrible church meeting?

There is a quote from an unknown author that reads, “democracy is the enemy of the few and hierarchy is the enemy of the many”.  When we vote, without building consensus; we end up with an aggrieved minority.  When you go through the consensus process, those who still disagree at the end can either agree to disagree or part ways as brothers, sisters, and friends.

In consensus building, I propose that:

  • Every person gets heard.
  • We will have dialogue, debate, and discussion.
  • We will wait on the Lord together.  We may sit together in silence, waiting on God together.
  • We will seek a group encounter with God to discern the direction for our church.
  • We will have at least short silences between speakers to consider there words and pray.
  • Filibusters or lecturing are not allowed.
  • A meeting may be adjourned without a decision on a matter when time runs out. 

This process is inefficient and time-consuming, but we will not lose and bruise people and be rejected ourselves.

How to give a talk

I am fascinated by public speaking. I hated speech class at Cal State. I love public speaking now, but I don’t do it often, which makes it harder because it’s a ‘reinventing the wheel’ process sometimes of trying to remember ‘how to’ give a good talk; as in, how to get your message across, so that your audience has the opportunity to get it. I loved Regi Campell’s advice on this and am going to use it.

Regi Cambell: 

Here are ten most important things I’ve learned about public speaking…

  1. Prepare and practice
  2. Call to order with silence
  3. Make eye contact immediately
  4. Talk about yourself first and make it funny 
  5. Tell them what you’re going to tell them
  6. Make your talk simple in its content
  7. “Net out” your point to a sentence or phrase you want people to take away
  8. Me, We, God, Me, We 
  9. Your hands are a tool in your toolbox
  10. Close with a story

And when you’re done, LAND THE PLANE. Don’t keep circling, repeating yourself, looking for ‘amen’s’ or ‘alleluias’’. It was your job to talk, their job to listen. Hopefully they didn’t finish before you did.

Regi fills out each point in his full post here

Won’t you bring us back to life again so that your people can rejoice in you?

-Psalm 85:6
We need revival.  What is it and how does revival come?

Alvin Reed (South East Baptist Theological Seminary), author of Firefall, gives an introduction to to topic of revival.  About 18 minutes and worth your time.  Alvin is a historian from a Baptist view, in contrast to Pentecostal, Charismatic, or Third Wave perspectives; but believes in and desires revival.  Watch it here.
Same As It Ever Was

A big insight about church life, with our 40,000+ denominations and tribes is that:

“Wherever you go, there you are.”

You or I can change the forms or style, but if you don’t change, you’ve got the same problems.  

Another way of saying it is:  

You can change forms and not be transformed.  

The “R” word is Religion.  Jeff Mc Q has been writing about his journey out of religion and into authentic relationship with Christ:

Religion is a subtle infiltrator. It infuses our thought patterns so easily, for the simple reason that we are so accustomed to it. Even people who are trying to break the molds and try new things are susceptible to it in ways they do not realize, and any so-called “new thing” can become a religious tradition over time….

…it started off as an honest pursuit of something more authentic and real, and even bore great fruit at first as God met us in those expressions. But then it sort of became an ends unto itself. Without meaning to, I was swapping one form of religion for another. Because, you see, religion wasn’t really to be found in the actual expressions of worship, however

they might have looked. Religion was lodged somewhere else; it was in my own heart and mind. And, if I’m going to be honest, it was also somewhat lodged in the hearts and minds of the people who were on the journey with us. We had a great time in the living room, but we also became somewhat self-satisfied there. It was still a real challenge to infuse the heart of mission in any of us, and I think ultimately it is why that expression eventually had to run its course. We learned a lot, we had great fellowship together–but there was still just enough religion in us to keep us from moving forward. In our pursuit of a religion-free expression of faith, we were still sort of swapping one form of religion for another.

I think it has taken moving to a new place and spending a few years now in a place of “in-between” for me to realize this. It wasn’t until there was no clear expression, no community to lead, no people to convince, that I could look back and see the agendas I still carried with me in those days. Perhaps this was why such an extended period of detox has been needed for me and my family. Even now, I would not venture to say I am “religion-free.” I can simply see more clearly that anything that inserts itself in between us and our relationship with God can be religious–no matter how progressive. And it’s the religion that still lingers in our hearts that makes it so–not the outward thing itself.

The rest of the post is here.

Angels

He talks about the angels: He’s the one who uses the spirits for his messengers and who uses flames of fire as ministers.
-Hebrews 1:7
I remember reading Billy Graham’s book on Angels many years ago.  I enjoyed the Hunter’s book on Angels very much.  It was called Angels on Assignment, when I first read it, which is now under the author’s name Ronald Buck.  The Hunter’s originally wrote “as told by” Buck.

This was a post on the Promise Keeper’s Facebook page:

Here is a comment from Bryan Wyldes, who took the controversial “angel photo” from the “Awakening the Warrior” conference in Cedar Falls this past weekend. Here’s his explanation for the picture:

My name is Bryan. I took this pic. I took two pics 30 seconds apart, so it was no random flash or light. I am a “happy Baptist” pastor of an interdenominational church. I don’t seek signs and wonders. The Father has nothing to prove to me- He is God. He does what He wants. I believe His Truths. When He does anything miraculous-we rejoice. Believe what u want. if it was a random flash of light- it is an “miraculous” shape. In His love (and with a smile on my face) Pastor Bryan Wyldes. PS- it was taken with my tablet.

________________________________
Consensus picture by Bec Young
Revival picture from Warren Heckman’s post, Two kinds of Revival

Sky Links, 7-7-13

Photo: Spacebridge by longobord CC 2.0

“Skylinks” are topics that other people wrote about, that got me thinking.

Tim Stevens wrote about grief this past week.  Grieving is a healing process in time.

There is a grieving process that heals us, but we may
still have a scar.  The person who has not done their “grief work” is not healed or healing and has an open wound.  That open wound hurts, might be infected, and can lead to premature death.

Last week, I wrote about Leonard Hjalmarson’s post on preaching and growth.  The main point is that we only retain or remember 10-20% of a lecture, monologue, or talk.  Preaching is a tradition that is deeply embedded in today’s, western church.  A very high percentage of self-identified Christians file into buildings that resemble class rooms or theaters and listen to a person give a talk or a lesson, sermon, or monologue.

Preachers or pastors who give sermons do it because they believe in it.  We equate church with sermons and the pastor or preacher.  It is also not uncommon for home groups or small groups to be mini churches, where one person does a monologue.

Preaching must have a place, because it is in the Bible.  Gary Goodell, in Permission Granted,
gives some ideas about sermons:

Being connected, not just consuming, is what changes people.  It is people walking through life together on the same journey…

…the Western concept of teaching, where the teaching is usually an address- a professional monologue geared at students in an academic setting removed from real life, has been proven to be the least effective learning tool.

…On the other hand, the Eastern teaching style is kinetic- the topic of discussion literally moves from person to person, and everyone is involved.  After such deliberation, consensus is built, a collective opinion emerges, and corporate action can follow where questions and interaction reign.  Over the ages, this has proven to be the most effective in changing opinions and values and, therefore, in changing people.  Even the Greek word that is often translated “preaching”, is actually the New Testament word dialogizomia, which means, You’e got it:, dialogue between people!

Well then, you decide- what is the optimum form of learning?…

Remember, this could also mean an entire change in the building, the meeting time, the way you set up the chairs, and basically the whole format, as you create a new environment where people connect in order to learn.  This community style is geared to help people become, “doers of the Word” teaching them to not just hear, but to obey, to do everything Jesus taught us (see Matt. 28:20). 

Many feel that this pattern of learning is what the early Church  enjoyed best, as it was patterned after the synagogue as a house of discussion (see Acts 2:42).  However, when Gentiles brought their one-man-in-charge customs and lecterns, their meetings eventually became closed to real participation.  Only authorized clergy taught others to guard against heresies.

Gene Edwards, in his lighting-rod book, Beyond Radical, passionately reminds us through his research on weekly sermons that rather than being a New Testament pattern or tool, they date back to Aristotle as he taught on the subject of rhetoric (Greek: retorik…the art of the orator), and John Chrysosom in Antioch Syria, circa A.D. 400….

First-century Christian preaching was more characterized by being extemporaneous, spontaneous, and urgent…and it belonged to the entire Body of  believers, not a special class of men trained in Aristotle’s concepts of oration.

I love what Steve Eastman wrote about Gary & Graham’s book:

Perhaps the greatest paradigm breaking suggestion is the redeployment of pastors. They become trainers and enablers, encouraging others to share their insights from God. The trained become the next spiritual generation of trainers. On the rare occasions when pastors do preach, the talks can be interactive.

He gave some apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers.
-Ephesians 4:11

What is kind of jarring is that pastors, as we know them today, especially the “senior pastor”, “c.e.o pastor”, are not found in the Bible, nor in the first century. In Ephesians 4:11, it is a plural term. I just read this from Gene Edwards:

The Pastor

Where in the NT do you find a man who preaches every Sunday, marries people, does funerals, and baptizes new converts?

Such a man is not in the NT, but he is the central figure of protestant Christianity.

How did the pastor idea get into Christianity? It came from Pope Gregory the great in 550 AD. The

term pastor appears nowhere in Christian literature before Gregory’s book, on the “pastoral duties of the priest”. The term pastor occurs once in the NT in Ephesians. The practical meaning of the word is unknown.
Gregory had a list of pastoral duties for priests including sprinkling babies and blessing
festivals. No such man existed in scripture.

Martin Luther came along a thousand years later and took Gregory’s ideas about the pastoral duties of the priest and put then onto the protestant pastor, and gradually, the term pastor replaced the term priest in the English speaking world.

We Anglos carried this pastor idea, which Luther invented, to the ends of the earth and it is now Christianity. If we removed the present pastoral role from Christendom, there would be an almost total collapse of “church” worldwide. Yet the present pastoral practice has no scriptural grounds. Try to find this man in the first century. If we move away from the pastor being the center, we move beyond radical.

From Beyond Radical by Gene Edwards, p. 17-19


Comanche leadership lesson

I was reading about the Comanche people and these points about their social culture (war leadership) were interesting to me: the emphasis is mine.

Comanche groups did not have a single acknowledged leader.
Instead, a small number of generally recognized leaders acted as counsel and advisors to the group as a whole. These included the “peace chief,” the members of the council, and the “war chief.”
The peace chief was usually an older individual, who could bring his experience to the task of advising. There was no formal instatement to the position, it being one of general consensus. The council made decisions about where the band should hunt, whether they should war against their enemies, and whether to ally themselves with other bands. Any member could speak at council meetings, but the older men usually did most of the talking.
In times of war, the band selected a war chief. To be chosen for this position, a man had to prove he was a brave fighter. He also had to have the respect of all the other warriors in the band. While the band was at war, the war chief was in charge, and all the warriors had to obey him. After the conflict was over, however, the war chief’s authority ended.

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