3 Questions to Stop Gossip in its Tracks

gossip

Gossip is a disease in the body of Christ today.  It causes various kinds of harm to those who gossip and to those who are the subject of gossip.

I explore this and 3 questions that can be used to cut off gossip before you receive it in a new article posted today on the 3rd Race Blog.

Click here to read the article.

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Monday Meditations 008: True Freedom

freedomHappy Independence Day on this Monday, the 4th of July!  I’m very thankful to live in a free country where I am not persecuted for following Jesus.  (No, I don’t consider the current social disregard for Christ and Christians as persecution.)

I’d like to share something today that I wrote some time ago about our true freedom in Christ.  Just click below to read it.

What is Freedom in Christ?

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God Does Not Endorse Our Righteous Anger

unoffendableHave you ever claimed to have righteous anger?

Can you find “righteous anger” in the Scriptures?

I used to believe that I had a God-given right to be angry.  But I’ve learned over time that anger is not the 10th fruit of the Spirit.

And 1 Corinthians 13 highlights that the most excellent way is love.

The video below is of Brant Hansen, a radio DJ and author, sharing from his book Unoffendable, which I reviewed here.

I highly recommend watching the video below and getting the book as well.

Especially if you often find yourself angry and believing you have every right to be.

Question for Discussion:

~ Did this video change your view of anger?  How so?

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Can You Live Without Being Offended?

unoffended

Credit: Flickr user tind (CC)

The anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.  (James 1:20 ESV)

If you think you can judge others, you are wrong. When you judge them, you are really judging yourself guilty, because you do the same things they do. God judges those who do wrong things, and we know that his judging is right. You judge those who do wrong, but you do wrong yourselves. Do you think you will be able to escape the judgment of God?  (Rom. 2:1–3 NCV)

What’s more, for those who still want to make anger a nutritious part of their spiritual breakfasts: in the Bible’s “wisdom literature,” anger is always—not sometimes, always—associated with foolishness, not wisdom. The writer recognized that, yes, anger may visit us, but when it finds a residence, it’s “in the lap of fools” (Eccl. 7:9).

So what if—just dreaming out loud, here—Christians were known as the people you couldn’t offend?

~ Brant Hansen

Being angry and offended on behalf of God has become a sacred pastime for many Christians today.  As American culture becomes increasingly less interested in Christianity (to put it mildly), too many of Christ’s followers are, ironically, not following Christ in their response.

Instead of showing love and mercy, much of the church has become offended, which yields anger, bitterness, and separation.

However, the gospels reveal Jesus’ mercy towards those who appear to be the worst sinners, and he levels some pretty strong rebukes to those who think they are above sin.

But wasn’t Jesus angry at the religious Pharisees?  Perhaps, but it didn’t rule his heart.  In His last breaths on the cross, he asks God to forgive them even though they didn’t have a clue what they had done.

So what are we to do when we are offended, angry, and hurt?

Enter Brant Hansen’s book, Unoffendable: How Just One Change Can Make All of Life Better.

I don’t usually say, “Every Christian needs to read this book,” because it has become a bit overused and cliché, so I really mean this: every Christian needs to read this book.

Brant is a Christian radio DJ and also turns out to be a great writer.  He hits hard on a tough subject, but does it with love and good natured humor (check out the chapter titles alone to get an idea of the humor).  I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book, even though it was very challenging.

But most importantly, I believe Brant has revealed the unoffendable nature of Jesus Christ.  This is a game changer for those who desire to let Jesus live through them.  You can’t be angry and love others.  It just doesn’t work.  God’s way is forgiveness, and any judgment belongs to Him.

Not only that, but I’ve found that one important, distinguishing factor in Christ-like maturity is the ability to overlook an offense and choose love.

Good sense makes one slow to anger, and it is his glory to overlook an offense.  (Proverbs 19:11 ESV)

Here are some quotes directly from the book.  I highlighted a ton of this book, so it was hard to choose only a few quotes!

It’s true that sometimes people try to offend us, and they’re intentionally hurtful and spiteful. And yet, there Jesus is, on the cross, saying, “Father, forgive them. They don’t know what they’re doing.” A fair question, then: Is that same Jesus living in and through me, still saying that?

We should forfeit our right to be offended. That means forfeiting our right to hold on to anger. When we do this, we’ll be making a sacrifice that’s very pleasing to God. It strikes at our very pride. It forces us not only to think about humility, but to actually be humble. I used to think it was incumbent upon a Christian to take offense. I now think we should be the most refreshingly unoffendable people on a planet that seems to spin on an axis of offense.

Forfeiting our right to anger makes us deny ourselves, and makes us others-centered. When we start living this way, it changes everything. Actually, it’s not even “forfeiting” a right, because the right doesn’t exist. We’re told to forgive, and that means anger has to go, whether we’ve decided our own anger is “righteous” or not.

We won’t often admit this, but we like being angry. We don’t like what caused the anger, to be sure; we just like thinking we’ve “got” something on someone. So-and-so did something wrong, sometimes horribly wrong, and anger offers us a sense of moral superiority.

But inconveniently, there’s this proverb that says, “You may believe you are doing right, but the LORD will judge your reasons” (Prov. 16:2 NCV). So it’s not just me. We all, apparently, find ourselves pretty darn convincing. Of course my anger is righteous. It’s righteous because, clearly, I’m right, and they’re wrong. My ways seem pure to me. Always.

We humans are experts at casting ourselves as victims and rewriting narratives that put us in the center of injustices. (More on this in a bit.) And we can repaint our anger or hatred of someone—say, anyone who threatens us—into a righteous-looking work of art. And yet, remarkably, in Jesus’ teaching, there is no allowance for “Okay, well, if someone really is a jerk, then yeah—you need to be offended.” We’re flat-out told to forgive, even—especially!—the very stuff that’s understandably maddening and legitimately offensive.

The thing that you think makes your anger “righteous” is the very thing you are called to forgive.

Anger is extraordinarily easy. It’s our default setting. Love is very difficult. Love is a miracle.

Upon hearing my ideas on anger, a radio listener told me, “I don’t get it. Shouldn’t we be angry at those guys in the news who beat up homeless people?” Here’s what I think, given that we’re to “get rid of all anger”: Anger will happen; we’re human. But we can’t keep it. Like the Reverend King, we can recognize injustice, grieve it, and act against it—but without rage, without malice, and without anger. We have enough motivation, I hope, to defend the defenseless and protect the vulnerable, without needing anger. Seek justice; love mercy. You don’t have to be angry to do that. People say we have to get angry to fight injustice, but I’ve noticed that the best police officers don’t do their jobs in anger. The best soldiers don’t function out of anger. Anger does not enhance judgment.

Choosing not to take offense is not about simply ignoring wrongs. If someone, say, cuts in front of you in line, you can address the situation. You don’t have to simply accept it. But you can act without contempt, anger, and bitterness.

Yet another wrinkle: when there are two “sides” to a story, we tend to think the first one we hear is the right one. I learned this, of course, by watching The People’s Court after school every day. I always thought the plaintiff had a great case . . . until I heard the other side. This bias is universal. It’s not new, either. Check out Proverbs 18:17: “The first one to plead his cause seems right, until his neighbor comes and examines him” (NKJV). Life is full of conflicts, disputes, differing perspectives . . . and in all of those, guess whose perspective I hear first? That’s easy: mine. I establish a story line, and I can get angry before I even hear the other side, which is yet another reason to be very suspicious of ourselves. So let’s have the guts—and the humility—to believe what the Bible says about us, and what the research shows us. We simply can’t trust ourselves in our judgments of others. We don’t know what they’re really thinking, or their background, or what really motivated whatever they did. And since we don’t know, let’s choose ahead of time: we’re just not going to get offended by people. If I don’t need to be right, I don’t have to reshape reality to fit “The Story of My Rightness.”

That person you find so offensive? Somehow, God sees something there. Something you don’t. Ask Him what it is. Maybe He’ll show you. I bet He wants to.

I actually sleep better when I’ve chosen to be unoffendable.

It finally occurred to me that we can’t be agents of healing in people’s lives unless we’re ready to bear their wounds for them and from them.

We decide to be unoffendable because that’s how love operates; it gives up its “status” entirely.

but the more we divest ourselves of ourselves, the better our lives get. Jesus told us as much. He said if we’d give up our lives, for His sake, we’d find real life.

Follow the Life!
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Jesus is the Essence and Source of the Church (and everything else, too)

essence source

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Everything draws its essence from him, and God gave him, him alone, to the assembly as the source of everything it needs. The assembly is, in fact, his body, and every individual contributes to bring his body to a state of completion.

(Ephesians 1:22-23, The Source NT, emphasis mine)

Um… wow.  I have to say that these verses in this translation have just blown me away as of late.

Jesus is the essence of the church.

Jesus is the source of the church.

Everything we need is in Him.

Everything draws its essence, its value, its fragrance, from Him.

And He loves to give all of this to us.

What is true about us because of our identity in Christ is permanent.  It is never untrue.  (Let that sink in for a minute.)  The essence, or nature, of Christ never changes.

Jesus is the real, ultimate essence of His body.  We are the essence of Christ, kind of like a portrait captures the essence of a person or a landscape, but so much more.

Because Jesus is our essence and source, our identity and our real life is found in Him.

The body is the fragrance of Christ in the world.

The body can hold the essence of Christ and also express that essence as we abide in Him.

Our most significant quality is Jesus being uniquely expressed through each member of His body.

Jesus is our source.  He is the origin of the River of Life that flows out from Him and in and through us.  The “every spiritual blessing in the heavenly realms” in Ephesians 1 originate and flow from Him.  It is our union with Jesus as One New Man that gives us access to the blessings.  It is all in and from Him.

Saints, how can we be selfless?

How can we not be anxious about tomorrow?

How can Jesus’ body have one mind?

How can Jesus’ body have one Spirit?

How can we love others as Christ has loved us?

How can we live mutually submitted to each other?

How can we see past each others’ flaws and sins?

How do we not keep a record of wrongs?

How can we be slow to anger and abound in love?

How can we always see the best in each other?

The reality is… we can’t!

Only with Jesus as our essence and our source, our origin, can we accomplish anything of true worth.  Only in Him can we live and move in the divine.

You are the essence of Christ, and He is your Source.

We are the essence of Christ, and He is our Source.

No one else.  Nothing else.

Only Jesus.

This is the key to all spiritual life.

Follow the Life!

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If you would like to expand on the theme of Jesus as our Source and abiding in Him, check out the series going on at the 3rd Race blog.

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Supplying the Fragrance of Christ to Others… Before Preaching

preach preacher preaching

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The American “church” landscape today has had and currently has an extreme focus on preaching.  Preaching is then mostly withheld to those who are considered “gifted”, and typically also those who are highly educated.

(I don’t have any issue as to the need of sound ,Christ-filled preaching and teaching, but I do see some issues with how preaching is practiced through much of Christianity today.  Perhaps I’ll expand on that in another post.)

I’ve known many brothers and sisters in Christ who have shared a desire to “preach the Word”.  Often times they find a small group or ministry of some kind that will agree to let them begin honing their preaching craft; however, they often find little resonance among their listeners and become discouraged.

The result is often a focus on more study, better illustrations, more humor, handing out outlines or fill-in-the-blank cards, changing the way you dress or look, and learning the latest pop-culture preaching gimmicks.

It seems to me that there is a missing, overlooked, and bypassed ingredient: it is simply to be built up into Christ with humility among other brothers and sisters as their equal, in mutually submissive community together, so that one become’s an expression of Christ’s own character as His Spirit gains free reign in one’s life.

Watchman Nee captures this thought beautifully in his book The Normal Christian Life:

Perhaps you may have been asking the Lord for a long time that he will be pleased to use you in such a way as to impart impressions of himself to others.  That prayer is not exactly for the gift or preaching or teaching.  It is rather that you might be able, in your touch with others, to impart God, the presence of God, the sense of God.  Let me tell you, dear friends, you cannot produce such impressions of God upon others without the breaking of everything, even your most precious possessions, at the feet of the Lord Jesus.

But if once that point is reached, you may or may not seem to be much used in an outward way, but God will begin to use you to create a hunger in others.  People will scent Christ in you.  The most unlikely people will detect that.  They will sense that here is one who has suffered, one who has not moved freely, independently, but who has known what it is to subject everything to him.  That kind of life creates impressions, and impressions create hunger, and hunger provokes men to go on seeking until they are brought by divine revelation into fullness of life in Christ.

God does not set us here first of all to preach or to do work for him.  The first thing for which he sets us here is to create in others a hunger for himself.  That is, after all, what prepares the soil for preaching.

 

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Prepare For Change When Christ is Leading

It is quite understandable that in our large anonymous cities we look for people on our “wave length” to form small communities. Prayer groups, Bible-study clubs and house-churches all are ways of restoring or deepening our awareness of belonging to the people of God. But sometimes a false type of like-mindedness can narrow our sense of community. We all should have the mind of Jesus Christ, but we do not all have to have the mind of a school teacher, a carpenter, a bank director, a congressman or whatever socioeconomic or political group. There is a great wisdom hidden in the old bell tower calling people with very different backgrounds away from their homes to form one body in Jesus Christ. It is precisely by transcending the many individual differences that we can become witnesses of God who allows his light to shine upon poor and rich, healthy and sick alike. But it is also in this encounter on the way to God that we become aware of our neighbor’s needs and begin to heal each other’s wounds. During the last few years I was part of a small group of students who regularly celebrated the Eucharist together. We felt very comfortable with each other and had found “our own way.” The songs we sang, the words we used, the greetings we exchanged all seemed quite natural and spontaneous. But when a few new students joined us, we discovered that we expected them to follow our way and go along with “the way we do things here.” We had to face the fact that we had become clannish, substituting our minds for the mind of Jesus Christ. Then we found out how hard it is to give up familiar ways and create space for the strangers, to make a new common prayer possible.

– Henri Nouwen, Reaching Out 

When a new person comes into an established group, there is a great opportunity.  Sometimes this opportunity is explored.  Many times this opportunity is lost.

rebirth reknew change

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What is the opportunity?  New growth.  Re-creation.  Re-birth.

History shows us, however, that a tendancy to cling to tradition, to “the way things have always been done”, often opposes and frustrates this newness.  This is especially true in church history.

Even Israel often rejected and killed the prophets sent by God to reknew His relationship with her, including Jesus the Nazarene.

When Christ is leading a group of believers He will bring in new things that no one in a group might have experienced before.  It is important then that we be open to any believer among us who presents a suggestion, even if it goes against the norm of the day.  Even if it is completely different from what is considered normal or acceptable, it may be from the Lord.  To be open to this is to embrace our freedom in Christ to explore Him together as He guides a group of believers through His Spirit.

Of course I’m not saying that we must do everything that is suggested.  Test these things in the Spirit with graciousness towards each other.  Stand on the foundation of Christ our Cornerstone, but also be open to exploring new worlds waiting for discovery in the unsearchable riches of Christ.

To function together in this way affirms the equality of each believer and demonstrates our trust in Christ to work through whomever He chooses.  It also demonstrates the hospitality of Christ to “create space for the strangers” among His radically inclusive new kingdom.

New parts who are grafted into the body of Christ usher in the re-creation, re-formation, and re-birth of each community in Him.  This is a work of the Spirit in our midst.

Hold tightly to Christ, but hold loosely to everything else.

Follow the Life!

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Wait! Before You Judge, Put Yourself in Their Skin

judge empathy

Credit: Flickr user tonz

It is often said that we should “walk a mile in someone’s shoes” before we pass judgment or give advice.  This is extremely sound advice.  In Thomas Dubay’s excellent book on community life, Caring: A Biblical Theology of Community, he adjusts the phrase to putting yourself in someone’s skin, which I think is even more personal than temporarily inhabiting their shoes.

When does one person really care for the other – as distinguished from seeking oneself under guise of altruism? The best way I can summarize what I sense to be the New Testament concept is to use an inelegant expression: to care is to jump into the other’s skin. It is to become the other in mind and heart, to live the other’s interests. To care is to become one’s brother, one’s sister.

Caring in Christian community is expressed biblically in a number of ways. The disciple looks out for his brother’s welfare as he looks out for his own. Paul can assert that it is his heart’s desire that his Jewish compatriots be saved (Rm 10:1). The apostle’s own peace of mind is possible only upon his hearing that the Thessalonians are still strong in their faith. This living in the brother’s skin is well brought out in the translation of NEB: “It is the breath of life to us that you stand firm in the Lord” (1 Thess 3:8). Paul wants everyone to try to please his neighbor (Rm 15:2) and to look after the other’s interests rather than his own (Phil 2:4). Everything is to be done in love (1 Cor 16:14).

Caring implies inliving. Two who love enjoy a mutual inbeing. They live in each other through thought and love. More than once Paul tells his brothers that they dwell in his heart (2 Cor 7:3, 1 Thess 2:17, Phil 1:7) and even that they are to make room for him in their hearts (2 Cor 7:2). Spacial distance does not prevent the apostle from being spiritually present to the Corinthians (1 Cor 5:3-4). Persons in community are vibrantly present to one another. A mere formality will never do.

When it comes to dealing with each other’s issues, it can be easy to mentally, intellectually run through a person’s situation and provide an obvious answer.  One might even get frustrated when the other person doesn’t suddenly jump up with excitement and run to immediately follow the sound advice.

The intellectual answer may be perfectly sound and logical, but it often lacks a connection to the heart of the situation, to the heart of the person(s) involved.

Mom has a misbehaving child?  Obviously they should be grounded.  But maybe she’s a single mother who doesn’t get much time with her child and doesn’t want to lose time together by sending the unruly child to their room alone.

Someone has been physically or emotionally abused?  Obviously you should forgive and reconcile regardless of how you feel.  Perhaps, though, they literally tremble in fear or burst into tears when near the person who hurt them. Of course, forgiveness and reconciliation is the goal, but getting there may be a long road.

If you think I’m making these things up, think again.  I’ve seen this happen many times.

The problem with plain, vanilla answers and advice to issues is that most people are not plain vanilla.  Each person is a complex mix of desires, hopes, ambitions, fears, feelings, and a history of good and bad and many times horrible experiences that make them who they are today.

So if pat answers aren’t really any answer at all, what are we to do with each other’s struggles?

We get inside each others’ skin.  We see the world through their eyes and ears.  We feel the world through their heart.

This is a key component to any relationship that goes beyond surface level.

It takes time and can be difficult to set ourselves aside, yet this is what a true friend does.

Consider Jesus.  Jesus emptied Himself and fully inhabited our human experience.

For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich. (2 Cor. 8:9)

For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are – yet was without sin. (Heb. 4:15)

You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had. Though he was God, he did not think of equality with God as something to cling to. Instead, he gave up his divine privileges; he took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being. When he appeared in human form, he humbled himself in obedience to God and died a criminal’s death on a cross. (Phil 2:5-8)

Jesus constantly felt and showed compassion to others.

When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them … (Matt. 9:36)

When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them and healed their sick. (Matt. 14:14)

When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled. … Jesus wept. (Jn. 11:33, 35)

But how do we embody someone else’s struggles?

The best answer I know of is to do it in relationship.  Walk in their skin by walking right beside them.  Get close to them.  And most importantly, serve them.

Let your time together be about them, not about you.

Become their #1 fan and cheerleader.

Encourage them.

Remind them of who they are in Christ, Who is our greatest reality.  He is Truth, and in Him we find the Truth of who we really are.  And it is often the first thing we forget when we are struggling with something.

In Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, one of the habits is to “Seek first to understand, then to be understood.”  Or in other words, no one is going to listen to you until you have listened to them first.  This mutual listening best transpires in the context of living life together.

Rather than sitting down to hash out the issue at hand, just spend time with them… with no agenda.  If certain issues don’t come up, let it go.  Don’t force your opinions if they aren’t sought out.  Trust Jesus.

Breathe the life of Christ together in their midst.  Simply living through Him in the presence of others will stir the Spirit in them and open doorways that Christ may walk through.

Here’s what I’m not saying:

Ignore all issues that are uncomfortable.

Never confront anyone.

Ignore a person’s sin so you are never considered judgmental.

I’m focusing more on the method in which that confrontation takes place and is walked out.

So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets. (Matt. 7:12)

Love your neighbor as yourself. (Matt. 22:39)

Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. (Gal. 6:2)

In my experience, pointing others to Christ and allowing Him to work often resolves the situation.  Or, through sharing His life together, the issue comes up in a natural way and is addressed through a dialog together that is mutually beneficial.

Listening is an act of love.  Or as Dubay wrote, “A caring community is a listening community.”

Get in someone’s skin today…

Follow the Life!

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What the Church Can Learn from Divergent

divergent train tracks

Credit: Flickr user jhansensnaps

I recently watched the film Divergent, the first in a trilogy series based on a popular novel series by the same name.  I was intrigued after watching the movie and decided to read the book, which was also very good.

In this story, there is some kind of disaster that requires the survivors to essentially restart society.  (I’ve only read the first book, so I don’t know any more detail than that.  I hope it is further revealed as the books progress.)  The story of Divergent picks up at what seems to be many years after the disaster in the city of Chicago.  Much of the city is in ruins, and the people have organized themselves into “factions”.

Each faction emphasizes a particular quality over and above all others.

There are five factions.  One emphasizes selflessness, another bravery, another peace, a fourth emphasizes knowledge, and lastly truth.

Children are raised in the faction of their families, but when they turn sixteen, they take a test (a virtual reality type hallucination) that reveals their true faction by judging their strongest trait from their decisions during the test.  They are still able to choose any faction, but most follow the faction they grew up in, which is usually confirmed in the test.

The original idea of the factions, of course was to support each other and provide balance in the new society.  However, the factions become jealous of each other, primarily because the selfless faction was given control of the government.

It is interesting to me how this scenario compares with our Christian landscape today.  We have so many factions, each emphasizing a particular aspect of our life in Christ.  Some focus on knowledge, others focus on good works for the poor and oppressed, some focus on spiritual gifts, others focus on non-violence, while yet others focus on strictly obeying the law.  And then there are sub-factions to the factions.

And the lines are drawn.

Separated, we understand very little of each other.  Subcultures develop that are completely foreign to each other, so much that people become too uncomfortable to reach out across the not-so-imaginary lines.

Enter the Divergent.

The Divergent have no faction.

The heroin of the Divergent series is a young girl whose faction test results are inconclusive.  Her reactions to the simulation indicate multiple faction possibilities because she draws from various characteristics to respond to the test.

Being divergent is dangerous because any one faction cannot control them.  Their brains simply resist the conditioning (“initiation”) that is meant to teach them the strict boundaries and role of their faction.

The Divergent are rare and are terminated when discovered because they challenge the system that controls them, and people with power do not like to be challenged.

The Apostle Paul spoke of factions in the church:

Divisions in the Church

I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment. For it has been reported to me by Chloe’s people that there is quarreling among you, my brothers. What I mean is that each one of you says, “I follow Paul,” or “I follow Apollos,” or “I follow Cephas,” or “I follow Christ.” Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul? I thank God that I baptized none of you except Crispus and Gaius, so that no one may say that you were baptized in my name. (I did baptize also the household of Stephanas. Beyond that, I do not know whether I baptized anyone else.) For Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel, and not with words of eloquent wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.

(1 Corinthians 1:10-17 ESV)

Paul reprimands the Corinthian believers who have lost their focus on Jesus Christ as the one true Head of the church and he calls them to be united together.

Surely, this is a hard road.

Getting along with folks that are wildly different from us is not easy.

Taking in other people’s viewpoints and adjusting our own is not easy.

Yielding to others is not easy.

At least, not in our own power.  But when we yield to Christ in all things, His life in us is manifested, we are made new, and we are able to do new things.

We are able to be united in Him.  We are able to lay down differences and seek and explore Him together, learning from each other, valuing each other, desiring each other, caring for each other, encouraging each other, and embracing and drawing strength from our divergence rather than being afraid of it.

Yes, there will still be arguments and disagreements and hurt feelings.  But if you really stick it out together and hold to Christ, something new and precious will be deposited in His new city.

I have been in gatherings where the life of Christ is richly expressed through many different lenses, and the vision of Christ that results is breathtaking.

I am convinced that isolating ourselves into countless factions over countless issues is not the way of Christ.

Christ is always divergent from the flesh and towards the divine.

Perhaps it is time for the church to embrace the Divergent.

Follow the Life!

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Jesus: The Genesis and Freshness of the Church

Note: I’ve been in some professional training and have not been able to post as often as I would like.  I will be out of town the next two weeks as well, and will have limited posts during that time.

freshness genesis life

Credit: Flickr user tzofia (cc)

Now, on to some Friday fun!

This quote from Watchman Nee’s book, Love Not the World is of critical importance for the church today.  As many Christ followers are moving away from institutional forms of church and returning to smaller, simpler formats, the issue of source is paramount.

There are many “things” that groups meeting in a simple format (typically in a home) are established around.  Some of those are:

– Bible study (often focused on a particular doctrine that all in the group must accept)

– Separating from the world (often focused on home life, home school, home church)

– Doing church the “biblical way” (focused on discerning and following a NT liturgy of sorts)

– Saving souls (often focused on a particular evangelism method, and focused on the need to save many people quickly)

– Fellowship (focused on developing relationships and often avoids any formal meeting)

– Following an individual (often focused around a strong-willed person looking for followers, often unhealthy)

– Discipleship (focused on more experienced believers training younger believers)

– Social Justice (focused on helping the needy or poor in some way)

These are some of the “big ones” that I’m aware of.  Some of these can be healthy for a group to pursue at the time that the Lord leads in this direction.  

But by themselves they are just things.

None of these things should be the source, origin, or focus of a church.

God has not given us “things”, He has given us a “Person”, His Son Jesus Christ.  And as Ephesians 1 says, all spiritual things are given to us in Him.

Here’s the quote from Watchman Nee:

All that belongs to human nature continues spontaneously; all that belongs to God continues only for as long as God’s working continues.  And the world is all-inclusively that which can go on by itself without the need of specific acts of God to maintain it in freshness.  The world, and all that belongs to the world, does this naturally – it is its nature – and in doing so it moves in a direction contrary to the will of God.

Any group of believers that desire to follow Christ together must then together submit themselves to His leading.

This requires a constant turning to the Lord both individually and together and asking Him for direction.  It requires a strong spirit of exploration.  This requires that we resist instituting rigid traditions where the Spirit is leading a group through a season of some kind.

Ultimately, this requires that Jesus is our Focus, our Life, our Goal, our Source (our Genesis), our Head, our Way.

Other “things” will not sustain the life of the church.  They are dead in and of themselves.

Turning to Jesus constantly brings His freshness into our lives and life together.  (This is the intended meaning of the signature line of my posts… “follow the life”.)

Follow the Life!

 *****

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10 Things to Consider When Giving or Receiving Advice

advice

Credit: Flickr User cornflakegirl_

Often times, when the church is meeting and living together as a family and functioning as the priesthood of all believers, families and brothers and sisters will ask the body for wise counsel for a difficult situation or decision.

The ultimate goal of the request is to find the Lord’s mind together.

Without counsel plans fail, but with many advisers they succeed.  Proverbs 15:22 ESV

The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, but a wise man listens to advice.  Proverbs 12:15 ESV

Better is a poor and wise youth than an old and foolish king who no longer knows how to receive counsel (friendly reproof and warning).  Ecclesiastes 4:13 AMP

Sometimes the need for counsel will be shared with the whole church.  Often, the situation will be shared with a few other trustworthy brothers and/or sisters to provide help.

The local body being approached should take these requests seriously and determine a plan to address the situation together.  Sometimes the nature of the issue is sensitive, and therefore some discretion is required to protect the dignity of the person(s) needing help.  Simply treat private information as such and avoid gossip.

A great deal of humility is needed, whether you are giving or receiving advice.

I’ve made the following observations in my experience:

10 Things to Consider When Giving or Receiving Advice

1. Recognize the difference between an emotional decision and the wise thing to do. Find the balance.

Stressful situations can easily drive you towards panic mode and cause you to make knee-jerk decisions based on fear and anxiety.  These are often less than optimal decisions.  Pressing “pause” and taking the time to consult with others can help us see that there is a better way out.  Forming a plan around this helps bring the stress levels back to a manageable level.

2. If we discern the wise path with the mind of Christ, we can trust Him to help us deal with emotions so that they do not overwhelm us.

Keep your eyes on Jesus.  Set your mind on things above.  Even in the most difficult times, Peace and Rest are living inside of you.

Give all your worries and cares to God, for he cares about you. 1 Peter 5:7 NLT

Give your burdens to the Lord, and he will take care of you. He will not permit the godly to slip and fall.  Psalm 55:22 NLT

Then Jesus said, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.  Matthew 11:28 NLT

3. Realize that debt can impede the Lord’s will in our lives. It makes something or someone other than Christ our master.

No one can serve two masters. For you will hate one and love the other; you will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.  Matthew 6:24 NLT

Many situations in the body are financial in nature.  I really believe that debt entangles us with the world systems and keeps us from following Christ in complete freedom.  I’m not saying to never have financial debt, but try to minimize it as much as possible and think long and hard before taking debts on.

4. Sometimes the Lord gives specific direction, but He often gives general direction and leaves us to determine a path forward in His wisdom.

5. Consider your responsibility to the body as though the body was your family (which it is).

Irresponsible decisions can damage the body.  Take your time and give weight to the counsel of the body.

6. Realize that someone who asks for the wisdom of the Lord through His body may not hear what they want to hear. This is actually a safeguard against making emotional decisions.

7. If the body takes the request seriously, the focus is really on finding the Lord’s mind in the situation.  It would be irresponsible for the body to provide validation to someone that may not be acting in their best interest.

8. Realize that all of our decisions are interconnected. No single decision is made in isolation from the other areas of our lives.

Making a decision in one area may add stress to another area of our lives.  Consider all of the potential areas that a decision may effect.

9. Determine a strategy to accomplish the Lord’s will for your life. Find the path that orients you in the direction He is leading.

I’ve found that it is helpful to take a step back when making decisions and ask the Lord where He is leading you in general.  Make sure that your other life decisions support this direction, or you may not be available as Christ desires.

10. Remember that God’s wisdom and ways are beyond ours.

Don’t approach a decision with human wisdom.  While our experiences may be quite helpful, first discern what it is that the Lord wants.  I’ve found that He often has a unique answer in many situations.  He gives us His Spirit so that He can reveal and express His ways through us.

 

Follow the Life!

*****

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Honoring Others: Rich Resources to Check Out

Let us have real warm affection for one another as between brothers, and a willingness to let the other man have the credit.  (Romans 12:10 Phillips)

Be devoted to one another in brotherly love; give preference to one another in honor.  (Romans 12:10 NASB)

honor

Credit: Flickr User ms_sarahbgibson (cc)

I hope you are having a wonderful Friday!!!

Today, I’m honoring others by pointing you to some great bloggers and some of their finest posts.

Marc Hardy is a friend of mine who has recently started blogging, and the heart of his message is all about Jesus.  Marc has a seminary degree, and as soon as he graduated with his Masters, he moved to Florida to be part of a clergy-less expression of Christ.  Check out his post on church unity.

Looking for Church Unity? Look No Further

Another brother in Christ and friend, RC Babione, recently posted at his family blog about our oneness in Christ, and that His followers are all identified as one person with Him.  This is a deep revelation and a great post to chew on.  RC and his family of six are following a calling to prepare to help Christ followers who want to meet together with Him as Head with no human leaders.  RC also works as a voice actor if you happen to need such services (more info at his website at the link below).

Is Christ Divided?

I do not know this next blogger personally, but I really like his writing and his focus on true freedom in Christ.  He writes in his latest post, “When resting in the Victory that is ours in Christ, there is an intentional lack of independence. This Freedom in Him has nothing to do with our own merit, work, efforts, or ability. It has nothing to do with our control. In fact, Freedom is received as a reality in our hearts when we come to a place of losing control – of being fully dependent.”  Meet Brandon Chase:

Independence is Not Freedom

 

Do you sense the theme of unity in these posts???

 

Follow the Life!

*****

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Being Patient

It is imperative to remember the art of being patient when living and meeting together with other Christ-followers as a family in

being patient

Credit: Flickr user itsgreg (cc)

which everyone is equal and Christ is Head through His Spirit.

You will sometimes want your spiritual family to slow down.

You will sometimes want your spiritual family to speed up.

You will sometimes want your spiritual family to turn left instead of right (or vice versa).

You will sometimes want your spiritual family to understand you better.

You will sometimes want your spiritual family to pay attention to something right now.

And many times, they will do the exact opposite.

And ye shall be frustrated.

In Frank Viola’s book Finding Organic Church, he highlights the need for patience as one of the “five unmovable principles” of body life:

Be patient with the progress of the group.

Meeting in a home doesn’t constitute the birth of church life.  A church, in its purest form, takes time to be born.  It took approximately nine months for you to be born.  In that time, your mother experienced growth pains, sickness, uncomfortable positions, and major adjustments to her wardrobe and to her eating and sleeping patterns.

It’s similar with the birth of an ekklesia.  The church is a living organism.  Therefore, it takes time to be born.  Starting something is human; but birth is divine.  Birthing a church is territory staked out exclusively by divinity.  It is not a human proposition.

I entreat you, therefore, to be patient.  You will be learning to use instincts you have never before used.  More important, you are beginning a journey to discover your Lord like never before.  Not as an individual, but as a people.

This all takes time.  Lots of time.

Laying hold of authentic body life is the 100-mile walk rather than the 40-yard dash.

Therefore, body life demands infinite patience.  You may think at times that it can’t possibly work.  That it’s hopeless.  That the die has been miscast, and you were handed the wrong bundle of people to church with.  You may feel at times that the group simply refuses to do what you want them to do, the church will not grow fast enough for you, etc.

Impatience with the birth of church life is a monumental hurdle that those who subscribe to a microwave-on-high-for-two-minutes philosophy will have to face squarely.  Task-oriented, program-driven people will have a run-in with the slow pace of body life.  But no one can hurry the birthing process.  That is God’s business.

Let me remind you that you are moving away from a religious service on Sunday morning where you mostly sit and listen – toward an organic gathering of new creations, discovering afresh how to express Jesus Christ corporately.  That’s no small shift.  It’s as large as the universe.

So I exhort you to stick with it, regardless of how slow the pace.  If you can manage to endure, you will discover a Lord who is all-sufficient.  But remember – He moves according to His own clock.  And His clock almost always ticks slower than ours.

Whether you are new to living as a spiritual family in this way or if you’ve been doing it for years, it is important to remember to bear with each other in patience.

Being patient and giving up your desires, demands, and preferences:

  • Prevents anyone from holding the group hostage
  • Creates a safe environment for people to grow in Christ
  • Keeps people from becoming defensive
  • Allows for better clarity and understanding of each other
  • Enhances intimacy
  • And generally gives birth to freedom in the life of the church

Ask Christ to show you His patience in you, and…

Follow the Life!

*****

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God Is Interested in People, Not Religion

“In Zechariah’s time [about 6 B.C.] the people of God were beginning a new day.  They were back in their homeland and they were free.  Their future, however, was unclear.  Would they return to the sins which resulted in their forefathers entering into captivity or would their future be marked by fidelity to God?  Would they be able to rebuild the Temple?  Would they be protected from their enemies?  The people were at a crossroads.  They needed to be challenged regarding their past and encouraged regarding their future.  It was into this setting that God sent Zechariah, and he came to Judah with a two-fold message.  He told them to look back with discernment and look forward with reassurance.”  (The Prophets Speak of Him: Encountering Jesus in the Minor Prophets, Anthony Selvaggio)

 

“You’re Interested in Religion, I’m Interested in People”

On the fourth day of the ninth month, in the fourth year of the reign of King Darius, God’s Message again came to Zechariah.

2-3 The town of Bethel had sent a delegation headed by Sarezer and Regem-Melech to pray for God’s blessing and to confer with the priests of the Temple of God-of-the-Angel-Armies, and also with the prophets. They posed this question: “Should we plan for a day of mourning and abstinence next August, the seventieth anniversary of Jerusalem’s fall, as we have been doing all these years?”

4-6 God-of-the-Angel-Armies gave me this Message for them, for all the people and for the priests: “When you held days of fasting every fifth and seventh month all these seventy years, were you doing it for me? And when you held feasts, was that for me? Hardly. You’re interested in religion, I’m interested in people.

7-10 There’s nothing new to say on the subject. Don’t you still have the message of the earlier prophets from the time when Jerusalem was still a thriving, bustling city and the outlying countryside, the Negev and Shephelah, was populated? [This is the message that God gave Zechariah.] Well, the message hasn’t changed. God-of-the-Angel-Armies said then and says now:

“‘Treat one another justly.
Love your neighbors.
Be compassionate with each other.
Don’t take advantage of widows, orphans, visitors, and the poor.
Don’t plot and scheme against one another—that’s evil.’

11-13 “But did your ancestors listen? No, they set their jaws in defiance. They shut their ears. They steeled themselves against God’s revelation and the Spirit-filled sermons preached by the earlier prophets by order of God-of-the-Angel-Armies. And God became angry, really angry, because he told them everything plainly and they wouldn’t listen to a word he said.

13-14 “So [this is what God-of-the-Angel-Armies said] if they won’t listen to me, I won’t listen to them. I scattered them to the four winds. They ended up strangers wherever they were. Their ‘promised land’ became a vacant lot—weeds and tin cans and thistles. Not a sign of life. They turned a dreamland into a wasteland.”

(Zechariah 7, The Message, emphasis mine)

religion wasteland

Credit: Flickr user Sam Whitfield

How To Quickly Kill A Relationship… Or Save It

There are many ways to quickly kill a relationship.  There are obvious things, such as not returning phone calls, gossiping about

kill a friendship

Credit: Flickr User Shandi-lee Cox

your friend, always making everything about yourself, being excessively needy, or even just plain abusive.  These things will kill a relationship faster than a speeding bullet.

There are also subtle ways to kill a relationship.  Sometimes these are so subtle, we don’t even realize it is happening.

One such example that I have observed is to become offended at someone (whether you are rightfully offended or not) and to begin seeing only the negative aspects of that person(s) and your relationship.

This results in an inflated sense of what is negative (in your opinion), and then leads to exaggeration of the negative and culminates in division and separation.  And if left unresolved, this can lead to bitterness.

In reality there is both good and bad aspects (to varying degrees) in any situation.

Experiences are rarely completely bad or perfectly good.

An Example

Here is a made up, but common, real world example:

Ralph works in the marketing department in a large advertising firm.  The job really fits Ralph’s personality, he enjoy’s his coworkers, and makes a good living.  Life is pretty good.

One day, a promotion opportunity comes to Ralph’s attention.  Ralph applies for this promotion and competes with several of his coworkers, but he does not get the promotion.

Ralph becomes offended towards his coworker that received the promotion, and his boss who is in charge of choosing the best candidate.  Suddenly, Ralph is wearing a different shade of glasses.  Everything looks different.  There is something wrong with everything.  Work becomes miserable and Ralph convinces himself that everyone is against him.

In reality, all that has changed is that one of Ralph’s coworkers received a promotion.  Rather than being happy for this person, Ralph focuses only on himself and what he didn’t receive.

Eventually, Ralph convinces himself that he would be better off in another department like finance, so he takes an opportunity to transfer into a different group.  And because nothing in the previous group was resolved, the cycle starts all over again.

(You can change this scenario to fit just about any setting.)

5 Things Ralph Could Have Done Differently

1. Ralph could have decided ahead of time that even if he was the most qualified person for the promotion, the results were out of his control, and there was no reason to be upset with others if someone else got the promotion instead.  While this might not be fair, it is the reality of the situation.

2. Ralph could have resisted being offended and instead taken the opportunity to learn about his work performance.

3. Ralph could have honestly and respectfully shared his thoughts with his boss about the promotion.  Of course, there’s no guarantee that this goes well, but it’s better than holding things in and becoming bitter.

4. Ralph could have chosen to keep a positive outlook and respect his coworkers despite the difficult situation.

5. Ralph could have continued to see the blessings in his position rather than become obsessed with the perceived negatives.

Being Offended Is A Killjoy

Ralph, like many others in his shoes, allowed his offendedness to kill his joy.  The new glasses he was looking through colored everything mud.

In the real world, we are faced with both good and bad situations.  I know I often wish I only had to deal with fun, cheery, exciting situations.  But that is just not in the cards.  Life is hard.  It is full of incredible joy and unbearable suffering.

Don’t Hear What I’m Not Saying

I’m certainly not saying that you should ignore hard situations and just put on a smile.  This is another way to kill a relationship: pretending there is nothing wrong when there is a problem that needs to be addressed.  Part of life is learning how to deal with such things in a healthy way instead of sweeping them under the rug.

Remember Who The Accuser Is

Don’t forget that it is Satan who is The Accuser of the Brethren.  Always, always, always steer clear of accusing others of something unless it is blatantly obvious, and even then you should approach the person in the way you would want to be approached.  When you fall into accusing others you are doing the work of the enemy.

 Community Life

Community life among the saints is a breeding ground for this type of thing to happen.  The more time you spend in face-to-face relationships, the more opportunity there will be for offense to rear its ugly head.  But that means there is just as much opportunity to walk things out in Christ’s life together, to love each other as Christ has loved us, to honor each other above ourselves, and to grow together and experience more of Him.  Strive to “clothe yourselves” with Christ and walk in His love and forgiveness.

12 Since God chose you to be the holy people he loves, you must clothe yourselves with tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. 13 Make allowance for each other’s faults, and forgive anyone who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others. 14 Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds us all together in perfect harmony. 15 And let the peace that comes from Christ rule in your hearts. For as members of one body you are called to live in peace. And always be thankful.

16 Let the message about Christ, in all its richness, fill your lives. Teach and counsel each other with all the wisdom he gives. Sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs to God with thankful hearts. 17 And whatever you do or say, do it as a representative of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through him to God the Father. (Colossians 3:12-17, NLT, emphasis mine)

Don’t live in offense…

Follow the Life!

*****

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Taking Risks To Meet New People

meet new people

Credit: flickr user kohlmann.sascha Source: imcreator.com

I posted recently about leaving church.  Some of the commenters who identified with that post also expressed their frustration of not being able to find people living near them that want to follow Jesus in a deep way and share their experiences.  I have definitely found that it involves taking risks to meet new people, especially to find folks who are following Jesus, but outside of western organized Christianity.

And to find a group of people who want nothing but to explore Christ together is extremely rare.

As I said in the other post, there are many people outside of organized Christianity for unhealthy reasons, so there is reason to be cautious.

Discerning Seasons

Also, I think it is worthwhile to mention the importance of discerning what season the Lord may be leading you into.  Perhaps there are people in your life right now that you could build deeper relationships with who are not following Jesus.  Maybe He is calling you to serve the poor in your area in some way.  It may be helpful to focus on what the Lord is bringing into your life rather than what He is not bringing.

Have you ever looked all over your home for something that you need but it seems to have vanished?  You look everywhere over and over until you are exhausted and you give up, resigning yourself to the fact that the item is lost forever.  And it’s at this point when the item magically appears in plain sight.

Point: Sometimes when you stop looking for something it appears right in front of your eyes.

All that being said, I don’t have the answer to anyone’s particular situation, but I can share a few things from my experience if you are looking to connect with others.

8 Ways to Connect with Others

1. Search for groups on meetup.com.  Sometimes groups or people looking to connect with others will set up a page on this website to find others in their area.  There is a fee for setting up a page, so people who are on the site are willing to make a small investment to connect with others.

2. Look for Facebook groups related to organic/simple/house church in your area and join them.  You can also see what kind of things are posted in the group and get a little bit of an idea if you think you’ll want to try and meet with them.

3. Look for general Facebook groups related to organic/simple/house church that are not location specific.  Post in the group and ask if anyone knows of any groups meeting in your area.  Some of these groups keep a document on the page that lists where many of the members are located.  (You can look up the open group “Organic Church Movements” as an example.)

4. Perform a Google search for “organic church [your town/city/area]”, “house church [your town/city/area]”, etc.  The group that I meet with maintains a basic webpage so local people can find us if they are searching.

5. If none of the above work out, consider starting your own page on meetup.com or Facebook.

6. Start a book club using a book on the deeper life in Christ at your local bookstore, library, etc.  I haven’t done this but I know others who have been able to connect this way and ended up forming a group together.

7. Volunteer at a local Christian ministry of some kind.  Look for an organization that is being the hands and feet of Jesus in the community without judgment towards those they are serving.

8. If you don’t find any groups in your area, search other areas nearby and see if you can visit with those groups or if they possibly know anyone in your area who might be looking to connect with others.

I hope this list provides some avenues for you to try and connect with others.  I have definitely found that this can be a long, slow path to follow.  I encourage you to keep looking, but also to avoid trying to force something to happen.

Do you have any other suggestions?  Share them in the comments.

Follow the Life!

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True Friends Do This One Amazing Thing For Each Other

“Each friend represents a world in us, a world possibly not born until they arrive, and it is only by this meeting that a new world is born.”

friend scenic sunset mountains

A true friend will do this for you and is a rare and special find.  These are the friends that remain knitted together with you and bound to you regardless of life circumstances or how far apart you may find yourselves.

Follow the Life!

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Bishops, Elders, and Deacons, Oh My!

elders?

This?

As part of a group of Christ-followers who meet and live together outside of organized Christianity, I’ve come across the question of whether or not we appoint elders and deacons several times recently.  At this time, we have not appointed any elders or deacons, and I don’t think we have any plans to do so.  Therefore, I’m also asked why we wouldn’t want to do that.

First, let me say that bishop, overseer, and elder simply mean older, more experienced, or mature.  These are ones who demonstrate maturity in how they live out their life in Christ.

Deacon means servant.  These are people who are serving the body in some way.  In Acts, the Apostles chose seven servants to help distribute food and help widows in the church.

I don’t believe either of these were ever intended to be “appointed” as “offices”.  Rather, these are describing functions that the body recognizes people doing to serve the Lord.  Note that the body is recognizing something that is already naturally occurring, not handing out an assignment of leadership or authority.

The question was recently posed in a Facebook Group that I am subscribed to.  Ross Rohde gave an excellent explanation that I am sharing here with his permission:

Elder means exactly what the word implies, more mature. So an elder is someone, male or female, who demonstrates spiritual maturity and therefore is someone who can become an example and who can help people move closer to Jesus (discipleship). Deacons are those who concentrate on serving others and are recognized and respected as such based on their gifting and skill.

Because most of us have never experienced Christianity other than in an institutional format, where titles carry power, control and authority we tend to view these kind of people as positional, which is how the term is used and expressed in institutional Christianity. If, however, we view them organically, such people tend to emerge and are recognized rather than appointed and ordained into a position. I’m aware that Titus 1:5 uses the word “appoint.” This is a translation issues, where the translators assumptions biased the way they chose to translate the word. This could just as easily have been translated “recognize.”

So, in organic Christianity, we recognize and respect those who are mature and can be viewed as examples of spiritual maturity. Such people become examples to us and often disciple us by helping us draw closer to Jesus. We also respect and recognize those who have special calling and/or gifting to serve others, particularly through organizational skill. This calling and ability is recognized, respected and appreciated. In fact, in some contexts it is so necessary that it is sought out, which I believe is what was happening in Acts 6. 

These people don’t have official power over others but rather influence. Power has the ability to control through punishment. If someone doesn’t do what those in power believe they should or have done, or they believe they shouldn’t have done, such a person can be punished through experiencing negative consequences. Even if punishment isn’t used the implied threat is still there. Influence, on the other hand is a gift from the person being influenced. It is also a gift from God because others notice the spirituality of such people and that enlightenment comes from the Holy Spirit. One cannot demand that they are influential nor does it automatically come through position. They either are influential, because of who they are, or they are not.

Positional power can be (and often is) harsh. It doesn’t have to be, but the threat is still there, even if the threat isn’t intended by those who have such power. The mere existence of the power can, and often does wound and harm relationships, even if this wounding isn’t intentional.

This is why, by the way, there is so much talk about “servant leadership” in institutional Christianity based on Luke 22;25-27. Jesus, in this passage, isn’t saying, “As leaders we should serve others.” He’s just saying serve others. We don’t need a position of power to do that. In fact, a position gets in the way, which is why we struggle and talk about servant leadership so much. Jesus didn’t talk about servant leadership at all. He just said serve. The “leadership” idea is introduced out of our institutional context and is not biblical. 

Influence, on the other hand, is gentle and loving. It is often not even noticed. It does not need position or title, merely maturity. It doesn’t need to force or control. In other words, it is an expression of I Cor. 13 love. And, it is a reflection of Jesus behavior. While he had all the positional power in the world, he chose influence. See, Phil. 2:5-11. That’s what eldership and the deaconate looks like (or at least should look like) in organic church.

To add a caveat, in my experience not “appointing” a specific elder(s) or deacon(s) is more healthy for the community because there

elders

Or this?

is not a single person that can fully express Christ by themselves. Each person may be mature in some areas and weaker in others, so the body needs the functioning of all.

One person may be mature in revealing Christ in the Scriptures, while another person may be very mature in counseling people through problems, and another may be mature in drawing non-believers to Christ, and so on.

These attributes are discovered naturally in body life where all are equal and appreciated and free to serve and express themselves as they are led. The Spirit is able to teach and lead the body through anyone depending on the situation.

Functioning together in this way builds up the body and focuses on Christ as Head while humbly recognizing that we all have weaknesses and we need each other to fully express Christ and live together in Him.  

I’m not saying any of this as an armchair observer.  I’ve been part of group that functions in this way for the past five years, so what I’m sharing on this topic is from that experience.

For more excellent discussion on this topic, see chapters 8 and 9 of Reimagining Church by Frank Viola and 58 to 0: How Christ Leads Through the One Anothers by Jon Zens.

Follow the Life!

*****

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Walking the Talk: The Practical Side of Living by Christ’s Life

It’s tempting to say lavish things in a moment of emotion.  I’ve observed that some Christians (myself certainly included) sometimes make all-encompassing statements about living the Christian life that actually make no reasonable sense. In other words, they will talk the talk, but cannot realistically walk the walk.

For example, one might say, “I’ll never be angry again! I will always control my emotions from now on in the Spirit.”

Wrong…

Even Jesus expressed anger, and God is often said to be angry in the Old Testament. Paul says to be angry, but don’t sin.

The simple emotion of anger is not always harmful or unloving. It is what you do when you are angry that has moral significance. Paul wrote, “Be angry, and yet do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger.”  The Amplified version of this verse reads, “When angry, do not sin,” which surely indicates we may sometimes feel anger. Paul is telling us that anger in itself is not wicked; that what we do when angry can be sinful; and that we should not allow ourselves to remain angry by continuing our destructive, resentful self-talk. He is telling us to deal with the issue promptly.   (William Backus, Telling Yourself the Truth)

So you can expect to be angry from time to time, and that’s okay, even normal. What really matters is how you walk that anger out.

Instead of saying “I’ll never be angry!”, we can rather say something like, “I want to live by the Lord’s life in me, so when I experience anger, I’ll turn to Him before I respond.”

I’m not talking about suppressing anger or other emotions.  That is not healthy either.  Rather than ignoring how I feel, or over-reacting to how I feel, there is a third way of dealing with the emotion or situation in a healthy way.  If you are struggling with anger, fear, depression, anxiety, a particular sin, and so on, there is an opportunity to learn how the Lord would have you deal with it, but it does require that you admit it and face it.  A few ways this could occur are through reading books and articles, talking to mentors or others who have dealt with a similar issue, talking to friends and family that are close to you, praying and spending time with the Lord, asking others to pray with/for you,  and studying the Scriptures for guidance.

Other examples of this could be:

  • I’ll never feel physical pain again.
  • I’ll never let myself feel emotional pain again.
  • I’ll never do ____________ sin again.
  • I’ll never be tempted again.
  • I’ll never put myself before others.
  • Now that I’m a Christian, things will always go well for me.
  • I’m going to be a perfect husband/wife from now on.
  • I’m going to be a perfect parent.

Living in Christ in my experience hasn’t meant that everything will be perfect.  It has meant that Jesus is there with me through anything that happens.  Our Lord is very practical in His teaching us how to live life in and through Him, and this doesn’t happen through a trouble-free life.  The more we are able to look to Christ and depend solely on Him in our trials, the more He gains ground in us.

F.J. Heugel once counseled a friend, “I don’t know the answer to your problem, but I can tell you how to get through it.”  He was of course, referring to the cross of Christ.

Those who teach us that the blood of Jesus cleanses or eradicates the old nature often fail to enter into and learn the meaning of the Christ-indwelt life as the only lifelong remedy for self. It was the saintly Francis de Sales who said, “It is a delusion to seek a sort of ready-made perfection which can be assumed like a garment; it is a delusion, too, to aim at a holiness which costs no trouble, although such holiness would be no doubt exceedingly agreeable to nature. We think that if we could discover the secret of sanctity we should become saints quickly and easily.” We shall the rest of our lives be making new and fresh discoveries of plague spots in our nature upon which the Cross must be laid. Has the reader not discovered, in spite of many victories over self and sin, how many natural choices and likes and preferences need to have the death-mark of Calvary put upon them? The birth-mark of nature must be contradicted throughout by the death-mark of the Cross. Let us, then, ask the Lord to mark His Cross upon all our natural choices.  (L.E. Maxwell)

Many times, my desire to control an emotion or situation is the fruit of my self-life.  I’m trying to control things out of my own strength.  When I let all things, including my own desires, go to the cross I give up control to Christ and must depend on Him in every circumstance.  And this is exactly what He is after!

Rather than assuming unrealistic expectations, I’m learning to expect trouble in this world, and to turn to Christ in all matters.

I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world.  (John 16:33)

Follow the Life!

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Put On The New Self

Put On the New Self

3 Therefore if you have been raised up with Christ, keep seeking the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. 2 Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth. 3 For you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God. 4 When Christ, who is our life, is revealed, then you also will be revealed with Him in glory.

5 Therefore consider the members of your earthly body as dead to immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed, which amounts to idolatry. 6 For it is because of these things that the wrath of God will come upon the sons of disobedience, 7 and in them you also once walked, when you were living in them. 8 But now you also, put them all aside: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and abusive speech from your mouth. 9 Do not lie to one another, since you laid aside the old self with its evil practices, 10 and have put on the new self who is being renewed to a true knowledge according to the image of the One who created him— 11 a renewal in which there is no distinction between Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and freeman, but Christ is all, and in all.

12 So, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience; 13 bearing with one another, and forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone; just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you. 14 Beyond all these things put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity. 15 Let the peace of Christ [m]rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body; and be thankful. 16 Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God. 17 Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father.

Put on the New Life!

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