Jesus Was Raised As An Immigrant

immigrant

Credit: Flickr user coolrevolution (cc)

Russell Moore of the Southern Baptist Convention penned a very penetrating letter on the current hot topic of immigration.

He states:

The larger issue is in how we talk about this issue, recognizing that this is not about “issues” or “culture wars” but about persons made in the image of God. Our churches must be the presence of Christ to all persons, regardless of country of origin or legal status. We need to stand against bigotry and harassment and exploitation, even when it’s politically profitable for those who stand with us on other issues.

And, most importantly, we must love our brothers and sisters in the immigrant communities. We must be the presence of Christ to and among them, even as we receive ministry from them. Our commitment to a multinational kingdom of God’s reconciliation in Christ must be evident in the verbal witness of our gospel and in the visible makeup of our congregations.

Amen!

It is easy to fall into the trap of using labels to dehumanize others resulting in a lack of compassion for those people.

This happens between different religions, different Christian denominations, different political parties, different genders, different nationalities, and so on.

Generalizing people into labels removes the human aspect.  But these are people with real stories and struggles looking for help.

There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male and female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus.  (Galatians 3:28 NLT)

In Christ there is not Greek and Jew, circumcision and uncircumcision, barbarian, Scythian, slave and free; but Christ is all and in all.  (Colossians 3:11 HCSB)

I’m not suggesting that there is an easy solution.  However, seeing everyone in the light of Christ seems to be a basic aspect of His kingdom, especially those who are most in need.

I hope you’ll check out the link above and read the full article.

What are your thoughts on Moore’s article?

Follow the Life!

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A Church Vision Meeting That I Wanted To Turn Upside Down!

Hidy, ho there, neighbors!  I hope you’re having a great Wednesday (a.k.a. “hump day”…).

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I’ve been wanting to share some of my own story here on the blog.  Specifically about my journey of growing into my own faith, discovering Christ in a deeply intimate way, and discovering the ekklesia (church) as I had never known it before.

As I think about this journey, there are certain events that are seared into my memory.  One such event occurred at a church that my wife and I were attending about 10 years ago where the Senior Pastor of the previous 25 years or so had recently retired.  The denomination sent in an interim pastor, who held a vision casting meeting one Sunday evening.

I don’t remember all of the details of the evening, but at one point the interim pastor asked the congregation to list the “assets” of the church that could help them reach the local community.  So the list included several things, and then we were asked to rank the top three items in order.

What happened next really troubled me, and I will never forget it.

Everyone was really excited about the results.  Really.  Excited.

And the results were:

1. The Building

2. The Pastoral Staff (which was maybe four men)

3. The Congregation

I remember sitting in my seat, wanting to stand up and shout, “WHAT!?!??!?!  That’s completely upside down, at best!”

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However, the excitement of the crowd and the approval of the staff running the meeting kept me in my seat.  Maybe it was fear of sounding different that stopped me, but I still wish I had said something.

This essentially was saying that the congregation was useless without a building and a small paid staff.

I simply couldn’t grasp that a dead, dumb, mute, lifeless building could possibly be more important than the people themselves.

I simply couldn’t grasp that four men, mostly overworked taking care of everyone in the church, were also going to find the time to reach the folks in the sprawling suburbs surrounding the church.

In my mind, each person there was a valuable member of Christ’s body and existed in a context in which Christ could be expressed, without the need for a remotely located building or the oversight of a paid staff.  Therefore, the people were the most important asset, after of course, having a unified vision of Christ as our life.

I thought that if I could only keep one of the three items listed with a mindset to reach out to the community, I would have to choose the congregation over either the building or the staff.  Without the people, little to nothing would be done.

This really opened my eyes to the off-centeredness of so many Christians’ view of the church, the ekklesia, the body of Christ, and it sent me on a search to understand what church is really about.

I’ll share more of that journey in upcoming posts.

I do want to note that I was not and am not upset with anyone that was at that vision meeting.  I’m still friends with many of those folks today and I know they love the Lord.  But it was an eye-opening experience that the Lord used in my life to nudge me in a new direction.

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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Thinking the Best of Others

conspiracyFor his unfailing love toward those who fear him is as great as the height of the heavens above the earth. He has removed our sins as far from us as the east is from the west.  (Psalm 103:11-12)

For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.  (Hebrews 8:12)

Amazingly, we have a God who thinks the best of us.  Our Father looks at us through the blood of His Son, Jesus Christ, and through Him sees the best that is in us.  He chooses to see us as an expression and an extension of His Son whose life indwells us.  This is what the Father does, and the Son expressed this divine vantage point in His interactions when He was on earth.  Jesus saw the best in the disciples, the sick, the lame, the needy, the tax collectors, the women, the adultress woman, and on and on.  In the stories of Jesus we find God’s Expression deeply valuing each person.

However, most of you probably know some conspiracy theorists, who typically spread their theories through deadly gossip (gossip is a fast acting poison that will kill community life).  These people are always looking for (and reacting to) the worst intentions in others.  Conspiracy theorists are constantly thinking and saying things like:

– They did that to make me look bad.

– He gave me this gift so I would feel guilty.

– She is just buttering me up so I don’t see her real intentions to undermine me.

– He only wants to help me to make himself look good – he’s using me.

– That person must be whispering about me.  I’m sure they don’t really like me.

– She missed our meeting because she doesn’t care about me.

– He didn’t talk to me because he really doesn’t like me.  He’s avoiding me at all costs!

And on and on…

Note that each of these statements is an accusation.  And by the way, Satan actually means “the accuser”.  He is one who accuses the saints, and we are following in his bitter footsteps when we do the same thing.  Not only that, but to accuse a part of Christ is to accuse Christ Himself.

Also note in the verses above that God is doing the opposite of accusing.  He is choosing to see the best in us by electing to remember our sins no more.  God is not seeking to hold us down; He is doing everything He can to lift us up.

In Jesus, He gives us every good thing.

In Christ, we are exonerated from our sins and rebellion against God.  Not that we are not responsible for the consequences and for participating in reconciliation as needed.  We are agents of Christ in the world and He often calls us to untangle the knots we make.

But my point is this: as the Father sees us in Christ, so we then see others through the lens of Christ as well.  Or perhaps put better, we yield to Christ in us who already sees everyone in that way.

Maybe some people don’t care about us.  Maybe they do want to undermine us, hurt us, ignore us, and so on.  But everyone of those people are dealing with something in their life at that very moment.  They are dealing with their past hurts and failures.  They are struggling with fears, just as everyone else does.

Many times, though, conspiracy theorists are completely wrong.  Their paranoia has caused them to find faults and motives that simply are not there.  This can then lead to gossip that is completely false.  (This is why it is always best to confirm information directly with the source, and this can save you from getting sucked into someone’s paranoid view of others.)

Of course, sometimes people are actually trying to hurt you.  Perhaps they are jealous and they want the success/position/family/happiness/etc you have.  Even so, I believe the best option is to look above the offense and see them in Christ.  Perhaps this means that you ignore their intentions and leave the situation to God, or you ask the Lord to show you how to respond through His wisdom and love.

If you have Christ in you, you can choose to see each person as He does.  And He sees the best of them, just as He sees the best of you.

Imagine being set free from paranoia.  Imagine being liberated from worrying about what or who every person is talking about.  Imagine being unburdened from “discerning” every person’s intentions.

This freedom is available in Christ.  He can teach you to learn to see the best in others, to look past the faults and offenses and hurts that people hurl at us, thereby becoming part of His healing and restoring work in this world.

Therefore judge nothing before the appointed time; wait until the Lord comes. He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of the heart. At that time each will receive their praise from God.  (1 Corinthians 4:5)

Do not judge, or you too will be judged.  (Matthew 7:1)

You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge another, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things.  (Romans 2:1)

Follow the Life!

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Christian, Will You Go Beyond What Is Right?

rice paddyThe following story is told in Angus Kinnear’s biography of Watchman Nee, Against the Tide:

In another village a newly believing farmer and his friend had faced a crisis. Their strips of rice field lay close to an irrigation stream on the terraced hillsides from which they daily drew water for their paddy. But one night as they slept a neighbor with land beneath them on the slope defrauded them of their essential and laboriously pumped supply by breaching the clay of their retaining bank and running it off on to his own land. Next morning they saw what had happened but, controlling themselves, said nothing. Again they raised their water, and again next night it was all drained off. Still they uttered no word of protest when at dawn they discovered the mean trick the man had played on them. This went on for seven successive days, and they were justly irritated. Were they not Christians, and should not Christians be patient? The Scriptures speak of loving your enemies, rejoicing in sufferings, and counting it pure joy when you meet various trials, and their restraint seemed irreproachable. In desperation they went to some older believers for advice.”It is unjust!” they exclaimed. “how is it that, having suffered all this wrong for a full week and kept faith with God, we are still unhappy? Tell us in this situation what we should rightly do next.”

One of those senior brothers had some experience. First they all knelt together in prayer; then he replied,”If we do the right thing and no more, then surely we are unprofitable servants. We ourselves should go beyond what is merely right. Maybe you are not yet happy because you have not gone the full distance. Let me suggest that you try going the second mile. First yourselves irrigate that farmer’s paddy field, and after that irrigate your own. Go back and test it out, and see whether or not your hearts find rest.”

They agreed to try, and next morning were early afoot. Carrying forth their wooden trough with its “dragon’s backbone” water-lift and going to work once more on its treadmill, they made it their first task to irrigate the field of their enemy who had so persistently robbed their own field of its water. And now this amazing thing happened: the more they labored in the day’s intense heat watering their persecutor’s land, the happier they became. By the time, in late afternoon, they had finished lifting sufficient also for their own paddy field, their hearts were at perfect rest.

When the brothers had repeated this for two or three days the man came with his friends, dumbfounded, to apologize. With every show of sincerity he asked for the explanation. “If this is Christianity,” he said, “then we want to hear more about it,” and soon he too was drinking in the Word of life.

In telling this episode Watchman was distinguishing between the principle of right and wrong and the principle of life.”Those two had been most patient,” he explains. “They had labored to irrigate their paddy, and without a word of complaint had suffered others to steal their water. Was that not very good? They had done all that man could require of them, but God was not yet satisfied. They lacked peace of heart because they had not met the demands of his life. When however they conformed to his standards, joy and peace welled up in their hearts.

“What is the Sermon on the Mount?” he continues. “What does Jesus teach in Matthew chapters 5 to 7? Is it not this, that we dare not be satisfied with less than what meets the demands of the new life God has put within us? It does not teach that provided we do what is right then all is well. No, we overlook the inner life whereby his Holy Spirit moves us to further action. Many say that Matthew 5 to 7 is too difficult. It is beyond us. I admit that it is. It is sheer impossibility. But here’s the point. You have an inner life, a Person close at hand, and in a given situation that new life tells you that unless you do as the Sermon on the Mount requires (and “love” is a key word) you will lack rest. The whole question lies here: are you walking in the way of good and evil, or in the way of life?”

An interesting aspect of this story is that the brothers sought the Lord’s direction together in prayer.  Through this time together, it was realized that the life of Christ in them was leading them to do more than just not retaliate; they were being called to serve this person who was hurting them.

Without spending time in prayer, they were stuck looking at the situation through the eyes of the flesh, and were attempting to rely on their own strength to muster patience with the offense against them.  But they knew something was not right because they were not “happy”.

The solution presented was truly inspired.  It was against human wisdom that would demand justice, and it resolved the situation peaceably to the benefit of both parties, although there was suffering on the part of the Christians to perform extra work in watering two fields.

While this solution may not be directly found in the Scriptures (there are no “water your neighbor’s paddy field” verses), this echoes Jesus’ words about turning the other cheek, walking the second mile, and Paul’s words to the Corinthians who were taking each other to court: “why not rather be wronged?”.  So the Spirit-led direction could be confirmed as being in line with the life of Christ.

In the end, this created a testimony to the non-believing neighbor that drew him towards Christ.  God saw fit to use their suffering to expand His life to others!

This is a wonderful example of how we who are inhabited by the Spirit of Christ can solve problems… first come before Christ together in prayer, listen for His answer which will follow the pattern of His life, and follow Him.  Note that His answers will rarely follow the conventional wisdom of this world.

Follow the Life!

Do you have any similar examples to share?  I’d love for you to put them in the comments.

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What is Always on the Other Side of the Cross

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An excerpt from F.J. Huegel’s Bone of His Bone:

In the first chapter of the Ephesian letter, Paul utters a marvelous prayer.  He says to the Ephesians:

I do not cease to give thanks for you, making mention of you in my prayers: that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ,
the Father of glory, may give to you the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Him, the eyes of
your understanding be enlightened; that you may know… what is the exceeding greatness of His power toward us
who believe.

And this power which is to us, for us, in us who believe – from where does it come?  What actually is it?  It is the “power which [God] worked in Christ when he raised Him from the dead.”

That is the matchless power which works in you – the power of Christ’s resurrection!  Paul longed to have the Ephesians realize that fact.

When we come to consider the requirements of the New Testament as they bear upon the Christian life, we realize that they all presuppose this very oneness of the believer with Christ in the power of His resurrection. No one but a Christ-centered person, one with Him in death and resurrection, could possibly measure up to the ideal of Christ in Christian life and service.  To love one’s enemies with that divine love (Greek agape, divine-type love) without a deep participation in the power of Christ’s endless life would no more be possible for the purely natural man than for a worm to play the role of a bird.  There is not a New Testament requirement that does not immediately bring you face to face with an overwhelming dilemma.  Either you must cease to move in the realm of the purely natural – find in the resurrected Christ a new life – or you must fail as a Christian.  To the new life – the life that flows from Christ – the Sermon on the Mount presents no problems; it is all natural, easy, a spontaneous expression of principles already inherent.  The ways, customs, language of jungle savages are no more unintelligible or impracticable to the average person today than is the Sermon on the Mount to one who has not been born again (i.e., died to the self-life to rise up with Christ in the power of a new life.)

A mere mechanical doing-as-Jesus-did will never bring you to the Christ-life.  For a dead frog can be made to kick as if it were alive by the touch of an electric current, but it remains dead.  Nor can my imitation of the ways of a Frenchman make me a Frenchman.  I am an American, and I would have to be reborn to be anything but what I am.

You had to be born anew.  That is why Christ took you with Himself down into the grave and brought you forth a new creation.  He terminated your old life when there upon the Cross as Representative man He died; and He imparted to you a new life when He arose from the grave.

Christ expects nothing from your flesh.  However religious its garments, however holy its appearance, however sanctified its undertakings, it still “profits nothing.”  It is still only flesh.  It is still only the realm of the natural.  It is still self.

It is not simply Christ dying for you – it is you dying in Christ!  It is not simply Christ being raised from the dead – it is you being raised along with your divine head!  It is not simply you reaching out after God – it is God taking the form of man, and then, as the Son of Man, changing life’s entire process – bringing you out from the tomb charged with the divine life, resurrection life!  This is the Christian faith – the faith of the apostles, the “faith of the Son of God.”

My old self has been crucified with Christ.  It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me.  So I live in this earthly body by trusting in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.  (Galatians 2:20 NLT)

We know that our old sinful selves were crucified with Christ so that sin might lose its power in our lives. We are no longer slaves to sin.  (Romans 6:6 NLT)

For you died to this life, and your real life is hidden with Christ in God.  (Colossians 3:3 NLT)

On the other side of the cross, there is always, new, divine, resurrected life in Christ Jesus.

Follow the Life!

*****

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Experiencing Christ as Our Life Source

Below is part of a letter of encouragement that I sent to a friend a few months ago.  The letter is based on John 15:1-17.  I thought I would share it here in hopes that it also encourages you to rest in Christ and allow Him to be your life source.

It was originally written to one person, but I have updated it to be written to the Bride of Christ since it is now going out to a larger audience.

My Bride, I want you to know that I am the real and living grapevine, and my Father is the caretaker who watches over everything and puts everything into the perfect place at the perfect time. You are a branch in Me. You are part of Me. You live inside of Me. You are nourished by Me. I carry the living water to you and all the other branches in Me. All you have to do is rest in me. The living water is already flowing to you and through you.

Drink deeply my dear Bride. Don’t get too caught up in this world around you, how good you are living, or whether or not you are pleasing Me. My Father is always at work cutting out the branches in you that aren’t producing fruit to make room for the new branches that I am sprouting. Let go of the old and cling to the new!  Focus on Me and these other concerns will be dealt with through My Life in you.

The new branches that are of Me will produce more fruit than you could ever imagine. In fact, the Father has always been pruning you as you learn of Me. This is how you experience more and more of Me, by letting my Father prune. The more you depend on Me for everything, the more I will grow in you. Only divine life produces real, living, eternal fruit. As long as you continue in Me, I will bear fruit in You.

Yes, I am the authentic, eternal vine; you each are a very special branch in Me. Everyone who draws life from Me will produce abundant fruit. Realize, though, that you cannot draw life from yourself, nor can you produce any fruit on your own. You are only branches; I am the vine, the source. The life comes from Me and flows out to everyone and everything. Those that will not drink from My living water will eventually wither and die because they have no true life in themselves.

When you are consumed with My living water, you will see things just as I see and hear them because we will truly be one vine together. It will be easy for Me to give whatever you ask because you are asking from My perspective! My branches are the ones who partake of Me and manifest and express my own nature. And this is my nature: to love you exactly like My Father has loved Me. When My nature is flowing through and out of you, you will always be doing what I desire, just as I always do what My Father desires.

Don’t get down on yourself! I’m telling you all of this because it is truly joyful to those who abide in Me. My desires for you are filled with joy and are not burdensome. I simply want you to love each other the same way I have shown you love by laying My life down for you. There really is nothing greater in the universe than this! This is the most powerful thing of all! This is like a nuclear bomb in the heavenly realms, and it shames all those that stand against Me in the natural and the spiritual world! And you will do this completely naturally when you are abiding in Me and drawing from My living waters.

People will say, “Look, there is a friend of God!” As my dear Bride, I have opened up to you all of my secrets. You used to be slaves to this world, but now you know what will conquer this world: My life and My love, which is completely different from what passes for love in the world. Maybe you think that you chose Me. Actually, I chose You long, long, ago, and have hungered and thirsted to know you fully as a cherished branch in Me, and to see the fruit grow that you have already been chosen to produce. Remember, when you are one with Me, you will long for and fulfill My desires and the desires of My Father, which is that you love each other.

Follow the Life!

*****

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Who is Really in Control of the Church?

gathering_medThat’s one question that needs to be answered in Milt and Mary Rodriguez’s novel, The Gathering.

The new President of the United States has instituted a new organization, the United Christian Movement, which has placed an agent in every Christian church in America to make sure that everything stays in line with the government’s rules.  This new administration has forced Christian unity and is seeking to return America to a highly moral country by enforcing strict laws.  Meanwhile, the UCM is also trying to eradicate “New Agers” who actually believe that Jesus Christ lives within them and has a desire for believers to live life together and express Him to others.  Of course, any mention of an indwelling Lord is cause for swift retribution from the UCM.

But what about those who feel that God has something different in mind for His church?  What about those who feel called to something deeper?  God works mysteriously through dreams and visions to bring those believers together in secret, underground gatherings that express God’s eternal purpose while living a simple life together with Christ Himself as Head of the church.

The Gathering is very fast paced and kept me on the edge of my seat with anticipation.  There are lots of characters and pieces to this story that all come together nicely in the end.  The novel reads like a thriller, but with a stunning revelation of God’s eternal purpose woven throughout.

If you are interested in simple, organic church gatherings, or want to know more about God’s eternal purpose, this novel is a great way to learn more about it.

Follow the Life!

*****

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Resurrected with Christ

I wrote previously about the church being “born crucified“, but that’s only part of the story… we were also raised with Christ to new life!  The following is a paraphrase of Romans 6:1-11, written as though Jesus Himself is speaking to the believers in Rome:

In Jesus’ Voice

What are you saying to Me?  Are you going to keep on sinning knowing the richness of the gift of grace that I have given to you?  Please, never say this to me!

I want you to be confident that you are completely dead to sin and death!  Those are the old ways of life.  I have given you a new life that flows from my very being.  I have made you part of Me.  This is why you are baptized into My name.  When you are submerged in water all of your sin that was crucified by Me on the cross is buried forever; when you rise from the water you enter a new creation that is sustained by My life, including your new life!  Certainly, if you are buried with me unto death, I will not leave you in the grave to suffer and ruin the plans that were made before the foundation of the world.  My greatest desire is to fulfill My Father’s dream to bring you through that death into real life… divine fellowship with us.

Dear child of mine, please understand that My life is the only antidote for sin.  The cross was the only way for me to save you from that incurable disease.  Sin is so powerful that your cursed body had to be completely destroyed and made new for My life to take root in you.  Those of you who accept the antidote, a blood transfusion with Me, will be set free from the disease of sin.

Do not fear death!  It is good news for you because it is the gateway to living a new life with Me.  I conquered death itself.  It has no part in My new creation, and it has no power over me or you.  I want you to know through your entire being that you are surely dead to sin, and thereby are alive inside of Me!

Follow the Life!

*****

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Struggling? Burned out? Christ is New Every Morning

The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.  (Lamentations 3:22-23 ESV)

Thank goodness that our God never gives up, never throws in the towel on us.  As sure as the sun rises, and as sure as the Son has risen, our loving Father’s mercy and compassion are new every morning.  You can experience this newness in the springs of living water (Christ’s own Life) inside you (John 4:14).

May you rest in the peaceful assurance of His life and love in you!

Follow the Life!

*****

Related:   Feeling Stale? Here’s A Cure For Spiritual Dryness (New Day Book Review)

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The Church Was Born Crucified

Just as Eve was in Adam and was brought out of him at just the right time, so the church was in Christ, and she was brought out of Him in God’s perfect time.  She, the ekklesia, was not brought out from Him until He had displayed and produced crucified life for her.

This haunting quote comes from F.J. Huegel’s book, Bone of His Bone, and gives much insight into our co-crucifixion with Christ and our co-resurrection in Him:

The church, as has said the great French preacher Lacordaire, was born crucified; and until, like her divine head, she falls into the ground and dies, she abides alone. The life-giving streams cannot break forth from her bosom.

God grant you the grace to be clear about one thing: Christ does not come into your life to patch up your “old man.”  Here is where unnumbered multitudes of Christians have been “hung up.”  They thought it was Christ’s mission to make them better.  There is absolutely no biblical ground for any such idea.  Jesus said that He had no intention of pouring His new wine into old pigskins.  He said that He had not come to bring peace, but a sword.  He said that unless a man would renounce himself utterly, he could not be his disciple.

Christ does not come to you to simply straighten out your “old life.”  He has never promised to make us better.  His entire redemptive work which was consummated upon the cross rests upon the assumption (it is more than an assumption – God says it is a fact) that man’s condition is such that only dying and being born again can possibly make any change in you. He must impart to you an entirely new life.

Christ is the Vine, we are the branches. He is the Head, we form the Body.

Paul’s epistles again and again point us to Calvary and startle us with an imperative demand: We must consent to co-crucifixion with Christ. …

Two thousand years ago, there in the manger of Bethlehem, God gave the world his only-begotten son.  In Him was concentrated the infinite love of the Father.  But the full force of that redeeming love was not released upon a sin-stricken world until there on Calvary the flaming heart of the Beloved broke.  Then it was that the radium of the celestial realm was focused upon the great cancer of humanity’s sin and shame.  Radiation kills.  There is no power under heaven that can withstand its concentrated dynamic.

The Cross also kills.  The man who exposes himself to Calvary soon discovers that a hidden fire burns within his bones.  The old fallen life – so resentful, so fussy, so greedy, so touchy, so haughty, so vain, so blind to all except its own particular lust, so ready to sacrifice the good of the many if only its own glory may be secured – the old “self-life” can no more resist the impact of Calvary than can some frail canoe survive the onrush of a great tidal wave. …

Let us further examine this matter of identification with Christ. It is both a position that you take once and for all by an act of faith (in which you commit yourself to your place in the death of His Son) and a process of growth, in which you receive an ever-deepening life of sharing in the Savior’s death.  Even Paul said that he longed to know Christ and the power of his resurrection… being made conformable unto His death (Phil 3:10).  It is all summed up in the great paradox of the Gospel: “He who loses his life shall find it.”

There is not any nullification of personality involved.  Quite the contrary.  Paul was no less Paul after the realization of his oneness with Christ in death. He could, with infinitely more right, say “nevertheless I live.”  Once the cross deals with the “I-life” so that the soul becomes God-centered, personality and all of its glory and the full fruition of its powers begins to develop. You can only possess yourself when God is supreme in your life. …

Being in Christ, we are crucified. Your being a German or a Frenchman makes inevitable certain habits of mind, a certain temperament of soul.  Your being a Christian makes inevitable the crucified life.  The church did not come forth from the womb of the Eternal until, upon the cross, crucified life had been generated.

The only life given to the ekklesia, the body of Christ, is His crucified life.  This is the source of our new life, our new covenant, in Him.  This is why it is the Lamb of God that conquered death and sin, and why it is the Lamb that now sits on the throne.  Jesus Christ won the victory through His sacrifice.  The church is victorious through her own sacrifice, and in this is true Life.

What foolishness this is to our “old man”, but what life pours forth to those who embrace the way of the cross of Christ.

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An Encouragement to Those Doing the Lord’s Work

IMG_0925Watchman Nee (1903-1972) was a Chinese Christian who served the Lord widely in China, often at great personal cost.  He was wrongly imprisoned later in his life because the government considered him to be the leader of many Christians and a threat to the Chinese rulers.  Nee served the Lord in China most of his life, while giving little consideration to his own comfort or reputation.  He died in a remote farm prison after serving twenty years of hard labor and being almost completely cut off from his wife and family.  After this time he was frail and sick, and was eventually transported over rough Chinese terrain to a hospital.  It is believed that he died during this trip due to its severity on his weak body.

Nee never gave up his faith, though.  His possessions from prison, including additional writings and diaries, were not turned over to his family.  They were only given his old coat, worn from many beatings.  Inside, hidden in the lining, they found a scrap of paper inscribed with these words, “Only God is ever living – only God is everlasting.”

Watchman Nee has written many books that have been translated into English.  Many of his spoken messages have also been transcribed and released as books.  While he was certainly not perfect, his contribution to Christians world wide is immense.

Angus Kinnear brilliantly captures the life of Watchman Nee in his biography Against the Tide: The Unforgettable Story Behind Watchman Nee.  In this book, there is a section about Nee’s thoughts about “how God might more widely win to himself the people of China”.  Nee was interested in how God might raise up those who could minister among the Lord’s people to develop local assemblies throughout China.

Developing this thought further, he pointed next to an item in the ark’s contents, namely Aaron’s rod that had once budded.  It had been set there as a memorial of a historic occasion: a dark night and a resurrection morning.  He believed this hinted at God’s one sure way of fruitfulness for every servant of his.  We do not accomplish God’s work merely by yielding to the appeal of open doors and great opportunities.  There is sometimes also a darkness to be endured with patience for the sake of a new dawn.  When that dawn breaks God will disclose buds and flowers beyond man’s power to produce.  In the case of our Lord Jesus that resurrection life blossomed and fruited in its fullest sense when he pleased his Father by assenting to endure, with heaven closed above him, the darkness and death of the cross.  “The Son of Man must suffer,” he had said.  While in such experiences the disciple follows his Master only at a distance, yet “the servant is in no way greater than his Lord.”

The death of ourselves (what Paul called “the old man” or the “flesh”) is usually quite painful; however, in Christ there is always a resurrection on the other side.  This is what is represented by Aaron’s dead staff that God caused to bloom new flowers (see Numbers 17).

While this principle is true for all Christians, my thoughts in this post are primarily aimed at those who are called to the work of giving up themselves completely to serve God’s people.  The cross they bear for the Lord’s sake, for the Lord’s spiritual house (that is the church, His living body, not a physical building) can certainly be overwhelming at times.  Thankfully, we always have the promise of the NEW life, fruit, and light on the other side of death.

To those of you laboring faithfully for the Lord, you have my utmost respect.

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What I’ve Learned in Organic Church Part 2: The Life of the Church Flows from Christ’s Life in Us, Not From Our Activity

*** This article is part of a blog series by some of us meeting together in an organic expression of the church.  The introduction to the series is here.  Other contributors are listed at the bottom of this article.  This series is not based in theory or rhetoric and is not an attempt to “teach”.  Our hope is simply to point to Christ as All in All and to share real life experiences of those who are living together in this way. ***

The life of the church flows from Christ’s life in us, not from our activity.

This sounds obvious, right?  It’s all about Jesus.  Yes, of course.

Except that it is not.  It’s often about many other things, and we don’t even realize it much of the time.  We’ve made a commitment to Jesus (got saved, answered an altar call, said the sinner’s prayer, confessed Christ as Lord, or whatever you prefer to call it) and now it is time to get on with being a good Christian and doing church stuff.  Or so we’re told.

I humbly confess that I spent most of my life with this view of what it means to be Christian.

But does “doing church” and “being good” really sound like what Jesus called us to?

If He called us to something else, what is it?

When I ventured down this path of “organic church” (I’ll define that a little more later) it was hard to give up the priorities that I had placed on other things.  It was actually difficult to make Christ the most important thing in my life because I was so wrapped up in the other things!  I was consumed with studying the scriptures and knowing “proper” doctrine (which changes with the group you meet with), learning what rules I should live by (again, these change with the group) and trying to correct my behavior, taking part in church services, serving in a church ministry, learning what my spiritual gifts are, evangelizing the lost, getting my children involved in church activities, and so on.

Thankfully, I’ve been able to learn together and experience with a group of believers what it really does mean to make Christ the center of our lives and the center of the church.

In our church, we do our best to hold onto Christ as our Life and our Head, willing to go wherever that takes us.  We seek to give Him room to work in us and through us.  We are far from perfect and still have so much to learn as we mature together.  I pray that we continue to keep Christ as Head and at the center of it all.

This willingness to yield to Christ together, to lay down our agendas and aspirations, to listen and rest in Him, and to follow His leading as it is brought forth through the body makes it very difficult to describe what we are doing at any particular time.  We don’t have a list of ministries, programs, or financial campaigns.  We have a Person, and He is our vision and goal.

How do we keep Christ as the center?

I recently adapted the opening lines of the Star Trek franchise as follows:

Christ: the final frontier. These are the voyages of His Ekklessia.  Its eternal mission: to explore endless new worlds in Him, to seek out new life and a new civilization, to boldly go where the old man could never go before.

Our church seeks to explore Christ together and express Him to each other.  We explore Christ through all of life, as He can be seen in all things and all circumstances (Romans 1:20).  We meet together during the week to behold Him and seek Him together.  We read the scriptures and find Him there (Luke 24:27-32).  We meet together as a church weekly and express to each other what He has revealed to us.

We seek to know our Lord.  He is a living and active Being, and while He can’t necessarily be seen or felt physically, He can be known.  He desires to be known and to be loved by His bride.

“There is scarcely a soul that seeks You, that loves and knows You.”  – Michael Molinos

How lonely our Lord must be among all of this activity that is done in His name, yet is often a distraction from resting in Him and dwelling in His sweet presence.  (Even good activities can distract us from knowing Him.)  I like to read biographies.  You can learn a great deal about someone this way, but you can never know them as a real person simply by reading about them.  To have a relationship, to have fellowship, there must be more.

Does this mean that we just sit around and talk about Jesus?

Heavens, no!  I have learned that seeking to know the Lord in an inward and intimate way allows Him to reveal Himself more fully through my spirit (think of it as exercising an internal organ) than my mind could ever comprehend.  It is in this deep spiritual place where true revelation from the Lord is given, for revelation by definition does not originate in man, but in God.

I have also learned that this revelation leads to a choice.  Every single time.  And the choice is this: will I choose my will or His will?  His will may seem difficult to me at times, but it is always in line with God’s good, unchanging purposes, and usually against my fleshly desires.  When we choose to live according to His will as it is revealed to us, we are living by His indwelling life.

As we learn Christ together in this way, we begin to consider ourselves less and love others more.  We have more peace.  We find joy in times of abundance and despite times of suffering.  We do crazy things to help others.  We come to know each other and treat each other as family.  We share Christ with various people in our lives, often in deed, sometimes with words.  We reject legalism and traditions that inprison the Spirit of Christ.  I am learning this as a pattern (not a blueprint) that follows Christ’s life.  Where He is Head and all things are submitted to Him, the fruits of the Spirit naturally blossom and the fragrance of Christ is known.

Out of this relationship with Christ, the activity that He truly desires can be expressed through His body naturally and in season.

But activity without relationship doesn’t lead to much of anything except exhaustion.  If you don’t believe that, think about your marriage, or ask someone who is married.  Activity is not what makes the marriage flourish; it is the relationship, the deep knowing and longing for another person.  This is what “quality time” is really about.  I’ve often heard couples say that they just feel like “roommates”, implying that a deeper connection is not being pursued.  The longer a couple goes on keeping up with activities without resting and enjoying each other, the more the relationship suffers.  So it is with Christ and His bride.

Activities, programs, gifts, knowledge, buildings are not our center.  Nor is meeting in a home, rejecting authority, or criticizing other Christians or institutions.  None of these things will produce an organic expression of the church.

Our center is not found in the external trappings of religion, but in the inward spirit where the Holy Spirit resides in us.  The center and foundation of our community is knowing Christ together through intimate, spiritual fellowship with Him, expressing Him to each other, and following the revelation of Himself that He imparts to us (living by His indwelling life).

All else flows from this, as He guides us.  At least, this is my experience.

May we have eyes to see Him, ears to hear Him, and hearts burning to know Him.

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Further Resources:

A good definition of organic church.

Living by the indwelling life of Christ.  Also here.  And here.

Other Bloggers in this Series (And Post Dates):

R.C. Babione (2/29/12)

Brigette Babione (2/8/12)

Nathan Burgman

Jackie Dukes (2/1/12)

Marc Hardy (1/25/12)

Mark Lake (1/18/12)

Seth Roach (2/15/12)

Tobias Valdez

Carrie Walters (2/22/12)

Michael Young (1/11/12)