Saturday, June 28, 2014

Tendency toward Religion

Part of the nature of human beings is the tendency to move toward systems that make life simpler and easier. (I am, by no means, against simple and easy. I am a human being after all.) So, when there is a problem, one develops a policy and a procedure. That way, when one encounters this problem, one automatically knows what to do and how to do it. There is no thinking, no evaluation, no fuss, no muss, no bother.

Also, there are no nuances. No consideration of mitigating factors. No need for grace or wisdom.

In the world of spirituality, this is the process of moving from relationship to religion. Religion can be characterized as a systematic, formalized way to interact with God.

Some churches are obvious in this. What happens at each meeting is intended to be the same .. with almost clock-like precision.

Some churches claim to be led by the Spirit in all that they do. If that's the case, how come the Spirit never says "Look! This issue is really important, so I want you to scratch the normal agenda and spend the entire meeting in prayer." I doubt that this have ever happened.

We do need to realize that God created the human nature to form habits. God designed people this way, so the habit making process is good. (Do not confuse this all habits are good ... because that's not the case.) Groups of people make habits too. Group habits are called customs or traditions. If the process of making individual habits is good, then, maybe, the process of making group habits is good. But if individuals can make bad habits, then groups can make bad habits too.

Part of being led by the Spirit is knowing when to change from what is normally done to something different, and accepting that with enthusiastic, good will.

Part of being led by the Spirit is knowing this tendency toward formality, knowing God's desire to walk in relationship, and knowing that God-ordained stuff will happen will happen to shake things up and move his family further into relationship.

NOTE: God periodically enters into life with God-ordained stuff (some of which are called revivals, renewals, or awakenings) in a special way. Heaven seems close. God's presence is tangible. Life is wonderful. People are growing, getting saved, and everyone seems extremely excited for thew things of God. Then, it all kinda fades away. One would think that this is what God wants, so why does it fade.

  • Maybe people are not designed for such intense, sustained emotional outpouring. There comes a point where it cannot be sustained. There comes a point where it becomes detrimental.
  • Maybe God has achieved everything he is intending. Any further pursuit in this direction will not have the effect he is seeking.
  • Maybe people are no longer moving where God is leading. God wants his family to go to point "F". They have progressed from "A" to "B" to "C" ... and they are enjoying "C" so much they stop there and don't move on.
  • Maybe people have begun the process of formalizing this new experience in God, and it has turned into religion. So, it loses power and becomes just another activity.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

"Market Share"

After discussing “market share” Christianity a little while ago, I bumped into a couple of “ideas.”

First: Willow Creek (WC), a mega-church outside of Chicago, gave a church-wide survey in 2004. The leadership believed WC was growing, that the attenders of WC were growing. (They defined growth as increasing love for God and increasing love for people.) The survey was intended to show them what methods and tools were working to promote growth. They were shocked to find that all their assumptions were wrong. They assumed, like many churches, that increasing church participation (attending worship, small groups, Bible studies, work groups or short-term missions) meant growth. When the data was analyzed, they found that increased “numbers” to not mean growth.

Second: With “market share” Christianity, the primary assumption is “bigger is better.” There are “economies of scale” gains in impact, effectiveness and efficiency. But, there has also been push-back about mass production, cookie cutter methodologies. The reasoning is as follows: if each person is unique, has a personal place and function in the body of Christ, then such methodologies will not work. The church needs craftsmen and not assembly lines. So, there is a growing movement of people who espouse a “smaller is better” philosophy. Smaller allow for more personal attention and greater craftsmanship-like concern. So, there is a call for house or cell church models. (And I confess a personal draw in this direction.)

The second “bump,” however, is not that mega is bad and micro is good. It is that, maybe. Churches have their attention in the wrong place, on the wrong things. Jesus’ marching orders are to make disciples, who are obedient to all his commands … including the command to make disciples, who themselves make disciples.

The Bible says that God gave leaders to the church, who will prepare his family to do his work. And, as each part does its work, the body grows … increase in love for God and people. Since, Scripture equates loving God and loving people with keeping his commands, doing God’s work is, in part, keeping his marching orders.

The second “bump” is that churches need to adjust their thinking to provide better methods of equipping and preparation. It could be possible this preparation can only be done in micro settings. But size does not ultimately define the quality or focus of the preparation.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Work Vs. Rest

The Bible says that God loves his children with unfailing, everlasting love. He values, loves and accepts them as a father does his infant child, when he has done nothing to deserve it. It also says nothing can separate us from God's love ... maybe, even, ourselves.

The Bible also says that God has given gifted men to prepare his family for significant work. He has given marching orders to make disciples of all peoples, all over the world. And he says that his body will grow when each part does its work properly.
On one hand,  there is no need for us to do anything.  We need only accept this rest. On the other hand,  there is clearly an expectation that God's children will take action.

Like so many things, the answer lies in the heart. God has poured out his love into our hearts. He changes our motivations. He changes our want-to's.

Love gives birth to love; love gives birth to loving action. God loves us. So, we love him in return. And we give love to others. And we act in love to God and others.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Following Jesus

The Father invites us to follow Jesus. This means we take his character. And it means we serve people the way he served people.


How did Jesus serve people? It seems to me that he was a healer. There was spiritual healer (salvation and the restoration of God’s image), physical healing, inner healing (emotional and psychological) and social-cultural healing (families, cities, tribes and countries).


How did Jesus heal? He got personal. He got close. He engaged people at their point of need. He showed people the Father’s love, and let them experience it. The lame walked. The blind could see. Sinners were forgiven. The broken hearted were comforted.


One thing struck me in a new way this morning. Jesus went small to grow big. He did serve large crowds, sometimes 20,000 people. If he made an impact in such a setting, that was good. But he wasn’t aiming at huge crowds. He was aiming at a small group of men. He was training a group of men to be healers, like he was a healer. And he was training these healers to train healers.


It seems like the common model today is to gather a large group around one person, creating an organization and using economies of scale to carve out a space in the “market”.


Many people are sincerely trying to follow Jesus through this “market share” mode. It is what they have seen and experienced throughout their lives. But are they really following Jesus?

Monday, June 09, 2014

God's Purposes

When God created the world, he created it perfectly. And he created it with two purposes in mind.

One: To create a family. People would be created. They would bond together in one family. They would have intimate, ongoing relationship with the Father. The Father would have intimate, ongoing relationship with the family as a whole, and with each member individually and personally.

Two: To demonstrate his nature\character through his creation. He would pour out his love on all people. The people would all experience it fully. Creation would be whole and harmonious. The family would be whole and harmonious. No pain, death or loss. Nature was gracious and giving.

Then sin entered the world. It corrupted. It disrupted. And everything broke.

But did God’s purposes change? No, they did not. The purposes are the same. The mechanisms for achieving those purposes needed to change; the end results did not.

God still wants to make a family. God still wants to have intimate, ongoing relationship with the family as a whole and with each individual. But, before sin, when someone was born, he would have automatically been included in the family. Now, with sin, each person is separated from God and from the family. So, God has set up an adoption process. Each person is placed in the family by the process. And God considers each “reclaimed” person as if they were born into the family, instead of being adopted into the family.

But each person has freedom to choose to be a part of the family or not. So, there needs to be an “invitation mechanism.”  And each person is fundamentally broke. They do not know how to live in the family. The do not know how to live as a son\daughter of the Father. So, there needs to be a “restoration mechanism.”

And the family itself is involved with these mechanisms. The family demonstrates the truth of its relationship with the Father. The family demonstrates the extent of its restoration. The family participates in extending invitations. And the family participates in restoring one another to health and wholeness. The family teaches one another how to live in the family. The family teaches one another how to connect with the Father.

And it is this connection with the Father that changes who a person is at his\her core.

And God still wants to demonstrate his character through his creation. Scripture says all of creation declares God’s character. But sin blocks the view. It should be seen most clearly through his family. Which is why the “restoration mechanism” becomes vital.

Jesus came and formally re-established God’s family. He set up the invitation mechanism and the restoration mechanism. But, he prioritized the restoration mechanism. Both are important, but it is the restoration mechanism that gives power to the invitation mechanism.

And restoration covers wherever God’s kingdom should reign: individuals, families, neighborhoods, cities, societies, cultures, institutions, fields, forests, mountains, factories, industries, stores, offices, universities, parking lots, highways and bi-ways. In whatever place, in whatever condition, in whatever situation God’s presence is, God’s restoration should come and prevail.

Friday, June 06, 2014

Vines and Braches: Why is Relationship Important?

We wrote, quite a while ago, about how people need “fuels” to live. Food, water and air are examples of physical fuels. Love, beauty and freedom are examples of other fuels – emotional, psychological and spiritual. The foundational fuel source is our relationship with our Father.

Our relationship with God is important, because it is the source of life. And there is more to life than just living. (Read: surviving.) As we relate, he floods our hearts and spirits with his love. It is this love which powers our lives. It is this live which he uses to recreate, restore and redeem us. It is this love which transforms our heart – and therefore, our motivations, thoughts, words and actions.

Churches all over the world reconstruct the law. Attend church, tithe, serve and witness are new laws put out by churches for people to live by. But sin still abides in us. It rebels against any law. It uses the power of any law to generate rebellion.

God’s family does not live by the law any more. It lives by the power of love and grace. Love fulfills the law – in deed, it is the better fulfillment. People follow the law out of fear. They seek to avoid the stigma and any negative results.

God’s family pursues what the law commands, but not because the law commands it. The recognize these things as an outflow of love – of God’s love through them. They recognize these things as an expression of love to God and to people.

Imagine wanting to share the gospel with people, because: 
  • it is best for them to know the Father, God and Creator of All; 
  • it is best for them to have God’s love flood their hearts; 
  • knowing and experiencing God’s love is so wonderful, that you can’t help yourself.

Vine and Branches: What Does Relationship Look Like?

I have been floundering around trying to grasp what a relationship with God looks like, if it is not based on religion. And I realized today that there is not just one picture. That’s because it is a personal relationship.

Some of us had bad fathers. Some of us had good fathers. Some fathers were extroverts; some were introverts. Some were emotional, intellectual, quiet, noisy, aloof and  touchy-feely. Some dads took the whole neighborhood top play ball. Some worked on the yard. Some read the paper. It is true: we understand our Father based on the character and relationship we had with our fathers. And because our fathers were all different, we have different expectations, issues and hot buttons – which includes things that make us angry, sad, happy encouraged and discouraged. We have different preferences, patterns and codes – personal ways we learn and understand best.

Some of us will work better if we have set times, places, durations and practices. Some of us can be more flexible. God did make people to have habits. So, no matter how spontaneous a person is, there will still be some routines. Spiritual disciplines are practices that were identified, defined and refined over years as ways for people to connect with our Father. But they can be adapted to fit our time and lace.

However, the primary arena for our relationship with our Father is the heart, the mind and the attitude. We speak to him with them. We listen to him with them. We expect him to respond there. We expect him to act. We expect to receive and experience his love. We expect our concepts of “father” to be corrected and altered, so our ways of responding to our Father will be perfected.

As I said before, because people change, relationships change. Therefore, the ways of communication, the common areas and the grounds for concern will change. So, if our choice of practice\discipline lead to understanding, transformation and intimacy, continue to practice them. But hold them loosely. Be prepared to adjust, to surrender old practices and be open to new ones. Hear his voice. Feel his presence. Know his heart, embrace it and follow it.

Monday, June 02, 2014


Jesus did not die on the cross, so people could go to heaven for eternity.

Jesus died on the cross, so people could have a relationship with the God-head, know and experience his love, be part of his family, and demonstrate his new life in us. (Which is the same life as he originally intended and designed.)

Eternity in heaven is just a lucky strike extra.

Sunday, June 01, 2014

Vines and Branches - VIII

I have read (or am reading) three books this year that have wrestled with this religion vs. relationship issue. ("After God's Own Heart" - Mike Bickle; "Sonship" - James Jordan; "Grace Walk" - Steve McVey.)

The writers started from different places, with different problems, with different perspectives and different aspects of God's truth impacting them. It is amazing how similar their solutions are and how similar the language is. (Ie. The examples, the sub-topics, and the analsis sound alike.)

They mention the strident calls for maturity, and how the church defines that. They mention the demand for victorious living, and what is expected in that. They mention common practices/disciplines and how often they are more characteristic of religion than relationship.

Christians commonly follow a practice of personal devotions/quiet time. Imagine a marriage where the wife comes home at night (illustration courtesy of Steve McVey) and haas a practice of spending time with her husband. She begins by praising or complimenting him. She outlines several jobs she wishes he would complete. She expresses concern for her family, coworkers,  and, possibly, a situation in the world. And then she's done until the next day ... same time, same place.

I don't know about you,  but my marriage doesn't seem to work that way. I do get my to-do list. I do hear about problems and concerns.  It is rarely in a compact, neatly scheduled container. We don't always lay out precise, well defined sentences. We don't always communicate with words. My wife can lay her hand on mine and it can mean: "Excuse me. I have a complicated situation I need to discuss", "I really like being married to you", or "Be careful of what you are going to say next. You are close to getting youself in trouble." (And it may not necessarily be with her.)

Or there doesn't have to be any communication at all. We can sit quietly watching football or golf together. Or taking a nap with said programs playing in the background.

Relationship is not neat and tied up with a bow. The Bible says we can pray continuously.  The Bible says we don't need words. The emotions of our heart directed at God are enough. He is capable of interpretting our needs, desires and intents from that.