Tuesday, October 31, 2006


The koinonia that the Scriptures speak of the church moving in is for the most part absent today. This community or fellowship of the Holy Spirit has been structured out of the church. Fellowship is literally sharing in common. Yet we have so structured the church that there is little opportunity for that to take place. The freedom whereby all have the opportunity to share is mostly foreign to us. Our gatherings are strictly regulated, designed whereby only one, or several at the most, do the sharing while everybody else is expected to sit quietly and listen.
The Scriptures clearly reveal that Christ fills his body, the church, with the fullness of himself. Yet we prohibit his fullness from being experienced when we gather by restricting the freedom of koinonia.
The removal of freedom kills community. The very essence of who God's people are called to be, a community, has been eliminated by our man made structures. A radical structural change is required if community is to be recovered.

Monday, October 30, 2006

Discipline and Legalism

There has been a common mantra that is heard any time a regimen designed to produce maturity is mentioned - "That's too legalistic!" There has been an inability, to a large degree, within the church, to distinguish between legalism and discipline.
Due to our fear of being legalistic, or trapped in a legalistic system, we shun any kind of regimen, thus hindering ourselves in our growth toward spiritual maturity. So we continue in our undisciplined lifestyles, wondering why we seem to be making so little progress.
A simple word study reveals that the word "legalism" is derived from "legal" which is from the Latin word for law. The word "discipline" is from the Latin word meaning "to learn." It's noteworthy that the word "disciple," is from the same Latin word as "discipline."
With this in mind, legalism has to do with keeping a law, usually enforced by man. This originates from the outside. On the other hand, discipline is a learning process that originates from within the individual. Legalism is a man-made code demanding conformity. Spiritual discipline is a learning process where one is being transformed more and more into the likeness of Jesus, thus making him/her a disciple.
In much of the church today, there is neither legalism nor discipline. The result has been a vacuum into which has rushed the ungodly mentality of Judges 21:25 - everyone doing what is right in his own eyes. This is postmodernism run amuck.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Of Structures, Babies and Discipline

The church as we have known it is structured to perpetuate infancy in the believer. We create programs to meet the needs of the church members, rather than designing the ministry in such a way that would require them to become involved in active service to others. Worship services are designed so that people don't have to expend any energy but to just come and be spoon fed whatever is on the menu for that particular day. Most "churchgoers" go day after day, week after week, and year after year without any personal interaction with anyone concerning their spiritual well-being. Thus we see the divorce rate in the church equaling and surpassing the national divorce statistics. The problems of sexual immorality in the church is not much different than what is found outside the church, except for the fact that we keep it hidden better. The love of money is not absent either.
This is not to say that there wouldn't be problems if the church was structured for maturity. But the problems would be far less than the rampant problems we now have. Babies, of course, need everything done for them. But as they mature, they learn to do things for themselves as their parents train them with the discipline that shapes and fashions them into the kind of individuals God created them to be. Where is the parental discipline in the church that raises spiritual babies to maturity? Of course, when the desire is to keep the children dependent so that they have to come to us to be fed and nourished, there won't be any effort to create structures that would bring them to maturity.

Friday, October 27, 2006


This morning I was reading Hebrews 12, taking special note of that portion of the chapter that deals specifically with discipline. I recognize that I'm not a highly disciplined person, so this Scripture has special significance to me.
Human nature just naturally gravitates toward the path of least resistance. The natural desire is for comfort and pleasure, steering clear, if possible, of anything that would interrupt that state. I've discovered that most of us want the end result of discipline, but we're either unwilling or lack the endurance to go through the process of discipline to get it.
Spiritual discipline is no different. We're told that discipline produces the peaceful fruit of righteousness, enabling us to share in God's holiness (Hebrews 12:10,11). By this definition of discipline's results, we in the western church have a long way to go. When it is difficult to tell the difference between the lifestyles of those who profess to follow Christ and those who don't, it becomes obvious that there is a lack of spiritual discipline.
I believe the American obesity problem that we've been hearing so much about in the news is indicative of the spiritual condition of the American church. We are fat and out of shape, unable to be the lean, mean, fighting machine against the kingdom of darkness that Jesus intends his church to be. Discipline is sorely needed in the church.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Witness of Church Buildings

Howard A. Snyder lists five ways in which church buildings bear witness about the condition of the church.

1. Church buildings are a witness to our immobility. What is more immovable than a church building? Christians are to be a mobile people. The gospel says, "Go," but our church buildings say, "Stay." The gospel says, "Seek the lost," but our temples say, "Let the lost seek the church."
2. Church buildings are a witness to our inflexibility. As soon as we erect a building, we cut down on our options by at least seventy-five percent. Once the building is up and in use, the church program and budget are largely determined. The problem, at heart, is not one of poor planning. It is a matter of the inherent limitations of church buildings. Buildings are by nature, inflexible and encourage inflexibility - or worse, stagnation.
3. Church buildings are a witness to our lack of fellowship. Church buildings may be wonderful places, but usually they are not friendly places. They are uncomfortable and impersonal. Church buildings are not made for fellowship, for koinonia in the biblical sense. Homes are. Church buildings are made for worship, but worship without fellowship becomes something cold and divorced from reality.
4. Church buildings are a witness to our pride. We insist that our church structures must be beautiful and well appointed - which usually means expensive - and justify this on the grounds that God deserves the best. But such thinking may be little more than the rationalizing of carnal pride. In fact, a fine church building may simply attract the Pharisees and repel the poor.
5. Church buildings are a witness to our divisions of class and race. The early church was a mix of rich and poor, Jew and Greek, black and white, ignorant and educated. But our church buildings are public advertisements that this is not true today. The fault here, of course, lies much deeper than mere architecture. But the building is a witness. It is a signpost telling the world of the church's class consciousness and exclusiveness.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

The Church Needs the Poor

Our failure to minister to the poor bears witness to the fact that we have a distorted view of the church. We can't escape the fact that the ministry of the gospel to the poor directly affects the health of the church. History testifies that church renewal usually occurs when it experiences a rebirth among the poor. It's in this milieu that New Testament values such as priesthood of the believer, community, discipleship, purity, and the gifts of the Spirit are recovered.
The church that is not involved with the poor is in declininig health. Of all the social classes of society, the poor is the class most necessary for the ongoing health of the church. Without the poor, the church gravitates toward middle and upper class complacency, resulting from its material comfort and resources, often followed by spiritual pride.
The contrast of the churches of Smyrna and Laodicea in the book of Revelation reveals the difference between the perspectives of God and man. Of Smyrna, the Lord says he knows their poverty, but in reality they are rich. The opposite is true of Laodicea. That church said it was rich, having need of nothing, but God said it was poor. Might this not be what we are witnessing today with the materially rich American church being poor spiritually while the materially poor churches of the third world countries are spiritually rich?

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Fertile Soil

Why are new churches started? I suspect that in almost every instance, the answer would somehow involve reaching those who do not know Christ. That may be the spiritually correct answer, but I have some serious doubts as to what the real underlying motives are. If that is the real motive, then I question how knowledgeable these church planters are of the Scriptures.
My reasoning for the doubts and questions is quite simple. Studies have shown that the great majority of church plants are in the least productive areas. In others words, we are not planting in fertile soil. We are planting in soil that is the least fertile, in which there is little reason to expect much fruit. And where do we find this unfruitful soil? Middle class and above suburbs and neighborhoods.
However, God clearly says in his word that the most fertile soil is amongst the poor. They are the ones God chose to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom (James 2:5). But we ignore the fertile soil that God has clearly pointed out. History bears witness to the fertility of the poor, revealing that church growth has been most rapid among the poor. Howard Snyder says, "This fact of rapid church growth among the poorer classes says something about strategy and stewardship. ...Planting the gospel seed where it is most likely to grow is faithful stewardship of the gospel message."
In light of this, has the American church exercised faithful stewardship of the gospel message by sowing it where it is the most likely to bring forth an abundance of good fruit?

Monday, October 23, 2006

Institutionalism and the Poor

"There is loose in the church the strange idea that solid, self-supporting churches cannot be planted among the poor, at least not without heavy subsidies and leadership from richer churches. There is some truth to this - if we mean churches modeled after the traditional institutionalized pattern of expensive buildings and bureaucratic organization."
- Howard A. Snyder, Radical Renewal: The Problem of Wineskins Today, p. 37.

Institutionalism has dealt a devastating blow to ministering the gospel to the poor. This should come as no surprise when one considers that the primary goal of institutionalism is self-preservation. So it is perceived that the poor become a drain on the institution, unable to contribute to its well-being. The poor lack the resources to maintain and enable the institution to thrive.
Obviously, the institutional church cannot follow it's Lord while functioning from a mindset that is completely opposite of his. Could it be that the present wave of people dropping out of the institutional church might not have something to do with God moving, unsuspected by us, to bring forth a church that is free to take the gospel to the poor, having escaped the self-serving clutches of institutionalism?

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Purple Christians

With the politicizing of the Christian community into red (Republican) and blue (Democrat) divisions, a new term is being bandied about: purple Christians. As any artist will tell you, mixing red and blue together results in the color purple.
The concept is the coming together of blue and red Christians, standing only for that which is kingdom policy as revealed in Scripture. So the first order of business would be to drop all our pet political agendas and go to the Scriptures to discover the kingdom of God and its agenda. If we would be honest and open to receive what the Spirit would show us, I have this sneaking suspicion that we would begin to have a radical change in our perspective.
Our problem has been that many of us are more acquainted with our political platform than we are with the kingdom platform. Thus our perspective is not aligned with the kingdom. While there may be some kingdom attributes found in our political stance, in reality it is an impure mixture consisting primarily of humanistic agendas with a little bit of the kingdom thrown in for good measure. Christians are born for the kingdom of God. To advocate anything other than that is sub par, polluting the purity of the kingdom.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Political Christians

Did you ever notice that many Christians become far more vocal about their favorite political candidate than they ever do about Jesus? It indicates a greater passion for a politician than for Jesus.
Throughout history, the church has gotten in bed with the state for the purpose of advancing it's own agenda. Every time the church has gained political influence and power, it has lost it's focus, resulting in a loss of spiritual influence and power.
This same scenario has been playing out year after election year in America. What is worse, this political posturing is tearing the people of God apart. There are red Christians and blue Christians that are no longer displaying a unity in Christ, but are divided along secular political lines. Strife has entered the body of Christ through secular politics, directly opposing the prayer of Jesus in John 17 that we would all be one. Of course, until our passion for Jesus replaces our passion for political candidates, there probably isn't much hope for unity.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Wanted: Revolutionaries

Two thousand years ago, Jesus arrived on the scene, initiating a revolution, the likes of which the world had never seen before or since. He recruited a handful of revolutionaries, training them to carry on this revolution until it would reach the ends of the earth. He is still recruiting today. However, his call to come and join the revolution is being misinterpreted by many to join a spiritual club whereby one's membership in it will provide many benefits.
Listen to his call (paraphrased): "If anyone wishes to come and join me in the revolution, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life shall lose it; but whoever loses his life for my cause shall find it" - Matthew 16:24,25.
Revolutionaries are radical people. They are consumed with the cause, sacrificing everything that stands in the way of their involvement in the revolution. Life itself is to be sacrificed if it will further the cause. This is the kind of radicalism that makes waves in the complacent status quo. Jesus and his revolutionaries shook the culture of the first century, and only the same kind of revolutionaries can shake the culture of the 21st century. Only those who are passionate for Jesus and his cause, who are willing to lay down their lives, need apply.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Conversion and Revolution

Referring to yesterday's post, Henri Nouwen said that revolution and conversion cannot be separated. Could it be that much of the church's problem stems from the fact that we have separated the two, focusing on conversion while forgetting about revolution?
The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines revolution as "a sudden, radical, or complete change; esp : the overthrow or renunciation of one ruler or government and substitution of another by the governed."
This definition is a far cry from "Jesus will forgive you your sins and give you a new life." While this is true, it is woefully inadequate when communicating the gospel of the kingdom. It is why western Christianity is so insipid. This brand of Christianity is the end result of the emasculation of the biblical faith of Scripture.
For most professing Christians, there has been no revolution. Like the pagans of old, many have included Jesus along with their many other interests (gods), there has been no radical change, just the addition of Jesus to their way of life. The overthrow and renunciation of the government of self for the government of the Lord Jesus Christ has never occured. Then we question why the church lacks the power and authority that Scripture proclaims God's people to have. The answer is really quite simple. While we continue to function under the government of self, we will never experience the power and authority that is manifested only to those under the government of Jesus Christ. There must be a change of government if the western church is to avoid being relegated to the ash pile of history.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Liberation and Freedom

For a Christian, Jesus is the man in whom it has indeed become manifest that revolution and conversion cannot be separated in man's search for experiential transcendence. His appearance in our midst has made it undeniably clear that changing the human heart and changing human society are not separate tasks, but are as interconnected as the two beams of the cross.

Jesus was a revolutionary, who did not become an extremist, since he did not offer an ideology, but Himself. He was also a mystic, who did not use his intimate relationship with God to avoid the social evils of his time, but shocked his milieu to the point of being executed as a rebel. In this sense he also remains for nuclear man the way to liberation and freedom.

Henri Nouwen: The Wounded Healer

Monday, October 16, 2006

Are We Ready for Harvest?

"If men and women today began by the thousands experiencing the depths of Jesus Christ in a transforming way, there would simply be no place for their expression of experience to fit into the present-day straitjackets of Christianity. Protestant or Catholic, neither one is structured to contain a mass of devoted people who long for spiritual depth. We are structured towards infancy." - Gordon Cosby

Ephesians 4 speaks very clearly that the church is to mature, growing up into the fullness of Christ, becoming a mature man. This is presently impossible due to the present structure of the church, which actually resists and hinders maturity.
Could it be that all of our praying for the harvest will not accomplish anything until we permit God to restructure his church so it can bring to maturity those who will be swept in through the harvest? If, as Gordon Cosby maintains, the church is presently structured towards infancy, why should God bring thousands and even millions of new believers into something that will only frustrate them, never permitting them to mature unto the fullness of Christ? Maybe the first priority is changing the structure so that the harvest can be reaped.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Cosby on Sin

Gordon Cosby, founder and pastor of Church of the Savior in Washington D.C., articulates what sin is in answer to a question posed by Jeff Bailey as they talked about God's vision for the church.

You talk a lot about the need to "detox from the culture." What do you mean by that?

It's a way of describing sin. Sin has very little meaning to the average modern mind, so I use the expression, "Detoxification from the culture" to describe what we really mean by sin - sin being the inability to transcend ourselves and to live for others. What the Bible really means by sin is that we are addicted to the values of the world, the systems of the world. Jesus said that if we stay with the world's systems, the way the world views life, it leads to death. The realm of God which Jesus embodies and which he describes in the Beatitudes is the way that he says leads to life. We are so addicted to the culture that we don't even know it. We don't even know that we need detoxification. We don't know that we need an intensive recovery program!

From Cutting Edge, Vol. 5, No. 3, Fall 2001.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Intellect and Faith

In reading a discussion on biblical interpretation, doctrine, belief, and all that goes with it, I began to seriously question the validity of it all. It really grew wearisome after a while. These were individuals far more scholarly and academic than me. I recognize I'm not in their league. Let me be quick to add that I believe we need people of this caliber. God knows what he is doing when he creates people with the intellectual capacity of scholars and academics.
On the other hand, I have a great admiration for those who are not intellectuals, but who take the Word at face value, and go forth by faith to say and do, in their limited theological understanding, what they see in the Word of God. The results are transformed lives, healed souls and bodies, and the kingdom being advanced. These are simple people with a simple faith and God works with and through them as they step out. We read of these kind of people in the Scriptures as well as documented reports coming from mostly China, India, Africa, South America and other third world countries.
Enough pontificating! Jesus said unless we become like little children, we'll not enter the kingdom. Little children are great when it comes to faith. So we can only enter the activity of Christ and his kingdom when we become like little children in their faith. Lord give us grace!

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

What's the Difference?

Can we learn something from the Amish? Specifically, I'm referring to our young people in their late teens.
Many Amish in this age group launch out to experience life as the rest of this age group does, participating in activities and technology that young people in their late teens engage in. Following this period, they then make a decision whether they want to remain Amish with its accompanying lifestyle, or whether they choose to abandon the Amish way of life. Many of them return to the Amish lifestyle.
Contrast this to the latest studies of Christian youth. After reaching high school graduation, as high as 90% of the youth who were raised in the church, active in church youth groups, leave the church, not to return.
Why is it that most of the Amish return while most of the "Christian" youth do not?

Friday, October 06, 2006

Light Out of Darkness

The horrendous events unfolding in an Amish schoolhouse this past week have riveted the attention of the media from across the nation and the globe. Exhaustive reports have been filed, detailing every thought, word and deed associated with this tragedy. Shock and disbelief were expressed that the evil of the outside world could penetrate the bucolic setting of the Amish community. Once again, seeming innocence was shattered.
It seemed there was a growing fascination on the part of the media with the Amish and their lifestyle. This is what made the story even bigger than had it happened to the "English," the term the Amish use for all of us who are not Amish.
As I followed the story on TV and the newspapers, I found myself having a deepening admiration for the example of community set by the Amish. I don't think I'm alone in this. They have something that I think many of us desire.
Then I wondered if people have the same admiration for what might be called the Jesus Community. True, we aren't quaint like the Amish in appearance and the forsaking of modern technology, but shouldn't we be just as quaint because of the kingdom lifestyle we live? After all, the kingdom is not of this world, which makes it quaint. I'm wondering if the simple Amish lifestyle doesn't adhere to the kingdom more than our lifestyle does, and God used the darkness of this world to display the light of his kingdom.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Walking in Agreement

I was reading the book of Amos when I came to the familiar passage where God poses this question: "Can two walk together except they be agreed?" While we usually interpret this passage in the light of two people walking together in agreement, the context in which God asks the question is in connection with Israel walking in disobedience.
So we need to interpret this question by asking, "Can we walk with God if we're not in agreement with him?" I have this sneaking suspicion that if the truth was known, we would discover that we are out of sync with God. We have deceived ourselves with our traditions and institutions, believing that our involvement with these puts us in agreement with God. But God says through this same prophet that he hates and rejects our conferences, nor does he delight in our church services, he doesn't accept our tithes and offerings, he calls our praise and worship songs noise that he wants taken away from him, saying he will not listen to our music. What he desires is justice and righteousness (Amos 5:21-24).
All of these practices are just empty shells, superficial traditions without the substance of justice and righteousness. These two qualities are evidence of the kingdom. Walking in righteousness and justice is walking in agreement with God.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Marginal People

There is an increasing awareness of God's use of marginal people to institute a fresh new move of his. When God was ready to make his move to deliver his people from their bondage in Egypt, he chose Moses, who had been marginalized on the backside of the desert for 40 years. Throughout Scripture it appears that God favors marginal people. These people are powerless, without resources, having nothing to lose in giving themselves wholeheartedly to God and his cause.
Those in positions of power, prestige and authority are seldom the ones God chooses to be in the forefront of the new thing he brings forth. They have to much invested in the status quo. They will lose too much if they choose to align themselves with the new thing God is doing. Their life is wrapped up in the present system, giving them a sense of security. In fact, these are the ones who most violently resist the new thing because it threatens their present lifestyle.
Jesus gives us a vivid illustration of God's tendency to select the marginalized to initiate his new covenant. Of the twelve who Jesus chose to be apostles, all but one (Judas) were from the marginalized region known as Galilee of the Gentiles. The people of this region were sneered at by those of Jerusalem and Judea as a bunch of uneducated country hicks. From this contemptuous region, Jesus chose rough fishermen, a despised tax collector, a terrorist among those who he commissioned to carry the gospel of the kingdom forth into the world. There is a striking absence of priests, scribes, and anyone else specifically associated with the religious system of the day.
Even Jesus was marginalized. He came from Nazareth, a town so despised that it was questioned whether anything good could come from it. And also being from Galilee, he was automatically dismissed by the religious establishment as being authentic.
Get ready! God is moving with the marginalized to bring forth radical change in his church.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Communal Leadership

One of the primary features that contribute to the molding of the church is the style of leadership. The most prominent, by far, has been the heirarchical model. However, we are seeing this style of leadership becoming less and less effective as the postmodern mindset becomes more dominant.
Being more community oriented, postmoderns do not respond positively to authoritative leadership exercised from the heirarchical perch above the community. Leadership must be an integral part of the community, not set apart by titles and positions. Instead, leaders must live and function relationally as part of the community, on a journey together.
Perhaps one of the most striking metaphors for the new type of leadership that is required is given to us by Brian McLaren. Referring to the Wizard of Oz, he notes the marked difference between the leadership style of the Wizard (heirarchical and isolated) and Dorothy (communal and relational). The former is typical of man's style of leadership, while the latter is far more reflective of the kingdom of God.

Monday, October 02, 2006

The Temple of God

The Scriptures are clear in stating that God doesn't dwell in temples made with human hands. His is a living temple in which he dwells amongst the people. He did this first through the Lord Jesus, who said to his disciples, "He who has seen me has seen the Father" (John14:9). Now he dwells in the temple which is the spiritual body of the Lord Jesus, those who have chosen to follow him as Lord and Savior.
Those of us who have surrendered our lives to him must walk in the understanding that we are the dwelling place of God in this world, carrying his presence with and in us. Being that we are his temple, we do not go to a temple to worship, for the worship comes forth from within us. Jesus declared that the true worshippers do not have to go to a given place to worship, for they are the temple where true worship takes place. The need to go to a specific place to worship is Old Covenant at best and religion and idolatry at worst.
As the temple of God, we carry the presence of God within. Therefore worship is continually taking place if we are living our lives to glorify God, presenting our bodies as a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable unto God, which is our spiritual service of worship (Romans 12:1).

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