I can’t remember the first time I heard Tony Campolo speak…it was YEARS ago…but because I’m an old guy (Tony’s older!), it was in a previous century. I was younger, hungry for mentoring on how to communicate, and involved in a ministry where we had the opportunity to book speakers/communicators who challenged followers of Jesus to live and love faithfully. I think it was the second time I heard Tony speak…that was the year that he started to give his, “It’s Friday but Sunday’s coming” message. I heard it and it made a HUGE impact on my life…since then, I’m a person who has prayed for and with Tony for the reality of God’s Kingdom to come near you and me in a transformational way. So, it shouldn’t come as a surprise to you that I was casually reading over some of my favorite blogs the other day when I came across a short version of Tony’s message…it still moves me and still rings true because it embodies truth. What are the Friday’s in your life? What Sunday’s are you looking forward to? If you haven’t seen it or heard it, here’s a snippet of this great message:
I’ve read a few things that Nick has written…some of you know that I’ve been spending considerable time over the past few years really studying communication. No, I’m not a glutton for punishment rather the issue is connection and how people learn, grow, mature and “get it”. This video is for people in the marketplace…so for some of you, it will have IMMEDIATE application…for other’s of you, it may be a bit more applicable when you see yourself as a communicator no matter who or how many or when you communicate. Drawing somebody in and being “present” in relationship with some calls for you to know how to say what you know needs and wants to be said. So, here are a few tips from Nick:
Vicky and I have been hanging out in Boise for most of this week. Many of you know that the "pillar of cloud and fire" moved this past fall and the sphere of influence that God has called us to have changed…we are now living in the true Pacific Northwest – the Seattle area in the state of Washington. We are as convinced as ever that the Lord's direction was not only timely and true but necessary and good. We have been so blessed and challenged in our own Kingdom development on the new ground of our lives…and we are thankful for that opportunity every day. Even so, the one aspect of life that we knew would be challenging was leaving our three adult children and two grandkids in Boise as we moved to Washington. When the move occured, we made a commitment within our own hearts as well as in our relationships with them (and our close "family" friends) to be present in their lives in every way we could and as time would allow. So, this past week, we made our way to Idaho…drove in to town and have been soaking up our family's presence…hugs from kids, conversations, laughs and looks/smiles of joy will sustain us for the days ahead when we will be separated by the miles…all we can say is that they all bring us joy. Each day has been sweet and bitter-sweet. When you have experiences of joy in relationship, you have a cup that never completely gets filled…the time goes by too fast and you never get "enough". I thank the Lord for the moments we've had and the moments that will be coming…and their love and understanding in the midst of this new season in our lives is a gift! So our love to you dear ones – Chaya, Kae and Kelly, Aaron and Jo, Shad and Mya and the "knee-surgery-recovering" Megan…thanks Gayle for giving Emma the playdate with Zoe…and love to you extended family John and Linda, Dave, Janie and Joy and Jordan, Glory and Ellie, Dick and Ruth, the guys of FCLC, Kimball and Cathie, Andrea, Rory et all, Andrew and Jamie…oh and don't forget Rose. We have some other times with some other friends tomorrow and then home – yes, it is our home…Monroe, Washington, our house on Park Lane and our new family and the family community of Peace.
God is always on the move. I read a majority of this post below on a friend's website. He had a chance to talk to one of the people who is heavily instrumental in the Simple Church movement that is alive and well in the landscape of Christ-followers globally. I made a few edits to make it read with a bit more fluidity…but you will get the idea quickly. While we were spending time in our faith community this weekend talking about the Spirit, one of our facilitators mentioned the words of Jesus – what makes a "church" is the presence of God – "where two or more are gathered in my name, there I am in their midst"…a congregation or faith community is a gathering of "churches" into a common, shared passion and purpose. Most of us get that…what is interesting to me though is tracking what the Spirit is doing outside of what most of us would regard as "traditional" congregational structures. Just to give you a "taste" of what I'm talking about, you can read the interview below…I don't think that any of us can cast doubt on the unmistakeable action of the Spirit in people's lives gathering in these manners…
The church landscape in this country is changing. According to the Pew Forum, 9% of Protestants "attend services" in a home. This figure varies according to the definition of house church…yet some estimate the number to be around 4 million Americans who attend only this kind of expression of "church"–a significant number. Many more would say their primary form of spiritual or religious gathering occurs in a group of 20 or less, as they attend both simple/organic gatherings in addition to their participation in what some might call a "legacy" church (traditional church structure). There are many taking notice of this phenomenon/movement of the Spirit.
It appears that the Holy Spirit is the initiator of this current move–there is no center one can visit, no superstar's conferences to attend. Rather, all over the country, intentionally small gatherings of followers of Jesus are starting in homes, coffee shops, schools, everywhere life happens.
What's going on is far from perfect–some of these simple gatherings have started out of reaction to perceived hurts or injustice by the traditional "church". Many more are doing "Honey I shrunk the church"–exchanging the pew for a sofa but failing to change their DNA. (Neil Cole defines organic church DNA as Divine truth, Nurturing relationships and Apostolic mission.) However, there are increasingly large numbers of healthy simple/organic "churches" focused on discipleship and making disciples.
According to Felicity Dale, here are some simple/organic "church" principles:
- Church is relational: People frequently refer to church as either a building or an event, as in, "I'm going to church." One of the main pictures of church in the New Testament is that of family. You don't go to family–it's something you are. Obviously, healthy families get together frequently, but that isn't what defines them. In the same way, church isn't defined by meetings but by relationship together with Jesus at the center. "Where two or three are gathered in my name there am I in the midst (Matthew 18:20)."
- Jesus is King of His Kingdom and Head of His church: The core skill within simple/organic church is that of listening to God and responding to what He says. (The Word is our yardstick here.) Christians often live as though Jesus is a constitutional monarch–head in name only. God delights to communicate with us, and our response is obedience. As we listen to Him, both individually and corporately, community and mission will result.
- Church is missional: For centuries, church has been attractional ("Come to my church!" "Come and hear our special speaker!") But God has always intended for church to be missional–we go to the world with the Good News of the Kingdom. We can reach into every crack and crevice of society this way. Jesus told us to make disciples (Matthew 28:18-20), and He would build his church (Matthew 16:18).
- Ordinary people can make disciples and gather them together: Jesus was content to entrust the expansion of His Kingdom to ordinary, untrained people (Acts 4:13). People with no formal Bible school or seminary training are able to gather a few people over a meal to share life together, to delve into the Word of God, to pray for one another (Acts 2:42) and to seek to make disciples of those they come in contact with.
- Luke 10 provides principles for reaching out. In many nations, rapidly multiplying, intentionally small churches led by "lay people" are having a major impact (church planting movements). They use Luke 10:1-9 as their pattern for crossing cultures and making an impact for the Kingdom. Finding a person of peace and starting church in their home rather than inviting that person to join our church, enables us to influence a new circle of people with the Gospel.
- Simple is reproducible: Multiplication is more effective than addition but things need to be simple–simple is reproducible, complex is not. We can start a church by working with not-yet-believers, making disciples from the harvest. If these groups are to multiply, they need to be based on simple patterns.
- Church is participatory: First Corinthians 14:26 states that when we come together, each person has a contribution to make. All of us are important to the functioning of a healthy body. If every member is to take part, we need to model simplicity, whether in our prayers, our pattern of teaching (participatory Bible study is a very effective way of learning and applying truth) or our meals.
- Kingdom is a 24/7 lifestyle: God has written his laws on our hearts (Hebrews 8:10), so living in the Kingdom means living from the Life within rather than according to a rulebook. There is no sacred/secular divide. All of us are meant to be full time in the Kingdom; it is often easier to be effective in reaching out from a secular position.
- Christ modeled servant leadership. Jesus said that we are not to use the world's hierarchical models of leadership that lord over others, but we're to live as servants (Matthew 20:25-28). The CEO model of church leadership is not biblical; church is not a business. The function of Ephesians 4 leadership is to equip others to do the work of ministry.
God is working across His whole body. My prayer is that God will increasingly lead all of us, both legacy and simple/organic churches, to work together for the sake of the Kingdom.
I went back in the archives today and reviewed a few of my "old" blog posts. It has been almost 5 years since I've been doing this blog-thing. Come to think of it, I don't even know exactly why I began doing it. I think at the time, it was something that was "cool"…and you know me! Seriously, I thought it was one way to continue to hone my communication skills as well as keep in vital communication with my broader "community" of friends, pals, and partners around the globe. Blogging gives me a chance to share some stuff that is floating around my life in many ways…things I'm thinking about, reading, watching, feeling, seeing in a new light…it gives me a chance to express opinions in a manner that forces me to "own" what is on my mind and heart. Fact is, once you hit the "publish" button, there is no more hiding. What you think can be interpreted or misinterpreted…it can be edifying or encouraging or angering…I've experienced each. I've had to apologize for some things…thank God, it has only happened a time or two in the past five year. Most of the time, a vast majority in fact, I've had the chance to see my blog more as an online journal to be able to see where I was at a specific time in my journey as a follower of Jesus. So, it has been a bit "fun" to reflect on past posts. Below is one of the first I wrote. Actually, it made me happy to read it…I still feel the same way. As I stated on Sunday in our faith community's worship experience, GK Chesterton once wrote, "The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting, it has been found difficult and left untried." So, here goes…a post from 2006:
I've taken a vacation…from reading the Bible.
I know what’s happening…you just let your eyes scan over that title of this post and immediately you are probably thinking, “another one bites the dust”. I came to the conclusion that I needed a break from reading the bible because I was pride-ing myself on how good I was for being such a great “student” of the Word. A long time ago, a friend of mine told me that he wished he knew just a fraction of the biblical passages and truths that I had forgotten. Remembering how I felt at the time when he said that to me still brings me a “shiver” down my proverbial spine. Understand, over the years, I’ve been a huge advocate and practitioner of bible reading disciplines…The One Year Bible (I read that 7 years in a row, whoopee), Quiet times (don’t even get me started), one chapter of OT/NT/and a psalm a day, the lectionary (both the Protestant and Roman versions I might add), you name it…I’ve probably done it with passion and purpose. In fact, I have a collection of bibles that fill about two entire bookshelves in my home….most of them, boldly and extensively highlighted with pithy and insightful notes in margins (of course). I think I know quite a bit about the bible…I’ve taught scores of bible studies over the years; preached thousands of sermons; written countless articles and papers on it; I’m even a biblical studies professor for God’s sake! You get the point.
I’ve come to the conclusion that I am spoiled rotten with the text. Like a kid with his/her hand in the cookie jar…I can’t get enough…I can’t consume enough, to a point. Sing it with me, “the B-I-B-L-E yes that’s the book for me”. But remember, I’m spoiled. I’m holding on to the text with a truckload of pride and carrying it around like a trophy…but something is missing. It is like having a fancy fishing rod for fishing and never having used it to catch a trout. It is like saying you are an expert in relating and leading teenagers without ever having a child who grew to be a teenager in your own home. It is like saying you have the keys and title to a Porsche and bragging to your friends that you drive an expensive sports car without ever having taken it out of the driveway. It’s like playing “air guitar”…it is just not the real thing, is it?
The real issue is NOT just reading the text…it’s living it, isn’t it? I’ve been thinking lately about a few things – the Disciples of Jesus never carried a bible…millions of followers of Jesus over the centuries never had a bible on their shelf…never knew the differences between the KJV or NASB or NIV or ASB or NASA or UK or whatever…millions of Christ-followers over the centuries never heard of a quiet time…millions of Christ followers died a martyrs death having only heard a select passage or two during their entire lives. So, these things got me thinking…what’s the difference between how they lived out the Kingdom and how I experience God? The real issue is not just reading and knowing the text…if you’re in the boat, you have to get out the oars and row, right? Nice to be in the boat but without rowing, you’re just dead in the water. I know for me, any many other followers of Jesus, we are pretty happy about simply being “in” the Word…maybe we are to “into” it and not living it as we could. Mmmm…
So, I’m taking a vacation from reading the bible…to try to live what I’ve read. The issue isn’t knowing the Word; it is living and becoming the Word to the world. You know what I mean?
I love this post that I read a few moments ago – NOT because I am anti-doctrine, anti-church, anti-institution, anti-anything…I've been reading a good book lately that continues to challenge me in a spirit of graciousness and acceptance instead of embracing constant cynicism and condemnation. So, with that out on the table now…we can deal with this post. I found this post by chance…I subscribe to a number of email "blasts" and this post appeared on a "house church movement" email that I regularly receive. I read it and it resonated with where I am in my journey with the Lord and in His Kingdom. Theological systems can draw us into a systematic obsession with ourselves, our own "rightness" and promote a sense of intellectual and ecclesiastical arrogance that can be downright destructive. I know that there are boundaries…I get that! It is just that when we get involved in "coffins" (as alluded to below) we end up missing the point. So, take a peek and see what you think…I believe you will agree that this post has something to say that we all need to hear (you can link up to the original post by clicking on the post's title):
Now to building coffins. This may not seem like a great way to start a new year but several recent blogs, conversations, tweets have turned on the subject of theology and the merits of differing theological systems. If one is honest, they will need to admit that their system of choice works as long as they do not include the scriptures that form the basis of a rival system. Interesting problem! God gave us a collection of historical accounts, poems, legal systems, sacrificial systems, moral laws, prophecies, dreams, visions and letters arranged in 66 books, written over thousands of years of His relationship with us. Then we try to make a rational system out of it? We cannot make a rational system out of our relationship with our spouse and we try to do so with our relationship with God?
Every theological system is like a coffin. The only body you can get to fit into it is a dead one. Making the coffin more and more complex to try to accommodate more and more of the mystery of God misses the point. If your reason could create a logical system that could fully contain God, your reason would be God. God will not fit in any coffin no matter how many bits you try to chop off nor how many scriptures you try to ignore.
The universe is not rationally ordered nor is it rationally determined. If God wanted to write a book of theology He could have done so. He is smart enough. He did not so why do we try? We do worse than build theological coffins. We try to force God into them. The only God that fits is a dead one. The comfort of rationalism and the arrogance of having the right doctrine is that it becomes the end in itself. You got it right. You do not have to do anything else. And your God is in a coffin where you do not have to deal with Him.
The universe is relationally ordered. God is a Father and God is a love relationship of Father, Word and Holy Spirit. Their union is a mystery of love and mutual honour. Our lives are relationally ordered. That is why the moral law is eternal. Moral law has to do with relationships. There is no rational system that can protect you from the risk, uncertainty, vulnerability demanded by authentic relationships. The practical extension of rationalism is legalism. Hearts protected from life by rules and fear.
The universe is relationally determined. The future, in general and my future in particular, is determined by my relationship with God and with others. God is a Father who is passionate to share Himself with a family. The Father and the Holy Spirit are passionate to present a bride to the Son. The Father and the Son are passionate to create a living temple for the Holy Spirit. The Word and the Spirit are passionate to present all things to the Father so that He might be all and in all.
This is not to say that the universe is unreasonable. It is reasonable, predictable, seasonal and purposeful. It is not absurd but neither is it rational. Someone has said that the first question of the age of reason is suicide- why should I live? The end of rationalism is nihilism. Absurdity and rationalism are two sides of the same coin. What is rational is not necessarily meaningful.
Truth is not a system of thought. Truth is not correct doctrine. Truth is a person whose name is Jesus. In Him are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. In Him are judgement and forgiveness, wrath and mercy, law and grace, God's freedom to choose and man' s freedom to choose, His freedom to love and my freedom to love. In Him all truths hold together in living tension. Even the ones that we cannot reconcile in our rational systems. Even the scriptures that we try to ignore.
The challenge and sharp discomfort of a relationally ordered universe is that the God who is love says that right belief is not enough. He says that even the devils believe and tremble. He says that if I say I love Him and do not love my brother, I am a liar.
My life in God is fulfilled as I love Him and love my enemies.
The universe is ordered by love.
My future is determined by love expressed in simple but often difficult serving of others.
"By this we know love, because He laid down His life for us. And we also ought to lay down our lives for the brethren. But whoever has this world's goods, and sees his brother in need, and shuts up his heart from him, how does the love of God abide in him? My little children let us not love in word or in tongue but in deed and in truth." I John 3:16- 18
Alan Hirsch is an online friend of mine…as much as you can be friends with someone you don't see or talk to on a regular basis. All I know is that I've read every book he's written, I admire his passion for Jesus and for Kingdom living. In his latest book, he shared a parable that made sense to me. In fact, I'm sharing it with as many people as I can because I believe it speaks to that which we need to embrace in the days of our lives. As followers of Jesus, we were meant to live life in abundance and to experience the winds of the Spirit. I have always been captivated by Jesus' words in John 3:8:
"The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.”
Are you moving with the wind or against it? Are you attempting to power your way through life or are you tracking on the winds of the Spirit? I love the fact that Jesus says "the wind blows where IT wills"…in other words, if you live by the Spirit, you never know what adventures are in store! Hey, sign me up for that!
Here's the story:
Parable of the Skylark and Worms
One day long ago, over the hot sands of a Middle Eastern country, a white skylark flew in joyous loops about the sky. As she swooped near the earth, she heard a merchant cry out, “Worms! Worms! Worms for feathers! Delicious Worms!” The skylark circled about the merchant, hungry at the mention of worms, but puzzled about what the merchant meant. Little did the skylark know that the merchant was the devil. And seeing the skylark was interested, the devil motioned her nearer. “Come here, my little friend. Come! See the lovely worms I have!”
Cautiously, the skylark landed and cocked her head to the merchant. “Come! Taste the juicy worms!” The skylark became aware that she was, indeed, quite hungry. And these worms looked bigger and tastier than any she had ever dug for herself out of the hardscrabble ground of the desert. The skylark hopped closer and put her beak close to the worm. “Two worms for a feather, my friend. Two worms for merely one!”
The skylark was unable to resist. And she had, after all, so many feathers. So, with the swift motion she pulled out a feather – just a small one – from beneath her wing and gave it to the merchant. “Take your pick, my little friend…any two, your heart’s desire!” The skylark quickly snatched up two of the plumpest worms and swallowed her meal with delight. Never before had she tasted such wonderful worms. With a loud chirp, she leapt into the air and resumed her joyful flight.
Day after day the skylark returned. And always the merchant had wonderful worms to offer: black ones and blue ones, red ones and green one, all fat and shiny and iridescent. But one day, after eating her fill, the skylark leapt again into the air – and to her horror, she fell to the ground with a thud. She was unable to fly!
All at once with a shock she realized what had happened. From eating the delicious worms she had grown fatter and fatter; and she had plucked her feathers one by one, first her body, then her tail, and finally her very wings had grown balder and balder. Horrified, she remembered how slowly, imperceptibly, day by day, it had been getting harder and harder to fly, and how she had told herself it was no matter. She could always stop before it was too late. Now suddenly, here she was, trapped on the ground. She looked up and saw the merchant looking at her. Was that a small, sly grin spreading across his face? He grabbed the now helpless bird, put her in a cage, and walked away laughing.
Followers of Jesus were meant to “fly”…to let the winds of the Spirit lead them to where they can love, serve and glorify God with their very lives. To “cage” a Christ-follower by keeping them “well fed” especially within the confines of church is to rob them of their created purpose and identity in Jesus. What is our intention in discipling those whom Jesus loved and empowered through His Spirit…to keep them plump and flightless or to enable them to be follow the Spirit on a spiritual quest that embodies the very dream of God?