Let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near. (Hebrews 10:24)
Growth begins when a seed is planted in a safe space, such as soil, a womb, or a heart. Seeds germinate and poke through the earth, hungry for light and moisture, ultimately yielding fruit. Cells multiply within the woman becoming a fetus and eventually a fearfully and wonderfully created human being, hungry for food, love, and stimulation. If the child is nurtured it too will ultimately bear much fruit in kind. This is the natural order of creation. But what about the heart as a seedbed?
Its development also follows a natural order. The heart is the spiritual dimension of our lives Paul admonishes us to stimulate (in each other) through encouragement because a day of harvest is drawing near. From God’s perspective, our hearts are the soil in which the Seed of God must grow. We receive this Seed into our hearts and the miracle of spiritual transformation begins. Jesus called this being born again. Like the newborn child, this living seed emerges with incredible reproductive potential. And, like the child, it is dependent on those around it for nourishment and stimulation. It needs specific things to reach maturity just as God intended.
So will My word be which goes forth from My mouth;
It will not return to Me empty,
Without accomplishing what I desire,
And without succeeding in the matter for which I sent it. (Isaiah 55:11)
Yesterday I proposed that spiritual formation can be interrupted. I suggested that we can be like slow-boiled frogs in a kettle. That idea may be offensive, but I ask you to compare the productivity of the contemporary western church to that of the early church? Yesterday I offered a strategy to escape the cultural soup we are stewing in. We could heed the examples of those who are jumping out of the kettle. I promised to introduce you to a couple of these people. One is Bob Goff; the other is Jen Hatmaker.
Bob first. When I met Bob Goff in 2014, he had me at “Hello.” When he shared his core values I knew I was yoked with him as a co-laborer in Christ. He said our mission is to watch over each other’s hearts because from them flow the origins of life, that guarding and nurturing Christ’s life in each other is our universal calling. Why? Because everything starts there. This is the same thing Paul is saying when he instructs us to stimulate and encourage one another.
In Love Does, Bob demonstrates the essential value of repentance with the recurring phrase, “I used to think this or that, but now I know that…” Here is an example from Chapter 2], “ Sniper Fire:” “I used to think I had to act a certain way to follow God, but now I know God doesn’t want us to be ordinary.” When people ask him about the religious kettle he used to swim in, he responds:
You probably shouldn’t be talking to me because I don’t validate my faith with a church attendance scorecard. I think of church as a vibrant community of people consisting of two or more of varied backgrounds gathering around Jesus. Sometimes they are at a place that might have a steeple or auditorium seating. But it’s just as likely that church happens elsewhere, like coffee shops or on the edge of a glacier or in the bush of Uganda. All of these places work just fine, I suppose. When it’s a matter of the heart, the place doesn’t matter. For me, it’s Jesus plus nothing—not even a building.
Just by being Bob, he casts a legitimate New Testament vision of the Church. His “I used to think, but now I know,” represents the transformation that ultimately translates into God’s perfect will being done. Church to Bob is his vibrant anywhere-anytime meetings. “Where two or three are gathered in my name, there I am in their midst.”
Thank you, Bob, for saying these things in your own words, which empowers them with legitimate authority. Now let me introduce you to Jen Hatmaker. She is the author of Interrupted: When Jesus Wrecks Your Comfortable Christianity.
Jen and her husband employ the same values Bob lives by inside a denominational church they planted in Austin with a missional focus. She states that living on mission, where you’ve been sent, transforms your faith journey. Like Bob, this others-oriented intentionality is what she believes love does. To those questioning the water temperature in their own kettle, Hatmaker offer:
If an endless array of Bible studies, programs, church events, and sermons (honestly, the last thing we need is another sermon) have left you dry, please hear this: living on mission will transform your faith journey. At the risk of oversimplifying it, I’ve seen missional living cure apathy better than any sermon, promote healing quicker than counseling, deepen discipleship more than Bible studies, and create converts more effectively than events…There is no formula to living on mission.
Jen’s no-formula, communal heart quickly won me. The Hatmakers came to understand the kettle for what it was. She comments: “What we see becomes our reality…Church influence, if followed exclusively, distorts our perception of real life and our role in it.” In other words, if they go unchallenged, the familiar and sacred can be our prison. We know Jesus came with the intention of setting captives free. As his disciples, he has called us to do the same. Jen quotes Isaiah 56:6 in the chapter titled “Mission Possible:” “Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke?” She continues:
Responsibility for each other is the first description of the fast God requires: an abstinence from selfishness, greed, and egotism. Discipleship is not a personal journey with a few links to community; it exists for us to spur one another on toward liberation and execute justice for those too trapped to free themselves. It is a lifestyle obsessed with the broken members of our human tribe: those living next to us, in our families, and everywhere someone is devalued. We have a mandate to liberate our fellow man, in every context. We are in this life together, we belong to one another.
I know now more than ever that an organized church is simply a loose structure to hold us together; people are truly the church. They are its life and breath and strength. It is you. It is me. The kingdom advances in our small neighborhoods and small acts of love and small moments of faithfulness and small feats of courage. It is not encapsulated in programs and top-down structures but activated through the body of Christ daring to be faithful everywhere we’ve been planted.
Dear family, we are being transformed into the image of Christ. This mysterious process began when we received the Seed in the seedbed of our hearts. The Seed grows when those around it encourage it; it does not grow well alone. It requires a community that recognizes that Christ (the Seed), in us, is the treasure whose value dwarfs the accumulated wealth of this world. Our culture looks enviably at Bill Gates and Warren Buffet, but if they do not have Christ in them, reigning in their hearts, they are mere paupers in disguise.
As we encourage the inner life of those around us, we invest in the only Treasure that will survive our mortality—His Life. If we will persevere through the essential trials of spiritual formation, we will one day find ourselves in the appropriate attire at a Wedding Party. In that moment we will finally be in bodies and in an environment where moth and rust no longer have a say.
God is raising up networks of saints who grasp the intended outward focus of their inner lives. This is missional living. The Christian life is not just a peaceful, easy feeling about ourselves and our lives with God. It’s not a refined sense of holiness, which brings efficiency, certainty, and prosperity into our daily lives. If anything, it’s a holy mess where we are becoming aware of each other’s burdens and needs, discovering ways to shoulder them together.
This tribe of saints is breaking free of that downward pull caused by elevating fallen nature above the new creation. They are coming to see their hearts as the dwelling place of Jesus, a safe place where we can inwardly relate to God with full assurance and great confidence.
Please note this place is in no way secured or improved upon by seminary, Bible study, title, pedigree, race, gender, age, IQ or anything else. It is a pure gift. Any other approach to God is a type of religion which denies the Life hidden inside the Seed. If we are attempting to follow Christ without this type of rest, we are swimming in the religious cauldron, from which Christ died to liberate us.
The kingdom of God is not dependent on the pastor or the sermon or the building or the programs. The kingdom of God rests on the unshakable foundation, Jesus Christ. It is nothing more, nor less, than Christ in you and in me, on which the future of the glorified Church and Bride of Christ depends. How astonishing!
Father, deliver us from any spells which have enchanted us, binding us tragically to the temporal. Help us to rest sufficiently in you that we could attract others into this rest. Grant that we might find our tribe—those who will distribute the banquet invitations. Show us how to stimulate each other to love and good deeds. Help us to be the safe place where your word will grow and return to you as the abundant harvest you anticipate. Help us to watch over each other’s hearts for Your name’s sake. Help us to cast the vision that is on Your heart. Wreck us if need be.