by RobertCummins | Dec 18, 2016 | 50. Give Your Life Away
It happened that when He went into the house of one of the leaders of the Pharisees on the Sabbath to eat bread, they were watching Him closely. And there in front of Him was a man suffering from dropsy. And Jesus answered and spoke to the lawyers and Pharisees, saying, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath, or not?” But they kept silent. And He took hold of him and healed him, and sent him away. And He said to them, “Which one of you will have a son or an ox fall into a well, and will not immediately pull him out on a Sabbath day?” And they could make no reply to this. (Luke 14:1-6)
I can imagine this scene; Jesus enters and hears, “Greetings, Rabbi. Thank you for coming to this reception which we have organized in your honor.” Perhaps the only honest part of the host’s opening sentence was that it had been organized. Whether the host was grateful or intended to honor this so-called teacher is unlikely. We can assume that everyone in attendance had been invited. The invitations had been sent out with an organizational agenda in mind. It wasn’t advertised, but this gathering was intended to be a barbecue.
Whether we acknowledge it or not, we always have an agenda. (This is an aside, but it would be healthy for our spiritual formation to acknowledge this and, when God desires, to even know what our agendas are.) It is not improbable the day (the Sabbath) and at least one guest (the dropsy victim) were chosen to further the agenda of the host and his orthodox colleagues, which was to expose the interloper (Jesus) as a violator of their sacred commands and their myriad derivatives.
Oh, how I love Jesus! For many reasons, but this morning I love watching Him cut through all the pretense of this gathering. What was Jesus’ agenda, anyway? He had been on record (since the Nazareth Synagogue incident) on just this point: “He has sent Me to proclaim release to the captives, and recovery of sight to the blind, to set free those who are oppressed, to proclaim the favorable year of the Lord.” So how did Jesus advance His agenda in the midst of this trap His enemies had laid for Him?
To begin with, Jesus knew that His Father was sovereign and had sent out His own invitations. This made His Father’s will light and easy. Jesus did not feel His Father’s agenda as a heavy burden. Neither should we. Jesus never lost sight of His Father’s will, which was (and is) to put all things right (on earth as it is in heaven), by expanding the sovereignty of His Son, one heart at a time. Jesus simply watches to see what kind of banquet the Father would spread out before Him in the presence of His enemies.
Knowing fully well what was in men’s hearts, Jesus plied His prophetic-messianic vocation of realizing that this moment (and all moments going forward) represented the favorable timing of salvation. Always intuiting God’s heart, Jesus simply wades into the situation as the living, active, and sharp, two-edged sword of Truth, prepared to slice into the thoughts and intentions (agendas) of His host’s heart. As was often the case, this occasion required exposing the obvious contrast between the letter and the spirit of the matter. And on this occasion, the scalpel, as it often was, is in the form of a question: “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath, or not?”
But the hosts keep silent—hopefully because the scalpel was doing its work, liberating them from the snare of religion they themselves were unknowingly entangled in. Not one to squander even a single kingdom moment, Jesus healed the man beset with dropsy. Knowing Who had sent out the invitations and His agenda, equipped Jesus (and will equip us) to better organize our hearts so that we will be able to present to Him hearts of wisdom.
When God tells us that His ways are higher than ours, He is also saying our agendas are inferior to His. If it is our agenda to give our lives away as leaders, Paul tells us it is a fine work we desire to do. However, James would add that “not many of you should become teachers since they we will incur a stricter judgment.” In light of the higher accountability, a powerfully equipping idea for any would-be leader (with whatever title they aspire to) would be to keep in mind that the kingdom of God is an invitation-only affair, and that God’s invitations, coming as they always do from a higher agenda, more often than not, go unnoticed or turned down.
Perhaps an even more sobering idea is that the most scripturally literate among us, can miss the spirit while flailing about in the letter of some law or principle. Here’s a reality-based principle that might liberate us into our walk in the Spirit: there is always more going on in the kingdom than we typically perceive. Just understanding the motives of the One who has invited us to the banquet will help us keep our hearts running on the kingdom track and our clay feet out of the snares set to entangle them. Keeping in mind the Father’s comprehensive full-time salvation intentions (which include our bodies, souls, and spirits) will go far in giving us eyes to see and ears to hear.
Father, may our hearts receive and ponder the piercing questions that will expose our hearts so that they may be liberated and equipped to see just how intricately the banquet table has been laid out before us. Teach us to use the right questions when necessary to silence the religious spirits within and without. Amen.
Perhaps today’s post, in its consideration of “Invitation,” will be a key to better understand the balance of today’s passage which is The Parable of the Guests (Luke 14:7-15). From here, I will leave you to your own meditations.
by RobertCummins | Dec 17, 2016 | 50. Give Your Life Away
A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” (John 13:34-35)
Jesus has burst onto the scene with miracles of healing and provisions of food, not to mention this wonderful theme of “love”. Loving one another is an ultra positive message. Everyone can cast a vote for “love.” It is not surprising that “now large crowds were going along with Him.” What is surprising is what He adds next to His message.
And He turned and said to them, “If anyone comes to Me, and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be My disciple. (Luke 14:26)
Ok Jesus, what’s it going to be, “love” or “hate”? We know the answer. We know we are supposed to even love and pray for our enemies; how much more must we love our immediate families? So, why this bizarre command? Jesus is saying a very hard thing because He is introducing a very large and revolutionary idea. He knows people are aghast at His comment, so with their attention now in hand, He follows up with another illustration – one that will soon be fleshed out before them in an unforgettable way.
Whoever does not carry his own cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple. (Luke 14:27)
A cross is good for only one thing – effecting death to the one hanging on it. Jesus came to give us life and to give it to us in abundance. How can death be factored into life? Perhaps this is the greatest mystery we face and ironically, our teachers have told us next to nothing about it. In this vacuum how can one become an authentic follower of Jesus? A participant in abundant life? A light to the world? Jesus does not just drop this bomb and walk away. He continues…
For which one of you, when he wants to build a tower, does not first sit down and calculate the cost to see if he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who observe it begin to ridicule him, saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish.’ (Luke 14:28-30)
Who would be willing to hate his immediate family? To take up their cross daily and follow Him? This tower is just too large! Well hang on; it is going too become taller yet.
So then, none of you can be My disciple who does not give up all his own possessions. (Luke 14:33)
Jesus has just given us a breakdown and cost summary of this tower He has referred to. This highly visible structure is built on Christ alone. It requires that we relinquish the rights to our lives. We are no longer the sovereigns over our own lives. Like Paul and other early disciples, we carry a sentence of death within us (2 Corinthians 1:9). Our lives have been purchased; we are no longer our own. (1 Corinthians 6:19-20)
Jesus has not changed His message but we have. The leaders of the western church have created an alternate tower – one that is much smaller, hardly noticeable but much more affordable. Being a disciple – one who has relinquished the rights to their life to God, is not a cost component of this tower. One can get into this tower with a modest downpayment of believing that Jesus died for their sins and will be taking them to heaven when they die.
Therefore, salt is good; but if even salt has become tasteless, with what will it be seasoned? It is useless either for the soil or for the manure pile; it is thrown out. He who has ears to hear, let him hear. (Luke 14:34-35)
I believe that one day, men will arise with a vision of the same tower Jesus had in mind. They will also know the actual cost and convey it on the front end of their message. The cost is in fact impossibly high but perfectly affordable, in Christ – to Whom all things are possible. I believe that one day hearts will ache, when we see how poorly we have invested. Tears will flow when we see just how deeply we have buried our talents. I believe that one day, without the slightest damage to God’s grace, we will eventually understand the mystery of the cross and its integral relationship to abundant life.
Father, may we be known for our love for You which exceeds even our love for our own families. May we emerge as those who have abandon our personal rights and who have, in turn, discovered an abundant life of joyous liberty. May we build in Your strength, in Your name, for Your glory. May we become wealthy in the greater sense as we transfer the title of all that we are and have to You. Give us ears to hear that we might become the salt and light You intended for us to become.
by RobertCummins | Dec 17, 2016 | 50. Give Your Life Away
Scientists and moviemakers are attracted to the idea of intelligent life in outer space and making contact with it (or them). The motivation of this quest into the mysterious unknown is often to gain superior knowledge from superior beings that will enhance and perpetuate life on earth. It is interesting, when the imagination and money machine of Hollywood is turned loose on this theme, that the beings they conceive are typically super intelligent, large, frightening looking combinations of men, reptiles, insects, or germs with ravenous appetites for either us or our stuff.
I see a similar theme in our passage today: that of communication between man and intelligent Life from above. But in our story line, the mysterious knowledge that men intuitively hunger for, which, at the time this letter was being written, had been hidden from the past ages and generations; it was then being delivered through the unlikely vessel of Paul to an unlikely people—saints.
It turns out that the Life from beyond was not an intelligent ravenous monster with malevolent intent; rather, it was an omniscient, loving Being with benevolent intentions, who revealed the mystery in His own way and in His own timing. God Himself knew that it was not just knowledge we needed. And, He knew we needed more than success in perpetuating life on earth in its progressive state of decay. He knew that what man needed was Life Himself in order to perpetuate, not just more perfect temporal unions, but to inaugurate and build His eternal kingdom. In God’s story, the mystery (a.k.a. true knowledge) is “Christ Himself in whom had been hidden ALL the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.”
The plot of God’s story thickens further in regards to this mystery, and it has to do again with the unlikely audience—these people called saints, “to whom God willed to make known the riches of the glory of this mystery,” which turns out to be CHRIST IN THEM—THE HOPE OF GLORY.
If you read all the writings of the unlikely vessel Paul, you will discover that much is riding on the eventuality of “glory” being manifested through the collective expression of the “saints.” No one could have invented this plot! It really is scandalous! What is the likelihood of Paul, a Christian hater and persecutor of The Way, inheriting the well-spring itself of The Way and then preaching that mystery to the unclean and very unlikely Gentiles. A first century Jew would have said, “Are you kidding me!” Yet, how very much like God! (Definitely read I Corinthians 1:18 – 2:16.)
I have been amazed at how frequently matters return to the issue of identity. Satan, while tempting Jesus, said; “If you are the son of God…” He is not really very creative, because he uses a similar lie aimed at our identities: “If you were a saint…” To so many within Christendom, sainthood is an earned status or an advanced level of Christian maturity or even something we only achieve after we die. These are monstrous lies designed by Satan to perpetuate a cosmic-level identity crisis amidst God’s family. A great deal of Satan’s kingdom will be dissolved when these lies are exposed.
The wealth of sainthood was deferred to us and should have been realized at our new birth. Sainthood is not earned. It is our gifted birthright of which we are to have full-assurance and understanding. We are His! The issue of identity was resolved at the Cross. It really is finished as He has proclaimed! The rending of His flesh removed the veil that we might forevermore, by way of this inheritance, come boldly and joyfully into His most holy presence. True sainthood has never had anything to do with maturity, pedigree, or resume. It has always had to do with our new hearts and our brand new natures.
It is no longer I who live but Christ lives within me. (Galatians 2:20)
Paul leverages his revelation of Christ, and all his considerable power of communication, to plead with the Colossians:
As you therefore received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him… I say this in order that no one may delude you with persuasive arguments… See to it that no one take you captive through philosophy and empty deception, according to the elementary principles of the world, rather than according to Christ. (from Colossians 2:4,6 and 8)
Father, as a race of men, we are bloated in knowledge and bankrupt in Mystery. We have accordingly reaped a whirlwind of societal plagues and then wondered at the cause. Forgive us, Lord. May Your saints arise in these days, ahead of whatever tumult may await us. In our new identities, that are steeped in the wealth of full assurance, may our hearts be knit together in love, providing each other and this world with a revelation of “Christ in us,” so potent that a hope of glory is produced—a new optimism that the kingdom of God is a now kingdom and an ever expanding one, one of which we are now citizen-saints in good standing. May Your saints fulfill their destiny— becoming the unlikely source of fresh wisdom and light, exposing the futility this earth has been subjected to and the underlying spiritual darkness that creates it. Amen.
by RobertCummins | Dec 16, 2016 | 50. Give Your Life Away
Now all the tax gatherers and sinners were coming near Him to listen to Him… both the Pharisees and the scribes began to grumble… (from Luke 15:1-2)
What is going on here? Why is it that society’s losers and outcasts were attracted to God Incarnate and society’s best and most religious kept their distance and complained? Those that knew they were unclean were drawn to Jesus. Those who believed themselves to be clean were not; instead they were offended. Perhaps this Parable of the Lost Sheep will shed more light on our question.
It’s a short and simple story of a shepherd who leaves his flock to search for one sheep that has strayed and gotten lost. We know the outcome. The attention the shepherd has diverted from the flock is rewarded: he finds his sheep and his joy spills over among his friends, who join him in the celebration.
Verse 7 helps us to understand the nature of the rescue. It involves repentance. It is probably no coincidence that this parable precedes the Parable of the Prodigal Son by just 4 verses. I have been thinking of repentance in the context of that parable. I first think of the younger son and the vile things he had done with his father’s wealth. His life style had been godless and unclean—a total waste. For this boy, the father’s only rescue strategy was to let sin run its course so that the child could be brought to a place of acknowledged poverty. The father was beside himself with joy that spilled over and became a huge celebration. The father did not bring up the boy’s waste and debauchery. His heart melted when he saw his precious son. It seemed it was the distance between them more than the uncleanness and defilement of the boy’s lifestyle that troubled the father. (I wonder if the prodigal went so far out of control as to get a tattoo or a piercing!)
The father had to launch a second rescue mission the same day for another lost sheep. It was his older son, who, even though he had lived compliantly, was just as distant and relationally alienated from his father as his brother. For this one, the father’s rescue strategy involved listening to the boy’s heart that was sick with anger, bitterness, and resentment. I think the elder brother was the type of person who perceive they had no need of repentance. I think of this soul as being more deeply lost than the prodigal. Religion is a deeper bondage—a greater stronghold than a mere base lifestyle. Most people living in the gutters of life know they are lost and feel alienated from God. The religious, on the other hand, believe that God is pleased with them because they have stayed home and done their religious chores and held fast to their religious creeds and moral commitments. Deep inside, they believe God owes them a feast.
I am living proof that there is hope for both prodigals and elder brothers. I was saved at 23 as a very lost boy who had squandered some of his earthly father’s money in unrighteous living. I was rescued at 58 years old as an elder brother who had squandered a fair amount of His heavenly Father’s grace. In terms of the burden lifted from my heart, my deliverance from the stronghold of religion was nearly as dramatic as was my initial salvation encounter with the Lord. Much of what I post in middlewithmystery.com is flavored with insights gained since Father has initiated this most recent rescue.
Since my liberation, I view religion as that old wineskin, unfit for new wine. This propensity of ours toward religion is bound up in our fallen DNA, and, just like sin, it distances our hearts from God and misshapes our understanding of Him, others, and ourselves. Being a legitimate born-again son of God and somehow having drifted into more of a servant/slave mindset, I can see how, from our old wineskin hearts, we build old wineskin structures that are capable of keeping the Holy Spirit corporately at bay. Having said this about our structures, it is more important than we realize that our primary responsibility is not our structures. Our structures will likely take care of themselves as we make sure that our own hearts, as new wineskins, are utterly free of elder brother, works-oriented righteousness, and they will issue forth the living water of Christ’s very own life within us.
When we become corporately successful at watching over our hearts in this way, a new life will issue forth that is empowered by God’s Spirit. Christ in us, the hope of glory will be manifested for all the world to see. The earth will finally see the Bride of Christ radiantly adorned in the very splendor of God’s grace instead of some shabby garb patched together by us elder brother types. I truly wonder if this stronghold of religion very well may be the last and greatest demon between us and that day when He fully receives the reward of His suffering.
Father, as we set our hearts on the hope of comprehensive deliverance allow us to anticipate and embrace the incremental dividends of freedom You will impart to us as we rest in You as our Sufficiency. May you grant our hearts the courage to acknowledge where we think our track records merit Your favor. May You grant our hearts the humility to acknowledge our inner poverty that has been glossed over with works and words. May You grant us the perseverance to endure the refining process that will liberate us from the constraints of our old religious wineskins. Amen.
by RobertCummins | Dec 15, 2016 | 50. Give Your Life Away
The book of Isaiah was a major Jewish-Messianic news bulletin. When Isaiah penned these words Jehovah was the God of Israel – exclusively. Gentiles had no claims upon this God. Our passage from Isaiah, thanks to Jesus, links the Old Testament to the New and connects the Jewish children of promise to us gentiles. In our passage Isaiah has located Israel somewhere in the future on the apex of her roller coaster experience with God. Ironically and tragically, the chosen were not on board as Jesus read this passage to His local congregation…
The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the afflicted; He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to captives and freedom to prisoners; to proclaim the favorable year of the Lord. (Luke 4:18-19 & Isaiah 61:1-2)
It appeared, as Jesus began reading in the Nazareth Synagogue, that He and Israel might be headed for the long awaited consummation of their relationship. Those who had known Him His entire life were looking very favorable upon Him, wondering just how this son of Joseph and Mary would factor into their nation’s destiny (a consideration always alive in their imaginations). After all, Jesus had just returned to Galilee in the power of the Spirit, and news about Him had spread through all the surrounding districts. Favor was flowing liberally…
as He closed the book, gave it back to the attendant and sat down the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on Him and He said, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” And all were speaking well of Him, and wondering at the gracious words which were falling from His lips; and they were saying, “Is this not Joseph’s son?”
Jesus’ positive message was resonating well with His people, creating bonds of good will between this rising prophetic star and His audience. Things were going marvelous until He intentionally touched their hot button. There, simmering in the uneasy conscience of Israel, was a matter of painful significance – this nation’s treatment of the previous messengers God had sent her – the prophets.
No doubt you will quote this proverb to Me, ‘Physician, heal yourself! Whatever we heard was done at Capernaum, do here in your hometown as well.’ And He said, ‘Truly I say to you, no prophet is welcome in his hometown.’
Jesus had laid into the Jewish leaders on this matter on other occasions…
Therefore, behold, I am sending you prophets and wise men and scribes; some of them you will kill and crucify, and some of them you will scourge in your synagogues, and persecute from city to city, so that upon you may fall the guilt of all the righteous blood shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah, the son of Berechiah, whom you murdered between the temple and the altar. Truly I say to you, all these things will come upon this generation. (Matthew 23:34)
I know “all these things” are contested by bright and studious minds. Some of them see the gentiles as having replaced Israel as the children of promise. They see the persecution of Jews as the consequence of God’s judgement or abandonment. Even though it puts me in the catbird seat, I still can’t swallow the idea that the New Testament documents the replacement of the Jews with us Gentiles. While I can’t fully explain it, I simply do not believe God has written the Jews out of His will. I didn’t form this opinion through study alone; I just don’t think this sounds like the God I have come to know. While living in the middle of a mystery (such as we all do), the ways and the nature of God as He has revealed Himself to us is is valuable – not infallible or inerrant – but valuable.
I wonder, had the synagogue attenders not been filled with rage and cast Jesus out of their midst, would their messiah have returned the next week and read more from Isaiah’s prophecy.
To proclaim the favorable year of the Lord and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn, to grant those who mourn in Zion, giving them a garland instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the mantle of praise instead of a spirit of fainting so they will be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that He may be glorified. Then they will rebuild the ancient ruins, they will raise up the former devastations; and they will repair the ruined cities, the desolations of many generations. (Isaiah 61:2-4)
If one were able to take a Google Earth tour of what was Palestine at the turn of the twentieth century and compare it with what you would see today, you would have to conclude that a significant miracle has taken place – something akin to Isaiah’s forecast – something very much like a resurrection. Not only have eroded hills and mosquito infested swamps become productive farmlands but a map would reveal that this place is now called Israel. If you decided to dig deeper you would discover that the nation’s economic and military history is equally miraculous. And, if the supernatural needed to be further justified, this has all happened while being surrounded by nations with sworn oaths to drive them from the face of the earth.
I do not believe we gentiles are the Jews replacements. I believe we have been grafted into this story of resurrection life, life that can be inherited by all who willingly call upon Jesus’ name (and all whom Jesus calls unto Himself). If this seems unlikely, something to keep in mind about resurrection life is that it is typically above and beyond our wildest speculations.
Father, may Your Life find His Way into the hearts of all those You have invited into Your family. May all the imitations of Life be exposed for the frauds they are. Let those who understand “all these things” find their voice and their platform. May the Good News be shouted from the housetops and spoken of in every household. Amen.
by RobertCummins | Dec 12, 2016 | 50. Give Your Life Away
Shepherds are central in Ezekiel’s message. These people, whoever they were, had the responsibility and the means to lead, gather, strengthen, and heal vulnerable people. They were in deep trouble with God because their abandonment of duty left those entrusted to them vulnerable and exposed to predators. When I think of the pastors that I know, I do not think of people who have abandoned their flock. I don’t see them in deep trouble with God. However, I do believe I see the western church in trouble, vulnerable, and exposed to predators.
A friend recently threw me for a bit of a loop when he said, “Rob, I believe I see a pastor in you.” This was a person I respect who was trying to be an encouragement to me. I don’t know if I showed it or not, but my initial thought was “NO WAY!” But, as I have given his statement some thought, I believe that he is right—kind of.
One thing I have discovered is that the word “pastor” does not mean the same thing to everybody. And, I am not sure that word means the same thing today as it did at the time the New Testament was written. I’ll try to explain where I’m coming from. Before you proceed, be warned: the content is lengthy today and to some it will be controversial.
My formative years as a Christian took place in the context of a collegiate discipleship ministry that was spread out over the Midwest and Europe. After two decades those people returned to home base and dared to try and live out a New Testament model of Christianity. Note: I am not talking about a western best practice version of the New Testament church. I am talking about the New Testament’s version of the New Testament church.
In the community that our relationships formed one of our distinguishing features was how we viewed leadership. As we studied the New Testament scriptures, we concluded that leadership came primarily from “overseers” (episkopos) and “elders” (presbuteros). So, we did not form a committee and interview people to fill a position called “pastor” (poimen). The reason was that in the NT, the Greek word pastor was used very sparingly. (Note: As a convenient reference, I have copied a Greek word study of the three words used for New Testament leadership into today’s writing.)
It was in this context of our community of believers that I also learned the meaning of the word “cult.” (Institutional Christianity’s definition: cult—a group of people who are doing church different than us.) This definition was provided to us by those who were faithfully adhering to their particular traditions (what they perceived to be the more biblically-accurate). This can be especially painful when those faithful ones are your own flesh and blood.
Regardless of our community’s low approval rating, I have never regretted this experience, except that I have had to recently acknowledge that it has ruined me for the traditional 21st century western church experience. The past 20 years have confirmed that I cannot be true to my spiritual DNA and quietly subscribe to the stated and unstated conventions that drive the traditional ways of doing institutional church.
As I try to reconcile the New Testament Church with church as we have learned it, I cannot help but believe that the ancient use of the word pastor is much different than ours. I have further wondered if how we gather in Jesus’ name, with that built-in misunderstanding of this important word, has not unintentionally hamstrung our efforts at making disciples and consequently expanding the kingdom of God. Having lived in two radically different paradigms of church, my observation is that a single pastor (even with a good staff) cannot provide sufficient pastoral care to those entrusted to them. My theory is that many flocks remain vulnerable to predators, not because our pastors are not trying, but because the job they are doing was never intended to be the job of a single shepherd or professional team of shepherds.
I believe that one of the reasons the church grew so rapidly and had so much influence on their culture in first few centuries was due, in part, to the tremendous amount of “pastoring” that was actually taking place. But, as I read the NT, I don’t see a “pastor” or a staff of “pastors” as the delivery agents of that care. I believe it came from each of the members of the Body who had been equipped with the fullness of the Spirit, and two ultra radical ideas: 1) The notion that they belonged entirely to Jesus and existed exclusively for His purposes and pleasure—this was the basis of discipleship; and 2) the notion that they belonged entirely to each other as members of Christ’s body. As members of His Body, they had become each other’s keeper. Here are two great discussion questions. Is the DNA of these two notions (which I perceive as “kingdom of God values”) compatible with the DNA of the American dream? Which value system, those of the American dream or those of the “Kingdom of God,” is the basis of motivation within western Christianity?
The early church had some advantages—I have to admit. Their energies were not diverted to the church building or many of the other activities that consume our energies. As near as we can tell by reading the NT, they were spending most of their time just living life and spending their limited resources in caring for each other and those around them. Beyond that, they gathered in small safe clusters where they could be seen and heard and cared for. It is my belief that the body of Christ will not regain the influence she once had or attain the influence her destiny calls for without a healthy Body where all the members are engaged with each other and the world in ways yet to be discovered (or rediscovered).
My theory is, that without a staff or an organization, the members of the New Testament Church must have individually and collectively taken ownership of the relationships inside their organic (sovereignly ordained) relational networks. Doing this removed an unrealistic burden on any individual or a few individuals to provide pastoral care to them. It is my guess that the love of God and the “shepherding” life of Christ, who had become their life, was drawn out of them and birthed naturally as needs arose and they were able to respond because of: 1) the Good Shepherd within them and 2) their relational proximity to each other. Note: The idea of interviewing and hiring an individual or a team to deliver pastoral care to themselves would have probably seemed nonsensical.
There are a few pastors and leaders of the Body of Christ who read these daily digital pamphlets I post. This makes me glad because I love them and I want them to understand that if they see me doing something outside the grid of traditional church, it is not because I am trying to incite rebellion or fuel the ongoing exodus from institutional church that George Barna and others are documenting. It is simply that I am trying to be true to my DNA and stay in relationship with them even in the presence of traditions and beliefs that could divide us.
I am trying to be honest without being a thorn. I want to be an agent of peace and of healing, not a source of division. I believe I am a representative voice of many who are crying out for the life of Christ that is not being reproduced well in a context where the fundamental assumption is that church is something you can attend and discipleship is an optional track for those sovereignly equipped with spiritual afterburners.
I have been crying out now for 20 years in a traditional church context. As I have been fumbling for the right words (and attitude) to express my cries, I have offended and confused people. To keep from inflicting further pain and creating more confusion, I have withdrawn. The question is now, “What’s next?” Do we just walk away (as is the common practice), heap guilt on each other for our failure and perceived rebellion (as is the common practice), and then talk about each other in derogatory ways behind each other’s backs (as is the common practice)—or—shall we talk?
In recent days God has given me more ability and desire to express the longings within me (which this Blue Book dialogue has confirmed are in others as well). My prayer is that we find each other somehow in the Body of Christ and become to each other and to God what He intended, more of a united family—less of a religious organization.
My dear friends, who have the word “pastor” (or some other title) preceding your first name, please do not interpret this as a shot across the bow of your church organization. Rather, this is an invitation to enter into a dialogue with one, who represents many who have walked away from church (or are about to) because they hungered for family and got a program. They wanted to be invited into our homes and they were given a sign up sheet. They wanted a dialogue and got a monologue. Their God given DNA is crying out to be interconnected to a network of persons with caring shepherding hearts, not to attend a meeting presided over by an individual with a title.
I am at a crossroads personally (along with others) in my pilgrimage. I know that the traditional church is providing many with all they desire in their Christian experience. I do not stand in judgment against these contented ones. That is excellent! I just have to be honest with where I am. Traditional western Christianity is not working for me. As your friend, I am looking for your feedback. Should I quietly just walk away so that I do not stir things up and offend people any more than I already have? Or, do you want to sit down and open up a very real and open discussion with me (and others like me) before we give up, give out, or walk away? Please advise.
And to my friend with his somewhat backhanded prophetic word that I kind of agree with, I respond to you, “Yes, I do believe there is a pastor in me. I also believe their is a pastor in you.” He is the Good Pastor (or Shepherd). I believe with all my heart that He will be birthed in and expressed through us as we abandon our lives to Him and to each other.
Father, we see that our destiny as Your Bride is to be united, powerful, and radiant in Your love. May you reform our hearts that we may reform our wineskins (organizational structures and paradigms) so that they are large and flexible enough to hold Your Life and Your love. May we become a body who is equipped to lead, gather, strengthen, and heal the vulnerable and wounded ones nearest us. May we take ownership of and fill the relational voids around us, creating safe spaces where no one is left vulnerable to predators—where the kingdom of God within us, with its righteousness peace and joy, might flourish. Amen.
Poimen—This word appears 18 times in the NT, but is used only one time with regard to spiritual leaders in the church (Ephesians 4:11). The meaning of this word is “shepherd,” although in Ephesians 4:11 it is generally translated “pastor” (which is the Latin word for “shepherd”). The verb form of this word is poimaino, which appears 11 times in the NT. It means “to shepherd; to perform the duties of a shepherd.” It is used twice to depict the work of the leadership in the church (Acts 20:28; I Peter 5:2).
Presbuteros—This word appears a total of 67 times in the pages of the New Covenant documents. It is the primary word used for these men. By transliterating this Greek word into English we get “presbyter.” The meaning is: “One who is old; one who is older than another; elder.” It comes from the word presbutes, which means “an old man” (see Luke 1:18; Titus 2:2; Philemon 9). This word is used a number of different ways in the NT.
Episkopos—This word appears only five times within the pages of the NT writings: once with reference to Jesus Christ (I Peter 2:25), and four times with reference to the spiritual leaders of the church (Acts 20:28; Philippians 1:1; I Timothy 3:2; Titus 1:7). By transliterating this word from Greek into English we get “episcopal.” This word is generally translated “overseer,” “bishop,” or “guardian.” The word literally means “to look over; to watch over.”