Thursday, February 28, 2008

The Point of Church

Everything revolves around love in the kingdom of God. Those things that are most important to God issue from love. Case(s) in point:

1) Obedience [of faith] to Christ arises out of love. We cannot force ourselves to obey Christ out of sheer will or intellect. It takes love. If one loves Christ, obedience follows naturally. It is that one who loves Christ and obeys him for whom the love of God will be efficacious in turn.

2) Moving in the Spirit with great faith and as an astonishing witness has point and purpose only when arising out of love. Seemingly spiritual giants are just dogs in the street without love. Those things that are here for a season, but are bound to pass away cannot carry any weight at the threshold of eternity.

A personal friendship with God arises out of love. Since God is love, to get along with him one must adopt love too. Not like a mask, but as a transforming reality of the heart. When we start where we are and "go with the flow" of love (God) living in us, his love is brought to fullness within us. Certainly, one can never get along with God and not be loving like him.

So where is the place of doctrine in all this? Well, at the end of time, it will not matter, nor will anyone care whether or not one was Arminian or Calvinist; dispensational or covenantal; pre-, post- or a- millennial; charismatic or cessationist. What will matter is not the practice of doctrine, but the practice of love. Don't get me wrong, doctrine is important, it's just not more important than practicing love.

Church, ultimately, is not about religious duty, nor religious teaching but about relationships between brothers and sisters, and love, not doctrine, defines that. If one goes through life attending church, committed to the group but never connecting to people, one errs and misses the matter of utmost importance. If one studies the Bible and knows church doctrine, but does not know his brethren he has missed the most significant doctrinal point.

Church is the place (and the period) where we learn to love one another and add others to the circle of love. The central reality of any church should be love and the way it connects people to people. If we strive for all else and miss that, we will have missed everything. If we lay anything on the line, if we sacrifice anything near and dear, let it be to further the love we have one for the other. That is the point, after all, of church.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Rock Gardens & Weed Beds

Most folk think there is something solid about being middle of the road and something bad about being extreme. I can see where in many situations that is wise, but it's anything but when it comes to Christianity. The milquetoast middle is nothing but a muddle. Offered for your consideration: the parable of the sower. The extremes were clear in their result whether for good or bad, whereas the mucky middle had the look, even the promise of fruitfulness, but alas, not the substance. Why? Only by selling out can we achieve what was intended by scattering the gospel seed in the first place. Only a single-minded vision of submitting to what "Christ in us" is attempting to grow can make our lives fruitful in God.

In God, fruitfulness is what counts. For the seed of the Word, for the seed which is the Word, to get anything done in us that he came to do, there has to be singularity in the soil of our hearts. Our soil must be set apart, exclusively, for the growth and fruitfulness of that one seed. It must yield no room nor nutrient for anything else to grow. If our soil is a mixed bag, chunky with rocks, or infested with other kinds of seed, our appearance may seem fine for a time, but over time, our fruitfulness (or fruitlessness) will reveal the unfortunate truth.

Like any farmer planting his fields, when God plants Christ in us, he expects Christ out of us (CICO). For that to happen, nothing can compete with the seed that he's scattered on the soil of our lives. When rocks and weeds compete for the soil with that seed, the seed's growth is stunted and its fruit is nonexistent. God wants an abundant harvest, how can we offer him rock gardens and weed beds?

Thursday, February 14, 2008

The Message In Wrath

We don't hear much about the wrath of God anymore. I wonder if we're missing something important in ignoring and/or undercutting its message. There is certainly no absence of "discussion" about the subject in the Bible: do we need to be "discussing" it more?

Romans 1 tells us the wrath of God is in the process of being revealed from heaven. Obviously, the subject is important enough for God to include it in his self-revelation in nature. In other words, this is something we should know about him, he wants us to understand this. Life as we know it screams at us in no uncertain terms that God is upset, and he wants us to get the message. The repercussions of it echo incessantly rattling everything this time and plane.

Prophets, one after the other, tried to establish God's wrath as a stimulant to reasonable thinking on our part. Not that we live in fear of punishment, that is the Devil's ploy, but we should live in sober judgment discerning the nature of "how things work." When sky walking on a steel girder stories above the security of earth, that sinking feeling that discerns gravity is a boon to clear thinking and careful stepping. Surely wisdom owes a debt of gratitude to the wrath of God!

The death and burial of Jesus Christ reveal the true extent of God's wrath. The witness of life (see Romans 1 above), and the deadness of our souls invoke a certain trembling in us, perchance even the whisper of God's voice reaches us.
We hide, trembling in the bushes, knowing we are sinners and children of wrath by nature. We fear the face of him who sits on the throne. Nothing could coax us out of our hiding places but the sure knowledge that our sins were fully expiated through Christ's sacrifice and we were thereby reconciled to God. The outrageousness and brutality of Christ's passion impeccably scribe the fearful breadth of God's wrath against sin.

Do we even have a real purpose for ministry and evangelism without paying due deference to the wrath of God? Ours is a
ministry of reconciliation. The quality and depth of God' grace and forgiveness cannot be seen in proper relief apart from the backdrop of his animus against sin. He who is perfect in grace is also perfect in wrath. Have we truly delivered any message at all if we haven't revealed the message in his wrath?

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Confession Is Good for the Soul

Regret is not the same as repentance, even though it may be a stop on the way. It is possible to reach the conclusion that God considers a thing wrong, and even regret or rue that it’s been done, but that is not the same as actually seeing it the same way that God does. For the one who sees what God says, but does not see what God sees, what else beside Romans 7 can be his or her lot? Overcoming, undoubtedly, will not be!

Regret can never be the source of victorious, overcoming behavior in the future. Even if determined action is taken against regretted behavior, it merely ends up attaching a collar and leash to a wild leopard. It does not and cannot change its spots. The imposition of an alien viewpoint cleanses the soul no better that sweeping rubbish under a carpet cleans the house. To function effectively, our transplanted hearts must transform our DNA to match it's own, so to speak.

As long as we dwell in earthy tents, our agreement with God will not be perfect, for the possibility of being overwhelmed by desire or desperation will exist until the last vestiges of a soul/spirit/body born out of whack are put off for one that wasn’t. Nonetheless, actual agreement with "God in us" is what most ensures our ability to live above the baseness of the nature we were born with.

When confession is limited in scope to an admission of the facts, the necessary ingredient in overcoming will be missed— we need to see it the same way as God does, not just say it the same way. In such agreement, there is no sense of imposition or burden. Therefore, if overcoming is the goal, the effort to be made is not in caging the wild beast, but in changing his or her perspective. When done in that light, confession is truly good for the soul.

Saturday, February 2, 2008

Scriptural Means vs. Scriptural Ends

A blogging buddy of mine turned an interesting phrase in the comments to one of his posts: '“scriptural means” versus “scriptural end”. That phrase captures, in just five words, what causes so much rancor in the Christian world today. It grasps the gist of current debates about evangelism (i.e., relevance, innovation, seeker-sensitivity, being missional, strategic planning, enculturism); worship (i.e. arts, contemplativeness, contemporariness, instrumentation, participation); ecclesiology, and pneumatology as well.

I've always thought of the Bible as normative-- the policy manual of the Church. If it speaks to a matter that settles it, and where it speaks, we speak. Although there are a number of scriptural reasons to see it that way, primarily, it was an experience I had in the first week I was following Christ that made me adopt such a policy. After all the years of living in and observing the Christian community, I can say uncategorically, that policy was right. IMHO, the only thing our wandering away from the pages of the Book has brought Christianity is an amalgam of flakiness, fruitiness, and nuttiness; or to be more direct, superstition, credulity, and spiritual abuse. The years have taught me that scriptural ends are best achieved by scriptural means.

Sometimes, this whole thing gets my prophetic hackles rising, but the saving grace that salves my combative heart are the words of Paul himself. As long as the scriptural end of preaching Christ is achieved, for the most part, I can leave the means in God's hands and rejoice. It doesn't make it any easier to swallow some of the shenanigans and tomfoolery, but God has not given me (or anyone else for that matter) the beat as spiritual traffic cop. Error certainly needs to be corrected, and life saving differences highlighted, but when it comes to this thing we all do in Christ name, it pays to remember, we're all just deckhands, he's the captain-- he'll cull the catch when we get back to port.