The Great Reversal

But many who are first will be last. And many who are last will be first.
So those who are last will be first. And those who are first will be last.
Look! Those who are last will be first and those who are first will be last.
-Matthew 19:30 & 20:16, Mark 10:31, Luke 13:30


This is one of those hard sayings of Jesus.  God's perspective is different than ours.  God judges differently than we do.  God sees the heart.  God is looking for abandonment to his son, for his son's sake.  Some people have made great sacrifices for Christ, but if they create a sense of pride, there is not lasting reward.

There will be great reversals and surprises.  Jesus tells us that God's economy if different than ours and might shock us.  Riches and wealth do not necessarily mean God's blessing.  Spiritual giftedness or authority now do not necessarily equate to permanent status.

God might ask you two questions when your life is over.  "How did you love?', and "How much of my son's likeness do you bear?"

Do you know what you are for?  Do you know why God created you?  Do you know what the gift of God is in you that glorifies him?  Do that to God's glory.  Be who God created you to be.

Do not strive to be first now.  Be the special person God made you to be, in last place and let God put you in the front, on his stage, in his time.  You have many relationships and functions, but what is the first thing?  Never stop doing and nurturing that first thing.

Community

The believers devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, to the community, to their shared meals, and to their prayers.
-Acts 2:42

A whole bunch of people got saved on Pentecost Day.  It is interesting that they were all baptized immediately in water and then in the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:38-9).  These people became part of the believers community.  The author of Acts, doctor Luke, uses the Greek word Koinonia for community, which means, "what is shared in common for the basis of fellowship".  A synonym would be "partnership".

The word community is from the same word that we get communion, as in, "taking communion":
Isn’t the cup of blessing that we bless a sharing in the blood of Christ? Isn’t the loaf of bread that we break a sharing in the body of Christ?
-1 Corinthians 10:16
The word sharing (sharing in the blood & sharing in the body) is Koinonia, the same word used for community.  The Biblical meaning of community is sharing in God and the New Testament meaning is sharing in Christ.  In a commune or in communism, they also say it's about sharing.  But in the church, community is about sharing in Christ.  So we call it communion when we memorialize the death of Jesus, by sharing wine or juice and a loaf of bread.

The sharing is the meaningful part.  Community and communion are meant to be done together.  Jesus modeled communion at a table, in a circle, where eyes met.  Notice that is says, "the cup of blessing that we bless a sharing in the blood of Christ".  What is being described is a spoken word, like a toast, upon drinking from the cup.  Remember that communion = community = sharing.  Christ shares with all and we all share in Christ together.  Do you get it?  That is the church.
"In and through community lies the salvation of the world... most of us have never had an experience of true community." -M. Scott Peck, The Different Drum 
We tend to view Bible verses through a consumerist hermeneutic, or lens.  We also tend to take our present traditions and impose them on the text.  We think in terms of individuals and as consumers.  Sharing is the common denominator of Church.  "For God so loved the world, he gave...", and, "as the Father has sent me, I now send you."  It is about sharing.  We share together and we share with the world, because God's mission is to save the world, after all.  

Maybe it is not natural for you to not only share your stuff, but to share your self.  If we are not in community as a life-style, we are living more selfishly and defensively; like cars on the freeway, watching out for each other and jostling for position.

In the Western world, we split salvation into physical and spiritual.  Physical means saved from death.  Spiritual salvation means healing; the process of becoming whole or holy.  M. Scott Peck described spiritual salvation as the process of becoming conscious.  Think about Nicodemus.  Jesus was calling him to true consciousness:  Jesus told him, "you must be born again."  Or we could say, "you must start over, from Father, through Jesus."

If God is after our wholeness and holiness, inviting us into the born-again life of God consciousness; then the opposite is a refusal of new-birth and the desire to not be conscious.  This reminds me of The Matrix:
"You have to understand, most of these people are not ready to be unplugged. And many of them are so inured, so hopelessly dependent on the system, that they will fight to protect it."
-Morpheus
There is a process that you can chart, measure, or gauge; of if a group of people are becoming community.  In The Different Drum, M. Scott Peck outlined the four stages of community.

As Christians, we might hope and desire that community would be natural.  But, if you have ever tried it, you know it is not natural.  We act up in all sorts of ways.  We porcupine each other.  We wear masks, because we are afraid.  We play all sorts of inauthentic games.

It is a paradox that we come together because we share Christ and want to be like Christ, but then we resist authentic sharing:  being honest, being vulnerable, truly listening and accepting the other as we find them.

I find looking at Peck's four stages helpful.  Stage one is like "meet and greet".  It is enjoyable and necessesary (don't skip it, enjoy it), but you don't live there.

Stage two is the, "now we're getting real", stage.  It's the pain before the gain.  It's the cross, before the resurrection.  It's the plunge, before the swimming.  It's the giving birth, before the taking care of the baby.  Working through chaos is good and necessary.  The demon can not be cast out until it is manifested. When the masks come off, we can with what is there, underneath; what really motivates us, and what is broken that needs to be made whole.

Stage three is like the death.  Not dying, nor resurrection; but still, quiet, death.  There is an empty space for grace, love, and mercy.  It is the time when I have been so humbled that I am all about others.  I am wide open to hearing you and getting who you are and where you've come form, if that's part of it.  It is born-again time, when we start over, after realizing we don't get it.

Stage four is when we can be together and there is peace.  We can really share, participate, and work together; and it is not a continuously tripping into and over each other.  There is co-ordination in what we do together.
  1. Pseudocommunity

    • Where participants are "nice with each other", playing-safe, and presenting what they feel is the most favourable sides of their personalities.  
    • It is a stage of pretense. People pretend to already be a community. They use the best of manners to be socially correct as they speak. They avoid any differences or being very personal or anything controversial. They pretend life is great and they “have it all together” with not a care in the world. They fake it. They are not vulnerable. It’s often, boring, sterile and not much deep communication takes place. All of this is a learned response imposed by society.
    • Pseudocommunity is important to the overall process because it builds safety, trust and respect.
  2. Chaos

    • When people move beyond the inauthenticity of pseudo-community and feel safe enough to present their "shadow" selves.
    • In chaos, people let go of their manners and blurt out their prejudices, opinions and judgments.
    • In chaos people often try to fix, heal, and convert each other and this only adds to the chaos. “Now if you will only do what I did, your life will be much better.” “If you believe what I believe, your life will change.” People do not like advice and mostly reject it.  We try to reform people into our own image (fixing).  "Let's fix Joe".
    • In chaos, people exhibit chaotic behavior. The talking pace picks up. The shy can’t get a word in edgewise. There is no space . 
    • People often feel an urge to speak when there is nothing to say. They do not listen much and often speak to hear themselves talk. This is chaotic behavior and the opposite of “moved to speak”. 
    • In chaos, people explore group norms. They will test what subject can be discussed. They may resort to doing one or more "projects" and this is a mix of pseudocommunity and chaos. The purpose of projects may be to avoid task or to learn what may be acceptable to this group. Some project can be: if the windows should be open or closed; if the lights should be on or off; if the room is hot or cold and what should be done about it; if window shades should be open or closed, etc.
    • Chaos is full of avoidance. This can take many forms. One is to scapegoat another person. This causes the focus to be on the one scapegoated and away from those doing the scapegoating.  
    • Another ploy is to attack the leader for not leading more.
    • Sometimes a participant will try to take over the leadership and attempt some from of organizing the group or to get a vote to do something different.
    • In chaos, people start finding their personal, internal chaos that keeps them from being in community with themselves. This is often what they need to empty. A person finds it difficult to be in community with the group if they have much internal chaos. It blocks compassion for themselves and others.
    • At this point of transition, individuals know what needs to be done but will start asking everyone else to do it by returning to WE and YOU statements. “We need to really become personal in what we say to one another.” “You need to …..”
    • The group may cycle back into chaos after being in community, but it becomes different. It rarely concerns ego issues and the pace is much slower and people do listen. At this point, they have learned. A true community does conflict well and knows how to fight fair. A group in community becomes a most effective body for conflict resolution.
  3. Emptiness

    • This stage moves beyond attempts to fix, heal and convert found in the chaos stage. Here, people become capable of acknowledging their own woundedness and brokenness, common to all human beings. Out of this emptiness comes the possibility for true community.
    • This is the stage of letting go of what is not needed to make room for something new. 
    • Emptiness can be a time when people tell personal stories that are current in their lives. This sometimes is with a great deal of sadness and perhaps tears. When this happens, the people become very quiet and hear what is spoken. There is space and often periods of respectful silence to honor what is said. Body language “speaks”, saying what words can not say.
    • As people empty, the group atmosphere starts to feel very different. The pace slows, people speak softer words, they listen intently with their whole bodies, and compassion fills the room. There may be periods of silence that some people describe as peaceful or even holy. Peoples faces become softer. They may say this is the first time they have ever really been heard. They are often full of gratitude for the acceptance they feel. And when enough people empty, the group feels in community. There is a collective consciousness that gives the gift of community.
  4. True community

    • At this stage the process of deep respect for others and true listening to the stories of others takes place. Peck describes this true community as "glory." He believes that it reflects a deep yearning in every human soul for compassionate understanding from one's fellows.
    • Community is a state of being that is hard to describe. People feel peaceful, at ease with one another, accepting of differences, and perhaps celebrate with joy. It is a feeling of wholeness, of oneness, of knowing acceptance for just who you are, faults and all. Differences are appreciated, even honored. People seem to know it is just enough to be human and to experience a true feeling of what love may mean.


    ______________________
    Footnotes:
    Photo credit: http://co3355.tistory.com/category
    In breaking down what happens in Peck's 4 stages of community, I used some of the words and phrases of these two men:
    Tattoos, tribes, and true community by Gary Combs
    The Community Building Process by Jerry L. Hampton
    Also, Jerry Hampton has a fantastic resource on prostate cancer, called My Prostate Cancer Story, about how to fight cancer through prayer, diet, lifestyle, and exercise. He was diagnosed with cancer in 2008. This year, he has found out that he is cancer free and in full remission.


     

Sky Links, 9-21


Photo: Spacebridge by longobord CC 2.0


Turning your life over to Christ

Heather Kopp had this guest post on her blog by Karen Beattie: A Non-addict Learns to Take It One Day at a Time
One day, my husband, David, and I were on the couch talking about our situation, when he
said—rather flippantly, I thought—“Well, let’s just take it one day at a time.”

What the heck was the matter with him? He seemed so Zen and peaceful. Didn’t he care? Why was I the only one worried about our situation?

“What do you mean take it one day at a time? That’s such a cliché! You can’t fix our problems with a platitude.”

I got up and stomped away.

I was angry because he wasn’t worried about our situation (as if his worry would fix our problems), but I was also mad because I was supposed to be the more “spiritually mature” person in our relationship. I had grown up in a Christian home, attended a Christian college, audited a few seminary classes, and written articles about God and faith for national magazines....

...All of my life I have been a follower of Christ. But it took my recovering alcoholic husband to remind me to “make a decision to turn my will and my life over to the care of God as I understand Him” (AA’s Step 3), and take it one day at a time.

The rest of the post is here.

They will know we are Christians by the way we criticize other Christians?

I remember when my 4th grade best friend, Glen, and I were discussing the lyrics to The Carpenter's song, "Hurting Each Other", that had the chorus that said,
We go on hurting each other
We go on hurting each other
Making each other cry, hurting each other
Without ever knowing why
Why do people say hurtful things about each other, when they are supposed to love each other? Courtney Joseph wrote a piece this week called, "When Christians Mock Christians":
But here’s the thing – Jesus said – they will know we are Christians by our love. And the part that baffles me is these ones who mock Christians champion the message of “grace” and “loving well”.  And as I watch them mock me and my “uncool” brothers and sisters in Christ, I do not see the grace and love that they shout so high from their rooftops.
And I wonder – do they realize that it hurts? That it’s humans they mock? Or do they realize – I’ve heard this.all.my.life.
Since I was in public grade school – I was the girl who was different.  Who was crazy serious about her faith. Who was sharing the gospel right and left and defending my beliefs even to the teachers and carrying my Bible to even cheerleading camp – yes I was a cheerleader – cool – but carrying a Bible – makes you uncool.real.quick!  And it’s funny –
I know – I could laugh at myself back then too – it’s crazy how different my thinking was from those around me.  And when I got the nicknames at school for being the Jesus girl I carried the name with confidence.  But when I got nick names from those in my youth group who I suppose were embarrassed of me at school – it hurt.
I recently told my children the story of my nick names from the youth group – in case it happens to them.  Cause you know – it happens.even.in.church.  And it happens – even.on.so-called.Christian.blogs.
And what other Christians think of me – can’t matter if I know I’m in the center of God’s will for me – and I want my kids to know that. Be secure in that.
And dare I suggest that we also remember that not every.single.person who calls himself a Christian is.
The rest of Courtney's post is here, and that thought leads me to my next links:

Tales of two very different pastors


How To Spot a manipulative Church leader, by Donald Miller:
I grew up in a small town in Texas and attended a small church. I loved my church. I loved the jovial pastor, all the men in suits who rubbed me on the head as I came in and out of the sanctuary, the kind ladies who always brought us muffins in Sunday School and especially the youth camps we’d go to over the summers. Church was my second home, and it almost feels like I spent more time there than in my own home.

One winter, though, our pastor decided to retire. We threw an enormous party in his honor. I’ll never forget person after person walking to the microphone to tell stories about the many years he’d shepherded our congregation. People cried, we sang, we brought gifts, we ate food, we laughed until late into the night. It took a full month for everybody to say their goodbyes.
I am eternally grateful the first minister I encountered was such a good man.
Because the second minister I encountered wasn’t.


A committee was put in place to replace our pastor and the committee decided to hire a dynamic young man from Louisiana. The man had been a traveling preacher, moving from church to church to perform revivals, to tell people about Jesus. He was a tall man and loud. He flailed his arms as he spoke. He talked about God’s power, about God’s wrath, about God’s love and to be honest he was quite moving. He was incredible at getting people to respond. He had a sharp sense of humor, would occasionally say shocking things to test our loyalty and see if we would turn on him or go with him, he knew the Bible inside and out and knew how to play human emotions like a fiddle. On any given Sunday we would experience a range of emotions from guilt and shame to fear and sometimes joy.
I even remember his first sermon. It was entitled “Appoint those you trust and trust those you appoint.” That should have been an obvious sign to everybody. He was saying, without question, if you hire me to be your pastor, I am the boss. You must never question my authority.

Soon, the entire congregation fell under his spell.
The rest of the story is here.

The second pastor story I read, is about Nadia Bolz-Weber, who's book is entitled, "Pastrix: The Cranky, Beautiful Faith of a Sinner & Saint".  Chaplin Mike (internet monk website) writes about  Nadia, reviewing her book, in his post,The Impious Pastor:
:
It is a book about resurrection, however, and a book that realistically portrays those raised from the dead as folks with dirt still under their fingernails. Nadia Bolz-Weber says that her book is about:

…the development of my faith, the expression of my faith, and the community of my faith. And it is the story of how I have experienced this Jesus thing to be true. How the Christian faith, while wildly misrepresented in so much of American culture, is really about death and resurrection. It’s about how God continues to reach into the graves we dig for ourselves and pull us out, giving us new life, in ways both dramatic and small. This faith helped me get sober, and it helped me (is helping me) forgive the fundamentalism of my Church of Christ upbringing, and it helps me not always have to be right.
One look at Nadia, and you might not imagine she grew up in the Church of Christ, a child from a conservative Christian family. She suffered from Graves’ disease, which gave her a “bug-eyed” appearance and caused her enormous relational pain as a child and young teen. Though the church continued to welcome her, she considered the rest of their fundamentalisms unbearable. She began to drink and do drugs in her late teens and college years, and hanging out with others who were doing the same. She found out, through hard experience, that
Getting sober never felt like I had pulled myself up by my own spiritual bootstraps. It felt instead like I was on one path toward destruction and God pulled me off of it by the scruff of my collar, me hopelessly kicking and flailing and saying, “Screw you. I’ll take the destruction please.” God looked at tiny, little red-faced me and said, “that’s adorable,” and then plunked me down on an entirely different path.

She became part of a “rowing team” of people in AA trying to kick booze and drugs and deal with mental illness and all manner of dysfunction. One of them, a comedian friend, ended up hanging himself and the others asked Nadia, who had by that time returned to religious practice, to officiate the funeral. And that, she says, is how she was called into ministry. Giving her friend’s eulogy, she realized maybe she was supposed to be a pastor for folks like these.
I will warn you, that if you follow the link or read more about Nadia, that you will see off-color language, including the f-word.  Nadia ministers to and speaks their language of people of whom most of us would not be comfortable around, perhaps.  To be frank, there are people who use the f-word often when they speak, and Jesus loves them and is saving them.  Chaplain Mike continues:
Pastor David L. Hansen wrote one of the better reviews of Pastrix that I have read. Here’s what he said:
At the end of the day, Pastrix is not a book about Pastor Nadia.  Pastrix is a memoir of grace — and not grace that is polished and cleaned up so that it can be put on a shelf and admired.
Bolz-Weber. 
Pastrix is not about grace “in theory.” Pastor Nadia’s story, her friends’ stories, and stories of members at House for All Sinners and Saints reveal gritty, real grace. A story of grace that shows up at rock bottom, in Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, in the broken places of life. A story of grace that does not wait for us to become good or perfect or nice, that does not wait for us come to church, but instead comes and finds us where we are.
The whole post is here.


Broken Promises or Changed Minds

"What do you think? A man had two sons. Now he came to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work in the vineyard today.’

'‘No, I don’t want to,’ he replied. But later he changed his mind and went.

“The father said the same thing to the other son, who replied, ‘Yes, sir.’ But he didn’t go.

 “Which one of these two did his father’s will?”

They said, “The first one.”

Jesus said to them, “I assure you that tax collectors and prostitutes are entering God’s kingdom ahead of you.  For John came to you on the righteous road, and you didn’t believe him. But tax collectors and prostitutes believed him. Yet even after you saw this, you didn’t change your hearts and lives and you didn’t believe him.
-Matthew 21:28-32

Promise  Makers

Many of us have heard of the men's movement called 'Promise Makers'.  It was a wonderful renewal movement for men.  Wait a minute, it wasn't called 'Promise Makers', it was called 'Promise Keepers'.  We better know the difference between making and keeping promises.  What counts is not the promise, but the performance. 

How We Act

How we act is what counts, not what we say.  A hypocrite is someone who says one thing and does another.  Saying, "no", is better than saying, "yes", and meaning, "no".  That's called lying.  What if we delude ourselves into thinking that we are 'yes' people, but we are we lead a 'no' life?

Yes People Or Honest People?

Jesus does not want 'yes men' and 'yes women'.  He wants honest people.  The son in the parable who said, "no", was the one who did the father's will.  The son who said, "no", later changed his mind to, "yes".   God honors the 'no' of people. 

A Clear No Is Better Than A Fake Yes

Imagine someone in your life who says, "no".  They say, "no", to something.  Maybe going to a movie, going to a place, having a particular food for dinner.  "No", is not the answer you wanted.  You are disappointed, but at least you have your answer.

Now, imagine someone else in your life, who says, "yes", but they don't deliver.  Some people call that 'crazy making'.  How does that person make you feel and what do you want to do with that relationship?  We feel bad and we want to not have relationship with them.  But, what if that person is in our family?  Then, it is painful.  We learn not to trust. 

'Pretend People Of God'

Jesus spoke this parable against the fakes and the hypocrites that were pretend people of God.  They were mouthing one thing, but doing another.  This is the kind of person I do not want to be.

Changing Your Mind Is OK

People who change their minds are on the right track.  It is a good thing to change your mind.  It is a good thing to admit you were wrong.  It is a good thing to receive new revelation that shifts your thinking and changes your mind.  We are meant to be life long learners.  As we learn more, our minds are supposed to be humbled and we keep reforming our thinking.

A young pastor with three or four of his own children, gave a message on child rearing in which he have a list of ten to twenty tips or "how-to's".  Ten or fifteen years later, he had disgarded all but a few of these tips and admitted that they don't work generally.  He was a life long learner and he changed his mind.

Don't Be Insane

Insanity is when you keep doing the same thing and it is not working.  Life long learners have the humility to course correct, admit they were wrong, apologize if necessary, and go back the task, getting better results.

Paradigm Shifts

There is something called a paradigm shift, where we say, "I never saw it that way before", and, "in light of this new way of seeing things, I will make these changes in how I live".  That is a change of mind.  I heard a man speak recently, who had been a Christian about 63 years, who said he has gone through about 16 paradigm shifts.

Jesus has been his Lord and Savior for all these years, but he has learned big new things along the way.  If you have never had a shift in thinking, where you see things in a new way; you might be missing out.

It Is Delusional To Believe You Are Done Learning

It is always a delusion to think you have arrived, spiritually and have it all.  Remember how Jesus said, "unless you become like little children, you will not enter the kingdom of God"?  The man I referred to is very child-like.  Children are honest when they say, "no", and honest when they change their minds.  Children are curious.  Life is always opening up for them.  They are learning constantly.  Jesus wants us adults be like that.

Do It, Live It, Be It

Jesus said that the one who builds his house on the rock that withstands the storm is the one who hears his words and does them.  You can't just say you are building your life on Jesus' teachings.  "I've listened and now I am standing on what he said."  We sing, "On Christ the solid rock I stand, all other ground is sinking sand..."  Sounds good, but what is the rock?  The rock is Christ.  Didn't you just hear the song?

But what did Jesus say about building on the rock?  He said that those who build their lives on the rock are the ones who do his words.  Do, do, do, do.  Not, listen, nod, comprehend, believe, talk about it, write about it, shouting, preach it, talk on the radio or television about it.  No.  The ones who make it through the storm are those who do Jesus words.

Better To Be Cold Than Lukewarm

Remember the church of Laodicea (Re. 3:14-22)?  Jesus said he they were lukewarm, but happy this way and he rebuked them, telling them that they were wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked.  Jesus wants a people who are hot or cold rather than lukewarm.  This reminds me of the parable of the two sons, called to work in dad's vineyard.  The son who said no was cold, then he said yes and went hot.  The other son said yes, but did not go to work.  He was pretending to be hot, but he was really cold; and I will call him lukewarm.

Have you ever said no to something and then, to your astonishment, you changed to yes and were so glad you did?  You might still say no to things and yes to many other things and that is normal and good.  God built us to have choice.  What this parable teaches us is that God can work with people who say no to him and he honors their no.

We had a famous author come to our church once, and at the end he had people stand to make a covenant to promise something to God and it was a good thing that I believe in.  But I chose not to stand and make the promise, because I wanted to be a promise keeper, not a promise maker.  I had to think about it and let Jesus disciple me in that area, so that I would have a rock there. 

Sky Links, 9-16

Then he told them a parable. “No one tears a patch from a new garment to patch an old garment. Otherwise, the new garment would be ruined, and the new patch wouldn’t match the old garment.
Nobody pours new wine into old wineskins. If they did, the new wine would burst the wineskins, the wine would spill, and the wineskins would be ruined. Instead, new wine must be put into new wineskins.
-Luke 5:36-8

Talking New and Acting Old

Molong Nacua posted this week, about how we love to teach about something we aren't doing, but sounds good in theory.  We talk new, while acting old.  Molong wrote:
I realize that Conferences and Seminars are formed hoping for participants to act on what they have learned and not to do the same of what they have just attended, yet that’s what exactly most of them did, do a seminar; teach ‘about’ house church. And shamelessly, we call ourselves ‘practitioners.’ Because instead of ‘doing’ it, we love ‘talking’ about it. “You cannot teach what you didn’t do” says my friend Wency dela Vina, a member of Asia Pacific leadership team of Navigators, “or else we would need to change the name to ‘House Church Theology Movement’ instead of ‘House Church Movement.’” Sadly, my own country’s movement has acted like that: practitioners of house church theology.
I sat down evaluating what I did regarding doing seminars and coordinating summits. It was a shock that it literally encourages me to stop doing what I have been doing. 

Making disciples, that’s what really matters. It is King Jesus’ commands to His loyal servants. I suffered some sort of ‘spiritual headache’ for a year. Imagine the passion to teach, to travel, to see leaders’ responses and violent reactions, add to that the joy of flying in the air as I hate taking a boat because of my shipwreck experience. And now what, lying down in my hammock and cannot even read a book? Jesus wants to kill me. He wants to disciple me.
What about church?   Molong shares:
In the early church, house churches started because of making disciples. They don’t proselyte people. The people who are interested in their way of life they gather and then they ask Jesus to disciple them, that is deny themselves and take up their own cross daily and so it is really a killing of their selfish desires and then bury them in baptism. That’s how they do it. In most house churches today, we simply extract them from their religious background and put a new identification card on them called ‘house church.’ Thus, we have a house church that’s full of mostly disgruntled Christians, have hatred with their pastors and leaders because they have been used and were hurt by the system. We have now a room full of people who are not dead and so loved to talk and talk and talk, and what’s their favorite subject to talk about? Two things: house church and traditional church. Actually, it’s house church ‘verses’ traditional church. They share their bad Christian experiences and so encourages everyone to share theirs as well. And here we go, the leader of the house church is not dead yet also, and so doesn’t really know how to handle such pity people.
When are you going to stop doing house church and start being one? Or if you have no plan to die again, for how long are you going to do house church week after week, month after month and year after year? 

Read the rest of Molong's thoughts here.




Justin Mulder's Story

Justin is a Christian from South Africa.  I condensed his post, for brevity (Readers Digest style) here.  Go over to his website for the rest of the story.

My life was pretty typical of the average young person who is passionate about following Jesus and who feels called into full-time ministry. I was born in South Africa but I was living in California, church planting a cell church, when my freedom story really started.

Well no sooner had I landed a call as worship pastor, my lawyer informed me that our visas weren’t going to be renewed/extended. This meant we had 2 months to pack and ship our lives back to South Africa. We were devastated.

We came home disillusioned and unemployed (2008), with no plans and no clue of what to do next. I got a part time job teaching computers at a christian school 2 days a week, but for almost 18 months we lived between my parents house and my in-laws. Also God just seemed silent. I didn’t hear from him for 2 years (January 2010), but the weekend he spoke absolutely floored me. I still have not heard him speak more clearly than he did that weekend. I felt like he sat me down and basically explained what he had been doing up to that point. But in true God style, he didn’t tell me what he was going to do in the future. He has a sense of humor like that.

The word he gave me was “traumatic”, he said that most people (including me) would never choose to
leave the old system, just because it is so painful and traumatic. He also told me to watch the movie The Matrix again as a parable of what he was talking about.

The funny thing is that I thought, “wow that’s right, this has been traumatic, and he’s right I wouldn’t have chosen this, but I am glad he has done it anyway. Sweet now I am free!” My celebrations were a little premature. He was only getting started with me.

As I said we had been heavily involved in a church plant but we knew that what was happening in our hearts was a very different vision to what the pastor had in mind. It was so difficult to leave that church but we just knew in our heart of hearts that if we didn’t God couldn’t do what he wanted to in us, and that we would try and impose our vision on the church plant and cause more damage there, so we pulled out. At this stage we were convinced that we were going to church plant because that was the only thing we knew to do to give expression to this new thing, but again we were wrong. The worst part is that we didn’t have language to accurately express ourselves, and that probably caused mis-communication too.

It was weird because once we left the church, it felt like that “child” was born, because everything changed again. Kinda like the difference between reading books about parenting and waking up all hours of the night to feed and clean your new baby, it’s just not the same. So I think we looked like idiots (and maybe we still do) because once we left, God said to us “whatever you do, don’t plant a church, because it one thing to take yourself out of religion, it’s another thing to take religion out of you.”

This began quite a process in which he cleared our table of all our preconceived religious versions of the cross, prayer, the Gospel, bible reading, church, community, leadership, grace, calling, ministry, parenting etc.

Jason's whole post is here.



Conscience & Bow Low, Drink Deep

The goal of instruction is love from a pure heart, a good conscience, and a sincere faith.

Everything is clean to those who are clean, but nothing is clean to those who are corrupt and without faith. Instead, their mind and conscience are corrupted.
-1 Timothy 1:5, Titus 1:15

Conscience; an inner feeling or voice viewed as acting as a guide to the rightness or wrongness of one's behavior.
"he had a guilty conscience about his desires"
synonyms: sense of right and wrong, moral sense, inner voice;
morals, standards, values, principles, ethics, beliefs;
compunction, scruples, qualms
"her conscience would not allow her to remain silent"

How is your conscience?  Your conscience is your inner compass that tells you when you've done wrong.  Our conscience can be dysfunctional when it is either condemning us all the time or turned off.
There are people who go back and forth from condemned (a bad conscience) to psychopathic (corrupted or seared) consciences.

Jesus gives us a good conscience.  He cleanses us from guilt and he gives us an alive inner compass, so that if we go off track, we are quick to repent and be cleansed again.  How do we get and maintain a good conscience?  Through being discipled by Jesus, through being disciplined by God.  If you are a son or daughter, you will be disciplined, taught.  If you receive no discipline in your life, it means you are not God's child.

"Bow low and drink deep"
-Advice from an older minister to a younger one.


"Bow low and drink deep", means to humble your self in the sight of the Lord.  When you get low, drink deep.  God does not just want us dead, but he wants to form Christ in us.  If you refuse to humble yourself, you have no other choice but to be humbled.

Getting Away From Your Enemies

Hide me in the protection of your wings, away from the wicked who are out to get me, away from my deadly enemies who are all around me!
-Psalm 17:8b-9

The first time I heard that I have enemies, I was surprised.  It was in a song that quoted Psalm 18:3.
I will call
Upon the Lord
Who is worthy to be praised
So shall I be saved
From my enemies
"Who were these enemies", I asked.  I was filled with God's love.  My life was one of thankfulness and worship.  Why would anyone be my enemy?  I didn't understand.  I was the type of person that didn't make enemies.  I wanted to be friendly to everyone and if someone was anything close to evil, I wanted to just give them a wide berth or look away.

Another way to look at it, is that when you are so overwhelmed with grace and thankfulness that your sins have been forgiven, you are not very judgmental of others and you believe God can save anyone and it is just a matter of time.  It is probably a good thing to not focus on evil, to not focus on the negative; and that is where I was at.

As time went on, I learned about the demonic.  I learned that the devil and demons have two favorite deceptions.  For one, they want us to think they are everywhere, in everything (behind every bush), and more powerful than they actually are.  Secondly, they like to be hidden and have us believe they don't exist.

When I first heard that song that mentions, "my enemies", I was embracing deception number two.  The truth lies between the two deceptions.  There is a devil and their is demonic activity in the world we live in, and they are our enemies.

So, here is the bad news.  If you are God's child, you have enemies, and they are out to get you.  Peter called the devil, the enemy, in 1 Peter 5:8.  All Christians have an enemy, because he is Christ's enemy.

When David prayed about his enemies in Psalm, 17 and 18, he was praying about people, most likely.  Are the enemies of the Christian demons or people?  The answer is yes.  The demonic are always your enemy.  People are sometimes your enemies.  Your brother or sister in Christ is never your enemy, even when they act like it.

What was David talking about when he asked God to, "hide me in the protection of your wings"?  Is there a place where we go invisible to our enemies or are safe?  Yes there is.  Francis Fragipane calls this the "place of immunity".
There is a place of immunity for the believer, a spiritual fortress in Christ that shelters us from the attacks of the devil. For those who abide in this stronghold of God, the onslaught of the wicked one does not touch them. Here, in this secret dwelling with the Almighty, we are hidden from the effects of the accuser's tongue; we are sheltered from the assignment of the destroyer.
We can choose to dwell close to God and find protection from our enemies.  Does it work with human and spiritual enemies?  Yes. 

God wants to protect us from the wicked who are out to get us and who are all around us.  We get away from them by drawing near to God.  If you fight, in your own strength, you will be hurt badly.  But if you draw near to God, you get to be away from the wicked, even while they are in arms reach.
____________________________________
The work of art, shown above is, "Under the Shadow of His Wings", by Gladiola Sotomayor.

Church Like A Soiree

He has brought me to the house of wine (banqueting house or hall);
his banner raised over me is love.
-Song of Solomon 2:4

Soiree:
"An evening party or gathering, typically in a private house, for conversation or music."

Celebrations, Parties, and Feasts

The Jewish culture is filled with celebrations that are like family reunions or mega block parties and there are ten of these every year, called the feasts.  Yes, God invented feasting.

If God instituted these feasts, it tells you something about what is good for God's people.  When we party, we have enjoyment before God and with people.  It is that simple.

A soiree is in the evening (soir means evening), is typically at a private house, and it is for conversation or music.  Why the party (soiree)?  For conversation.  Why the conversation?  So people get to know each other?  Why?  We need people.  We all need to belong.  No one is an island, even if they act like it.

The Kingdom of God, as one author put it, is a party.


By the way, if most of this seems like, "duh", common sense; I am writing this for myself and the minority of people who don't get it.   If you have recently become a Christian, you probably know the feeling of celebration.  I personally, was raised in a Christian family, but chose to go my own way after high school and was a rebel and a prodigal son.  Through God's amazing love, I was brought back to walking with Father, no-holds-barred.  Having gone away and come back, my life was a jaw-dropping celebration in God's love.  My life was a celebration and conversation.

Celebration Services

Why do Christians gather in the greater gatherings?  To celebrate!  Many folks might think we gather to be taught, or to take holy communion (The Lord's Supper, The Eucharist).  These are good things that are important.

But when you see Jesus, when you get saved, when you receive the love of God; what is the one thing you want to do more than anything else?  CELEBRATE!

Throw Parties

Think about it, in the parable of the two sons, sometimes called the parable of the prodigal son; when the prodigal son returned, what did his father do?  He threw a huge party!  He did not get out his scrolls and have a Bible study.  He did not gather everyone and give them a sermon.

Living Epistles Need To Testify

Do you understand that our lives are sermons, test-i-monies?  When did you last hear someone give their testimony.  Wasn't it wonderful?  We are living epistles.  We are witnesses who testify.  Members of the body, telling of the wonders of God in their lives; that is the authentic Church.  That is what is supposed to happen when the church gathers.  The body of Christ comes alive and all the parts take part.  That's church, that's ecclesia.

The church should have soiree's regularly.

Again, a soiree is an evening party or gathering, typically in a private house, for conversation or music.

Evening

Evening means it is the last activity of your day, before bedtime.  You are not pre-occupied with the next task after this gathering like lunch, shopping, or chores.  Evening also implies dressing up a bit: an evening gown, or evening attire.  These are not mandatory, but enjoyable.  There is something also different that is enjoyable about evening time.  Moonlight, candlelight, or festive lights outdoors.

Party

Party means celebration.  What are you celebrating?  As I said earlier, God created celebration and parties.  Like everything, the world has corrupted what is good.  Christ comes into our lives a renews us.  God's people should be the ones who really know how to party, how to laugh, how to love, and how to be hospitable.

Hospitality

Soiree's are gatherings that are typically in homes.  We Christians have gatherings, like teas, pot-lucks, harvest celebration parties, and picnics; in or around our church buildings; and that is good.  But soiree's are in homes, usually.

Why in homes and what difference does that make?  When we have people into our homes, we are showing hospitality.  Some people think that hospitality is a spiritual gift that only a select few Christians have, but that is not true.  All Christians are commanded to be hospitable (Romans 12:13, 1 Peter 4:9).  It is also interesting that being hospitable (opening your home) is placed before being able to teach, as a qualification for elders (1 Timothy 3:2).

Hospitality also involves food.  Eating is in the Bible, from cover to cover.  Food facilitates fellowship.

Conversation

Soiree's are for conversation.  We need to converse.  We each need to know each other and be known by each other.  God designed us like this.  The case could be made that the Christian life is done together.  We have many conversations where belonging is nurtured and growing occurs.  Learning occurs mainly in conversations.

Music

We gather or party to have conversation or for music.  Two things we do with music at a party or gathering are to listen to music and enjoy it, or we dance to music together and enjoy it.

Expression through Music

Music is a universal form of expression.  Christians, who are indwelt by God, are the most creative people on the planet.  Expression of worship, praise, lament, and poetic observation come through music.  Music at your soiree may be a small combo, a singer with one instrument, a harpist. a flute, or percussive instruments; just to name some examples.  People may read poetry also and display art.

Joy

How are you doing with joy?  How are you doing with expressing your joy through music and dance?  Did you know that you can worship the Lord through dancing?  If you wear a robe or a suit, you may have to take off that robe or that suit jacket, if you are a man.

Church like a Soiree

Take back the night.  Take back celebration, parties, and gatherings called Soiree's.  What if life in heaven was closer to a soiree, as I have described it, than your average church service?  Remember when Jesus said to pray, "on earth as it is in heaven"?  Did you know that they celebrate in heaven when one of us down here repents (Luke 15:7)?

What if the blueprint for how to do church is already written in the NT and it boils down to gathering together for conversation and music, with food, at someones house?  We have communion together.  We listen to one another's artistry in music and we might enter in to worship of the King, in a natural way, like breathing heaven's air.

A new believer may get baptized as well and publicly acknowledge their new found faith in Christ.  Do you believe in natural, home births?  I'm glad we have hospitals and doctors, for when it is the exceptional, difficult birth.  Some people make new-birth very difficult, when the actual hard part was accomplished by Jesus.

I already mentioned that we may worship together to simple melodies shared by musicians or poets at the soiree gathering.  In our conversations, needs for prayer may come up, and right there, we will pray for one another, in a natural way.

It's that simple.

Sky Links, 9-7

Photo: Spacebridge by longobord CC 2.0
When they finished eating, Jesus asked Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?”
Simon replied, “Yes, Lord, you know I love you.”
Jesus said to him, “Feed my lambs.”
-John 21:15

Do You Really Love Me?  
When Jesus Nagged Peter and Why

I read this great little article by Dave Black, entitled Sloppy Agape, in which he writes about when Jesus questioned Peter's love, to re-affirm him and heal him of his three denials.  Some Bible teachers make a fuss about John using two different words for love, but Dr. Black clears up the confusion.

Happy New Year, 5774

This week marks the Jewish New Year.  Melissa Flores did some work on what the number 5774 means and she says it means, "the year of the open door".  In case you were wondering, she wrote that 5773, this past year, was a year for the Lords to be revealed as our “Gracious Benevolent Redeemer.”

Chuck Pierce is calling this new year, See the Open Door to YOUR New Springs!


Slow Church

Have you noticed that relationships take time?  Authenticity, intimacy, growth, healing, transformation: these all take time.  To hear people takes time.  To know people takes time.  To become family takes time.  Building trust takes time.

God's plan, revealed in the Bible, is that the world would be transformed through the church, as a whole people.  We, as a people, are going to transform the world together.  That is God's plan.

To get there, we will have to slow down and recognize the body of Christ and be the people of God.  Chris Smith, has a book on Slow Church; and wrote this post on cultivating community.  Chris' church has been living out this for 20 years now.

The most essential practical, 'how-to' of building community in the church is conversation.  Life together happens and growth occurs in conversational dialogue.  Chris Smith actually has a whole e-book about this.  Discipleship happens in conversation.  Learning occurs in conversation.

When we have dialogue, we build trust, and when we build trust, we become family and belong to one another in Christ.  Authentic love grows and we can even confront, from a standing in love, if it comes to that.

The Lost Art of Making Disciples


Molong Nacua wrote a post entitled, Making Disciples Conversations.  Molong makes so many good points, and he writes as a person who is actually doing it.

Metronome: The Measure Regulator Spiritual Law

For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.

“Consider carefully what you hear,” he continued. “With the measure you use, it will be measured to you—and even more.

Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.”
-Matt. 7:2, Mark 4:24, Luke 6:38

Metronome: from Greek metron 'measure' + nomos 'law'


There is a spiritual metronome in your life that you set and it affects you.  If you are charitable, you will receive charitableness back.  If you tolerant, you will receive tolerance.  If you are a lover, you will receive love.  That is the spiritual law of the metronome.  You set the measure of how you are going to treat others and it comes back at you.

"For in the same way you judge others", says Jesus, clarifying his statement, "do not judge".  Jesus is saying not to condemn, not to be uncharitable.  Jesus is not saying that we are not to discern and evaluate right and wrong, and call out destructive, dangerous or injurious behavior.

In community, when we call out someone's sin, someone's destructive, selfish, injurious to others, or dangerous behavior; and that person says, "don't judge me"; they are wrong.  Jesus, or any good rabbi, would say, "yes, you have every right to call them out on wrong behavior, or lies, or cheating." That is not blocked by Jesus statement to not judge and is actually a loving thing, calling for the sinner to repent and trying to repair the ripped fabric of the community.

When Jesus says, "for in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you", he is saying, "be charitable", "be kind", "be generous", and "be tolerant".  Wrong is wrong, like when people hurt other people,  But, when people are just different, or bump you, or forget something; be gracious and charitable.

Christians are supposed to be known for their love for each other.  Love covers.  You choose how charitable you will be when other people step on toes or disappoint.  Will you measure out grace, be charitable, tolerant, and generous?  If so, that will come back to you, says Jesus.

There is a saying that, "if life gives you lemons, make lemonade".  You make lemonade by adding sugar.  The lover, the forgiver, the gracious one; adds the sugar of graciousness, charitableness, tolerance, and forgiveness to every small and large bump or offense from others and sweetens their life and the lives of those around them.

The harsh person gives lemons back, when given lemons; and what do they get?  A sour life.  Imagine a mirror that comes up in front of you each time a frustration from another person, a small or large offense, or a disappointment comes your way.  What you put out comes back to you.  It's that simple.

"What you get will be determined by what you give."

Jesus says, “With the measure you use, it will be measured to you—and even more."  You get to measure your generosity, your time with God, your commitment to God; and by that measure, you will get back.  Your giving results in your getting.  If you are not getting much, it is because you are not giving much.  It is that simple.  Change your measure and what you get will increase.  It is up to you.

If you want something you have to give it.  Need friends?  Be a friend.  Need money?  Give money.  Need love?  Give love.  It goes on and on.

The normal Christian life, that few of us walk in, is a life of overflowing generosity.  Another secret of the kingdom is that what you give, you get back more of than what you gave, so that your cup runs over.
Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.”
The rub is when we think we don't have something to give, whether is is time, money, love, prayer, or any kind of helps.  When we give, when it is a little bit uncomfortable, even sacrificial; and we give anyway, with joy from Jesus, something happens.  God does something.  Something comes back to us.  It is a principle of the kingdom of God.

The part about, "with joy from Jesus", means that when we feel scared, uncomfortable, even selfish; we can die to self, and live to Christ.  We can turn to Jesus in our hearts, doing a "what Jesus would do".  It is as simple as that.  Our flesh says, "I'm too tired", "I don't have extra money", or "I don't have time".  But if we give out of our poverty, there is a reward.  We do not just give to get, but we give to get to give to get, to give.  Get it?  It is the generous lifestyle

If you start living this way, the word will get out that you are the one to come to for prayer, money, counseling, friendship, and a host of other things.  The phone rings, people constantly might approach you.  What then?  You will be in Jesus' dilemma of needing rest and needing to get away.  You and Jesus will rest together and you will get away together, but persistent people will hunt for you, because you are so generous.  Jesus in you will give to then, and then you will get some more rest.

Great Expectancy

Now a long time passed—a total of twenty years—after the chest came to stay in Kiriath-jearim, and the whole house of Israel yearned for the Lord.
1 Samuel 7:2

What do you expect, from God?  Do you have high hopes and great expectations?  Children often have expectations for birthdays, Christimas, and even the first day of School.  After a good first date, a person may build expectations for a relationship with that other person.

I think we need to cultivate high expectancy towards God.  The two blind men that Jesus healed had expectancy:
Then Jesus touched their eyes and said, “It will happen for you just as you have believed.” -Matthew 9:29
Jesus often said, "your faith has healed you".   These people sought Jesus, asked for healing, Jesus healed them.  Before or after healing them, Jesus would make the comment, "your faith has healed you".
  • When Jesus turned and saw her, he said, “Be encouraged, daughter. Your faith has healed you.” And the woman was healed from that time on. -Matthew 9:22
  • He responded, “Daughter, your faith has healed you; go in peace, healed from your disease.” -Mark 5:34
  • Jesus said, “Go, your faith has healed you.” At once he was able to see, and he began to follow Jesus on the way. -Mark 10:52
  • Jesus said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you. Go in peace.” -Luke 7:52
  • Daughter, your faith has healed you,” Jesus said. “Go in peace.” -Luke 8:58
  • Jesus said to him, “Receive your sight! Your faith has healed you.” -Luke 18:42
Expectancy is faith.  What do you expect?  If you don't expect anything, you usually don't get anything.  James says that we don't have something when we are not asking for it.
You long for something you don’t have, so you commit murder. You are jealous for something you can’t get, so you struggle and fight. You don’t have because you don’t ask. -James 4:2
People want things so bad that they would kill for it.  We hope that James was talking figuratively, because he was writing to believers.  We, even believers, hate people, and have an ugly inner struggle to have what they have.  But, James says that, "you have not because you ask not". 

Ask God for what you want, what you need.  We don't have a sense of entitlement towards God, but we relate to God as the benevolent King, who has adopted us in Christ, to be his children.  He is the good King, the good Father.  He takes good care of his kids. 

What are your expectations towards God?  What have you been waiting for, for a long time?  Do you yearn for more of the Lord?

When Jesus passes by or comes near to you, will you be expectant, or bitter from the long time of disappointment?  Is your faith expectant?

God can do anything.  I have great expectations for what God will do.  If God delays, my expectancy only increases.  The longer the wait, the greater the blessing..

Contentment Through Walking With God


Many people say, “We can’t find goodness anywhere." Shine the light of your face on us, Lord!
- Psalm 4:6

The key to happiness is walking with God.  Knowing God ought to be the goal of everyone.  We live in a world of discontentment, but God's plan was always contentment, through relationship with him.

We want things, but we need God.  Only God satisfies.  God gives us good things and satisfies us with them, but the key is the giver, not the gift.  Our thanksgiving flows back to the giver of good gifts and that is part of the relationship to God.  Gifts are meaningful because of who gave them.

As we receive and enjoy God's gifts, our love flows back to God.  If God alone is the main Gift, knowing God, being loved by God, serving God, and worshiping God; then the other stuff is not as important and we can be very happy with our without it.

Small things are good because of God, because we are already in an ongoing relationship with God, where it is settled that God is good.  Small things are not good for the one who is not in an ongoing relationship with God.  In fact, all good things will not satisfy if one is not in relationship with God.

For the believer in adversity, or facing a dry time, negative thinking can creep in; and we might entertain the words of the most cynical people who don't even know God.  We might be tempted to join the chorus of unbelievers who say, "we can't find goodness anywhere!"

But we know better.  We know that God is good and good to us, no matter what we are facing.  If we can just have God's face turned towards us, we know we will be alright.  Asking God to shine the light of his face on us means that we are asking for God make us know that he is watching us.

Like a child doing something challenging, if we know our loving parent is watching, it makes a difference.  We know that God is able to see everything.  But we are asking God to make us know he is watching and change us, affect us, by his presence.

It's not enough to just know that God sees everything.  We who know God want him to shine upon us, to make us blessed and kept, and to give us peace.  This is the secret of contentment.  Practicing the presence of God.  We want more of God's presence, but the world says you need more of everything else.

What if the foundation of everything in life is being in the presence of God, having the light of God's face shined upon you?  You will be truly content and you might become a better person.