give up what is lesser; receive what is greater

I’ve started a pretty intense and consuming project. It’s exciting but has distracted my attention for the moment from the series I started (and will **fingers crossed** continue soon) here on Organic Church Life.

In the meantime, I’m in the gorgeous downtown library here in Nashville. It’s a favorite spot of mine and I’ll likely be here a lot these next few months.

2013-08-23 14.24.49

I was digging into some things today and read a quote that I found to be challenging and beautiful. I decided it was worth a quick share…

“The Lord, Yahweh, is not portrayed as a God that Abraham already worshiped. When he appears to Abram he does not give him a doctrinal statement or require rituals or issue demands; he makes an offer. Yahweh does not tell Abraham that he is the only God there is, and he does not ask him to stop worshiping whatever gods his family was worshiping. He does not tell him to get rid of his idols nor does he proclaim a coming Messiah or salvation. Instead, he says that he has something to give to Abraham if Abraham is willing to give up some things first.”

Walton, John H. 2000. The IVP Bible Background Commentary: Old Testament (p. 46) Inter Varsity Press.

The Lord chose Abraham, not because he’d been living a holy life devoted to the Most High God. He was an idol worshiper (see Joshua 24:2, 14).  But the Lord saw beyond the limits of time and space. He knew who Abraham (who was Abram at the time) was in Him. He knew who he’d be and what he’d walk into. He didn’t demand it all at once. He didn’t tell him much about himself. He knew Abraham would experience who Yahweh is, over time. In effect, He simply said, “I have great things for you, if you will walk away from the lesser things. Come. I’ll show you.”

This is what the Lord says to us today. He doesn’t hand us a list of does and don’ts, hammer us with statements of doctrine, or demand religious sacrifices or rituals. He simply asks that we give up what is lesser (our lives) to receive what is greater (His life).

Abraham’s story is a shadow of our reality, and it’s glorious.

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Q & A #3a // Organic Church Life

It’s been a busy few weeks here, but I’m finally back to begin my response to the next question about organic church life.

Today’s question:

Q: How does leadership work?

My response will come in 3 posts, starting with a discussion on finding the mind of Christ.

Until coming into organic church life, that’s really not a phrase I ever said or often heard. If I did hear it, I really didn’t understand it. Yet, it’s all over the Scriptures and it’s at the core of spiritual leadership.

I Corinthians 12 is a beautiful portrait of the Bride of Christ, the Body, the Church. “For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit” (v. 13). It is a diverse body. Full of a variety of perspectives and gifts. He’s given us many parts, yet one body (v. 20). In each of the members of the body, He’s deposited Himself. His spirit has mingled and mixed with ours, and He’s made us One Life. There is no division (v. 25). What is for one is for all, and just as our physical eye cannot function in the world without the rest of our physical body, so can no member of His Body function apart from others.

“Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God. And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual. […] For who has understood the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him? But we have the mind of Christ (1 Corinthians 2:12-13;16).”

I’ve read these verses SO many times in my life. I missed something though. I read it with my individualistic westernized/American perspective. When I read the word “we” I read “me and you.” That may sound like the same thing, but it’s really not. “We” is “US together” and “together WE.” Together, we – the ekklesia, the local assembly of the Body of Christ – find the mind of Christ. The many members each bring a piece of His mind, and together we find the fullness of the mind of Christ.

“So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind.  Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped,but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” (Philippians 2:1-8)

This is how it happens. We complete his joy by being of the same mind, Christ’s mind. We are a new creation, the Bride. We share One Life, that is Christ’s Life. We have the same Love, who is Christ. Through Love, we come together in full accord and with Christ’s mind… a mind that is bigger than any individual can find on their own. We come together with humility, listening to each other, and counting others as more significant than ourselves, and seeking the interest of the Whole – the One Life. This One Mind is OURS (not mine and yours – OURS – us together) and we find it as we empty ourselves at the cross, becoming a servant. We find it as we daily choose to die to ourselves and take up the cross of Christ (Luke 9:23-24). We find it as we lose our individual lives, to gain His life as the Body of Christ – His expression on the earth today, many members united under One Head.

In organic church life, we’ve discovered the beauty and the essentiality of recognizing the piece of His Mind contained in each of our brothers and sisters. We seek after it in each other like treasure. We together explore and discover where the Head, Christ, is taking us as One Body. We are united in the same mind and the same judgment, which is His.

“I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment.” (1 Corinthians 1:10)

And so, we seek to agree, to come together in unity not in the flesh, but in the Spirit.

Leadership is realized in a lot of practical and beautiful ways as we share His Life, with this as the constant underlying source.

Next week, I’ll share some examples of the practical and beautiful ways we’ve seen this happen. The following week, I’ll look at some church history on the subject of leadership.

In case you missed them here are links to the previous posts in this series:
How would you define the organic church that you’re a part of? [Click here if you missed it]”
“What are the goals, purposes, strengths, and weaknesses of organic church life/Body Life? [Click here if you missed it!]”

Q & A #2 // Organic Church Life

Last week, I responded to the question, “How would you define the organic church that you’re a part of? This week…

Q: What are the goals, purposes, strengths, and weaknesses of organic church life/Body Life? {I’ll use those terms interchangeably.}

A: My initial response to this question is a very short and simple answer.

The goal is Christ.
The purpose is Christ.
The strength is Christ.
The weaknesses are our flesh.

That is the most honest answer I can come up with, and yet I know it’s too simple to be any sort of explanation, so I’ll try to expound on a few areas where I see this played out.

1. Christ is the head of the body, the church. I’m not sure when I learned that truth, but it’s certainly one I’ve been familiar with for a long time. I think we (believers) all would be quick to affirm it. It certainly is clear in Scripture:

“And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.” – Ephesians 1:22-23

Christ is the authority and the source. He is over all things. He fills all in all. We, the church, are His fullness expressed on the earth today.

I guess that in the past this has been something I clung to as a theological truth, and now, much more than ever before, it’s an experiential reality.  He moves us. He directs us. He connects us. He unites us.

That’s one of the things I view as a strength (and purpose and goal).

I’d love to somehow put this experience on the page for you to absorb, but my writing skills don’t go that far. As I said in my last post, you really have to experience it to know it. I’m not saying that you’ve not experienced it. I really don’t know. I’m just sure that in my church experience, Christ as head has never been this real and tangible to me. And I have to tell you, it’s breathtaking.

2. We, brothers and sisters in Christ, are new creations. The old you and I have passed away, and the new (Christ in us) has come (2 Corinthians 5:17). Again, I’ve known and experienced this in my life but the experience of this reality has exponentially increased within Body Life.

We are dead in our trespasses and sins. Dead! We have all been made alive in Christ, raised up in Christ, seated in heavenly places with Christ (Ephesians 2:1-13). This is a spiritual reality. Who we are in the spirit IS who we are.

We lose our own life, to gain His. Being intimately joined with brothers and sisters in community life, you absolutely MUST continually lose your own life. It doesn’t work when we hold on to our individual selves. We are One.

I’ve never seen that play out more beautifully than I have in organic church life. My brothers and sisters in this body continually affirm and call out each other’s identity in Christ, our new creations. Thus, when someone has forgotten who they are, when one or some of us are clinging to some parts of our individual lives, our true life in Christ is revealed to us through the Body. I treasure that immensely and desire it for all my brothers and sisters, near and far.

3. Along those lines is where weakness comes in. We all still have flesh and our flesh is not at all pretty. Living intimately in community, joined together in Christ, we get to see each other’s flesh rearing its ugly head – up close and personal.

We’re a diverse group of people with a variety of backgrounds. When it comes to things other than Christ, we have very different outlooks. And yet, we’ve chosen to walk together through all the thick and thin of life.

Sometimes flesh offends flesh.

We have to get over that.

It is not always fun and sometimes it’s downright painful.

There have been and will be seasons in which we do that well. There have been and will be seasons that we do that poorly.

But I believe this is a primary example of our weakness being His strength. We must depend on Him. We must bring our selves and our agendas to the cross.

4. In organic church life, every member functions. This is a beautiful reality that I’d also consider a significant strength. I’m going to leave it to discuss more extensively in answering the next question: “How does leadership work?” {I’ll likely end up doing multiple posts on that.} Stay tuned.

In the meantime, I’d love to hear from you. How would you describe your own churches goals, purposes, strengths, and weaknesses?  

“Did you go to church on Sunday?”

I’ve had a lot of conversations recently about a particular question that many Christians frequently ask or are asked, so I thought I’d bring the conversation here.

Have you ever asked or been asked: “Did you go to church on Sunday?”

It seems to me that we sometimes get in a habit of making this question a sort of thermometer by which to take each other’s spiritual temperature. If the answer is “yes, I did go…” we move on satisfied by a “healthy” response. If the answer is “No. I didn’t go.” We become concerned.

I have done this a lot over the years but I’ve come to think that it’s a pretty bogus spiritual thermometer. And while I do still ask the question every now and then, because I know people “go to church” on Sundays and it’s a conversation that can be legitimate, I come at it now from a different perspective. It’s almost a “How’s the weather there?” or a “What did you do this weekend?” sort of question. It tells me nothing about a person’s spiritual condition.

Here are a few quick reasons why:

1. The church is a people, not a building or a time of meeting. Assembling together is certainly important and valuable, but it doesn’t only happen on Sunday mornings or in church buildings so I don’t really think it’s a fair question.

2. There are a lot of people sitting in church buildings on Sundays who are there so they can say, “Yes, I went to church.” but they are really disconnected from the Body and from intimacy with the Lord. There are others who, for one reason or another, may not be there but are very connected with the Body and with the Lord.

3. Sometimes the Lord takes us through seasons of wilderness in order to accomplish His purposes in our lives. And, I know this is uncomfortable but, sometimes that might mean a season of “skipping church.”

I’m not saying we should not inquire about and be a part of our brothers and sisters spiritual lives. {I think that we should!} I’m just saying that I think there are better questions to ask and that understanding each other’s spiritual health is a whole lot more complicated than knowing whether or not we’re “going to church.”

What are some questions we could ask that dig deeper?

Q & A #1 // Organic Church Life

As mentioned in my last post, I’ll be responding to some questions about organic church life here over the weeks to come. I hope you enjoy the conversation.

Q: How would you define the organic church that you’re a part of?

A: I’ve been writing and erasing answers to this question for a while now. The truth is, I can’t “define” it. That might make some people uncomfortable, but I now find it immeasurably beautiful and full of truth and LIFE.

I can’t define it because… Well, how would you define yourself? Think about it. Really, think about it. What makes you different from every other person on the earth? What makes you the same?

It’s hard, right? The best I could do is come up with a description but every description falls very short of defining me. To understand who and what I am, you’d really just need to experience me and then keep experiencing me.

The same is true here. So, I’ll tell you some things that describe who we are as a Body (and realize that it falls very short of defining us)…

{In no particular order…}

  • We are a local expression of the Body of Christ – a living, breathing, moving, and always changing being.

  • We are a diverse group of people united under the headship of Christ. We are not united under a set of doctrines, practices, or leaders.

  • We choose to individually lay down our opinions and wills and to discover together the mind of Christ.

  • We are learning together to live by Christ’s life and to express Him in everything we do, individually and corporately.

  • We have no clergy/laity divide. Every member of the body functions and participates in our meetings. Leadership always exists but it is not hierarchical. It comes from every member of the body at different times in a very fluid manner. Pastoring and teaching are functions in the body, rather than offices.

  • We don’t and won’t have a “church building.” We have met in different places (clubhouses, a gym, in homes) in different seasons.

  • We live in community with one another on a daily basis and we gather for planned corporate meetings weekly.

There are some really great books out there about organic expressions of church (ekklesia) written by people who have been experiencing it for a lot longer than I have/or who experienced it at different points in history. I can recommend some to you if you’re interested. For now, I’ll leave you with a few quotes from the first book I read on the subject.

Institutional churches are a lot like trains. They are going in a certain direction, and they will continue in that direction for a good long time even if all hands try to make them stop. As with trains, the options for turning the direction of institutional churches are limited at best. If a switch or siding is available, the train could turn. Otherwise, it just follows its tracks. So everyone aboard had best hope that he is on the right train headed in the right direction.

Organic churches, like those in the New Testament, are different. They are not trains, but groups of people out for a walk. These groups move much more slowly than trains-only several miles per hour at the fastest. But they can turn at a moment’s notice. More importantly, they can be genuinely attentive to their world, to their Lord, and to each other.

– Frank Viola. Reimagining Church: Pursuing the Dream of Organic Christianity (p. 19). Kindle Edition.

The church we read about in the New Testament was “organic.” By that I mean it was born from and sustained by spiritual life instead of constructed by human institutions, controlled by human hierarchy, shaped by lifeless rituals, and held together by religious programs.

– Frank Viola. Reimagining Church: Pursuing the Dream of Organic Christianity (p. 32). Kindle Edition.

Stated simply, the first-century church knew no sustaining influence other than the life of the Holy Spirit. It didn’t rely on a clergy-led, man-programmed, humanly planned, institutionally fueled system to preserve its momentum.

– Frank Viola. Reimagining Church: Pursuing the Dream of Organic Christianity (p. 63). Kindle Edition.

Next time, I’ll answer the 2nd part of the question: “What are the goals, purposes, strengths, and weaknesses?” 

I want Jesus, not a religion that is ABOUT Jesus.

I haven’t forgotten that I promised to address the word RELIGION and my feelings and thoughts towards it. The problem is, I see it as a very layered issue. There are so many directions to take, and doing so thoroughly and effectively sounds like a really big job that takes more brain power than I currently want to put in that direction.

So, TODAY I am going to talk about the layers I’m thinking about TODAY. Maybe more will come later. Maybe. Probably.

When you hear the word religion, what do YOU think of?

I know some people who work with college students at SDSU and they recently walked around campus and asked students this question. The responses are rather interesting.

What do you think of when you hear the word “religion”?

The answers are either really blurry, really boxed in to “systems,” or really just pretty negative.

I recently listened to Erwin McManus speaking about the topic of religion. He admitted that he’s really not a big fan. He stated, “When I look historically, I see religion as overwhelmingly a human structure dominantly used to manipulate people based on guilt and shame.” I pretty much agree with that statement.

Religion scares me. It so often and so easily gets out of control and away from God’s heart – having the “appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism” (Col 2:23) but in the end leading to, well, no good – no Jesus, or a lesser Jesus than is true.

I think that humanity, in our fallen state, has a desire to take the easy way. A system of religion is easier to handle, to wrap our minds around as we follow a check list, than to genuinely follow Jesus and grow into Him.

If religion is simply a devotion to a belief in The Way, The Truth, and The Life (John 14:6) … sure, I’m SO there. If it is “to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world” then I’m absolutely down with that (James 1:27). But that’s rarely what anyone REALLY has in mind when they say/hear/think about “religion.”

I want Jesus, not a religion that is ABOUT Jesus. Does that make sense?

FYI I’m also not a fan of the words Christian, Christianity, or Missionary – words that most people would probably say define my life. Smile Finicky? Yes, I suppose.

a little “Toz” | quoteness

I love A.W. Tozer. I’ve mentioned that before. Today, I just want to throw a little “Toz” at you. Again. It’s been a while.

If Christianity is to receive a rejuvenation it must be by other means than any now being used. If the church in the second half of [the twentieth] century is to recover from the injuries she suffered in the first half, there must appear a new type of preacher. The proper, ruler-of-the-synagogue type will never do. Neither will the priestly type of man who carries out his duties, takes his pay and asks no questions, nor the smooth-talking pastoral type who knows how to make the Christian religion acceptable to everyone. All these have been tried and found wanting. Another kind of religious leader must arise among us. He must be of the old prophet type, a man who has seen visions of God and has heard a voice from the Throne. When he comes (and I pray God there will not be one but many) he will stand in flat contradiction to everything our smirking, smooth civilization holds dear. He will contradict, denounce and protest in the name of God and will earn the hatred and opposition of a large segment of Christendom. -A. W. TOZER

Does anyone else find this amazingly challenging? And equally inspiring?