Reading through the scriptures today and preparing for the Christmas Eve service has me spinning on an idea that is a familiar stream woven throughout scripture, the idea of coming as you are. The gravity of the Jesus’ ministry, the incarnation of God coming to people is nothing short of breath taking. It’s one of those themes that we can quickly gloss over, as we run to the more exhilarating passages of scripture. It’s one of those themes that should shape our ministries and our communities as we live life.
The commands of Scripture, as we should read it, are almost always plural. Set to be done by God’s people. Jesus’ ministry in a sense should always be considered in a communal state. Jesus, the lamb of God, came down to the earth so that he would reconcile His people to Himself. The miracles that he performed brought great glory to His Father, opening the eyes and the ears of some of the people around Him. The interesting part of this is that the people did not do anything to warrant forgiveness nor did they do anything to clean themselves up. Jesus called them “as they were.” If we take this theme and apply it to our communities, I think that what we will find is that we require people to act a certain way for us to welcome them in. We might mask our expectations with calls to the alter or charitable giving, but ultimately within the Church we expect that people will act a certain way. This way is vastly different among churches, some churches require that you keep your hands down while worshiping and yet others look down on outward worship. Regardless of the expectation, we as a church frown on and ultimately miss opportunities to engage one another because of our presupposed expectations. The most evil and dangerous part of these expectations is that they evolve within a community. As communities grow and become bonded, they develop their own expectations. When the expectations of the community are not met within the community, there is hostility and often shunning, until the expectations are met. This is not a hard and fast rule, just a simple observation.
I was having a conversation with a friend of mine recently and I made a statement similar to the one that I just wrote, and it made him angry. Angry at me and he was rightfully so. I joined in on the communal expectation, ultimately ostracizing my own because they failed to meet the standard that I had set for them. Of course, realizing my error, I apologized and repented for failing to see the error in my ways. The conversation didn’t end there. We talked and I pondered about what the implementations of my blindness has for the communities that I’m involved in. How had my worship slipped back into self righteousness? The question is answered in the beginning of this writing, it’s an indicative/imperative assessment.
I failed, and we fail because we do not allow people to come to us as they are. We suppose that they will act a certain way, react a certain way or at least pretend to act a certain way. This creates communities that are not built on trust, but rather behavior. It’s simply going back to behavior modification on a communal level. It’s an issue that stems from original sin, we want to be God, and in doing so we throw burdens on people that aren’t theirs to carry. We want the clean, and yet we are called into the dirty.
My prayer is that our hearts will be broken for the broken. As broken people we will realize our faults and repent of our sinful ways. That we will yearn to be in the front lines of ministry, open about our brokenness and always on guard for the sin that is crouching at the door. That we will be people that look more like Jesus and less like the religious leaders. That God will move people into our paths, to challenge the norm and to force us to see the log that is in our own eye. Let us not be a people that misses the point, that gathers around expectation and in doing so, fails to point people to the one that never failed. His name is Jesus.
Walking through some teaching last night with a few of people made me realize that there is a disconnect, a misguided nature to the way that we teach Biblical truths to the people that God has placed in our paths. This disconnect isn’t inherently wrong, nor does it present itself as a heart issue per se, but it opens up conversation and teaching at a much deeper level. The issue is not with the curriculum that we are teaching but how we apply the teaching and the response to the truths that we are hearing.
Let’s flesh this out a bit. Last night we are working through the advanced year for Porterbrook. If you aren’t engaged in Porterbrook, find a learning site and go. We are talking about the Cross and the theological beauty of the scandal. The depth of the teaching is unreal. The implications are mind boggling and irrational, counter intuitive to the progressive society that we live in. As a group we can clearly define what grace is, and the happenings of the cross and this is where we find the disconnect. With all the teachings that we went over, we as a group struggled to be able to reteach or reframe all the teaching in language that mattered in our culture. We essentially have been taking great theological teaching and letting it die on our own domes (that’s brains in an urban culture).
Questions like; “How can you translate this for the people in your culture?” and “Can you explain this to me if I’m struggling with the nature of the cross?” turned out to be very pressing. Our group, had a difficult time breaking down the knowledge of the Gospel and turning it inside out. If we are going to fulfill the Great Commission we are going to have to turn the teaching inside out.
I love the phrase “turning the teaching inside out,” because it conveys the nature of the Gospel in a way that people can understand. As we peer into the Word, the Gospel infects our hearts, it changes us. We learn the deep truths, as we engage not only the Word but teachings from the word. It goes inside us. To develop disciples that internal engagement has to reflect and turn outward. It’s the nature of the Gospel. So our teaching has engage that reflection, it has to engage the mind and the heart. Our focus cannot be simply on learning, but on the teaching aspect as well. It’s in the nature of a disciple to teach, and reproduce.
Here are a few things to ponder before your teaching, regardless of the medium.
- As a teacher, are you using theoretical language? Is your language conducive for reteaching? Are you pressing out how to teach the information? Are you using real world examples or are you relying on Christian language to reinforce your points?
- Do your people really understand the material or are they just there? How can you format the teaching time to best engage your people? Is it time to step back and make sure that everyone is on the same page?
- How is the Gospel speaking into the hearts of your people? You can turn the knowledge inside out, if it’s not really getting to the inside. Where are your people at in their daily devotions?
- What’s going on in the lives of the people you’re shepherding? How can you leverage daily living as teaching moments? How is the Gospel speaking into their current situations?
- Are you teaching our of your personal experience with the Gospel and whatever curriculum that you are working out of? Do you have stories and life events where the teaching as greatly effected you?
These are just a few of the questions that we should be asking ourselves as we are preparing to teach. The glory of the Gospel is that we can’t add anything to it, to make it work. We can however teach it in ways that press our people deeper in to mission, deeper into community and just plain deeper in.
How are you getting the Gospel to your streets?
I have to admit that last week was rough and this week seemly is rougher, but something is different. Something is different, because I’m different. Last week I was bent on taking on the world. I was going to do something about everything. It was me against the world, and I was going to walk out all the world problems in a fit of rage.
This week someone said something to me, a comment that changed my prospective across the board. It’s not like it’s the first time that this particular person has said something like this to me, in fact I’m pretty sure that it’s the rock that smacked my soul around during sermon prep.
God is God and He loves His people, regardless of what side they are on currently.
In the midst of war zones in Iraq, St. Louis and Israel, (just to name the headlines) God loves His people and my job is simply to pray and witness the Good News of the Gospel. The change that is so invigorating in my life, so undeniably real, that I cannot help but tell someone about it. And that leaves me humbled in complete submission to the Creator.
Who am I and where did I go? That seems to be the question lingering in the air, the question that ultimately falls back into what is my identity in. Does Christ define me or have I attempted to hijack my identity again? It all boils down to who I rest under, is it Adam or is it Christ. If it is Christ, I walk out my prayer in humble submission to the one that paid it all. I begin to see people differently, and my thoughts and actions are transformed through my interactions with the living God. If I rest in Adam, my thoughts and my actions reflect the broken nature of my flesh.
Let us not forget our identities as we walk out our faith, minute by minute, day by day.
Lets just put this on the table, clearly displayed. I have a unique understanding of intellectualism and Christianity. To date, I strive to understand and maintain an open mind towards secular studies of science, psychology and sociology. I love reading, understanding what drives social interests and where society is ‘at.’ I’ve played the part of the ‘intellectual’ debating sciences, religion and of course sports. I can hear the reader now, “That’s great Adam, but why do we care?” It’s not about me, that just a baseline card to start on before laying out the rest of the article.
I’ve been on a Facebook sabbatical, because at this point Facebook has become more of prayer request board than any sort of communication device, at least from my people. We use it to promote lots things but in reality my peeps from years past just keep my prayer list full. They don’t know it, I read the things that they write, the pics they post and the events they go to and I know what is going on. I used to live that life. I know where they are and it burns inside of me. I know the emptiness that they feel and I understand that need to fill the emptiness with some sort of intellectual bolstering. I want desperately for everyone to see the real Jesus. Not the pastors and the churches that get all sorts of media attention.
Some people might or have called me a bit of an extremest about doctrine and theology. I already admitted that I love reading and learning and I have some set beliefs on doctrine, but that doesn’t mean that they can’t change. That doesn’t mean that I’m not open to understanding why people are drawn to certain churches or pastors. Here is where I start having an issue. The media, specifically the liberal media loves to point out churches that have some ‘wack’ thought processes or massive issues deeply in them. Generally, the mega churches and of course the Catholics. After they post an article or run a story about “the church believes,” the outpour of prayer requests starts coming in. Hundreds of people start commenting falsities about Christianity and seemingly are fine rolling around with false conclusions about God and the church.
I blame the ego of men in the Church
That’s right. I don’t blame Marx, Nietzsche, Freud, Wordsworth, or Darwin (who was a theist). They played a prominent part in the downfall of the Christian influence and opened up doors for communication that the Church couldn’t handle. They provided a solid foundation for intellectualism and Pantheism. The response of the church? Well let’s see what we have running around in the very loosely based Christianity umbrella. Mega church pastors that are rolling around in 14 million dollar houses, claiming anything but Jesus. Anyone who is actively proclaiming the Word of Faith movement is actively participating in pantheism. It’s not just the word of faith movement, the Catholics are continuing a tradition of hiding sin within the confines of the Vatican and allowing priests to continue to minister the word of God after having sexual relations with children. It’s sad, and it’s damaging to the very fabric of the testimony of the church. If you think that’s harsh and it hurts to read, I hope that you understand it comes out of a love for Jesus and his bride. In our extended church family we had to deal with infidelity within the staff of the church. Leaders, sinning and they are going to continue until they are dead, they are blinded by their own personal idolotry.
Men are going to continue to sin. Sanctification should be happening and the leaders of the church have to address sin.
23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Rom 3:23 ESV)
Does that make the church irrelevant in today’s society? In some sense it actually makes the church more relevant, because the church can teach what Christianity is all about. Grace. Far too long, the church has made laws and constitutions to hold their congregations back from the moral underlying of society. The church can call on grace, call on Jesus to help repair those whom are broken with the understanding that all have sinned, not just the outsiders of the building. This is not to say that we as Christians shouldn’t strive towards Jesus, never taking out eyes off of the cross, but it’s relieving to know that you don’t have to be perfect. That the church can release itself from some of the dogmatic rulesets that have been self imposed. We as Christians should engage the world as Christians, as humans that have sinned, will sin and want deeply for the Holy Spirit to continue to press out our natural state.
This kills much of the sounding board for pseudo intellectualism and secular reasoning. The church shouldn’t feel the need to combat science with theology. Science has continued and will continue to edify the great word of God. We don’t have to create a societal divide based on what we know as truth and the process that continues to prove the truth. Jesus called us to arms, commissioned us to speak boldly all that we have been taught. Our mission shouldn’t be to win the intellectual skirmish, but the war for souls.
The Great Commission
16 Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. 17 And when they saw him they worshiped him, but some doubted. 18 And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in[a] the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:16-20 ESV)
So how do you win the war on ideology, intellectualism and pantheism?
I believe and will continue to attempt to walk out how to walk out some extremely hard truths for people to believe. Charles Darwin once said,
“I am not apt to follow blindly the lead of other men”
Why would we expect the cultures that we are in to blindly follow anyones lead? Jesus called us to teach His truth, to speak about His life, death and resurrection. Imagine if the presentation of the Gospel would have been something that Charles himself had been taught. Imagine if we put our ego’s down, pride being much of the root of sin, and walked out what Jesus called us to walk out. Christianity as a moralistic ruleset is dead. It started out as dead and is dead. Christianity as a lifestyle, Jesus as a savior and an understanding that moral codes and laws bring death. I’m with Mark Driscoll on this.