Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Cool Quotes - Robert Fitts (Defining Church - 2)

As part of my study of Felicity Dale's book, Getting Started (A Practical Guide to House Church Planting), the "Cool Quotes" that I am sharing this week all have to do with how we identify or define the church.

Here is the quote for today (actually, two separate quotes):

The Greek word for church, ekklesia, is composed of two words: “ek” meaning “out of,” and “kalleo,” meaning “I call.” The full and simple meaning of “church” according to the original word is, “I call out from.” When Jesus said, “I will build my church,” He was saying, “I will call My people out of the world, and they will assemble in My name, and the gates of Hell shall not prevail against them.” This implies that His called-out people will rally as an army to take the world for Him, and the enemy will not be able to stop the advance. This invincible army will be motivated by the love of God within their hearts and a message of God’s love and forgiveness on their lips.
Actually, ekklesia carries two concepts: being called out and being assembled
together. We cannot experience church until we come together.

When two or three true, born-again believers come together in His name, Jesus is in the midst. Jesus in the midst is church! It is a different experience than Jesus within. We cannot experience Jesus in the midst when we are alone. We can only experience Jesus in the midst when we are in company with others—at least one or two others.
But is it a church in the fullest sense of the word? Yes, it is a church in the fullest sense of the word. It is the basic church. You can have more than two or three and it is still a church, but it does not become “more church” because there are more than two or three. It only becomes a bigger church.

                                                   ~ Robert Fitts, Saturation Church Planting

Monday, March 30, 2015

Cool Quotes - Wayne Jacobsen (Defining Church - 1)

As part of my study of Felicity Dale's book, Getting Started (A Practical Guide to House Church Planting), the "Cool Quotes" that I am sharing this week all have to do with how we identify or define the church.

Here is the quote for today:

Where do you go to church? I have never liked this question, even when I was able to answer it with a specific organization. I know what it means culturally, but it is based on a false premise—that church is something you can go to as in a specific event, location or organized group. I think Jesus looks at the church quite differently. He didn’t talk about it as a place to go to, but a way of living in relationship to Him and others in His family. Asking me where I go to church is like asking me where I go to Jacobsen. How do I answer that? I am a Jacobsen and where I go Jacobsen is. “Church” is that kind of word. It doesn’t identify a location or an institution. It describes a people and how they relate to each other.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

What Must I Do for God? (part 2)

Let's get back to the original question: What must I do for God?
Now, I have claimed that a plausible answer to that question is, nothing but receive.

We've heard from Steve McVey and Devern Fromke in part 1.

How about walking further back in time.

Enter Watchman Nee, a Christian who made a huge impact on Communist China in the first half of the 20th century.

He said the following: 

"Grace means that God does something for me; law means that I do something for God. God has certain holy and righteous demands which He places upon me: that is law. Now if law means that God requires something of me for their fulfillment, then deliverance from law means that He no longer requires that from me, but Himself provides it. Law implies that God requires me to do something for Him; deliverance from law implies that He exempts me from doing it, and that in grace He does it Himself. I need do nothing for God: that is deliverance from law."

Hmm...there is that answer again. "I need do nothing for God." Nothing?!

How about one more perspective, that of Hannah Whitall Smith. For her input, we'll go even further back to the 19th century. I finally got around to reading one of her books, The Christian's Secret of a Happy Life.

She opens the first part of this book with these words: (highlights added)

In introducing this subject of the life and walk of faith, I desire, at the very outset, to
clear away one misunderstanding which very commonly arises in reference to the
teaching of it, and which effectually hinders a clear apprehension of such teaching. This
Hannah Whitall Smith
misunderstanding comes from the fact that the two sides of the subject are rarely kept in view at the same time. People see distinctly the way in which one side is presented, and, dwelling exclusively upon this, without even a thought of any other, it is no wonder that distorted views of the whole matter are the legitimate consequence.
Now there are two very decided and distinct sides to this subject, and, like all other subjects, it cannot be fully understood unless both of these sides are kept constantly in view. I refer, of course, to God’s side and man’s side; or, in other words, to God’s part in the work of sanctification, and man’s part. These are very distinct and even contrastive, but are not contradictory; though, to a cursory observer, they sometimes look so.   ...I would like to state as clearly as I can what I judge to be the two distinct sides in this matter; and to show how the looking at one without seeing the other, will be sure to create wrong impressions and views of the truth. To state it in brief, I would just say that man’s part is to trust and God’s part is to work; and it can be seen at a glance how contrastive these two parts are, and yet not necessarily contradictory.

Is that a hard pill to swallow? "Man's part is to trust and God's part is to work." 

So some Christians through the ages have taught that God does the work in our lives and we simply receive and trust in Him to do it. So what? That doesn't necessarily make it true?

What if I feel that the Bible paints a different picture? Couldn't these people be wrong, possibly even heretical?

Well, I think Smith is on to something by stating from the very beginning that both sides need to be recognized. Let's think of some Scriptural illustrations of how the two sides are presented and ask some rhetorical questions.

Could the clay do some of the molding at times rather than the Potter?

Are branches able to accomplish very much apart from the vine? (see John 15)

Is it possible for seeds to become great trees by working hard and putting forth "their share" of the effort, and not by simply receiving the water and sunlight and nutrients from the soil?  (see Mark 4)

The obvious answer to all of the above is NO WAY! I believe most people will honestly say they accept these truths. It is clear that God can do things that we cannot do, even when it comes to our own spiritual growth, and especially when it comes to meeting His own perfect standards. But it is not a matter of whether we say we believe it; the bigger issue is whether we live like we believe it. 

Rather than accepting these ideas as starting points and moving on from them too quickly, my encouragement would be to stay and rest in these truths. I know I am at a place where I need to seriously and patiently consider what all of this means in my life.

It is always the Potter who does the molding. Always! The clay simply yields.
Problems arise when I confuse myself as the Potter instead of the clay!

Branches separated from the vine or root can do nothing! When connected to the Vine or root, they simply produce what naturally flows from the Vine.
Trying to do things for God instead of letting Him live through me is just as silly as me walking down the street giving advice to tree branches on what they should do next to help their growth!

Seeds have everything inside them from the beginning to define what they will become. Gardeners don't have to wonder if the sunflower seeds they planted might somehow produce tomatoes, unless they have the wrong seeds in the first place. They just have to focus on preparing the soil. Nature will take care of the rest.

Our job, then, is to trust and receive as we abide in Christ.

Don't get me wrong. I still wrestle with how simplistic this all sounds. It even seems somewhat irresponsible. I wonder how to make sense of certain passages that appear to contradict these truths, and I know that it is just as easy to find Christians who preach messages that conflict with those of the believers I've quoted in these posts.

However, just because I may not comprehend it fully, I cannot dismiss it. I cannot ignore the reality of grace. Abundant, relentless grace! 

I cannot pretend that this exchange did not occur even though John 6 records it:

28 Then they asked him, “What must we do to do the works God requires?”
29 Jesus answered, “The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.”

The formula for faith, then, is that I work for God by believing that He works in me.
After all, this is the mystery of God, the hope of glory (Colossians 1:27).

Friday, March 27, 2015

What Must I Do for God? (part 1)

Question: What must I do for God?
Answer: Nothing!

How does that answer sit with you? 

All right, let me qualify it just a bit. More precisely, nothing except trust and receive Him.

Does that sound any better to you?

Probably not, if you are anything like I have been for years. You see that answer and wonder if it cheapens grace. You wonder where is the Christian responsibility. You wonder if such a "shallow" view of faith can be real. Of course, we have more to do than just receive from Him, you contend. Of course, we have to obey. We must serve. We ought to do good works. We should produce fruit.

You may even complain and question, Who are these "low-standard, anything goes" Christians who expect God to do all the work? What kind of relationship works when only one side does all the giving and the other side does nothing but receive? That doesn't sound very fair, does it?

Am I right? Are those some of the thoughts going through your mind?

I recently tweeted a bunch of insights from Steve McVey's book, Grace Walk (1995), which stirred the pot a little. I believe this sentence from page 129 captures the purpose and main point of the whole book: "If contemporary Christians spent as much time developing loving intimacy with Christ as they spend in defining proper Christian behavior, the world would be a different place."

Take a minute to review some of the other statements from Grace Walk:
  • "In the natural world, trying harder is commendable and often effective. But God's ways aren't our ways. Sometimes they seem to be opposite from ours. In the spiritual world, trying harder is detrimental."  (p. 17)
  • "We sometimes try to live for Him when He wants to live His life through us."  (p. 37)
  • "Resting in Christ is the sole responsibility of the Christian. Everything else flows out of that."  (p. 39)
  • "The Christian life is not about Christ. It IS Christ!"  (p. 71)
  • "Self-effort is the essence of legalism. It is pointless to pray for God to help you live for him. That may be your goal, but it isn't His."  (p. 89)
  • "God's life just naturally flows out of Christians who are abiding in Him."  (p. 106)
  • "God's will is not primarily a path, but a Person named Jesus Christ. As we abide in Him, it is impossible to miss the will of God."  (p. 145)

In the book, Steve McVey distinguished between a "changed" life and an "exchanged" life. It is one thing to believe that we have a life that God alters in some ways. It is quite another thing to wrestle with the Biblical teachings about dying to sin and self, and being "born again" to a new life guided by the Spirit. The clear message is that the Source of the new life is Jesus Christ. It is a different life. It is a divine life, though still expressed in a physical, imperfect body.

DeVern Fromke

This is a good time to introduce DeVern Fromke. He wrote a book 30 years prior to McVey's, called No Other Foundation. (I think the book is out of print, but you can find more info about Fromke and his other writings here.) I recently read this book and was struck by the following portion from a chapter entitled, "Why Does Humanity Exist?":

My concept of life had become distorted because I had been thinking, "There is love and faith and power and holiness in the Bible, and I'm sure God will kind of impart it to me somehow, so that I will become a loving person, a believing person, a powerful person." I could not see for the life of me but that I should become something.

This, then, was the first and greatest problem: a misunderstanding of what life is. I think we all start there. It is really a product of the fall: We interpret life as something that we live ourselves; so that even when we become born again of God's Spirit, and saved through the Grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, we still interpret life as something we are living right now. We have a job to do, a home to run, and so we seek to live a life in contact with God through Jesus Christ, so we can get assistance and guidance and leadership from Him.

I had to discover that this was not life at all, rather that life is a total reverse of it. Life is not an assistance or addition; it is a replacement. There is only one Person who really lives in the whole universe, and that is the living God Himself. He is the One who is the Three, who is self-giving love. He is the One who is the love of the universe. And we humans exist that we may be means by which He expresses Himself. Humanity itself exists to express Deity.

Hold on! It gets even better! He later adds:

So God created persons to express His own Person by them. The basic purpose of us human beings therefore should be to become the vessels that contain Him. That means our permanent habit has to become receptivity rather than activity.

...If you look at nature, you see that a tree does not produce one leaf by activity. Vegetation receives. It has sunlight and moisture poured on it. What it receives it uses, but activity is only a product of receptivity. Thus did I begin to learn the basic secret of life.

(To be continued...)

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Cool Quotes - Roger Thoman

Here is a great excerpt from Simple/House Church Revolution by Roger Thoman, a must-read for anyone considering simple expressions of church life:

In conferences and conversations all over the world about simple/house church, it seems that people usually want to learn first about “how to gather.” This is natural since we have thought about “church” as being mostly about events and gatherings. The problem is that though we can replace larger events and gatherings with smaller ones, our motivation may still be to hang out with our Christian friends and, again, seek to reach others by inviting them to join us.

By focusing first on the gathering, we miss the point that Jesus’ focus was first on the going way of life. If gatherings develop that support a dynamic, outward, supernatural lifestyle, then the gatherings will be powerful and relevant. However, if gatherings become a replacement for the true adventure of Jesus-following (which can easily happen), then we will again regress into a comfortable Christianity with little life in it.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Cool Quotes - Watchman Nee

This cool quote comes from Watchman Nee:

Grace means that God does something for me; law means that I do something for God. God has certain holy and righteous demands which He places upon me: that is law. Now if law means that God requires something of me for their fulfillment, then deliverance from law means that He no longer requires that from me, but Himself provides it. Law implies that God requires me to do something for Him; deliverance from law implies that He exempts me from doing it, and that in grace He does it Himself. I need do nothing for God: that is deliverance from law.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

"The Bible Says..." (Book Review: Scripture and the Authority of God)

I am almost done with N.T. Wright's book, Scripture and the Authority of God (HarperCollins, 2013). Some of it is a little "heady" for me, but necessarily so. I don't feel qualified to "review" the book, but I would like to share a couple of important take-aways, at the risk of oversimplifying a few points.

First, the entire lens of seeing the "authority of scripture" as shorthand for the "authority of God through scripture" is helpful. This position is one Wright uses throughout the book. To me, the Bible is not authoritative unto itself. It is what God and the church do with the Bible that demonstrates authority and divine inspiration. Without that authority, the scriptures become writings to be studied while missing out on true revelation.
N.T. Wright

Second, Wright reminds us that the glory in John 1 comes not from the idea that "the Word was written down," but the pronouncement that "the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us." It is important to keep in mind that the "Word of God" that brings salvation and changes lives is none other than Jesus Himself, who literally moved into our world. Again, going back to the first point, the Bible is a resource of words that the Word may use to transform people's hearts and minds only when the authority of God through His Holy Spirit is at work.

The Bible does not equal "God with us" unless we are receiving the revelation of Jesus Christ (aka. Immanuel). In fact, Bible study could indeed be one of the least spiritual acts in which some people participate, misleading us into thinking we are growing closer to God through head knowledge when we are actually distancing ourselves through self-reliance (see John 5:16-47).

I'm glad I stuck it out and will finish the whole book this morning. It was interesting to consider how believers have wrestled with approaches to Scripture throughout the centuries, which Wright summarizes succinctly. I also found the chapter devoted to a case study on the topic of the Sabbath eye-opening, especially as he compared its relationship to time with the Temple's relationship to space. Ultimately, we end up with Jesus fulfilling Sabbath rest, in my opinion, but Wright got to deeper concepts that I had not considered before. For those interested, below are more viewpoints about Sabbath and/or N.T. Wright's perspective. Note that I am merely sharing, not promoting or opposing, these:

Monday, March 9, 2015

The "Great Fact" in the "Big Book"

I know when I use the phrase "Big Book" many will think I mean the Bible. However, I was recently introduced to the "Big Book" used by many people in Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) by a friend of mine. I have to say that I wish I had read this book much sooner, but at the same time, I am not sure I would have been mature enough to let it work on me. 

My friend was right about it having some type of relevancy for anyone, regardless of whether they struggle with alcohol. (However, he also told me that it is a must read to truly understand the mind of an alcoholic.)

The spiritual insights in the Big Book are simple yet profound. Based on real stories, it points out that either "God is everything or God is nothing" and that when others ideas won't work, the "God idea" will. In particular, it strikes me how it is a "great fact" that God will bring about great events as we realize that we cannot bring them about ourselves in our own power.

My friend has moved away to another state. I am glad to have learned much from him in the short time I was around him. 

It is likely good for our hearts to occasionally thank God for the "great fact" of the "great events that have come to pass" as He uses others in our lives.