He’s In The Room…

When I became a dad, my perception of who God the Father is changed pretty drastically.  Now, every night I tuck in my girls and we go through a big routine.  Maybe I have a soft spot based on my fear of the dark growing up that I talked about in my last post.  Maybe, I am just a softy as my wife likes to call me.

There are two truths to these times and I will start with the simpler truth.  Often, part of this routine if for me as much as it is for my little girl.  Every night after I put her in bed, she will say “daddy, sit” and point to the bed.  And I usually sit there for about 5 – 10 minutes.  It is for me, I enjoy the stillness.  I enjoy the quiet and I enjoy the moment of peace where ideas and thoughts come to me.  This simple post included.  That is for me.  It is often the only 10 – 20 minutes, I actually feel disconnected from technology and away from the noise that is daily life.  That is a time for me.

And then there is the part that is for her, and it made me think of the Lord, our Father.  It is simply this.  He’s in the room.  You see, as I sit there listening to my daughter breathe and toss and turn, I do not always respond to her.  Sometimes, the darkness in the room hides her ability to see me and she will start to cry.  I often remain silent.  I do not rush in and calm her, nor do I speak.  I simply sit and listen.  It hurts.  It is hard not to solve her problem of fear and re-asssure her that “daddy’s there”, and this is how my perspective on God has changed.

Just like she wants to cry out for me, I often cry out for Him.  I often question why I am scared in the darkness.  We all do don’t we?  I cry out for him and doubt He is there, but He is in the room.  He is always THE Father and He is helping us to grow.  He is in the room.  He hears the cries, and while it may be naive, I like to believe that on some small scale it hurts when He cannot simply rush in and calm the fears, but we must grow.

The nights I let my little girl cry for me are hard, but she must learn that even in the darkness, I will be there in the morning.  She must learn that we have to go through scary moments in order to grow.  That while it is scary and hard…your father will never give you more than you can handle.  And we know that this is true.  As a parent, you learn to become in tune with your children and you learn their cries.  You learn the ones that are scarier than I simply need comfort.  You learn the ones that are pleas for help…and so you intervene.

As I have been a father my faith has deepened and been stretched because, there are lessons that you cannot learn until you are a parent.  There are passages in scripture that take on a whole new meaning when viewed through the eyes of a parent.  As a dad, I see my heavenly father differently and while it may be selfish, He becomes more human to me.  I sympathize as He hears His son cry out on the cross in the darkness.

I see him sitting in the corner hoping that His son will remember that He is in the room.

And we all have this same blessing and gift.  We are all welcome to scream and fuss and cry out for the father, but we must also remember that even in the silence…He is in the room!

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Naked Spirituality by Brian McLaren Book Review

I recently completed the book Naked Spirituality by Brian McLaren for the Viral Bloggers web site.  I feel that it is best to admit that I generally do not consider myself as being in the emergent camp, but I do like to follow the conversation that they are involved in.  I am a believer in Organic Christianity and that is sometimes in contras,t in my opinion, to what I find in organized religion.  With that being said though, I do love all my brothers and sisters in the Lord despite our differing views and opinions on how one worships the Lord.

This book was a challenging read for me, as I am a huge fan of the premise.  There is a need in our current culture to strip back everything that has been piled on top of Christ into this entity that we call religion.  It is for this reason that I selected The Naked Gospel previously from the Viral Bloggers to read.  This review is not a compare and contrast though but rather a look into what motivates me in selecting the books that I review.  It was hard for me to read this book and put some of the rumors that I had heard about Brian McLaren on the back burner.  Since I have not read his previous books, including his A New Kind of Christianity, I did not want to let the review be tainted.  As I read the book, I found that there were many chapters that I enjoyed.  I also enjoyed the attempts of the author to put much of his life and his journey into the pages of this book.

With the 12 words for his book established (here, thanks, O, sorry, help, please, when, no, why, behold, yes, and silence) Brian takes us along a journey with him to how he ended up where he is today.  And I loved this.  I enjoy the journey, but I must be honest with everyone and say that I felt like many of the chapters were broken down into two sections.  One section dealing with Brian’s journey and another that dealt with the word.  I freely admit that could be my reading of it and even been influenced by some early perceptions.  The problem that I had with this dynamic was that much of the time, I felt that they were set up in such a way that they words were not meant to be unique to the Christian faith or the Christian reader, but rather the book was structured to have universal truths with Brian’s underlying story being one that included Christ.  I felt that the words were to anybody reading the book.  The non-personal narrative seemed to reference “God” but not necessarily Christ.  Christ was a part of Brian’s story, but Christ’s story was not central to this book as a whole.

For me reading this through my Christian eyes made things very difficult because I do believe that Christ needs to be intertwined into each and every of the twelve words and not a footnote in the examples of each word.

With that being said, I was able to push beyond that and complete the book.  I actually enjoyed the insight that the book provided and I would even walk away from the book and recommend it.  If you will struggle with the same things that I did, most of the time Brian would refer to “God”, I would replace it with Christ and push along.  While, I might have violated the author’s intent with the book by doing so, it allowed me to complete the book and gain some valuable insite into my own personal story and walk with the Lord.

If the author’s intent was for this book to reach many of those that fall into the “unchurched” category or those seeking, then I can commend him for that attempt and hope that many of them will pick up the book with an open mind.  Brian does a good job of peeling away many layers and starts one on a journey to get back to something more basic and far more enriching than what many find today in organized religion.

Let it Die…

I am discouraged with many things right now.  I have listened to people talk about a growing faith and yet, I see so little going on with people.  I have listened to people talk about organic church and have attended numerous meetings and been a part of a “organic” church, only to realize that there was nothing in this group that could not be achieved in a “institutional” church.  The difference, more people pick the songs and can interact, but there still seems to be a strong lack of “realness” in the meeting time.

No one talks about what is going on in their lives, it is still heavily predicated on teaching some obscure passage.  The walls that guard the individuals hearts are still there and there is not even a brick removed.  Everyone comes in with a preconceived idea about what the meeting should look like and how it should function.  There is a leader.  Whether they want to admit it or not, someone always seems to rise up and be the leader.  When confronted about the situation, it is a matter of defending the actions.

I believe in organic church.  I believe that the Lord has a message for His body of believers, but I believe that we must be willing to let go of everything and rely completely on Him in order for that message to truly be heard.  We must be willing to open ourselves up to being hurt in order to hear the message of the Lord.  The true problem that exists, is the same problem that plagues the “institutional” church.  Man is involved.  Man cannot ever be truly stripped of all flesh.  And within that flesh will always be pride.  There will always be an innate idea that “my” perception of how things should be is a divine revelation.  And we will fight for that vision to be realized.  At times to the point of cutting others off.  At times to the point of ignoring the opportunity to see the Lord work in ways that we have never experienced before.  We end up building more walls and less relationships.  We diminish our ability to share and delight in the Lord for the sake of being “right” or creating an environment that we are comfortable with.

If our focus is to create a comfortable environment, then we are merely looking to build our own institution.  We are trying to pre-screen for people that will think and be just like us.  We obviously desire people to be chasing after the Lord, but when we define and limit how they experience and express themselves in worship, we are merely creating a new church with a multi-headed pastorate.  We just aren’t brave enough to admit that is what it is.  We can call it organic, but it is not a living expression of Jesus Christ.  Those systems are simply a new Babylon.

If we want to be a living expression of Jesus Christ, then we must be willing to accept things we are not comfortable with.  We must address those things with the body of believers and open the floor for all believers to be involved.  We must strive to let go of self.  If you want Christ to be in control, then you must clear out as much individualism as you can.  We all must remember that we are a body.  We are not simply individual soldiers in an army that “can” survive on our own, we are a body.  We are built to be in constant connection to the Lord.  We must remove as much of “me” in order to be completely filled with Christ.  We must be able to acknowledge that we cannot survive separated from Him.

It is simple in theory, but almost impossible in practice.  It will be impossible in practice if we never open ourselves up to be questioned and called out.

Do you Remember…

Do you remember the first time you met with the Lord?  I mean really remember what it felt like when you knew that He was real and not something that was talked about every Sunday in church. When the Lord became more than the feel-good story that was freedom from sin.  I want to know if you truly remember what it felt like the first time you felt a piece (or all) of you washed away for a moment and you truly rested in Him; rested in His grace, His love and all that He is.

I have been struggling the past few weeks, and today, I realized on my drive home that so much of what surrounds me is about the Lord, but is NOT Him.  So much of what drives us as believers, Christians, etc. are about us.  When is the last time you stop trying to analyze and figure Him out, and just rested with Him.  From the biggest mega-church to the smallest entity known as a believer, we are forgetting that it is not about us.

It is not about my comfort or about my grand revelation.  It is not about how much Scripture, I have memorized or about my expert ability to dsciple you into a soldier in the Lord’s army.  It is and always needs to be about Him.  When you worship, do you capture that moment you first believed.  When you attend your church or hold your meeting, do you feel His hand guiding you as it did when you first came to know Him as more than the icon on the cross?

If you think I am talking about you, I am.  I am talking about every believer (myself included).  We as a collective body have moved so far away from what community, faith and being a follower are all about that we debate who has figured it out the best.  We have ideas about how meetings should go and we direct groups to follow our way.  We look at ourselves and twist and contort every passage of Scripture we have read, as if it was written just to us and our circumstance.

We neglect the body of believers as a whole and we neglect the others that are walking with us.  We fill our hearts with things that look a lot like Christ, but are not the person of Christ.  We look to passages of the Bible and neglect the character and the man that was and is Jesus Christ.  We would rather utilize a passage from Scripture that makes our actions ok, and look past the example that was set before us in the man of Jesus Christ.

We want to build our lives and our meetings around other “people” that have been glorified by human eyes and lived a “Godly” life while we put the man that redeemed us on the back burner.  We strive for the latest program or purpose-driven ideology and neglect that our purpose is made clear and in the person of Jesus Christ.

7But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. 8What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ 9and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith. 10I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead.   ~Phillipians 3:7-11

That is what I want and what that means is that I must die.  My human intuition to try and predict where the Lord is leading me, must die.  My ideology about what the church looks like to human eyes must die.  Whatever thoughts, I have about how something should be done, must die.  Every layer must be stripped away and I must climb into the Lord’s lap and ask him to rebuild and re-create me.  I must die to my circumstances and quit using them as a crutch or some unrealistic reality that somehow because I have lived through hard times, the Lord has blessed me more than you.

The reward is the same for all, no matter when you came to know the Lord.  Can we please strive to recapture that sweet moment when we first came to know the Christ was real.  Can we put everything else aside and live in the reality that only Christ can renew your mind.  No amount of preaching or teaching can do that.

Can we simply follow Psalm 46:10

“Be still, and know that I am God;
I will be exalted among the nations,
I will be exalted in the earth.”

Learning from the church Model…

Tonight, I was having coffee with my wife and sister-in-law.  We got to talking about different things and as I have been at home pondering some of them, there is one thing that kind of stuck with me.  If you have read anything else on this blog of any length, then you will know that I am not the biggest fan of the current church system or the current church as a business model that seems to be rampant, but there is something that we can learn from this model.

One of the central arguments against the current western church system is that it limits the sharing of what the Lord is doing in the lives of the congregation.  The current model is set up in a manner in which one man is given all the power.  One man shares his or her divine gifting while the congregation sits back and listens.  The congregation or laity, are passive because that is the only way that this system functions.  If you are not the pastor of the group, then you know that your place is generally to follow.  If you have a revelation during the time, you are not allowed to interrupt and the pastor will not be seated.  It has been accepted that this is the way that the system should function. The congregation walks into the front doors knowing that they are going to listen and learn from the pastor. They accept this as the way that system works.

The pastor, minister, preacher or priest comes in knowing that he must come in with a lesson to teach.  He has been called to shepherd the flock and educate them.  This person in leadership knows that He has been burdened or charged with sharing the meaning of Scripture and teaching the congregation.  It is a system that works for many.  If that works for you, then please stop reading.  There is no reason for you to go any further on this as it will either frustrate you, bore you, or just not interest you.

I prefer a smaller setting where all brothers and sisters are free to share and bring whatever is on their heart to the group, but there is a problem that I sometimes feel or see even in these settings. Even when we all come ready and willing to be ACTIVE participants in the time around the Lord, something else happens.  All those involved usually will have spent time with the Lord, waiting on the Spirit to lead them on what to bring to the meeting.  The problem arises when everyone turns into a pastor.  That is when every person brings something to the meeting and they think that what they brought is the grand revelation of the time.  Every person turns into a pastor, minister and forgets that they are also called to be in the laity.

In these smaller more intimate the time is supposed to be Spirit lead, and that means that every participant serves a dual purpose.  That means that every participant must prepare for the meeting as if they are a pastor, but listen to the Spirit and the correct prompting.  If they are prompted to share what they brought, then they share, but the remainder of the time, they are in the laity and they must open their hearts, minds, and ears to the things that others bring.  One must be open to NOT being the all-knowing feature.  Part of the true FREEDOM of meeting this way is that ALL members of the body are equally important and equally gifted.  While whatever we bring might be special to each of us individually, that might not be what the Lord has for that time.  It might be just for us.  It might be what we needed to learn through the days, or the week leading up to the meeting.

Unfortunately, I will often see brothers or sisters (myself included…can’t having any one thinking that I am not guilty of this myself) waiting for that moment when what they have can fit into the discussion.  They are not listening to their brothers in sisters as stone shaping stone but rather the listen for that moment when they can jump in and take control.  They are waiting for the moment when they can make what they have to share fit into the conversation.  It turns into a battle for the non-present podium.  When the time turns into a meeting of pastors, all set on teaching the flock and no one wants to truly be a sheep, then the LORD is not at the center of the time – MAN is.

SO what can we learn from the current church model?  For me it is that we must prepare for a meeting as a pastor, but attend with the heart of the congregation and then wait and trust the Holy Spirit to truly prompt us when to share and prompt us when we are to be silent.  We must all come into the time with a heart focused on the Lord and what He is going to teach or show in the meeting.  We must come together not with our hearts set on sharing, but our hearts firmly set on what HE desires us to see.  We must let go of the idea that it is OUR meeting, or OUR time, but rather it is HIS time.  It is the time in which HE is wanting to make Himself KNOWN.  It is when HE desires to use the ekklesia (body of believers) to minister to one another.  BUT He is the one that must be in control.  If everyone is waiting for their opportunity to speak then no one is listening for HIS prompting.  Then we are all serving the WRONG master.

It is my prayer that in all gatherings, we would listen for the teachings, prophesy, encouragement as if we were a pastor, but come with a heart ready to listen like a congregation.

What is the Bible?

What is the Bible?  It sounds like a sort of silly question.  I mean, we know what the Bible is.  It has been referred to as “The Word of God”, “The Good Book”, “A Roadmap for Life”, “A Divinely Inspired Book”,etc.  But what is it really?  What is it at its core?  And more importantly, why do we “use” the Bible the way that we do.

I will admit that I own several versions of the Bible.  I own a couple NIV, a NKJV, a parallel Bible, a chronological study Bible, a re-arranged version called “The Books of the Bible” and in owning all of them, I have only recently started to understand or re-evaluate what the Bible is and more importantly what each section of the Bible is.  For most it is easy to say that the old testament is history and lineage and the new testament is the life and ministry of Jesus as well as the foundations for the church.  I am not going to argue that those things are true, but there is more to it.

The Bible is many things to me, but the primary thing is that it is a glimpse into God’s own heart, but we seldom read it, look at it, or talk about it in those terms.

We seldom treat the Bible as something that is collective.  We seldom can even accept the general division into two books (OT and NT).  We see it as a line by line dictionary for life.  Or maybe an Atlas for life.  When you are lost and struggling with this, read this passage and everything will be made clear.  That is abusing and misusing the text.

This is a hard point to make, but we should be viewing the Bible as if the chapters and verses do not exist.  We should have to take everything in the context of the whole.  That is to say that when we read something that moves us, or stirs something in us, we need to understand the context for that.

Treating the Bible as a reference tool, turns the focus of the Bible away from God and onto us.  That is to say, that when we go to the Bible looking for the answer to our problems and our struggles, we are not seeing what the Lord is doing in those struggles.  We are not finding his purpose and His comfort, but rather rummaging through trying to find whatever we need to make our point-of-view the correct one.  We are making the Bible all about us.  Sure we are turning to God’s Word to find an answer, but we are not getting there through trusting Him.  We are using all the tools (concordance, topical dictionaries) to point us to a phrase that deals with what we are going through and ignoring the larger context.

For example, if we scour through any of the letters in the new testament for answers and apply them to our individual life.   If we use the letters as justification for our individual actions, then we are missing the entire point of the letters.  The letters were written to the BODY of believers in those cities.  They were calls to the entire community.  The letters are about building life together with fellow believers and they also deal with interactions between the BODY.  They are not a justification for how one treats a non-believer.

For me, right now, there has been a lot of perspective changes that have needed to take place.  I am trying my best to make those and let go of the old things that I felt made me a better Christian.  Learning how to truly look at and read the Bible is one of those things.  I must remember that in all honesty, the Bible was not written for me to find my answers, but rather for the body to find the desires of God.

I thought you wanted to live without fear…

I love a good movie.  If you know me, then you know that I have a extensive movie collection.  I love a movie that I can dissect and see something more than the story being protrayed.  I enjoy being able to take a movie and say, there…that’s it…that’s a glimpse of the struggle that exists between the world and the eternal.  That’s how to explain a concept in concrete example.

If you have been following this recently, then you know that I attended the Organic Church Conference in Orlando a couple weeks back.  The conference was put on by Frank Viola, Milt Rodriguez, Alan Levine and Gary Welter.  There was a lot of great insightful and encouraging things shared, but it also started to get me thinking in looking at things abstractly again (something that I love to do).  There is always more than just a simple story to be told.  There is a bigger picture, something more going on behind the scenes and for me a few things clicked or I saw things in a way that helped me to understand some things in a better manner.

I, in no way claim that this was the intent of the director or writer of the movie.  I do not think that these things concern them to be honest, but that is something that is amazing about the human mind, and the supernatural mind.  We don’t have to view the world the same way and we can all find beauty in different things.  We can all find meaning in different things.  It is a fantastic adventure to be able to look at the world and the worldly things and find something more there, to find a connection or correlation to something deeper.

“What you want, what you need is a story” – Rockwood (aka V)

“A story can be either true or false” – Detective

“I leave such judgments to you” – V

On with the show…The church allegory…

I recently was re-thinking the movie V for Vendetta and something semi-profound stood out to me.  I assume it was because I was looking for a good way to explore, and explain the church system, but it worked for me on some level. So what did I see?  What did I find?  (If you haven’t seen it…spoilers present)

If you know the movie (I refer to the movie as I have not read the graphic novel and assume more people have seen the film…we are a lazy group aren’t we?) then you know that it centers on “V” trying to change government and bring the people back into a clear understanding that said government should work for the people and that governments role is not one that should Lord over the lives of its citizens.  In this attempt he ends up helping Evey Hammond and they have an interesting relationship.  Early on, V asks Evey a question to which she explains that she does not want to live in fear anymore.  It sets up what happens later on in the movie.

It is this “later on” that caused something to stir within me.  Later, we find that Evey has been “black bagged” and imprisoned and all that she has to do to be released it to name who is the man behind the mask.  She simply has to name who the terrorist “V” is (a name we never truly get throughout the movie).  She is scared, but she will not give up the name.  During her time there she finds a scroll of paper written by a former prisoner.  In this scroll it outlines her life and what it was like to live in fear, to live in rejection and to ultimately know that she was going to die because of her sexual preferences (that was the vehicle the directors chose to use…homosexuality…I am not advocating it).  In this “last inch” she reads about a women’s courage and she grows stronger.  Slowly the fear disappears.

Evey continues to be tortured and will not give up the name and location of the terrorist.  She believes in him and his cause.  She faces the torture and ultimately, it comes to the point where she is threatened with being executed.  When the final day comes, the guards comes and ask her one last time, and she bluntly states…”I think I’ll take my chance behind the chemical shed”.  With that the guards leaves her.

She walks to the door and looks out…she sees a guard down the hallway, or what she thinks is a guard.  She walks up and touches the guard, only to find that it is a dummy dressed up.  She walks out to find that the entire time, V has been tricking her.  What she thought was real, was an elaborate scheme.  She of course, is quite angry.  She yells at V over all things from torturing her, to cutting her hair.

One of the most important lines for me at this point is V’s response to Evey…”Yes, I created a lie, but because you believed it you found something true about yourself…”

So what does it all mean, how does it relate to the church and what we see going on today?  It’s simple really, the church today is trapped in a false prison and I think that on some level many are waking up.  Many are finally saying, I am ready to die and are in fact realizing that they have been living a false reality.

More important than anything was the moment that Evey realized that she had been living in a world where things looked one way, but the truth behind things was completely and utterly different than she saw them.  When she looked out into the halls, she saw captivity and death.  As she read the words of a former prisoner, she was dying and slipping away.  She was stuck in different reality.  It was in the moment she realized that her prison was fake, not real, that she was actually set free.

In order to understand that true motives of Evey’s imprisonment, we have to look at the creator of the prison.  We have to see what lesson she was being taught.  She was being taught to live without fear.  She was being put in an uncomfortable position so that she might actually grow into a stronger person.  She was being thrown an obstacle so that she could in fact see the truth.

I am hoping some of the pieces are falling into place, but I must continue.  In this modern day the Body of Christ is being placed into thousands of man-made prisons.  We call them churches, but they are false fronts for what the Lord truly desires of His Body, His Bride.  They look good on the surface…They have preaching, Jesus preached…so that’s gotta be OK.  They have music that stirs the soul (and spirit)…that’s gotta be good.  There is no way that can be bad.  It has people that want to know the Lord.  Those all seem like really good, really Biblical things, but that is the surface.  When you get up close to it and look at it, you will simply find that it is just a dummy dressed up.

It is the very thing that is causing more and more believers to simply state “I’ll take my chances behind the chemical shed”.  That is to say that more and more believers are discovering that they are truly ready to die, then continue to be asked to give up the terrorist known as Jesus Christ (I don’t really consider Christ a terrorist…).  In the traditional church every Sunday there is a man at the front asking his or her flock to trust him for divine leading.  The congregation is in no shape, form or fashion engaged with the Lord or His Spirit.  They are trapped in a cell, being tortured, being accused, and being silenced.

We, The Body, truly need to accept the death sentence we have been given (to be crucified to Christ), and start living as we are called to do.  That call is to live without fear for the Lord.  That call is to be one with the other saints, our brothers and sisters.  That call is to SHARE life, not site idly by and feel “religious”.  That call is to live life by the Spirit and not by the system.  That call is to stop taking the easy way out of religious activity and start truly living in the Spirit.  To be a living stone building God’s church.

We must all be ready to see past the false front of convenience, and move into the struggle and challenge that is being a follower of Christ.

***Disclaimer – When I write about the church, I am speaking about the system…not the individuals that attend.  I feel that many strong Spirit following believers are searching and the church system is the best thing that they have found.  I would not want to call into question their hearts or their faith, but I do not agree with a system that utilizes many tactics and devices for things that probably had little or no value to the Lord.