Simpler Church


I had the curious experience recently in a Bible study with a friend where I was confronted with John 4:23-24 and told that there is a “true” or proper way to worship God. (John 4:23 Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks.) The curious aspect was that I used to use that scripture to convince others to worship in a way I considered biblical, what I considered proper and true acts/forms of worship.

In that conversation, my mind went to the conversation Jesus had with Pilate.

“You are a king, then!” said Pilate.
Jesus answered, “You are right in saying I am a king. In fact, for this reason I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.”
“What is truth?” Pilate asked.

I think Pilate’s question should have been “Who is truth?”

I also think (of course) of John 14:6-7, Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you really knew me, you would know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him.”

So I am starting to consider that Jesus may be the “truth” in the  passage “true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth” rather than “truth” being certain times, acts, and terminology.

When you consider Romans 12:1 (offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship), worshiping in truth (Jesus, as Jesus did) makes a lot of sense since Jesus was a living sacrifice even before he was a dying sacrifice).

Over the last few weeks, I’ve thought about our perception of God and how that colors every aspect of our walk with him. If he is an angry, exacting God, we find ourselves thrown into a performance based relationship, scriptures as thoroughly prescriptive in our practice of religion, a self-loathing existence. We confirm this perception with incidents like Uzzah being struck dead steadying the ark, Nadab and Abihu offering strange fire, Ananias and Sapphira struck dead for lying about their contribution. Then in Romans 11:22, “Consider therefore the kindness and sternness of God: sternness to those who fell, but kindness to you, provided that you continue in his kindness. Otherwise, you also will be cut off.”

Seeing God as fickle, unpredictable, we likely respond like children of an alcoholic or of a father with multiple personalities. From day to day, you don’t know if you are dealing with the happy God or the angry God. You blame yourself for the “bad days” and you simply feel fortunate for the “good days”. When God describes himself for Moses in Exodus 3:14, he says “I am who I am” or as in the footnote in the NIV translation “I will be what I will be.” Considering Romans 9:16,18, you really don’t know what to expect. (“It does not, therefore, depend on man’s desire or effort, but on God’s mercy… Therefore God has mercy on whom he wants to have mercy, and he hardens whom he wants to harden.”)

“God is love” is the other option. God like the “perfect” human father that loves unconditionally, providing physically and emotionally, providing instruction and discipline, giving us a safe place despite the disappointments and suffering the world throws at us. His methods not always understood, his intentions often mistaken, in the end he proves himself true to his relationship with us. Of course, there are passages to support this perspective like John 3:16 and 1 John 4:16. Jesus coming into the world is seen as the ultimate act of love (1 John 4:9 “This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him.”)

Some conclude that they don’t want to spend eternity with an angry, vengeful God that allows (or even causes) so much suffering, a God who is so unpredictable. Some live in constant fear that they may not believe the right doctrine or don’t “do life” good enough to remain in God’s mercy. Some live a life of license presuming on the boundless grace of God. Some have had a really good experience with a loving parent and can relate to the “God is love” type of God, to loving discipline, to misunderstood actions, to a relationship that defines every aspect of life.

So what is your God du jour?

Recently I tried another podcast source, Michael Spencer at InternetMonk.com. The episode I listened to was Internet Monk Radio Podcast #164 part of which addressed the Anglican Common Book of Prayer. Spencer praised the usefulness of using the common book of prayer because our prayers often become repetitious and that you might as well use a well crafted prayer as one that you evolve on your on.

Spencer commented that much of what you hear in public prayer in Christian assemblies become repetitious and often poorly conceived (my words in summary). This is true in much of my experience. Christian groups often expect a certain decorum, range of topics, and generality when people speak to God on behalf of the group. Growing up there was often a comment about Brother ______ who has used the same public prayer for the last 20 years, and how certain phrases like “guide, guard and direct us” were regular phrases amongst the less creative prayer leaders.

When Caitlin, Colton, Noah, and I sit down for the evening meal, we often have a period of silence when we join hands to pray for the meal waiting for someone to take the lead and speak the words of thanksgiving. Sometimes I just end the long silence by saying “Amen”. On a few occasions, I’ve said “What we said last time… Amen.” acknowledging the obvious fact that we typically say the same thing before the meal.

As I focus more on relationship with God and consider how our interaction with God is/can be compared to a relationship between a child and an earthly father, I doubt God is interested in repetitious, elongated monologues. I, as a father, do value regular comments of thanks from the kids, but not drawn out, tedious, and repetitious recitations. There are times that a well thought-out recount of past experiences and how it is significant to the son/daughter is heart warming. But, in the end, I like more personal reflection from the kids rather than a string of pattern phrases.

I think scripture and a common book of prayer can provide a good reminder of the goodness, the richness of our experience of being in God’s family, but I’m confident that God is looking for a more personal, earnest dialog with his kids. You get a sense of that reading through the Psalms. Quite a variety of topics and emotions, and very personal.

“If you need a bible verse to show you that murder is wrong, there is something wrong with you.”  I busted out laughing when I heard that comment in a recent podcast,  http://thegodjourney.com, 11/6/2009 episode. The participants were talking about our attitude that everything we say about God, morality, etc.  needs to be backed up by scripture. They also were making the point that many/most believers believe that the scriptures are the primary way to have a relationship with God, and then ask the question about all the illiterate believers and those with a copy of the bible. They also rightly make the point that you can “prove” almost any point you want by “pulling a scripture here and pulling a scripture there.”

A watershed moment in my walk with God was when I realized that well-studied, well-intentioned believers come up with very different doctrinal views. These are people that exhibit good fruit in their lives, not out to pull the fleece over the eyes of poor, ignorant people. It was a watershed moment because I grew up in a tradition that believed that the scriptures would always lead people to the same belief/understanding of at least the core tenants of doctrine: baptism, salvation, sanctification, eternity, whatever. Now I realize that that is not true.

In a recent meeting with some believers where we were discussing where to draw the line on fellowship based on doctrinal beliefs/teaching, I said it was God’s “fault” that there is so much division amongst believers. If God wanted to, he could have produced a Bible that would lead all “well-studied, well-meaning” believers to the same conclusion on doctrine. At this point, I think God left it as vague as he did to test our love for one another. At least that is one of the reasons. I’m sure there are many other reasons.

Jeremiah 31:34 has been ringing in my ears over the last few years and months especially as this subject of Bible interpretation/application keeps coming up in conversation.

No longer will a man teach his neighbor, or a man his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD,’ because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest,” declares the LORD. “For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.”

How can we complain if people come to different conclusions about God and his will in their life? There is, of course, much to be said about teaching and admonishing one another, about false doctrine, etc. But when it comes to disagreements between “well-studied, well-meaning” believers, we must give each other space out of love.

Almost two years since the last post and it seems like its time to post again. Lots of things have happened in the almost 4 years of doing simple church. Here are some things that happened in those four years.

  • Just me and the Lord for a few months
  • A time of mentoring/discipling with my niece and her husband
  • Visiting other house churches
  • Creating various directories of simple churches in DFW
  • Working with others to form the DFW Organic Church Connection (newsletter, directory, area-wide activities) to help connect local groups
  • Moss Farm House Church – 4-5 families meeting Sep 2006 – Aug 2008
  • Planning picnics and other events (with others) for area groups
  • Meeting with a twenty-something group
  • Watching a group I was part of split over a doctrinal issue
  • Watch a group of leaders (across groups) grapple with divisive doctrinal positions
  • Experiencing community in a Wednesday prayer breakfast group that is more church than we give it credit for (started in 2000 and my involvement survived my transition to simple church)
  • Watching a new simple church gain intimacy and facing the diversity in faith and struggle with commitment to relationship
  • Asking myself “what is church” about a million times
  • Continued wonder at what God does and does not reveal in scripture
  • Watching my own (blood) family deal with differences in beliefs about form/function of church

It has been fun to see God reveal himself in so many ways through all the experiences. My faith has grown by leaps and bounds with respect to how God achieves his purposes in large and small ways without my understanding or knowledge. I am much more at peace knowing that I am not critical to God’s success. If I screw up or don’t “step up”, that will not slow down, complicate, or divert God’s plan. Without all that pressure, I can trust God to give me daily “nudges”. I don’t need to know the plan, just follow the nudges as my faith/will allows. It’s been interesting to see my sense/confidence in nudges grow over the years, and my expectations around that sense of God’s direction grows every week.

What is truth?It finally got through to me a few months ago that Pilate asked the wrong question when he was questioning Jesus and finally asked him “What is truth?” Pilate should have asked “Who is truth?” When Jesus said that he is “the way, the truth, and the life,” he meant that he was the literal embodiment. It starts to make sense, “you shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free.” Come to Jesus and Jesus will make you free.

I’m guessing a lot of you out there are saying DUH!! I was raised, though, in a religious culture that meant right doctrine when the word truth was used. “If everyone followed the truth, we would not have all this error.” That would be the line of thinking.

I guess we all know truth to varying degrees. When you ask someone, “Do you know Jesus?” It means so much more than knowing the life story of Jesus. It should mean “have you had the life-transforming experience of knowing Jesus.”

 John 14:6, John 18:38, John 8:32, Jeremiah 31:34, 1 John 2:20ff

The Shack

Just a quick note to say that this is a great book. It really confronts the issue of where is God during life’s tragedies. Not sure all the questions are answered, but certainly a new perspective is posited. Enjoy!!!

http://www.theshackbook.com

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