Toward His Highest and Best
As we head into the new year, I have a simple thought based on a quote from Oswald Chambers. This quote is the basis for the title of His resilient book “My Utmost for His Highest.”
Not often, but every once in a while, God brings us to a major turning point--a great crossroads in our life. From that point we either go toward a more and more slow, lazy, and useless Christian life, or we become more and more on fire, giving our utmost for His highest--our best for His glory.
I cannot determine what the church at large will do as it continually comes to these turning points. I cannot decide for others how they will face life when such crossroads present themselves. But I can ask myself, as I head into 2017, am I at or near such a place of choice. And do I want to settle into the predictable and comfortable Christian life that I inevitably slosh into over time, or am I willing to face forward into whatever adventure God is calling me to in order to give myself fully to it?
For me, the paradigm of simple/house/organic church is not about a way to do church but a calling to continue to find Jesus in the stuff of life, follow Him, and pursue His adventurous calling while refusing to get boxed in by anything that wants to pull me back into the lazy boxes of yesteryear.
I invite you to face forward with me toward His highest and best.
Failure to Launch
You may remember the 2006 movie where Matthew McConaughey played the thirty-something who was not ready to leave home and launch out into the responsibilities of adulthood. This is a great picture of the church in the west. We are just not ready, in many ways, to grow up and take responsibility for our own spiritual lives and the mission/purpose of being ‘church.’
It may be that our backs are not up against the wall yet.
It may be that we have lived too long on comfort foods and easy spiritual programs.
It may be that we just don’t want to grow up and take on that responsibility for our spiritual lives.
Whatever the reason, the church in the west resists walking in its true nature of every-member-a-world-changer. Apparently the alternative-- easy participation in an institutional church program (whether regularly or from time to time)—is too readily available and too easily relied upon.
In the arena of our spiritual life, we have developed a dependency mindset. Easy to do. Offerings abound of amazing teachers, inspiring conferences, and events that spark—at least temporarily—our spiritual fire. Or, there are the comfortable gatherings, of people we are familiar with, that we can stop into, enjoy, and feel assured that we have done something significant even though others have prepared the food, set up the venue, and provided the welcoming atmosphere.
It is so much easier to look to others to feed us, prop us up, care for us when we are needy, and provide a spiritual program for us to consume. But have we done ourselves a disservice by not recognizing that our comfortable reliance on provided programs and institutions are keeping us from growing into the place of living dynamically with God in such a way that our gifts are overflowing to others? If so, we are perhaps missing the greatest joy in life.
Does that mean that change will finally come when our back is up against the wall? Neil Cole posits that forms of persecution are coming sooner than we think which will, inevitably, move us in that direction:
I do not think persecution is so far off. What would it take? Not much. I believe the pieces are already on the board and being pushed into play…
Like the Russian church prior to communism, our churches are dependent upon holy buildings (remove property tax exemption) and holy men (remove parsonage allowance) that perform holy practices in those buildings (remove tax deductible donations). Our vulnerability is quite obvious. These three areas of dependence will kill us.
I firmly believe that the more we move toward an incarnational, missional and movemental expression of ecclesia the better prepared we will be. We must be aware of our vulnerabilities and shift toward a form of church that is less easily destroyed.
Maybe this is, ultimately, how God will work. I can’t say for certain. But I do know that God’s plan is for a church that is fully mature. Therefore, in His way and timing, He will get what He is aiming for.
The full launch cometh eventually, ready or not! And with it, perhaps, the church’s most powerful and joyful time.
Stepping Out of the Boat
If we step out of the boat when God has not called us, we will wind up only wet.
On the other hand…
If God is, in fact, calling to us and we have become too entrenched in our comfort zones to hear and respond, what miracles and adventures might we be missing?
Comfort zones often compel us into the routines that we call life. Often, we cling to our religious cultures and familiar ways of doing life as a way to remain comfortable. This is fine, unless in fact, his voice is calling!
The Jesus-life is a faith-life is a step-out-of-the-boat life.
Is he calling? Are we making room to listen? If he is calling and we do listen and respond, the most amazing, miraculous things can happen just because… we step out of the boat.
Where are you at and what are your thoughts?
Keeping It Simple, Beautiful, Reproducible
As I currently journey through different cultures in various Africa countries, it makes me fully aware of how much we over-think things in our western world.
It is always good to be reminded that the Gospel, and its spread to others, must be just as clear and relevant to an illiterate, rural village person as it is to an educated urbanite. Therefore, its power is not solely accessible to those who are able to study and come up with complicated theological theses. Rather it’s power is accessible, in its utter simplicity, to the least educated as well as the most.
I remember, years ago, someone saying to me that the most powerful theological statement ever is just the song: “Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so.”
Indeed, the Gospel can be primarily summed up with Jesus’ commandments and commission:
- Love God with heart, soul, and mind—as He has loved us
- Love others—as we love ourselves
- Go and invite others into a personal, discipleship/followership relationship with Jesus
It is interesting to note that simple is reproducible. Simple, is able to be passed along. Simple can become viral. Keeping things simple can reduce the temptation toward creating religious structures and church institutions by encouraging a simple, basic listening/surrendering relationship to Jesus whom we love and follow.
Richard Feynman, Nobel Prize winner for his work on quantum electrodynamics, said, “you can recognize truth by its beauty and simplicity.”
I would add to this… that God’s truth is recognizable by beauty, simplicity, as well as power—the kind of power that transforms people’s lives from the inside out.
Perhaps, today, we can re-root our lives in the simplicity of God’s love and in His leading to share His simple, magnificent beauty to the world around us. Perhaps, our own culture is looking for some simple, powerful answers to the confusion that is so prevalent. Perhaps life with God is simpler and more powerfully amazing then we have made it to be.
Thoughts on this?
Don't Ignore the Still, Small Voice
We love the stories of God speaking in dramatic ways leading to amazing things. I think of Loren Cunningham, years ago, seeing a vision of a map of the world with waves breaking over it. He sensed that the waves were young people covering the earth with the Gospel. This vision inspired him to launch out in what would become the worldwide Youth With a Mission (YWAM) movement.
BUT, is this the normal or usual way that God speaks to his people?
Dallas Willard, in Hearing God, argues that it is not. Further, if we think of God as primarily speaking in such dramatic ways, we may end up missing much or most of what He is saying to us.
Unfortunately, this gentle low-key word may easily be overlooked or disregarded, and it has even been discounted or despised by some who think that only the more explosive communications can be authentic. For those who follow this view, a life of hearing God must become a life filled with constant fireworks from heaven…
God usually addresses individually those who walk with him in a mature, personal relationship using this inner voice, showing forth the reality of the kingdom of God as they go…
But a major point of this book is that the still, small voice—or the interior or inner voice, as it is also called—is the preferred and most valuable form of individual communication for God’s purposes.
No doubt, those who know Loren Cunningham would say that his ability to walk out God’s plan for him and YWAM has been primarily a result of his dependency on daily hearing and following the voice of God. He cultivated a daily, hearing ear. I can assume this because it is a core teaching in all YWAM schools today.
Similarly, for the church to be an organic movement of life, it requires the participation of all followers in the amazing journey of hearing and responding to God in quiet yet powerful ways. This is not dependent on having a dramatic vision or encounter, but it does involve learning to attune ourselves to the daily voice of God.
A core principle of organic life and movements: Every follower becomes attuned to the voice of God—especially His still, small voice.
Today there is a desperate need for large numbers of people throughout various arenas of life to be competent and confident in their practice of life in Christ and in hearing his voice. Such people would have the effect of concretely redefining Christian spirituality for our times. They would show us an individual and corporate human existence lived freely and intelligently from a hand-in-hand, conversational walk with God. That is the biblical ideal for human life.
The church can re-discover its natural power as a movement when every follower becomes accustomed to encounters with God’s word and voice. We are, after all, making disciples of Jesus (sheep who know His voice) not disciples of ourselves or a church leader.
Now, don’t get me wrong. May God give dramatic visions. But, even more important, may many, many more of God’s people simply walk out in intimacy the daily directives of God that will lead to fruitful, organic, Kingdom lifestyles in a world needing His life and light.