Tuesday, August 21, 2012

In Search of: A Message, A Man, A Meeting

The idea for this title belongs to my dear wife, Debbie.  As we went for a walk the other day, we discussed the issues that will follow.  Just today, I was meditating on the content for this blog posting.  The heart behind it was further stirred by this Facebook entry from a friend:

“You know, I'm having a hard time understanding  why so many people who have left our old church are so eager to jump right into another one. Makes me think of that proverb about a dog returning to its vomit.”

Let me first say, this is not written as a criticism of anyone.  It is really more of an exhortation . . . to SEEK THE LORD rather than repeat another round of futility.  I can speak from experience on this, because I ultimately had to go through another round of painful dysfunction (and drag my family through it as well). The reason: institutionalization caused me to feel that I needed to find another “thing”.  My loving Father let me find it, and the lesson this time was like the proverbial hot stove . . . hot enough to keep me from touching it again!

The title of this blog post refers to ‘attractions’ or ‘entry points’ into more religious distraction and dysfunction. God clearly loves His people and of course he also loves leaders.   He uses men to deliver messages and He sometimes works through meetings (though many times He does so despite us, not because of our amazing meeting skills). Even though He uses these things, they alone are not indicators of the health of a particular spiritual expression.  I can say emphatically that if these are the criteria that attract us to “joining” another religious franchise, we still have some foundational lessons to learn.

A Message

I am continuously bombarded by emails and Facebook messages about some “man of God” who delivered some extraordinary message.   Maybe the message is wonderful, but does that automatically mean one should join an organization that person is connected to? 

I have friends who have been languishing in a “church” for years.  When I most recently asked why they’re still there, my friend replied, “We like the preaching.” This is curious in light of the fact that my friend is aware that the people doing the preaching have a history of abuse, control, manipulation, and lying. The friend was speechless when I asked, “What good is preaching when they don’t practice what they preach?”  

Too many Christians believe there is something spiritual about listening to sermons every week. There can be, but there is no biblical evidence that it is God’s purpose for us to listen to someone drone on and on, week after week, while a “congregation” passively listens.  Luke refers to his gospel as an account of what Jesus “began to do and teach”.  And yet I’ve found few people preaching who even know how to “do,” unless doing is simply defined as telling others what to do.

While there is a healthy place for teaching, increasingly I see that New Testament priesthood involves more effective body ministry of “one anothers” and less of the one-man-show eternal lectures many of us have become addicted to. 

A number of people I know rejoice in “how well taught” they are. I acquiesce that Paul might say the same, but only about his pre-Damascus road days which he came to view as rubbish. 

Hearing a good sermon (or even a series of good sermons) is hardly a reason to throw our lot in with another organization. The real test is BODY functionality:

Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. (Colossians 3:16 ESV)

A Man

Those who have been in religious organizations where leaders have a high view of themselves and of their importance to the body should be especially on guard for what amounts to idolatry.  

I grew up hearing people refer to “Pastor (Tom, Dick or Harry)’s church” or “Brother so-and-so’s church.”  Though not intentional, in most cases, these words were literally true; the church belonged to that man. The problem should be obvious. Any “church” built around a man is, frankly, an abomination.  Have we not learned the error of “I am of Paul, I am of Apollos . . . ?” 

This is putrid idolatry.   We Christians slam unbelievers for their worship of music stars, celebrities, and Hollywood actors. Yet we do the very same thing in the church world with our worship of famous preachers, musicians and edifices. We allow those who treat us like commodities to “make merchandise of us.”  And we permit selfish leaders to divide the body in the name of a perverted view of pastoral authority. 

Look at the way we set up church meetings: the pastors are the center of attention.  All the chairs or pews are focused in that direction, not toward one another.   Truthfully, much of what we’re doing is relating to each other around self-appointed leaders, rather than to one another in Jesus.   This is another bad habit that desperately needs to be broken. 

A Meeting

If there’s one thing that describes Christians in the western world, it is this: we are very meeting-centered.  People judge a “church” by the “Sunday show.”  Along with the music, the sermon is judged much like a performance on American Idol.  We don’t seem to care whether Jesus has knit our hearts with others in real relationship by “joints and ligaments.”  If we enjoy the meetings, we then attempt to build relationships within the organization.  Isn’t this backwards?  Should we not first discover relationships THE LORD has given us, instead of looking for a black cat in a dark room that probably isn’t there anyway?

God is building A PEOPLE relating to reflect His glory, not an organization to simply gather for meetings. This requires we first connect to HIM, and then out of that union of life with Him, we can move on to share His life with others.  The problem is, I find that most people (for a variety of reasons) don’t learn first how to relate to their Father.  All too often, the result is we don’t fellowship WITH GOD, but simply fellowship with each other, ABOUT GOD.

Running through these three “attractions”; The Message, The Man, The Meeting is a common current: spiritual immaturity.  In most cases, participation rarely requires us to operate in functional priesthood.  While we’re looking for “the church that will meet our needs,” we fail to find our completeness in CHRIST, leaving us orphaned, (assuming we are not actually spiritually still-born).  As a result we go from one religious orphanage to another, looking to others to “bottle feed us,” locking us into what amounts to eternal infancy.

So what is our universal call?  In Matthew 6:33 we are told to “seek first the Kingdom of God and his righteousness . . .” But what does this really mean?   I sum it up this way: the kingdom of God is the realm of Jesus’s Lordship and authority, and it is not a one-time event.  I am to be in a continual state of aligning with the King.  As I am, His righteousness is released.  Is that simply being a “good person”, or mere moralism? Absolutely Not! It is humanity living in relational sync with the living God. 

The commandments are summed up in loving God and loving others.   Did not Jesus say, “By this shall all men know that you are my disciples, that you love one another?”  This sends us to “the better way” in 1 Corinthians 13.  How is this walked out?  We must develop deep bonds of love over time with “one another.” However, our promiscuous floating about, looking for the most charismatic men (people, not gender specific), messages and meetings prevents this? 

The real need today, that hasn’t changed over two thousand years, is for us to learn how to love.   In my thirty-plus years of church life, it is more apparent to me than ever, that this is not the priority of our religious systems, and if we are honest with ourselves, we will find, it is not really our priority either. If it were, we would spend much more time learning how to love our families, other believers, and neighbors closest to us, instead of “compassing land and sea” to find some “church” or group that’s “doing it right.”     

In light of our human proclivity to gravitate toward the path of least resistance and follow the religious crowds, my appeal is simply this: try spending a month of Sundays simply seeking the Lord ALONE.  Don’t go looking for “another church” during that time.  Focus on LISTENING, to see what your Father has to say about what is on His heart.   Take your cues from Him.  I suspect He is unlikely to send you to another franchise or organization, but instead put specific people on your heart: people He may want to disciple you, and/or those He may want you to disciple.   When we begin here, we will find the path of BEING the church rather than having, doing, or finding church.  After all, did not Jesus promise that He will build His Church?  Our call is to seek the kingdom and let Him do the building.  We simply abide in Him.  In that place religious striving and “church busy work” ends and “doing the works of God” commences.   Otherwise, we simply remain what my wife calls “NASCAR Christians,” going really fast, logging mile after mile on an oval track equating speed with progress and busyness with spiritual growth. 

So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing. For whatever the Father does, that the Son does likewise.  (John 5:19 ESV) 

We would do well to remember the words of one prophetic voice who spoke to his generation words that are no less true today:

"One hundred religious persons knit into a unity by careful
organization do not constitute a church any more than eleven dead men
make a football team. The first requisite is Life, always."

- A. W. Tozer


Anonymous said...


This is awesome stuff, my brother! May people have eyes to see, ears to hear and hearts to receive.

Keep your peace!

Anonymous said...

So glad for these archived messages. That was very thought provoking.