What this reminds me of is that we need to have some fun occasionally. If we are serious all the time we can get rather boring - you know the old saying that all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy? So let's chill out and go and do something a little less serious.
We may feel that inflatable bouncers are not appropriate fun for us, but there are all sorts of other things we can try. What would you really like to do for fun? What have you done in the past that you really enjoyed? If you can, go and do it again.
One of the things my wife and myself felt in our last fellowship was that relationships were very shallow. We mentioned this to one individual who said that the cell group he was part of had been meeting together for years, but they didn't really know each other very well.
One of the things the senior pastor most liked to talk about was the concept of the church being a family. But the question has to be: How can we truly be like a family if we are all living our individual lives and we don't really know each other?
If you read the early chapters of Acts you find that the disciples met together regularly, and you get the feeling that their relationships were very close and supportive. Just like a family, in fact. We don't always seem to manage to do as well nowadays.
Another thing that they ate together. Did you know that the Lord's Supper (or Holy Communion, or Eucharist, etc) was originally a full meal, and not just a token piece of bread and sip of wine or juice? Scholars tell us that this was true, and that they shared a meal together on the evening of the first day of the week - probably a bring and share meal. What is more natural for a family than to share a meal together? So why do we accept the token bread and wine, when it is not what Jesus intended, and not what the early church did? It was a suppper, not a nibble!
I believe that we have to regain the sense of family in the Body of Christ, and one of the main things we can do in support of that is to eat together.
Things came to a head one evening, and not long after that my wife and myself left the fellowship we were members of. It was quite a wrench, as it meant giving up preaching, teaching in a Bible school, leading a cell group, and helping to lead a discipleship program.
But I had to do it, and over the next few days I aim to describe why I left, and where I am going now.
One of the things that has kept me busy since last time is that I was invited to do some lecturing in a Bible school. I had attended this school myself a few years ago, and found it very inspiring, and so I was honoured to join the team.
One of the modules I was asked to teach on was the subject of Church History and Revival, with me teaching from the 18th Century Revivals right through to the present day. This was like a gift for me, since I have long been inspired by what God did through people like Wesley and Whitefield.
As I have been preparing to teach, though, it has come back to me afresh just what astonishing things the Lord has done among us in the past, and it makes me realise just how pale our vision of God so often seems to be in comparison.
I'm thinking of the prayer meeting in the Hebrides in Scotland about sixty years ago when a blacksmith told God that His honour was at stake, and challenged Him to do something about it. The accounts say that the building shook, and then the presence of God swept powerfully through a village where there were few Christians, and where there had been active opposition to the revival.
Following the prayer, in the middle of the night lights were coming on in houses, and some people were even leaving their homes. The presence of God was so powerful in the village that people were under strong conviction and wanted to do something about it. The reports say that within two days every person between the ages of 12 and 20 had been converted, and every young man between the ages of 18 and 35 was attending revival prayer meetings.
The town where I live has been called spiritually dificult, but the account above teaches me that nowhere is too difficult for God. But how hungry are we? How desperate are we to see God move in our cities, towns and villages today? How willing are we to pay the cost of banging on heaven's door until God answers and covers us with the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea?
The Land of Make Believe
Every so often I go through seasons of introspection and longing. I've been in one of those seasons for about three weeks now as you've probably been able to tell from some of my recent posts. It's easy for me to look at the reality of my life, measure it up against what I wish for my life to be like, and enter into one of these seasons.
The seasons are usually marked by changes in my music preferences. As I write this I am sitting at Fountain City Coffee House in Columbus after coming in to work at 4:00 a.m., listening to the Celtic song Lascia Ch'io Pianga. I have no idea what that means, but it's a beautiful song that takes me to a different place.
These seasons are also usually marked by a more contemplative pattern of writing, as you've seen with my posts, Lamentations and Longings and Musical Journeys.
They are also marked by a longing for new scenery. There are geographic places that stir my soul, calm my heart and mind, and bring me contentment. Seasons like this make me long for those places. Someday, I pray, God will allow us to settle in one of those places and call it home.
This particular season is one of spiritual longing. As I sit here thinking about my own recent experiences with Christians, the church turmoil that is happening around our city, and the rapid descent into moral anarchy that is occurring here in the midst of this Bible-belt town, I am becoming convinced that Christianity as we know it in this time and place in history is little more than a game of make believe. Really. I’m serious.
I’ve incredulously shaken my head as I’ve listened to long-time, supposedly mature Christians talk about how they would be willing to help others in need as long as it wasn’t too much of an inconvenience. I’m one of them. Last Sunday on the way to church Lynn suggested that we load the truck up with cold drinks and drive around town giving them to the several dozen people who sit baking in the heat for 8 hours every Sunday hawking newspapers. Immediately I began calculating how to fit it into my schedule for the day – making sure to protect my planned naptime in that schedule.
Others around me have talked about wanting to be in community with one another as long as they didn’t have to leave the house and drive ten minutes to do it.
I’ve witnessed church leaders speak passionately about being in deep, transformational community with one another, yet allow six months (and counting) pass by without coming alongside a fellow leader who is struggling and walking with him through and out of that struggle.
I am utterly perplexed by our tendency to distance ourselves from and isolate those who struggle instead of running to them, embracing them, taking up arms with them to fight by their side.
At least two major churches in our city are being ripped apart right now by controlling pastors and/or factions of selfish Christians who demand to have things their way. One of them is front-page news in today's newspaper.
Several churches have been planted in this city over the last few years. This is a traditionally Christian Bible-belt city. It’s August and we are two murders away from the total murder count for each of the last two years. There’s been a murder nearly every week since June. Are the Body of Christ and our message of God’s love and kindness having impact on this community? I wonder.
When I look back over history at the followers of Christ who have lived before us, and I compare myself and those around me to them, this is just a religious game that we’re all playing and I can’t help wondering, “What’s the point?”
We really have no clue what it means to be in selfless, Christ-centered, transformational community with one another. We’re playing a game of make believe.
We really have no clue what it means to give ourselves to the mission of inviting people who are far from God into the Way of Jesus. We’re playing a game of make believe.
We don’t know how to order our homes and families around the presence and purpose of God. We’re playing a game of make believe.
Not only do we have no idea what it means to suffer for the cause of Christ, we don’t want any part of it. Life in this time and place is too damn comfortable and we’re going to Heaven when we die anyway. Why suffer voluntarily? To hell with everyone else. Literally. We’re playing a game of make believe.
We don’t know how to live lives that outwardly demonstrate a deep, abiding, intimacy with and conformation to the person of Christ. We’re playing a game of make believe.
I wish I could stand next to John Wesley in the coal fields of England. I wish I could sit with St. Patrick among the barbarians of a newly planted missional community. I wish I could pray with the Moravians. I wish I could somehow experience Christianity as it was in 40 A.D. I’m tired of playing a game of make believe.
The motions we go through in our little game are wearisome to me. I think I could more easily experience the presence of God through sitting alongside a brook with His Word in my hands and writing out prayers than I can in most Sunday morning "services." Nearly every time I drive away from my “small group” I find myself wondering about the benefit of yet another “meeting.” I’m convinced that I could probably find deeper, more meaningful community in settings outside of most "small group" programs.
A fellow blogger asked in one of his posts if any of us long for something more in our spiritual and church life. I responded with the following thoughts.
Yeah, I long for more. A lot more. I long for a deeper, more intimate, more life-consuming personal walk with Christ. I long to know what it truly means for Christ to have total claim on my life. I long to have my heart and mind totally captured and ravaged by the love of God. I long for the experiences of the mystics who truly lived as though this place wasn't their home.
I long to be less selfish and more giving. I long to be known as a person of love and righteousness. I long to have the courage to truly suffer for the sake of the Kingdom. I long to be a part of a body of believers who truly understands what it means to be in loving, selfless community with one another. I long to see the Body of Christ truly spending themselves on behalf of the poor and oppessed. I long to see the culture of my city, my nation impacted by the Gospel in undeniable, observable ways.
I really don't know how any of us can get there. We've all spent our whole lives living in the land of make believe on the drab, battle-ridden side of the wardrobe door. I wish I could find a way out of Spare Oom.
This video can be found in various places on the internet, and it blesses (and challenges) the socks off me. It is about 35 minutes long, but well worth watching. It gives wonderful insights into what happens when God visits us, but may also suggest some reasons why he doesn't.
The speakers featured include Ian Paisley, Leonard Ravenhill, Duncan Campbell (of the Hebrides Revival), A.W. Tozer and Paris Reidhead.
Please, Lord, wake the Church up.
Well, I read in the Bible of a Church that was so full of God's presence and power. Where people saw His glory and repented of their sin, received eternal life and were healed.
I read of a depth of fellowship in the Acts of the Apostles where believers had such love and commitment for one another.
I become aware of a Church life which, although not perfect, had a beautiful simplicity about it.
I see a body of believers who were making a vital impact on the society in which they lived.
In contrast, today I see a Church which - in the West at least - seems to have comparatively little experience of God's presence and power. We say that God is with us - so why are we able to remain standing rather than fall on our faces before Him? And where is God's healing power? We pray for the sick and so often they do not appear to be healed.
I see today a level of fellowship which can appear to be based on what is convenient rather than on true Christian love. Have I got time for this person? Are they too messy? What will it cost me?
We seem to have many grand buildings, but many are nearly empty. I see all sorts of eccesiastical titles and robes which I do not see in the New Testament. We have in place various complicated Church structures and practices, but where is the fruit of them?
And where is our impact on society? In the United Kingdom there is an alarming lack of knowledge of Christianity, and my newspaper sometimes seems to stand up for the Church more than the Church itself does.
Where is our voice in these Godless times? Are we stifling God's voice? Are we frightened of speaking out, or do we act as though God has nothing to say?
The New Testament standard of Church life has not just been limited to Biblical times. It has been found to varying degrees throughout the twenty centuries of Christian history. There are places in the world today (such as China) where the story of the Church reads like something in the book of Acts.
But how many of us can say that we experience that in Europe or North America? Our level of Christianity seems to be pretty low to me.
However, I am now hearing about and meeting people who are hungry for more. And that gives me hope. Hope that we might be waking up as God stirs us. Hope that we can once again see God's glory in our midst. I believe it can happen. I believe God wants it to happen.
Will you join me on a quest for more? Will you refuse to accept bland Christianity? Will you seek first God's Kingdom and His righteousness, and not cease to cry out to the Lord until He visits us?