What is the nature of the local Christian church? I’ve been thinking much about that question lately as my local or visible church of over 25 years is going through some rough times. This is not new as we readily see the ancient churches in Corinth and Galatia had struggles within 10-20 years after they were started.
A church is a community that is to be growing as a body of individuals who have “the mind of Christ” and who are led with that mind to care for others. But it is easy to lose sight of Jesus and be consumed with developing our minds about what the church is and be focused upon the needs of others. And if you are successful in helping others one gains a reputation as being a good Christian. Yet, we may have more and more the “mind of the community” rather than the mind of Christ (1 Corinthians 1-2).
Another challenge we face is that we develop the mind of R.C. Sproul, or John Piper or Andy Stanley, etc. And I could easily be accused of cultivating the mind of Henri Nouwen. If we allow others to mold our thinking through their persuasive speech or insightful teaching, we risk losing our focus on the work of Jesus Christ. As Paul reminds us, “Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Were you baptized in the name of Paul?… For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel—not with wisdom and eloquence, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power” (1 Cor. 1:13,17).
So, why is prayer the language of the church? Because prayer, as a dialogue, is our conversation and connection with the head of the church. The church is sometimes identified as the “bride of Christ” and as such we have only one husband. We are monogamous. And our love language is directed to our husband. And with a common husband, we are brought into community as we relate to him together. Jesus creates this community and there is no greater acknowledgement of his being the creator of this community than by talking to him together.
God said through Isaiah that “My house shall be called a house of prayer for all nations.” (Isaiah 56:7) And the context of this declaration is in a discussion about eunuchs and foreigners. The Lord says that there are no strangers in his community. There are no handicapped and no outsiders. All are made insiders by his calling. And how will they experience their “insiderness”? Through prayer all will speak the same language. The language of a community following Jesus is a praying fellowship. Jesus famously repeats the declaration about his house (and remember the church is people, not a building) being a house of prayer when, in contrast with the mind of Christ, his house has become filled with the minds of men.
Prayer is the recognition that God is in our midst and it is recognition that the community exists at all. Without the language of prayer, we are a social club or clan or clique that exists for itself and has it’s origin in the mind of man. But we have the mind of Christ. We do not instruct or advise him. He instructs and guides and calls us. And we respond to him in thanksgiving and amazement.
Speak to our hearts, Lord. May we only look to you for wisdom and knowledge.
Ever been speeding to find a ‘word from God” for somebody else?
I was doing that just a couple of days ago and ran smack into the face of God Himself. It was a sort of “word to my son” moment. Yes, I was a little embarrassed for a moment and then, it was like I’m on a divine encounter! God is near and everything is okay.
It was late at night and I wasn’t in my room or office where I could pick up a copy of the Bible or my Kindle® to search for an appropriate encouragement or exhortation for a friend of mine that I was emailing. So, I picked up one of my son’s NIV Study Bibles and started flipping around. I landed in Ecclesiastes of all places and wondered what I might find there. Wow! God stuck my nose right into a passage that had a message for me. It was the beginning of the fifth chapter:
1 Guard your steps when you go to the house of God. Go near to listen rather than to offer the sacrifice of fools, who do not know that they do wrong.
2 Do not be quick with your mouth,
do not be hasty in your heart
to utter anything before God.
God is in heaven
and you are on earth,
so let your words be few.
3 A dream comes when there are many cares,
and many words mark the speech of a fool.
4 When you make a vow to God, do not delay to fulfill it. He has no pleasure in fools; fulfill your vow. 5 It is better not to make a vow than to make one and not fulfill it. 6 Do not let your mouth lead you into sin. And do not protest to the temple messenger, “My vow was a mistake.” Why should God be angry at what you say and destroy the work of your hands? 7 Much dreaming and many words are meaningless. Therefore fear God.
I had made a commitment to God a few weeks ago to set aside a regular time to pray for the Body of Christ at Intown Community Church and I hadn’t followed through. I was all in a hurry to help somebody and I was starting to speed on ahead of God. His Word became a Speed Trap. There is a great reminder right in the middle of this passage. In verse 2: “…God is in heaven and you are on earth, so let your words be few.” Soak up all the meaning in that. Savor the deep truth of those words.
I really need to follow through on the important commitment that God led me to as I was in dialogue with Him. That’s where I need to be driving.
Since September of 2009, I’ve read all of these books by Henri J. M. Nouwen. I’ve also read a couple of books about Nouwen.
1. Turn My Mourning Into Dancing: Finding Hope in Hard Times
2. Intimacy: Essays in Pastoral Psychology
3. Beloved: Henri Nouwen in Conversation with Phillip Roderick
4. Making All Things New: An Invitation to the Spiritual Life
5. Out of Solitude: Three Meditations on the Christian Life
6. Reaching Out: The Three Movements of the Spiritual Life
7. The Way of the Heart: Connecting with God through Prayer, Wisdom, and Silence
8. Letters to Marc About Jesus: Living a Spiritual Life in a Material World
9. With Open Hands
10. A Spirituality of Fundraising
11. The Return of the Prodigal Son: A Story of Homecoming
12. Creative Ministry
13. Here and Now: Living in the Spirit
14. Bread for the Journey: A Daybook of Wisdom and Faith
15. The Inner Voice of Love: A Journey Through Anguish to Freedom
16. Home Tonight: Further Reflections on The Parable of The Prodigal Son
17. Spiritual Direction: Wisdom for the Long Walk of Faith
There have been a couple of times in my life when my mental or spiritual appetite was such that reading a book by one author struck such a chord that I had to read more. Just a few years ago this happened with leadership expert and allegorical business writer Patrick Lencioni. After reading one of his books, I wanted to read the next one.
With Henri Nouwen, there was something deeper happening. Nouwen’s words spoke to my soul in a rare and powerful way. His experience with God raised a recollection in my spirit. A recollection that I had only begun to experience again after several years of dormancy. Dialogue with God.
Having the need for a spiritual coach, director or mentor is real throughout our lives. For many, the local church does not provide the level of tutelage we need. Ultimately, we rely upon the Spirit of God to speak to our true self. But where do we start? How do we open ourselves to the voice of God? The community of faith is a community of sharing. Experiences, resources and stories are shared like the proverbial beggar sharing with his fellow travelers where to find bread.
In a future post, I’ll share how God led me to a Nouwen book that helped shape my experience with God and my openness to Him. And, then, how my resonance with Nouwen’s writings led me closer to the heart of God. Suffice to say that God is near to us and desires to open our ears and hearts to His voice of love.
A man’s house is his castle,
Unless he lives urban residential.
House after house goes down
making way for manors of destiny.
Living on a Cul de sac is the way to peacefulness,
But trucks and trailers live here too.
Nomads of modernity that park overnight and are gone at dawn.
Laborers come and go as bidden by the chariot drivers
With their two-ways beeping and radios blaring.
Who owns this neighborhood?
Pay three thirds to feather his nest.
Developers have replaced bounty hunters?
Realtors put up the posters.
Electric-powered hammers and saws
Replaced the crickets and birds.
Yellow 4WDs have overcome the daffodils.
Whippoorwills overshadowed by sanders and mixers.
Another’s property rights have taken away our living rights.
Day after day, week after week, month after month
and year after year. The drone and dirt of construction 24/7.
We moved to a bigger house and a bigger yard in a nicer neighborhood to have a better life.
To raise our children and help them through school we wanted
A peaceful place, a retreat from the battles of life.
We expected it for more than 5 years.
© Jimmy Locklear 2011
I recently listened to a sermon by Rev. Bill Hybels, Willow Creek Church, titled “Holy Discontent” and was powerfully inspired by stories he shared. Here’s a link to the free download http://billhybels.com/downloads.asp. I believe the purpose of the talk was to connect us to what God is calling us to do vocationally through a powerful emotion: anger. And by vocation I don’t necessarily mean our job or work, but rather what we must do to fulfill the role God has for us in His story. It’s bigger than a job, but it might be a part of your job.
I was attracted to Bill Hybels website since I had recently read his book The Power of a Whisper. I’ve read others of his books, listened to sermons and actually worshipped at Willow Creek Church several years ago. In reading “Whisper” it became apparent that Hybels listens to God and that has made all the difference in his life and ministry. So, it was doubly interesting to me that Bill’s sermon is anchored in the story of the anger Moses felt at the oppression of his people, the Israelis, by the Egyptians. And the sermon is co-anchored in, well, the cartoon character Popeye the Sailor Man. So, I commend the sermon to you.
Here’s what the message brought to me as the Holy Spirit applied the stories and images to my own experience. The Lord helped me see that I am angered that Christians don’t feel how much God loves them and know that He has a role for them to play in His larger story. And non-believers don’t realize or know that God is very near to them. Part of the reason that I know those are passions of mine is because I begin to weep when I share them with someone. It stirs my soul because I’ve experienced that unconditional love.
In reading Exodus 3-4, I see this amazing story played out in living color. A couple of things struck me. Moses passion to see his people set free was burning deep within his heart for decades. I’m sure he must’ve wondered if he was ever going to get to live out of that anger and emotion. Finally, it would become clear that God shared his concern for the Israeli people and He heard their groaning and their cries for help. So, God had to break into Moses’ routine to get his attention and whisper His message to Moses. God is so creative and puts a flame in a bush near where Moses was working and speaks from it. Then there is remarkable dialogue between God and Moses that leads to a negotiated action plan.
So, here’s a formulaic analysis of what we see here.
Moses’ anger x Time + God hearing cries of Israelis (remembering His promise) = Action plan
Pretty amazing story. Nothing exciting going on in your life? When was the last time you got angry about injustice or something lacking in your domain? When do you see a lack of understanding or love or food or water or clothing or God’s Word? Want to see some action in your life? Get angry about something and take that anger to God and see what He does.