My Chaos/God’s Ordering – or – a personal reflection on the state of my kitchen

This isn't my real kitchen table.  But it's the same idea!

This isn’t my real kitchen table. But it’s the same idea!

So we’re doing a little renovation on our kitchen.  Tiles are ripped up, dust is everywhere, and saving account is draining.  Doing it on a budget, we’re just re-painting our cabinets not replacing them.  But nevertheless we’ve had a few days of everything out of them cupboards and covering every available surface.  Our dining room table is gone!  Our coffee tables – gone!  Even a couple living room chairs are now holding cups, dishes, dry goods, basically all the contents of our cupboards.

I have a hard time with renovations!  It’s not just watching all the money disappear from our savings account (although it is that!  I’m a good saver but not a good spender!).  It’s not just the dust (although I hate dust!).  It’s the chaos, inconvenience, and the clutter!  I’ve always been an organized person.  I like things in their place.  Being ex-military does not help in this predilection.  I actually think it’s a good thing to be like this, although… when chaos, inconvenience, and clutter comes I get anxious.  I have a hard time sitting down.  I don’t know where everything is.  I just want to make breakfast the old, convenient way.  It is actually really hard for me to see the normalcy of my routines, home, schedule, and life upended.  But, I keep telling myself, it is for something good in the end.

Often life isn’t the way we would have chosen it in a given season. Routines give way to Chaos – “this feels out of control somehow!”  Ease turns into Inconvenience – “why can’t things be easier!”  And what it feels like we can handle becomes Clutter – “this is more than I feel I can handle!”  Life can become like a kitchen in the process of renovation.  But there is one truth we can remember – God is in Control.

Yesterday, I was feeling anxiety about my mid-reno home and life.  My kids were eating pizza in the living room (on the new couch, no less!  Gasp!). My brother-in-law was busy painting.  My wife was trying to keep the household running.  I felt anxious.  I couldn’t sit down.  I was on the verge of allowing myself some grouchiness. I couldn’t rest!  But I felt the Lord remind me that it was all for a good end.  My little kitchen was going to look much nicer.  My wife was going to be happy.  I would find satisfaction in a the completion of the job.  It may be Chaos, Inconvenience, and Clutter but there was an end, a purpose.

My life is similar to my kitchen.  I’d prefer no chaos, no inconvenience, no clutter.  But I am not in control of my own life.  That would be a scary thought if it were not for the wonderful truth that God is.  God is in control.  He guides all human history.  He causes the waves to rise and fall on the ocean.  He clothes the lilies and feeds the sparrows.  He is the Grand Author of the world and He is author of my life.  And everything is for a good end.

What we feel in our hearts really isn’t about my kitchen and the state thereof.  It is about whether we can trust that God is in control working all things to a good end for us.  This doesn’t mean that it isn’t difficult, or shouldn’t be.  It doesn’t mean that overwhelming seasons will pass quickly.  Even my renovations aren’t as big or long as many kitchen renos are.  It doesn’t mean that it won’t hurt to have the order of our lives disrupted so that God can do His more important ordering.  But it does mean that He is in control.  And there is some rest to be found.

At least my kitchen isn't this bad!

At least my kitchen isn’t this bad!

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Discipleship – Buffet or Banquet?

Serve yourself!  Those are instructions for buffet style eating but not for following Jesus!

Serve yourself! Those are instructions for buffet style eating but not for following Jesus!

If anyone serves Me, he must follow Me…  The Christian life is one of following Jesus.  It is package deal.  To be saved by Him means to get up and walk after Him as a disciple.  Discipleship is a worthy buzzword among us but what does it mean?  Well, it means a lot of things but not least it means that we don’t get to pick and choose how and when we will follow or which of His demands fall upon us.

Our lives can often be pretty self-serving.  But Christian faith is not like a cafeteria line where we get to pick and choose buffet style.  I’ll believe Jesus for eternal life when I die but don’t feel like letting Him do surgery on my life as it is right now.  Or…  I like what the Bible says about caring for the poor but I don’t like what it says about sexuality and marriage (or vice versa!).  Or…  I like the verses that make me feel good but not the ones that challenge my conscience.  Or…  This doctrine is okay but this one embarrasses me.  All of us are prone to this kind of picking and choosing all the time.

Here’s the thing:  Being a disciple is not like picking and choosing from a cafeteria line.  It is like receiving a banquet.  There is something that has been prepared ahead of time for us and we receive it.  Following Jesus – with all His promises, demands, and commands – is such a banquet.  The Christian faith – with its balancing act of many doctrines some of which may be less fashionable than others at any given cultural moment – is the same.  We must receive all of it.  The longer I study the Bible and theology the more I see how it all fits together as a whole.  The more I try to follow Jesus, the more He comforts me and makes me uncomfortable within the same relationship.

I remember being a young atheist and rejecting Christianity for this very reason!  I sensed that if I believed in the God of the Bible, I’d have to believe what the Bible said about homosexuality for instance.  What it said about submitting to authority.  What it said about giving up my own control over my life.  I was an anarchistic, pro-gay leaning young guy!  But a few years later the very reason I initially rejected Christianity was part of what compelled me to believe it.  If it’s true, than it’s all true.   And that made all the difference.

LewisI’m not the first person to see this.  C S Lewis famously noticed that “Christianity, which is what it is and was what it was long before I was born…”  Lewis sensed that he couldn’t make up his own pastiche of beliefs.  Christian faith – and the reality and call of Jesus – was an all or nothing deal.    This was because Jesus was what He was long before we came around.  And the traditional, historic, orthodox Faith is the same.  He knew – as both convert and pre-convert – of the received nature of Christian revelation.  It is a banquet and not a buffet.  No cafeteria style selection of what we like and don’t like here.

John Wimber also saw this as part of his process of coming to Christ.  WhenWimber I became convinced the Bible was the Word of God and submitted to it, my life was changed.  I knew I could no longer stand in judgment upon Scripture, discarding teaching I could not accept and submitting only to those ideas that conformed to my idea of truth.  I realized the Bible was written in such a manner that to reject one part was to reject it all.  This was a power point, a discovery that put me on the narrow path to salvation.*  This is the essence of receiving Christ and becoming a disciple.  The refusal to pick and choose – to stand in judgment as Wimber puts it – and to receive as a whole.

We’ll always want to pick and choose how we will obey.  We will always be tempted to shy away from the unfashionable doctrines.  But the path of discipleship is one of receiving a good deposit well prepared for us ahead of time.  And one of always denying ourselves the right to pick and choose.

*  from Wimber’s Dynamics of Spiritual Growth, page 29.

Colson on The Church

The man had style as well as wisdom.  That's for sure.

The man had style as well as wisdom. That’s for sure.

“The church is divinely ordained, but it is made up of fallen people. We are not yet perfect. We are all dying daily, like the apostle Paul, repenting of sin and growing in grace. As diverse individuals who make up the Body, we have many different personalities, interests, passions, functions, and odd habits that may well drive one another to distraction. But we cannot let Satan fan those irritations into full-blown disunity. We must remember God’s great patience with us and, in gratitude for His great love, love one another.”
-Chuck Colson

On the Psalms…

The Psalms were/are the prayerbook of Israel and were/are the prayerbook of Christ’s Church.  I believe they should be in the daily lives and spoken from the mouths of God’s People.  Why?  Because they were so for Jesus.  They are His prayers and because we are His people, we can get His words into our mouths.

One of the most transformational disciplines I have ever experienced was daily praying Psalms.  That doesn’t mean I give up on my extemporaneous praying – prayers that spring up from my own heart.  Far from it.  In fact, praying prayers that aren’t “mine” (the Psalms) actually helps to make me a better pray-er without them.

I really advocate daily praying (not just reading) of the Psalms.  This was almost certainly Christ’s practice.   The Psalms are all about Jesus!  And He was/is all about the Psalms!  Here’s some quotes by others to back that up:

Jesus himself quoted and referenced the Psalms in the manner of someone who had been accustomed to praying a pondering them from his earliest days.   N T Wright, The Case for the Psalms, page 14.

Jesus was an only son,*
In the hills of Nazareth,
As he lay reading the Psalms of David,
At his mother’s feet.    
Bruce Springsteen, Jesus Was An Only Son

The prayers of David were prayed also by Christ.  Or better, Christ himself prayed them through his forerunner David…  To be sure, the one who prays his Psalms remains himself.  But in him and through him it is Christ who prays.  Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Psalms:  The Prayer Book of the Bible, page 9.

 

*  As a Protestant I am under no obligation to believe Jesus didn’t have younger half-siblings (like the Scriptures state) but this is neither the time nor the place to argue with the Boss!

Did You See Them? The Chairs Aren’t Empty.

These seats are empty but they're not really empty.  Get it?

These seats are empty but they’re not really empty. Get it?

I recently wrote about how important it is to be aware of unbelievers and outsiders in our midst as we gather for worship.  You can go back and read my reflections on what both John Wimber and the Apostle Paul (both great guys but not equal in their influence) had to say about being aware of the front door.

When the Church gathers we are never truly alone.  Our faith is personal but it is never private.  We’re a family at a family meal but not one that doesn’t have free spots to join in.  It’s a good thing to have unoccupied chairs in a worship service.  I’ve read that any gathering should have 40-30% free seats so that new people will feel like there is a place for them.  But how can they feel like there is really a place for them.  We have to be already seeing people among us.

Last Sunday, in your worship gathering/Church service/Sunday meeting there were quite a few people there for the first time.  Did you see them?  There were…

A couple folks from the surrounding neighbourhood.  Who knows what they believe?  They saw the sign and wanted to see what you’re all about.  Does your congregation care about them?  Do you know their needs and concerns?  How could they know that you care?  Are you aware of the surrounding community and its wonderful uniqueness?  What does the Gospel say to them?

A couple who just moved from different city.  They love Jesus and want to meet people and find ways to get involved in a new Church.  They’ve been to your website and like what they saw.  Do they feel like outsiders? Are they welcomed?  Can they see a path into the community of existing relationships that make up the congregation?  What Gospel do they share with us?

A guy who hasn’t been in Church for years.  He’s a friend of a parishioner who has been talking to him about Jesus.  She took a big step of faith and asked him to check out Church.  He’s a pretty big skeptic and thinks he knows what Christianity is about.  He thinks it is all about rules that take away your fun and beliefs that discredit human intellect.  That’s what Church and Christ meant to him when he was growing up.  Is the sermon going to prove him right?  What Gospel will he hear?

A young womyn* who is not at all inclined to like Christianity.  (her spelling, not mine, but I respect it!)  She considers herself spiritual but not in a Christian way.  She’s offended by the Christian belief that God is a Father.  She considers herself open-minded but has her antennas up for anything that is narrow.  Is anyone going to be friendly to her?  Are her questions going to addressed?  Is there any Good News for her?

A young Pakistani guy.  His parents are immigrants but he has grown up here all his life.  He’s nominally Muslim but never practices or thinks much about it.  He likes to party and go to Whiskey Dix (pretty sketchy dance club for non-Winnipeggers out there) some weekends.  He doesn’t think about God much and has never thought about what is unique about Jesus.  What the presence of passionate worship be like for him?  Will he be able to hear Good News?

 All those folks were in the room with you last weekend.  Did you see them?  They were in the room along with all the regulars – broken, sinful, eager, struggling, hopeful believers that we are.  We’re not better than they are.  We need Jesus this weekend as much as they do.  And it is the exact same Gospel that is for all of us.  But did we see them?

You probably get it that they weren’t really there physically.  But here’s the point:  If we don’t see them when they’re not there, we’ll never really get to see them.  This doesn’t mean that we cater to the tastes and fancies of the world around.  It doesn’t mean we give them fluff so as not to offend.  It doesn’t mean the we don’t praise God like His people should.  It doesn’t mean that we don’t preach (and receive) the unfiltered truth of the Good news with all its promise, challenge, warning, and comfort.  But it means that we still need to see them.  Get it?

Did you see them?  Then you never will.

They weren’t really there.  But don’t you want them to be?

The Front Door – Is It Open?

Where is this guy when we need him?

Where is this guy when we need him?

“A Church is never any bigger than the front door to the back door on any given Sunday. I know some pastors brag about this, “We don’t have many, but we keep them.” That’s death folks, thats what the cemetery does.” – John Wimber

It seems as though John Wimber was taken from us too soon.  But his wisdom still speaks to us.  The quote above shows how much we need to care about The Front Door, that is, new people coming into our congregations.  And also how much we need to care about new people coming into Christian faith.

How can we close the front door?  Well, we could demand our worship services be performed in Latin.  Or we could be like a certain German congregation I knew which had ‘All Welcome’ written on their sign.  (Except it was in German!)  But both of these probably aren’t high-risk temptations for many congregations.  We ma not be literally closing the front door in people’s faces but we can lose our awareness of what it is like to enter a worship meeting for the first time.  And we can forget what it is like to know nothing (or nearly nothing) about the Christian faith.  Does the sermon make sense?  Is the community welcoming?  Is what is going on being explained in such a way as to help new people understand?

We forget that our worship gathering is a public act.  We are never really alone.  When we gather as a community of faith it is not private.  We are a family.  But we’re not a family that eats with their elbows up and there isn’t a place for anyone new to sit.  A congregation must be a community with permeable edges.  Someone has to be able to see their way in.  This is not just true of those who are already Christians.  People with no background in faith have to be able to see the Gospel enfleshed in the local community.  They may not believe as we do.  They may not be comfortable with everything we say or do.  But they must have the door opened to them so that they can at least begin to understand what it’s all about.  But isn’t that compromising?  Does that mean we have to cater to unbelievers or the lowest common denominator?  Isn’t that the beginning of the slippery slope to Seeker-sensitivity?  Well…no.  It isn’t.  It’s love.  And it’s a concern for what God’s heart is all about.  He wants people to be introduced to Him.  And the local Church is the place to do it.

What does the Bible say about the front door?  Does it say anything?  Well, turns out it does.  When Paul wrote to the Corinthians he actually calls on them to consider the presence (actual or inevitable) of outsiders in the midst of the worship meeting.  Read:

23 If, therefore, the whole church comes together and all speak in tongues, and outsiders or unbelievers enter, will they not say that you are out of your minds? 24 But if all prophesy, and an unbeliever or outsider enters, he is convicted by all, he is called to account by all, 25 the secrets of his heart are disclosed, and so, falling on his face, he will worship God and declare that God is really among you.  1 Corinthians 14:23-25  ESV (emphasis added)

1 Corinthians 14 is not an easy chapter of the Bible to navigate.  But it is the passage of Scripture that gives some of the clearest instruction on what Church should worship like.  A few important observations:

Let's open this, shall we?

Let’s open this, shall we?

-Paul is expecting the presence of two types of folks:  outsiders and unbelievers.  That means folks who may have little to no idea about Christianity.  It may also include visiting Christians who may be unfamiliar with the pattern of worship a particular congregation has.  He uses the word if .  That means even if they may not be there, take into account that they might be sometimes.  This is important because if you aren’t already caring about them, they probably won’t be showing up.

-He gives instructions about worship gatherings but isn’t laying out an exact template.  But he is encouraging them to err on the side of intelligibility – hence prophecy over tongues.  Tongues is great but don’t preach in them because then you can’t be understand.  And you’ll seem crazy.  Prophecy can be understood.  It is in the understanding that the power lies.  Paul wants outsiders and unbelievers to be able to understand what is going on.

-Paul’s NOT discouraging use of spiritual gifts or passionate worship.  He’s not saying to tone it down to cater to non-Christians.  This is NOT seeker-sensitive compromising to tickle the fancies of those who don’t know God.  It’s love.  God’s heart burns for those who don’t know Him to hear of Him.  Paul’s instructions here are really a call to awareness that is rooted in love.

The Front Door of a Church – keeping it open – is really about love.  Being aware of what it’s like to walk through for the first time may be more important now than ever before.  We must never forget that we do not exist, we do not worship, we do not meet just for ourselves.  We do it first for God, true!  But we must never forget that Church isn’t a closed spiritual club.  To be like that – even in the name of some deepness – is a slow way to die.  Hear it from Big John if not from me.  Church is a community (and a meeting which defines that community) for the sake of the Gospel.  And that Gospel needs to be heard and understood.

Who am I? And What Do I Worship? another self-administered test

This is a little self-test from Peter Kreeft.  It can help us determine who we are and what it is that we worship in our lives.  You can answer as quickly as you can and then check your answers with the key.

First, Some Personal Questions:

Who do think are the three greatest living persons in the world today?

1) ____________

2) ____________

3) ____________

4)  Who do you think is the most powerful person in the world today, whether for good or for evil?  ____________

Name the person you turn to first for advice and help when you have problems in each of the following areas of your life:

5)  mental health ____________

6)  marriage ____________

7)  money ____________

8)  sex ____________

9)  family ____________

10)  career ____________

Next, Some Theological Questions:

11)  Why did God create the universe?  ____________

12)  How can we know God?  ____________

13)  What is God like?  ____________

14)  Why do you believe in life after death?  ____________

15)  What is the secret of getting wisdom?  ____________

16)  How can a wicked person become righteous?  ____________

17)  How can you become a saint?  ____________

18)  When you die and meet God and He asks you why He should let you into Heaven, what will you say?  ____________

19)  What is the Church?  ____________

20)  What is the solution to the problem of war?  ____________

21)  What did St Paul know that you do not that made him such an effective evangelist?  ____________

22)  Christianity seems to be just one religion among many in the world.  How can this local, Western, Jewish, particular thing be for everyone, universally?  ____________

23)  What is Christianity?  What does it preach, say, claim, or proclaim?  ____________

Next, Some Philosophical Questions:

24)  What is truth?  ____________

25)  Define your way of life.  ____________

26)  Define “Life”.  ____________

27)  What is death?  ____________

Next, Some Psychological Questions:

28)  What is the end, goal, and purpose of your life?  ____________

29)  What is your solution to boredom?  ____________

30)  Define your true identity?  ____________

31)  Why is your identity so mysterious?  ____________

32)  What is the best cure for loneliness?  ____________

33)  What can you do when you feel tired all the time?  ____________

Finally, Two Questions To Pull It All Together:

34)  What is the last command of the last apostle?  ____________

35)  What is the most frequently disobeyed command?  ____________

source:  Peter Kreeft, Jesus Shock, pages 6-35

for the Answer Key, scroll down, way down.

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Answer Key

1 – 3) Luke 24:5: If you didn’t answer “The Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, why not? Do you think of God as real persons or impersonal abstractions?

4)       Mt. 28:18: It’s Jesus, man!.

5 – 10) Phil. 4:19: God supplies for all your needs through Christ, not just the spiritual or religious, but all of them.

11)     Col 1:16: All of creation is through and for him. He is not just Savior of the world. He is its purpose!

12)     Jn. 1:18: All true knowledge of God comes through Christ, the Light of the World.

13)    Jn. 14:8-9: “God is love and love holds nothing back, so the Father holds nothing back in expressing himself in God, the Son.”

14)    Jn. 11:26: “Death is not a philosophical problem but a live one. Its solution is not a philosophical argument but a live person.

15 -18) 1 Cor. 1:30: Jesus isn’t merely the cause of wisdom, righteousness, sanctity & redemption… he IS our wisdom, righteousness…

19)    Eph. 1:22-33: The Church is the Body of Christ, “It is an organism before it is an organization, and incarnation before it is an institution.

20)    Jn. 14:27: Jesus is our peace.

21)    1 Cor. 2:2: “Less is more.” Catherine of Sienna once said, “Everything I know I learned at the foot of the Cross.”

22)    Col. 3:11: The Gospel is the story of the Author of the universe redeeming the universe. Hence, Christianity is truly the only universal religion.

23)    Col. 1:27-28: Our faith is all about a relationship with the Living God.

24 – 26)    Jn. 14:6: “Once again, abstractions acquire hands and feet and lips.” Jesus doesn’t just teach the way, truth and life. He IS the way, truth & life!

27)    Phil. 1:21: “If your life is Christ, then your death will be only more of Christ, forever.”

28)    Eph 4:13: “The meaning of human life is to grow up, and to grow up means to become more like Christ.”

29)    2 Cor. 5:17 (see also, Eccl. 1:9, Rev. 21:5): “Behold, I make all things new.”

30)    Gal. 2:20: To live is to love. To love is to give yourself, fully, freely, fruitfully, faithfully, forever. Anything else is death. To love is to be God-like and you are made in the image and likeness of God!

31)    Col. 3:3: Our lives are hidden in Christ, ‘We are all caterpillars (Adams) in process of transformation into butterflies (Christs).”

32)    Mt. 28:20: You are never alone. Christ is with you always.

33)    Mt. 11:28: With Christ as your center, there is no storm, no trial, nothing that can separate you from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

34 – 35) 1 Jn. 5:21: What are the idols in your life? All of us have them, money, sex, drugs, TV, shopping, etc. Each and every time you put yourself first, you act selfishly then you are placing some idol on the throne of your heart and pushing Jesus aside.