Friday, December 16, 2011

Guilt or Gratitude - What is the motivation of the Church?

From The Driven Quill of an Evangelical Agnostic

What is wrong with us?

Guilt or Gratitude - What is the motivation of the Church?

Her eyes swelled with tears giving us the answer to our question before she could form the words with her mouth. Nancy and I had stopped at Ruby Tuesday’s Restaurant on our way home from Cleveland. Our 21-year-old waitress was eager to engage us in conservation as the restaurant was fairly empty. We told her that the last time we stopped here the service was not very good. She immediately became apologetic. I told her, “We are only saying that to say how good our service has been today.” She remarked that most of the patrons she serves are very good - maybe one out of ten present her with difficulties. Only one table in two years of service had caused her to almost walk out of the restaurant never to return. “They were so mean to me,” she said, “and it was a Sunday morning.” Nancy and I glanced at each other in alarm and I asked, “Was it church-people?” That is when she had to struggle for composure to reply, “Yes, it was.”

We did our best to provide an apology as we told her that we were pastors. As she returned to her station I asked Nancy, “What is wrong with us?” We can only hope that our expression of regret and the generous tithe - oops, I mean tip - that we left helped heal her wound that was obviously still in need of assuagement. A more proper term for tip would be gratuity. It is not hard to see the obvious relationship with this word and an expression of gratitude. Indeed the dictionary says a gratuity is something given without claim or demand. Although we should never think of our gifts to God in the terms of “a tip” their offering hopefully would be with a profound sense of gratitude given without claim or demand. Yet, because of our feelings of guilt we project those expectations back on God - believing that He owes us in return. Guilt anticipates with fear what might or might not happen, gratitude rejoices in hope for that which has and will be done.

“Don't say anything that would hurt [another person]. Instead, speak only what is good so that you can give help wherever it is needed. That way, what you say will help those who hear you.” Eph. 4:29 GOD’S WORD “Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you.” Eph. 4:32 NASB The attitude set forth here in Paul’s letter can only be the fruit of gratitude.

Again, I ask the question, “What is wrong with us?” Yes, the church is the source of so much good in this world - just think of the plethora of hospitals, institutions of learning, orphanages, humanitarian organizations that only exist because faithful believers have heeded the call of Christ to make a difference in this world created by and through Him: even because of or for Him (John 1:3). The implications of this possible alternative translation of the Greek preposition dia are tremendous. (Might creation be groaning in agreement with the Psalmist: “Do not forsake the work of your hands.” Psalm 138:8) As I am writing, I hear these words on the radio: “This is my Father’s world, The battle is not done. Jesus, who died, shall be satisfied And earth and heaven be one.” Yet, we leave such a trail of detritus that this great weight of goodness is often obscured - at least in the heart of a 21-year-old waitress. Have we identified with the Pogo axiom? “We have met the enemy and he is us.”

I am convinced that the answer to this dilemma can be summed up in what may be another question: “What motivates us?” What is the motivation of the Church - guilt or gratitude? I am concerned that it is more of the former - we believe that we can coerce gratitude by means of guilt. This results in nothing but glaring hypocrisy - obvious to all but the self-deceived. If we are deceived, we will trade one deception for another. If we are disillusioned, the spell is broken.

“How many sermons on gratitude do we need to hear before we become grateful?” was the post from a young friend on a recent Sunday afternoon. My reply, “Is the hearing of more sermons the answer?” And I went on to say, “Would it not be better to see a sermon than to hear one?” He did respond in the affirmative.

Just a few days ago my friends and I were privileged to be in Sembabule District, Uganda. There we were able to gift twelve village pastors with bicycles which would provide their only means of transportation and to distribute small bags of sugar to every family gathered there. Their gratitude was so obvious that gratitude was caused to rise in our hearts. We were seeing God at work. As I later related this story to a group of men here at home, several of which the Father had used to make financial provision, I was once again overcome by this sense of gratitude: “How can we not worship a God who would allow us to be part of such a deed?” We were filled with the awe of the Divine Majesty in the board room of Joe Holland Chevrolet. Gratitude and worship are fruit of the same root - the Grace of God.

I was sharing with the guys I meet with every Sunday morning at a local Bob Evan’s Restaurant about our Uganda trip and how fast the taxi vans and buses go - and how dangerous they are. I had not realized until this trip that their motivation is competition - if they can get to the waiting passengers ahead of another vehicle then they get their fare.

As I was leaving to return home, I entered I-64 West at the MacCorkle Ave entrance. I would only have to cross the Kanawha River and exit at Dunbar - the very next exit. You have to be careful when entering the interstate here because you do not have much time before you enter into the mainstream of traffic. I gazed intently in my driver’s side mirror and was relieved to see no approaching traffic. However, before I could reach my exit I was overtaken by a passenger van that then passed me, crossed back in front of me and exited at my exit. By the time I came off the ramp it was almost out of sight.

Are you wondering? Yes, it was a church van. I was immediately reminded of the taxi vans of Uganda - in a dangerous hurry to outdo one another. Are we afraid that someone else is going to get more rewards than we are? A church van - I wonder what makes it a “church van?” Just because it has some lettering on the outside identifying it as such - while the inside is filled with and motivated by something different? Do hope you will countenance me a little allegory here.

Guilt seeks its own validation through competition - if it can outdo another then its voracious appetite is sated for a while, until its ravenous hunger is awakened once again. Gratitude esteems the value in one another: “Don't act out of selfish ambition or be conceited. Instead, humbly think of others as being better than yourselves.” Phil. 2:3 We are called not to compete, but to complement.

Do we truly believe the Gospel is a gift of grace or a right we have earned? Are we convinced that our pardon is sealed? The words of this 19th century hymn have been reverberating in my mind lately.

Sing, oh sing, of my Redeemer,
With His blood, He purchased me.
On the cross, He sealed my pardon,
Paid the debt, and made me free.

“He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will, to the praise of the glory of His grace, which He freely bestowed on us in the Beloved.” Eph. 1:5-6 NASB Please note the use of the word bestow which means “to present as a gift” and freely at that.

This pardon is the death knell of vain striving for the unattainable - approval before God and man on the basis of our own merits. I am not sure that self-righteousness is the proper word, maybe more like self-rightness. There is nothing righteous about it. No matter what we want to call it, it has been the enemy of the Gospel of the Glory of Christ from the very beginning. Whether we call it Pharisee-ism, Gnosticism or whatever - it is a deception that is as old as the serpent in the Garden: "For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil." Genesis 3:5 NIV

Paul had to deal with it and he called it a bewitching: “You foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? Before your very eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed as crucified.” Galatians 3:1 NIV I was speaking on the issue of religious deception a few years ago in Jinja, Uganda when an illustration from one of my favorite avocations came to my mind. I was hunting from a tree-stand when the deer came in behind me. My choice of gun that day was a short-barreled .44 magnum. To turn and shoot I could not extend my arm and the revolver was close to my face when I pulled the trigger. Not only could I hear the muzzle blast - I could actually feel it. As a result I have a ringing in my ear that I can still hear today. That is how it should be in the ear of the Christian with Christ’s own words: “It is finished!” The gospels tell us that He shouted these words with a loud voice and at the same time the prohibitive veil covering the Presence of God was rent in two. This ringing in our ear will overwhelm the subtle whispers of the deception of self-rightness and its attendants of pride and arrogance. It is a degree of deafness, but in this case it is a good thing - deaf to the siren call of vain striving.

Most of these instances I have been relating all occurred within the space of just a few days. After returning home from the interstate incident I went into a storage area of our home and flicked a switch to turn on the light which also turned on a radio plugged into the same circuit. What ushered (maybe a pun is intended) forth was the drone of organ music - the tedium of which was only interrupted by occasional loud coughing. What struck me was the arrogance that some local congregation would believe that we would want to listen to their “live” service while they were collecting the offering.

The fruit of guilt is pride resulting in arrogance. I love the way Pastor John Piper addresses the issue of arrogance: “The gospel gives us a new identity that is so majestic that we would be the most arrogant people in the world–except that we know we don’t deserve it, it cost Christ his life, and it is all a free gift of grace.” (Piper, John, Bloodlines: Race, Cross, and the Christian, Crossway, Wheaton, IL, 2011, p. 94)

The name of my blog is “The Driven Quill of an Evangelical Agnostic.” I am persuaded of the reality of The Evangel - the News that is so good it is hard to believe were it not for faith. Yet, I am very agnostic concerning the manner in which we evangelicals proclaim it. My concern is that we really do not believe what we say we believe - and it is painfully obvious to those around us. As we spoke at our Sunday morning gathering of the temptations facing our younger generations, I wondered, “Will there be a church - at least one with a viable witness - in the coming years?” The answer of course is yes, “and upon this stone I shall build my church, and the gates of Sheol will not withstand it." Matthew 16:18 Aramaic Bible in Plain English

Yet, must it take on a different form? Might we say reformed - from guilt to gratitude? A transformation that truly expresses the hope that it contains - that the heart of a petite 21-year-old in Cambridge, Ohio would see it and be healed.

“Our message is not about ourselves. It is about Jesus Christ as the Lord. We are your servants for his sake. We are his servants because the same God who said that light should shine out of darkness has given us light. For that reason we bring to light the knowledge about God's glory which shines from Christ's face.” 2 Corinthians 4:5-6 GOD’S WORD

Monday, September 19, 2011


“That is a nutty phrase,” remarked the radio commentator. Previously he had said, “I am so tired of hearing about this.” What was the phrase that he was referring to? It was “social justice.” Was this commentator coming from a conservative perspective? Yes, but not an extreme one. It could be truly said of him that he is “fair and balanced.” The spin indeed does stop with him.

My assertion is that the Biblical concept of justice is just justice. There can be nothing more, and certainly nothing less. To modify it in any way - even in an attempt at definition - brings great disservice to this eternal principle. Justice is one of the twin pillars of the foundation of the very throne of God - the other being righteousness. Any effort of finite amelioration will only have the opposite effect - to weaken or adulterate.

I was recently reading a scholarly attempt to define justice and righteous which was backed up indeed by practice. Yet the author’s conclusion was that the sum total of these two foundational principles was “social justice.” I was aghast as I read his summation - but why? At first I was perplexed, but then it began to dawn on me: “How can the glory of God rest upon such a limiting foundation?”

I could find no element of adoration in the author’s conclusions. There is nothing about the denigration of righteousness and justice to “social justice” that elicits worship. It does not inspire reverence for it is a profound degradation of the Divine Majesty.

Cannot secular social service agencies accomplish much the same thing as “social justice?” Is it not possible for gains to be made in this arena through “rendering unto Caesar” via our legislative processes? Are there not organizations that were birthed in the fire of revival - and in which this fire has become little more than a flicker - still able to reach out a hand of “social justice?”

My intent is not to detract from the aid supplied by these entities. Yet the questions above lead to another more profound question: “Do they provide true healing for the systemic disease - the corruption of the human spirit - or are they only treating the symptoms?” Is the care only palliative lacking the power to resurrect and transform? If there is no wonderment - no sense of the revelation of the hidden mystery - then the answer must be yes. If there is a void of awe inspiring worship, then nothing is being accomplished of eternal significance.

An apex occurrence of true worship - at least within the realms of his immediate revelation - can be seen embodied in Cornelius the Centurion. Even before he had heard the truth of the Gospel he was a God-fearer. He was a doer of justice and righteousness for it is said of him: “he gave generously to those in need and prayed to God regularly.” This is true worship - a point of intersection between heaven and earth - through which the angelic messenger spoke to him: "Your prayers and alms have ascended as a (lasting) memorial before God.”

Authentic wholistic devotion produces effects with eternal results. This occurrence lead directly to the Council of Jerusalem which served to accelerate the propulsion of the Message unto the world stage - escaping the snare of becoming just another in a line of Jewish sects.

Only true worship can produce immutable consequences for it is what the Father is seeking. It may expect, even anticipate - but it does not assume. The Father’s ultimate objective is to conform the worshiper into the image of His Son (Romans 8:29) for that is what pleases Him the most. To assume is to exert privilege which is quite the opposite from the Eternal Son who laid aside His privileges. The posture of the true worshiper is one of humility and that is what most resembles God's only Son, the one who is closest to the Father's heart, who has made him known (John 1:18).

The Church - of which we are a part - falls woefully short of the Father’s objective when we confine worship to musical activity at certain places and at set times–calling it services. I almost made objective plural. The objective of God the Father is never plural - it is singular and that singularity is the image of the Son of His Love.

True worship is an all-encompassing lifestyle marked by the doing of justice and righteous for this is the foundation of the Glory of God - the two witnesses. This is the place of His habitation–from which He presides over the affairs of man. It is none other than the House of the Lord whose plumb line is righteousness and level line justice: "For now I have chosen and consecrated this house that My name may be there forever, and My eyes and My heart will be there perpetually.” 2 Chronicles 7:16

We must avoid the tendency to reduce the Church to some form of dichotomy; thus attributing to it dual purposes. This is the position of the author that reduced righteousness and justice to “social justice.” A dualistic church cannot be whole–it is powerless to give expression to the very oneness for which her Savior has prayed. This bifurcation causes one aspect of the church to spin off into moral relativism, while the other basks in the illusion of a form of gnostic spirituality. This concept has engendered the misnomer para-church. We must no longer give countenance to such misconceptions if we are to give witness to Christ’s resurrected life.

The words of this great hymn must ring hollow within the vacuity of a dualistic church.

Crown Him the Son of God, before the worlds began,
And ye who tread where He hath trod, crown Him the Son of Man;
Who every grief hath known that wrings the human breast,
And takes and bears them for His own, that all in Him may rest.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

The Third Dimension

The Third Dimension

“Holy, Holy, Holy, is the LORD of hosts,...”
“who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.”

Why Three Times!? Righteousness and Justice and............!

Crown Him with many crowns, the Lamb upon His throne.
Hark! How the heavenly anthem drowns all music but its own.

Since the revelation of the concept of righteousness and justice first apprehended me several years ago, one account has been especially relevant - and that is the coming of the Gospel to the House of Cornelius in Acts 10. This lead directly to the Council of Jerusalem and the propulsion of the Message of Christ unto the world stage.

Crown Him with many crowns, as thrones before Him fall;
Crown Him, ye kings, with many crowns, for He is King of all.

Devotionally reading this account recently something struck me as particularly significant that had not grasped my attention before: Again a voice came to him a second time, “What God has cleansed, no longer consider unholy.” This happened three times, and immediately the object was taken up into the sky. Acts 10:15-16

This had to happen to Peter three times in order to prepare him to bring the Gospel to the House of Cornelius - a non-Jew. And from there to the remotest parts of the earth. But why three times? What is the significance of three? (Christ’s commission to Peter was threefold - John 21:15-19.)

Crown Him the Lord of life, who triumphed over the grave,
And rose victorious in the strife for those He came to save.

The messenger of God had appeared to Cornelius and said to him: "Your prayers and alms have ascended as a memorial (or reminder) before God.” In essence his deeds brought him to God’s attention for they were the beginning of true worship. A thin place was created in which the kingdom of heaven came close to the realm of this finite plane. Yet, close is not enough - for a veil still remains.

Awake, my soul, and sing of Him who died for thee,
And hail Him as thy matchless King through all eternity.

Of interest also is the fact that Cornelius was praying at the ninth hour or 3:00PM - and that he sent three men to Peter. And of even more importance from the same account: "God raised Him up on the third day and granted that He become visible,...” Acts 10:40 Christ became visible or was made manifest on the third day. He had existed eternally as God, laid aside His privileges of being God to become man - and now has become fully in Oneness or wholeness the God-man - our perfect and complete High Priest always by this nature living to make intercession for us.

Crown Him the Son of God, before the worlds began,
And ye who tread where He hath trod, crown Him the Son of Man;

Cornelius was a god-fearer - a doer of righteousness and justice. He had the vertical and horizontal dimensions - but was yet lacking the depth. Without depth the other two dimensions can only form a shadow or outline - without substance. It is the third dimension that provides depth - reality, wholeness or hypostasis.

Fruit of the mystic rose, as of that rose the stem;
The root whence mercy ever flows, the Babe of Bethlehem.

Three is the symbol of the cube–the simplest form of a solid figure. Three, therefore, stands for that which is solid, real, substantial, complete and entire. When we turn to the Scriptures, this completion becomes Divine, and marks Divine completeness or perfection. Three is the first of four perfect numbers and denotes divine perfection.

Cornelius was not yet fully a true worshiper for he bowed down at Peter’s feet and began to worship him. He was not able to discern the difference between the finite and the infinite. Peter rebuked him saying that he too was only a man. The fullness had yet come to Cornelius’ household–it was very near.

Crown Him the Lord of peace, whose power a scepter sways
From pole to pole, that wars may cease, and all be prayer and praise.

The shadow makes us aware that the substance is there, but we cannot be satisfied with the shadow alone - we cannot stop there. “things which are a mere shadow of what is to come; but the substance belongs to Christ.” Col. 2:17NASB “the reality, however, is found in Christ.” NIV “but the body is Christ's.” ASV “but the body [that casts the shadow] belongs to Christ.” GODS WORD

We have to have a body to create a shadow, yet the shadow has no reality in itself. Relationship is only possible where there is height, width and depth. “Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow.” James 1:17NASB The Eternal Son was made manifest that He might take us where He had been from the beginning of time–into relationship with His Father. “No one has ever seen God, but God the One and Only, who is at the Father's side, has made him known.” John 1:18NIV

Crown Him the virgin’s Son, the God incarnate born,
Whose arm those crimson trophies won which now His brow adorn;

I am hearing these words coming from the internet radio as I write: “There is no shadow in Your Presence... Lord I come, I bring an offering of worship to My King. Jesus may you receive the honor You are due. No one on earth deserves the praises...”

The worship of a shadow - with form but no substance - is idolatry. “they did not stop worshiping demons, and idols of gold, silver, bronze, stone and wood--idols that cannot see or hear or walk.” Rev. 9:20NIV A form without depth has no power to deliver. “holding to a form of godliness, although they have denied its power;” 2 Timothy 3:5NASB Also: “BUT IN VAIN DO THEY WORSHIP ME (Their worship is a farce, NLT), TEACHING AS DOCTRINES THE PRECEPTS OF MEN.” Matthew 15:9NASB

Crown Him the Lord of years, the Potentate of time,
Creator of the rolling spheres, ineffably sublime.

If the focus of our worship - the giving of ourselves in wholeness (Romans 12:1-2) - is on either righteousness or justice, we are being idolatrous. These are the eternal two witness - such as the cherubim on the Ark of the Covenant - but they are only witnesses. They do not testify of themselves - but point toward another without whom they are incomplete. They have no glory in themselves. True worship does not draw attention to itself.

Crown Him the Lord of lords, who over all doth reign,
Who once on earth, the incarnate Word, for ransomed sinners slain,

All that was left was the presentation of the Divine Logos in the presence and power of God Himself - “we are all here in the presence of God to hear all that you have been commanded by the Lord.” Acts 10:33ESV This is the Full Gospel - whole and complete in itself. “In the beginning the Word already existed. The Word was with God, and the Word was God.” John 1:1NLT

And to bring us back to Cornelius’ household - the gospel having been proclaimed in its fullness - “So Peter ordered them to be baptized in the name of Jesus the Messiah.” Acts 10:48ISV The authentic presentation of the Gospel in word and deed had penetrated the veil. “by word and deed, in the power of signs and wonders, in the power of the Spirit; ...I have fully preached the gospel of Christ.” Romans 15:18-19NASB

No angel in the sky can fully bear that sight,
But downward bends his burning eye at mysteries so bright.

Christ is not the messenger, He is the Message. Angels are messengers, He is the Eternal Word. “For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily,” Colossians 2:9ESV “And He is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature, and upholds all things by the word of His power. When He had made purification of sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high,” Hebrews 1:3 NASB

Awake, my soul, and sing of Him who died for thee,
And hail Him as thy matchless King through all eternity.

Worship on a one or two dimensional plane - because of what He can do for us or what He can do through us - is not true worship at all. We attempt to conform God into our image - that is, what we perceive Him to be.

When we receive a revelation of the third dimension - who He is - then and only then do we enter into true worship. And that is what He is seeking for we are being conformed into the image of His Son - His Son most accurately expresses who He is, not what He is.

Abraham and the lad went up on the mountain to worship. It is called worship not because God would provide for Abraham, but because He would provide for Himself (Genesis 22:5-8 NASB/ESV).

True worship is self-sustainable for it continues without end. Anything less will fail at some point. This is the great motivating factor of the Church of Jesus Christ - thrusting her into the remotest parts of the earth.

Now lives in realms of light, where saints with angels sing
Their songs before Him day and night, their God, Redeemer, King.

All hail, Redeemer, hail! For Thou has died for me;
Thy praise and glory shall not fail throughout eternity.

PS: The Trisagion - an ancient hymn of the Church: “Holy God, Holy and Mighty, Holy Immortal, have mercy on us.”

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

“Sign Broke - Message Inside”

“Sign Broke - Message Inside” - What we have here is a crisis of ecclesiology.

As I drive toward my home there is a plastic sign by the road which smugly proclaims “Sign Broke - Message Inside.” Yet, as I lift my eyes to look beyond this garish example of failing modernity I see an empty gated parking lot - and beyond that a building sitting dark and void whose “sanctuary” is made safe indeed by the securely locked doors.

And less we might muddle along in confusion, this marquee also reminds us that this vacuous facade is a church. Yet, this myopia is not God’s plan for the Church of His Son - for that Church will be an overcoming Church against whom the seat of authority of hell itself shall not prevail.

How incongruous this site is with this truth: For God, who said, "Light shall shine out of darkness," is the One who has shone in our hearts to give the Light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ. 2 Cor. 4:6 These words of Paul at once give us both the modus (effect) and mission (motivation) of the Church.

While enjoying a Sunday afternoon lunch we overheard this comment, “We just got out of church.” This commonly heard expression suddenly struck us as very strange. Is it possible to go in and out of church? This statement shares equally with the term “going to church.” Are these just innocent statements or are they the tip of a malignance that is depriving the church of its very life?

What we have indeed is a crisis of ecclesiology - we do not understand the basic nature, function nor mission of the church. We have relegated it to certain places and specific times effectively insulating and isolating itself from a community that is desperately seeking answers to its quickly approaching plight. From Bishop N.T. Wright: “The thought of two or three Christians, or two or three hundred or thousand Christians, all trying to practice “love”–while remaining determinedly in their own hermetically sealed worlds of private spirituality and virtue!–is of course a contradiction in terms.

From a young postmodernist, “You have to be willing to lose something in order to gain.” There is no growth without change and there is no change without loss. Modernity’s unwillingness to embrace change has resulted in a fanciful interpretation of future events that allows it to escape its responsibilities in this present age. One has to wonder just who is being “left behind?”

As an “evangelical agnostic” I am totally committed to the Evangel or orthodoxy while I question our orthopraxy which must constantly change for relevancy’s sake. Confusing one with the other results in the paralysis of “We’ve never done it that way before.”

As I was on my way to city-wide prayer Wednesday evening I had my radio tuned to K-Love. I begun to hear them talk about Celtic Christianity. The point that they were making was that for the Celts, everything was worship. As they themselves were dedicated and consecrated to God all of their activities were expressions of worship whether they were giving aid to a neighbor or milking a cow. As John Wimber used to say, “Whether you are casting out a demon or taking a nap - the pay is the same.”

The church is the church no matter where she is or what time it is. A friend speaks of the church gathered - such as congregationally - and the church scattered (diaspora) throughout the community; it is still the church. I read recently in a national Christian magazine that they were still trying to decide if “para-church” ministries were part of the church. I could hardly believe that was still a question! So-called “para-church” ministries are not ancillary to the church they are part and parcel of it. They may very well be her hands and feet. Rick Warren once commented that the problem with the church today is that it is all mouth.

Much of Christianity has developed a dualism of sacred and secular that has unfortunate similarities to Gnosticism. In other words there are certain places, times and people that are more dedicated to God than others. As a result a plastic sign standing in front of a dark empty building could proclaim that the message was inside. Yes, the message is inside, but not inside a building - inside the community of faith and inside each individual member thereof. “We now have this light shining in our hearts, but we ourselves are like fragile clay jars containing this great treasure.” 2 Corinthians 4:7 NLT

Bishop Wright comments on the true dwelling place of God: “And that place is no longer a building, in Jerusalem or anywhere else. It is a family, the family of those who belong to the Messiah. They are the living expression of the fact that he is the world’s rightful sovereign: the royal community of the King.”

As our prayer gathering continued a pastor who is new to the area rose and came to the front of the assembly. (Just heard announcer say on the radio, “Some people will never darken the door of a church.” He went on to say the answer to this dilemma is Christian radio. Oh my, how far we have strayed.) He began to share how he had been unusually moved by the Holy Spirit over the past few days and that hope had been restored partly as a result of the Prayer Walk through our community. Then he said before he began to pray, “We have forgotten about Jesus. He didn’t do a lot of work in the synagogue - He did most of it in the street.” And then he prayed that God would give us strength to be bold about His Word. That He would be with us and use us to heal our community. He spoke forth a mandate to the Church in our City.

Once again from Bishop Wright: “When the Spirit of Jesus the Messiah comes to dwell in Christians, individually and corporately, this happens so that they can be–all together–the place where his genuinely human life actually and physically continues within the life of the present world.”

There are those who are “in step with the Spirit” and who have an ear to “Listen to the Wind Words, the Spirit blowing through the church.” Personally, I am grieved to the point of tears - seriously! But not without hope, for I am seeing harbingers that cause me to rejoice.

 Leadership in our community that will not succumb to dysfunctional unilateralism - with godly deference they are eager to embrace the holism of the Gospel of the Kingdom.

 Suburban congregations and ministries willingly committing their time, energy and money to ministry in the urban community.

 Businessmen unhesitatingly making an annual pledge of $5,000.00 to address the pressing needs of our oft neglected youth.

 A local inner-city community association that is lead by the pastor of a majority community congregation that resisted the urge to flee to suburbia choosing instead to commit its resource to the restoration of the society in which it found itself.

 Minority community leadership arising in our city that knows revival is more than just numbering souls–it is community transformation. Our Alliance president who is bold enough to declare, “We have been doing the same thing for thirty years and getting no results, it is time we do something different.”

We are in desperate need of a New Reformation. The Reformation was a movement born out of religious frustration that was greatly aided by a need for social upheaval. The Reformers succeeded in their prime objective; they made the world a better place.

And from the words of the Reformers themselves:

Martin Luther, “We are not the church’s guardians, if it were up to us, the church would perish before our eyes, and we together with it...But it is another who obviously preserves both the church and us.”

John Calvin, “there is still some concealed energy, which, though it be not immediately manifest to our eyes, will at length yield its the word of the Lord, by which alone the Church is sustained.”

And from the Word itself:

“Enduring, we with him shall reign.
Who him denies,
He will disclaim.
Our faith may fail,
his never wanes–
He cannot change!”

2 Timothy 2:12-13 ISV

And now just having returned from a major national conference of church leaders I am encouraged for the message was: word, works - and wonders. “For I will not presume to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me, resulting in the obedience of the Gentiles by word and deed, in the power of signs and wonders, in the power of the Spirit;” Romans 15:18-19 NASB A young member of the emergent generation would persuasively direct us toward an integrated holistic eschatology that would focus on the consummation of all things in Christ Jesus.

This too was the message brought to our own local community during six days of our Gathering for Revival!

Seek God for the City 2011 - “Enlarge our praying to match Your wonderful purpose. Bring massive, sudden changes to our families and our cities, far beyond what we have dared to ask, so that we shake our heads with grateful amazement. As You answer our feeble prayers, make a holy spectacle of Your tender, kingly power. Cause people, even the hard-hearted ones, to stand in jaw-dropping awe. Satisfy those who have waited patiently for Your goodness with tears of joy.”

Wednesday, March 9, 2011



This past Wednesday evening saw the coming together of the Church of Jesus Christ in our community to call out to Him with one voice, one heart and one mind: contending as one man for the faith of the gospel. We were - and are - one in Him regardless of age, race, denomination or gender. As we sought Him with intercessory fervor our leader Pastor Hill reminded us of this hope: "THE PEOPLE WHO WERE SITTING IN DARKNESS SAW A GREAT LIGHT, AND THOSE WHO WERE SITTING IN THE LAND AND SHADOW OF DEATH, UPON THEM A LIGHT DAWNED." We were praying that the darkness would be pierced by the Light–that a thin place would be created.

According to Celtic Christianity, a thin place is any place where the wall between this material world and the realm of the divine becomes so thin that we can experience a glimpse or taste of the glory, majesty, and love of God. These are moments when heaven and earth seem to touch–natural and supernatural worlds collide. "This, then, is how you should pray: ‘your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.’” Our Lord has instructed us to pray toward this concrete reality - it is not the vain babblings of an abstract mystic.

“The House of the Lord” is this thin place - this is what our Celtic forebears discovered. As it is built in our communities the Presence of God comes to preside. These are places of true worship that our Lord is seeking. When the Father finds them He will come. As some have said, “They attract His Presence.”

We must be constrained by the truth that these places come into existence as a result of the Father’s initiative. Since the Scripture says that He is seeking them we can rest assured that He will find them. The call is laid on the doorstep of the Church in our community - will we respond to the Divine Initiative? It might be better said, “Are we able to resist it?”

“Unless the LORD builds the house,”

“Unless the LORD builds the house, its builders labor in vain. Unless the LORD watches over the city, the watchmen stand guard in vain.” Psalm 127:1 This is an exhortation that calls the People of God to action. It speaks to motivation. God is creative - He is active - He calls us to join Him in His activity. It does not say not to build, but to build in accord with His directions.

“In union with him the whole building is joined together and rises into a holy sanctuary for the Lord.” Eph 2:21 ISV These words of Paul to the Church at Ephesus puts an end to the peril of passivity. On the Sabbath the Lord rested, but He did not stop. In the Lord of the Sabbath we rest in His finished work, but we do not stop.

The place of His Presence is the seat of His authority or throne- where He holds sway over the affairs of man in our communities. Righteousness and justice are the foundation of His throne. The Son declares that the church He will build cannot be overcome by the authority of hell–for it pales in comparison to the radiant majesty of the Eternal God. Darkness is forced to recede - it cannot overpower light for it has no forward motion of its own–it is bereft of initiative. We often speak of encroaching darkness, but it only exists where light has withdrawn. To dim a room we do not turn the darkness on - we turn the light off. There is no such thing as a “dark switch.”

The zeal of the LORD Almighty will accomplish this.

The prophet looked forward in hope to declare: “Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David's throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever. The zeal of the LORD Almighty will accomplish this.” Isaiah 9:7 NIV

The zeal of the Lord is infectious. I love the way this translation describes the passion of the Messiah: “And it came to the minds of the disciples that the Writings say, ‘I am on fire with passion for your house.’” John 2:17 BBE This form of passionate zeal propels the people of God forward. Can we not say it is nigh irresistible!? Fire produces light.

The Celts were wholistic. They did not see anything as being outside the realm of their God. Therefore He could not be limited to specific times or places - for them He was unconfinable. Their experience was one of true worship. They were possessed and propelled by the Spirit of God. Thus they carved their witness in the escarpment of what is now Wyoming County in West Virginia: “Christ was smitten and paid an abundant ransom for those who will allow His wind to drive their ship.”

This is an echo once again of Paul’s words to the Church at Ephesus: “but keep on being filled with the Spirit.” 5:8b ISV One can fill himself with wine, but he cannot fill himself with the Holy Spirit - and be continually filled. How then does Paul’s exhortation find its place in us? Paul of Tarsus - a great Mediterranean center of commerce - would have known what it was to see the great trading ships cast off their restraints, raise their sails, catch the prevailing currents of the wind to be filled and propelled toward their intended destination (read: destiny).

The early Celtic Christians realized that the spirit of man is a potential thin place longing to be united and filled (to become one) with the Spirit of God - the divine current of creative initiative in the One born before creation and through whom it came into being. “The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit." John 3:8 ESV We may not have the luxury of knowing where we are being directed, but the Spirit of God is not confused.

Some say they are pursuing God - or God the Holy Spirit. To me it is more like I am being pursued by Him–at one He calls His people forward while filling and propelling them by the wind of His Spirit. I have found myself in places and situations that definitely were not in any plans I had for my life.

This is really all about attitude. Do we have the attitude to “allow His wind to drive our ship” or are we stuck in port securely moored to the dock proclaiming as our mantra, “We have never done it that way before!”

“I will make justice the measuring line and righteousness the plumb line;”

Once again through the prophet of the Lord Isaiah speaks - He will judge or test what we are building: “I will make justice the measuring line and righteousness the plumb line;” Isaiah 28:17a NIV This is a metaphor taken from builders, who in building use the line and plummet to carry on their work even and regular, retaining such stones as agree there unto, and rejecting such as do not. A building that is level and plumb is said to be “true” - that is, it has integrity.

In his letters Paul addresses this matter from this side of the Cross: “For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ.” I Cor 3:11 “in whom you also are built together for a habitation of God in the Spirit.” Eph 2:22 WEB

It took a non-Jew to reveal this concept to the world. As a result of his zeal the Roman Centurion Cornelius created a thin place through the doing of righteousness and justice. God took note and revealed his plan and purpose to Cornelius - not for him only, but for all who would believe on His Word.

This Gentile’s testimony is recorded as a witness to us: “He was a devout, God-fearing man, as was everyone in his household. He gave generously to the poor and prayed regularly to God.” Acts 10:2 NLT An angel of the Lord in a vision calls him by name: “Cornelius!” In incredulous alarm Cornelius replies: “What is it Lord?” It should be noted here that Cornelius was quite surprised, he was not expecting this to happen - he was not giving to get. His reverence was one of true worship.

The angelic messenger declares to him: "Your prayers and alms have ascended as a memorial (or as a reminder) before God.” His prayers were deeds of righteousness directed vertically toward God while his giving of alms (gifts to the poor) were deeds of justice directed horizontally toward his fellow man. As a result of God-fearing zeal Cornelius had unwittingly built the House of the Lord in his own household! He had created a thin place - and an angel of the Lord came to him with His endorsement.

At the same time the Lord was working in the heart of Peter a Jew - a proclaimer of the Gospel.

Yet in the doing of these deeds alone, there was no saving power - although they were welcoming. At the same time the Lord was working in the heart of Peter a Jew - a proclaimer of the Gospel. "What God has cleansed, no longer consider unholy." God had prepared Cornelius and in him all Gentiles, but salvation had not yet come to his household for he had not yet heard the message.

Peter yielded to the call of God, answered the summons and went to the household of Cornelius bringing in him the words of eternal salvation: “And He ordered us to preach to the people, and solemnly to testify that this is the One who has been appointed by God as Judge of the living and the dead. Of Him all the prophets bear witness that through His name everyone who believes in Him receives forgiveness of sins.” Acts 10:42-43 NASB

Paul eloquently and succinctly summarizes: “How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? How will they believe in Him whom they have not heard? And how will they hear without a preacher? How will they preach unless they are sent? Just as it is written, ‘HOW BEAUTIFUL ARE THE FEET OF THOSE WHO BRING GOOD NEWS OF GOOD THINGS!’” Romans 10:14-15 NASB

Building the House of the Lord in our communities does not provide for transformation alone - that can only be accomplished by the individual transformation of the human heart. For the veil - no matter how thin it may be - must still be rent in twain.

The thin place makes the way for the message - but it is not the Message Himself. It could very well be thought of as the womb–the place of preparation for the birthing of the Message. The Celts also understood this for a second carving in Wyoming County - illuminated left to right by the sun’s rays pouring through a cleft in the rock on the winter solstice declares unequivocally: “A virgin was with child: God ordained her to conceive and be fruitful. Ah, Behold a Miracle!”

"Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand."

As the tenor of fervent intercession began to build my eyes fell on the verse following the passage Pastor Hill had used: From that time Jesus began to preach and say, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand." Matthew 4:17 NASB The nearness of the kingdom of heaven calls mankind to repentance. And toward the conclusion of Luke’s account of the Good News, “and that repentance for forgiveness of sins would be proclaimed in His name to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem.” Luke 24:47 NASB

Here is the summoning call for the Church of Jesus Christ in our Community and it is our compelling hope: “For we do not preach ourselves but Jesus the Messiah as Lord, and ourselves as merely your servants for Jesus’ sake. For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God's glory in the face of Jesus the Messiah. 2 Corinthians 4:5-6 IST

for as soon as Zion travailed, she brought forth her children. Isaiah 66:8b KJV

Pastor Ron Thaxton - The Church In The City, Charleston, West Virginia