Revolution, Revival, and Extremism

We need a revolution in America. Not an armed conflict, but a real upheaval of our thinking and how we approach things. What things? Just about everything – from common everyday life events to social interaction, race relations, social justice, welfare, immigration, national security, foreign policy, etc, to how we do church and live, or don’t live, the Christian life. In the “old days” we called it “revival.” But even back then, our concept of revival fell far short. A series of meetings to get people fired up is not going to cut it. What we need is Christian Extremism.

Why do we need it? In part because we as Christians have lost sight of what it means to be a Christian. We are caught up in the tangible, temporal, visible world and its cultures and life-styles and its “solutions” to problems. We have lost sight of the true impact we can have on the world around us if we will focus on Christ instead of focusing on the world around us.

First, let me say what Christian Extremism is not. It is not fundamentalism. It is not, and never was, going off on crusades to save the Holy Land from the Muslim hordes. It is not churches like the one from Kansas that goes around decrying immorality in America by protesting at soldiers funerals. It is not arguing with atheists, or agnostics, or reacting to narrow-minded non-Christian bigots who make fun of Christians. Extreme Christianity is not having big buildings, or big congregations, or big worship. It isn’t huge choirs singing majestic anthems. It isn’t praise bands rocking out and performing the latest worship songs. It isn’t stained glass windows, high ceilings, and steeples (thank-you-very-much Plato). It isn’t multiple satellite warehouse locations joined by the latest satellite technology. It isn’t a small group of believers meeting in a house.

Let’s see if I can capture some of what Christian Extremism is.

It is faith. Pure and simple, total dependence on God and His faithfulness. It is loving Him because He first loved us. It is loving Him with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength. It is turning away from sin and self-will (repenting) because we see and receive His kindness toward us. It is knowing Him. It is knowing by faith that He exists. And, because He exists, we know that He truly is willing to be known by us, and will reward our search for Him. He will make Himself known. Extreme Christianity is being so confident in His love and faithfulness that we can give thanks, always, for all things. It is knowing that He will use everything that happens in our lives to mold us into the image of Christ, and to bring glory to Himself. Knowing that, we can not only accept whatever comes, we can embrace it with a passion – a passionate faith – a confidence in His faithfulness and love.

Extreme Christianity is a faith that began at the cross of Christ and His resurrection, and it goes on daily carrying the dying of Jesus and the victory of His resurrection. It began with trusting in His finished work to save us, and it goes on daily trusting in His finished work to live through us. It began with resting in Him and His efforts and it goes on by resting in Him and His efforts. It began with being called to good works, and goes on by knowing it is actually Christ Himself who is at work in us both to will and to work out His good pleasure.

It has been called “mere Christianity” by C. S. Lewis. Watchman Nee called it “the normal Christian life.” Both were using irony to make a point that it is simply the way the Christian life is supposed to be.  However, it is not by any means “mere” in the sense that it might be considered easy. It is not complicated, but it is not easy. If it were, we would all be doing it already. It is “normal” in the sense that it is what is set forth in the New Testament for us, and it is the way Christianity really should look just because that’s what it really is. However, it is not at all normal in the sense that it is the way every, or even most, Christians live.

Jesus referred to it as righteousness that exceeds the righteousness of the Pharisees (supposedly the most righteous people of the day) (Matthew 5:20). He also said He came to give us life “more abundantly.” (John 10:10)
He took don’t kill to the level of don’t even devalue another person by being angry, considering them worthless or calling them a moron or fool.
He took don’t commit adultery to the level of don’t lust.
He took don’t make false vows to don’t make any vows, just be honest.
He took an eye for an eye to don’t get revenge; turn the other person’s wrong into an opportunity to bless.
He took love your neighbor and hate your enemy to love your enemy, too, and pray for him.
He took prayer, almsgiving, and fasting out of the public eye and made them personal interactions with the Father.
He took the Sabbath from resting on the 7th day to a life of abiding in and resting in God. Sabbath is no longer a day of the week. It’s a 24/7 lifestyle.
He took going to the temple as the dwelling place of God, and sent His Holy Spirit to indwell us and make us God’s house (Hebrews 3:6).
He took the mercy seat in the Holy of Holies, and became the mercy seat (propitiation) for us (Romans 3:25).
He took the priest in the temple and became our High Priest, and instituted the priesthood of the believer – making us a kingdom of priests.
He took the sacrifice lamb, offered repeatedly and ineffectually, and became the sacrifice lamb once for all.
He took the law, commandments, prophets, rites, and rituals, and made it all very simple (but not easy):

  • the “first and greatest commandment” – love the Lord with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength;
  • the second commandment (James calls it the Royal Law) – Love your neighbor the same way you love yourself;
  • pure and undefiled religion – visit orphans and widows in their distress and keep yourself unstained by the world

We do not need the government providing welfare, health care, mandating fairness and defining hate crimes, hate speech, mandating integration, defining marriage (or even regulating marriage), or even regulating education, or much of anything else. Unfortunately, that’s pretty much the system we have and we are stuck with it. However, what we need is for the church to quit investing in brick and mortar and stained glass and corporate management (in the name of “church staff”) and begin investing in the lives of people – financially and spiritually. The church needs to quit playing church and effectively equip the saints – individual Christians – to be the church, to be Christians, and to do the work of the ministry. We as individual believers need to get passionate about living in the presence of the Living God. You are His dwelling place. That is extreme. If we truly believe that, our lifestyles we reflect it.

You are the dwelling place of the Living God. That is extreme. Believe it, and it will change your life. Click To Tweet

Legacy

In an earlier post I mentioned my great-grandfather, Papa Sibley, and the influence he had on my Aunt Jean. She wrote of him: “My grandfather, John Coleman Sibley, whom we lovingly called Papa, died when I was only 11 years of age, but he has had the greatest spiritual impact on my life of anyone I have ever known. He was a devoted Christian, and was loved and respected by all those who knew him.” What a legacy.

I don’t know a lot about Papa Sibley. He was a “junior.” His father, John Coleman senior, kept a diary during the Civil War, which I first read when I was about 11 years old. John senior was married to Lizzie. They had 2 little girls when John went off to war. Ella was about 4 or 5, and Mattie was newborn in 1861. Ella died in 1864 while John was away from home. John junior was born in 1865. Five years later, in 1870, John senior died. In, 1874, Lizzie died, leaving 13 year old Mattie and 9 year old John orphaned. I was thinking about this recently and wondered who raised them? Who had a godly influence on them that could have attributed to Papa Sibley being the godly man Aunt Jean described?

According to the 1880 census they were then living with Matilda Sibley. It took a little digging to figure out who Matilda was. My ancestry research didn’t show a Matilda Sibley. I finally found her. It was Lizzie’s mother. Lizzie’s maiden name was Stoker. Matilda Dendy’s first husband was Matthew Stoker. He died sometime prior to 1849, and in 1849, she married William Sibley, uncle to John Coleman senior. So, she and her daughter both wound up married to Sibleys and sharing the same last name. So, what about Matilda?

This was a time when it was not uncommon for someone to be widowed, to remarry, sometimes more than once. It was very common to have several children, particularly if a second, or third spouse was younger. Families of 5 to even 12 or 15 children were not altogether unusual.

Matilda and Matthew Stoker just had the one daughter, Nancy Elizabeth (Lizzie), before Matthew died.  Matilda’s marriage to William was his third. He had several children from his previous marriages. William and Matilda just had one daughter, Amanda, born in 1850. I know little of the intervening years. William was a preacher and one of the founders of Toro Baptist Church outside of Florien, LA.  Their daughter Amanda died in 1860. William died in 1861, a few months after the war began. A couple of his children from his second marriage were in their mid-teens, and likely lived with Matilda until they grew up. Then when her daughter Lizzie died, she took in her grandchildren.

I know from his diary and some other preserved writings that John and Lizzie were both Christians. For me, it speaks to the legacy of Matilda, in particular, who took these youngsters, and raised them, and apparently gave them the foundation that turned 9 year old orphaned John into a devoted Christian whom Aunt Jean said “had the greatest spiritual impact on my life of anyone I have ever known.”

Now for someone to say this about someone other than his or her parents is no insult to them. She also talked about how her daddy sang hymns, and about how her parents, and other grandparents, her sister (my mom), and others influenced her spiritual growth and development. There was just something special there between her and Papa, and he was there sharing the right things at the right time. He took the time to talk to this small, frail, blind and crippled child, that most adults didn’t have or take the time to spend.

And, when I was a little boy, early elementary age, Aunt Jean came to live with us after my grandmother died. Aunt Jean often took the time to talk with me, to tell me stories about her childhood, to read to me from her Braille Bible, and teach me about prayer and faith in God. And you know what, Aunt Jean had the greatest spiritual impact on my life of anyone I have ever known.

So, Thank You, Lord, for Matilda (1818-1892) and the legacy she passed on to her grandson, John (1865-1936). Thank You that he grew up to love You, and passed that on to Jean Ellzey (1924-1994), and to me. You really love me, Lord. And, I love You, too. Grant that I may pass that on in the same way in just one life.

However many I may touch, God grant that I may pass on a legacy of Your love to one willing heart. Click To Tweet

 

What’s in Your Life Wallet?

What do you have going for you? What things are in your favor? What can you lay claim to that give you a sense of status or importance?

I was born and raised in a Baptist, church-going family. I was a “good kid” – a leader in the church youth group, class chaplain through most of high school. I helped found a Christian service club at the school. I was “called to the ministry,” attended a Baptist college – majoring in Religion and minoring in Greek. I married a Baptist girl who said she was “called to be a pastor’s wife.” Great fit since I was going to be a pastor. In addition, she played piano, I played guitar and we sang and harmonized well together.

Paul described the things he had going for him in Philippians 3:1-11. He concluded: “But whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ….”

 Wenera

My good name was gain to me.  So was the respect of my peers and loved ones. Serving the Lord “in the ministry” was gain to me. Knowing what I was going to do with my life was gain to me. Having a wife who shared that ministry was gain to me. So was going to seminary.

And, I pretty much lost it all. The marriage was a little stormy, mainly because she married me to get away from her alcoholic parents and “hoped the love part would come later.” After a few years, she decided she wanted out and left. (That’s the short version. Relationships are always more complicated than that.) At any rate, all those dreams, all those things I counted as “gain,” slipped through my fingers.

“My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me…. and no one shall snatch them out of My hand” (John 10:28). Over time, because He never let go of me, I realized that I had been clinging to all the trappings the world could offer a young man entering the ministry more than I was clinging to Him. Because He never let go, I learned that all those things I had been clinging to were temporal – including “the ministry.” (One hopes “ministry” will have eternal results, but the ministry career itself is temporal.)

Whatever you are clinging to: a job, a ministry, “the” ministry, your parents, your spouse, or children, or siblings, a house, a car, a pet, a possession, lots of possessions, money, or even your own life – let go. Fall into the Father’s arms. Nothing can snatch you from there. Cling to Him. Seek Him first and His righteousness, and everything else you need in life will be added back to you. Quit trying to get your needs met. Meet Him. Love Him. Seek Him. Know Him. Count all those things you have considered to be gain, or a benefit to yourself to possess, as loss.

Most of my life I have sought opportunities to minister. I have wondered how I “fit in” in church. I’m learning to let go of even that. I’m learning to just seek Him.

Have you had an experience that caused you to lose something you once thought was essential to success or meaning in your life? How are you dealing with that loss?

Extreme Church?

If our righteousness is to exceed that of the Pharisees, how does that affect the way we “do church?” Or does it? What about ministry and evangelism and discipleship?

A friend of mine, J. Guy Muse, wrote an interesting blog recently that got me thinking. Guy’s recent post dealt with whether house churches, and to a degree churches in general, were meant to be permanent. Here’s a link to his post: http://bit.ly/1cJSEGY. I tried to respond in the comments on his blog, and for some reason, probably because I’m not really good at posting things through my cell phone, it didn’t go through. It gave me a few more days to mull it over, and here are the results.

In the American church culture, most believers are involved in missions by going to church and giving their money to support the professional Christians – the church staff and missionaries, either sent by that church or by their denomination – to do ministry. Their own involvement is generally limited to teaching a class at church, participating in a church sponsored “visitation” program, and maybe a mission trip to another country.

preaching in Malawi

preaching in Malawi

Guy is a missionary in Ecuador. His ministry took an unexpected turn about 15 years ago when the mission board encouraged missionaries to look at alternative methods of church planting. Guy and some other missionaries in Guayaquil found themselves facilitating a burgeoning house church ministry. Someone is led to the Lord, is excited about it, and wants their friends and family to hear the gospel. Rather than invite them to church, the new believers invite their friends and family to their home and share their new-found joy. Others come to the Lord, and the process is repeated. After an explosive beginning, from a couple of house churches to 60 to nearly 300 in a matter of months, the number of churches began to level out. The ministry continues, but the number of “churches” is not increasing. New house churches start. Some older ones cease. In his blog, Guy referenced a 2009 article by Felicity Dale that suggested that maybe house churches should be debriefing and sending centers. Guy suggested that maybe it’s okay if a church is not permanent.

House church in the United States is different from what missionaries have seen in many “Third World” countries. Here, people drive 30 miles and more to participate in a house church. They may meet in different members’ homes each week, or in the same home every week. They sing some songs, pray together, and have a teaching/Bible study/devotional. The worship may be much more free and open, the praying more personal and intense, and the devotional more of a mutual sharing than a one person lecture than what they ever knew in the institutional church. But, it’s still pretty much church meeting on a smaller scale. It’s having church in a home – kind of mini-church, or “church lite.” There is rarely any evangelistic outreach. People still tend to shop around and find a house church that fits their idea of what it should be or which ministers more to their family’s needs or fits their personality and/or understanding of the Bible….

The increasing numbers of people “doing home church” is more because of dissatisfaction with the institutional church and not a result of reaching the lost or unchurched. The numbers of people leaving the institutional church for home church and the popularity of “cell” churches in the 1980’s-90’s, has caused many churches to modify their traditional programs and at least rename them as “small group ministry.” Usually, it’s still just Sunday School, or children’s ministry, or youth ministry under another name. Sometimes they add a few cell groups – maybe specific to particular occupations or other shared interests or a local community. The emphasis is still on meeting and teaching through the traditional methods.

Extreme righteousness, that which exceeds, demands that we take another look. I can speculate and come up with a number of reasons why we are willing to drive so far to go to church, why both institutional and house churches are growing or shrinking because of members moving from one church to another rather than because we are being evangelistic. Over the years I have become convinced that the biggest failing of the church is in failing to truly equip the saints to do the work of the ministry. We are still engineering some version of the Christian life primarily expressed in and through the institution, rather than equipping the saints to live and be the church and do ministry.

If the church is going to have an impact in an increasingly secular world, we may have to let go of the idea of being permanent. Jesus said to find your life, you have to lose it. We understand this in regards to salvation. To some degree, we apply it to discipleship. Maybe what’s true of the individual is true of Church as a whole. I’m not suggesting we need to shut down our local churches, abandon our buildings, etc. Even if that were the ideal solution, it isn’t going to happen. We do, however, have an opportunity to become more effective at what we do if we will equip individual Christians to be the church. We should send them forth to minister in every way possible in their day-to-day lives. Release them to miss a few “services” at the church building in order to serve their family, friends, and neighbors. On their jobs, in their neighborhoods – as they go, make disciples. Then they can come back together with other believers – the church, whether it’s in a traditional building or a home – to debrief, to enjoy corporate worship, to be encouraged, nurtured and nourished, and to be sent forth again.

It fits with the Great Commission. The word “go” is not an imperative. Jesus didn’t command His disciples to “go!” in Matthew 28:19-20. It’s a participle, an “ing” word that suggests an assumed action. He says, “Therefore, going…” or “As you go….” He didn’t have to tell them to go. He knew they would be going. The command is “make disciples.” It should be a part of our daily going and doing.

What do you think? Are big buildings, technology, and stage show worship services the way to reach the lost? Is this “making disciples?” Where is the responsibility and opportunity of the individual Christian in fulfilling the Great Commission? What can the church do to better equip the saints?

But You Don’t Know What I’ve Been Through!

Sometimes life can really knock you around. It might have been physical bullying by someone, but not necessarily. Have you ever been through situations that left you feeling like you were just beaten up by life itself? I have. There was a season when I even took “dip” signs personally.

dip

While I was in seminary, I took a full-time job as a counselor for narcotics addicts. That was an eye-opening experience for this naive, church kid from suburbia. I saw a whole new subculture. There was a depth of hurt and despair I had never seen before. Well, maybe I had, but just never really comprehended it. At the same time my eyes were being opened, I was able to show my clients a level of care and compassion they had not experienced before. Unfortunately, most of them couldn’t comprehend it.

Like most people, they thought, if you haven’t been where I am, experienced what I have, you can’t help me. I’ve learned that’s just an excuse for not being helped. If someone gets too close to helping us it means change is coming. As much as we may detest our current situation, most of us are afraid of change. So, we will even narrow the definition of experience. “If you haven’t experienced exactly what I have, then you can’t understand or help me.”

A few of them got it, though. Very few ever moved to the point of really being willing to change. But some understood enough to be willing to open up, become vulnerable, share at a deeper level, listen, and be helped.

Dave, one of my clients, saw me downtown one day. I was coming out of the courthouse. He asked what I was doing down there. He thought I was visiting someone in jail, or maybe dealing with a ticket. I told him I was coming from the divorce court where my divorce had just become final. He was shocked. “I had no idea you were going through something like that. You’ve been hurting all this time you’ve been trying to help us? And you’ve been dealing with that without it showing, and without using drugs?”

It was kind of an epiphany for both of us. He realized people could actually go through a crisis in their lives, something very painful, and deal with it without drugs. And, I found the common ground I had with my clients. There really are a limited number of emotions available to any of us. We all have the same set of emotions with which to respond. That’s not what makes us different. That’s where we can relate. The difference is the outside stimulus. It could be divorce, an abusive parent or spouse, death of a loved one, bullying, failure, a rebellious child, a miscarriage, cancer or some other illness. Whatever it is, we only have that limited set of emotions with which to respond. The difference is how we choose to respond. Or, maybe more accurately, how we have learned to respond.

Through it all, I’ve learned God is faithful. He never leaves us or forsakes us. I’ve learned I’m not a dip. I’m His child. His heir. He really loves me. And even if I’m a nobody, I’m no less than anyone else. And, I’ve learned to be thankful – and that’s what this blog is mostly about.

join the conversation:

How about you? Have you ever had a time when life seemed to just trample right over you? How did you feel? How did you deal with it? What did you learn? What do you have to be thankful for?

God Gave It All Back

In 1994, I had the opportunity to go on a mission trip to Africa. I was working for Word Records as a sales representative. I had 3 weeks vacation a year, but they rarely allowed us to take all 3 weeks at one time. We had sales conferences 3 times a year. These were big events with information about our upcoming product releases. Missing one was unheard of. The mission trip would be 3 weeks long, and would overlap a major sales conference. My supervisor was doubtful, but said he would present my request to the VP of sales.

Meanwhile, I had a dream. Here’s the short version: My wife, Trish, and I were in the sky over the east coast of the United States. There was a disturbance in the water down below. We moved down low to see what it was. It was like a bubbling. I touched one of the bubbles, and suddenly, I was flying across the ocean. I quickly came to the coast of Africa. As I neared the coast, the words “I want Africa” burst from within me. As I set foot just beyond the beach, I looked up the coastline and saw the skeletal remains of an old sailing ship. I was in a village with people milling around, going about their daily lives. My heart ached to do something for them, “to improve their lives and give them hope.”

When I shared this with Jimmy Hodges, the organizer of the mission trip, the first thing he said was, “Have you ever been shipwrecked in your life?”

preaching in Malawi

preaching in Malawi

As I mentioned yesterday, as a youth I felt a call to the ministry and thought that for me that meant foreign missions. Right after that experience, I was riding home from church with my Mom. She asked, “What would you do if God sent you to Africa? You’d be a long way from family.” I said, “I would go. If that’s what God wanted He’d take care of me.”

Just before college, the Lord spoke to my heart about staying in this country. I would still be in the ministry, just not overseas. I went to Louisiana College and majored in religion, minored in Greek.

I met a girl. She played the piano, had a nice voice. We sang together. She was “called to be a pastor’s wife.” We thought we had a lot in common. We got engaged our freshman year at college. Married the next summer.

Through college, I worked in churches doing music and youth ministry and interim pastorates. My senior year, I was also Chaplain’s Assistant at a mental hospital. I finished college a semester ahead of schedule. Over Christmas break, we loaded up a U-Haul and moved into a simple little white frame house a few blocks from seminary in Ft. Worth.

All was good. I had a good reputation. I had the respect of my peers, and my relatives were proud of me. I knew what I was going to do with my life. I had a wife who shared in those plans. I was working on a masters degree. It was all “gain,” as Paul put it in Philippians.

Our parents had advised against our getting married so young. “At least wait until after college.” Most of our college friends had questioned our plans. “You guys argue all the time. Are you sure you want to get married?” We didn’t see it. “We don’t argue that much.”

Yes, we did.

It didn’t take long after we were married for us to admit it. Within a year or two, the “d” word was being tossed around. But, I was in the ministry. Divorce just wasn’t an option. Eventually, it was. She decided she had never loved me. She didn’t want to have my children. She just married me to get away from her alcoholic parents. She wanted out. Most of her reasons sounded like quotes from the soap operas she watched, or from Barry Manilow’s music. However, she was afraid God would punish her if she actually divorced me. Still, she wanted out. I let her go – hoping to somehow, someday win her back. Then, when I found out there was another man, I gave up and filed for divorce myself.

I had been raised to believe a divorced person could not be in the ministry. In my mind, I was done. Everything I had considered good about my life seemed to slip through my fingers like sand.

Return to Africa. – Word did approve my missing the sales conference and going on the trip.
After a week of training local church leaders we began a series of open air meetings in local villages. Our first night preaching in the villages, we saw 3,000 people accept the Lord. The African pastors who were with us were celebrating and rejoicing and singing. Their joy enhanced ours. It was the most amazing time of worship and thanksgiving I’ve ever experienced.

Jimmy commented, “Most ministers work their entire life-time pastoring churches, and never experience in their whole careers what we saw tonight.”
The Lord spoke to my heart, “Those 20 years you’ve been out of the ministry, I just gave them all back to you.”

Have you ever had a time of major loss or deep hurt? How did you move on from there? Have you experienced healing and restoration?