From Parousia Network, PRISM ePistle, & myself

Continuing reflections regarding the poor, & the shape of the church, gathered under the cute title ‘Why, O Why Didn’t I Take The Blue Pill?’ – which refers to the film Matrix in which Neo has two choices. If he takes a blue pill that he is being offered, he will forget about the matrix and go back to his illusory but relatively safe and predictable life. Take the red pill, however, and you will see the world as it really is. The trade-off is clear: comfortable fantasy or harsh reality? We face the same dilemma as we consider looking at this world through the eyes of Jesus.

Following on from last weeks email – “We can change the world … if we want to”

Thanks for the feedback on this. One friend wrote “Dang rats – another stick in da eye email from the edge!!!! … fully agree 100% … You know what gets me…

Is that it is a regular occurrence for people to criticize the corporate wealth of a group of Christians and their investment in facilities – albeit (I agree) a huge waste of financial resources… Yet we separate the individual Christian and the corporate Christian when in comes to examining Christian wealth… If we put the magnifying glass on the church corporate – we should also place it over the Christian family I suppose.” (my condensed version)

He’s right – I agree re the danger of criticizing the ‘church’ without examining our personal lives. I guess that’s why I tried to combine personal challenge with the Q of what church $ is spent on. Often, the church is the calling/commanding people to give the first 10% of their money to the church, under the guise of giving it to God. (I guess its obvious that I disagree with much of the teaching on tithing). So the church is calling for the first 10%, and it is called ‘giving to God’, which probably makes people think they have done enough. Also, churches don’t usually teach much on the importance of giving it to the poor. So hence I have some critique for churches that spend a lot more time teaching ‘give your $ to the church’ than they do saying ‘give your $ to the poor’.

But he is definitely right – we need to examine our personal lives closely also.

I read a couple of pages from Philip Yancey’s ‘Rumours of Another World’ last night & found Yancey quoting Clarence Jordan who had been active in the US civil rights movement “churches should spend at least as much money trying to house their brothers whom they have seen as they do trying to house God, whom they have never seen”. When a pastor proudly pointed out a $10,000 cross erected atop his church, Jordan remarked “Time was when Christians could get those crosses for free.”

From PRISM ePistle
Eddie is a pastor in our church. You’ll see him sitting faithfully in the aisle seat, second row on the right, every Sunday morning. He’s quite recognizable with his Tai Chi-like dance moves and the leather-bound Bible under his arm. He loves to rise spontaneously and give the closing benediction, whether or not the preacher thinks the sermon is finished. The fact that he has Downs Syndrome has long been a non-issue to us, for his reputation as a shepherd has washed that label away. I only mention it here as an advocate for those like Eddie whose deep wisdom and spirituality are too often underestimated such a loss to the Body of Christ.
Eddie has a deep love for the Scriptures. He doesn’t necessarily read, but I’m told that he pours over the pages, meticulously underlining verse after verse for hours on end. Its as if his spirit, which is and always has been fully functional, is absorbing the Spirit of the Book. For this reason, we take it very seriously when he brings us his open Bible and points to the text, indicating that we should read it to the congregation. These readings have proven to be a consistent blessing to each of us, and especially to me personally.
One Sunday, I was scheduled to preach on Gods Heart for the Poor but was struggling with whether or not I was qualified. I had just purchased my first home and entered the rather daunting new world of mortgages. Had I compromised myself and lost the right to speak to the poor at all? What happened to being a sojourner? I asked the Lord, How can I preach on this? I’m sure that you led us into this home, and I’m sure of your concern for the poor, but what right have I to share this message? No answer seemed to be forthcoming, so I proceeded to the church, quite open to handing off the homily to someone else. As we entered a time of worship, I was still wrestling with God and scheming about who I could ask to step in for me. Thankfully, I was standing in the first row, right in front of Eddie. As I gave the Lord his last chance to speak to me before I pulled the plug, I felt a tap on my shoulder. Eddie had his Bible open and was pointing to a specific paragraph on the page.
I asked, Do you have a verse for me? He gave a big nod and said an emphatic YES. I took the Bible and read: This is the Message from GOD-of-the-Angel-Armies, Israel’s God, to all the exiles I’ve taken from Jerusalem to Babylon: Build houses and make yourselves at home. Put in gardens and eat what grows in that country. Marry and have children. Encourage your children to marry and have children so that you’ll thrive in that country and not waste away. Make yourselves at home there and work for the country’s welfare. Pray for Babylon’s well-being. If things go well for Babylon, things will go well for you. (Jeremiah 29:47)
Gods message came through loud and clear. Yes, you are first and foremost a citizen of heaven and, as such, an exile living in Canada. But go ahead and settle down, buy a house, raise your family. Just be sure to be a blessing to the nation where I’ve put you, especially remembering to bless the poor with the blessings you have received.
I looked up at Eddies satisfied grin. He knew somehow that he had hit the bulls-eye of my heart. The look on his face said, See? And the twinkle in his eye was that of Jesus.

Why, O Why Didn’t I Take The Blue Pill? (from The Parousia Network )
Maurice Smith summarises talks from Alan Hirsch and Ori Brafman at the CMA Conference.
Alan began with a challenge, namely, our need to “return to ‘radicalism’”. The Latin root of “radical” is “radix” – meaning “root”. The church needs to return to its roots. We need to go back to where it all started – with Jesus. The good news is that Jesus is “God-like”; but the better news is that God is Christ-like. We can know God because we can know Christ. Alan then posed a basic question which he would return to throughout his next two workshops (sorry, you’ll need to tune in next week for those): “How did the early church grow from 25,000 in AD100 to between 20 & 25 MILLION in just 200 years (by the time of its legalizing under Constantine)?” How did they do it? What makes it all come together in a movement that can only be described as KABOOM!? Especially considering:

– They were illegal and underground (persecution)
– Owned no building
– Possessed only fragments of Scripture
– Had no seeker friendly services
(Here Alan referred to a book, Spontaneous Expansion of the Church, by Roland Allen).

Alan then compared the situation of the early Church with that of the Church in China in the 20th Century under Chairman Mao’s persecution. The gift of persecution forces the church to distill its message down and to strip everything out that is not essential: “Jesus is my Lord, and I cling to Him.” In China the church wasn’t simply driven underground, it was forced to discover the epicenter of their faith

Their confession – “Jesus is Lord” – is political to the core! If Jesus is Lord, then Caesar (or Mao) isn’t!
Such a message is “Simplex”: simple to the point of being “sneezable”, but complex because it takes you the rest of your life to live it out fully.
Because it is “sneezable” it can be spread like a virus. All ideas spread like viruses (sneezing). The more complicated the message the longer it takes to spread.
God Himself is complex, but the doorway is simple, so that anyone can grasp it and enter in.
Simplicity of the message is the gift that persecution brings.
Next, Alan turned his attention from the simplicity of the message to the issue of Christology. Christology, he said, is at the heart of the renewal of the Church. The great declaration of the Old Testament was, “The Lord our God is One” (Deut.1). This doesn’t change in the N.T. But Jesus redefines it in terms of himself. The Founder of Christianity is Jesus, therefore we must go back to Him. In order to find ourselves, our identity, we must go back to the Founder. Alan told a story of traveling with Michael Frost & their wives to Rome and visiting St. Peter’s Basilica. He was overwhelmed and impressed with the building & architecture, but felt like something was missing. He and Michael Frost had the same thought: “Where is Jesus in all of this? Where’s the Nazarene?”

French Calvinist theologian Jacques Ellul wrote about “the subversion of Christianity,” namely, the removal of Christ from the very religion that bears his name.
Question: How is it that we cannot find Jesus among all the religions which bear His Name?
Jesus is not easy to deal with. Christianity minus Christ equals religion.
Your life must change when you are with Jesus. Show me your Jesus and I’ll tell you who you are.
Christology determines our mission, which determines our ecclesiology. The person of Jesus determines our function which determines the shape and form of our churches.
When it loses its way, the church always “recalibrates” or “reboots” to Jesus.
Alan observed that Winston Churchill once said, “We shape our buildings and then our buildings shape us.” Jesus gets trapped and then He becomes domesticated. We need to get back to the controversial Jesus. Alan noted that in Revelation 3:20 Jesus is described as standing on the outside of the Church, knocking to get inside the church. The question is, “What’s He doing outside the church? How did He wind up out there?”! In the “church” Jesus is made unreachable – as seen in the pictures which depict Him. Alan went on to describe some of the ways Jesus is represented today:

“Spooky Jesus” – pictures of Jesus with the shiny halo or the pulsing red heart outside his chest, etc. It makes Jesus seem like an alien! THIS IS A HERESY!
“Buddy Jesus” – this alternative view of Jesus, from the movie “Dogma” makes Jesus totally human. There is no respect for His deity. This is the Jesus of the prosperity doctrine; no reverence, no awe, no Lordship. This view of Jesus is very pervasive in America. (Maurice’s Note: My daughter the Youth Director informs me that you can now purchase “Buddy Christ” action figures. Well, they don’t do anything, but they make great shelf ornaments!).
“Nice Guy Jesus” – this is the Sunday School Jesus. He’s Jesus, but He’s not very smart financially. He’s a nice guy and He’s good with kids, but don’t take His advice on any of the practical aspects of life. This is usually accepted by the well adjusted, middle class. If they are ever truly exposed to the Jesus of the Gospels they will lead lives that will be offensive.
“Boyfriend Jesus” – this view gives romantic thoughts about Jesus, “Jesus is my boyfriend” This view makes Jesus mild mannered, not wild and dangerous. Modern songs tend to give this portrayal of Jesus.
“Schmaltzy Jesus” – in this view Jesus is a wimpy teacher of moralistic platitudes about life.

We need to reconnect with the real Jesus as the Founder! We need to get there and stay there! Jesus is wild and dangerous! In “The Lion, The Witch & The Wardrobe” Lucy asks the Beavers about Aslan, the great Lion, “Is He safe?” Lucy asks. “Safe, deary? Of course He’s not safe,” the Beaver responds. “But He is good.” Jesus isn’t “safe”. But do we understand that He is “good”? Next, Alan asked all of us to consider the characteristics of the Pharisees of Jesus’ day, thinking of them as passionate and devoted people.

  • They were Great Tithers,
  • They were very Evangelistic and Missional,
  • They ran very good and well organized Board meetings,
  • They were very Pious and very devoted to prayer,
  • They were “people of the Bible” and defended the whole Scripture; they were “Torah people”,
  • They were morally very decent people,
  • They were committed to making disciples,
  • They were Zealous in their work, seriously passionate,
  • They Believed in and defended the resurrection (as opposed to the Sadduccees)

Alan’s two observations were:
1) these are the people who put Jesus on the cross. Jesus said that they were theologically correct, but . . .
2) The group today whose characteristics most closely resemble the characteristics of the Pharisees is . . . the Evangelicals (OUCH! That’s going to leave a mark!). So, what would happen to Jesus if He went to “church” today? He would probably be killed. Alan’s conclusion: We’ve got to get back to the Gospels – to the revolutionary Jesus! We have to watch out. We must be careful to not get caught up and stay in a place of comfort and convenience!

“Starfish Organizations: the Unstoppable Power of Decentralized Movements”
Ori Brafman – the author, along with Rod Beckstrom, of “The Starfish and the Spider: The Unstoppable Power of Leaderless Organizations”. It is a brilliant piece of work, based upon a simple principle. If you cut off the head or leg of a spider it will inevitably die. But cut off the leg of a starfish and it will not only grow a new leg, but the severed leg will grow into a new starfish (a fact that fishermen in New England learned the hard way, by chopping up starfish in the hopes of killing them!). If you grasp that principle then you’ve grasped the heart of the message. To skip straight to the application and “punch line” (for me, at least), are you creating a house church network that is a spider (take out a leader, cut off a leg or head, and you kill the whole thing) or are you creating a starfish. I (Marurice) can’t resist the opportunity to make an observation – The Church in the affluent west is, for the most part a “Network of Arachnids” – a network of spiders. What would happen to their organizations if the Rick Warrens, Bill Hybels, John MacArthurs, Joel Osteens, etc. of the church (along with their top lieutenants) were suddenly “taken out”. On the other hand, persecution eventually turns a network of spiders into a ocean of starfish, as in China. Under Mao in the late 1950s there was a systematic effort to “decapitate” the leadership of the Chinese church. To the great surprise of everyone, the result (after much pain, suffering and adjustment) was an explosion of “starfish” leaders along with an explosive and exponential expansion of the Church from roughly 2 million when Mao’s persecution began to somewhere around 100 million today. Now you know why I personally “cringe” when I hear about western church leaders going to China to “help” the Chinese Church. Really? Help them do what? Emulate our methods so they can stop growing like we have? If the Chinese ever emulate us they will eventually morph from being starfish to being spiders, and that will be a disaster for them . . . and for us

David Allis