Archives For Mystery

I have been trying to learn how to “be”—as in “Be still and know…” It is so hard to downshift, to stop my mind from doing NASCAR laps, to stop “doing” and truly disengage. So hard. Our 21st century American culture is not friendly toward such an attitude.

But here we were, my wife and I, two weeks in the mountains, on what many would call “vacation.” But it was more than that; it was a gift of time to slow down, even to stop, and to learn more about “being.” It took several days to downshift from high gear to medium gear. I was beginning to wonder if I would ever make into low gear… and then on day five…

I started this blog series awhile back called “The Church is a Mystery” with the tagline “Exploring How God Shows up at Church.” I have been posting one blog per week on the many varied churches that we have been able to attend, and exploring the incredible diversity of places that make up the Body of Christ. This post is a bit different.

As we spent this time in the mountains, I felt like I was in church much of the time (“church” defined as a place to encounter God, not as an “ekklesia” assembly of believers). I was in God’s cathedral, surrounded by His creative masterpieces, and I had the time (and took the time) to listen, and to look, and to be still.

Early in the morning of our 5th or 6th day, I had to take our puppy out for a “necessary” walk. As I drowsily stepped outside, I was jerked awake by the colorful splendor of the sunrise on the still snow-covered mountains. That evoked an extended meditation on the fact that God is a God of color. His creation is full of color, all kinds of color. Trees, plants, flowers, sky, sunrise/sunset, oceans, rocks, beaches, animals.

But what colors did God choose to dominate His creation? As I gazed around me, I saw mostly green and blue. Plants, trees, grass, crops—green. Sky, oceans, water—blue. Even from space the earth appears mostly blue. My mind wandered. Why did God choose green and blue to be the major colors of His creation?

My amazing bride did some research for me and discovered that green has strong emotional correspondence with safety; it has great healing power. Green is the most restful color for the human eye. And blue is often associated with depth and stability. It symbolizes trust, loyalty, wisdom, confidence, faith, and truth. Blue is considered beneficial to the mind and body. It slows human metabolism and produces a calming effect and is strongly associated with tranquility.

So think about this: when God decided what color to use for the trees and grass and leaves and most plant life, He chose a color that is restful. And when He decided what color to make the sky and waters and oceans, He chose a color that is calming and peaceful. He didn’t choose red, which increases respiration rate and raises blood pressure. He didn’t choose orange or yellow, which cause stimulation. He chose restful, calming colors. Or, He determined that those colors would be restful and calming! Or, however He did it!

So what did God say to me as I met with Him in the mountains? Rest. Slow down. Be calm. That is how you will hear from me. And getting out into creation is a good way to rest, surrounded by calming colors. Elijah discovered that God speaks in a still, small voice. Jesus needed to get alone so He could hear from His Father. We need to take time to be still. I would argue that is the only way we will get to know God—by slowing down, being quiet, resting, letting the calming colors of green and blue minister to our spirits.

A.W. Tozer, who certainly knew his God, had this to say on the topic:
“God now speaks by the wind and the earthquake only; the still small voice can be heard no more. The whole religious machine has become a noisemaker. The adolescent taste which loves the loud horn and the thundering exhaust has gotten into the activities of modern Christians. The old question, ‘What is the chief end of man?’ is now answered, ‘To dash about the world and add to the din thereof.’”

He wrote that in 1955!!! We have only gotten busier, moved faster, found gears beyond high gear so we can go even faster, and find it ever harder to hear God’s still, small voice.

So yea, I went to church in the mountains. It took five days of being still before I began to meditate on how God is a God of color, and how He has surrounded us with the very colors we need to calm down, slow down, be still.

I heard and saw Him in other ways that I will share in subsequent posts. We have a lot of catching up to do in learning to “be” rather than to “do!”

Be still and know that I am God. – Ps 46:10

When Jesus declared the world-altering statement, ‘Go and make disciples of all nations,’ He arguably had in mind many different things, including planting new churches in all cultures. New churches, even when established in areas where the church already exists, have a unique ability to reach new groups of people and bring new life and energy to the proclamation of the gospel. We certainly need the stability of decades old churches, but we also need the energy and vitality of new churches. We recently visited just such a church.

This church is two years old, and the day we attended was actually their 2-year anniversary. This is a brand new local expression of the body of Christ just learning how to be a body, and I would say they are doing a pretty good job of it! The body life was vibrant and fresh with an extended greeting time between the corporate worship music time and the sermon; never seen it done quite like that before, but it worked well.

The pastor was young and used his iPad for his sermon notes, scrolling down as he preached. I couldn’t help but observe that when I started preaching, I used ‘yellow pads’, and now they use ‘iPads’! Such a contrast, yet an awesome example of the church moving forward with the culture, not afraid to use the latest tools and technology for the advance of the gospel.

New methods and technology did not in any way change the old, old message, the truth of Scripture, and the fact that Jesus is the only way. I wrote down a salient quote from the sermon: “how we respond to Jesus determines everything.” Indeed.

It is widely recognized that it will take new churches to reach new generations; that it is incredibly difficult for older churches to change with the culture. Some would say they shouldn’t change, but they should stick with the old methods and styles that they have been using for the past 50 years. Regardless of one’s view on that point, this church was using new methods and a new vibe to reach a new generation. Even so, there was no shortage of gray hair in attendance. And I was blown away when the pastor shared that 80% of the congregation was involved in ministry! That turns the old 80/20 adage on its head, and in a good way!

I quickly recognized that attending a Sunday morning service was not a completely fair way to get a feel for this church body; by their own statements they proclaimed, “community groups are the heartbeat of [this church].” Nevertheless, there was an energy, a youthfulness, an innovation that came through loud and clear, even as the truth was proclaimed without apology. This church clearly has a bright future, reaching people with the gospel that might not have otherwise been reached. It may be in the toddler phase, but it is acting all grown up in taking the great commission seriously. May we continue to plant new churches in every part of the world, that many more may find the good news of Jesus Christ!

The mission of the church was given by Jesus in Matthew 28: go and make disciples of all nations. So it is always refreshing to be in a church where there is clear evidence that disciples are being made and that people are being brought to faith in Jesus. In fact, that should be a hallmark of every healthy church, and when new faith is absent, there will be other problems, too.

We just attended a church where there were some fantastic signs of new life. This church is part of large, evangelical denomination. It has been in existence for a long time. Their building is old and typical of the churches built in the middle of the last century. Just a few short years ago, they were on the verge of collapse. But there is new life in this old wineskin, and it was wonderfully refreshing!

The church just called a new pastor who is youthful and preaches in a relaxed, conversational manner. Yet the rock solid truth of Scripture is not in any way compromised. He knows his people and freely interacts with them by name while preaching. Though they meet in a long, narrow, cathedral-style auditorium, they turned the whole thing sideways so it is much more intimate. The music is contemporary and upbeat. The energy during the worship service was nothing short of exhilarating. These people were excited to be in church!

To illustrate one of his points during the sermon, the pastor used an object lesson involving flour. He filled a measuring cup, then pressed it down and added more flour. He asked for help from a young man sitting on the front row, and as this man began to pour the flour, he uttered these telling words: it’s been a long time since I had a white substance in my hands. The place erupted in laughter and applause as the entire body celebrated this man’s freedom from drugs and his newfound freedom in Jesus! It was a delightful example of the freshness and beauty of a new believer, something missing from far too many of our churches today.

We drove away full of joy and encouragement. This was essentially a church restart, a dying body of believers just a few years ago, and the evidence was clear: the Holy Spirit has breathed new life into this church and I anticipate great things ahead. The adjective that keeps rolling around in my head is “refreshing.”

We attended this church close to Easter just past, and I couldn’t help but think about the significance of the resurrection in terms of the local church. Jesus came back to life after being dead for three days. The resurrection to new life is a reality for those who place their faith in Jesus. But there is also resurrection to new life for local churches. This local church proves it. I was talking to a church leader recently who told me it had been months, perhaps years, since anyone had come to faith in or through his church. Clearly that church needs an infusion of resurrection life. But one thing is for sure: God can and does raise the dead! We discovered that He not only raises human beings, but He also raises local churches!

The beauty and the glory of the gospel is that the offer of salvation is extended to everyone. Race or culture, language or skin color, wealthy or homeless, it matters not. “Everyone who believes in Him will not be put to shame. For there is no distinction…bestowing his riches on all who call on Him…” (Rom 10:11-12). So it follows that the local expression of the Body of Christ will reflect that same diversity. In some cases, there will be great diversity within a single local church, and in other places a specific local church will mirror a particular culture. One of the benefits of multiple local churches is that anyone should be able to find a body of people with whom they can relate.

Today we went to a church that is an example of the latter. This was a true “come as you are” church, and that means a lot more than the clothes you wear. Indeed, the clothes people wore went beyond “Southern California Casual.” There were no hipsters here, no V-neck t-shirts, no Toms. Jeans, leather coats, sweatshirts, and cowboy boots were more the norm. But it was evident that a person could come to this church just as they were—sin, addictions, issues, messed up lives—and they were welcomed and embraced. I have to ask though, why is this unusual? Are we that hung up on good appearances? How many of us live the Christian façade, pretending all is well when it really isn’t? I am sure there were facades here too, but there was a rawness, an openness that was pretty refreshing.

Of course what made it so refreshing was that there was such evidence of God’s grace and healing and restoration all over the place. Here was a church where people could come with messed up lives, with gripping addictions, with no pat answers, and find love and acceptance and healing. They could find Jesus, who is the Master Healer. There was a richness, a depth of worship, a freedom of expression, which is a bit unusual in our culture and our time. The “worship” time (i.e. when we sang worship songs) was robust and energetic. The body of believers was engaged—standing up, sitting down, praying, singing—completely at ease to respond to God as He interacted with them.

The pastor clearly knew his people and what their lives were like, and he laid out a solid biblical presentation of what we all need. “Let’s ask for more,” he said. “Let God be God and do what He wants.” At the end of the service he invited people to come forward to pray, repent, whatever they needed. People swarmed the front, falling on their knees and their faces. Of course, only God knows what really took place in each life, but it was pretty cool.

We went to a different church shortly after this visit. I found it interesting that the pastor said a very similar thing—we need to have a big vision of Christ. But it was a very different church. There were Toms on peoples’ feet, and there were V-neck t-shirts in the crowd. But so what? Doesn’t matter who you are—hipster, biker, addict, business man, criminal, mother—we all need Jesus, and we all need a bigger view of God, and we all need to let God be God. There are so many different expressions of the Body of Christ, and there are so many that are doing it well. That gets me excited, and gives me hope! But I still have to ask, how many of us would be willing to commit ourselves to a genuine “come-as-you-are” church?

The Bride of Christ is a multi-cultural and international outworking of God’s salvation work to all people. Revelation 5 tells us that Jesus “ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation.” So of course there are local churches in every culture where the gospel has gone and done its life-changing work. These local expressions of the Body of Christ often look very different than what we perceive as the norm. Or they may look very similar. Either way, the mysterious church has infiltrated the world, and I consider it a great privilege to visit these other-cultural expressions. We recently had the privilege of visiting a local church in The Netherlands.

It was like walking into a big living room, but with all the furniture turned the same direction. There were couches, bistro tables, pitchers of coffee and water—the necessary elements of family life—all warmly presented. This local body was very much alive, very much in love with Jesus, very much attuned to the Word of God. The Dutch name for the church was Zolder—attic—but it was meeting in a basement! The church had started in the attic of a narrow canal-side Dutch house, but had outgrown that space and was now meeting in a basement.

We sang worship songs—many of the same ones I was familiar with. We heard a report of recent mission activity. We had a greeting time and since we were clearly visitors, we were pounced on with smiling faces and firm handshakes and lots of questions. We gathered in small groups and prayed for some of the needs of the Body as listed on a PowerPoint slide. This was the church, conducted in English, in the heart of Amsterdam.

The sermon was presented by a young man who was interning as a pastor. His text was Philippians 2:1-11. He was visibly humbled to be preaching on a text that teaches humility, and he was clearly an incarnation of the truth of the passage. He was so real, so humble, so gentle. The character of shepherd was evidenced in every word he spoke.

So many of the elements of this worship service were familiar. Yet each culture, each people group, each area of the country or the world, stamps its uniqueness on the timeless Bride. I suppose it is like attending weddings in different cultures: many common themes, but with a unique twist. Europe is seriously devoid of the Truth, having long ago rejected the heritage of the Reformation. The culture is uber-secular, very liberal and godless. So it was thrilling to see a man of God leading the people of God, a bright light in a very dark place.

I love seeing the church in different cultures and expressions. Honestly, church as we know it in America today is the minority expression of the church worldwide. Every believer ought to experience the church in other cultural expressions. If you haven’t done that, put it on your ‘bucket list’ and go worship with another culture somewhere. You will be richer and wiser for having done so!