The road to sonship – Darren Lau

When God chose to have a relationship with us, He knew exactly what He was doing. He knew all the giggling and laughing we would do. He knew all the mess-ups and mistakes we would make along the way. He knew all the times we would cry and break down. And He would look forward to each and every moment with us – knowing that every moment of our lives would be an invitation into a deeper and more meaningful relationship with us.

But even more so, he limits his own strength and knowledge in the moment to truly have a relationship with Him. He chooses to walk with us through every situation of our lives in order for a true love to flow. Where would the true maturity of a relationship be if there was no real dialogue? If there was no process? If there was no pain? Or joy?

In Genesis 18, God had told Abraham that He was going to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah for it’s sin. And Abraham, responds back to the God of the Universe – the One who created him and the worlds – that “Far be it from you! Will not the Judge of the earth do right?” Abraham actually starts talking back and forth with God, telling him not to destroy the city.

God didn’t need to hear it. He could have just destroyed it in a second and have come up with a statement filled with so much wisdom that it would put Abraham back in his place for even standing up to Him. But we don’t see that here at all. We see a genuine dialogue between two friends, a son and a father, a man and his God.

The point I want to make is this – that God, Himself, chooses and delights in being able to limit his own infinite power and wisdom in order to have a real relationship with us. When we pray to Him, He doesn’t come as the all-knowing God with abundant and infinite knowledge of why things work or doesn’t work (even though He can.) No, He comes to us as the Father of our lives and the lover of our souls – to hear out heart’s cry and to talk with us – because a relationship is the entire goal of this life.

And if this is what it means to be a son – to be able to talk his dad and share the pains and joys of the journey together – then I can only assume that being a dad is much like how God interacts with us. The two will always be connected. And as for me, I guess if I really want to be the best dad I can be, I’ll need to be the best son I can be.

Darren Lau – The road to sonship

Understanding the written Word – Knowing the Living Word

“39 You search the Scriptures, for in them you think you have eternal life; and these are they which testify of Me. 40 But you are not willing to come to Me that you may have life.” John 5:39-40

“Follow me. Trust me. Come to me. I am the truth, says Jesus.

The implication is important. Reading, studying, and understanding the Bible is not the goal of the Christ-follower. Bible knowledge is just a step toward the goal of following Jesus.
According to Thomas Adams, “The Bible is to us what the start was to the wise men; but if we spend all our time gazing upon it, observing its motions, and admiring its splendor,
without being led to Christ by it, the use of it will be lost on us.” (Bruxy Cavey – The End of Religion)

God’s mind is expressed through the written words of the Word, but God’s heart is expressed through the lives of those who are spoken about in His written Word. We can separate God’s mind from His heart in an attempt to compensate for our inability to make sense of what happens to us, but we know it would be as wrong as it would be for God to separate our minds from our hearts when He considers us.

God incarnate is God’s heart written before us through the life of His Son, Yeshua the Anointed. Our lives as sons and daughters, born of the Spirit, are an exercise in learning to read His Word and comprehend what we read in such a way that we act it out as being second nature. It goes beyond the written word and into the Living Word, carrying with it a trail of change pointing to God’s perfections as revealed on the canvas of our lives.

God’s promises are written in the literal words, but evidenced through the numerous life stories He inspired sacred writers to journal through History. Theology and doctrine may speak of the reality of God’s revelation, and renew our minds, but only our life can verify truth as true. And as we move from fear to faith, we move from expectation of rejection, of judgment, we move from what has been sowed in us through the world, and focus on the garden growing in us through God’s Spirit transforming seed into fruit, according to the Seed we have received from heaven.

As well, the Word of God is alive, and yet, can only be evidenced through our lives, as it takes root in our own heart and grows said heart into a living epistle, a revelatory book. Any other life we may think we have in Christ is only a preamble to the real journey, if we live it apart from the journey to and from the cross. It cannot be mistaken from life if it’s only compliance to rules. God needs to find Himself in us, just as we are to be found in Christ.

I praise You Heavenly Father, for being with me every second of every day, and for welcoming me further beyond the veil, like a father facing his young child, holding his two hands as he learns to walk, egging him on to continue forward, his beaming smile exuding such favor and embracing the child’s whole being, an experience that will forever be imprinted as a most powerful light, a reminder that will be prompted time and time again through the dark nights of this world’s struggles.

We are not alone. Nothing is wrong with who we are, only with what we try to do if we try to be someone we’re not, to the image of our own understanding of holiness. We have to wisely and judiciously stop hiding our nakedness and accept who we are, often revealed through the pain we ourselves may have inflicted on others because of our own sinfulness. That’s where change can truly start happening, where grace unfolds as a blessed discovery, and mercy is learned and gladly extended. It’s not work anymore, it’s life. It’s not words anymore, but actions, manifestating Christ in us, the Hope of Glory.

God is at work in us. We have to give Him access to the jar of clay we are. We are loved, fed, lead, protected and brought up by the One Sure Hand, to the level of His smile, beaming His favor on us, hurling out of us all the dust of self-loathing and doubt that dare to challenge His rule. It is but a matter of time… Today maybe?

Have hope… and pay attention to follow the song it breathes as it reverberates through the land of your heart. Through. Carrying you.

Andre Lefebvre

Soaking.Net

Church Leavers

by Len Hjalmarson

coverOn March 16, 2010 Skye Jethani posted at Out of Ur on the De-Churched. Who are they? What is this all about anyway? How come so many believers are suddenly not attending meetings on a Sunday morning? Are they just a bunch of self-centered, disloyal, unsubmissive, I’d-rather-watch-football, un-disciples of Jesus?

Having been a de-churched believer myself for an extended period of time, but never having stopped following Jesus, I have my own take on the answer. But I’ve also had many helpful conversations over the years, and picked up small tidbits here and there. About four years ago I met Barb Orlowski, a Jesus-follower processing her own thoughts and feelings around all this. Barb was in the doctoral cohort a year ahead of me at ACTS. It was only a year and a bit before that when I had come across Alan Jamieson’s research work on church-leavers in New Zealand.

In The Present Future, leadership and spirituality author Reggie McNeal wrote, “A growing number of people are leaving the institutional church for a new reason. They are not leaving because they have lost their faith. They are leaving to preserve their faith.” What in the world? Talk about cognitive dissonance. Why would someone leave church to “preserve” their faith? In the same book McNeal opined,

“I say we have a church in North America that is more secular than the culture.”

“Just when the church adopted a business model, the culture went looking for God. Just when the church embraced strategic planning (linear and Newtonian), the universe shifted to preparedness (loopy and quantum). Just when the church began building recreation centers, [or theaters], the culture began a search for the sacred.

“Church people still think that secularism holds sway and that people outside the church have trouble connecting to God. The problem is that when people come to church, expecting to find God, they often encounter a religious club holding a meeting where God is conspicuously absent. It may feel like a self-help seminar or even a political rally. But if pre-Christians came expecting to find God. sorry! They may experience more spiritual energy at a U2 concert or listening to a Creed CD.”

If this is true, then, “Houston, we have a problem!” Could it be that one of the dynamics we are seeing in this new exodus has to do with a broken human institution and many broken leaders? Could it be that our typical assumption that God is active within the fortress but absent in the culture around us was just plain mistaken? Sure it could. These are some of the dynamics operative in the huge and growing exodus. But it doesn’t fully explain what we are seeing, and it certainly doesn’t offer a clear sense of the implications. We have to scratch a bit harder to clarify this fuzzy picture.

Out of Ur, “De-Churched”

Skye makes a nice beginning for us in his March article. He starts out by making a critique that Tozer would have strongly approved. He uses a video clip from Matt Chandler, who attributes the exodus of young people to the proclamation (explicitly or implicitly) of a false gospel of “moralistic deism.” This is essentially the “health and wealth” gospel, but founded on moralism. If you obey God’s rules he will bless you with what you desire. But as Skye points out, this becomes a problem when the blessing doesn’t come—or doesn’t come in the form we want. Moreover, the theology here is deeply skewed. It makes God into a mechanism and faith into a technique. I do A so God will do B. No personal majestic Creator necessary in this formula.

Skye agrees with Matt, but only partly. There is at least one more group of de-churched Christians. They haven’t walked away from faith in Chris, but have lost confidence in the institutional structures and programmatic trappings of the church. For them the institutional church is distracting, a drain on time, resources, and energy better spent on mission. Instead of supporting incarnational attempts, it extracts people from their missional contexts into endless meetings and political wranglings. It provides religious goods and services (see the first complaint above) without teaching us how to really worship. It bids us come – but not come and die (Bonhoeffer).

Skye breaks this group of de-churched down into two groups. I’ll use his terms but then characterize then my own way. Skye sees the relationally de-churched (“The church is a machine; it doesn’t know what to do with people”), and the missionally de-churched (“The church bids me come when I think I’m actually supposed to be ‘going’ out on mission.”) He breaks this second group down one more time into the “transformationally de-churched.” This third group would be closer to the group that make up the urban mission that is at the core of our METRO community. When we get involved with people in recovery, we discovery a raw edge to faith that makes it very difficult to sit through the heavily programmed, neat and tidy, everything by the timer, sanitized approach to meetings that is typical of large western churches. As McNeal somewhere else quips, Jesus did not say, “I came that they might have church, and that more abundantly.”

“Reflective Exiles”

coverBut Skye leaves out one group in his exploration and misses one of the nuances. At least one more category is needed, and Alan Jamieson supplies it in his research and interviews among de-churched believers in New Zealand. This additional category relates to the quotes from Reg McNeal which I offered above. It has some elements in common with the relationally de-churched and the transformationally de-churched in that there is just something about the institutional and programmatic approach to meetings that has stopped working for these people. But the problems go deeper than that. Alan identifies this group as only a sociologist would (shades of the work of James Fowler) as “reflective exiles.” Here is his description.

“For this group of leavers.. leaving is typically a process which occurs over a long period of time, perhaps 18 months or more. This process of moving away from the church begins gradually with feelings of unease, a sense of irrelevancy between church and what happens in other important areas of their lives, and a reducing sense of fit and belonging to the church community and its ‘faith package’.

“The gateway through which this group leave the church I have called Meta-grumbles. They are [questioning] the deep rooted foundations of the faith itself.

“The faith of the Reflective Exiles can be characterised as counter-dependent. When I asked this group of leavers what nurtures their faith now the most common response was “It certainly isn’t . . . ” followed by some description of aspects of [established church].

“Secondly, the Reflective Exiles are engaged in a deconstruction of their previous faith. That is, they are engaged in a process of taking to pieces the faith they had received, accepted and acted within for so many years. To do so is personally a very destabilising process for them, as their faith has been an important part of their world view, the foundation of important life decisions and an integral part of their sense of selfhood. They are involved in an ongoing reflective process which involves a reevaluation of each component of their faith.”

What is striking about this description is that it frames the church leavers as people on a journey. Historically and in the tradition of Christian spirituality, we might use the term “desert journey” or “pilgrimage” to describe the movement that has placed this group outside traditional structures. This begs the question of whether this journey might be a response to an inner call, a response to the Spirit? (I asked Alan about the inner journey in its relation to disengaging from traditional forms in an interview in 2007).

Alan describes a second group that are similar to Reflective Exiles, calling this group “Transitional Explorers.” He writes that, “The transitional faith interviewees displayed an emerging sense of ownership of their faith. This is shown in a confidence of faith, a clear decision to move from a deconstruction of the received faith to an appropriation of some elements of the old faith whilst giving energy to building a new self-owned faith.”

It doesn’t take a psychologist or therapist or a Scott Peck afficionado to recognize that both the Reflective Exiles and the Transitional Explorers are on a faith journey, an individuating process that was somehow restricted by their involvement in a faith community. Like adolescents, they had to somehow “leave home” in order to make their faith and their lives their own. Some of these will complete this work in a new setting (transitions require liminal space) and then reengage at a different level. This describes my own process in the last ten years quite accurately. From here Alan describes a final category that is also part of this journey, “Integrated Wayfinders.” But it’s probably more useful for me to move on and make another connection.

coverPeregrinatio

First, it’s helpful to read Alan’s entire article HERE A followup article asking, “What are these de-churched people doing next?” and “What can be learned from these groups?” is found HERE. One of the surprising results of the research for Alan was discovering that for the majority of leavers (65% of those interviewed) this was not a solo journey but one which involved them in groups of people in similar faith transitions.

Equally intriguing, leaving church can be a step in healing and growth for some. Andrew Pritchard runs the de-churched through the grid of Fowler’s “stages of spiritual growth” in an article HERE.

The classic work on “spiritual stages,” (other than perhaps the Enneagram) is Fowler’s work. He describes the third stage of faith development as “Synthetic-Conventional” faith. The transition from this stage to the next, “Individuative-Reflective” faith, is described like this: “”For a genuine move to stage 4 to occur there must be an interruption of reliance on external sources of authority. The ‘tyranny of the they’- or the potential for it – must be undermined. In addition to the kind of critical reflection on one’s previous system . . . of values . . . there must be . . . a relocation of authority within the self.” According to Fowler the strength of stage 4 has to do with its capacity for critical reflection on identity (self) and outlook (ideology).

The transition requires “an interruption of reliance on external sources of authority.” That is a fascinating take on the need to move from trusting human authority to trusting in God. I believe that this movement into a self-authorizing faith describes the heart of a shift to a universal priesthood. It is only when we are rooted in this place of radical sonship that we can effectively contribute to the life of a Jesus community. There are many voices out there who will try, often for complex and personal reasons, to tell us who we are. But only one Voice has true authority in this.

In terms of church leavers, Pritchard’s article is helpful. It reframes at least some of the process of leaving church with the hope that God is active here too. God Father’s us not only in traditional structures, but on the road, on the journey, wherever it takes us. For some that journey will lead outside the established church on a “road less travelled.”

In The Critical Journey, Janet Hagberg and Robert Guelich describe six stages in the life of faith.

Stage One: Recognition. “we believe”

Stage Two: Discipleship. “we are learning about God”

Stage Three: Production. “doing things for God”

Stage Four: The Wall. “things aren’t working anymore”

Stage Five: the Journey Outward. “living from a new center”

Stage Six: the Life of God. “Its all about love”

Conclusion and Disclaimers

Language changes with time, and some biblical terms are particularly problematic these days. How does one “leave church” without leaving faith? If by “church” we mean the spiritual body of Jesus followers, then leaving church would be leaving faith. if by “church” we mean the organized and circumscribed activity of a local faith community, what some would call “the institution,” then leaving church is only leaving a specific group. In our own process we remained closely tied to others who were no longer part of a traditional meeting. I have often quipped that my wife and I ‘left the church to find the Church.’

As I close this short reflection, and with a nod toward the journey we all have to make – a journey that is mostly in community, but sometimes intensely personal and individual, I am thinking of the wisdom of Bonhoeffer in Life Together.

“Let him who cannot be alone beware of being in community.”

“Let him who cannot be in community beware of being alone.”

God may call you out of your faith community. Or, you may find yourself unwillingly on the outside. It will be a tough journey. Keep your eyes on Jesus. I know – the challenge is for some that this journey begins without conversation partners. But if you are reading this, then already you are gaining a broader perspective.

As God’s people in exile we face many daunting challenges in our time. Times of Reformation are always confusing and dangerous. Much that we thought could not be shaken is now being shaken. The rate of people leaving churches in North America is on the increase. The diaspora is hard on everyone – people, leaders, communities..

I offer a couple of downloads : a brochure titled Leading Through Change and Stages of Faith (from The Critical Journey)

How To Soak In Prayer – Soaking In God’s Presence

By Pam Watson

Rest / Waiting On The Lord / Tarrying / How To Soak In Prayer Before The Lord

Psalm 37:7 “Rest in the Lord, and wait patiently for Him.”

This essentially is what “soaking” is. When we soak in God’s presence, we are in a place of rest where we wait upon Him. The old timers spoke of tarrying. This is where they would spend long hours waiting on the Lord. Many times however they were waiting to be filled with the Holy Spirit and their waiting was more a form of pleading and trying to get to the place where they felt ready to receive the Holy Spirit. Fortunately we have gained more understanding of the Word and the heart of God and know that the Lord desires to pour out His Spirit upon us. Soaking in the Lord therefore, while similar to tarrying, has an emphasis on rest and receiving by faith, as opposed to striving and crying out to God.

Saturated With God

To soak something, is more than a five minute dip. It is allowing it to become saturated and full of what it is soaking in. If you take a cucumber and place it in vinegar and spices for a few minutes, then eat it, it still tastes like cucumber. But if you take that cucumber and soak it in that solution for a couple of weeks it no longer tastes like cucumber – it has become a pickle. It has taken on the flavour of that solution.

Soaking involves becoming saturated with God so that we take on God’s flavour or nature. Too often we “taste” of flesh. But God wants us to be transformed into the image of His Son and carry his fragrance and flavour.

Transformed From Glory To Glory

2 Cor. 3:18 “But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord.”

When we soak in God’s presence, we begin to behold Him. As we do, we become like Him. Soaking in God’s presence enables us to behold the Lord. We cannot do this and remain the same. We are changed from glory to glory and transformed to be more like Him.

Waiting on the Lord

Is. 40: 31 “But those who wait on the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.”

This familiar verse reveals that something happens when we wait on God. Who He is, starts to get on us and in us. This divine exchange of His strength for our weakness and His ability instead of our frailty and inadequacy, happens because we spend time waiting on Him.

Many of us have experienced this in our day to day lives. When we spend time with the Lord in the mornings our day is empowered. As we soak in God’s presence this effect is intensified..

Pam Watson pastor Pursuit church in Auckland, New Zealand with her husband and Soaking.Net musician Ray Watson.