Wednesday, January 29, 2014

State of the Church - Part 1 2013-2014

Charles the novel "Tale of Two Cities" said "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to heaven, we were all going direct the other way - in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only."
Having now plowed this ground for nearly 20 years, what has become evident through it all is the steady ebb and the flow of the body of Christ. The waves of the Spirit and the spiritual tide rising and falling. The mountain top experiences and the valley heartbreaks.

The year behind us has been no different. There were incredible and awesome blessings, and there were of course losses.  As always within the steps of living on this side of eternity, there was earthly pain for many if not all of us. Emotional, spiritual and physical battles are not to be escaped by any of us. Some perhaps seemed as if they would extinguish our very souls, and crush the life from us, and yet…here you remain today. As always, there are those who over the past year have moved on…sometimes because their road of life moved away from Menomonie, and others because their hearts and passions moved away from God and therefore from us.  For the latter, their names and faces bring us now only sadness, and we can offer up nothing accept prayer for them. Yet God has consistently brought us new brothers and sisters too. Those that quickly moved into and filled those holes left in our hearts. On a rare occasion, God even brought a departed brother or sister back home again to us, and for that there are no words which can express our joy.
As we take pause to acknowledge another year past, there are those who sit amongst us that have profoundly grown and changed over the year past. There are those of us that have experienced God like never before, served Him with greater passion and shared Him with greater boldness than any time in our lives previously. Commitments have been made, promises promised. There is new joy experienced and a clarity of life like never before. There are those here that are barely recognizable compared to the person that once just walked into this community and sat down amongst us. For these, 2013 was full of mountain top experiences with God and a profound evolution of their faith.

Then there are those who are in essentially the same place as they were at this time last year, and even the year before. Their levels of maturity and commitment unchanged and God remains a guilty struggle rather than a blessed passion. God for these is distant yet watching, like “Big Brother” …a heavenly disciplinarian…a disconnected and often disinterested deity. These offer up these same helpless excuses as they gave last year, of why they can’t, which bearing in mind the unlimited power of God's Spirit, is in truth simply an excuse of why they won’t.

And lastly there are even those who, having spent the year in retreat from the front lines of the battle, find themselves this day far away from their creative calling. Having spiritually “retired” this past year, these folks have found a safe spiritual ‘desk job’ …and now work diligently each day to convince themselves that everything is ok and God is cool with their new junior varsity position. Less likely to get hit…less likely to get hurt…and less likely to make any difference to the kingdom of God.  They have grown tired. Or perhaps they just grown "out of love" with Christ and His enduring gospel.
As the lead pastor of this fellowship, there is the seemingly constant push and pull between the contrary and competing priorities and even life directions of these groups of people. So often we can desire and seek to remake the church into our own image, and create comfort for our religious lifestyles, even if they are watered down versions or even blatantly unbiblical ones. Generally those who seek to conform the community to fit themselves  follow a well worn path of confusion and disruption, moving on to tantrums and refusals and finally then on to community departure and attempts at digital character assassination and back alley smears.

Now I am a realist. Certainly I understand that we are imperfect and sinful creatures, and if we are saved we are saved only by the grace of God and that redemption does not mean the same thing as sanctification and holiness. So the ‘barn is going to be messy and smelly’ if we are truly farming. In this, there is no doubt, no argument, and no retreat. However, I believe that God has called us as a church to seek unity, harmony, a certain degree of order and other-centered corporate body life…a one ‘pulling’ direction in which we all participate and being of one body, we all are to pull in the same direction. We cannot…we must not, surrender to the chaos that accompanies the individualized and personally catered stylings of the world around us. James 3:16 clearly tells us that “… where envy and self-seeking exist, confusion and every evil thing are there.” But 1Corinthians 14:33 reminds us that “ …God is not the author of confusion but of peace, as in all the churches of the saints.”
How do we stay out there on the front lines…constantly and continually pushing on, pursuing personal holiness and sanctification, while striving for Kingdom growth and corporate church maturity? The only way is to have a clear vision of who we are in God’s eyes, and who we are called to be as a church, and therefore our church priorities and activities. Our church logo reads "Some want to live within the sound of church or chapel bell; I want to run a rescue shop within a yard of hell." It must be more than a creedo, but if it is to be our calling, then let it be our singular priority. Thus we have always structured this community around one singular ideal…one direction. And that is a plan and structure which enables and encourages the first of those three groups: the group that is coming in amongst us perhaps yes, needing foundational and/or doctrinal education and experiences, but those seeking to parlay that training into service, personal growth and body life participation…exercising their individual spiritual gifting for the blessing and the betterment of the whole body health, and the furthering of the greater kingdom of God as specifically and clearly laid out in scripture. This is the group with the passion and the love of their Redeemer. This has been and remains the focus of the in-house discipleship within this community.

Because of that singular vision, some will not find a home here. We have long ago resigned ourselves to that sad fact. We are not flippant about such, and seek to find a place for all souls in this body. We, as Christ Himself, desire that "all men be saved." But we have never been a church to comfort people in their passive commitment or coddle them in their worldly desires. We are not catering to the individual who wants a ‘home-church’ environment or a brethren-type church government that shares the pastorship with many or all, nor the congregational government style where everyone votes on church policy. The pursuing of that priority of course has the innate drawback of leaving behind the pew warmers, the stagnant and the spiritual ‘Peter Pan’ who is satisfied to live out his days living spiritually in his parents basement. The reality is, we have in fact always practiced the call to "comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable."
More to come...