Community: Baptism of Friendship

I want do deliberately encourage a mighty longing after God. The lack of it has brought us to our present low estate. The stiff and wooden quality about our religious lives is a result of our lack of holy desire. Complacency is a deadly for or all spiritual growth. Acute desire must be present of there will be no manifestation of Christ to His people. He waits to be wanted. Too bad that with many of us He waits so long, so very long, in vain.

Every age has its own characteristics. Right now we are in an age of religious complexity. The simplicity which is in Christ is rarely found among us. In its stead are programs, methods, organizations and a world of nervous activities which occupy time and attention but can never satisfy the longing of the heart. The shallowness of our inner experience, the hollowness of our worship and that servile imitation of the world which marks our promotional methods all testify that we, in this day, know God only imperfectly, and the peace of God scarcely at all.

Current evangelicalism has laid the altar and divided the sacrifice, but now seems satisfied to count the stones and rearrange the pieces with never a care that there is not a sign of fire upon the top of lofty Carmel. But God be thanked that there are a few who care. They are those who, while they love the altar and delight in the sacrifice, are yet unable to reconcile themselves to the continued absence of fire. They desire God above all. They are athirst to taste for themselves the “piercing sweetness” of the love of Christ about Whom all the holy prophets did write and the psalmists did sing.

This is the only real harbinger of revival which I have been able to detect anywhere on the religious horizon. It may be the cloud the size of a man’s hand for which a few saints here and there have been looking. It can result in the resurrection of life for many souls and recapture of the radiant wonder which should accompany faith in Christ…

~A.W. Tozer, The Pursuit of God

Flashback

It started with a fictional scenario. I tried to imagine what church would look like if done simply. Peel away all that isn’t essential and see what is left of the church on this side of heaven: The Bible, the people, bread, cup, and maybe a table. Among these simple elements Jesus promised to be incarnate. The rest is window dressing, possibly helpful but not essential, sometimes not even helpful but hurtful and distracting.

So, I wrote a description. It started out, “It is Tuesday night and people have started to gather…” Little did I know that eventually that description would find a place in reality. Now there are several simple gatherings of believers that came from that imaginary fellowship 15 years ago. And now I’m feeling that same old yearning, the yearning for something more. Although we’ve learned much about meeting simply and facing the challenges of close relationship at close range, it seems that many of us still treat our church gatherings as though they were a once a week observance and intimacy with the Father is still elusive.

So what will it take to discover the fire of intimacy? How is the flame of passion for Christ kindled in a new generation? Tozer’s book, addresses the issue in a way that belies the fact that he wrote it in 1948. It seems that his words have fallen on deaf ears for over five decades.

When I first encountered a living faith I was in my early twenties. By the grace of God, Jody and I wound up in an environment that immersed us in the things of the Spirit. We were part of a stage play that kept us in rehearsals nearly every night of the week for months. Christ-followers surrounded us during that time. We prayed and sang. We struggled together for the achievement of a goal that would bring glory to our Lord. During some of those gatherings we listened and learned, some of us, myself included, were baptized. Many of that band of cast members emerged from the experience and devoted themselves to a life of service.

Not long after, Jody and I took a job as managers of a church camp in the Columbia Gorge. For two more years we were surrounded by Christ-followers and kingdom tasks.

The altar was laid. Within us was kindled a flame of passion that still endures.

Now what? Are there other young people who desire to be submerged, baptized in kingdom life? If so, how? It is no longer the renewal of the late sixties and early seventies. We are entering the second half of the first decade of a new millennium. How might we lay the altar and divide the sacrifice in this season? Most importantly, how might we seek the fire? Where is the Lord God of Elijah? Perhaps the winds of revival are beginning to blow.

I can hear the thunder in the distance
It’s like a train on the edge of the town
I can feel the brooding of Your Spirit
Lay your burdens down
Lay your burdens down

~Robin Mark, Revival
(from Revival in Belfast http://www.worshipmusic.com/14062.html)

Community: The Undiscovered Country

The cure of souls is a cultivated awareness that God has already seized the initiative. The traditional doctrine defining this truth is prevenience: God everywhere and always seizing the initiative. He gets things going. He had and continues to have the first word. Prevenience is the conviction that God has been working diligently, redemptively, and strategically before I appeared on the scene, before I was aware there was something here for me to do….there is a disciplined, determined conviction that everything we do is a response to God’s first work, his initiating act. We learn to be attentive to the divine action already in process so that the previously unheard word of God is heard, the previously unattended act of God is noticed. What has God been doing here? What traces of grace can I discern in this life? What history of love can I read in this group? What has God set in motion that I can get in on?

~ Eugene Peterson, “The Contemplative Pastor” p. 65.

 

I imagine the courageous pioneers who loaded their belongings in wagons and made their way across the trackless prairie and over the forbidding mountains to a place where they could settle and carve out a new life. They were leaving one life behind and were bound for another. But there was a life to be lived between the two, the life of the journey, which differed markedly from what was behind and from what lay ahead.

The trans-culture of Christ followers shares a bit of that experience with some important differences. I’ve been thinking about two of them.

As a community whose life is lived between time and eternity, we are not alone. We aren’t a forlorn little band of isolated creatures left to fend for ourselves without certainty; without guarantee that we will arrive at a great good land, what Shakespeare called, “the undiscovered country.”  Shakespeare’s use of the term, is a good contrast to my use of it. Hamlet walked in the fear of uncertainty:

But that the dread of something after death,
The undiscovered country, from whose bourn
No traveler returns, puzzles the will
And makes us rather bear those ills we have,
Than fly to others we know not of.

Christ followers are a family of sojourners trekking from one place to another having the certain knowledge that there is an “undiscovered country” that we will surely discover and that the Creator of that country is superintending our journey. The transculture of the Christ followers assumes what Peterson calls “prevenience.” The corporate soul of the travelers is dominated (or ought to be) not by fear and uncertainty but confidence in the ultimate goodness of the journey, and certainty about the destination. The community of the Christ-follower is suffused with trust and destiny.

Secondly, the Christ followers are a community. The wagon trains of the nineteenth century would arrive at the broad valleys of the West and then the people go their separate ways in search of land to homestead where they could carve out that new life for themselves. Their fraternity was bound up in the journey and dissolved at its conclusion. Not so with the community of the Christ followers. Destiny, eternity and community are a part of the prevenience of the Creator. As such, we are bound to take the fraternity of our journey much more seriously. Christ followers share a common destiny it includes each other.

Paul, the Apostle, used the metaphor of a single body to describe the composite nature of the church, what I have been calling the transculture. It seems to me that as we travel together we must be thinking of our corporate life in that good, yet undiscovered land. What we do on the journey ought to be teaching us the skills that we will need after we settle together in the broad valley of our destiny. Learning such things requires that we seek after the customs of eternity and and practice them now.

Community: Transculture

Here must be the heir, if yonder his inheritance; here the laborer, if yonder his rest; here the candidate, if yonder his reward.

~Richard Winter Hamilton (1794-1848)

The challenge of being a community apart from the world is to begin to consider things from a transcendent perspective. How easy it is to be swept along with the tide of opinion and the winds of circumstance! I’ve been considering lately how cyclical worldly events are, how repetitive. Santyana’s famous statement, so often quoted and paraphrased, rings true: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” And how often we forget the past, hence I’ve included a couple of quotations recently that have a familiar, contemporary feel.

As a result I find myself struggling with a strange mix of patriotic zeal and melancholy. On one hand I weep when the flag goes by, on the other I am on the margins nationalism. I can swell with pride at the foundations of my country and weep with grief over her departure from them. Perhaps as a part of Christ’s “trans-culture” it must be this way. Isaiah the prophet said, “Surely the nations are like a drop in a bucket; they are regarded as dust on the scales.”  Though I value my homeland, I realize that it is only a temporary homeland. I, and other followers of Christ, have set our hearts on a different place, a transcendent one. That’s why I’m using the word “trans-culture” to describe Christ followers.

Months ago (March 23, 2005), when I began this BLOG I suggested that living between two worlds meant that Christ followers were a counter culture. Not an “anti-culture” in the sense of standing opposed to the dominant culture, though opposed we may be—we oughtn’t be identified by what we are against. Not a sub-culture, having borrowed from the world around us and modified what we borrow to suit our sensibilities—clean it up, remake it to suit ourselves, and then offer it back to the world along with an invitation to follow Jesus. Instead, I proposed we be a counterculture, a group that stands out by standing apart.

But upon further consideration, the term “counterculture” still has a combative and contrary feel to it. Furthermore, it doesn’t seem substantially different from what I called an “anti-culture.” Thus I’ve been casting about for a better term to describe life between two worlds. I am still convinced that the Christ-life shouldn’t be characterized by either borrowing from the dominant culture, or by opposing it. A term that describes the Christ-life should suggest detachment from this world—not aloof, more like indifferent—and yearning for what’s next. I’m trying on “trans-culture,” to describe a people apart, a race of people who live by customs inherited from a homeland they haven’t yet seen. The challenge for us is to discover the customs of our not-fully-discovered country and then apply them to our life between the worlds. Better to start with a set of values to attain to, rather than merely tidy up the familiar ones of the world; or to try to imagine their opposite and then embrace what we have imagined.

On Learning from History…or Not

The wrong war, at the wrong place, at the wrong time, and with the wrong enemy.
~General Omar Bradley, 1893-1981

Looking Back to the Thirties

will.gifDid you know that we sent marines into Vera Cruz, Mexico one time? Oh, we was in Nicaragua, Haiti, San Domingo, China, Mexico. Anywhere in the world we could find a place where we had no business, why, there we were. It was just during our adolescent period in our life as a nation, when we thought it was up to us to regulate the affairs of everybody.

I really can’t see any advantage of having one of your own party in as president. I would rather be able to criticize a man, than have to apologize for him.

~Will Rogers, 1879-1936

Spirituality: Garden Refuge

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Beyond my garden refuge
In the world a battle rages.
Between the light and darkness,
It storms across the ages.

No swords, no shields, no battlefields
It is a war I cannot see.
But each new day, when I come to pray
The battle is over me.

Will I be captured by the darkness
A prisoner of despair?
Or will I join the throng of light
That struggles in the air?

The choice is there before me,
As I think to seize the day.
Within the garden refuge
Where I have come to pray.

(c) 1994 Dan Mayhew

Helping Restless Christians on the Road to Adventure