Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Is It Really the "System"?

Most who read this blog know that I am deeply committed to encouraging very simple, organic and relational expressions of the Body of Christ (Wayne Jacobsen's relational understanding of church is probably closest to my sense of what is best). But I find myself serving people in all kinds of expressions of the church, often as an "evangelist" for the journey of intimacy with God and one another. And it may not surprise you that I find basically as much brokenness in the simple/house church world as I do in more traditional, institutional forms of church. There are many reasons for that, which I won't discuss at this point, but it did make me think a lot about some common threads of conversation that I often hear in the organic church world, all of which revolve around the evils of the "system." Is it really the system that's the problem? I don't think it's entirely healthy to think that way. Why? My thoughts are below.

First, I believe that it is more accurate to say that the problem with a broken system lies with the underlying assumptions and values that give shape to (and are further promoted by) the system. In other words, the system is broken and breaks people because so many of its core values are out of alignment with God's values. For example, "systems" are usually created because of the assumption that there are "some who understand" and "some who don't understand but need to," or the assumption that people need external control in order to become who God intended them to be. Other false assumptions that feed the system include the many assumptions that feed the "mass production" approach of the church system in the West, the "corporate system assumptions" that drive most churches, etc. I am sure you can compile your own list if you think about it. How many of the core assumptions of TC (and of many "House churches" or "emerging churches") are derived more from our culture than from God's heart and God's word?

Why is it important to distinguish between the system and the values/assumptions underlying it? Because if deep and effective change is to take place, we have to examine and replace basic assumptions and values, not just the systems that those assumptions give birth to. Pretty obvious once you think about it, eh? But it's frightfully easy to focus on the external system rather than what gives birth to it, methinks.

The second reason it isn't healthy to just think about "system" is more of a relational observation on my part. I have noticed that a lot of people are bitter/angry with the system (whatever that system might be) and seem to feel okay at being bitter because it's directed towards "the system." The problem with this is that systems are neutral in terms of "hurting" people. Yes, they may be assembled in such a way as to make wounding more likely, but it's still the people in the system who do the wounding! So when I hear someone who is angry with the system, I know that in reality they are angry with people in the system, and that until they realize that and move into forgiveness for the people in the system who harmed them, they will remain trapped in their bitterness. In my experience, anyone who is bitter towards a system is not really holding bitterness towards a system but rather towards people caught in that system. And this is hugely important because until the bitterness is gone, merely coming out of the system won't result in the healing that God desires for them.

So...when I find someone who is clearly angry, and I hear words about the system, my heart breaks for that person. I know that they were indeed probably hurt by those in the system, and I also know that freedom lies, as always, in forgiveness. You can't forgive a system because you are not in relationship (really) with a system, but you can forgive people. And when you do, the bitterness towards the system miraculously disappears--amazing! :-)

Just a few thoughts from someone no longer in the system but who feels free to engage the people in it.

What do you think?

Tom, one of Abba's little boys

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Short post

It occurs to me that the world won't end if I don't post something here :-)

Just a quick thought from a recent journal entry. For obvious reasons I have been thinking a lot about my frequent "do whatever it takes" prayers I have offered to God and then to the painful journey that we have recently been through. My thoughts are below. I welcome your thoughts.

I am following up here on an earlier thought about you not bringing trouble to grow us but using it when it comes. Basically, what if the “whatever it takes” is not the pain but the revelation of your awesome goodness in the midst of the pain? And what if, since you promise always to be with us in the midst of the struggle (even though we often forget this because of our fears and the enemy’s lies), that the real “whatever it takes” is a greater revelation of who You are and who we are to you?

So what do you think?

Tom, one of Abba's children

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Sink or Swim?

Many, many years ago I heard one of my scoutmasters tell us that he taught his sons to swim by taking them to the end of a fishing dock and throwing them in the deep water (really!). He was kind of proud of this, but I remember wondering if he was very "safe"! I didn't really feel like he was someone I could trust. How about you?

Is trust developed by putting people into frightening situations? In other words, if I wanted my sons to learn to trust me, would I do that by placing them into a situation that would scare them to death? Wouldn't it be more likely that if I wanted my sons to trust me that I would be kind and gentle and generous, rescuing them when necessary from that which was harmful to them and also teaching them how to face tough things maturely (not by "sink or swim" but by getting into the water with them)? It seems to me that trust grows when someone is good to us, not when they deliberately set us up for hard things.

What's my point with this? Just that I realized today that I sometimes tend to think of God as putting me into situations in order to make me have faith, instead of to reveal His kindness and power. After all, since He "allowed" this hard thing, He must be expecting me to grow in faith through it. The problem with this kind of thinking, though, is that it makes me less likely to trust God or to want to get close to Him! The other problem is that such thinking is simply not biblical. Scripture does tell us that trouble, trials and tribulation will come, but my Bible tells me that this is so that my faith can be tested and/or revealed 1 Peter 1:6-7). Yes, sometimes this testing takes us beyond where we think we can go, but this is to reveal that God can be relied on, not to force us to rely on Him with a faith that isn't there (2 Corinthians 1:8-11). Rather the faith that is in us because of God's faithfulness revealed to us over and over in the past rises up and surprises us with its presence! Note that this is not true for people who think faith is a feeling. Faith is not a feeling--fear is a feeling--faith is a settled decision to trust, even in the dark, not blindly but boldly because we know who God is.

Anyway, just thinking more about faith and wondering if I am making sense! It just seems to me that if I am to grow in my trust of someone (God or anyone) then what grows my trust best is a revelation of that person's goodness, love and trustworthiness, not my having to trust them because I have no other choice. But I could be wrong, I guess. What do you think?

Finally, in something totally unrelated to this topic, but very related to the Simple Church world, I want to recommend a great "Simple Church" article by my friend, Scott Linklater, which you can view by clicking here. It's called "Detoxing: Unwinding Ourselves and the Church." Take a peek and see what you think.

Discovering trust in the dark places from the One who is there with me,

Tom, one of Abba's children

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

One Liners

I am a bit pressed for time this week, leaving early for Chicago tomorrow, so for good or ill, I am putting some of my "one liners" down for posterity. Some of them are a bit long to be called a one liner, and some of them I will elaborate on, but some folks have asked for some of these, so here they are.

"Living loved and listening is the only way to live loving and love living."

"As we learn to live loved, our lives become a paradox that creates a question that may lead to an invitation." Elaboration: especially in today's world, the peace, kindness, other-orientation that comes from living in intimacy with Father tends to be very noticeable. When others are frantic and we are peaceful, when we refuse to enter into another person's anger, when we are kind in the face of harshness, etc., it creates a question in people's minds that often leads to an invitation to share why we are so different!

"New Testament has very little to say about leadership, but when it does it describes it in terms of being another's slave. Whenever anyone comes to me as a 'leader' my first question is always, 'Does this person feel like they are serving me or do they expect me to serve them?' And as one who is a 'leader,' can those I 'lead' sense with consistency that I am their slave?"

"The 'five-fold" gifts to the church mentioned in Ephesians 4:11 ff. are just that: GIFTS, and if they act otherwise they are not Jesus' gift to His people, no matter how 'gifted' they are."

"The fivefold gifts cannot 'equip' without first healing the saints. We have seen too much of what unhealed people do when they are 'equipped' for works of ministry!"

"Apostles train us how to be 'sent' to our own little sphere, Prophets train us to hear God (prophecy is about hearing more than talking!), Evangelists teach us how the Good News will naturally explode once it becomes truly good news, Pastors teach us how to care, Teachers train us how to learn."

"Fear is a feeling, faith is a growing conviction."

"Faith is the fruit of growing intimacy with Abba, not a work that derives from information."

"Transformation occurs best in community, life-on-life in the power of the Holy Spirit!"

Okay, enough of these.

Just a few one-liners...what do you think?

Stay lost in Papa's love.

Tom, one of Abba's kids