Worlds in Collision, Pt 3 : Taught by God


by Len Hjalmarson

"This is the covenant I will make
with the house of Israel after that time," declares the LORD .
"I will put my law in their minds
and write it on their hearts.
I will be their God,
and they will be my people.
No longer will a man teach his neighbor,
or a man his brother, saying, 'Know the LORD ,'
because they will all know me,
from the least of them to the greatest,"
declares the LORD .
"For I will forgive their wickedness
and will remember their sins no more."
Jeremiah 31: 33, 34

"Then the Lord said,
"Because this people draw near with their words
And honor Me with their lip service,
But they remove their hearts far from Me,
And their reverence for Me consists of tradition learned by rote,
Therefore behold, I will once again deal marvelously with this people,
And the wisdom of their wise men shall perish,
And the discernment of their discerning men shall be concealed."
Isaiah 29: 13,14

"My message and my preaching were not in persuasive words of wisdom,
but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power,
that your faith should not rest on the wisdom of men,
but on the power of God."
1 Cor.2:4,5

"The Helper, the Holy Spirit,
whom the Father will send in My name,
He will teach you all things…" (John 15:26)
"He will not speak on His own initiative,
but whatever He hears He will speak.. "
(John 16:13)

Many years ago I found a sermon by A W Tozer titled, "Bible taught or Spirit taught?" Tozer came down hard on the growing rationalism in the church, a spirit founded in the growth of the scientific method. He looked around himself at a "Christian" culture that did not act in Christian ways. He heard a great deal of good teaching, but saw little transformation. He observed great plans and much expansion of physical structures, but little covenant faithfulness and a growing neglect of the poor. He saw leaders more interested in their success than in following Christ.

His conclusion was that the faith of men was resting on the wisdom of men, and not on the power of God. He rightly discerned that we had many teachers, but few fathers. Worse, fewer and fewer had a personal inward journey of their own.. they were taught by men but not taught by God.

"We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased."
C. S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory

When Jesus gave His disciples His final teaching before His passion, he spoke of leaving and sending another teacher. Somewhere along the way we drew the conclusion that this referred to pastors, leaders, writers and thinkers around us who are believers.. After all, it is much easier to hear a sermon delivered by a man than to listen personally to the Spirit of God.

We are all schooled in the western rationalistic tradition. We learn to tune our physical ears and the ears of the mind… but few of us are trained to tune the inner ear to the voice of the Lord. Some of us don't even expect the Lord to speak, except through the proper earthly "authority" (Scripture, the President or the pastor). Our world view is not that of Paul or Jesus.

The Fallen Powers and the Spirit of Technos

It is not my intention to draw a false dichotomy between the voice of the Lord internally and the voice of the Lord through His people, or common means like poetry, books, and various media. The Lord can speak powerfully through any part of creation, if we are attentive. But many of us can attest to personal experiences of His immediate and internal voice.. the Teacher is alive and well and with us. We should expect to have occasional experiences which are personal and powerful.. experiences of guidance and direction, encouragement or rebuke.

And your ears will hear a word behind you,
"This is the way, walk in it,"
whenever you turn to the right or to the left.
Isaiah 30:21

It was the first morning of a conference at our church. I was about to get out of bed when a picture appeared in my mind unbidden. I saw a clock with the hands at twelve. Then I clearly heard an internal voice saying, "I am watching over my word to perform it," and then, "the hour is coming, and now is, when those who worship the father must worship him in spirit and in truth."

I puzzled about the implications and application. Then a week later the Leadership Centre magazine arrived, and on the cover was the same clock with the hands at midnight. The title was "the church in the new millennium." The magazine was filled with quotes on what the new church would look like, but the heart of it for me was in these ones:

"The church in the New Millennium will be a major force in society only in as much as its leaders empower all of God's people to do the works of the church, inside and outside its walls. When that is allowed to occur and the people take hold, they will be the evangelistic light that brings people to Christ ..." Sue Mallory, Executive Director, Leadership Training Network

"The church in the new Millennium will be successful to the extent that its focus is on ministry that is biblically transforming, relationally shaping and spiritually empowering." Dr. Paul Magnus, President, Briercrest Family of Schools.

Those are exciting statements, both for what they envision for God's people and for what they say about the relationship of the Body to the Head.

One of the legacies of the modern world is a scientific world view. What cannot be measured and repeated is not real, or at least not valuable since we can't use it to achieve the ends we choose. Unfortunately, God doesn't sit still for the slide rule, and He isn't subject to our whims or ideas of success and progress.

But success and progress are the cornerstone of the modern religious world. Worse, we have given up our inheritance of weakness and submission to the Spirit of the Lord for the purposes of control and manipulation of desired ends. When our reputation and salaries are founded on growth and paying large mortgages, we can easily begin to look for methods to achieve certain results rather than relying on God. The church growth movement came along and offered a set of tools that we thought were morally and spiritually neutral, based on the "objectivity" of scientific method.

"We can do it.. we can build the kingdom of God with human effort, solid reasoning and the textbook of the bible."

Paul could say that his faith and his efforts "do not rest on the wisdom of men, but on the power of God" (1 Cor.2:5) More than this, he stated quite emphatically that reason alone cannot achieve spiritual understanding. An inner illumination is necessary. Paul writes of God's wisdom:

"For to us God has revealed them through the Spirit; for the Spirit searches all things, even the depths of God. For who among men knows the thoughts of a man except the spirit of the man? Even so the thoughts of God no one knows except the Spirit of God. Now we have received.. the Spirit from God, that we might know the things freely given to us by God.." 2 Cor. 2:10-12

Writing nearly thirty years ago Jacques Ellul, the French theologian and sociologist, saw the secularism of the Church and its accommodation to worldly systems and penned a number of powerful works. Some of these were "The Presence of the Kingdom" and "The Technological Society." Ellul saw a progression in the modern use of tools, an evolution from technologies to the spirit of technos, which itself acts on human behavior and organization.. He saw biblical values being replaced by human and scientific values. He saw man bowing to reason and to the machine.

In practical terms, many of us in ministry were content to imitate working patterns around us rather than to seek God. It was simple to pick up another book or attend another conference. We looked for working models and imitated their patterns, hoping for their success. We took note at sessions on building movement through five year plans. We hoped that "The Purpose Driven Church" would revitalize our ministry. We didn't realize that the methods that we thought were neutral were founded on a rationalistic worldview and human wisdom.

Religion.. or Revelation?

In Isaiah's time it really wasn't any different. It was easier to rely on a known power and resource than on the supernatural power of God.

"Woe to the rebellious children," declares the Lord.
Who execute a plan, but not Mine,
And make an alliance, but not of My Spirit,
In order to add sin to sin;
Who proceed down to Egypt,
Without consulting Me…"
Isaiah 30:1,2

In the modern world we talked about "objective" or "propositional" truth and almost deified the written Word of God. We devalued experience and the subjective .. after all, who could trust such a "personal" dimension of truth?

It was as if we would advise lovers: "Don't have too much personal contact with your lover. Instead, move far away and write them letters. Too much personal contact will distort your perspective."

But God is not known if He is not loved. And to have a personal relationship with Him is to enter a dynamic, unpredictable and uncontrollable relationship.

At times, our "objective" wisdom appeared to work. We built larger buildings and filled them. We became impressed with our own ability to grow the kingdom. But the growth we saw was wide, not deep. On the contrary, many church communities became huge nurseries full of dependent children.. children who had only a distant relationship with the living God; children who were undisciplined and undiscipled and who did not know the life of the Spirit.

Naturally, we saw a decreased emphasis on prayer. More and more time was given to meetings and planning, and less and less time to devotion. Pastors became managers and CEO's rather than fathers and spiritual directors. We assumed a secular model of leadership, and a secular model of power and hierarchy. We lost much of the biblical authenticity of the community of God's people, and often were unaware of the loss.

If there is one place I learn my own inadequacy it is when I devote more time to prayer. I feel powerless there.. I can't MAKE anything happen, any more than I can add six inches to my height. It can feel so useless to an activist personality who needs to see results, or whose job or personal significance depends on measurable results.

It's a good barometer.. if you find a leader who spends quality time in personal devotion and evidences the character and humility of Jesus, then you have found someone who has learned that "apart from [Him] they can do nothing."

Many years ago I penned a personal targum of Isaiah 2..

But come, house of Jacob, and let us walk in the light of the Lord.
For YAHWEH has abandoned His people
Because they are filled with influences from modernity
And they are technologists and not people of faith
And they strike bargains with infidels.
There land also has been filled with silver and gold,
And there is no end to their treasures
Their land has also been filled with machines,
And there is no end to their pride in reason.
They worship the work of their hands,
That which their science has made…

The proud look of man will be abased,
And the loftiness of man will be humbled,
And the Lord alone will be exalted in that day.
Isaiah 2:5-11

Dependence on our own gifts and abilities to achieve the kingdom, or dependence on the popular methods of the day to grow a community, is equal to apostasy.

Recently a friend who is a single woman took a radical step. Secure, with a good job and owning most of her beautiful home valued at nearly $450,000, she sold everything she had and gave the money to a struggling business that was run by believers who were employing inner city teens, trying to give them a sense of value in work and live the gospel before them.

She tells us that for the first time in her life she is learning to depend on the provision of her heavenly father. When a close friend commented to her that, "Being poor isn't all its cracked up to be," she responded, "No, it is so much more…" She has escaped a false security and come much closer to her true self, formed in Christ.

Religion and the Elementary Principles of the World

In the fourth chapter of Galatians Paul writes to the believers talking about sonship in Christ. He states that when the heir is a child, he is the same as a slave, even though he actually owns everything. That sounds much like the state of most believers. We have "all things" in Christ, but we live as paupers. We have "all authority," but we do not walk in it.

As Paul continues his discussion, he warns us of this very danger. Even once becoming heirs and having been adopted by God, even AFTER RECEIVING LEGAL AUTHORITY to act on behalf of the Father, we may turn back to the weak and worthless elemental things (v.9). Paul points out that this is a return to slavery.

The word Paul uses that is translated "elemental things" is "stoichea," elsewhere translated "elementary principles." Notice that what the Galatians are doing is "observing days and months and seasons and years." They are returning to a religious structure of feasts and fasts and generally performance oriented Christianity.

What would motivate such a change?

Could it be that we continually long to be in control of our faith? And is this desire for power and control the leaven Paul referred to that would leaven the whole lump (1 Cor.5:6).

"Beware of the leaven of the scribes and Pharisees" (Matt.16:6)

Religion is all about knowledge and power and security. We want to know that we have done what we need to do. We want to know we're okay. We want to know we have measured up. This longing for security and certainty is a kind of unfaith, and it puts us in danger of seduction by the stoichea. Walter Brueggemann comments on certitude:

"We all have a hunger for certitude, and the problem is that the Gospel is not about certitude, it's about fidelity. So what we all want to do if we can is immediately transpose fidelity into certitude, because fidelity is a relational category and certitude is flat, mechanical category. So we have to acknowledge our thirst for certitude and then recognize that if you had all the certitudes in the world it would not make the quality of your life any better because what we must have is fidelity."

Scholars have pointed out that the essential characteristic of magic is a need for control. Magic is the most pagan of religions.

So what does that have to do with structural sin, and the problem we began to address?

There isn't a simple answer to this question, but the short answer is that many ministries are not structured with God in mind, but with our own need for security and results. I believe that we are less interested in what might be God's agenda than in accomplishing certain tasks that we have decided in advance are important. When many churches gather both leaders and the congregation are concerned with more with comfort and predictability than with God. The primary purpose is to accomplish certain goals.. a worship "package" and the predigested preaching, and that requires control. Margaret Wheatley writes,

"Most people have a desire to love their organizations. They fall in love with the identity that is trying to be expressed. They connect to the founding vision. They organize to create a better world.

"But then we take this vital passion and institutionalize it. We create an organization. The people who loved the purpose grow to disdain the institution that was created to fulfill it. Passion mutates into procedures, rules and roles. Instead of purpose, we have policies. Instead of being free to create, we impose constraints that squeeze the life out of us. The organization is frozen in time. We see its dead and bloated form and resent it for what it prevents us from doing.

"Too often, organizations destroy our passion. They insist on their own imperatives. They forget that we are self-organizing. So do we." A Simpler Way, p.57

When man is in control then Jesus is not. The church is Christ's body, and His agenda should dominate. The gathering we have pictured for us in 1 Corinthians 14 doesn't sound like an average Sunday service. If you think this is a new problem, consider this quotation from a dissenting pamphlet distributed by the Mennonites in Holland in the 16th century..

"When some one comes to church and constantly hears only one person speaking, and all the listeners are silent, neither speaking nor prophesying, who can or will regard or confess the same to be a spiritual congregation, or confess according to 1 Cor.14 that God is dwelling and operating in them through His Holy Spirit with his gifts, impelling them one after the other in the above mentioned order of speaking and prophesying?" ("The Answer of Some Who Are Called Baptists to the Question Why They Do Not Attend the Churches.")

The complaint of the radical reformers was that while faith had been rediscovered as the heart of the gospel, the priesthood remained restricted to a special class. The mainline Reformers didn't carry the reformation far enough. They failed to perceive the clear teaching of the Word of God that every believer has authority to hear from God and speak for God, and they did not understand the danger of submission to the Empire.

Thus we arrived at structural sin and submission to the fallen powers. If we allow our traditions to determine our order of service more than the Word of God, are we submitting to God, or to man? If we default to organizational science and church growth strategies more than prayer, then we are submitting to the "elementary principles" of the world. If our desire is to be in control, to accomplish certain results as set out by the denominational hierarchy or the elders, rather than submitting the life of the community to God, we are operative deists or pragmatists, and not servants of the Lord.

The following verses, like many popular Scriptures, have been distorted to have a narrow meaning focused on conversion. I think they express far more..

Do not marvel that I said to you,
"You must be born again."
The wind blows where it wishes and you hear the sound of it,
but do not know where it comes from and where it is going.
So is everyone who is born of the Spirit.
John 3:7,8

The best discussion of this in terms of systems and organizational change is in A Simpler Way.

"This is emergence - life exploring connections to create new and surprising capacity… systems leap into new possibilities, where life takes new and unusual forms, where selves become more than they ever imagined…"

The first step toward change is to become aware of the need for change. The second step is to let go of fear and the answers of yesterday, and explore the possibilities for today.

"We have focused too long on right answers. We have taken things apart in an attempt to build the better mousetrap. But it is all falling apart.

"Our previous activity was cloaked in fear. What if we don't get it right? What if someone else gets it right before we do?

"We often tend to limit our explorations of what's possible by surrounding ourselves with large amounts of information that tell us nothing new. These measures lock us into learning about a predetermined world. They keep us distracted from questioning our experience in a way that could create greater possibilities.

"There is an important humility associated with trying to direct our activities by setting goals or measures. Every act of observation loses more information than it gains. Whatever we decide to notice blinds us to other possibilities. In directing our attention to certain things, we lose awareness of everything else."

What if we really let the Lord be the Lord? What if we really surrendered control to Him? What if we let God do the organizing? What if we lived with more spontaneity and even a bit of chaos? How would the church look different in our day, and what would be the result? Wheatley says that,

"We need explorers, those willing to venture where there are no maps. We need tinkerers... Tinkerers have skills but no clear plans. They make do with the materials at hand. Tinkering opens us to what's possible in the moment."

When a system has become set in concrete, it no longer responds to the voice of God who calls us to the newness of the future. It has become an idol and asks us to worship it. If we bow, we die.

Wheatley says that an emergent world asks us to stand in a different place. We no longer stand at the end of something, some system that has been successful, in order to understand it. Rather we stand at the beginning, clear in our intention to be involved in discovery. We participate more than plan. We are alert to what is unfolding.

This requires faith, and it requires that we let go of fear. More deeply still, it requires that we let go of rigid identities.

"Whenever we're trying to change a deeply structured belief system, everything in life is called into question-our relationships with loved ones, children, and colleagues; our relationships with authority and major institutions. One group of senior leaders, reflecting on the changes they've gone through, commented that the higher you are in the organization, the more change is required of you personally. Those who have led their organizations into new ways of organizing often say that the most important change was what occurred in themselves. Nothing would have changed in their organizations if they hadn't changed.. " (italics mine). Wheatley in "Goodbye Command and Control," in Leader to Leader, 1997.

Rigid identities give rise to rigid systems. Clarity about direction becomes hard certainty about everything. These organizations feel unapproachable. They know the way the world works; they know who their people are, and they know the future. They suppress emergence, and shoot the messengers.

Attuned to the Voice of the Shepherd

"If any man is in Christ he is a new creature..." 2 Cor.5:17

The love which a man bears to God and goodness is not so much by virtue of a command enjoining him to do so, as by a new nature instructing and prompting him to do it..
It may be called a divine life, having God for its author, and being wrought in the souls of men by the power of His Holy Spirit, but also in regard to its nature, being a resemblance of the divine perfection, the image of the Almighty shining in the soul of man." Henri Scougal, "The Life of God in the Soul of Man"

There are only two lives we can lead as Christians. In the first life, Jesus is a spoke on the wheel of life. He is one among many things to which we give attention and allegiance. This is really the most common version of Christianity in the west. We pursue success, the good life, and Jesus. It is still SELF on the throne, self in control, because we have not yet learned to let go of fear. Jean Vanier writes,

"In human beings there is a constant tension between order and disorder, connectedness and loneliness, evolution and revolution, security and insecurity. Our universe is constantly evolving: the old order gives way to a new order and this in its turn crumbles when the next order appears. It is no different in our lives in the movement from birth to death.

"To live well is to observe in today's apparent order the tiny anomalies that are the seeds of change, the harbingers of the order of tomorrow. This means living in a state of a certain insecurity, in anguish and loneliness, which, at its best, can push us towards the new. Too much security and the refusal to evolve, to embrace change, leads to a kind of death. Too much insecurity, however, can also mean death. To be human is to create sufficient order so that we can move on into insecurity and seeming disorder. In this way we discover the new." Becoming Human

Those who have learned to let go of fear and cast their insecurities onto Jesus move into the second life. In this life Jesus is the hub at the center of the wheel. We give Him allegiance and attention above all else, even above our own family. His Person and Kingdom dominate our minds and hearts. He is our passion, our vision.. and all of life is ordered in relation to His purposes. Jesus is all in all.. for Him, through Him and to Him are all things. Jesus is LORD.

The first life is a natural extension of a natural human existence. We trust only so far.. but we hold back our most intimate places. We all know that a little faith is needed, and a transcendent perspective on life is helpful. This first life is acceptable to our culture, and won't rock any boats. Neither will it meet the deepest hunger of our hearts.. to experience the deep love and acceptance of the Father.

The second life is a Holy life. It trades fear for faith. We lay down our lives on the altar. We leave behind the good Christian life for following Christ. We leave the shallows for the open sea. We pursue a life of purity in the power of the Holy Spirit, "perfecting Holiness in the fear of God" (2 Cor.7:1).

"And just as it happened in the days of Noah, so it shall be also in the days of the Son of Man; they were eating, they were drinking, they were marrying, they were being given in marriage, until the day that Noah entered the ark, and the flood came and destroyed them all. It was the same as happened in the days of Lot: they were eating, they were drinking, they were buying, they were selling, they were planting, they were building; but on the day that Lot went out from Sodom it rained fire and brimstone from heaven..." Luke 17:26ff

This warning is scary. These are all good things: Eating and drinking, building and planting… what is wrong with that?

The world is God's creation and His gift. But it must be received in and through Christ, or it becomes an end in itself.. we worship the creation rather than the Creator. If we have died with Christ and are raised with Him (Gal. 2:20), we can receive all things from His hand. Renouncing the world, it becomes our inheritance. But until we live in that transformed life, the world will only bring us distraction and heartache and we will attempt to build our security on status and worldly wealth or power. We fall back under the "stoichea."

Consecration isn't something we attain.. it is something we ask for and are given. Not satisfied to have Jesus in our heart or in our pocket, we want Him to be everything. In consecration we exchange our natural life for a supernatural one, hidden in God. It is a grace and a gift.

To consecrate means to set aside, to displace from ordinary usage, to derail from normalcy. Paul is talking consecration when he writes to Timothy,

"Now in a large house there are not only gold and silver vessels,
but also vessels of wood and of earthenware,
and some to honor and some to dishonor.
Therefore, if a man cleanses himself from these things,
he will be a vessel for honor,
sanctified, useful to the Master,
prepared for every good work." 2 Timothy 2:20

The difference between the good Christian life and the devoted life can be subtle. It won't necessarily appear in the clothes we wear or in the model of car that we drive. It is a quality of spirit. It is a quality of attention and intention.

To be attentive is to be at-tuned, tuned in to the voice of the Master, ready to answer and obey. The consecrated life is given over to service in the purposes of God, loving what He loves, doing what He does.

"This is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel
after that time," declares the LORD .
"I will put my law in their minds
and write it on their hearts.
I will be their God,
and they will be my people."
Jeremiah 31:33

What are the purposes of God? One summation is given by Jesus as loving God and neighbor. Another summation is found in Micah 6:8:

"He has told you, O man, what is good;
And what does the Lord require of you
But to do justice, to love kindness,
And to walk humbly with your God?"


Click HERE to listen to "All the Heavens" by Third Day.

Bibliography

Brueggemann, Walter. Cadences of Home. Louisville, Kentucky: John Knox Press, 1997.
Ellul, Jacques. The Technological System. France: Calman-Levy, 1977.
Lewis, C. S. The Weight of Glory. San Francisco: Harper and Row, 2001.
Tozer, A.W. The Divine Conquest. New York, NY: Fleming H. Revell, 1950.
Vanier, Becoming Human. New York, NY: Paulist Press, 1998.
Walsh, B. and Keesmaat, S. Colossians Remixed. Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 2004
Wheatley, Margaret. Goodbye Command and Control. In "Leader to Leader." No.5, Summer, 1997.
Wheatley, Margaret. A Simpler Way. San Francisco: Barrett-Koehler Publications, 1996.


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• © 2005-2007 Len Hjalmarson.• Last Updated in August, 2007