Friday, February 17, 2017

Nourishment for the church

John Eldridge has re-released a revision of his book Waking the Dead: The Secret of a Heart Fully Alive Having read some of his other works, I picked that one up as soon as I heard about it. A book I highly recommend. While much struck me about this, one detail I would like to highlight is what he calls the four streams that nourish the church. In going through this one can clearly get an indicator on why the current church is so very malnourished. 

The first is Discipleship. As Mr. Eldredge says in his other writings, many people think this is all about being a nice guy or a good girl, and nothing more. If that is really all it was, the church would be having an easy time of it. Clearly, many churches are not having an easy time of it, so take this as an indicator that we need to go deeper. Mr. Eldridge actually re-names the concept as Walking with God since that is what the original 12 did, and true discipleship is meant to be intimate, not systematic. For the path of holiness is walking in the footsteps of the very nature of God. With discipleship being one of the broadest elements of Christianity, if we get this wrong, everything we build upon it will come up short. 

The next stream is God's intimate council, which branches off of walking with God. Let me put it this way, The Pharisees tried to take the guess work out of life by creating thousands of rules just so they would know how to apply the Ten Commandments. Yet, Jesus said it wasn't enough. (Matt. 5:20) Life just has too many twists, turns, surprises, ambiguities, and exceptions for such a systematic approach to be enough, we need something far more intimate. We need to apply it from the heart. Yet, many in the current church have repeated the mistake that the Pharisees did centuries ago. By relying exclusively on doctrine, and forsaking the council of the Holy Spirit, just because legalism is far easier to wrap our minds around. Yet, they wonder why the church seems so powerless. (2 Tim. 3:5)

The third stream builds off of the stream of council, which is healing, since that is where the spirit's council inevitably leads us. Or deep restoration as Mr. Eldredge likes to call it, and for good reason. Let me draw from one of my own experiences to explain why. One time, when I was praying for healing. The response I got was this "You are focused on your flesh, but I am more concerned about your heart." The idea of healing in the church may conjure up images of spectacle, but just because certain truths get handled badly on occasion is no reason to dismiss them entirely. What these spectacles have in common is they fixate on physical healing that people prefer, and not the spiritual that God favors. Let's face it, it is very easy to fixate on our physical well being and ignore the spirit, since perfect flesh is often equated with ease. Often, we seek healing just because we desire an easier life. Where spiritual healing of the heart, is not an easy path to walk at all. Since healing of the heart often involves facing and reopening our emotional wounds. I have no doubt, that the church is full of broken-hearted people who revolve their lives around protecting their wounds, rather than deal with them. Yet, the tragic reality is, until our hearts are healed, we won't be able to obey in a consistent way. Since so many of our sins are there to provoke feelings we wish we had, or cover up ones we wish we didn't. So our failures in holiness all come back to the brokenness we are trying to avoid through precepts.

The final stream is Spiritual warfare. Again, this may hold some negative stigma among those who prefer the two-dimensional good boy gospel. To address this let me share a seemingly unrelated story. One time at a family gathering, some guys were looking for a fourth to play pitch. Never having played the game before I denied the invitation at first. But, they insisted that they would teach me, so I gave it a try. In their impatience they elected to teach me through playing a few rounds, rather than explain anything before hand. Yet, their explanations consisted mostly of strategies, not basic rules of play. To this day, I still do not know how to play pitch. My point being, most messages on spiritual warfare I have heard revolve around systematic strategies, yet don't define the battle well enough so that we see the value in said strategy, let alone apply it. Well Mr. Eldredge defines it simply yet effectively this way. Spiritual warfare is ultimately your defense in a battle for your heart. Protection against an assault by the one who knows what you could be and fears it. The enemies advantage is this, he doesn't care what you do, as long as it's not God's will, and you are just sitting on the sidelines, rather than getting involved in or preparing yourself for the mission of the church. One does not have to look very hard to see that the devil has utilized the weapon of apathy effectively.

Consider this, in our following of the “good boy” gospel, in our search for comfort above growth. Have we inadvertently resisted the wrong spirit? Is it possible, that the things we see as condemnation from the enemy, may in fact be counseling from the Holy Spirit to direct us towards restoration. Even if it weren't, if we chose to face and deal with these points of conviction, rather than avoid them, they would lose much of their effectiveness in hurting us. As Joseph said at the end of Genesis, you intended it for evil, but God intended it for good. What could possibly be a better retaliation against the enemy than making his attacks into a source of growth for God's kingdom? 

Maybe we need to stop asking God for an easy life. Or asking for means of avoiding discomfort and pain. Rather start asking for guidance on how to get through it. Maybe we should start drinking deeply of all four streams, rather than just sipping from the one or two we're comfortable with. Then the church might experience the power of resurrection again. That is obviously what it needed right now after all, resurrection.  

If this post leaves you feeling thirsty, then might I suggest you go buy the book. Barnes & Noble, Amazon

a person examining a stream of memories.
click to enlarge