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The Essence of Church Life

 

Years of living life in this fallen world have taught us that life on this planet is not a real safe place. As we are vulnerable with fallible and mistaken parents and siblings, we learn very early we will be hurt. We will be hated. We will be ridiculed. We w ill be left alone and abandoned. It’s inevitable. As children, very early on, we learn to self-protect by putting up walls around our hearts. We’ve all done this to some degree. We learn to cope, to live through it, and to get by in life so it doesn’t hurt quite so much anymore. In short, we learn to live self protected and self guarded.

Self-protection and self-preservation are very natural responses to a world full of trouble. With our walls of self protection, we are able to function, to have jobs, to raise kids, to pay the bills, to relate to people. But our walls of self preservation have a cost as well. We don’t really get to live in true freedom – freedom from the heart. Sure, we can get along with others and be functioning human beings in society, but haven’t you noticed? Many people, I’d say most people, have become as though they are walking dead people.

Many are just getting by. Many are just surviving. Merely going to work everyday and going through the motions of life. Almost robotic, instead of feeling the pain of rejection, feeling the pain of being hated, feeling the deep loneliness, we choose to mostly feelnothing at all.

There are a myriad of reasons why people are the way they are: tendencies that stem from heredity, various flesh patterns that we’ve developed to cope with life and to self-protect. But the bottom line is all the same…

Jesus wants to heal us.

He wants to restore to us the lost years. He wants to make you healthy inside and out. He wants you to be alive from within. He wants you full of passion, full of love and full of purpose. Jesus wants you to be free in your heart and in all of life. He wants you filled with His power and bearing fruit 100 fold for the Kingdom. He wants to use you to give to others as well. What is His plan and design to heal and restore all of us messed up human beings?

When you were born-again, you were healed. But we don’t always experience the healing we have. There is a process of renewing our minds and a process of sanctification that allows the Christian to experience more and more healing and restoration. God wants to restore us from two directions. Not only is He going to heal you and renew your mind as you continue to relate to Him directly as an individual, but He wants to also use a functioning and active church to restore you and build you up as well. Both are important.

Knowing “About” versus Knowing

As we truly know the Lord as a person, we are changed. As opposed to just knowing and learning things about Him, as we are truly knowing Him, real change in the heart occurs.

It’s like the difference between reading a book about skydiving and actually skydiving. Reading a book only fills your head with concepts about skydiving. When you actually skydive, you know what skydiving is really like. Concepts can be dangerous. If we don’t put concepts into practice, they can fool us into thinking that we have the reality of the matter, when we really only know things about it.

Concepts about the Lord do little to change our lives. Knowing the Lord is what changes us. We must never be fooled between the difference of knowing things about the Lord and actually knowing Him. Learning about, is obtaining more information. Knowing Him however, is actually tasting and experiencing who He is.

As we go deeper in really knowing the Lord, the walls in our hearts begin to come down. We discover that the Lord Himself really is a safe place to let our guard down, and that we will not be hurt by God or destroyed. We experience the relief that comes from finally being loved by someone who loves us no matter what. And, as our relationships with others are truly in the light and in the Spirit of God, we learn to have this wonderful vulnerability with one another – loving one another fervently from the heart.

You must understand that you are like a plant. You are a plant that the Lord has grown and is continuing to grow. He put His seed in the soil of your heart. And, so far as you’ve been cooperative, you’ve proven to be pretty good soil.

The Lord can and will grow plants on an individual basis. If one seed, only one, falls on some good soil and a plant springs up by itself, that’s fine. But this is not God’s best. For only one plant to grow alone and by itself is not really God’s plan. He wants a garden.

Plants do much better when they grow together. They are much healthier. They grow faster together. And it simply looks better to the world to see a hundred beautiful flowers all clumped together than to see just one by itself growing alone in a field, as wonderful as the one plant may be. No, you see, when plants grow together, they become a fertile,hot bed for growth.

You will grow extremely fast and become very hardy if you grow with other plants. You will become stronger, more beautiful, and more enduring than you ever thought possible. For one reason, your roots all get tangled up below with other plant’s roots. In other words, your inner life (the unseen life below the soil) becomes “knit” and entwined with the other plants. This is a wonderful experience.

The soil also stays in better condition when plants grow together. The plants all growing together can really withstand a lot of wind and heavy rains because they are so entwined and rooted together.

But what does it take for our roots to become entwined with others and for us to be knit with one another as the apostle Paul talked about in Col 2:2?

This is the essence of life in the church.

God’s design for growth is within the context of the church. God’s design for healing and restoration is in the context of the church. A lot of us know this concept but don’t seem to cooperate with it very well.

One reason for our non-cooperation is that most Christians have no real example of how to live it out properly. There is also not much opportunity for true body life within the American culture. It takes tremendous courage to truly live vulnerably and transparent with others and to do it on a consistent, on-going basis.

To truly live in the light with others in deep honesty, is tremendously wonderful and sometimes tremendously painful. This is the difference between being religious and being real. We all need to learn to let down and fall apart with other brothers and sisters. Honesty with ourselves, with God, and with others on a consistent basis is what we don’t want to do, but it is what we all need so desperately.

Many of us do live vulnerable with others to some degree. But even any lack of vulnerability, is not true vulnerability. To live as consistently honest and real with others, as I’m describing, to most would be unthinkable.

Resistance to Being Real

Again, the traditional religious setting fights against this. The traditional religious system does not promote this. In fact, it promotes the opposite. It promotes falseness in the disciple. The example to everyone of how to live and be in the church is lived out by the leadership in the church. The leadership provides the example of how you are to be.

How are we trained to be in traditional church? You are to be shallow and false. You are to keep your own individual space. You should only let others in to a certain degree. You must maintain at least some amount of distance. In a certain, sort of false humility way, you are to pretend that you have it together.

Again, our example of how to be and how to conduct ourselves is found in the leadership. Do you think, if the leadership in the traditional church setting were to really be gut-level honest with everyone about what they are REALLY like, they would be able to maintain their position as leaders? Nope. Because people’s idea of what it takes to be in leadership is that you must arrive at a certain level of spirituality. People in leadership are to have a certain level of maturity. Our idea of maturity is a lie. There is no one that is mature (in our sense of the word). Do you want to know what a mature Christian looks like? It’s someone who is a mess and knows they’re a mess. It’s someone who confesses their sin regularly. It’s someone who comes to the light. It’s someone who is so full of fault, most places would shun them, avoid them and have nothing to do with them – much less allow them to be in leadership.

In the typical church fellowship today, if you are really honest with other people about what you are really like, they will judge you, avoid you, then talk about you to others. All the while, every single person equally deals with the same weak human issues everyone else is dealing with – some form of fear, pride, lust or selfishness. Yet, if you confess these things, or others become aware of them in you, you will probably be talked about and be subtly distanced.

That’s the whole problem. In most church settings there is a false role of leadership filled by men that are not completely in the light themselves. This role of leadership is then upheld and supported by people who are, for the most part, not completely in the light with one another either. If everyone would begin to be really honest, the whole thing would come crumbling down because the foundation in most fellowships is based on shallow, half hearted Christianity.

Jesus said that if you look at a woman with lust in your heart, you’ve committed adultery. Ok. Then let’s try this:

The pastor walks up to the podium on Sunday morning. He opens his Bible, looks at the congregations and says, “Before I preach the message today, I want to confess something to everyone. I’ve committed adultery about 6 times this last week. (the pastor then looks at his wife on the second pew and says, ‘Sorry sweetie.’) Now, for today’s sermon, if everyone has their Bibles, please turn to the book of ……”

Have you ever read the book of Psalms? Do you believe that the Psalms are the written word of God? I do. Do you study the Psalms? Do you believe that we are to submit to the Psalms as the written word of God for our lives? Yet, the Psalms were written by a man who had sex with a woman who was not his wife, and then he murdered her husband. He was even deceitful in the way he had him murdered. We are all studying and setting our lives under a book written by a murdering, adulterous, liar. By most people’s standards, David is certainly not qualified to be a leader – this man after God’s own heart.

Paul said he was chief of all sinners. Yet we believe he really was in a different league than the rest of us, just being falsely humble or poetic, perhaps trying to make a point, when he made such a statement.

Paul believed that statement when he said it. The man who was the chief of all sinners, wrote most of the New Testament, and we study it as God’s written word.

What about Peter? He flat out denied that he knew Christ. And he did it 3 times. If there were a man among us in leadership who denied that he even knew who Christ was, and did it 3 times, we would have him removed from the pulpit. “No, sorry Peter, you cannot be a leader among us because you did this horrible thing.” Yet he was an apostle and wrote 2 books of the New Testament.

The point is that the idea we have of leadership is a false rank. Because of our misinterpretation of I Tim., and what “an office” actually is, we’ve created, allowed, and supported a false rank to exist in the church (refer to chapter on Offices, Titles, and Gifts). It makes it extremely difficult for a totally honest man to live up to this false rank. Therefore, it causes men to have to be false with themselves and with others to live up to the expectations of what it means to be a leader. (The qualifications of doing overseeing work or serving in 1 Tim. do not contradict this.)

Today, to be qualified as a leader, you can have sins, but not “these certain sins.” This is all falseness. The whole thing is a farce. It is all set up to cause failure. And the failure that is occurring all the time is pretended to not be failure. It is hidden and all pretended away.

Sin is more common with people then you might think. I am not saying that we have to sin. I am not saying that all people walk in sin. I am not saying that if a man is walking in sin, that he should be permitted to lead. Because of the power of the Spirit of God in us, we’ve been given the power over sin. The only way to win over sin in our lives is to live humbly and dependant on Jesus. When we are in a situation where we have to pretend that we have it together or if we are in a position that doesn’t allow us to be truly just a man, it’s going to promote strongholds in our lives. We are not really in the light. It is only through living humbly, broken, and in the light, that we can be victorious over sin.

Walking truly in honesty with one another in the Spirit of God, and being loved and restored from doing so, is the essence of church life.

If all you are doing is showing up to meetings (going to a meeting is only about 10% of true body life), you are not really living church life. Meetings tend to have too many people and are too infrequent to accomplish real walking in the light with one another.

We must have at least a couple of other people we are extremely current with and close with on a heart level. These are the few others that that carry us in prayer, that provide emotional support, who counsel with us, who know us deeply, and because of the blood of Jesus, love and accept us no matter what. These are the ones we are knit with very closely. These people will be the same gender as you are.

This very small core group you are with is not a click. Hopefully, you all are part of a larger network of believers. Some of those whom you are very closely knit with, may also be tightly knit with others as well. Overlap is essential. The group you are closely knit with is never to be closed off to others coming around and joining in at some level.

Church life is a result of multiple people who are humbly, wholeheartedly, and unreservedly loving Jesus and holding to the scriptures in their individual lives. Church life is sharing with others in vulnerability, transparency, and spontaneity. With intense accountability and prayer, church life is filled with truth and forgiveness for one another.

As you are seeking Jesus, and He is first in your life, He will lead you to be with others. Then, you get to choose.

You get to choose how deep you will go by being honest and in the light with others.

Will you receive reproof? Will you reprove others?

We must have dependence on the Lord as individuals. We must also learn to have a dependence on the Lord in one another. Therefore, we must have interdependence on one another in the Body. Will you allow yourself to need others? We need the Lord in the Body, (I Cor. 12:20-25). Although no person is to ever become our source.

When I began living New Testament body life, I was 19 years old. The older brothers mentored me, loved me, reproved me, confronted me, and encouraged me. This is how it should be for a young man in the church. I got to attend the brothers’ meetings and listen to the older ones ponder and pray through multitudes of church problems. I learned quite a lot as a young man. There were many late nights with brothers confessing sins, weaknesses, and praying for one another.

In New Testament body life, there are spontaneous visits from families dropping in our home unannounced (not on a meeting night), sometimes carrying a loaf of bread with them and a bottle of wine for the Lord’s supper; we often share communion together with a couple of families and end up praying the evening together. A sister might stop by our home and tell my wife that she needs to talk and pray. There are breakfasts together, weekend retreats, working together while singing praises, and looking out your window at night and seeing a fire built with saints spontaneously gathering to worship. Several of us may take a long trip together for a vacation, to visit other fellowships, or to a prison to preach the gospel, while reading and discussing scripture in the car there and back.

There are seasons when one brother might do some shepherding in my life in a particular area, and then the season comes to an end. The Lord may bring in another brother later to love me and speak into my life for a totally different area, all the while the Lord may be using me to shepherd, teach, and speak into the lives of others.

There may be frequent calls at any time of the day or in the middle of the night to pray for various needs.

There are no requirements. There is no law. The only rule is to love one another and be in the truth. Some families participate a lot. Some only participate a little. There’s no possible way someone can attend every get together and every meeting. If someone did, I might question if they are meeting the needs of their natural family. There may be seasons where an individual family needs plenty of time with just themselves. Everyone supports that.

The main thing that happens to you in church life is that you are restored. You learn to trust. Not trust in people – you will really get to see plenty of weakness and mistakes in individuals. But you do learn to trust Jesus. You begin to see His hand in the church. You hear Him speak through, not only the respected ones, but through the lowly people as well. You get to know what it’s really like to be loved, no matter what. You will get to humble yourself on the same issue so many times, that there’s nothing else left to say or do, but only to receive a hug.

The church is the Lord’s hands and feet. We are His body, and He will use His body to correct and love you. He will love your heart back to life. In the church, He will love you so closely and so in your face that you will learn to trust Him. You will grow. You will not be shaken. You will learn to weather tremendous storms.

But you will have to risk.

You will have to step out in vulnerability with your brothers and sisters. You will have to confess your apathy. And you will often bear your soul, exposing yourself to the gentle, loving, light of correction.

You will tell another person that they hurt you. Someone will inform you that you have been being selfish. You will learn to forgive at all times. And you will learn to receive forgiveness for yourself.

As you grow secure in the church’s love for you, you will be able to let down more, and let down more, and more.

You will learn to love and truly honor your spouse. You will learn to raise your kids. You will become honest – because you will be required to be honest in all things.

You will live in freedom. Your prayers will change. Your life will be deepened. You will find that you have more room, more capacity, in your heart towards God. The stillness will come and you will find rest. You will journey on with your brothers and sisters, fighting the good fight of faith, and doing what you were created to do – living full throttle, and with all of your heart.

Please don’t just attend meetings; Christ died for more than that. Don’t use a church meeting to get your God stamp for the week, then go home, and hide in your house.

“I Don’t Have Any More Time Available.”

If your job or work causes you to be too busy for body life, then change jobs. What is your life about anyway – work? I highly recommend that you live off the least amount of money as possible. You should cut your spending and your monthly needs, so that you don’t have to have high pressure, 60 hour a week jobs. High stress jobs steal our time and our emotional strength. A job is just a means to put food on the table and keep the lights on. Sell your house and live in a cheaper one.

If you really want the life God intended for you to live, in the context of the church, it’s going to cost you. You’re going to have to have some time and some heart available.

It is extremely difficult to live New Testament church life in America, and maintain the American economic standards.

If you’re serious about your life in God, you’re going to have to start making some different choices. It will be hard.

Your kids may not like it at first. Your spouse may have to get passed some things. But, if you want to love those around you, you must learn to give them what they need, and not necessarily what they want. Loving your family has nothing to do with giving them what they want. They need to be plugged in with healthy, growing, fervent Christians. Your family’s spiritual well being and growth is far more important than getting to go to Disney World, getting to drive new cars, wearing $100 pairs of sneakers, or even living in a nice house.

You should be able to work a simple 40 hour a week job, pay your bills, and have plenty of family time available during the week, all while maintaining very close relationships within the church.

If you are trapped and caught in what seems like a hopeless situation of no time and no energy, you need to begin with prayer. God will always make a way of escape if you truly cry out to Him. When the way of escape comes, take it. However, you must be willing to sacrifice.

You should also be willing to re-locatewhere you live in order to have church life. Life is too short, and God is too good to waste your life struggling to meet the economic standards of the American lifestyle while being separated from true, New Testament, body life. You must be open to re-locating, and hooking up with some folks who are already living body life.

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