From the Genesis of the sun, moon, earth, and human kind, God set it in place that each day is to begin at sundown. We think of a day as beginning each morning, just before or as the sun comes up. How very human of us...to believe that the day starts with our own conscious effort, and must needs end when we fall asleep. Not so, in God's schedule. On His clock (and accurately believed by practicing Jews), the day begins when we reach the end of our human energy, the sun goes down, and we stop to rest.
I watched the sun sink behind the trees this night. The sky was a water color masterpiece of pastel softness. Puffs of clouds dotted the horizon, and a natural sense of peace began to settle across my heart. I have always been drawn to this, my very favorite time of day. I try not to miss a sunset. I like to believe that my love for "the golden hour" of sunset has both spiritual and philosophical implications. Grace is put on vivid display, every single day at sundown. When my work is done, when I am finished, God is just getting started.
The day begins just as "I" end. Through no effort of my own, and in fact when I go to sleep, the Father is unfolding His plan for the next 24 hours, going before me into the already-new day, accomplishing His objective. God gives to His beloved, even in her sleep, the Psalm says.
Dear one! Go to sleep tonight. Rest. Lay your head upon your pillow, knowing that it is a new day, and all of heaven is going into motion on your behalf, and you needn't do a thing but close your eyes.
Now the hand of the LORD was upon me in the evening... (Ez. 33: 22)
For many years, I never understood that old carol, "God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen". It originates all the way back to the middle ages, and was written in old English. In those days, "merry" didn't mean "happy" as it does now. In those days, "merry" meant "mighty". A great and powerful king was a "merry" king, and a great and terrible army was a "merry" army.
"Rest" didn't mean to put your feet up, nor did it mean that you took a nap. "Rest" meant, in old English, "to keep in a continual state of".
"God keep you in a continual state of might and strength, gentlemen, let nothing you dismay. Remember Christ our Savior was born on Christmas day, to save us all from satan's power when we had gone astray.
Oh, tidings of comfort and joy! Comfort and joy! Oh tidings of comfort and joy!"
This Christmas, I've been smitten over and over with the simple statement of a great heavenly host. There...filling the heavens...Jehovah Sabaoth, Lord of the Hosts, sent His great host to break centuries and centuries of silence between God and men. God could have commissioned them to say anything. These ministers of His, this great, innumerable host, are as flames of fire, carrying out His Word, down to the smallest detail. They've declared war before, down throughout human history - lots of times.
Would this be that sort of message?
God could have instructed His hosts to give only the facts: "Messiah is here."
He could have sent a message of judgement.
God dropped a bomb, to be sure. He dropped a bomb that would forever make that field in Bethlehem the greatest, most utterly meaningful, most famous "ground zero" of all time. But it was an explosion of joy.
The Grace Message was finally detonated.
A blast of mercy, engulfing the planet. Into the black of the night, into the darkness of our human spirit, came the bright light of Good News. It was tidings of comfort and joy. Jehovah Sabaoth utilized His great host, He sent the mightiest, "merriest" troops in the universe to tell us, "YEAY!" and to promptly throw a party amongst the stars, in full view of a few shepherds.
"Glory to God in the highest, and on earth, Peace....Goodwill....to men."
Let it sink in. Let those two words be the good news they were meant to be. Your very own tidings of comfort and joy.
Merry Christmas, dear ones. God rest ye merry...
My husband finds that whole idea thrilling. He lives for spring, and relishes the thought of lengthening days.
One of my favorite Christmas songs is "In The Bleak Midwinter". I find the melody to be hauntingly beautiful, and the whole song is a refreshing departure from some of the saccharine-sweet ditties of this season. Of all the artists who have contributed their renditions of this old song, I love James Taylor's and Amy Grant's the best. If you know of a better remake of "In The Bleak Midwinter", do pass it on to me, I'd love to give it a listen.
Many parts of our country are experiencing "snow on snow on snow"...not us here in Tennessee. I'd love to see a white Christmas, but alas, again this year it is not to be.
But enfolded and tucked deeply into this day, implied in this, the longest night of the year, is impending spring. Things really do get darkest just before dawn. There is so much hope in the gospel of Jesus Christ, and it truly is written into nature itself.
Worship God Incarnate with me this week!
Your last statement so beautifully summed up what I know to be true and long to be a part of.I too desire to live out New Testement Christianity and definetly see the relevance of a local graceful community to enable this end. I don't know why it is so difficult to find both but I am too stubborn, too broken and too visionary to settle for one or the other.So how do you find these covenant relationships that are BOTH healthy and local? For most of my life I have been part of church bodies that are local but not entirely healthy in structure or belief. More recently,I have connected with many people that are healthy and/or growing in grace, but are simply too far away for the highly effective nature of close community. What does one do in this case?Perhaps my expectations are too high? Perhaps my creativity too low?
December 18, 2008 8:46 PM
First of all - thank you so much for opening up and being transparent. I will do my very best not to violate your trust...you are safe here. Safe. That is a wonderful concept and an even better feeling.
As to your questions, my first thought is that you be very secure in who you are in Christ. We all bring our quirks and imperfections to the local church, but it is best, overall, that we don't show up with yawning caverns in our soul because we have not yet understood that we are accepted in the Beloved.
So you show up, knowing that no group of people will ever meet your needs or your expectations, nor will they ever love you like God does. Look for a local church whose fundamental doctrines line up with what you believe - mainly that you agree on what I call "the essentials" - and whose worship cracks open your heart, where the Word is preached uncompromisingly, yet with grace, and whose children's/teen/college ministry has leaders who DO NOT give you a check in your spirit. (Very important, no??)
Look for hospitality. I'll grant you - it is hard as heck to find. And it won't be expressed perfectly. But you want to sense a general openness in the hearts of the people.
When you find the above - - you commit. Pure and simple.
You join hands and hearts and you go the distance, come hell or high water, and both will come. ACK! Church life is hard. It just is. Just like being married is sometimes maddening, and raising children can break your heart - but the rewards, however few and far between they might be, make every sacrifice worth it...so it is in the family of God. Don't expect it to be any different than your own family...full of skeletons in various closets, occasional conflict, boredom, or chaos. But OH HOW YOU HAVE COME TO LOVE THESE PEOPLE!
Show up ready to adapt. There is an Old Testament principle - - when the children of Israel encountered "the stranger in their midst" they were to love them, YES. But they were not to adapt themselves to the "stranger", the stranger was to adapt to the people. And so it is when settling into a new church home. "When in Rome, do as those Romans do". You probably won't be able to change a thing - so don't show up with an agenda. Accept these folks as they are, and find out, over time, how they do things.
Expect to offend and be offended, to forgive and be forgiven. Expect to be loved and cared for. Expect the word preached to challenge your sensibilities, and know that you will never get a full sense of a man's ministry until you are a year or more sitting under it. So if a message or two or five are preached that do not sit right with you, don't panic.
Maybe that pastor is "swinging a pendulum", using hyperbole, or generally hitting something hard to make the point. When a "hard right" or a "hard left" is preached...the outcome and result is rarely that radical - the outcome usually ends up being a gentle curve in the proper direction for the people as a whole - so do not worry. Sometimes if a pastor isn't on fire, no one listens. So let him blaze away, and rejoice over the idea that you are not getting watered down stuff.
Look for mothers in Zion - a healthy church will have a few. It takes time to find them, but they are waiting for you, I promise!
This is a start, and I hope and pray it helps you on your journey to finding a healthy local church. You are necessary to the body of Christ, dear one!!! We need your gifts and your love.
by Francis Frangipane
We sing Amazing Grace, but I don't think we realize how amazing grace actually is. Grace is God's power, motivated by His mercy, working to fulfill His compassion.
We are saved by grace, but what culminates in a "day of salvation" experience is actually months and even years of God quietly, yet powerfully, working in our hearts. Recall: Jesus said, "No one can come to Me, unless the Father who sent Me draws him" (John 6:44a). Do you remember that drawing power? Before we knew God, divine power was working invisibly within our hearts, drawing and wooing us to Christ.
Yet let me take this miracle of grace further, for after Jesus spoke of the Father's drawing power, He then said, "and I will raise him up on the last day" (John 6:44b). This is the power and commitment of our Father's love: from the days of our sin and rebellion even to the days long after we die, grace continues working to unite our hearts with God's. From our utterly helpless beginnings to our utterly helpless end, from being dead in sin to being dead in the grave, grace carries us to the arms of God.
Unlocking the Power of Grace"But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places, in Christ Jesus, in order that, in the ages to come, He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. "For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God" (Eph. 2:4-8).
Paul says that grace saved us "through faith." Faith unlocks the power of grace and releases it to function in our world-and faith itself is another gift of God. The difference between both gifts is, the grace-gift must be activated by the faith-gift. We must believe that God is "rich in mercy." We must accept as true that God loves us with "great love." We must not doubt He atoned for "our transgressions." We must be confident we are "alive together with Christ."
Grace works through faith. Believing the words of grace unlocks the power of grace; the power of grace to fully transform us comes through faith. As it is written, "For of His fulness we have all received, and grace upon grace" (John 1:16). The true stride of a Christian's walk is "grace upon grace." The same grace that turned our hearts toward Christ continues to work in us, transforming even our sufferings and trials into virtue and power. Are you in a battle? Are you struggling with finances, health, righteousness or relationships? Your grace-miracle has already been created. But you must believe that not only has God created a grace-provision for you, but Christ is motivated by love and actually desires to show you favor.
You may feel like a loser, a sinner, a person others routinely reject---and perhaps you are! The purpose of redemption was so that, in the ages to come, God might display through us "the surpassing riches of His grace." You may be poor in this world, but you can become rich in the transforming grace of God. Believe Him. A day will come in the future world of God when He will point to you and I, once fallen and depraved, filthy and isolated creatures, and display us before heaven and earth as radiant, transformed beings---a glory to His workmanship and love. And it will come to pass because we believed in the grace of God to change us.
Who cares what other people think of you? God says He loves you! Indeed, His grace is working to set you free. God knows you have been struggling with desperate issues; that's one reason why He has inspired this message. His grace is reaching to you to deliver you. The means to your victory is not more prayer or more Bible study, but faith-activated grace. Of course, I strongly believe in both prayer and study, but the power to release each of us is a free gift of grace. Don't postpone your breakthrough. Believe that God's grace is here to release you!
What We Cannot Do On Our OwnWe've been taught that grace is God's unmerited favor, which of course, it is. Yet unmerited favor is only one aspect of grace. In reality, grace is God's promise to do for us what we cannot do for ourselves.
The Bible says that "Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness" (Rom. 4:3). It doesn't mean that Abraham believe there was a God. No. Demons believe in one God and tremble! When Abraham "believed God" it meant that he believed what God had promised would come to pass. God promised to do for Abraham what Abraham and Sarah could not fulfill on their own. The Lord had promised Abraham he'd be a father of many nations. This is the glory of God's grace: it accomplishes what is otherwise impossible for us. You see, grace not only chooses me, saves me eternally and blankets my life with mercy, but grace also works in me realities unattainable without divine help.
Consider Zechariah and the story about Zerubbabel, who was governor of Israel. The Jews had been held in Babylonian captivity for seventy years. Now, they were being restored to Jerusalem. It was Zerubbabel's task to oversee the restoration of the city. In the struggle of the battle, weariness settled on the governor. So, the Lord gave Zechariah a promise for Zerubbabel. He said, "‘Not by might nor by power, but by My Spirit,' says the Lord of hosts" (Zech. 4:6).
God was saying, in effect, "You have labored, your enemies are many and they are strong, but this work I've set before you isn't about your abilities; it's about what I can do working through you." Likewise, our salvation isn't about our works or power. It's about believing in the Holy Spirit's power and the grace of God.
Then the Lord gave Zerubbabel an important word. He said, "What are you, O great mountain? Before Zerubbabel you will become a plain; and he will bring forth the top stone with shouts of ‘Grace, grace to it!'" (Zech. 4:7).
Zerubbabel had mountains in his life that were too much for him. He had a task that was beyond his abilities. Yet God promised His Spirit would help, and when it was done, multitudes would be shouting "Grace, grace" at the finished work.
Listen, my friends, don't run from the mountains in your life; face them with faith---and then shout "Grace, grace" to them. Let God make your mountains into "a plain."
Let's not mutter an unbelieving whisper about grace, but shout it out loud. It doesn't say, think about grace, but release your faith and shout "Grace, grace!" God's unmerited favor has been poured out upon you; now speak to that mountain of discouragement, sickness or financial need---GRACE, GRACE!
Blessed God, You have drawn me to Yourself and have sheltered my life in the impenetrable stronghold of Your grace. Forgive me for drifting back into trusting in my works or abilities. Lord, I believe in Your grace! I shout "Grace, grace!" to the mountains that stand before me! In Jesus' name!
Someone else's livingroom...(Post edit done by the author of this blog, editing unnecessary details that are now - and sadly - obsolete)...
That small group grew to the point that we needed to divide it and create another, and so we did just that. Then that group also grew so large it needed to divide, and that is when we ended up with a church in our livingroom.
Then that group also divided...or multiplied. However you want to look at it.
About a year later, we were approached by the leadership of Trinity Chapel, and asked to plant a church. A handful of families went out with us, and then many of them went right back - we all quickly discovered that church planting is the hardest thing you will ever do. The few families who have gone the distance with us can tell you....church planting ain't for sissies.
And you absolutely have to be in relationship with the Father and with each other. If you don't love God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength, and then love each other as you love yourself, you will never make it in a new church plant.
There were many Sundays in which our peak attendance was 10 or 15 people. Tim and I were stunned. It was as if that "gathering gift" we'd enjoyed while members of our parent church....was gone. We truly thought that if we planted a church, it would grow just like our house churches did.
Um....not necessarily. In fact, we are still considered a "small church", fifteen years later. Trust me, if we are "small" in number today, we were minuscule when we began - and we stayed minuscule in size for years. The only sort of church I had ever known, really, was "big church" - I grew up in Trinity Chapel. I was used to worship with a full band, complete with percussion and a piece of brass or two, and a grand piano, with a salaried worship leader. Suddenly, our worship was reduced to one acoustic guitar. Suddenly, my husband was trouble shooting sound each Sunday, playing worship, preaching, counseling, and doing construction work on our facilities - all while working overtime on his "day job".
So at what point did we become a valid "local church"? Was it when we reached a membership of 20? 30? When we finally put together a worship band?
We were a valid local church from day one. Because, from day one, we already had the "four sights of a local church" in place and functioning. That is what the Lord spoke to me, after publishing my last blog. He said to me, "A local church of any number of people can function as the church, if they have Insight, Hindsight, Foresight, and Oversight."
That bowled me over. I knew it didn't come from me - not all at once, without any developing of the ideas. When good things come to you, full blown, it is a God-thing. I hope to elaborate on each of the four "sights" of the local church in future blogs - I find them fascinating. For now, here is an overview:
Insight - into the plan of salvation and the mystery of grace. A group of people, particularly their leader or leaders, must have a firm insight into the gospel, and be able to simply and easily share their insight with anyone and everyone.
Hindsight - a people must be sent. There are those few exceptions, but they are not the norm. Biblically, church planting is all about being sent or ordained or affirmed by another established spiritual leader or leaders. This gives every local church, even the one meeting in a livingroom, a history. On the first day they meet as a newly planted church, there is hindsight - a story of ministry that came before them, and sent and affirmed their efforts to plant another church. (God is way into church planting, in case no one else has told you.)
Foresight - a people must have a vision, and it needs to be as simple and specific as possible. A group of people, meeting as a newly planted church, need to know where they are going. Our vision is, "Love God, Love Each Other, Love Your Neighbor". That's it. But it is a vision so compelling and consuming that it keeps the entire church body very busy - not with programs, but with people. Love is our vision. Love is our direction. Every church needs foresight, to be able to "see" where they are headed.
Oversight - both in-house, and general oversight. In other words, our church members have oversight in the form of my husband, their pastor. We also have a leadership team of gifted men who look after the flock of God, willingly, and not by compulsion....men who are selfless and who have not sought a position....men who simply "are" leaders, they don't have to try to be. They have good marriages, and good reputations outside our church.
Then we have oversight to whom the pastor can turn. This is our Masterbuilder's network of churches. Masterbuilder's is led by a small group of men, all of whom have recognized apostolic, teaching, and pastoral anointings, and these men oversee the churches in our network. They have never one time been heavy handed or domineering, and they don't make a salary for doing it. I have never seen a more selfless group of men, always nursing and tending to the various churches who are blessed enough to be part of our network. (And no - my husband is not on this team. He gladly answers to these men, has turned to them during times of crisis and trouble, and they have never failed to come through for us, often at their own expense. We are deeply indebted to them.)
However. As selfless and low-key as they are in their leadership of the churches, if my husband became some sort of heretical renegade, we could count on them to step in. First, they would try to restore us, if we have gotten off-message. If we refused to be restored, they would prayerfully take whatever steps necessary after that. It is such a precious safety net for the flock of God. Their pastor oversees them. Their pastor has oversight.
And it is all based on relationships. Tim is in consistent, ongoing relationship with the Masterbuilder's oversight team. He welcomes it.
Any group of people, to be a viable expression of the church, needs to have oversight.
Any group of people, when they have functioning within them, all four "sights" ~ Insight, Hindsight, Foresight, and Oversight ~ they are a local church, no matter how small or large or where they gather. They aren't just a "Bible study". They have more than just a creed and a livingroom and their own insecurities to build on. With all four "sights", keenly and clearly operating in their midst, they are the church...the local church.