In the animated movie, The Prince of Egypt, there is a song that Moses' father-in-law, Jethro, sings over him called Through Heaven's Eyes that has always deeply moved my heart. It was a challenging time in Moses' life as he chose to renounce his princely position in Egypt and flee for his life. You can watch the clip below. I think of this song as I ponder Paul's autobiographical teaching in 2 Corinthians 12 about how he viewed his life. He learned the spiritual secret of viewing both his strengths and weaknesses through the lens of a good and great Father in heaven.
So what are "acceptable" human weaknesses that we can even "boast in" according to the New Testament? I actually think we all have our unique mix of both strengths and weaknesses. And from one season of life to another, they may even shift around a bit! In Paul's case, one weakness was an actual "messenger of satan (accuser)" that harassed him in some way or another. We do not know exactly how, but it was a direct spiritual warfare that Paul had to face and endure. He prayed to God for it to be removed, but apparently God was using this hinderance in Paul's life to keep him humble and more dependent upon His grace. Below are an expanded list of weaknesses that I believe can fall into this classification of being "acceptable". Maybe we can even come to the point in which we can "boast" in them by seeing them as landing strips for the power of the Holy Spirit?
I find myself writing about "weakness", but I'm actually unveiling a counter-intuitive pathway that will lead us to a release of the power of God's Spirit in and through our lives. In our world, people often refer to unacceptable sins as "weaknesses" and use this verbage to excuse attitudes and actions...lust, pride, self-righteousness, greed, and the like...that are beyond the pale of the kind of "weaknesses" to which I am referring. On the other hand, I find myself and others often spending way too much energy attempting to hide our "acceptable" human weaknesses due to a false humiliation and shame that bullies and drives us toward a man-made perfectionism. The terrible irony is that this is a sinful way of life! We are distracted and lured off course by this unnecessary and subtle demonic battle that skews our image of God, stunts our growth, quenches our love for Him and others, robs our hope and blocks our joy. It also relegates us to experiecing superficial relationships with our friends and even our families. Deep relationships are partially dependent upon revealing our weaknesses to others without shame or a fear of rejection. The apostle Paul went so far as to say that he "boasted in" his weakness, so that Christ's power might rest upon him. (2 Corinthians 12:9) Just what are such "acceptable" human weaknesses about which we may boast? More to say!
What a strange and paradoxical statement! The context of the perfection of God's power is smack dab in the middle of certain kinds of our human weaknesses. This is so different than we would imagine left to ourselves and our natural conceptions of what human life would look like if God really came among us in Person. We tend to be ashamed of our weaknesses and work hard to hide them so we can impress others with our strengths. The shocking news is that God did come in Person to our world in Jesus and he took on particular weaknesses of the human condition without shame - coming in total vulnerability as babe born under suspicious conditions, inhabiting a normal human body, exposing himself to temptation by Satan, needing daily bread (and using the toilet!), getting sleepy, tired, hungry and thirsty, embracing economic limitations, living in a messed up and violent culture, being rejected and misunderstood, being subject to emotional and physical wounding and even submitting to the cruelest of executions...as an unjustly convicted criminal. If I possessed the power of God, would I have chosen such a way of coming to the planet? But a part of the grand and marvelous nature of God is that He would do such a thing in order to cancel out the power of Satan and sin among and within us while simultaneously validating the value our our human lives that are yet challenged by ongoing "acceptable" weaknesses. And such weaknesses will not and do not hinder us from experiencing the power of God working within us and flowing out from us. More to be said.
Speaking about anything close to God being foolish and/or weak seems at first to be like a horrible theological error. Yet, here in the passage above, the apostle Paul has the courage to pen such stunning words. The thing is, God is so secure in His goodness and greatness, that He is not at all ashamed to allow Himself to be viewed by humanity as either foolish or weak. Moreover, He is not put off by so much of what human cultures tend to identify as foolish or weak. This aspect of God's nature is most clearly seen in the incarnation, the counter-cultural teachings, the sufferings and the crucifixion of Jesus. These things that allude to the "weakness" of Christ actually paved the way for the Heavenly Father to vindicate His Son...and display his incomparable wisdom and strength...by raising him from the dead. This way of life that Jesus modeled has wonderful and liberating implications and ramifications for us and our peculiar set of weaknesses that, rather than putting us at odds with the Father, endear us to His heart and set us up for the display of His power through our lives and ministries.
I have written in my past 5 "why" blogs about the first 3 primary values that we have chosen to focus upon in the formation stage of our development as a community of Jesus followers - ADORATION, HOPE, and KOINONIA (fellowship). I began this series by referring to the kind of learning environments that we focus upon - informal and non-formal. I also inserted a bit about embracing a non-sectarian attitude and posture in order to love, respect and embrace other Jesus-loving ministries, churches and movements. The 4th main value that we are seeking to impart into the heart of our community is DISCOVERING PURPOSE. Just as there is power in knowing the "why" of our community, it is even more vital to us that each member of our fellowship discover her/his personal "why". Whether on large or small scales, people who really know their God-given identity and purpose will be history-makers. They will bring renewal to the whole creation through emoting His presence and wisdom!
In the past, the spiritual cultures we planted, joined and helped lead tended to say to prospective members - "God has given the founders and leaders of this body a clear and compelling vision/mission that we would love for you to "catch". We desire/need you to join in with us to love, labor, fund and make sacrifices, as we have, to help this work of God become fruitful." Though this kind of message has some Biblical elements and merit, we have felt directed to aim at and convey something different to people who are and/or may want to become a part of our spiritual family.
We try to communicate something like this - "As founders and pastors of this community, we want to equip and empower you in every way we can and walk alongside of you in friendship to discover and accomplish the will of our Heavenly Father for your life in every season of your journey. This is what we earnestly desire for you and yours."
It seems good to the Holy Spirit presently that we have taken this approach and that He is promising us that whatever more corporate vision/mission He has for us will naturally-supernaturally emerge, dawn upon us all and grip our hearts. We believe that the personal ethic Jesus taught us in Matthew 16;25 applies to corporate groups and organizations as well - "For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it." We haven't been called as a community of faith to exist in order to preserve our existence. Rather, we are called to build and develop a rich spiritual culture in which people are empowered to hear the Lord's voice and to do what He instructs them to do. We simply trust that if we will focus on building people of Christ (i.e. making disciples), that our Lord Jesus will build His church. (Matthew 16;8)
Some might point out that this approach sows into our group the seeds of our own demise. But we would reply that a solitary seed goes into the ground in order to die, but to then mysteriously give rise to bringing forth much fruit! (John 12:24) I pray that we might always delight that the powerful rhythms of death and resurrection are at play in our community.
A third primary value that we choose to focus upon as a community of Jesus followers is KOINONIA. This is a very rich word used in the New Testament that is translated fellowship in English versions of the Bible. The Moravian Christians considered this experience/practice a sacrament. When the aged apostle John wrote to believers, he presented koinonia as both a overarching means and outcome of our faith in Christ.
That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life-- the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us-- that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. 1 John 1:1-3
Koinonia implies an interactive sharing of life that flows out from a direct connection and friendship with God and an interpersonal sharing of this divine life flow with fellow believers. Koinonia. spills over to even touch people who have yet to come to faith. It is a central bonding agent that knits human hearts together in Jesus Christ and gives them a powerful sense of belonging to both God and one another. When believers who are living in the light of God open their hearts widely to each other in vulnerable communications, they feed Christ to each other in unique and special ways. The Holy Spirit travels the two-way streets between their hearts and they enrich one another in the faith, hope, love and joy that comes directly from the great heart of God through their individual personalities.
The first believers devoted themselves to amplifying the experience of koinonia (Acts 2:42) along with applying the apostle's teaching about the ways of life in Jesus, prayer and regularly sharing meals. I think of community meals and celebrating the Lord's Supper as parabolic of how we feed and share Christ's life with one another in koinonia. When the believers did these 4 things, the Holy Spirit took control and accomplished wondrous and miraculous things among them. (Acts 2:42ff.) Their church life was profoundly simple and simply profound. It was a life on life, authentic, sacrificially giving, humble, bold, practical and joy-filled community culture. They didn't attempt to create programs and structures to do their loving for them...imagine that! Instead, they simply and actually loved one another in hearty ways.
We think that church programs, traditions and structures that do not promote, but especially tax, the experience of koinonia among their members actually need to be cast off and given a proper burial or, better yet, never be instituted in the first place! In our brief journey as an intentional community, we have first labored to come to know and be known by a small group of friends in Christ, and by this, come to love and be loved by such a circle of friends. Right now, we have 4 cluster groups and a 5th one beginning. This atmosphere is helping us to be loved by God on deeper levels and empowering us to live more gratefully and joyfully before Him and others in our day to day lives.
The second primary value that we have chosen to place at the heart of our community culture is the grace and virtue of Hope. We believe that "hope floats" both our personal lives and our relationships, especially when we encounter inevitable trials. Beyond this, we believe that hope is an essential precursor to faith, love and joy. We believe that hope is a wondrous grace from God that is only sustained by the power of the Holy Spirit. However, we also view hope as a virtue that can be cultivated and built. One of our first goals as pastors is to train our community members in the skills of building hope. In scripture, hope is not a weak and flabby wishful thinking. Rather, it is a joyful anticipation and a confident expectation that our great and good God is always doing good things and that there is reason to expect that our future will somehow be better than our past.
We believe that God originally designed and created us to be hope-beings and that the first coming of Christ has provided all the more reasons for us to have hope in this life as well as for the age to come. We believe that God is looking and longing for His sons and daughters to join Him in an general agreement of hope that He will yet do more amazing things to restore the cities and nations of our world through the application of the life, death, burial, resurrection and ascension of Jesus. He already is the true King of all kings and He holds true solutions to human dilemmas that He wants to reveal to the world through His people...a host of ordinary people filled with Divine hope and wisdom influencing their various spheres of human life.
God is good and will do good things today, tomorrow, this year, next year and in the years ahead. He wants us to agree with Him because, if we do, then He is more free to use us to be ushers of that hope to the world in practical ways. Though possessing a strong hope, we will be eager and ready for His Spirit to work through us. The alternative is to live in a hopeless despair that is so contrary to the reality of Christ being risen from the dead and alive in our world! So, we have rather chosen to be a "good news" community.
As I am outlining some of the primary values of our community of faith, I should hasten to speak about how we view believers, churches and ministries beyond us and our relationship to them. This addresses a vitally important element of our ethos. We believe that the Body of Christ across our city and the nations is essentially one. We absolutely love and serve true Jesus people everywhere we find them! Indeed, we seek to love all people...even our "enemies". Though there are not insignificant differences between how authentic Jesus-lovers hold, express and live out our common faith, along with our differences regarding "non-essential" doctrines and practices, we promote a sense of loving and respecting believers, groups and movements that are not associated with our community. We encourage those associated with us to reach out, partner with, serve and support other groups of Jesus followers. We do not draw "hard lines" or "high walls" between the organizations in our hearts or minds. I think we should create a "permeable membrane" around our organizations that our respective members can pass through as they are personally led by the Lord. We have very good friends and spiritual leaders in Christ across our city and nation whom we honor and bless. We are confident that our specific approach to being and building a community in Christ is not going to be a good fit for every believer. There are many excellent churches and ministries in our city that are able to meet genuine needs that we cannot meet...especially in these early phases of our journey together. We simply appeal for the liberty to create the kind of culture around our group that we think will accelerate and maximize the spiritual growth and fruitfulness of the people whom God has joined to us.
As we pray for the unity of the Body of Christ and often grieve over our painful divisions, I often think of this part of the "high-priestly" prayer of Jesus in John 17:20-23:
I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me.
There are many things to be said about this part of Jesus' prayer, but several points stand out to me. 1) Jesus is actually praying for you and me, for we are among those who have believed "through their word" - the words of His first apostles. 2) He prays for us to experience such a degree of union with Him and His Father that "the world may believe" in the reality of Jesus. This is a prayer God intends to answer in this age rather than a future age of some kind. The people in the world around us will receive their best opportunity to believe when we enter, enjoy and manifest a true and powerful union with the Trinity and usher the presence and wisdom of the living Christ into our given sphere of influence. 3) It is when we experience and walk in the glory of God that Christ shares with us, that we are drawn into greater union with God that then leads to greater unity with our fellow believers. Glory leads to Union and Union leads to Unity.
Through our 40+ years of church leadership, Terri and I never felt as though we "fully fit" into the spiritual cultures into which we entered. We adapted ourselves to serve them and sought with all our hearts to help them and our beloved fellow leaders to be successful in our stated visions and missions. In the late summer of 2014, we started to feel the freedom and divine guidance to dream about forming a new community "from scratch". We came to understand through our many years of experience what we didn't want church life to be like. But then, we began to proactively imagine what we did want church life to be like. As we prayed and pondered, we decided to form this new experimental Jesus community around a set of central values more than a predetermined corporate vision and mission. (More on that in a future post!)
The first value we have posited is the ADORATION of God. In our view, adoring God is not centered on personal daily "quiet times", public musical worship services, hearing sermons or attending corporate prayer gatherings, though we may highly value such things. Adoration extends far and deeply beyond acts of piety and periodic assemblies into all of life. It is essentially a realization that Jesus himself was and is the ultimate fulfillment of the "temple of God" and all that this implies for knowing God's immediate presence in our human existence. One of these implications is that every Christ-follower is organically connected to the risen Christ and so becomes a living, breathing and mobile "temple" of the Holy Spirit...24/7/365. By this, all of life becomes sacred and even our "mundane" or "ordinary" activities and responsibilities...along with our robust enjoyment of God-ordained simple earthly pleasures...are translated into profound and mighty acts of worship. (Indeed, there is no space for Gnostic notions of spirituality in this vision of abundant life!) We live by faith that such a thing can really be...and is...true, acceptable and pleasing to God! "In him we live and move and have our being!"
As a naturally/supernatural by-product, to now live "in the flesh" is clearly seen to be alien to our new identity as beloved sons and daughters. Sins lose their appeal and are exposed as stupid, unnecessary, distracting and terribly unsatisfying. Who wants to wear old, dirty, smelly and tattered clothes when a whole new up-to-date wardrobe is now hanging in our closets? This is why and how the apostles of Jesus taught us to assertively and simply put off the old self and joyfully put on the new Spirit-empowered self.
Living in adoration of God is like having a basic operating system (adoration) running in the background on our computer hardware at all times that provides an essential environment for other software programs (our earthly activities) to be activated and utilized efficiently. There is a way to "pray without ceasing" if we can see Immanuel ("God with us") in all of life as we engage in the full range of our earthly occupations. Adoring Him then, in this light, becomes our delightful preoccupation.
By traveling these "paths of life", we begin to joyfully anticipate and experience a genuine interactive friendship with the Trinity in real time. We perceive the greatness and goodness of God in every life situation, despite the realism of evil. We live a life of authentic gratitude and share in the good confession of the Messiah himself. King David prophesied of him (and himself and us, by extension) in Acts 2:25-28 -
I saw the Lord always before me, for he is at my right hand that I may not be shaken; therefore my heart was glad, and my tongue rejoiced; my flesh also will dwell in hope. For you will not abandon my soul to Hades, or let your Holy One see corruption. You have made known to me the paths of life; you will make me full of gladness with your presence.
In the last quarter of 2014, Terri and I founded a new relationally-based church of Christ followers in Kansas City. We call it New Hope Community. We have intentionally left off the word "church" from the name, because we think it is redundant. In our culture, "community" effectively captures the essence of the Greek word for church, ekklesia, in our view. We have been seeking some fresh ways of being and becoming an expression of the Body of Christ...though we are reaching back to incorporate proven ancient New Testament practices in our journey. In this series of periodic blogs, I will outline our basic values and approach to being and doing church.
There are 3 general forms of learning: informal, non-formal and formal. Through our 40+ years of church leadership, Terri and I have concluded that there has been an over-use of formal learning environments in our church cultures and that this approach to learning has "worn thin" for many dedicated and sincere Christ-followers in our day. As a result, we have chosen to rely primarily on creating and inspiring informal and non-formal environments in the spiritual formation process for those who choose to be associated with our fellowship.
Informal learning happens when people connect and get together for various reasons without an agenda to either "teach" or "learn from" each other. However, in the process of being with one another and engaging in "whatever" activity, we do learn many important things on both subconscious and conscious levels. Sometimes these, "learning as we live" encounters are the most memorable, joy-filled and transformative experiences of our lives!
Non-formal learning happens when people get together for the stated purpose of learning something, but the method and dynamic is interactive in nature. There is often guidance and facilitation by a leader, but the participants get the opportunity in "real time" to ask questions, feed back, discuss, share insights, etc. Participation and engagement are essential in non-formal learning.
Formal learning happens when people gather and an someone holds the floor and delivers a talk, lecture or sermon of some kind while everyone gathered listens to her/him. There is a place in our lives for this kind of experience, but we have found that many disciples of Jesus genuinely need to experience less of this format for learning and more of the first two formats to remain engaged and inspired to grow in Jesus Christ.
A VOICE OF HOPE
Michael Sullivant's Blog
I am a child of God, husband, father, grandfather, spiritual father, author, speaker and hope coach.