Not safe, not fair, but so good.

This song by Kendall Payne is both fantastic and true.


Don’t stop your crying on my account
A frightening lion, no doubt
He’s not safe, no he’s not safe
Are you tempted now to run away?
The King above all Kings is coming down

But He won’t say the words you wish that he would
Oh, he don’t do the deeds you know that He could
He won’t think the thoughts you think He should
But He is good, He is good

I know you’re thirsty, the water is free
But I should warn you, it costs everything
Well, He’s not fair, no He’s not fair
When He fixes what’s beyond repair
And graces everyone that don’t deserve

But He won’t say the words you wish that he would
Oh, he don’t do the deeds you know that He could
He won’t think the thoughts you think He should
But He is good, He is good

No one knows Him whom eyes never seen
No, I don’t know Him but He knows me
He knows me, He knows me

Lay down your layers, shed off your skin
But without His incision, you can’t enter in
He cuts deep, yeah He cuts deep
When the risk is great and the talk is cheap
But never leaves a wounded one behind

But He won’t say the words you wish that he would
Oh, he don’t do the deeds you know that He could
He won’t think the thoughts you think He should
But He is good, He is good

A Memorial of the Victory of God

Today, I read the following from T. Austin Sparks in the book The Centrality and Supremacy of the Lord Jesus Christ:

“We must see that the Body of Christ represents a tremendous victory. That Body comes out of His resurrection, or with His resurrection, and the pre-eminent example of the exercise of Divine power in this universe is in the raising of Jesus Christ from the dead, or from among the dead. That raising of Christ from among the dead, representing the supreme exercise of Divine power, represents the mighty victory of God in Christ, and if the Body of Christ comes out with and in His resurrection, that Body is a part of an expression of that mighty victory of God. Now Ephesians makes that perfectly clear and says that actually: *’… the exceeding greatness of his power to us-ward who believe, according to that working of the strength of his might which he wrought in Christ, when he raised him from the dead, and made him to sit at his right hand in the heavenlies.’* The Body of Christ is the mighty victory of God in Christ in its realization.”

I love this picture! We, as the Body of Christ, are displaying the victory of God in Christ.

It brought to mind how the Lord commanded Joshua (in Joshua 4) to have the people of Israel take up stones from the Jordan river as they cross to set up as a memorial for what the Lord did for the people that day.

You can find stone memorials throughout history of the people of God. Now, think about how God gathers his saints together as living stones, the building materials with which he desires to build his dwelling place:

So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints, and are of God’s household, having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the corner stone, in whom the whole building, being fitted together, is growing into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you also are being built together into a dwelling of God in the Spirit.
Ephesians 2:19-22

…You also, as living stones, are being built up as a spiritual house for a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.
1 Peter 2:5

We, the saints, aren’t just supposed to be the dwelling place for the Lord–although that would be enough in and of itself! No, he’s gathering his people together as his Body and stacking these living stones together to form a structure that is not only his house, but also a memorial of what the Lord has done. The simple existence of the Body of Christ is a witness and testimony of the victory and power of God, especially wherever it exists in the form of saints being built together. We are a tangible monument of the fact that God has won, that our King Jesus has beaten death!

And we wonder sometimes at the opposition we face in the building of his church?

Not only is the church literally Jesus in the flesh on the earth; not only are the local churches colonies of the Kingdom in a hostile land, but they are also solid monuments of living stones erected in enemy territory that scream out “The Creator has already won this battle! The victory is His!”

The Testimony of a Quiet Life

Amongst the incredible emphasis on evangelism and missions that is normally touted in evangelical christianity, it’s interesting to run across passages of scripture such as 1 Timothy 2:1-4: (emphasis mine)

1 First of all, then, I urge that entreaties and prayers, petitions and thanksgivings, be made on behalf of all men, 2 for kings and all who are in authority, so that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity. 3 This is good an acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, 4 who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.

It’s hard to read that and not come to the conclusion that Paul is saying that God, who desires for all men to be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth, thinks that the saints in his body leading a tranquil and quiet life together aligns perfectly with that desire.

Or how about 1 Thessalonians 4:10b-11:

…But we urge you, brethren, to excel still more, and to make it your ambition to lead a quiet life and attend to your own business and work with your hands, just as we commanded you,

Really? Our ambition should be to mind our own business and do our jobs? Frankly, that is not the ambition I have found taught in christianity today.

Now, I’m not saying that evangelism is wrong, or that no good has come from it. I’m simply pointing out that the emphasis on evangelism that is taught today is something you’ll be hard-pressed to find taught in the scriptures.

Think about it: Jesus gave what we call the Great Commission to the apostles right before he ascended. Their response then, in our modern way of thinking, should be to go out preaching to all the ends of the earth.
And yet, it seems that they camped out in Jerusalem, tending to the needs of the church for around eight years until persecution caused the church to scatter and spread.

Or, look at Paul’s letters to Timothy and Titus, which are commonly called “the pastoral epistles” (and should likely be called apostolic letters, since Timothy and Titus were apostolic workers with Paul): In all the instructions Paul gives to these brothers about the important things to teach hese churches, do you find the commands to have the saints go out and witness to the lost on thte street? Go on missions trips? No.

Today, there seems to be emphasis placed on two important aspects: Getting saved, and getting others saved. I agree that these are important. But my point is that there is something critically important which tends to be either glossed over or ignored: The Church, which is the Body of Christ.

Ephesians 4:11-13 specifically mentions evangelists as having an important role in the work of building up the Body, and there’s a goal in that work: That we (the Body of Christ) would grow up into the measure of the stature that belongs to the fullness of Christ–we’ll be matured together and look like Christ Jesus, together!

That is why the “quiet life” can be such a powerful witness to the world around that it aligns perfectly with the desire of God for all men to be saved and come to the knowledge of him. The Church is the testimony of the life of our King. It’s what Jesus staked his reputation on in John 17:20-23:

“I do not ask on behalf of these alone, but for those also who believe in Me through their word; that they may all be one; even 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 sent Me; The glory which You have given Me I have given to them, that they may be one, just as We are one; I in them and You in Me, that they may be perfected in unity, so that the world may know that You sent Me, and loved them, even as You have loved Me.”

My friend Paul has written more in depth on this subject here.

Don’t Start a Christian Community

“God is love.”

If you’re a Christian, you believe that statement. It’s a beautiful truth, one that’s captured all of us. It’s a deep reality that conveys immense meaning and hope to those that follow God. We’ve fallen in love with Him because He first loved us.

But that phrase, “God is love,” is also key to seeing His intent for a shared community life in the church. The fact of God being love is impossible, unless there is someone to love. God, even before creation, expressed His idea of true community life—essentially, His life is the true community life. The Father, the Son, the Holy Spirit, communing together eternally.

When He created us in His image, He in essence created us with the intent of sharing that communal life, to expand His life into and among us, to inhabit us. You can find this intent all through the scriptures. Think of Jesus’ prayer in John 17 for his disciples, and for “those who will believe in Me because of their word”: “That they would all be one, even as You, Father are in me…” He was asking that we would share that exact same life that He and the Father shared.

I believe that there is a hunger for that community that is part of our created being; we want it even without knowing. It seems that hunger even pricks us with dissatisfaction in the midst of our self-absorbed pursuits that are leading us further and further from living in His original intent.

Look at the culture of the world, which John says is under the control of the evil one (1 John 5:19), and being as such can be directly opposed to the intent and ways of God: it either teaches us to live independently, relying on no one but ourselves, or it offers up conterfeit community experiences that are ultimately shallow and unfulfilling.

It’s no wonder, then, that the idea of community seems to get fixed on with such a passion. “Let’s live in community!” we say, and we scheme of ways to bring that about, which largely focus on the logistics of community such as land purchases or co-housing, how to allocate resources, support the community, sharing costs and divvying up responsibilities.

The problem is that these are all constructs that we think will bring about a community life, but the most any of these things can do is to put in place a system—made by us—for living a life in close proximity to one another.

Proximity is not community life.

True Christian community is simply the life of King Jesus expressed in His people. It is a life founded on King Jesus, and it takes the form of people living in peace and joy with a tangible love and unity, being “one heart, one mind, intent on one thing.”

I submit to you that the proximity part of community, which we tend to think of as community, is really a byproduct of true community.

Can you find one place in the scriptures, especially in the letters from the Apostles, where they were instructing or encouraging people to live in proximity with each other? I can’t. Granted, their culture and time made proximity somewhat inevitable and necessary, and there are plenty of commands and encouragements to love one another, do good to one another, care for one another, etc. But I have never seen the command, “Live in close proximity to one another!”

Proximity does not make a community, except in a worldly, man-made sense.

I’m not saying that living close together shouldn’t be done (I actually think it should). What I am saying is that if you think you’re going to enter into true community with people by agreeing to move onto the same piece of land together, or into a neighborhood, apartment complex, or similar situation, where you can all be within walking distance of each other, to be “in each other’s lives every day”—you’re wrong. I am imploring you to not do this.

You should not attempt to live in close community (proximity) until you have the leading from the Lord—confirmed by the members of your local Church—and you are already living a life of true community that you find is being hampered by the local Church members not living in proximity.

In short, don’t live together until you can’t stand to be apart.

It is possible to live in the community life of God without living together. I’ve done it. Ultimately, we ended up moving to live together in physical community, but this came about because God had worked with us over a long period of time, builing us together into a real family with a love and unity that was so great that we hated to be apart. We had already been learning how to embrace the cross together, to be open and walk in the light together, to share all things, to speak the truth in love. We were committed. We knew that God had called us together, and we were watching Him work among and around us constantly.

But even that decision to move into proximity with each other came through simply following Him as He led us, as He built us into His body. The first pockets of community in our church were made through taking care of each other—my family took in a single mother, for instance, and another family did the same. One family had a couple single men living in their house. The first tries didn’t go all that well, though. People got fed up and moved away from each other, there were plenty of fights, some yelling and ugliness. But real love got worked out through all of those instances, and those that were serious about going on with the Lord stuck together and did go on. We experienced then a further revelation of what the Psalms say (Ps 133), “Behold how good and pleasant it is for brothers to dwell together in unity.”

It seems like God eased us into a shared community life of close proximity. It was all very organic—and lasting, because our focus was never living in community, but simply following our King, and giving Him what He wanted.

Living in community requires the grace of God, every day. That community I described above is still together, almost 25 years later. Whenever I reminisce with the old fogies about the early days and ask questions like, “How did you stay together during all that?” I get the same answer from every one of them:

“It was the grace of God.”

There is only one reason a church should be in existence: To give God what He wants. If you make anything else the center and focus of the church, you will likely miss out on the abundant grace that He gives to support His purpose. If you make living in proximity the focus, and don’t let it happen through the leading of God, you’re liable to find Him not supporting your endeavors, and possibly opposing them. I have seen again and again how people pursuing their ideas of the Church—no matter how well-intentioned they are—not only get in the way of God having His idea of the Church, but cause damage to the work He’s doing.

The Psalms are true: living together in unity is a marvelous thing, and something I believe God greatly desires for His people. You should greatly desire it. But also see that we have to allow Him to take our ideas of the Church and community (our “wish dream” as Bonhoeffer says), and replace them with His idea, and then submit to being the building materials for His spiritual house.

He builds a much more lovely and lasting home than we could ever build.