Tag Archives: outside the box

Contentment & Joy in “The 2 or 3”

seeds

“Better a dry crust with peace and quiet than a house full of feasting, with strife.”
– Proverbs 17:1

Today, in commenting on another person’s blog, I ended up navigating back here, and reading some of my old posts. One in particular, “Let’s Start a Grassroots Revolution of Love!” got me thinking (again) about Jesus’ intriguing statement “…where two or three have gathered together in My name, I am there in their midst.” Like the many revolutionary statements that Jesus and his early disciples made about love, this is one that, because it is so counter-cultural to our world, we often dismiss.  Even if our minds agree, our hearts say, “yes, but…”  Something in us continually is drawn back to “bigger is better.”  We don’t just want to build a super tall tower, we want to build one that “reaches to heaven.” In business, we are often not content running a mom-and-pop shop, but must expand it to a chain, despite the fact that we slowly lose contact with those we serve until we become an impersonal institution with no personality or soul.  Walk into Starbucks and then walk into the local coffee shop owned and operated by Joe who you know, sit in both and soak up the atmosphere.  It won’t take long and you will feel the vast difference, despite whatever the original founders of Starbucks may have intended.

The same happens in church life. We enjoy life in a small gathering of believers, but (often) automatically assume that more will be better.  There is a huge industry here in the U.S. of “church consultants” that is built around “church growth,” with the assumption that bigger… and bigger… and bigger… and YET BIGGER… is better. How tragic!

“But growth shows life,” you might say, “and growing means a church is healthy.”  True, growth is a sign of health, but unbridled growth is not.  In an ecosystem, unbridled growth of a species makes it an “invasive species” which destroys the ecosystem as a whole.  In the body, unbridled growth of cells is cancer, which likewise destroys the body as a whole.

Contrast this with the above-quoted words of Jesus – “two or three” – so counter-intuitive to all we are taught and all we instinctively believe!  There is a caveat though: the 2 or 3 can not be just “gathered,” but must be gathered “in my name.”  I believe this phrase “in my name” has much greater depth of meaning than just that we profess or say the words that our gathering is “in His name.”  Let me give an example.  Suppose I were to die.  Then suppose after my death, that my loved ones were to do something (anything) “in Margaret’s name.” The assumption would be that whatever they would be doing would be some cause near and dear my heart, and that they would be making every attempt not only to do what I would have done had I lived, but also to do it in the manner I would have done it.  If I loved to laugh, and had a wry sense of humor (which I do), than an event in my name that was humorless would not fit the bill, and those who knew me best might even be angry that it was done “in my name.”  The same is true if some cause were done “in my name.”  If, for instance, someone decided to “kick kittens” in my name, or even worse “kick calico kittens,” in the world of those who know me best it would be an utter sham!  Those who know me the very best would say, “They don’t know her at all!  This is not in her name, despite what they say!”  They would refuse to participate.

Even if it was something, my friends were not generally opposed to, like eating a McDonald’s hamburger, even if it were something they would normally participate in, if it were done “in Margaret’s name,” those who know me, knowing I really hate McDonald’s hamburgers, would say “This is a horrible way to remember Margaret.  This is NOTHING like anything she would want to do.  Let’s do something else.”

On the other hand, if my friends sat in my studio, made clay pots, played music and those who couldn’t play listened or sang, surrounded by frolicking calico kittens, and cracking wry, sarcastic jokes, and laughing until tears came out of their eyes, eating grilled salmon, roast lamb, hummus and lentil salad, and drinking a glass of a full-bodied red wine, or a cup of dark roast fresh ground coffee, or a glass of clear cool water from the well, and did this all while enjoying memories and talking about things that matter in life, than at the end, those who know me the very best would KNOW that this was truly a gathering “in Margaret’s name” – no questions asked.

In the same way, two or three gathered in the name of Jesus is not just words.  It must be in a context of knowing Him, and caring for those things He most cares about. And what does He care most about?  Well, when a man or woman is about to die, the thing they speak of typically reveals what they most care about. As I have written, elsewhere, as Jesus prepared himself to face an excruciatingly painful and torturous death, He got down to what mattered most:

“Love each other.”

But here is the sad and tragic part: we so often settle for far less than love in the Body of Christ.  We settle for “general affinity” or “cordiality.”  So often we can be “bigger” but in that largeness can feel utterly alone.

“Better a dry crust where there is love.”

Today, my husband and I often meet in groups of 2, 3, 4 or 5 “in His name.” Our meetings may not be “a meeting” – we may eat, we may laugh, we may tell stories about friends or memories, we may think of something we learned, or an insight we had.  Somehow, I think that is something that Jesus looks on, as he sits in our midst, and the one who enjoyed a meal with sinners says “Yes, this is truly in my name.

Today I remembered a time when we first began meeting in this way, and though I knew it was good, though I often reminded myself that He said “2 or 3” was enough, I still felt, at times, not quite legitimate, not quite like we were really the church.  Today, as I looked back on those days, I realize I have changed.  I find myself quite content being gathered together, just 2 or 3, in His name.

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Meditation: Being an Anomaly

In a recent email exchange, a friend made the comment that he viewed himself as sort of an anomaly, to which I responded “you are an anomaly!” (I didn’t put an exclamation point on it in the email, but I did in my mind.  It was such a perfect word.)

But since my response was meant to be an encouragement, I thought I’d best look up the word in the dictionary before hitting “send”.   Though my first reaction to the word was positive, when I worked in systems design an anomaly was never a good thing.  It was always the thing that happened that you weren’t expecting, and since you wanted computer programs to function as expected, you were definitely not happy when an “anomaly” popped up.  But people are not computer programs (thank God!), and I for one find those who don’t function as expected quite refreshing.  So, fortunately I have a dictionary on my Apple Powerbook that pops up with the flick of the mouse.

Anomaly: Something that deviates from what is standard, normal or expected.

When I read that definition, I almost also wrote in my reply: “I hope I’m an anomaly too!”  And then I got to thinking: Wow, wasn’t Jesus an anomaly?  He really absolutely never functioned as he was “supposed” to.  He always slipped out of the verbal snares others tried to lay for him, because he didn’t answer as expected (I won’t list examples since they can be found in almost every interchange he had in the Gospels).  And in fact, he upset the religious establishment because he didn’t act as expected either (hanging out with all those “sinners”!  What was he thinking????)   And hey, I think he called us who follow him to be like Him, and therefore to be anomalies in the world as well! Which makes me think, wouldn’t it be wonderful if we all viewed ourselves as anomalies?  I think we just might turn the world upside down.

“And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.” – Romans 12:2

“If only one flower stands out, it is not truly spring”

The following article was published on the Serving China Prayer Blog.  Though it was originally written to help foreigners more effectively pray for and serve the Body of Christ in China, it is really full of many lessons that we can learn from them as well.  Enjoy!

A House Church Pastor’s Perspective

By Brother Dong

EDITORS’ NOTE: This month we are so glad to present you with a letter written first-hand by a leading Chinese house church pastor himself! “Brother Dong” is a premiere Christian leader on a nationwide scale, involved in a very wide spectrum of Christian work across many provinces. Recently, he spoke to us by phone, giving us his insights on what we as a foreign servant ministry in China should focus on in the months and years ahead. It was so profoundly valuable that we asked him to put it in writing, which he agreed to do and then let us share with you also.

When Brother Dong first shared with by phone, his framework was how we could better pray for the church in China. Later, when he wrote the article, the same comments focused on how to best serve the church in China. Finally, when we read the article ourselves, we couldn’t help but notice how much we here in the West could learn from the church in China. It is our prayer that this excellent article will aid you both in better interceding for our brothers and sisters in China, as well as inspiring all of us to learn and apply lessons from the church in China to our communities of faith at home.

God’s work in China in the past fifty years has surprised many–Christians and non-Christians alike. Restricted circumstances and non-existent religious structure have birthed a homegrown movement, which does not easily fit into any traditional model. Maybe now for the first time Christianity has taken root in China. For the church to flourish within and without China, it is important for the Body of Christ to engage church in China in a holistic way.

First, help her stick to the essentials that sustain and grow a Christian or a church. There is a continual need for Bibles, and literature on spiritual life, preaching, and teaching, gospel tracts, world mission history and missionary biographies. Particularly in the current circumstances, these types of literature can reach many people at many places.

Second, help her return to the basics of Christian faith. The simplicity of Christian faith is the vitality of God’s church. The essence of Christ’s gospel needs no more than a mouth and a breath to spread. As the educational level improves in Chinese society, there is a temptation to develop elaborate theologies and practices, which are not only incomprehensible to many Christians and cause divisions, but also divert and waste the energy that should have been utilized to expand God’s Kingdom.

Third, encourage her to pick up the zeal and vision for world missions. The Chinese rural house church will be an important model for the future of world missions because 1) it is homegrown, which is non-threatening to local community and culture; 2) its strategies and methods are indigenous, mostly free of Western denominational influence, and so are flexible and adaptable; 3) its operation, without the burden of church building and clergy, is least resources-dependent, which in turn enables her to focus the resources for outreach; 4) it remains communal and relational, which is the nature of many societies/cultures in Asia and Africa; 5) it is of the lower class, which comprises of the majority of world population. This will potentially result in a shift in Christian missions and social development from “the strong reaching out the weak” to “peer help”.

Fourth, interact with the urban church productively. This requires Western believers to be especially wise, using caution in this effort. The urban church has experienced significant growth in the last fifteen years. It tends to be strong in education, affluence, skills, and resources, thus often self-sufficient. The strong background of leaders and limited exposure often result in isolation of churches. Intellectual ability often hinders urban churches from coming together because disagreement on certain doctrine or practice. Advanced training offers the urban church competence in managing efficiently, which could lead to some mega-churches. This may not be a good thing. There is a Chinese saying, which says: “If only one flower stands out, it is not truly spring.” In the same way, efficiency of one entity may not mean effectiveness of the whole Body of Christ. To gain recognition, urban church tends to institutionalize through legal/structural effort and purchase of property, which is resource-draining. The consequences may be unexpected: when the Spirit is there, everybody cares for one another; but when the Body of Christ becomes institutionalized, each person becomes just one of many which often results in insensitivity and indifference. It is our hope that urban church would not fall into Western denominational structures and theologies.

Fifth, build dialogue and partnership between urban and rural churches. Because of societal and cultural differences, China exists in two very different worlds: the rural and the urban. Despite rapid urbanization in recent years, the influx to cities is mainly of rural outlook. The feelings of inferiority among the rural versus those of privilege among the urban often hinder interaction between the two worlds. This bears similar impact on the churches as well. They need to be pushed into dialogue and partnership to utilize their respective gifts. Rural churches typically are strong in dedication, human power, time, and contextual adaptability, while urban churches possess finance, knowledge, and advanced skills. Doing projects together may offer a good venue to develop dialogue and grow partnership.

Sixth, network churches from different background and areas. Because of the current circumstances, churches, big or small, often operate within their own circles. It would be beneficial for them to cross the boundaries which they have placed between themselves so that they can catch a big picture of God’s work and His call upon the Chinese church. This is usually not easy for nationals to initiate. Foreign believers are a good third party to initiate and sustain this kind of interaction. Only through this effort can real growth and expansion happen. Then many small and solid churches will bloom all over China, rather than a few big ones in a few centers.

Seventh, help her grow in the understanding of social witness and cross-cultural outreach. The one-sided economic development in the past thirty years has left out many in society. Most of the marginalized live among or are from the rural area. Christians have won approval through their upright living in their community, but they need to actively enter the society to reach out to the needy. Churches need to open their eyes to see the needs of orphans, HIV/AIDS, prostitutes, and the poor. Another area is cross-cultural: many churches have little experience or understanding of other cultures in China’s predominately Han Chinese society. As a result many Chinese missionaries are not effective in their work among ethnic minority groups. There is a need to understand cross-cultural issues and their practical implementation in order to include those people groups in fulfilling the Great Commission. Chinese churches are rich in resources, which can be effectively used for reaching out people outside of China, such as North Korean refugees and people-groups in Southeast Asia.

Finally, rekindle dedication to and sacrifice for Christ. As China develops economically, comfort, security, and stability begin to set in. Programs and strategies become increasingly sophisticated. There is a need to return to simplicity and rekindle the spirit of dedication and sacrifice. That is the most sustainable strategy in bringing the whole world to Christ!

My Father

This piece was originally written in 2004 as a tribute to my Dad on his 70th birthday.  It is one of my favorite pieces.  I won’t say more.  Let the piece speak for itself.

with Dad on the farm

with Dad on the farm

As I approach my father’s 70th birthday, it’s hard to believe so much time has passed by.  I remember as a little girl, looking up to my Daddy who was a colossal 6 feet 2 inches tall, with broad shoulders.  A giant of a man, yet with such a tender, gentle heart.  As a child, I remember our family moving to a farm 2 hours from the city so my parents could spend time writing.  We would take long family walks together.  It always seemed that my mother and brother would charge ahead, while I walked behind with my father – me, because my legs were the shortest, and my father, because he liked to stop and look at some small flower or bird.  A gentle giant who noticed the smallest flower and the most fleeting bird.  Every once in a while, he would pause just to listen or observe – “You hear that, Margaret, that’s a Bob White.”  or “You see that, Margaret, that’s a Mountain Laurel.”

But of all my memories, what is most precious is how my father taught me to be a spiritual being.  He did this without hardly knowing it, and at a time when he himself had lost faith in the existence of a God.  I once tried to tell my father about this memory, but he seemed to think the memory was a painful one for me, and apologized.  I didn’t know what to say, so said nothing, but now wish I had clarified.  It happened when I was around 6 years old.  We lived on the farm then.  It was glorious – a house on a hill nestled in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains.  When I stood out in front of the house, mountains greeted me in every direction.  I was just at the age that it was dawning on me that Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy, among others, were not real.  Other questions began to creep into my mind, so one day I went out to ask my father, “Dad, is God real?”

“Well, Margaret,” he replied, in his honest philosophical voice, that never talked down to me, “I don’t believe in him, but others feel differently.  I think your mother may feel differently.”

From there I went to my mother, who replied, “I think there’s some power out there, but I don’t know what it is.”

Today, I have deep gratitude for these answers.  My father was an atheist, but he was a humble atheist.  He didn’t pretend that he knew the answers for me, and thus put the question back in my own hands.  So, I ended up standing in front of our house and asked the Universe, or whatever might be out there: “Is God real?”  In a moment, as I gazed over the visual cacophony of colors bespeckling the autumn Blue Ridge Mountain range, I knew.  I am still amazed to this day, that a young 6-year old girl could have the thoughts that flashed through my mind, but when I looked at those mountains I saw the work of an artistic genius.  I knew.  Dad, your answer was not a painful one for me, but a powerful one.  My memories of those days are the sweetest I know.  I was unknowingly pointed to the only One who could answer my question, and I heard the Voice answering visually from the mountains.  Now as I reflect back I realize that even the power of observation that answered me that day was taught to me by my father.  No, Dad it was not painful, it was the day God spoke.  Thank you.

“But the basic reality of God is plain enough. Open your eyes and there it is!  By taking a long and thoughtful look at what God has created, people have always been able to see what their eyes as such can’t see: eternal power, for instance, and the mystery of his divine being. So nobody has a good excuse.”  (The Book of Romans, The Message Bible)

“So you’ll go out in joy, you’ll be led into a whole and complete life. The mountains and hills will lead the parade, bursting with song. All the trees of the forest will join the procession, exuberant with applause.  No more thistles, but giant sequoias, no more thorn bushes, but stately pines – Monuments to me, to God, living and lasting evidence of God.” (The Book of Isaiah, The Message Bible)

planting our garden

planting our garden

I LOVED this…

Okay, one of my favorite bloggers has outdone himself.  Great little article.  “Why I Don’t Like Church Names” —  Check it out!

Validation

Loved this little clip!  Check it out! We all could do with a little validation 🙂

What implications does this little story have for living in community together? If you have thoughts, leave a comment.

In Search of True Christian Community

I am in search of the Church. Not as we know it, but as it was meant to be. For the past twenty plus years, I’ve been involved with many gatherings of people each named church, but for some time have felt an increasing dissatisfaction with what exists of church life.

I am wanting a place where I can be, and let my doing truly flow out of my being. I am wanting a place of free exchange of ideas, and where people dare to think outside the box. I am wanting a place where I have deep spiritual friendships, where we speak into each other’s lives, but do so in love and humility of spirit, each realizing the other is also responsible before God to follow Him in good conscience.

I haven’t found this place. But I’m finding glimmers of it. I’m still searching.