Monday December 9, 2007
Father, ___spoke to me again yesterday about the Bible study – and it sounds as though she is actually now feeling healthy enough to attend a day-time study! Praise God! Thank You for Your care and healing! Please continue!
And as I told her, and we discussed, please show me when to start! Your time, not mine! And just what to teach! Your Words, Your teaching, Your topic – not mine! I have felt “held back” and I have felt that there is something specific You would have me teach (that I don’t yet understand) but that You will reveal it in Your perfect time. Your time, Your Word, Your purposes, Your glory, dear Lord!
I am having coffee with ___ about 1 pm on Tuesday, and with ___ about 1 pm on Thursday! Wow! And getting together (L and I) with ____ during Christmas! Oh Lord… relationship building!
“Walking relationally” – just as ___ preached yesterday, and as ____ and I talked about on Saturday, and as You gave me those thoughts (they were from You, weren’t they? Oh Lord, if my thoughts are mixed in, please, by the guidance and holiness of Your Holy Spirit, ruthlessly weed, dig, yank them out and burn them completely, eternally! Thank You, Lord! Whew!
A letter I wrote to a friend today….
Have you ever been in, or seen on TV or in magazines, those “chicken/egg laying” factories where most chickens today are raised? They squeeze an average of around 50,000 chickens in each barn, which is filled with small wire cages, about a foot square, into each of which 4 or 5 chickens are squeezed, so that they can move about as little as possible. The cages are suspended, and the chicken droppings pile up under the cages in heaps. Also under the cages are more conveyor belts into which the eggs roll as the chickens lay, and the eggs are whisked away, either to be sold as eggs in supermarkets, or (if the farmer chooses) to be placed in incubators to hatch and be fed mechanically, producing more chickens to fill more cages. Little conveyor belts go by the rows of cages, filled with “feed” which is a chemical mixture of synthetic fats and nutrients plus lots of synthetic hormones, all of which are designed to produce chickens that are moist, fat, and/or produce numerous eggs…
(all of which, chicken flesh and/or eggs, are destined for our dining room tables via the supermarket… and we cheerfully chomp down on them, pretty much unaware of the conditions and chemicals which brought them to us… and the chemicals that thereby are ending up inside of us higher up in the food chain – all of which is pretty nasty, but maybe not part of this story! Sorry for going off down a rabbit warren path! Ever since I’ve been in one of those places, I’ve lost most of my appetite for chicken…)
Anyway, the other way to raise chickens (and the way in which wild chickens live) is of course “free range” in which the chickens are free to range about seeking whatever healthy (and to them, delicious) natural foods they can find, like seeds, worms, bugs, etc etc. These chickens get lots of exercise, are much healthier, lay much higher quality (more nutritious) eggs but in lower quantities, and grow to be strong, lean… and kind of tough, which is good for them but maybe not quite so delicious for us.
So my take on this “free range Christian” label is that these folks have forsaken the “chicken/egg factory” in which one “leader” – the pastor, presumably – packs them into a “cage” of his own making, in which he can fill them with whatever he thinks will turn them into the kind of “Christians” he has in mind. So what he might be stuffing into them could be “spiritual so-called food” that will make them addicted to ever more of what he chooses to “feed” them, content to sit there in their little cages swallowing it all without question, getting fat and lazy, and happily thinking all the time that they are “producing” spiritual fruit or whatever, because of the quantity of eggs they are laying… but not realizing that while they may be producing “quantity,” sadly there is very little “quality” … and those who in turn “eat” from this production do not grow into strong, healthy individuals either but are themselves stunted because of the chemical-style teaching etc which they in turn are taking in. Furthermore, numbers are incredibly important. There is always this huge push to keep on producing lots and lots of “baby Christians” to fill up the cages and hook all the cages together to fill up the barn (ow! sounds like a mechanical approach to using “cell groups” to fill up the larger church so the head pastor can keep shoveling “his” choice of “food” into their mouths… the more I think about it, the more I suspect that some of our “free-range” ex-leaders are reacting against some past personal experience)…
So, I think they feel that what they are doing is making a great escape out of the cages, our of the barn, into the big, wide world where there are all kinds of feed possibilities available, from which they can pick and choose, and get lots of exercise in the deal. Therefore, theoretically, they can eat nutritiously, going from table to table, picking out delicious morsels, lots of variety, gaining every nutritious spiritual vitamin and mineral they need from a delectable variety of delicious dishes (listening to a wide variety of teachers and preachers, reading widely, discussing and studying with a wide variety of people, etc etc). They can “truly be free” rather than being trapped in a type of freedom hype – really prison – they perhaps feel hey have previously been exposed to.
Thus they believe they can grow into strong, healthy, mature Christians, living life day-by-day, laying eggs (planting seeds, whatever metaphor you prefer), laying on them as chickens were meant to do, hatching them, and watching over them, feeding them, helping them grow up healthy, instead of having the eggs immediately stolen, and either sold, or placed into incubators to mechanically, coldly raise yet more inmates (of course, this means they build relationships, share the gospel as opportunity allows, bring people into relationship with God, truly disciple them as friends… as “family” actually, real family, not just the big mechanical family of the prison barn… and then release them into the freedom of the process, themselves, when they are ready). And I can sympathize with their feelings, and their reasoning. There are many, many days when I myself have seriously contemplated racing out of the barn as fast as I can.
After all, in many ways, I can see how much of the latter approach is far healthier and more natural than the former approach. But there are also some difficulties I can see. For example, where do they gather for safety when the storms of life blow in? what do they feed on when times of famine come? Who do they turn to for comfort and support when difficulties arise? Who is there to help raise the babies (“it takes a village to raise a child”)? If they go “lone ranger” as well as “free range” who is there to protect them, and to provide sound advice, and so forth, when the wolves and serpents out there in the world beyond the barn come in and start enticing them with words which sound great but are really full of poison… or just swoop down ready to kill and destroy? And lots of other potential problems….
Of course (and the “free range” believer will point this out immediately) it forces us to truly build a relationship with Jesus Christ instead of just depending on the farmer/ pastor/ leader to place a barn roof over our heads and fill our bellies with whatever he thinks is best for whatever purposes he chooses. And yes, that is really important, that is basic. But… I believe that Christ also gave us the “local church” as an added anti-dote to these kinds of problems which we will surely meet over and over again.
And it is true that even in the shelter of the church these kinds of problems exist… and can even be exacerbated if we come to depend on the church over and above our relationship with Father God through Christ and the Holy Spirit. Yes, a pastor/ leader can become a wolf in sheep’s clothing. Yes, we can lose sight of our relationship with Christ, and become consumed with numbers and other things. Yes, we can (if we are not wise, and accept it) allow ourselves to be fed with a diet of toxic chemicals, and become unhealthy prisoners in a factory that really has almost nothing to do with the Kingdom of God and His purposes. Yes, the “church” can – and very often does – turn Christianity into institutionalized religious organizations which are barely (or perhaps not at all) Christian, except in name and some surface details to impress others and look “right.”
But these problems have faced the true church right from the start. These problems faced Christ and his disciples. These problems faced the children of Israel gathered around the tabernacle/ temple. These problems faced Adam and Eve in the garden. It is interesting to remember that Eve “fell” to the suggestions of the serpent while she was rambling around the garden alone, without Adam at her side. And Adam “fell” perhaps because he didn’t want to be left alone without Eve, who knows? But still, “relationship” is Father God’s method – within Himself as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Between Him and His children, through Jesus and the Holy Spirit. And between His children in the form of the church.
First of all, we do need Him. That is the foundation. Then we need each other jointly in relationship with Him. And to put those relationships into action, between each other, and reaching out into the world, we need personal relationships with each other. We need all those levels – in right order, in right balance. That seems to me to be such an important role and job of the church. We don’t need, necessarily, the “physical building,” or the “programs” that we use to hold it together… but we do need the relationships – in right order, in right balance. Led by the Holy Spirit, soaked in prayer, grounded on daily deep study of God’s Word… oh, yes, that’s all relationship too, isn’t it? That’s what Father God desires for us, isn’t it? That’s what His love is really about, isn’t it? And yes, by the grace and power and love of Almighty God, it is possible! It is!