NOISE - Fear

Once again in our conversation about noise, the things that interfere and distract us from out vibrant relationship with Christ as followers, we address noise that comes from within.  This time the noise is the sound of our own minds and hearts that convinces us to be afraid.

For Christians, fear comes in many forms.  Some of us are afraid of making truly meaningful Christian friendships because we are sure that people, no matter how much they love Jesus are destined to hurt us.  Some of us are afraid to worship in one particular style or another.  I don't believe that this fear is actually about style as much as it is an expression of fear of true intimacy with God: either emotional closeness, or intellectual closeness, or even physical expressions that cause us discomfort.  Maybe we fear praying aloud (or people's response to us doing it).  Maybe we fear reading the Bible and studying because we don't feel like we're good students or because we think it takes some special skill to rightly interpret the Bible.  But I think the noisy fear that grips most American Christians is the fear of sharing our faith with someone and/or inviting someone to respond to Christ's invitation to newness of life.

I know that I have had certain fears about it over my Christian experience.  I have feared that I would do it wrong.  I have feared that I was too wrong to do it.  I have feared that it was the wrong time for someone.  I have feared that I would be judged through the filter of the bad press Christianity sometimes gets.  I have feared that if they rejected my invitation they would also reject me.  I have feared that if I shared my faith in some circumstance that was deemed inappropriate, somehow my life would be completely derailed some official administrative committee somewhere.

I don't think that many of us would argue that it's not part of our Christian faith to be witnesses for Christ.  In fact, most of us feel an obligation or responsibility to share our faith as part of our Christianity.  However, our fear has become a louder noise in our head than our faith.  In fact the noisy fear in our head has become more authoritative in our lives than the Biblical injunctions to be witnesses.

In the book of Joshua God warns his people against fear and instructs us to be bold and courageous.  Now is the time for courage when it comes to Christians sharing their faith.

I recently read a statistic that listed the US as the third most "unreached" nation in the world.  Whereas once the US was the leader in missionary sending, it is not quickly reaching the top of the list of missionary destinations for the rest of the world's Christians.  And as far as I am concerned the real tragedy is this:  the US is already full of missionaries.  Every Christian here is a witness and a missionary.  Unfortunately we are not bold or courageous.  We are fearful and quiet.

Here is the good news.  The Barna institute recently released a study that showed a few encouraging signs for American Christian missionaries (all of us who follow Christ).  First, less than 1% of Americans think of Christians as offensive in their witness.  That means that our perception of resistance to the gospel because of negative previous experience or pre-existing negative perceptions is inaccurate.  Almost no Americans expect a negative experience in the witness of a Christian.  Second, more that 1/4 of non-Christian Americans think that Christians have a positive effect on our country.

Perhaps it is time to take on our fear and silence the noise that keeps us silent.  Perhaps its time to fulfill our missionary calling.  Yes, we all have one.  It's known as the great commission.  Missionaries are not a subgroup of Christians who travel far and wide to establish foreign works.  Every Christian IS a missionary right where we are.  Some of us are just inactive in our calling.

Pray for your neighborhood.  Commit to walking around your neighborhood 2x/month and just praying silently as you walk.  Commit to make a friendship with someone in your neighborhood who is not an active Christian.  And commit to look for an opportunity in that new friendship to share why you follow Christ actively.

Don't be afraid any longer.


"...I'm spiritual, not relgious."

I've heard it.  And I know that you've heard it too.  It goes something like this, "I'm spiritual, but I'm just not religious."  And sometimes this is a mantra for people who really don't want to address their wither their situations or their concepts of what being a Christian really means.  But, sometimes it is something else all together.

I have more than one friend who is a genuinely faithful Christ-follower who loves God, worships Him, accepts the redemption and renewal of Jesus, believes the Bible and practices it's message as authoritative, and serves a global mission to express and live the gospel.  But for some reason or reasons has found identity with the 'church,' as we currently know it, extremely difficult.  And as such experiences faith and the practice of faith in an odd kind of public solitude.

This scenario is both painful and detrimental to me.  And I suspect (well, I've seen and heard the symptoms of it) that it is painful to them.  I'm sure that it is detrimental.

Christian faith is at it's core a collective experience.  Yes, even salvation is a collective experience.  It is a kingdom, body, family, experience.  If we are to use Jesus' description of rebirth or spiritual birth, it is birth into a family (as birth always is).  If we are to use the Apostle Paul's description of salvation, then it is a rescue mission, delivering one from a kingdom of darkness that is shared with those who are darkened.  But also a deliverance into a new kingdom of light where light is lived out in a kingdom of light.  A kingdom has always been a community.  It was a city state where life was reliant upon the teamwork of a group of people who shared a geographic locality, and who lived under the protection of a regional land-holder.  If we are to see redemption as our primary definition of salvation, then it is redemption from uselessness in a function that did not fit us into a function in a body that perfectly fits us.  While we experience conversion on an individual basis, it is fundamentally a part of the life of Christ's community of believers.  It is a shared experience.

And so the axiom, "spiritual but not religious," seems to me to epitomize a cataclysmic failure on our part, their part, on my part.  This parsing of terms is a revelation of our failure to be a Christ-like community.

Unfortunately, I don't know that I can blog a singular entry that will propose a complete solution.  Nor am I willing to suggest that I'm the right guy to fully identify the solution.  I am only saying that our community needs improvement.  Since I need improvement, we need improvement.  (This is just one expression of the community experience.)

We must begin to do something to reunite these faithful ones with their community.  We must reconnect with our lost sheep.  (Not lost because they have become goats instead of sheep...  but because they are not living in and with the fold.)  There is a Christian expression that says that Satan looks for a vessel sailing with out a fleet.  And so our current propensity toward isolation appears to be a Satanic endeavor.

Life together is a gift.  It is not a curse or an obligation.  It is a gift.  It should seem as such.  And something about our ability to accept one another, forgive one another, spur one another on to love and good deeds, to encourage one another, to pray for one another...  something about these elements of Christian community must again become desirable.  We must shed the deception of the enemy of our souls who wants to delude us/them into a modern individualism and separate us/them from God's kingdom, His family, His body.  We must pursue wondering sheep, welcome them, love them, understand them, include them, rely on them.  We must make Christian community a gift that we give to them and to ourselves.  And we must preserve it.

It may seem uncomfortable as we begin to pursue it, but it will prove to be beneficial as we learn to live it.

I turn to Dietrich Bonhoeffer for one final thought.  As he wrestled in Life Together with the practice of confession of sins to one another, he laid out these thoughts:
"The Christian needs another Christian who speaks God's Word to him. He needs him again and again when he becomes uncertain and discouraged, for by himself he cannot help himself without belying the truth. He needs his brother man as a bearer and proclaimer of the divine word of salvation. He needs his brother solely because of Jesus Christ. The Christ in his own heart is weaker than the Christ in the word of his brother; his own heart is uncertain; his brother's is sure."
Christian community is a gift.  As image bearers of God, our triune creator, we are made for relationship with one another.  Christian community is a gift given to us by God.  We dare not refuse it.


The Necessity of Christian Community

“The experience of authentic community is one of the purposes God intends to be fulfilled by the church. The writings of Scripture lead one to conclude that God intends the church, not to be one more bolt on the wheel of activity in our lives, but the very hub at the center of one’s life…..”  Randy Frazee - The Connecting Church

Growing up in Central California, I was very early in life introduced to the natural marvel of Giant Redwoods.  There are 3 "giant" varieties on the planet, and 2 of them are natural residents of California.  There are a ton of things about things about these trees that fascinate me.  One of them is the root system.  

As a rule of thumb, the height of a tree is generally comparable to the depth of it's roots.  However, with a giant redwood, the roots are extremely shallow.  There is a unique strength of the root system which allows these trees to reach the highest heights of any trees in the world and which feeds these giants enough nutrients to sustain them for thousands of years.  The secret is that the roots of these giants are intertwined.  And that is where the trees get the strength to become giants.

The church is designed in the very same way.  Our strength is not found in our individualism, our personal fortitude, our singular accomplishment.  It is found in the intertwining of our lives into a shared faith that extends our spirituality beyond what could be sustained by our individuality.

Of course, the ultimate strength of the church and of believers is in the strength of our Lord, Father, and Spirit God.  But we cannot deny the zenith of God's plan is in the connectedness of His people:  His church.  
What does His Spirit do?  He equips us to serve 'one another.'
What did Jesus do?  He 'built his church,' not built his loosely connected web of folks who happen to have the same faith.  It is the connected church that the gates of Hell cannot prevail against.
What has God always done?  He has elected 'a people' to bear His name.  Not a person...

As Frazee states above, meaningful friendships in a congregation are not one of the available activities provided on a menu of optional courses for an individual to order up when they are in the mood for that, and then to ignore when they are not in the mood.  The community of Christians living life and faith in togetherness IS the church. It is our strength to bring our giftedness together.
It is our hope to bring our service together.
It is our inspiration to bring our offering of praise together.
It is our victory to bring our experiences together.
In all of these ways and in innumerable additional ways, God works in our togetherness.

It is a serious problem in the state of our American churches that togetherness has become so self-serving that when we are not in the mood or when we have more desirable activities available, we evaluate gathering for collective worship as not important...  because it feels less important that what we want for ourselves at that moment.  

But, in the unfolding plan of God, in the witness of the church, in the lives of others who also wear the name of Christ, in honor of God's name and fame - it is ultimately important.  It is central in what makes us the church... what makes us Christian.  Not because of the production that is planned for that gathering, but because of the unity of believers reaching the fullness of Christ together.  See Ephesians 3.

"Let us not forsake the assembling together of the faithful, as some are in the practice of doing..."  (Hebrews 10:25)

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