Hammering the Nails of Redundant Thought in the Religious Masses

“When the only tool you have is a hammer everything begins to look like a nail.” – Abraham Maslow —– The church in America is in a state of decline. There are more people going out the doors (be it carried in a box, or simply in mass exodus) than there are coming in them. Likewise, the groups of people who have never been a part of the church are growing in mass while their interest in the church continues to dwindle, respectively. The answers the church attempts to give speak to questions that aren’t even being asked and that haven’t been asked in a long time. The overwhelming focus within the church is polluted by the very same thinking – irrelevant and out-of-touch self-consumption.

“The problems in the world cannot be resolved by the same kind of thinking that created them.” – Albert Einstein —– The folks that know how to play church, or at least those who are susceptible to the “church culture,” are the same 40% of the population to which the church has been catering for years. It is a long-standing maxim that local churches stand and fall according to the exchange of “members” between them. What about the other 60% of the population? Are we waiting for “them” to become like “us”? Is there some point in “their” evolution where “we” take interest in “them”? What would “church” look like if “they” were included among “us”? Incidentally, church is not “Church” without “their” inclusion with “us.”

“Religion is the opiate of the masses.” – Karl Marx —– The ideology that “church” is a building to where we go, where we are entertained by a skilled professional, where we are consumers of that which is being peddled, and where we are spectators of the sport of “Christianity” is destructive and self-defeating. It is nothing more than a religion invented by humanity. It is nothing less than an addiction to a mind-numbing drug that dulls people to their responsibilities of being “the Church,” by definition. Church is the exercising of all the gifts of God in humanity.

In short, as long as the church attempts to answer the questions begged with more-of-the-same, future growth looks bleak. It is not because God has abandoned His worldview and neither is it because Jesus has abandoned His Church. It is because, at present, the church desires to manage the business of maintaining the status-quo of accepted norms. The established system senses death and seeks only self-preservation. Thus, in its death-rattle, it scrambles to produce more “programs” in an effort to prolong its state of unconsciousness.

Until we pull the plug on our self-centered religious system (and subsequently rise from the dead in Resurrection Life) we cannot answer the real questions asked and we cannot really be the Church – the expression of Christ – in a hurting world. God’s worldview is still the rescuing of humanity from itself, and Christ’s Church is still the place where God exercises that worldview. Once the Church recovers its role as the place where God meets the needs of humanity, once it ceases to operate out of human frailty (religion) and again moves and breathes in and out of divine essence (faith), once we come to the realization that Jesus Christ Himself is life for living, then we will see the true Mission of God; we will see, not conversions of cultures to Christianity, but transformations of lives in Christ.

Three-Pointed Expression

There are three points at which the church expresses relationship (or the lack thereof). These three points are layered; that is, they are always the same three points, but the identity and/or description of the three points can be expressed differently depending on the subject or object of the relationship. The three points are Upward, Inward, and Outward. For example, Jesus expressed an upward relationship with the Father, an inward relationship with His followers, and an outward relationship with a hurting world. First, Jesus expressed the mission of God in who He was; equipping him, secondly, to express that mission in and with His followers, which, finally, could be corporately expressed to a hurting world. Because Jesus had an upward relationship with God He could have an inward relationship with His followers and they could have an outward relationship with a hurting world. The expression of God’s relationship with Jesus is the focus for His followers, which is the expression of His followers to the world.

Another aspect, or layer, of this three-pointed expression is our own individual upward relationship with the Father, our inward relationship with our own-self because of that upward relationship with God and, our outward expression of those relationships with God and self in our relationships with others. If we attempt to outwardly express a relationship with God without first internalizing the relationship, our expression is broken. We expect others to experience something we have not, yet, experienced. Likewise, if we immediately go outward without first going upward, then we offer only the same brokenness and hurt that the world already knows and experiences because we, ourselves, have not healed.

The expression of the church is to be a reflection of its upward relationship with God, its inward relationship with itself, and its outward relationship with a hurting world because of its upward and inward relationships – in that order. A church that moves from the upward relationship with the Father to an inward relationship with itself, and does not move outward to the hurting world, is an exclusive club of ineffectiveness. What is outward only serves to feed itself. A church that moves from the upward relationship directly to the outward relationship, but does not first express the inward relationship, is hypocritical. It speaks of things it does not know and it finds its identity in the numbers of people in line in its outreach ministries. And a church that begins with the inward and moves outward, without the upward relationship with the Father, is simply and only a humanitarian aid; the ultra-social gospel, where humanity is on mission to fix humanity and not God’s mission to heal humanity.

Individually and corporately, we must strike a balanced order in our relationships and there expressions. Upward, inward, and then outward is the necessary order. The balance comes in relation to the personal need of the upward to heal the inward so as to express it outwardly. We must strike the balance individually before we can do so corporately. Yet, the corporate expression of upward, inward, and outward is where the individual order is forged. Oh, the importance of the primal upward!

Toleration of the Intolerable

Tolerance is insisted upon only by the intolerable. If I do not tolerate your insistence of my tolerance, will you self-impose your toleration and tolerate the fact that I do not? We cry “tolerance,” not because we want everyone to be free, but because we want everyone enslaved. If this were not true, then, there would be no reason to cry “tolerance.” I don’t have to tolerate your opinion and you can’t force my toleration of it and, at the same time, call it “tolerance.” Forced tolerance is, in fact, the intolerance of the forceful.

The ideology of tolerance, in religion, presupposes superiority and, therefore, inferiority. What I mean is this idea that Christianity must be tolerant is based on faulty premises. In fact, the very basis of the argument is self-contradicting. The attempt to lift one religion over the other has less to do with God and more to do with the corrupted and the corruptible. And when a Christian enters into this line of thinking the point of Christianity is lost. When we talk about being tolerant, we already assume that what we believe is superior to that which someone else believes. I am not at all interested in attempting to prove the superiority of Christianity.

Let me say it another way: I do not see any world religion as being in some sort of competition with that which Christ embodies. I do not argue against the fact that the world religions are in competition (including so-called Christianity), but I question the logic of it. If any religion thinks itself superior to another, then it is only a competition of “No-Compete-Clauses” that humanity either constructs or destructs. If a religion is such that it depends on humanity condoning or condemning it, then it is nothing more than humanity’s concoction. If it has to do with God, then the point of toleration is mute. All religions are on equal grounds and neither superior nor inferior, one against another. None can reach up (or out) to God, because God by definition is impassible and unobtainable. As such, God must be the initiator of said communication if it is to be had at all. God must make the way and means for humanity to be in relations with God. And the conclusion to our religious quest is found in Jesus Christ. From wherever we come, we must come to the one place where heaven meets earth, where God is accessible to humanity – where the Killing Cross of Christ meets the Resurrection Life of Christ; not a religion, but a Faith – the faithfulness of God in Christ.

Toleration in polity is based on an elitist mentality of (guilt laden) political correctness. It is simply an irrational Utopian ideology devoid of reality. It holds that truth is relative, which actually denies any truth what-so-ever (even its own Utopia). Add to this fact that tolerance serves to make excuses for ones-self, rather than holding ones-self accountable and responsible. Ironically, this kind of toleration, too, is a form of religion (by definition).

Toleration assumes condescension of one to another. Toleration demands disingenuous pity. Toleration only exasperates an issue. There is no redemption in toleration. Do not confuse toleration with love. Toleration is actually intolerance.

I suggest, first, that any form of toleration be rejected and, second, that we not be tolerable, but accepting of one another. The Good News is not about toleration but acceptance. God does not tolerate humanity, but accepts it. Because of Christ we are acceptable and, thus, equipped to accept. Do not be fooled, tolerance is not equality. Tolerance is based on inequality, and never acceptance. Acceptance is where equality is found, but never tolerance.

The God of Mission

God has had a mission in creation since, literally, the beginning of time (Gen. 1:3). God has had a mission in humanity since the beginning of the alienation (Gen. 3:9). The God of this mission is the God who hears the groans of humanity (Ex. 2:24; 6:5). This God moves in with humanity (John 1:14). He seeks the lost (Luke 19:10). He serves the least (Matt. 25:45). He suffered to rescue the suffering (John 19:18). He calls and equips disciples (Matt. 28:16-20). He sends the Spirit to empower the church (Mark 1:8; Acts 2:17-18; 4:31).

The God of mission has a church. The church has no other mission, but only the mission of God in humanity and all creation. The church is the agent of God’s change. The Church is a mission of transformation. The church’s mission is God’s mission. God’s mission in humanity is to invite humanity to become part of God’s life. Likewise, the mission of the church is to invite humanity to become part of God’s life. The church is a mission of extension in the invitation of God. The mission of God has a church.

Since the alienation the world has been upside-down. To everyone since Adam and Eve an upside-down world seems right-side up, however. When God moved in humanity as Jesus Christ He turned the world right-side up again, and everyone thinks He has turned it upside-down. God’s mission is a rescuing of humanity; a recovery of capsized creation. Because of a perverted equilibrium, the mission of God is counterintuitive to humanity. Because humanity is off-balance, creation is off-center.

Jesus is the Good News that God is in mission to creation. Jesus lived the Good News with His life. That Jesus died is the Good News of recovery. That Jesus is offering the Good News in His resurrection is the rescuing; it is the invitation of God’s mission – the church. Jesus is the Kingdom of God in Person. He is the Person of Transformation. Transformation is the invitation to be part of God’s life by extending God’s invitation to be part of God’s life.

God’s mission has a church that is an agent of change; an agent of transformation. The church is a sign of the Kingdom, pointing to a reality beyond itself; a sign without significance apart from what it signifies. The church as mission is a foretaste of the Kingdom, a down payment of the Kingdom; it is an instrument of the kingdom, a tool utilized to facilitate the work of the Kingdom. Transformation is a sharing in the life of God – the kingdom – together as community; God’s worldview. Community is the evidence of God in mission to humanity – the church. Creation is recovered in the rescuing of humanity in the mission of God – Jesus Christ, the Person of the God of mission.

God on Mission

In spite of claims (and thoughts) to the contrary, Jesus Christ came and died, and was buried, and resurrected for all creation (not just “Christians”). The word “Christian” was used in the negative sense (originally) to describe those who belonged to “The Way of Christ.” It was not an end-result of a conversion, but a categorical description of a people; a way of life. “Christians” described “Those belonging to Christ;” or better yet, “Those owned by Christ.” The term was intended by the hecklers to alienate those of The Way from those of the norm. But Christ, Himself, never intended to alienate anyone (nor did he intend to be normal). In fact, He intended quite the opposite.

The work of Christ (in the past, as well as the present) benefits all creation, not simply the church. The Church is the expression of Christ on earth. Both of these statements being true, then, all creation generally and all humanity in particular is the Church. Because Jesus was the Last Adam – the one to rectify the deficiency of the First Adam and his posterity (Rom. 5:14; 1Cor. 15:22, 45) – His cross and subsequent resurrection affects all humanity. Not only that, but it also affects all creation because of the place humanity was given in creation (Gen. 1:26-28). In short, Christ died (and was resurrected) for “All,” not only for some.

Obviously, however, “all” do not express Christ (whether within or without the church). Yet, this does not change the fact of the reality. What Jesus has done, with His death and resurrection, is to activate something that had been dormant in humanity since the Fall of Adam. Christ’s act did not institute an imposition of conversion, but it gave life to something that was already there; something in which we were created. It awakened the image of God in humanity. It resuscitated the Mission of God in creation, even if “all” humanity does not realize it. It transformed…

God has a mission. The mission of God has a Church. God’s mission forms the church (not the other way around). The mission of God is not concerned with conversion, but transformation. When the church has a mission it always entails a conversion (the conversion from any certain culture to a “Christian Culture;” i.e. the norm). But when the Church is empowered by the mission of God it is the expression of Christ – it is the embodiment of the death and resurrection; it is the express image of God in the resurrected life of Christ, again, in human form. Conversion is a form of alienation (despite the claims to the contrary). Transformation is the mission of God through the church (from the beginning of humanity) in community.

And what does the Mission of God in the church communicate? It communicates God’s love in the face of Jesus Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit. It dares to risk, necessarily involved in that love. It communicates the intent for creation generally and humanity in particular to love out of the love of transformation. In a word, the mission of God is “love” – a love that transforms brokenness and alienation into healing and wholeness.

The Philistine Champion

As David is to Goliath, so the faith of Christ is to counterfeit religion. Goliath, a giant among humanity; a huge bronze helmet, heavy bronze armor, a powerful iron spear, and a shield carried by others. Intimidation, insults, and bully tactics are his strength. David, just a young shepherd; the memory and experience of God’s grace; without the weight of human vanity, a staff, a sling and a stone. Belief in who God says He is empowers him. Goliath fights with the fury of humanity; David, the power of heavenly forces (read 1Sam.17:1-49).

The church, in its religious form, is driven by the might of human desire; measured by the size of its head-gear, the weight of its defense mechanisms, the vulgar display of its judgment, and the numbers enslaved by its own fear. Yet, in the faith of Christ, the Church is the mission of God’s grace; expressing the love of God to humanity, living in and out of the story of a tree (the staff), a purpose (the sling) and a grave (the stone), and is immeasurable by human means.

Religion comes in many forms, but it is always motivated by the human will. The faith of Christ is a singular force, and it is always inspired and expressed by the Spirit of God. Religion is transference – the vanity of humanity onto God. The faith of Christ is transformation – the character of God into humanity. Religion dictates; faith leads. Religion enables admirers; faith equips followers. Religion produces adherents to itself; faith reproduces disciples of Christ. Religion envelopes; faith pushes the envelope. Religion is bondage to human sin. Faith is freedom from it. Fallen humanity is on display in religion, where redeemed humanity is seen through faith.

Goliath, true to form, was agitating David again as religious leaders hurled insults at Jesus at Golgotha. Religion has its own ideas of what God should be and what God should do. It donned its armor, helmet and shield, and brandished its spear as the leaders demanded that Jesus come down off the cross (if He really was the Rescuer of humanity). Jesus meets the onslaught armed with only faith – Faith in who God says that God is; faith that the agony of the cross is God’s plan and purpose; faith that generated life – the faith of Christ that slays the giant.

David and Goliath meet again, today, as the church battles within itself – the faith of Christ Vs. religion. Goliath is running his mouth. David is collecting stones. Humanity is encamped around the battlefield. Goliath plays the fool for the crowd. David dances with God. Religion assumes outer appearance. Faith believes inner identity. Religion offers ultimatums. Faith, eternity…

And So We Search

Humanity has been designed to search for things. There is a gnawing, nagging inside of us that wants to find the answer and solve the problem or just figure out the issue. If the desire gets perverted it becomes broken. This longing to know has been placed there by God to draw us to Himself. Our souls are pulling us towards God with their cravings and longings that will not be satisfied by anything less than the Eternal One. Our souls know God, and they persistently desire that which is unattainable or not within immediate reach, though we are not always aware of the ache. Our souls were designed to be a beacon that draws us back to the Father.

We must choose to participate in God’s worldview or, by default, we choose to participate in the lie. Humans are driven to be; and it’s always big. We pursue success and achievement. We dream and gravitate towards greatness. We have a mission, a purpose, and a destiny (not simply some feel good task, destiny points to a destination, and the only one that matters is back to the heart of God). It is written into our DNA to become. Part of “being” is struggling to “become” and this struggle is constant. We can endure so much when we are convinced that there is a purpose to our struggle. Increases in struggles usually indicate a change, while decreases indicate to settle in. Whatever you choose to become is what you begin to call others to. Becoming is an enemy of the status quo.

The fear of rejection haunts us as we try to live in ways that gain the acceptance of the status quo. We have to learn to accept God’s choice of us in eternity. His choice is not based on how much He likes who we are or how good we are. His choice is based solely on His worldview. Purpose drives design. We have been chosen according to what God already knew. God chose you in eternity and designed you for this moment. The enemy of your identity will have you to believe that you are rejected and of no value, when in essence you are the very opposite. It is the work of the Holy Spirit, and the completed work of Jesus Christ that re-aligns you with God’s eternal choice. We were created by God as solutions to problems; answers to prayers. He made us to engage and get involved in something that is both personal and communal. Your soul is being pulled forward to a God who has chosen you.

We are capable of far more than we think. This is not some irrational “you can become whatever you dream” kind of thinking. But dreams fuel our desire to “become,” and the pursuit of dreams requires faith. If it takes faith to please God, then it must be of God’s primary ideal to transfigure faith in us to an actual reality upon which he can build his kingdom, and not just some philosophical nuance without a concrete foundation. As we live our dreams we become proof of God. Remember that the nature of faith is to make its object real.  And faith is never developed in isolation. It is developed in community. In order to fully “become” we must fully engage in the lives of those God places around us, because He has determined that this is the best environment for our development. God uses faith to propel us forward.

The aim of humanity (whether we know it and acknowledge it or not) is to do God’s will, not to be useful. And so, by faith we choose His will over our own desire to be accepted, loved, praised, supported, and valued. We think our works bring that value, but that value is already present if we would just seek to know the One in whom that value exists. The soul longs for what only God can accomplish through us, what He chooses to do with us, and what He loves to do for us. As life is happening we must remain poised by truth that settles and establishes, instead of poisoned by lies that stir our emotions and cloud our thinking. Our souls know that God is faithful. Our souls know that God has chosen us. Our souls know that we are designed for more than the life we have been living. We were made to become. And so we search. We search for the evidence of His faithfulness. We look for expressions of His love and we are dying to know that He has chosen us, because we know that there is more.

*Taken from Searching for Something More, by Dante Poole

Crisis of Curiosity

Crisis, not unlike the one in which the church finds itself today, is either a definitive ending or an opportunistic beginning. We can hold our eyes tightly shut, ignoring and denying that a crisis is at hand, and disappear ignorantly into history. Or we can open our eyes widely, searching curiously (but not frantically) for the opportunity that God has placed before us, and shift powerfully into a newly designed future. Responding to crisis is not simply about whether someone is a pessimist or an optimist, it is more about whether someone is unimaginably certain or passionately curious. This is about the difference in a response based in the status-quo or one driven by innovation.

Albert Einstein once commented, “I have no special talent. I am only passionately curious.” It is curiosity which drives innovation, and innovation is born in opportunity. Crisis is an opportunity of innovation by the curious. Innovation occurs in places that were once innovated, but are now stagnate. Curiosity kills the status-quo of stagnation.

Innovation does not reinvent the wheel, but redefines it. Innovation finds its imagination in curiosity. Where certainty says, “This is all the wheel is and does,” curiosity asks, “But what else can it do? What else can I do with it? What else could it be? What else could be like it? How could it do it differently?” Curiosity thrives in opportunities. Opportunities are birthed in crisis.

Curiosity dreams of people coming into community because they are part of a cause. Community looking for a cause has a certain end-result of status-quo (which causes crisis). God has always been at work in the needs of the people. The cause is to be the work of God in those needs – His Vision of the Church; a community derived from the needs of the people. Curiously we ask, “What does this look like? How can we be God’s meeting of the needs – the expression of Christ on earth?” Either opportunity or desperation will spring out of need. One is an expression of Christ; the other, an ignorance of Him.

If “necessity is the mother of invention,” then crisis necessitates innovation. The Vision of God is certain. Leadership in the Vision, however, is out of curiosity. Curiosity in leadership equips innovation in others. Crisis has forced leaders to seek God and God’s Vision. God and God’s Vision empowers leaders to be curious about how God is innovating opportunities in the crisis.

God is already at work in mission to his lost world. Will leadership maintain its management of status-quo in a desperate, definitive ending? Or will it take the opportunity of crisis to be curious and wonder the possibilities; giving permission for people to dream of innovations, imagine new definitions, and passionately walk with their God in His Vision for the Church?

Four Categories of Thought

Because of the paradigm shift, individuals can find themselves in one of four fundamental categories concerning new paradigm thought [this is inclusive of individuals everywhere, whether in the church or without]:

1) I Don’t Know that I Know – I only need to learn how to think about what I know
2) I Know that I Know – I only need a means to live out of what I know
3) I Know that I Don’t Know – I need to learn from an outside source what I don’t know
4) I Don’t Know that I Don’t Know – I do not see a need to learn to think differently

1) If we don’t know that we know how to think in the new paradigm, then we only need someone (or something) to affirm that which is seated deeply in our memory. We simply need someone to remind us of what we know but don’t realize that we know. Perhaps we find ourselves thinking differently than the accepted norm, but we just thought there was something wrong with us.

2) If we know that we know how to think in the new paradigm, then we are probably living it out in opposition (or at least, in competition) and in spite of the dominate “system.” The thinking of the new paradigm and its shifting comes natural to us; it is the only way we know how to think and live. Normally we find ourselves as the outcasts if we are operating in the system, or many of us have simply abandoned the system in search of an alternative avenue to exercise our thoughts. We find ourselves thinking differently than the norm, but we know that there is nothing wrong with our thinking.

3) If we know that we don’t know how to think in the new paradigm, then we must first attempt to learn that which we don’t know. Usually, if we don’t already know (either knowing we know or not knowing that we know), however, we will never know. Therefore, realizing that we don’t know how to think in the new paradigm and its shifting we must equip others who do know to live and move in their knowing. Because we don’t know doesn’t make us useless, but extremely useful. We supply cover and support – we are a connecting bridge from the old – for the new thinking. We are a necessity in the wholeness of humanity.

4) However, if we don’t know that we don’t know how to think in the new paradigm, then we are (as a rule) in an impossible predicament. We fight to maintain the old system with its old ways of thinking and doing things; not realizing that we are actually fighting against God and His constant movement in the cosmos. Not realizing that we don’t know that God is doing a new thing, we see anyone who thinks differently as a threat, an outsider, and/or a trouble-maker. And since we don’t know God is doing a new thing we don’t know that we are maintaining an organization, and not moving as a part of a living organism. It is a certain fact that we will never know that we don’t know, simply because we don’t recognize that which we don’t realize.

Now, what do we do with these facts? How do we begin to understand the facts of these differences between us? If God is reconciling the cosmos to God’s-self through God’s Son, how do we live with one another, reconciled in these differences?

Declared Terminal

The church is hemorrhaging humanity from open wounds. Some studies show that over half of the folks under 30 who were raised in the church have left it. Not to mention the same age-group which has been completely unaffected by the church at any point in time in their lives (in a positive sense, anyway). At best, many in the church are attempting to stop the bleeding. While credit should be given for recognizing a problem, points are deducted for applying a Band-Aid to a sucking chest wound. At its worst, others have “circled the wagons,” fortunate enough to have entered before the doors shut, they simply peer out of stained-glass windows at an alien world around them.

Contrary to the faith movement founded by Jesus Christ and carried into humanity, the religion termed “Christianity” (as a rule) is utterly disconnected from the world in which people actually live. Love, by design, has an inherent risk. Yet the church has a tradition of fear, while irrationally claiming to love (which drives out all fear, by definition). Likewise, when Jesus came he brought abundant life with Him. Why, then, is the experience of many within the church empty, hollow, shallow, and ineffectual to their daily lives? In another bit of irony the church has taken upon itself the role of Doctor, all-the-while suffering from internal bleeding itself. The church has no answers to certain questions, so it decided to answer questions that are not even being asked. Again, it claims moral/ethical supremacy while its own adherence to the claim is selective and situational. And another thing, the leadership within the church is hereby called into question. If you can’t or don’t lead me, I will not follow. Incidentally, leading is not synonymous with being a busy-body. Leading does not imply that you are anyone’s conscience but your own. Nor does leading imply that you are the final authoritative word on any given subject. By leading you are an example to imitate as you seek out Christ in your life and living, daily. A leader casts the Vision as it flows out of the mind of Christ. People follow the leader only as far as said leader is casting said vision.

Restructuring, reorganizing, and revitalizing are simple attempts to rebuild, in the hopes of reproducing that which is shattered and broken beyond repair. In this paradigmatic shift in which we find ourselves today, the old is being crushed to dust by the new. While this crushing can be painful, it is not pointless and unproductive. As He did when He broke-in to time and space nearly 2,000 years ago, God is moving the massive plates of change on which we have been standing. As economies, countries, and polities (and the religion called “Christianity”) sway and collapse under their own weight, the faith movement termed “the church” – the Body of Christ – by design, shifts and rolls with the every quake and aftershock. And as He did after the cold, cruel death of His flesh, God resurrected the body making something new and extraordinary. It’s terminal… Let the carcass of the old lie… And watch the Body of the new live.