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I began this series describing a monumental shift taking place in the Church of the Lord Jesus Christ worldwide as multitudes of sincere, faith-filled Christians are leaving the institutional church in search of a simpler, more relational, and interactive experience of church life. My wife and I are in that number, and have been so for the past twenty years. We were also both involved with an organic home fellowship for five years at the beginning of our walk, so church-life “outside the camp” is not new to us.
As we have observed and experienced, there are three main groups of people who are purposefully and decidedly outside of the institutional church: “rebels”, “refugees” and a “returning remnant”. In this post, I would like to personally address each of these groups with a final word of encouragement and exhortation. I will focus primarily on the last two groups, with just a brief word to the first.
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If you are (admittedly or unadmittedly) in this group, I pray that you will somehow have an ear to hear the things that are in my heart.
The first is the unfathomable love of God for you. This love is displayed for you to behold on the rugged cross where Jesus Christ, God in the flesh, suffered and died for you! This is His supreme statement of what His heart is towards you. He cried “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do!” He was looking into your eyes when He said those words! He loves and wants you!
Secondly, the cross is also His supreme statement of His hatred and judgment of those things that separate us from His love and purpose. It is because of pride and rebellion that He hung there mutilated, accursed, and abandoned by heaven and earth. There are no other sins more grievous in His sight than these, for they are the primal sins of all others. His only assessment is crucifixion.
If you desire to walk with the Him, you must hate what He hates, and love what He loves. He hates pride and rebellion, and He loves humility and obedience. The choice is yours, and the stakes couldn’t be higher.
God’s Kingdom is being established by broken, humble, servants who have denied themselves, taken up the cross, and are following the Lamb wherever He goes. The call is now for you to come and join them. Will you humble yourself before the Lamb? Will you lay down your selfishness, your ego, your agenda, your sovereignty, your control? Will you humble yourself before the brethren and serve them in love? This is the call, and the grace of God is there to make you a broken, fruitful servant in His Kingdom.
My final word of exhortation and encouragement to you is found in the words of Peter as he was addressing the elders “among” (not “over”) the saints:
“All of you clothe yourselves with humility toward one another because, ‘God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.’ Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that He may exalt you in due time.” (1 Peter 5:5-6)
I pray that you will have ears to hear!
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If you find yourself relating most closely with this group, I have a few things to share with you to help you navigate your way forward and to find God’s highest purpose in your life.
First of all, you are where you are at, most likely, because of past experiences in the institutional church that have left you dissatisfied, let down, burned out, wounded, and/or spiritually or emotionally injured. The disappointments, failures, imbalances, and hurts you have experienced have affected you deeply and are shaping your present understandings, convictions, and spiritual pursuits.
The Lord, however, wants to bring you to a place of healing and restoration, so that your past experiences are no longer your primary motivation for where you are and where you are going. He wants to make you one who is spiritually proactive, rather than soulishly reactive. He desires for your present vision and motivations to be governed by a pure, positive revelation of Himself and His highest purpose in Christ, so that you are running towards something in a full and focused way, rather than running away from something in a jaded and reactionary way. I have written a post that I want to encourage you to read along this line, “Our Deepest Convictions“. It goes into greater depth and should help you to understand these two differing ways more clearly. If you don’t make this transition from being reactive to proactive, however, you will become like a pendulum in your faith and practice, rather than a plumb line. This will only lead you into further imbalance, error, and future failure and woundedness. To do so, though, you will first need to resolve your past issues concerning what you have come out of.
So, let me ask you…
Are there people you need to forgive from your past situations?
Are there people you need to apologize to and be reconciled with?
Did you leave where you formerly were in a godly, humble and appropriate manner? Do you need to return and make things right?
There will be no clear way forward unless these past issues and offenses are first resolved. I urge you to make this your first priority.
Secondly, as you work through these past matters, you will need to also have a refocusing and readjusting of your spiritual perceptions and convictions, so that going forward you are governed by a positive, (non-reactive) heavenly vision of Christ and His Church.
I’d like to share with you one step in my own processing in this regard that was especially helpful to me about twenty years ago. It was an exercise that took place internally within my spirit and soul. In my mind, I pictured a large whiteboard, and written on it was everything that I had ever known, learned, and experienced of “CHURCH”… the good, the bad and the ugly…everything! Frankly, it was a jumbled, tangled mess, and it would have been impossible to erase everything that was not of the Lord from it without also smudging or in some way erasing those things that were of Him. So, in my spirit I erased it all, and then asked the Lord to write very clearly on it, line upon line, only those things that were the clear, unadulterated truths from His Word concerning His Church. I began with God’s eternal purpose in Christ for the Church and worked my way down to the practical matters of its earthly life and local expression. This brought great clarity to my spirit and mind, and it became the foundation on which my firmest convictions, deepest understandings, and most passionate pursuits were based and formed. I could then proceed in a positive, non-reactive way with a clear vision of what God ultimately desires.
I would encourage something of the same for you. We have been surrounded by such spiritual imbalances, religious trappings and traditions, “Christian” clutter, pragmatic approaches, worldly concepts, unending fads, formulas, and forms, and the like, that it is hard to find our way out of the jungle of it all. It is an enmeshment and a (Babylonish) confusion that keeps us trapped and deluded. Only when we rise above all of it and see things from God’s heavenly perspective, will we have the clarity and wisdom to know how to proceed. This is essential for those who desire to go on in God’s highest purpose.
Thirdly, your whole pursuit of your personal faith and your corporate practice needs to transition from being “me”-centered, to being God-centered. God does not exist for us, but we for Him. Likewise, the Church does not exist for us, but we, collectively, for Him. This requires a denying of self and a taking up of the cross, as described in Part 3. If you are committed to going on in His purpose, you will need to be prepared for all of those aspects of the cross, for they will surely come. You must be prepared, especially, for “the wilderness”, for it is an essential part of God’s process to reorient you to His centrality in your life and in the Church. As I like to say, “It is one thing for the person to come out of the system; quite another for the system to come out of the person!” The wilderness is where you will be purged and pared down to Christ and Christ alone.
Only He can build the Church, and that with Himself as the material. Only as He is formed in you and I will we be fit to be built into this Habitation. Without the structure of the institutional form, Christ, Himself, must become the Structure that founds and frames the Church…and He is sufficient. If it is merely believers seeking and doing their own thing for their own satisfaction and blessing, it will quickly fail. As my wife likes to say concerning the organic expression of the Church, it is not an “outside-the-gate support group.” It is not for us, first and foremost, but for Him, and only as we lose our (church-) life, for His sake, will we actually find it.
God wants to lead you on from being a “refugee” to become a healed and restored part of His “returning remnant”. There is no higher purpose that we can commit to, and His grace is sufficient to fulfill it in and through us! I pray that you will take these three aspects that I have mentioned to heart, and seek the Lord concerning them. May He bless you with all that you need to go forward from here into His highest purpose and calling.
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Dear “returning remnant”,
You know who you are because there is stirring inside of you that is a vision of God and of His House that compels you. You know there is so much more than what generally prevails, and you’ve had glimpses of it that have “ruined” you for anything less. You have come out of the comfortable and the known and are pressing on in a path that is uncharted and overgrown. You have found it to be lonely at times, and you bear the reproach of being misunderstood and misjudged. You are paying a price, and sometimes you wonder how you ever got HERE. You know it would be so much easier if you could just shake off these convictions and just be “normal”, but you find out that they are holding you more than you are holding them.
Maybe you are among those blessed ones who have found fellow pilgrims and pioneers on this same journey. You are traveling together, and the fellowship is sweet beyond words. Yet the battle rages around you and sometimes even among you. The opposition is often subtle, and sometimes it is intense. You are taking ground that has long been in ruins, and the enemy’s hordes are terrified.
This is the call of the returning remnant.
As a fellow pilgrim and pioneer, I want to encourage you. The things you are living through and feeling are not strange. They are part of the call and are shared by all who are leaving the comfort and familiarity of “Babylon” and returning to “the Land” to re-erect the Altar, relay the Foundation, rebuild the Temple, restore the Testimony, and reestablish the Kingdom once again. God’s hope is in you. And He is with you.
In all that you are pursuing and seeking to see restored, know that it is not some thing or things that ultimately need restoring, but it is some One. Jesus Christ, Himself, is the Land; He is the Altar; He is the Foundation; He is the Temple; He is the Testimony, and He is the Kingdom. Never be sidetracked by mere things, for all things are in Him. It is Christ, Himself, who must be restored, in all of His supremacy, centrality, fullness, form, features, and function. When you run into perplexing questions of who?, what?, when?, where?, why? and how?, know that the answer is supremely and all-sufficiently found in Christ, Himself. Do not look elsewhere. He needs no supplements or supports, and He has no substitutes. Press into Him until He becomes your only Answer. He is God’s Way, God’s Truth, and God’s Life…ALL that we need.
This is where the Heart of the Father beats. This is what has been lost. This is what the Spirit is relentlessly drawing you to in your heart. Our God will have an overcoming testimony to His Son in these last days, and He has promised, “the glory of this latter house shall be greater than of the former.” (Hag.2:9) So keep pressing on!
My final word of encouragement to you then, is found in the words of Christ to the church of Philadelphia after His resurrection and ascension:
“These are the words of Him who is holy and true, who holds the key of David. What He opens no one can shut, and what He shuts no one can open. I know your deeds. See, I have placed before you an open door that no one can shut. I know that you have little strength, yet you have kept My word and have not denied My Name…
“Hold on to what you have, so that no one will take your crown. The one who is victorious I will make a pillar in the temple of My God. Never again will they leave it. I will write on them the name of My God and the name of the city of My God, the new Jerusalem, which is coming down out of heaven from My God; and I will also write on them My new Name.” (Rev. 3:7b-8, 11b-12)
This is our destiny if we will but hold on to what we have. In the end, may He simply find us FAITHFUL!
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I trust that this series has been helpful in bringing greater clarity to the present work of God in His Church and in this last day. May all of us diligently press into His highest purpose, for He is consummating and heading up all things in His Son. He is preparing a Bride without spot or wrinkle, and the Marriage Supper of the Lamb is drawing near. May we be found fully in step with His Spirit in this day!
____________________________________________________Related posts and pages for “rebels”:
Worthy is the Lamb
The Greatest Among You
The Cross the Unlevel Playing Field of Satan’s Defeat Related posts and pages for “refugees”:
Our Deepest Convictions
Shaped by God’s Eternal Purpose
Excerpt from “Escape From Christendom” – by Robert Burnell
Christ the Center – Part 2: “A Copernican-style Revelation and Revolution” Related posts and pages for a “returning remnant”:
Centrality and Balance
Introduction to Christ-Centered Christianity
“Christ – the Center of All Things” by Nathan Odell
Christ the Center – Part 6: “The Process of the Purpose”