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My work calls for change. In some cases, drastic change. And it’s never too late to begin that change. As the ancient Chinese proverb says, “The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is today.” On that high note, I would like to challenge your church with the following points of practical application:
* Is Your Christ too Small? Have a meeting where your entire church reads Chapter 9 together and discusses what points apply. Dialogue about practical ways to gain a larger and richer revelation of your Lord. Pick one of the books listed at the end of the chapter and develop a plan for reading it together as a church. Discuss holding a weekend conference and bring someone in to speak—someone whose experience of Christ exceeds yours.
* Discern the Stages and Seasons. In the Old Testament, God set forth the qualifications for the priesthood. If a man had certain defects, he could not serve as a priest. One of them was a flat nose. See Leviticus 21:18, KJV. A priest had to have a working sense of smell in order to be useful to God.
Throughout the Scripture, in the Song of Solomon especially, the nose depicts spiritual discernment. The ability to smell (physically) represents the ability to discern (spiritually).
An organic church that is mature and growing in Christ will be able to discern the seasons I discussed in Chapter 12. It will have a spiritual nose to smell the beginning of a season as well as the end of one.
Have a meeting where the entire group reads Chapters 12 and 13 together. Discuss the destinies and stages of a church, and discern the present stage and season that you are in.
* Rethink and Retool the Songs that You Sing. I predict that some of you will need to do drastic surgery on the songs that you sing and your songbooks (if you have them). Songs which are not Christ-centered should be discarded or revamped. Songs that have been dead for the last 30 years ought to be tossed. Songs that have lyrics that you don’t really believe or that are theologically unsound should be scrapped.
In many of the non-traditional churches that I have visited, the songs they sang came straight out of the traditional church. Some were good. Some (like the classic hymns) were timeless. Others, however, were unmentionably shallow and gave no glory to Jesus Christ. They were what I call “7-11 songs.” That is, 7 lines sung 11 times.
I’ve been in some churches where most of their songs came straight out of the Jesus movement thirty years ago. These churches were still living in the 1970s, and they hadn’t moved one inch ahead of that era. Granted, some of those songs are timeless. But many of them are dead. They were anointed thirty years ago, but the anointing lifted long ago.
I’ve been to other churches where virtually every song that was sung came out of the charismatic movement of the 1980s. All of them were drawn from the Psalms and praised the “awesome and mighty God of Israel, our Refuge and our Fortress.” Very few if any spoke about the glories, the riches, and the treasures of Jesus Christ.
Our songs ought to reflect our experience. If we are experiencing Jesus Christ, and His multisplendid riches, we ought to be putting those experiences to music.
The early Christians lived and breathed the Lord Jesus Christ. And they wrote songs glorifying Him. That’s your lineage.
Have a meeting to discuss the songs you sing. Some questions to ask are: Do the majority of our songs reveal, glorify, and magnify Jesus Christ? Do all or most of our songs present Christ in only one aspect (Savior, King, Bridegroom, etc.), or do they depict Him in all of His aspects and roles? Which songs should we discard? Which should we keep? Discuss obtaining as well as writing new songs.
* Expose the Wish Dream. In Chapter 1 of his book, Life Together, Dietrich Bonhoeffer explains that every person who is part of a Christian community has a personal “wish dream.” That is, they have an image of what the church ought to look like. But God will shatter that dream eventually. And when He does, that which is really in our hearts will come to the surface.
This is a critical yet little-known fact for those who have sailed out to sea on the unchartered waters of organic church. For this reason, I recommend that every Christian in your church get a copy of Bonhoeffer’s book and read Chapter 1 together and then discuss it. Here’s a quote to wet your appetite: “Those who love their dream of community more than the community itself become destroyers of that Christian community even though their personal intentions may be ever so honest, earnest, and sacrificial.”
Significantly, the word “know” in the Hebrew language refers to an intimate oneness. “And Adam knew his wife Eve, and she conceived.” Genesis 4:1.
As I have grappled with the meaning of the Christian life, I’ve discovered that the greatest need that you and I will ever have is to know the Lord Jesus Christ. Why didn’t I say God the Father? Because the only way you or I can know the Father is by knowing the Lord Jesus. We cannot know the Father outside of Christ.
I’ve always been arrested by Paul’s words in Philippians 3:10. “Whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ. More than that, I count all things to loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.”
Marinate on that phrase a bit, would you? “The surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.”
What drove Paul? A deeper knowledge of His Lord. “That I may know Him,” were his words. Paul penned this sentence some twenty-seven years after he met the Lord Jesus on the road to Damascus. I find that incredible.
Here is a man who had a face-to-face encounter with the living Christ at his conversion . . . a man who was given an earth-shattering, jaw-dropping, mountain-moving seeing of the heavenly vision and the deepest mysteries of God. Acts 26:13-19.
Here is a man who went away into an Arabian desert for three years and was given his gospel straight from Jesus Christ by spiritual revelation. He didn’t get it from the twelve apostles. He got it directly from the Lord. En Galatians 1:11-12.
When he was visiting his hometown of Tarsus in Silicia, Paul had a supernatural encounter wherein he peered into heavenly realms. He saw and heard things that he could not utter. He saw the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. 2 Corinthians 4:6; 12:1-4.
Then, some twenty years later, Paul would pen his matchless letter called Ephesians wherein he sought to put into human language what he saw in unseen realms. In Chapter 1 of Ephesians, Paul virtually exhausts human language in an attempt to describe what he saw of the Lord Jesus Christ outside the constraints of created time.
And yet, with all of this experience behind him, he writes these unexpected words: “That I may know Him.”
Strange Fire is being debated heavily right now.
Author Frank Viola is a speaker who is in demand at churches and conferences.
Viola speaks on many topics including the deeper Christian life, Jesus studies, radical church restoration, spiritual formation and mission.
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