Thursday, November 06, 2008

Encountering God At The High Places

Frank Viola has a series of books that I have mentioned here before. The first Pagan Christianity is an amazing deconstruction of the modern church congregation. The followup is entitled Reimagining Church which inspires the reader to find the kind of church community reflected in the New Testament. Both books put skin on tensions that I have felt for many years now. Both books are having a transformational affect on our family. Even as I read and am inspired to be a part of this kind of organic all consuming community of believers, there is another balancing pressure in me holding me back to my roots in the traditional model of doing church.

Here me correctly, I do believe the primary model of doing church in American Christianity is broken. I do believe that in many ways Christianity has "thrown out the baby and kept the bathwater1" Even still, I have a love for her that is more than just a clinging to the familiar. Augustine is often credited with saying that, "The church is a whore, but she is still my mother." This is the level of deep emotion I have for the very entity that is the church, despite her harlotry that is so conformed to this world.

So in essence I agree that the church does not remotely live out the community God desires to create in her, and so I am left to wonder if God even desires to work through the traditional church congregation anymore. Those people who know the situation I am involved in within my own family, know how seriously and personally I am taking these considerations. This is not a theoretical exercise, but a prayer filled journey of direction seeking from God.

Last night, as I was reading in 1 Kings God revealed true north on this trek. All the good Bible school kids can tell you that God met with Solomon in a dream to grant him any desire of his heart, and Solomon chose wisdom. What I don't think we discuss in the classroom is where Solomon was, and what he was doing when this encounter with God took place.
1 Kings 3:3 Now Solomon loved the LORD, walking in the statutes of his father David, except he sacrificed and burned incense on the high places. The king went to Gibeon to sacrifice there, for that was the great high place; Solomon offered a thousand burnt offerings on that altar. In Gibeon the LORD appeared to Solomon in a dream at night; and God said, "Ask what you wish me to give you."(NASB)
When the Hebrew people entered the land of promise, God had instructed them to among other things destroy the High Places. It was never God's desire for his people to worship in the places and ways that the Pagan nations around them worship. God wanted his people to be a peculiar people, and worship him only in the way he prescribed. Yet the people did not follow God's will in this matter. The people did not destroy the High Places, and those centers of pagan worship were synchronized into their worship and became a snare to the demise of the people's relationship with their God.

So here we find Solomon, outside the will of God, worshiping not in the tabernacle, but instead on the High Places of Gibeon, a particular favorite of the people of his time. Although the place and method of his worship is harlotry with nations God had driven out before them, his heart and offering is genuine to worship the Lord. So this night, in this place, God shows up to encounter Solomon.

God wants to encounter us so badly that he will do that in spite of our failure to recognize his best will for us. Even when we build institutions that more closely resemble the High Places of the Greek and Roman world, God will still arrive with his good gifts to those who are seeking him in genuine worship. These institutions are the same snare to our relationship with God as the High Places became to people of Solomon's time, and yet God still encounters his people in them.

I must confess I have been limiting God. I have limited his desire to shower good gifts on his precious people. I have limited his ability to pass through the doors of an institution that claims his name, yet rarely reflects his character. I have doubted the hearts of many true worshipers, who are seeking God in the only places and way they have ever been shown. I believe there CAN BE rebirth in our church congregations to the abundant life of church community. I believe God desires to encounter his true worshipers. I believe God is uniting them in the places they are to the form of people they need to be.

I desire the community of the Acts church with everything in me. I do not believe we can see systemic economic racism eliminated in this country until we learn to live in God's community. I do not believe we can meaningfully impact slavery and oppression until we live out the kind of love that will get us killed by the kingdom of this world. For our family, I do not believe we can succeed in the Nsoko orphan village without an Acts model of community. I believe God wants his people to live this way, to be marked by this radical love. I believe God wants his people back in absolute community.

God did not hand me a road map to this journey, he pointed me back to true north. I still don't know what the future looks like, but I am overwhelmed and humbled to be seeking a God who seeks to encounter us.

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