Space and Place: In the Aftermath of Notre Dame

notre dame cathedral

This past week the world learned of the fires that burst aflame in the Notre Dame Cathedral of Paris. There have been a lot of responses across the spectrum, both amongst religious and non-religious folk.

I myself have been interested in the response of religious folk, Christians especially. In particular, I came across a social media post in which, on the day of the fire, someone responded with a paraphrase of Acts 17:24: God does not dwell in temples made with hands.

From this post, and my subsequent interaction with the person, what he was basically saying was this: “God doesn’t care about buildings. There are more important things, spiritual things, things of the Spirit.”

Something of that effect, as far as I can make out. Continue reading

Things That Get In The Way of Building Correctly

Recently I have been sharing some thoughts on building correctly, that is, building according to the pattern of God. This has been something that God has been burdening my heart with over the past few weeks. Something is stirring greatly within me, a bit of a prophetic stir, if you will.

To catch up, you can read article 1 and article 2.

I am so desirous to see the church, the body of Christ, build according to the pattern of God. We are called to see what He is doing, what He is building, and then build accordingly.

But, if we are honest enough with ourselves, whether we are leaders or not, we build things that have nothing to do with the kingdom rule of God. And some of these things are way off! It hurts to realise such. But I’d rather realise such now and be changed then continue building against the blueprint of what Jesus really meant when He meant church.

Thus, we need a glimpse of the city that Abraham saw, the one patterned after the great architect and designer (Hebrews 11:10). We need to submit to the One who said He would build His church (Matthew 16:18). But, again, we are not usually there. We don’t even take time to look and to listen. Thus, we are found wanting, found lacking.

And, as I mentioned in the last article, before we can start building according to God’s pattern, we sometimes have to first see things plucked up, torn down, even destroyed. Jeremiah understood that from the beginning of his prophetic call (see Jeremiah 1:9-10).

There really is no use trying to build on top of a wrong foundation. It will only mean having to redo it all at some point later in the future.

How do we start getting off base in our building?

We start getting obsessed with things that don’t matter as much. Or, as we C.S. Lewis put it somewhere, we start putting second things first. But when we do that, we know the consequences – we lose both first and second things.

But what do I mean that we make second things first?

We start making good things as best things. We give all our time and attention to things that are not wrong in and of themselves, but are still not of first importance. And seeing good things as if they are best things might even be worse than building in a completely wrong way.

Ok, some might think I’m still speaking in code. So let me spell it out.

Abortion. I don’t know too many Christians who would not be against it (though there are some). I do not believe abortion is at the heart of God. I believe life starts at conception. So abortion is not good.

But I do believe there are also those who get caught up in making abortion more important than the gospel of the kingdom.

Again, please hear me, please know my intention. I believe that abortion is not good. I believe those committed to the King and His kingdom understand that life is important, even the life of the unborn. But this still falls short of Christ and the gospel of the kingdom. This still becomes second to that which is called first.

I like Mark’s recording of Jesus’s words here:

For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it. (Mark 8:35)

Our lives are not to be given for abortion, they are to be given for Christ and the gospel, even if we never give our life in death. This is of first importance. We proclaim the gospel of the kingdom, not the gospel of pro-life.

Let’s move on.

Worship. God is absolutely worthy of all our worship, which contains every aspect of our lives from the corporate gathering to the brushing of our teeth. Our lives are to proclaim His excellencies at all times (1 Peter 2:9). But we have turned worship into ‘the worship experience’, which then usually becomes relegated to the 30-minute or so slot on Sunday mornings, and possibly Wednesday evenings as well.

Such has nothing to do with the kingdom of God. Such has nothing to do with building after the pattern of God.

I’m going to go ahead and say it: At times, I have experienced ‘church’ more over a meal with some close friends than at some Sunday morning gatherings. I think we can all be honest and agree to that. And that’s ok.

Maybe we were building more after the pattern of God with four people at the table rather than with 100 people acting as an audience. Oh that we would be saved from having our eyes glued to musicians or PowerPoints.

Church Growth. There is nothing wrong with seeing people added to our churches. Hey, shouldn’t we see people drawn in. But, in many cases, there is an obsession with such. Capitalistic marketing has spread like gangrene into our churches.

And this leaves us forgetting that church growth first starts with the maturity of the saints. I’m thinking mature saints will lead to greater outreach than having events and seeker-sensitive services. Sure, these ploys might bring in greater numbers. But if we want fruit that lasts, mature fruit, we need to build according to God’s desire.

I absolutely love these words of Paul:

28Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ. 29 For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me. (Colossians 1:28-29)

His desire was to present everyone mature. And he said he toiled for this. What authentic and correct building!

Paul presents elsewhere that maturity and unity are the goal, almost as if Christ will not return to marry us until we have moved soundly towards this. If you don’t believe me, check out Ephesians 4:11-16.

So I don’t mind considering modern ways in which to draw people in to our gatherings. Paul seems to think that opportunities should be arising in our gatherings in which people recognise God’s presence in our midst (see 1 Corinthians 14:24). And this was before electric instruments and video presentations and PowerPoint. Imagine that!

You see, we simply get off course. We simply build according to the pattern of our culture and our day. This means we have not seen what Abraham saw so long ago. He knew that he was living in a foreign land (Hebrews 11:9). We think we are in the promised land with our second things, or even our third, fourth and fifth things.

I simply listed three things above. The list could go on for quite a while.

As the writer to the Hebrews reminds us, I’m thankful we have received a kingdom that cannot be shaken (Hebrews 12:28). But a shaking will come one day (Hebrews 12:26-27), even comes in our lives on a regular basis, and we find these things are shaken from our lives. They couldn’t stand with the unshakable. Yet, if we still hold onto them today, they’ll be shaken in that final day.

I’d rather let go now.

I am so passionate to build after the heart of God. I want to participate in what Jesus is building. I don’t want to try and hold up what He abandoned long ago.

I know we have our tendencies to get off course. We are weak and frail. So I simply find myself calling on, crying out to the One whose grace is sufficient. I want to see what He is building and put my hands to that. Help us, Father.

Tearing Down To Help Build Correctly

This past week, I posted a particular article challenging us to build correctly, according to the blueprint of God.

I specifically looked at Abraham, and even more, the insight given to us by the writer to the Hebrews in the New Testament (Hebrews 11:8-10). I noted that, by faith, Abraham saw something quite significant of what God wanted to build. But, even upon entering the land of promise, he still felt as if he were in a foreign land. Ultimately, he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God.

Abraham must have seen something, something of what God wanted to build, but he never really saw it fully come into fruition. And that’s what the author of Hebrews tells us in 11:13.

We also find Jesus giving us the hope that He would build His church (Matthew 16:18). And, of course, He has been faithfully doing such as the enthroned Lord and Messiah.

But, if we are truly honest, we can find ourselves building quite contrary to the pattern of God. Or, we could deny such and claim that what we are building in accordance with God’s design. But this will leave us in a rather bad state – deceived.

It’s all around us, for we can either add in lots of things that have nothing to do with the kingdom rule of God or we forget to include certain aspects that should be instrumental.

So, we need to be at that place of seeing what God desires to build. We cannot build based solely upon our particular cultural expression of the faith (though I am all for considering what is relevant to our culture). Nor are we called to build after the pattern of our particular denomination or church circle (although there might be some good things mixed in).

It doesn’t work that way, or it shouldn’t work that way.

We have to see like Abraham saw, participate in what Jesus really wants to build. But that’s hard, for we all have quite a few presuppositions of what we should include and exclude as we participate in the work of God. There might be significant things that are in the way and there might be a plethora of smaller things blocking our vision. But they all stand in the way of truly building after the heart of God.

So we need to take time to press into Him, see and hear what He is doing. If we do so, we will find ourselves doing what the divine Son practised Himself:

So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing. For whatever the Father does, that the Son does likewise.” (John 5:19)

I was reading Jeremiah this week (still am, since it is quite long) and the first chapter is quite well-known. But I like these specific words God speaks to Jeremiah:

Behold, I have put my words in your mouth. See, I have set you this day over nations and over kingdoms, to pluck up and to break down, to destroy and to overthrow, to build and to plant. (Jeremiah 1:9-10)

What God really made clear to me from this passage is that before we can build properly (or build and plant as Jeremiah was called), at times we need to first see things plucked up and broken down, even destroyed and overthrown.

I believe Jeremiah was aware of this important aspect. He had a calling to build and plant. But, through the words of God, he knew he was going to have to get involved in plucking up and breaking down and destroying and overthrowing before he could take that all-important step to building and planting after the pattern of God.

Yeah, his people were in a mess. But, when I view the calling of the church in all of its glory, I think we are slightly off. We are not so close to the goal of maturity and unity and glory that God so designed for His bride. And that’s why I think Ephesians 4:13 is somewhat eschatalogical. It tells us where we are headed, that huge goal:

…until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.

The word until says we are on our way, but we aren’t there just yet.

And sometimes it feels we are very far away.

So, let’s be real with one another – I’ve got things that need to be plucked up and broken down, even destroyed. You’ve got things that need to be plucked up and broken down, even destroyed. I can’t see a proper foundation being laid if we have things already there that need to be removed. There needs to be a healthy DNA structure from the beginning.

I have not really pointed to any particular things that I believe need to be removed before we start building properly, but I think we can think of a few. I’m not talking morality here, though right living is excellent. I’m talking about the things that become so hardened in our minds and hearts as musts as we build. Or I’m thinking of things that we keep off to the side that really need to be a part of this new creation life.

We are ok for Jesus to be in our lives….but only as long as we can stay comfortable.

Our gatherings are not what they should be. Our compassion is not what it should be. Our vision is not what it should be. Our interaction with the third person of the Trinity who resides in us is not what it should be. Our ‘fellowship’ becomes superficial rather than authentic. Our services become super-charged with electric excitement, but they miss the presence of the Spirit Himself. And, oh, we could go on and on.

God forbid He should ever speak this over our lives:

For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. (Romans 1:21)

I so passionately desire to build according to the pattern of God, but before we take the steps forward for such, we need to see certain things removed. I mean completely removed and destroyed. For each person and local community, it’s different. But we just need to start realising it’s time for some things to go.

Jesus, help us see what you are building so that whatever is not according to your blueprint, we can see those things, those strongholds, torn down and plucked up. Then, and only then, can we walk out that word to Jeremiah – moving to a place of being able to plant and building correctly.

What Are We Building?

This past Sunday, I preached a message entitled, What Are We Building?

To be completely honest, I think we get caught up with building things that are not according to the pattern of God. He has a pattern, a blueprint, if you will. But we throw in all these things that either have nothing to do with the way God builds, or the thing that we have brought in is good and acceptable, but we then define it as a must. Both are not helpful.

Many, many years ago, Abraham headed to a land that he had been promised by God. He arrived in that land of promise, but it was still as if he were in a ‘foreign land’ (check out Hebrews 11:9). Something was not fully right.

Why? Because he was ultimately looking for a city whose designer and builder is God (Hebrews 11:10). Though he was looking, probably looking real hard, he never fully found that place, that city. He had seen the heavenly blueprint, but he never was able to see it become an earthly reality (Hebrews 11:13). Oh, he might have seen glimpses of what God had shown him. But he still looked around and things felt foreign.

Jesus also made an interesting statement, one we probably know quite well: ‘I will build my church’ (Matthew 16:18). And there is no doubt that He is the faithful One to build according to pattern of the Father. He has been building according to the heavenly pattern, that being the pattern of God Himself, ever since He arrived on the scene. And I’m simply amazed that He asks us to join in, to participate in what He is building.

But again, if we are honest, we can get so caught up in trying to build something that is not according to the pattern, the blueprint, of God. It’s been happening since the Fall. God has been looking to build this one city after His own pattern. But we miss it so many times. We say the church must have this, must do this, must look like this, must be built like this. Yet, such ideas remain far from the design of God.

Thus, for many, church turns into a building, all the programmes during the week, a certain time slot on Sunday, an institution with a hierarchy, another appointment on the weekly schedule, or a social club. And if we look to build as if this city, this thing known as church, were any of these things, well, we are looking at something mirroring the Tower of Babel.

But we build in such ways because we haven’t seen what Abraham saw, what God really showed him. We build with such a wrong focus because we don’t really know how Jesus wants to build. So, we then pick up so and so’s pattern from the church down the street or that mega-church that comes on television every Sunday morning, and we build according to that pattern. Or maybe we read someone’s book about church planting and we rush out the door with a capitalistic mindset to market our idea (or the author’s idea).

I can only imagine such grieves the Spirit of God.

The most interesting thing about it is that we have a high calling, I mean a HUGE calling: to display the manifold wisdom of God to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places (check out Ephesians 3:10). Read the passage! This is no patty-cake, patty-cake, baker’s man church. This is mind-boggling. An absolutely astounding call!

But most of us still wonder if we will actually get out of bed on Sunday morning to gather with the saints. It’s not as if missing our church’s gathering is some kind of sin. Goodness no! But why would we ever want to really join in on Sunday morning, or a Thursday evening for that matter, if we don’t recognise such a calling? Why wouldn’t we want to live life like we read in Acts 2:42-47 if we don’t understand such a calling?

I suppose we haven’t seen what Abraham saw. I suppose we don’t know what Jesus is building. Church continues to remain an appointment that can be cancelled, a social club that we can decide to skip this week, or reduced to one and a half hours on a Sunday morning. So, of course, we could never imagine anything like what we read in the latter verses of Acts 2.

So many times we just aren’t there. We don’t see the blueprint of God and what He meant when He meant church. We don’t understand why Jesus was really willing to get up on that cross and receive the wrath of the Father on our behalf.

Abraham and Jesus saw something, but I’m not sure we have ourselves.

We fall short of building as God builds, thus leaving us short of this magnificent calling that we read about in Ephesians.

Yet, if we could just get a glimpse and see what God really wants to build and, then, build according to that blueprint of God, the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places will look on in awe at the wisdom of God displayed in the church. They will take a step back and say, ‘Wow, God. You are truly wise.’

Sounds lofty, doesn’t it? But you know it starts in the small things – serving, reconciliation with others we’ve been estranged from, brokenness over sin, seeking God in prayer. I quote these words of Hudson Taylor a lot, but let’s hear them a gain: Little things are little things, but faithfulness in little things are big things.

It doesn’t start with the next vision for revival in Manhattan or Chicago or Los Angeles. I will greatly welcome those if they come. But it starts by simply seeing what God is building, what His blueprint is, not someone else’s. And we get this blueprint by starting in Scripture, not in the books and videos being released with the latest Christian trends. I want church as Jesus meant it, not the iPad version.

So, what are we building? Or, better yet, how are we building?

I hunger to have the vision Abraham had. I’m hungry to see the blueprint of what Jesus meant when He meant church, what Jesus gave His life for. And then I want to live it out with grace and passion and full life and compassion.

Help us, Jesus.

You can also listen to my message from this past Sunday by downloading it from Cornerstone’s podcast or from iTunes. You can also click on the icon in this blog article below.

Read the next article, which builds on these thoughts here.