At-Homeness

I am going through the A Portrait of God videos  from the 2004 Ligonier National Conference.  The videos are rich in content and the theologians represented paint such an accurate and honoring picture of God that I can wholeheartedly recommend them to to you.   They are free to view.

In the Q & A Session (#3), Dr. Ligon Duncan does a wonderful job job putting into words something that has been on my mind for the last decade –or two — or three.  Before I share his words with you, I need to explain what was living deep inside of me during those years.

For many years, my heart and mind felt as if it lived in an evangelical wasteland.  There was no rest for me in the churches with which we tried to unite.  To be sure, there were many wonderful people in those churches – friendships that still remain today.  Still, something continued to eat through me as I became an ardent student of God’s Word.  The more I understood God’s Word, the more troubled my soul became.

As I look back, when I walked into the doors of those churches, I never really felt as if I had stepped into the presence of God.  I never really felt as if God was being honored in worship.  I never really felt as if learning about God was the primary concern for most of those in attendance.  And it’s not because I failed to step through a variety of denominations and non-denominations.  I was open-minded in my search to find the people of God, united as the people of God.

So often during the worship services at those churches, my mind would remain still and numb.  I would open up the large study bible on my lap hoping to learn something that I could write within the margins of that book — words of truth that I would want to remember.  Sadly, the margins remained quite empty during those years.

I went through various stages of mental justification for these churches.  Surely it was alright if the church had a genuine desire to be more like the world in order to attract the non-believer.  Surely it was alright if the means that were used gave a glimmer of hope of bringing them to Christ.

I went through various stages of personal justification, as well.  I reasoned — what a perfect place to be a missionary!  Since I was capable of being a “self-feeder,” it shouldn’t matter what the service was structured like or what the content of the sermons contained.  After all, it wasn’t about me, was it?

In the end, I discovered that these churches were indeed very lonely places to be.   Not socially, but spiritually.   The more missional I tried to be, the more I recognized the the spiritual emptiness and void that existed within their walls — and the more my heart went numb inside.  It really doesn’t work to “do Christianity” in a spiritual vacuum.  In fact, it isn’t safe to do it alone — to be a “self-feeder” of God’s Word.

So many of the sermons at these churches were emotional and experiential in nature.  Step 1, 2, 3 – “How to be a Better Parent” or titles that would suck their life from the contemporary culture — titles like “Desperate Households.”   (It’s really true – not only did they use this title, but they built an entire house on stage just so the pastor could enter through the front door to the theme of Desperate Housewives before delivering his message.)  Some of them tried to weakly teach but I would often catch errors within their words, especially at the non-denominational churches.  One an error is caught, it’s hard to trust that God’s Word is being applied accurately.

I don’t want to seem too harsh here.  Mistakes happen.  Even the pastor is human.  The difference is the willingness to admit the error.  The problem is that many of these pastors have had no seminary training (and yes, there are good and bad seminaries.)  Thus,  the willingness to wrestle through the scriptures by studying them deeply with accountability of leadership in place — in an institution committed to God’s Word — one that teaches how to accurately understand not only scripture, but the history of the church — is now an essential in my opinion.

I know that within the intent of these casual sermons was the hopeful desire that non-Christians would feel a sense of oneness with the body of Christ located within those walls.  I know that their motives were sincere and genuine.  I know their intentions were good ones.  Still,I would murmur to myself, “This is nothing more than I could read in a self-help book written by human hands….”

In addition, all too often I saw nothing different within the walls of those churches than what I saw in the outside world around me.  Conversations among friends were rarely spiritual in nature – they were almost always social in nature.  I’m not saying this is a bad thing, but it’s not a good thing if that is the only kind of conversation going on inside of the church.  Indeed, fellowship is important in the body of Christ, but it should not be the only reason people come together as The Body.

Sunday School classes were phased out.  There was no interest from the congregation in classes of content.  Occasionally a Sunday School class would sprout up about the latest, greatest new book like The Purpose Driven Life or the latest new fad within Christianity. Then a fledgling few might engage for a few weeks in a small group.  There was no accountability of leadership for any of these groups.

I can say now that I understand why my heart was restless.  Dr. Ligon Duncan said it so well in the Q & A #3 session of this video series.  He said:

One does not find one’s at-homeness with the people of this world, the people who are not in union with Christ.  Your thinking is derived from God’s Word.  Your place of at-homeness is with God’s people.  We are the outposts of heaven in this world.  When we find ourselves more at home with the world than we find with God’s people, then something is wrong. (Dr. Ligon Duncan)

So who are God’s people?  To me they would have to be the people who hunger and thirst after God — who understand that they are at church for more than fellowship.  They are the people who have been chosen before the foundation of the world to be His.  They are the people whom He loves.  They are the people He sacrificed His Son for — so that they might live in eternity together, forever.  When I think of the sacrifice that He made on my behalf, I am humbled.  I am more than humbled.  I am in awe.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved.  In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ 10 as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.

In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will, so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory.  In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit,  who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory.  Ephesians 1:4-14

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