Most of us remember that climactic scene at the end of the movie A Few Good Men,where a fired-up Tom Cruise yells at a vein-popping Jack Nicholson, "I just want the truth!" Jack’s response? "You can’t handle the truth!"
Truth is taking a beating in our post-modern world. Gone is the question "What is truth?", replaced with the more skeptical "Is there truth?" Both are good questions from the honest skeptic, but they’re not new ones. The question regarding truth was already posed 2,000 years ago in a scene where Pilate asks a beaten and battered Jesus, "What is truth?" Pilate almost got it right, but not quite.
You see, the question isn’t so much "What is truth?" as it is "Who is Truth?" The question isn’t so much "What is the right way to live?" as it is "Who is the right Person to follow?" The answer to Pilate’s question was standing right in front of him but he couldn’t—or wouldn’t?—see it. Jesus stated that He was the Truth and that the Truth that He embodied would set people free, meaning that fully realized Truth discovery leads to Jesus. Being a Truth Speaking church means that we talk about, and walk in, the freedom that Truth brings.
Because Truth is not only a pursuit of intellect, but also a journey toward relationship. The discovery of Truth then is much more a matter of heart than we may care to admit. It’s interesting to note that even secular neuroscientists have concluded that any human knowledge that leads to life change is one part information and six parts emotion. In other words, it’s what you care about that changes your life. We can have info that doesn’t change us; we all have that. Information doesn’t take things to depth—there has to be something else that drives things deep. You see, it’s possible to believe without caring, but you can’t care without doing.
Does that mean that study and intellect and discovery are bad things? Not by any means: we all need to study and learn, because ultimately all Truth flows out of the One who created it. But Truth isn’t just discovered; it’s revealed by the Spirit of God, who brings revelation. What Jesus tells us is that it’s possible to gain all the wisdom of the world and yet miss out on realizing ultimate Truth. Truth that changes us is as much about what it does to us emotionally as what it does to us intellectually.
The Apostle Paul wrote that people who choose not to follow Jesus have exchanged the truth of God for a lie. Religion has gotten it wrong. Religion demands that one follow a list of right and wrongs—the intention is good but the premise is bad. Jesus always called people to follow Him, not to a list of right and wrongs. Religion makes following God informational, but Jesus makes it emotional, personal, relational. Realizing Truth begins by following Jesus; to not follow Jesus means that one is exchanging Truth for a lie.
Encountering ultimate Truth in the person of Jesus Christ means that we have the benefit of walking in freedom but it also demands that we walk in courage and boldness. It means that we walk in the light and live truthful lives, seen in both what we do and what we say. It demands that we not turn a blind eye to the sin that flies contrary to the Truth of God. Because Truth is Jesus, being a Truth Speaking church means that we speak – both in word and deed – like Jesus.
The discussion of Authentic Community begins in Genesis 1, where we read that God created. Specifically, God created plants, fish and animals all "according to their kind," and then finally, God created the first human, Adam. From God’s perspective everything was very good, except for one thing: it wasn’t good for Adam to be alone.
But how was that possible?
Remember, Adam was a perfect being, living in a perfect place, communing intimately with the Creator Himself, yet in spite of that God said, "This is not good."
The answer to that is discovered in the nature of the One who created Adam, as we read, in His image. We discover in the Scriptures that God is Triune in nature and therefore exists eternally within Authentic Community.
As one writer puts it, "it’s in the Trinity where we find our model for goodness. It’s in the Trinity where we find: Equality with Submission; Unity with Diversity; and Love, Intimacy, Trust, Respect, and Communication." In other words, it’s in the Trinity where we most clearly see Authentic Community.
Adam then, created in the image of a Triune God, was created to exist in community, both with God and with others who were created according to Adam’s kind. But there was not yet one created according to Adam’s kind, and to paraphrase God, "That was not good."
So God created a being of equality for Adam in the form of Eve. But sometime after their union, Adam and Eve sinned, and community with God and each other, and also with the beasts, fish and garden, is broken. Think about it: in the immediate aftermath of their sin, Adam and Eve broke communion with God by hiding from Him, broke communion with each other by blaming one another, broke communion with the beasts (an animal was killed to cover their nakedness), and finally, broke communion with the plants by getting kicked out of the garden and having to work the ground, which was now producing weeds and thistles. As well, as one scholar suggests, Adam and Eve broke communion with themselves with the effects of that being felt through the ages as men and women continue to strive to achieve some sort of internal peace and harmony.
Is there a solution?
For that we must jump ahead a few millennia.
Jesus finally arrived and he did two things: firstly, through His work on the cross and victory over death, He ushered in a ministry that provided reconciliation for man and God. But it’s through the work of Jesus that reconciliation for mankind with one another is also possible. The Apostle Paul writes that it was God’s purpose, through Jesus, to create one new man out of two, "thus making peace."
But it doesn’t end there.
In the aftermath of Jesus’ victory and ascension, God chose to use the church to spread the Gospel, and early on in the book of Acts it was in the Authentic Community of the church where people saw God. It wasn't in clever outreach programs, TV promos or bus stop ads, but simply in God revealing Himself in the Authentic Community of the church.
Because God exists in community, the church most looks like God when it, too, exists in Authentic Community.
When followers of Jesus, who have tasted and discovered the reality of walking in communion and peace with God, begin living that out with each other, people can’t help but be attracted to that. The result? The church will grow.
The importance of Authentic Community in the church can’t be overstated. Jesus said to those who followed Him, "The world will know you are my disciples by your love for one another." Jesus also said, "If you are presenting your gift at the altar and remember there that your brother has something against you, go and reconcile and then come and present your gift." That is why dealing with sin and disunity is so essential in the church. If not dealt with, the church won’t grow, but worse than that, it ceases to be the church.
Authentic Community is essential because we have a relationship with One who exists in Authentic Community and He has chosen, in His sovereignty, to spread the Gospel through Authentic Communities. Living in disharmony with each other and with God is not an option if the church is going to continue to be the church.
Chance meetings can frequently be the most memorable, can’t they? Perhaps it’s bumping into a long-lost friend that rekindles something missed, or a non-planned celebrity sighting at some restaurant that makes your night, or a random conversation with a complete stranger that morphs into a lifelong relationship—however they occur, random encounters can often be the most significant and life changing.
John 4 records a "chance encounter" between Jesus and a woman that takes place at a well at high noon. I purposely put the phrase "chance encounter" in quotation marks because for the woman, that’s what it was—but Jesus was on a mission. What things can we learn from the example of Jesus and His encounter with the woman that can help us be Missionally Active followers of Jesus? There are many, but let me suggest a couple:
Missionally Active ministry is a call to be prepared, not just programmatic. Missionally Active ministry requires that we have Spirit sensitivity and eyes like Jesus. It is not enough to fill a calendar up with church events and feel good about the programs. Sometimes the best ministry just…sort of…happens. Sometimes the best ministry opportunities present themselves in the travel from one event to the next, and if we aren’t prepared and sensitive to them, we miss out. Many times, all the planning in the world won’t lead to those Divine Moments – instead we just have to be ready when they present themselves.
Missionally Active ministry is a call to scatter, not just gather. It has been said often that followers of Jesus don’t "go to" church but instead "are" the church. The church is not a building; it’s a community of faith, a body of believers, who happen to gather in a building every week. What happens on a Sunday (or whenever your church gathers) is important, but we are no less the church when we leave the building than when we were gathered in it. Missionally Active ministry places as much emphasis on the scattering as the gathering. Followers of Jesus have as much a call to go into the marketplace as they do to attend a weekly church service.
Missionally Active ministry is a call to serve the individual, not just the crowd—but to serve in Jesus’ name, that’s the difference. Success in ministry can’t be measured just by how many people show up. Instead, it must also measured by the one-on-one conversations that take place, by the impact it is having on marriages and families, and by the met physical needs which lay the groundwork for spiritual conversations. In His encounter with the woman at the well, Jesus used a simple discussion about water as a springboard to a more significant discussion about her spiritual thirst. I wonder how many springboard opportunities we can take hold of in our mission journey?
Lastly, Missionally Active ministry is shared ministry. Missionally Active ministry doesn’t rely on a select few; instead it relies on each member of the body to participate together. In the aftermath of her encounter with Jesus, the woman in the story journeyed back into town and told the people that she quite possibly just met the Christ. It wasn’t a great talk, not even all that presented, but the Spirit of God moved and many from the town became followers of Jesus—it’s a beautiful picture of shared ministry.
A "chance" encounter with Jesus changed a woman’s life forever; it serves as an example for us as well.
Extravagant in Worship
The word worship seems to have a variety of meanings today. For some, worship is a musical genre. For others, worship is the time in a church service where everyone sings songs of praise to God. For still others, worship is the whole of the church service and includes everything that takes place there.
In the Bible, the apostle Paul tells us to "offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God – this is your spiritual act of worship" (Romans 12:1). Worship, then, is more than the acts usually associated with worship – it is the offering of our entire selves to God. Paul, however, not only tells us to do this but also tells us why we are to do it: "in view of God’s mercy." True worship is our response to God for who He is and what He has done.
So what about our acts of worship: singing, giving, attending to Scripture, communion, etc.? Are these unimportant? Not at all! These acts are still very important and we regularly participate in all of them at Westside. They are part of our response to God. But the acts of worship are to be a reflection of a life of worship, not simply things we do for an hour a week and then disregard until that same hour next week.
But why "extravagant"? Well, if worship is our response to God, then we ought to consider who God is and what God has done. The Bible tells us that God created everything in the universe, other than Himself. When humans, in trying to be like God, had broken their relationship with Him, God went to extraordinary means to restore that relationship. He chose a people with whom to have a special relationship in order to show the rest of the world what He was like. When this people constantly turned away from Him, He, in His mercy and love, sent judges, kings and prophets to remind them of who they were and who He is. Most of the time they didn’t respond well. But God, through His prophets, had given a promise to His people and He kept it. His promise was that He would send a Messiah, a Saviour, to once and for all show humanity what God was like and restore the broken relationship.
God sent Himself.
It is God’s giving of Himself to us in Jesus that we are responding to. How could our response be anything less than extravagant?
What does that extravagance look like at Westside? We want to give opportunity to those with artistic, musical, financial, service and technical gifts to inspire us to respond as a group, while we all learn to live lives of worship wherever we find ourselves during the week. As we continue to be people committed to responding to God, we believe He will give us creativity and imagination to allow us to worship in spirit and in truth.