approachable Father or Holy King?

The title of my blog is Perpetual Tension. I chose this title because of the many aspects of our faith that followers of Jesus must hold in healthy tension–being in the world but not of the world, trusting that Jesus was 100% God AND 100% man, etc. If we allow ourselves to lean one way or the other, we can become ineffective and out of balance.

Recently, I came to the realization of another such area that we must hold in a healthy tension. A few weeks ago I wrote a blog entitled The Father’s Character. It is based on a prayer method that uses The Lord’s Prayer to focus our own prayer time or prayer life. I learned this method as a part of the 3DM discipleship process I am currently a part of. This prayer method is detailed in that blog post so I won’t rehash it here, but it brought to light a tension that likely many believers might have out of balance in one direction or the other.

The Lord’s Prayer begins, “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” That first sentence is the source of a significant tension between viewing God as Father and God as King.

First, Jesus instructs us to pray to God our Father in heaven. This is by design as it speaks to us of the approachable nature of God. In other passages of Scripture, we are called the sons and daughters of God. We have incredible access to the Holy God, the Creator and Sustainer of everything. He invites us to come to Him as a child comes to a loving father, to crawl up on His lap and experience His loving embrace.

But, as the sentence continues, we see that God is also a Holy King. He is separate from us, above us. Other passages of Scripture admonish us to fear God. He has a will that we are to abide by and our own wills are at war with His will. We are to align ourselves with His will not fashion God to our own liking.

Herein lies the tension. Yes, God is an approachable, loving Father, but He is also a Holy, Righteous God who is far above us and separate from us. If we lean too far to one side or the other, we have an inaccurate understanding of God. If we err too far to the approachable Father aspect of God’s character, we may not have a healthy fear or respect for God. We might also act or continue in some sort of sinful behavior because “God will forgive me.” When taken to an extreme, we can begin to view God as a benevolent grandfather who loves to have us sit on his lap so he can pat us on the head and give us candy. It’s not just individuals who can fall into this faulty thinking. Churches who are too heavily skewed toward the approachable Father aspect of God’s character can give people the impression that God loves them just the way they are (which is true), and that they can stay just the way they are.

If we err too far to the Holy King aspect of God’s character, we can fall into a performance mindset–that God is primarily concerned about our good behavior, and that He somehow loves us more because of it. We might be riddled with guilt over our sin and feel like He can’t (or shouldn’t) forgive us. At the most extreme, we can begin to view God as distant from us “way up there” and that He is just waiting for us to make a mistake so He can hurl a giant lightning bolt to zap us. Again, churches can fall into this type of faulty thinking and begin to preach a message of legalism and adherence to a bunch of rules out of fear of the judgement of God. People in churches who lean heavily in this direction can end up with people who have no intimacy with God–no personal connection with Him. This is, of course, just as dangerous as the opposite scenario.

I grew up in an environment that leaned pretty far toward God as a Holy King. Let’s just say there were a lot of rules and, honestly, I can’t remember anyone speaking of their personal relationship with God. It was more about the things we didn’t or shouldn’t do–even if there wasn’t a verse of Scripture that addressed the issue. It was an environment that emphasized outward performance over inward transformation. As a result, to this day, I am skewed slightly more toward God as a Holy King than as an approachable Father. Sometimes I am uncomfortable around people who lean a little more toward God being an approachable Father and I am tempted to pull out my virtual “list of acceptable behaviors for Christians” from my past. I am learning that this is another area of perpetual tension that I must hold in balance.

What about you? How do you view God–more as an approachable Father or more as a Holy King?

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4 lessons for the Church from Redbox

This past Saturday, I wrote about lessons from Blockbuster Video. Today, it occurred to me that the church could take some lessons from Redbox. If you’re not familiar with Redbox, it is an extremely cool concept in video rental. Redbox has managed to survive–and even thrive–in the age of streaming videos. They have managed to cut the overhead by putting an entire video store in a kiosk. And you find them everywhere! You can reserve a movie through a smartphone app and pick it up as you leave the grocery store. And it only costs about $1 for 24 hours!

Now, what can the Church learn from a movie renting kiosk? Here are a few of my thoughts:

  1. No frills – Redbox keeps the main thing the main thing. Movies. There’s no buying popcorn, soda or candy from the kiosk. What should the church’s main thing be? Some would point to the Great Commission (Mt 28:19-20), and that would be close, but the Great Commission wasn’t given to churches. It was given to individuals. My favorite quote is “if you build the church, you won’t necessarily get disciples; but if you build disciples, you will always get the Church” (Mike Breen, 3DM) In other words, church services and programs don’t make disciples–people do. The Church is the result of discipleship and should be the place where disciples gather to worship, celebrate, get equipped and then scatter to push God’s Kingdom into every nook and cranny of the surrounding culture. See my blog post half-time speech vs. gameday.
  2. Low overhead – Redbox has low overhead. It doesn’t have to pay for brick and mortar stores and store employees. Sure, someone’s got to stuff all those movies in the kiosk, but compared to Blockbuster, Redbox has got to have pretty low overhead. I’ve been on staff at some churches where the payroll alone was over 60% of the annual budget. Cut the programs back and it probably means you don’t need all those staff members (and if you cut back some of the programs, you might lose some of your dead weight consumers!). And what about those multi, multi-million dollar facilities and massive church campuses? Sure, the church needs a place to gather for worship, but do we really need an education wing to heat and cool for one hour a week? Homes are much better for groups anyway! I have a feeling that in the not so distant future, churches in America are going to be forced to reduce their budgets. In the not-so-distant-future, churches that stand on Biblical convictions could lose their tax-exempt and 501c3 status. If that happens, giving to churches will likely plummet.
  3. They’re everywhere – It seems like there’s a Redbox kiosk just about everywhere you turn around–grocery stores, fast food establishments, etc. What does it take for a new Redbox location? I’m guessing some sort of agreement, electricity and an internet connection. It is a model that is easily duplicatable. In our current day and age, what does it take to start a new church? Some would say that you’ve got to have a great communicator, a really good worship leader and awesome band, lots of attractive signage, tens of thousands of dollars worth of technology (audio, video, lighting). Oh, and a cool space to meet like a movie theater or fine arts auditorium. That’s a serious chunk of change! It’s no wonder that according to the North American Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention, only 68% of church plants survive. I’m sure many of those that fail run out of money. Some probably have leaders who quit or move on to other ministries. Other church plants just end up attracting all the people who are disgruntled at their current church and end up imploding from internal strife. But if discipleship and mission were put back in the hands of ordinary people, new communities of believers (churches) could spring up just about anywhere.
  4. They’re effective – According to Redbox Profits, 15 DVDs are rented each second! At some point, the movie rental industry might shift entirely to streaming movies and those little red kiosks will probably disappear. In fact, Redbox recently unveiled its own streaming service to compete with Netflix. If our American churches were evaluated for how well they were helping to put discipleship and mission back into the hands of ordinary people, how many would be considered “effective”? Sadly, it would probably only be a few. Too many of our churches are only effective at attracting consumers and perpetuating a co-dependent relationship with the paid professional clergy. In these churches, the people are dependent on the paid clergy for their spiritual food and the paid clergy are dependent on the people for their paychecks. It’s a phenomenon Mike Breens calls “spiritual feudalism.”

Can you think of any more?