As I’ve said a bunch of times, we are Common Nonsense have been thinking about why we are doing any of the things we’re doing. There seems to be quite a bit of mileage in the line “Supporting Individuals in their Pursuit of God”. Me and Adrian have spoken lots about it and chatted other others in CNS and around CNS but I’ve been struggling with how to actually write any of this down. There is just so much to unpack:
- What does pursuing God mean and how do we go about doing it?
- What does it look like when we pursue other things than God? Is that bad and what does it mean?
- Why Individuals compared to something else?
- Does Common Nonsense count as a collection of individuals that need to be equally supported by common nonsense?
- Who does the “supporting?” Is it Common Nonsense? Is it some new system? Is it just the church?
- Is this just a line? Just some clever marketing, does it make any difference? Practically what impact does this tagline have?
- If this is a big deal then why aren’t other people going on about it? Are other people going on about it? Have other Christian groups just got it wrong or are they basically doing the same thing and we’ve just wrapped it up with a new
- Is this something Common nonsense has invented itself or is it based on something?
I think this tag line is based on a frustration with how churches and Christian organisations are acting at the moment. Time and time again I’m meeting orthodox committed Christians who feel that the church is just not the place for them. Meanwhile we’re working with lots of Christian organisations and whilst they do fantastic stuff they make mistakes and there seems to be a pattern. There is also a book by A W Tozer called The Pursuit of God which you can download for free which I think talks about one half of this.
So here are a couple of examples, pictures or stories that describe what excites me about setting “Pursuit of God” as the goal. I’ll then try and explain why the Individuals bit of the tagline is so important.
Being able to be nothing – and know that God loves me and that that is enough (Its not) – Job
A while back I tried to start my own company. Just as I was doing it a girl who I would soon be dating asked me “Why are you doing this? What do you want to get out of life”. She was a bit of a hippy and I felt like she was presenting me two options, one being the right option. A) “I am starting a business to make loads of money” B) “I’m starting a business so that I can help people” where B was the correct option.
Whether or not she actually thought that is irrelevant. That’s what I felt. It matters that we would soon be dating only to show that this question was not academic. I felt like my answering this question correctly was important to being socially accepted by her. This scenario is played out quite a bit in churches. The person might not be deciding on whether or not we should date but still the same thing of whether or not they will accept me in their social circles.
I responded that I wanted to be someone who could in theory be hated by everyone, a complete failure at everything I do, pathetic in every way alone on my floor and crying and then know that God loves me and that that’s ok. I said this a while back and one person jokingly mentioned that it seemed like I wanted to be like Job. I don’t know. I obviously don’t want all those things to happen to me! And I don’t know if “God loves me and that is enough” is quite what Job saw.
But what is interesting about this is that if I wanted to be successful, this method would probably work quite well at making me successful. Matt Stone and Trey Parker spoke quite a bit about how much bargaining power you get when you just don’t care. Anxiety about failure tends to encourage failure. There is a line from CS Lewis “Aim for the world and you’ll get nothing, Aim for God and you’ll get God and the world thrown in with it”. It was quite a useful thing to make me more successful.
I think the thing that is interesting to me here is how wrong I was!
“Know that I am loved by God and that that is enough”. It sounds too similar to the many many orthodox Christian who spend so much time focusing on salvation and nothing else. Or in the words of Tozer, “have been snared in the coils of a spurious logic which insist that if we have found him we need no more seek him”. I don’t want to know that God loves me… I, like Paul to the Phillipians, want to know God. Knowing that he died for me and knowing that he loved me are all part of that. But I can keep on knowing him more and more. Knowing that he loves me is just the start.
The rest of that journey is the continuing pursuit of God.
I am a friend of God – Moses, Adrian and Common Nonsense.
The Israelites had been marched out of Egypt after all the plagues happened and they had seen God do a bunch of pretty crazy stuff. They get to Mount Sinai and the leaders of the tribe went up with Moses. However in Exodus 20:
18 When the people saw the thunder and lightning and heard the trumpet and saw the mountain in smoke, they trembled with fear. They stayed at a distance 19 and said to Moses, “Speak to us yourself and we will listen. But do not have God speak to us or we will die.”
Moses went on and just hung out with God. He asked God to show him his glory. He got incredibly close to being truly in the presence of God. This is very cool and the Israelites missed out on this because they were scared. Instead they got a bunch of rules.
This has been something that we at Common Nonsense have been doing with our boss Adrian. Adrian spends time with God and then comes back from that as our boss and tells us what to do. The problem is that Adrian doesn’t really like telling people what to do, and would rather be just hanging out with God whilst we don’t really like being told what to do, its just we’re scared.
Is this because we’re terrible Christians and our boss is a uber Christian? Well I’ve already written a blog post about what a good Christian I am. In fact everyone at Common Nonsense has demonstrated a huge degree of obedience to God. This is the thing. Now I am not perfectly obedient. But I am obedient enough to know that obedience is great. But God gives us something more then the opportunity for obedience. In John 15
15 I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you.
My mum’s favourite song for a while was “I am a friend of God“. Its a very silly song and just says “I am a friend of God” over and over for the chorus. However its exciting.
It is not that we are “bad Christians” and my boss is an “uber christian”. We are almost as obedient as each other. The difference is that whilst God has made himself known to all of us. We have been busy with simply obeying whilst my boss has gone further and been a friend of God. Obedience is the starting point, but we can go from blind obedience to knowing our master’s business! This is not something that is supposed to condemn us but is exciting. I love obeying God, but now I can obey him and more!
This is the answer to that previous blog post about me not belonging. Before I tried to obey God, and instead the move must be towards pursuing God.
Why wanting to build towers is ok – Babel, Abraham and Isaac
This is a question that has been bugging me.
Genesis 15 “After this, the word of the Lord came to Abram in a vision:
“Do not be afraid, Abram. I am your shield,[a] your very great reward.[b]”
2 But Abram said, “Sovereign Lord, what can you give me since I remain childless and the one who will inherit[c
What’s going on here?
God said to Abram that GOD was Abrams’ reward. And then Abram asks how can he receive gifts as he has no children to pass them on to? Hasn’t Abram completely missed the point here? Isn’t the gift God himself? So shouldn’t Abram be like “cool thanks God” rather then complaining? I don’t know the answer to this and I’m asking lots of people. But I do know that when Abram brings this question, this desire to have children and God answers him by promising him children. What is God doing?
(EDIT: Since writing this I have discovered that in both The Message and ESV versions this passage makes more sense as God says “You reward will be great”. Would be awesome if one of my hebrew speaking friends could shed light on this)
Later Tozer describes what happens to Isaac after he was born. “the child became at once the delight and idol of his heart”. I’m guessing we all know how that ended up!
See, Isaac was part of God’s plan. Isaac being alive and looked after by Abraham, and loved by Abraham was very much what an obedient Abraham was supposed to do. It was part of bringing about the Kingdom of God, it was part of bringing Jesus into the world it was part of everything. There is nothing disobedient about Abraham’s love of Isaac. But… even then this child became an idol that God dealt with by almost taking it away from Abraham. Tozer talks a bit about how that must have made Abraham feel.
Now I’m going to put this to one side for a moment and talk about Babel.
Building Towers of Babel in the Christian world
Adrian makes a big thing about Babel. He is very cautious about branding anything (Logos, company names, vision statements, websites) etc. As he believes that when you build an organisation, build a brand, build a tower of babel you get sucked in to maintenance mode. You get sucked into trying to maintain the organisation rather then instead pursuing God and what he wants. When you call the church “The Church of England” suddenly the reputation of that organisation and the structure matters. Christians spend days in pointless squabbles about nothing-doctrinal arguments or whether or not wafers matter to keep the unity of that organisation. Individuals in charities will be more likely to find ways to re-invent their charity rather then just let it go and let it die because its boring not needed any more.
He’s talked about this quite a bit and lots of people may agree with this but where do we go with this? Do we not make a company Common Nonsense and instead work as freelancers? Do we just keep our terrible website and smugly try and tell people its because we care about Jesus that we keep it like that?
What is wrong with building a tower of babel in the first place. There are two reasons. 1) because God knocked it down and 2) because the tower was never going to be that great. The first is what motivates most people, the second is more important.
See one thing a lot of mature Christians do, including Adrian. Is they will occasionally start telling you what it is they think God is doing or what it is they want to do. Then hold back. They go a little silent for a split second and then say “well I don’t really know, whatever God wants”. There is almost this thing where people are trying to trick God. Its like if Abraham regularly said “Hey God, this Isaac is pretty great but I don’t really care, you could kill him any one of these days as all I want to do is do what you want”. This is silly and being ok with killing your kids is not good.
This is the brilliant thing about “Pursuing God” rather then simply saying “Supporting Individuals who do what God wants”. Abraham’s journey included God stating at the very beginning the point of it all. “I am your reward”. It involved Abraham laying bare his desires to God and God giving him everything he wanted, then taking it way and humbling Abraham in a way that pointed Abraham back to the point of all this. But after this God still actually gave him what he wanted anyway! Abraham almost aimed for the world and got nothing but instead aimed for God and got the world thrown in with it.
We need to realise that when we try and create projects, churches, organisations, brands, businesses, etc. We are going to get tempted to focus on what Tozer calls “Things”. These things have the potential to distract us from focusing on God. This is scary and so some Christians run away from them, they run away from their desires and instead just talk about how they “just want to do what God wants”. I don’t know what it is we should do… but one thing we definitely shouldn’t do is hide those desires for things from God! Instead we can bring them to him and then we get to point 2.
The tower of babel wasn’t that great anyway! These guys got all excited building a massive tower but actually it can’t have been that tall. Our buildings are going to have been taller and we’ve put man on the moon! At some point those guys would have suffocated. Rather then build their tower they should have presented their desire “to build a massive tower” to God and then attempted to actually go all out.
If they would have gone all out they would have found that they couldn’t have done it without him. They would have also found that what they really wanted wasn’t a big tower but to “get to the heavens and make a name for themselves”. If they had just waited and got on team Jesus they would have actually got to heaven and made a much much bigger name for themselves (at least as part of the Church that has Jesus at the head).
John Piper’s “Desiring God” and John Eldreges’s “Wild at Heart” talk a lot about this.
As Christians we have the danger of pursuing good things of God’s kingdom above God himself. Of getting excited by evangelism itself, or preaching or healing. These things are good in themselves but putting them before God is Idolatry like any other and bad. However, despite this trying to pretend that you don’t care about these things and just care about God isn’t good enough either. You have to ACTUALLY pursue God like Abraham after he almost killed his son. Its ok to like things, just not put them before God.
Where this gets confusing – flirting with temptation or fleeing
The complication here is that if you take this line of reasoning to an extreme it gets dodgy and the question to get us there is ask the question “Should Abraham have avoided turning Isaac into his Idol? And if so would he have been able to avoid the whole sacrificing his Son thing?”
There is a danger here for this to turn into a pointless Calvinism verses Arminianism, free-will verses determinism debate. I want to avoid that and deal with the more human angle.
Pursuing God is scary. The Israelites were scared because they thought it would kill them. It sometimes leads us to areas of life that have the potential to trap us. I think as Christians what happened to Abraham is part of our fear to verbalise our desires. If we tell God that we really like Isaac then he’s going to take it away. If I tell people that I really want to get married, then God is likely to demand form us a life of singleness. I used to particularly feel like this with respect to preaching. I really wanted to preach and when I did I loved preaching but I constantly held back from asking to preach because I thought that if I did God would “humble me”. By humble me I really mean properly lay the smack down and humiliate me in front of everyone.
Even now, if a church leader asks me how I’d like to help in the church I’m much more likely to say “Stack chairs” then “preach”.
But pursuing God has to involve actually pursuing God himself and not a self-imposed stoic rejection of all things like some of the early monks.
So what I seem to be suggesting is that. Even though we know these things have the potential to become our idols. We OUGHT to go for them anyway. That people who spend their time trying to avoid sin do it out of a lack of faith in God’s ability to look after us. Where does this stop? Should I deliberately get naked with prostitutes, pay them and dance because I trust God is going to have dealt with my temptation for sexual sin? How does this reconcile with verses from Paul that ask us to “Flee the occult” or “Flee sexual immorality”?
So here are a couple of thoughts about pursing God that I’ve thought about. I think its more then my previous thing of knowing God loves me. Its something that Moses had on Mount Sinai and without it we have to resort to rules and “mere” obedience. Although obedience is important and included in knowing God its more then that. It is also something that is paradoxial involved with our own personal desires whilst simultaneously hindered by our desires.
Somewhere in all this will be spending time with God. There is something I’m worried about which is my lack of regular bible reading. I don’t want to get into legalistic daily quiet times but I think someone who is really into pursuing God will naturally find themselves getting into the bible lots.
I decided not to focus on the “individuals” bit. Probably leave that for another post but onwards!