Friday, September 30, 2011

I am who I will be

The world has two kinds of people, those who put people in two kinds of people groups and those who don't.  No, really though, some people think they have it all together and they are successful in their own eyes and others think they don't have much of anything to offer the world other than a warm body.  In Exodus chapter 3 as God calls Moses through the burning bush, Moses responds with two questions.  The questions sum up like this - who am I?  Who are you?

God's answer to the first wasn't about who Moses was as much as it was about who He is.  Moses wanted to know how he could represent this great and holy God who was speaking to him.  God basically told Moses "I will be with you, I will speak through you, you are my vessel".  Then Moses wanted to know how to answer the people when they asked about the God Moses was representing.  God's answer to the second question was like it as He said - "I AM WHO I AM".  Which can also be understood as "I AM WHO I WILL BE".

Just think about it.  Some crazy old man who had run away for murdering someone years ago and hasn't been seen for forty years comes strolling into town and he just walks up to the leader of a great nation and tells him "God says let my people go".  Well that's pretty amusing there old dude but the people you speak of are the slaves that keep our society growing.  If I let them go them my people will have to do the work and that's not gonna make anyone happy.  I don't think that is gonna happen, who exactly do you think you are?

This is what Moses faced when he acted on faith and obeyed what God told him to do.  God's request was utterly ridiculous, Moses knew that.  Yet, he was willing to go anyway.  Why?  Because a burning bush told him to!  But no one else saw the burning bush, why should they believe Moses?  These are very legitimate questions and the only answer to them we are given is because God is with us and He is God.

You see, God never changes.  The same God who called Moses to go and bring His people out of bondage and slavery and into the promised land is the same God who calls us to impart life to those who are still dead in trespasses and sins.  Who we are is of no consequence, Christ in us is what matters.  It is not our skill or strength that God uses to accomplish His purpose, it is our faith in His ability and His strength in and through us.

Remember Moses was in his old age when God called him.  He was well aware of his inadequacies to do all that God had called him to do.  We need to recognize the same.  God never changes, He is the same God today that spoke to Moses and He is speaking to us.  He has called us to live His life by setting captives free, bringing healing to the broken, taking care of orphans and widows, embracing the immigrant and comforting the afflicted.  The promise made to Moses that God would be with him is being fulfilled in each and every believer as we walk by faith in the power of Christ in us.  Because God never changes, that will never change as long as we abide in Him by faith.  The task we have been given is no less silly looking to the world today as Moses must have looked to Egypt way back in the day.  It really is a BIG task and if we don't see that there is a lot about God's desire for his church we do not understand.  This is God's world and every living human being is His creation and He wants it all back.  What we are called to do is a very big deal.  We can only do it with the power of God through us and the same God who split the sea for Moses as they fleed from Egypt wants us to hold out our own staff and trust God to do whatever it is He has planned to do.

So...abide in faith my brothers and sisters.  Abide my fellow saints.

Abide as though your life depends on it, because it does.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

A fictional non-fiction story with a function

I wanted to highlight some of my favorite blogs for blogger month (it is still blogger month, right? oh well, who cares...) I didn't want to just list them, so I decided to go into clever mode.  What follows is the story of A Pilgrims Progress with the blog titles I read blended in.  If you think it doesn't make sense that's cool, just ignore my stupidity but make sure you check out these super way cool blogs if you haven't already.  Here they are in no particular order or rather the best order I could make them fit into my totally fictional story of the non-fictional life of some obscure dude in a land far, far away:

There once was a reformedlostboy who set out to deconstruct neverland.  He was looking to go Beyond Evangelical and find an Assembling of the Church that fit more with the Story of the First Century Church because he was totally Rethinking Faith and Church.  He once heard about this guy named  Jon's Journey who was Blogging for Jesus in his Journal from Zarephath.  So he set out on a journey of his own Looking For Church and found himself saying "I'm Losing My Religion".  Like the Voice of One Crying Out in Suburbia he wandered through the wilderness of man's makings shouting Ardent Cries as he searched and searched for some believers that were sharing life together.  The only believers he could find were too busy in various buildings, organisations, institutions, clubs, and cliques.  It was really beginning to suck because he was increasingly Allergic to BS.  For a while he thought he may have to go all the way to an Ekklesia in Southern Maine he had heard about.  He felt like no one knew what it was like to be the sad man Behind Blue Eyes.  Then all the sudden he ran into some folks that lived in Eden Village and grabbed a bite with them as they were all  Eating With Unwashed Hands.  As he ate he was thinking about the passage in Micah 7 (link goes to a blog not an online Bible) where it says

Woe is me! For I have become
as when the summer fruit has been gathered,
as when the grapes have been gleaned:
there is no cluster to eat,
no first-ripe fig that my soul desires.
The godly has perished from the earth,
and there is no one upright among mankind;
they all lie in wait for blood,
and each hunts the other with a net.
Their hands are on what is evil, to do it well;...
...a man's enemies are the men of his own house.

But as for me, I will look to the LORD;
I will wait for the God of my salvation;
my God will hear me.

He thought that maybe the wait was over.  He was finally beginning to see how being a perpetually Subversive 1 wasn't having a very positive effect on his efforts to build relationships.  He was Anxious to Impart and Illuminate the hearts and minds of everyone he came into contact with but the more effort he put forth the more he felt like The Very Worst Missionary on earth sounding more like Chloe's Voice than God's voice.  He thought he may be one who was Called to Rebuild, or at least play a part in building the temple made of living stones but he was barely coming up with experiences to write in his Simple Church Journal.  Even now he doesn't know which way is up.  I guess he will just continue stumbling along pursuing Christ Till He Comes and and continue Desiring God with every fiber of his being.  Even if he does only have a View From the Cheap Seats as he walks along the line Between 2 Worlds looking for the Pure Church.

<<Other blogs of note that just don't have cool names that I can weave into a perfectly pointless story for my own amusement are:  Jon Zens' blog, Milt Rodriguez's blog, the M blog, 1 Jon and Shane's blog.  Maybe it's time for a name change guys?  Just so I can toy around with it :)  >>

That was kinda fun and as I went through I realized there were several of my faves that hadn't made it into my blogroll yet.  So YAY!!!! now the list is a little more complete.

If you read my blog regularly and you have a blog of your own I would reeeeeeaaallllly like to know who you are and check out your stuff.  My readers would probably be pretty interested too so do us all a favor and drop a comment with a link into the comment box below.   PLEEEEEEEEZE  Okay that sounds kinda desperate, which I'm not, actually I don't have time to read all of the posts from the ones above but I try.  I really, really do.  And with that this post is......DONE.  Oh yeah, wait, hold up, one more thing.  You can show much love to myself and all these really great bloggers by hitting one of the little share buttons below and sending this to facebook, twitter or your blog.  Go ahead, do know you want to.  All the cool kids are sharing :)

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Showing our faith by works

But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. (James 2:18 ESV)

When you read or hear this verse, what comes to mind?  Have you ever thought about how your faith is demonstrated through your actions?  What kind of works demonstrate our faith?

In the same breath as the line above, James points to Abraham's offering up of his son Isaac as a demonstration of faith through works.  Just think about what that entails.  Here you have a dude who has been given a promise from God that all the nations will be blessed through his offspring.  Abraham does his thing to make it happen and Ishmael is the result.  God does His thing to make it happen and Isaac is the result.  So Abraham now pours all of his passion for God's purpose into the vessel God gave him to bring about the promise.  But he still doesn't get it.  The promise isn't in and from Isaac, the promise is in and from God.  So God required Him to get back to where they began their relationship.  Back to the Abram in Ur of the Chaldees.  Back to the Abram that left everything to go to a place he had never seen simply because God said so.  Back the Abram that walked completely by faith and lived in tents as he made his way to the promised land guided only by God's step-by-step directions.  Abraham's faith in his son Isaac got in the way of all that so he required that he sacrifice his son.  Abraham believed God would raise Isaac from the dead  in order to fulfill the promise.  He had come back to the place where he trusted fully and completely in God and when He did God provided the ram for a sacrifice instead of Isaac.

We have a similar struggle.  We believe God's promises and then we go and pour ourselves and our efforts into ways to bring those promises about.  This is not the way God desires for us to trust in Him.  All of the things we set out to do by our own knowledge and strength are useless to bring about God's promise.  It is only in wholehearted devotion and faith in God that the promises are fulfilled.  Our greatest work is to be willing to sacrifice all of our plans and ideas.

All too often our works tend to focus on what looks impressive to others and makes us feel good about doing good.  We study scripture and books.  We give our money and our time to ministries.  We build programs that people can come and be a part of.  But are these works that come from faith?  I think not.  Works that are rooted in faith to not lead to self gratification and aggrandizement through church systems and programs.

There is a whole lot of "self" being built up in the church.

  • we build bigger buildings with better sound systems to impress humans
  • our fellowship halls are named after humans
  • our bibles in the pew are in memory of humans
  • we put humans in charge of committees
  • we pay humans to minister 

Works that come from faith are demonstrated by doing things where there is no return to us.

  • Helping others who cannot help us back.
  • Feed the hungry
  • Serve widows and orphans
  • Take care of immigrants and homeless
  • Turn the other cheek.
  • Give your life for a band of folks who will likely abandon you at your greatest hour of need and pretend like they never knew you.
  • Be the last in line.
  • Forgive the unforgivable.
  • Love the unlovable.

These works take faith because the results cannot be seen with our eyes and touched with our hands.  They lead to a change of heart, deep down inside of those we serve in this way.  If we want to see God's promise come to fruition we must have works that are rooted in self-denying, God dependent faith.  We've given our devotion to things: denominations, institutions, buildings, rituals, liturgies, professional pastors, and Sunday morning "services".  We trust in the "things" that we've built in God's name but our devotion and trust should be to God and God alone.  That is the very core of our faith and the beginning point of works that are counted as righteousness.  When we can clearly see how much the things we build are for the glory of man, why do we kid ourselves into thinking that they are pleasing to God and are counted as acts of faith?  God will not share His glory with anyone.  So if there is any hint of glorifying man in what we do it is questionable as to whether it is faith that is working or just our own selfish ambition.

Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up his son Isaac on the altar? You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by his works; and the Scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness”—and he was called a friend of God. You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone. And in the same way was not also Rahab the prostitute justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out by another way? (James 2:21-25 ESV)

Monday, September 26, 2011

A partial gospel?

Do you know what it's like to have ideas bouncing around in your head that you haven't had time to put into words and then you scroll through your reader and find that someone else beat you to the patent?  I had one of those moments.  Check out this post from Josh - God’s purpose for man is in the earth « Called to Rebuild:

Here is a teaser

" the popular evangelical gospel being preached from most pulpits every Sunday spells out a very simplistic gospel which says little more than this: “God is holy and you are a sinner. Jesus endured God’s wrath in your place so one day when you die you will have Jesus’ perfect righteousness trasmitted to your account and you’ll get into heaven.” And it is precisely this kind of partial gospel that is failing to bring forth the full purpose of God in the earth. It may get people to an altar, it may give them an assurance that one day they’ll go to heaven when they die, but it is not producing a people in the earth who are conscious of God eternal purpose for their being here and who are living towards the realization of that purpose with every ounce of their being. "

So what do you today's "gospel proper" inadequate for producing true salvation from sin and to God?

'via Blog this'

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Love covers a multitude of disagreements

Today we plan to do something we haven't done in quite a while:  attend a worship service.  There is a little building across the street from us and the believers there have demonstrated the love of Christ to us in ways we did not expect.  We have always been somewhat involved in fellowship with them.  Their pastor is a man I highly respect, admire and is worthy of imitation in his manner of life in many ways.  Their congregation is small and their love for one another is very evident.  To top it off many of them live in the same community as we do. I see great potential for building relationships in Christ.  In response to the love they have shown us in helping to provide things we need to aid with coping with Chloe's disability, this will be our way of saying thank you and we love you too.

On top of that I also plan to attend a corporate gathering of a different sort tomorrow evening.  I have been invited on numerous occasions to come and have had other pressing matters to attend to.  Today could be the day.  Some of the brothers there have reached out to me and my family in an abundance of ways.  One family brought us dinner on Friday night after we cancelled our dinner appointment with them on account of some issues with Chloe.  Since then, we have re-scheduled our dinner with them for Monday.  I'm really looking forward to it.

All this has me thinking about following God's leading and being unified with every other believer, even those we have disagreements with.  So we will walk in obedience.  In some ways it almost feels like were selling out to go back and be in an institutional setting.  I have mixed emotions about it but I believe it is what the Lord is doing right now.  One thing I am learning is that the Lord does not want me to have everything my way.  He want to have it all His way.  Even if I think I know what His way is and I make my desires match that it does not give me the right to be divisive with those who do not see the same things.  When it all boils down everyone is doing what they believe is honoring and pleasing to the Lord and in that we have unity.  Just as we cannot love the lost by stiff-arming them and separating from them, we cannot love our brothers and sisters within the institutional church without being close to them.

This quote by T. Austin-Sparks is fitting:

There may be misapprehension, there may be ignorance, there may be other causes, but this which offends us is, on the part of those concerned, their way of showing their love for the Lord, and we must not be turned aside - we must get close to them and find what possibilities there are for the Lord. He is going on, He is not giving up; He is making all He possibly can of the least bit of heart love for Himself and for all men. The challenge of this is very practical and very searching for us.
By T. Austin-Sparks from: Abounding in Love

Saturday, September 24, 2011

This is Discipling

You may have already seen this video but I caught a link to it today and realized I didn't share it with you all. So here it is and it is well worth the 2 minutes it takes to take it in. Enjoy.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

The future of genetics

I've been learning a lot about genetics, gene sequences and how genes work in our body. Post coming on some of the things I've learned and how it has produced a worshipful sense of wonder at God's creativity. In the meantime, check out this video on the advances of the ways we understand human genomes and how it may change the future of medicine.

Seriously, this stuff is amazing!

Richard Resnick: Welcome to the genomic revolution | Video on

Oversight in keeping right doctrine

"Denominations are a good thing because they make sure that the Church adheres to right doctrine."

To that I say:  what is the Holy Spirit then, chop suey? Didn't God give apostles, evangelists, prophets, pastors and teachers to build the body of ministry?

If anyone is going to bear the responsibility in the Church for making sure that believers are living godly lives then it should be the recognized elders of the Church. You know, the godly men who are leading by a Christlike example and have a burden to oversee and guide the less spiritually mature in their lives. After all, actions are what constitute doctrines, not belief systems or theological talking points.  If were going to use biblical commands to defend right doctrine then we need to remain biblical in how we do so. Nowhere in the scriptures will you find a denomination (or any man or group of men) with God given authority over the Church. What we do see are mature believers who are given the task of helping others live in the power that God supplies by keeping their focus on Christ. Sorry, but this cannot be done effectively from a corner office in a fancy building on the streets of the capitol city. It must be done by people who know and love the local family that makes up the church.  The only way to properly and biblically oversee the spiritual health of the Body is to spend a lot of time together.

You may believe that it is best to have denominational oversight and a group of self proclaimed wise guys who package together nice neat little (or large) confessional statements and hand them down to the dumb-masses who cannot read, interpret and discern the truth of the Bible themselves but if you do you need a new flavor of Kool-Aid. The corporate body of the Church under the headship of Christ and indwelling of the Holy Spirit is fully equipped to handle the scriptures and one another's lives faithfully. It is much better to trust the humble folks who desire to lift one another up and come along side each other in search for truth than to trust the well dressed and geologically separated men on high who hand down truth as if only they have access to the manna from heaven.

So what do you think, are denominations really necessary and effective at keeping proper doctrines lived out in the lives of believers?

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Home Bible Study Fined in California

A fine for a church gathering in a private home (or is it a church gathering?) This is an excerpt from an article at Charisma News.

Home Bible Study Fined in California:
 "Did you ever think you’d see the day in America when the government would harass you for studying the Bible in your own home? That day has finally come, and it’s a danger to the home church movement that’s spreading across the US.
A Southern California city is demanding that a small home Bible study group stop meeting unless they obtain a cost-prohibitive permit.
Homeowners Chuck and Stephanie Fromm were fined $300 for holding the Bible study."
You can click on the link to read the rest.

I'm not sure what bugs me more:  the fact that this family got fined for having a Bible study in their home or the fact that the group which is "not affiliated with any particular church nor are they seeking to establish a church in the home" actually IS the church gathered together   <<--->>   but if they were to admit to that then the local authorities would have every right (according to local law) to fine them every time they gathered without a Conditional Use Permit.

I ask:

  1. If this was a law in place in your local area how would you respond to the requirement? 
  2. Would you apply for the permit and play by their rules in order to maintain a fee-free gathering?  
  3. Should an informal Bible study be considered a church gathering?

'via Blog this'

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Chloe's Voice

My wife and I have created a new blog called Chloe's Voice as an outlet for the two of us to share and record this new chapter in our lives.

This is the first post in an effort to record the ups and downs of our experience with our very special little girl, Chloe. Jessica and I (Bobby) will both be posting to this blog as we have things to share regarding our battle with Rett Syndrome and how it affects our lives. Occasionally we will share specific ways you can pray for us and offer other help in an effort to give our daughter the very best provisions for a healthy, happy life.
From now on, all things regarding our struggles and progress in dealing with Chloe's disability will be posted on the new blog.  It should help us network with other families who are facing similar struggles via the blogosphere.  Jump on over there and check it out, subscribe at the bottom if you want to keep up.

Thank you all for your prayers and support.  The power of God through your prayers and love toward us have kept our chins up and given us strength.

Denominations debunked

When you come to see the church the same way God sees her as one unified body, a new man in Christ you will inevitably need to question many of the traditions that are taken for granted in Christianity. Denominations are one of the pillars of the institutional structure of today and most see them as not only beneficial but necessary for effectively advancing the kingdom of God. But are they effective or necessary? I guess the answers depend on how we define the terms. Nonetheless, one thing is certain: take stabs at denominationalism and you're soon to be in the crosshairs of a sniper who's very angry because you attacked his idol.

I have been the target of some denominational hitmen in my time. It's not fun. I know we are guaranteed persecution if we desire to live godly lives but opposition from my own kinsmen in the faith? What is this the twilight zone? All that just goes to show that Satan and our own sinful flesh have a firm grip on many practices of the church.

In the following posts I will declare some of the arguments for denominationalism and then respond to each one. Feel free to share your own thoughts on each as well, even if you disagree with me. Or you could just have your pastor or denominational leader "shoot" me an email telling me about how I'm going to Hell for being such a rebel.

What are some of the most common arguments you've heard for the value of denominations?

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Epic Jesus: my somewhat reformed perspective

Recently I listened to a podcast by Frank Viola of a keynote speech that he delivered at the 2011 Momentum Conference entitled Epic Jesus: The Christ You Never Knew.  Some of you know the impact that Frank's work has had on my ever changing understanding and convictions regarding the church.  This message is not about organic church, in fact there is only a reference to OC near the very end where he defines what makes a church organic.  Instead it is about the source of the life of the Church:  the man Christ Jesus.  I listened to it once before when I was greatly distracted with some devastating news and my thoughts surrounding that issue.  Frank contacted me and asked me if I could tell him how a person with a reformed frame of mind would assess this particular message.  So I decided to listen to it again with that question in mind.

In this message Viola presents Jesus Christ in an astounding way that is so incredibly glorious the person of Christ will take your breath away and leave you longing for more of Him.  He frames his talk around Colossians 1:15-22,24-27 and 3:4 giving an overview of the Colossian false doctrine of going beyond Christ. Then he moves through the passage using a storytelling style of speaking where he begins before creation in v. 15 and moves through a chronological timeline of Biblical events telling story after story and exposing Christ as he appeared to different people at different times.  Some will appreciate this creative approach, others who are more analytically minded and dig a line by line intellectual analysis of the scripts may find it a little too narrative for their tastes.

Some things I think reformed folks will appreciate in this talk:
  • Frank makes the social gospel, charismatic, and dispensational definitions of the Kingdom of God look highly inadequate by defining the Kingdom as the manifestation of the presence of God in the person Jesus Christ.
  • He declares the cross as the device of reconciliation that reunites Holy God to His fallen created universe by taking every sin we have committed, the world system that is in rebellion against His Father, the entire old creation that was corrupt and fallen, the condemnation of the law, the old Adamic nature you and I had outside of Christ, and the power of Lucifer all unto Himself and crucifying it all with Himself on the cross.  When Jesus died all of those things died with Him. 
  • Anyone with a passion for the sovereignty of God will greatly appreciate the last ten minutes of this message where Viola explains how time and eternity are related and how God operates in the creation while being outside of time, especially how our election and calling before the foundation of the world was declared by our God even as He knew and saw our most heinous sins we committed yet He chose us anyway.
Some things reformed folks may disagree with in this talk:
  • some folks have taken issue with what He calls a "new people of God" as he speaks of the church (Challies' review of From Eternity to Here comes to mind) but in this message he corrects some of the misunderstandings of that by describing Jesus as the new Israel.  In this effort Frank cites Matthews gospel where he quotes Hosea's reference to Israel being called out of Egypt and applies it to Jesus.  Then he illustrates how Jesus' 40 day wilderness experience is compared to Israel's 40 years in the wilderness and how the 12 Jewish disciples correspond to the 12 tribes.  He follows up this line of thinking through the half Jew - half Gentile woman at Jacob's well where Jacob found his wife and Jesus tells the woman about her many previous husbands followed by her need for Him:  the living water.  In doing so Viola carries the listener through a narrative of the forming of the Bride of Christ in Christ using Old Testament illustrations of Israel.
  • Complimentarians will likely not appreciate his reference to Galatians where he says that there are no distinctions between male and female in this new creation instituted as the Ekklesia (translated church) of God.  Let the listener decide if Frank makes that reference in a way that sides with complementarians or egalitarians or goes beyond that argument completely.

 My favorite line Frank spoke was "Jesus is the exposition, exegesis and the explanation of God...there is no God outside of Jesus."  All things considered I think that anyone who appreciates a good sermon with a heavy focus on Christ and a clear presentation of the gospel will consider listening to this podcast as time well spent.  There are some things that Frank has written that I would not recommend to my reformed brethren without a certain level of caution so as to not cause arguments and division but this is a talk that I would highly recommend to you.  As soon as you have 54 minutes to spare you should give it a listen and come back to tell me what you think or leave your comment on the Podbean comment box and be sure to let Frank know you are coming from a reformed perspective.

I hope that this message will blow your mind and give you a greater understanding of the immense size of the Christ that dwells in you as you continue in your hunt for His unsearchable riches.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

The What? How? & Why? of building the Church

Many believe that weekly worship services are vital for the properly disciplined Christian in order to hear the Word of God taught and explained, corporate prayer and singing, the administration of the sacraments and submission to the recognized authority of the church and build relationships with other believers.  I believe these things are vital, but not as they are performed in an average church on any given Sunday.  In spite of that, I've been thinking a lot about how a traditional Sunday gathering could be useful for other reasons such as evangelizing and bringing in unbelievers.

Here's the ecclesiological framework from which I'm working (my definition of the church):  the goal of the church is to have a close walk with Christ as individuals and to come together corporately to share Christ with one another through the various gifts of the Spirit in order to build one another up in ways that cannot be achieved if each one were walking with Him alone.  The corporate gathering is designed by God to be a way for Him to display Himself to His dead and decaying creation and become a place where He can live, walk, and rest with His children.  In short, the Church is to be the building made up of people that the Triune God calls home.

In this line of thinking, I don't see how a traditional worship service is necessary or beneficial for a body of believers.  Furthermore it may even be harmful because the very structure prevents the organic manifestation of life among the members.  Therefore I do not believe that church as we know it serves to build up the body of believers.  Even so, maybe it can be a useful tool to bring in those who are less likely to jump right into a more intimate gathering where every person is welcome and even expected to participate.  It would serve as a place for unbelievers to hear and be taught the Word and also to come into contact with believers.  A launch pad of sorts to gain biblical knowledge and begin to build relationships with the hope that they will eventually desire a deeper relationship with Christ and His body and gather together throughout the week with other believers in order to participate with other believers in the building up of one another into the image of Christ.

That brings me to my present questions.  Is forming a new traditional style church gathering really a more incarnational way of meeting people than going to other, already established locations?  I'm thinking of places like bars, coffee shops, night clubs, parks, bowling alleys, or public festivals.  These are just a few things that come to mind when I think of where people would go to meet others for the first time or just to be social.  These are the established destinations if you want to meet people who are looking for relationships.  Here we can find single folks looking for a mate, couples looking for fun people to hang out with, or just about anyone who is looking for friendship.  Wouldn't these be better places to find unbelievers who are looking to build relationships than in worship services?  I think so.  My best guess as to the kind of unbeliever who would be attracted to a worship service are those who are looking for a religious experience or a place to practice their own predefined ideas of proper religion among others who have the same basic definition.

So if we form another worship service in order to attract unbelievers, doesn't that speak volumes about the types of people we hope to attract?  If we hope to attract folks to the corporate body of Christ that is primarily focused on building our relationship with Him and with one another, can that be done from the framework of a traditional worship service setting?  Even if the Sunday gathering is just a springboard to build relationships outside the four walls, why not start outside the four walls in the first place?

I know...I ask a lot of questions.  These are just a few of the what? how? and why?'s of building the Church that are bouncing around in my daily thoughts lately.  I'm hoping that many of you would offer your answers to some of them by shooting me some ways in which these things are working out in your church.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Time for a re-pipe

When it comes to the church and church ministry, Jesus Christ is the beginning and the end.  Creation is in Him, salvation is in Him, growth is in Him and the goal of sharing His glory is in Him.  To that end, Neil Cole has written a fantastic article about church ministry from a perspective I can really appreciate:  plumbing.
Cole-Slaw: It's the Water that's Important...not the Pipes: "Someone once said, “The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing.” People need pipes because people need water. We can’t live for more than a few days without water, but people have lived lifetimes without pipes. The power is in the wine, not the wine skins.
For example, meeting in a home rather than a church building is not the solution for the western church. It may be the best conduit for the solution–the longest lasting, greatest volume and cleanest–but it is not the solution.
“If any man is thirsty,
let him come to Me and drink. He who believes in Me, as the scripture said, From his innermost being shall flow rivers of living water.”
--John 7:37-38"

As a plumber, I take a lot of pride in the aesthetic quality of my work. Sometimes it downright drives me crazy if things don't look perfectly plumb, straight, and level.  Yet, keeping the pipework looking nice is not why I have to be licensed to practice my trade.  Public health is the ultimate goal, not a picture perfect system behind the sheet rock.  People trust the plumber to make sure that the water that comes into their home is free from contaminants and that the contaminated water is conveyed away from their home in a manner that prevents disease to the household.  The pipework itself could be all jacked up and it wouldn't matter much as long as it did it's job and kept everyone healthy.

Our journey out of organized religion can be compared to a jacked up plumbing system.  It hasn't been pretty.  Looking at it does not make people say "I want that!"  But even though it is not pretty I have never been closer to God than today.  I have never been so aware of His presence before in my life.  As a result, our jacked up life has become an overflowing fountain of Christ for me, my family and many others that come into contact with me.  Talk about using the base things to confound the wise and His power and strength being shown through our weakness.  That is our testimony.

Sometimes a church system looks great and does its job of conveying but the water that comes from the tap is not all Christ.  In  fact it is poisonous and contaminated with man-made particles.  There is a little of the pure water of Christ but it is clouded with foreign objects that are not of Him.  Everyone with their glass under the tap drinks in things that are harmful to them all the while thinking they are being refreshed every week.  When a water system is contaminated it must be completely flushed out and cleansed or it must be removed and replaced.  Today's church needs a re-pipe.

Your church ministry and your life may not be very pretty to look at but it's okay if it is bringing the pure water of Life without the contamination of the flesh.  Our greatest ideas and devices are flesh but Christ is Spirit and Life.  What matters is Christ in you and me.  He is the hope of glory.  It is too easy to be distracted with the form and order of things and forget all about the life giving water and blood of our Lord.  He wants us to drink and be filled, to taste and see His goodness and He wants us to convey His life giving presence to others who need Him.  Often God will remove all of our reasons to boast in ourselves so that others will be satisfied with the water that pours out of fragile jars of clay.  As long as we continue to seek His presence, we will be the perfect water supply system for a lost and dying world.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Traditional church = evangelistic tool?

Everyone recognizes the need for more intimate relationships in the church.  The command and desire for believers to love and serve one another is glaring.  Our deepest longing as a new creature in Christ is to have fellowship with our Triune God and with His family. So we set out in the best way we know how to make it happen.  

Some are trying to improve this through sermons, teachings and programs.  They begin where they are and work hard to expose the issues and promote ideas that they believe will bring everyone into that intimate fellowship.  With patience, grace and perserverence they toil with all their might no matter how long it takes.

Others see the system itself with it's paid pastors and passive laity as part of the problem so they set out to do church differently.  They let go of the structures and comfort of organized christianity and set out to begin with relationships and build from there.  Simple is the key word for them because relationships and fellowship are what matter most.

Okay Bobby, la-dee-dah, where are you going?

I wonder:  since there are so many who love the present church system and the need for prioritizing relationships with God and one another is so great, is it possible for them to have their cake and eat it too?  Even if you, like me, think that the system "as is" gets in the way of intimacy among the Body, is it possible to begin simply with relationships and eventually have a larger, more familiar type of gathering as a way of meeting people where they are and still keep the simplicity of relationships central?  

Think of it as a way for a simple church minded gathering to be incarnational to those who are comfortable with traditional church.  If you start with relationships and build up, reaching out in every way you know how including using the means of a more traditional type of Sunday service, is it inevitable that you will become another institution?  When the indwelling organic life of Christ is the focus and bond of the gathering, isn't it feasable that newcomers who are more attracted to the anonymity and comfort of a traditional setting will be drawn to the simpler house-to-house gatherings where the real growth takes place as they long for more of Christ?  Wouldn't the sermonized preaching approach be a great evangelistic tool to reach the many who are very religious but unregenerate?

I don't have all the answers, these are some things that are spinning around in my thoughts this morning.  What do you think? 

Thursday, September 1, 2011

More than a mannequin

It's life on display.  Everyone watches, everyone knows.  Some want to help, others just wanna watch the train crash.  They look on you through the window and check out the merchandise.  Do they want want you have?  All you want to do is hide.  Hide from the help, hide from the eyes, hide from the pain, hide from the reality of time ticking by.  

Some say faith is a crutch.  If the weight is heavy enough then the crutch will fail.  They sit back and watch, waiting for the load to bear down enough for the crutch to snap.  Then they can be ever more confident that there is no God and therefore they have no concerns of coming under His judgement.

Others need strengthening.  They have struggles of their own and they are hoping that your faith will inspire them to keep on keeping on.  They are rooting for you as if they expect to be crushed themselves the moment you fall under all the pressure.  So they encourage and pray for you.  But their prayers are not just for you but for themselves as well because deep down they know that they need as much strength as you do.

But what if it's too much?  What if the crutch everyone sees doesn't really exist?  What if you're already crushed, fallen, broken down and helpless?  Why do they see someone composed and struggling when actually you're worn out and feel useless?

It's okay to be honest.  It's okay to take off the mask.  It's okay to be insufficient and not have it all together.  It's okay to be left with only your faith, not as a crutch but as the only thing you can see because you're flat on your back.  It's okay to be a real person with real hurts and real tears and real pain.  It's okay to be seen as a failure.  It's okay to be brought to the end of yourself with nothing left to give.

It's okay

Because you're more than a manequin made of plastic.  More than a figure on display.

You're a child of the most High God and if He is all you have then you have everything. 

Expression is best described through experience

Mark Lake has written a beautiful piece describing his experience in Organic Church life.  The church he gathers with in Gainsville, FL was planted about two years ago.  Where my ideas come from a limited knowledge of organic church, Mark speaks from experience.  Take a few minutes and read the beautiful picture he paints of Christ's expression through His body.  When you finish you'll have a better understanding of our burning desire to see God's house built where He can rest and express Himself.

Expressing Christ in Organic Church