Sunday, November 23, 2014

Simple Church: Unity in Diversity book

I am excited to tell you about the opportunity to pick up a very unique book that is soon to hit the bookstores.  A book that I had the pleasure and privilege of contributing a chapter to.  The book is entitled Simple Church: Unity in Diversity. It is a collective collaboration of twenty-four writers who have all changed their views of what the church is and have sought a more simple/organic expression of assembling as saints AKA Simple Church and Organic Church.  Each writer writes on a different topic that describes the things that we are all for. The list originated with a blog post which Eric Carpenter, the editor of the book and personal friend of mine, wrote a while back.

There has been a radical shift toward focusing more on community than upon preserving the dying institutions and organizations of the past. The people that are shifting in this way are more than your average church-goer. They are precious saints who deeply desire a profound and intimate relationship with Jesus and with the brothers and sisters that make up the Church. They are just like you.  They want more out of their spiritual life. Some of these devoted followers of Christ have come together to shed light on what "Simple Church" is in this extraordinary book. The writers consist of several pastors (and former pastors), authors, an architect, a biologist, a factory worker, a plumber, a farmer who works in the financial sector, a home school mom, several parachurch ministry founders and leaders, many seminary graduates, an IT manager, a few musicians, a podcaster, currently active overseas missionaries, and a university professor . Each one offers an expertise unique to his/her experiences and they are all gathered together in a single volume with a common goal.

The pre-orders for the book are already exceeding expectations and that means that it will be inspiring conversation on some very important topics as soon as it's released. Don't miss the opportunity to see what all the buzz is about. Pre-order your copy of Simple Church: Unity in Diversity now. It is available in paperback and Kindle editions from Amazon and directly from the publisher as well.

Admit it, you're very interested.  Now click the pre-purchase link of your choice below.  It will open in a new page and you can continue reading before going to finalize your purchase.

From Amazon on paperback   currently $9.72 for pre-order

For the Kindle  only $8.99

I was simultaneously shocked and honored when Eric asked if I would contribute a chapter for the book. I decided to write on the very first topic: A Church that honors the Triune God in all aspects of life. A tough topic, I know, but one that deserves more than just armchair theological musing. So, I settled down and wrote a narrative of sorts, one that describes my own testimony of honoring our Triune God through one of the most turbulent and conflicting times of my spiritual life. It is my hope that readers will easily identify with the struggle I describe and overflow with desire to honor God through their own struggles. 

Among a group of such gifted writers and scholars mine is but a small fragment of a very enjoyable collection of writing.  Although it becomes apparent as you read that the perspectives of the various contributors are all different.  There are different denominational backgrounds, theological frameworks, and styles of writing.  Some are exegetical, others are academic, testimonial, and narrative.  By the end of the book you realize that our diversity emerges as one unified voice.  Our disagreements have not resulted in disunity.  Each person has contributed something toward the common goal of promoting unity in the Church and we have done so through a very positive perspective.

If you are interested in Simple Church or Organic Church then this is a book for you.  If you are interested in how simple practices often lead to great opportunities for edification and service both inside and outside the church then this is a book you want to have.  If you are reading my blog then chances are both of the above statements describe you and you definitely want to read this book.  It is written by writers with various fields of ministry expertise who want to edify, encourage, equip and support you.  There is nothing else quite like it.  Show how much you really believe in the power of  the Spirit working through the various members of the body.  Join the growing number of people who are talking about simple church life.

Pre-order and be one of the first to join the conversation.

From Amazon on paperback   currently $9.72 for pre-order

For the Kindle  only $8.99

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Rebuilding after Babylon

After coming out of the Babylonian captivity to rebuild the house of The Lord there was a mixed response to the work that was being done. Apparently there were some who rejoiced at the work that was being done and there were others whose expectations were not being met and they grieved over the work they perceived as not good enough.

See for yourself-

>>>But many of the priests and Levites and heads of fathers' houses, old men who had seen the first house, wept with a loud voice when they saw the foundation of this house being laid, though many shouted aloud for joy, Ezra 3:12<<<

When I read this passage this morning it struck me. It reminds me of a lot of the talk recently about how much today's church lacks when compared to the first century church. It's as if today's foundation is smaller compared to the foundation laid by the apostles immediately following the resurrection. Some people say "be glad and shout for joy that *some* work is being done to build the house of The Lord". Others weep because the work that is being done just doesn't seem to be good enough. After all, they say, a building cannot outgrow its foundations.

It's a fascinating narrative of mixed emotions.

And then there is this passage where God speaks directly to the rebuilders of the house of The Lord.

>>>Haggai 2:3-5
'Who is left among you who saw this house in its former glory? How do you see it now? Is it not as nothing in your eyes? Yet now be strong, O Zerubbabel, declares the LORD. Be strong, O Joshua, son of Jehozadak, the high priest. Be strong, all you people of the land, declares the LORD. Work, for I am with you, declares the LORD of hosts, according to the covenant that I made with you when you came out of Egypt. My Spirit remains in your midst. Fear not.<<<

God agrees that what they are building isn't as good as the former house, and yet, He doesn't tell them to cease the work. No. God wants the builders to be strong and courageous and keep building. He offers them strength for the building by pointing to the true foundation and the deeper meaning of having a house of God. Namely, "I am with Spirit remains in your midst". Do you see that???? The purpose for the house is so that God can dwell with his people and God says He *already* dwells with his people. There is no better foundation that "God with us". 

The goal of having God dwell with us is already accomplished...but that doesn't mean we stop building. We keep building because we know that we will succeed. We keep building because we know that there is no such thing as too small of a beginning. We keep building because the end has been declared from the beginning.

Don't give up and don't lose hope. When you find yourself measuring your spiritual foundations with the spiritual giants around you remember, your foundation may be smaller than another's but The Lord is with you too. He doesn't despise the spiritual house you are building for Him in your heart. He's moved in already. Be strong.
Be courageous.
Keep working.

Monday, June 30, 2014

I saw you and I'm sorry

I saw you today.

I saw you and I didn't speak to you.  I'm sorry.  Hopefully I'm not as sorry as I could be, as sorry as I should be.  I'm afraid to watch the news and find out if my sorrows are multiplied and my inaction had fatal results.

I saw you today.  I saw you park your motorcycle.  I saw you realize there were several police inside, make a phone call and run across the highway.  I saw you meet with someone.  I saw you.

I saw you come back across the highway.  I saw you avoid line of sight with the officers exiting the building.  I saw your strange mannerisms.  I saw you jerk your arm in strange ways.  I saw you twist your face and contort it unnaturally.  I know you were high and I suspect I know what altered your state of mind.  I saw you.

I saw you get some jumper cables and attach them to the battery of your bike.  I saw you get it cranked.  I saw you approach the motorcycle, twitching and contorting and jerking your body in uncontrollable movements.  I sat and I watched.

I saw you ride away on a motorcycle, high as a kite and exhibiting very low levels of self-control.  I saw you and looking back I think I should have said something.  Maybe I could have stepped up and changed everything but I was afraid.  I was afraid of how you would have reacted.  I was afraid of heightened emotions and wasted energies of disappointment.   I was afraid.

I saw you and I was afraid.  Now I'm sorry.  Hopefully not as sorry as I could be, as I should be.  Not as sorry as I'll be if there is a news report of a motorcycle accident.  I know I can't change your mind so I kinda wish I could make better choices for you.  And then I realize how weak I am to make hard decisions myself.

I saw you today.  I saw you today and I didn't speak to you.  I'm sorry.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

No such thing as homosexual food

Apparently World Vision (one of the top grossing Christian charities) has publicly announced that they will not exclude homosexuals from their workforce and has sparked a frenzy of interest.  [shocked face]

Here is one of those "my two cents" posts that can be put in the "for what it's worth department".

All the big wig conservative evangelical church leaders need to stop fronting and be honest.  This was a wise business decision made by seasoned and successful businessmen.  The disagreements over homosexuality are splitting churches and dividing one believer from another all around the world.  Passions are at an all time high and self control at an all time low.

World Vision is an organization that receives over a billion dollars a year in funds to distribute to the poor.  That is a very large system which requires a lot of workers to maintain its efficiency.  To pick a side on this doctrinal disagreement would be detrimental to its survival.

Of course the larger, most prominent biblically conservative leaders and organizations want to give the impression that World Vision HAS picked a side because it trivializes a grievous sin.  What these leaders fail to recognize is that the reason World Vision has chosen to stay out of this fight is because the conservative perspective only represents one side of the disagreement. The denominations that recognize homosexual marriage as biblically legitimate would disagree with the conservative theology that led to their conclusion.

In making this decision the leaders of World Vision have left the debate over homosexuality where it belongs- in the conscience of the individuals who are directly affected by the issue.  They haven't taken a loose view of sin beyond the views of the collective of the individuals they employ.  They have not taken a grandstanding conservative posture and declared who is worthy to join with them in feeding the poor.  They left the grandstanding up to the denominational talking heads.

Since when is it acceptable to require one to sign off on a doctrinal statement before allowing someone to help feed the poor anyway?  The very fact that World Vision's announcement is such a big issue to some evangelicals is deplorable to me.  They made a wise business decision because they would like to continue thriving as one of the largest institutions and continue employing scores of individuals who don't mind setting aside their theological, doctrinal, and yes even sexual disagreements in order to work together at feeding hungry people.

When it all boils down I think it is all about control.  The leaders of World Vision made a decision that would ensure that they would remain in control of a large share of funds being dedicated to charity.  Church leaders are upset that they don't have the level of control over World Visions leaders as they'd like to have.  Perhaps these church leaders will refrain from delegating the control of those charitable funds to World Vision.  Okay fine.  Just make sure that the same monies are going toward feeding poor and needy children and not toward funding the "war against the LGBT's".

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

The Fullness of Christ

The Fullness of Christ
What it is and isn't according to Ephesians 4

"until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ," (Ephesians 4:13 ESV)

Any discussion about leadership functions in the church will likely include some attention given to this portion of Paul's letter to the church in Ephesus. With this passage all sorts of strange and harmful traditions like the "5-fold ministry" pattern and the hierarchal leadership structure are defended. I intend to show that these traditions must be read into the texts and are not ideas that come from the text themselves. Furthermore, I intend to show that these particular ideas ("5-fold ministry" and hierarchy) are the opposite of what Paul is teaching in this letter. As the contextually clear teaching of the text is revealed, the phrase "fullness of Christ" will be understood as a reference to a fully functioning body of believers and not to an individuals perfection in glory. The phrase "fullness of Christ" is how Paul describes the goal of having the entire body of Christ, in other words every member of the church, participating in the gathering so that the whole body builds itself up.

Let's begin by reading the passage within its surrounding context.

>>> I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call—one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. But grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ's gift. Therefore it says,

“When he ascended on high he led a host of captives,

and he gave gifts to men.”

(In saying, “He ascended,” what does it mean but that he had also descended into the lower regions, the earth? He who descended is the one who also ascended far above all the heavens, that he might fill all things.) And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.<<< (Ephesians 4:1-16 ESV)

In the past when I read this passage I overlooked a small but very important word; until.

"UNTIL we all attain the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ,"

The reason this word is so important is that it represents a finish line for the previous statement. The words that follow the word "until" are the goal of the words that came before it.

"And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, UNTIL.."

This is why a proper understanding of what "the fullness of Christ" means is so important. It is the key to understanding the entire passage. "The fullness of Christ" is the goal of the equipping of the saints through apostles, evangelists, prophets, pastors, and teachers. Yet, many erroneously believe that the fullness of Christ is about our final glorification in heaven after we are either dead or caught up in the air to be with Christ. This false teaching gives a foundation for the leadership and organizational structures that we see in the church today. Other practices/traditions that have no basis in the revelation of Christ through the new testament but are wrongly understood as being "biblical" practices are professional preachers, titled positions of authority, salaried staff, the special "calling" of a pastor, and the sermon centered liturgy.

How can I make such confident claims? I let the text speak for itself. I do not start with the traditions and then try to justify them using the Bible. I let the Bible speak to me about all things concerning faith and practice. In this case I let the words of Paul say what he intended them to say. Paul could not have been talking about the saints' perfection in heaven because he explicitly says that the "fullness of Christ" is "so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes." Are these merely things that we need to be concerned with in heaven after we enter the "sweet by and by"? NO!

Then Paul writes "Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love." Does this sound like it is happening only in some heavenly afterlife? NO!

Paul is teaching the church how to live in unity with each other by building each other up in love while we are alive here on earth. This is not some "pie in the sky" ideological utopian dream that can only be known once we are free from these decaying bodies of flesh. These are among Christ's commands to the church through his apostle.

Edify one another

Love one another

Live in unity with one another

Bear with one another

These "one anothers" can only happen if the body of Christ is being equipped to minister. They cannot happen if the ministry is something perpetually set aside for the chosen few. Part of the equipping process is the expectation that those who are being equipped will use their equipment in the gathering of the saints. All too often leaders in the church talk as if it is their job to teach the church while she is gathered so that they can scatter and spread that teaching throughout their spheres of influence. That is good but that is not all and that is certainly not what Paul is writing about to the church in Ephesus. Paul explicitly mentions "the body of Christ", "we", "the whole body", "builds itself". This is not a passage about merely equipping saints for evangelism although that is part of it. This passage is about equipping the saints for the work of the ministry so that the church can build itself up. It is about the 5 gifted workers mentioned eventually working themselves out of a job.

"until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ...speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love."

This is a description of the bride of Christ in the earth. Isn't she beautiful?

This is a description of a fully grown body of a man will all his hands, feet, eyes, ears, fingers, lips, nose, knees, etc. functioning in their respective ways and working together as one complete person to manifest the inner life of the Head in a way that the outside world can see and interact with. Isn't Christ's body magnificent?

This is a description of a family with one Father, one Lord, all sharing in one Spirit, humbly counting our brothers and sisters as more important than ourselves yet equals in our Father's eyes. Isn't that the ideal family?

If our answers are "YES" then we have to get rid of the idea that there is a special class of people in the church who are entrusted to have the authority over the rest of the body. We have to begin by allowing and expecting the various members of the body of Christ to function as the Spirit has equipped each member to function when the church gathers. Since there are no holy days, holy buildings, or holy men in authority on whom, in whom, or by whom the saints are required to subject ourselves to then any and every gathering of the saints in Christ is one that every member is welcome to participate as the Spirit leads and animates the body of Christ.

The fullness of Christ is the entirety of Christ's body, every member, working to build itself up in love. This is a maturity that is available to every gathering of believers who is willing to trade in their traditions for the leadership of Christ as head. When we submit to the leading of the Spirit of Christ He will lead every gathering as He sees fit.

May the house of God in the earth, the gathering of the saints, cast off every hindrance that prohibits coming to full maturity and may every member know their place and importance in the body of Christ. May every mind be renewed so that the crippling effect of the false teachings that perpetuate hierarchal authority among brothers and sisters in Christ be rejected and the bride of Christ be seen as the peerless object of Christ's affection that she is.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

The New Normal

My family and I have moved into a different house this month.  That has come with its own large set of challenges.  One of the things that has been on my heart and mind the most has been the question of how The Lord wants to use my family and I in this new setting.  I've prayed often that He would reveal to me the ways in which he would have us represent Him as His ambassadors in this new land.

Just the other day while on an hour long drive I was listening to a podcast from a church planting conference.  I remember feeling so inadequate that I wasn't doing more to advance the kingdom.  So I turned the volume off and told God about how I felt.  All of the sudden my memories filled with many of the ways I could discern myself being conformed to Christ.  Several of those memories included some of the ways I have interacted with our new neighbors in the last two weeks.  Then I experienced the strangest sort of running dialog in my mind such as I never had before:  

"can you see the work I am doing in you? 


Do you believe I am satisfied with you seeing as though I am changing you according to my own timing and will?


If I desire to make you into a faithful servant who lives a relatively quiet life without the game and fanfare can you be satisfied with that?

Yes, I can be satisfied with myself as long as you're satisfied with me.  But I thought you wanted us to do great things for you and step out with a radical sort of faith.  I want to be one of the servants who brings you a return of a hundred fold of what you've invested in me.

Just don't bury what I give you and I'll bring the increase I desire out of you.  As long as you remain a faithful servant you'll be rewarded as a faithful servant.

I'm wondering now just how much of my desires for greatness grew out of my American upbringing and the presuppositions I have carried to the scriptures because of that.

I know that God is satisfied with me on the grounds of what Christ has done.  In the measure He is satisfied with Jesus, that is the measure with which He is satisfied with me.  That means God is infinitely and joyfully satisfied with me.  Yet, I recognize that my responsibility to serve in space and time is of the utmost importance.  Not because it increases the measure of God's satisfaction with me but because He has made me a worthy vessel to convey His love and power to those who need Him.

We are made perfectly new and it is perfectly satisfactory to be perfectly normal in a renewed sense as we live and move and have our being.