Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Jesus Cares for Men More than Man's Rules

It's been a while since I posted- life can get away from us pretty quickly can't it!

I'd like to share some thoughts from a recent journal entry.

1At that time Jesus went through the grain fields on the Sabbath, and His disciples became hungry and began to pick the heads of grain and eat.  2But when the Pharisees saw this, they said to Him, "Look, Your disciples do what is not lawful to do on a Sabbath."  3But He said to them, "Have you not read what David did when he became hungry, he and his companions, 4how he entered the house of God, and they ate the consecrated bread, which was not lawful for him to eat nor for those with him, but for the priests alone?  5Or have you not read in the Law, that on the Sabbath the priests in the temple break the Sabbath and are innocent?  6But I say to you that something greater than the temple is here.  7But if you had known what this means, 'I DESIRE COMPASSION, AND NOT A SACRIFICE,' you would not have condemned the innocent. (Matthew 12:1-7NASB)

On several occasions Jesus came into conflict with the Pharisees over the Sabbath and the 'rules' for keeping it.  Often, their rules hindered, or would have hindered someone from receiving a blessing- such as the man whom Jesus healed as recorded in Mark 3:1-5 -or, in this passage from Matthew, having a need met. Jesus' disciples were hungry, but by the standards of the Pharisees, it would have been better for men to go hungry than for them to break the rules of men.  By His response (which I will post in another blog), Jesus affirms the dignity of man and rejects the validity of man's law.

It poses an interesting question doesn't it?  When do our 'rules' get in the way of meeting the real needs of the people around us?  When are we so blinded by our 'laws' that we cannot see those who are hurting, hungry and helpless?  It probably happens more than we'd care to admit.  We resist moving beyond our rules out of fear; fear of what new doors may open- what God might begin to do; fear of upsetting neatly packaged theological ideas; fear of what the 'establishment' might say, think or do.  Jesus shows us that it is man who matters, not the rules men put in place by which they might control other men.  Jesus sets us free from those rules, free to serve and love God and our neighbor without fear.

I offer this prayer: Lord, Your Word is clear in its call to love You and love others by setting aside man's artificial rules and walking with Jesus 'through the grain fields'.  Amen.      

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Letting the Gospel Lead Us

In preparation for studying Paul’s letter to the Philippians, our house church fellowship is doing some background lessons in Acts 16.  In that chapter, Paul and Silas are illegally arrested, beaten and thrown into jail.  Paul, a Roman citizen, had legal rights which he could have put into play to avoided this unpleasantness, but he did not invoke, or even reveal these rights, choosing rather to endure abuse and humiliation at the hands of his enemies.

As we discussed these things, I asked whether, in our unique American system, Christians have become too dependent on the legal system to ensure that the Gospel gets a hearing.  We wrestled with the sad reality that American Christians have lost the ability to reason and dialogue with their opponents and now only know how to picket and sue for the right to be heard. 

As an illustration, the recent events in Houston, wherein the mayor and city officials subpoenaed the sermons and speeches of local pastors and religious leaders which negatively addressed the mayor (who is a lesbian), the practice of homosexuality, the HERO non-discrimination ordinance and gender issues.  Reacting to this move, FOX News analyst Mike Huckabee called for Christians around the nation to protest by bombarding the mayor’s office with Bibles, which they did.  

While not dismissing the serious violation of the freedom of religious speech from government intrusion, I asked if this was really the right or Christian response.  Did those Houston pastors directly affected ask for Huckabee’s help?  Did he ask them if they would like him to intervene?  Or did he, like we see so much of in these days, just react; a visceral act devoid of the Gospel?

One of the sisters in our group asked a real and poignant question: Did anyone offer to buy the mayor a cup of coffee and sit down to talk with her?  Did anyone think to enter her life with compassion and open a dialogue with her?  What was the motive behind her actions? Is there some hurt in her life which needs healing?  Is she angry at the church?  I don’t know if anyone did, but it seems not.

The Lord Jesus entered into dialogue in people’s lives.  When He met the woman at the well in John 4 He did not excoriate her for her wayward life; He spoke with her as a hurting person in need of grace.  He did not ignore or avoid the reality of her sin, but He offered a way of healing rather than condemnation.

Yes we have rights as American citizens, but I would caution us against invoking those rights to secure a hearing for the Gospel in place of earning that place through lives of grace and dignity.  Is it that people don't want to hear the Gospel, or that they don't want to hear it from Christians.  Sadly, I would guess a larger percent of those who reject the Good News of Jesus would say it is the latter.  The Church has become associated with the odious Westboro Baptist Church on one hand or the politicized 'republivangelical' wing on the other.     


As disciples of Jesus, we need to let the Gospel determine our responses to cultural challenges and situations.  We cannot simply react (and the pointless shipping of Bibles is a cheap reaction), we must respond with grace and respect.  Easier said than done, I know, but isn't it time to try?

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

God's Timetable

My wife always tells me that any plan needs to have clear, attainable objectives, so when I knew the direction I believed the Lord wanted me to go in, I began to plan out a path of clear,attainable (I hoped) objectives.  What I didn't know was that the Lord had already set His own parameters.

Now to be fair to the Lord (a little bit of sarcasm there), He was operating in regards to my prayers, more than my plans.  Let me explain.  Back in late winter I began praying that if the Lord was in this vision, He would begin preparing the hearts of a few men and their families to join in the work.  I wasn't looking to habitual 'church hoppers' or disgruntled people getting away from conflict or crisis in an existing congregation.  I wanted people who were disaffected by the status-quo of  the tradition bound Sunday morning meeting.

I am not an extrovert by nature, so I wasn't quite sure how all this going to actually work?  Moving 1600 miles into a new world of complete strangers, having to be home to watch over my kids and work out their home school program, how was I going to meet people?  So I began to devise a timetable. The gathering of my family would be the 'hub'.  We would meet on a certain date and from that date I had set a 3-6 month window in which to find ways into the community and form relationships and from there, hope to find one family to invite to participate in the house church.  8-12 months from the founding of the hub, I hoped to find a second family.  My friend Joe C. from HCC used to say, 'If you want to make God smile, tell Him your plans.'  Well God was surely smiling because about two weeks after we'd moved in we were at the neighborhood park/playground and my wife, as is common to her extroverted nature, was talking up the other parents.  In the course of conversation, we met this one couple with a young daughter.  They were looking for just what we were proposing.  We invited them.  A week or so later, talking with the neighbors in back, they also shared their desire for the small, connected fellowship.  We invited them.  So while my plan called for a 3-6 month window, God's plan had a 3-4 week plan!  The hub launched with 9 people on September 27!

I am so excited for what the Lord has in store for this new faith family, but I guess I'd better think twice before setting any more timetables!  

 

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

First Hand Reminder

This past weekend we visited a large local church near our new home.  By the time we left, I was even more convinced of everything that is wrong with the contemporary models we are told to adopt.

The first challenge as we pulled onto 'campus' was to navigate our way around parking lot islands and rotaries.  We found a 'first time visitor' space quite near the door and noticed that many of these designated spots were filled.  

Approaching the doors we were somewhat pleasantly greeted by two older ladies, although we were never asked about being visitors (I guess no one was keeping tabs on who parked in those special spots).  At the far end of the massive lobby was a counter, like you'd find in Starbucks or Panera, selling coffee and refreshments.  Even with the number of people milling around, not one inquired about us. Perhaps with so many people its hard to know who is now or not. (Perhaps no one really cares so long as the numbers stay up.)  

When I entered the concert hall I was...I'm not even sure what word to use. Stadium/theater seating, sloped floor, huge sound and light control center, giant stage with all the theatrical trappings.  Finding our seats, we were given a brief 'hello' by the aisle attendant, but again no one took any real interest in who we were. 

The service started soon after as the lights dimmed and the entertainers emerged. The band took its place and the audience was asked to participate in the singing. Now I've been around churches for a long time and consider myself pretty up to date on worship music, but I didn't know any of the songs.  Judging from the number of other people not singing it would seem I wasn't alone.  

The words were projected onto the screen...along with the live video images of the 'worship team'.  Anyone seen the movie, That Thing You Do?  Near the end the band is performing on Ed Sullivan and we watch the technical controller giving commands to the crew.  I could imagine a similar scene in the booth behind me. "Close up on drummer...now!  Great shot.  Now pan across the front...Hold it! Stop on the singer to the right.  She has such a passionate worship face; lets make sure the audience sees that.  Beautiful.  Okay back to the lead singer.  Pull back...back...hold it.  Nice shot!"  At this point I disengaged. 

I'm not saying they don't love Jesus, I'm just wondering if anyone has ever stopped to question the over the top nature of such unabashed marketing in the church of Jesus Christ.

When the music stopped a man came out to share some announcements about a few of the ongoing programs.  First time visitors were invited to go to a certain room following the service to meet some of the leadership team; even Pastor G--- would be there!  I felt like I was being offered a backstage pass to meet the stars of the morning show.  Maybe there would be autographed pictures...I didn't bother to find out.

At this point, Communion elements were passed, indiscriminately, through the auditorium.  The man on stage spoke about his trip to visit his aging father-in-law who was losing his ability to remember, and how important it was to remember...and oh yeah, Paul tells us to remember the sacrifice of Jesus, so here's a tic-tac size piece of bread (I think it was bread anyway) and a cup of grape juice.  "Come on folks, you don't need to understand it, just join in this weird ritual...You go ahead and take them whenever you feel you are ready." Not one word about the nature of the elements or of having a relationship with Christ. (this was the point at which my wife checked out).

A black bag on a pole was passed for an offering...we let it pass.

Then the pastor came out.  A man of about 55, thin, bald (I liked that!), simply, plainly dressed in jeans and a plaid button down shirt.  He spoke on why we could trust the Bible.  He talked about archaeology, scientific and prophetic statements and the enduring nature of the Bible.  He used Scripture verses to support his points.  He was a fair speaker, but never offered any real study of the Word which he was asking people to read.  "This book will change your life" we were told...but is that really the right message?  

Don't get me wrong, I love the Word of God!  But didn't Jesus warn people about reading the written Word of God and missing the Living Word of God?  Yes He did: "You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about Me, yet you refuse to come to Me that you may have life." (John 5:39-40 ESV)

There was a brief prayer and that was it.  The service had lasted almost one hour on the nose. 

As we made our way back to the lobby and then out the glass doors (to freedom!) one of the ladies from when we entered said "Goodbye, nice to meet you."  I immediately muttered under my breath (I probably should have said so aloud to the woman), "but you DIDN'T meet me!" We left as anonymously as we had arrived.  

The announcement man had made a comment about how the Spirit had moved the week before, but if that service was anything like this one, I failed to see how that would be possible?  There was no time for the Spirit.  No prayer, no reflection, no invitation into the life of Christ.  It was consumer driven, entertainment based and full of cheap gimmicks.  It lacked substance from start to finish.

This past Sunday did me good.  It reinforced my conviction that small and simple is the way to go; that less can be more; that being connected to the people around you draws you more deeply into worship...even if you don't know the words.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Back to the Basics

We tend to over complicate things, don't we?  Cutting away the complexity of our church structures can be a daunting task, but I am convinced that the Lord has given us a relatively simple form of what a local congregation should be focused on.

This form is found in the expression of the New Testament Church as reflected in Acts 2:42-47:

42And they devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.  43And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. 44And all who believed were together and had all things in common. 45And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. 46And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, 47praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved. (ESV)

We recognize in these verses the essentials of the Church.  The Church was committed to the Apostolic Word; teaching and following the Way of Christ. They devoted themselves to one another in fellowship (the word 'koinonia' which denotes sharing life) opening their homes to one another.  I believe the reference to 'the breaking of bread' is referring to the sharing of the Lord's Table.  Prayer encompasses a broader state of worship.
  
The passage also reflects an incredible spirit of generosity, not forced, but willingly participated in; not 'communism' but a communal life in which each looked out for the others; (In a future post I will share my views on how giving will be handled in the network).

What was the net result of this pattern of life in the early Church?  The power of God was evident and people were being born again.  

Friends, I don't claim to have it all figured out.  What I do desire is to strip out the excess and get back to 'doing church' the way Jesus seems to have intended.  I can only wonder how our structures have kept us from realizing God's potential for the Church.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Motives

Why do we do the things we do in ministry?  What drives us?  In this blog I would like to begin to share with you the catalyst for this vision of the house church network.   

In 2010 I was introduced to the leadership training material produced by BILD International known as the Antioch School.  These courses drove me back into the Scripture to challenge the assumptions I had been making and forced me to reassess those assumptions.  The initial seeds were planted in the beginning Acts course, and by the end of the course on Leaders in the Early Church, the idea had taken root in my heart and mind.   

Before I go on, I should make it clear that there is nothing in this vision shift that comes from any ill feeling towards the brothers and sisters or the ministry at Hope Community.  However I am not sure this vision could be realized in the context of our NH community without alienating some good friends. So it's no accident that the vision coincided with our actively seeking to put our dream of living in Florida into reality.

I believe that the structures of our churches and congregations have reached a point of inhibiting the growth of the Body of Christ.  The vision of Community Faith Network is founded on the principle that the successful expansion of the New Testament Church came about through networks of small home-based gatherings of Christians engaging one another and their communities in daily life.

This might be accomplished within the existing frameworks of current congregations, but only partially.  There are always the elements in traditional congregations which resist the move to community and close relationships, even if that move is grounded in Scripture.  The formal Sunday service and a midweek gathering are enough and if people would just come to those everything would be fine.  Except they don't and it's not.

There needs to be a fresh vision for training up disciples who are able to carry out the mission of Christ of carrying the Gospel to the lost.  

I truly believe that the most effective means of establishing Christians in the Way of Christ is mentoring and training through relationships developed not in classrooms but living rooms; not in large congregations but in family groups.

Please don't think I have it all figured out; I do not.  There are still a lot of unanswered questions and my own uncertainties, but I am excited for the journey ahead.

Friday, August 1, 2014

First steps...

This is the initial post for our vision for a new house church network in Trinity Florida. We will make the move to FL at the end of August, and although the network probably won't be founded until October, I want to begin to share what I believe the Lord has given me for this ministry vision.

I have chosen the name of Community Faith Network to capture the essence of this movement.  

1) it is community based, located in homes and in neighborhoods rather than centralized in buildings with crosses and steeples.

2) it is focused on passing on the Faith, not denominations, programs or institutional agendas.  It is about making disciples and training leaders.

3) it is a network of interrelated house gatherings- one Church led by one team of Ministers of the Gospel and Elders.  It is expansion minded.

This is perhaps a new concept for many, as it is for me, but I am convinced that this is the direction the Church must embrace in the coming era.

In subsequent posts I will lay out the direction for the network and once established, will keep a record of its progress.  I will be as consistent in posting as possible; be patient if you are following the story...