Coffee, Theology and Jesus

working out our messy faith over coffee

Category: Future Kingdom (page 1 of 2)

You Follow Jesus? Welcome to Full Time Ministry.

If you’ve read any of my posts before then you’ve heard me say that I believe if you’re a Christian you’re automatically in full time ministry. I want to expound on this thought because I really believe it’s one of the key things to help change our mindset when it comes to living our faith out tangibly every day as opposed to keeping it inside and expressing it through just things that our American Christian culture has deemed spiritual.

Ministry is a funny word. It’s funny because at it’s most basic definition it means to serve. When you minister to someone you are essentially serving them in some way. You’re helping to address physical needs, spiritual needs or emotional needs that the person can benefit from. Christ is the ultimate example because in His ministry (think service) He served people in all three areas.

Why is this important? Because, as a good friend of mine says, if we are around people then we have the opportunity to minister. As opposed to the common idea of ministry, that is someone who is a professional minister or someone who serves on Sunday morning during a Church meeting, ministry is for every believer everywhere all the time. This is exactly how we express the tangible Jesus to people by ministering to them. It doesn’t have to always be in elaborate ways. Sometimes it’s being friendly to the clerk behind the counter, or talking to your waiter who you know is having a really bad day. Other times someone might need some work done around the house or someone to talk to. Ministry is a huge word and it encompasses the life of the believer. In fact it is our duty as followers of Christ to minister to people we meet everywhere.

It’s difficult to break the habits in which we use words. Often times when I say ministry people think of a Church program, or something that has to do with Church meetings. Although ministry encompasses that, it’s not limited to inside the Church walls and what happens in our meetings. Our definition of ministry must be expanded. Why? Because Christ was always ministering to people OUTSIDE the Church. Jesus was always with the people that society deemed unapproachable and the religious elite saw as too filthy to touch (sound familiar?). This is the people who need to be served the most. The ones society has given up on.

What’s this look like practically for us? Well we all have different lives, different jobs, families, we live across the globe and yet we can all minister. The job you have, what does it look like when you view it as your ministry, not just your job? Who are the people that are in your life that you can serve? Maybe it’s your wife, maybe it’s the guy in the cubicle next to you, or maybe it’s the barista who hands you your latte every morning. We all have people in our life that we can serve in some way. You’re life is your ministry, live it that way – TW

Seeing the Big Picture

I love to travel. Currently, I’m on a two week road trip with a good friend of mine named Jerry visiting friends we haven’t seen in a while. On Sunday night we stopped in Ohio to visit friends we haven’t seen since Jerry and I were in Belgium. Monday and Tuesday night we spent with two friends of ours in Michigan who just got married and we eventually ended up in Rockford Illinois where we’ll be for the next 10 days.

I love to travel because I love being able to experience new cultures, different ways of life, and places that are region specific. But really when it comes down to it what I love most about traveling is meeting other people in the Kingdom of God who are making an impact in their local communities by participating in a movement that is 2,000 years old. That’s really the point of this post, to share my most recent thoughts on this thing called Christianity and what it actually means in the big picture.

Most Christians probably know that Christianity was started a long time ago by this guy named Jesus, but what we don’t realize is that we are participating in the same movement that he started all those years ago. That same Kingdom Jesus talks about over and over again is still happening today and we are a part of this living movement. Sometimes we get so sucked into our current culture and era that we don’t see the Christianity today as a continuation of the movement Jesus started 2,000 years ago but that’s exactly what it is. It’s a living and breathing movement that is still happening and will continue to happen. This is what is so powerful about the Christian movement, ultimately it’s really the Jesus movement and ultimately that boils down to the Kingdom movement. When we view Christianity through the lenses of the Kingdom of God and the core of that being Jesus and the Scriptures He laid out then other things in Christianity that we fight over fade in to the background because the big picture is that Jesus told us to reach the lost with his message and announce His kingdom that brings healing, the changing of the mind and ultimately life everlasting that starts right now.

It’s easy to get sucked into discussions about difficult topics in Scripture that soon become arguments and then turn into dividing lines that fracture the Church (I’m talking the church not your local church body). Are there things in Scripture that we won’t see eye to eye on? Sure, but are those topics that we disagree on really enough to stop the Kingdom from going forth? Absolutely not. See my point here? I love a good discussion, I love wrestling with the paradoxes and gray areas of God’s word and Christian culture BUT, at the end of the day none of that takes away from the most fundamental basic teachings of Christ that anyone in the faith clearly sees laid out in Scripture such as making disciples, loving the broken, proclaiming the good news of Christ and ultimately seeing people come to know the radical love of our God. The other stuff is secondary to these things and they should be. Because once we make secondary stuff primary, we start creating huge divides in the body that Christ prayed to be one in.

Let me tie this together for you, there is a huge kingdom already here on earth full of Christ followers passionate about impacting their local areas with the message and love of Jesus. Do not buy in to the lie that your local Church culture is the only way to do church, follow Christ, or express the teachings of Christ. The kingdom of God is extremely diverse and full of different cultures and is constantly moving and impacting all around the world. The kingdom is bigger than you, it’s bigger than me, and it’s all that matters because it is everlasting. When we express this kingdom through love, the teachings of Christ and the BIble we give people a glimpse of heaven. Today in your life take time to remember and reflect that as you breath Christians all over the world are active and expanding the Kingdom. Christianity is no spectators sport, it is an active and full life that requires your participation.

-TW

The Pastor: Overburdened and it’s our fault!

I feel bad for pastors. Am I allowed to say that? Really, they don’t have it easy. Most of them live on borderline poverty. Usually there’s only 1 pastor per 75-100 people, and the congregation demands them to essentially be Jesus (that is, with no sin). I mean what a burden other Christians can put on someone who has the title pastor. We want our pastor to be there for us whenever we need him and when he can’t make it out to something we deem important (like a funeral) we think that he isn’t really doing his job. But here’s the thing, what if we have a very skewed and often incorrect view of what the role of a pastor really is? That would change things wouldn’t it?

 

 

It’s no surprise to anyone in the Church to hear about pastor so and so who had an affair, stole money from the church or engaged in some other act that got him to “step down” which is a polite way of saying got fired. We are quick to be the first to cast stones at the pastor without any real understanding of the pressure that we have put on him. The pastor is expected to be the ultimate family man, to never be angry, no smoking of course, most Church bodies would frown on their pastor having a beer, he has to have the answer to every question we have, and he MUST pump out sermons like candy (and they better be good and life changing every time!). Can anyone fill such a role? When the pastor fails one of these stipulations we put on him, all of the sudden he is under review and he might need to step down and take some time off. Ridiculous.

 

 

We’ve made the role of pastor in the Church the all in one printer. The pastor is expected to fill several roles that are outside the Biblical role of pastor. When we put all these different roles in to one guy, they all come out just ok. I’ve met many pastors that really are terrible with people skills, but they are amazing teachers. I’ve met pastors who have a heart for the lost and would rather spend their time outside the Church walls evangelizing, and I’ve met pastors who are great pastors. They have a heart for the people in their church, they spend as much time as they can being a shepherd to their flock. Seeing a pastor who has the gift of pastoring is amazing and refreshing, seeing a pastor who has a completely different gift but still try and pastor is frustrating.

 

 

A couple posts ago I posted about the 5 roles we see in Scripture to equip the saints. The roles are the apostle, evangelist, prophet, pastor, and teacher. All five of these roles are given to equip the Church but somewhere along the line we cut out 3 and combined two. In our modern day Church culture here in the states we got rid of the apostle, prophetic and evangelist and we combined the pastor and teacher in to one. Why? Beats me. I’m sure someone knows why, but I really don’t. To me it makes no sense to take one of those roles and make it the superman role while cutting out the others. Here’s why.

 

 

First (as I said earlier), it puts way too much pressure on one guy to lead a huge congregation and he has to fit in to all of these different roles on demand to meet the needs of the people. When you have a one boss CEO mentality in a local Church model it fails. Why? Because unlike a CEO a pastor by definition has to be completely engaged with everyone in his congregation. This is why having multiple pastors (or people with the gift of pastoring) is essential. Think about it like this. If I’m a shepherd and I have a flock of 200 sheep, I can’t possibly take care of them all by myself, I’m going to need a few other guys who also are shepherds to help take care of the flock. This same logic should be applied to our church bodies. NOTE: By pastor I don’t necessarily mean a guy who is paid in a full time salary position and who is also an administrator. I mean people who have the gift of pastoring actually using their gift. People who pastor don’t need to be the big leaders of a local church body.

 

 

Second, the 5 role structure is so clear in Scripture and all 5 roles are necessary to the body. A pastor shepherds people, takes care of their needs, a teacher teaches! Why have a pastor teach when that might not be his gift? Ever heard a pastor who can’t teach try and teach? It’s painful. This is not meant to offend anyone but it’s true. If they don’t have the gift, then don’t put them in that position. The apostle (think missionary), prophet and evangelist are all necessary roles that are so desperately needed but are missing.

When we have the 5 different positions operating together we have a team of people equipping local Church bodies. I’m convinced more and more that this is the Biblical model for the local church. It’s not about having leaders, but it’s about having equippers. When the five roles are working together it’s beautiful and wonderful. When we amputate 3 roles, we end up limping along.

 

 

There’s a book I’m reading called Church Zero by Payton Jones. It’s all about what I’m talking about here so check it out!

 

-TW

Slogan Christianity: The Stuff We Make Up to Make Ourselves Feel Better

“No God — No Peace. Know God — Know Peace.”

“Free Trip to heaven. Details Inside!”

“Try our Sundays. They are better than Baskin-Robbins.”

“Searching for a new look? Have your faith lifted here!

“If you don’t like the way you were born, try being born again.”

“Looking at the way some people live, they ought to obtain eternal fire insurance soon.”


“This is a ch_ _ ch. What is missing?

U R

“Forbidden fruit creates many jams.”

“In the dark? Follow the Son.”

“Running low on faith? Stop in for a fill-up.”

“If you can’t sleep, don’t count sheep. Talk to the Shepherd.”

 

 

C’mon, seriously?! Is this what we’ve been boiling down Christianity to these days?  Slogans that are so ridiculous, so over simplistic, that the world looks at these and chuckles?  This post is going to be dealing with slogans like the ones I posted above, and the way that these slogans, and slogans like it do so much more harm than good.

 

I’m not a negative guy.  Really, I promise, I laugh all the time, sometimes I’m way too sarcastic, and I have some friends that make me cry of laughter.  I don’t want people to misunderstand my intent here, it’s not that I’m trying to point out things for the sake of pointing things out.  I’m trying to steer us back to truth, back to the reality of Jesus.  This includes calling out junk in both the Christian and non-Christian world.  I’m often more critical of the Christian world because we are the ones who are making huge claims.  Not many people claim to know absolute truth, not many people claim to know the only  way to heaven, and not many people are so bold about the truth that they claim they know.  Because of this, it’s extremely important that we know the truth that we are claiming.  If we are claiming that Jesus is the only way to God the Father and all of the other things that come with such a loaded statement, then we must be able to articulate this clearly, not dwindling it down to 5 or  6 words.  This is what gets me so frustrated about Church slogans, they are over simplistic, half true (and you know what they say about half truths), and they do very little to articulate the full truth of Jesus.

 

I know many people like to say that the gospel is simple, easy, just say a few words (from the bottom of your heart) and presto, like a magic act, you are instantly saved.  You now have permanent “fire insurance” (Aka: You’re not going to Hell) and one day you’ll be in heaven forever.  While I know this is popular thinking, I don’t think it’ Scripturally accurate.  Even Paul who preaches God’s grace to humanity, acknowledges in his letters to the Churches he started that a fruit of the Holy Spirit working, saving us, is a change in our lifestyle.  Works are a very important part to salvation, why? Not because they save us, but because they validate the real work of the Holy Spirit in us.  Some might say I’m on shaky ground, I beg to differ, the Bible is full of verses that teach this.  Of course the most popular being James 2:17, but then you have verses like Matthew 7:21, and of course the countless verses that Paul writes encouraging the Church to live a life of purity before God.  If works didn’t matter then the New Testament would not be so full of verses supporting the system of saved by the grace of God, validated by the life we live.

 

Anyway, back to the topic at hand.  When it comes to the Christian faith, it is so important that we don’t windle down amazing truths in to bumper sticker slogans.  Why?  Because so often these slogans are not completely true!  For example, I saw one the other day that said “too blessed to be depressed”.  While a cute little saying that at first glance makes you say “Yeah so true!” Scripture will once again beg to differ.  Paul was quite depressed (or discouraged) often in his ministry, being shipwrecked, imprisoned, beaten, and cast out by his own nation, Paul wrote very often his struggle of spreading the message of Jesus to the masses.  Paul was extremely blessed, and he always brought praise to God no matter what his circumstance, but sometimes those circumstances were extremely difficult emotionally, and yet Paul kept his eyes steadily on the Father.  See the difference? The slogan tries to mask over the realities of this world, Paul collides with them head on, still considers himself blessed, and let’s God sustain him through his extremely difficult life.   Or take Job for example, everything was taken away.  If you read Job it’s clear that the word depressed doesn’t scratch the surface of what was happening, Job was honest with God in his pain, and Job never sinned.  For some reason I cant’ see Job saying “God my wife and kids are all dead, but I’m too blessed to be depressed!”.

 

Some of you might be saying give it up TIm! It’s just a stupid little slogan who cares?!.  God cares, because in a world that already muddies the truth, we don’t need to add to the noise.  Often times we hear things like “too blessed to be depressed” and we get a little high off it.  We say “Yeah! YEAH! I am to blessed!” the problem however is once we are faced with reality, that little slogan is soon gone like a vapor.  It can’t stand up to the reality of our situations.

 

Here’s my bottom line, it’s not that every slogan out there is bad, or full of hot air, it’s just that we have to be very careful with what we say is true.  If we are claiming to have the corner on truth (and we are loud about it), then everything we say about that truth, must be just that: True.   We can’t claim to know the way to heaven, then agree with many things that are not in Scripture.

 

A good friend of mine who I love dearly told me regarding my view of slogans in Christianity “Maybe some of us just like a little uplifting slogan from time to time.”Here’s the thing, if it’s not true, then it’s a lie.  There are only one of two options here, true, or not true.  If it’s not true, I dont’ want to hear it, I don’t care how appealing it sounds. I’m not concerned about trying to feel good, I’m not concerned about feeling emotionally happy, I’m concerned with what the work of Jesus has done to humanity, and what it is still doing to humanity.  I don’t want fluff do you?  Do you want to be fed a bunch of happy one liners only to find out that it was like eating junk food?  Tasted great going down but there was absolutely no nutritional value?  Look for the truth of Jesus, not for the concentrated doses of statements that give you emotional highs.  That’s not what is important here, the Kingdom of God is the most important thing because it is eternal, it is forever.

Homosexual Marriage and the Church (What Are We Doing?!)

Note: This post is solely Tim Whitaker’s opinion.

Our nation is sharply divided over the idea of legalizing some form of homosexual marriage/union.  Well it’s time for Tim Whitaker to throw his view in to the mix.  I realize there are a lot of angles to approach the subject from.  Because of that, I’m going to try and keep my post focused on one angle.  Let’s face it, you could write a book on this issue, there are so many different ways to approach this subject.  I’m coming at it from the perspective of a Christ follower and what I really see in Scripture and how we as Christians are to handle the situation.  Do I have the only right way? No, I don’t think so, however one of the benefits of having a blog is that I can post my opinion on subjects.  So agree or disagree, read along.

Let me get one thing clear right off the bat for my more conservative readers; I think homosexuality is contrary to God’s design.  There you go, I said it.  I think the Bible is pretty clear on this issue.  If we take the Genesis creation account literally, then we clearly see that God’s design since day one was for heterosexual marriage.  That being said, homosexuality is simply another symptom of a bigger problem, sin in the world.  Now, if you’re reading this and you are a homosexual hopefully you’re not ready to throw stones at me.  Sure I think that the lifestyle of homosexuality is wrong, but there are two things to keep in mind.  1. I think getting drunk is wrong, and I have and know plenty of friends who love to party.  They know right where I stand on the issue and we are still good friends.  Just because two people disagree on an issue doesn’t mean that I think that they are somehow less human.  2.  You have a freedom to live your life how you choose.  This is clear in Scripture, that if you’re not a Christian, or a follower of Christ, that it is completely unfair for us to put our beliefs on to you.  God gave Adam and Eve a choice and Paul writes over and over to be concerned with matters of the church, not of the world.

But enough of that, I want to get down to the nitty gritty.  This whole marriage debate is discouraging.  It’s discouraging to see how many Christians are ready to take up arms because a secular nation that they live in is considering giving homosexual couples the same benefits in our nation as heterosexual couples.   Yes, I said secular nation because contrary to popular belief, America is not God’s chosen nation, America is not a “christian” nation, America is a nation governed by a constitution and bill of rights, not by a Bible.  How can someone who claim to be a follower of Christ say such things?  Because it’s true.   The Bible is not a book that is supposed to be used to govern, it’s meant to speak to the individual and to the Church.  I can’t stress this enough.  Regardless if people live in sin, throwing the book at them doesn’t change their hearts! Only Christ does.

Speaking of sin, if there is one big gaping problem with the way Christians are treating this issue it’s this: We are blind to the heterosexual fornication, murder, and hosts of other things that are also immoral that America has either legalized, culturally supports, or allows that is equally against God’s moral law.  This is the irony of it all. We live in a culture that is full of people who live lives contrary to the way Jesus taught us to live and then we act shocked and surprised when things like this come up.    Paul planted a Church in Corinth, one of the most vile cities of the time and do you see paul writing letters to people outside the Church? Do you think Paul stood on a soapbox and made sure people knew that Corinth was a vile city that was going to be destroyed by the wrath of God one day?  No of course not, instead Paul instructs the CHURCH on how to live.  This is key to understand, the Bible is written to believers, to people are inside the faith.   Just like the Jewish Law applied to the Jews, the Bible (especially the New Testament) is written to God’s Church, to God’s called out ones.  Are we called to evangelize? Of course we are! But we have to ask ourselves this important question: Do we want people to know that they are wrong and we are right, or are we trying to introduce people to the person of Jesus?  If our motive is to show people Jesus and who He is and how He changes our lives, then how we express that will look much different than some of the ways I’m seeing.

I don’t know where this mindset of guilty by association came about, but it’s completely contrary to the life of Jesus.  Jesus was heavily associated with the culturally immoral of His time. He offered them restored and full life, some rejected, some accepted, either way Jesus was there with, what that society deemed, as the most immoral of all.

Look, here’s my bottom line, if homosexual marriage becomes legal, so what?  Does that change your mission here on earth as a Christ follower?  If you meet two people are legally married who are of the same sex, are they somehow beyond the saving grace of our Lord? No, they are not, so why are we treating them like they are?   The devil is tricky indeed, while we Christians are obsessing about this particular issue, millions of babies are being aborted, marriages are being torn apart by infidelity, our culture worships at the alter of money and stuff, teen suicide is at an all time high, military PTSD is at an all time high, but yes let’s rally behind the issue of two people who want the same rights in our nation that other people get.  Right or wrong, it’s not our job to tell people how to live! Remember, we are the ones in a foreign land, we are the ones who are just passing through.  People, wether it’s legal or not, are going to live how they want to live and we change hearts by personally showing them Jesus, not by legislating one part of God’s law in to a nation.  Last time we turned England into a Christian theocracy it got so corrupt that secularism was born.

Some of you might be saying that I just don’t want to stand up for the truth of God’s word to which I will leave you with a very popular Scripture verse.

 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. 11 Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. 12 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. 13 Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. 14 Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, 15 and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. 16 In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. 17 Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. – Ephesians 6:10-17

Notice here that Paul points everything to individual and the devil.  I don’t see any of these weapons that Paul describes meant to be used against people, I don’t see Paul saying “Our struggle is against immoral people! ATTACK!”  In fact in 1 Corinthians 5 he says quite the opposite: What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside? 13 God will judge those outside. “Expel the wicked person from among you.”

I’ll tell you what, why don’t we put the kind of effort we put in to stopping the homosexual agenda (an outside the Church issue) in to helping the millions of men in the Church addicted to pornography, or helping the Church lower it’s staggering divorce numbers, or infidelity in the Church? I could go on and on.  We have many things we can focus on ourselves with before we go about casting judgement on the world.  Judging the world is not our job, it’s God’s.

-TW

Denominations: A kingdom divided cannot stand.

Picture a mirror. Now picture that mirror with thousands of little cracks in it. Cracks that distort your reflection as look at yourself. This is what denominations do to the body of Christ. Extreme statement? Maybe, but Christ’s prayer was that we (His Church) were one as He and the Father were one. I think we dropped the ball on that.

There are thousands of denominations inside Christianity with their own set of of beliefs, principles, practices, and emphasis. They all like to think that they have church figured out more than the other denominations.

Here’s the glaring problem, we have made denominations walls that cut us off from other parts of the Church. Oh, disclaimer, when I say Church I’m not talking about your local Church body, I’m talking about THE Church, the big picture Church, the Church that we are all apart of. Anyway, as I was saying denominations have become walls, dividers, that have not joined us together but have segregated us. We are comfortable working with people who are inside our denomination, but working with Christians (your other brothers and sisters) outside your denomination? Now I’m just talking crazy. Here’s the crazy part, Christ, if he were here today would be heartbroken at how divided we are.

We have this mentality in the Church that our local Church we are a part of (or for most of us, attend) is the only Church that has it right. We are convinced that the only church body that matters is ours, or our parent/sister/brother/aunt/cousin church (meaning the other churches in our comfortable little circle that we say we partner with about once a year for something). I don’t understand it. I’m convinced that the Church is the only organization that not only is divided, but is literally cut off from itself. This is the kind of thing Paul warns the Corinthians about.

For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body— Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit. For the body does not consist of one member but of many. If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell? But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, yet one body. The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” (1 Corinthians 12:12-21 ESV)

Paul hits it out of the park. If you’re a leader in a local Church reading this blog then take that Scripture to heart. Our identity is Christ, not our denomination, not our programs, or our ministries, or anything else. Our identity as a Christian is Christ! We ALL have the same identity, so why are we so DIVIDED! Forgive my use of capital letters, I am just so fired up that we can claim to be Christians and yet over look these parts of Scripture, or worse, we can take a section like I just posted and apply it only to our local Church that we serve in. Notice how Paul says we are in one Spirit baptized in one body, not a local body, not an individual body, one body. Do not apply this scripture only to your expression of the Church, Paul is talking big picture here.

Can we as Christians have different views on some issues? Absolutely. But should these things divide us as deep as they have? Absolutely not. It is in direct conflict with the heart of Christ. (See John 17).

Rob (the other writer for this blog) and I have some stark differences. In fact they are so stark that we probably won’t be planting a church together anytime soon. But these differences do nothing to sever our relationship as brothers in the same Kingdom worshipping the same God. We eat together, we share views together, we talk and hangout, we have great times together and we still have different views on things inside the faith.

America doesn’t need more church buildings, it doesn’t need more expressions of the local church, it needs a united Church. In New Jersey there are roughly 3 church buildings every square mile. We have plenty of church buildings, but a kingdom divided can’t stand. Until we are willing to bridge the denominational divide, we will continue to stifle Church growth, but more importantly we are stifling the growth of the Kingdom of God. We fight over things that are sometimes so ridiculous, our cultures look at it and says “seriously?”

What’s my solution? Here are a few.

1. Make every effort to connect with other local churches in your immediate area. Invite the pastors to lunch and talk about how to be more unified and then actually do things together with your congregations. For instance, what if the Churches in your area organized a park cleanup day? Or what if the Churches in your area went to the mayor’s office and asked what you could all do together to serve the community.

2. Take a week off from your Church service and go worship the same God with another local church body in your immediate area. I recommend doing this often. Not only does it give your pastor, worship band, and other people who help run the Sunday morning service a break, it starts to bridge the gap between local Churches. After all you are trying to reach the SAME community, why the heck would you not talk to each other?

If we are to be followers of the teachings of Christ, if we are to have His heart, then uniting the Church must be a top priority. But we are a prideful bunch, we don’t like to change and conform to someone’s [inferior] view. We don’t like to admit that we were wrong. We’d much rather be comfortable with our circle of believers, then to get uncomfortable and have some difficult conversations with other believers.

I’ll leave you with the words of Jesus. “I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me. (John 17:20-23 ESV)

The X Rated Bible.

“When she carried on her prostitution openly and exposed her naked body, I turned away from her in disgust, just as I had turned away from her sister. Yet she became more and more promiscuous as she recalled the days of her youth, when she was a prostitute in Egypt. There she lusted after her lovers, whose genitals were like those of donkeys and whose emission was like that of horses. So you longed for the lewdness of your youth, when in Egypt your bosom was caressed and your young breasts fondled. (Ezekiel 23:18-21 NIV)”

Don’t be offended. It’s in the Bible.

I grew up with a pretty squeaky clean version of Christianity. Great parents who raised me very morally, and I was told early on not to say certain words, not to sleep with someone before your married, not to do drugs, not to lie, not to steal and so on and so forth. I was also raised with a pretty pure view of the BIble. I’ve heard before that the Bible is the word of God, that God has every word in there for a reason. The Bible is God breathed and in it he tells the story of redemption for humanity. While I fully agree with this, we’ve (conveniently) skipped the grittier parts of the God’s word.

God is honest. He doesn’t skip over the ugly parts of humanity. He doesn’t try and sugar coat things. In the Bible we see the ultimate depravity of man. Gang rapes, sacrificing children to pagan gods, incest, manipulation, affairs, murder, it’s all in there. Why? Because we compare ourselves. We say to ourselves “there’s no way God could use that person” while we forget that Jesus was born through the line of David, a man who had slept with a woman and then had her husband killed in battle. We forget that Paul wrote most of the New Testament and before he was converted, he was responsible for hunting and killing Christians. God uses what we as humans deem as the morally corrupt. People that we see as reprehensible, offensive, and utterly disgusting. God instead sees them as redeemed, and He restores them from death and corruption to life and integrity.

We need to see people that sometimes Christendom deems as unapproachable as approachable. For example when it comes to the sexually corrupt such as pornographers, exotic dancers, and people in that industry we often think to ourselves unclean, unclean! We say to ourselves “well sure God can save them but he sure won’t be using me to do that!’. When we think that we are too morally clean to get in the trench with broken, dirty people we fail as little Christs’. We fail to model who Jesus was. We all know the story of the woman at the well, the woman who was seen by the religious elite as too unclean. Jesus goes right up to her, approaches her, engages in conversation and she is changed forever. Next time you think of someone like a dancer, or someone you know who is sexually promiscuous remember the woman at the well.

What’s my point? God isn’t afraid to get in the trenches with the most morally corrupt. God isn’t afraid to write about them in his Holy book, and God doesn’t sugar coat what they did in that book either. He is upfront, honest, descriptive, and in it we see a good God redeeming humanity. The Bible is not a children’s book full of fairy tales of unicorns and ponies. It’s gritty, vulgar, and gross. The best part? It’s good.

We need to view the Bible for what it is and we need to let that be a sobering reminder that nothing is too unclean for God to use and turn in to restored goodness. Let’s not put walls in between us and certain people because the God of the Bible most certainly does not.

You. Are. Church.

If I sound like a broken record too bad. Ok that sounds mean.

I realize that sometimes my posts might come across as redundant, but when it comes to the Church, to the body of Christ, nothing (besides the work of Christ) can be more important. After all Christ believes in His bride. He gave His life for it, He established it, and He entrusted us with His message of redemption, grace, and restoration. This is why I’m always talking about the Church. This is why I’m so passionate about keeping the heart and mission of His body at the center, and not our politics, events, and red tape that sometimes we accidentally make the focus.

I’ve been thinking for years now about what it is exactly a lot of people who profess to be part of the Church miss. No, it’s not salvation, but I think it’s an understanding of what they are a part of. It seems too often we are too caught up in the Sunday morning meeting and we forget that the Church is not the sunday morning service but it is the people that come together to meet with each other and celebrate what The Lord has done and is continuing to do. Church is people. It is you and I. You. Are. Church. That is what this post is about. Recognizing your identity and walking in it 24/7.

Changing the format of “church”, changing the name, changing the way we’ve always done things, is not the answer to getting the body to recognize and walk in its identity and calling. In fact when the a local body recognizes its identity as the hands and feet of Christ, the Sunday morning service and other common Church functions are compliments. They are very good things that we must not throw out but must maintain. However, We must begin to teach and instruct the body on what they are participating in. This to me is one of the big things we sometimes miss. We assume that the people know that the Church is not a building or just a sunday morning meeting. But people assume that all the time. On top of that, sometimes we send mixed signals. Let me give you can example.

I was at a church service sometime ago. The pastor walked on to the stage and says “Are you excited to be in the house of God” to which the congregation gave an enthusiastic yes! The pastor said this at least 3-4 times during the coarse of his sermon. At the very end however he said “how many of you know the Church is not a building, but it’s people” to which the congregation responded by raising their hands (in this case the majority). This made me think “well which is it? Is the Church the building or is it the people?” This is a very confusing thing to hear (especially when people are not very familiar with church). It frustrates me greatly to hear people say things like welcome to the house of God, because according to scripture God dwells in people. We are the temple that the Spirit of God dwells in and when we make statements like “welcome to the house of God” we lead people to assume that we are talking about the building we are in.

I use this example because I think at some point the majority of sunday morning attendees have heard this phrase thrown out from the stage and it is simply not accurate. In my view it does more damage because it instills the idea that Church is a place we go to on Sunday morning as opposed to the view that Church is a body of people who are representations of Christ in their life, they meet together on Sunday mornings to celebrate Christ and His work. See the difference?

True Identity. That is my solution to this problem. If we being to teach the Church what there true identity is I think we can revitalize a sometimes stagnant Church. I mean let’s be honest the Church is in some ways very active, and in other ways very dormant. We are getting more and more outside of our four walls, this is a very good thing, but in a rush to get people out the door we’ve sometimes missed instructing them on their identity. God’s answer to brokenness in the world is the Church. The Church is the hope of the world. I am so convinced of this because I have seen the Church be the hope of the world. I watched when hurricane Sandy hit Christians volunteering their time to help families rebuild their homes. Local Church bodies that owned a building opened it up for people who had no place to go. I get to read stories of the Church (people) working in third world countries to stop human trafficking. The Church, the body of Christ is the hope of the world because we are Christ in the flesh. As Paul says, we are His hands and His feet, we are little Christs’ (Christians) representing the heart of Christ when he lived among us.

I can not express this idea enough. Our view of the word Church must be greatly expanded. Not only is the Church a group of people that meet on Sunday morning, they are a living body that exists even when the doors are shut.

If you are a Christian, congratulations you are Church. When you leave Sunday morning service guess what? You’re still Church. When you’re at work on Monday you are Church and you represent Christ in that work environment. I could go on and on, but you get my point. And let’s face it, I’ve said this stuff before and I won’t stop saying this because it is so crucial to the world and to Christianity.

Let me put it this way. Roughly 75% of Americans identify as Christians. If we could get all of them to realize their identity in Christ, that they are the hands and feet of God, the Church, that they can change the world for good, wouldn’t that be amazing? I won’t stop preaching this message of the potential in the Church. It’s what’s on my heart and it can literally change the world, it can solve poverty, it can solve hunger, it can bring hope to the hopeless, restoration to the broken, life to the dead, and true love to the world. The Church is what Christ established, it is the hope of the world. I won’t watch it be squandered and caught up in red tape, church politics, meaningless splits, denominations that won’t work with each other because of “belief differences” and other things that ultimately do nothing to encourage followers of Christ to walk in their identity 24/7.

Youth Group: Who’s Idea Was This? (Part 1)

I have many good friends who are youth pastors. This post is not about bashing them, or anyone else who has been called to work with youth. This post is about looking at what’s happening in our youth groups in churches and how we need to adjust quickly to save the next generation coming up behind me. I want to make this clear because we should be looking for solutions, not pointing fingers. But before we get to solutions, we need to address the problems. So, here we go.

Most (not all) youth groups are run the same way. Usually, the youth group meets once a week outside of the Sunday morning service. They meet in a room that is designed to be visually attractive to youth. Video games, tv’s, ping pong, music, couches, posters, things like this usually adorn the room in an attempt to make the youth feel like the Church understands them, that the Church is reaching out to them on their terms. For the first half hour to hour, everyone just hangs out. Sometimes music is blaring in the background and the place takes on more of a party atmosphere. After that, the worship band usually comes on and plays a bunch of high energy songs (sometimes accompanied by a full blown light show), with kids jumping around and singing as loud as they can. The band will end with a slower song, one that is more emotionally gripping while the speaker makes his way to the stage, after a half hour sermon about something “relevant to them” (Usually a topical, watered down message), the pastor dismisses the group and it’s back to loud music and video games, occasionally they throw in pizza. Parents then come by and pick up their kids, and repeat the process the following week.

Clearly, there are more aspects to a youth group than just the once a week meeting. Missions trips, events to theme parks or big Christian youth rallies are also part of the youth group. But for the sake of this post I’ll be focusing my energy on the youth group service. Also, I most definitely generalized my take on what happens in youth groups. Not all youth groups run this way, but most do. Most run with a format similar to what I just described.

I bring this up because we are doing something wrong. How do I know this? Because according to the Voddie Bauchman author of Family Driven Faith, 80% of youth walk away from the church by the second year of college. Here are some other statistics courtesy of the Barna Group

A Barna survey focused on finding out how teens beliefs differ from their parents found that:

63% don’t believe Jesus is the Son of the one true God
58% believe all faiths teach equally valid truths.
51% don’t believe Jesus rose from the dead.
65% don’t believe Satan is a real entity.

Let those numbers sink in. They should be cold water on your face (especially if you work with youth in the Church). What we are doing, is not working.

And why would it? Let’s face it, a lot of times our youth groups look like glorified baby sitting clubs. Devoid of parents (in fact a lot of times parents are encouraged to let their teens participate in church functions separately), devoid of solid Biblical training, devoid of intimate discipleship and mentorship. It’s no wonder our youth groups are failing.

Look, I’ll be blunt. The Church in this regard decided to compete with the world for the hearts of the youth. We decided to make our youth meetings full of fluff, emotional feelings, and games. We traded that for sound teaching, discipleship, mentorship, and training on how to defend their faith. So many youth really don’t even understand what they believe (See above statistics) and it’s a major problem.

We must rethink how we approach youth ministry. Because we are missing them. They are coming out mostly unchanged, and no different from the culture around them. And how can we expect them to be different when we take cultures approach to youth and apply it in our churches? I think we really misunderstand teenagers. We think that they want to be fed light hearted things. We assume that they don’t have questions that are tough, and we think that if we get too theological that we will lose their ear. This can’t be further from the truth, if done in a relational way. We live in a culture where many, many teens are growing up without a mom or a dad. Teens are hurting, they are looking for someone older to reach out to them and just listen to them. Contrary to popular belief, teens do look up to their parents, and teens do desire mentorship from not only their piers but also from people older than them (I’m talking to you people in your mid 20’s).

So what’s the solution? Well there is no one solution, depending on your local church it will look different. I do have one particular example in mind for a solution however, and I’ll share it with you.

I had a great opportunity to work with an amazing youth group last year. Contrary to the popular way of doing youth group, this youth pastor was much more interested in getting his teenagers to open up and discuss hard things that they are going through. Essentially, he wanted them to feel safe during youth group. So he ditched the typical youth format. Instead of meeting in a youth room they met in his apartment, instead of leading the youth by himself, he recruited 10 people in their 20’s and early 30’s, instead of flashy services, they met in a small living room with some snacks. Instead of video games there was conversation. Instead of people pairing off, there was one group, functioning together. I think we were all a little worried about how the teens would react to this change. I’m happy to say that not only were the youth more than thrilled, often begging us to not end the discussion time, our youth group exploded in a matter of weeks. Soon they were bringing their friends and we were cramming 50 people in to a tiny living room. What was our secret? Relational mentorship. You know, how Jesus modeled His life for us. I was blown away at how open these teens were, and how honest they were. They had genuine questions that often lead us in to deep water. The trinity, how to love their friends who lived lifestyles they disagreed with, how to love people who were bullying them, how to respect their parents, how do we know the Bible is true. These weren’t things that the leaders were bringing up, these were things the teens were bringing up! By the way, let me also mention that the ratio to leaders and students was roughly 1 leader to every 3 students. This was key in building solid relationships with the youth. One guy can’t handle an entire youth group, it takes a team that devotes their time to relationally engaging them.

Ravi Zacharias said “In our modern day philosophies of church growth we are unhealthily preoccupied with programs and I suggest to you programs are always a secondary to people. God prepared a person before he implemented a program, we create a program and then find a person”. We have done this to youth groups and we are reaping the consequences. We have taken reaching youth and turned it in to a formula, we have turned it in to a program, and we missed the youth in the process. We are sometimes so concerned with making sure that our program runs smooth that we haven’t taken the time to even examine if the program works! It doesn’t.

I can’t tell you how many people I know that I’ve met recently or that I’ve grown up with that were at one time, active youth group participants and have walked away from the faith. Our common way of having youth group is mostly not working, and anyone who I have met that loved their youth group always tells me that it was because of a deep relationship that got them through. I have yet to hear someone tell me that because of the youth group program, their life was changed. I hear instead, that because of someone reaching out to them, being their friend and mentor on a personal level, that they came to know Jesus in a more relational and intimate way.

Jesus discipled not by going through a curriculum, or by teaching his disciples the 3 steps to a better life. But by living life with them, and teaching them in life, having discussions with them, eating a meal with them, and physically teaching them the ways of the Kingdom. If we want to reclaim the next generation we have to take the time to invest in to them. One hour, once a week, with a static format, is not going to cut it.

In part 2, I’m going to be addressing the parents role in this. Thanks for reading!
-TW

Sometimes Christians Get It Wrong

Originally, I was writing a post about absolute truth and how it exists and how important it is. But then I realized that I don’t know nearly enough on the subject to articulate myself well enough for a post. But as I began to write, another topic emerged. The more I wrote, the more I realized that I needed to take my post in another direction. So buckle up here we go.

As Christians, sometimes we think we own the corner on truth. What I mean by that is we sometimes assume that everything we say about the Christian faith is true, as opposed to truth dictating what we believe about the Christian faith. If you look even briefly at the history of the Christian faith, you will see that we have done things that we look back on and say “what were they thinking?!” For example, the crusades were a very bad idea and not true to the Christian faith and the teachings of Christ. Although at the time they felt justified in their actions, we see clearly now that what they did was contrary to Christ and His Kingdom.

When we look at modern day Christianity (especially here in the states) we must be careful in how outspoken we are regarding what we think we know. Sometimes we over extend our hand and assume that the way we were taught to interpret the Bible is the right way, or the way we were taught to see our culture or the unsaved is the right way. We must extremely careful not to get so wrapped up in our dogma that it blinds us to truth when it is presented.

One of the dangers I see in the Christian faith is that we have let other things such as world views, politics, and compromise come in and alter our view of the way of Christ. We have taken certain messages from the world (such as the liberal message or conservative message) identified parts of it in the Bible, and then made up our own version of Christianity. Essentially, we have let other things dictate how we see the Bible and ultimately our faith, instead of digging more in to the context and history of our faith and seeing how to apply it here and now.

One of the biggest missteps I have seen over the past ten years is the way many public Christian figures (and not so public figures) have handled the homosexual movement. In a faith that is so clear on grace, redemption, love, and forgiveness, we instead pointed out the action of homosexuality and essentially condemned people solely for the particular action. In the process we not only lost the heart of the gospel (that no matter what we do, we are in need of Jesus and His healing), but we lost the ear of many people engaged in that lifestyle. From people like Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson who blamed 9/11 on the homosexual movement, to the pastor who suggested that we round up all the homosexuals and put them in a quarantined area with an electric fence, we have made some missteps in the way to engage this growing topic in our culture.

Sometimes, we as Christians can accidentally get so arrogant, so full of pride, because we think that our eyes have been open to all truth because of Christ when this is not the case. Sometimes, we think “well I believe in Jesus and affirm his resurrection, therefore whatever I think must be completely true” and this is a dangerous slope because no human knows everything. No human has the corner on all truth. The pursuit of truth is a lifelong pursuit and one that we can never fulfill in our lifetimes. We are wrong on some things. Even now, I’m sure that all of my beliefs are not accurate when stacked up against God and his absolute truth. Even though many of you reading this who are Christians are agreeing with me, your actions sometimes say quite the opposite.

Let me ask the Christians out here a question, when was the last time you apologized to a person who was not in the Christian faith? When was the last time you told someone “I was wrong for thinking that about you”? Christians are called to be humble, people are looking to make things right, not to inflame the situation. I have heard with my own ears people who profess Christianity talk so arrogantly about what they think they know and as soon as someone enters the conversation with a different view, the Christian shuts them down immediately with prepackaged Christian culture answers. This is not the way to engage people and to win their respect so they will hear you out and continue a conversation about deep, complicated things.

Let me ask you (the Christian) one final question. What’s your motive? To prove to the world that everything that you say is absolute truth? Is it to prove that you are right and they are wrong and therefore everyone must see everything the way you see it? Or is your point to introduce them to Jesus so that they may know Him and His way, His teachings, His kingdom? When your motivation is introduce people to the risen Christ, the way you engage people with different views than you changes greatly. It changes from attacking and overloading them with your worldview, to being a listener and conversationalist, trusting that it is Jesus who redeems and saves people, not you.

If all we do as Christians is tell the world how wrong they are, and how right we are, and people reject Christ because of that (as many have) then we still lose in the end. Our only focus should be introducing people to God and His kingdom. The Bible makes it clear, God judges people, not us. Why? Because all are equal at the foot of the cross. Without Christ we are all in the same sinking boat. It doesn’t matter what you’ve done, how you live, Jesus is the only hope for humanity.
-TW

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