Coffee, Theology and Jesus

working out our messy faith over coffee

Category: The Local Church (page 1 of 3)

The Church Friend Zone (Breaking Out)

Remember when you were in the friend zone?

For the married crowd let me refresh your memory on what the friend zone is.

The friend zone is when you like someone more than just friends, but they don’t see you the same way so they put you in what’s called the friend zone. It pretty much means that they will never see you as more than a friend and there’s nothing you can do about it. They simply don’t see you the same way that you see them. For men, those three words bring up feelings of impending doom, emotional death, and absolute helplessness.

The friend zone is a barrier put up between you and the other person that says “you can come this far into my life, but no farther then this boundary I put up”.

So what happens when we Church zone people? I’m glad you asked.

The Church zone is like the friend zone only for Church people. Essentially, it’s a barrier we put up between us and other fellow Church members that says we can be friends up to a point. That we can be friends at Church events (like Sunday morning, maybe small group, and the yearly Super Bowl party) and that’s about as far as our relationship will go. When we church zone people we don’t see them as friends that we do life with, we see them as church folks that we see once a week or at other church events.

I know when I’m breaking out of the church zone with Church people when they call me just to hangout, to maybe see a movie, to kick back at the house and figure out something to do. This is when I know I’m not just a fellow church member, but now I’m a friend. Now I ‘m someone they see as a part of their entire life, not just their “church life”.

This is incredibly frustrating for me because the big movement in Church these past few years has been a (rightful) focus on community and relationships. The problem is that we are so used to planning events and church functions that we have forgotten how to be friends again.We are afraid that if people from Church just hangout without an agenda that we somehow didn’t do it right. This is a dangerous mindset because when we forget how to be…friends, we then miss the whole point of holistic Church life.

Listen, if people in the Church are agreeing that Church is not a place you go to it’s a life you live, then we need to smash through this wall in our heads that we put up of spending 90% of our time with fellow Church members at specific Church designated events. We must de-compartmentalize and blur the lines between Church friends and friends! Who are the people you make time to see? Who are the people that you can be you around, who you invite over regularly to eat with, to catch up on life with, to share your life with? Are they the same people you see regularly on Sunday morning?

If we are going to claim to be a Church that sees human relationships as key to living out the faith, then we must de-church zone our fellow church members and must invite them into our whole lives, not just to small group time, or Sunday morning service time, or potluck dinner time.

What’s the challenge? Call up someone you see on Sunday mornings but not during your normal week or during your normal social time and invite them to hangout. Share a meal, play Mario Kart, grab coffee, go shopping together or whatever else you can think of and break them out of the zone you’ve put them in.

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-TW

Church Hopping: It’s Really not a Bad Idea.

“So Tim what Church do you go to” is often the question I get from pastors or other Christians I meet for the first time. Usually I start by saying “uh…..hmmmm….it’s kind of complicated”. At that point the first bead of sweat pours off my forehead as I start to utter the words “I visit different Churches every Sunday”. As those words pour out of my mouth I see the face of the person I’m talking to change from pleasant to “oh he’s one of THOSE people”. Awwwwkkkwaaarrrdddd.

I’ve been Church hopping for about a year now and I’m still a Christian! I know, it’s unbelievable that I haven’t lost my faith, or that God hasn’t given me the almighty smite that I was under the impression I’d get if I start hopping around to different Church bodies on Sunday mornings. But here I am a year later and all my limbs are still in tact.

Before I go further let me say that I understand why I was told that hopping around different churches is a bad idea. I understand that there are people looking for the perfect church that meets all their needs and requires nothing from them. From that perspective yes, Church hopping is a bad idea. But if you’re doing it to meet other believers (read that as meeting family you’ve never met), then I highly recommend it.

I’ll be blunt, it’s easy to get burnt out serving on Sunday mornings. In fact, this is the first time in 13 years that I’m not required to attend a Sunday Service to serve in some capacity. To be honest, I often wrestle with why we as a Church culture define people serving as “We need help making our Sunday service work, and if you don’t serve that in some way, we question your devotion to God”. I digress.

Usually, the main way I serve on a Sunday morning is by playing drums for a specific worship band. A year ago I said goodbye to a dear Church family I loved serving with and embarked on a new journey. The journey of seeing how other believers worship on Sunday morning.

It has been quite a year. I’ve had the chance to visit Sunday morning services all over New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and even in Illinois. Here are three things I’ve learned over this year.

1. Going to a Church service you’ve never been to is quite intimidating. If you ever wanted to know why non-Christians rarely come out to a Church service, take a Sunday morning to attend a Church you’ve never been to and where you know no one. It’s completely intimidating ESPECIALLY when no one talks to you. Yes, that’s happened to me more than once. I’ve been that guy by himself standing awkwardly in the hallway waiting to walk into service while everyone looks at me with the face of “who is that weirdo”. I never went back to those church meetings.

2. Many churches think way too small. Since I’ve been visiting different Churches every Sunday my view of the Church has expanded on a global level. I used to view Christianity starting with the local Church and then eventually expanding to the big picture. That there is one Church globally that has been charged with showing people the Kingdom of God. Now, my mind first starts with the big picture and then moves downward to the local level. It’s just like when you use Google maps when you’re all the way zoomed out. Then, when you type in an address it zooms you in to that address. That’s the way I think about Church now, and you know? It changes the way you view things. Now, when a Church body asks me to help out on a Sunday morning (usually musically related) I see it as helping out another part of the family in the Kingdom of God. It’s freeing because once you see other Churches as family and not as competition, you want to work with them, not outdo them.

3. Apparently drummers are in high demand. I probably fill in 2 times a month at a different Church body on the drums for Sunday morning. Who knew.

If (and only if) The Lord has released you of your Sunday morning obligations to your local Church I highly recommend taking a couple months and visiting other Church bodies in your immediate area. You meet some great people, make new connections and you get a much bigger picture of what is going on on a Kingdom level. It’s freeing knowing that you’re a member of the Kingdom, not one local Church.

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-TW

If You’re Single and You Know It Clap Your Hands

I’m writing this post because I know that I’m not the only Christian who is in their early/mid/late twenties and hopelessly single. Is this a bad thing? Not always, but is it a difficult thing? Absolutely. Why? Because not only were humans not really designed to be single abstinent people at this age, but both our church culture and the culture of our society both throw two options out that in many ways just are not viable. This post isn’t a rant or about getting attention. I don’t sit in my bed at night crying to Dashboard Confessional, I don’t walk around with jet black hair in my face with a frown about how sad I am that I don’t have a girlfriend. No it’s not about that. It’s about sharing my honest thoughts on being single in my mid 20’s.

Is it frustrating at times being single and in your mid 20’s or older? Absolutely. Who in that situation doesn’t have these thoughts “Maybe I’m just really weird”? We all have those thoughts, especially when we are going to weddings monthly of our piers tying the knot. And congratulations to them by the way, weddings make me extremely happy.

So what are we single people to do? Well let me start by telling you that our American culture’s answer is a horrible one. The train of thought for people our age is usually something along the lines of date as much as you can and sleeping with your date is perfectly fine, after all you have to test drive the car before you buy it right? What a horrible analogy.

But I digress.

What culture fails to tell you is that statistically people my age are more emotionally miserable and often feel empty when they live such reckless sexual and emotional lives.

Sometimes the Church’s answer isn’t much better. Usually the answer is something like “hey you’re single? We better get you married ASAP!”. One time I heard a pastor say from the pulpit “Hey if you’re single, go get married”. As if all I had to do was put a dollar in the crane game and pick out my wife. Sometimes it’s just not that simple. Plus, sometimes we need to be supported in being single. And if I hear one more time from a married guy or girl tell me to let Jesus fill the void I’m going to run my car off a cliff. Isn’t that ironic? I’ve never had a single person tell me that. Why? Because we single people know that we were designed for relationship with someone of the opposite sex. So does God, that’s why He says in Genesis that it’s not good for man to be alone.

Think about that statement for a minute. God said that BEFORE sin entered the world. Even when God declared his creation good it still wasn’t complete. God and Adam had perfect unity, they was no sin in between them and God still says that Adam is alone? According to many of the songs we sing on Sunday morning that tell us God is all we need, God must be wrong. Nevertheless, He sees man so He creates Eve and this beautiful thing called marriage. There is a void in the heart of most people that God does not fill because he designed that void to be filled by a human companion. Don’t misunderstand, without a relationship with God how can we live fully? How can we love someone wholly? God is the source, but God designed us for more than solely a relationship with Him. We were designed for marriage, and God delights when His children commit to life with each other.

What am I saying? That’s actually a great question, I feel more like I’m rambling to be honest. Here’s what I’m trying to say, yeah being abstinent and single is difficult, but it’s ok. It’s ok to admit that sometimes it’s tough and it’s ok to admit that there are times where you struggle with being lonely in that area of your life. I used to BS to people and tell them that God has filled that void, but one day when I was having a conversation with God, the Holy Spirit gently told me “It’s ok to admit you’re lonely with this, now trust me with it and walk through it”. It changed me forever. Yeah, I’m single, no I really don’t want to be single, but you know what? I’m not compromising for the sake of companionship and my God can sustain me through it. Admitting that you don’t want to be single, while still being single is not a pity party, it’s not depressing, it’s truth, and it’s truth that I’m comfortable sharing.

To you single people out there, continue to pursue your relationship with Jesus, let Him write the love story to your life, and don’t compromise for the sake of companionship.

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-TW

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

What Mighty Ducks 2 and the Bible have in common.

This is a long post, just so your warned.

Community is one of the many buzz words in the Church community. It’s taken over like a plague. That usually is a good thing, but if we don’t really understand what that word implies then it becomes a dangerous thing. Dangerous because we start to redefine what community actually implies. When we start reading our culture into words, we sometimes tend to water down their meaning. For example many churches have community groups but all that means is a group who meets once a week for 3 hours to maybe eat some food, then go through a Bible study that the larger Church has already put together. This is not community, that’s Bible study with food.

Really community in Christianity boils down to a group of people pursuing The Lord together. Can this happen once a week in someone’s house? Of course, but when that’s all it is, a few meetings during the week, we lose the intimacy with each other. When we plan out the meeting every time, we don’t give much room for God to truly move. Why do I say this? Because sometimes we trick ourselves. We pray prayers like “God have your way tonight” but really what we’re saying is “hey God we have our format prepared, hope you fit in”. This is why I get frustrated with the Sunday service so often, because regardless of our prayers for the Holy Spirit to move, we don’t. We refuse to change too many things on a Sunday morning. I think we should be praying “God help us to be willing to change on a moments notice as your Spirit leads”.

Back to my point. About 6 years ago I met a group of people that became my community. We met once a week on Saturday nights as a group but the difference was that it didn’t stop there for us. We were always together throughout the week and it did not always have a “spiritual” emphasis. What i mean is that often times we got together for dinner, or to do homework together. We had common interests and we did a lot of them together. There is strength in Christian community because you’re able to let your guard down. People want to be there for you, not throw you out, people want to know you intimately in your life not in designated Christian times. This small group I was a part of was called 11th hour and it changed my life.

We really didn’t know what was happening. I would bring a friend out who never met anyone from 11th hour and they would say “I can’t believe this exists” and we would say “us either”. We knew early on that it had nothing to do with us and everything to do with God working among us. We got to a point in 11th hour where our prayer was “God, whatever you want to take away, take away, whatever you want to add, add” and it was completely genuine. We were willing to change anything that he wanted changed. We knew we wanted two things, the real presence of God continually and authentic, deep relationships with each other. God granted both of those to us and we would never be the same.

Our mindset was to be radically inclusive, it didn’t matter who you were, where you came from, you were welcome to join us, to be a part of our local group, to join us in pursuing The Lord together. We were set on fire with a desire to be together as much as possible with each other. One time a friend of ours got extremely sick and was put in the hospital for a week. Every day there were people in his room. Even past visitation hours. The nurses couldn’t believe how many people were with him all day and when they started asking questions we were more than happy to tell them what we were about. We even hacked in to the tv in the hospital room and hooked up a wii so we could play Mario Kart. We had 5-10 guys there day and night hanging out with him and being there for him the entire time he was in the hospital. It makes for a great story today. I mean c’mon, who hooks up a wii to a hospital tv? Our friend was sharing a room with someone else during his stay there so we had to keep quiet. Imagine 4 guys sitting on a hospital bed trying not to scream when they won or lost. It was quite the challenge.

Every day you could bet that some people somewhere from 11th hour were together doing something. We started a text loop dubbed “the loop” where people could send prayer requests to someone who would loop it out. Eventually it got so large that we had two loops. An announcement loop and a prayer loop. I was in charge of that and at one point I was sending about 10,000 texts out per month.

People were coming in to our midst and being set free from all sorts of garbage. We weren’t afraid to get in the mud with each other and work through our garbage. This was what changed my life. For the first time I had someone who knew every dark part of me, who knew all of my crap and helped me work through it. I’m still accountable to that person today and he has become one of my closest friends.

Community really is both/and. It’s all about pursuing The Lord together and it’s all about enjoying life together. When you have a group as large as 11th hour (at one point close to 35 people) you have a wide range of interests and passions. Because of that we tried to support people in doing what they loved. We went to hockey games, art exhibits, concerts, plays, and everything in between. Not because we were all passionate about these things, but because one of us was and we wanted to support that person as much as possible. The band that I play music with (Red Sea Affair) had some of the best fans. Why? Because our community was completely behind us and came to so many of our shows. When community is being fully lived out, it’s more like a unit then it is a group. It’s a living, God breathed commune that is working together in the Kingdom of God.

There’s a price though, and it’s a hefty one. You give up a lot of your individualism. It’s not just you or your family anymore, you gain a new family with new responsibilities and sometimes it gets tough. Sometimes, tough conversations have to be had, sometimes people don’t get along and you are sitting their trying to mediate between two people. This is why Biblical principles are so key. If a community isn’t practicing forgiveness, mercy, grace, patience, and ultimately love consistently, the group will fall apart. It reminds of one of my favorite scene in might ducks 2.

In this scene the hockey coach (coach Bombay) has 10 new hockey players from all over the country. So to get them to work together he ties them up on the ice so they are one big circle, then he says ok work together and skate. Of course the first time everyone tries to go their own way and they all fall. The second time someone yells “OK everyone move to your right now” to which someone else says “Who made you boss? Everyone to your left now” and of course everyone falls down. Finally, they start to work together and start to move in one direction as one group.

It’s a lighthearted scene but still a powerful lesson that can be applied here. Community only works when everyone is willing to work together, compromise, and give up some of their rights to move as a unit.

I’m not trying to paint a utopian picture here of some fantasy world where everyone floats around on clouds and never does stupid things. We’ve all had our moments throughout the years of stupid things and we’ve all either had to approach someone, or have been approach by someone and lovingly corrected. But overall, when a group of people is consistently together in life, and the common theme is pursuing the heart of Jesus together, you come out with a better way to do life. Let me sum this up.

Here’s the bottom line. When we make community a major priority in our life, and we put in the work that is necessary, ultimately we come out with a much fuller and better life. I often times look back and am so grateful for the people that i’ve had in my life and still have. People sometimes come and go as God directs them in His kingdom, and we’ve had to say goodbye to some amazing people as God moves them, but I often times sit back in a chair and remember the amazing times we had together. The other side of that coin is that I still have the most amazing people in my life. I don’t know how people do it alone, I couldn’t imagine not having people in my life that know me better than I know myself in a lot of ways. People that encourage me, allow me to encourage them, and that push me closer to Jesus.

I was with a good friend of mine a couple days ago and I introduced her to some of my community. She told me “These people are great, they just get it and I felt like I could just be myself.” Indeed my friend, indeed.

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

Why God Is Not Number One In My life

I’ll never forget the conversation I had with my good friend Jerry that changed my relationship with Jesus.  It was about 6 years ago now where Jerry described a conversation he had with Jesus in his car while driving that changed the way he loved God.  Jerry told me that as he was driving, the Lord brought to mind Matthew 22:37-40 which reads “Jesus replied: “ ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’c 38This is the first and greatest commandment.39And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’d 40All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

As Jerry was talking to Jesus about this particular scripture, Jesus brought up this idea of loving Him with all of his heart, soul, mind, and strength.  Jerry responded with “yes Lord, I’ll love you with my heart, soul, mind, and strength but what about other people? I should love them too right?” with which Christ responded “No, just love me”.  “What about my family?” said Jerry, Christ responded with the same answer.  “How about the Church? I should love your bride” Jerry once again asked only to be told “No, just love me”.  This perplexed Jerry for sometime and as he was wrestling with this it finally clicked.  Jerry realized that his own love was flawed, that he couldn’t love perfectly on his own.  Christ then said these profound words to him; “When you love me with everything you have, you can’t love anything with your own love, instead I will show you how to love.”  When Jerry explained this to me my world was rocked forever.

 

We often hear things like “make Christ number one in your life” and while I understand the point, I think it’s a terrible thing to say.  When you have a number one in your life, you’re bound to have a number 2,3,4 etc.  This creates a mentality in our heads that if we do our daily devotions, pray often, and make Christ number one (Whatever that means) then we can have our personal time, time that we can do whatever we want in other times in our life.  When we compartmentalize Jesus (even if it’s the number one compartment) that means that there are other compartments where Christ is not in our life.   This is not the way to be thinking about our relationship with Christ.

 

When Jesus answered the Pharisees in Matthew He is not only quoting the Torah, He is also summing up what it means to follow Christ in one statement.  When He tells us “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and mind” and says right after that this is the first and greatest commandment, what He is saying is that everything, our whole life, flows out of this.   If our whole essence is not committed to loving the Lord and engaging in that relationship then we are missing out on what a relationship with Christ looks like.   In that command, every part of what makes us human is covered.  God is telling us to give everything over to Him, not just the number one slot.

 

It makes sense, because like you, I know I am flawed, I know that my love isn’t perfect, and that whenever I try and love people, things, or anything else on my own strength I either do a really bad job or whatever I’m trying to love becomes more like an obsession and that becomes my new god.  When we love Christ with everything we have, He then shows us how to love things properly in our life.  We can’t miss this because it is the foundation that our beliefs must flow out of.  If we miss this foundation then what happens is that we become rigid and robotic in our relationship.  If your relationship with Christ only happens on mornings when you read your Bible and pray then you’re missing the heart of what Christ came to do.  In the Torah it was prophesied that God would come down to us, that He would bridge the gap between Him and us.  They called His name Immanuel meaning God with us.  This is the beauty of the Christian faith, it offers God with us, all the time, right now.

 

There is nothing wrong, in fact it is healthy, to have a rhythm with God.  My mom is in that Bible every morning without fail.  I think this is a very good, healthy practice to participate in.  My concern however, is when it stops there.  I have had the mentality of “I did my devotions today, so I’m good!”.  When we do that we rob ourselves of things that God wants to bring to our attention that day, we miss out on the on-going conversation God desires to have with us.

 

 

This conversation happens best when we realize that God doesn’t just want the number one spot in our lives, He wants our whole life.  He wants all of our love not just certain parts.  When we do that, we can’t love anything on our own.  Not our spouse, not our job, not our passions, not our kids, nothing, and this is the way God wants it. Because when we have nothing left to give, He shows us how to love through Him.  God is the author of love, and when we ask the author how to best do what He created, He shows us how to do it perfectly.

 

To sum it up, when we compartmentalize God, even if it’s the number one compartment, it’s still not what God wants.  He wants all of us, He wants every part of us so He can show us how to live the way we were designed to live.  This is the beauty of Matthew 22:37, it breaks through all of our stuff and hits right to the core of who we are.  Christ didn’t say “the most important thing you should is God, then you can love other things”, He goes way to the extreme telling us to love God with everything in our being, and when we do that, we have no love to give anyone else, God then begins to rebuild our flawed practice of love and shows us how to love everything through Him, with only a love He can give.

 

-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)

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.

Whose Idea Was This Anyway? Youth Groups, Where are the Parents?! (Part 2)

In my last post, I brought up the idea of youth groups. Some of my thoughts regarding what seems to not be working and an alternative solution to our current youth group models. I realized as I started writing that my thoughts could not be contained in one post. So I wanted to wrap up this two part writing and talk about another angle of youth groups. The lack of the parents being involved.

I don’t hold the youth group model solely responsible for the (alarming) lack of parents being involved with their youth, especially at youth groups. It seems like parents are too happy to drop their teens off and peel out of the parking lot faster than you can say pizza. When parents view youth group like a day care for their 15 year old, it takes the responsibility off of the parent and on to the youth pastor. When 40 parents do this, it’s overwhelming for one guy (or even a small team) to address the hearts of teens effectively. When parents view their teen’s spiritual health as something for a pastor to mainly take care of, and their teen doesn’t begin to change to the ways of Christ, the parents often lash out on the pastor, or church as not doing their job. The parent fails to realize that it is their job to raise their teens and not the Church, or anyone else for that matter. This isn’t to say the church should not be helping out in the process. I fully believe that the Church should be a living community coming along side and helping each other out, and this includes pouring in to the upcoming generation. But it is extremely important for parents to see that they have the biggest influence in their teenager’s life. Regardless of how that may appear, it’s the truth.

The other problem I see is that our current youth group model doesn’t really allow for parents to be involved a whole lot. Often youth groups try and appear more relevant to the life of a teenager by accidentally aiding in making the parent the uncool person, or the out of touch adult. This does not help more than it hinders the parent/teenager relationship. I’ve seen it happen, and I’ve been a part of that problem as well. Failing to see that in order to raise teenagers who are more devoted to Christ, it takes parents fully involved, partnering with the Church to close the youth/adult gap. Unlike culture, which thrives in the separation of the two, the Church can thrive by bringing these two groups closer, working together, learning from each other with the older mentoring the younger.

What’s my solution? Start getting the parents involved with their youth. Plan parent/youth retreats, have the youth realize the importance of learning from the generation above them, have the older generation realize how it essential it is to be pouring themselves in to the upcoming generation. Do teens need their time apart from their parents? Absolutely. Teens need a place they can be honest, and sometimes that’s difficult with parents around. But we’ve been so segregated in the Church that we would benefit much to start closing the gap.

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