Coffee, Theology and Jesus

working out our messy faith over coffee

Category: The Local Church (page 2 of 3)

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

Sunday Mornings, Why Are They Always The Same?!

By this time in my blog, I’ve made it pretty clear that I started this not to bash, tear down, or negatively criticize Christianity and the Church.  Granted, I’ve had my moments perhaps of being overly critical, but I assure you the reader it’s out of a heart that loves the Church like crazy.  It’s on my mind every day.  Thinking about ways to be more like Christ, ways the Church can love the world, ways to disciple each other and to live more in the gospel than just a few times a week.  Keep that in mind during this post.  I’m not here claiming to have the corner on the only way to be the Church, I’m simply throwing my ideas and reasoning behind my ideas.

I’m going start off blunt and honest.  I am bored to tears on Sunday mornings more times than not.  I’ve been attending the Sunday service consistently for 20 years and rarely have I seen a church body do a Sunday service radically different then the normal.  It’s boring, it’s drawn out, it’s static (the opposite of the God we serve), and   it’s repetitive.  I’m not trying to sound rude here, I’m just being honest about my view of it.  The Sunday service is pretty much unchanged from Sunday to Sunday. Even “special” services hold to the same rigid format of a Sunday morning service.

Every week millions of people go to a building, sit in seats that face the front stage, listen to announcements, a couple worship songs, a reason why you should give the Church money, a sermon (usually around 3 points), a closing prayer and then a dismissal.  This is how we do Sunday mornings (for the most part).  Your local church might add or take away a few things, but this is the structure we participate in.

My question I’m asking myself is this: “Is this the only way?”.   Now before I go further I don’t want you to misunderstand me.  I’m not saying that the traditional way is bad, or evil, or wrong.  I’m simply asking why can’t we be free to worship our living God in unique ways every Sunday? Why does it only seem like Church service counts if there is a sermon and worship songs?  Why do we the Church feel almost trapped into doing Church the same way every Sunday?

In this post I want to focus on one aspect of the Church service in particular.

This thought I have been thinking through over the past few days.  Specifically the sermon.  I was in a Church service Sunday and the pastor was giving the sermon for the morning service.  As I was listening my mind wandered (it does this all the time, the pastor is a great man, it was not because of him or his message) and I thought to myself “do we need to have a sermon preached for the Church meeting to be counted as an official church meeting?”.   As I began to dive in to this I started thinking about other ways people can be taught the Word.

My point isn’t to say that preaching sermons or bad or we need to stop doing so.  My point is to wake us up out of our trance! To be creative and imaginative in the way we preach the the Word of God.  Sometimes practical examples are easier to communicate.  Sometimes people need to practically experience what we are trying to teach them.  Imagine this example with me.

I’ve heard many people preach/teach on the subject of community.  What it looks like, how it works.  The problem with this though, is that community must be experienced.  It can not be just taught, community is not a concept, it’s a tangible expression of the Kingdom of God.  Could you imagine if you walked in to your church building and instead of pews or chairs there were tables set up.  Long ones, and every table was full of breakfast food.  Bagels, eggs, coffee, the works!  Then your pastor got up to the mic and addressed the congregation and said something like this; ” Today we worship God by celebrating His Son dying for us so we can live forever.  As we eat and celebrate this together talk about what He has been doing in your life.” Can you imagine this? Imagine the celebration? Imagine the conversations that people would engage talking about the Lord, what He is doing in their lives.  I know this works because I’ve been a part of things like this.  I’ve sat down with 20,30,40 believers around tables of food and talked about how good God is, what He is doing in our lives.  They have been some of the best church services I’ve ever been a part of because I was a part of the church meeting, not just a passive spectator sitting down watching a performance.

I want to close by saying this.  I’m not saying to replace what we do with things like this.  I’m saying to add on to what we do with things like this.  We can not be afraid to change our Sunday morning meetings up a little bit.  It’s ok to get out of our buildings on a Sunday morning and to serve the community by living out the Gospel of Christ.  It’s ok to teach congregations in a different way then giving them three take home points.  It’s also ok to use those three points when the times call for them, but it’s not the only way to teach people about the Kingdom.  Jesus spoke in parables, Jesus also healed people, Jesus also preached.  Jesus taught in many ways, not just one static format.  We as a church should live in this freedom, using our creativity to teach sound doctrine to people who are starving for it.

This is How We Do! (I love what I’m Seeing Church!)

I know that a lot of the posts on here give the Church a hard time.  I assure you, that it comes out of a heart to bring things to light so we as a Church can address them.  This post today though, I wanted to encourage you guys (the Church) as well as talk about what natural disasters (and things like it) remind us of. 

 

 

Here’s the bottom line Church, you guys have stepped up big time and offered your time, resources, materials, and hearts to the east coast.  It has been so incredibly encouraging to see my Facebook lit up with pictures of people helping out, statuses informing what time people are meeting together to go volunteer at a place that was affected by the storm, and I love seeing the “Hey we got to help this random person today!” updates.  If this is not the tangible Gospel then I don’t know what is. 

 

This is where the Church thrives, when emergencies happen, the Church consistently steps up.  During Katrina I knew of several churches that took bus loads of food, people and other supplies to New Orleans.  Hurricane Sandy is no different.  The Church is alive, it’s meeting beyond the normal service times and it’s punching right through the four walls that often keep us insulated from the world.  Instead of keeping bottled up and meeting once a week, we are meeting as often as we can to pray and travel to the affected areas to lend our skills and resources.  I’ll guarantee that many people who have been volunteering their time never felt so alive in their faith.  That’s because when we start living with Kingdom principles they invigorate us.  They touch a part of us that normal American life very rarely touches.  It shows us that there is so many more important things in life then us and our stuff.

 

I want to encourage you reading this not to volunteer when it’s cool, or when everyone else is doing it.  In a month, two months, three months, there will still be damage, there will still be cleaning up to be done.  Continue to give your time, resources when you can.  I personally have been busy with my dad’s company renovating a home at Union Beach that had three feet of flood water in it.  I’m still planning on volunteering time in between or after this job is complete.  I understand that not all of us have the time to volunteer right off the fly.  But I encourage you in the upcoming months to make time to get to the coast to help with the cleanup efforts.

 

Here’s the challenge Church.  Disasters like this (as sad as they are) remind us that before political affiliation, beliefs, gender, lifestyle differences, we are humans.  We are reminded when we hear about people dying that no matter what they did, it’s still a life lost and it’s still a tragedy.  Times like this remind us that human life is so very precious.  Let this be your fuel to carry in to other parts of your life.  Start getting involved in your local community more.  If you’re a Church leader reading this (thanks for reading by the way) then let this jump start your Church community in to making volunteering and serving your community a common thing.  If we really want to see America change, then start being the change right where you are.  Figure out what you can do to serve others, how your family can get more involved.  Trust me when I tell you, the world is open to Jesus, we just have to express Him in language that people can not only understand, but that people can see.

 

Be encouraged Church, you guys are doing an amazing job, keep it up, and don’t slow down when the hype of “helping out” fades away. 

 

-TW

The Social Media Christian

So, it has been a while since I have posted on this blog that Tim has tried to take complete control of.  Regardless, I have to come back and make a stand to make sure he doesn’t get total domination of the webspace.  Life got pretty busy with getting married and all so all time I had set aside for this blog was swept away.  Alas, I have returned with somewhat of a burden on my mind.  Really, this is something that I’ve been hit with over the months and years and hopefully you can take some simple lesson from what I have already been shown by God in my own life.

In no way am I attempting to downplay Facebook, Twitter, Myspace, or any other social medium.  I think they are great inventions and have totally changed our lives, for the better or worse is up to you.  However, I have started to notice a trend.  I think Tim has previously made comments about what has been on my mind.  I started to notice in my own life the trend of “social media Christianity.”  I fear this trend isn’t stopping in my own experience though.

Let’s start with a verse:

Galatians 1:10

“For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ.”

I wrote a post about “Men Pleasers” before but that is not really my concern here.  My concern is social media being our “Christian life.”

I am certainly not saying these are bad things but when this list is what defines us as a “Christian” or not then we have some real issues:
1. Amount of quotes from missionaries/martyrs.

2. How many status/tweets we have about God.

3. Our “religious views” have the best gospel packed into a short phrase.

4. Daily “like” of awesomely Christian things.

5. Amount of sharing of KLOVEs (or any other groups/stations) photo/story/status.

You get the idea.  When our friends post something spiritual we are the first to like it, because that’s what good Christians do, right?  We say “amen” or whatever.  Is that what God had in mind for Christianity in 2012?

“Social Media Christianity?”

I saw this trend creeping into my own life.  My facebook presence claimed Christ but my life maybe wasn’t up to my social media status.  But as long as I come across as spiritual on Facebook/myspace/twitter I’ll be ok.  Definitely how God works.  I even “liked” God on facebook! (Because God has a facebook of course).

I think it’s time we took a lesson from Paul.  What does he say?

Philippians 1:21

“For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.”

Paul had the idea that the essence of living (true life) was Christ.  Read through Romans and you will see Paul’s burden for a life of the Gospel.  If facebook was around in the first century I’m sure Paul wouldn’t have spent his time liking Peter’s status about casting out a demon or preaching at Pentecost.  He wouldn’t have tried to friend Stephen’s family (whose clothes were cast at Saul’s feet) after he accepted Christ as his savior.  Paul had a one-mind mission of getting the gospel to the Gentiles.  His life was unquestionably 100% for God.  He didn’t have to have a social media page telling the world he was a Christian because the whole world already knew.

In America, I feel we have developed this attitude of Social Media Christianity and if we can just convince everyone else that we are awesome Christians we can convince ourselves and God too.  God doesn’t want our facebooks and twitter accounts (although they can, have, and will be used by and for God).  God wants us to be consistent.  I guess that is the core of my thoughts.  Consistency.

Too many times I’ve seen myself, and many others, that are living two separate lives depending on where you look.  The social media Christian cries out for God but behind the scenes has a much different agenda.  People should not have to go to my facebook and see that I’m a Christian, nor should they be surprised when they are on facebook and see that I am one…. Get that?  I shouldn’t have to scream and shout about my faith in Christ.  My life should be consistent with Christ himself.

Social Media Christianity is another tool used of Satan himself to discredit a life saved by Christ.  The world isn’t stupid and is actually more scrutinizing of those who claim to have a joy/peace/life that this world can’t offer.  But when the world sees the same attitude, lifestyle, and mindset in one that is Christ’s… well I guess they have no reason to desire what we have.

Rob

Both, And. It’s Not About One or the Other.

Ok Ok, so why even give an intro? Let’s just get right to it

 

I have this thought, and I know I’m not the only person to think about this. In fact many people have been wrestling with the way we do church (so to speak) for many many many years.  I’m just another person asking the same question.  Once again, these are observations, I’m not saying this is true for every individual church, but I think it’s a decent reflection on our church culture.  Here we go.

 

It seems like there are three sides to the church “divide” that I see.

 

1. Many people, are only interested in attending church once a week, showing up, sitting down, going home.  Nice, clean, simple, un-engaging, safe, and ultimately they are a consumer of the church and not a partner in establishing the kingdom of God.

 

2. Other people are completely hellbent on keeping their church the same as it has been for the past 50 years.  The carpet can’t change, the leadership can’t change, the way they approach things such as ministry can not change, and the music most CERTAINLY can not change.  These church bodies believe that the way they have been approaching church is the way it’s always been done, and therefore will not change close to anything about the way do it.  Usually their biggest focus is Sunday morning and events centered around the church meeting in its building.  When someone attempts to change something, or implement something new, there is usually an uproar.

 

 

3. Then you have churches that have grown up in the tradition, rejected that tradition, but not Jesus.  So they start something “new” (That’s funny) and leave the “traditional” church to start something “fresh” and “organic” and “cool”.  The problem here is that often times people like this throw the baby out with the bathwater.  The word tradition is banned from their vocabulary’s, and they do as much as they can to try and be different.

 

 

The first group I mentioned I’m not even going to address in this post, it needs it’s own day.  But these other two types (again, generalizing but you get the idea) are the ones I want to talk about.

 

You see I came out of one side, embraced the other side, and now I’m not so sure what side to be on.   but that’s just the point, we here in western culture have to be one or the other.  It’s impossible to embrace both sides because, well, we just can’ do it.  You’re either black or white, in or out, tall or short, traditional or  not traditional.  You can’t be both!  Ah but I argue that you can be.  In fact I say you need to be  both in order to get a full picture of the kingdom.

 

What do I mean? Well here’s what I mean.  A good friend once told me “Tim, sometimes you need to take in the meat and spit out the bones”, and that is exactly what we need to do with both sides of this coin.  Let’s start with a more traditional side and then we will move to the other, and then see how they can work together.

 

The traditional church (by traditional I mean since the the reformation, about the 16th century) has done many things well.  God has used it no doubt. I myself, am a product of the traditional church.  But in the same breath the traditional church has missed a few of the most important things.  discipleship, authentic Christian community, and solidarity.   The traditional church is losing numbers, and does not have a good standing with people in our culture.  The stereo types of a typical church goer is that they are anti-homosexual, pro – conservative, way too political, outspoken, and un loving (see the book Un-Christian).  This has done serious damage to our ability to reach out to our fellow human beings.  The traditional church almost unintentionally has become ingrown and stagnent.  So closed minded are some people in this movement it’s sometimes discouraging.  Seeing church splits over colors in carpet, drums in service, and things like it, have proven that the focus on this side of the coin started out as authentically living out ones faith, but then shifted to a type of legalism that is not flexible.  “this is the way we’ve always done things, why change it” is a great way to sum up the problem with the traditional movement.  They turn mole hills in to mountains and then die on that mountain.  Because of that, they have lost my generation in many ways.

 

The other side of the coin is more known as the emerging church movement.  This movement was really birthed out of the traditional movement but not in a positive way.  Most people in the emerging church movement see the church more as a fluid, living, breathing thing, then the traditional movements see it is.  They also are much more flexible with the way things are approached and done. For instance some of these movements don’t meet in traditional buildings, their service orders can vary, the music is much more flexible, and they are much more open to different ways to reach people for Jesus.  there is a problem here however.  Sometimes people in this movement are too flexible and the community that they attempt to create is usually somewhat on a superficial level.  More concerned with feeling good then the truth of God and his message to us, this movement will sometimes do things that are not in line with Scripture.  Often they also have no problem with throwing out the traditional movement, without examining it, taking the good from it, and using it.  Instead the mindset can sometimes be “Well they just don’t get it like we do”.  This idea is toxic and only creates division not unity.  Understanding the word, knowing the doctrines and history of the faith is lacking here, and because of that this movement can sometimes only go so deep.

 

 

Now to bring this altogether, the question we have to ask is why? Why does it have to be one or the other?  In fact if we beging to merge these ideas, the product is a church that is not only intentional on sunday mornings, it is intentional in life as a whole, flexible enough to know what things are perfectly ok to do differently, and solid enough to understand the doctrines and basic truths of the faith, not compromising on them, but understanding them better than ever, and learning how to communicate them to a dying world.

 

You see sometimes I think we put the cart before the horse, sometimes we get so focused on a specific day of the week, or a specific event that all we do is focus on that.  Then the other 5 days of the week are left empty.  The church is not nearly as active on a tuesday then it is on a Sunday.  Why is that?  You see it’s not that Sunday’s are wrong.  It’s that sundays can not be the end all be all, they can not be the focus.  Jesus, living life together, eating dinner together, getting in to the word together, spending nights in worship together, discipling people, is the focus of the church.  Not a once a week event we call Sunday morning service.  That should be a FRUIT of what we are doing in the week.  You see the Sunday morning service is great, and much needed, but it can’t be the focus of what we do.  The focus of what we do has to be the other 6 days of the week.  Of course this conflicts with our schedules that are overloaded, to which I say “welcome to this radical thing called the gospel”.  Now is not the time to be consumers of a Sunday morning service.  Now is the time to be partakers in the kingdom of God, and that INCLUDES Sunday mornings, it’s just not limited to that.

 

You see once we start combing the best of both worlds, realizing that community and discipleship are key to our faith, and out of that comes meetings and events.  Then we start to see the fullness of God, and how He wants to be involved in every aspect of our lives.  Let’s ask this question to everything we are currently doing “why?”.  Why do we have a Sunday morning service, why do we have small groups, why do we have worship.  If the answer is “just because” then we need to put it up on the chopping block until we figure out why we are doing it.

 

Let me sum this up

 

We need to start building bridges not burning them.  We are all part of ONE movement not a separate movement.  Your church is not THE church it is A church, this means that we need to start partnering with each other, not keeping in our comfortable corners.

 

My generation- it is not about throwing out the old and in with the new.  This is divisive and does not solve the problems.  Don’t start something new, instead be a part of the church, loving it, and working with it.  And enough whining and crying, start being the change.  It’s really easy to tell people what’s wrong when you’re not involved, just showing up on Sunday morning and leaving.  Instead engage, partake, and start getting involved.  Your church leadership is full and they don’t need your help you say? Who cares? start inviting people out to coffee, start hanging out, getting dinner, discipling, you don’t need the title “pastor” to pastor someone. Just go and do it.

 

Older Generation- Be patient with us.  Really, we are a bunch of air heads sometimes, thinking we know it all, and really have no clue.  we need your mentorship and support as we try and figure out what the heck we are doing.  Activate us, we want to be part of the solution, we want to open dialogue up and start brainstorming on how we can usher in the Kingdom of God through the church.  We need your wisdom and help as you pass the baton over to us.  Be flexible in things that really are not essential to the faith, teach us what we can’t compromise on. Ask us to coffee, ask us over for dinner, some times we need a little shove.

 

 

Hey! The Kingdom!

Rob, Kyle, and myself have been extremely busy, we’ve been a little slow in the post department. So until we can get some newer ones written I figured I’d put up a post I wrote a year ago on my notes in facebook.   I was just re-reading it for the first time since last year and wow I never new it was possible to encourage yourself.  Anyway check it out

 

 

I’ve been thinking a lot about the kingdom of God, about what is means here in America, here in New Jersey.  What does it mean to establish the kingdom of God?  This is a question that I have been attempting to answer (in my human ignorance), and I don’t think I can answer it in words, but I do think I can live it out. (more of that in a second)

 

 

That being said I can think of one thing that i see the Lord doing, I see the Lord calling out the true worshippers and I see Him calling them to a new level of relationship with Him.   The Lord is doing things in our lives, shaking us to our core.  Asking us questions like “will you REALLY follow me”, will you REALLY lay this down, will you really pick this up.  These are questions that have a common theme.  I believe that Christ is challenging us re-evaluate our relationship with Him.  I can speak from personal experience that the Lord is rocking me big time with this.  He has been challenging me to read His word daily, and to understand it.  I have been challenged to spend one a hour a day with Him and listening to His voice in regards to what I’m supposed to do with that hour.  It has been challenging but rewarding.

 

 

I’ve been realizing more and more just exactly how much my relationship with the Lord must not only be my foundation, it must be my entire house.  Without Christ being my absolute everything, I have no purpose to my life.   When Christ is not only the rudder to the ship, but my ship I realize that even in the choppiest of waves I am safe.  This is essential, it is ESSENTIAL that we armor up as the body of Christ, the enemy is on the prowl, continous distractions, causing strife, gossip among the church attempting to tarnish it’s image (and in many ways succeeded).  Family there is no more time for games, Christ demands our life and the question is are we going to submit to Him?

 

 

Where am I going with this you ask? Because before we talk about establishing the kingdom we need to be completely confident in our relationship with Christ, this is not to say that we are perfect,  God equips the called He does not called the equipped (because none of us are).  Until we realize his amazing grace on our lives, and until we realize our complete depravity we cannot move on and allow God to mold us in to who we were orginally created to be.

 

 

 

I digress let’s move on to the kingdom.    People estimate that there are about 300,000 Christian churches in the U.S (not including Catholic).  If the population of the U.S is about 300 million people, that equates to roughly about 1,000 people per church,  In a very real way the church has effectively communicated the gospel, the majority of Americans claim Christianity as their religious association (75%), this is quite an amazing feat.  However that’s where the positive ends, staticians estimate that out of those 75% only 4% hold a Biblical worldview.  What is that worldview? It’s the essentials! (The trinity, satan being real, the Bible being perfect and absolute truth).  This is a huge miss, because even though people know about Jesus, they still haven’t met Jesus, even though they know that christians are opposed to abortion, premarital sex, drug use, they still don’t understand WHY we are opposed to those things.   This is huge! What good is a list of things that are “sin” if there is no savior who points out a better way to live?    There is a new generation rising up (us!, twenty somethings) who are determing to explain to the world that there is a better way to live then the way they are living.  We are people who want to introduce people to a living God who doesn’t demand sunday morning church attending, but demands a lifestyle change, a lifestyle that is so free, so full of life, so full of people who support you, and a lifestyle of grace and redemption.  The kingdom is coming, and God has entrusted us broken people to establish it.

 

 

It is essential that we view our faith not as what church we go to, but we realize that we are doing the same work for the same God.  It’s not about one church, it’s about a kingdom menality, when I visit a church community, or when I have dinner with a christian I’ve never met I am serving the same exact God they are.  Could you imagine if the American church put aside petty differences (I’m not talking about core doctrines) and united and reached their community’s together?  Could you imagine a baptist church and a pentecostal church working TOGETHER to paint the local firehoue? Or to feed and clothe and love the poor?  If we believe in the same God who redeemed us then we need to start acting like it.

 

 

The idea of the kingdom goes beyond just the walls of what we call a church (which using the word church the way we use it is actually wrong, the Bible never refers to church as a building), the kingdiom goes way beyond Sunday morning, weds night, or youth group. It goes beyond what we are used to calling “church” in American society. The kingdom is established in relationships and over all lifestyle choices. Allow me to elaborate, first relationships.

 

Let’s get one thing clear, America does not want another product, they are not interested in a salespitch when it comes Jesus, and quite frankly I think they’re tired of hearing about Jesus. What America wants to see is an active Jesus, one who puts their money with their mouth is, one who preaches abstinence then actually practices it. People aren’t looking for robots, they are looking for humans who understand the struggles of the human condition and who can offer a way out. It’s a delicate balance,. We don’t want to preach the idea of christians are perfect and have everything together at all times because well, none of us are perfect. In the same breath we don’t want to preach the opposite idea either, that we can live however we want to live. I think the key is when we are genuine about who we are, this is best accomplished through a personal authentic friendship, one that still loves the person regardless if they reject the Gospel, I have a friend like that, I love him to death regardless of his rejection of the Gospel because I have no control over what he chooses to believe, and I trust God to work on his heart (what a relief).

 

The second is lifestyle. This is so absolutely key to our faith, not only because Jesus demands it, but because in a world of talk, talk and more talk, action cements the beliefs that we say we believe. Don’t fool yourself however, a lifestyle of Christ will only come out of a genuine love for Christ and a realization of his amazing love for us. After that, lifestyle will pour out of us because we wont’ be able to live any other way.

 

 

Just the other day me and some friends got to together at my house, cooked a full meal, brought out my moms best dishes and celebrated communion, we had the bread, ate a full meal then drank the juice (or soda in this case), the whole conversation was centered on things about God and the topics spanned from personal life, to the end times to everything in between. This is the lifestyle I’m talking about. Why not bring church to your home? I mean the church is made up of people anyway. So live as the church throughout the week. Often people will say “I’m too busy to do things like what you just described” but that’s the beauty of a lifestyle. The lifestyle is how you live, it’s where you live, the kingdom walks where you walk. YOU bring the kingdom WHEREVER you go! This includes work, this includes when you go out to eat, when you go to the gym. God has entrusted us with bringing the kingdom to the world and we bring it where we walk.

 

I believe however that the only way to effectively bring the kingdom to where you are is to have a group of likeminded of people that can support you and that you can support. Americans are realizing that things don’t satisfy, that there is more to life then a pension, big house, and lots of money. All over the place we are realizing that the promise of the next gadget to fix our life doesn’t actually fix anything and instead creates more problems. Living independently isn’t always best, and really what good is all of your stuff if you’ve sacrificed marriages, and your children to get it?

 

Find people who want in on this amazing task, initiate, start inviting people over all the time for coffee, or to do whatever it is you want to do. It doesn’t matter what it is, let your relationship s naturally mature and enjoy being the community, the church that Christ has called us to be. One that goes WAY beyond four walls on a sunday, one that goes way beyond the normal idea of a nice quite Christian American life. The two greatest commands we have from our Father is to love Him with everything, and love people. 1 Corinthians 13.

 

Any typos/grammatical errors are not my fault

 

– Tim Whitaker

Knowing God Without Knowing God – Tim Whitaker

Knowing God Without Knowing God

Few disclaimers for this post. First sorry for the delay. Life is life and therefore sometimes it is difficult to post as often as I’d like. Luckily for you (the reader) this does not stop my mind from thinking and considering new ideas (if there is such a thing). That being said my second disclaimer is this. I really hope I don’t offend anyone. You’ve been warned.

 

We have a problem in our Christian culture here in the states. That is nothing new, and I can already here the people saying in their head “oh Tim what else is new with you. You’re always picking apart the church, give it a rest.” Let me address this thought briefly. I love the church, Christ died for it, we are His bride. I believe in the church, the church has done endless amounts of good, many people I know love Jesus and walk with Him daily in the church. This is not church bashing, this is simply being realistic about some of the issues we need to address in the church. Here we go.

As I was saying earlier we have a problem in the church. In fact I would call it an epidemic. We know God, but we don’t know God. Let me explain. We in Christianity have this mindset that the more moral we are, the closer we get to God. Of course no one will say this, but it’s an under-current of the Christian faith. We are told to read our Bible all the time, we are told to do good all the time, we are told to serve as much as possible. These are all good things, but they’ve replaced knowing Jesus in our life. The Bible is not God, serving is not God, doing good is not God. But yet we treat them like God. We automatically assume that if we are doing these things, we are automatically walking with Jesus. I submit however, that you can do all these things and completely miss Jesus.

 

Let me address probably the biggest part of this problem The Bible. Uh oh, I’ve gone off the deep end you say. Fear not, I have not. The Bible is great. God inspired it, men wrote it down, God’s truths are in the Bible, and it is incredibly deep and full of life. The Bible however is NOT God and sometimes it seems that we’ve made the Bible the 4th part of trinity. We have taken the Bible and put it on such a high level that we equate spending time with God by reading the Bible. It’s true that we can spend time with God by reading the Bible, but that is not the only way. In fact if God speaks to us and says to spend time with Him by going for a walk and we instead read our Bible, that is sin! We are disobeying what God told us to do, even if it seems more “spiritual” to God you still missed the mark (sin) for what he wanted you to do. Reading the Bible does not always equate spending time with Jesus. Spending time with JESUS equates spending time with JESUS. We must understand this. We must get this truth. This is EXACTLY what the pharisees did. They had the law down, they were the greatest minds and teachers of the Law. And they completely missed Jesus. They had the first five books of the Old Testament (the Torah) memorized. They knew it in the original language, they understood the context, they were great teachers, and they missed Jesus, they missed the whole point. I’m afraid many times we do the same thing in Christianity, only we do it even on a more ignorant level than the pharisees did. Most of us don’t understand the context, we don’t understand the original language, and most of us don’t have a chapter let a lone a whole book of the Bible memorized. We have taken the Bible, claim to know it, and then follow it as a law book and miss what it is pointing to. The Bible does not point to itself. It points to Jesus. We must see this. We must put the Bible in it’s proper place. The Bible is not the 4th part of the trinity. The Bible was not beamed down from heaven in English, it was not written in one period in history, and it was not written by the literal hand of God. The Bible was written over a huge span of time, by men under the inspiration of God, in Hebrew and Greek. The Bible was put together by men who decided (under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit) that these 66 books were the words of God. Let me repeat that, the Bible was NOT written in a year, even the order of the books are not in chronological order. The Bible was pieced together, written in all different contexts, by different authors, all with their own perspectives. This is not to say that the Bible is false, or inaccurate. I’m simply attempting to articulate that sometimes we (with good intentions) use the Bible as a supplement for spending time with Jesus.

Spending time with Jesus, is what it is ALL about. When He died on the cross Jesus literally restored our relationship with God back to the way it was meant to be. The focus is not the rules, or the morality, it is simply God, and out of that everything else flows. The closer we get to God the closer we get to ultimate reality. The closer we get to ultimate reality the more we realize how we were originally designed to live. Sin is not wrong just because it”s wrong. Sin is simply another way of saying that we were never designed to live that way. We were ORIGNALLY created good. Sin distorts that. Our bodies were never designed for sin, we were never designed to live outside of relationship with God. That is what EVERYTHING points to. Christianity is literally all about being restored to Jesus, it’s not about reading your Bible more, it’s not about serving more. It’s about living everyday with Jesus and re-learning how we were meant to live originally. If we start first with Jesus, things like the Bible all fall in to place. The most important commandment Jesus gives is not read the Scriptures everyday, serve relentlessly, or be a really good moral person. The most important Commandment Jesus says is to “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength”. Everything must flow of out of this.

If we miss Jesus then we miss it all. If we don’t know what the voice of Jesus sounds like the we’ve missed it If we are not being lead by the Holy Spirit consistently then we miss it. The point of Jesus is not morality or any action, it is simply being restored back to the way we were created to live, out of that everything else will fall in to place. If we put the cart before the horse on this, then we are no longer in relationship with Jesus and we are instead in a relationship with something other than Jesus, and that is idolatry. First and foremost Jesus must be the starting point. From there it flows like a river.

 

So what’s this mean? It means get out of the box you grew up in. Meet Jesus on a walk in the park, meet him during a movie you’re watching, discuss with Him the GOP candidates. God wants to be in our life, He wants us to know Him and He wants to know us. He wants us to discuss our life with Him like we would discuss it with a husband or wife. God does not need, but instead desires to be an intricate part of our life. For us to limit him to “devotional” or other “spiritual” times, makes God a formula that we think we figured out, instead of the relational being that He is.

 

It’s ok to Disagree – Tim Whitaker

Denominations are in my opinion one of the most divisive things in the church body today. Now before you pick up stones hear me out. The problem isn’t that we have people with different beliefs about the same Jesus, it’s that we have allowed these differences to divide the body of Christ. Far too often we make our non-essential beliefs an essentiality of the Christian faith. We stick to our beliefs about a certain subject and we are prepared to die on that hill. We alienate other people in the body because they don’t see things in the Bible exactly the way we do. The Bible tells us to be one body (See John 17:11, 20-23, 1 Corinthians 1:10-13, 1 Corinthians 3:21-23, and Ephesians 4:3) numerous times, and yet we live in a culture where so many times we view the church body we attend as the one and only, as if somehow God only revealed to us his plan and no one else. It’s this kind of thinking that I believe Satan has used to divide us as a body. It is this kind of thinking that causes church bodies to be be torn apart and split with bitterness. We must as a church body learn that in many many cases it is ok to have different views on many issues that divide us today.
But it has to go further than just agreeing to disagree. If we are truly in the same body of Christ then why aren’t we submitting to each other in search of truth and not our own ideology? Once our view of the Bible becomes our absolute truth, we are no longer in pursuit of God’s truth and instead we are stuck in somehow thinking that we have it all figured out. This thought is toxic to our pursuit of knowing God. God, as we all know can not be figured out, and neither can every truth in the Bible. The Bible is deep, complicated, and there is much more that has to go in to then taking it simply for face value. Sadly, we allow our narrow minded view of Scripture to choke out that life that is buried in the Scriptures. If we are not listening and having a conversation with people who disagree about a certain interpretation of Scripture then how are we to learn? The times I have learned the most were the times that I heavily discussed (or debated) a certain translation of Scripture. The mindset was never “I must always be right”, it was “How can I see this persons view, and if they are correct how can I change my view of this particular passage”. I’ve seen it so many times, people arguing over a certain passage of Scripture in a way not to learn, but to show off, or to put the other person down. How does this edify the body of Christ? How does this build us up? It does not, it instead causes divides and hurt.
This doesn’t mean that everything is up for interpretation, there are most definitely some clear truths that are seen in the Scriptures and ones that we must not compromise on. So what are the core truths that we need to be uncompromising on? Well in my opinion I think there are a few core truths that every believer who follows Christ must stand on.

1. Being restored to God is only possible because of what Jesus did, it has nothing to do with what we can do

2. The trinity and their roles as seen in Scripture.

3. If we claim to believe in the teachings and work of Christ, then there is fruit of that in our life.

4. The Bible is God’s word to humanity. That doesn’t mean it’s simple, or easy, or that we have it figured out, but the Scriptures are God inspired, God breathed

The end. Everything else is up for grabs, is up for discussion, is up for debate within the body in love. Debating is not a bad thing if the heart of the people involved is to uncover more of the truth of God. If the motive is to destroy the other person, then forget it.
We must stand as one church body, united under Christ, reaching our culture and restoring people to God. If we divide or various interpretations of the Bible, or what that looks like then we have COMPLETELY missed the heart of the gospel. Instead of clinging to our doctrines, we need to have open discussions and hear how other brothers and sisters are interpreting the same Scriptures. We might not see eye to eye, and that is ok. Because it’s not doctrines that should unify, it’s the work of Jesus on the cross and the pursuit of Him.

Rob and I have many differences in opinion and views when it comes to the Bible. But you know what? We have only let that fuel our discussions Instead of dividing us, it’s only brought us closer to Jesus and each other. The motive behind Rob and I’s discussions is never to tear each other down, but to learn and see Scripture in new light. Because of this I know that I personally have learned a great deal from Rob and even changed some of my views of certain Scriptures thanks to his expertise.

What’s the bottom line? It’s this: we need to stop letting Satan win when it comes to dividing the body of Christ. In New Jersey on average there are 3 church buildings per square mile. Could you imagine if they started talking to each other? Partnering together to reach the community? What if the church pastors who lived in the same town from different church bodies got together to share thoughts, opinions, and ideas for how the church can become ONE body in that town and reach those people more effectively? Imagine the power we are sitting on if we agreed to disagree, and instead agreed that Jesus died for humanity to restore them to Jesus. What a simple truth that is so deep and so enormously transforming. A truth when united behind can change nations.

Unlearning what we have learned. – Tim Whitaker

Disclaimers: Rob is probably going to disagree on many points. Sorry 🙂 You can blog about it later. 😛

There is a challenge a lot of us face.  By “us” I’m referring to the people that are re-thinking what it means to be a Christian.  I’m referring to people who are not content with the state of the church.  I’m referring to people who want to be known as disciples of Jesus not just “Christians”. People who want to go deep in to their faith, and who are willing to change their mindset in light of new truths when it comes to Scripture, Jesus, and the Church.  When I refer to “us” this is who I’m referring to.

So there is a challenge for us.  Most of us have grown up in the church and we have been brought up with mindsets that are not completely Biblical.  We have grown up thinking that church happens Sunday mornings, we meet at a “church” building, every service has the same format, we can’t change the format, and being a Christian means being morally right as much as possible.  We have grown up with a limited knowledge of Scripture, Judaism, and how Christianity and Judaism are so closely connected.  We have grown up with the answer (Jesus) without knowing the backstory to the answer.

And so there is a challenge because as we get closer to Jesus and the Kingdom, the more we are loosed of the traditions we grew up with.  Before I go any further let me be clear there is nothing wrong with the traditions we grew up with in and of itself.  I am a product of the traditional church, it is there that I learned who Jesus was, I met great people, and I had a basic community.  But now looking back, I can’t help but see the legalism I was rooted in, the legalism my family was rooted in.  And looking at the church now I can’t help but see how our tradition has become our prison.

The Bible I believe is intentionally vague on what a church body actually looks like and is crystal clear on what the structure of a church body should look like.  We see in Scripture that there are to be teachers, pastors, elders, deacons, and leaders in the church body, but what we don’t see is how that is fleshed out. Granted we have books like Acts, Corinthians, and Galatians, which show what church bodies looked like.  But you’ll notice that Paul doesn’t do much writing in regarding to how the church meeting should go.  He instead spends much more time talking about how we as the body are to live as people.  We see certain key things such as preaching of the word that are talked about in the structure of the meeting, but even that is not specific.

Nowhere in Scripture do we see Paul say “Here is what every church meeting should look like, songs for 20 minutes, preaching for 30 min (make sure it’s 3 points), alter call, and offering”  That is just not there in Scripture.  The problem is that the church is deeply rooted in this structure and is afraid (it seems so) to step out of that tradition.  It’s interesting to me because singing songs, sunday school, youth groups, alter calls, are nowhere in scripture, but we cling on to them like they are the foundations of church.  Then when someone talks about maybe removing one of those things, or changing the format of what we do every Sunday, people get defensive and will say things like “that’s nowhere in Scripture”.  This amazes me.

So the challenge for us is what do we do?  Well what we do is we allow God to free us from comfortability.  The first time I heard a church meeting in a bar in Belgium I wanted nothing to do with it. I thought it was completely unbiblical and I didn’t want to be a part of that body for the month we were there.  By the end of the month I couldn’t get enough of the community, the people, and what they were doing.  We have to be ok with being uncomfortable.  It is difficult to think about church meeting in somewhere other than a church building.  It is difficult to think about a church “service” not including worship music, or an alter call but we have to.  We have got to go back to the scriptures and realize that the church design is meant to be flexible.  The church body can most definitely meet in a church building, but it can also meet in a movie theatre, coffee shop, basement, or bar.  The church meeting once a week can definitely include worship  music, a sermon, and an alter call.  But it can also exclude those things.  A church can meet with talk, discuss, and be lead by the teacher in a discussion about a certain piece of Scripture.  That is just as Biblical as what we do every Sunday.

The most difficult thing for me these past several years have been unlearning all that I have learned.  I have had to unlearn that i’m not a “better” Christian because I go to church every Sunday religiously.  I’ve had to learn that it is ok if there isn’t a three point sermon during a church meeting, and I’ve had to learn that maybe creating a consumeristic atmosphere on Sunday morning maybe is not the best way to get people to own their faith.

Let me sum this up.  There is nothing wrong with what the church has been doing in our culture for years.  It has changed many people’s lives, and it has done a great work.  However there is nothing wrong with changing it.  Those traditions are not doctrines, they are not salvational issues, and honestly a lot of the things we do are not in the Bible.  The structure of the church body is clear in Scripture, what that looks like is not, and that’s a good thing.

A Glimpse of what Living in the Kingdom Looks Like – Tim Whitaker

Happy New Years everyone.  I wanted to share a thought I’ve been having today, so here it is.

Every year my friend Jerry hosts a New Years Eve Party that lasts from 10 P.M New Years Eve to 10 A.M New Years day.  Of course people stay till 4 P.m New Years day, in fact that’s where I am typing from now, At Jerry’s house.   Keep this thought in the back of your head.

The Kingdom of God is awesome, and it’s hard to completely define, but one thing is for sure, when the church (the people) realize what their mission is as God’s people, to usher the Kingdom of God on to earth and to declare the gospel.  They start to change everything around them.  It is so important for us as Christians to realize that when we are gathered together at any time, from Sunday Morning, to dinner at a friends house, we are participating in the Kingdom of God here on earth.  When we realize that everything we are doing here on earth has major spiritual implications, we then realize that even things we don’t always see as “spiritual” activity’s are now completely spiritual.  Let me give you an example.

at 12. A.M the ball dropped, I screamed happy new year with 60 people and we ran outside banging pots and pans for about 15 minutes.  After that we came back in and danced our hearts out for the next 45 minutes.  The bass was booming and people were dancing, and in that moment it was Holy.  It was Holy because we realized what we were doing.  We weren’t just dancing.  We were dancing with Jesus, we were participating in the Kingdom of God celebrating a new year.  Guys who never dance, were right in the middle looking like fools (mainly me), and did not care at all about how they looked.  Because the point wasn’t the individual, it was the group, it was the collective group celebrating together a new year.  At that moment the church of God was gathered in someones house, blasting music and being goofy human beings laughing, dancing, and singing all while God was right in the middle.

The night didn’t stop there, it was filled with discussions about the church, missions, and the gospel around a camp fire with new friends that we met that night.  While people were discussing around a fire outside, other people were in a heated mario kart tournament, others were asleep, others were reading, others were upstairs eating.  By 4.30 there was a massive poker tournament while a few friends cooked breakfast for everyone and by 8 we had transformers 3 on.  At this point me and my cousin Joe left to go sleep at his house for a few hours, but people were at Jerry’s house until 4. p.m.  And now about 10 of us are back at Jerry’s watching the football game.   Some are playing poker, I’m typing a blog, and others are wearing Giants jersey’s and cheering their butts off.  It’s wonderful because as I look around I see the Kingdom.  I’m seeing a glimpse of heaven.  Community, conversation, unity, all with God in the center of it all.  Without our faith it’s empty.  Without Jesus this weekend was just a nice party.  But because of what Jesus did on the cross, because we are able to be restored to God, this weekend was Holy.  This weekend the Kingdom of God was at Jerry’s house and it was a blast.

If we limit our view of our spirituality to just “spiritual” things then we miss out on 90% of what God is trying to show us.  Let’s face it even the most devoted Christian is in a spiritual setting at the most maybe 4 times a week.  If we assume that God only works in those times, then we assume that in the other times, God is not really interested in what we are doing.  We assume that God isn’t interested in talking to us, or walking with us when we are doing things like grocery shopping, or watching a movie, or working out.  We separate (not necessarily on purpose) our spiritual time from our “non” spiritual time.  This however is a foreign idea in the Bible.

First there is no word for “spiritual” in the Hebrew scriptures.  For the Jewish people everything they did had spiritual implications because we are spiritual beings.  the word breath we see in Genesis 2:7 doesn’t just mean to literally breathe. It also means spirit.  So when God “breathed” in to man he gave man his spirit.  We are the only created being that is part spiritual (breath of God) and part physical (from the dust). This truth should completely change the way we see the word “spiritual”.  Everything we do is spiritual because we are spiritual beings.

When you connect the dots you see quickly that the Holy spirit is the presence of God dwelling inside of us.  That means that wherever we walk, the Kingdom of God is walking with us.  God is not limited to the times that we have decided to make more spiritual than others.   This is not to say that Sunday mornings, youth group, other “church” events are bad.  Not at all, but what I’m suggesting is that it can not stop there.  Because God doesn’t stop there.  Wether we choose to believe it or not, God is going everywhere that we go.  That means that now everything we do God is a part of.  When six of my brothers and I are sitting around a table playing poker, God is right there with us in the middle of it.  When I’m watching football, God is right there with me.  Why not talk to Him?  God doesn’t need us, but He desires us.  He created us for His pleasure and He desires to know us, and he desires us to know Him.

What that looks like is for another post. 🙂

Blessings.  Where you walk, the Kingdom of God walks.

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