Coffee, Theology, and Jesus

working out our messy faith over coffee

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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

Love: It’s a thing of the past!

“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.  By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

~John 13:34-35

 

Christ preempted a problem plaguing our local churches today by about 2000 years. Love.  I don’t mean that husbands are forsaking their wives and children are going through life never feeling appreciated (those these issues could also be addressed).  The love I am talking about is what Christ spoke to His disciples about.  Christian love.  This is something that even in the past days has been on my heart heavily.

 

I will be the first to admit that my life is not an overflowing cup of love for everyone I come across.  That is to my own shame.  Christ is still working out the pieces of rock in this lump of clay as I am shaped into His image.  But I feel that there is a severe lack of true Christian love.

Let me give you an example.  This is a personal example and it is half of what really got me thinking about this topic.  I don’t think I am alone in saying that the Christian life is hard.  One of the hardest things about it is true, unchanging, consistency.  We have our own flesh against us, we have the world against us, and we have the devil against us.  All three of which, probably have completely controlled our lives at one point or another.  Now, we have a new master but those other three are still all seeking the throne.  So, I will say I struggle with consistency in my life.  One thing I’ve never struggled with was being convicted about sin when I’ve messed up and desiring to get back on the right track and enjoying the amazing fellowship with God when He restores me.  Even when we are struggling with things in life, and maybe we are headed down the wrong path, something inside a Christian is never right and a true Christian will never be happy and will always have remorse and eventually come back.  I really believe that.  When I have been to my lowest points, and actually really enjoying myself, yes I was having a lot of fun, but at the cost of my relationship with God.  Inside? I was miserable.  I wanted to give everything up and run back to God.  That is the mark of a true Christian.  The innate desire for God.  Always.  Now, there was a lady that I respected, older than I.  And it got back to me recently some things she said about me.  I will summarize, “Rob is just on a spiritual high.  He goes through spiritual waves of highs and lows.  Right now he is on a spiritual high and he will crash soon.”  Hearing those words hurt immensely.  Why?  Because this was a woman that I actually respected and looked up to.  I have lost much of my respect for her now but I learned a lesson.  How is my love?  I’ve had to look over my actions of the past and see that not all of my decisions were based on love for others.  What have I done to help out my fellow believers, just because I had a deep love for them.  Look at the local church in Jerusalem in Acts 2:41-47.  Verses 44 and 45 just show what this church’s motivation was: love for each other.  What an example.  I’m sure old brother Scott wasn’t there looking at a younger brother Carl and saying “well I’ve seen Carl and he goes through waves of being spiritual… right now he is doing well but just give it a little bit and he will crash again.”  I bet Scott was doing everything he could to make sure Carl didn’t crash again.  Is that how I am?  Do I look at my fellow Christian and judge them or do I come along side of them and encourage, strengthen, motivate, and love them?

Love is where it all begins.  And, where it all ends.  What does Paul say in 1 Corinthians 13 (the great love chapter)?

“So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.”

It all starts with each of us.  I have to just work on myself and how I can love.  It doesn’t matter to me what anyone else is doing or saying.  It doesn’t matter to me what anyone else is living for.  My Savior said that other people shall know I am His by my love.  So I think its about time I did a love check.  I think it’s about time to heal up wounds I’ve created in others in the past.  Where is the love?  Christ.  Let’s pour that out.  Especially to believers, and then to the entire world.

Why I hate the “Why I hate religion but love Jesus” Video – Tim Whitaker

Ok so we’ve all seen the video by now.  For those that don’t you can watch it here:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1IAhDGYlpqY

Let me start by saying the good about this video.  I like this guy, his heart seems in the right place.  He genuinely wants Jesus, and wants to know Jesus.  Wow, awesome.  He also understands some of the MAJOR issues plaguing our church culture today.  He understands that just because you say ” christian” on facebook doesn’t mean you are one.  He understands that we have cared far too much about the outside appearance instead of the heart of people.  And he also understands that we need to really understand our faith.  The problem is, I don’t think he undersands the faith he is claiming.

I’ve heard all the slogans in the Christian culture “It’s all about relationship and not about religion” “It’s against my relationship to have a religion” and “I hate religion but love Jesus”.  I used to say some of these slogans myself.  The problem is looking back, I really didn’t understand what the heck I was saying.  I became a casualty of what I call slogan Christianity.    Slogan Christianity is when your faith goes about as deep as the slogans you’ve heard, and the 10 verses you grew up with (maybe more if you went to AWANA or VBS).  It’s dangerous because when you rely on catchy little phrases and a handful of verses to define an entire life, and when some of the slogans go viral (such as the “It’s against my religion to have a relationship”), people blindly follow the slogan without defining the terms.  In the example I gave we have to ask what exactly what is religion? What is relationship?  If we don’t understand what they mean, then they are useless.

This is the problem I see in this video.  While it sounds nice to the ear, it is empty. there is no depth, nothing is defined, nothing is articulated clearly.  What is this guy’s definition of religion?  Because religion can mean MANY different things.  In fact the word religion can mean several things.

  1. set of beliefs concerning the cause, nature, and purpose of the universe, especially when considered as the creation of a superhuman agency or agencies, usually involving devotional and ritual observances, and often containing amoral code governing the conduct of human affairs.
  2. a specific fundamental set of beliefs and practices generally agreed upon by a number of persons or sects: the Christian religion; the Buddhist religion.
  3. the body of persons adhering to a particular set of beliefs and practices: a world council of religions.
  4. the life or state of a monk, nun, etc.: to enter religion.
  5. the practice of religious  beliefs; ritual observance of faith.
Now look at some of those definitions.  Almost all them can fit in to the Christian faith.  There are general things Christians agree upon and practice (such as prayer), there is a body of people (the church),.  Christianity is a religion by definition! There is no way getting around it.  Just because we use the word “religion” doesn’t mean it is necessarily a bad thing.  The word religion is from Latin, and (at least in its etymological parts) it literally (and yes, I mean literally literally) means “reconnection” (re + ligio).  the word itself is completely Christian!
This is what I mean when I say we have to define what we mean.  Just because it’s a popular notion for Christians to be against “religion” doesn’t mean it’s right.
But what does he mean?  Well any Christian who grew up in the culture probably gets what this guy is saying.  He is saying that the core and fundamental heart of Christianity is not morality but it is Jesus. Jesus must be our starting point, NOT morality.  Once we start with morality we then believe that we can somehow earn the love of God.  This idea is completely contrary to the Christian belief system.
Also it is important to know the Scriptures.  At one point in the video the speaker says “What if I told you Jesus came to abolish religion”. This is not true.  Jesus is pretty clear in Matthew 5:17 “”Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.”.    Jesus did not come to abolish the Jewish religion and laws.  He came to be a fulfillment of what was spoken prior to His coming.
This brings me to my other major issue with this video.  The speaker exudes a terrible understanding of Judaism, the Torah, and exactly who the Pharisees were.  I don’t blame him, because I didn’t know much better until this past semester, and I still only have a tiny grasp on the issue.
The Pharisees were masters of the Torah.  By age 12 the Jewish children had the first five books of the Bible memorized.  From there only the best became Pharisees.  These were not ignorant people, they were immersed in the Torah all the time.  They were some of the greatest teachers and minds of the day.  The new the Law EXTREMELY well.  Sometimes in Christianity we don’t give them enough credit.  We just write them off as idiots.  This is not the case, they were extremely intelligent.  It is important to understand that the law at the time was the only words given by God to the Jewish people.  There was no understanding of a “trinity” to a Jew before and up to Jesus’s day.  The common Jewish person did not have  a “personal” relationship with God.  In fact in Exodus the people told Moses to be the communicator between God and them.  These are just a few things to keep in mind when it comes to the Pharisees, and the Jewish people.  They thought that the coming Messiah was going to establish an earthly kingdom (and after reading more of the Old Testament I can see why!), they had no idea he was going to be God himself coming down among them. There is a a huge context that we need to understand before we go around throwing God’s chosen people under the bus in ignorance because it is a popular talking about.
What’s my point? My point is this.  Jesus loves religion, He came for religion.  Jesus literally came to reconnect us with God.  So before we as Christians go around throwing slogans around like a beach ball at a nickelback concert ( I can’t take credit for that one liner), we need to understand what the terms we use actually mean.  Part of the Christian life is trying to understand and define basic ideas that we grew up with.  Here are a few I recommend to try and break down.
Define Grace
Define Salvation
Define the Gospel
Good luck, and welcome to the conversation.
For a much more in depth view on this.  Check this blog out.  Really well done when pertaining to this subject

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.

Coffee Church continuation

I want to continue with this thought of the church body meeting in a coffee shop.   There are a few reasons this idea stuck with me when I first thought of it.  The first reason was because a cafe atmosphere is a breeding ground for conversation.  Probably the biggest drawback to our current Sunday morning format is that it just doesn’t allow for much discussion to happen.   I’m not saying that the current church model is not somewhat effective, that people have not been changed,  but what I am saying is that one of the drawbacks to the way we do church is that there is not much room for life to happen.  Most church goers are in a building once a week and during the majority of the time they are sitting and listening, or standing and singing.  yes it’s true we offer small or community groups outside of this, but the majority of the congregation usually does not come out to these things.  Again this is not true for every church, but I believe it’s true for most.

My motivation for this idea (which I really want to do in the future) is because we all agree the church is not a building.  Yet our actions show that we believe that the church is mainly a building.  Most things the church does is in the “church building” and not out in the community.

Imagine walking in to a coffee shop Sunday morning and seeing a group of people discussing the word of God.  Imagine seeing someone teaching others something about the christian faith in a circle sunday morning around a cup of coffee.  Imagine what a person would say seeing this coffee shop that the frequent full of life, of discussion, of community.  For some reason the employees are genuinely interested in the customers because the employees don’t see them as customers, they see them as people.  The church (the people) is a part of the community, they are smack dab in the middle of life where they are encountering people in the community daily.  It’s only a matter of time before Jesus comes up in a conversation, it’s only a matter of time before the regulars become friends.

To me this is one of the many ways the church can reveal itself.  This model might not be right for every setting, but i think for my generation it is a huge need.   Many people are not looking for a place to go, to sit, stand, sit, stand, repeat.  They are not looking for a place to go where they can listen to someone speak to them, they are looking for a safe place to be heard.  It is essential to realize that church is not a place we go to, it is a life we live.  The church is living, breathing, moving, and growing, if the majority of that happens once a week then it’s not really doing much the other 6 days.  We need to get the focus off of Sunday morning and learn to live in the church continually.  How we do this is for another blog post.

Worship music, a sermon, an alter call, announcements, they are great things, and all have been used by God.  But my question is are they necessary? What if people got together every Sunday morning, shared a cup of coffee together, listened to someone teach and then responded by talking about it in a smaller group?   Is this another viable option for our Sunday morning routine?

And what about leadership?  I propose a leadership team, not a single lead pastor.  Crazy you might say but hear me out.  When you have a team of people who own the vision, the responsibilities are shared.  Now a pastor can actually pastor (shepherd) people, and the teacher can actually teach people.  Elders can mentor and disciple the younger men and women.  When you’re in a group of leaders the will of God is able to be discerned in a clear way because now your thoughts are being bounced off of other people who share the same heart.  It’s no longer just about what one person is hearing, it’s about what the group is hearing.

This might be crazy, I might be in LA-LA land, but I don’t think I am.  I think this is possible, and I think it is necessary.

~Tim

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