The Weekly Tour… A Church Tale

I’m in a writing mood today, so there’s a bit of a vent coming. The pressing need, which is code for what’s on my mind, is to discuss a great cultural elephant that sits in the church’s living room. Some, maybe even many, are ready to discuss this elephant, but it seems few are willing to pay the price to make the change required to make the elephant go away. In order to set up this mornings thought I want to offer a central thought that will drive the rest of the article.

The church, universal and local (big “C” and little “c”), exists for one distinct purpose; the display of God’s glory. The church, locally (little “c”), consists of covenant members who are growing in truth, sharing & serving in life, and declaring the gospel to the world. To be part of the one you must be part of the other.

This is more or less a summary of the stuff I’ve been reading on biblical, healthy church,  church, as well as being part of it. I even preached a sermon on it last fall. I would even hazard to say that most people would agree, and certainly most pastors would agree. However, the church buffet just seems to keep growing, and thus we have our elephant.

The local church, which is really the local, visible expression of the universal church, is the most talked about form of the church (or assembly, gr. ekklesia) in the right half* of the bible, yet it seems to lack value, culturally, when it comes to living out our faith. It’s not that people don’t go to church, in fact I think the problem is the exact opposite, they go to too much church, or maybe it would be better described as going to too many churches. In my experience, in our region (and I suspect this may be happening in others, but who knows) it is all too common to see people taking part in multiple churches. You might read that and then ask, “what’s the problem with that?” which is a legitimate question, but has an answer in what is really the heart of the problem. While people are busy taking part in multiple churches, they are committing to none. People have largely come to see the church as just how I described above, a buffet of sorts. When this occurs the local church suddenly exists to provide for the larger Christian community a swath of programs, opportunities,  and events. I’ve even heard people comment on how cool it is that people partake in so many different churches and their activities. Going Saturday evenings to one church for the preaching, another on Sunday for the music, attending small groups with another church, kids going to youth group at another, Awanas at yet another.  Then when asked which is the home church, there is no definitive answer, and if there is, the answer is not backed up with membership, or even commitment to that local body. It’s just the place where you might find that person, or family, most often. Now, the argument can be made that I’m being a bit hyperbolic, and yes that’s true, but only a bit. While this specific extreme may be rare, there are many degrees of the problem at work around the region. I have even heard church leaders talk positively about this happening, without realizing what they are then promoting.

It may be time that we asked ourselves some honest questions, seriously, have we ever stopped to think that maybe the reason the world holds the church in such low regard is because they see so many “believers” doing it first? Let’s be honest, the world may see us running around going to all these churches, but do they really see the church as being a valuable part of our lives? Is our involvement in church lending to more meaningful interactions with our neighbors, especially our unchurched neighbors? Are we taking part in the life of our local church, or are we just partaking of the offerings of local churches? Do we count involvement (membership) in a local church as essential to our understanding of what it means to live as a Christian? Do we understand that hanging at the lake, going out to golf, riding the dirt bikes, heading to the mall, the slopes, the river, or the coffee shop, is not church? (Unless your local church happens to meet in a coffee shop.. shout out to my friends over at Origin Church)  Do we understand that being part of the big “C” church happens by being part of, not just attending, the little “c”? (in other words the big ‘C’ consists entirely of the little “c”) Do we know that loving the church means loving the people, not the cool factor? Do we love the church

WE NEED A RESET! We need to get back to the place where the church, the local church, the local, on the corner, less than 30 minutes away, expression of the BRIDE OF JESUS, matters, and we are rejoicing that we get to be part of her sanctification. Where we have “our church” where we are members, committing by covenant to be part of the life, the doctrine, the beauty, and the grime of our church family. This is one of the most essential needs of the church in this age. It’s not a return to some utopian dream, it’s getting back to a proper biblical view of the church. It’s not pitting churches against one another, nor is it promoting isolationism, exclusion, or superiority,  it just means we stop flitting about town going to many churches and neglecting our responsibility to be part of one. In fact I would hope that it would be at that point that local churches could stop trying to build massive ministries and partner together in the communities they exist in.

It’s holding to an understanding that the primary purpose of the church is a proper display of God’s glory to the world around us. We as Christians are not the purpose of the church, the church does not exist for us, because we are the church. This means we exist to display God’s glory to the world around us. This does not mean we consume every program that we enjoy from every church within an hour driving distance and never commit to becoming members of a church and submitting to church leadership and spiritual authority (Heb 13:7). It doesn’t mean just going once a week to a specific church either, going and taking in is still just another form of consuming, you need to commit being part of the body, its life, its ups, its downs, its sorrows, and its amazing joys.

We need people that are willing to start adopting this view and then making the sacrifices necessary to follow through. Although the odd thing is that you may find that there is more time available to you to get rest, and not be so rushed. You may find that the ache to be more deeply connected (known by, and knowing others) in a church becomes satisfied. It requires an understanding that it’s messy and beautiful, painful and joyful, weighty and light all at the same time. It’s serving one another and serving together in the communities we live in. It’s resisting the urge (the enemy) when we want to abandon ship because of something petty, or slander leadership when they make a mistake. It’s submitting to that same leadership in humility, trusting their lead, yet a willingness to go to them when there are issues in the church. It’s committing to covenant membership, submitting to healthy accountability and possibly discipline.

In addition we need church leadership (pastors/elders) who are clinging to this view and are willing to walk through the costs that come with it. It requires true life on life discipleship, especially by the pastors/elders. It requires the pastors to live in and invest in the communities where their flocks are (My good friend in the bay area always says; good shepherds smell like sheep). It may cause people to leave the church, which we hate to see, but may be necessary. It means churches need to stop pandering to the consumerism and may even need to correct those in the congregation that are taking part in it (it may even require direct conversation with other pastors and people, helping with that local church working as a network thing). It means churches evaluating the practices of membership, discipline, and discipleship.

I don’t say this lightly, and I don’t say this just to stir up controversy, I say this because the Church was purchased, called and set apart through the blood of Jesus. It’s His Bride, and yes He has entrusted it to flawed humans, but that doesn’t mean we get to abandon ship for our own versions of church. We desperately need to get a good view of the biblical church, the amazing way in which it was set up that we as God’s people would flourish. We need to value Jesus’ Bride, be involved and invested in her growth, which is our growth, in her sanctification, which is our sanctification, and her mission, which is our mission. So really the question is, whatever your part is, will you settle in to one church, make it your church family, for better for worse, putting the fun in dysfunction at times? More importantly… will you love the church? Because Jesus loves the Church, and He loved her enough to purchase her with His blood. And I say all of this, because I love the church…

Here are some things for further listening/watching and consideration…

The sermon series by Mark Driscoll and Mars Hill Church Seattle – Jesus Loves His Church

Plus check out the material from IX Marks, it’s spot on in evaluating what a healthy church and church member look like. With books like, “What is a Healthy Church?”, “What is a Healthy Church Member?”, “9 Marks of a Healthy Church”, “A Display of God’s Glory” and so many more, they are a more than helpful resource in firming up your understanding of the church (ecclesiology)

and for a little more fun, but still deep

Stephen the Levite – Membership  (it’s a gospel rap song, but even if you don’t like rap, listen to the lyrics)

Lecrae – The Bride (more gospel rap but listen)

 

* right half = NT (you may have to think about it for a second but it’s direction right, not correct right)

Resurrection Monday… Easter Afterthoughts.

So, maybe it’s because it’s my first Easter as a “real” pastor, or maybe it’s because I woke up this morning in a weird, sorta off, mood, or maybe it’s because I just feel like writing about something more significant than the marriage thing, but there’s something that has got me brewing today. It may have been amplified when I saw this tweet this morning that my good friend Mike La Farge wrote:

“Live every day like it’s Easter! #heisstillrisen

     It got my mind turning and thinking, and there may have been some pondering involved, and when that happens there are always questions, thoughts, and deep condsiderings (not really a word, but we’re moving on). I heard lots of good feedback on my sermon yesterday, mostly from people who’ve heard it all before, and that still left me wondering if it mattered. I don’t doubt the content of it, I mean I got the amazing opportunity to co-preach with the pastor of the church where we rent space on Saturday nights, and we hit the Easter story cleanly. The life, death, and ultimately the resurrection of Jesus were the end point of the sermon. I just wondered; were there non-believers there? Did they hear? Are they thinking about it today in the aftermath of all the family, food, and colored eggs? The always encouraging and poignant words of my wife met those concerns this morning as she reminded me that the outcome is not up to me, but that it’s a work of the Holy Spirit.

      She’s right (as most married men know… wife = usually right), but that still doesn’t satisfy my mind and my heart. Partly because there’s a flip side to that coin, and that’s the people that have heard the Easter story year in and year out. There is the thing that has my heart heavy/burdened today, and that’s why Mike’s tweet, those short and simple words, has my mind turning. That, my friends, is what brought me to the main question: What are we moving people toward? The aim here is not to berate or diminish what churches are doing program-wise, but to ask a question to myself and maybe out into the ministry realm. There is little satisfaction at this point in preaching a good rendition of the Easter story, there is little peace in seeing people hear the message of our greatest hope; a risen and victorious Savior who has both taken and taken away the punishment for our sins, and see them carry on as usual. The burden seems to be to get people to live in light of the resurrection all year. To see that the greatest news humanity has ever received, should continually transform our hearts and minds. That’s what I’m feeling today, wondering if we are doing a good job of connecting people to the life-giving truth of the gospel and connecting them to the idea of growing as followers of Jesus. Are we drawing them in to deep connection with authentic community by cultivating an invitational environment or a sea of opportunity by creating more stuff for them to choose.

  I know that the answer again is that many of these things are not my work, but the work of the Holy Spirit in the lives of believers. However, that doesn’t stop the wrestling, it doesn’t stop the burden. I want to know that I’m doing my part, that I’m doing all I can to point, connect, show, teach, live, and lead people toward Jesus. Not because it’s attached to a worth or value in God’s eyes, but because every time I preach, and I hear the gospel again, all I can do is walk away astounded at the gain I have received from a work I did not do, and that I could not accomplish in any way shape or form, and I want people to see that beauty, that glaring, awesome, amazing, incomprehensible beauty, and be moved to follow the one authored it. All in all, it’s just not moving people toward another good rendition of the Easter story, not moving people into a love of the coolness of production or program,  and not moving people into mere church attendance, but desiring, by the grace of God, to see people moved into a deeper relationship, understanding, and love of Jesus. The kind that transforms lives, the kind that breeds disciples, and the kind that declares the power, freedom, and love of the gospel through word and deed. And to do all of this weekly… not just once a year. Again, these are just thoughts, questions I have for myself, stuff I’m wrestling. Maybe they have significance for others, or maybe they don’t, but I have to wonder… does anyone else feel this way today?

Indebted to Grace

j-

The Plank… or Marriage Mayhem.. or ARRRGGGHHHH!!

As I write this, I’m not sure if I’ve ever been more burdened by a cultural conversation than I am right now. I received a text from a friend this morning asking my opinion on the swirling marriage controversy and I, though I am really not sure why, found myself feeling a definitive weight… So please walk with me through the journey of my mind as I weigh in on what seems to be the defining issue of my generation for the church.

First… I think it’s by scheming design that it’s Holy Week and this topic has grabbed everyone’s attention. The enemy wants no more than to distract from the awe that is the resurrection of Jesus, the complete substitutionary atoning work of the death and resurrection of our Risen Savior. I mean after all, who wants to be reminded of the greatest butt whooping they’ve received to date? So he wants to distract believers with the one social thing that divides, frustrates, consumes, and embitters more quickly than soft butter melts in a hot skillet. So let’s push back… because true equality is found only only at the feet of the Savior, in the redemptive work of His gospel (at least that’s what I get from Col 3:11)

So that brings me to the rest of it, and truly let me say this is an honest and open struggle, not with the biblical definition of marriage, or sin, or love. Those who know me, know that I am a rather huge fan of the Word of God. The struggle is the collision of culture and church, government and faith, hypocrisy and sanctification. So let me start with the asking of a couple of different questions I struggle with. Some of this stems from the wave of facebook profile picture shifting that I have witnessed over the last few days seeing the red = sign pop up everywhere. So to my Christian friends I have questions, a few for each side of the fence. These questions are meant to cause thought, whether introspective, or outwardly processed through discussions and comments, either way as long as we are talking honestly and openly.

To my Christian friends that are changing their profile pictures to red = signs, and declaring to stand in the camp of marriage equality:

What is the reasoning behind your stance?

Where do you stand with regards to the Bible, sin, and the rather direct way in which marriage and homosexuality are defined?

What is the church’s role in your thoughts? (for example, if the government mandates marriage for all, will it then be o.k. for the govt. to mandate that the orthodox/evangelical/Christian church perform gay weddings?)

To my Christian friends who are opposed or have changed their profile pics to something else in response:

Same first question as above (and feel free to expand on your thoughts…or in other words… don’t just say “because the bible says”)

Where does the role of church and government balance out? In other words, are we in a right place as the Christian church to say that the government should mandate a one woman-one man definition of marriage?

To anyone who is reading this that is not a believer, or perhaps is LGBT… and honest question (and in thinking about it maybe everyone should consider this):

What is it about the word “marriage”? Let’s face it, at this point the argument is over a label and certainly not an institutional definition of what it is, because the reality is those camps will forever be differentiated by a host of inputs. Basically I see a bunch of people at the center of this argument with both sides trying to scream louder than the other “IT’S THE PRINCIPLE!!!”, without anyone willing to lay down their hatchet to see what’s really going on.

I know I’m at risk here, I know that I’m at risk of hard core conservative believers saying I’ve gone liberal, and at risk of those on the other side of the argument saying I’m judgmental and un-loving (which is kind of an odd place to be considering the argument itself) but I’m willing to be at risk as I’m in process.

These words have been floating around facebook as well, a quote from Rick Warren, pastor of Saddleback Church in Lake Forest Ca:

“Our culture has accepted two huge lies. The first is that if you disagree with someone’s lifestyle you must fear or hate them. The second is that to love someone means you agree with everything they believe or do. Both are nonsense. You don’t have to compromise convictions to be compassionate.”

This particular quote gives me great hope that there are those who are looking to have an honest perspective, and hopefully honest dialogue. I want to, I am longing to be involved with an open and honest dialogue that involves an actual agreeable disagreement that is founded in love, respect, and dignity (kind of like the model seen in John 8)

I’m going to speak from an honest point of view, maybe it helps maybe it doesn’t, maybe it clarifies, or maybe it’s just rambling, it’s in keeping with the “Mayem/ARRRGGHHH” part of the title. I’m in agreement with the idea that we should in no way as believers feel that we are to compromise our convictions in the center of this issue… but let’s be honest.. the sanctity of marriage issue, should really start at home.  How is it that we as the church aren’t putting forth a better model of marriage for the world to see? Why is it that the church is wrought with divorce, abuse, and other marital dysfunction? We aren’t offering a better image of marriage! It seems to me that most times the argument being made that the world is defiling the institution of marriage is the epitome of the plank in the eye. I mean we live in a world that does little to honor the actual covenant bond of marriage, where people get married on a whim, in drunken stupors, out of desperation, in complete selfishness, men and women sacrifice marriage on the altar of “ministry”, fail to serve one another, fail to cultivate dependence on Jesus rather than spouse, and so much more, all this and we have the audacity to try and tell the world it’s corrupting the institution of marriage? Ouch.  Perhaps it’s high time we realize the greatest thing the church could do for the institution of marriage, is change the face of marriage in the church! I mean, I have a tough time justifying my preaching at an unbelieving world about the “morality” they should espouse when I need to spend more effort encouraging Christians to actually adopt and practice a biblical model of gospel centered marriage.

Does this mean I deny God’s Word and condone gay marriage as cool in God’s eyes? Nope, sorry, I’m not swinging that way either. In my eyes the biblical institution of marriage is by far the best model, in fact when the biblical model of marriage is put in place and grounded in the Gospel it’s one of the most powerful cultural tools for redemption man has ever seen. The problem is, most Christians can agree with that, but then fail to realize that the government never mandated that, nor is it by any government institution that that occurs. So maybe it’s my opinion that the government can’t change the institution of marriage, any more than they can re-write the bible. Perhaps, I wonder at what point to we simply render unto Caesar and let them do what they will do. People get married without the church all the time, whether it’s Vegas or the courthouse and millions upon millions of people are legally married and don’t hold the Christian value of marriage as esteemed, other than they are “one man and one woman” and let’s face it… that alone is not the biblical definition of marriage. People are longing for something more though, something to give them them value, meaning, and really to give them a sense of satisfaction in life, and that is where we can enter the discussion in love and in truth.

When we get to the point that we can understand that one of the main roots of sin is the heart of man/woman seeking deep satisfaction, then maybe we realize the battlefield isn’t one of espousing morality, but elevating Jesus as the true means to satisfying our hearts deepest thirsts. Perhaps that’s where we get back to the real crux of the matter, That 2000 years ago God came, at just the right moment, in the flesh, lived the life I should, died a death that I deserved, and walked out of a tomb, all that I could have that satisfaction. Maybe the priority should be getting beyond the “marriage” issue and pointing out the Jesus is the better Groom and has come to redeem for Himself an undeserving bride, who is broken, imperfect, and flawed, but in whom He places beauty, perfection, and flawlessness. That’s the only solution I can see as lasting, as meaningful, or as viable for the believer… I guess I’m not sure how demanding a biblical standard be endorsed by the government helps that mission, or how the government endorsing the other side of the argument, changes or hinders that mission. AT the same time… I KNOW that walking away from, watering down, or abandoning God’s design for ourselves as believers, our marriages especially… that does hinder the mission. Anyway… there are other good reads on this matter, the guys over at The Gospel Coalition have THIS to say and it’s hard hitting and thought provoking for believers (and Biblically accurate).

The bottom line… I’m sure that this is not the end of the process for me, because, like all of us, I am continually being sanctified by the grace of God and grown in maturity, but I just want an honest, grace-filled, open discussion about a really difficult issue, I think we could all use a little more of that.

Please pray and consider your words and hearts before leaving comments or questions.

Indebted to Grace,

j-

P.S. – This is the actual bottom line.