Rockin’ out at Radiant Life this morning. What a great morning of worship, teaching, and fellowship! What will you do to respond to Christ the Christmas?
I began this blog a year and a half ago. I started writing part 2 just a week after part 1 and forgot about it. I was going through my saved drafts and found this unfinished thought. So here it is, all pretty and revisited. Please read the first part to get you up to date.
No seriously, go read it.
Really, It won’t fully make sense unless you click here and go back and read it.
Its not that long, just a quick read to get you caught up. Please…
Ok, now that you have read the first installment, read part two starting… now!
What does God want for the church? As we look at the early church we will find church in her purest form. No big budgets, or large auditoriums, and no coffee or doughnuts . I’m not saying these things are wrong for the church. I’m just wondering what the people of the early church did without thousands of dollars in equipment and coffee to get them going. It must have been a boring service.
How did the early church entertain people, keep people interested, and make them feel welcome without these things? Well the answer is pretty simple. They loved…
I cringe when I hear people talk about going to a church because they feel good when they leave. That couldn’t be any further from the point.
A little less obvious misconception is the idea that we should go to church to “get fed”. People choose a church because they learn a lot or the church serves some need of theirs well, like childcare, art, business contacts etc. A good thought, but not the reason for church, and definitely not the ultimate goal of the church.
We also hear that people love their church because it is entertaining and they love the music/dramas/videos. OK, I think you know where I’m going by now. I’m sure Paul hired a band and rocked out to some killer worship music before he spoke to the people of Ephesus, or Rome.
I don’t think God’s intention for the church was any of these three things. All three of these things make church a “me first” concept. It wasn’t until our generation that church even considered being entertaining. The church was started to be centered around God or (if you would like me to use big words) theocentric.
At the heart of the church should be connecting with God, doing the work or God, and spreading the radical love of God. Anything else is extra gravy on the potatoes. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near. -Hebrews 10 24-25
In Ephesians Paul explains the purpose of ministry to the church body, he says ministry is meant… 12to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up 13 until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. -Ephesians 4:12-13
In other words, the church is built to serve. We are a community of believers that “spur” (as the ASV puts it) each other on to love deeper, reach further, and ultimately serve our community, our nation, and our world.
One interesting side note*
Notice in the verses from Ephesians that Paul says it in this order. To equip people for works of service so that they may be built up until we reach unity in faith and knowledge. How do we get to faith and knowledge? First we serve. How does our church grow and build up? First we serve. Paul does not suggest that we study the scriptures so we know enough to serve. He does not suggest that we become a large church so that we can serve. He says to serve to become wiser in the scriptures. He says we serve to grow our church. He says, first we serve.
The perfect church is not “me first”. She is “Christ first”. She is centered around us (the Christ followers) utilizing our gifts, strengths, and passions to love as Christ loved, by serving our community, our nation, and our world. She is theocentric.
After missing church this morning, due to alarm clock malfunction (Jesalyn’s fault), I was excited about getting out in the community. This is the third year for Radiant Life doing the Singing Santa. It was our first time getting to experience it. This was the first week so if you missed it, we will be doing it for the next two weekends in neighborhoods around Huntersville. Check out times and locations here.
We had a great time. It was the coldest night of the year, but that didn’t keep the neighbors from coming to see Santa and enjoying cookies and hot chocolate. Santa drove around the neighborhood several times in a lit up sleigh and invited everyone over to join us for cookies and hot chocolate and a chance to meet the one and only Santa. Check out the other videos of Santa and his sleigh on my youtube channel. Everyone seemed to have a great time. It was blistering cold, but the hot chocolate and entertainment seemed to keep everyone smiling.
What a great way to show Jesus’ love for our neighbors. Sharing time, food, and talents with neighbors may not be easy, especially when its freezing cold, but its what we are called to do. I can’t wait until next week! Let me know if you want to join us next week in Latta Springs.
Got your attention? Good, now to get my point across…
I will be using the term “Church” in general, so please don’t take this the wrong way. In fact, if you know me at all, you already know I say things a little out of line sometimes. Its always good to push social boundaries, so here it goes.
In my Eastern Religion class we had Show And Tell. The teacher didn’t actually call it that, but that’s exactly what it was. Each person brought an object that makes them feel “spiritual”. We were all asked to share about the object and ourselves. As we went around the room I made a couple observations.
I noticed quickly that I was the minority. I guess I should have expected that, being in an Eastern Religion class there won’t be too many Christians. That’s like being the man in the Woman’s History class or the white person in the African American Studies class. You should expect to be a minority, but I wasn’t quite prepared for it.
I also realized that most of the people in the class had been raised in a Christian household. As part of our intro we weren’t really supposed to tell about our “spirituality”, but it just seemed to come out of everyone as they spoke. I guess I should have seen this coming too. We are in Charlotte, NC and the “Bible Belt” of a country that claims to be predominantly Christian.
So why are all these people my age, who were raised in Christian families no longer Christians? I kept hearing the same reason. I heard it at least four or five times in a class of 22 students.
The one thing that is supposed to bring us to Christ has turned nearly 1/4 of my class away from Christ. WHAT?
Ok, so its not all bad, right? I’m sure someone in my class was impacted positively by Church. Am I really the only one? Maybe there was someone else, but no one vocalized it.
I walked out of class thinking, “Church sucks!” I have heard many people say that the Church is broken, but this is beyond broken. When something is broken it stops performing the thing it was created to perform. Church has not only stopped performing its intended goal, it is doing the exact opposite.
OK, so I know there are good Churches that are not broken. They actually function somewhat like a Church is supposed to, but for every Church that “works” there are four or five others that don’t. Trust me, I have done the math. (Keep in mind that 70% of statistics are made up)
So I think its safe to say it, Church sucks. If there was any other object that only performed its intended job 1 out of 5 times we would say the same thing. If a pitcher only pitches a strike one out of five pitches. They are a bad pitcher. If they only throw in the direction of the batter one our of five pitches…they suck! If a teacher finishes the school year and only 1 out of 5 of their students got any smarter, you might say they are a bad teacher. If the other four students actually left the class dumber than when they came in, they suck!
You get the point.
What if I were to step out of the Eastern Religion class and take a more fair sample of my generation? Would I get the same results? How about going outside the Bible Belt? Does Church impact people differently in other places?
You know its coming. You can’t avoid it. You can count on it…
Sooner or later, we all will die. Do we really live like it? Look around you. Does anything you see go with you? Will it mean anything when that day comes?
I don’t care what religion you are. I don’t care what you believe or who you believe in. It is obvious, when you are gone, nothing goes with you. Some old religions (Egyptian and some indigenous religions) believe you can come back to your wealth and riches, but your modern day religions realize that once you pass, all your stuff stays here.
Matthew 6 19-21 “Don’t store up treasures here on earth, where moths eat them and rust destroys them, and where thieves break in and steal. 20 Store your treasures in heaven, where moths and rust cannot destroy, and thieves do not break in and steal. 21 Wherever your treasure is, there the desires of your heart will also be.”
We will die. We will loose everything we have here on Earth. Why do we hold so tight to those things that don’t matter? They seem so important, don’t they.
I want to share an illustration with you that will put a little perspective on things (I stole this from Jim White, the Pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church).
I want you to imagine a string pulled tight that runs through the room where you are sitting. It doesn’t stop there, it goes right through the walls and goes out as far as you can see. It keeps going, pulled tight, even as the earth curves it keeps going out into space. Right through the universe and never stops. Now pull out a fine tipped pen and make a mark on that string. You can barely see it, especially if you step back and look at the string from a distance. That mark is your life in the scope of eternity.
Why do we care so much about things that don’t matter. We are conditioned to. When we sinned the first time,what did we do? We were ashamed. We covered up with a fig leaf.
Genesis 3:7 “Then the eyes of both of them were opened and they
realized they were naked so they sewed fig leaves together and they
made coverings for themselves.”
Jerel mentioned this verse in church last weekend and I noticed something I had never noticed. The Bible states that shame and fear were introduced when this happened, but I think something else is underneath.
A common misconception is that Adam ate an apple. Actually, most scholars think it was a fig. That was the common fruit of the area and time. There are also other reason’s, but I’m not going to get into that.
What did they cover up with? Where did they look to cover up their shame and insecurities…not God. They turned back to the fruit that got them there in the first place and covered with a fig leaf. If shame and fear entered the world first, materialism followed almost immediately.
Why do we spend money on name brand clothing? Why do we need the best car or the coolest gadget? It covers our insecurities. It masks our shame. In stead of looking to God for humility and security, we look to the leaf, the dress, the shoes, the ipod, the car.
What is your leaf? What do you cover up with?
It doesn’t matter. It doesn’t go with you. Look away from the tree. Look to God…
CONNECT – verb (used without object) – to become connected; join or unite.
This word has been plaguing me for over a week now. Its like when you hear a word for the first time in your life. You may have been around for decades and never heard it before, but for some reason when you finally hear it, you hear it over and over again. Or when you buy a new car. You love it because its unique and you haven’t seen anyone driving it, but then you start seeing them everywhere you look.
God definitely has a sense of humor. He seems to show me things in ways that wouldn’t make sense to anyone else, but me. I guess you could say I have a twisted, or maybe a more P.C. term would be unique, sense of humor. God puts things in front of me and and I walk right over them without noticing, but once I find it, I never forget what it was, where it was, and why it was there.
I have been going to a new church for a few months now. I just started back to school and went from being self-employed for almost 3 years to full-time hours in a classroom. I am in a new apartment (since December) in Uptown Charlotte, a little change of scenery from Concord, NC. So I guess you could say I’m in a transition phase in my life. As the country is experiencing “Change” so are Jesalyn and I.
If you haven’t been on a college campus in the last 2 years you probably wouldn’t know this, but the new trend is to wear your ipod. You wear it to class, from class, and sometimes in class. In stead of walking to class with a friend or finding someone to talk to, you look down, put your earbuds in, and walk to class while listening to the newest T-Pain song. If you aren’t listening to your Ipod there is only one thing you could be doing. No, not talking to your friend, or even talking on the phone…texting. It’s said that calling someone is a simple communication and emailing is pseudo-communication, then texting must be the lowest form of communication possible. Its too much to actually find out how someone’s doing, we have to get to the point in 100 characters or less. BTW, if u no “txtin lingo” u dnt need 100 characters…10 will suffice.
In World Religion we were discussing how disconnected we have become. Disconnected from nature, disconnected from each other, and disconnected from God. I couldn’t help but walk out of that class with my head up. Watching everyone walk around with their heads down. It really began to bother me. My mind began to think about the day of a 21st Century American…TV, Video Games, Internet, IM, maybe a phone call or two, between all that we are lucky to get in a genuine hug from a friend, kiss from our family, or an actual conversation lasting longer than this paragraph.
We have reserved areas for trees and nature, and we usually have to drive to get there.
We know people on TV Shows better than we know the person we are watching the show with.
We spend 10 hours a day in artificial lighting and maybe 10 minutes in the sunlight.
What’s the problem?
We are born to connect. We are here for that reason, and that reason only. To unite with God, to unite with each other, and to unite others with God. That’s it! No, really…that’s it!
In Genesis God created Adam and Eve. The Garden and everything in it was blessed, in total connection with God and each other. That’s why they were here. To be with God and with each other. Adam and Eve experienced a connection with God which in turn connected them to everything He made. Then it went down hill… They chose to be disconnected. They become ashamed and covered themselves. They were disconnected from God, which disconnected them from nature, and then each other.
NOW, we live in a DISCONNECTED world.
In Rob Bell’s book “Sex God” he points out that this could be why babies cry. The first thing we experience in life is being severed. We feel alone for the first time and we weep.
So if we are born disconnected and we live in a disconnected world, then how can we connect? How is it even possible?
When God sent Himself to Earth as Jesus He was connecting us. He was sending us a cable that will plug us back into Him, nature, and each other. And here’s the best part. We already have this cable…all we have to do is plug it in. This is what makes it so amazing. In every other belief or “religion” we have to do something to earn the cable. We will never be truly connected unless we get it ourselves. The Bible says that we are already connected. God has done it for us! All we have to do is…
The letter to the Ephesians says that there is, “one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and IN ALL.”
And in Hebrews, it’s says God is the one “for whom and through whom everything exists.”
Do you see God in the grass you walk on? Do you see God in the person you are sitting next to? The God of The Universe, the creator of EVERYTHING! If you saw Him in that person, do you think you would put down the ipod a minute and talk to Him? Do you think you would open your eyes, look up, and see what He has done/is doing around you?
So that day after we talked about connecting in my World Religion class I put away my Ipod and walked with my head up. I came home from school and decided to connect with God by reading. I picked up the Rob Bell book I was reading months ago and started from my bookmark that was on page 36 of “Sex God” which starts, “We’re disconnected from the Earth and we know it.” I kept reading in amazement as Bell goes on to talk about connecting with ourselves, the earth, and each other. I then started thinking about connection, realizing the church we are now a part of is Connection Church and the small group study we are doing is called, Just Walk Across The Room, about connecting with other people in your life. It was right there in front of me. I had walked right over it without noticing.
I guess you can say God started laughing.
Are you connected? Yes, you already are! You just have to realize it. God has already connected you and all you have to do is look up. It doesn’t matter where you are, what you are doing, or who you are. He is already above ALL and in ALL! He has already given you the cable…just plug it in!
Today at church Jerel spoke about stress. He had a bucket of sand and a rock on stage. He talked about Matthew 7:24-30. To build our lives on God is like building our house’s foundation on a rock. To build it on anything else is like building our house on sand.
That is not what this blog is about.
Relating this parable to stress Jerel used the analogy of a sponge. How do you find out what a sponge is full of? You squeeze it. When we are stressed we are under pressure. When we are under pressure we are like a sponge. Whatever we have on the inside comes out. You really find out what you are made of. If you have built your life on God you will see it come out when you are under stress. What a great analogy!
This got me thinking. Our souls are a lot like a sponge. Not just in this way, but in a lot of ways.
1. You see our true character when we are under pressure/stressed.
I already mentioned this, but want to make sure it is emphasized. When you are under pressure to get a project done on time, do you cheat or work harder? When you are stressed about money, do you get angry, blame others, or trust God to provide? How about when you are in a fight with your spouse…you get the point. When we are pushed to our limits our soul is exposed. Do we flow with goodness, joy, and love, or is that when the anger, deceit, and sin prevail?
2. We absorb what is closest to us.
What do you surround yourself with? What/who do you watch, listen to, and hang around with? These things define who you are. Why do companies spend billions of dollars on advertising. Not because you will see a commercial and immediately run out an buy what they are selling (unless you are my wife and mother). They spend huge money on repetition and prime ad spots so it will slowly sink into your soul. So next time you think of the Panthers you hear, “Gotta Wanna Needa Getta Have a Bojangles” and can taste the chicken. Or the next time you feel a little sad you know you need those new shoes because those women sure looked happy in Cosmo.
In the same respect. You become like the people that are around you. If you hang out with negative people you soak up their attitude and begin to see their point of view. Proverbs 12:26 says, “The righteous should choose his friends carefully, for the way of the wicked leads them astray.” It also works the other way around. Proverbs 27:17 says, “As iron sharpens iron, so a man sharpens the countenance of his friend.”
So just as a sponge soaks up whatever it is near, our souls soak up our surroundings. So be careful where you set your sponge.
3. If we are not moved or used for a while we become stale.
Our soul is designed to take a beating. To be squeezed, shaped, and molded. We need to be careful that we are allowing it to be filled with the right things, but even the right things, if not used as intended, are pointless. If we just sit around and read the Bible, pray, and worship all day it means nothing if we don’t do what we were intended to do. A sponge is intended to clean. If we use it once and then set it on the counter and never use it again it will become stale. Just the same, if we do all the right things and don’t serve God and build relationships then our soul is being wasted. It is becoming stale.
Make sense? It does to me. See, sponges are made to be pliable and fit into hard spaces without breaking. They are designed to be tough and delicate. Sound familiar? Our souls are designed to bend, but not break. They can be put through difficult situations, but will always be strong enough to make it through. Even if our soul is filled with good things, if we don’t use it, it becomes stale, breaks easy, and sour. Just like our soul. We have to use it regularly or he good things we put in it go to waste.
4. Most importantly a sponge is made to clean the things around it.
How do we effect our surroundings? If we are clean ourselves then we should make the world around us a better place to live. We should use our gifts to make our neighborhood/world better. Just like a sponge. If we are not clean we just smear the filth around and are not really serving the purpose we are meant to serve.
But there is nothing like a clean kitchen freshly scrubbed down by a clean sponge. That’s the kitchen I want to live in.
In a time that Josh McDowell calls, “The Last Generation of Christians” how do we reclaim the world for what it is, God’s? It all starts in one place. You may have guessed it from the title.
What is the church? I think the better question is, what should the church be. In today’s society the church is the place where Christians go to “get fed” or to “experience community”. I have been struggling with this for a long time. In fact, this has become my heart’s passion. To find the perfect church.
Many people believe that the perfect church can not be accomplished. Perfection is something we long for, but can never really be achieved. A common misconception is that God is the only thing perfect and nothing else can be. I don’t think any church will ever be exact, without fault or error, but it can be “perfect”.
Let me be clear.
Perfect is simply being as God intended to be. In 2 Samuel it says, “God’s ways are perfect…”. Its overwhelming, when you look at the times in the Bible that the word perfect is used its mostly referring to the will or plan of God, not God himself, but God’s ways or intentions. In Matthew 48 it says, “But you are to be perfect, even as your Father in Heaven is perfect.” Matthew knows that no person is flawless, or without error. We all fall short and sin. He is saying we are all to be as God intended us to be.
So get that notion out of your head. Things can be perfect in fact in Genesis 6:9 Noah was referred to as perfect in many translations. Not because he was sinless, or flawless, but because he “walked with God”. We can be perfect. The Church can be perfect. Perfection is a goal that can be reached and it should be our goal. To be as God intended us to be.
So what did God intend for the church? That’s where it gets a little harder. I guess the best thing to do is look at “The Church of Jesus”. No its not a new denomination. I’m referring to the first church. The church that Jesus himself lead. I would think that sense Jesus was fully God that the church he started would be exactly as God intended, correct?
Lets start off with the first objection. Churches didn’t exist during Jesus time. He was a teacher, not a pastor or leader of a church. Sorry to be so blunt, but if you think what Jesus did wasn’t start a church, you are wrong. Jesus spent his adult life teaching the disciples so they could be prepared to go out and make new disciples and so on. Is that not what The Church is? The Great Commission was the first “mission statement”. Jesus sending his Church out into the world to start more Churches.
Lets go ahead and get another thing out of the way. The Church is God’s Bride. So if I refer to The Church as “she” it is not me being politically correct. It is reclaiming the image of The Church from the Bible. She is God’s Bride.
Now that we got that out of the way, lets take a break.