All In

When people ask me where I go to church now, I tell them about our Outreach Saga. Meeting in the park. Trying to do a community of Jesus in the midst of a group of people on their turf instead of in a specific building.

Sometimes people respond, “So you don’t go to church anywhere else?”

Well, no.

What we’re doing is church.

We don’t go to a building in the morning and then do outreach after that. We’ve said that sink or swim, stand or fall, what we’re doing with people in the park is what we’re doing. It keeps us more engaged I think. There’s no lifeline. There’s no safe place to retreat to if the going gets rough.

Since we can’t go back (well, we could, but not immediately), we have to press in. We have to love people as they are. Working through the ups and downs of life. Pointing to Jesus when it gets rough or when it is going well. It keeps us engaged with the Lord, because without Him it all falls apart. I wish I could say I did this perfectly. I don’t.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that with this church in the park deal, we’re all in. No chips held back. They’ve been pushed to the middle of the table and we’re playing this hand.

It’s exciting. It’s frightening. It requires a lot of faith, and the Spirit encourages us an awful lot when we have those human moments of doubt.

I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Not sure if this song fully fits, but here’s Lifehouse with All In.

Back To The Park

Did you see the angel behind the tree? đŸ˜‰

Ugh. I don’t even want to look at when the last time I posted. It’s been one of those months.

But in better news, the Outreach Saga is back in the park.

This was our Sunday for church:

We had beautiful singing with a battery powered keyboard.

The worship leader gave an anointed word at the end.

Our main speaker had to wait until the dogs checked each other out to continue.

We talked about Jesus as our redeemer. As we talked about how we can’t earn any more unconditional love than what God already gives us, one new gal spoke up. “We can’t do sh*t by ourselves. It’s Him.”

At one point I had to duck a lit cigarette as the gal next to me excitedly waved her arms talking about Jesus.

Yep, we’re back in the park. All of us beautiful messes, learning to walk with the Lord in His love and truth. Out in the fresh air. Mixed up with real life, which isn’t always pretty or “religious.”

I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Escaping The Zombie Life

The Walking Dead just ended.

I actually can’t watch horror shows with things like zombies. My imagination is too active and too sticky – I will retain what I see and it will keep coming back to me. Don’t like it, so I don’t watch them.

But in honor of the cultural zeitgeist that is The Walking Dead, let me share some thoughts on zombies. And yes, this is for Mission Mondays!

Zombies are such a big deal in pop culture right now. I did try to watch Zombieland in the past to be up on things. In the movie the main guy, Columbus, has an attractive neighbor in apartment 406, whom he silently crushes on her. As things start going crazy in the world, he finds her banging on on his door, asking to stay with him. She barely escaped an encounter with the undead, and wanted some company after her trauma.

They dozed on the couch, but Columbus woke up just in time. Miss 406 apparently had a closer call than she let on, because her eyes were sunken, her skin was pale, and she hungered for more than his company.

He jumped away just before he got more than a playful nibble on his ear. I suppose he got away as it was too early in the movie for the hero to die, but I couldn’t deal with the suspense and violence of her chasing him around.

This is something I can control – whether to subject myself to something like that movie.

Still, the zombie theme makes me think of the struggles we have in the Christian life.

See, she didn’t come in to his apartment intending to munch on him. She was infected by a virus (as most zombies are) and she was driven to fulfill her flesh. Desire for flesh. Whatever.

Have you ever felt like this – not able to control what you want to do? At least we’re not alone. We have good company in Paul.

Romans 7:14-24
     We know that the law is spiritual; but I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin. I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it.
    So I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death?

The sin nature in us is powerful. Paul is talking to Christians in this passage. These aren’t people who need Jesus – but people who have already found Him. In Romans 1-8 Paul talks about the three stages of Christian life – the full process of salvation.

  1. Justification – The initial entrance into the Kingdom (what most people think of as salvation, when our debt is paid).
  2. Sanctification – Discipleship; growing in Christ. 
  3. Glorification – Eternal life in heaven.

So how do we get out of walking in the sin nature?

Galatians 5:22-25 tells us about the fruit of the Spirit. Beautiful attributes are listed: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. However, as my pastor has said recently, we are not responsible, nor are we able, to live the Christian life.

We can’t manufacture the fruit. I have an apple tree. I can talk nice to it. I can encourage it, exhort it, but I can’t get a nice red apple unless – there is death.

I’m amazed at my compost pile each spring. The dead leaves and grass make rich soil, helping life come to my garden and fruit trees. So it is in the Christian life. We live by dying.

Francis Shaeffer says in his book The Finished Work of Christ says, “Jesus didn’t die on the cross just to die on the cross. Jesus died on the cross in order that we might be redeemed. Likewise, we are not called upon to die daily just in order to be dead;, we are called upon to die daily in order that we might experience the reality of being alive with Christ” (p155).

We will see the fruit of the Spirit in our lives by dying to ourselves.

Romans 8:10-13 says:
    But if Christ is in you, then even though your body is subject to death because of sin, the Spirit gives life because of righteousness. And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies because of his Spirit who lives in you.
     Therefore, brothers and sisters, we have an obligation—but it is not to the flesh, to live according to it. For if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live.

I’ve heard this termed the “resurrection life.” If we can submit to the Holy Spirit day by day, we can walk in the life intended for us – not the life we struggle through.

Schaeffer says, “It means that, through faith, I am to die to all things both good and bad, but then to take my resurrected body, as though I had already been raised physically from the dead, and step back into this present world, to serve in the power of the indwelling Spirit” (p188).

We won’t be these physical bodies that are shuffling around waiting for the grave. Salvation is not waiting to get into heaven. Like I said, that is the third aspect of salvation. As Schaeffer said, we can live as if we’re already in that state. It becomes a battle to submit or yield everyday.

Romans 6:12-14
Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires. Do not offer any part of yourself to sin as an instrument of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer every part of yourself to him as an instrument of righteousness. For sin shall no longer be your master, because you are not under the law, but under grace.

“You and I have the possibility every moment of our lives to hand ourselves to the Lord, to be that out of which He will bring forth all that is wonderful. ‘Yield yourselves’ (the phrase from Romans 6:13 in the King James for ‘offer’) is an ‘active passivity.’ People are naturally afraid of that which is only passive, but we should be afraid of that which is only active as well. Our calling is to active passivity. God will bring about our sanctification, but we are called to be active partners in the process as we yield ourselves to Him” (Schaeffer, p172). 

This is a major challenge to us as modern Americans. We like our individuality and our own initiative to carry us. I wake up most every morning with an agenda, whether it is to work hard, play hard, or even veg. If we can learn to submit day by day to the Spirit’s leading, we won’t be mindlessly shuffling along in our lives, but we can truly walk in the glorious adventure God has for us. Even if we have to do something – work, care for family, etc. – if we give it up each day. He can make something new with it.

Our fruit will grow as we let the Spirit lead. The fruit will come in season, and provide what we need at that time. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. (Galatians 5:22-25)

I didn’t intend to follow a zombie metaphor through my whole sermon. I was going for a hook, but it certainly is one that can be used to speak Kingdom truth. Not that I’d recommend any zombie movies as spiritual guidance.

Pray For Saeed

It’s Switch-up week here, with Mission Monday coming on a Wednesday. You can thank April Fool’s Day for that.

But today is serious. There is an American pastor from Boise, Idaho, who is unjustly imprisoned in Iran. His name is Saeed Abidini. He was in Iran helping to establish orphanages when he was arrested and charged with trying to convert Muslims. Saeed was once a Muslim, and the case was charged because of this. He escaped the death penalty, but he has a long sentence in one of Iran’s most notorious prisons.

Saeed with his children

Many people have rallied to his cause. There is a website called Save Saeed that is the focal point. He has been featured on the national radio network Air1. The ACLJ is fighting for him, and you can sign a petition on his behalf here. Secretary of State John Kerry has made personal appeals for his release. It is heartening to see the response on behalf of our brother.

My friend Brian Harrison, a pastor in Boise, wrote a letter this week to friends and supporters about Saeed’s case. Brian writes about a prayer service he participated in on behalf of Saeed:

As we prayed that day I felt like the Lord showed me that there was a tremendous opportunity to begin to pray for Iran and indeed for all Muslims of the world. The reason was that Saeed has written to his family that he forgives his captors. This means that he is blessing those who curse him and in so doing I felt that the Lord showed me that a door of opportunity was being opened through Saeed’s suffering and prayers of forgiveness. If God’s people would concentrate prayer on Iran, I believe that we would see a great move of God in that country and a shift in the political climate. I strongly believe that God intends to move powerfully among the Muslims of the world and prayer is the first step in partnering with God in this endeavor. 

To this end, Brian and his wife Suzanne have committed to praying for Saeed, Iran, and the Muslim world for 50 days starting on April 1st, until the day of Pentecost. I’ve participated in the 30 Days Of Prayer for the Muslim world before that coincides with Ramadan, and it is always a powerful time of intercession. I wanted to get the word out about this vision Brian has and encourage people to join in prayer in this strategic time.

Saeed has a wife and young kids waiting for him in Boise, and we want to see him released, for justice to be done, and for him to be restored to his family. Can we join in prayer and believe for even greater things? To see spiritual freedom come to millions in the Muslim world?

Join me as I join with Brian and Suzanne in this prayer burden for the next 48 days. We can add our prayers with people around the world for all of those in bondage, whether physical or spiritual. Let’s do this saints!

Got Farkles?

Obi-wan and Black Widow on the run

Yesterday my twelve year old and I were having an in-depth conversation. I had been watching The Island during my workouts, and he slipped in and watched with me.

If you haven’t seen it, The Island is an underrated film dealing with a lot of ethical issues. The definition of life, the value of life, and the potential future medical dilemmas make for interesting mental fodder. (There are plenty of explosions and helicopter chases Mark, so it’s up your alley as well :D).

My son and I discussed some of the implications of the movie. He made the comment, “Boy, if I could talk to everyone about their worldview, I could agree with all of them.”

This statement surprised me.

We’ve taken care to teach our kids about worldview and what it means to have a Biblical worldview. We use the book Who Is God? (And Can I Really Know Him?) to teach them about God and His character and ways. I thought we’d done a lot to inform them about this kind of thing.

I talked to him about worldviews and how everyone has one, but if anyone can make their own standards, how can we know what is true. Is there an objective standard?

I grabbed a ruler and measured my water jug. It was 8 inches high. I then told him about a guy who didn’t like inches, so he made up a new measurement: farkles. According to these measurements, the jug was 15 farkles high.

Which one is right? How do we know what farkles are?

My analogy has some holes. Inches are arbitrary as well. Still, I showed him how we can be confused if we all appeal to a different standard. If the Bible is truly what it says it is, the revealed Word of God, then we have a standard from the One who made everything and is worthy to establish an objective measurement.

Hopefully my message got through. It made me realize that we have to be diligent in always training our kids up in truth and pointing them to Jesus. I ended with saying that I believe the Bible to be our standard and living for Jesus to be our ideal-but that I couldn’t make my son believe the same things. He would need an encounter with God on his own, that he was responsible for his own walk with God. I can lead them to water, but I can’t make them drink, as the old saying goes.

Anyway, I’ll keep training them as best I can, and pray that they will be able to grab hold of Jesus and all He has for them in their lives. That’s the frustrating thing about being a parent. No matter how much you value something, you can’t force things on your kids. They need to come to their own understanding of it. I believe it will happen for my children.

I just wish it would hurry up. đŸ˜‰

Soccer or Football

I was talking to a friend this weekend who passed on an observation from someone else.

“Church can be like football or like soccer.”

This piqued my curiosity. I am a sports fan after all. I love to watch American football, but I enjoy playing soccer more.

A football game is equipment and support heavy. All the helmets and pads. Several referees. A special kind of field with marks every ten yards. To do it right, it takes a lot of effort and resources.

Soccer can be the essence of simplicity. You need a ball and two spots for goals. That’s it.

 The laws of soccer are actually very few, compared with the myriad of penalties and rules for what is acceptable in football. Try explaining to a football novice the difference between running into a kicker vs. roughing the kicker, or pass interference, or illegal formation. The wide receiver covered the tight end? What is that?

Of course kids can play a simple game of football in a park, and soccer can be done with huge stadiums and use a lot more resources. Still, the analogy holds: football is generally a lot of work to actually get to the game, while soccer can be done with a minimal of requirements.

When it comes to church, doing our Outreach Saga has convinced me that doing things simply like the soccer match is a valid way of meeting together as the body of Christ. I recognize that the big football game of Sunday morning church has its place and can do things we can’t do in our small group. However, I think both can be used to meet the needs of people around us.

Are we willing to do something small and simple to reach people, instead of always going for bigger and showier?

For now, God’s given me a soccer ball. I’m willing to play the game He’s put in front of me.

What do you think of the analogy? Does it ring true, or do you have a concern about it? Let’s talk about it in the comments below.

Organic Outreach?

There’s a lot of talk on the internet about Organic Church. I know the internet gives any cause a voice, but when we moved into our Outreach Saga and started meeting outside of the traditional church, it was heartening to find other like-minded people.

I’ve paid attention to several writers: Frank Viola, Alan Knox, Neil Cole, Alan HirschChurch In A Circle, Church Multiplication Associates, and Simple Church to name a few. These sites have information pertinent to doing church organically, in a different pattern from the typical Sunday morning setting. They talk about the body doing ministry together, meeting out in the world (rather than a church building), and growing disciples in more of a relational manner. 
These are all very helpful resources, and I’m grateful to these brothers and sisters for sharing the way the Lord is leading them and their testimony and experience in walking out church in a new way.
I’ve come to realize an issue though. My group that I’m involved with isn’t doing strictly Organic Church. 
We met in a park during the summer and fall, moving into a local counseling center for the winter weather. Many people share during our times together. We eat, sing, and bring the Word as we’re led. These are things that an organic church will do.
The thing that may be different is that we’re an outreach at the same time. 
We’re in a neighborhood with low income housing, and we’ve mainly reached people in this apartment complex. I think most of the people coming are Christians, but I’m not certain in every case. Some have been in the church and felt rejected. Others come because we are so close and accessible. 
It seems we are a little different than a lot of the organic church talk I’ve followed online. Maybe I’m wrong and not catching it. 
The challenge is that we’ve got a core of believers that have had relationship with each other over a long period of time with a desire to be the church instead of doing church. Then we have another population of people that we’re getting to know and trying to disciple. It is very exciting what we’re doing each week, and it is a huge blessing to be ministering to each other. I am touched as often as anyone else is. That doesn’t take away from the sensation I have of walking on the water at times – trying to keep my balance as the waves shift beneath me!
I guess the point of this post is to throw this situation out there. Does anyone have experience doing organic church as an outreach? If so, I’d love to dialog with you on this topic. If you have a heart to pray for us, that would be greatly appreciated! 
So leave a comment if you’re interested in a discussion on organic church and reaching out. I’ll meet you in the blogosphere.

Most Influential Book of 2012

In my last post, I shared my favorite fiction books from 2012. Fiction books can be very influential as well, but there was one non-fiction book that helped with a paradigm shift in how I thought about church and its mission.

The Forgotten Ways: Reactivating The Missional Church by Alan Hirsch was recommended to me over a year ago by my friend and former pastor Brian Harrison. I didn’t read it until this year when my friends and I started into our Outreach Saga. A group of us had left our former church and were looking into what God had for us.

As we started to meet together and tried to hear from the Lord each week, I was also reading this book. It truly opened my eyes to ideas that I hadn’t considered in a fleshed out manner before. Sure, through intuition and talking with other people I had touched on ideas from The Forgotten Ways but I wasn’t getting the full picture.

Hirsch discusses how the model of Christendom we operate in nowadays in modern evangelical culture (for the most part) is not necessarily how the early church (up to 300 AD) did things. From 300 AD to now the church developed hierarchy and structure that was adopted from Roman systems. They worked in a Christian culture context of Europe in the Dark and Middle Ages, even through the Renaissance and Reformation. However, now that our culture is post-Christian and pluralistic, it cannot meet the changing forces in the world in an adequate way.

The majority of the book describes his theory on how church should operate. Through the complex diagram to the right, he shows how the church needs to function. Stemming from the Lordship of Jesus are the five hubs that continue to expand out and encompass the life of a Christian and the community of believers.

Hirsch has worked in missional fields for a long time and has spent a lot of effort into this study. From the Biblical basis to historical activity and modern theory involving organic systems, he brings a thorough and convincing argument for the need to discover forgotten ways and to fully reactivate the life believers need to have today to fully reach the people out there.

In writing this post I am not doing the book justice in a short summation. Perhaps my testimony will help spell it out. As I read the book, I realized that as we tried to reach out to a needy sub-group in our community, we needed to be willing to risk and try new things in order to touch the people. Instead of being a controlled environment where one person (the pastor) speaks and runs the meeting, we’re developing a time of sharing with each other from the Word and our own testimonies. In this way everyone in the meeting has the potential to share something that another person may desperately need. I know I don’t have all the answers in life – that I don’t have the exclusive on God. In relying on the body of Christ to be the body, I’ve seen the strength it brings by allowing others the opportunity to step up when they have what is needed at the time.

I had a reawakening through reading this book and studying Scripture alongside it. I haven’t had a book challenge me like this in many years. It is an easy choice for me to recommend it to anyone who’s wondering if there are better ways of doing “church.” There are better ways, but we’ve just built human structures onto things that should be organic and not just formed into boxes. For an introduction into this, I can’t do better except to highly suggest reading The Forgotten Ways and seeing if it speaks of His truth and the reality of the world today. I think it does both.

So here’s to 2013. May there be many excellent books in your future, and may you dare to take a risk for Jesus in your life in the coming year.

Mission Monday Reources

Hey all. Mission Monday has taken a hit the last few weeks due to schedule issues. I’ve got some resources for people today.

This year has thrown a group of us into a wild adventure with God. A small group of us separated from our previous church and came together to see what the Lord had for us. Through this we started meeting at a local park to reach out to a nearby apartment complex, and thus the Outreach Saga was born.

I’ve been spending time on the internet looking for resources to help us understand this journey and the new way we feel Jesus is leading us. We’ve stumbled by accident into a way of doing things that has been called organic church or simple church. We’ve gained a heart to really see people discipled in Kingdom ways. So here are some resources that I’ve found to be helpful in our six-month adventure.

Alan Knox is a PhD student in theology who writes very gracious but challenging posts on New Testament practice and how it relates to modern church practice.

Frank Viola is a prolific author. He has written numerous books and keeps up a daily blog. He’s written a lot about organic church but has moved to a fuller study of the person of Jesus. His book, Jesus: A Theography is on my Christmas wish list.

A book recommended to me a year ago became very helpful when we started this summer – The Forgotten Ways by Alan Hirsch. It is a thoughtful challenge to the body of Christ and a book that I would highly recommend.

I’ve followed CMA Resources on Twitter and found many encouraging links and articles posted through their work. They have a whole training setup there for people interested in organic church.

Neil Cole is associated with CMA Resources and is another frequent author passionate about organic church and seeing multiplication of disciples. His book Church 3.0 was another intriguing read with some practical advice for those investigating this way of doing church.

The Verge Network has a subscription required for premium content, which I haven’t done yet. Still, there have been free videos released from the likes of Francis Chan and Neil Cole that have been challenging and exhorting for the church to really reach out.

I’ve begun to pay attention to the blog Church In A Circle. Would it be better for the body to interact in a circle than with one person in front speaking to a bunch of rows? That question and more on organic church is discussed here.

There’s a wealth of wisdom and insight above. I hope if any are curious about what we’ve doing will check some of those out. I believe God can use any church for His purpose, from a traditional style of meeting to one that meets in a park with a free-flowing format. It is up to us to be sensitive to what the Holy Spirit is saying to us and be willing to take risks for our Lord Jesus. That’s my prayer for all of us in the coming year.
Hope this helps!

If you have any feedback on this, please share below!

The Spirit And Sloppy Joes

Sloppy joes bring people together

There’s something we’ve missed out on in modern church culture.

We don’t eat together very often.

I’ve always gone to small churches. It is easy to eat together. For a long time it was a once a month ritual. Then some people got tired of it and we backed off, but then I realized it made a difference in our fellowship. I don’t know how a mega-church could consider doing it – probably isn’t feasible.

Which is too bad, considering the Bible assumes food and fellowship as part of the regular meeting of the saints, if you read Acts, Galatians, and 1st Corinthians. I’ll come back to this point in a minute.

Having said that, we had another interesting night for our Church in the Park (that is now indoors for the season).

I was responsible for sharing and I was having trouble. I couldn’t zero in on anything in particular to talk about. I’ve wanted to talk about what it means to be a disciple, but that didn’t stick. I looked at some other verses to discuss and couldn’t really get a sense of what I should share. Finally I went ready to talk about three different passages of Scripture. And if all else failed, we’d pray for the election.

Well, one of our regulars asked if there was something in the Bible that could help him with some conflict in relationships.

Okay then. Scrap my other three plans. I guess we’re talking about turning the other cheek and walking in the opposite spirit!

We had a good discussion. I shared a couple of pertinent passages out of Matthew 5 and Romans 12. The group shared their thoughts and from their experiences. There was no clear answer but we were able to address a need and pray for it among each other. I was very blessed that my lack of direction helped me stay open to what the Spirit needed to do. That isn’t easy to do in a regular church service. Thankfully, our situation allows for a more organic response. It was special to see our little group be the body to each other.

Oh, so back to the sloppy joes. One of the guys mentioned as a joke that a lot of conflict can be resolved if there were only sloppy joes involved. I couldn’t help but laugh at that. I think there’s truth though. I wonder if eating together drops our defenses a little bit. It is one thing to mingle in the foyer and make small talk. When we dine and share our food together, it is more inviting to open up to your brother or sister.

Let’s be open to what the Spirit wants us to do. Having sloppy joes couldn’t hurt.