Sunday, April 20, 2014

The Scandalous Resurrection

This is Easter morning, which I prefer to call Resurrection Sunday.  It's a quiet morning as we prepare to have family over for dinner later in the day.  Last night, we ate and worshipped with our friends at the Stand Down House in Lake Worth, a halfway house for veterans with substance abuse or PTSD.  It was a beautiful night; sharing the Lord's Supper together and praying for healing.  As has been our tradition, we will not have an "Easter service" on Sunday morning.  Instead, we encourage each other to take this day to be with family and rest.

In the world of Christian religion, that must seem very strange.  After all, this is the day.  For many churches, it is the one annual shot they have with people who may only attend church twice a year.  For others, nothing will be held back in their pomp and circumstance.  This is like the Super Bowl of Christianity.  But reading through the different Gospel accounts of the resurrection, I have a different reaction.  There is no Rock Star Jesus coming out of the tomb with fireworks and smoke.  There is no televangelist Jesus showing up on the temple steps wowing the crowds and getting them saved.  Instead, he spends time with the ones he loves.  First, he honors the women that have ministered to him and been such a crucial part of his ministry.  Then Peter (and John depending on the account) and the rest of the disciples are introduced to the new world that has just dawned.  Jesus comes to them as you would expect - humble, gentle, and among the stuff of real life.  Walking on the Emmaus Road discussing the scriptures, having breakfast on the beach, sitting around the table with their Master as they had done so many times.

Resurrection Sunday is an invitation to be with the real Jesus.  Not the superhero that no one can relate to or see.  But as a friend that comes to us right in the middle of our mess and calls us into a life where we belong and are loved.  The scandal of the resurrection is that it is shockingly real.  It reveals something we only speak in whispers about.  Push aside the pageants and regal fanfare and there is a rough Galilean carpenter with holes in his hands and feet that quietly set in motion a movement to change the world.  The risen Lord I worship today is that carpenter.  He is alive and he is waiting for us to join him.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Resurrection Church - Who We Are

It has almost been a year since Amber and I began gathering a group of people who wanted to start a new community of faith in our home town, Jupiter, Florida.  Reflecting on the last several months, I have seen how much fruit can come from a small group of people that continue to yield to the Holy Spirit.  We are committed to nurturing what has popularly become known as "missional communities."  Of course, like anything that has become popular, a little defining might be helpful.  Also, my hope is that our story continues to inspire others to dream about what this would look like in their town, suburb, city, or neighborhood.

A missional community is a group of 10-70 or so people who join together for worship, mutual support and encouragement, growth as disciples of Jesus, and to find simple ways to do good in the world.  We think this is the best environment to cultivate maturity in individuals, create authentic deep relationships, and actively join God’s mission.  Our belief is that missional communities are a way to compliment and balance larger traditional churches in a suburban area.  But a missional community is just the vessel.  We are most concerned about calling people back to the treasure of the Christian life.

There are four New Testament words that are important for us to understand and live out:
Love, Grace, Spirit, and Kingdom.

It all starts with God’s love.  If we start from a place of condemnation or failure as individuals, we miss the beauty of the Gospel.  “For God so LOVED the world…”  This is our trump card to the secular, consumer-driven society that we live in.  God’s love cannot be bought or sold.  From a humanistic point of view, his love makes no sense.  It is an offense to the religious, proud, and self-justified.  For the broken, God’s love is a treasure.

When we come to the place of receiving God’s love, we then understand how everything is a gift - it’s all grace.  Not just our salvation, but every breath.  Growing as a disciple of Jesus is growing in receiving grace and living grace.


Then we begin to understand the wonderful action of the Holy Spirit in our lives.  The Spirit fills us, directs us, empowers us, comforts us, and sustains us.  As we are joined together in community, we rely fully on the Holy Spirit to lead us and show us how we fit into one body.

It is at this point when we begin to understand our place in God’s kingdom - how we can experience the already of his kingdom and anticipate the kingdom to come.  God’s kingdom is where his will is done perfectly, where what he wants done is done (D. Willard).  That’s our goal as a missional community.  To live in his kingdom, be agents of his kingdom, and to pray for his kingdom to come in the world.


Our dream is to see thousands of these missional communities popping up all over the United States.  The beauty of what we have discovered is that they can be started and led by ordinary men and women.  There are a variety of organizations out there who exist to train and support missional communities.  Our heritage happens to be in the Vineyard movement which already has in place programs to help train people in most of the necessary gifts and theological foundation.  What is needed is continued support as new communities are started and multiply.

The experience Amber and I have had as pioneers for the past 12 years has given us a unique perspective on the suburban church and how to help ordinary people grow into passionate, authentic followers of Jesus.  We certainly do not have all the answers and are learning new things every day.  But we believe we have built on an excellent foundation with the right materials.  

Our challenge, frankly, is finding people with the courage to step outside the comfort of a traditional church setting where pastoral leaders and staff do 80% or more of the ministry.  Honestly, we don’t need superstars.  We are looking for people who simply want more and want to grow.  The less capable you are in traditional ministry, the better.  There are very few transferrable skills from a typical evangelical / charismatic church into a missional community setting.  We have no parking attendants, greeters, band, sound engineer, ushers, childcare workers, or counseling team.  Our budget strives to be 80% mission and 20% internal, which is the complete opposite of the average church.  We actually encourage you to spend more time with your family, in your neighborhood, and actively a part of your community, than doing church activities.

In fact, our mission together is primarily aimed at connecting the people around us with, well, us.  We don’t try to get people to come to a church service.  We want people to experience God through actions like community meals, serving the poor and broken, healing the sick, and just having fun.  Eventually we will invite them to worship with us, but only when they’re ready. 

We actually enjoy being around each other, for the most part.  Occasionally we’ll butt heads and have conflict.  That’s normal.  What’s not normal or good is ignoring the conflict or letting it fester.  We practice reconciliation as a part of our worship.  We work things out because God worked things out with us.  Anything less is just being religious and fake.

So we are looking for a few good men and women.  We need both to lead, because the New Testament is very clear that both men and women are meant to lead.  We need apostles (fire-starters), prophets (God-reminders), evangelists (Gospel-tellers), pastors (community-builders), and teachers (kingdom-instructors).  The Holy Spirit gives us these people in all shapes and sizes, and they aren’t all leaders!  

But leadership is very important, especially when you are pioneering something new.  Not all leaders are pastors.  Sometimes they are just people willing to do something no one else is willing to do.  Leaders can be trained and given room to grow.  That’s the kind of environment we want to have.  

Some organizations out there are working really hard to make this missional community idea work.  You can pay them money, go to a few conferences, and they’ll coach you on how to do this.  That may work for some people and I don’t doubt it is a perfectly valid thing to do.  But in my humble opinion, there is nothing like experiencing something first hand.  To me, there is no substitute for planting your feet in the soil of an actual community and learning as you go.  Conferences, books, and outside coaching are beneficial to some degree. But I would never trade the last 12 years of working this out among friends in the paradise of Jupiter, Florida.

If you’ve read this far, you deserve a prize and a hearty congratulations.  But you may also consider joining us.  God didn’t call us to the inner city, a trendy part of town, or to the beautiful countryside.  We live in ground zero of modern, consumeristic America.  People are busy, self-absorbed, mildly religious, some conservative, some liberal, and totally American.  On the outside, they have it all. Great weather, nice homes, good jobs, active fun lives.  On the inside, it’s a wasteland of loneliness, anger, failed marriages, financial ruin, and shame.  Middle America is crying out for the Gospel while it consumes the latest self-medicating diversion.  Unfortunately, the church has been all too willing to provide it’s own diversions in order to maintain the status-quo of church attendance as the only true measure of success.

We know there is so much more.  Let’s end the self-medication.  Let’s move on to something real; something that points us towards the kingdom of God. 

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Why I (Still) Believe in God

This week Ken Ham and Bill Nye told us their versions of the origin of the universe.  Just another Tuesday night in America.  I didn't watch, but it was probably like most of the presidential debates I've seen...two people with a lot invested in demonstrating to the average American that they are, in fact, more right than the other guy.  Unfortunately, as with presidential debates, both sides accomplish little towards their goal.  Minds have been made up; or at least made up that they do not want to be on the wrong side of what is becoming popular opinion.  We are fools to think that the modern debate is dialog.  It is marketing.


Yet the market for God-denying, or at least God-ignoring, is becoming an easy sell.  Recent statistics show that the largest percentage of millienials are "unaffiliated" (33%) in terms of faith.  Read any progressive blog or news aggregate and you will discover why.  The new heroes of science and technology provide a very compelling narrative...and some great quotes:  "The good thing about science is that it's true whether or not you believe in it." - Neil deGrasse Tyson.  Hard to argue with the laws of thermodynamics, right?  Without those, I wouldn't have a job!

Combine this with a generation of church scandals, the failure of the religious right, petty theological arguments, the rise of terrorism tied to religious extremism, and total ignorance of how to respond to the LGBT community, and it's no wonder why rejecting God makes so much sense.  After all, God is just a construct of the human imagination in order to maintain a patriarchal society, alleviate the fear of the unknown, and keep the masses poor and ignorant so the rich can continue to rule the world.  Why on earth would any self-respecting, intelligent, modern person in 21st century America continue to hold on to these ridiculous beliefs about God?

I mean, really.

When I was five years old I gave my life to Jesus Christ.  I remember where I was sitting on our vintage 1970's living room couch with my mom and dad.  I remember the feeling of peace and security of being included.  Years later, I was preparing to go to college and I had an internal conversation.  Was I going to continue pursuing God or make my own way?  Perhaps unusual for an eighteen year old, but I was quite sure that my own way was pretty miserable.  For the past twenty-two years I have been working that decision out amidst marriage to a wonderful woman, with three children, in the engineering profession, all while leading communities of other Jesus followers.

Why do I still believe in God?  The older I get, the more I understand my place in the world can be easily filled with my own short-sighted ideas and grasping at self-preservation.  It is human nature to believe that I make my own meaning and survive as any animal might.  But things that appear true today often turn out to be false tomorrow.  And what seems guaranteed today is often tragically lost tomorrow.  God is everything we have hoped for and longed to be, but failed to deliver as master of our fate and captain of our soul.  His story is ancient and modern all at once.  Ironically, God is more concerned with our future than our origin.  His story is filled with ridiculous ideas like love, grace, mercy, restoration, sacrifice and ultimately the most absurd idea of all - resurrection.  It is these ideas that have been pushed aside because they are uncomfortable, old-fashioned, or illogical.  However, they are at the heart of God's good news to the world.  We may be star-dust, but we are Loved.

So I will continue to pursue this God and his mysterious plan for the redemption of mankind, the heavens and earth.  I recognize that it may no longer be a popular path.  In the near future, it may cost me more than I can imagine.  Sometimes I live like a functional atheist.  But hopefully more often than not, I'm a believer.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Moving Beyond Affinity

Affinity is a strong attractor.  Knowing that others will look, act, think, talk, or smell like you in a group provides a measure of safety and comfort.  This is how most churches begin, and our experience in the past has been no exception.  However, the challenge of being a missional community is that all ages, backgrounds, ethnicities, believer and un will be welcome and accepted.  Two things (at least) will be true about all these people: none will be perfect and all are loved by God.

So instead of searching for safety and comfort among friends, we must face some daunting questions.  How do we love like God loves?  How do we respond to brokenness; visible and invisible?  How do we become a community of healing, reconciliation, and forgiveness?  A lot of Christians never think about these questions on a corporate level.  This is the unfortunate consequence of normal church culture.

The water we swim in worships the twin gods of individualism and consumerism.  Most people still see the church as a "vendor of religious goods and services".  If that is true, then these are not questions for the average church-goer.  They would naturally be taken care of by paid professionals or hard-core volunteers.  But in a missional community, everyone has to play*.  There is no clergy-laity divide.  There are no passive observers.  No one is exempt from considering the other.

As a result, we must be prepared for a healthy amount of disagreement over how to practically respond to these questions.  Some will debate mercy versus justice.  Others will consider unhealthy people a threat to their healthy relational boundaries.  Many will wonder, how will I have time to add anything else to my life?  These concerns must be named and wrestled with collectively.  The alternative is to fall back to the safety net of affinity.  Jim Van Yperen says in his book, Making Peace, "If we gather, as the world does, around values of individualism [and consumerism], then we form self-absorbed people whose empty lives demand a constant fight (or flight) for individual rights and needs.  But if we gather in authentic community hungering and thirsting for righteousness, we have God's blessing and filling to grow through our differences." 

In future posts I will continue to explore the makeup of a community that is becoming a loving, healing, restoring, and forgiving community.  This is not the formula to quickly grow a church.  But there are principles right out of scripture that do grow a healthy church in the long run.

* John Wimber is famous for saying, "Everyone gets to play," to show that ministry is not restricted to the professionals.  I'd like to modify that slightly to "Everyone has to play."  Not in a legalistic sense, but in order to communicate necessity.  If the whole of the community isn't being constantly invited into the process of growing into their gifts and callings, everything I've talked about in this post will be severely restricted.  There is always room for times of rest and healing.  But it is often the case that the weakest has the most powerful gift to offer.

Friday, January 10, 2014

The Myth of Bi-Vocational Ministry

In 2002, I started working part time as an engineer for my father-in-law's consulting firm.  It was a little like Gilligan's Island...supposed to be a three hour tour.  Our fledgling church was discovering that centering our efforts on making disciples of Jesus didn't market very well.  It was slow work, planting seeds of the Kingdom.  Amber's small music business for kids was paying some of the bills, but we had a growing family.  So I worked to give those seeds (family and ministry) time to be nourished well.

Eleven years later, I'm still working.  In fact, I manage a department and oversee a good portion of the firm's output.  I laboriously studied for and miraculously passed the Fundamentals of Engineering exam MANY years removed from college then passed another exam to become a Professional Engineer.  This was not in the plans when we moved to Jupiter as church planters.  The plan was to be in ministry full time.  In other words, I anticipated that eventually my livelihood would come from the church or some kind of ministry effort.  But now, I cannot imagine doing anything different.  What changed?

During those first few years, a sea change was occurring in my vocational identity.  It was a painful process, but I eventually discovered that I was not built to "run a church".  The reality is that I have never been good at making up a job for myself.  My tendency is always towards introspection, study, and ideation.  This, unfortunately, does not make a church go.  To run a church, at least in the traditional sense, you need the same skills that anyone has who runs a business.  In the end, running a church means having a boss, workers, money, and a pot full of volunteers to support enough numerical growth to produce a salary.  I'm not being crass or critical.  This is just the honest truth.

The theory of bi-vocational ministry is that you work a second (or third or fourth) job - whatever it takes - to give time for a full time position to develop.  The fallacy is believing that this will somehow result in a healthy church, marriage, kids, body, or soul.  Something will give, eventually.  Many church planters have lost everything in the race to becoming "full time".  Others just give up and take a staff position elsewhere.  For those who make it, maintaining a salary can change godly vision into a drive to survive.

Years removed from that vocational crisis, I have discovered a new freedom.  I can cultivate community, help build up the spiritual gifts in others, teach, lead worship, organize mission groups, and have a lot of fun in the process.  This is all in the context of a missional community that I lead along with Amber while I continue to work as an engineer.  Yes, there are limitations to my time.  But there is now a harmony between work and ministry like never before.  In fact, I have learned more about myself and grown more as an individual through work than anywhere else.  

My model is the Apostle Paul, who willingly continued making tents for a living while shepherding a Jesus movement in Asia.  Part of his decision was to keep from being a financial burden to his fledgling churches.  Another part was strategic.  But I think there was also a part of Paul that simply enjoyed the work.  Making tents was deeply formational.  He learned the value of good materials, how to weave strong seams, and teach an apprentice well.  These were skills developed over time, long before he was a "successful" apostle.  They matured and interlaced with his skills as a writer, teacher, and leader.

My message in this post is to abandon bi-vocationalism.  If you are called to receive a salary within existing church or ministry structures, then find a way to do that in a sustainable manner.  But if you are a church planter or missionary, consider the example of Paul.  Embrace work.  Let it form you.  Enjoy the fruits of your labor.  And watch how it weaves its way into your calling as a minister of the Gospel.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

All the Poor and Powerless

All the poor and powerless
All the lost and lonely
All the thieves will come confess
And know that You are holy
And know that You are holy
      - "All the Poor and Powerless" by All Sons and Daughters

This weekend, Resurrection Church had the opportunity to spend time with the poor and powerless.  Last night we brought dinner to the Stand Down House, a housing and rehabilitation center for homeless and at-risk veterans in Lake Worth.  We were able to give them care packages and sing Christmas and worship songs together.  This morning, we visited a memory care facility in Tequesta, Clare Bridge, to sing some more carols and hand out cookies.

It did not take much effort for us in both cases.  A few phone calls, some much appreciated effort putting together care packages by our friends Millie and Aaron, a few bucks ordering some awesome Filipino food to serve (always a family favorite), organizing a few songs and printing out some song sheets, and a little gas money.  All of that was just setting the stage for the Holy Spirit to work.  

When people talk about being church becoming missional, it is easy to miss that we are following God into his mission.  He is already at work in the world and is inviting us to join him.  There is a reason why Jesus sent out his disciples with nothing but the shirt on their backs.  It is deception to believe that the only mission worthwhile involves thousands of dollars and armies of volunteers.  For disciples of Jesus, sometimes our job is to just show up.

Of course, the real heroes are those who have sacrificed careers and comfort to serve full time in places like halfway houses and nursing homes.  Every day they show up to do jobs that none of us would want to do or choose to do.  These people should be honored and celebrated for being willing to help the "least of these."  This Christmas, find a way to honor the men and women around you who do these thankless jobs.  They deserve our encouragement and support.

There is no way to organize or spend enough money to hear my daughter spontaneously pray for the children and families of a group of broken drug addicts.  Or to see a man who was homeless three days ago singing worship songs among people who love him.  Or to look in the eyes of an Alzheimer's patient and see those eyes soften and brighten as they remember the words of a familiar carol.  What we carry is love.  What we offer is family and wholeness.  There is no law against these things.  The church would do well to focus on giving itself away rather than trying to save the world through its efforts.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

The Good Treasure

Spiritual family creates the environment for discipleship to Jesus to flourish.  By yourself, you can choose to become a student of Jesus.  You can learn his teaching, you can become filled with the Holy Spirit, you can read the Bible, pray, even serve others.  But left alone, our tendency is always towards self-deception.  We choose to believe whatever equilibrium we find ourselves, that is where we are, and it is likely impossible to become anything different.

Last week I read a disturbing story on the Huffington Post.  It was about the rise of open marriages, and one couple in particular that has a "live-in" third partner.  That was disturbing on it's own terms (the whole time I kept thinking…let me know how that works out for you.)  But what was really interesting was a quote from Jenny Block, the author of "Open: Love, Sex, and Life in an Open Marriage."  

"It’s becoming clear that heterosexual monogamous marriage simply doesn’t work for most people. And I think people are tired of being unhappy and dissatisfied...We cannot control our own desires and we certainly cannot control the desires of others...You cannot tell someone, ‘Don’t be attracted to anyone else. Don’t desire anyone else.’ You can say, ‘If we’re going to be together, I want it to be monogamous.’ But you cannot control the other person’s heart and mind. The heart wants what it wants.”

I completely agree with the last two sentences.  The heart does want what it wants.  Jesus said, "For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also." - Luke 12:43  And you cannot control another person's heart and mind.  It's the sentence in the middle that is most telling.  "We cannot control our own desires…"  Well, actually we can.  We can choose to control our desires and give them healthy and positive outlets.  But, this requires something called self-control, which (aghast) might actually lead to something called character. The ironic thing of course, is that there are countless secular examples of self-discipline and control over desires (marathon runners, research scientists, astronauts, the military).  Try to do one of those things without controlling your desires.

But before I climb on my high horse, I will be the first to say that I allow my desires to control me all the time.  Whether it's food, or drink, or lack of exercise, or entertainment - sometimes it is just easier to accept the equilibrium state.  This, of course, has a direct connection to character.  Without self-control, we are like a dam that has been breached.  The force of our desires will eventually destroy us - in all actuality transform us - into something less than human beings that reflect the image of God. 

Jesus said, "The good person out of the good treasure of the heart produces good, and the evil person out of evil treasure produces evil." - Luke 6:45  There is something easy to miss there.  There is both good "treasure" and evil "treasure".  Treasure isn't something lying around on the street or stocked at the shelves at Wal-mart.  You have to go dig for it!  The good, Holy Spirit treasure is mined just the same as evil treasure.  Neither appear by magic or by lack of effort on our part.

James 1:13-15 in the Message says, "Don’t let anyone under pressure to give in to evil say, “God is trying to trip me up.” God is impervious to evil, and puts evil in no one’s way. The temptation to give in to evil comes from us and only us. We have no one to blame but the leering, seducing flare-up of our own lust. Lust gets pregnant, and has a baby: sin! Sin grows up to adulthood, and becomes a real killer."  This is a spot-on description of the human condition.  If you really believe that "we cannot control our own desires," that leaves the door wide open for sin.  Once sin reaches maturity - or "adulthood" as Peterson puts it - it leads to a really nasty condition called death.

The good news of the Gospel, of course, is that the old sin man or woman died on the cross with Jesus and rose to new life in the Holy Spirit.  We don't have to muster self control out of our own resources - it is a fruit of the Spirit.  As wonderful as that is, Jesus warns that if we choose to simply listen to the Gospel and not act on it, we are in danger of losing everything at the first hint of adversity (Luke 6:46-49).  This is the unfortunate state of the Christianity in America.  It is a house without a foundation.  And it is easy to see what is happening to the house as the river of popular secular culture bashes it to smithereens.

So again, we come back to the life or death reality of what we are doing as spiritual families.  We have very few allies in the task before us.  Many Christians are hunkering down into a harsh legalism.  Just as many are letting the gates swing open and agreeing with the notion that self-control is an illusion.

I believe our response is not fear or despair, but rather to get our hands dirty with the hard work of digging a foundation and finding the good treasure.  My wife Amber likes to say, no one can do your push-ups for you.  That's true, but it sure helps to have workout partners encouraging you to get off your butt.  We should have the same heart and mind; to be cheering each other on and finding ways to stir up the fruit of the Spirit in our lives.  Let's dig together to lay hold of the good treasure that produces good.  That is how we will break the curse of self-deception.