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.

Friday, November 29, 2013

Responding to the Church-Going Exodus

Todd Hunter recently posted these statistics on Facebook:

- Only 20% of Americans go to church. The lowest it's ever been measured in the history of America.
- 8 to 10 thousand churches will shut their doors in next 12 months, never to reopen.
- America is now the most religiously diverse nation in the world.
- America is now the 3rd largest mission field in the world.
-150,000 people per week are leaving the church
(Source: Hartford Institute)

These are staggering statistics.  

One of the goals of Resurrection Church is to help shift the church away from just trying to attract people to come to a Sunday morning service.  It's important to acknowledge this is difficult.  Yet I believe if churches continue to hold onto an understanding of church that is focused on attraction, these statistics will only get worse.

We want to connect people in small, organic spiritual families that love and care for one another and do good in the world, popularly known as "Missional Communities".  The idea of missional communities is still new and mostly foreign to people.  But the history of the church has been filled with people and movements that have gone back to a simple way of life like Jesus and the disciples practiced and the early church carried forward in the power of the Holy Spirit.

Our dream of seeing a movement of missional communities rise up is exciting, but also intimidating.  The temptation is to scale back our dreams and settle for less.  This is a side affect of consumerism and how we've been influenced by culture.  If a ministry doesn't rapidly look successful, or we face setbacks, we are apt to label it a failure and close it down. 

Luke 4:14-30 tells the story of Jesus returning to his hometown right at the beginning of his ministry. 
It's important to realize that at this point, Jesus was alone.  He had been traveling around the simple, rural towns in Galilee preaching, healing, and casting out demons.  He was drawing crowds, but he didn't try to coax any of these people to become followers or disciples.  He was just announcing and demonstrating the presence of the Kingdom.

In Nazareth, Jesus stood up in the middle of the people who watched him grow up and said, "I'm God's son.  I'm announcing the Kingdom and since this is my hometown, you won't accept me."  That, of course, didn't go over too well.  The story ends with the townspeople literally trying to push him over a cliff.

It would have been very easy for Jesus to become discouraged at this point.  This was his hometown.  He reads his "vision statement" right out of the scriptures his family, friends, and neighbors had been reading their whole life.  And they reject him…even to the point of wanting to kill him!  But this was no surprise and didn't slow him down.  Jesus just continued on with his work among those who had "ears to hear and eyes to see."

We should not be afraid to announce the Kingdom dream God has given us.  If the church culture - our "hometown" - won't accept us, then we need to go into the "other villages" right around us.  There is a huge population of unchurched Christians and others who need family.  God will show us the "disciples" to call to follow Jesus along the way.

So we're not going to stop…we are going to pray, we are going to preach, we are going to heal, cast out demons, and not get discouraged.  There is just too much at stake.

Monday, November 18, 2013

You Become Like What You Worship

I was again reminded this week how the "natural flow" of my life can be easily filled with deadlines, meetings, driving kids to sports, and collapsing on the couch exhausted at the end of the day.  This is by no means unusual for anyone in our culture.  So that's why living as a disciple of Jesus in community is so counter-cultural and challenging to implement.

The temptation will be to try and live this way on top of an already full life.  That is doomed to fail.  What we need is a way to keep reflecting on the assumptions and motivations that lie behind where we choose to invest our time, energy, and resources.  Quite bluntly, this is exactly what Jesus was talking about when he said, "Wherever your treasure is, there the desires of your heart will also be."

Now before you think I'm going to lay down some heavy guilt trip, please stop right there.  I am by no means standing here as someone who has figured all this out.  But, God has given me the job of reflecting on what it means to be the church - a community of disciples of Jesus - in 21st century South Florida.  Hopefully this will help us collectively find more freedom and become more like the people God created us to be.

Here's the truth: the natural flow of secular life is towards self-preservation and self-fulfillment.  Ironically, the drive to achieve the "perfect life" results in - quite literally - death.  Hell is the natural result of someone who has worshipped the idol of self to the point where the image of God is no longer reflected in their lives.  For those who have not entrusted their lives to Jesus, eventually that reflection is destroyed.  The prison of self destroys the very thing it was trying to preserve.

This is all, of course, very ironic.  "Just let us be human!" is the rallying cry of those trying to live out the secular dream.  "Just let us be free to do what we want!"  But humans were made to reflect the glory of God!  And you become like what you worship!  So if you worship yourself you don't become more human, you become less human.  Real humanity is becoming more like the Creator himself.  Real freedom is found in worship of the Creator and living life as he always intended.

So we need to begin there.  What we worship lays the foundation for becoming more or less human, more or less free. 

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Resurrection Church - A New Adventure

In April I announced that Amber and I would be planting a new missional community here in Jupiter.  For the past five months, we have been meeting with 10 others laying a foundation for our community, dreaming together, and praying.  It's been hard work and I can say without a doubt, the Kingdom of God truly has its own timetable!  Last month we began meeting for worship at the Jupiter Worship Center at 4:30 on Sunday afternoons.  Very soon, we will be starting an Alpha class.  News and events will be posted on our facebook page

So the question that everyone asks when a new church is started, "Why bother?  Aren't there enough churches in the area already?"  In one sense, yes, there are enough churches.  The market is saturated with places to go on Sunday morning.  You can pick your denomination, style, theology, favorite pastor.  That's great if you already have the value of belonging to a worshipping community.  But there are thousands upon thousands of people who for whatever reason will never "try out a church".  There are also countless others who simply don't feel worthy or are able to come to a church service.  

Missional communities are designed to be nimble and adaptable.  It is very easy for churches to become distracted by the "vessel" and forget the "treasure".  The treasure is Jesus and his Kingdom; everything else must bow the knee.  The idea behind a missional community is to pursue Jesus and live in his Kingdom together in a simple, elegant way that leaves time for the stuff of real life among real people.  Jesus may have began his ministry preaching in the synagogue, but his first followers were found while they were out fishing.

So Rez Church Jupiter wants to challenge the way people think about church.  We want to go overboard when it comes to love.  We want to see the gospel preached with our feet and hands, not just our mouths.  We want to experience God's grace - not as a one time event - but grace like food and water.  If you live in the Jupiter / Tequesta / Palm Beach Gardens area and this sounds interesting to you, please send me a note.  We'd love to meet you!

Thursday, May 30, 2013

This is the Generation

I was born in 1973, which puts me smack in the middle of Generation X.  People in the church used to talk about Generation X and wring their hands about how we were going to be reached for Jesus.  That didn't last long, because frankly, we're a relatively puny market segment compared to the Boomers before us and the Millennials after us.  So at some point (pretty much after 9/11), the Western church's attention shifted to the massive cultural shifts occurring in the wider world and - to put it bluntly - how it was going to survive.

As a charismatic / evangelical, I've attended more than a few meetings where it was proclaimed from the stage that "This is the generation that will..." see Jesus return, set the church on fire, or merely change the world.  In the 90's it felt good to be a part of a cutting edge generation (Gen-X) that everyone thought would see and do all of the above.  But as time went on, it was obvious that it would likely be none of the above.  Jesus tarries, the church is still finding its way, and the world has a lot of changing to do yet.

Author Jeff Gordinier says that "GenXers are doing the quiet work of keeping America from sucking."  Maybe there is a corollary to the current state of the church.  "This is the generation that will..." quietly act as a bridge between the unfulfilled projects of the previous generation and the starry-eyed dreams of the next.  Maybe it will also be the generation that will stop telling the next one that they are the generation that will...well, you fill in the blanks.

As we go about planting a church again in South Florida, it is very important to me that we cultivate an environment that values wisdom and experience as much as youth and passion.  I want us to encourage the young and honor the old.  The real future of the church does not rest in one generation's ability to "get it right".  Rather, it is seeing a multi-generational, multi-ethnic church get in line with God's kingdom and work together for his glory.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

A Movement of the Kingdom

In my last post, I described how Amber and I are in the process of calling together a core team to plant a new missional church in Jupiter.  In reality, this looks more like us praying and waiting as the team responds to God's call.  It really is a waste of time to try and make these things happen.  Patience is a fruit of the Spirit after all.

In the meantime, we have been preparing for the first few months of learning, planning, and worshiping together.  I am jealous for this time of incubation.  It is not going to be a long time - maybe three months total - but enough to establish a strong foundation for what is to come.  One of these foundational concepts will be that of movement, specifically what makes a movement of the kingdom.

Early on in my introduction to missional church scholarship, I was corrected on theologically sloppy phrases like, "Building the kingdom" or "Advancing the kingdom".  With the exception of one controversial statement of Jesus that has been interpreted in a variety of ways, the primary language related to the kingdom in the New Testament has God acting and us receiving.  Our participation is vital, but secondary.  In a similar manner, I think it is sloppy to talk about building a movement of the kingdom.  When movement language is thrown around relative to the church, I want to respond like Inigo Montoya in The Princess Bride, "You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means."

Britannica defines a social movement as a "loosely organized but sustained campaign in support of a social goal, typically either the implementation or the prevention of a change in society’s structure or values. Although social movements differ in size, they are all essentially collective. That is, they result from the more or less spontaneous coming together of people whose relationships are not defined by rules and procedures but who merely share a common outlook on society."  The emphasis of movement is on its collectiveness, spontaneity, and idealism.  People join a movement not because it has all the answers, but because it asks the right questions and tells a compelling story.  A movement is sustainable only if its members can continue to walk the tightrope between organization and freedom, commitment and openness.

So a movement of the kingdom is not built, planted or launched.  But an environment can be created where an alternative story - the kingdom of God as the answer to our yearnings for a hope-filled and just world - has the chance to take root in a group of people.  In this environment and among these relationships, a movement of the kingdom can be received and nurtured.  I have this hope for our church, that it is the kind of soil where the seeds of a kingdom movement receive the nutrients and care necessary to grow into a healthy forest.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Planting a Missional Church in Jupiter, Florida

Palm Beach County, Florida is typical of American culture in the early 21st century:  a widening gap between rich and poor, a challenging economy, distracted and consumed with entertainment, polarizing opinions about politics, and an increasing resistance towards God and spirituality.  This is not what the church expected 20 years ago.  At the height of the church growth movement, there appeared to be no ceiling to reaching Americans and getting them “plugged into” church.  However, post-modernity has changed the landscape of American culture and left the church struggling to find a new voice.

My wife Amber and I have spent the last eleven years as missionaries to this emerging, post-modern culture in Palm Beach County.  We have started several small communities of faith as a means to understand more about this culture and as a prophetic statement that the Kingdom of God really is like a mustard seed.  We have been tempted many times to plant a church with all the traditional trappings, but keep getting drawn back to a simple, prophetic calling: to call together a movement of the Kingdom.

We have discovered that amazing things can be accomplished if we learn how to work with the Holy Spirit and rely on his resources, not our own.  In fact, there is no back up plan, because there is no need for a back up plan.  He is the only well that never runs dry.  Along the way, we have discovered that there are a few things that really make the Holy Spirit happy:

1.  When people learn how to love and serve Jesus with their whole lives and become his Apprentices.
2.   When those apprentices join God's Mission and find ways to love and serve their friends, neighbors, co-workers, and community in which they live.
3.  When room is made for each other as friends, comrades, and companions in spiritual family - what the Bible calls Oikos.
4.  When those oikoi live in Unity and understand that they are part of God's Big Bride, the Church.

We are looking for individuals who believe in Kingdom come, have a desire to cultivate spiritual families, and want to be a part of a missional movement in northern Palm Beach County.  Specifically, we are in the process of calling together a core team who will meet together for a few months to lay the foundation for what is to come.  Later this year, we will begin following the Holy Spirit into our social networks proclaiming the Kingdom and looking for people of peace (Luke 10).  Once this first oikos reaches maturity, the process will begin again.  We will also be establishing a larger, public worship gathering and continue to provide opportunities for growth through Everyday Mission.

If you want a title or recognition as a leader, this will not be a place for you.  We are looking for people who want to see God's Kingdom made known in their own lives and in the lives of others and are willing to get dirty along the way.  There will be conflict, failures, set-backs, opposition, and a lot of need for prayer.  But oh, are we going to have a lot of fun.  We routinely say that we live in paradise.  Jupiter and the Palm Beaches is an incredibly desirable place to live and raise a family.  But it is also a place of huge contrasts - between rich and poor, powerful and helpless, and young and old.  Like so much of America, deep change is occurring, which is prime soil to sow and reap a harvest.

The faith community we have been a part of for the past six years, The Well, will remain and will be a sister church and ally.  Making the decision to leave The Well and establish a new foundation was very difficult.  But without their support and encouragement, none of this would be possible.

If joining our core team interests you, or you would like to be kept informed of our plans later in the year, please contact me.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Beginning with the End in Mind

I grew up in a church where the belief was, quite literally, Jesus could float down from the clouds unannounced and snatch away us believers. For a young child, this was not good news. First, there was the fear of the unknown. Children need to feel safe, and even though all the images I had been presented with of Jesus were safe (holding lambs, looking serene in a meadow,) the images of returning Jesus felt scary and confusing. (For example, I really hope the artist who painted the image above was either joking or 12.) Also confusing was hearing adults discuss how they couldn't wait for Jesus to return. As a 40 year old adult, I can appreciate the notion of escaping from the grind of life, but this was incredibly difficult to reconcile as a child. I loved God and hated evil. But I just couldn't understand why Jesus wanted to take us away from our home and burn it up!

Perhaps you had a similar experience, or still share those beliefs. This is not meant to argue end times theology, but rather to argue that how the end of God's story is framed has an enormous impact on the Church's mission now.

Planting a church is a sociological experiment. The society that develops is dependent on the founder's theology, psychology, personality, politics, and even what could be considered benign personal preferences. But most important to the church's formation is the story that is told from the beginning. What is the purpose for this new church? Why should it exist and where is it going? The driving force behind the story told should be The story - God's story - from Genesis to Revelation. This is the foundation for everything a church is and does as God's people in a place, so having your story straight is pretty important.

God's story is about redemption, renewal, and ultimately hope. If an atheist were to ask me, "Why do you believe in God?" my answer would be, "Because God's story has a hopeful ending." One of the dominate worldviews of our time - scientific rationalism - has only one possible ending: The world is destroyed in a fireball a few billion years from now when the sun burns out…and you won't be around to see it because you'll be dead.  I can't debate the science behind that ending. But I can talk about an alternative ending where the returning Jesus brings together heaven and earth in a cosmic act of healing, the dead are raised to new and brighter life, and hope shines out like the newborn sun.

This ending to the story is found in the same scriptures of the floating on clouds Jesus. It doesn't negate the fact that, yes, Jesus will return - actually reappear - one day. Believe me, when that happens, it will feel like the world is ending. But there is nothing to fear and I think he will find a way to comfort his children. N.T. Wright likens this to seeing a lamppost in a dense fog. You can tell that there is light ahead and just make out the shape of a lamppost, but the surrounding details are fuzzy. The important thing is that God will make things right. He can be trusted.

I hope you can see that it won't do to sit around waiting for signs of the end. The healing and reconciling mission of God should be the hopeful, passionate pursuit of every follower of Jesus. With this as the foundation, any faith community can truly begin with the end in mind.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Jesus es mi Pastor

A few years ago I was invited by a friend to attend and speak at a conference in Peru he was organizing for local pastors and church leaders.  It was a sweet time of fellowship and many challenging ideas were shared and discussed.  One of the ideas was that in God's Kingdom, there is no special, professional class of Christian that does all the ministry while the rest sit back and receive.  This idea was particularly liberating to one young woman who began proclaiming in a loud voice during the break, "Up with the Kingdom, down with the pastors!"

The truth is, the idea of "the priesthood of all believers" has been notoriously difficult to implement.  On the whole, the Church loves its pastors and ministers and is perfectly content to allow them to do most of the work.  After all, who has time to visit an elderly shut-in, counsel a depressed soul, or actually pray?  There is a long Christian tradition of paying pastors to do the hard stuff no one else likes to do.  The very pastors who, according to Paul, exist to "equip the saints for the work of ministry."  

But let's think about that for a moment.  What does it mean to "equip" someone for ministry?  And what "ministry" are we talking about?  These are good questions to ask, because the answers might deeply challenge the core of the pastor / flock relationship.

John Wimber famously said that in the Kingdom of God, "Everyone gets to play." No follower of Jesus is exempt from being able to participate in the life of the kingdom.  Ministry - speaking Jesus words and doing Jesus acts - is free, public, requires no special degree or license, and is no respecter of age, sex, or even faith!  The scriptures are full of stories of unqualified, broken, unexpected souls simply responding to the love of God and in turn, loving others.  

So it might be possible that the metrics for who should be "in ministry" are flawed.  Perhaps the most qualified ministers are simply the ones who make themselves available to God and respond with "Yes!" when he calls.  Therefore, equipping someone could be as simple as teaching them the "See and Do" model of Jesus.  As in, "the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does." - John 5:19. 

Here is a modest proposal for helping pastors and other "equippers" actually equip people to do real ministry in their real lives:

1.  Help people create space in their lives for solitude and silence, to learn how to hear God's voice, and how to pray.
2.  Teach people how to understand and interpret their place in God's Story.
3.  Create opportunities for people to be with "the least of these" - the poor, lonely, broken, imprisoned, wounded, and sick.

By doing these things often (and lots of other things - use your imagination - not as often), I bet there is a good chance Kingdom stories will abound!

Friday, March 22, 2013

The Jesus Kind of Family Part 2 - Oikos

In the last post, I introduced the idea that Jesus' brand of family is inclusive, hopeful, at the heart of God's mission, and even more fundamental than our own blood families.  Jesus' family comes in all shapes and sizes, but there is a word that describes where his family has historically found its source and equilibrium: oikos.

Oikos is a greek word that can just mean "house.But perhaps a fuller definition would be "household" or "extended family".  This was the basic unit of Greek society which included both blood family, slaves, land, and living quarters and extended into deep webs of relationships.  Paul and Peter both employ this fuller definition of oikos to describe what God's family is like.  We are his household and are being built together as living stones into a spiritual house.  That is a rich and beautiful image.

But don't confuse God's house with the American ideal of a house in a quiet neighborhood to raise a happy family.  This is not life in a gated community.  Oikos is messy, public, and has fuzzy boundaries.  People drift in and out of the margins while a consistent, committed core remains faithful to the Master.  Also, don't assume oikos means "house church".  I believe this to be too small of an idea and a misapplication of oikos.  Like the household of Cornelius, when God invades an oikos, the implications are far greater than what happens in the living room of your ranch home.

Oikos is both the context for the message of the Kingdom to be spread and the environment where the Kingdom flourishes and nourishes God's set-free-ones.  Everyone has "networks" of friends, neighbors, co-workers, classmates, or family members - the Potential Energy of mission if you will.  As people respond to the Holy Spirit and become followers of Jesus, that potential energy is converted into the Work of mission, where those followers are invited to join a new family - the oikos of God.

P.S.  In practical terms - and in my experience - groups of 40-60 people seem to be the optimal size for God's people to relate as an oikos.  Under 40 is too closed, causes stagnation, and makes entry into the group difficult.  Over 60 creates ministry challenges that are difficult to manage, diluted relationships, and unruly gatherings.  This is bound to be controversial and I certainly don't have all the answers, but there's something that seems right about this for Christians in the West.  Maybe we need to rethink what it means to be church around groups of 40-60 people who relate and share resources on a larger scale in a geographic area.  Just sayin'.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Gordon Cosby, You Finished Well (1918-2013)

To remember one of my heroes of the faith, Gordon Cosby, I thought I would post an excerpt from my book talking about the influence Cosby and the Church of the Saviour had on my formation and churches all over the world.  The man followed Jesus and lived out the Gospel.  I feel honored to have met him, been challenged by him, and to have gleaned from his wisdom.

Discovering the Essence of Church

There are many people who see what we have seen within the church and immediately proclaim the way to fix things:  “We need to be more biblical, to get back to how the first century church did things.”  “If only all these churches would sell off their buildings and start meeting in homes, everything would be different.”  “Shared leadership is the answer.  Pastors need to step down and let their flock have a say for once.”  “Theology is too stagnant.  We need some fresh ideas about God to stir the pot.”  And on and on.  A few years ago, I stumbled on a group of people who have consistently refused to be satisfied with quick fixes. 

In the early 1950’s, there was a simple, unknown Virginian helping to prophetically birth a church 50 years ahead of its time.  You have probably never heard of him.  Gordon Cosby was the son of a Baptist father and Presbyterian mother who grew up in Depression Era America.  During WWII, Gordon became an Army Chaplain and had experiences that changed his life as a Christian, Pastor, and member of the body of Christ.  When he returned from the war, he and a small band of seekers began to experiment with what it means to be ‘the church’ in Washington D.C.  In 2001, and then again in 2005, I had the privilege of visiting the result of his life's work and investigate the phenomenon that is the Church of the Savior.


Saturday, March 16, 2013

The Jesus Kind of Family

Just then his mother and brothers showed up. Standing outside, they relayed a message that they wanted a word with him. He was surrounded by the crowd when he was given the message, “Your mother and brothers and sisters are outside looking for you.”  Jesus responded, “Who do you think are my mother and brothers?” Looking around, taking in everyone seated around him, he said, “Right here, right in front of you—my mother and my brothers. Obedience is thicker than blood. The person who obeys God’s will is my brother and sister and mother.” - Mark 3:31-35, The Message

I believe in the family.  It is a wonderful thing to have a family around you that loves, supports, laughs and cries together.  I grew up in such a family.  So did my wife.  Prayerfully, our kids are growing up in a family like that.  But I am under no illusion that my experience is typical.  In fact, I do not have to reach far into the lives of the people around me to witness the incredible brokenness that exists in most families.  To some, their experience of family is so broken that the idea of something transcendent that Jesus offers seems like a cruel joke.  Why would they want to be a part of another family when their own blood has been so destructive?

Yet the Jesus kind of family does transcend.  As Peterson says in the Message, "Obedience is thicker than blood."  In the individualistic world of 21st century America, we read these words and miss their intensity and the controversy they invoke.  Jesus is challenging the whole foundation of what we think family is about.  In the Kingdom of God, it doesn't matter what kind of family you come from.  In fact, in another place Jesus infers that those who are worse off when it comes to their blood family will receive an abundance in the Kingdom:

Mark my words, no one who sacrifices house, brothers, sisters, mother, father, children, land—whatever—because of me and the Message will lose out. They’ll get it all back, but multiplied many times in homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children, and land—but also in troubles. And then the bonus of eternal life! This is once again the Great Reversal: Many who are first will end up last, and the last first. - Mark 10:29-31, The Message

I have seen this with my own eyes.  People who effectively had no family, but found true family among other followers of Jesus.  I have come to believe that this is one of greatest acts of mission the church can embark on together.  When we act like a family - a Jesus kind of family - we create an environment that is welcoming, hopeful, and full of love.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

What We Need Now

I posted my first blog in February 2002.  Eleven years, 4 blogging platforms (it may be 5...I've lost count), one book, and three laptops later, I now have a new place to write.  For the past year or so, I have been occasionally posting at Everyday Mission, which is the blog for a servant organization my wife and I started that supports Kingdom-minded people and churches in South Florida.  I will continue to post there, but this is a place to return to my writing roots. 

Back in 2002, I was a fresh faced, full-head-of-haired, goateed church planter with a lot of questions and big dreams. Over the years, the questions (and some dreams) have changed, but the desire to see God's Kingdom made known in the lives of those around me has not.  My passion is still to make Jesus the center of what church is all about.  Along the way, I've learned a little bit about how to help the church actually follow Jesus - to love God and others.  I've also learned a lot about grace, healing, and how forgiveness can build a spiritual family against which the gates of Hell cannot prevail.

There will be new adventures to follow here specific to our life and ministry in our little paradise of Jupiter, Florida.  But more on that another time.  The title of this post is "What We Need Now" because that is going to be a theme for what you will read here.  I have a tremendous amount of hope for the future and am not going to be shy in sharing why.  I have seen miracles over the past decade.  Sure, I have seen God heal, bring people to salvation, set free the oppressed, and turn financial ruin into abundance.  But those are not the miracles that have brought the most joy and hope.  The miracles that have blown my mind usually play out over several years.  They involve normal, flawed, yet beautiful people finding a home with the saints of God.  Over time, the Spirit takes their broken pieces and fashions a mosaic of worship and redemption.  The resulting work of art then becomes a vessel pouring out Kingdom goodness to the world around them. 

These "miracles" - what I like to call the set-free-ones - are an unstoppable force.  They haven't built a huge church (and likely never will) and you won't read about them in a Christian magazine.  But they are making a indelible mark on the lives of those in their families, at their jobs, in their schools, and in their neighborhoods.  What we need now is to keep finding ways to create environments where the natural, expected outcome is that people are becoming set-free-ones.  That is where I have put my hope and what I will be writing about in the months to come.

A few business items.  I will not be accepting comments on this blog (mostly because of spam) so if you wish to interact please either use facebook, twitter or my email - everydaymission at gmail dot com.  Also, I will try as best I can to not use boring technical theological language and only quote NT Wright occasionally:)  Hopefully you will be encouraged, challenged, and maybe see some miracles yourself along the way.