Thursday, September 8, 2016

Ecclesia: A Movement to be Incarnational, Messianic & Apostolic

In preparing to launch a faith community called Ecclesia, in our soon to be open coffee shop in North Colorado Springs, I decided to reread a book by two missionally thoughtful pastors/authors, Michael Frost and Alan Hirsch. The Shape of Things To Come has been a pivotal book to many who want to move to a missional model of living out their faith. It has also been the bur in the saddle of many institutional church leaders. I don't think Alan and Michael set out to irritate corporate churches (or maybe they did), I just think talking plainly about the failings of Christendom will obviously make friends as well as enemies, even unintentionally. I risk the same here.

One of these sections of their missional propaganda talks about three areas that need to be readjusted in the Western church.

1. The Church needs to be Incarnational, not separating itself from culture in large buildings, but rather being among those who need the Gospel. This means moving from an attractional model, where programs and events pull people to the church building, to being a sending community, where the followers of Christ live out their faith in everyday life. Jesus once proclaimed to a religious group that he came for the sick, not the spiritually healthy. Perhaps we should follow his example. Christendom, way back before we were born...way, way, way back...decided that religion would be ruled by the State. We started building cathedrals and instituting hierarchies of church leadership. We have held on to those structures even today, and it seems we won't have our hands pried away.

2. The Church needs to be Messianic, not dualistic. By dualistic, they mean that we often view our world and our life in terms of things that are good and things that are evil. We separate out the good from the bad so that we are not polluted by the bad. While I understand not wanting to be infiltrated by things that might take me off course in my apprenticeship with Jesus, again, we must question how we will be able to minister to the "sick" that Jesus came for if we stay away from the culture they live in. How do we heal lepers if don't enter the colony? Is all creation not God's and our job is to simply try and redeem what has been stained by sin? That seems very different than avoiding the parts of His creation that are in turbulence.

3. The Church needs to be Apostolic in leadership, not hierarchical. Today, most churches are looking for a CEO that specializes in growing the church bigger. A "Lead Pastor" today needs to be more of a strategist of programs, than a prophet/teacher that guides people in their spiritual journey. What if church leadership structures looked flatter? What if gifting from Ephesians 4: Apostle, Prophet, Evangelist, Pastor, Teacher, became the sought-after giftings of leadership that would then "equip the saints" as Paul put it poetically.

As Ecclesia launches this month, these three points seem to be obvious building blocks of the foundation of our community. A community that will live incarnationally within the rhythms of the city around us. We want to see the beauty in all of creation, and bring light to the places that are dark, not run from, or be aggressive against those things that have been stained by sin. We want to share together in the leadership and movement forward of Ecclesia as a community of faith. Without flattening the leadership structures, we risk setting up a system where the audience comes to be talked to by the leader....sound familiar? Sure, there's a leader, but somewhere I remember a suggestion from someone that the best leaders are servants first. They lead from behind.

Well, I probably have done what Hirsch and Frost unintentionally have done...make some people mad. Know I'm not against large churches, but I do think it is time we face the structures and rhythms that keep people from living out their life in a missional way. After all, being missional and incarnational is not a is simply the way our Rabbi taught us to live.

Monday, August 29, 2016

The Parable of the Good Barista

There once was a good hearted barista who didn't know what he believed about God, about Jesus. At a party, he served special coffee to a gathering of city folk. They gathered to drink coffee and eat sugar waffles, yes, waffles. They gathered to be merry, enjoy each other's company, drink special coffee and yes, eat and eat and eat sugar waffles. Because the host was a Pastor, many who came to eat waffles were Christians. They loved each other, they loved their neighbor, they were faithful church attenders and studied the writings of Scripture in order to live a deeper and more fruitful life with God.

The party, with many Christians, got so full that people spilled over onto the sidewalk outside. They gathered there, laughing, loving, and eating their waffles. They gathered in front of tables with creative ways to raise money for the disenfranchised of the city and the world.

No one noticed the man bent over from the weight of his pack, carrying all of his earthly belongings. He was dirty, he was unkept. He had to make his through the gathering of waffle-eaters on the sidewalk. He had to find a way through the Christians to continue on his journey. As he passed by the party, his journey remained the same...a long path made out of squares of concrete, where at some point he would stop and find a place to rest. 

The host, the Pastor, standing with the Christians on the sidewalk, was shocked to see one of his baristas running from behind the counter with a sugar waffle in his hand. "Don't they realize they shouldn't run with all the guests around here?", he thought to himself. The running would cause a commotion, a disruption. 

All of the sudden, as the barista ran past the host, the Pastor, looked to his right and saw what the barista was running after...the dirty man with the pack. He had him sit on the sidewalk, on one of the squares of concrete, and gave him one of the prized sugar waffles. He gave him a cup of the special coffee. The Pastor heard him say, "Here man, I hope you enjoy this."

In all of the festivities and talk of God's future for the special coffee and prized sugar waffles, the Pastor and all the other Christians didn't see the dirty man with the pack make his way through the crowded sidewalk. Only the barista who isn't sure what he really believes saw his neighbor...and fed him.

This isn't a parable at all.
It's a true story.
The Pastor was me.
The barista is my son...William.

God gave me a glimpse of what our future coffee shop and related church community can look like. He also reminded me that Third Space Coffee and Ecclesia will only be successful when it touches real life, in the trenches of life. I didn't even see the man pass by, but my son did, the one who is honest with me about his doubts of God and religion. I can't help but ask the convicting question of myself...Was God more pleased with my fellowship with other Christians on the sidewalk, or was he more pleased with the simple act of one doubter who fed his neighbor and loved him?

The lesson is clear...the sugar waffles and coffee are only special because of who they are served to. May we be a coffee shop and a church community where there is always commotion and disruption.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

3 Things to Remember About the Church and the Gay Marriage Ruling - Part 1

I'm hesitant to pollute the FB waves with even more commentary on the recent Supreme Court decision to make Gay Marriage legal.  However, posts at the far ends of the spectrum compel me to voice my position. This may be partly so that I know where I stand personally, then can verbalize it to others as they ask me. It is also so that I will quit yelling at my FB screen from reactionary scares my children when I do that.

So here goes round one...and as with much good practical theology and doctrinal position, is subject to change.

1. Marriage still belongs to God and the Church will go on.  It's interesting to me that the Church was birthed in Greece and Roman culture. Our New Testament was fuel to a movement called Christianity in cultures where marriage and sex were practiced outside of God's instructions and commandments. Still, the Church thrived, people came to Christ and sought lives that honored the God in which they served and worshiped. The United States is not accustomed  to being a culture that is post-modern to Christianity, and it scares us to death.  There are cultures around the globe where the framework of marriage and sexual relations is foreign to our "Christian values." Missionaries can attest to this.  Still, marriage is an institute of God. There is no shortage of values and practices in life where the "created" don't honor the "Creator." Even we heterosexual protectors of marriage and family values have our own kinks in the armor of following Christ. Still, it all belongs to God and this is His story in the will end the way He wants it to.  We must not be scared that God has lost control.

2. We are instructed to NOT judge those outside the Church for homosexuality.  Paul, in writing a letter to a church within a culture that practiced sexual relations outside of the boundaries of God's instruction, instructed them to refrain from judging.  1 Corinthians 5:9-11 says: When I wrote to you before, I told you not to associate with people who indulge in sexual sin. 10 But I wasn’t talking about unbelievers who indulge in sexual sin, or are greedy, or cheat people, or worship idols. You would have to leave this world to avoid people like that. 11 I meant that you are not to associate with anyone who claims to be a believer yet indulges in sexual sin, or is greedy, or worships idols, or is abusive, or is a drunkard, or cheats people...

We don't seem to think the country is crumbling because of these issues.
(I don't see many Christians today refusing to associate with those in the Church that practice abuse on their family, cheating on taxes and the such, or seem to worship other things than God...hmmm)

A good question I was asked by someone I respect very much:  "Do you believe homosexuality is really a sin?"  My answer:  "Yes".  So is my battle with wanting more cars, nice stuff, judgement of other people, etc...  

For those of us who use the Bible as a guide to know God's desires and wishes for life, it is very hard to skip over Romans 1:26-27 26 That is why God abandoned them to their shameful desires. Even the women turned against the natural way to have sex and instead indulged in sex with each other. 27 And the men, instead of having normal sexual relations with women, burned with lust for each other. Men did shameful things with other men,... 

If you don't use the Bible as guide, then I can certainly understand why we disagree....but I love you just as much. 

3. God's love is not dependent on how someone acts.  Boy, do we love to preach about grace! Salvation by faith and not works is the proud flag flown for decades by fundamental evangelicalism (right below the American flag). Excuse my pointed frustration, as you can sense in my writing, but I'm am fed up with Christian knowledge that falls short of being lived out when relationships get hard. When we put our love on a restricted basis, available only when someone acts the way we want, we are communicating an incorrect Gospel. God loves us in spite of our life activity...does He want us to transform and change? Absolutely, but that is a process of loving relationship with God and, more importantly, with loving community (Christians). It's no wonder we Christians are seen as the most judgmental group in America today.  If we want America to be Christian, maybe we need to start acting Christian first! 

I'm sure there is more to come. With each FB post I read, instead of yelling, I'll add a sequel to this post.

This ends part 1... I feel better

Thursday, December 25, 2014

I Don't Like Brussel Sprouts!

So I'm not a big fan of Brussel Sprouts.  No, I didn't come from one of those homes where my mom made me clean my plate, no matter what awful green vegetable was on it, but I was exposed to many different foods and expected to at least "try it." Sometimes I liked it, sometimes I didn't. Dinner usually looked like having some foods I liked, some foods my brother liked, some we didn't...and so we lived with a mixture of favorites and unfavorites all the time. If there was something on our plate like, say Brussel Sprouts, we just tried one and left the others there. And so we knew that there would always be things we didn't like so much at dinner...that was ok.

I find myself concerned that the American Church is unable to live with Brussel Sprouts...

In my sixteen years of doing ministry, I've found that there really is no perfect church, no perfect congregation, no perfect church leadership team. Still, our successful consumer culture has created what has been termed by some, the "Cafeteria Church", (which goes well with my metaphor of Brussel Sprouts). The typical church-goer is going to a church because of what that church brings to their personal life. The teaching, the worship, the children's program, the youth or more things "fit" what they need in a season of life. I totally understand this as I have preferences also, but I've learned that a self-focused church attendance misses critical things for our Christian journey.

Sadly, what we miss is the necessary ingredient of COMMUNITY. what I mean by community is not just gathering on Sundays, but developing deep relationships with other believers. Relationships that go beyond the surface and involve knowing the unattractive issues in our life. This type of community takes time, and investment. Theologians like Karl Barth and Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who shaped much of our current thinking, have written in summary that Christian community is a necessary part of becoming a mature Christ follower. I tend to agree.

Today, the disturbing trend is that many Christ-followers do not hold community as a least not above personal preferences.  If something goes wrong relationally in the church, they just pickup and leave, there's always another church down the road. I don't mean to sound overly critical, but I believe this is a massive blow to the Church in America, as well as our own journey with Christ. For us to be formed into the image of Christ, we must stick it out with each other. Those uncomfortable relationships will help transform us. Those disagreements with leadership or programming, when talked through, become the laboratory of forgiveness and understanding. We become more like Jesus by leaning in to the broken relational issues we face, rather than running from them.

Yes, sometimes it means enduring worship that isn't your favorite, or teaching that isn't what you'd pick...but when the community is your primary value, then God will use you in other people's lives and they will be used in yours. You become "part of the Body."  Heard that idea before somewhere? (hint: 1 Corinthians 12)

I'm saddened when I hear someone leave our church...not when they feel called to another ministry, but when they leave over preferences or relational differences. Community falls way down the list of priorities....down where Brussel Sprouts reside. Without community ("Communal Unity"), the Church is weaker, which the enemy loves. Without community we cannot mature and grow. My personal belief is that there is no such thing as a "personal relationship with Christ." We've done people a dis-service by coining that term in America. It must be a community relationship with Jesus...because that is where we are changed and transformed. That's probably why community is so prevalent in Scripture. That's why we're called "a Body of Christ."

So when you look at your church and see Brussel Sprouts, just try one. If you don't like it, just leave the rest on your plate....don't go looking for a new cafeteria...they really are all the same in that some of their food choices are good, some not so good. Don't let community become a byproduct of attendance at a church, make community a Christian value you strive and fight for.  In the end, you'll be a better Christ-follower for it, and the church will be blessed by your long-suffering investment in relationships!

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

A Disappointing Title - "The Gospel, Homosexuality & The Future of Marriage"

I'm really taking a risk with this post...I realize that. Let me make a statement from the start. I'm putting in bold letters hoping you hear my voice clearly:

- I believe that the Bible is authoritative and teaches that homosexuality is a sin.

I recently received an email that really disturbed me. It was an advertisement for the ERLC upcoming conference in October.  The ERLC is the "Ethics & Religious Liberties Conference" of the Southern Baptist Convention. (I want to add here that I was baptized in a Southern Baptist church).  What disturbed me was the title of the conference: The Gospel, Homosexuality and the Future of Marriage.

Here is their opening paragraph:
Are you and your church prepared for the moral revolution surrounding homosexuality and same-sex marriage happening across America? While human sexuality and social institutions are being redefined before our very eyes, the Bible presents marriage as an unchanging picture of the gospel through the union of one man and one woman. The gospel announces that the story of Jesus is greater than the sum total of our sexual desires.

Hoping that I made my theological stance clear above before going further, what bothers me is that the conference seems to be drawing the battles lines. There is a protectionist stance suggested, even if not intended, by throngs of fundamentalist Christians, gathering to "get their ducks in a row" in preparation for the "coming revolution." I'm praying that this conference is less aggressive than it appears. I so respect some of the speakers and in fact, know a couple of them personally and regard them highly.

Here's my rub...while I understand the feelings behind why these brothers and sisters believe that marriage needs to be protected, The Gospel does NOT need to be protected.  In fact, the Gospel is precisely for Gays and Lesbians, as well as for us. There is no protectionist agenda, no law of the land, no outcry from the Temple that is going to transform people's lives.  It only comes from The Gospel and relationship with Jesus Christ. will we be able to share this Gospel (good news) with those that need this transformation, if we're on a battlefield?

A person I respect made an interesting comment recently regarding gays and lesbians, in regard to fundamental Christian families.  He said that it was interesting that in Muslim countries, if a child chooses Christianity, they are ostracized from their family and friends.  This intelligent millennial went on to observe that in Christian homes here in America, if a child says they are gay or lesbian, they are ostracized also. His view, whether you agree or not, was that we Christians are just as closed minded as Muslims, just as judgmental. Something's wrong here...

While I totally believe that homosexuality is a sin, I also believe greed, gluttony, gossip, slander, lust and many other vices are sins as well, yet we don't have large conferences about protecting our lives from  those. We sweep the seemingly smaller issues under the rugs of our homes and choose to vocalize our disapproval of someone's sinful life in homosexuality.

Somewhere in that Bible we carry, it talks about logs and well, 1 Corinthians 5:9-10 becomes an interesting part of this discussion.

I am in turmoil over our society's acceptance of same-sex marriage.  I believe it is a sinful lifestyle that God did not ordain, and even speaks against. I really wrestle, as a pastor, with how the church should deal with this rising bent of our culture. Yet, I love the individuals in this life style, just like I love my friends caught in other sins. So what will turn society toward God? I don't think it is a "Great Wall of China" approach to The Gospel.  What will turn society toward God, is showing the love of God ourselves, in person (I think Jesus even commissioned us to do that). Without face to face conversation, we remain adversaries.  It's hard to hear The Gospel over the sounds of cannons and muskets.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

The Crossroads of Closeness with God

It's the day after our community, and the high school in our neighborhood, mourn the loss of two senior high students from a fatal car crash. Another student still in the hospital and the driver, 17 years old, in jail possibly facing charges of manslaughter.

Students praying at Palmer
Ridge High School.
This morning I awoke to news reports, tweets and Facebook posts about the crash and the resulting coming together of our community....many being teens in our church who had played on teams with the boys or knew them personally. A cross has been erected with flowers being added by the hour at the crash site. At Palmer Ridge High School, the normal 10-12 students praying at the flagpole was increased by a multiple of 10. We opened our church yesterday so students could come and make some sense of their loss and possibly of God. One of our pastors is today meeting with the soccer team, which one of the boys played on with his son.

Tragedy brings us to a crossroads.  It's a place where anger, sorrow, questions and hope meet to seek an answer and new path. It is an opportunity to reengage a closeness with God that was waining, or possibly non-existent.

I wonder if God doesn't use these tragedies purposely to remind us of many things...
   our humanity
   the thin balance between life and death
   community and our need of each other
   his existence

As we seek answers in the midst of tragedies, God is at the crossroads, waiting patiently for our inquiries. His answers are not always what we want to hear, but if we will settle our souls within the story and hope of His eternity, we can find the strength to pick ourselves up and move on. We will find purpose again and learn from our trials.

James writes to, "Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whoever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish it works so that you can be mature and complete, not lacking anything." (James 1:2-3) Whether we like it or not, tragedy breeds maturity.  The fruit of maturity is an increasing hope, not in the safety of life, but in an eternity with our Creator.

And so, this tragedy yesterday in our community reminds me to do one thing...stay close to my God and find hope in Him. As we pray and mourn with these families and our community, may God's closeness become apparent to them as they stand at the crossroads looking for answers, along with all of us.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

A Constant Source of Grace

Every day, if following Christ closely, we are stretched beyond ourselves and beyond the grace we have within us. Whether relationships, weight of life, or simply pace of living, the peace of our souls is tested and pushed aside.

My reading for today from Valley of Vision spoke to this constant tug-of-war with grace:

O what blessedness accompanies devotion,
     when under all the trials that weary me,
                              the cares that corrode me,
                              the fears that disturb me,
                              the infirmities that oppress me,
I can come to Thee in my need,
     and feel peace beyond understanding!
And here thy saints encourage my hope;
     they were once poor and are now rich,
                              bound and are now free,
                              tried and are now victorious.
Every new duty calls for more grace than I now possess,
     but not more than is found in thee,
     the divine Treasury in whom all fullness dwells.
                                   from: Valley of Vision, A collection of Puritan Prayers & Devotions

When life is heavy or relationships are a struggle, move closer to God (devotion) and fine the grace needed to move ahead...