We Smell Wrong

While any semblance of “Christian culture” is fading fast, Christian-Judeo belief systems and traditions have heavily influenced the United States. Our laws and norms were shaped in large part by religion and faith, despite a mounting rejection and attack on those same moral and spiritual precepts. If you believe the things that have influenced the present from the past, it’s easy to feel superior, threatened and/or victimized in planning the counter-assault against society, the legal system, political opponents, etc. What if we’ve gotten it backwards, in some ways? Consider the following passage:

“But thanks be to God, who always leads us as captives in Christ’s triumphal procession and uses us to spread the aroma of the knowledge of him everywhere. For we are to God the pleasing aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing. To the one we are an aroma that brings death; to the other, an aroma that brings life. And who is equal to such a task?” (2 Corinthians 2:14-16)

As Christianity fights for it’s previously enjoyed relative favor in American culture, we can’t forget the Truth of the Gospel in defense of a lesser gospel. The call of Jesus is to follow Him and, as Paul writes to the church in Corinth above, His procession spreads His smell.

If we are saved by His grace, we should know His path by the smell of death (“we are an aroma that brings death”). Our relationship with Him is affirmed in our sacrifice of us. There has to be a sacrifice of superiority, privilege, entitlement or other related perceptions commonly fostered in a society where the heritage affirms your beliefs.

Yet, to those that are not familiar with His grace and the invitation into His salvation, we should smell like “an aroma that brings life.” We should be the most encouraging, selfless, humble witness of the resurrection of Jesus that is imaginable. People from outside of that same system of beliefs should be attracted to the hope that comes from Christ through us; not us at them. Our judgements, condemnations, Facebook debates and accusations against “them” don’t smell like and offer of life; they smell like the imposition of death.

Here’s the thing . . . none us can really smell like life unless we are willing to smell like death. Until and unless we give up our political positions, arrogant arguments, insecure self-promotions and other affirmations of us, we won’t smell like Him. Only in dying to the need to be heard, right, protected or promoted will we actually smell the way that we are intended to smell.

 

Don’t Take the Bait

I fell into a trap lately and, before you know it, I was stuck. The consequences weren’t catastrophic other than the fact that the net result robbed my potential joy and diverted my attention from God’s glory. Not good.

We had a chance to minister overseas in a culture which is vastly different from what we know as normal. The language differences as well as event logistics resulted in a dynamic outside of the norm from which we typically operate. The time we had to engage was limited and we left soon after we were done. Frankly, it was a little difficult to tell how effective the time was. We had flown 1/2 way across the world and it was just difficult to tell whether it impactful. With the commitment of time and resources we had made, the question of impact was relevant.

Not being able to tell, I came home partially satisfied. I knew that some good things had happened as there was some feedback. I was less than 100% secure in the value of the trip as I processed the experience.

Then another member of the team who flew out separately got back and he had numerous video testimonies that he had taken following our time with these people. He also had a chance to spend time with local leadership after our departure and their appreciation for what was happening was evident. The long and short of it was the feedback that I was missing, he had captured. From those testimonies, It was undeniable that the trip created a huge ripple effect and God had clearly moved in people’s lives in powerful ways.

The trap I had stepped into was the need to satisfy my soul. My mind, will and emotions wanted validation that the sacrifice was worth it. I wanted the security blanket of getting to see results from the process we had engaged in. I wanted the visible to affirm the invisible. My faith in God’s faithfulness was weak compared to my need to be assured that He did what He does.

Ministry is not, cannot be and should never be about me (or any of us). If you go, it’s because He called and if you serve, it’s unto His pleasure and His glory. The results, then, are His to work out. Obedience is the call of HIs Spirit to our spirit and the wants and desires of our soul are irrelevant comparatively.

We don’t save people, heal people or set people free; He does. If it happens, He did it. If it doesn’t, that’s His deal with them. We don’t get credit or blame; we just get called and have to decide if we are in or not; no matter the outcomes.

Invited into Extreme

We are living in extreme times where the rhetoric and divide has escalated negotiable to absolute. At the same time, absolutes are too offensive so things that used to be held as true are compromised for comfort.

In the middle of those political and societal shifts, matters of faith get chipped away at as fringe and extreme. Most people don’t want to be either fringe or extreme so the instinct is to adapt in small ways to remain relevant. Compromise is seldom drastic and the slide is usually indiscernible.

This year, and in the coming years, there will increasingly be no room for compromised faith. There will be no power anywhere except for the extreme and extreme will be easier to attain by contrast to the culture. Weird is weird and it’s increasingly weird just to profess belief, much less to zealously follow and advance the cause of Christ.

Here’s the thing; it’s His cause, not a plank on the platform of the religious right. Extreme faith will be in Him, not ideas about how Him. Reliance on Jesus for supernatural protection, provision and promotion is neither boastful nor argumentative. The argument is in our actions and our choices must be dependent on His power. Our extreme place in these extreme times is less, not more. Less of us and our ideas and more of Him through our humility, brokenness and obedience.

We don’t need better candidates or laws; we need a Church that is as authentic in the sufferings of Christ as they are in the abundance of His Kingdom. We don’t need to win; we need to die. Death to ourselves allows the anointing of His Spirit to exude from us. The compelling extreme of the Holy Spirit circumvents all theological or philosophical debates as He draws others towards Himself despite what we do to repel them.

The coming years of extreme invite us to die to ourselves for the One whom we say we believe. When He invited us to follow Him, the glory He promises is through the crucifixion He modeled. Christianity is neither a spectacle nor a program, but agreement among us in the absolute of Him. He did and does everything that needs to be done; the stuff we attempt to heap on top of His absolute is compromise no matter the intention of our souls.

Going Out There with a Clear Picture of It’s Limits

The reason for the gathering is to be encouraged and equipped for the purpose. The purpose is carried out day-to-day in markets and communities that aren’t coming to the gathering. That means that vocations and locations occupied by people who come to the gathering are going to be the ones that carry out the purpose. Out there.

The ministers are electricians, dentists, room moms and IT professionals. They go places that pastors and priests aren’t invited or expected. It’s in those places that ministry extends the reach of God beyond the four walls of a gathering place. To be qualified, you simply have to be reconciled. Once you are reconciled to Jesus, you are a minister of reconciliation.

“And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God.” (2 Corinthians 5:19-20)

Once reconciled, you are given the authority of an ambassador to bring the message of reconciliation to others. You are a minister of reconciliation. Congratulations.

John 1:1 says that Jesus is the Word. Reconciliation is to the Word; written and personal. When people are hurting they need to know but they need more than information. The written Word is imperative in our understanding of truth. The Word Himself is just as vital as we realize grace and love. Without the personal connection, it’s a matter of logic and reason with no relationship. The invitation is into relationship.

Too often, we are “out there” among people who don’t know Jesus and we want to try to convict or convince them of their faults with supporting evidence from the written Word. The net result is accusation and condemnation. Typically not very fruitful.

If we’ll allow for Jesus to be personified in our grace and compassion without the need to change behaviors from the outside, He is good at the inside business. In fact, when we consider it, He is still in the process of changing us from the inside but is doing so with love and grace. Not guilt, shame or condemnation.

Ambassadors are only legitimate for as long as they represent the governing authority that sends them. Jesus didn’t send you to tell everyone how wrong they are; He sends you to tell them that He isn’t holding it against them.

“All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them.” (2 Corinthians 5:18-19)

 

Don’t Be Weird

The opportunity we face in the coming years is to be different without being weird. Different brings hope but weird distracts and discredits. The weirdness is typically in premature and exhaustive explanations and arguments. Hope will be carried in relational revelation with the context of experience. Once there is a common experience, the dynamic changes and different isn’t trying to convince but simply pointing to the hope which was just revealed.

Whether church is in a coffee shop or cathedral, people actually want there to be hope in God. Even those that have walked away from church are typically “spiritual” and believe in God. The frustration with their religious experience can be redeemed by encountering God Himself, not programs about Him. Relationship affords opportunities in life’s challenges and celebrations to recognize God’s fingerprints together.

Too many times, even revelation of God is recognized and agreed with in ways that are driven by religion. Fruit of His presence includes joy, peace and self-control. That means where He is moving, there can be a sense of calm and order when we will simply recognize Him without packaging Him. Sitting in the calm of His manifestation will convince people more than the routines we have learned by religion.

Inherent in this idea is the stark reality that a minister’s job is to allow for others to connect to Him for themselves. It’s the ministry of reconciliation and every follower of Jesus is a minister in this sense. Our bias within the idea of “ministry” is that we do something to stand in for God’s voice or intentions. Actual ministry is that we simply agree and allow others to experience and agree for themselves.

We can’t be afraid of getting out-of-the-way. The compulsion to follow Jesus comes from Jesus, not to be substituted by the convincing arguments and practices we insert with good intentions. When God starts, we need to stop, not speed up.

The coming season will bring opportunities to agree with heaven on earth and Holy Spirit’s power and presence if we will agree and not always augment. Our extras are subtraction and distraction. We need to marvel and wonder with people, not analyze and explain for them.

God will move in ways that are not bound by denominations and the unification that will be available will affirm and strengthen any church that is more interested in being the Church. The capital “C” Church will be without competition, coercion, comparison or compromise. People are more than willing to see Jesus if we will just quit making Him about us.

Church or Something Like it In a Coffee Shop

A little over a year ago, we were considering where to go and what to do. The building we were meeting in was for sale but it wasn’t a bad thing as we knew there was something more and needed a change, anyway. One morning outside of a coffee shop, God whispered and the conversation began.

Last night, the church moved into the heart of the marketplace. We aren’t the first congregation to start or move in a coffee shop, bar or other market centered location, but it’s not entirely common, either. The first night of “Ekklesia” was full of life and power as God showed Himself faithful, because He is.

As of 2014, according to the Barna Group’s book “Churchless,” 48% of people consider themselves “churched” (at least once a month) and 41% are either de-churched or marginally churched (once or twice a year). Only 10% are truly “unchurched” where they have no history or experience with church at all.

Of those that are de-churched or marginally churched, they are overwhelmingly still interested in God, spiritual growth, etc. but have various reasons why they eventually were done with the institution as we know it. Their theology and world view wouldn’t typically line up with the main stream church, but they need places to figure it out. They need to be able to disagree, out loud, without disqualification or stigma. They need authentic relationship regardless of theological agreement, conversion or tithing.

We are going to give it a run in a coffee shop, because it seems that God said so. We are going to try to be a part of the Church with a unique little spot that isn’t really designed for large crowds. We’ll never have gatherings of over 100 because we want people who are there to have an opportunity to be heard and be part of the experience. We want to foster gatherings that are participative, not consumeristic. Many voices, not a single voice. If we grow, we’ll multiply the number of meetings, but we won’t be starting a building campaign or moving to a larger building.

Some people have been hurt, misunderstood, offended or grown weary of religion and church as we know it. It’s not necessarily anybody’s fault, it just is what it is. They won’t go back into a building with a steeple but we hope they’ll have a cup of coffee with us whether they agree with us or not.

8700 N. Tarrant Pkwy, North Richland Hills, TX . . . We meet Saturdays at 6 pm.