Recent Attempts at an Ancient Way for Church

The burdens that we accept are made more clear when we finally get free from them. Looking back, the extra stuff which was piled on is exposed for its worthlessness. All that should be left as we walk out faith which is increasingly easy and light should be the grace of Jesus, the love of the Father and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit.

We do church in a coffee shop and in no way do I think that we have it figured out and others have it wrong. In its simplicity, there have been some revelations of an ancient and easy way that may have been lost by way of best efforts, however. Without programs, promotions or professionals to administer them we are left considering the body and how people interact with each other as well as with the Head of the Church, Jesus.

We recently added to staff, which means we’ve added a part-time pastor. We only have part-time “pastors” and no particular guy who is “in charge.” There are elders who equally seek to agree on direction and facilitation of vision as the church fulfills its unique place and calling in the context of the Church overall in the Kingdom of God.

The implications of this model are numerous, starting with the idea that a “pastor” may or may not be pastoral. The “five-fold” ministry of eldership relies on the diversity of gifts to equip others to do ministry with Jesus left in His place as the Head of the church. That means that pastoral care and counseling might come to others via a dentist or other form of vocational professional who is gifted as a pastor. It also means that those that are compensated for their contributions to the church (again, on a part-time “bi-vocational” basis) are free to operate in their particular gifting and not try to be everything to everybody.

Recently, our new pastor (who actually is pastoral as well as evangelical) said to me, “I like coming here; it’s not like I’m coming to work and I look forward to the gathering.”

That’s it; it was never meant to be career management, but gifts and talents released in agreement with an eternal plan. Professional programming and metrics management isn’t part of the equation. The invitation of fitting uniquely in a group where your gifts are valued and released in unison with others frees up the “professional” to freely give without carrying a weight that isn’t designed for them to carry. It’s easy and light and should be enjoyable and maybe even some fun.

It’s One or the Other; Not a Combo Deal

There are two options for life: law or grace. They present a choice, not a combination. There’s no “Law- Grace Combo Option” for our inadequate attempts at performance when we want to enhance our chance of acceptance. Either we choose the self-reliant performance woven into the Law of Moses, or we accept the satisfaction of the law through the grace and sacrifice of Jesus.

Human nature pulls us toward the default position of keeping rules because—believe it or not—it’s easier for our flesh than relying on the finished work of Christ. Our flesh craves the tangible. It takes conscious effort to deny its innate bent toward score keeping. The letter of the law is what we point to as evidence of our self- provided righteousness. At the end of the day, we place a star in the box, measure our performance and judge ourselves good. Or not.

Our flesh pulls us to perform though we know we can’t pull it off. It produces shame and fear of exposure and conceals us behind Moses’ veil to hide the limitations of our soul, creating or reinforcing walls between us and God, us and other people, or both. Such walls stem the ow of grace.

We can’t enjoy the freedom of the New Covenant while striving to keep the Old. Energy meant for bold living gets spent struggling to hide behind the veil, and the covenant of Moses breeds insecurity from the certain knowledge we will fail and someone will actually see us. That insecurity results in prideful self-promotion as we try to hide our limitations.

Insecurity shows up as boastful arrogance or timid fear, both outward manifestations of pride. God never offers to meet us in our pride. In fact, He actively opposes a posture of pride: “God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble” (James 4:6). Our only hope is choosing the covenant Jesus offers, which means dropping the veil in humility to allow for our flaws. Our performance behind Moses’ veil puts us on display. Our flaws revealed on the grace side of the veil put Jesus on display. His glory shines.

Accepting the invitation into a life of grace-only is liberating and powerful. Sold out to the truth that we are “good enough” only by the gift of righteousness through faith in Jesus, we can stop trying to preserve the charade of our perfection. We can stop pretending in order to throw religious folks off the scent of our depravity. We can be about the true transformation of our souls.

Freedom is born from grace that lets us drop the veil to live authentically with others. They get to see us; really see us. Not everyone we know needs access to the closed closets and dark crawl spaces of our souls. However, for those with whom we have time-tested relationships, we foster transparency for the ongoing transformation that results in greater liberty.

Admitting our weaknesses and imperfections, we become strong and perfect in Jesus. His grace never blinks at our depravity but meets us eternally with redemption. He embraces us and removes our limitations so we walk in His fullness. From the realization of His grace, we know love; we know the Father through the Son.

From “Abundant and Free” available on Amazon by clicking here.

 

The Glorious Paradox of Life and Death

I do the stuff for a living and, as a result, the life can get sucked right out of me. When you are expected to know things, say things, write things related to God, the expectation is that you are at least a pretty good guy. After all, the God stuff you are presenting is good stuff and you are an avenue for that eternal good, so you should be temporally good. It’s a trap.

I’m not a good guy and when I think that I am, the disconnect begins. When I think that I’m basically moral, religious and that I do good stuff, my self-righteousness is being fed. I am forced to consider my good stuff to justify the good guy label. That is a road with no end that gets tiresome and it leaves open a flank susceptible to attack. The flip side of my goodness is my humanness and if I’m caught in the trap of being good, then I’m insecure related to my imperfections.

Taken a step further, when I’m tending to my self-righteousness, I’m completely disconnected from the righteousness of Christ. When I’m reinforcing my own goodness, I don’t need His grace. I’ve got it covered, after all, as I should since I’m a professional at His stuff. Ugh.

It’s only when I can embrace my depravity that I value His grace. When I value His grace, I can connect with Him. When I connect with Him, I receive His identity. When I receive His identity, I receive His righteousness. When I receive His righteousness, I am secure. My security, then, is rooted in recognition of my depravity; it’s a glorious paradox.

My soul is sick. Always has been and always will be. Jeremiah 17:9 says my heart (soul) is desperately wicked. It literally says by definition that it is incurable. There is no hope for it; it is terminal. It has to die.

It is only when I can recognize my incurable sickness that I can decide to go ahead and die. It’s only when I quit gasping for breath related to my goodness and give up that there is hope for me. The hope is not from me, but from Christ Jesus. He is my only hope. Yesterday, today and tomorrow; only Him through the dead me provides life through me, whether I do this for a living or not.

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.

Avoiding an Ambush

Years ago, when I was still single, I began to want more. I was living pretty fast, from one weekend to the next, and began to question where there might be more. I ducked into churches figuring that there would likely be some answers there.

At the time, I felt very inadequate by comparison to all the nice people who were there. After all, I figured, they were closer to figuring it out than I was since they were there before I arrived. My life and their lives had to be drastically different and I was sure they would disapprove of me if they knew more about me. I would sit on the back row and try to not engage with anyone, for fear of exposure.

At one of my visits to one of the churches, there was a powerful speaker and from what I could tell he was talking of things that were true. It felt like God was in it and the “more” that I was seeking was somewhere in or around this deal. Towards the end, with every head bowed and every eye closed, the speaker asked us to raise our hands if we thought or felt or decided something, although I truly don’t remember what that something was. In any case, I raised my hand from my seat in the back row.

The next thing I knew, there was somebody sitting next to me with a clipboard and a pen to get my information and ask me some questions. I was shocked at how efficiently they saw my hand that had been up for a few seconds and dispatched someone to close the deal, whatever the deal was. I felt tricked and ambushed and I never returned to that church.

Years later, what I know is that I am just as jacked up as the most confused seeker even though I’m there most weeks. I know that I speak and teach and minister and I am just as messed up as every regular attendee, seeker or critic. Whatever they are still figuring out, likely so am I as I still want to sit on the back row sometimes and just slip my hand up in the air without anyone converging on me with a clipboard.

We are all figuring it out and we don’t need to be tricked to take another step. We need to be loved. We need grace that displays itself as transparent honesty regarding our struggles and limitations. We need a knowing look of affirmation and encouragement more than we need our information captured. At least that’s what I need and I figure that I’m not alone.

Quest for Oneness Begins With One

Love is discovered in the most unexpected places.  For me, it was on a marriage retreat.  I can tell that’s going to take some explaining, after all why would discovering love be unexpected while away with my wife?  Because the love I discovered on retreat wasn’t for my wife.  Now I really have some explaining to do.  I knew I loved my wife.  The surprising love I discovered while on this marriage retreat was for me.

It was the next to last day of the weeklong retreat and as I’m prone to do, I rose early, poured a cup of coffee and was enjoying some quiet reading.  The night before, the founder and facilitator of the retreat asked if it had been a good week.  “It’s been great,” I told him.  “Great teaching and time with God, as well as between my Julie and me; great opportunities for us to set some things in order.  It’s been great.”

It was about to go from great to transformational.

While I didn’t hate me, up until that point in my life I never really loved me, either.  There’s a difference between self-hatred and a lack of self-love.  We can not love ourselves, even not like ourselves, and still not hate ourselves.  As I read in solitude that morning, Matthew 22:39 jumped off the page and into my heart as never before:  Love your neighbor as yourself.”

To understand the full impact of these five words we need to understand the context.  In Matthew 22:34-36, the Pharisees test Jesus by asking Him which commandment is the greatest.  Jesus’ reply to this final in a litany of questions confounds and silences the Pharisees.

“Jesus replied: ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’  This is the first and greatest commandment.  And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’  All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments’” (Matthew 22:37-40).

The greatest commandment isn’t just to love God but also to love others, but that edict to love others comes with a qualifier, “as yourself.”  The limitation on our ability to keep God’s greatest command to love is how much we love ourselves.  “Love your neighbor as yourself,” means the most I can love anyone is the degree to which I love myself.  Sitting on that couch drinking coffee that morning I realized I did not love myself.  Never had.

This was huge.  I can’t love others if I don’t love me.  As I pondered this truth, it got personal.  This was more than not being able to love the folks next door or the stranger at the grocery store.  It was deeper and more compelling than that.  Not loving me meant I couldn’t love my wife.  Not loving me meant I couldn’t love God.

I was wrecked and started to cry.  Once I started, I couldn’t stop; I wanted to love me and I wanted to love others.  I wanted to love my wife and I wanted to love God.  I cried, “Please, God, help me to love me.”  He answered.

From Abundant and Free; Seeing Life Through the Lens of Grace available on Amazon.

Note: The “retreat” mentioned is Q1: The Quest for Oneness more information available here.