Monday, May 10, 2010

Life House Community blog moving...

You can now find the new blog for Life House Community here...
I may continue to blog for personal purposes here, but we'll see. :)

Thursday, April 15, 2010

To Hold the Finger of God

Lately, I’ve been feeling disconnected from God. Today I went out on a walk during lunch because it was such a beautiful day and I couldn’t let that go to waste since the rest of my day was going to be spent inside. As I’m out on my walk I began to think about how disconnected I feel and why. Then I grab my phone and start to look at my facebook wall. Oops. I thought about reading my Bible, but didn’t really feel like it. Facebook opened and right as I began to read my wall, I felt prompted to exit the program. I did. I decided it’s time to try to connect with God again. I opened my Bible and picked up where I had left off, John 5.

Two thoughts were wondering through my mind as I walked. Eternal life is knowing God. This denotes relationship. The other thought was that of my counseling classes. The purpose of counseling is for the counselor to help a person overcome a place in life where they are stuck. This requires understanding. A counselor must first do his/her best to understand the client. This requires a genuine concern for the other person, communication skills, and the actual process of talking about the problem and getting to know the individual.

Knowing God. Understanding others. Knowing. Understanding.

A verse of scripture halfway through the chapter caught my attention. It is one I’ve heard before and understood from a perspective of ideal, but not too much, from one of experience. “The Son (Jesus) can do nothing by himself. He does only what he sees the Father doing, and in the same way.” Even Jesus only did what God was showing him to do. I imagine this requires a close personal connection to the Father. This requires knowing the Father. This requires understanding who God is and what He is doing. Knowing. Understanding.

As I read through the rest of the chapter, Jesus blasts the religious leaders because they don’t have life, they don’t believe Jesus was sent by God, and they don’t know God because they don’t have a clue as to what God is up to. (They think their rules are more important than healing people.) He reminds them how they should know God and Jesus as Messiah, but he makes it clear that they don’t. They would understand what he was about, if they knew Him.

Understanding. Knowing.

When parents raise their children with love, active involvement, the child’s best interest always in mind, selflessness and maturity, children grow in a safe environment where their needs are usually met. They mature with a real sense of trust in their parents because they’ve looked to them for support and they’ve received it. Their parents have demonstrated they can be trusted with their answers and guidance in life. This is not to say the parents have been perfect, but that they have been consistent and dependable. This environment and these relationships allow the child to grow and mature in ways that God intended and purposed. It doesn’t mean they never have problems or struggles, but that they can meet those challenges and overcome them.

When parents raise children and treat them as if they are a burden, look out for their own interests first, are not actively involved in their lives except when forced to be, continually put the kid’s needs aside because of their own desires, and act like children raising children, the child’s growth, maturity and general outlook on life will reflect such. They will often have severe emotional issues. They will struggle with learning to cope with even basic life problems. They may hoard food. They will often cry a lot. They will find whatever way they can to meet their need without regard to others. Additionally, they will most likely find it very difficult to ever develop a trusting relationship.

It’s sad, but true. I’ve seen the difference in kids. You can often see it in their actions and in their reactions. The differences in these two types of children and parents are great.

In these two scenarios I’ve described, the difference is the parents. In our biblical example, there is no difference. God is the same to both Jesus and those religious leaders. The difference is in understanding. The difference is in how they see their God. Do they see him as one who loves them and they can trust? Or do they seem him as one whose love is infinite and can always be trusted?

I imagined myself as a little child walking a path. When I see God as one who loves me completely and can always be trusted, I reach out my hand and HOLD THE FINGER OF GOD as we walk together along the path. I know He is the perfect Father. The last few weeks though, I’ve been a little five year old wandering a path by myself. Now mind you, I’m familiar with the path, but often become disoriented and distracted. Looking back, I know God has been there watching me, protecting me from harm, but I certainly wasn’t aware of it at the time.

When I reach out and HOLD THE FINGER OF GOD as a little child with complete faith and trust, I know I am walking in safe boundaries. I know God will lead me to better places. I am excited about the journey and not just the destination. All that I need will be provided. I have companionship that will never leave me.

I want to walk every day and HOLD THE FINGER OF GOD. Do you?

PS - As a parent, if you are struggling in your relationship with your son or daughter or they are wayward, my examples are not necessarily an indictment on your parenting. You may want to reflect and ask God what responsibility you hold, but in no way am I accusing parents for the wrongdoing of their children. I purposefully used the word "usually" because parenting is not a science. It is an art. And it involves the free will acting of more than one person. Besides, there is no perfect parent, except our heavenly Father.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Feed me, Seymour!

A common conversation among pastors, when I was one, was the complaint from folks in our congregations that they weren't "getting fed" or they weren't "getting anything" from church. At that time, my response was simply, you are asking the wrong question. Instead of asking "What am I getting?" ask "What am I giving?" I'm not saying this is the right or only motivation, but I know from my own experience that you always "get more" when you give than when you sit back and receive. (Sounds like some advice from mom, huh?)

As we have moved into a new form of church, I thought we had the answer. After all, as I saw it, our previous conventional form of church encouraged people to be passive spectators by sitting back, listening, and receiving. Not just that, but we even asked people to give money each week so that the "professionals" could perform this sort of service for them. That whole system reaked of "What am I getting?"

Our new form of church, simple and organic, is face to face, interactive, and levels the playing field between "professionals" and regular folks since we have no professionals leading our churches. We have a system that gives great opportunity for EVERYONE EVERY WEEK to give, not just receive. We try to remind each other about 1 Corinthians 14:26 which gives us instruction for this "When you come together, everyone has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation. All of these must be done for the strengthening of the church."

So there you have it. New form of church = fixed problem of consumer/spectator Christianity, right?! Wrong.

I've heard it a few times in the past month or more from folks that enjoy and are great participants in our simple and organic house churches. "We're not getting anything out of our times together." "I'm not getting fed."



The writer of Hebrews is dealing with this problem in Hebrews 5:11-14. People are staying stuck in dependence on someone else to feed them simple truths. The Bible often uses an analogy of being a baby or infant in Christ for someone who is new to or young in the faith. The "I'm not getting fed" comment is interesting. In life, who needs someone else to feed them? Babies. Infants. How silly would it be if my mom at near 60 years of age started googoo gahhing me at 36 years of age while feeding me my mashed potatoes by a spoon to my mouth like a little baby?! How crazy is that picture?! As I matured, mom taught me how to use a fork and a spoon to feed myself. At first, of course, she fed me milk through a bottle. I even learned how to hold that myself for a while. But, once we moved on to solid food and I grew teeth, I eventually learned how to feed myself. So now when we come to dinner, I don't have to worry about getting fed. I already know how to do that for myself.

So does that mean we never teach anyone who has been a Christian for more than a couple of years? Of course not. Do you ever feed another adult food? Sure you do. But, not in the same way as you do a baby. You don't have to googoo gaga anymore. You don't have to spoon feed them. You don't have to force it down their throat the way you think is best. You simply offer them some.

Here's how we do it our house. "Would you like some bread?" "Yes, thank you. Could you pass the butter too?" It is a give and take proposition, where we offer some truth and the mature individual considers it, ingests what seems good to them (tested by the Holy Spirit, of course) and offers their own take. (I like that, but with butter too!) This is how healthy adults feed each other. We don't need to hire a professional chef to give us a great show and feed us way beyond what we could hope to do ourselves (though that might be nice on occasion, I love those Japanese Steakhouses!), but in our day to day, week to week meeting together and sharing life, we can feed each other in mature, adult appropriate ways. That way, when we come together, our thoughts and expectations are not on what am I going to get out of this today, but rather how am I serving and feeding others?


Do we "attend" church to get something out of it? (as in a consumer mindset) Or are we getting the family together to celebrate and share life together? A consumer goes places, buys things, and invests their time for a payoff. They want to see a reward for their payment. But, a family member gathering with the family to share life simply goes because they love the people, they enjoy their times together, they are committed to these people, and they know life is simply better together than apart. It is better for everyone. Our meeting together also gives us great opportunities to serve each other. The Bible talks a ton more about giving to each other than it does in meeting together. In fact, there are only a couple of places in the New Testament that even admonish us to meet together. I think this is because meeting together isn't the point. Loving each other, encouraging each other, confessing to each other, giving to each other, helping each other, praying for each other, teaching each other, all of these things are why we meet! We meet to give. Obviously, a by product of everyone meeting to give is that we also receive. But, that's not why we meet. We meet to give.

This blog has gone a little longer than I'd hoped. (Imagine that.)

What do you think about these concepts? Does the form of church even matter? Are you going to give or to receive? Does this challenge your previous ideas or thoughts about what church is or supposed to be? How do you plan to change something in your life?

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Full-Body Functioning aka Team Work

The “Body of Christ” is a metaphor the Bible uses to describe the functioning of God’s people on earth. As Christians, we represent Christ to each other and to the world. Each of us have our own particular gifts, passions, and abilities which God has given us to equip each other and to impact the world in which we live. Full-Body Functioning refers to the value that everyone does their part. It is our vision that this happens both in our meetings, in our shared life together, and is taking place when we each go throughout our personal lives and interact with the rest of the world. The unique setting of simple and organic house churches, both allow for, and encourage participation by every member at every level.

The following lists contain some very practical examples of this idea in action.

During meetings…

* A leader may facilitate a meeting in such a way that maximizes participation by everyone.
* Teaching is discussion oriented so as to allow input from everyone.
* When seeking to make decisions, everyone’s input is requested and encouraged.
* We ask and expect the Holy Spirit to direct our meeting.
* Talkers listen. Listeners talk. Others ask questions.
* Different members may be asked to participate in leadership for bible discussion, children’s lesson, prayer times, or whatever need may arise.

Shared life…

* Everyone is free and encouraged to bring needs, questions, and ideas to the group.
* Anyone may request that the group consider a service project.
* Anyone may ask why we do or don’t do certain things.
* Anyone may bring an idea up for discussion.
* Everyone is encouraged to bring prayer needs, service project ideas, and event recommendations.
* Prayer-chain can be started by anyone at any time.
* Different service projects spark something different in everyone.
* Sometimes we want to do something out of the ordinary with our group.

Personal Lives…

* Express God’s love to everyone at work, school, community, family, and friends.
* Love their wives as Christ does the Church. Parent & disciple their own children.
* Bring Jesus and therefore hope to people through serving them and building relationships.
* Represent Christ to their community through their morals and upright relationships.
* Serve their boss as they would Christ. Help their co-workers. Lift others up

These are all things that we value much in working together as a team and each of us fulfilling our God-given roles in loving others.

What would you add to the list? What would you add to idea? How do you see things in relation to team work and/or full-body functioning?

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

What movitates me...

For over a month, my motivation for a lot of things has been waning. I asked myself, “what is wrong with me?” Over that time, I recognized it and thought to myself, “this too will pass.” I thought for a while that it was just a phase and I just needed to wait and it would pass. I hoped it wasn’t the weather for it was a bit too soon to let the cold weather get to me. We still had 3 or 4 months of cold weather on its way. I was hoping it was my dieting and workout routine since I had been working hard at losing 20 lbs (almost there) and I knew that would be over soon. I wondered if it had to do with my life circumstances changing in the past few years and it was catching up to me. I wondered if organic church life was impacting my life in ways that I hadn’t expected, if maybe it wasn’t all it was cracked up to be. Overall my relationship with my wife and daughters is as good as it has ever been, so that couldn’t be it.

In the past few weeks, I had shared my concern with others. I talked about it in our house church. I talked about it with my wife. I talked about it with my accountability partners. I talked about it with a house church coach I know. But, somehow I missed talking about it with the most important Person I know. My motivation to read God’s Word and/or to pray had been gone as well. So I guess I figured, “what good would it be to talk to God about it, I don’t really want to.” But after spending a half hour or so on the phone with the previously mentioned house church coach, I realized that the most important thing I could do would be to talk to God about it. I needed to get straight with God and share my honest feelings and struggles with Him. Somehow that conversation encouraged me enough to actually do it.

Yesterday, I opened my heart to God and I told him exactly how I felt. You know what? He listened and he responded with love and affirmation. He directed me to read Hebrews. As I read, I remembered how great Jesus was… correction, how great Jesus is. He is above all. He is greater than the angels. He is greater than man. He is greater than all of creation. He is above all.

In Him, there is mercy. In Him, there is grace. In Him, there is life. What I needed more than anything was to be reminded in a real and personal way, how great Jesus really is.

My life contains many good things. I have a wonderful wife. My daughters are a blessing beyond measure. I have some great friends. I really miss my Congo family right now and am looking forward to Christmas! I have a nice home. I am driving my dream car. I am working with a great group of people in a profession that helps people. I am following God’s call to plant churches. All of those things are really good. But, they all become devoid of much meaning without Jesus in my life. If my purpose is not found in God, then the rest is all for me. How self serving is that? It matters not how much we receive from others, but much more in how much we give to others.

I needed a new, fresh revelation of Jesus in my life. He loves me so much. He longs to display mercy in my life. He longs to give me grace. He longs to lavish his love on me.

I think it is interesting how I and many other Christians can talk so much about how Christianity is about a relationship with God and then we get caught up in outward religiosity ourselves. Can I just get caught up in Jesus loves me?!!

Now comes my confession though. As I read my Bible this morning, looking for something else, God brought something to my attention. If you read my notes/blogs and/or prayer newsletters, you will know what I’m talking about. Maybe you haven’t thought of it in this way, but I was convicted this morning.

I was reading Matthew 7 this morning and it said this…

You cannot serve two masters: God and money. For you will hate one and love the other, or else the other way around. So my counsel is: Don’t worry about things – food, drink, and clothes. For you already have life and a body – and they are far more important than what to eat and wear. Look at the birds! They don’t worry about what to eat – they don’t need to sow or reap or store up food – for your heavenly Father feeds them. And you are far more valuable to him than they are. Will all your worries add a single moment to your life? And why worry about your clothes? Look at the field lilies! They don’t worry about theirs. Yet King Solomon in all his glory was not clothed as beautifully as they. And if God cares so wonderfully for flowers that are here today and gone tomorrow, won’t he more surely care for you. O men of little faith? So don’t worry at all about having enough food and clothing. Why be like the heathen? For they take pride in all those things and are deeply concerned about them. But your heavenly Father already knows perfectly well that you need them, and he will give them to you if you give him first place in your life and live as he wants you to.

So don’t be anxious about tomorrow. God will take care of your tomorrow too. Live one day at a time.

This last line is one I need to constantly remind myself. I live so much of my life thinking about tomorrow. Some call that being a visionary. Maybe.

But the Word didn’t say don’t think about tomorrow. It said don’t be anxious about tomorrow.

Why? To be anxious about tomorrow demonstrates a lack of faith in God today. It reveals my lack of trust in the God that loves me so.

I admit, I’ve worried about my finances. I’ve worried about church finances. God has convicted me not to worry. He has convicted me to trust Him. He loves me so. He will provide what I/we need.

There is so much more I could write. But, I will conclude here today.

Know this. God is still speaking. I am listening again. His grace and mercy are greater than my need. He loves me. He loves me so.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Desperate & Discouraged

Yesterday I felt desperate. Then I felt discouraged. I wanted to talk about it last night when my emotions were in a swirl, but I didn't want to talk about it last night while my emotions were in a swirl and regret saying something or sound too whiny either. In these moments, I try to remember, "this too will pass."

In the afternoon, I was preparing a rough draft of our financial budget for our house church network. (For my pastor and parachurch ministry friends out there, I know I've said enough, you understand completely.) However, for those who don't understand, here are a few tidbits. When you start looking at the total amount given and you start looking at what could help you reach the next level as a church/ministry or in our case as a house church network and things don't even come close to matching up, it's easy to have some intense emotions connected to that. The increased part of that for me is the type of idealism that we are trying to reach. We want to create a church system whereby most of our money goes to help those in need. We want to give away more than we use. And of course, we are still in an infant stage, but this is also where precedent can/must be set in many ways. What do we stand for? What are we about? What do we hope to accomplish? What is our vision? I believe WE ARE living those things out for the most part, it just doesn't show up on paper in black and white. Which, I suppose is fine, but it has it's emotional struggle attached to that for me. The question I'm left with is, "how do you live in a church paradigm where your intent is to help the needy instead of using it on yourself in the form of salary, building, and programmatic needs, when you have salary, building and/or programmatic needs?" This is the tough question we are dealing with. And it carries with it a lot of emotion. To be honest, I feel responsible for the failure because my family needs it's portion through a part-time salary to maintain our own survival mode of life. I do see light at the end of the tunnel. My wife may go back to work next school year. I'm going to start a Master's program to be a school counselor that should take 2-3 years. Our house church network will conceivably grow. The economy will pick up. But, all of those things are still in the future.Today, I feel desperate.

Then later in the evening I was reminded of where we are as a people learning how to love one another. In the midst of a nice, friendly discussion learning about organic church, a heated and emotional conversation took place that left me wondering why are we doing this? One of my goals in starting a house church network is to see increased depth of relationship and truly loving one another in Christian community. While I will not say that our flare up was in opposition to this truth (in many ways it was the result of depth of relationship), it still left me wondering. My mind wandered to the other situations that I've experienced with members of our house church network that made me wonder,"is this increased Christian community or is it the same old, same old?" I began to get discouraged.

One reality of depth of relationship is an example of when a couple gets married. I know a greater depth of relationship has this great appeal to it, but with that comes a whole new reality. Consider when a bride is getting to know her new husband. At first, the socks on the floor aren't that big of a deal. But, after some time, somehow it becomes a big deal. Does she still love him? Why, of course. Does he still love her? We think so. But, now the harsh reality of depth of relationship causes them to figure out how to love one another. Sounds rather simplistic and unimportant, but socks left on the floor of a relationship over time lead to harsh emotions of feeling uncared for and/or even abandoned in a relationship. Common, practical patterns of behavior lead to conflict and/or emotional struggle for two people trying to experience a deeper sense of relationship. The rubber has met the road.

The discouragement comes when we forget these realities are inevitable. The encouragement comes when we remember that these are opportunities for growth, for responding to a person's expressed needs, and being reminded of how very much our interactions and lives affect others. Another problem we have is telling a person we have a problem with that we have a problem with them. We think if we sweep it under the rug, it'll be okay. We think if we just talk to someone else about it, we'll feel better. We think if we can try to just manipulate things behind the scenes, we will get our way. The truth is all of these things cause damage. They can destroy a relationship. The best thing we can do is to simply tell someone what our problem with them is and ask how we can do things differently. Remember, problems are created by two. Someone does something I don't like, then I respond in a certain way (emotionally or in my mind, even). Therefore fixing the problem needs the work of two people. Perhaps someone can change the way they do things or perhaps they don't need to, but you just need to understand why they are doing what they are doing. Perhaps a little of both is necessary. Perhaps a lot of both is necessary. The key here is to be willing to share the offense you've felt with the person who offended you in a kind way, seeking a solution that will increase your relationship. Of course, it takes two to reconcile. But, as much as it is within your power, seek to live at peace with everyone. SEEK! That takes effort and initiative, not passivity, not avoidance, and not manipulation.

Wow! And to think last night, I was desperate and discouraged. Today is a new day! Even now as I've worked through these issues through blogging, I feel much better! I feel great hope! I know God will help us through as we seek His direction and guidance. I am reminded of his grace and mercy and how much we all need it. I hope you have experienced that as well and are helping others to experience it through a depth of relationship that speaks volumes and volumes of love for others!

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Sittin at Cracker Barrel

Have you ever wondered if what your doing is making much of a difference? That is something that I've done alot of over the years. Of course, that question was much more difficult for me to deal with when I wasn't following God's call on my life.

Today, it's different. I question and wonder if all I do is making a difference. But today, I know I'm following God's direction in my life. Not only have I followed the call to plant a church, but I've seen that church reach an important goal of muliplying into 3 churches. Another great aspect of that are the stories I hear from folks in those churches. Great levels of depth of relationship. Folk gettin real with each other and with God. Leadership being exercised. The church being the church. Is there much to be done? Are the churches yet being and doing everything they could or should?

Of course not, but neither is/does my 4 year old daughter. She is cute as all get out and brings me much joy, but she is not a finished product. She still struggles with being away from mom for any period of time. She hasn't even considered the aspects of reproduction (thank God for that!) She can read some (or at least memorize the words my 8 year old taught her -which is an amazing lesson in itself, my 8 year old teaching my 4 year old how to read - that makes a daddy proud and dumbfounded :) but she can't read or understand some more difficult texts. She doesn't have a clue about relationships yet, but she knows she holds a key to my heart.

Now that I think about it, there is much to be thankful for in our church planting efforts. We are still very much in our infancy stages, yet some very good things are happening. I guess my wondering this morning has to do with the finished product aspect and the one responsible for getting there.

I have long accepted the responsibility for things that are not my responsibility. One of my favorite reminders from scripture is, "unless the Lord builds a house, it's laborer's labor in vain." No, I'm not making a difference, if I think I'm the one that's gonna make a difference. :-)

I've been reading Organic Leadership by Neil Cole. It had a great reminder for me/us last week. God is not calling us to be "successful" in the eyes of the world (even the modern church world) but he's calling us to be faithful, fruitful, and to finish strong. We've only just begun.

Now about the fruitful/finished product that I hope to see...

I envision people who don't know Jesus walking with us in such ways that they are introduced to God's Kingdom at work in the lives of Jesus' followers. I see them being challenged with the gospel. I see them making life changing decisions. I see God transforming their lives in ways that could only be explained by the Holy Spirit's work. I see people growing in great maturity in their faith bc of their personal contribution to their house church and the folks they interact with every day. I see people digging deep into God's Word bc they simply want to know Jesus. I see folks responding to God's love in such ways, they begin to give much more than they receive from others bc they are aware of how much God has given them and continues to give them. I see folks working through some difficult issues in their lives, that otherwise they might have stepped away from a church and not dealt with. I see multiple generations of house churches multiplying before our very eyes. (Someone said, if you say multiplying is in your vision, your vision is not fulfilled until you see a church multiply a multiplying church that has multiplied multiplying churches. :) - think exponents. Another aspect I see is when God has enabled me/us to volunteer our ministry to the network. If you want the entire body to jump in and participate, I believe you gotta get away from paying people to over compensate for those that aren't exercising their gifts. (I hope to start grad school at Wright St in Jan to be a school counselor!)

Thank you for reading. Now my question for you is what do you want to see happen? What has God put in you to partner with Him to make an impact in the world?! How will you respond to God's great love for you?!!