Thursday, December 18, 2008

Why House Church?

Too many young adults are leaving the church and/or have already left the church. Too many adults period, actually. Normally, this occurs around graduation. In the past, it has been said that once they have a kid or two, they’ll come back to make sure their own children gets proper discipleship. However, in our current day and age, this doesn’t automatically happen anymore. In fact, having kids could be a reason not to go, since they are too busy now with the multiple sport seasons and activities that their kids are in. After all, my kid cannot miss out on the opportunity to develop his soccer skills through club in the winter while learning piano and playing basketball for school. Have you seen his/her homework lately? Lives are too busy to spend on church stuff. All they do is color Jesus pictures and play anyway, right? Besides, church is just not so relevant anymore. I go religiously (once or twice a month), and it doesn’t really have much of an impact on the rest of my life anyway.

Our culture is changing. People’s lives have already changed. Very few want formality in their lives. Many are seeking informal, natural expressions of life. We live disconnected lives and yet we crave true connection. We run here and there without the time or ability to stop and think and love and listen and be. We are constantly having messages thrown at us, while we just sit there, accept some and throw out most of what we hear. We want to be entertained because it’s nice to enjoy life in a relaxed way, but that is not truly what the Church is about. It’s not about entertainment and consumption. It’s about something else. It’s about loving God and loving others.

Many young adults these days see little correlation between the Sunday morning “show” and living the life that God has called them to. It may (or may not) make them feel good or “close to God” for a few moments, but it does very little to change their lives or equip them to actually live that life. Many know they should go, they’re just not sure why. After all sleep is really important on Sunday morning since they were up so late Saturday night with their friends. Speaking of friends, they seem to be what matter the most to them. It doesn’t matter so much what they do, as long as they do it together in fun, relational ways.

There are many reasons why young adults and others are leaving the church these days. Sometimes, it’s the church’s “fault”. (Someone hurt them.) Sometimes, it’s the cultural life they live. (Church just doesn’t fit anymore.) Sometimes, it’s simply the entrance of a sin that they don’t want to give up. (I kinda like partying and all that comes with it without having to feel guilty about it on Sunday morning.) But, no matter the reason, the Church and the mature in Christ stand responsible for doing something about it.

We need to create safe, accepting environments that are relationally based.
We need to connect with them, ask questions, and listen to their responses.
We need to be patient, give them space, and pray for them.
We need to give them a way to love others in natural, practical ways.
We need to offer them something to give their lives to that is a tangible, obvious expression of God’s love.

House Church provides these things. It is not the only model of Church. It is not the best model of Church. It is the original model of Church. It is also a culturally relevant, meaningful model of Church that is beginning to make a reemergence in the U. S. and around the world. There is a house church network in Dayton, Ohio of about 1,600 people. There is a house church network in Columbus or 4-5,000 people. There is a house church network in Grand Rapids, Michigan of about 4-5,000 people. House Churches around the world are too numerous to keep track of, much due to their necessity in persecuted nations.

House Church also provides a safe, natural way to connect seekers to God’s Kingdom. It provides neutral ground. My unbelieving dad used to tell me he couldn’t go to church, because the “roof would fall in.” He and others unbelievers don’t like sitting around for an hour or more letting a stranger tell them what to believe (albeit in entertaining or contemporary ways.) If we give them space to share their unbelief and why, then we can move the dialogue forward in sharing our own reasons for belief and how God has worked in our lives. Just giving them space to be who they are and invite them to consider where we are, encourages them toward faith instead of turning them away in rebellion or self-preservation.

As it turns out, God has given me a passion for small groups for the purpose of discipleship and fellowship. He’s designed me to be more of a facilitator than a proclaimer. He’s given me a passion for the lost, especially those who have given up on church or have never really gone. He’s made me the kind of person that doesn’t seek the spotlight or the stage, but prefers leading smaller groups and being one of many involved. There is great reason culturally for House Church. There is great reason spiritually for House Church. There is great reason organizationally for House Church. There is great reason in my design for House Church. More than anything, though, becoming a simple expression of Christian community brings glory to God.

Monday, December 15, 2008

I see the light!

I see the light! The light at the end of the tunnel, that is. I feel like I have been walking in some darkness without much good going on around me, yet faithful trudging along as God has called me. However, last week when I felt this way, I did a couple of things. I blogged about it and several let me know they were praying for me. And I sent out a prayer newsletter for our church plant that included several requests for myself. This I know, God is for me! One of the simpler scriptures (I think a Proverb), but so very profound. God is for me!

Here are some ways that God reminded me of that these past couple of weeks. Many responded to my email requests to add them to our prayer list, and many with personally encouraging words. I don't remember which day I had typed my last blog, but Tuesday, I believe I went home from work sick. I had a horrible, head cold that was giving me constant headaches. It was not fun. All this while trying to deal with all the other stuff in my life. I laid down at home for a couple of hours and then went to the Dr. The doc gave me a prescription, of course and I went home. I asked my wife to take it into town for me to have it filled and so she did. Before she ever returned within a couple of hours, I started feeling much better. I was able to breathe freely and I felt so good, I almost wanted to work out! I said, almost. :) And I hadn't even taken medicine, yet. I have a feeling people were praying for me. There was just no real explanation. I felt worse than any other day. I had a prescription that hadn't even been filled yet. And I had just laid down for a few hours, I didn't even sleep. Since, then I haven't been stuffed up once. My headaches were gone. Praise God!

I took a couple of trips to the suntan bed. Wow! That helped alot too. Most of my winter depression feelings have gone. Several days I've almost wanted to work out. I said, almost. :) I've actually felt really good for several days. Like you might in the late spring or a mid-summer day where you don't really have much to do. That part has been kinda weird and different, but nice. There were even a few moments, where I thought, I remember feeling like this as a kid or teenager. Energy level, carefree sense with no real bodily pain or fatigue. Interesting. I think people were praying for me. Praise God!

Finances have been an issue. I knew it would be a matter of time, but time had been waning. Then Sunday night came and Life House Community blessed me and my family considerably. Just like the day that they all prayed for God's direction in my life to be clear and I sensed God was telling me these were the people to partner with and start a church, I felt that same expression of community and love. I was dumbfounded, almost speechless. I could only think in blurbs, not sentences. Wow. Humbled. Blessed. Thankful. Surprised. Honored. Appreciated. Let's just say I'm not gonna waste any more brain power wondering how to fix the finances. Plus, this has given me an opportunity to be a giver and a fixer of some of my past mistakes. God is generous to us when we submit ourselves to Him and His will. God, thank you for some great people and being so faithful in my life! Praise God!

My parents came to visit this past weekend as well. As you may remember, we had a bad episode (My dad and I) at Thanksgiving and I've been wondering how and when to reconcile. My mom this past week sent us an email, saying they wanted to stop by and spend a little time with us on their way to Columbus. Initially, it sounded like just a few hours over a day or two. Well, as things played out, my dad changed his mind on their plans (there's a new one :) and they decided to stay at our house for two days and spend some time with us instead of more travel doing more things. Great, but what about the reconciliation? Well, in my heart, as you may or may not have heard. I had forgiven him. I don't let that stuff stay around, but I hadn't yet talked to him. So, they pulled up to the house on Friday evening and as they started to the door, I went out to greet them and help dad inside (b/c of his bad leg(s)). Immediately, he said he was sorry and I quickly responded with, "I forgive ya." We joked about it never happening again and went on inside to share the latest and greatest of our lives. The next morning on the way to Columbus together, we had a lengthy somewhat emotional discussion. It was good to talk about it. We definitely see things from different points of view, but the point is, I know he loves me and doesn't want to "fight." I hope I relayed to him the same. Someone said to me this past week that father and son stuff can be tough. Yeah, I know. And if anyone exemplifies that it is Jesus and God, the father. Now there relationship is one of pure love. But, imagine having to "give up" your only son and the son struggling with that in the garden and on the cross, but ultimately and completely being obedient to it. Wow. Tough stuff. Not to mention the beautiful picture of our heavenly father waiting for us with open arms, no matter how bad we've been or what we've said, ready to forgive us even before we get there. What a great, amazing, merciful father. Praise God!

And to top the weekend off, the Steelers beat the Ravens in a game they had no business winning. Wow, this is starting to be a habit of theirs. As long as the winning part continues, they can do it however they want. :) But, seriously, I hope they get their offense fixed. I think the Steelers game was just a nice little topping on a great, blessed Sundae(y)! Light shining brightly as I enter the end of the tunnel, or should I say, exit the tunnel. Praise God!

Can I praise God for the Steelers winning? Too bad, I already did. :) I'm not sure he had much to do with it, but I can praise Him for whatever I want. :)

We've got so many things to look forward to. My beautiful, talented, smart, leader of a daughter just finished a nice choir special in the mall. I got to spend some time with her. She is growing so big, so fast. She is such a beautfiful young lady, inside and out. When I look at my entire family, I have so much to be thankful for. One week ago, I knew it, but I couldn't feel it. Today, I am overjoyed by these realities. God has answered many prayers. He has given me great hope and has shown himself real in my life this week in a time that I greatly needed it.

Whereas last week, I said that my blog could have been a bit self-serving by calling attention to my woes and needs for prayer. This week, I hope you've been inspired by an amazing God who hears our prayers and knows our needs and wants to bless us. Oh, did I mention, God is on our side! God is on my side! He is for me! And He is for you! Praise God!

Thursday, December 11, 2008

My Spirit has been crushed...

I spent the morning working and hoping to add more prayer partners for our church planting network. Truth be known, I just needed more prayer for me, right now.

Today's blog might seem a little self-serving. But, today I need that.

About a year and a half ago, I determined that I needed to follow God, so I left my "cushy" full-time youth pastor gig to substitute teach for crumbs and do part-time... er quarter-time ministry to gain adult ministry experience and seek God's direction and timing to plant a church. Initially, it was amazing to see God make ends meet. I have no idea how He did it. Money just seemed to appear. Help came from many different places, most often not solicited. It was neat and great to trust God, though I had no idea how it was gonna work out. My faith was growing. I had even prayed about the future and where God was leading. God had answered me and was stirring new gifts and passions in me. Then all of the sudden, okay, maybe not all of the sudden, but over a couple of months, things changed.

That "God-directed" future took a turn and a door was closed, where once it had been perceived to be wide open and inviting. In the midst of that, I was offered a position that paid almost twice as many crumbs as what I was making subbing, plus provided a consistent paycheck! Wow! Praise God. He has amazing timing. I knew however that this job was not going to pay all the bills, that we would need to find another way to fund God's movement in our lives. There seems to be hope in that, but for today, my bank account is failing.

I'll be the first to admit, we or I should say, I have not been the wisest with my stewardship. Don't misunderstand, I've been a consistent giver to the Church and sometimes, others, but I've also been a consistent giver to too many banks through unwise percentage rates. But God is helping me get a handle on that. Our movement to this new journey in life has forced us to do that, if nothing else. Can I be honest for a moment, I kinda just want to go to Buca Di Beppo's without wondering how we're gonna pay for it. :)

In addition to that, winter depression (SAD, yes I know) is something I've struggled with over the last 12 years or so. Some years have been better than others. Last year, I hardly felt any effect at all. Others have been bad enought to want to quit ministry alltogether, move to Florida and live on the beach, as a bum. Well, normally it hits in late February or March. After too many sleepless weekends on youth retreats and lock-ins. I've had none of that this year and it's been bothering me for about a month now. I've been really wanting to start working out again. I've had a few weeks where that's happened a few that it hasn't. I've just been so tired and lack much motivation to do much. Not internally, mind you. I'm excited about where God has us. I have much vision and determination and passion to move forward. I'm loving this venture.

It's not really a circumstance thing. It's biological. I know I need to lose weight and work out too, but when you don't have energy all you want to do is eat cookies and lay on the couch. I have days where I persevere and I work out, but they seemed to be followed by too many days where I don't or I can't.

Let's add a bit more. A couple of weeks ago we were in Indiana for Thanksgiving. We arrive and there is a family dispute before we ever get there, to which we try and laugh about it and just roll the eyes. But, somehow, I got sucked into it. I tried to stay out of it, but I got sucked in. And a time or two, my emotions got the best of me. Amazing how family does that, huh? Anyways, we made it through the holidays and on our last night, an hour before we left my parents, I had, had enough. Emotions were exploding inside of me. I had to let it out, but I had to be a good little, Christian pastor type too. So, I let it out. And we left. I didn't say too much. I didn't attack. But, I did show a bit of displeasure. And we left.

Sometimes, I wish I didn't have emotions. Sometimes, I wish I could control them. I guess that would make me a robot. Or definitely something less than human.

So hear I am a week or two later, trying to figure out how and when to reconcile with my dad, who, of course, was who I was upset with. I've got this sinus cold for the last week or so that I've been battling. It was so bad Tuesday that I went home sick from work. I mean, if I'm going to get up early and go to work, at least I can work all day, right? So, I went home, got some medicine from the doc, and some rest.

I start feeling a bit better, so I make to work the next day, only to start the day with a mysterious phone call that we need to meet with my boss(es), payroll, and a union rep about my work hours. HUH? Where'd that come from? What's this about?

All of the sudden, I'm nervous all day. It has something to do with, maybe I'm supposed to be working til 4 pm, not 3 pm. It did. I was. We met and I found out that since the beginning of the school year, I was suppose to be working until 4 pm, not 3 pm. So, I'm like 93 hours behind. I've been being paid for those 93 hours, but I haven't worked them. AAAAAHHHHH!

Now I've got more than two weeks worth of work that I have to make-up. Sure, I've got plenty of time to do that. I think I'll do it tomorrow, when I'm doing nothing else. Egad! I was blessed with this job since I got off early and had plenty of extra time to work with church plant stuff. Meeting people, run errands, etc. Now I've got figure out how to rearrange my life again to fit everything in with one less hour a day or two (since I've got an extra hour to make up for the next 93 days of work). I was already so looking forward to having Christmas break off. Now doubly so, and I might even end up working a couple of days over break. That's sad to think about.

Okay, I'm done whining now. Today, I just needed to express why my spirit had been crushed. You may not care or you may be saying a prayer for me right now. Either way, it feels great to get it off my chest. Thanks for your prayers already.

I think I'm getting over my sickness.
I think I've got a plan for financial stewardship.
I think I'll feel like working out as soon as my sickness is all gone.
I think I'm gonna start a new diet next week.
I think, no, I know my wife loves me. She was extremely sweet and sensitive to me last night.
I think many people are praying for me.
I think that this day too, will pass.
I think my God is bigger than all my problems.
I think I'm blessed beyond what I recognize right now.

I got an email yesterday that was so timely and reminds me to just be thankful and it goes something like this.

Life Is a Gift

Today before you say an unkind word - Think of someone who can't speak.

Before you complain about the taste of your food - Think of someone who has nothing to eat.

Before you complain about your husband or wife - Think of someone who's crying out to GOD for a companion.

Today before you complain about life - Think of someone who died too early on this earth.

Before you complain about your children - Think of someone who desires children but they 're barren.

Before you argue about your dirty house someone didn't clean or sweep - Think of the people who are living in the streets.

Before whining about the distance you drive Think of someone who walks the same distance with their feet.

And when you are tired and complain about your job - Think of the unemployed, the disabled, and those who wish they had your job.

But before you think of pointing the finger or condemning another - Remember that not one of us is without sin.

And when depressing thoughts seem to get you down - Put a smile on your face and think: God is good, life with Him is better than it would be otherwise, and he is preparing a place for me right now as I type that will will cause everything else to just fade.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

We are arriving...

Well, that's a scary statement to start out with. I sense it. I know it. We are arriving.

Not arriving, in the sense that we've reached our destination, but more that we are on the right path. I know that this is where God has us and it feels good to be in the center of God's will. I know he will take care of us. I trust his guidance. I am at ease.

Yet, I still have a passion and burden to see God's Kingdom expand in the Springfield area. I want to see it now. I want to see people coming to know Jesus and growing in that relationship with Him and others. I do see it. It is happening. But, there is much yet to happen.

I read a book recently called Starting a House Church. It was one of those books that didn't say much that was new, but really clarified and communicated pretty much every thing that I've been thinking about and wanting to communicate about our vision for becoming a simple expression of Christian community that brings glory to God.

I hope everyone that would consider joining us would read it. It's my vision in 184 pages. Or it at least contains my vision. God is doing something new in our culture today. He is reinventing and renewing the Church. It is not a replacement for all those "bad" churches. It is a new thing for a new church that is yet to come to and know Christ. It fits my personality. It fits my giftedness. It fits my passion. Gee, I wonder how/why God has given me this vision. It just makes sense.

This simple church or house church is all about relationship. This is something I've been passionate about for quite some time. I don't come from religion. I didn't grow up in the church. I came to know Jesus at 19 years of age. It's not that I don't like rules, after all I've been accused of being a conformist and wanting lines to color within, it's just that rules aren't the way of Jesus. Life, love, relationship. That's the way of Jesus. He clearly points that out when he reminds this young man that the greatest commandment (rule, if you will) is to love God with all your heart, mind, soul, and spirit. But, he doesn't stop there and he doesn't give the greatest commandment without quickly following it up with the second is like it, to love others as yourself. All the commandments (rules, mind you) are based on these two things.

If I do nothing else, I know that Jesus wants me to love Him and love my fellow humans. Pretty simple, yet profound and not always easy.

I know this because I have a family. I come from a family. I have built friendships. I have had people fail to love me. I have had to learn to forgive. I have had to learn new ways to live. I have learned new ways to love. I have much more to learn, but I as I do, I know it is all about relationship. It is all about letting my relationship with God influence all of my other relationships. After all, until I've experienced his unconditional love, can I really do that for others? Until I know I'm fully accepted, can I truly accept ALL others? I don't think so.

It's easy to love those that love me. When someone is patient with me, I want to be patient with them. When someone compliments me, I want to help them. When someone shows me appropriate loving affection, I want to reciprocate that. But, what about when someone tricks me into taking sides in an argument? What about when they frustrate me by hurting others? What about when they attack me by poking holes in my defense? What about when they question my character or belittle me? What about when they don't meet my needs when I think they should?

How then, do I respond? Certainly this week, I know I've failed. I know I haven't been the person I want to be. I haven't loved in the face of attacks. I've fallen short and let my anger get the best of me. I've been sensitive and even selfish. Now, I'm not saying I didn't have a "right" to be angry or to lash out. When justice isn't served, we have a right to be upset. But, Jesus taught us another way to live. He showed us by his example.

Grace. Mercy. Love. Forgiveness. Humility. These are all things he exemplified in his life and in his teachings. These are things he expressed first to mankind, so that we may experience and then be able to share them with others. Everyone. Even our enemies, or those that attack us.

When people spit at him, he cried for them. When they punched him, he turned the other cheek. When they belittled him and called him names, he didn't retaliate. He had mercy on them. He gave grace when they didn't deserve it. He loved them despite their anger and evil actions. He forgave them while he was still on the cross being crucified. He showed true, genuine humility considering the needs of others far before his own.

Thank you, Jesus. I need your forgivness. I need your grace. I need your mercy. Give me your love. Give me your life. Give me your humility. Help me to forgive those who have hurt me, who have neglected me, who have disappointed me. Help me to grant mercy, grace, and forgiveness with unconditional love. Teach me your ways. Teach me your life. Help me to share it with others.

I was just reading the other day an article that reminded me of something so profound and so true. The church doesn't so much need better people as much as it needs people that are willing to be forgiven and to forgive others. Will you forgive me? Will you seek to be forgiven?