Monday, January 16, 2017

Kevin's Story

I hope more and more of you who read this blog send your stories to me. If you are interested in sharing your church journey with the rest of us please just let me know in the comments section of any post. I will reply, and we will go from there.

Today I'm linking to Kevin's story. Click on over, and see what you can learn from his journey. If you have any words of wisdom and/or encouragement please send those his way, too.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

The Greatest Among You Will Be Your Servant

"But you are not to be called ‘Rabbi,’ for you have one Teacher and you are all brothers. 9 And call no one your ‘father’ on earth, for you have one Father, who is in heaven. 10 Nor are you to be called ‘teacher,’ for you have one teacher, the Christ. 11 The greatest among you will be your servant. 12 And whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted." (Matthew 23:8-12, NET)

Thursday, January 12, 2017

They Don't Know Where You Are

One struggle we simple church folks have is that we often don't know where other like-minded Christians are. We may as well be asking one another, "Excuse me, but where are you?"

I live in Savannah, Georgia. Our fair city has only one mega(ish)-church. This facility happens to sit less than ten minutes from where I live. Because it is so big, just about every Christian in Savannah knows where it is located.

My wife Alice and I don't have a sign outside our home. We don't have a website. We don't put on shows. We don't require police officers to direct traffic. The fact is that we don't "have a church." Rather, we simply gather with friends in our home a few times per month (other times we meet in friends' homes). Nothing about what we do stands out as unique. Therefore, nobody really knows where we are.

I find this predicament sort of sad. I believe there are other Christ-followers in Savannah who desire to gather simply, following the biblical model as faithfully (if imperfectly) as we can. However, I don't know where they are, and they don't know where we are. I don't have an easy answer for this.

When I look in the New Testament it appears that the believers who received Paul's letters knew each other. For example, when we read the epistle to the Christians in Rome the context implies familiarity among believers in that city. How did they all know each other? Were there so few that it was no problem? I do not know.

God has a mysterious way of bringing His people together. Alice and I have prayed about meeting others, and God has often delivered. Prayer is certainly critical, which almost goes without saying. Beyond that, however, what sorts of things do you do to meet others?

This post is not a lament, a complaint, or a temper tantrum. Rather, I'm simply curious and a bit confused. If you have any ideas I'd love to hear them. Thanks.

Monday, January 9, 2017

Tim's Story

I'd like to share more and more of your church stories/journeys with one another. We all have much to learn from both what we have experienced and what we are currently experiencing. Today I'm sharing Tim's story with you. Enjoy!

Tim and Judy's Journey Towards Greater Obedience

I was born in the Philippines to Baptist missionary parents. Except for 3 years of "furlough" living in the San Francisco Bay Area, I lived in the Philippines, attending mostly Filipino churches which are formed just like American churches. My parents were in Bible school administration and teaching, training Filipinos to lead the school and church. My father taught the men how to use the original languages and my mother taught music. Since the 1950's, the evangelical church has been exploding with growth into more remote barrios, in greater ways than most countries in Asia or in the world.

When I was seven, I realized I was a sinner and could receive forgiveness by placing faith in Christ's death and resurrection. At 13 I was baptized during one of our furlough years. After graduating from high school in the Philippines, I attended a Christian college in Oregon. For the first time in my Christian experience I engaged in Bible teaching that included extra reading, writing papers that were graded, interaction with teachers, and testing to determine if I had learned what I was taught. I had never experienced this quality of teaching in church life. The strict one way communication with no other response on my part but to listen seemed odd. I was also taught to test what I was taught to see if it was really true. I was confused by my church life in general. I knew it was important because God was involved. In my second year I was listening to a radio preacher who talked a lot about the importance of being a shepherd/pastor for God's people. I had a deep emotional experience, complete with tears, where I concluded God was calling me to become a "pastor". So I joined the Pastoral Education Major. Immediately I began to learn about contradictions between what God's word said a Pastor did and what I was told a pastor should do. The first was when a nationwide preacher came to the school for special meetings. They gathered us budding "pastors" into a leadership meeting. He told us that as a pastor, we must maintain a professional distance from the people. We were the shepherd and the people were the sheep. The two don't connect with mutuality or intimacy. I knew from reading Paul's relationship with the churches that this was bogus. I determined I would not be that kind of pastor. The second issue was sitting in homiletics class learning to lecture the Bible every week to "teach" God's people. I wondered, does "preach the word, in season and out of season" really mean lecture the word by only one man for the whole time with zero participation from any other believer for their whole life? I realized there was no way you could "exposit" this text or any other text to strictly mean lecture by one man in perpetual dependency.

I graduated and was called to be a youth pastor. I knew I was thinking outside the box and that might cause trouble. I was going to be a member of the local family of God, not just a hireling to keep the programs running smoothly. As a youth pastor I realized I was primarily a program developer for different youth age groups so they would "grow spiritually". Making disciples was not included. In a year the Sr. Pastor took a different job, and the Associate Pastor left to be a missionary. Things did not go well from then on. I was "asked to resign" which means I was told to write a letter telling the people God was calling me somewhere else. That meant I was being asked to lie to make it look like my leaving was my choice. I lied, but decided I would never tell that lie again. I realized I could be a more faithful pastor serving for free as a businessman so I would not be forced by a church management board to do things that were not making disciples. I also realized my "call to the ministry" came from men, not God. There is no call to never work a job and lecture the Bible to believers every week of their life so they never say one word to their fellow believers during the "worship service". There is a call to the opposite of that. When I say this I'm not questioning anyone else's sincerity. I am questioning the accuracy and source of their experience and their willingness to test what they have been told with the scriptures. I have seen every scripture used to justify this, and they are all twisted. Example: Romans 1:1 "Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God,..." This is used to mean "set apart from working in business so you can devote all your time to 'gospel' things." This is corrupted exegesis at many points. 1. The term "set apart" is a locational movement. He is leaving to bring the gospel to "all the nations" verse 5, including Rome. Verse 6. 2. The rest of the NT tells us Paul always combined marketplace work with his spiritual leadership no matter where he was. Any time he received financial help was temporary and always from saints in another town, never from where he was currently working. (Big distinctions ignored by hired experts.) 3. This "calling" creates a false dichotomy between "secular work" and "sacred work". Col. 3:23 says "whatever we do" is to be "serving Christ". Every second I am doing filthy, smelly, despised tasks, I am serving Christ. Employees are watching and see my example of joy in this work. My marketplace work is "full time ministry."

I was dating a woman I met at college. She managed her parents business. In 6 months a position opened up, and I moved to that town to learn business. This was an amazing provision of God as he was completely redirecting me out of professionalized church leadership. I am amazed as I look back. We began serving together as volunteer leaders in a large church youth ministry where one of my classmates was on staff. Finally we were making disciples. We were married in that church and over the course of 15 years served in almost every area of ministry as our two boys were born and grew up. At this time I was learning about more corruptions in this corporation oriented form of Church. I realized that it was considered normal for churches to consume 84% of their "giving" to buy services for those who gave the money. Only 16% on average went outside the church door. I was shocked to realize I was consuming most of my "giving." I asked God, "Is there a way to do all of church and send 100% of my giving beyond my own "needs"? God began answering that question immediately with scripture, very clear scripture I had been blind to. I, every preacher, and every pew sitter were blind to these truths. Example: Hebrews 10: 24 "And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, 25 not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near." The "meeting" believers are not to "neglect" was "stirring up one another" and "encouraging one another." I had heard this preached all my life, and the meeting was strict one way communication by one man, the exact opposite of every believer participating in "one another" oriented communication. Wow! There it is. This does not require a hired pastor or a special building, the two things that force the consuming of 84% of the "giving," or it should really be called pooling. God did not stop with just this one scripture. He added more and more.

I began sharing these scriptures and many others with the saints in this fellowship, including the staff. I was on the church board so I had an "open door" with the Sr. Pastor. That door quickly shut, and the saints had no interest in talking further about these things. Soon there after the Administration Pastor and the Chairman of the Board asked to have lunch with my wife and me. We all know what that means - the official warning of being "unruly" or "out of step" from 2 Thes. 3. My wife and I realized it was time to exit and begin practicing obedience to God's instructions regardless if anyone we knew was interested. That was about 20 years ago. This journey has been completely unpredictable from one year to the next. I have stories to tell of people God connected us to and then separated, and then connected again, and so on. We have seen the power of what I call 100% church.

1. 100% of the giving goes out the door. NO pooling any money to bless ourselves. We received the truth without paying so we distribute it without anyone paying (Matthew 10:8b).
2. 100% mutual relationships . No power pyramid. No honorific titles. No offices for reserving ministry for a few experts. We are all brothers, all servants and slaves.
3. 100% two way communication. There are 58 one another instructions and no lecture instructions unless you want to assume into the text.
4. 100% reproducing leadership. Everything a leader does is "entrusted" (2 Tim. 2:1-2) to those who are "fully trained" (Luke 6:40).
5. 100% intergenerational gatherings. Never send the children away. Children can pray, read the scriptures, talk about the scriptures, ask questions, select songs they love, pass out hugs and love on people, etc. They are never considered a nuisance.

Last year in July, my wife was diagnosed with Leukemia. On December 5th God took her home. The grief for this loss is great, but I know God is working everything out for His purposes, including Judy enjoying heaven. As I share God's call to greater obedience, to further reformation with believers in traditional churches, I am finishing a free book called "When Men Are Paid To Lead". I go through most of the texts where Paul specifically teaches by word and example that spiritual leadership should always be connected with marketplace work. I have been shocked at what I have found. I am not surprised at how every professional commentator or preacher trashes their principles of exposition and explain away 8 texts on the basis of their twisting 3 texts to say the opposite of what it says. My book isn't professionally edited yet so maybe that will get done at some point. It's in PDF format so anyone who wants it can have it.

These things are not the end of transformations and clean up God wants for his church. There are many more. I'm watching out for what's next. I want to be ready.

Friday, January 6, 2017

The Babylon Bee Does It Again

The Babylon Bee puts out an impressive amount of religious satire each week. As with any site, some of the posts are better than others. Every couple of weeks they publish a piece that is flat out excellent. This one fits that category: Culture In Which All Truth Is Relative Suddenly Concerned About Fake News. Enjoy!

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

"Come Be Our Pastor Even Though We Don't Know You and You Don't Know Us!"

Shortly after I resigned from being an institutional pastor, the church where I had been employed put together a search committee. After sifting through resumes and conducting interviews, the church hired a man to be their new pastor. He had previously worked as a pastor in another state, but came to Georgia for this new job. I'm glad to say (for both him and the church) that he remains at the church five years later.

The above procedure is the norm in our country. When a pastor departs a church - for whatever reason - the church's response is to hire someone else. The person they end up bringing in is almost always someone they did not know prior to the resume/interview process. Essentially, the church is saying to the person they select, "Come be our pastor even though we don't know you and you don't know us."

Frankly, this is an odd arrangement. One of a pastor's primary functions is shepherding. How can a pastor shepherd a flock he doesn't even know?

Also, when we look in the Bible we see that character, not skill, is what is most important for a pastor. How can a church possibly make a judgment call about the character of someone they have only spoken with a few times?

What the church in our country has done is adopt the secular business model. As in so many other ways in church life, institutional Christianity has rejected the model God has given us in scripture. When we look in the Bible we see something stark: elders (a much more common term than pastor) always came from their own churches.

Let me state that again: elders always came from their own churches.

Local churches in the New Testament didn't put together search committees to look through a stack of resumes. Rather, they simply watched the lives of the men in the church. They then recognized men of high character for being what they already were: elders. After they were recognized, they didn't change what they were already doing.

Today's churches have this whole process upside down. It's no wonder that pastors come and go about as frequently as college football coaches do. The hired pastor doesn't know the people and they don't know him. It may work out, but it probably won't. He'll likely stay for 3-4 years, but then move on to "greener pastures."

This mess of a model doesn't work. Churches would be wise to look within. They should be mentoring young men through the years so that when they get older they can take over some of the eldering functions. More important, churches should foster high character from within. Looking outside only leads to the current sad situation we have in our country.

Elders must come from within.

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Do You Have 2017 Goals? I've Got Five.

I find goals both healthy and frustrating at the same time. They're healthy in that they motivate us to strive after something that we probably wouldn't otherwise. They're frustrating because sometimes unforeseen factors pop up in our lives that keep us from reaching said goals.

Keeping that in mind, I've decided to set five personal goals for the year 2017. I'm only selecting five because that makes it challenging but attainable. Additionally, these five are both personal and quantifiable. In other words, I have quite a bit of control over the outcome since they are generally self-focused and measurable.

I'm writing about these because I want both a constant reminder and accountability (from you).

Here we go (in general order of importance):

1. Read the entire New Testament. I haven't done this in years. This goal will spur me back into the scriptures. I need to soak in the word much more than I have recently. I haven't decided for sure, but I may use the New American Standard Bible. This version was a favorite of mine in seminary, but I've sort of ignored it for the past decade. I'll give it another go.

2. Pass my second college class and get re-certified as a school psychologist. This past fall I took and passed an online college class from ASU. In a week or so I'll be doing the same. Upon passing the second class and obtaining re-certification in Georgia I can apply in the local schools for psychologist positions. This is a job I had years ago and would like to get back into. Please note that I have not made getting the job as a goal because I cannot control much of what those hiring decide to do. Getting the job is a hope, not a goal.

3. Stay healthy. This involves eating correctly and exercising. My specific goals are to get my weight consistently into the 160's, run at least four times per week, and complete this marathon. I also hope to get 100% off soda (I drink too much diet junk right now).

4. Visit some place new. This is a two-pronged goal. First, I desire to visit somewhere in Savannah that I have yet to see. This will be a bit tricky since we've lived here for years, but there is enough cool stuff around that I think I can make it happen (like maybe here). Second, I'd like to visit some place new for me outside of Savannah. I don't know about this one. If I have time to travel in the summer it will likely happen. If not, then I'm not certain. This spot is a day trip possibility (I've wanted to go there for a while).

5. Blog once per week. I think this is a reasonable goal. I could post all sorts of filler, but I don't want to waste our time. Also, I will probably post links to various articles now and again. The once per week refers to specific posts of my own. Many will focus on church life (the good, the bad, and the ugly) or cultural issues.

I'd like to help other people with what they are hoping to accomplish, but I didn't list those here because I'll only have limited control over the outcome. Also, others' goals may not be quantifiable.

What about you? Do you have any goals for 2017? If you do, what are they? If not, what's holding you back?

Friday, December 30, 2016

A Short, Helpful Video on the Political Situation in Modern Israel

Regardless of what you think about the modern state of Israel from a religious perspective, you will benefit from this excellent video's explanation of the political turmoil between Israel and its neighbors. While the video's name is over the top, the actual content is solid.

Thursday, December 29, 2016

2016 Is Not Killing People

The older I get the more tired I grow of people offering up mindless platitudes when other people die. This is happening quite a bit right now as several celebrities have died within the past week. This blogger provides some helpful, sane, realistic, and truthful thoughts regarding what has brought about many of these celebrity deaths: substance abuse.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Small Groups Shouldn't Have to Exist

I found the above graphic on a random church's website. The clear implication is that their church needs small groups in order to do life together because "We can't do life alone." Another (I'm sure unintended) implication is that their other church activities do not involve doing life together.

It is a sad thing that so many churches in our country feel the need for small groups. The reality is that small groups shouldn't have to exist. When a church gathers, mutual edification and fellowship should automatically occur. However, churches that express the need for small groups are admitting - albeit inadvertently - that their worship services, for example, do not foster community.

When any church comes together, it ought to feel like a family gathering. Assuming that you had a nice Thanksgiving Day with family, that is how a church get together should be. You hang out, talk a lot, eat a bunch, discuss life, and maybe even watch some football (especially if an awesome team like my Buffalo Bills is playing). Christ's body comes together for the very purpose of the mutual upbuilding of the body.

In the context of church gatherings, the Apostle Paul writes, "What then, brothers? When you come together, each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation. Let all things be done for building up" (I Cor. 14:26).

Paul also says the following, "Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love" (Eph. 4:15-16).

Mutual edification is not some by-product of church meetings. It is the primary purpose of those meetings!

Small groups should not be needed because every church activity ought to be doing life together. That's how mutual edification occurs. If that's not happening, then those other activities should be quickly jettisoned.

Large churches embrace small groups (or "Life Groups" or whatever else they are called these days) because their large worship service/ceremonies do not bring about mutual edification. It's that simple.

When we follow the pattern for church life that God has given to us in the Bible, then there's no need for small groups. This is because the small setting, with meetings ideally occurring in homes, naturally leads to mutual edification and healthy body life.

Monday, December 26, 2016

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

Well, this post is a day late but I do hope you had a wonderful Christmas day yesterday. I also hope that you have some time off work this week to spend with family and friends. Against all odds, I actually have twelve (12!) days off in a row. It is glorious.

As you can probably tell, I’ve been in a blogging rut of late. I love Christ and His church and am (I hope) living this out. However, I can’t find much to write about. Therefore, my post frequency has dropped. I’d rather only blog a couple of times per month than post a bunch of filler. We’ll see what happens as 2017 approaches.

Speaking of that, I hope you have a blessed New Year and a great beginning to January!

Sunday, December 11, 2016

What Can I Do? What Can You Do?

I confess to lamenting too much about what the church in this country is not. When I look in the Bible I see so much modeled for us, not to mentioned commanded to us, that the church fails do to and be. This can get demoralizing after a while.

While not ignoring the obvious problems in the body of Christ, I’d like to focus at least a little more on what the church can be. Christ’s body has great potential for good specifically because it is in Christ. Through His power we can glorify Him through edifying each other and serving the world. I’d like to spend time thinking about what I can do to make the church stronger.

It’s just so easy to point at what others are failing to do. It’s much more convicting to muse about what I can do differently. For one, I know that I need to take my focus off myself and place it upon the needs of others. I’m not saying that I necessarily like that idea, but frankly it needs to happen.

I encourage you to think along with me. What can you do differently to greater serve the body of Christ and/or the world?

Friday, December 2, 2016

"Nation Shocked, Horrified As Christians Hold Christian Position"

Satire is best served when it comes very close to reality. The Babylon Bee manages to do this again and again. A recent post entitled "Nation Shocked, Horrified As Christians Hold Christian Position" is one of their best.

Click here to enjoy.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Peter's Story

I'd like to thank Peter for sharing his story with us. Like many of you (and me), Pete is a follower of Christ but does not attend an institutional church. He's the first person to take me up on the offer of posting his story on my blog. Thanks Pete! Everything below is word-for-word what he emailed to me:

First, let me share with you that I do believe in God, Jesus as my Lord and Savior, I do not neglect reading and studying God's word, and I do fellowship with other believers on a semi-regular basis. With that said, I'll move on down the road.

It all started when a friend asked our pastor "how do you address the needs of seniors in our congregation." Well, he said, "they just kind of fall through the cracks." When our friend told us that, it really started me thinking, "something is wrong here. It's about relationships right?" So, our friend suggested that we start a home fellowship. I wish I could paint a picture that everything went smoothly, we started a home fellowship and we lived happily ever after, but it didn't happen. I was riddled with guilt about not attending the "Institution" on one hand, and on the other hand, in retrospect, I wasn't being led by the spirit.

However, these events set the wheels in motion for me to research and find out the truth about the Institutional church and how it had become a system cloaked in the "traditions of men" after the first century.

So, where am I today?" Do I attend a home fellowship?" Nope! "Do I fellowship with other believers?" Yup! "Am I excited about reading your stories of how you transitioned out of the Institution to meeting as the First-Century believers did?" You betcha I do! "Will we make some connections with each other?" I sure hope so!

Monday, November 28, 2016

An Opportunity to Tell Your Story

Since you are reading this blog, you probably have some sort of unique church story. It's likely that you at one time were part of the institutional church model, but have departed from that for simpler waters. Or, you may be struggling with institutional practices, but have not left because you love the people with whom you meet. Or, it's possible that you've never been involved in the institutional model and have no intention of doing so. Or, you stumbled upon this blog and have no idea what you are reading about.

Assuming that you are not part of the last option I mentioned, I'd like to share your story on this blog. I find it fascinating to read about others' church journeys. While we of the departed often have similarities, the details are frequently different. Not only does it encourage me to read about it, but it often helps people to put their own thoughts together on paper (or a computer screen). Therefore, if you would like to tell your story, here is your opportunity. Please just let me know in the comments section of this post; we can then get in touch via email with the details. I'm not hoping for books, but rather just blog post entry length articles telling the main points of how you have arrived where you are concerning the church. After we discuss it, I'll post your story right here on this blog for all to read and be edified. Thanks.

Monday, November 21, 2016

Need a Christmas Gift Idea? Try This.

(WARNING: somewhat shameless promotion below)

Two years ago at about this time Simple Church: Unity Within Diversity hit print. This book, which I edited, was written by over twenty different contributors. Each chapter deals with a different issue related to theology, faith, and church life. Although we certainly do not agree on everything, the authors all stand united in two things. The primary is that Jesus Christ is Lord. The secondary is that church life ought to be informal and follow the model given to us in scripture.

If you are looking for a Christmas gift idea for someone else, or if you need something to ask for yourself, why not try this book?