Sunday, May 10, 2020

House Church - The New Normal-part 1

The CoVid-19 limitations on the size of gatherings suddenly thrust the churches in Canada into the world of house church. This is a world that we know well from reading the New Testament and from our study of the Early Church, but one that most of us have not personally experienced. The House Church model has tended to be for those who either buck the North American church culture or who simply have no other options (such as our First Nations ministries). A few have chosen the House Church model with careful intention, believing that it best facilitates the kind of deep life in Jesus to which He calls us.

Whatever your feelings about house churches may be, you might just suddenly find yourself in one and possibly even leading one. I have come to Christ completely unchurched, having grown up in an atheist family, in a communist country. I came to Christ in Canada, into a tiny congregation of about 20 people. My first two years of being a Christian took place in this house church.  I believed this was the norm for all believers. This is where my following of Christ was shaped and it was in a house church that my high values of committed discipleship and of living in and by the word of God and His Spirit were formed. The close family relationship, the intense discipleship, and the fast-track to service and leadership that I experienced in a house church continue to influence my approach to ministry to this day.

Hence, though I love a well-organized large church, I'm personally really excited about functioning in a house church for the next while. Below are some thoughts on how to make the most of the benefits that a house church offers. I will tackle the pitfalls of the House Church and how to avoid them in part 2 of this blog.

If you don't want to read any further, here is a summary:
  1. Pass all your decisions through the test of "Will this decision maximize or diminish the best that the House Church model offers?"
  2. Endeavour to reduce passive reception of material, instead encourage participation
  3. Encourage flexibility and adaptability
  4. In terms of the house church format and style think "trellis" not "box"
  5. Design meaningful points of connection to the mother church
Definitions
House Church - a gathering of Christ followers held in the home rather than in a church building. A house church has its own leader (or a leader team). The leader is not necessarily the owner of the home where the church meets. The house churches created due to the CoVid-19 restrictions belong to a mother church and likely a cluster of other house churches.

Mother Church - the church to which the cluster of house churches belongs. The primary role of a healthy mother church is to disciple and equip the leadership of the house church. The mother church also serves as the connector between all her house churches.

The Strengths of a House Church 
The House Church model offers many advantages. Bearing these in mind we can take care to not minimize, or even undermine, these strengths through our good intentions to re-create the church-in-a-building gathering experience. The house church does not feel like Sunday morning in a larger church - it is not meant to.

1. Simplicity - the house church has no need to dress up the goings on. The glitz and glamour of large church worship services, the sound, the lights, the decor, the custom-designed screen and print visuals are simply not necessary, nor are they missed. People sit where they can, on unmatched chairs and worn out couches, or on the floor and in very real, intimate relationship with one another enter into authentic worship.

As you move from a church-in-a-building gathering to a house church avoid the error of attempting to recreate and add some of the trappings of glitz and professionalism that we have come to expect in a typical Sunday gathering.  Be sure, these really are not necessary and may lead to an increase in administrative stress for your house church leadership and may add an artificial feel to the gathering and discourage the come-as-you-are, sit-where-you-can atmosphere that is the strength of a house church.
Communication pieces from the mother church can be communicated by the house church leaders, no need for staff-produced videos or printed handouts.
In short, train and then then release your house leaders to set the format and style of gathering to suit their group and the meeting environment that is available to them. 

2. Discipling - the house church model has been primarily chosen exactly for this strength - the effective making and maturing followers of Christ. The close relationships, the face-to-face nature of the gathering, the advantage of an interactive (rather than a passive) worship experience, the possibility of sharing your life in a way that a traditional church gathering does not offer, all contribute to an increased effectiveness in the discipling and the spiritual formation process. With a healthy leadership team in place, discipling comes to the forefront of the church activity in a natural, un-programmed, unforced way.  

The mother church staff team can help here by equipping the leaders - not with curriculum, but with experience: by discipling the house church leaders in a way they can easily apply to others. I was discipled by much time spent in reading of the word, by voicing my questions and observations of the text, and by sharing the deeply felt invitations of the Holy Spirit to respond. To this day this is how I disciple others. The ingredients are simple: people with an open bible, a heart tender to God's Spirit, a relationship of care and accountability. 

To reiterate - disciple your house church leaders experientially, in a way they can easily replicate with others, while being true to their own style, giftedness and personality.

3. Leadership Development - a house church environment is conducive for early identification of giftedness in each of her members. The special contribution of each person should be apparent in just a few gatherings. The house church leader ought to be encouraged to notice these special contributions, such as the ability to organize the group, to lead in special projects, to create a welcoming environment, to arrange for the food (which is a must in a house church), to bring in creative elements to the worship, to pray, to speak profound truths of God, to make the children feel loved and welcomed etc. 

The House Church model releases its members into service and leadership at a much faster rate than other church models. The house church offers a safe environment for each member to give their gifts a try with much grace and personal support from the rest of the group. 
A personal example: I have a strong measure of the teaching gift, which my house church noticed early on. I was offered the responsibility to lead short devotionals in our gatherings within months (not years) of my salvation. I prayed and studied hard to prepare for each of my 5 minute teaching moments. I'm sure that I made a number of errors in the process. With undeveloped theology and lack of Christian life experience I'm certain that I said things that were flat out wrong. The group however knew that I was a new babe in Christ and that I was a disciple in training. They gently offered alternate views when necessary and encouraged and corrected me along the way. This experience allowed me to deploy my teaching gift early, to discover my voice and style of teaching faster than would have happened in a traditional church model, and to grow in humble confidence to stand in front of others and teach the word of God at an accelerated pace.

As you make decisions about your house churches, be careful to protect and nurture this strength. Inserting too much staff-produced content and leadership, such as streaming worship music sets and the sermon into the house church, may reduce your house church to a care group, that passively absorbs the professionally developed music and sermon, rather than actively exercises the full range of the gifting available. Church staff would be wise to consider re-deploying their efforts to equip leaders more and produce content less than in the past.
Finally, expect that the ministries developed in your house churches will vary based on the make up and location of each house church. Resist the desire for sameness and allow each church to introduce ministries organically, based on the needs and the gifting of each house church.

4. Costs - the house church runs on zero dollars - yes, that is right - zero on the budget line and yet consistently delivers Spirit-infused worship, transformative teaching of God's word, personal and timely care ministry...and more. Yes, there may be some minimal costs and it would be wise for a church that is dividing into house churches to allot each house church a small budget to cover some necessities. This budget can be very small, especially if the mother church stays open to requests for funding for unusual initiatives.
Furthermore, house churches are volunteer led, which contributes to the high level of involvement - no one is getting paid to do this, we are all doing this together.

There are a number of ways to collect offerings in a house church model. Financial contribution should be a normal worship element. Consider how to make the collection natural and joyful, and how to distribute the monies collected. Encourage good communication of financial needs from your house church network and from the mother church. I pray that you will be overwhelmed by the generosity spawned in your house church gatherings.

5. Mission - finally, healthy house churches are organic missional communities. Train your house church leaders to view the mission of God holistically - word and deed. First, it is relatively easy to invite friends to a well functioning house church. People come to Christ in house churches at a rate higher than in large church gatherings, so prepare to welcome newcomers and to nurture them into a saving relationship with Christ. 
Second, expect that each house church will want to "do something" about the needs in their spheres of influence. Collect and share the stories on how this is happening in your house churches. Provide for house church collaboration on shared missional initiatives.

6. Connection to the Larger Community - your house church is part of a larger community - the mother church. It is important to find meaningful ways of connection that goes beyond announcements or curriculum pieces. In days of isolation, people in churches are most longing to see each other. Find ways to feature personal stories and updates, encouragements, spiritual care and guidance in ways that will keep your house church firmly tethered to the home base.

Neil Cole, who has speaks and writes about the House Church, says "What churches win people with, is what churches win them to." The house church wins people with the love that Christians have for one another and for God, it wins them with a living and vital relationship with God, with a love for God's word and for worship, it wins them with the gospel of love, peace and reconciliation, and it wins them with action on behalf of those who need help.

I am praying that the MB churches in Canada thrive in the house church model. This way of meeting is in our Anabaptist/MB DNA and I trust it will bear much fruit.

Monday, March 30, 2020

Rethinking Your Calling - Ephesians 4 Leadership

My Life Group - week 1 of CoVid-19

It is now week 3 of the COVID-19 crisis in Canada and I decided to dust off my blog and start typing. For three Sundays now churches in our country, and around most of the world, have not been able to meet as we are accustomed to.
Some of our church leaders have adapted quickly. After the initial shock most were able to retool to an on-line format and Sundays are happening as before, just not together.
Others have even found innovative ways to use the situation to build ministries that fill the need of the moment: the start of new virtual on-line groups, new ways of utilizing seniors to connect with the congregation, delivery of flowers discarded by the now closed flower shops, and of course delivery of toilet paper to those who didn't stock up in the first few days of the crisis.

But I wonder whether this time is about more than just a slight adaptation of doing church as we have always done. I hope that this is, in fact, a great opportunity to more fundamentally shift the nature of the church toward the Ephesians 4 model - leaders being the equippers of those who do the ministry rather than leaders as the prime deliverers of ministry.
The words that the Lord has impressed on my heart in the past week are: I'm doing something new and new wine needs new wine skins.
So, here are some words with which I desire to encourage the pastors in my denominational family, the Mennonite Brethren, and any other pastors out there.


A Shaken Identity

If your identity as a leader in your church has been shaken in these past two weeks, you are not alone. The pastoral profession is about being with people and being in front of people, often very large groups of people. Many of us have rooted our identity in our ability to lead well, to speak well, to conduct meetings, to manage our facilities, to teach classes and to be pastors in other very personal ways. 
We are also used to ministry as doing for others. We tend to be there to deliver on the needs of others.
I would encourage you to simply acknowledge that this shaking of identity is going on and to adopt a posture of trusting curiosity as you keep looking to the Lord for the reshaped identity he surely has for each of us.

Star of the Show

If you are a lead pastor or a teaching pastor, your face and your voice are very familiar to the congregation. You are the main attraction on a Sunday morning. Everything else that happens on a Sunday either leads into your sermon or flows out of it. People come, in a large part, to hear you speak and they listen attentively for a very long time as you do.
But, let's face it, 80% of the people to whom you speak are passive observers on Sunday and passive Christians during the rest of the week. They lack a personal call to ministry and therefore their own ministry (service to the Lord) is minimal.

Yet, Ephesians 4:11ff tells us that your job and mine is to equip the saints for the work of ministry. The leaders are there to unleash the congregation, in the fullness of their gifting, for the work of ministry in the church and in the world. Perhaps this time of forced church closures offers us an opportunity to let go of our spot on the stage and let the saints do more of the work of ministry than they did just a few weeks ago.

The Unnecessary Pastor

I was struck by a comment in a recent meeting of church leaders - the comment was that the churches which have no pastors (or pastors are on a sabbatical) felt virtually no disorientation during the past few weeks. The congregations organically sprung into action knowing what needed to be done and getting it done. With simple coordination people were connecting, people were being encouraged, ministry to the community was happening, joy of the Lord was strong.
On the other end of the spectrum, churches, where the pastors are the holders of the keys to all ministry, may still be waiting for the leader(s) to give them a green light to go. 
So here is another encouragement - find a way to release your congregation to organic ministry. Do not feel that your value lies in being the bottle neck, or in being the sole coordinator of ministry, and certainly not in being the key deliverer of ministry.

Conductor of the Orchestra

Perhaps the shift in identity for those of us who are used to being the star player is to the role of the conductor.  A conductor of an orchestra makes no sound for the audience to admire. The conductor's contribution is to ensure that each piece plays its part exactly as it should. A gentle nudge to the oboe section, a vigorous wave to the tympanies, a nod at the violins, and a constant eye on the music to be played - that is the role of the conductor.

Imagine how this would translate into your church. Your task would be simply to ensure harmony as the various players play their parts. A gentle nudge to the children's workers, a vigorous wave to your outreach and care people, a nod at evangelists - might be how you can give your congregation center stage and let them shine. All the while keeping an intent eye on the Lord, discerning his direction for your church.
Such work is much more in the background. It is about coordinating, checking in, encouraging, empowering, removing obstacles, offering alternatives, making connections, pointing to resources. This role is far less glamorous, but I believe it is precisely this kind of a leader who serves-others-so-they-can-serve that our churches need today. It just might be the kinds of leaders our churches will need into the future. 

For starters, consider taking a smaller part in your Sunday on-line services - perhaps giving a short word of exhortation and then featuring the children's art projects, the prayers of the seniors, the testimonies of those on the front lines.

Your Value

So I would encourage you to courageously consider how you can be of greatest value to your church in the next few months. How can you release your congregation from their dependance on you and point them to the dependance on the Holy Spirit? Dependance on the pastor limits the potential of the church to the capability and capacity of the pastor. Dependance on the Holy Spirit opens up unlimited potential.
If you feel that this kind of coordinating style of leadership is not in your giftedness wheelhouse, do you have the courage to form a task force of leaders in your church who are gifted along these lines?  Your value to your church will not diminish if you cease to be the star of the show. Your value will increase as you work diligently to make your people take center stage.
In case you think that you just need to weather this storm until things go back to normal, I encourage you to listen to this podcast which suggests that this is more than a storm, and perhaps more than a season. 

Bielefeld Example

I do have a real-life example of a church just like I'm describing. It is the Mennonite Brethren church in Bielefeld, Germany.  The church was planted perhaps two decades ago, with one half-time pastor who rarely preaches. His role is to discern, to encourage, and to coach others to preach, to teach, to lead, to run ministries, to do mission. He did well, the church grew and planted a daughter church, also with a half-time (bi-vocational) pastor with the same portfolio, a few years later there was another and then one more church plant. The mother church has over 400 people in it, the latest plant is at about 150, each with only one half-time lead pastor.
This model was very intentional - the sole responsibility of the pastor is to unleash the saints for the work of ministry.

So take courage, the Lord is near, and he is for you and for your church.
There were many ways to lead a church in the past, these days, I believe we need to fully embrace the Ephesians 4 way of being church.  This way of being a church is our MB history and it is in our DNA.
Blessings on your ministry as you navigate the next few months.


Saturday, October 10, 2009

The Intricate Ways of God

I had a most interesting glimpse into God's intricate ways yesterday.
I spoke at a Thanksgiving dinner for international students in the Waterloo area. After the talk several of the students wanted to speak with me and I noticed a man in about his late 20s waiting to speak to me as well. He waited patiently and what he told me blew me away. He is an Iranian student who was working on his PhD in Belgium last year. He was downloading some files from the internet and somehow got a 5 minute clip of one of my radio shows that were recorded and sitting on the radio program web site. He said I was talking about Jesus and the people who were coming to visit him. Next he said that he really liked my voice and clear English pronunciation, so he listened to that 5 minute clip over and over and over and used it to practice his own English.
He said that my voice was immediately familiar to him as I started to speak at the dinner and that he placed me as the voice in that recording by the time I was in my second sentence. He further noted how strange that he should be studying English pronunciation from a non-native English speaker.
I was a little stunned afer that meeting. What are the odds that an Iranian man would listen to a Canadian bible radio program in Belgium and then run into that radio voice at a Thanksgiving dinner?
Secondly, who knows how far our service to God reaches? We rarely get to see the trickle effect of our ministry in the way that I saw it yesterday.

So, keep on keeping on for the Lord!

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Beholding God

From God is the Gospel (pg. 56) by John Piper.
The ultimate good of the gospel is seeing and savoring the beauty and value of God.
God's wrath and our sin obstruct that vision and that pleasure. You can't see and savor God as supremely satisfying while you are full of rebellion against him and he is full of wrath against you. The removal of this wrath and this rebellion is what the gospel is for.
The ultimate aim of the gospel is the display of God's glory and the removal of every obstacle to our seeing it and savoring it as our highest treasure.
"Behold your God" is the most gracious command and best gift of the gospel. If we do not see him and savor him as our greatest fortune, we have not obeyed or believed the gospel.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Know Yourself

I am reading The Heart of a Servant Leader by C. John Miller. It is a collection of letters to ministry leaders - great reading.
In one letter to missionaries who are re-evaluating their call, Miller writes:

"One evidence of the Spirit's presence in our lives is our seeing where we really are and admitting it to others."

I know that it takes a lot of intentional time with God to really know myself and to really know my motives. Do you take the time for such disclosure by the Spirit? It takes much prayer, Scripture intake and painful gaze at our deepest heart in God's mirror. How often do you pray Psalm 139:23-24:

23 Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts.
24 See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Tetelestai

Our economy is very much based on debt. Most of us carry some debt, too many become overwhelmed by it.
In biblical times people avoided debt and if you owed, you worked hard to be released from your debt. When a debtor paid off the debt, the certificate of debt, listing all that was owed, was nailed to his door post, with the word "Tetelestai" written across it.

"Tetelestai" was one of the seven things Jesus said on the cross. It means "It is finished", the debt is paid.

We can rejoice at the fact that Jesus paid our debt. Paul says it nicely in Colossians 2:14.
He has destroyed what was against us, a certificate of indebtedness expressed in decrees opposed to us. He has taken it away by nailing it to the cross.
(Colo 2:14 NET)

Do you graspt the significance of being "debt-free" when it comes to your account with God?
You know the feeling of paying off a debt - it's freedom! That what Jesus accomplished for you on the cross.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Big Church-Small Church, Old Church-New Church



Before you read this, note the age of your church and the average Sunday morning attendance. Then read these stats. They come from various sources, you can double-check them on Google, try Natural Source Resources and Environics as a start.

- Church with under 100 people ==> 7.2 decisions for Christ in a year
- Church with over 100 people ==> 4.2 decisions for Christ in a year

- Church without a building plan ==> 3.3 decisions for Christ in a year
- Church with an active building plan ==> 8.2 decisions for Christ in a year

- Church that is planting another church ==> 8.5 decisions for Christ in a year
- Church not planting another church ==> 4.0 decisions for Christ in a year

- Church under 15 yrs old ==> 13.2 decisions for Christ in a year
- Church over 15 yrs old ==> 4.9 decisions for Christ in a year

Consider that most churches strive to be big (over 250), stable (old) and they rarely plant new churches because of the cost, risk and difficulty in finding good leaders.

Three more statistics:

- A new congregation will bring 6-8 times more new people into the life of the body of Christ than an older congregation
- Churches over 10-15 years old gain 80-90% of members by transfer from other churches
- 56 mini churches of 51 worshippers will reach 16x more people than a mega church of 2,856 (say 3K) people (I don't know if there are any this size in Canada) ... and likely will be more theologically sound…that's 1,600% greater effectiveness in evangelism

Hmmm
...what do you think about that?



Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Why do you follow Jesus?

I am in John chapter 6 for a few weeks and I find it to be a most rewarding chapter. It is a long chapter (71 verses) and it lists several miracles including feeding of the 5,000, walking on water and the miraculous arrival of the disciples' boat on the other shore.

There chapter opens with this statement:
John 6:2 2 A large crowd followed Him, because they saw the signs which He was performing on those who were sick.

Later Jesus says this:
John 6:26 26 Jesus answered them and said, "Truly, truly, I say to you, you seek Me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate of the loaves and were filled.

And the chapter closes with this:
John 6:68-69 68 Simon Peter answered Him, "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have words of eternal life. 69 "We have believed and have come to know that You are the Holy One of God."

So, why do you follow Jesus? Is it the miracles, is it his provision, the fact that he takes care of you in this life or is it simply because of who he is.

What if you knew that Jesus would not do anything else for you in this life after you got saved. Would you stay faithful to him anyway?

Monday, March 9, 2009

Obama on Bible and Public Policy


I don't know when Obama made this speech. It showed up in my in-box with a request to hear and analyze. Here is my take on it:
First of all, let me just personally state that I do not believe that the bible was given to shape public policy. It was given to shape individual policy. The bible is a code of conduct for God's people. We live by it, because we love God and we want to live by his word and because we have the Holy Spirit who makes joyful obedience possible.

Christianity is not about establishing "Christian States" even though many of our laws are based on the bible. Christianity, by its definition, is voluntary and it is always loyal to a kingdom that is not of this world rather than setting up a particular kingdom in this world.

In fact, the more the State differs from the law of God, the better for Christianity. That is when the life devoted to Jesus shines the best. Non-Christian countries around the world are a case in point.

So I don't have a problem with Obama's position that the bible should not single-handedly shape public policy. I do however have a problem with his reasons why. His arguments are very poorly formed. They appeal to the biblically ignorant and insult the biblically intelligent. He appeals entirely to the Mosaic laws and with gentle mocking points out that we simply cannot live by those laws. He could have used the NT position and the life of the early church which lived under a regime mostly hostile to Christianity. The bottom line (if you don't want read any further) is that he makes the bible out to be outdated, irrelevant, confusing and those who would want to hold to it fanatical and dangerous.

First of all, in his speech Obama seems to imply that Christians do not agree on how to live by the bible. He asks: "Whose Christianity would we teach?" The options he gives are: Leviticus - where slavery is condoned and shell-fish are an abomination, Deuteronomy where stoning of children is condoned or Sermon on the Mount which is "radical" (although he does not say in what way). And then he encourages us to read our bibles, I suppose this is so that we could see how contradictory it is and how ridiculous it would be to try to live by it as a nation. I don't know who wrote this speech; Obama's examples are completely irrelevant to the topic. Does he not know that the ceremonial aspects of the law were temporary? Does he not know that Jesus fulfilled the law? Does he not know the difference between the Mosaic and the New Covenant? Does he not know how to interpret the Sermon on the Mount? He seems to think it has something to do with the Department of Defense and not our personal conduct!

Secondly, he argues that we cannot simply pass a law because the bible says so (using abortion as an example). Poor example - the bible does not speak to abortion directly...and I already agreed that we should not make public policy because the bible says so. But the reason he gives is that in a "pluralistic society we cannot hold to inerrancy of Scripture". Huh? What do these two things have to do with each other? Yes, without a doubt, the Scripture is without error. Does this mean we are going to force all people to live by it? Of course not! That is not Christianity!

Thirdly, Obama is making a point that religion belongs in the privacy of our homes and he uses the story of Abraham and Isaac as an example of how you can live by religious principles personally, but not as a nation. In this day and age, someone observing Abraham about to plunge the knife into Isaac would be calling child protection agencies because we do not hear the same voice of God. This story illustrates private devotion to God, so I fail to see how it supports the arguement, it seems to be undermining it. I am also not sure why Obama would imply that Isaac was a child. At this point in his life he was a young man and could have overpowered his father if he so wished. To use this account simply makes those who appeal to God's authority dangerous, in fact, that is the word he uses.

Bottom line as I see it: Obama has made clear that appeals to the bible will not hold as arguments in policy making. That's fine. There are many great reasons for limiting abortion (for example) that have nothing to do with the Christian argument of the value of human life. The problem is that those who hold biblical values have now been ranked lower than those who hold other values. Tim Keller in The Reason for God defines religion as any deeply held conviction by which we order our lives. Obama says that the Christian convictions must take a back seat to other deeply held convictions.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

God and parties


The question that I am facing is: Does God condone (or perhaps even enjoy) a good party? I mean good fun, laughing, joking (not a anyone's expense), eating together - in short - a party.
At a conference last weekend one of the speakers said that Christians (of a particular denomination that shall remain nameless) don't know how to party...or at least they don't party enough.
I must admit that I took very slight offense at being told that I don't like to party. And that got me thinking about God and parties and our part in party (pardon the pun).
Maybe it is the word; "party" carries with it a slightly negative connotation unless it is accompanied by another word like "birthday", "anniversary", "swimming pool" etc. On its own, "party" does not sound holy enough.
Read this passage out of Deuteronomy - is about a festival tithe, which the people were to consume by...hmmm, how do I say it....partying?

Deuteronomy 14:23-26
23 "You shall eat in the presence of the LORD your God, at the place where He chooses to establish His name, the tithe of your grain, your new wine, your oil, and the firstborn of your herd and your flock, so that you may learn to fear the LORD your God always.
24 "If the distance is so great for you that you are not able to bring the tithe, since the place where the LORD your God chooses to set His name is too far away from you when the LORD your God blesses you,
25 then you shall exchange it for money, and bind the money in your hand and go to the place which the LORD your God chooses. 26 "You may spend the money for whatever your heart desires: for oxen, or sheep, or wine, or strong drink, or whatever your heart desires; and there you shall eat in the presence of the LORD your God and rejoice, you and your household.

I hope you skipped over :25, especially the part about the strong drink.
By the way, this is not the only time God commands his people to rejoice - it is a very definite theme in the Hebrew Scriptures and in the anticipation of the Millenial reign and the New Heavens and the New Earth. God established the various festivals to give people a cause to come together before Him to rejoice, sing and danc

So my conclusion is: Yes, God loves a good party, but let's call it a celebration instead.
What do you think?

Monday, February 9, 2009

Missional Small Groups

According to the most excellent book, Missional Church (Guder), the church is a community of God's redeemed people who are an expression of God's Kingdom. The church provides a foretaste of the kind of life we will have in heaven - unconditional love, service to one another, no taking advantage of others, no unresolved conflict, no self-centeredness, rather God is at the center and we enjoy him without any barriers - you get the picture right? ...it's heaven!

The church leaders must model and cultivate their church community so that it is always moving toward this ideal.

I think that the small group context is one of the best ways to accomplish this, because:
a) small groups are small - there are fewer issues than in an entire congregation
b) small groups tend to attract similar types of people - or at least people who like each other - so there is already an advantage.

So, teach the small group leaders (or keep reminding them) that their small group is to be a little piece of heaven. Hmmm...that sounds like a great challenge!

What about fear?

I was challenged by one of Charles Stanley's Life Principles (http://www.intouch.org/) today - the principle of the "Landmine of Fear". In the past few days I encountered several specific confessions of fear from various people - fear with respect to an upcoming meeting, with respect to certain aspects of the future and so on. And so I am thinking - what place does fear have in the life of a believer...in my life? What brings out fear in me? Is it failure? Is it sickness? Is it poverty, rejection, loneliness, old age, my kids...and the list could go on.
I am not talking about the "good" fear which protects us from harm: such as the fear I feel when standing on the edge of a cliff. The fear I am talking about is the anticipation of pain, hardship or other "bad" stuff in life. This fear can muddle the mind, paralyze, lead to irrational choices, passed up opportunities, and problems in relationships with people and with God.
The bible has a lot to say about fear - God is very adamant about the fact that we ought to fear him only and trust him to look after all the other stuff that generally causes fear. We are not to be afraid of anything that might come our way. Fear happens when we look at the circumstances and forget to look at God. How well do you know God? Do you trust him to do what he says he will do? Do you trust that even the difficulties in life will bring about your good.
Next time you feel fear due to the circumstances in life read Psalm 3 and make it your own declaration of trust.
Remember:
- fear is not from God (2 Tim 1:7)
- fear is an indication of a lack of faith

Isaiah 41:10 Do not fear, for I am with you; Do not anxiously look about you, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, surely I will help you, Surely I will uphold you with My righteous right hand.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Remember

It was communion Sunday this past week at my church. We introduced communion with the memory recitation of Psalm 121 by one of our small groups...I love seeing people quote the bible! As I was taking the bread, in my private moment with the Lord, I said, as I often do "I remember". However the word remember came into focus in a new way. So, I started to leaf through my memory for what the bible says about remembering.

Remember is an action verb in the bible - to remember means to jump up and do something...as when you say "Oh my! I just remembered I am supposed to be at a meeting!" ... and you drop everything and run to the meeting.

-When God remembered Noah, he stopped the catastrophe of the flood.
-When God remembered Abraham he saved Lot in the midst of the Sodom overthrow.
-When God remember Rachel, she conceived.
-When God remembered His covenant he brought about the unforgettable events of the Exodus.
-When God remembered Babylon, he wiped "her" out completely.
-When Jesus remembered the thief on the cross - the thief was saved.

When God remembers - he acts - he jumps into action in behalf of those he "remembers". So what do you think Jesus means when he asks you to remember him? I think he wants us to jump up and say "Oh my! I am supposed to be about my Lord's business!"

Do you remember that you have a Lord and a King?

When you go to war in your land against the adversary who attacks you, then you shall sound an alarm with the trumpets, that you may be remembered before the LORD your God, and be saved from your enemies. Numbers 10:9 9