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This is question two of a three-question series seeking input on what you are wanting with others also journeying with God. Thanks to everyone who responded to the first post on this blob, on facebook, or via email. You will find the first/previous question of this series here, pretty much necessary to answer before taking on today’s question.

Reminder of the one rule –  you can not use the words “church” or “community” in your response (to avoid other sets of assumptions and to make you think about what you are really wanting to say!)

Question 2:

How does what you are longing for (your response to Question 1) differ from all of your other friendships that also include faith? In other words, what do you need from a specific grouping of people that is different from what you are encountering from all the people you know – Christian or otherwise? Do you need something more or different?

Please answer in only a sentence or two, don’t worry about any sort of proper or all-encompassing definition.

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Doing a short three-question series seeking your input. It comes from conversations from our own fledgling little On the Way group and while I need their responses, I am hoping that others who read this blog will also have their say. I am going to post three related questions and would love your thoughts on each 🙂

There is one assumption – that as we journey with God, it is helpful to be connected to others who are also journeying with God.

There is one rule – you can not use the words “church” or “community” in your response (to avoid other sets of assumptions and to make you think about what you are really wanting to say!)

 

Question 1:

Right now, what are you longing for/wanting/needing from others in a shared faith journey?

Please answer in only a sentence or two, don’t worry about any sort of proper or all-encompassing definition.

 

At the end of a long, good conversation this morning, I stumbled into a thought I want to share with you. We were talking about the irony that those of us who desire more of church/Christian community are often the ones who find the least of it in our lives. Yes, we look at other forms of church and know they fall short of the ways Jesus describes walking out our faith together. And yet, we are no better off.
 
We desire relationships with vulnerability. We need people to walk the ongoing walk with us – sharing in moments of high and low, and all the mundane working it out in between. We want people to laugh with us, to cry with us. Other people to care about and help with our kids. Friends to pray with and that we can call when our car batter dies and we need help. We want Jesus-filled community.
 
I would suggest that this doesn’t come without commitment. Not commitment to a set of beliefs or a particular way. Rather, its commitment to one another in Christ – a deep, unique type of relationship that doesn’t require we are all the same. Its saying our expectations of one another and being ok when they differ, not making you be what I want you to be. Because the point is each of us being who God wants us to be. And we can be that best together!
 
What gets in the way?
1. We do. we don’t make the time, we don’t take the time, we have unrealistic expectations of one another, and we’ve all been disappointed so many times that we wonder if we should even try
2. The world does – our world defines community and friendship differently than we do. First, its superficial and we settle for less than we know we want and need. Second, its transactional – we should “do relationships” in order to GET something rather than to give – or better yet – to just be in it together
3. The enemy is actively working against this – because isolated Christians, isolated people, are forced to give up on what is right, or try to do it on their own. It’s been a strategy from the very beginning – keep them apart and they aren’t powerful.
 
There is a choice…
to be vulnerable
to risk failure
to give
to pray
to love
 
I want to choose these.
 
We don’t do these to be church. But in living this way, we are church. Love God, love others, love one another. Help others do the same. Seek God’s Kingdom. Journey together, mission together, be who you are meant to be together.
 
Its not meant to be fancy. It is meant to be freeing for everyone.
I want that. I need that. I’d like your help to live that.

 

It is definitely a reality here in South Africa that Christian NGO’s are overwhelmingly female. A few of my best guesses on why this phenomenon exists:
1. Women who are called and gifted to lead in ministry are not allowed to do so by their church, so they need another venue to serve.
2. The low pay in NGO’s fits the cultural practice of paying women less than their male counterparts
3. Women find that NGO’s allow them to pursue a passion God has put on their heart. Men, too often, are also concerned with building their own little empires of significance – something the mission-focus of NGO’s tends to work against.
What do you think?
Anything you would add?

Do you think of a priest:
as someone with a specific role/position that is then responsible for certain duties ascribed to that role
or
as someone who is gifted/attuned/mandated to perform certain actions and is recognized as such
or
something else?

Why do you think what you do?

Where am I going with this?
In Christianity, if you follow Jesus, you are called a priest…

I feel a new series of posts coming on here because as I sat down to write this, my thoughts kept expanding and more and more questions came to mind. So, respond and stay tuned!

Read this blog post today and am reposting for your thoughts. Is this what church should be like – should this be normal? If it sounds good to you (so many memories come to mind of my own amazing church experiences when I read this), would love your thoughts on what it would take (and what are the barriers):

What a Normal Church Looks Like

This is a story about a city. There is only one church in this city. In this particular town, there are anywhere from 2,000 to 3,000 people who are all part of the same church. Any Christian in this city is part of this one church. There is no believer in this city who belongs to a different church. This is an entire network of Christian people.

The fellowship they have with one another is completely overlapping. Every person does not know or fellowship with every other person, there are too many people for that to happen. But everyone knows and fellowships with someone, who knows and fellowships with someone else. The entire church meets and gathers in homes, in parks, in various restaurants for lunches and coffee, and often you can find them at the nearby lake for weekend camping. This vast network of people are gathering together and sharing life together in many different ways.

Seven days a week, during any evening, you can visit a number of homes in this town and find Christians gathered together. Because there are so many active participants, there are meetings and gatherings every single night. And anyone is welcomed to go to any one of them. These people are worshipping Jesus in these meetings. They are sharing, praying, teaching, operating in their gifts, and intensely supporting one another’s personal lives.

Besides the daily gatherings, about once a month, the entire church gathers together outside at the city park for a giant picnic. This scene is incredible. There are people scattered everywhere throughout the city park. The park is completely full of people. There are, what looks to be, 2 acres of table cloths and blankets spread all over the ground. Everyone brings their own food. After a while, everyone begins to move into groups of 10 to 20 people to visit and pray for one another. This all day meeting in the city park starts around 9:00 a.m. on Saturday morning. By 6 p.m. that evening, it is still going strong.

At 6 p.m., around dusk at the park, there are still 10 or 12 Christians gathered around and talking while on the tail gate of a pick-up truck. There are also 8 or 9 ladies sitting in lawn chairs together nearby. There are still children running and playing. For the last couple of hours, there has been a children’s game of ball over at one end of the park with about 15 adults standing around visiting while the kids play.When this monthly, city wide church meeting in the park is over, everyone goes back to their homes to resume their weekly activities of work, family time, and church life all during the week.

There is nothing to identify this vast network of Christians, other than the relationships they have. There is no name for this massive group. There is no sign posted anywhere. There is no building. There is no leader. But many people lead.

Most of the people who want to travel to this city to visit and participate in the church activities, usually know at least one of the Christian families who live there. But even if you didn’t know any of them, it is really pretty easy to find them all.You decide to take a road trip just to see what it’s all about. As you drive into town, you realize you don’t know where to go in order to find these Christians. Where do they meet? What time do they meet? They don’t have a yellow page ad. What will you do? It’s Friday evening when you drive into town.

You stop at a local gas station and ask the clerk, “Excuse me, do you know where I would find any of the church in this town?” The lady behind the cash register replies, “Oh yea, I think a lot of them have been getting together down at the lake on Friday evenings. You could probably find them there.”

Just the fact that the gas station clerk knows where “the Christians usually are” is a testimony. These people are visible, they gather in large numbers, and they are clearly identified by the whole town.

You drive out to the lake. You see a bon fire down by the water. You get out of your car and discover about 20 people singing to the Lord under the stars. You join in singing. A brother stands up by the fire and shares a brief testimony with the group. A sister shares a prophecy. Others chime in and share brief encouragements and teachings. They begin to pray for one another. It is a glorious occasion. You’ve never seen anything like it. They are so free, so real, so spontaneous, and so encouraging.

As the time naturally gravitates to visiting with one another, several of them introduce themselves to you. They find out that you are new to the town and that you drove out in order to plug in and meet the other people in the church. They make you aware of several other gatherings that are going on the next day. Some of them ask you to join them for an unplanned, late night supper in one of their homes. You spend the late evening sharing and talking with your new friends.

The next morning is Saturday morning. You’ve been made aware of a variety of get-togethers you can choose to attend. There are about 8 people going to play a round of golf. There are a few gathering for breakfast at a local restaurant. There is a prayer meeting available in someone’s home. Some of the families are going back to the lake to hang out and do some boat riding and water skiing. You don’t really want to miss anything, but you have to choose. “Ok, I’ll go to the breakfast. Then, I’ll catch the last part of the prayer meeting.”

After the prayer meeting that morning, you grab some lunch with a couple of brothers and then take a nap. You are made aware of a small gathering of Christians who are planning to meet in a home later that night to worship the Lord. You attend the worship time. Afterwards, you catch up with a group who decide to do some late night street witnessing.Just about everyone you meet invites you into their home to stay for as long as you want. They feed you. They pray for you. They are sincerely interested in you, interested in your family, and interested in your life with Jesus.

You realize this all could go on for days. You are well aware that if you were to live in this town, there would be no way anyone could attend every gathering.

In the last couple of days, you’ve gotten to know a couple of the other Christians pretty well. You ask them a question saying, “What are your backgrounds?” You communicate to them how you are aware that this entire city has joined together as one church, but you would really like to know what denomination they all come from.

They reply, “Brother, in our attempt to take the New Testament seriously, we’ve purposed in our hearts to repent from divisions and denominations. There is only one church in this city, just like in the New Testament. We don’t fellowship just with those who believe exactly like we do on every issue. Many of us have different convictions and beliefs on many things found in scripture, but our personal doctrines are always open-ended and kept open for discussion. We are devoted to one another. We are devoted to Christ. However, we are not devoted to our own personal beliefs and opinions that are not central to faith in Christ.”

“But who is really in charge of this whole thing?” you ask. They reply, “Jesus is in charge. You would be amazed at how well He runs the church, if people will just let Him. The church belongs to Him. He designed it, He grows it, and He keeps it – if we do it the way He laid out for us in the New Testament. Here in this city, when men started taking their hands off the church, all the gifts began coming forth. People who would never open their homes before, started opening their homes! People who would never speak before, started speaking! People’s walls started coming down. People started to get honest with one another. People started functioning! It’s amazing how it all came together. I have to warn you though, you can’t be afraid. You have to learn to trust the Lord. If you get afraid and say that “it won’t work”, or from fear you revert to the old traditions of men to organize it, it will kill what the Lord wants to do. You have to let go of your personal feelings of needing to “know for sure” that you’ll have leadership in place. You have to let go of “knowing for sure” what your group identity is or “who you all are” as a group. Our identity is simply that we are Christians in the city we live in. You have to let go of concerns about where you are going to tithe to. There are plenty of needs to give your money to, such as the poor, evangelism in our city, and to foreign missions. Trust the Lord my friend, and trust the New Testament example. God gave it to us for a reason.”

You realize that the example of the church in this particular city should be true for every city in the world. No walls, no one aligning themselves with a certain affiliation, but everyone belonging to the same group. And although the Lord leads each individual to be closely knit with just a few, everyone feels they are a part of one large family in this town, and they practice it.

But how did they get to this place? How did it happen? How did they ever accomplish such an amazing feat?

It started with a few brave souls. Before they all came together as one church, those who were on staff at one particular church in the town contacted the other pastors and leaders at all the other churches in the town. Through much effort, the leadership from every denomination finally got together and had one big meeting in that town. The pastor responsible for putting the meeting together stood up and said:

“Gentlemen, we at First Methodist have called this meeting in order to share a revelation we have had. From our honest assessment of the New Testament, we find no scriptural basis to support our role of leadership at First Methodist. As men in charge of the flock, we do not deny that we do have gifts. Namely, we have gifts of leadership, teaching and shepherding. But these gifts are to be employed as any other member of the congregation should employ their gifts. We should not recognize a separation of clergy and laity or staff and non-staff.

Elders in the New Testament were given to a city, not a group within the city. Those who were appointed as elders in the early church were already elders according to the lives they lived, the spiritual qualities they possessed as men, and the spiritual authority they had that comes from God. Not because of any formal training or institutional authority. Just because a leader or pastor has a personal identity as such, does not make it so. Just because a man believes himself to be a leader, does not make him a leader. These gifts are spiritual and are from God alone.

Those of us who do have gifts of leadership, gifts of teaching, prophecy, evangelism, shepherding, or apostolic functions, should use those gifts as though we were just one of the flock and in the context of just being a regular brother.

 
Furthermore, it has been revealed to us through the scriptures and the Holy Spirit that the management functions and administration of the church at First Methodist concerning things such as budgeting issues, buildings, the programs, marketing, and the business office functions are all in place and are a result of the traditions of men and of our Western culture. We’ve discovered that these things actually hinder and stifle the natural and organic functions of the people. Because we have assumed so many roles as staff members, the congregation depends on us in ways they should not. Not only has this hindered them from fully expressing themselves in their gifts and functions, but it has hindered the general edification of the church. Therefore since the church is to in essence, run itself, there is no need for our staff positions. We are taking our hands off the church in order to let it grow.

 
Up to this point, we’ve never trusted the Lord in the church to grow the church. We’ve perceived the members as incapable, not trained, and not possessing enough spiritual maturity to adequately be a functioning church. We firmly believe that people are to learn and grow by doing, and if you hinder them from doing and take the responsibility away from them to function, then they will simply not function and never learn. God’s design and intention is for every member to have a platform and an environment to express their gifts, no matter what they may be. We have repented of our arrogance and our control. We have fully realized that we were performing as we had been trained, and we have been acting as in the example which was passed down to us by others in leadership.

Although we have been sincere in our efforts, we were not using the New Testament as our model, but rather men’s traditions and the culture of the day as our standard. God forgive us.As of today, we are resigning. We have most boldly chosen to no longer accept a salary, but we have instead decided to get regular jobs. We will still continue to function in our various gifts, but we will be re-learning how to function properly and without having to “run everything”.
Our meeting formats will also change at First Methodist in order to encourage every member to participate and bring what they have spiritually to every meeting of the church. This is consistent with 1 Corinthians 14. We still may stand up and teach on occasion, but we will encourage the others to teach as well.
Also, from the example in the scriptures, we are taking our sign down in front of the building. Also our name, First Methodist, has been our identity. Our identity is changing to come in line with the New Testament. We therefore will no longer refer to ourselves as First Methodist, but we will be “the church in Cypress Texas,” of which we all are part of the same group. In fact, we’re selling the building we’ve met in because we have no need of it. The building has been an icon and representation in our hearts of establishment, stability and growth. It has also been a perverted method of attracting members. We will be meeting in more natural everyday life settings and in our living rooms.
We realize that for you to follow us in the New Testament example in these things, that many of you will have serious concerns as church leaders. We understand that you will have concerns for your jobs. Perhaps the hardest challenge for you men will be the choice of getting regular jobs. This has been the hardest choice for us. I can honestly attest to you that you will not be able to fully see the true nature of the church, nor will you fully be able to understand the things I am telling you today – unless you are willing to get a regular job. The heart has a way of causing you to not understand the truth as long as your livelihood is on the line.
Another difficult question you may be asking is concerning the whole idea of how we are to meet the needs of our current modern culture with such a radical church model. How will people in our society be able to relate to such a church? How will new people be able to come and participate? Do we not have to have the traditions we have in place in order to meet the needs of our modern society?? My answer to you men is this. Why would God establish his plain example in the scriptures of the church and how it should function, only to change it for every culture? Why would he lay out the structure of the church, which is built on the foundation of the apostles, only for every culture in time to shape it and reform it? Because of this type of thinking, we now see things like homosexuality being endorsed by the church, etc. God even condemned the Israelites for taking on the cultures and practices of the people and nations around them. I tell you men : the Church should be affecting our modern world culture, not our culture affecting the Church.The pattern in the New Testament is God’s design. It’s what works for the church. It is timeless. If we change it or alter it, we pervert it. If we pervert it to better fit our culture or lifestyles, we diminish its power and effectiveness. What God laid out for us in the New Testament is perfect. We cannot have such arrogance to say the Biblical example is no longer relevant or that it should be compromised in some way.
Men, we wonder why the experience of the early Christians is so different from ours. We wonder why when we read our Bibles it seems so different than what we practice and experience today, yet we have chosen to meet, to function, to gather, and to lead in ways that are completely different from the blueprint the New Testament provides us with. Why would it be a mystery to us that the people in Bible times had a different experience than us?

Over time, and through much talking and prayer, others in church leadership in that city listened to the brothers at the former Methodist fellowship. A trend was set in the town. By example, the shepherds led the flock. Truly, a revolution took place in that city. All over town people began to talk about the new freedom they were gaining in Christ, and the whole thing had a snow ball effect. As people started forsaking the dead traditions of men, more people followed suit as well.

Of course, not every church leader or fellowship agreed. But over time, the majority did. Those who practiced denominationalism and division soon became the minority in the city.

Mike Breen of 3DM posted this and I am wondering what you think – either from your experience or hopes? I mostly agree with Mike (as always) but I’ve added a few specific comments below…

We’ve been doing Missional Communities for years and years, and in that time, we’ve always tried to boil it down to the most essential ingredients to help pass it on to others.

In the last year, I believe we’ve most simply honed it down to these 5 essential ingredients of a Missional Community:

    1. Size of an extended family. A missional family is best understood in the range of 20-50 people, as it is small enough to care but large enough to dare. From much experience, I’d say it can be difficult to sustain long-term missional activity for a group smaller than this.
    2. UP/IN/OUT. Intentionally lives out the three dimensions of Jesus’ life. UPward dimension of life with the Father, INward dimension of life with the Body of Christ together, OUTward dimension of fully stepping into a broken world.
    3. Clear mission vision. Who is this Missional Community trying to bring the Kingdom of God to? The most successful MC’s have a very clear answer that could only be true of their group.
    4. Lighweight/Low maintenance. If the Missional Community can’t be led by people with normal 9-5  jobs who aren’t paid to do it, it’s not lightweight and low maintenance enough. It’s got to be simple and reproducible.
    5. Accountable leaders. The person(s) leading the Missional Community need to be accountable to others so there exists a dynamic of low control and high accountability. It’s one thing to say you hold people accountable, it’s another thing to do this well.

If done well, these can lead to the incredible phenomenon of a scattered and gathered church where it is the lay leaders of the church being released to the edges of the missional frontier, seeing extraordinary Kingdom breakthrough.

My thoughts:

I differ with 3DM’s definition of missional community size. For them, it’s one grouping within the church, ideally complimented by a huddle (specific type of small grouping) and  a large congregation – each having up/in/out components. To me, a missional community can be any size and has all the essential elements of church so need not be part of something else. Can be, but doesn’t have to be.

I also believe in Mike’s third point about missional communities being lightweight/low maintenance. That’s what we’re trying with our church. Normal people, with lives outside the church, are meant to be the church and its leaders – the priesthood of all believers. Yes, you recognize individual gifting and roles within the community. This can carry through to various forms of leadership as well. This makes a lot of sense in Mike’s model where missional communities are one part of the equation (can’t pay pastors for each and every group) but I believe it to be true if a missional community is the extent of your church community. No one should have the task or responsibility of all the ministry or all leading of the church. It must be shared (in any number of ways) in order to be reproducable and attractive.

What are your thoughts on Mike’s summary or my comments?

At church on Sunday, we talked about questions we would like to ask God. It’s a great list. Anyone else out there have these questions? What question would YOU add?

How did you decide who would have what kind of start in life?

Why do some people seem to have more than their share of struggles/problems?

If you are good, why can’t we explain death happening to good, young people?

Why are some people so frightened by death?

How did you decide which talents each person would receive?

God did you (God) get there/here?

Why do answers to prayer seem so random? Do you answer prayers or do we?

Does Christianity actually make sense?

What do you (God) think about women? really.

Since Jesus died and made it possible to go directly to God instead of through a priest, why is it that God doesn’t seem to speak to us audibly?

How much “control” do you have in this broken world?

Is heaven certain?

Is God all-powerful?

Why do some/all people who follow Jesus struggle so much, while so many who don’t follow Jesus seem to be doing fine/better/well?

God, which i right to say: the yolk of the egg are white OR the yolk of the egg is white? Neither – the yolk of the egg is yellow!

repost from Christine Sine.

Tomorrow is Pentecost – this prayer was written as I contemplated the Holy Spirit breathed into us by Jesus (Jn 20:22)

Spirit of God may we breathe in and hold your love within us
May we breathe out and share it with the world
Spirit of God may we breathe in and hold your peace within us
May we breathe out and share it with the world
Spirit of God may we breathe in and hold your life within us
May we breathe out and share it with the world.

Orthodox Icon – The Ascension of Christ
http://orthodoxwiki.org/Ascension_icon

The primary school my youngest two children attend is closed today for Ascension Day. It’s interesting to me that this public school would choose

to take the day off for a Christian holiday – indicative of the religious climate of Cape Town. I have never celebrated Ascension Day. I am aware of the meaning, but I come from a “Christmas and Easter and every day in between” background. So, no Ascension Day, Pentecost, Epiphany, etc.

My son was explaining what they said in the school assembly about the meaning of Ascension Day. Essentially that Ascension Day celebrates when Jesus went back to heaven so he could send the Holy Spirit (at Pentecost). The reason it was important is because Jesus could only be in one place at a time, but the Holy Spirit can be with everyone everywhere. Yes, this was explained at the school assembly…

This is an important part of Jesus’ story – and ours. The sending of the Holy Spirit is the birth of the Church, the empowerment of God’s people, the spread of the Kingdom. That’s all Pentecost (which we celebrate soon). But Ascension Day is more than just a setup for Pentecost. Jesus ascending to heaven is hugely significant. Two reasons jump out at me.

First, Jesus ascending means he didn’t just go away after his birth, death, and resurrection. The Holy Spirit coming isn’t simply a next step, leaving Jesus with nothing to do until the last day. I did a quick search and came up with all these verses which refer to Jesus now seated at the right hand of the Father:

  • Acts 2:32-35
  • Romans 8:34
  • Ephesians 1:20
  • Hebrews 1:3
  • Hebrew 4:14-16
  • Hebrews 10:12
  • Hebrews 12:2
  • 1 Peter 3:22
  • Revelation 3:21

Jesus, having ascended, is now seated at the right hand of the Father. He was with God in the beginning and now has gone back to his rightful place of authority over everything (the one he gave up for us in his incarnation). And what is he doing on that throne? He is speaking to the Father on our behalf (Romans 8:34, Hebrews 7:25). Can you picture the Father and Son sitting there speaking about how much they love you, watching what you are doing today? I believe he is also still putting in appearances here on earth. Literally. Revealing himself to people, helping, inviting, saving.

Further, Jesus ascending and being seated at the right hand of the Father means that WE are also in that place. In Ephesians 2:4-10, we read
But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus.  For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast.  For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.
We sit in this most holy place because Jesus does and we are with him! Thank you Jesus. We can live the lives we are meant to live because we live FROM the right place – with God. Knowing where we belong, and who we belong to,

makes all the difference in HOW we live. All the gifts, power, and authority that come from the Holy Spirit are useless if we don’t start from a place of intimacy with God, shaping our hearts to live well. Intimacy shapes our identity so we can live with authority.

All that because Jesus ascended 🙂

Happy Ascension Day everyone.
Amen!

Your thoughts:

  1. How much have you considered Jesus’ Ascension?
  2. What do you think Jesus is up to these days?
  3. What would be an appropriate way to celebrate the Ascension?
  4. What else?