Wow, it's getting really close to a new life in Christ for those of us who have been working together with young people as part of our youth ministry. We are about to launch out on a new adventure of faith as we leave the comfort of the traditional church and try to understand the DNA of 'movement'. It is a scary time. It is an anxious time. But it is an exciting time, for sure. When people ask me what we are trying to create, I have a hard time putting it into words. People generally think that we are starting a church plant, but that really isn't true. I hate to use the word church to describe anything we are trying to achieve in this new adventure. We are so tired of living out our faith as nothing more than church attendance. We want something more. We want to see our communities transformed. We want to reach people with the good news. We want to see a movement begin.
Maybe that's why we are about to start something that will NOT look like what most of us would call 'church'. Yes, we will meet on a regular basis, but not for a worship service. We will meet to train, to prepare, to hear the truth so we can understand it and share it with those in our community. Yes, we will sing, but our worship will not be limited to song, we will be active in our community, reaching out to those who are in need around us instead of waiting for them to appear in our group. Yes we will collect money, but NOT for the needs of the group (in fact, this movement will accept no money). Instead, we will spend everything we have to reach the lost and comfort those in need. In many ways, we will do the work that the institutional church in Amerca has sadly delegated for PARA-CHURCH organizations. The tough work of reaching and caring for those in need. The tough work of preparing Christians to truly understand what they believe and be ready and able to defend it in the marketplace of ideas. The tough work of stepping out of the church box to engage those who are hostile to spiritual realities.
Churches don't seem to do much of this amymore. In many ways, the traditional church has become a destination. A PLACE rather than a people. So it's time to revolutionaize our thinking and return it to the first century. It's time to start a movement instead of planting a church. It's time to BE the church, the people of God. Please be praying for us as we step out in faith and begin the adventure of a lifetime...
Monday, March 27, 2006
Tuesday, March 21, 2006
As part of our dream to experience a new life in which we stop GOING to church and start to BECOME the church, we have a strong desire to feel the same sort of joy that seems to be present in the lives of the earliest believers. They definitely had a faith that was persecution-proof, and they never seemed to wallow in self pity or despair. Their faith was characterized by a sense of ‘gladness’ and ‘praise’. How in the world were they able to capture and retain this attitude toward what must have been a very hostile world?
'...and they were continually devoting themselves to the apostles' teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. And everyone kept feeling a sense of awe; and many wonders and signs were taking place through the apostles. And all those who had believed were together, and had all things in common; and they began selling their property and possessions, and were sharing them with all, as anyone might have need. And day by day continuing with one mind in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they were taking their meals together with gladness and sincerity of heart, praising God, and having favor with all the people. And the Lord was adding to their number day by day those who were being saved...' (acts 2:42-47)
We look at the lives of the early believers and we are amazed at the joy they demonstrated even in the most difficult of situations. They were often persecuted on all sides and lived in primitive environments that were harsh and difficult. Yet in the midst of unbelievable pain, they were still filled with joy. Look at this description from the unknown author of the Epistle to Diognetes (written c. 130AD):
“They are evil spoken of, and yet are justified; they are reviled, and bless; they are insulted, and repay the insult with honour; they do good, yet are punished as evil-doers. When punished, they rejoice as if quickened into life…”These early believers understood that joy is a choice. And they understood that joy is often the product of our choice of focus. In the midst of persecution and hardship, the earliest of believers kept their eyes on the prize. They kept their eyes focused on the life that awaited them and they found purpose and abundant meaning in living lives that were surrendered to God and to serving and loving others. They understood that persecution and suffering were often earmarks of the surrendered life. They knew that a life of comfort was probably a life of complacency. So they rejoiced when they found themselves in a place of discomfort as a result of their commitment to God. It simply served as evidence that they had surrendered their lives to the God of the universe. The early believers rejoiced at this evidence, and their joy was noticed by all those who were in their company:
Acts 16:23-25We know that we are often guilty of focusing on ourselves. We want to be committed to a new life centered on God’s moral will and the gifts that He has already given us. We want to be committed to being wise stewards of these gifts and to make God the focus of our lives. Like the early believers, song is a huge part of our lives. We sing not so that we can be ‘ushered into God’s presence” (we know we are already there), but in spontaneous response to what he has done for us. Our songs are not the limit of our worship, but the spontaneous result of our focus. We want to sing, because we cannot help but sing.
“And when they had inflicted many blows upon them, they threw them into prison, commanding the jailer to guard them securely; and he, having received such a command, threw them into the inner prison, and fastened their feet in the stocks. But about midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns of praise to God, and the prisoners were listening to them…”
Monday, March 06, 2006
I’ve been thinking so much about what the first movement of God must have looked like. And as I examine the lives of the early believers, it’s clear that they were a fearless bunch!! I have a hard time imagining myself in that time. Would I have been able to hold on to my faith? Would I have had that kind of courage? How is it that these earliest of believers were so darned bold?
'...and they were continually devoting themselves to the apostles' teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. And everyone kept feeling a sense of awe; and many wonders and signs were taking place through the apostles. And all those who had believed were together, and had all things in common; and they began selling their property and possessions, and were sharing them with all, as anyone might have need. And day by day continuing with one mind in the temple...'(acts 2:42-46)
While the early believers certainly had their eye on those in their faith family who were in need, they also courageously communicated the truth of the Gospel with the world around them. The scriptures tell us that they were of ‘one mind in the temple’. What was this ‘mind’ that they shared? Over and over again, and in spite of intense opposition, the apostles and their disciples entered the temple and preached the truth about Jesus. This courageous stand for the truth often brought them into conflict with the world around them:
And as they were speaking to the people, the priests and the captain of the temple guard, and the Sadducees, came upon them, being greatly disturbed because they were teaching the people and proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection from the dead.
But opposition became a part of the lives of the first believers. They grew to understand and accept it and live their lives with courage. Over and over again they returned to the most hostile of environments to share their faith because they knew that in spite of any hardship they might suffer, God had a cause they wanted to join, and He was ultimately in control of their destiny. The first believers were continually directed right back into the eye of the storm:
But an angel of the Lord during the night opened the gates of the prison, and taking them out he said, 'Go your way, stand and speak to the people in the temple the whole message of this Life.' And upon hearing this, they entered into the temple about daybreak, and began to teach.
I want to live with that kind of courage. I want to be prepared and ready to share my faith with people who hold differing views. I know that the first believers didn’t wait to be asked about their faith and their God; they entered into the most dangerous and hostile of territories and tactfully reasoned with non-believers, even before they were invited. I want to live with this kind of wisdom and courage. That’s why as a community of believers, we must look and plan for opportunities to engage people with the Gospel. We want to have the courage to talk to people who hold differing views. We want to understand what it is that they believe and where they are coming from. This passion and courage will often lead us into hostile territory; into the heart of other faith systems, onto university campuses, into ideological communities. But we must combine our time of training with a life of courage to advance the cause and mission of Jesus.
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