SimpleChurch Journal - 5 new articles

What's Your Life Message?

You show that you are a letter from Christ, the result of our ministry, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts. 2 Corinthians 3:3

Journey of callingThe simple/organic church lifestyle opens the door for every believer to step into his unique calling and recognize his unique ‘letter’ written on his heart by the Spirit of God. Every person has the privilege and responsibility of tuning into the process in which God shapes each one for his destiny. Part of that is recognizing the core message—the life message—that He has formed in us.

Tony Stoltzfus says that every Christian has “a special life message that’s a summary of their story—the place where their various life messages join together in one theme… That one-of-a-kind message is the heart of their call.”

There is power in recognizing and affirming our life message so that we are freely sharing this core of who we are with those around us. It fuels our spiritual passion and excitement. Often, it leads us into a clearer understanding of the Kingdom calling in our life.

Recently, as a group exercise, we looked at ways to identify our life message. We used three different methods which I share here. The idea is that you might be able to identify your life message using any one of these three methods.

(Note, that I adapted this from Tony Stoltzfus’ excellent book entitled ‘Leadership Coaching.’)

1. Finding Your Current Life Message by Looking at Your Suffering

Write down a key difficulty you suffered through that has significantly shaped you. Then, write down the core message that this experience built into you for others!

2. Finding Your Current Life Message by Looking at Your Soapbox

What are the themes you come back to over and over when you are helping or serving others? What are you always talking passionately about? What do you most yearn to impart to people? Write down the core message!

3. Finding Your Current Life Message by Looking at What Injustices You Want to Fight

What injustices make you want to rise up and fight for the good of all? What’s the injustice you see, where you have a compelling vision of the better future that could be? Write down the core message that you want others to hear!

I love the way that God shapes us uniquely and then uses that uniqueness for His glory!

On a personal note, it was a challenging season in my own life (which I describe in the first chapter of Simple/House Church Revolution) that led to a re-write of my life message twelve years ago. Out of this came an unexpected re-direction in life and ministry and the formation of Appleseed Ministry. The life message would be something like this: “It’s not structured church or religion that transforms people and nations, rather it’s all about the simple life of Jesus, flowing personally through his irreligious followers, leading to a lifestyle of loving and discipling others.”


Keeping Organic Passion Burning

Burning-passionI have been reflecting on what it takes to keep my organic connection with God alive and full of passion. All things tend toward a loss of vitality and freshness, and my relationship with Jesus Christ is not immune to this.

How quickly I replace vital connection with repetition of activities. How easily I adopt a spiritual lifestyle that is more about routine or making me feel religiously good about myself then it is about friendship with Jesus Christ grounded in awe. How rapidly I find myself trying to do the right things out of some kind of need-to-perform or duty rather than receiving the grace and love that causes Holy Spirit transformation of my soul.

No matter how ‘organic’ my church expression seeks to be, it is still only as fresh as the interior fire in my own heart ignited by his just-for-today touch.

Jesus encourages us to remember our first love and I have been trying to read Scripture this way. I did not grow up with Bible stories or church sermons, so I remember what it was like to glimpse revelations of who this Jesus is through His word as His Spirit stirred my heart and made Him real and vibrant to me. He can do that again when I give Him the opportunity and approach His word with a fresh and open spirit.

Jesus also commends us, repeatedly, that it is the ‘sick’ or the ‘poor in spirit’ who find Him. My need for His immeasurable grace is no less today than it was years ago when I first reached out to Him. This deep awareness of inner poverty without Him helps propel me into a thirst that is potent and that seeks out a fresh encounter with God.

A.W. Tozer writes: “God formed us for His pleasure, and so formed us that we as well as He can in divine communion enjoy the sweet and mysterious mingling of kindred personalities. He meant us to see Him and live with Him and draw our life from His smile.”

May God stir us today to long for, receive, and enjoy all that He is!


Jesus the Radical

Radical_life_of_jesus_christThis is a blog about "church," so-to-speak, but maybe we miss the mark a bit if we don't keep putting the focus back on the One who precedes the church and everything else.  The church is, no doubt, meant to be a much more radical movement than we have understood it to be.  How much more important is it for us to see that Jesus, the head of the church, is a far more radical man/God than we can even begin to understand.  He is the One we, His church, are designed to imitate.  Perhaps if we get Jesus right, and our imitation of Him in keeping with who He is, we will naturally get church right.

Jesus is so... much... more than we can begin to define in a few words, or thoughts, or even a lifetime of both.

He is uncontainable, unpredictable, unorthodox, and unconventional.  As soon as someone would try to put Him in a box, He would break the mold.  If you thought He was meek, He would pick up a whip.  If you thought He was kosher, He would start talking about other people eating his flesh.  If you thought He was a paragon of mercy, He would pronounce woes and judgements.

But wait!  If you asked Him to condemn a sinful woman, He proclaimed forgiveness and grace.  If you told Him a man was a tax-collecting thief, he loved him all the more.  If you nailed Him to a cross, He prayed for you.

He was (and is) radically and completely God... living above the expectations of others, the mores of his culture, and the rules of society.  Tell Him that the Sabbath was for resting, and He would work.  Tell Him not to touch lepers, and He would hold and heal them.  Tell him not to socialize with Samaritans, and He would deliberately converse with a Samaritan woman.

He marched to His own drumbeat.  He lived with a vision set only on kingdom.  He walked out of a perspective that never placed value on temporal things.  He was not of this world and every moment that He lived and word that He spoke portrayed this.

Do we really even know who He is, really?  How honestly are we willing to look at Him knowing that our calling is to imitate Him and be like Him?

I'm just thinking that if we kept our focus really on Him, every church, house church, simple church, and mega-church would be absolutely, thoroughly, and completely transformed and turned upside down in more ways than we can imagine merely by the irresistible force of the life of Jesus pulsing through His imitators.


Let's Not Forget the Importance of Community

Helping_hands_950'Missional' and 'missional communities' are the buzzwords these days, and I am deeply appreciative of that. But let's not forget that the flip side of the same coin is the community of believers: learning to love and care for one another, providing a place of safety and healing, speaking into one another's lives in word and action. This is also at the core of a vibrant, impactful, outward-facing community.

I am re-quoting here a post I wrote several years ago entitled What Does 'Community' Mean?

Kevin Rains wrote an article on community that is near and dear to my heart.  At the forefront of our desire for a house church model is to build true community, what Eldredge calls "a band of intimate allies."  I quote his article in its entirety:
Community is almost a ruined word. I refuse to give up on it though. Just because its been misused, battered, and tattered does not mean it can't be useful. But it needs some definition.
Community means availability. It means time spent together. Real time. Time for conversation, interaction, and a deepening of communion, of intimacy between 2 or more people. Community is never general or generic. It is always specific and definable by people spending time together. Now, time spent together does not guarantee community. There has to be a certain quality to the time spent together. Time doesn't guarantee it but it is a pre-requisite.
Community means vulnerability. If we aren't willing to open up our lives to others we will never experience true community. This is why mutual confession builds community. We come to the table with our strengths and our weaknesses and we lay ourselves bare, exposed to the scrutiny and more importantly the love, acceptance and forgiveness of others. This doesn't happen overnight nor should it. It needs to be a progressive deepening. People who lay themselves bare at a first encounter scare me. There is something unhealthy in over-exposure especially as a first approach. These things take time and discernment to know how much to share and when. Mistakes will made. Over-hiding and over-exposure will happen. There can be no set rule for such things. But if we expect to gain community and constantly flee vulnerability we will never have it.
Community means a shared life. This ties back in to availability but goes beyond it. Our life in one regard is made up of time. So if we want a shared life we must spend time together. Resources also need to be shared. Basically our checkbooks and our schedules can be a good gauge of community.
Community means stability. Benedict was a genius to introduce a vow of stability into his Rule. If we want to experience community we need to be rooted somewhere among some people. If we constantly move on in search of greener pastures we will not be around long enough to grow the roots necessary for community. Community can not happen on the fly.

Religious Spirit

(Originally posted in 2005, but perfectly relevant today)

The Christian world, the entire Christian world, is permeated with a religious spirit.  It's in me, in others, in traditional churches, in house churches.  It is such a pervasive dysfunction that it's no wonder Jesus addressed it so forcefully.

The religious spirit is not just "them," it's also "us."  We think, oh so subtly, that we are somehow better than "them."  We look at externals of some kind: how we worship, how we do liturgy or don't do liturgy, how we view Scripture, our pet theological perspectives and we hold tightly to these things because on some level we believe them to be "right."  We lose our humility and our "rightness" becomes a judgment of others.  We are better than them.  We "do it" more correctly.  And there it is--a religious spirit.

We take on a religious spirit when we get focused on the way to live the Christian life rather than the Person that we live the Christian life with.  We turn relationship with God into rules.  A relationship is an ongoing, everyday, living thing.  When we are not living out of that living relationship, we begin to retreat into the rules of Christian living as a substitute.  We do, after all, know the "right" way to live.  It doesn't take long before we are judging others because they are not living the "right" way like we are.  We quickly lose sight of the fact that the reason we are in this place of judging others is because we ourselves are unsettled.  We have lost our peace because we are no longer fully embracing the Person.  We try to repair our sense of unrest by setting up the rules, the structure, in order to live right and thus feel right.  We project that onto others.  We quickly become the pharisees who encourage others to live for God based on the letter of the law and in so doing we lead people away from vibrant relationship with God.

We take on a religious spirit when our theology becomes more important than the Person behind our belief systems.  We believe we know the truth; we often believe we know MOST of the truth even though Scripture affirms that we "see through a glass darkly."  Yet we base much of our personal security on knowing "the truth" and we leave little room for humility, for paradoxical theological positions, and for learning deeper truths.  Because our "truth" makes us feel secure, we judge the theological positions of others as being "less than."  We become the scribes and we miss the heart of the One from whom all truth flows.

We take on a religious spirit when we believe we are part of a "movement" of God that others have not yet experienced but "should."  Perhaps what we are involved in is NOT what God is calling someone else to be involved in.  Yet we take whatever God has done for us and judge others by whether or not God has done it for them or in them or to them.

We take on a religious spirit when we have been hurt or disappointed by other Christians.  Rather than heal, forgive, let go, set boundaries and move on, we become bitter.  We find reason to judge them and their "hypocritical" brand of Christianity.  We hold up a standard of "righteousness" that we judge others by (because we have been hurt).  We become standard-bearers of righteousness seeking to hold people accountable to what's "right."  In the process we become the legalists.  We forget that we are all just humans deeply in need of the washing of the blood of Jesus Christ and His eternal mercy.

We take on a religious spirit when we fail to recognize God in each and every person that He has created and redeemed.  When we believe that we have something to teach others but fail to see what they have to teach us.  When we take something from our spiritual life or experience and imagine that we are, in some way, better than those who do not share exactly what we are "into."

A religious spirit robs us of our real spirituality.  We do not live out of the vitality of union with Christ, we live out of the push,the guilt, and the shoulds of duty.  We live out of a subtle pride; we lose the joy of first love.  We may feel good about "being good," but we lack the passion of a lover's life.

Worse, we pass on this spirit into others.  We model a Christianity that lacks the zest and peace that comes from relationship.  We exemplify a dour, sober, lifeless Christianity.  We sometimes even heap the guilt and shoulds on others and, in doing this, keep them from finding the joy of the Person.  We take the religious burdens that we have put on ourselves, and we wrap them around others in a way that stifles their openness to a God of relational, creative, beautiful love.  No wonder Jesus said, woe unto you!

So, I say, woe unto me.  Woe unto us all.  To repent and break free of religion in order to experience the power of relationship with Creator-God... isn't that the call of the hour?