Believing and Belonging

The Christian faith is all about relationships. First, you become a believer by receiving a relationship with your heavenly Father through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, His Son. When you were born into the world you were separated from God by your sins. Original sin – the fact that you were born into the human race which had suffered a fall from grace in our original ancestors Adam and Eve. And, in time, your own actual sins (of omission and commission) continued to distance you from God. This distance is necessary because otherwise the holiness and purity of God would simply burn you and your sins up. So, out of love, He ensures there is a continual distance between Himself and all sinners.

BUT, God is relational and He created human beings for relationship with Him. Thus, He sent His Son – God incarnate – to be one of us and with us (Immanuel) so that He could understand us and feel what we feel, be tempted as we are tempted, and thus share our humanity – except for sin. As a man Jesus died on the cross as a sinless sacrifice for the forgiveness of all sins because the book of Hebrews states that without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness. So, He willingly allowed His blood to be shed – the perfect sacrifice – so that we could be forgiven.

As soon as we recognize that we are sinners and in need of being forgiven because these sins are separating us from God both now and for eternity … as soon as we repent with godly sorrow and ask Jesus to forgive us – He gives to us a gift called eternal life (Romans 6:23b). This gift is defined in John 17:3 as a relationship with God.

Of course, once we have this relationship established and are no longer separated from God we will also not want to be separated from the Body of Christ, the Church. To know God in His fullness and to come to maturity we need other believers and need to be an active and living member of a local assembly of believers. Relationships must grow so that you can mature and grow.

While on Earth the Lord Jesus taught His disciples to pray. This prayer, recorded for us, is known as the Lord’s Prayer but really is the disciples’ prayer. The real Lord’s Prayer is the whole of chapter 17 in the Gospel according to John. The Lord’s Prayer is also all about relationship… In fact, the Lord’s Prayer is a prayer based on relationships…
Our Father in heaven – there’s the Father/child relationship as well as the Superior/subordinate relationship
Hallowed be Your Name – the Deity/worshipper relationship
Your kingdom come – the Sovereign/subject relationship
Your will be done – the Master/servant relationship
Give us this day our daily bread – the Benefactor/beneficiary relationship
Forgive us our debts – the Savior/sinner relationship
Do not lead us into temptation – the Guide/pilgrim or Leader/follower relationship
Deliver us from the evil one – the Guardian/dependent relationship
For Yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever – the Creator/creature relationship

Every aspect of our rich and many-sided relationship with God is seen in the Lord’s Prayer and is meant to be constantly brought out and expressed to God through our words and praise to Him as we continue to build and celebrate the freedom and satisfaction that we find in our personal and corporate relationships with Him (our Father), His Son, the Holy Spirit and other believers.

Pace-Maker or Peace Marker?


Sometimes I think Christians believe that Jesus is their ‘pacemaker.’ That He is some kind of a task master always pushing us to do more and accomplish things for Him. I believe, however, that we are entering a season when our ‘pacemaker’ is going to become a peacemaker. A season is coming upon us when we will understand at a much deeper level the “… peace that passes all understanding.”

Listen to what I am not saying – I am not saying that you can sit back, kick back, and coast. Dead fish float down stream and we are live fish – alive in Jesus Christ – and we swim upstream and that takes much effort. I am not saying – that it’s okay to relax and no longer tell others about Jesus and the fact that they are heading to an eternal Hell without Him. I am not saying – you can simply attend church and not volunteer to meet a need or fulfil a task.

Listen to what I am saying – We need to no longer be “driven”. We need to be “led” instead.

Driven means we have to – Led means we get to

Driven means we feel good about doing it – Led means we are satisfied to serve the Master

Driven means we feel guilty if we fail in our often self-assigned task – Led means we are content that we tried

Driven means we seek value and fulfillment from what we accomplish – Led means we find value and identity in ‘whose’ we are

Driven means a lack of inner peace and contentment – Led means experiencing the peace that passes all understanding

If you have read this far – first, you catch my drift; second, you can relate. Most believers can. We have not learned how to be led by the Great Shepherd. We have not learned how to follow the Great Shepherd. As a result we miss the “still waters” that He promises us…

Psalm 23:1-3 The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not be in want. He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, He restores my soul. He guides me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.

So, my question of the day: Are you being led or are you being driven? Have you learned to follow the Great Shepherd or are you still going your own way and doing your own thing? Is Jesus your ‘pacemaker’ or your ‘peace maker?’

Christians are often AWOL

When with People Are You Really There? Or, have you emotionally and mentally checked out? There in body only? Better question – Are you there spiritually or have you checked out at that level as well. Many believers are there but not really there. There are many reasons for this – busy, exhausted, lack of interest, just being politically correct so in attendance… You are, as a believer AWOL – Absent Without Official Leave … Jesus did not say you could simply “check out.”

Jesus is “God with us” and ‘with’ was a key word in His life and ministry. He was with His disciples; He was with the Father in His early morning prayer time; He was with Martha and Mary after their brother died; He was with the multitudes on the sea shore teaching, healing, and touching their lives with the love and power of His heavenly Father. He is “God with us.”

He did not come to teach sterile truth but to allow others to experience what He was experiencing … His disciples were with Him and began, right from the start, to experience what He was experiencing. Their ministry-team life was a complex expression of the “with-Me principle.”
Jesus wanted His disciples to experience the reality He knew; he did not want to pass along the conclusions of His experiences. In the deepest moment it was not a sharing of belief and theology but an introduction to Abba. If Abba is met, shared beliefs can then follow as they walk together with Abba. All knowledge must be realized. Realized knowledge changes perception and overflows into actions. And, changes lives – starting with you! Being “with others” is the only way to “realize knowledge.”

The Christian faith cannot be worked out alone. Truth cannot be grasped without relationships. Neither can it be applied if you are not in relationship with others. It can be learned academically (head knowledge) but cannot be applied or made to become living truth unless worked out within accountable and loving relationships – the “with-Me principle” in a wider application.

You see – the incarnation is with-ness stuff. To wit-ness to others the truths we have learned and applied we need to be with them. Witness requires with-ness. And, for most Christians that seems to be a difficult proposition – to be with others who do not believe in Jesus and to open oneself to be a part of their lives and let them be an active part of your life (with-ness).

Maybe we fear open and raw honesty – as that is what you will find in the world (and seldom in the Church). Maybe we fear others coming to know us on more than a surface level – because we have not taken the time to get to know ourselves in any really adequate way. Not sure why we fear this “with-ness” but apparently we do.

But, if you will just take a small step into this exciting journey – you will find that it is not near as hard nor as difficult as you may think. People are hungry for meaningful relationships. People want to talk about more than the weather and sports – surface nonsense that passes for conversation these days. And, everywhere you go there are coffee bars and coffee shops open 24 hours a day to enable the building of “with-ness” that will result in meaningful and healthy relationships and opportunities to share the Gospel of love with them. People want substance and depth and we have both to offer – but first, before we can witness, we must first develop withness.

The Cesspools of Life

Robin Williams – on commenting about his humor – stated that his humor “steers between rainbows and cesspools.” I was caught by that quote and paused to give it some thought. One of my thoughts was that ‘life has a way of turning rainbows into cesspools.’ Life can be really tough on our hopes and dreams, our desires for the future. In fact, life can be very hard on our planned futures destroying it altogether.

But then, a second thought – Jesus has a way of giving meaning to life in the cesspool….Jesus did not promise us “happy ever after.” In fact, He promised trouble in this world along with persecution and hardship if we choose to follow Him. He called it our “cross.” All this can be, at times, described as a “cesspool.” Even crucifixion can be celebrated – after all, we do that as believers when served The Lord’s Supper. Meaning to life in the cesspool!

In the Walt Disney world “everyone lives happily ever after.” In the real world people struggle with life and often for life. And this is okay because as believers we don’t have to struggle or even walk alone. Yes, Jesus is with us each step of the way. But, as well, we have “Jesus with skin on” – other believers to walk with us each and every day no matter what happens.

Yet, we are afraid to tell others of our struggles and concerns, life issues and troubles… the cesspools. I meet Christians almost daily who say, “If people knew about all of my struggles and weaknesses, they would never want to be a Christian.” The opposite is true. If people really knew what idiots we are, in all our brokenness and vulnerability, they would know that they can give this thing a shot too. Christianity is for sick people. Jesus did not come to call the healthy but the sick.

Rich Mullins used to say, “Whenever people say, ‘Christians are hypocrites,’ I say, ‘Duh, every time we come together we are confessing that we are hypocrites, weaklings in need of God and each other.’” We know, as believers, we cannot do life alone, and the good news is that we don’t have to. There are others who will walk us through our cesspools.

Remember, that the Bible is full of hypocrites who ended up living life in a cesspool – sometimes of their own making. Bono, the great theologian and decent rock star said it like this:
The fact that the Scriptures are brim full of hustlers, murderers, cowards, adulterers and mercenaries used to shock me. Now it is a source of great comfort.”

It was meant to be. These men and women of the Bible knew that life most often offered cesspools and not rainbows. But, they knew that God was with them and for them and that others were also there to support, encourage, and help them pointing them in the right direction towards the edge of the cesspool and then out.

So, we can be real. We can be ourselves. We can admit that we don’t have it all together and would be unbearable if we ever did (and very lonely). We don’t have to wonder what went wrong – this is just life. This is why Jesus came – to let us know that in spite of everything God loves us and has a wonderful plan for our lives … and is willing to walk with us through the cesspool towards the rainbow.

The Questions Jesus Asked

When working at being an effective communicator you need to learn to ask questions – the right questions. Whether teaching believers the basic doctrines of the Christian faith or preaching the Gospel of salvation and the Kingdom to non-believers – asking the right questions is the key today in a society where we are bombarded with information and words constantly.

The truth is: When you want to deliver the right answers, ask good questions.

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Tiptoe Through Life? Never!

A college professor once said to his students (true story) “All around you, people will be tiptoeing through life, just to arrive at death safely. But dear children, do not tiptoe. Run, hop, skip, or dance, just don’t tiptoe.”

The youth today want more than to tiptoe through life; more than what the average church (and especially a normal youth group) offers them. They want to be trusted with the adventure of revolutionary living. However, what is offered is often so far from what is the biblical norm that it is seriously boring and the youth are seriously bored.

God forgive us for all those we have lost because we have made the gospel boring. Shane Claiborne states, “I am convinced that if we lose kids to the culture of drugs and materialism, of violence and war, it’s because we don’t dare them, not because we don’t entertain them. It’s because we make the gospel too easy, not because we make it too difficult. Kids want to do something heroic with their lives, which is why they play video games and join the army.”

But what are they to do with a church that teaches them to tiptoe through life so they can arrive safely at death? They simply respond to it by leaving as quickly as they can – permanently most times – leaving the church of their youth and the Christian faith it supposedly represents.

Where did this notion of playing it safe ever come from? Whoever said that Christianity is safe? Why do we think that Christians should be good upstanding citizens of whatever society and culture they live in? The more I get to know Jesus, the more trouble He seems to get me into. Soren Kierkegaard puts it well: “To want to admire, instead of follow, Christ is not an invention of bad people; no, it is more an invention of those who spinelessly want to keep themselves detached at a safe distance from Jesus.”

Some believers take so few risks, it’s no wonder folks have a hard time believing in Heaven. Most of us live in such fear of death that it’s as if no one really believes in resurrection anymore. Give some thought to what I believe is a fact: “The most dangerous place for a Christian to be is in safety and comfort.” I have found that to be true in my own life. The youth of today are also discovering this truth.

So, if you are finding Church on Sundays and mid-week Bible study boring – you know, the same-old, same-old – then it is time to take a look into your own heart. You are not responsible to change the Church. It belongs to Jesus and He is already making massive changes to very foundational elements of our corporate life and expression. You need to look into your own heart and mind and examine your own life to see what you need to change about you.

Have you settled for a safe religion instead of a dynamic faith walk with Jesus that leads to daily adventures?

Have you purchased your fire insurance and “get out of jail free” card and, since that day, have simply been cruising? [Remember, dead fish float downstream]

When was the last time you challenged yourself to grow in your own personal faith and, as a result, made some substantial and life-changing adjustments to the way you approach and live out the Christian faith?

When was the last time you did something a little bit risky and maybe even bordering on dangerous?

What has changed recently in your faith that has both excited and challenged you?

What are you doing that makes you radically different than those who are your friends and work mates who are not believers?

It seems like we think that we can cruise along in safe mode – and this means that everything is cool. Cool is simply another word for lukewarm (an old-fashion way of saying “cool”) and Jesus would rather you be either hot or cold but never lukewarm. It is not cool for Christians to be cool (Revelation 3:16). We are to be passionate, white-hot, engaged, radical, revolutionary, anti-status quo. Jesus was never normal or cool.

A French theologian Jacques Ellul once said, “Christians should be troublemakers, creators of uncertainty, agents of a dimension incompatible with society.”

Jesus was called a lot of things but never cool. You don’t get crucified for being cool; you get crucified for living radically different from the norms of all that is cool in the world.

Should you choose to change your lifestyle somewhat and no longer be cool just remember it was the cool (everything is alright) religious leaders and the cool politicians who killed Jesus. But, don’t let that stop you. Remember, there is a resurrection and Heaven is real and does exist – and boring is simply not suppose to be part of the faith, the Church, or your life.

The With and the Without Principle

There is an old African saying:We are, therefore I am.” I like that. It expresses the very life and nature of the Christian faith and the Christian Church. Because, as I have mentioned in the last few days we only find our true identity in Jesus Christ when we are connected to the Christian community – in particular, one local church.

The US army captures this thought with their current advertising campaign for new recruits: “An army of one.” And, the Body of Christ is called, in Scripture, an army of the Lord and we are a singular “body” even though we are found in different local expressions (assemblies) in every nation on the planet we call home. The Christian faith is about community – connectedness – and being there with and for one another. And, once that is established and settled – being there for those who do not know Jesus because then we are a correct witness of the experience of being a believer.

If your witness is simply to explain a set of teachings and beliefs – then you have missed the point. As you are with people and building relationships you will be inviting them into an experience – an experience of the living God as found only in Jesus and His body, the Church. So, you need to be connected in a healthy and dynamic way first before you can invite them to share what you have – a personal and corporate experience of God. “We are, therefore I am.” An army of one!

As believers we should be with non-believers and other believers in community with Christ. With them in love and care, without judgment. With them in encouragement and comfort, without condition. With them in support and healing, without self concern. Shane Claiborne writes: “Community is what we are created for. We are made in the image of a God who is community, a plurality of oneness. When the first human was made, things were not good until there were two, helping one another. The biblical story is the story of community, from beginning to end. Jesus lived and modeled community with His little band of disciples. He always sent them out in pairs, and the early church is the story of a people who were together and were of one heart and mind, sharing all in common. The story ends with a vision of a new community in the Book of Revelation where the city of God is dressed beautifully for her lover, this community called the New Jerusalem.”

Augustine – a great man in the early church stated, “If you see authentic relationship among two people on this earth, you have a glimpse of the Trinity.” Makes you want to do more than believe – makes you want to belong to this dynamic and eternal family called the Church. The door is open – come on in. You will never be complete until you do.

What Do We Offer the World?

The challenge of the church in the 21st century is to make itself less of an institution and more of a community…less led by people prone to call a meeting than by people prone to start a conversation. Let’s admit it – basically the church has only two things to offer the world: Christ and community.

By Christ we mean Jesus Christ who is God and came to reveal the Father to His people. We mean Jesus who said that He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. The only way into Heaven after death. We mean Jesus who died for our sins and then invited us to receive His forgiveness for those sins and to enter into a relationship with Him – which is really a relationship with the Father and the Holy Spirit as well. This is a supernatural relationship with the Holy Trinity. He invites us into “community.”

By community we must mean something different than Facebook community … better words: connectedness and relationships. But, not just a relationship with a heavenly community (Father, Son and Holy Spirit) but also an earthly community called the Church. According to the Bible there is no such thing as being a Christian and not belonging to and being connected to a local church. We are, each one of us, members of the Body of Christ and the member of the body cannot survive without the body. Therefore, if you are a believer and are not interconnected with other believers in one local assembly of believers – accountable, functioning, responsible – then you a member who is AWOL and you will simply die out there disconnected.

The Christian faith is all about being connected – not disconnected. It is more than believing it is belonging. Only in relationships do we discover God in His fullness. Only in relationship do we discover what it means to be fully human. Only in relationship do we discover who we really are. Relationship precedes identity – always has, even when you were a little baby. As you identified with your father and mother you found identity – discovering yourself and who you really are. A life-long process of course but always located within relationships.

So it is with the Christian when we are born again. Only in relationships do we truly find our identity as a believer and as a member of the Body of Christ. So “withness” is vitally important. It was to Jesus as He immediately called together “His church” consisting of a leadership team of 12 and followers numbering up over 600 at one time. He was with them sharing life. We, as believers today, must be with other believers sharing the same life – the life and nature of God as found only in Jesus Christ. Withness before witness – then you have something to share – the Gospel and yourself because you will have come to know the real you as found only in withness.

So, please – if you are prompted to witness about your faith and yet are not connected in healthy relationships with other believers in a local church – sit down and shut up. Do us all a favour and don’t tell others you are a born again believer. After all, you are not a good example of what being a Christian is all about and you need to focus on your own life and relationship first. Hard to invite someone to experience something you are not (and maybe never have) experienced.

Open For Business or Gone For Lunch?

It had been a long morning. My consultation with the leadership team of one of the most dynamic and innovative churches in the Pacific Northwest had been invigorating, but exhausting. The amenities of the lodge where we were staying didn’t help. They were those of the 1950s: the coffee instant, the bread sliced, the eggs powdered.

During the lunch hour I ducked out and hit the rainy pavement of the quaint streets of the seaside community of Cannon Beach, Oregon. I saw the sign I was looking for: “Cabana Café.” Someone had already tipped me off that they served “great coffee,” and as I walked the little path to the door, I sniffed in my mind the robust aroma of ground coffee.

The door was locked. I pulled harder. Still locked. Then I saw a hand-written sign inserted into the screen door: “Out to Lunch. Be back at 1:30.” Still not believing my eyes, I walked to the front window and peeked in. Sure enough, the lights were on, but no one was inside. Then my eye caught another handmade notice: “Store for sale. Great business location and opportunity.”

A café closed for lunch. A proprietor who was more concerned about feeding himself and taking care of his own stomach than serving hungry people walking the streets looking for a place to eat. A restaurant that didn’t know what business it was in.

No wonder he was going out of business. No-wonder 75% of the churches in USAmerica are going out of business-either declining or dying. “Out to Lunch” says it all. We’re so busy feeding our faces, taking care of our own needs, that we’re ignoring the hungry and thirsty who are being sent away empty.
I am often asked how a church can better communicate its message to a “lost world.” Yet ministry doesn’t begin with being understood, but with understanding others. Have we really done our homework to understand the spiritual quests of people who are out there on the streets of this 21st century world?

You tell me: Is your church talking at or talking to your culture? Is your church Open? Or is it Out to Lunch?

The above was written by Leonard Sweet and it speaks volumes to what I was blogging about yesterday (Reformational or Missional).

I am sitting in an airport while writing this. Sad but true – I have been here so often and spent so much time here that I headed straight to Tim Horton’s (great coffee – and yes, I am in Canada) and then a certain corner next to Starbucks where there is an electrical plug. I am saving the battery for the 10 hour plane ride later today…

Back to the topic … As I work here in my little corner of the world I am watching people – shopping, drinking coffee, watching movies on their computer screens, talking, sleeping … I have spoken to a number of them asking how they are doing and where they are going. I am interested in people and what interests them. Oh, I know I could get a lot more work done if I didn’t keep stopping to talk and especially listen to people but I am in the people business. They are the ones Jesus came to save. They are the ones the Church exists for – even if they are clueless to both these truths.

I am aware of my task as a believer (not as a minister) and I am acutely aware that I will be held accountable for what I have done with the truth I know and the way that I shared this truth with people I relate to even briefly in airports and restaurants. You know this to be true about your witness and life-style as well. Accountablity is built in to being a Christian. One day Jesus will hold us accountable! Ouch!!

I know many think that I am “out to lunch” (that was a joke – and a pun) but actually I am “open for business” and hungry – motivated, excited, anxious, desiring – to share this bread we have with the hungry and this living water we drink with the thirsty. So, I do everything I can to appear “open for business” and work hard at being friendly and interested – even starting conversations with people I have never seen before and may never see again. And I am an introvert.

How are you doing? What does the sign in your window (eyes, body language, speed at which you walk through a place or complete your assigned task) read? Are you “open for business” or “Out to lunch?” Just asking!

Going Out Of Business

It had been a long morning. My consultation with the leadership team of one of the most dynamic and innovative churches in the Pacific Northwest had been invigorating, but exhausting. The amenities of the lodge where we were staying didn’t help. They were those of the 1950s: the coffee instant, the bread sliced, the eggs powdered.

During the lunch hour I ducked out and hit the rainy pavement of the quaint streets of the seaside community of Cannon Beach, Oregon. I saw the sign I was looking for: “Cabana Café.” Someone had already tipped me off that they served “great coffee,” and as I walked the little path to the door, I sniffed in my mind the robust aroma of ground coffee.

The door was locked. I pulled harder. Still locked. Then I saw a hand-written sign inserted into the screen door: “Out to Lunch. Be back at 1:30.” Still not believing my eyes, I walked to the front window and peeked in. Sure enough, the lights were on, but no one was inside. Then my eye caught another handmade notice: “Store for sale. Great business location and opportunity.”

A café closed for lunch. A proprietor who was more concerned about feeding himself and taking care of his own stomach than serving hungry people walking the streets looking for a place to eat. A restaurant that didn’t know what business it was in.

No wonder he was going out of business. No-wonder 75% of the churches in USAmerica are going out of business-either declining or dying. “Out to Lunch” says it all. We’re so busy feeding our faces, taking care of our own needs, that we’re ignoring the hungry and thirsty who are being sent away empty.

I am often asked how a church can better communicate its message to a “lost world.” Yet ministry doesn’t begin with being understood, but with understanding others. Have we really done our homework to understand the spiritual quests of people who are out there on the streets of this 21st century world?

You tell me: Is your church talking at or talking to your culture? Is your church Open? Or is it Out to Lunch?

The above was written by Leonard Sweet and it speaks volumes to what I was blogging about yesterday (Reformational or Missional).

I am sitting in an airport while writing this. Sad but true – I have been here so often and spent so much time here that I headed straight to Tim Horton’s (great coffee – and yes, I am in Canada) and then a certain corner next to Starbucks where there is an electrical plug. I am saving the battery for the 10 hour plane ride later today…

Back to the topic … As I work here in my little corner of the world I am watching people – shopping, drinking coffee, watching movies on their computer screens, talking, sleeping … I have spoken to a number of them asking how they are doing and where they are going. I am interested in people and what interests them. Oh, I know I could get a lot more work done if I didn’t keep stopping to talk and especially listen to people but I am in the people business. They are the ones Jesus came to save. They are the ones the Church exists for – even if they are clueless to both these truths. I am aware of my task as a believer (not as a minister) and I am acutely aware that I will be held accountable for what I have done with the truth I know and the way that I shared this truth with people I relate to even briefly in airports and restaurants. I know many think that I am “out to lunch” (that was a joke – and a pun) but actually I am “open for business” and hungry – motivated, excited, anxious, desiring – to share this bread we have with the hungry and this living water we drink with the thirsty. So, I do everything I can to appear “open for business” and work hard at being friendly and interested – even starting conversations with people I have never seen before and may never see again.

How are you doing? What does the sign in your window (eyes, body language, speed at which you walk through a place or complete your assigned task) read? Are you “open for business” or “Out to lunch?”

Just asking!